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Over a million sign up for Obamacare, mostly in December

Mon, 2013-12-30 05:32

The Department of Health and Human Services says that more than a million Americans signed up, using healthcare.gov between October 1, when the site had its problem plagued rollout, and December 24. Of those million-plus people, nearly ninety percent signed up this month, in December.

That could indicate a couple of things. First, that the people who signed up wanted coverage that would start this Wednesday. It also could mean that healthcare.gov is working better and has gotten more reliable since October.

But it's not all good news. While the government is trumpeting these numbers, they’re still way lower than what had been forecast.

While the deadline for coverage that begins on January 1 has now passed, we're only half way through the six-month open enrollment period. The next big deadline is March 31. If you don’t have insurance by then, you'll be hit with a tax penalty.

 Over these next few months, we’re going to see more outreach both to Americans who can sign up and to Americans who have signed up, and are wondering what’s next -- what’s covered, what isn't, etc. And, we can assume that behind the scenes, there will be more work fixing healthcare.gov and the overall rollout of the healthcare law.

D.C.'s traffic cameras go beyond just red lights

Mon, 2013-12-30 05:22

Drivers in Washington, D.C., today, beware. The city has a new digital dragnet and drivers who block the box, fail to yield to pedestrians, or take overweight trucks onto residential streets could be ticketed at close to 100 new locations throughout the city.

Automated traffic enforcement is so much more than just one camera at a stoplight.  “These are contractors, hired by the cities, to set up the cameras, maintain them and also submit all that data to the police departments,” says Mark Takahashi, automotive editor with Edmunds.com.

And it’s the cost of installing these systems, which can use radar, video cameras and even lasers to track violators, as well as wrangling with the contractors who maintain them, that can be a deterrent. Some cities, Takahashi says, wanted to make intersections safer by extending the duration of the yellow light before it turns red. But he says they were prevented by their contracts with the maintenance firms. “They weren’t allowed to extend that yellow light period,” he says, “because it would impinge on their earnings.”

Takahashi say some cities, like LA, have decided the systems are just too pricey to continue.  

Washington, where new cameras have been flagging drivers with warnings for about a month, will begin issuing tickets for everything from failing to yield to pedestrians to driving oversized vehicles in restricted areas. City officials declined to speak Friday about the program.

Traffic cameras, says Russ Rader with the Insurance Institute for Highway safety, should be about safety, not about revenue. And he says, urban planners should also keep in mind the financial realities the cameras bring. One red light camera, at one intersection, says can run $100,000. So when it comes creating budgets, municipalities should realize the cameras have diminishing returns. “Cities should not depend on camera revenue to fund programs indefinitely. Because as the cameras work, to change driver behavior, the revenue falls,” he says.

But cities are still trying to collect where they can.

John Townsend, public affairs manager for AAA's mid-Atlantic region, says there needs to be greater transparency about the kind of tickets imposed. The cameras are designed, he says, to stop the most serious violations. “This is why you have such a high buy-in rate for these programs,” he notes, but that’s not why most people get tickets. He says in many systems, drivers are flagged for illegal turns or going past an intersection's stop line.

Less than five percent of all crashes in the country occur when people make turns on red, notes Townsend. “If that’s what you’re going to use your device for then tell people,” he says.

Rader says research shows the cameras are have been proven effective at getting drivers to stop running red lights. But Takahashi says that research isn’t solid. While in some cases he agrees that fatalities have dropped, he says the cause isn’t clear. He says, aside from arousing ire in drivers around the country, who voice their annoyance on Twitter, Meetup and Facebook, without a police officer to physically hand out tickets, the cameras simply aren’t strong deterrents. Drivers, he notes, may run a red light, but not receive a ticket in the mail for weeks. Nothing to compare, he says, with that “sinking feeling in your gut when you see a police officer on the other side of the intersection.”

From revolting to revolt: Why is my office this color?

Mon, 2013-12-30 05:13

A REVOLT AGAINST BORING ROWN AND PUKE GREEN

Resist the urge to avert your eyes and take a look at this kitchen

It’s very likely a 40-year-old kitchen.  You can probably tell just by looking. How?

“Avocado Green,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.  “And Harvest Gold.” 

Those were the colors of the 70’s, with a nice helping of brown. “It was all so pervasive in that time,” Eiseman says – without derision, notably.

In the early eighties, the dominant color scheme was mauve, gray, and turquoise. Back then, color trends were virtually “dictatorial,” says Eiseman, “everyone marched to the same drummer.”

Then, consumers revolted. 

“Of course, what happened in the mid 80’s was you couldn’t sell anything avocado or harvest gold because people had really OD’d on that color scheme.”  She says it had a lot to do with women.   

“You had this empowerment of women saying I don’t want to do what’s prescribed anymore, I want to do my own thing -- I’m doing it with my skirt length I’m going to do it with color as well," Eiseman says.

A MOVE TO ORGANIC TRENDS INSPIRED BY FASHION

Trends arise more organically these days, and a major place to start is the runway.

