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Inside the Yimby conference

July 25, 2017

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

Nice civil discussion on the surface — and some nastiness behind the scenes

Last weekend about 120 attendees from 17 cities gathered in downtown Oakland for the Yimbytown 2017 conference. Organized by East Bay Forward, the event was bankrolled by a $40,000 grant from Open Philanthropy, a project of Cari Tuna and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz that also funded the initial Yimbytown conference in Boulder. Chicago Cityscape also funded scholarships for a quarter of the conferees. Admission was $75.

The event featured 20 sessions and three keynote speakers, including State Senator Scott Wiener. For this reporter, the most memorable aspect of the proceedings was the contrast between the participants’ civility and collegiality at the event proper and the organizers’ incivility and paranoia behind the scenes. A close second was Wiener’s disingenuous put-down of his and other Yimbys’ San Francisco opponents…

In an unusual gesture, Open Philanthropy posts the applications of its would-be grantees online. The Yimbytown application describes the conference as the “annual…catalyst for unifying housing organizers, funders, builders, and thought leaders on a national scale.” This year’s grant went to CaRLA (California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund), the legal affiliate of SFBARF (Bay Area Renters Foundation) that sues suburban cities for purported violations of the state’s Housing Accountability Act….

More money for YIMBYs. We already have one running for office in District 6. How many more will we see coming up for election in their effort to take over San Francisco politics?

Read more…

Undemocratic voting

July 24, 2017

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

The bill that would limit citizen initiatives against development is now in the state Senate, and will be heard in committee in August. The SF supes will vote again Tuesday/25 on a resolution opposing it, after Sups. Malia Cohen and Ahsha Safai tried to sideline it last week.

If you want to hear an interesting discussion on the bill, the author, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, and former state Sen. Mark Leno, who opposes the measure, had a lively debate on KPFA last week. You can listen to it here.

Leno argued that the measure creates an undemocratic supermajority – something James Madison argued against in Federalist Paper 58. “Forty-six percent will have more power than 54 percent,” Leno said…

San Francisco’s legislative delegation would be pushing, is that this bill (like the Ellis Act) is going to have unintended consequences, most likely in San Francisco. The measure as it is would apply only to cities with a population of more than 750,000. Why not raise that number to 1 million, Leno asks – exempting San Francisco?

Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting both voted for the bill as it is. Perhaps Sen. Scott Wiener can offer that amendment. Anyone want to bet?… (more)


A move to ban all new medical cannabis outlets in SF

July 24, 2017

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

With little public comment, Planning Commission approves total moratorium on new dispensaries

The Planning Commission July 20 passed a recommendation for a moratorium of up to two years on new dispensaries. It’s not binding – the Board of Supes will have to make the final decision – but the commission has to approve every application for a dispensary, so the action signals that it may become much more difficult to get a permit to open one…

In their rush to talk about the hot news that the city is going to hire a cannabis director, most of the major news media missed this entire episode. Joshua Sabatini at the Examiner noticed, and put the word out before the meeting…

The Small Business Commission opposed the Safai legislation, saying that it would create an oligopoly in D11, protecting three operators from competition, and driving the business into other parts of town…

The Board of Supes Land Use Committee will hear Safai’s bill Monday/24. It will come to the full board Tuesday/25... (more)

San Francisco seems to be taking the opposite position of Oakland by cutting off new entrepreneurs, while Oakland is welcoming new options for an economically challenged populations. Sonoma County is embracing the new economic boost to their communities. Why does San Francisco wants to limit the legal trade that the voters just endorsed by a wide margin. Stay tuned for those discussions.

Marin, San Mateo counties sue Big Oil over climate change

July 18, 2017

By Kurtis Alexander : sfchronicle – excerpt

Two Bay Area counties and a Southern California city concerned about rising sea levels sued 37 of the world’s biggest oil and coal companies Monday, claiming the fossil fuel giants should pay for damages wrought by climate change — a first-of-its-kind challenge that some liken to the high-stakes litigation of the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

Marin County, San Mateo County and Imperial Beach (San Diego County) filed separate but nearly identical lawsuits in their respective Superior Court offices that seek to tie fossil fuel development to climate-related problems in coastal areas. Lawyers for the three communities worked together to document such effects as more frequent flooding and beach erosion as well as the possibility that water will eventually inundate roads, airports, sewage treatment plants and other real estate.

