Sunday Reading – 07/20/14


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.

The Moral Hazards and Legal Conundrums of Our Robot-Filled Future - The robots are coming, and they’re getting smarter. They’re evolving from single-task devices like Roomba and its floor-mopping, pool-cleaning cousins into machines that can make their own decisions and autonomously navigate public spaces. Thanks to artificial intelligence, machines are getting better at understanding our speech and detecting and reflecting our emotions. In many ways, they’re becoming more like us.

Whether you find it exhilarating or terrifying (or both), progress in robotics and related fields like AI is raising new ethical quandaries and challenging legal codes that were created for a world in which a sharp line separates man from machine. Last week, roboticists, legal scholars, and other experts met at the University of California, Berkeley law school to talk through some of the social, moral, and legal hazards that are likely to arise as that line starts to blur.

At a panel discussion on July 11, the discussion ranged from whether police should be allowed to have drones that can taser suspected bad guys to whether life-like robots should have legal rights. One of the most provocative topics was robot intimacy. If, for example, pedophilia could be eradicated by assigning child-like robots to sex offenders, would it be ethical to do that? Is it even ethical to do the research to find out if it would work?

…Several panelists raised the question of how much time with robots is too much. Robots that help our children learn Chinese are probably a good thing. Robots that raise our children for us, not so much. And the same principle applies to the elderly. Robot caregivers that could assist with menial tasks of daily life could help empower older people, Sharkey said. But he dreads the thought of replacing all human caretakers with cost-saving robots. ”I’m concerned about leaving old people devoid of human contact,” Sharkey said.

…Robotics is taking sex toys to a new level, and that raises some interesting issues, ranging from the appropriateness of human-robot marriages to using robots to replace prostitutes or spice up the sex lives of the elderly. Some of the most provocative questions involve child-like sex robots. Arkin, the Georgia Tech roboticist, thinks it’s worth investigating whether they could be used to rehabilitate sex offenders. Read More > in Wired

Who really talks more, women or men? And should we still be caught up in that question? – Earlier this month, US author Sylvia Ann Hewlett sparked controversy after her appearance on Fox News’ morning show Fox & Friends, in which she advised women in the workplace not to talk too much. This nugget of wisdom has its roots in the widespread idea that women have the tendency to speak more than men, or to “fill the air with words” like a “good hostess”, according to Hewlett. The stereotype of the chatty woman is deeply embedded in our culture, with “facts” derived from popular science books and marriage guidance pamphlets quoted and re-quoted in the press (Ever heard the one where women speak 20,000 words a day to men’s 7000…?) But is there any scientific evidence to back up this assumption?

…This week, a study was published that may explain why the academic jury has been out on this question for so long: Whether men or women speak more, appears to be wholly down to the context you observe them in.

David Lazer, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, has developed a “sociometer”; a wearable device roughly the size of a smart­phone, that has allowed him to col­lect real-​​time data about his subjects’ social interactions. The majority of previous research has made use of either self-reported measures of communications, or direct observations carried out by researchers. Both methods have significant drawbacks compared to the sociometer, which makes it possible to study a large number of interactions, creating an accurate and intricate picture of how people communicate.

…In the task-based setting, the talkativeness of men versus women depended on the size of the group. In groups of six people or more, men did most of the talking, whereas women spent more time than men speaking with just one or two other people. Overall, the women were found to be 62 per cent more talkative than the men when working on the collaborative task, as most of the interactions in this context took place between just a few people at a time. These gender differences vanished when Lazer and his team looked at the data from the lunch breaks at the call centre: No significant differences between men and women were found.

“In the one set­ting that is more col­lab­o­ra­tive we see the women choosing to work together, and when you work together you tend to talk more,” says Lazer. “The real story here is there’s inter­play between the set­ting and gender which cre­ated this difference.”

