Sunday Reading – 01/11/15


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 Future of Getting Arrested – …Devices designed to detect questionable activity are proliferating. Several cities have recently put in place networks of microphone-based gunshot sensors, and others are likely to adopt similar systems. When a sensor picks up a suspicious noise, a computer program analyzes the sound and, if it resembles gunfire, determines its point of origin to within a few yards. A human reviews the report and, if warranted, dispatches officers to the scene—all within about 40 seconds of the gunshot. Meanwhile, a Vancouver company is testing marijuana breathalyzers that can approximate the amount of THC in a person’s system; Guohua Li, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, thinks they will probably be in routine use within five years. Police may also start making use of intelligent surveillance cameras equipped with sensors that can identify abnormal or suspicious behavior. According to Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, such technology is being tested in several American cities and is already sophisticated enough to “notice” when someone leaves a bag unattended, or when a car repeatedly circles the same block.

At the federal level, an initiative called Next Generation 911 will enable victims and witnesses to send texts and, eventually, photos and videos to emergency dispatchers—something that’s currently impossible because the 911 network runs on analog technology from the 1970s. People caught in situations—home invasions, for instance, or domestic-violence incidents—in which they can’t safely speak into a phone will be able to get help, and police will receive valuable real-time crime-scene footage.

Controversially, police departments are starting to monitor social media, which many gangs have embraced as a vehicle for branding and boasting. By searching for specific keywords and mapping interactions among individual users, law-enforcement agencies can keep track of suspected gang members, and identify bubbling gang rivalries. They can also infiltrate networks by posting under aliases and “friending” suspects. The Yale criminologist Andrew Papachristos, who works closely with police departments and gangs, says he hopes that the coming years will see a public debate about how aggressively law-enforcement agencies should use the Web to gather intelligence on people who are not already criminal suspects. Many states have set legal thresholds for classifying someone as a gang member, Papachristos says. “But if all the evidence you need is a Twitter post that says, ‘I hate the Disciples,’ the bar is changing.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Is the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion Concept Vehicle the Future of Mobility? – Wearable tech and high-performance speakers weren’t the only gadgets on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Mercedes Benz stole the show with the unveiling of the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept vehicle, a sleek, self-driving luxury car that will give Google’s forthcoming self-driving model a serious run for its money.

While the tech giant’s design looks more like a toy car than a useable vehicle, Mercedes-Benz was out to prove that it doesn’t take a tech company to produce an exemplary self-driving model. Just as the aesthetic advancements in wearable tech of late demonstrate, design can trump functionality – combine both assets, and the product is bound to do well.

To that end, Mercedes envisions cars of the future not just as means of transportation from point A to point B, but as “private retreats,” or lounges of sorts. The F 015 concept lets passengers relax, but still take the controls if they want to, all in an undeniably luxurious space. Google’s model appeals to the minimalist tech wiz, while the F 015 will be the preference of pretty much everyone else. Read More > at Forbes

Momentum builds in Congress for raising the federal gas tax – Record-low gas prices across the U.S. have given rise to fresh talk in Washington of raising the federal gas tax for the first time in over 20 years, with leading Republicans now saying a hike must not be ruled out.

The GOP has long resisted calls from business leaders and others to boost the 18.4 cent-per-gallon tax as a way to pay for upgrades to the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.

Yet in recent days, senior Senate Republicans have said they want to keep options open and that “nothing is off the table” when weighing the best mechanisms to pay to finance infrastructure projects.

…While major obstacles stand in the way — namely the House of Representatives —business groups believe there is a real chance to raise the tax in the final two years of the Obama administration.

“Comments this week from Sens. Inhofe, Hatch and Thune signal a growing recognition that the gas tax is a fair and consistent way to fund our infrastructure needs,” Association of Equipment Manufacturers spokesman Michael O’Brien said in an interview on Thursday.

Democrats have typically been more open to the idea of hiking the gas tax, but it’s the shift in Republicans’ tone that is drawing more attention to the possibility. Read More > at The Hill

S.F.’s Olympic dreams dashed: Boston beats out Bay Area for bid – The temptation of a new stadium in Oakland apparently wasn’t enough to win the Bay Area its first Olympics, as Boston was chosen Thursday to be the U.S. contender to host the 2024 Summer Games.

