The price of procrastination

The price of procrastination

Here are three of the week’s top pieces of financial advice, gathered from around the web:

The price of procrastination
“Procrastinating on financial matters can cost you big in the long run,” said Russ Wiles at Arizona Central. Many Americans struggle with the pressure of planning for retirement, drafting a will, or developing a savings plan. Some are gripped by the fear of making a mistake, while others are intimidated by not knowing how to proceed. Delaying some matters can be especially costly. One of the worst financial behaviors is paying only the minimum on your credit cards, thinking that you will eventually ramp up payments. Compounding interest will just sink you further in debt. There’s also no better time than now to make sure that you have enough savings to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses, and to get serious about retirement. “Even individuals who start late with retirement planning can make headway if they just get going.”

Credit scores may jump
Tax liens will no longer be considered in your credit score, “a move that will make some risky borrowers appear more creditworthy,” said AnnaMaria Andriotis at The Wall Street Journal. As of this month, the three major credit-reporting companies will delete more than 5.5 million liens from consumers’ credit reports and “stop adding new tax lien information.” That means some consumers could see their credit scores go up, making them eligible for better loans and financing terms. The credit-rating firms have been “grappling with class-action lawsuits over their handling of consumers’ tax liens.” A number of suits accuse the firms of not updating information to reflect when the lien was withdrawn or paid.

Pushing back on property taxes
“If your property tax bills are increasing, you’re not alone,” said Ann Carrns at The New York Times. For most families, they’re the second-largest household expense after the mortgage. Property tax is calculated as a percentage of the average estimated market value of your area’s homes, usually between 1 and 2 percent, so rising prices can inflate your tax obligations. Many cities have also increased their rates, compounding the pain. Last year the average bill nationwide was $3,400, up 3 percent from 2016. If you feel your bill is too high, you can file an appeal. Check the details in your valuation report, such as the number of bedrooms. If anything is obviously wrong, call your local assessor’s office. For significant errors or differences of opinion, “you’ll need some data to back up your claim.” This could include sales data for comparable homes or even a formal appraisal.

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This San Francisco church will make you a Bey-liever

This San Francisco church will make you a Bey-liever

Beyoncé’s music has been metaphorically taking fans to church for years — but now it’s going to do it literally.

The Vine at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco is planning to host a Beyoncé-themed mass on April 25, NBC Bay Area reports. The service won’t push parishioners to literally worship Beyoncé, but they will be invited “to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of marginalized and forgotten — particularly black females.” The special event comes on the heels of the Houston singer’s legendary Coachella show last weekend, and will follow her second festival performance Saturday.

The founding pastor of the Vine, Rev. Jude Harmon, explained in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that the Beyoncé-centric mass is “designed to be” a “conversation starter.” The April 25 service will serve as an introduction to a three-part series called, “Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community.” “We felt a need to lift up the voices that the church has traditionally suppressed,” Harmon said.

Rev. Yolanda Norton, an assistant professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary who teaches a course called “Beyoncé and the Bible,” will be joining in on the fun as a speaker at the mass.

While unique, this is not the first time a church in the Bay Area has used music to connect with parishioners: The African Orthodox Church of Saint John Coltrane was founded in honor of the late saxophone legend John Coltrane and uses jazz to show devotion.

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The week’s best photojournalism

The week’s best photojournalism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listen to their countries’ national anthems during a reception in Berlin. | (EPA-EFE/FELIPE TRUEBA)

Workers at the construction site of the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore. | (EPA-EFE/WALLACE WOON)

Workers adjust lanterns for the celebration of Buddha’s birthday in Seoul. | (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

People throw colored powder at the end of the Color Run 2018 race in Paris. | (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The New York Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes douses teammate Wilmer Flores after Flores’ game-winning home run in New York. | (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A devotee gets his face smeared with vermillion powder during a festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. | (REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar)

A Siberian tiger lies on the operation table before stem cell surgery at the Szeged Zoo in Hungary. | (REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

A practitioner conducts “knife therapy massage” on a woman in Taipei, Taiwan. | (EPA-EFE/RITCHIE B. TONGO)

Migrants rest after being rescued off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea. | (EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON)

Erosion marks on the beach in Soulac, France. | (REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

A sandstorm approaches in Yazd, Iran. | (Matthias Schmidt via REUTERS)

Paratroopers drop into the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, Israel. | (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

**See last week’s best photojournalism**

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Michael Cohen apparently tried to apologize to Melania Trump for the Stormy Daniels scandal

Michael Cohen apparently tried to apologize to Melania Trump for the Stormy Daniels scandal

When Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to a former adult film actress in October 2016, the point was that everyone would stay quiet.

