Analysis: How Google’s long period of online dominance could end

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 12 min ago
Analysis by Brian Fung | CNN

For the better part of 15 years, Google has seemed like an unstoppable force, powered by the strength of its online search engine and digital advertising business. But both now look increasingly vulnerable.

This week, the Justice Department accused Google of running an illegal monopoly in its online advertising business and called for parts of it to be broken up. The case comes a couple of years after the Trump administration filed a similar suit going after the tech giant’s dominance in search.

Google said the Justice Department is “doubling down on a flawed argument” and that the latest suit “attempts to pick winners and losers in the highly competitive advertising technology sector.” If successful, however, both blockbuster cases could upend a business model that’s made Google the most powerful advertising company on the internet. It would be the most consequential antitrust victory against a tech giant since the US government took on Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

But even though the lawsuits drive at the heart of Google’s revenue machine, they could take years to play out. In the meantime, two other thorny issues are poised to determine Google’s future on a potentially shorter timeframe: The rise of generative artificial intelligence and what appears to be an accelerating decline in Google’s online ad marketshare.

Just days before the DOJ suit, Google announced plans to cut 12,000 employees amid a dramatic slowdown in its revenue growth, and as it works to refocus its efforts partly around AI.

A new threat to search

Google has long been synonymous with online searches; it was one of the first modern tech companies whose name would become a verb. But a new threat emerged late last year when OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research company, publicly released a viral new AI chatbot tool called ChatGPT.

Users of ChatGPT have showcased the bot’s ability to create poetry, draft legal documents, write code and explain complex ideas, with little more than a simple prompt. Trained on a vast amount of online data, ChatGPT can generate lengthy responses to open-ended questions, though it’s prone to some errors, or answer simple questions — “Who was the 25th president of the United States?” — which one might have previously had to scroll through search results on Google to find.

ChatGPT is trained on vast amounts of data and uses this to generate responses to user prompts. While ChatGPT’s underlying technology has existed for some time, the fact that anyone can create an account and experiment with the tool has led to loads of hype for generative AI and made the technology’s potential instantly understandable to millions in a way that was only abstract before. It has also reportedly prompted Google’s management to declare a “code red” situation for its search business.

“Google may be only a year or two away from total disruption. AI will eliminate the Search Engine Result Page, which is where they make most of their money,” Paul Buchheit, one of the creators of Gmail, tweeted last year. “Even if they catch up on AI, they can’t fully deploy it without destroying the most valuable part of their business!”

If more users begin to rely on AI for their information needs, the argument goes, it could undercut Google’s search advertising, which is part of a $149 billion business segment at the company. Media coverage of ChatGPT has doubled down on this notion, with some outlets pitting ChatGPT against Google in head-to-head tests.

Not necessarily a nightmare scenario

There are some reasons to doubt this nightmare scenario might play out for Google.

For one thing, Google operates at a vastly different scale. In November, Google’s website received more than 86 billion visits, compared to less than 300 million for ChatGPT, according to the traffic analysis website SimilarWeb. (ChatGPT was released publicly in late November.) For another, even in a world where Google provides specific, AI-generated responses to user queries, it could still analyze the queries to provide search advertising, just as it does today.

Google has its own investments in highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. One of its AI-driven chat programs, LaMDA, even became a flashpoint last year after an engineer at the company claimed it had achieved sentience. (Google has disputed the claim and fired the engineer for breaches of company policy.)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has reportedly told employees that even though Google has similar capabilities to ChatGPT, the company has yet to commit to giving out AI-generated search responses because of the risk of providing inaccurate information, which could be detrimental to Google in the long run.

Google’s stance highlights both its incredible influence, as the most trusted search engine on earth, and one of the core problems of generative AI: Due to the technology’s black-box design, it’s virtually impossible to find out how the technology arrived at a specific result. For many people, and for many years to come, being able to evaluate different sources of information for themselves may trump the convenience of receiving a single answer.

An ad sales machine under pressure

All this has taken place against the backdrop of what seems to be an extended, multi-year decline in Google’s online advertising marketshare. Google’s position in digital advertising peaked in 2017 with 34.7% of the US market, according to third-party industry estimates, and is on pace to account for 28.8% this year.

Google isn’t the only advertising giant to experience this trend. One-off factors like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as well as fears of a looming recession, have broadly affected the online advertising industry. Others, like Facebook-parent Meta, have been particularly susceptible to systemic changes such as Apple’s app privacy updates restricting the amount of information marketers can access about iOS users.

But the decline also comes as Google faces new competition in the market. Rivals including Amazon, TikTok and even Apple have been attracting an increasing share of the digital advertising pie.

Whatever the cause, Google’s advertising business, which is still massive, seems to face growing headwinds. And those headwinds could be exacerbated if some of the predictions about generative AI come to pass, or if the Justice Department’s lawsuits ultimately weaken Google’s grip on digital advertising.

As part of the case, the US government has asked a federal court to unwind two acquisitions that allegedly helped cement a Google monopoly in advertising. Dismantling Google’s tightly integrated ads machine will restore competition and make it harder for Google to extract monopoly profits, according to the US government.

This and other antitrust suits — though threatening in their own right — simply add pressure to the broader dilemma facing Google as it stares down a new era of potentially tumultuous technological change.

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Editorial: Oakland police are incapable of policing themselves

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 15 min ago

It’s time to stop pretending that Oakland police can police themselves.

For two decades now, the Police Department has been under federal court oversight, as part of a 2003 settlement in the infamous Riders case, in which officers were accused of beating and planting drugs on West Oakland residents.

Each time that the department seems close to meeting the court requirements for lifting the oversight, a new scandal erupts. The latest came last week with the release of findings that internal affairs supervisors directed a coverup of a hit-and-run incident involving a police sergeant.

The case, which led to Mayor Sheng Thao’s questionable decision to place the police chief on administrative leave, highlights why the department’s Internal Affairs Division should be disbanded — why police oversight should be fully transferred to the city’s civilian Police Commission and Community Police Review Agency.

It’s time to end the parallel and often duplicative investigations of police misconduct from within the department and from the outside. The city and U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick should instead focus on ensuring that civilian oversight, overwhelmingly mandated by the city’s voters, works fairly and efficiently.

In 2016, 83% of voters approved Measure LL, establishing one of the nation’s strongest citizen-oversight systems. Residents had tired of allegations such as cops having relations with an underage sex worker, a drunken off-duty officer assaulting a county probation officer at her home, and police exchanging racist text messages. The unusually high rate of police shootings and the mishandling of discipline cases furthered the frustration.

In 2020, 81% approved Measure S1, increasing the authority, autonomy and responsibilities of the Police Commission and Community Police Review Agency. It also added a new Office of Inspector General to investigate and review the city’s handling of police misconduct.