The lawyers contend that the oil companies knew about the damage their actions were causing, denied it and sought to discredit scientific findings that greenhouse gas emissions were heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

The suits are the latest in a small but growing effort to hold Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and other major energy companies accountable for the effects of global warming. Legal experts say the challenge is more comprehensive than previous endeavors, and is based on better climate science and more evidence to support a claim of conspiracy among oil company executives… (more)

Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence Is Society’s ‘Biggest Risk’

July 17, 2017

By Casey Leins : usnews – excerpt

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Artificial intelligence is the “biggest risk that we face as a civilization” Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Saturday, speaking to state leaders on the last day of the National Governors Association summer meeting.

The business magnate participated in a question and answer session with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, the incoming chair of the National Governors Association, whose initiative explores how state leaders can prepare for and benefit from innovative technologies.

Musk made his stance clear that governors must address artificial intelligence proactively, or it will be too late. Without proper regulations in place, he warned, industries will become completely autonomous, posing a threat not only to jobs but to the nation’s safety. He said the government “doesn’t have insight” into AI yet but, when they do, “I think people will be very afraid, as they should be.”

Robots can complete tasks faster and more efficiently than humans, but even more dangerous is the fact that they could “start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake information, and just by manipulating information,” Musk told the audience.

Responding to Musk’s somber warnings, the governors were eager for advice on how to defend their states.

n 20 years, Musk said he expects all cars on the road to be autonomous, adding that having a steering wheel “will be like having a horse.”

Yet, when all cars become what Musk describes as “a laptop on wheels,” cybersecurity becomes a major concern, especially the idea of a fleet-wide hack. If hackers were able to direct everyone’s vehicle to Rhode Island, he said as an example, “that would be the end of Tesla.”

To curb these threats, Musk said drivers must be able to override the vehicle in a way that no amount of software can disrupt (more)


Robots and AI are going to make social inequality even worse, says new report

By James Vincent : theverge – excerpt

Rich people are going to find it easier to adapt to automation

Most economists agree that advances in robotics and AI over the next few decades are likely to lead to significant job losses. But what’s less often considered is how these changes could also impact social mobility. A new report from UK charity Sutton Trust explains the danger, noting that unless governments take action, the next wave of automation will dramatically increase inequality within societies, further entrenching the divide between rich and poor.

The are a number of reasons for this, say the report’s authors, including the ability of richer individuals to re-train for new jobs; the rising importance of “soft skills” like communication and confidence; and the reduction in the number of jobs used as “stepping stones” into professional industries…

Similarly, as automation reduces the need for administrative skills, other attributes will become more sought after in the workplace. These include so-called “soft skills” like confidence, motivation, communication, and resilience. “It’s long established that private schools put a lot of effort into making sure their pupils have those sorts of skills,” says Cullinane. “And these will become even more important in a crowded labor market…(more)

Everything You Need To Know About Net Neutrality

digg – excerpt

Did the internet feel a little broken last week? While the term “net neutrality” may elicit the same effect as as taking a Tylenol PM, yesterday it got some serious star power behind it. Silicon Valley celebs from over 40 tech companies like Facebook, Google, Reddit, Netflix, and Pornhub rallied to inform the masses of the dangers of net neutrality rules being removed.

The imminent threat to net neutrality has the potential to seriously affect each and every one of our daily lives, and we should all be informed of the consequences (just ask John Oliver). How and why, you ask? Let’s start from the very beginning:

What exactly is net neutrality?

According to the Internet Association, “strong net neutrality rules give people the power to choose which websites and apps are best.” In other words, they essentially keep the internet free, as we know it. A rollback of these rules will give Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to prioritize the sites and apps you visit every day: slowing them, speeding them, or blocking them altogether. Your ISP could even choose to slow down or censor websites that opt out of paying extra fees to be prioritized. Website you really, really love. Like Netflix. Or Hulu. Or Digg. Or, y’know, Pornhub.

On the other hand, ISPs could also choose to charge individuals like you and me extra fees to access sites that typically use more data. (Again, think streaming services and GoT.) Worse, they could potentially manipulate your internet access to push their own business agenda like proprietary cable services, news sites, email services, etc… (more)

How Obama’s Failure To Prosecute Wall Street Set The Stage For Trump’s Win

July 17, 2017

By Alexander C. Kaufman : huffingtonpost – excerpt of book review (video included)

A “chickenshit club” of prosecutors who only pursue easy targets managed to change history, a veteran Wall Street reporter argues in a new book.

