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.
Leland Yee, the Gun-Hating Calif. Pol. Accused of Helping Smuggle Guns, Agrees to Plea Deal – It was the craziest political scandal to hit California in a while. In March 2014, State Sen. Leland Yee, in the midst of a campaign for secretary of state, was arrested in part of a massive raid in the FBI area, accused of political corruption and helping arrange illegal firearm deals on behalf of violent group in the Philippines.
That scandal was crazy enough, but adding fuel to the fire was the fact that Yee, a Democrat, was also an open supporter of tougher gun control laws and was a proponent of legislation in California to ban the sales of violent video games to children, a law that the Supreme Court subsequently struck down as unconstitutional. Yee was a critic of games like Grand Theft Auto, even though he apparently behaved in real life like one of its characters. He took political hypocrisy to brand new heights.
Today it all ends with a plea deal. He has agreed to plead guilty of one count of racketeering in federal court and faces the possibility of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Read More > at Reason
Gigs with Benefits – If someone uses Uber to get to the airport, is the driver an Uber employee, or an independent contractor using Uber to find customers? For companies in the so-called sharing economy—Lyft, Postmates, TaskRabbit, Instacart, and so on—there may be no more important question. A couple of weeks ago, a California labor commissioner gave her answer: she ruled that an Uber driver who had filed a claim against the company was, in fact, an employee. The ruling applied only to that particular worker and the only upshot was the reimbursement of the plaintiff’s car expenses. But, if other regulators and courts were to follow that decision, it isn’t just the future of Uber that would be transformed. The U.S. job market would be, too.
We hear a lot these days about the gig economy, but the issue of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor has been the subject of intense legal battles for decades. The distinction can be surprisingly hard to make. The I.R.S. has a list of twenty factors that it takes into account, but other federal agencies have different criteria, as do most states. The fundamental issue is usually whether an employer has “control” over the work being done, but defining control isn’t always easy.
In the past century, laws designed to protect workers have proliferated, and the social safety net has expanded significantly, in ways that give employees benefits and security not available to independent contractors. Hiring employees costs businesses more than hiring independent contractors—estimates suggest that it can be twenty to thirty per cent more expensive. So companies have become remarkably inventive at finding ways to call workers contractors.
…Uber’s critics insist that it, too, is simply disguising employees as contractors. It sets the prices that its drivers can charge, monitors their performance (based on ratings from passengers), and can boot them off the service if their ratings are too low. Uber, meanwhile, claims that it’s much more like eBay than like McDonald’s: it’s a platform connecting customers and drivers, and taking a cut (twenty per cent) of the transaction. It doesn’t tell drivers when they have to drive, or where. It doesn’t determine how many hours they work, or if they work at all. And its use of ratings isn’t that different from what eBay does with its sellers.
…Much worker-protection legislation takes the view that, when there’s a tough call like this, we should put workers’ interests above corporate ones. But it’s not clear that most of Uber’s drivers would be better off if we declared them employees. The ones who treat their gig as a full-time job—driving forty hours a week or more—would probably benefit. But Uber would likely recoup its rising labor costs by taking a larger cut of fares and shrinking its workforce. Arun Sundararajan, a business-school professor at N.Y.U. and an expert on the sharing economy, told me, “It’s very unlikely drivers’ take-home pay would rise. There also would be fewer drivers. They would be able to drive more hours, but they’d have less flexibility in how they worked.” Studies suggest that flexibility—no supervisors to answer to, working when you want rather than when the boss wants—is an important part of what attracts workers to companies like Uber. Read More > in The New Yorker
Justices take up dispute over union fees – The Supreme Court will consider limiting the power of government employee unions to collect fees from non-members in a case that labor officials say could threaten membership and further weaken union clout.
The justices said Tuesday they will hear an appeal from a group of California teachers who say it violates their First Amendment rights to have to pay any fees if they disagree with a union’s positions and don’t want to join it.
The teachers want the court to overturn a 38-year-old legal precedent that said unions can require non-members to pay for bargaining costs as long as the fees don’t go toward political purposes. Public workers in half the states currently are required to pay “fair share” fees if they are represented by a union, even if they are not members.
