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 new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score’ – While officers raced to a recent 911 call about a man threatening his ex-girlfriend, a police operator in headquarters consulted software that scored the suspect’s potential for violence the way a bank might run a credit report.
The program scoured billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and the man’s social- media postings. It calculated his threat level as the highest of three color-coded scores: a bright red warning.
The man had a firearm conviction and gang associations, so out of caution police called a negotiator. The suspect surrendered, and police said the intelligence helped them make the right call — it turned out he had a gun.
As a national debate has played out over mass surveillance by the National Security Agency, a new generation of technology such as the Beware software being used in Fresno has given local law enforcement officers unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens.
…On 57 monitors that cover the walls of the center, operators zoomed and panned an array of roughly 200 police cameras perched across the city. They could dial up 800 more feeds from the city’s schools and traffic cameras, and they soon hope to add 400 more streams from cameras worn on officers’ bodies and from thousands from local businesses that have surveillance systems.
The cameras were only one tool at the ready. Officers could trawl a private database that has recorded more than 2 billion scans of vehicle licenses plates and locations nationwide. If gunshots were fired, a system called ShotSpotter could triangulate the location using microphones strung around the city. Another program, called Media Sonar, crawled social media looking for illicit activity. Police used it to monitor individuals, threats to schools and hashtags related to gangs. Read More > in The Washington Post
Sexually violent predator expected to be released as transient in Contra Costa County – Barring unforeseen circumstances, a sexually violent predator for whom authorities and state-hired officials have spent several months trying to find a suitable residence will be released as a transient by late February, a Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Judge Patricia Scanlon expressed frustration that it has taken so long for officials to find a placement for Robert Bates, 51, who has three convictions for sexually molesting young boys from 1989-1995. Those convictions earned Bates the label of “sexually violent predator,” a classification reserved only for the most egregious sex offenders.
If Bates is released as a transient, which Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Kolko said is likely, he will have to change locations every four days, moving from city to city around Contra Costa County, while being monitored around the clock by state-funded personnel. That’s considered the worst possible solution for all interested parties, as it would result in frequent changes of address, along with the potential for Bates to be allowed to live out of a car.
Originally, Bates was supposed to move into a house in unincorporated Oakley, along Dutch Slough Road. But the ensuing outcry from authorities, local politicians and Bates’ would-be neighbor — the mother of a young child — influenced the owner of that property to change his mind and back out of the deal. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
Why Investment Realities Will Compel Pension Reform – “For the first time in the pension fund’s history, we paid out more in retirement benefits than we took in contributions.” – Anne Stausboll, Chief Executive Officer, CalPERS, 2014-2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report
There are few examples of a seemingly innocuous statement with more significance than Stausboll’s admission, buried within her “CEO’s Letter of Transmittal,” summarizing the performance of CalPERS, the largest public employee retirement system in the United States. Because what’s happening at CalPERS – they now pay more in benefits than they collect in contributions – is happening everywhere.
For the first time in history, America’s public employee pension funds, managing well over $4.0 trillion in assets, are becoming net sellers, not buyers. And as any attentive student of economics will tell you, when there are more sellers than buyers, prices drop. Behind this mega economic trend is a mega demographic trend – across the developed world, certainly including the United States, a relentlessly increasing percentage of the population is retired. The result? An increasing proportion of people who are retired and slowly liquidating their lifetime savings – also driving down asset values and investment returns. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
The Ozone Hole Was Super Scary, So What Happened To It? – It was the void that changed public perception of the environment forever—a growing spot so scary, it mobilized a generation of scientists and brought the world together to battle a threat to our atmosphere. But 30 years after its discovery, the ozone hole just doesn’t have the horror-story connotations it once did. How did the conversation change—and how bad is the ozone hole today?
… A pair of French scientists named Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson used an interferometer to make the most accurate measurements ever of ozone in the atmosphere in 1913. They discovered that ozone collects in a layer in the stratosphere, roughly 12 to 18 miles above the surface, and absorbs ultraviolet light.
Because it blocks some radiation from reaching Earth’s surface, ozone provides critical protection from the sun’s scorching rays. If there were no ozone in the atmosphere, writes NASA, “the Sun’s intense UV rays would sterilize the Earth’s surface.” Over the years, scientists learned that the layer is extremely thin, that it varies over the course of days and seasons and that it has different concentrations over different areas.
Even as researchers began to study ozone levels over time, they started to think about whether it was capable of being depleted. By the 1970s, they were asking how emissions from things like supersonic aircraft and the space shuttle, which emitted exhaust directly into the stratosphere, might affect the gases at that altitude.
