Tag Archives: legislation

Progressive Cities: We Have a Problem

San Francisco is one of California’s jewel cities.  Prized not only for its magnificent views, but also for its progressive populace.  There is not a tax the City does not love, or a compassionate deed that is left undone.

Yet, the City’s vistas, cable cars, resident technology giants, multi-million dollar mansions, as well as its busybody Board of Supervisors have taken a back seat in the City’s consciousness to its streets littered with human feces, discarded needles, and homeless misery. San Francisco has 7,499 unsheltered and sheltered individuals, in the streets or in temporary living arrangements. This number is not surprising, since one-quarter of homeless people in the United States live in California, even though Californians make up only 12% of the U.S. population.

Once Far Back In Time and Now

CableCarTurstile

San Francisco was once called “The City That Knows How,” where streets were clean and safe. Those were the days before the immense tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, before liberals took over City Hall, before developers – for profit or not – joined forces with corporate think tanks to redraw the City, before environmentalists hit upon the gold mine of climate change, and before the City’s Department of Public Works had a Poop Patrol or the City’s Department of Health had free injection needles.

Now Downtown, and increasingly the neighborhoods, is a place where one walks gingerly in order not to accidentally step of human faces or on discarded needles. In spite of the talk about placing children’s playgrounds in every neighborhood, parents are cautious least their children are inadvertently injured by drug paraphernalia on the ground.

Why the Descent Into Hades?

Unfortunately, no one agrees on the cause of the City’s descent; therefore, remedies are irrelevant and ineffective. The laundry list of culprits is varied:

* High-income technology workers that bid up housing costs and displace lower-income residents.

* Out-of-towners attracted by relatively balmy weather that allow for outdoor living, generous public assistance, a permissive population, and free injection needles.

* A welfare-homeless cabal that profits from the homeless trade. Think social workers, non-profit organizations, shelter operators, food banks.

* Legislators that seem to work to attract and keep the homeless. For example, the City is working hard to establish “safe-injection sites,” where homeless addicts can shoot up under the supervision of medical professionals. Another example, the City’s Mayor has proposed legislation that would forcefully place homeless individuals who cannot take care of themselves into conservatorships administered by the City’s Public Guardian. Once plugged into a conservatorship, no legal escape from the City is possible without a Court order.

From the Experts

The health implications of the mounting trash are stark. Discarded needles may be contaminated with diseases like Hepatitis B and C and HIV, infectious disease scientist Lee Riley told NBC Bay Area back in February. Dried feces, he added, can release viruses into the air … Riley, a University of California, Berkeley scientist who has researched the effects of extreme poverty on the health of some of the poorest groups in the world, said the contamination in San Francisco was “much greater than [in] communities in Brazil or Kenya or India.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

Mohammed Nuru, the director of San Francisco Public Works, told Boston’s NPR-affiliated WBUR station the waste is tied to the San Francisco’s high rates of homelessness. People often live in tents with little access to sanitation facilities or trash collection, he said … “Our city has been a magnet for providing services, and you know a large number of the people we see on our streets are not necessarily from San Francisco,” Nuru told WBUR. “They’re coming from surrounding counties and in some cases even from across state lines.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

San Francisco has a ‘Poop Patrol’ to deal with its feces problem, and workers make more than $184,000 a year in salary and benefits.  Business Insider 08/24/18

The main reason that so many people in San Francisco, and other cities like Los Angeles, are living on the streets is that the cost of housing over the past two decades has vastly exceeded the amount of income that people earn making minimum-wage jobs or bring in from modest pensions, disability, or welfare … Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town. When that changed, people who were formerly housed became homeless.  San Francisco Tenants Union 06/07/18

Bad and Beautiful

As one approaches the City for the first time as a tourist, a convention attendee, or a prospective resident, one might notice two breathtakingly beautiful bridges, as well as an ugly as sin structure visible for miles from all parts of the City. The dichotomy is made readily clear.

Green Deals and Watermelons

WatermelonThere is a saying among “climate deniers” that “climate alarmists” are like watermelons – green on the outside and red in the inside. The watermelon people might not be entirely red, at least not yet. However, with all their talk of democratic socialism, social justice, income inequality, and 70% taxation, they are certainly getting there.

Whether the Earth is getting warmer or not is irrelevant for the purposes of discussing the watermelon people. They have been implementing their plans across the globe since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and have not decreased greenhouse gasses in any meaningful way. But their strategy is to keep ratcheting up what has not worked so far.

