04/18/2014 (7:48 am)

U.S. set for sanctions on Russia, aid for Ukraine

Filed under: Loans, legal |

WASHINGTON • The administration of President Barack Obama is preparing to ratchet up sanctions on Russia and boost assistance for the Ukrainian military in the coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday, as Ukraine struggles to contain a pro-Russian uprising in its eastern cities.

Officials said they had no plans to levy new sanctions ahead of today’s talks in Geneva among the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. But with low expectations for a breakthrough in those meetings, officials already have prepared targets for sanctions that include wealthy individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the entities they run.

The administration also was working on a package of nonlethal assistance for Ukraine’s military. The assistance, which was expected to be finalized this week, could include medical supplies and clothing for Ukraine’s military but was expected to stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment.

Ukraine has asked for military assistance from the U.S., a request that was believed to include lethal aid such as weapons and ammunition. But U.S. officials said they were not actively considering supplying Ukraine with lethal assistance, a step they said could be viewed as an escalatory act by the U judicial records.S. in the midst of an already tense situation.

“We don’t want to see more escalation. What we want is de-escalation,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. “At the same time we’re constantly reviewing Ukrainian request for assistance and determining what’s most appropriate to provide.”

Administration critics have been pressing Obama to arm the Ukrainian military to bolster its efforts to reassert control of its eastern region from pro-Russian insurgents who have seized numerous government facilities.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said over the weekend that the least the U.S. could do was “give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves.”

U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s military has been limited to about 300,000 ready-to-eat meals, which were shipped in late March. The U.S. also has authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine’s fledgling government.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Wednesday for the meetings with Russia, Ukraine and the EU. A U.S. official said Ukrainian diplomats planned to brief Russia’s foreign minister about efforts to decentralize power in Ukraine and protect Russian-speaking minorities such as the ones living in eastern Ukraine.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the U.S. response to Russia’s actions by name.

Ukraine’s military launched its first actions against the pro-Russian forces on Tuesday. But just a day later the central government’s hopes of re-establishing control of the restive east were dampened when the insurgents commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them.

The Ukrainian soldiers staffing the vehicles offered no armed resistance, and masked pro-Russian militias in combat fatigues sat on top as they drove into the eastern city of Slovyansk, a hotbed of unrest against Ukraine’s interim government.

The West is also watching the 40,000 Russian troops massed on its border with Ukraine. U.S. officials say they believe Putin has put the troops there to give him the option to invade background search.

The sanctions that could be levied in the aftermath of the Geneva meeting were expected to focus on Putin’s close associates, including oligarchs who control much of Russia’s wealth, as well as businesses and other entities they control. It was unclear whether those sanctions would change Putin’s strategy given that the U.S. and the Europeans have already launched targeted sanctions on people in Putin’s inner circle.

The U.S. was also seeking to take more public steps to show its support for Ukraine’s central government ahead of elections on May 25. Vice President Joe Biden will visit the capital of Kiev next week. And CIA Director John Brennan met with officials there over the weekend, a secret trip that was quickly revealed by Russian media who cast the visit as evidence that the U.S. was behind Ukraine’s decision to take action against the pro-Russian forces in the east.

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04/14/2014 (11:40 am)

Pilgrimage

Filed under: money, technology |

The hajj pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims each year, sometimes overwhelming host Saudi Arabia. Toronto architectural firm, Moriyama and Teshima, and engineering company MMM Group are helping make the holy journey better - a $227-billion, 30-year project.

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04/12/2014 (2:28 pm)

Ethics of immunization are as complicated as the law

Filed under: Rates, management |

I recently found out that a small girl I drive home from school is not vaccinated. She is my colleague’s daughter, and I give them both a lift home. The child’s wacky mother has decided not to vaccinate due to the usual non-medical claptrap. So what do I do? a) Refuse to drive the child? b) Alert the school? Or c) smack some sense into the child’s mother?

Although (c) is tempting, the correct answer is (d): none of the above. Unless you have an unvaccinated family member, you’re not at risk, the school already knows, and smacking someone will get you arrested.

