Archive for November, 2012

Americans donate eight million to cut national debt

November 20th, 2012 by Mariah

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The debate about the national debt has already paid off: Individual Americans pitched in nearly $8 million of their own money to help reduce it in fiscal 2012. That’s more than double the total from the year before.Donations for the national debt had averaged about $3 million a year since 2009. “So this is obviously a big jump,” said Mckayla Braden, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of the Public Debt.

But even this year’s hefty total of $7.7 million is barely a drop in the bucket. That sum represents just 0.000007% of the approximately $1.1 trillion deficit the U.S. ran in the latest fiscal year.

The country’s total outstanding debt is more than $16 trillion — perilously close to the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling, and the Treasury Department expects to hit the legal borrowing limit by the end of this year.

The ongoing national debate about how to get America’s debt under control has certainly heightened the public’s awareness of the matter.

Diane Lim Rogers, chief economist at the Concord Coalition, a grassroots organization focused on eliminating federal budget deficits, believes that donations are up because more people realize the dangers of a massive deficit.

“I think this is a small minority of people signaling to the world that their taxes should be higher,” she said.

The whole idea of accepting donations to help pay down the national debt didn’t exist until 1961, when an anonymous estate left $20 million to the Bureau of Public Debt for just that purpose. Congress had to pass a law in order to be able to accept the money, and a total of $85 million has poured into the bureau’s coffers in the 51 years since then.

“It’s not like this is a tremendous amount of money,” Braden admits. “It is a needle in the haystack.”

There is no “average’ gift,” or donor for that matter, according to Braden. Some donations come from estates, when a person dies and leaves their money to Uncle Sam, but plenty of living taxpayers pitch in, and so do children.

“I once had a classroom send me a small bags of coins,” Braden said, “which we don’t really want. Cash or checks are preferred.”

One stumbling block for the program is that few people know that it exists. Citizens can contribute online at pay.gov, send a check directly to the Bureau of Public Debt, or include a separate check with their federal income tax return.

Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union supports the idea of adding a check box on tax returns to get more people to donate to Uncle Sam.

In fact, South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune has introduced a bill, known as the Buffett Rule Act of 2011, that would allow taxpayers to send in donations along with their federal tax returns, on top of any tax owed, to reduce the public debt.

“If national debt is indeed one of the greatest concerns in America today, maybe tax returns should provide for a way to recognize those who want to do something about it,” Sepp said.

Why Wal-Mart workers are striking on Black Friday

November 20th, 2012 by Mariah

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The stage has been set for a battle between a group of Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) workers and the retailer on Black Friday.

The union-backed group OUR Walmart expects thousands of workers to participate in the protest planned this week. The employees will ask the country’s largest employer to end what they call retaliation against speaking out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care.

Such retaliation can include shuffling around their shifts, cutting hours and moving them around departments.

Wal-Mart says that the protestors make up just a handful of its 1.3 million workforce.

In an effort to stop them, Wal-Mart filed a complaint last week with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and its subsidiary known as OURWalmart unlawfully organized picket lines and other demonstrations in the past six months. The retailer said the actions have disrupted business, and that workers’ ongoing actions violate the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits picketing for any period over 30 days without filing a petition to form a union.

Representatives of the federal agency are currently holding talks at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, about the complaint. Nancy Cleeland, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email that a decision from the agency is not expected before Thursday.

Courts won’t be open that day to grant an injunction because of the Thanksgiving holiday, meaning that no action will be taken in time to block the planned Black Friday walkout.

Cleeland said there are currently about 20 charges filed against Wal-Mart stores by individual employees and OUR Walmart alleging a number of illegal acts. She wouldn’t say what the specific charges are.

OUR Walmart, which gets financial backing and other support from the UFCW, says that it is specifically protesting against the company’s retaliation against its employees and doesn’t have specific demands tied to the Black Friday walkout.

However, in 2011, the group asked the retailer to pay workers a minimum wage of $13 per hour and to make more full-time jobs available for its part-time employees who want them. It also asked the retailer to provide affordable health care, predictable hours and to recognize freedom of speech and association.

