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  • City Lays Off EVERY Employee?

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

     

    Ernest Beas, an employee of ICE Engineering, picks up traffic control posts after completing a speed bump construction project that was contracted out by the city of Maywood. (David McNew/Getty Images)

    Tiny Maywood, Calif., laid off every single one of its city employees on Wednesday.

    But that doesn't mean the city is closing up shop. City Hall will still be open, as will Maywood's park and recreation center. Police will continue to patrol the streets.

    They just won't be staffed by Maywood employees. The city can't have any staff because it can't get liability or worker's compensation insurance for them. Maywood's carrier, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, dropped it earlier this month in part because of several police-related claims.

    Instead of declaring bankruptcy, Maywood officials decided to outsource all city functions. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will patrol the streets, while the neighboring city of Bell will cover other city functions, such as staffing City Hall.

    Maywood already relies on contract workers and outsources many city services. The director of parks and recreation, for instance, is a contractor, and the city's lights, landscaping and street sweeping are handled by private companies. Los Angeles County maintains the library and fire department.

    Some of Maywood's 96 employees -- which include 41 police officers -- will also continue as contract workers. Elected officials, such as the city council and the city clerk, will remain on the job in the 1.5-square-mile municipality, which has about 45,000 residents.

    "Odds are residents will see the same faces as in years past, just under a different administrative process," said Magdalena Prado, the city's community relations director, who is a contract worker and is keeping her post.

    Maywood is billing itself as the first American city to outsource all of its city services. In an odd twist, officials say it can provide even better services because the shift will help it save money and close a $450,000 shortfall in its $10 million general fund budget.

    For instance, the contract with the sheriff's department costs about half of the more than $7 million spent annually to maintain the Maywood police department, Prado said. And patrols will be increased.

    "Our community will continue to receive quality services," Mayor Ana Rosa Riso said in a statement. "Maywood's streets will continue to be swept, our summer park programs will continue to operate and our waste will be collected and hauled as scheduled."

    Stressed cities

    A growing number of cities are looking to contract out or share services regionally as the economic downturn takes its toll on municipal budgets.

    "Everything is on the table," said Chris Hoene, research director at the National League of Cities. "The fiscal stress cities are feeling mean they are looking for alternative options to deliver services that cost less money."

    Some 7 in 10 city officials said they are cutting personnel to balances their budgets, while another 68% are holding off on capital projects, according to a survey the league did in May. More than half of respondents say they will make to further slash city services next year if taxes or fees are not raised.

    Not everyone is distressed by Maywood's unusual plan for providing city services. While Jesus Padilla feels sorry for the workers being affected, he thinks things might improve. He's made lots of calls to the county sheriff's department when he worked as a security guard and said officers always responded promptly.

    "The council made the best decision it could," said Padilla, a local activist who has lived in Maywood for more than 30 years. "It's going to be good for the city and the citizens."

  • Seacrest to replace Larry King?

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

     

    Larry King and Ryan Seacrest

     

     

    Soon after Larry King announced last night that he was giving up his daily 'Larry King Live' show in the fall, his guest, Bill Maher, turned the tables on King and asked him a question: Who would he like to see as his replacement?

    Larry's answer was surprising, at least to some: Ryan Seacrest.

    Snickers went up all over America. Seacrest? He's a lightweight, right? He kisses up to folks on red carpets, laughs with Lady Gaga on his radio show and talks to Crystal Bowersox as if she's a superstar. There's no way he could hold his own with world leaders, controversial figures in the news and feisty politicians ... could he?


    Well, he could, and he'd be pretty darn good at it, too. And the reason why Seacrest can be King's replacement is that he's pretty much just like King, minus the suspenders and multiple marriages.

    Seacrest has a curiosity that will serve him well as a talk show host. Even in the most benign interviews, he likes to ask the questions the average viewer would like to know, mainly because, for the most part, he's still looking at show business from an outsider's perspective. 

    Last year, for instance, he interviewed 'American Idol' winner Kris Allen on King's show. And while the topic was in his wheelhouse and he'd likely gotten to know Allen a bit during the 'Idol' season, Seacrest still asked questions about "the Christian vote," what Allen's toughest week was, and why Arkansas doesn't get a lot of respect.

