December 9, 2008

Gas Price Hit 5-year Low

Gasoline prices have hit a five-year low nationally, as well as in California, the LA Times reported. Analysts are predicting that gas prices could get as low as $1 per gallon.

Crude oil for January delivery increased $2.90 to $43.71 a barrel Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Experts don't see a significant jump in momentum from consumers because of the suffering job market and lower demand for oil.

"The world has changed. I don't see any reason why $1 gasoline isn't possible, and $25-a-barrel oil is not out of the question," Phil Flynn, vice president and senior market analyst for the Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago told the LA Times. "I don't think the downside is over. There is a lot of surplus oil out there."

In contrast, Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst for Oppenheimer and Co., is one of the analysts saying that oil won't stay down, even if the historic price drop isn't quite over yet.

He told the LA Times, "Some of the same clowns who were predicting $200-a-barrel oil a few months ago are in the crowd predicting $25 a barrel. But just as we believed that oil above $100 was not sustainable by market fundamentals, oil below $30 isn't sustainable either."

"Even in the midst of this global recession, the world is still using 80 million barrels of oil a day. If production is cut back sharply and the oil companies keep reining in capital spending, it will come back to haunt us," Gheit added, explaining that the global economy would eventually improve and place higher demands on supplies.

Nationally, the average price of self-serve regular gasoline dropped from 11.2 cents to $1.699 a gallon. That was $1.30 below the price in the previous and was the lowest average since the $1.688 the Energy Department recorded on Feb. 23, 2004.

November 23, 2008

Violent racial attacks over the President-elect

The LA Times reported that just weeks after the 2008 presidential election concluded that Barack Obama would be the first African-American president, racist attacks and statements have been present in cities and towns all over the country.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, reported there have been over 200 incidents of effigies threats and attacks such as effigies of the President-elect, as well as noose hangings and cross burnings.

After decades of little presence and organization, the Ku Klux Klan has resurfaced to add to the racial violence.

As recently as two weeks ago, a woman was murdered over allegedly trying to become a member but then changing her mind. That was in the town of Bogalusa, La., once known as the Klan capital.

In late October, two men with association to a Klan chapter with a violent reputation in Kentucky were charged in a pre-meditated plot to kill 88 black students and proceed to decapitate an additional 14 students. Police also found they planned to assassinate Obama by shooting him from a moving car while wearing white tuxedos and top hats.

"We've seen everything from cross burnings on lawns of interracial couples to effigies of Obama hanging from nooses to unpleasant exchanges in schoolyards," said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama. "I think we're in a worrying situation right now, a perfect storm of conditions coming together that could easily favor the continued growth of these groups."

As of yet, the FBI has not released any hate crime statistics for 2008.

Experts say there are about 6,000 Klan members worldwide, a significant decrease from the 4 million members in the early 1900s.

November 16, 2008

Rallies against Prop. 8 continue nationally

People in cities all over the country are not giving up the fight to legalize gay marriage. Seattle was one of those cities on Saturday, where thousands of people joined to rally for equal marriage rights, the Seattle Times reported.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, one of Washington state's only openly gay legislators and a longtime activist of the effort to get equal marriage rights in Olympia, said that during the upcoming session of the Legislature he will continue to fight for a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

"The challenge is to march by the thousands not just here, but in Olympia. Are you willing to do that?" he said to the crowd, which gathered for a rally at Volunteer Park before continuing on to Westlake Park.

"Are you willing to doorbell in suburbia and rural Washington, and seek the friendship of African-American evangelicals and Catholics and Mormons? If you are willing to do that, you will achieve equality."

Seattle police said the eventful was peaceful with no arrests made at that time. They estimated about 3,000 participants, although organizers estimated double that.

Organizers of Saturday's event encouraged protesters to avoid divisive rhetoric or tactics.

After the passage of California's Proposition 8 on Nov. 4, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, many protesters became angry and avoided the idea of peaceful rally, with demonstrators targeting the Mormon church and other faiths that supported the gay-marriage ban.

"Hateful or hurtful remarks do nothing but drag the conversation away from progress," march organizer Kyler Powell said to the crowd.

The crowd consisted of only protesters, with opponents standing aside.

State Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said if a gay-marriage bill is passed by the Legislature, he will work to put it on the ballot statewide and defeat it.

"For me, this is the biggest issue," Swecker said. "Marriage is something that needs to be set apart and protected."

