Sunday Reading – 01/22/17


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.

DOT establishes 10 autonomous vehicle proving grounds – So far, testing autonomous vehicles on city streets has had mixed results. Uber’s plan did not go over well in the company’s hometown of San Francisco, but cities like Phoenix and Boston have been a little more receptive to the idea. Now, to solve some of those bureaucratic headaches and foster a little more collaboration at the same time, the US Department of Transportation has laid out 10 autonomous vehicle proving grounds where research teams, automakers and startups can try out their technology before it hits the streets.

According to US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, the proving grounds will provide more than just the physical roads to drive on — they’ll also form a community where new findings can be shared between the participants.

Honda's testing grounds at the GoMentum Station autonomous vehicle test facility in Concord, California. REUTERS/Maki Shiraki

Honda’s testing grounds at the GoMentum Station autonomous vehicle test facility in Concord, California. REUTERS/Maki Shiraki

The proving grounds were picked from over 60 potential sites and include a range of academic, state and private institutions around the country. Those sites are:
1.City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
2.Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
3.U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center
4.American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run
5.Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station
6.San Diego Association of Governments
7.Iowa City Area Development Group
8.University of Wisconsin-Madison
9.Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
10.North Carolina Turnpike Authority

Read More > at Engadget

Californians Opposed to Trump’s Immigration Ideas? Poll Results May Surprise You – California’s political leaders, the generals of the so-called Trump resistance, may be surprised that they don’t have as many troops behind them as they imagined according to the new Golden State Poll released by the Hoover Institution. In issues dealing with immigration—sanctuary cities, deportations, and denying immigration from certain countries—the poll showed split support rather than overwhelming support for the positions the political leaders identified as “California values.”

According to Bill Whalen, Hoover Institution fellow who oversees the poll, the survey results indicate that while coastal blue California gets the headlines, there is really more than one California. Whalen noted that Donald Trump garnered one-third of the California vote and Hillary Clinton captured three-fifths of the state’s popular vote, but support for Trump’s immigration ideas actually broke even between support and opposition and in some cases were a few points ahead.

When asked about Trump’s proposal to deport immigrants who have been convicted of crimes while also deporting immigrants who came to the country illegally but allowing them to return to the country legally, 44% said the state would be better off if this plan is followed, 39% said the state would be worse off. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Tax candy, not tampons, say lawmakers who pushed for sales tax exemptions – Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed bills Tuesday that would have repealed the sales tax on diapers and tampons, saying that they would cost the state budget too much money. Now the two legislators who authored the legislation have an idea they say will make that argument irrelevant: Tax candy instead.

Democratic Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, who wrote the diaper and tampon bills, respectively, believe the state’s sales tax system needs a broad overhaul.

Gonzalez said she wants voters to approve a measure to give consumers tax breaks for products such as toilet paper, diapers and tampons, and pay for them through new taxes on items such as candy, soda and chips. Voters would need to sign off on the proposal in part because of a 1992 ballot measure that eliminated a short-lived “snack tax” that charged sales taxes on candy, other snack foods and bottled water. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Are fewer California teens opting to get behind the wheel? – Getting a driver’s license has long been a teenage rite of passage, an anxiously awaited four-wheeled step up the ladder to adulthood.

That tradition, though, has shown signs of easing into the slow lane, with government numbers suggesting a decline in teenagers behind the wheel.

In 1981, 16- to 19-year-olds represented about 6.3 percent of licensed drivers in California, according to Department of Motor Vehicles data. By early 2016, their share had declined to 3.3 percent.

About 40.5 percent of teens had licenses at the end of 2015, compared to 44.3 percent of teens in 2000. The number of licensed teen drivers at the end of 2015 – 862,592 – was the fewest since 1997.

Among the possible explanations: being able to stream movies and shop at home instead of going to the mall; the effects of the recession, which hit lower-income workers the hardest; and the cost of insurance for higher-risk teen drivers.

Government rules also are likely having an impact. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Now’s the Time for Big-Box Stores to Embrace the 19th Century – If you’d told me back in 1984 that in 2017 we’d be talking about the collapse of Macy’s in particular and department stores in general, I’d have been shocked.

