August 1, 2012
Twin sisters, Shaakira White and Zaakira Mitchell of South Carolina, gave birth just an hour apart on July 24th - and one gave birth to twins. Mitchell was accompanying her sister to her doctor’s appointment, and then suddenly they both went into labor.

December 2, 2012
By Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess, Samuel Weigley and Ashley C. Allen | 24/7 Wall St

How well run are America’s 50 states? The answer depends a lot on where you live.

Every year, 24/7 Wall St. conducts an extensive survey of all fifty states in America. Based on a review of data on financial health, standard of living and government services by state we determine how well each state is managed. For the first time, North Dakota is the best run. California is the worst run for the second year in a row.

The successful management of a state is difficult to measure. Factors that affect its finances and population may be the result of decisions made years ago. A state’s difficulties can be caused by poor governance or by external factors, such as extreme weather.

A state with abundant natural resources should have an easier time balancing its budget than one starved for resources. Regional problems or the national decline of certain industries can destroy local economies. The subprime mortgage crisis, for example, disproportionately affected states with strong construction and real estate markets.

Such factors can be easily identified and noted as possible causes for a state’s poverty levels, unemployment, or strained coffers.

Despite this, it is the responsibility of each state to deal with the resources at its disposal. Each government must anticipate economic shifts and diversify its industries and attract new business. A state should be able to raise enough revenue to ensure the safety of its citizens and minimize hardship without spending more than it can prudently afford. Some states have historically done this much better than others.

To determine how well the states are run, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed hundreds of data sets from dozens of sources. We looked at each state’s debt, revenue, expenditure and deficit to determine how well it is managed fiscally. We reviewed taxes, exports, and GDP growth, including a breakdown by sector, to identify how each state is managing its resources. We looked at poverty, income, unemployment, high school graduation, violent crime and foreclosure rates to measure if residents are prospering.

The best-run states have certain characteristics in common, as do the worst run. The high-ranking states all have well-managed budgets. Each of the top ten has a perfect, or near-perfect, credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, or both. Of the ten worst-ranked, only three received top scores from one agency, and none from both.

California is currently the only state rated A- by S&P, the lowest score given to any state. These poor-ranked states have high debt relative to both income and expenditure.

There is a strong correlation between well-educated populations and generally well-managed states. Of the ten best-scoring states on our list, nine have among the highest percentages of adults with high school diplomas.

Employment is also closely correlated to how well a state is managed. The unemployment rates of most of the poorly ranked states are among the highest in the country. Nine of the ten best-ranked states had an unemployment rate of less than 7% in 2011. This includes North Dakota, which had the lowest rate in the country in 2011, at just 3.6%. The average unemployment rate nationwide was 8.9% in 2011.

Best-Run States:

1. North Dakota

> Debt per capita: $3,282 (22nd lowest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 3.5% (the lowest)
> Median household income: $51,704 (20th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.2% (13th lowest)

For the first time, North Dakota ranks as the best run state in the country. In recent years, North Dakota’s oil boom has transformed its economy. Last year, crude oil production rose 35%. As of August, 2012, it was the second-largest oil producer in the country. This was due to the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state’s Bakken shale formation. The oil and gas boom brought jobs to North Dakota, which had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in 2011 at 3.5%, and economic growth. Between 2010 and 2011, North Dakota’s GDP jumped 7.6%, by far the largest increase in the nation. This growth has also increased home values, which rose a nation-leading 29% between 2006 and 2011. North Dakota and Montana are the only two states that have not reported a budget shortfall since fiscal 2009.

2. Wyoming

> Debt per capita: $2,694 (18th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 10.3% (32nd largest)
> Unemployment: 6.0% (7th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,322 (13th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.3% (6th lowest)

Wyoming is not the best-run state in the nation this year. The drop is largely due to the state’s contracting economy. In 2011, GDP shrunk by 1.2%, more than any other state. As a whole, however, the state is a model of good management and a prospering population. The state is particularly efficient at managing its debt, owing the equivalent of just 20.4% of annual revenue in fiscal 2010. Wyoming also has a tax structure that, according to the Tax Foundation, is the nation’s most-favorable for businesses — it does not have any corporate income taxes. The state has experienced an energy boom in recent years. The mining industry, which includes oil and gas extracting, accounted for 29.4% of the state’s GDP in 2011 alone, more than in any other state. As of last year, Wyoming’s poverty, home foreclosure, and unemployment rates were all among the lowest in the nation.

3. Nebraska

> Debt per capita: $1,279 (2nd lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.7% (34th largest)
> Unemployment: 4.4% (2nd lowest)
> Median household income: $50,296 (22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.1% (tied-15th lowest)

Last year, Nebraska had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.4%. In Lincoln, the state capital, the unemployment rate was 4%, lower than all metropolitan areas in the country, except Bismarck and Fargo in North Dakota. Although far from the nation’s wealthiest state — median income was slightly lower than the U.S. median of $50,502 — Nebraska’s economy is strong relative to the rest of the U.S. The state is one of the leading agricultural producers, with the sector accounting for 8.3% of the state’s GDP last year. The state also had the second-lowest debt per capita in the country in fiscal 2010, at $1,279, compared to an average of $3,614 for states nationwide.

4. Utah

> Debt per capita: $2,356 (15th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 14.7% (25th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.7% (tied-11th lowest)
> Median household income: $55,869 (14th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.5% (tied-17th lowest)

In fiscal 2011, Utah had a budget deficit of $700 million, equal to 14.7% of the state’s GDP. This debt-to-GDP ratio is worse than half the states in the U.S. Despite these problems, Utah has committed to reducing expenses in place of raising taxes or increasing debt. The state has also limited its borrowing. Its total debt was just under $6.5 billion in fiscal 2010, or $2,356 per capita — less than most states — and 40.4% of 2010 tax revenue. Both Moody’s and S&P gave Utah their highest credit ratings because of the state’s strong fiscal management. Moody’s commented that Utah has a “tradition of conservative fiscal management; rebuilding of budgetary reserves after their use in the recession; [and] a closely managed debt portfolio.”

5. Iowa

> Debt per capita: $1,690 (7th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 20.3% (18th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.9% (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,427 (24th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.8% (14th lowest)

Like many of the other well-run states, Iowa is one of the nation’s top agricultural centers — the industry accounted for 6.6% of the state’s GDP in 2011. The farm economy has contributed significantly to growth, with farm earnings rising rapidly and land values skyrocketing. State GDP rose by 1.9% between 2010 and 2011 — the 12th-highest increase in the country. Iowa’s unemployment rate fell from 6.3% in 2010 to just 5.9% in 2011, the nation’s sixth-lowest rate. The state has carried a low debt burden in recent years, averaging just $1,690 per capita in fiscal 2010, among the nation’s lowest. The state currently has the best possible credit ratings both from Moody’s and S&P.

Worst-Run States:

50. California

> Debt per capita: $4,008 (18th highest)
> Budget deficit: 20.7% (17th largest)
> Unemployment: 11.7% (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $57,287 (10th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.6% (18th highest)

California is 24/7 Wall St.’s “Worst Run State” for the second year in a row. Due to high levels of debt, the state’s S&P credit rating is the worst of all states, while its Moody’s credit rating is the second-worst. Much of California’s fiscal woes involve the economic downturn. Home prices plunged by 33.6% between 2006 and 2011, worse than all states except for three. The state’s foreclosure rate and unemployment rate were the third- and second-highest in the country, respectively. But efforts to get finances on track are moving forward. State voters passed a ballot initiative to raise sales taxes as well as income taxes for people who make at least $250,000 a year. While median income is the 10th-highest in the country, the state also has one of the highest tax burdens on income. According to the Tax Foundation, the state also has the third-worst business tax climate in the country.

49. Rhode Island

> Debt per capita: $9,018 (3rd highest)
> Budget deficit: 13.4% (28th largest)
> Unemployment: 11.3% (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $53,636 (17th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.7% (24th lowest)

Rhode Island’s finances were a mess in fiscal 2010. The state had $9.5 billion in unpaid debts, which came to 107.2% of that year’s revenues.At more than $9,000 per person, it’s one of the largest debt burdens in the country. The state also funded less than half of its pension obligations, worse than all states except for Illinois. In 2010, in a spectacular example of fiscal mismanagement, the state guaranteed a $75 million loan to a video game company, which has since defaulted. With one of the nation’s slowest growth rates and the third-highest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 11.3%, Rhode Island’s economy performed poorly overall.

48. Illinois

> Debt per capita: $4,790 (11th highest)
> Budget deficit: 40.2% (2nd largest)
> Unemployment: 9.8% (tied-10th highest)
> Median household income: $53,234 (18th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 15.0% (25th highest)

Although many states have budget issues, Illinois’ faces among the biggest problems. In 2010, the state’s budget shortfall was more than 40% of its general fund, the second-highest of any state. Both S&P and Moody’s gave Illinois credit ratings that were the second-worst of all states. In addition, the state only funded 45% of its pension liability in 2010, the lowest percentage of any state. Governor Patrick Quinn has made the now-$85 billion pension gap a top priority for the new legislative session beginning in January.

47. Arizona

> Debt per capita: $2,188 (12th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 39.0% (3rd largest)
> Unemployment: 9.5% (tied-13th highest)
> Median household income: $46,709 (21st lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.0% (tied-8th highest)

Between 2006 and 2011, the value of homes in Arizona tumbled by 35%, more than every state except for Nevada. The state also had the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate in 2011, with one in every 24 homes in foreclosure. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Arizona had some of the nation’s largest budget shortfalls. In fiscal 2010, the state had a shortfall of $5.1 billion, equal to 65% of its general fund. In fiscal 2011, Arizona’s budget deficit was 39.0% of its general fund, the third-highest in the nation. In the recent state elections, residents voted on several measures intended to shore up the state’s finances. Voters rejected the continuation of a sales tax hike, while approving the restructuring of the state’s property tax assessment system.

