The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.
The Car Market Is Insane. It Might Stay That Way for a While. – This is a historically terrible time to buy a car.
The entire auto industry has been hobbled for months by the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips, which has prevented manufacturers from producing enough vehicles to meet the demand from Americans eager to spend their pandemic savings and stimulus checks. As a result, many dealerships are practically barren of inventory, and new rides are fetching record prices.
The cost of used vehicles, meanwhile, has rocketed into the stratosphere, F9-style. On Tuesday, the Department of Labor reported that the retail price of pre-owned cars and trucks jumped a record-breaking 10.5 percent in June, after rising 7.3 percent in May and 10 percent in April. It doesn’t matter if your heart is set on a tricked-out new Ford F-150 or you just want a lightly used Honda Civic to inconspicuously cart you from point A to point B. The market is brutal for everybody.
How long will we be stuck with these shortages? Is the car biz’s COVID hangover destined to linger on? Or will the industry, like the rest of our once-dreary-eyed economy, soon return to normal? When I asked, industry analysts told me that shoppers will likely have to wait until 2022 for the auto industry to settle, though exactly when is hard to say. Some of the pain, especially in the used car market, could begin to ease up earlier. But it could be well into next year before prices fall back to earth and customers see the sort of selection they’re used to at dealerships. Read More > at Slate
Why California is still on the economic brink – Looking at California’s latest unemployment numbers, you’d be forgiven for thinking the state is still under lockdown.
That’s because the jobless rate didn’t budge from May to June: It remained at 7.7%, just slightly down from April’s revised rate of 8%, according to figures released late last week by the Employment Development Department. Although employers added 73,500 jobs in June, total civilian employment only increased by 24,500 people — meaning thousands of open positions are going unfilled. At the same time, the number of jobless Californians grew by 11,000 people as unemployment ticked up significantly in some areas — San Diego, for example, saw its jobless rate skyrocket from 6.3% in May to 7% in June.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday touted the state’s progress on job creation as evidence of the California economy “roaring back.” Yet the press conference itself underscored the economic precarity that defines many Californians’ lives: Standing in front of a Sebastopol hotel converted into permanent supportive housing for homeless people, the governor signed into law a package allocating $10.3 billion for affordable housing and $12 billion to address homelessness.
The question hanging over the announcement — will it be enough? — also looms over California’s other major pandemic relief programs, including a $2 billion fund to pay off utility and water debt. As CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports, official estimates of unpaid water and energy bills accumulated during the pandemic verge on $2.7 billion, affecting a few million Californians — and those figures continue to grow rapidly.
Meanwhile, California’s struggling tourism industry received a one-time infusion of $95 million to boost travel in the Golden State. Yet the marketing campaign comes at a confusing time: As tourism officials pronounce the state open for business, Los Angeles County is again requiring masks indoors and a growing number of Bay Area and Sacramento-area counties are recommending them to ward off the rapidly spreading Delta variant. The statewide coronavirus positivity rate was 4.1% on Monday, a figure not seen since February; if California still had its tiered reopening system, at least 12 counties would be in the most restrictive purple tier.
Fears about the Delta variant’s economic impact were also reflected in the stock market. The Dow Jones, for example, fell by more than 700 points on Monday, notching its biggest one-day loss this year. Read More > at CalMatters
What California Could Have Done with the $30 Billion Lost by the EDD – It is, sadly, a fact of life that the public has become so inured to the vapor trail of zeroes involved in governmental financial mismanagement that sometimes those big numbers lose their meaning.
Take, for example, the loss to fraud of $30 billion by the California Employment Development Department.
While estimates of the actual amount – an exact amount will never be known – range from $12 billion to more than $40 billion, experts in the field tend to coalesce around the $30 billion figure. It must be noted that that did not have to happen, that the EDD’s systems could have been fixed quickly and cheaply 15 months ago, preventing the vast majority of the loss.
Sadly, it must also be noted that that money is never coming back; while law enforcement may occasionally tout the seizure and re-sale of the Ferrari a person bought with the ill-gotten gains from filing 147 fraudulent claims, an overwhelming percentage of the funds were stolen by organized international criminal syndicates and has disappeared permanently into the ether.
To put the scale of the problem into perspective, it may be helpful to consider what else, besides giving every resident $750 directly, could have been done with that $30 billion.
