Friday, May 28, 2010

3 Fla. banks, 1 each in Nev., Calif. shut down

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Regulators on Friday shut down three banks in Florida and one each in Nevada and California, bringing the number of U.S. bank failures this year to 78.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over the Florida banks, all owned by holding company Bank of Florida Corp. They are Bank of Florida-Southeast, based in Fort Lauderdale, with $595.3 million in assets; Bank of Florida-Southwest, based in Naples, with $640.9 million in assets; and Bank of Florida-Tampa Bay, based in Tampa, with $245.2 million in assets.

The FDIC also seized Las Vegas-based Sun West Bank, with $360.7 million in assets, and Granite Community Bank, located in Granite Bay, Calif., with $102.9 million in assets.
EverBank, based in Jacksonville, Fla., agreed to acquire the assets and deposits of the failed Florida banks. Los Angeles-based City National Bank is assuming all the assets and deposits of Sun West Bank, and Tri Counties Bank, based in Chico, Calif., is assuming those of Granite Community Bank.

In addition, the FDIC and EverBank agreed to share losses on the three Florida banks' loans and other assets. Losses will be shared on $437.3 million of Bank of Florida-Southeast's assets, $568.1 million of Bank of Florida-Southwest's assets and $210.8 million of Bank of Florida-Tampa Bay's assets. The federal agency and City National Bank agreed to share losses on $280 million of Sun West Bank's assets. The FDIC is sharing with Tri Counties Bank losses on $89.3 million of Granite Community Bank's assets.
The failures of the three Florida banks are expected to cost the deposit insurance fund a total of about $203 million. The failures of Sun West Bank are expected to cost around $96.7 million, while losses at Granite Community Bank are expected to cost $17.3 million.
The three Florida closures brought to 13 the number of bank failures this year in Florida, a state with one of the highest concentrations of bank collapses and where the meltdown in the real estate market brought an avalanche of soured mortgage loans. Fourteen banks in the state failed last year.

California is another state with a heavy concentration of bank failures, and Granite Community Bank was the sixth bank to fall in the state this year, following the shutdown of several big California banks in the last months of 2009. Seventeen banks failed in California last year.
Georgia and Illinois also are high on the list of states with concentrated bank failures.
With 78 closures nationwide so far this year, the pace of bank failures is more than double that of 2009, which was already a brisk year for shutdowns. By this time last year, regulators had closed 36 banks. The pace has accelerated as banks' losses mount on loans made for commercial property and development.
The number of bank failures is expected to peak this year and to be slightly higher than the 140 that fell in 2009. That was the highest annual tally since 1992, at the height of the savings and loan crisis. The 2009 failures cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force, and only three succumbed in 2007.
As losses have mounted on loans made for commercial property and development, the growing bank failures have sapped billions of dollars out of the deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year, and its deficit stood at $20.7 billion as of March 31.
The number of banks on the FDIC's confidential "problem" list jumped to 775 in the first quarter from 702 three months earlier, even as the industry as a whole had its best quarter in two years.
A majority of institutions posted profit gains in the January-March quarter. But many small and mid-sized banks are likely to continue to suffer distress in the coming months and years, especially from soured loans for office buildings and development projects.
The FDIC expects the cost of resolving failed banks to grow to about $100 billion over the next four years.
The agency mandated last year that banks prepay about $45 billion in premiums, for 2010 through 2012, to replenish the insurance fund.
Depositors' money -- insured up to $250,000 per account -- is not at risk, with the FDIC backed by the government.

Credit: Yahoo Finance, 2010

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Industry May Cease to Exist

BY: James A. Crumbaugh III
 CEO of Allison James Estates and Homes.

Last week I had the very distinct privilege of being invited to speak to a meeting that was attended by many of the leaders in our industry. I can say that it was an honor and a privilege to speak to such an esteemed group.

I would like to share with the reader of this article some of the things that jumped out at me during this conference.

The first item that really stood out is that there was only one other CEO that I spoke with that agreed with me that the Realtor is our customer. I’m sure there were other CEO’s in attendance that shared my attitude, however only one other CEO came up to me, to tell me they shared my belief. I truly believe with today’s technology that the Realtor no longer needs the Broker as much as the Broker needs the Realtor. I believe that we as a Brokerage are in the Realtor business and our Realtors are in the Real Estate business and it’s our job as a Brokerage to support our Realtors and help them become more profitable.

The second item that nearly destroyed my elation of feeling like we are the future; and that we have the business model of the future, was the technology panel. By the time this panel finished speaking I felt like a dinosaur. That night I lay awake all night and realized that our entire industry will disappear eventually. It could be in as little as 10 years.

Let me share why I say this.

I think most of you would agree that within 10 years most homes will have 3D televisions in them. So imagine if someone creates a channel that any homeowner can place their home for sale on for $200, and then everyone in the world can access that channel and see their home in 3D in their living rooms. With just one swoop, no more listings, no more MLS, no more commissions.

