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Bell ringing for Salvation Army becomes friendly competition

STAUNTON, Va. — She can’t quite remember when it started, but it had to be nearly a decade ago that Virginia Reid, or Ginny as her friends call her, began organizing the women at her church to ring the bell for Salvation Army.

For one day each year, 12 women from the First Presbyterian Church here take one-hour shifts by the red kettle at the Food Lion on Coalter Street, while 86-year-old Reid keeps watch.

In only six hours on the Friday before Thanksgiving last year, the women took in $1,250.

To read the full story: Bell ringing for Salvation Army becomes friendly competition


Businesses offer a bit of thanks to veterans through perks

From free meals at restaurants to free admission to national parks, active-duty and retired military personnel are being offered more perks than ever as the nation marks Veterans Day today, veterans groups say.

Mel Brody, chairman of the United Veterans of Arizona, which represents 625,000 veterans in 49 organizations, says he has seen a big increase. “More and more people are jumping on the bandwagon,” he says.

Jeffrey Dunn, 30, of West Caldwell, N.J., who served two tours of duty in Iraq, has also noticed a change.

“There’s definitely been a rise,” Dunn says. “I think America as a whole has come more to terms with separating war from the warrior.”

To read the full story: Business offer a bit of thanks to veterans through perks


States look at corporate plates to help with deficits

Michael Coburn of Allen, Texas, has been a RE/Max agent for 23 years, so when a license plate with the company’s red, white and blue balloon logo became available at the end of last year, he bought one for himself that reads MRREMX and one for his wife, Debra, MSREMX.

“It’s a really good marketing strategy,” he says, adding that a buyer chose him as a Realtor after seeing his plate. “Everybody likes to show pride in their company, and it gets you business.”

Facing another year of budget cuts, some cash-strapped states are looking at corporate logo license plates as a way to add dollars to their coffers.

To read the full story: States look at corporate plates to help with deficits


Local food movement spurs canning trend: Get those jars ready

Merrilee Olson of Sebastopol, Calif., remembers when she was little watching her grandmother can foods.

At the time, she says, she had little interest in learning the technique. Now, at 55, she runs PreserveSonoma, a year-old business and website through which she teaches preserving methods and works with local farmers.

Once dismissed as a tradition of a bygone era, canning is making a comeback. “There’s a lot of interest in these old ways,” says Olson, who attributes the growth to the local-food movement and food-safety concerns. “It’s funny because in my generation growing up, we had no interest in this.”

To read the full story: Local food movement spurs canning trend: Get those jars ready


IPads saving cities paper costs

Soon after Hampton, Va., Mayor Molly Ward bought an iPad for her personal use last spring, she started thinking of an application of her own — one that might save her town both paper and money.

Ward decided it would make both environmental and fiscal sense for the Hampton City Council to switch from paper to iPads for conducting official business.

The council agreed and last month made the move that Ward says will save $18,000 annually in paper costs. The devices for the six other council members totaled $4,200, she says.

Hampton joins a growing number of municipalities — from Williamsburg, Va., to Albertville, Ala., to Redwood City, Calif. — that are turning to iPads to conduct government business.

To read the full story: IPads saving cities paper costs


Pa. tries vino vending machines

Shoppers have long used vending machines to buy products from chewing gum to DVDs, and in Pennsylvania, they can add wine to that list — as long as they are willing to take a breath test.

Pennsylvania, one of nine state governments involved in retail alcohol sales, is taking a step toward allowing wine to be sold at grocery stores, but not right off the supermarket shelf as in most states. Instead, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is testing wine vending machines that require an ID and a breath test for intoxication, making the state the first in the nation to try the kiosks.

The wine vending machines, which can hold more than 700 bottles, were introduced at grocery stores in Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg in late June, and if they are a hit, the board plans to add 98 kiosks statewide in the fall, said Patrick Stapleton, chairman of the PLCB.

To read the full story: Pa. tries vino vending machines


Budget cuts leave tall grass, weeds

Budget woes are cutting down the ability of states and cities to tend to tall grass and causing safety concerns along roadways across the USA.

In some states, cities have been forced to take over mowing that used to be handled state agencies. In Virginia, volunteers are mowing along some roadways.

