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Archive for May, 2013

Young app developer awarded Apple scholarship, trip to developer conference

May 29th, 2013 No comments
Charlie Hutchison

Charley Hutchison

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School middle schooler Charley Hutchison had planned to buy one of 5,000 available tickets to the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, which starts June 10.

Charley, who last year became one of the youngest app developers in Apple history, didn’t secure a ticket. They were gone in fewer than five minutes.

Turns out he won’t need one.

Charley’s mother, Melissa, said he received an email earlier this week notifying him that he had won one of 150 scholarships Apple gives to student developers across the world. That guarantees his attendance at the conference in San Francisco.

“We thought it was a shot in the dark,” Hutchison said in an interview Wednesday morning. “We were really surprised, because we told him it would be a good experience but we didn’t really expect him to get it. So now we have a week and a half to get plane tickets to San Francisco.”

About 50 of Charley’s fellow winners formed a Facebook group, and are planning a picnic in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge before the conference starts. “And that’s really going to be good for him, to be around kids from all over the world who are interested in the same things he is,” Hutchison said.

The WWDC gives developers an up-close experience with Apple’s latest operating systems, and offers hands-on training from Apple engineers. The conference runs from June 10-14 at San Francisco’s Moscone West convention center.

Pickering: Nissan has met obligations to state

May 28th, 2013 No comments

State auditor Stacey Pickering disputed Tuesday a union-funded study that said Nissan had not met its obligations to Mississippi.

Washington, D.C.-based Good Jobs First recently released the results of a study, paid for by the United Auto Workers, that said Nissan had violated the terms attached to its state incentives by denying workers the right to decide to unionize and by hiring large numbers of temporary workers. The study also claimed that Nissan’s incentives surpassed $1.3 billion, more than three times the reported figure when the plant opened in2003. Nissan and the Mississippi Development Authority disputed the study’s findings.

Pickering, in a column published Sunday in the Clarion-Ledger, said the state auditor’s office has verified Nissan’s job-count figures since the Canton plant opened, and found that they met and in most cases exceeded the threshold attached to the incentives.

“According to the law and the Memorandum of Understandings between Nissan and the state of Mississippi, Nissan was required to maintain 3,000 new direct jobs at the project site until 2021,” Pickering wrote. “As of our last audit in December, 2011, Nissan employed over 4,100 employees, far exceeding the mandated requirements.”

Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a group of clergy and elected officials, has led the efforts to unionize Canton workers. The organization claims Nissan has threatened to fire workers for doing so, which would violate federal labor laws. Nissan has repeatedly denied the accusations.

The Nissan facility was created under the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Act, the statute that allows oversight from the state auditor’s office. Pickering unsuccessfully pushed for legislation the last session that would have extended auditor oversight to all state-assisted economic development initiatives.

The legislation failed. Pickering told the Mississippi Business Journal in April he plans to push the legislation again in 2014.

MSU professor develops national land use index

May 22nd, 2013 No comments

A Mississippi State professor of sociology is leading an online project that will serve as one-stop shopping for those searching for land development options across the U.S.

The Land Developability Index is now online at www.landdevelopability.org. It provides researchers, elected officials and developers an index that will help them identify land available for conversion and/or development. It allows anyone concerned about land use to determine what percentage could be developed at county and state levels. The research that led to the website was done by MSU’s Social Science Research Center and the College of Arts and Sciences’ department of sociology.

Guangqing Chi, the MSU professor spearheading the project, said it was initially designed for researchers, but could benefit transportations planners, community developers and forestry and natural resource officials.

“The unique thing about this index is that it is just one number representing the overall characteristics and status of land use and development,” Chi said in a school news release. “For people who are interested in land use and development, they can just go online and use it. There are other projects that share a similar methodology, but they are for different purposes.”

Chi and his team, which includes professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and other MSU professors, generated the land maps using spatial overlay methods to identify undeveloped lands. Examples include wetlands, steep slopes, surface water, built-up lands and Native American reservations to go with state- or federal-owned land. The index is compatible with Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software.

“It takes lots of effort to get all those components together in one data set, one platform,” Chi said. “Users may skip these intermediate steps and simply use the final product of the Land Developability Index.”

The index has been in the works for a decade. During his doctoral studies, Chi developed a similar index for Wisconsin to help that state improve its population forecasting.

