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  • Surprise workshop examines annuities

    Learn the pros and cons of annuities at a free workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 16 in the auditorium of the Public Safety Building (Police Department), 14250 W. Statler Plaza, Surprise.The workshop will be taught by Mark Melkowski and Robert Feinholz with the American Financial Education Alliance and will cover the following topics:• Types of annuities.• How to determine your risk tolerance.• What protection or guarantees annuities offer.• Five questions you should ask before considering any annuity.

  • Sun City Homeowners Association reasserts opposition to EPCOR plan

    SUN CITY, Ariz. – The leading government advocate for Sun City property owners and residents is affirming its opposition to a plan by EPCOR Water Arizona, Inc., to fully consolidate its wastewater service districts.Following a public hearing by the Arizona Corporation Commission on the plan and an interim agreement to consider a new set of rates as part of the consolidation, officials with the Sun City Homeowners Association stated that a commission flier had generated some confusion on its position.“At the ACC public comment session in Sun City, Nov. 26 at the Sundial Recreation Center, a flier from the ACC was distributed to attendees, outlining a recently endorsed Interim Settlement Agreement. All interveners, including the ACC Staff and RUCO (Residential Utility Consumer Office) as well as SCHOA, reviewed and signed off on this agreement,” stated Greg Eisert, chairman of SCHOA’s governmental affairs committee and a member of SCHOA’s board of directors.“SCHOA accepted the interim agreement as a stopgap should the commission proceed to endorse full consolidation.  This interim agreement effectively takes the consolidation issue off the table, pending a full in-depth rate case. This interim agreement in no way changes SCHOA’s position against full consolidation.  We adamantly oppose full consolidation,” Eisert’s statement continued.He further explained that were the commission to approve full consolidation, it would cost Sun City ratepayers $16 a month more almost immediately not the interim hike of $4 per month.“It was a difficult decision and hard to understand by some, but the risk of not endorsing the short-term agreement was far too high,” Eisert concluded.

  • Home Depot donates smoke detectors to Peoria FD

    The Peoria Fire Department is hosting a Safety Day from 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 6 at Home Depot, 9201 W. Peoria Ave.As part of the celebration, Home Depot is planning to donate 1,000 smoke detectors to the Peoria Fire Department. Firefighters will use the detectors to help replace or install detectors in homes for those who cannot afford or are not physically capable of installing them themselves.In addition, there will be interactive fire displays such as the smoke trailer and fire trucks. For more information, visit www.peoriaaz.gov/fire.

  • Coldwell Banker opens 3-game advantage

    Coldwell Banker improved its record to 9-0 Tuesday and opened a three-game lead over its nearest pursuers during Sun Cities National League softball at Sun Bowl Field in Sun City.Solar City and Vital Care are tied for second place with 6-3 records.Pruitt’s Furniture 13Brenda’s Kitchen 8Rich Moschel had four hits with a pair of doubles as Pruitt’s Furniture relied on four-run outbursts in the first and fifth innings.Don Kammerer had four hits and Thayne Heisel homered in the win. Bob Murray had three hits for Pruitt’s Furniture.

  • Lunde Peoria cruises into first

    Lunde Peoria VW moved into first place Tuesday during Sun Cities American League softball play at Liberty Field in Sun City West.Lunde Peoria (6-3) holds a one-game lead over four teams stuck in a logjam with 5-4 records — Desert Golf Cars, Edward Jones, Pinnacle Financial and Reategui Law Firm.Lunde Peoria VW 19Pinnacle 2Pat Regan had two doubles and a triple as Lunde Peoria VW capitalized on three five-run innings.Mel Bentley scattered eight hits to earn the pitching win. Jim Montgomery and Joe Calloway each had four hits while Dan Mellon had three hits with a double in the victory. Ron Cultum had three hits for Lunde Peoria VW.

  • Weaver shares family heritage with club

    Weavers West members enjoyed a presentation by MaryLou Schultz at their membership meeting in November.Schultz spoke about the strong heritage of weaving in her family of Navajo people. She demonstrated how rugs were woven with wool from sheep raised on their ranches.Shultz has an education degree from ASU and enjoys teaching young people on the tradition of weaving. She shared samples of Navajo rugs made by her nieces and nephews along with photos of her commissioned works that are displayed around the globe.Visitors are welcome at the Kuentz Rec Center, 14401 R.H. Johnson Blvd., Sun City West, to watch us in action and view the display of finished products in our display windows. Tours are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.Visit the website at www.scwclubs.com and click on Weavers West.

