Against the wall

May 22, 2012

If anyone needed a reminder that the fiscal battles in Sacramento affect people throughout the state, they need look no further than the schools. California's schools, once the envy of the nation, are in dire straits.


From the Union-Tribune's Karen Kucher: "The California Department of Education said that 188 school districts reported being in negative or qualified financial status as of the state’s second status report, more than triple the number reported in February's report. Eleven of the districts are in San Diego County."


“This is the kind of record no one wants to set,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. “Across California, parents, teachers and administrators are increasingly wondering how to keep their schools’ lights on, their bills paid and their doors open."


“The deep cuts this (state) budget crisis has forced — and the uncertainties about what lies ahead — are taking an unprecedented and unacceptable toll on our schools.” Districts give themselves a “qualified” financial certification if officials believe the district may not meet its financial obligations for the current or two subsequent fiscal years."


Driverless cars may be coming to a freeway near you. A bill is speeding through the Legislature would authorize self-driven cars in California using technology developed by Google and other high-tech companies. If it ultimately becomes law, California would be the second state to take the step; Nevada did it earlier.


From Reuters' Mary Slosson: "The California bill, which passed in a 37-0 vote, will now go to the state Assembly for consideration before heading to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. If passed and signed, it would go into effect in January 2013."


"Google's self-driven cars rely on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers, and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to help navigate, according to the company, which pioneered the experimental technology in 2010."


"This technology is coming," Senator Alex Padilla, the bill's sponsor, said on the Senate floor. "We've got to embrace the technology and embrace the benefit that comes with it, but do so in a way that abides by the safety requirements and regulations of our roads."


"Padilla, Lowenthal and other state Senators test-rode autonomous vehicles before voting on the legislation."


Congressman Pete Stark, a Fremont Democrat who gained public office 40 years ago by offering himself as a young upstart challenging an out-of-state incumbent, is finding the roles reversed.


From Josh Richman in the Contra Costa Times: "Now the dean of California's congressional delegation, Stark, D-Fremont, is being challenged by a young upstart Democrat as well as a tea party independent in a radically redrawn East Bay House district."


"Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a 3-1 ratio in his old district but only by 2-1 in the new 15th Congressional District. The new territory includes the Tri-Valley home turf of Democratic challenger Eric Swalwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, and offers a slightly larger conservative base for independent Chris Pareja, a Hayward businessman."


"Most likely, Stark and one other will survive June's "top two" primary, in which the two candidates with the most votes advance to November's general election regardless of party. If it's Pareja, he'll have to engage the district's dominant Democrats. If it's Swalwell, he'll have to seek votes not only within his party but also across the spectrum."


Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied in Capitol Park on the plight of immigrants and in defense of the rights of domestic workers and families.


From the Bee's Stephen Magagnini: "They rallied for the rights of domestic workers, better health care for older immigrants, protections for children whose parents have been deported and half a dozen another pending bills that would affect life for California's immigrant workers."


"Immigrants make up 40 percent of California's population and a third of our workforce, close to 8 million people," said Aparna Shah, director of Mobilize the Immigrant Vote.

Given their numbers, Shah said, the state should ensure immigrants are afforded the same rights and protections as all Californians."


The lavish Silver Legacy in Reno, which had been hoped to rejuvenate Reno's troubled casino market, has filed for bankruptcy, apparently the victim of Northern California's tribal gaming operations.


From the Bee's Dale Kasler: "The 37-story, 1,700-room resort will stay open. In a letter posted on the resort's website, chief executive Gary Carano promised "business as usual."


"But the Northern Nevada market remains deeply troubled, and Reno gaming consultant Ken Adams said one of Reno's casinos could close. "Long term, there are too many casinos in the market," he said."


And from our "That's Entertainment" file comes word that the Chinese are coming -- to a theater near you.


"Chinese company Wanda has announced it will buy AMC, the second-largest theater chain in the USA, increasing fears that the Chinese Communist Party is expanding its influence globally as part of a media takeover."


“Beijing is investing heavily in projecting its “soft power,” or cultural influence, by boosting Chinese state media’s presence abroad, including the USA, where the Chinese government has also run advertisements in New York’s Times Square,” reports USA Today."


"Wanda’s acquisition of AMC increases concerns that Chinese-style censorship of politically controversial movies may become commonplace in the United States."

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