…As word of the ozone hole leaked through the media, it became nothing short of a worldwide sensation. Scientists scrambled to understand the chemical processes behind the hole as the public expressed fear for scientists’ wellbeing at the South Pole, assuming that while studying the hole they would be exposed to UV rays that could render them blind and horrifically sunburned.
…These days, scientists understand a lot more about the ozone hole. They know that it’s a seasonal phenomenon that forms during Antarctica’s spring, when weather heats up and reactions between CFCs and ozone increase. As weather cools during Antarctic winter, the hole gradually recovers until next year. And the Antarctic ozone hole isn’t alone. A “mini-hole” was spotted over Tibet in 2003, and in 2005 scientists confirmed thinning over the Arctic so drastic it could be considered a hole.
Each year during ozone hole season, scientists from around the world track the depletion of the ozone above Antarctica using balloons, satellites and computer models. They have found that the ozone hole is actually getting smaller: Scientists estimate that if the Montreal Protocol had never been implemented, the hole would have grown by 40 percent by 2013. Instead, the hole is expected to completely heal by 2050. Read More > in the Smithsonian Magazine
El Niño not fizzling: More storms barreling toward California – El Niño conditions may have peaked in the Pacific Ocean, federal scientists said Thursday, but powerful weather systems — like a new series of storms on track to soak the greater Bay Area over the next five days — have only just begun and will likely continue at least through May.
“This is the time of year when El Niño acts the most reliably,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park, Maryland. “So we would certainly expect the impacts to continue well through the rest of the winter and into the early part of the spring.”
…On Thursday, the Sierra snowpack, the source of a third of California’s water supply, was at 104 percent of the historic average. But scientists at the state Department of Water Resources say that the snowpack needs to be at about 150 percent by April 1 to end the drought. Rain totals in Northern California also need to be at about 150 percent by April, they say.
On Thursday, rainfall was at 89 percent of the historic average for this date in San Francisco, 70 percent in Oakland, 102 percent in San Jose, 145 percent in Fresno and 69 percent in Los Angeles. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News
Recreational marijuana could raise $1 billion in taxes – If California voters give the thumbs up in November to legalizing recreational marijuana, it could bring in as much as $1 billion annually in taxes for state and local governments – and reduce law enforcement costs by tens of millions more.
That’s the conclusion of state Legislative Analyst’s Office for the proposal that’s probably most likely to make the ballot, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act or AUMA. The low end of tax revenue from the 15-percent tax on retail pot sales in the proposed initiative is “hundreds of millions.”
“Most of these funds would be required to be spent for specific purposes such as substance use disorder education, prevention, and treatment,” according to the LAO.
I’m counting 18 possible pot-legalization initiative proposals submitted to the state. Not all will proceed to the signature gathering phase. And there could be just one that actually makes the ballot. Read More > in The Orange County Register
Wal-Mart to shutter 269 stores, 154 of them in the US – Wal-Mart is closing 269 stores, more than half of them in the U.S. and another big chunk in its challenging Brazilian market.
The stores being shuttered account for a fraction of the company’s 11,000 stores worldwide and less than 1 percent of its global revenue.
More than 95 percent of the stores set to be closed in the U.S. are within 10 miles of another Wal-Mart. The Bentonville, Arkansas, company said it is working to ensure that workers are placed in nearby locations.
The store closures will start at the end of the month. Read More > in the Associated Press
LSD is the new business fad – …OK, just a little acid. These days in San Francisco, the fad is “microdosing” — taking a small amount of LSD, supposedly not enough to send you on a trip but just enough to uncage your creative beast. So if the guy next to you at the Mid-Atlantic Dental Sales & Marketing meeting starts softly singing “White Rabbit” or responds to a PowerPoint spreadsheet by saying, “Oh wow, oh wow,” you’ll know why.
The microdose is about 1/10 the usual amount of LSD or another psychedelic, such as magic mushrooms. Just enough to feel “a little bit of energy lift, a little bit of insight, but not so much that you are tripping,” Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, told Rolling Stone.
…Another cheerleader for Team Psychedelia, James Fadiman, author of “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide,” suggests LSD as a cure for depression, migraines and chronic-fatigue syndrome, as well as, naturally, a stimulus to outside-the-box thinking. In other words, it’s good for whatever ails you, like those mysterious bottles of brown elixir Dr. Magnifico sold off the back of the chuck wagon in 1886. Fadiman recommends taking a baby-aspirin microdose of LSD every fourth day. Soon San Francisco bookshops will be sold out of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” again. Read More > in the New York Post
California in 2016: A Time for Breakthroughs on Transportation, Energy, and Tax Policies? – A new year in California brings new promise – and plenty of promises from its elected leaders as to what will transpire in 2016.
