Monthly Archives: December 2016

New Computer System Targets Uninsured Drivers in Tennessee

For Tennessee drivers out on the roadways without insurance, it’s time to straighten up — as they soon could be identified much more easily by law enforcement.

According to the Insurance Research Council, one out of every seven motorists is currently uninsured in the United States. The Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR) has developed a new computer system to combat this issue by detecting uninsured motorists.

“The goal of this new system is to efficiently and effectively check compliance in order to reduce the number of motorists who lack insurance or another form of financial responsibility,” said David Gerragano, Revenue Commissioner.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that all insurance carriers will be required to register with the DOR and provide necessary policy information. The state can then check the reported policies against all registered vehicle information numbers (VIN).

“If the system is unable to confirm insurance coverage for a vehicle, a notice will be sent to that owner directing him or her to a website where he or she can provide proof of minimum liability insurance or other means of financial responsibility,” read the initial DOR news release. “Failure to comply with the notices could result in fines and eventual vehicle registration suspension.”

The system is expected to go live within the first few months of 2017. The DOR has been encouraging drivers to acquire the necessary insurance coverage or take appropriate financial responsibility for their vehicles before the system is up and running.

The Greeneville Sun reports that the minimum required liability insurance is $25,000 for each fatality or injury per accident, along with $50,000 for total injuries or deaths and $15,000 for property damage.

“It’s been a growing problem for years,” said State Rep. David Hawk. “We’ve tried to get our arms around the problem. I think that’s one of the most important provisions we’ve passed in the last decade.”

Buying a Home in 2017? Prepare for These New Changes to the Housing Market

Potential home buyers, be prepared. 2017 is shaping up to present a whole new experience for those looking to purchase a house, especially for the one-third who are first-time home buyers.New house construction

First off, their mortgage rates will likely be higher than usual, thanks to president-elect Donald Trump. Just this week, mortgage agency Freddie Mac reported that 30-year nationwide mortgage rates are at a 32-month high.

These conventional mortgage rates offer a 30-year contract for home owners, but within the past week they grew 14%, and the nationwide average rose 4.30%.

So what does this mean? Simple: homeowners cannot afford the houses they had their eyes on just 60 days ago.

Every week, Freddie Mac takes a survey of 125 mortgage lenders in order to provide a summary of the current mortgage interest rates nationwide. The standard of comparison is straightforward; Freddie Mac asks banks, credit unions, and mortgage companies their current rate for any well-qualified borrower who plans on putting down a 20% deposit. These numbers are then averaged out. While the findings are not an exact indicator of every American’s interest rate, they do give a comprehensive look into exactly where the housing market is headed.

Because of this trend, more and more home buyers are looking to sign up for a 15-year fixed loan, so they can avoid he high interest rates. The problem is that payments on these loans are much more expensive and first-time home buyers rarely get approved.

But that is where a real estate brokerage firm comes in. While there were 86,004 real estate brokerage firms across the U.S. back in 2012, these firms have been slowly but surely changing their offerings.

Instead of getting you to your dream home and letting you handle all the expensive repairs and maintenance that undoubtedly comes with a new house, some real estate companies are looking to be a one-stop shop. Think of it as renovation architect meets real estate agent. With this wealth of experience and expertise, it’s easier for home buyers to choose a property that will suit them, with no hidden complications or surprises down the line.va-home

This multidisciplinary approach to home buying is targeted primarily to new home buyers who don’t understand the dozens of maintenance projects a new house requires. From installing cabinetry and new appliances to updating fencing and remodeling the kitchen, these architects will not only ensure the best deal on a house, but will also make sure it fits the buyer’s needs. They will explain the blueprints of the home, communicate with contractors, and help close on the home without batting an eye.

So why not kill two birds with one stone when looking into a new home? New homeowners have a lot to worry about, and the last thing they need to determine is what color tile works best in their bathrooms.

Ron Ginsburg explains to the Washington Post about how working with just one property is better in the long run. He says, “What we’re really talking about is creating a home, not just a place to store your stuff. This means many details, great and small, have to come together. Why not start with professionals who understand your aesthetics, have multiple skills and can help you reach your goals?”

