GOP Convention Debt Clock Hits $8.5 Billion

TAMPA, Fla. (UPI) — A clock calculating the national debt accrued during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., reached $8.5 billion.

Republicans, keen on reminding voters of the nation’s mounting debt under President Barack Obama, used the tally as a method of showing voters the nation is on an unsustainable financial path. The Hill noted the national debt, which stands at $16 trillion, was a persistent theme at the four-day convention that concluded Thursday night.

“This clock reminds every delegate and every American why we are here in Tampa — because America can and must do better,” GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday in unveiling the clock to delegates. “Every American’s share of the national debt has increased by approximately $16,000 during the current administration.”

The party’s final tally was $8,539,526,393.07.

Three People In Brazilian Civil Union

TUPA, Brazil (UPI) — A public notary in Brazil said she granted civil union status to three people, setting off a firestorm of criticism.

Claudia do Nascimento Dominigues, the equivalent of town clerk for Tupa in Sao Paolo state, said she registered the three in a “stable union,” which extends them the benefits of marriage as a family unit for legal purposes, three months ago.

While Brazil is noted for its progressive social policies, not all are embracing the alliance, CNN reported Friday.

“The union is devoid of any legality,” said Regina Beatriz Tavares da Silva, head of the family law committee of a Sao Paolo lawyer’s association. Noting Brazilian law defines marriage as a union between two people, involving three is impossible.

It goes directly against the Constitution,” da Silva said. “Monogamy is defined as relations between two, not three or four or five.”

Dominigues said the trio, a man and two women in their 30s who live together in Rio de Janeiro, share a bank account and sought legal protections in case of separation or death.

“By registering them I only confirmed they recognize themselves as a family. I don’t confer rights to them. That’s up to a judge.”

There is no word for the arrangement in Portuguese, CNN said. Dominigues called it “uniao polifetiva,” her best guess in English being “polyfidelitous union.”

125 Harvard Students Suspected Of Cheating

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (UPI) — Harvard University officials said 125 students are being investigated for allegedly cheating on a take-home final exam.

The students, who make up about half of an introductory government class, were accused of either working together to come up with answers to test questions or copying from one another, The Boston Globe reported.

“[The allegations], if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends,” said Drew Faust, the university’s president. “There is work to be done to ensure that every student at Harvard understands and embraces the values that are fundamental to its community of scholars.”

The school did not identify the students involved.

Officials said the students are required to appear before the college’s administrative board individually in the next few weeks.

Those found guilty of cheating face up to a yearlong suspension.

Judge Orders Ohio To Restore Early Voting

COLUMBUS, Ohio (UPI) — A federal judge has found Ohio’s restriction on early in-person voting is “arbitrary and disparate treatment” and ordered the state to restore early voting.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus came Friday in a lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and Ohio Democrats. Ohio Secretary of State John Husted has ordered all 88 Ohio county elections boards to do away with early voting on weekends — which Ohio Democrats say has mostly been favored by voters in urban areas of the state.

Husted’s order followed a vote by Republican lawmakers in Ohio to end in-person early voting on the three days prior to Election Day.

Economus ruled “the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day — a right previously conferred to all voters by the state — outweighs the state’s interest” in setting a pre-election deadline for early voting, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

“Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable injury if in-person early voting is not restored the last three days before Election Day,” Economus wrote, “and there is no definitive evidence before the court that elections boards will be tremendously burdened.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told The Dispatch his office was reviewing the decision, “but we don’t believe, with all due respect to the judge,” the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

“The court stresses that where the state has authorized in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day for all voters, ‘the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another,'” the judge wrote.

“Here, that is precisely what the state has done.”

Husted, a Republican, this week fired two Democrats from a county board of elections because they voted to extend early voting hours.

Palin Gripes About Fox News On Facebook

NEW YORK (UPI) — Sarah Palin used Facebook as a platform to complain about Fox News canceling her appearance Wednesday at the Republican National Convention.

“I’m sorry Fox cancelled all my scheduled interviews tonight because I sure wanted to take the opportunity on the air to highlight Senator John McCain’s positive contributions to America, to honor him, and to reflect on what a biased media unfairly put him through four years ago tonight,” the Facebook post reads.

New York Magazine said the post revealed a rocky relationship between the network and the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate.