The fact that men speak more in larger groups, matches previous findings that men ask the lion’s share of questions at public meetings. If, when seen across situations and group sizes, women don’t speak more than men, why has this myth gained such a firm hold? A possible explanation could lie in the fact that girls’ language skills develop earlier, enabling them to become articulate at a younger age. Read More > in The Independent

Why Microsoft Is Laying Off 18,000 People—During a Tech Boom - At a time when young social-media companies are being snapped up for billions and private investors seem eager to throw money at even kooky-sounding ideas—Yo!—Microsoft, that stalwart of the last great tech boom, has struggled to gain its footing. If you can call posting $5 billion in profits each quarter struggling. The upshot: A company that once seemed almost as if it could print money at will plans to cut 18,000 jobs over the next year.

What changed? While Microsoft once seemed to have locked up the PC market, the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices has opened up new avenues for competitors. Here’s how Microsoft lost it’s mojo in three charts:

Microsoft earned a fearsome reputation in the ’80s and ’90s for locking up the personal computer market with its Windows operating system and productivity add-on Office. It even endured a painful antitrust case, when this feat seemed to give it an unshakeable grip on the computing sector. But then came the smartphone and the tablet. Today PC sales are declining. So while there’s a good chance you’re still using Windows in your cubicle at work, once you get home you’re watching movies on your iPad or playing games on your Andriod phone. PC sales have tumbled, something that’s only expected to continue. Fewer PCs, ultimately means, fewer copies of Windows and Office. Read More > at Time

Watchdog: Antioch looking for new operator for Humphrey’s on the Delta restaurant - The City of Antioch is currently seeking bids for lease of a city owned restaurant space at One Marina Plaza, formerly home of Humphrey’s on the Delta restaurant. Bids from experienced and well financed restaurateurs, sufficiently capitalized to fund a complete makeover of the premises, are due by August 19th.

Back in the mid-1980s the city obtained $6.3M in loans from the state’s Dept. of Boating and Waterways to develop and construct a 285 berth marina. The marina, with an accompanying privately owned restaurant and public fishing pier (half of which was paid for by a state grant of $54,000) and four commercial lease spaces was expected to reach a break even cash flow within five years. Didn’t happen.

What did occur, however, was that past city councils made a number of unwise decisions e.g. deferral of state loan payments for the marina both during construction and during the first few years of operation. When the city finally decided to start repaying the state loans around 1990 it was discovered that payment was $234,000 more annually than had been budgeted and capitalized interest brought the loan to approximately $7.3M. The City has been playing catch up every since. Read More > in the Antioch Hearld

District by district, data tells the tale in California -While most indicators signal an economic upswing in California, the reality facing many residents of the Golden State is simple: On the ground, the recovery is still sluggish.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in a newly developed database that includes detailed economic information on each of California’s 120 legislative districts and 58 counties

More than six years after the Great Recession began and five years since it officially ended nationwide, no California legislator represents a constituency with a lower jobless rate than in mid-2007, before the economic downturn started, according to the database crafted by the California Center for Jobs and the Economy (CCJE).

In every California county, Assembly district and Senate district, unemployment through May was at least equal to or greater than pre-recession levels, according to estimates from the CCJE’s database, which uses information derived from public and private sources. The Center — affiliated with the California Business Roundtable, a business advocacy and research group — developed the database as a tool to break down complex economic data for state legislators. The database was quietly unveiled in March. Read More > at Capital Weekly

Risk of earthquake increased for about half of US - A new federal earthquake map dials up the shaking hazard just a bit for about half of the United States and lowers it for nearly a quarter of the nation.

The U.S. Geologic Survey updated Thursday its national seismic hazard maps for the first time since 2008, taking into account research from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast and the surprise 2011 Virginia temblor.

Most of the changes are slight. Project chief Mark Petersen said parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee moved into the top two hazard zones.

Parts of 16 states have the highest risk for earthquakes: Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky and South Carolina. Read More > at Yahoo! News

The Future of Driving - A Stanford University research team has designed a high-efficiency charging system that uses magnetic fields to wirelessly transmit large electric currents between metal coils placed several feet apart. The long-term goal of the research is to develop an all-electric highway that wirelessly charges cars and trucks as they cruise down the road.

