Monthly Archives: August 2015

Powerball Winner Responds to Criticism Over $9 Million Spent Posting Bail

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After North Carolina resident Marie Holmes won $188 million from her portion of a Powerball jackpot last February, things were looking up for the financially struggling mother of 4. As one of the 64 million Americans (about 35% of U.S. population) that have trouble paying their bills each year, she decided to take her winnings in a lump sum. This ended up being about $88 million after taxes.

Unfortunately for Holmes, the story didn’t end there. According to the website theroot.com, soon after receiving the money Holmes posted $3 million bail for her fiance, Lamarr McDow, who had been arrested on a heroin trafficking charge.

Less than six months later McDow was arrested again this time for breaking the curfew guidelines of his pretrial release, according to local Channel 3 news affiliate WWAY-TV. This time his bail was set at $6 million and again presumably paid for by Holmes, WWAY-TV reported after some social media investigation.

Coming into a substantial amount of money can be a blessing and a curse. It can help improve your life, but at the same time it is important to make sound and rational choices with how and why you spend it. The money may seem unlimited, but things always have a way of catching up to you if you let them.

For her part Holmes has defended herself from recent criticism she’s received from these incidents. She posted the follow from her Facebook account:

“What y’all need to be worried about is y’all money and not how I spend mine this is benefiting y’all how? And no he’s no drug dealer or user but who are y’all to judge anybody? I will definitely pray for y’all because it’s much need [sic] … they talked about Jesus so I’m not surprised y’all are talking about me but be blessed though.”

Are Employers Finally Seeing the Benefits of Family Time?

Family with new house drawing

The internet exploded with a cheer of collective approval when Netflix announced that it would begin providing its employees with unlimited parental leave for up to one year; shortly after Netflix made the announcement, Adobe Systems announced that it would provide new mothers with up to 26 weeks of maternity leave, and Microsoft said it would offer 20 weeks of maternity leave for new mothers.

The new policies are being celebrated as milestones on the path for gender equality, since women are more likely than men to drop out of the workforce after they bring a new child into the home.

But as the Washington Post reported, these announcements from Netflix, Adobe, and Microsoft are still bitter pills to swallow for the majority of working American women. The U.S. is still the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave for new fathers; the closest that the country has gotten to protecting the rights of new parents was back in 1993 when the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed.

This legislation guarantees that women — but not men — can have at least 12 weeks of maternity leave. The only catch (because of course there’s a catch), is that companies aren’t required to provide these 12 weeks with full pay.

The policy changes implemented by Netflix, Adobe, and Microsoft are not entirely without limitations, as Fortune noted, specifically regarding the lack of paternal leave in the policies of Adobe and Microsoft. But it’s a major improvement in terms of creating a flexible employee-friendly environment, and it’s a decent alternative to something like telecommuting, which is considered a valuable job perk by about 80% of American workers and is one way that businesses reduce turnover while emphasizing the importance of family life.

The ability to balance home life and work life is something that many Americans struggle with, as the Atlanta Business Journal reported recently. According to a recent Randstad U.S. Employee Engagement Study, about 41% of workers believe it’s impossible to find this balance.

So will Netflix, Adobe, and Microsoft change the way American workers view parental leave? For now, it seems that these policies are still just a perk reserved for a small percentage, but it might be enough to start a bigger movement for a real policy change across the board.

New Mexico Private Schools in Battle to Save Public Funding of Textbooks

books

The debate over which is superior — private or public schooling — has gone on for almost as long as there has been formal education. Religious institutions have historically played a big role in establishing credible private options, especially in the United States. The benefits and negatives of both have been argued back and forth for decades, but soon the New Mexico Supreme Court will be forced to make a decision regarding funding in their state.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, a case involving the state’s purchasing of textbooks for private schools has made its way through the legal system and now lies with the high court in New Mexico.

Considering that most private schools (86%) have fewer than 300 students enrolled, it might seem trivial, but there is real money at stake. The plaintiffs in the case, Cathy Moses and Paul Weinbaum, have argued that almost $2 million is “robbed” from public schools every year to pay for textbooks for private school students.

“This has been going on for years and years, and everybody knows that it’s wrong,” Weinbaum told the Las Cruces Sun-News Thursday. “They’re using public funds to buy books for private schools, which typically serve more elite students. Those people have the right to send their children to public schools, but they choose not to.”

Unfortunately for Weinbaum and Moses, the preceding courts that have heard the case have all ruled in favor of the private schools. The argument for the use of state funding for private school supplies has been based on the fact that there is nothing implicitly in the state’s constitution that specifically forbids this practice, and perhaps more importantly, that it is still serving the best interest of the state.

“It’s supporting children,”argued the attorney for the Public Education Department, Susan Hapka. “The state benefits from this.”

But one of the judges, Justice Richard Bosson, did touch on the ancillary benefits that may be associated from this program with one line of questioning. He asked if the money saved from not having to buy textbooks funds new computers, or raises in teachers’ salaries. The defense did not know the answer.

Whether or not the high court decides to rule in favor of private schools or not could set a precedent of looser, or more stringent, policies involving such entities going forward.

