Sunday Reading – 05/22/16


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.

Google Patented a Sticky Car Hood That Traps Pedestrians Like Flies – Google loves to brag about how its self-driving cars have the ability to save lives by being really good at not crashing into things. But crashes do still happen, and when they do, Google apparently has a backup plan: human flypaper.

Yesterday, Google was awarded a patent that proposes placing a strong adhesive on the hood of its autonomous cars. This way, pedestrians or cyclists who happen to find themselves being struck by a Googlemobile would be protected from what’s called “secondary impact.” This is the part of a crash when a person is thrown back off the moving vehicle, usually hitting the roof of the car, the hard surface of the street, or another car. It’s also the part that often causes the most serious injuries. Read More > at Gizmodo

CA ranked the worst state for revealing spending data – California gains another “superlative.” We are ranked the worst state for “online access to government spending data.” We make less spending data available than any other state.

Two things to note about this latest CA “award.”

1. The study was done by U.S. PIRG, a decidedly left wing outfit that would LOVE to present the Golden State in a positive light. Even they could not save California from itself.

2. Three states earned an “F” score in the ratings. But CA won that match-up — it wasn’t close. Looking at the numerical scores, the 49th state (Alaska) is still 26.5% better than California.

FULL ARTICLE:
http://www.masspirg.org/reports/map/following-money-2015-how-50-states-rate-providing-online-access-government-spending-data

Read More > at Flash Report

California Senate approves sweeping gun-control measures – Democrats in the California Senate approved a wide-ranging series of gun control bills Thursday, reviving an effort to significantly tighten California’s already strict gun laws in the wake of last year’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Lawmakers voted to outlaw the sale of assault weapons with easily detachable magazines and to require that people turn in magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. They also backed a variety of other measures aimed at restricting access to guns and ammunition or limiting the carnage they can inflict.

The effort drew a sharp rebuke from gun rights supporters who say squeezing lawful gun owners even further won’t make people safer.

It also laid bare tense differences in personality and strategy between senior California Democrats. Legislative leaders are rushing to head off a ballot measure advocated by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, asking voters to enact many of the same policies. They worry the initiative will fail at the ballot box or fire up gun rights supporters, potentially increasing turnout of conservative voters who could give Republicans an edge in close districts. Read More > from the Associated Press

State planners cut $754 million in transportation projects – The California Transportation Commission has adopted more than $754 million in cuts to planned highway, transit and other projects because of falling tax revenues tied to gas prices.

The vote taken Wednesday also delays another $755 million in planned future projects.

A move made by the Legislature during the budget crisis means gas taxes are set annually by the State Board of Equalization based on fuel prices. The tax was set at 17 cents per gallon in 2010 and has now fallen to 12 cents. It will fall to less than 10 cents a gallon in July.

That’s led to billions of dollars less in revenues than planners had expected.

The affected projects range from HOV lanes in Ventura County to proposed BART station modernization in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Read More > from the Associated Press

California Dream Choo-Choo Lives On: Bay Bridge Lessons Ignored – To update last week’s post about California’s disastrous high speed rail project, Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop, the Obama administration has just given the already-failed project another four years to throw taxpayer money at connected consultants and contractors, delaying a halt to the boondoggle and recognition of its failure until long after Jerry Brown and Barack Obama are out of office (and then its waste of $billions will be blamed on “Republican intransigence”– which is rich in a one-party state.) The inept and corrupt process for building any large government project, especially in California, is more to blame.

First we’ll take a look at the mismanaged and endlessly-delayed project to replace the eastern half of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which had been damaged by the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. After the quake, temporary repairs reopened the old bridge to traffic but it was clear the span needed to be replaced as soon as possible.

The Atlantic’s Citylab summarizes the disastrous Bay Bridge saga:

The first cost estimates, released in 1995, figured both east and west spans of the bridge could be upgraded for a cuddly $250 million. By the time the new east span opened in September 2013 the price tag for that span alone had reached a reported $6.5 billion, with a B. Just your run-of-the-mill rise of 2,500 percent.