But it gets worse. Let’s say someone writes an application for buyers, where the buyer goes into a site for $200 and gets a security code. The first thing the system does is run a criminal background check on the buyer. Once they pass the criminal background check, the system then runs a credit check. Once the credit check is run the system then sends this information to a couple of different lenders that will be best for this particular buyer. The lender then gives the buyer a security code number and an approval number that says this buyer is approved for the following loan.

The system has already determined what a home will sell for so at this point the system sends all the properties that the buyer qualifies for in the area and size that the buyer has an interest in. The system then makes the appointments for the buyer to see these homes.

A completely seamless transaction. The buyer knows all his or hers exact costs from loan amount, to tax’s, to Title Insurance to Homeowners insurance.

When this happens the entire industry disappears. The Boards, NAR, MLS, Web Sites, Consultants, appraisers, the entire industry.

If you don’t believe this can happen let me share a little story with you. I flew into San Antonio to visit with our Texas state Broker and to drive up to Dallas with him, on our way to the Conference we passed a huge HUMMER dealership. It was vacant.
I rest my case.
Credit: Broker Agent Social .com

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Embajada de EE UU cambia formulario de visas

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

A partir del 24 de mayo, todas las personas que necesiten tramitar su visa de no inmigrante en la embajada Americana con sede en Tegucigalpa, tendrán que llenar un nuevo formulario de solicitud: el Formulario Electrónico para Visa de No Inmigrante DS-160.

El cónsul de Estados Unidos en Honduras, Douglas Benning informó este miércoles los nuevos cambios en los trámites de visas.

"Si su cita de entrevista está programada para el día 24 de mayo de 2010 o después, el DS-160 es el único formulario que será aceptado", indicó el alto funcionario estadounidense en Honduras.
Esto implica un mejoramiento fuerte a nuestro procedimiento -agregó- porque ya no será necesario el DS-156, 157 y 158.

Mencionó que quienes estén interesados en más información respecto a la solicitud de visas de no inmigrantes, pueden visitar el portal de la embajada Americana.
El formulario DS-160 se puede llenar en línea, ingresando en esta página:

Credits: El Heraldo de Honduras

Calderón y Obama alaban democracia en Honduras

Washington, Estados Unidos

El presidente de Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, y el de México, Felipe Calderón, alabaron el proceso de consolidación de la democracia en Honduras, tras la reunión que sostuvieron en la Casa Blanca.

Ambos mandatarios expresaron su deseo de que Honduras se incorpore pronto a la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) de la que fue expulsado tres días después de la separación de Manuel Zelaya de la presidencia.

El gobierno del presidente Porfirio Lobo Sosa ha ejecutado una intensa agenda para lograr el reconocimiento de la comunidad internacional.

Calderón inició este miércoles una visita a su homólogo estadounidense con el que coincidió también en cuestionar la ley migratoria de Arizona.

"Mantenemos nuestro firme rechazo a que se criminalice la migración y que gente que trabaja y aporta a esta gran nación (Estados Unidos) sea tratada como delincuente. Nos oponemos a la ley de Arizona porque parte de principios parciales, injustos y discriminatorios", afirmó Calderón.

Obama se mostró más cauto al referirse a la ley, al decir "que tiene el potencial de ser aplicada en una manera discriminatoria".

El mandatario estadounidense afirmó que su gobierno tomará decisiones sobre esta ley tan pronto reciba una evaluación que encargó al Departamento de Justicia y que debe estar lista pronto, dijo. "Esta ley es un esfuerzo mal canalizado, una expresión mal canalizada de la frustración existente por un sistema migratorio fallido", aseguró.

Obama reiteró la importancia que su gobierno concede a la necesidad de aprobar una reforma migratoria integral, y solicitó el apoyo de republicanos y demócratas para trabajar en un proyecto de ley, que resuelva definitivamente el estatus de aproximadamente 12 millones de indocumentados.

Según el Pew Hispanic Center, un grupo de investigación con sede en Washington, casi 31 millones de los hispanos en Estados Unidos dicen tener origen mexicano, lo que representa dos tercios de todos los hispanos en Estados Unidos.

El gobierno mexicano ya había emitido el mes pasado un alerta a sus conciudadanos para que eviten viajar a Arizona, cuya ley exige a los agentes de policía que comprueben el estatus migratorio de una persona si existen "sospechas razonables" de que están en el país sin papeles. Además, califica como delito estatal el estar ilegalmente en Estados Unidos.

La migración, la seguridad fronteriza y el combate al narcotráfico dominaron la conversación entre ambos mandatarios, como se esperaba.

"México puede contar en Estados Unidos como un socio pleno" en la lucha contra el narcotráfico, dijo Obama. "Le daremos el apoyo que necesitan para vencer. Reafirmamos nuestra lucha contra los carteles que han desatado una violencia horrible en tantas comunidades", agregó.

Al menos 22,700 personas han muerto a raíz de la lucha contra los carteles de la droga que Calderón libra desde su llegada al poder en 2006, y que Estados Unidos ha apoyado con 1.300 millones de dólares contemplados en la Iniciativa Mérida.

