Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Federal government posts $603M deficit in October

Economy 'is weakening significantly,' Flaherty says

The federal government posted a $603-million deficit in October as tax revenues fell, according to figures released by the Finance Department on Tuesday.

Ottawa's October shortfall was $87 million higher than the deficit for the same month last year and almost totally eliminated the government's surplus for the April-to-October period.

For those seven first months of fiscal 2008, the government posted a surplus of $200 million, down from an excess of revenue over expenses for the same period last year of $6.1 billion.

The figures indicate that the amount Ottawa accumulates in tax revenue is falling faster as the year — and the global recession — progresses.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledged Tuesday that the economy "is weakening significantly."

The Canadian government will run a deficit as it strives to fend off a looming recession, Flaherty said, but it will offer detailed measures in the January budget on how it plans to balance the books once the ongoing economic crisis settles.

"We will ensure that spending that puts us into deficit is temporary, is for finite purposes, so that we will not be into a permanent deficit," Flaherty said Tuesday before meeting with his newly assembled economic advisory panel in Toronto.

The finance minister said no decisions had yet been made about what exactly will be included in the 2009-2010 budget, to be presented Jan. 27, except that it will contain some sort of stimulus measures.

Nevertheless, he said it will show "how we'll come out of deficit, so that it'll be clear to Canadians that as the economy recovers the deficit will disappear and we'll be in surplus again."

Canada's expanding pool of red ink in October was mostly attributable to falling tax revenues.

The government pulled in $18.76 billion in total revenue for the month, an increase of 3.7 per cent compared with October 2007.

Tax intake down
Considering only tax monies, however, the federal government actually gathered 1.6 per cent less for the public treasury this October compared with a year earlier. Ottawa posted tax revenue of $15.59 billion in those 31 days.

In this case, the goods and services intake was down a hefty 17 per cent, to $2.3 billion, in the month. The federal cut to the GST was the reason for lower revenues in this category throughout 2008, the Finance Department said.

"GST revenues were down $2 billion, or 11 per cent (for April to October), reflecting the one-percentage-point reduction in the GST rate effective January 1, 2008," the department noted.

For the April-to-October period, Ottawa's overall tax take stood at $111.6 billion, down 0.3 per cent compared with the same seven months a year earlier.

Of the $15.59 billion the government levied from Canadians in October, only 12.8 per cent, or $1.99 billion, came from corporate income taxes, down from 14.4 per cent for the same period one year earlier.

Corporate income taxes were off 23 per cent in the month and 12.6 per cent in the April-to-October period, compared with one year earlier.

Corporate taxes can be volatile in a single month. But shrinking corporate tax figures over a longer period can indicate a slowing economy.

Costs up
What Ottawa gives back to Canadians in the form of transfer payments to provinces and individuals rose in October.

The federal government had program expenses of $16.77 billion in the month, up 5.9 per cent versus October 2007. For the April-to-October period of 2008, Ottawa spent an additional 7.2 per cent compared with the same period one year earlier.

Welfare payments and higher medical transfers to provincial governments were the categories exhibiting the biggest increases in October.

In addition, employment insurance payments rose by 4.2 per cent in the April-to-October span, reaching $8.1 billion. For October, however, EI costs fell to $1.05 billion.

Still, the number of Canadians without work increased by slightly less than 110,000 in November compared with January. As a result, fiscal experts believe Ottawa might need to fork out more in terms of unemployment benefits in the coming months.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Insurance fraudsters? We shall sight them from the bushes

The world's most exciting insurance job is also a booming area of business. Under cover of foliage, Paul Kendall joins the intrepid claim investigators.

By Paul Kendall
Last Updated: 12:53AM GMT 14 Dec 2008

It is just after six on a bitter December morning and I am lying in the mud on a strip of scrubland next to a bush. All is quiet, save for a handful of reeds whistling in the breeze. Suddenly, out of the gloom, the bush speaks. "Sierra, this is Hotel," it says. "We are in position."

A video camera appears from within the vegetation and points towards a handsome, whitewashed house 200 yards away. "Dwelling is in darkness," says the bush. "No sign of subject."

Then, silence again. "Hotel" – not actually a bush, but a burly former member of the Special Forces – squats next to me, dressed head to foot in camouflage gear, not moving. The minutes tick by. It starts to rain. As the early-morning sky turns slowly from dark blue to a pale, frosty white, we continue to scan the house for any signs of life.

"You know," my companion whispers eventually, "people don't realise the lengths you have to go to in this job. No one sees that."

Hotel is an insurance fraud investigator, a specialist in "static control", which means he spends his working life hiding in trees, undergrowth and ditches, spying on people who claim to be injured and unable to work.

In his time, he has caught out hundreds of fraudsters: men who had said they couldn't walk playing a round of golf; enthusiastic ramblers who had claimed they were confined to a wheelchair; even workers blinded in an accident who could miraculously drive a car. He investigates an average of two or three cases a week, and thanks to the current recession, he has never been busier.

For, while other employers are laying off staff, the fraud investigation business is booming as companies look to cut down on the vast amounts they pay out in personal injury claims. Local authorities that are sued by people who have tripped over broken pavements or potholes are also good customers.

Business is so buoyant, in fact, that Hotel's employer, the surveillance firm CIA Excel, is advertising for recruits for the first time in its 19-year history. More than 300 people have applied for the two available posts, 15 of whom will attend a series of intense military-style boot camps, where they will be assessed in nine areas, including observation, driving skills and their ability to react under pressure. Anyone who thinks insurance is a dull, desk-bound job needs to think again.

"This is one of the most challenging civilian jobs you could do," says Alan D'Ambrosio, CIA Excel's managing director, when I speak to him on the phone from his home in Scotland. "Operators have to be prepared to work long and irregular hours in unfamiliar and often dangerous environments. It is an extremely tough job, and those applicants who are successful will need to be both extraordinarily patient and, at the same time, very quick-witted."

Investigators also need to look "grey" – in other words, they must have the kind of face that blends into a crowd. Both Hotel and his partner, Sierra, a former policeman and one of the most unprepossessing men I have ever met, score perfectly on all fronts.

At 7.48am, after a display of stillness that puts me in mind of a Buddhist monk, Hotel snaps into action. A light has come on in the "target" property. The subject, a businessman in his late 40s who is suing a motor insurance company after sustaining back and neck injuries in a motorbike accident, has appeared in his dressing gown in the kitchen. The fact that Hotel has spotted the subject at all impresses me. I'm also dressed in camouflage, but can't see anything through all the foliage.

"Sierra, this is Hotel. Light on in property. Repeat, light on in property," he says, talking into a two-way radio.

"Is there?" I whisper, "Where?" Too late, I realise I'm talking to a mound of grass. Hotel has moved to some higher ground 30 yards to my right to gain a better view. I curse and desperately rearrange my headpiece.

Ten minutes later, foliage out of the way, I glimpse our man outside his house. He has told doctors he can hardly walk, but despite this, he pushes a wheelie bin up the drive, through a gate and out on to the street.

Hotel whips out his camcorder again. "Subject is pushing a wheelie bin and showing no signs of discomfort," he says into the microphone. Then, turning to me: "OK, move out."

Together – in the sort of manoeuvre that would convince Macbeth that Birnam Wood had moved to Dunsinane – we scurry across the scrubland towards the shelter of some trees. Once there, we remove our bush suits, place them in rucksacks and, when the coast is clear, jump over a fence and walk along the road back to Hotel's car. This, I am told, marks the second phase of the operation.

The man we are watching has said he cannot drive, but 'local intelligence' has assured Hotel and Sierra, who is parked down the road in a surveillance van, that he can. Sure enough, before long he pulls out of his driveway in a silver 4 x 4.

"Stand by, stand by, stand by," says Hotel. "That's the subject's vehicle in your direction. We're in pursuit."

Weaving in and out of traffic, the two investigators take it in turns to tail the man. In the event, he drives only as far as the local petrol station before returning home. It's not enough to prove he is faking.

But 20 minutes later, he is off again. And this time he drives much farther, first to the local school, where he drops off his daughter, then to a café, where he has a coffee and reads the paper, and then to a secondary school in a neighbouring village.

While we wait outside the school for the man to reappear, Hotel tells me about a recent case. It is obvious that he takes great pride in what he does. "Last year, we investigated a man who was claiming a quarter of a million pounds a year for care," he says. "He had lost half a leg in an industrial accident, which entitled him to some compensation, obviously, but he was claiming for four carers and grossly exaggerating his disability."

Hotel watched him 12 hours a day for seven days, mostly from an observation point in a canal, using a pair of high-powered binoculars. "It was one of the most difficult surveillance jobs I've ever done. But we established that the subject was more or less independent. He could walk on his own, cook on his own, and go to the lavatory on his own – all things he'd said were impossible."

The evidence collected by the investigators is expected to reduce the subject's claim by at least £200,000 a year.