UC Berkeley planning scholar Karen Trapenberg Frick meticulously chronicles the reconstructed bridge in a new book, Remaking the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. With Frick and her book as guide, CityLab tracked bridge expenses over time to get some sense of how the project that Herbert Hoover once called “the greatest bridge yet constructed in the world” became yet another example of a major public works project in which the cost ended outrageously higher than it began — and some ideas for what to do about it.

$250 million (1995)

Following the earthquake, the California Department of Transportation (which goes by Caltrans) assembled a board to advise on a seismic retrofit of the Bay Bridge. The agency’s initial estimate for fixing both east and west spans came to $250 million…

$1 billion (1996)

In the blink of an eye, the Bay Bridge cost quadrupled. “I remember one day I woke up and it was a $1 billion estimate,” says Frick, who was working at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) at the time. “Here you tell the public in ’95: we can do the whole thing for $250 million. They vote on a bond measure that allows them to fund this plus other retrofits in the state. Then they come back and go, actually it’s $1 billion.”

The cost increase was the result of detailed engineering studies conducted during the year or so after the initial estimate was released. Among other things, soil testing in the Bay had revealed that bridge pilings would need to be anchored “deeper into bedrock than expected,” she writes. The public, of course, wasn’t pleased. In the book, one Caltrans manager recalled the immediate reaction:

“The numbers we put together (on the bridge costs) at lunchtime on Tuesday became the main front-page heading in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday morning.”

Read More > at Jeb Kinnison

California moves to end unprecedented water restrictions – A greener yard and a more leisurely shower just might be in your future.

State officials, in a policy shift that reflects California’s easing drought conditions, decided Wednesday to scrap the emergency conservation mandates that have forced cities and towns to cut water use as much as 36 percent, often by hitting residents with unprecedented restrictions and fines.

Instead, the State Water Resources Control Board will allow urban water providers to set their own water-reduction targets based on their own customers’ wants and needs.

State officials, who appoved the change late Wednesday afternoon, said they neither want nor expect communities to abandon their recent conservation successes. They’re just trying to eliminate needless rules in areas that have more than enough water thanks to El Niño-driven rains this past winter. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

High-speed rail gets a four-year delay – High-speed rail is turning out to be a slow-speed proposition.

The first segment of California’s first-in-the-nation bullet-train project, currently scheduled for completion in 2018, will not be done until the end of 2022, according to a contract revision the Obama administration quietly approved this morning. That initial 119-mile segment through the relatively flat and empty Central Valley was considered the easiest-to-build stretch of a planned $64 billion line, which is eventually supposed to zip passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours. So the four-year delay is sure to spark new doubts about whether the state’s—and perhaps the nation’s—most controversial and expensive infrastructure project will ever reach its destination.

“Four years? It just shows that something deep inside this project has gone terribly wrong,” says state legislator Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican who recently shepherded a bill to increase oversight of high-speed rail through the Democratic-controlled assembly. “The time is coming where we’re going to have to call a halt.” Read More > at Politico

Study finds genetically engineered foods are safe – There is no evidence that food produced from genetically engineered crops is more harmful to people, animals or the environment, according to a study published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The comprehensive study, the latest to assess the technology found in up to 80 percent of packaged foods, determined that data on incidence of cancers and other health problems over time “found no substantiated evidence that foods from GE crops were less safe than foods from non-GE crops.”

The 20-member committee, composed largely of researchers from U.S. universities, reviewed 900 publications from the past two decades, collected comments and held public events in its assessment of issues surrounding genetically engineered crops. But the report is unlikely to end the debate over the popular technology. Read More > in The Des Moines Register

Acura introduces a sleeker self-driving test car – As we creep ever closer to an autonomous-car future, one thing is for certain, most of the driverless cars we see being tested look hideous thanks to all the sensors strapped to the roof. Today Acura introduced its second generation Automated Acura RLX Development Vehicle with updated sensors and a more pleasing aesthetic.

Gone is the spinning LIDAR system replaced with a more compact and robust version of the light detection and ranging technology. It’s also got updated RADAR, camera, GPS and higher performance GPUs and CPUs as well as what Acura is calling “more intelligent software algorithms to support more complex testing scenarios.”

