Record Number Of Miles Driven In U.S. Last Year

Cars on Highway 101 in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Around the nation, Americans drove a record number of miles last year.

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Americans are driving more than ever before, according to new data released today by the Federal Highway Administration.

Drivers in cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs put a record 3.22 trillion miles on the nation’s roads last year, up 2.8 percent from 3.1 trillion miles in 2015.

It’s the fifth consecutive year of increased miles driven on public roads and highways, reflecting a strengthening economy, but it also “underscores the demands facing American’s roads and bridges,” according to a statement from the FHWA, “and reaffirms calls for greater investment in surface transportation infrastructure.”

Lower gasoline prices are helping fuel the increase in driving, as the cost of a gallon averages $2.28 nationwide, according to AAA, and the price has remained relatively steady in recent months.

The strengthening economy has lowered unemployment, which means more people are driving to work and more discretionary income has more people out and about driving.

The increase in driving has also increased gasoline consumption, which hit a record high back in June but because vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, and there are more hybrid, electric, and natural gas vehicles on the road, the country is not burning gasoline at the same rate that driving is increasing.

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That’s got many policy leaders and lawmakers considering alternatives to gas and diesel taxes to fund transportation infrastructure needs. Some states are experimenting with a tax on vehicle miles driven to augment or even replace the gas tax, and there are similar calls on the federal level too. The federal gasoline tax has remained at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, doesn’t keep pace with inflation, and fails to capture revenue from vehicles using alternative fuels.

One downside to the increase in vehicle miles driven is worsening traffic congestion.

The mapping and navigation software company TomTom analyzed GPS data from around the country and finds that traffic congestion was about 2 to 4 percent worse in most cities last year than it was in 2015.

The annual TomTom Traffic Index ranks Los Angeles as the worst U.S. city in terms of traffic congestion, followed by San Francisco, New York, Seattle and San Jose. Rounding out the top 10 are Miami, Portland, Honolulu, Washington, DC and Boston.

The GPS data show that in Los Angeles, trips take, on average, 44 minutes longer than if traffic was free-flowing.

“That’s quite a bit,” says Nitin Kartik, director of business development for TomTom. “When you look at that on an annual basis, in Los Angeles, people are wasting about 170 hours sitting in traffic.”

That time wasted in traffic increases fuel consumption and air pollution, and reduces productivity.

But Kartik says if just five percent of drivers change their commuting plans by leaving earlier, later or taking public transportation or biking to work, that can reduce traffic congestion at peak travel times by up to 30 percent.

No American city cracks the top ten globally, as Mexico City, Bangkok, and Jakarta have the worst traffic congestion in the world.

Another downside to more traffic is more crashes. The National Safety Council says traffic fatalities increased 6 percent last year and topped 40,000 for the first time since 2007, but on part of that sharp increase can be attributed to the less than 3 percent growth in vehicle miles traveled. What’s even more troubling is that the rate of fatal crashes is increasing at a time when vehicles mechanically are becoming safer. Experts cite speed, distracted driving, and alcohol as the top three killers on the road.

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Runaway bull dies after escape from New York City slaughterhouse

By David Ingram| NEW YORK

A runaway bull led New York City police on a wild chase after escaping from a slaughterhouse on Tuesday, but the animal died after being cornered in someone’s backyard, officials said.

During the chase, TV news helicopter video footage showed one fruitless capture attempt after another in the borough of Queens.

Police officers tried and failed to use their patrol cars to box the raging bull in, and at one point it dashed away from one gathering of onlookers only to rush toward others.

No injuries were reported but the videos, broadcast live online, made the plucky bull a short-lived social media star and Queens briefly became the top trending subject on Twitter.

“NYPD vs. cow. Cow keeps winning,” Kansas City television reporter Brian Abel tweeted, using the acronym for the New York City Police Department.

After more than two hours, the bull entered the backyard of a home in the Jamaica neighborhood, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the slaughterhouse, and police sedated and captured it, said Sergeant Lee Jones, a police spokesman.

It was later declared dead, and although the cause was not immediately known, stress may have been a factor, Detective Ahmed Nasser said. The body was being sent to a crematorium on Long Island, he said.

The New York Post said the bull was shot with at least five tranquilizer darts by police before it died.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Tom Brown)

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As They Dig Deeper Into Parenting, Fathers Seek Community, Support

Resources to help parents are typically aimed at moms, not dads.