La ceremonia de bienvenida a Calderón en la mañana estuvo marcada por breves intervenciones de Obama en español, y de Calderón en inglés.

Los mandatarios coincidieron en alabar el progreso en la consolidación de la democracia en Honduras tras el derrocamiento constitucional del presidente Manuel Zelaya en junio, y expresaron su deseo de que ese país se incorpore pronto a la OEA.

Calderón cerrará la jornada acudiendo a la Casa Blanca a una cena de estado en su honor.

El mandatario mexicano culminará su visita estadounidense el jueves, cuando pronunciará un discurso ante una sesión conjunta del Congreso.

Credits: El Heraldo de Honduras

Wall Street reform fails test

WASHINGTON ( -- After months of negotiation and debate, far-reaching legislation to overhaul the rules of Wall Street failed a key test vote in the Senate on Wednesday, casting a shadow over Democratic efforts to push the effort forward.

The measure aims to stop bailouts, shine a light on complex financial products and strengthen consumer protection.

The vote was 57 to 42. Under Senate rules, Democrats needed 60 votes to move ahead to a final vote. Two Democrats opposed the bill, and two Republicans voted for it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to bring up the bill for another vote on Thursday at 2:30 pm ET. He had wanted a final vote by Friday, but that appears unlikely now.
"Wall Street and, obviously, 39 out of 41 Republicans ... think that things going on, on Wall Street, are just fine," Reid said. "I think that's a real stretch to think the American people think that they want this to go on as in years past."

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said the Democratic move was defeated "because there are important amendments that should be considered but that could have been shut out."

Congress first started working on financial overhaul last spring. The House passed a version in December, and the Senate began drafting bills last November.

Since January 2009, financial services firms have spent nearly $600 million and hired hundreds of lobbyists to influence the debate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

What reform means: The legislation would establish a consumer financial protection regulatory agency that could write new rules to protect consumers from unfair or abusive mortgages and credit cards.

It would create a council of regulators that would sound an alarm before companies are in position to trigger a financial crisis. The bill would also establish new procedures for shutting down giant financial firms that are collapsing.

One big issue that remains in flux is a controversial proposal to crack down on banks that trade derivatives.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., introduced a compromise amendment on Tuesday that would water down the proposed ban. But on Wednesday, before the vote, Dodd dropped his intention to bring up the amendment, according to a congressional aide.

The Senate also has yet to vote on a high-profile amendment that would exempt auto dealers from the purview of the proposed new consumer protection regulator.

Votes that crossed lines: The two Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both voted for the bill. Collins said that she thought the month-long debate had been "fair and open." (Reid accuses senator of breaking his word.)

The two Democrats who opposed the bill were Maria Cantwell of Washington and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Reid cast a "no" vote at the end in a procedural maneuver allowing him to bring the measure up for another vote.

Cantwell wants the Senate to vote on an amendment reestablishing the firewall between investment and commercial banking. She also wants the Senate to vote on an amendment to strengthen penalties on companies that deal in derivatives that aren't traded transparently.

Feingold also said the Senate bill didn't go far enough.

"After thirty years of giving in to the wishes of Wall Street lobbyists, Congress needs to finally enact tough reforms to prevent Wall Street from driving our economy into the ditch again," Feingold said in a statement. "As the bill stands, it fails that test."

 By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer

Why Washington Is Failing

By: Charles Wheelan, Ph.D.
The Naked Economist

There tend to be two kinds of people in policy circles, wonks and hacks. Bruce Reed, a former staffer for Bill Clinton, pointed out this distinction in an essay many years ago. It still strikes me as an important point if one is to understand Washington.
The wonks are the idea folks. They come up with policies that might actually work. The hacks are the political junkies. They come up with ideas that people might actually vote for.
Any government needs both wonks and hacks in order to function. Washington seems to have neither at the moment, which may explain our floundering state of governance.

The policy wonks, or just "wonks," are the more academic types. They tend to have a deep substantive knowledge of the subjects on which they work. They prefer elegant policy solutions that are likely to be effective and are supported by data or analysis, regardless of the relevant politics. Wonks support things like a carbon tax or congestion pricing because these policies address basic market failures. (If you don't know what a market failure is, you're not a wonk.)

I am admittedly a policy wonk. I have a Ph.D. in public policy. I have supported both a carbon tax and congestion pricing in this column. When I go to lunch with colleagues, we sometimes talk about rural health care delivery or the No Child Left Behind Act -- for fun, like other people talk about sports or video games. Many of us were hung from fence posts by our underwear when we were young.

Wonks are often oblivious to political realities, or even dismissive of them. When I ran for Congress, armed with my wonkish ideas, I came in fifth and earned a whopping seven percent of the vote.

That is why the world needs political hacks, or just "hacks." The hacks can read the political tea leaves and get stuff passed in a democratic system. James Baker was the political genius behind Ronald Reagan. Lyndon Johnson may have been a lousy president, but he was one heck of a Senate majority leader. You don't have to like these guys. You do have to respect their legislative accomplishments.