Boston now will face an international field of candidates that includes Rome, Berlin or Hamburg, and possibly others, like Paris. The International Olympic Committee is expected to decide on the host city for the 2024 Games in September 2017. Officials in San Francisco and the other U.S. cities that had been in the running, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., were left wondering why they came up short.

A USOC spokesman declined to comment on San Francisco’s bid, but the decision followed “a spirited discussion and more than one round of voting” during a meeting of the committee’s board of directors in Denver, the USOC said in a statement. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California’s soaring healthcare costs bode ill for the budget – California’s budget, which bounced back after years of deficits, is now being squeezed by rising healthcare costs for the poor and for retired state workers..

The mountain of medical bills threatens to undermine Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to strengthen state finances — his central promise of the past four years.

Enrollment in the state’s healthcare program for the poor, known as Medi-Cal, has exploded by 50% since President Obama’s signature law took effect. Although the federal government picks up most of the tab, state costs have also been growing, and faster than expected.

Meanwhile, the annual bill for healthcare for public retirees — a benefit promised decades ago — has more than doubled in the last decade. Current and retired workers have accumulated $71.8 billion in healthcare benefits as of June last year, and the state has set aside almost nothing to cover the costs. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Admit It: You’re Rich – …The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you. The global elite to which you and I belong enjoys fantastic wealth compared to the rest of the world: We have more food, clothes, comfortable housing, electronic gadgets, health care, travel and leisure than almost every other living person, not to mention virtually every human being who has ever lived. We are also mostly privileged to live in societies that offer quite a lot in the way of public amenities, from well-policed streets and clean water, to museums and libraries, to public officials who do their jobs without requiring a hefty bribe. And I haven’t even mentioned the social safety nets our governments provide.

So why don’t we feel like Scrooge McDuck, rolling around in all of our glorious riches? Why do we feel kinda, y’know, middle class?

Because we don’t compare our personal experiences to a Tanzanian subsistence farmer who labors in the hot sun for 12 hours before repairing to his one-room abode for a meal of cornmeal porridge and cabbage. We compare ourselves to other Americans, many of whom, darn them, seem to have much more money than we do. Read More > at Bloomberg View

Boxer exits, setting stage for epic California Senate battle – Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced on Thursday that she will not seek reelection in 2016, the first retirement announcement from a Democratic senator ahead of the 2016 political cycle that will spark a major political contest in California.

Boxer made the announcement in a video co-starring her grandson, who played the role of reporter.

Boxer was elected to the House in 1983 and won her Senate seat in 1992 — the so-called “Year of the Woman.” She has served alongside the Golden State’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), making up one of the first all-woman Senate teams from any of the 50 states. In recent years she has served as head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has been a reliable liberal voice in the often-fractured chamber. Read More > in The Washington Post

Commentary: Why Not Let People Vote For Whomever They Want? – What would it take to reverse the trend of voter turnout? The real answers to that question – partisan local elections, a reversal of the top two disaster (and the resulting voter confusion, expensive campaign nastiness, and party weakness), elections on weekends, loosening all the constitutional rules that take issues off the table – are considered politically unrealistic. In part because reformers supported reforms that discourage voting, and being a reformer means never having to say you were wrong.

Since this is California, you’ve probably got to start with a small step. So here it is: Restore to voters the power to vote for whomever they choose.

Didn’t know that that power had been taken away from you? It was – back in 2012 when a law, designed to implement top two, abolished write-in voting on the November ballot for partisan offices (president being the exception). The change didn’t get much attention at the time, but it eliminated one more reason for people to vote. There never were a lot of write-ins, but we’re told that every vote counts. And every vote counts more when so few people are voting.

