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Dozens of Occupy protesters arrested at Berkeley November 11, 2011


November 10, 2011

by walden9

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Dozens of Occupy protesters arrested at Berkeley 10 Nov 2011 Dozens of people were arrested during Occupy demonstrations at the University of California, Berkeley campus, as authorities twice clashed with protesters trying to set up encampments. The bulk of the arrests came Wednesday night, as authorities in riot gear confronted demonstrators.

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The world’s top 200 universities 2011 October 6, 2011

The California Institute for Technology has been named the best university in the world in the latest league table of the top 200 universities, published by the magazine Times Higher Education (THE). Harvard is at number two, the first time it has failed to take the top spot in the list’s eight-year history.

Last year we looked at the top 100 rankings from THE. Now we have the top 200 for 2011-12.

The highest ranking UK institution is the University of Oxford, in fourth, with the University of Cambridge in sixth. The rivals tied for sixth place in 2010.

As last year, the top 200 is dominated by American institutions, with 75 making the list. Other high scorers include the Netherlands, Germany and Canada.

The UK has three universities in the top ten (Imperial College London joins Oxford and Cambridge in eighth), but only seven institutions in the top fifty – up from five last year – and 32 in the full list of 200.



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Universities are judged on 13 performance indicators, taking in research, teaching, knowledge transfer and international activity. This year the methodology has been tweaked to put arts institutions on a more even footing with those excelling in science. The data is provided by Thomson Reuters.

THE editor Ann Mroz said:

The UK is blessed with some truly brilliant universities.

While we may be second to the US in terms of the overall number of world-class institutions, given the disparity in funding levels our performance is nothing short of staggering.

These facts make the massive gamble that we are now taking by all but abolishing public funding for university teaching, and replacing it with tuition fees, all the more questionable. The government should heed these ranking results, reflect on concerns raised about the speed and extent of its planned reforms and think again.