  • Colorado mastodon bones show ancient warmer Earth

    DENVER (AP) — A trove of ancient bones from gigantic animals discovered in the Colorado mountains is providing scientists with a fascinating look at what happened about 120,000 years ago when the Earth got as warm as it is today. Evidence left behind by mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and huge bison — along with insects, plants, pollen and other animals — offers a glimpse at how ancient animal adapted to climate change. Among their findings: The warmer weather allowed forests to reach about 2,500 feet farther up the mountainside than today's tree line, which is about 11,500 feet above sea level at the Snowmass site. Forests also may have been denser, and smaller trees and grasslands might have been more widespread amid drier conditions. A team of 47 scientists has been studying material unearthed four years ago near Snowmass, a town just outside Aspen, when a bulldozer was enlarging a reservoir. The researchers published their first big batch of data in the journal Quaternary Research in November. "The site is spectacular because it has a single continuous pile of sediment from the most recent interglacial period," about 120,000 years ago, when conditions were similar to the present, said Ian Miller, chairman of the Earth Sciences Department at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He is co-director of the museum's Snowmastodon Project, which is sifting through the material. "It's a beautiful record of the last time it was as warm or warmer than it is today," he said. The information gives scientists solid data to check their climate models against. It also means that figuring out the impacts of human-produced greenhouse gases combined with natural changes might be more complicated than previously thought. "The point is ... if we haven't seen all the natural variability in the system and we are causing warming, where are we going?" Miller said. The Colorado site can point to clues about how life adapts to climate change — but it doesn't answer the question, according to a climate scientist not working on the Snowmass site. "It shows an example of a world that's that warm and shows us some manifest examples of how animals react to that," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. "What we're headed for is kind of a different situation where we're turning the knob way up on climate in a very short period of time." The reservoir where the bones were found was originally a natural lake and sits on a ridge about 9,000 feet above sea level. The sediment and bones provided a record of about 85,000 years, from 140,000 years ago to 55,000 years ago. The site yielded 35 mastodons, male and female, young and old. Researchers also found about 50 other species, including mammoths, giant sloths about the size of today's grizzly bears, and bison that were half again as large as the modern-day versions. The site didn't produce any information about why animals became extinct, but it did provide hints about what their lives were like, Miller said. For example, mastodon tusks grow a little each year, producing rings like trees do, he said. The size of each ring indicates whether times were good or bad. "When it's stressful, they grow very little, and when it's nice, they grow a lot," Miller said. The bones are at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and sediment samples are at a USGS site in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. Studies will likely continue for years, Miller said. Online: Denver Museum of Nature and Science Snowmastodon Project: http://www.dmns.org/science/the-snowmastodon-project/

  • U.S. new home sales up 0.7 percent in October

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new U.S. homes edged up modestly in October, led by a big jump in activity in the Midwest. New home sales advanced 0.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The result followed a smaller 0.4 percent gain in September and put sales at the highest point since May. The strength last month stemmed from a big 15.8 percent increase in sales in the Midwest and a smaller 7.1 percent rise in the Northeast. Those increases offset a 1.9 percent fall in sales in the South, which accounts for half of the new-home market, and a 2.7 percent drop in the West. The median price of a home sold in October was $305,000, up 16.5 percent from a year ago. Housing has struggled to recover since the recession ended in June 2009. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing homes instead of upgrading. New home sales remain sharply below the annual rate of 700,000 seen during the 1990s. A combination of factors has depressed sales. An unusually harsh winter crippled sales at the beginning of the year and even after the snow had melted, tight credit, rising home prices and flat incomes for many Americans have limited the number of buyers who could afford a home. A separate report Wednesday showed that the number of Americans signing contracts to buy homes fell slightly in October. The National Association of Relators' pending home sales index declined 1.1 percent to 104.1. But in an encouraging sign, sales of existing homes rose 1.5 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.26 million, NAR said last week. October marked the first month of 2014 in which sales of previously owned homes were higher than the same month in 2013.