And that was just one of more than 1,000 cases that CIA Excel investigated last year. Altogether, D'Ambrosio says he saves his clients tens of millions of pounds. I wonder, however, whether Hotel ever feels uncomfortable about snooping on people.

"Why should I?" he says. "I mean, it's you and me who pay for these people through higher premiums. We are staying within the law and trying to do a difficult job, while these people break the law and try to get money by deception. We are here to make sure that everyone pays a fair price for insurance."

As he says this, the man we have been following reappears in his silver 4 x 4, with his older daughter in the passenger seat. This time he sets off on a 35-mile journey to a dental surgery. He parks and gets
out the car. It is about 100 yards to the door of the surgery, over frosty ground, but he covers the distance with consummate ease.

"There he is! There he is!" exclaims Hotel, as we watch from a safe distance. "He's walking!" Everything is recorded on video. "OK, job done," says Hotel. "Let's get breakfast." There is an unmistakable note of glee in his voice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

'Misfits' add diversity to singles branch

By Beth Palmer
Monday, Dec. 08, 2008

One of the most reassuring aspects of the gospel is the fact that the church is fundamentally the same everywhere you go. What's perhaps even more beautiful, though, is the reality that no two LDS wards have the same fundamental character. Some are marked by a vigorous missionary spirit, some by intellectualism, some by service.

Then there's mine, which happens to be distinguished most by our striking resemblance to a population that exists only in a beloved Christmas special.

We stumbled upon this realization when a group of friends from the singles branch I attend gathered for dinner one Sunday after church. One astute member jokingly compared us to the Island of Misfit Toys, which prompted one of those moments usually only seen in sitcoms: Everyone stopped mid-bite, looked up at one other and glanced around furtively. Then, simultaneously, half the group laughed, and the other half groaned.

Yes, as unglamorous as it is to admit, the Chicago 8th Branch is the living embodiment of that arctic outpost from the stop-motion "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Only instead of a Jack-in-the-Box named Charlie and a train with square wheels, we've got an eclectic mix of characters you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, all of whom have somehow managed to land on Chicago's Island of Misfits together.

Why this happy confluence in Hyde Park? Well, our stake draws from the entire South Side of Chicago, but our congregation meets just a mile away from the University of Chicago, a school so devoted to its lofty ideals of academia that its students wear T-shirts sporting slogans like "If I'd wanted an 'A' I would have gone to Harvard" and "That's great in practice, but how does it work in theory?"

Throw those students in with the Chicago natives in the branch, plus the random smattering of students at other schools and working professionals, and you've got one of the most intellectually, economically and racially diverse congregations I've ever witnessed.

And then there are the characters.

One branch member spent weeks slowly moving his possessions out of his apartment on his bike, often hauling two backpacks at a time, with extra cargo balanced across the handlebars. He then squirreled them away in various locations around the neighborhood, including an unused office in our church building, just to avoid what he saw as the injustice of his building's move-out fee.

Another is a student at one of the top-ranked medical schools in the country, yet spends his spare time responding to e-mails from international fraudsters for the express purpose of toying with them.

Rudolph's Island of Misfits had a cowboy who rode an ostrich. We've got a South Side native who drives a truck and works odd jobs in construction, but is just as likely to be found attending the opera with his mom, at home baking a fantastic loaf of bread or dressing up as a wizard to teach chess lessons. Another Chicago misfit used Excel to determine the critical mass of Branch Boringness -- measured in "borons" -– necessary to field a pickup football game after his fellow branch members failed to turn out in droves for a Thanksgiving-weekend game.

Remember the misfit bird that didn't fly, it swam? Well, we've got a graduate student in marriage and family therapy who has no qualms about filing his nails while watching college football and who possesses that specific brand of chivalry that involves telling female friends that if their cars break down, they should call him so he can call AAA.

We've got a Sunday School teacher who's considered to be having a tame day when all he does is launch into a lengthy tirade on the ridiculously long time it's been since an American won the gold medal in the 100-yard dash. There are farm girls from Canada who talk about their family's hail insurance in the context of Sunday lessons, and a Relief Society president who, confused by the story gaps created while watching a movie on a ClearPlay DVD player, was heard to cry out for "more smut!"

We're the type of people who make a wish on a Thanksgiving wishbone and pull, only to see the top inexplicably pop off and shoot across the room, leaving both with a "no-wish-for-you" bone left in their hands. If that's not the quintessential misfit moment, I don't know what is.

We meet in one of the few Mormon meetinghouses in America where it's not unusual to find an "Obama '08" hat in the lost and found, among people who aren't surprised to learn that a fellow branch member, a graduate student in his late 20s, also owns an NGO based in India. This same student is also infamous for adopting the role of "Dad" at branch FHEs, insisting that every one of his grumbling "children" tell everyone the best thing that happened to them that day.

It was in the midst of this very ordeal that a relatively new branch member remarked, "It's like we really are a family -- we're all awkward, but we're all awkward together." Exactly. We've found our fellow misfits, and we're sticking with them.

Of course, our comparison isn't a perfect one; the original Island of Misfit Toys had a boat that couldn't float, and that's where the analogy breaks down. You see, every misfit in Chicago will do whatever it takes to keep the rest of the misfits afloat. This is a congregation sincerely devoted to one other, in which virtually every member is willing to reach outside the busyness of his or her life to help out a fellow misfit in need.

Ultimately, that's probably the real beauty of the gospel's social organization; however off-center we may be, we all have somebody to care for, and somebody to care for us. So what if my crew happens to be a bit more off-center than most? Like Rudolph and his wannabe-dentist elf friend proclaimed, "What's the matter with misfits? That's where we fit in."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Clintons' Neighbor to Be Sentenced for Murder

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- A man who lived down the street from Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in a New York City suburb when he shot and killed his wife could get life in prison.

Carlos Perez-Olivo is due in Westchester County Court for sentencing Tuesday, two months after his second-degree murder conviction. The maximum sentence is 25 years to life.

The 59-year-old disbarred lawyer was found guilty of shooting his wife, Peggy, in the back of the head as they drove home to Chappaqua in November 2006. Prosecutors say he wanted his wife's life insurance.

Perez-Olivo blamed the attack on a carjacker. But a witness testified he saw Perez-Olivo handling a gun just like the murder weapon, which was fished from a lake near the scene of the killing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Abu Dhabi concludes second annual Diabetes awareness walkathon

Abu Dhabi -The second annual Diabetes awareness walkathon concluded in the capital yesterday with more than 7,500 participants pledging their support to nationwide Diabetes prevention and management.

WALK UAE 2008 is part of the largest public health awareness campaign in the UAE under the patronage of H. H Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak. The walkathon is an annual initiative organised by Abu Dhabi's Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC) to mark World Diabetes Day.

Mubadala's CEO, His Excellency Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, led the Diabetes awareness walk for the second year, joined by Dr Michael Bitzer, CEO of Daman, and Maytha Al Habsi from the Emirates Foundation.

Dr Maha Taysir Barakat, Medical & Research Director and Consultant Endocrinologist at ICLDC acknowledged the support of partners and response of the community as critical factors of the campaign's success.

"We thank our partners and supporters for their continued belief in this public health awareness initiative, and we are truly encouraged by the community's engagement of WALK UAE.

"The embrace of the walkathon is outstanding and we urge the public to adopt an active lifestyle to assist prevention of Diabetes," she concluded.

ICLDC's WALK UAE 2008 is in partnership with the Emirates Foundation, with the exclusive sponsorship of The National Insurance Company - Daman.

- Ends -

About Imperial College London Diabetes Centre
The Imperial College London Diabetes Centre is a state-of-the-art specialised out-patient one-stop facility that specialises in Diabetes Treatment, Research, Training and Public Health. Located in Abu Dhabi (next to the Zayed Military Hospital), ICLDC allows the highest level of specialised patient care, from first diagnosis to the continued management of all complications associated with Diabetes.

Imperial College London holds a renowned history and expertise in the study of Diabetes, bringing one of the leading medical academic institutions in the world to Abu Dhabi as a core working partner. Under ICLDC practices, one of the Centre's primary objectives will be to provide continuing education for health professionals and the general public. For more details visit: www.icldc.ae

About the Emirates Foundation
The Emirates Foundation is a United Arab Emirates philanthropic organisation, established by the Government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2005 to facilitate new public-private initiatives for social betterment.

The Foundation represents a unique multi-sector effort that offers a channel for individuals and organisations to give back to the community through six major programme areas. It manages an independent capital fund with donations from the private sector, the government and private individuals interested in philanthropy.

The Emirates Foundation contributes to UAE society by supporting people, institutions and community organisations that contribute to the nation's long-term progress and sustainability. It addresses important educational, cultural, environmental and social issues affecting people's lives and aspirations. Its philanthropy helps to groom socially responsible individuals and to empower them to achieve their full personal and intellectual potential.