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Data summary

THE top 200 universities 2011-12

Click heading to sort

SOURCE: THE

2

1

California Institute of Technology

US

1

2

Harvard University

US

4

2

Stanford University

US

6

4

University of Oxford

UK

5

5

Princeton University

US

6

6

University of Cambridge

UK

3

7

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

US

9

8

Imperial College London

UK

12

9

University of Chicago

US

8

10

University of California, Berkeley

US

10

11

Yale University

US

18

12

Columbia University

US

11

13

University of California, Los Angeles

US

13

14

Johns Hopkins University

US

15

15

ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich

Switzerland

19

16

University of Pennsylvania

US

22

17

University College London

UK

15

18

University of Michigan

US

17

19

University of Toronto

Canada

14

20

Cornell University

US

20

21

Carnegie Mellon University

US

30

22

University of British Columbia

Canada

24

22

Duke University

US

27

24

Georgia Institute of Technology

US

23

25

University of Washington

US

25

26

Northwestern University

US

43

27

University of Wisconsin-Madison

US

35

28

McGill University

Canada

-

29

University of Texas at Austin

US

26

30

University of Tokyo

Japan

33

31

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

US

43

32

Karolinska Institute

Sweden

32

33

University of California, San Diego

US

21

34

University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

29

35

University of California, Santa Barbara

US

40

36

University of Edinburgh

UK

36

37

University of Melbourne

Australia

43

38

Australian National University

Australia

54

38

University of California, Davis

US

34

40

National University of Singapore

Singapore

38

41

Washington University in St Louis

US

52

42

University of Minnesota

US

30

43

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

US

60

44

New York University

US

61

45

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Germany

48

46

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Switzerland

86

47

London School of Economics and Political Science

UK

87

48

University of Manchester

UK

37

49

Peking University

China

55

49

Brown University

US

109

51

Pennsylvania State University

US

57

52

Kyoto University

Japan

28

53

Pohang University of Science and Technology

Republic of Korea

59

54

Boston University

US

73

55

University of Southern California

US

77

56

King’s College London

UK

66

57

Ohio State University

US

71

58

University of Sydney

Australia

42

59

École Normale Supérieure

France

64

59

University of Pittsburgh

US

90

61

University of Zürich

Switzerland

41

62

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong

39

63

Ecole Polytechnique

France

56

64

University of Massachusetts

US

93

65

McMaster University

Canada

68

66

University of Bristol

UK

119

67

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Belgium

143

68

Utrecht University

Netherlands

43

69

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Germany

51

70

Vanderbilt University

US

58

71

Tsinghua University

China

47

72

Rice University

US

83

73

Universität Heidelberg

Germany

81

74

University of Queensland Australia

Australia

144

75

Wageningen University and Research Center

Netherlands

61

75

Emory University

US

67

77

University of Colorado Boulder

US

53

77

Tufts University

US

124

79

Leiden University

Netherlands

89

80

Lund University

Sweden

105

81

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

US

-

81

University of Rochester

US

85

83

Durham University

UK

140

84

Université Pierre et Marie Curie

France

-

85

University of St Andrews

UK

49

86

University of California, Irvine

US

147

87

Uppsala University

Sweden

101

88

Technische Universität München

Germany

63

89

University of Notre Dame

US

99

90

Dartmouth College

US

102

91

University of Helsinki

Finland

165

92

University of Amsterdam

Netherlands

65

93

Case Western Reserve University

US

79

94

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

Republic of Korea

98

94

University of Maryland, College Park

US

122

96

Michigan State University

US

95

97

University of Arizona

US

106

98

Purdue University

US

79

99

University of Sussex

UK

127

100

University of Alberta

Canada

137

101

University of Sheffield

UK

128

102

University of Glasgow

UK

107

103

University of Cape Town

South Africa

138

104

University of Montreal

Canada

151

104

Delft University of Technology

Netherlands

124

106

Ghent University

Belgium

88

107

Royal Holloway, University of London

UK

112

108

Tokyo Institute of Technology

Japan

178

109

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Germany

68

110

University of California, Santa Cruz

US

95

111

Universität Basel

Switzerland

-

112

University of Bern

Switzerland

83

113

University of Utah

US

78

114

Stony Brook University

US

114

115

Eindhoven University of Technology

Netherlands

136

116

Université de Lausanne

Switzerland

178*

117

Monash University

Australia

76

117

Trinity College Dublin

Ireland

130

119

Osaka University

Japan

132

120

Tohoku University

Japan

-

121

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Israel

81

121

University of York

UK

156

123

Indiana University

US

109

124

Seoul National University

Republic of Korea

167

125

Aarhus University

Denmark

-

125

University of Florida

US

90

127

University of Southampton

UK

120

127

Queen Mary, University of London

UK

161

127

Arizona State University

US

118

130

University of Geneva

Switzerland

129

131

Stockholm University

Sweden

124

131

Lancaster University

UK

168

133

University of Leeds

UK

170

134

University of Groningen

Netherlands

177

135

University of Copenhagen

Denmark

95

135

George Washington University

US

72

135

University of Virginia

US

164

138

Georgetown University

US

195

139

University of Vienna

Austria

174

140

University of Nottingham

UK

100

141

École Normale Supérieure de Lyon

France

132

141

University of Iowa

US

117

143

University of California, Riverside

US

104

144

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

US

174

145

University of East Anglia

UK

152

146

Newcastle University

UK

75

146

William Mary

US

145

148

University of Birmingham

UK

152

149

Birkbeck, University of London

UK

-

150

Brandeis University

US

-

151

Freie Universität Berlin

Germany

-

151

Chinese University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

149

151

University of Aberdeen

UK

115

154

National Taiwan University

Taiwan

68

154

Yeshiva University

US

184

156

The University of Exeter

UK

159

157

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Netherlands

-

157

University of Warwick

UK

94

159

University College Dublin

Ireland

-

159

Radboud University Nijmegen

Netherlands

139

159

VU University Amsterdam

Netherlands

90

162

Wake Forest University

US

-

162

Medical University of South Carolina

US

-

164

University of Reading

UK

-

164

Texas AM University

US

-

166

Tel Aviv University

Israel

197

167

University of Illinois at Chicago

US

182

168

RWTH Aachen University

Germany

-

169

Université Catholique de Louvain

Belgium

-

169

Université Paris Diderot – Paris 7

France

174

169

Nanyang Technological University

Singapore

-

172

University of Miami

US

152

173

University of New South Wales

Australia

-

173

Queen’s University

Canada

145

173

University of Auckland

New Zealand

140

176

University of Dundee

UK

130

177

University of Victoria

Canada

-

178

University of São Paulo

Brazil

122

178

Technical University of Denmark

Denmark

159

180

University of Delaware

US

172

181

Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

Germany

SEE NOTE

181

University of Oslo

Norway

165

181

University of Liverpool

UK

132

184

Iowa State University

US

-

185

University of Ottawa

Canada

155

186

Pompeu Fabra University

Spain

189

187

Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

Germany

193

187

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Sweden

-

189

University of Western Australia

Australia

132

189

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Germany

135

191

University of Bergen

Norway

49

192

University of Science and Technology of China

China

-

193

City University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

186

194

Universität Konstanz

Germany

161

195

Boston College

US

187

196

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Germany

-

197

Maastricht University

Netherlands

-

197

University of Leicester

UK

158

197

Georgia Health Sciences University

US

185

200

University of Twente

Netherlands

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TSA scanners give cancer? June 30, 2011

If you were opposed to TSA body scanners before, new studies show that you might have more to worry about than just employees taking a peek at what’s beneath your blouse.

After what Electronic Privacy Information Center Executive (EPIC) Director Marc Rotenberg calls a “cluster” of cases of cancer among TSA workers at Boston’s Logan airport, his agency is going against the government and their high-tech body scanners. According to Rotenberg, officials have “not been forthcoming with the public about the true extent of radiation risk” associated with the devices.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center says that the records they obtained connect TSA workers to “cancer clusters allegedly linked to radiation exposure while operating body scanners and other screening technology.” The TSA on the other hand says to 9NEWS NOW that they implement “stringent safety protocols” to make sure their scanners are safe for property, passengers and employees alike.

To the Daily Mail, Rotenberg says that the TSA has dismissed the concerns that there might be a link between cancer cases and the scanners.

“In addition to regular maintenance, each individual machine that uses X-ray technology is regularly tested to ensure the radiation emitted falls within the national safety standards,” the TSA claims. They also say they have the technology to prove that the machines are indeed nothing to worry about.

In the documents obtained by EPIC, however, the National Institute of Standards and Technology voiced concerns after they revealed that they did not test full body scanners for safety. Scientists at the University of California have written US President Barack Obama with the message that “There is still no rigorous, hard, data for the safety of X-ray airport passenger scanners.” Other findings from EPIC show that the NIST warned workers to avoid standing next to the devices, and that a study conducted by John Hopkins University shows that radiation zones in the vicinity of the scanners could exceed safety limits.

EPIC has long fought against the installment of scanners across America. The group, who bills itself as a public interest center aimed at protecting privacy, first filed a suit against the TSA in July 2009 to suspend the program.

Last month, Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt’s (R-AL) proposed legislation that would deny the $76 million that President Obama requested to be used toward new scanners. In March 2010, the TSA purchased and installed 450 units thanks to funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. President Obama was hoping to add an additional 300 or so scanners, as well as employ a staff of half a thousand to operate them.

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Gay Marriage Foes Appeal Ruling on Gay U.S. Judge June 28, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Supporters of
California’s gay marriage ban are appealing a ruling that a
U.S. judge’s own gay relationship was no basis for tossing out
his decision in support of same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco last
year struck down California’s same-sex marriage ban, known as
Proposition 8. He later openly discussed his own gay
relationship after retiring from the bench earlier this year.

Supporters of the ban now say his ruling was compromised
and should be vacated. But Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware
disagreed earlier this month, ruling that granting such a
request would send a message that minority judges could not
rule in civil rights cases.

Attorneys for ProtectMarriage.com, the anti-gay marriage
group defending California’s ban, said in court papers filed
late last week that they would appeal Ware’s decision.

A representative for two same-sex couples challenging the
ban did not immediately comment on Monday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a same-sex marriage
bill into law on Friday, making New York the sixth and most
populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage. It
is also legal in the District of Columbia.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is already
considering the constitutional issues surrounding gay marriage
and has asked the California Supreme Court to weigh in on one
point of state law.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of
California is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 09-2292.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; editing by Anthony Boadle)

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Calif. Democrats Find Budget Deal

(Updates with Brown comment in third paragraph.)

June 27 (Bloomberg) — California Governor Jerry Brown dropped his plan to extend expiring taxes to close a budget deficit and will back a new proposal based on $4 billion in higher-than-forecast revenue, additional spending cuts and a tax initiative requiring voter approval next year.

The agreement between Brown and Democrats who control the Legislature requires only a simple majority to pass, meaning Brown doesn’t need Republican cooperation to adopt the spending plan for the year beginning July 1.

“We’ve made good decisions,” Brown told reporters today in Sacramento. “It’s a good budget, but it’s not the budget I presented in January.”

Brown, a 73-year-old Democrat, took office on a pledge to fix the fiscal malfunctions that have left California with the lowest credit rating of any state from Standard Poor’s. The Golden State, which accounts for 13 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, began the year with a $26 billion deficit. Since then, spending cuts approved in March and better-than- projected tax revenue shrank the gap to $10 billion.

Brown said the revised budget would not address the “wall of debt” that he said has built up over the years due to accounting maneuvers.

Brown’s plan to balance the budget by extending more than $9 billion of expiring taxes and fees was blocked by Republicans. Brown vetoed an alternative designed by Democrats, saying it relied on legally questionable accounting maneuvers.

