Sunday, January 30, 2011

New law could foster community radio boom

On January 4, the nonprofit Prometheus and other groups seeking to diversify media ownership, scored a victory when President Barack Obama signed into law the Local Community Radio Act. It directs the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the national airwaves, to allow more low-power stations access to the FM radio dial.

Once implemented, the law is expected to result in as many 2,000 new stations, beginning in about 2013.

That would more than double the approximately 800 low-power stations currently in operation, compared with around 13,000 commercial stations nationwide. About a third of commercial stations are owned by half a dozen corporations, led by Clear Channel Communications, Inc., with almost 900.

Since about half the existing low-power FM stations are owned by churches, some of the new material is also likely to be religious.

Feeding Jacksonville's homeless isn't as easy as it sounds

If a church group wants to offer food to the homeless, it better have a permit - most of the time.

Feeding more than 21 people triggers the need for a permit. Feeding in a city park is equivalent to renting it out for a party, under current policy.

But passing out food in a park like Hemming Plaza, which was the site of a dispute last weekend, falls under the JaxParks department and could require an additional special use permit. On private property, such as a church building, churches are still asked to fill out an Application for Feeding the Homeless for Bona Fide Religious Reasons.

Once Popular, Car Pools Go the Way of Hitchhiking

The percentage of workers who car-pool has dropped by almost half since 1980, the first time the Census Bureau started systematically tracking the numbers, according to new data from the bureau.

Today, advocates point to the increase in social networking tools that would make it easier to identify potential ride-sharing mates — yet the national car-pooling rate continues to fall, and today it is below 12 percent of all drivers.

U.S. economy grew 3.2 percent in 4th quarter

The Commerce Department reported Friday that growth rose to an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the October-December quarter. That’s better than the 2.6 percent growth in the previous quarter. And it was the best quarterly showing since the start of last year.

The economy has now consistently picked up speed since hitting a rough path in the spring.

For all of last year, the economy grew 2.9 percent, the most since 2005. It was an improvement from 2009 when the economy suffered its worst decline in more than 60 years.

Senate Rules Fight

As expected, the Senate this week refused to make any significant changes in the rules on the filibuster, but Senators did agree to clamp down on what are known as "secret holds."
The move caps years of effort by Senators in both parties to crack down on the practice of "anonymous" holds, where a Senator could delay action on a bill, but not have his or her identity revealed.

The change approved on Thursday would require that names be printed in the Congressional Record, to better identify who is holding up what bill.

Mayoral candidates Mullaney, Moran debate land use and planning

Some of the key topics are below.

On development, redevelopment, historic districts and urban sprawl:
Mullaney - The focus needs to be on how to encourage growth and development to generate jobs.
Moran - The city should zero in on certain areas and encourage infill development that's "good business and good strategy for the future."

On encouraging and incentivizing green building:
Moran: The city should look at what other cities are doing to find the best strategy. She would hire a Chief Sustainability Officer to look at every aspect of city government.
Mullaney - He does not have that on his platform yet but said it should be a priority.

On the Mayport cruise terminal proposal, which has been hotly contested by Mayport residents:
Moran - She said she met with Mayport residents and looked at the site, and said they feel shut out of the government process. She said she would investigate the possibility of putting the terminal in Fernandina Beach.
Mullaney - He said he believes there is more support for the terminal in Mayport than some think. He supports the terminal and said the economic benefits to Mayport and the city as a whole would be substantial.

On pension reform and protecting the city's bond rating:
Mullaney - He cited his "34-point plan" for restructuring city finances. He also cited his pension reform plan and said it would save $1 billion to $1.5 billion over 35 years.
Moran - She said she is already working on a budget proposal, and said would ask for the resignation of all appointed employees in order to examine every position and salary. She said pension reform is needed to keep the city from going bankrupt and outlined her plan, which would restructure the city, police and fire pension program.

Moran and Mullaney agreed on the need for the city to take the lead in dredging the St. Johns River to improve the port. Meanwhile, Mullaney focused on bringing a medical school to Jacksonville and Moran emphasized her plan to improve public education in the city.

Study links suicide and lack of sleep in teens

Teenagers who thought about or attempted suicide were more likely to have suffered sleep disorders in earlier years, researchers say.

Sixty percent of teens ages 15 to 17 who engaged in suicidal behavior had trouble sleeping at 12 to 14. Among those who only thought about suicide, 47 percent had trouble sleeping in earlier years.

By comparison, only 26 percent of teens with no suicidal thoughts or behavior had trouble sleeping at ages 12 to 14.

Fla. Sen. Rubio gets his committee assignments

Sen. Marco Rubio will serve on four committees: Commerce, Science and Transportation; Foreign Relations; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Corporate Tax Code Proves Hard to Change

President Obama on Tuesday added his name to the long list of politicians who have called for an overhaul of those rules, so that companies of all kinds pay the federal government a roughly equal share of their annual profits.

“It makes no sense, and it has to change,” Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union address. “Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years — without adding to our deficit. It can be done.”

Color-coded terror warnings to be gone by April 27

By the end of April, terror threats to the U.S. will no longer be described in shades of green, blue, yellow, orange and red, the Associated Press has learned.

The nation’s color-coded terror warning system will be phased out beginning this week, according to government officials familiar with the plan. The officials requested anonymity to speak ahead of an announcement scheduled Thursday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The Obama administration will take the next three months to roll out a replacement, which will be called the National Terrorism Advisory System. The new plan calls for notifying specific audiences about specific threats. In some cases, it might be a one-page threat description sent to law enforcement officials describing the threat, what law enforcement needs to do about it and what the federal government is doing, one of the officials said.

When agency officials think there is a threat the public should know about, they will issue an announcement and rely on news organizations and social media outlets to get the word out.

Fed to Continue Bond-Buying Program

Federal Reserve policy makers voted unanimously on Wednesday to continue the central bank’s $600 billion plan to spur the recovery by buying government bonds.

As expected, the Fed left its benchmark short-term interest rate — the federal funds rate, at which banks borrow from each other overnight — at a range of 0 to 0.25 percent, unchanged since December 2008.

