11/21/2014 (1:00 pm)

Report: Bird needs 3-mile buffer from drilling

Filed under: USA, management |

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A government study with significant implications for the U.S. energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms and solar projects.

Monday’s finding from the U.S. Geological Survey comes as the Obama administration weighs greater protections for greater sage grouse.

The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 Western states. Its population dropped sharply in recent decades due to disease, pressure from the energy industry, wildfires and other factors payday loans.

State and federal officials are scrambling to come up with conservation measures to protect the bird ahead of a court-ordered September 2015 decision on protections.

A related bird, the Gunnison sage grouse of Utah and Colorado, received federal protection as a threatened species on Nov. 12.

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11/16/2014 (4:16 pm)

Carney Says Rate Moves to Take Account of Consumer Costs - Bloomberg

Filed under: Mortgage, management |

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said policy makers will take account of the interest rates actually paid by consumers as they start pushing rates higher.

In an interview with The Australian newspaper, Carney said that banks weren

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11/14/2014 (2:56 pm)

Psychiatrist tells Magnotta murder trial accused was in psychotic state

Filed under: Loans, management |

MONTREAL—Another forensic psychiatrist who analyzed Luka Rocco Magnotta says he came to the conclusion the accused was suffering a schizophrenia-linked psychotic episode when he killed and dismembered Jun Lin.

Dr. Joel Watts, who met with Magnotta between September 2012 and September 2013, told jurors Friday his evaluation led him to conclude that while the accused was aware of what he was doing, he could not appreciate that it was wrong.

Magnotta has admitted to killing Lin in May 2012, but has pleaded not guilty by way of mental disorder.

The Crown contends the slaying was planned and deliberate.

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Watts is the eighth defence witness at Magnotta’s murder trial, which is at the end of its seventh week.

His assessment is similar to that of another psychiatrist hired by the defence, Marie-Frederique Allard, who testified that Magnotta’s schizophrenia was out of control in May 2012.

“My opinion regarding Mr. Magnotta’s mental state at the time … is that he was suffering from an acute episode of psychosis,” Watts said.

“He suffers from schizophrenia and on those days (in May 2012), he was suffering from an acute psychotic break of that schizophrenia.”

Watts said the psychosis is linked to each of the five charges against Magnotta: first-degree murder; criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament; mailing obscene and indecent material; committing an indignity to a body; and publishing obscene materials.

“Despite Mr. Magnotta’s psychotic episode on those dates, my opinion was he was able to appreciate physically what he doing and the consequences of what he was doing,” Watts added.

“For each of his charges, I do not think he knew it was wrong, due to his psychosis.”

Watts accompanied Montreal police to Berlin to arrest Magnotta after German authorities decreed that a psychiatrist had to be present before they handed him over in June 2012.

Watts observed Magnotta and provided medication as needed on the flight back to Canada.

A police detective told Watts that Canadian government officials said it was the first time a psychiatrist had been obliged to accompany an accused from another jurisdiction. Authorities agreed to the stipulation in order to expedite the process of returning him to Canada.

Watts was later hired by the defence to conduct an assessment of Magnotta’s criminal responsibility.

He met face-to-face with Magnotta for about 38 hours in 2012 and 2013. He then saw him for a few hours last month.

Watts also spoke to Magnotta’s mother, maternal grandmother, sister and father.

He signed off on his final 124-page report last February and called the evaluation the most difficult of his career.

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11/13/2014 (5:04 am)

Walmart earnings offer snapshot of consumer confidence

Filed under: USA, money |

The U.S. economy has slowly begun to regain its footing, but retailers including giant chain Walmart are still feeling the pinch from consumers reluctant to open their wallets.

Last month, at its annual investor day, the Arkansas-based company warned that a tougher sales environment meant its earnings forecast would be lower.

Sales for the current fiscal year, which ends in February 2015, are expected to have an annual growth rate of between 2 and 3 per cent, down from the original estimate of between 3 and 5 per cent.

In its past fiscal year, Walmart had sales of $473.1 billion (U.S.) It is forecasting profit for the full year of $4.90 to $5.15 per share, down from $5.10 to $5.45 per share.