China Plans to Literally Police the Internet by Embedding Cops at Internet Companies

World Network

With about 4.49 billion web pages currently online, it’s fair to say that the Internet is a pretty big place, and China is taking steps to police it. Literally.

The Verge reports that the Chinese government plans to embed police officers at some Internet companies in the hopes of enforcing its strict web censorship policies. Details of the plan’s scope and implementation remain unclear.

“We will set up cyber security police stations inside important website and internet firms so that we can catch criminal behaviour online at the earliest possible point,” said China’s deputy minister of public security Chen Zhimin. These “network security offices” are being installed “in order to be able to find out about illegal internet activity more quickly.”

Prior to announcing the plan, the government also published a draft of a cyber-security law that elevates the government’s powers to obtain records on, and block dissemination of, private information deemed illegal. If made into law, it would require them to store users’ data in China, curtail online anonymity, and share data with the government. The law has sparked harsh criticism from civil liberties groups, who say it’ll only further restrict free speech in an already stifled country.

“While the Chinese government is known for its obsession with Internet control, the draft law sends a clear and chilling message of intent to further control online expression,” Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said. “The law will effectively put China’s internet companies, and hundreds of millions of Internet users, under greater state control.”

China already works hard to censor the Internet, swiftly removing content it deems objectionable, such as rumors and anti-government messages. The government’s Internet policies have also only gotten more and more intense since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013.

According to Qiao Mu, a professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, putting police officers right inside internet offices might signal the latest escalation in its campaign

“The goal seems to be to a create an intimidating atmosphere inside the companies themselves.,” said Mu.

Air Conditioning Can Get You Through The Extreme Summer Heat… If It’s Working

Air Conditioner Unit

The unbearable summer heat is here to stay, and it’s only going to get worse.

“From Texas to Georgia, a number of areas have had streaks of triple digit temperatures in July and August,” CNN reports. “With little to no rain in more than a month, many Southern cities are desperate for relief.”

In Dallas, Texas, temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees on 10 out of the last 15 days. In Waco, Texas, it has not rained since June 30.

Texas is not the only state suffering the consequences of extremely hot weather. Thanks to record-high temperatures across the U.S., water mains are breaking, people are getting sick, and the power grid is being stretched to its limit. Heat advisories are in place all over the nation, and some cities are even opening free, emergency cooling centers for those who do not have shelter from the extreme heat.

Thankfully, in most locales, careful air conditioning maintenance and efficient A/C use can keep household temperatures comfortable. Here are some ways to ensure that your unit works at its best, even as temperatures continue to rise:

A Yearly Tune-Up Is A Must
Ideally, it’s best to have this done before summer, when heat, cooling, and air ventilation (HVAC) companies will be able to answer your call and service your unit as quickly as possible. Still, it’s not too late. Even if your air conditioner is in tip-top shape, it is best to get it inspected and tuned up now, while it is still working — before greater problems come up.

Change The Filter
Dust, allergens, and particles will get trapped in your filter — that’s what it’s there for. If you go too long without cleaning or changing it, however, this can significantly reduce the efficiency of your unit (typically by anywhere from 5 to 15%). A new filter will lower air conditioning costs and keep it running at maximum efficiency.

Be smart about your air conditioning system, don’t just take it for granted. You never know when it might come in really handy.

This Oregon County Says No to Marijuana Businesses

medical marijuana sign

Although the state of Oregon has fully legalized cannabis, one northeastern county isn’t allowing businesses to set up shop.

The Umatilla County Board has voted unanimously 3-0 on Wednesday to keep marijuana shops out of the county, following voters’ wishes.

This continues the moratorium on both medicinal marijuana dispensaries and all other cannabis businesses.

That spells bad news for any entrepreneurs interested in licensing a marijuana business in northeastern Oregon.

Commissioner and board chair George Murdock said that the moratorium is merely respecting the wishes of local voters.

“Roughly 70 percent of those voters indicated at the ballot box they were opposed to the legalization of marijuana,” Murdock said at the public hearing.

The actual figure was closer to 63%, according to Umatilla County election records. That was the number of residents who opposed Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana statewide.

Compare that to the 52% of Americans nationwide surveyed who said that they believe that marijuana should be fully legalized.

Thankfully for the people of Umatilla County, the state’s 2015 legislature passed House Bill 3400, which allowed local governments to prohibit marijuana businesses, but only in counties where at least 55% of voters said “No” to Measure 91.

The Umatilla County Board passed its moratorium in April 2014, which no one spoke out against, according to Murdock.

He also pointed to the differences between Eastern Oregon and the Portland area, especially when it comes to values.

“My neighbors don’t pride themselves on being weird,” Murdock said. “In fact, these same individuals also don’t line the streets of Pendleton, Hermiston or any other local community to celebrate nude bike rides.”

Murdock said that he didn’t see any research that actually supported claims about medical marijuana, either, which Chairwoman Tamra Mabbott agreed with. Mabbott also pointed out that the community simply doesn’t have the resources needed to make sure that medical marijuana stays out of the black market.

The state’s Health Authority is currently revising its guidelines on medical cannabis dispensaries to make sure that laws are better enforced.