From December 2008 to March 2010, the Fed bought $1.7 trillion in mortgage-related securities and Treasury securities to stabilize the housing market and provide support to an economy in the grip of recession. The current round of easing — $75 billion a month in bond purchases, starting in November — is supposed to continue through June.

Wal-Mart drops plan to build near Civil War site

Wal-Mart Stores Inc said it has dropped plans to build a superstore near the site of an historic 1864 Civil War battlefield in Virginia, bowing to pressure from preservationists.

Duval schools have spent $12M on assessments, says superintendent

Duval County Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals told a Senate committee Wednesday morning that the district has spent a total of $12 million over the past few years developing more than 450 assessments to test student achievement gains.

Jacksonville Peyton Sounds off Again on Police Union Contract Vote

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents police and correctional officers, voted against a proposed contract that calls for a 2 percent pay cut and for employees to pay 5 percent of the actual cost of any health plan other than the high deductible plan.

Nearly 100 percent of both police officers and correctional workers voted no.

Nelson Cuba, local FOP president, said his forensic auditors revealed the city has the funds. "They're not willing to accept this because the city has plenty of money," he said after the vote.

But the city said those are reserve and contingency funds and cannot be used for salaries.

Financial Crisis Was Avoidable, Inquiry Finds

The 2008 financial crisis was an “avoidable” disaster caused by widespread failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement and heedless risk-taking by Wall Street, according to the conclusions of a federal inquiry.

The commission that investigated the crisis casts a wide net of blame, faulting two administrations, the Federal Reserve and other regulators for permitting a calamitous concoction: shoddy mortgage lending, the excessive packaging and sale of loans to investors and risky bets on securities backed by the loans.

“The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done,” the panel wrote in the report’s conclusions, which were read by The New York Times. “If we accept this notion, it will happen again.”

Of the 10 commission members, the six appointed by Democrats endorsed the final report. Three Republican members have prepared a dissent focusing on a narrower set of causes; a fourth Republican, Peter J. Wallison, has his own dissent, calling policies to promote homeownership the major culprit. The panel was hobbled repeatedly by internal divisions and staff turnover.

The majority report finds fault with two Fed chairmen: Alan Greenspan, who led the central bank as the housing bubble expanded, and his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, who did not foresee the crisis but played a crucial role in the response. It criticizes Mr. Greenspan for advocating deregulation and cites a “pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages” under his leadership as a “prime example” of negligence.

It also criticizes the Bush administration’s “inconsistent response” to the crisis — allowing Lehman Brothers to collapse in September 2008 after earlier bailing out another bank, Bear Stearns, with Fed help — as having “added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets.”

Like Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Bush’s Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., predicted in 2007 — wrongly, it turned out — that the subprime collapse would be contained, the report notes.

Democrats also come under fire. The decision in 2000 to shield the exotic financial instruments known as over-the-counter derivatives from regulation, made during the last year of President Bill Clinton’s term, is called “a key turning point in the march toward the financial crisis.”

Timothy F. Geithner, who was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York during the crisis and is now the Treasury secretary, was not unscathed; the report finds that the New York Fed missed signs of trouble at Citigroup and Lehman, though it did not have the main responsibility for overseeing them.

The report does knock down — at least partly — several early theories for the financial crisis. It says the low interest rates brought about by the Fed after the 2001 recession; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants; and the “aggressive homeownership goals” set by the government as part of a “philosophy of opportunity” were not major culprits.

On the other hand, the report is harsh on regulators. It finds that the Securities and Exchange Commission failed to require big banks to hold more capital to cushion potential losses and halt risky practices, and that the Fed “neglected its mission.”

It says the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates some banks, and the Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversees savings and loans, blocked states from curbing abuses because they were “caught up in turf wars.”

By one measure, for about every $40 in assets, the nation’s five largest investment banks had only $1 in capital to cover losses, meaning that a 3 percent drop in asset values could have wiped out the firm. The banks hid their excessive leverage using derivatives, off-balance-sheet entities and other devices, the report found. The speculative binge was abetted by a giant “shadow banking system” in which the banks relied heavily on short-term debt.

Statute meant to protect jobs isn't enforced

The polarizing views and stats clashed Monday at the Florida Senate's second fact-finding committee meeting over immigration. But one number wasn't disputed. Zero.

That's the number of employers who have been charged with breaking an 11-year-old Florida law that prohibits anyone from knowingly hiring a person ``who is not duly authorized to work by the immigration laws or the Attorney General of the United States.''

``From what I can find, from our statistics, the statute has never been enforced,'' said Michael Ramage, general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

American students do poorly in science, report says

The results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the Nation's Report Card, showed that only 21 percent of high school seniors were performing at or above the proficient level in science.

About a third of fourth and eighth graders were found to perform at the same level.

The figures in the report cannot be easily compared with the past because students were assessed in a new way that includes advances in science and pedagogy, and to bring it in line with international standards.

The Program of International Student Assessment which assesses different types of literacy found that that the United States ranked 13th out 34 developed countries.

Up to 35% of wounded soldiers addicted to drugs

Medical officials estimate that 25% to 35% of about 10,000 ailing soldiers assigned to special wounded-care companies or battalions are addicted or dependent on drugs — particularly prescription narcotic pain relievers, according to an Army inspector general's report made public Tuesday.

The report also found that these formations known as Warrior Transition Units — created after reports detailed poorly managed care at Walter Reed Army Hospital— have become costly way stations where ill, injured or wounded soldiers can wait more than a year for a medical discharge.

Report blames smoking, obesity for U.S. life-expectancy lag

The U.S. spends more on health care than any other nation yet has worse life expectancy than many — and a new report blames smoking and obesity.

Chief justice: Fla. courts can't stand more cuts

That has whittled the court system's support staffing by about 300 positions to 2,700. Florida also ranks 45th in trial judges per capita and the court system accounts for only 0.7 percent of the state's budget, Canady said.

Canady also warned that the state relies too much on foreclosure fees. The state court system's $370 million trust fund pays most of its expenses and receives $285 million, or nearly 80 percent of that total, from foreclosure fees.

