TIME technology

California Lifts Ban on Bitcoin

California Legalizes Bitcoin
California Gov. Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Technically, all transactions using digital or alternative currencies had been illegal in California until Monday

California lawmakers approved a bill Monday that lifted an outdated ban on the use of bitcoin and other alternative currencies, as more states seek to clarify and revise virtual currency laws.

AB 129, which Governor Jerry Brown had signed on Saturday, will ensure that “various forms of alternative currency such as digital currency” will be legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments, according to the bill’s text. The bill reflects the growing use of digital currencies, revising Section 107 of California’s Corporations Code that prohibits use of “anything but the lawful money of the United States.”

“In an era of evolving payment methods, from Amazon Coins to Starbucks Stars, it is impractical to ignore the growing use of cash alternatives,” Democratic Assemblyman and the bill’s author Roger Dickinson said in a recent statement.

Dickinson noted that points and rewards programs function as digital currencies, and thus would not have been legal without the passage of AB 129, which legalizes these “community currencies,” that is, alternative payment systems between businesses and customers.

Other states have similarly sought to clarify their bitcoin laws. In March, the Texas Department of Banking stated that bitcoin transmissions, while permitted, are not technically “currency” transmissions. That month, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced the state will accept proposals for a virtual currency regulation system.

While bitcoin use is now legal in California, it is not technically legal tender, a status reserved for and defined federally as “United States coins and currency” under the Coinage Act of 1965. The IRS clarified in March that bitcoin functions more like property than currency, which means that taxes applying to property transactions also apply to bitcoin transactions.

Elsewhere in the world, only very few countries, notably Brazil and China, have specific regulations of bitcoin use.

TIME Bizarre

World’s Worst Nanny Finally Agrees to Leave Family’s Home

The nanny from hell finally gave in, but only after being deprived of cable TV and access to the family's refrigerator

When a California family fired their live-in nanny three weeks ago for spending all day locked in her room (instead of, for example, watching the kids), the family of five presumably thought they had seen the last of their 64-year-old “nightmare nanny.”

Unfortunately, the Bracamontes’ nightmare had only just begun. Rather than packing up her things and finding work elsewhere, as just about any other nanny would, Diane Stretton adamantly refused to leave the family’s home.

According to People magazine, Marcella Bracamonte initially appreciated the extra care for her children, ages 11, 4 and 16 months. However, as the weeks went on, she found that Stretton “didn’t want to help out.” Eventually Stretton became so uncooperative that Marcella and her husband Ralph decided to fire the woman, not realizing that Stretton would be legally permitted to remain in their San Bernardino County home because of the terms of her employment.

In fact, a law requires the family to accommodate Stretton until she either decides to leave or is legally evicted, and if the Bracamontes try to force her out in the meantime, they could be stuck with a $1,000 fine for disturbing their “tenant.”

Luckily for the family, Stretton has relented and informed them that she will leave by July 4 (Independence Day indeed). But the Bracamontes remain understandably skeptical, fearing that their former nanny might lock them out of their own home while they are away for the national holiday.

TIME legal

California Town that Banned Pinball 80 Years Ago Will Finally Legalize It

Three year old Xandro from Eindhoven, Th
AFP / Getty Images

The ban hadn't been enforced in decades, but it's still on the books.

And here you thought games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto had it rough: 80 years ago, pinball — yes, pinball — was a seedy, controversial business. So controversial that thousands of U.S. cities passed laws making pinball machines illegal, including Oakland, California, where you might be surprised to find the game remains a criminal matter on the books to this day.

That’s about to change, says the San Francisco Chronicle, which writes that Oakland is set to formally un-ban pinball at last, though it’ll be seen as a symbolic move: pinball machines are alive and well across the city, notes the Chronicle, and the ban hasn’t been enforced for decades.

Pinball machines (sans flippers — a later invention) were manufactured in the 1930s, installed in bars and called “pay-outs,” because that’s what they did, delivering cash to lucky players a bit like someone hitting the jackpot after pulling the handle on a slot machine. That’s all you did at the time: pull the plunger and cross your fingers. If you won, you’d collect your winnings from whomever ran the establishment. And that slot machine-like angle was enough to worry politicians and get pinball banned across the country.