The problem with the hacks is that they don't usually care whether the stuff they get passed will actually work or not. A political "win" is when your side wins a vote, which makes you more popular with voters, which makes it possible to win more votes. Whether or not all this activity actually does any social good -- fixes schools or improves health outcomes or trims the budget -- is purely incidental. To the hacks, democracy is like horse racing; the point is to win.

The Reason We Need Them

In a business context, the wonks and the hacks are like the engineers and the marketing folks. The engineers are necessary to design a product that works. But if you let the engineers go crazy, you end up with a product that is too complex, or too expensive, or too unattractive (but with lots of features), or completely out of touch with what customers want, can afford, or are capable of using.

That is why you have a marketing staff, who can sell stuff. They listen to customers. They dress up the product nicely. They tell the engineers to stop adding features that only their geeky friends can figure out. Still, you don't want to turn your business exclusively over to the marketing folks, or you will likely be left with all packaging and no product.

So a successful business strikes a balance -- it listens to what consumers want, it engineers a product that meets their needs, and it packages it as elegantly as possible.

Our government needs both wonks and hacks for exactly the same reason. They strike a balance that enables us to govern. Neither term is as pejorative as it sounds. Ronald Reagan was a hack, and he had a remarkably adept political touch. The results were terrific when he used his political acumen to sell tax reform in 1986 (which flattened and simplified the tax code in a revenue-neutral way and should not be confused with the large Reagan tax cuts a few years before that).

Of course, Ronald Reagan did not spend a lot of time reading treatises on tax policy. The details of the 1986 tax reform were ironed out by wonks like former Senator Bill Bradley. And before that, academic economists of all ideological stripes -- the super-wonks -- had been advocating a flatter, simpler tax code for decades.

Some individuals have the rare capacity to be both wonk and hack. This was Bruce Reed's point about Bill Clinton, who had a deep grasp of policy minutiae and great political instincts. Clinton was at his best when he did things like getting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed. That was a huge substantive accomplishment (supported by the wonks) and quite a political feat, too, given the opposition from some powerful groups in his own party, such as organized labor.

Newt Gingrich is another guy who could do both wonk and hack. Gingrich's Contract with America laid the intellectual groundwork for major policy changes like welfare reform. It was also a political masterstroke.

It doesn't matter what you think about Clinton or Gingrich. The reality is that they've both had enormous influence in their respective parties, and they are remarkable political survivors.

Bad Engineers, Lousy Marketing

Which brings us to the Obama administration. On paper, this administration looks like a perfect blend of wonk and hack. President Obama is a former law professor at the University of Chicago, and it doesn't get much wonkier than that. Meanwhile, he's got the notorious Rahm Emanuel, a hack's hack, as his chief of staff, and political guru David Axelrod reading the political tea leaves. This should be the governing dream team.

So far, it's not. Remarkably, the Obama administration and its Democratic allies seem to be failing on both the substance and the politics, the health care "victory" notwithstanding. The bills they have been pushing, from the stimulus to health care, are not what policy wonks would recommend. Nobody who is serious about health care policy would have drafted a bill anything like the one that President Obama just signed.

The administration must be doing the hack part right, given its success in getting a health care bill passed, right? I'm not so sure. The administration passed a health care bill, but it did not necessarily sell America on health care reform.

It's true that Obama succeeded where every Democratic president since Truman has failed. He held his fractious party together in a way that Bill Clinton could not. But the health care bill was all muscle, not political finesse. Obama did not slowly win over independents to his plan. Most Americans still don't know exactly what this reform will do, nor do they fully understand the true failings of the system that it was meant to address. (The problem with the U.S. health care system is not greedy insurance companies.)

At his peak, Ronald Reagan was so popular that he could call Democratic members of Congress and ask for their vote. Remember the "Reagan Democrats"? I don't hear anyone talking about "Obama Republicans" right now. The political climate that the Obama health care victory has created does not feel like a popular president slowly broadening his base. Instead, it feels like the Clinton presidency during the impeachment, or the Bush presidency during the Iraq War. The two parties are just digging deeper in their own trenches, and the Obama administration is not building many bridges.

The Republicans appear to have the "hack" thing down. They stole away the Democrats' veto-proof majority in the Senate, and they're expecting big gains in the midterm elections. Of course, that's only because it's easier to be an effective hack if you are the minority party, when good politics consists primarily of throwing rocks at the party in power (e.g. the Democrats during the George W. Bush administration).

But where are the Republican wonks? There is no intellectual center of gravity in the party right now. Conservatives outside of Washington (such as George W. Bush's former economic adviser Greg Mankiw, now back at Harvard) know that the U.S. needs to raise the price of carbon-based fuels, but the Republicans in Congress (with an exception or two) have been unwilling to touch that idea.

Conservatives outside of Washington recognize that the U.S. health care system is unsustainable. They don't like the Obama plan, but they know that we have to do something to rein in costs. The Republicans in Congress never presented a credible, intellectually honest alternative. They are still pretending that tort reform and interstate competition among insurance companies will fix everything. It won't.

What we need now is more wonks in both parties to design policies that will really address our social challenges. And we need more hacks to explain those policies to the American people and persuade them to make the requisite adjustments and sacrifices.

Instead, what we have at the moment is the equivalent of a company with no good engineers and a lousy marketing team. We're producing low-quality products that no one wants to buy. That is not a recipe for long-term success, in business or politics.

What Your Boss Isn't Telling You About Your 401(k)

Your employer can do a lot to improve your 401(k) plan.

Before I tell you how, allow me to come clean about how I feel about these savings vehicles: They were never intended to be mainstream pension plans, are generally overpriced, and often inadequate to meet America's retirement needs. See, Managing Your Retirement Fund: The Next 10 Years.

They fall short because most workers don't know how to use them, underfund them, and don't know how much they really need to save.

Having gotten that off my chest, I'm confident that if you're proactive, you can vastly improve your plan and boost your retirement savings. There's a lot you can do.
Here are five ways that your boss probably won't volunteer:
You Can Cut Costs to Improve Your Net Contribution. Most plans contract with mutual funds or third-party administrators to set up programs. Middlemen fees, which are rarely fully disclosed, eat up your savings because mostly they come out of your pocket.
Unfortunately, it's difficult for most employees to do a reasonable cost comparison. One new tool that offers promise is BrightScope. If your employer is in BrightScope's database of some 30,000 plans, you can see how your 401(k) compares in terms of costs, investment menu, and options.

For example, I ran Bank of America's (BAC) 401(k) through BrightScope. It told me that while the plan was in the top 15% of all programs, it could be better. The plan's shortcomings would result in you working 12 additional years and losing up to $262,100 in additional retirement savings.

Because I don't have access to BrightScope's full database or algorithms, I can't vouch for the accuracy of this number. The point is, you can usually lower costs to boost returns.
If you're paying more than 0.50% annually for expenses in a stock fund and 0.25% annually for a bond fund, you're paying too much. Any large plan should get you rock-bottom institutional pricing. Find out what your plan costs and get them to lower expenses. See, Three Returement Case Studies With Surprisingly Happy Endings.

Your Plan Can Offer Automatic Rebalancing. This is a great feature that can keep you on track. Let's say you're nervous about market risk -- as you should be -- and want to keep only half your money in stocks. But the recent run-up has changed that allocation to about 60%. An automatic rebalancing tool would get you back to your target.
Slightly more than half of employers offer automatic rebalancing, according to Hewitt Associates (HEW), a benefits consultant. Ask for it. It will help you lower risk and achieve your goals.

Automatic Contribution Increases. This is another autopilot feature that will boost your plan contribution if you get a raise. So you're saving more money without having to make a decision about it. Research has shown that if you don't have to ponder whether to escalate your contribution, you'll save more.

This feature is typically paired with auto-enrollment, which triggers contributions as soon as you join an employer. Nearly 60% of employers surveyed by Hewitt offer this essential option.

Roth 401(k) Option. The biggest downside of a 401(k) is that you'll have to pay taxes on withdrawals when you retire (and before if you have an emergency). The Roth 401(k) doesn't have tax withdrawals. The trade-off is, unlike a conventional 401(k), your contributions will be taxed.

Every employee should start socking money away in a Roth. My prediction is that with Medicare and Social Security in fiscal trouble, taxes will likely rise. That makes the Roth a better deal over time. Yet less than one-third of employers offer a Roth option.

Avoid Company Stock. The list of employees who got burned by holding company stock in their retirement plans is a long one: Enron, Worldcom, Lucent, etc. While you may have supreme faith in your employer, you can never fully know what they're doing in the boardroom or how they do their books. The increasing volatility of the stock market at large is a huge troll that won't go away, either. See, The Top Five Unexpected Costs of Retirement.
This isn't something your boss will like to discuss, but company stock can be toxic. Diversify out of it and put your money in something that's immune from stock market risk.
Keep in mind that your employer has a legal responsibility under a federal law called ERISA to provide the lowest-risk plan at the lowest-possible cost. There are a host of employers who are being sued right now for failing to do that.
How do you get your employer off the dime? Organize an employee group and present some sensible alternatives. The large mutual fund complexes such as the Vanguard Group and Fidelity Investments offer many low-cost 401(k) funds.

You'll be surprised how much you can accomplish and your employer will be compelled to listen. After all, his money's in the plan, too.
Nothing contained in this article is intended as a solicitation for business of any kind or for investment in the firm.

By: John Wasik
Credits: Yahoo Finance Section

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

'Facebook' for kids keeps parents in the loop

NEW YORK – Kids under 13 aren't allowed on Facebook, but that hasn't stopped many of them from joining.