John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, says the organization has been receiving complaints about the tall grass and is concerned for motorists.

“When you have overgrown grass that’s up to waist-high, that’s a safety issue,” he says. “In some states it may be years before patches of grass are cut so that will create more dangers at ramps and intersections.”

To read the full story: Budget cuts leave tall grass, weeds


Homeowners charged for winter’s snow

The unusually heavy snowstorms of last winter may be melting into memory, but the cold reality of what it cost to clear all that snow is hitting some homeowners in the pocket.

Homeowners associations in states where the storms hit hardest, including Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware, as well as in Washington, D.C, are charging owners extra fees for the snow removal and putting projects on hold as they scramble to cover the extra expenses.

“In many cases, the snow removal was five to 10 times what people budgeted,” says Mel Herzberger, president of American Community Management, which manages 170 communities in the Baltimore-Washington area.

To read the full story: Homeowners charged for winter’s snow


In-school banks dispense financial sense

When students at Carter High School in Strawberry Plains, Tenn., forget their lunch money, they don’t have to worry about going hungry.

Instead, they wander over to one of the five tellers who work at the student-run bank, where they can withdraw money from their savings accounts or fill out short applications for a $5 loan, all without leaving the building, says Lynn Raymond, a banking and finance teacher at the school.”We’re easing them into learning about borrowing money and the responsibilities that go along with that,” Raymond says of the experience students receive at the bank, which opened Feb. 16 in partnership with First Century Bank.

“It’s just so important because so many people get in trouble financially,” she says.

To read the full story: In-school banks dispense financial sense


Study: People would donate kidney for money
Paying people for living kidney donations would increase the supply of the organs and would not result in a disproportionate number of poor donors, a study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center concludes.

The study, published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, asked 342 participants whether they would donate a kidney with varying payments of $0, $10,000 and $100,000. The study called for a real-world test of a regulated payment system.The possibility of payments nearly doubled the number of participants in the study who said they would donate a kidney to a stranger, but it did not influence those with lower income levels more than those with higher incomes, according to Scott Halpern, one of the study’s authors and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics.

To read the full story: Study: People would donate kidneys for money


Eco-conscious rest easy going green eternally

If you’re living a green lifestyle, it turns out you can take it with you.

Cemeteries and funeral homes across the USA are offering environmentally friendly burials featuring formaldehyde-free fluids for embalming and biodegradable caskets made of pine, wicker or even cardboard.

Green burials are available in nearly 30 cemeteries nationwide, up from a handful at the start of 2008, says Joe Sehee, executive director and president of the Green Burial Council, a non-profit organization that encourages environmentally sustainable death care.

To read the full story: Eco-conscious rest easy going green eternally


Sales of personal breathalyzers spike

A growing number of people are using personal breathalyzers to test themselves, family members and friends for alcohol impairment.

The personal breathalyzer market is valued at $215.2 million, up from $27.9 million in 2005, according to Susan Eustis, president and CEO of WinterGreen Research, which does market analysis for industries such as health care and telecommunications.

Both AAA and law enforcement officials question the accuracy of personal breathalyzers and discourage their use in making decisions about driving.

To read the full story: Sales of personal breathalyzers spike


Energy Dept. awards money for electric cars

The federal government and some states are plugging into the future of electric cars with subsidies to develop charging stations. But their plans are generating opposition.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $2.4 billion in stimulus money in August to build electric vehicles and support them with charging stations. The goal is to promote clean energy and reduce U.S. dependence on oil, says David Sandalow, assistant secretary of Energy for policy and international affairs.

The largest of 48 approved projects — out of 250 proposals for stimulus grants— is with Arizona-based Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. (eTec), which signed a $99.8 million contract with the Energy Department last month. Some of the money will pay for charging stations in 11 cities in five states by 2011, according to Colin Read, vice president of corporate development for Ecotality, eTec’s parent company.

To read the full story: Energy Dept. awards money for electric cars


Thieves skim credit card data at fuel pumps

gaspumpx-largeCustomers and police agencies across the USA are dealing with another pain at the pump — thieves who install hard-to-detect electronic devices at stations to steal credit and debit card data.

