Gunning Daily News

Half of Americans Have Cut Back on Products and Services because of High Gas Prices

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

With Memorial Day come various events that signify the start of summer. These range from the first cook-out to opening the swimming pool to planning summer vacations. It also means the beginning of the summer driving season and higher gas prices are having an impact. Half of Americans who own a vehicle (51 percent) say they have cut back on products and/or services in order to pay the increased price of gasoline. As might be expected, those with lower household income are more impacted. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of those with a household income of less than $35,000 a year have cut back on products or services because of higher gas prices compared to 38% of those who have household income of $100,000 or more.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,184 adults surveyed online between May 9 and 16, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

There are many things people are cutting back on because of high gas prices. Almost three in ten of those cutting back (28 percent) have cut back on dining out while one-quarter have cut back on groceries (24 percent). One in five say they have cut back on entertainment (18 percent), while others have reduced driving or are staying home more (11 percent) and cut back on clothing purchases (10 percent). Some other things people have cut back on include personal grooming such as hair cuts or manicures (6 percent), auto repairs and upkeep (5 percent) and movies (5percent) while 5 percent say they have cut back on everything to pay for the increased price of gasoline.

Who can stop rising gas prices?
In looking at who to blame for the rising cost of gasoline, three things seem to stand out as having the most influence on price. Just under one-quarter of Americans (24 percent) say U.S. oil and natural gas industry profits have had the greatest influence on rising gasoline prices while 22 percent believe it is the world crude oil prices and 21 percent believe it's due to instability in oil producing areas.

So, who can best stop rising gas prices? One-third of Americans (34 percent) say the oil and gas industry while three in ten (28 percent) believe the federal government can best stop rising gasoline prices. One in five (19 percent) believe consumers can stop rising gas prices while 4 percent say state and local governments, 3 percent say the automotive industry and 12 percent are not sure.

Looking specifically at the automotive industry, half of U.S. adults (53 percent) say American automotive companies are not moving as quickly as they should to build cars that consume less gasoline, while 22 percent believe that are and 23 percent say they are not at all sure. This is a large change from 2006 when three-quarters of U.S. adults (74 percent) said American car companies weren't moving fast enough and only 9 percent thought they were.

So What?
In May of 1979, one-third of Americans (35 percent) felt the U.S. auto companies were moving as quickly as they could to build cars that consume less gasoline while 60 percent felt they were not. Fast forward 31 years, and the situation hasn't improved much as Americans still don't feel car companies are moving fast enough. But, with three in five adults (62 percent) expecting that gas prices on Labor Day will be higher than they are now, it just may be that nothing is fast enough to help ease the pain at the pump.

For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Postal Service's Carbon Footprint Shrinks

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

As suggested by its Reduce our Environmental Footprint Go Green Forever stamp, the U.S. Postal Service became a lot greener last year. Known globally for sustainability innovations and leadership, the agency reported an 8 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a fiscal year (FY) 2008 baseline. The reduction of 1,067,834 metric tons of CO2 is an amount equal to the annual emissions of approximately 204,000 passenger vehicles. 

"These results demonstrate the Postal Service's commitment to reduce our GHG emissions 20 percent by fiscal year 2020," says Emil Dzuray, acting USPS chief sustainability officer. "Our leaner, faster, smarter energy reduction and conservation efforts have placed us more than one third of the way to our goal."
Reduced facility energy use represented almost half of the Postal Service's GHG emissions decrease.

"Postal Service employees are laser-focused on reducing energy use at Post Offices and mail processing centers," says Tom Samra, vice president, Facilities. "We are proud to have reduced our facility energy-related emissions 12 percent from FY 2008 to FY 2010—enough to power approximately 39,000 average American households for a year."

From FY 2003 to FY 2010, USPS reduced its facility energy use by 29.4 percent, or 9.9 trillion BTUs, an amount equal to the energy used by approximately 100,000 average American households in a year.

The Postal Service voluntarily reported its FY 2010 GHG emissions reduction progress according to Federal Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Guidance. USPS reported a reduction of 9.5 percent in facility energy and fuel use, and 7 percent in contracted transport, wastewater and solid waste. While this is the Postal Service's first fiscal year federal GHG emissions report, it is the agency's fourth year of publicly reporting its GHG emissions.

Other factors supporting USPS' positive GHG results are:
• More than 400 cross-functional Lean Green Teams across the country, which produce significant results in energy reduction and resource conservation.
• More than 44,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles.
• Green mail delivery, including nearly 10,000 "fleet of feet" walking routes, nearly 70 bicycle routes and close to 80,000 "park and loop" routes, where carriers deliver mail on foot after driving to neighborhoods.
• More than 27 billion Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM stamps and shipping supplies provided to customers in FY 2010, which meet established standards for human and environmental health and recyclability. USPS is the only mailing and shipping company in the world to have earned this certification.

These energy-conservation actions are part of a comprehensive strategy USPS is using to meet its goals to reduce energy use in its facilities 30 percent by 2015 and GHG emissions 20 percent by 2020.