The Foundation focuses on six core areas: Education, Science & Technology, Arts & Culture, Social Development, Environment, and Public Awareness. In each area, the Foundation supports programmes that aim to achieve social balance and individual fulfillment. As a national initiative, the Foundation uses a variety of mechanisms to identify and support qualified individuals, organisations, and community projects in every region of the United Arab Emirates.

The Foundation also administers key strategic projects directly - such as Takatof, which promotes volunteerism among young Emiratis - and Tawteen, which helps to improve occupational qualifications of young Emirati professionals.

The UAE is a country with a great legacy of social and cultural values. The Emirates Foundation strives to promote these, as well as other traditions that can combine with today's prosperity to engender a highly motivated, informed and goal-oriented nation. The Foundation also actively encourages the spirit and practice of volunteerism, while working to promote and build a commitment to service, particularly among young men and women.

Through institutional grants, fellowships, research awards, and philanthropy-led initiatives in various key areas, the Emirates Foundation aspires to raise the profile of UAE peoples and their institutions, as well as the reputation of its corporate citizens. Its mission is consistent with the ideals of the nation's founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

About National Health Insurance Company - Daman
The National Health Insurance Company - Daman, was established on 01 May 2006. Today it is the region's leading health insurance company, providing comprehensive healthcare solutions to over 1.1 Million customers in the UAE via the largest network of private hospitals and pharmacies available.

With affordable health insurance for people of all income levels, Daman offers international standard healthcare insurance cover for both individuals and companies. A 24-hour dedicated Medical Authorisation Center, staffed by a team of doctors and nurses, ensures that patient enquiries are dealt with speedily and efficiently using the most sophisticated technology available. A second customer hotline, also open 24/7 and manned by multilingual staff, guarantees that UAE residents can access information about plans and their insurance cover whenever and wherever they want.

With an international network, Daman's customers have access to healthcare provision in 35 countries across the world, depending on the terms of their personal cover www.damanhealth.ae

For more information, please contact:
Anu Bhatnagar, Strategic Solutions for ICLDC
Tel.: + 9714 3903018
Mobile: + 97150 7286803
Email: anu@strategicsolutionsonline.com

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Oliver Letwin drafted in to rescue George Osborne

By Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 11:31PM GMT 15 Nov 2008

Mr Letwin has been drafted in by David Cameron to draw up a key plank of the Tory fightback on the economy as concerns over Mr Osborne's performance intensify, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

The plans, to be announced in the next 10 days ahead of the Alistair Darling's pre-budget report, are likely to focus on cutting Whitehall bureaucracy and other spending which does not boost the economy. Infrastructure projects such as school building will remain untouched.

Mr Letwin, chairman of the Conservative research department, is devising cuts to get public spending beneath Labour figures, senior sources said.

It is the latest action plan from the Tory leadership in the face of growing demands from within the party for a sharper economic rescue package to rival Labour's.

The decision of Labour MPs to advocate tax cuts, and heavy hints from Gordon Brown that he will unveil a substantial package of cuts in the pre-budget report, have plunged the Conservatives into a major rethink.

The fact that Mr Letwin, Mr Osborne's predecessor as shadow chancellor, has been charged with drawing up the spending cuts will fuel the impression that Mr Osborne is being sidelined as the party's ratings on the economy falter.

After weeks of damaging headlines, Mr Osborne courted further controversy this weekend by warning that Mr Brown's borrowing strategy could lead to a "collapse of sterling". Such comments breach the protocol that senior politicians do not comment on the strength of sterling in case they precipitate a crisis.

Yesterday Lord Kalms, a former Conservative treasurer and founder of the Dixons retail empire, called for Mr Osborne to be replaced with David Davis, the former shadow home secretary. He told The Daily Telegraph: "I am informing everyone who will listen that change needs to happen."

The comments are damaging for Mr Osborne, who has fought hard in recent days to rescue his reputation which was battered by the Deripaska affair. He moved to silence his critics, who claim that he has been outmanoeuvred by Mr Brown, with the announcement of a £2.6 billion tax break plan for companies last week, but it met with a mixed response.

Desperate to regain the initiative, Mr Osborne was mindful that a turning point for the party last year, when it was flagging, was his announcement at the party conference of cuts in inheritance tax.

He devised a tax cut, which was briefed to this newspaper last weekend as "ingenious", and announced it in full the following Tuesday. The party offered a £2,500 National Insurance break for companies for every new worker taken on who has been unemployed for more than three months. David Cameron said the £2.5 billion scheme would pay for itself by reducing unemployment benefit.

The CBI responded by saying it would help some small businesses keep people in work, but the British Chambers of Commerce said firms were not in a position to start recruiting. Mr Brown dismissed it as "unfunded".

The Tories also point out that Mr Brown's decision to fund tax cuts through borrowing and to "spend his way out of recession" will only lead to more debt and higher taxes in the future. Tony McNulty, the employment minister, admitted last week that taxes might have to go up once the economy emerges from the downturn.

The Prime Minister kept up the pressure this weekend by using the G20 financial summit in Washington to call for co-ordinated tax cuts across the world's major economies to help reduce the effect of the downturn.

Labour produced a dossier titled "Osborne's judgement under scrutiny" in which it accused the shadow chancellor of "schoolboy errors".

Tory insiders, however, insist that Mr Osborne is safe, and that that Mr Cameron will never break the political "axis" he has formed with his Notting Hill friend.

A senior insider admitted that Mr Osborne's job had been diluted to take him out of the firing line: "It has been decided that he should do less of the general politics."

It has been reported that Mr Osborne is suspending his work as election coordinator until next March to allow him to concentrate on completely rewriting his economic plans. A series of u-turns, first revealed by this newspaper months ago and denied at the time, have now been confirmed by Tory officials, including ditching green taxes. Mr Osborne is also searching for a way out of his policy of "sharing the proceeds of growth between tax cuts and public spending", since there now isn't any growth. Depending on what Mr Letwin decides, he may need to water down his commitment to match Labour's spending plans.

But rumours of Mr Osborne being replaced with William Hague, Mr Davis, or even Ken Clarke are "very wide of the mark", insiders say.

Mr Hague is understood to have told colleagues that he does not want the job. Another senior MP had a different theory for why Mr Osborne is safe: "George is not going to move because David won't move him. There is an element of lightning conductor in George."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

NHL roundup: Monday's action on the ice

Kevin Weekes was stellar, but Ryan Miller was perfect.

Miller had 24 saves in registering his second straight shutout and Jason Pominville ended a 20-shot first-period barrage against Weekes with a power-play goal to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils Monday night.

Weekes had the thankless task of replacing injured all-star Martin Brodeur in the Devils' goal, and he performed admirably.

"I thought he (Weekes) made the difference early or we would have run away with the game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Kevin played a great game in the first period he probably made I'd say seven quality saves and kept them in the game."
Miller was better though.

"Most of the time he is the best player on the ice, pretty much every game," said Patrick Kaleta, who scored the insurance goal in the third period. "He comes to play every night and gives us a chance to win."

The Sabres also won for the eighth time in 12 games (8-2-2) because they got two assists from Jaroslav Spacek and a perfect 7-for-7 from their penalty killers.

The loss was the Devils' fourth in five games.

Brodeur, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, suffered a bruised elbow on Saturday.

Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said before the game the team was awaiting test results. He gave no indication how long the 15-year veteran would be sidelined.

Brodeur's absence Monday marked the first time in 57 games dating to last season that he did not start. It also marked only the 21st time in his career that he did not dress for a game.

Elsewhere in the NHL, the New York Islanders ended a six-game losing streak by beating Columbus 4-3 in overtime, and Chicago remained unbeaten in regulation at home with a 6-2 win over Colorado.

At Newark, N.J., the Devils basically didn't show up for the first period. They were called for five penalties and were outshot 20-3.

"We didn't play at all in the first," Devils centre John Madden said. "We stood around and watched and then the penalties. We didn't get anything going."

Only Weekes kept them in the game, and he nearly escaped the period without a goal.

Pominville got his fourth goal of the season with 34 seconds left in the period, just seconds after a 5-on-3 power play ended.

Spacek set up the goal with a pass from the right side to Pominville in the left circle. He found the top of the net as Weekes came across low to stop a shot along the ice.

"We moved the puck really well and Spacek made a great play," Pominville said. "He faked the shot and slid the puck over to me. I just had to one-time it in."

Earlier in the period, Weekes had stopped Pominville twice in close, Thomas Vanek in close on a power-play shot and Tim Connolly after a great rush up ice.

"I thought we did a great job in that period to be only down one," Weekes said. "We put ourselves in a position to win and that's what it is all about, giving yourself a chance to win."

Miller, who stopped 29 shots in shutting out Washington on Saturday, was at his best in the second period when the Devils had three power plays. He stopped three good point shots by rookie Anssi Salmela, two by fellow defenceman Johnny Oduya and a chance straight on by Zach Parise, who also had a good opportunity on a wraparound in the third period.

Until the Devils got the power plays, fans booed and had derisive cheers for shots on goal.