Scrapping write-ins eliminated a California political tradition. As Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out in an email, Californians elected a write-in candidate to Congress three times in a general election: 1930 (won by the son of a Sacramento Congressman who died in office), 1946 (when William Knowland won the last couple months of Hiram Johnson’s last U.S. Senate term), 1982 (Ron Packard). In eliminating write-ins, California went against the grain. According to Winger, California is the only state besides Louisiana that ever had write-ins and abolished them. There are four states that have never had write-ins: Nevada, South Dakota, Hawaii, and Oklahoma. Read More > at Public CEO

Internet Taxes Could Slam California – California benefits from the Internet currently being largely tax-free. Generally, the only taxes are for signing up for a local Internet service provider. It’s a flat fee no matter if you hog the Internet by watching continuous Netflix videos, or more profitably use your time reading everything on CalWatchDog.com, which doesn’t use much bandwidth.

That could change under the FCC’s proposal to treat the Internet as if it were a 1930s telephone company. If that happens, you could see your taxes rise sharply.

Warn Grover Norquist and Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reform:

The Federal Communications Commission is in the middle of a high-stakes decision that could raise taxes for close to 90 percent of Americans. The commission is considering whether to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and, in doing so, Washington would trigger new taxes and fees at the state and local level.

The agency would like to make Internet service a public utility, placing broadband under Title II regulation of the Communications Act of 1934. This move would make broadband subject to New Deal-era regulation, and have significant consequences for U.S. taxpayers.

Under this decision to reclassify broadband, Americans would face a host of new state and local taxes and fees that apply to public utilities. These new levies, according to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), would total $15 billion annually. On average, consumers would pay an additional $67 for landline broadband, and $72 for mobile broadband each year, according to PPI’s calculations, with charges varying from state to state. Read More > at Public CEO

Latest measles outbreak highlights a growing problem in California – …Measles has become a growing concern among California health officials. Before the December cases, 2014 was already the worst year of measles cases in California in nearly two decades. Another disease, whooping cough, also known as pertussis, was recorded as having the highest rate in 2014 in this state since 1958.

The rise of these diseases come as a smaller percentage of California’s kindergartners are getting a full set of immunizations by the time they enter school. In 2002, more than 95% of kindergartners in California were fully vaccinated for measles and whooping cough; now, the number is about 92% — low enough to promote the spread of these highly infectious diseases.

Most of the confirmed Disney cases in California involved unvaccinated patients. Six were unvaccinated, including two too young to be inoculated. One had been vaccinated. The confirmed cases among California residents involved young patients, from 8 months old to 21 years.

Many of the 61 measles cases in California between January and Oct. 6 were related to unvaccinated residents returning home from the Philippines, where there has been a huge outbreak.

The travelers then infected other Californians. Most of those infected hadn’t been immunized, either because their parents decided against routine childhood vaccinations or because they were too young for the shots, said Dr. Gil Chavez, epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Drivers get global warming fee, plus tax – …The new fee took effect on New Year’s Day, adding about 10 cents per gallon to the wholesale cost of gasoline and 12 cents for diesel.

Most consumers didn’t notice, because crude oil costs have been falling, taking pump prices with them. My local Costco was charging $2.36 a gallon for regular a day before and after the new fee took effect.

But the fee was certainly passed along to retailers, many of whom must refill their station tanks every day or two, Castillo said.

In California, the average pump price includes 76.87 cents per gallon in fees and taxes, according to the American Petroleum Institute, which tracks such costs nationwide.

Excise taxes, which are supposed to support roads and public transit systems, cost consumers 36 cents per gallon for the state and 18.3 cents for the federal government.

An underground storage tank fee adds 2 cents a gallon. The global warming fee, which is variable and could soar in the future, added about a dime this week.

Then the state adds 2.25 percent of the full retail price — including those other fees and taxes — while city and county sales taxes add more (0.5 percent in most of San Diego County). Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

California foie gras ban struck down by judge, delighting chefs – Menus across the Bay Area were being hastily rewritten Wednesday after a federal judge struck down California’s ban on foie gras, allowing restaurants to serve up the delicacy for the first time in two years.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles ruled that the state prohibition on the sale of foie gras, a fatty liver dish made from force-fed ducks and geese, illegally encroached upon the regulatory domain of the federal government.