Wal-Mart would not say what percentage of its workers are part-time, or how much they are paid on average. Tovar said that a majority of its employees are full-time workers, who get an average hourly wage of $12.40, about $5 above the federal minimum wage.

Jeff Landry, an employee in Sapulpa, Okla., plans to join the protest. He works from 4 to 9 p.m. after attending school all day. When he was scheduled for a shift during class, Landry complained. He says his managers responded by cutting his hours from 40 to below 30 a week.

This meant that Landry was no longer eligible for health care, since Wal-Mart requires workers to work an average of 30 hours per week to get benefits.

“They tried all these tactics to get rid of me,” he said.

Landry has his job despite joining a walkout last month, when a protest that started at a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles spread to stores in 12 other cities.

Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said Wal-Mart has a policy that prohibits retaliation of any kind, and investigates every allegation.

Labor law experts say that if true, the employees’ claims would violate terms of the National Labor Rights Act, which protects workers against that kind of retaliation.

Angela Cornell, director of the labor law clinic at Cornell Law School, said that Wal-Mart’s complaint might not work because labor laws that prohibit picketing over 30 days applies only to protestors trying to form a union or gain collective bargaining rights, not employees who are protesting against retaliation.

According to William Gould IV, who was chairman of the NLRB under President Clinton and is now a law professor at Stanford University, the law protects employees protesting employment conditions. He also said that it would be unusual for the federal agency to conclude an investigation of this size within a matter of days, or in time for Black Friday.

Both Gould and Cornell agree it is likely that the retailer is using the complaint as a way to deter workers from taking part in the walk offs.

“It appears to me that the main motivation is…to make some employees decide not to participate, even though their activities are protected,” Cornell said.

Americans get fewer vacation days in 2012, study finds

November 20th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN)-Poof. Gone. That’s what will happen to many of the vacation days workers don’t use by December 31. Americans are expected to subject two days to this unfortunate fate in 2012, according to a study released Thursday.

Many workers are running out of time to use up this year's vacation days.

What’s more, that sacrifice comes from a smaller overall pool of days. In 2012, Americans reported receiving 12 days of vacation, compared with 14 days last year. Of those 12, they’re expected to take only 10 this year, according to Expedia’s annual Vacation Deprivation study.

Even so, American workers still take more vacation than their Asian counterparts, the study shows. The Japanese are expected to take only five of 13 allotted days. South Koreans will likely take seven out of 10. Asian workers also work the longest weeks, about 44 hours, according to the study. Average Americans work a 40-hour week, the most common, while the Dutch have the lightest work week of the 22 nations surveyed, putting in just 35 hours.

The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive and included responses from 8,687 employed adults in 22 countries.

Europeans are still the champions of making the most out of a relative boatload of vacation — typically 25 to 30 days off in addition to holidays. In France and Spain, workers tend to take the full 30 days, while Germans take 28 of their 30 days. British, Swedish and Norwegian workers don’t waste a single day, taking all 25 of their vacation days.

“Studies consistently show that an ideal work-life balance leads to happier and more productive employees,” John Morrey, general manager of Expedia.com, said in a statement. “Your vacation days are not a gift, not a luxury. They’re yours to use.”

Overall, workers cited difficulty coordinating time off with family and friends and the possibility of rolling the days over into the next year as the biggest reasons they don’t take their days. Workers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan and Ireland cited money concerns as the biggest hurdle to taking their vacation time.

Bosses in Norway, Sweden and Brazil are the most supportive of employees taking vacation time, the survey said, while more than half of bosses in Italy and South Korea were not so keen on the idea of workers getting away.

Beach vacations ranked as the most popular escape, with 35 percent of respondents flocking to the water. So head to the shore, or lounge around in your living room. Just take those days, Morrey urges.

“Instead of letting those days quietly expire, take that time and connect with the world outside your office.”

Are you taking all of your days? Why or why not?

Dont be a jerk en route to turkey dinner

November 20th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN)-On a clear dry day, driving 55 mph, it takes long-haul trucker Camille Pask the length of three football fields to stop her fully loaded rig.

“Just because we have more wheels doesn’t mean we can stop faster,” said Pask, whose truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds when packed.