Kaleta stretched the lead 2-0 just under eight minutes into the final period with his first goal of the season. Standing about halfway between the goal and the blue line, he redirected a point shot Andrej Sekera between Weekes' pads.

Islanders 4 Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

At Uniondale, N.Y., Chris Campoli had his first two goals in nearly a year, the second coming 3:13 into overtime, and the Islanders overcame another blown three-goal lead in the third period to beat Columbus.


Blackhawks 6 Avalanche 2

At Chicago, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd each had two goals and an assist, leading the Blackhawks over Colorado for their third straight victory.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Long-term care providers, lawmakers meet

By Russ Mitchell, Daily Reporter Staff

Less than three months are left before the 2009 session, but expect long-term care concerns to be on the agenda when state Sen. David Johnson and state Rep. Mike May return to Des Moines.
They were on hand at Longhouse-Northshire to talk with health care providers.

"We're holding 28 of these legislative forums throughout the state of Iowa and we want to really stress to the legislators the importance of access to health care," said Steve Ackerson, the executive director of the Iowa Health Care Association and Iowa Center for Assisted Living. "Right now, we see some barriers out there. One is that we have a really heavy regulatory process that sometimes curtails admissions."

The lack of Medicare reimbursement in Iowa has sometimes made if difficult for Iowans with acute needs to be admitted for long-term care, Ackerson said.

"Our Medicaid reimbursement system is 48th in the country," he said. "That's about $41 per day below the national average."

Ackerson's group represents about 75 percent of the state's long-term care organizations. He would like to see lawmakers implement a quality assurance fee. When the state reimburses the industry for the fee through Medicaid, the process captures a critical federal match.

The excess from the federal matching funds would allow providers to enhance services, increase access for health care for low-income individuals and create a fund for nursing home employees who lost possessions in the eastern Iowa floods. Funds would also go toward infrastructure. Ackerson said Iowa has some of the oldest facilities in the country. He'd also like to see the insurance premiums for nursing home employees to go down.

May, a Spirit Lake Republican, said he would make a concerted effort to push through provider increases through Medicaid in the 2009 session.

"Everyone knows it's just not adequate to maintain the kind of health care staff and specialists that we need in rural Iowa," May said. "If we're not willing to make that commitment, then rural Iowa is in deep trouble. Frankly, we know that we're aging. We know that we have health issues because of that. But we need to simply make that commitment to rural Iowans."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Garrison trample Lester Vaughan

by Justin Marville


And the pecking order of the United Insurance Schools Basketball Division 2 Tournament has been restored.

Behind the "Big Three" of John Jones, Justin Maloney and Jodi Williams, title contenders Garrison Secondary thrashed Lester Vaughan 63-35 on Wednesday to put an end to the visitors' Cinderella run in the competition.

Hopes dashed

Playing unbeaten through the season's first three games, Lester Vaughan (3-1) had high hopes of contending for the school's first championship after soundly dispatching their earlier opponents.

But those title aspirations were dashed within the first four minutes of the Dayrells Road encounter as the Garrison (5-0) were anything but hospitable to their road-weary guests.

With the backcourt pair of Williams and Maloney feasting in the open court, a 14-0 Garrison start to the contest quickly dispelled any myths about the true class of the competition.

The duo's exploits in transition were a direct result of Jones' dominance at the other end of the floor, as the 6ft. 6in. athletic centre controlled the defensive boards while registering several blocks.

Jones was no slouch offensively either, scoring a series of baskets in the low post late in the first quarter to extend the home side's lead to 24-3 heading into the second period.

Despite missing leading scorer, Ashley Smith, in that ensuing quarter, Lester Vaughan responded valiantly with Raphael Hinds, Elvis Forde and Kareem Neblett forcing the issue in transition.

The trio were allowed to get out in the open court for several easy scoring opportunities as the Garrison got sloppy, with Williams and Jones sitting out the majority of the second period.

Halted rally

However, the visitors were still forced to contend with an unrelenting Maloney, who halted Lester Vaughan's rally with a pair of baskets to the end the quarter – the last one coming on a nimble step-back jumper as the half-time whistle sounded.

Trailing 32-13 entering the second half, Lester Vaughan were undaunted by Jones and Williams' re-entry, and managed to keep themselves in the contest by changing the game into a track meet.

With Neblett and Forde pushing the ball in the open floor once more, the visitors traded baskets back and forth with Williams and Maloney keeping the deficit to a respectable 21 points (47-26) entering the fourth quarter.

But it was there that Jones stamped his authority on the game's proceedings as the visitors had no answer in the paint to the towering Garrison centre.

Pounding away

Continually pounding away in the low blocks against the smaller opposing frontcourt, Jones effectively put an end to the contest, pouring in eight fourth quarter points to stretch the hosts' lead past 30 points with less than two minutes remaining.

Williams led the way with a game-high 19 points while Jones and Maloney added 17 and 16 points, respectively. For Lester Vaughan, Neblett scored 14 points and Forde ended with 11.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

No time to spare

By Doug Caruso, Martin Rozenman and Jim Woods

In a race against a house fire, which can double in size every minute it burns, firefighters should strive to get there in six minutes.

That improves their chances of saving lives and property, according to a widely accepted national standard.

But the farther you live from central Ohio's urban centers, the less likely it is that your fire department will make it in time, according to a Dispatch analysis of state fire-run data.

As the region has grown, especially in the counties surrounding Franklin County, departments have tried to keep up, bringing on professional, full-time firefighters and adding stations. Still, response times in some of the fastest-growing areas -- including Pickerington, Powell, New Albany and the eastern part of Reynoldsburg -- meet the standard less than half the time.

The National Fire Protection Association wants departments to get to a fire within six minutes 90 percent of the time. Only two of 84 departments in the region -- Grandview Heights and Lancaster -- met that standard, according to a Dispatch analysis of more than 14,000 runs to building fires between 2003 and 2007.

The six-minute standard allows one minute for dispatchers to handle the call, one minute for four firefighters to get out the door and four minutes to travel to the fire. Not included in the six minutes is the time the fire has been burning before the call.

"The fire-growth curve shows that, beyond eight minutes, it's beyond the room of origin," said Carl Peterson, assistant director of the association's public fire protection division. People are eight times as likely to die in a building fire after eight minutes, he said, and "dollar loss jumps from $3,200 per fire to $22,000."

Prairie Township firefighters took nine minutes, 31 seconds to arrive at a fire that killed 10 people at the Lincoln Park West apartments on Sept. 12, 2004. The first cell call to 911 went to the wrong dispatchers, and it took two minutes to sort out. Then, because of other fires, the nearest firefighters were 2 miles -- and seven-and-a-half minutes -- away. No one was saved that night.

Contrast that with a fire on April 13, 2003, at a three-story rooming house near Ohio State University. Columbus firefighters were there within two minutes of the alarm.

As many as 20 people were inside, said Doug Smith, a Columbus battalion chief who was there. Most got out on their own, but five died. Firefighters made it in time to rescue three people, he said.

Both Prairie Township and Columbus come close to meeting the association's standard for fire response: Columbus made it to building fires within six minutes nearly 89 percent of the time, and Prairie Township made it 85 percent of the time, according to an analysis of the departments' reports to the Ohio fire marshal's office for the last five years.

But of 84 departments in the region, 49 make it to building fires within six minutes less than half the time.

The NFPA acknowledges that rural, volunteer fire departments take more time. It gives those in the most sparsely populated areas 10 to 14 minutes to get to a fire. But that's little comfort if it's your house that's burning.

The big slowdowns
Several factors slow down fire response, central Ohio chiefs agree. They include:

• Distance. Grandview Heights' compact 1.4 square miles means the fire department can make it to most calls in the city in about three minutes, said Fire Chief Hank Kaufman. West Licking Fire Chief Jim Weber, whose district sprawls over 109 square miles and includes the Licking County portions of Reynoldsburg, said it's unfair to compare his department's median response time of seven minutes to the six-minute standard.

"The cost would be astronomical to do what they think you ought to do," Weber said.

• Staffing. If the closest station is busy, response times climb. When lightning hit the Baran family's home in Hilliard on the morning of the first day of school in 2003, the nearest Norwich Township fire company was already at another lightning fire. It was 10 minutes after Bob Baran called 911 on his cell phone to report smoke that the first fire engine arrived. The family got out safely. The house was destroyed.

• Road conditions . Firefighters battle the same traffic problems you do: Congestion, weather and roadwork all slow them down.

"Everybody wants to push, run to the trucks, drive faster," Prairie Chief Stephen Feustel said. "The third-leading cause of firefighter deaths is traffic accidents."

All departments slow down for both red and green lights to avoid accidents.

"A ladder truck weighs 28 tons with a 100-foot platform," Jackson Township Chief Gilbert Sheets said. "You take a Ferrari, you can get to Orders Road pretty fast. You take a 28-ton truck "

• Cell - phone calls . The tower that picks up your phone's signal may be near, but it doesn't tell the dispatcher where to find you, Upper Arlington Fire Division spokesman Dan Kochensparger said.