Bush White House Broke Elections Law, Report Says

The Bush White House, particularly before the 2006 midterm elections, routinely violated a federal law that prohibits use of federal tax dollars to pay for political activities by creating a “political boiler room” that coordinated Republican campaign activities nationwide, a report issued Monday by an independent federal agency concludes.

The report by the Office of Special Counsel finds that the Bush administration’s Office of Political Affairs — overseen by Karl Rove — served almost as an extension of the Republican National Committee, developing a “target list” of Congressional races, organizing dozens of briefings for political appointees to press them to work for party candidates, and sending cabinet officials out to help these campaigns.

The report, based on about 100,000 pages of documents and interviews with 80 Bush administration officials in an investigation of more than three years, documented how these political activities accelerated before the 2006 midterm elections.

This included helping coordinate fund-raising by Republican candidates and pressing Bush administration political appointees to help with Republican voter-turnout pitches, particularly in the 72 hours leading up to the election when Democrats took control of the House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years.

The Office of Special Counsel, a relatively obscure federal agency, is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Certain members of the White House political staff — including the top aides at the Office of Political Affairs — are exempt, as are the president, vice president and members of the cabinet. But the law still prohibits the use of federal money, even by these officials, to support political causes.

The report found that during the Bush administration, senior staff members at the Office of Political Affairs violated the Hatch Act by organizing 75 political briefings from 2001 to 2007 for Republican appointees at top federal agencies in an effort to enlist them to help Republicans get elected to Congress.

Study: Roads are safer in urban areas

Even in states with low overall road death rates, rural areas often have rates twice as high as urban ones. That's because urban areas usually have roads with lower speed limits, more safety engineering features such as divided highways and faster access to emergency medical care than rural routes. Many rural deaths occur when vehicles leave the road and crash into trees or other obstructions.

Supreme Court rules on credit card rate hikes, retaliation lawsuits

The Supreme Court in separate rulings Monday gave employees more leeway in bringing illegal retaliation cases against employers and also provided credit card companies with protection from lawsuits based on rate increases.

At issue in the credit card case, known as Chase Bank v. McCoy, is an outdated federal regulation regarding whether credit card companies needed to inform customers of rate increases because of delinquency or default.

In 2009, the Federal Reserve Board implemented regulations specifying that credit card companies must provide 45 days notice for rate increases resulting from delinquency or default, but the rules weren’t that specific when James McCoy filed suit in 2006.

Mr. McCoy alleged in his lawsuit that Chase Bank illegally raised his rates without notifying him after he defaulted on his payments.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Mr. McCoy in a 20-page decision, saying that Chase’s notice of terms specifying the possibility of a rate increase in case of a default met the legal requirements at the time.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in an opinion for the court that federal regulations “did not require Chase to provide McCoy with a change-in-terms notice before it implemented the agreement term allowing it to raise his interest rate following delinquency or default.”

As a result, the court ruled Mr. McCoy had no basis to bring a lawsuit against Chase.

U.S. study finds 129 million have health conditions

As many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have health problems that could hurt their ability to obtain health insurance or force them to pay higher premiums, a U.S. government study said on Tuesday.

Annual Quality of Life report tells a sad story in Jacksonville

Finances: Wages down, food stamps up

$1,055: The inflation-adjusted decrease in average annual wages for people employed in Duval County from 2006 to 2009. During that same time period, the county lost more than 34,000 jobs. The number of food stamp recipients doubled.

Environment: Water usage, septic tank permits down

181 gallons: The average amount of water used in a day by a resident in 2009, down from 221 gallons per day in 2005. Meanwhile, new permits for septic tanks, which can be harmful to the environment, were at a 26-year low.

Government: Influence over government decisions down

24 percent: The percentage of Jacksonville residents who say they have great or moderate influence over decision-making in the local government, a substantial decrease over the past four years. Meanwhile, minorities (19 percent) and women (21 percent) among elected officials sank to a 10-year low.

Charities: Giving down, volunteering up

$2.8 million: The amount of loss in charitable giving to federated campaigns such as United Way. The total fell to $25.5 million in 2009 from an inflation-adjusted $28.4 million in 2007. However, 65 percent of people reported volunteering, a small increase from the past two years.

Homelessness: Number of homeless up

3,910: The number of homeless people counted in 2010 in Duval County, up from 2,613 in 2007. Families with children have especially been affected. The economic recession has plunged more than 1,000 additional people locally into homelessness.

Economic engines: Bed tax revenue down, port rebounds

$25 million: The decline in sales and bed tax collections from 2008 to 2010, indicating a decline in tourism. However, there was a rebound at the Port of Jacksonville, where last year marine terminals handled 8.1 million tons shipped in or out.

Recreation, arts and culture: Museum attendance, public performances down

14.3 percent: The percent of decline of public and private support for arts programs from 2007 to 2009. The total number of public performances was down to 436, from a 2006 high of 601, and museum attendance was also at a five-year low.

Report: First two years of college show small gains

Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

"These are really kind of shocking, disturbing numbers," says New York University professor Richard Arum, lead author of the book, published by the University of Chicago Press.

He noted that students in the study, on average, earned a 3.2 grade-point average. "Students are able to navigate through the system quite well with little effort," Arum said.

Other details in the research:

•35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone. Yet, despite an "ever-growing emphasis" on study groups and collaborative projects, students who study in groups tend to have lower gains in learning.

•50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages; 32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.

The Economist: Florida = Netherlands

If Florida were an independent country, its economy would be one of the twenty largest in the world, according to a new report by the Economist. The state's gross domestic product of $737.04 billion places it closest to the Netherlands, the 16th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $796.65 billion.

Population comparisons aren't as glamorous for the Sunshine State. Our population of 18.80 million compares most closely to Angola's 17.31 million, according to the same study.

Lawsuit Loans Add New Risk for the Injured

The business of lending to plaintiffs arose over the last decade, part of a trend in which banks, hedge funds and private investors are putting money into other people’s lawsuits. But the industry, which now lends plaintiffs more than $100 million a year, remains unregulated in most states, free to ignore laws that protect people who borrow from most other kinds of lenders.