First, if the state hadn’t lost it to fraud California would not currently owe the federal government the $24 billion it borrowed to keep its system solvent. That would mean that businesses across the state would not be faced – as they are currently – with paying additional money into the unemployment system to cover the debt. While the issue is not completely settled, it now stands that each employer will have to pay an extra $21 per year per employee, with that number expected to grow each year until it reaches $420 per year per employee in 10 years. This extra fee will damage already struggling small businesses in particular and definitely put a kink in California’s overall economic climate and at a competitive disadvantage compared to other states (at this point, the much-touted state budget surplus is not being touched to repay the funds).
So what else could the money have been spent on?
In no particular order, here’s a list:
- Every business in the state could have received a grant of $30,000 to help recover from the pandemic.
- Every student entering both the UC and CSU systems this fall could have had their tuition waived for the next four years… Read More > at the California Globe
EXPLAINER: How California could recall its governor – California will hold a recall election Sept. 14 that could remove first-term Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office. The date was set by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat and Newsom ally, after election officials certified that 1.7 million valid petition signatures had been turned in to qualify the election for the ballot. Republicans are hoping for an upset in a heavily Democratic state where the GOP hasn’t won a statewide election since 2006. The election will be watched nationally as a barometer of the public mood heading toward the 2022 elections, when a closely divided Congress again will be in play. Here’s how it works:
California is one of 20 states that have provisions to recall a sitting governor. The state law establishing the rules goes back to 1911 and was intended to place more power directly in the hands of voters by allowing them to remove elected officials and repeal or pass laws by placing them on the ballot. Recall attempts are common in the state, but they rarely get on the ballot and even fewer succeed. However, in 2003, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Voters will be asked two questions: First, should Newsom be removed, yes or no? The second question is a list of replacement candidates from which to choose. If a majority of voters approve Newsom’s recall, the candidate who gets the most votes becomes governor. If Newsom is recalled, it’s likely his replacement could be elected with just a fraction of the votes. With dozens of candidates dividing those ballots it’s possible a winner could get 25% or less. Read More > from the Associated Press
Will California get tough on housing quotas? – …High on the agenda is the single most important issue facing California — an ever-growing housing shortage, particularly for low- and moderate-income families, that is the prime factor in our highest-in-the-nation poverty rate and a major barrier to expanding employment.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development declares that California should be building 180,000 units of new housing each year to meet demand, but actual production has been scarcely half of that level.
The department has dramatically raised regional housing quotas for the remainder of the decade, more than doubling those for the previous eight-year period, largely because construction fell short. In the six-county Los Angeles region, for example, the quota more than tripled from 412,137 units to 1.3 million.
Regional quotas have been divvied up into specific goals for local governments that are also much higher, particularly in suburban communities that have tended to resist new housing development.
While local governments generally don’t build housing themselves, the state requires them to make enough land available, through revised zoning, to meet their quotas.
…The Legislature’s role in the conflict is typified by one of the session’s most controversial measures, Senate Bill 9. It would effectively eliminate single-family zoning by allowing duplexes to be built on lots now zoned for one home and making it easier to split single-family lots into two parcels.
SB 9 has passed the Senate and will again be pending in the Assembly when the Legislature reconvenes. It’s drawing stiff opposition from dozens of cities affected by the state’s higher housing quotas, particularly those in Southern California. Read More > at CalMatters
Another former SF public works official arrested in public corruption scandal – The former Bureau Manager for San Francisco Public Works, Gerald “Jerry” Sanguinetti, has been arrested and charged with five felony counts of perjury and two misdemeanor charges for failing to file financial disclosure statements, District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced earlier this month.
Sanguinetti is accused of concealing $262,947 in income from his mandatory financial disclosures from 2013-2019 and then lying about it. The money was paid to a company named SDL Merchandising that made items for the city’s Public Works Department under a no-bid contract. It was owned by Sanguinetti’s wife.
Sanguinetti’s arrest is part of a broader pay-to-play scandal at San Francisco Public Works. Some payments to SDL Merchandising were approved by former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who was arrested on federal corruption charges last year. He is accused of participating in a range of bribery schemes. Read More > at California City News
4 wealthy donors fuel overhaul of California’s criminal justice system – Four wealthy activists intent on reshaping California’s criminal justice system are gearing up for their biggest test yet against police and prosecutor groups.
