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KSBR News Briefs on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017


Breaks for college students back in tax bill

Congressional aides say negotiators have removed several controversial provisions from sweeping tax legislation, including one that would have eliminated the deduction for interest on student loans and another deduction for medical expenses.

Two congressional aides also say the bill will no longer start taxing graduate-school tuition waivers. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate have reached an agreement in principle on the biggest rewrite of the nation's tax laws in more than 30 years, though the legislation is still being finalized.

In the meantime, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says she and her colleagues expect a "modest lift" to economic growth from the tax cuts being proposed by President Trump and Republican lawmakers.

At a news conference, Yellen said the likelihood of lower taxes is why Fed officials expect the economy to grow at 2.5 percent next year. But growth would then slip back closer to its recent 2 percent average.


California wildfires prompt talks on tougher utility rules

State utilities may face tougher safety rules for power lines, phone lines and utility poles in parts of the state most prone to wildfires.

Under the proposed rules being considered today by the California Public Utilities Commission, tree branches would have to be kept farther away from power lines, newly installed lines would have to be spaced farther apart from each other and utility companies would have to fix many safety problems in areas of high fire risk before making repairs in lower-risk zones. Those repairs would have to follow a set timetable, taking no longer than six months in extreme fire-risk zones.

The rules would change utility company operations across wide swaths of the state deemed to have a higher risk for wildfires.

The agency first began considering the issue after a devastating series of Southern California wildfires in 2007, which were tied to swaying and arcing power lines, some of which even fell down during heavy winds.

Though the cause of several fires that together killed 44 people in Northern California wine country this fall hasn’t been determined, investigators are looking into whether power lines toppled by high winds may have played a role.


As 'net neutrality' vote nears, some brace for a long fight

The federal government is preparing to unravel sweeping net-neutrality rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet. And advocates of the regulations are bracing for a long fight.

Today’s vote scheduled at the Federal Communications Commission could usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet. It's a departure from more than a decade of federal oversight.

The broadband industry promises that the internet experience isn't going to change, but protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.


Microsoft updates Bing search to highlight reputable results

Microsoft has rolled out new features on its Bing search engine powered by artificial intelligence.

One update announced yesterday, answers search queries by summarizing two opposing sides of contentious questions. Another measures how many reputable sources are behind a given answer.

Tired of delivering misleading information when their algorithms are gamed by trolls and purveyors of fake news, Microsoft and its tech-company rivals have been going out of their way to show they can be purveyors of good information — either by using better algorithms or hiring more human moderators.

Microsoft is also trying to distinguish its 2nd-place search engine from long-dominant Google and position itself as an innovator in finding real-world applications for the latest advances in artificial intelligence.

It also announced a search partnership with Reddit.


Spurlock on sexual harassment: 'I am part of the problem'

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock, best known for his Oscar-nominated documentary "Super-Size Me" on the fast-food industry, has declared he’s part of the sexual harassment problem. He confessed in an online post to sexual harassment and infidelity, and said a woman accused him of rape in college.

In the post, which he linked to from his verified Twitter account, Spurlock wrote that as he watches other influential men brought down by allegations of sexual misconduct, "I don't sit by and wonder who will be next? I wonder, when will they come for me?"

Spurlock recounted a sexual encounter in college which he said he thought was consensual, but said the woman believed it was rape.

He also wrote "I tried to comfort her. To make her feel better. I thought I was doing ok, I believed she was feeling better. She believed she was raped. That's why I'm part of the problem."

Spurlock also said he paid a settlement to a female assistant who worked at his office and whom he called "hot pants" or "sex pants." In the post, Spurlock says he thought the nickname was funny but later realized he was demeaning her.


Mission Viejo

Mission Viejo will have mapping tools on possible City Council election districts on its website beginning tomorrow.

Mayor Wendy Bucknum says the Council was told the mapping tools will help users understand the location of proposed districts. And those who are technology challenged, may get help to use the tools from librarians at the city’s library.

While using the tools, she’s also encouraging residents to express their comments about possible election districts on the website. The City will host three meetings next month on the possible districts. The first one is scheduled Jan.9.

In other business, the Council selected leaders for next year.  The new Mayor will be Ed Sachs and the Mayor Pro-Tem will be Greg Raths.

And Bucknum wants residents to see on-line her short video on her State of the City Address. It can be accessed at www.CityofMissionViejo.org.


Oprah Winfrey to receive Cecil B. DeMille Award at Globes

Oprah Winfrey will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at January's Golden Globes.

Morgan Freeman made the announcement for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association during its broadcast of the "Golden Globe 75th Anniversary Special" on NBC.

Association President Meher Tatna called Winfrey "one of the most respected and admired figures today" and "one of the most influential women of our time.”

The DeMille Award is given annually to an "individual who has made an incredible impact on the world of entertainment." Past recipients include Freeman, Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier and Lucille Ball.

Winfrey will receive the award during the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony on Jan. 7.