Togetherville, a social network for kids ages 6 to 10, hopes to lure them into a more age-appropriate setting. The site, whose founder has three children under 10, launches Tuesday night.
It's free to join, and kids' accounts must be created by their parents using their own Facebook logins. Parents can approve or reject their children's friends and see what types of activities or games their kids are up to.
"The adults participate directly," said CEO and co-founder Mandeep Dhillon, whose kids are 8, 5 and 2. "Which is why this is not a digital babysitter."
Kids have separate logins to Togetherville, and the site looks different depending on whether a parent or a child is logged in. For kids, there are games, pre-screened YouTube videos and other activities, such as educational applications, but no ads.
There are even Facebook-style status updates, called "quips," with a twist: kids choose from a preselected menu of updates, which change daily. Dhillon says that's because when given a blank space to type in, kids tend to either write gibberish or get stumped by to say. But if they want to, they can send in their own "quips" for approval.
Parents can send their kids virtual gifts, review their activities on the site or look at virtual art they've created. Togetherville plans to make money by selling virtual goodies for its games.
The site taps into a growing trend of tech-savvy parents interacting with their kids online. Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Washington DC-based noprofit Family Online Safety Institute, said he hopes Togetherville will get parents to remove their young children from Facebook, calling it a "much safer environment."

Though they are prohibited by the sites from joining, many of kids under 13 are already on MySpace and Facebook. They lie about their age, or get their parents to do so, Balkam said.

By: BARBARA ORTUTAY, Technology Writer
Credit: AP Associated Press

GOOGLE / Start-ups

By: Mark Milian

An interesting trend is emerging among Web search start-ups: Nobody wants to compete with Google -- or they don't want to admit that they're trying.
Perhaps it's not all that surprising. The Mountain View, Calif., search giant dominates the market, racking up 64.4% of all U.S. searches in April, according to market research firm ComScore. That number slipped (less than a percent) compared with the month before, as Yahoo -- more so than Microsoft's Bing -- chipped away at the juggernaut.
Bing, which bills itself as "the decision engine" in ads, and Yahoo's search, which is now powered by Bing and recently executed a new ad campaign targeted at Google, are the big boys. They're taking on Google directly. (Though, with a combined market share that's less than half of the big G, they're not exactly succeeding.)
Outside of those two, it's a different story.
A newcomer to the U.S. market called Springo offers search tools. But Aviv Refuah, chief executive of Springo's parent company, Netex, claims it's "not in the search field."
"We consider ourselves in Web navigation solutions," Refuah said on the phone recently.
That's after, in the press release announcing the new search product's launch in April, a spokesman called Netex "the No. 2 search company in Israel." No. 1, of course, is Google -- by a mile.
Springo is a more picture-heavy search engine than its competitors. Below the familiar search box on its home page is a smattering of buttons representing popular websites and a spot to tailor your own list. Springo's search results don't cover as much of the Internet's pages as Google's. It's more about instantly zipping to top brand's sites.
"We are not about to change the habits of the users," Refuah said, "telling them, 'Don't search on Google; search on Springo.' "
Wolfram Alpha, a mathematical- and database-driven search engine, doesn't dare point a finger at Google either.
"The things that Google is good at, we're not very good at," Schoeller Porter, Wolfram Alpha architect of developer relations, told The Times in March. "We don't consider ourselves to be competitors."
Cooliris promises to search multimedia -- not replace Google.
Rather than compete, numerous Web browser extensions -- for both Firefox and Google's own Chrome -- aim to improve Google search by adding visual or organizational features or combining with other engines. Google is the primary provider of search for the popular Firefox extension CoolPreviews. Another, SearchPreview, recently changed its name from GooglePreview.

Though Springo's founder maintains it's not going after Google, Netex has a potential nuclear bomb.

After 12 years, the Israeli company was finally granted a patent earlier this year for a method of website redirection. It's a key feature of Springo, and it's "just like Google's I'm Feeling Lucky," which sends users to the top search result for a query, Refuah said.

Refuah wouldn't comment on whether Netex would go after Google. And why would they? He said they're not competitors.

Credit: Associated Press

Mobile security firm Lookout raises $11 million

May 18, 2010

Smart-phone security firm Lookout has raised $11 million in venture funding. The Series B round was led by venture capitalist firm Accel Partners. Khosla Ventures and Trilogy Partnership also contributed to the round.
Lookout offers applications that can be installed on mobile phones. According to the company, the software catches malicious files that could wreak havoc on a phone. It also backs up and restores data on the mobile phone to ensure it's readily accessible from the Web if a device is lost or stolen.
Lookout's ability to acquire so much funding isn't much of a surprise. The smart-phone market is growing at a rapid rate, which means hackers are finding a larger market to target. That has contributed to an increase in the number of mobile attacks affecting users. It also portends to more trouble in the future as more people buy smart-phones.

