Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cigarette Prices Will Top $9 per Pack in New York City Tomorrow

Starting March 31, 2009, New York City smokers will have to pay $9 or more for a pack of cigarettes. The 62-cent federal excise tax increase that takes effect on April 1st will push the cost of cigarettes to more than $250 a month for people smoking a pack a day. As many as 20,000 adult New Yorkers are expected to quit smoking as a result of the measure – a response that would prevent more than 6,000 premature deaths. To help New Yorkers who want to quit, the City will offer free nicotine patches at Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) locations and other community sites across the five boroughs. New Yorkers can call 311 or visit one of the locations below to take advantage of this one-day giveaway.

“Now is the time to quit,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. “Smoking is hurting your health and your wallet. For the many New Yorkers looking to save money during these tough times, this is a great way to do it. You will feel better, your families will be safer, and you will save thousands of dollars.”

“Smokers who quit at any age reduce their risk of tobacco-related disease and prolong their lives,” said Alan D. Aviles, president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. “Over the past three years, we have helped more than 25,000 patients to quit smoking successfully. Research suggests that at least one-third of these patients, or about 8,000 former smokers, will avoid smoking-related disease and premature death as a result.”

QuitSmoking Clinics at the city public hospitals provide comprehensive treatment for tobacco use. HHC offers individuals a variety of ways to stop smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy, counseling and case management to help patients remain engaged in treatment. New Yorkers can call 311 for more information.

Tax increases are the single most effective way to help smokers quit. When New York State’s cigarette tax rose by $1.25 per pack last year (from $1.50 to $2.75), the jolt prompted more than 2,700 calls to 311 for help to quit over the course of one week – three times the number of calls during the same period in the prior year. New York City has 300,000 fewer adult smokers today than in 2002 – thanks in part to price increases – and smoking has dropped 52 percent among public high school students since 2001.

Making cigarettes more expensive is especially effective in preventing young people from starting smoking because few can afford such an expensive habit. “The increase will prevent many children from ever starting smoking,” added Dr. Frieden. “This is a powerful way to improve the health of future generations.”

New York City cigarettes became the most expensive in the nation last June, and will remain the priciest tomorrow, when the federal tax jumps from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack, pushing the total tax to $5.26 per pack.

Tips on Quitting
Set a quit date and mark it on your calendar. Get rid of ashtrays, lighters and cigarettes.
Visit your doctor for support and advice with your quit plan.
Make a list of reasons why you want to quit.
Make a list of family and friends who will support you.
Avoid triggers such as alcohol, caffeine and other smokers.
Exercise to relieve stress, and improve your mood. Try a brisk 30-minute walk at least four days a week.
Consider using a safe nicotine alternative such as patches, lozenges or gum, which can double your chances of quitting.

New Sex Scandal Rocks Oprah's School

(March 31) -- For the second time in just as many years, a sex scandal has erupted at Oprah Winfrey's South African school for girls, though the details still remain a bit elusive.

According to The Times of South Africa, seven young female students have been expelled from the talk-show host's institution for sexual misconduct. Rapport newspaper, another South African publication, details the incident further, saying that the girls tried to force fellow students (it's an all-girls school) into sexual relationships with each other and also tried to touch them "intimately."

Speaking to the mother and grandmother of two expelled girls, The Times reports that they had received a letter from the school claiming their kids "have been found guilty of physical contact of a sexual nature with another pupil on campus ... bullying other girls and ... not telling investigators the whole truth."

Lisa Halliday, Winfrey's South Africa spokeswoman, responded to the situation on Monday, saying: "We consider this to be a confidential school matter."

This is the second major incident at Winfrey's school. In 2007, Tiny Makopo -- the school's matron -- was charged with indecent assault and one charge based on an allegation she fondled a 13-year-old girl. She has since plead not guilty, and the case is still in the works.

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opened in January of 2007. Winfrey said she opened the school because she "wanted to give this opportunity to girls who had a light so bright that not even poverty could dim that light."


The fourth largest and second most populated island in the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Island has recently enjoyed a spurt of commercial growth. While the island was originally developed in the 1950s, the cruise ship traffic tended to bypass it in favor of nearby Nassau. However, lately ships such as the Discovery have begun to make Freeport their main port of call, revitalizing the tourist trade on this sleepy island.

Although 41,000 people live on Grand Bahama, they are spread out over such a wide area as to make the island seem nearly uninhabited in parts. Wide stretches of road and miles of white sandy beach are empty for days at a time. You can walk for hours without seeing anyone. On the other hand, if you travel a few miles to bustling Port Lucaya or the International Bazaar, it becomes obvious that while the island is not a tourism capital, it's on its way to becoming one. An interesting piece of trivia is that locals call Freeport “The City” and Nassau “The Town.” One would think it would be the opposite, after all, Nassau is several times larger. However, downtown Nassau is a pell-mell collection of shops, services and businesses, squeezed together wall-to-wall with no real logic. Freeport, on the other hand, is composed of a few separate districts, distinctly separated by land and highways, and each possessed of its own specific qualities.