This is the busy season for Pask, who will be working through the Thanksgiving holiday to deliver goods for the Christmas shopping season.

It’s also the busiest travel period of the year for Americans, when travel veterans and amateurs converge en route to turkey dinners — or just another day on the job. About 43.6 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home between November 21 and November 25 for the holiday, an increase of 0.7% over last year.

More Americans expected to hit the road for Thanksgiving

Everyone wants a safe, happy holiday, so we asked workers on the front lines of the Thanksgiving crush for their hard-earned tips for smooth travels.

As Thursday rolls closer and the roads get more crowded with impatient drivers, Pask would like them to stay clear of larger trucks.

Knowing that 80,000 pounds is barreling along in the lane beside you, why would you ever cut off a semi?

Another tip: If you can’t see her mirrors, she can’t see you. And she can’t ever see any cars that ride in tandem with her on the right side. “That’s one of our major blind spots for small vehicles passing us on the right,” she said. “It’s a really dangerous spot to be.”

Semi-truck driver rolls out big rig cuisine

Leave enough time for traffic jams

With about 39 million drivers hitting the road this holiday, travelers need to leave enough time for unexpected delays. A minor traffic accident can back up traffic for hours on some of the nation’s highways.

During the holidays, “there are an awful lot of accidents,” said Fran Ehret, a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike for 26 years and now president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 194, which represents the turnpike toll collectors.

Eatocracy: Sort out your Thanksgiving menu here

“Leave enough time to get where you’re going so you’re not having to drive too fast,” she said.

If you don’t regularly use toll booths and don’t have an electronic pass to pay the toll, pay close attention to the signs directing drivers to cashier-staffed booths.

“You don’t want to pull into an E-ZPass lane if you’re paying cash,” said Ehret. You could cause traffic delays, and “you’ll get a bill with a fee attached to it.”

And please don’t yell or curse out your toll collector or your fellow drivers because traffic is heavy or lanes are merging into the toll plaza. Pay your toll and drive on!

“People’s personalities change when they get behind the wheel of their cars. You meet them in their personal lives and they wouldn’t act like that,” Ehret said.

Research air travel security rules

There is no getting around it: All 3 million travelers flying to their destinations during the Thanksgiving holiday will have to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. Some of them will be traveling with food for the feast. The TSA has posted special guidance online for travelers toting culinary creations.

More air travel means more airplane maintenance

TSA officers Jackie Fitzpatrick and Charles Link promise they don’t want to take away your pies. Really.

“We know there’s pressure to make that plane or you’re traveling with family or bringing special foods you don’t want to get squished,” said Fitzpatrick.

“It’s all about the pies at the holidays,” added Link. “Apple, coconut. Testing will be done, but (pies) are allowed.”

Fitzpatrick and Link, who supervise security checkpoints at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, are going Italian on Thanksgiving Day and will be making pasta salad and baked ziti, respectively, for staff potlucks.

For travelers working their way toward a friend or family’s table with a tasty contribution, just do a little advance research at the TSA website to know what you can bring and how much you can bring. In the case of your specially made foods, they might need a little extra security, and they can’t violate the agency’s 3-ounce liquid rules. The agency also has a mobile app that provides information on checkpoint wait times, prohibited items and airport status.

Video games fall under the laptop rule and must be placed in a separate bin as they go through security machines. And snow globes can’t be larger than a tennis ball.

If you’re getting a head start on Christmas, don’t wrap presents beforehand. The TSA may have to unwrap gifts, which could be sad if your child sees the light saber that Santa is bringing him.

And no toy guns or weapons, please. They won’t be allowed to pass through security. It doesn’t matter that they’re not real weapons. Security officials won’t allow anything weapon-like because it might scare your fellow passengers or the crew.

People with medical issues should call TSA Cares (855-787-2227) before they travel to see if they need to take any extra steps or if they qualify for extra assistance to clear security.

What’s your commute’s toll on your health?

Don’t overpack

Southwest Airlines flight attendant Barb Pool can spot the travelers who have overpacked and rushed to get to the airport in time.

