Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teach For America Applications Soar

"When school starts next fall, Teach for America will send an unprecedented number of college graduates to teach in poor communities across the country; but not as many as the group would like. "

"Teach for America this year chose 4,100 recruits from more than 35,000 applications, an increase over last year's class of 3,700 recruits. While the group has never accepted every applicant, this was the first time it had to turn down people who met all its rigorous criteria."

"The constraint is the economy. Tighter budgets have forced some school districts to cut back on hiring, though overall 500 more spots for Teach for America are available this year. Also, those who give to nonprofits like Teach for America are either holding the line or cutting back on their charitable giving, which pays for training and professional development for the recruits. "

Report Concludes Uninsured Are Costly for All

"Health insurance premiums for an average family are $1,000 a year higher because of costs of health care for the uninsured, a new report finds."

"And private coverage for the average individual costs an extra $370 a year because of the cost-shifting, which happens when someone without medical insurance gets care at an emergency room or elsewhere and then doesn't pay."

"The report found that, in 2008, uninsured people received $116 billion in health care from hospitals, doctors and other providers. The uninsured paid 37 percent of that amount out of their own pockets, and government programs and charities covered another 26 percent."

"That left about $43 billion unpaid, and that sum made its way into premiums charged by private insurance companies to businesses and individuals, the report said."

About 12 percent of U.S. homeowners late paying or foreclosed

"One of eight U.S. households with a mortgage ended the first quarter late on loan payments or in the foreclosure process in a crisis that will persist for at least another year until unemployment peaks, the Mortgage Bankers Association said on Thursday."

"Prime fixed-rate loans comprise 65 percent of the $9.9 trillion in outstanding first mortgages, according to the industry group."

"Foreclosure actions were started on an all-time high 1.37 percent of first mortgages in the quarter, a record increase from 1.08 percent the prior quarter."

Democrats to launch fight on $450B highway bill

"House Democrats are about to launch an ambitious effort to move a $450 billion highway bill to President Obama’s desk by the end of September."

"This year’s bill will be bigger than the 2005 bill, which cost $286 billion and was approved months after Congress hoped it would have gone into effect. Oberstar has said he expects the 2009 bill, which would authorize funding for road and rail projects over six years, will cost about $450 billion."

"During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said he would go through legislation line-by-line to target wasteful spending. Administration officials defended the decision to sign the $410 billion omnibus bill by arguing it represented last year’s business. "

"Lawmakers have submitted $136.3 billion in earmarked requests for local projects to this year’s highway bill, though many may not end up in the final product. The 2005 bill included $24 billion in earmarks."

Obama ducks promise to delay bill signings

"It seemed among the easiest of his transparency pledges and is entirely under his control, but President Obama is finagling his promise to post bills on the White House Web site for comment for five days before he signs them."

"Mr. Obama last week signed four bills, each just a day or two after Congress passed and sent it over to him."

"The White House said it posted links from its Web site to Congress' legislative Web site about a week before Mr. Obama signed the measures, but transparency advocates say that doesn't match the president's pledge to give Americans time to comment on the final version he is about to sign."

"He didn't say, 'When there's a bill heading to my desk,' or 'When we're pretty sure a bill will soon be passed.' He said when a bill ends up on his desk - a strong implication that public review would follow the bill arriving at his desk," said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute."

Supreme Court rules police can initiate suspect's questioning

"The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that police, under certain circumstances, can initiate an interrogation of a suspect without the defendant's lawyer being present."

"By a 5-4 vote, the conservative majority overruled a 23-year-old Supreme Court decision that barred the police from initiating questioning after a defendant asserted the right to an attorney at an arraignment or similar proceeding."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unemployment rate dips in Jacksonville

"Unemployment in Jacksonville dipped slightly to 9.2 percent in April, down from a seasonally adjusted 9.4 percent in March but still double the rate a year ago."

