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State regulators identify wildfire neighborhoods targeted for insurance relief



State regulators identify wildfire neighborhoods targeted for insurance relief

California regulators Wednesday disclosed which areas of the state insurers will have to cover if they want to take advantage of financial incentives intended to resolve the homeowners’ insurance crisis.

In Los Angeles County, those areas include ZIP Codes in the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains and parts of the Santa Clarita Valley, according to draft regulations released by the Department of Insurance.

Last fall, amid the pullback of insurers from wildfire neighborhoods, state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced his Sustainable Insurance Strategy. It was the biggest overhaul of industry regulations since the 1988 passage of Proposition 103, which gave an elected insurance commissioner the authority to review and reject requests for rate hikes by insurers offering homeowners, auto and other lines of coverage. The new regulations are expected to be in place by the end of the year.

“We are well on our way to enacting the state’s largest insurance reform,” Lara said Wednesday. “We are being driven by data and by the meetings we have held with thousands of Californians across the state.”

Elements of the reform are predicated on a deal he reached with the industry that would allow insurers to include in their premiums the cost of reinsurance they buy to protect themselves from disasters — and to use computer models that project future claims risks, a concern due to massive wildfires caused by drought and climate change. Currently, historical claims data are used in preparing rate hike requests.


That agreement requires large insurers to provide coverage in wildfire risk areas that is equivalent to 85% of their statewide market share. That means, theoretically, if an insurer has a 20% market share statewide, it would have to insure 17 out of 100 homes in such neighborhoods.

Smaller insurers are also targeted by the regulations, but instead of having to increase market share in distressed areas by the 85% metric, they would have to increase the number of policies they write by 5%. All companies also would have to increase their commercial policies in such areas by 5%.

The regulations released Wednesday detail how that goal would be achieved, and take a three-part “hybrid” approach that aims to maximize coverage and account for the state’s geographic diversity that includes mountainous rural areas, coastal zones and suburban neighborhoods.

One set of regulations would apply the 85% threshold to entire counties if 20% or more of properties are in “high” risk areas, as defined by maps created by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Another set would apply the threshold to “high” and “very high” fire-risk ZIP Codes if 15% or more of policyholders are being covered by the state FAIR Plan, an insurer of last resort that offers policies with minimum benefits. ZIP Codes would also be included if it is found that coverage is unaffordable based on a median-income or premium-cost calculation. The idea is to protect those with limited or fixed incomes.


The regulations also aim to capture high fire-risk neighborhoods sprinkled in nearly every county that are not captured by the other rules.

The department plans to review coverage by insurers that seek to include the cost of reinsurance and use the new computer models to ensure they are writing insurance in distressed areas. Those that are not could face rate reductions and having to rebate premiums.

“Insurance companies need to commit to writing more policies, and my department will need to verify those commitments to hold companies accountable,” Lara said.

Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles consumer advocacy group, said in a statement that the draft regulations give insurers too much time to meet the coverage targets and provide affordable insurance, while giving regulators too much leeway to provide exceptions.

“Insurance Commissioner Lara’s plan gives insurance companies two years to comply but they can start to charge more immediately. After two years, insurance companies can say they can’t meet their goals and the commissioner can just move the goal posts. This was the one consumer benefit in Lara’s proposal but the exceptions swallow the rule,” she said.


Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, a trade group of property and casualty insurers, welcomed the move.

“We are encouraged to see continued progress on the commissioner’s Sustainable Insurance Strategy. This proposal is complex, with many trade-offs, including insurer commitments that no other state requires. However, we remain committed to working with all stakeholders to increase insurance availability and restore the health of the insurance market,” he said in written remarks.

The department issued a state map and a list of ZIP Codes affected by the proposed regulations. It also scheduled a June 26 hearing to take testimony from insurers, consumer advocates, policyholders and others.

The ZIP Codes include neighborhoods in Malibu, Beverly Hills, Topanga, Bel-Air, Beverly Glen, Duarte, Castaic and Catalina Island.

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What is CrowdStrike, and how did it cripple so many computers?



What is CrowdStrike, and how did it cripple so many computers?

Talk about irony: The software that paralyzed Windows computers around the world late Thursday night and early Friday morning was planted by a company that protects Windows computers against malware.

That company is CrowdStrike, a publicly traded cybersecurity firm based in Austin, Texas. It acknowledged the problem around 11 p.m. Thursday and started working on a solution, offering a workaround in the wee hours Friday and a fix a few hours later.