"We've heard of 911 calls going to the sheriff's department or Columbus," which is what happened in the Lincoln Park West fire.

The Federal Communications Commission has required that all wireless carriers be able to pinpoint your location for the 911 dispatchers, but there are plenty of exceptions, Kochensparger said.

A national problem
Experts say these are nationwide problems.

"Fire protection in America is myth," said Vincent Dunn, a retired New York City deputy fire chief and the author of four books on fire safety. "The response times outside the center cities are too great, and the personnel responding inside and outside the center cities are too few."

When cities were developing a century ago, they tried to build firehouses within 1.5 miles of most homes. That standard figured it would take five minutes for a horse-drawn wagon to arrive. In rural areas, the firehouse was built where the most volunteers could gather.

As cities grow outward, challenges mount. Since the 1970s, Franklin County departments on the edge of I-270 have evolved from volunteer units into full-time professional outfits.

Upgrading fire and emergency services is important but costly, said professor Hazel Morrow-Jones of Ohio State University, who specializes in city planning.

"We are reluctant to hold up development until we have the extra fire station, or extra vehicle or extra personnel. What we have done in central Ohio is we have outgrown our capacity to provide the services," she said.

Violet Township is one of the fastest-growing areas in central Ohio. Its fire department covers Pickerington and the surrounding township, which has grown to 35,000 people today from 15,000 in the 1980s.

It hired its first full-time firefighter, Chief Kenn Taylor, in 1986. In 1987, his budget was $400,000. In 2007, that budget had grown to $5.4 million, Violet Township had 39 full-time firefighters and they handled more than six times as many calls for fires, rescues and medic runs, the chief said.

State records show that the department reached building fires within six minutes 40 percent of the time from 1987 through 1991. Amid the growth, from 2003 to 2007, the rate was nearly the same: 38 percent.

Taylor realized that congestion on Rt. 256 was blocking his firefighters and paramedics. So he brokered a $2,000-a-month deal to put a small station behind an electronics store at Rt. 256 and I-70. It's designed to cut response times, and it's a lot cheaper than a new firehouse, he said.

Other chiefs are feeling the same pressure.

"People move out of Columbus to live in a rural setting but they still want the services of the city," said Terry Gill, chief in Bloom Township in Fairfield County, which became a full-time department in 1991.

Those moving out might not realize that their fire department's performance can affect their insurance rates.

The Insurance Services Office assigns areas "public protection" ratings of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best. Half of the score is based on fire-alarm response concentrating on departments' equipment and personnel. Forty percent is based on hydrants and their condition. Ten percent is based on fire-alarm and communication systems.

In central Ohio, for example, Washington Township and Lancaster score among the best at 2. Upper Arlington, Violet Township and Mifflin Township are at 3. Worthington is a 4. Some areas covered by Norwich Township firefighters in Brown Township, and by Plain Township firefighters, who serve New Albany, have fire ratings of 8 and 9 because they lack hydrants.

Costly solutions
The most expensive ways to reduce response times are building more firehouses and hiring more firefighters. Many departments outside of I-270 have built firehouses or plan to build more soon.

"If we had five firehouses, response time would be great," said former Truro Township Fire Chief James Sharps, who opened a second firehouse in 2007.

Columbus needs more stations, too, said Battalion Chief Smith. The Fire Division has good overall response times with its current 32 stations, he said. Over the past five years, the newspaper's analysis shows, the division reached a majority of building fires in four minutes or less.

Still, it is stretched on the Northwest Side in the Cosgray Road area; on the Northeast Side near Central College Road; and on the Far East Side near Waggoner Road, Smith said.

"There are some areas we could not reach within six minutes," he said. "We have those three areas right now in need of stations but, due to budget constraints, they've been put on hold."

Each station would cost about $4 million to build and about $3 million in annual salaries and benefits to staff with three officers and 25 firefighters, Smith said.

Liberty Township Chief John Bernans has 19 years of experience in rapidly growing southern Delaware County, where the population -- mostly in Powell -- has grown to more than 15,000 from 3,400. The department's five-year master plan includes a third station.

"We're urban," he said. "We're not that rural anymore."

Some central Ohio departments are banding together to share dispatching operations, which they say saves money and speeds response.

In 2003, Mifflin, Plain and Jefferson townships obtained a $700,000 federal grant that helped launch the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Center, said Mifflin Chief Jim DeConnick.

Since then, Truro and Violet townships and Whitehall have joined, providing coverage for 125,000 people. Departments save money, and response time has improved, especially when departments dispatch crews to help one another, said Crystal Dickerson, assistant Jefferson Township fire chief.

Taking that one step further, Gill, the fire chief in Fairfield County's Bloom Township, said that the county's fire departments -- outside of Lancaster and Violet Township -- should combine.

Others have turned to technology.

To improve response time, Violet Township's Taylor has equipped engines and ambulances with devices that turn the traffic lights green. Columbus, Lancaster and Upper Arlington also have the technology at some lights, Upper Arlington Fire Chief Mitch Ross said.

"We still come to a rolling stop for green, but it eliminates maneuvering around traffic."

What you can do
Residents can help reduce fire damage, too.

They can install smoke alarms and call as soon as possible. But the ultimate solution would be more in-home sprinkler systems, several central Ohio fire chiefs said.

Sprinkler systems cost from $2,400 to $16,000 in a study of 30 homes, Columbus' Smith said.

The state doesn't require such systems in new homes, said David Vandeyar, spokesman for the National Fire Sprinkler Association, but Maryland, Illinois, California and Arizona have many communities that require them.

"Scottsdale, Ariz., has a 22-year history," he said. "If you build it, you sprinkle it."

The Building Industry Association of Central Ohio opposes mandating sprinklers in homes because of the expense and questions about maintenance and water pressure, said Jim Hilz, the association's executive director. New homes are required to have hardwired smoke detectors in every room.

But fire chiefs say sprinklers save lives.

"They find fire fastest, fight it while the fire department is en route and sometimes extinguish it," said Grandview's Kaufman. "Just flat out, people don't die in sprinkled buildings."




Dispatch interactive producer Victor Black contributed to this story.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Last house standing: Hurricane Ike's £7bn trail of destruction

It stands alone as if protected by divine intervention.

While its neighbours - as far as the eye can see - were ripped from their foundations and obliterated, this house amazingly escaped the force of a brute called Ike.

Today the death toll from the hurricane had risen to 25 across nine states one of the biggest search and rescue operation in U.S. history got under way.

Nearly 2,000 people were plucked to safety from their flooded homes with hundreds more awaiting rescue.
The confirmed death toll from Hurricane Ike stood at 13.

But search teams stocked with body bags were scouring communities including Galveston, where 20,000 ignored a mandatory evacuation order.

‘We hope for the best but I want to prepare people for the fact that we may have some fatalities,’ said

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. Some told remarkable stories of survival.

Denis Covington, 63, of Port Bolivar, southeast of Houston, had his home smashed in two by a falling pylon.

Both halves crashed into 14ft of floodwater. ‘I had to spend the second half of the hurricane in a tree just clinging on. The rain was like nails sticking in to me,’ he said.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Insurers estimate Gustav claims as high as $10B


BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — Residential and commercial damages from Hurricane Gustav will trigger an estimated $4 billion to $10 billion in insurance claims, a third of which could affect the energy industry.

While Gustav's force paled in comparison to Hurricane Katrina, which cost insurers $41 billion, oil workers, utility crews, fishermen and other business owners fanned out across the Gulf Coast Tuesday to assess the damage. Retailers began restocking their shelves in anticipation of the cleanup effort, and power crews worked to restore electricity to more than 1 million customers across the region.

"We will be addressing our hardest-hit policyholders first," said Elizabeth Stelzer, spokeswoman for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. "Those homes with a tree through a wall, an exposed roof, or other claims in which the home has become uninhabitable are the priority."

Power outages from Hurricane Gustav continued to grow Tuesday with utility giant Entergy Corp. now saying it has the second largest number of outages in the company's 95-year history, trailing only the devastation wrought by Katrina three years ago. The loss of power brought down cellular and Internet service in parts of Louisiana.

Residential and land-based commercial losses were expected to total between $3 billion to $7 billion and oil-drilling damage at about $1 billion to $3 billion, Newark, Calif.-based Risk Management Solutions Inc. estimated. Catastrophe risk-modeling firm AIR Worldwide Corp., based in Boston, placed preliminary losses on land ranging between $2 billion and $4.5 billion.

"It's still really early and we're definitely evaluating the damage that happened," said Matt Bordonaro, spokesman for The Travelers Group. "We are seeing more of a wind event, than a flood event."

Insurance industry analysts warned that computerized data on insurance losses may understate actual costs because the figure don't include damage to uninsured property or destruction caused by actions excluded from some policies, such as flooding. Total losses won't be known for months.

