Sunday, June 28, 2009

Annualized GDP falls 5.5 percent in Q1, corporate profits increase

"The U.S. economy decreased at an annualized rate of 5.5 percent in the first quarter after a 6.3 percent decline in the last quarter of 2008."

"The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which released first quarter gross domestic product figures Thursday, said the improved performance is due to a 1.4 percent increase in real personal consumption."

"The decline in GDP, which measures the output of goods and services produced in the U.S., coincided with a rise in corporate profits, which increased $48.1 billion in the first quarter following a $250.3 billion decrease in the fourth quarter of 2008."

US sending weapons to Somalia

"The US has revealed it is sending weapons and cash to the Somali government to aid its fight against al Shabab."

"The US state department said on Thursday it was "concerned" about whether the government of Sharif Ahmed could be overwhelmed by fighters from the group."

"Washington was hoping to help "repel the onslaught of extremist forces which are intent on ... spoiling efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia," Ian Kelly, a state department spokesman, said."

EPA: Pollution Cancer Risk Is Falling

"Thirty-six out of 1 million U.S. residents will develop cancer due to breathing toxic air pollution, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)."

"The estimate is based on 2002 levels of air pollution from gasoline cars, factories, and other sources. It represents a drop from a 2006 estimate, when the EPA predicted an average of 42 cancer cases per million people based on 1999 air pollution levels."

Peyton: Taxpayers will see need for tax hikes

"For an extra $115 next year, Mayor John Peyton says, the average Jacksonville homeowner would save things like fire stations, libraries, children’s programs and recycling."

"The mayor made his plan for a 1.2 mill property tax increase official Thursday."

"Peyton called his proposed 14 percent property tax rate increase a “marginal revenue play” that he thinks taxpayers will ultimately accept for the good of the city. Jacksonville, he said, has spent years under-investing in everything from parks to police."

“We have ordered up government on the cheap,” he said. “My concern is with further cuts, we make our city not only a lesser place to live but un-competitive as we try to grow this economy.”

"His “Fix it Now” plan also depends on $40 million in spending cuts, most of them coming from freezing wages, furloughing employees, eliminating 100 vacant positions and requiring all workers to contribute to their health-care plan."

"Council President-elect Richard Clark has been staunchly against a tax rate increase, saying the city needed to focus on cutting expenses. He could be persuaded, though, depending on what constituents say during community meetings he’s planning to hold in July."

"Of the $40 million in cuts — which are coming regardless of a tax increase — city employees are hit hardest:

- A salary freeze is expected to save $8 million.
- A 5 percent across-the-board departmental budget cut would save $8.5 million.
- Eliminating 100 vacant positions would free up $5 million in salary and benefit expenses.
- Targeting $10 million in savings from furloughs and a renegotiated union worker health plan."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama condemns 'unjust' Iran

"Obama said the international community was "appalled and outraged" by what he said were the "threats, beatings, and imprisonments" of demonstrators."

"I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering in Iran's affairs,'' he said during a news conference at the White House on Tuesday."

"But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.''

"At least 19 people have been killed in post-election clashes across Iran between protesters and riot police and paramilitaries."

Number of mass layoffs in U.S. ties record

"The number of mass layoffs by U.S. employers rose last month to tie a record set in March, according to government data released on Tuesday that suggested the labor market has yet to stabilize."

"The Labor Department said the number of mass layoff actions -- defined as job cuts involving at least 50 people from a single employer -- increased to 2,933 in May from 2,712 in April, resulting in the loss of 312,880 jobs."

"It was the largest loss of jobs connected to mass layoffs on records dating to 1995."

"The economy has lost six million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Economists polled by Reuters expect the economy shed a further 368,000 jobs in June."

Waiting isn't ER patients' top issue

"The study was done by Press Ganey, a consultant for more than 10,000 health care facilities (more than 40% of the USA's hospitals). For the fifth straight year, customer satisfaction showed a slight increase, to 83.7% from 83.1% in 2007."