Chi’s next step is to refine his latest index into categories separated by metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, municipalities, census tracts, block groups and ZIP codes. His overall goal is to produce an index that covers the planet. That will require additional funding from external sources, Chi said.

Hosemann seeks input to reform state’s business laws

May 21st, 2013 No comments

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann wants your input on how to reform Mississippi’s business laws.

The past few years, Hosemann has assembled study groups populated by representatives from almost every industry that does business in Mississippi to kick around ideas. Work done by the groups has led to the passage of legislation like the SMART Business Act, which passed last session and offers a 25 percent rebate for Mississippi companies that contract with state colleges and universities for research.

Past sessions have also included reform to Mississippi’s statutes regarding LLCs, securities, copper theft and corporate trademarks. In all, more than 90 percent of the legislation Hosemann backed has passed.

Hosemann has already put together his business study groups that will work in advance of the 2014 session that starts in January. The groups started meeting this month.

Hosemann’s office has also set up a page on his official website to gather ideas. The digital surveys are designed to complement the work done by the business study groups. The page does not restrict the number or scope of ideas users can submit.

To fill out the form and offer feedback, click here.

Regulator: Day’s departure due to his withholding Kemper information

May 20th, 2013 5 comments

Mississippi Power Co. has made an abrupt change at the top.

Southern Co.’s board of directors voted Monday to name G. Edison “Ed” Holland the utility’s new leader. Holland replaces Ed Day, who has been president since 2010. Day has spent a total of 30 years with Southern Co.

The change will be effective immediately. Holland will be “responsible for the operations of Mississippi Power, including overseeing the continued construction of the Kemper County energy facility,” said a company press release.

Southern Co. gave no reason for Day’s departure, but it comes about a week after the Mississippi Public Service Commission learned that Day had ordered that documents containing details of when the utility knew about cost overruns at the Kemper County coal plant be withheld from regulators.

The PSC in April 2012 affirmed the project’s certificate of public convenience and necessity, after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the original certificate – issued in 2010 – did not cite sufficient evidence from the record of proceedings.

In May 2012, Mississippi Power revealed that the Kemper facility would cost roughly $300 million more than it had originally estimated.

Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz, who counts as his constituents most of Mississippi Power’s 190,000 ratepayers, said in an interview Monday morning that regulators asked about a year ago for information that outlined when the company knew about the overrun, in response to it being revealed right after the PSC reaffirmed the project’s certificate.

Day, Bentz said, ordered that the information be withheld.

“My investigation revealed about a week ago that there was information not being given to us under the direction of Ed Day,” Bentz said. Bentz said regulators received the requested overrun information last week. He added that his office will continue to investigate the matter.

“We’re not done,” he said. “This is an absolutely ridiculous way of doing business. Corporations sometimes hide behind trying to protect the shareholders. If this is what that is, they live in a different society than what’s right. We were not fed and given the proper information. What does that do to the credibility of Mississippi Power moving forward?

“This is a culture that has kind of somewhat become acceptable in the corporate world, to put a spin on everything,” Bentz continued. “Talk straight and give me the truth. A spin is a lie to me. We are not done. We are going to protect the ratepayers. Ed Day’s departure is a direct result of us as regulators doing our jobs and protecting the ratepayers.”

Bentz said Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning “has done everything he said he would do” since becoming involved in the matter. “He deserves a lot of credit.”

The Kemper County coal plant is scheduled to begin production in May 2014. Mississippi Power last month revised the project’s cost estimate upward, bumping it to just over $3 billion. Per the terms of a settlement with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the utility can charge ratepayers only for the first $2.4 billion in construction costs. Lawmakers approved in the session that ended in April up to $1 billion in bonding authority that would cover cost overruns. The bond falls outside PSC jurisdiction.

“They told us they could build this plant for $2.4 billion, and that’s what we expect them to do,” Bentz said.

U.S. Senate bill seeks to lower craft brewery excise tax

May 14th, 2013 1 comment

American Craft Beer Week has gotten a congressional boost.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of 18 bipartisan sponsors of legislation that would reduce the excise tax on brewers that make up to 6 million barrels of beer per year to $3.50 on the first 60,000 barrels and $16 on additional barrels under 2 million annually.