"The numbers were announced Friday by the state’s Agency or Workforce Innovation. Statewide unemployment dipped from a seasonally adjusted 9.8 percent in March to 9.6 percent in April. The rate was 4.9 percent in April 2008."

Web site details state’s travel costs

"Florida’s air travel bill between April 13 and April 30 was nearly $33,000, with the governor and state attorney general racking up the most flight time."

"The information comes from state travel logs that Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced are now posted on line by the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS)."

Third Grade FCAT Results Released

"The third grade results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) were released today."

"More students are at or above grade-level than the FCAT has ever seen. Looking long-term, the percentage of third graders at grade level or better is up 26% in nine years."

"Overall, 78% of third graders are at or above grade level, a 2% increase over last year. The reading scores slipped from 72% last year to 71% this year."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Customers more unhappy with U.S. banks: survey

"Higher fees and a worsening image for U.S. banks have left customers of the nation's biggest lenders more dissatisfied with the service they receive, a J.D. Power and Associates survey shows."

"Only 35 percent of customers polled said they are highly committed to their retail banks, down from 37 percent in 2008 and 41 percent in 2007."

"Rising fees were the main reason that customers switched banks. One in three who changed banks in the last year said they did so because of higher fees, according to the survey, which was released on Tuesday."

"A study late last year by found that lenders were imposing record high fees on such items as bounced checks and ATM charges, while boosting the minimum deposit amounts needed to avoid monthly fees."

Obama Calls for An Extreme Makeover of Our Culture: Are the Credit Card Companies Listening? [Updated]

"The problem, according to the president: "Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice."

"And he should definitely send it to the credit card companies, which, faced with customers choking on debt and forced to use their credits cards to pay for essentials like food and medical care, respond by jacking up interest rates and tacking on penalties and fees. Even as credit card defaults reached record levels in April. "

"When banks are charging 30 percent interest rates, they are not making credit available," said Senator Sanders. "They are engaged in loan sharking." Also known as usury. Throughout history, usury has been decried by writers, philosophers, and religious leaders."

JEA Approves Water Rate Increase

"The cost of water and sewer services is going up by about 10% for the average JEA customer. The JEA board of directors approved the hike on Tuesday folowing two years of study."

"Nearly 70% of JEA customers consume 6,000 gallons or less of water each month. For those households the water-sewer bill starting in October will go up slightly more than $5.00 a month."

"The October 1 water and sewer increase is the first of four rate hikes that will have bills go up around 10% each year."

City revenues, and expenses, dropping

"A mid-year budget report for Jacksonville shows revenues have dropped, but so have expenses. Revenues are $15.8 million below expectations. At the same time, city officials have cut spending by $22.4 million."

"The report notes a $10.7 million falloff in sales tax revenue alone, hinting at the overall economic woes city officials expect will continue preying on the coffers into next year. Among expense cuts, the report notes the city should save $14 million in salaries and benefits for a number of open jobs that have not been filled."

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Anatomy of Motive : The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals

Title: The Anatomy of Motive
Author: John Douglas
Genre: Non-Fiction, Crime

Review: Another Douglas book that is just like his other ones. Read one and you are good to go.

Grade: C

A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars

Title: A World Apart
Author: Cristina Rathbone
Genre: Non-Fiction, Crime, Prison, Women

Review: Very easy to read story about the women prison system. It makes you think...

Grade: B

The Associate

Title: The Associate
Author: John Grisham
Genre: Fiction, Legal Thriller

Review: Decent Grisham novel. He has been kind of off in his last few books this one included. A quick and worthy read, however.

Grade: C+

Forces of Habit

Title: Forces of Habit
Author: David Courtwright
Genre: Non-Fiction, Drugs, History

Review: A easy read. Short. Interesting argument by a UNF professor in regards to the power of drugs (and their effects on the people and the economy) throughout the world.