Lawmakers Forefeit Pay

Lawmakers have been forced to forfeit pay for every day they fail to send a balanced budget to the governor past a June 15 deadline.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, said that while Republican lawmakers thwarted Brown’s plan for a ballot measure this year on the tax extensions, the notion is not dead.

“The conversation has been started, and we will keep that conversation going as we move to the ballot next year,” Perez said.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton said the proposal “does absolutely nothing to change government as usual.”

“The Democrats have said no to all of the Republican reforms that Californians are demanding, including pension reform, a spending cap and job creation,” Dutton, of Rancho Cucamonga, said in a statement.

–Editors: Pete Young, Walid El-Gabry

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at mmarois@bloomberg.net and James Nash in Sacramento at jnash24@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

© Copyright 2011 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Recession Forces States to Rethink Tourism Funding

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Like a business trying to sell a product, Washington state has for years attracted visitors by promoting stunning images of some of the nation’s most majestic scenery — from the snowcapped peaks of the Cascades to the rainforests and thundering waterfalls of the Olympic Peninsula.

That marketing is now coming to an abrupt end.

By the end of this week, Washington will close its official tourism agency and become the only state to cease all state funding for self-promotion. It’s just one example of how states are coping with budget deficits brought on by slumping tax revenue.

“When you’re taking kids off health care and raising tuition, you have to make some tough decisions,” said Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, who has for years sat on a commission that guides Washington’s tourism strategy.

In May, the state Legislature eliminated the remaining funding for the tourism agency, about $2 million for the coming fiscal year. State support had been as high as $7 million in years past.

Not all states are following Washington’s approach. Some view tourism as a key industry that will contribute to an economic rebound, one that is worthy of state support even in an era of declining revenue for other services.

Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes, is pouring millions of dollars into marketing campaigns, hoping for any advantage in the competition for the small amount of discretionary cash consumers are willing to spend on travel.

Even though Michigan has consistently had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, it will spend about $25 million this year on marketing. That is five times the budget it had for self-promotion just six years ago. The state’s tourism industry contributes a small amount.

Michigan is now in the middle of its largest national advertising buy — spending more than $11 million to splash its “Pure Michigan” message on cable. George Zimmermann, vice president for Travel Michigan, said research indicates that a dollar spent on out-of-state advertising returns $3.29 cents in tax money alone — and much more for businesses.

“It’s a bit of a no-brainer,” Zimmerman said. “Tourism is not the answer to restoring the Michigan economy, but we do believe it’s one of the answers.”

Some states have established public-private partnerships to share the cost of marketing.

California state government pays for just a fraction of a tourism budget that relies on assessments paid by hotels, restaurants, rental car companies and other tourism-related businesses. The annual budget for promoting travel to California is about $50 million, but only about $200,000 of that will come from the state in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Marsha Massey, Washington state’s departing tourism director, said her state should follow that model, allowing the industry to be responsible for its own promotions.

“It is going to be a positive for the state’s tourism industry to really be in charge of their own destiny,” Massey said. “The process of getting here to there is going to take a little time.”

To fill the void, Washington’s tourism industry has established a new promotional organization. It will take over some state assets — such as the tourism website — but is still trying to identify a way to fund a sustained marketing campaign.

The group has raised more than $300,000, said Kim Bennett, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Regional Tourism Office in southwest Washington. She would like to see a minimum of $15 million.

“We cannot continue to operate and be competitive with other states without appropriate funding,” Bennett said. “Everyone who is selling a good or a service or a destination, you have to get out and market. Your competitors are out there marketing.”

Visitors to Washington spent some $15.2 billion in 2010, according to state figures.

About half the states are shrinking their marketing budgets, while the other half plan to increase them, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

New York’s spending is down 60 percent to $5.5 million, while Arizona is down 40 percent to $8 million. Even Hawaii, one of the world’s leading tourism destinations, is trying to redirect tourism money to other uses.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said this year that tax dollars spent on promoting tourism in the state were disproportion to other needs. He vowed to spend more of that money on social programs, environmental protection and infrastructure improvements.

Marketing money comes from a 9.25 percent tax on Hawaii hotel rooms and other accommodations. The amount to be spent from that pot on tourism will be capped at $69 million for the next four fiscal years.

While that’s still a healthy budget, the cap is projected to divert a significant amount to other state priorities.

Alaska, Louisiana and Michigan had the largest increases in marketing dollars between this year and last, according to the travel association.

“What Washington has done puts that state on an island,” said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of the travel association. “No state at this point in time has been, with all due respect to Washington, as short-sighted as those leaders have been.”

The only other state that comes close to rivaling Washington’s cuts during the recession is Connecticut, which essentially eliminated its tourism budget for two years but maintained its staff. Connecticut is reversing itself, with a new budget for the next two fiscal years that proposes restoring $15 million to the program.

The state’s tourism industry has been limping along and struggling to stay competitive, said Randy Fiveash, Connecticut’s tourism division director.

“We know we lost market share,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Adam Weintraub in Sacramento, Calif., and Mark Niesse, in Honolulu, contributed to this report.

___

Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Survey of 300,000 Seeks Extent of Disease From Camp Lejeune’s Tainted Water

About 300,000 people who lived and worked in North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune are being asked to fill out a detailed survey to determine what diseases may be linked to the base’s contaminated water supply. As many as 1 million people may have been exposed to toxins in well water that sometimes registered 40 times higher than safety standards, The Washington Post reported.

The Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry also is surveying more than 50,000 people who lived and worked at Camp Pendleton in California before 1986 for comparison purposes. Officials hope the surveys will provide answers to long-standing questions about the health effects of exposure to such chemicals as benzene, a known carcinogen, and tricholorethylene and tetracholorethylene, possible carcinogens, the Post reported.

Registry Director Christopher Portier said, “If we get a good response, we have the potential to see what is happening in populations in ways that we have been unable to do so before.”

The survey will include Marines and sailors stationed at Camp Lejeune between June 1975 and December 1985, and civilian employees who worked at the base between December 1972 and December 1985, the Post reported.

The 26-page survey asks about cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, miscarriages, and other ailments thought to be related to exposure to contaminated well water. The various chemicals were dumped into storm drains and leaked from tanks, making their way into the groundwater. The problem was identified in 1982, and the wells were shut in 1984.

The first wave of surveys was mailed last week, with another round due in July. They will continue through the fall and are due back in December. The agency hopes to release its findings in 2014, according to the Post.

© Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Cable TV Boxes Are Huge Energy Hogs June 27, 2011

OK, so maybe the television antennas littering the housetops across urban and suburban landscapes were downright ugly — and perilous to install on steep roofs — not to mention that windstorms could leave them twisting in the wind like pretzels.

And sure, the rabbit ears atop the TV were maddeningly stubborn about pulling in your favorite show without Dad’s having to fiddle around to adjust the metal spines repeatedly until they were just so. Some people even added aluminum foil to boost the signal-capturing ability.

But at least those contraptions weren’t the energy hogs that cable and satellite TV boxes are these days.