Katrina, which struck three years ago last month, was the single largest natural disaster loss in the history of the insurance industry. Insurers paid $41 billion arising from 1.7 million claims for damage to homes, businesses and vehicles to policy holders in six states. Hurricane Andrew — the previous record holder — produced $15.5 billion in losses in 1992 and 790,000 claims.

Preliminary indications were that Gustav caused little damage to the region's abundance of onshore and offshore oil facilities, though the full impact of wind and wave damage to platforms and pipelines likely won't be known for a couple of days.

The price of oil tumbled nearly $7 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, suggesting traders were confident that the energy complex suffered only a glancing blow.

Port of New Orleans spokesman Chris Bonura said damage appeared to be light, and that the Mississippi River was already open to some traffic Tuesday morning.

"Our transmission system has had massive damage," Entergy spokesman Mike Burns said, noting damage to 191 transmission lines and 210 substations that affected 825,000 customers, mostly in Louisiana.

Eastbound traffic on Interstate 10 toward Louisiana picked up considerably as people who had evacuated started to make their way home, and retailers began to reopen stores.

Home improvement chain The Home Depot Inc. said more than half of the 31 stores closed because of Gustav will reopen Tuesday and Conn's Inc., which operates a chain of appliance stores in Texas and Louisiana, also began reopening stores Tuesday.

Lowe's Cos. Inc. and Home Depot said hundreds of trucks carrying generators, chain saws, bleach, brooms, tarps and roofing supplies were moving into the region.

In Mississippi, regulators say the 11 casinos along the Gulf Coast will remain closed until crews finish cleaning up from the storm and an adequate number of employees return to work. Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said Tuesday that none of the casinos suffered any structural damage from Gustav.

Associated Press Writers John Porretto in Houston, Ashley Heher in Chicago, Peter Svensson in New York and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report. Ieva M. Augstums reported from Charlotte, N.C.

Friday, August 22, 2008

'My human rights have been breached': Glitter flies back to Britain and claims HE is a victim

Gary Glitter finally arrived in Britain yesterday – claiming he was the victim of a ‘show trial’ and that his human rights were breached.

The shamed pop star paedophile was given VIP treatment at Heathrow and smirked as he was fast-tracked through the airport with a six-strong police escort.

He avoided the cameras and even ducked out of a court appearance, sending a lawyer in his place to argue he should not have to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register.

Glitter, 64, convicted of molesting two Vietnamese girls aged ten and 11, brazenly insisted he was innocent and called his 2006 trial in Vietnam a ‘travesty of justice’.

He trotted out a series of pleas for sympathy, including claiming he might have contracted tuberculosis while in prison in the Far East.

He is demanding round-the-clock police protection because he fears he could be attacked to avenge his crimes against children.

It could cost taxpayers £50,000 a year to protect him if police decide there are credible threats against his life.

Over the next few days, Scotland Yard will carry out a risk assessment.

Despite fears that he could re-offend, Glitter had vanished within hours of arriving in the UK.

An airport insider said he had been led through a tunnel before leaving by car, while police sources said he was now ‘no longer in London’.

He has three days to provide police with a permanent address. Officers are understood to be aware of his current location.

In theory, there is nothing to stop him going abroad again.

If he went to Europe he would have free movement with his UK passport. Alternatively, he could be staying with a friend in Britain.

His lawyer David Corker said: ‘I have no information about whether he will travel abroad but, realistically, what country is going to accept him?

'I know where he is – but I’m not going to say.’

Glitter landed at Heathrow shortly after 7am but hid in the terminal building for hours. He dispatched Mr Corker to Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court where a hearing was scheduled to deal with a Notification Order applied for by the Metropolitan Police to help them monitor Glitter, real name Paul Gadd.

Mr Corker argued that his client should not immediately be put on the Sex Offenders’ Register because his Vietnam conviction was flawed and passed in a country with an abysmal human rights record.

He said: ‘Mr Gadd wants me to say that he didn’t commit the offences for which he was convicted.

'It was a show trial and he had no opportunity to put his defence forward.’

Mr Corker applied for a six-week postponement but District Judge David Simpson rejected the claims and ordered Glitter to sign the register within three days.

The judge said ‘Mr Gadd has sought to avoid the jurisdiction of this court’, referring to Glitter’s attempts to dodge deportation to Britain.

He now has three days in which to register with police his name, address, date of birth and National Insurance number.

He must tell them if he intends to stay at any other address for more than seven days. He can travel abroad without restriction for up to three days, but for any longer he is required to give police details.

Nonetheless, he remains free to travel anywhere in the world that will have him – making a mockery of tough talk by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who exploited Glitter’s return to trumpet new measures to clamp down on paedophiles indulging in ‘sex tourism’.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NBAD moves into Egypt with $4 million brokerage deal

Abu Dhabi Financial Services said it has snapped up 70 per cent of Egypt-based Al Salam Brokerage. The deal is thought to have cost the UAE-based company, which is owned by National Bank of Abu Dhabi, around $4 million.

A notice posted in the ADX’s website said that move by ADFS would be the first step towards “the fulfillment of a wider scope of development” including the modernisation of the Egyptian company’s IT infrastructure, the enhancement its human resources and would help it with its plans for increased regional and international expansion.

In May Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank's Egyptian arm and Amlak Finance signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Arab Orient Insurance Company, a member of the Al Futtaim group of companies to launch a new joint venture insurance company in Egypt called Arab Orient Takaful Insurance.

Monday, August 11, 2008

OSC to raise $4bn to finance fleet expansion programme

By Staff Writer on Monday, August 11, 2008

State-owned Oman Shipping Company (OSC) is aiming to raise $4 billion (Dh14.69bn) by year-end to finance its proposed fleet expansion programme, according to a senior government official.

The company is looking to add between 15 and 20 refined product tankers to its fleet in order to cope with the increasing demand for energy transportation.

The raised amount will be partly used to finance existing vessels already on order and to purchase more ships.

OSC's major stakeholders include Oman's Ministry of Finance and Oman Oil Company.

Ahmed Al Abry, COO of BankMuscat, said: "The amount was too big for local financial institutions to wholly finance the deal but added that a collaboration could be made with foreign banks to raise the money."

BankMuscat, Oman's largest lender would 'go for the role of a lead arranger' on the deal.

Part of OSC's multi-billion dollar expansion includes an order to build 10 very large crude carriers (VLCC), chief financial officer Kuldeep Mathur said earlier.

In February, OSC placed two separate orders with South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder, to build five supertankers, and with Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Company to build another five VLCCs.

The deals were valued at about $770m each.

Financing for the company's fleet expansion could likely come via loan arrangements from the North Asian institutions, Japan Bank for International Co-operation, Korea Export Insurance Corporation, or European banks like BNP Paribas and Societe Generale, Mathur said.

Oman Shipping Company is a closed joint stock company incorporated in May 2003. It is owned by the Government of the Sultanate of Oman through Ministry of Finance (80 per cent) and Oman Oil Company SAOC (20 per cent).

OSC was incorporated by the government to use its own fleet to export Omani products, to get involved in the whole LNG value chain and to develop shipping industry in Oman as one way of creating jobs.

At present, OSC has invested in six LNG ship-owning companies.

Six LNG vessels are in operation. Other than LNG vessels, the company has recently invested in owning a product tanker with Mitsui OSK Lines and is looking into expanding and diversifying its fleet of VLCCs, Product Tankers, Petrochemical Carriers, Bulk Carriers, LPG Tankers, Methanol Tankers and Containers.

Last year, OSC, UAE's Vitol International, part of Vitol Group, and Oman International Trading Company (OITC) signed memorandums of understanding in Dubai to form a joint venture (JV) to transport methanol from Salalah Methanol Company (SMC).

Under the JV, which is 80 per cent owned by Oman Shipping Company and 20 per cent by Vitol, three tankers would be bought and leased to Oman International Trading Company for 15 years for transporting methanol.

The UAE was the leader among countries trading in non-oil products with Oman during the first quarter of this year as the sultanate's foreign trade experienced a 50.4 per cent rise in the total value of commodity exports to Dh30.72 billion as of the end of March, compared to the same period in 2007.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

It's Graverobber Tirade Friday!

Graverobber has been a regular PCH Tirade™ machine in recent weeks, and we thought it would be convenient for all PCHT™ aficionados to see his greatest hits all together in one convenient location. That way you can approach the prospect of your personal Hell Project with the knowledge that you might end up much like one of the victims in Graverobber's vivid (yet no doubt accurate) imagination.

Aston Martin DB5 vs Jensen FF

Jensen FF. The Aston, even in this condition the Aston is worth some scratch. There were only 1,021 DB5s ever produced, and today they can go for six figures. As a wise man once said: "Thars gold in them thar hills!" so you might be able to even eke out a profit, but probably not. You would earn the respect of other Aston owners and auto enthusiasts for being a respectful steward of the car, and saving it from ruination.
So, the Jensen FF. FF, Ferguson Formula. First all-wheel-drive production car. Gotta' be worth something right? And this one seems pretty intact, the fact that it is being consigned by an expert on the brand is a good sign, isn't it? Jeepers, you should just face the fact now that buying this car is a one-way trip to the poor house. And you ain't gonna be getting there in the Jensen.