But the high court has raised doubts about the viability of that regime in two cases over the past four years. The court has stopped short of overturning the 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, but in a 5-4 opinion last year, Justice Samuel Alito called Abood “questionable on several grounds.”
Alito said a “bedrock principle” of the First Amendment is that “no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”
The lead plaintiff in the case is Rebecca Friedrichs, a public school teacher in Orange County, California, who says she resigned from the California Teachers Association because it takes positions that “are not in the best interests of me or my community.” She says she is still required to pay the union about $650 a year to cover bargaining costs.
The union says the fees are necessary because it has a legal duty to represent all teachers at the bargaining table, even those who are not part of the union. Read More > in the Associated Press
Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill requiring childhood vaccinations – Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that will make California one of the strictest states in requiring children to be vaccinated before attending public and private schools or day care, beginning in January.
The state will stop offering personal- or religious-belief exemptions for school vaccines next year, when California joins just two other states in allowing only medical exemptions signed by a doctor.
Brown signed SB277 less than 24 hours after the bill landed on his desk, prompting supporters to turn their Tuesday news conference into a victory rally instead of a meeting to urge the governor to sign the legislation.
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in a signing message with the bill. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Gov. Brown faces rough road in quest to repair state freeways – Every day, California drivers navigate an obstacle course of potholes and cracked pavement, and a wrong turn of the wheel can send them limping to a mechanic. Maintenance crews can’t keep up..
After years of neglect, state officials estimate it will cost $59 billion to fix the now-crumbling roads and freeways that Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown championed more than five decades ago. And it’s up to his son, Gov. Jerry Brown, to find the money.
Until now, Brown has focused on building what he hopes will be his own transportation legacy: a $68-billion bullet train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But the governor recently called a special legislative session to focus lawmakers’ attention on the problems with roads, and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday. The result could be new fees and taxes for drivers — a politically charged scenario in a state with a celebrated romance with the automobile.
…As Brown considers the future of California’s roads, he faces a political and financial landscape much different from the one his father inhabited. When Pat Brown was governor in the 1950s and ’60s, the state was benefiting from a flood of money from Washington for new roads for a growing number of Californians.
Now the federal fund for transportation improvements is going broke at the same time revenue from the state gas tax, California’s primary method of paying for road repairs, has waned with more fuel-efficient cars.
…Raising new revenue would require help from Republicans, because it needs a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. GOP lawmakers are reluctant to support increases, expressing disappointment that Democrats didn’t make room for new transportation funding in the budget that Brown signed Wednesday.
Republicans are pushing other sources of funding including the state’s cap-and-trade program, which charges fees to polluters. Because the program applies to transportation fuel, said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of San Dimas, the money should be used for roads. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
FBI investigating 11 attacks on San Francisco-area Internet lines – The FBI is investigating at least 11 physical attacks on high-capacity Internet cables in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dating back a year, including one early Tuesday morning.
Agents confirm the latest attack disrupted Internet service for businesses and residential customers in and around Sacramento, the state’s capital.
FBI agents declined to specify how significantly the attack affected customers, citing the ongoing investigation. In Tuesday’s attack, someone broke into an underground vault and cut three fiber-optic cables belonging to Colorado-based service providers Level 3 and Zayo.
The attacks date back to at least July 6, 2014, said FBI Special Agent Greg Wuthrich. Read More > at USA Today
It’s Time to Legalize Polygamy – Welcome to the exciting new world of the slippery slope. With the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling this Friday legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states, social liberalism has achieved one of its central goals. A right seemingly unthinkable two decades ago has now been broadly applied to a whole new class of citizens. Following on the rejection of interracial marriage bans in the 20th Century, the Supreme Court decision clearly shows that marriage should be a broadly applicable right—one that forces the government to recognize, as Friday’s decision said, a private couple’s “love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.”
