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california

A woman is sad after getting charged a huge junk fee.

Just about everyone has had the depressing experience of sitting through a long queue to get concert tickets, only to find when they were ready to check out, the price was 30 to 40% higher because of service fees added by the ticketing company.

People often have the same experience when ordering food through an app, only to see a massive service fee applied right before they're ready to place their order.

These service fees, known by many as “junk fees,” are popping up everywhere these days, from surprise resort fees charged when checking out of a hotel to a 4% surcharge on a dinner bill that the restaurant added so you can help pay for their employees' healthcare.


The good news for people in California is that a new bill will go into effect on July 1st that bans hidden or unexpected fees on everything from concert tickets to cruise packages. Senate Bill 478 (SB 478) makes it illegal for businesses to advertise or list a price for a good or service that does not include all required fees or charges other than certain government taxes and shipping costs.

“Our price transparency law is about clear and honest communication with consumers so consumers can make the financial choices that are best for them and their families. This new guidance provides information for businesses across California to ensure that clear answers are available, particularly for small businesses,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “The law is simple: the price you see is the price you pay. Laws work when everyone can comply. I am pleased that we can offer this guidance to help facilitate compliance with the law and make a more fair and level marketplace for businesses and consumers."

A 2023 survey of Americans found that 2 out of 3 said they were paying more in surprise charges now than they had five years earlier.

The bill is good news for consumers who want to make thoughtful decisions about how they spend their money, especially when inflation has made it a lot harder to stretch a dollar. However, the bill probably won’t make things any cheaper. Businesses most likely won’t stop charging these hidden fees; instead, they will be rolled into the listed price instead of popping up out of nowhere right before you hit the “pay now” button.

State Senator Bill Dodd from Napa, the bill's co-author, stated its goals: “A consumer shouldn’t discover hidden fees made up by a business when they pay their bill.”

As the old saying goes, “As goes California, so goes the nation,” and when companies are forced to alter their pricing and marketing in America's most populous state, it’s bound to create changes for consumers across the country. The new law could be the first shot in a larger war against junk fees.

In 2023, President Biden called out Ticketmaster and others who charge "junk fees" in his State of the Union address, claiming he’ll get “rid of junk fees, those hidden fees at the end of your bill that are there without your knowledge.” In his 2022 State of the Union speech, Biden criticized the hotel industry for surprise fees at checkout. "We’ll ban surprise ‘resort fees’ that hotels tack on to your bill. These fees can cost you up to $90 a night at hotels that aren’t even resorts,” Biden said.

This Federal pressure led several companies, including Live Nation, SeatGeek, xBk, Airbnb, the Pablo Center at the Confluence, TickPick, DICE and the Newport Festivals Foundation, to make their pricing more transparent.


Education

Grad student in California commuted from L.A. to class in the Bay Area by plane to save on rent

He made the trip from Los Angeles to Cal Berkeley and back an average of 3 days a week.

The inside of a commercial airliner.

Even though Los Angeles and San Francisco are both in California, they are still 380 miles apart, which either involves an hour-and-fifteen-minute-long flight or a roughly 7-hour drive.

An engineer in Los Angeles named Bill got accepted into a one-year master’s degree program at Cal Berkeley but was put off by the idea of paying the astronomical rent in the Bay Area. Berkeley is located just north of Oakland in the East Bay, where the average rent is over $3500 a month.

Bill had an affordable place in L.A. and a job waiting for him when he finished school, so he decided he would do the unthinkable to most people, commute to school and back.

"I was living in LA comfortably. I got accepted into a one-year MEng program (technically August 2022-May 2023). I knew I would go back to LA after graduation because I want to go back to my previous employer once I graduate,” he shared on Reddit’s Berkeley subforum. “I love flying and I have a lot of frequent flyer miles/points from credit card sign up bonus/flying over the past few years. Bay area rent is expensive in general, and my program is only 10 months, so I thought I could get it through commuting by plane."

Bill had classes three days a week on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, but he booked flights for five days a week in case he had a meeting or an event he had to attend.


“If I don't need to come to campus that Tu/Th, I just cancel the tickets the night before and get a full refund. I have elite status with Alaska and Southwest, both offer a valuable perk called same-day change,” Bill said.

On a typical Monday and Wednesday during the fall schedule, when classes started at 10 am, he would wake up at 3:40 am in Los Angeles and drive to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for a 6:00 Alaska Airlines flight to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Upon arriving in the Bay, he would take the BART light-rail train to campus. For his 8 am Friday class, he would take the 5:30 am Southwest Flight to Oakland International Airport.

