Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy Birthday to me!

I found this cool article on check cashing places and banks. I was just doing a Google search, because I am frustrated because I see these 'check cashing' places cropping up, and they usually do just right before the Holidays:Finance on the Fringe
America's check cashers don't exploit the poor; they serve them.

Michael W. Lynch | April 2002 Print Edition

That Anna has a problem becomes clear shortly after I sidle up next to her on the cold stone steps of the First Union Bank in downtown New Haven on a chilly fall afternoon. In fact, the 56-year-old woman has many problems -- including, she's quick to point out, more than a few missing teeth. But the problem I'm interested in today is unrelated to dentistry. It's Anna's supposed lack of access to the insides of the very building on whose steps she sits. She is, you see, one of the "unbanked," a clumsy word that rose to some prominence inside the do-gooder wonk circles that swirled in and around the Clinton administration.

Like many Americans who don't purchase financial services from traditional banks, Anna used to do things the conventional way. "I just stopped putting it in," she says of a former savings account. For the last four years, Anna, who earns her living working temporary jobs, has cashed her paychecks at one of New Haven's 10 check cashing stores, such as X-Bankers, which sits half a block away. She purchases money orders to pay her bills and stashes her savings in a cookie jar. When it comes to large purchases, "I just save up for it," says Anna.

She's not alone in declining to purchase financial services from a bank. Sitting next to Anna on the bank steps is her 34-year-old daughter Alvina, who also chooses not to have a bank account. Anna and Alvina are joined by nearly 10 million American families -- 9.5 percent of households in 1998 -- and millions more in countries as diverse as England, Hungary, and South Africa, all of which have recently been reported to have problems with the unbanked.

Not that Anna thinks it's a problem. If she did, she'd empty her cookie jar and march into First Union and open a no-minimum checking account for $5.50 a month. If she wanted to park $100 in the account indefinitely, the fee would drop to zero.

For $2 a month, she could purchase a savings account, which would pay her 0.5 percent interest. If she left at least $200 in the account, she'd pay nothing. But she prefers to use check cashing joints. "They make it easy," says Anna, "and we don't get no lip from nobody."

Whatever Anna believes, plenty of other people think she has a problem -- and that she's either in denial or isn't sophisticated enough to recognize her real financial interests. Academics, consumer activists, and government officials conduct studies and write books exploring why so many Americans don't frequent banks. They propose ways for the government and nonprofit groups to coax the unbanked into the system. Exactly who and what are to blame for Anna's condition -- and the growth of the industry that serves her -- are common topics. How governments ought to regulate the industry to ensure that it doesn't take advantage of the Annas of the world is never far down the agenda.

At their best, the critics are motivated by a wonkism that earnestly wants to pull a few policy levers and convince poor people to save. At their worst, which is much of the time, they are driven by a do-gooder-knows-best mentality that can't conceive of anyone not longing for the middle-class institutions they themselves cherish. Their worldview is governed by a series of related and reinforcing assumptions: Greedy and powerful corporations systematically take advantage of folks who are incapable of managing their own lives; markets are inherently exploitative; and poor people shouldn't have to pay for the financial services they consume.

Poor Habits
Here's the irony: Markets are actually succeeding quite well in serving the financial service needs of Americans with low and moderate incomes. Such people have far more options and choices than they did 20, 30, or 40 years ago. To be sure, the steel bars and Plexiglas that cover the teller windows at check cashing outlets may not be pretty or genteel, especially when compared to the marbled lobbies and high ceilings of conventional banks. They may offend bourgeois sensibilities and notions of what's just. But they also undeniably provide a unique and valuable service to their customers. Contrary to the opinions of critics who would regulate or legislate "fringe banking" out of business, the booming check cashing industry represents a market success worthy of celebration, not a market failure that demands more regulation.

For the critics, the key issue is that saving habits are statistically linked to bank accounts. People who purchase bank accounts are more likely than those who don't to save in ways the government can easily measure. People who save are less likely, over time, to be poor.

"If you go to a check casher instead of opening a bank account, you are never going to get ahead," says Edmund Mierzwinski, a consumer advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The Progressive Policy Institute's Anne Kim writes in an August 2001 study of the unbanked, "A bank account is the first step toward giving low-income Americans access to the mainstream tools for wealth creation now taken for granted by the middle-class."

Some of the facts that activists use to build their case are obvious. The unbanked tend to be poor. Eight out of 10 unbanked families earn less than $25,000 a year, one learns from Kim's study. Four out of 10 pull in less than $10,000 in on-the-books income. Yet the study overlooks other equally obvious points. For instance, to a family earning $10,000 a year, where to park their savings might not be a top financial concern.

Consumer activists have created a fantasy world in which greed and racism have conspired to deny the poor traditional banking services. The story line depicts a glorious past when everyone conducted business at community banks, which didn't charge the neediest for the services they provided. Partial banking deregulation in 1980, according to this tale, caused banks to merge, become huge, and pull out of unprofitable areas. Greedy check cashers and payday lenders rushed in to fill the void.

"The reasons check cashers exist in these communities is because banks don't," says Arthi Varma, a policy activist at the California Reinvestment Committee, a consortium of nonprofits that pressures banks to serve low-income communities. Other activists blame bankers for being rotten businessmen, neglecting millions in profits that would come from reaching out to potential customers with moderate and low incomes. "Banks are bad marketers," asserts U.S. PIRG's Mierzwinski. "That's a problem check cashers have taken advantage of."

