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Staying In A D.C. Hotel For Inauguration Weekend? Prepare To Be Gouged

By Mike Montgomery

This weekend will be a historically busy one for Washington D.C. Today, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in front of the U.S. Capitol, where his fans were out en masse to watch. Saturday, hundreds of thousands will flood the streets of the city to protest his presidency.

No matter which side of the fence they’re on, every D.C. visitor staying in a hotel had one thing in common: They all paid an insane amount for lodging.

We did some research into rooms this coming weekend and found that hotels are jacking up their prices by more than 800%. Book a room at the Fairmont in Georgetown earlier in January and you would have paid $190 per night for a room with a king bed. The weekend of the inauguration? That same room will cost you $1,600 per night (and you’ll have to book for at least three nights.)

Prices won’t be any better in Dupont Circle. A room at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel, which would typically go for $99 per night, will cost you $899 per night the weekend of the inauguration.

It is a shame that these absurd rates put hotel rooms out of reach for most Americans who might want to either see democracy in action or protest the people who are soon to be running the country.

But it’s not a huge surprise. Hotels make a practice of price gouging whenever they can, only they call it “compression” pricing, a made-up term hotel owners use to gloss over the nasty but time-honored practice of fleecing consumers during high-traffic events. Hotels rely on the old supply versus demand argument to justify their behavior of charging unreasonable rates in the name of big corporations lining their coffers.

And while supply and demand is the guiding force of our economic system, it’s worth taking a deeper look at what the hotels are doing and question whether their extreme prices really make economic sense for the workers and the communities where those hotels operate. The people who work in those hotels (most of whom don’t even earn a living wage because the hotels and their lobbyists fight against even modest minimum wage increases) don’t bring in extra money when the hotel is booked to capacity with people paying $1,000 per night or more for a room. The surrounding community doesn’t get an economic boost outside of transit and occupancy taxes that don’t directly benefit local residents. Our research has found that 60 cents out of every dollar spent by people staying at hotels goes back to the corporate owners no matter how much the rooms cost.

While hotel owners might prefer their customers not think about those high prices in terms of price gouging, they’re happy to talk to their investors about the benefits of jacking up prices whenever possible. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust CEO Jon Bortz was quoted as complaining to investors that home sharing platforms, like Home Away and VRBO, are making things hard for hotels.

The company’s ability to “price at maybe what the customer would describe as sort of gouging rates,” has diminished with the growth of home sharing, he told investors. “We’ve lost a lot of that ability at this point within the major markets where these events take place.”

There’s a lesson in that, though inauguration hotel rates show that the rise of home sharing hasn’t fully removed price gouging from the hotels owners’ quivers quite yet.

But the more home sharing there is in a city, the harder it is for hotels to justify price gouging. According to UBS leisure and lodging analyst Robin Farley, more home share listings has a direct effect on limiting the frequency of compression pricing at area hotels.

A bill in front of the D.C. City Council last year would have imposed new regulations on home sharing in the district but the bill died in committee. Hopefully this year the City Council will take a more informed view on home sharing and consider how, especially during large events like the ones coming at the end of this week, it would make sense for the nation’s capital to allow more visitors in instead of keeping them out due to price gouging.

While we may not know exactly what is in store over the next four years, it’s safe to assume that Washington, D.C. will remain a tourist magnet. The city should open its doors as wide as possible.

Erin Schrode Isn’t Afraid Of Rubber Bullets When She’s Fighting For The Environment

Erin Schrode refers to herself as a young “Eco-Renaissance” woman, and when you look at her list of accomplishments, it’s not hard to see why. When she was still in high school, Schrode co-founded Turning Green, an organization dedicated to helping teenagers advocate for a cleaner environment. She has appeared on ABC and been quoted in The New York Times and was honored by the White House for her dedication to political action.

And late last year, she was shot with a rubber bullet.

