Monday, October 31, 2011

Rosen Plevneliev elected new Bulgarian president

(AP) ? Rosen Plevneliev was declared the winner of Bulgaria's presidential election on Monday in an outcome that now gives his party control over all major government posts and will bolster its push for painful economic reforms.

Plevneliev won Sunday's contest with 52.56 percent vote and his Socialist challenger, Ivailo Kalfin, took 47.44 percent, the Central Election Commission in its final tally. It said the turnout was 48 percent.

Kalfin accepted the result and conceded defeat.

Most of the power in corruption-plagued Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.4 million people, rests with Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and Parliament, but the president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation and sign international treaties. He also names ambassadors and the heads of the intelligence and security services.

The governing GERB party now controls Bulgaria's top two executive positions and Parliament.

Plevneliev, 47, is a former entrepreneur who has been lauded for pushing through several large-scale infrastructure projects as regional development minister. He has pledged to reduce the budget deficit and pursue business-friendly policies. He also said he would do his best to unite Bulgarians in pursuit of reforms in the judicial and health care systems, while diversifying energy supplies and improving trade.

Plevneliev said one of his first tasks will be to replace ambassadors who served as agents of Bulgaria's former communist secret service. The outgoing president, Georgi Parvanov, who was named as a former agent by the same panel in 2007, refused to recall them.

Plevneliev will take office on Jan. 23. He will replace Parvanov, the former leader of the Socialist Party who often criticized the government, vetoed legislation or key judicial and diplomatic appointments. Parvanov was barred by law from seeking re-election because he had served two five-year terms.

The center-right GERB party also scored victories in the run-off elections for local mayors in most of Bulgaria's big cities, including in the capital, Sofia.

The election was marred by reports of violations, including allegations of vote-buying, according to the Bulgarian branch of graft watchdog Transparency International.

"Bulgaria's presidential and municipal elections underscored the need for further improving the electoral process," monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement on Monday.

"It is important to address shortcomings such as persistent allegations of vote buying," said mission head Vadim Zhdanovich. "This should be properly investigated and long-standing recommendations should also be considered."

Associated Press


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Prisoner swap: Lawmakers weigh in (Politico)

Three dozen members of Congress urged FBI Director Robert Mueller and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday to treat the Palestinians freed by Israel in the swap for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as terrorists.

In a letter, the lawmakers noted that each of the released prisoners was convicted for acts of terrorism and ?should be treated as such.? All of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners should be on every terrorist watch list and database to keep them out of the United States, the bipartisan group of House members added.

Continue Reading

?We urge you to work across the intelligence community to ensure these individuals are included in all relevant terrorist databases,? they wrote. ?Each of these released Palestinian prisoners has been convicted of a terrorism-related offense and should be treated as such.?

So far, 477 Palestinians have been released in the swap for Shalit, who was held captive for five years by Hamas.

Initially the Obama administration praised the deal, but State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said last week the U.S. were concerned about some of the prisoners involved in the swap.

?As a matter of principle, the United States opposes the release of individuals who have been convicted of crimes against Americans,? Toner stated. ?We communicated our position to the government of Israel after we became aware of specific individuals who were identified as part of this release.?


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Turning on the TV does not turn off a toddler's brain

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Just another Day.

Deep in the coast of South Carolina lies a five-star hotel, the Hiott Hotel. Its full of rich, pampered guests with more cars than the BMW, the lucky average American that gets to visit once or twice during retirement, and the kids who live with their parents who work at the hotel. Five people are connected to the hotel, and to each other. Go through their lives.

(Um, this is just a little thing I had run through my head: what if there was a roleplay where all they had to do is just play out someone else's life? HERE IT IS. If someone wants to play Rylie's mother or someone who likes her, it's cool. *Hint, hint, wink, wink*)

Character Sheet:
Picture: (NOT ANIME)
Attachment to Hotel:

My Character:
Name: Rylie Connor Darby

Age: 16

Gender: Male

Picture: "Ry Ry"

Attachment to Hotel: His mother works there as the head of maids

Other: He's friends with most of the staff, and has a small Pomeranian-Husky named Mimba. He's really close to the cook, who's barely older than he is. His father left when he was five and his mother was twenty-one and started working at the Hiott.


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US flying wounded Libyans to US, Germany for care (Providence Journal)

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Some People With Alzheimer's Take Conflicting Drugs (HealthDay)

FRIDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Many Alzheimer's patients who take cholinesterase inhibitors to slow their brain disease also take drugs that counter the effects of those Alzheimer's medications, a new study says.

Clinical trials have shown that cholinesterase inhibitors such as Aricept (donepezil) have a modest impact on the functional and cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer's disease, noted the researchers at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.

"Cholinesterase inhibitors are today's primary therapy for slowing Alzheimer's disease," study leader Denise Boudreau said in an institute news release.

"Anticholinergic properties are often found in drugs commonly used to treat gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, urinary incontinence, depression and Parkinson's disease, and they can have negative effects on cognition and function in the elderly. There's concern that if someone is taking both types of drugs -- cholinesterase inhibitors and anticholinergic medications -- they will antagonize each other, and neither will work," she explained.

Common anticholinergic medications include Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Ditropan (oxybutynin), which is prescribed for overactive bladders.

Boudreau and colleagues analyzed data from more than 5,600 patients aged 50 and older who had cholinesterase inhibitors prescribed to them for the first time between 2000 and 2007. Of those patients, 37 percent also took at least one anticholinergic drug and more than 11 percent took two or more anticholinergic drugs.

Among the patients who took both classes of drugs, dual use generally lasted three to four months, but one-quarter of the patients used both classes of drugs for more than a year.

The researchers also found that 23 percent of patients who received a new prescription for cholinesterase inhibitors were already using at least one anticholinergic drug, and 77 percent of those patients continued taking an anticholinergic drug after they began taking a cholinesterase inhibitor.

"It's reassuring that we did not observe an association between simultaneous use of the two types of drugs and increased risk of death or nursing home placement," Boudreau said in the release. "But concomitant use of these drugs is, at the very least, not optimal clinical practice."