"The bad news in the report: The average time spent for each visit to an emergency room is 4 hours and 3 minutes, a two-minute decline from 2007. Lengthy stays also were highlighted in April by the Government Accountability Office, which found some waits for emergent patients — those who should see a doctor in one to 14 minutes — were more than twice as long as they should be."

Florida’s unemployment rate hits 10.2%

"The seasonally adjusted rate for May is 10.2 percent. That translates to 943,000 unemployed out of a labor force of 9.2 million, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation."

"Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent."

"The state’s unemployment rate is up 4.4 percentage points from the same period a year ago. The last time the rate was higher was October 1975, when it was 11 percent."

"The unemployment rate in the Jacksonville metropolitan statistical area was 9.7 percent, up from 9.3 percent in April and 5.2 percent a year ago. The rate in Duval County was 10.2 percent, up from 9.8 percent in April and 5.4 percent a year earlier."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crist inks Fla. drug tracking, double-dipping laws

"Florida will set up an electronic tracking system for prescriptions by the end of 2010 in a bid to crack down on "doctor shopping" by addicts and drug dealers under a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Charlie Crist."

"Crist also signed a new law making it more difficult for elected officials and high-ranking public employees to "double dip" by collecting a salary and a pension at the same time. Another measure he signed would give law enforcement officers suspected of wrongdoing the opportunity to review evidence and witness statements before they are questioned."

"Pharmacies will be required to tell the state within 15 days who received a drug and what was prescribed. Pain clinics also will be required to register with the state and submit to annual inspections."

"The double-dipping measure (SB 479) will require officials to stay in retirement for six months, instead of only one under existing law, before going back to work in the same or another sate or local government job."

First Coast Schools Making the Grade

"Duval County Schools got a lot of good news today when the state grades were released. Compared to last year, more schools got an A or B, and fewer got a D or F."

"There are 148 public schools in the county, and 101 of them scored A or B, more than two-thirds. Last year, the number was 85."

"In 2008, 26 schools scored a D or F; this year, the number is down to 19."

Florida tent city offers hope to homeless

"Pinellas Hope was welcomed by St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Baker said the city contributed $250,000 to the camp last year and city crews helped clear the land.

"Lopez said it costs $2.6 million a year to run the camp with about half coming from donations of food and other items."

"Florida, where unemployment has soared as the recession put out of work thousands of people employed on construction sites during the housing boom, has nearly 50,000 homeless, according to the alliance. Nearly 6,500 of those are in the Tampa area."

Was Iran's election rigged? Here's what is known so far.

"In the biggest presidential election turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, some 85 percent of Iran's electorate went to the polls last Friday and gave incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory."

"Or did they?"

"Defeated challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi claims that the official result of 62.6 percent for Mr. Ahmadinejad and just 33.7 percent for him was a "dangerous charade," and has called for a new election. His newspaper, Kalameh Sabz, reported that more than 10 million votes were missing personal identification numbers that made the votes untraceable. He also says some polling stations closed prematurely, preventing some voters from casting ballots. "

"Results from 39.2 million handwritten ballots came much more swiftly than in previous votes, emerging within hours. Detailed election data typically released has not been made public."

"Iran's Supreme Leader sanctioned Ahmadinejad's victory after a day, instead of the customary three. "

"Earlier polls appeared to indicate a stronger showing for Ahmadinejad, who – though under fire for poor economic performance, a surge of inflation, and unemployment – had made 60 visits to Iran's provinces handing out cash and development projects."

"The final "official" figures, however, gave Ahmadinejad 24.5 million votes, and Mousavi 13.2 million. That result was a shock for many Iranians and analysts."

Cameras a no-no at Duval schools

"Duval County public school students won't be able to use still or video cameras on campus next school year without permission under a new Code of Student Conduct approved unanimously by the School Board. "

"Under the new policy, students can't use cameras on school property or at a school-sponsored event until they have permission from a school official or are using it as a part of a class assignment under the supervision of a teacher. "

"Also, students will be able to use cameras, so long as the use is not disruptive or illegal, after school hours at events on school grounds that are open to the general public."