Port Lucaya

As far as tourists are concerned, Port Lucaya is the center of Grand Bahamas. The cruise ships dock here, the activity boats depart from here, and the night life is concentrated here for the most part, in the Port Lucaya Marketplace. Several large hotels are also located in Port Lucaya. They are scattered around the Marketplace, with the most famous of them, the Lucayan, being directly across from it. As far as lodging goes, many people feel that Port Lucaya is the best bet, because guests of a Port Lucaya hotel have instant access to the beach, restaurants, activities and shopping. The Marketplace is perhaps the best shopping center on the island, with about 85 specialty stores and restaurants, not to mention a hopping Straw Market. The Straw Market is the place to haggle for local goods and cheap souvenirs.

The port itself is very busy during the daytime, all the way up to the sunset hours. During the morning hours, dozens of activity brokers, barkers and ship captains try to draw in customers for activities ranging from sport fishing to snorkeling to parasailing. Buses full of tourists from major hotels arrive at the port and line up for the Robinson Crusoe Shipwreck Cruise, the Glass-Bottom Party Boat, and other favorite daytime adventures. At sunset, the ever-popular Bahama Mama Booze Cruise departs from the dock, full of rowdy vacationers ready to get drunk. An hour after sunset the same ship returns, full of drastically changed people. Half of them stumble out of the ship looking for the nearest bed. The other half charge happily out, looking for the nearest bar—which, in this district, is easy to find.

Nighttime options in Port Lucaya vary a tiny bit. There's live music in Count Basie Square, a half-dozen little bars (frequented by locals and tourists alike) and a few hotel lounges. Fortunate guests of the Lucayan can splash around in the gigantic rock-formation hot tub. For people who want to make a mellow night of it, several open-air restaurants and casual sweet shops are open till around 10p. Enjoy dinner, a snack, or coffee with friends. Ice cream at Marie's Kookies is a great way to beat the heat. Pisces Restaurant, located at the front of the Marketplace, is a popular pizzeria and hangout spot, serving fruity cocktails and doses of boisterous cheer.

International Bazaar

It's a toss-up whether this district or Port Lucaya is the hottest spot in Freeport. Since they're several miles away from each other, it doesn't make much sense to go to both districts in one day—especially if you're taking a cab (since there is almost no public transportation in Freeport, cabs are usually the best option). While the Bazaar doesn't have a busy harbor to draw people, it has something that is for some even more tempting, a Las Vegas-style casino. Located at the Resort at Bahamia, this casino is 20,000 square feet in size, and has every kind of table game as well as over 400 slot machines. A production show is presented nightly in the Casino Showroom. The rest of this area's nightlife is scattered; the Resort at Bahamia boasts a few bars, while the club of the moment, Ruby Swiss Restaurant, is behind the Resort at Bahamia.

FOR FULL ARTICLE: http://travel.aol.com/travel-guide/Grand+Bahama/Freeport--Bahamas:167-overview

Friday, March 27, 2009

Apple stores now selling iPhone 3G without a contract

Apple retail stores as of Thursday are selling unrestricted quantities of the iPhone 3G at the full, non-subsidized price of $599 for the 8GB version and $699 for the 16GB models.

The move follows AT&T's plans to sell one phone per customer at the full price for existing customers of its service. In Apple's case however, there is no limit on the number of phones a buyer can purchase, and no need to have an existing AT&T contract.

Activation can completed by the customer at home through iTunes.

While the phones are still technically locked to AT&T service, it is possible (but not supported) to unlock the phones for use with other mobile service providers. In the US, that is largely limited to T-Moble, although that GSM provider does not support the same 3G network the iPhone 3G needs to connect at faster than EDGE speeds.

Apple's change in sales policy comes as the company is working to sell off remaining inventory to prepare for the upcoming launch of the new 2009 iPhone, expected to be released around the middle of June, possibly at the company's similarly-timed Worldwide Developer Conference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

TRAVEL: Discover the island of Aruba

Tired of work, stress, and/or concerned about the economy. Well, we've decided to bring some relief by highlighting travel destinations we know you will like. And we start our regular series with the beautiful island of Aruba, the tiny island in the Lesser Antilles, off the coast of Venezuela whose diminutive size doesn't translate into a lack of fun in the sun, both on-beach and off.

Global warming may be all the talk, but in Aruba, there's no such thing as climate change. Thanks to consistent trade winds, the island enjoys one of the most stable climates on the planet at an almost-constant 82 degrees F year-round.

And there are only a few of those pesky afternoon thunderstorms to deal with, as rainfall is limited to just 16 inches annually.

The vacation buzz kill -- Atlantic hurricane season -- runs from June 1 to November 1, but Aruba rarely gets more than a passing wind or surfer-friendly surf from the big storms.

Thanks to the island's position in the Lesser Antilles, Aruba is pretty much out of harm's way -- and officially out of the hurricane track -- during prime hurricane season.

Aruba's desert environment and the island's continuous exposure to the blazing Southern Caribbean sunshine combine for the perfect atmosphere in which to grow aloe vera.

The first succulent aloe plants were planted in Aruba in the mid 1800s; by the turn of the century aloe production was under full swing as the plant's healing properties gained a world-wide reputation.

Where did Caribbean stud poker start? In Aruba -- not surprising, since the island is known as the tropical version of Vegas.

Most large resorts on the island -- including the Hyatt Regency, the Renaissance Seaport and Renaissance Crystal -- offer luxurious gaming spaces. A few casinos are open 24 hours, but most open at 11 a.m. with table games well into the night.

Aruba is the envy of other Caribbean islands for its repeat visitor rate; boasting the most returning visitors than any other island in the region.