The vast sea of Blue Screens of Death triggered by CrowdStrike’s error is a testament to the market-leading status of the company’s software, which detects and defends against malicious code planted by hackers. Its approach is known as “endpoint security” because it installs its defenses on devices that connect to the internet, such as computers and smartphones.

According to the website, CrowdStrike has more than 3,500 customers, which represent about one of every four companies buying endpoint security. Although most of its customers are based in the United States, it has hundreds in India, Europe and Australia, 6sense reports.

Here’s a quick explanation for how things went wrong so quickly for so many Windows users around the world, including airlines, hospitals, banks and government agencies.


The Falcon Sensor update

One of the selling points of CrowdStrike service is that it can improve its defenses rapidly as new threats are discovered. As part of that service, it continuously and automatically updates the Falcon Sensor software on its customers’ machines.

Automatic updates are, under normal circumstances, a good cybersecurity practice because they prevent clients from having machines with outdated defenses on their networks. But the latest incident reveals the flip side of the coin.

According to CrowdStrike, the problem was triggered by a “single content update” for its customers with Windows PCs. The buggy code wasn’t detected until after it had downloaded and installed on many of CrowdStrike’s clients machines.

Once loaded, the bad update interfered with core functions of the PC, causing Microsoft’s infamous blue error screen to pop up and convey a message along the lines of, “Your PC ran into a problem and needs to restart.” And as long as the update remained in place, restarting the machine led to the same errant result.

The fix offered by CrowdStrike

CrowdStrike stopped sending out the faulty update early Friday morning, so machines that had not loaded it yet were spared the turmoil.


For machines caught in the cycle of blue-screen hell, the company initially offered step-by-step instructions for how to reboot Windows in a mode that would allow them to find and delete the buggy update. The drawback, as many commenters online noted, is that this machine-by-machine approach isn’t much help for organizations with hundreds or thousands of bricked PCs.

According to the tech website 404, Microsoft also suggested rebooting a crashed machine multiple times — as many as 15 — could solve the problem.

Within a few hours, CrowdStrike was distributing a piece of software that removed the buggy code. This worked only for customers whose machines were able to connect to the internet and download the fix, though; everyone else would be left with the PC-by-PC workaround.

The lessons from the CrowdStrike debacle

Some Macintosh and Linux users, who were immune to the CrowdStrike-induced upheaval, devoted a portion of their morning Friday to spiking the football on Windows, even though the problem wasn’t caused by Microsoft.

Other observers argued that the incident demonstrated the risk of having one potential point of failure affecting millions of computers — a problem that has been demonstrated repeatedly during the broadband era.


Steve Garrison, founder of Stellar Cyber in San Francisco, said it’s more important to figure out how to make improvements than to play the blame game. This incident, he said, underscores the need for companies to spend plenty of time checking the quality of their products in a controlled environment before releasing them to customers.

Another lesson, he said, is the need for companies, their competitors and their customers to work together as a community to spot problems. “What do we need to do to check the checkers of our supply chain?” he asked.

Dan O’Dowd, a developer of security software for the military, said the fiasco demonstrates that we need better software in critical systems.

“The immense body of software developed using Silicon Valley’s ‘move fast and break things’ culture means that the software our lives depend on is riddled with defects and vulnerabilities,” O’Dowd said in a statement. “Defects in this software can result in a mass failure event even more serious than the one we have seen today.”

He added, “We must convince the CEOs and Boards of Directors of the companies that build the systems our lives depend on to rewrite their software so that it never fails and can’t be hacked. … These companies will not take cybersecurity seriously until the public demands it. And we must demand it now, before a major disaster strikes.”

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Column: Who elected Elon Musk our arbiter of social norms?



Column: Who elected Elon Musk our arbiter of social norms?

Here’s a handy two-step process for taking a thoughtful and judicious approach to the burning social and political issues of our time:

1. Examine closely the position taken by Elon Musk, and;

2. Go the other way.

Musk’s drift — more precisely, his headlong dive — into right-wing orthodoxies has been well-chronicled. He has openly endorsed antisemitic tropes, called for the prosecution of the respected immunologist Anthony Fauci (evidently buying into the right-wing fantasy that Fauci helped create the COVID-19 pandemic), and associated himself with a grotesquely ugly conspiracy theory about the assault on the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This is the final straw.

