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Stimulus Bill Includes Billions of Dollars in Help for Students and Colleges
By SARA HEBEL
Students, researchers, and colleges would benefit from new spending and tax breaks included in an $825-billion economic-stimulus plan that Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled on Thursday.
Higher-education lobbyists gushed . . .
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand police have arrested a safe burglar by using the popular social networking website Facebook to identify and track him down.
Queenstown police in southern New Zealand posted security-camera footage and pictures showing the man's face as he tried to break into the safe of a local tavern on Monday.
"The offender was identified after a movie and images of him were displayed on Facebook. He was identified from members of the public viewing him on Facebook and also seeing him on TV after the Facebook images were displayed on the news," the police station said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Police said the unnamed, 21-year-old Queenstown native would appear in court on Wednesday.
Local media said the man got too hot while trying to break into the safe, took off his balaclava and revealed his face to a hidden security camera.
"He was a very silly young boy. The room is really small and it gets really hot in there at the best of times," the bar's assistant manager, Mel Kelly, was quoted as saying.
"Clearly, he didn't realize there was a video camera there until the last moment. He looks round and sees it and there's just a shocked look ... His face definitely drops."
Staff at the bar did not recognize the man, but Kelly suspected he was a former employee because of his knowledge of the property.
This is not the first time that Facebook, the world's largest online social network, has been used to track down criminals.
The package is a mixture of $550 billion in spending programs and $275 billion in temporary tax cuts that Democrats hope will add 3 to 4 million jobs to the American workforce. . . . .
The measure calls for $87 billion to help the states meet the rising cost of providing health care for the poor in the recession, and another $39 billion to subsidize coverage by out-of-work wage-earners who cannot afford the cost of their employer-covered health care.
More than $100 billion is ticketed for education, including money for school districts to shield them from the effects of state cutbacks in services. Democrats also provided tens of billions in spending and tax breaks designed to lessen the nation's dependence on oil as a principal source of energy.
Obama's top aides have worked closely in recent days with Democrats in Congress to shape legislation that generally adheres to the president-elect's wishes.
At the same time, lawmakers departed dramatically in one area, jettisoning the incoming administration's call to give a $3,000 tax credit for each new job created by private companies.
Another key priority of the new administration was preserved, though. The summary calls for a tax credit of $500 per worker and $1,000 per working couple.
The measure does not include money to help middle- to upper-income taxpayers ensnared in the alternative minimum tax, which was originally designed to prevent the extremely wealthy from avoiding payment of taxes but now threatens more than 20 million tax filers. Several officials said the Senate was likely to include that provision in its version of the bill, a step that could push the overall total close to $900 billion.
With unemployment rising, and applications for various forms of federal aid keeping pace, the legislation calls for increased spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance and job training. It also proposes an increase in Pell Grants for college students of $500.
House leaders called for $30 billion for highway construction and $10 billion for mass transit and rail. . . .
Asked about the economic-stimulus package, now estimated to cost $850 billion over two years, 43% of people surveyed called it a "good idea," while 27% said it is a "bad idea." The rest didn't have an opinion. . . .
As expected, the House rushed to pass a bill on Wednesday to continue funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. At 285 pages, you can be sure it delivers a lot more than money.
One example: The bill changes the rules of the game, making it much easier for states like New York to put children from families making up to $84,800 a year on this publicly-funded program.
In addition, generous "income disregards" will be allowed, which means that a family can subtract things such as rent or mortgage payments, heating, or food costs from its income in calculating eligibility. That means that children in families making well over $100,000 a year will be eligible for SCHIP. . . .
Dip in oil forces Venezuela to court Western companies
Journal Staff and Wire Report
Published: January 15, 2009
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez, buffeted by falling oil prices that threaten to unravel his efforts to establish a Socialist-inspired state, is courting Western oil companies once again.
Until recently, Chavez had pushed foreign oil companies here into a corner by nationalizing their oil fields, raiding their offices and imposing higher royalties. But faced with the drop in prices and a decline in domestic production, senior officials here have begun soliciting bids from some of the largest Western oil companies in recent weeks, according to energy executives and industry consultants here.