There were signs that things were improving, that Judge Orrick might finally lift the federal oversight, that the culture of the Oakland Police Department was changing, and that the internal lawlessness had ceased.

Then Orrick last week ordered release of an independent law firm’s review of the department’s mishandling of an internal affairs case. The case involved a sergeant, identified by sources as Michael Chung, who was the driver of a police vehicle involved in a collision with a parked car, left the scene of the incident and failed to report it.

The Oakland Police Department learned of the incident nearly four months later after the city received an insurance claim for the damage along with photos and a video of the collision. Before referring the case to the department’s Internal Affairs Division, a lieutenant who was provided the claim tipped off the sergeant and told him to file a report with police in San Francisco, where the incident occurred.

Next, an Oakland internal affairs investigator probed the case. In a draft report, the investigator concluded that the sergeant failed to obey hit-and-run laws and failed to report to superior officers his dating relationship with his passenger in the car, who was a subordinate Oakland officer. The draft report also called into question the sergeant’s and officer’s credibility.

But the investigator’s commander, identified by sources as Wilson Lau, a captain who has since left the department, ordered the report be watered down so that it merely faulted the sergeant for the preventable collision but not for the hit and run, removed the identification of the passenger as an officer, removed discussion of the relationship issue, and concluded that the sergeant and officer were credible.

It was that revised report that was presented to Chief LeRonne Armstrong, now being faulted in the independent review for not questioning the finding and who has been placed on administrative leave pending further review of the case.

Armstrong, from what has been made public so far, is being punished for not cracking down on what he was told was a cop who was involved with a fender bender. The chief had been trying to address, and should be focusing his attention on, the city’s horrific homicide rates, severe understaffing, unacceptably low response times and accountability for serious transgressions by his officers.

Nevertheless, the independent review asserts that the chief violated department policies for failing to hold his subordinate officers to account, for failing to effectively review the incident and for allowing the sergeant to escape responsibility for serious misconduct.

The details supporting that conclusion, according to the review, are in a separate, confidential Internal Affairs Division report. If that’s true, the findings should be made public as soon as possible. In the meantime, given the facts that have been made public so far, the chief should be reinstated.

While the case against the chief has not been made — at least not so far publicly — the case for oversight change is clear. Review of Oakland Police misconduct cases should be placed solely in the hands of civilian review.

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Church helps mining community evolve in dark, warming Arctic

Seattle Times - 12 hours 18 min ago

Social life in the Norwegian village of Longyearbyen — hemmed in by mountains, a glacier and a fjord on a remote Arctic island — has long revolved around its only church.
Categories: Local News

Colorado lawmakers look to AI to detect wildfires early

Seattle Times - 12 hours 22 min ago

A bill introduced in the Colorado legislature would create a $2 million pilot program to use cameras, likely with artificial intelligence technology, in high-risk locations to help identify fires before they burn out of control.
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Barabak: As the years go by, gun violence keeps getting worse

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 25 min ago

On a sunny July afternoon, James Oliver Huberty drove his black Mercury Marquis to a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, near the border with Mexico, bearing a small arsenal and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

He opened fire on cooks and counter workers, on diners and employees hiding in a storage area, on a mother and her infant, on three boys bicycling through the parking lot.

Twenty-one people died in what, at the time, was the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history. I covered the murders for United Press International. Today, the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre, as it’s come to be known, barely makes the Top 10.

In the sanguinary years since, there have been more than 130 mass shootings, according to a database kept by the news site Mother Jones that counts incidents in which four or more people were killed.

Those are decades in which the nation’s gun laws have generally grown more permissive, weapons more readily available and lawmakers in Washington notably less responsive to the majority of Americans who favor stricter safety regulations, such as a ban on assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines.

It’s hardly a coincidence.

There have been mass shootings at military bases and gay nightclubs, churches and restaurants, office parks and post offices, college campuses and elementary schools. At a dance hall Saturday night in Monterey Park and, less than 48 hours later, at a nursery and farm business near Half Moon Bay.

It is almost easier, in fact, to name the places where mass shootings haven’t taken place, though doing so may offer incentive and amount to a dare to some sick individual.

Unimaginable, said officials in Half Moon Bay, a small oceanside oasis about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

But it’s not, really. We swaddle ourselves in a kind of mental bubble wrap, rationalizing that such an atrocity could never happen here. But we’ve long since learned that it can happen anywhere, at any time. None of us are ever really safe the moment we set foot in public.

News accounts of the last 48 hours have almost invariably pointed out that California has some of the stiffest gun laws in the nation, the implication being they have somehow failed to work. That’s not true.

California’s rate of gun deaths has notably declined as the state has passed safety legislation, while rates have soared in states such as Texas and Florida, which have moved the opposite way in a seeming competition over which place can more be promiscuous in its fetishizing of firearms.

But California is not, as some might prefer, an island. An assault-style weapon that is outlawed in California is obtainable just a quick jaunt away, across the border at a gun show in Arizona or Nevada.

The solution is uniform federal gun safety laws, but that, of course, requires bold action by Congress.

Which seems highly unlikely.

After some particularly awful mass shootings last summer, all lawmakers could manage was some tinkering — expanding background checks for gun buyers between ages 18 and 21, nudging states to pass so-called red flag laws to keep firearms away from the dangerous and deranged.

It marked the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years, and its meagerness spoke to the fecklessness of the moment.

Polls show that most Americans favor tougher gun laws and considerable majorities support common-sense measures such as creating a federal database to track firearm sales and preventing those with mental illnesses from buying guns.

And yet Congress is unmoved, in good part because the pro-gun lobby routinely outmuscles advocates of gun safety.

Thanks to gerrymandering, there are 82 swing congressional districts, according to the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, a nonpartisan guide to campaigns and elections. That’s half the number that existed in 1999.

“The smaller number of swing districts means fewer members need to strike balances and support compromises,” wrote the report’s founder, Charlie Cook. Indeed, he said, “There are more Republican members of Congress in danger of losing a primary than a general election — hence, they are constantly looking over right shoulders.”

And there, with ballot at the ready, are some of the fiercest opponents of gun safety legislation. Even as the death toll mounts, they are unyielding in their opposition.

For some, a certain number of lost lives are the cost of freedom.

For most, that’s too high a price. But until the political dynamic shifts — until gerrymandering stops and voting against gun control becomes a liability and not a reason lawmakers stay in office — it’s a price our society and countless innocents will continue to pay.

Mark Z. Barabak is a Los Angeles Times columnist.

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Nuance Is Difficult When It Involves Nazis, a Museum Finds

N.Y. Times - 12 hours 27 min ago
The exhibit at the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam was designed to be a more nuanced look at Dutch wartime experiences, but it has been accused of downplaying the heroism of some and the sins of others.
Categories: Local News

Adam Ottavino says new pitch clock won’t be ‘difficult’ for him

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 30 min ago

New rules are coming in 2023 and the Mets are getting ready.