— Elon Musk, explaining that California’s pro-transgender law provoked him to relocating his companies to Texas


He reversed policies at X, formerly Twitter, designed to block hate speech, including racist and antisemitic tweets. That has turned the platform into a hive of repulsive partisan commentary.

(Musk blames an imaginary advertisers’ “boycott” for the user decline at X, though the repulsive atmosphere of the platform since his acquisition probably has done more to drive users and advertisers away.)

Musk again put his acrid personal worldview vividly on display with his announcement Tuesday that he would move two of his private companies, Hawthorne-based SpaceX and San Francisco-based X, to Texas.


He made clear that his decision was triggered by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of a law that bars school districts from requiring teachers to notify parents of their children’s gender identity changes. Newsom signed the law on Monday.

“This is the final straw,” Musk posted on X. He described the law as one of “many others” in California “attacking both families and companies.”

A few things about this.


If anything, Musk’s corporate activities point to what is often described as a “whim of iron.” He defends his policies and politics as derived from painstaking consideration based on immutable laws of human behavior, but they don’t hold water on those terms. Instead, they point to the social dangers of endowing self-interested personalities with the money to buy unaccountable influence in conflict with the public interest.

Musk appears to have a real problem with transgender rights. According to the Musk biography by Walter Isaacson, this may have originated with the decision of his eldest child, Xavier, to transition at the age of 16. “I’m transgender, and my name is now Jenna,” she texted a relative. “Don’t tell my dad.”

Jenna followed up with a political awakening that Musk ascribed to her attendance at a private school in California. “She went beyond socialism to being a full communist and thinking that anyone rich is evil,” he told Isaacson. Jenna broke off all contact with him.

Further, as is the case with much of Musk’s worldview, his claim about California’s attacks on families and companies is fundamentally incoherent.

The new California law is the antithesis of an attack on families. It aims to protect the right of parents to seek the most appropriate medical treatments for their children. Anti-transgender activists who have gotten laws enacted in 20 red states interfering with these medical consultations typically characterize them as “parents’ rights” measures, when they’re just the opposite — they interpose right-wing ideologies between these families and their doctors.


That’s the state of play in Texas, the putative new home of SpaceX and X. There, a law that became effective on Sept. 1, 2023, prohibited treatments widely accepted by medical professionals for “gender dysphoria” experienced by adolescents.

These are chiefly the use of puberty blockers to give the patients more time to affirm their gender perception, and once that stage is achieved the use of cross-sex hormones —estrogen for males transitioning to female, and testosterone for females transitioning to male.

The Texas law threatens physicians who violate the law in treating their patients with the loss of their medical license.

A trial judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by parents of transgender youths and by doctors who treat patients in that position, blocked the law shortly before it was to take effect. The injunction was overturned late last month by the Texas Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision.

The majority made clear that its decision had nothing to do with the weight of medical opinion, which overwhelmingly supported the treatments at issue when undertaken through careful consultation.


The issue at the heart of the debate, asserted Justice James D. Blacklock in a concurring opinion, “is one of philosophy, morality, even religion. The medical debates at issue in this litigation are merely the surface-level consequences of deep disagreement over the deepest of questions about who we are.”

The majority justices ruled that the Legislature was entirely within its rights to place limits on medical practice and parental authority in Texas. They asserted that barring parents from seeking medically indicated treatment of their children’s gender dysphoria was no different from a state law forbidding minors from getting tattoos, even with their parents’ permission.

“Of course,” responded Justice Debra H. Lehrmann, the court’s lone dissenter, “there is nothing remotely medically necessary about tattooing.” Depriving adolescents of gender dysphoria therapies, on the other hand, can be severely injurious to the patient’s physical and mental health.

If Musk thinks that Texas’ policies on parental rights are superior to California’s, he might ask the parents of transgender youths who have been driven out of Texas to seek treatment because of this ignorant and ideologically infected law.

Texas boosters, Musk included, like to describe the state as the coming place for venture investing. The truth is rather different. According to the National Venture Capital Assn., Texas has been mired in also-ran status for at least the last decade, a period in which it has been supposedly booming.


California’s position as the top state in venture funding has never been seriously challenged. In 2023, California VC funds raised $37 billion; Texas ranked seventh, with less than $1.2 billion. Of the top 10 venture deals by value last year, the NVCA reckons, eight involved California companies. The others were located in New York and Washington, D.C. Texas had none.