Acura and its parent company Honda have been testing autonomous cars at its GoMentum Station in the Bay Area since last year with a specially outfitted RLX (shown in the video below with the spinning LIDAR system). This new car will replace that vehicle.

Read More > at Engadget

Longtime on-field announcer throws age discrimination suit at 49ers – Bob Sarlatte, whose smooth voice introduced San Francisco 49ers players for 30 years, on Tuesday filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the franchise in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

In the suit, Sarlatte’s attorneys claim that the on-field announcer’s dismissal after the 2013 season was part of a campaign by 49ers CEO Jed York to purge the organization of older employees and restock with younger, tech-savvy employees.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge faced by the 49ers over the past few years. Those include well-publicized off-field legal problems with players, the departure of fan-favorite head coach Jim Harbaugh, the hiring and firing of Jim Tomsula after a 5-11 record last season, and a feud with Santa Clara city officials over the rent for 2-year-old Levi’s Stadium.

A 49ers spokesman could not be reached to comment Tuesday night. Sarlatte and one of his attorneys, David Poore of Brown Poore LLP of Walnut Creek, did not return voicemail messages. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Self-Driving Trucks May Hit the Road Before Google’s Cars – Well before self-driving cars hit the road, fleets of robotic long-haul rigs may be shipping goods across the country.

A startup called Otto is the latest company working on automated truck driving. And Otto’s team includes some engineers from the self-driving team at Google, as well as from Tesla, Apple, and Cruise Automation, who have joined the company to develop technology that turns a conventional truck into a partially automated vehicle.

Trucking could be a smart way to commercialize automated driving technology. Truck drivers spend a great deal of time driving on open highways, which is a lot easier for an automated driving system to handle. It’s also possible for automated trucks to drive in tightly-packed, aerodynamic platoons. And for trucking companies, small efficiencies can add up to big savings.

The one problem for all these players is that—for the time-being at least—truck drivers will still need to take over when the vehicles enter built-up areas, and technically they’ll need to be in control when a truck is driving on the highway. That means that automated trucks won’t be able to drive longer than a person would.

That might change, though, providing regulators can be convinced that letting 80,000-pound robots loose on the highways is a good idea. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Call needed to be made: Westbrook traveled or Klay fouled him – …That said, the NBA’s haste to explain yet again that a game in these playoffs ended in potentially hinky fashion merely tells us that they choose to be transparent about their ongoing officiating shortcomings rather than actually fixing them.

And the fact is, the deterioration of the officiating standard has been ongoing well before Adam Silver moved into the big leather chair . . . or the big leather office, whatever.

The plain fact is, there used to be a clear pecking order of elite officials upon whom you could rely to get the big games against the big teams and deliver a fairly standard game. People knew who they were, they knew how they worked, and they were rarely surprised by what they got.

There are none of those now, because the league, in a burst of top-down management that didn’t work when David Stern first thought of it and doesn’t work now, decided all of its officials should bow before the hobgoblin of uniformity – to be the same guy, looking the same, working the same way, and minimizing the individuality that made the NBA the best officiated game of them all. Read More > at CSN Bay Area

Are You Raising a Little Criminal? – Do you sometimes get a gnawing feeling that a young teenager you know — perhaps even one in your immediate family — is destined for a life of crime? Here’s a simple test that can help you determine if your suspicions are justified: Offer them the choice of a small reward today, or a larger one next week. If they go for the first option, start locking your drawers.

That’s the implication of a newly published study that compared the attitudes of 13-year-old Swedish boys with their later police records (or lack thereof). It found those who couldn’t resist an offer of immediate gratification had “a significantly higher risk of criminal involvement later in life.”

Ever since psychologist Walter Mischel conducted his famous “marshmallow experiments” in the late 1960s and early ’70s, it has been clear that the ability to delay gratification is a key predictor of success later in life.

Kids who could resist the lure of an immediate treat tended to be happier, healthier, and more successful than those who could not. (To cite one specific measure: They scored higher on SAT tests, presumably because they had the patience to study beforehand.) Read More > at Pacific Standard

The Simple Reason Jet.com Is Stealing Sales From Amazon, Walmart & Costco – Your margin is my opportunity.” This quote has been a favorite of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for years, summing up the way Amazon does business and wins over customers: Figure out a way to do a job more cheaply and efficiently than the other guy, and you can sell stuff for lower prices and still make profits.