46. New Jersey

> Debt per capita: $6,944 (5th highest)
> Budget deficit: 38.2% (4th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.3% (14th highest)
> Median household income: $67,458 (3rd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.4% (3rd lowest)

Between 2010 and 2011, New Jersey’s GDP contracted by 0.5%, more than all but three other states. The state’s median household income and poverty rate were both third best in the nation. On the other hand, the state’s tax burden on its residents was second highest in the U.S. in 2010. Residents paid 12.4% of their income in state and local taxes, higher than any other state except New York. The state has many budget problems, as well. New Jersey’s debt as a percentage of revenue was 91.6%, the fifth-highest of all states.


24/7 Wall St. considered data from a number of sources, including Standard & Poor’s, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Tax Foundation, RealtyTrac, The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Conference of State Legislators.

Unemployment data was taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Credit ratings were from ratings agencies S&P and Moody’s. We relied on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for violent crime rate by state and large metropolitan areas. RealtyTrac provided foreclosure rates.

A significant amount of the data we used came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Data from ACS included percentage of residents below the poverty line, high school completion for those 25 and older, median household income, percentage of the population without health insurance and the change in median home values from 2006 to 2011. These are the values we used in our ranking.

Once we reviewed the sources and compiled the final metrics, we ranked each state based on its performance in all the categories. All data are for the full year 2011, with the exception of debt per capita, obtained from the Tax Foundation, and state budgetary data, which came from the U.S. Census Bureau, and is for fiscal year 2010. New to this year’s study was our more detailed review of state industry for 2011, from the the Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports per capita for 2011, from the Census Bureau, and the 2010 tax burden and the current tax business climate, from the Tax Foundation.

How did your state do?

October 19, 2012

It's no secret that President Obama and the First Lady have a pretty solid relationship with Jay-Z and Beyoncé, but while we've heard plenty about their interactions, fans are still curious what a conversation between the Obamas and the Carters sound like.

Well, according to Obama, it's actually nothing out of the ordinary.

"I've gotten to know these guys over the first several years. They're good people," the president said during an interview with Cleveland radio station Z107.9. "Beyonc— could not be sweeter to Michelle and the girls. So they're good friends. We talk about the same things I talk about with all my friends."

And what exactly does the president to talk all of his friends about? Family, of course.

"I made sure that Jay-Z was helping Beyoncé out [with the baby], and not leaving it all with Beyonc&8212; and the mother-in-law," he added. Who better to give Jay-Z advice about being raising a little girl while balancing a hectic work schedule?

In September, Jay-Z and Beyonc— co-hosted a fundraiser for the POTUS at the 40/40 club in New York City, charging $40,000 a plate and raising $4 million to support Obama's re-election campaign. Just last week, the Brooklyn-bred rapper appeared in a new campaign ad for Obama.

"For so long, there was a voice that was silenced out there as far as exercising the right to vote," Jay says in the video, going on to emphasize Obama's accomplishments as the first African American president. "I think it was a voice that was silenced because people had lost hope. They didn't believe that their voice mattered or counted. Now people are exercising their right, and you're starting to see the power of our vote. He made it mean something for the first time, for a lot of people."

In Tuesday night's presidential debate, Mitt Romney and Obama butted heads over the job market and auto industry bailout in Detroit, and the two have dedicated extra time campaigning in swing state Ohio. During his interview, the president emphasized the things he's accomplished over the past four years, and promised that he'll only continue to push forward, in Ohio and beyond.

"Think about all the things we've already gotten done," he said. "We saved an auto industry, saved a million jobs throughout Ohio and Michigan, we've gotten health care reform, we have made sure that we expanded student loan programs and Pell Grant programs; so a lot of stuff has gotten done, but we have a lot more to do. My hope is we have a decisive victory in this election, that Republicans, who spent a lot of time worry about trying to beat me, will start focusing on trying to improve the country."

December 28, 2012

Blackberry's current phones have struggled to compete with the iPhone and Android handsets

Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) has seen its profits plunge, and reported the first fall in quarterly subscription numbers in the company's history.

The Canadian firm made a net profit of $9m (£5.5m) in the three months to 1 December, down from $265m a year ago.

During the quarter, its global subscriber base fell to 79 million from 80 million.

RIM hopes to revive its fortunes with a new operating system.

The Blackberry 10 system will be introduced from 30 January on a new range of handsets.

RIM's revenues for the quarter totalled $2.7bn, down 47% from a year earlier.

The company has struggled in recent years to compete with the popular iPhone and Android handsets.

Analysts said the results were broadly as expected, but that the fall in subscriber numbers was a concern.

"The one troubling metric is their subscriber base - it came in at 79 million, so they actually lost subscribers this quarter," said Mark McKechnie, research analyst at Evercore Partners.

"They've been able to offset losses in the US by gaining subscribers internationally, but it looks like this quarter they just weren't able to do that."

September 27, 2012
'I don't even like the word politics. It implies something underhanded,' Jay-Z told MTV News on Wednesday night.

There's absolutely no telling what Jay-Z will do next. After Hov is done selling multiplatinum albums, signing new superstars and opening up sporting arenas in his native Brooklyn, maybe he'll consider a future in politics--or maybe not.

"I don't even like the word politics. It implies something underhanded and I think we need less government," Jay-Z told MTV News while he walked the record carpet at his 40/40 Club in Manhattan to celebrate the release of the "NBA 2K13" video game, a title which he executive produced.

While a rapper in office may seem far-fetched, Jay's close relationship with President Barack Obama led many to wonder if the music mogul has his sights set on public office. But Jay isn't so turned on by the idea. "To be honest with you I think a lot of people are serving their own agendas, so they just argue back and forth and they think about their next term," he said. "And it's more about themselves than about the people. They're servicing the people, but we rarely get anything done because they're going back and forth with whatever they're doing, so I'm not really into politics."

Still Jay whole-heartedly supports the President and even aided in his reelection campaign by throwing a fundraiser which brought in $4 million to the Obama camp on September 18. "I support Barack because I gotta respect that sort of vision. I gotta respect a man who is the first black President ever," he said. "To have that sort of vision and dream, I have to support that."

Back in 1991, then-President George Bush, Sr. had gangsta rapper Eazy-E over to the White House for a luncheon. It was a pretty big deal at the time, so for Jay to now be hosting fundraisers and have such a close relationship with the POTUS is surreal. "I'm still kind of numb about it, I can't figure it out like how this happened and this journey and everything that's going on," he said. "It's like way beyond the reach I thought hip-hop had. I knew it was the most powerful music worldwide, the culture itself, but it always amazes me the power that it has. Still, to this day."

November 14, 2012

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Ricardo, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, sets off each day before dawn looking for casual work in construction not knowing if he will return home to his wife and three children or get snared in an immigration sweep. Lately, he feels the pervasive fear slowly lifting.

Ricardo, 46, is among millions of Latino immigrants who, regardless of their immigration status, feel fresh optimism this week over newfound Republican willingness to consider immigration reform to avoid further alienating Hispanic voters who proved key to re-electing President Barack Obama.

Some leading Republicans have signaled a shift away from an enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration, with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner saying that a "comprehensive approach is long overdue."

"When we head out ... it's always with the fear that we might not all make it back home," Ricardo said in Spanish, perched on the couch in his Phoenix apartment with his wife, Alicia, 43. "But now you can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

The Obama administration, in a move that boosted support among Latino voters, said in June it would relax deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children can stay and work.

On Sunday, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said he and Republican Lindsey Graham had agreed to restart talks on a proposal that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the country - who number roughly 11.2 million.
Not since President George W. Bush's 2007 push for broad immigration reform, which ultimately died in the Senate, have Hispanics and other immigrants here heard such promising words.

For Ricardo and Alicia, who have stayed on in Arizona despite a state clamp down on illegal immigration designed to drive them out, comprehensive immigration reform holds out the possibility for a permanent status for themselves and a more secure future for their children.

The couple, who asked not to be identified by their last name, crossed over the desert to Arizona from Mexico 11 years ago and now work as a builder and house cleaner. They first sent the children, now 21, 16 and 13, to the United States by bus with false papers, then walked across the desert themselves.

Now fluent in English and Spanish, the children consider themselves Americans and the oldest is planning to apply for deferred deportation status. They felt threatened by the Arizona crackdown but decided not to flee.

"We've focused on working and bringing up our children honorably," said Alicia, adding that immigration reform "could make it easier for my children to carry on studying."

Latinos are the largest minority and the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, amounting to 10 percent of the voting public in last week's election, up from 8 percent in 2008 according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

They also largely supported Obama, with his backing among Hispanic voters in the election coming in at about 66 percent, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data, roughly in line with the percentage that voted for him four years ago.

"The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them," Florida Senator Marco Rubio said last week.

For Mexico-born Justino Mora, a student in Los Angeles who won temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules but whose mother remains undocumented, the new focus on immigration reform left him hopeful but wanting more.

"It's really strange knowing that my two siblings and I ... are protected from deportation and have the ability to work in the U.S., get a Social Security number and apply for a driver's license, but my mom does not," said Mora, 23.

Even as some Republicans have expressed willingness to consider an immigration overhaul, others including Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who has been at odds with the Obama administration on immigration policy, have resisted such calls.

Brewer, whose state requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop and suspect is in the country illegally, warned in a statement against rushing "head-long into a ‘solution' that only makes things worse."

With mixed messages from Republicans, some Latino immigrants remain wary about whether they could trust Republicans to represent their interests going forward.

"You can't trust them: They tell you one thing and they do something else ... There's a lot of them who don't like Hispanics," said Mexican day laborer Baltazar Lara, 54, as he risked arrest waiting to be hired outside a Phoenix-area Wal-Mart.

But Mexico-born Edder Diaz, 22, who volunteered to help register Hispanic voters across the Phoenix valley ahead of the election, said he remained open to the possibility of one day voting Republican should he win citizenship.

"For me, personally, I see myself as independent ... If a Republican understands my needs ... I may vote for them," said Diaz. "Up to this point they have only been playing political games to get themselves elected. There may be a possibility."

August 21, 2012
Small Businesses Say Raise The Minimum Wage
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and business advocates call for renewed focus and legislation to pay Americans wages that they can live on

It’s been three years now since there was a national minimum wage increase. The current federal minimum wage was raised from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009. At $7.25 an hour, that comes to just $15,080 a year for full-time work—a figure still below the official poverty line. Small business owners, congressional leaders, and advocates across the country are calling for renewed focus on sub-poverty earnings that millions of Americans are expected to get by on.

Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) are among those leading the charge to increase the minimum wage. In June, they introduced the “Catching Up To 1968 Act of 2012,” legislation which would raise the federal hourly minimum wage to $10. The $10-an-hour rate “may sound like a hefty wage increase but it doesn’t fully equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968, which today would be closer to $11 per hour,” Jackson said at a press conference. Minimum wage has not kept up with inflation since 1968, its historical high point. Raising wages would allow American workers a degree of catching up. But in a Republican controlled House, the bill has been stagnant. President Obama also has proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.

Holy Sklar, director of the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage project, says that though “worker productivity grew 80% from 1973 to 2011,” the average worker’s wages—adjusted for inflation fell 7%. Advocates also claim that today’s low-wage workers are older and better educated than in the past. Minimum wage has not risen in step with low-wage workers’ age and educational attainment since 1968.

Opponents of minimum wage increases have argued that it would negatively impact hiring. “Increases have not produced the loss of jobs in the ways opponents of these types of proposals predict,” says Jeanette Wicks-Lim, an assistant research professor at the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute. Recent research shows minimum wage laws enacted in the past “have not had a negative impact on workers’ job opportunities.”

Critics also make the case that raising the minimum wage will hurt small businesses. However, low minimum wages do not help small businesses, says Darius Ross, a managing partner with D Alexander Ross Real Estate Capital Partners, a New York real estate and construction company with about 200 employees on average. The company rehabs and develops multiunit family dwellings, mostly in low-income areas, in major cities like New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Birmingham.

Ross says the benefits of a higher minimum wage for businesses boils down to three areas: profit, productivity and prosperity. In terms of prosperity, “you want wages raised to the level where workers can afford rent, health care, and food for their families,” he says. “When rent increases greater than wages, workers will feel why bother coming to work.” By raising wages you get decreased absenteeism, higher worker morale, and greater productivity, he explains.

Ross concedes it is a balancing act for businesses between offering an ideal wage and keeping production costs low or not having increasingly high prices for goods and services. The 47-year-old African American businessman says he knows firsthand what it is like to barely make ends meet, growing up and watching his parents work hard every day only to find themselves struggling to put food on the table and relying on government assistance programs.

Ross says raising the minimum wage also increases consumer buying power and in turn profits for business owners, managers, and shareholders. People who experience a rise in income spend more money. An increase in consumer consumption means an increase in demand for goods and services.

“Businesses don’t expect the costs of energy, rent, transportation and other expenses to remain constant, yet some want to keep the minimum wage the same year after year, despite increases in the cost of living,” says David Bolotsky, founder and CEO of online retailer and mail-order house Uncommon Goods in Brooklyn, New York, and a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. “That kind of business model traps workers in poverty and undermines our economy. The minimum wage should require that all businesses pay employees a wage people can live on.”

December 8, 2012
Cowboys nose tackle Joshua Brent charged with intoxication manslaughter

According to the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Joshua Brent has been arrested and charged with intoxicated vehicular manslaughter by the Irving Police Department following an accident on East State Highway 114 early Saturday morning that claimed the life of Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown.

Brent and Brown were teammates at the University of Illinois.

According to the report, Brent was traveling at a high rate of speed when his vehicle "hit the outside curb", causing it to flip over and come to rest in the middle of the road. Brent was given a field sobriety test, which he failed, and had blood drawn at a local hospital before booked on the second-degree felony by the Irving PD.

Brown was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Cowboys have issued the following statement (via ESPN Dallas):

"We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry's family and all of those who knew him and loved him."

Brown, 25, went undrafted in 2011 and began his professional career in the arena league before playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Brown went to training camp in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts and posted 10 tackles before he was waived and re-signed to the practice squad. Brown appeared in one game for the Colts, logging 11 special teams plays in a 35-9 loss to the New York Jets.

The Colts would waive Brown the following week and re-sign him to their practice squad. One week later, Brown's practice squad was terminated and he was signed by the Cowboys.

Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent was arrested on Saturday morning

Brent entered the NFL in 2010 when the Cowboys selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 Supplemental Draft. Brent served time in jail for misdemeanor DUI while a student-athlete at Illinois.

Josh Brent at the Irving Police Department

The 6-foot-2, 320-pound nose tackle totaled 16 tackles while playing in just under 25 percent of the Cowboys' defensive snaps in 2010, but was limited to 11 games and 13 percent of the defensive snaps in 2011. With starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff battling injuries throughout the season, Brent has started five of 12 games and played in over 41 percent of the Cowboys' defensive snaps, setting career-highs with 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

In an unrelated transaction, the Cowboys added defensive tackle Rob Callaway to the 53-man roster, placing cornerback Orlando Scandrick on injured reserve.

October 18, 2012

Somewhere over at Fox HQ, Simon Cowell is punching a wall, ordering that several Fox employees be fired, and/or going into cardiac arrest. Because on Wednesday night, a rained-out baseball game delayed, and then suddenly interrupted, then totally preempted, the most important episode of this "X Factor" season so far. This was not the first time that baseball had ruined Simon's plans--last year, an "X Factor" episode was postponed due to a game--but that was just a Judges' Houses episode. This time, it was the all-important reveal of the top 16 contestants (the ones who will compete on the live shows), and it was the series' cliffhanger episode before the show goes on hiatus until November 1 for the World Series. (Wow, Simon must REALLY hate baseball by now.) And the interruption came at the worst moment possible.

So at 8pm on Wednesday, confused fans tuned in and saw a rerun of "Ben & Kate," not "The X Factor" as advertised--because Fox's telecast of the NCLS baseball game had been stopped at the bottom of the seventh inning due to rain, and the network was therefore in a holding pattern. But then, at about 8:40pm, "The X Factor" finally did begin, and the crisis seemed averted. Britney Spears announced her final four team members, followed by L.A. Reid's picks for the Over-25's, and then Demi Lovato began making her choices for the Young Adults. And then there was a commercial break, preceded by a teaser showing fan favorite Jillian Jensen, who had yet to learn her fate, sobbing uncontrollably. It was hard to tell if Jillian was crying out of joy or sorrow, and so viewers waited with baited breath to learn what had become of Jillian and the rest of Demi's contestants.

And then Fox came back from the break and started airing "The Mindy Project," with no explanation. And then Fox switched back to the baseball game. And then came the announcement that the rest of the "X Factor" episode would not be shown, and that the full episode would instead air NEXT Tuesday.

"IS THIS A JOKE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! It won't be aired until next tuesday!??!!?!??!!? IS THIS A GOD DAMN JOKE?!?!?!?!" tweeted Jillian when this all went down, voicing the shocked sentiments of her many equally irate fans. Jillian's teammate Paige Thomas, whose segment also had yet to be shown, also tweeted: "WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW!!! SOMEONE HELP ME B4 I PASS OUT FROM ANXIETY AND BUILT UP ANTICIPATION!! WHERE IS THE SHOW? Ok seriously is this a joke? What is going on? Am I being punk'd? My stomach is literally in a knot!"

But Simon Cowell worded it best on his own Twitter: "Have no idea what is happening to the schedule tonight. Have heard the whole episode will be shown next Tuesday. Sorry. It what's known as a total f up."

F'ing things up even more now is the fact that Tuesday's rescheduled broadcast will go up against rival show "The Voice," which is sure to kill "The X Factor" in the ratings. (With another baseball game airing on Thursday, another presidential debate airing next Monday, the World Series starting next Wednesday, and the weekend apparently not being a good option, next Tuesday--at 7pm, not even 8pm!--was the only timeslot left for the rebroadcast. Personally, I think Sunday night, a night when many people tend to tune in to Fox anyway, would have been a smarter option.)

Making matters much worse was the fact that most of the top 16 announcement episode still aired this Wednesday on Canada's CTV. While CTV did switch in the last few minutes to an "X Factor" repeat, only the fates of three remaining contestants--groups LYLAS, Sister C, and Playback--were still up in the air, and every other result had already been shown. So diehard U.S.-based "X Factor" fans, who may have tuned in to Fox next Tuesday, now already know most of the results. After all, spoilers are impossible to avoid in this digital age.

Speaking of spoilers, thanks to the more baseball-resistant Canada, a nation clearly with its TV priorities in the right place (ha), we do know for sure 14 of the 16 contestants who made it through. (WARNING: DO NOT KEEP READING IF YOU ACTUALLY PLAN TO STAY OFF THE INTERWEB AND WAIT UNTIL NEXT TUESDAY TO FIND OUT THE RESULTS...)


Jillian, sadly and surprisingly, did not make it...but considerably less sadly, neither did Nick Youngerman, a novelty rapper at best whose covers of "Tik Tok" and "Ice Ice Baby" were pure frat-party karaoke. As for the contestants who did make it onto Demi's team of four, it made sense for Demi to keep rocker-girl-next-door (and Jillian's BFF) Jennel Garcia, one of the coolest contestants and most dynamic performers of the season, along with country singer Willie Jones, whose off-the-charts likability (and lack of Season 2 competition within the country genre) could take him very far. And while formerly leopard-faced (some might say two-faced) villainess CeCe Frey certainly doesn't possess the likability of Jennel or Willie (or of Jillian, for that matter), she certainly can sing, and she started to win me over on last week's episode, so I also understood Demi's decision to put CeCe through. But honestly, I would have given Paige Thomas's spot to Jillian instead. Paige started off strong on the show--hers was the first televised audition of the season, and she greatly impressed--but she started losing momentum almost immediately afterwards, to the point where I was kind of surprised that she even advanced to the Judges' Houses at all. If Paige wants to prove to "X Factor" viewers that she deserved a spot in the top 16 more than Jillian did, she is really going to have to bring it on the live shows.

