We are Americans

We Are Americans.

whilly-bermudez

It’s true. We are a flawed nation.  Were fast paced, loud, materialistic, vain, and argumentative – we take a lot for granted. Some of our political leaders are corrupt & operate in the dark, our judicial system is far from perfect, and too often we allow main stream media to shape our opinions. Our priorities are not always in order.

But there is still much more to our people and this land we call Home. We are a nation of honor and dignity. Our fore fathers laid down the foundation for a country of freedom where sweat equity paves the way for dreams to materialize.  We are a nation with 226 years of tradition of humanity and kinship. Our technological advances have served as road maps for scientists & innovators since the beginning of modern civilization. We are the example and even the defenders of independence for other lands.

Even when we get divided by social and political issues we quickly band together in the face of evil. In the September 11 attacks we stopped our routines and united as one. We demonstrated courage and unity and showed the rest of the world why we are the example. We are the lightning rod of justice, and even mercy.  We are a proud people and some hate us for it. The cowardly attack in Boston again shows our true colors, where the New York Yankees play ’Sweet Caroline’ to show their support & TV networks pull any episodes that may have been offensive.

Before I fall asleep each night, I feel no doubt that our will could never be broken. People like us could never be kept down- we will defend against any foreign or domestic enemy. Together we rise up and become one –Men, women, gay, straight, blue, green, brown, yellow, rich, poor, short, tall, democrat, Republican, and all other types of people.  Even at our worst, we are at our best. Because…

We are Americans.

-Whilly Bermudez

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Judge Judy makes more money than Jay Z

Judge Judy net worth

Judge Judy: 4 More Years And $180 Million?

Judge Judy will be presiding on television for two more years.

Judy Sheindlin and CBS Television Distribution said Monday that the feisty former New York state judge has signed on for two more years of “Judge Judy.” It’s one of the top daytime TV shows, seen by roughly 10 million people each episode.

Her current contract runs through 2015, and the new deal extends her through 2017. That would give her 21 years on the air, which she compared Monday to a winning hand in blackjack. Sheindlin, who is 70, gave no indication that she has plans to retire.

A spokesman had no comment on whether Sheindlin will be getting a raise from her reported $45 million annual salary, which had made her the highest paid person on television. She reportedly works just 52 days a year, NPR reports.

While much has been written about the staggering salaries of late night hosts, such as Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, day-time hosts actually can bring in much bigger bucks. According to various reports, Judge Joe Brown, for instance, was earning $20 million a year, more than Jon Stewart and only a few million less than late-night king Jay Leno. (Brown later disputed those reports, claiming that he quit the show because CBS “only” paid him $5 million a year.)

In any event, Sheindlin’s show has a huge audience, 9 million viewers, versus the 3.5 million that Leno typically gets. As NPR’s entertainment blogger Linda Holmes notes, “Late night is a huge thing because we’ve decided it’s a huge thing. We’ve decided that guys in suits in front of curtains are important and women in lace collars behind benches are not so important, even if the lace collars are bringing in two or three times the eyeballs and making twice the money. …”

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Police SWAT Teams enter mall as they mistake an umbrella for a rifle

Police SWAT Teams enter mall as they mistake an umbrella for a rifle

swat

BY ANDREA TORRES
 

South Miami and Coral Gables police officers with high-powered weapons were running into the Shops at Sunset Place in downtown South Miami Friday afternoon.

A man who was carrying what appeared to be a rifle was actually carrying an umbrella, said South Miami Major Ana Baixauli.

At about 3:15 p.m., shoppers shared their scare, with speculation on Twitter that shots had been fired.

“On my way to work until I get a call from my manager saying that there’s a guy with a gun inside of Sunset Place,” Braulio Carvajal tweeted about 3:15 p.m.

About 3:10 p.m., University of Miami police warned students and faculty that police were handling an emergency at Sunset Place, 5701 Sunset Dr. in South Miami.

