Sunday Reading – 06/21/2020

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.

Will COVID kill off the office? – The most useless technology is the one you invent but fail to exploit. The Incas invented the wheel, but seem only to have used it on toys. Hero of Alexandria designed the first steam engine in the 1st century ad, but it was seen as a gimmick. The technological opportunity to escape from city-center offices has been stuck in a similar limbo between invention and implementation.

In the 1970s, Nasa engineer Jack Nilles envisaged ‘teleworking’ from local work centers. In 1984, the Times reported that tele-commuting was the ‘magical buzzword’ on the US microcomputing scene. In the 1990s, the UK had 200 ‘telecottages’: rural workspaces with computers, communications and social support. More recently, there has been a proliferation of latte-sipping freelancers hunched over MacBooks at coffee shops and WeWorks.

Despite all the fanfare and substantially better technologies, little has changed in recent decades. Last year, just 5.1 percent of adults in employment worked primarily from home in the UK, according to the ONS. This was barely an increase from 4.3 percent in 2015. A larger number — about 12 percent — spent some of the week working from home.

Then, suddenly, a plague descended. Overnight there was a mass exodus from skyscrapers. City streets emptied. The cafés and sandwich shops closed. Millions began working from home (now known simply as ‘WFH’). Half of employed adults are now working from home. And to almost everyone’s surprise, it works. Read More > at The Spectator

Rasmussen: Majority Of Likely Voters’ Distrust Political News – A new Rasmussen Survey released Thursday is more bad news for the national news media looking to bolster their credibility. This new poll revealed, “just 30% of likely U.S. Voters trust the political news they are getting.”

“Most (53%) do not,” according to Rasmussen. “That compares to 32% and a high of 54% a year ago.”

The distrust is led by Republicans and independents.

Even worse, Rasmussen found, “Just 10% of voters think most reporters are trying to help Trump pass his agenda when they write or talk about the president. Forty-four percent (44%) believe instead that most are trying to block Trump’s agenda, although that’s down from a high of 51% in August of last year.”

Ten years ago a Rasmussen survey reported a whopping 48 percent of likely voters “think most reporters when they write or talk about President Obama are trying to help the president pass his agenda. Only 18% think most reporters are trying to block the president from passing his agenda.” Read More > at The Lid

This Is How the Amazon Juggernaut Will Finally Be Stopped – There was good news this week for some small companies using Shopify to manage their online selling operations. Around 1,200 of these outfits will be invited by Walmart to join its sizable e-commerce platform sometime this year. This development sets the stage for what Shopify hopes will be a win-win scenario that ultimately takes back some market share from online behemoth Amazon.

Realistically, that probably won’t happen in a meaningful way. Any Shopify user already has an online presence, and Walmart currently lists millions and millions of items offered by tens of thousands of third-party merchants. A few more of either won’t be a game-changer.

Nevertheless, this is a noteworthy development simply because it’s a sampling of how Amazon is finally going to be thwarted. A collective of small businesses, rather than one huge rival, is going to drive that disruption, and the Walmart/Shopify teamup isn’t the only recent step toward that outcome.

In April, shipping company FedEx offered special-rate shipping for users of BigCommerce. BigCommerce is not unlike Shopify in that it provides small and mid-sized businesses with a suite of tools that allow those organizations to operate an online business effectively. FedEx certainly negotiated a high-volume delivery rate with Amazon as well, as it should. But FedEx’s decision to support small and mid-sized business clients of one particular organization is a rather sweeping one, likely leading many of those outfits to rethink their need for Amazon at all.

Then there’s eBay. Once a powerhouse that was distinctly different than Amazon, the online auction platform has arguably lost its way in recent years because it lost its identity. Now it’s getting it back. In April, it unveiled its “Up & Running” campaign, specifically to get existing small businesses without an online presence onto the web and selling. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Americans More Upbeat About Personal Finances – Slightly more Americans today than two months ago rate their personal financial situation positively. A May 28-June 4 Gallup poll finds 53% of U.S. adults describing their personal finances as either “excellent” or “good,” compared with 49% in early April, when most of the country was under stay-at-home orders, and the effects of these on the economy were more uncertain.