The Northern California donors, some with fortunes from major Silicon Valley firms, have already spent millions on progressive prosecutors and ballot fights that have helped untether the state from its tough-on-crime past. Now, California’s 2022 attorney general race could be a landmark moment.
In California, social justice advocates are preparing to defend the state’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is closely aligned with the reform movement and one of the nation’s most liberal AGs. The former state legislator was nominated to the post this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Bonta’s election contest next year is expected to be a criminal justice bellwether.
The four donors — Patty Quillin, Quinn Delaney, Elizabeth Simons and Kaitlyn Krieger — channeled $22 million toward criminal justice ballot measures and allied candidates the previous two years, and their campaign contributions have steadily increased each election cycle. They spent $3.7 million alone to elect George Gascón, who rode the social justice wave that swept over America last summer to unseat incumbent Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey in November.
The last decade has brought a remarkable shift in how California punishes crime and oversees law enforcement. Voters and lawmakers have hit reverse on decades of stringent laws that swelled the state’s prisons, backing a raft of bills and ballot initiatives to diminish penalties and increase police accountability. Reformist district attorneys Gascón in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco have moved away from traditional approaches. Read More > at Politico
Thieves are stealing California’s scarce water. Where’s it going? Illegal marijuana farms – As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels. Bandits in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. Others, under cover of darkness, plug into city hydrants and top up. Thieves also steal water from homes, farms and private wells, and some even created an elaborate system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines during the last drought. Others are MacGyvering break-ins directly into pressurized water mains, a dangerous and destructive approach known as hot-tapping.
In Mendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.
It’s as predictable as a dreary economics lesson: When a commodity becomes scarce and demand soars, it’s worth stealing.
Officials say water thefts are increasing at about the same rate as the decline in California’s water supplies. Complaints have risen sharply this year, mirroring the drought’s inexorable advance.
The most-common culprit of water theft: illegal pot farms. While farmers, ranchers and licensed marijuana growers scramble to obtain water through legal channels, clandestine operations are stealing it or purchasing it from illicit trucks.
In the Sierra Nevada, as many as 4,000 illegal grow sites are operating in Nevada County, according to county estimates. In the Antelope Valley, illegal grows have doubled from 200 last year to 400 today, according to county data, while other estimates put the number in the thousands. Read More > at CalMatters
The FBI Turned A Blind Eye While Larry Nassar Assaulted Hundreds – Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar sexually assaulted, abused, and traumatized hundreds of young women. Senior FBI officials knew about the abuse and at first, did little to stop it, according to a new Department of Justice report released Wednesday.
The 119-page document comes after an investigation into the FBI’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar, who has since been sentenced to at least 300 years in prison for his crimes.
“The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required,” concluded a press release accompanying the report. “We also found that the FBI Indianapolis Field Office made fundamental errors when it did respond to the allegations, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office (the Lansing Resident Agency) or state or local authorities of the allegations, and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.” Read More > in The Federalist
Newsom: Out-of-state homeless welcome to ‘new beginnings’ in California – California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he‘s not worried about a bill meant to combat homelessness exacerbating the problem because the state embraces everyone looking for “new beginnings.”
The Democrat made the comment when asked about the possible unintended consequences of signing the $12 billion AB-140 housing bill. Officials are required to “develop a framework for the California Dream For All Program, the goals of which would … [make] homeownership more affordable.”
“To the extent that people want to come here for new beginnings and all income levels, that’s part of the California dream and we have a responsibility to accommodate and enliven and inspire, and the California dream is still alive and well,” Mr. Newsom said Monday when asked if the Golden State — mired in a homeless crisis — might become a magnet for similar out-of-state populations. Read More > in The Washington Times
California Set to Spend Record Amount on Homelessness – California will spend a record $4.8 billion over two years to alleviate homelessness after legislators Thursday unanimously passed key details of a new state budget. The package, once signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will mark the state’s largest financial commitment to date in assisting people without adequate and safe housing.
In a deal reached last month, Newsom and lawmakers agreed to expand last year’s program to convert former hotels into permanent housing with federal coronavirus relief dollars and provide an additional $2 billion over two years to local governments.
Appropriation and oversight details were released this week as part of a lengthy process to divvy up a $262.6-billion state budget boosted by a record cash surplus and federal pandemic relief. Read More > at Governing
U.S. Median Existing-Home Price Hit New High in June – The median U.S. home price rose to a new high of $363,300 in June as strong demand pushed home sales higher.