The ethics of immunization are as complicated as the law.

The Ontario Ministry of Health proclaims, in headline-size letters on its website, that “Immunization is required for attendance at school in Ontario.” However, in the paragraph that follows, it becomes clear that parents choosing not to have their kids immunized simply need to fill out a one-page statement, declaring that they have chosen for “religious or conscientious” reasons not to do so. Next time a cop stops me for speeding, I’m going to try that argument; “I chose to ignore the law because God told me to hurry.”

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Ethically, questions about immunization are equally confusing.

Parents who don’t get their kids poked for measles, among other things, are making a decision that affects not only their own spotted brood, but others as well. Measles can be a serious disease, one we are capable of virtually eradicating in our part of the world. But it continues to exist, as recent outbreaks prove, because some parents choose not to get shots for their kids easy pay day loans. This places at risk young babies, and others who for medical reasons cannot receive the vaccine.

That said, parents who choose not to immunize are not, necessarily, bad or careless people. A valid ethical argument can be made that parents should have the perfect right to refuse the injection of foreign substances into their children’s bodies. Although the overwhelming burden of evidence suggests that immunization is, in the vast majority of cases, totally safe, nonetheless there have been studies (some now debunked) that suggest real and measurable risks. A parent choosing not to immunize is, in my estimation, making an unwise and perhaps ill-informed decision — but it is not a wicked or evil one. And dismissing, as many do, such parents as either “granola-eaters” or “religious nuts” does a disservice.

The “medical community” today, of course, lines up solidly in favour of the immunization of kids. But here, too, there is irony. Every year when it’s time for flu-shots, we hear medical professionals — doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and so on — blah-blahing about why they haven’t bothered, themselves, to get a shot. And whenever the idea is broached that such shots should be mandatory for people in the public sector, unions and professional associations start whining about human rights — and how it’s a violation thereof to “force” people to inject substances into their bodies.

I’m pro-immunization. But I can’t help but notice how often we’re willing to self-righteously make kids do things that we’re unwilling to do as adults.

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06/03/2013 (4:10 pm)

Filed under: UK, online |

ELIZABETH, N.J.—A man who gained Internet fame as “Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker” has pleaded not guilty through a lawyer to a murder charge.

Caleb McGillivary appeared Monday in a Union County jail courtroom. The 24-year-old is accused of killing 73-year-old lawyer Joseph Galfy, whose body was found May 13 in his Clark home.

Kai the Hitchhiker faces murder charges

Wearing an oatmeal-colored T-shirt, McGillivary stood behind thick glass. He questioned Judge Joan Robinson Gross numerous times about his plea and bail.

Authorities say McGillivary and Galfy met in New York City. McGillvary stayed at Galfy’s home. He was arrested in Philadelphia days later.

McGillivary gained notoriety in February after intervening in an attack on a California utility worker.

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06/02/2013 (1:14 am)

Laclede agrees to forgo gas rate increase

Filed under: Lenders, term |

Gas-distribution rates would remain unchanged for Laclede Gas Co. customers under a settlement between the utility and consumer advocates that was submitted to the Public Service Commission on Friday.

The St. Louis-based gas utility had sought a $48.4 million rate increase in December that would have raised the typical residential customer bill an average of $4.93 a month.

But Laclede said it can live without an increase for now. Instead, it is hoping PSC staff will focus attention on the company’s pending $975 million acquisition of Missouri Gas Energy, which requires regulatory approval.

“We believe we can continue to provide safe and reliable service for our customers without general rate increases at this time,” Laclede Gas president Steve Lindsey said in a statement.

The settlement was submitted to the PSC on Friday. The commission has scheduled public hearings on Laclede’s rate request beginning Monday in St. Louis.

While customers’ overall bills would be unaffected if the settlement is approved, Laclede would be allowed add $14.8 million already being collected through an infrastructure surcharge to its gas-delivery rates.

Laclede also said it will continue to seek small adjustments to rates throughout the year to reflect changes in natural gas costs and to pay for additional pipeline safety upgrades.

The utility sells natural gas to 630,000 customers in the city of St. Louis and surrounding Missouri counties.

