Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ohio Supreme Court: Traffic cameras are legal


The streetside traffic-enforcement cameras in Akron, Cleveland and several other Ohio towns aren't going away any time soon.
The Ohio Supreme Court refused to snap a lens cap on the cameras Thursday, ruling unanimously that the cities that use the cameras as the basis for ticketing motorists aren't overstepping their municipal authority.


A "fundamental misunderstanding"

The camera-challenging plaintiffs took a clever tack, implying they should actually be treated more harshly for breaking the law. Moving violations are criminal offenses, their lawsuit claimed, with traffic-court hearings, points assessed against one's license and even license revocation as possible consequences. But snapshot-caught violations get treated more like parking tickets -- civil cases, with no penalty beyond a fine.





That, the suit contended, "decriminalizes" speeding and red-light running, which clashes with state laws, so municipalities overstepped their authority. Nonsense, replied the court. Akron's speeding and red-light laws remain intact, and police can still enforce them. "The Akron ordinance complements, rather than conflicts with, state law," wrote Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger.

Due next: Due process

"This case isn't over," declared Warner Mendenhall, an Akron attorney who filed the challenge on his defendant wife's behalf. Opponents are still fighting the cameras on the grounds that the hearings set up for motorists to challenge their citations trounce the U.S. Constitution's due-process protections. U.S. District Judge David Dowd will decide that in a process that could take months to resolve.


Studies: Camera enforcement works

Studies consistently show that bad driving abates near camera surveillance. One example in a study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Montgomery County, Md., saw a 70-percent plunge in the proportion of vehicles speeding more than 10 mph faster than the posted speed limits in areas where cameras were installed. The mere specter of cameras worked, the Maryland study found: Where camera warnings were posted, speeding dropped by 39 percent even when the cameras weren't in place. Another example: A yearlong test of red-light cameras in two Virginia cities showed red-light running was slashed by 69 percent after camera deployment, according to an Old Dominion University study published a year ago. The risk of a red-light violation at the target intersections was 3.59 times higher within a year after the cameras were yanked in July 2005, that study found.


Don't shake the moneymaker

Cleveland and other cities often deny they use the cameras as revenue machines, but it's certainly in their fiscal best interest that the programs survive challenges. Cleveland, where cameras now generate nearly 120,000 citations a year, collected more than $14 million in fines from its program in the last two years, including $8.28 million in 2007. But, said Cleveland Law Director Robert Triozzi, the cameras aren't about revenue. "This program is designed to make our neighborhoods safer," he insisted Thursday. "Nobody in this town should feel the right to break the law with impunity."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Banks cream £1,200 profit from every £20 PPI policy sold with loans


UK banks and insurance companies are making profits of up to 982 per cent on payment protection insurance(PPI) policies sold with loans, according to a report by The Competition Commission.

The findings of the latest investigation, presented as a Working Paper, found that lenders are making in excess of £2.6 billion a year from the controversial PPI scheme, with the average revenue from a single premium personal loan PPI policy for banks coming in at £1,200.

Along with the two main consumer regulators, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the Competition Commission is carrying out investigations into high-pressure selling tactics that have resulted in many polices being inappropriately and unfairly sold to customers.

With common complaints such as back pain and mental health failing to secure a payout, it has since been revealed that cash earned from PPI that has helped the personal loan remain profitable for banks and other providers. In its report, the Competition Commission stated that: "The personal loans business has suffered from declining profits in recent years to the point where in 2006 it appears to have been loss making before taking into account income from PPI."

Further research by the Post Office has also found that PPI linked to a loan can cost five times more than standalone PPI, saving on average £705 over the period of the loan. Post Office Head of Protection Products, Duncan Caesar-Gordon, has called for a "more transparent" and "fairer marketplace."

The Post Office found average monthly PPI premiums stood at £28.05 – or £14.88 for every £100 of cover. "The Post Office has been calling for an open market for PPI sales since 2006, where providers are honest with customers that other, cheaper, standalone products are available, and has contributed to the Competition Commission's investigation to this effect," said Mr. Caesar-Gordon.

"Many customers continue to have little understanding of PPI and some do not even realise they have this insurance in force. Others, who have been at the hands of aggressive sales tactics, can feel they have no choice but to take the expensive policy tied to a loan or credit card if they want their application to be accepted," he added.

Tim Moss, Head of Loans at moneysupermarket.com, has also critisised the current trend of mis-selling PPI: "This study may well bring a return to old-fashioned banking where the headline rate told you everything about a loan. Lenders may have to go back to the days where they made their money out of the interest rate they charged, rather than the additional products they sell."

However he warned that a change in the regulations could be reflected in a new pricing structure: "There will be more transparent pricing, but market-leading loans could well go from six or seven per cent up to eight or nine per cent, if PPI is clamped down on. Rates would have to go up to replace lost profits."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lift Canada bank, insurance merger limits: Manulife


TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada should allow its financial services companies -- banks and insurers -- to merge, subject to some conditions, Dominic D'Alessandro, the chief executive of Manulife Financial Corp , the country's biggest insurer, said on Monday.

"We should be looking at allowing cross-pillar mergers ... provided the widely held rule was preserved, and competition remained vigorous," D'Alessandro said during a panel discussion organized by the Conference Board of Canada in Toronto.

"Cross-pillar mergers" refers to tie-ups between banks and insurance companies, but D'Alessandro later hinted that barriers that stop banks uniting with banks and insurers joining up with their peers in Canada should also be scrapped.

Within Canada, there are now 10 or 11 "sizable" financial institutions, he said.

"Maybe, with a small population base like ours, we can't support 10 or 11. But we can support six or seven," he said.