What has not worked so far is the reduction of greenhouse gasses in a meaningful way – the green part. What has worked quite beautifully is what critics call the real motives behind the actions of the watermelon people – the red part: raising revenue for social programs, redistributing wealth, and herding people into controllable zones.

The plans of the watermelon people are all handled pretty much in the same way; they are enabled by legislatures and implemented by regional planning agencies. For an example of a powerful regional planning agency, read about Priority Development Areas implemented by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area.  MTC administers transportation and housing through “Plan Bay Area.”

Whether you are convinced that climate action and wealth redistribution in the name of social justice are essential for our survival, or you are still a bit dubious, you might enjoy the transcript of a 2010 interview with Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the United Nations working group Mitigation of Climate Change from 2008 to 2015. This passage is especially interesting:

Edenhofer: First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.  The Daily Signal, Nov. 19, 2010

January Should be MTC Awareness Month

The San Francisco Bay Area is ground zero for tech companies, astronomical housing costs, and homelessness.  Those who are priced out of the housing market or their own homes often blame the influx of high-earning techies into the Bay Area particularly within the last 5 years or so.  Few are aware of the powerful trio micromanaging Bay Area residents’ lives, and how in-spite enormous power, the trio has not been successful in making the Bay Area “affordable.”  To the contrary, the trio might have made matters worse.

The trio in question consists of Plan Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).  Enabled by California’s state legislators, the MTC and ABAG determine how much land will be available for building homes (not much:  about 90% of the Bay Area is “protected” from development in one way or another), how many people must be accommodated within each county (too many according to those who prefer tranquility over GDP growth), how dense cities and counties need to be (pretty dense:  remember the 90% under protection?), and how many residents must have access to subsidized housing.  All the plans, mandates, and ever-intensifying goals are spelled out in Plan Bay Area.

The lion’s share of the trio’s power rests in the hands of one MTC Executive Director and 21 opaquely-selected MTC Commissioners.  MTC’s Executive Director will retire at the end of February 2019, and MTC is searching for a replacement.  Commissioner’s term expires in the middle of February 2019, and cities/counties must select new ones or re-appoints old ones.

Given MTC’s enormous power, its significant effect on the lives of Bay Area residents, and the opportunity for activism presented by MTC’s changing of its guard in February, the Nine-County Coalition — an organization dedicated to fighting the growth of entities run by unelected bureaucrats — has decided to unilaterally declare January 2019 “MTC Awareness Month.” 

Just Vote No joins them in their effort to make the voting public aware of MTC, its track record, and its obscurely-picked Commissioners.

Pictured below is MTC’s latest effort: the Bay Area’s multibillion-dollar Transbay Center, which opened with much fanfare August 2018, and closed for structural failures six weeks later.

transbay terminal opening 3

If You Are Poor, You Are Not Alone.

The Big Picture

The U.S. is a rich country judging by its massive economy as measured by GDP, standard of living and availability of goods and services. Yet, the U.S. has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Among OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries, mostly developed countries, the U.S. ranks third highest in poverty.

When viewed as percentage of a population, poverty rates usually understate the misery. The OECD’s as well as many other measures of poverty count individuals living below a certain poverty income line. Therefore, individuals need to be countable and receiving some form of income, which leaves out people participating in underground economies and other invisible endeavors.

Income is defined as household disposable income in a particular year. It consists of earnings, self employment and capital income and public cash transfers; income taxes and social security contributions paid by households are deducted. OECD: Household Income and Wealth

The Smaller Picture:  U.S. States

The big picture shows the U.S. as having a significant GDP in relation to other countries, as well as a noteworthy poverty level. What drives such unfortunate poverty numbers? For example, what U.S. states contribute the most to the bleak figures?

Poverty rates

The above figures show the number and percentage of people living in poverty by state, using a 3-year average over 2015, 2016, and 2017. Additionally, these figures, provided by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 2018, are the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factor in cost of living in each state. One state stands out: California.

The Golden State, Not So Golden

California has 7.5 million people living in poverty, the nation’s highest rate.  The next worse is Florida with 3.7 million — a little less than half of California’s numbers.  And remember these are the people that are counted, not living in invisible settings.