  • Humane Society offers reward in Alaska dog hanging

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Humane Society of the United States is offering a reward for information about the death of a dog in Alaska that was found hanging from a tree with its throat slashed, the organization said Wednesday. The carcass of the male pit bull named Snoop was found in the woods in Anchorage on Oct. 10. Police have been investigating the death as a felony animal-cruelty case. The Humane Society said its reward of up to $5,000 is for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or people involved. The Anchorage Crime Stoppers program is offering a reward of up to $1,000. "This was an incredibly brutal attack," said Michael Haukedalen, Alaska state director for The Humane Society of the United States. "We are really hopeful that by offering a reward, somebody in the community will respond and the person or persons responsible will be punished appropriately." There are no suspects in the case, police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. "Don't know who did it, so it's hard to say why it was done," she said. A man walking through the woods near East 20th Avenue and Rosemary Street in east Anchorage found the dead dog. Snoop had a microchip, which led authorities to the owner. The owner, whose name was not released, told authorities he thought the dog had run away a week earlier. The owner described the dog as friendly and like a brother to his daughter, Shell said. The family lives in the Penland Mobile Home Park, about a mile from where the dog was found. The owner said he couldn't think of anyone who was angry with him and would take it out on the dog, Shell said. Online: http://www.humanesociety.org

  • Major transmission line inches closer to service

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The federal government is one step closer to giving the green light to a proposed $2 billion transmission line between Arizona and New Mexico that has become a priority for the Obama administration. The Bureau of Land Management has released its environmental assessment of a compromise reached with the U.S. Defense Department over siting of the 515-mile-long line. The review found there would be no significant effects from burying a portion of the line to avoid interfering with operations at White Sands Missile Range. Officials were initially concerned the line could reduce testing operations and ultimately threaten national security. Disagreement over the location put the line in limbo last year. SunZia is one of seven pilot projects put on a fast track by the administration in hopes of boosting renewable energy development mainly across the West.

  • Court tosses ruling that shielded Arias witness

    PHOENIX (AP) — An appeals court has thrown out a ruling that barred the public from watching the first witness called by Jodi Arias at the convicted murderer's sentencing retrial. The decision Wednesday by the Arizona Court of Appeals overturns the Oct. 30 ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens and suggests that the previously unidentified witness may have been Arias herself. Stephens had said the ruling was necessary because Arias' first witness, whom the judge refused to publicly identify, wouldn't testify unless the hearing was closed to the public. Some of the testimony by Arias' first witness was conducted in private. The Arizona Republic and three Phoenix TV stations — KPNX, KPHO and KTVK — protested the closure of the courtroom, arguing the First Amendment allows reporters to attend the trial. Arias was convicted of murder last year in the 2008 death of former boyfriend Travis Alexander, but jurors deadlocked on whether she should be sentenced to life in prison or death. A new jury has been picked to decide her sentence. The appeals court didn't offer an explanation in its ruling Wednesday at how it arrived at that decision. A more detailed ruling is expected in the future. But the court suggested an answer to a question that stumped trial watchers: Who was the skittish witness who was allowed to testify in private? The appeals court said Stephens order closed the courtroom to the public during "any testimony by Jodi Arias," though it's unclear whether the testimony was made by Arias herself or someone else on Arias' behalf. "It underscores the importance of the public's right to attend criminal trials, particularly the testimony of a defendant in the sentencing phase of a capital trial," David Bodney, an attorney representing the news organizations, said of the ruling. A call to Arias attorney Jennifer Willmott wasn't immediately returned Wednesday afternoon. The decision to close the courtroom came after Stephens and the case's lawyers met behind closed doors at the start of Arias' case. Since then, Arias' lawyers have continued putting on their case, and Arias has yet to publicly testify at the sentencing retrial. The Arias case has been marked by secrecy ever since the conclusion of the first trial, which turned in to a media circus as salacious and violent details about Arias and Alexander were broadcast live for people around the world. Since then, the judge has held one secret hearing after another and barred the broadcast of footage from the sentencing retrial until after a verdict is reached. Arias' lawyers had argued that daily broadcasts of the trial would lead to defense witnesses backing out for fear of being harassed or threatened.

  • Two killed in collision at Gilbert intersection

    GILBERT, Ariz. (AP) — Authorities have released the names of two men killed after a two-vehicle collision at a Gilbert intersection. Gilbert police say the victims are 22-year-old Dakota Fernandez and 34-year-old Justin Tharp. The collision occurred about 3:15 a.m. Wednesday at the intersection of McQueen and Elliot roads. Police say it appears one of the drivers ran a red light and slammed into the other vehicle. Police say Fernandez and Tharp were the sole occupants of their vehicles. The crash also knocked over a traffic-light pole and police investigators closed the intersection for several hours.

