Orange is the new cat.View
Orange is the new cat.View
FAIRFAX, Va. — Easing backups on the Fairfax County Parkway will begin with $5 million in changes at three intersections under a corridor study presented Tuesday by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.
The study, which looked at the stretch between Interstate 95 and Telegraph Road, recommends four improvements that could all be completed within about five years.
The cheapest, and quickest to implement, would be a realignment of the Backlick Road intersection with the parkway to eliminate part of the current set up of a double intersection for drivers. Restripping the road and other minor changes are projected to cost about $96,000.
The most expensive project would add a new auxiliary lane southbound between U.S. Route 1 and John J. Kingman Road at Fort Belvoir. That is projected to cost around $3.2 million.
Two other recommendations would add or extend left turn lanes to keep cars waiting to turn out of the main lanes and block traffic for vehicles traveling straight through the intersection.
The first, at the Kingman Road intersection, would extend the southbound left-turn lane at a cost of about $460,000.
The second, on Terminal Road, would add a left turn lane along the eastbound approach at a cost of about $1.5 million.
Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s Neil Freschman says the four projects are designed to address very specific problems, so while they will help the whole corridor, they are not complete solutions.
“Some of the projects, such as the one at the Backlick Road connector, could be implemented more quickly, (but) some of the others are going to take several years,” he says.
The study includes potential future projects to ease congestion at Loisdale Road and Telegraph Road in addition to further changes at the Kingman Road intersection.
The next step is to secure funding for the nearer-term projects.
The post 4 projects, $5M could ease backups on Fairfax Co. road appeared first on WTOP.
A Proposed Luxury Resort Where Eagles Soar Stirs Anger
WARSAW, Va. — Twice a year, bald eagles from as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida flock by the thousands to a stretch of the Rappahannock River in Virginia for an all-you-can-eat buffet. They perch in trees atop pale cliffs rising along ...
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Two national full-service restaurants are joining the slew of fast food establishments like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Dairy Queen in dumping sugary drinks from the kid’s menu: Applebee’s and IHOP are the latest eateries to embrace the soda-less trend.
A rep for DineEquity, the parent company of both Applebee’s and IHOP, confirmed the menu change with Consumerist on Tuesday.
The menu change doesn’t actually mean that children visiting the restaurants are banned from ordering soda. Instead, the soft drinks will still be available upon request for adults who choose to order them for their children.
“Both IHOP and Applebee’s have removed the choice of soft drinks from their kid’s menus and/or placemats,” a rep for DineEquity said in an emailed statement. “We believe in having a broad variety of selections so our guests have a choice that best meets their needs. While soft drinks are still available by request, we believe this is a small step in assisting parents while dining out, as parents are in the best position to determine the appropriate food and beverage choices for the children,”
The move to stop automatically include soft drinks with kid’s meals was quick to draw praise from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other consumer groups.
“Soda and other sugar drinks promote diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and even heart disease, and a kids’ menu is no place for disease-promoting drinks,” CSPI nutrition policy counsel Jessica Almy said in a statement. “Kudos to Applebee’s for taking this important step to promote children’s health. Other sit-down chains such as Chili’s should follow Applebee’s lead.”
The Food Justice campaign from Momsrising.org, a grassroots organization, also applauded the move, saying DineEquity is now doing its part to keep America’s kids healthy.
“While we are encouraged by DineEquity and other restaurants taking this important step, we are still reaching for a future where restaurants do even more to offer healthy options for children and adults by serving whole grain rolls, providing more fruit and vegetable options, reducing sodium across the menu, and adopting a comprehensive policy to limit the marketing of unhealthy food to children,” the group said in a statement.
A Consumerist reader alerted us to a Facebook post by a Walmart shopper who posted video of the hungry birds while she was shopping at a Chicopee store this weekend, calling the sight “disgusting.”
In the video, you can hear someone saying, “All that is bad… the whole top shelf,” as a Walmart worker begins removing products from the shelf and the startled birds fly off.
“After the employee who came to collect the meat they were eating walked away, the birds came right back,” the shopper wrote on Facebook, adding, “The employees did nothing.”
Western Mass News also shared a photo taken by another shopper, who said he saw the birds clustered around the hamburger, “literally eating out of the packages.”
He also said he told an employee, and claimed they weren’t concerned.
“As sad as it sounds, they made it seem like it was a normal thing…’Yeah, they’re here’,” he told the news station.
Western Mass News reported that the Chicopee Health Department investigated the building on Monday, with an inspector confirming that 17 birds were removed from the store.
A Walmart spokesman told Consumerist that the store hired a professional to remove the birds, and that the company has additional safeguards in place to try to prevent a similar situation in the future, but did not elaborate on what those measures are.
“As soon as we learned of this issue the impacted product was immediately removed from shelves and disposed of,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement. “In addition licensed professionals were brought in to successfully remove the birds from the store. We require the highest of food safety standards and have procedures in place to ensure our customers have access to safe and affordable foods.”
The spokesman did not have a comment regarding how often Walmart has had to deal with such bird incursions, or if this is an entirely unique incident.
Bird infestation at Chicopee Walmart raises health concerns [Western Mass News]
There aren’t many things that Mississippi and Hawaii have in common, so it might be hard to fathom how an airline would mistakenly send a dog to one place instead of the other. But that’s exactly what happened over the weekend, when Bethany the Corgi took an unplanned trip to the island state.
CBS DFW reports that a mix-up with American Airlines at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport sent the small pooch nearly 3,000 miles out of the way to Hawaii instead of her intended destination of Jackson, MS.
Bethany’s owner posted a flyer on Facebook over the weekend asking for help finding his beloved pet after she failed to arrive in Mississippi on the same flight as him.
A spokesperson for American tells CBS DFW that the airline sent a system-wide alert about the missing dog and tracked her down Sunday morning… in Hawaii.
The dog, who is being cared for by a vet in Hawaii, is doing fine, the spokesperson said. The airline planned to fly Bethany back to Dallas Monday evening and then on to Jackson Tuesday.