Those ubiquitous boxes of the digital age drain as much as a full-sized, but energy efficient, refrigerator and even some air-conditioning systems, according to a report in The New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/us/26cable.html

That staggering fact brings to mind the exclamations that exploded on TV sets during “Batman” in the old black-and-white TV era: POW! BAM! And ZAP to your energy bill!

The 160 million boxes in the United States that funnel cable signals and digital recording ability into televisions are the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, the Times reports. Many homes have one or more basic cable boxes, as well as add-on digital video recorders, which use 40 percent more power than the set-top box.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, the Times quotes a recent study from the Natural Resources Defense Council as saying.

The boxes consume $3 billion in electricity a year in the United States — and 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded, the study found.

“People in the energy efficiency community worry a lot about these boxes, since they will make it more difficult to lower home energy use,” said John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation.

“Companies say it can’t be done or it’s too expensive. But in my experience, neither one is true. It can be done, and it often doesn’t cost much, if anything,” Wilson told the Times.

Alternatives to the perpetually “powered-on” state are available, but they are not being required or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Similar devices in some European countries go automatically into standby mode when not in use, cutting power drawn by half, the Times reports. They also have an optional “deep sleep” option that can reduce energy consumption by about 95 percent.

Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, offered this of the industry in the United States to the Times: “I don’t want to use the word ‘lazy,’ but they have had different priorities, and saving energy is not one of them.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has established Energy Star standards for set-top boxes and has plans to tighten them significantly by 2013, Ann Bailey, director of Energy Star product labeling, said in an email to the Times.

Back in the day, the biggest energy demand was climbing up on the roof to monkey around adjusting the antenna.

© Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Drivers, Engineer Watched Nev. Amtrak Crash Unfold

SPARKS, Nev. — Although officials reported throughout the day Saturday that two people died when a semitrailer smashed into an Amtrak train Friday, they updated that toll to at least six late Saturday, after combing through the debris from the fiery crash.

And 28 remain unaccounted for, although officials said that number may be misleading because some passengeers may have gotten off before the crash or walked away from the scene.

Two truck drivers and a train engineer watched helplessly as the semitrailer skidded the length of a football field before it smashed through crossing gates and into two double-decker cars of the Amtrak train at a highway crossing.

The drivers were part of a three-truck convoy that saw the gates come down and the warning lights go off as the California Zephyr approached, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said Saturday.

They stopped, but the driver of the big rig in the lead did not, he said. “They were waiting for it to come to a stop.”

The Churchill County Sheriff’s office updated the death toll late Saturday to six. Authorities earlier said the truck’s driver was among the dead, and a transportation union confirmed that number included one of its members, the train’s conductor.

The conductor, 68-year-old Laurette Lee of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., came from a railroad family. Her great-grandfather and grandfather worked for railroad companies, her brother is an Amtrak dispatcher and her nephew is an Amtrak conductor, Lee’s friends and family told the San Jose Mercury News.

Weener said 28 people were unaccounted for in the crash, but that the figure was “spongy” because some passengers may have gotten off the train before the crash or walked away from the scene without checking with officials.

“This is not quite like you are used to when you get on an airplane. They record exactly who gets on, and what seat they sit in,” he said. “On a train, you can get off without necessarily being tracked.”

About 20 people were injured, and the United Transportation Union said on its website that the train’s assistant conductor was among those seriously hurt. Weener said a passenger manifest counted 210 on board, but Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said 204 passengers and 14 crew members were on the train at the time.

“We are going to be working in the next several days to get more of that [unaccounted] number down the best we can,” Weener said.

At the time of the collision, Weener said visibility was excellent and that the crossing gates and warning lights were working.

The train’s engineer saw the truck approaching the crossing about 70 miles east of Reno and realized the collision was inevitable, he said.

The engineer slammed on the emergency brakes, but the train, which was going about 78 mph in an 80-mph zone, traveled a half mile more before it finally stopped, he said. The engineer watched the truck smash into two of the train’s 10 cars through the rearview mirror.

“He recalled the event clearly. He saw the truck approaching the train,” Weener said. “At some point, he knew the impact was imminent. He, in factm watched the collision in a rearview mirror. He was hoping the train was not going to derail.”

NTSB investigators were returning to the crash site on Sunday, partly to search for additional possible victims, as well as to try to rectify discrepancies in the passenger manifest.

The California Zephyr from Chicago was about 300 miles east of its destination in Emeryville, Calif., when the truck hit the two train cars, which burst into flames. Earlier witness accounts said the truck driver did not attempt to stop before it drove through the crossing, but Weener said the driver did try to stop because the truck skidded about 320 feet before it crashed.

The speed of the truck hasn’t been determined, but Weener said it was going “at a considerable speed” because the impact left the tractor embedded in one of the train cars.

Weener said the truck driver who died was a Nevada man in his mid-40s. Churchill County authorities said they were working to confirm other victims’ identities and notify family members.

Weener said a team of 18 NTSB investigators were at the scene and expected to remain there for at least a week. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said they had not finished going through the wreckage yet, and Weener said they had yet to review video data taken from the train.

“We will not be determining a probable cause of this accident while we are here,” Weener said.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Car Manufacturers May Face Fuel Economy Rules of 56.2 MPG

Automakers that sell vehicles in the United States may have to boost car and light truck fuel economy to an average 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 under a White House proposal presented this week.

In separate meetings with officials from Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Chrysler Group LLC on Wednesday, the Obama administration asked the three largest U.S. automakers to analyze the effects of a 56.2 mpg fuel-economy target, two people familiar with the talks said. The rules also would cover other manufacturers, such as Toyota Motor Corp.

That represents an improvement of about a 5 percent a year in each company’s fleetwide average fuel economy from 2016, when they are required to have a 35.5 mpg average for vehicles sold in the United States The Detroit News reported the administration’s plan today.

Republicans, including Environmental Protection Agency administrators for every Republican president since Richard Nixon, joined other Republicans this week in asking Obama to write “aggressive” fuel economy standards for 2017 to 2025, the years covered under the rule now being drafted.

Increasing fuel economy by the amount proposed could cost at least $2,100 per vehicle, according to a document prepared last year by the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who have said they will publish a proposed rule by Sept. 30. California’s Air Resources Board is also helping write the rule and was represented at this week’s meetings, according to the people familiar with the talks.

“We continue to work closely with a broad range of stakeholders to develop an important standard that will save families money and keep the jobs of the future here,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in an email. “A final decision has not been made, and as we have made clear we plan to propose that standard in September.”

Any number being floated now is early in the process, Greg Martin, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM, said in an interview.

“There’s a way go to in this process,” said Martin, who said he doesn’t know what the White House said in the meeting. “Any number out there right now has the rigidity of Jello.”

Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for Ford, based in Dearborn, Mich., also declined to comment on this week’s talks.

“Our discussions with the administration are ongoing and productive,” she said in an email.