In 1998, the Liberal government rejected two proposed bank mergers. Current Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, of the ruling Conservative Party, has repeatedly said bank mergers are not a priority for his government.

Flaherty repeated that position on Monday despite a resurgence in pressure recently from several quarters, including Canada's big banks, to end merger restrictions. The banks argue that without takeovers the country's institutions are becoming uncompetitive globally.

Under the "widely held" rule, ownership of Canada's big banks and life insurance companies is limited to 20 percent.

Manulife this month bought C$500 million worth of shares, in a private placement by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce , making it one of the biggest shareholders in Canada's fifth biggest bank.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; writing by Nicole Mordant; editing by Renato Andrade)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Step up efforts in AIDS campaign


When Wen Jiabao and then Hu Jintao visited AIDS patients in Beijing hospitals in 2003 and in 2004 respectively, the Chinese government seemed prepared to confront the virus head on. But, such action has come too late and has proved to be as weak as the disease is virulent.
Foreign and local businesses in China, with a special role to play, are similarly tardy even as the virus is increasingly landing on their own doorsteps.

Official and unofficial statistics differ, but taking a median position, it's likely there are around one million Chinese infected with HIV, the virus leading to AIDS. Infection rates are climbing at a rate of around 30 percent annually and the most affected group is between 15-29, the country's key productive and consumer demographic and, essentially, China's future.

It looks dire, a conviction confirmed in a report by the United Nations AIDS office. In 2002, UNAIDS published a report on the disease on the mainland called, dramatically, "China's Titanic Peril."

It argued: "A potential HIV/AIDS disaster of unimaginable proportion now lies in wait to rattle the country, and it can be feared that in the near future, China might count more HIV infections than any other country in the world."

Part of the rationale for that gloomy projection is the manner of the virus' spread. In South Africa, for instance, it has been noted that when the virus first took hold in the early 1990s, its prevalence rate was at just 1 percent. By 2003, it was at 20 percent and rising fast.

The shape of HIV's establishment in a population puts the onus on officials to act quickly. This China has not done. The first AIDS case in the mainland was detected in 1985.

Despite this, as with SARS outbreaks some years later, Beijing buried its head. It was not until 2003 that Beijing initiated assistance packages and prevention measures, such as the "Four Free and One Care" policy. It was not until 2006 that the State Council launched the government's first real preventative legislation and admitted AIDS was an issue needing such high profile attention. Beijing's laxity has clearly left many gaps in the AIDS landscape in China. This puts both a moral and an economic obligation on to the private sector.

Unfortunately, in general, the corporate sector has followed Beijing's poor lead and has tended to find the same sand pit for its troubled head. The moral case is clear. Morality is deemed to come at a cost.

In an article on the business response to AIDS in the Harvard Business Review published in 2006, authors Mergen Reddy and Boetie Swanepoel noted: "The root constraint for companies trying to manage HIV, we believe, is not the inadequacy of therapies or education, but cost." The question of direct cost comes down to a balance between losing workers, both existing and potential and consumers, and the cost of finding ways to lessen the impact of the disease.

Reddy and Swanepoel have devised risk-trading measures, via already existing corporate insurance policies, and a schedule of investment instruments allowing employers (in the mining sector, which was the target industry) to cut the costs of employee treatment by up to 40 percent, leading to a halving of employee absenteeism rates.

Any such programs must be founded on excellent stakeholder communications with relevant bodies.

In China, this would include government and any of the many civil groups active in the field.

A new report from the World Economic Forum showed 47 partnerships have been set up in around one million workplaces around the world.

Businesses in China therefore have plenty of models. They have had plenty of warning.

But action is so far limited.

There is no time to waste on AIDS in China, which just makes it all the more bizarre as to why that commodity is indeed being squandered.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ex-WellPoint Exec Accused of Womanizing


INDIANAPOLIS -- David Colby was one of corporate America's most admired executives before he was abruptly fired last spring for what was vaguely described at the time as misconduct of a "non-business nature." Now details about his personal life are spilling out, and it's clear he was more than just Wall Street's darling.

In a cluster of lawsuits gathered up by The Associated Press, the former chief financial officer of health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. is depicted as a corporate Casanova _ a world-class, love-'em-and-leave-'em sort of guy who romanced dozens of women around the country simultaneously, made them extravagant promises and then went back on his word with all the compassion of a health insurance company denying a claim.

One woman says Colby got her pregnant and harangued her via text message ("ABORT!!") to terminate the pregnancy. He also allegedly gave some of his girlfriends sexually transmitted diseases, and proposed to at least 12 women since 2005.

The allegations are contained in lawsuits filed before and after Colby's departure by three women who say they were ill-used by the businessman.

Colby and his attorneys have refused to comment, though in court papers he has disputed some of the allegations, and one of the lawsuits was thrown out a few months ago by a judge who found insufficient grounds for legal action.

By all accounts, the 54-year-old Colby _ a pudgy, bespectacled figure with salt-and-pepper hair _ charmed attractive women by showering them with compliments and gifts. While at least one of his accusers was a WellPoint underling, it appears he met many of the other women outside of work, via online dating sites, and he has not been accused of workplace sexual harassment.

"I'm not surprised that there are women who would come forward with the same story, because that appears to be Dave's modus operandi," said Mark Hathaway, a lawyer for two of the women who sued. "We've been contacted by a number of women."

His ouster is the latest, and perhaps the most lurid, in a string of cases in which corporate chieftains were bounced for alleged misbehavior outside the boardroom.

Last year, HBO's chief executive was forced out after being charged with throttling his girlfriend. Before that, a Boeing CEO lost his job after admitting to an affair with a female underling.

"There's no question companies are much more sensitive to ethical conduct on the part of their executives," W. Michael Hoffman, executive director for the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., said after Colby's ouster.