The animal’s owner told CBS DFW in an email that he was thankful to American’s customer service managers who worked tirelessly to find his beloved pet.
While things ended on a happy note for Bethany and her owner, that isn’t always the case. According to CBS DFW, airlines have lost 52 pets during the past 10 years.
Slapping on a knee brace or wrapping your ankle might provide a bit of comfort for aches and pains related to physical activity, but who wants to do all that work when slipping on copper-infused compression clothing can take all your pain away? That seems like a simple, easy way to rid yourself of severe and chronic pain and inflammation, you know, if it were actually backed by science. But it apparently wasn’t, and now athletic apparel company Tommie Copper must pay for that little oversight – to the tune of $1.35 million.
The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday that it had reached a proposed settlement [PDF] with Tommie Copper and its founder, Thomas Kallish, to resolve allegations the company deceptively advertised that its copper-infused compression clothing would relieve pain and inflammation caused by arthritis and other diseases.
According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], since 2011 New York-based Tommie Copper advertised the copper-infused compression garments in infomercials, brochures, social media, and print media such as Arthritis Today magazine without “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to back up its claims.
The garments, which include sleeves, braces, shirts and socks, sold for $29.95 to $69.50 each, generating an estimated $87 million from April 2011 to October 2014.
Infomercials for Tommie Copper featured a well-known talk show host (and payday loan apologist) exclaiming that “Tommie Copper truly is pain relief without a pill.”
Other ads featured celebrity and consumer testimonials claiming that Tommie Copper garments alleviated pain caused by multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
“Love this product. I have been having issues due to RA [Rheumatoid Arthritis] with swelling and pain in my left knee . . . . Since wearing the [Tommie Copper] knee sleeve, it has kept my knee from swelling, decreasing my knee pain at the end of the day . . . . Thanks for creating a great product!” a user of the products said in a brochure.
The marketing also claimed the products could provide pain relief comparable to, or better than, drugs or surgery.
“I had a torn cartilage in my knee years ago …. I was scheduled for surgery September 11, 2012 to have another knee replacement on my right knee,” one user says in a Tommie Copper YouTube advertisement. “I had gone to the gym and I limped in one day, my right knee was bothering me. So, one of the guys saw me in the gym and said, what’s the matter with you? I said, wow, my right knee is bothering me, I’ve probably got another bad knee …. [H]e threw me a Tommie Copper sleeve. I put it on, great. Next day I saw him, I said, … you got to get me another one for my replaced knee because it feels that good. I put them on and I have not taken them off since. I have not done surgery [sic] and I am not going anywhere near the surgeon’s knife. I am fine just the way it is.”
The FTC alleges that claims included in Tommie Copper’s ads were deceptive as they contained false or unsubstantiated information.
Under the proposed settlement, Tommie Copper and its founder must pay $86.8 million, however that judgment will be partially suspended after the payment of $1.35 million to be distributed to consumers deceived by the company.
If the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition, the total amount will immediately come due.
With the settlement Tommie Copper and its founder do not admit or deny any of the allegations levied by the FTC.
The Food and Drug Administration issued a notice that Taylor Farms Pacific of Tracy, CA is issuing a recall for items that may contain the celery in question. Along with Costco, 7-Eleven, King Sooper, Pantry, Raleys, Savemart, Tonys, Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Starbucks, Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club are all included in the list. Click here for a complete list of the products being recalled.
The items vary — some are simply diced celery mixes, while others are pre-made salads — potato, pasta, tuna, chicken, etc. — or kits to make your own salad containing the possibly tainted veggies.
This strain of E. Coli can cause an illness that could develop into a form of kidney failure, the FDA notes, which is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly, so it’s important to remain vigilant. If you’re worried you’ve become ill from eating the products, contact your health care provider.
Thus far, 19 people have been infected with E. coli in California, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
Customers who have any of the recalled products should toss them straight in the garbage. You can call 209-830-3141 for any further information Monday to Friday, between the hours of 8am-5pm (PST).
The recent breach of popular children’s electric toy maker VTech compromised the personal information of nearly five million parents and children, but a new report claims the hack exposed even more sensitive information: photos and chat logs between children and their parents.
The anonymous hacker taking credit for the Nov. 14 breach of the company’s Learning Lodge app store claims VTech left tens of thousands of pictures and a year’s worth of chat logs easily accessible to hackers, Motherboard reports.
The hacker says the new data came from the company’s Kid Connect service, which allows parents using a smartphone app to chat with their child using a VTech tablet.
Photos stored in the VTech server were the result of Kid Connect’s online tutorials that encouraged the 2.3 million registered users – both parents and children – to take headshots for use in the app.
VTech did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment on the new revelation.
”Frankly, it makes me sick that I was able to get all this stuff,” the hacker told Motherboard in an encrypted chat. ”VTech should have the book thrown at them.”
The hacker, who provided more than 3,800 of the photos to Motherboard as verification, also found year-old chat logs between parents and kids and some audio files on the breached VTech servers.
The photos, chat logs and audio files, can easily be linked back to the personal account information previously exposed by the breach, the hacker says.
“I can get a random Kid Connect account, look through the dump, link them to their circle of friends, and the parent who registered at Learning Lodge [VTech’s app store],” the hacker told Motherboard, noting that he doesn’t plan to sell or publish the compromised data. “I have the personal information of the parent and the profile pictures, emails, [Kid Connect] passwords, nicknames…of everyone in their Kid Connect contacts list.”
VTech announced Monday that “as a precautionary measure” it had temporarily suspended the Learning Lodge and a dozen websites for a “thorough security assessment and fortification.”
New research from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management suggests that the “Happy Meal Effect” could be used to incentivize adult consumers to purchase more health-friendly food options.
Eller’s Martin Reimann, along with Antoine Bechara and Deborah MacInnis of the University of Southern California, performed a number of experiments to find out if offering a non-food bonus with a menu item was enough to steer both kids and adults toward an option that was not as filling as an offering without the bonus.