Only a few days after we flipped the calendar, lawmakers were discussing what to do with the expected healthy surplus of tax revenue. And, per usual, legislators lined up with a long list of pet causes, some unfinished business from last year: fixing a $1 billion hole in the state’s Med-Cal budget and devising a plan for addressing California’s fraying infrastructure.
As for California Governor Jerry Brown, January brings two big moments: this budget proposal for the new state fiscal year beginning in July and a State of the State Address outlining his priorities. About that speech, to be delivered in Sacramento at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21: it’s the Governor’s way of proving he’s in touch with the main concerns of mainstream California. The question: does Brown have his finger on the pulse?
What if Governor Brown decided to give a State of the State purely based on what most concerns his constituents? The newest Hoover Golden State Poll provides some light.
Given a slate of 21 topics to decide as “top priorities,” the most popular choices were:
- Dealing with the state’s water problems (77%),
- Strengthening the state’s economy (73%),
- Improving the job situation (61%),
- And balancing the state’s budget (59%);
- Three other topics – reducing special interests’ influence on state government, improving roads, bridges and public transportation, plus improving K-12 education – all hovered around 50%.
Those topics of least concern to Californians:
- Continuing the state’s high-speed rail project (17%),
- And reforming the state’s prison system (27%);
- Five other topics – reducing income inequality, making public-employee pensions fiscally sound, strengthening gun laws, dealing with climate change, plus dealing with the state’s energy problems – all failed to muster 40% support.
So as you digest Brown’s address, see if his rhetoric matches this roadmap for what Californians would choose to be addressed in 2016. Read More > from the Hoover Institution
What’s next for the Raiders? – The Raiders lost out on the opportunity to move to Los Angeles this week, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team will be playing in Oakland next season.
Raiders ownership may still move the team away from its East Bay home, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Those sources, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations, said that it is still possible for the team to move during this offseason because the Raiders satisfied the NFL’s relocation guidelines during the recent three-team competition to move to Los Angeles.
…The team would normally have to pay a $550 million relocation fee to move out of Oakland. But Raiders officials requested that fee be waived after losing out on the Los Angeles proposal. Sources say the league is open to that idea.
…First off, if the Raiders are going to stay put for another season, they’ll have to renew their lease on O.Co Coliseum that expires in February. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf says she is ready to resume talks with the team over a plan to build a new stadium in town — but whether Davis will bite as he pursues other options is another question.
…If the Chargers move to Inglewood, they’ll leave San Diego without a football team, and sources say Davis would consider the sunny coastal city as a home.
…Davis met with San Antonio officials in 2014, leading to speculation that he might consider the Texas city as a future home for the Raiders. The team could move there as early as this year and play in the Alamodome while they negotiate to build a new venue. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Openness act targets backroom deals – California political observers from various political perspectives routinely complain about the Legislature’s “dysfunction” and for years have proposed – and sometimes passed – good-government changes designed to make lawmakers more responsive to the public.
Term limits was a biggie, but few think it has done much more than cause politicians to play musical chairs as they seek out their next office. More recently, voters approved the top-two “jungle” primary to reduce the power of parties – and redistricting reform, which shifted map-drawing from politicians to an independent panel.
…But there’s another idea that’s far more likely to make it into law. Called the California Legislature Transparency Act, the constitutional amendment would mainly require that “all bills must be in print in their final form, and available to the public on the Internet, for a minimum of 72 hours before a vote can be taken.” It leaves an exception for formally declared emergencies.
The proposed ballot measure also requires all committee hearings and floor sessions to be audio and video recorded – with such recordings posted online within 24 hours and available in archives for 20 years. The initiative grants the public the right to record public hearings and floor sessions with their own phones and devices.
…The Legislature has a process for vetting bills through a series of committee hearings. Through that process, supporters and opponents have a chance to weigh in – and lobbyists have ample opportunity to muster their forces, and the media have time to write about it. Lawmaking always is messy and imperfect, but this leads to some public oversight.
But oftentimes some of the most significant matters get rammed through the Legislature in the final days or hours of a session through the “gut-and-amend” process, in which bills are stripped of their original language and transformed into measures that deal with far more controversial and complicated topics. The revised bills are crafted behind closed doors with the aid of lobbyists and are approved even though few legislators have read the fine print. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune
New Jersey May Seize Atlantic City as Rebound Eludes Casinos – After almost five years of piecemeal efforts to fix Atlantic City, New Jersey’s distressed seaside resort faces more drastic measures: the end of its casino monopoly and a state takeover or bankruptcy filing.
