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Declaring War on Hidden Consumer Fees

November launched with yet more last-minute grabs for political attention, with President Biden trying to shore up average voter support. And one of the most traditional targets for that support tends to be the consumer pocketbook. In that regard, the President’s announcement to go after hidden consumer fees for entertainment, travel and cable access as well as banking was intended to garner quick support for the Administration, especially given that the midterm elections seem to be going down to the wire in a number of states for 2022.

Dubbed “junk fees” by the President, the consumer account charges are expected to range from bounced check charges to late fees to confusing and ambiguous cable service fees. For the various affected industries, the announcement goes direct to their bottom line as fees represent a viable revenue channel that costs nothing in terms of additional service or goods. For the President, however, the direction is also a high gain if he can translate it into voter action next week with the mid-November elections nationwide.

Using the already existing network of government regulators over various industries, the Biden Administration is expecting to use executive power to protect the consumer benefit and fight greedy businesses. At least that’s how this week’s President’s message comes across. The move is an attempt to shift the enforcement of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, particularly on banks and the billions they raise annually on non-sufficient fund charges and penalties. For example, the banking industry pocketed a no-cost $15.5 billion in 2019.

On the regulatory side, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is generally charged with the role of enforcement. The President’s announcement is generally being seen as a mandate for action by the Bureau, but they won’t be acting alone. The Federal Trade Commission is also getting in on the act with its own additional rules to prevent further deceptive fee practices in various industries.

Aside from banks, various entertainment miscellaneous charges are on the radar as well. Concert ticket sellers, resort fees from hotels and similar are also getting close attention. A common one for recent travelers is the resort fee, which is essentially an ambiguous charge of $25 to $100 a day, added on top of the advertised room rate for nothing but simply being a tourist visiting during the tourist season. Ironically, liberal San Francisco, for example, is notorious for such charges just for delivering a newspaper to a hotel customer.

President Biden emphasized in his early November speech a dedicated strategy to wipe out such fees after examination, or at least to reduce them significantly. How exactly that will occur remains to be seen, but the reach is across industries and is not limited to banks alone. Of course, the messaging is part of a larger theme to show action in the face of the highest inflation rate in four decades. Vowing to protect the family budget, the Biden Administration likely hopes the November announcement will resonate, supporting Democratic candidates in tight races. Critics are quick to argue the move is too little, too late, punishing businesses that create jobs. Who is right will become clearer after the midterm elections are counted in a few days.

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Las Vegas Parent Revolutionizes Reading Apps to Help Struggling Students

Kelly Taylor

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In the bustling city of Las Vegas, one parent’s determination to help his daughter catch up on her reading has led to the creation of a groundbreaking approach in educational technology. Meet Dave Vinzant, father to 8-year-old Aubrie, who encountered difficulties in reading during and after the pandemic.

“It was about halfway through the first grade that we realized that she couldn’t read,” Dave Vinzant shared, highlighting the challenges Aubrie faced. Despite their efforts, traditional methods weren’t yielding the desired results. “The frustration level was really high,” Vinzant recalled. “After an hour of trying to get through a 10-15 page little book, she was crying.”

Determined to find a solution, Vinzant took matters into his own hands. Despite lacking a background in computer programming, he embarked on a mission to develop a tool that could effectively assist his daughter. The result? A free web application called WordStumble.

WordStumble isn’t just any reading app—Powered by artificial intelligence, specifically ChatGPT, the program customizes stories for each user. Vinzant explained, “What is magical is it is able to take all of those words that she knows, all of these words that she is struggling with… and it returns a custom children’s story.” By incorporating both familiar and challenging words, WordStumble ensures that Aubrie—and other young learners—stay engaged while progressing at their own pace.

For Vinzant, the success of WordStumble isn’t just personal; it’s a vision he wants to share with others. “I want other kids to use it,” he emphasized. “This is now my passion, it is a dream that I see is working for her, and is starting to work for other kids, so I know that it can work.”

But Vinzant’s ambitions don’t stop there. He’s currently seeking investors to transform WordStumble into a phone app, making it even more accessible to families everywhere. With his dedication and innovative approach, Vinzant is not only changing the landscape of reading apps but also giving hope to countless parents and children facing similar challenges.