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As a Seattle-based fiction writer and a part-time stay-at-home dad, Josh Mohr, 40, spends his days in the world of make-believe.

His routine begins at approximately 5:30 a.m. when his 3-year-old daughter, Ava, waves a magic wand to turn him into a children’s storyteller.

Mohr cozies up to his toddler, who’s dressed for the occasion in a purple princess dress and a sparkly crown with rainbow jewels. After they’ve finished a few readings of Curious George, Ava asks her dad to read the story again.

“Again, Daddy. Let’s do it again,” she says.

As repetitive as this may seem, their little ritual fills Mohr with pride.

“When I was a kid, my dad worked long hours, and because of this, he wasn’t very involved in my life. With Ava, I don’t want to have that same regret, and so I am re-inventing my fatherhood role,” Mohr says. “I don’t want to look back when she’s older and wish that I had spent more time with her at the park, telling her silly stories and putting her to bed at night.”

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Mohr’s sense that he’s parenting from a new and different playbook than the one that his father used is not uncommon. A survey published by the Pew Research Center last year reveals that more and more dads are staying at home to help care for their children.

In fact, since 1965, fathers have more than doubled their family involvement. This includes spending more time with their kids as well as devoting additional time to household tasks like grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Fathers and mothers equally report that parenting is an essential part of their identities and that balancing work and home life is challenging.

But greater family involvement doesn’t necessarily mean that today’s dads are fathering with confidence.

“Just because dads are changing diapers, carrying their babies around in a Baby Bjorn and driving their kids to soccer games doesn’t mean that they feel confident about their fatherhood roles,” says Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist and men’s health expert in Oakland, Calif.

Courtenay says that today’s dads are participating in aspects of parenting that their own fathers may have neglected, and because of this cultural shift they are less likely to turn to their dads for parenting advice.

According to research conducted by the Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization that creates fatherhood education programs for community organizations, 50 percent of fathers don’t feel prepared for parenthood.

Matt Lowe, 36, of Kansas City, Mo., is a married father of a teenage daughter. Lowe grew up with an absent father who struggled with alcoholism, and he remembers well how deeply his dad’s personal issues affected their relationship.

“My parents were separated for part of my childhood, and this led to feelings of bitterness and resentment. There were times when I felt hurt and I pushed my dad away. For me, fatherhood is an opportunity to work through that and try to ensure I don’t foster these feelings with my daughter,” says Lowe.

Lowe makes a concerted effort to spend significant time with his daughter, and he tries to reflect upon his parenting practices.

“I worry that I spoil her or maybe overlook things that I shouldn’t, but I try to be mindful of this in the best way that I can.”

While Lowe and Mohr are consciously fathering their children differently from how they were raised, finding parenting support geared towards dads hasn’t been easy. For one thing, many of today’s most popular parenting books and blogs are targeted at women.

“I’ve been a father for 14 years, and I’ve never read a parenting book or blog because the information is written for mothers and it’s boring,” says Lowe.

Instead, many dads rely on their partners for advice. A small study of expectant fathers published in the December issue of the journal Social Work Research reveals that even before their children are born, men tend to ask their partners how to parent.

However, this doesn’t necessarily help strengthen the father-child relationship, nor is it a replacement for the community that many dads crave.

There are a plethora of new mom and baby groups, as well as online forums and blogs, to help women transition into motherhood, but fewer options when it comes to dads.

There are some “daddy blogs” like greatDad.com and howtobeadad.com written by dads for dads, but these resources don’t always help fathers navigate the day-to-day emotional challenges, such as feelings of insecurity, partnership stress and the new daddy blues that parenthood brings.

Also, says Courtenay, “Dads may be less inclined to talk about their feelings at a parenting group, but they want to connect. Oftentimes they look to other dads to figure out what they’re supposed to do as a father, and many dads say that they feel a responsibility to help other fathers improve their parenting skills.”

Even though he’s never taken a formal parenting class, Lowe turns to the fellow fathers in his school and neighborhood communities to help show him the ropes. This informal sort of “dads’ group” helps teach him about everything from how to discipline a teenager to the importance of self care.

“I watch the way that my friends balance their work and family life. They might take an afternoon to go on a hike or to go golfing, and this has taught me that it is OK for me to take time for myself, too,” Lowe says.