Image credit: Erin Schrode via www.erinschrode.com

Schrode was interviewing pipeline protesters at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota when she felt a piercing pain in her back. She turned to see an officer who had fired the bullet out of a grenade launcher. The experience only doubled her resolve to continue telling stories of the protesters.

“Any rhetoric of violence from the water protectors was a lie,” Schrode told CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan during an interview for the A Step Ahead podcast. “I saw the power of nonviolent direct action play out again and again there.”

Schrode is someone political watchers should keep an eye on. Last year, at just 25, she ran for Congress in California’s 2nd District. Although she lost to incumbent Jared Huffman, Schrode used her campaign to call attention to important issues involving the environment and education.

Over the next four years, she hopes to fire up her fellow millennials to fight back against the Trump administration through technology and by showing up in person.

“This is the time to organize and advocate and mobilize in a way we never have before,” said Schrode. “Our future depends on it.”

Listen to the rest of the interview here:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

In Cancer Fight, Artificial Intelligence Is A Smart Move For Everyone

By Mike Montgomery

Cancer, unfortunately, touches almost everyone. Like far too many, I’ve lost friends to this horrific disease. Luckily, there are a number of exciting technologies on the horizon that might help save lives.

For instance, right now, women depend on monthly home exams and annual mammograms to detect breast cancer. Soon, though, they may have another option. Cyrcadia Health, a cancer therapy startup, has developed a sensor-filled patch that can be inserted comfortably under a bra for daily wear. Connecting through the woman’s smartphone or PC, the patch uses machine-learning algorithms to track the woman’s breast tissue temperatures and analyze this data at the Cyrcadia lab. If it detects a change in pattern, the technology will quickly alert the woman — and her health-care provider — to schedule a follow-up with her doctor.

“This technology is fully automated in the cloud,” says Rob Royea, CEO of Cyrcadia. The patch, whose predicate is FDA cleared, is expected to hit the market next year and had a greater than 80% historical trial success rate in detecting tumors, even in dense breasts (which are typically tough to read in a mammogram).

Cancer therapy startups that use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are proliferating. While some parts of the tech industry are coming under fire for creating products and services that only help the wealthy (most people don’t really need things like on-demand liquor delivery), this is one area where technology is being used to help everyone.

Read the full article here.

After The Election, A Reckoning For Silicon Valley

By Kish Rajan

As the dust settles after the recent presidential election, many are asking themselves some hard questions. Will Donald Trump follow through on even his most terrifying campaign promises? What can we do to help the most vulnerable over the next four years? And why were voters so angry that they were willing to take a risk on a tweet-happy businessman with no record of helping anyone but himself?

The tech industry needs to add a question to this list: What role, if any, did we play and what can we do about it now?

Like it or not, technology played a big role in the election. Social media created two competing echo chambers that got louder and louder as we got closer to election day. Fake news stories spread faster than the real thing and both sides told themselves that they were about to win. Only one side was right and that side didn’t include the vast majority of people in tech.

The day after the election was full of online hang wringing and self-flagellation among the technorati. Venture capitalist Dave McClure got a standing ovation at the Web Summit conference when he angrily compared social media to talk radio calling it a “propaganda medium” and demanding tech entrepreneurs take action to make sure this does not happen again.

There’s no question that the people who created and run the biggest social media networks in the world have to do better. If fake news has the same appearance as real news that’s no longer giving people unfettered access to information — it’s making them susceptible to propaganda. When trolls are allowed to attack and harass people on Twitter, that’s no longer facilitating the free flow of opinions — it’s sitting by while vulnerable people are made to feel unsafe.

But the soul searching has to go even deeper than that. Technology has ushered in an era of incredible efficiency but there’s no value in pretending that efficiency doesn’t cost people their jobs.

While many on the coasts are finding their lives greatly improved through smartphones, apps and the platform economy, people at the lower end of the economic scale are seeing the wonders of technology pass them by, just out of their reach.