Grade: C+

U.S. workers paying more for healthcare: report

"Healthcare costs for Americans who get medical coverage through an employer hit a record $16,771 per family this year, and they are having to pay more themselves, a report released on Monday showed."

"Employers trying to save money in the current recession have forced workers to take on a greater portion of their healthcare costs, according to Milliman Inc., the consulting firm that prepared the report."

"Costs grew by an average of $1,162 per family this year from an average of $15,609 last year, the report said.'

"While employers' contribution to workers' monthly premiums increased by 5.4 percent over the past year, employees' contributions went up 14.7 percent, the third straight year of double-digit increases, the report said."

"Employers still pay the lion's share of healthcare costs, with an average contribution of $9,947 per worker. Employees paid an average of $4,004 in payroll deductions and an additional $2,820 in out-of-pocket expenses, the report found."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Germany set to suffer record deficit

"The German government will record its biggest post-war budget deficit this year as the economic crisis sends tax revenues plummeting, Peer Steinbrück, finance minister, said on Thursday."

"Mr Steinbrück admitted the federal deficit would exceed €50bn in 2009 and rise to €90bn next year, more than twice the previous record of €40bn set in 1996 as Germany was absorbing the huge cost of its unification. In contrast, the federal deficit last year was only €11.9bn."

CEO base pay plummets 24 percent in last year

"The average base salary of a CEO at a U.S. public company dropped 23.9 percent in the past year to $1.2 million, according to a study."

"The drop is the largest decline in base salaries in the past 12 years, according to the Redmond, Wash.-based ERI Economic Research Institute’s Executive Compensation Index."

"In May 2009, the average base pay was $1.2 million, down from $1.58 million in May 2008. But other parts of an average CEO’s compensation package haven’t fallen nearly as dramatically."

"Bonus and nonequity incentives have risen 1 percent in the past year, as well as other compensations. The average CEO compensation package, which includes bonuses, options, pension and other items, is now $16.65 million annually, down 3.3 percent from $17.21 million a year ago."

Is America about to go broke?

"News reports regularly inform us of the growing federal deficit, projected at a stunning $1.75 trillion for fiscal 2009 and $1.17 trillion for 2010. But regularly reported, less visible government obligations have been growing much faster."

"In the four years from January 2004 to January 2008, the Medicare trustees reported that the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare grew by a stunning $10.4 trillion. The average annual growth topped $2.5 trillion. "

"In the 2008 trustees' report (.pdf file), the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare -- promises of future retirement and health care benefits -- total $42.9 trillion. In a few days, we should be able to read the 2009 report. It's a good bet that the unfunded liabilities will show an increase in the new report."

White House memo challenges EPA finding on warming

"An Environmental Protection Agency proposal that could lead to regulating the gases blamed for global warming will prove costly for factories, small businesses and other institutions, according to a White House document."

"The nine-page memo is a compilation of opinions made by a dozen federal agencies and departments during an internal review before the EPA issued a finding in April that greenhouse gases pose dangers to public health and welfare."

"That finding could set in motion for the first time the regulation of six heat-trapping gases from cars and trucks, factories and other sources under the Clean Air Act."

"The document, labeled "Deliberative-Attorney Client Privilege," says that if the EPA proceeds with the regulation of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide, factories, small businesses and institutions would be subject to costly regulation."

"Making the decision to regulate carbon dioxide ... is likely to have serious economic consequences for regulated entities throughout the U.S. economy, including small businesses and small communities," the document says."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Most Liberal States Are Least Free

According to ABC, the most overpriced cities in America with "bloated housing prices, lofty living costs and unemployment rates among the highest in the nation" include:

1. LA
2. Chicago
4. New York City.

"According to a new study released by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, some of the most liberal U.S. states rank lowest when it comes to personal freedom."

"The freest states are New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place. All three states feature low taxes and government spending -- and middling levels of regulation and paternalism."