Pool advises travelers to pack in advance, check as much baggage as possible, research TSA rules about what you can bring, and leave behind contingency supplies that will be available at your destination. (Southwest allows two free checked bags, JetBlue allows one, and some airlines let frequent fliers and airline credit card holders check a bag for free.)

“Do whatever it takes to not stress,” said Pool, who often celebrates the holidays in advance with her family. “People get on a plane and are stuck for so many hours. It’s not a fun journey if you’re stressed.”

Pool tends to find joy in many of her flights, whether it’s holding a baby as nervous parents stow their bags, talking to military personnel heading home on leave, or helping people with disabilities get settled.

“Most of the time they’re preoccupied, but every once in a while they’ll offer to take you home for Thanksgiving,” she said. “Elderly people especially realize you’re not going to be with your family.”

She also knows that something larger might be stressing out her customers.

“Everyone’s not always traveling for happy events,” she said. “They might be fighting tears. It could be their first year without a spouse or they’re going to a funeral. Everyone’s not going to Grandma’s for dinner. I try to be extra sensitive to it.”

Obamas re-election puts forward to the test

November 7th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN) — Democrats are collecting spoils beyond what many predicted, Republicans are licking wounds after a bruising battle, and the country is waking up to the mix of euphoric celebration and bitter disappointment that accompanies the long-awaited end of the election.

But in the lightning speed world of today’s politics, the hours since President Barack Obama’s re-election victory have allowed the conversation to shift — from what happened to what’s next.

“Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual,” Obama said in his rousing victory speech after winning all or virtually all of the key swing states — only Florida remains unknown — in a sweeping electoral victory and decisive popular win.

“You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.”

Mitt Romney, absorbing defeat after a historically expensive race on both sides, issued a similar call in his concession speech. “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”

These are the calls and promises Americans are accustomed to, with far too little action materializing after the grand promises. Skepticism has become the legitimate knee-jerk reaction for many. But in this case, the country could be in for a pleasant surprise.

Former President Bill Clinton predicted weeks ago that an Obama victory would be the key to ending the gridlock in Washington.

Every administration needs “an action-forcing event,” he told CNN.

“I believe the election will be that event. I expect the president to win. And I think if he does, after this happens, then you will see the logjam begin to break.”

Republican strategist Ana Navarro, a CNN contributor, echoed that message on CNN Wednesday morning. “President Obama’s re-election does two things. It frees President Obama to be able to work with the Republican Congress, and it frees the Republican Congress to be able to work with President Obama.”

Tuesday’s election left Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in charge of the Senate.

But the political winds have shifted. With no Obama re-election battle looming, there isn’t the same incentive for each side to demonize the other.

Whether there is a newfound ability to cooperate will be put to the test just about immediately. The so-called “fiscal cliff” requires a solution by the end of the year. If left in place, the cliff — a combination of tax hikes and mandated across-the-board spending cuts — would lead to the biggest single-year drop in the annual deficit as a percent of the economy since 1969.

And a critical voice in that debate will be Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

He and Obama slammed each other’s economic policies repeatedly throughout the campaign. Each has staunch supporters. Now comes the search for middle ground.

House Speaker John Boehner vowed last night that his side will be part of the effort to find one. But he also signaled a hard line.

“The American people re-elected the president, and re-elected our majority in the House,” said Boehner, R-Ohio. “If there is a mandate, it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt.”

The loss is stinging to Republicans, who have taken on Obama throughout his time in office. Rhetoric from both sides has often reached a fever pitch.

And for the right wing, Tuesday’s election brought more bad news. For the first time ever, voters in some states approved same-sex marriage. Colorado and Washington, meanwhile, voted to approve state initiatives legalizing marijuana.

Oregon voters rejected a similar initiative, however. And in Alabama and Wyoming, voters approved efforts to limit “Obamacare.” In Montana, initial returns show approval for banning medical marijuana and limiting “Obamacare.”

With Romney saying he’d leave public service after the election, and Obama now likely to never face a public campaign again, both parties are thinking ahead to who the new leaders will be to carry the respective mantles.

But the shared hope expressed by both men to their crowds of supporters in the early hours of Wednesday morning is a reminder of what many Americans across the political spectrum want: a government that gets things done.