Apple Inc. shares dropped as much as 10% Wednesday evening after the technology company said that Chief Executive Steve Jobs will take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.
Apple (AAPL: 85.33, -2.38, -2.7%) shares were last down 7.6% to $78.80. They finished the regular-session at $85.30.
Jobs, in a statement, said that during the past week he's learned that his health-related issues "are more complex than I originally thought."
Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will be responsible for day to day operations.
"Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well," said Jobs.
A nearly decade-old lawsuit seeking to hold gun makers responsible for the city of Gary's rampant crime received a green light Monday to head to trial.
The Indiana Supreme Court declined to review a lower court ruling, ending the second round of appeals since the case was filed in 1999. Gary's suit alleges that 16 gun makers, including Smith & Wesson and Beretta, and six Northern Indiana gun dealers sold handguns they knew would get into the hands of criminals barred from owning them.
The court's order let stand an October 2007 Indiana Court of Appeals ruling that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act didn't bar the suit from proceeding. Congress approved the measure in 2005 to provide some immunity to the firearms industry from such suits.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose lawyers represent Gary, hailed the state high court's decision, called a denial of transfer.
"The Indiana Supreme Court's ruling is an important victory for the people of Gary and particularly those who have suffered from the gun industry's supply of guns to criminals and gun traffickers," Paul Helmke, president of the Washington-based Brady Center and a former Fort Wayne mayor, said in a statement Monday.
Attempts to reach attorneys for the gun manufacturers Monday night were unsuccessful.
Before the Court of Appeals ruled, gun makers had countered that the federal law was aimed directly at lawsuits such as Gary's; it was even mentioned by name during debate in Congress. . . . .
OCOEE, Fla. - A convenience store customer in Ocoee turned the tables on suspected robbers Monday night, and authorities continued to search for two people Tuesday evening.
Authorities said the man grabbed a gun and shot and killed the bottle-wielding bandit.
The customer, who was only identified as Chris to protect his identity, said he walked into a Kangaroo convenience store on Franklin Street and noticed at least two suspicious men.
The customer said he walked out to his car to get his phone and heard the clerk inside screaming for help. He said he grabbed his gun and went back inside and saw the suspected robber beating a female clerk with a beer bottle.
The customer said he told the assailant he had a gun, but the man turned toward him and the customer fired two shots, killing the suspect.
"I feel very shaken. I feel very glad that I was here, that I could help my friend because I come to this store. I've lived in Ocoee for 20 years, and I'm glad I could be here, and I'm glad I was able to help," the customer said.
The customer was asked whether he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and he responded that he did.
Chris said he doesn't consider himself him a hero.
"I saw a lady that was in distress and I came in and took the action that I thought was necessary," he said. "Hearing a lady scream to where it sounds like bloody murder to where I thought she was going to be killed, I decided to help the lady. I've known her for years. She's a friend of mine, and I wanted to go in and help."
Investigators said the one suspect shot was killed, and two other people are sought in the case. Police identified the deceased as Freddie Carson, 40, of Orlando. . . . .
At first glance, Citigroup's endorsement last week of a Senate plan to allow bankruptcy judges to break mortgage contracts looks like a scene from "Goodfellas."
Since October, the government has invested $52 billion in Citi, while agreeing to eat up to $249 billion in losses on the bank's toxic real estate portfolio. And so it's really hard to say no when those Washington "investors" call for a favor. In the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie, a restaurant owner realizes too late that a partner big enough to protect him is big enough to take everything he has. As Ray Liotta narrates, "Now he's got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with a bill, to Paulie . . . But now he has to pay Paulie."
The problem with Citi's capitulation is that it means that not just Citi will have to pay the Beltway outfit if the bill passes. Other banks, borrowers and taxpayers will also suffer. In fact, this deal is looking more and more like a case of Citi colluding with its new political owners in order to force competing banks to break contracts and take more losses. This kind of politicized banking is precisely why the Bank of the United States was shut down in the 19th century.
After years of resisting, Citi has suddenly signed off on Senator Dick Durbin's plan to allow judges to rewrite mortgage contracts for borrowers in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Under the Illinois Democrat's plan, which is earmarked for inclusion in the pending stimulus bill, judges could reduce the amount of principal, lower the interest rate, and change the length of the mortgage term.