The study was published online Oct. 22 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Alzheimer's patients often have multiple health problems, which may help explain why doctors might prescribe conflicting medications for these patients, the researchers said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's medications.


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Bristol-Myers 3Q profit rises 2 pct. as sales jump (AP)

TRENTON, N.J. ? Drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. on Thursday reported a 2 percent increase in its third-quarter profit, as price increases and higher sales of several key medicines were mostly offset by higher taxes and increased research and marketing costs.

Bristol-Myers, which sells blockbuster blood thinner Plavix and psychiatric drug Abilify, said net income was $969 million, or 56 cents per share. That's up from $949 million, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding an after-tax charge of $75 million for one-time items, adjusted net income was $1 billion, or 61 cents per share, topping the 58 cents a share expected by analysts surveyed by FactSet. Analysts typically exclude one-time items.

Revenue rose 11 percent to $5.35 billion, just above the $5.29 billion analysts were expecting, but got a 3 percent boost from favorable currency exchange rates.

New York-based Bristol-Myers said profit was reduced by about 4 cents per share due to two provisions of the U.S. health care overhaul, an annual fee on pharmaceutical companies and new discounts for Medicare patients who hit the prescription coverage gap known as the doughnut hole.

Still, Bristol raised the low end of its profit forecast for the year by a nickel, to $2.25 to $2.30 per share, or $2.13 to $2.18 per share excluding items.

"Our solid financial results, key R&D data and multiple business development transactions together demonstrate our ability to execute our short-term plans while at the same time laying a solid foundation for our future," CEO Lambertville Andreotti said in a statement.

The company noted in September that it completed its acquisition of Amira Pharmaceuticals, which is developing treatments for the fatal lung disease pulmonary fibrosis and other disorders. Also in the quarter, Bristol made deals with three other companies to develop and sell new drugs for cancer, diabetes and other diseases. And on Wednesday, it announced a licensing deal to develop a once-a-day HIV combination pill containing its popular Reyataz and an experimental drug in testing by Gilead Sciences Inc.

Also, on Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration pushed back its review deadline from Friday until Jan. 28 for a much-anticipated new type of diabetes drug. Dapagliflozin, developed by Bristol-Myers and partner AstraZeneca PLC for Type 2 diabetes, ran into trouble in July when a panel of FDA advisers recommended against approving it because higher rates of bladder and breast cancer were seen in patient testing. The drug works by eliminating excess blood sugar via urine.

Bristol's U.S. sales totaled $3.5 billion, while foreign sales hit $1.9 billion.

Sales were led by Plavix, the world's second-best-selling drug, which jumped 8 percent to $1.79 billion. Abilify, for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, saw sales climbed 14 percent to $691 million. HIV drugs Reyataz and Sustiva both increased about 5 percent, to $391 million and $359 million, respectively.

But sales of blood pressure drugs Avapro and Avalide fell 29 percent, to $216 million, because of three problems. They got generic competition in Canada, a rival's similar drug got generic competition in many countries and one of the three dosage forms has been off the market since a recall late last year.

Bristol-Myers and partner Sanofi SA share revenue from Plavix, Avapro and Avalide. All three drugs get U.S. generic competition next spring, which will sharply cut into Bristol's revenue.

During the quarter, the FDA approved a new form of biologic rheumatoid arthritis drug Orencia that patients can inject themselves just under the skin, and China approved Sprycel for treating chronic myeloid leukemia.

Bristol's income taxes jumped 52 percent to $475 million, as its effective tax rate rose from 19.3 percent to 26 percent.

Spending on marketing, sales and administration jumped 14 percent, to $1 billion, partly because of costs to launch new products, including malignant melanoma drug Yervoy. Research and development costs increased 18 percent, to $973 million, mostly because of expensive late-stage human testing of experimental drugs.

In early trading, Bristol-Myers shares rose 22 cents to $32.73.


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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Amy Winehouse Cause Of Death: Too Much Alcohol

Three months after the not so surprising death of Amy Winehouse a cause of death has been revealed. The report revealed that she died accidentally from alcohol poisoning. The news of Winehouse?s death was sad but not at all shocking and neither is the reason that caused her to die. Simply put the singer drank too much alcohol, which turned into alcohol poisoning, which caused her passing. Her family has said all along that she did not die of drugs, they were right. Although I don?t know how much comfort it is to them to know she died this way either but at least now they can get some closure, hopefully. As you may or may not know the initial autopsy on Amy was inconclusive. Today it was revealed that the ?Rehab? singer had 5 times the legal limit of alcohol in her system. Winehouse had reportedly not consumed any alcohol three weeks prior to the evening where she drank so much booze it caused her to stop breathing, ultimately ending her life. While police were investigating the untimely death of the once rising star, they found three empty bottles of vodka in her home. That is some crazy shizz [...]


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Friday, October 28, 2011

Just Show Me: How to create an Apple ID (Yahoo! News)

Welcome to?Just Show Me on Tecca TV, where we show you tips and tricks for getting the most out of the?gadgets in your life. In today's episode we'll? show you how to create an Apple ID.

An Apple ID is necessary for you to use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Having an Apple ID lets you play games on Game Center as well as download apps, music, and movies. If you want to take full advantage of your shiny iOS device, you'll need to have one set up.

For more episodes of Just Show Me, subscribe to Tecca TV's YouTube channel and check out all our Just Show Me episodes. If you have any topics you'd like to see us cover, just drop us a line in the comments.

This article originally appeared on Tecca

More from Tecca:


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After Christie's Nod, More Money, Supporters for Romney (ContributorNetwork)

ANALYSIS | After weeks of toying with the idea of joining the 2012 presidential race, Chris Christie officially endorsed Mitt Romney on Oct. 11. Christie has announced that he will campaign for him and focus on getting him elected.