Walmart will release its third quarter earnings on Thursday, and the consensus forecast of analysts compiled by Bloomberg anticipated sales rising 2.3 per cent in the quarter.

The results should help paint a better picture of how the U.S. economy is faring — especially amid concerns over sluggish retail sales. Even though U.S. jobs numbers have been improving, there is general consumer caution given that wages aren’t growing.

“Walmart is largest North American retailer — its earnings or sales usually serve as a barometer for how the industry is going to do or how the consumer is tracking,” said Poonam Goyal, senior U.S. retail analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

“It hits almost 80 per cent of the U.S. consumer base,” she said.

In contrast to other retailers, food accounts for almost 50 per cent of Walmart’s business, so bad weather experienced this fall is less likely to impact on the bottom line compared with department stores saving account pay day loan.

However, food prices have been on the rise, which may cut into Walmart’s margins, said Goyal. “They can pass some of that along, but they can’t pass all of it, so they will be absorbing some of those costs, which will hurt their margins,” she said.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday about a leaked Walmart memo from October telling marketing managers to make sure the company’s U.S. stores discount aging meat and baked goods to maximize the chance that those items will sell before their expiry dates. Walmart sales have also been hit by cuts to the U.S. food-stamp program.

“We think in the third quarter it may continue and may be more substantial than we have seen in the past three quarters,” Goyal said, noting it was a 70-basis-point reduction in the second quarter.

However, the drop in gasoline prices should help boost Walmart’s sales, as more people would be willing to make the drive, she said.

Walmart is also expected to make a big push for the holiday season which traditionally kicks off at U.S. Thanksgiving. It plans to make Black Friday a week-long event.

While the Canadian market represents a small chunk of Walmart’s business, Goyal said analysts will be looking to see how Walmart is faring against the Target chain, which has struggled since opening stores in Canada.

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11/11/2014 (11:36 am)

US stocks waver in early trade, holding records

Filed under: UK, technology |

NEW YORK • U.S. stock indexes are little changed in early trading as the market comes off a string of record closes.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was flat at 2,037 as of 9:35 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped eight points, less than 0.1 percent, to 17,604.

The Nasdaq composite lost three points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,648.

The S&P 500 has closed at record highs four times straight, and has had 39 record closes so far this year payday loans.

Bond prices held steady. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was flat at 2.36 percent.

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11/08/2014 (5:40 am)

Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell to undergo emergency surgery

Filed under: USA, technology |

Outgoing Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell released a statement just after 3 p.m. Friday, announcing she has to undergo emergency spinal surgery.

The news comes after she said she was “rushed to Brampton Civic Hospital with severe back pain” on October 15. She said an MRI showed two herniated discs.

“As a result of her condition, Mayor Fennell will not be able to attend upcoming duties and events due to this very painful and dangerous injury.”

Fennell stated in the press release that she will not be able to attend a special council meeting this coming Wednesday. Councillors petitioned to get the meeting to address a forensic audit by Deloitte Canada that found Fennell and her staff violated city spending rules 266 times totalling $172,608 over seven years. An Integrity Commissioner’s report that found she “knowingly” violated the city’s code of conduct will also be addressed at the meeting.

Four councillors have stated they will be asking for the maximum penalty for Fennell at next week’s meeting, a loss of 90 days pay for the code violation. They have also said they will bring a motion forward for Fennell to repay $156,000 for expenses that the auditor was not given enough information on to determine if rules had been broken no checking account payday advance.

It’s unlikely that Fennell would have been allowed to vote on the issues, as she would most likely be in a conflict of interest.

On Thursday Fennell issued a notice of libel to councillors John Sanderson and John Sprovieri for remarks they made to the Star about the expense scandal that Fennell claims were defamatory.

The Star was also served with the notice of libel. The paper says it stands by its reporting.

Fennell has been dogged by the ongoing scandal for the last year. She was easily beaten by mayor-elect Linda Jeffrey in the recent election. Fennell received 12 per cent of the vote.

In her statement Friday she said she had been exonerated of the findings by Deloitte after an audit appeal arbitrator ruled just before the election that the repayment amount for the mayor would be reduced from $34,118 to $3,523.

