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People power! France to postpone contested new truck tax by six months - tax revolt spreads

French president Francois Hollande
© Reuters/Alain Jocard/Pool
French president Francois Hollande delivers his speech as he launches World War I commemorations at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 7, 2013.
The French government plans to defer by six months the introduction of a new levy on heavy trucks at the heart of a gradually spreading anti-tax revolt, Le Monde newspaper reported on Saturday.

President Francois Hollande's government is struggling to rein in the public deficit, but it has had to suspend the January 1 application of the tax, without bowing to protesters' demands for it to be scrapped altogether.

Voicing concerns about the government's ability to cut the deficit in the face of violent protests, Standard & Poor's cut France's credit rating on Friday to AA from AA+.

Le Monde reported that the government intended to wait to apply the tax, which is supposed to bring in more than one billion euros (£830.2 million) per year, until July after municipal and EU elections in March and May, in which Hollande's Socialists risk big losses.

An official with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office would not confirm the report, but said the tax had not been entirely scrapped.

Increasingly under pressure over France's high fiscal burden, the government already dropped a planned change in corporate tax unpopular with business and has ditched new charges on special savings products.

Heart - Black

Homeless man finds $850, turns it in and gets benefits cut for his honesty

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© AFP Photo
A homeless man who turned over $850 he found on a New Jersey street is a bit poorer for his honesty now, after the Hackensack Human Services Department cut his newly-granted Medicaid and housing benefits for failing to report new income.

James Brady, 59, a former news photographer, found an envelope with $850 in it in April, and turned it in to the Hackensack police, The Bergen Record reported. Brady became a minor celebrity after word spread of his good deed, with honors from the city council and media coverage shedding light on his plight.

After his story drew attention, Brady had begun to receive psychiatric help and medication for emotional trauma - a canceled business meeting at the World Trade Center on 9/11 left him reeling for years, The Record reported. He received housing and subsistence vouchers from the city, and is beginning to turn his life around.

Pistol

Family of kidnapped Louisiana woman Bethany Arceneaux kill her captor

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The family of a kidnapped woman in Duson, La., Bethany Arceneaux, took justice into their own hands Friday when they rescued Arceneaux from her captor, Scott Thomas, killing Thomas in the scuffle that ensued.

Arceneaux, 29, was kidnapped on Wednesday from a child-care center parking lot by Thomas, 29, the father of her son, reported The Advertiser. Their 2-year-old son was in her car at the time and was not harmed.

Arceneaux's family received a tip that she was being kept in an abandoned house nearby. As law enforcement had not yet acted, a half dozen family members assembled at the house and kicked down the door. They said they did not know what they would find.

They found Arceneaux, bloody but alive, and Thomas. In the confrontation between Arceneaux's family and Thomas, guns were fired and Thomas was fatally shot.

Arrow Down

Transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy

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© Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
David Cameron with Barack Obama at a state dinner in Cameron's honour in 2012 at the White House.
Brussels has kept quiet about a treaty that would let rapacious companies subvert our laws, rights and national sovereignty

Remember that referendum about whether we should create a single market with the United States? You know, the one that asked whether corporations should have the power to strike down our laws? No, I don't either. Mind you, I spent 10 minutes looking for my watch the other day before I realised I was wearing it. Forgetting about the referendum is another sign of ageing. Because there must have been one, mustn't there? After all that agonising over whether or not we should stay in the European Union, the government wouldn't cede our sovereignty to some shadowy, undemocratic body without consulting us. Would it?

The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.

The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It's already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.

Dollar Gold

Public banking in Costa Rica: A remarkable little-known model

public banking
In Costa Rica, publicly-owned banks have been available for so long and work so well that people take for granted that any country that knows how to run an economy has a public banking option. Costa Ricans are amazed to hear there is only one public depository bank in the United States (the Bank of North Dakota), and few people have private access to it.

So says political activist Scott Bidstrup, who writes:
For the last decade, I have resided in Costa Rica, where we have had a "Public Option" for the last 64 years.

There are 29 licensed banks, mutual associations and credit unions in Costa Rica, of which four were established as national, publicly-owned banks in 1949. They have remained open and in public hands ever since - in spite of enormous pressure by the I.M.F. [International Monetary Fund] and the U.S. to privatize them along with other public assets. The Costa Ricans have resisted that pressure - because the value of a public banking option has become abundantly clear to everyone in this country.

During the last three decades, countless private banks, mutual associations (a kind of Savings and Loan) and credit unions have come and gone, and depositors in them have inevitably lost most of the value of their accounts.