“Yes, there was a certain amount of skill involved, but basically the law looked at it as a gambling device,” Eddie Adlum, publisher of RePlay Magazine, told Steven Kent in Kent’s The Ultimate History of Video Games. “Pay-outs started out legally in many states and eventually ended up being operated mostly illegally in places where the police would look the other way, such as New Orleans. They were nickel games, by the way. They paid off in nickels. So it was a little gamble, but nevertheless it was gambling.”

Oakland’s city council will meet this week to reverse the law as part of an overall reexamination of gambling in the city, though that reversal will include a new ban on slot-machine-like Internet sweepstakes cafes, which — like those early versions of pinball — are essentially games of chance.

TIME Crime

Wife of Mugshot Heartthrob Upset Over Attention

Jeremy Meeks Stockton Police Department

Back off, social media: Blue-eyed convict Jeremy Meeks is off the market

The wife of handsome felon Jeremy Meeks is reportedly fed up by the internet’s continuing obsession with his mugshot, according to a friend.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t see her at all in the cameras, because she’s upset,” said friend Simone Johnson for CBS Sacramento. “She’s furious. Her man is in there and people are taking it as a joke, thinking it’s funny talking about his looks, saying all kinds of crazy things.”

Meeks was charged with gang membership, firearm possession and a probation violation, reports CBS. He has already spent two years in prison for grand theft in 2002.

Despite his stunning good looks, Meeks’ bail was raised to $1 million, says CBS. His arraignment continues June 27th.



How to Deal With Doctors Who Get Drunk and High on the Job

A group of surgeons work in an operating theatre.
A group of surgeons work in an operating theatre. Jochen Sands—Getty Images

Doctors might be under the influence more often than you think. A California physican explains why mandatory drug and alcohol testing could be the solution

Larry was a doctor trainee at a hospital where I taught in Burbank. I recommended that he not passdue to his poor preparation and work habits. But he did, and set up a general practice nearby. He had trouble with it, though, and drifted into addictionmedicine over time, helping patients overcome their problems (he was said to have had a cocaine problem in his past). He later moved outside the immediate area, and word got around that he was a go-to localfor scoring prescription narcotics. People who encountered him thought he might be high. Eventually, the DEA entered his life, and he put a gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

An upcoming ballot initiative on malpractice caps in California includes a provision that would require physicians to be drug- and alohol-tested prior to practicing at any hospital, and require other health care practitioners to report any suspected abusers. This is packaged with other measures that appear punitive towards all physicians. But the drug-testing provision deserves scrutiny because, while drug testing is widespread in American business, and required of nurses and many medical workers, private doctors have not been routinely tested.

I’d like to tell you substance abuse isn’t a problem for doctors, but unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand that there are physicians who practice while they are under the influence. And we physicians often find it hard to speak up when we see something. The attitude is all too often, If it isn’t my patient, it isn’t my problem.

I personally made it my practice never to have a drink at lunch or in the evening when I was on call. And because I was on call for most weekdays for 30 years, I never felt free to drink during my career. Sadly, that was not always what I encountered from my fellow physicians.

When I was a young ER physician new to a small community hospital in California, I called in a prominent surgeon to perform an emergency appendectomy. He arrived, reeking of alcohol. There was no other availablesurgeon, and a delay exposed the patient to significant risk. The surgery went ahead, and the patient did fine. But I asked around, and the surgeon turned out to be known as a boozer, frequently coming to the hospital drunk. This still haunts me, and I left that hospital rather quickly.

That was my first experience with the difficulty of dealing with physicians who abuse mind-altering substances. I didn’t make any sort of formal report on the surgeon; I would have felt intimidated. I passed the word along to colleagues, but that was all I did. Today, as a senior physician in the latter part of my career, I would hope that I’d do more.

But that was a case when I recognized a problem. It can be hard to recognize that a colleague has a substance abuse problem, even if you’re a trained observer of addicts. Among my professional pursuits, I was the director of a drug/alcohol program for a large medical group, and personally saw every patient who entered the program for several years.

In 1994, I hired an associate, Cindy, a graduate of a famous cancer center, looking for temp work. She was young, attractive, and very smart. But I was surprised by her poor work habits, and my staff reported strange behavior. Drugs from the office started disappearing. I just couldn’t believe Cindy was abusing drugs, until it became undeniable. (Although she denied it.) A year later she had her license revoked for drug use, unrelated to my experience with her.