The question presents itself: Where does the next advance come? The answer is going to make nearly everyone uncomfortable: Now that we’ve defined that love and devotion and family isn’t driven by gender alone, why should it be limited to just two individuals? The most natural advance next for marriage lies in legalized polygamy—yet many of the same people who pressed for marriage equality for gay couples oppose it.
This is not an abstract issue. In Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion, he remarks, “It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.” As is often the case with critics of polygamy, he neglects to mention why this is a fate to be feared. Polygamy today stands as a taboo just as strong as same-sex marriage was several decades ago—it’s effectively only discussed as outdated jokes about Utah and Mormons, who banned the practice over 120 years ago.
Yet the moral reasoning behind society’s rejection of polygamy remains just as uncomfortable and legally weak as same-sex marriage opposition was until recently. Read More > in Politico
Why the NBA’s Officiating Crisis Matters – …But if the Warriors were not a historically great team, but merely the best team, the reality is that the officials, not the players, could very well have decided who this year’s champion was, as they have in the past. Numerous games were decided entirely by the officiating this postseason. Many games were marred by sloppy play as players struggled to play through overly physical defense that was rightfully not permitted the entire season. Referee Scott Foster turned home court advantage into home court disadvantage, as home teams lost 12 straight games in this year’s playoffs with Foster on the court. The away team deserved some of these victories, but Foster’s brutal calls and no-calls changed the outcome of some of these games as well. Nearly every NBA analyst agreed the officiating during the Finals, the NBA’s biggest stage, was simply awful.
NBA fans should not know the names of Scott Foster, Joey Crawford, Tony Brothers, or any other referee. Yet these are household names for serious basketball fans. Why? Because they are determining the outcome of games—they could not be more relevant. If you want to understand what is happening on the court, you often need to know who is officiating. This is disastrous for the sport.
For some, this is proof that there is a conspiracy in which referees are expected (or are chosen because of who they are) to extend a series in order to increase revenue for the league. Others draw the conclusion that the officials are merely extraordinarily incompetent.
…The Finals played out in a similar way to the Warriors-Grizzlies series this postseason, when the Grizzlies took a 2-1 lead after officials simply refused to call hand-checks, the holding (and even hugging) of shooters off the ball, and a seemingly endless number of grabs, holds, and pushes. It was so bad that simple pick-and-rolls could not be executed the way they are throughout the entire season.
If the best team and best players are supposed to get star treatment, a claim that is sometimes made (and is certainly sometimes true), it is unclear whether it was financial incentives or sheer incompetence that put the eventual champions and league MVP down 2-1 in two different series where referees threw the rule book out. Even in the Warriors’ first round series, it was clear something was seriously wrong with the officiating. Stephen Curry was clobbered by two players shooting a three-pointer to tie the game. The ref had the best conceivable view, staring directly at Curry from point blank range. No call.
…When refs steal a championship, they rip off a whole community. It did not happen this year, but it should never happen. The NBA should not be the WWE. Even though a rightful champion was crowned this year, this year’s playoffs should be a wakeup call. Whether the league is essentially scripting series or the officials suddenly wilt under the pressure of the playoffs and become pathetically inept, something must be done to stop games from being determined by the refs. The NBA needs to address its officiating crisis. Read More > at Millennial
Why Are There So Many Drones All of a Sudden? – You’re out walking around the park and suddenly you hear a strange buzzing sound. Your head snaps up and your eyes dart around the sky, looking for a bird, a plane, an injured man in a cape, something. After a moment of confusion, you spot the glint of an LED. Your eyes lock in on a tiny swooping object. It’s like a loud, clumsy, hideous hummingbird. A drone!
Five years ago, almost nobody had seen one of these tiny craft. Why the explosion in pint-sized private aircraft loaded with cameras and lights and accessories? Has some technology suddenly matured and revolutionized the industry?
Actually, yes. Smartphones and miniaturization.
In the past, small devices for controlling aircraft were the purview of the military. These military devices were expensive and mostly illegal to sell for private use. Additionally they were still a bit too bulky for use on aircraft as small as personal private drones. The massive boom in smartphones has changed that. There has been a rush to build ultra-small devices on tiny chips, capable of living inside a wafer-thin smartphone and not draining its diminutive battery.
