Pop singer Fergie married boyfriend Josh Duhamel

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Pop singer Fergie married boyfriend Josh Duhamel today at a private ocean-side wedding in Malibu, Calif., Us reports. Draped in Dolce & Gabbana, the couple exchanged personally engraved rings; Fergie wore a diamond-draped veil worth millions. Despite Fergie’s efforts to ditch them, paparazzi hovered over the wedding in helicopters, the San Francisco Chronicle and Contra Costa Times report.

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U.S. Fires Release Enormous Amounts of Carbon Dioxide

Large-scale fires in western and southeastern states can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a few weeks as the states’ entire motor vehicle traffic in a year, according to newly published research by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Their paper, “Estimates of CO2 from fires in the United States: implications for carbon management,” is being published online today in the journal Carbon Balance and Management. NCAR’s portion of the research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR’s principal sponsor.

“This study provides much-needed insights into the complexities and feedbacks among the Earth’s biosphere, geosphere and ‘anthroposphere’ [human-affected realm],” said Cliff Jacobs of NSF’s atmospheric sciences division, which funds NCAR. “These research results are important information for policy-makers.”

The authors, Christine Wiedinmyer of NCAR and Jason Neff of the University of Colorado, used satellite observations of fires and a new computer model, developed by Wiedinmyer, that estimates carbon dioxide emissions based on the mass of vegetation burned.

They caution that their estimates have a margin of error of about 50 percent, both because of inexact data about the extent of fires and varying estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by different types of blazes.

Although last week’s fires in southern California broke out after the paper was written, Wiedinmyer applied the new computer model to analyze their emissions.

Her preliminary estimates indicate that the fires emitted 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in just the one-week period of October 19-26–equivalent to 25 percent of the monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout California.

Overall, the study estimates that U.S. fires release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of 4 to 6 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.

“A striking implication of very large wildfires is that a severe fire season lasting only one or two months can release as much carbon as the annual emissions from the entire transportation or energy sector of an individual state,” the paper states.

Fires contribute a higher proportion of carbon dioxide in several western and southeastern states, especially Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington, Arkansas, Mississippi and Arizona. Particularly large fires can release enormous pulses of carbon dioxide rapidly into the atmosphere.

“Enormous fires pump a large amount of carbon dioxide quickly into the atmosphere,” Wiedinmyer says. “This can complicate efforts to understand our carbon budget and ultimately fight global warming.”

Carbon dioxide emissions from fires pose a significant challenge as policymakers focus on limiting greenhouse gases because of concerns over climate change.

The impacts of fires on climate change are complex and difficult to predict, say scientists. Long after a fire sweeps through an area, new vegetation eventually may absorb as much carbon dioxide as was released during the blaze.

Fires are likely to become more frequent and widespread as temperatures warm around much of the globe, which means that more carbon dioxide may be released into the atmosphere. The fires could complicate efforts to rely on forests to help absorb carbon dioxide.

“The fires that are burning today in the United States are part of the legacy of the past century of fire suppression,” says Neff, an environmental scientist.

“Our attempts to control fire have had the unintended benefit of sequestering more carbon in our forests and reducing the impact of human combustion of fossil fuels. However, as these forests now begin to burn, that stored 20th century carbon is moving back into the atmosphere, where it may compound our current problems with CO2.”

The study found that evergreen forests in the South and West are the dominant U.S. sources for carbon dioxide emissions from fires. Fires in grasslands and agricultural areas, where vegetation is less dense, emit far less carbon dioxide.

The extent of the fires varies widely from year to year, but typically the emissions have a small peak in the spring from fires in the southeastern and central United States, and a larger peak in the summer during the fire season in the West.

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How Much Is a Year of Life Worth?

Let’s say you were wrongly convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Several years later you are exonerated and released. Should the government compensate you for those lost years, and if so how much?

Dallas Morning News columnist James Ragland dug up the answer to that question, and you may be surprised.

According to Ragland:

  • Ohio provides $40,330 for each year a person is incarcerated, plus lost wages and attorney fees.
  • Texas provides $25,000 a year, with a $500,000 maximum cap.
  • Alabama has a minimum of $50,000 a year.
  • While Vermont, Michigan and Hawaii will spend up to $50,000 for each year.
  • California spends $36,500 a year
  • Tennessee has a total cap of $1 million
  • And, Ragland says, “The federal government pays those exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for each year they were incarcerated—and twice that much if they were convicted of a capital crime.”

And, of course, some states don’t necessarily provide anything.

So here’s the question: How much is a year of life worth? Of course, some people earn more than others. Should past earnings, before being incarcerated, be considered? How about education? We know that on average, high school graduates earn more than dropouts. And college graduates earn more than high school graduates.

