Archives 2016

Several State and Local Parks Set to Increase Camping Fees in 2016

Camping is one of America’s favorite pastimes, allowing families to bond without overspending. Now, several parks all around the country are planning to increase camping fees, much to the dismay of fervent campers.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry is hiking up the price of camping, increasing state park fees for the first time in 14 years.

As part of the price changes, camping reservation fees for state parks in Maine have increased from $2 to $5. Additionally, actual camping fees have skyrocketed from $3 to $10.

A spokesman for the department, John Bott, claims that even these considerable price increases won’t even cover the costs of programs and maintenance for state parks.

“They’re raises but they’re relatively modest in comparison to what other states have done over a period of time. We feel that right now we’re still in the middle of the pack in terms of the cost of state parks in other states and if you compare us to the private sector, we’re an even better bargain,” said Bott.

Camping is a $15 billion dollar industry, though much of that revenue is based on private sector campgrounds. However, the increased price of camping is not limited to Maine, nor is it limited to state parks.

The Tomah Journal recently reported on a potential camping fee increase for McMullen Memorial County Park in Wisconsin. The price hike was approved by the Monroe County Board of Supervisors.

Daily rates for McMullen Memorial County Park will increase by $2, from $19 to $21, while monthly rates will go from $350 to $375.

While the price increases aren’t as severe as the ones announced in Maine, the situation in Wisconsin is yet another example of the high price of camping in 2016.

According to the St. George News, the Bureau of Land Management-Utah increased several camping fees in September, affecting at least eight different campgrounds.

It remains to be seen if people will camp less because of the price increases, but those who are upset by the changes should know that it’s happening all over the country.

Quicken Loans Criticized For Their “Rocket Mortgage” Super Bowl 50 Ad

Just as many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads as they do for the football. But this year, more than a few of the commercials left viewers scratching their heads and asking “Why?”

This is especially true for Quicken Loans, the mortgage lender company whose minute-long Super Bowl 50 commercial stirred quite a bit of controversy on the Twitter-sphere.

The commercial advertised Quicken Loans’ new “Rocket Mortgage” service, an app-based service that supposedly makes it both easy and fast for buyers to get a mortgage loan. In the commercial, the voiceover tells of a world where buying a home can be as simple as buying a pair of shoes online and can take as little as ten minutes — or even less.

“What if we did for mortgages what the Internet did for buying music and plane tickets and shoes?” the voiceover’s casual, undoubtedly Millennial-directed voice muses. “You would turn an intimidating process into an easy one. You could get a mortgage on your phone. And if it could be that easy, wouldn’t more people buy homes?”

And while the premise does sound appealing in an idealistic way, anyone who lived through the housing crisis of 2008 finds the logic of the Quicken Loans ad to be troubling and downright dangerous.

In fact, immediately after the advertisement aired, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took to Twitter in order to warn consumers that diving into a “right-minute mortgage” might not be the best idea.

Launched in December, the Quicken Loans “Rocket Mortgage” promises potential home buyers that they can qualify for a mortgage online in under 10 minutes. Unlike FHA 203K loans offered by the Federal Housing Administration that offer 3.5% down payments, the service cuts out the middle and instantaneously analyzes your financial and credit history, determining your loan eligibility on the spot.


Ultimately, critics of the Quicken Loans “Rocket Mortgage” service seem to be criticizing the tone-deaf nature of their campaign.

However, it’s important to note that Quicken’s program doesn’t actually speed up the house-buying process itself. It simply condenses it by letting potential borrowers skip initial paperwork, instead authorizing Quicken Loans to communicate with their financial institutions directly.

And Quicken is by no means offering mortgages to those who don’t qualify for them.

“These are qualified mortgages, fully underwritten loans. Nothing that we’re doing is shifting or changing that,” says Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson. “The reality is, we’re doing nothing but safe lending.”

Research Shows Subpar Onboarding Decreases Productivity

Internet ComputerSince the dawn of the digital age, businesses and corporations have been utilizing the every-changing tapestry of technology to better suit the needs of consumers and employees. Applying this technology to daily operations has changed the frontier of managing a team of employees, especially when they are first hired.

Many organizations choose to implement an onboarding process for newly hired employees. These programs give new-hires an idea of how the enterprise functions on a daily basis and what their role will be within the business. An onboarding program may also go into specific detail about the new employee’s job responsibilities and how to complete them. has spoken up about the importance of a streamlined onboarding system that won’t scare candidates off on their first day. The site urges managers, HR reps, and business owners to take a long, hard look at their onboarding process.