Return visitors account for over 40 percent of Aruba's tourists, who report returning for not only the weather, but for the nightlife and the friendliness of the Aruban people. Seventy-five percent of Aruba's visitors come from the U.S.

Surprisingly, there's not a single river in all of Aruba, an unusual geographic feature in the region.

The relatively flat, dry island boasts almost 70 miles of coastline and very little vegetation, save for a few succulents including the aloe plant and cacti; the highest point on the island is about 616 feet.

Much of Aruba's off-beach charm exudes from its pastel-colored villages -- a reminder of its cultural heritage as a Dutch colony.

Today, the island has its own special status as an entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the local language -- Papamiento -- is a lyrical mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Arawak and African.

The island experienced its own 1800s gold rush. Legend has it that Aruba was a treasure island -- and aptly named Oro Ruba, or red gold.

Prospectors once mined ore from the small hills on the northern coast, and in 1824 it gold was finally discovered. Two mills -- which produced more than three million pounds of gold -- are open for tours filled with tales of the adventurous prospectors.

Aruba's just a two and a half hour flight from Miami, and 14 major airports offer direct flights to the island's Queen Beatrix International.

Plus, year-round charters are available out of Boston and Chicago. The best part is that it's the only place with a U.S. Customs and Immigration pre-clearance check-in, meaning travelers are cleared through customs before ever hitting U.S. soil.

Aruba has the highest standard of living in the West Indies; the median annual income is over $21,000.

The island's educational system gets much of the credit for the literacy rates of this highly educated population, while the booming tourism industry brings with it the potential for workers to make an excellent living.

AIG to return bonuses

NEW YORK (March 23) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Monday that 15 employees who received some of the largest bonuses from American International Group Inc. have agreed to return the money in full.

The commitments amount to more than $30 million of the $165 million in bonuses awarded earlier this month by the troubled insurer.

Cuomo said he still hopes that more AIG employees will return their bonuses. He expects his office will be able to recoup about $80 million of the money the insurer paid out — roughly the amount of bonuses paid to American employees.

AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy told Congress last week that some of the employees were willing to give the money back. AIG has come under heavy criticism because the bonuses were given to employees after the company received $170 billion in government bailout money. Cuomo had sought the names of the employees who received bonuses from Liddy through a subpoena.

FOR FULL ARTICLE: http://money.aol.com/news/articles/_a/bbdp/fifteen-aig-execs-will-return-bonuses/392389

Jade Goody, reality TV star, dies.

Reality TV star Jade Goody, 27, died of cervical cancer on Sunday. Goody's battle with cancer garnered much media attention after she was diagnosed while filming 'Celebrity Big Brother'. She underwent cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and surgery, in the public eye and on film.

Other obituaries in the news include George Weber, a longtime radio reporter, and three Oakland police officers. Weber, 47, was found stabbed to death in his New York City apartment on Sunday. In California, Lovelle Mixon, 26, shot four Oakland police officers during a routine traffic stop on Saturday. Authorities believe Mixon, a parolee, began the the bloodiest shoot out in California's history because he was afraid of returning to jail.

Sports fans got quite a show over the weekend. NASCAR fans saw Kyle Busch win at Bristol and Denny Hamlin took second place. With March Madness underway, basketball is on everyone's mind.

Tata Nano: The 4-Wheel Dreams for Millions of Drivers in India

NEW DELHI — "Six years after the idea was hatched, India’s much-hyped $2,500 Tata Nano was unveiled on Monday. The supercheap compact car, aimed at the developing world’s millions of motorcycle owners with four-wheel dreams, arrived trailing dark clouds, as Tata Motors struggles with production problems and a huge debt load.

"But as the global economy withers and automakers bleed cash and cut employees, global warming continues and oil prices creep back up, even rivals say that tiny, wallet-friendly, fuel-efficient cars like the Nano might be where demand grows around the world.

" “We’re quite confident there is going to be huge market for that segment,” said Ashish Sinharoy, a vice president at Renault India. Renault and Nissan have partnered with Bajaj Auto, an Indian scooter maker, to introduce a small, cheap car of their own, due out in 2011.

"Automakers and car enthusiasts will be following the Nano closely, looking for flaws and gauging consumer reaction. Projects like the Renault-Bajaj alliance, and other cheap small cars plans from manufacturers including Honda and Hyundai might be scrapped if the Nano fails. J. D. Power & Associates predicts that Tata will sell 35,000 Nanos this year, because of production constraints. The car is expected to go on sale next month.

FOR FULL ARTICLE: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/24/business/worldbusiness/24auto.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=print

Saturday, March 21, 2009

iTunes Store HD Movies Don’t Play on My Monitor: Solutions

Yesterday, Apple announced that the iTunes Store was now selling $20 high-definition movies for viewing on a computer, as well as renting computer-ready versions for $4-$5 in the same way that it has been through the Apple TV. In an impressive, though space-consuming feat, Apple provides users with both a high-definition video for computer and Apple TV use, as well as one that’s lower-resolution and capable of being played on your iPod or iPhone. The test video we downloaded, Punisher: War Zone, came in a 3.09GB, 1280x532 file, as well as a DVD-quality 1.15GB, 853x354 version. Unfortunately, the HD version refused to play back from a current-model MacBook through a high-definition external monitor—even an Apple Cinema Display.