It all seems very subjective.

But let’s throw another factor into the mix. In England, the National Health Service—the country’s government-run health care system—pays for prescription drugs. The NHS imposes a threshold of about $56,000 for a drug that will extend the patient’s life by a year.

In other words, if a prescription drug costs under $56,000—roughly the same as some states pay for an exonerated convict—and will extend a patient’s life by a year, the British government (i.e., taxpayers) will pay for it. If not, it was nice knowing you.

Incidentally, in the U.S. the standard is about $100,000 per additional year of life.

We don’t know what the right amount is to appropriately compensate those wrongly convicted of a crime. In one sense, no amount of money is enough.

But we do know that when the government regulates prices, it usually keeps the price artificially low. And there is little reason to think that when the government calculates how much a year of your life is worth, it will act any differently.

TaxBytes

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Poor air from wildfires a health threat

LOS ANGELES – Even as many of the wildfires in flame-ravaged Southern California died down and residents returned home, lingering dust and soot-laden air made it difficult for many to breathe even a sigh of relief Saturday.

Air quality remained poor in the central San Bernardino Mountains and parts of the San Bernardino Valley, as well as swaths of Orange and Riverside Counties. In San Diego County, where only two of five major fires was more than 50 percent contained, the air was especially dismal Friday.

That worried Joe Flynn, 48, as he prepared to return home to Ramona, northeast of San Diego, after he and thousands of other evacuees sought shelter Qualcomm Stadium this week.

But the pull to get back to normal was even stronger.

“Sure I’m worried about breathing that stuff up there,” he said. “It’s not cool but everyone is dying to get back home.”

Satellite pictures showed thick smoke continuing to hang over the entire region, affecting schools, events and the health of residents all over Southern California.

Residents staying in areas with bad air were advised to avoid exerting themselves. Children and people with heart and respiratory conditions were urged to stay indoors with the windows and doors closed and the air conditioner on.

“In the immediate aftermath of a fire, we’re all at risk of the fine particulate matter we can inhale,” said Julia Robinson Shimizu, a spokeswoman for Breathe L.A. “In general it’s good to limit outdoor strenuous activity at least seven days after the fires have ended.”

The University of California San Diego Medical Center saw an increase in patients coming in with breathing troubles they believe were related to air pollution, spokeswoman Jackie Carr said.

Mayor Jerry Sanders said the NFL’s San Diego Chargers would play Sunday’s game scheduled at Qualcomm. The stadium can seat more than 70,000 people.

But Ross Porter, a spokesman for the American Lung Association of California, urged fans to use caution when deciding whether to attend.

“Sometimes its better to sit quietly at home and watch it on TV,” he said.

Meanwhile, about 23,000 homes were still threatened by five major blazes in three counties. Altogether, more than a dozen fires raced across more than 503,000 acres — the equivalent of 786 square miles — although many of the blazes have been contained.

At least three people — and possibly as many as seven — have been killed by flames. About 1,700 homes have been destroyed and damage estimates have surpassed $1 billion.

On Friday, tens of thousands of displaced families began returning to their fire-ravaged communities, but it will likely be months or even years before they recover what they left behind when they fled giant walls of flames.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s office said he would appear Saturday at an Orange County fire command post to discuss efforts to find arsonists and to warn about charlatans peddling insurance scams to fire victims.

On Friday, the governor signed an executive order he said would cut red tape by directing state agencies to aid fire victims with such things as filing for tax extensions and unemployment insurance.

On the other side of the Cleveland National Forest, residents in the Riverside County town of Corona worried that flames they had watched on the news all week might reach them. They filled an elementary school Friday to hear that there was no imminent threat. Some packed valuables in their cars, just in case.

“Your feelings are real but we want to relieve some of that anxiety,” John Hawkins, Riverside County fire chief, told residents.

Also Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein urged Congressional leaders to provide an additional $1 billion for firefighting and fire recovery efforts.

The National Weather Service had some good news for firefighters: Winds were forecast to be light on Saturday, with highs hovering around 80 in most of the active fire areas.

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Some Calif. fire evacuees return home

SAN DIEGO – Thousands of evacuees from areas hard hit by this week’s Southern California wildfires were returning Friday to neighborhoods stripped bare, but other communities remained emptied because of blazes that remained threatening and unpredictable.

Southeast of San Diego, a fire that already has destroyed more than 1,000 homes was churning its way toward Julian. The town of 3,000, nestled in the rolling hills of a popular apple-growing region, was under mandatory evacuation.

East of San Diego, firefighters were trying to keep flames from Lake Morena, which is surrounded by hundreds of homes.