Alvaro Vega tweeted, “Miami police and SWAT team at Sunset Place! What’s going on?”

“Nothing is going on,” Baixauli said. “It was just a scare.”

 

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Heinz Bought By Warren Buffett For $28 Billion

Heinz Bought By Warren Buffett For $28 Billion Including Debt

Heinz Bought By Warren Buffett For $28 Billion

By CANDICE CHOI and JOSH FUNK
 

NEW YORK — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is dipping into the ketchup business as part of $23.3 billion deal to buy the Heinz ketchup company.

H.J. Heinz Co. says it’s the largest deal ever in the food industry. The company, based in Pittsburgh, also makes Classico spaghetti sauces, Ore-Ida potatoes and Smart Ones frozen meals.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and its partner on the deal – 3G Capital, the investment firm that bought Burger King in 2010 – say Heinz will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh. Heinz CEO William Johnson said in a statement that the company “will have an opportunity to drive further growth” as a private enterprise.

“It’s our kind of company,” Buffett said in an interview on CNBC, noting its signature ketchup has been around for more than a century. “I’ve sampled it many times.”

The company was founded by Henry John Heinz and his neighbor L. Clarence Noble in 1869. Their first product was grated horseradish, bottled in a clear glass to showcase its purity. The first ketchup was introduced in 1876; the company says it was the country’s first commercial grade ketchup.

Last year, Heinz says it had sales of $11.6 billion, with ketchup and sauces accounting for just under half of that. Given the saturated North American market, the company has increasingly looked overseas for growth. In 2010, for example, the company bought Foodstar, which makes Master brand soy sauce and fermented bean curd in China. Heinz expects emerging markets to account for a quarter of the company’s sales.

Representatives for Heinz and the investment group weren’t able to immediately provide any further details on the deal, including whether there would be any management changes or layoffs.

Buffett did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press on Thursday. But he has recently said that he’s been hunting for elephant-sized deals and at the end of September he had $47.8 billion cash on hand to finance any investments.

Heinz has the type of brand equity that takes years to create and it has been able to raise prices even in the highly competitive grocery business, said Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst for NBG Productions.

“There isn’t going to be another Heinz brand,” he said. “It has a durable competitive advantage.”

Generally, Buffett prefers to buy entire companies for his Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate and then allow the businesses to continue operating much the way they were before. Berkshire has also helped finance deals before – most recently during the financial crisis of 2008, when he made lucrative deals for Berkshire when few other companies had cash.

Berkshire’s biggest acquisition ever was its $26.3 billion purchase of BNSF railroad in 2010. Before that, it was the $16 billion stock purchase of reinsurance giant General Re in 1998.

Heinz shareholders will receive $72.50 in cash for each share of common stock they own. The transaction value includes the assumption of Heinz’s debt. Based on Heinz’s number of shares outstanding, the deal is worth $23.3 billion excluding debt.

The per-share price for the deal represents a 20 percent premium to Heinz’s closing price of $60.48 on Wednesday. Heinz said the deal was unanimously approved by its board. Buffett said on CNBC that Berkshire is putting $12 billion to $13 billion into the deal. But he noted that Berkshire will still have room to make more acquisitions because its businesses continually replenish its cash supply.

“Anytime we see a deal is attractive and it’s our kind of business and we’ve got the money, I’m ready to go,” Buffett said.

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.

Shares of Heinz were up nearly 20 percent at $72.45.

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What cruise lines don’t want you to know

What cruise lines don’t want you to know

Cruise

By James Walker
 

A Carnival cruise ship was adrift 150 miles off the coast of Mexico after an engine room fire. Cruise passengers were complaining about the lack of air conditioning, hot cabins, cold food and toilets that wouldn’t flush.

As I watched the news broadcast, I thought it was a documentary about the Carnival Splendor, which suffered a disabling engine room fire in November 2010 off Mexico. But the story was about the Carnival Triumph, which caught fire early Sunday after sailing from Galveston, Texas, with more than 3,100 passengers.

