Saturday, June 29, 2019

How Europe Censors Americans Speech



There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific
dictatorship should ever be overthrown.
~Aldous Huxley,
 Brave New World Revisited
The recent movement to investigate, and even break up, the current tech oligarchy has gained support on both sides of the Atlantic, and even leapt across the gaping divide in American politics. The immediate concerns relate to such things as the control of key markets by one or two firms, the huge concentration of wealth accruing to the tech elite and, increasingly, the oligarchy’s control over and manipulation of information pipelines.
What has not been discussed nearly as much is the end game of the oligarchs. What kind of world do they have in mind for us? Their vision of what our society should look like is not one most people—on the Left or Right—would like to see. And yet, unless unchecked, it could well be the world we, and particularly our children, will inhabit.
Almost 40 years ago, in his book The Third Wave, the futurist Alvin Toffler described technology as “the dawn of a new civilization” with vast opportunities for societal and human growth. But instead we are lurching towards what Taichi Sakaiya has called “a high-tech middle ages.” In his landmark 1973 work, The Coming of Post-Industrial SocietyDaniel Bell predicted that, by handing ultimate economic and cultural power to a small number of technologists and financiers the opportunity to monetize every aspect of human behavior and emotion, we would be handing them the chance to fulfill “a social alchemist’s dream: the dream of ordering mass society.”
The New Aristocracy
Like the barbarian princes who seized control of western Europe after the fall of Rome, the oligarchs have captured the digital landscape from the old industrial corporations and have proceeded to concentrate it in ever-fewer hands. Like the Medieval aristocracy, the ruling tech oligarchy—epitomized by firms such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft—have never produced a single coherent political manifesto laying out the technocratic vision of the future. Nevertheless, it is possible to get a sense of what the internet elite believe and, more tellingly, to see the outlines of the world they want to create.
This tiny sliver of humanity, with their relatively small cadre of financiers, engineers, data scientists, and marketers, now control the exploitation of our personal data, what Alibaba founder, Jack Ma calls the “electricity of the 21st century.” Their “super platforms,” as one analyst noted, “now operate as “digital gatekeepers” lording over “e-monopsonies” that control enormous parts of the economy. Their growing power, notes a recent World Bank Study, is built on “natural monopolies” that adhere to web-based business, and have served to further widen class divides not only in the United States but around the world.
The rulers of the Valley and its Puget Sound doppelganger now account for eight of the 20 wealthiest people on the planet. Seventy percent of the 56 billionaires under 40 live in the state of California, with 12 in San Francisco alone. In 2017, the tech industry, mostly in California, produced 11 new billionaires. The Bay Area has more billionaires on the Forbes 400 list than any metro region other than New York and more millionaires per capita than any other large metropolis.
For an industry once known for competition, the level of concentration is remarkable. Googlecontrols nearly 90 percent of search advertising, Facebook almost 80 percent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about 75 percent of US e-book sales, and, perhaps most importantly, nearly 40 percent of the world’s “cloud business.” Together, Google and Apple control more than 95 percent of operating software for mobile devices, while Microsoft still accounts for more than 80 percent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.
The wealth generated by these near-monopolies funds the tech oligarchy’s drive to monopolize existing industries such as entertainment, education, and retail, as well as those of the future, such as autonomous cars, drones, space exploration, and most critically, artificial intelligence. Unless checked, they will have accumulated the power to bring about what could best be seen as a “post-human” future, in which society is dominated by artificial intelligence and those who control it.
What Do the Oligarchs Want?
The oligarchs are creating a “a scientific caste system,” not dissimilar to that outlined in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1932 novel, Brave New World. Unlike the former masters of the industrial age, they have little use for the labor of middle- and working-class people—they need only their data. Virtually all their human resource emphasis relies on cultivating and retaining a relative handful of tech-savvy operators. “Software,” Bill Gates told Forbes in 2005, “is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future.”
Perhaps the best insight into the mentality of the tech oligarchy comes from an admirer, researcher Greg Ferenstein, who interviewed 147 digital company founders. The emerging tech world has little place for upward mobility, he found, except for those in the charmed circle at the top of the tech infrastructure; the middle and working classes become, as in feudal times, increasingly marginal.
This reflects their perception of how society will evolve. Ferenstein notes that most oligarchs believe “an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial ‘gig work’ and government aid.” Such part-time work has been growing rapidly, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the workforce in the US and Europe, and is expected to grow substantially, adds McKinsey.
Of course, the oligarchs have no more intention of surrendering their power and wealth to the proletariat than the Commissars did after the 1917 revolution in Russia. Instead, they favor providing what Marx once described as a “proletarian alms bag” to subsidize worker housing, and provide welfare benefits to their ever expanding cadre of “gig” economy serfs. The former head of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was a strong supporter of Obamacare, and many top tech executives—including Mark ZuckerbergY combinator founder Sam Altman, and Elon Musk—favor a guaranteed annual wage to help, in part, allay fears about the “disruption” on a potentially exposed workforce.
Their social vision amounts to what could be called oligarchal socialism, or what the Corbynite Leftcalls “fully automated luxury communism.” Like the original bolshevist model, technology and science, as suggested by billionaire tech investor Naval Ravikant, would occasion “the breakdown of family structure and religion” while creating the hegemony of a left-wing identity-centered individualism.