“Until you get a control line around each and every individual fire, there’s a potential of them blowing out anywhere,” said Fred Daskoski, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Fires in seven Southern California counties have raced across 494,355 acres — about 772 square miles — in less than a week. They were fanned earlier by Santa Ana winds that produced gusts topping 100 mph.

Of the 1,800 homes lost so far, 80 percent were in San Diego County, where several fires remained far from being fully contained . The property damage there alone surpassed $1 billion.

Shelters were clearing out Friday; the last of more than 10,000 displaced residents who sought refuge at Qualcomm Stadium were to have left by day’s end.

The NFL said it had decided against relocating Sunday’s game between the San Diego Chargers and the Houston Texans.

Mayor Jerry Sanders said the league informed him it intended to play the game as scheduled. The city would be able to provide enough public safety personnel to handle the game without impeding wildfire recovery efforts, Sanders said in a news release.

Officials have opened assistance centers where displaced residents can get help with insurance, rebuilding and mental health counseling.

“The challenge now is starting to rebuild and getting them the resources they need to do that,” San Diego County spokeswoman Lesley Kirk said Friday. “The county and city of San Diego are very committed to helping these people.”

The state has come under criticism for failing to deploy sufficient aerial support in the wildfires’ crucial first hours. An Associated Press investigation revealed that nearly two dozen water-dropping helicopters and two cargo planes were grounded by government rules and bureaucracy as flames spread.

The Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters were grounded for a day partly because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by state forestry “fire spotters” who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time those spotters arrived, the high winds made flying too dangerous.

Additionally, the National Guard‘s C-130 cargo planes were not part of the firefighting arsenal because long-needed retrofits have yet to be completed. The tanks they need to carry thousands of gallons of fire retardant were promised four years ago.

“When you look at what’s happened, it’s disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that’s put tens of thousands of people in danger,” Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said.

The wildfires are directly blamed for killing three people, a 52-year-old man in Tecate along the Mexican border and a couple in Escondido. Their bodies were discovered in the charred remains of their hillside home. Seven people died of other causes connected to the evacuations.

Border Patrol agents also found four charred bodies in what was believed to be a migrant camp east of San Diego, near the Mexican border. Medical examiners were trying to determine their identities and whether they had died in a fire that destroyed almost 100 homes.

In Orange County, local authorities, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were investigating a fire that destroyed 14 homes. It was believed to be started by an arsonist.

Five people have been arrested for arson since wildfires broke out across Southern California this week, but none has been linked to any of the major blazes.

Among the structures threatened Friday was the Palomar Observatory in northern San Diego County. Crews were clearing brush and lighting back burns around the landmark building, Daskoski said.

The observatory, home to the world’s largest telescope when it was dedicated in 1948, did not appear to be in immediate danger, said observatory spokesman Scott Kardel, who had been evacuated but was in contact with staff who remained.

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Fire evacuees seek return to normal

SAN DIEGO – The NFL stadium where thousands of displaced residents sought refuge is closing as an evacuation center, a symbolic show of progress against wildfires still menacing Southern California.

Once sheltering more than 10,000 people, Qualcomm Stadium was home to just 350 on Friday morning. It was to close later in the day.

Across San Diego County, the region hardest hit by the firestorms that began last weekend, thousands of evacuees have been trickling back to neighborhoods stripped bare of houses, trees and the familiar signs of suburbia.

The lucky ones will find their homes still standing amid a blackened landscape. Others, like Robert Sanders, are not so fortunate.

The 56-year-old photographer returned to a smoldering mound that once was his rented house in the San Diego neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo.

Among the possessions he lost to the flames and withering heat were his transparencies, melted inside a fire-resistant box, and a photograph of his father.

“I’ve lost my history,” Sanders said. “All the work I’ve done for the past 30 years, it’s all destroyed.”

Thousands of people lost their homes this week to the wildfires that left an arc of destruction from Ventura County to the Mexican border.

In all, fires raced across 490,000 acres — or 765 square miles, an area half the size of Rhode Island. They were fanned early in the week by Santa Ana winds that produced gusts topping 100 mph.

Of the 1,800 homes lost so far, 80 percent were in San Diego County. The property damage there alone has surpassed $1 billion.

Still unsettled is whether the San Diego Chargers will play their home game against the Houston Texans at Qualcomm on Sunday. Mayor Jerry Sanders said the stadium should be ready but indicated the decision will be made by the NFL and the team.

Officials have opened assistance centers in the hardest-hit communities, where displaced residents can get help with insurance, rebuilding and even mental health counseling.

“The challenge now is starting to rebuild and getting them the resources they need to do that,” San Diego County spokeswoman Lesley Kirk said Friday. “The county and city of San Diego are very committed to helping these people.”

