Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday, July 20, 2009

California sprouts 'green rush' from marijuana

California sprouts 'green rush' from marijuana
California sprouts marijuana 'green rush' amid calls for legalization, taxation

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A drug deal plays out, California-style: A conservatively dressed courier drives a company-leased Smart Car to an apartment on a weekday afternoon. Erick Alvaro hands over a white paper bag to his 58-year-old customer, who inspects the bag to ensure everything he ordered over the phone is there.

An eighth-ounce of organic marijuana buds for treating his seasonal allergies? Check. An eighth of a different pot strain for insomnia? Check. THC-infused lozenges and tea bags? Check and check, with a free herb-laced cookie thrown in as a thank-you gift.

It's a $102 credit card transaction carried out with the practiced efficiency of a home-delivered pizza -- and with just about as much legal scrutiny.

More and more, having premium pot delivered to your door in California is not a crime. It is a legitimate business.

Marijuana has transformed California. Since the state became the first to legalize the drug for medicinal use, the weed the federal government puts in the same category as heroin and cocaine has become a major economic force.

No longer relegated to the underground, pot in California these days props up local economies, mints millionaires and feeds a thriving industry of startups designed to grow, market and distribute the drug.

Based on the quantity of marijuana authorities seized last year, the crop was worth an estimated $17 billion or more, dwarfing any other sector of the state's agricultural economy.

Experts say most of that marijuana is still sold as a recreational drug on the black market. But more recently the plant has put down deep financial roots in highly visible, taxpaying businesses:

Stores that sell high-tech marijuana growing equipment. Pot clubs that pay rent and hire workers. Marijuana themed magazines and food products. Chains of for-profit clinics with doctors who specialize in medical marijuana recommendations.

The plant's prominence does not come without costs, say some critics. Marijuana plantations in remote forests cause severe environmental damage. Indoor grow houses in some towns put rentals beyond the reach of students and young families. Rural counties with declining economies cannot attract new businesses because the available work force is caught up in the pot industry. Authorities link the drug to violent crime in otherwise quiet small towns.

"For those of us who are on the front lines, it's not about pot is bad in itself or drugs are bad," said Meredith Lintott, district attorney in Mendocino County, one of the country's top marijuana-producing regions.

"It's about the negative consequences on children. It's about the negative consequences on the environment."

Still, the sheer scale of the overall pot economy has some lawmakers pushing for broader legalization as a way to shore up the finances of a state that has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. The state's top tax collector estimates that taxing pot like liquor could bring in more than $1.3 billion annually.

On Tuesday, Oakland will consider a measure to tax the city's four marijuana dispensaries, which the city auditor projects will ring up $17.5 million in sales in 2010. The city faces an $83 million budget shortfall, and expects the marijuana tax to raise $315,000. Read Article...
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Plant disease hits eastern US veggies early, hard

Plant disease hits eastern US veggies early, hard
Tomato, potato blight hits eastern US; experts say it's spurred by rain, big-box distribution

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Tomato plants have been removed from stores in half a dozen states as a destructive and infectious plant disease makes its earliest and most widespread appearance ever in the eastern United States.

Late blight -- the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s -- occurs sporadically in the Northeast, but this year's outbreak is more severe for two reasons: infected plants have been widely distributed by big-box retail stores and rainy weather has hastened the spores' airborne spread.

The disease, which is not harmful to humans, is extremely contagious and experts say it most likely spread on garden center shelves to plants not involved in the initial infection. It also can spread once plants reach their final destination, putting tomato and potato plants in both home gardens and commercial fields at risk.

Meg McGrath, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, calls late blight "worse than the Bubonic Plague for plants."

"People need to realize this is probably one of the worst diseases we have in the vegetable world," she said. "It's certain death for a tomato plant."

Tomato plants have been removed from Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Kmart stores in all six New England states, plus New York. Late blight also has been identified in all other East Coast states except Georgia, as well as Alabama, West Virginia and Ohio, McGrath said.

It is too early in the season to know whether infected plants will taint large crops or negatively affect commercial growers. But if that happens, growers could be forced to raise prices to cover costs associated with combating the disease.