And yet increasingly today this business approach is probably better embodied in the e-commerce space not by Amazon but by the upstart Jet.com. The e-retailer, which launched last summer, is tiny compared with Amazon—heck, pretty much everyone is—yet it’s been adding 350,000 customers per month and last week added fresh groceries to the long list of items it sells.

What’s attracting customers to Jet.com is the same thing that first drew shoppers to Amazon: low prices. Jet.com originally pursued a strategy of significantly undercutting the competition on a wide range of goods, with a particular focus on standard household purchases like paper towels, soap, toothpaste, and pasta. As Jet.com CEO Marc Lore explained to the Associated Press in a recent interview, however, shoppers seem to be content with prices that are a mere 5% or so cheaper than elsewhere, so long they don’t have to worry about hassles like getting charged for speedy shipping or annual subscription fees. So Jet.com eliminated the $50 membership fee it initially planned on charging, and it offers all shoppers free shipping with purchases of $35 and up—both of which compare very favorably to Amazon, which charges $99 annually for Prime membership and the privilege of free two-day shipping on most purchases. Read More > at Money

California transportation funding fix still elusive – Gov. Jerry Brown kicked off 2016 optimistic on one policy area: After years of stalling, he said it was time for California to finally start making long-overdue repairs to its freeways and bridges.

In his January State of the State address, he told lawmakers they’d have to “bite the bullet and enact new fees and taxes” to pay for a $57 billion backlog in repairs to California’s crumbling state highway system.

So far, the Legislature has not taken up the Democratic governor’s plan to raise $3.6 billion annually for 10 years. Lawmakers also have not met in the special session on transportation the governor called last year, or heard two other Democratic transportation proposals.

…All three Democratic proposals include some form of higher taxes or fees, such as boosting the gas tax rate or adding annual road-user surcharges for electric vehicles that don’t pay into the gas tax fund. Republicans have balked at permanent taxes while California revenues have been on the rise. They want concessions like changes to the state’s complex environmental review process and revisions to how the start awards transportation contracts.

And what they want matters, since a two-thirds majority is needed to approve any tax increase in the state Legislature.

…In the meantime, the problem may get worse. California Transportation Commission staff members have recommended $754 million in cuts to planned road projects over the next five years, as revenues from the state’s gas tax have fallen along with gas prices. The commission will vote on that plan Wednesday.

Lawmakers in both parties also agree structural changes are needed, but approving a tax increase is a hard sell in an election year when incumbents would rather campaign on social welfare, affordable housing or just about anything other than transportation infrastructure. Read More > from the Associated Press

Hiring Hurdle: Finding Workers Who Can Pass a Drug Test – A few years back, the heavy-equipment manufacturer JCB held a job fair in the glass foyer of its sprawling headquarters near here, but when a throng of prospective employees learned the next step would be drug testing, an alarming thing happened: About half of them left.

That story still circulates within the business community of this historic port city. But the problem has gotten worse.

All over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: They are struggling to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test.

That hurdle partly stems from the growing ubiquity of drug testing, at corporations with big human resources departments, in industries like trucking where testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons, and increasingly at smaller companies.

But data suggest employers’ difficulties also reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana — employers’ main gripe — and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news. Read More > in The New York Times

Why US companies have started fleeing China – …For many years, the vast Chinese market — more than 1 billion consumers in a fast-growing economy — sent thrills of excitement up the spines of corporate managers throughout the developed world. Who cares about the stagnation in Europe and Japan, when China has many more people than all of those markets combined?

Even as rising labor and energy costs reduced China’s advantage as a low-cost production site, the dazzling lure of the Chinese consumer pushed many multinationals to locate offices and factories in the country.

Unfortunately, that promise turned out to be a mirage for many companies.

If the Chinese government ever had any intention to step back and let foreign companies compete with domestic ones on a level playing field, it certainly now looks like it has changed its mind. Not long after multinationals showed up in China, they were made to hand over much of their technology to native competitors (almost all of which are directly or indirectly owned by the Chinese government).