Small brewers, defined as those that brew fewer than 2 million barrels per year, pay $7 in excise taxes per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels annually.

Collins filed the bill Friday. Sponsors were not listed on the congressional website.

It could have an impact in Mississippi. Since the alcohol content in beer made and sold in the state was raised last year, a handful of breweries have started operation that would qualify for tax under the Small BREW Act.

An economic impact study by Dr. John Friedman at Harvard found the bill would generate $153 million in economic activity in the first year and almost $865 million over five years. It would create nearly 4,400 jobs in the first year.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

The small brewer threshold and tax rate were established in 1976 and have not been updated.  Since then, according to figures Collins supplied in a press release, the annual production of America’s largest brewery increased from 45 million barrels to 105 million barrels.

American Craft Beer Week, observed May 13-19, is designed to celebrate and bring awareness to America’s small and independent craft brewers and their contributions to America’s communities and our economy.

 

UMMC, Center for Justice form partnership to benefit those with HIV/AIDS

May 9th, 2013 No comments

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI — The University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice, both in Jackson, are forming a partnership aimed at providing free civil legal services for people living with HIV and AIDS.

The collaboration includes the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinics Central and the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation.

It’s the state’s first medical-legal partnership.

The Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, will offer on-site legal assistance at the Crossroads Clinics. The assistance will focus primarily on HIV-related housing and employment discrimination.

Marni von Wilpert Skadden, legal fellow at the Center for Justice, said in a press release that those with HIV and AIDS “often lack access to legal resources. This program will help ensure they are treated fairly so they can lead productive, fulfilling lives.”

UMMC was involved in finding earlier this year what researchers called a “functional cure” for HIV, when a toddler born to a mother with the virus showed no signs of it after going several months between treatments.

“While we have made significant medical advances in managing HIV/AIDS, the ultimate success in improving these peoples’ lives is getting them back into society as full productive members,” said Dr. Claude Brunson, UMMC professor of anesthesiology and senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs. “This partnership aims to achieve that goal.”

Demand should be heavy.

The city of Jackson has the fourth highest HIV infection rate of all U.S. metropolitan areas that report HIV infection information, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Mississippi’s African-American population accounts for 78 percent of new infections, according to a recent MSDH study. Mississippi ranks 49th in funding civil legal services, according to the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.

There are 97 medical-legal partnerships in the U.S. that serve 54,000 patients a year at more than 275 healthcare institutions.

Oxford mayor Patterson calls Wade’s conflict of interest challenge ‘political malarkey’

May 8th, 2013 1 comment

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI — Former Ole Miss football player and current Oxford mayoral candidate Todd Wade stopped just short Tuesday night of accusing his opponent of having conflict of interest issues.

Wade, who’s running as an independent, said in a campaign press release that he would not participate in any private real estate transactions if he’s elected, and said Democratic incumbent George “Pat” Patterson’s real estate holdings could violate the public’s trust.

“I encourage my opponent to join me in this pledge to restore the public’s confidence,” Waid said in the release.

Patterson said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that he owns one piece of commercial property in Oxford that houses the James Food Center near the Square.

That contradicts Wade’s assertion that Patterson owns “a vast portfolio of student housing and business property” in Oxford.

“It’s total political malarkey,” Patterson said. “What pieces of property is he referring to? I only have one. It’s complete B.S.”

Until Tuesday’s primary ended, the most common issues in Oxford’s mayoral debate had centered on parking and public transit. Patterson said he intended to keep it that way. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this,” he said.

Patterson served as head of the Oxford Tourism Council and as alderman before being elected mayor in 2009. Wade was an All-America offensive tackle at Ole Miss and was selected 53rd overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 NFL draft. He played for four teams before retiring in 2008. He has spent his post-NFL career in Oxford.

Wade and Patterson will face each in the general election June 4.

Categories: Ole Miss, Oxford, Pat Patterson, Todd Wade Tags:

MSSC Justice Randolph blasts DOJ in Manning execution dissent (Updated)

May 7th, 2013 2 comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court stayed the execution of Willie Jerome Manning, who was scheduled to die Tuesday night at 6 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Manning was convicted in 1994 of killing two Mississippi State students in front of the campus’ Sigma Chi fraternity house.