…Contrary to what you might suppose, shopping-center vacancy rates have been steadily falling since 2008, thanks in large part to food. Restaurant expansions account for increasing amounts of space, and malls have begun turning to food halls as anchor tenants. These are large spaces where customers can eat varied, high-quality meals or take-home grocery items such as artisanal bread, fresh produce, or gourmet meats and cheeses. Some, such as the Italian food emporium Eataly, are a single operation, while others encompass many different vendors. Developers are adding about one food hall project a week in the U.S., according to a recent report from Cushman & Wakefield, which writes that “By 2019, we anticipate that there may be as many as 200 major projects throughout the United States.”

Meanwhile, Bed Bath & Beyond just opened a Brooklyn store that includes a restaurant and space for cooking classes, as well as a blow-out bar and a portrait studio. When a new food processor or set of towels is just a click away, fighting through the crowded aisles of a big-box store is an obsolete chore. But an after-work class on “quick and easy desserts” or a lunchtime lesson in “basic knife skills” might be worth the trip.

Department stores weren’t always dull places to buy things less efficiently than you can online. In the early days, their wonders included elegant tearooms, suitable for ladies who’d never frequent saloons. Stores held concerts and fashion shows. They provided playgrounds and nurseries. They gave all sorts of lessons, from bicycle riding in the 1890s to bridge and mah-jongg decades later. They displayed original artworks. In many and varied ways, they wrapped their goods, many of them themselves new and exotic, in experiences. “One came now less to purchase a particular article than simply to visit, buying in the process because it was part of the excitement, part of an experience that added another dimension to life,” writes the historian Michael B. Miller in Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869–1920. Read More > at Bloomberg

Wells Fargo to shutter 400 branches by 2018 in efficiency push – Wells Fargo will shutter 400 branches nationwide through 2018, as it seeks to control costs after changing how employees are paid and continuing legal costs related to an aggressive sales tactic scandal mount.

The San Francisco-based banking behemoth made the announcement as part of a conference call with analysts last week, during which it discussed its ongoing legal woes related to a bogus accounts scandal and predicted customer trends. The roughly 485 branch closures will account for about 8 percent of its nationwide total.

“Based on observed trends in customer behavior, we began to accelerate branch closures in 2016 and closed 84 branches mostly in the second half of the year,” John Shrewsberry, Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer, said during the call. “We expect the pace of branch closures to increase to 200 branches in 2017 and we expect closures at that level or slightly higher in 2018.”

Still, most of Wells Fargo’s 256 branches in the Bay Area have been safe so far, with only two closed since January 2015 and four new ones opened during the same time period. The bank has around 1,000 California branches, one sixth of its total nationwide.

“Previously, the models for branches was each one had to cover a radius of three to five miles for each branch” Marty Mosby, director of bank and equity strategies with Tennessee-based investment firm Vining Sparks, told the paper. “You look at it now, Wells and the other big banks want each branch to cover a radius of 10 to 15 miles. Then they will use stand-alone ATMs to cover the gaps.” Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Millennials Let Their Grandparents Decide Local Elections – Young people have historically voted in much lower numbers than older Americans, and 2016 was no exception. But their absence is most pronounced in elections at the local level. Disparities in turnout — already vast in presidential and congressional elections — are even greater in contests that decide who runs the nation’s cities.

A study conducted by Portland State University tallied voter turnout in the most recent mayoral elections in the 30 largest cities. It found that residents 65 years and older were a median of seven times more likely to vote than those ages 18 to 34, who frequently registered turnout rates in the single digits. “There’s an enormous disconnect with younger citizens in understanding the impact that local governments have,” says Phil Keisling, director of the university’s Center for Public Service. “They’re ceding to their grandparents the political decisions.”