It was Colby who helped put together the $16.4 billion deal that created Indianapolis-based WellPoint in 2004. He was named best CFO in managed care for four years in a row by Institutional Investor magazine. Stockholders and Wall Street professionals saw the Columbia University graduate as someone who "gave it to you straight," said stock analyst Thomas Carroll.

"He would give you the good news along with the bad news," Carroll said. "If he said something, you could really hang your hat on it."

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Look at the 2008 Presidential Race


Clinton picks up emotional endorsements from black women in SC ... Obama looks to appeal to women ahead of SC primary ... Republican officials: Florida Sen. Mel Martinez to endorse McCain ... Edwards aims at Clinton-Obama fight on trail and in ads ... Huckabee focuses on widening Interstate 95 ... Kucinich quits presidential race ... Romney says his business background better qualifies him to fix the economy

___

Clinton gains black endorsements in S.C.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton gathered emotional endorsements Friday from two prominent black women who implored blacks to set aside their excitement about her rival Barack Obama's campaign to be the first black president.

In the run-up to Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary, the first in which blacks could play a pivotal role, Clinton has spoken to mostly white audiences while her husband, Bill, the former president, has courted blacks. But that changed Friday when she made an explicit pitch for black support in a speech at a historically black college in South Carolina's state capital, surrounded by prominent black supporters.

Polls show blacks strongly supporting Obama in the state, while Clinton and John Edwards roughly split the white vote.

Meanwhile, Clinton and the Florida Democratic Party clamored to restore the state's convention delegates. The national party eliminated Florida's 185 delegates after the state broke party rules against holding their primary before Feb. 5.

Clinton leads almost 2-to-1 in the Sunshine State. She said Friday — just four days before Florida's primary — that she wants the convention delegates from there and Michigan reinstated.

Michigan also lost its Democratic delegates for moving up its contest. Clinton could claim most of its delegates because she won the state's primary after the other major candidates pulled their names from the ballot.

___

Obama focuses on women's concerns in SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Democrat Barack Obama looked to appeal to women's concerns, vowing to boost government spending on preschool, preventive health care and other programs.

Obama held consecutive events with small groups of women in South Carolina's two largest cities a day ahead of the state's Democratic presidential primary. He hopes to cut into rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's support among women, who were crucial to her victory in New Hampshire.

Sitting at a table with four women in Charleston, and then another four in Columbia, Obama said the Bush administration has reduced social programs vital to working families and single parents.

At his Columbia stop, the Illinois senator said he wants the federal government to work more actively with states to prevent mortgage foreclosures for struggling families.

___

Florida senator to endorse McCain

MIAMI (AP) — Florida Sen. Mel Martinez endorsed Republican John McCain on Friday, a move that is likely to give the Arizona senator a crucial boost with the state's Cuban-Americans before the state's primary on Tuesday.

"I understand that he is ready on Day One to lead this nation, and I would trust the future and the security of this nation to this man," Martinez said in his introduction of McCain at the Latin Builders Association.

The decision is a blow to Rudy Giuliani, who's competing with McCain for support of voters in the Cuban-American community. Martinez, who was born in Cuba, emigrated to the United States as a teenager and is popular in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

McCain told the builders group that there is no need for a national catastrophic insurance fund in hurricane-weary Florida, saying he could bring the industry and government together to protect homeowners.

"I can ... get governors, legislatures and all of the people together, and insurance companies, and we can sit down and make insurance possible across state lines, establish risk pools and make sure every homeowner has the ability to insure their home for the future from national disaster," McCain said.

___

Edwards aims at rivals' fight in ads

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Democrat John Edwards sought to underscore squabbling between his rivals that has intensified in the days leading to South Carolina's primary vote.

Making light of the clash between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Edwards joked Friday that he had considered asking the two to have dinner with him at a relative's house. That changed after Monday night's debate, he said.

"We saw all of the petty, personal bickering," Edwards told several hundred people at a restaurant. "That may be the way they do politics in New York, that may be the way that they do politics in Chicago. But South Carolina's better than that."

Edwards' campaign on also launched a radio and a television ad focused on the "personal attacks" between his rivals.

___

Huckabee talks of widening I-95

MIAMI (AP) — Republican Mike Huckabee said the nation's economy would benefit from improved highways and transportation, including his proposal to widen the major East Coast artery — Interstate 95.

Huckabee said better roads would enable parents to spend less time stuck in traffic and more with their children — leading to stronger family ties.

"There is a direct economic correlation between the strength of marriage and family and the strength of America's economy," Huckabee told an audience of Christian business people on Friday. He mentioned no studies on that relationship.

___

Kucinich abandons White House bid

CLEVELAND (AP) — Democrat Dennis Kucinich Friday abandoned his presidential bid to focus on a tough race for re-election to Congress.

Speaking at a union hall, Kucinich told supporters who chanted "Dennis, Dennis," that he would work to keep his campaign promises, not as president, but as a member of the U.S. House.

"I won't be president, but I can continue to fight for these important issues as the United States congressman representing the community that is first in my heart, Cleveland, Ohio," he said.

Kucinich made an urgent appeal on his Web site this week for congressional campaign contributions as "the only candidate who can't be bought — 'cause he's not for sale."

The six-term House member got only 1 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary and was shut out in the Iowa caucuses.

___

Romney touts his economic credentials

MIAMI (AP) — Former venture capitalist Mitt Romney asserted Friday he is better equipped than his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination — who all have more government experience — because "the only way to get America on track economically is to have a president who actually understands how the economy works."

With fear of a recession growing, Romney tried to build on a strong debate performance the prior evening by reiterating his outsider's credentials as a businessman. He blamed government paralysis in Washington for failure to expand health insurance coverage, end illegal immigration and wean the country from foreign oil.