The cruise industry says cruise ship fires are rare, but they are not rare. They happen with alarming frequency. In the two years between the Splendor and the Triumph fires, more than 10 cruise ship fires were reported in the media. Several cruise ships were completely disabled, including the Costa Allegra, the Bahamas Celebration and the Ocean Star.

The Azamara Quest was partially disabled and had to crawl back to port in Indonesia. The Allegra and Quest broke down in waters where pirates frequent, to add to the drama.

A fire aboard the Queen Mary II was later determined to have been caused by a “catastrophic explosion.”

Other cruise ships experienced what the industry would either deny or call “minor fires,” including the Adventure of the Seas, the Crown Princess, the MSC Musica and the Allure. But there is nothing minor about a cruise ship, filled with thousands of passengers, catching on fire on the high seas, even for a matter of seconds.

I have attended seven congressional hearings since 2005 regarding issues of cruise ship passenger safety. At the last hearing, before Sen. Jay Rockefeller, cruise expert and author Ross Klein said fires broke out in 79 cruise ships from 1990 to 2011. Most of these fires received little coverage in the U.S. press. It is a topic that the travel publications avoid and travel agents do not like to hear.

The cruise industry does a remarkable job advertising that cruising is a safe and affordable family vacation. It certainly is affordable, in large part because major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia. Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and thus avoid all U.S. federal taxes, labor laws and safety regulations.

In 2011, three-quarters of the nearly 16 million cruise bookings worldwide were made from the United States, according to the industry group Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 26 cruise lines, including the world’s largest, Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

You can’t find a cheaper vacation than spending a week on one of these “fun ships.” But the vacation comes with a hidden price. The cruise lines are working their crew members excessively long hours and paying them extremely low wages.

The Cruise Lines International Association says its “crew members are provided wages that are competitive with international pay scales.” But a cleaner aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, for example, will work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as $156.25 a week with no tips. U.S. labor laws are not applicable to provide protection to crew members at sea, nor is there any real oversight of the cruise lines’ operations.

The cruise industry insists that it is regulated and that the safety and security of its passengers and crew is its highest priority. Ships are subject to inspections by the countries they call on. In the United States, ships must pass initial and annual U.S. Coast Guard Marine inspections.

But the Coast Guard is underfunded and understaffed and can’t possibly conduct adequate inspections of the hundreds of cruise ships that call regularly on U.S. ports across the nation. And the ships are getting bigger and carrying more passengers ever year. For example, Disney Fantasy – whose safety is not in doubt — is 14 decks high and more than three football fields long and can carry about 5,500 people.

Cruise ships theoretically follow guidelines set forth by the International Maritime Organization and the recommendations in the Safety of Life at Sea. But the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations organization, does not have the authority to enforce its own guidelines, nor can it impose fines or criminal sanctions against cruise lines that flout Safety of Life at Sea recommendations. This obligation falls to flag states, like Panama.

The result is that cruise lines are largely unregulated. They offer low-price cruise fares to get the passengers aboard and then make their profits from alcohol sales; casino, spa and photography activities; and shore excursions.

The cruise lines operate their ships virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Cruise ships do not make money unless they are operating. The cruise lines push the ships just as hard as they push their crew members. A ship out of service for a week for routine maintenance means the loss of tens of millions of dollars and thousands of dissatisfied customers.

It is in this environment that the 13-year-old Carnival Triumph was trying to sail back to Galveston.

Cruise ships, like their foreign-based crew members, are treated as fungible goods. When crew members get debilitating injuries because of overwork and exhaustion, they are left in their home countries. The Triumph, sailing since 1999, will eventually end up being sold to the European market, renamed and abandoned as well.

The push to always keep the show on the road without long delays causes the same problems in investigations of passenger disappearances, shipboard crimes and gastrointestinal illnesses. These investigations are often rushed so the cruise is held up for as little time as possible.