Instead, the transfer has blown up in his face, as President Trump’s personal attorney has found himself in the center of a sordid scandal that has played out in television shows, front pages, and FBI raids. The actress, Stormy Daniels — real name Stephanie Clifford — had spoken publicly in 2011 about an affair she says she had with Trump, but Cohen’s acknowledgement in February that he paid her to keep quiet sparked a tabloid firestorm.

Daniels says the affair occurred in 2006, just one year after Trump married his third wife, Melania, and just a few months after the birth of their son, Barron. Cohen’s revelation has raised questions of whether the payment constituted an improper campaign donation — not to mention brought renewed scrutiny to Trump’s history of rumored extramarital involvement. In a somewhat somber picture of Cohen’s place in the Trump orbit, The New York Times on Friday said that Cohen at one point even tried to make amends to the first lady for making the Daniels story national news:

In a Fox News interview last year, Mr. Cohen declared: “I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump.” He told Vanity Fair in September that “I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president,” adding, “I’d never walk away.”

At a Republican fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, Mr. Cohen went so far as to approach the first lady, Melania Trump, to try to apologize for the pain he caused her with the payment to [Daniels], the adult film actress who has claimed to have had the sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. [The New York Times]

The Times goes on to list many indignities reportedly suffered by Cohen at Trump’s hands. As longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone told the paper: “Donald goes out of his way to treat [Cohen] like garbage.” Read more at The New York Times.

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Swedish DJ Avicii dead at 28

Swedish DJ Avicii dead at 28

Swedish DJ Avicii, 28, was found dead in Oman on Friday, his publicist confirmed. “It is with profound sorrow that we announce the loss of Tim Bergling, also known as Avicii,” the publicist, Diana Baron, said in a statement.

Avicii had retired from performing in 2016 after suffering “very public health problems for the past few years, including acute pancreatitis, in part due to excessive drinking,” The Hollywood Reporter writes. In an interview, Avicii told The Hollywood Reporter that he “took on board too much negative energy” touring and that since quitting, “I’m happier than I have been in a very, very long time. Stress-free more than I have been in a very long time. I can’t say I’m never going to have a show again. I just don’t think I’m going to go back to the touring life.”

Avicii’s hits include “Levels,” which went platinum in the U.S., and “Wake Me Up,” which hit #4 on the Hot 100, Rolling Stone writes. “Devastating news about Avicii, a beautiful soul, passionate and extremely talented, with so much more to do,” tweeted fellow DJ Calvin Harris. “My heart goes out to his family.”

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Trump allegedly urged Jeff Sessions to fire FBI agents who badmouthed him

Trump allegedly urged Jeff Sessions to fire FBI agents who badmouthed him

President Trump allegedly pressured his attorney general and FBI director to find “derogatory information within the FBI’s files” about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two senior FBI officials who exchanged disparaging text messages about the president, in order to discredit and fire them, Vox writes. The meeting between Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director Christopher Wray reportedly took place at the White House on Jan. 22, and in it Trump allegedly expressed his ire that Strzok and Page still have their jobs.

Both Strzok and Page were briefly a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia. They also badmouthed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, although Trump and his allies have pointed to Strzok and Page’s anti-Trump texts as proof that FBI agents are biased against the president.

Several months before his meeting with Sessions and Wray, Trump had been told by his then-defense attorney John Dowd that Page was “a likely witness against him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice,” Vox writes. “That Trump knew that Page might be a potential witness against him has not been previously reported or publicly known.”

Trump has been known to demand loyalty, allegedly telling former FBI Director James Comey “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” in a conversation last year. Comey described the president’s words as “very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

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The DOJ is reportedly wavering over pursuing civil rights charges in the death of Eric Garner

The DOJ is reportedly wavering over pursuing civil rights charges in the death of Eric Garner

The Justice Department is stalling on recommended civil rights charges against the police officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014, The New York Times reported Friday. Federal prosecutors have recommended bringing charges against Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold while subduing Garner on a sidewalk led to Garner’s death and sparked the rallying cry, “I can’t breathe.”