On the line is the future of a city that Governor Chris Christie once said was crucial to New Jersey’s recovery. Once the second-largest U.S. gambling market, Atlantic City has seen its key industry crumble as day-trip patrons shift to newer, closer casinos in nearby Pennsylvania and New York.
The decline has sapped municipal tax collections. While state aid helped plug a gap this year, the city of 39,000 faces a shortfall of $90 million next year, a third of its budget. The dire straits have led New Jersey officials to bring to the forefront options that have been discussed for months, if not years. The new initiatives spurred a rally for the city’s debt.
Lawmakers this week agreed to ask voters in November to expand gambling to northern New Jersey and share the revenue with Atlantic City. They’ve also proposed taking control of its finances for 15 years. Senate President Steve Sweeney, the highest-ranking Democratic legislator, said the city should declare bankruptcy if the takeover isn’t approved quickly. Read More > at Bloomberg Business
The $1 billion scramble to save the world’s chocolate supply – Yaa Amekudzi bounces along dirt roads in a sport-utility vehicle from one village to the next as part of a $1 billion scramble by the world’s top chocolate makers to fix the industry’s most vexing problem.
Demand for chocolate is stronger than ever, especially now that more consumers in China and India are buying bars and bonbons long considered an unaffordable luxury. But cocoa production is down, including a steep slide last year in Ghana, the second-largest cocoa-growing country. Cocoa prices have jumped nearly 40% since the start of 2012.
As a result, the pressure is on Amekudzi and her team of five employees at Mondelez International Inc. MDLZ, +2.04% , the maker of Cadbury Dairy Milk bars and Oreo cookies, to help cocoa farmers boost their dwindling crop yields. Read More > at Market Watch
The NFL Returns to L.A. – The Rams are leaving St. Louis for SoCal and building a new stadium in Inglewood. Here’s why Stan Kroenke’s proposal got the votes and where it leaves the two bridesmaids—the Chargers and Raiders.
…Noted Los Angeles Times NFL scribe Sam Farmer kept repeating throughout the process of returning pro football to Los Angeles after a 21-year absence: “Anyone who tells you he knows what’s going to happen in L.A. is lying, because the owners don’t even know.” That continued into Tuesday morning at the nondescript Westin Memorial City Hotel in Houston, where the six-owner committee charged with finding the best NFL option for Los Angeles voted 5-1 in favor of building a new stadium complex in suburban Carson, anchored by the Chargers. Within hours, the NFL owner membership, voting by secret ballot (that was important), rebuked the L.A. committee by voting 20-12 and then 21-11 for the Inglewood project.
…So why the switch? Two things. “The key was changing from public to secret ballots,” said one NFL source. “The reversal of support [from Carson to Inglewood] from what Dean expected shocked him. And absolutely the 21 votes for Inglewood was a shock.” Conversely, the lack of support for Carson once the ballots went secret was very surprising. The Carson support evaporated in a flash, which few people in Houston saw coming.
The switch came about, another high-ranking club source said, because of the quality of Kroenke’s proposal for a 298-acre stadium site and its amenities. One high-ranking club executive said the inclusion of a new campus for NFL media—NFL Network, NFL digital ventures and NFL.com, including a theater for premieres of NFL-produced programming and documentaries and films—was a big factor in swaying so many owners to the Kroenke side.
…The Raiders will almost certainly return to the O.co Coliseum for the 2016 season while Davis considers his options, which are bleak. He has no stadium lease. (The one at the Coliseum just expired, and he likely would have to go year-to-year there now.) The Raiders will have the option to join the Rams in a year if Spanos doesn’t get the deal done in that time, but it is a long shot to think the Kroenke stadium would ever be an option for Davis. The Raiders’ future, aided by a $100 million check from the NFL in the effort to get an Oakland stadium done, would be best spent in Northern California, with a second owner helping Davis get a good deal. Read More > at MMQB
First-of-its-kind $12 parcel tax proposed for all nine Bay Area counties – In a milestone for San Francisco Bay restoration that also raises questions about who should pay to protect property from rising seas caused by climate change, a low-profile government agency is expected to place a $12 annual parcel tax on the June ballot in all nine Bay Area counties.
The measure, whose campaign is being bankrolled by Silicon Valley business leaders and Bay Area environmental groups, is believed to be the first local tax ever placed before voters in all nine Bay Area counties.
