🐤 Arrested development

Why are there so many vacant lots in cities suffering from a housing crisis? There's one major reason.

Wednesday | March 8th, 2023
Early Chirp

Happy Wednesday, chirpers! Today is International Women’s Day, so be sure to express your appreciation to all the women in your life who make the world a better place.

Even when the deck seems stacked against you, all the resilient women who have shattered glass ceilings throughout history can relate to the old adage: The show must go on.

That’s what one young cheerleader recognized when the rest of her squad failed to show up for a recent competition. Without missing a beat, the 8-year-old performed the routine all by herself … and went home with a 1st-place trophy.

-Chris Agee

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*Market data for this issue is from March 7th, 2023 at 3:50pm EST

🏦 Markets: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged what we struggling consumers already know: Inflation is a major bummer for the economy. During congressional testimony on Tuesday, he projected that “the ultimate level of interest rate hikes is likely to be higher than previously anticipated.”

The extent of those future rate increases, Powell advised, will be evident after several forthcoming economic reports are released.

His forecast didn’t sit well with investors as all three major indexes closed more than a point lower on Tuesday.

Poll

Can you guess which state has the worst tippers?

  1. Delaware
  2. Ohio
  3. Florida
  4. California
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World

The Breakdown

A quick look around the world.

The Breakdown Photo by Nava Jamshidi/Getty Images

🏫 Educational extremism: This is a tough item to report — particularly on International Women’s Day. Despite modest reforms that seemed to signal Afghan women would be able to obtain a college education even under the Taliban’s strict rule, universities across the country reopened this week without female students. As one computer science student explained about her own experience, her dream of pursuing a master’s degree and Ph.D. now seems dead. “I wanted to work and serve my nation, my people, my country,” she said. “I can’t do that now.” Countless women share her despair and one male student spoke on behalf of the men who are returning to school with the feeling that “someone has died in our university.” The United Nations recently determined that Afghanistan’s treatment of women might rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

✈️ No deal: A pair of budget airline carriers had planned to merge, creating the world’s fifth-largest airline in the process. This week, however, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, suing JetBlue to prevent its acquisition of Spirit Airways. It’s the latest setback within an industry already beset by massive delays, cancellations, staffing shortages, and other customer service problems. For its part, JetBlue insisted that buying Spirit would allow the newly formed company to offer more affordable flights, thus reducing the cost of air travel for everyone. The DOJ, however, pointed to the issues already plaguing the industry and determined that less competition would only make matters even worse.

💸 Fitness fraud: A once-prominent TikTok influencer is now facing a civil trial related to an alleged scam she perpetrated on followers. Prosecutors say Brittany Dawn Davis charged as much as $300 for a fitness program she claimed would include coaching, personalized nutrition plans, and other perks that she never delivered. A lawsuit filed more than a year ago made similar allegations and upset customers claim that they only received generic responses from her and fitness plans that were in no way customized to meet their individual needs. The State of Texas is seeking civil penalties, fees, and other costs that could total more than $1 million. Davis didn’t provide a response to the latest development but previously maintained that she didn’t feel she did anything wrong.

😵‍💫 Musk’s mockery: Billionaire Elon Musk has seen his public persona deteriorate since sinking a massive chunk of his wealth into the purchase of Twitter last year. The social media company has experienced frequent glitches and loosened moderation rules have resulted in concerns that hate speech is gaining a foothold. On top of that, the company is hemorrhaging money, which has prompted multiple layoffs during Musk’s short tenure. One recently fired employee is making news due to his exchange with his former boss. More than a week after Haraldur Thorleifsson lost access to his company accounts, he said he still hadn’t been officially fired — and he reached out to Musk on Twitter for clarification. The responses that followed included Musk downplaying Thorleifsson’s disability and claiming that he “did no actual work.”

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economy

Here’s The Simple Reason Behind Many Vacant Lots In Big Cities

For many urban property owners, it all comes down to the tax bill.

Here’s The Simple Reason Behind Many Vacant Lots In Big Cities YouTube: Wall Street Journal

If you live in or travel through any number of major U.S. cities, you’re likely to find entire blocks with virtually no construction. This seemingly wasted space appears to serve no purpose, and you might wonder why nobody bothered to invest anything into building them up.

While there are several causes for such underdeveloped property, the nation’s complex tax code is the culprit in many such cases.

Land vs. buildings

In many locations, there is a huge difference in the amount of property tax owed for a parcel of land compared to the same area once a building is erected thereon.

