June 2010 - Posts

The Fourth of July is coming up this weekend – and it will be marked by higher gas prices.

AAA expects the national average of regular gas (self-serve) to range from $2.70 to $2.80 per gallon this holiday weekend. And although those prices will make even the most intrepid traveler wince, they're still not as bad as the $4 per gallon drivers had to pay in in July two years ago.

There will be more people on the road this weekend that this time last year, AAA says, despite the high cost of fuel. About 34.9 million people will travel at least 50 miles from their homes. Only 29.8 million road-tripped last year during the same time period. The holiday travel period this year is defined as July 1-5.

Travel experts say airports will be busy as well, but most people will be driving to their destinations. AAA said air travel is flat when compared with last year's figures, and airline rates are up 13 percent. The reason people are driving and not flying, according to AAA, is that Monday is a holiday for some but not all. People will want to stick closer to home if they have to be at work on Monday.

So if you're heading out this weekend and are concerned about high gas prices, get smart about savings at the pump. Choose the right octane at the pump. For most cars, regular octane is just fine. Using a higher octane than recommended offers no real benefit and costs you more. Unless your engine is knocking, use regular.

Stay away from gas saving gadgets promising to increase your mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency has tested many of them and found them to be of no use. Some can even damage your vehicle.

Stay within the speed limit; gas mileage decreases rapidly above 60 mph. You should also avoid unnecessary idling. It wastes fuel and pollutes the environment. You can improve your in-town gas mileage up to 5 percent by driving "gently." Use your overdrive and cruise control; they improve fuel economy.

Check your tires, replace your air filter, keep your engine tuned, and change your oil regularly. Doing so will improve the performance of your vehicle and will increase your mileage.

You should clean out the back of your vehicle as well. Extra weight in the back can reduce fuel economy. Combine your errands, and consider carpooling at least some of the time. You may even want to consider taking the bus, riding your bike or walking.

Whatever your plans this weekend, play it safe.
Posted by bulldog | with no comments
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Now considered Category 1, Hurricane Alex bore down on southern Texas and the western Gulf of Mexico today, closing down energy platforms and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port as it headed for landfall below the Rio Grande. The storm is the first hurricane of the season and the first June hurricane in 15 years, and was packing winds of 80 mph earlier today.

Three rigs and 28 platforms have been evacuated because of the storm, with almost 396,000 barrels of daily oil output shut in. The Louisiana port shut down production last night because of rough seas.

Tornadoes are possible in southern Texas today, along with dangerous waves on shore as the storm builds, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected to make landfall late tonight or early tomorrow in the northeastern Mexico-southern Texas border area.

The rough seas caused by the hurricane have pushed more oil from the Gulf oil spill onto its beaches, and has sidelined cleanup vessels. In Louisiana, Alex dumped tar balls the size of apples onto Elmer's Island, while the storm streaked Alabama beaches with long lines of oil. There are also unconfirmed reports of tar balls on St. Joe Beach in Florida, and oil continues to wash up onto Pensacola and Navarre's beaches.

Cleanup vessels in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are expected to remain out of operation for several days.

Vice president visits Gulf Coast

Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit to Pensacola, Fla.,  Tuesday, leaving residents with mixed reactions. Biden visited Pensacola Naval Air Station, but didn't make a stop at the beach, where oil continues to wash up. Some were skeptical the visit would speed up the cleanup process, while others hoped the visit might shed light on the area's beaches, helping travelers realize that the beaches are still a great vacation destination.

Other people were just mad it took this long for both the president and vice president to pay a visit to Northwest Florida.
"They should have been out here" from Day 1, said one visitor to Pensacola Beach.
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The latest installment in the "Twilight" saga, "Eclipse," has already broken one record and is expected to be the widest domestic release in box office history.

"Eclipse," which opens today, is booked into 4,416 theaters throughout the United States. That beats the previous record set by  "Iron Man 2," which opened in 4,380 theaters just two months ago.