State legislators throw up their hands, blame the “housing crisis” in the state for the lamentable poverty numbers, and return to their business as usual: creating more poverty by insisting on restrictive land use, irresponsible fiscal policies, curbing mobility of residents (think rent control; think high property taxes and Proposition 13), and just plain brain washing folks against the idea of striking out in search of better opportunities. In California everybody is supposed to stay put, stay progressive, stay PC, and stay either very poor or very rich.  The strategy may not be working all that well considering the state’s net out migration, but California has mighty persistent politicians.

Were California less effusive in bragging about its economy – never mentioning its poverty rate as a self-inflicted wound, and seldom mentioning its unsustainable unfunded pension liabilities; and were California more focused on making efficient use of its enormous tax revenues instead of “resisting” change, it would have been mean spirited to pick on California as the lead contributor to the regrettable U.S. poverty rate. But, given the circumstances, it is not wrong to randomly throw the blame on the Golden State.

Bloggers Beware Part II – 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet

Mark Warner 2 - Copy
Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner appears to be on a mission to “nationalize” the Internet, the result of which no doubt will be restriction of content, stifling of innovation, and scarce improvements in data protection or consumer privacy. The gentleman from Virginia has published a white paper called Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms.

Liberty-leaning folks will not even need to read the 23 pages of proposals; they will only need to read the word “regulation” on the title of a paper dealing with platforms on which people express their thoughts, political leanings, religious beliefs, or business strategies.

Were Senator Warner’s white paper an isolated case of regulating free expression, there would be less cause for concern that is warranted in the wake of other legislation curbing the actions of websites, social media, bloggers, and others who express themselves on-line. This Just Vote No Blog recently wrote about California Senate Bill 1424 which aims to establish a Social Media Advisory Group “to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms, and draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate this problem.” Will your blog or post be declared “false information” because the powers that be did not like what you said?

The words “regulation” and “Internet” should not even be in the same sentence, since proposals such as these can only bring unfortunate consequences to our freedoms, as well as to our economic well being.

Find a Crisis and Exploit It

Kaiser Industries built a lot of roads and homes in California. Its pink cement-mixing trucks painted with the slogan “Find a Need and Fill It” were part of the state’s lore. Those were the 1950s, when industrialist/innovator Henry Kaiser found a need for homes, roads and factories, and filled that need by building them – with government’s blessings.

Today, it seems the dominant slogan is not the entrepreneurs’ find a need and fill it, but government’s find a crisis and exploit it. Instead of letting industrialists and innovators like Henry Kaiser produce the goods and services consumers want, government focuses on finding crises (or manufacturing them) and using these crises to tie the hands of producers and expand its reach.

Senator Warner’s 20 proposals to regulate the Internet serve as examples. Here is an excerpt from his white paper:

In the course of investigating Russia’s unprecedented interference in the 2016 election, the extent to which many technologies have been exploited – and their providers caught repeatedly flat-footed – has been unmistakable. More than illuminating the capacity of these technologies to be exploited by bad actors, the revelations of the last year have revealed the dark underbelly of the entire ecosystem. The speed with which these products have grown and come to dominated nearly every aspect of our social, political and economic lives has in many ways obscured the shortcomings of their creators in anticipating the harmful effects of their use. Government has failed to adapt and has been incapable or unwilling to adequately address the impacts of these trends on privacy, competition, and public discourse.

Before we even examine the 20 proposals, we might note the arrogance contained in the paragraph above:

* “Unprecedented interference in the 2016 election?” Hardly. Interference in the form of influence, spying and other strategies has happened several times in the past. A famous example of interference is Britain’s campaign to discredit Charles Lindbergh, leader of the “America First” movement of the 1940s, in an attempt to obtain military help from the U.S. in WWII.

* “Dark underbelly?” Perhaps Senator Warner could consider focusing on draining some swamps in Washington DC, rather than worry about Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook having a dark underbelly.

* “Anticipating harmful effects?” How good has been government in anticipating the harmful effects of its policies? How is the good old War on Drugs working for you and your family, especially if you happen to live in a poor neighborhood?

* “Government has failed to adapt” is always Newspeak for not yet passing more and more laws.

As noted in Senator Warner’s introduction to his proposals quoted above, the proposals purport to protect consumers and defend “our Democratic Institutions.” However, all “protection,” whether from government, the Mafia, or from zealous family members comes at a price. The price consumers must pay if they accept the “security” offered by proposals such as that of Senator Warner is loss of liberty. To protect one’s liberty one must make the effort to remain informed and exercise critical thinking. We must understand the products and services we use, and choose them wisely. We must not depend on “protectors” who most likely have their own agenda. This Just Vote No Blog wrote about that on our post Smart Cities – Your Life in a Fish Bowl.