"New York is the least overall free by a considerable margin, followed by New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, and Maryland. "

Annual Checkup for Social Security and Medicare

"A year ago, the trustees projected that the Social Security trust fund would start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2017 and that the trust fund would be depleted in 2041."

"For the Medicare trust fund, which pays for hospital care, the situation was more urgent. It was projected to start paying more in benefits than it collects in taxes within a year, and the trustees forecast that it would be depleted by 2019."

"Fewer people working means less being paid into the trust funds for Social Security and Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office recently projected that Social Security will collect just $3 billion more in 2010 than it will pay out in benefits. A year ago, the CBO had projected that Social Security would have a much higher $86 billion cash surplus for the 2010 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. The difference in the two estimates is the result of the recession."

Home sales up in Jacksonville and statewide

"Existing single-family home sales were up 7 percent in Jacksonville during the first quarter 2009, and the statewide numbers were even better. Condominium sales in Jacksonville dropped 9 percent, according to the Florida Association of Realtors."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Taxis and buses face automatic speed limiting

"Thousands of taxis, buses and council vehicles could be fitted with devices that prevent them from exceeding the speed limit."

"The technology — known as Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) — is being tested by Transport for London in a trial starting this summer on all roads inside the M25."

"Drivers of vehicles with ISA will be able to select an option that prevents them from accelerating over the limit. The vehicle will also automatically slow down if the driver fails to reduce his speed when he passes a sign marking a lower limit."

"The device uses satellite tracking and a digital road map to detect the local speed limit."

Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits

"In its effort to overhaul health care, Congress is planning to give employers sweeping new authority to reward employees for healthy behavior, including better diet, more exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation."

"Congress is seriously considering proposals to provide tax credits or other subsidies to employers who offer wellness programs that meet federal criteria. In addition, lawmakers said they would make it easier for employers to use financial rewards or penalties to promote healthy behavior among employees."

"Under Mr. Harkin’s proposal, employers could obtain tax credits for programs that offer periodic screenings for health problems and counseling to help employees adopt healthier lifestyles. Programs could focus on tobacco use, obesity, physical fitness, nutrition and depression, he said."

Teaching Americans to Read and Write

"About 30 million people -- 14 percent of the US population 16 and older -- have trouble with basic reading and writing. Correlating factors that were explored in a new government report include poverty, ethnicity, native language background, and disabilities."

"Of these 30 million people, 7 million are considered "nonliterate" in English because their reading abilities are so low. When shown the label for an over-the-counter drug, for instance, many in this subgroup cannot read the word "adult" or a sentence explaining what to do in the event of an overdose."

Leaders Push for Police Presence at Block Parties

"In light of the recent violence at a block party, city leaders, MAD DADS and church leaders have proposed a change to a city ordinance requiring off-duty officers to be present at these large gatherings. "

"Private residents must already obtain a permit to have a block party but this revision would make them financially responsible for the police presence. "

"We feel this is necessary to provide sufficient security, to control the unexpected amount of attendees including children, the elderly and families," said Donald Foy, president of MAD DADS. "

"According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the price for an officer can vary depending on the function. But all events with alcohol are required to have two officers or more depending on the number of people in attendance. Standard rates are $28 per hour for an officer."

Beautiful Boy

Title: Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
Author: David Sheff
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Drugs

Review: Excellent book and memoir. Sheff writes about his son's addiction with meth (and the irony that he had his own addiction with his son's "treatment"). Short and easy to read. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has or knows someone with an addiction (this should apply to everyone whether you think so or not).

Grade: A


Title: Knockemstiff
Author: Donald Ray Pollock
Genre: Drama

Review: Decent book. Short and easy to read. It lacks any climax or story though. It was just a handful of different stories about a small town.

Grade: C

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Title: The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Fiction, Magic, Science Fiction

Review: Very short book that includes a few short stories from the Harry Potter world. I have read a few in the series and this is nothing compared to the actual Harry Potter stories. I would suggest to not read it. Some of the stories do not even make any sense.