FOR FULL ARTICLE: http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/articles/comments/itunes-store-hd-movies-dont-play-on-my-monitor-solutions/

Big Deficit Projection Tests Obama Agenda

WASHINGTON -- Congressional budget forecasters said President Barack Obama's spending blueprint would produce significantly deeper long-run deficits than the White House has projected, complicating the task of enacting his ambitious domestic agenda.

"This will make it more challenging for Congress as we craft a budget resolution," said North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. The Senate Budget Committee chairman will be one of the key players steering the White House spending blueprint through Capitol Hill starting next week. "The reality is, we are going to have to make adjustments to the president's budget if we want to keep the deficit on a downward trajectory," Mr. Conrad added.

Last week, Mr. Conrad warned that he is "very concerned" about the budget's long-run implications, saying the level of debt it envisioned "threatens the economic security of this country -- I believe it in my bones."

The Congressional Budget Office on Friday said that, if the Obama budget unveiled last month were approved, the federal government would run deficits averaging nearly $1 trillion a year over the next decade. The cumulative deficit from 2010-19 would be $9.3 trillion, according to the report -- $2.3 trillion more than the administration forecast last month.

One main reason for the difference in budget estimates is a difference in economic forecasts, with congressional views of long-term growth less optimistic than those of the White House -- in part because of the long-term effects of so much government borrowing. The White House said its projection is more in line with those of private-sector economists. Congressional forecasters also use different accounting rules that tend to be more conservative.

FOR FULL ARTICLE: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123755932558295685.html#mod=rss_economy

TECHNOLOGY: The Asus Eee PC 1008HA priced for the UK

The Asus Eee PC 1008HA that wowed crowds at CeBIT earlier this month has just been priced for the UK. Read on to find out how much you’ll pay for this skinny netbook when it washes up on shore.

In case you’re confusing the Asus Eee PC 1008HA with one of the many, many 10 inch Eee netbooks out there, the Asus Eee PC 1008HA, or Eee Shell as it’s been dubbed, is a redesigned, superskinny Eee akin to a smaller MacBook Air, and it’s now had a pricetag slapped on it.

The Asus Eee PC 1008HA will set you back £359 including tax in the UK when it arrives sometime next month, according to Netbook Choice. That’s £30 more than the Eee PC 1000HE with its phenomenal battery life, but at just one inch thick at the fattest part, the Asus Eee PC 1008HA is even more portable. If a Dell Adamo netbook turns up though, that might be so impressive though.

We’ll be sure to bring you any more details on the Asus Eee PC 1008HA as and when, but in the meantime, you can check out the gallery of official pics below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Yesterday, President Obama and tax cheat Tim Geithner outlined their plan for small businesses. But before doing that, Obama wanted to make sure he had his say about these AIG bonuses. And not surprisingly, he believes that they are outrageous. Not only that, but he wants tax cheat Tim Geithner to "pursue every single legal avenue" to block the payments.

Obama, of course, just had to use this occasion to play into the wealth envy. He used one of my favorite words ... "greed." He said, "This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed ... This isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. It's about our fundamental values ... All across the country, there are people who work hard and meet their responsibilities every day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multi-million dollar bonuses. And all they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules." What rules would that be, PrezBO? Abiding by your contractual obligations? That rule?

Here we have Obama wants to worry about fundamental values. Where were those values when he nominated a tax cheat to be the Secretary of the Treasury and the head of the IRS? Willfully cheating on your taxes is OK. Getting a bonus for the work you've done pursuant to a contract is not.

The White House says that the Treasury Department will use a planned $30 billion infusion into AIG as leverage in order to compel the company to repay the bonuses of financial-products group employees. The infusion won't be final until the company and the Treasury figure out some sort of repayment options. OK .. here's an idea. The bonuses, as I've said, amounted to 1/10th of the amount of the bailout funds. So take this new $30 billion and reduce it by 1/10th of one percent. That would be $27 million Then everything will be square.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spotlight on most corrupt cities in America: The City of Coral Gables

Coral Gables "City Hall"


Coral Gables has long been Miami-Dade's grande dame, majestic with her canopied streets, historic landmarks and stately homes, imperious in her municipal rectitude.

In the past three years, however, the City Beautiful has plunged headlong into a starring role in its own tawdry reality series.

It features:

• The city manager who had a fling with the mayor's secretary and indulged in fancy steak and red-wine lunches on the taxpayers' tab, and then, when caught, tried to cover it up.

• A lawsuit-wielding, wire-wearing whistle- blower.

• Sex in the office at public works. Cocaine and ghost employees at building and zoning.

Anything else? Oh, yes: the new purchasing director who quit on her first day on the job, apparently after the whistle-blower filled her in on the juicy tidbits.

What in city founder George Merrick's name is going on at Coral Gables City Hall?

''We're not used to being in the spotlight,'' said Vice Mayor William Kerdyk. ``We've always prided ourselves on being a community that has very few issues outside of dealing with the quality of life.

``This is something totally off our scale.''

Although the waves of scandal have subsided since City Manager David Brown, faced with certain termination by the City Commission, took early retirement from his $185,000-a-year post in November, the city is struggling to ride out the backwash.

Last week, the commission named Brown's successor, former Sunrise manager Pat Salerno, amid grumbles that few A-list candidates had come forward.

And as the April 14 election approaches, two veteran commissioners, Maria Anderson and Ralph Cabrera, have drawn challengers who criticize the incumbents' oversight of the manager -- or lack of it. Anderson, who unlike Cabrera defended Brown, may be especially vulnerable.