The skimmed data are used to create cards used at the victims’ expense, says James Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research, a financial consulting firm that focuses on fraud and identity theft.

To read the full story: Thieves skim credit card data at fuel pumps



Amish cases highlight beliefs

Andy Swartzentruber and Sam Yoder, of tiny Ebensburg, Pa., face sentencing Thursday for violating state sewage laws. The two Amish men were found guilty in April of building outhouses without sewage permits and of discharging untreated sewage into the ground.

The men, who chose not to have legal representation, sent a handwritten letter to the Sewage Enforcement Agency in January explaining their reasons:

“We feel this sewage plan enforcement along with its standards is against our religion (beliefs). Our forefathers and the church are conscientiously opposed to install the sewage method accordingly to the world’s standards.”

To read the full story: Amish cases highlight beliefs



Shipping containers become distinctive housing on land

An outside-the-box idea has some architects and home-buyers turning to inside-the-box eco-friendly, affordable housing that uses as building blocks the 8-by-40-foot steel containers often left vacant at seaports.

Mainly an “experiment” at this time, the homes have the potential to take off in the industry, said Bill Gati, a member of the American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Design Committee.

“It’s cutting-edge, and people that use it are considered mavericks and trail blazers,” he said.

To read the full story: Shipping containers become distinctive housing on land



New toll lanes make drivers pay to avoid congestion

Already facing $4 a gallon at the pump, drivers in a growing number of states are tempted to pay even more for a quicker ride home.

Transportation agencies are increasingly looking to reduce congestion and make more use of sometimes under-utilized high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

Some are developing plans to allow vehicles that don’t have the required number of passengers to use the lanes if they are willing to pay.

There are high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. Construction in at least five states is slated to begin in the next year.

To read the full story: New toll lanes make drivers pay to avoid congestion


eticketxElectronic citations speed up ticketing process for police

Police agencies and troopers in several states are tossing out handwritten tickets in favor of electronic citations as a way to improve accuracy and save time.

With the quick swipe or scan of a driver’s license, officers are able to enter the location, type of violation and print the ticket all from a handheld device, said Chief Deputy Derrick Cunningham of the Montgomery County (Ala.) Sheriff’s Office.

To read the full story: Electronic citations speed up ticketing process for police


New GPS-savvy, solar signs help bus riders connect in real time

As the demand for customer-friendly, real-time information increases, more cities, counties and states are going high tech at the bus stop.

Cities are investing thousands of dollars in solar and Global Positioning System technology to provide up-to-the-minute information to passengers on when the next bus will arrive as more people opt for public transit.

“With the gas prices rising, transit is becoming more and more of an option for people to afford to get to work. We need to try and improve the experience of transit and make it more easily usable for our citizens,” said Lorin Swirsky, information technology manager for Broward County (Fla.) Transportation Department.

To read the full story: New GPS-savvy, solar signs help bus riders connect in real time


plame2Valerie Plame talks of future

Valerie Plame Wilson was on a covert operation.

Her mission was clear as she walked briskly through downtown State College.

Finally, she found her target: a store open before 11 on a Sunday morning where she could buy Nittany Lion sweatpants and knit hats for her 8-year-old twins in an effort to turn them into Penn State fans.

In the 23 years since Wilson attended Penn State, the former CIA spy’s life has taken several unexpected turns, culminating in the leak of her identity in The Washington Post.

To read the full story: Valerie Plame talks of future



One-on-one with Obama

As a crowd of nearly 22,000 prepared to invade Old Main lawn, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., stood in a dairy barn.

But before they arrived at the Penn State Dairy Complex, Obama, along with Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., went back to the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel around 10 a.m. in sweatpants after a pick-up game of basketball at the Bryce Jordan Center. Obama cordially greeted a small crowd eagerly awaiting his arrival in the lobby, shaking hands and taking pictures.

An hour later, everyone climbed into buses and SUVs, led by a police escort to travel to the Dairy Complex, where Obama received a tour of the facilities.

With Casey at his side, Obama met several Penn State agricultural representatives and learned about the university’s research, in areas from animal rumination to biodiesel and energy efficiency.

To read the full story: One-on-one with Obama