Demi's fellow judge, Britney, faced some especially tough decisions on Wednesday with her Teens, arguably the strongest category on the show. It was a little shocking that Britney opted to eliminate the two most Bieber-esque (read: potentially girl-vote-garnering) boys in the category, cheeky rapper James Tanner and floppy-haired moppet Reed Deming. But it was a relief that she decided that there was room on the show for both Beatrice Miller and Carly Rose Sonenclar, somewhat similar 13-year-olds with old souls, and for at least one boy, Season 1 InTENsity singer-gone-solo Arin Ray, also an amazing young talent. Britney's one (relatively) weak link now is Diamond White--another contestant who started off with a fantastic audition but then backslid in the Boot Camp/Judges' Houses rounds.

However, the in-the-rough Diamond still has a lot of potential, and with a final foursome like this, it could very well be Britney's competition to lose this season.

And then were L.A.'s underdogs, the Over-25's. L.A. never wanted this motley crew in the first place ("It's not a secret that this is not my favorite category," he grumbled Wednesday, rudely), but for a man so seemingly uninvested, he did for the most part make the right calls this week. Much to my delight, he kept Elton-esque, glitter-exploding showboater Jason Brock, who I am sure will make the live shows all the more exciting, and 40-year-old face-tattooed rocker Vino Alan, whose brooding bad-boy persona is sure to court that all-important cougar vote. David Correy was an obvious choice given that, at age 26, he is L.A.'s youngest and therefore, at least hypothetically, "hippest" contestant. (David was actually the first one L.A. put through.) On the other side of that spectrum was 37-year-old country traditionalist Tate Stevens, not hip by any means...but L.A. is a businessman, and he must have realized that America is currently buying what Tate and Epic Records could soon be selling--and that with only one other solo contestant, Willie Jones, representing the country genre in Season 2, Tate could easily corner the country-fan demographic. I personally would have put smooth soul crooner Daryl Black, one of the show's purest voices, in Tate's place. ("I really respect L.A., but today he made a mistake," Daryl said--and I agreed.) But I suppose Daryl is more the type who goes far on "The Voice," not "The X Factor." I'll just count my blessings that the loathsome oversinger Tara Simon, despite all of her aggressive efforts, failed to make L.A.'s cut. She claimed, "He just got rid of someone who could have been a Kelly Clarkson...that's his decision to live with." Oh, I think L.A. will live with it just fine. I know I will.

As for Simon's Groups, before the Canadian broadcast was shut down in a panic, we did find out that trio Lyric 145 (the combination of rapstress extraordinaire Lyric Da Queen and zombie-eyed hip-hop duo ONE4FIVE) and skate-park brats Emblem3 had made it through, and that Dope Crisis had, unsurprisingly, been cut. Simon's prefab girl group LYLAS seem like shoo-ins for one of the two remaining mystery spots, but who will snag the other spot--Season 2's other prefab group, boy band Playback, or country-crooning family act Sister C? I'd prefer the latter, but I think Simon will keep Playback due to his massive ego and inability to admit that he made a mistake when he put those boys together. Plus, we all know that Simon has never been a big fan of country music.

So there you have it. For you south-of-the-Canadian-border superfans who still want to see (not just read about) all of the reveals, or who are particularly keen to find out what happened with the Groups, tune in next Tuesday. Otherwise, "The X Factor" return, live, after the World Series, on November 1. The long break and this week's disaster are sure to hurt the series' momentum, but maybe the time off will give all of the top 16 the time needed to hone their craft (and maybe give Simon some time to cool down, because he must be pretty heated right now). In the meantime, here's a cribsheet of the four teams as we know them, with each team ranked from my personal favorite to least favorite:

TEENS (mentored by Britney)
Beatrice Miller
Carly Rose Sonenclar
Arin Ray
Diamond White

YOUNG ADULTS (mentored by Demi)
Jennel Garcia
Willie Jones
CeCe Frey
Paige Thomas

OVER-25's (mentored by L.A.)
Jason Brock
Vino Alan
David Correy
Tate Stevens

GROUPS (mentored by Simon)
Lyric 145
+ two more TBA

January 24, 2013

Seal of the United States Internal Revenue Service. The design is the same as the Treasury seal with an IRS inscription.

The Internal Revenue Service plans to appeal a federal district court judge’s surprise ruling last Friday that it lacks the authority from Congress to regulate tax preparers and it has asked that judge to suspend his injunction blocking the regulations while it pursues that appeal. In a motion filed yesterday with Washington D.C. Federal District Court Judge James E. Boasberg, the IRS argued that it has a “reasonable likelihood” of winning its appeal and that the public will suffer “irreparable harm” if his injunction isn’t suspended. With the tax filing season due to begin on Jan. 30th, the filing said, the injunction will cause a “substantial disruption to tax administration” and “massive confusion” for both tax preparers and the public.

On Tuesday, to comply with Boasberg’s ruling, the IRS posted a notice on its web site saying paid tax preparers are not “currently required” to register . But yesterday’s filing makes clear that the IRS will pursue every option to avoid putting its regulatory scheme on hold. If Boasberg doesn’t want to suspend his own injunction for the duration of the appeal, the IRS asked that he at least suspend it for 14 days while it seeks relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. On Tuesday, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson told Forbes that, “If the injunction stands, the taxpayers of the United States will be grievously harmed.”

Federal Judge Shoots Down IRS Attempt To Regulate All Paid Tax Preparers

Back, in 2010, after years of listening to complaints about the problems created by incompetent and dishonest unlicensed tax pros, the IRS decided to require all paid preparers to register with it beginning in 2011 and those who weren’t otherwise subject to national standards to pass a minimum competency test by the end of 2013 and to take 15 hours a year of continuing education. According to an affidavit from Carol A. Campbell, director of the IRS Return Preparer Office, submitted to support the agency’s request for a stay, 744,000 tax preparers registered for IDs last year. Until Boasberg’s ruling, anyone who wanted to prepare returns for pay this year was supposed to pay a $63 fee to renew his or her ID or $64.25 to get a new one. Only about half of the 744,000 who registered would have been required to pass the new test, since lawyers, CPAs and Enrolled Agents (who have already passed a more rigorous IRS test), were exempt from it. The new registration and testing requirements were supported by H & R Block, the nation’s largest tax preparation chain with 11,000 offices open during tax season, and by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, the second largest, with 6,800 locations, including 2,800 in Wal-Mart stores and 400 in Sears stores.

In her affidavit, Campbell said the IRS has already set up 250 testing centers and spent $54 million on the return preparer program and has received $106 million in preparer registration and testing user fees. If the injunction isn’t suspended and the IRS wins its appeal, Campbell said, the IRS will incur “substantial costs” to restart the program. The IRS also argued in its motion that if the injunction isn’t stayed, “thousands of return preparers who have already submitted their users fees would demand refunds, and the United States would likely face numerous lawsuits—including class action lawsuits.”

Noting that since the start of 2010 more than 500 tax return preparers have been criminally prosecuted, Campbell also argued in her affidavit that putting IRS regulation of preparers on hold would hurt the its enforcement program, and particularly it efforts to curb identity theft and earned income tax credit fraud. The government estimates it loses $13 billion a year to EITC “fraud, abuse, and error” and “almost two-thirds of all returns claiming the earned income tax credit are prepared by tax return preparers,’’ her affidavit said. As for ID theft, she noted that the government’s requires registered tax preparers to pass a criminal records check. (In identity theft refund fraud, a criminal—in some cases a crooked tax preparer–uses stolen Social Security numbers to electronically file bogus returns seeking refunds. As a result, the legitimate owner of the hijacked number often has his or her refund delayed for six months or more. According to a recent report from the National Taxpayer Advocate, at the end of fiscal 2012, the IRS was working on almost 650,000 identity theft cases.)

The suit that lead to Boasberg’s ruling was filed on behalf of three tax preparers by the libertarian Institute for Justice. In granting the injunction, Boasberg noted that two of the three preparers said they would likely shut down their tax businesses if forced to comply with the new registration requirements and thus would suffer irreparable injury without such an injunction. But the IRS argued in its filing that the plaintiffs wouldn’t be “substantially harmed” if the injunction is suspended. To support that assertion, the IRS quoted an article Forbes contributor Kelly Phillips Erb (a.k.a Taxgirl) published on Tuesday. In it, she quoted the preparers’ lawyer as saying that all three had submitted their preparer ID numbers for 2013 “and had planned to continue preparing returns this season.”

May 17, 2012
PlayDisco Queen Donna Summer Dead At Age 63
By Wendy Geller

Donna Summer, whom millions of fans revered as "the Queen of Disco," has died at the age of 63 in Florida after a battle with cancer, the Associated Press confirmed with the singer's family Thursday morning.

The news comes as a surprise to those who were not aware that she was ill. The legendary superstar was publicly active as recently as last June, when she appeared as a guest panelist on Bravo's music reality show Platinum Hit.

However, a report by TMZ, which initially broke the story, notes that those close to the singer--known for mega-hits including "Last Dance" and "Bad Girls"--revealed she had been trying to hide how sick she was. A source said that Summer did not seem to be in that bad of shape two weeks ago.
[Related: No More Tears: Remembering Donna Summer's 10 Greatest Tracks]
She is survived by her adult daughters Mimi (by her first husband, actor Helmuth Sommer), Brooklyn and Amanda (by second husband Bruce Sudano)

In addition to her status as a pioneer in the dance music genre, Summer was a five-time Grammy Award winner, the first artist ever to score three back-to-back No. 1 double albums, and was nominated--but not chosen--for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. She is credited with influencing stars ranging from Madonna and Michael Jackson, to Beyonce and Rihanna. Her last album, Crayons, was released in 2008.

November 14, 2012
US President Obama has reiterated his call for high earners in the US to pay more in taxes, in his first news conference since winning re-election.

He called for quick legislation to rule out tax rises on the first $250,000 (£158,000) of income, but refused to extend cuts for the wealthiest 2%.

"We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy," Mr Obama said.

The US faces a so-called "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax rises.

The fiscal cliff, looming at the end of 2012, would see the George W Bush-era tax cuts expire in combination with automatic, across-the-board reductions to military and domestic spending.

The automatic cuts are set to occur because Congress failed to reach a deal on deficit reduction after a stand-off over the US debt ceiling in mid-2011.