Spokeswomen for Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents automakers from around the world, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment placed outside of regular business hours.

Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council are pushing for a 62 mpg standard by 2025, saying increasing the fuel economy average will help U.S. automakers regain market share they lost to foreign competitors who sold more smaller cars in the U.S.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” council Transportation Program Director Roland Hwang said about the 56.2 mpg proposal in an interview. “That’s a good number as long as there aren’t any loopholes by the automakers” such as making most of the improvements in the later years of the rule.”

© Copyright 2011 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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‘Whitey’ Bulger, Accused Mobster, Seeks Court-Appointed Lawyer June 26, 2011

James “Whitey” Bulger, the accused Boston mobster arrested in California with $800,000, was given three days to show why a lawyer should be appointed to represent him at taxpayer expense.

Bulger, 81, and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 60, made initial appearances in federal court in Boston Friday after a trip from California. Bulger, who was a fugitive for 16 years, didn’t oppose his continued detention while awaiting arraignment. Wearing jeans and a white hooded sweatshirt, he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs by U.S. marshals.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said prosecutors oppose any kind of taxpayer-funded attorney for Bulger, saying he has “family resources available.” Bulger was asked by Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler if he could afford an attorney.

“Not after you took my money,” Bulger responded. More than $800,000 in cash and more than 30 firearms, along with false identification, were found in Bulger’s apartment after his arrest, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.

“We think he has more access to cash,” Kelly said. “We clearly don’t think this was his last stash.”

The government seized all of Bulger’s assets, said Peter Krupp, a lawyer appointed to provisionally represent him. Bowler gave Krupp until the close of business on June 27 to make any filings regarding the appointment of lawyers to represent Bulger. She gave Bulger the same deadline to file a financial affidavit.

Bulger is described in a 111-page indictment dated May 23, 2001, as a leader of a criminal organization known as the “Bulger Group” and “Winter Hill Gang.”

The gangs committed extortion, loan sharking, bookmaking, narcotics trafficking and murder, beginning about 1972, the government said. Bulger was wanted in connection with 19 murders.

Bulger may face life in prison or the death penalty if he is convicted of murder, depending on the jurisdiction, Carmen M. Ortiz, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said.

Greig, who fled with Bulger in 1995, was charged in an April 1997 complaint in federal court in Boston with harboring and concealing him from arrest. If convicted, she may face a five-year prison term.

After appearing yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal, Greig was returned to the custody of U.S. Marshals. She is scheduled to return to court June 28 for a hearing on bail.

Entering the courtroom, Bulger mouthed the word “hello” to his brother William, who was seated in the second row. Greig’s twin sister, Margaret McCusker, also attended the court appearances.

William Bulger served as president of the Massachusetts Senate from 1978 to 1996 and later became president of the University of Massachusetts. While president of the university, he appeared before a U.S. House committee and refused to answer questions about his brother’s whereabouts, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Bulger and Greig were arrested June 22 in Santa Monica, California, after FBI agents and Los Angeles police put an apartment building under surveillance and lured Bulger outside with an undisclosed ruse, said FBI agent Richard DesLauriers.

The arrests came as the result of a tip received the day before generated as the result of an ad campaign about Greig. The ads ran in 14 cities starting this week and targeted women who were the same age as Greig and might have been her co- worker, hair-stylist or neighbor.

The tip was received by the FBI’s Los Angeles office. While the ads didn’t run in Los Angeles, news coverage of the campaign aired in that market on national news and cable outlets, DesLauriers said.

FBI Informants

U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf was assigned to preside over Bulger’s case. It was in Wolf’s courtroom in 1998 that Bulger’s partner, Stephen Flemmi, revealed that he and Bulger were FBI informants and had been promised immunity from prosecution.

Bulger’s group was also linked to illegally shipping arms to the Irish Republican Army and importing about 36 tons of marijuana into the U.S., both in 1984, prosecutors said.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Bulger worked as an informant on mob activities for the FBI in Boston, according to the agency. He was indicted in January 1995 for racketeering violations, including activities while he was an informant. Five years later he was indicted for multiple murders.

Bulger, who was born in Boston, has a violent temper and was known to frequent libraries and historic sites, the FBI said. He carried a knife and kept physically fit by walking on the beach, the agency said.

Another girlfriend of Bulger’s cooperated with the government in trying to track down the fugitive in 1996, according to a 1997 FBI affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Greig. The woman, who told the FBI she had been Bulger’s girlfriend for 20 years, found out in 1994 that he had been involved with Greig as well during that time.

The former girlfriend told the FBI in 1996 that, after Bulger was charged in January of 1995, he returned to Massachusetts and picked up Greig, according to the affidavit.

In 2008, the FBI doubled its $1 million reward for information leading to Bulger’s capture. Officials said the disposition of the reward — and a $100,000 reward for Greig — is undetermined.

DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division, said speculation that the bureau knew of Bulger’s whereabouts before this week’s advertising campaign was wrong.

“Any claim that the FBI knew Mr. Bulger’s whereabouts prior to the FBI’s publicity efforts this week are completely unfounded,” DesLauriers said in a statement posted on the website of the FBI’s Boston division. “When we learned his location, he was arrested promptly.”

The case is U.S. v. Bulger, 94-cr-10287, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston.)

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Accused Boston Crime Boss ‘Whitey’ Bulger Arrested June 24, 2011

Former mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, captured near his coastal California hideout after 16 years on the run, was ordered held without bond Thursday for transfer back to Boston to face charges of murder, extortion and conspiracy.

Bulger, 81, one of America’s most wanted fugitives, was lured from his Santa Monica, California, apartment just blocks from the Pacific Wednesday evening by federal agents and police acting on a tip from the public.

The man who inspired the gangster character played by Jack Nicholson in the 2006 film “The Departed” put up no resistance when he and his longtime companion, Catherine Greig, 60, were arrested, federal officials said at a Boston news conference. Greig had been with him in hiding since 1995.

An employee for the company that manages the apartment building, Joshua Bond, told Reuters the couple had lived there for 15 years and went by the names Charles and Carol Gasko. Neighbors said had frequently seen pair out walking together.

The pair appeared Thursday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate judge in Los Angeles, who ordered both of them to remain in federal custody without bail.

Handcuffed but looking calm and fit, Bulger gave short answers to procedural questions posed by the judge. He was mostly bald and wore a neatly trimmed white beard and wire-rimmed glasses.

He smiled and chuckled to himself while staring at reporters in the courtroom before the proceedings began.

When the judge asked if he had read the indictment against him, Bulger held up a sheaf of white papers and replied, “I got ‘em all right here. It will take me quite a while to finish these.” He said “thank you” to the judge at the end.

Greig, with close-cropped white hair, appeared frailer and older than Bulger. She scowled through much of her hearing.

Bulger and Greig waived rights to challenge their removal from California to Boston. The judge said both would be “sent forthwith” back to Massachusetts.