Life in a world dominated by these oligarchs would depart from the model of democratic and competitive capitalism that emerged over the last half-century. Rather than hope to achieve upward mobility and the chance to own property, the new generation will be relegated largely to the status of rental serfs. For the next generation, this promises a future not of upward mobility and owned houses, but of rented apartments and social stagnation. Here in California, Facebook is leading the drive to vastly expand this kind of housing, where the serfs and technocoolies can lose themselves in what Google calls “immersive computing.” The poor, most of whom simply want opportunity, will be relegated to permanent dependent status.
The World They Are Creating
To get a preview of the society the oligarchs want to create, the best place to look is where oligarchal domination is most complete. Wired magazine’s Antonio Garcia Martinez has calledSilicon Valley “feudalism with better marketing.” In Martinez’s view, the new aristocratic class is an “Inner Party” of venture capitalists and company founders. Well below them is an “Outer Party” of skilled professionals, well paid, but forced to live ordinary middle-class lives due to high housing prices and high taxes. Below them lies the vast population of gig workers, whom Martinez compares to sharecroppers in the South, “…with the serfs responding to a smartphone prompt rather than an overseer’s command.” Further below still lie those who constitute, in Martinez’s phrase, “the Untouchable class of the homeless, drug addicted, and/or criminal.”
California, and particularly the Bay Area, already reflects this neo-feudal reality. Adjusted for costs, my adopted home state suffers the overall highest poverty rate in the country, according to the US Census Bureau. Fully one in three welfare recipients in the nation live in California, which is home to barely 12 percent of the country’s population, while a 2017 United Way study showed that close to one in three of the state’s families are barely able to pay their bills. Today, eight million Californians live in poverty, including two million children. Roughly one in five California children lives in deep poverty and nearly half subsist barely above that.
For all its protestations of progressive faith, the Golden State now suffers one of the highest GINI rates—the ratio between the wealthiest and the poorest—among the states. Inequality is growing faster than in almost any state—it now surpasses that of Mexico, and is closer to that of Central American banana republics like Guatemala and Honduras than it is to developed countries like Canada and Norway. There’s even the return of medieval diseases such as Typhus tied to the growing homeless encampments. We could soon even see the return of Bubonic plague, although the mainstream media seems to be ready to blame this, like most ills, on climate change as opposed to failed social policy.
Urban website CityLab has described the tech-rich Bay Area as “a region of segregated innovation,” where the rich wax, the middle class wanes, and the poor live in increasingly unshakeable poverty. Some 76,000 millionaires and billionaires call Santa Clara and San Mateo counties home. At the other end are the thousands of people who struggle to feed their families and pay their bills each month. Nearly 30 percent of Silicon Valley’s residents rely on public or private assistance.
As recently as the 1980s, the San Jose area boasted one of the country’s most egalitarian economies. But in the current boom, cost-adjusted wages for middle class workers, Latinos, and African Americans in Silicon Valley actually dropped. Many minorities labor in the service sector in jobs such as security guard, for around $25,000 annually, working for contractors. There’s ever-greater segregation of minority and low income families, workers forced into mobile home parks or sleeping in their cars, as well as some of the nation’s largest homeless encampments. According to the Brookings Institution, in the last decade, increasingly tech-dominated San Francisco has suffered the most rapid growth in inequality while the middle class family heads towards extinction.
Needed: An Alliance of Progressives and Conservatives against the Oligarchy
Americans, enamored of the entrepreneurial spirit, were initially slow to see in the tech oligarchy a threat to the future of the republic. But public skepticism, notably in California, towards the tech lords is growing; many on both sides of the political divide see them much like modern versions of the gilded age mogul, successfully playing the political system to avoid regulation, anti-trust action, and taxes.
Yet overcoming the oligarchs will not be easy. Far more than the old industrial giants, they enjoy unprecedented sway through their manipulation of the information pipelines, as is widely evidenced in de-platforming of largely conservative voices on outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Nearly two-thirds of readers now get their news through Facebook and Google and their dominance among younger generations is, if anything, more overwhelming. As the Guardianput it: “If ExxonMobil attempted to insert itself into every element of our lives like this, there might be a concerted grassroots movement to curb its influence.”
To this influence, they have added control over what is left of the traditional media they have helped to undermine. Often getting bargain basement prices, the oligarchs have been able to buy up prestigious outlets, including the New Republic in 2012, the Washington Post in 2013, the Atlantic in 2017, and Time last year.
In the coming political storm, the oligarchs will also retain some supporters on both the Left and Right, all aided by a huge, growing, and politically hermaphroditic lobbying operation. Some California progressives have backed the oligarchs on privacy and Senator Kamala Harris, one of the leading Democratic contenders, has gained widespread support from the oligarchs. Meanwhile, on the Right, some libertarians at places like the Wall Street Journal and conservative think-tanks, continue to defend the oligarchs as the rightful winners of dogged economic competition.
But these well-placed defenders may not be enough to fend off regulatory assaults, particularly as more people recognize how the world being created by the tech elites offers little promise for the middle class, democracy, or free thought. Rather than the saviors many once saw, the oligarchs now represent a clear and present danger to the most basic foundations of our democracy. Resisting them represents the great imperative of our era.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website and is a regular contributor to Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group