DCF: Underage drinking costs Florida $3B a year

"A state agency says traffic accidents, crimes and medical costs incurred by underage drinkers are costing Florida more than $3 billion a year."

"A study released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Children and Families shows violent crime committed by minors while drinking costs about $316 million. Alcohol-related traffic crashes by minors costs about $642.7 million."

"According to the study, the number of Florida minors who reported drinking in the past 30 days was higher than the national average at 37 percent, compared to 29 percent."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Paying for Health Care Reform

"The President is committed to undertaking reform that is completely paid for and deficit neutral over the next decade. That is why he put forward in his FY 2010 Budget an historic $635 billion down payment on reform. Roughly half of this amount comes from revenue proposals, including limiting the value of itemized deductions for families making over a quarter-million dollars a year to the rates they were during the Reagan years, and about half comes from savings from Medicare and Medicaid."

"Since making this proposal, the Administration has worked with Congress on other ways to offset fully the cost of health care reform through additional savings and revenues. To that end, the Administration is detailing today savings proposals that will contribute another $313 billion over 10 years to paying for health care reform, bringing the total scoreable offsets put forward by the Administration to nearly $950 billion over 10 years. Together, this would extend the solvency of Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by seven years to about 2024, and reduce beneficiary premiums for physician and outpatient services by about $43 billion over the next 10 years. The Administration hopes these suggestions will help Congress as it continues to draft legislation, and remains open to any other proposals to pay for reform that Congress may put forward."

Senators held stock in bailed-out banks

"Senators who oversee the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package held stocks in many of the banks bailed out towards the end of last year, according to financial disclosure reports released Friday."

"According to the reports detailing senators’ finances in 2008, nearly half of the members of the Senate Banking Committee had holdings in financial institutions that have taken funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The panel has jurisdiction over the bailout fund and other relief efforts directed by federal regulators to save the nation’s financial system."

"For example, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), a Banking panel member, has assets in several banks that have taken bailout funds. Along with Goldman Sachs, the senator has several assets in Bank of America funds, worth at least $115,00. Bank of America has received $45 billion in government funds. "

"Another Democrat invested in bailed-out institutions is Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.). Schumer has assets valued between $15,001 and $50,000 in Morgan Stanley and $1,001 to $15,000 in Citibank, according to his financial disclosure report. Morgan Stanley received $10 billion in TARP money while Citigroup was given $25 billion from the program. Schumer's assets in the two banks were savings accounts, however, not stock."

Household Wealth in U.S. Decreased by $1.3 Trillion (Update1)

"U.S. household wealth fell in the first quarter by $1.3 trillion, extending the biggest slump on record, as home and stock prices dropped."

"Net worth for households and non-profit groups decreased to $50.4 trillion, the lowest level since 2004, from $51.7 trillion in the fourth quarter, according to the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds report today. The government began keeping quarterly records in 1952."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Survey: Venture capitalists shift strategy, go global

"More than half of the venture capitalists surveyed in the 2009 Global Venture Capital Survey conducted by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the National Venture Capital Association said they would invest in fewer companies in the near future, while 13 percent of the more than 700 worldwide respondents said they would increase the number of companies in which they plan to invest."

"And venture capitalists agree that investments are more likely to increase in countries outside of the U.S. than domestically in the next three years. Half of the venture capitalists surveyed said investment will increase in Asia (excluding India); 43 percent named India; 36 percent selected South America; 25 percent said Europe and the United Kingdom; and just 17 percent said investment would increase in North America."

"Fifty-two percent of all venture capitalists surveyed said they already invest outside their home countries."

JCCI Study: Jacksonville's Finances 'In Crisis'

"The study reports the city has debt obligations of almost $3 billion dollars and the problems have been made worse by the national recession."

"The study found the city isn't setting aside enough money every year for maintenance and construction and is not able to adequately take care of its assets."

"And the biggest threat to the city's financial health is the underfunded pension plans owed to fire and police and other city workers. The city now owes the funds $1 billion."