Romney will only benefit from this endorsement:

More Supporters

After Christie said he would not run for president on Oct. 4, supporters began to flock to Romney. The endorsement may attract more conservative supporters to Romney. In addition, Christie could help him gain a foothold with the tea party. I think this group of voters has been holding out and hoping that Christie would still change his mind. Christie's endorsement of Romney solidifies that he is not running, so the tea party voters must find another candidate.

More Money

Many donors were waiting for Christie to run and hesitated to support other GOP candidates. Now, Christie's self-elimination as a viable candidate has pushed some of the donors toward Mitt Romney. The endorsement will only help Romney secure more money for his presidential race. Ken Langone has already moved his support to Romney, so others may follow.

Although the potential that the donors will shift to Rick Perry exists, it does not seem likely. His lackluster performance at the GOP debate on Oct. 11 has him falling behind in the presidential race. Perry has been losing supporters and interest for several weeks. The lack of an endorsement from Christie only strengthened the notion that he was losing ground in the GOP race for a nomination.

Winning the GOP Nomination

The endorsement from Christie helps Romney push Perry further down in the polls and possibly secure the GOP nomination. The campaign boost from Christie may be enough for Romney to eliminate Perry from the race. The GOP debate on Oct. 11 did not improve Perry's chances.

I was not surprised by the endorsement from Christie for Romney. Although Christie has been coy about his choices since Oct. 4, he has a history with Romney. Romney made a donation to the New Jersey Republican Party in March. Now, Romney is hoping that Christie's popularity will transfer to him.


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Thursday, October 27, 2011

There's Nothing Necessarily Wrong with "Flip-Flopping" (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | Attacking your political opponent as a "flip-flopper" has been in vogue ever since George Bush hammered John Kerry with such accusations in the 2004 presidential election. These days the term has been in the news more than ever, with Michele Bachmann accusing Herman Cain of flip-flopping, and with the Obama re-election campaign insinuating that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper. However, criticizing a politician for changing their mind is often not warranted. It can actually be the smartest thing to do.

Indeed, adjusting your opinion based on the best available evidence at the time not only makes sense, it's also a sign of serious analytical thinking. For example, President Obama was criticized as an indecisive flip-flopper when he visited Iraq in 2008. Before the trip, he announced that he wanted to go there to make a "thorough assessment" of the situation, and said "I'm sure I'll have more information and continue to refine my policy." Obama should have received nothing but praise for wanting to make an informed decision, regardless of his ultimate conclusions about Iraq.

However, when an elected official changes their mind for pure political motives, then charges of flip-flopping can be appropriate. Mitt Romney, for instance, once expressed viewpoints far more liberal than his fellow Republicans. He opposed some tax cuts, supported abortion rights, and was a big proponent of universal health care. That was when he was governor of left-leaning Massachusetts. Now that he is running for president and trying to appeal to the entire GOP, he has backpedaled on almost all of his positions. You don't have to be a cynic to realize this is nothing but political opportunism by Romney.

Ideally, no one would think less of an elected official who changes their mind if they have good reason to do so. In fact, a politician who holds steadfast to an old belief when new evidence suggests they are wrong should be criticized more than a flip-flopping one. After all, what's the point of being consistent if you are consistently wrong? Let's hope the voting public stops paying attention to the "flip-flopper" label, and only starts caring about why a politician changes their mind.


Joel Roberts, "Bush's Top Ten Flip-Flops," CBS News

Gabriella Schwarz , "Cain 'flip-flops,' Bachmann says," CNN

Holly Bailey, "Obama team targets Romney but stops short of labeling him the GOP 'frontrunner'," The Ticket

The Bryant Park Project , "Politicians: Flip-Flopping Or Changing Their Minds?" NPR

Matt Latimer, "Romney a Flip-Flop? Used to Be More Liberal Than Ted Kennedy," The Daily Beast


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Police Busted for Alleged Gun Smuggling

Eight NYPD officers and one New Jersey corrections officer have been arrested on charges that they were running a gun-smuggling ring that trafficked more than $1 million in illegal weapons and stolen goods.

The officers arrested include five active-duty officers assigned to Brooklyn and three retired NYPD officers, although two of the retired officers were active when committing the alleged crimes, prosecutors said. All those arrested were picked up by FBI agents and NYPD Internal Affairs investigators early Tuesday.

According to the criminal complaint, some of those arrested smuggled 20 firearms as recently as Sept. 22. The cache included three M-16 rifles, one shotgun and 16 handguns, most of which had their serial numbers removed.

One officer bragged to an informant in July, as an associate displayed a shotgun for sale, that it was a "sample" and that they could get anything "from A to Z."

The allegations are no doubt troubling for the NYPD, whose commissioner, Ray Kelly, has joined with Mayor Bloomberg in speaking out on illegal guns as a nationwide scourge that threatens public safety, particularly that of police officers.

Several of those arrested are also accused of illegally transporting other stolen goods. The group is accused of transporting stolen slot machines from Atlantic City, N.J., to Port Chester, N.Y., in March. Two months later, they allegedly stole more than 200 cases of cigarettes from trucks in Virginia and hauled them to New York.

A common tactic, prosecutors said, included breaking into tractor-trailers that were hauling cigarettes.

At one point while transporting stolen slot machines, one of the officers said to an informant, "Listen, when you're doing stuff like this you gotta be intelligent ... you gotta set it up where if I'm a cop on the side of the road, am I gonna stop that Ryder truck there?"

The same officer later said all the policemen participating in the slot machine scheme were "risking a lot for a little," the complaint said.

"They know what's going, and how much trouble they could get in, and what they're risking," he said. "They're risking a lot."

The investigation involved interviews with the informant, undercover work, surveillance, and intercepted phone conversations.

Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI in New York, said the crimes were "reprehensible."

'The public trusts the police not only to enforce the law, but to obey it," she said. "These crimes, as alleged in the complaint, do nothing but undermine public trust and confidence in law enforcement."

Most of the officers worked out of the 68th Precinct, which serves the Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton neighborhoods.

One officer who allegedly participated in cigarette smuggling expressed concern about trafficking weapons, saying at one point he was fine "as long as there's no drugs and guns involved."