Until a few years ago, the licensing board for physicians in California had a diversion program for those who were identified as having an abuse problem, which allowed such physicians to keep their licenses if they sought adequate rehabilitation. It had a 75 percent long-term success rate and allowed for anonymous reporting of suspected abuse. However, the licensing board, in its wisdom, recently discontinued this program as they felt that the board’s primary mission was patient protection, not physician rehabilitation. Funding should not have been an issue: the program was paid for by physician licensing fees, not by taxpayers. Nothing has appeared to take its place, and so California is without a confidential reporting system for doctors.

I’ve spoken with a number of practicing physicians recently, and surprisingly, I hear a lot of support for mandatory testing. This support may have less to do with protecting patients than with a feeling of impotence in dealing with colleagues who abuse drugs and alcohol.

Mandatory testing will cost a lot of money, and it is intrusive to the daily practice of medicine. But patient safety concerns justify such testing for physicians, just as air safety concerns justify testing for pilots. And even with testing in place, doctors should not be excused from their obligation to report colleagues, and the government should provide a way to make such reports confidentially.

None of this should be done by a deeply flawed ballot initiative; instead, the Legislature should craft a careful law that will work in practice.

Ken Murray MD is a retired Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine from USC, and is a frequent contributor to the Southern California Bioethics Commitee Consortium. He writes on topics of end-of-life, ethics, and water. His writings have been published in media world wide in virtually all languages, and he speaks frequently on these subjects.


TIME Transportation

Teen Airplane Stowaway: ‘I Could See Through the Little Holes’

Abdi has given his first interview since the April flight

A teen stowaway who survived a ride from California to Hawaii in a passenger jet’s wheel well earlier this year told a California CBS affiliate Tuesday that he randomly selected the plane in which he hid during the five-and-a-half hour flight.

The interview was Yahye Abdi’s first since his harrowing journey, which has dumbfounded medical professionals — people typically quickly lose brain function when more 35,000 feet above the ground without oxygen or pressurization systems.

Abdi told KPIX the ride wasn’t scary, though he couldn’t believe he survived. “It was above the clouds, I could see through the little holes,” the teen said.

Abdi, a 15-year-old Somali immigrant, says he ran away from home in April because he was unhappy in California with his stepmom. The teen also said he wanted to see his mother, as the two have not been with one another since Abdi was 7-years-old.

“I only did it because I didn’t want to live with my stepmom,” Abdi said. “Second of all, I wanted to find my mom. I haven’t seen her since I was young.”

“I took that plane because it was the closest one I could find that was going to go West,” he added. The teen is currently staying in a foster home, he plans to move to Minnesota to live with his aunt.

His advice for kids thinking about hopping on planes: “They shouldn’t run away, because sometimes they will end up dying.”


TIME celebrities

Pippa Middleton Begins 3,000-Mile Charity Bike Ride Across U.S.

The sister of the Duchess of Cambridge embarks on a journey across America

Pippa Middleton is in for a long bike ride—one that will last eight days and span 12 states.

Along with her brother James, Middleton kicked off a 3,000 mile Race Across America on Saturday in San Diego to raise money for the Michael Matthews Foundation and the British Heart Association.

“Once we get going it’s non-stop, with very little sleep,” Middleton told The Daily Mail. “It’s nerve-racking but exciting and all for a great cause.”

TIME republicans

‘Murmur of Disbelief’ As Rick Perry Compared Homosexuality to Alcoholism

The question came days after the Republican Convention in Texas approved language supporting access to “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry prompted an awkward moment at a talk in San Francisco on Wednesday when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports there was a “murmur of disbelief” among the audience members after Perry responded to a question about whether he believes homosexuality is a disorder:

Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.

The question came days after the Republican Party of Texas approved language supporting access to “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians. At the talk on Wednesday, Perry said he did not know if such therapy works, the Chronicle reports.

[SF Chronicle]

TIME Education

Teacher Tenure Under Assault

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter David Welch makes comments on the Vergara v. California lawsuit verdict in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 10, 2014.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter David Welch makes comments on the Vergara v. California lawsuit verdict in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Damian Dovarganes—AP

Advocacy group behind lawsuit promises more

Teacher tenure went down in California—and that could just be the start.

