- Associated Press - Thursday, June 29, 2017

June 28

Los Angeles Times on European antitrust officials fine against Google

European regulators focus more on competitors, but they really are two sides of the same coin. If competitors are unfairly closed out, the public can miss out on the very real benefits that vigorous competition provides.

At the same time, it’s undeniable that the public has welcomed virtual monopolies in search, social media and other services in the Internet era. A large part of the appeal of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat is that so many people use them. There’s a network effect for social media apps in particular - the more people who use the service, the more valuable it becomes to them.

Meanwhile, start-ups come out of nowhere to create whole new categories of must-have apps and products online. That means dominant companies have to innovate too, or else they can easily change from today’s thing to yesterday’s (see: MySpace, Yahoo). And often, that innovation involves finding a better way to do something that a competitor is doing.

The challenge for regulators is to provide the big companies space to try new things without running roughshod over the market, closing out other companies and reducing consumer choice, which will ultimately lead to less innovation. A good place to start is by focusing on cases where there is evidence of intentional undermining of competitors - where a dominant company alters the platform it provides not just to feature its own services, but to make it harder to find or use its rivals’.

European and U.S. regulators also need a common approach to protecting competition and innovation. Otherwise, the risk is that incompatible regulatory schemes will effectively fence off parts of the Internet, requiring companies to offer different products and services in different parts of the world.

If Alphabet fails to comply with the commission’s order, it could face a huge additional penalty: daily fines of up to 5% of its average worldwide revenues. That’s a powerful warning to Internet giants not to innovate in ways that discriminate against their competitors. Regulators need to be careful, though, not to stop them from innovating at all.

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June 28

San Francisco Chronicle on protecting California’s coast from Trump

Weakening environmental protections is a full-time job for the Trump administration. Its emissaries are going after pollution controls, wildlife areas and water quality rules. Now the White House is setting up marine sanctuaries off the California coast and elsewhere in U.S. waters for oil drilling.

The idea is a slap at past Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who put millions of acres of coastal waters, from New England to Samoa, off limits to exploitation. In this state, four sanctuaries on the list include stretches of the Pacific from Monterey to the tip of Mendocino County.

Trump’s Commerce Department is weighing public comment on the idea of opening the areas to oil and gas drilling, an activity that both voters and elected officials in California have ruled out repeatedly as dangerous and ill-suited to the state’s future. Tourism, fishing and public enjoyment rate higher than fossil fuels and oil spills, Mr. President.

The tone-deaf action sounds implausible, especially with coastal counties, lawmakers and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris strongly opposing drilling. But the idea has a way of persisting against all logic, especially with the Trump administration, which has drawn a bead on so many environmental targets.

Prying away protections for coastal conservation follows an earlier White House directive to reconsider over two dozen presidentially conferred monuments and sanctuaries.

For now, millions of acres in the wild back country and open water are spared from mining, drilling and development.

But those protections are getting front-burner attention from Trump’s industry-friendly appointees. The fight to safeguard California’s coast isn’t over. This state should make its voice heard in stopping a reckless policy.

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June 28

Santa Rosa Press Democrat on keeping California’s national marine sanctuaries intact

An invitation to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: Come visit California’s national marine sanctuaries.

Watch blue whales feeding and elephant seals breeding in the Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries off the Marin and Sonoma County coasts.

Explore tide pools along the rocky shores in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a swath of California’s central coast nicknamed the Serengeti of the Sea for its rich marine life.

More than 150 shipwrecks are located within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Perhaps that’s why the islands are such a popular destination for scuba divers. The Channel Islands also have been home to the Chumash people for more than 13,000 years.

These environmental and cultural treasures are under your stewardship, Mr. Secretary.

They’re also among the 11 protected ocean areas established or expanded since 2007 that President Donald Trump has directed you to consider for oil, gas and mineral exploration and development.

Over the next 29 days, your department will be collecting public comments on the president’s order. Here’s ours: This is a monumentally bad idea.

Some of the world’s most productive ocean ecosystems are found off the California coast - kelp forests, coral reefs, natural habitat for endangered species and large populations of whales, sharks, seabirds and other marine life.

Scientific research in the state’s marine sanctuaries is providing a wealth of data about ocean conditions that can affect weather patterns as well as insight into climate change.

California also is home to one of the nation’s largest commercial fishing industries, Mr. Secretary, supporting - according to a recent report from your department - 113,900 jobs, $4.5 billion in income and $21.6 billion in sales.

Some of that fishing takes place in marine sanctuaries. So does research aimed at maintaining healthy, sustainable fisheries.

Surely you’re aware that tourism and recreation are enormous contributors to California’s economy, the sixth largest in the world, and pristine beaches and the Pacific Ocean are symbols of the Golden State recognized worldwide.

None of these activities are compatible with offshore oil drilling, and a Deepwater Horizon-type blowout would be disastrous.