It was palpable in Chicago’s McCormick Place, where the screaming cheers of thousands echoed in the ears of young Malia and Sasha Obama as they joined their parents on stage, and in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where subdued Romney supporters soon dispersed.

It was the hope shared by millions around the country as they at last turned in for the night, getting a few hours’ sleep before heading off to work or seeking employment, hoping that brighter days lie ahead.

Obama “got off to a semi-rocky start, but I think that with another four years, we have a good chance,” Obama supporter Brian Anderson said overnight. “I want to see Obama get spending under control,” said Romney voter Elizabeth Lauten.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter summed it up succinctly.

“The election is over. It’s time for governing and making things happen,” he told CNN Wednesday morning.

That means bringing President Obama’s signature campaign word — “forward” — to fruition. “Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny,” he said, “the task of perfecting our union moves forward.”

Crippled NY subways spark infrastructure, climate questions

November 6th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN)-New Yorkers are not especially known for their patience. Stand on a subway escalator’s left side — otherwise known as the passing lane — and it might evoke a sharp reprimand from fellow riders.

But in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, millions across the New York metropolitan region who depend on the nation’s busiest transit system are still waiting for their subway system to be fully restored.

“There is no precedent for this,” said Clifton Hood, author of “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York.”

Dubbed New York’s “life-blood,” an estimated 5.5 million people ride the city’s subway system each day in the country’s most densely populated region.

Most New York City residents don’t have cars to fall back on. Less than half own cars, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which cites the latest census data on car ownership. That’s a stark contrast with the rest of the nation, where 92% of all households own at least one car.

So when Gotham launched into emergency mode this week ahead of Sandy, shutting down all of its 468 stations for the second time ever, the effect was crippling on commuters and the places they work.

At a corner Midtown market, where the Manhattan bustle continued in spite of Sandy, Edward Greenwald, 49, struggled to fill scheduling gaps left by stranded employees despite his own commute from storm-battered New Jersey.

“I’ve got employees coming in from all across the Tri-State area,” he said. “It’s been really hard for them to get in, almost impossible. I’ve been coming in at 6 a.m. everyday and leaving at 10 p.m. just to help out.”

Dating back to 1904, New York’s century-old subway system is so extensive that if it were laid out in a single line, the tracks would extend from Manhattan to Detroit.

Defending it and the city’s power grid from storms that whip along New York’s low-lying neighborhoods could be a concern that gains momentum beyond the week’s recovery effort.

“We going to have to find some long-term, or longer-term solutions to this,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters this week. And yet there were some indications that this kind of crisis was coming. Just 14 months ago, Hurricane Irene prompted New York’s first-ever total subway closure.

“Rising sea level and climate change are likely to cause dangerous flooding in the coming decades,” according to a 2004 report produced by the Marine Sciences Research Center for New York’s Department of Environmental Protection.

That report said much of the region is less than three meters above sea level — which is slowly rising — and therefore at risk from a so-called “100-year flood,” a term often used to describe its relative probability.

New York “has a 100-year flood every two years now,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo quipped this week to President Barack Obama, who briefly cut off campaign stops to tour the region and assess the billions of dollars in damages along New York and New Jersey’s coastal plains.

“Our climate is changing,” the mayor wrote in an editorial this week. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

Broader questions about climate change, infrastructure and how cities like New York will respond to storms like Sandy will likely continue to loom large.

“New York might have to take the Netherlands model, where they have all their power systems elevated,” said Kenneth Button, a professor of public policy at George Mason University.

Opinion: New York has what it takes to rebound

“This is really not just a New York problem, it’s a problem that exists in many places.”

The Dutch flood protection model employs large-scale flood gates, as well as a series of low-lying drainage canals and pumping stations.

In Japan, engineers have devised a $3 billion system called a “Water Discharge Tunnel” that essentially works as a floodwater diversion facility to protect Tokyo’s 13 million residents during rain and typhoon season.

Still, making New York’s subways watertight would be an “engineering feat equal to the scale and creativity of the original construction (of the system itself),” said Lucius Riccio, New York City’s former Transportation Commissioner and lecturer at Columbia University.