California lawmakers passed the groundbreaking ban in 2004 amid concern that force-feeding poultry is inhumane. The law took effect eight years later, immediately putting a crimp in California’s dining scene, where the French-inspired fare is celebrated at many high-end restaurants for its rich, creamy flavor.

“It goes on the menu tonight,” said Ken Frank, chef and owner of Michelin-starred La Toque in Napa. “All of my sous chefs are jumping up and down. This means chefs in California can cook with their favorite ingredient, just like chefs everywhere else in the world.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Confessions of a Fixer – Fifteen miles from his home, tucked in a corner of a 10-by-10 storage unit, under an antique table, is a gray filing cabinet. Locked inside he keeps the test answers for more than a dozen online courses.

Among his files is a pink steno pad of names, covering the front and back of 80 pages, that includes some of the biggest stars in college sports. Next to the names are credit-card numbers and PINs, log-ins, passwords, Social Security numbers, and addresses.

The handwritten notes, by a onetime academic adviser and college-basketball coach, are part of an elaborate scheme. Over the past 14 years, he says, he has used test keys to cheat for hundreds of athletes, helping them meet the eligibility requirements of the National Collegiate Athletic Association

For some players, he says, he did their work outright. For others, he provided homework answers and papers that the students would submit themselves. At exam time, he lined up proctors and conspired with them to lie on behalf of students.

Many times, he says, the players’ coaches directed athletes his way. Sometimes, players’ parents or handlers arranged the details.

He did most of his work in college basketball, but he has also helped football players, baseball players, and golfers, among others. The vast majority of his clients never made it big. But, according to records he shared with The Chronicle, his fraud reached the highest levels. A handful of the players listed in his notes were drafted to play in the NBA. At least two are the children of former professional athletes. One is a back-up catcher in Major League Baseball. Read More > at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Legislature Should Resolve to be More Transparent in 2015 – With the New Year upon us, we traditionally make resolutions to better ourselves. In keeping with that spirit, the State Legislature can make one simple resolution for 2015 – give legislators and the public enough time to review the bills that will be voted on.

Every day, legislators are faced with policy proposals that will impact the future and the household budgets for all Californians. And yet, we are too often provided mere moments to review hundreds of pages of legislation before casting a vote.

…Defenders of the status quo inevitably respond by saying that most bills are debated in public committee hearings weeks in advance. Yet political insiders know that the final details of significant bills – especially the state budget – are negotiated behind closed doors and then presented to legislators for a vote as quickly as possible to minimize controversy.

The State already requires local governments to adhere to the 3-day-in-print rule – Why would we allow a lesser standard for the Legislature?

California can do better. The Assembly and Senate can start off 2015 on the right note by requiring a 72-hour review period before final votes are taken. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Never Buy a Phone Again – Don’t buy another phone ever again. That’s a weird thing for us to say, right? We’re WIRED! But by the end of last year, it was fancy-ice clear that the distinction between phones and the other little touchscreen computers with over-the-air Internet connections had become blatantly artificial. The only reason we still have electronics with that Bell-ian name is so carriers can sell us a plan.

Think about what a phone is. It’s a device that lets people talk to each other remotely by converting sound waves into transmissible signals. For more than 100 years, phones changed very little. As cell phones took off, our conversations broke free of fixed positions, but we were still using gadgets made to move voices, not files. Then touchscreen smartphones changed everything. According to US government data, 16 percent of American homes didn’t have a landline in 2006. That was just before the iPhone came out. Today it’s more than 40 percent. More and more, when we talk, it’s on our smartphones.

Yet what we really use these devices for, according to network operations powerhouse Ericsson, is to move data—increasingly over the 4G wireless tech called LTE. You might think LTE just means a faster Instagram feed. It does. But LTE is also the main reason our smartphones are getting so large. Power-hungry LTE devices want bigger batteries. Bigger batteries mean bigger phones. It’s no coincidence that Apple, Samsung, LG, and Google have all rolled out 6-inch phonelike flagships since the end of 2013.