Coldwell Banker opens 3-game advantage

Coldwell Banker improved its record to 9-0 Tuesday and opened a three-game lead over its nea…

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  • Songwriter croons at Celebrity

    Legendary songwriter John Prine will perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 at the historic Celebrity Theatre. Special guest Iris DeMent gets the show under way.Long considered a “songwriter’s songwriter,” Prine’s extensive catalog has been recorded by Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon and others. With immeasurable accolades, including two Grammys and the distinction of being one of the few songwriters honored by the Library of Congress and U.S. Poet Laureate, Prine is more than a musician -- he is an American treasure. Some of his best known tunes include “Hello In There,” “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Souvenirs,” “Paradise” and “In Spite Of Ourselves.”With his trademark guitar finger-picking and unmistakable songwriting voice, Prine continues to mesmerize diverse audiences with his humble poetry, describing often-overlooked crannies of everyday life. Forty years after his debut, Prine released “The Singing Mailman Delivers” (2011), a two-disc archival set featuring his earliest studio and live recordings dating back to 1970, one year before his premiere album. These tracks reveal a younger Prine as an honest and unassuming songwriter, writing words on his mail route by day and moonlighting as a folk singer in Chicago clubs at night.In 1971, Prine and his friend Steve Goodman had each been active in the Chicago folk scene before being “discovered” by Kristofferson. Kristofferson remarked that Prine wrote songs so good that “we’ll have to break his thumbs.”Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets ($43, $58 and $78) are available at Celebrity Theatre or online at www.celebritytheatre.com. To charge by phone, call 602-267-1600, Ext. 1. All tickets are subject to a surcharge. Celebrity Theatre is four blocks south of the Loop 202 freeway, at 440 N. 32nd St., in Phoenix.Danny Zelisko has been bringing shows to Valley since 1974, and is celebrating his 40th year promoting concerts. He founded and ran Evening Star Productions up until 2001 when he sold his company, having presented some 10,000 performers during that time. Zelisko hosts a weekly radio show, Phoenix Finest Rock, every Thursday night at 8 p.m., heard locally on 93.9 FM, or on the Internet at www.KWSS.org. For information, visit www.dannyzeliskopresents.com.

  • Cosby testimony describes accuser's spiked story

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bill Cosby testified under oath in 2005 that he gave the National Enquirer an exclusive interview about looming sexual-assault accusations by a Canadian woman against him in exchange for the tabloid spiking a second accuser's story. Excerpts released Wednesday of Cosby's deposition from a civil lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand quote Cosby as saying he feared the public would believe her sexual-assault accusations if the Enquirer published similar claims by Beth Ferrier. Both women accused Cosby of drugging and molesting them. "Did you ever think that if Beth Ferrier's story was printed in the National Enquirer, that that would make the public believe that maybe Andrea was also telling the truth?" Cosby was asked. "Exactly," Cosby replied, according to court motions initially filed under seal and made available from archived federal court records. Cosby, in the deposition, said he had a contract with the Enquirer. "I would give them an exclusive story, my words," Cosby said in the Sept. 29, 2005, deposition. In return, "they would not print the story of — print Beth's story." The release of the documents comes after Cosby this month was shown on an Associated Press video trying to persuade the news cooperative not to use his response when asked this month about sexual-abuse allegations. "I would appreciate if it was scuttled," Cosby said in a videotaped exchange with the AP on Nov. 6. Cosby said in 2005 he had been given a draft of Ferrier's interview with the Enquirer and was told she had passed its lie-detector test. He said he also was given an advance look at his exclusive, titled "My Story," which warned that he would defend against anyone trying to "exploit" him. Constand later sued Cosby and the Enquirer, alleging defamation. The claims were consolidated with her sexual-assault lawsuit against Cosby and were settled. Email messages seeking comment Wednesday from the National Enquirer's editor and spokeswoman were not immediately returned. Cosby had said at his deposition that Constand and her mother asked only for an apology in early phone calls about the issue in January 2005, and he said they received one. "Andrea's mother said, 'That's all I wanted, Bill,'" Cosby testified. Constand's lawyers argued in their defamation suit: "Requesting only an apology is not the action of an extortionist or someone who wants to 'exploit' a celebrity." They said that Cosby later called back and offered to pay for Constand's "education." Constand had met Cosby through her job with the women's basketball team at Temple University in Philadelphia, and she said he sexually assaulted her at his nearby home in 2004. She quit the job and moved home that year, and she first filed a report with Ontario police on Jan. 13, 2005, and filed a federal civil suit that March. After prosecutors near Philadelphia decided not to file criminal charges, several other women came forward to support Constand's claims, including Ferrier. Ferrier has gone public about what she called her brief affair with Cosby when she was a model in 1984. She said that he once drugged her coffee during an encounter in Denver and that she woke up hours later in the backseat of her car with her clothes disheveled. The Enquirer in 2005 withheld her story and instead published Cosby's account, in which he said, "Sometimes you try to help people and it backfires on you and then they try to take advantage of you." In the legal deposition, taken at a Philadelphia hotel, Constand's lawyer asked Cosby if he tried in the Enquirer article "to make the public believe that Andrea was not telling the truth?" "Yes," Cosby replied. Constand's civil lawsuit grew to include nine women willing to testify about allegations of sexual assaults involving Cosby. Some came forward after a suburban Philadelphia prosecutor declined to file criminal charges over Constand's police complaint. A comedian this year referenced the accusations anew in a performance, prompting some of the suit's Jane Doe witnesses to reveal their names and other women to raise new accusations. Cosby has refused to discuss allegations raised in recent weeks by numerous women.