Existing-home sales rose 1.4% in June from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.86 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. June sales rose 22.9% from a year earlier.
The median existing-home price rose 23.4% in June from a year earlier, setting a record high, NAR said, extending steady price increases amid limited inventory.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a 2.2% monthly increase in sales of previously owned homes, which make up most of the housing market.
The housing-market boom is easing slightly, as rising prices are prompting more homeowners to list their houses for sale. Homes sold in June received four offers on average, down from five offers the previous month, said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.
But the number of homes for sale remains far lower than normal, and robust demand due to ultralow mortgage-interest rates is expected to continue pushing home prices higher.
Many homes are selling above listing price and receiving multiple offers. The typical home sold in June was on the market for 17 days, holding at a record low, NAR said. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Japan breaks the internet speed record – Scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) have smashed the internet transfer record by shifting data at 319Tbps, almost double the last speed test attempted in August 2020. At that speed, you could download over 7,000 high-definition movies in a second.
It involved addressing every part of the pipeline, upgrading the fiber optic line with four cores over the usual single core in typical lines, while the laser was amplified at its source. It also wasn’t shooting under any oceans or anything: The scientists used coiled cabling to simulate a 1,864-mile distance.
As you might expect at the cutting edge of high-speed internet, upgrading to this capability could be mightily expensive — though the four-core fiber optic cable should work with existing infrastructure. Read More > at Engadget
‘Woke coke’: Drug dealers marketing ‘ethically sourced’ cocaine – Brits looking to ease their conscience over their involvement in bloody drug wars overseas are now being targeted by cynical dealers selling what they claim is “ethically sourced” cocaine.
Users have revealed a high demand for the so-called “woke coke” at posh dinner parties across the UK.
Drug policy expert Neil Woods told the Daily Mirror: “I have been shown ads for ‘environmentally friendly sniff’ but it’s nothing but a very clever marketing ploy.
Woods argued there was no way no produce environmentally friendly or ethically sourced cocaine and it was another way to fuel the “obscene” amount of money being generated by the cocaine trade in the UK, which rakes in $4.95b annually.
“I’ve never heard of woke coke but I can tell you, no one in Colombia produces cocaine ‘ethically’.
“The trade inevitably involves bloodshed, the destabilisation of communities and an appalling cycle of violence. If demand goes up, so does production and the cycle of destruction continues. What you call fair trade cocaine is only going to bring more greed and bloodshed.”
Former soap actress Davina Taylor, who appeared on Hollyoaks in the UK, revealed that celebrities were hoovering up the story – and the marching powder.
In October she claimed: “In Chiswick everyone’s got woke coke – it’s from ‘sustainable sources’ in South America. Read More > in the New Zealand Herald
About 40% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin D – here’s how to tell if you’re deficient and how to treat it – Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium – one of the main building blocks of bones. It also plays a role in nerve and muscle health as well as boosting your immune system.
Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s exposed to sunlight, which is why vitamin D is sometimes nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin.” Few foods contain vitamin D, making sunlight the main source for most people worldwide.
But when sunlight isn’t regularly available, like during winter months or at higher latitudes, vitamin D deficiency can strike. In fact, an estimated 40% of US adults don’t get enough of the sunshine vitamin.
Severe deficiency can cause osteomalacia and osteoporosis, conditions where bones become less dense and more likely to fracture or break, says Kelly Springer, a registered dietitian.
Springer also notes that vitamin D has links to depression, but adds that there is still more research needed before doctors recommend vitamin D supplements to treat depression.
You can become vitamin D deficient for several reasons:
CHP Truckee officials: Don’t set your car on fire to scare away bears – California Highway Patrol officials in Truckee are issuing a bizarre warning for drivers: Don’t light your car on fire to keep bears away.
The CHP posted a picture Thursday of a deputy extinguishing the smoldering remnants of a fire on the hood of a car near an Interstate 80 entrance.
“We are always appreciative of additional fire extinguisher training, but in case anyone was wondering, no you cant light a fire on the hood of your vehicle to ‘keep the bears away,’” CHP-Truckee wrote along with the photo.
As California’s population grows, so does its black bear population — and both humans and animals are experiencing more and more unwanted interactions.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the best thing drivers can do in bear country is clear cars of trash, groceries and pet food.