Some theaters have planned for the expected rush of Twi-hards, eager to see the film, by scheduling midnight and 3 a.m. showings, as fans line up for the movie.

Last year's "New Moon," the second installment in the series, leads the box office charts for best opening day with $72.7 million. The movie's opening weekend tally of $142.8 million is No. 3 on the all-time chart.

The fervor that has surrounded this week's opening has been compared to that which surrounded the Beatles when they first landed in the U.S. in the 1960s. Hard-core "Twilight" fans have been camped out for days to see the new film, based on the third book in Stephenie Meyers' s popular teen vampire series.

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Economic experts predict that although the economy is still sluggish, it is on the rebound. And that glimmer of hope has spawned the return of the family vacation. But this summer, families are seeking more value in the trips they plan. This means as we plan our vacations, we're looking at locations that offer something for everyone in the family. Here's our top 10 picks...

• Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia: We all watched the Winter Olympics in February. Sprinkled in with the games were little glimpses of the local area's color and sightseeing. Active families will find lots of opportunities to whale watch, kayak and hike.
• Belize: This Central American country offers Mayan temples to explore, snorkeling with sharks, zip-lining through rain forests and "cave tubing," which takes you through bat-filled caves in the area.
• Hawaii: What's not to love about Hawaii? There's sand, surf and sun. But there's also volcano tours, swimming at the base of waterfalls, frothy drinks in a hammock under palm trees...not to mention biking, hiking, surfing lessons and swimming with dolphins.
• Branson, Missouri: It's the "live music capital of the world," and you can see a little bit of everything there. There's a Titanic museum, mini golf courses, go-kart tracks, amusement parks, a zip-line tour, and the Branson Auto Museum. There are also live shows, with something for every member of the family to enjoy. All of this activity doesn't even scratch the surface...there's also fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding and biking.
• Washington's Olympic Peninsula: If you've got teenage girls, you'll likely know the significance of this area of the country. It's the fictional home to some sparkly vampires and werewolves, and one angst-ridden teenage girl. Forks, Washington, located on the Peninsula, is the rain-soaked setting for the Twilight series, along with the towns of LaPush and Port Angeles. There's plenty to see for fans of the series, but there's also rainforest valleys, glacier-capped peaks and the pristine wilderness of Olympic National Park.
• Washington, D.C.: The nation's capital is a hot spot for travelers these days, with a new first family calling 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. There are tons of museums, national monuments and a zoo. There's also a Six Flags America in nearby Mitchellville, Maryland.
• Germany: It's a little pricey during the summer months, but Germany offers art, architecture, and the world's steepest wood roller coaster. There's also Saxony's Grand Canyon, which is a must-see. You can take a "themed" tour, which offers several attractions along the way. Your family can also explore medieval castles and look for fossils, or even run into Hansel and Gretel.
• Italy: There's much to see and do in Italy...and what kid doesn't like gelato? You can get a family vacation package, which features events for the adults as well as children. In addition to the usual historic sites, you can experience live jazz music, art and museums. There are water sports on the coast, and hiking and biking inland. And you must try local restaurants for some authentic Italian pasta dishes.
• Colorado: Normally you would think of this destination for a winter trip, but there's much to do in Colorado in the summertime. In addition to outdoor activities like hiking, trail walking, biking, canoeing and fishing, you can also enjoy slope-side adventure parks, offering Frisbee golf, bungee trampolines and other activities.
• State parks: If you want to be a bit budget conscious, you may want to consider a trip to any of the state parks in the country. You can pick one near you or one across the country. The cost is reasonable, and you can see some of the best the U.S. has to offer. Most state parks offer boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, biking and campsites, as well as cabins. Your family can rough it...or not...in some of the country's most beautiful areas.

Wherever your family spends its vacation time this year, plan ahead. By doing so, you can book the best for the least amount of money. Research your destination thoroughly, and look for family or group deals. Bon voyage!