Councillors have stated they will have the final say on the repayment amount at next week’s special meeting.

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11/05/2014 (2:24 am)

Republicans seize balance of power in Congress

Filed under: Finance, Uncategorized |

WASHINGTON—Republicans turned the tide on Barack Obama’s administration Tuesday, seizing back the balance of power in midterm elections that leave what remains of the president’s agenda in doubt.

The turning point in what many regard as the most expensive, negative and fear-infused elections in U.S. memory came just before midnight, as Republicans capped a series of Senate victories with yet another in a North Carolina nailbiter.

The unseating of Democratic incumbent Kay Hagen by challenger Thom Tillis put the GOP back in majority control of the 100-seat Senate for the first time since the George W. Bush era. Combined with other gains in the House of Representatives, the outcome means Republicans will dominate Congress in January, when the night’s victors are sworn into office.

But whether the new blood — much of it Republican red — will change the tone of a poisonously deadlocked Congress remains very much in doubt.

Texas Gov. Ted Cruz, who has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, offered mixed messages in, telling CNN that “now the responsibility falls to Republicans to stand up and lead—and I hope that’s what we do.” But in the very next breath, Cruz revisited the years-long Washington power stalemate, vowing that a primary Republican goal now will be “stopping the train wreck that is Obamacare.”

Tuesday’s Republican wave washed across several high-profile races for state governor, including a robust victory for union-bashing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, winning his third election in four years after a bitterly disputed recall vote. Walker is viewed by many as a likely candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And in Illinois, Obama’s home state, incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn was toppled by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.

Amid a cluster of partisan nailbiters – including closer than expected contests in Virginia and Florida—both parties were able to combine in at least one historic breakthrough: 100 female members of Congress were elected for the first time ever.

Earlier Tuesday Obama appeared braced for a difficult night, describing the Senate seats in play as “the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower.”

And as the results rolled in, the president’s words rang true, with cliffhangers emerging in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, all regarded as sound Democratic territory going into Tuesday.

Midway through the night, CNN described a “pugnacious tone” among White House officials, with one senior Obama administration source saying the president would push forward with his own agenda via executive action in the absence of Republican compromise.

But by 9 p.m., a blander, more benign message emerged from the White House, hinting at an effort toward compromise: “The president has invited bipartisan, bicameral congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House on Friday afternoon.”

Among the early Republican victories, the veritable cakewalk re-election of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who now will carry even greater clout in Washington as the dominant voice in the Senate payday loan.

“It wasn’t about me or about my opponent,” McConnell told cheering supporters. “It was about a government that people no longer trust.”

But it was also about money — an unprecedented $4 billion, all told, with the lion’s share dedicated to vicious attack ads aimed at crushing opposition support.

American University historian Allan Lichtman, paraphrasing Shakespeare, summed up the midterms as “A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

“For all of that money, on searches in vain for the great ideas . . . the creative, new and bold and innovative solutions to the enormous problems facing the United States and the world,” Lichtman told a gathering of foreign reporters in Washington.

“It is one of the least inspiring campaigns I’ve witnessed in many decades of watching American politics.”

Politico columnist Roger Simon, in a furious screed entitled, “The year of living stupidly,” summed of his own contempt for the cash-splashed campaigns, writing, “I understand why some Americans drop out and stop paying attention to politics. Their indignation has turned to disgust and their disgust has frozen into apathy.”

The connotations for Ottawa included possible movement on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, a file stalled for most of Obama’s six years in power. Sounding bullish on GOP prospects, Republican National Committee Chair Rance Priebus told MSNBC said passage of the unbuilt leg of the $8-billion Alberta-to-Texas project would be among the first orders of business in a Republican-controlled Congress.

“And I actually think the president will sign the bill on the Keystone pipeline,” he said.

Midterm elections historically tilt against the party that holds the White House, rousing a feisty, older constituency and leaving younger voters blas

10/27/2014 (6:32 pm)

Small battery maker touts big prospect for NC jobs

Filed under: UK, technology |

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A small start-up company said Monday it would create hundreds of jobs when it moves into a massive, former Philip Morris USA cigarette plant to build batteries that it says will help power companies save energy and work more efficiently.