Palin and Fox are in the early stages of contract negotiation and the magazine’s sources say Fox executives have been disappointed by Palin’s ratings. Earning roughly $1 million a year from Fox, she is the network’s highest paid contributor. The magazine said Palin has been unhappy because Fox has not been giving her top billing.

The magazine said Palin’s agent Bob Barnett did not respond to a request for comment. Fox News said it looks forward to “a long and beneficial relationship with the governor.”

Spirituality, Not Religion, Health Helpful

COLUMBIA, Mo. (UPI) — Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants with a degree of spirituality have better mental health, U.S. researchers say.

Dan Cohen of the University of Missouri said despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the world’s major religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person’s faith.

“With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe,” Cohen said in a statement. “What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health.”

The researchers analyzed three surveys to determine if correlations existed among participants’ self-reported mental and physical health, personality factors, and spirituality in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants.

The study, published in the Journal of Religion and Health, found across all five faiths, a greater degree of spirituality was related to better mental health, specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion. Forgiveness was the only spiritual trait predictive of mental health after personality variables were considered, the study said.

“Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions,” Cohen said in a statement. “Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.”

Expert: Don't Ignore Overuse Injuries

DALLAS (UPI) — Overuse injuries can arise gradually as one progresses through training and exercise regimes and should not be overlooked, a U.S. expert says.

Dr. Robert Dimeff — director of primary care sports medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas — said overuse injuries can result from improper form; pushing too hard after an injury to return to pre-injury levels; imbalances between strength and flexibility; as well as old injuries, poor body alignment, unfit sports equipment, including shoes, or difficult terrain.

“With so many potential pitfalls, it can be difficult to know when to step it up to the next level,” Dimeff said in a statement.

Among the common signs of overuse are recurrent stiffness or pain, often in the shoulders, legs or elbows; favoring one arm or leg over the other; or a drop in performance.

Initially symptoms occur only during activity, but as the condition progresses, the pain will worsen after exercise and eventually interfere with your ability to exercise, Dimeff said.

“A generally recognized rule of thumb for increasing the exercise regimes is called the 10 percent rule: Don’t increase your training or activities more than 10 percent per week. Runners and walkers, for example, shouldn’t increase the distance or pace more than 10 percent. If you’re using weights, limit the increased weight to 10 percent or less,” Dimeff said. “It’s important to give your body time to properly adjust.”

Americans Don't Feel Info 'Overload'

EVANSTON, Ill. (UPI) — Very few Americans say they feel overwhelmed by the volume of news and information flooding their lives, despite talk of “information overload,” a study found.

“Little research has focused on information overload and media consumption, yet it’s a concept used in public discussions to describe today’s 24/7 media environment,” said Eszter Hargittai, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern and lead author of the study.

Most previous studies on information overload dynamics have involved fighter pilots or battlefield commanders, not ordinary citizens bombarded with information at their fingertips and on their device screens, a Northwestern release said Thursday.

Most study participants said television was their most used form of media, followed by Web sites, and only a few said they felt overwhelmed or that they felt they were experiencing “information overload.”

“We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic,” Hargittai said. “People are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having these options.”

The few study participants who said they did feel overwhelmed were often those with low Internet skills, who haven’t yet mastered social media filters and navigating search engine results, she said.

China Works To Save Iconic Golden Monkeys

WUHAN, China (UPI) — China says it will create the first artificial breeding base for endangered golden monkeys, regarded, along with giant pandas, as a “state treasure.”

The facility will be in the Shennongjia Nature Reserve in central China’s Hubei Province, home to about 1,200 golden monkeys, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

The goal is to increase the population of the endangered golden monkeys in Shennongjia by conquering key problems involved in their reproduction, reserve officials said.

In natural conditions, they said, the birth rate of Shennongjia golden monkeys is about 4 percent, with a survival rate of monkey cubs of 6 percent.

“It is still an unsolved scientific question why the golden monkeys in Shennongjia become pregnant [only] between August and October. And the female monkeys can only deliver one cub every two years,” said Yang Jingyuan, director of the reserve’s research institute.

Scientists will attempt to improve the monkey’s pregnancy rates and success by human assistance techniques, artificial fertilization and nutritional regulation, Yang said.

Shennongjia golden monkeys, inhabiting thick forests at altitudes 5,500-9,800 feet, are on the verge of extinction, the researchers said.

Woman Arrested After Leaving Dog In Car

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (UPI) — Police in Florida said a woman who allegedly left her dog in a hot car with the windows up was charged with resisting arrest and tormenting animals.