This story contains some truth. Banking deregulation, for example, did cause banks to rethink, retarget, and reprice products. (The result, however, has been more, not fewer, financial options.) But the critics' larger narrative is flat-out wrong. Check cashers and other low-end financial service providers don't exist because of some market failure, or because poor people suffer from false financial consciousness. Check cashers didn't move en masse into the buildings abandoned by banks. The industry has existed since employers first started paying with checks in the 1930s and owners of stores and bars figured they could make money cashing payroll checks. It is thriving today because it serves people's needs.

The roughly 11,000 check cashing outlets in the U.S. have evolved into financial portals where lower-income Americans cash $55 billion worth of checks each year. (By contrast, banks clear $48 trillion in check payments annually.) The stores offer a range of services, few of which are offered by banks -- and none of which banks can offer at competitive prices. Some banks are slowly moving into the market niche. But if they are going to succeed, they'll end up looking and acting more like check cashers than banks.

Check Out the Choices
Consider the block where Anna sits in downtown New Haven. A diverse ecology of financial services flourishes on the street, with banks and check cashers both present. That same proliferation of options is also evident a mile and a half west on Whalley Avenue, a bustling, albeit low-end, New Haven artery that's packed with dollar stores, pharmacies, fast food franchises, auto repair shops, antique stores, banks, and yes, check cashers. Shaw's Supermarket, which opened in 1998, anchors a new shopping center complex, a 10-minute walk from the center of the Yale campus. A Hollywood Video, Rentown, and laundromat share the large parking lot and serve the low-income neighborhoods along this section of Whalley Avenue.

Check King sits across the street from Shaw's, which houses a Fleet Bank with extended hours. Shaw's operates its own check cashing outlet as well, for those who have successfully cleared two checks at the store and have a Shaw's discount card. It charges nothing to cash patrons' checks and sells money orders, lottery tickets, prepaid phone cards, and Western Union wire transfers. If you wanted to cash checks on the cheap -- combine the best of banks and check cashers, getting immediate access to your money without a fee -- Shaw's could be a one-stop shop.

If lack of access to banking services is what drives people through the doors of check cashers, then the one-two punch of Shaw's check cashing outlet and its Fleet Bank branch should have knocked Check King out of business a long time ago. Or, at the very least, bruised it. Yet according to Jim Consiglio, who has owned and operated Check King for the last 11 years, he hasn't been touched. Nor have the banks that sit just a few blocks away from Check King affected Consiglio's business, which is a family affair. (His parents and three sons help him shovel cash under a Plexiglas partition to Check King's customers.)

"I am not in competition with banks at all," explains Consiglio, an energetic 50-year-old who sports a diamond earring and tightly trimmed goatee. "They don't do what we do. They're in the lending business and the savings business. Cashing checks costs them money."

It's hard for some people to accept, but Consiglio is right: While some services overlap, the core businesses of banks and check cashers are distinct. Check cashers advance people -- pretty much anybody -- money for checks, a service for which they charge a fee. Banks, in general, give their customers access to their own money. While some banks may immediately cash some government checks and many will cash checks drawn on their own accounts, they are not in the check cashing business. If a bank customer shows up on Friday with a $500 paycheck and $50 in her account, she'll get $50. If she shows up at Check King, she'll get $490. "We put our own money on the counter every day," says Consiglio. "We take risks that banks don't."

Selling Quick Cash
This immediate access to cash -- the storeowner's cash -- explains why many people who have bank accounts also use check cashers. "It's easier -- you're in and out in a hurry," says 30-year-old Nancy, as she leaves X-Bankers with cash in hand. She's headed next door to get her nails done. She has a checking account that she sometimes uses to pay rent. Other times, she uses money orders.

The difference between conventional banking and check cashing explains why a Fleet Bank opening across the street didn't cut into Consiglio's business. It also explains why Consiglio felt it when Connecticut State Check Cashing Services, a privately held chain that operates 19 stores, opened a store a half-mile west of Check King. "There's no way around it," he says. "A lot of people live up there."

Check King, like other check cashers, is a combination of many familiar businesses: bank, Mail Boxes Etc., corner store and video arcade. Consiglio sells smokes at $4 a pack, buys gold and diamonds, and dispenses candy and sodas from machines. Like the check casher up the street, he'll wire in customers' utility payments for free and sell them envelopes, stamps, and money orders to pay other bills. He rents mailboxes and sells phone cards. While we talk for nearly an hour on Christmas Eve, three men come in to play his Ms. Pac-Man. Others purchase Lotto tickets.

Protesting Profits
Cashing checks accounts for 65 percent of Consiglio's cash flow, and it's the core service that brings in customers, who cash a total of around $500,000 a week. He charges 2 percent of the face value of payroll checks, 1 percent for government checks. Like other check cashers in Connecticut, where fees are capped by the state at 2 percent, he won't cash personal checks. He relies on the telephone and on an eye trained by expensive experience to ferret out bad checks. Any check not generated by a computer is suspicious, as is a low number on a check. (The latter indicates a fresh company whose payroll account may or may not be funded.) For suspicious checks, he'll call the issuing bank or company. But he's open long after banks are closed, so he often has to make snap judgments. He says fewer than one in 1,000 checks bounce. He's come by his skill the hard way -- from a pile of bad checks in the back office.

While Consiglio's Check King has never been picketed by protesters, he's aware of the gripes against his sort of business. "We are the black sheep of the financial service industry, no doubt about it," he says with a smile. "I'm not standing on a soapbox saying I'm doing anyone a favor. I'm making money. Activists can yell all they want."

And yell they do, if not at Consiglio personally, then at his fellow check cashers. Or at banks for not operating as check cashers and, in some cases, for operating as check cashers. Or at anyone else who provides financial services in the low-income market. (See "Legal Loan Sharking or Essential Service?," page 38.)

"You don't have to be too smart to open up a check cashing store," says U.S. PIRG's Edmund Mierzwinski, who calls banks "greedy" and doesn't believe that banks and check cashers operate different businesses. "There are tremendous opportunities at the margins that banks have left for these guys to make a lot of money preying on the poor."

Testifying last June before the House Committee on Financial Services, Margot Saunders, managing attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, pulled out all the rhetorical stops. She was inveighing against allowing check cashers to participate in the Treasury Department's Electronic Funds Transfer program, which seeks to provide direct deposit accounts for federal employees and benefit recipients. Saunders talked of how "unbanked individuals have been sucked into the underworld of check cashers," and of "captive customers" who are "unsophisticated, often illiterate." She decried "financial apartheid."

"Already," she said, "upper- and middle-income Americans enjoy the safety and convenience of a highly regulated banking industry that provides competitive prices and is closely supervised to limit improper activities....Many poor people, on the other hand, are relegated to fringe bankers who are unregulated, unsupervised, and routinely charge exorbitant rates in the uncompetitive financial services market that exists in the low-income community."

This view is common, self-contradictory, and belied by reality. The financial service arena isn't segregated; it's richly diverse. Banks may be safe and convenient for upper- and middle-income Americans, who get paid regularly with direct deposit, pay their bills with checks, and move infrequently. But that doesn't mean banks are convenient for everyone, especially folks who work odd hours, have erratic incomes, and need access to their money as soon as they earn it.

In any case, even middle- and upper-income Americans have been purchasing financial services at places other than banks for years. "When the Community Reinvestment Act took effect [in the late 1970s], roughly two-thirds of Americans' long term savings were in CRA-covered institutions [i.e., banks or savings and loans]," notes Michael A. Stegman in his 1999 book Savings for the Poor: The Hidden Benefits of Electronic Banking. "Today," says Stegman, a former Clinton administration official who heads the Center for Community Capitalism in the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, "less than 30 percent are, and the migration from the conventional banking system to mutual funds, money market accounts, and other savings vehicles outside of CRA continues un-abated."

In other words, it's not just people who don't earn a lot of money who are purchasing financial services more tailored to their needs. Swarthmore economist John P. Caskey, who coined the term "fringe banks," notes that upscale private banking, personalized financial advice and execution for the wealthy, boomed in the 1980s along with check cashers. "Just as people at the high end of the income distribution have financial needs that banks find better to meet in a specialized office or branch of the bank, people at the low end have specialized needs," says Caskey, author of the 1994 book Fringe Banking: Check-Cashing Outlets, Pawnshops, and the Poor. "You can think of check cashing outlets as tailoring services to meet those needs."

Bank Failure
So why don't low-income people choose to purchase their services from conventional banks?

They aren't physically excluded from banks. Nor are branch offices hard to find, as many charge. Every non-agenda-driven study on the issue shows that most check cashers operate close to banks. According to the Federal Reserve Board in its most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, a mere 1.2 percent of the unbanked say that lack of convenient hours or locations is what keeps them from opening a checking account. A 1999 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that in New England banks outnumber check cashers in the areas they both serve. A 1998 Federal Reserve Bank of New York study of New York City found that 71 percent of check cashers share a zip code with at least one bank and 19 percent coexist with more than 10 bank branches. "You could put 1,000 bank branches in low-income areas, and check cashers would still thrive," says Swarthmore's Caskey.

Clearly, it's not because check cashers don't face competition. Rather, their customers conclude that they not only are more convenient and offer more services but are less expensive to boot. This must surely come as a surprise to activists, who often paint check cashers as just one notch up from loan sharks.

Reform-minded studies of what it costs to be unbanked are typically abstract accounting exercises that conflate being unbanked with being dependent on check cashers -- and being "banked" with paying only the minimum monthly fees with no bounced-check or ATM fees (an unrealistic assumption, even for the middle class). For example, a 2001 Fannie Mae Foundation study claims that "fringe services for cash conversion and bill paying would cost an average $20,000-income household between $86 and $500 a year, while the same services at a bank would cost only $30 to $60." A 1997 study by the Consumer Federation of America, which works closely with U.S. PIRG and the National Consumer Law Center, found that the annual cost of cashing a $320 weekly paycheck ranged from $160 to $960. And a 1999 report by the Massachusetts Division of Banks claims that individuals pay 3.3 to 40.8 times as much to turn checks into cash at a check casher than they would at a bank offering low-cost checking accounts.

But when less myopic researchers actually talk to the people who don't purchase any financial services from banks, they find that the unbanked spend very little to turn their checks into cash. Constance R. Dunham, a senior economist at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal bank regulator, conducted two massive field studies of New York City and Los Angeles. To her surprise, Dunham found that two out of three unbanked individuals paid nothing to get cash. They either had no income, were paid in cash, cashed their checks for free at a supermarket or at the bank that issued the check, or had a friend or relative cash their checks. A mere 11 percent of the unbanked spent more than $100 a year to cash checks. Add in costs for money orders and bill payments -- the other service a checking account provides -- and a whopping 17 percent of the unbanked spend more than $100 a year on financial services.

Given that the break-even point for banks is roughly $100 a year per account, it's hardly a mystery that banks don't aggressively market to the small percentage of Americans who don't already buy their services. "The survey suggests that many people may be unbanked, not because they face barriers to obtaining bank accounts," concludes Dunham, "but because they can better economize on the costs of financial services without having a bank account."

First Bank of Sisyphus
This point hasn't fully sunk in with policy advocates, who work D.C. hours to bring "universal" banking to America. They have wielded a variety of policy tools over the years, none with much success. The big club on the supply side is the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which compels federally insured banks to operate in unprofitable low-income neighborhoods. But physical access just isn't a problem.

There are no federal requirements that banks actually offer low-cost accounts, a fact that causes much pain among the advocates. But it wouldn't matter if there were. Most banks already offer low-cost accounts, and so long as an individual hasn't abused a checking account by chronically bouncing checks, he is free to sign up. Seven states regulate where the feds don't, mandating low-cost "lifeline accounts." These laws have had little effect. Many banks voluntarily offer products that are even less expensive than the government-designed accounts.

In the latter years of the Clinton administration, Congress gave the Treasury Department $30 million to develop a program called "First Accounts." This effort, still in the works, will funnel taxpayer money to credit unions, community groups, Indian tribes, and even labor unions. In turn, these groups will do such innovative things as provide financial education, engage in advocacy research on why even more money is needed, and offer low-cost accounts and no-fee ATMs.

The most ambitious effort to increase bank use, Electronic Funds Transfer 1999 (EFT '99), came from Robert Rubin's Treasury Department. EFT '99 was prompted by a 1996 law that encouraged the Treasury Department to pay federal wages and benefits by direct deposit.

"Millions of low-income, 'bankless' Americans may soon become part of the financial mainstream, thanks to the recent amendment of an obscure law, advances in banking technology, and proposals to use supplemental savings programs to strengthen social security," predicted UNC's Michael Stegman, who wrote a book on the effort. Rubin said the accounts "could have significant economic and social effects."

Then again, maybe not. In fact, the accounts have had no economic or social effects, something Rubin should have foreseen. Here's how the product designed by the Treasury Department works: The federal government sends banks a one-time setup subsidy of $12.60 for every account they open. Banks can charge customers up to $3 a month and must provide at least four withdrawals and four balance inquiries per month, either at ATMs or at teller windows. These accounts don't offer checking services, which means that bill paying must be done with cash or money orders. Given that most banks charge between $3 and $6 each for money orders, the total could really add up.

Such accounts are really good for only two groups: people who can't get a traditional bank account due to a history of bounced checks, balance problems, and the like; and suckers willing to overpay for minimal services. There appears to be little interest among either group. By last spring, just over 11,000 people nationwide had purchased these accounts.

Market Response
While federal efforts to meet the needs of low-income Americans continue to fail, entrepreneurs continue to experiment with services that people may actually use. 7-Eleven is trying out automated check cashing machines in a few of its stores. Other companies offer payroll debit cards for people who don't purchase financial services from banks. The highest-profile entry into this market is Visa, which rolled out a payroll card last July in a joint effort with some of the nation's largest banks.

A few banks and credit unions are dipping their toes into the check cashing business. Liberty Bank has operated a check cashing store in Middletown, Connecticut, since 1994. In New York City, Bethex Federal Credit Union, a small operation designed for low-income customers, partnered with RiteCheck Cashing in 2001. A bigger experiment is under way in Southern California, where Union Bank of California is operating 12 of its own check cashing outlets, known as Cash & Save, and partnering with Nix Check Cashing to offer banking products in Nix's 47 branches. At least for the time being, these new, hybrid models are the cutting edge of innovative financial services geared to low-income Americans. Which also explains why they've proven controversial among consumer advocates, who retreat to their check-cashers-exist-because-banks-abandoned-the-poor fantasy and decry the new hybrids.

"The need for check cashers arose when banks left inner-city neighborhoods," says Shelley Curran, a policy analyst at the West Coast regional office of Consumers Union. "It's a little ironic that this market was created because banks fled -- and now they are coming back in an entirely different fashion."

The California Reinvestment Committee opposed the Union Bank of California and Nix Check Cashing partnership. "If a bank is coming into a low-income community, it should come in as a bank, not a check casher, which often provides substandard services in terms of getting into mainstream banking, building assets, building wealth, those types of things," says the committee's Arthi Varma. She is especially concerned that Nix's customers won't be able to figure out the difference between banking and check cashing services. Says Varma: "People go to check cashers to conduct their financial transactions. At a typical check cashing store there's not a banking window. People are not going to have the propensity to walk toward that window and ask the questions and find out what's going on."

Tennessee Valley Banking Authority
Here's a question with a definite answer: What do consumer advocates really want? The fundamental reality is that financial services, for rich and poor alike, cost money. What activists really want is for banks to make their wealthier customers subsidize the poor even more than they already do under the Community Reinvestment Act. "The point is that banks don't offer services at low enough prices, and we are trying to encourage them to do so," says U.S. PIRG's Mierzwinski. "I think banks should be treated somewhat as if they are public utilities, because banks are in fact recipients of tremendous government benefits."

That's not going to happen. Banks operate in a world of diverse choices, and their customers will quit buying their services if they are priced too high for some consumers in order to subsidize others. Indeed, this has already happened, as the massive flow of money from traditional bank accounts into money markets and mutual funds attests. As important, banks are not seen as public utilities, and it's unlikely they ever will be viewed as such. Most of all, though, consumers, even low-income ones, are not idiots. All evidence suggests that people do know what's good for them and seek out the financial services that best meet their needs. That entrepreneurs like Check King's Jim Consiglio earn a living from meeting those needs is a sign that markets are working -- not just for the Consiglios of the world but for the low-income folks who fill his store every week.

Yet even as markets become more sophisticated and entrepreneurs develop more-nuanced products to meet the financial service needs of the poor, there will be plenty of people in Washington wanting to do something about it. That is something you can take to the bank.

Just don't expect to see Anna, the 56-year-old temp worker in New Haven, waiting in line. Like thousands of other people of very modest means, she prefers to spend her financial service dollars at check cashers. I ask her why.

"To save us from the agony of going to a bank, we go to cash and check," she says. "It's cheaper. It saves us aggravation. I'd rather go to cash and check and keep steppin'."

Printer Friendly Send to a Friend More Articles by Michael W. Lynch
The Experimental Economist (12/1)
The Experimental Economist (10/1)
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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Day

Well, tomorrow is the day. 38 years old. LOL. I don't feel that old. I feel like I am twenty something. I have mentioned that I was born on Thanksgiving Day of 1968. I guess that a lot of things were going on in the world on the day I was born. Right smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War. Johnson was President. Scary when I think that I am almost 40 years old!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Here is what wikipedia says

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George Russell Weller
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George Russell Weller (born December 7, 1916) is a retired salesman from Santa Monica, California, who gained notoriety as the motorist in a fatal car accident, fueling a national debate on safety risks posed by elderly drivers. On October 20, 2006, Weller was found guilty of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter. The following month, the judge sentenced him to five years' felony probation, saying that Weller deserved to go prison but at nearly 90 years of age and suffering from heart disease, he would simply be a burden to taxpayers. He was also ordered to pay about $107,100 in fines and restitution.

[edit] Santa Monica Farmer's Market massacre
At 1:47 p.m. on July 16, 2003, Weller, then age 86, drove his red 1992 Buick Le Sabre westbound down Arizona Ave. towards the popular Third Street Promenade. The last few blocks of the street before the ocean had been closed for the weekly farmers' market. Weller struck a car from behind, then accelerated around a road closure sign, crashed through wooden sawhorses, and plowed into the busy crowd, driving nearly 1,000 feet (305 meters) at speeds between 40 and 60 mph (65 and 95 km/h). The entire sequence of collisions took at least 10 seconds. The car was eventually brought to a halt by the body of a victim trapped underneath. Ten people were killed, and 63 were injured. Weller told investigators he had accidentally put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake, then tried to brake but could not stop. Days after the crash, Weller issued a statement saying he was distraught and heartbroken, and his attorney called it an accident.

Some observers questioned Weller's account, noting that witnesses reported:

Seeing no brake lights on Weller's car;
That Weller stared straight ahead as he drove through the crowd, victims flying over his windshield;
That Weller avoided parked cars to the side of the road, steering instead directly down the middle of the crowded street; and
That upon exiting his car, cane in hand, Weller casually asked how many people he had hit.
Weller's supporters argue that:

Weller suffered from arthritis, nausea as a side-effect of medication, and reduced mobility from a hip replacement.
Weller had a relatively clean driving record at the DMV, with one minor accident and no violations. Weller had passed a vision test and written test on renewing his driver's license in November 2000.
Since the tragedy resulted from a "misapplication" of the pedal, Weller had committed an accident, not a crime. "Pedal error cannot constitute negligence," stated Mark Overland, an attorney for Weller.

[edit] Aftermath timeline
On July 16, 2003 footage of a previous accident Weller had been in ten years earlier surfaced. While that accident was not fatal, he had driven his car off the road in much the same fashion as the Promenade accident and the footage was nearly identical in that it showed a confused Weller wandering around his crashed car in a heavily populated, public area. This further sparked debate surrounding what warning signs authorities should examine when dealing with driving privileges and the elderly.

On July 24, 2003, it was reported that state officials revoked Weller's driver's license.

On January 5, 2004, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged George Russell Weller with ten counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, carrying a penalty of up to 18 years in prison. Weller's attorneys were ordered to surrender their client within 24 hours.

On January 6, 2004, Weller pleaded not guilty to the charges before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paula Adele Mabrey and was released on his own recognizance.

On January 14, 2004, victims and relatives filed suit against the City of Santa Monica and Bayside District Corp., organizers of the Santa Monica farmers' market, alleging that the accident could have been prevented by the installation of metal barriers. Attorney Geoff Wells, representing victims and their relatives, remarked that "[The defendants] failed to take any reasonable steps to provide protection for the patrons at the farmer's market."

On October 25, 2004, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader convened a preliminary hearing to determine whether Weller would stand trial.

On November 3, 2004, Weller was ordered to stand trial, and his arraignment was scheduled for November 17.

On December 8, 2004, after a delay due to poor health, Weller was arraigned, again pleaded not guilty to the charges, and waived his right to a speedy trial.

On March 18, 2005, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Neill denied a motion by Weller's attorneys to dismiss the manslaughter charges, remarking that "hitting the accelerator instead of the brake seems to me to be a clearly negligent act."

On October 20, 2006, by a unanimous verdict, jurors found Weller guilty on all charges, convicting him of vehicular manslaughter for killing 10 pedestrians. The sentence was to be decided by the Court, with a maximum penalty of 18 years.

On November 20, 2006, Weller received probation on all counts after a judge determined that Weller was too ill to go to prison, where he would likely be a burden on prison authorities and taxpayers. Weller was a month short of his 90th birthday. He was also ordered to pay more than $100,000 in fines and restitution to the victims' families.

[edit] References

How should he be punished? From the National

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 20 — An aged man who killed 10 people when his car plowed into a crowded farmers’ market was sentenced Monday to five years’ probation by a judge who cited the defendant’s failing health in not imposing a prison sentence.

The driver, George R. Weller, now 89, deserves to be behind bars both for the magnitude of what occurred and for his lack of public remorse since, said the judge, Michael M. Johnson of Los Angeles County Superior Court. But imprisoning Mr. Weller, who is bedridden and under 24-hour nursing care, “wouldn’t do anybody any good” and would burden taxpayers with the cost of his medical care, the judge said.

As at most of his trial, the defendant was not in court Monday, because he has a heart ailment and other medical problems. He was convicted last month of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, and could have been sentenced to up to 18 years in prison.

Mr. Weller was 86 on July 16, 2003, when he turned his 1992 Buick LeSabre into the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and kept pressing on the accelerator even as his car smashed into a crowd of shoppers. In addition to those killed — nine adults and a 2-year-old — more than 70 people were injured.

Mr. Weller’s lawyers said he had confused the brake with the accelerator, and the incident brought a national debate about whether stricter measures should be adopted to ensure that the elderly are competent to drive.

Judge Johnson handed down the sentence despite prosecutors’ efforts to have the proceedings delayed so that the district attorney’s office could obtain an evaluation of Mr. Weller’s medical condition from doctors at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“Our office felt we didn’t have the medical and psychiatric information necessary to make a reasoned decision” on a sentencing recommendation, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman, “and that’s why we asked for further testing.”

Mr. Weller’s apparent lack of remorse has been a central issue for the families of the dead. In issuing the sentence, which also requires the defendant to pay restitution to the families, Judge Johnson said he would “never understand Mr. Weller’s indifference to the victims in this case” or his “bullheaded refusal to accept responsibility.”

Testifying at the hearing, the family of Lynne Ann Weaver, one of those killed, condemned Mr. Weller’s frequent absence from court and his failure to offer an apology.

Ms. Weaver was 47 and the mother of a teenage daughter when she was struck. A sister of hers, Gretchen Haug, told the court Monday: “I should not be here today, or ever at all. I’m very angry. There’s no excuse for what Mr. Weller has done.”

Still, another sister, Erin Villalobos, said after the hearing that she was satisfied with the sentence and that “I believe he’s serving time in his own prison.”

Dr. Robert Bone, a nephew of Mr. Weller, testified that the defendant had spent much of his time volunteering with civic organizations after retiring as a supermarket supplier. Ever since that day at the farmers’ market, Dr. Bone said, his uncle has led a life “dominated by guilt and depression” and asks him to offer a blessing for the victims at every family holiday gathering.

Mr. Weller’s lawyers say they are appealing his conviction on grounds of possible jury misconduct. One accusation is that a juror spoke to his minister about the case before the verdicts were reached.

As for the sentence, “I think the judge did the right thing,” said one of the defense lawyers, Mark E. Overland. “Also, we’re talking here about an individual who did not commit an offense that was intentional” and who “except for 20 seconds, lived a life that all of us can envy.”

More Articles in National »

Monday, November 20, 2006

Happy Days are here!

Well, it is getting close to Thanksgiving Day, and it has been a while since my last post here, so I had figured that I had better get to it.! The highlights of my week: Tomorrow, tomorrow, I am so ready for tomorrow. I leave work early , so I can go get rid of this mop I have and get a perm and get colored so I can finally get RID of all this grey hair! It will take about 2 and a half hours, and cost me a pretty penny, but it will be worth it. I will only work until about 2:15 pm. Then I get to take my favourite GSD home for a few days(until this Sunday) then I get my mop taken care of( sorry no pics until I get my digital camera) . Wednesday, I will work until 4 pm. Come home, relax, enjoy some quite time with my pooch until Thanksgiving afternoon. I then head on over to my brothers house for a Thanksgiving get together with my father, brother, sister in law, and some friends and cousins. Then feed the security, then head home. The only thing wrong is that my sis and mother will not be there. My sister lives in Ark and cannot come up because of work, and my mother has to go down to tend to her God mother in Tyler, Texas. I do not envy her. Tyler, Texas is a looong ways away from Topeka, Kansas.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What time is it?


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Never been there but I hear it is nice

You Belong in Brooklyn

Down to earth and hard working, you're a true New Yorker.
And although you may be turning into a yuppie, you never forget your roots.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Property Taxes

I just recieved in the mail my property tax statement for this coming December and for this coming May. In Kansas, the first half of property taxes is due by December 20th of this year. Lets say that your property taxes total 3 thousand dollars. Fifteen hundred is due on or by December 20th 2006 and fifteen hundred is due by May 10th, 2007. You can also choose to pay the entire amount of three thousand on or by December 20th 2006. Got it? Ok. When your statement is mailed to you, the county that you reside in, or the county that you have your business in, gives you a breakdown of how much money that you have paid in property taxes, how much you spent( for instance, you paid the county library 250 dollars in taxes) and will compare what you paid this year to what you paid last year. It is very convenient, and easy to understand. Looking at my statement, I see that my property taxes have slightly increased, by about 60 or 70 dollars. I won't tell you how much I owe, but I will say this: I have known people that have had to pay more. I hate paying taxes, but it has to be done. The government needs me. Rather, the government needs my money! I guess that paying taxes is a price to pay for living in the good ole US of A. And I am forever learning: I finally learned(shoot it is on the back of my statement!) what a mill levy is!

She's baaaaaaack

I, SunflowerKansas3, The WORD WHOMP QUEEN, has returned! Check me out at pogogames.com. Just don't challenge me: YOU WILL GO DOWN!

She's baaaaaaack

I, SunflowerKansas3, The WORD WHOMP QUEEN, has returned! Check me out at pogogames.com. Just don't challenge me: YOU WILL GO DOWN!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I am glad

I am sooooooooooooooooooooooooo glad that the elections are finally over. !!!

Not just in America!

EU warns of obesity crisis and hails retailers who commit to healthier food

The Associated Press
BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Commission on Thursday hailed several food and beverage multinationals — often seen as culprits in obesity — for pledging to help fight the flab in Europe.

EU Public Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou praised, among others, Unilever NV, PepsiCo, The Coca Cola Company, McDonald's Corp. and Kraft Foods Inc. for committing to voluntary steps to reverse Europe's widening girth and promote physical fitness at a time when the number of overweight children in the EU is rising by 400,000 a year.

At a press conference with top executives of these companies, he said it was crucial food and drink companies cooperate in the fight against flab because the EU cannot legislate against products that are not dangerous.

If Europe wants to curb overweight, "we have to form public-private partnerships. We are all part of the problem — industry, parents, consumers, the authorities, doctors — and will have to be part of the solution."

Kyprianou said the European Commission has reaped 146 commitments from makers of soft drinks and fast food to reformulate their products by cutting sugar, fat and salt levels, make labels clearer, agree on common advertising norms and promote healthy lifestyles.

EU soft drink makers, for instance, have agreed not to advertise their products to children under 12 and to provide consumers with more information on the calorie content of their products.

"These commitments are good examples of concrete and verifiable action undertaken by industry to tackle obesity and overweight," said Kyprianou. He called on others to follow suit.

Kyprianou cited World Health Organization data showing that 20 percent of European children are overweight and that there ranks swell by 400,000 a year.

Obesity is more prevalent in southern Europe where traditional Mediterranean diets are giving way to more processed foods rich in fat, sugar and salt.

The WHO estimates that in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Malta more than 30 percent of children aged 7 to 11 are obese, compared to over 20 percent in Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and Sweden and between 10 to 20 percent in France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Bulgaria.

ext week, the WHO and the EU jointly host a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, to place obesity high on European governments' agendas.

The European Commission released the findings of a Eurobarometer survey that said most Europeans consider themselves to be in good health, but that 38 percent feel they are overweight.

It said the vast majority believe "obesity in children has increased over the last five years" and that food advertising and promotion influences children's eating habits.

Approximately one in five respondents declared he or she had dieted over the last 12 months, either voluntarily or on their doctors advice.The survey's margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

School money scam. News from Cjonline

USD 501 Check Scam -- Whose fault?

By The Capital-Journal editorial board
Remember that $515,000 that Topeka Unified School District 501 lost to an international check fraud operation?

Fortunately, the school district hasn't forgotten it. It is still trying to recover as much of it as it can from those they believe have some responsibility for the loss.

The school district is suing US Bank, alleging that the bank should have noticed the discrepancies in checks cashed by the scammers and put a stop to it.

On Friday, the bank asked Shawnee County District Court Judge Franklin Theis to dismiss the school district's case or issue a summary judgment.

Theis listened to oral arguments for 90 minutes, then told attorneys not to expect a ruling until the first of next year.

That means the issue is still alive, for now, and gives USD 501 taxpayers some hope that at least some of the money might be recovered.

Not that we're prejudging the case and assuming the bank was at fault. But it will be nice to know how much of the fault should be assigned to whom, and getting the tax relief will be nice if the school district is right.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Plastic surgery

I am watching one of those Learning/Health channels on televison about people going through plastic surgery. Unless I am in an accident and need corrective surgery, I WILL NEVER GET PLASTIC SURGERY. EVER.Personally I cannot really understand why women get breast augmentation or face lifts. I mean, if thats what they want, then I won't get in their way if they want it done. But I won't do it.Never. To me, it looks phony and fake.In my opinion, it is not attractive at all!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Can Republicans keep taking hits like this? Yet another scandal

From AOL News:Haggard, who as president of the National Association of Evangelicals wielded influence on Capitol Hill and condemned both gay marriage and homosexuality, resigned on Thursday after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed that he had many drug-fueled trysts with Haggard.

On Friday, Haggard said he that received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel, and that he bought meth for himself from the man.

But Haggard said he never had sex with Jones. And as for the drugs, "I was tempted, but I never used it," the 50-year-old Haggard told reporters from his vehicle while leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children.

Jones, 49, denied selling meth to Haggard. "Never," he told MSNBC. Haggard "met someone else that I had hooked him up with to buy it."

'Tis the Season...
For political scandal. Hard to deny, it's been one nasty election. Keep up with the latest buzz.
· Comment on the Elections Blog

Jones also scoffed at the idea that a hotel would have sent Haggard to him.

"No concierge in Denver would have referred me," he said. He said he had advertised himself as an escort only in gay publications or on gay Web sites.

Jones did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.

In addition to resigning his post at the NAE, which claims 30 million members, Haggard stepped aside as leader of his 14,000-member New Life Church pending a church investigation. In a TV interview earlier this week, he said: "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife."

The NAE's executive committee issued a statement Friday praising Haggard's service but saying "it is especially serious when a pastor and prominent Christian leader deliberately violates God's standards of conduct."

The statement did not mention the allegations against Haggard but noted he had admitted to "some indiscretions."

"Due to the seriousness of Rev. Haggard's misconduct while in the leadership roles he held, we anticipate that an extended period of recovery will be appropriate," the statement said.

In Denver, where Jones said his encounters with Haggard took place, police said in a statement they were "watching this situation unfold and plan on reaching out to the involved parties for information on crimes that may have been committed."

The statement did not say whether an active investigation was under way, and police spokeswoman Virginia Quinones did not immediately return a call.

District attorney's spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said a public admission isn't enough by itself to bring a case, but "if we can prove criminal conduct, we will" file charges.

Jones claims Haggard paid him for sex nearly every month for three years until August. He said Haggard identified himself as "Art." Jones said that he learned who Haggard really was when he saw the evangelical leader on television.

Jones said he went public with the allegations because Haggard has supported a measure on Tuesday's ballot that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. Jones said he was also angry that Haggard in public condemned gay sex.

Haggard, who had been president since 2003 of the NAE, has participated in conservative Christian leaders' conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied members of Congress last year on U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said Friday Haggard had visited the White House once or twice and had participated in some of the conference calls, but he did not have exact numbers.

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He declined to comment further, calling the matter a personal issue for Haggard. Fratto said he did not believe the allegations would discourage conservative Christians from voting Tuesday.

Corwin Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and director of the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics there, said Haggard's role with the association gave him some political clout, but the group's focus is more on religion than political activism.

"It isn't necessarily that all evangelicals are paying close attention to what he's saying and doing, but he is an important leader," Smidt said.

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, an influential conservative Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs, said he was "heartsick" over the allegations. He described Haggard as his close friend and colleague.

Aaron Stern, another pastor at New Life, told AP Television News on Friday that Haggard is a man of integrity and that church members don't know which of the allegations to believe.

Stern said has been telling church members seeking his advice that "People fail us. ... People do things we don't expect them to do, but in the midst of all of that our god is faithful, our god is strong."

Jones took a polygraph test Friday, and his answers to questions about whether he had sexual contact with Haggard "indicated deception," said John Kresnick, who administered the test.

Jones told reporters afterward he was disappointed by the results. "I am confused why I failed that, other than the fact that I'm totally exhausted," he said.

Kresnick, who said he administered the test for free at the request of KHOW radio in Denver, said exhaustion could have been a factor in the results.

"There's a possibility that his being mentally and physically exhausted could have caused him some problems," he said. Kresnick, who said he had 25 years' experience as a polygraph tester.

James Earle of Colorado Springs, a retired FBI polygraph tester, questioned whether fatigue could affect Jones' results.

"I don't think that just lack of sleep would cause a person to go truthful or deceptive, one way or the other," he said. Earle said he could not comment on the specifics of Jones' test without seeing the questions and the test charts.

Associated Press Writers Robert Weller

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bad News from my hometown newspaper

Attorney foresees clinic raids

The Associated Press
A day after Attorney General Phill Kline confirmed receiving patient records from two abortion clinics, attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said Wednesday that he fears Kline will raid those clinics to create potential "photo opportunities."

Kline called those statements "reckless and knowingly false."

The Republican attorney general began a new television ad Tuesday night defending his two-year pursuit of the records of 90 patients as necessary to investigate rapes of children and potentially illegal late-term abortions.

Democratic challenger Paul Morrison continued to criticize Kline's efforts to obtain the records as invading patients' privacy. But Mark Simpson, Morrison's campaign manager, wouldn't predict what the Democrat would do with the records if he is elected, saying only, "He'll evaluate the situation."

Kline also faced criticism over his activities involving churches, with Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a July presentation by Kline at a Topeka church and the church's subsequent $1,339 donation to SWT Communications, a company run by Kline's wife.

The race remained intense and bitter with less than a week before the Nov. 7 election.