And in terms of assets under management by firms based in the state, California continues to reign with $644.5 billion as of last year. Texas ranks fifth, at less than $32.5 billion. It was edged out by No. 4 Florida, with $33.6 billion, but the figures for both Florida and Texas are a big drop-off from No. 3, Massachusetts, with $121.7 billion.

It’s not as if Austin, where Musk is hanging his Texas Stetson, offers newcomers a paradisiacal environment. In 2022, TechCrunch dubbed Austin “a city of unicorns and tech giants.” The thrill hasn’t lasted. Recent transplants have found that its boosters’ depiction of a vibrant intellectual climate was oversold. “Austin is where ambition goes to die,” an unhappy California immigrant told Business Insider.

Then there are its punishing summers — 78 days of triple-digit temperatures in 2023 — and soaring housing prices. Although Austin boasts one of the features of tech hubs, a leading research institution in the University of Texas, the state’s partisan political environment has turned increasingly hostile, with bills passed into law this year banning diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and narrowing faculty tenure protections.

Texas has the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation, with an almost total ban and a prohibition even on private health plan coverage of abortions. That hardly makes for an inviting prospect for women of childbearing age or for young families interested in the full range of reproductive healthcare options.


One advantage Texas has over California is something a rich entrepreneur like Musk would appreciate the most: It has no state income tax.

Musk can scarcely claim that his own corporate policies are family-friendly. They are, however, arguably self-destructive. Consider his treatment of thousands of former Twitter employees who were summarily fired after he took over the platform in October 2022 and are suing to receive severance payments, bonuses and other benefits they were promised before the takeover.

The mass firings have given rise to about 2,000 arbitration cases and a dozen class-action lawsuits, according to Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Massachusetts labor lawyer who represents the workers in arbitration and filed the lawsuits.

Among the workers’ claims is that while Musk was working to close his acquisition of Twitter, as it was then known, the company promised employees that they would be entitled to “benefits and severance at least as favorable” as what Twitter provided before the Musk takeover. The promises were made by company executives in a series of all-hands meetings at Twitter headquarters and were written into the merger agreement Musk and Twitter management negotiated in April 2022.

“The promises were made to keep employees from fleeing the company during those chaotic months before Musk closed on the acquisition,” Liss-Riordan told me. “Then after he closed, he just defaulted on that promise.”


Neither Musk nor spokespersons for X or SpaceX could be reached for comment.

Although many if not most of the X employees were required to bring their claims to arbitration, Musk initially refused to pay the arbitration fees that are typically charged to the employer in such cases.

That has frozen the proceedings in more than 800 cases, though not those originating in California, Oregon and Nevada, where employers don’t have the legal ability to refuse. About a third of the 2,000 arbitration claims are in California, Liss-Riordan says.

Leaving aside the ethical implications of a company’s forcing employees into arbitration and then refusing to allow the cases to proceed, Musk’s demand that ex-employees submit to arbitration may be exceptionally more costly for the company than trying to reach a general settlement. Arbitration fees can average $100,000 per case, Liss-Riordan told me; hundreds of millions of dollars in claims may be at issue.

“You have to scratch your head over why Elon Musk has to fight this so hard,” she says. “Would it really be that big a deal to pay the employees what was promised to them? Frankly, it doesn’t seem worth his time.”


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Judge grants Wonderful's request to halt UFW effort to unionize company's workers



Judge grants Wonderful's request to halt UFW effort to unionize company's workers

After more than a month of deliberation, a Kern County Superior Court judge has sided with Wonderful Co. and issued a preliminary injunction that will temporarily halt a contentious bargaining process between the agricultural giant and the state’s largest farmworker union.

In a ruling issued Thursday, Judge Bernard C. Barmann said Wonderful “was likely to prevail” in its legal challenge to the state’s relatively new system for organizing farmworkers and faced irreparable harm if the United Farm Workers union is allowed to pursue a bargaining agreement on behalf of the company’s nursery workers before the case is decided.

“The court finds that the public interest weighs in favor of preliminary injunctive relief given the constitutional rights at stake in this matter,” Barmann wrote in the 21-page decision. Wonderful “has met its burden that a preliminary injunction should issue until the matter may be heard fully on the merits.”

Wonderful, the $6-billion agricultural powerhouse owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, sued the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board in May, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s so-called card-check system, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2022. Under its provisions, a union can organize farmworkers by inviting them to sign authorization cards at off-site meetings, without notifying an employer, rather than voting by secret ballot at a designated polling place.