If an organization has a quality onboarding system, it’s important to maintain the quality of human interaction. Rather than setting up an automated hiring process, don’t neglect to provide a personal touch. also laid out five ways business owners will know when their onboarding system needs to be updated:

  1. A business is trying to avoid spending money: Business owners may think avoiding spending money on an updated onboarding system is a smart move, but it’s actually quite the opposite. An outdated onboarding system will cost that business employees and means they will spend more money looking for new employees and training them than they would spend on an updated system.
  2. Employees feel confused: When employees aren’t sure about their responsibilities and how an organization works on a daily basis, business owners will lose out.
  3. New employees are leaving: Research shows that an ineffective onboarding program is the cause of quitting a new job for 15% of new-hires.
  4. Executives and managers are noticing issues: If the top executives are aware of an issue that’s happening at the lower level, it’s definitely time to change some things.
  5. The current onboarding is getting rusty: Technology that was top-notch three years ago may be completely irrelevant today. Staying up-to-date with technology trends is imperative.

Having a standard onboarding process not only benefits the employee but the business as a whole. Organizations with such processes in place experience 50% greater employee retention and 54% greater new hire productivity. With well-informed and more productive employees, it’s a win-win.

New Study Finds Many U.S. Workers Do Not Have Access to Adequate Retirement Benefits

While saving enough money for retirement used to be an afterthought for many American workers, a recent study has shown that today’s retirees are facing an uphill climb to live a comfortable life after their careers have finished.

According to Employee Benefit News, a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, titled “Who’s In, Who’s Out,” has found that a large percentage of U.S. workers do not have the opportunity to participate in a retirement plan at work.

As of 2016, only 58% of full-time American workers have access to a workplace retirement savings plan. Furthermore, only 49% of full-time workers reported participating in programs offered through their workplace.

These percentages are drastically lower among part-time workers, who typically do not receive the same type of long-term financial protection as their full-time counterparts. In fact, only 39% of part-time employees had access to retirement benefits in 2015.

“With the aging of the nation’s population, a continuing decline in the availability of traditional pensions, and concerns about the future of Social Security, many workers in the United States worry that they won’t have enough money set aside for their retirements,” the report states.

Most experts believe that developing a feasible plan for retirement savings is the first step in building towards the future, but a general lack of access to these programs within American workplaces has left many workers without a place to turn.

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

The current state of retirement benefits varies significantly between states. In Wisconsin, about 70% of workers have access to retirement savings plans. In Florida, which is widely regarded as the worst state for retirement benefits, only 46% of workers have access to these tools.

According to U.S. News and World Report, several states are nipping at Florida’s heels for the dubious distinction of being the worst state for retirement benefits.

Just under half (49%) of workers in New Mexico are eligible for retirement benefits at work, followed by Texas (50%), Nevada (51%), and Arizona (52%).

Proponents of easier access to retirement benefits argue that employers should embrace these plans and use them to recruit better talent. Employees will typically respond to such programs if they are explained in a logical way.

“We have always been beating the drum that you need to start saving early and always save some. You have to come up with a better communication strategy and involve people in the discussion,” said Matt Sicking, a senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

The report also noted disparities in retirement plan offerings among different races, ethnic backgrounds, industries, employer size, and age.

Retirement benefits are generally determined on a state-by-state level, so it remains to be seen how individual states will encourage more employees to participate in savings plans.

New French Press Device Gives You Coffee on the Go

French press coffee is incredibly popular, especially among Millennials. So it makes perfect sense that there should be a cup that caters to their love for French press coffee while also catering to their on-the-go lifestyles. Enter the Espro.

For most people, getting up early for work or school is a chore, and most will not wake up with enough time to make their coffee before they leave the house. So where does that leave them? With a $5 cup of coffee every single day?

This issue is one of the things that helps in the marketability of the Espro. This travel press allows you to make your coffee on the go. It not only brews coffee right there, but it also comes with a travel mug so java fans can drink from it.

French presses use a piston in order to provide high pressure to a sample volume of between 40 and 250 mL. It then forces particles through a small hole. Reports from Business Insider rate the Espro as, “functional, though at some points frustrating.”

In terms of function, the Espro’s makers state that it provides great French press flavor and is just as functional as a regular French press. All coffee drinkers have to do is place the grounds in the Espro, pour hot water over them, and wait about four minutes; when that’s done, they just stir and press.