Oh, and they’ll help you with those pesky interest rates as well.

Audit Hits U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission for Faulty Cyber Security Protection

Now that so many of our day-to-day transactions, financial and otherwise, are conducted on line, more and more emphasis is being placed on cyber security. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) was recently hit with penalties after an internal audit. The audit found that the commission failed to correctly identify whether futures and swaps brokerage firms had sufficient policies in lace to protect cyber breaches and attacks.

According to Insurance Journal, Management Consultants PLLC and Brown and Company CPAS, at the request of the inspector general for the CFTC, completed the audit. The report stated that the CFTC did not employ a “risk-based approach” to correctly test the results of potential cyber security threats.

“Validating registrant data submitted in the assessments can enhance the agency’s ability to effectively deploy its limited staff resources and may reduce cyber security risks,” read the audit.

A major issue that auditors found was how the Division of Swap Dealer and Intermediary Oversight actually conducted the cyber security exams. They found that the CFTC only asked the brokers for information about their digital protection policies and never followed through to see if those policies and procedures were adequate.

Cyber security has been an international issue in recent months, after attacks on JP Morgan and Target, an $81 million heist from the central bank of Bangladesh, and tampering with the 2016 presidential election.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) stated in 2014 that protection from these cyber attacks was one of the focal points of its compliance examinations. From 2013 to 2015, SEC examinations were on the rise and saw a 27% increase in firms visited, with more expected. The commission has since conducted two rounds of sweeps in order to make sure that wealth managers and other brokerage firms are taking the necessary steps to protect information theft and fight back against cyber threats.

Despite the strict protection guidelines the SEC follows, the CFTC claims that it followed the SEC’s approach and that its results were “virtually identical.”

Florida Man Posed as Dentist, Performed Unlicensed Dental Procedures Without Anesthesia

Dental instruments and tools in a dentists officeA 53-year-old Florida man is now facing charges after practicing dentistry without a proper license. Procedures performed include tooth extraction without anesthesia and handmade dentures for patients who couldn’t afford specialized dental care.

It’s not uncommon for people to have their wisdom teeth extracted, as there’s only room in the mouth for 28 teeth, but pulling any teeth without anesthesia and without a dental license is dangerous and illegal. Robert Rheinlander claimed he owned a dental practice in South Carolina before moving to Florida, but the fact remains that he was practicing without a license.

Rheinlander was arrested after an undercover detective met him under the pretense of needing dental work done. Reports of botched extractions and homemade dentures led Rheinlander’s patients to research his practice, but when they found nothing, they called the authorities.

James and Rachel Potter reported Rheinlander after paying for dental procedures that later resulted in infection and a set of broken dentures. They explained that even after reaching out to Rheinlander about the pain, he told them he couldn’t get the necessary medication.

Another patient reported having 10 teeth pulled without any anesthesia. He told authorities that he paid approximately $1,800 less than what a licensed dentist would normally charge for such a procedure.

Upon further research, authorities discovered that Rheinlander was licensed as a dental technician from 2004 to 2006 in South Carolina. Additionally, reports claim that he used stolen numbing agents during his dental procedures and traded his services for painkillers in a few instances.

Both authorities and practicing dentists have expressed major concerns about Rheinlander’s activity. Alfredo Arauz, DMD, explained that performing extractions without the proper training and materials could lead to facial paralysis. He added that fake practices like Rheinlander’s can seriously hurt legitimate practices.

“To have someone doing this criminally is a concern, it puts people at risk, it gives dentistry a bad name,” Arauz said.

Electoral College Ultimately Votes Trump To Be the 45th President of the United States

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On Monday, Dec. 19, the Electoral College cast their votes to make the ultimate choice in our democracy — who would become president. While the electors generally agree with the popular vote when it comes to the President-elect, this was not the case in the contest between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton, and there were some Americans who were hopeful that the college would overturn Donald Trump’s presidential win.As many people have learned since November, the Electoral College votes are not definitive. In 22 instances in U.S. history, 179 electors have not voted for the elected President of Vice President. The only time in history that this tactic was successful was in the 1836 election, when 23 Virginia electors abstained from voting for the VP-elect, Democrat Richard M. Johnson. Johnson was later elected VP by the Senate.Following the outcome of the 2016 election, nine Democrats and one Republican began a movement intended to sway at least 36 other Republican electors to vote their conscience and choose a Republican candidate other than Donald Trump.