Until Washington embraced the politics of housing panic, even sensible Democrats recognized that allowing such mortgage "cramdowns" was a terrible idea, sure to punish future borrowers with higher rates as lenders calculate the increased risk. The Congressional Budget Office warned in January 2008 that such a change could result in higher interest rates for homeowners and bigger caseloads in bankruptcy courts. In 2007, 16 House Democrats signed a letter opposing similar legislation. . . .
Physics professor William Happer GS ’64 has some tough words for scientists who believe that carbon dioxide is causing global warming.
“This is George Orwell. This is the ‘Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth.’ It’s that kind of propaganda,” Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, said in an interview. “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Every time you exhale, you exhale air that has 4 percent carbon dioxide. To say that that’s a pollutant just boggles my mind. What used to be science has turned into a cult.”
Happer served as director of the Office of Energy Research in the U.S. Department of Energy under President George H.W. Bush and was subsequently fired by Vice President Al Gore, reportedly for his refusal to support Gore’s views on climate change. He asked last month to be added to a list of global warming dissenters in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee report. The list includes more than 650 experts who challenge the belief that human activity is contributing to global warming
Though Happer has promulgated his skepticism in the past, he requested to be named a skeptic in light of the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, whose administration has, as Happer notes, “stated that carbon dioxide is a pollutant” and that humans are “poisoning the atmosphere.”
Happer maintains that he doubts there is any strong anthropogenic influence on global temperature.
“All the evidence I see is that the current warming of the climate is just like past warmings. In fact, it’s not as much as past warmings yet, and it probably has little to do with carbon dioxide, just like past warmings had little to do with carbon dioxide,” Happer explained. . . . .
Despite a huge Democratic majority, Eric Holder’s confirmation hearings are going to be difficult. He has a long record to defend. Whether it is his involvement and inconsistent statements about Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich’s pardon or his pushing Clinton’s clemency of the FALN terrorists or his failure to disclose his work for troubled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich after Blagojevich's legal problems surfaced, he faces tough questions.
But Holder’s nomination raises other questions about what President-elect Barack Obama claimed that he believed during the campaign. Numerous times he promised that he supported an individual right to own guns and that he wouldn’t do anything to take away people’s guns. . . .
Police: Would-be robbery victim shoots, kills assailant
BY TIMES STAFF | Sunday, January 11, 2009
HAMMOND | An attempted robbery early Sunday morning turned fatal for one of the suspects, police said.
A 38-year-old man and his girlfriend were exiting their sport-utility vehicle in the parking lot of McTaverns bar in the 7400 block of Indianapolis Boulevard when two people attempted to rob the couple, a Hammond police news release shows.
Another person is believed to have been an accomplice in the attempted robbery, Police Chief Brian Miller said.
The man took a handgun from the SUV and shot one of the suspects in the chest, the release states. The shooting victim died at the scene before Hammond Fire Department personnel could provide further treatment and he could get to a hospital.
Kenneth Denson, 17, of the 600 block of East 131st Street in Chicago, was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the chest about 1:30 a.m., a Lake County coroner's office spokeswoman said Sunday.
The second robbery suspect and an accomplice fled from the scene in a vehicle and traveled north on Indianapolis Boulevard into East Chicago, where they crashed and police apprehended them. Miller said an illegal narcotic drug was found in the vehicle.
Police said the investigation continues, and the man who shot Denson has cooperated with police and has turned over his handgun.
Charges could be filed today against the two suspects who are in custody, Miller said.
In September, a 40-year-old Gary man, Eric Lowe, was shot and killed outside of McTaverns following a dispute. Lowe was a security worker for the bar.
Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.
While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”
Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines - about 2% of global CO2 emissions. “Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power. . . .
The first proposal was advanced by the Teamsters union, which holds 2,569 shares of the company. It asks Apple to report all of the company's direct and indirect political contributions and expenditures, twice annually. Apple's directors say the proposal is "unnecessary and unproductive" and would reveal information on its private negotiations with trade associations to its competitors.