…There are signs that some multinationals have had enough. Many are closing offices and factories in China, as costs rise and the government shuts foreigners out of the domestic market. Some recent examples include Microsoft, Adobe, Panasonic, Yahoo and Adidas.

Between this and the effects of China’s general economic slowdown, foreign direct investment into the country — while volatile — has declined in the past few years.

In the short run, this clampdown by China is bad for US companies. They’ll face Chinese competitors armed with transferred or stolen technology. Their supply chains, which had grown dependent on cheap Chinese production costs, may also be disrupted. And they’ll be shut out of one of the world’s largest markets, losing much of the investment that they plowed into expansion there. Read More > in the New York Post

3-D Printing and the Regulatory Future of Home Remedies: Pharma to Table – The day is not far off where 3-D printers become an ordinary household appliance. Already, improvements in price and performance have made them a hot gadget for the tech cognoscenti, who are printing lamps, musical instruments, and even clothing in the comfort of their own homes. It is not hard to imagine the same with drugs. Indeed, some are actively working on making this a new normal.

Professor Lee Cronin, a leading medical researcher in this field, recently described how homebodies will soon be able to download online “recipes” for drugs—much like consulting a cookbook—and program their 3-D printers to make pills. To prove his point, Professor Cronin plans to construct and release a “chemputer” within the next five to ten years that is capable of printing pharmaceuticals from a universal chemical ink.

3-D printing thus creates new possibilities (rather than mere fancies) for self-medication. Using websites like Thingiverse, anyone with a 3-D printer and the proper materials could conceivably fashion top-grade pharmaceuticals—a notion until now limited by the complexity of these drugs and the need for specialized knowledge and equipment. Perhaps more importantly, the legal space here currently resembles a vacuum, leaving only the market to dictate standards.

Regulators can try to keep pace. Even now lawmakers are struggling with the problem of 3-D printed guns. Efforts to ban them outright have been sluggish. The anonymity of the internet and cherished privacy of the home also pose significant hurdles of detection. With 3-D printed drugs, similar side-effects may occur. Read More > at National Law Review

So long, NIMBYs? Gov. Brown’s housing proposal could mean sweeping Bay Area changes – Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed sweeping statewide legislation that would allow new market-rate projects with onsite affordable housing to be approved “as of right,” in potentially California’s most significant housing policy change in years.

The proposal has big ramifications for the Bay Area, where many cities and well-organized residents’ groups have long fought residential development.

The trailing legislation to the state’s 2016-2017 budget would require state assembly and senate approval. Under the proposal, new projects with 20 percent affordable housing for tenants making no more than 80 percent of the area median income or projects with 10 percent affordable housing near transit would be exempt from most local reviews.

That would be a sharp break from the current policy of most Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, where each new housing project is subject to discretionary review and usually takes years for approval.

The new measure is consistent with Brown’s fiscal conservatism, as no new funding for affordable housing is proposed. But Brown is taking a significant step to reduce the approvals process for new projects, despite previously saying that potential change was limited. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

We’re about to see a mind-blowing demographic shift unprecedented in human history – The world is about to see a mind-blowing demographic situation that will be a first in human history: There are about to be more elderly people than young children.

For some time now, demographers and economists have observed that the proportion of elderly adults around the world is rising, while the proportion of younger children is falling.

But within a few years, just before 2020, adults aged 65 and over will begin to outnumber children under the age of 5 among the global population, according to a chart shared by a Bank of America Merrill Lynch team led by Beijia Ma, citing an earlier report from the US Census Bureau.

And these two age groups will continue to grow in opposite directions: The proportion of the global population aged 65 and up will continue to increase, while the proportion of the population aged 5 and under will continue decreasing.

In fact, according to the Census Bureau, by 2050 those ages 65 and up will make up an estimated 15.6% of the global population — more than double that of children ages 5 and under, who will make up an estimated 7.2%. Read More > at Business Insider

La Niña Is Likely on the Way – Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The intense El Niño we saw this winter captured the imaginations of headline writers around the world for more than a year, earning the outlandish moniker “Godzilla El Niño” to convey to an entertainment-thirsty public just how unusually strong the phenomenon had gotten. The event will soon be a memory as it’s quickly fading away, likely to be replaced by the opposite anomaly—a La Niña—in the coming months.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center released its monthly report on May 12 signaling that El Niño’s end is nigh and La Niña won’t be far behind. Since we call this unusually warm water “the little boy” in Spanish (named in honor of the baby Jesus, as it was discovered around Christmas), we call unusually cold water in this part of the Pacific Ocean “the little girl,” or La Niña.