These self-proclaimed “Hamilton Electors,” named for the Founding Father who designed the Electoral College, argue that this year’s results are exactly why Alexander Hamilton designed the college in the first place: to prevent the election of an unqualified candidate or one under the control of foreign powers, or to protest an overall questionable election.

As Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.29 million votes, and Russian hacking of the election has been confirmed, the 2016 election cycle has been questionable, at the least.

Nearly a week before the meeting of the Electoral College, some electors came forward with reports of threats by the Trump campaign if these electors fail to vote for the President-elect.

“We have gotten reports from multiple people,” the elector said, “that the Donald Trump campaign is putting pressure on Republican electors to vote for him based on . . . future political outcomes.”

Many lobbyists, some of whom are attorneys, expressed support for the Hamilton Electors. In fact, 4,000 out of 1,315,561 U.S. lawyers — attorney members of an organization called Lawyers for Good Government — signed a petition over the course of two days that expressed concern regarding the Russian hacking of the presidential election. The petition demanded the following:

“1. As much information as possible regarding the potential Russian interference with our election must be declassified with sufficient time for the Electors to receive it prior to December 19 so that the Electors may have sufficient information to make an informed decision prior to voting.

2. The Electors must receive an intelligence report detailing what senior intelligence officials know and suspect at this time, prior to voting. This information should include a briefing by the Director of National Intelligence.

3. If it is not possible to declassify this information in time, the date of the Electoral College vote must be delayed until such time as it is possible to provide the Electors with sufficient information for them to make an informed decision prior to voting.”

While the petition made it to the White House, there never was a security briefing for the Electoral College, nor was their election postponed. The Republican electors ultimately voted for Donald Trump, with two dissenting votes from electors in Texas.

Nissan’s ‘Rogue One’ Promotion Shoots for the Stars

nissanNissan’s promotional partnership with the newest Star Wars film, Rogue One, may have been somewhat unexpected, but ended up being a wild success for the car company.

The partnership was announced in August and began with a stroke of luck on Nissan’s part: the auto company’s top-selling U.S. model, the Rogue compact crossover, was slated for a makeover around the same time as the film’s release date. With both projects aimed at the family audience, it was only a matter of time before they connected.

Nissan North America marketing chief Jeremy Tucker said that the initial Rogue connection is what “opened the door” to a great partnership, but actually using the opportunity to sell vehicles required more heavy lifting.

The dealers in particular were the heavy lifters in this promotion. Their aim was to use the partnership in an effort to market the Rogue’s improved safety features. Nissan created a team of six individual dealers from its marketing subcommittee to help make that happen. The members of this team, deemed the Dealer 6, were involved in every step of the campaign to ensure its success.

Tucker said that the level of dealer engagement was nothing short of amazing. “I’ve never seen dealer engagement like this,” he said in an interview with Automotive News.

But the promotion didn’t stop at the technical side. You can purchase a car carpet to fit just about any model out there, even dating back to the mid-1940s, but you might have a harder time finding carpets to fit an X-Wing fighter.

Nissan dressed up one of its new Rogue SUVs like it was Halloween, going all out with jets, short wings, and even a functioning R2 droid to make it look like one of the fighter jets from the Star Wars series for the Rogue One premiere.

In addition, there was a full-size mockup of an X-Wing fighter on the red carpet. Current Star Wars actors and even a few alumni of the original productions stopped by to pose with the X-Wing.

Tucker explained that as soon as he heard the title of the newest Star Wars film, he knew there was a huge opportunity for Nissan. After a phone call with Disney, he said the whole team rallied behind the idea, which has been a huge success.

“People are showing up in costume when they buy [the SUV],” he said.

U.S. Proposes Requiring Vehicles to Communicate With One Another on the Road

trafficThe U.S. Department of Transportation proposed on December 13 that requiring every new vehicle to be able to “communicate” with other cars on the road with short-range wireless technology could help avoid tens of thousands of car accidents annually.