Lookout plans to use its funding to bolster its security infrastructure. It also plans to use the cash to invest in new technology.
 By:  Don Reisinger, Los Angeles Times Newspaper, Technology Section, 2010

Budget analyst advises lawmakers to reject Schwarzenegger's plan to cut welfare

By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times

May 19, 2010

The Legislature's chief budget analyst advised lawmakers Tuesday to reject Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to eliminate the state's welfare program and end subsidized daycare for hundreds of thousands of low-income children.
Legislative analyst Mac Taylor, whom both Democrats and Republicans look to for guidance on state spending, suggested lawmakers instead cut other programs and raise taxes modestly to close California's $19.1-billion budget deficit.
Welfare and child care "are core pieces of the state's safety net, and we therefore recommend that the Legislature reject these proposals," Taylor wrote in an assessment of Schwarzenegger's plan.
Taylor said eliminating the welfare program, called CalWorks, would cost California $3.7 billion in federal matching funds. It would also mean that many families cut off from state funding would suddenly become eligible for local assistance, shifting about $1 billion in welfare costs to county governments.

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But scrapping the program would save the state $1.6 billion, according to the governor's office. At a breakfast with business leaders Tuesday, Schwarzenegger defended his proposal, saying, "You cannot have a safety net if you don't have the money for that safety net."
Ending CalWorks, which provides recipient families with an average of $500 per month, would make California the only state not to offer a welfare program for low-income families with children.
In addition to proposing cuts in other programs, Taylor suggested raising revenue by increasing fees on community college students, deferring implementation of corporate tax cuts and allowing oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. Schwarzenegger, who included revenue from the drilling project known as Tranquillon Ridge in his January budget proposal, turned against that idea after the explosion of the oil rig off the coast of Louisiana.
Schwarzenegger has said he refuses to raise taxes or impose new fees and is demanding that the budget gap be closed with spending reductions.
Another option Taylor offered lawmakers in his report released Tuesday was suspending the legal requirement that about 40% of California's general fund go to pay for education from kindergarten through community college. He noted that the standard can be put on hold in times of economic crisis.
"If this isn't one of those times, I don't know what is," Taylor said.

Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are supposed to have a new budget in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Credits: Los Angeles Times, Local Section, 2010

Stocks slide after euro falls to new 4-year low

NEW YORK (AP) -- Investors uneasy about the news coming out of Europe Tuesday went back to selling stocks sharply lower. The falling euro and news that German regulators plan to limit some kinds of short selling fed the drop.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down almost 115 points after giving up an early gain of 93. The Dow and broader indexes lost more than 1 percent.
The euro gave stocks a boost early in the day when European Union countries sent bailout money to Greece. The move raised confidence about Europe's ability to prevent its debt crisis from spreading to other economies including the U.S.
By afternoon, though, the upbeat mood faded and the euro fell. That sapped the stock market's strength. Treasury prices rose after demand for safer investments increased.
The euro, the currency shared by 16 European nations, has been driving stock trading for weeks as investors interpreted its slide as a sign of continuing economic problems in Europe. It hit a new four-year low of $1.2160 on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Germany said it is banning "naked" short selling, which occurs when traders bet on a stock or investment that they doesn't own. The ban covers government debt certificates and shares of several financial companies. The government said it was imposing the rule in hopes of keeping the financial markets stable.
Investors anxious about Europe's problems were further rattled by Germany's move. Naked short selling was cited as one of the factors in world markets' turbulence during the 2008 financial crisis. The latest step brought reminders of the desperation that U.S. regulators signaled in trying to stabilize the market and underscored a fear that a further drop in the euro will continue to pound world markets.
"If Europe really slows, the threat would be that it could take down the rest of the global economy," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland. He noted, however, that most economic numbers don't suggest that a recovery is stalling.
McCain said long-term investors should gather more evidence before making big changes to their portfolios.
"The markets tend to move in excesses of optimism and pessimism," he said.
The Dow fell 114.88, or 1.1 percent, to 10,510.95. It has fallen three of the past four days.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 16.14, or 1.4 percent, to 1,120.80, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 36.97, or 1.6 percent, to 2,317.26.
Major stock indexes are down about 8 percent from their 2010 highs in late April. That puts the market close to the threshold for a correction, which is usually defined as a drop of 10 percent to 20 percent.
Bond prices jumped, driving yields lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.35 percent from 3.50 percent late Monday.
Stock trading has been volatile for weeks. The Dow rebounded from a drop of 184 points to end Monday with a gain of about 6 points after the euro strengthened.
Mike Shea, managing partner at Direct Access Partners LLC in New York, said that with so many unanswered questions about the ballooning debts in Europe it isn't surprising to see traders selling.
"There is a prudent reduction of risk," Shea said.
The concerns about the ban on naked short-selling hit large banks, a sign that traders are uneasy about the possible chilling effect that Germany's moves might have on the markets and in turn, financial companies. Traders are also watching the financial overhaul bill making its way through the Senate. Debate could end as soon as Wednesday. Some traders are concerned that tighter rules will hurt bank profits.
Wells Fargo & Co. fell $1.38, or 4.3 percent, to $30.59, while Citigroup Inc. fell 13 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $3.73.
Gold fell $13.50 to $1,214.60 an ounce, while crude oil fell 54 cents to settle at $69.41 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
While so much attention has focused on Europe in recent weeks, investors have largely ignored signs of economic growth. Stocks had been posting solid gains earlier in the year on steady signs of improvement in the U.S. economy. Encouraging signals on the economy gave early support to stocks Tuesday. The Commerce Department said home construction jumped 5.8 percent in April, more than expected and the strongest level since late in 2008.
John Merrill, chief investment officer at Tanglewood Wealth Management in Houston, said investors are doing some mental juggling. They see signs that the U.S. economy is strengthening but still have concerns that Europe's problems will undermine the global economy's rebound.
"There are just two alternative themes and it just depends on where the focus is," he said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was the sole stock among the 30 that make up the Dow Jones industrials to rise. The world's largest retailer posted better-than-expected earnings. Investors also look to companies that sell consumer staples as a safe investment in weak economies. The stock rose 98 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $53.71.
More than three stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 6.2 billion shares, compared with 5.9 billion Monday
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 12.96, or 1.9 percent, to 682.75.
Britain's FTSE 100 index rose 0.9 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 1.5 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 2.1 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.1 percent.
 Credits: AP Associate Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Se extiende TPS para nicaragüenses por 18 meses más

