- Created on 31 October 2013
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta announces that government safety rules are changing to let airline passengers use most electronic devices from gate-to-gate during a news conference, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport. The change will let passengers read, work, play games, watch movies and listen to music _ but not make cellphone calls. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Airline passengers will be able to use their electronic devices gate-to-gate to read, work, play games, watch movies and listen to music - but not talk on their cellphones - under much-anticipated new guidelines issued Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.
But passengers shouldn't expect changes to happen immediately. How fast the change is implemented will vary by the airline, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at a news conference.
Airlines will have to show the FAA how their airplanes meet the new guidelines and that they've updating their flight crew training manuals and rules for stowing devices to reflect the new guidelines. Delta said it was submitting a plan to implement the new policy.
Currently, passengers are required to turn off their smartphones, tablets and other devices once a plane's door closes. They're not supposed to restart them until the planes reach 10,000 feet and the captain gives the go-ahead. Passengers are supposed to turn their devices off again as the plane descends to land and not restart them until the plane is on the ground.
Under the new guidelines, airlines whose planes are properly protected from electronic interference may allow passengers to use the devices during takeoffs, landings and taxiing, the FAA said. Most new airliners and other planes that have been modified so that passengers can use Wifi at higher altitudes are expected to meet the criteria.
But connecting to the Internet to surf, exchange emails, text or download data will still be prohibited below 10,000 feet, the agency said. Passengers will be told to switch their smartphones, tablets and other devices to airplane mode. So, still no Words With Friends, the online Scrabble-type game that actor Alec Baldwin was playing on his smartphone in 2011 when he was famously booted off an American Airlines jet for refusing to turn off the device while the plane was parked at the gate. And heavier devices such as laptops will continue to have to be stowed because of concern they might injure someone if they go flying around the cabin.
In-flight cellphone calls also will continue to be prohibited. Regulatory authority over phone calls belongs to the Federal Communications Commission, not the FAA. The communications commission prohibits the calls because of concern that phones on planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour could strain the ability of cellular networks to keep up as the devices keep trying to connect with cellphone towers, interfering with service to users on the ground.
An industry advisory committee created by the FAA to examine the issue recommended last month that the government permit greater use of personal electronic devices.
Pressure has been building on the FAA in recent years to ease restrictions on their use. Critics such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., contend there is no valid safety reason for the prohibitions. The restrictions have also become increasingly difficult to enforce as use of the devices has become ubiquitous. Some studies indicate as many as a third of passengers forget or ignore directions to turn off their devices.
The FAA began restricting passengers' use of electronic devices in 1966 in response to reports of interference with navigation and communications equipment when passengers began carrying FM radios, the high-tech gadgets of their day.
A lot has changed since then. New airliners are far more reliant on electrical systems than previous generations of aircraft, but they are also designed and approved by the FAA to be resistant to electronic interference. Airlines have been offering Wi-Fi use at cruising altitudes to passengers for several years. Planes modified for Wi-Fi systems are also more resistant to interference.
The vast majority of airliners should qualify for greater electronic device use under the new guidelines, Huerta said.
Today's electronic devices generally emit much lower power radio transmissions than previous generations of devices. E-readers, for example, emit only minimal transmissions when turning a page. But transmissions are stronger when devices are downloading or sending data.
Among those pressing for a relaxation of restrictions on passengers' use of the devices has been Amazon.com. In 2011, company officials loaded an airliner full of their Kindle e-readers and flew it around to test for problems but found none.
FAA advisory committee members expressed mixed feelings about whether use of the devices presents any risk. Douglas Kidd of the National Association of Airline Passengers said he believes interference from the devices is genuine even if the risk is minimal. Other committee members said there are only anecdotal reports from pilots to support that the devices can interfere with aircraft systems, and most of those reports are very old. However, the committee recommended the FAA allow pilots to order passengers to shut off devices during instrument landings in low visibility.
A travel industry group welcomed the changes, calling them common-sense accommodations for a traveling public now bristling with technology. "We're pleased the FAA recognizes that an enjoyable passenger experience is not incompatible with safety and security," said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
- Created on 30 October 2013
The Army, NYPD and State Department can't get enough workers with this job skill. Neither can Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, local courts and schools.
What is it? Fluency in a foreign language.
Translators and interpreters are expected to be one of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the nation, according to the Department of Labor.
Roughly 25,000 jobs are expected to open up for interpreters (who focus on spoken language) and translators (who focus on written language), between 2010 and 2020, the Department of Labor estimates. That represents 42% growth for the field and does not include the military, which is also recruiting ferociously for more people.
In the last week alone, roughly 12,000 jobs posted on Indeed.com included the word "bilingual."
Amazon, for example, wants to hire a Brazilian Portuguese translator for its customer service team in Seattle. Apple is hiring technical translators who speak Korean, Mexican Spanish and Chinese.
A school district in Pasadena, Calif., is hiring Spanish, Korean, Armenian and Chinese interpreters to work part time for $40 an hour.
Nationwide, workers in this field earn a median salary of $43,000 a year.
Far higher salaries go to people who work in the intelligence community on behalf of the military, the State Department, CIA, FBI or government contractors. These jobs can pay well into the six figures, as workers are required to pass high-level security clearances and enter dangerous situations.
"The government needs languages spoken in the Middle East and Africa. These people make the most money of all, but this is not just because of their language skills -- this is because of the high risk of the job," said Jiri Stejskal, spokesman for the American Translators Association. "They work in war zones. They may have a $200,000 salary but it's because they're willing to get shot at."
Not willing to put your life on the line? High salaries are also available to translators and interpreters who specialize in legal, medical, technical or scientific knowledge.