  • Brawny bearded brewers bare nearly all for charity

    SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — If hops make you hot, and you like your men like your beer — stout — these guys have just the thing for you. A group of brawny, bearded brewers from the Sheboygan area has posed mostly nude for a calendar that is raising money for charity. The 2015 Brew Men Calendar features 11 brewing professionals from 3 Sheeps Brewing, 8th Street Ale Haus and Plymouth Brewing Co. Proceeds from the calendar, which can be bought online or at various bars, grocers and liquor stores in Wisconsin and northern Illinois, will be donated to the Movember Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on men's health issues, including prostate and testicular cancer. Unsurprisingly, the idea came about when they were enjoying a few beers. After Kurt Jensen, owner of 8th Street Ale Haus, began talking to some of his brewing buddies about doing charity work, the group of beer-lovers eventually came up with something similar to a swimsuit calendar. Grant Pauly, founder of 3 Sheeps, said he hopes the calendars will raise awareness and stimulate conversations about men's health, he told Sheboygan Press Media (http://shebpr.es/1xTr2us ). "I was down in Chicago when someone who saw the group photo on our Facebook page came up to me and we ended up having a 20 minute conversation," he said. The photos were shot in early October by a professional photographer who doubles as a beer enthusiast. Each month of the calendar depicts a different step of the brewing process. Jensen said convincing the guys to take off their clothes for a good cause was easier than he expected, and Pauly agreed. "Putting the calendar together, that was pretty easy," said Pauly. "We have the most difficult part ahead; getting the word out." The calendar marks the first fundraising effort of Brewers Against Bad Things, a group that Pauly and Jensen recently founded to raise money for charitable causes.

  • U.S. new home sales up 0.7 percent in October

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new U.S. homes edged up modestly in October, led by a big jump in activity in the Midwest. New home sales advanced 0.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The result followed a smaller 0.4 percent gain in September and put sales at the highest point since May. The strength last month stemmed from a big 15.8 percent increase in sales in the Midwest and a smaller 7.1 percent rise in the Northeast. Those increases offset a 1.9 percent fall in sales in the South, which accounts for half of the new-home market, and a 2.7 percent drop in the West. The median price of a home sold in October was $305,000, up 16.5 percent from a year ago. Housing has struggled to recover since the recession ended in June 2009. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing homes instead of upgrading. New home sales remain sharply below the annual rate of 700,000 seen during the 1990s. A combination of factors has depressed sales. An unusually harsh winter crippled sales at the beginning of the year and even after the snow had melted, tight credit, rising home prices and flat incomes for many Americans have limited the number of buyers who could afford a home. A separate report Wednesday showed that the number of Americans signing contracts to buy homes fell slightly in October. The National Association of Relators' pending home sales index declined 1.1 percent to 104.1. But in an encouraging sign, sales of existing homes rose 1.5 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.26 million, NAR said last week. October marked the first month of 2014 in which sales of previously owned homes were higher than the same month in 2013.