Highlights of the 20 Proposals

These are what this Just Vote No Blog considers highlights of the 20 Proposals:

* Determine origins of posts and/or accounts to prevent bad actors from assuming false identities and influencing political debate.

* Identify inauthentic accounts to prevent spread of disinformation that pose a threat to our democratic process and undermine the integrity of digital markets.

* Make platforms liable for state-law torts (defamation, false light, public disclosure of private facts) for failure to take down deep fake or other manipulated audio/video content.

* Propose legislation that guarantees that platforms above a certain size provide independent, public interest researchers with access to anonymized activity data in order to measure and audit social trends on platforms that could help inform action by regulators in Congress.

* Require disclosures for online political advertisements in order to prevent targeted political ads sponsored by foreign advertisers. Require that platforms make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political ads.

* Establish a Public Initiative for Media Literacy funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions.  Building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.

* Deem as information fiduciaries certain types of online service providers – including search engines, social networks, ISPs, and cloud computing providers – because of the extent of user dependence on them, as well as the extent to which they are entrusted with sensitive information.

* Endow the FTC with privacy rule making authority, so as to enable it to respond to changes in technology and business practices, as well as increase its funding.

* Adopt GDPR-like legislation. One major tenant of the GDPR (that the US could or could not adopt) is the potential of high penalties for non-compliance in which a company or organization can be fined.

* Determine that dark patters — user interfaces that have been intentionally designed to sway users towards taking actions they would otherwise not take under effective, informed consent — are unfair and deceptive trade practices. To address this, FTC could be given rule-making authority to ensure that the law keeps pace with business practices.

* Set mandatory federal standards for platform algorithms to be auditable, so that outputs of algorithms are evaluated for efficacy/fairness and potential hidden bias.

* Pass a bill requiring data transparency, such that free platforms provide users with an annual estimate of what their data was worth to the platform, which would provide significant price transparency, educate consumers on the true value of their data, and potentially attracting new competitors.  Data transparency would also assist antitrust enforcement agencies like the FTC and DOJ.

* Pass legislation that could define thresholds such as user base size, market share, or level of dependence of wider ecosystems, beyond which certain core functions/platforms/apps would constitute essential facilities, requiring a platform to provide third party access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and prevent platforms from engaging in self-dealing or preferential conduct.

Does Anyone Actually Read Terms of Use?

Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet might bring to mind prescription drug ads and their interminable laundry list of side effects. Have all the regulations imposed on drug companies prompted patients to consume less drugs or become more aware of side effects such as addictions? Have all the regulations lowered drug prices? Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals would most likely have the same result as the required listing of side effects.

However, more serious than ineffectiveness are the consequences. The proposals listed above lean towards the following outcomes:

* On-line social media platforms that host content, such as Facebook or Google Plus, will become liable for what is posted. This liability will transform social media’s function, increase the costs of operating a platform, discourage new entrants due to high costs and the threat of liability, subject platforms to the whims of powers that be bent on surpresing opposition, and is open ended. Will liability apply to content management systems such as WordPress or Joomla? Will e-mail clients such as Thunderbird or Apple Mail be liable for the content of e-newsletters, meeting announcements, or communication between group members?

* One of the proposals is the establishment of a Public Initiative for Media Literacy, funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions, to build media literacy from an early age that would “help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.” Perhaps the real concern here should be the manipulation of our children’s minds? How about just teaching our kids to think critically instead?

* Mandatory standards for auditable platform algorithms sounds more like killing the golden goose of innovative proprietary code than protecting consumers or defending our Democratic institutions. How far will “auditable” go? How can proprietary code be proprietary when it in essence becomes open source?

* One of the 20 Proposals is to declare the Internet an essential facility. We as a People need to decide what we want the Internet to be: 1) a host for information of all types, ideas, random thoughts, beliefs, as well as a leveler of playing fields where a user with little financial wherewithal can start a future multi-billion dollar company from his/her dorm room; or 2) do we want the Internet to be just another regulated utility.

* Lastly, Senator Warner seems to think his 20 Proposals will improve competition by tying the hands of the big social media companies and supposedly facilitating new entrants. Here are three points to consider:

Successful people make it big by aspiring to be big. They do not enter a market that highly regulates bigness just because they are little, since they do not intend to remain little.