“Designers don’t follow trends, we start them,” says Nicholas Petrou of PetrouMan. At his Bleecker Street showroom, he produces some of the burgundy, ochre and, gold earth tones associated with his next collection, which he calls “Nomad.” 

“Traveling is a big part of who we are today, so many people travel, and nomads are the best example so I’m interested in that.”

If Petrou has successfully hit on a collective cultural nerve, his colors might be seen elsewhere. The measure of a color trend is whether it makes it from the runway into more durable products in the years that follow.   

Jane Harrington Durst manages automotive paints for PPG Industries, which supplies paint for everything from ships to cellphones. “In the late 90s,” she says, “Ralph Lauren made a big splash with dark greens in fashion and interior design, and many of the American Automotive designers [then] had a version of deep hunter green.”

WE’RE MORE COMPLICATED THAN FASHION

Obviously it doesn’t all boil down to fashion. In the 2000s, Apple had a major influence in color trends.  

“That clean white that we saw in a lot of Apple products in the 2000s became really popular," says Dee Schlotter, national color marketing manager for PPG Architectural Coatings. She says Apple captured a spirit of unwinding, serenity, and de-cluttering. “There are a lot of societal influences in why [consumers] react to colors at a certain time,” says Schlotter. 

“During the recession, the colors we saw were all gray -- from walls to pillows to bedding. Even in fashion, we saw gray went into summer, which it doesn’t do.” After the recession, Schlotter says there was a reactive “explosion of color.”

TODAY’S TRENDS AND TREND SPOTTERS

Spotting a color trend and bringing it to market in the modern age is part science and part curation. 

“You still have to give consumers a pattern to follow so to speak, or else there would be mass confusion,” says Pantone’s Eiseman. “So when those of us who are forecasters are working on a  forecast, what we do is think in terms of more than one palette.” 

Forecasters now provide palettes that cater to different predominant attitudes. 

“We are thinking in terms of different lifestyles and how those lifestyles can best be served by certain color combinations and looks," she says.

But that still means looking everywhere to track what color schemes are on the up and up.

“It’s almost like my antennae start to quiver, and I see certain colors on the ascendancy, on the rise. We might see it in a concept car, a high end coffee maker, or it can come from a hot new film.”

Pantone’s color of the year for 2014 is Radiant Orchid. PPG’s is Buttercream Yellow. 

Don’t worry, though.  The Harvest Gold and Avocado Green combo isn’t coming back anytime soon.  

Hey commuters, your taxes are going up next year

Mon, 2013-12-30 05:00

Lots of companies, especially in big cities, have plans that let workers put aside pre-tax money for transit. Starting January 1, a change in the tax code will lower the amount they can put aside by more than 45 percent, costing the heaviest users more than $1,000 a year.  

It amounts to a small cut in public support for transit -- the public policy equivalent of an insult to Mom and apple pie. 

"Taking public transportation is good for everyone," says Robertson Williams from the Tax Policy Center in Washington, DC. "It takes cars off the road. It reduces pollution. It reduces transit times for almost everyone."

So people like Williams get annoyed that this transit tax break gets reduced, but a corresponding break for parking gets a little bump up.

One survey shows the transit benefit does get people on buses and subways:  About a fifth of those who signed up said they’d previously driven to work.

The maximum amount you can set aside is dropping from $245 a month to $130, which some riders may not even notice: A monthly pass on the New York subway only costs $112. People with long rides on commuter trains will feel the hit.

The Association for Commuter Transportation, which is supported by companies that administer the transit-benefit program, wants the tax break extended.  Jason Pavluchuk, a lobbyist for the group, says he doesn't get pushback on policy.  However, getting Congress to act can take heavy lifting.  "People aren’t, you know, marching on Washington to have their transit benefits," he says.

Resolution recap: Joe Udo explains how he succeeded in 2013

Fri, 2013-12-27 14:10

Resolutions are hard! But they can be easier if you put systems into place that fit you and how you tend to behave. Here's some inspiration for your money resolutions for the New Year.

Blogger Joe Udo, a stay-at-home dad and full-time blogger at RetireBy40.org, shares his story of successfully keeping one of his major financial resolutions during a tumultuous year for his family.

Lessons summary:

1. Remove as many obstacles from your goals as possible. Automatic deductions to a savings account means the money is gone before you even have a chance to spend it.

2. Figure out where you can sacrifice to save. Do you have cable TV? A pricey smartphone plan? Re-evaluate all of your expenses.

3. Be accountable to others and yourself. Letting friends and family know what you want to accomplish forces you to focus on specific, achievable goals, who can provide tips from their own experience, too.

Joe Udo explains:

"For the year 2013, we had a pretty big change. It would be the first full year where I don’t have a full-time job. So there [is] some uncertainty about our income. The good thing is that my wife is still working and she likes her job, so we were able to have that stability there."