I say phonelike because, come on, these are tablets. They barely fit into a front pocket. They won’t fit into a back pocket—or at least not most back pockets. The average Levi’s have a back-stash that’s just 5.25 inches deep. Read More > at Wired

Empty Cathedrals and the Myth of Religious Decline – …On the contrary, the case can be made that religious observance is simultaneously surging and declining, depending on location. Consider these statistics from sociologist Rodney Stark:

It is a very religious world, far more religious than it was 50 years ago.

— 81 percent claim to belong to an organized religious faith, and most of the rest report engaging in religious activities such as prayer or making offerings to the gods in various “folk religion” temples.

— 74 percent say religion is an important part of their daily lives.

— 50 percent report they have attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days.

In very few nations do as many as five percent claim to be atheists, and only in China, Vietnam, and South Korea do they exceed 20 percent.

Furthermore, in every nook and cranny left by organized faiths, all manner of unconventional spiritual and mystical practices are booming. There are more occult healers than medical doctors in Russia, 38 percent of the French believe in astrology, 35 percent of the Swiss agree that “some fortune tellers really can foresee the future,” and nearly everyone in Japan is careful to have their new car blessed by a Shinto priest.

Well, you might say, that’s the rest of the world. Here in the United States, Christianity is dying! The only way someone can arrive at such a conclusion is to assume that a couple generations ago, the vast majority of Americans were religiously observant. But that assumption is as wrong as the conclusion that Christianity is dead. Statistics show that Americans today are about as religious as they were in the 1940’s. Read More > at The Gospel Coalition

ESPN Is Finally Killing Cable. But Don’t Celebrate Yet – On New Year’s Day, ESPN’s broadcast of the inaugural college football playoffs drew the highest rating in the history of cable television, with 28.3 million viewers. Just four days later, the same network likely signaled cable television’s demise, by signing on to Dish Network’s new streaming Sling TV service. Customers will be able to access ESPN and 11 other channels (CNN and the Food Network, e.g.) over the Internet at a flat rate of $20 a month, without having to order cable or even sign a contract.

Industry watchers have long awaited the “great unbundling” of television into an a la carte service delivered without a cable provider. ESPN’s move gives real momentum to cable cord-cutting, because the network dominates live sports, one of the only televised products that everyone prefers to watch in real time. The ripples from Sling TV’s announcement will move from cable throughout television production, advertising, broadband and even organized labor. Worldwide, entertainment represents the last bastion of American-dominated manufacturing. This move could disrupt the status quo as profoundly as the Model T.

Sports has been the great lifeline keeping traditional cable bundles in place. For all the hype, only a tiny number of television viewers—0.1 percent during the past year—actually has canceled pay TV and relied on subscription services. Among ESPN viewers, just 1.4 percent said they would cut the cord in the future, according to a study from last June. Read More > in the New Republic

Imagine There’s No Opec — Ever Again – Imagine there’s no Opec. At one level, it’s easy. All you have to do is look around. Oil prices plunge. Natural gas markets teeter in advance of the inevitable plunge in oil-indexed prices. Private oil and gas companies slash spending, and the stronger ones contemplate taking out of the weaker ones, as the mayhem in oil trading spreads to debt and equity markets. Currencies of many oil exporting countries go into a tailspin and rumors of default fan the panic. Lower oil prices are really good news, consumer governments insist, but the fear factor continues to move in and out of the foreground of volatile trading across markets. That much we know because we’ve just seen it. What no one knows for sure, because it’s never been experienced, is what happens to oil markets if they are left to their own devices indefinitely. It’s a possibility the industry would do well to at least contemplate, just in case.

Opec as an organization has been on life support at least since 2011, when Saudi Arabia declared after a verbal punch-up with Iran and other Opec “price hawks” that it was the sole swing producer and could manage the market just fine without the others. With only occasional help from its close allies Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh did just that over the next three years, keeping oil prices around a $100 per barrel level that everybody soon learned to love. Everybody except, apparently, the Saudis. Their decision to let “the market” determine the oil price pulled the plug on Opec’s life-support system.