Extension del TPS para Nicaraguenses
Published Date: 05/05/2010

El Departamento de Seguridad Nacional (DHS, por sus siglas en inglés) extenderá por 18 meses el Estatus de Protección Temporal (TPS, por sus siglas en inglés) para los ciudadanos de Nicaragua (y aquellos ciudadanos sin nacionalidad cuya última residencia haya sido en Nicaragua) hasta el 5 de enero del 2012. Esta extensión no aplica a los nicaragüenses que entraron a los Estados Unidos después del 30 de diciembre del 1998. Ciertos nacionales de Nicaragua que no hayan solicitado el TPS previamente pueden ser elegibles para registrarse bajo las provisiones de registro tardío. La notificación en el Registro Federal anunciando esta extensión tiene más detalles acerca de la misma.

TPS Extension for Honduras

18-Month Extension of Temporary Protected Status for Honduras
Publication Date: 05/05/2010

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, through Jan. 5, 2012, to eligible nationals of Honduras and people having no nationality who last habitually resided in Honduras. This extension does not apply to Hondurans who entered the United States after Dec. 30, 1998. Certain nationals of Honduras who have not previously applied for TPS may be able to register under the late initial registration provisions. Further details on this extension of TPS for Honduras appear in the Federal Register Notice that announces this extension.

Se extiende TPS para hondureños por 18 meses más

El Departamento de Seguridad Nacional (DHS, por sus siglas en inglés) extenderá por 18 meses el Estatus de Protección Temporal (TPS, por sus siglas en inglés) para los ciudadanos de Honduras (y aquellos ciudadanos sin nacionalidad cuya última residencia haya sido en Honduras) hasta el 5 de enero del 2012. Esta extensión no aplica a los hondureños que entraron a los Estados Unidos después del 30 de diciembre del 1998. Ciertos nacionales de Honduras que no hayan solicitado el TPS previamente pueden ser elegibles para registrarse bajo las provisiones de registro tardío. La notificación en el Registro Federal anunciando esta extensión tiene más detalles acerca de la misma.

NOTA: La fechas para registrarse no han sido publicadas todavia. Este pendiente para saber la fecha que oficialmente puede someter su TPS. Ya que por el momento, es un aviso que ha sido extendido por otros 18 meses.

Credits:  US Immigration and Naturalization Services

How to Start a Consulting Business

A consultant's job is to consult. Nothing more, nothing less. It's that simple. There's no magic formula or secret that makes one consultant more successful than another one.
But what separates a good consultant from a bad consultant is a passion and drive for excellence. And--oh yes--a good consultant should be knowledgeable about the subject he or she is consulting in. That does make a difference.
You see, in this day and age, anyone can be a consultant. All you need to discover is what your particular gift is. For example, are you very comfortable working around computers? Do you keep up with the latest software and hardware information, which seems to be changing almost daily? And are you able to take that knowledge you have gained and turn it into a resource that someone would be willing to pay money for? Then you would have no trouble working as a computer consultant.

According to a recent survey, here are the top 10 reasons organizations hire consultants:

A consultant may be hired because of his or her expertise,  a consultant may be hired to bring new life to an organizationor, a consultant may be hired to provide much-needed objectivity, a consultant may be hired to create a new business, etc.

BENEFITS: There are many advantages to having a home office. Among them are:

Low overhead expenses. You don't have to worry about paying rent or utilities for an office; you will appreciate this feature until you establish a regular client base.

Flexibility. There is little doubt that operating as a consultant at home gives you a great deal of flexibility. You can set your own hours and take time off as you need it.

No rush-hour nightmares. For anyone who has had to commute to and from a job during rush hour, this will be a welcome change of pace.

Your home office space will most likely be tax-deductible. The IRS has relaxed the rules for people who work at home, but check with your account or income tax preparer to see if you qualify for this deduction.

So, there are many reasons for a consulting job, you just need to know what your calling and passion is. The sky is the limit.

Taken from article published by:

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