"And part of what we're seeing right now in our economy is one of the manifestations of failing to act on the part of Washington," Romney told a breakfast meeting of the Latin Builders Association Inc.

Speaking to reporters on his bus elsewhere in Florida, rival John McCain insisted his service on the Senate Commerce Committee is better preparation for overseeing the U.S. economy than Romney's private-sector experience.

"Running an investment company is probably a good thing to do. Making national policy concerning our economy is probably more beneficial to the nation," the Arizona senator said.

___

Weather forecast for parts of South Carolina on Saturday:

Conditions in Greenville: Cloudy skies early to partly cloudy later. High 50, low 31.

Conditions in Charleston: Rain showers early, then mostly cloudy skies. High 54, low 37. Chance of precipitation, 40 percent.

___

THE DEMOCRATS

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards campaign in South Carolina. Dennis Kucinich held an afternoon news conference in Ohio to announce plans for quitting the presidential race.

___

THE REPUBLICANS

Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mike Huckabee campaign in Florida.

___

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"Senator Clinton has a record that can feed everybody. And we need to be fed." — Richland County Councilwoman Bernice Scott, who endorsed Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, at an event in South Carolina.

___

STAT OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win South Carolina in a presidential election. In 1976, Carter garnered 450,807 votes compared with Gerald Ford's 346,149 votes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

House, Bush stimulus deal on fast track



By Ron Scherer and Gail Russell Chaddock
Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

(AXcess News) New York and Washington - The roughly $150 billion spending package hammered out by the House leaders and President Bush will add some pop to the sluggish US economy by the spring and may be enough to avert or end a recession.

The plan is relatively simple for individuals, a tax rebate targeted at those who are likely to spend the money rather than save it. It will hit the economy at about the right time, say many economists of the bipartisan deal announced Thursday.

The Senate plans to put its own stamp on the plan, while respecting the goal of getting a bill to the president's desk by the President's Day recess next month.

The tentative deal calls for giving $300 to $600 for an individual filer and up to $1,200 per family, plus more for children. No rebates would go to those earning more than $75,000 ($150,000 per household). Small businesses will get a tax incentive to spend as well.

"It is no doubt positive for the economy," says Richard DeKaser, the Washington-based chief economist for National City Corp. in Cleveland. "It's a serious stimulus package, and I have little doubt its effect will be meaningful." The fiscal stimulus comes even as the Federal Reserve is aggressively dropping interest rates. On Tuesday, the nation's central banker lowered rates by 0.75 percent and is expected to drop rates again next Wednesday.

"By itself, the fiscal spending package is probably not enough to keep the economy from going into a downturn," says Mr. DeKaser. "But combined with the Federal Reserve's rate-cutting, it should be enough to keep the economy from dipping into a recession." Other economists are not so sanguine, but they say the fiscal stimulus will help to give the economy a jolt in the second quarter, which starts in April. The package could mitigate the effects of the downturn or jolt the economy out it, says economist Mark Zandi of Economy.com.

Congress and the Fed may yet have some leeway because the economic indicators are not yet tilting toward recession. For example, new claims for unemployment remained steady at 300,000 for the week ending Jan. 19, the Department of Labor reported Thursday. This indicates that so far there are no widespread layoffs, says economist Bob Brusca of Fact and Opinion Economics.

In December, concerns heightened that the economy had already slipped into recession because new jobs grew at a low rate and unemployment jumped to 5 percent. "So far it looks like January is reversing some of the dim economic statistics from December," says DeKaser.

However, on Thursday, homeowners also received news that existing sales of homes dropped 2.2 percent in December and were down 12.8 percent for all of 2007. Median home prices dropped 1.8 percent for the year, the first nominal decline in any year since the Great Depression.

However, as part of the House and Bush deal, the tax-rebate package includes a one-year temporary increase in the loans that can be purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Both of them could buy loans up to $625,000, up from $477,000 currently. This should help spur mortgage lending in such states as California and Florida, where high real estate prices have held back lending.

The deal worked out by bipartisan House leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson represents significant compromises across the board for a Congress typically in gridlock - with all sides dropping elements seen as derailing the plan.The plan is on a fast track on Capitol Hill, where leaders on both sides of the aisle are promising quick action.

Republicans agreed to recalibrate the program to include more lower-income families, while Democrats gave up cherished spending programs. Democrats also urged and won relief for families caught up in the subprime mortgage debacle and expanded the plan to include wage-earning households that do not file income taxes.

Republicans claimed credit for including tax relief for employers, including a 50 percent bonus deduction on new equipment, and for holding the line on extraneous spending and tax hikes.

"I can't say I'm totally pleased with the package," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a briefing announcing the deal on Thursday.

"Let us praise this for what it does and not disrespect it for what it does not: It is timely targeted and temporary, and it was done in record time since our conversation with the president [on Tuesday]," she added.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders say they will give the House plan prompt but thorough consideration. "When it comes over here, we're going to take another look at it," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid. He says that he expects votes on elements that dropped out of the House version of the stimulus plan, including extended unemployment benefits.

"Every dollar spent on unemployment insurance produces $1.87 in additional spending, whereas tax rebates produce only $1.17," says Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, who chairs the Joint Economic Committee.

Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington is urging a summer youth program and infrastructure projects to create jobs.

But even strong objections to the proposed plan are taking a back seat to the sense of urgency on Capitol Hill to be seen as as doing something on a front-burner issue.

"I'm not enthusiastic about rebates for people who don't pay income taxes, but if that's what it takes to get a bipartisan compromise, I'll probably support it," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. "I'm not taking anything off the table."