Do you play games on your phone? Every time you lean the phone sideways to slide your character across the screen, a tiny accelerometer chip in the phone is measuring that tilt and reacting accordingly. (Look here for an in-depth discussion on how they work.) The short of it is that a technology called MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) has matured to allow microscopic silicon simple machines to be built on the same chips as the electronics to read them. This means that instead of a bulky and large mechanical gyroscope, a chip smaller than a dime can easily measure acceleration in all three spatial directions. Read More > at Real Clear Science
Why You Don’t Want To Be In California’s One Percent – Tax reform isn’t exactly something we associate with California. With the highest income-tax rate in the nation (and the third-worst overall state business tax climate, per the Tax Foundation’s most recent rankings), the Golden State offers plenty of practical lessons in how not to run an economy. However, California State Controller Betty Yee recently suggested tax reform that shows a clear understanding of the peril facing California’s economy – and offers ideas that could restore energy and momentum to a sluggish state business climate.
Yee, a Democrat, wants to broaden the state tax base. California bureaucrats have grown far too accustomed to relying on the top 1 percent, treating them as “cash cows” for the treasury. Yee views this approach as both shortsighted and unsustainable, particularly given the wild fluctuations in the incomes of the rich (which dip or soar based on capital losses or capital gains, and which are the most mobile of American incomes).
The latest figures (from 2013) show that the top 1 percent of earners in California accounted for 21.8 percent of the state’s adjusted gross income (AGI), yet provided 45.4 percent of the state’s personal income tax intake. The top 10 percent of California earners brought in 49 percent of the income – and paid 78 percent of the income tax bills. (It should be noted that to be in the top 10 percent in California, one need not be super-wealthy; workers who earn above $141,600 are in this upper echelon and pay the high taxes it requires.)
When a state economy depends so greatly upon the incomes of a relatively small sector of the population, it is going to yo-yo as the nation goes from bust to boom and all points in between. That means leadership can’t create consistent funding plans for social services, public works, law enforcement agencies, and schools.
A smart way to solve this “yo-yo” problem is to broaden the tax base and stabilize the inflow of tax dollars. That’s why State Controller Yee is taking a serious look at expanding the sales tax to include services. In a state like California, which in 2014 brought in 251.5 million visitors (47.3 million for business and 204.2 for leisure), the economy depends heavily upon the service industry. Yet California taxes only retail goods, not services – thereby missing the huge opportunity to bring in tourists’ sales-tax dollars on things like restaurant visits, hotel stays, cab rides, and amusement-park visits. Read More > in Forbes
Analysis – California GOP benefits from redistricting decision as bigger case looms – “California voters overwhelmingly approved Propositions 11 and 20 to take the redistricting process out of the hands of elected officials and give it to an independent body,” Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of San Dimas said in his statement. “The court’s decision will ensure that Californians will continue to have an open and fair redistricting process.”
The measured nature of the responses reflected the limited effect of the Arizona case on California — at most a few seats would have been affected had the court gone the other way. But waiting in the wings is a far more consequential case that will be heard by the high court next year.
That case, Evenwel vs. Abbott, will determine whether district lines are drawn to accommodate a number of residents or a number of eligible voters. The latter category would exclude noncitizens and the young. Many of California’s most powerful Democrats represent districts whose outlines would change dramatically were the court to upend tradition in the Texas case.
A court decision to change the defining number from residents to those eligible to vote “would have a massive impact on national redistricting and specifically on the ability to create districts that empower minority groups — Latinos, Asians, even African Americans,” said Paul Mitchell, a California redistricting expert. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
California Drought Taking Serious Toll On Aging Sewer System In San Francisco – Few things in America have lasted 150 years. San Francisco’s sewer system is a working relic but one that works
You might think that the drought would give the sewer system a break, with not as much water going through it. But, while San Franciscans are sending less water down the drain because of conservation, the same, or more sewage is being sent through the system that isn’t being drained as well as before.