Friday, June 28, 2019

Congress Questions the "1984" Realspeak world of Google Search

The Dixie School District Destroys a 200 year old Heritage Tree at Miller Creek Middle School

The California Laurel Tree is estimated to be over 200 years old and was alive

when Miller Creek School grounds were known as the Miwok Village "Cotomko'tca" in the early 1800s

Dixie School District Supervisor, Jason Yamashiro, did not inform the public before ripping this tree down in violation of Marin County's Heritage Tree ordinance.  A few changes to the existing plan could have easily save this treasure.  

The drawings for the renovation at Miller Creek School have never been published.   A public hearing was  warranted but instead the District decided to keep the plans hidden from public view. 

Tom Lai, attorney for Marin County Community Development Department was contacted but said they have no jurisdiction over the Dixie School District.  Apparently, the Dixie School district cannot be bothered to abide by sensible building guidelines..

Jason Yamashiro resigned in 2019 amid the Dixie School District renaming controversy.  His last day is Friday, June 28, 2019. 

California-laurel (Umbellularia californica)

Mrytle leafPacific-myrtle, Oregon-myrtle, California bay, pepperwood, spice-tree
This information was originally published in Hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, S.S. Niemiec, G.R. Ahrens, S. Willits, and D.E. Hibbs. 1995. Research Contribution 8. Oregon State University, Forest Research Laboratory

General Characteristics

Mrytle rangeCalifornia-laurel is the only tree of the family Lauraceae found in the western United States. It is a broadleaved evergreen tree with distinctly aromatic “bay” leaves. Often referred to as myrtlewood, California-laurel is one of the best known and most valuable western hardwoods.
Size, Longevity, and Form
Typical California-laurels are 40 to 80 ft tall and 18 to 30 in. in diameter. On good bottomland sites, mature trees can attain diameters of 36 to 72 in. (159 in. maximum) and heights of over 100 ft (175 ft maximum). California-laurels may live at least 200 years. The trees often have forked or multiple stems with ascending branches, which form dense, round-topped crowns. In forest stands, the stems or limbs are relatively straight, vertical, and clear of smaller branches. Open-grown trees have broad spreading crowns (often wider than tree height) supported by several main stems or branches. The root system of California-laurel is wide and spreading, although it varies from shallow to deep, depending on the soil and drainage.
Geographic Range
The range of California-laurel extends from Reedsport, Oregon (lat 44 °N) to San Diego, California (lat 33 °N). It is not found more than 160 miles from the Pacific Coast. California-laurel is found in the Coast Ranges, the southwestern Cascade Range, and all along the western Sierra Nevada.
Timber Inventory
The total inventory of California-laurel is about 520 MMCF of growing stock, of which 93 MMCF occurs in southwestern Oregon (Appendix 1, Table 1, excluding federal lands in southwestern Oregon, for which there are no recent estimates). Many of the best trees are found in parks and riparian areas. According to some representatives of the myrtlewood industry, available supplies of the high-value, figured wood are getting scarce.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