In the heart of Las Vegas, a father’s love and determination have sparked a revolution in education technology. And as WordStumble continues to evolve, it’s clear that the power of one person’s passion can make a world of difference for young learners everywhere.

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The Amazing Comeback of the Wollemi Pine: A Prehistoric Tree’s Fight for Survival

Renee Yates

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Imagine finding a living dinosaur right in your backyard. That’s almost what happened when scientists discovered the Wollemi Pine in Australia, a tree they thought had been extinct for millions of years! This discovery was so astonishing that Dave Crust from the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service called it “the botanical find of the century.” The Wollemi Pine used to thrive during the time of the dinosaurs, but until its discovery in 1994 in a remote canyon of the Wollemi National Park, experts believed it was lost forever.

Only 90 of these ancient trees were found growing in the wild, making the Wollemi Pine incredibly rare and precious. Understanding the gravity of this discovery, conservationists have been working tirelessly for the past thirty years to save and regrow these prehistoric trees. They’ve started planting hundreds more in a top-secret location to ensure their survival.

This secret garden, known as a translocation site, was established in 2019. It’s part of a grand plan to create an “insurance population” of Wollemi Pines. This means if something bad happened to the ones in the wild, there would still be others growing safely elsewhere. Dave Crust explains, “The population was at a number where any significant event could have caused their extinction, so we’re at a point now where we’re trying to rebuild that population.”

However, growing a Wollemi Pine isn’t easy. Berin Mackenzie, a research scientist, shared that these seedlings and saplings grow less than one centimetre a year. They won’t be fully mature until they reach about 20 or 30 metres tall, which can take many decades. In over thirty years of watching these trees, not a single seedling or juvenile tree has been seen reaching adulthood in the wild.

The trees at the translocation site are planted in different environments—from rainforest settings to eucalypt forests and even on rocky ledges—to see where they grow best. But, there’s a catch to keeping them safe: people can’t visit them. The NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe has stressed that one of the biggest threats to these ancient trees is the spread of pathogens, which can happen if people visit the sites. Keeping the locations a secret and away from public interference is crucial for their survival.

This story of the Wollemi Pine is not just about saving a tree species; it’s about preserving a living piece of Earth’s history. It shows the dedication and hard work of conservationists who are fighting to protect our planet’s biodiversity. The Wollemi Pine’s journey from being considered extinct to being regrown in a secret sanctuary is a powerful reminder of nature’s resilience and the importance of our efforts to protect it.

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Free Money in Austin: Did It Help?

Kelly Taylor

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Imagine getting $1,000 every month, for free! That’s what happened to some people in Austin, Texas. The city started a program called a guaranteed income program, where they gave 135 families $1,000 a month for a year, with no strings attached. They could use the money for anything they wanted, like rent, groceries, or even saving up for a car.

This was the first time a city in Texas had tried something like this. Some people thought it was a crazy idea, while others were excited to see how it would work. The city hoped that the extra money would help people get out of poverty and have a better life.

So, did it work?

A new report from a research group called the Urban Institute says that the program did help people pay for housing and food. On average, people spent more than half of the money they received on rent or mortgage payments. This means that the program helped people keep a roof over their heads.

One woman who got the money, Taniquewa Brewster, said it helped her pay for medical bills after she was in the hospital. She said it was a big relief to not have to worry about money while she was recovering.

What are guaranteed income programs?

Guaranteed income programs are becoming more popular around the United States. They’re basically like giving people free money, with no strings attached. The goal is to help people who are struggling financially and to give them more control over their lives.

Some people worry that if people get free money, they won’t work anymore. But research shows that this isn’t usually the case. In fact, some studies have shown that guaranteed income can actually help people get better jobs.

What’s next for Austin?

The Austin program ended in August 2023, but the city is still studying the results. They’re hoping to learn more about how guaranteed income can help people and whether they should start the program again.

Other cities in the United States are also starting to experiment with guaranteed income programs. It’s an idea that’s still being tested, but it has the potential to make a big difference in people’s lives.

Here are some other cities that have tried guaranteed income programs:

  • Stockton, California
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Jackson, Mississippi
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • Los Angeles, California

It will be interesting to see how these programs work out and whether they become more common in the future. Maybe one day, everyone will get a little bit of free money every month!