“If I'm hanging out with friends or working on hw/projects with cohort for a bit longer in the library, I would take the last flight home (905pm OAK-LAX on Southwest or 1030pm SFO-LAX on Alaska),” he continued. “But normally I would take the 6pm or 7pm flight and reach home around 930pm.”

Bill completed the degree program in 10 months, and the total cost for transportation was less than two months of rent living in Berkeley.

Total Cost:

$5592.66, with $671.29 on BART, $520.00 on parking, $1948.27 on gas, $39.96 on inflight wifi, $1552.10 on Alaska, 407500 Alaska miles, $758.24 on Southwest, 156945 Southwest points, $71.30 on United, 5500 United miles, $15.60 on Avianca, 6500 Avianca miles, $15.90 on Spirit. 114 trips, 238 flights, 92089 miles flown, spent 75955 minutes on my commute, equivalent to 52.75 24-hr days.

But most importantly, Bill got his degree, and according to Fox 5 San Diego, he is now working full-time as a transportation engineer. He hopes to one day become Secretary of the U.S. Transportation Department, like Pete Buttigieg.

“This is probably one of the craziest things I’ve done in my life, and I’m so glad I made it through, without missing any classes,” Bill said. “That itself is a miracle.”

Health

The tear-jerking open letter Joe Biden wrote to the Stanford rape survivor

"I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul."

Joe Biden at the podium.

This article originally appeared on 06.09.16


Vice President Joe Biden penned a heartfelt letter to the victim of the Stanford rape case — a story that has left the country stunned, outraged, and heartbroken.

The case's convicted perpetrator, Brock Turner, was given just six months behind bars, despite sentencing guidelines that could have resulted in him facing up to 14 years.

Why? Jail could have a "severe impact" on the 20-year-old criminal, Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky had determined.

The injustice doesn't stop there. It appears Turner — a former swimmer at Stanford University, whose athleticism somehow seemed disturbingly pertinent throughout the trial — will likely only spend half that time behind bars for good behavior, The Chicago Tribune reports: just three months.


Along with the rest of the country, Biden is both outraged over the injustice and saddened for the survivor.

Biden — who led the charge in passing the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and has since been an outspoken advocate on the issue — wrote an emotionally-charged open letter, published on BuzzFeed, which both praises the 23-year-old survivor for coming forward and slams "a culture that continues to ask the wrong questions" for failing her so badly.

Here is Biden's "open letter to a courageous young woman" in full (emphasis mine):

I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul. Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages.

Words that I wish with all of my heart you never had to write.

I am in awe of your courage for speaking out — for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity.

And I am filled with furious anger — both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.

It must have been wrenching — to relive what he did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.

You are a warrior — with a solid steel spine.

I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed.

Anyone at that party who saw that you were incapacitated yet looked the other way and did not offer assistance. Anyone who dismissed what happened to you as “just another crazy night." Anyone who asked “what did you expect would happen when you drank that much?" or thought you must have brought it on yourself.

You were failed by a culture on our college campuses where one in five women is sexually assaulted — year after year after year. A culture that promotes passivity. That encourages young men and women on campuses to simply turn a blind eye.

The statistics on college sexual assault haven't gone down in the past two decades. It's obscene, and it's a failure that lies at all our feet.

And you were failed by anyone who dared to question this one clear and simple truth: Sex without consent is rape. Period. It is a crime.

I do not know your name — but thanks to you, I know that heroes ride bicycles.

Those two men who saw what was happening to you — who took it upon themselves to step in — they did what they instinctually knew to be right.

They did not say, “It's none of my business."

They did not worry about the social or safety implications of intervening, or about what their peers might think.

Those two men epitomize what it means to be a responsible bystander.

To do otherwise — to see an assault about to take place and do nothing to intervene — makes you part of the problem.

Like I tell college students all over this country — it's on us. All of us.

We all have a responsibility to stop the scourge of violence against women once and for all.

I do not know your name — but I see your unconquerable spirit.

I see the limitless potential of an incredibly talented young woman — full of possibility. I see the shoulders on which our dreams for the future rest.

I see you.

You will never be defined by what the defendant's father callously termed “20 minutes of action."

His son will be.