The wireless power transfer is based on a technology called magnetic resonance coupling. Two copper coils are tuned to resonate at the same natural frequency—like two wine glasses that vibrate when a specific note is sung. The coils are placed a few feet apart. One coil is connected to an electric current, which generates a magnetic field that causes the second coil to resonate. This magnetic resonance results in the invisible transfer of electric energy through the air from the first coil to the receiving coil.

…By 2021, Ann Arbor, Michigan, could become the first US city with a shared fleet of networked, driverless vehicles. That is the goal of the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC), a cross-campus University of Michigan initiative that also involves government and industry representatives.

“We want to demonstrate fully driverless vehicles operating within the whole infrastructure of the city within an eight-year timeline and to show that these can be safe, effective, and commercially successful,” says University of Michigan’s Peter Sweatman. The center involves researchers from all over the university, including urban planning, energy technology, information technology, policy, and social sciences. Read More > from the Hoover Institution

The Truth about Shaving Cream - …We can, however, stop pulverizing and tenderizing our faces and bodies with nasty foams that contribute nothing and actually do harm.

I’m the last guy to trash a consumer product. I’m disinclined to blast the manufacturers of a beloved bathroom gel as deceivers who make money off people’s ignorance and perpetuate the problem they are supposedly solving, or charlatans who deliberately hook people on some chemically produced gunk solely for the sake of profiting from repeated uses.

But someone had to say it: shaving cream is a racket.

…In fact, it is not our protector. Shaving cream is destroying your skin, turning it into a whining, pathetic, dependent, beaten, insipid layer of pasty pulp. Your skin has become the fatted calf that has been killed, the lamb slain on the altar, the virgin sacrificed in some ancient cannibalistic ritual of an uncivilized people.

Of course the problems persist — and get worse.

There are many attempts to avoid them along the way. People try aftershave, more and more and more of it. Pretty soon, they are tossing handfuls of the stuff on their skin, putting alcohol all over tenderized and sliced up skin. Then they become attached to that too. But it is not enough. The redness and pain are still there.

There are those who believe in hot lather. They buy fancy machines and rise extra early to warm them up. There are those who make the leap toward electric razors that swirl and buzz around in a creepy sort of way.

Stop the insanity!

The core problem is shaving cream itself, and the solution is a radical one: throw it out and never buy it again. It is destroying you and making your skin weak and sickly.

But you say: surely if this were true, it would be common knowledge. But no. There are many things that are true but are nonetheless not generally known or applied. The truth that shaving cream is a racket should be added to this.

Many problems in the world cannot be solved by one person. But this one can. You can begin the process of letting your skin become normal again. You can restore your skin’s health. It won’t take longer than a week or so. Stick with it and you will see what I mean.

The first stage of freedom uses only a razor (I like double blades) and a bit of baby oil or mineral oil. While in the shower or soon after you get out, put some oil on the skin area you want to shave. Then shave it. The end. Read More > at Liberty.me

Bellflower joins list of California cities sued over voting rights law - Bellflower has become the latest city to be sued over its at-large system of electing City Council members..

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and two law firms filed a Superior Court complaint Monday afternoon, on behalf of three minority Bellflower residents alleging the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

The act seeks to ensure that minorities have an opportunity to elect leaders of their choice. The suit alleges that Bellflower’s practice of electing council members citywide instead of by geographic districts has hindered Latino and African American candidates,

The plaintiffs said they have found patterns of racially polarized voting in the southeast Los Angeles County city of about 77,000. They want the city to switch to by-district elections to give voters in strongly minority neighborhoods an opportunity to elect at least one representative to the City Council.

Bellflower’s population is 52% Latino and 14% African American, according to the city’s website. All five council members are white. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Dog Runs for Oakland Mayor - Move over Air Bud, K-9s are moving away from the sports world and into politics. According to his recent web site, a dog by the name of Einstein is campaigning to become mayor of Oakland.

“Einstein” is especially concerned with Oakland City public safety officers not being prosecuted for the beating and killing of Oakland residents such as Alan Blueford. In fact, almost all of Einstein’s policies revolve around the misconduct of the Oakland Police. Though despite his law enforcement focus, he also takes a moment to compare the Oakland Animal Services shelter to the Holocaust, calling it “a canine Auschwitz-Barkenau or Dogchau.”