If approved by two-thirds of voters, the tax would raise $500 million over the next 20 years to build levees and restore thousands of acres of wetlands and tidal marshes as a buffer to storm surges and floods in every Bay Area county. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News
Automakers Go Electric, Even if Gas Is Cheap – While American consumers were taking advantage of low gas prices to buy trucks and sport utility vehicles in large numbers, some automakers delayed investing in slower-selling electrified vehicles.
But with increases in federal fuel-economy standards looming in 2017, car companies are hustling to bring out hybrid and electric models to help them meet the new rules — even though electrified vehicles make up only 2 percent of overall sales.
The federal government has mandated corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But companies need to meet an interim standard of about 37 m.p.g. by next year.
Now, despite declining gas prices, automakers are showing off a raft of electric and hybrid models this week at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Read More > in The New York Times
Lottery won’t be a big win for California schools; never has, never will – …While the numbers fluctuate slightly, over time the California Lottery has provided slightly less than 2 cents of every dollar in what’s spent to operate K-12 schools.
In fact, two pennies of every dollar is the high-water mark. Data compiled by the independent legislative analyst’s office shows that for most of the past decade, the lottery has been closer to 1% of school funding. In the 2016-17 budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, K-12 education is slated to receive a total of $86.5 billion from all sources; the lottery’s share is about $1.1 billion.
The reason is pretty simple. In order to entice Californians to buy a ticket, most of the cash has to go to the lucky ticket holders as the jackpot.
“It’s a fine line,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Lottery.
Lottery rules require 50 percent of ticket sales in Mega Millions and Powerball to go to the jackpot. Forty percent goes to K-12 education, with the remaining share covering the operations of the game and the lottery system. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
How Free Play Creates Emotionally Stable Children in an Unstable World – Are you old enough to remember “the carefree days of childhood” or “a happy childhood”? Once upon a time these were common phrases, but you don’t hear them very often today. According to a recent study released by San Diego State University, there is a sharp generational rise in youth depression, anxiety, and mental disorders in the United States.
It’s hard to imagine a time in history when children were more coddled, indulged, or protected, and yet, according to this study, there are five to eight times as many young people suffering from major depression and anxiety today than a half-century ago. Obviously, children raised in the Depression era and World War II had very different lives. By all measures of today’s accepted parenting metrics these children should have been depressed or at least had anxiety issues. You certainly can’t say life was less stressful in the first half of the twentieth century. The increase in the safety and health of our children alone would bring some sort of stability by comparison, wouldn’t it?
Unfortunately, that’s not what is happening. In fact, our children have been on a downhill slide for decades.
Peter Gray is quick to point out in an article in Psychology Today that this most recent evidence indicating the rise in our young people’s depression and mental disorders has nothing to do with diagnostic changes. Gray offers parents hope with his clear insight into what children are missing–and it’s not what you would expect.
…Children need time away from direct adult supervision and parental control. According to Gray, we are “depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives.” Read More > at PJ Media
Los Angeles, Bay Area Cities Make Annual Bed Bug Infestation List – When you’re an adult, the phrase “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” doesn’t have such a cutesy meaning as when you were a kid. And to make you scratch as you’re reading this, it turns out that Los Angeles has scored fourth place in having the most bed bugs in any city.
Pest control service Terminix released this week their annual ranking of the most bed bug-infested cities in the United States, according to Boing Boing. The top one on the list was Detroit, Mich., which dethroned Philadelphia from the first place spot for the first time in four years. Surprisingly, New York City was at the bottom at 15, despite having some recent blood-sucking run-ins at the Times Square AMC Theater.
Terminix compiled this list using the highest volume of calls they received from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 17, 2015. What’s freaky though is that when you compare this to Terminix’s 2014 list, which took a look at the dates Jan. 1, 2014 to June 30, 2014, L.A. was ranked at number 14. We’ve jumped up 10 spots since then. Though, comparing an entire 2015 year to a half 2014 year isn’t completely equal.
Here’s the full 2015 list from Terminix, with the ranking from the previous year listed next to the names:
1. Detroit, Mich. (4)
2. Philadelphia, Pa. (1)
3. Cleveland-Akron, Ohio (15)
4. Los Angeles, Calif. (14)
5. Dayton, Ohio (-)
6. Chicago, Ill. (5)
7. Columbus, Ohio (8)
8. Cincinnati, Ohio (2)
9. Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas (7)
10. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif. (-)
11. Denver, Colo. (12)
12. Toledo, Ohio (-)
13. Oklahoma City, OK (-)
14. Baltimore, Md. (9)
15. New York, N.Y. (3)
Read More > at Laist
Wisconsin HS students banned from chanting harmless phrases – The “W” in WIAA technically stands for “Wisconsin” but it should really stand for “Whining.”