Successful people do not need government legislation, rather they avail themselves of government policies. For example, when government (because of its gargantuan national debt) keeps interest rates ridiculously low, smart people borrow loads of money, offer stockholders of competitors good prices, and sail into near-monopoly positions.

Remember WordPerfect and Quatro Pro, or MySpace? These guys dominated the word processing, spreadsheet, and social media markets respectively. But then came Word Office Suite and Facebook. So, big companies can be replaced by smarter and nimbler ones.

As the Wall Street Journal says in its article Warner’s Plan to Ruin the Internet,
“Mr. Warner has flexed his congressional muscles and made a point. Now he can go away.”  We concur.

Laws, Policies and Consequences

The law of unintended consequences is as merciless as the law of gravity. This article lists three instances where the law of unintended consequences caused supposedly well-intentioned laws to turn into nightmares, especially for those of modest income.

Unintended consequences

The Fast Food Franchise Bright Idea

Chin Jou’s book Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food With Government Help, published in 2017, should become a classic on the subject of unintended consequences.

The book recounts the story about the federal Small Business Administration setting up a program to help residents of inner cities become entrepreneurs. The SBA would guarantee loans to start business franchises. Dunkin’ Donuts stepped right up to help promote the program, followed by McDonald’s and Burger King. Once fast food companies realized inner cities had become a gold mine, they leveraged their prospects with advertising, and inner cities residents became faithful consumers of fast foods.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is unhealthy obesity.

The War on Terror and the Rise of Terrorism

9/11 was a tragedy where we experienced in real time, in U.S. soil, the death of almost 3,000 civilians. Therefore, the hurt and anger that resulted in the war in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, could be understood. George Bush sent troops to Afghanistan to clean out terrorist camps, and to Iraq to eradicate supposed weapons of mass destruction.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is well described by this paragraph,

What the US tends to forget, or intentionally ignores, is that armed reactionary groups like ISIS are born out of the destabilization created by Western military intervention … [H]ostile anti-American resistance groups gain momentum, sympathy and legitimacy from the actions carried out by Western forces.  Foreign Policy Journal, 2015

Fighting Climate Change

Everybody wants clean air, clean water, and the absence of extreme climate. Therefore, to ensure these graces, legislators have done what legislators tend to do – pass laws. The laws of preference favor transit-oriented development (TOD) intended to reduce automobile miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.

TOD policies set strict urban-growth boundaries, establish vast conservation areas where development is not allowed, and encourage development only along transit corridors. Under such plans, density is promoted as desirable not only as means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also as an engine of growth and, therefore, tax generation.

The unsurprising unintended consequence of transit-oriented policies is unaffordability of real estate. As places to build shrink and neighborhoods resist high density, supply of housing decreases and prices for renting or buying a roof over one’s head go up.

California, a state that boasts its leadership in controlling climate change and forcefully promotes transit-oriented policies has chased away its working poor and its middle class, who cannot afford astronomically housing costs.

The problem is that high-density housing–that is, mid-rise and high-rise housing–costs 50 to 68 percent more, per square foot, to build than low-density housing. If California really wants to build housing that is affordable to low-income people, it needs to build more low-density housing. To build that, it needs to open up land that has been off-limits to development because it is outside of urban-growth boundaries.  Will Density Make Housing Affordable? New Geography, March 2018.

Examples Abound

Government policies apparently implemented in good faith can easily turn sour and result in unanticipated harm. Who can forget the mass displacement of residents in the 1950s -1960s in the name of urban development? Who can ignore the cost of health insurance after the Affordable Care Act? How many families have been torn apart and how many children have been caught in the cross fire of the war on drugs?  But these are all subject for future articles on the Just Vote No Blog.

Therefore, regardless of your party affiliation or political leanings, proceed with caution in supporting sweeping legislation, regulation, or executive orders at all levels of government.

California Senate Bill 1424 Needs Bloggers’ Attention

Whose job is to determine what is fake news, entertainment, or new ideas worthy of consideration?

California Senator Richard Pan seems to believe it is government’s job to do so. His recently introduced Senate Bill 1424 has gone through several amendments, resulting in what is now in committee process.  The current version of the bill is simply a proposal to form an advisory group within the California Attorney General’s office to study fake news to purportedly prevent its spread.  Really?  Read more.