Steven Martinez, assistant director of the FBI Los Angeles office, later said the pair were spending the night locked up in Los Angeles, and that U.S. marshals would escort them across the country as early as Friday.

Bulger, a onetime underworld informant and former leader of the Irish-American criminal group the Winter Hill Gang, was wanted on 19 counts of murder committed in the 1970s and 1980s, and on charges of drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.

Greig was charged in 1997 with harboring a fugitive.

Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Bulger faced life in prison if convicted.

Bulger fled Boston in late 1994 and was joined by Greig a few months later. Before their arrest, the last credible sighting of the pair was in London in 2002. Bulger was thought to have traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, Canada and Latin America after slipping away.

His story inspired Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film “The Departed” about double-dealing gangsters and corrupt cops in Boston.

 

BEACHSIDE HIDEOUT

Inside Bulger’s Santa Monica hideout, agents said they found $800,000, more than 30 firearms, knives and pieces of false identification. They declined to give details of the ploy that led to Bulger leaving his apartment.

A new series of televised public service announcements aimed at female viewers who might have seen Greig was launched just Tuesday, airing in 14 cities during daytime TV programs — though not in Los Angeles. The FBI also placed billboards in New York’s Times Square and elsewhere.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers said the media campaign paid off with an anonymous tip that directly led the critical break in the case.

Agents from the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department staked out the three-story apartment building Wednesday afternoon before making the arrests.

Bulger is the older brother of William “Billy” Bulger, a former president of the Massachusetts State Senate. William Bulger had no comment about his brother’s arrest.

He was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1999, and a $2 million reward was offered for information leading to Bulger’s arrest. The FBI doubled the reward offered for Greig’s whereabouts this week, to $100,000.

Bulger, said to be an avid reader and history buff who likes to take long walks on beaches, has been featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” more than a dozen times from 1995 to 2010. (Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and R.T. Watson and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Census Shows Whites Lose US Majority Among Babies June 23, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.

Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — made up of mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, a sign of declining U.S. marriages overall but also continuing challenges for black youths without involved fathers.

The findings, based on the latest government data, offer a preview of final 2010 census results being released this summer that provide detailed breakdowns by age, race, and householder relationships such as same-sex couples.

Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury.

“We’re moving toward an acknowledgment that we’re living in a different world than the 1950s, where married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color,” said Laura Speer, coordinator of the Kids Count project for the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“It’s clear the younger generation is very demographically different from the elderly, something to keep in mind as politics plays out on how programs for the elderly get supported,” she said. “It’s critical that children are able to grow to compete internationally and keep state economies rolling.”

Currently, non-Hispanic whites make up just under half of all children 3 years old, which is the youngest age group shown in the Census Bureau’s October 2009 annual survey, its most recent. In 1990, more than 60 percent of children in that age group were white.

William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the data, said figures in the 2009 survey can sometimes be inexact compared with the 2010 census, which queries the entire nation. But he said when factoring in the 2010 data released so far, minorities outnumber whites among babies under age 2.

The preliminary figures are based on an analysis of the Current Population Survey as well as the 2009 American Community Survey, which sampled 3 million U.S. households to determine that whites made up 51 percent of babies younger than 2. After taking into account a larger-than-expected jump in the minority child population in the 2010 census, the share of white babies falls below 50 percent.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia now have white populations below 50 percent among children under age 5 — Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Mississippi. That’s up from six states and the District of Columbia in 2000.

At current growth rates, seven more states could flip to “minority-majority” status among small children in the next decade: Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, South Carolina and Delaware.

By contrast, whites make up the vast majority of older Americans — 80 percent of seniors 65 and older and roughly 73 percent of people ages 45-64. Many states with high percentages of white seniors also have particularly large shares of minority children, including Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas and Florida.

“The recent emergence of this cultural generation gap in states with fast growth of young Hispanics has spurred heated discussions of immigration and the use of government services,” Frey said. “But the new census, which will show a minority majority of our youngest Americans, makes plain that our future labor force is absolutely dependent on our ability to integrate and educate a new diverse child population.”

Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire, noted that much of the race change is being driven by increases in younger Hispanic women having more children than do white women, who have lower birth rates and as a group are moving beyond their prime childbearing years.

Because minority births are driving the rapid changes in the population, “any institution that touches or is impacted by children will be the first to feel the impact,” Johnson said, citing as an example child and maternal health care that will have to be attentive to minorities’ needs.

The numbers come amid public debate over hotly contested federal and state issues, from immigration and gay marriage to the rising cost of government benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid, that are resonating in different ways by region and demographics.

Alabama became the latest state this month to pass a wide-ranging anti-immigration law, which in part requires schools to report students’ immigration status to state authorities. That follows tough immigration measures passed in similarly Republican-leaning states such as Georgia, Arizona and South Carolina.

But governors in Massachusetts, New York and Illinois, which long have been home to numerous immigrants, have opted out of the federal Secure Communities program that aims to deport dangerous criminals, saying it has made illegal immigrants afraid of reporting crimes to police. California may soon opt out as well.

States also are divided by region over old-age benefits and gay marriage, which is legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

Among African-Americans, U.S. households headed by women — mostly single mothers but also adult women living with siblings or elderly parents — represented roughly 30 percent of all African-American households, compared with the 28 percent share of married-couple African-American households. It was the first time the number of female-headed households surpassed those of married couples among any race group, according to census records reviewed by Frey dating back to 1950.

While the number of black single mothers has been gradually declining, overall marriages among blacks are decreasing faster. That reflects a broader U.S. trend of declining marriage rates as well as increases in non-family households made up of people living alone, or with unmarried partners or other non-relatives.

Female-headed households make up a 19 percent share among Hispanics and 9 percent each for whites and Asians.

Other findings:

—Multigenerational households composed of families with grandparents, parents and children were most common among Hispanics, particularly in California, Maryland, Illinois, Nevada and Texas, all states where they represented nearly 1 in 10 Latino households.

—Roughly 581,000, or a half percent, of U.S. households are composed of same-sex unmarried couples, representing nearly 1 in 10 households with unmarried partners. Unmarried gay couples made up the biggest shares in states in the Northeast and West, led by the District of Columbia, Oregon, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont. The largest numbers were in California and New York, which is now considering a gay marriage law.

—Minorities comprise a majority of renters in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia — Hawaii, Texas, California, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, Mississippi, New Jersey, Louisiana and New York.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a conservative interest group, emphasized the economic impact of the decline of traditional families, noting that single-parent families are often the most dependent on government assistance.

“The decline of the traditional family will have to correct itself if we are to continue as a society,” Perkins said, citing a responsibility of individuals and churches. “We don’t need another dose of big government, but a new Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’ that doesn’t interfere with family formation or seek to redefine family.”

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Lawsuit to Block SF Vote on Circumcision Ban

SAN FRANCISCO — An unlikely coalition of Jews and Muslims on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to block a San Francisco ballot measure that would ban the circumcision of male children, a procedure widely practiced by members of both faiths.