Given Oakland’s adoption of a “ranked choice” voting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate, who knows what could happen. Also, if we’re going by Air Bud rules, if the California Constitution says nothing about a dog running for mayor, then Einstein’s campaign is fair game.

Though it’s easy to poke fun and make jokes, one thing is for sure, Einstein has never been caught texting and driving. Mostly due to his lack of opposable thumbs. Read More > at California City News

Please Hold for the Doctor - Within the next decade, “all individuals, their families, and care providers should be able to send, receive, find, and use health information in a manner that is appropriate, secure, timely, and reliable.” That’s the anemic commitment offered up recently by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in its dazzlingly vague 10-Year Vision. We’ve drifted far off course since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy proclaimed the nation’s intention to “send to the moon … a giant rocket … before this decade is out.” NASA accomplished Kennedy’s heady mission in less than seven years. It will take considerably longer for us to sort out how to exchange electronic health information.

Research and common sense indicate that Americans want to be able to exchange email with their doctors, and it’s easy to see why: There are not enough primary care providers in practice to handle the increasing number of insured patients. New fee-for-value payment models focus on disease prevention or early intervention. Tablets and smartphones are ubiquitous and broadband services widely available. But a 2012 Harris Interactive poll found that only 12 percent of respondents reported having email access to their physicians, although more than half said such communication was important to them. Similarly, a 2012 Consumer Reports survey showed that just 9 percent of participants had contacted their doctors by email within the past year. Inadequate infrastructure, patchy insurance coverage for patients, insufficient reimbursement for providers, and uneasiness on both sides about online privacy have been blamed for the nation’s listless effort to implement electronic health information exchange.

So why isn’t the medical industry embracing technology as a way to communicate with patients? The twin threats of increased workload and inadequate compensation are primarily responsible for providers’ reluctance to adopt email in their practices. Nearly 1 million U.S. doctors rely on Medicare reimbursement, yet Medicare doesn’t pay them one thin dime for answering email messages or offering e-visits. Two weeks ago tech-friendly physicians gained an important ally when the American Medical Association rescinded its 1994 prohibition on rendering clinical telemedicine services. The group asserted that doctors should be adequately compensated for email consultation and pledged its support for Medicare pilot projects to test innovative payment and incentive systems. The only two under way now, however—the unremarkable Alaska and Hawaii telehealth demonstration projects—are hardly groundbreaking. Privacy and security concerns are another reason providers have snubbed email. And who can blame them? Anxiety over the possibility of a HIPAA breach has escalated to a level of hysteria not seen since the Bay of Pigs crisis. Read More > in Slate

There’s almost a million fake apps targeting your phone - Fake apps dressed up to look like official ones but actually designed to steal user data are increasingly targeting Android phone users, according to a study by Trend Micro.

The company looked at the top 50 free apps in Google’s Play Store and then searched Google’s app store and others to see if fake versions existed. It found fake versions existed for 77 percent of the apps. The fake apps are often made to look like the real ones and have the same functions, but carry a dangerous extra payload.

“We’ve been tracking the activity of malicious or high-risk apps for nearly five years,” said JD Sherry, vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro. “The potential for people to slip things past the gate and appear legitimate is much easier.”

Tokyo-based Trend Micro, which makes antivirus and antimalware software that guard against such risks, said it cataloged 890,482 fake apps in a survey conducted in April this year. More than half were judged to be malicious of which 59,185 were aggressive adware and 394,263 were malware. Read More > in Network World

Bay Area apartment rents continue relentless rise on tight supply - Bay Area apartment rents reached a record high in the second quarter, according to a report Tuesday, continuing a three-year run of steady increases that’s setting off alarms among economists and corporate leaders.

Rents averaged $2,158 a month in the nine-county Bay Area, a nearly 20 percent gain since the second quarter of 2011, and a 10.3 percent jump from the same period last year, according to Novato-based RealFacts. Rents were up 5.6 percent from the first quarter.

Alameda County saw the biggest percentage gain — up 12 percent from a year ago to an average rent of $1,928 a month. The area’s under pressure partly because of refugees from San Francisco, where rents averaged $3,229 in the second quarter, a 9.4 percent annual gain. The San Francisco metro area has the highest rents among the country’s 25 largest rental markets, according to online real estate site Trulia.