In his eight years as president, Barack Obama oversaw a civil rights renaissance, laid the groundwork for combating climate change, and shepherded the nation through its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

But his failure to prosecute Wall Street executives for causing the collapse of the housing market ushered in an era of populist rage that cleared the path for a demagogic reality-TV star to take the Oval Office, according to Jesse Eisinger’s new book, The Chickenshit Club, which hit shelves on Tuesday…

The book traces Department of Justice impotence on corporate crime back two decades. In 2000, the dot-com bubble burst, and the sudden deflation of highly valued early internet firms increased scrutiny over companies’ books across industries…

That year, President George W. Bush, eager to steady a quivering economy, signed an executive order establishing the Justice Department’s Corporate Fraud Task Force. The team of prosecutors would ultimately bring down Enron in what became the world’s most infamous accounting-fraud scandal. But before toppling the energy-services company and sending its top executives to prison, DOJ investigators would snag another big fish, catching Arthur Andersen shredding its audits of Enron. In June 2002, the world’s fifth-biggest accounting firm effectively shut down after a conviction for obstructing justice.

The conviction rippled through the corporate world as Arthur Andersen laid off thousands of employees. The shock wave inspired a fierce backlash from corporate lobbyists and defense attorneys. They launched a PR campaign that painted prosecutors as overly aggressive cowboys willing to put people out of work and destabilize markets. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce funded appeals of the conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 2005, the high court unanimously ruled against the Justice Department…

Changes to the way the Justice Department treated white collar crime came into sharp relief after the 2007 financial crisis. The Corporate Fraud Task Force of 2002 boasted nearly 1,300 fraud convictions by the time Obama replaced it in 2009 with the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The new entity combined the efforts of the Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Treasury Department, in what then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner promised would “act aggressively and proactively in a coordinated effort to combat financial fraud.” But, lacking the focus or prosecutorial muscle of its predecessor, the task force turned out to be what critics called “a clearinghouse of information and resources to facilitate enforcement by other government agencies.” One former Justice Department official derided it to Eisinger as “the turtle.”…

“The great secret to corporate criminal prosecution is that we have privatized and outsourced it to the companies themselves,” Eisinger said. “In doing so, they’re taking cues from the client of the company, and the client of the company is going to be studiously incurious about following investigative threads that might lead to the CEO or board rooms. Instead, they point the finger at a middle manager or someone expendable, and that’s the person who gets indicted by the general government.”.

It’s a revolving-door system. Those same law firms poach Justice Department prosecutors, with offers of far higher salaries than the government can afford. That makes the Justice Department just a middling step in the pipeline between elite law schools and big firms, which is true regardless of politics these days. Firms like WilmerHale and Covington & Burling lean Democratic, while Jones Day leans Republican…
“The Democrats have very few differences from the Republicans now”, Eisinger said. They’re both drawing from the same elite legal culture, they’re all essentially clerking from the same judges or the same courts. … They’re all drawing from the same well with just little gradations in difference on ideology, mainly around social issues.”…(more)

So, the question would ask is ,”Why did Obama replace the Corporate Fraud Task Force with the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force?” and “Can the Democratic Party be trusted to fix the problems in the Justice Department?”

The Internet Is Pushing People Out Of Small Towns

July 14, 2017

by Tom Vander­bilt : outsideonline – excerpt

Outside Magazine’s Tom Vanderbilt starts his examination of the effect of Airbnb on the small ski towns out west with an anecdote that’s simple enough to understand. Brian Barker lives in Crested Butte, Colorado — a small quaint ski town everyone dreams about. He needs to work three jobs to make ends meet. Now, his landlord wants to kick him out and replace him with a short-term rental. In other words, Airbnb has forced Barker out.

But the deeper Vanderbilt dives into the relationship between small ski towns and short-term rentals, the more convoluted things get. Services like Airbnb help bring in more tourists, sure. But unlike a fancy resort cropping up in an otherwise small town, the rise of the short-term rental has put the tourists at odds with the people who service them.

It’s a bit of a late capitalism Catch-22. Short term rentals are pushing residents out, but residents can’t afford to live in these small towns without the money from short term rental tourists. If only they had a Milo Minderbinder around to figure this all out… (more)

What did we do before Airbnb? I remember staying in hotels and motels when we traveled. We had tourists and visitors back then and affordable housing and jobs. Maye it is time to blow up the disruptive “sharing economy” that swooped in with promises of cheap deals and “smart” products and systems that will make our lives wonderful in 2040. Maybe it is time to say NO to the “deals” and put them out of business so we can go back to our pleasant affordable lives.

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