A Business Insider writer who tried out the press reported that the main concern had been filtering out the grounds; home presses allegedly have fewer grounds that seep into the coffee. However, the reviewer pointed out that the mug had great sealing, keeping the coffee hot and not allowing it to spill.

While this travel press is great for its convenience, don’t count on a huge cup — the press only makes about 12 ounces at a time. It is also difficult to make any changes to the coffee, like adding any cream or sugar, thanks to the design and style.

So in the end, this is great for those who need a small cup of black coffee to kick start the day. Otherwise, die-hard caffeine addicts may simply want to wake up that extra five minutes earlier and make their French press coffee the traditional way.

Slippery Roads in Several States Causing Major Property Damage and Fatalities

The mild start to winter may have given some drivers false hope, but the harsh reality of snowy road conditions is beginning to set in for millions of Americans.

According to local Washington news affiliate KXLY, several car accidents ranging from minor to severe occurred in Spokane, WA in just one morning as the city got its first coat of winter snow.

“We’re received probably about 10 to 15 crashes this morning,” said Officer Jordan Ferguson of the Spokane Police Department.

One of the more serious accidents on the morning of Jan. 16 resulted in a driver crashing her truck into Taste of India, a popular local restaurant.

Ferguson noted that many people drive recklessly as it is, and combining these bad habits with the wintry conditions is a recipe for disaster.

“People spend enough time doing things they shouldn’t when they’re driving,” Ferguson added. “And then you add conditions like this…it makes it even worse.”

Approximately 33% of all fatal and serious traffic crashes are due (at least in part) to poor road conditions, and death rates typically peak when winter reaches its climax. Spokane residents were lucky that no one died in these early morning crashes, but one Michigan man was not so fortunate.

CBS Detroit is reporting that a 26-year-old man from Ely Township, MI died on Monday after he tried to pass a semi-truck on a snowy roadway, colliding with another vehicle. The two people in the other vehicle involved were injured but escaped with their lives.

Fatal accidents like the one in Michigan are commonplace during winter, and experts are constantly trying to spread awareness of what to do when driving in the snow.

According to Digital Trends, there are several things that drivers can do to reduce their chances of being involved in a winter crash. Among these tips and tricks are: fitting a car with with winter tires, driving slower, and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles.

Officer Ferguson also had some words of wisdom for drivers who feel as if they are immune to icy road conditions.

“Take your time getting some place and leave earlier than you normally would,” Ferguson advised.

Big Oil and Coal Can Ignore Climate Change, But Not the Coinciding Financial Consequences

Drilling rig used to collect crude oil resources.

Drilling rig used to collect crude oil resources.

After years of experts warning against the environmental repercussions of the consumption of natural resources, the big businesses they were trying to appeal to may now be facing the consequences, but from a financial standpoint.

According to the International Business Times, the price of crude oil leveled out to a 12-year low of about $30 per barrel this past week. The news of this price plateau comes only one day after several United States investment firms warned the Wall Street Journal that national oil companies are at an increasing risk for bankruptcy as a result of the continued plunge of oil prices over the past year.

With U.S. oil and gas companies losing an estimated $2 billion per week combined, investment banks, such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, warn that oil prices could fall as low as to $20 per barrel.

Some have even described the situation as worse than the 1986 crash in oil prices, which left prices at a measly $10 per barrel.

Between high oil production in the Middle East and overproduction as a result of the U.S. shale boom, as well as low demand from developing nations such as China, have left the price of crude oil plunging since 2014.

In an attempt to allow the market to even out, large oil companies are requesting a temporary price cap, but the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have refused, saying that it would fix itself overtime.

However, some investors believe they can still profit off of this downswing in the market by purchasing cheap shares in energy companies hoping they will eventually recover.

“Every time you hit new lows there’s the potential for profit taking, and as people try to pick the bottom of the market,” Richard Mallinson, a geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, told Reuters.

But oil companies are not the only businesses finding themselves lumped in with the other millions of bankruptcy filings in the United States; there were as many as 1,071,932 just in 2013.

A prolonged downturn in the coal industry has caused the second-largest U.S. coal miner Arch Coal to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with a set plan to cut $4.5 billion of debt, as reports.

Since their acquisition of International Coal Group, Arch Coal has suffered from a sharp drop in coal prices, more extensive pollution controls, an increasing competition from natural gas, as well as a decreased demand from China, just like the oil companies.