Union organizers had pressed for the revised card-check law, contending the secret ballot process left workers fearful of retaliation from their employer.


But Wonderful, whose portfolio includes such well-known brands as FIJI Water and POM Wonderful, alleges in its lawsuit that the law deprives employers of due process on multiple fronts. Among them: forcing a company to enter a collective bargaining agreement even if it has formally appealed the ALRB’s certification of a union vote and presented what it believes is evidence that the voting process was fraudulent.

The temporary injunction marks the latest twist in a tumultuous dispute over the UFW’s unionization campaign at Wonderful Nurseries in Wasco, the nation’s largest grapevine nursery.

In late February, the UFW filed a petition with the labor relations board, asserting that a majority of the 600-plus farmworkers at the nursery had signed authorization cards and asking that the UFW be certified as their union representative.

Within days, Wonderful accused the UFW of having baited farmworkers into signing the authorization cards under the guise of helping them apply for $600 in federal relief for farmworkers who labored during the pandemic. And the company submitted nearly 150 signed declarations from nursery workers saying they had not understood that by signing the cards they were voting to unionize.

The UFW countered that Wonderful had intimidated workers into making false statements and had brought in a labor consultant with a reputation as a union buster to manipulate their emotions in the weeks that followed.


The ALRB acknowledged receiving the worker declarations from Wonderful; nonetheless, the regional director of the labor board moved forward three days later to certify the union’s petition. She has said in subsequent hearings that she felt she had to move quickly under the timeline laid out in the card-check law, and that at the time she did not think the statute authorized her to investigate allegations of misconduct.

Wonderful appealed the ALRB’s certification.

Under the provisions of the card-check law, the UFW’s efforts to bargain with the company on behalf of its nursery workers moved forward, even as Wonderful’s appeal of the certification was working its way through the ALRB’s administrative hearing process. The ALRB issued a ruling last week ordering Wonderful to enter into a mandatory mediation process with the union to establish a collective bargaining agreement.

In its lawsuit, filed in May, Wonderful challenges the constitutionality of the card-check system on multiple fronts. The lawsuit alleges that the company’s due process rights were violated when the labor board moved to certify the UFW’s petition before investigating the company’s allegations that the vote was fraudulent; and more broadly that the card-check system does not have adequate safeguards in place to ensure the veracity of the voting process.

The company asked the judge to halt the unionization effort at its nursery, as well as the ALRB’s administrative hearing process regarding the company’s appeal, while the lawsuit moved forward in Kern County court.


In a statement released Thursday evening, Rob Yraceburu, president of Wonderful Nurseries, said the company was “gratified” by the court’s decision to pause the certification process until the constitutionality of the card check law can be “fully and properly considered.”

“In addition,” Yraceburu said, “farmworkers had been wrongly barred from objecting to a union being forced on them, and this ruling states that Wonderful indeed has the standing to fight to ensure those constitutional rights of farmworkers, including their due process and First Amendment rights, are not violated.”

UFW spokesperson Elizabeth Strater countered that the ruling “ignores 89 years of labor law precedent” and indicated the decision to grant the preliminary injunction would be appealed.

“There is already a process to address wrongdoing in elections and Wonderful was in the middle of that process. Why does Wonderful want to halt that process and silence workers so their voices are not heard?” Strater said. “It’s very clear Wonderful is determined to use its considerable resources to deny farmworkers their rights.”

In a May 30 filing, the state had urged the court to deny Wonderful’s request for an injunction. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, arguing on behalf of the ALRB, said Wonderful had failed to demonstrate that the card-check law was causing “irreparable harm or any likelihood of deprivation of its rights.” Bonta also argued that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction in the case.


Santiago Avila-Gomez, executive secretary with the ALRB, said Thursday evening the agency is “reviewing the ruling carefully and won’t have further comment at this time.”

The UFW, meanwhile, is pursuing its own legal action against Wonderful. The union has filed a formal complaint of unfair labor practices with the ALRB, accusing Wonderful of coercing workers into attending “captive audience” meetings to urge employees to reject UFW representation. ALRB General Counsel Julia Montgomery issued a complaint in April, similar to an indictment, alleging Wonderful committed unfair labor practices by unlawfully assisting them in drafting declarations to revoke their authorization cards.

The company has largely denied the allegations.

This article is part of The Times’ equity reporting initiative, funded by the James Irvine Foundation, exploring the challenges facing low-income workers and the efforts being made to address California’s economic divide.

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