The producer group is to all intents and purposes dead. At Opec’s momentous November 2014 gathering, the members — barring Venezuela and Algeria — barely bothered to seriously discuss or comment on a decision to abandon the market controls that have historically been the group’s primary raison d’être. Presumably other members decided that raising objections to the Saudi “markets rule” fiat would simply make matters worse. Read More > at Energy Intelligence

Over half seeking Calif. immigrant driver’s licenses fail test – The first applicants to seek California driver’s licenses for immigrants without legal status failed the written test at a rate slightly higher than the state average, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

About 55 percent of the 17,200 people who took the written test on Friday — the first day of the new licensing program — failed the driver’s knowledge test. That’s compared to about 50 percent for the general population, said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez.

“These numbers are pretty comparable to what we normally see,” Gonzalez said. But “we wanted [the test results] to be better because we pushed studying.”

The DMV held about 200 outreach meetings with immigrants and advocacy groups, “where we let them know ‘You’re going to be taking the test and you need to study for it and all the answers are in the handbook’,” Gonzalez said. Read More > at KPCC

Southern California trails in water savings – Sure, Southern California consumed less water this past November compared with a year ago.

But local water conservation seems to be losing steam, especially when put up against August’s and September’s numbers when dips in water usage had state officials optimistic. And with some Orange County water suppliers such as Mesa Water District, Santa Margarita Water District and Trabuco Canyon Water District actually increasing use for the second month running, there’s reason to worry.

Officials on Tuesday blamed the lower conservation rates on less rainfall than last year.

Across the region, water use fell 3.2 percent in November compared with the previous year, according to data released Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board. That was an improvement over the month before, in which usage dipped only 1.2 percent – a major backslide compared with September, when usage fell 7.5 percent.

Fortunately, such small gains in November weren’t the case statewide. The most significant water conservation improvements were in Northern California, with the greatest savings – 25.6 percent over the previous November – in the Sacramento River region. There, temperatures were lower than the year before. Read More > in the Orange County Register

Contra Costa supervisors to reconsider 33 percent raise on Jan. 13 – John Gioia, the incoming chairman of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, announced at Tuesday’s board meeting that he would place an item on the board’s Jan. 13 agenda calling for the supervisors to reconsider the 33 percent raise they awarded themselves by a 4-1 vote last fall.

The raise caused a backlash among county union employees and taxpayers. On Friday, union members delivered nearly 40,000 signatures to the clerk of the board on petitions calling for a referendum on the pay hike. In response to that action, Gioia, of Richmond, said he believed the best course for the board was to rescind the raise “as soon as possible.”

Two other board members indicated Friday that they also supported rescission — outgoing Chairwoman Karen Mitchoff, of Pleasant Hill, and Candace Andersen, of Danville, the lone dissenting vote when the board approved the increase in October. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

3D printing could revolutionize war and foreign policy – 3D printing will revolutionize war and foreign policy, say experts, not only by making possible incredible new designs but by turning the defense industry — and possibly the entire global economy — on its head.

For many, 3D printing still looks like a gimmick, used for printing useless plastic figurines and not much else.

But with key patents running out this year, new printers that use metal, wood and fabric are set to become much more widely available — putting the engineering world on the cusp of major historical change

…But all of that may pale in comparison to the security risks that 3D printing could trigger by revolutionizing economies.

If anyone can print retail goods, economies that rely on cheap factory labor to make things like clothes and toys may find themselves in deep trouble — with all the security consequences that go with that. Read More > at Space Daily

Can Free Apps Keep Drunk Drivers Off Your Streets? – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers some grim statistics on crashes from alcohol-impaired drivers:
•In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in the U.S.
•Those fatalities accounted for 31% of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities
•The number of fatalities from drunk driving crashes increased 4.6% from 2011 to 2012

It’s a problem year-round, but drunk driving gets extra attention during the holidays. Police departments put more officers on patrol and designated driver campaigns hit the airwaves. But smartphone apps may help too. Here’s a look at four free ones supported by public agencies or anti-drunk driving organizations.

ENDUI is a new app promoted by the state of Maryland to educate people about making good choices when drinking.

