Experts speculate gas may drop below $1 a gallon

15 12 2008

A worker lowers the price of regular unleaded gasoline in Independence, Mo. in November
How low can the price of gas fall? With drivers paying the cheapest price to fill their tanks in nearly four years, it is a question many consumers are pondering, with some experts speculating it is possible prices could even drop below $1 per gallon.
Prices already have decreased to below $1.25 per gallon in some parts of the Midwest. With the economy in a freefall, analysts do not rule out crude oil, which traded Friday in the mid-$40 range, sinking to $20 per barrel, a price that could translate to gas at $1 per gallon.

“Right now, you look at the way demand is retreating, it tends to predict lower prices,” said John Kingston, global director of oil for Platt’s, a provider of energy information. “A drop to $20 per barrel is not out of the question.”

In New Jersey, the price of unleaded regular fell to $1.60 Friday, the lowest it has been since March 2004, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Services in Wall Township. In July, the state recorded its highest ever average price for unleaded at $3.99.

“I’m not in the camp where we’ll see prices fall to $1 per gallon or less,” said Kloza, who thinks crude could dip below $40 per barrel, but if so, only briefly. “Here, (in New Jersey), we will see some numbers below $1.50 per gallon.” Read the rest of this entry »


Clinton holds big leads in West Virginia and Kentucky

12 05 2008

Even as her campaign appears to be in its final stages, Hillary Clinton is headed for two sweeping victories in West Virginia and Kentucky, the next two states to weigh in on the prolonged Democratic presidential race.

According to new polls released Monday, Clinton holds a 34 point lead in West Virginia and a 27 point lead in Kentucky.

In West Virginia, which votes Tuesday, a Suffolk University Poll has Clinton drawing 60 percent of likely Democratic voters compared to Obama’s 24 percent. That poll also shows Clinton holds a 70 percent approval rating among West Virginia’s Democratic primary voters. Only half the state’s primary the state’s likely primary voters think Barack Obama can beat John McCain in a general election matchup.

In Kentucky, a Research 2000 poll shows Clinton winning 58 percent of the vote to Obama’s 31 percent. But despite Clinton’s strength in the state, the poll suggests John McCain would easily defeat both Democrats in November — the Arizona senator holds a 25 point advantage over Obama and a 12 point lead over Clinton. Kentucky is considered a solidly Republican state, though former President Bill Clinton carried it twice. The state’s primary is May 20.

It remains unclear how Clinton’s likely large wins in both states will affect the presidential race, given Obama’s significant lead in total delegates. Only 28 pledged delegates are at stake in West Virginia Tuesday, while 51 are up for grabs in Kentucky. Cnn

Death toll in China earthquake up to nearly 9,000

12 05 2008

Cnn picture

CHENGDU, China (AP) — One of the worst earthquakes to hit China in three decades killed nearly 9,000 people Monday, trapped about 900 students under the rubble of their school and caused a toxic chemical leak, state media reported.

The 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated a hilly region of small cities and towns in central China. The official Xinhua News Agency said 8,533 people died in Sichuan province and more than 200 others were killed in three other provinces and the mega-city of Chongqing.

Xinhua said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Sichuan province’s Beichuan county after the quake, raising fears that the overall death toll could increase sharply.

Convictions still haunt ex-mayors

12 05 2008

The real punishment may be the remaining life of regret, longing and debt.

Sammy Rivera, 61, may face as little as 18 months in prison when a federal judge sentences him in August for accepting a $5,000 bribe from an FBI informant. But when Rivera finishes whatever term he may receive, his troubles will be far from over if the experiences of other Passaic County mayors toppled by federal corruption charges are any indication.

Although their prison sentences stretched no longer than three years, their punishments seem to have lasted much longer.

Since emerging from their prison cells, three former Passaic County mayors — Louis V. Messercola of Wayne, Joseph Lipari of Passaic and Martin G. Barnes of Paterson — have been saddled with mountainous legal debts and fees.

But the bigger price is the loss of power and influence. While the three disgraced men all still live in or around the cities they once ruled, their presence has eroded from larger than life to practically invisible.

That’s a crushing blow for politicians such as Lipari, who used charisma and backroom dealings to rule Passaic for nearly a decade until his 1993 conviction forced him to step down. Asked to sum up the price of his conviction, he replied: “Very costly. Too costly.”

The former mayor has since regained a semblance of normality, if not opulence. Two black Mercedes-Benzes were parked near the backyard swimming pool of his ranch-style house in Garfield. But the words he spoke in an interview last week echoed a longing for the station he once held.

Of the three mayors, only Lipari invited a reporter into his house, and for an hour he ruminated about his political past while reclining on a couch. Withered by chronic illness and a heart condition, he managed to muster the energy to speak about his life as a street kid with a sixth-grade education who grew up to become mayor.

Lipari spoke defiantly about the charges he once faced, proudly about his accomplishments in office and vaguely about the vicious entanglement of money and politics he found himself in.

“Unfortunately,” the 71-year-old said, his voice a sleepy gravel, “you get wrapped around an axle, and the next thing I know, I’m indicted.”