When a group of sixth-grade students were presented with the option of a full sandwich and no prize or a half-sandwich and a pair of cheap bud-style earphones, 78% of them went for the smaller sandwich.
Kids were even more likely to go with the prize-included half portion when the food in question was something youngster-friendly like chicken nuggets or cookies.
The researchers found that you only need to present the opportunity for a prize to get people to select the smaller portion. They presented university staff and students with a choice between full lunches without any sort of incentive, and half portions that included only the chance of winning a $100 gift card or 10,000 frequent flier miles. Even just that hope of winning a prize was enough to steer a significant number of adults to the smaller portion.
The likelihood of people to pick a half portion with a non-guaranteed prize was affected by several things. Researchers say that when test subjects knew the odds of winning a prize (even if the odds were good), the Happy Meal Effect wasn’t as strong as it was when subjects merely knew that a prize could be won.
The dollar amount of the potential prize was also a factor that could sway results. Researchers say that the likelihood of choosing the smaller portion grew exponentially as the value increased from $10 to $50. However, there was little difference between the results for a possible $50 reward and a possible $100 prize.
Perhaps most importantly, the research found that test subjects who opted for smaller portions were not later eating more to account for the fact that they didn’t each the larger portion at lunch.
Reimann suggests this sort of incentivizing might be a way for restaurants to encourage smaller portion consumption while avoiding regulatory and legislative efforts to rein in consumption of high-calorie foods.
“If non-food rewards, even small and uncertain ones, can be just as engaging at a neurochemical level, then restaurants can potentially motivate healthier choices without jeopardizing sales, and consumers have more paths to avoid overeating,” he explains.
The wallet-sized – or larger – smartphone constantly tethered to your hand may often be seen as your connection to the outside world. Each time you surf the web, connect with friends, make purchases and check your bank account, it’s collecting mountains of data about you. And that data could soon be analyzed to determine if you’re creditworthy.
Or at least that’s the idea behind a number of lending startups trying to revamp the way consumers in developing countries obtain needed lines of credit, despite having no actual credit history, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The companies say that by glancing at a person’s cellphone they can access data generated by apps and uncover behavior that correlates with the likelihood that a borrower will repay or default on a loan.
To access a potential borrower’s phone, the companies have created a slew of apps, which analyze information stored on the device, including the content of their text messages, emails and duration or frequency of calls.
That means the decision on whether or not someone qualifies for credit could hinge on how often they charge their phone or whether or not they add a last name to stored contacts.
Branch.co already has such a program up and running in Kenya, where an Android app lets users apply for small loans, get approved and obtain access to the funds in minutes.
The loans, which average just $30, come with a 6% to 12% interest rate depending on a borrower’s creditworthiness as determined by their smartphone behavior and are expected to be repaid within three to six months.
“These are people that don’t have a credit score,” Branch founder Matt Flannery said. “Your digital trail can establish your financial track record.”
Each startup, and its corresponding app, has a different method for culling and analyzing the smartphone data.
For example, a company called InVenture, which also operates in Kenya, found that users who wait until after 10 p.m. to make calls are often lower-risk borrowers.
“You’re able to get in and really understand the daily life of these customers,” InVenture CEO Shivani Siroya tells the WSJ, noting that the company’s algorithm analyzes 10,000 so-called signals per customer in order to determine creditworthiness.
In another example of data analysis, Branch found users who are known gamblers – a detail found by scanning messages or payment logs – are more likely to repay a loan than non-gamblers.
Customers of the apps in Kenya tell the WSJ they chose to borrow through the startups to pay for running or improving their small businesses because banks were too far away or imposed higher interest rates.
The owner of a health and beauty store used the funds for items like skin cleansers when her account was running low, while a chef used the credit line to purchase plates, cutlery and pots.
The WSJ estimates that lending startups like Branch and InVenture could bring needed lines of credit to up to 580 million people living in emerging economies.
Of course, with the amount of sometimes sensitive data being collected by these startups and other companies, privacy is a big concern for both consumers and privacy advocates, who warn that some data could be misconstrued by the algorithms.
For example, advocates shared concerns with the WSJ that someone may be denied a loan because they simply Tweeted “my car has broken down.”
Still, a survey of dozens of people in developing countries found that most had no problem sharing personal information in exchange for lines of credit.
While these companies are focused on emerging markets markets outside of the U.S., other so-called smartphone lenders like LendUp and ZestFinance use similar algorithms and process to provide credit to American consumers.
Making the decision to lend based on non-traditional data sources isn’t just contained to startups: the WSJ reports that companies like Visa have built mobile payment apps.
In August, social media behemoth Facebook received a patent that would allow lenders to determine a borrower’s creditworthiness by looking at their “friends.” It’s unclear if that project will ever come to fruition.
Lending Startups Look at Borrowers’ Phone Usage to Assess Creditworthiness [The Wall Street Journal]
Lest people think these jackets are missing their owners, attached to each one is a note from the Portland woman, reading: “I am not lost! Please take me if you need me,” reports WCSH-6’s Grady Trimble, who spotted two of the jackets downtown.
She told the news station that she’s been asking others to do the same, after buying two jackets for $1. 00 each at Goodwill and taping them up in the downtown area. As soon as she was back inside her car, she said she saw someone without a lot of layers on taking a jacket.
“People are homeless, people are cold,” she wrote on Facebook. “$5 to make five people less freezing, $5 to make someone sleep a little better tonight, $5 may be very little to me but very important to another. I encourage everyone to give this a try this season.”
Shortly before noon on Saturday, police charged the man with driving with an open container, carrying a concealed firearm and armed possession of pot with intend to sell, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
“As I passed the vehicle… I observed the driver drink from a bottle that appeared to resemble that of an alcoholic beverage,” the arresting officer wrote in his report. “The bottle’s content appeared to be dark yellow in color, reasonably appearing to me to be the color of beer.”
And indeed, it was a bottle of Corona Extra, police said. The officer noted that the driver didn’t want to the police vehicle at first, lagging behind to avoid a traffic stop.