Anderson insists that she's done discussing the former city manager. ''I know there are issues that we are going to be dealing with that may be a result of his actions, but we've had enough,'' Anderson said. ``This is over. We put a bad chapter behind us. Let's move on.''


The City Hall foibles carry a cost not just to the city's manicured image, but to the pocketbooks of its 43,000 residents, too. And there may be legal consequences for the city administrators.

Among the potentially serious repercussions: an open public-corruption probe by state prosecutors into the city's Building and Zoning Department.

The longtime building director, Margaret Pass, was put on leave in 2006 while her department was scrutinized, but continued to collect her weekly $2,346 paycheck for 56 weeks -- before she was fired in October 2007 for gross mismanagement. She is appealing.

Some city leaders place the blame squarely on Brown's shoulders.

''In all, David's blunders have cost us millions of dollars,'' said Cabrera, long a Brown critic.

Brown did not respond to several attempts to reach him for an interview.


David L. Brown
A former Venetian Pool lifeguard with a master's degree in education from the University of Miami, Brown, 57, was Coral Gables' assistant city manager for 16 years before being named city manager in 2001. He earned a reputation as a sterling administrator and was named City Manager of the Year in 2006 by the Florida League of Cities.

Commissioners began to sour on Brown when he didn't tell them that the operators of the Country Club of Coral Gables, a city property, hadn't paid their $25,300 monthly rent in nearly a year. ''That, to me, was inexcusable,'' Kerdyk said.

Many trace Brown's downfall to an arrest on Sept. 8, 2006, at City Hall.

Jorge Reyes, assistant to Pass, the building and zoning director, was charged with theft and fraud for allegedly splitting paychecks with acquaintances-turned-ghost employees from a temp agency who never worked a single hour. Police found cocaine in his pocket. Reyes was fired for bringing drugs to the workplace before his criminal case was heard.

After Reyes was led away in handcuffs, an anonymous six-page letter was sent to the commission, police and media, detailing malfeasance in the department.

Among the allegations: that employees used a city account to buy digital cameras for their personal use; that Pass, who ran the department for 18 years, sent her subordinates, on city time, to work on her 16-acre ranch near Lake Okeechobee; that Pass routinely awarded comp time to employees who hadn't earned it and let workers leave early -- sometimes after one or two hours -- and get paid for the day; that Pass told vendors to fake invoices; and that she received a $500 Publix gift certificate from an engineering firm doing business with the city.

Reyes has said these goings-on happened with the knowledge of Brown and Pass.

Coral Gables police began to investigate, as did Miami-Dade police's public-corruption unit. The case is still open, said Coral Gables police Maj. Ed Hudak. ''It's a huge case,'' he said. ``There are boxes and boxes of documents to go through.''

Reyes, meanwhile, struck a deal with the Miami-Dade state attorney's office. He pleaded guilty to official misconduct, agreed to pay back $100,000 he got from the bogus-paycheck scheme, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and six years of probation. In exchange for leniency, he agreed to testify.

Pass, who did not respond to requests for an interview through her attorney, is fighting her termination through the city's in-house appeals process. A hearing is scheduled for March 23.

Two days before he fired Pass on Oct. 24, 2007, Brown had lunch with Mayor Don Slesnick at Anacapri on Miracle Mile. It was one of many meals that were scrutinized after Brown's use of his city-issued credit card became an issue.

The weekly Coral Gables Gazette published a story detailing the manager's spending habits in March 2008, after a police major was disciplined by the chief of police for spending more than $600 on his city-issued Visa card for Christmas gifts to his officers.

The meals raised questions because Brown was cutting city programs due to state-mandated reductions.


Commissioners questioned Brown, who had been authorized to spend up to $10,000 a week.

The tabs included:

• A $615 bill at The Palm Restaurant in the Village of Merrick Park on Jan. 9, 2007, with the planning staff and both assistant city managers as a thank-you after a zoning-code rewrite.

• A $241 lunch at the Biltmore on Oct. 6, 2006, with Commissioner Wayne Withers and Finance Director Don Nelson. Two men ate filet mignon, one had a New York steak, and the three shared a $48 bottle of Robert Mondavi cabernet.

• A $198 dinner with Slesnick at Ruth's Chris Steak House on April 23, 2007, to discuss the commission agenda.

• A $184 dinner at the Biltmore on Jan. 9, 2008, with Deputy Fire Chief Tim Daniels, a candidate for the fire chief's job. On the menu: veal, swordfish and a $57 bottle of Clos Du Val wine.

• The next night, Jan. 10, a $178 dinner, also at the Biltmore, with Deputy Fire Chief Walter Reed, the other applicant for the job. Their menu: rack of lamb, scallops and a $51 bottle of Ferrari-Carano. (He got the job.)


It wasn't Brown's spending that led to his downfall, but the cover-up that followed.

When a Gazette columnist asked for the city manager's receipts, Brown told purchasing supervisor Danilo Benedit, who manages the city's purchasing card invoices, to stall. Brown wanted to insert in the file two backdated receipts that showed he had partially paid the city back for two meals with wine months earlier.

Benedit called Miami-Dade public-corruption detectives, already busy looking into the building and zoning mess. Benedit wore a concealed microphone to record Brown talking about holding back public documents to mislead the reporter.