“Our engineers are up to it, if given the resources and the free hand.”

In the days ahead, New York faces at least two big challenges, according to Ben Orlove, senior climate scientist at Columbia University.

First, the city must cope with its immediate problems — power outages, stranded residents, suspended subway lines, flooding and fire damage. Then it needs to deal with long-term infrastructure.

“We need to be innovative,” said Orlove. “And we should consider things like putting up flood gates at the mouth of the Hudson (River) and other vulnerable points that could help hold back the tide.”

An army of municipal workers and private contractors is addressing the more immediate concerns, working around the clock in New York to pump out sea water and wipe down salt-caked machinery like underground transformers, circuit switches and generators.

As workers scrambled to restore equipment, thousands of otherwise stranded commuters defiantly walked to work this week, often abandoning taxi cabs in the city’s traffic-clogged streets.

“I left my house at 6:45 a.m. and I’m still walking,” said Elizabeth Gorman, a 40-year-old Queens resident who crossed the Queensboro Bridge at around 10 a.m. “I don’t know what (else) to do. I have to get to work.”

New York’s buses, trains and subways are all slowly coming back online. But for many residents across the region where full transit service has yet to be restored, the slog to work continues.

 

Travel Cheap, 5 Times To Go

November 6th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN)-If your passport is gathering dust and your suitcase desperately needs a workout, don’t throw away thoughts of a thrilling vacation just because your wallet doesn’t match your wanderlust. Supply and demand dictate pricing in nearly every industry, and travel is no exception.

When things are less than perfect, they cost less. So Europe is cheaper in the fall, when the weather can be sketchy and the landscape isn’t quite as alluring. When school’s in session, it’s a challenge to take the kids out of class, but your Disney vacation will be a lot less expensive.

In addition to costing less, these trips have other perks: A theme park with fewer crowds means that your kids are more likely to get some face time with Mickey and Cinderella. And if you opt for Europe right after Thanksgiving, you’ll be there during prime time for the Christmas markets.

Here are five times when bargain-hungry globetrotters can get their fill:

Need a deal now? Head for the ocean.

If you want to take advantage of the cheapest time to be afloat, you should be reading this from your cabin aboard a cruise ship. October and pre-Thanksgiving November is the time when you can sail through the Caribbean on a last-minute deal that’s oh-so-easy on the wallet. It’s the fringe of hurricane season (officially, it’s June 1st – November 30th) but remember that cruise ships can alter their routes when a storm hits, whereas a resort cannot move from the path of danger.

“The itinerary might change slightly, but you still get your cruise,” said Chris McGinnis, director of Travel Skills Group. “The best time to be on vacation in the Caribbean is actually when there’s a hurricane someplace else in the region, because if you’re not in the path, the storm sucks all the bad stuff out of the way and you’re left with perfectly gorgeous weather.”

And even though many people book cruise vacations during the first three months of the year (known as “wave season”), seaworthy travelers looking for a deal should hold off in order to scoop up last-minute savings, McGinnis said.

“As long as you don’t have your heart set on a specific destination or specific ship, there is sure to be a plethora of great last-minute deals.”

Just be sure to purchase travel insurance if you’re heading to Mexico or the Caribbean in the fall, just in case of bad weather.

Go between the expensive holiday travel periods.

One of the cheapest times to pack your bags is just around the corner: It starts about the same time the final leftovers from Thanksgiving are gobbled up and lasts until just before the airports fill up with Christmas travelers.

“We always recommend the three weeks after Thanksgiving,” saidTravel Leaders travel agent Kristy Osborn. “The airports are not crowded, the cruise ships are not full of holiday travelers, and there are no hurricanes.”

McGinnis concurs. “The cheapest time to travel, to pretty much anywhere, falls between the two most expensive travel times. The only exception to that rule is New York City because everyone wants to go shopping then,” said McGinnis.

You may think “Disney” and “deal” don’t go together, but if you can finagle a way to get there when school is in session, you’ll reap the financial benefits. If your children have unexpected time off from school, or the academic calendar shifts for some reason, that’s the time to book your Disney trip. If your kids are pre-school age or you can take their studies with you, those weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas offer the same Disney magic, for much less.