There will be three major rule changes implemented across the Major Leagues next season: A pitch timer, defensive shift limits and bigger bases. It’s pitchers and catchers who will have the biggest adjustments to make with only 30 seconds between hitters and 15-20 seconds between pitches.

With the bases open, pitchers will have a 15-second timer and a 20-second timer with runners on base. If either a pitcher or a hitter goes beyond the time limit, a strike is given to the batter, and a ball to the pitcher.

Mets’ reliever Adam Ottavino is getting a jumpstart on this by using pitch timers in his offseason work.

“I feel like it’s not going to be that difficult for me,” Ottavino said last week on a Zoom call with reporters. “Just a little time with practice has already kind of helped a little bit with that. Also, there are some ways that you can figure out how to kind of stop the clock, if need be, and kind of maybe understanding those in the moment when you need a second to kind of collect yourself. That’s important.”

But Ottavino acknowledges that it’s not going to be easy for every pitcher.

The new rules will almost certainly be a league-wide storyline as spring training opens and games begin, but the problem with implementing them this spring is that several players will be away from their teams for an extended period of time at the World Baseball Classic, and the old rules will be in place for the event.

Keeping the old rules in place for the WBC — the same rules that were in place for the last one in 2017 — is fair to all of the countries competing, even if it does make it difficult for MLB players to come into camp having to play catch-up.

“Once you look into it, you understand the challenges, why they can’t do it that way. We’re not alone,” manager Buck Showalter said. “There are other countries competing and they’re following a different set of rules. So you’re trying to be fair to all the competition in the WBC and I’m sure they felt like, to be fair to everybody, this is the direction they needed to go.”

Even players who are in spring training from start to finish may find the time span difficult to work with.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be you know enough time but I think we are going to make the adjustments to try and get better with it,” catcher Omar Narvaez said.

Narvaez’s role as a catcher will be to help the pitchers stay calm and on track, and helping them stick to the game plan. Communication and preparation will be crucial.

“On the timing during games, that’s where homework will come into play even more,” Narvaez said. “[If I] just keep everybody working and on the same page, then everything is gonna keep moving smooth. So that’s the thing we’re going to work on in work spring training.”

Implementing a pitch timer is an attempt to quicken the pace of games and shorten them as well. According to MLB, a pitch timer reduced the average time of game in MiLB by about 26 minutes. This rule also includes limits on throws to first base, which led to an increase in stolen-base attempts in the minor leagues.

The intention behind the rule is good but the timing of it is difficult with the WBC. However, pitchers and catchers can take some solace in knowing that it will be a challenge for just about everyone. People will start to share information with one another on how to manipulate the clock and how to take advantage of the limited time frames given.

“That’s the kind of stuff that we’re going to be workshopping during spring training,” Ottavino said. “Everybody is across the whole league. So I’m sure some people will have harder time with it than others, but I think overall, we’re pretty good at making adjustments as athletes and I think we’ll be alright.”

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Categories: Local News

Column: No one knew the Chicago Cubs quite like Lin Brehmer, a voice of sanity during good times and bad

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 30 min ago

A longtime Chicago Cubs fan, Lin Brehmer was honored to be asked to moderate a panel discussion at the 2015 Cubs Convention.

It was Joe Maddon’s official introduction to Cubs fans, and Brehmer wanted the new skipper to know exactly what he was in for in Chicago.

“Joe, a lot of high-priced managers have come through the Cubs organization over the years,” Brehmer said. “Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella and many others have come in, and most left Chicago in straitjackets…”

Maddon interrupted before Brehmer could pose his question.

“Forty-two regular,” he said, offering up his jacket size.

Brehmer, the veteran disc jockey for WXRT-FM 93.1 who died Sunday at 68, loved telling that story. He was the quintessential Cubs fan, the kind who followed them as closely when they were hopeless failures as when they became World Series champions. He could cheer them on one minute and throw up his hands in disgust the next.

And though his career path led him to our city and our favorite progressive rock station, we were fortunate his bosses at WXRT had the good sense to let Lin opine on air about whatever crossed his mind, including his thoughts on his beloved Cubs.

Lin’s essay on “Saturday Morning Flashback” on the 1998 Cubs perfectly captured the essence of the wild season of Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood and the “Oh, no!” moment in Milwaukee. The joy, the pain, the resurrection and the heartbreak — all encapsulated by the voice of sanity in his lyrical fashion. His memorable tribute to Ernie Banks for WGN-Ch. 9 was a classic ode to Mr. Cub.

One of my favorite “Lin’s Bin” essays centered on the strange feeling of optimism at the start of the 2016 season, when the Cubs were favored to win it all after the 2015 run to the National League Championship Series.

Someone had asked Brehmer, “Do we really want the Cubs to win the World Series?” It was a valid question. The Cubs were special because all those years of losing didn’t deter one’s fandom. Would that change with a championship?

Lin remarked that Cubs fans “mark our generations by the abject failures that defined our youth: 1945 and the goat, 1969 and the black cat, 1984 and the Bull.

“Will my son or my wife or you ever forget the details of Inning 8, Game 6 of the National League Championship Series of 2003? With all due respect to the science of psychology, there is not enough winning in the world to take those crucial moments away. They are a part of who we are.

“These Cub plunges into the abyss are as permanent as the mark left by a branding iron. Cub fans have passed through a narrowing chute where we have been marked for life.”

In the end, Lin decided a World Series victory would not spoil the essence of being a Cubs fan: “And if we end the season with the Cubs in seven, I promise we will breathe again because we will no longer be holding our breath.”

The Cubs won in seven, of course, and Lin rejoiced like the rest of their fans. That didn’t change Lin’s approach to the team or make him any less apprehensive about its ability to let him down in crucial moments down the road.

I met Lin at one of his opening-day shows at Yak-Zies a couple of decades ago, and he often texted me from his seat at Wrigley Field, sometimes with blunt messages regarding the state of the Cubs that afternoon, like the one that said: “Got any morphine?”

One day in 2020 he told me he had bet on the Cubs to lose that day. I chided him for being so anti-Cub for a Cubs fan.

“No, I’m fine losing money if the Cubs win,” he texted back.

Sometimes I’d wander down from the Wrigley press box for an inning and watch the game with Lin and his family and friends, including one fateful September day in 2019.

Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel served up back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning in a stunning loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Lin just sat there in his Cubs cap and black Engine No. 78 T-shirt, scorecard in hand, shaking his head with a knowing grin.

Another scar from the Cubs branding iron. But he’d get through it like always. It was all part of being a Cubs fan.