I join your global chorus of supporters because we can never say enough to survivors: I believe you. It is not your fault.

What you endured is never, never, never, NEVER a woman's fault.

And while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied.

And that is why we will continue to speak out.

We will speak to change the culture on our college campuses — a culture that continues to ask the wrong questions: What were you wearing?

Why were you there? What did you say? How much did you drink?

Instead of asking: Why did he think he had license to rape?

We will speak out against those who seek to engage in plausible deniability. Those who know that this is happening, but don't want to get involved. Who believe that this ugly crime is “complicated."

We will speak of you — you who remain anonymous not only to protect your identity, but because you so eloquently represent “every woman."

We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did — and shine.

Your story has already changed lives.

You have helped change the culture.

You have shaken untold thousands out of the torpor and indifference toward sexual violence that allows this problem to continue.

Your words will help people you have never met and never will.

You have given them the strength they need to fight.

And so, I believe, you will save lives.

I do not know your name — but I will never forget you.

The millions who have been touched by your story will never forget you.

And if everyone who shared your letter on social media, or who had a private conversation in their own homes with their daughters and sons, draws upon the passion, the outrage, and the commitment they feel right now the next time there is a choice between intervening and walking away — then I believe you will have helped to change the world for the better.

Biden's words — as well as the survivor's letter she read aloud to her attacker — are rippling across the internet for one very important reason: Millions of us are disgusted, fed up, and demanding change to a culture that's allowed this atrocity to happen.

To every warrior with a spine of solid steel: We hear you, we support you, and we stand by your side.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Whale watchers got to see a baby whale being born off the coast of Dana Point, California.

Seeing a whale in the wild can be a moving experience for many people. That's why thousands of people pay money to go on whale-watching excursions, hoping to catch a glimpse of the gentle, majestic, intelligent creatures in their natural habitat.

Lucky whale watchers get to catch much more than a glimpse, and some even see a whale breach up close. But very, very few ever get to see anything close to what a recent group of tourists on a whale-watching cruise off Dana Point, California, got to witness.

Boats are required by law to stay at least 100 yards away from whales, but if a whale approaches a boat when it's stopped, there's not a whole lot a captain can do. Starting up the engine would just disturb it, so the best thing to do is just enjoy the encounter.

In this case, when a gray whale swam near a Capt. Dave's Dana Point Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari tour boat, passengers and crew thought they might be witnessing something tragic. The whale was splashing about and was soon surrounded by blood in the water. Some speculated that maybe a shark or other predatory animal had attacked the whale.


As it turned out, they were witnessing the miracle of life—it was a mama giving birth to a baby gray whale.

Twitter user Jeremy Theisen shared a video of the event, and though it's difficult to see what happens, you can hear the people on the boat wondering what was happening before it became clear.

Capt. Dave's shared drone footage of the exciting moments after the birth as the calf learned to swim and the mama seemed to show off her newborn to those who witnessed the event.

"This is a first for all of us. We've never actually seen it happen," Capt. Gary Brighouse can be heard saying, according to WXXI News.

Captain Dave's shared in a statement on YouTube:

"After surfacing, the newborn calf began learning how to swim and bonding with its mother. The female even brought the calf over to the boats as if to show off her offspring and say hello.

Gray whales prefer to give birth in the warm and protected lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. The lagoons offer safety from predators such as orcas, as well as warm water for calves who have not yet built up a thick layer of blubber.

Although some gray whales do give birth in Baja, there are times when calves just won't wait and are born during the migration. Gray whales migrate annually along the U.S. west coast, swimming 10,000 to 12,000 miles round-trip. It is one of the longest migrations of any mammal. The whales travel from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas near Alaska to the mating and birthing lagoons of Baja, and back again."

Alisa Schulman-Janiger runs the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society's Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, which tracks the migration patterns of whales along the coast. She told NPR that the footage of the birth and immediate aftermath was "astounding" and a windfall for researchers.

"The fact that you can see the blood pool means the calf must have just come out," she said. "That isn't something that is seen very often or documented often. In fact, I don't know if there's any other video footage of something like that."

Schulman-Janiger explained how the mama whale was holding the calf up so it could rest and breathe and that they exhibited typical bonding behavior. She said she wished she had been there, adding: "It's extraordinarily rare and really, really special for people to be able to share in those first few moments of a young whale's life. A whale could get to be 50, 60, 80 years old. And this is just the beginning of that calf life."

What an incredible thing to witness.