A number of factors contribute to dismal youth participation. For starters, young people move a lot, making them less likely to be registered to vote or feel as vested in a city as longtime residents. They also tend to be renters, a demographic that doesn’t cast ballots as often as homeowners, even when they’ve lived longer in a particular place. Read More > at Governing

The End of Traffic – Americans spend $2 trillion every year on car ownership, making transportation the second highest expense in American households, second only to housing. Yet on average, each vehicle is used only 4% of the time. This is massively inefficient, not only because it’s a waste of money, but also because the majority of our cities’ land has been paved over with infrastructure built for parked or slow-moving cars. As we wrote about last year, the next transportation revolution will change everything. So let’s take this opportunity to ask ourselves: “How would we design our transportation infrastructure if we were starting over?”

Traffic might be the single worst aspect of our transportation system today. We’ve yet to meet someone who likes traffic, but everyone just accepts it. Traffic hurts our economy, damages our environment, creates unnecessary stress, and keeps us from our friends and family.

How much does traffic suck? The average American will spend over 3,000 hours of their life in traffic. This means that our entire country is less productive. According to one estimate, traffic costs our country $160 billion in productivity and fuel every year.

…When people are encouraged to drive together, there are fewer cars on the road, and traffic goes down significantly. In fact, most mornings when we’re not taking Lyft, the two of us carpool to work together. Thanks to the carpool lane along our route, the trip takes us 30 minutes instead of an hour (and as we pass everyone waiting in traffic, it feels like the real-life equivalent of getting a star in Mario Kart!).

…As we’ve mentioned before, the United States has systematically underinvested in its infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our existing systems a D+ grade. We need about $3.6 trillion in maintenance to get back up to an A. From an economic perspective, this is a no-brainer. In the short term, investing in infrastructure creates jobs. The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that 13,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars in highway infrastructure investment — and since we need trillions in investment, that means millions of jobs. Over time, these investments will actually save our country money. Every day that our roads succumb to more wear-and-tear, they become more expensive to fix. The good news is that political leaders on both sides of the aisle are signaling that they’re ready to focus on infrastructure. And if we fund the improvements now through smart lane programs, we will generate long-term savings. Read More > at the Medium

Why the Legacy of Shakers Will Endure – On Monday, Jan. 2, Shaker Sister Frances Carr died at the age of 89. She had been a Shaker for almost 80 years and passed away at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. She had been a member of the community since 1937, when the Shakers (who called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing) had taken her in as a 10-year-old orphan.

According to one point of view, Carr was the last Shaker. In the mid-20th century, as the number of Shaker villages dwindled to two (Canterbury in New Hampshire and Sabbathday Lake in Maine), members of the Canterbury group felt strongly that the church should be allowed to die out. They insisted that Shaker membership had been closed since 1965 and that no new members would be accepted by either remaining Shaker community.

…To begin with, the “Society of Believers” grew steadily in the United States from 1774, the year their founder, the English visionary and preacher Mother Ann Lee, arrived in New York with a few of her followers.

…Members of the society, for example, were early proponents of gender equality , based on the fundamental teaching of Mother Ann that all believers were radically united in Christ’s second coming (not without some internal struggles on how that should be best expressed after her death). Christ was already present, they believed, within each of them and among them as a community; therefore, harmony was a key element in the structuring of all Shaker communities.

…Certainly, there are elements of the Shaker gospel and “harmony” that simply do not carry over into the 21st century, such as the insistence on mandatory celibacy for all members or the expectation of visions from diverse spirits.

But Shakers’ rejection of “the world” does offer us today some insightful reflections on contemporary issues such as their pacifism when confronted by terrorism; their mutual love and respect in the face of gender and racial divisions; and their cheerful blending of prosperity and simplicity as a response to the wasteful nature of many materialistic cultures. Read More > at Real Clear Religion

Believers dissolved their marriages in order to live in communal villages, practicing strict celibacy as “brothers” and “sisters.” Those who had children allowed them to be raised by the community; they also took in orphaned and unwanted children.

Foul-mouthed people are also the most honest, study finds – Temperate language has traditionally been considered a social virtue, but new research suggests that people who refrain from swearing are often the most devious and dishonest.

Those fond of effing and blinding, by contrast, are likely to be the most honest in any given group, according to academics at the University of Cambridge.

The study describes how 276 participants were asked to list their favourite swear words in order to gauge how fond they were of turning the air blue.

They were then given a survey asking them to agree or disagree with statements such as “I never lie” and “all my habits are good” to assess their propensity for dishonesty.