The case filed in San Francisco Superior Court asks the court to remove the voter initiative from the city’s Nov. 8 ballot, arguing that California law bars local governments from restricting medical procedures.

The plaintiffs include five Jews, three Muslims, two physicians who regularly perform circumcisions, the Anti-Defamation League and the local chapter of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

“It’s a measure that would basically infringe upon my rights as a Muslim to practice here,” said plaintiff Leticia Preza, 31, who has a 4-year-old son and baby daughter. “It would also take away my rights as a parent to choose what’s a good procedure for my child.”

San Francisco is set to be the first U.S. city to hold a public vote on banning male circumcision after city elections officials confirmed last month that the initiative had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The measure would prohibit circumcision on males under the age of 18, making it a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.

Supporters of the ban say male circumcision is a form of genital mutilation that parents should not be able to force on their young child. They say the procedure is unnecessary, extremely painful and even dangerous.

Backers of the so-called San Francisco Male Genital Mutilation bill did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The ballot measure is running into fierce opposition, especially among Jews and Muslims who consider circumcision a sacred religious rite. They say the ban would violate their constitutional rights and run counter to San Francisco’s tradition of cultural and religious tolerance.

“As Jews, we take the threat of banning circumcision personally,” said plaintiff Jeremy Benjamin. “This measure singles us out, along with the Muslim community, as illegitimate and unwanted in our own city.”

International health organizations have promoted male circumcision to help reduce the spread of the AIDS virus, but there hasn’t been the same kind of push in the U.S., in part because nearly 80 percent of American men are already circumcised, compared with the worldwide average of 30 percent.

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No Budget, No Pay Is Word to California Lawmakers

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s no reward for a job poorly done, California lawmakers were told Tuesday as their wages and expense pay were suspended after passing a budget that did not “add up.”

Controller John Chiang Tuesday said he was acting under terms of a law voters approved last year, the “On-Time Budget Act of 2010,” to withhold lawmakers’ pay if they miss a mid-June deadline for balancing the state’s books.

Democrats pushed a budget through the legislature last week, but Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, vetoed the budget a day later, saying it was filled with “legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings” and didn’t close a $10 billion gap.

Chiang on Tuesday vowed to withhold paychecks until lawmakers submit a balanced spending plan for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The deadline for lawmakers to submit a budget to Brown was June 15.

“My office’s careful review of the recently passed budget found components that were miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished,” Chiang, also a Democrat, said in a statement.

“The numbers simply did not add up, and the legislature will forfeit their pay until a balanced budget is sent to the governor,” he said.

Assembly Speaker John Perez said Chiang’s decision gives the legislature’s Republican minority control of the budget process, since they have refused to vote for Brown’s plans to put a temporary tax extension up to a popular vote.

Without any Republicans lending support for that, Democratic leaders said they opted to drop Brown’s plan to try to push through their own budget last week.

California is notorious for late budgets. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state’s current budget last October, 100 days after it should have been in place.

Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, said the loss of pay could act as a catalyst. “Withholding paychecks might lubricate discussions,” he said.

A report released by Standard Poor’s Ratings Services on the heels of Chiang’s statement may also encourage California’s leaders to bear down on the budget.

California’s already low credit rating is at a “crossroad,” SP said.

A lengthy budget impasse extending into the new year could result in a “patchwork” budget similar to one Brown vetoed, SP said, which “may lead us to lower the state’s long-term rating depending upon the severity and duration of the cash crisis that we believe could precede it.”

Legislators were quick to voice their discontent.

“Our state government right now reminds me of a troop of boys lost in the wilderness,” Democrat Mike Gatto said in a statement.

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Obama Commerce Nominee Tries to Reassure Republicans

WASHINGTON — Former energy company executive John Bryson Tuesday sought to persuade Republicans he would be a strong voice for business in President Barack Obama’s administration if confirmed as Commerce Secretary.

“The reason that President Obama reached out to me was my business experience,” Bryson told the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing in which he faced questions about his support for unpopular cap-and-trade legislation to curb carbon emissions believed to contribute to global climate change.

However, Sen, John Thune, R-S.D., said Bryson could have a hard time winning approval until Obama formally submits three long-delayed free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia to Congress for approval.

Republicans said three months ago they would oppose any of Obama’s trade nominees until he sends the deals to Congress and are still waiting for him to do that, Thune said.

Bryson served as chief executive of California utility Edison International from 1990 to 2008 before becoming chairman of BrightSource Energy, a solar energy company.

He told the Senate panel his top priority would be to help the U.S. economy create more jobs.

“If confirmed, I will be a voice in this administration for simplifying regulations that are difficult to understand and eliminating regulations that are unnecessary,” he said.

Bryson, who resigned last week from Boeing’s board of directors, also criticized the National Labor Relations Board’s decision to pursue a formal complaint against the aircraft manufacturer for its decision to site a 787 Dreamliner assembly line in non-union South Carolina.

“I think it’s not the right judgment,” Bryson said. “We thought we were doing the right thing for the country” by locating the jobs in South Carolina instead of moving them overseas, Bryson said.

The NRLB complaint asserts Boeing located the jobs in South Carolina to punish the International Association of Machinists for past strikes.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, branded Bryson an “environmental extremist” for his support of cap-and-trade legislation that failed to clear the Senate and his role in founding the Natural Resource Defense Council, a leading environmental group.

No Republican used that term during the confirmation hearing on Tuesday, but Sen. Jim DeMint said he hoped Bryson would have the “courage to speak up against some of most anti-business policies I think we have ever seen in our country” under the Obama administration.

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, pressed Bryson for assurances his support for cap-and-trade legislation did not mean he would press for phasing out the use of coal.

“No, not at all,” Bryson said, saying he believed the United States had to rely on a diverse mix of fuels.

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Analysis: Ethanol’s Clout in US Govt to Ensure Subsidy Deal June 22, 2011

WASHINGTON — Big Ethanol has enough clout in Congress and in the Obama administration to keep growing with U.S. government support, even though decades of large tax credits may be winding down.

Amid pressure to cut yawning U.S. deficit and debt, the Senate voted overwhelmingly late last week to repeal subsidies for the ethanol industry, first won in 1978, that now cost tax payers about $6 billion a year.

With Capitol Hill’s focus on austerity and recent high prices for corn, the main feedstock for U.S. ethanol, being blamed by some for helping to boost food prices, the biofuel’s subsidies are now under the microscope like never before.

Calls to reduce the subsidies could increase, as lawmakers try to reach a debt-reduction deal by July 1. But, that does not mean the industry will be abandoned by government.

“We’re not going to go cold turkey,” predicted Dan Glickman, U.S. agriculture secretary during the Clinton era.

“The subsidies will be phased down, but not eliminated.”

Ethanol, which is produced in 28 states and provides 400,000 jobs, is too entrenched in the U.S. economy to be left without government help, he added.