  • Weak consumer, business demand may slow U.S. growth

    WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers and businesses spent cautiously last month, a sign that strong growth during the spring and summer may decelerate in the final three months of the year. The figures released Wednesday were a mild disappointment after data the previous day showed the economy had expanded at the fastest pace in over a decade in the second and third quarters. "The economy is poised to slow again as we move into the fourth quarter, after a stellar catch-up from last year's horrific winter weather," Diane Swonk, an economist at Mesirow Financial, said in a note to clients. Consumers opened their wallets a bit in October, boosting their spending by a lukewarm 0.2 percent. That was only slightly better than September's flat reading. Yet incomes also rose just 0.2 percent, matching September's increase. Because hiring has been healthy this year, many economists have been expecting a stronger pickup in income. Limited increases in pay could restrain future spending by consumers, which accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Businesses also cut back on orders for industrial machinery, computers and other equipment, a sign that business investment spending may slow in the October-December quarter. Factories received fewer orders for the second straight month in a key category that tracks business investment plans. Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said he now expects the economy will expand at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, down from an earlier forecast of 3 percent. Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm, projects growth of just 2 percent. While those figures would represent modest progress, they are much lower than the third quarter's 3.9 percent expansion and the second quarter's 4.6 percent growth. The two quarters represent the best six-month pace since 2003. Other data on Wednesday painted a mixed picture of the U.S. economy, adding to the year-end uncertainty. In a positive sign, a measure of consumer sentiment by the University of Michigan rose to a seven-year high, suggesting consumers could ramp up their spending during the holiday shopping season. With a steadily improving job market and falling gas prices, economists say American households are ready to shed any lingering caution. The National Retail Federation, a trade group, is forecasting that holiday sales will rise 4.1 percent from last year. That would be the biggest gain in three years. Still, two additional reports Wednesday showed that housing, traditionally a key driver of the economy after recessions, remains sluggish. New home sales ticked up slightly to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000 in October. But that figure is up only 1.8 percent from 12 months ago. Sharp price increases have likely held back sales: the price of a typical new home has soared 16.5 percent in the past year to $305,000. Separately, the number of signed contracts to buy homes fell slightly in October, which indicates that sales of existing homes may decline in the coming months. Existing home sales rose last month to an annual pace of 5.26 million, their fastest this year. But that's still below the 5.5 million consistent with a healthy housing market. Inflation remains low, which could also help boost spending over the holidays. A price gauge included in the spending report rose by just 1.4 percent over the past 12 months, well below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent inflation target. Many economists are still optimistic that greater hiring, as well as fewer government spending cuts and tax increases, will boost growth to about 3 percent in 2015. That would be the first full year to record 3 percent growth since 2005. The job market has made steady progress this year. Employers have added an average of 229,000 jobs a month through October. That would make hiring in 2014 the strongest that the U.S. has seen in 15 years. The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent, a six-year low, from 7.2 percent just one year ago. Yet the number of people seeking unemployment benefits jumped last week to the highest level in nearly 3 months, a sign that layoffs have risen. The increase likely reflects seasonal job cuts at businesses affected by cold weather, such as construction firms. Most economists said the increase isn't a cause for concern. The Federal Reserve last month recognized signs of the improving economy, but suggested that it may keep interest rates low for a "considerable time." Many economists believe with inflation still low, the Fed will wait until the middle of 2015 before it begins to boost interest rates.

  • Holiday shoppers expected to spend cautiously

    Falling gas prices. Soaring stock market. Unemployment at a six-year low.All signs point to a successful holiday shopping season. Despite the economic tail winds, though, retailers are finding themselves having to work to get shoppers into stores.Why? Five years into the economic recovery, most Americans still are struggling.Gas prices may be hovering at a four-year low, but Americans are paying more for food, health care and other costs. Unemployment is falling, too, but wage growth has been stagnant. And even though the stock and housing markets have improved, Americans haven’t changed their deal-hungry shopping habits.“Retail therapy is out the window for most Americans,” said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm.Not that this holiday season is expected to be a dud. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts holiday sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion — the highest increase since 2011. But retailers already have had to resort to discounting to get shoppers into stores.