When there is a norovirus outbreak on a ship, cruise lines are faced with the prospect of disembarking hundreds of ill passengers, sanitizing the ship and then reloading several thousands of passengers on board. It is an impossible prospect to locate and kill the virus on the massive ships given the short turnaround on an embarkation day. But the business model of the cruise industry is: Strike up the band and hand out the daiquiris, the cruise must go on.

It is also impossible for governmental entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a thorough, painstaking epidemiology study to ascertain the type of virus and its origin. Cruise lines quickly blame the passengers for not washing their hands, but the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that the most likely and common source of norovirus is contaminated food or water.

Crew members say that infected workers often do not complain of their illness out of fear of not being paid or of losing their jobs. Cruise lines tell the passengers to use hand sanitizers, but the culprit may be norovirus-laden salad.

Unlike the U.S. commercial aviation industry, with strict Federal Aviation Administration oversight that can ground a fleet of aircraft, the cruise industry is largely accountable to countries like Panama or the Bahamas — which may or may not want to offend their cruise line friends in Miami.

 

Editor’s note: James M. Walker is a maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate involved in cruise ship law and maritime litigation with his law firm, Walker and O’Neill. He has represented crew members and passengers against cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Formerly, he worked as a lawyer for the cruise industry.

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Dad gives daughter $200 to stay off Facebook for five months

Dad gives daughter $200 to stay off Facebook for five months

Dad gives daughter $200 to stay off Facebook for five months

By Salvador Rodriguez
 

Every person has their price, and for a 14-year-old Boston girl, her price to quit Facebook is $200.

Paul Baier and his daughter entered into a contract he posted on his blog this week that will earn the daughter $200 if she can stay off of the 1-billion member social network for five months.

The story of Baier and his daughter’s unusual “Facebook Deactivation Agreement” has gone viral, but such a pact isn’t new and for most people not necessary.

In fact, most adult users have tried without financial incentives.

A report released by Pew Internet this week says that 61% of Facebook users in the U.S. 18 and older have also taken a “Facebook vacation” for several weeks or more.

However, most people don’t leave Facebook for money, like Baier’s daughter. Instead, the report found the most prevalent reason that people decide to take a break from the popular social network is because they’re just too busy for it.

Of course, that reasoning probably doesn’t surprise many people. But what might surprise users is the measures some are taking to stay off Facebook.

Recently, I chatted with Faisal Abid, 22, a member of Toronto’s startup community, who late last month co-launched FAddict.io, a website built to help “Facebook addicts” recover.

The site lets people send $5 to FAddict as a pledge that they will stay off Facebook for an entire month. If they complete their “rehab,” they’ll get their $5 back, but if they “relapse,” they lose the money and FAddict donates it to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

FAddict monitors the profiles of people who pledged and will notify them if it detects they have logged onto Facebook.

So far a couple dozen people have signed up with FAddict. Because the startup is only 3 weeks old, no one has completed the 30-day challenge but so far no one has relapsed either — at least as of early Thursday.

“We’re not sure what personal motivations are for our users, but what we feel is Facebook is becoming more of a burden in their lives and taking a break is healthy,” Abid said.

With Facebook essentially an online directory of all your contacts, it’s very hard to not be on it in some way or form. But Abidal said it’s important to remember that Facebook “isn’t a part of life but just a simple, dispensable tool.”

 

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Bored of Facebook? You are not Alone.

Most Facebook Users Have Taken a Break From the Site, Study Finds

bored of facebook

By JENNA WORTHAM
 

Only 12 percent of Facebook users said the site had become more important to them over the last year.

Facebook is the most popular social network in America — roughly two-thirds of adults in the country use it on a regular basis.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t get sick of it.

A new study released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center‘s Internet and American Life Project found that 61 percent of current Facebook users admitted that they had voluntarily taken breaks from the site, for as many as several weeks at a time.

The main reason for their social media sabbaticals?