The Senate’s vote was mostly symbolic, as it was attached to a bill that does not have companion legislation in the House.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat who sponsored the bill, is working with Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, on a compromise measure that would phase down subsidies for ethanol, rather than cut them altogether.

“There’s sufficient interest and support in the Senate to prevent the complete repeal of ethanol subsidies,” said Byron Dorgan, a former senator from North Dakota and a co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project.

Senate Democrats up for reelection next year in ethanol producing states could feel pressure to work out some kind of legislative deal.

“The room for compromise is very much there,” said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners in Washington.

Glickman pointed to the country’s failure to develop anything besides ethanol as oil’s prime alternative as another key reason why Congress and the Obama administration will work to ensure biofuels get some sort of subsidies. They could come in the shape of incentives for infrastructure to help ethanol get to market.

Biofuels have long been part of President Barack Obama’s plan to start weaning the country off imports of foreign oil. The White House issued a statement after the vote, saying it was against full repeal of the subsidies, indicating it could use veto power if the measure advances in Congress.

The industry has signaled it supports moving from an outright 45-cent tax credit that blenders get for mixing every gallon of ethanol into the country’s gasoline toward support for infrastructure to get the fuel to consumers.

Such support could come in the form of subsidies for advanced pumps at filling stations, loan aid for pipelines, or assistance for farmers to grow, store and transport advanced non-corn feedstocks. The so-called blender pumps could help push more ethanol to market after the government recently approved E15, gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, for newer vehicles.

“Market access is number one,” Jeff Broin, CEO of privately held POET, the largest ethanol maker in the world, told Reuters.

POET is a member of Growth Energy, which has pushed for trading blenders’ credits and for breaks on infrastructure.

Infrastructure improvements could also benefit large agriculture company Archer Daniels Midland , oil refiner Valero Energy Corp, and ethanol pure plays like Green Plains Renewables .

There are also moves to reduce the blenders’ credit and tie it to the price of crude oil. In a bill sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley, the blenders’ credit would be linked to the price of oil by 2013. It would be wiped out when crude oil trades above $90 a barrel, but blenders would get as much as 24 cents a gallon if it fell to $50 a barrel.

“These are serious ongoing negotiations,” said Klobuchar. “We know that there is support for phasing out the current ethanol tax credits, the question is when and how.”

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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21-year-old Californian Wins Miss USA Crown June 21, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 21-year-old auburn-haired California girl has won the Miss USA crown in Las Vegas and will represent the nation in this year’s Miss Universe pageant.

Alyssa Campanella of Los Angeles topped a field of 51 beauty queens to take the title Sunday night at the Planet Hollywood Resort Casino.

Campanella won after strutting across the stage in a blue bikini with white polka dots and a dark turquoise evening gown with beading on its top.

She also answered a question about legalizing marijuana by saying she didn’t think it should be fully legalized but it should be available to those who need it for medical purposes.

Miss Tennessee Ashley Durham was the first runner-up.

Contestants from Alabama and Texas placed third and fourth.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Unemployment Fell in Fewer than Half US States June 18, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unemployment rates fell in fewer than half of U.S. states, evidence that slower hiring has affected many parts of the country.

The unemployment rates in 24 states dropped, the Labor Department said Friday. Rates rose in 13 states and Washington, D.C, and were flat in 13. That’s a significant decline from April, when 39 states reported falling unemployment rates.

And only 22 states reported a net gain in jobs in May, while 27 states lost jobs. That’s much worse than April, when 42 states gained jobs.

The changing trend in state unemployment rates reflect a weaker economy that has been hampered by high gas prices and lower factory output. Nationally, employers added a net gain of only 54,000 jobs in May, compared to an average of 220,000 per month in the previous three months. The U.S. unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent.

California, New York and Pennsylvania reported large job losses, partly reversing gains earlier this year. California said employers cut 29,200 jobs last month, with big losses in professional and business services, which includes accounting, engineering, and temporary services. The construction sector also lost jobs.

New York said employers cut 24,700 jobs and Pennsylvania reported a drop of 14,200 jobs.

But those drops follow large gains in April and don’t represent a longer-term trend, said Marissa DiNatale, a regional economist at Moody’s Analytics. New York added 53,000 jobs in April, and Pennsylvania added 23,900.

“The actual picture of what’s going on is somewhere in the middle” of the April and May figures, she said.

Florida, meanwhile, reported the biggest job gains. Employers in the Sunshine State added a net total of 28,000 positions. The state’s unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month to 10.6 percent. The gains were mostly in education and health services and in leisure and hospitality, which includes amusement parks, hotels and restaurants.

The gains reflect some pickup in tourism that is boosting the state’s theme parks and resorts, said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.

While the state is adding jobs and unemployment is falling, the improvement is “moving at the speed of a glacier,” Snaith said. He doesn’t expect hiring to really accelerate until next year.

Earlier this year economists had expected much stronger job growth. But a payroll tax cut enacted in December hasn’t spurred the additional consumer spending that many economists expected. Americans have had to spend most of the extra money to pay higher prices for food and gas.

The economy grew by only 1.8 percent in the January-March period, a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent annual pace in the October-December quarter.

Nevada had the highest unemployment rate among the states, at 12.1 percent, though that was down sharply from April’s 12.5 percent. California had the second-highest rate, at 11.7 percent, down from 11.8, followed by Rhode Island at 10.9 percent, which was unchanged.

North Dakota reported the lowest unemployment rate, at 3.2 percent, followed by Nebraska at 4.1 percent and New Hampshire and South Dakota at 4.8 percent.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Facebook Hires Ex-Press Secretary for Bill Clinton June 15, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, is joining Facebook to oversee the company’s policy, international, and corporate communications efforts.

Lockhart, who joins Facebook next month as global communications vice president, represents the company’s latest move to enlist Washington insiders.

In May, Facebook hired two former officials who worked for former President George W. Bush, including Joel Kaplan, who served as Bush’s deputy chief of staff.

Facebook, the world’s No. 1 Internet social network with more than 500 million people, has grown in influence in the Internet industry as well as in the spheres of public policy and world affairs during its seven-year history.

The service has been credited with playing a key role in recent uprisings in the Middle East, helping protesters organize and communicate.

Facebook is also increasingly in the spotlight for its privacy practices, with some privacy advocates criticizing the way it treats users’ personal information.

Lockhart was the chief spokesman and senior adviser to President Clinton between 1998 and 2000, according to the biography on the website of the Glover Park Group, a communications firm he co-founded in 2001.

“His experience building and running a press office at the White House gives him particular appreciation for the demands of a global 24-hour news cycle and the challenges of responding effectively to intense scrutiny,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook Vice President of Global Communications, Marketing and Public Policy, in an emailed statement.

Lockhart will initially work in Facebook’s office in Washington, D.C., but will move to California, where Facebook is headquartered, as soon as family commitments allow, a Facebook representative said.

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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