Lin always seemed invincible, even after missing time last summer while undergoing chemotherapy. His motto, “It’s great to be alive,” made us feel as though he always would be there for us, picking the perfect soundtrack for our morning drive or a run by the lake or just lounging on the couch while trying to get over a hangover.

We’ll never forget his voice or his way with words or his ability to find the right song for the right moment and put you in a better mood.

Lin wasn’t from Chicago, but he was all about Chicago.

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Categories: Local News

Assessing the Mets’ catching situation

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 33 min ago

The Mets no longer have a backlog at the backstop with James McCann having been traded to the Baltimore Orioles, but they do have two catchers under contract for the next two years.

What does that mean for top prospect Francisco Alvarez?

Let’s break down the Mets’ catching situation for 2023 and 2024.

The Mets signed Omar Narvaez to a one-year contract with a player option for 2024 in December, worth $15 million guaranteed. An All-Star in 2021 with the Milwaukee Brewers, the 30-year-old Venezuelan is a decent hitter and hits from the left side, so the Mets can split his starts with Tomas Nido.

Nido signed a two-year, $3.7 million contract last week. This takes him through his last two arbitration years and provides the club with an affordable catcher at a fixed cost. The 28-year-old Puerto Rican is a good hitter from the right side but his defense and framing have become his calling cards.

Defensive metrics show Nido is an excellent framer, something he learned from former Mets’ catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and he has a great relationship with some of the team’s most important arms.

Nido is coming off of his best season, having caught a career-high 98 games. He doesn’t have a ton of pop but he did hit 15 doubles last season and drove in 28 runs.

But Alvarez does have pop in his bat. If all goes according to plan, Alvarez could be one of the rare power-hitting catchers and the Mets’ best one since Mike Piazza.

In 112 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, Alvarez hit 27 home runs and posted a .885 OPS. He hit left-handed pitching especially hard, posting a .908 OPS in Binghamton with three home runs.

The Mets called him up late in September for a series in Atlanta that decided the division. They needed pop from the left side. But they didn’t get it, going 0-for-8 with three strikeouts. You probably know what happened from there — the Mets finished second in the NL East and then lost in an NL Wild Card series to the San Diego Padres.

But in between those two series, he did show some flashes of that raw power. He hit his first big league home run and he got his money’s worth with a monster, 439-footer off of Washington Nationals right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. He later doubled off of righty Erasmo Ramirez.

There was some talk of using Alvarez primarily as a DH next season while he develops his catching game at the Major League level. The Mets shuffled some personnel this winter to be able to have Glenn Sherlock work with Alvarez. A longtime catching coordinator who first came to the Mets in 2017 to work with d’Arnaud, Sherlock was Buck Showalter’s bench coach last season.

The Mets could go that route and use him and Tommy Pham against left-handed pitching if Darin Ruf ends up being out of the equation.

Clearly, Alvarez is a priority. But that means he may start the season in Triple-A.

The last thing the Mets want to do is rush one of the top prospects in baseball. He plays a premium position and the club wants to ensure he’s capable of working with their pitching staff and they don’t want him overwhelmed at the plate.

The Mets have some options. His contract could make him an attractive trade candidate. Whether or not he plays a big role for the big club this season, Alvarez will be a part of the Mets’ future and Nido gives them some insurance until he’s ready. The development of Alvarez will be one of the key storylines to watch in spring training and throughout the early part of the 2023 season.

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Opinion: Serving on the civil grand jury was meaningful and fulfilling

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 35 min ago

It was the end of the day, and I had an appointment to see the judge in her chambers. I’d never been in a judge’s chambers before and was pleased to see that it was just an ordinary office with nothing intimidating about it. She asked me why I wanted to serve on the civil grand jury, then we had a friendly chat and shook hands.

Anne Granlund served on the Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury for 2018-19 and as jury foreperson in 2019-20. She is current president of the Contra Costa Grand Jurors’ Association. 

Several days later, I found myself seated in her courtroom with 30 other grand jury applicants. Her clerk began drawing names out of a hopper. After 25 names had been called, the judge swore us in as members and alternates of the Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury and directed us to report the next day to begin two weeks of training. Similar ceremonies were taking place in every county in California.

It was the beginning of one of the most meaningful, productive and personally fulfilling adventures of my life.

For the next year, our 19-member jury met three days a week, in committees and as a full body. Occasionally someone would resign and be replaced by an alternate from the original group.

We spent our time looking into virtually every aspect of local government, including the county departments, local city councils and special districts responsible for delivering a variety of public services ranging from schools to fire protection, hospitals, water districts and transportation agencies.

When we saw things that we thought weren’t being done right or could be done more efficiently or effectively, we investigated. We studied documents, arranged site visits and interviewed service providers and recipients. And we wrote reports detailing our findings and recommending corrective measures.

That year, our jury wrote eight reports with 42 specific recommendations. Not all of our recommendations were followed. But some were. In those cases, local government was improved.

Three things make civil grand jury service unique:

• Grand juries are supervised by the Superior Court, but jurors make all their own rules within the Penal Code. Nobody tells us what to do or how to do it.

• Grand jury work is strictly confidential by law. Grand jurors speak only through their official reports. Nobody knows what the jury is investigating until the reports are published.

• Agencies that receive recommendations are required to respond to them in writing. If they aren’t going to follow our recommendations, they have to explain why not.

As good as it felt to help make local government work better, what really made my time on the grand jury special was the opportunity to work closely with my fellow jurors.

We began as complete strangers from various backgrounds with little in common. Faced with a daunting task and tight deadlines, we quickly became colleagues and sometimes friends. We worked collaboratively and shared our personal skills, such as financial acumen, writing ability and computer literacy. And I came to respect and value viewpoints I might never have been exposed to otherwise.

It was hard work but rewarding, and we had a lot of fun. We invented little rituals to help make our days more pleasant. And we planned evening and weekend social outings together that continue to this day.

Any adult U.S. citizen can apply for the grand jury in their county of residence. Applications are being taken now for the 2023-24 grand juries in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Check these websites for information and applications:

• Alameda County — grandjury.acgov.org/join-us.page

• Contra Costa County — cc-courts.org/jury/grandjury.aspx

As for me, how much did I like being a grand juror? When my year was up, I signed up for a second year.

Anne Granlund served on the Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury for 2018-19 and as jury foreperson in 2019-20. She is president of the Contra Costa Grand Jurors’ Association.

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Walters: Would wealth taxes bring big bucks or spur California exodus?

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 40 min ago

Would imposing “wealth taxes” on the richest Californians generate a cornucopia of revenues to fill gaps in the state budget, particularly for services to the poor?

Or would such levies, added to income taxes that are already the nation’s highest, persuade more wealthy Californians to abandon the state, ala Elon Musk?

California voters could pose those questions if newly introduced wealth tax legislation makes it through the Capitol, including a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom, and appears on next year’s ballot.