Unrestrained by laws that cap interest rates, the rates charged by lawsuit lenders often exceed 100 percent a year, according to a review by The New York Times and the Center for Public Integrity. Furthermore, companies are not required to provide clear and complete pricing information — and the details they do give are often misleading.

'Stop loss' bonuses go unpaid to 35,000 soldiers

The Army is struggling to find about 35,000 soldiers, most of them veterans now, who are owed bonuses because they were forced to remain in the military beyond their normal enlistment.

The government authorized the "special pay" in 2009 following criticism from some troops and Congress who said the "stop loss" policy that extended enlistments amounted to a "back door draft." Most of the troops fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army has paid $245 million in bonuses for 84,000 soldiers since the law passed, said Army Maj. Roy Whitley, who is managing Army efforts to provide the special pay.

The Army has yet to pay up to $160 million to 57,000 current or former soldiers, or to families of those who have died or were killed while on stop-loss. That includes 22,000 requests that are currently under review and about 35,000 people the Army cannot yet locate.

The Army used stop-loss extensively to maintain troop levels as fighting in Iraq ramped up. Other services also used the program, but less frequently.

There are about 15,000 unpaid cases among other services, the Pentagon says.

The military has ended the practice of stop-loss.

Congress passed a law in 2009 to compensate the troops with retroactive bonuses of $500 for every month served beyond enlistment. The average payout is about $3,800.

U.S. Debt Passes $14 Trillion

The United States just passed a dubious milestone: Government debt surged to an all-time high, more than $14 trillion.

Remarkably, nearly half of today's national debt was run up in just the past six years. It soared from $7.6 trillion in January 2005 as President George W. Bush began his second term to $10.6 trillion the day Obama was inaugurated and to $14.02 trillion now. The period has seen two major wars and the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s.

With a $1.7 trillion deficit in budget year 2010 alone, and the government on track to spend $1.3 trillion more this year than it takes in, annual budget deficits are adding roughly $4 billion a day to the national debt. Put another way, the government is borrowing 41 cents for every dollar it spends.

It was a blast by the freshman lawmaker against a Bush request to raise the debt limit to $8.96 trillion.

President Bush won on a 52-48 party-line vote. Not a single Senate Democrat voted to raise the limit, opposition that's now complicating White House efforts to rally bipartisan support for a higher ceiling.

Fla. House challenges redistricting amendment

The Florida House is asking to join a lawsuit challenging a new state constitutional amendment on congressional redistricting.

The federal court filing in Miami drew criticism Monday from Democrats. They accused Republican House leaders of trying to thwart voters who approved the Fair Districts amendment by more than 60 percent in November.

The amendment bars gerrymandering to benefit political parties and incumbents. The House says it would infringe on lawmakers' redistricting authority. The Senate so far is not trying to join the suit.

It was filed by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.

Key Vote: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act

Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act
- Vote Passed (245-189, 1 Not Voting)

The House voted to repeal the 2010 health care law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to block the bill in the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Reducing the amount authorized for salaries and expenses

Reducing the amount authorized for salaries and expenses
- Vote Passed (408-13, 11 Not Voting)

The House voted to reduce operating expenses for lawmakers and committee offices. Budgets for House salaries and office expenses in 2011 and 2012 will be 5 percent less than the 2010 level.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw - YES

Key Vote: Health Care Rule

Health Care Repeal Rule
- Vote Passed (236-181, 2 Present, 15 Not Voting)

The House approved the rules for debating H.R.2, the bill to repeal the 2010 health care law. The rules provide for seven hours of floor debate. The vote on H.R.2, which was scheduled for Jan. 12, was postponed following Saturday’s shootings in Tucson, AZ.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Union Membership in U.S. Fell to a 70-Year Low Last Year

The number of American workers in unions declined sharply last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday, with the percentage slipping to 11.9 percent, the lowest rate in more than 70 years.

The report found that the number of workers in unions fell by 612,000 last year to 14.7 million, an even larger decrease than the overall 417,000 decline in the total number of Americans working.

The number of private sector workers in unions fell by 339,000, to 7.1 million, while the number of public sector union members fell by 273,000, to 7.6 million.

In one piece of good news for unions, the bureau said that median weekly earnings for union members — $917 — remained higher than the $717 in earnings for workers not in unions.

According to the bureau, New York had the highest unionization rate of any state, at 24.2 percent, followed by Alaska, at 22.9 percent, and Hawaii, at 21.8 percent. North Carolina had the lowest rate, at 3.2 percent, with Arkansas and Georgia tied for second-lowest at 4 percent.

Data Shows Less Buying of U.S. Debt by China

FOR eight years after the United States resumed running large budget deficits in 2002, China was the largest lender, buying a fifth of the new Treasury securities sold during that span — an expenditure of more than $900 billion. During 2006, China financed more than half the American deficit. When the financial crisis struck hardest, China spent more than $100 billion on Treasuries over the two-month period of September and October 2008.

But over the last year, China has been a net seller of Treasury securities, according to figures released this week by the American government. If that is true, it would be extraordinary, considering the size of the bilateral trade deficit, and there has been speculation that China has been purchasing Treasuries through accounts in other countries.

The Treasury Department estimated that China reduced its holdings of Treasuries by nearly $11 billion in November alone. For the 12 months through November, as the accompanying charts indicate, China reduced its holdings of Treasuries by more than $36 billion.

The Treasury issues separate estimates for China and Hong Kong, but they are combined for purposes of the charts and this article.

The Treasury figures indicate that over the eight years from the beginning of 2002 through the end of 2009, the total amount of United States government debt outstanding — not counting securities owned by other agencies of the American government, like the Federal Reserve and the Social Security Administration — rose by $4.4 trillion, to $9.3 trillion.

Of that, China provided about a fifth and other foreign countries provided two-fifths. The remaining 40 percent was purchased by Americans, although for a time in the middle of the decade, Americans were selling Treasuries even though the government was stepping up its borrowing.