November 6, 2008

Obama selects Rep. Emanuel for Chief of Staff

The NY Times reported that President-elect Barack Obama announced Thursday that he has selected Representative Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff because he has “deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our administration.? Rep. Emanual is known for being a fierce and consummate navigator of the capital’s political terrain.

“I announce this appointment first because the chief of staff is central to the ability of a president and administration to accomplish an agenda,? Obama said in a statement. “And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.?

Emanual worked in the Clinton administration and is a fellow member of Congress from Illinois. He has served as a close adviser for the president-elect. Obama was notified Thursday, when Emanual told him he would step down as the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives to assist in the Obama administration.

“Now is a time for unity,? Emanuel said. “I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose.?

Obama visit the white house on Monday for his first post-election stop there, accepting an invitation that President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush gave to him and his family after he won the election Tuesday evening.

“Michelle and I look forward to meeting with President Bush and the First Lady on Monday to begin the process of a smooth, effective transition,? Obama said in a statement. “I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship.?

Obama will conduct his first post-election news conference Friday morning, following a meeting with his top economic advisers in Chicago. Obama is not expected to determine any cabinet appointments during the session, aides said, however he is eager to keep the focus on the economy during the first days of his transition.

November 2, 2008

Presidential candidates making closing arguments in swing states

The NY Times reported that Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain are giving their closing arguments in the last two days of their campaigns, by focusing their energy on states their respective parties lost in the last election.

McCain, who is trailing in national polls, was speaking in two states that voted Democratic in 2004, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. On Monday he will visit five states that are considered swing states — starting with a midnight rally in Florida then Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada — as well as a stop in Tennessee before returning home to Arizona on Tuesday.

“Now let me give you a little straight talk about the state of the race today,? McCain said at a morning rally at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Pa. “There’s just two days left. We’re a couple of points behind in Pennsylvania. The pundits have written us off, just like they’ve done before.?

Sen. Obama, spent Sunday speaking at rallies in the swing state of Ohio, with Bruce Springsteen warming up the crowd in Cleveland. On Monday, he will speak in three states that voted for President Bush in 2004; Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, before returning to Chicago.

“We are at the crossroads, and its been a long, long, time coming,? Springsteen said.“I am honored to be on the same stage with Senator Obama. From the beginning, there’s been something in Senator Obama that’s called upon our better angels.?

Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, was also in Ohio this weekend, visiting Columbus on Sunday during her four-city Ohio tour.

“The time for choosing is near, and the choice is going to come down to what we believe in, Ohio,? she said in Canton. “We believe in the forward movement of freedom, not the constant expansion of government.?

Continue reading "Presidential candidates making closing arguments in swing states" »

October 19, 2008

Colin Powell endorses Obama

President Bush's first secretary of state, Republican Colin Powell, announced Sunday he is endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the AP reported.

Powell said he belives Obama is better suited to handle the nation's economic problems as well as help improve its standing in the world. He also criticized the tone of Republican presidential candidate, John McCain's campaign.

"It isn't easy for me to disappoint Sen. McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that," said Powelll on NBC's "Meet the Press".

Powell clarified that his decision is not out of lack of respect or admiration for Sen. McCain.

"I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change and that's why I'm supporting Barack Obama," Powell said.

The Democratic party has been anticipating Powell's endorsement because of his strong foreign policy credentials, while Obama's are more weak. Powell, a Republican centrist, is popular among moderate voters.

Powell said he is disappointed over McCain's decision to have such a negative campaign, as well as his choice for his running-mate, Sarah Palin.

October 12, 2008

Seattle high-school students now able to receive failing grade

Seattle public high-school students who do poorly can receive a failing grade on their report cards, a policy that has not been in effect for seven years, the Seattle Times reported.

No students have received an E, a mark more commonly known as an F, since 2000. High schools instead handed out N's for "no credit," which didn't affect a student's grade-point average. The E is will be back this semester, effective immediately.

A district committee recently discovered that the exclusive use of N's violated School Board policy. Many local principals and teachers support the decision arguing that students need more of a consequence for failure.

The harsher consequences may have a large impact on athletes, as they are required to maintain a C average to be able to play. Students also may find the college application process more difficult as they look at schools, although local area colleges are aware of the change.

In the past students preferred an N over a D or even a low C, since the N will have no impact on their grade point average.

A few educators say they'll miss the flexibility that the N enabled, especially the ability to send students a message without putting a big dent into their GPAs.

October 5, 2008

High cost of college placing a financial burden on graduates

The average student debt has doubled since the mid 1990s, the Seattle Times reported.