North Carolina officials on Tuesday are expected to hear Alevo Group representatives discuss plans to manufacture the utility-scale batteries at the factory site in Concord, where more than 2,000 were employed before it closed in 2009, State Commerce Department spokeswoman Kim Genardo said. Alevo believes that as the U.S. and other nations work to reduce emissions of gases that are contributing to climate change, its energy-saving technology will become more valuable.

Its battery hasn’t been seen and tested by many outsiders.

But the group said it plans to hire 500 workers next year and — if sales take off — 2,500 or more within three years at the plant in Concord.

Alevo is seeking no state or federal tax breaks or other subsidies to set up shop in North Carolina, Genardo and company spokesman James Kennedy said.

Alevo hopes to sell its big batteries to utilities and grid operators. Utilities and power generators now have to power fossil-fuel-powered plants up and down quickly to match electricity demand. That uses more fuel than just keeping the plants steadily churning out power at consistent levels.

The company had to work for years to develop the kinds of analytics that will allow the company to anticipate when to store or release energy in a way that will make enough money for the battery service to pay off, Alevo Group CEO Jostein Eikeland said in an interview. Alevo plans to guarantee its lithium ion battery’s longevity to increase its appeal to customers, Eikeland said.

But the company’s hopes hinge on solving a notoriously tricky technological problem — how to make a huge, powerful battery that isn’t too expensive and can take the punishment of being charged and discharged hundreds or thousands of times. So far, no company has been able to crack that formula at an attractive price.

“There’s a quite justified skepticism about new battery claims,” said Harrison Wellford, a Washington-based energy adviser and investor who is helping Alevo to raise money. He said he believes Alevo’s new battery chemistry has addressed the weaknesses of other big batteries.

Another obstacle to its lofty manufacturing and hiring ambitions is that electricity is regulated differently in each U.S. state, and it is not clear in many cases how utilities could make money employing Alevo’s battery.

“One of our challenges is going to be to fit this disruptive technology into regulatory systems not designed to deal with it,” Wellford said.

The company has presented its battery to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the agency was researching technologies that might help states reach proposed targets for lower emissions. But the EPA did not do extensive testing and declined to talk about the technology other than to say in a statement that its new emissions plan “takes into account energy saving concepts such as those Alevo will provide.”

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10/26/2014 (3:40 am)

No question, John Tory is the best bet for mayor: Siddiqui

Filed under: Loans, Uncategorized |

Rob Ford (open Rob Ford’s policard) was a buffoon, a tragic figure who disintegrated in full public view. Doug Ford (open Doug Ford’s policard) is a dangerous bully. He was the puppet master of the mayor’s office and now wants to officially ascend atop the Ford dynasty at city hall. But most Torontonians want the opposite. That’s why many Olivia Chow supporters have moved to John Tory to ensure an end to the vulgar era of the Fords.

But Tory is worthy of being elected in his own right.

He brings a wealth of experience — accumulated in the office of a premier (Bill Davis) and prime minister (Brian Mulroney), as leader of the Conservative Party at Queen’s Park, as a practicing lawyer, as a private sector executive and as a volunteer extraordinaire who saved the Canadian Football League, helped immigrants and minorities, and strengthened civic society. He is not ideological or overly partisan.

It is unfair to dismiss his lifetime of participation in public life as noblesse oblige, the good-mannered obligation of the rich to do good deeds. First, he is not all that rich. Second, being decent is not a crime. We could use a heavy dose of decency at city hall.

He is the best candidate for mayor to have come along in some time.

Should he win, after what has been a most invigorating election in years, he should engage Olivia Chow to help with the issues she has so passionately advocated and which we must address — housing, child-care, youth employment and inequality.

hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

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10/19/2014 (3:56 pm)

The $2 Trillion Megacity Dividend China

Filed under: Loans, Uncategorized |

China needs a new prescription for growth: Cram even more people into the pollution-ridden megacities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

While this may sound like a recipe for disaster, failing to expand and improve these urban areas could be even worse. That

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