No U.S. airline fatalities in 2010

U.S. airlines did not have a single fatality last year. It was the third time in the past four years there were no deaths, continuing a dramatic trend toward safer skies.

Years without deaths have occurred sporadically since the dawn of the jet age, but never have so many occurred in so short a period, according to an analysis of data from the National Transportation Safety Board. The average number of deaths fell from about 86 a year in the 1990s to 46 a year since 2000, a 46% drop.

Last year also marked the first time that there were no passenger fatalities on any airline based in developed nations, says Arnold Barnett, a professor who specializes in accident statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

Last year, U.S. carriers flew more than 10 million flights and hauled more than 700 million passengers, but only 14 people suffered serious injuries, according to the NTSB. There also were no major accidents, the most serious category under the NTSB's definitions.

Publix named a “Best Company to Work For” Read more: Publix named a “Best Company to Work For”

Publix Super Markets Inc. has been honored as one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the 14th consecutive year.

The Lakeland-based grocer ranked No. 20 on Fortune’s best large-sized companies list. Publix also made Fortune’s list of 15 companies to never have had a layoff.

Jacksonville unemployment drops to 11%

Metro Jacksonville’s unemployment rate fell to 11 percent in December from 11.6 percent in November.

Florida’s comparable, not seasonally adjusted, rate was 11.6 percent in December, down from 12.2 percent in November, and the national rate was 9.1 percent, down from 9.3 percent.

Fla. Board of Medicine passes pain clinic rules

Regulations on Florida pain-management clinics that will impose an estimated $65 million in costs on the private sector passed the Florida Board of Medicine unanimously on Friday, despite Gov. Rick Scott's edict to ban rule-making this year.

Board members asked their staff to send letters to both the Legislature and the governor's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform, explaining the need for immediate implementation of these rules, given the significant threat to public health and safety that some "pill mills" have created in the state.

The four rules adopted on Friday set out the requirements for standards of care, inspections,accreditation and training in pain-management practices.

Several members, who met by conference call, mentioned that they support Scott's call for a halt to rule-making to make sure that the process doesn't unduly impose a burden on small businesses and the public. In fact, the board voted unanimously to suspend rule-making other than the regulations on pain clinics.

The $65 million in estimated cost derives almost entirely from the requirement that clinics perform periodic urine screens. The estimate came from a study by the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University. The Department of Health commissioned the study after the Legislature required them for all pending rules with at least a $200,000 impact on business.

In its report, the Center noted that it was asked only to count the cost of the regulations for private companies and government agencies, not the offsetting savings that might accrue if the rules were imposed.

Corrine Brown keeps railroad oversight

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla, will remain the top ranking Democrat on the railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee, according to Cargo Business News.

Shirk releases annual report

Several accomplishments and highlights of 2010 supporting Mr. Shirk’s three-pronged

approach to leadership as Public Defender follow:

1. Efficient, fiscally responsible management

The Office formalized the Resource Recovery Program which complies with Florida Statute 27.52(1). It includes collection of the Indigency Application fee and additional costs related to a case. In 2010, it collected $732,239 a 61.9% increase from the previous year.

Public Defender Jail Video System was developed by PD Information Technology staff to enable secure video conferencing capability for attorneys and detained clients. It costs less than half of the previously used, proprietary system and is being expanded in both Clay and Duval County jail. PDJVS improves efficiency for attorneys and enhances jail security; it will save an estimated $125,000 in the 4th Circuit.

A Digital Deposition system was implemented to replace live, pre-trial court reporters in many cases. Estimates indicate this will save taxpayers nearly $200K per year in per diem and printing costs.

Benefits of the unique, PD Pro Bono Opportunities program include cost savings per case, better attention to clients and local Bar diversification. Private attorneys are trained and take PD cases at no cost. An estimated 30 local attorneys enlisted in the Program, some of whom handled multiple cases.

Se Habla Espanol To cut costs hiring Spanish translators and still serve multi-cultural clientele, the Office increased the number of bi-lingual employees by hiring three new attorneys who are fluent in Spanish. Two new APD’s joined the Felony Court Unit and one joined the Juvenile Unit. Investigations and Support Staff also have bi-lingual personnel.

Due to Legislative cuts to Florida PD’s a 6% cut to Office vendors was imposed in February and remains in place. No interruption of office functions occurred and only handful of the hundreds of vendors chose not to continue their association with the office.

At the end of the State Fiscal Year 2010, the Office carried over $366,452 in surplus funding. The unlikely budget surplus came as unforeseen budget cuts were imposed. In 2009 there had been a 2% cut to the General Revenue (salaries and benefits) fund for state agencies and in 2010 the State swept 11.2% from the Due Process fund allotted to the Public Defender.

The Shirk Administration continued to reduce government waste and in 2010 cut more than $162,000 from discretionary operating costs.

2. Quality, effective client advocacy

In the courtroom...The Office win-percentage at trial has grown from 12% in 2008 to 20% in 2010.

APD’s won acquittals in 51 of the 257 jury trials in 2010.

Florida Fails Smoking Policy Review, Study Reports

Florida got two Fs and a D in the American Lung Association's annual report.

The report gave only five states passing grades. Forty states got an F when it comes to funding tobacco prevention and control programs.

The federal government got a B grade, mostly for giving the FDA power to regulate the tobacco industry.

Rick Scott: Adoption should be by a married couple

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he doesn't have any immediate plans to change the state policy on gay adoptions but he remains opposed to it -- as does his new appointee to the agency that handles adoptions of children in state care.

``I believe that adoption should be by a married couple,'' Scott told reporters and editors at the annual Associated Press planning session in Tallahassee.

Florida continues to lag in federal grants

A private budget watchdog group says Florida ranks near the bottom in federal grants and is missing out on billions of dollars.

Florida TaxWatch issued a report Wednesday showing Florida received $22.7 billion in federal funding, or $1,224 per resident, in 2009.

That's more than $500 below the national average. It puts Florida in 48th place in per capita funding.

Coming up to the national average would give Florida another $10.6 billion. That's more than enough to close a looming $3.6 billion budget gap.