Posted by bulldog | with no comments
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You've likely seen the ads for working at home as you've searched the Internet – they promise lots of money for even part-time work, and all while never leaving the comfort of your own home.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, most consumers who fall victim to these scams get neither the money nor the training they're promised. Most pay a fee for training and/or materials, and they never receive anything. They often have trouble obtaining payment for their services as well.

Work-at-home scams have been around for a long time, but in the current economic climate, people struggling to make ends meet and the unemployed often seek out ways to bring in more income. There are some work-at-home companies that are legitimate, but most are not. The FTC Web site states that complaints about these scams are increasing faster than fraud complaints overall, up from 4,004 in 2006 to 7,955 last year.

One of the most common scams is people paying a fee to learn how to make money on the internet. Many of them offer takers the opportunity to sell Google ads, or how to make money from social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

To avoid falling for work-at-home scams, look for the following warning signs: overstated claims of product effectiveness, exaggerated claims of potential earnings, claims of inside information, payment requirement prior to the release of details on the offer, and claims of "no experience necessary."

The most common scams include the following:

• Assembly of craft items: Takers are required to invest money in instructions and materials, and many, many man-hours to produce items such as baby booties, toy clowns and plastic signs for some company that is supposedly going to buy them. You won't get paid because your work won't meet predetermined "standards."
• Chain letter: You'll be required to make copies of letters and mail them to a provided list of names. You'll have to pay for the mailing list and labels.
• Envelope stuffing: You'll have to pay up front for the envelopes, as well as postage and printing, with the promise of reimbursement.
• Multi-level marketing: This direct sales scam involves selling products as part of a pyramid. You'll be required to pay money up front for the products you sell.
• Online business: You pay up front for a guide on how to make business using your computer at home. The information is worthless.
• Processing medical insurance claims: Ads promise that you can earn as much as $1,000 weekly. There are up front costs, and the actual market for your services would be small or non-existent.

If you are seeking a stay-at-home type of business opportunity, be diligent in your efforts to examine each offer. Consider it a warning sign if you must pay for anything up front, you aren't offered a regular salary, you're promised huge profits and over-the-top part-time earnings, and you're told there's no experience is necessary.

If you fall victim to this type of scam, ask the company for a refund. If they refuse or are evasive, notify law enforcement officials. You should also contact your local Better Business Bureau, the state attorney's office, and your state consumer affairs agency.

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Tropical Storm Alex gained strength yesterday, swirling through the Gulf of Mexico with 60 mph winds. The storm is aimed at the Mexico-U.S. border, and is expected to make landfall Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It's expected to develop into a hurricane today, and the wind speed could reach 120 mph by tomorrow.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist visited Pensacola Beach Sunday, meeting with state emergency leaders to discuss the storm and its possible effects on Florida's Gulf Coast.

The storm isn't expected to halt oil containment efforts in the Gulf, but the waves caused by it will likely disrupt the efforts to corral and burn surface oil. Oil skimmers will be unable to operate in the rough seas and will be forced back into port, and containment booms will be rendered useless. It's also expected to push more oil and tar onto Panhandle beaches throughout the week.

Large patches of emulsified oil washed onto Pensacola Beach last week, the most that have appeared there since small tar balls first washed up in late May.

Vice President Joe Biden will pay a visit to the Panhandle today to view the cleanup efforts. He also will make a stop in New Orleans.
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Elena Kagan is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon, and Republicans plan to grill the Supreme Court nominee about her lack of judicial experience.

Since her nomination, a lot has been said about Kagan. She used to work at the Clinton White House. She clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall. She was made dean of the Harvard Law School. She's currently solicitor general, and was the first woman to hold the position in the Justice Department. Kagan has a distinguished resume, which includes stints as professor of constitutional and administrative law at both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and four years in the Clinton administration.

What worries many is her lack of experience on the bench. Paul Campos, a liberal law professor, said her main accomplishment at Harvard was "raising a lot of money, which, given that it's the Harvard Law School, sounds roughly as impressive as managing to sell a lot of pot at a Grateful Dead concert."

Others have said she's too supportive of Bush's policies on the war on terror, and is cavalier about protecting free speech. She's been called an "ardent abortion advocate." She's been cagey, at best, about her views on constitutional law.