    The advantage Seacrest has over King right now is that he's more current on pop culture. He'd be able to speak to Lady Gaga and not look like he's tuning out. He'd know that 'Seinfeld' didn't get canceled. It won't look completely uncomfortable to see Seacrest interview cast members of the 'Twilight' series that are young enough to be King's grandchildren. And he's such a hard worker -- come on, you knowhe is, the guy's everywhere -- he'll doubtlessly be well-prepared no matter who he's speaking to.

  • 21 Things You Should Never Buy New

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

     

    Shopper looking for furniture (AP file photo)

    If you're looking to get the most value for your dollar, it would do your wallet good to check out secondhand options. Many used goods still have plenty of life left in them even years after the original purchase, and they're usually resold at a fraction of the retail price, to boot. Here's a list of 21 things that make for a better deal when you buy them used.

     

    1. DVDs and CDs: Used DVDs and CDs will play like new if they were well taken care of. Even if you wind up with a scratched disc and you don't want to bother with a return, there are ways to remove the scratches and make the DVD or CD playable again.

    2. Books: You can buy used books at significant discounts from online sellers and brick-and-mortar used book stores. The condition of the books may vary, but they usually range from good to like-new. And of course, check out your local library for free reading material.

    3. Video Games: Kids get tired of video games rather quickly. You can easily find used video games from online sellers at sites like Amazon and eBay a few months after the release date. Most video game store outlets will feature a used game shelf, as well. And if you're not the patient type, you can rent or borrow from a friend first to see if it's worth the purchase.

    4. Special Occasion and Holiday Clothing: Sometimes you'll need to buy formal clothing for special occasions, such as weddings or prom. Most people will take good care of formal clothing but will only wear it once or twice. Their closet castouts are your savings: Thrift stores, yard sales, online sellers and even some dress shops offer fantastic buys on used formalwear.

    5. Jewelry: Depreciation hits hard when you try to sell used jewelry, but as a buyer you can take advantage of the markdown to save a bundle. This is especially true for diamonds, which has ridiculously low resale value. Check out estate sales and reputable pawn shops to find great deals on unique pieces. Even if you decide to resell the jewelry later, the depreciation won't hurt as much.

    6. Ikea Furniture: Why bother assembling your own when you can pick it up for free (or nearly free) on Craigslist and Freecycle? Summer is the best time to hunt for Ikea furniture--that's when college students are changing apartments and tossing out their goodies.

    7. Games and Toys: How long do games and toys remain your child's favorite before they're left forgotten under the bed or in the closet? You can find used children's toys in great condition at moving sales or on Craigslist, or you can ask your neighbors, friends, and family to trade used toys. Just make sure to give them a good wash before letting junior play.

    8. Maternity and Baby Clothes: Compared to everyday outfits that you can wear any time, maternity clothes don't get much wear outside the few months of pregnancy when they fit. The same goes for baby clothes that are quickly outgrown. You'll save a small fortune by purchasing gently used maternity clothes and baby clothes at yard sales and thrift stores. Like children's games and toys, friends and family may have baby or maternity clothing that they'll be happy to let you take off their hands.

    [See 20 Things You Should Never Buy Used.]

    9. Musical Instruments: Purchasing new musical instruments for a beginner musician is rarely a good idea. (Are you ready to pay $60 an hour for piano lessons?) For your little dear who wants to learn to play an instrument, you should see how long his or her interest lasts by acquiring a rented or used instrument to practice with first. Unless you're a professional musician or your junior prodigy is seriously committed to music, a brand new instrument may not be the best investment.

    10. Pets: If you buy a puppy (or kitty) from a professional breeder or a pet store outlet, it can set you back anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. On top of this, you'll need to anticipate additional fees and vet bills, too. Instead, adopt a pre-owned pet from your local animal shelter and get a new family member, fees, and vaccines at a substantially lower cost.

