Explaining Southern California's economy

The hippest, coolest part of venture capital comes to public media

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People work at computers in TechHub, an office space for technology start-up entrepreneurs in London, England.

This is one of the best ideas I've seen in a while: following on its establishment of an early-stage venture fund at the beginning of the year, the Knight Foundation has announced that it's going to fund a Public Media Accelerator, to the the tune of $2.5 million. It's clear what Knight is up to here: it's putting together a fully functioning venture capital metabolism for the non-profit space, with a focus on media. 

It used to be that you could think of VC in terms of early and later-stage funding. But the emergence of incubators, like Pasdena's own Idealab, and accelerators with a somewhat different funding model — they seek to identify, nurture, and develop startups at an extremely early stage, sometimes before an actual company even exists — has made it necessary for any entity that wants to mimic Silicon Valley to think more broadly. 

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Why public education finances in California are in bad shape

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Students may have trouble getting to class once federal trigger cuts slash $38 million from California's school transportation budget.

KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports today on the effect that anticipated "trigger cuts" to spending, due to a looming budget deficit in California, could have on funding to both K-12 and higher education:

The governor’s office may announce $2 billion in midyear cuts to state-funded agencies on Thursday. That’s likely to reduce state support for public education at every level from kindergarten through college.

The cuts are likely because the revenues state lawmakers had predicted never materialized. That means $100 million in cuts to the University of California and the Cal State systems. Student fees for community college would go up $10 a unit. School districts are figuring out how much money they’ll lose.

Charles Kerchner, an education researcher at Claremont Graduate University, says some public schools are better prepared than others. "It tends to be the case that school districts that have quieter politics tend to have bigger budget reserves."

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Why is Occupy Wall Street protesting the ports?

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Protesters blocking the Port of Long Beach

It's a good question. What's the relationship between protesting the ascent of a global financial elite and protesting regular old trade in and out of the nation's largest Pacific coast ports?

Evidently, there's a Goldman Sachs tie-in. The Vampire Squid owns 51-percent of SSA Marine, a global mega-shipper that has major operations at the Port of Long Beach. The general idea, according to Occupy the Ports, is that SSA is somehow contributing to America's rather substantial trade imbalance with China. Greaterlongeach.com summarizes:

[A] flyer [circulated to protesters] cites a variety of reasons for focusing protests on SSA Marine. These include two specific claims—that the company the company failed to alert workers about potentially hazardous cargo in Oakland, and that it was fined for building an illegal road to a project in Washington. They also point to wider policies that protest organizers say have depressed wages and benefits for truck drivers and de-industrialized the United States so that incoming shipping containers at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles outnumber outgoing shipping containers 7-1.

Michael Novick, a retired schoolteacher who is part of the Occupy the Port movement, responded to a call from GreaterLongBeach.com and expanded on the implications of the imbalance of import-export traffic through the local ports.

“If there were as many containers going out as there are coming in there would be 10 times as many jobs,” said Novick, who said he expects Occupy the Ports to protest in front of SSA Marine this Monday from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.

But coordinating a protest at SSA Marine isn’t easy. The company is so big that it has five locations within the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles: Pacific Container Terminal, Terminal A, Terminal c60, and Pier F, Berth 206 in Long Beach, and Outer Harbor 54/55 in San Pedro.

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Wine Report: When the front of the label matters less than the back

The wine store. The wine section at the grocery store. The wine retail website. Terrifying experiences for many. Sweat. Shakes. Nervousness. So many labels. So many labels. So many labels...

There's an easy way to avoid this anxiety, so common among even more experienced wine drinkers. Forget the front of the bottle. Concentrate on the back. 

The back label is where, often, the wine importer's logo can be found. Now, I'm talking about wines from Europe, primarily, here. If all you ever drink is California wine, you don't need this advice.

At right is the famous logo of Kermit Lynch, an importer who owns a wine store in Berkeley, CA and who is highly regarded for seeking out rewarding, delicious French wines that don't cost an arm and leg. I've been a fan since I lived in Brooklyn and had access to the Lynch portfolio through my local wine shop. (Lynch also wrote one of the great wine books, "Adventures on the Wine Route," in which he recounts his experiences finding unusual wines and passionate winemakers in France.) 

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California high-speed rail is dead. No it isn't. Yes it is. No it isn't...

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California High Speed Rail Authority

An artist's rendering of California's high speed rail.

At Slate, Will Oremus says high-speed rail is a goner. And not just in California, but everywhere. Of course, everywhere but California, the "speed" part of high-speed was questionable:

The Europeans define high-speed trains as those that travel at speeds of 155 miles per hour or more (or 125 mph for tracks that are upgraded, rather than newly built). Wisconsin’s proposed $823 million Milwaukee-to-Madison line was to reach 110 mph, at most, in between stops in cities such as Brookfield and Oconomowoc. Ohio’s version was even slower, with trains on an upgraded freight-rail track topping out at 79 mph. With stops, the trip from Cincinnati to Cleveland would have been significantly slower by rail than by car. Who would ride such a thing?...
For all that, a line in California, connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, still seemed to stand a chance. Unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the country, the California line would be true, dedicated high-speed rail, with trains running up to 220 mph. It would connect two metropolises of seven-million-plus people that are just far enough apart to make a drive unappetizing (six hours sans traffic) and a plane hop unwieldy. And the plans were already in place; the state had been working on a high-speed rail line for decades and lacked only the money to execute it. It was, it seemed, the perfect showcase for the Obama stimulus. This was more than just digging holes in the ground—it was putting people to work building something that the country needed anyway. Not only is California’s Interstate 5 congested and getting worse, but air traffic between San Francisco and Los Angeles is beginning to be a problem as well. Without high-speed trains, the state will need to build more highways, more airports, or both.

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