Agriculture officials in the various states still are trying to determine where the outbreak started. One major grower, Alabama-based Bonnie Plants, supplies most of the tomato plants to big-box stores, but it is unclear whether the plants were infected before or after leaving the supplier's multiple greenhouses.
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Born to Be Mild

Born to Be Mild

Barron's writer Naureen Malik tests out the super-quiet Enertia, an electric motorcycle with a high-octane price.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Irish commissioner says EU Treaty would be rejected in most countries

Irish commissioner says EU Treaty would be rejected in most countries

(Source EUObserver) Ireland's EU commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, has said that the Lisbon Treaty would be rejected by most member states if put to a referendum.
With just a few months to go before his own country's second referendum on the document, the plain-speaking former finance minister said 95 percent of the 27 member states would have said "no" to the new institutional rules if it had been put to a vote.
The commissioner, in charge of the internal market, reckons all leaders know this and it is only officials working in the EU institutions who have unrealistic expectations about the popularity of the treaty, designed to streamline how the EU functions and removing the unanimity requirement for decision-making in most policy areas.

"When Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty a year ago, the initial reaction ranged from shock to horror to temper to vexation. That would be the view of a lot of the people who live in the Brussels beltway," he told the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland on Friday (26 June), reports the Irish Times.

"On the other hand, all of the [political leaders] know quite well that if the similar question was put to their electorate by a referendum the answer in 95 per cent of the countries would probably have been 'No' as well."

"I have always divided the reaction between those two forces: those within the beltway, the 'fonctionnaires', those who gasp with horror [on the one hand] and the heads of state, who are far more realistic. They are glad they didn't have to put the question themselves to their people."

Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum a year ago. In the run up to that vote, Mr McCreevy stole the headlines by saying he had not read the treaty from cover to cover and that no "sane" person had done so. Read Article...
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Financial crisis coverage dominates Loeb Awards

Financial crisis coverage dominates Loeb Awards
New York Times wins 3 Loeb Awards for business journalism, struggling McClatchy gets 3 honor

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- McClatchy & Co., one of the companies hardest hit by the crisis in the newspaper industry, was honored Monday for its coverage of the economic meltdown.
The Loeb Awards, among the highest honors in business journalism, have been presented for 36 years by Anderson School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles. They were established in 1957 by Gerald Loeb, a financier and founding partner of E.F. Hutton, to encourage quality reporting in business, finance and the economy.

Even as media companies struggle with a chronic decline in advertising revenue, made worse by the recession, they continued to put resources towards investigative journalism in covering the biggest economic and business story of the past 70 years. A number of award recipients spoke of being given a year or more to travel to big cities and small towns across the U.S. to write stories of abusive mortgage practices and other financial misdeeds.

The New York Times, which received three Loeb Awards, was honored for "The Reckoning," a 19-part account of who and what was to blame for the financial crisis. Lawrence Ingrassia, business and financial editor at The New York Times and the driving force behind the series, received the Lawrence Minard Editor Award.

In accepting the honor, Ingrassia said the current era hearkens "back to the 1930's, not because we're in a depression, but because it's increasingly incumbent on the press to be the watchdog."

The New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson, who co-authored "The Reckoning" with eight colleagues, also won a Loeb Award in the beat writing category for her coverage of the follies of Wall Street.

She shared that win with Rick Rothacker of McClatchy publication The Charlotte Observer, who was recognized for anticipating how adjustable rate mortgages would topple Charlotte, N.C.-based bank Wachovia Corp. and ultimately force its takeover by Wells Fargo & Co. That newspaper also received an Honorable Mention for its investigative series on the poultry industry, "The Cruelest Cuts."

The Miami Herald, another former Knight Ridder publication now owned by McClatchy, was recognized in the medium and small newspapers category for "Borrowers Betrayed," which chronicled Florida's failure to prevent convicted felons from working in the state's mortgage industry and bilking lenders and borrowers out of millions of dollars. Read more...
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Exxon to pay interest on spill damages

Exxon to pay interest on spill damages

(Source Anchorage Daily News)Exxon Mobil Corp. said Monday it won't appeal nearly $500 million in interest that a court recently ordered it to pay to Alaska fishermen, business owners and others harmed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Exxon said it will pay $470 million in interest on the $507.5 million in punitive damages it has already begun paying out to claimants. The company has already paid out $383 million and the only sum that remains in dispute in the long-running lawsuit is $70 million in court fees, according to a company spokesman.

"We expect to make payment on the interest in the next few days," said Alan Jeffers, the Exxon spokesman.

He said he couldn't immediately provide an explanation for Exxon's decision not to challenge the court-ordered interest payment.