California has firsthand experience with oil spills. A blowout near Santa Barbara in 1969 was, at the time, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. It’s still No. 3 on the list. More than 80,000 barrels of crude oil from an offshore platform fouled beaches from Santa Barbara to Ventura, killed thousands of shore birds and saddled fishermen, hotels and beachfront homeowners with losses in the millions.

The state Lands Commission hasn’t approved an oil lease in state waters since then, and Congress approved a series of moratoriums that banned new drilling in federal waters for more than 25 years.

Even some oil industry representatives get it. “I am not aware of any of our members chomping at the bit to pursue the opportunity (to drill offshore) in California,” the president of the Western States Petroleum Association told the San Jose Mercury News this week.

From our perspective, the case is clear. California’s national marine sanctuaries have enormous commercial and conservation value, and they should remain intact. Mr. Secretary, if you come and see for yourself, we think you will agree.

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June 27

The San Diego Union-Tribune on California fallout from Seattle’s minimum wage increase

A University of Washington study of the fallout from Seattle’s sharp increase in the minimum wage may have grim implications for the big increases now being phased in in California and in San Diego.

From 2014 to this year, Seattle raised its minimum wage from $9.47 to $15 an hour, a 58 percent increase. The study found that last year - when the minimum wage reached $13 an hour - job losses mounted and the number of hours went down in affected industries, costing the average low-wage worker about $125 a month. This contradicted previous studies which generally showed little or no effect from modest minimum-wage hikes.

The study excluded multisite employers (or about 38 percent of all city workers) and has not been peer-reviewed, but because researchers had access to an unusually large database - and because Seattle’s wage hike was so big - some economists are ready to conclude it bears out fears the nationwide push for higher minimum wages would have unintended and unpleasant consequences.

In 2014, with minimum wage at $8, California leaders approved measures that will steadily increase its minimum wage to $15 by 2022. In 2016, San Diego voters approved a measure that at least initially phased in even bigger minimum wage hikes - to $11.50 this year - and indexed the wage to inflation beginning in 2019. Perhaps the Golden State’s results will be different than Seattle’s. Or perhaps the warnings that higher minimum wages will lead to more automation and fewer jobs will come true.

Whatever happens, the best response to income inequality isn’t a steadily climbing minimum wage. It’s an education system that puts much more emphasis on high-value job skills. That should be a bigger focus before too many people are left behind.

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June 24

Riverside Press-Enterprise on the spending of education funds

It’s never a good sign when public officials refuse to answer questions. That’s what happened when CALmatters reporter Jessica Calefati visited two Los Angeles County school districts in January and asked to review their budgets as part of an investigation into educational outcomes under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula.

Her requests were denied and she was turned away. Calefati wrote in March that the experience was “emblematic of an access problem” with the school funding system that the state adopted in 2013.

The Local Control Funding Formula was a tectonic shift in the way California school districts are funded. Prior to the LCFF, the education budget included designated funding for many categories of programs, like school safety and gifted-and-talented education. That system was swept away and replaced by a funding formula that directed more money to schools with higher numbers of English learners, foster children and students from low-income families.

Calefati was examining 15 districts where nine out of 10 students qualified for the extra funding. More than half of the districts refused to respond to her questions, and some even complained that her inquiries would require hundreds of hours of staff time to “go back and find something we didn’t track.”

What no one was tracking is how much money the state of California had invested in school districts with the highest concentrations of disadvantaged students, how school officials had spent the money, and whether anything had been accomplished by it.

The results of the CALmatters investigation have just been published, and they’re not encouraging. Despite an extra $31 billion spent on the targeted districts with the goal of closing the “achievement gap” between disadvantaged students and their more well-off counterparts, the gap in reading and math scores actually widened in many cases.

The 15 districts examined by CALmatters saw an average budget increase of 63 percent over four years. Yet, student test scores saw the greatest improvement in districts that did not receive the extra funding.

The Local Control Funding Formula was adopted through a backroom process that itself lacked transparency and public access. Instead of going through the normal legislative procedures, which would have included committee hearings and the opportunity for public comment, this transformation of education funding was slipped into a budget trailer bill at the behest of Gov. Jerry Brown, and it became law at lightning speed.

Then, in a 2015 letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the Local Control Funding Formula money could be used for teacher pay raises, a purpose that Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, said the Legislature did not intend.

Weber has introduced Assembly Bill 1321, which would bring transparency to school funding by requiring the state to keep detailed records on how schools spend the money they receive, including a breakdown of personnel expenditures and nonpersonnel expenditures. The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly on May 30 and is currently in the Senate Education Committee.

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst disputes what he calls Calefati’s “faulty research” and “unsubstantiated conclusions,” but the charge rings hollow, given that Kirst declined Calefati’s request for an interview, as did Torlakson and Gov. Brown.

That’s never a good sign.

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