A phalanx of left-leaning legislators, led by Assemblyman Alex Lee, a San Jose Democrat, introduced the new measures – a bill and a constitutional amendment – as part of a nationwide drive by progressives for wealth taxes in California and other blue states. They hope that imposing wealth taxes at the state level would spur a national tax.

Lee and other advocates cite a 2021 ProPublica article that detailed how very wealthy Americans use loopholes in the federal tax system to avoid paying billions of dollars in income taxes. “This is all in the spirit of making those who are not paying their fair share pay what they owe,” Lee said.

There’s an ironic element to that contention in California. By happenstance, the wealth tax measures were introduced three days after the New Yorker magazine published an article about a lawsuit alleging that two daughters of Gordon Getty, a San Francisco billionaire who is Newsom’s close friend and financial patron, used shell trusts based in Nevada to avoid paying millions of dollars in California income taxes on earnings from money Getty gave them.

Lee’s measure, Assembly Bill 259, contains elaborate language aimed at preventing rich taxpayers from dodging wealth taxes, which would be initially imposed on those with at least a billion dollars in net assets – 1.5% each year – and later be extended to those with over $50 million at 1%.

The taxes would be levied on worldwide assets, would hit wealthy taxpayers even if they left the state, and hefty penalties would be imposed for underpaying.

The first question is whether Lee’s new bill has any better chance of winning legislative approval than his previous version, which never got to first base. There are huge Democratic majorities in both legislative houses, far more than two-thirds, but many Democrats are leery of voting for new taxes.

A key element is whether Newsom, who is personally quite wealthy thanks to the PlumpJack wine and restaurant business he founded with seed money from Getty’s trust, would support such a measure.

Newsom has hinted that he’s concerned about an exodus of wealthy taxpayers, who already provide a huge share of the state’s revenues. Last year, he opposed a ballot measure, Proposition 30, which would have hiked taxes on millionaires to support efforts to counter climate change.

For the first time, wealthy Californians actively opposed the measure, having remained passive when previous tax-the-rich propositions were placed before voters, and with Newsom’s added opposition, voters rejected it.

Even if the wealth taxes pass the Legislature, voter approval of the constitutional amendment is problematic. With potentially billions of dollars at stake, a lavishly financed opposition campaign is certain, meaning proponents – particularly public employee unions – would have to commit big bucks as well.

Moreover, another measure to hike income taxes on the wealthy is already ticketed for the 2024 ballot. Its advocates, who want more money for pandemic readiness, stayed off the 2022 ballot to avoid conflict with Proposition 30.

It’s another test for an old saying about Californians’ attitudes on taxes: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.”

Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.

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Categories: Local News

Bay Area man gets 46 years to life for three counts of child sex assault

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 46 min ago

More than a year after being found guilty of multiple child sex crimes, a 49-year-old Solano man on Tuesday learned he will spend 46 years to life behind bars.

Victor Manuel Guarcas-Tol, who appeared Tuesday in Department 1 for his sentencing hearing, heard Solano County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey C. Kauffman hand down the prison term in the Justice Center in Fairfield.

A jury on Sept. 24, 2021, found Guarcas-Tol guilty of sexual intercourse with and sodomy of a child under 10 years of age; sexual penetration of a child under 10 years of age; and lewd and lascivious acts upon a child.

According to court records, between 2015 and 2019, Guarcas-Tol repeatedly raped, sodomized, and molested a young child “who trusted the defendant like a father,” Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said in a press release after the verdict, which came the same day the defendant turned 48.

“The child lived in fear and did not come forward for a significant period of time due to the defendant’s threats that he would cut the child’s hands off if she told anyone about the abuse,” she added in the press statement.

The abuse eventually came to light in July 2019, and the child “courageously testified at trial regarding this horrific abuse,” said Abrams.

The DA’s Office filed a complaint in the case on July 15, 2019, and Deputy District Attorney Elaine Kuo led the prosecution. The Solano County Public Defender represented Guarcas-Tol.

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The case was investigated by District Attorney Investigator Kathryn Lenke. Victim Witness Advocate Andrea Vela provided victim advocacy and support to the victim.

Guarcas-Tol remains in the Claybank Detention Facility in Fairfield until he is transferred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Abrams reminded members of the public that if they or someone they know has been a victim of sexual assault and needs the help of an advocate, to call 784-6827 or the Family Justice Center, t784-7635.

Categories: Local News

CHP to fly in supplies for Big Sur residents, businesses facing long-term isolation

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 50 min ago

BIG SUR – Supplies will soon be helicoptered in to Big Sur residents and businesses facing long-term isolation after weeks of repeated storms and rockslides cut off their access to Highway 1 – and the rest of the state.

In a press release Wednesday afternoon, county officials announced that the County of Monterey Department of Emergency Management – in partnership with Unified Command, Big Sur Fire, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and the California HIghway Patrol Air Unit – is coordinating the delivery of essential goods via helicopter to communities isolated by landslides on Highway 1.

Deliveries, conducted by CHP Helicopter operations, will take place Thursday and Friday from 12-2 p.m.

According to the county’s release, Thursday’s air shipment will include large supplies of bottled water and Meals Ready to Eat. Friday’s shipment will include groceries, medication and pet food. Supplies will be delivered to the Sand Dollar Day Use area both days. Big Sur Fire will be on-site to coordinate supply distribution.

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While impacted residents were asked to place grocery orders through the Safeway at The Crossroads ahead of this week’s incoming deliveries, the Monterey County Food Bank will also be providing food for residents who didn’t have the resources to purchase food or may not have ordered enough. Any leftover food will be located at the Pacific Valley School for further distribution.

“A huge thank you to (Community Association of Big Sur), Big Sur CERT volunteers and the Big Sur Health Center for coordinating efforts to bring these critical needs to the impacted residents,” county officials said in their press release Wednesday. “The Big Sur community is resilient and comes together in times of crisis to support one another.”

Categories: Local News

The top five most expensive home sales in Palo Alto, reported the week of Jan. 16

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 50 min ago

A house in Palo Alto that sold for $3.9 million tops the list of the most expensive real estate sales in Palo Alto in the last two weeks.

In total, 5 real estate sales were recorded in the area during the past two weeks, with an average price of $2.8 million, $1,384 per square foot.

The prices in the list below concern real estate sales where the title was recorded from the week of January 9 to the week of Jan. 23., even if the property may have been sold earlier.

5. $1.7 million, condominium in the 600 block of San Antonio Road

The property in the 600 block of San Antonio Road in Palo Alto has new owners. The price was $1,675,000. The condominium was built in 1979 and has a living area of 1,380 square feet. The price per square foot is $1,214. The condominium features 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

San Antonio RoadSan Antonio Road 4. $2.4 million, single-family house in the 3900 block of Duncan Place

The sale of the single family residence in the 3900 block of Duncan Place in Palo Alto has been finalized. The price was $2,400,000, and the new owners took over the house in December. The house was built in 1953 and has a living area of 1,265 square feet. The price per square foot was $1,897. The house features 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.