“It’s an organic material. It breaks down. It creates hydrogen sulfide. That eats up the concrete in the pipes if it sits there long enough,” Moala said.
With thousands of people moving into San Francisco, the city’s infrastructure continues to be taxed, no more so than the sewer system. But, sewer workers say they’ll do their best. It’s their duty. Read More > at CBS SF Bay Area
Why Twitter is terrible – “There’s no way around it,” I tweeted in September. “Twitter is getting markedly worse. I’m nervous.” Since then, the world has caught up. Celebrities have gone dark. Kids have moved to Snapchat. The scarred and the scared have locked down their accounts. Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo has been hounded out of office.
But these are all symptoms, not the sickness. Business critics say Twitter is falling because the suits don’t know what do to with the service. In reality, it’s failing because our social mobs know just what to do with it. Twitter is getting worse because it helps us argue — and believe — that everyone else is getting worse.
Twitter is commonly understood to have become defined by aggressive, incessant performances of identity. This is, by and large, true — but blaming identity politics only goes so far.
On Twitter, we’re not screaming at each other because we want to put different identities on cyber-display. We’re doing it because we’re all succumbing to what philosophers call “comprehensive doctrines.” Translated into plain language, comprehensive doctrines are grandiose, all-inclusive accounts of how the world is and should be.
The debasement of Twitter indicates that many of us are ready to slip into verbal brutality to show that just one worldview — ours, of course — can annihilate the competition. Twitter used to be a place to escape from the uniformity and hyperventilation of the “mainstream media,” where the ideological id has long run rampant. Now, Twitter is a megaphone for the worldview wars. It fosters constant competition among our claims that everyone should care and act as we do. Read More > in The Week
INFORMATION OVERLOAD – I struggled for a bit today trying to decide which of the many articles and news stories to post on the G4 CME which hit earth over the last couple of days. The media is replete with stories on the event. Even the mainstream media living in it’s own little fantasy world noticed and reported on it.
Then I finally realized there isn’t really any point. We’re talking about a G4 class Coronal Mass Ejection that has caused Northern Lights to be visible as far south as Georgia and caused radio problem worldwide. If that doesn’t get your attention nothing will. When God lights up the skies for you at night and you still don’t pay attention then there certainly isn’t anything I can say.
Most of the media along with the government and the politicians are too busy going into spasms and paroxysms and trampling one another to be the first at every new microphone and camera in order to demand that a 150 year old battle flag be hidden because it is the cause of all the violence and unhappiness in the world.
If they’re right that begs the question “Why did it take you 150 years to figure that out?” I assume that means that there must be a heck of a lot of Confederate Battle Flags in the Middle East to explain all the horror and misery there. Meanwhile the U.S. military is busy measuring the ice at the North Pole.
All in all I guess it’s not any real surprise that the threat of a solar flare causing an EMP event or a rogue nation or two popping off a few high altitude nukes that would destroy modern civilization is not a high priority with the folks in power. They have much more serious things to worry about… like burning 150 year old flags.
The government has officially declared CO2 a “pollutant”.
When you speak you expel CO2.
So the government has finally admitted that Politicians speaking cause Pollution. The word Irony is apparently not in the Federal Vocabulary List. Read More > in the Survivor Library
Recent shark attacks, now up to 7 in Carolinas, puzzle experts and scare beachgoers – Nobody seems sure why there have been more than the usual number of shark attacks in the Carolinas this summer. But the simple fact is that there are both more sharks and more swimmers, according to tourism experts and shark experts. And that’s a recipe for a cross-species surf war, albeit not one either sharks or most humans seek.
George Burgess, head of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH), said it is important to have this perspective so people don’t get ahead of themselves and fear a “Jaws-like” scenario. It’s tempting to assume the worst when pictures of sharks start circulating online; plus it’s particularly troubling when the series of attacks has predominantly affected young people. But, what’s more likely happening is North Carolina beachgoers are not used to looking for sharks and may be caught off guard as other factors draw sharks closer to shore, Burgess said.