    11. Home Accent: Pieces Home decorating pieces and artwork are rarely handled on a day-to-day basis, so they're generally still in good condition even after being resold multiple times. If you like the worn-out look of some decor pieces, you can be sure you didn't pay extra for something that comes naturally with time. And don't forget, for most of us, discovering a true gem at a garage sale is 90% of the fun!

    12. Craft Supplies: If you're into crafting, you probably have a variety of different supplies left over from prior projects. If you require some additional supplies for your upcoming project, then you can join a craft swap where you'll find other crafty people to trade supplies with. If you have leftovers, be sure to donate them to your local schools.

    13. Houses: You're typically able to get better and more features for your dollar when you purchase an older home rather than building new. Older houses were often constructed on bigger corner lots, and you also get architectural variety in your neighborhood if the houses were built or remodeled in different eras.

    14. Office Furniture: Good office furniture is built to withstand heavy use and handling. Really solid pieces will last a lifetime, long after they're resold the first or second time. A great used desk or file cabinet will work as well as (or better than) a new one, but for a fraction of the cost. With the recession shutting down so many businesses, you can easily find lots of great office furniture deals.

    15. Cars: You've probably heard this before: Cars depreciate the second you drive them off of the dealership's lot. In buying a used car, you save money on both the initial cost and the insurance. It also helps to know a trusty mechanic who can check it over first. This way, you'll be aware of any potential problems before you make the purchase.

    [See 20 Tips for Cleaning on the Cheap.]

    16. Hand Tools: Simple tools with few moving parts, like hammers, hoes and wrenches, will keep for decades so long as they are well-made to begin with and are well-maintained. These are fairly easy to find at neighborhood yard or garage sales. If you don't need to use hand tools very often, an even better deal is to rent a set of tools or borrow them from a friend.

    17. Sports Equipment: Most people buy sports equipment planning to use it until it drops, but this rarely happens. So when sports equipment ends up on the resale market, they tend to still be in excellent condition. Look into buying used sporting gear through Craigslist and at yard sales or sports equipment stores.

    18. Consumer Electronics: I know most folks like shiny new toys, but refurbished electronic goods are a much sweeter deal. Consumer electronics are returned to the manufacturer for different reasons, but generally, they'll be inspected for damaged parts, fixed, tested, then resold at a lower price. Just make sure you get a good warranty along with your purchase.

    19. Gardening Supplies: This is an easy way for you to save money, and all you need to do is be observant. Take a look outdoors and you'll likely find such gardening supplies as mulch, wood, and even stones for free or vastly reduced prices. Used garden equipment and tools are also common goods at yard sales.

    20. Timeshares: Buying timeshares isn't for everyone, but if you decide that it suits your lifestyle, purchasing the property as a resale would be a better deal than buying it brand new: on average, you'll save 67 percent on the price for a comparable new timeshare. If you're new to timeshare ownership, give it a test run first by renting short term.

    21. Recreational Items: It's fairly easy to find high ticket recreational items like campers, boats, and jet skis being resold. Oftentimes, they're barely used at all. As long as they're in safe, working condition, they'll make for a better value when purchased used than new.

  • Chris Brown Cries During Michael Jackson Tribute

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    This was one of the few sights of the BET Awards last night. Chris Brown did the Michael Jackson tribute flawlessly, executed the moon walk, did Billie Jean, all of that. And then "Man in the Mirror" came on and Chris Breezy started crying as he was dancing. Raw emotion. If you aren't aware, MJ was one of the reasons Chris Brown wanted to perform in the industry. I think it's safe to say that Chris Brown will be a star in music again really soon.

  • 3D Gaming Unhealthy for Kids

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    Nintendo 3DS

     

    I'll be the first person to tell you I'm a video game nerd. I've been playing since the young age of 2. I still get all nerdy about it and hyper when a game I've been wanting to play comes out. I don't know how I feel about 3D gaming yet. Haven't heard much about it. But apparently it could be unhealthy for kids under the age of 7. Check the story courtesy of videogames.yahoo.com: 

    Speaking to Kotaku during the E3 2010 conference, Fils-Aime warned that very young children shouldn't play 3D systems -- including the company's upcoming 3DS handheld, which boasts full 3D visuals without requiring special glasses.