“I knew he was doing this because he reduced his speed to almost a complete stop in the roadway.”
That tactic didn’t work out so well, as eventually the alleged beer drinker had to pass the police car, at which point the officer pulled him over. The driver eventually handed over a small bag of pot and admitted that there was an open beer behind the seat. He was arrested, and later released after posting bail.
Idling next to a cop? Bad idea to be sipping a cold beer [Orlando Sentinel]
WASHINGTON — Jose Cuervo is a bundle of joy, energy, and enthusiasm.
This 1-year-old Jack Russell Terrier mix is very playful and enjoys his toys and a good game of tug. Jose Cuervo adores everyone he meets and also likes playing with other dogs.
He would love to find a home where he is kept active and can continue his training. Looking for a go-getter young dog? Then stop by the Washington Animal Rescue League and meet Jose Cuervo!
About WARL: Founded in 1914, the Washington Animal Rescue League is the oldest animal shelter in Washington D.C. Its mission includes rescuing, rehabilitating and finding homes for animals who have no where else to go. The League also supports animals through affordable veterinary care, community outreach and education. Learn more about the Washington Animal Rescue League at www.warl.org.
If you are thinking of adding a furry friend to your family, check out these other great shelters in the area:
Humane Society of Charles County
71 Industrial Park Dr. PO Box 1015 Waldorf, Md. 20604
Humane Society of Charles County offers a low cost spay/neuter program to the public. Please call or visit our website for more information. The shelter is also looking for more foster parents to help its animals.
Lab Rescue of L.R.C.P.
4808 Moorland Ln, Rockville, MD 20850
Lab Rescue of the LRCP is a volunteer driven, nonprofit organization that rescues, fosters and places homeless, abused, and/or abandoned Labrador retrievers.
Prince George’s County Humane Society
P.O. Box 925 Bowie, Md. 20718
Prince George’s County Humane Society is also looking for foster parents. For more information, contact the organization.
PAW — Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074 Greenbelt, Md. 20768
Paws Animal Kingdom
P.O. Box 11531 Takoma Park, Md. 20912
Montgomery County Humane Society
601 South Stonestreet Ave. Rockville, Md. 20850
The Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County
12 Park Ave. Gaithersburg, Md. 20877
Washington Humane Society
1201 New York Ave. NE 20002
ASAP — Alliance for Stray Animals and People
P.O. Box 65438 Washington, D.C. 20035-5438
Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue
Approved applicants may attend monthly adoption meets that are usually held at the house of a volunteer in either Northern Virginia or Southern Maryland.
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue
5159 Lee Highway Arlington, Va. 22207
Lucky Dog is a foster home organization and does not run a dedicated housing facility.
A Forever Home
P.O. Box 222801 Chantilly, VA 20153-2801
A Forever-Home is a nonprofit dog rescue group that operates in the Northern Virginia/Washington Metropolitan area.
FOHA — Friends of Homeless Animals
39710 Goodpuppy Ln, Aldie, Va. 20105
All visitors must speak to a Friends representative before receiving directions to their shelter location.
SPCA of Northern Virginia
P.O. Box 100220 Arlington, Va. 22210-3220
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
4101 Eisenhower Ave. Alexandria, Va. 22304
Animal Welfare League of Arlington
2650 S. Arlington Mill Dr. Arlington, Va.
Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation
P.O. Box 223953 Chantilly, Va. 20153
HART — Homeless Animal Rescue Team
P.O. Box 7261 Fairfax Station, Va. 22039-7261
King Street Cats Rescue and Adoption
25 Dove St. Alexandria, Va. 22314
Virginia German Shepherd Rescue
P.O. Box 126 Sterling, Va. 20167
The DMV office will move to the Barcroft Plaza shopping center, at 6345 Columbia Pike in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County, about four miles away from its current location.
The new DMV is expected to open “by late spring,” at which time the Four Mile Run location will close, said DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker.
Arlington County will retain its DMV Select office at the county government building in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd). The DMV Select office offers various vehicle titling and registration services, but does not issue driver’s licenses, learners permits or ID cards.
Photo via Commonwealth of Virginia
WELCH, W.Va. (AP) — The seams of coal in some of Eddie Asbury’s mines in McDowell County are so thin workers can barely squeeze down them. They enter on carts nearly flat on their backs, the roof of the mine coursing by just a few inches in front of their faces. They don’t stand up all day.
To keep his business operating with such a paltry amount of coal, Asbury has to do everything himself. He has no use for the shiny, multimillion-dollar mining machines on display this fall at the biannual coal show nearby. His equipment is secondhand stuff that he repairs and refurbishes. The coal he and his workers scrape out of the mountain is washed and prepared for sale in a plant Asbury and a colleague built themselves.
“It’s how we survive,” says Asbury, 66, a miner since 1971.
Even coal is barely surviving in coal country — and coal is about the only thing that Central Appalachia has.
West Virginia is the only state in the country where more than half of adults are not working, according to the Census Bureau. It is tied with Kentucky for the highest percentage of residents collecting disability payments from Social Security, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And the death rate among working-age adults is highest in the nation, 55 percent higher the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And now the one main source for decent-paying work, the brutal life of coal, seems to be drying up for good. The thick, easy, cheap coal is gone, global competition is fierce, and clean air and water regulations are increasing costs and cutting into demand.
Central Appalachia’s struggle is familiar to many rural regions across the U.S., where middle-class jobs are disappearing or gone and young people have no other choice than to leave to find opportunity. But the problems are amplified in coal country, where these difficult economic and social conditions have gripped the region for decades and where there is hardly any flat land to build anything.
Every year since 1979, West Virginia has led the country in the percentage of people who are either not working or looking for work. But businesses are reluctant to come set up shop in Central Appalachia and take advantage of the available labor in part because education levels are so low. Forty-two percent of prime-age West Virginians have no more than a high-school degree, nearly double the national average.
“We have a mismatch between the job skills that employers want and the job skills West Virginians have,” says John Deskins, director of the Bureau for Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University. “It’s a little bit grim. You can cut the data in multiple ways, and West Virginia still lags the nation.”