Neglecting vehicles costs the U.S. economy over $2 billion every year, and can lead to more crashes if vehicle maintenance, like tire replacement, is ignored in icy conditions.

Regulators first announced they were pursuing the technology required in 2014, and now are giving automakers four years from the time it’s finalized to comply. At that point, automotive companies would be required to ensure every vehicle is equipped with the technology.

In addition, all vehicles would “speak the same language” by using the same standard technology. President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will be responsible for deciding whether or not to finalize the proposal.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that communication between vehicles could reduce the severity of or even eliminate up to 80% of accidents where substance abuse isn’t a suspected cause. They NHTSA believes this technology could be especially helpful in preventing accidents that occur at intersections or while drivers are changing lanes.

Smart cars are no longer an idea of the future; they’re here and being used every day. In fact, the NYPD has begun using these vehicles as well. They may not possess the ability to communicate with one another just yet, but they’re helping police in NYC create a safer environment.

Though many people may think they’re just for looks, the truth is that these tiny cousins to the traditional NYPD cruisers are safer, less expensive, and easier to handle.

Not only that, but the newer smart cars are replacing the strange three-wheeled scooter-like vehicles that have been used to patrol NYC streets from time to time. In addition to being safer, the new smart cars are helping NYPD officers create a friendlier image in a time of low crime.

“It’s just so approachable,” said Robert S. Martinez, the deputy commissioner for support services, who oversees the department’s vehicles. “People want to take pictures with it. People want to hug it, they want to kiss it. It’s just amazing.”

Above all else, the safety of these vehicles is appealing to the NYPD. If that type of appeal is something the auto industry needs, then the Department of Transportation’s proposal is certainly one that warrants much consideration from the President-elect’s administration.

Lack of Major Decline in Oceans Shouldn’t be Mistaken as Sign of Good Health, Experts Warn

albatrossThe 2016 Ocean Health Index (OHI) defines a healthy ocean as one that can deliver a wide range of sustainable benefits to citizens of the world in the present and in the future based on 10 distinct goals. This year’s score came in at 71, which matches the scores for 2013 through 2015. Despite the unchanged score, scientists are warning that the condition of the oceans shouldn’t be mistaken as a sign of good health.

“The results are mixed,” said Ben Halpern, OHI chief scientist. He explained the situation using the example of a patient at the doctor’s office. Though there may be a lack of negative results, he said, the results of this year’s OHI are equivalent of a doctor telling their patient that there’s no sign of terminal illness, but a major lifestyle change needs to occur to prevent that future.

In that vein, researchers are warning people not to take this year’s OHI score as good news. Still, scientists are encouraged by the existence of such a test. The OHI was established in 2012 and is the result of a partnership between UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and the nonprofit environmental organization Conservation International.

Halpern said that the most exciting part of having a test like the OHI is the ability to see how and why the scores change every year. He explained that it’s provided an opportunity for scientists to better understand the causes and results of such changes.

Despite the unchanged OHI score for 2016, it’s estimated that between 15% and 40% of dumped plastic finds a resting place in the ocean, which has more than a few people concerned. In fact, Laysan albatrosses are in danger as a result of the sheer amount of plastic in the ocean.

The Laysan albatross is classified as a vulnerable species, meaning that unless the circumstances surrounding their survival improve, they will likely become endangered. One of the leading threats to their survival is plastic and other garbage that’s being dumped into the ocean; according to Matt Brown from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the plastic pieces often look like food to these birds.

If you were to cut open the stomach of a Laysan albatross, its contents would likely be largely plastic. Approximately 99% of the plastic dumped into the ocean is unaccounted for, which means more and more is likely making its way into these birds’ diets.

People around the world are beginning to open their eyes to the ocean’s plight, as well as think up new, creative ways to raise awareness. One group of activists from Oregon has started The Washed Ashore Project to do just that.

The Washed Ashore Project was started in 2010 when founder Angela Haseltine Pozzi noticed excessive amounts of plastic and other waste on Oregon’s shores. Now, the group collects that waste and uses it to create beautiful marine sculptures. The sculptures are both beautiful art and a way to raise awareness to the sheer amount of plastic populating the world’s waterways.