Have A Plan is an app promoted by STOP-DWI organizations.

DuiCam is designed to empower people who report drunk drivers.

Drive Sober supports the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Zero in Wisconsin – Drive Sober campaign. Read More > at Public CEO

Nightengale: Hall of Fame PED hypocrisy must end – It has been nearly three decades since the whispers and innuendo began of pervasive steroid use in every baseball clubhouse, and somehow, we continue to remain clueless this time of year.

We’ve had 113 current or former major league players suspended since 2005 for using performance-enhancing drugs.

There were 103 players who tested positive for steroid use in anonymous survey testing of major-league players in 2003.

And 89 major league players were publicly identified as using performance-enhancing drugs in the 409-page Mitchell Report released in 2007.

Here we are on the brink of baseball’s Hall of Fame election, with the announcement of new inductees Tuesday, and we still don’t get it.

What the last 30 years should have taught us, and the Biogenesis scandal reminded us, is that we have absolutely no idea who was clean, and who was dirty.

…Just 35% of us voted for Barry Bonds last year, far short of the required 75% necessary for induction. Yet, many more had no trouble supporting Mike Piazza (62% last year) or Jeff Bagwell (54%). Both admitted using the now-banned androstenedione, and their bodies and power also swelled to enormous proportions.

…It’s time for us to wake up and knock off this absurdity.

Look, it was the steroid era, and until drug testing was implemented in 2004, nobody really cared. Union leadership went too far to protect players’ ability to juice, with some officials even offering advice to beat the test. Management quietly admired, and reaped the benefits from steroid guys’ willingness to bulk up, hire personal trainers, spend hours in the gym and enhance their performance. Read More > in USA Today

28,000 seek driver’s licenses in first days of new immigrant law – Under a new law allowing immigrant drivers living in the state illegally to apply for drivers licenses, preliminary statistics show that the California Department of Motor Vehicles received 17,200 applications from immigrants on Friday and another 11,100 on Saturday, according to spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez, for a total of just over 28,000.

Sixty of the DMV’s 173 offices stayed open on Saturday to accommodate the expected flood of applicants. Wait times “were long,” the DMV’s Gonzalez told KPCC. “We definitely weren’t focused on wait times on Friday and Saturday; really, it was trying to service the thousands of people who came through our doors.”

Gonzalez said that the DMV expected appointments to last 20 minutes, but the average time was 27 minutes, with some going much longer.

Offices around the state saw long lines, and the trend may continue: the DMV predicts that 1.4 million immigrants could seek licenses under the new law, known as AB 60. The agency hired 900 new employees in the months before AB 60 took effect, on Jan. 1, and opened four new processing centers to handle first-time applicants, including one in Granada Hills. Read More > at KPCC

Climate change, fiscal future top Brown’s agenda – …The governor spent much of his speech on climate change, a topic he called “a growing assault on the very systems of nature” on which humans depend. Brown has made battling climate change a priority, speaking about it on international stages.

To reduce the heat-trapping emissions tied to climate change, Brown proposed three new goals to be met by 2030: Increasing from one-third to 50 percent the electricity California derives from renewable sources; reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and doubling the efficiency of existing buildings and making heating fuels cleaner.

…Having successfully pushed for a water bond last year, the governor may push for another big infrastructure financing initiative in 2015 — to fix California’s crumbling roads, highways and bridges. He said the state now has $59 billion in needed maintenance, a figure that continues to grow.

“I am calling on Republicans and Democrats alike to come together and tackle this challenge,” Brown said, without specifying how it would be solved. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

The “Lawmakers” are Back – Here’s a New Year’s resolution for legislators returning to Sacramento from the holiday break: make fewer laws and get rid of some of the old ones.

Eager legislators have plenty of ideas how to “fix” problems. Therefore, many pieces of legislation are introduced. A great number will become law. California saw about 950 new laws on the books on January 1. Last year there were about 800 new laws and the year before hundreds more — you get the idea. Over a decade the state adds thousands and thousands of new laws.

No one can possibly understand all the laws. Even in debating the measures the lawmakers themselves can’t keep up. A few decades ago, state senator H. L. Richardson wrote a book titled, What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?

