Tuesday, November 29, 2011

AARP Loses Round One in Fight for Utility Consumer Advocate

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Idaho's largest membership organization is conceding what it calls "round one" in the debate over a new energy plan for the Gem State. But AARP Idaho is ready to continue the fight.

The Idaho Legislature's Interim Committee on Energy, Technology and Environment approved a revised plan, which was last visited in 2007. But the committee chose not to include a consumer advocate in its recommendations.

"It's clear whose voice was heard and whose wasn't-consumers spoke up and lost out in the current version of Idaho's energy plan," said Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP. "(Idaho utility companies) shut this issue and the needs of consumers down, for now."

Wordelman said Idaho is the only Western state lacking a utility consumer advocate office.

More than 40 percent of Idahoans 50 and older reported already having difficulty affording their utility bills. In many cases, older consumer are forced to make choices between turning up the thermostat and filling a prescription.

"AARP will revisit the creation of the consumer advocate office in the upcoming legislative session," said Wordelman.

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Boise's Smoking Ordinance Faces Final Vote Today

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 10:12 AM

The Boise City Council will hold its final vote tonight on two proposed smoke-free ordinances first drafted in September of this year. This evening's session marks the City Council's first meeting at the Idaho State Capitol while City Hall undergoes a facelift.

The ordinances have been reworked in the past few months, fine-tuned in response to criticism at a handful of public information meetings and council work sessions. In addition to the ban on smoking in bars and city parks, the ordinances host new provisions.

E-cigarettes are, after some contention, formally exempt from the ban.

Hookah bars will still be barred from indoor smoking.

The Grove Plaza, Ann Morrison and Julia Davis parks will all be smoke-free, save for special designated smoking zones, to be disclosed at a later date.

All ticketing, boarding and waiting areas for buses and taxi cabs will be smoke-free, in addition to the buses and taxi cabs themselves. If passed, occupants of cabs licensed in Boise will be barred from smoking, be it passenger or driver.

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Forbes: Utah Most Business-Friendly

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 9:39 AM

When companies are poised to grow or relocate, Idaho is hard-pressed when trying to compete with Utah.

Our neighbor to the southeast tops this morning's Forbes Best States for Business and Careers list. In fact, Fobes said "no state can match the consistent performance of Utah. It is the only state that ranks among the top 15 states in each of the six main categories."

According to Forbes, Utah's employment growth has averaged 0.6 percent the past five years. That may not seem like much until you compare it to the U.S. as a whole, where job growth has averaged negative 0.6 percent since 2005.

Procter & Gamble, ITT, Home Depot and Boeing all announced Utah-based expansion this year. Technology also ranks high with Adobe Systems, eBay, Electronic Arts and Oracle all expanding in Utah in recent years.

Utah was followed by Virginia and Louisiana on the list.

The worst states for business included New Jersey, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine.

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Report: Consumer Confidence Rises

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 9:34 AM

The U.S. economy got a positive boost this morning when a private-sector report indicated that consumer confidence bounced back from a 2-1/2 year low in November. The Conference Board said its index of consumer attitudes jumped to 56.0 from an upwardly revised 40.0 in October.

"Consumers appear to be entering the holiday season in better spirits, though overall readings remain historically weak," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

Additionally, consumers' labor-market assessments improved. The number of respondents that said they found "jobs hard to get" dropped to 42.1 percent from 46.9 percent, while the "jobs plentiful" index rose to 5.8 percent from 3.6 percent.

Consumers also saw the job situation improving over the next six months. The report showed 24.1 percent of respondents thinking there would be fewer jobs in the future, down from 27.6 percent thinking that a month ago.

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Climatologists: May Be Too Late to Reverse Global Warming

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 9:29 AM

As you reach for the gloves and ice scraper today, consider this: 2011 is tied for the 10th hottest year since records began in 1850, according to a new annual assessment of average global temperatures. In fact, the United Nations weather office said today that world temperatures are heading for a threshold that could lead to irreversible changes.

"Climate change is real, and we are already observing its manifestation in weather and climate patterns around the world," said R.D.J. Legoasa, deputy director of the World Meteorological Organization, today at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa.

According to the new research, the Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record-low volumes this year. Parching drought in East Africa has left tens of thousands dead, and there have been deadly floods in Asia, and 14 separate weather catastrophes in the United States with damage topping $1 billion each.