A grand gesture like that of The Washed Ashore Project isn’t possible for many people, but there are simple changes everyone can make to help avoid further ocean pollution. Investing in reusable shopping bags and water bottles is encouraged. After all, it’s the responsibility of every individual to ensure a healthy planet for the future.

Innovative Wind Energy System Paves Way for More Affordable Sustainable Energy

11080409645_a6e5263221_bAble to power 1.6 million homes, wind energy is a worthy industry, and new investments and discoveries may soon expand the market like wildfire. As of right now, the U.S. produces 16 billion kWh of wind energy annually. While the costs of systems like wind turbines are still relatively high, experts predict that they will fall soon enough with the addition of new technologies and innovation.

While the most effective wind turbines — the traditional masts with rotating blades — are widely recognized as the most effective wind turbine design, they do have a number of flaws. They pose a danger to birds, cost a lot of money to manufacture, and even the smaller turbines take up a lot of space.

But one company’s new innovative turbine design may revolutionize the wind energy industry forever.

Accio Energy — yes, a Harry Potter reference — has developed an energy source that moves wind power offshore, to the ocean. Instead of large-mast turbines, this system uses large, permeable panels that allows wind to pass through them. They are set up in the ocean, and can therefore harness the consistent power of ocean winds.

The system is undeniably unique. The panels emit positively-charged sea mist energy droplets, and when the wind passes through the panel, the positively charged droplets are separated from the negative. This separation builds a current measuring nearly 200,000 volts, which is then transferred to the electrical grid on shore.

In a study published by Nature Energy, a survey reported that 163 wind power experts from around the world expect the cost of the energy source to drop by 2030. By then, they expect onshore and offshore turbines to grow, leading to more energy generation.

The experts expect these costs to drop to anywhere between 24-30%.

Approximately 4.3 percent of the world’s power supply is fueled by wind energy, having quadrupled in the last decade, say the study’s authors. Regulatory policies helped the increase, but now the wind power structures are becoming more and more probable as technological advancements continue to be made in the favor of renewable energy as well as a global economic recovery since the recession.

With increasing concern regarding climate change and the use of fossil fuels, organizations like the International Energy Agency and Global Wind Energy Council have estimated that 6-15% of global energy production could come from wind by 2040. By 2050 they believe that wind energy could grow to 17-31%.

It’s Getting Hot in Here: How One Gadget Will Help Any Homeowner Lower Their Energy Bill

Every home is filled with electronic appliances of all kinds: televisions, curling irons, refrigerators, and coffee makers. Each uses the same energy, but each also has a unique senor code that distinguishes it from other gadgets. These sensor codes are much like fingerprints and can let homeowners know about their house’s energy use.

In order to take the complexities out of this system, one company has developed a device that summarizes the energy use in a home.vaenergy

Earth Networks, a weather data analytics company in Germantown M.D., created a small smartphone-sized sensor that connects to the home’s breaker box. It can track the usage patterns of each home appliance and display it in an easy to read manner.

The goal behind this device is to help the homeowner conserve energy and potentially lower energy bills. By learning what appliance is using the most energy, the homeowner can fix the problem; this gadget will tell you if a certain appliance was turned on for too long, whether it’s on the verge of failure, and where energy can be conserved.

This sensor will be available for purchase sometime in mid-2017. However, if a homeowner doesn’t want to wait that long to implement energy saving initiatives, here are some options.

Change the light bulbs

Replace light bulbs in the most-used-rooms with compact fluorescent light bulbs, which save energy and last six times longer than traditional ones.

Install new windows

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, homeowners can save up to $501 a year by replacing old single-pane windows with new Energy Star models. While this can seem pricey at first, the savings down the road will bring a high return on investment.

Wash in cold water

This goes for both bathing and laundry — washing in cold water limits energy use and can save you up to 40 cents per load.

Shut doors when room is not in use

The less square footage the heater has to heat, the more savings to reap.

Watch out for ghosts

Ghost appliances that is! Unplug all of your electronics after using, as they still use energy even when they are not turned on. Ghost energy has the ability to sap the majority of a home’s energy throughout the year.

So remember: when ghosts are away, the wallet can play.