Fight Back Against Time-Wasting Robocalls

The scourge of unwanted and often illegal robocalls isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, in the near term, it might even grow worse. Billions of robocalls are made each month, including fraudsters trying to steal your identity or raid your bank account by impersonating IRS or Social Security officials.

Some relief is on the horizon, though. Federal regulators and industry are beefing up efforts to penalize bad actors and roll out new preventative technologies. Software that blocks unwanted calls or better identifies who’s calling is improving quickly. And businesses are trying new text-based messaging services to reach customers who ignore voice calls. Continue reading “Fight Back Against Time-Wasting Robocalls”

Investing in Energy Efficiency

I recently gave some basic energy saving tips that may help consumers lower their utility bills. One of those tips was considering replacing conventional lightbulbs with light emitting diodes, or LEDs.

I figured advice isn’t very good if I wouldn’t take it myself, so I bought two LEDs to replace two old-fashioned incandescent bulbs in the light fixture above my dining room table. It may sound like a boring chore, but it promises to deliver a far better return on my investment than any stock or bond I’m likely to buy.

I won’t go into the physics of how LEDs work, because as a journalist who hasn’t seen the inside of a science classroom in a long time, I’m not qualified. Suffice it to say that LEDs generate light much more efficiently than Thomas Edison’s venerable incandescent bulbs do. And though LEDs were very expensive when they first hit the market, their prices have come down sharply. Plus, they have several advantages over spiral-shaped compact fluorescent bulbs, which are also quite efficient: Unlike CFLs, LEDs don’t contain toxic mercury. They can be dimmed, which CFLs generally can’t, and they can produce many different colors and hues of light, whereas CFLs tend to cast a harsh, white glow.

More importantly for the cost-conscious, LEDs can save you a bundle.

Here’s the math in my case. I bought a two-pack of dimmable LED bulbs rated to produce the same amount of light as a conventional, 60-watt incandescent. They are the same familiar A19 bulb shape as the incandescents traditionally used in many residential fixtures. (Picture the “Eureka!” lightbulb that appears over cartoon characters’ heads when they think of a bright idea.)

The LEDs I bought consume 10 watts of electricity. So, two operating together at full brightness consume 20 watts, whereas the two old bulbs used 120 watts. Thus, every hour I use them, it saves me 100 watt-hours, or one-tenth of a kilowatt-hour (the unit of power the electric company uses on your bill). I estimate I use the light an average of two hours a day, so that’s two-tenths of a kWh per day, or 73 kWh per year.

In Virginia, where I live, residential electricity rates average 11.55 cents per kWh, so my savings of 73 kWh per year works out to $8.43 per year. That is almost exactly what I paid for the two bulbs.

In other words, I’ll earn back my initial investment in a year, and then save another $8 or so every year thereafter. Granted, that’s relatively small potatoes (though I’ll take a free $8 anytime you offer it to me). But in percentage terms, it’s hard to beat an investment that repays your upfront cost in a year and then pays you that amount again each year afterward. (The maker of the bulbs I bought estimate they’ll last more than 22 years at three hours per day, though cheaply made LEDs have been known to fail much sooner.)

The savings really add up if you replace more bulbs with LEDs, and/or use a given light for more hours per day. Multiply my $8 per year by a few high-use fixtures and you’re talking about some meaningful savings. That’s especially true if you live in a region with high electricity rates. The national average residential cost was recently about 12.9 cents per kWh, according to the Department of Energy. But consumers in New England pay more than 19 cents on average. In California: 18.3 cents. In Hawaii: An eye-watering 29.5 cents. The higher the rate you pay, the more potential savings you can realize.

One downside of switching to LEDs is the additional choices you’ll have to make. LEDs can be dimmable or not, and the dimmable kind often work best on a dimmer switch designed for LEDs. Their light output is measured in lumens, which is not a unit of measurement most consumers are familiar with (though LEDs are also generally marketed as having the light equivalent of conventional bulbs: 40 watts, 60 watts, 75 watts, 100 watts, etc.). You must decide what sort of light you want, such as soft white or daylight (the soft white bulbs I chose look like regular incandescent bulbs to me; they cast a pleasant, yellow glow). And if you’re installing the bulbs in an enclosed light fixture, you’ll want LEDs that are rated for that.

Luckily, all the specs are spelled out pretty clearly on the bulbs’ packaging. And many home improvement stores show different bulbs in display cases that let you see the difference between, say, soft white and daylight.

To me, those extra considerations seem like a small price to pay for a lower electric bill. Saving money doesn’t get much easier than screwing in a new light bulb.

States Blaze Trail for Marijuana Reform

Few industries operate in a stranger legal and political environment than marijuana. While 33 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized pot for recreational and/or medical use, the federal government still considers it an illicit, controlled substance. In short, pot is simultaneously legal and illegal in these states, depending on the governmental perspective.