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05/24/2013 (8:34 pm)

Stocks barely budge; market ends week with loss

Filed under: UK, online |

Major stock indexes closed out their first weekly loss in a month in quiet trading Friday.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 0.91 of a point to close at 1,649.60. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 8.60 points to 15,303, a gain of 0.1 percent. Procter & Gamble supported the Dow with an increase of 4 percent.

Both indexes had their first weekly losses since the week ending April 19. A disappointing manufacturing report out of China and a sharp fall in Japan’s stock market rattled investors’ nerves this week. But anxiety over the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program was the main culprit. Some investors interpreted comments from Fed officials to mean that the bank may start pulling its support for the economy sooner than they expected.

The S&P 500, widely used by mutual funds as a proxy for the stock market, lost 1.1 percent for the week. It’s still up 15.7 percent for the year.

Marty Leclerc, the managing partner of Barrack Yard Advisors, an investment firm in Bryn Mawr, Pa., said the weekly drop wasn’t cause for concern. Even market rallies have to take the occasional break, he said.

“It’s up like a rocket blast this year,” Leclerc said of the stock market. “For there to be a little bit of a pullback is perfectly understandable.”

The market headed lower at the start of trading on Friday, then spent the rest of the day slowly recovering ground. By the closing bell, market indexes were roughly back to where they started.

Procter & Gamble announced late Thursday that it’s bringing back its former CEO, A.G. Lafley, to run the company. The world’s largest consumer-products maker, whose brands include Tide and Crest, is trying to increase sales in the face of tough competition. P&G rose $3.18 to $81.88.

Sears plunged 14 percent after the department-store chain reported a steep quarterly loss and slumping sales after the market closed Thursday. Sears lost $7.92 to $50.25.

The Nasdaq composite slipped 0.27 of a point to 3,459.14.

Eight of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 fell short term personal loans. Only financial stocks and consumer staples makers rose.

The stock market slipped Friday despite an encouraging report on U.S. manufacturing. The government said orders for long-lasting goods rebounded in April, helped by demand for aircraft and stronger business spending. The report suggests economic growth may hold steady this spring.

Until this week, signs of slow but steady economic growth and record profits for big companies had propelled stock-market indexes to all-time highs.

All but 11 companies in the S&P 500 have posted their first-quarter earnings, and the results have turned out much better than expected. Nearly seven of 10 have reported higher earnings than analysts had estimated. Overall profits in the first quarter are on track to climb 5 percent over the year before.

In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note dipped to 2.01 percent from 2.02 percent late Thursday.

The price of crude oil slipped 10 cents to settle at $94.15 a barrel, ending with a drop of $1.87 for the week. Gold lost $5.20 to $1,386.60 an ounce.

Trading was light ahead of the long weekend. U.S. financial markets will be closed Monday for Memorial Day.

Among other stocks in the news Friday:

_ Intuitive Surgical gained 5 percent after a jury decided in favor of the maker of robotic medical equipment in the first of many lawsuits filed against the company. The plaintiffs argued that Intuitive was negligent in training doctors to use its equipment. Intuitive’s stock rose $23.07 to $501.53.

_ Titan Machinery plunged 9 percent. The company, which deals in agricultural and construction equipment, said late Thursday that weaker revenue will lead it to a wider quarterly loss than it had expected. Titan’s stock lost $2.10 to $20.40.

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05/21/2013 (6:54 pm)

Toronto casino: Decisive 40-4 city council vote kills Ford

Filed under: economics, term |

City council has crushed Mayor Rob Ford’s pitch for “10,000 good-paying jobs” by decisively voting against a major downtown casino.

After a morning of debate Tuesday, council voted 40-4 in opposition to any new gaming sites in the city. The four in favour of gaming expansion were Ford and Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti and Norm Kelly.

The vote came after city manager Joe Pennachetti released new figures showing the city would be paid a $40 million fee for hosting a downtown casino.

That’s far short of the minimum $100 million the city wanted under a revenue-sharing proposal with the province that Ford called a “pretty good deal.”