These same rules apply between New Year’s Day and spring break.

Enjoy the white stuff without spending so much green stuff.

The end of ski season in the spring is the time to enjoy the slopes without splurging.

“There are world-class hotels in famously pricey ski destinations offering amazing deals,” said Jaime Freedman, a deals specialist atTravelzoo.

It happens at the beginning of the season too for domestic and international ski meccas, and Freedman said Canada is one place to find some frosty deals. “Mont-Tremblant and Whistler, for example, have great deals a few weeks prior to ski season and then again at the tail end once the weather warms up.”

Turn up the heat, turn down the price in “hot” cities.

If you’ve always wanted to see Las Vegas but need a sure bet on low pricing, visit Sin City in July and August when hotels are clamoring for guests.

“Don’t let 115 degrees on the thermometer scare you,” said SRI Travel & Promotion owner Renee Werbin, who points out that “Everything is air conditioned and you can take trams between hotels.”

Miami is also a good bet for cheap travel in the summertime, and the traditionally hot and humid summers of New Orleans mean you can also find some fabulous deals in the Big Easy.

Winter is easy on the wallet and full of options.

There may be a gray sky behind the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben when you take your vacation photos, but that’s nothing a little photo editing can’t fix. Nothing beats Europe in the fall and winter if you want more bang for your buck.

“Common sense is always your guide. Travel to Europe in the winter months and stay in deluxe accommodations that would cost substantially more in spring and summer seasons,” said Werbin.

A Canadian (non-ski) holiday is also something to consider if you can handle the cold temperatures that usually freeze the prices at lower-than-normal numbers. And if you’re looking for something exotic, Asia is usually on sale as well.

“Asian prices always drop during winter months; even Tokyo can be a bargain prospect in January and February,” said Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie.

Of course there’s an exception to the winter discounts: unless you’re extremely flexible, it’s usually hard to find a deal between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

You’ll also be hard-pressed to find a safari on a clearance rack, but if you want to do it for the lowest price possible, go during the hotter, rainier season in southern and central Africa between November and February. But keep in mind that there’s a school holiday in December, so November, January and February are the best bets.

“Our winter time is hot, hot, hot down in South Africa, which is when you’ll see some savings,” said Freedman.

Werbin said she reminds her clients, “Animals are never on vacation.”

 

On election day, storm to bring chill to Sandy survivors

November 6th, 2012 by Mariah

(CNN)-One week after Superstorm Sandy beat up the Northeast, tearing apart homes and lives in New Jersey, New York and other areas, there’s another worry on the horizon: A nor’easter is coming.

Rain is forecast to move in early Wednesday and will gradually become heavier, according to CNN meteorologists. As the day goes on, the weather will get worse, with daytime temperatures hovering in the 40s. At night it could get down to the 20s — bad news for the 127,000 customers who are still without power, according to Con Edison. Working round the clock, the company said Tuesday that more than 846,000 customers who lost power — 87% — have it again.

A nor’easter is a strong low pressure system with powerful northeasterly winds coming from the ocean ahead of a storm. Predicted 60-mph gusts could hurt the already ravaged Jersey Shore. Coastal flooding and beach erosion are possible.

Of course there’s a strong concern for everyone’s safety, too. Sandy left 110 people dead in the United States, and on its way to the country, it took the lives of 69 people.

“When it rains, it pours. When it storms, you get more storms, I guess,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Under normal conditions, the nor’easter wouldn’t be problematic, he said, but because many areas are still picking up the pieces from last week, it could cause fresh havoc.

On Monday, authorities in Brick, New Jersey, ordered residents in the low-lying waterfront areas of town to leave.

The storm is not another Sandy, and its path and severity could change, according to CNN meteorologists.

“I haven’t even really thought about the nor’easter,” said Ryan Hanley.

The 27-year-old’s chief worry is the home she had to abandon in Wantagh, on New York’s Long Island. It’s 4 feet deep in water. All her belongings are on the curb.

“I cannot think right now about voting (in Tuesday’s presidential election) either,” she said. “I don’t even know where to go if I wanted to vote.”