Not having enough time to dedicate to pruning their profiles, an overall decrease in their interest in the site as well as the general sentiment that Facebook was a major waste of time. About 4 percent cited privacy and security concerns as contributing to their departure. Although those users eventually resumed their regular activity, another 20 percent of Facebook users admitted to deleting their accounts.

Of course, even as some Facebook users pull back on their daily consumption of the service, the vast majority — 92 percent — of all social network users still maintain a profile on the site. But while more than than half said that the site was just as important to them as it was a year ago, only 12 percent said the site’s significance increased over the last year — indicating the makings of a much larger social media burnout across the site.

The study teases out other interesting insights, including the finding that young users are spending less time overall on the site. The report found that 42 percent of Facebook users from the ages of 18 to 29 said that the average time they spent on the site in a typical day had decreased in the last year. A much smaller portion, 23 percent, of older Facebook users, those over 50, reported a drop in Facebook usage over the same period.

Facebook’s biggest challenge revolves around figuring out how to continue to profit from its rich reservoir of one billion users — and a large part of that involves keeping them entertained and returning to the site on a regular basis. Most recently, the company introduced a tool called Graph Search, a research tool that promises to help its users find answers on everything from travel recommendations to potential jobs and even love connections.

Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which conducted the survey, described the results as a kind of “social reckoning.”

“These data show that people are trying to make new calibrations in their life to accommodate new social tools,” said Mr. Rainie, in an e-mail. Facebook users are beginning to ask themselves, ” ‘What are my friends doing and thinking and how much does that matter to me?,’ ” he said. “They are adding up the pluses and minuses on a kind of networking balance sheet and they are trying to figure out how much they get out of connectivity vs. how much they put into it.”

 

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Mini Darth Vader uses force for good

Mini Darth Vader uses force for good

Mini Darth Vader uses force for good

By Rebecca Angel Baer
 

One of the most memorable Super Bowl ads in recent years starred a pint-size Darth Vader attempting to use the force all over his house, finally succeeding, or so he thought, in starting his dad’s car.

These days the boy behind the Vader mask is strictly using his force for good. Max Page, the 8-year-old actor who stole audience’s hearts in the 2011 Volkswagen ad, was born with a rare congenital heart defect and has undergone eight surgeries, most recently last summer. But his medical problems haven’t dampened his spirit.

As head of the Junior Ambassadors Program for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Max has dedicated much of his young life to raising awareness and funds for other kids in need. Or as he says, “It’s the first time Darth Vader’s been good, so that might be a little change.”

Max had his first surgery at 3 months old after being diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. The congenital heart defect, which changes the normal flow of blood through the heart, occurs in about five out of every 10,000 babies, according to the National Institute of Health.

Mini Darth Vader uses force for good 2

Max’s charitable efforts began almost as soon as his medical troubles did. By the time of his first birthday, he had already endured four surgeries. His parents, Jennifer and Buck Page, said they felt grateful to the families who came before them and others who donated to keep the Los Angeles hospital and neonatal intensive care unit open.

“We feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure the doors stay open for us and families that follow us and to do our part,” Jennifer Page says.

Every year, Max and his younger brother Els, 7, pick a charity and ask for donations in place of presents for either of them.

“We’ve raised over $50,000 over the years for charity causes of all kinds. Now everyone looks forward to what the boys are going to do,” Jennifer Page says.

Max’s fame from the Super Bowl ad has widened the family’s reach and strengthened his impact.

“Hopefully, I can just use my force for even better good, and I hope that it works,” he says.

The vivacious youngster regularly speaks and campaigns for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as well as smaller organizations such as Saving Tiny Hearts in Chicago. Max also visits children in the hospital and has become something of a role model. He takes his responsibility seriously since he also looks up to someone — snowboarder Shaun White. He has yet to meet the Olympic gold medalist, but he says he will have a lot of questions when he does.

His mom watched White compete in the Olympics the same year Max was first diagnosed, and after hearing from doctors about the limitations her son would face, she says she found hope in White, who has the same heart defect.