The average apartment rent was up 9 percent to $2,321 in Santa Clara County; up 8 percent to $1,609 in Contra Costa County and up 8.1 percent to $2,470 in San Mateo County. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

From the San Jose Mercury News

From the San Jose Mercury News

California drought: Blame L.A.? Not so fast, Southern California water officials say - California’s north-south water rivalry revved up Wednesday, a day after a state survey showed that while most of the drought-ravaged state modestly reduced its water consumption, coastal Southern California is headed in the wrong direction.

It increased its water use by 8 percent in May compared with the average of the three previous Mays. And because the Golden State’s most populous region wasn’t pulling its weight to heed Gov. Jerry Brown’s urgent calls for voluntary water cutbacks of 20 percent, the rest of the state must suffer with tough new fines, many Northern California residents lamented.

Don’t blame us, Southern Californians shot back, insisting they have pushed conservation to a new level and that the survey was simply a snapshot of one month.

At least for the short-term, the state’s survey resurrected California’s long-running water war that three decades ago defeated the plan to build a Peripheral Canal to move water from the Delta to Central Valley farms and the Los Angeles megalopolis.

Alarmed by the lack of conservation — and rain — the State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously Tuesday to impose the first-ever statewide restrictions on outdoor water use, with violations punishable by fines of up to $500 for such things as hosing down driveways and over-watering the grass. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

California seeks to send message to water-wasters - Reservoirs are running dry, the Capitol’s lawn has turned brown, and farmers have left hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.

Even so, many Californians aren’t taking the drought seriously. State water regulators are trying to change that by imposing fines up to $500 a day for wasting water.

The State Water Resources Control Board acted Tuesday amid warnings that conditions could get worse if it doesn’t rain this winter.

The fines will apply only to wasteful outdoor water use, including watering landscaping to the point that runoff flows onto sidewalks, washing a vehicle without a nozzle on the hose or hosing down sidewalks and driveways.

The board estimates the restrictions, which take effect in early August, could save enough water statewide to supply more than 3.5 million people for a year. Read More > in the Associated Press

The California Economy: A Strength vs Weakness Breakdown - Workers recognize the changes. They may not know the reasons, but they know the impacts, and they are voting with their feet. Domestic migration — migration between states, — is a good measure of how workers see opportunity. California’s domestic migration, in a dramatic reversal of a 150-year trend, has now been negative for over 20 consecutive years. That is, for over 20 years more people have left California for other states than have come to California from other states. Workers simply haven’t seen opportunity in California. How can this be? Why would people be leaving when jobs are being created in the Silicon Valley?

The Silicon Valley jobs are rather specific. They require higher skill sets than most workers possess. One consequence is that the Silicon Valley’s prosperity hasn’t helped California’s other workers much. We are left with a situation where California’s tech firms search worldwide for workers, while California workers search for work.

It didn’t have to be this way. High housing prices and environmental regulations, a result of state policies, have driven away the jobs that could be performed by typical California workers. Those jobs are now in Oregon, Texas, or China.

A short distance away, in California’s Great Central Valley, there is poverty as persistent, deep, and widespread as anyplace in the United States. A recent report shows that California has three of the 20 fastest growing US cities in terms of jobs. It has four in the bottom 20.

For a while, at least, the differences between California’s fastest growing regions and its slowest (or declining) areas will grow. In general, coastal areas will see more rapid economic growth than inland ones. Even within these broad regions, there will great heterogeneity. Bakersfield, boosted by a booming oil sector, will see stronger growth than Stockton. San Jose, with its thriving tech sector, will see far more growth than Santa Barbara or Monterey. Furthermore, the best performer among California’s inland cities will probably see faster growth than the slowest growing coastal city. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Solving California’s Drought Problem: Market Pricing - Tight water supplies have neighbors in California feuding with each other. The state is suffering through a lack of both precipitation and common sense.

After five months of arid conditions, California has become a battleground of childish behavior as neighbors turn against neighbors who water their lawns too much. Call it the tyranny of artificially low water prices.