2020 Candidates’ Worst and Best Ideas

The Mean Girls of Marinwood CSD Threaten the Public with Arrest

 Each month Leah Green, Izabela Perry, Sivan Oysermand, Jeff Naylor and Bill Shea preside over the "Most Dysfunctional Public Meeting in Marin County”.  Their childish school yard bully tactics to silence the public have meet resistance from people who know their rights.  The CSD engages openly in corrupt practices,  abuses the public and violates public meeting laws.   Here is one small segment of the circus. They interrupt fourteen times, insult me, ask the Sheriff for my removal and refuse to answer a single question about the Marinwood CSD's irregular accounting and slush fund.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

‘Fungibility’ means there’s no free lunch

‘Fungibility’ means there’s no free lunch

By Dan Walters | May 26, 2019 | COMMENTARY, DAN WALTERS

Let’s talk about “fungibility” – the economic concept that one unit of a commodity may be interchangeable with another.

That’s true if the commodity involved is something like a bushel of corn or a barrel of crude oil. But in politics, the commodity is money and fungibility means that a dollar is a dollar and if it’s spent on one thing, it’s not available for another thing, no matter how it may be spun to the public.

One of countless examples is Assembly Bill 11, which would recreate city redevelopment programs that the Legislature abolished earlier in this decade. Redevelopment’s downside, which led to its demise, was that incremental property taxes generated in redevelopment projects were withheld from other local governments, such as counties, and school districts.

At its zenith, redevelopment was diverting about $5 billion per year and under the state constitution, the state had to make up the property tax losses to schools, about $2 billion a year. AB 11, which is now on hold, would direct the incremental taxes from redevelopment into low-income housing and the state, as in the past, would have to make up tax losses to schools by shifting funds from other state programs.

Measure EE, a highly controversial parcel tax measure being proposed by Los Angeles Unified School District, is also a wonderfully misleading example of fungibility.

An early version of the measure prohibited using its revenues for “funding long-term healthcare or pension liabilities,” but the wording was changed to a less specific prohibition on “funding legal settlements and liabilities.”

Regardless of the weasel words, “legal settlements and liabilities” certainly include the district’s inescapable legal obligations for pensions and other benefits. Moreover, by underwriting other district expenses, the new taxes would indirectly pay for those fast-growing benefit costs, thanks to fungibility. It’s just a semantic exercise to fool voters.

Sacramento’s city government is also in the throes of a terrific fungibility squabble.

Last year, at the behest of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, city voters passed Measure U, extending a half-cent sales tax that was due to expire and adding another half-cent to the levy.

Steinberg insisted that the extra half-cent, raising perhaps $40 million a year, would be “a real game changer” that would finance affordable housing, shelters, services for the homeless, job training in low-income communities and small business incentives.

Independent analysts, including this column, pointed out, however, that by the city’s own estimate, its mandatory payments to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) are expected to increase from $81.6 million a year to $129 million by 2023, thus consuming the additional $40 million a year that Measure U would generate.

This year, City Manager Howard Chan, in proposing a new budget, essentially said that the money should be available to cope with rising pension costs, earning him a public tongue-lashing from Steinberg.

“If we keep the second half-cent (of new Measure U revenue) in the general fund, every penny will go to pension and salaries,” Steinberg said. “All of the money will be gone, and so will the increased public safety that we promised in this budget.” However, the mayor also acknowledged that if voters had been told that the extra taxes would be needed for pensions, they would not have approved them.

Steinberg wants to pledge the extra revenue to repay a proposed $400 million community improvement bond, but that would mean it would not be available as CalPERS demands for higher pension payments, thus requiring cuts in other city services to make up the shortfall.

That’s fungibility. There is no free lunch, despite politicians’ efforts to persuade voters otherwise.

Meet the A.I. Landlord That’s Building a Single-Family-Home Empire

Meet the A.I. Landlord That’s Building a Single-Family-Home Empire

Data science helped Amherst Holdings CEO Sean Dobson make a fortune in the housing crash. Now he's deploying A.I. to profit from properties that most investors wouldn’t touch.
By Shawn Tully
June 21, 2019

Meet the A.I. Landlord That’s Building a Single-Family-Home Empire

Data science helped Amherst Holdings CEO Sean Dobson make a fortune in the housing crash. Now he's deploying A.I. to profit from properties that most investors wouldn’t touch.
By Shawn Tully
June 21, 2019

Erin Burrus has endured some misfortune in recent years: After a cancer diagnosis, she lost her home to foreclosure. Today she’s healthy again, and a stable job in sales has helped her mend her finances. “I’m climbing my way back up,” says Burrus. One symbol of her stability is the two-­bedroom home she shares with her husband and their children in Greenwood, a solidly middle-class suburb of Indianapolis. The family rents the place rather than owning their home. But it was important to Burrus that they not be in an apartment. “I wanted to get a house with a yard for the kids, for that family atmosphere,” she says.

