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Living Today: Issues of modern living

By United Press International   |   Dec. 24, 2001 at 4:45 AM
WTC COMPENSATION FUND

A federal compensation plan, which opened Friday, will allow families of victims in the Sept. 11 terror attacks to receive $300,000 to $3.8 million if they do not sue anyone.

"The plan is vastly preferable to the litigation alternative," said Kenneth Feinberg, the special master, who was appointed to develop a plan to determine the federal payments. He added that he hopes the money, which he estimates would be about $1.6 million per family on average, would be distributed in 120 days after applications have been received.

Life insurance, Social Security and pensions will be subtracted from the federal payments; however, charitable contributions from the more than $1 billion donated in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will not be subtracted.

People injured in the attacks are also eligible for payments. Those hospitalized for a week or more could receive $25,000.

According to Feinberg, a 41-year-old victim with two children who made $80,000 per year could receive about $1.5 million in federal aid from the government. The estates of single victims with no dependents would receive a minimum of $300,000, while the family of a 35-year-old breadwinner with two dependents who made $225,000 a year would receive the maximum amount of $3.8 million.

However, Ellen Mariani of Derry, N.H. has filed in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against United Airlines because she does not feel "the taxpayers should foot the bill." She is seeking unspecified damages in the death of her husband, Louis Mariani, 59, who was a passenger on United Flight 175, the second airliner to slam into the World Trade Center.

The airline failed to exercise the highest degree of care in protecting the passengers, according to her attorney, Don Nolan, who did not elaborate what the airline should have done differently.

The airline refused to comment on the lawsuit.

The widow is refusing to be involved in the victims compensation fund for more than 3,000 victims' families that the U.S. Congress created as part of the $15 billion airline bailout approved after the attacks.


NBC ALCOHOL AD DECISION

Two members of Congress have put NBC on notice that they might prepare a legislative response if the network refuses to reverse its recently announced policy of airing ads for hard liquor in primetime.

In a letter to NBC Chairman-CEO Bob Wright, president-CEO Andrew Lack and network president Randy Falco, Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., told the network they were "shocked" by the new policy. "It is a sad commentary that your bottom line today is more important to your company than the lives of young people tempted to drink or recovering alcoholics trying to beat their disease," said Wolf and Roybal-Allard in the letter.

At a news conference in Washington, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., endorsed the sentiments expressed in the Wolf and Allard-Roybal letter. And FCC Commissioner Michael Copps put out a statement accusing NBC of disregarding its social responsibility by running liquor ads by engaging in "a race to the bottom."

NBC has been on the defensive ever since announcing the policy last week, explaining to anyone who will listen that it is imposing tough restrictions on ads -- including a requirement that each sponsor pay for and air a series of responsible drinking messages.

(Thanks to UPI Hollywood Reporter Pat Nason)


CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

Consumer optimism has been rising since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That's according to University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, who said the December Index of Consumer Sentiment stood at 88.8 -- up from 83.9 in November and 81.8 in September.

The level, however, was still well below the 98.4 recorded in December 2000. "Eight in 10 consumers think the economy is in recession," Curtin noted, the same level reported last month. "Most consumers expect bad times in the economy as a whole to persist in the year ahead."

That pessimism regarding the coming year, he said, can be attributed largely to awareness of the unemployment rate and layoff announcements, though the current 5.7 percent jobless rate is still well below the 7.8 percent level during the 1990 recession and the 10.7 percent level seen in the 1980s. Fifty-one percent of those questioned said they are aware of unemployment levels, slightly lower than the all-time awareness level of 55 percent recorded in 1990.

"Consumers have not adopted an optimistic view but they have reduced the level of pessimism," Curtin said. He said consumers expect their finances to remain largely unchanged, with expected nominal gains in income in the 2.9 percent range.

"Consumers are well aware the economy is in decline and is in trouble but they think the worst is now over," Curtin said, adding he thinks the current economic data indicate a genuine rebound is under way. "You will still see some caution in their spending but they're not preparing for a long recession."

Curtin said consumers are indicating a willingness to purchase most big-ticket items like homes and major appliances but express a reluctance to buy new vehicles, now that the zero- and low-interest interest incentive programs are expiring.


DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS? Part 1

A new study by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggests that the idyllic white Christmas is fast becoming a thing at the past. They gathered data on 16 northern cities since 1960, and found that the number of white Christmases per decade -- defined as at least one inch of snow on the ground -- declined from 78 during the 1960s to 39 in the 1990s.

New York saw five white Christmases in the 1960s but only one in the 1990s, while Chicago dropped from seven to two in the same time frame. However, a number of other cities have had consistent numbers of white Christmases over the years.

Not too much should be read into the analysis, said Bob Cushman, who is director of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge. "After all, we're only looking at one aspect of weather on one specific day each year. Whether there is snow on the ground on Dec. 25 may or may not relate to the larger issue of whether the U.S., or any region in the country, is experiencing an overall warming trend."

(Thanks to UPI Science News Writer Jim Kling)


DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS? Part 2

People living near mountains in the West or in northern New England will have the best chance of a white Christmas this year, according to the National Climatic Data Center in Maryland.

"A series of storms in the West make snow for Christmas likely there and northern New England always has a good chance, but it depends on the weather systems," Tom Ross, a meteorologist with NOAA, told UPI. "Actually, it could snow anywhere in the United States on Christmas -- it's happened in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Fla., however, it would be very, very unusual to have it snow in Miami."

NOAA used probability maps based on long-term averages of snowfalls to determine the probability of having at least 1 inch of snow on Dec. 25 based on data from 1961 to 1990.

The report by NOAA is available online at nndc.noaa.gov. It contains maps and tables showing the probabilities for a snow depth of at least 1 inch on Christmas morning, as well as the probabilities for a depth of at least 5 inches and 10 inches by city. The probabilities are based on long-term climatology and not on current weather patterns.

According to NOAA, the places with the greatest probability (100 percent) for at least a 1-inch snow depth in the continental United State are: Marquette, Mich., Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Hibbing, Minn., International Falls, Minn., and Stampede Pass, Wash.

But what about Buffalo, N.Y.? Isn't it considered to be the not only New York's snow capital but the nation's as well? Buffalo, which usually gets about 90 inches of snow a year, has only a 49 percent chance of having 5 inches of snow on the ground on Dec. 25, according to the NOAA probability data, NOAA meteorologist Richard Heim told UPI.

However, using different weather data, meteorologists at the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., gave the odds at 57 percent that Buffalo, N.Y., would see a white Christmas.

(Thanks to UPI Science News Writer Alex Cukan)

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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