    "We will recommend that very young children not look at 3D images," he told the site. "That's because, [in] young children, the muscles for the eyes are not fully formed... This is the same messaging that the industry is putting out with 3D movies, so it is a standard protocol."

    Fils-Aime believes children "under seven" should avoid using 3D technology. That could prove problematic for Nintendo, a company bursting with kid-friendly brands destined to act as showpieces for their 3D-enabled portable. The good news? The 3DS isn’t solely a 3D device; players can use a slider to toggle the intensity of the 3D effect. Turning 3D "off" renders the image in traditional flat 2D.

    The 3DS, which is due out by March of next year, enjoyed rave reviews by the lucky few who experienced it firsthand at E3. Nintendo hopes the device will ultimately take the wind out of 3D leader Sony's sails, although Sony boss Kaz Hirai considers the 'naked eye' portable to be "imprecise."

  • Best. Artist. Ever

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    George Vlosich III holds an Etch a Sketch drawing he made of various Cleveland landmarks. He wears a graphic T-shirt designed by the art company he ow

    This might be my favorite artist ever. Ok, he's not TECHNICALLY an artist, but his Etch-A-Sketch skills are insane! Only thing I could ever do on that thing was draw messed up squares. :(

     

    Once upon a time, before portable DVD players and the Nintendo DS, a 10-year-old boy was handed an Etch A Sketch to keep himself busy on a five-and-a-half-hour road trip from Cleveland to Washington, D.C.

    Not satisfied with sketching geometric shapes or stick figures, he made a picture of the U.S. Capitol Building.

    Long after that trip, George Vlosich III is still producing highly intricate images on the Etch A Sketch. His detailed creations keep coming with each turn of the silver knobs. The red plastic box has become a vibrant frame for the artist's breathtaking creations. Young Vlosich stumbled upon a unique means of artistic expression that would one day land him on "Oprah" and have him sketching everyone from LeBron James to President Obama.

    Early years

    After realizing his Etch A Sketch talents, Vlosich entered monthly contests sponsored by the Ohio manufacturer of the toy.He usually won.

    Slightly suspicious, Ohio Art sent a representative to Vlosich's Cleveland home to see if he was really the artist making all of these creations. When the company saw that he was legit, Ohio Art started to send Vlosich an Etch A Sketch toy every month so he could work on new creations.

    The company also put some of his most detailed and impressive etches on a country-wide museum tour.

    The son of an artist, Vlosich recalls watching Saturday-morning cartoons with his father and recreating on the Etch A Sketch the figures he saw on TV. From there, he moved on to sports figures. He fondly remembers making a sketch of Lawrence Taylor, former football player for the New York Giants and now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    "The Giants were at (the) Browns training camp, and I got to meet Lawrence Taylor and show him the sketch," Vlosich says. He also sketched baseball players such as Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles, and got to meet them as well.

  • Dogs Inherit More Than Son

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    conchita.jpg

    I absolutely love my dog (even if she is stupid ;)). But I would NEVER leave my dog let alone any animal I own more in inheritance than my child/children.  This isn't the case for Gail Posner. Ms. Posner died in March at the age of 67 and left her dogs her $8.3 Million dollar Miami beach home and a $3 Million trust fund. Now, in an attempt to revoke the will, Ms. Posner's only living child, Bret Carr, has filed a lawsuit against a bevy of his mother's former staff members and advisers alleging a dark intrigue.  Mr. Carr was only left $1 Million. Ms. Posner left the remainder of her estate to charity, with one-quarter directed to animal shelters and the rest to breast cancer and suicide-prevention causes. She also left another request: that the canine-care staff also look after her pet turtles.

     

    Ummmmmm. Yeah. This is real. I realize people love animals more than humans sometimes, but you shouldn't put animals over your children no matter what.

  • New Voice for Slink

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    When Pixar announced that they were going to make a third installment of the "Toy Story" series, fans everywhere asked: "What about Slinky Dog?"

    The beloved southern toy dachshund with the metal slinky middle was originally voiced by actor/comedian Jim Varney who also starred in "Ernest Goes to Camp" along with its seven sequels. Sadly, he died in 2000, not long after "Toy Story 2" came out. So naturally, when the third movie was announced, the internet was a buzz over who would fill Varney's shoes, er, paws.