The prosecutors assert that Pantaleo’s actions constituted a clear excessive use of force. But the Justice Department is wary of acting on the recommendation because it fears a case against Pantaleo may be lost at trial, the Times explains, as “juries frequently give great deference to police officers for actions carried out under pressure.” Pantaleo has said he was trying to execute a different maneuver to subdue Garner — one that would not have put pressure on Garner’s neck, like the chokehold did — but that his posture was adjusted in the struggle as he “feared he would be pushed through a storefront window behind him,” per the Times.

The department’s decision under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is sure to spark backlash, given Sessions’ spotty history with race relations as well as the overall posture of the Trump administration. But both Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder, who served as attorneys general under former President Barack Obama, had reservations about the case as well, the Times notes; while Holder was convinced the evidence supported an indictment for Pantaleo, he conceded that prosecutors might lose at trial, and Lynch vacillated for months as to whether charges were truly warranted at all.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has “convened several meetings” as to whether to approve the charges, the Times reports, which have “revealed divisions within the Justice Department.” One source told the Times that Rosenstein would likely eventually decline to pursue the case. Read more at The New York Times.

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Read Chuck Schumer’s explanation of why he’s now in favor of legalizing marijuana

Read Chuck Schumer’s explanation of why he’s now in favor of legalizing marijuana

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D), a chill dude, formally introduced his bill to legalize marijuana Friday.

Schumer outlined his support for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level in a Medium post, being careful to stipulate that he still believes individual states should be able to regulate the drug’s consumption and sale as they wish. His proposal “will allow each state to ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana,” Schumer wrote.

The senator acknowledged that his proposal reflected a change in his thinking. He attributed his attitudinal shift to, in large part, the evolving perceptions of the public: “When I first came to Congress in 1981, only 1 in 4 Americans believed marijuana should be made legal,” he wrote. He also spelled out the skewed legal ramifications of criminalized marijuana:

When looking at the support for legalization that clearly exists across wide swaths of the American population, it is difficult to make sense of our existing laws. Under current federal law, marijuana is treated as though it’s as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than cocaine.

A staggering number of American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American and Latino, continue to be arrested every day for something that most Americans agree should not be a crime. Meanwhile, those who are entering into the marijuana market in states that have legalized are set to make a fortune. [Chuck Schumer, via Medium]

Schumer’s bill will also “inject real dollars into minority and women-owned businesses” to try to offset the racialized nature of marijuana arrests, he said.

The senator spoke to Vice News about his proposal, in an interview that aired late Thursday, where he also signed a bong. Read more about Schumer’s proposal — a proposal he released on April 20 — at Medium.

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Students are back in the streets protesting gun violence for the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting

Students are back in the streets protesting gun violence for the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting

Thousands of students are expected to walk out of their classrooms in protest of gun violence on Friday, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people dead in 1999. It is the second major national school walkout in response to gun violence since a shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school earlier this year.

Walkouts are planned at 2,000 schools around the nation, with at least one in every U.S. state, The New York Times reports. The demonstrations also include 13 seconds of silence, for each of the Columbine victims, or 19 minutes, for the years passed since the shooting:

Walkouts will continue across the country Friday beginning at 10 a.m. local time.

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The 15 biggest questions going into Westworld’s second season

The 15 biggest questions going into Westworld’s second season

I found Westworld‘s first season equal parts stunning and frustrating. The acting was superb, the world-building was exquisite, and the cinematography was world-class. And yet — as exciting as it is to read about the new directions the second season seems to be moving in (including Shogun World), I’m more interested in figuring out answers to some of the first season’s loose ends. Here are a few of those lingering questions:

1. What happened to Elsie Hughes, the programmer who uncovers corporate espionage in the park and is later shown being strangled by Bernard in one of his memories ? I still don’t believe she’s dead.