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From Refugee to Kindness Ambassador: How Biar Kon’s Journey Shaped His Mission

Renee Yates

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Biar Kon’s story is one of resilience, empathy, and a deep-seated desire to help others. Born in Sudan, his family was forced to flee the civil war when he was just a baby. They found refuge in Kenya, where Kon spent his childhood in a refugee camp. Despite the hardships, he persevered, dreaming of a better future.

At 17, Kon arrived in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, determined to pursue his education. However, a major obstacle stood in his way: finding the Sudanese embassy to obtain documents for school. Lost and alone, he approached passerby after passerby, seeking directions. But no one seemed to know where the embassy was.

Just as Kon was about to give up, a kind stranger tapped him on the shoulder. It was an older woman, who mistook him for a homeless youth. “She’s like, ‘Hey, my son.’ That was the first word,” Kon recalled. “She said, ‘Hey, my son, how you doing?'”

Kon explained his situation, and the woman, touched by his determination, went out of her way to help him find the embassy. “‘I wouldn’t want my child to be on the street,'” the woman told him. “‘And anytime I see a child on the street, I feel like I have an obligation to help.'”

This act of kindness had a profound impact on Kon. He realized the power of a helping hand, and it planted a seed of compassion within him. Years later, when he moved to Boston as a student, he was surprised to see a significant homeless population.

“It kind of hurt me,” he said. “Because having lived in a refugee camp, I know what it means to go to bed without food. I know what it means not to have a shelter over your head.”

He remembered the woman in Nairobi and her unwavering kindness. He vowed to pay it forward, to be that helping hand for someone else in need.

One day, Kon witnessed an interaction that solidified his resolve. A young woman brushed off a homeless man asking for change, telling him to get a job.

He approached the man and listened to his story. The man shared how a mistake in his youth had hindered his job prospects and landed him on the streets. Kon bought him breakfast and offered him some money, but more importantly, he offered him a moment of human connection and understanding.

Today, Kon is a student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, driven by a dream of making a difference. He plans to start a non-profit organization to provide housing and social support for the homeless, inspired by the women in Kenya who helped him on his own journey.

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Brave Boy Saves Dad Using Skills Learned at School

Kelly Taylor

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In an incredible turn of events, a young boy’s quick thinking and lessons learned at school helped save his father’s life. This heartwarming story is about seven-year-old Harry and his dad, Nick Wilson, from Horsham.

A Scary Moment for the Wilson Family

The Wilson family was leaving an arcade when Nick started feeling unwell. He felt pins and needles on his face and had trouble breathing. “I couldn’t breathe properly, and I said to Harry, ‘We’ve got to go mate’,” Nick recalled. As they crossed the road, Nick’s condition worsened. He knew something was seriously wrong.

Calling for Help

Nick managed to dial triple-0 (the emergency number in Australia), but he couldn’t stand up and collapsed into a seat. That’s when young Harry stepped in. He bravely took over the call, telling the paramedics where they were. Despite being scared, Harry remembered the lessons he had learned just a month earlier.

Life-Saving Lessons at School

Ambulance Victoria (AV) paramedics had visited Harry’s primary school to teach kids what to do in an emergency. “They told me that if you dialled triple-0, and you call us, then there is no matter to be scared,” Harry said. He put these lessons into action, staying calm and waiting for the ambulance, even waving them down when he heard the siren.

Community Efforts in Education

Since last July, AV has visited over 140 primary schools and reached more than 4,000 students. Amy Brown, one of the paramedics who visited Harry’s school, expressed how proud they were of Harry’s actions. She emphasized that paramedics are people children can trust when their loved ones are hurt.

The Aftermath

Nick spent a night in the emergency department. The cause of his episode remained a mystery, but he was treated with antibiotics for a suspected internal infection. Despite various tests and scans, doctors couldn’t pinpoint the exact issue. “I was lying there and feeling quite sorry for myself, but that day Harry was the hero,” said a grateful Nick.

A Young Hero’s Courage

Harry’s story is a powerful example of how education and bravery can make a huge difference. His actions not only saved his dad but also showed how important it is for children to learn about emergency situations. Harry’s courage and calmness in such a stressful situation are truly commendable, making him a young hero in his community

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