…While experts and tourism promoters always urge calm and statisticians go on about how we are more likely to be attacked by a cow than a shark, that is small comfort for those swimming in the ocean rather than hanging around a farm.
…More long-term explanations include generally warmer water temperatures, which bring fish accustomed to warmer waters northward, bringing hungry sharks with them. Upwelling may also be contributing — this is when warmer surface-water is pushed away by wind or storms, allowing colder, nutrient-rich water below to rise to the top. Having more nutrients near the surface and shore attracts plankton, which attracts small fish, which in turn attracts sharks, Burgess explained. Read More > in The Washington Post
Supreme Court Affirms Power of Initiative in Redistricting Case – The people can serve as legislators. In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court declared that an initiative by the voters to create a commission in Arizona to draw congressional districts was constitutional. California established a similar commission in 2008 when voters passed Proposition 11 and added congressional redistricting to the commission’s duties with Prop 20 in 2010.
The case affirms that voters have legislative authority through the initiative process, a powerful boost for initiative lawmaking. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the only Californian on the court, who himself was involved in a California initiative when he practiced law in California, joined the majority.
The case arose when Arizona legislators challenged the right of voters to set the parameters for congressional elections. The U.S. Constitution specifically cites that legislatures are to set the rules of election.
However, the court agreed that the voters can act as legislators.
In fact, in the California Constitution the right of initiative appears ahead of powers granted the legislature. And the section on the legislative power granted the California legislature even acknowledges that, “the people reserve to themselves the powers of initiative and referendum.” Read More > at Fox and Hounds
E-cigarettes and health — here’s what the evidence actually says – Here’s the bottom line: If you’re a chronic smoker looking for a nicotine fix and trying to decide between smoking and vaping, most experts would agree there’s a compelling case that e-cigarettes are less harmful.
But a nonsmoker, or an ex-smoker, should think twice before taking up the habit. Even if e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe. At this point, we just don’t know. There have been no published long-term studies on the health of e-cigarette users, so the impact of vaping on the body over many years or decades is completely unknown. There are about 500 e-cigarette brands and more than 7,000 flavors on the market, and they work in different ways, delivering varying amounts of nicotine, toxins, and carcinogens. This means it’s hard to say anything concrete about the safety and health impact of all devices based on the research we do have.
…One of the great complexities of research in this area is the fact that e-cigarettes types vary so widely. “What is an e-cigarette?” asks Judith Prochaska, a professor at Stanford’s prevention research center, rhetorically. The devices can hold a wide range of flavors and chemicals, they burn and deliver nicotine differently, and their technology is advancing fast. It’s hard to know whether findings of studies are generalizable at all.
But perhaps the biggest complication is that e-cigarettes are extremely new — and so the most important research hasn’t had time to be conducted. The first peer-reviewed studies only started emerging in 2010, meaning we are still far from the kind of scientific certainty that can give clues about the effects of e-cigarettes over decades. Read More > at Vox
A’s or Raiders? Oakland may not be able to keep both – Through the haze of negotiations over building new football and baseball stadiums in the East Bay, one fact is becoming clear: At some point, Oakland will probably have to choose between the Raiders and the A’s.
“There is plenty of room for both a football- and a baseball-only stadium at the current Oakland Coliseum site, but neither owner wants to share the facility,” said Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid.
Raiders owner Mark Davis and A’s owners Donald Fisher and Lew Wolff “have basically said they want to be the only entity at the Coliseum,” Reid said.
The owners made their feelings clear at a meeting with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, according to Reid and others on the agency’s board.
“At some point, the city and county are going to have to make a decision” between the two teams, Reid said.
As it stands, the Raiders lack the financing for a new stadium on their own. They have told officials that unless a financing plan comes together by year’s end, they will pursue a joint stadium with the San Diego Chargers in Carson, near Los Angeles.
On the other hand, the A’s appear to have the money to build a baseball-only stadium. But Wolff told us that according to the team’s calculations, the Coliseum site can’t accommodate the existing arena plus a new baseball stadium, and still have any parking. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle