Regulators Swipe at Electronic Cigarettes

Smokeless electronic cigarettes may win converts, following new Centers for Disease Control evidence that secondhand smoke can raise the risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent in nonsmokers. The devices are battery operated, and dispense with burning tobacco; instead, users inhale a nicotine-infused vapor as the tip of the e-cigarette glows with a small red light. Proponents say that hit of nicotine doesn't have the same health risks, especially for non-users. E-cigarettes have no odor and produce no smoke from combustion, which means e-smokers can get around smoking bans in public places. But no smoke doesn't mean no fire.

When High-Speed Internet Isn't, Try a Carrier Pigeon

South Africa's largest Internet service provider has been one-upped by a carrier pigeon with a four gigabyte memory stick strapped to its leg. Winston, the bird in question, took off for a 60-mile trip at the same time that four gigabytes of data were transmitted to a computer at the destination. The plucky pigeon got there first, beating out Telkom's ADSL service by more than an hour, according to BBC and other sources. Wealthy nations, as well as the developing world, are often plagued by poor Internet connectivity -- and the slow speeds come at a cost. The U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in an August study that rural economic growth and broadband go hand in hand.

Across the Heartland, U.S. Military Suicides Spike

From Ohio to Texas, newspapers around the United States are running local stories on a surge in suicides and trauma involving members of the U.S. military. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is looking at the apparent suicide of Army Pvt. Keiffer Wilhelm. At Fort Hood, in Texas, multiple soldiers have committed suicide every year since the Iraq war began, the Austin American Statesman reports. The Indianapolis Star did a four-part series in September that detailed how Sgt.

Public Transit Users Looking for a Lift

Got a clunker? At least until late August, that could get you cash. Ride the bus or rapid transit? Too bad, so sad; you pay instead. Across the country, local governments are reducing service and raising fares for municipal bus, train and light rail lines, according to a new study by Transportation for America, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Homeless Gain Further Hate Crime Protections

Homeless people are gradually being included in hate crimes laws, as the number of fatal attacks on the homeless remains steady even as overall attacks decline. Last November, tracked reports of sometimes deadly attacks on homeless people around the nation, and noted both skepticism about claims of a trend in hate crimes, as well as new protections against such attacks. At the state level, these included emerging regulations in Florida, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, Ohio and Washington. Now, other states are starting to give homeless individuals the same legal status afforded other groups protected by hate-crime legislation, according to recent reports in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. In May, Maryland became the first to take action, when a Republican lawmaker added homelessness to a hate-crimes bill -- to illustrate what he thought was the absurdity of assigning certain groups protected-class status.

Economy Batters Anti-Violence Programs

Victims of domestic and sexual violence are getting left behind by state governments that are slashing funds as the recession forces budget cuts. California led the way, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut $20.4 million earmarked for domestic violence programs from the state budget, according to news reports. Statewide, the governor's action is affecting 94 domestic violence centers, and has already caused three to close, according to Camille Hayes of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. Hayes told the Redding Record-Searchlight that state funds were "really what kept [the centers'] lights on and doors open." The U.S. Justice Department gave a last-minute reprieve to six California programs that got $3 million in grants, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Prison Labor out of the Box, and in

Labor by prisoners is complicated enough -- but it doesn't get any easier once an offender's sentence is complete. In difficult economic times, it's that much harder for ex-prisoners who have to check off the "yes" box on job applications that ask, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" Nationwide, an array of reform organizations decry the question, which they say unfairly punishes former offenders who have already served their time. In Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the American Civil Liberties Union wants to ban the felony question from state employment applications. "Once you check that box in this tight market, it's fatal," Orlando attorney Glenn R. Leong, told the newspaper.

Consumers Feel the Credit Card Slam

With new federal credit-card regulations on the horizon, banks and card providers are boosting interest rates, fees and minimum payments, according to news reports. Before the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act takes full effect in February 2010, credit-card issuers are "raising annual percentage rates, slashing credit limits and hiking minimum payments," writes Dallas Morning News columnist Pamela Yip. She also cites a loophole on a regulation set to kick in Aug. 20, requiring companies to issue a notice 45 days in advance of any rate increase. Yet the law only applies for cards with fixed rates; variable rate cards, which account for two-thirds of all cards issued, are excluded.

After Sotomayor, Puerto Rico's Big Question

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has focused attention on her Puerto Rican roots -- at a time when the question of the island's political status is turning up in Congress and the United Nations. Sotomayor is regarded with almost universal pride in Puerto Rico, Inter Press News Service reports -- and many there also hope her time in the spotlight will impact the ongoing debate over U.S. statehood or independence. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno took his case in favor of statehood to Congress in June, when he endorsed a bill to hold an island-wide vote on the question, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported. Almost simultaneously, the United Nations special committee on decolonization approved a resolution in support of Puerto Rico's right to self-determination and independence, the Daily Kos notes. That resolution was proposed by Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba, a long-time advocate of Puerto Rican independence.

Overweight and Undernourished in America

Obesity among young people is a growing problem in the United States -- and so is malnutrition, according to two new studies that look at how children eat, and how they don't. In 30 states, nearly one out of every three children is obese or overweight, according to a study released July 1 by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study finds similar concerns and rates for U.S. adults. On the same day, another report was made public with a different set of numbers -- in 13 states, one out of every five children under the age of five go hungry. That report, released by the nonprofit Feeding America, documents the impact of hunger not just on the child, but on the whole nation.