The researchers found that the most honest in the group were also the biggest swearers. Read More > in The Telegraph

The robots are coming – to deliver your dinner – While it may be a few years before we see taxi rides in autonomous vehicles and Amazon buys dropped by drones, your dinner will delivered by robots in a matter of weeks.

Autonomous robot maker Starship Technologies has partnered with San Francisco-based food delivery startups DoorDash and Postmates for its U.S. pilot program. The robots will begin food deliveries with DoorDash in Redwood City and Postmates in Washington, D.C.

…Founded and funded by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, Starship’s “personal couriers” are designed to deliver goods locally in 15 to 30 minutes within a two to three mile radius in suburban areas. The knee-high robots travel on sidewalks among pedestrians at a speed of up to four miles per hour. The robots are covered in cameras, sensors and LED lights to both notice and be noticed – they are able to sense pedestrians, cyclists and cross walks, and avoid getting in the way.

DoorDash will deploy “a handful” of robots to the streets of Redwood City for testing in the coming weeks and expects the robots to be doing deliveries in the area within a few months. As of now, the robots will not replace any drivers. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Don’t worry, robots and AI won’t take your job: Well, at least not all of it – Today’s technology could be used to automate half of all work activities by 2055 but it could end up taking far longer than that, according to a report from McKinsey Global Institute.

It’s likely that one day your skills could be made obsolete by technology aided by advances in robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. The question is when and to what extent?

A recent Pew survey found that two-thirds of Americans think within 50 years a robot will do most of the tasks humans are employed to do today. On the other hand, 80 percent also think their job or profession will still exist in the next 50 years.

That perception is about on the mark, according to a new study by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). MGI estimates that, applying today’s technology, less than five percent of occupations could be fully automated. However, half the activities people are employed to do today could be automated, representing potential wage savings of $16 trillion worldwide and $2.5 trillion in the US.

The report looked at tasks rather than occupations because some part of every job, whether it’s in mining, design, or finance, can be automated. Read More > at ZDNet

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since Roe v. Wade – The abortion rate in the United States fell to its lowest level since the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion nationwide, a new report finds.

The report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion, puts the rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (ages 15-44) in 2014. That’s the lowest recorded rate since the Roe decision in 1973. The abortion rate has been declining for decades — down from a peak of 29.3 in 1980 and 1981.

The report also finds that in 2013, the total number of abortions nationwide fell below 1 million for the first time since the mid-1970s. In 2014 — the most recent year with data available — the number fell a bit more, to 926,200. The overall number had peaked at more than 1.6 million abortions in 1990, according to Guttmacher. Read More > at NPR

Car-theft victim handed over to immigration agents sues SF – A car-theft victim who sought help from San Francisco police only to end up in federal immigration custody for two months filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the city, the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department for violating the sanctuary city ordinance.

Pedro Figueroa Zarceno, a 32-year-old Mission District resident, says officials breached the ordinance and his right to due process by alerting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, when he went to retrieve a police report about his stolen car at Southern Police Station on Dec. 2, 2015.

San Francisco’s sanctuary city law prohibits workers from using city resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law, and was designed to allow anyone to seek help from law enforcement, regardless of immigration status.

…According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration agency, San Francisco police ran a routine background check on Figueroa when he went to get the police report and discovered he had an outstanding warrant for his deportation from more than 10 years earlier.

Police officers contacted the Sheriff Department’s central warrant bureau, whose job it is to confirm warrants, and deputies contacted the ICE service center. The deputies relayed the information to police, who had authority to decide whether to honor the warrant. A Homeland Security report said an ICE duty officer was informed of Figueroa’s whereabouts by both the service center and San Francisco police.

Figueroa was the subject of a deportation order arising from his failure to appear at an immigration hearing in San Antonio in December 2005, and from a 2012 conviction for drunken driving, authorities said. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

1 in 3 Adult Asthma Patients May Not Have Asthma – One in three people with recent physician-diagnosed asthma did not have active asthma when evaluated using spirometry and serial bronchial challenge, results of a cohort study indicated, and more than 90% were able to stop treatment without harm.