As a newer father, Mohr is creating his own dads group by reaching out to the elder fathers in his community. He says that he asks his friends about their parenting highs and lows and that he learns from the parental wisdom that these friends share.

“Parenthood has taught me that you’re never above the humble process of learning,” Mohr says. “Even if my friends parent differently than I do, I realize that we are all in this together.”

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.

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Supreme Court To Decide If Mexican Nationals May Sue For Border Shooting

Relatives of Sergio Hernández sit in Ciudad Juarez at the U.S.-Mexico border, on the second anniversary of his killing in 2012.

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The cellphone video is vivid. A border patrol agent aims his gun at an unarmed 15-year-old some 60 feet away, across the border with Mexico, and shoots him dead.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case testing whether the family of the dead boy can sue the agent for damages in the U.S.

Between 2005 and 2013, there were 42 such cross-border shootings, a dramatic increase over earlier times.

The shooting took place on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico.

The area is about 180 feet across. Eighty feet one way leads to a steep incline and an 18-foot fence on the U.S. side — part of the so-called border wall that has already been built. An almost equal distance the other way is another steep incline leading to a wall topped by a guardrail on the Mexican side.

In between is a the dry bed of the Rio Grande with an invisible line in the middle that separates the U.S. and Mexico. Overhead is a railroad bridge with huge columns supporting it, connecting the two countries.

In June 2010, Sergio Hernández and his friends were playing chicken, daring each other to run up the incline on the U.S. side and touch the fence, according briefs filed by lawyers for the Hernández family.

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At some point U.S. border agent Jesus Mesa, patrolling the culvert, arrived on a bicycle, grabbed one of the kids at the fence on the U.S. side, and the others scampered away. Fifteen-year-old Sergio ran past Mesa and hid behind a pillar beneath the bridge on the Mexican side.

As the boy peeked out, Agent Mesa, 60 feet or so away on the U.S. side, drew his gun, aimed it at the boy, and fired three times, the last shot hitting the boy in the head.

Although agents quickly swarmed the scene, they are forbidden to cross the border. They did not offer medical aid, and soon left on their bikes, according to lawyers for the family.

A day after the shooting, the FBI’s El Paso office issued a press release asserting that agent Mesa fired his gun after being “surrounded” by suspected illegal aliens who “continued to throw rocks at him.”

Two days later, cell phone videos surfaced contradicting that account. In one video the boy’s small figure can be seen edging out from behind the column; Mesa fires, and the boy falls to the ground.

“The statement literally says he was surrounded by these boys, which is just objectively false,” says Bob Hilliard, who represents the family. Pointing to the cell phone video, he says it is “clear that nobody was near ” agent Mesa.

In one video, a woman’s voice is heard saying that some of the boys had been throwing rocks, but the video does not show that, and by the time the shooting takes place, nobody is surrounding agent Mesa.

The U.S. Department of Justice decided not to prosecute Mesa. Among other things, the department concluded that it did not have jurisdiction because the boy was not on U.S. soil when he was killed.

Mexico charged the agent with murder, but when the U.S. refused to extradite him, no prosecution could go forward.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol did not discipline agent Mesa—a fact that critics, including high-ranking former agency officials, say reflects a pattern inside the agency.

The parents of the slain boy, however, have sued Mesa for damages, contending that the killing violated the U.S. Constitution by depriving Sergio Hernández of his life.

A border in the Rio Grande culvert divides the Mexican city of Juárez (bottom) and the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas, shown here in 2010.

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Alexandre Meneghini/AP

“I can’t believe that this is allowed to happen – that a border patrol agent is allowed to kill someone on the Mexican side, and nothing happens,” Sergio’s mother, Maria Guadalupe Güereca Betancour, says through an interpreter.

As the case comes to the Supreme Court, there has been no trial yet and no court finding of facts. Mesa continues to maintain that he shot the boy in self-defense after being surrounded by rock-throwing kids.

That’s a scenario that Mesa’s lawyers say is borne out by other videos from stationary cameras that have not been released to the public.

“It was clear that Agent Mesa was in an area that is wrought with narcotics trafficking and human trafficking,” asserts Randolph Ortega, who represents Mesa on behalf of the border patrol agents union. “And it’s clear that, in my opinion, he was defending himself.”

The only question before the Supreme Court centers on whether the Hernández family has the right to sue. A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that no reasonable officer would have done what Agent Mesa did, and that therefore the family could sue.

However, the full court of appeals reversed that judgment, ruling that because the Hernández boy was standing on the Mexico side of the border and was a Mexican citizen with no ties to the United States, his family could not sue for a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the appeals court said that even if the facts as alleged by the Hernández family are true, Mesa is entitled to qualified immunity, meaning he cannot be sued because there is no clearly established body of law barring his conduct.

Lawyers for the Hernández family counter that Supreme Court precedents establish a practical approach in determining whether there is a right to sue for the use of excessive force in circumstances like these. Lawyer Hilliard says yes, the boy was across the border when the shots were fired, but by just 60 feet.

“This is a domestic action by a domestic police officer standing in El Paso, Texas, who is to be constrained by this country’s constitution,” Hilliard contends. “There’s a U.S. Supreme Court case that says a law enforcement officer cannot seize an individual by shooting him dead, which is what happened in this case.”

Hilliard argues that if you follow the border patrol’s argument to its necessary conclusion, “it means that a law enforcement officer is immune to the Constitution when exercising deadly force across the border.

“He could stand on the border and target practice with the kids inside the culvert,” Hilliard warns.

But lawyer Ortega replies that’s not true, and asks how the court should draw the line.

“How far does it extend? Does it extend 40 feet? As far as the bullet can travel? All of Juárez, Mexico? All of (the state of) Chihuahua, Mexico? Where does the line end?”

Backed by the federal government, he suggests that a ruling in favor of the Hernández family would mean foreigners could sue over a drone attack.

Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide where to draw the line.

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Behind This Exhuberant Dance Number? Planning, Precision And Practice

Choreographer Mandy Moore was lying underneath a car on the LA freeway, counting and calling out steps, throughout the 47 takes it took to shoot La La Land‘s fun-filled opening scene.

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There isn’t an Oscar for choreography, but if there were, La La Land would almost certainly be taking it home this year. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this musical for the 21st century is full of tapping, waltzing, fox-trotting salutes to 20th century musical classics.

The opening scene is a wow. A typical, Los Angeles traffic jam — blue skies and sunshine over the congested ramp where the 105 freeway meets the 110. Frustrated drivers are stuck sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. All of a sudden they get out of their cars and start to sing and dance!

They’re hopping, jumping and somersaulting over cars and trucks — and all throughout the joyful number, choreographer Mandy Moore was underneath one of the cars — “screaming out the counts. It was really fun,” she says.

(This, by the way, is not the singer/actress Mandy Moore — but rather, a choreographer of the same name.)

The scene was filmed with 30 professional dancers and more than 100 extras on a 104-degree day. They first rehearsed in a parking lot, and later the actual freeway at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. On paper, Moore and director Damien Chazelle mapped out where the cameras would go. That morphed into 3D on a model ramp with toy cars. Then it was show time, which meant shutting down the freeway ramp for two days of shooting.

All in all, it took 47 takes — for a three-minute and 48-second dance number that occurs entirely before the movie title looms up on screen.

“I’ve seen it in the theater many times now and it still gets me.” Moore says. “As soon as it says ‘La La Land’ it stops on that beat and people just clap! I’ve just never been in a movie when they do that!”

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This is Moore’s fourth film. She’s been choreographing for 12 years — mostly TV, for shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

Growing up in Breckenridge, Colo., she fell in love with the great old movie musicals — Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

“My mom said I was always dancing around when I was a little kid,” she says. “I put on performances for my family. I’d make them all sit down and watch. She put me in dance at 8, and from that point on, I never wanted to be anywhere else.”

Moore met us in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, where several scenes were shot. She’s 40, with green eyes, long hair, and hands that dance when she talks. She also has the generous patience of a good teacher. There was a good amount of teaching for her to do.

In La La Land, Moore was working with two non-dancers. In just two months, the stars studied singing, piano and dancing. Gosling, who plays the part of a jazz musician in the film, had never studied dance before.

“He said, ‘Yes, I have rhythm, I know how to perform, but no, I’m not like, good,’ ” Moore recalls. “So he basically was like, ‘Let’s start tomorrow.’ “

He and Stone had different approaches to their dancing lessons.

“She likes to get the movement immediately — she’s like a little machine; she gets it exactly right,” Moore explains. “Where Ryan was very, very different. He’d take a long time to get the step. I’d have to go over and over it with him.”

Sometimes he looks as if he’s counting, but he dances gracefully, and in character.