In July, Brown was charged with a civil violation of state public-records laws and walked away with a $500 fine and $2,100 in investigative costs. ''I'm both relieved and appreciative that the state attorney recognized my error was not a criminal act, just a foolish one,'' Brown said at the time.

The Miami-Dade public-corruption unit, however, issued its own report in early October, concluding that Brown committed two crimes: official misconduct and falsification of public records. Brown was not charged.

The report was the final act for the commission, which pressured Brown into abruptly announcing on Oct. 14 that he would retire on Jan. 31, 2009.

On Nov. 3, a shocker: Olga Garcia, the mayor's former secretary, alleged that she and Brown, who is married to longtime Miami-Dade School Board administrator Linda Brown, had a nearly five-year affair that she ended last spring.

Garcia's allegation came in a sexual-harassment complaint she filed against Brown with the city's human resources department. Her complaint contended that Brown booted her from the mayor's office, a plum post he had given her months after the romance began, to a job in the assistant city attorney's office because she rejected his attempts to reconcile. Garcia declined to be interviewed.

City of Coral Gables Commission

City commissioners had heard over the years that Brown had been romancing Garcia and had confronted him about it. He repeatedly denied it.

''He looked me in the eye and swore it wasn't true,'' Slesnick said.

The break in trust was too much for commissioners to overlook.

''Whether or not there was sexual harassment or a relationship gone bad, obviously I was lied to, and that is something I can't accept,'' Slesnick said.

Commissioners requested a special meeting on Nov. 7 where they were prepared to fire Brown. Three hours before the meeting, Brown announced his immediate retirement.

In December, Brown got his last paycheck from the city: $178,000, after taxes, for accrued annual leave and sick time.

Before leaving, however, Brown had created a position of chief procurement officer. Benedit, the employee who called in police detectives, said he had been fulfilling that role since 2005.

In December, Benedit filed a federal civil-rights suit and a Florida whistle-blower's suit against the city, charging that, in effect, he had been demoted because of his cooperation with the police.

Benedit also claimed that Brown was retaliating for his repeated complaints about a city employee having loud sex in the public-works office next to his.


Last month, the new procurement officer -- hired from Sarasota after a national search -- quit after her first day on the $105,000-a-year job.

Among the people who talked with her while she was here: Benedit.

``She couldn't believe I was suing the city. She was shocked.''

A new candidate has since been hired.

Friends say Brown, who has been spotted at the Village of Merrick Park and the Biltmore, has been seeking spiritual guidance and is trying to reconcile with his wife.

''He's struggled,'' said Gene Prescott, president of the company that runs the city-owned Biltmore and a Brown friend.

Added Slesnick: ``It's like a Greek tragedy. His undoing was personal issues that led him to an ending that was undignified and horrible.''


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Facebook 'Koobface' Viruses Getting Smarter, More Dangerous

Back in October, a virus by the name of Koobface, a nasty trickster that appeared in the form of messages pointing to supposedly racy videos, was reported. It worked by clicking a link in the message and then you'd be directed to download a new video player, which was in actuality the virus, itself, quickly taking over your profile and spreading to your friends. Koobface is sadly still around, now in its 28th revision, and is getting smarter and trickier, but no less annoying.

The basics are still the same: It's still shown as a link to a supposed video that prompts you to install a new version of Adobe's Flash player, the most common format used for Web videos. These days, though, that ambush page is a lot sneakier, showing the profile picture of the user whose compromised profile got you in the mess in the first place, and making the whole scam look more genuine. If you install the downloaded file, the virus will look into the stored information on your computer from Facebook, compromise your profile, and send itself to all your friends -- likely making them a little less than thrilled with you.

As before, the best way to avoid it is to make sure links to videos from friends are genuine. And if you see a message like the above, asking you to install a new version of Flash, don't do it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Citigroup to lower some mortgage payments

NEW YORK – Citigroup Inc. said Tuesday that it will lower mortgage payments for some homeowners to an average of $500 a month for three months as part of a new program to help the unemployed.

The struggling bank makes the move as President Barack Obama looks to lenders to adjust the way loans are handled.

Citigroup's new mortgage efforts also come on the heels of the latest attempt to bail out the company, which includes the U.S. government's exchange of up to $25 billion in emergency bailout money given to Citigroup for as much as a 36 percent equity stake in the company. The deal between the Treasury Department and Citigroup represents the third rescue attempt for the bank in the past five months.

Unemployed homeowners who may qualify for assistance from Citigroup under the Homeowner Unemployment Assist program include those that are 60 days or more past due on their mortgages or in foreclosure and can pay the reduced amount. Customers must also have a first mortgage loan that is owned and serviced by CitiMortgage Inc. and conforms to government sponsored enterprise limits. The house must also be the customer's primary residence, with homeowners meeting all insurer and guaranty requirements.

TO READ FULL ARTICLE: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090303/ap_on_bi_ge/citigroup_mortgages

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ten Ways Not To Find Money in Troubled Times

Do Not Make These Mistakes

Money. Everyone is looking for ways to find more of it these days. We've seen lots of advice on ways to find extra money in a pinch. But today personal finance experts Ken and Daria Dolan of Dolans.com expose 10 ways NOT to find extra money in a pinch.

If you need to get your hands on some extra money now, these might seem like easy solutions to your money problems. But in the long run, they can cost you a bundle.