Caught on Tape: Phony Falls that Cost You Money

Insurance fraud involving property and casualty claims has become big business - costing American consumers an estimated $30 billion a year.

JEA to buy option on nuclear power plant

The JEA Board today authorized the signing to spend up to $7.5 million to reserve an option to buy one-fifth of a yet-to-be-built nuclear power plant.

JEA will have the option to spend about $2 billion for 400 megawatts of annual capacity from the unspecified plant, which is expected to begin operating in 10 years. The move followed the board’s decision in August to increase the amount of its electric grid powered by nuclear power from 10 percent to 30 percent by 2030.

He added that as the construction of nuclear plants is paid off, nuclear electricity could cost about $60 per megawatt-hour.

Coal generation costs about $60 per megawatt-hour but would go up if a new federal standard for carbon emissions was imposed. Electric generation through natural gas costs between $40 and $50 per megawatt-hour.

Parenting by Gays More Common in the South, Census Shows

But as demographers sift through recent data releases from the Census Bureau, they have found that Jacksonville is home to one of the biggest populations of gay parents in the country.

In addition, the data show, child rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region of the country, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles. Gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.

In 2009, the Census Bureau estimated that there were 581,000 same-sex couples in the United States, Mr. Gates said; the bureau does not count gay singles.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

History of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act.

"The Long Demise of Glass Steagall"

"Is the Glass-Steagall Act Justified?"

"Glass Steagall vs. the Volcker Rule"

"New Glass-Steagall is No Solution"

"Bring Back Glass-Steagall"


More Overview

History of the Emergency Banking Act.


Primary Documents


"Establishment of the FDIC"

Study Finds Family Connections Give Big Advantage in College Admissions

A new study of admissions at 30 highly selective colleges found that legacy applicants get a big advantage over those with no family connections to the institution — but the benefit is far greater for those with a parent who earned an undergraduate degree at the college than for those with other family connections.

According to the study, by Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, applicants to a parent’s alma mater had, on average, seven times the odds of admission of nonlegacy applicants. Those whose parents did graduate work there or who had a grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt who attended the college were, by comparison, only twice as likely to be admitted.

“We did a paper that found that if you are an athlete, you have 4.2 times the likelihood of admission as a nonathlete,” he said. “The advantages for underrepresented minorities are pretty big, too.”

Mr. Hurwitz said applicants with the highest SATs got the biggest legacy benefits.

Among the 30 colleges, the legacy advantage varied enormously: one college was more than 15 times as likely to accept legacy applicants, while at another, the effect was insignificant.

Reducing drug co-pays might lower health-care costs for companies, new study finds

If companies want to reduce their health-care costs, they should reduce the co-pays employees are charged for drugs, particularly for chronic diseases such as diabetes, according to a new study.

In a study published online Friday in the policy journal Health Affairs, a team of researchers found that when an Orlando employer cut the co-payments for diabetes medications, the program paid for itself in three years — through fewer hospitalizations and lower disability payments.

The benefit of lower co-payments was evident, however, after the first year, with the use of diabetes medication 3.8 percent higher among those with reduced co-pays. After three years, the gap grew to 6.5 percent, according to the study.

New digital divide seen for blacks, Hispanics

Today, as mobile technology puts computers in our pockets, Hispanics and blacks are more likely than the general population to access the Web by cellular phones, and they use their phones more often to do more things.

But now some see a new "digital divide" emerging — with Hispanics and blacks being challenged by more, not less, access to technology. It's tough to fill out a job application on a cell phone, for example. Researchers have noticed signs of segregation online that perpetuate divisions in the physical world. And blacks and Hispanics may be using their increased Web access more for entertainment than empowerment.

Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33 percent of whites, according to a July 2010 Pew poll. Forty-seven percent of Hispanics and 41 percent of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30 percent of whites. The figures for using social media like Facebook via phone were 36 percent for Hispanics, 33 percent for blacks and 19 percent for whites.

A greater percentage of whites than blacks and Latinos still have broadband access at home, but laptop ownership is now about even for all these groups, after black laptop ownership jumped from 34 percent in 2009 to 51 percent in 2010, according to Pew.

Concerned by the wave of requests for customer data from law enforcement agencies, Google last year set up an online tool showing the frequency of these requests in various countries. In the first half of 2010, it counted more than 4,200 in the United States.

Google is not alone among Internet and telecommunications companies in feeling inundated with requests for information. Verizon told Congress in 2007 that it received some 90,000 such requests each year. And Facebook told Newsweek in 2009 that subpoenas and other orders were arriving at the company at a rate of 10 to 20 a day.

Many Internet companies and consumer advocates say the main law governing communication privacy — enacted in 1986, before cellphone and e-mail use was widespread, and before social networking was even conceived — is outdated, affording more protection to letters in a file cabinet than e-mail on a server.

They acknowledge that access to information is important for fighting crime and terrorism, but say they are dealing with a patchwork of confusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts, creating uncertainty.

Last year, for example, the Justice Department argued in court that cellphone users had given up the expectation of privacy about their location by voluntarily giving that information to carriers. In April, it argued in a federal court in Colorado that it ought to have access to some e-mails without a search warrant. And federal law enforcement officials, citing technology advances, plan to ask for new regulations that would smooth their ability to perform legal wiretaps of various Internet communications.

Panel: Gov't, industry must do more to stop spills

The oil industry, Congress and the Obama administration need to do more to reduce the changes of another large-scale oil spil, a presidential panel investigating the BP well blowout concluded Tuesday.

The seven-member panel unanimously endorsed 15 separate recommendations in the wake of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Many of the proposals will require action by Congress.

The panel calls for increasing budgets and training for the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling; increasing the liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore; dedicating 80 percent of fines and penalties from the BP spill to restoration of the Gulf; and lending more weight to scientific opinions by other federal scientists in decisions about drilling.

The panel said Congress should draft legislation to create within the Interior Department an independent safety agency and a separate environmental office to evaluate the risks of oil drilling to natural resources.

The panel also called for an industry-led safety institute, similar to the one created by nuclear power producers after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.

The oil industry and government have taken numerous steps in an effort to improve safety since the BP blowout.