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has banned high school students from chanting certain words and phrases at basketball games, and none of them are remotely close to being hurtful or inappropriate.
In an email sent out to students in December, which was obtained by the Post-Crescent, the WIAA banned “chants by student sections directed at opponents and/or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to disrespect.”
The following words were reportedly included as examples:
• “We can’t hear you”
• “Air ball”
• “You can’t do that”
• “There’s a net there”
• “Season’s over” (during tournament play)
The news only came to light when high school athlete April Gehl tweeted her criticism, with some profane language, about the rule changes. She was suspended by her school as a result. Read More > at Sports Illustrated
Rio 2016 Faces a Carnival of Unusual Problems – Most of what the world will see on television during the 2016 Olympics in Rio has already been built. The main Olympic Park is 95% complete, organizers say, and test events have been held in more than a dozen sports from tennis to mountain biking. In terms of the competition venues, “almost everything is ready,” said Carlos Nuzman, the president of Rio’s organizing committee.
But seven months ahead of the opening ceremony on Aug. 5, some serious questions about the viability of the Games have muscled into the frame. And many of them are so unique to Brazil that it’s impossible to predict how they will turn out.
Brazil’s economy is floundering in a deep recession marked by unemployment, rising inflation and a shrinking GDP. Domestic ticket sales are sluggish and a vital subway extension to the Olympic Park may not be completed without hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding from Brasília, which is distracted by a major corruption scandal and impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. To top it off, epidemics of serious mosquito-borne diseases have swept across the nation, further straining government resources as it gears up to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors.
…Olympic budgets are often built to be exploded, of course, but these Games have been beset by major overruns at a time when the country can ill afford them. Last year the total infrastructure cost for the Games, which is funded mostly by federal and local governments, rose to more than 24 billion reais ($5.9 billion), 25% higher than originally planned.
…Brazil is also grappling with serious mosquito-borne diseases that so far are outracing officials’ efforts to deal with them. As of early December, a record 1.58 million cases of dengue fever were reported in Brazil in 2015. Chikungunya is mushrooming too. Most worrisome is a relatively new, fast-spreading virus called Zika. Authorities estimate it may have infected as many as 1.5 million people in recent months and has been linked by some health officials to nearly 3,200 cases of infant brain damage. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Wearing unearned medals is protected by 1st Amendment, appeals court rules – A military veteran persuaded a federal appeals court Monday to overturn his conviction for wearing a medal he didn’t earn.
An 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a portion of a federal law that made it a crime to wear an unearned military medal violated freedom of speech rights.
The panel found that wearing a medal conveys a message, which is protected by the 1st Amendment.
The decision overturned the conviction of Elven Joe Swisher, an Idaho man and former Marine who testified on the stand in a criminal case wearing a military medal. Investigators later determined Swisher had not earned it and violated the Stolen Valor Act.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned another portion of the act that made it a crime to lie about having won a military medal. Since Swisher’s conviction, the law no longer penalizes people for wearing unearned medals. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
The morally repugnant response to the Cologne sexual assault gang – Does Germany’s leadership class secretly want to destroy the European Union? I’m beginning to wonder.
The news from Cologne, of the mass, semi-coordinated sexual assault of women revelers on New Year’s Eve started dripping out on January 4 and 5. And those first news stories, the ones that quoted the mayor of Cologne, or the ones that appeared in premier publications, like the The New York Times, had something strange in common. They all framed the story in this way: Something regrettable happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, and it could be really bad because it will cause people in Europe to think bad thoughts about immigrants, refugees, and migrants, or about the politicians who are committed to swelling their ranks in Europe. “Reports of Attacks on Women in Germany Heighten Tension Over Migrants,” said the respectable media.
The real scandal, it was implied, was not that these hundreds of allegedly North African and Arab men had groped, harassed, robbed, and raped women in the street. Or that the police were inept or unwilling to stop it. It was that this minority of a minority had, inadvertently, cooperated with the real evil stalking Europe: the populist backlash against mass immigration and its political enablers. Less than a handful of the rapists have been arrested for the crimes they committed in the sight of police that night. Europe’s political class has already set about firmly scolding anyone who draws the wrong conclusions.