Before the details were unsealed, a PBA spokesman declined comment, saying he was unaware of the specific charges as well as which officers were being charged.

In all, 12 people are charged with multiple federal conspiracy counts expected to be announced later Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and FBI officials.

The alleged NYPD corruption arrests come as other officers could also be charged this week in a separate ticket-fixing investigation headed by the Bronx District Attorney's office.

Interestingly, the criminal complaint in the gun-smuggling case indicates that the investigation began in late 2009, when the informant was introduced to one of the officers as a person who could "fix" his traffic tickets. The informant then developed a relationship with that officer.

Officials have said more than a dozen NYPD officers could face charges in the ticket-fixing case, including some police union delegates.

In the gun-smuggling case, the suspects are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan on the charges.


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How to spot psychopaths: Speech patterns give them away

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Clip-On HUD For Any Glasses

Sportiiiis from 4iiiis (geddit?) is a small HUD (heads-up display) which can be used with almost any pair of specs. The clip-on unit fits to the arm of your glasses and seven colored LEDs sit in your peripheral vision, just below your right eye.
These LEDs can be programmed by computer or smartphone app to readout [...]


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Genes Could Highlight Plavix Users at Clot Risk After Stent (HealthDay)

TUESDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have identified mutations in three genes that make certain patients more likely to have a potentially fatal blood clot after undergoing heart stent placement.

The genes are involved in metabolism of the drug Plavix (clopidogrel), a widely used blood thinner, and in platelet formation, according to a study published in the Oct. 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This goes back to the idea of tailored medicine but [gene testing] is not feasible to do on everybody," said Dr. John Gassler, associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who was not involved with the research. "This study is very strongly thought-provoking but I don't think it can alter practice until it's been evaluated [further]."

The authors of the study also reported that a higher initial dose of Plavix reduced the risk of stent thrombosis (blood clot formation), while using proton pump inhibitors -- common drugs to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and stomach ulcers -- upped the risk.

People who get stents to prop open blocked arteries routinely receive two different blood thinners to reduce the risk of stent thrombosis. This has cut the rate of stent thrombosis tremendously, but up to 4 percent of patients still end up with this devastating complication, according to background information in the study.

The study authors analyzed 23 gene variants in 15 genes in 123 patients who had undergone percutaneous coronary intervention in France and who had experienced stent thrombosis.

These patients were compared to 246 similar patients who had not had stent thrombosis.

Three genotypes and two clinical factors -- Plavix loading (initial) dose and use of proton pump inhibitors -- all affected the risk of stent thrombosis.

When the investigators combined the clinical and risk factors, they found that those in the highest risk category had a sevenfold increased risk of stent thrombosis versus patients with the lowest risk profile.

"When we combine everything we have a very good predictive value, which is around 80 percent," said study co-first author, Dr. Jean-Sebastien Hulot, director of Pharmacogenomics & Personalized Therapeutics of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

But while the clinical variables are easy enough to assess, genetic information is not so easy to come by, at least not yet. Right now, results of genetic tests take about a week to come back.

"It would make sense to have the results in a couple of hours and some companies are developing this kind of testing," Hulot said. "In the near future we can have the results in hours. The markers aren't valuable right now but they will be in the near future."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on stents.


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Book ?em, Chuck-o: Liddell on ?Hawaii Five-O? tonight

UFC Hall-of-Famer Chuck Liddell continues his retirement that does not involve starting a vineyard tonight on CBS. He'll play the difficult role of "mixed martial artist" on the episode that airs at 10 p.m. ET. Pro Elite provided both the cage for the episode and this behind-the-scenes shot.

Book ?em, Chuck-o: Liddell on ?Hawaii Five-O? tonight

As you can see, this role will truly stretch his acting chops. Tonight's episode will be a about "a wealthy restaurant owner is murdered and the investigation leads McGarrett to take part in a charity mixed martial arts fight."

According to IMDB, Liddell has several acting credits to his name, including spots on "Criminal Minds," "Blade: The Series," and "How High," where he played a tough guy. Apparently, he also served as a transportation coordinator for "Hollywood's Magical Island: Catalina" in 2003.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Obama Offers Homeowners Rescue Plan (ABC News)

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Why the US economy will be booming by 2020

No one can predict the future with absolute certainty but many make educated projections. 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed long-term economic forecasts issued by the government, financial analysts, and academics. While they are different and not all positive, we have identified nine critical economic measures that suggest the economy will significantly improve by 2020.

The White House and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issue various official projections for the state of the economy, federal spending, taxes and inflation over the next decade. The projections almost certainly have flaws, as most long-term forecasts do. For example, the outlooks for spending on the military and entitlement programs are too high. Alterations in the projections yield a picture of a U.S. economy that will be robust in 2020 in terms of employment, housing, real income, interest rates and the state of U.S. trade.

24/7 Wall St.: America?s richest (and poorest) states

24/7 Wall St. has looked at these government projections, as well as those from several organizations that include economists and think tanks. For the most part, financial forecasts issued by independent groups are less affected by politics than those issued by the government. Their projections provide more realistic measurements of the impact of government spending on the overall economy over the next five years, and how this will affect the following five years after that. Their observations are based on a fundamental understanding that:

  • Entitlement programs will have to change considerably.
  • Military spending will decrease out of economic necessity and a less aggressive U.S. role in foreign conflicts.
  • The longevity of many Americans will change spending habits.
  • The federal government will most likely implement effective programs to aid the housing market.This housing aid probably will provide a primary foundation for a sharp recovery in the U.S. economy.

24/7 Wall St. looked at nine specific and critical measures of economic health and forecast how each would appear in 2020. These are housing prices, real income, inflation, military spending, entitlements, unemployment, taxes, interest rates and the state of the U.S. deficit and debt. These are our conclusions:

Housing prices will rise sharply. Congress and the Administration have finally joined the majority of economists who believe that if housing prices do not recover, the odds of a broader recovery are unlikely. Home prices continue to fall and experts like Robert Shiller expect another two or three years of deterioration. The Administration?s first attempt to revive prices through foreclosure prevention modified only 600,000 mortgages by lowering the interest rates on them. With an estimated 11 million mortgages underwater, this is hardly sufficient.