Americans are still not as positive about their finances as they were in 2019 (56%) but remain much more upbeat than during the 2007-2009 Great Recession and ensuing years of high unemployment.

In addition to the 53% evaluating their financial situation positively, 33% describe their finances as being “only fair” and 14% as “poor.”

The increase in ratings of personal finances may reflect the return of millions of Americans to work, though unemployment remains higher than at any point since the Great Depression. The poll’s fieldwork was completed before the federal government’s June 5 announcement of an unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, from 14.7% to 13.3%. Read More > at Gallup

T-Mobile offers an explanation for its twelve-hour outage on Monday – On Monday T-Mobile’s voice and text messaging services were down all evening, with the outage stretching for over twelve hours. Now, its President of Technology Neville Ray has given some explanations of what happened and what the company says it’s doing to keep it from happening again.

Contrary to reports from some Twitter accounts or trending hashtags, the company didn’t cite any DDoS attack or other nefarious behavior as a reason for the problem. Specifically, a fiber circuit owned by another provider somewhere in the southeastern US failed, and their redundant features that were supposed to help manage the situation instead created a traffic storm of their own that overwhelmed the capacity of their network that handles Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calls.

As Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince pointed out that day, internet exchanges didn’t show the increase in traffic that would’ve suggested an attack under way, revealing the “boring” explanation of what happened. Throw in DownDetector highlighting reports from highly-populated areas where T-Mobile customers live and reported the outage, along with customers for other carriers who couldn’t get through to people on T-Mobile, and you get the storm of misinformation and confusion that surrounded the outage. Read More > at Engadget

Poll: Voters oppose ‘Defund the Police’ but back major reforms – Most voters believe police departments need to be seriously overhauled but don’t back the “Defund the Police” movement, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted after weeks of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

In the poll, conducted Friday through Sunday, a combined 59 percent say police departments across the country need either a complete overhaul (22 percent) or major reforms (37 percent). Just over 1-in-4, 27 percent, say police departments need a minor overhaul, and only 5 percent think they don’t need any reforms at all.

But that support does not extend to the slogan “Defund the Police,” which some activists say is about reforming law enforcement as much or more than actually making sizable budget cuts. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, more voters oppose the movement to “Defund the Police” (57 percent) than support it (29 percent). More than 4-in-10, 43 percent, strongly oppose the movement. Read More > at Politico

The No. 1 thing Americans are spending their stimulus checks on — even more than shopping at Costco, Walmart and Target – U.S. retail sales jumped by 17.7% in May, the government said Tuesday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast an 8.5% increase.

The rebound in U.S. retail sales follows record drop in prior two months, with clothing, home-furnishing stores and stores that sell books, music, sporting goods and other hobby items showing an increase. However, food-service sales were still down 40% in May on the year.

“The comeback was much faster than expected, and looks like a beginning of a v-shaped recovery in consumer spending,” wrote Jefferies analysts Aneta Markowska and Thomas Simons in a note. “That’s assuming the positive momentum is sustained, something we remain skeptical about.”

Nearly one-third (30%) of people said they used their stimulus checks to pay bills, according to a survey released this week, another sign that Americans are struggling to make ends meet, particularly with more than 38 million people filing for unemployment since mid-March. Read More > at MarketWatch

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? –  The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of the journalism literati, and usually associated with such apocalyptic terms as “ecosystem collapse” and “food crisis”. The culprit: modern agriculture, which is often linked to the Brave Not-So-New World of GMOs and gene-edited crops and the chemicals purportedly used to support it.

As recently as last month, an opinion writer for the New York Times, Margaret Renkl, warned of the dark ages about to be ushered in by pesticides. She makes a case for preserving “weedy” backyards filled with blood-sucking mosquitoes and other human-threatening flying and crawling creatures of various species.

Insect Armageddon, another popular phrase, is now one of the most common tropes in science journalism.