The New York Times reports that “cities across California are encouraging residents to tattle on their neighbors for wasting water” — just the kind of behavior that we want our government to cultivate.

Those reluctant to squeal are instead shaming residents they see washing their cars and watering their lawns, and embarrassing anyone suspected of taking long showers.

To help out, water officials in Los Angeles will soon offer hangers that residents can “slip anonymously around the doorknobs of neighbors whose sprinklers are watering the sidewalk.”

None of this is necessary and could be avoided if policymakers, instead of subsidizing water use, simply let costs run to what they would be in a free market.

Use would then adjust not because of childish tattling and shaming but due to the pain of higher prices. No need to nag anyone about carwashing and lawn-watering if the cost is too high to do either to excess. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

Supreme Court is asked to review Calif. ban on force-feeding birds - California’s ban on force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras is on the Supreme Court’s summer menu.

It might be more than a mere delicacy. Thirteen states _ including South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas and Georgia _ are urging the court to review California’s prohibition. Serious constitutional principles are on the line, they and other critics of the law say.

“The Supreme Court should take the case because it raises an issue of extraordinary national importance in terms of whether one state, like California, can dictate the farming methods to be used by farmers in other states,” attorney Michael Tenenbaum said in an email interview Monday.

The issue, attorneys for the 13 states agreed in a supporting legal brief, “is of exceptional importance to the preservation of state sovereignty.” Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Billionaire’s breakup plan would chop California into six states -  A long-shot effort to break California into six separate states got a boost on Monday, when the billionaire venture capitalist behind the proposal said he had gathered enough signatures to place it on the ballot in two years.

Timothy Draper, a founder of a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that has invested in Twitter, Skype and Tesla, among other companies, has been agitating for months for a ballot initiative to chop the most populous U.S. state into smaller entities.

“It’s important because it will help us create a more responsive, more innovative and more local government, and that ultimately will end up being better for all of Californians,” said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the campaign. “The idea … is to create six states with responsive local governments – states that are more representative and accountable to their constituents.”

Salazar said Monday that the campaign had gathered more than the roughly 808,000 signatures needed to place the measure on the November, 2016 ballot. Draper and other supporters plan to file the signatures with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Tuesday.

But the plan has raised bipartisan hackles across the state, and opponents say it stands little chance of gaining voter approval. If it does win the support of voters, it must still be passed by Congress, which opponents say is also unlikely. Read More > in Reuters

Health survey gives government its first large-scale data on gay, bisexual population - Less than 3 percent of the U.S. population identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday in the first large-scale government survey measuring Americans’ sexual orientation.

The National Health Interview Survey, which is the government’s premier tool for annually assessing Americans’ health and behaviors, found that 1.6 percent of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent consider themselves bisexual.

The overwhelming majority of adults, 96.6 percent, labeled themselves as straight in the 2013 survey. An additional 1.1 percent declined to answer, responded “I don’t know the answer” or said they were “something else.”

The figures offered a slightly smaller assessment of the size of the gay, lesbian and bisexual population than other surveys, which have pegged the overall proportion at closer to 3.5 or 4 percent. In particular, the estimate for bisexuals was lower than in some other surveys. Read More > in The Washington Post

AT&T and Verizon accused of using data roaming fees to overcharge everyone - AT&T and Verizon Wireless are extracting “monopoly rents” from competitors who pay them for data roaming, forcing smaller carriers to charge higher prices to their own subscribers, four public interest groups wrote in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission yesterday.

By making it difficult for carriers like T-Mobile US to lower prices or offer truly unlimited plans, the nation’s two biggest carriers are also able to “charge artificially inflated prices to their own customers” and maintain strict data caps and overage fees, alleges the filing (PDF) by Public Knowledge, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, the Benton Foundation, and Common Cause.