About 44% of patients found not to have asthma had been diagnosed without the use of spirometry, bronchial challenge, or serial peak flow measurement, making it questionable whether they ever actually had asthma.

The study findings suggest that the common practice of diagnosing asthma in adults based on symptoms alone often leads to misdiagnosis, Shawn Aaron, MD, of Canada’s University of Ottawa, and colleagues wrote in the Jan. 17 Journal of the American Medical Association. Read More > at Medpage Today

Swedish Ambulances can hijack your in-car tunes during emergencies – When people tell you not to play music at full blast in your car, they’re not necessarily raining on your parade — there’s a real concern that you might not hear an emergency vehicle until the last moment. You might not have to worry quite so much if a Swedish experiment proves successful, though. Ambulances in Stockholm are testing a KTH-made system (EVAM) that interrupts in-car audio with a voice warning when they’re close by and responding to a crisis. The only requirement is that your car’s FM tuner support the Radio Data System format, which is common in the cars you see on the road. The interruptions are speed-sensitive, too, so you’ll get notices at greater distances when you’re on the highway.

A handful of ambulances will trial the system in the first quarter of the year. Whether or not it expands elsewhere will almost certainly depend on early results. We can see at least one potential problem: will this alert drivers on nearby streets where there’s nothing to worry about? Even if the system is overly cautious, it could prove to be a lifesaver if it clears the roads and gets patients to the hospital that much sooner. Read More > at Engadget

A Silicon Valley down payment could buy you an entire house in much of the U.S. – You’re probably used to hearing that Bay Area home prices are insane, unfair and punishing to potential buyers.

But here’s a new way to look at the dilemma faced by the region’s homebuyers:

The median 20 percent down payment on a house in metro San Jose is $192,320. Give or take a few bucks, that sum is equal to the median nationwide value of an entire house: $192,500.

Those numbers come from a new analysis of the national market by Zillow, the online real estate database company.

The average buyer in the San Jose metro area (which includes Santa Clara and San Benito counties) must set aside 182 percent of his or her annual income — nearly two years’ worth of salary — to assemble the recommended 20 percent down payment. The median income in the metro area is $105,455; the median 20 percent down payment is $192,320, and the median home value is $961,600, according to Zillow.

In the San Francisco metro area (which includes San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties), the situation is similar. The average buyer must set aside 180 percent of annual income to come up with 20 percent down. The median income is $91,777; the median 20 percent down payment is $164,920; and the median home value is $824,600. Read More > in The Mercury News

California Rule’ Takes Another Hit in the Courts – Pension reform advocates received another boost just before the start of the New Year when a second appeals court panel struck a blow to the so-called ‘California rule.’ In a unanimous decision, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that pensions set at hire can be reduced without offsetting benefits, echoing a previous monumental decision reached in August.

“The law is quite clear that they are entitled only to a ‘reasonable’ pension, not one providing fixed or definite benefits immune from modification or elimination by the governing body,” Justice Martin Jenkins opined. “We agree with this conclusion reached by our colleagues,” he added.

The two rulings represent a major break with the past when numerous court rulings upheld the idea of a vested right to pensions offered at hire. That principle has prevented meaningful overhauls, according to advocates of reform. Read More > at California City News

Brown revisits plan to increase housing construction statewide – In releasing a state spending plan for the next fiscal year, Gov. Jerry Brown revisited efforts to increase new housing through legislation that would streamline permitting and create incentives for local governments to meet housing goals.

The plan released Tuesday is far less specific than a permit-streamlining proposal floated by the administration last year. That proposal was defeated in the Legislature. But Tuesday’s plan asks for a bill package containing the same basic provisions of the prior proposal: creating incentives for local governments to lower fees and streamlining the lengthy building approvals process.

The new budget documents call for a legislative package that would reduce regulatory barriers and fees related to housing construction, reward local governments with funding and other incentives for meeting housing goals, and penalizing governments that fail to make changes by tying housing construction to infrastructure funding. Read More > in the Sacramento Business Journal

Autonomous Vehicles Could Change Everything You Know About Traffic Stops The introduction of autonomous vehicles onto U.S. roads is expected to disrupt everything from the way freight is shipped to how safe we are on our commutes. But less attention has been given to how their arrival could reduce the number of traffic stops dramatically.