As I’ve chronicled numerous times in recent years, (including herehere and here), environmental activists have been advancing a succession of insect- and animal-related environmental apocalypse scenarios over the last decade—first honeybees, then wild bees and more recently birds. In each case they fingered modern, intensive farming, particularly crop biotechnology and pesticides, as the culprit, and warned of the terrible consequences in store for the Earth, including the mass extinction of pollinators and the global famine that would surely follow. In each case, small or poorly executed studies predicting imminent catastrophes were ballyhooed by many in the media; in each case, as more research came to the light, the hyped claims were eventually retracted or dramatically readjusted.  Read More > from the Genetic Literacy Project 

How Much Has the World Changed? (Not much) – “This changes everything!”

That declaration should always be greeted with extreme skepticism. Your daily sheltering-in-place experiences are definitely different from what you previously thought of as your “normal” life. But what you should expect to experience post-pandemic will look remarkably similar to what it was like pre-lockdown — perhaps with more hand washing.

This will be especially true once there is a treatment and vaccine for Covid-19. The biggest change will be the rapid acceleration of trends that were already in place. The future is coming, just a little quicker than previously scheduled. Huge events can have that effect.

That does not stop the prophesies of doom.

Post-pandemic, some pre-existing trends might be easier to spot. With 93% of Americans sheltering in place for months, some trends that are not novel or new will have been given a boost by circumstances. Consider these questionable forecasts:

The Death of Cities: Larger, expensive urban areas like New York, San Francisco and Chicago have been seeing a 1% population decrease for years. Some expect this to accelerate, especially as younger residents who cannot afford to live in expensive cities go elsewhere.

No more offices? Consider the tech that we are using today in lockdown: Facetime videos, Screenshare, Skype calls, Google Hangouts, Zoom. All predate the Coronavirus by years or decades. The technology has improved, mostly because of increased scale and greater bandwidth. I was surprised to learn how few people knew this was all pre-lockdown tech, and not just the “OK, Boomer” crowd.

The outsourcing of workers to cheaper economic regions is forever old; Remote work has also been around almost as long.

End of retail stores (and malls): Truly, this has been the longest trend of them all. Amazon went public in 1997, and immediately began taking market share. The rest of the internet soon joined in, and online commerce has been growing at a 30% annual rate. Online retailers now account for about 15% of sales.

America has been over-retailed for decades. America has had way too much physical retail space on a per-capita basis since the 1990s. Read More > at The Big Picture

When Workers Can Live Anywhere, Many Ask: Why Do I Live Here? – The coronavirus is challenging the assumption that Americans must stay physically tethered to traditionally hot job markets—and the high costs and small spaces that often come with them—to access the best work opportunities. Three months into the pandemic, many workers find themselves in jobs that, at least for now, will let them work anywhere, creating a wave of movement across the country.

Recessions tend to damp migration. Americans typically move with a new job already in hand, and hiring plummets during downturns. The 2008 financial crisis limited Americans’ mobility because millions of homeowners found themselves underwater on their homes, unable to sell without taking a loss.

But this time might be different. Home prices haven’t yet taken a major hit. And the forces at play are novel. Confronted with the prospect of not being able to easily fly in for a visit with an elderly parent, grown children are suddenly questioning why they live so far away in the first place.

Many newly remote workers are finding they prefer somewhere closer to family or fresh air. Others are giving up on leases they can’t afford, chasing opportunities in states that are reopening faster or heading back to hometowns.

All told, at one point in April, Americans were relocating at twice the pace they did a year earlier, according to Cuebiq, a data firm that tracks movement via mobile phones. They continued to move at an elevated rate through mid-May. Cuebiq’s tally includes any trips away from home that last at least three weeks, so it also captures some temporary movement, like people decamping to vacation homes and students moving home from college. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Baseball Is Wasting A Golden Moment During The Great Lockdown of 2020 – Each passing day without Major League Baseball stands as a stain on America’s national pastime and represents a sad failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity for the game and the country. Today, we should be distracted from our work, glued to our televisions, computers, or smartphones watching otherwise meaningless spring training games with greater interest than ever before, in anticipation of the return to normalcy of the daily drama of baseball.