Congressional Republicans have said since last week's US elections that they are open to raising revenue thought tax reform and closure of loopholes, but oppose tax rises on the wealthy.

February 19, 2013

Tyler Morris of Michigan hit a $7.2 million jackpot on a penny slot machine Friday at Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi

BILOXI -- A Michigan man who played penny slots after his friend's funeral Friday hit a $7.2 million progressive jackpot at the Palace Casino.

Tyler Morris of Montague won $7,217,175.15 playing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship, said Lisa Quirch, Palace Casino advertising and PR manager.

Morris typically plays craps, but felt compelled to try his luck on the penny slot machine in memory of a friend whose funeral he'd attended earlier in the day, she said.

Morris' friend enjoyed playing penny slots at the Palace, so chose to go there, Quirch said.

He hit the jackpot between 10 and 10:30 p.m.

"Tyler said he felt his friend was watching over him and had blessed him with the big win," he said.

Morris' wife, Mary, said their car had more than 200,000 miles on it so they'd bought a new one earlier in the week to make the trip to South Mississippi. They planned to pay it off with part of the winnings, Quirch said.

They'll also spend some money on their children, granddaughter and their soon-to-be new grandbaby as well as repair the roof of their business. The Morrises manufacture weathervanes and house numbers.

The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship is a Mississippi statewide progressive penny slot machine with a maximum bet of $3.50. The WMS Gaming-manufactured slot machine's progressive jackpot resets at $200,000.

July 25, 2012
Los Angeles (CNN) -- A judge appointed TJ Jackson, the 34-year-old son of Tito Jackson, as temporary guardian of Michael Jackson's three children in the absence of their grandmother, Katherine Jackson.

"We have reason to believe that Mrs. Jackson has been held against her will," Katherine Jackson attorney Sandra Ribera told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff at a hearing Wednesday.

Immediately after the hearing however, another attorney for Katherine Jackson, Perry Sanders, said he'd been told by Randy Jackson that his mother was on a plane bound for California.

Sanders said he would immediately file a petition to restore her as custodian.

Beckloff suspended Katherine Jackson as custodian for Prince, Paris and Prince Michael II, known as Blanket, because she may be "prevented from acting as a guardian because of the acts of third parties."

He also ordered "that the children not be removed from California without a court order, by any person."

The judge also ordered that Diana Ross, whom Michael Jackson named as backup guardian in his will, and Debbie Rowe, the biological mother of the two oldest children, be given notice of the order.

The order will be reconsidered at a hearing next month, and the judge left open the possibility that custody could be returned sooner if Katherine Jackson returns home.

Katherine Jackson finally called her home Tuesday night after being out of communication for nine days, her lawyer said.

TJ Jackson, whom Katherine Jackson left in charge of the children when she left home on July 15, said he was disturbed by how she sounded.

"I've never heard my grandmother talk like that," he said about that phone call. "She wasn't sharp. Her words were slurred. Her choice of vocabulary, I never heard her use those phrases."

His lawyer said that "maybe she was trying to speak to him in code."

Ribera said one of the children told her it sounded like she was not alone during that call.

Sanders said the call was made after he met with Jermaine and Janet Jackson at a spa near Tucson, Arizona, on Tuesday night to resolve the controversy over Katherine Jackson's whereabouts.

They did not, however, allow him to meet or talk with her, he said.

Katherine Jackson, 82, left the home she shares with Michael Jackson's children on July 15. She had not contacted them before Tuesday, though a Los Angeles County sheriff's investigation concluded she was safe in Arizona.

Katherine Jackson has custody of Michael Jackson's children and a 20% share in her son's huge estate. Her husband, Joe Jackson, and her eight surviving children were completely left out of Michael Jackson's will when the pop star died in 2009.

Authorities got involved when her nephew Trent filed a missing person report with the sheriff's office over the weekend. Security camera video obtained by CNN captured a tense scene at the Calabasas, California, home she shares with her three grandchildren.

Siblings Janet, Jermaine and Randy Jackson attempted to persuade the older children, Prince and Paris, to leave Katherine Jackson's home with them Monday. Paris and Prince resisted, according to three sources with knowledge of the incident, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The video shows Janet Jackson apparently trying to take a cell phone away from Paris and scolding her niece for using her phone to write about family issues on Twitter, according to the three sources.

Paris, Michael Jackson's 14-year-old daughter, posted a Twitter message at about the same time: "gotta love fam." Meanwhile, 15-year-old Prince is seen walking away from his Uncle Randy into the home's security office. Paris soon followed, and Randy and Janet Jackson appeared to be recording the incident with their cell phones.

Minutes later, sheriff's deputies broke up a scuffle involving Randy and Jermaine Jackson and Trent Jackson, who works for their mother, according to several people who witnessed it. No one was arrested, although a battery report was taken and an investigation is ongoing, Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

December 9, 2012

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Comedian Katt Williams has been arrested in northern California on a felony warrant related to a police chase.

The Sacramento Bee reports ( that Williams was arrested Friday night in Dunnigan, about 25 miles north of Sacramento, by Yolo County deputies.

The paper says he was released from the county jail Saturday after posting bail.

The sheriff's department confirmed Williams' arrest late Saturday, but staffers on duty didn't have details. A spokesman for the comedian didn't immediately return a call and email.

The California Highway Patrol says Williams fled officers on a three-wheeled motorcycle on Nov. 25 after being spotted driving on a downtown Sacramento sidewalk.

The CHP said Williams was asked to stop and refused, leading to the pursuit.

The CHP says Williams nearly hit five people during the chase, which police ended for safety reasons.

March 30, 2013

Michael Jordan isn't ready to call it quits with his alleged baby mama drama just yet ... in fact, he wants the lady who accused him of spawning her 16-year-old son to PAY UP for all the trouble she caused.

As TMZ first reported, Pamela Smith went after Jordan in court, claiming he knocked her up back in 1995, and asked a judge to order a DNA test to make the paternity official.

The NBA star called B.S. and denied the kid was his and then, rather suddenly, Pamela dismissed the suit without explanation.

Now MJ has filed new legal docs asking the case be kept open so he can file a counter-claim against Smith to cover his court costs and whatever other sanctions a judge deems necessary.

Revenge is a dish best served ... in court.

January 4, 2013

The controversial stars of "All My Babies' Mamas" show.

Have we gone too far?
It's a question we ask at the outset of every outrageous new reality series—be it "Survivor" or "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." It's also usually an early sign of a show's success.

How reality TV hurts girls
But response to a new show teased as part of Oxygen Media's spring lineup, seems to mark a momentous moment when reality has truly jumped the shark. Collective and largely unchallenged outrage over the network's upcoming show "All My Babies' Mamas" is the unusual case of a show sparking enough controversy to potentially kill it.

"All My Babies' Mamas," a one-hour reality special slated to air in the spring of 2013, features Carlos "Shawty Lo" Walker, an Atlanta-based hip-hop artist with 11 children by 10 different women. Oh, he's also got a 19-year-old girlfriend, who's a year shy of his oldest child.

By the looks of the leaked sneak peak and an early press release, the show's take on this challenging family dynamic is more "Brady Bunch" than "An American Family."

"As the household grows, sometimes so does the dysfunction, leaving the man of the house to split his affection multiple ways while trying to create order," reads the goofy-sitcom-style description, in a press release posted the Oxygen's website late December. "Will there be a conflict over a family holiday, who needs school supplies and who holds the household finance purse strings, or can these feisty babies' mamas band together and live peacefully as one family unit?"

Since the show was publicized, the conflict has been primarily off-camera. Calls for a boycott of the network and a petition to pull the special from the network's lineup have risen to a fever pitch in the past week.

"By pushing these degrading images, your company seeks to profit from the humiliation of girls and women and the blatant stereotyping of African-Americans," writes, Sabrina Lamb, the woman behind the petition.

Lamb first noticed the press release on Oxygen's website, and after watching a 13-minute sample reel of the series on YouTube—which at one point features Shawty Lo unsuccessfully naming his 11 kids as quiz show music plays—she wrote an open letter to the present of Oxygen calling for the cancellation of the show before it goes to air.

"The focus of our outrage is that they would dare exploit the pain of these children and that Oxygen would promote this toxic situation to its young, impressionable female audience," Lamb, an author and cultural commentator, tells Yahoo! Shine. "There's no way this can go forward. We're going all the way to the end with this."

As of Friday, her plea to the network's president had received well over 13,000 signatures and countless support from bloggers, journalists, and activists, including the NAACP.

But network executives may be just as hellbent on attracting those young, impressionable women Lamb is talking about. In the show's press release, Cori Abraham, senior vice president of development for Oxygen Media promises, "All My Babies' Mamas" will be filled with outrageous and authentic over-the-top moments that our young, diverse female audience can tweet and gossip about."

Jennifer Lawrence weighs in on reality TV
Cat-fights, questionable parenting, and unregulated households have become the bread-and-butter of cable TV ratings. The soaring success of "Honey Boo Boo," "The Real Housewives" franchise, and the Kardashian conglomerate all hinge on those three voyeuristic elements for success. But it seems Oxygen has officially gone too far for viewers—if those 13,000 signatures are any indication.

Chicago Tribune editor Clarence Page likens the premise of "Mamas" to slavery. Huffington Post contributor and Syracuse University professor Dr. Boyce Watkins calls the show a "platform for ignorance."

"As a respected African-American media professional I can not in good conscience allow this program to move forward," writes radio personality Morris O'Kelly in an open letter to Oxygen.

Lamb and her fellow critics take particular offense to the press release's suggestion of scuffles between women for entertainment purposes, and the fact that each woman is given a pithy nickname to describe their flattened, TV-friendly personalities ("Jealous Baby Mama" and "Shady Baby Mama" are two of the moms). Shawty Lo's teenage girlfriend as the can-it-get-more-outrageous X factor doesn't help.

"You've got a network with international reach telling a young female audience it's okay to have unprotected sex, that other women are enemies, that they're not valued by men, that their financial sustenance should come from a man, and that babies are just spectators in all of this," Lamb tells Shine. Still she wants to be clear: "This is not just a women's issue."