2. What consequential differences are there between the 3-D printed hosts and the older, mechanical models?

3. Why does that distinction matter so much to the Man in Black (a.k.a Billy) in particular? He seemed singularly unimpressed with the park’s co-creator Robert Ford (who arguably master-minded the shift toward more “anatomical” 3-D printed bodies) when they meet, and makes a particularly odd crack about “opening him up” — a phrase he also used in his speech to Teddy about once slicing a mechanical host open to see its insides. Whether that referred to Maeve or Logan’s vivisection of Dolores is unclear. What is clear — and hard to reconcile with the nested Billy-Dolores love story — is Old Billy’s appreciation of the old hosts’ mechanical beauty. Is there more to this tension between the old and new robots than Billy’s aesthetic preference? If so, where is it going? It’s repeatedly asserted that Dolores was the oldest host in the park — she’s experienced both kinds of bodies. Will this matter?

4. This is minor, but: Young Billy seemed surprised when he got shot by a host and it hurt. Old Billy doesn’t react to being shot at all. Has the fake-bullet technology changed to the point that current guests really feel almost nothing when hosts shoot at them? If so — and if Billy minds this as much as he seems to, given how happy he is to be shot for real in the finale — why wouldn’t he have rolled back this rule to increase the stakes? He’s a VIP in desperate search of a challenge. Why is he playing the game on what seems like its easiest setting? Why isn’t he insisting that the park create stakes where currently there aren’t any?

5. Was Dolores based on a real person? Bernard was obviously based on Ford’s dead partner Arnold. Ford also created a boy version of himself. And the glass case in Ford’s office showing a kind of evolutionary formation of her head from skull to perfect face suggests that Dolores meant an awful lot to both creators. Why?

6. What are different models of memory doing in the show? We know that the “reveries” — which seem to bear some relationship to the fuzziness of “human” memory — were partially responsible for jump-starting the hosts’ climb toward sentience. But we also know that the hosts remember things, not as humans do, but with a vividness that makes the memory indistinguishable from the present. “Somewhere under all those updates, he’s still there, perfectly preserved,” Ford said to Dolores of Arnold. “Your mind is a walled garden. Even death cannot touch the flowers blooming there.”

7. Relatedly, is there in fact a line between implanted trauma via fake backstory (like Bernard losing his pretend son) vs. a “lived” experience (like Bernard remembering he murdered Theresa)? If so, why? Shouldn’t these experiences have the exact same status?

8. What are the odds that Jimmi Simpson will grow up into Ed Harris?

9. What exactly happened with Ford’s arc? His hostility toward Dolores in that early interview is a little hard to reconcile with his redemptive planned suicide at her hand. I wrote about the peculiar contradictions his personality undergoes in the finale and also after “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” which made it clear that Ford was becoming a little bit schizoid. It’s tempting to chalk this up to a mid-season change in direction, but I hope not: After all, the subtle differences in Jeffrey Wright’s various encounters with Dolores turned out to mark the difference between Arnold and Bernard!

10. Along similar lines: Why did Ford seem surprised to find the maze at that dominoes table? Why did he seem startled when the young version of him killed? Throughout the season, it felt like Ford was getting caught off-guard — and it didn’t seem like an act since he was alone and unobserved. That doesn’t seem compatible with the solution in the finale, which suggests that he meticulously planned every single effect.

11. What happened to the depraved playboy Logan?

12. Why did that rogue host have a carving of Orion’s belt but with four stars instead of three?

13. What exactly happened to Dolores’ first father, Peter Abernathy? Early on, Ford mentioned that he’d played “the professor” in some kind of cannibal storyline, and that his recitations of Shakespeare (and Stein) stemmed from there. He was patient zero for the “these violent delights have violent ends” code-trigger and he was legitimately terrifying when he threatened Ford. Yes, he was lobotomized, but those lobotomies appear to be reversible. He’s also carrying an enormous amount of Delos IP. Why didn’t he get to participate in the finale? Where is he?

14. Are we going to examine the “suffering causes sentience” paradigm? Because these robots are built to suffer and have suffered endlessly at the hands of relentless, amoral guests. So by that logic, they all ought to have reached sentience ages ago, right? Doesn’t it seem a little arbitrary that some particular form of suffering (like killing Maeve’s daughter) would spark a specific transformation? Doesn’t it seem like that must have happened to her dozens of times?

15. Why did Walter need more milk?

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