At a minimum, our ailing nation could use the entertainment of skills competitions, or a reprised “home run derby” series. Baseball in any form, that most cherished spring-fall companion, would provide a needed respite from the mundane of the everyday grind that has only been accentuated by the effects of the Chinese coronavirus.

Instead, MLB’s folly is coming into clear view as June comes and goes. Players, owners, and the league remain unable to come to terms on an agreement to play ball while engaging in an ugly, short-sighted, and ultimately damaging public confrontation.

This year, even the most spoiled of fans, blessed with allegiances to the winningest of franchises, face agony. Through natural disasters, civil strife, economic calamity, and world wars, baseball has always marched on as a joyous diversion. No matter what was happening in your life or the world, you could always count on an unscripted three hours each night that would guarantee you something you had never seen before — one installment of 162, comprising the glorious narrative arc that is a Major League Baseball season. Read More > in The Federalist

California Legislature OK’s budget, but changes coming – Facing an estimated $54.3 billion budget deficit because of the coronavirus, California lawmakers on Monday approved a state spending plan that rejects most of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed cuts to public education and health care with the hope that Congress will send the state more money by Oct. 1 to cover the shortfall.

But the budget likely won’t become law because it does not have the backing of Newsom, who has the power to sign, veto or alter whatever the Legislature sends him.

Lawmakers passed a budget anyway to make sure they met a constitutional deadline and will continue to be paid. Legislative leaders will continue to negotiate with the Newsom administration to reach an agreement before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

California’s budget problem is the same issue plaguing other states. Newsom ordered most people to stay at home for nearly three months to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That forced many businesses to close and more than 6 million Californians to file for unemployment benefits.

The state has already delayed its tax filing deadline to July 15, making it harder for state officials to know for sure how much money they will have to spend. The Newsom administration predicts state revenues will drop by $41 billion. The rest of the $54 billion deficit comes from the billions of dollars the state spent purchasing protective gear for health care workers and securing extra hospital beds to prepare for a potential surge in patients that never happened. Read More > from the Associated Press

Young Americans Less Patriotic Than Ever Before – A Gallup poll published Monday found that only 20 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are “extremely proud to be an American.” This is the lowest percentage of any demographic, falling 23 percent since 2017.

According to the poll, this is the sixth consecutive year of decline in American pride across all demographics, and the first time “extreme pride” among whites fell below 50 percent. American pride among nonwhites is 24 percent.

The partisan gap in American pride also fell to 43 percent from 54 percent a year ago. This year, 67 percent of Republicans—a 9 point drop from last year—and 24 percent of Democrats said they are extremely proud to be an American. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon

Why do so many Americans refuse to wear face masks? It may have nothing to do with politics – In early April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans wear a face cloth covering or mask in places where it is difficult to social distance from other people. However, there currently is no federal mandate to wear face coverings.

Individual states including Delaware, New York, Virginia and Illinois require citizens to wear masks in public places. Other states require essential business employees and patrons while on premises, while some only require employees to wear them. Meanwhile, many states don’t have any mask requirements and instead recommend that they be worn in public places.

But even in states with mask mandates, Americans are defying these orders despite evidence that suggests that widespread use of face masks can greatly limit the transmission of coronavirus, which is believed to occur mainly from respiratory droplets.

Gender, political affiliation, race, income and geography all appear to play a role when it comes to wearing a mask or not. Read More > at MarketWatch

The Milky Way Contains 36 Contactable Alien Civilizations, Scientists Estimate – For hundreds of millions of years, Earth has nurtured a spectacular diversity of lifeforms, including humans, the only species known to develop advanced technologies. So, what’s the rest of the galaxy’s excuse? Are there intelligent alien civilizations out there in the Milky Way, and if so, how many?

The answer to that second question is 36, more or less, according to a study published on Monday in The Astrophysical Journal. This is only a statistical estimate, not an announcement that we have stumbled across three dozen civilizations in the galaxy, so there’s no need to pledge allegiance to any alien overlords yet.