…We’re familiar with El Niño in the United States as it has historically helped flooding rains drench places like California during the winter months, but as still-parched Californians found out this year, each event is different, and not all of them affect the weather as we would expect.

There’s always a chance that this La Niña doesn’t come to pass as predicted—long-range forecasts like this are still relatively new, so the predictions aren’t exactly foolproof. The experts note, however, that most major models show a very fast transition to a La Niña over the next couple of months, and their report this week put the odds of La Niña conditions existing by autumn at 75 percent.

While it can help bring warm and rainy conditions to parts of Australia and southeast Asia, La Niña doesn’t normally have a noticeable effect on summer weather in the United States. The most significant impact a La Niña can have on the U.S. during the summer and fall months is by way of an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean.

If the expected La Niña continues through the winter, past events tell us that it could bring warmer temperatures to the southern U.S. and above-average precipitation to northern sections of the country. Read More > at Mental Floss

As online shopping intensifies, outlook dims for mall stores – Online shopping is reaching such a critical mass with American households that many of the icons of the traditional mall —from Macy’s to The Gap and J.C. Penney — face an increasingly uncertain future.

A government report Friday suggested a modestly healthy consumer, with retail sales up 1.3 percent in April. Americans are eating out more at restaurants. They’re buying more cars. But the main beneficiaries of spending in the past year have been Amazon, eBay and other internet behemoths.

Spending at these non-store retailers shot up 10.7 percent from a year ago, the government said in a week when earnings reports showed disturbing drop-offs at Macy’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney.

The magnitude of the change may be just beginning to intensify. Online shopping has attuned customers to focusing on price and hunting for the best bargains, thereby shrinking profit margins at many stores.

Back in 2000, for every dollar spent at physical stores, just 30 cents were spent online and at mail-order houses, according to government figures. Now, the online category makes up nearly 70 cents for every dollar spent at general merchandise stores.

Though sales at department stores edged up slightly, they’ve sunk 1.7 percent over the past 12 months. The shift online points to more disciplined consumers whose collective habits can reshape sales. Impulse buys make up 45 percent of store purchases, for example, but only 23 percent online, according to research at the NPD Group. Read More > from the Associated Press

California ballot measure blamed for shoplifting jump – Perry Lutz says his struggle to survive as a small businessman became a lot harder after California voters reduced theft penalties 1½ years ago.

About a half-dozen times this year, shoplifters have stolen expensive drones or another of the remote-controlled toys he sells in HobbyTown USA, a small shop in Rocklin, northeast of Sacramento. “It’s just pretty much open season,” Lutz said. “They’ll pick the $800 unit and just grab it and run out the door.”

Anything below $950 keeps the crime a misdemeanor — and likely means the thieves face no pursuit and no punishment, say retailers and law enforcement officials. Large retailers including Safeway, Target, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies say shoplifting increased at least 15 percent, and in some cases, doubled since voters approved Proposition 47 and ended the possibility of charging shoplifting as a felony with the potential for a prison sentence.

Shoplifting reports to the Los Angeles Police Department jumped by a quarter in the first year, according to statistics the department compiled for The Associated Press. The ballot measure also lowered penalties for forgery, fraud, petty theft and drug possession. Read More > from the Associated Press

Microsoft makes final, aggressive Windows 10 upgrade push – Microsoft has launched the final push in its nine-and-a-half-month upgrade offensive against consumers and businesses running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

Last week, Microsoft switched the automatically-offered Windows 10 upgrade to a “Recommended” download that in turn scheduled the upgrade process unless the user interfered

“As we shared in October, Windows 10 will be offered as a ‘Recommended’ update for Windows 7 and 8.1 customers whose Windows Update settings are configured to accept ‘Recommended’ updates,” a Microsoft spokesman said Friday in an email reply to questions. Read More > in Network World

Social Security isn’t broke: Sorting myths from truths – Social Security remains a confusing topic, and misconceptions could multiply as the presidential campaign swings into high gear. Though the leading candidates haven’t yet turned this into a prominent campaign issue, it’s bound to gain more visibility. Here’s a look at a few myths and misunderstandings, and a couple accurate claims, you might hear on the election trail or elsewhere:

• Social Security is heading toward bankruptcy.