1. Loan on Your 401(k)
Don't do it!! Your 401(k) is not a piggy bank. That money is for your retirement and retirement alone! So unless it's an absolute emergency, do not touch it. Even though you're paying the money back into YOUR account, you still have loan payments to make. Those loan payments may very well eat up the money you COULD have used to contribute more money to your 401(k). Plus you'll pay back that loan with money you've already been taxed on... and then when you finally withdraw it at retirement, you have to pay taxes on it again! Double taxes. What a waste!

2. Cash Advance on Your Credit Card
Need quick access to some cold, hard cash? Your friendly credit card company would be more than happy to help. They make it super easy to take out a cash advance, put you'll pay through the nose for the privilege. Cash advance loans carry an OUTRAGEOUS interest rate -- usually 20-25! And that doesn't even include any transaction fees. Oh, and here's the kicker…there is NO grace period with a cash advance. You start owing interest the SECOND you take out that money!

3. Tax Refund Anticipation Loan
Once upon a time, if you were owed a tax refund, you actually had to wait for Uncle Sam to send it to you. Well, in our recent "I want it NOW" economy, the refund anticipation loan (or RFL) was born.

These loans may be "convenient," but they are anything but cheap. By the time you add up the loan application fees along with finance charges, rush fees and more, it'll cost you a pretty penny to get an RFL. (Expect to pay $50 or more for a mere $200 refund!)

4. Payday Loans
This is another short-term loan that can really rake you over the coals. Say your rent or mortgage is due on the 1st of the month but you don't get paid until the 5th... and you don't have two nickels to rub together to pay that rent. That's what the payday loan company is for. They'll loan you anywhere between $100 and $1,000 (depending on your state) and will charge you as high as 100% or more for the privilege! On top of it all, since the payments are so high, borrowers find themselves short of money before their NEXT paycheck and have to do it all over again...

5. Car Title Loan
You should avoid title loan companies at all costs. Here's how it works: You give them your car title in exchange for an exorbitantly high interest loan. What's exorbitant -- try triple digits. We've seen rates of 250% from some of these loan sharks. People with severe money problems think they'll just pay the loan off early and avoid that high interest. Instead, they end up NOT able to pay at all one month... and they then lose their car.

6. Cash in Life Insurance
Where do we start?! This is a bad idea all around. First of all, it means your loved ones no longer have the insurance protection you know they need. Second, if you cash out your life insurance policy, you'll owe income tax on any amount you receive that's OVER what you paid in premiums. And as with most things things that get you cash fasts, there are fees involved! We've also been asked about borrowing against your policy, but that's not better. If you die before repaying the loan, that loan amount will be subtracted from the death benefit and your family will pay the price!

7. Break a CD
While it may be tempting to break a CD that's earning a paltry interest, here are two big reasons not to -- interest and penalties.If you cash in a CD before it matures, you'll owe an early-withdrawal penalty. The amount varies but is typically three months worth of interest on CDs of less than 18 months or six months of interest on 2+ year CDs.

So to put it in perspective, cashing in a two-year, $10,000 CD earning 4% would cost you about $200.

8. Home Equity Line of Credit
A home equity loan used to be a super simple way to get cash. The fact that so many of us used our home equity like a piggy bank is part of why we're in this financial mess! But today, with housing values plummeting and banks clamping down on lending, many of us couldn't get a home equity loan if we tried.

Even if you could, we don't recommend it unless it's a last resort. Not only will you have less (possibly even ZERO) equity in your home in the event of a true emergency, but you'll also have a hefty monthly loan to pay every month.

9. Pawn Shop
Sure, you can get "cash on the spot" at a pawn shop... but you'll also get far LESS cash than if you sold your precious goods on your own! Pawn shops LOVE people in money trouble. They know that a desperate person is willing to part with a sentimental piece of jewelry or work of art because they need the money. They take advantage of that by paying only a tiny fraction of what the piece is worth. Here's a better idea: If you really need to sell one of your valuables, take it first to a jeweler or other appraiser and see how much it's worth. Then sell it on the open market (garage sale, Craig's list, classified ad, etc.).

10. Gold Parties
Gold parties are all the rage. A host invites you to a wine-and-cheese shindig where you bring any gold trinkets you're willing to part with -- jewelry, coins... even teeth! You get paid a certain amount for the goods (depending on the weight and quality) and leave the party with some cash. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast. Even though gold is fetching close to $1,000 an ounce, you won't get top dollar. If you really want to sell your gold, go to a legitimate dealer to do it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey dies, 90

Paul Harvey, the legendary radio host whose career sharing "the rest of the story" with listeners spanned more than 70 years, has died, according to ABC Radio Networks.

He was 90.

Harvey died at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where he kept a winter home, said Louis Adams, a spokesman for the networks. He was surrounded by family members when he died, Adams said.

Known for his deliberate delivery and pregnant pauses, Harvey's broadcasts were heard on more than 1,200 radio stations and 400 Armed Forces networks and his commentaries appeared in 300 newspapers, according to his Web site.

He had been hosting his radio shows part-time for much of the past year, after recovering from physical ailments including pneumonia and the death of his wife, Lynne "Angel" Harvey, in May 2008.

"My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news," said Harvey's son, Paul Harvey Jr., in a written statement. "So, in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents and today millions have lost a friend."

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harvey began his radio career in 1933 at KVOO-AM there while he was still in high school, his Web site says. He helped clean the station and was eventually was allowed to fill in on air, reading news and commercials.