Yet Kagan, 50, became the front runner for this post because of her reputation as a consensus builder at Harvard and her outreach to conservatives. She is viewed as an intellectual heavyweight, and would be the Supreme Court's third woman justice.

But the left is lukewarm on her nomination because she is not believed to be solid on issues of executive power. Republicans say she's a Washington insider, and have criticized her for refusing to allow military recruiters at Harvard because of its "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

But her detractors are still concerned that she's never sat on the bench before landing her job with the Obama administration, though Clinton nominated her in 1999 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. She never got a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee for that nomination.

There's no doubt that Kagan is one of the country's stop constitutional and administrative law scholars. But a recent survey shows that 81 percent of Americans don't know who she is. That's what her appearance before the committee today is all about. Kagan will be asked questions about her judicial philosophy and specific constitutional issues. And, unfortunately, she will most likely duck those questions.

Kagan could do a great public service by providing answers that will improve the nomination process for future nominees. If she decides to not answer, "I'll decide cases under the law," to everything they ask, we could learn who she really is.

This would be the first time a nominee has been that honest and transparent. Our fingers are crossed.
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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that state and municipal laws banning handguns for self protection in the home are unconstitutional. This is the first such ruling by the high court.

The ruling states that gun possession is a fundamental American right, and it gives federal judges the power to strike down state and local weapons laws for violating the Second Amendment. It elevates the Second Amendment right to bear arms to the status of a fundamental right that states cannot abridge. The Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected with militia service and to use it for traditional lawful purposes, such as self defense in the home.

The court's majority added a word of caution: the right to keep and bear arms is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner, and the new right is not without limits.

The court struck down two parts of the country's strictest gun control law adopted in Washington, D.C. more than 30 years ago – the ban on private handgun possession and the requirement that firearms kept at home be unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.

While it drew praise from the National Rifle Association, the ruling has seen opposition from gun control groups, which have warned of new legal attacks on existing gun laws. Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., where handguns have been banned for almost 30 years.  It will be up to the high court justices to rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.

The court was split along familiar lines, with five moderately conservative justices in favor or gun rights, and four liberals opposed. Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority.
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The first named storm of the season strengthened back into a tropical storm Monday as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico.

Alex, packing winds of 45 mph, is headed toward Mexico’s eastern coast, and is expected to make landfall mid-week. Although anxious eyes have watched the storm’s progress, it appears that Alex will steer clear of the massive spill. The National Hurricane Center projects Alex will steer south and west of the spill.

The center released a statement that said the storm will strengthen further and could become a hurricane in 48 hours. Although the storm’s path takes it away from the Gulf, waves could push more oil and tar onto the beaches of the Florida Panhandle.

Alex made landfall in Belize late Saturday as a tropical storm, but weakened into a depression as it passed over the Yucatan Peninsula. The storm soaked parts of Central America and the peninsula.

Experts have predicted a busier-than-usual hurricane season this year, which brings apprehension to the already-devastated island of Haiti, the Gulf and the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts, which have not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

According to the center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 70 percent probability of 14 to 23 named storms, with eight to 14 hurricanes. Of those, three to seven are expected to be major. Weather Service International  predicts 20 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and five intense hurricanes of Category 3 or greater.

This makes residents in the Gulf even more apprehensive. Federal, state and local officials are working on a plan to evacuate residents, dismantle the oil recovery operation, and secure heavy equipment and ships should a storm head that direction.

Federal officials say that if a storm approaches the Gulf area, the oil cleanup process would be stopped five days before forecasters predict the first gale-force wind would hit the area. Oil cleanup workers would be removed from the area early, so as to not impede the evacuation of local residents.

Also up for consideration is how much BP would have to pay if a storm blows oil inland.

Should a storm hit the Gulf from the west it would drive at least some of the water on shore, while a storm from the east would spin the oil out to sea. But experts also say a storm with high winds might accelerate the breakdown of the oil.  

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