Exxon's decision is the latest in a series of high-profile Alaska actions this year. The company has endured two decades of infamy in the state thanks to its tanker running aground and spilling 11 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, and its lengthy fight over how much to pay in spill damages.
Earlier this year Exxon significantly upped its major sponsorship of the Iditarod Trail Sled-Dog Race and it began drilling on its long-dormant oil and gas leases at the promising Point Thomson field. And this month it joined the competition to build a massive North Slope gas pipeline.
"Exxon's actions lately appear to be geared at generating relationships with the Alaska public, not just elected officials," said Joe Balash, a member of the Palin administration's gas pipeline team.
"As far as what their ultimate strategy is, in my experience, Exxon doesn't do anything unless they think it's good for their shareholders," he said.

The request for punitive damages was filed by Alaska Natives, fishermen and others who claimed damages to their livelihoods after the Exxon Valdez oil spill sullied 1,200 miles of Alaska coast. Since the mid-1990s, Exxon has appealed court-awarded punitive damages. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month finalized the punitive damages at $507.5 million, ordered Exxon to pay interest on that amount since 1996 and set the interest rate at 5.9 percent a year.

The $470 million will roughly double the average punitive damage award to 32,000 to 35,000 claimants, said David Oesting, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"It's a blessing for everyone involved," said Oesting, who signed Exxon's paperwork on Monday. Read more...
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Brazil: Venture Capital's Next Hotbed?

Brazil: Venture Capital's Next Hotbed?
Investments in Brazilian startups are surging, but high taxes and strict labor laws could hamper returns

(Source Business Week, Technology, Investment) Brazil is best known around the world for soccer, samba music, and supermodels. Now it's emerging as an attractive destination for investment capital.

At a June 25 conference in New York, a Brazilian venture capital trade group announced some impressive figures. As of the end of 2008, local and foreign investors had committed $28 billion in venture and private equity capital to Brazilian companies, said Luiz Figueiredo, president of the Brazilian Association for Private Equity & Venture Capital. That's up from $6 billion in 2004, amounting to a hearty 50% compound annual growth rate over the last four years. Investors have financed 500 Brazilian companies to date with venture or private equity capital, and there's $12 billion left to invest over the next few years from that $28 billion kitty.

Venture and private equity players see ample opportunity in Brazil, which boasts a stable financial system and a strong base of local investors. But the country's business challenges, including high taxes and restrictive labor laws, could hold back growth.

The conference on investment opportunities in Brazil was hosted by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce and drew more than 150 investors, executives, and technologists. An initial public offering and a large investment underscored the event's theme.

On June 25, Brazilian stock exchange Bovespa hosted the world’s largest IPO this year, a $4.3 billion offering by Brazilian credit-card processor VisaNet. The same day, Boston private equity firm Advent International announced that it has bought a 50% stake in Brazilian holding company PAP for $142 million. PAP controls Kroton Educational, a fast-growing education company. It was Advent’s fifteenth investment in Brazil since 1997. Read Article...
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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beware the New Hazards of Plastic

Beware the New Hazards of Plastic

(Source Yahoo Finance) A recent study finds that more credit card holders are being penalized by their card issuers as companies try to maximize profits and bring balance sheets in line ahead of a law banning unfair practices.

The ink is barely dry on the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act, signed by President Obama in May, but the legislation doesn’t take effect until February 2010. According to the June survey of 1,000 consumers by, a card-comparison and informational Web site, one-third of respondents said their card company made one or some combination of changes to their accounts:

* 19 percent said the card’s interest rose (up from 15 percent in a February survey);
* 14 percent said fees increased;
* 14 percent said the firm lowered their credit limit (up from 8 percent in February);
* 12 percent said their minimum payment increased;
* and 9 percent said their rewards program was cut back.

“It’s certainly open season on consumers between now and when the law goes into effect in February,” says Adam Levin, co-founder of and a former director of the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs. “There may be fee increases that are purely front-running of the law, and you could also have consumers who have run into problems because of the economy.”

Americans carry about $850 billion in credit card debt, which translates to about $17,000 for the roughly 50 million households that don’t pay their credit card balances in full every month, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Among other provisions, the new law prohibits retroactive interest rate increases on existing balances unless a consumer is 60 days late with a payment; bans “universal default” clauses, in which credit card companies raise their rates because the consumer is late paying another creditor; and eliminates over-limit fees, unless the consumer has specifically opted in to allow over-limit transactions. Read article Linda Rowley...
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U.S. and Russia Differ on a Treaty for Cyberspace

U.S. and Russia Differ on a Treaty for Cyberspace
By JOHN MARKOFF and ANDREW E. KRAMER Published: June 28, 2009 (New York Times Permalink)
The Kremlin’s call for an international treaty to protect computer security is a likely topic for discussion during President Obama’s visit to Moscow next week.
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