USPS also helps customers reduce their own carbon footprints. Visit usps.com/green and the green newsroom for more information.

USPS has won more than 75 environmental awards, including 40 White House Closing the Circle, 10 Environmental Protection Agency WasteWise Partner of the Year, Climate Action Champion, and Direct Marketing Association Green Echo awards, as well as the Postal Technology International Environmental Achievement of the Year.

The Go Green Forever stamps can be ordered online at usps.com/green.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Word of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). Mortgage loan on which the interest rate falls and rises with changes in prevailing rates. The mortgage rate is tied to a selected index and may be adjusted annually. Also called a variable rate mortgage.

Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

Q: Is private mortgage insurance necessary?
A:
Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most conventional loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.

The buyer pays this insurance, usually a small fee at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan that is added to the monthly payment.

What most homeowners do not realize is that the insurance is usually no longer necessary after enough equity has built up in the property. Contact your lender if you meet this requirement and want to drop PMI.

A precaution: do not confuse PMI with mortgage life insurance. The latter pays all, or a portion, of your mortgage in the event of your death.

Should You Start Planning Your Kids’ Retirement?

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

When our generation was growing up, we were taught about Social Security, and many of us had grandparents who were reasonably comfortable with a combination of their investment income and their government checks.

Today, not so much.

Over the last few years, we have seen the market crash and burn, and Social Security is on its way toward doing the same. So, if we’re scrambling to salvage our retirement income, imagine what it will be like for your kids.

Rick Rodgers, a retirement counselor and author of the new book The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning, believes that parents can help their kids safeguard their retirement by starting now.

“When we were just starting out in life, our parents told us to start saving money right out of the gate, but we didn’t listen,” he says. “Instead, we ran up our credit card debt, spent more than we earned and bought more house than we could afford. But our kids can and should learn from our mistakes and helping them to start saving now could give them a nest egg or millions instead of thousands.”

Rodgers’ advice includes:

• Start at 16 – Just $5,000 contributed to a Roth IRA each year for 5 years starting at age 16 could be worth more than a million by the time the reach age 65. In a Roth IRA all that growth would be tax-free when withdrawn.
• 10 Percent Rule – Everyone should save a minimum of 10 percent of their take home pay.
• Shelter Early – Ideally, you should save in a Roth IRA account at the beginning of your career. When you reach your peak earnings (usually around age 40), switch to a tax-deferred account like a 401(k).
• Fun or Fund? – Take half of what you have been spending on gifts (toys, games, etc.) and invest it in a mutual fund for your child.
• Birthday Booster – Encourage friends and relatives to contribute to the mutual fund account you’ve started instead of buying gifts for birthdays and holidays.
• Every Little Bit Helps – Contributing small amounts on a regular basis is a better strategy than waiting to accumulate a larger sum. Get in the habit of saving something regularly.
• Use the Refund – Let the government help. Currently the child tax credit is $1,000 per child until they reach age 17. Discipline yourself to save the credit when it is returned to you as a refund.

“It doesn’t take a lot to give your kids long term security,” Rodgers says. “The magic of compounded interest can do more of the heavy lifting as long as you start early and contribute often.”

Rick Rodgers, Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Retirement Planner Counselor, Certified Retirement Counselor, and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers, is Founder and CEO of Rodgers & Associates.

Farm Aid Responds to Weather Disasters across the Country

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

As thousands deal with the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes and severe storms that continue to threaten the South, Midwest and Northeast, Farm Aid has activated its Family Farm Disaster Fund to aid in the immediate relief effort for family farmers in the affected regions.

"Our hearts go out to all the folks across the country that have been affected by the devastating weather disasters over the past few weeks," says Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. "At Farm Aid, we are doing everything in our power to deliver immediate support to family farmers, getting them back on the land and growing good food for all of us."

Recent reports indicate that 2011 has been the deadliest year for tornadoes in almost 60 years, and tornado season is only half over. Farmers along the Mississippi River have lost their fields and homes to record flooding. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers from the Southeast to the West are dealing with historic drought conditions. And most recently, farmers in the Northeast have also been affected by heavy rains and flooding.

Since activating the Family Farm Disaster Fund, Farm Aid has raised more than $22,000 in emergency assistance. Every dollar raised will support local farm groups, churches and rural organizations that get funds as quickly as possible to farmers in the impacted regions.

"We are proud to join in the relief effort to help family farmers rebuild their farms and livelihoods," says Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar. "These farms serve as a critical part of our nation's backbone, and we strive to help them in this time of need, as they have served the needs of our nation's people for decades."

Contributions can be made to Farm Aid's Family Farm Disaster Fund online at www.farmaid.org.

Farm Aid's mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid's work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. Since 1985, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $39 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

FDA: Breast Thermography Not a Substitute for Mammography

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned women not to substitute breast thermography for mammography to screen for breast cancer.

Unlike mammography, in which an X-ray of the breast is taken, thermography produces an infrared image that shows the patterns of heat and blood flow on or near the surface of the body. Some health care providers claim thermography is superior to mammography as a screening method for breast cancer because it does not require radiation exposure or breast compression.