The depiction of a disjointed African-American family, with an ill-suited father, is also a sticking point.

"To someone committed to the black family, who has spent a good part of his career fighting to improve the image and perception of black men, this all feels like a sticky gob of spit in my face," writes My Brown Baby's Nick Chiles in a post titled "If We Let Shawty Lo's Show Get On Air We Will Have All Failed Ourselves."

Chiles also notes the irony of the network's history. "Painfully, Oxygen is the network that was started by, among others, Oprah Winfrey in 1998, with the brilliant idea of—wait for it—empowering women," he writes. "But 1998 was a loooong time ago. Since then, it was purchased by NBC Universal in 2007 for $925 million and any kind of mission about female empowerment was long ago abandoned."

Oxygen is not the first network to face backlash for exploiting the tribulations of troubled family dynamics. In fact "Mamas" co-creators and former MTV honchos, Tony DiSanto and Liz Gately, faced similar outrage with the launch of their hit series "Teen Mom" a few years back. But this may be the first time a show has been boycotted before it has even completed production.

"What we have here is a show that's not even on air," says Lamb, who also runs World of Money, a nonprofit dedicated to the financial education of children. "We can fight this. We can say to advertisers if this show, about kids watching their mothers fight each other for crumbs, is what you value, then we don't support your brand."

Shine's request for a statement from Oxygen was not returned by press time. However, we did obtain correspondence between Oxygen President Jason Klarman and the New York Chapter of the NAACP, after a representative from the organization requested the show be dropped from the network.

In his emailed response, Klarman claimed "the show is still in early development" and the footage leaked was "not representative of the final special, which is still being cast and developed." He also responded to the accusations of racial stereotyping. "While we are seeking to chronicle a true story, it is not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society…That said, we are highly attuned and sensitive to your concerns and our diverse team of creative executives will continue their involvement as the special is developed."

Klarman's email is unlikely to quiet the growing campaign against the show and the network. Lamb, for her part, is making it her personal mission to thwart Shawty Lo's debut. "I don't want him on TV," she says. "He needs therapy and condoms, he doesn't need a TV show."

By Piper Weiss, Shine Staff | Parenting

October 17, 2012

When the evening began, one observation dominated the conversation: “If President Barack Obama has another debate like the last one, the election’s over.”

When the evening ended, I was struck by a different thought: If Obama had performed this way at the first debate, the election would have been over.

In every debate, whatever the format, whatever the questions, there is one and only one way to identify the winner: Who commands the room? Who drives the narrative? Who is in charge? More often than not on Tuesday night, I think, Obama had the better of it.

From a substantive view, there was one argument that the president was seeking to make over and over: Don’t let Mitt Romney fool you; he’s a rich guy out to protect the interests of the well-off, not the middle-class.

That’s why he referenced not just Romney’s tax plan, but Romney’s taxes, the fact that the Republican presidential nominee paid a lower rate on his millions than ordinary working-class folks do on theirs, the fact that Romney has invested heavily in China. And when Romney went at Obama with almost the exact same argument he used so devastatingly against Newt Gingrich—“have you checked your pension?”—Obama came back with, “I haven’t looked at my pension; it’s not as big as yours. (For super-wonks it harked back to a 1982 debate between Mario Cuomo and the super-wealthy Lew Lehrman, when Cuomo reached over, grabbed Lehrman’s hand, and said, “Nice watch, Lou!”)

As a tactical matter, Obama executed one of the toughest of maneuvers: the counterpunch. When Romney attacked Obama for hindering the use of coal, the President recalled an appearance of Romney as governor of Massachusetts, where he vowed to shut down a coal-fired power plant. (The fact that Romney was probably right about the danger will be the subject of earnest substantive post-debate analyses that have no place here!)

And in talking about an area where the Obama administration has clear vulnerabilities—the attack on the American consulate in Libya—Obama summoned the inherent high ground of the presidency to condemn the “politicization” of the attack.

To be clear: There was nothing particularly off about Romney. He had several strong moments, most especially contrasting what Obama said he would do in 2008 with what in fact had happened over the past four years. This was, and is, the single most powerful argument against returning Obama to the White House, and Romney deployed it effectively.

It’s just that Obama found what he could not find in Denver—a coherent thread to make the case that he understands the middle-class in a way Romney does not. For those Democratic partisans wondering where “the 47 percent” argument was, Obama was saving it for the close which—because of a pre-debate coin flip—Romney could not answer. In this sense, it was like Reagan’s famous “are you better off?” question from 1980.

In a larger sense, however, Obama’s success is unlikely to have anything like the impact of that 1980 debate, nor will it likely alter the terrain of the campaign as the first debate of 2012 did. Had the Obama of this debate showed up two weeks ago, he might well have ended Romney’s effort to present himself as a credible alternative to the president.

That opportunity vanished that night. While it’s clear that Obama’s performance will revive the enthusiasm of his supporters, it seems unlikely that it will cause those impressed by Romney to reconsider. Like they say in show business, timing is everything.

June 30, 2013

The housing bust wrecked the finances of a lot of families, but it hit minorities especially hard. And now, those minority families are missing out on the housing recovery.

Hispanic households on average lost nearly half of their home equity between 2007 and 2010, according to a paper by the Urban Institute. Black households lost 28% and white households lost just 24%.

The housing bust hit minorities harder partly because they came to the home ownership party later, according to Caroline Ratcliffe, a co-author of the Urban Institute paper.

"Hispanics in particular did a lot of home buying just before the recession hit," she said.
That meant that many bought at or near the top of the market. And when their home equity vanished, it made them more vulnerable than other groups to foreclosure.

Now that home values are rebounding, it will benefit white households much more. Their home ownership rate is close to 75%. Black home ownership is about 45% and for Hispanics, it's 47%.

"Due to disproportionate loss of home ownership among people of color, the racial wealth gap is likely to grow further as families that have lost their homes will see no benefit from the recovering home prices," said James Carr, senior fellow with the Center for Economic Progress.

Minorities also haven't been able to get back into the housing market because banks have made it tougher and costlier for risky borrowers to get mortgages.

Minority families are facing several barriers to becoming home buyers again.

Most home loans are now backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration. All have made loans more expensive for borrowers with low credit scores.

Additional fees for buyers with low credit scores can add up -- more than $100 a month when compared to someone with a high credit score getting a conventional loan.

Even worse, FHA borrowers now have to pay mortgage insurance premiums for the entire term of the loans, even during the last few years when the risk of default is very small.

Government programs favor the well off over the poor, said Ratcliffe.

"The federal government spends billions in tax credits to promote long-term asset growth," she said. "Tax-free retirement savings, the mortgage interest deduction and other programs primarily benefit high income Americans.

The wealth gap could widen if the pathway to home ownership is blocked for too many minorities, said Lewis Ranieri, founder of Ranieri Partners.

"We need a system that funds first time homeowners and trade up buyers and it shouldn't be only for middle class whites," he said.

By: Les Christie @CNNMoney

May 21, 2012
G8 pledges to lift 50 million Africans out of poverty

G8 leaders on Saturday pledged to lift millions of Africans out of poverty by promoting investments in sustainable agriculture.

"Today we commit to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities," the Group of Eight major industrial nations said.

"This New Alliance will lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade."
The ambitious announcement, contained in a final communique released after a high-profile gathering on a range of topics, came a day after President Barack Obama reached out to the private sector for financial support for the cause.

The initiative also comes as pledges expire from 2009 in L'Aquila, Italy, where the G8 promised more than $20 billion over three years to improve food access to Africans and others hit by the high prices and a global slowdown.
Civil society observers appeared skeptical about the endeavor's success.

"The G8 have offered warm words on food security but have failed to make a specific pledge to simply maintain L'Aquila level financial commitments going forward," said Katie Campbell, senior policy analyst for ActionAid USA. "In failing to deliver this, they have turned their backs on the women smallholder farmers who are so vital to food security in Africa."

Oxfam claimed that input from those directly concerned had not been taken into consideration.
"Poor countries have presented the G8 country-led, sustainable, and coordinated plans for food security and agricultural development, but today the G8 gave them the cold shoulder," Lamine Ndiaye, the group's Pan Africa Head of Economic Justice, said in a statement.

According to the G8 communique, the initiative would, among other things, be guided by "a collective commitment to invest in credible, comprehensive and country-owned plans."

The Norwegian global firm Yara has said it would build Africa's first major fertilizer production facility as part of the initiative. Companies including Pepsi and Dupont have also pledged to invest in Africa's small-scale farmers.

November 15, 2012

HOUSTON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - BP Plc is expected to pay a record U.S. criminal penalty and plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster through a plea deal reached with the Department of Justice that may be announced as soon as Thursday, according to sources familiar with discussions.

Three sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said BP would plead guilty in exchange for a waiver of future prosecution on the charges.

BP confirmed it was in "advanced discussions" with the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

The talks were about "proposed resolutions of all U.S. federal government criminal and SEC claims against BP in connection with the Deepwater Horizon incident," it said in a statement on Thursday, but added that no final agreements had been reached.

The discussion do not cover federal civil claims, both BP and the sources said.

London-based oil giant BP has been locked in months-long negotiations with the U.S. government and Gulf Coast states to settle billions of dollars of potential civil and criminal liability claims resulting from the April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The sources did not disclose the amount of BP's payment, but one said it would be the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history. That record is now held by Pfizer Inc, which paid a $1.3 billion fine in 2009 for marketing fraud related to its Bextra pain medicine.

The DoJ declined to comment.

The deal could resolve a significant share of the liability that BP faces after the explosion killed 11 workers and fouled the shorelines of four Gulf Coast states in the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. BP, which saw its market value plummet and replaced its CEO in the aftermath of the spill, still faces economic and environmental damage claims sought by U.S. Gulf Coast states and other private plaintiffs.

The fine would far outstrip BP's last major settlement with the DoJ in 2007, when it payed about $373 million to resolve three separate probes into a deadly 2005 Texas refinery explosion, an Alaska oil pipeline leak and fraud for conspiring to corner the U.S. propane market.