False, though the answer somewhat depends on how you define bankruptcy. Social Security will have money to pay retirement benefits for decades to come, even if needed reforms are not made. It’s just that the program won’t have the means to meet all its scheduled obligations. Social Security’s trustees estimate the program, in the absence of reforms, will be able to pay only about 75 cents on the dollar by 2034.

• Everyone has Social Security assets held in a personal investment account.

False. Social Security isn’t an investment fund but, rather, a pay-as-you-go system that transfers money from workers to retirees. “The taxes paid by today’s workers and their employers don’t go into dedicated individual accounts,” noted Pew Research in a report. “Nor do Social Security checks represent a return on invested capital.” Yet nearly one-third of Americans believe they have dedicated Social Security accounts, according to a 2014 Pew survey. Read More > at USA Today

California faces conflicts over billions in school bonds – The seemingly mundane matter of issuing bonds to build and fix schools has suddenly morphed into a bubbling stew of highly contentious politics.

The reason: School bonds and the projects they finance are a multibillion-dollar industry, and high-dollar issues often spawn conflicts.

The most obvious example is a ballot measure that would authorize $9 billion in state bonds to help school districts finance construction.

Over the last four decades, ever since Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor, the state has issued about $45 billion in school bonds, and Brown, now in his second stint, says enough is enough.

The state is paying about $2 billion a year to service past school bond issues, Brown points out, and the process for allocating the money is inefficient and unfair. The $9 billion bond proposal “makes no changes … and it would add an additional $500 million a year” to the state’s obligations.

However, a potent coalition of school contractors, housing developers and education groups is forging ahead. One factor is that the existing pool of school bond money is virtually exhausted, and when it’s gone, local governments would be free to sharply increase development fees to finance school construction. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

California November ballot will have as many as 18 measures – California voters this fall will likely wade through the longest list of state propositions since Bill Clinton was president, a sizable batch of proposed laws that is likely to spark a record amount of campaign spending.

A review of election records and interviews with almost a dozen political consultants confirms that as many as 18 propositions — from legalizing marijuana to redirecting the proceeds of a fee on paper bags — will land on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

This week marks an unofficial but closely watched deadline for backers of the fall’s bumper crop of propositions. Campaigns will submit the final voter signatures gathered for initiatives, and elections officials will then need several weeks to verify those signatures. Secretary of State Alex Padilla must certify the final list by June 30.

There are a number of reasons for the glut of proposals, including a 2011 law that moved all ballot initiatives to November elections.

The 18 measures have the political or financial resources to make it to the ballot, but the final number depends on what happens over the next six weeks. The initiative process was loosened in 2014 for proponents to withdraw a fully vetted measure even after it earned a spot on the ballot.

It was a change designed to encourage compromise, but one that could also mean some of the proposals are little more than political bargaining chips. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

After 20 years of decline, tuberculosis inches up in U.S. – After two decades of steady decline, the number of active tuberculosis cases in the U.S. inched up last year. Hall’s was one of 9,563 TB cases reported last year, up from 9,406 cases the year before. The CDC is still trying to determine the reason for the uptick.

The goal set by the CDC, in 1989, of eliminating TB by 2010 — defined as less than one case in a million people — remains elusive. Even if the trend of declining cases had continued, the United States would not have eliminated TB by the end of this century, the CDC said.

“We are not yet certain why TB incidence has leveled off, but we do know it indicates the need for a new, expanded approach to TB elimination,” said Dr. Philip LoBue, director of the CDC’s Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, in an email.

A dual approach is needed: continue to find and treat cases of disease and evaluate their contacts, as well as identify and evaluate other high-risk persons for latent TB infection, he said. Read More > in the Star Tribune

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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