Featured columns

  • OPINION: Ham-fisted feds squeeze Arizona

    If you need further evidence of the sometimes cartoonish level of ham-fisted management of environmental regulatory matters by the federal government, consider the proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to change the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act.A coalition of over 30 business organizations led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently submitted comments in response to a rule proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that could have a dramatic and negative effect on Arizona’s economy.Under the EPA plan, there’s no telling what economic harm could be inflicted on the state by changing the definition of “waters of the United States,” since vast areas of Arizona would come under federal government jurisdiction for the first time. Existing federal law requires agencies to gather feedback from affected stakeholders — in this case farmers, ranchers and other businesses — in the rulemaking process to ensure potential economic impacts of a rule are fully understood. There was no such engagement process this time around.Instead the EPA simply said its proposal would “not have a significant economic impact,” cold comfort for businesses in Arizona facing a rule that would place new regulatory burdens on canals, ditches and other private property.This is no small change that the feds are mulling. According to an analysis performed by the Central Arizona Project and the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU, CAP alone generated $1 trillion of Arizona gross state product from 1986-2010. That the administration did not engage in a robust consultation with affected stakeholders in an area that plays such an integral role in Arizona’s economic health would be unfathomable if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve become used to the feds’ mismanagement of federal-state environmental issues.Arizona in just the last few years has seen its share of federal highway dollars put at risk as it battled with the EPA over the effect seasonal dust storms have on air quality readings in Maricopa County, and we’ve seen the future of the Navajo Generating Station jeopardized as part of a manufactured crisis over haze at our national parks that was really a proxy in the administration’s hardline against coal.

  • Tips for year-end gifts to charity

    Many people give to charity each year during the holiday season. Remember, if you want to claim a tax deduction for your gifts, you must itemize your deductions. There are several tax rules that you should know about before you give. Here are six tips from the IRS that you should keep in mind:1. Qualified charities. You can only deduct gifts you give to qualified charities. Remember that you can deduct donations you give to churches, synagogues, temples and also government agencies.2. Monetary donations. Gifts of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. You must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity in order to deduct any gift of money on your tax return. This is true regardless of the amount of the gift. The statement must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, or bank, credit union and credit card statements. If you give by payroll deductions, you should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document from your employer. It must show the total amount withheld for the charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.3. Household goods. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. If you donate clothing and household items to charity, they generally must be in at least “good used” condition to claim a tax deduction. If you claim a deduction of more than $500 for a specific item, it doesn’t have to meet this “good used” standard if you are going to include a Qualified Appraisal of this item with your tax return.4. Records required. You must get a written acknowledgment from a charity for each and any deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. Additional rules apply to the statement for gifts of that amount. This statement is in addition to the records required for deducting cash gifts. However, one statement with all of the required information may meet both requirements. See this link for further info concerning written acknowledgments from charities: www.irs.gov/charities-&-non-profits/Substantiating-Charitable-Contributions. In addition, you will find a link to IRS’s “Select Check Tool” that lists most charitable organizations that are registered with the IRS and are therefore eligible to receive your tax deductible contributions.5. Year-end gifts. You can deduct contributions in the year you make them. If you have charged your donation to a debit or credit card before the end of the year, it will still count for 2014. This is true even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2015. Also, a personal check will count for 2014, but only as long as the check you mail is postmarked by Dec. 31, 2014.

  • OPINION: A cheer for Obama’s record

    Candidates in the 2014 races all were blaming President Obama for the state of the state and the union. I agree. President Obama is to blame.  He is to blame for the Dow Jones Index being almost 18,000 when it was less than 8,000 in 2009 when he became president.It is his fault that unemployment in the U.S. is now 5.8 percent instead of 7.8 percent in 2009. We should blame him for the GDP being 3.5 percent today instead of -5.4 percent when he took over. The deficit GDP percent is now 2.9 percent when it was 9.8 percent in 2009.Whose fault is that?  President Obama’s.It must be his fault that gas prices have dropped, and the U.S. is now exporting, rather than importing, oil. Surely, it is his fault that consumer confidence is almost three-times higher than in 2009.We can’t credit the Congress for progress over the past four years as they have done less than any Congress in the history of the U.S.During his first two years in office, with help from a Democratic Senate and House, a health care bill passed that Democrats have worked toward since FDR was president. Under the new ACA, the number of people without healthcare insurance has dropped.  Republicans keep trying to repeal it but what will be their replacement? I doubt people with healthcare insurance will be willing to give it up. I don’t know about your insurance plan, but the costs of mine have gone down.

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