The massive settlement, which comes a week after the U.S. presidential election, could ignite a debate in Congress about how funds would be shared with Gulf Coast states, depending on how the deal is structured. Congress passed a law last year that would earmark 80 percent of BP penalties paid under the Clean Water Act to the spill-hit states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas.


In an August filing, the DoJ said "reckless management" of the Macondo well "constituted gross negligence and willful misconduct" which it intended to prove at a civil trial set to begin in New Orleans in February 2013. The U.S. government has not yet filed any criminal charges in the case.

Given that the deal will not resolve any civil charges brought by the Justice Department, it is also unclear how large a financial penalty BP might pay to resolve the charges, or other punishments that BP might face.

Negligence is a central issue to BP's potential liability. A gross negligence finding could nearly quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion in a straight-line calculation.

Still unresolved is potential liability faced by Swiss-based Transocean Ltd, owner of the Deepwater Horizon vessel, and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing work on the well that U.S. investigators say was flawed. Both companies were not immediately available for comment.

According to the Justice Department, errors made by BP and Transocean in deciphering a pressure test of the Macondo well are a clear indication of gross negligence.

"That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence," the government said in its August filing.

Transocean in September disclosed it is in discussions with the Justice Department to pay $1.5 billion to resolve civil and criminal claims.

The mile-deep Macondo well spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days. The torrent fouled shorelines from Texas to Florida and eclipsed in severity the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

BP has already announced an uncapped class-action settlement with private plaintiffs that the company estimates will cost $7.8 billion to resolve litigation brought by over 100,000 individuals and businesses claiming economic and medical damages from the spill.

September 12, 2012
The Charlotte Bobcats hired GM Rich Cho in June of 2011, knowing full well that owner Michael Jordan would act as one of the strongest supporters of a potentially season-canceling lockout that started a month later. Even though the team enjoyed a brief playoff appearance in 2010, the franchise was bleeding money; a direct result of years worth of win-now moves made by Jordan as both personnel boss and eventual owner. As a long-needed rebuilding process took hold in 2011-12, and Jordan took flak from all manner of once-close friends, teammates and former co-workers, questions lingered as to how much MJ would stand aside if Cho dared to overrule the six-time champion on a decision. Owners overrule GMs all the time, and because Jordan and Cho come from such disparate backgrounds, the few that cared enough to pay attention to the Charlotte Bobcats wondered how things would work out once it came time for expected loggerheads.

According to a recent ESPN the Magazine profile, though, it appears as if Jordan truly has handed over the keys. Jordan is off working as the face of the franchise, making up for years of abuse heaped on the city from former NBA owners George Shinn and Robert Johnson, while Cho is behind the scenes and slowly developing the team from the ground up. From a .106 winning percentage-up, actually. From the Mag:

"Every single one of those moves is evidence that Michael is serious about getting out of the way," a rival Eastern Conference GM says. "They are now going to succeed or fail with Rich. And I can guarantee you that Michael has made sure that Rich knows that."

That same executive describes the 47-year-old Cho as a "Moneyball kind of guy," respected around the league for his involvement in the construction of the rosters of both Portland and Oklahoma City. According to Cho, when he left his job as the Trail Blazers GM to come to Charlotte 15 months ago, his marching orders from Jordan were simple and specific -- build through the draft and get free agents to complement the youngsters and put them over the top. The old Jordan, by his own admission, believed that if he cleared enough cap space, he could personally lure the likes of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. But as he learned last year, even "MJ" appearing on their caller IDs wasn't enough to offset the lure of LA.

It's not so much the lure of Los Angeles as it is the lure of winning. Players like Howard, Paul, Baron Davis, Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose spend most of their offseason in Los Angeles as it is — it's the fact that the Clippers and Lakers had ready-made winners on hand that was the main selling point. Kowtowing to a star and surrounding him with players he initially wanted, as Howard got in Orlando, isn't enough. You have to build a winner.

And you don't build a winner by drafting off of what ESPN's Ryan McGee called an "MJ March hunch."

That was apparently the case in 2011, just after Cho's hiring, when Jordan was the biggest sway behind drafting Kemba Walker. It certainly was the case in 2006, when Jordan took Adam Morrison. And a February hunch was certainly the reason Jordan let loose with a coveted (and, eventually, unprotected) lottery pick when he dealt for Tyrus Thomas in 2010.

McGee points out that Charlotte's pick in last June's NBA draft, swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, is "Cho's kind of guy." That may very well be true, his all-around upside is significant, but he tends to check all the boxes that Jordan likes to pour over. MKG played deep into March on a prominent major program, and he's an athlete with a work ethic that coaches rave over. Work ethic and heart are well and good, but in some cases (and let's be sure here; we're not referring to Kidd-Gilchrist in this instance) that ethic is in place to cover for failings in other NBA-level areas. Adam Morrison practiced hard, too.

In short, it's an easy sell for Cho. So was the rebuilding, something that had to take place for basketball reasons (you need to bottom out, often times, before you start over) but also was essential for the team to survive financially. As we stated when Sam Vincent criticized Jordan, when Charles Barkley complained about his "yes men," and when Larry Brown whined about his former boss from afar, the real stare-down between the two probably has yet to take place.

It's a good start, though. There will be cap space, there will be more lottery picks, and there will be room to grow past the 45-win ceiling Jordan once encouraged.

And, eventually, there will be a showdown between Jordan and Cho. It's only natural, and we can't wait.

December 10, 2012
Officials in Nigeria say the mother of the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been kidnapped.

Professor Kamene Okonjo was taken from her home in Delta State on Sunday

A finance ministry statement said Mrs Okonjo-Iweala had been threatened recently but did not know whether this was linked to the kidnapping.

Nigeria is one of the worst countries in the world for kidnapping, where it is a lucrative criminal enterprise worth millions of dollars a year.

The crime is particularly prevalent in the oil-rich Delta State, although high-profile victims are uncommon.

A security official said it was not clear whether the motive was political or pecuniary.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala has led a high-profile campaign to clean up corruption in Nigeria, particularly in a controversial fuel subsidy programme.

She has delayed the payment to fuel importers, seeking better verification of claims for subsidies

But analysts say kidnapping for political reasons is rare in Nigeria.

A Finance Ministry statement added: " "This is obviously a very difficult time for the entire Okonjo family. But the family is hopeful of a positive outcome as it fervently prays for the quick and safe return of the matriarch."

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was one of the leading candidates to take over the World Bank this spring. She was previously the institution's managing-director but lost out to the Korean-American, Jim Yong Kim.

October 9, 2012
NEW YORK -- The U.S. attorney in Manhattan has accused Wells Fargo of defrauding a government-backed mortgage insurance program, in another major civil case brought in the wake of the housing bust and financial crisis.

The mortgage-fraud suit, filed by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, seeks "hundreds of millions of dollars" in damages for claims the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has paid for defaulted loans "wrongfully certified" by Wells Fargo.

The suit alleges the San Francisco banking giant falsely certified loans insured by the government's Federal Housing Administration.

“As the complaint alleges, yet another major bank has engaged in a longstanding and reckless trifecta of deficient training, deficient underwriting and deficient disclosure, all while relying on the convenient backstop of government insurance," Bharara said in a statement.

Adding "accelerant to a fire," Bharara said, was Wells Fargo's bonus system that rewarded employees based on the number of loans it approved.

The lawsuit alleges the bank failed to properly underwrite more than 100,000 loans it certified to be eligible for FHA insurance. When Wells Fargo discovered problems with the loans, it failed to notify HUD, which administers the FHA program, as required, the suit said. The action alleges more than 10 years of misconduct.

"The extremely poor quality of Wells Fargo's loans was a function of management’s nearly singular focus on increasing the volume of FHA originations -- and the bank’s profits -- rather than on the quality of the loans being originated," Bharara's office said in a statement.

Wells Fargo denied the lawsuit's allegations, saying it acted in good faith and in compliance with government regulations.

"Many of the issues in the lawsuit had been previously addressed with HUD," Wells Fargo said in an emailed statement. "Wells Fargo is the leading FHA lender and has acted as a prudent and responsible lender with FHA delinquency rates that have been as low as half the industry average. The Bank will present facts to vigorously defend itself against this action. Wells Fargo is proud of its long involvement in the FHA program, which has helped so many people obtain affordable mortgages and become homeowners."

The Wells Fargo case is the fifth such mortgage-fraud case against a major lender brought by Bharara's office.

Three of those cases settled this year: CitiMortgage Inc. for $158.3 million, Flagstar Bank F.S.B. for $132.8 million, and Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT for $202.3million. A lawsuit against Allied Home Mortgage Corp. is pending.

A separate mortgage-fraud task force led by the New York attorney general brought an unrelated lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase & Co. last week.

Wells Fargo stock fell on news of the lawsuit. The bank's share's lost 70 cents, or 2%, to $35.10 in Tuesday trading.

January 5, 2013
A Kenyan man has been charged after allegedly pretending to be an assistant commissioner of police for five years.

Joshua Waiganjo denied all the charges

Joshua Waiganjo is said to have sacked and recruited police officers in Rift Valley province during this time.

He denied two counts of impersonating a police office, one of illegal possession of police uniforms and one of robbery with violence.

He was reportedly uncovered after flying on a police helicopter to investigate a massacre of officers.

In November, at least 42 police officers were killed by cattle rustlers in the Suguta valley - the most deadly attack on police in the East African nation's history.

After pleading not guilty on all four charges, the case was adjourned to allow Mr Waiganjo to seek medical treatment for diabetes, local media report.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told Nairobi's Capital FM that Mr Waiganjo had not been paid a salary by the police service.

October 1, 2012

Usher wants to make it clear to his ex-wife ... the days of freeloading are OVER -- because TMZ has learned, he plans to sell the mansion she currently calls home.

Sources close to the couple tell TMZ, Usher's lawyer sent Tameka Raymond a letter informing her the 12,000 sq. ft. Georgia home -- which Usher owns -- is going on the market and she needs to find new digs.

Usher has allowed Tameka to live in the home for the last few years -- but per their 2009 divorce agreement, Usher has the right to sell the pad at any time as long as he gives 60 days notice.