The group that emerged victorious Tuesday in its legal challenge to public school teacher tenure rules in California quickly said it was eyeing similar lawsuits in other states.

“I think there will be a reverberation across the country,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, one of the lawyers who filed the Vergara vs. California lawsuit in cooperation with the education reform group Students Matter. “There are a number of jurisdictions that are prime candidates because they have the same sort of seniority-based layoff system or quick tenure and tough dismissal. New York is one, but there are other states, too.”

A California judge ruled Tuesday that the state’s teacher tenure policies, which include seniority rules that make it very difficult to fire ineffective teachers, amounted to a violation of the students’ constitutional right to an equal education. Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote that the evidence presented by Students Matter “shocks the conscience,” and that “the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”

Boutrous said his group will focus first on defending a ruling that will almost certainly be appealed to the state Supreme Court. But he also said Students Matter is hoping to “engage with policymakers in New York and nationally to get this system fixed as soon as possible,” and the group is eyeing lawsuits in other states with similar teacher tenure laws, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon.

If it holds up on appeal, the California ruling could be a watershed moment in education reform that could weaken tenure statues across the country. “This is gay marriage,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2010-2011. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states.”

The National Education Association condemned the ruling, calling the lawsuit “yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession.” In a statement Tuesday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said that the ruling “would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.”

Immediately after the ruling, teachers’ unions signaled they would appeal. “This will not be the last word,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “As this case makes it through an appeal, we will continue to do what we’ve done in state after state…No wealthy benefactor with an extreme agenda will detour us from our path to reclaim the promise of public education.”

California is rare in that it is one the five states with the shortest probation periods before teachers get tenure, and one of only 10 states that require school districts to consider seniority when laying off teachers (other states merely suggest it.) According to the National Council for Teacher Quality, a Washington-based organization that advocates for the reform of teacher evaluations, only California, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina and Vermont have probationary periods of two years or less before a teacher gets tenure. Most states make teachers wait three years, but there are 10 states with four-to-five year waiting periods. And only California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oregon, and Wisconsin have rules that require districts to consider seniority when laying off teachers.

California teachers, in other words, get tenure more quickly and are harder to fire than teachers in other states.

Tenure itself is at the heart of the education reform debate roiling the country. Tenure originated in higher education, to protect professors from professional blowback for unpopular research, but tenure for K-12 teachers only took root in the 1960s as a way to protect educators from unjustified firings during an administration turnover. “It used to be you could be fired for arbitrary reasons, like if you got pregnant,” said Dr. William Koski, a professor at Stanford Law School who specializes in educational policy. “There was a belief that teachers needed to band together and protect themselves from these arbitrary and capricious firings, and so one of the primary early efforts of teacher’s unions was to protect teacher employment.” Teacher tenure soon became a key element of the union agenda, and most states have some form of public school tenure. Only Florida and North Carolina have no tenure at all, and Rhode Island has a modified form that allows teachers to be dismissed for bad performance.

Mazany said getting rid of teacher tenure could have unintended consequences, both positive and negative. It could cause collateral damage, he said, because “we really don’t have a set of tools and metrics to finely discern quality, and because abuse, favoritism and cronyism do exist.” And without tenure, teachers who disagree with principals and administrators are especially vulnerable, and higher-paid veteran teachers may have a “target on their backs.”

But Mazany also said eliminating teacher tenure could get rid of a “convenient scapegoat” for the problems in education. “The least effective teachers are disproportionately assigned to low income and minority students,” he said. “The teachers don’t make that assignment, the union doesn’t make that assignment, the district administration makes that assignment. You take away the bogey of tenure, so you no longer have that to blame.”

Some experts say the best analogy for understanding the current fight is the battle over school finance reform, which has been litigated in different states since the 1960s. “Those cases were basically saying you need to have equal resources in order to have equal educational opportunity,” said Jim Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “This case is saying you have to have equally good teachers to have equally good opportunity. And like the finance litigation in other states, some lawsuits will be successful and some won’t.”

Regardless of their consequences, most agree that there’s nothing inherently malicious about teacher tenure it itself, despite what may be its negative consequences. “These types of provisions have a logic, and were well-meaning,” Mazany said. “Nobody said ‘lets set up teacher tenure to screw children.'”

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