Duncan PlaceDuncan Place 3. $2.6 million, single-family residence in the 1000 block of Moffett Circle

The 1,676 square-foot single-family house in the 1000 block of Moffett Circle in Palo Alto has now been sold. The transfer of ownership was settled in January and the total purchase price was $2,580,000, $1,539 per square foot. The house was built in 1951. The house features 4 bedrooms and 1 bathrooms.

Moffett CircleMoffett Circle 2. $3.2 million, detached house in the 3000 block of Price Court

The sale of the single-family house in the 3000 block of Price Court, Palo Alto, has been finalized. The price was $3,170,000, and the new owners took over the house in January. The house was built in 1954 and has a living area of 2,353 square feet. The price per square foot was $1,347. The house features 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

Price CourtPrice Court 1. $3.9 million, single-family home in the 100 block of Melville Avenue

The 3,264 square-foot single-family residence in the 100 block of Melville Avenue, Palo Alto, has now been sold. The transfer of ownership was settled in January and the total purchase price was $3,930,000, $1,204 per square foot. The house was built in 1919. The house features 6 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

Melville AvenueMelville Avenue

 

Categories: Local News

Bay Area lawmaker’s bill would ban body armor sales for most Californians

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 54 min ago
Damon Connolly speaks during an event at Sonoma Raceway on Feb. 21, 2020, to announce legislation by state Sen. Bill Dodd aimed at improving Highway 37. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)Damon Connolly speaks during an event at Sonoma Raceway on Feb. 21, 2020, to announce legislation by state Sen. Bill Dodd aimed at improving Highway 37. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal) 

In response to an increase in mass shooters wearing bullet-proof gear, Marin’s state assemblyman has introduced a bill this month that would prohibit most California residents from buying body armor.

Assembly Bill 92, introduced by Damon Connolly, would make it a misdemeanor offense punishable by an up to $10,000 fine for someone to buy or sell bullet-resistant body armor or clothing to people not employed in certain professions, such as law enforcement. People who already own body armor would be allowed to keep it but would be prohibited from reselling it.

The prohibition would not apply to law enforcement officers, firefighters, military personnel, security guards, firearms dealers, body armor salespeople, code enforcement officers and medical first responders. The California Department of Justice would be authorized to add other exempted professions.

Additionally, the bill would make it a felony offense punishable by up to three years in prison for a person to wear body armor while committing a violent felony involving a firearm.

Currently, California law only prohibits convicted felons from possessing or buying body armor.

Connolly, a Democrat representing Marin and southern Sonoma County, said his bill is modeled after legislation passed in New York last year in response to a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. The shooter wore bullet-resistant armor, which protected him after a security guard shot him and allowed him to kill the security guard.

“Talking with North Bay community members during the campaign, this was an issue that was brought up several times,” Connolly wrote in an email. “Following the horrific shooting in Buffalo, New York last year, the state Legislature there passed restrictions on body armor to keep this military-grade gear out of the hands of violent criminals.”

Connolly’s legislation was introduced before the three recent mass shootings in Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay and the Central Valley in the past week. None of the suspects were reported to have worn body armor during these incidents.

Mass shooting data collected by The Violence Project nonprofit research organization showed an increase in the number of mass shooters who used body armor in recent years. The data spanning from 1966 and 2022 showed 21 mass shootings in the U.S. involving a shooter who wore body armor with 15 of these incidents occurring after 2010.

The legislation has raised questions and concerns about limiting self-defense measures for law-abiding residents during a time when mass shootings are becoming a more frequent part of life in the U.S.

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A Palo Alto-based company, Wonder Hoodies, sells bullet-resistant hoodies, vests, backpack panels and other items. Company founder Vy Tran began the business after a neighbor was shot and killed in a robbery while walking home in Seattle.

“Our Wonder Hoodie founder designed our bulletproof clothing for her mother and little brother who felt unsafe walking around their own community after a neighborhood shooting,” company Operations Manager Matt Holland wrote in an email. “We can’t comment on how this law will affect the number of mass shootings in the future but can say it will negatively impact the access to wearable body armor that our company sought to democratize, especially for non-violent civilians seeking self-defense equipment or peace of mind.”

Connolly said he has heard similar concerns and will work to refine the legislation as it makes its way through the Legislature.

“We have received a lot of good feedback from constituents and colleagues regarding personal protection options, which I think are valuable and legitimate,” he said. “It is clear that we need to strike a balance between protecting public safety and personal protection.”

Marin County Sheriff Jamie Scardina said the California State Sheriff’s Association has yet to take a position on the bill.

“I have not read it in its entirety and I think it’s a little early,” he wrote in an email.

More information about Assembly Bill 92 can be found at bit.ly/3kI3JVQ.

Categories: Local News

South Bay family seeking answers months after fatal Highway 1 crash

San Jose Mercury - 12 hours 58 min ago

WATSONVILLE — The missing details are what haunts Mary Gomes, two months after the death of her little brother.

John Mollett. (Mary Gomes -- Contributed)John Mollett. (Mary Gomes — Contributed) 

John Mollett, 29, was traveling southbound on Highway 1 the day after Thanksgiving when he crashed his motorcycle into a tree on the offramp to Highway 129, just outside of Watsonville, according to the California Highway Patrol. The investigation into the cause of the crash remained pending this week, according to CHP’s Santa Cruz area spokesman Officer Israel Murillo, as officials awaited post-mortem toxicology results and findings from a specialized crash investigations unit, the Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Teams, called in to assist with scene diagrams and more after a vehicle fatality.

“We want to make sure we do a thorough investigation and make sure the crash is up to our standards, make sure there’s no errors, to our knowledge, and make sure it’s reviewed,” Murillo said.

With no clear reason why Mollett, by family accounts an experienced motorcyclist, had hit a tree in a moderately curved offramp, Gomes found herself quickly drawn to the crash scene.

“I went down to look at the scene, for nothing more than to get some clarity,” Gomes, of Los Gatos, told the Sentinel. “When I went the scene, (it) made no sense and I ended up with more questions than answers.”

Mollett, of Morgan Hill, had died while driving his 2003 Suzuki on a clear Friday afternoon, several hours after ending his overnight shift at a Gilroy machine shop. Gomes said it was her brother’s habit to head to Sunset Beach on his off hours, maybe stopping for a hot dog at one of his favorite Watsonville joints.

Gomes, the oldest of five kids and about eight years older than Mollett, still thinks of her younger brother as that chunky toddler with bouncy curls who was an escape artist from early on, always headed outdoors whenever the opportunity arose. Mollett grew up to be a “big enthusiast of nature,” a rifle instructor, an outdoorsman and an archer. He died leaving a daughter of 10 years and a fiancée behind.