Burrus’s landlord is a company called Main Street Renewal; she found out about it from her mother, who rents a nearby home from the same outfit (and runs a thriving dress-alteration business with Burrus). And each is now playing a small part in an ambitious experiment.

Main Street Renewal is an arm of Amherst Holdings, a real estate investing firm with $20 billion under management. It owns or manages some 16,000 single-family homes, scattered across the Midwest and the Sunbelt. That portfolio makes Amherst one of the biggest, fastest-growing players in institutionally owned rental homes, a $45 billion subsector of the real estate industry that barely existed before the Great Recession.

Sean Dobson, Amherst’s CEO, is an imposing Texan data savant who dropped out of college to get into mortgage trading. A decade ago, he made a killing shorting shaky debt during the housing crash. Today he’s adding 1,000 homes a month to his empire with the help of artificial intelligence, using data modeling to make dozens of offers a day on potentially profitable houses. The Main Street homes are a $3.2 billion investment that generates around $300 million in annual rental income, but Dobson harbors far bigger ambitions: “We want to get to 1 million homes in the next 15 years or so,” he says. While that figure reflects as much bravado as realism—it’s more than 60 times the number of homes Amherst owns today—the fact that it’s conceivable shows how much the housing market has changed, and how technology is helping investors profit from those changes.

The rise of the single-family-rental industry reflects profound shifts in the finances and attitudes of America’s families. Homeownership, long a bedrock of financial stability, has become unattainable or undesirable for many middle-income workers—for reasons including tighter lending standards, large college-debt loads, and lagging wage growth and savings. According to ­Yar­deni Research, slightly more than one in three households that would have been buying first homes before the financial crisis is now either renting or still living with their parents.

These trends translate into roughly 5 million households that are renting single-family homes rather than taking out mortgages and building equity, and that’s Amherst’s target market. Its specialty is grabbing run-down properties in nice, middle-class subdivisions—guided by algorithms that help it avoid bidding wars and money pits—which it then spruces up for the new rental generation. Amherst’s typical customers are couples in their early forties with one or two kids and household incomes around $60,000. They’re paying an average rent of $1,450 a month. “That’s almost exactly what they’d pay on a mortgage and other expenses if they owned the house,” says Dobson. “We’re catering to a whole new class of Americans—the former buyers who are now either forced renters or renters by choice.” And Dobson is betting that this new class is a permanent one.

Single-family-home rentals have long been dominated by local entrepreneurs—mom-and-pop investors or groups of businesspeople who own and manage no more than a couple of dozen properties (and often as few as one). Historically, when bigger fish, such as hedge funds and real estate investment trusts (REITs), invested in rental housing, they focused on apartment buildings—larger assets whose bunched-together density made them more cost-effective to manage.

The housing crash of the 2000s changed the math. As hard-pressed households gave See ARTICLE HERE

Monday, June 24, 2019

Two hours a week is key dose of nature for health and wellbeing

Two hours a week is key dose of nature for health and wellbeing

Kayaking through a mangrove forest.
Credit: Copyright Michele Hogan

Spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing, according to a new large-scale study.

Research led by the University of Exeter, published in Scientific Reports and funded by NIHR, found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don't visit nature at all during an average week. However, no such benefits were found for people who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.

The study used data from nearly 20,000 people in England and found that it didn't matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits. It also found the 120 minute threshold applied to both men and women, to older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.

Dr Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study, said: "It's well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people's health and wellbeing but until now we've not been able to say how much is enough. The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing. Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit."

There is growing evidence that merely living in a greener neighbourhood can be good for health, for instance by reducing air pollution. The data for the current research came from Natural England's Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey, the world's largest study collecting data on people's weekly contact with the natural world.

Co-author of the research, Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden said: "There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family. The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to guidelines for weekly physical."

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, James Grellier, Benedict W. Wheeler, Terry Hartig, Sara

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Happy Monday Jubilee Stomp on Royal Street


A FARMER walked through his field one cold winter morning. On the ground lay a Snake, stiff and frozen with the cold. The Farmer knew how deadly the Snake could be, and yet he picked it up and put it in his bosom to warm it back to life.

The Snake soon revived, and when it had enough strength, bit the man who had been so kind to it. The bite was deadly and the Farmer felt that he must die. As he drew his last breath, he said to those standing around: 

"Learn from my fate not to take pity on a scoundrel."

Moral: The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful.