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(ENVIRONMENT) READ: Gizmos’ Energy Draw Alarms Experts…

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294955-6-20090919194543.image(Newser Summary) – All around the house, electronic gadgets are blinking, buzzing, computing—and drawing on an immense amount of energy, the New York Times reports. Worldwide, they take up 15% of household power, and will likely consume three times as much by 2029, making it harder to combat global warming. Two hundred and thirty nuclear plants would be needed to fuel that demand, the International Energy Agency says.

Most experts say regulations are needed to limit gadgets’ energy draw, but manufacturers have resisted such mandates. A federal attempt to limit the power draw of TVs—flat-screens are the biggest energy offender—died in the 1990s due to industry opposition. But Congress has done it before, limiting the energy use of appliances like refrigerators and washers. “Standards are one of the few ways to cheaply go after big chunks of energy savings,” one advocate says.

Neal Colgrass

Source: New York Times

Written by dnnnewshound

September 26, 2009 at 10:34 am

Posted in Ecology, Economics

Tagged with , ,

(ECONOMY/OUTRAGEOUS) READ: Chicago Cabbies Want To Charge For People Tossing Their Lunch!…

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s-CAB-largeSource: The Huffington Post

Chicago could become the first major city in the country with a puking ordinance if cab drivers get their way.

Chicago taxi drivers proposed a package of fee and fare hikes Thursday designed to offset their plunging income during the recession. Among the more controversial revenue-boosting ideas brought to the City Council is charging customers $50 for vomiting in cabs.

If enacted, Chicago would become one of America’s least friendly cities for drunks and people who eat bad shellfish. Customers who barf in cabs in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C., Houston or San Francisco may face the driver’s wrath, but they won’t see any additional charges.

“No, we do not have a puking fee,” Boston Police spokesman Joe Zanoli told the Huffington Post. “To my knowledge it’s free to puke in a cab.”

Raymond Turner, president of Yellow Cab Houston, said Friday that of the nearly 3.7 million cab trips his company makes yearly only a fraction involve incidents of reverse peristalsis.

“It’s a fairly rare event,” Turner said. “From my perspective, putting a city ordinance that applies to all cab rides for something that happens only three or four times a month is not very prudent.”

Turner added that while Houston has no law allowing for a fee, drivers often work out arrangements with customers who ralph while in transit. Some passengers agree to pay for a car wash, while others give larger tips.

Written by dnnnewshound

September 26, 2009 at 10:09 am

Posted in Economy, Outrageous

Tagged with ,

(ECONOMICS) READ: Cash-strapped States Are Hoping You’ll Sin, But There’s Not Enough Sinners!…

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Source: ESQUIRE

las-vegas-strip-1009-lg-2694219

The Las Vegas of 2009 has become much more reliant on high-end customers looking to splurge.

It’s never quite accurate to describe Las Vegas as a ghost town. Even at five in the morning on a Tuesday, it’s liable to be more lively than your average main street or shopping mall. But when I arrived there for a brief getaway last November, it was not the same bustling town I’d been used to. My flight from Houston was barely a third full. There was no line at the taxi stand, and my cabbie told me that several of his friends had recently been laid off from construction work on a variety of new developments, many of which had been halted in midstream after financing dried up. And when I arrived at Las Vegas Boulevard in the heart of the Strip, I found as many locals handing out postcards for dodgy escort services as tourists.

None of this, I suppose, should have been surprising: November was the nadir of the worst recession since the Second World War. Nevertheless, conventional wisdom has long held that gambling is recession-proof. In Las Vegas, it’s been anything but. Gaming revenues received by local casinos were down 12 percent in 2008 as compared with a year earlier. (This figure and all others in this article are reported on an inflation-adjusted basis.) And 2009 will be even worse: So far, revenues are off almost 15 percent from 2008’s already depressed figures. The recession, then, appears set to cost Las Vegas more than a quarter of its business.

This is sobering news not just for those who have purchased property in Las Vegas — economist Tyler Cowen recently stated that the real estate market would not recover there for another twenty years — but also for cash-strapped state legislatures that are turning to casino gambling as a way to raise revenue. Delaware, which already offers horse racing and slot machines, now plans to extend its law to permit table games like blackjack and, more controversially, sports betting. In July, Ohio governor Ted Strickland signed an executive order to permit slot machines at horse tracks, while California began to allow offtrack betting on horse races for the first time. Philadelphia will soon become the largest American city to permit casino gambling within city limits, although play will initially be limited to slot machines. And in Texas — where, ironically, no legal game of Texas hold ’em is available — gaming advocates are hoping that Kay Bailey Hutchison will defeat gambling-averse incumbent Rick Perry in next year’s governor’s race, which would empower the state legislature to consider casino gambling there.

But desperate state governments looking to casinos to bail them out of their budget nightmares are likely to be disappointed. The same may be the case with trying to tap other “sins” for revenue. Nationally, sales of alcohol for off-premises consumption were down significantly last year, an unprecedented 9.3 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the Commerce Department. The largest previous drop had been just 3.7 percent, between the third and fourth quarters of 1991.

Alcohol consumption can at least be expected to bounce back a bit — right? — but a lot of the potential customers of the new casinos may be tapped out. The year 2008 was the first time in history that total casino gaming revenues declined throughout the United States (by about 5 percent according to industry estimates). In most jurisdictions, gambling revenues max out quickly. In Atlantic City, for example, which opened for business in 1978, gaming revenues were no higher in 2008 than they were in 1986, and 2009 is on pace to be the slowest year since 1983. Gambling revenues peaked in 2002 in Illinois, in 2000 in Mississippi, and in 2006 in Detroit, which had only begun to permit gambling ten years earlier. The boom years in Vegas, when revenues nearly doubled, between 1989 and 2006, might have led states to misread casino gambling’s upside potential.

What we’ve witnessed, indeed, is something of a race to the bottom. Shortly after President Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, which expressly permitted Indian tribes to open casinos under tribal-state compacts, states like Mississippi, Illinois, and Colorado — seeing no reason to split their profits with the Seminoles or the Cherokee — decided to permit their own state-run facilities. Neighboring states, worried about losing their customers across state lines, then followed suit: Louisiana a year after Mississippi, Indiana and Missouri three years after Illinois, Michigan two years after Ontario, Canada. Meanwhile, the Indian tribes continued to up the ante, their casino revenuesapproximately tripling from 1997 to 2006.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/data/nate-silver-sin-tax-1009?src=rss#ixzz0Rm0Qi3Kb

Written by dnnnewshound

September 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Economics

Tagged with , , ,

(OUTRAGEOUS) READ: Loving Couple Divorces To Stay Afloat Financially….

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Source: The Huffington Post

s-RONMARY-largeFor Mary McCurnin and husband Ron Bednar, money trouble has followed health trouble. In 2003, the couple declared bankruptcy after their insurance covered only 10 percent of treatment costs for her breast cancer and his intestinal bleeding. In 2004, McCurnin’s breast cancer returned, and Bednar underwent open heart surgery.

Now, after repeatedly refinancing their house to pay medical bills and living expenses, they’re broke. To improve their chances of growing old together, they’ve filed for divorce.

“It occurred to me that I could get my first husband’s Social Security,” said McCurnin. Her first husband, to whom she’d been married 20 years, died in 1989. When she turns 60 in November, McCurnin said she will be eligible for $1,200 in monthly survivor’s benefits from the previous marriage. As the Social Security Administration told her, she can’t have the survivor benefit if she’s married to someone else.

The Rancho Cordova, Calif. couple has been scraping by with the occasional freelance gig — both are graphic artists — and Bednar brings in $1,000 a month in Social Security benefits. They haven’t made a payment on either of their mortgages in two months and fully expect a foreclosure. McCurnin told the Huffington Post that they don’t bother opening mail from their credit card companies, to whom they owe at least $10,000.

McCurnin said she suspects their horrendous credit is a huge obstacle to either of them landing a job, and Bednar talks about the “gray wall” that faces perfectly qualified older workers.

“We literally live from week to week,” said McCurnin. “We got $300 in the bank.”

McCurnin has health insurance via Medi-Cal; Bednar is hoping to stay healthy until next August, when he turns 65 and will be eligible for Medicare.

The couple first attempted to file for divorce in February, but ultimately hired a paralegal when their paperwork kept getting rejected for errors. They expect the divorce to be finalized in the coming weeks. There’s a bright side: After the widow’s benefits kick in, they could remarry without her losing them.

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“She could divorce him now to collect short-term benefits on her earlier husband, and then at some later point after age 60 remarry him without it affecting her widow’s benefits,” said Lowell Kepke, a spokesman for the San Francisco regional office of the Social Security Administration. “Congress put that in precisely to stop encouraging elderly couples from not getting married.”

But the widow’s benefits aren’t the only reasons for the divorce. McCurnin and Bednar will be able to earn more money working before reaching a cap that would reduce their Social Security payments. Married couples are allowed to earn much less than the sum of what two individuals can earn separately.

“It’s always significantly less for the couple than it is after a divorce,” said Mary Thuerwachter, an elder law attorney in California, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

And, potentially more importantly, McCurnin and Bednar will be indemnified from each other’s future debts, should expensive medical problems come up.

“They will be off the hook,” Thuerwachter said.

The couple will be glad to get a break, but it’s not exactly the ideal kind.

Bednar, the couple agrees, is a little more romantic about it.

“It makes me feel awful, to tell you the truth,” he told the Huffington Post. “It makes me sad. It really does. I believe in the marriage. I believe in the whole act of marriage, to declare that we are married in front of friends and family and God and all that. It just makes me sad to have to go through that process.”

“The only thing that happens is a check mark in a box in a courthouse,” said McCurnin, who takes a more pragmatic view. “It’s absurd… Having to get divorced in order to be able to eat. I have no idea why it’s like that.” READ MORE

Written by dnnnewshound

September 16, 2009 at 9:00 am

Posted in Outrageous, Recession

(CRIME/WORLD) READ: Peru Flooding US With Counterfeit Bills…

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About $8 million in fake greenbacks found in U.S., another $18 million in Peru

Fist of Money(Newser Summary) – American officials have seized some $8 million in high-quality counterfeit US bills made in Peru, reports the Los Angeles Times. South American raids have uncovered another $18 million. The massive number of fake bills costs businesses and individuals millions, and threatens to undermine confidence in US currency, warn officials. “It’s a form of economic terrorism,” said a Secret Service agent.

Early this year, US officials launched a special task force to train Peruvian police and bankers to identify and capture counterfeiters. Columbia used to print about 70% of fake dollars passed in the states until a similar crackdown cut production to about 5%—which still accounts for millions of fake bills. Police action may have driven some Columbian counterfeiters to Peru. Human “mules” bring the money across borders, often with it strapped to their bodies.

Mat Probasco

Source: Los Angeles Times

Written by dnnnewshound

September 13, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Crime, Economics

Tagged with , , ,

(POLITICS) NYT: Government Pays Legal Bills For Executives That Defrauded The Government…

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Source: NYtimes/The Huffington Post

www.huffingtonpost.com_Raines_s-RAINES-largePRECISELY one year ago, we lucky taxpayers took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants that contributed mightily to the wild and crazy home-loan-boom-turned-bust. In that rescue operation, the Treasury agreed to pony up as much as $200 billion to keep Fannie in the black, coughing up cash whenever its liabilities exceed its assets. According to the company’s most recent quarterly financial statement, the Treasury will, by Sept. 30, have handed over $45 billion to shore up the company’s net worth.

It is still unclear what the ultimate cost of this bailout will be. But thanks to inquiries by Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, we do know of another, simply outrageous cost. As a result of the Fannie takeover, taxpayers are paying millions of dollars in legal defense bills for three top former executives, including Franklin D. Raines, who left the company in late 2004 under accusations of accounting improprieties. From Sept. 6, 2008, to July 21, these legal payments totaled $6.3 million.

With all the turmoil of the financial crisis, you may have forgotten about the book-cooking that went on at Fannie Mae. Government inquiries found that between 1998 and 2004, senior executives at Fannie manipulated its results to hit earnings targets and generate $115 million in bonus compensation. Fannie had to restate its financial results by $6.3 billion.

Almost two years later, in 2006, Fannie’s regulator concluded an investigation of the accounting with a scathing report. “The conduct of Mr. Raines, chief financial officer J. Timothy Howard, and other members of the inner circle of senior executives at Fannie Mae was inconsistent with the values of responsibility, accountability, and integrity,” it said.

That year, the government sued Mr. Raines, Mr. Howard and Leanne Spencer, Fannie’s former controller, seeking $100 million in fines and $115 million in restitution from bonuses the government contended were not earned. Without admitting wrongdoing, Mr. Raines, Mr. Howard and Ms. Spencer paid $31.4 million in 2008 to settle the litigation.

When these top executives left Fannie, the company was obligated to cover the legal costs associated with shareholder suits brought against them in the wake of the accounting scandal.

Now those costs are ours. Between Sept. 6, 2008, and July 21, we taxpayers spent $2.43 million to defend Mr. Raines, $1.35 million for Mr. Howard, and $2.52 million to defend Ms. Spencer.

“I cannot see the justification of people who led these organizations into insolvency getting a free ride,” Mr. Grayson said. “It goes right to the heart of what people find most disturbing in this situation — the absolute lack of justice.” READ MORE

Written by dnnnewshound

September 6, 2009 at 12:32 pm

(ECONOMY) READ: Cash-Strapped States To Set Inmates Free…

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www.huffingtonpost.com_Inmates_s-INMATES-largeMandatory sentencing laws are relaxed, parole is accelerated, and time off for good behavior is increased as states scramble to save money.

Reporting from Denver – After decades of pursuing lock-’em-up policies, states are scrambling to reduce their prison populations in the face of tight budgets, making fundamental changes to their criminal justice systems as they try to save money.

Some states are revising mandatory-sentencing laws that locked up nonviolent offenders; others are recalculating the way prison time is counted.

California, with the nation’s second-largest prison system, is considering perhaps the most dramatic proposal — releasing 40,000 inmates to save money and comply with a court ruling that found the state’s prisons overcrowded.

Colorado will accelerate parole for nearly one-sixth of its prison population. Kentucky has already granted early release to more than 3,000 inmates. Oregon has temporarily nullified a voter initiative calling for stiffer sentences for some crimes, and has increased by 10% the time inmates get off their sentences for good behavior.

The flurry of activity has led to an unusual phenomenon — bureaucrats and politicians expressing relief at the tight times. “The budget has actually helped us,” said Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Corrections Department in Michigan, which increased its parole board by 50% this year to speed up releases.

“When you’re not having budget troubles, that’s when we implemented many of these lengthy drug sentences and zero-tolerance policies [that] really didn’t work,” he said.

Though prison budgets grew steadily over the last 20 years, a recent survey found that 26 states cut their corrections budgets this year. The reductions range from the small-scale — such as putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs — to sweeping changes like the early releases.

“States are saying, ‘We can’t build our way to public safety, especially when budgets are tight,’ ” said Adam Gelb, head of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “For the most part, state leaders are not holding their noses and making these changes just to balance their budgets. They’re beginning to realize that research-based strategies can lead to less crime at far less cost than prison.”

Many states have expanded credit for good behavior. Others have made legal tweaks, such as raising the minimum amount of damage required for a property crime to be a felony. Some, like New York, have overhauled long-criticized mandatory sentencing laws that sent nonviolent, first-time drug offenders to state prison. READ MORE

Written by dnnnewshound

September 5, 2009 at 10:25 am