“My brother was one of those people where his energy, it was contagious,” Gomes recalled. “He’d walk into a room; he had that about him where he’d lift people’s spirits.”

Pursuit precedes crash

Audio recordings hosted at the private website scanrad.io provide further insight into the day of Mollett’s Nov. 25 death.

John Mollett with fiancee Tara Clark. (Mary Gomes -- Contributed)John Mollett with fiancee Tara Clark. (Mary Gomes — Contributed) 

At 12:33 p.m., a California Highway Patrol officer is heard reporting to dispatchers that he had spotted a southbound motorcyclist riding a black and silver Suzuki weaving in and out of traffic at speeds “probably” reaching 120 mph, headed south from near the Mar Monte Avenue exit. The driver, according to the officer, failed to yield to his lights and sirens. At 12:37 p.m., the officer reports the motorcyclist was exiting Highway 1 at Highway 129. The CHP dispatcher responds that she will notify Watsonville Police Department. Two minutes later, the dispatcher alerts officers that her fellow dispatchers at Santa Cruz Regional 911 or “Netcom” had received a report of a motorcyclist down at Highway 129. There is no clear transmission related to the end of the officer’s pursuit.

CHP officials did not disclose their prior pursuit initially, either directly to the family, they said, or in a press release issued by the agency. Gomes said it was not until three weeks after Mollett’s death that the family heard of the pursuit. Murillo later confirmed Sentinel inquiries about the prior CHP chase, although he was unable to immediately provide specific details, such as top speeds, the beginning and end times of the pursuit or the locations. Murillo said one of the violations the officer was seeking to pull Mollett over for included multiple vehicle code violations, including driving recklessly.

“It appears that the motorcycle was involved in a pursuit,” Murillo said. “It did not yield to our lights and sirens. We discontinued the pursuit due to safety precautions.”

Gomes said she has a series of questions about the investigation that just do not add up for her and she wants to know why information is not made more transparently and consistently available to loved ones after a fatal crash. When attempting to collect her brother’s motorcycle helmet, Gomes was told that the Santa Cruz County Coroner’s Office had burned all clothing that was touching Mollett’s body, including his helmet, due to biohazard risks. Loss of the helmet during the police investigation, Gomes said, means his family can not confirm or dispel conflicting information they have heard from scene witnesses. An initial CHP report described Mollett’s motorcycle as totaled and involved in a hit-and-run accident, neither of which Gomes said she believes is accurate. Other details related to the accident, she said, have not matched official reports.

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“I’m not into speculating about any of this because I just wanted the facts, from the beginning,” Gomes said. “I just want to know what happened to my brother. We have family that are first responders. I have an uncle that retired as chief of a fire department. I’m a veteran. I have love and admiration for peace officers, for emergency medical responders.”

Categories: Local News

Opinion: There’s one big climate fight that California is losing

San Jose Mercury - 13 hours 5 min ago

It has been demoralizing to witness in Santa Cruz, my hometown, the destructive power of waves and water on our beaches, piers, roads, homes, businesses, rivers and levees. But we knew this was coming, and we’re overdue to adapt to the new realities of our climate.

In 2015, global leaders resolved to cut carbon emissions in an effort to keep the planet from heating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. California has played a significant role in that campaign, with world-leading policies and innovations on technologies such as solar power and electric vehicles and in the development of carbon markets, which reduce emissions through caps and tradeable credits. All of this has been aimed at averting a future climate challenge. That challenge is here now.

Mitigation must continue, but adaptation has become urgent as well. California should step up once again.

It’s not enough to invest just in strategies to protect future people, property and nature. The risk of climate change to people here and now has become quite clear.

Recovering from climate-fueled disasters will take an ever-greater bite out of national and local budgets. The United Nations lauds countries’ mitigation commitments, but finds an ever-widening “adaptation gap” between what is spent, around $29 billion annually, and what is needed, around $71 billion a year now and $340 billion in 2030. For many developing countries, particularly island nations, falling behind on adaptation is an existential crisis.

Californians have done a lot to contribute to this crisis. Among U.S. states, we rank second only to Texas in total carbon dioxide emissions.

So we should help solve this adaptation crisis — as innovators and leaders.

First, that means experimenting with more solutions to adapt to climate change across the state, innovations that we can export elsewhere. Many states and countries are already doing more than California has.

California can’t afford to lag behind in the race to adapt to existing climate dangers. Catastrophic collapses along our open coasts this month are a reminder that we must greatly expand efforts to reduce risks on our coastlines.

Second, California should lead in the development of an adaptation marketplace. California helped build carbon markets, and we need the same leadership for an adaptation marketplace that gives benefits and credits for reducing present climate risks to people, property and nature.

One key step will be to measure risk and the benefits of adaptation solutions, and then we must price them. We already know how to price risk; that’s the basis for the insurance industry.

We also need incentives or government requirements to advance adaptation projects. Such incentives are already emerging from the private sector. Companies are increasingly being pushed by investors to report on the risks of climate change to their balance sheets, which has led to voluntary compliance with reporting developed by the business-led Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.

It makes sense for businesses and governments to get out in front with voluntary adaptation commitments. At the U.N. climate conference in Egypt in November, one of the few points of agreement was that developed nations will increasingly have to take responsibility for the losses and damages that climate change is already driving in developing nations.

California is likely to soon become the world’s fourth-largest economy, and we reap many benefits from that. Californians have also been willing to take ownership of problems we have helped create. We must continue to lead on cutting carbon emissions to protect the future, and we must develop the same leadership on climate adaptation — because Californians and vulnerable nations need those protections now.

Michael W. Beck is a professor and the director of the Center for Coastal Climate Resilience at UC Santa Cruz. ©2023 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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Categories: Local News

Fantasy Billboard: Giddy Up! and Whoa Down! for championship weekend

San Jose Mercury - 13 hours 13 min ago

Watching NFL games at Mulligan’s in Farmingdale N.J, I am guaranteed to meet some truly friendly folks. I had a few laughs with Chris from Howell, N.J.  I asked if they played Fantasy Football. Chris, wearing an Eagles shirt, said his 10-year-old son Jonathan won his league with an awesome team name: Jalen Hurts My Feelings. Congrats to young Jonathan and his excellent taste in QBs! As we keep Fantasy Football going during the NFL playoffs, now is the best time to enlist the aid of FantasyGuru.com. Get a Daily News special 30% off by entering the code NEW30 for instant savings. Let’s look at our Giddy Ups! and Whoa Downs! for the Conference Championship Round.

GIDDY UP!

Jalen Hurts, QBHurts was quietly efficient last week, passing for just 154 yards and two TDs while rushing for 34 yards and another TD. The 49ers have a great defense, but Hurts will be the second-highest-scoring Fantasy QB on Champ Weekend.