Creating new laws is not the only function of legislators. Managing the government more effectively – especially the financial end – is a big responsibility for the solons. More attention must be paid to that responsibility and less to coming up with new laws. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

NFL morning after: The NFL has a problem – The NFL has a problem on its hands. That problem was magnified on Sunday when a terrible call went against the Lions in a crucial moment in their playoff loss to the Cowboys. But that problem goes far beyond one play or one game.

The problem in the NFL is that too many officials are bad at their jobs, the rulebook is overly complex, and the league office stands by and does nothing about it.

In Sunday’s Lions-Cowboys game, a pass interference penalty was correctly called on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Referee Pete Morelli turned on his microphone and announced the penalty. And then he inexplicably picked up the flag, decided not to enforce it, and didn’t turn his microphone back on to explain why.

This was a terrible call, and it turned out to be a season-ending call for the Lions. Detroit, to be blunt, got screwed.

…Triplette keeps his job because NFL officials aren’t held to anywhere near the same high standards that NFL players and coaches are held to. That’s a big part of the NFL’s problem. The NFL needs to fire the officials who get the lowest scores on their evaluations, just as players and coaches lose their jobs when they’re at the bottom of the league. And the NFL needs to replace those fired officials with the best officials in college football, just as the best college players push veteran NFL players out of their jobs every year. That’s the way football works. Read More > at NBC Sports

After two-year delay, construction on California’s bullet train is set to start – California’s bullet-train agency will officially start construction in Fresno this week on the first 29-mile segment of the system, a symbol of the significant progress the $68-billion project has made against persistent political and legal opposition..

Over the last two years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has prevailed in a series of court challenges to the project, won a federal exemption from state environmental rules, secured several key legislative victories that improved its future funding and made a politically savvy bet to move up by several years the inauguration of service in Southern California.

But the milestone marked by Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony also will serve as a reminder of the enormous financial, technical and political risks still faced by the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project
Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Record border meth seizures – Methamphetamine seizures at U.S. ports of entry on the California-Mexico border reached unprecedented levels in fiscal 2014, as drug trafficking organizations strive to smuggle growing quantities of the low-cost Mexican-made product into the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show 14,732 pounds of meth seized by the San Diego field office during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, accounting for 63 percent of the synthetic drug seized at all land, air and sea ports of entry nationwide.

With the California border as their main smuggling route, “the Mexican cartels are flooding the U.S. marketplace with their cheap methamphetamine,” said Gary Hill, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s assistant special agent in charge in San Diego. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Fast food portions haven’t changed since 1996, study finds – An 18-year government report has found that portions and nutrient content have stayed pretty much the same, though saturated and trans fat in French fries have gone down. A large cheeseburger meal can have more than 1,000 calories.

Fast food portions haven’t been supersized over two decades — but they haven’t shrunk, either.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston studied three national food chains between 1996 and 2013. After looking into four of the most popular foods sold at these restaurants — cheeseburgers, fries, grilled chicken sandwiches and sodas — they found the average portion size and nutritional content of each food hasn’t changed much in 18 years.
Read More > in the NY Daily News

Everybody farts. But here are 9 surprising facts about flatulence you may not know. – Whether you try to hide it or not, you fart. Everybody does.

But even though it’s such a routine activity — the average person farts between 10 and 20 times per day — there’s a lot about farting that you might not know.

As part of research into the microbiome — the rich community of bacteria that live throughout your body — scientists have learned all sorts of interesting things about the bacteria that produce gas inside your intestines. Here are 9 crucial things to know about flatulence.

1) You produce about 500 to 1500 milliliters of gas per day, and expel it in 10 to 20 farts. This might be more than you’d expect, but it’s been measured in controlled studies. The surprisingly hefty amount is the result of bacteria that live in your colon and feed on most of the food you eat, says Purna Kashyap — a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic who studies the gut microbiome.

2) 99 percent of the gas you produce does not smell. One of the reasons that we produce so much more gas than we realize is that nearly all of it is odorless. Read More > at Vox

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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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