19 Aug 2014

The Real Value of $100 in Each State

Not all Benjamins are created equal.
For the first time ever, the federal government this year introduced a data series that compares price differences among states and metropolitan areas. Those estimates — regional price parities and real personal income — offer something simple and immensely useful for anyone considering making a move: They allow you to compare how far your money goes in each state.
We covered the implications — how you might use the data to compare income or rent in one state with another — when the Bureau of Economic Analysis released the data in April, and today the Tax Foundation publishedthe following map based on the same data to show how far $100 would go in each state. 
You’d squeeze the most out of $100 in Mississippi, where you could use it to buy $115.74 worth of goods and services, relative to the national average. Arkansas comes next, followed by Missouri, Alabama and South Dakota. The state where $100 falls flattest is Hawaii, where that same $100 gets you only $85.32. (D.C., though not a state, is even worse: It would buy you just $84.60 in goods.)
As the Tax Foundation post’s authors note, those differences have real implications on how people choose where to live, how states or cities choose to tax and even who has access to government assistance programs.  

Single mother of 5 uses texts to convince thief to return stolen van

A woman used text messages to convince a thief to give her back her stolen van.
"I'm just happy to have my van. I mean who does this, I can't believe this, it is my life, this is real," Megan Bratten said.
When Bratten walked out of the Kmart store near U.S. Highway 24 and Missouri Highway 291, her van was gone.
"An older gentlemen was like, ‘Are you OK?' and I said ‘No, I think my car just got stolen,'" she said.
It was her work van. The van Bratten uses for her business to provide for her five children.
"I just got angry and then I remembered that phone was in there and I thought ‘Let me text them a message' and I did," Bratten said.
Bratten sent a text to the cell phone that she knew was inside her van. The first text, understandably so, wasn't so nice.
"I used some pretty explicit words and I said ‘Hey, you just stole a single mother of five's work van. You are ruining my life here,'" she said.
Three hours went by and Bratten kept texting. Then, on her final text, she desperately pleaded.
"OMG car thief people can you just give me my van back!," she wrote. "It would be epic, the miracle I need right now."
"And then he texted me back and gave me step-by-step directions where to find the van and I went there with my mom, and my dog and the van was there," Bratten said.
The thief sent the single mother a final text which read:
"I do feel bad...my kids needed a meal on the table so that's what their dad did got them food. I know its wrong but it's been so hard since I lost my job."
Bratten said she didn't have the heart to follow-up with police.
"I can really relate on the human level of the struggle of feeling desperate and making poor choices. I can understand how people act out of fear making poor choices. What matters in the end, he really did the right thing," she said.
Police say it was very risky for Bratten to return to pick up her van without calling them. They would have gone with her.
Bratten even said in one of her text she tried to tell the thieves how bad the van was - that it leaked transmission fluid. When she got the van, there was an empty bottle of transmission fluid in the van that had been used to fill it up.

Every American town should do what Rockport, Maine and Chattanooga, Tennessee have done and build a publically-owned fiber-optic network. If they can't afford to do that, the state or federal government should step in and help them finish the job, just like we did with electric power in the 1930s

As Americans, we love to think we're number one, but the truth is that when it comes to internet speed we're pretty mediocre.

In fact, one recent study put the U.S. at number 31 in the world in overall download speed, lagging behind much smaller and less developed countries like Estonia, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Internet speeds in the U.S. average out around 20.77 megabits per second, which is less than half of the average internet speed in Hong Kong, which has the world's fastest internet.

For a country like ours, the country that invented the internet and is home to some of the world's most powerful tech companies, this is just embarrassing.
But now residents of the small town of Rockport, Maine will get to experience the kind of super high-speed internet that the rest of the world has access to on a daily basis.
That's because on Monday, Rockport officially launched its very own municipally-owned fiber-optic internet network.

The culmination of a partnership between the town and state governments, a local telecom company called GWI, and a nearby college, Rockport's network is the first of its kind in the Pine Tree State.
It's also a great deal for customers. As the Portland Press Herald reports, "At about $69 a month for 100 megabits per second of upload and download speed, Rockport'sservice outpaces Time Warner Cable, whose fastest advertised service is 50 megabits per second for downloads and 5 megabits per second for uploads." 
As of now, Rockport's fiber-optic network is only available to around 70 businesses and households. However, its supporters, like Maine Senator Angus King, expect it to grow rapidly over the next few years and believe it will be a positive example in a state that ranks literally next to last in overall internet access.

In today's economy, internet access shouldn't be considered a luxury, it should be a right, which is exactly why other cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Lafayette, Louisiana have done the same thing as Rockport, Maine and set up their own city-run fiber-optic networks.

Comcast and Verizon don't want you to know this, but the major reason internet access and internet speed is so bad here in the U.S. compared to the rest of the developed world is that the private companies that dominate our telecom industry have so little competition that they simply don't care about making things better for their customers.