The latest plan to help homeowners probably will be successful in one form or another. It will allow people with houses worth less than their home loans to refinance at current interest rates, which are at historic lows. The program likely will be run by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Home prices have dropped by 50 percent in many markets ? and as much as 70 percent in the hardest hit areas of California and Florida. Research firm Zillow reports that the entire equity value lost in the housing collapse is $9 trillion. Americans can no longer tap the positive equity value of their homes for present expenses or retirement. Low interest rates, combined with low prices, will stimulate demand for homes. In addition, reduced unemployment and government programs to support underwater mortgages will improve the ability of Americans to buy homes. Home prices should regain the value they lost between 2006 and 2011 because of these factors.

24/7 Wall St.: America?s disappearing restaurant chains

Real income
Real income will rise by 10 percent. The Census Bureau reported recently that real income fell 2.3 percent in 2010, putting it 7.1 percent below its 1999 peak based on inflation-adjusted numbers. This is partly due to unemployment and partly to the size of the labor force, which increased with the baby boom generation. Fortunately for workers and potential workers, baby boomers have begun to retire and most will be out of the workforce in the next 10 years. This will open up jobs for both the lowest paid groups in the economy ? minorities and people under age 24 ? and the middle-class workers who now compete for jobs with those older than they are.

Real wages also will be helped, at least short term, by relatively low inflation. So, even small income gains will not be substantially offset by price increases. An extension of current tax credits will help stabilize incomes as the government takes a smaller portion of gross earnings. It also appears likely that Congress and the Administration will pass a jobs bill, even if it is modest. The action will put tens of billions of dollars into job creation and benefits for employers who add new workers, especially from the rolls of the long-term unemployed. Those efforts, combined with low taxes and mild inflation, will increase American consumers? spending power.

Inflation will be moderate. Inflation rates are among the most complex parts of the economy to forecast. Inflation can be imported as the costs of goods and services brought into the U.S. rise. It is also affected by monetary policy. And, it is especially influenced by the prices that businesses must pay to create products used in the consumer sector of the economy. Energy prices have been among the most critical causes of inflation since oil moved to $140 a barrel in mid-2008. The Federal Reserve, however, has put into place policies that likely will keep inflation muted for the next several years. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart recently commented that he expects consumer caution and Fed policies to keep price increases low. Oil prices have fallen by almost half from their 2008 peak, and slack demand from the largest net importer of crude ? China ? will continue as that country?s PMI and GDP growth slow. Lack of demand for China?s goods from the crippled EU markets will keep the need for crude in the People?s Republic modest.

The price of agricultural commodities has also fallen. The production of grains by U.S. and Canadian farmers is near historic highs. The government recently released a document that said, ?The 2011 bounty for the U.S. farmer will be based heavily on exports. The USDA says Fiscal 2011 agricultural exports are forecast at a record $135.5 billion, up $9 billion from the November forecast and $26.8 billion above 2010.? Crop shortages in Russia and China have begun to ease. And, of course, the unemployment rate is expected by the Administration, Fed, and CBO to stay above 8 percent until 2013, which will keep consumer demand modest.

Military spending
Military spending will fall sharply. The federal government has faced huge expenditures over the past three years from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total cost of the war in Iraq, which will end as the last U.S. troops leave the country on December 31, is estimated to be above $800 billion. The Afghanistan war has cost over $450 billion. The new Senate version of the federal budget contemplates defense expenses that are $26 billion below the Administration?s. That puts the Senate figure at $513 billion for the next fiscal year.

Congressional planners have mentioned huge future cuts, which could involve a reduced standing military, elimination or delays in the production of expensive programs like aircraft carriers, and cancellation of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program. Also involved would be cuts the Army?s Ground Combat Vehicle buy, and a reduced Joint Tactical Radio Systems program. The latest CBO Budget and Economic Outlook released in August shows that defense spending will rise very slowly from $708 billion in 2012 to $714 billion in 2014. After that, the pace of total dollars spent each year is projected to rise more rapidly to $851 billion in 2020. Two things are likely to make this 2020 number lower: One is a slow rise in inflation; another is the apparent inclination of Congress to use military expenditures as a way to close the budget deficit. The number of federal dollars spent on defense is unlikely to be above $800 billion in 2020 if either of these trends takes hold over the next several years.

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Entitlements will be cut. Mandatory spending is expected to rise from $2.1 trillion in 2012 to $3.1 trillion in 2020. Outlays for Social Security will grow at an average annual rate of almost 6 percent over the 2012 to 2021 period, CBO projects. The agency also forecasts that between 2013 and 2021, Medicare outlays will grow at an average annual rate of 6.3 percent, reaching $966 billion (4.1 percent of GDP) in 2021. These increases will be only partially offset by a drop in payments made for unemployment insurance, which should fall along with joblessness. Social Security is not a ?Ponzi scheme,? as Governor Rick Perry claims. It is one of the keys to reducing the federal deficit and eventually the size of the national debt.

A majority of Americans, particularly those over 50, do not favor lower Social Security spending, according to several polls. But a recent survey of so-called Millennials ? the generation born in the closing decades of the last millennium ? shows they disagree. Half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 do not believe that Social Security will exist at all when they are 67. Only 5 percent believe it will resemble the program that exists today. That change in perception will allow the government to slowly decrease benefits and increase the retirement age over the next decade. Lower expectations will create an electorate likely to accept the reality of America?s need to curtail entitlements as the most critical way to balance the budget. The more costly program, at least in terms of the growth in costs, is Medicare. Federal officials calculate that the program spent an average of $11,743 on beneficiaries in 2009, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. New proposals would provide for payments of $8,000 to retirees who would buy health insurance from private providers. The change in the expectations of younger Americans will allow for alterations like this to be made.