But this crisis — and the realization that there won’t be another coal boom in these parts — is leading to a growing understanding that new approaches are needed to help Central Appalachia emerge from decades of deep poverty, under-education and poor health.
Big federal and state programs and initiatives, some dating from the Lyndon Johnson administration, have failed to help the region diversify its economy much beyond digging or blasting coal out of mountains. If anything is going to help the people of Appalachia, poverty experts and residents of West Virginia now say, it’s themselves: local entrepreneurs who know their communities and customers well, and are committed to them.
“We need to have some urgency and look at other possibilities because coal may not be here,” says Dr. Donovan “Dino” Beckett, CEO of the Williamson Health and Wellness Center, who also is supporting a range of programs to help boost health and entrepreneurship. “But that’s a controversial subject here because coal is a way of life.”
Success, if it can come to coal country, will be the result of thousands of big risks taken by small-scale business people. It will be halting and arduous and it will come with failure. Many will have no choice but to leave, as tens of thousands already have in recent decades. And West Virginia may continue to lag the nation in social and economic demographics in the years to come.
Central Appalachia is not out of ideas, though, and it has not given up. Grass-roots approaches like Dino Beckett’s programs to improve health in Mingo County, an apprentice program in Wayne County designed to give high school kids a better chance at a good job, and even Eddie Asbury’s small-but-determined coal operation in McDowell County show how Central Appalachia may slowly begin to remake itself.
DARK TIMES FOR COAL
For more than a century, the coal seams that run through Appalachia have made the steel used to build U.S. cities and the electric power to light them. As technology has improved, though, it has taken fewer and fewer workers to mine that coal.
Coal employment and population in Appalachia were at their highest in the middle of the last century. West Virginia coal employment peaked at 130,000 miners in 1940 and is now under 20,000.
The same trend played across the nation. There are fewer than 80,000 coal miners in the U.S. — less than half the number of new jobs the U.S. economy adds every month. That’s one-tenth the number of coal workers in the 1920s, and those fewer workers now produce nearly twice as much coal.
Most of those job losses happened long before coal’s latest downturn. Mechanization began slashing the number of workers needed to mine coal in the 1960s, and then a collapse in the U.S. steel industry in 1980s further decimated miners’ ranks.
Now employment is falling further because the world is trying to turn away from coal in hopes of protecting the environment and human health. Coal is by far the biggest source of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants among fuels used to make electricity.
Coal will not go completely away anytime soon — it’s the cheapest way to bring electricity to the 1.3 billion people who lack access to it, and even developed nations will still need to burn it as they transition to cleaner fuels. The carbon in coal will still be needed to mix with iron to make steel. But there is so much more coal than the world needs that only the cheapest global producers will survive.
In the U.S., where natural gas has become a cheaper alternative to coal to generate electricity, miners are facing an especially difficult market: Four major U.S. coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in the last 18 months.
Mining a thin seam of coal takes nearly as much labor, time and cost as mining a thick seam, but it yields a lot less coal. That makes the thin seams left in Central Appalachia too expensive to compete with cheaper coal being mined in places like Illinois, Wyoming, Australia and Indonesia. The industry will persist here, driven by small, determined operators like Asbury, but as a niche no longer able to support a region’s economy.
“There’s a reluctant realization that this is different,” says Keith Burdette, West Virginia’s commerce secretary and head of the state’s economic development office, of the latest coal bust.
About the only flat land to build anything among the jumble of mountains in Southern West Virginia is in the hollows traced by small rivers, and that land sits in dangerous flood plains.
This unavoidable geography has hampered efforts to diversify the economy, despite decades of effort. There’s one stoplight in all of McDowell County, and there isn’t a four-lane highway to be found.
John F. Kennedy stopped in Welch, McDowell’s county seat, as a presidential candidate in May 1960 and railed against the “poverty and hunger, the destroyed health” of children there. The first food stamps were given out in McDowell County, and Congress launched the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1965 to help increase job opportunities and make the region economically competitive.
Poverty experts say these efforts helped relieve the most acute conditions, but did little else. As coal employment declined, people fled because there was little else for them to do. McDowell County had a population of just under 100,000 in 1950. Since then, the county’s population has fallen by four-fifths, to around 20,000.
“All we’ve got is coal,” says Randy Campbell, one of Asbury’s mine superintendents.
Even when land is found and developed, it can be hard to attract businesses. Tazewell County, across the border from McDowell in Virginia’s coal country, built a 680-acre business and technology park and dangled incentives to try to entice companies to move in. It sits empty, five years after the county started marketing it.
To many, it is a massive failure of government at federal and local levels that a trend of declining employment, under-education and poor health has been allowed to continue for half a century without a comprehensive overhaul of development policy. For example, many states that rely on natural resource production have permanent funds created with taxes or royalties from resource production that can be tapped during downturns. West Virginia set one up only last year, and because of restrictions on when and how it can be funded, it is empty.
“Our policy makers haven’t grappled with the realities, and it’s to the detriment of coal communities,” says Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “When the new economy started taking off, it left West Virginia behind.”
That may be starting to change. Burdette, the state’s commerce secretary, says the state is considering approaches as radical as starting a homesteading program to attract people to the enormous number of abandoned buildings and empty lots.
“This is going to force us to do some things that maybe we wouldn’t do otherwise but we probably should,” he says. “It’s going to take some real creative thinking.”
JOBS AND LIFE SKILLS IN THE COALFIELDS
After Josh Napier graduated from high school in Wayne County, West Virginia, in 2011 with a major in building construction, all he could find were jobs at fast food restaurants. After stints at Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s, he was working at Wendy’s in the spring of 2012, his first child on the way, when he heard about Brandon Dennison.
“Every construction job I applied for required two years of experience,” Napier says. “Brandon was the first person to give me the chance to actually work on a job.”
Dennison wants to reduce poverty in his home state, so he devised a business plan in graduate school that uses some of the state’s disadvantages, like its abandoned buildings, to create jobs.