Grade: D+

The Telephone Gambit

Title: The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret
Author: Seth Shulman
Genre: Non-fiction/Science

Review: Shulman argues that Bell was not the first to invent the phone but rather a man named Elisha Grey. Decent book although the book is too long. He repeats his argument and the handful of evidence to support it at least 12 times. Could have been a very small book (although it is only 200 pages).

Grade: B-

City of Thieves

Title: City of Thieves
Author: David Benioff
Genre: Drama/War

Review: Pretty good book about a soldier in World War II and his search for a dozen eggs. Short and well worth the time.

Grade: B

Thursday, May 7, 2009

N.Y. doctor offers flat-rate care for uninsured

"A New York doctor is offering flat-rate health care for the uninsured for $79 a month, but he has run afoul of state insurance regulations in a case that challenges the established norms of the U.S. health system."

"Dr. John Muney, president of AMG Medical Group, said he started the program in September after noticing that many of his patients were losing their jobs, and therefore, their health insurance coverage."

"About 500 people have registered for Muney's $79-a-month plan, accounting for 15 percent of patients at the practice, which has offices in each of New York's five boroughs."

"The monthly $79 fee -- roughly equivalent to the price of a Starbucks coffee a day -- covers unlimited preventive visits and onsite medical services such as minor surgery, physical therapy, lab work and gynecological care."

"So far the program has not turned a profit, but Muney said he estimates that it could be profitable with 4,000 patients. In the meantime, he said, his motive is to give something back and provide a model of how healthcare can be more efficient."

"Our healthcare system lends itself to abuse, fraud and waste," he said, adding that bypassing insurers saved on administrative costs, which he said were about 25 percent of the price of care. "With this model, we're bypassing all that."

"Muney said he received initial complaints from state insurance authorities in November. "The law says you can do preventive checkups unlimited, but if they come for sick visits you have to charge your overhead costs," he told Reuters."

"In February he received a letter instructing him that he must charge that minimum cost, which he calculates at $33 a visit -- a price he says will deter people from signing up."

Where Have All the Doctors Gone?

"But the rate of that growth is expected to shrink considerably over the next decade as the number of retirees increases."

"At the same time, consumer demand for medical services is expected to increase. Again, blame the baby boomers: While the total population is expected to increase by 18 percent over the next 10 years, the population over the age of 65 will expand by 54 percent. Since older people require more health care, we'll need more doctors to handle the same number of patients."

"Ironically, just a little more than a decade ago, there was a doctor surplus. In 1996, a committee of the Institute of Medicine warned that the United States had a surfeit of doctors caused by foreign-trained physicians coming here to work and recommended freezing med-school class sizes and limiting first-year residency positions. A year later, Slate ran an article on an alternative strategy for reducing the number of doctors approved by the federal Health Care Financing Administration. Under the Graduate Medical Education Demonstration Project, 41 teaching hospitals received $400 million in exchange for not training between 20 percent and 25 percent of the medical residents they would otherwise have trained over the next six years."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Obama Takes Aim At Tax Havens, Loopholes

"President Barack Obama vowed Monday to "detect and pursue" U.S tax evaders and go after their offshore tax shelters. "

"In announcing a series of steps aimed at overhauling the U.S. tax code, Mr. Obama complained that existing law makes it possible to "pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York."

"The president said he wants to prevent U.S. companies from deferring tax payments by keeping profits in foreign countries rather than recording them at home and called for more transparency in bank accounts that Americans hold in notorious tax havens like the Cayman Islands."

"The president, who hammered on this issue during his long campaign for the White House, said at a White House event that his plan would generate $210 billion in new taxes over 10 years and "make it easier" for companies to create jobs at home. Over a decade, $210 billion would make a modest dent in a federal deficit expected to swell to $1.2 trillion in 2010. "

"Under the plan, companies would not be able to write off domestic expenses for generating profits abroad. The goal is to reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to base all or part of their operations in other countries. "

The Rust Belt: A forgotten housing crisis

"While most attention has focused on the wave of foreclosures sweeping mostly middle-class, suburban Sunbelt neighborhoods from California to Florida, the nation's emptiest neighborhoods have remained concentrated in the same place for nearly a generation: the mostly minority, poor, urban neighborhoods of the American Rust Belt."