But more drips of the story are coming out. And each one makes it worse. Non-sensational news sources admitted that police had originally sought not to publicize the “politically awkward” crime spree. They were right to fear it was politically awkward. Leaked police reports reveal a man involved in the assault allegedly scolded police: “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs. Merkel invited me.” Another tore up his residency permit and reportedly taunted, “You can’t do anything to me, I can get a new one tomorrow.” As of this writing, just over 30 of the attackers have been identified by police. Eighteen of them were asylum-seekers. Read More > in The Week
Americans Are Abandoning Political Parties – Both major political parties are in trouble with the American people.
The latest Gallup Poll finds that loyalty to the Democrats and Republicans is at or near historic lows. In 2015, for the fifth straight year, “at least four in 10 U.S. adults identified as political independents,” a Gallup spokesman said. Forty-two percent said they were independent last year; 43 percent listed themselves that way in 2014, reflecting little change.
Twenty-nine percent said they were Democrats and 26 percent said they were Republicans.
The Democrats’ share was the lowest for that party in Gallup’s 65 years of asking about party identification. The previous Democratic low was 30 percent in 2014.
The Republicans also have cause for concern. The 26 percent who identified with the GOP was just 1 percentage point higher than the historical Gallup low of 25 percent self-identified Republicans in 2013. Read More > at U.S. News and World Report
World’s First real time wearable language translator will be smaller than imagined Star Trek universal translator – A portable device has a button and a speaker. One person speaks into Ili while holding down the button; after the user stops speaking, the speaker relays the message in the chosen language. (Right now, Ili only supports English, Chinese and Japanese, but its parent company, Logbar, has promised more will be available in the future.) Version two will have French, Thai, and Korean
Ili’s novel feature — and the perk that distinguishes it from translation services like Google — is its capacity to work without a wireless connection. It relies on its own database of words and phrases, which means it can conceivably be used in any situation, whether you’re scaling the mountains of Chile or stuck underground on the New York City subway.
Unfortunately, Ili’s representatives at CES were unable to provide a demonstration “due to the noise on the show floor,” according to Reviewed.com’s Tyler Wells Lynch. Read More > at Next Big Future
In program’s first year, nearly half of California’s driver’s licenses went to undocumented – California issued some 605,000 new driver’s licenses last year to immigrants residing in the country illegally, surpassing expectations for the program’s first year and granting more freedom for those who obtained the permit.
Approximately 830,000 undocumented applicants have sought the licenses since Jan. 2, 2015, the first day they were available following passage of a law, Assembly Bill 60, that was supported by immigrants and their advocates and some traffic safety experts, and reviled by those opposed to illegal immigration.
In California, home to an estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants, the nation’s largest such group, the Department of Motor Vehicles prepped for the onslaught. Among other things, the agency hired about 1,000 temporary employees, extended office hours and opened four Driver License Processing Centers, including one in Stanton.
“This was a major undertaking and never before had the department implemented a program such as this one,” said Artemio Armenta, spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In all, undocumented drivers accounted for slightly less than half of all the new non-commercial licenses – about 1.4 million – issued by the DMV in 2015. Read More > in The Orange County Register
SCOTUS Arguments Seem to Bode Ill for Public-Sector Unions – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. At issue is whether state governments may force public-sector workers to pay union fees, as a condition of employment, regardless of whether or not those workers are union members.
At the center of the case is a California public-school teacher named Rebecca Friedrichs. Because she disagrees with the teachers union on many issues, she has refused to join the union. Yet she is still compelled to pay fees covering the union’s collective-bargaining activities. In Friedrich’s view, those mandatory fees violate her First Amendment rights by forcing her to associate herself with a political agenda that she has no desire to be associated with. It is a “clear First Amendment violation,” her lawyer, Michael Carvin, told the Court on Monday.
California Solicitor General Edward DuMont offered a different view. “California understands the First Amendment interests that are involved in this case,” he told the Court. “But the State also has critical interests in being free to manage the public workplace.” DuMont also stressed that if Friedrichs and others like her are not forced to pay fees to the union, they will become “free riders” on union efforts that benefit them.
Both sides came in for sharp questioning by the justices. But it was the union side that seemed to get the worst of it.
“The problem,” Justice Antonin Scalia declared at one point, “is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition. Should the government pay higher wages or lesser wages? Should it promote teachers on the basis of seniority or on the basis of—all of those questions are necessarily political questions.” In other words, Scalia suggested, when the government forces Friedrichs to pay for collective bargaining by a public-sector union, the government necessarily forces Friedrichs to pay for union political speech that she rejects. Doesn’t that go against the First Amendment?