His creation, Coalfield Development Corp., hires graduates of high school vocational programs to restore, repurpose or tear down old buildings, use old building materials to make furniture, or build new homes on reclaimed coalfield land.
Employees also are also required to take six hours of community college courses a week and three hours of life skills classes that help them with things like money management and healthy eating.
“If you don’t have a job lined up, that 18-to-19 age becomes a cliff, and we see a lot of bad decisions,” Dennison says.
Napier got hands-on construction experience working on several types of projects, including installation of solar panels, a skill he’d like to pursue in the future. He also took classes in parenting and anger management that he says have made him a better father.
The program is getting such a good response that Dennison plans to expand early next year to start similar businesses focused on agriculture, tourism and retail.
“We’re trying to change mindsets in coal country, from ‘the world is out to get me’ to ‘the world is full of opportunity,'” he says. “A huge focus of the training we do is around entrepreneurship and how to start a business.”
Ron Haskins, a former White House and congressional adviser on welfare and poverty now at the Brookings Institution, says apprenticeship programs — especially ones that help workers pursue a degree — are desperately needed in rural regions nationwide.
They are among the best ways to foster an economy, based on businesses created by local residents who know the area and are committed to stay.
HEALTH, WELLNESS AND NEW BUSINESS
A sign entering Williamson, West Virginia reads “Heart of the Billion Dollar Coal Field,” but the state of the sign is evidence that the billions have long left Mingo County. It’s faded, and the “Welcome to Williamson” part of the sign is broken.
Residents still talk about how popular performers came through town in the 1920s and luxuries found only in a few places in the U.S. were sold in downtown shops.
Dino Beckett’s parents told him those stories, and he’s determined to get some of that vibrancy back.
It starts with improving the health of the residents. Fourteen percent of West Virginians in their prime working years have a disability that keeps them from working or limits what they can do, double the U.S. rate of 7 percent. And the state has by far the highest rate of death from drug overdoses in the nation, two and a half times the national rate, according to the CDC.
Beckett, 46, runs the Williamson Health and Wellness Center, which is working to address many of these issues. But the center also functions as a downtown engine of hope for the county.
“We wanted to start a clinic, but we wanted to be an economic driver for the area, too,” he says.
He started a free clinic under a federal program to encourage treatment of underserved populations to go along with his more traditional doctor’s office, and a Diabetes Coalition to address the extremely high rates of diabetes patients in the county.
Beckett also created a project called Sustainable Williamson that helped set up a farmer’s market to provide access to healthier food and also runs programs to foster and support entrepreneurship.
This summer, Sustainable Williamson opened a space for budding entrepreneurs in a converted old furniture store called The Hub, where people with ideas for businesses can get support and advice. They sponsor training sessions and contests that help people refine their business pitches and compete for start-up money.
His groups try to get people to be more active by promoting and sponsoring daily lunchtime walks and monthly 5K runs.
Among the most popular is the Coal Dust 5K, which took place for the third time in September. By the end of the race, it looks a little like Williamson is teeming with miners again because the runners are doused with “coal dust” along the route. Of course, the “coal dust,” like a Williamson full of miners, isn’t real.
TRYING ANYTHING TO STAY HOME
After years working as a contractor and temporary worker in the coal industry, Mark Muncy finally landed a permanent job, with benefits, working for a mine owned by Alpha Natural Resources in the fall of 2013 near his home in Welch.
A year later, Alpha closed the mine and Muncy was out of work. Alpha, one of the country’s biggest coal companies, is now in bankruptcy.
Muncy didn’t want to go back to working a long-haul truck driver, as he had done years before, because it kept him away from his family too much.
His daughter Ashleigh loved to bake so he raised some money from a local acquaintance, got a government-backed economic development loan and opened the Riverside Cafe and Bakery in June.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he says.
The plan was to run it with just his wife and four children. But the only salad bar in town proved too popular, and customers fell in love with Ashleigh’s pizza rolls. By customer request, Muncy agreed to extend the restaurant’s hours and stay open until midnight on nights when there’s a local football game with hungry fans.
The restaurant is bringing in three times what Muncy’s loan officer predicted it would — and he’s had to hire three people.
Ashleigh’s original plan was to keep her job at the local supermarket and bake on the side, but her baking just got too popular. Some of Ashleigh’s biggest fans: the region’s remaining miners, like those who work for Asbury, who come early in the morning and ask her to wrap the pizza rolls individually so they can eat them for lunch down in the mine.
Miners like Asbury and his workers won’t disappear completely from the Riverside Cafe or from coal country, despite the region’s dark future. The coal they mine is high-quality stuff, used for making steel, not electricity. It may even be used to build the frames for solar panels that Napier has learned to install, and that could further reduce demand for coal used for electricity.
Asbury is negotiating a lease for a new mine even now, in the depths of a bust.
He also is trying to work with the state on a plan to build a surface mine that would flatten a stretch of mountains but also create enough space for a highway to connect McDowell County with the two interstates that meet in Beckley — and perhaps spur some economic development unrelated to coal, finally, in Central Appalachia.
AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this story from Washington.
Jonathan Fahey can be reached at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jonathan-fahey.
WASHINGTON — School bus cameras routinely catch drivers passing illegally. In Arlington County, Virginia, a law needs to be changed before officers can fine motorists.
Though automated stop-arm cameras document the violations, Virginia state law says citations must be handed to drivers, not mailed.
That means, for the moment, aggressive motorists get away without punishment.
“Being able to enforce the fine is as important as having the cameras,” said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, who has introduced a bill to close the loophole in the law.
“I’m rather surprised, frankly, at the number of people who will drive around a school bus when it is obviously loading or unloading children.”
Kory expects her bill to get prompt consideration in the 2016 General Assembly. Typically, changes to the law — when approved by the General Assembly — don’t take effect until at least midyear.
Kory is asking the legislature to promptly pass her bill and make it law. That way, citations can go out in the mail during this school year.