More than two-thirds of all college students borrow money to finance their education; in 1993 the number was less than half. According to one analysis of federal data, of undergraduates who borrow, the average student finished school in 2004 with loans of $19,000, up from $9,000 in 1994.

At the University of Washington, the average undergraduate student who borrows will owe around $16,000 after graduation. Graduate programs, however, are much higher in owed money. Master's students who borrow, finish with an average $36,000 in loans; law students with $66,000; medical students with $106,000; and dental students with $143,000.

Educators and Investors still argue that a higher-education will prove beneficial long-term, but the payoff is not as great as it once was.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average person with a bachelor's degree makes about $51,000 a year, which is $20,000 higher than that of a high-school graduate. They also report, though, that the rate of tuition is about five times higher than it was in the 1980s.

The private sector has been playing a larger role in recent years in writing student loans, and often times they have high interest rates. As the government fails to keep pace with costs, the private sector steps up even more. Last year, they took up 22% of student loans.

For students with graduation in the near future, large loan repayments are becoming an increasing financial burden at a time when they also are thinking about rising health-care costs, expensive housing and a difficult employment market.

September 23, 2008

Nephew of Tubby Smith killed in fight

William Smith, nephew of University of Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith, died Sunday morning after being stabbed near his college in Worcester, Mass., according to Worcester police, the Star Tribune reported.

University officials confirmed Monday that William Smith, 19, was the son of Tubby Smith's brother.

Smith had been at the off-campus party when a group of unwanted guests arrived around 2:00 am, according to Worcester police.

“We have a bit more clarity of how it went down. These non-Becker students were the cause of the hostility,? Detective Capt. Edward J. McGinn Jr. said yesterday. “It seemed from the outset they were looking for trouble.?

The flight started inside the apartment complex and moved to the street. Smith was stabbed once in the chest, the knife penetrating his heart.

Smith was pronounced dead at 2:45 am at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, the Telegram reported.

"We lost a special young man last night. The grieving process will take some time for my brother and his family but I know that they appreciate and will need all the support, " Tubby Smith said in a statement released by the University Monday.

This was the first homicide in Worcester since the Spring.

September 22, 2008

Heated Washington debate could give choice to terminally ill patients

This November election will bring up a very personal issue for residents of Washington state.

Initiative 1000 would allow doctors to perscribe lethal doses of medication for terminally ill patients seeking to hasten their deaths, the Seattle Times reported.

Currently, Oregon is the only state with a law that allows doctors to give medical help for the sole reason of death to dying patients. Washington is the only state with this type of proposal on this year's ballot.

This is not the first time for a physician-assistance-in-dying initiative in the state of Washington. In 1991, Initiative 119 was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns at that time. Initiative 119 would have allowed doctors to perscribe and administer lethal drugs.

What makes I-1000 different is that patient's would self-administer, or "digest", a lethal dose of medication. Doctors would perscribe the medicine, but not administer them, as closely modeled on Oregon's law.

By having patient's self-administer the drug, doctors are avoiding a state law against assisting a suicide.

Former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who has Parkinson's disease, began the campaign in 2006.

"When the day comes when I can no longer keep busy, and I'm a burden to my wife and kids, I want to be able to control my exit," he said at the time.

In order to be eligible for I-1000, patients must be free of depression, able to exercise sound judgment and have less than six months to live in order to obtain a lethal prescription. A counter argument, though, is that doctors are often wrong about life expectancy.

Nancy Niedzielski watched her husband die painfully and slowly of brain cancer in 2006 and wants other patients to be able to avoid this.

"Nobody knows what they're going to want in the future," Niedzielski told the Seattle Times, who gathered more than 1,700 signatures for the initiative. "This is about giving people options and choice, because none of us knows how we're going to die."

Hazardous fluids being shipped improperly from San Francisco cosmetic firm

In San Francisco, a cosmetics company has been allegedly shipping hazardous materials by air, and is now facing federal charges, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Benefit Cosmetics shipped isopropyl alcohol by air on March 26, 2006, federal prosecutors told the Chronicle. This highly flammable substance is used as a cleaning fluid and is a prominent ingredient in personal-care products.

Neither company, nor its employees, were properly licensed or certified to transport these hazardous materials by air, according to federal charges filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Benefit Cosmetics, popular for its fun, candy-store atmosphere, began in 1976. Beginning with one shop on Market St., there are now more than 1,000 counters in more than 25 countries.