Fault Fire Extinguisher Leads to Eviction

Fire extinguisher on flame background

Having a working fire extinguisher can be pretty important. After all, a study from the National Federation of Fire Equipment Distributors found that fire extinguishers successfully extinguished 12,505 fires of the 13,221 fire incidents reported — an incredible 95%.

However, are they so important that they can lead to an eviction notice? Apparently, yes.

Regina Cummings and her five-year-old daughter are being forced out of their Tennessee apartment after a kitchen fire, which she says wouldn’t have gotten out of control if the fire extinguisher in her apartment had been in working order.

“I stepped out for two seconds,” Cummings told WSMV. “I just wanted to step on the porch.”

Unfortunately, that was all it took for the fire to ignite in her microwave oven.

“I turn around and there’s a fire in my kitchen,” said Cummings.

Naturally, she reached for her fire extinguisher, which should have effectively snuffed the flames — but it failed. The extinguisher hadn’t been inspected since August of 2013.

“It was a pretty big blaze,” Cummings told WSMV. “[I] tried to put it out with water myself. It didn’t work, so I ended up calling the fire department.”

But by the time help had gotten there, the damage was done.

Cummings then contacted her leasing office, which brought her another microwave, but also an eviction letter telling her to be out by July 24.

WSMV reached out to Cummings’ apartment building to ascertain who’s responsible for maintaining the fire extinguisher — the tenant or management — but failed to hear back.

Cummings, however, was not going to go down easy.

“I’m going to fight it,” she said. “Because I’m not just going to roll over and let them do that. Because what if something would have happened to my child?”

The eviction notice gave Cummings 30 days to contest it, which is exactly what she says she plans to do.

Could Your Daily Cup of Coffee Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Coffee cup and coffee beans on old wooden background

Millions of Americans can now enjoy their morning cup of coffee for an even better reason: it might actually prevent memory loss and reduce one’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy studied 1,445 people between the ages of 65 and 84 years over a three and a half year period — and discovered that regular coffee drinkers are less at risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s, Patch.com reported.

To help stave off memory loss, all it takes is one to two cups of coffee per day. Study participants who drank one or two cups of coffee on a regular basis were less likely to show signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a loss of thinking and memory. Individuals who consumed more than two cups of coffee per day — or no coffee at all — were more at risk for MCI.

“These findings from the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging suggested that cognitively normal older individuals who never or rarely consumed coffee and those who increased their coffee consumption habits had a higher risk of developing MCI,” the study explained.

So how does coffee help ward off memory loss — and why does too much coffee reverse these beneficial effects?

The study alleges that the caffeine found in coffee may have a “neuroprotective” effect on the brain that staves off memory loss. However, the researchers stressed that moderation is key when it comes to unlocking coffee’s neurological benefits.

The University of Bari Aldo Moro researchers also outlined the need for more research on coffee’s benefits for the brain. Further studies, for example, could help determine coffee’s effect on younger brains; currently, approximately half a million Americans younger than 65 have developed dementia in some capacity.

“Larger studies with longer follow-up periods should be encouraged, addressing other potential bias and confounding sources, so hopefully opening new ways for diet-related prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” the study concluded.

Strong El Nino Predictions Point to Big Winter Storms

stormy clouds

According to National Geographic, the conditions are right for a very strong El Niño this year, which could result in extreme weather. The Pacific Ocean is warmer than it usually is at this time of year, indicating that El Niño is already intensifying and could be the strongest that scientists have on record.

In addition to the stronger storms, it is predicted that El Niño will last straight through the winter and continue into the spring of 2016. The last occurrence of a strong El Niño was in 1997-98. The problem is, because of a severe lack of documentation, predictions on just how bad it may get are hard to make.

Scientists say that the only thing they are sure of is that the potential effects are concerning. It could mean heavy rainfall and flooding in some regions, while setting off a drought in others. It could also mean huge hurricanes in the Pacific, and tornados throughout the winter in the Southeast.

The Pacific is already starting to see the extreme weather El Niño can cause. Since May, there have been eight tropical storms, three of which developed into hurricanes. Both North and South America have seen strong thunderstorms, and the weather system may finally bring some rain to California later in the year. However, there is concern of flooding, since the 1997-98 El Niño flooded Peru and Ecuador, resulting in numerous deaths.

Scientists say that there isn’t a clear cut answer on whether or not this developing El Niño is a result of human-induced climate change.

“That’s a big question,” says Neal Dorst, a meteorologist at the Hurricane Research Division. “We don’t have a long enough record of El Niños.”

Potential effects like rising sea levels and temperatures are possible, but the extent of those effects is unknown.

“It is stressful on animals and plants,” said Dorst. “It’s altering their ecological conditions, the warmth of the water and the amount of rain. But it’s short-lived. Things go back to normal conditions, and they recover.”

The upside to the early El Niño predictions is that it gives residents of different regions time to prepare. Not only can storms produced by El Niño be fatal, but they can also cause huge amounts of damage for homeowners and businesses. In fact, 65% of those surveyed said that they had to repair their roofs due to extreme weather. Early warnings of El Niño’s strength can give residents time to prepare not only their families, but their homes and other properties.