Delray Beach police said multiple customers at a Publix supermarket approached an officer shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday and told him there was a dog locked in a car with the windows up in the parking lot where the temperature was measured at 84 degrees, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Friday.

The officer said the car’s owner, Juliana Fiorio, emerged from the store about 20 minutes after he filed his initial report and refused to answer his questions, saying: “I don’t have to listen to you.”

The officer said the woman  initially refused to give him her ID, but she handed the card over while calling her mother. However, when a second officer arrived, she snatched the card out of his hands and attempted to leave.

Fiorio was arrested and placed in the back of a patrol car. The dog, who officers said was extremely “thirsty,” “lethargic” and “clammy,” was released to Fiorio’s mother.

Fiorio was charged with resisting arrest and tormenting animals. She was released from the Palm Beach County Jail at 1 a.m. Thursday.

28-Year-Old Cheddar To Go On Sale

MILWAUKEE (UPI) — A 28-year-old cheddar will soon be available for $6 per ounce at a store in Milwaukee, the owner said.

Ken McNulty at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart said other super-aged cheddars, cheeses aged more than 20 years, will be available for purchase at $60 per pound.

McNulty said the super-aged cheddars are in excellent shape and feature substantial crystallization on the outside of the blocks. He said the cheeses come with a letter of verification from cheesemaker Ed Zahn, with the exact date of production included.

“We are extremely lucky to have found these blocks of Wisconsin Cheddar and look forward to sharing them with the public for the first time on October 6th,” McNulty said.

Police Arrest Clown Mask Robbery Suspect

BOCA RATON, Fla. (UPI) — Police in Florida said they have arrested a home invasion suspect accused of robbing an apartment while wearing a killer clown mask.

Investigators said Sarah Pastor and Jeffery Zimmer were in bed at 2:55 a.m. July 12 at their Boca Raton apartment when they heard a knock at the door and Pastor opened the door to see a man in the clown mask and two other men carrying crowbars, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Friday.

Pastor said when the masked man lifted his mask, she recognized him, and he told her to “get out of the house.”

Pastor fled and the men attacked Zimmer, wrapping his head in a bed sheet and binding his hands and feet with zip ties.

Police said the men stole a safe containing 120 Klonopin prescription pills, 6 watches worth $5,000 and a wallet containing credit cards and $240 cash.

Pastor was shown a photo lineup and picked the photo of Sherard Ali, 39. Police said she was familiar with Ali, but they did not say how she knew him.

Ali was arrested Aug. 24 on charges of home invasion, masked robbery and false imprisonment.

Police: CEO Hid Liquor To Avoid Taxes

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. (UPI) — Authorities in Florida said the head of the company that makes Happy brand liquors was arrested for allegedly hiding dozens of barrels of alcohol.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco said Atlantic Beach resident Christopher Eiras, 39, president and chief executive officer of the Liquor Group LLC, which makes Happy Brand vodka, gin and rum, allegedly concealed dozens of 55-gallon barrels of liquor from authorities to avoid having to pay taxes on the product, WJAX-TV, Jacksonville, reported Friday.

“Eiras submitted false liquor reports for the months of October 2011, November 2011, January 2012, February 2012 and March 2012 … to avoid paying excise tax,”  the agents wrote in a  report.

Eiras was arrested at his warehouse Wednesday and charged with 70 counts, including tax fraud. He was released Thursday after posting $2.25 million bail.

Bottled Message Breaks World Record

LERWICK, Scotland (UPI) — A Scottish ship’s captain has found the oldest known message in a bottle, set adrift nearly 98 years ago, Guinness World Records said.

The record-keeping organization said Andrew Leaper, skipper of the Lerwick-registered Copious, found the bottled message in April in his trawler’s net alongside a haul of cod, haddock and monkfish in the North Sea. The was found to have been set adrift in 97 years and 309 days prior to being found, The Scotsman reported Friday.

The bottle — as well as the previous record holder, which was found by Leaper’s friend, Mark Anderson, aboard the Copious in 2006 — was from a batch of 1,890 bottles set adrift by the Glasgow School of Navigation in 1914 as part of a study to map the currents of the seas around Scotland.

The bottle contained a postcard promising a reward of 6 pence to the finder.

“I knew right away what I had found,” Leaper said. “And it was an amazing coincidence that the same Shetland fishing boat that found the previous record-breaking bottle six years ago also found this one.”