“The civil penalty is $250 and that will go directly to a school system,” Kory said.
The post New Va. law would fine drivers who illegally pass buses appeared first on WTOP.
WASHINGTON — Most of us drive over and under dozens of them every day, but almost 25 percent of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to a new Government Accountability Office study.
Using data in the Federal Highway Administration’s national bridge inventory, 10 percent of the nation’s 610,749 bridges are structurally deficient, in which one or more component, such as a bridge deck, is in poor condition.
Even more of U.S. bridges — 14 percent — are functionally obsolete, with a configuration or design that may no longer be adequate for the the traffic it serves, such as being too narrow or having inadequate overhead clearance.
On the positive side, bridge condition have improved dramatically in the past decade, according to the report.
“Structurally deficient bridges decreased by 21 percent between 2005 and 2014, and functionally obsolete bridges decreased by 6 percent; but at the same time, structurally deficient deck area decreased by 20 percent while functionally obsolete deck area increased by 9 percent,” according to the report.
The deck area of a bridge is the width of the roadway surface multiplied by the length of the bridge.
According to the GAO, in the years after between 2005 and 2014, the nation added over 15,000 bridges and almost 400-million square feet of deck area.
In 2012, Congress and President Obama implemented a funding and authorization bill, which made substantial changes to in how bridge projects can be managed, funded, and prioritized by states.
According to the GAO report, “Between 2005 and 2014, the number of structurally deficient bridges decreased in 43 states and D.C. but increased in 7 states and Puerto Rico. The number of functionally obsolete bridges decreased in 33 states and D.C., but increased in 17 states and Puerto Rico.”
However, a GAO spokesperson says the state-by-state breakdown is not currently available.
The post One in four bridges is structurally deficient or obsolete, study finds appeared first on WTOP.
A broken-down car sent a family spiraling into homelessness
For want of a fuel pump, the car was lost. For want of a car, the job was lost. For want of a job, the home was lost. For want of a home, the self-respect was lost. The question Joseph Marshall asked himself was: Could he get his self-respect back and ...
Food Lion Recall Due to E. Coli Concerns
5 celery products that may contain E. Coli were sold at several Virginia stores, including several Manassas area locations. Manassas, VA. By Greg Hambrick (Patch Staff) November 30, 2015. ShareTweetGoogle PlusRedditEmailComments0. Food Lion Recall ...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Prosecutors say a woman charged with leaving her weeks-old daughter on the side of a road in Maryland has pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams said in a news release that 27-year-old Sandra McClary entered the plea Monday in county circuit court. She was sentenced to time served and put on probation for five years. She must undergo drug and alcohol treatment and complete a parenting class.
According to charging documents, a Pasadena resident found the 6-week-old child in a carrier just before midnight July 4 on the side of the road near her house. The baby was in good condition.
Prosecutors say McClary told investigators that after an argument with her boyfriend, she drove off without her boyfriend and the baby.
The post Mom who left her infant on side of road pleads guilty appeared first on WTOP.
According to the survey results [PDF], more Americans did their shopping online than in stores each day of the holiday weekend.
This includes Black Friday, the most-hyped in-store shopping day of the year. The survey says that 72.8% of respondents did in-store shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, a hair shy of the 73.1% who shopped online.
That was by far the narrowest margin between the two shopping methods. Online also beat out bricks-and-mortar on Thanksgiving (39.8% vs. 34%), and on Saturday (49% vs. 45.9%) and Sunday (32.9% vs. 19.1%).
The huge disparity on Sunday’s numbers seems to indicate that consumers get exhausted with the physical process of shopping — driving, parking, browsing, waiting in line — but they still want to look for good deals while they’re available.
According to the survey, slightly more than half of the in-store shoppers said they couldn’t pass up the savings. This seems to indicate that price is the key factor in their decision. Meanwhile, only 31.2% said they hit the stores because it’s a tradition. Those people will continue to show up every year, but you can expect online shopping to only grow more popular as the savings-oriented consumers realize they can get most, if not all, the in-store deals from the comfort of their home.
The NRF survey does give credence to some retailers’ insistence on opening their doors Thanksgiving evening. When breaking down the hourly in-store visits on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the single biggest time for shopping was not Black Friday morning, but 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving — the hour when several major retailers opened for business.
More than 13% of people who shopped in stores this weekend showed up at that time, significantly more than other popular hours like midnight (4%) and 6 a.m. (5%), or 9 a.m. (7.8%) on Friday.
The rule is the first of its kind, and will mean that chain restaurants have to include a salt-shaker emblem on any offering that contains more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams — around a teaspoon — of sodium. Here’s the warning label:
This is the latest move in NYC’s nutritional mission, in an effort to get residents to cut down on salt. Health experts say most people consume too much sodium — on average, about 3,400 mg per day — which could lead to high blood pressure and heart problems.
Many folks might not realize how much salt they’re eating, health advocates say: for example, Applebee’s Chicken Fajitas Rollup clocks in at 3,600 mg of sodium; Chili’s Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad has 3,470 mg and Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy entrée packs in 3,830 mg of salt per serving.
“With the high sodium warning label, New Yorkers will have easily accessible information that can affect their health,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in September, when the Board of Health approved the new warning.
Some restaurateurs are against the salt labels, saying that new federal menu labeling guidelines will be taking effect in 2016, which could require them to revamp their menus twice.
“This is just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through. Every one of these cumbersome new laws makes it tougher and tougher for restaurants to find success,” Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said when the salt initiative passed in September.
Though restaurants are supposed to comply as of Tuesday, NYC won’t begin collecting fines until March 1.
Swett, S.D. is still on the market after 16 months, reports The Rapid City Journal. The unincorporated hamlet about two hours from Rapid City comes with a bar (currently closed), a single house, workshop, three trailers and 6.16 acres of land.
The real estate agent in charge of the listing says she fielded an avalanche of phone calls and emails from people interested in buying the town when the news first hit, many of them with quite… unique plans for the property.