According to sources, Tameka didn't take the news well, seeing as she has no income of her own and has been financially dependent on Usher since the divorce.
On the flip side, we're told Usher feels he's given Tameka plenty of time to get her act together ... and enough is enough.

Fun fact: Usher purchased the home in 2007 for $3 million. Unclear what he plans to sell it for.

May 21, 2012
Whitney Houston’s Final Recording ‘Celebrate’ Released
By Abena Agyeman-Fisher


The much-beloved pop icon Whitney Houston recorded a duet with fellow actress and singer Jordin Sparks just four days before her untimely demise. Now, Whitney fans can hear the diva show off her rehabilitated voice in her final song.
SEE ALSO: Billboard’s Best Music Moment

Singing alongside Sparks for a tune called “Celebrate,” Houston sounds like her old self. The song is for the upcoming movie “Sparkle,” which is a 1976 remake of the original “Sparkle” that starred Philip Michael Thomas, Irene Cara, and Lonette McKee.

“Sparkle” chronicles the lives of a girl group in the 1960s who struggle with drug abuse and fame. The remake, starring the aforementioned Houston and Sparks, will also star Cee Lo Green, Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, and Derek Luke, among others.

For the song, movie producer Harvey Mason Jr. gushed about Houston’s performance of the song, adding that Houston’s recording session was “really positive” and Houston herself was overjoyed by her performance:
“We ended the session dancing around the control room while she said ‘Turn it up! Turn it up!’ She was so fun-loving.”

November 17, 2012

America’s biggest retailer may be in for an unexpectedly painful holiday season. Protesting low wages, spiking health care premiums, and alleged retaliation from management, Wal-Mart Stores workers have started to walk off the job this week. First, on Wednesday, about a dozen workers in Wal-Mart’s distribution warehouses in Southern California walked out, followed the next day by 30 more from six stores in the Seattle area.

The workers, who are part of a union-backed employee coalition called Making Change at Wal-Mart, say this is the beginning of a wave of protests and strikes leading up to next week’s Black Friday. A thousand store protests are planned in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., the group says.

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, workers who were either planning to strike or already striking explained their situation. “We have to borrow money from each other just to make it to work,” said Colby Harris, who earns $8.90 an hour after having worked at a Wal-Mart in Lancaster, Tex., for three years. “I’m on my lunch break right now, and I have two dollars in my pocket. I’m deciding whether to use it to buy lunch or to hold on to it for next week.” He said the deduction from his bimonthly pay check for health-care costs is scheduled to triple in January. In 2013, Wal-Mart plans to scale back its contributions to workers’ health-care premiums, which are expected to rise between 8 percent and 36 percent. Many employees will forgo coverage, Reuters reports.

Sara Gilbert, a manager who was striking in Seattle, called in on her cell phone: “I work full-time for one of the richest companies in the world, and my kids get state health insurance and are on food stamps,” she said.

Along with Target and Sears, Wal-Mart has plans to open retail stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Employees said they weren’t given a choice as to whether they would work on Thanksgiving and were told to do so with little warning. “They don’t care about family,” said Charlene Fletcher, a Wal-Mart associate in Duarte, Calif. She said she is expected to report for work at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The workers said that when they complain about scheduling and other problems, management cuts their hours or fires people.

With 1.4 million U.S. workers, the Bentonville (Ark.)-based company is the U.S.’s largest private employer. For years, Wal-Mart has been targeted by unions and workers complaining about low wages, scant benefits, and retaliation against those who speak out.

Until now, the company has crushed attempts by employees to organize. So it’s unusual that Making Change at Wal-Mart has been able to organize a number of strikes—the first in the company’s history, they say. The first strike occurred in Los Angeles in October. That strike spread to 28 stores in 12 states, organizers say.

In an e-mail, Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg called the strike “just another exaggerated publicity campaign aimed at generating headlines to mislead” the retailer’s customers and employees. “The fact is, these ongoing tactics being orchestrated by the UFCW are unlawful and we will act to protect our associates and customers from this ongoing illegal conduct,” he wrote, referring to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The workers intend for next week’s protests to be much bigger. They say their goal is not to shame the company, but to improve conditions. “Wal-Mart needs to know,” said Harris, “that if we didn’t want to work with them, we would have quit.”

Yet the strikes—timed to coincide with the holiday shopping rush—are clearly intended to put pressure on the company during the busiest time of the year, when Wal-Mart most needs its employees. Holiday cheer is a tough sell if your workers are picketing in the parking lot.

September 6, 2012
US President Barack Obama has accepted the nomination of the Democratic party, and delivered a speech saying voters face the "choice of a generation".

He laid out goals for the US, and told voters: "You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth."

Republican Mitt Romney challenges Mr Obama for the White House in November.

Opinion polls show the two contenders neck-and-neck.

Obama told delegates in the hall and voters watching at home that the nations problems have built up over "decades" and cannot be fixed in a flash.

"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have," he said.

"But when you pick up that ballot to vote - you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation.

"Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace - decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children's lives for decades to come," he said.

Fired-up Biden
Vice-President Joe Biden took the stage shortly before Mr Obama to accept his own nomination.

In an emotional speech that focused on family and national security, he described Mr Obama's process of dealing with the country's crises.

"Folks, I've watched him. He never wavers. He steps up," Mr Biden said.

"He asks the same thing over and over again: How is this going to work for ordinary families? Will it help them?"

Mr Biden also criticised Mr Romney for not backing the US auto industry bailout, referring to the former Massachusetts governor's time leading private equity firm Bain Capital.

"I just don't think he understood what saving the automobile industry meant, to all of America. I think he saw it the Bain way, in terms of balance sheets and write-offs," he said.

"The Bain way may bring your firm the highest profit. But it's not the way to lead your country from its highest office."

The third and final night of speeches in Charlotte also saw former Florida governor Charlie Crist - who was previously a Republican - and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry address the convention.

Mr Kerry criticised the Mr Romney for surrounding himself with "neo-conservative advisors who know all the wrong things about foreign policy".

"This is not the time to outsource the job of commander in chief," the Massachusetts senator said.

Former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, still recovering from a near-fatal shooting on a meeting with her constituents in 2011, appeared on stage to lead the convention in the pledge of allegiance.

Walking slowly and steadying herself to recite the pledge, Ms Giffords brought left many in the crowd dewy-eyed as she smiled through her recital.

Mr Romney said at a campaign stop on Thursday he had not watched any of the convention's speeches so far, and was not planning to do so with Mr Obama's remarks.

He told reporters that Mr Obama should focus on what he had done since the last election and not make new promises.

Venue change
Mr Obama took the stage not in a huge stadium as organisers had hoped, but inside the convention centre after Thursday's speech was moved, with party officials citing weather concerns.

Republicans blamed the prospect of empty seats for the change of venue.

"Our friends at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn't have much to say about how they'd make it right," Mr Obama said in his Charlotte speech.

"That's because all they have to offer is the same prescription they've had for the last thirty years," he said. "'Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!'"

Mr Obama also spoke about his energy strategy, saying the US had opened "millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration... and we'll open more."

"But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country's energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4bn in corporate welfare from our taxpayers."

The president then described Mr Romney and running-mate Paul Ryan as "new to foreign policy".

"But from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly," he said.

On Wednesday, ex-President Bill Clinton told the convention the economic "mess" Mr Obama inherited from the Republicans needed more than four years to fix.

Mr Clinton's 50-minute speech was strongly critical of Republican economic plans, while offering a staunch defence of Mr Obama, whose remedies he said were working.

He said the Republican campaign argument is "pretty simple: 'We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up yet, so fire him and put us back in.'"

December 11, 2012

The Cowboys remember their fallen teammate before Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The family and friends of former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown had stayed out of the public eye for the most part since the Saturday morning car accident that took Brown's life and put the driver, Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent, in jail on intoxication manslaughter charges. That changed Monday, and the results were captivating.

Released on $500,000 bond on Sunday, Brent visited the team facility on Monday, was checked out by trainers, and spoke to head coach Jason Garrett, who said that Brent was "very distraught."

"What we want to do as an organization, as players, as coaches and this entire organization is let him know he should feel supported everywhere he turns," Garrett said of Brent on Monday. "That's what we want to express to him. It's a very challenging situation for him. He and Jerry are best friends. They have known each other since college. They were very close in college, very close since they've been here together, and it's a really, really difficult situation for him. We want to make him feel that there are people around him who can help him get through this thing day by day."

Stacey Jackson, Brown's mother, has accelerated that generosity of spirit to an entirely new level. According to multiple reports, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sent his own plane so that Brown's family could arrive in Dallas for a Tuesday memorial service, and Jackson wants Brent to meet the family at the airport, ride with her to the service, and sit with the family while Brown is remembered.

"I was upset, but I realized that our youth today are young and stupid, and we were all once that age, and we've all done things we're not proud of," Jackson said on Monday's "Piers Morgan Tonight" show on CNN. "I realized that everyone thinks they're invincible, and everyone thinks, 'it's not going to happen to me.' I know Josh Brent, and he's been part of our family since Jerry went to the University of Illinois -- all I can do is to pray for him and his family. I know [Brent] is hurting just as much as we are, because [he] and Jerry were like brothers."

According to Jerry Jones, Jackson "wanted to be right with Josh and to express in every way she could how much they loved him and thought of him, and didn't want to have him grieve for his loss as a friend without being included in their family."

"It's so tragic when you think about that they were best friends," Jones said on a local radio station, when recalling Brent's feelings about Brown joining the Cowboys. "Josh was elated when Jerry came on the team because they were such good friends and teammates in college. Josh, of course, was on the regular team and consequently had a place to live. Jerry was on the practice squad and there's quite a difference in the economics that they make, so Jerry was living with Josh on Josh's generosity. Those guys were on the way to their house when this accident happened. It's so, so tragic for everybody involved."

Nobody is excusing what Brent did, and we don't know all the details just yet. What is remarkable about the story so far is how willing those closest to Jerry Brown are to forgive, and to open their hearts to Josh Brent when many others would not. From a human perspective, and leaving everything else out of the picture for the moment, it's fairly amazing.