It’s safe to say the first wave of autonomous vehicles are not far off, but projecting the precise timeline along which AVs will develop is challenging. Early models will be similar in concept and capability to the vehicles Uber already operates in Pittsburgh. These systems will continue to have steering wheels and pedals and will still require occasional operator involvement. While fully autonomous vehicles may eliminate traffic stops altogether, these amalgam piloted cars with blended operational control will most certainly change the status quo and reduce the need for police to pull people over.

The prospect of even a marginal reduction in the number of traffic stops could prove an inflection point for criminal justice public policy, given that traffic stops are among the most common interactions between the American people and their government. In 2011, the last year for which Bureau of Justice Statistics are available, half of all police interactions were related to traffic stops. In other words, 31.5 million Americans had an interaction with the police related to a traffic stop in that one year alone.

If autonomous vehicles realize only a fraction of their projected safety benefits, a decline in the number of traffic stops would be virtually inevitable. Among the consequences of this change would be fewer traffic tickets issued, the average cost of which is $150. Traffic-related violations are so common that local governments across the nation currently count on the revenues generated by these encounters to fund basic operations. Read More > at Inside Sources

“Statistical Evidence Not Required” – The most important statement in the Justice Department’s damning report on the Chicago Police Department has nothing to do with police behavior. Released on Friday, the report found the Chicago police guilty of a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional force. But it turns out that the Justice Department has no standard for what constitutes a “pattern or practice” (the phrase comes from a 1994 federal statute) of unconstitutional police conduct. “Statistical evidence is not required” for a “pattern or practice” finding, the DOJ lawyers announce, citing unrelated court precedent. Nor is there “a specific number of incidents” required to constitute a “pattern or practice,” they proclaim.

Having cleared themselves of any obligation to provide “a specific number of [unconstitutional] incidents” or a statistical benchmark for evaluating them, the DOJ attorneys proceed to ignore any further obligation of transparency. The reader never learns how many incidents of allegedly unconstitutional behavior the Justice Department found, nor how those incidents compare with the universe of police-civilian contacts conducted by the Chicago Police Department. No clue is provided regarding why the DOJ lawyers concluded that the alleged abuses reached the mysterious threshold for constituting a pattern or practice. Instead, the report uses waffle words like “several,” “often,” or “many” as a substitute for actual quantification. This vacuum of information hasn’t stopped the mainstream media from trumpeting the report as yet another exposé of abusive, racist policing. Excessive force is rife in chicago, u.s. review finds, read the headline on the New York Times’s front-page story, which went on to note that the excessive force was “chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos.”

The report does disclose that the DOJ attorneys reviewed 425 incidents of less-than-lethal force between January 2011 and April 2016. But what proportion of total force incidents those 425 events represent or how many of those 425 incidents the federal lawyers found unconstitutional isn’t revealed. As to how many stops and arrests were made over that same time period that didn’t involve the use of force, the reader can only guess.

We also learn that the federal civil rights team identified 203 officer-involved shootings between January 1, 2011, and March 21, 2016. How many of those were bad shootings? Fifteen? One hundred? The reader is left in the dark. The massive New York Police Department averaged 48 shootings a year from 2005 to 2015. The per-capita rate of officer shootings in the NYPD is therefore much lower than in the Chicago Police Department, which is about a third the size. But Chicago’s crime rate is much higher than New York’s; CPD officers confront many more armed and resisting suspects. It would have been useful to know how the ratio of officer-involved shootings to criminal shootings in Chicago compares to other cities. We don’t even learn how many of those 203 officer-involved shootings in Chicago were lethal. Read More > at City Journal

Is the great American road trip ending? – What just happened? A few years ago, self-driving vehicles were science fiction, but today, you can hail an Uber self-driving Volvo in Pittsburgh.

You don’t have to be a futurist to connect the dots. Once autonomous driving technology is proven, it’ll be in every car. It’s not hard to imagine that motorists will soon secure sizable insurance discounts for letting the onboard computer do all the driving.