"An analysis by The Associated Press, based on data collected by the U.S. Postal Service and the Housing and Urban Development Department, shows the emptiest neighborhoods are clustered in places hit hard during the recession of the 1980s — cities such as Flint, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Indianapolis."

"In some sections of certain areas like Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, roughly two of every three homes are vacant or used by squatters. The area is more than 70 percent black and poor, with unemployment often around 50 percent. It's a place where simmering resentment and frustration boiled up into three days of rioting in 2001 after police fatally shot a young, unarmed black man fleeing arrest on traffic warrants."

"In Buffalo, there are as many as 10,000 vacant, abandoned homes. Suburban sprawl, an aging population and manufacturing losses have left the city with a population under 300,000 — about half what it was during the 1950s."

House Democrats unveil $94.2 billion wartime spending bill

"House Democrats unveiled a $94.2 billion wartime spending bill Monday which adds $9.3 billion to White House requests but also reflects serious doubts about the long-term viability of President Barack Obama’s military commitments to Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan. "

Get ready for more taxes, less service from $65B Florida budget deal

"A few days late and a little worn out, Florida legislators finally reached an accord Monday on how to balance the proposed $65 billion state budget that touches every life in the nation's fourth most-populous state."

"The budget raises an historic amount of taxes, fees and licenses -- about $2 billion worth -- on smokers, drivers, property owners, sportsmen, university students and sportsmen."

"Pumped with $5 billion in federal bailout cash, the budget provides a small boost in per-student spending for K-12 schools, and trims a wide array of Medicaid reimbursements to doctors and hospitals and applied a 2 percent reduction to the salaries of state workers earning more than $45,000 yearly."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book Review: Sail

Title: Sail
Author: James Patterson
Genre: Mystery

Review: Horrible book. I have constantly promised myself that I will no longer read Patterson novels, however, the quickness by which I can read his novels make it hard to turn them down. I wish I would have though; I didn't even finish it.

Do not read this book!

Grade: F

Book Review: Indignation

Title: Indignation
Author: Philip Roth
Genre: Drama

Review: A good story. It is incredibly short and can be read in only a few hours.

Grade: B+

Book Review: The Spellman Files

Title: The Spellman Files
Author: Lisa Lutz
Genre: Mystery, Comedy

Review: This is a hilarious book. It is both entertaining and engrossing. I couldn't put it down. It is a comedy/crime novel about a family of private investigators and the life they live.

A must read!

Grade: A

(For all book reviews: the above link will guide you to the synopsis of the actual book. My only job is to tell you, in the least amount of words, whether it is worth reading or not).

Taxpayers to get rude surprise

"Millions of Americans enjoying their small windfall from President Barack Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax credit are in for an unpleasant surprise next spring. "

"The government is going to want some of that money back."

"The tax credit is supposed to provide up to $400 to individuals and $800 to married couples as part of the massive economic recovery package enacted in February. Most workers started receiving the credit through small increases in their paychecks in the past month."

"The credit pays workers 6.2 percent of their earned income, up to a maximum of $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples who file jointly. Individuals making more $95,000 and couples making more than $190,000 are ineligible."

"But new tax withholding tables issued by the IRS could cause millions of taxpayers to get hundreds of dollars more than they are entitled to under the credit, money that will have to be repaid at tax time."

"A single worker with two jobs making $20,000 a year at each job will get a $400 boost in take-home pay at each of them, for a total of $800. That worker, however, is eligible for a maximum credit of $400, so the remaining $400 will have to be paid back at tax time -- either through a smaller refund or a payment to the IRS."