But here’s the thing — if there are any people in this country who can help make things better, it’s the people who call the tech industry home. I have no doubt that we can innovate our way out of a lot of problems we are now facing.

We need the next wave of technologists to start working on algorithmic accountability. On Facebook, for example, it shouldn’t be enough that a story is popular to get it more widely distributed. There has to be something in the algorithm that evaluates the source of that story.

On Twitter, algorithms should be able to quiet bullies before they become harassers.

Entrepreneurs need to think about how many jobs their company will create instead of simply about market cap or a founder’s net worth. As new companies grow they can open offices in places like Michigan and Iowa and spread job growth beyond hubs like San Francisco, New York and Austin.

Tech leaders need to find their way to the table to work with the new government. Donald Trump has said he will spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure. That’s great. How can tech help and make that new infrastructure as modern as possible to provide highly-skilled jobs across this whole country? How do we train more people to be able to do these jobs? How can we make sure that the country’s digital infrastructure is being upgraded as well?

Finally, tech can work to promote and protect vulnerable populations by making better hiring decisions. The industry needs to look beyond white male Stanford grads and hire people who better reflect the diversity of America. Such a commitment will show that this community values and celebrates diversity and openness.

Companies can also continue to push for policies and priorities that the next administration might not share. Just because Trump may pull out of the Paris Accords doesn’t mean corporations should reduce their commitment to ending climate change. If Trump does end Obamacare companies should do everything they can to ensure that all of their employees (even contractors) are getting medical coverage. Actions like these can speak louder than words.

This is a difficult time but also an opportunity. As tech takes a hard look at where it’s been, I know we have the opportunity to do everything we can to make sure there’s a brighter future for everyone.

Welcome To The Resistance: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Prepares To Fight Back Against Trump

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is not going to take Donald Trump’s presidential victory sitting down. The California state representative has spent her career protecting the rights of the many immigrants who live in her district (the 80th) south of San Diego. She’s not about to let an anti-immigration administration trample on those rights.

“California is a laboratory of the left, and we’ve shown you can move forward with a progressive agenda and it will work,” she told CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan during an interview on the podcast “A Step Ahead.”

Although she views Trump’s plan to build a wall as mostly symbolic, she’s still worried about what his actions will mean for people such as the Dream Act kids, who willingly handed over their parents’ addresses (even though they are here illegally) to secure their own visas. Now the government has that information and may use it to deport people.

“They’re scared the government is going to break up their families,” she said.

Gonzalez also plans to fight for people in the service industry. While she acknowledges that the technical marvels that employ so many people in Silicon Valley are costing jobs in other parts of the state and country, she believes there’s still hope. Automation doesn’t mean an end to human workers — it means people will still need to operate and service machines and provide some human contact in settings such as stores and salons.

“You could have a robot cut your hair, but there is a social aspect to the service economy,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t talk about that a lot.”

To prepare the workforce of the future, Gonzalez believes we also need to rethink education. The idea of everyone going to a four-year college is a lofty one but may not be realistic or necessary, she says. She would like to see more apprentice programs, not just in tech but in industries like child care and health care.

“Going to college and studying sociology might not be the best path for everyone.”

Listen to the full interview below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

Tech Leaders Need To Push Trump On These Three Major Issues

By Kish Rajan

In the wake of the presidential election, Silicon Valley is in a deeply awkward position. Almost the entire tech industry backed Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump is the one who is about to enter the Oval Office.

This may sting but tech leaders can’t just dismiss the new administration. For one thing, the federal government is a giant technology customer. In 2015 Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell brought in a combined $14 billion in revenue from government contracts.

The federal government also has the regulatory power to make the lives of tech executives easier or much, much harder. Many fear that we’re in for the latter. Trump has hinted at starting a trade war with China, which is both a cheap manufacturer and a giant customer for tech companies. Clamping down on immigration could stem the tide of bright foreign entrepreneurs who have helped build some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. And Trump has called net neutrality a “top-down power grab” so Title II may be reversed.