A show of the federal government’s support came Thursday when President Bush toured the fire-ravaged area with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bush pledged the government’s cooperation.

“We want the people to know there’s a better day ahead — that today your life may look dismal, but tomorrow life’s going to be better,” he said.

As the governor and president witnessed the devastation, the state came under criticism for failing to deploy sufficient aerial support in the wildfires’ crucial first hours.

An Associated Press investigation revealed that nearly two dozen water-dropping helicopters and two cargo planes sat idle as flames spread, grounded by government rules and bureaucracy.

The Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters were grounded for a day partly because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by state forestry “fire spotters” who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time those spotters arrived, the high winds made it too dangerous to fly.

Additionally, the National Guard‘s C-130 cargo planes were not part of the firefighting arsenal because long-standing retrofits have yet to be completed. The tanks they need to carry thousands of gallons of fire retardant were promised four years ago.

“When you look at what’s happened, it’s disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that’s put tens of thousands of people in danger,” Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said.

The wildfires are directly blamed for killing three people, a 52-year-old man in Tecate along the Mexican border and a couple in Escondido. Their bodies were discovered in the charred remains of their hillside home.

Border Patrol agents also found four charred bodies in what was believed to be a migrant camp east of San Diego, near the Mexican border. Medical examiners were trying to determine their identities and whether they had died in a fire that destroyed almost 100 homes.

In Orange County, local authorities, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were investigating a fire that destroyed 14 homes. It was believed to be started by an arsonist.

Even as evacuees returned home and fire crews began mop-up duties in some areas, the wildfires continued to threaten homes in others.

An aerial assault was helping firefighters corral two blazes in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, a thickly wooded resort area where 313 homes have been lost.

Sean Clevenger’s home was a rare sight — part of an oasis of seven unburned houses in a neighborhood that was largely destroyed by fire in the mountain community of Running Springs.

“I still can’t believe this is my neighborhood,” he said, staring across the street at a plume of flames rising from a broken gas main amid rubble.

“Right there was a red house and everything was green around it,” he said. “Now I look out and I see a lot of sky through the trees.”

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Bush tours fires, sees ‘better day ahead’

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – Firefighters gained the upper hand on nearly all of the California wildfires on Thursday as winds died down after five days battling 20 fires from the mountains north of Los Angeles down to the Mexican border.

Most of the 500,000 people in the largest evacuation in California’s modern history were on their way home, officials said. Some 1,600 homes have been destroyed since Sunday.

Two burned bodies were found in a house in hard-hit San Diego County, bringing the death toll to at least eight. Most were elderly who died while being evacuated.

“This is a better day than any we’ve had since this thing started,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender said.

President George W. Bush, who declared California’s wildfires a “major disaster,” was due to survey the damage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday and check on the government’s response.

“It’s a sad situation out there in southern California. I fully understand that the people have got a lot of anguish in their hearts and they just need to know a lot of folks care about them,” Bush said before leaving the White House.

He said he wanted to make sure California was receiving the help it needed to deal with the wildfires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized along with Bush for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had 1,000 people on the ground in badly scorched San Diego County.

Though fire officials were relieved that the hot, dry Santa Ana winds driving the flames had weakened, they conceded that offshore breezes replacing them presented a danger. Even those milder winds could fan the flames, being fought by some 9,000 weary men and women.

The wildfires broke out during the weekend after the Santa Ana winds began to blow and have blackened nearly 800 square miles, and injured more than 60 people, many of them firefighters.

‘RE-ENTRY DAY’

San Diego County has suffered losses in excess of $1 billion, and three of the largest fires were still burning there, mostly in the eastern, less populated part of the county.

“This is going to be a re-entry day for many of the thousands of San Diegans that are out there,” said Ron Lane, head of county emergency services. “We are absolutely thrilled.”

Fewer than 1,000 people spent the night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, compared with some 10,000 on Monday and Tuesday. The good food, showers, acupuncture and massage at evacuees’ disposal might have attracted chronically homeless street people.

“You see a lot of them walking around the parking lot,” evacuee Jennifer Ryan said. “They know a good thing when they see it.”

One of the most critical fires was in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, where containment of the 20,000-acre (8,094-hectare) Santiago fire suffered a setback overnight.

Authorities said federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined local authorities in investigating the Santiago fire as arson.

“Those are crime scenes,” said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He said a $70,000 reward was posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Three out of four of Los Angeles County’s fires had 100 percent containment, including one in the celebrity enclave of Malibu that garnered much attention in the first days.

A risk modeling firm said insured fire losses from the fires would likely cost between $900 million and $1.6 billion.

Reuters

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