To help with such concerns, Cuomo signed an order Monday allowing affidavit voting. Basically, what that means is that voters registered in a federally declared disaster county can vote at any poll site in the state by signing an affidavit.

“We want everyone to vote. Just because you’re displaced doesn’t mean you should be disenfranchised,” the governor said.

Voters in some New York counties may get an extra day to cast ballots if disruptions caused by Sandy prevent enough citizens from voting, a state official said Sunday. New Jersey announced that residents displaced by Sandy can vote in Tuesday’s elections via e-mail or fax, the first time civilians in the state have been allowed to vote remotely.

At least two polling places in Connecticut have been changed due to Sandy – one in Bridgeport and another in New London.

Signs that people are working hard to move on after Sandy can be found across New York.

Construction work started again Monday at the 9/11 ground zerosite, which was flooded by Sandy.

Some 94% of schools in New York City were open Monday, according to the mayor, and the subway system is back in operation. New York officials said they are investigating reports of price gouging after receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers who say business owners have jacked up prices on hotel rooms, generators, food and water.

In everyday lives, progress can’t come fast enough.

Hanley is living with her boyfriend’s family a few towns away from Wantagh, and her confusion about where to vote is a secondary concern right now.

“I’ve heard from neighbors who are still around there that we’ve had looters,” she said.

“What am I supposed to do right now? How do I deal with that?” she said. “I don’t have electricity, so I cannot pump the water. It is just sitting there. Whether someone takes what we have … I have no control over that. I have no control over any of it.”

Hanley has been talking with her insurance company. But she said she hasn’t been able to reach a real person with the Federal Emergency Management Agency yet.

“We have not been directly contacted, nor can we reach anyone when we call,” she said.

FEMA has defended its response to people in need.

While Hanley struggles with the bureaucracy of post-disaster life, many others are receiving help from the Red Cross, which has opened 190 shelters along the Eastern Seaboard. The organization has hundreds of disaster workers on standby with emergency supplies.

‘It’s a humbling experience’

Katie Fairley, a Staten Islander who lives in New Dorp, one of the harder-hit areas, said she’s seen people sleeping in their cars.

A 51-year-old vice president for finance at a health care facility, Fairley said lines for food and for gas are blocks long.

“Thank God, we have each other here,” she said, insisting that Staten Islanders have been forgotten.

Another Staten Islander, Tara Saylor, spent her weekend volunteering to hand out clothing and food. The 25-year-old works at a Manhattan interior design showroom. She and her home on a hill in St. George escaped Sandy’s wrath.

Helping people touched her deeply.

“I was almost crying when people are thanking me,” she said. “(They were) throwing their family photos out in the middle of the street. It’s a humbling experience. You really begin to appreciate what you have.”

In the Long Island community of Floral Park, Kevin Cordova’s family members tried cooking hot food to stay warm and wore their coats indoors. His house is uninhabitable, thanks to Sandy.

“There’s really no amount of blankets that can stop you from being cold in 30-degree weather,” the 28-year-old said. “We feel a little homeless right now. We have our house, but we can’t really use it.”

Teacher: ‘I want them to tell their stories’

To the southwest in Red Bank, New Jersey, about a 90-minute drive from Floral Park, Chris Ippolito has been luckier than many folks. So far, he’s only had to wrestle with sporadic power outages. But his mother-in-law’s home was severely flooded.

Her historic house, more than 100 years old, sat a block from the ocean in Monmouth County.

Her family built it, and she spent her childhood there.

She left the house before Sandy hit, so she’s physically all right. But she’s devastated by the loss.

“It’s incredibly difficult for her,” Ippolito said.

Things are returning to some semblance of normalcy, he said.

CNN reached Ippolito shortly after he had delivered food and supplies to a local firehouse.

“Businesses are breathing back to life,” he said. “Schools are limping back to life.”

Ippolito is a high school teacher. His district is closed for now, but he’s thinking about all his students.

“I want them to tell their stories, to feel like they can open up if they want or need to,” he said.

He’ll use his free time Tuesday to cast his vote for president.

“I understand that voting isn’t the priority for a lot of people who are dealing with more immediate needs,” he said. “But I’m not going to miss it.”