"The resolution that I’m proud of this year is to contribute $10,000 to our kid’s 529 [college savings] account. This one was a little bit difficult, $10,000 is a lot of money and you never know if the kid is going to college. We do think about our kid’s higher education, quite often actually. A lot of people are depending on their kid to get student loans, but we don’t really want to do that. My parents helped pay for my college education, and my wife had help from her parents. So thats kind of our inheritance."

"For 2014, we’ll set up an automatic deduction so we can take advantage of dollar-cost averaging, because putting $10,000 at once, you never know if the market is going up or down."

"To me, our financial goals, we do have to do make some sacrifice. We mostly cook at home, we only have one car that we share, instead of a car each like most families."

"Blogging about financial goal[s] is really helpful, because I have my readers who are keeping track of my financial goals too as well as myself. So if I fail, I’m not just disappointing myself, I’m also disappointing my readers."

What’s YOUR 2014 resolution? Let us know and we'll help you make sure it happens!

"Duck Dynasty" suspension ends: Phil Robertson rejoins his family

Fri, 2013-12-27 12:36

This final note from reality television: The cable channel A&E announced this afternoon Phil Robertson and the whole "Duck Dynasty" gang are coming back.

Robertson was put on indefinite hiatus earlier this month for comments that were controversial, relating to how the Bible informs his view of gays.

A&E now says:

Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family, a family that America has come to love.

A&E also says it's going to launch a public service ad campaign promoting: "unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people."

Why long-form journalism is everywhere these days

Fri, 2013-12-27 12:32

Long-form journalism is trendy, but isn't new. (Think magazine writing.) Today, we've given it an earnest name. And, saddled it with a collective hope, that'll it'll save our brains from the viral videos and snarky commentary that dominate the internet.

When we talk "long-form journalism,” we're talking, often, about narrative story telling.  Craft-journalism. Stories like this, from freelance journalist Brooke Jarvis.

 Many of the graves had no headstones at all. Just white wooden crosses with names stenciled in black paint. These were clearly among the most recent memorials.  The earth beneath them was still heaped up, still decorated with bedraggled stuffed animals, and faded plastic flowers, unopened beers with rusty caps. 

 Brooke's story is titled "When We Are Called to Part." It's about her experiences in a settlement for leprosy patients, on a remote part of Hawaii.

 “Definitely what I like doing best is when you have the time and space to dive deeply into a topic,” says Jarvis.  And, it's a relatively good time to be that kind of writer. The number of online sites publishing long-form stories is growing. Jarvis is able to make a go as a freelancer.

Working with non-traditional online outlets like The Atavist, which published her story.

 “We launched three years ago,” says The Atavist’s co-founder, Evan Ratliff, “at that time we felt like we had to make this argument that it's not true that people only read short things on line, it's not true that people's attention span has deteriorated.” 

 The Atavist publishes stories between 5,000 and 30,000 words. For a little perspective, that could be more than a thousand tweets.  Or, six pages of news print. “Something you can read in anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half,” says Ratliff.

 The Atavist charges per story; it splits profit with the author.  It also makes money selling software that helps other websites publish long stories. “You can throw a rock on the web and hit a publication that's trying to do long-form writing,” says Ratliff.  A trend that he thinks is fantastic.

 Online, you’ll find sites dedicated to long-form journalism, like the Atavist.  And sites ike Buzzfeed and Politico, mixing longer journalism with quick hits and snappy headlines. “Their ambition from the beginning has been to drive and to own the Washington conversation,” says Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico’s new magazine. Making the move into longer-form journalism is a natural.  The first cover story of the print magazine was a 7500 word piece about the Obama White House. Glasser says it got a million page views. "I do think that there's a sense that it'll be good business to pull out of that news cycle and to dominate that Washington conversation in a whole different way,” says Glasser.

 These stories help build a brand. “Longer, in-depth stories have a lure of gravitas and smarts to them that allow media outlets to stick a claim in the intellectual space,” says Patti Wolter, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. They give the publication, and the journalist, an aura of importance. Significance.

 Long-form stories, at their best, reveal bigger truths. They also win awards. “To be a media outlet to do that and compete at that level is the pinnacle of the craft,” says Wolter. 

 So, good-bye conventional wisdom: that the internet has killed journalism, that all we want is slideshows of baby hamsters.

 And, hello depth and length. Hello storytelling. Now, you're going to have to earn and keep our time and attention.

Europeans pay Paris Hilton $100,000 to DJ

Fri, 2013-12-27 12:10

This final note comes courtesy of entertainment site TMZ. According to the site, Paris Hilton is paid between $100,000 and $350,000 an hour to DJ at nightclubs in Europe:

Paris Hilton claims she's one of the TOP 5 highest paid DJ's in the world.

The heiress dropped the bombshell at LAX, after returning from a trip to Moscow ... when we asked if her foray into the world of electronic music has been paying off financially. 

Her response -- "I'm one of the top 5 in the world, so..."

Here's the thing, it's definitely possible ...  as we previously reported, Hilton inked a HUGE contract with one of the biggest clubs in Ibiza back in the summer after packing the house for several months in a row. 

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