From there, you can envision a not-too-distant future in which you can’t even drive your own car to your vacation destination. So long, great American road trip. That sensation of steering your own vehicle down the road, of feeling the asphalt under your own tires, will be history.

Why should you worry? Because it’s happening faster than anyone imagined. If you’d told me a short while ago that autonomous vehicles were around the corner, I would have laughed out loud. If you’re snickering at the idea that you might one day not be able to directly control the vehicle you’re in, you might want to think again. Read More > at USA Today

About-face: California stops refusing extra aid to moms on welfare who have more children – …And yet despite the seven clearly marked children’s gift stockings that still hang from the mantel, it wasn’t until January 1st of this year that California’s welfare program, CalWORKs, officially determined that all of Zavala’s children—and not just three—deserved financial assistance.

Along with some 95,000 other families across California, the Zavalas have just begun receiving a larger monthly welfare payment thanks to the repeal of a controversial state law known as the Maximum Family Grant rule. Originally designed to discourage mothers from having more children when they were already struggling to make ends meet, the rule barred all low-income families enrolled in welfare from receiving increases in assistance to care for any additional children.

The exception: If a mother could prove to the state that a child was not conceived intentionally. Acceptable explanations included the failure of one of four approved contraceptive methods (IUD, Depo-Provera, Norplant, or sterilization, but not condoms or birth control pills) or that the conception resulted from result of rape or incest.

Because Rocio Zavala was the mother of one son and one daughter when she first began receiving aid from the state, her CalWORKs cash grant remained frozen at a level intended to support two children—even as her family eventually grew by another five. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

California’s bullet train is hurtling toward a multibillion-dollar overrun, a confidential federal report warns – California’s bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that’s just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by The Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.

The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won’t happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.

This analysis puts the state on notice that it could face bigger cost overruns than anticipated and much longer delays than have been made public, a troubling critique by an agency that has been a stalwart supporter and longtime financier of the nation’s largest infrastructure project. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

State pension costs doubled after rate increases – State payments to CalPERS next fiscal year are expected to total $6 billion, nearly double the $3.2 billion paid six years ago before a wave of employer rate increases.

A new state budget proposed by Gov. Brown last week also shows that state payments to CalSTRS for the fiscal year beginning in July are expected to be $2.8 billion, nearly double the $1.5 billion paid three years ago when a rate increase began.

Meanwhile, what had been the fastest-growing annual retirement cost in the budget, retiree health care for state workers, only increased by about half during the last six years, going from $1.5 billion in fiscal 2011 to $2.2 billion next year. Read More > at Calpensions

Airbus CEO sees ‘flying car’ prototype ready by end of year – Airbus Group plans to test a prototype for a self-piloted flying car as a way of avoiding gridlock on city roads by the end of the year, the aerospace group’s chief executive said on Monday.

Airbus last year formed a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders told the DLD digital tech conference in Munich, adding he hoped the Airbus could fly a demonstration vehicle for single-person transport by the end of the year. Read More > at Reuters

Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years – After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals. Read More > from the Associated Press

What You Need To Know About Syphilis If you thought we were basically done with syphilis as a society, you’re not the only one. Back in the early 2000s, the disease was considered to be quite rare. But we’ve seen a steep and troubling increase in cases over the past decade.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. was at its lowest level of syphilis cases since 1941 just over a decade ago. But that rate has risen pretty much every year since 2001. And between 2014 and 2015, the rate rose 19% (from 6.3 to 7.5 cases per 100,000).

The CDC attributes the overall rise primarily to new cases of syphilis among men, and men still account for about 90% of all syphilis cases. But the rate among women is rising swiftly as well — it increased by 27.3% between 2014 and 2015.

So now is definitely the time for everyone to reacquaint themselves with this disease. The symptoms of syphilis are often surprisingly subtle, making it hard to catch early without regular testing. But, if left untreated, it can cause some serious complications and can even increase your risk for HIV. So preventing it (with all those extremely hot safe sex habits) is key, but so is knowing what to watch out for. Here’s what you should know: Read More > at Refinery29

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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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