However, the FDA is unaware of any valid scientific evidence showing that thermography, when used alone, is effective in screening for breast cancer. To date, the FDA has not approved a thermography device (also referred to as a telethermographic device) for use as a stand-alone to screen or diagnose breast cancer. The FDA has cleared thermography devices for use only as an additional diagnostic tool for breast cancer screening and diagnosis. Therefore, FDA says, thermography devices should not be used as a stand-alone method for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

"Mammography is still the most effective screening method for detecting breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages," says Helen Barr, M.D., director of the Division of Mammography Quality and Radiation Programs in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "Women should not rely solely on thermography for the screening or diagnosis of breast cancer."

The FDA has issued warning letters to some health care providers who have been promoting the inappropriate use of breast thermography. The letters instructed the providers to cease making claims that thermography devices, when used alone, are an effective means of detecting breast cancer. Claims have, for instance, appeared on some providers' websites.

The FDA encourages women to:
• Have regular mammograms according to screening guidelines or as recommended by their health care provider;
• Follow their health care provider's recommendations for additional breast diagnostic procedures, such as various mammographic views, clinical breast exam, breast ultrasound, MRI or biopsy; additional procedures could include thermography;
• Remember that thermography is not a substitute for mammography and should not be used by itself for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

"While there is plenty of evidence that mammography is effective in breast cancer detection, there is simply no evidence that thermography can take its place," says Barr.

For more information visit www.fda.gov.

Public Health Experts Advise against Further Privatization of Alcohol Sales

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

National public health experts are recommending against further privatization of retail alcohol sales based on evidence that privatization would increase excessive alcohol consumption and associated health and social problems, the Keystone Research Center reports in a new policy brief.

The recommendation was made in an April statement from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent, volunteer body of public health experts created in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The Task Force statement is the most definitive statement on retail alcohol privatization issued to date by U.S. public health researchers," says Stephen Herzenberg, PhD, Economist and Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center. "It is based on the best available evidence, drawn from research on 'natural experiments' with actual privatizations. The Task Force statement deserves close examination as Pennsylvania lawmakers consider a proposal to privatize state wine and spirits stores."

In the Task Force statement, researchers explained that their recommendation against further privatization of alcohol sales in states with control of retail sales is "based on strong evidence that privatization results in increase per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption."

The Keystone Research Center policy brief provides an overview of the Task Force and its findings on alcohol privatization.

The Task Force periodically conducts rigorous "systematic reviews" of peer-refereed studies on a variety of issues, including "excessive alcohol consumption," and makes recommendations based on the evidence it gathers.

Twelve research papers that examined the impact of actual cases of privatization were used as the "primary evidence" by the Task Force in its evaluation. The papers evaluated the effects of 21 instances of privatization or (in one case) re-monopolization of retail alcohol distribution. They included retail alcohol privatizations in seven U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and two European countries (Finland and Sweden).

Sixteen of the 21 privatization events studied examined the effects of privatization on per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages that were not privatized as well as those that were privatized. After privatization, the Task Force found, consumption of privatized beverages increased "substantially" (the median increase was 48.2 percent). Meanwhile, consumption of non-privatized beverages increased very little (the median change was a fall of 2 percent).

The Task Force inferred based on "extensive evidence" that "when privatization results in substantial increases in alcohol consumption, there are at the same time substantial increases in excessive consumption."

While the 12 research papers examining natural experiments with privatization did not focus heavily on health effects and other alcohol-related harms, the Task Force found 16 other high-quality studies that examined the impact of private retail distribution on health and other social problems across different jurisdictions (some with private retail distribution and some without). The preponderance of this "secondary evidence" showed an increase in health and other social problems from private alcohol distribution.

"The maintenance of government control of off-premise sale of alcoholic beverages is one of many effective strategies to prevent or reduce excessive consumption which is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disability," the report concludes.

Dr. Herzenberg notes that writings by Dr. Antony Davies published by the Commonwealth Foundation and George Mason University's Mercatus Center present a different view on alcohol privatization. That work, however, has not been published in any peer-referred scholarly journals and failed to meet the quality standards necessary for inclusion as primary or secondary evidence in the Task Force Report.

The Task Force on Community Preventive Services is an independent, nonfederal organization that is partly staffed by "The Community Guide," an organization that provides guidance on public health issues. Members of the Task Force are appointed by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but conduct work independent of the CDC.

The Keystone Research Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that promotes a more prosperous and equitable Pennsylvania economy. For more information visit: www.keystoneresearch.org.

Word of the Day

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

Agent. Person authorized to act by and on behalf of another.

Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

Q: What about title insurance?

A:
Title insurance protects the lender against unclear title to the property you are buying. It is almost always a requirement for closing on a home. If you desire coverage as well, buy an owner’s policy, which will protect you against any title-search errors and losses that arise from disputes over property ownership. The cost of title insurance is usually a set value per thousand of dollars of the total loan amount.