A similar tax-rebate plan in 2002 took about 10 weeks to finish distributing $38 billion in stimulus payments. If it takes that long again, much of recipients' spending will take place in March, April, and May. The tax cut could add about 0.8 percent to the economy's growth rate in the second quarter and 0.25 percent in the next quarter, estimates economist Drew Matus of Lehman Brothers.

"If it's targeted to the right people, it could be enough to reduce the risk of recession, particularly in the light of Fed action," says Mr. Matus.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An extraordinary gift from a friend


With 13 percent kidney function left, Dr. William Bennett said Richard Stafford was on his “last tank of gas.” At this rate, he would soon need dialysis.

Richard, 60, is the worship pastor at Damascus Community Church. He and his wife, Marj, share a passion for music and their faith—two gifts that brought them together in the late 1960s as students at Multnomah Bible College in Portland.

Their college friend, Dwight Hires, 59, is the pastor at La Center Evangelical Free Church in La Center, Wash. He was in the Portland area one day and thought of his old friend, so he gave him a call. He knew about Richard’s condition, but when Marj told him that it was to the point where he needed a kidney transplant or go on dialysis, Hires didn’t hesitate—he told her, “I can do that.”

“I would love for people to hear that donating a kidney is far easier than we understand,” Hires said. “It is a way that you can give extravagantly, and it costs you hardly anything.”

Richard and Marj were moved by their friends offer, but didn’t want to impose. It was Dwight who repeatedly called them about it.

“He wanted to do it,” Richard said. “He kept calling me, ‘Is this OK with you?’ He became very aggressive.”

One reason: goodness, the direction of the Lord, said Richard. The other reason: Hires’s desire to be a donor. Thirty-five years ago, he was put on the bone marrow transplant list when his sister was diagnosed with leukemia. Another family member was chosen as a better match, but it was something he passionately wanted to do.

“Richard is very thoughtful of other people,” Hires said. “He will work his fingers to the bone as opposed to asking somebody else to help him. He is very careful not to impose on anybody. When I knew that he needed a kidney I had to re-offer three times before they sent me the information, they were so worried that they may have imposed on me. They would not presume upon anybody—that shows the kindness that both Rich and Marj have.”

Bennett, who is a nephrologist (kidney specialist) and medical director of transplant services at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, said that it is increasingly common for friends to offer to donate, but many do not qualify. “Richard’s situation is special because a donor was found prior to him requiring dialysis,” he said, adding that finding a transplant prior to needing dialysis gives the best long term result.

A kidney donor was sought for two years, and no one in Richard’s family was a good match. A donor must have a compatible blood type, be medically acceptable and want to do it voluntarily, said Bennett. “The latter is insured by having a separate donor nurse advocate.

“If someone qualifies as a donor, medically the risks are minimal,” he said. “A donor at a given age has a greater life expectancy than a person of the same age who does not donate because they know all systems are normal—no high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, diabetes.”

Hires was released from the hospital two days after the operation, which was on Monday, Jan. 14. Richard’s insurance paid all of Hires’s medical expenses, and will cover future costs, if any, that are a result of the donation.

“Rich couldn’t ask somebody to give him a kidney—you can’t ask for that,” Hires said. “But it’s really not a gift unless it’s given freely. All I’ve done is follow the example that Jesus set in sacrificing for others. This is small potatoes stuff.”

By donating one of his kidneys, Hires said his kidney function dropped to 50 percent, but his remaining kidney will grow large enough that within two years he’ll have 60 to 75 percent function.

One week after the operation, Dwight feels “fantastic. It’s nowhere near the operation they say it is. I’ve also had so many people praying for me—I have to give God credit for healing me this way.”

Approximately 90 kidney transplants are performed at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital each year. “Legacy transplant was the first program in the region to offer laparoscopic donor operations (quick recovery),” Bennett said, “and provide individualized care by a dedicated team of professionals from all related disciplines—doctors, nurses, financial people, dieticians, pharmacy and social work.”

As Richard woke up after the surgery, he saw Hires in the hallway on his recovery bed. “He said, ‘I love you, man.’ And I said, ‘Thanks again, Dwight,’” Richard said. Two days later he could tell he was feeling much better than he had in a long time.

Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital transplant program specializes in kidney transplants. For more information about their program, call 503-413-6555.

Monday, January 21, 2008

J.D Power - Results of South Africa Automotive Customer Satisfaction Index Study


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, January 21, 2008; Honda and Toyota models capture four segment awards each, earning more awards than any other manufacturer, according to the J.D. Power and Associates/CAR Magazine 2007 South Africa Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Study(SM) released today.

Honda models receiving awards include the Civic, CR-V, FR-V and Jazz. Toyota models ranking highest in their respective segments are the Avensis, Hilux, Land Cruiser Prado and Tazz. Also receiving awards are the BMW X5, Fiat Panda and Opel Corsa Utility.

Now in its fourth year, the independent CSI study is a comprehensive measurement of customer satisfaction after 10 to 21 months of ownership that covers 77 attributes grouped in four factors (the importance of each factor is shown as a percentage): vehicle quality and reliability (32%); vehicle appeal (29%)-- which includes performance, design, comfort, styling and features; dealership service satisfaction (19%); and cost of ownership (20%)-- which includes fuel consumption, insurance and cost of service/repair. Importance weights are based on survey responses from vehicle owners, thus reflecting what is more important to motorists in South Africa. CSI performance is reported as an index score based on a 1,000-point scale, with a higher CSI score indicating a more satisfying ownership experience.