There's now way in hell that this car is ever going to be valued at more than what you'd have to put into it just to avoid having Nelson Muntz wannabes point at you and shout "Ha-ha."

You'd go through your vacation fund, pissing off the rest of your family who really did want to go see that civil war reenactment, and it wouldn't be done. You'd blow through your oldest kid's college fund and he'd just stare at you, all puffy haired, and zit-faced and cry. Still, it wouldn't be done.

You'd cash in those bonds that your aunt Eunice gave you for being such a good boy on your birthdays all those years ago, and it still wouldn't be done.

Your wife would start feeding the family generic hamburger helper without cheese, substituting plain-wrap cat food without telling anyone, and still the shop would call every week and ask for another check.

When you finally run out of money, and get banned from eBay for trying to sell a kidney, you tell them that they'll have to stop working on it. You'd then get a bill for the storage.

Pulling out your hair, you decide to sell the thing, but your so far in debt with the shop that they won't let any prospective buyers in to see the car. You offer it to them and the owner's eyes get really big and he says "thanks, but I already have an ulcer."

At your wits end, and soon to be evicted from your house, you concoct a plan to burn down the shop, and the car within. The insurance money will cover your debt with the shop owner, and you can move to a different state, change your name and start anew.

The plan goes off without a hitch except that you find out that the shop has moved the Jensen out into the yard to make room for cars not owned by deadbeats, and it is the only thing left standing. You troubles compound when the source of the fire- a gas can with your name and address on it (damn your wife and her dymo labeler!) is discovered.

You are arrested two days later, hiding on skid row, having attempted to mask your identity by wearing one of your wife's dresses and a wig you stole from Kmart.

The trial is quick, and your public defender inept, but eventually you are relaxing in the county lockup, enjoying the promise of 5 years of three squares a day and free clothes. It's not too bad, and you even are allowed mail every week.

Everything looks like it's finally turning around for your until one day you get a letter from the shop owner- it's a bill for two years of yard storage for the Jensen. And you start thinking you may still have some gold fillings left in your back molars...

Monday, July 28, 2008


Chris Wood, the towering 20-year-old amateur from Bristol who finished a brilliant joint fifth at The Open eight days ago, has turned professional.

Wood has signed for the International Sports Management group and becomes a stablemate of Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and David Howell - and also last year's Open silver medal winner Rory McIlroy.

After taking a week to consider his future, the 6ft 5in Wood said: "Royal Birkdale was the best week of my life and now I am looking forward to an equally exciting and successful future in the professional ranks.

"If I was going to play amateur golf for another year, I'm not sure that at the end of it I would be in a better position than I am now.

"I played with Darren Clarke yesterday and I've spoken to another two professionals and they've all said that I'll be a better player after a year on the tour."

Wood has already received an invitation to the Quinn Insurance British Masters at The Belfry on September 25-28. His management company are the promoters of that event.

McIlroy made his professional debut there last season and a week later came third in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.

Wood is allowed seven sponsor's invites and if he earns around ฃ150,000 from them, he will avoid November's European Tour qualifying school.

"We are thrilled and delighted that Chris has chosen to join ISM when he had several options," said managing director Andrew Chandler.

"He is an extremely talented and likeable young man and proved at The Open that he can perform at the highest level."

Wood partnered Ian Poulter in the final round of The Open and at the start of the back nine was only two off the lead.

Although he slipped back into a tie for fifth, seven strokes behind Padraig Harrington, his performance was easily the best by an amateur in any major since Justin Rose's fourth-place finish on the same course 10 years ago.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Travel advice: Driving abroad

Keep an eye on the road - and your car insurance, says travel expert Sophie Butler.

If you plan to drive your own car on holiday this summer, it’s important to know where things can go wrong. I recently heard from two readers who came a cropper on a long motoring trip in Europe. Because they were touring and only wanted to stay one or two nights in each place, they knew that there would be times when their luggage would be left in the boot.

Aware that some insurance policies won’t cover unattended luggage in cars – even if the boot is locked and the bags are out of view – they were anxious to make sure they would be properly compensated in the event of a break-in. So they talked through their requirements carefully with their insurer before they set off.

Unfortunately, their fears were confirmed and, despite leaving their car locked, alarmed and parked in a residential area, it was broken into in Sicily. The window was smashed and some of their personal belongings were stolen. They contacted the police to obtain a theft report so they could make a claim once they got home.

“We firmly believed we were fully covered on our insurance,” they said. However, this turned out not to be the case. The insurer rejected the claim on two counts: first, because their vehicle was UK-registered and therefore “a target for thieves”; and second, because Sicily is – according to the insurer – one of the poorest places in the world, making cars there particularly vulnerable to theft.

But the readers decided to pursue their claim because nobody from the company had pointed out these exemptions when they bought the insurance. After they threatened to take the case to the Small Claims Court, their insurer eventually agreed to settle the claim.

Good news for these readers, but it could have turned out differently had the insurer decided to dig its heels in. So what other potential pitfalls should you be aware of before you take your car abroad?

To avoid the sort of problem these readers encountered, it’s worth asking your travel insurer whether there are any factors that may disqualify you for cover in the specific countries you are planning to visit. Make a note of whom you speak to and what they advise. If there is any aspect of the cover that is particularly important to you, or needs clarifying, put it in writing.

You should also tell both your travel insurer and your car insurer of your travel dates. Note that some ask for at least two weeks’, or even a month’s notice of departure.

British motor insurance policies are obliged by law to provide third-party cover in all EU countries, but unless you’ve made special arrangements with your insurer, you’re unlikely to have full comprehensive cover, even if you have it at home. Most insurers also provide a European “accident statement” form, which might come in useful for noting on-the-spot details if you have an accident involving another motorist.

Third-party cover won’t cover damage or loss of your car or the cost of getting it home, so you’ll also need separate breakdown cover. This should include roadside assistance, emergency repairs, car hire, the cost of returning your car to Britain and emergency accommodation. Also bear in mind that most insurers will only cover you for a limited amount of time. If you are away for a few weeks, you may need to request an extension to cover the duration of your trip.

Driving abroad: a checklist

Take your driving licence, insurance certificate and vehicle registration document.
Plan your route in advance. There are good online route-finders which are free to use and can save the bother of poring over maps. Visit www.greenflag.co.uk/routeplanning.
Service your car and do the essential checks on oil, tyres, petrol, battery and water (these are the most common causes of breakdown).
Buy headlamp deflector strips and a warning triangle (many countries make this a legal requirement).
Check you have a spare wheel and a jack, first-aid kit, jump leads, a torch, fuse kits, reflective jacket and spare car light bulbs (these are compulsory in some European countries).
Blood-alcohol limits vary and are not always the same as in Britain (typically around 50mg or a single glass of wine on the Continent, compared with 80mg at home). In some countries the limit is 20mg.
Most European Union countries allow higher maximum speeds than Britain but limits are lowered during wet weather.
Readers' queries

PQ, Kent, writes
What are your tips for finding the best-value short ferry crossings this summer? Have I left it too late to find a bargain?

Sophie Butler replies
Fares rise as the ferries fill, so the earlier you book the better. You can find lower prices by booking midweek on late-night or early-morning crossings. Even if you book an hour or two either side of the peak times it can be far cheaper. Compare prices on websites such as www.ferrysavers.com and www.aferry.co.uk.

TO, by email, writes
My friend thinks there’s a hotel dedicated to puddings in the UK.

Sophie Butler replies
She may mean Three Ways House Hotel in Gloucestershire (01386 438429; www.puddingclub.com; from £135), which is the Pudding Club’s headquarters and a good place to sample a range of classic puddings.

KL, by email, writes
Inspired by a recent visit to Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall, I’d like to try an archaeological holiday abroad. Can you suggest any operators that organise such trips?

Sophie Butler replies
Try Andante Travels (01722 713800; www.andantetravels.co.uk) or Martin Randall Travel (020 8742 3355; www.martinrandall.com). Digs worldwide are listed at www.archaeology.co.uk.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Armed robbers busted

An effective collaboration between the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regional Police Commands has led to the arrest of four members of a suspected armed robbery syndicate who have since last month been allegedly terrorising and robbing people of their properties and monies at gun point in Kumasi, Ejisu, Bekwai, Nkawkaw and their environs.

The suspects, Sadat Mohammed, 23, Abdulai Adamu alias Awudu, 23, Rashid Nuru 21, and Kwame Appiah 20 are said to have committed ten robberies in three separate nights from 23rd May, 25th May and 27th June, 2008 in the Ashanti and Eastern Regions.

The robbers, according to the police after committing the robberies immediately flee to Accra, cool off and resurface in Kumasi to continue their acts.