Unemployment will drop to 6 percent. The CBO expected unemployment to drop to just above 5 percent by 2020, and there are several reasons that this is likely to be right. The first is that the U.S. labor force will have been reduced by baby boomer retirees by then. The next is that a recovery in housing prices will spur consumer spending, which will in turn produce jobs. Government incentives to businesses to add employees will improve hiring. Programs of this kind are already being discussed as part of the jobs bill. They make economic sense because the Treasury gets tax receipts from those who are hired, which more than offsets the cost of tax credits to create jobs.

The rise in productivity has been extraordinary since the peak of the recession. This has been driven in part by advances in technology. Productivity has also been enhanced by the ability of businesses to get workers to labor harder for less compensation in a period of protracted unemployment. Productivity has its limits, however. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from the second quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2011, output increased 2.4 percent while hours rose 1.6 percent, yielding an increase in productivity of 0.7 percent. That was a slowdown from increases seen during the most quarters since 2009. The natural limits of getting more work out of each worker are likely to be reached as this decade moves toward its close. That alone will help increase the number of jobs.

Individual tax will remain modest. One of the by-products of cuts in entitlements and military spending is the ability of the government to keep taxes moderate. The effects of this are compounded by the recent consensus of both political parties to keep taxes low as a means of stimulating the economy. Even once this stimulation process becomes unnecessary, America?s corporations likely will be targets of higher taxation rates, which will relieve the burden on individuals.

There is a growing belief that U.S. companies have kept their taxes low by running portions of their businesses outside American borders in order to receive favorable tax treatment abroad. There is also a deep concern that some of the biggest U.S. companies have created large cash hoards that do nothing to increase American productivity and job creation. The cash balance of the S&P 500 nonfinancial companies is now above $1 trillion. That figure continues to grow as most of the large corporations in the U.S. continue to post strong quarterly results. The ability of corporations to create a balance sheet bounty is helped by the extremely low tax rates most of them pay. Washington is likely to increase the federal government?s take of this.

The final factor that will keep tax rates in check is a drop in unemployment. With 14 million Americans out of work, the difference between the current 9.1 percent jobless rate that reflects that number and a 6 percent rate in the second half of the decade will add millions to the American workforce. This turns people who take money out of the system through unemployment benefits into tax payers ? increasing and broadening the tax base.

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Interest rates
Interest rates will stay low. The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low as a means to stimulate the economy. Mortgage rates are consequently just above 4 percent ? very near an all-time low. Rates will stay down for the next two years or more as the Fed works to buttress any expansion. The reasons rates will remain low after that are based primarily on a need to keep GDP growth relatively high and to allow American businesses to remain competitive in a world in which most other major nations use rates as a means of stimulus. It is worth noting that because deeply wounded economies take a long time to mend, demand for money can stay relatively low for a long period. This is certainly true recently. After the shock of 9/11 and the subsequent economic slowing, the prime rate dropped from 6 percent to 4 percent in mid-2003. The figure did not hit 6 percent again until mid-2005. The Great Recession was such a great wound to the U.S. economy that the growth of this interest rate is likely to be very slow.

There is also every reason for the Federal Reserve to be gun-shy in the future when increased rates are a possibility. Unless inflation begins to rise very rapidly, the Fed will be reluctant to be aggressive. Chairman Ben Bernanke recently said that the Fed began raising the Fed Funds rate in the spring of 1928, and kept raising it through a recession that began in August 1929. This led to the stock market crash in October 1929. In 1936 the Fed raised reserve requirements, which is often mentioned as a reason the economy faltered again in the late 1930s. Business activity will improve enough over the next decade to push rates higher, but not substantially.

AAA rating
The U.S. will get back its AAA rating. It lost the rating from S&P because of political strife in Washington, concerns the U.S. could not control its deficit, the increase in its debt and the observation that the U.S. economy would not grow over the next two years. The CBO expects the annual deficit to fall from $1.3 trillion this year and nearly $1 trillion in 2010 to an average of $250 billion in the years from 2014 and 2020.

Those numbers have been greeted with skepticism because of the projected rise in entitlements and military spending, and halting improvements in tax receipts. This skepticism is only warranted if the costs of government are not addressed in any major way in the next five years, or if the economy grows at 3 percent or less based on GDP. A combination of aid from the federal government and Fed is likely to encourage strong growth. Lack of commodity price increases likely will keep the cost of living in America at reasonable levels. Very moderate tax rates set to ensure growth are likely to stay low. The tax base will improve due to lower unemployment. The U.S. will have its AAA rating back long before 2020.

Copyright ? 2011 24/7 Wall St. Republished with permission.


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Obama tests go-it-alone steps for U.S. economy (Reuters)

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) ? President Barack Obama launched the first in a series of executive actions on Monday aimed at bypassing Republicans in Congress to show American voters he is serious about tackling a jobs and housing crisis that endangers his re-election.

Trying to seize the initiative and demonstrate he will take steps on his own if lawmakers do not act, Obama began a campaign-style swing through Western states seen as crucial to his chances of winning a second term in the November 2012 election.

Armed with the new slogan "We can't wait," the president started the three-day trip in economically hard-hit Nevada, a key political battleground and the state with the highest home foreclosure rate. He then goes to California and Colorado.

Obama's strategy is aimed at further painting Republicans as obstructing economic recovery, most recently by impeding his $447 billion jobs package in Congress, and making clear he is not powerless to act.

Questions remain about whether go-it-alone remedies -- the first of which was Monday's announcement of a expanded mortgage refinancing program to help struggling homeowners keep their homes -- can do much to revive the anemic economy and reduce stubbornly high unemployment.

"I'm here to say to the people of Nevada, the people of Las Vegas: we can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won't act, I will," Obama told a small crowd of homeowners in front of the home of a family that he had visited to chat about aid for the housing market.

U.S. homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth got new help with word that a federal housing regulator is easing the terms of a program that helps so-called "underwater" borrowers who have been on time with payments but are unable to refinance.

The plan, which does not require congressional approval, is the latest effort to shore up the weak U.S. housing market. The lingering problem is crucial to the economic recovery and remains a political liability for Obama.