At the brand level, Honda ranks highest in the South Africa market for a second consecutive year, improving by 9 index points since 2006. Mercedes-Benz improves by 21 index points -- more than any other top-five ranked nameplate -- to follow Honda in the nameplate rankings. Rounding out the top five nameplates are Audi, BMW and Volvo, respectively. In addition, Honda performs particularly well in the areas of quality/reliability and Service satisfaction, while Mercedes-Benz performs well in vehicle appeal and Audi performs particularly well in ownership costs.

"Honda and Toyota models continue their strong performance in satisfying customers in South Africa," said Brian Walters, vice president of J.D. Power and Associates Europe, Middle East and Africa operations. "In both 2006 and 2007, four Toyota models ranked highest in their respective segments, while Honda has led in nameplate rankings in both years. These results are a testament to the commitment to high quality that both brands demonstrate. In addition, Mercedes-Benz maintains its ranking in the top five for a second consecutive year and improves in an impressive manner since 2006."

Overall satisfaction continues to improve steadily in the South Africa market and reaches a record-high level for a second consecutive year. Improving by 5 points since 2006, overall customer satisfaction averages 795 in the 2007 study.

"The consistent improvement in overall satisfaction in the South Africa market is good news for consumers, franchised dealers and manufacturers," said Walters. "However, there is still significant room for improvement. While customers seem to be more satisfied with vehicle quality and reliability as well as vehicle appeal, service satisfaction and ownership cost satisfaction levels are not on par."

"We are pleased to publish the latest independent J.D. Power and Associates South Africa CSI research findings, covering the overall vehicle ownership experience," said John Bentley, editor of CAR Magazine. "These findings provide our readers with quantified information from current owners, further assisting them with their vehicle purchase decisions."

In addition to South Africa, the CSI study is currently conducted in 15 other markets: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

J.D. Power and Associates is recognized across the globe as the leading independent authority on customer satisfaction in the automotive industry. The firm's primary role is to help automotive manufacturers further improve their product quality and service levels through a better understanding of consumer behaviour and preferences. J.D. Power and Associates also provides topline results of its automotive studies to consumers for use as a reference point when purchasing a new vehicle.

The 2007 South Africa Customer Satisfaction Index Study is based on a representative sample of more than 8,700 new-vehicle owners who registered their vehicles between October 2005 and September 2006. The study was funded by J.D. Power and Associates as part of its global research programs in cooperation with the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), and includes a section of questions to assist the Corporation and the Department of Transport (DOT) in measuring the performance of its vehicle and drivers licensing program.


CSI Nameplate Index Ranking
(Based on a 1,000-point scale)
Honda 873
Mercedes-Benz 856
Audi 852
BMW 832
Volvo 827
Toyota 824
Daihatsu 808
Hyundai 806
Chevrolet 801
Land Rover 801
Industry Average 795
Renault 791
Mazda 790
Peugeot 788
Opel 787
Ford 786
Mitsubishi 781
Volkswagen 772
Kia 771
Citroen 764
Nissan 762
Fiat 753
Jeep 752
Tata 633

Included in the study, but not ranked due to small sample size are: Alfa
Romeo, Chrysler, Isuzu, Jaguar, Lexus, MINI and SsangYong.

Top Models per Segment in CSI
(Based on a 1,000-point scale)

Lower Compact Car
Fiat Panda 826
Ford Ka 809
Kia Picanto 804

Upper Compact Car
Toyota Tazz 773

Lower Small Car
Honda Jazz 876
Toyota Yaris 855
Hyundai Getz 837

Upper Small Car
Honda Civic (new) 886
Mercedes-Benz A-Class 859
Toyota Corolla 837

Medium Car
Toyota Avensis 870
Toyota Camry 867
Audi A4 863

Compact MPV
Honda FR-V 860
Toyota Corolla Verso 838
Volkswagen Touran 825

Compact SUV
Honda CR-V 859
Kia Sportage 813

Medium SUV
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 856
BMW X3 854
Mitsubishi Pajero 835

Luxury SUV
BMW X5 863
Mercedes-Benz ML-Class 848
Land Rover Discovery3 844

Compact Pickup
Opel Corsa Utility 788
Ford Bantam 773
Fiat Strada (tie) 772
Nissan 1400 (tie) 772

One-Ton Pickup
Toyota Hilux 805
Nissan Navara 801
Isuzu KB 779

Customer Satisfaction Index Component Weights
Vehicle Quality and Reliability: 32%
Problems experienced with the vehicle since
delivery

Vehicle Appeal: 29%
Satisfaction with the vehicle's performance,
design, function and styling

Ownership Costs: 20%
-- Fuel consumption
-- Insurance
-- Cost of service/repairs

Service Satisfaction: 19%
-- Service initiation
-- Service adviser
-- Dealership facility
-- Vehicle pick-up
-- Service quality
About J.D. Power and Associates

Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is an ISO 9001-registered global marketing information services firm operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, performance improvement, training and customer satisfaction. The firm's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. For more information on car reviews and ratings, car insurance, health insurance, cell phone ratings, and more, please visit JDPower.com. J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

ABOUT CAR MAGAZINE

CAR magazine is read by an average of 915000 people each month. CAR magazine also publishes http://www.cartoday.com. The results of the J.D. Power and Associates/CAR Magazine 2007 South Africa Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Study(SM) are published exclusively in the February 2008 issue of CAR, on newsstands Monday, 21 January 2008.

About The McGraw-Hill Companies

Founded in 1888, The McGraw-Hill Companies is a leading global information services provider meeting worldwide needs in the financial services, education and business information markets through leading brands such as Standard & Poor's, McGraw-Hill Education, BusinessWeek and J.D. Power and Associates. The Corporation has more than 280 offices in 40 countries. Sales in 2006 were US$6.3 billion. Additional information is available at http://www.mcgraw-hill.com.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Man dies after being shot by Taser in domestic dispute


Police have confirmed the death of a man who was shot by a Taser following a domestic dispute yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire police said the man, in his 30s, died in hospital after the stun gun was deployed at a residential address in The Spinney, Goldington.