Which languages offer the highest returns? In government jobs, it's middle eastern languages like Arabic, Farsi and Pashto (Afghani). In the private sector, it's Scandinavian and Asian languages that pay.
In contrast, Spanish is the second most common language in the United States after English, and because it is so prevalent, it offers the lowest return.
Most interpreters and translators work on a freelance basis, which can be both a blessing and a curse. The work schedule can be flexible, it can be unsteady and come without benefits.
"Since the majority of people in our field work as independent contractors and run their own business, the volume of work of course is subject to fluctuations," said Dorothee Racette, a German-English translator and president of the American Translators Association. "Compensation varies a lot based on language combination, years of experience, area of specialization, and the country or region where customers are located."
- Created on 30 October 2013
This undated handout image provided by the Social Security Administration shows a prepaid MasterCard debit card that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients who do not have bank accounts have the option of getting with their benefits instead of a paper check. The annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is based on a government measure of inflation that will be released Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (AP Photo / Social Security Administration)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Social Security benefits for nearly 58 million people will increase by 1.5 percent next year, the government announced Wednesday.
The increase is among the smallest since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975. It is small because consumer prices haven't gone up much in the past year.
The annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is based on a government measure of inflation that was released Wednesday morning.
The COLA affects benefits for more than one-fifth of the country. In addition to Social Security payments, it affects benefits for millions of disabled veterans, federal retirees and people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.
The amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes is also going up. Social Security is funded by a 12.4 percent tax on the first $113,700 in wages earned by a worker, with half paid by employers and the other half withheld from workers' pay.
The wage threshold will increase to $117,000 next year, the Social Security Administration said. Wages above the threshold are not subject to Social Security taxes.
About 165 million workers pay Social Security taxes. About 10 million earn wages above the threshold, the agency said.
Social Security pays retired workers an average of $1,272 a month. A 1.5 percent raise comes to about $19.
"By providing protection against inflation, the COLA helps beneficiaries of all ages maintain their standard of living, keeping many from falling into poverty," said AARP executive vice president Nancy LeaMond. "The COLA announced today is vital to millions, but at an average of just $19 per month, it will quickly be consumed by the rising costs of basic needs like food, utilities and health care."
The COLA announcement had been scheduled for two weeks ago. It was delayed because the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not issue the inflation report for September during the partial government shutdown.
Since 1975, annual Social Security raises have averaged just over 4 percent. Next year will mark only the seventh time the COLA has been less than 2 percent, including several recent ones. This year's increase was 1.7 percent. There was no COLA in 2010 or 2011 because inflation was too low.
In some years, part of COLA has been erased by an increase in Medicare Part B premiums, which are deducted automatically from Social Security payments. But Medicare announced Monday that Part B premiums, which cover doctor visits, will stay the same in 2014, at $104.90 a month for most seniors.
By law, the cost-of-living adjustment is based on the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.
The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year to prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up over the course of the year, benefits go up, starting with payments delivered in January.
Lower prices for gasoline are helping keep inflation low, said Polina Vlasenko, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research.
The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped over the past year from $3.53 to about $3.28, according to the automotive club AAA. Overall transportation costs have dropped by 2 percent in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Prices for food and beverages have gone up by 1.4 percent, while clothing costs have gone up by 0.7 percent.
Automatic COLAs were adopted so that benefits for people on fixed incomes would keep pace with rising prices. Some advocates for older Americans, however, complain that the COLA sometimes falls short, especially for people with high medical costs.
Over the past year, medical costs went up less than in previous years but still outpaced other consumer prices, rising 2.4 percent, according to the government report. Housing costs went up 2.3 percent.
- Created on 28 October 2013
In what is sure to be the divorce of the century, McDonald's, the world's largest quick-service chain by sales, is ending its longstanding relationship with Heinz, the world's largest producer of ketchup.
That means that every McDonald's location around the world will soon have to stop serving Heinz ketchup with its fries and burgers. The chain issued the following statement on the decision in an email to The Huffington Post:
"We value the relationship we've maintained with Heinz for more than 40 years. As a result of recent management changes at Heinz, we have decided to transition our business to other suppliers over time. We have spoken to Heinz and plan to work together to ensure a smooth and orderly transition of the McDonald's restaurant business, and are confident that there will be no impact to our business, our customers and our great tasting food at McDonald's."
Given that many connoisseurs believe Heinz is the best-tasting ketchup in the world, bar none, it seems like a stretch to say that the decision will have no impact. So why did McDonald's make it?
It's worth noting that most McDonald's locations in the U.S. stopped serving Heinz ketchup a long time ago. Only the stores in the areas around Pittsburgh (the home of Heinz) and Minneapolis currently carry Heinz, John Bennett, vice president of food-service ketchup, condiments and sauces for Heinz, told the Wall Street Journal in 2011. However, many McDonald's locations overseas do use Heinz.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that the breakup follows the appointment of Bernardo Hees to the job of Heinz CEO. Hees was formerly the CEO at McDonald's chief competitor, Burger King. Heinz was also recently acquired by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, and New York-based 3G Capital already owns Burger King.
The backstage intrigue that led up to the breakup news remains a mystery. But some analysts started speculating as early as February that 3G might cut off the supply of Heinz ketchup to McDonald's as a way to boost sales at Burger King.
McDonald's representatives refused to say which company supplies ketchup to the majority of McDonald's American restaurants at the moment, or which companies might be tapped to produce its ketchup going forward. And a visit to the McDonald's closest to Huffington Post HQ, on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan's East Village, provided no answers; the ketchup there came in packets marked "McDonald's Fancy Ketchup."
Heinz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.