"Paul Harvey was one of the most gifted and beloved broadcasters in our nation's history," ABC Radio Networks President Jim Robinson said in a written statement. "As he delivered the news each day with his own unique style and commentary, his voice became a trusted friend in American households."

Some critics faulted Harvey for the way he seamlessly intertwined news stories with advertisements, which he often read in his own voice in the middle of a story.

But his accolades were plentiful -- from his 1990 induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President George W. Bush in 2005.

"Paul was a friendly and familiar voice in the lives of millions of Americans," Bush said Saturday in a written statement. "His commentary entertained, enlightened, and informed. Laura and I are pleased to have known this fine man, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

The cause of Harvey's death was no immediately known. He was forced off the air temporarily in 2001 because of a virus that weakened a vocal cord.

Understanding Short Sales

As real estate foreclosure rates hit record levels, more sellers are turning to short sales as a way to avoid foreclosure. So, how does it work? In a short sale, the seller arranges with their mortgage lender to accept a price that's less than the amount they owe on the property. As part of this arrangement, the lender typically agrees to forgive the rest of the loan. As a result, the seller doesn't have to go though a foreclosure, the buyer picks up a property at a discount, and the lender avoids taking on the burden of unloading the property.

Sounds good right? Well, sellers need to know that a short sale may damage their credit, though probably not as much as a foreclosure. Also, lenders generally will only agree to a short sale if the seller is many payments behind and has received a default notice. Buyers may get a great property at a discount, but they also will need to go through some extra paperwork too. Not to mention, they also need to be prepared to roll up their sleeves if that new property needs fixing up.

President Obama's Stimulus Plan and Your Taxes

Bonkers would like to make some sense of our financial difficulty and provide you with as much information as we can about it. This next segment is from our colleagues at SmartMoney analyzing President Obama's stimulus plan, and most importantly, what it means to you and your family.

Every day, SmartMoney will break down and focus on an aspect of the stimulus plan.

Today's lesson from SmartMoney include tips about home-buyer credits, the AMT, education credits and unemployment payments.

We hope that this information, as well as all our other information, will be of benefit to you.

What Insurance Do You Need?

I remember playing the board game 'Life' when I was little, and I would never purchase the insurance. Sure enough, I paid for that choice when my little plastic car landed on a 'tragedy' space, like a house fire, and I had to cough up my play money. Now that I am older, I don't want to learn that lesson the hard way, so I make sure that I am sufficiently covered in case of an accident. After all, you can't put a price tag on peace of of mind.

Most state's find insurance coverage so important that they mandate coverage, especially in the case of auto insurance. My home state recently enacted a law that also requires residents to hold their own health insurance. The importance of these two insurances pushed them to the top of our most searched lists.

Shopping for insurance can be difficult because there are so many things to consider. How much do you want to pay? How much protection will your coverage provide? Are you eligible for a discount insurance?

These are the types of questions that run through everyone's head when shopping for insurance. Luckily, you can compare insurance and get online insurance quotes to make your shopping easier.

What insurance do you think is most beneficial? For more information on insurance and to get free insurance quotes, go to AOL Money & Finance and search insurance on AOL Search.

Top Searched Insurance on AOL Search:
1. Health insurance
2. Auto insurance
3. Life insurance
4. Dental insurance
5. Travel insurance
6. Pet insurance
7. Homeowners insurance
8. Farmers insurance
9. Unemployment insurance
10. Business insurance

Donate to Those in Need

It is amazing how a small act of kindness can make such a large difference in someone else's life. We get so caught up in our busy schedules that we fail to look after those less fortunate than we are. Times are tough right now and there are many ways you can make a difference. Whether you donate time, money or unwanted goods, a small effort can have a big impact.

Websites like AOL Classifieds, Craigslist and Freecycle make it easy to get rid of unwanted things around the house, and sometimes make a little extra cash. However, your donations are well needed elsewhere. Before you begin your spring cleaning this year, consider donating to those in need. Check out our top searched lists of the different ways you can donate.

How do you help those in need? Search for more ways to donate and community service opportunities here on AOL Search.

Top Searched Ways to Donate on AOL Search:
1. Donate your car
2. Donate clothes
3. Donate organs
4. Donate furniture
5. Donate hair
6. Donate blood
7. Donate books
8. Donate eyeglasses
9. Donate timeshare
10. Donate cell phones

"Milk" the movie

Revolutionary Road
By Hilton Als
a film directed by Gus Van Sant

"On the surface, Milk isn't a terribly complicated film. Whatever complexity it has is revealed subtly, intermittently. As a description of the final eight years of Harvey Bernard Milk's life, it's fairly accurate. The screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black—Mormon-raised and a former writer and producer on the Mormon-themed, critically lauded television series Big Love—pretty much follows the standard biopic formula: subject grapples with self, finds self, becomes a public self, weathers controversy, triumphs personally and/or professionally, and then dies. Black's attempts to dress up this schema in the gay trappings afforded by his subject do nothing to meaningfully pervert the form—or Milk's emotional tidiness.

"We watch, with varying degrees of interest, as Sean Penn, in the title role, rises from opera-loving, affable San Francisco merchant to be one of the first openly gay politicians elected to public office in the US. Though the film's emotional trajectory may bear no outward resemblance to, say, Steven Spielberg's Schindler morphing from playboy to savior, the moral message is essentially the same: the road to redemption is paved by good works..."

FOR FULL ARTICLE: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22411