She said officers had been called to investigate reports of a domestic dispute involving a mother and son.

On arrival at about 19:00 GMT on Saturday, they found a man, who was already suffering unspecified injuries, wielding a knife.

He threatened the Bedfordshire police officers and a Taser was discharged, the force said.

The man subsequently retreated into the house and when located by officers was found to be "in need of urgent medical attention".

He died at Bedford hospital later on Saturday night.

The incident has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which will decide whether to launch an investigation into the incident.

The deceased man is not expected to be named until an inquest into his death is opened later this week, while a post-mortem is due to be carried out tomorrow.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vitamin minefield


Experts disagree on whether we need vitamin supplements, and the confusion is driving some people to spend big money on a daily cocktail
Marian Scott, The Ottawa Citizen; Montreal Gazette
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008
Your eyes glaze at the bewildering display of bottles. From A to zinc, the choice is endless. Should you choose single vitamins and minerals or a multivitamin? Or how about a special formula for stress, fitness, women, men or seniors?

Wouldn't it be great to know exactly which supplements are right for you? That's what laboratories that specialize in "body chemistry balancing" promise. For several hundred dollars, they claim to identify vitamin and mineral deficiencies from a simple blood and urine test.

For David and Cheryl Solomon of Dollard des Ormeaux, Que., nutritional testing takes the guesswork out of the perennial question of whether they're getting the proper vitamins.

Six months ago, the couple and their three sons, ages six to 11, underwent testing by NutriChem, an Ottawa company founded by pharmacist Kent MacLeod that sells personalized nutritional supplements.

"The beauty of it is he'll customize the vitamin for the individual," says David Solomon, 38, who takes 20 capsules a day.

His wife and sons each take between seven and 10 capsules a day of custom-made supplements.

"This is not a jack-of-all-vitamins," says Solomon, an advertising manager for a community newspaper. "Until you get tested, you don't know what's right and what's wrong."

The family spends $1,000 a month on supplements. The initial test cost $600 per person. Most public and private health insurance plans don't cover these expenses.

"In the last few months I've been taking (the supplements), I feel fabulous," says Solomon, who used to suffer from chronic indigestion and also takes prescription medication for his digestive problems. He says the nutritional supplements have helped him digest food better and boosted his energy.

Solomon, who regards the cost of the vitamins as a long-term investment in his health, says MacLeod provides personalized care that is sorely lacking in the health care system.

"It's about get in, get out as fast as possible," he says of mainstream medicine. "We wait until we break down before we take care of something."

"This is the future," says pharmacist MacLeod, who founded NutriChem in 1981 and now provides nutritional testing and supplements to 20,000 families around the world. The company mails out kits for blood and urine samples, which customers return to Ottawa for testing, which in most cases costs about $500.

Many people are vitamin-deficient because of poor diet or problems absorbing nutrients from food, says MacLeod, whose customers range from middle-aged women with depression to professional hockey players. They hear about NutriChem from the Internet, referrals by alternative health practitioners and word of mouth.

"Ninety per cent of the Canadian population is not getting one or more (essential micronutrients)," MacLeod says. "There are people running around with no gas in the tank."

MacLeod got into the nutritional-supplement business 27 years ago by creating vitamin cocktails for children with Down syndrome. He later expanded his practice to include children and adults with conditions from autism to depression, high-performance athletes and people simply seeking optimum health.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hundreds Attend Job Fair In Pittsfield


Despite the snowy weather, hundreds of people attended a job fair in Pittsfield Thursday and Friday.

It was for Global Contact Services, a company that's looking at opening up an office in the central Maine town. The company, town and state hosted the fair. More than 350 people submitted applications.

The company says it would hire as many as 200 people to work in its call center. "The company is looking for experienced contact center representatives, licensed insurance agents and people with call center management and supervision," said Kathryn Ruth, Piitsfield's Town Manager. "We're very, very pleased with the quality of the applications that we're receiving."

Ruth says the town should find out within the next two months whether GCS will be opening a center in Pittsfield.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bush, Fed Chairman Both Back Lift for Economy


A consensus that the struggling U.S. economy needs rescue emerged on Thursday as the powerful Federal Reserve chairman backed the idea and President George W. Bush urged a quick and temporary fiscal package.
Amid worries that the United States may already be in a recession, Bush held a conference call with Democratic and Republican lawmakers in which he discussed the principles of what he would like to see in a stimulus plan.

Tax rebates, credits for business investment and extensions of unemployment insurance are among ideas being discussed.

"The most important thing is that they should be temporary, they need to be effective, they need to be things that we can get done quickly," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

Bush will make remarks about his ideas for boosting the economy on Friday, said Fratto, who added that the president would discuss what types of approaches he favors but not give any dollar figures or other specifics.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told a congressional committee he supported the idea of a short-term fiscal stimulus measure.

A proposal in the range of $100-150 billion would help, Bernanke said, stressing that it was "critically important" any legislation be designed to kick in quickly.

The sentiment toward rapid action was echoed by legislators.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said she hoped a package could be hammered out and agreed upon by mid-February. "We have every reason to think, to be hopeful ... that we can get this job done," Pelosi said.

Before the call between Bush and the lawmakers, the White House made clear Bush had shifted from weighing the possibility of an economic package to deciding such action was warranted.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said the White House and Congress were talking about a package in the $100-150 billion range.

RARE COOPERATION

Just a few weeks ago, the prospect of an agreement between Bush and the Democratic-led Congress seemed slim. The two sides engaged in fierce battles last year over issues from health care and the budget to the Iraq war.