BP fired its executive responsible for deep-water wells like the one that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in September. The company also created a new unit to police safety practices in all of BP's technical operations, while the federal government imposed new regulations and a moratorium on deep-water drilling. It later lifted the moratorium.

AFL-CIO disputes 'myths' about Fla. pension funds

Florida AFL-CIO legislative and political director Rich Templin said the union is troubled by such comments although details of proposed legislation are hazy and nothing has yet been filed.

"We can't find any verifiable information to indicate that those claims are true, that those claims are anything other than political rhetoric and ideological posturing," Templin said.

He said pension benefits averaging $16,000 to $23,000 a year cannot be considered extravagant.

Scott has called the $122 billion Florida Retirement System "a ticking fiscal time bomb" because he doesn't think it can sustain its current high rate of return on investment. He's also worried about its unfunded liability.

As of last June 30, the closing date for the plan's last annual report, it had $109 billion in assets and an unfunded liability of about $15 billion, or 12 percent.

That percentage is one of the lowest of any public pension funds in the nation.

Study: Obesity costs $300B a year

The study finds that those who are overweight and obese in the U.S. and Canada cost $300 billion a year, a result of increased need for medical care, as well as loss of economic productivity due to death and disability.

According to the SOA, the $300 billion-a year figure breaks down into the following economic costs:

  • Total cost of excess medical care caused by being overweight/obese: $127 billion
  • Economic loss of productivity caused by excess mortality: $49 billion
  • Economic loss of productivity caused by disability for active workers : $43 billion
  • Economic loss of productivity caused by being overweight/obese for totally disabled workers: $72 billion

Fed paid U.S. Treasury record $78.4B last year

The Federal Reserve paid a record $78.4 billion in earnings to the U.S. government last year, reflecting gains from the central bank's unconventional efforts to lift the economy.

The payment to the Treasury Department is the largest since the Fed began operating in 1914. It surpasses the previous record $47.4 billion paid in 2009, the Fed said Monday.

The bigger payment mostly came from more income generated by the Fed's massive portfolio of securities, which includes Treasury debt and mortgage securities.

In early November, the Fed launched a program to bolster the economy by purchasing $600 billion worth of Treasury debt through June. The program aims to boost the economy by lowering rates on mortgages and other loans and by lifting stock prices.

To fight the financial crisis and lift the country out of recession, the Fed bought $1.4 trillion of mortgage-backed securities and mortgage debt as well as up to $300 billion worth of government debt. The Fed completed the mortgage purchases last year.

The Fed's balance sheet now stands at $2.4 trillion, nearly triple its size from before the financial and economic crises.

Florida Highway Patrol: Traffic Fatalities Continue to Decline

Nearly 2,500 people died on Florida's highways in 2010, and the Florida Highway Patrol calls said that is the lowest number in three decades.

In spite of the good news, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate traffic fatalities are the number one killer of people between the ages of 5 and 34. The CDC says seat belt use reduces serious injuries and deaths by half.

Florida ranks 5th in new national report on education quality

Florida, once criticized for its "lackadaisical" attitude toward education, ranks fifth in a new national report on education quality released today.

The annual "Quality Counts" report grades the 50 states and the District of Columbia on their education policies and performance.

The nation earned a C. Top-performing Maryland got a B-plus. Florida earned a B-minus.

The Quality Counts report grades states in six broad categories, although not all the information is updated every year. The categories look at both state policies, such as academic standards and laws governing teachers, and the performance of students on national benchmarks.

Jax home prices fall harder than state

Home prices in Jacksonville declined by 9.2 percent year-over-year in November, higher than the average for Florida, according to data CoreLogic released Tuesday.

Excluding distressed transactions, year-over-year the home price index [HPI] in Jacksonville for November was negative 6.76 percent.

In Florida, the HPI declined by 4.9 percent year-over-year in November. When distressed sales are factored in, HPI declined by 8.2 percent.

Florida No. 3 in 2010 foreclosures

Florida registered the nation’s third highest foreclosure rate in 2010, with 5.51 percent of its housing units (one in 18) getting at least one foreclosure filing during the year, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine, Calif.-based online marketplace of foreclosure properties.

Florida was one of five states that accounted for 51 percent of the nation’s total foreclosure activity in 2010. The others were California, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan. In those five states together, nearly 1.5 million properties got a foreclosure filing.

The good news for Florida: The 2010 number was down 6 percent from 2009. However, the rate was 25.95 greater than 2008.

Broad Racial Disparities Seen in Americans’ Ills

Many of the differences are large and striking:

¶Babies born to black women are up to three times as likely to die in infancy as those born to women of other races.

¶American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to die in car crashes as any other group.

¶More than 80 percent of all suicides are committed by whites, but young American Indian adults have the highest suicide rates by far — 25 per 100,000 population at age 21, compared with 14 for whites, 10 for blacks and 8 for Asians and Hispanics.

¶Overdoses of prescription drugs now kill more Americans than overdoses of illegal drugs, the opposite of the pattern 20 years ago. Overdose death rates are now higher among whites than blacks; that trend switched in 2002, after doctors began prescribing more powerful painkillers, antidepressants and antipsychotics — more easily obtained by people with health insurance.

¶Blacks die of heart disease much more commonly than whites, and die younger, despite the availability of cheap prevention measures like weight loss, exercise, blood-pressure and cholesterol drugs, and aspirin. The same is true for strokes.

High blood pressure is twice as common among blacks as whites, but the group with the least success in controlling it is Mexican-Americans.

¶Compared with whites, blacks have double the rate of “preventable hospitalizations,” which cost about $7 billion a year.

¶People in Utah, Connecticut and North Dakota report the most “healthy days” per month — about 22. People in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee report the fewest, about 17.

¶Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians, whether gay or straight, all have higher rates of new infection with the AIDS virus than whites, and the situation is getting worse for blacks and Indians. Asians have the lowest rate.

¶Binge drinking — defined as five drinks at a sitting for men and four for women — is increasing. In a switch from the norm for health problems, it is more common among the better-educated and more affluent, including college students. But poor people, and especially American Indians, drink much more heavily when on binges.