Sober women arrested for DUI after being hit by police car: Sheriff Clarke confronted after FOX6 investigation prompts federal lawsuit

Accused of a cover-up, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and four of his deputies are named as co-defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit — and it all started with a FOX6 investigation that garnered national attention. A sober driver was arrested for drunk driving in February of 2013 — and she’s still fighting back.
When a Sheriff’s deputy T-boned her car last year, Tanya Weyker suffered more than a broken neck. She suffered the indignity of a false arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Now, she has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
“Ms. Weyker’s constitutional rights were violated very severely,” Chicago lawyer, Jon Erickson said.
With Weyker standing silently at his side, Erickson on Tuesday, July 8th announced the filing of a federal lawsuit against Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and four of his deputies.
“The Sheriff is responsible,” Erickson said.
The lawsuit comes two months after a FOX6 investigation showed Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Quiles T-boned Weyker’s Toyota Camry and then lied about who caused the crash.
Weyker admitted to having a few sips of a friend’s drink that night — and nothing more.
Her injuries were too severe to perform field sobriety tests.
Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Griffin arrested Weyker anyway — and cited her for driving drunk, even though blood tests would later prove Weyker had no alcohol or drugs in her system.
“I explained to him my eyes were red and glassy because I was crying,” Weyker told FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn.
Erickson says his client was treated like a criminal as she laid in a hospital bed in pain.
“Had to ask for permission to use the wash room in front of a deputy who was keeping watch on her,” Erickson said.
Video from an airport surveillance camera eventually proved that Deputy Quiles never stopped before turning onto Howell Avenue — as he claimed in his report.

18 Aug 2014

Georgia county refuses to pay medical bills for toddler in crib that police threw flash-bang into.

Habersham County officials say they do not plan to pay for the medical expenses of a toddler seriously injured during a police raid.

Bounkham Phonesavah, affectionately known as "Baby Boo Boo," spent weeks in a burn unit after a SWAT team's flash grenade exploded near his face. The toddler was just 19-months-old and asleep in the early morning hours of May 28. SWAT officers threw the device into his home while executing a search warrant for a drug suspect.
Habersham County officials are defending their decision not to pay, but the child's family isn't giving up.
After weeks of recovery at two different hospitals, Channel 2 Action News was there in July as the little boy walked out of a hospital with his family.
He is doing better, but late Friday afternoon, his family's attorney told said the family’s medical bills are mounting.
“But at this point, the county is refusing to pay,” said attorney Muwali Davis.
Habersham County’s attorney provided the following statement, saying: "The question before the board was whether it is legally permitted to pay these expenses. After consideration of this question following advice of counsel, the board of commissioners has concluded that it would be in violation of the law for it to do so." 
The attorney for Boo Boo’s family insists that is not good enough.

100,000 elephants killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012, study finds

Poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012, a huge spike in the continent's death rate of the world's largest mammals because of an increased demand for ivory in China and other Asian nations, a new study published Monday found.
Warnings about massive elephant slaughters have been ringing for years, but Monday's study is the first to scientifically quantify the number of deaths across the continent by measuring deaths in one closely monitored park in Kenya and using other published data to extrapolate fatality tolls across the continent.
The study — which was carried out by the world's leading elephant experts — found that the proportion of illegally killed elephants has climbed from 25 percent of all elephant deaths a decade ago to roughly 65 percent of all elephant deaths today, a percentage that, if continued, will lead to the extinction of the species.
China's rising middle class and the demand for ivory in that country of 1.3 billion people is driving the black market price of ivory up, leading to more impoverished people in Africa "willing to take the criminal risk on and kill elephants. The causation in my mind is clear," said the study's lead author, George Wittemyer of Colorado State University.
The peer-review study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was co-authored by experts from Save the Elephants, the Kenya Wildlife Service, an international group called MIKE responsible for monitoring the illegal killings of elephants, and two international universities.
"The current demand for ivory is unsustainable. That is our overarching conclusion. It must come down. Otherwise the elephants will continue to decrease," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.
Elephant deaths are not happening at the same rate across Africa. The highest death rate is in central Africa, with East Africa — Tanzania and Kenya — not far behind. Botswana is a bright spot, with a population that is holding steady or growing. South Africa's rhinos are being killed, but poachers have not yet begun attacking elephants.
Some individual elephant death numbers are shocking. The elephant population in Tanzania's Selous Game Reserve dropped from 40,000 to 13,000 over the last three years.
China is aware of its image problem concerning the ivory trade. The embassy in Kenya this month donated anti-poaching equipment to four wildlife conservancies. Chinese Ambassador Liu Xianfa said at the handover ceremony that China is increasing publicity and education of its people to increase understanding of the illegal ivory trade.

Michigan police agencies have received $43 million worth of surplus military equipment, including 17 mine-resistant armored fighting vehicles and 1,795 M16 automatic rifles, since 2006, a review of public records shows

Michigan police agencies have received $43 million worth of surplus military equipment, including 17 mine-resistant armored fighting vehicles and 1,795 M16 automatic rifles, since 2006, a review of public records shows.
The Detroit Free Press said it reviewed items that the Pentagon transferred to Michigan law enforcement. It said the list of 128,000 items also includes 165 utility trucks, three observation helicopters, 696 M14 rifles, 630 bayonets and scabbards and nine grenade launchers.
Transfers of military equipment has come under scrutiny since the high visibility of such items in Ferguson, Missouri, as authorities responded to protests against the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. 
Federal officials won’t identify specific agencies getting the equipment, but the newspaper said the 4,000-resident village of Dundee in Monroe County got a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP.
The Macomb County sheriff’s department got 79 M-16 rifles, the Free Press said. All were converted from automatic to semi-automatic under the department’s policy, said Sgt. Phil Abdoo.
In 1990, Congress authorized the Defense Department to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism. The military transfers have increased in recent years.
Ex-Livonia police Chief Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said many agencies have turned to federal surplus programs because of budget cuts.
“Police have been forced to put all of their revenue toward personnel, and it’s almost eliminated capital outlay,” he said. Inexpensive or free federal programs sometimes are the “only option” for police to obtain even basic items, he said.

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