But the four state banks, which compete fiercely with each other, just go on and on. Because they are stable and none have failed in 31 years, most Costa Ricans have moved the bulk of their money into them. Those four banks now account for fully 80% of all retail deposits in Costa Rica, and the 25 private institutions share among themselves the rest.
According to a 2003 report by the World Bank, the public sector banks dominating Costa Rica's onshore banking system include three state-owned commercial banks (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago) and a special-charter bank called Banco Popular, which in principle is owned by all Costa Rican workers. These banks accounted for 75 percent of total banking deposits in 2003.

Arrow Down

Maryland pastor accused of sexually abusing minor put in charge of children's ministry

Church
© Reuters/Phelan M. Ebenhack

A youth pastor charged with sexually abusing a minor in Maryland had been serving as a children's program leader at a church in New York state while he was still under investigation.

Back in July, 32-year-old Shaun M. Ross was arrested in Frederick, Maryland and charged with two counts of sexually abusing a minor. He was the director of student ministry at the Cavalry Assembly church. According to court records, the pending charges originate from activity dating as far back as 2008 in a community near Baltimore.

In April 2013, however, Ross and his wife were appointed to lead the Victory Christian Center's children's programs in North Syracuse despite the fact that he was not allowed to be in contact with children during the investigation. Ross' father, Rev. Terry Ross, is a senior pastor at the center.

"We are excited to announce that Shaun and Brandi Ross will be assuming leadership in our Children's ministry," read one of the center's Facebook posts dated April 1, according to Syracuse.com. "Bring your children this Sunday for Kidz Revolution! They will love it!"

Arrow Down

Kellogg's apologizes for promise to feed hungry kids in exchange for retweets

Twitter Logo
© Agence France-Presse
The logo of social networking website 'Twitter' is displayed on a computer screen in London.
Kellogg's has apologized for a social media post that implied it would feed hungry children only if others helped promote their marketing campaign.

The trouble started Saturday, when the cereal company's British marketing arm urged its Twitter followers to share, or retweet, a post promoting its Give a Child a Breakfast campaign.
"1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child," the tweet read.
Twitter users immediately criticized the company, accusing it of exploiting vulnerable children to promote its brand.

Piggy Bank

One in three UK households couldn't last a week if they suddenly lost their income

Research from HSBC reveals that 8.8million households have less than £250 in savings set aside as a financial safety net

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A third of people, some 8.8 million households, would not be able to last a week if they suddenly lost their income.

The number of households with £250 or less set aside as a financial safety net has shot up by 800,000 since last October when it was eight million, according to research from HSBC.

Based on average monthly outgoings of £1,500 they would only last five days before running out of funds but, for a quarter of people, it would be almost immediate as they have no savings at all to fall back on.

It is difficult to find any spare cash to save in the current climate when incomes are dropping and bills keep rising but it is important to try and build up a fund as a financial cushion.

The general rule is to have a minimum of three months' salary to see you through any unexpected financial glitches in life.

Getting into the habit of putting even small amounts into a regular saver account makes good financial sense and will mean you gradually build up a safety net - and don't risk having to resort to building up debt.

Question

UK man mysteriously dies after opening container labeled 'Pandora's Box'

Pandora Box
© Flickr
The death of Jason Airey remains a mystery as officials are unable to determine what caused the 37-year-old's heart to stop shortly after opening a container labelled "Pandora's box."

Airey was discovered unconscious by his parents in the bedroom of their Carlisle, UK, home. He was reportedly taken to a hospital, where he passed away two days later.

According to coroner Robert Chapman, a post-mortem test showed that Airey's heart simply stopped beating, causing his organs to fail.

Chapman claims a toxicology report found no trace of drugs in Airey's system, although the opened "Pandora's box" did contain a small packet of unused synthetic cannabis.

His father, Dennis Airey, said Jason had been in a good mood that day when he returned home, "He was just his normal self."

Sun

Spain's solar police to kick in your door

Solar Power
© Cristina Quicler/AFP
Solar energy RIP? Spain plans to slap huge fines on people who don't pay a new charge for homeowners who produce their own solar power.
The latest nail in the coffin for Spain's solar energy producers is an Energy Law amendment which allows inspectors to enter private properties without a court order. It's a move lawyers believe could set a worrying precedent.

As if Spaniards had not already been dissuaded by the potential €60 million fines they face for illegally generating their own solar power, they now have to look forward to a knock on the door from the 'solar police'.

A change to the ruling Popular Party's (PP) Energy Law allows inspectors to "raid" properties they are suspicious of, armed only with administrative authorization.

If the suspect denies entry, Spain's Industry Department will then ask for a court order that guarantees inspectors access to the property alongside Spanish national police.

Officers will be able to seize all documents related to to energy consumption and seal off entry to the property.

Lawyers consulted by Spain's VozPopuli online newspaper raised serious doubts about whether the move was constitutional.

They also said it set a worrying precedent by obliging citizens to let inspectors enter a private residence.

All this means generating your own solar energy without paying for the privilege is a risky business now in Spain.