Teenage pregnancy is holding steady or falling for all ethnic groups, but is still three times as common among Hispanic girls as among white girls, and more than twice as common among black girls as among whites.

Study: African-Americans in Jacksonville see higher rate of mortgage denial

The differences in mortgage denials among the three races were highlighted as part of the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. 2010 Race Relations Progress Report. In 2009, black middle-income mortgage applicants were denied conventional mortgages at a rate of 32.1 percent, double the 15.5 percent rate for whites and significantly higher than the 19.2 percent rate for Hispanics.

Yamato said under the Community Reinvestment Act, however, lenders get incentives for writing loans in under-served areas.

It's against federal law for a mortgage applicant to be denied on the basis of race, she noted.

But Danford said he doesn't rule out subtle violations of the 1968 Fair Housing Act and vestiges of a system that barred blacks from moving into primarily white neighborhoods.

Jermyn Shannon-El, co-founder of the Blacksonville Community Network, a Jacksonville website, agreed.

Candidates collected $5.8 million in public money

Florida taxpayers spent more than $5.8 million to bolster the campaigns of 10 candidates for statewide office last year, giving public dollars to individuals who arguably didn't need the money but took it anyway.

The money was doled out under Florida's public campaign finance law, enacted in 1986 to try to enable under-funded candidates who agreed to limit their spending to compete with rivals raising millions in special-interest contributions. But because of changes approved in 2005 by the Legislature, the law allows virtually anyone running for office to apply for a public subsidy.

The 25-year-old law provides matching dollars of up to $250 per contribution to statewide candidates who raise enough money on their own to be considered viable, and also agree to spending limits. If an opponent spent more than the limits set by the law, the under-funded candidate was eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match of the excess.

But in 2005, the Legislature more than tripled the spending ceiling – from $6.7 million to $24.9 million for the governor's office; and from $3.35 million to $12.4 million for other statewide races. At the time, that was more that any candidate had ever spent for statewide office – and it made even well-funded candidates eligible for subsidies.

This year, candidates for the three Cabinet offices – attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner – accepted a combined $4 million in taxpayer support, about the same as what was spent on those offices in 2006.

U.S. ends "virtual fence" project on Mexican border

President Barack Obama's administration on Friday canceled the troubled "virtual fence" project meant to better guard stretches of the vast U.S. border with Mexico and will replace it with other security measures.

The project, begun in 2006 and run by Boeing Co, has cost about $1 billion and was designed to pull together video cameras, radar, sensors and other technologies to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers trying to cross the porous border.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said commercially available surveillance systems, unmanned aerial drones, thermal imaging and other equipment would be used instead, suggestions made by critics of the Boeing SBInet program.

An assessment of the Boeing program released by DHS found that $1 billion was spent to cover just 53 miles in Arizona. The new approach should cost less than $750 million to cover the rest of Arizona's border, some 323 miles, DHS said.

E-Verify illegal-worker screening system has holes, report says

Within an hour of becoming Florida's 45th governor, Rick Scott signed an order meant to ensure that anyone working for the state was in the country legally.

But the screening system that Scott is relying on lets unauthorized workers slip through its filter more than half the time because it cannot spot identity theft, according to a federal report.

The E-Verify system, a federal database available to employers, failed to identify those workers as unauthorized 54 percent of the time, according to an audit released last year. Investigators discovered that was the percentage of illegal workers incorrectly deemed eligible for work.

The study done for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services found that overall, the system correctly determined a worker's immigration status 96 percent of the time.

Study: Skinnier Wives Make For Happier Marriages

A University of Tennessee research team just released a study that they say shows a couple is more likely to be happy when the wife is thinner than her husband.

The study, Miller-McCune magazine reports, looked at 169 newlyweds for four years and found that husbands were more satisfied when their wives had a lower body mass index than themselves. The study also showed that wives with lower BMIs than their husbands also stayed more satisfied over time.

The study also claimed that the weight of the partners didn't matter so long as the wife's weight was always lighter than the husband's. In addition, the study took into consideration the couple's financial standing, education and other factors that could affect the final result.

U.S. Bills States $1.3 Billion in Interest Amid Tight Budgets

As if states did not have enough on their plates getting their shaky finances in order, a new bill is coming due — from the federal government, which will charge them $1.3 billion in interest this fall on the billions they have borrowed from Washington to pay unemployment benefits during the downturn.

The interest cost, which has been looming in plain sight without attracting much attention, represents only a sliver of the huge deficits most states will have to grapple with this year But it comes as states are already cutting services, laying off employees and raising taxes. And it heralds a larger reckoning that many states will have to face before long: what to do about the $41 billion they have borrowed from the federal government to help them pay benefits to millions of unemployed people, a debt that federal officials say could rise to $80 billion.

The states, when they borrowed the money, hoped that the economy would have turned around by the time the first interest payments came due, or that future Congresses might loosen the terms. But the economy did not turn around in time and the new Congress, dominated by Republicans determined to shrink the size of government, shows little appetite for deepening the federal deficit by bailing out the states.

Senators seek end to prisoners' bogus tax refunds

Prisoners nationwide have bilked taxpayers out of $123 million in the last five years through phony tax refunds they applied for from their cells, according to four senators.

Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Internal Revenue Service have failed to cooperate and comply with a 2008 law aimed at stopping the practice in federal and state prisons nationwide. Prisoners use their own names or the names of friends and associates to submit false claims to receive and cash refund checks.

Mass Shootings and Mental Illness

The events in Tucson left many of us asking - How could this happen? But we've seen this before - an unstable man, a senseless attack.

It's put a spotlight on mental illness. In this country, 45 million adults are mentally ill. 11 million of those cases are considered serious.

The Tucson shooting is the latest tragedy linked to a gunman believed to be mentally ill. In 1993, Colin Ferguson killed six commuters on a New York Train. In 1998, Russell Weston killed two at the U.S. Capitol. In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech.

Mental health funding has been declining for decades. Since 2009, states have cut more than $2 billion for mental health from their budgets.