One block in downtown Austin, Texas, exemplifies this issue perfectly. 701 Trinity St. is valued at more than $13.7 million and is responsible for just under $300,000 in annual property taxes. For years, the 0.2-acre lot has been used exclusively for parking. Without a building on the site, its owners have kept the tax bill to a minimum even as more developed parcels a short distance away come with a tax bill that can be roughly twice as high.

In some more extreme cases, improvements on certain properties mean owners owe as much as seven times more in taxes than the owners of undeveloped land a short distance away.

Its impact on the housing shortage

Lest you fall under the false assumption that this disparity only impacts commercial properties, there’s ample evidence that this dual-taxation system has exacerbated the nation’s dearth of affordable housing in recent years.

Since the tax code effectively disincentivizes building and maintaining properties (including those used for housing), there will be less of that construction taking place. This means significant sections of prime real estate — like 701 Trinity St. — will likely remain undeveloped as owners seek to minimize their tax bills.

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world news

How Governments Walk A Tightrope Between Online Safety And Spying

They say they're cracking down on crime, but critics think they're going too far.

How Governments Walk A Tightrope Between Online Safety And Spying Giphy

Anyone familiar with the dystopian novel “1984” might some similarities between “Big Brother” that kept a watchful eye on citizens and the capabilities of modern governments to track almost anything we do online.

While there are certainly arguments for allowing authorities to root out abuse, exploitation, and other types of internet crimes, a growing number of critics around the world are pushing back against the intrusion into their privacy.

A wide-ranging impact

Efforts to enhance online privacy have already taken root to some extent in the United States, but even more robust efforts are underway across the European Union, where the Parliament is considering new surveillance powers as part of a bid to “prevent and combat child sexual abuse.”

While the ostensible goal of the regulation is to protect kids, the UK Royal College of Psychiatrists warns that spying on young people can be detrimental.

A survey of more than 8,000 young people between 13 and 17 exposes how unpopular such efforts are to people in this age group. The poll, which was commissioned by a group called European Digital Rights and the European Parliament’s Pirate Party members, determined:

  • 80% say they’d be uncomfortable engaging in political activity or investigating their own sexuality.
  • Two in three don’t want internet providers to be able to monitor their online communications.
  • Just 2% believe that spying on all digital communications is the best way to keep citizens safe.

“Stop Scanning Me”

The backlash to these government snooping programs has resulted in a number of organized movements — including the “Stop Scanning Me” campaign formed last year.

Dozens of advocacy groups joined forces to demand that the EU pull out of the so-called CSA Regulation. Since then, the movement’s petition has attracted signatures from thousands of European citizens and at least 125 separate organizations.

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technology

Don’t Feel Like Responding To Your Coworkers? Let AI Do It For You!

ChatGPT is coming to an instant messaging service near you.

Don’t Feel Like Responding To Your Coworkers? Let AI Do It For You! Giphy

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in recent months about the possibility that artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT will replace jobs in various sectors of the economy. At the same time, however, there’s mounting evidence that this novel tech could actually make work a lot simpler — and potentially less confrontational.

An age-old problem

In the era of “quiet quitting” and “ghosting,” it might seem as if younger generations have a monopoly on avoiding uncomfortable conversations at all costs. But it’s long been a workplace trope that many people don’t know how to respond to memos and other office communications.

If you’ve ever fretted over how to maintain a professional tone while getting your point across in a message to a colleague, ChatGPT might have the solution.

With many workplaces offering Slack to foster efficient communication and collaboration between coworkers, its parent company, Salesforce, recently integrated the AI chatbot into the instant-messaging program.

Beta testers simply have to click on the ellipsis icon in a conversation, choose “draft reply” from the menu, and let ChatGPT get to work on a reply.

Of course, as with any prompt you give the chatbot, it’s possible that you won’t get exactly what you’re looking for. Nevertheless, this can be a good place to start and might provide some helpful input regarding how best to make your point.

Other AI applications

The ChatGPT function within Slack will also give users access to relevant answers to just about any question as part of the chatbot’s popular search function.

Salesforce is also introducing its own AI bot, called Einstein GPT, which it says will make it even easier to draft emails, answer client questions, and create marketing content.

A number of other companies — including Microsoft, Meta, and Google — are also utilizing AI in increasingly creative ways.

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Early Chirp

Written by Chris Agee

90 N Church St, The Strathvale House
Grand Cayman KY1, 9006, Cayman Islands

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