And if you happen to have a run-in with a bear, experts say stay to calm. If a bear does approach you, the CDFW says to make loud noises by clapping or yelling and make yourself appear bigger by lifting and waving your arms.
“Really the best thing to do if you come into contact with a bear is to back away slowly and leave them be,” Sherman said. Read More > at Fox 40
California Is Planning Floating Wind Turbine Farms Offshore: Here’s How They Work – Northern California has some of the strongest offshore winds in the U.S., with immense potential to produce clean energy. But it has a problem. Its continental shelf drops off quickly, making building traditional wind turbines directly on the seafloor costly if not impossible. But floating wind turbine farms could be the solution.
A solution has emerged that’s being tested in several locations around the world: making wind turbines that float. In fact, in California, where drought is putting pressure on the hydropower supply and fires have threatened electricity imports from the Pacific Northwest, the state is moving forward on plans to develop the nation’s first floating offshore wind farms as we speak.
A floating wind turbine works just like other wind turbines – wind pushes on the blades, causing the rotor to turn, which drives a generator that creates electricity. But instead of having its tower embedded directly into the ground or the sea floor, a floating wind turbine sits on a platform with mooring lines, such as chains or ropes, that connect to anchors in the seabed below.
These mooring lines hold the turbine in place against the wind and keep it connected to the cable that sends its electricity back to shore.
Most of the stability is provided by the floating platform itself. The trick is to design the platform so the turbine doesn’t tip too far in strong winds or storms. Read More > at The Inertia
Smell You Later: The Weird Science of How Sweat Attracts – …For many people, body odour is so unappealing that they mask it with perfumes, deodorants, and antiperspirants. But what if our obsession with blocking BO is interfering with important lines of communication, those helpful messages aromas send about anxiety, illness, or even romance? When we spray or roll on a product, could we be blocking our chances of finding love, of finding the person—or perhaps people—who might desire us even more because of our scent?
In this era of swiping left and right in the search for a tryst or a soul mate, smell dating operates on a more analog premise. Instead of swiping, the strategy is wiping: namely, one’s perspiration onto a cotton pad. The premise is straightforward: smell-dating contenders work up a sweat doing high-intensity exercise, their perspiration-rich cotton pads are collected and placed in anonymous containers, and everyone lines up to sniff through the smelly samples. Participants then secretly rate their top preferences and give their picks to organizers, who reveal the matches. Like on the dating app Tinder, a match occurs only when two individuals pick each other’s pong.
The only criterion for a romantic match is scent, which is about as logical as any other dating filter. I mean, who cares if you both share a love of taxidermy, say, or the novels of Haruki Murakami? You’ll eventually smell the body odour of your lover, and it’s probably going to be a make-or-break moment. Smell dating skips to the chase (or, more accurately, it entirely skips the chase) and uses body odour as the first elimination round for mate selection—or date selection, at any rate. Read More > in The Walrus
The obesity research that blew up – A CDC researcher found that being a little plump might be healthier than being thin. The big surprise was the firestorm that followed.
In 2005, Katherine Flegal, a senior scientist studying obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published a counterintuitive paper in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Along with a CDC colleague and two statisticians from the National Cancer Institute, Flegal had analyzed a massive government dataset to estimate the number of deaths associated with excess body weight. While the researchers found that obesity was indeed linked to excess deaths, it turned out that people who were merely overweight — plump, perhaps, but not obese — were at less risk of early death than those of so-called normal weight.
Flegal’s was not the first such study to hit upon this seeming paradox, but it was an interesting result about weight, which is always a hot topic. As the paper’s first author she anticipated fielding a few calls from science journalists. But as she writes in an unusual essay for a forthcoming issue of the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, “We were unprepared for the firestorm that followed.’’
As that 2005 paper began to get attention, a renowned professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, Walter Willett, had already begun his own publicity campaign. Believing Flegal’s findings to be not only wrong but dangerous, Willett and a handful of his Harvard colleagues saw it as their mission to prevent the paper — which Willett deemed “really naive’’ and “deeply flawed’’ — from being taken seriously by other scientists, practicing physicians, or the public.
For more than a decade, Flegal writes, she would find herself the target of “an aggressive campaign that included insults, errors, misinformation, behind-the-scenes gossip and maneuvers, social media posts and even complaints to my employer.’’ Her essay offers an inside look at the sometimes political nature of science — and at how hard it can be for some scientists to consider changing their minds in the face of new data. That’s especially true in a field like public health, where passions run particularly high and the best intentions can sometimes run afoul of the pursuit of truth.