The second shareholder proposal was advanced by the AFL-CIO union, which holds 500 shares of Apple. It asks the board to adopt heath care reform principles outlined by the Institute of Medicine. Apple's directors say the measure will not benefit the company, its employees, or its shareholders, and that health care reform is a matter for the new US President and Congress to address.
A third proposal has been made by individual with less than 100 shares in Apple, but is cosponsored by the New York City Office of the Comptroller (with over two million shares) and Green Century Equity Fund (with another nearly 8,000 shares). It asks the company to deliver a report on sustainability including all corporate strategies related to climate change, the environmental impacts of toxics and recycling programs, and all employee and product safety issues. Apple's directors say the company already reports much of this information on social and environmental issues on its website, and that additional reporting obligations are unnecessary.
The last shareholder proposal is from the AFSCME Employees Pension Plan, a public health union which holds over 21,000 shares in Apple. It request the company issue a shareholders' advisory vote on executive compensation. Apple's directors say that setting executive compensation is the job of the board itself, and that limitations imposed by shareholder voting could have an adverse impact on the company's ability to recruit and retain top talent. . . .
Ballard's $773,000 'No-Contract' Work
Rendell’s Former Firm Went Beyond ‘No-Bid’ Contracts
By Chris Freind, The Bulletin
Published: Friday, January 09, 2009
Gov. Ed Rendell,D-Pa., has recently come under fire as more information emerges regarding the frequency and high-dollar amounts of no-bid state contracts that have been distributed to his political donors and friends. The details of such contracts have been previously revealed by The Bulletin.
Many eyebrows have been raised on these lucrative no-bid contracts, especially since the records from past administrations were “lost” under Mr. Rendell’s tenure — ostensibly the only way to compare the frequency, amounts and recipients of these types of contracts.
The state Senate passed a reform bill 50-0 last session amending how contracts are awarded, but it was stifled in the Democratic-controlled House. The legislation, sponsored by Republican Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-40th of Allegheny, will be re-introduced early this term.
While conflicts of interest abound, the awarding of no-bid contracts to political donors is not illegal, so long as no pay to play arrangement exists.
But in 2007, the ethical line was taken to a whole new level when Ballard performed $773,000 of state legal work without a state contract, leaving many questions unanswered.
On March 1 of that year, the firm began work on the proposal to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Over the next 83 days, Ballard utilized 55 attorneys (more than 10 percent of its legal staff), and billed the state for 2,300 hours, which equates to an average of 27.38 hours per 24 hour day. The hourly rates varied based on seniority, with firm Chairman Arthur Makadon billing $637.50/hour, and partners Ken Jarin and Adrian King Jr. billing $531.25/hour and $403.75/hour, respectively.
Mr. Makadon, a close friend to the governor, has contributed $87,500 to his campaigns. Mr. Jarin is listed as the “relationship partner” on the $773,000 project. He is a longtime confidante and fundraiser to Mr. Rendell, having contributed $90,000 to the governor’s coffers. He also serves as treasurer to the Democratic Governor’s Association, an entity that has contributed over $1.5 million to Rendell. Mr. Jarin is married to Robin Wiessmann, who had served as state treasurer until this week. Her office approved and issued payments for the Ballard invoices. Adrian King, Jr., served as the governor’s deputy Chief of Staff and in a Cabinet position prior to rejoining Ballard as a partner. . . . .
In 1999, after serving eight years as Mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell joined the Ballard Spahr law firm, headquartered in Center City. Two years later, during his campaign for Governor, Rendell stated, "I have, for the last two years, done practically nothing for [Ballard]," according to numerous press reports.
Upon assuming office, he appointed himself Chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority, the entity overseeing the four major bridges in Philadelphia. One of the major beneficiaries of Mr. Rendell being DRPA Chairman has been his former firm. In the three years preceding Rendell's election, Ballard received $25,000 in legal fees from the Port Authority, including only $480 in 2001. From 2002 until the present, Ballard has received over $2.7 million. . . .[the link has a much longer discussion]
Now, some are raising the question: Are the paychecks given with the expectation that Gov. Rendell would steer lucrative state business to the firm -- Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll? . . .