Climate negotiators have set a goal of keeping the temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Farehnheit above preindustrial levels. They are already 1.4 degrees above the 1750 average.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Midnight Food Shopping in Idaho Featured on NBC

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Two Treasure Valley families will be featured tonight on a segment of the new NBC news magazine Rock Center. The families, both from Nampa, will serve as examples of how millions of Americans find themselves shopping at midnight. It's not that they enjoy shopping in the middle of the night, but it's because they have to. Simply put, they're out of food, and the minute that their monthly allotment of food assistance is available (usually at midnight), they head to the grocery store.

The trend is so significant that Walmart has already begun shoring up its overnight grocery employees.

"A few years back, we started seeing that our customers were showing up at midnight on the first of the month," said Carol Johnston, senior vice president of store operations for Walmart.

Nearly 46 million Americans, 15 percent of the of the population, now depend on federal assistance for food.

Tonight's Rock Center report was previewed this morning on NBC's Today program.

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Boise Police: Cold Case is Warming Up

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Boise Police say they have reason to believe that the mysterious disappearance of a Boise man, seven years ago this week, was foul play.

Ahren "Benji" Barnard was last seen Dec. 4, 2004, at a McDonald's restaurant at South Cole and West Overland roads. But an anonymous letter recently received by police is giving detectives new leads to follow.

"That letter seems to validate what we've thought all along," said Sgt. Mark Barnett of the Boise Police Violent Crimes Unit. "There are individuals who have information on this case who have not yet come forward."

Meanwhile, Lamar Advertising has donated space on several Boise digital billboards that include a photo of Barnard and the Crime Stoppers phone number: 208-343-COPS.


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Two Reports Show Increase in School Immunization Exemptions

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Two reports indicate a growing trend of more schoolchildren going without immunizations.

On Sunday, the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell reported that North Idaho recorded a 7.4 percent immunization exemption rate (compared with 3.8 percent statewide). According to the report, nearly all parents who chose not to have their children immunized cited personal reasons.

Today, the Associated Press reported that 1 in 20 school kindergartners nationwide did not receive all the vaccines required for attendance, based on parents seeking exemptions from the shots.

Alaska had the highest exemption rate in 2010-2011, at nearly 9 percent. Colorado's rate was 7 percent. Minnesota 6.5 percent, Vermont and Washington 6 percent, and Oregon, Michigan and Illinois were close behind.

According to the AP, exemption seekers "are often middle-class, college-educated white people, but there are often a mix of views and philosophies. Exemption hot spots like Sedona, Ariz., and rural northeast Washington have concentrations of both alternative medicine-preferring as well as government-fearing libertarians."

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Hampshire Paper Backs Gingrich, Romney Still Leads Poll

Posted By on Sun, Nov 27, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may be leading in the New Hampshire polls, but the state's largest newspaper came out this morning with an endorsement for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The New Hampshire Union Leader endorsement was an indicator that Romney may not be a slam-dunk in January's first-in-the-nation primary.

Romney enjoys a solid lead in the latest New Hampshire poll, conducted by television station WMUR and the University of New Hampshire. The survey showed the former Massachusetts governor with 42 percent support among likely New Hampshire voters. Rep. Ron Paul posted 12 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman garnered 8 percent.

Four years ago, the Union Leader threw its support to Sen. John McCain's campaign, giving it a boost that led to winning the GOP nomination. But the newspaper has a spotty record. Though it endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980, it also endorsed Delaware governor Pete du Pont in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, and Steve Forbes in 2000.

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Deadly Man-Made Virus Created in Research Lab

Posted By on Sun, Nov 27, 2011 at 11:12 AM

The London Daily Mail reported this morning on a frightening discovery: a man-made flu virus created in a Dutch lab that could wipe out millions if it ever escaped.

A group of scientists at the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands tweaked a version of the well-known H5N1 bird flu to make the strain much more deadly. The team discovered that a mere five mutations to the avian virus was sufficient to make it spread far more easily. Virologist Ron Fouchier told the Daily Mail that the strain is "one of the most dangerous viruses you can make" and is bracing for a media storm regarding the lab's research.

The tests were conducted on ferrets because of the animal's similar respiratory tracts to humans.

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