But though its conclusions are speculative, the study incorporates new metrics and approaches in approximating how many alien societies within the Milky Way are capable of interstellar messaging (a group known as Communicating Extraterrestrial Intelligent civilizations, or CETI). Read More > at Vice

In Xi Jinping’s effort to make China No. 1, he’s forgotten the basics – Xi Jinping has set China the goal of leading the world in cutting edge technology, but has overlooked the very basics. While the regime is pursuing quantum computing, artificial intelligence and space dominance, it has neglected one of the founding concepts of physics. Isaac Newton’s third law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

As Xi pushes harder and harder for global dominance, he is provoking a growing pushback. Not just from the US. A growing number of people, countries and organisations are realising that Xi’s China is not the China they thought they knew.

The China that had followed Deng Xiaoping’s dictum to “hide your brightness, bide your time” for the preceding four decades was given a new direction by Xi: “Strive to achieve.” It’s no sin to strive. But when you are striving to take territory from your neighbours, sovereignty from your friends, and liberties from people everywhere, you are going to ruffle a few feathers.

Among the latest to awaken is the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance was forged to protect Europe from Russia. But Stoltenberg has now named China as a threat, too. China was too big a threat for America to manage by itself, the former Norwegian Labour prime minister said in a remarkable speech last week. Beijing was now a threat to democratic values everywhere and a global military force to be reckoned with.

…But it’s not just Washington. The major powers of western Europe have grown alarmed about Beijing’s intentions too. Germany has toughened its laws to protect companies against Chinese takeover, for instance.

And Britain is rethinking its embrace of China’s cyber champion, Huawei. Government MPs have been angered by Beijing’s behaviour over the pandemic and forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to review whether the company will be allowed any part in its 5G network. Read More > in The Sydney Morning Herald

‘It’s Racist’: How California Disregarded Its Own Liberal Faculty to Ditch the SAT – The Board of Regents of the University of California spoke as one when it scrapped the Scholastic Aptitude Test in a virtual meeting last month.

“I believe the test is a racist test,” said one regent, Jonathan Sures, whose day job is co-president of the United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills. “There’s no two ways about it.”

Unsurprisingly, given comments like that, the regents voted 23-0 to eliminate the SAT over the next five years — a victory for the system’s president, Janet Napolitano, who has long called for scrapping its use in university admissions.

But very surprising to some at UC was this: The regents’ decision flouted a unanimous faculty senate vote a few weeks earlier to retain the SAT for now — after a year-long study by a task force commissioned by Napolitano herself found the test neither “racist” nor discriminatory nor an obstacle to minorities in any way.

The 228-page report, loaded with hundreds of displays of data from the UC’s various admissions departments, found that the SAT and a commonly used alternative test, ACT —  also eliminated – actually helped increase black, Hispanic, and Native American enrollment at the system’s 10 campuses, and that their use should be continued.

“To sum up,” the task force report determined, “the SAT allows many disadvantaged students to gain guaranteed admission to UC.” Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse—Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election? – Two weeks after the polls closed in this year’s Ohio primary, two U.S. Postal Service employees showed up in the office of Diane Noonan, the director of elections in Butler County. The workers carried a tray of 317 unopened ballots that had been sitting in a Postal Service warehouse since the day before the election.

The ballots would have counted if they had been delivered on time. Now, there was no way to legally count them. The next day, another ballot that had been postmarked in time to be counted arrived with no explanation. In Geauga County, officials found 26 such ballots; Lucas County saw 13. Many election administrators in Ohio had already lost patience with the Postal Service. During Ohio’s April 28 primary, mail delivery had been so slow that the secretary of state publicly warned voters and called for the Postal Service to add staff. As they counted votes, Noonan and her team checked in with the service every day until the deadline. “We said, ‘Listen this is the last day,’” she recalled. “‘If we get ballots after this, they’re not going to be counted.’ They assured us.”

The Postal Service’s official excuse for misplacing the Butler County ballots was an “unintentional missort.” That response satisfied neither Ohio’s secretary of state nor Noonan. “We got an explanation that really wasn’t an explanation,” Noonan said. “It’s all in their hands. That’s what’s scary.” The missing ballots in Ohio were just one sign of a larger problem. Frequently attacked by President Donald Trump and his supporters, the beleaguered Postal Service is under tremendous pressure to ensure that an unprecedented number of Americans can vote by mail in November, avoiding the potential health risk of in-person polling places during the coronavirus outbreak. The disarray Tuesday in the Georgia primary, in which voting machines malfunctioned and people waited in line for hours to cast their ballots, underscores the potential value of voting by mail.