    Director Lee Unkrich put that speculation to rest with a video released on Twitter. "We searched long and hard for someone who would have the spirit of Slinky, like Jim, so we can keep the character alive. We were very fortunate to find that person in Blake Clark," he announced on the video. You might not know the name, but you've most likely seen his face -- he's been in dozens of TV shows and movies along with an impressive number of Adam Sandler flicks including "Little Nicky" and "The Waterboy."

    As it turns out, Clark actually knew the late actor. "We were really excited when we found out that Blake was actually friends with Jim Varney," said Unkrich. "They knew each other from way back."

    "And when I'm in recording sessions with Blake, [he] just channels the spirit of his friend, Jim Varney, and he's done a really awesome job keeping that character alive and I hope you guys feel the same."

    You can judge for yourself this weekend when "Toy Story 3" comes out.

  • Homeless High School Grad Gets College for Free

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    Homeless Graduate Earns Free Ride to FIU

    Jessica Herrera’s high school resume is as impressive as any teen in the country, but it’s her experiences outside the classroom that might set her apart.

    The 18-year old recently graduated from Coral Gables Senior High School’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program with a 5.5 GPA. She scored a 1270 on her SAT.

    And she’s been homeless much of the year.

    “My senior year was always the year I looked forward to. But this year, things got really super hard at home,” Herrera said. “I just didn’t want to give up.

    A short time ago, the dream of attending college would have been nothing more than that – a dream.

    Herrera’s parents, Nicaraguan immigrants, lost their jobs at the beginning of her senior year and the family was evicted from the house they were renting. They moved to an apartment but were evicted from there, too.

    Things got so bad Herrera and her family spent many nights walking the streets of Miami looking for shelter. They eventually became squatters, living in vacant homes in Miami with no electricity or running water during the bitter cold snap in December.

    "When we were walking the streets, I was worried about the homework I had to turn in the next day," Herrera said.

    The family eventually split up, with Herrera's father leaving the area to look for work, and her mom and sister moving in with relatives. Herrera eventually took up refuge at a homeless shelter in downtown Miami, where she has lived for the past few months. The shelter life wasn’t new to her because her family lived there when she was a little girl.

    The distractions of homelessness didn’t deter the young woman and she even had encouragement from the other homeless people at the shelter, who have kept an eye on her educational progress.

    Despite all the obstacles and hardships, Herrera says she is upbeat about the prospects of her future, which includes reuniting with her family once again.

    “I don’t feel sorry for myself. I do feel it has made me stronger,” she said. “People really shouldn’t give up that easily. I almost did. Looking back on it, it was just a stupid idea."

    "Anything is possible as long as you work hard enough for it.”

  • Kid Cudi Arrested Over Weekend

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    t1larg.kid.cudi.gi.jpg

     

    Kid Cudi has been charged with criminal mischief and possession of a controlled substance after an incident Friday at a woman's apartment in New York City.

    The artist, 26, whose real name is Scott Mescudi, repeatedly pounded on and kicked the downtown apartment's door, ultimately using his bodily force to tear it off its hinges, police sources confirm to PEOPLE. Cudi also broke the woman's cell phone.

    The substance he was found in possession of was liquid cocaine, according to a report in The Guardian. Per police sources, it is unclear whether he was intoxicated at the time.

    He did make his scheduled appearance at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee on Saturday, telling the crowd he "really wanted to be here tonight."

     

     

  • Want to Live With Obama?

    Posted by Just Plain Joe

    President Obama's old college apartment (ABC)

    Ok, not actually live WITH President Obama, but you can rent out his old NYC apartment. Currently advertise on Craigslist is an apartment — unit 3E at 142 West 109th Street near the border of Manhattan's Upper West Side and Morningside Heights neighborhoods — that just so happens to be the apartment President Obama lived in when he was a student at Columbia University in the early '80s.

     

    Now I'm not convinced that President Obama lived here. Could just be someone trying to get over on a fast scam and earn some quick money. But it could earn bragging rights from your friends.