He asserted he never was convicted of accepting bribes, only conspiracy to extort money and evading taxes, albeit on cash bribes he allegedly took. Lipari was acquitted of seven other charges, including demanding and receiving $175,000 in bribes for steering city contracts to crooked roofing and towing companies.

First regret filled his voice as he wondered how he could have avoided his conviction. “I wanted to testify,” but his lawyers advised against it, he said.

“Maybe that was a big mistake,” he said.

Then mist filled his eyes when his thoughts turned to his beloved Passaic.

“I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think about Passaic,” Lipari said slowly and surely. “I loved Passaic. I still love Passaic. The city will always be in my heart.”

And Passaic still loves him, too, he said.

“If I ran for mayor of Passaic, I’d win,” he said. Then, when talk turned to who should come after Rivera, Lipari muttered: “They should appoint me mayor.”

That’s not a possibility. Those who are convicted of federal corruption charges are barred from holding elected office again.

Lipari emerged from prison in 1996. Burdened with debts, he was forced to sell his lucrative meat business, Top Grade Sausage Inc. in Hawthorne, which he said once earned him more than $500,000 a year. His children now own the firm.

Louis V. Messercola’s leadership unraveled on a day in 1988, when federal agents nabbed him in a grocery store parking lot. He later was convicted of extorting enormous cash bribes from contractors wanting to do business in Wayne. When he left prison in 1991, he declared in a newspaper article that incarceration had freed him from personal demons.

NJ considering deposits for beverage containers

11 05 2008

New Jerseyans may soon pay as much as 20 cents extra when buying beverages in bottles and cans as part of an effort to boost recycling and combat litter.

On Monday, the Assembly Environment Committee is scheduled to discuss a 10-cent deposit for bottles and cans less than 24 ounces and 20 cents for larger ones up to 3 liters. The bill would apply to juice, sport drinks, water, soda, wine and beer containers.

Consumers would get the money back by returning the container to newly created redemption centers or to retailers.

Rabbi, priests, sheriffs support Passaic imam in court

11 05 2008

A Jewish rabbi, Roman Catholic and Episcopalian priests, a federal prosecutor and two sherriffs took the witness stand today to heap praise upon a popular Muslim cleric as his attorneys began presenting their case for why he should not be deported.

Mohammad Qatanani, imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson faces deportation for allegedly failing to disclose on his 1996 green card application that he had been arrested and pleaded guilty to aiding the terrorist group Hamas in an Israeli military court three years earlier.

His attorneys argue that Qatanani was detained administratively, convicted in absentia and subject to interrogation tactics Israel’s top court later outlawed as torture.

Among the witnesses subpeonad by Qatatani’s lawyers was Assistant United States Attorney Charles McKenna, who described numerous trips to the Paterson mosque as part of an effort to create better understanding between law enforcement and the Muslim community.

As an example, he said investigators often interpreted the tendency of Muslim women to not look them in the eye as a sign of deceit. Through the dialogue at the mosque, they realized it is routine in Arab culture for women not to look men outside their family in the eye.

“It’s important for us to have leaders in the Islamic community who will be accepting of us and give us inroads in the community,” he said.

The sheriffs of two north Jersey counties echoed McKenna’s statements that the mosque’s open door policies had helped investigators become more familiar with cultural aspects of the Muslim community.

But they also described a more personal connection they had made through their cooperation with Qatanani.

“When I’m in his presence, and he does have a presence, this small, unassuming person, he doesn’t say “boo” but he gives me a better feeling of peace,” said Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire. “I feel better as a person to be with him.”

Jerry Speziale, the sheriff of Passaic County echoed McGuire’s testimony saying Qatatani “radiates peace.”

Christopher Brundage, one of two Department of Homeland Security attorneys serving as prosecutors in the case, pressed Speziale and McGuire, asking if they would have different opinions if they had known about Qatatani’s alleged ties to Hamas.

Speziale said he would need to see proof of the conviction himself. McGuire said, “It would surprise me,” but added, “it cannot change my mind about what I have observed.”

Gary Schaer becomes acting Mayor and keep’s 3 other job’s

11 05 2008

Passaic City Council President/Acting Mayor Gary S. Schaer released a statement today in the aftermath of Mayor Samuel Rivera’s departure from office. Rivera re signed at 5 p.m. after earlier in the day pleading guilty to extortion in federal court.

“This is a difficult time for Passaic,” said Schaer. “I am committed, along with my city council colleagues, to restoring confidence to the residents of Passaic and assuring them that the services provided by our municipal government will continue as normal.

“The hard-working residents of Passaic deserve a municipal government that is honest and trustworthy,” he added. “…While I did not seek this position, my role as Council President statutorily requires this service.” Schaer, who said he would receive no additional compensation or benefits as acting mayor, announced that he will be sworn-in during a “private ceremony” performed by the city clerk. He has scheduled a meeting of the city’s department directors for Monday morning. “Together, we will move forward and continue to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives in our great city,” Schaer said.