Ford attacked Premier Kathleen Wynne for what he called a change of attitude at Queen’s Park.

“It seems no deal is good enough for this premier,” the mayor said. “The fact is she simply doesn’t want a casino, at least not in Toronto.”

At Queen’s Park, Wynne brushed off Ford’s criticism.

“I don’t think this is a personal debate between me and any other politician in the province,” Wynne said. “I think this is about a principle, which is municipalities should be able to make this decision.”

Anti-casino forces that have fought a casino for the past year were delighted with the vote.

“We could only hope way back when that this would be the outcome, and the fact it is the outcome, we are ecstatic,” said Peggy Calvert, of No Casino Toronto. “We couldn’t be more ecstatic.”

Mammoliti called the vote “a shame” and said the province needs to act to help Woodbine racetrack fast payday loan.

City staff had suggested increasing the slots at Woodbine to 4,500 machines from 3,000 currently, and adding 150 table games. But council voted 24-20 against any gaming expansion in suburban Toronto.

“We’re disappointed,” said Woodbine president Nick Eaves, who was surrounded in council by 200 casino workers wearing lime green T-shirts with the slogan Woodbine Jobs.

Eaves expressed concern that a major casino could be located in Vaughan, hurting Woodbine.

“If that goes ahead, then Woodbine’s ability to compete will be severely compromised,” he warned.

Ford had tabled a motion that recognized there wasn’t majority support for a downtown casino and urged council to support expanding Woodbine. The motion was defeated 31-13.

Ford’s council speech constituted his first public remarks since reports appeared last week about a video allegedly showing him smoking crack. The mayor made no mention of the controversy. He avoided reporters and left city hall after the vote.

Meanwhile, anti-casino stalwarts on council were happy to comment.

Councillor Joe Mihevc said he was surprised to see the overwhelming 40-4 vote.

“I think what people on council were feeling was the energy and vitality of their residents, who’ve been calling and emailing and pushing the reluctant people in the right direction,” Mihevc said.

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05/16/2013 (9:58 pm)

Only 2 of 13 small SUVs do well in crash tests

Filed under: legal, online |

Only two of 13 small SUVs are getting passing grades in front-end crash tests done by an insurance industry group.

Popular models such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Jeep Wrangler received only “marginal” or “poor” ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Subaru’s 2014 Forester was the only vehicle to get a “good” rating. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport received an “acceptable” rating.

The IIHS tested crashes that cover only 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end. The group’s tests are more stringent than the U.S. government’s full-width front crash test.

IIHS is a nonprofit research group funded by auto insurance companies. It develops crash tests to cut deaths, injuries and property damage from car and truck crashes.

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05/15/2013 (9:06 am)

U.S. homebuilder confidence rises in May from April

Filed under: economics, marketing |

Confidence among U.S. homebuilders rebounded this month, reflecting improved sales trends during the spring home-selling season and the strongest outlook for sales over the next six months in more than six years.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index climbed to 44 this month from 41 in April. It was the first increase since December.

Measures of customer traffic and current sales conditions also improved from April’s reading.

Readings below 50 suggest negative sentiment about the housing market no fax payday loans. The last time the index was at 50 or higher was in April 2006.

Concerns over rising costs for land, building materials and labor have dimmed builders’ confidence in recent months.

Regardless, steady job creation, near record-low mortgage rates and rising home values have spurred sales this year.

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05/13/2013 (12:06 pm)

Dell board committee seeks more info on Icahn plan

Filed under: Loans, Uncategorized |

Dell board members say they need more details from investor Carl Icahn if he wants them to seriously consider his latest challenge to Michael Dell’s $24.4 billion plan to take the computer maker private.

Icahn and prominent Dell shareholder Southeastern Asset Management said last week they want to keep Dell Inc. publicly traded and give shareholders $12 in cash or more shares.

But a Dell board special committee says that proposal comes with many unanswered questions. They say they need more details on financing and who will run Dell, among other items.

An investment group led by company founder Michael Dell offered earlier this year to pay $13.65 per share to take the Round Rock, Texas, company private. Icahn and other shareholders say that price is too low.

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