It was unclear whether Obama's approach, which falls short of an overarching plan some experts have called for, will give enough of a boost to the battered market to spur growth.

A lawmaker earlier this month estimated an expanded program could help as many as 600,000 to 1 million additional borrowers. But that is only a fraction of the estimated 11 million homeowners who are classified as underwater.


Obama will lay out a new student loan initiative in another swing state, Colorado, on Wednesday and keep rolling out at least one new initiative each week, said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Other executive steps are likely to include help for small businesses, and the White House said that on Tuesday it will unveil action to help boost jobs for military veterans. It did not say how many jobs it expected this step to create.

But aides to the president, who has operated by executive order before, appeared to concede his options for acting on his own authority can have only a modest impact compared with his broader stimulus program now stalled in Congress.

"They are not a substitute for congressional action, which is why he continues to urge Congress to wake up," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Obama, who shed his jacket in the warm Nevada afternoon and spoke without the help of a teleprompter, insisted the unilateral measures would "make a difference" but acknowledged it would take time for the housing market to heal fully.

The president's latest moves come after Republicans defeated his full jobs plan in Congress and then voted down Obama's first efforts to get his proposals through piecemeal, despite polls showing strong public support for the package.

Brendan Buck, spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, accused Obama of campaigning instead of working to find common ground.

"The best way to achieve the outcome they are looking for would be to pick up the phone and work with Republicans instead of starting a fresh new campaign," Buck said.

Obama is seeking to capitalize on public displeasure with Congress after a summer of legislative gridlock.

Obama's public approval ratings have fallen to close to 40 percent, the low of his presidency, because of discontent with his economic stewardship.

Congress, where Republicans control the House and Obama's Democrats control the Senate, is even more unpopular. Its approval rating fell to about 12 percent after budget battles pushed the government to the brink of a shutdown and an unprecedented default on the national debt.

The states on Obama's tour were chosen deliberately.

Each has large populations of Hispanics, a voting bloc Obama's campaign is eager to win over. Nevada and Colorado are "swing states" which alternate allegiance between Republicans and Democrats, making them valuable election prizes.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, JoAnne Allen and Margaret Chadbourn; writing by Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason; editing by John O'Callaghan and Todd Eastham)


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Monday, October 24, 2011

Mideast power brokers call for "Marshall Plan" after unrest (Reuters)

DEAD SEA, Jordan (Reuters) ? Arab politicians and financiers at the World Economic Forum in Jordan called on Saturday for a huge injection of cash to narrow the inequalities that led to the Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian regimes across the region.

Days after the killing of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, senior figures said a home-grown version of the Marshall Plan was needed in the wake of the revolts, which have raised people's hopes for swift economic improvements after decades of corruption and mismanagement.

The proposal was the most specific put forward by senior figures meeting at a luxurious Dead Sea convention center to try and chart a new economic course for the region after its most sweeping upheaval since colonial powers divided most of the Middle East following the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.

Under the Marshall Plan, large sums flowed into Western Europe to rebuild the continent, restore productivity and prevent U.S. allies from falling under the Soviet sphere of influence.

"I am afraid that Arab Spring could turn into an autumn if the issue of social justice is not achieved. A Marshall Plan is needed," said Hassan al-Boraei, Egypt's labor minister.

"The old model of relying on state employment and big projects is no longer viable," Boraei said, adding that Egypt needed to find jobs for 950,000 people entering the workforce annually, with unemployment running at 12-17 percent.

Outrage against autocratic rule and associated nepotism and corruption sparked a democratic revolution in Tunisia in December that cascaded into what has become known as the Arab Spring.

So far, the revolts have toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, with mass protests continuing in Syria and Yemen, threatening their autocratic presidents.


"If the Arab Spring hopes to achieve anything it is to attain good governance. This does not necessitate only democracy and freedom but social justice, meaning economic policies that meet popular aspirations," said Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.

Prominent banker Ibrahim Dabdoub said the proposed "Arab Marshall Plan" could be funded by Gulf petrodollars and regional development banks, as there is little hope for major funding from Western nations dealing with their own economic trouble.

"This region needs 85 million jobs ... and a Marshall Plan with the help of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has become a pre-requisite of development," said Dabdoub, a Palestinian who heads the National Bank of Kuwait, the country's biggest lender.

Libya's Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril was more skeptical about whether money alone would improve the region's lot, saying "the problem of the Arab world is not a question of money but the management of money."

Jibril also said on Saturday that Libyans should be allowed to vote within eight months to elect a national council to draft a new constitution and form an interim government.

Making a keynote speech at the conference, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad al-Thani said economic models had only benefited ruling classes and their cohorts, sparking the Arab Spring.

Qatar, an absolute monarchy with one of the world's highest per capita incomes, has played an international role beyond its tiny size by virtue of its natural gas wealth and ownership of the satellite al-Jazeera channel.

Al-Thani did not address the issue of funding but said Arab economic policies that rely on attracting investment in tourism and real estate while ignoring corruption and the need to raise productivity and education standards have largely failed.

In recent years Arab states have tried to emulate the 'Dubai model', encouraging the setting up of big holding companies tied with the ruling hierarchy that were awarded privatization deals and embarked on large property ventures while public corruption deepened and unemployment remained stubbornly high.

Asked about his advice for Arab rulers, al-Thani said: "Don't fight to stay in your position. What sort of power (will) you have after killing your own people?"

(Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)


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#Occupy and Unions Combine Forces Against Private Business In ...

The war on business by the #Occupy movement is stepping up to a new level, and local authorities don?t appear to be ready to deal with it. Separate and seemingly related incidents are breaking out across the country and represent a possible first wave of attacks designed to ?stress test? law enforcement response and try out tactics in order to see what works. Further, these incidents may be related to the recently disclosed connections between the unions and the Occupy movement.

Take two recent attacks on Wal-Mart ? one in Washington D.C. and one in Texas but with the same target and similar tactics.