Over the past several years, a confluence of economic challenges and regulatory hurdles has hobbled the coal industry,” Chief Financial Officer John Drexler said in a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis on Monday.

Arch Coal’s debt-for-equity agreement will offer control of the majority of the company to senior lenders, which includes Eaton Vance Management Inc, Tennenbaum Capital Partners and Highland Capital Management.

Arch will also be receiving $275 million in debtor-in-possession financing, with another estimated $600 million in cash and short-term investments. Supposedly this should be enough to fund their operations during the restructuring of the company.

While Arch Coal says their shipments will continue uninterrupted, about 25% of U.S. coal producers are currently in their own bankruptcy filings, according to a 2013 estimate of the market’s production.

El Niño Devastates, Floods, and Damages San Diego

entrance and staircase of the House invaded by mud 1Heavy rainfall brought on by strong El Niño storms are wreaking havoc across the country. Residents of San Diego are experiencing serious repercussions, as sinkholes, flooding, and danger lurks around every corner of the city.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the El Niño storm made its way through San Diego, causing the water to rise quickly in several parts of the city. Lifeguards and rescue workers worked quickly to rescue people from flooded streets and homes. On Wednesday, Miramar Road and Cabot Drive suddenly became flooded, and lifeguards brought the passengers of four or five cars to safety.

Similar rescues have been happening all over town, in areas such as Roselle Street near Sorrento Valley and Ward Street in Mission Valley.

In La Jolla Shores, a sinkhole opened up. The hole is larger than a car and is exposing a gas line. While it has not been ruptured yet, experts fear that a slab of concrete could rupture it. Authorities have warned residents to avoid the area until the sinkhole is repaired.

And in residential areas near the San Diego river, homes are experiencing serious flooding problems, finding themselves knee-deep in water. According to statistics, almost 98% of all basements incur some kind of water damage; San Diego homes in areas like Point Loma will have inevitably incurred water damage of some kind as a result of the recent floods.

According to NBC 7 reports, the flash floods submerged Point Loma streets in less than 10 minutes. For one resident, Kelly Fouquier, the water damage was so extensive that firefighters had to pull her out from her window.

“Literally, it’s probably the scariest thing I’ve ever been through in my entire life. I’ve never experienced anything like that; any type of disaster like that,” she explained. “I was really, really scared.”

As rescues are underway and extensive damage continues, the residents of San Diego can only hope that the El Niño storm lets up for the remainder of the season.

Victims of 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis Finally Receive Compensation — After 36 Years

banking loan, or cash conceptIt’s been 36 years since 53 Americans were held as hostages in Iran for 444 days, and the U.S. government has finally agreed to hand over financial compensation to the victims.

According to the Washington Post and Time, President Obama signed a provision at the end of December to provide $4.4 million to each of the living 37 American Embassy employees (and to the estates of the 16 individuals who have since passed away) who had been held hostage in Iran three decades ago.

The total compensation equals $10,000 per day held in captivity when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized in Nov. 1979. Because the deal that allowed for their safe return — the 1981 Algiers Accords — prohibited the victims from filing lawsuits against Iran, the former hostages have been trying (in vain) to convince the U.S. government to provide compensation.

As the Washington Post put it, the 1979 incident “fractured relations between Iran and the United States and ultimately pitted the former hostages not only against the authorities in Tehran, but also against their own government.”

The hostage situation was recently portrayed in the movie “Argo,” and this movie, added to the increased media scrutiny over the Iran nuclear deal discussions in 2015, likely played an important role in getting the provision signed.

This incident isn’t the only case where compensation for American workers overseas became a complicated issue; it’s a notoriously tricky process to get the federal government to pay benefits for injuries — and even deaths — incurred in a foreign country while employed by the United States.

Despite the passage of legislation to protect overseas workers, such as the federal workers’ compensation program under the Defense Base Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act of 1921, the families of government contract workers often have to fight for financial compensation. As the New York Times reported this past December, it can take years for families to receive benefits even when their relatives have perished overseas as a result of terrorist attacks.

If it’s successful, this new provision could provide relief for future victims and families of overseas terror attacks.

In addition to providing $4.4 million to each victim of the 1979 hostage crisis, the deal also allocates payments of $600,000 for each spouse and/or child of a hostage in the incident. The provision will also remain open for the next 10 years so that other terror attack victims are able to receive compensation.