But there are still places where tech leaders might be able to influence the President-elect and his transition team in order to help the tech industry. Here are three things executives should push for in the upcoming meeting:

Universal Broadband

One of Trump’s biggest selling points was his promise to bring jobs back to the many communities that have been hurt by the slow death of manufacturing in this country. But short of a miracle, he’s not going to be able to bring back manufacturing jobs.

Instead, he should focus on bringing those communities into the modern age with increased access to fast, reliable broadband. By making sure that everyone has access to the internet, he’ll help people advance their education, apply for jobs online and even build new businesses. In this digital age, living without broadband is a serious hardship for anyone who wants to do better for themselves.

By creating incentives for private investment by broadband service providers to expand the footprint of their offerings, speed their networks and reach a point of saturation, the president-elect would go a long way in not only modernizing America, but also creating jobs in the process. The appetite for investment, backed by incentives to increase capex, would send a strong signal to America that communications and tech inclusivity is the path toward prosperity.

Infrastructure Improvement

During the campaign, Trump proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure-improvement plan to put people to work fixing the nation’s highways, bridges, tunnels and airports. Assuming he continues to cite this as a priority for his new administration, the tech industry should push to have a seat at this table. Instead of simply building roads and patching decaying infrastructure, we should build smart roads that have built-in sensors to track everything from traffic to whether a road needs immediate maintenance. Insights from big data can help improve traffic flow and adjust speed limits to ease congestion and increase safety.

And the digital infrastructure that is mostly invisible should be a part of that plan. Consumers favor modern networks that fuel their smartphones and mobile devices, as the reliance on the antiquated landline telephone networks diminishes by record amounts every quarter. By incentivizing private deployment and decreasing barriers to buildout, we also create a digital superhighway that will promote many new businesses not just in California, but in every part of the country. The administration should also champion the idea of “dig once” which would mandate that pipes for fiber optic cables be laid down any time there is a federally-funded highway project. This will eliminate the need for teams to dig and re-dig streets every time wires need to be upgraded, which is costly and inconvenient for drivers. It’s time to revive this dormant policy opportunity.

Develop the Workforce

If this country is going to get serious about creating more jobs, it needs to start at the education level. Too many people are entering the workforce without the skills they need to succeed in the digital age and a rapidly changing economy. Improving our education system by increasing the emphasis on STEM education would be a good start.

But Trump also needs to acknowledge that immigrants are building some of our biggest tech companies, which are also creating jobs. Elon Musk, whose Tesla cars and batteries are made in America, is from South Africa. Google employs 62,000 people in the U.S. alone. That company’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, was born in Russia, and its CEO, Sundar Pichai, was born in India. The startups founded by immigrants should remain U.S.-based. Curtailing immigration is a short-sighted solution, and the hope is that the tech industry can underscore this thought in a powerful way. Comprehensive immigration reform may be off the table, but that doesn’t mean that improvements cannot be made to the current system in order to continue the flow of bright engineers and innovators to the America.

While tech leaders are likely to have many concerns about the new administration, they need to pick their battles. By focusing on these three areas, they can appeal to Trump’s campaign promises, especially around creating new jobs, while helping to maintain the health of the whole tech industry.

Silicon Valley Rejected Trump. How Will The Industry Work With The New Administration?

Steve Westly moves easily between the worlds of technology and politics. The venture capitalist, who was an early investor in Tesla, served as state controller and chief financial officer of California between 2003 and 2007.

Now, like many in Silicon Valley, he is watching cautiously as President-elect Donald Trump forms his cabinet and starts to signal what his priorities will be over the next four years.

Despite Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign, when he railed against immigrants, called climate change a hoax and threatened to start a trade war with China, Westly believes that when it comes down to making real policy, Trump will back down on some of his most damaging rhetoric.