…A decision is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is expected by June 2016. Read More > at Reason
The dying technologies of 2016 – Well, a lot of once-popular gadgets are on their way out. Remember when digital music players were all the rage? All that’s really left of that is Apple’s iPod. The iPod has been declining for a while now. Some people hoped that Apple Music could relaunch the iPod, but that’s not happening. The future of music in your pocket belongs to smartphones.
Speaking of smartphones, I don’t see BlackBerry staying alive for another year. The latest model, the BlackBerry Priv, hasn’t found much love. It was fun for a while, BlackBerry, but you can stop thrashing now. It’s time to lie quietly in your grave.
I wonder too just how long Microsoft will pour money down the Windows Phone rathole? I mean, the company wrote off its entire smartphone investment in Nokia in July 2015. NetMarketShare has the Windows Phone OS with a lousy 3.4% of the mobile market. This is a dead operating system walking.
Thinking of antique technologies, vinyl has made a comeback but CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray? They’re all marching to the media graveyard.
…Thus, it’s no surprise that PCs continue on their way out the door. PC sales continue to decline. IDC has announced that 2015 PC shipments declined by 10.3% year-over-year from 2014. They still sell in the hundreds of million, so they aren’t going to be disappearing from our offices soon, but by 2020 it will be a different story. Read More > in Computerworld
The End of the Taxi Era – It’s old news by now that taxis are struggling to compete with ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. What might be less obvious is just how swiftly their demise could come if they don’t adapt—and perhaps even if they do.
Yellow Cab, San Francisco’s largest taxi company, is filing for bankruptcy, the San Francisco Examiner reported this week. It will continue operations while it attempts to restructure.
Yet that quote illustrates the denial still at work in the taxi business, even as its wheels are starting to come off. The “best color scheme there is in the world” is only of value in a world where the best way to catch a ride is to stand on the curb with your eyes peeled until an empty one happens by. There’s a reason Uber’s cars aren’t garishly painted: Color doesn’t matter when you can hail a driver at the touch of a button. As for “loyal customers,” there may be a few people out there who would let other companies’ cabs pass by while waiting for a yellow one. But counting on them to drive your business is analogous to AOL staking its future on dial-up subscribers.
In other words: Yellow Cab is just part of the front crumple zone in an industry that is about to get totaled.
San Francisco’s oldest and second-largest cab company, DeSoto Cab, already saw the impact coming—and swerved. Tossing 80 years of history and an iconic local brand out the window, last year it renamed and rebranded itself as FlywheelTaxi, highlighting its partnership with a Silicon Valley–based taxi-hailing startup called Flywheel. Read More > in Slate
Gas prices could drop toward $1 a gallon – In some gas stations around the country, the price of a gallon of regular has dropped below $1.42. AAA and GasBuddy, two organizations that follow gasoline prices, say that gasoline prices below $2 will not be unusual in most of the United States. As oil prices fall, and refinery capacity stays strong, the price of gas could reach $1 a gallon in some areas, a level last reached in 1999. As a matter of fact, the entire states of Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Caroline have gas prices that average at or below $1.75.
Gasoline prices are driven mostly by four factors: oil prices, proximity to refineries, refinery capacity and state taxes and levies. Oil prices have dropped below $33 a barrel and continue to collapse. The recent decision by Saudi Arabia to continue to keep its oil exports high essentially has dissolved the OPEC cartel. The decision also has forced the kingdom to chop its 2016 budget. This ongoing supply glut guarantees oversupply of crude. At the same time, slowing national economies in the largest countries, including China, will lower demand. China now tops the list of oil importers, according to the Financial Times, having moved ahead of the United States. Read More > in USA Today
Road predictions for 2050: The end of gasoline, traffic deaths and gear heads – The story is set in 2050, the actual year when Toyota Motor Co., now the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, plans to stop producing cars with gasoline engines. Toyota announced its plans to abandon gasoline technology in 2014, a year before many of the world’s governments met in Paris to establish limits on carbon dioxide emissions and other gases contributing to global warming.
There are other externalities seriously reshaping the global car industry. Chief among them are traffic fatalities and injuries. Put simply, there are too many — 1.34 million global traffic deaths annually, according to records compiled by the World Health Organization.
Safety officials have estimated that 80 percent of those deaths are caused by human error — mistakes that could be corrected or avoided altogether by more intelligent machines. To that extent, car and technology companies worldwide are investing billions of dollars in advanced electronic safety systems such as blind-side monitoring and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.
The idea, literally, is to sense crash hazards before they can cause real harm — whether those hazards are in the overall driving environment or in the individual steering or accelerating choices of motorists themselves. Read More > in The Washington Post