‘A pile of rubbish’
The official definition of “overweight’’ is a body mass index, or BMI, higher than 25 — for someone of either sex standing 5 feet 8 inches tall, the cutoff would come at about 165 pounds. Obesity begins at a BMI of 30, while an adult with a BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.
Flegal’s 2005 paper used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative sample from in-office medical exams, to calculate the number of excess deaths associated with each BMI category. She and her co-authors accounted for confounding factors, including age, sex, race, alcohol use, and smoking. Every way they looked at it, a BMI between 25 and 30 seemed to be the least risky, even compared with so-called normal weight.
That study contradicted the findings of another CDC team that had been published the previous year, but it was consistent with an already growing body of research indicating that “overweight’’ is a fairly arbitrary category. Read More > from the Boston Globe
Expand Medicare? How About We Fix It First? – Last week, the Biden administration and congressional Democrats announced an agreement to pursue a $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package, which, among other things, would expand Medicare to include dental, hearing and vision benefits. (The administration also endorses lowering the eligibility age from 65 to 60, but that proposal does not appear to be included in the Democratic framework.) Meanwhile, the trustees charged with overseeing the program’s financial health are late with their annual report; when it is finally released, it is likely to warn that the program’s hospital insurance (HI) trust fund will run out of reserves within several years.
The disconnect between the Medicare agenda emerging in Congress and the program’s financial outlook is jarring. Medicare’s rising costs are central to the nation’s fiscal challenges. Before expanding the program further, Congress ought to ensure its current commitments can be met.
While no release date has been announced, the wait for the annual report might end in the coming weeks because it could be awkward politically to push publication beyond summer. Medicare law stipulates that the annual trustees’ report should be delivered to Congress no later than April 1. It is not difficult to see a connection between the current delay and what is occurring in Congress. The administration might want to avoid releasing a report warning of HI insolvency before the deal to expand Medicare is sealed. Last year’s report showed the HI fund running out of reserves in 2026 and projected a 75-year fix would require a 26 percent increase in the payroll tax rate. Read More > at The Dispatch
Prisons close as California inmate population dwindles – California authorities have ordered the closure of state prisons for the first time in nearly two decades: Four are destined to be shut down, and three more are being discussed for possible closure.
“The significant decrease in the state’s incarcerated population over the past year is allowing CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitati0n) to move forward with these prison closures in a thoughtful manner that does not impact public safety,” Kathleen Allison, head of the state correctional system, said recently in a written statement.
Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy is slated to be deactivated by Sept. 30. The California Correctional Center, or CCC, built 58 years ago in Susanville, will be closed by June 2022. The Susanville prison — one of two in the area — has about 2,100 inmates and 1,100 staff members; Deuel about the same.
The closure of the two state prisons was included in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020-21 budget.
In addition, the California Correctional Institution (CCI) in Tehachapi and the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad will close by June 2022.
Three more institutions apparently are being considered for closure, although there has been no official confirmation.
The steady population decline has stemmed in part from courts ordering the overcrowded prisons — at one point they were holding twice the number they were designed to hold — to shed inmates, as well as sentencing changes approved by voters and in the Legislature. Read More > at Capitol Weekly
Brazen shoplifting spurs California law for organized thefts – With violent smash-and-grab shoplifting costing California businesses millions of dollars annually, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Wednesday aimed at curbing organized retail theft.
The law reestablishes the crime of organized retail theft, which lawmakers first created in 2018 but allowed to lapse as of July 1. Prosecutors can again seek to charge the crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony. It applies to those who work with others to steal merchandise either from brick-and-mortar stores or online, with the intent to sell or return the merchandise.
The legislation also applies to someone who works with others to receive stolen merchandise, those who steal for others as part of an organized theft ring or people who do the recruiting or organizing for the theft ring.
The rings have become bolder in recent years, officials said, and videos of their smash-and-grabs have gone viral.
…police agencies in California will have to contend with local prosecutors, who decide whether to charge an offender with a misdemeanor or felony, if at all. Progressive district attorneys such as those in San Francisco and Los Angeles have pledged to avoid stiff penalties, sentencing enhancements and incarceration for certain crimes. Read More > from the Associated Press