The groups are supporting T-Mobile’s request for a ruling from the FCC to force AT&T and Verizon to negotiate lower rates. The T-Mobile petition asks for “prospective guidance and predictable enforcement criteria for determining whether the terms of any given data roaming agreement or proposal meet the ‘commercially reasonable’ standard adopted by the Commission in the Data Roaming Order [adopted in 2011].” T-Mobile’s petition, filed in May, describes an ongoing dispute with AT&T and criticizes Verizon as well. Read More > at Ars technica

25 percent turnout in June primary was lowest ever - As final election results come in from the June primary election, officials are confirming what many already suspected: The 2014 June primary had the lowest voter turnout for a statewide election in California history, with only 25.2 percent of registered voters casting their ballot.

On Friday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the primary results, hammering home what has been described as an “embarrassingly low” turnout for the state. Though, perhaps this cloud has something of a silver lining, as Bowen revealed that this election had the highest rate of voting by mail, 69 percent. The 2012 June primary previously held the record with 65 percent of voters mailing in their votes.

As the results are being finalized, recounts are beginning in Kern County and Imperial County to determine the final outcome of the state controller race. Democratic Assemblyman John Perez of Los Angeles was only 481 votes behind Democratic Board of Equalization member Betty Yee in a tight race for second place and a chance at a runoff election later this year.

If any reluctant voter needs an example of just how much a single vote can count in an election, this June’s election can be just such a case. Read More > at California County News

No Room at the Inn: California’s Latino Legislative Caucus Closes Door on Republicans - Now, a series of newspaper articles reveal a persistent pattern of discrimination against Latino Republicans perpetrated by the taxpayer-funded organization based at the State Capitol. Clearly, the group’s actions are more articulate than the mission statement.

Most recently, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Latino Legislative Caucus denied membership to Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) – a moderate Republican who identifies with the Latino community – after he took the natural step to join. “When I didn’t get a response, I asked what the deal was and they said I wouldn’t be allowed in,” Chavez said. “They do not allow Republicans to be part of the group”.

One would think that Chavez’s military and business background (novel attributes for the Legislature as a whole), and his education-themed legislative priorities, would bring a helpful perspective to any discussion of public policy affecting the Latino community. Alas, the Latino Legislative Caucus would have none of it. No room at the inn!

…While individuals reserve the constitutionally-protected right to freely assemble with like-minded individuals (however prejudicial or mean-spirited their orientation), there are serious legal concerns when such assembly is funded by taxpayers, and when the implicated organization intentionally misrepresents its generic and ostensibly-benign purpose to the same taxpayers. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Hookah: Like Smoking 40 Cigarettes & Kissing Everybody - What could be more relaxing than hanging out with a few buddies and smoking 40 cigarettes in a single night? Possibly smoking 40 joints, but most people don’t do that. On the other hand, 18% of high school seniors have reported engaging in behavior that is equivalent to smoking 10-40 cigarettes in a single sitting, and then kissing everybody as well.

A stunning Fox News report (embedded at the bottom of this post) by Marc Siegel, an NYU medical doctor, details the findings of a new study in the journal Pediatrics that found that nearly one-fifth of high school seniors have tried hookah. Males, citydwellers and wealthy students were the likeliest to partake.

Middle Eastern cultures have smoked hookah for centuries. A rather groovy-looking pipe is filled with a flavored tobacco, called shisha, which is burned and passed through a tank of water which supposedly filters the smoke. But it doesn’t. According to the National Institutes of Health, a single session of hookah smoking “delivers 1.7 times the nicotine, 6.5 times the carbon monoxide and 46.4 times the tar of a single cigarette.” In other words, this is one of the most toxic things you could do to your body in the span of about 60 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, hookah is linked to the same sort of diseases that afflict cigarette smokers, such as lung, oral, esophageal, stomach and pancreatic cancer. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Ex-CalPERS CEO admits he’s a crook - When former CalPERS CEO Fred Buenrostro was charged more than a year ago by both federal and state officials with fraud and obstruction of justice charges, something didn’t seem right. The allegations focused on how Buenrostro had forged documents to help placement agent pal Alfred Villalobos get paid by some of his private equity clients, but there was no mention of Buenrostro personally benefiting (beyond a $300k per year job with Villalobos upon retirement from CalPERS). Not was there any evidence that Buenrostro improperly influenced investment decisions at CalPERS.