Taxpayers Have $80.3B Invested in Detroit

"The taxpayers’ investment in the U.S. auto industry rose to $80.3 billion, after the U.S. Treasury provided a new $30.1 billion bankruptcy loan to General Motors (GMGMQ: undefined, undefined, undefined%) on Wednesday, two days after GM filed for bankruptcy, a new Treasury report said."

"The funding amounts, through 15 transactions since December, total more than 10% of the $700 billion in bailout money Congress approved for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, in October, when it was expected to help stabilize mainly banks."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich

"Updating some research from Richard Vedder of Ohio University, we found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts."

"They're wrong, and New Hampshire is our favorite illustration. The Live Free or Die State has no income or sales tax, yet it has high-quality schools and excellent public services. Students in New Hampshire public schools achieve the fourth-highest test scores in the nation -- even though the state spends about $1,000 a year less per resident on state and local government than the average state and, incredibly, $5,000 less per person than New York. And on the other side of the ledger, California in 2007 had the highest-paid classroom teachers in the nation, and yet the Golden State had the second-lowest test scores."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

FEMA deadline burdens Katrina victims

"Nearly 4,000 Hurricane Katrina victims are being evicted from FEMA trailers this weekend."

"If you do not immediately surrender possession and move out of the unit by May 30, 2009, FEMA will initiate legal action to gain possession of the housing unit," reads the May 1 note sent to thousands of residents living in the Cavalier model trailers along the Gulf Coast."

"However, after FEMA was contacted by The Washington Times with questions about the evictions, the agency released a statement Friday that suggested not everyone will be put out on the street."

Geithner tells China its dollar assets are safe

"China is the biggest foreign owner of U.S. Treasury bonds. U.S. data shows that it held $768 billion in Treasuries as of March, but some analysts believe China's total U.S. dollar-denominated investments could be twice as high."

Lawmakers Bill Taxpayers For TVs, Cameras, Lexus

"Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings spent $24,730 in taxpayer money last year to lease a 2008 luxury Lexus hybrid sedan. Ohio Rep. Michael Turner expensed a $1,435 digital camera. Eni Faleomavaega, the House delegate from American Samoa, bought two 46-inch Sony TVs."

"The expenditures were legal, properly accounted for and drawn from allowances the U.S. government grants to lawmakers. Equipment purchased with office expense accounts must be returned to the House or the federal General Services Administration when a lawmaker leaves office."

"The records show that some lawmakers spent heavily in the final months of the year to draw down allowances before the end of December -- a time when U.S. households were paring their budgets and lawmakers were criticizing Detroit auto executives for taking private aircraft to Washington to plead their case for taxpayer funding."

"House members get a government expense allowance of $1.3 million to $1.9 million a year. Senators get $2.9 million to $4.5 million. The disparity is based on several factors, with lawmakers whose home states are far from Washington, for example, typically receiving more to cover their higher travel expenses."

"If lawmakers don't seek reimbursement for all of their allowance money for the year, the remainder doesn't roll over to the next year, but stays with the Treasury. The review showed that the increased year-end spending went not only toward equipment but also to fund year-end "bonuses" to aides. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to an earlier Journal analysis. Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000."


"For the second year in row, the number of violent crimes declined across the country—a total of 2.5 percent during 2008 compared to the previous year—according to our just-released Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report."

"And more good news: the number of property crimes decreased nationally as well—1.6 percent—over 2007 levels. In fact, property crime has fallen every year since 2003."
  • "All four of the violent crime offense categories declined nationwide: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter (down 4.4 percent), aggravated assault (down 3.2 percent), forcible rape (down 2.2 percent), and robbery (down 1.1 percent).
  • While violent crimes like murder, forcible rape, and robberies in cities with one million or more residents decreased, cities with less than 10,000 residents reported increases in those same categories (murder up 5.5 percent, forcible rape up 1.4 percent, robbery up 3.9 percent).
  • Nationwide, burglaries were the only property crime to show an increase (up 1.3 percent), while thefts decreased (down 0.6 percent) as did motor vehicle thefts (down a whopping 13.1 percent!).
  • Arson offenses, tracked separately from other property crimes, declined in all four regions of the country—Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. The largest decrease was in the West (down 5.9 percent)."