Complicating the Postal Service’s task is that many states are building large vote by mail systems on the fly. In 2018, 26 states and Washington, D.C. had vote by mail rates under 10%, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. States that don’t regularly send ballots to voters may keep inaccurate voter address lists, leaving overburdened postal workers to deliver ballots to the wrong places. Read More > at Route Fifty

In the Middle of a Severe Recession, California Prepares To Raise Its Gas Tax to 50 Cents a Gallon – The Golden State has the highest gas tax in the nation, and one of its worst-performing highway systems.

In the middle of a severe recession, the California state government is doing what it does best: raising taxes.

On July 1, the state’s motor fuel excise tax will rise by 3.2 cents to 50.5 cents a gallon. That heavily regressive levy secures the Golden State’s status as the nation’s top taxer of gasoline. This coming increase—the third in four years, according to the Los Angeles Times—is the first time the tax will go up as the result of an automatic inflation-adjustment mechanism added in 2017.

That law requires that every July, beginning this year, the state’s gas tax rate be adjusted to match any change in overall consumer prices, as measured by the California Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Inflation rates have plummeted around the globe during the pandemic, and California is no exception. The California CPI shows an overall decline in prices between February and April 2020, according to the latest figures published by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations.

But that decline comes a little too late for the state’s drivers. While California’s economy is being ravaged by COVID-19 and the related shutdowns of businesses, the data the state relies on to calculate its gas taxes are coming from rosier times.

The 2017 law specifies that the tax’s first inflation adjustment be based on the changes in the California CPI from November 2017 to November 2019. Because prices went up about 6 percent over that time, the gas tax is set to increase by the same amount.

That’s prompted a group of Republican legislators to propose suspending the gas tax increase. Read More > at Reason

Newsom, Legislature build new wall of debt – …Newsom pegs the multi-year deficit at $54 billion and his budget proposes to bite the bullet and make steep spending cuts that would be rescinded if the federal government provides a big state and local government relief appropriation. The Legislature’s budget would maintain spending more or less at pre-recession levels and make cuts later only if federal aid doesn’t materialize.

What no one is talking about, at least publicly, is that both Newsom and the Legislature want to run up many billions of dollars in new debt. They want to raid state special funds for “loans” that would have to be repaid later, make “deferrals” in state aid to schools that would have to be repaid later, and impose temporary ceilings on corporate tax breaks that businesses could recoup later.

The new wall of debt would be at least $20 billion over several years, the biggest chunk of it in deferrals of constitutionally required aid to K-12 schools and community colleges.

Newsom’s revised education budget would defer “approximately $13 billion” in this fiscal year and next with the promise to repay it slowly beginning in 2021-22 and in doing so, raise the schools’ share of state revenues. The Legislature takes a different approach but still counts on education deferrals to balance its budget on paper.

The caps on business tax breaks would, both budgets assume, generate $9 billion over two years, but corporations could accumulate unclaimed deductions and take them after the caps are lifted. So in reality, they are loans that would have to be repaid. Read More > at CALmatters

24 Hour Fitness files for bankruptcy, permanently closes more than 130 clubs – San Ramon-based 24 Hour Fitness filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday and said it would permanently close more than 130 of its 400 clubs across 10 states, including 13 in the Bay Area.

All 24 Hour Fitness clubs nationwide had closed in mid-March as stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders rippled across the country, and CEO Tony Ueber said in a statement that those shutdowns are entirely responsible for the company’s resort to bankruptcy reorganization.

“If it were not for Covid-19 and its devastating effects, we would not be filing for Chapter 11,” he said. “With that said, we intend to use the process to strengthen the future of 24 Hour Fitness for our team and club members, as well as our stakeholders.”

The 10 Bay Area clubs to close permanently include four in San Francisco, plus single outlets in Alamo, Berkeley, Fairfield, Fremont, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, San Jose, Vallejo and Walnut Creek.