Scottish Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment Richard Lochhead applauded the discovery.

“The story of scientific drift bottles is a fascinating one and harks back to an area when we were only beginning to understand the complexities of the seas,” he said. “It’s amazing that nearly 98 years on bottles are still being returned to the marine laboratory — and in such fantastic condition. With many bottles still unreturned, there is always the chance in the coming years that a Scottish drift bottle will once again break the record.”

New U.S. Factory Orders Were Up In July

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. factory orders rebounded in July, with durable goods and non-durable goods up 4.1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, the Census Bureau said.

New orders for both long-lasting merchandise, deemed durable goods, and quickly expended items, such as soap or paper products, rose 2.8 percent following a 0.5 percent decline in June, bureau said.

Order for big-ticket transportation items, such as trucks, ships, planes and trains, rose 14.4 percent, or by $10.1 billion to $80.6 billion.

Transportation provided the biggest boost to new orders. Without transportation figured into the equation, the orders rose 0.7 percent, said the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department.

The 2.8 percent overall rise in new orders equates to $12.9 billion, bringing total orders to $478.6 billion.

Inventories of durable goods, up for 30 of the past 31 months, rose in July by 0.7 percent to $369.2 billion.

The transportation sector had the largest inventory increase. Also up 30 of the past 31 months, inventories in transportation, rose by $1.3 billion, or 1.2 percent, to $110.4 billion.

Inventories of non-durable goods rose by 0.2 percent or $400 million to $238.1 billion, increasing after fourth consecutive months of declines.

Report: Drought Threatens Health Of Poor

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A World Bank Group report said drought in the United States and Eastern Europe drove food prices up sharply, “threatening the health” of millions of people.

The price of corn and wheat rose by 25 percent in July, while soybean prices rose 17 percent, the World Bank Group’s Food Price Watch report said. The price of rice fell 4 percent in July as drought struck mostly the U.S. corn and wheat growing areas and similar conditions hit Eastern Europe.

Production has fallen in key wheat growing regions in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Kazakhstan due to the dry summer.

“Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in a statement.

Poorer countries are the most vulnerable, the report said.

The price of maize or corn rose 113 percent in Mozambique in July, while the price of sorghum jumped 220 percent in eastern Africa. Sorghum prices rose 180 percent in Sudan, the report said.

The summer drought “turned favorable price prospects for the year upside down” for global food organizations, the report said.

 

Investment CEO Sees Gold Standard Return

WESTPORT, Conn. (UPI) — Peter Schiff, vocal critic of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, said he anticipates a currency crisis and a U.S. return to the gold standard within two years.

The chief executive of the global investment firm Euro Pacific Capital said an immediate need to peg the value of a dollar to gold is needed since the economy is caught in a “phony recovery” in an interview with the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

“Eventually we will be back on the gold standard. We are heading for a currency crisis and the only way we are going to stop it is by putting real value back into the paper dollar. So we have to tie it to gold,” Schiff said.

Schiff unsuccessfully ran as a 2010 Republican Party candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut.

President Nixon broke the link between the dollar and gold during the 1971 oil crisis, but talk of the gold standard has returned to mainstream politics, with a “gold commission” proposal a part of Republican Party policy, the newspaper noted.

Bernanke Hints At Policy Action On Growth

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (UPI) — U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday the central bank “will provide additional policy accommodation” to promote economic growth and hiring.

Speaking at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Bernanke said the U.S. economy faces “daunting” challenges, five years after “significant financial stresses first emerged” in August 2007.

“The stagnation of the labor market in particular is a grave concern not only because of the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for many years,” he said.

“Over the past five years, the Federal Reserve has acted to support economic growth and foster job creation, and it is important to achieve further progress, particularly in the labor market,” Bernanke said. “Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.”

The Fed chairman said “a number of headwinds” are responsible for the slow recovery from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression — including persistently low levels of activity in the housing market, budget restrictions and spending cuts at the federal and state level, and “stresses in credit and financial markets.”

“Earlier in the recovery, limited credit availability was an important factor holding back growth, and tight borrowing conditions for some potential homebuyers and small businesses remain a problem today,” he said. “More recently, however, a major source of financial strains has been uncertainty about developments in Europe. These strains are most problematic for the Europeans, of course, but through global trade and financial linkages, the effects of the European situation on the U.S. economy are significant as well.”

Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee August meeting, released last week, indicated members of the policy making committee “judged that additional monetary accommodation would likely be warranted fairly soon unless incoming information pointed to a substantial and sustainable strengthening in the pace of the economic recovery.”

Buffett Gives Away $3 Billion On Birthday

OMAHA (UPI) — U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett says he has pledged an additional $3 billion of Berkshire Hathaway stock to foundations operated by his children.

In 1996, Buffett pledged 17.5 million Class B shares of his firm’s stock to each of his children’s foundations. Buffett, who turned 82 Thursday, said in an open letter how proud he is of the work they’ve accomplished with the funds and increased the pledge by 12.2 million shares each, Berkshire Hathaway said in a release.

“I knew you would apply your considerable brains and energies in order to make the most of the funds from my gift,” Buffett said in the letter. “However, you have exceeded my high expectations. Your mother would be as proud of you as I am. I see her influence in what you are accomplishing.”

Buffett’s first wife, Susan, died in 2004.

Buffett said he expects the value of the annual distribution to average more than $100 million. “I’m confident you will use the money wisely, each in your own way,” Buffett wrote.

CNNMoney says Peter Buffett runs the NoVo Foundation, which fights inequality and gender inequities. Howard Buffett runs the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which works in the developing world to improve agriculture and clean water delivery. Daughter Susan Buffett runs the Sherwood Foundation, which funds early childhood education initiatives in the United States and supports non-profits in Omaha.

Spy Cameras Bust Victimless Criminal

The arrest of an Orlando, Fla., man for allegedly smoking marijuana illustrates how constant, real-time surveillance is changing the way law enforcement works.

According to an affidavit, an Orlando police sergeant was watching live video on the city’s Innovative Response to Improve Safety (IRIS) camera when he spotted 29-year-old Joe E. Haywood and a group of other men passing around what police suspected to be a marijuana joint.

According to WKMG Local 6:

Haywood was handcuffed and ordered to open his mouth but refused, so an officer tried for 30 seconds to use pressure points on his jaw to open his mouth, the affidavit said.  Officers said Haywood swallowed the joint during the incident and marijuana could be smelled on him, the report stated.

Officers said they then noticed a green leafy substance, which they described as a unburned cannabis leaf, on Haywood’s teeth, according the affidavit.

Haywood is jailed and charged with the misdemeanor of possessing 20 grams or less of cannabis, punishable by up to a year in jail, and felony tampering with physical evidence, punishable by up to five years in prison.

While many people would applaud the beefed up surveillance in crime-prone areas, with thousands of laws on the books and increasing law enforcement use of aerial video surveillance across the board, critics say the Nation is on a slippery slope to guilty until proven innocent.

Don't Count Palin Out Yet

Is Sarah Palin’s star fading? So saith CNN, which noted that the former Vice Presidential candidate was not invited to speak at this year’s Republican National Convention. What the article didn’t mention, however, is how many candidates Palin has endorsed and campaigned for this year have been winning elections. If Ted Cruz becomes the new Senator from Texas or Debbie Fisher wins in Nebraska (or several other candidates that I could name win), they will owe a big thank-you to the former Governor of Alaska. Don’t count the lady out yet.

Haters target Brad Pitt’s mom. When Jane Pitt, the movie star’s mom, read a letter to the editor in her local paper saying that Christians shouldn’t vote for a Mormon, she disagreed. So she wrote a letter to the editor herself, saying that if you care about traditional values, you should vote for the candidate who shares those values, even if he doesn’t share your faith. Then she added, “Any Christian who does not vote or writes in a name is casting a vote for Romney’s opponent, Barack Hussein Obama – a man who sat in Jeremiah Wright’s church for years, did not hold a public ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer, and is a liberal who supports the killing of unborn babies and same-sex marriage.” For daring to speak out, she was promptly deluged with hateful emails, Twitter messages and even death threats.

Now here’s a really cushy job. In this space last week, I mentioned how meter maids in one California city were earning nearly $100,000 a year for collecting coins. But this is even crazier. The contract between the Detroit Water and Sewage Department and Local 207 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees requires the city to pay for a horseshoer — even though the department does not have any horses and hasn’t for years. Can you say “featherbedding?”

Another Marxist for Obama. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that “real revolutionaries” should ignore any criticism of his regime by U.S. President Barack Obama. “Obama is campaigning. He’s a candidate,” Chavez said on Venezuelan TV. So you have to overlook when “a good guy” says such things.

–Chip Wood