The four have already been remanded to re-appear on July 25 while efforts have been intensified by the police to apprehend those at large.

Kwame Appiah and Nuru Rashid were said to be among a number of suspected armed robbers rounded up by the Nima Police at their hideout on 25th June 2008 in Accra where the police retrieved two pump action guns from them.

At a press briefing yesterday by the out-going 2nd In-Command of the Ashanti Regional Police Service, Bright Oduro disclosed that even though four of the robbers have been arrested, the leader whose name was known to the police as Mayi, alias Burger remains at large.

According to the Police, two other accomplices who also belong to the robbery syndicate are also at large. They are Ramani and Hamidu who are believed to be hiding in Mamobi and Nima in Accra. The police have posted a reward of GH¢2,000.00 for information on Mayi and the others.

Sadat Mohammed, the police stated was arrested by the Accra Regional team together with his girl-friend Agnes Asiem (Hajia) on June 28, 2006 on a tip-off. Hajia has been identified as the source of supply of the weapons from her other boy friend, Moses now in Police custody in Accra.

Bright Oduro further added that Awudu who was in the company of Sadat and Mayi, driving in a snatched Taxi cab for their last operation got arrested by the Kumasi police when the police became suspicious at the extent at which the snatched taxi was speeding which resulted in a hot chase by the police therefore arresting Awudu but the two managed to escape.

After a search by the police, a pump action gun, and an Israeli made 9mm KAREEM MK II pistol were recovered in the abandoned taxi cab.

Enumerating some of the robbers' activities, Mr. Bright Oduro said on the 23rd May at about 2:15 am, Mayi, Rashid Nuru and Sadat Mohammed with two pump action guns as well as a foreign made pistol attacked lodgers at Pink Panther Hotel located at Adiembra in Kumasi and succeeded in robbing them of their 6 mobile phones, 2 lap top computers, and a DSTV decoder. The victims, according to the police were auditors of Cal Bank in Accra and were in Kumasi on assignment.

Another operation by the robbers, according to the police also took place three days later but this time with the inclusion of Abdulai Adama and Kwame Appiah. The police said the robbers attacked one Emmanuel Acquah, driver of a KIA Pride taxi cab with registration No. AS1495Y at Aboabo and later attacked workers of K Ofori Cement and Iron rods Company at Kwamo near Kumasi and took away cash of GH¢4800.

The robbers, the police say, then drove to Nkawkaw in the same night and attacked workers of Galaxy Oil Ghana Ltd, taking away an amount of GH¢15,000.00. They later abandoned the cab and boarded an Accra bound bus.

Mr. Oduro said about a month later, three members of the syndicate, this time made up of Mayi, Awudu and Sadat returned to Kumasi, snatched a taxi at Aboabo from Mark Abedu, driver of car with registration No. AS 2276 W and proceeded to Bekwai with the taxi where they attacked Amansie International Hotel.

He said the robbers, posing as prospective guests succeeded in robbing a foreigner and his workers of their 4 different mobile phones, GH¢3,400 and US$150.00 at the hotel. Mayi also took one of the lady workers into one of the rooms and raped her. The robbers, he said seized a KIA truck with registration No. GT 5561V belonging to the Whiteman and drove off.

Mr. Bright Oduro added that the victims were at Bekwai to install generators for the district office of the National Health Insurance Scheme and would have left for Accra after completing their work later in the day.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One Way to Higher Fertility Rates: Support Working Mothers

Posted by John J. Edwards III

Yesterday’s New York Times magazine ran a fascinating and disturbing cover story about the deep decline in Europe’s birthrates, which threatens to leave its countries economically stagnant and socially moribund in coming decades. As the article lays out, the entire continent is below the “replacement” birthrate of 2.1 on average per woman, in some places far below. Among the many possible reasons for the baby bust, particularly interesting is a combination of differences in government support for working mothers and social mores about motherhood.

In short, the more juggle-friendly the country, the higher the birthrate tends to be. The article, by Russell Shorto, notes that Scandinavian countries have a relatively high birthrate of 1.8, while southern European countries have some of the world’s lowest rates — 1.33 in Italy, for example. In Norway, the government guarantees 54 weeks of maternity leave and six weeks of paternity leave, plus a payment of €4,000 (about $6,300) upon the birth of a child. In Italy, there’s less state child-care support, and only 50% of women work outside the home, compared with 75% to 80% in Scandinavia, the article says.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has a healthy birthrate of 2.1, despite offering relatively little government child-care assistance. The key here seems to be the flexibility of our labor market and workplaces, coupled with social mores that increasingly encourage fathers to take an active role in child rearing, says the article. Motherhood is thus more attractive to women in the U.S. than in the more economically rigid and socially traditionalist Europe.

Arnstein Aassve, a Norwegian sociologist quoted in the article, sums up the situation this way: “You might say that in order to promote fertility, your society needs to be generous or flexible. The U.S. isn’t very generous, but it is flexible. Italy is not generous in terms of social services and it’s not flexible. There is also a social stigma in countries like Italy, where it is seen as less socially accepted for women with children to work. In the U.S., that is very accepted.”

Readers, what’s your take on this theory and how you’ve seen it play out in your lives and communities? I’m especially curious to hear from readers who’ve lived and worked in Europe, or are there now.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Call for pensions tax relief to fund Irish universal pension

IRELAND – Ireland should significantly reduce tax incentives for occupational and private pension schemes in order to pay for a higher, and universal, state pension, a joint paper from Trinity College and the Think tank for Action on Social Change (TASC) has claimed.

The response to the consultation on the Green Paper on Pensions argued the public pension system is much easier to operate than the private sector system, while the cost of tax reliefs on private pensions is "now as large as the cost of direct expenditure on the public system".

As a result, the TASC and the Trinity College Pensions Policy Research Group (PPRG) outlined two alternative options for pension reform:

To eliminate pensioner poverty by increasing social welfare pensions paid for by a reducing private pension subsidies – rather than increasing retirement age
To introduce a universal state pension similar to the New Zealand model – including a 'top-up' second tier social insurance pension based on contributions.
The report argued a universal pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system is "lower cost and lower risk than a funded system organised in a pensions industry which is not competitive and locked into high risk investment strategies".

It claimed the Green Paper – which closed to consultation on May 30, 2008 – "implicitly" suggested the key to providing adequate retirement incomes and reducing pensioner poverty is to "continue to limit the role of the public system and to increase tax incentives for private pensions".

However, the TASC and PPRG claimed a further shift towards private pensions system over the public system would be "ill-advised" as they argued "this approach has not worked in the past and that it is unlikely to be successful in the future".

Instead, it said the trend should be reversed in favour of a public system, with subsidies for private schemes "significantly reduced and targeted at low and middle income earners".

The report claimed most of the benefits of the pension tax reliefs have been "appropriated by the very highest earners" – as the bulk of tax incentives are received by the top 20% of earners, while the bottom 20% receive "virtually nothing", for example these lower earners benefited from just 1.1% of tax reliefs in 2000.

In addition, the response argued the policy of providing generous tax reliefs to encourage the growth of occupational pension schemes "has not been very effective" as the coverage of occupational schemes fell by 4% between 1985 and 2006.

It also said the most important contribution to the total income of pensioners is made by social welfare pensions and other social benefits, with the public pension system accounting for 60% of pensioners’ total income.

As a result, it claimed its options for reform "draw on the strengths of the public system and begin to correct the inequitable treatment of taxpayers who gain little from tax reliefs for private pensions".

It argued a New Zealand-style universal state pension "could be adopted in Ireland at less cost to the Exchequer than the present pension arrangements", while a universal pension would eliminate means-testing as well as address the problems of women's irregular contribution records and provide security for the 20% of older people currently receiving no state pension.

That said, the report highlighted the development of a universal system would have to include "a significant curtailment of the tax incentives for occupational pensions, Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs), Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs) and Approved Retirement Funds (ARFs)".

The report claimed the recommendation to reduce tax reliefs are "not as dramatic as they might seem" as the state pension is already providing the bulk of retirement income for the majority of pensioners, while tax reliefs have "not succeeded in increasing coverage of occupational schemes" and incentives for PRSAs "have had little effect on coverage especially at the lower end of the income distribution".

The response from the TASC/PRRG follows recent submissions against the introduction of a mandatory pension saving system from the Society of Actuaries in Ireland and the Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF). (See earlier IPE articles: Higher state pension 'more cost-effective' and IAPF warns of compulsory pensions 'havoc')

Meanwhile, Life Strategies, an actuarial consultancy, claimed in its response to the consultation diverting tax relief towards a higher state pension - one of the potions outlined in the Green Paper – would be "fundamentally unsound" as the figures in the paper had been "overstated". (See earlier IPE article: Diverting tax reliefs to state pension is "unsound")

If you have any comments you would like to add to this or any other story, contact Nyree Stewart on + 44 (0)20 7261 4618 or email nyree.stewart@ipe.com

Author: Nyree Stewart