She tells the Rapid City Journal that the weirdest idea came “from a guy out of Nebraska who wanted to bring in 2,000 women from Russia, and 600 men who were felons, and he was going to build acrylic houses and run cameras 24 hours a day,” she said. “I told him he needed to call the state because I couldn’t deal with the permits for anything like that.”
Three written offers fell through for various reasons, but the agent says she’s still getting phone calls, and is surprised that the town hasn’t sold yet. The bank has now cleaned up the land, hauling away three decaying mobile homes and other paraphernalia, and has deeply discounted the price in the hopes of finally finding a buyer.
“They even installed shiny new town signs for Swett,” the agent said. “The old ones had bullet holes in them.”
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FOR SALE: An entire South Dakota town [The Rapid City Journal]
Savvy holiday shoppers who didn’t want to fight the crowds on Black Friday may still be battling congested online traffic in order to obtain the plethora of Cyber Monday deals today. That’s especially true if you’re trying to score some goodies from Target, as the retailer’s website crashed this morning.
The Washington Post reports that at about 10:20 a.m. ET today, Target’s homepage, and the pages for many of its products, stopped shoppers in their online tracks with the explanation that “high traffic’s causing delays.”
Target tells the Post that it is working to restore full functionality to the website. Until then, however, the company will regulate the flow of traffic on its site.
By noon ET Monday, some shoppers were able to access the site. However, our attempts to reach the Target.com homepage from computers in Pennsylvania and New York both turned up “Access Denied” error messages.
The retailer’s online woes are likely a result of its Cyber Week promotion which offers 15% off “virtually everything online.”
“Both traffic and order volumes are exceeding Target’s Thursday Black Friday event, which was our biggest day ever for online sales,” the company said in a statement Monday. “To help manage the volume, we have been metering traffic to the site.”
A spokesperson for the company apologized for the inconvenience on Monday, “we appreciate their patience, and encourage them to try again in a few minutes by refreshing their browser.”
Consumerist reader G. had issues making purchases online Monday, albeit of a different kind. Instead of being unable to access the retailer’s website, he was unable to put merchandise in his card because of lines.
“I hate shopping at Target stores, since they usually have as few registers open as possible, with long lines and wait times,” he tells Consumerist. “Now it seems the long lines have expanded to… shopping on their website? I can’t add the items I want to my cart, this message just keeps popping up.”
The message reads: “There’s a line for this item. So sorry for the delay, but you can save your place in line by staying on this page & trying again to add the item to your card. Thank you for your patience!”
G. says the site “simply got more and more broken” as he tried periodically to add the item to his cart. Eventually, he gave up.
This, of course, isn’t Target’s first run-in with heavy traffic wreaking havoc on its website. Over the summer, the retailer’s site crashed during the debut of its limited-time collaborative Lilly Pulitzer line.
The company said at the time that the site didn’t technically “crash,” but that Target did make the strategic decision to limit some customers’ access to certain parts of Target.com. The site was also made inaccessible for several minutes to avoid a crash.
In 2011, the company suffered a months-long glitchy mess with Target.com. The most high-profile problem occurred in mid-September when the rush to purchase items from the new Missoni for Target line crashed the site. Problems continued after that, including further crashes, missing items and mysterious debit card charges… and re-charges… and re-charges.
Target’s Web site is experiencing delays on Cyber Monday [The Washington Post]
If you’ve always dreamed of walking in the pink-bunny-suit clad footsteps of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, now is your chance — well, rather, tomorrow is that’s when bidding opens for the opportunity to stay for a weekend at the Cleveland home featured in the 1983 movie.
Starting Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. EST, fans of the movie can place their bids for the opportunity to stay at the house for two days and two nights with three guests, an experience that’s only available for one winner every year.
It’s a “VIP experience,” with $800 of themed gifts up for grabs, including a Major Award Leg Lamp, tickets to Great Lakes Science Center, some kind of BB gun involvement (careful, lest you shoot your eye out), decoder pins, “and much more,” says the A Christmas Story House Foundation on the auction’s website.
All proceeds from the auction will go toward maintaining and restoring the historic neighborhood around the landmark house. The foundation provides grants to qualified residents for home restoration projects.
Prince William County community calendar
Bird Walk The guided tour will include a variety of habitats. Bring binoculars and cameras. 8 a.m. Merrimac Farm Stone House Visitor Center, North Parking Lot, 15014 Deepwood Lane, Nokesville. 703-499-4954. firstname.lastname@example.org. Free. Dale City ...
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What you missed at the Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz show at Echostage in DC
While most remained paralyzed by post-Thanksgiving food comas on Friday, D.C.'s Smilers donned their sparkliest and shiniest for a sold-out Miley Cyrus show at Echostage in Northeast Washington. This was not to be the naked concert that's been rumored, ...
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Let’s kick off the holiday shopping season with news of a data breach that may involve some toys you’ll be wrapping in the coming weeks. Popular children’s electric toy maker VTech has announced that customer information fell into the wrong hands earlier this month.
VTech announced Friday that on Nov. 14, an “unauthorized party” accessed customer data housed in its Learning Lodge app store, which allows customers to download apps, games, e-books and other content for VTech products.
While the company assured users that the Learning Lodge does not store credit card information or Social Security numbers, the database does include data like names, e-mail addresses, encrypted passwords, IP addresses, mailing addresses, download histories, and answers to password-retrieval questions.
“Upon discovering the unauthorized access we immediately conducted a thorough investigation, which involved a comprehensive check of the affected site and implementation of measures to defend against any further attacks,” VTech said in a statement.
The company didn’t specify how many users may have been affected by the breach, but it currently provides services to people in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Latin America, Hong Kong, China, Australia, and New Zealand.
Motherboard reports that the compromised information may include data for nearly 5 million adults who have purchased VTech products and the first names, genders, and birthdays of more than 200,000 children.
“The investigation continues as we look at additional ways to strengthen our Learning Lodge database security,” said VTech. “We are committed to protecting our customer information and their privacy, to ensure against any such incidents in the future. Our Privacy Statement can be found on our website here.”