“I think Silicon Valley will fare just fine,” Westly told CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan. “Silicon Valley is getting bigger, not smaller. It is the tech center of the world, and I don’t think Trump wants to slow that growth for any reason.”

Immigrants have proven to be the secret sauce of Silicon Valley helping build companies that have created thousands of jobs. Renewable energy is quickly getting more affordable than coal and natural gas, and almost every economist agrees that a trade war with China would be a disaster.

But that doesn’t mean the Valley should be complacent. The economic dislocation that swept Trump into office is a growing problem.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is that new technology is coming,” says Westly. “But we have to get smarter about re-educating the American workforce. We have not done that nearly well enough in the past.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

After The Election: What Is Silicon Valley’s Responsibility?

Silicon Valley is just starting a long conversation about what the technology industry will look post-election. There’s no denying that things like fake new stories and filter bubbles strengthened the digital walls that are dividing the country. But that’s not where the conversation should end.

Over the coming months, we will be using A Step Ahead to explore questions around how much responsibility Silicon Valley should bear and what the industry can do going forward to help unite the country and build a stronger economy for everyone.

“This is a real opportunity for the technology community at large to force correct a little bit,” said CALinnovates founder Mike Montgomery on the latest A Step Ahead podcast. “Silicon Valley needs to fully embrace that the world changed on election night.”

In addition to thinking about social media, the industry will have to reckon with what role hacking may have played in the election and how it might hurt politics going forward. Tech titans will have to think carefully about how technology can help everyone, not just the people who are profiting from venture capital money, and we will all have to continue to talk about the ways in which government can harm or help the tech industry’s growth.

Listen to the full podcast here:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

City Permitting Is Complicated. Technology Can Make It Easier.

When big companies build new office or commercial spaces, they have teams of lawyers and consultants who help them navigate the permitting process.

Small-business owners don’t have that same luxury, and city hall can often be a confusing place.

That’s where OpenCounter comes in. The tech company works with cities to make the permitting process easier and more tech friendly. They take the many rules and regulations a new business owner might need to understand and present them in an intuitive way through their online portal.

It’s an idea that more cities could use to help spur new business. In a conversation with CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan, OpenCounter co-founder Peter Koht pointed out that America is 49th in the world for ease of starting a businesses and 33rd for ease of construction permitting. These complications create real problems for new business owners.

“This is not a problem unique to California,” said Koht. “We need citizen-focused permitting.”

Koht and his co-founder, Joel Mahoney, approached the problem from a design point of view. The information that new businesses need is mostly already on a city’s website. OpenCounter uses algorithms and natural language to present that information in a way that more people can easily use.

Listen to the full interview below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

Just Like Olivia Pope, But Without The White Dress And Affairs: Justin Knighten Helps Folks Maneuver Sacramento

The world of Sacramento is its own ecosystem. Beyond politicians and lobbyists, there are people like Justin Knighten, vice president at Lucas Public Affairs, who work with businesses and interest groups to navigate the sometimes tricky paths to influencing policy.

“Think of us as Olivia Pope [from Scandal] but without the white dress and affairs,” Knighten joked to CALInnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan during a wide-ranging interview.

Businesses, especially tech companies, are getting more involved in policy in California, and they’re signaling to the next generation that this is just part of doing business — especially for tech companies that are looking to disrupt industries. Inevitably, those disruptors are going to want to be heard on policy decisions, and that’s where Knighten comes in.

He’s helping companies understand that their reputations, which play an important role in how they are welcomed in Sacramento, are not forged by accident. It’s an ongoing thing, and businesses have to be aware of who their audiences are and what they’re saying to them.

Government has to be aware of its audience as well, and as a millennial, Knighten would like to see government reaching out more to younger people and making itself more relevant to digital natives.

“As young people think about what they want their impact on the world to be, I’m a big advocate for going into government,” said Knighten. “It’s a great platform.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

 

 

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