Joe Burrow, QB — Joe Cool was like a cat toying with a ball of yarn in Buffalo. He unraveled the Bills’ D and tore them apart. I don’t see the Chiefs faring much better. Burrow has 982 yards and eight TDs in his last three games against K.C.

Elijah Mitchell, RB — Don’t underestimate Mitchell’s value to the 49ers. He had more carries and rushing yards than a limping Christian McCaffrey against Dallas. The Eagles have given up an average of 5.6 yards per carry in their last three games. Mitchell will get plenty of work on Sunday.

Jerick McKinnon, RB — Lost in the Buffalo massacre by the Bengals was Devin Singletary’s five receptions for 38 yards. That’s right up McKinnon’s alley. Getting him involved keeps the Bengal blitz at bay and slows their pass rush. McKinnon was red-hot to end the season. Fire him up again.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR — I don’t know what a catch is anymore in the NFL. Chase should have had an additional TD last week, but it was reversed because the ball moved a bit in his hands as he fell. Hey NFL, I have a suggestion. If the receiver doesn’t drop the ball, it’s a catch!

George Kittle, TE — When he wasn’t mugging for the SkyCam, Kittle was mugging the Cowboys for 95 yards. He is Purdy’s security blanket and will be featured in the 49er game plan in Philly.

Travis Kelce, TE — Kelce had a ridiculous 14 receptions for 98 yards and two TDs against the Jags. He will be the leading receiver once again for the Chiefs.

WHOA DOWN!

Patrick Mahomes, QB — I don’t doubt that Mahomes will suit up against the Bengals. But high ankle sprains are painful and debilitating. Any QB will tell you it’s the legs that help drive a thrown ball accurately. He’s a liability to not finish the game, and that’s too risky for DFS.

Brock Purdy, QB — The rookie has yet to lose an NFL game. But as predicted last week, he had one of the lowest Fantasy point totals (8.8) for QBs. Only the Giants’ Daniel Jones had fewer (6.8). The 49ers will rely on the ground game and short, safe passes against the Eagles, limiting Purdy’s upside.

Kenneth Gainwell, RB — Don’t chase the points. Gainwell ran through holes the size of the Grand Canyon against the Giants for 112 yards and a TD. The 49ers will offer no such chasms. The most ground they gave up to any RB all year was 69 yards.

Joe Mixon, RB — Mixon had a great outing last week, notching just his second 100-yard game of the year. His best effort against the Chiefs was 88 yards in last year’s playoff game. That looks about right.

Tyler Boyd, WR — Boyd seems to be the forgotten man in the Bengals arsenal with just four total receptions his last two playoff games. Look elsewhere.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR — JuJu continued his dismal season with two catches for 29 yards last week. If you have to use a K.C. wideout, opt for ex-Giant Kadarius Toney.

Hayden Hurst, TE — Hurst scored his first TD since Week 5 against the Bills. Last time out against K.C. he had two catches for 12 yards. I’d rather start Goedert vs. San Fran.

* * *

Get 30% off the subscription from FantasyGuru.com, the finest source for Seasonal, DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) and Sports Gaming advice. Just go to FantasyGuru.com and enter the code NEW30 for instant savings. Look for Fantasy Billboard every week in the Daily News and a separate column at FantasyGuru.com.

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Categories: Local News

Tesla Bulls Take Heart From Strong Profits

N.Y. Times - 13 hours 14 min ago
Shares in the electric carmaker continued to rally after the company reported strong profits, even amid growing competition and economic pressures.
Categories: Local News

Opinion: M&Ms introduces a new level of crazy in the culture wars

San Jose Mercury - 13 hours 20 min ago

Welcome to a new level of crazy in the culture wars.

Somehow the M&M’s spokescandies have been swept up in the crusade against “wokeness,” forcing everyone to suffer through an entire news cycle focused on the aesthetic choices of anthropomorphized chocolate-candy cartoon characters.

It’s an episode that seems engineered to illustrate just how unhinged the outrage machine has become. But it also signals the start of an unwelcome new branding strategy — one in which companies may be poised to not only capitalize on but also feed into a highly polarized society in ways that do more harm than good.

It all began early last year when M&M’s parent company, Mars Inc., announced that its spokescandies were getting a more modernized look and nuanced personalities to “underscore the importance of self-expression” and to reflect “an updated tone of voice that is more inclusive, welcoming and unifying.”

These words are all very triggering to a certain segment of the right. Fox News host Tucker Carlson decided to make the rebranding a flashpoint on his show. To Carlson, the most egregious changes were the green M&M hanging up her high-heeled boots for sneakers and the brown M&M trading her stilettos for a more sensible heel. Carlson called the newly designed brand mascots “deeply unappealing and totally androgynous, until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them — that’s the goal. When you’re totally turned off, we’ve achieved equity.”

What it boils down to is that the female brand mascots were no longer sexy enough for Carlson’s tastes. Again, as a reminder, we are talking about anthropomorphized chocolate-candy cartoon characters.

That seemed to be the end of the whole bizarre affair — that is until Monday, when the official M&M’s Twitter account put out a statement saying that because we are in an era when “even a candy’s shoes can be polarizing,” it’s taking an indefinite break from the spokescandies. To take their place, Mars hired actress and comedian Maya Rudolph to represent the brand.

That’s when things started to get suspect. Why was Mars canceling its spokescandies a full year after the Carlson dust-up? And if the goal was to quell the right, why bring on beloved liberal icon Rudolph, who received an Emmy nod for her portrayal of Kamala Harris on “Saturday Night Live”? Was this latest development simply a stunt to create buzz ahead of a planned Super Bowl ad?

Either way, it’s bad all around. It’s bad if Mars succumbed so easily to the right after its self-aggrandizing messaging about unity, and it’s bad if the company is trying to fan the flames of the culture wars for its own benefit. Both are exploitative — one of a sincere and hard-fought movement toward inclusivity and the other of the country’s dangerous level of polarization.

The impulse to update brands for social and political reasons really took hold in 2020 when companies altered product names and logos to shed their racist roots. Aunt Jemima became the Pearl Milling Company, Uncle Ben’s became Ben’s Original, Eskimo Pie became Edy’s Pie, and the Washington Redskins became the Washington Commanders. The decisions were a long time coming and often seemed like reluctant changes.

What Mars is doing seems closer to a stunt. It’s ridiculous and hilarious, but it’s also a dangerous place for brands to play. Companies need to be cautious that they’re wading into the political and social fray for the right reasons and not simply as a marketing tool. Mars might be benefiting from the buzz now, but it should be prepared for what always seems to come on the other side of the culture wars — the backlash.

Beth Kowitt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. ©2023 Bloomberg. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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