While 24 Hour Fitness laid blame for its Chapter 11 filing and closures on the pandemic, the company was struggling prior to Covid-19 with membership numbers falling. Traditional clubs that rely on initiation fees and monthly subscription revenue have been caught in a squeeze between low-cost operators like Planet Fitness on one hand, and upscale boutiques like Orange Theory on the other. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

3 big California police unions release national reform plan to remove racist officers – Three major police unions in California introduced a reform agenda Sunday to improve outcomes between police officers and their communities and “root out any racist individual” from their ranks.

The San Jose Police Officers’ Association, the San Francisco Police Officers Association and the Los Angeles Police Protective League outlined the plan in a full-page advertisement published Sunday in The Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

The plan outlines action items aimed at holding law enforcement officers accountable during their interactions with community members, including:

• A national database of former police officers fired for gross misconduct that would prevent other agencies from hiring them.

• A national use-of-force standard that focuses on de-escalation, intervening when officers witness use of excessive force or misconduct, appropriate responses to dangerous incidents and stronger accountability provisions, following a model by the Los Angeles Police Department.

• A warning system to identify officers in need of additional training and mentoring, modeled after the San Francisco Police Department.

• A public website that would allow people to track use-of-force incidents, similar to a model adopted by the San Jose Police Department.

• Frequent crisis intervention and de-escalation training. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle 

When Silicon Valley Goes Dark This Time, There Will Be No Refuge – Blackouts that hit millions of Californians in 2019 could be doubly calamitous this year with tech giants GoogleTwitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. among the many companies keeping offices closed until the fall or later in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

If utilities cut power again, home offices set up during the pandemic could go dark and stay dark for days, and they’ll have no corporate offices to flee to for power. In October 2019, more than 3 million people were affected by a series of rolling blackouts over more than a week as PG&E Corp. and Edison International tried to prevent live wires from sparking wildfires.

Call it a collision of crises. Blackouts could limit California’s push to revive an economy largely paralyzed by stay-at-home orders this spring. The state, utilities and individual companies are all seeking ways to deal with blackouts before a wildfire season forecast to be worse than normal. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., for one, has “long contemplated this type of scenario,” according to spokesman Adam Bauer.

California regulators last month adopted new shutoff rules that will require the companies to restore electricity within 24 hours after the weather clears, although the state’s wind storms can last several days. PG&E, the state’s largest utility, has set its own goal of 12 daylight hours after the winds ease, and has nearly doubled the number of helicopters it will use to look for downed lines. Read More > at Bloomberg

Gov’s Power During COVID Doesn’t Sit Well With Legislators – When the California Legislature voted to recess in mid-March during the height of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, few lawmakers realized they were clearing the way for Gov. Gavin Newsom to assume unprecedented control of state government.

The Democratic governor has been widely credited for using his executive authority to prevent a massive surge of the virus early in the pandemic. At the same time, his unilateral decision-making has also fueled bipartisan frustrations in the Legislature, where lawmakers are still struggling to balance the scales of power with Newsom’s administration.

“When we were away, our state government collapsed into one-person rule with a governor issuing, at this point, 41 executive orders changing over 200 California laws with a stroke of a pen,” Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) said during the Assembly floor session Wednesday. “But here’s the issue. We’re back now. We’re here. We’re in session. And yet the governor is still issuing executive orders that usurp our legislative authority.”

…The legislative break that some initially expected to last a few weeks stretched to May 4 as counties statewide implemented health restrictions. Lawmakers had little choice but to sit back and watch Newsom roll out one executive order after the next during his near-daily press briefings. The governor issued more executive orders over three months in response to the pandemic than he signed in all of 2019.

A couple of days after lawmakers returned, Newsom signed an executive order to make it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Labor unions hailed the decision as a win for workers, while business interests questioned the unilateral decision made without any public hearings and outside of the typical legislative process. Read More > at Governing

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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1 Response to Sunday Reading – 06/21/2020

  1. Teri Hernandez says:

    Good stuff Kevin. I always look forward to the articles you share. Thank you.

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