Gosling and Stone have a lovely they-don’t-like-each-other-then-they-fall-in-love duet on a hill in Griffith Park. It’s sunset and they’re on a bench overlooking LA’s evening lights. She swaps her heels for flats, and the next thing you know, they’re dancing.

Moore borrows some steps from a classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routine from the 1935 film Top Hat. Dispute and disdain give way to a song and dance.

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In those days of Hollywood censorship, dances were the love scenes. In La La Land, some still are. You’d never know it, but the sweet, 6 minute, 30 second Griffith Park duet was filmed under quite a bit of pressure.

“The director wanted this all to be in a single take,” Moore explains.

So, one camera, no edits. Director Damien Chazelle wanted the sunset colors to be just right — there was no money to fix colors in post-production — which meant they had to shoot during the “magic hour,” that fleeting time when the city is bathed in a reddish, golden light.

Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

“Magic hour allowed us to have about five takes,” Moore says. “And usually take number 1 was too light. Take number 5 was too dark. So they basically had three chances to hit this thing. And we shot it for two nights. So we had six chances to make this happen — on an incline, on asphalt, not being dancers. I mean, it’s incredible to think what they did.”

Watching her stars’ natural movements, basing her dances on those moves, and shaping them toward grace and fluidity, choreographer Mandy Moore helped fashion a technicolor musical for today.

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Adulting School Teaches Young Adults Grown-Up Skills

A happy hour event put on by The Adulting School where participants learn how to make craft cocktails at Maine Craft Distilling in Portland, Maine. Other skills taught by the school include changing a flat tire, making deviled eggs and folding sheets.

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Courtesy of Rachel Weinstein

Transitioning to adulthood isn’t new, but there is a more modern way to describe it: adulting.

Get your car’s oil changed? That’s adulting. Cook dinner instead of order takeout? That’s adulting.

And now a new school in Maine, called the Adulting School, is dedicated to teaching skills like these to fledgling adults so they can become successful grown-ups.

The school offers private social media groups and live events at local bars and restaurants. At these events, attendees can learn skills like how to network as a pro or how to fold a fitted sheet.

Carly Bouchard, 29, sat among a couple of dozen young adults sipping drinks at a Portland restaurant and hoping to uncover their true financial self.

“I’m a financial cripple,” Bouchard said.

Although she went to business school, Bouchard said, she now needs the Adulting School.

Co-founder Rachel Weinstein got the idea for The Adulting School from her work as a psychotherapist. She noticed that a lot of her clients struggled with the transition to adulthood, like how to pay bills on time and choose a career.

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“I’m still a dolt,” she said. “Not an ‘A-dult’ — a dolt — when it comes to my finances.”

Adrienne Abramowitz, 25, watched a demonstration on proper folding and then grabbed a fitted sheet as her friend Emily Rice, 26, coached.

“You put it together, and then you pinch it,” Abramowitz said.

But after a futile attempt, they called for help.

Despite the fun vibe, the goal behind the school is serious.

Co-founder Rachel Weinstein got the idea from her work as a psychotherapist. She noticed many of her clients struggled with the transition to adulthood. Things like paying bills on time and choosing a career were difficult for them.

“You know, when you see 10 people feeling like they’re the only one, and they’re all struggling with the same thing, you think, let’s get these people together so they can learn this stuff and not feel so isolated and ashamed,” Weinstein said.

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Managing money is a common source of stress for the school’s attendees.

They tend to be millennials and women. Lindsay Rowe Scala, 32, said she is trying to figure out how to save for the future and pay off school debt.

“In job interviews, they’re always asking ‘Where do you want to see yourself in five years?’ ” she said. “And I never know how to answer that because I’m always thinking on how to survive today and next week and what’s coming up.”

Holly Swyers, an associate professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College who has researched adulthood, said this stress goes back generations. She said part of the problem is that classes that teach life skills, like home economics, aren’t emphasized and there is no dedicated place to learn adult skills.

“We go through this age-graded system, and it tells us just do this and you’ll be fine,” Swyers says. “And then you graduate from high school or from college, and suddenly, there’s no more rules about, if you just do this step, that’s what comes next.”

The Adulting School has drawn criticism for its perceived coddling. But Swyers said the school deserves kudos for addressing a real problem.

As adults navigate from dependence to independence, Swyers said she would like to see more proactive approaches in helping them accomplish their transition.

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