The situation has partially handcuffed a nascent industry that otherwise is thriving and shows even greater potential. Legal cannabis sales in the U.S. are expected to top $13 billion this year – $3 billion more than 2018. Look for sales to spike to almost $26 billion in 2025. Continue reading “States Blaze Trail for Marijuana Reform”

Cannabis Industry Has Big but Uncertain Potential

The future is bright for legal marijuana, one of the fastest growing industries in North America. Look for the trade to build on a groundbreaking 2018 with rampant growth in the coming years.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. have legalized pot for medical purposes. And in December, Michigan became the 10th state to also allow recreational use by adults. More states will follow suit this year and beyond. Continue reading “Cannabis Industry Has Big but Uncertain Potential”

How Hollywood is Coping with the Rise of Netflix

With the flood of at-home streaming entertainment options, is the movie theater business toast? After all, films made solely for streaming services are grabbing larger audiences, threatening to curb box office sales down the road. Netflix’s film Birdbox was viewed by 80 million households in one month in 2018. Netflix has a bigger slate of movies this year, including The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese film with a $150-million budget. Continue reading “How Hollywood is Coping with the Rise of Netflix”

Who Comes Out on Top in the Streaming Video Wars?

The streaming video wars are heating up. Tens of billions of dollars are being spent on online video content. Companies are battling for the same customers. Technology is rapidly changing. Who wins and who loses from this new tumult in the media industry?

The biggest splash in a long time will be the launch of Disney’s much-anticipated streaming service, leveraging its deep well of films and television shows while spending billions of dollars on new programming, marketing and technology. The move, set to happen this year, marks a new era for the company as it takes a step away from its traditional movie and television business. Continue reading “Who Comes Out on Top in the Streaming Video Wars?”

You Don’t Need the Green New Deal to Save on Energy Costs

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the implications of the Green New Deal, a proposal backed by several congressional Democrats that would essentially ban all fossil fuel use by the year 2030. Since then, a resolution outlining the GND’s principles has been introduced, and has generated plenty of debate, even though it’s a non-binding resolution—meaning it’s just a commitment to ideas, not actual legislation.

One of the idea’s more overlooked provisions is a commitment to “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency.” Like most of the rest of the plan, this idea would be extraordinarily expensive. The resolution has no chance of passing the GOP-controlled Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has no plans to bring it for a floor vote.

But if you’re interested in the idea of saving some money on your utility bills, you don’t need to wait for a sweeping law overhauling the country’s energy sector. There are practical steps you can take now. Continue reading “You Don’t Need the Green New Deal to Save on Energy Costs”

To Build or Not to Build the Wall

Since before he was elected to the White House, President Trump has promised Americans he will build a “big beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border, a barrier he says is needed to secure the United States from dangerous intruders entering the country illegally. But the money for the project has been elusive. Democrats on Capitol Hill have done everything in their power to block his demands, and Trump himself has changed his mind on the price and construction of the wall multiple times.

Now, after almost two years of tense back and forth, the president and Congress have secured a deal that would keep the government fully open through September and provide for 55 miles of physical barriers to be built along the southern border.

But the wall saga is far from over. The president has declared a national emergency on the southern border, which he says will allow the government to redirect funds from other projects to add many more miles of border barriers. Legal challenges are all but certain to follow. If all this leaves you feeling a bit confused, some history on how we reached this point may help. Continue reading “To Build or Not to Build the Wall”

Three New Football Leagues Compete for Survival

The NFL season may screech to a halt after Sunday, but football fans won’t have to wait months to get their next gridiron fix. A new professional football league kicks off next weekend, featuring a 12-game schedule with teams in eight medium-to-large markets across the U.S.

The Alliance of American Football, founded by TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol and longtime NFL executive Bill Polian, features teams in two cities already home to NFL clubs: Atlanta and Phoenix. CBS will broadcast the league’s inaugural games on Saturday, Feb. 9, after which the CBS Sports Network will carry one AAF game a week throughout the season. The championship game is slated for the weekend of April 26-28. Continue reading “Three New Football Leagues Compete for Survival”

Shutdown Will Haunt Federal Workforce for Years

While the federal government has fully reopened, at least through mid-February, its recent partial shutdown is poised to inflict significant long-term harm to its workforce.

The shutdown has tarnished one of the main attractions of working for the federal government: Job stability. Unlike the private sector, the federal government can’t go out of business and doesn’t typically lay people off. But with the threat of future shutdowns always a possibility in the current political climate, that perk is now greatly diminished. Continue reading “Shutdown Will Haunt Federal Workforce for Years”