Justices voted 8-1 to issue the stay. Justice Michael Randolph, of Hattiesburg, dissented.

Randolph was critical of the court’s decision, writing that Manning had failed to comply with the statutory requirements attached to his claim that DNA testing on a hair found in one of the victim’s cars could possibly exonerate him.  Randolph took particular issue with letters submitted with the hair analysis from the U.S. Department of Justice that were unsigned.

“The letters challenge not only former FBI experts in hair, but also ballistics. Our established law and justice require more,” Randolph wrote in his opinion.

Randolph also pointed out what he felt were discrepancies in one of the DOJ letters, which said mitochondrial DNA testing became routine in 2000. Randolph cited an article published by the DOJ in 1999 that said the testing became routine in 1992, and would have been available for Manning’s 1994 trial, if he had asked that it be done.

The DOJ’s controversial “Fast and Furious” gun-running program also made an appearance in Randolph’s dissent. The program was initiated in 2009 to track Mexican drug cartel leadership, but the DOJ lost track of almost 2,000 weapons, one of which was used to kill a border agent in 2010. Congressional GOP leaders have complained since that pinpointing exactly who is responsible for the botched operation has been difficult due to DOJ stonewalling.

Randolph compares that to the FBI’s recently asking anti-death penalty group the Innocence Project to assist with the Manning hair analysis process due to his execution date being close.

“Although the connectivity and expediency by which this review was accomplished is mind boggling, I should not be surprised, given that the families of victims of the clandestine ‘Fast and Furious’ gun running operation can’t get the Department of Justice to identify the decision makers (whose actions resulted in the death of a border agent and many others) after years of inquiry, and that this is the same Department of Justice that grants and enforces Miranda warnings to foreign enemy combatants,” Randolph wrote.

The entire order granting the stay and Randolph’s dissent can be read here.

UPDATE: Attorney General Jim Hood has issued a statement. Here it is, verbatim:

I am sorry that the victims’ families will have to continue to live this 20 plus year nightmare.  Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings.  Yesterday evening our office filed a report with the Court, which I obtained from the district attorney’s office around 6:00 yesterday afternoon.  The  report states that there was no serological evidence from the victims’ fingernail scrapings or semen on the vaginal swabs from the rape test kit for a DNA test to identify. 

After having an opportunity to consider this new evidence, the senior attorneys in this office believe our Court will dissolve the stay and the sentence will be carried out.  If, however, our Court orders that these items be retested, then we will carry out that order. 

 I am in conversations with the DOJ and FBI to determine how these last minute letters came about.  After conversing with expert witnesses at our Crime Lab, it is clear that FBI experts and experts in all states used more conclusive language in their testimony up until around the time the 2009 National Academy of Science report was issued on forensics.  Since then the policy of many experts has been to qualify their testimony by using the magic words “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty”.  The FBI agents in this case were simply following the standards used in their fields at the time. 

The letters sent from the forensic taskforce chairman at DOJ, merely state that the science was not that exact in 1993, not that these agents were not following the standard followed by all of their colleagues at the time, both state and federal, in testifying to the degree of certainty.

Nissan’s Canton chief taking new position, will leave Mississippi

May 3rd, 2013 No comments

The head of Nissan’s Canton facility is taking a new position within the company.

Dan Bednarzyk will be the vice president of what Nissan is calling Total Delivered Cost, effective May 13. It’s a newly created position.

Bednarzyk’s new role will be to oversee Nissan’s cost efficiency operations in North and South America. His job description will center on lowering overall manufacturing costs.

Bednarzyk has been in Canton since the facility started production in 2003. He’s been with Nissan since 1985. His new office will be in Franklin, Tenn, Nissan’s North American headquarters.

“Dan’s extensive experience in manufacturing and his successful leadership of the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant will help him drive total delivered cost improvements across all our manufacturing operations,” Bill Krueger, senior vice president of manufacturing, purchasing, production engineering and supply chain management, said in a company press release announcing the change.

Bednarzyk’s replacement is David Aldana, who is currently head of Nissan’s manufacturing facility in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Like Bednaryzk, Aldana has been with the company since 1985, when he was named deputy general manager of the Nissan Civac plant in Cuernavaca, Mexiso. He has since held several manufacturing management position in Mexico and the U.S.

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