But it seems he did both things, according to his guilty plea last Friday in a San Francisco courthouse.

Buenrostro’s attorney had previously suggested that his client was prepared to roll over on Villalobos, who continues to insist that he did nothing wrong. And roll over he did. Read More > in Fortune

Driver’s licenses for the undocumented: Problems still remain - When California legislators passed a law last year allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, they seemed to think implementing the law would be straight-ahead simple.

But with less than six months to go before the Department of Motor Vehicles is supposed to start handing out the licenses, the road ahead is still serpentine and foggy — especially for the millions of Latinos who make up the state’s largest undocumented population.

The DMV already crashed into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when the agency rejected the proposed design for the new license. And many advocates for immigrants are still arguing that the required documents for getting a license are too difficult or costly to obtain. Immigrant communities, meanwhile, are rushing to educate applicants on how to negotiate the maze of DMV lines, paperwork, fees and tests.

But even if the disputes over documentation and the license’s design are resolved, immigrants face a daunting task: passing the DMV’s written and road tests.

That’s why a crowd of undocumented immigrants last Monday showed up at San Jose’s Mexican consulate to participate in one of many painstaking sessions to demystify the DMV gantlet. Similar classes are being taught at schools, churches and community centers, where the discussions range from the tricky language on DMV tests to basic do’s and don’ts. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Drought Shaming Pitting Neighbors Against Neighbors On Social Media - Neighbors are tattling on neighbors for wasting water and some are taking their drought shaming to social media.

If you’ve ever had the feeling you’re being watched while you water your lawn, there’s a good chance you are during this historic drought.

In Sacramento, water wasters can face fines, and the enforcer may be someone who lives right next door.

Terrance Davis with the city department of utilities says he’s seeing a trend of drought shaming. Read More > at CBS Sacramento

Tech-Savvy Prostitutes Trade Pimps for Web Pages - While the Internet has revolutionized all sorts of industries over the past 20 years, its effect on the world of prostitution has been especially dramatic. Street walkers and their handlers are still around, but an increasing number of tech savvy escorts have bypassed their pimps and have taken to the Web, where they’ve seen not only a surge of interest in their field, but a perceived lower risk of arrest.

Today’s high-end sex workers typically have their own websites and even advertise their services on easily found online guides, with names like Eros and Slixa. It’s a sophisticated business that operates in plain sight. While law enforcement officials still conduct stings, Justice Department records show arrests for prostitution in the U.S. dropped by nearly 50 percent from 1990 to 2011, falling from 111,400 to 57,345. (The statistics do not break down arrests between street walkers and online escorts.)

What constitutes a high-end sex worker? It’s a variety of factors. Many online sex workers command prices of $500 per hour and up, and on average, see substantially fewer clients than prostitutes on the street. Scott Cunningham, an associate professor of economics at Baylor University, said they also tend to engage in safer sex practices and often have repeat customers. Read More > NBC News

House and Senate in Different Lanes on Highway Trust Fund - The federal Highway Trust Fund, which contributes to road building and maintenance projects across the country, is expected to run out of money in early August, leading some states to issue plans to halt construction in case the well runs dry.

The House and Senate are considering dueling packages and have not reached an agreement on how to address the fund’s impending insolvency. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has advised governors that reimbursements may slow to a trickle if the chambers can’t agree in time.

The Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 to build the interstate highway system envisioned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It has since expanded to help pay for myriad road projects.

It has encountered funding problems for several years. The fund receives money from an 18.3 cents per gallon federal fuels tax on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel, rates that have been in place since 1993. The Congressional Budget Office determined that revenue stream is inadequate to meet contemporary road needs even though the miles Americans drive each year continue to rise. That’s because improved automobile fuel efficiency means drivers are stopping at the pump less frequently, resulting in lower revenues for the fund. Currently, the fuel tax brings in about $34 billion a year.

Congress authorized the transfer of $35 billion from the Treasury to keep the fund solvent from 2008 to 2010 but it thus far has balked at taking action on the latest problem. It has rejected entreaties to increase the fuels tax or tie it to the rate of inflation even though the proposed hike carries the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Read More > at PJ Media

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