“I remember watching, and the significance for me was that Max could have energy. We could actually focus on hope that Max could have energy, and it was actually possible,” she says.

She adds, “I looked at what his (White’s) parents must have had to do to let him live so free. Because I just want to wrap Max up in bubble wrap and not let anything touch him. And they didn’t. Shaun White’s parents said go for it”

It’s been seven months since Max’s last surgery — an open heart pulmonary valve replacement — and he has been cleared for all activities by his doctors. He’s back campaigning for the hospital, and he’s learned to snowboard and also plays Little League Baseball. Soon he’ll even return to his role on the CBS soap “The Young and the Restless.”

In his own words, “I’m back to being me.”

His mother says that she and his father try to lead by example but attributes much of the boy’s positive attitude to Max himself.

“There’s just this innateness in him that says I’m going to fight, I’m going to conquer it, I’m going to win. From the very beginning, he’s had to fight. From his very first breath, he’s had to fight hard for every breath, and … I think that is just part of his nature.”

While he was the breakout star of a previous Super Bowl, this year Max will be watching the game at home with his family. He says he’s a bit overwhelmed with his two favorite teams competing against each other.

“I’ll win and I’ll lose. So I’m not going to root for anyone,” Max says. “I’m just going to hope it’s a good match.”

 

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LeBron James Humble salary

LeBron James salary: Heat forward not worried about being top-paid player

LeBron James salary

INDIANAPOLIS — LeBron James has been an NBA champion once, an Olympic gold medalist twice and the league’s MVP three times.

The Miami Heat star says there’s one title he’s not worried about holding — NBA’s biggest salary.

“It doesn’t matter to me being the highest-paid player in the league,” James said. “I think my value shows on the floor.”

He added: “If this was baseball, it (the salary) would be up, I mean way up there.”

James spoke following the team’s afternoon shootaround in Indianapolis leading to Friday’s Heat-Pacers game.

— Final: Pacers 102, Heat 89 | Recap | Scoreboard: Friday results | Saturday action

Initially, the questions were about whether the league’s new collective bargaining agreement would allow other teams to build the same way Miami did, by signing three big-name players.

James was the top prize on the free-agent market in 2010 but acknowledged he took less money to play with Miami and pursue NBA championships with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James and Bosh each reportedly signed six-year deals worth $110 million. Wade’s deal was for six years and $107 million. Each deal was under the NBA’s maximum contract.

The Heat won the title last season, and all three Miami stars can opt out of their contracts next year. There has been speculation that the Cavaliers, James’ former team, might be interested in signing him, as would the Los Angeles Lakers.

So when James was asked whether it was right that the league’s reigning MVP was not its highest-paid player, he just smiled. He later said money will not dictate his plans.

“I’ve not had a max contract yet, it’s a story that’s been untold,” he said. “I don’t get (credit) for it. But that doesn’t matter to me. Playing the game matters to me.”

Few players, even those earning more money, have a stronger resume than James.

He was the youngest player in league history to be chosen the NBA’s rookie of the year, the youngest to be the All-Star Game MVP and in January became the youngest player to top 20,000 points.

At 28, James is nowhere close to slowing down, either.

Last year, James won his third MVP award, his first NBA title, was a unanimous choice as NBA Finals MVP and earned his second Olympic gold medal.

So the money thing seems to pale in comparison, especially given that James has been able to supplement his income off the court.

“It’s not all about money. It’s about winning. I know that and I don’t mind,” James said. “It doesn’t bother me because I’m OK, I’m financially stable and my family is OK.”

And Miami is taking Friday night’s game seriously.

When the Heat rolled into town last month, the Pacers held Miami to a season-low 77 points.

This time, they expect to produce a different result.

“We watched the film this morning and it was eye-opening,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, comparing the game to Sunday’s Super Bowl. “We know what it’s all about. We have to have our knee pads on and our mouth guards in.”

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