In Washington, D.C. last night:

?Occupy DC,? an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, swarmed Union Station Thursday night to protest a speech by Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton at an event hosted by the non-profit advocacy group Conservation International. Union Station is Washington, D.C.?s train terminal, located just blocks from the Capitol.

Protesters chanted, ?We are the 99 percent? while letting balloons loose. Station security attempted to stop the balloons from reaching the train terminal?s iconic high ceiling.

In Dallas two days ago:

The occupiers ?marched down the aisles,? Decker said, putting their fliers over price tags, DVD racks, ?just anything we could.?

Then they circled the cash registers, chanting: ?We are the 99 percent,? ?What?s disgusting? Union busting,? and such.

Police cars began to fill the parking lot. Decker and his compatriots said officers entered the store, lined up in a chain, and herded them out.

And the police response to these organized Occupy attacks by young thugs?

In Washington, ?Police told The Daily Caller to stop ?egging on? the protesters by conducting interviews.? In Dallas, ?Police cars began to fill the parking lot. Decker and his compatriots said officers entered the store, lined up in a chain, and herded them out.?

The thin blue line seems mighty thin when it comes to Occupy.

To get a broader sense of what?s really going on here, you should read this entire article from the Washington Post. Here?s the intro.

The Occupy Wall Street protests that began as a nebulous mix of social and economic grievances are becoming more politically organized ? with help from some of the country?s largest labor unions.

Labor groups are mobilizing to provide office space, meeting rooms, photocopying services, legal help, food and other necessities to the protesters. The support is lending some institutional heft to a movement that has prided itself on its freewheeling, non-institutional character.

And in return, Occupy activists are pitching in to help unions ratchet up action against several New York firms involved in labor disputes with workers.

Remember the Wal-Mart protestors in Dallas? They were shouting ?What?s disgusting? Union busting!? at Wal-Mart cashiers and customers. And the Washington Post article reveals another similarity to a Union/Occupy attack on Sotheby?s auction house in New York, who is in a labor dispute.

Occupy activists also showed up at a Manhattan restaurant owned by a prominent Sotheby?s board member, clinking on beer glasses to quiet the crowd and then denouncing the company as a ?union buster.? A video of the scene was posted on YouTube.

This is a disturbing trend. It?s being conducted at a local level when the local authorities don?t see the big picture. The Occupy Wall Street movement was started by people who want to dismantle capitalism and, with the union?s help, they seem bent on doing it one business at a time.


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hertz fires 26 Muslim drivers in break dispute

More than two dozen Somali Muslim drivers for Hertz at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are being fired after refusing to clock out for daily breaks during which they normally pray.

The 26 workers drive the company's rental cars to and from the airport for cleaning and refueling. They are among 34 Hertz employees suspended Sept. 30 for failing to clock out before breaks.

Teamsters Local 117, which represents the workers, said Hertz agreed during contract negotiations last year that union members would not need to clock out during prayer breaks. But the company maintains workers were violating a settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached two years ago.

"From our perspective, Hertz didn't even follow their own internal policy," union spokesman Paul Zilly said Friday. Hertz didn't provide a verbal or written warning and jumped right to suspension, he said.

"It was a huge disappointment and a tremendous frustration," Zilly said.

Eight of the 34 suspended workers signed the company's new clock-out agreement and have returned to their jobs, company spokesman Rich Broome said in an email. Termination letters have been sent to the rest.

"The failure of many employees to return to work promptly after prayers had created an unmanageable, unfair work environment at the Seattle airport location," Broome wrote. Clocking out ensured that everyone's interests were preserved, he said.

The company gave suspended workers until the end of the day Thursday to sign the clock-out agreement, if they wanted to be reinstated, Broome told The Seattle Times. The firings were first reported by KOMO-TV.

Zilly said Friday that instead of an ultimatum, the company should have sat down with the union to negotiate this change.

"Whenever there's a change in working conditions and you're working under a collective bargaining agreement, they need to notify and bargain with the union over those changes," he said. "That's their legal obligation."

"It's not about prayer, it's not about religion; it's about reasonable requirements," Broome told the AP earlier this month.

Observant Muslims pray several times a day.

If Hertz thought some employees were abusing the break policies, it should have dealt with them individually, Zilly said.

The union has filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The union also said it is also in the process of filing religious discrimination charges with the EEOC.

The union represents nearly 80 Hertz drivers who earn between $9.15 and $9.95 an hour. About 70 percent are Muslims.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jobs refused early surgery for cancer: biographer (Reuters)

(Reuters) ? Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs refused potentially life-saving cancer surgery for nine months, shrugging off protests from his family and opting instead for alternative medicine, according to the tech visionary's biographer.

When Jobs eventually sought surgery, the rare form of pancreatic cancer had spread to the tissues surrounding the organ, biographer Walter Isaacson said in an interview with "60 Minutes" on CBS, to be aired on Sunday.

Jobs also played down the seriousness of his condition and told everyone he was cured but kept receiving treatment in secret, Isaacson said in the interview, excerpts of which CBS released on Thursday.

Isaacson confirmed details that had previously been speculated upon or widely reported, including that Jobs might have been cured of his "slow-growing" cancer had he sought professional treatment sooner, rather than resorting to unconventional means.

"He tries to treat it with diet. He goes to spiritualists. He goes to various ways of doing it macrobiotically and he doesn't get an operation," Isaacson said in the interview.

Jobs deeply regretted putting off a decision that might have ultimately saved his life, according to Isaacson.

"I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don't want something to exist, you can have magical thinking .... We talked about this a lot," he said.

The biographer did not specify which surgical procedure he was referring to in his interview ahead of the October 24 release of the biography.

Jobs announced in August 2004 that he had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas. In 2008 and 2009 -- as his dwindling weight stirred increasing alarm in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street -- he said first he was fighting a "common bug," then that he was suffering from a hormone imbalance.

In 2009, news emerged that he had undergone a liver transplant.

Access the full link here:

(Reporting by Poornima Gupta and Edwin Chan; Editing by Richard Chang)


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