Bush, who just returned from a nine-day Middle East tour, had indicated before the trip that he was looking at economic options but also signaled he might include in any proposal the idea of making permanent his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Such a proposal would be a non-starter with Democrats.

In a sign that reaching an agreement on specifics may still be hard to achieve, one congressional aide described the president as having taken a "hard line" in the call.

But other Democrats described the conversation in more favorable terms.

"I was encouraged by the conversation with President Bush today that there is broad agreement to act quickly and in a bipartisan manner on an economic stimulus package," said House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.

Pelosi said Bush's acknowledgment that a package was needed was "significant progress." She reiterated her view that the plan should focus on financial help for the middle class.

As the discussion in Washington has evolved since the beginning of the year, the economic news has grown bleak, with gloomy reports this week on retail sales and housing.

There have been loud calls for a measure to boost the economy from the campaign trail, where candidates are vying to succeed Bush in the Nov. 4 election.

All three major Democratic candidates -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards -- have offered plans containing spending and tax-cut ideas.

Republican Sen. John McCain on Thursday laid out a proposal for cuts in corporate tax rates and incentives for companies to invest in new equipment and research. One of his main Republican rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is also getting ready to unveil a plan.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Deal Watch: Gwinnett firm scores another sports deal


The emergence of Gwinnett County as a home for professional sports teams—the latest being the Atlanta Braves' top minor-league affiliate—has been a boon for the Lawrenceville law firm Mahaffey Pickens Tucker.

Co-founding partner R. Lee Tucker Jr. and associate Christopher T. Wilson were lead counsel to the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau on its negotiations with the Braves on moving the team's AAA International League franchise to Gwinnett from Richmond, Va.

Tucker and Wilson said they've been in talks with the Braves on behalf of their client since October and there is much more legal work left to be completed, such as finalizing a long-term agreement between the Braves and Gwinnett and hammering out the details of a lease agreement on a new stadium. The Gwinnett Braves are slated to play their first game in Georgia in 2009.

It's the latest sports deal that Mahaffey Pickens Tucker has handled for the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 10-attorney firm, which Tucker founded with two partners in May 2006, also worked on two relocations of the Georgia Force franchise of the Arena Football League—the first from Nashville, Tenn., to Gwinnett and the second from Philips Arena to the Arena at Gwinnett Center— and the deal that brought the Gwinnett Gladiators minor-league hockey team to Gwinnett from Mobile, Ala.

“It's exciting that we've been in a position to work on these kinds of deals,” Tucker said. “We think it's somewhat unique that a firm of our size has done this many sports deals.”

Now that the Braves have signed a letter of intent with Gwinnett, Tucker and Wilson said they will turn their attention to working on the financing of the Braves' new stadium that will be located on state Highway 20, a few miles south of the Mall of Georgia near Buford. The $45 million stadium will be financed through a $12 million commitment from Gwinnett's recreation fund and $33 million in bonds that will be backed by Braves ticket sales, parking revenue, and naming rights for the stadium, Tucker said.

As is the case with the Arena at Gwinnett Center, the county will own the Braves' new stadium and the land where the stadium will be located, Tucker said. The Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau will operate the stadium on behalf of the county. Initial plans for the stadium call for a hotel and retail to be located at the stadium.

The Braves were represented in the talks by in-house counsel Gregory J. Heller, Tucker said. Liberty Media, the Braves' parent company, did not have legal counsel on the Richmond Braves' move, he said. Gwinnett County Attorney Karen G. Thomas represented the county's interests.

________________

Arnall Golden Gregory partner Scott A. Fisher was counsel to Pollack Partners on the formation of a $56 million real estate investment fund with affiliates of Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Fisher said the venture, a limited partnership called Pollack Real Estate Fund I, will focus on funding condominium and apartment buildings, including some of Pollack Partners' ongoing projects in Atlanta and Florida. The fund will combine its assets with other investors to pool about $1 billion available for investments in real estate.

Arnall Golden partner Cleburne E. Gregory III and associate Heather L. Preston advised Pollack Partners on tax matters related to the venture. Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson advised Goldman Sachs.

________________

Rogers & Hardin partner Alan C. Leet was an adviser to Rock-Tenn Co. on its $993 million acquisition of Southern Container Corp., according to a regulatory filing.

Rock-Tenn General Counsel Robert B. McIntosh worked with Leet on the transaction. Latham & Watkins partner Howard A. Sobel in New York advised Southern Container.

Rock-Tenn, of Norcross, manufactures paper cartons and other types of packaging. Southern Container, of Hauppauge, N.Y., makes corrugated boxes.

________________

Morris, Manning & Martin partner Heath D. Linsky advised Beecher Carlson on its purchase of Alliance Insurance Group, the company said.

Morris Manning associates Mark Zisholtz, Christopher E. Maxwell and Lisa L. Scheid also worked on the deal, as did Beecher Carlson general counsel Adam S. Meyerowitz and corporate paralegal Christine Alligood, the law firm said.

Both Beecher Carlson and Alliance are commercial insurance brokers. Atlanta-based Beecher Carlson said the purchase of Phoenix-based Alliance will allow it to expand in the Southwest.

________________

Miller & Martin partner Carlos C. Smith in Chattanooga advised the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association on the creation of a new company to finance power plants with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the association said.

The new venture, called Seven States Power Corp., will partner with TVA to provide financing for natural gas-fired plants. The Tennessee Valley Public Power Association is comprised of electricity distributors who purchase power from TVA, including North Georgia Electric Membership Corp. in Dalton.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Beyond the Values of the Dolls


The Cabbage Patch dolls drooled all over the ballots and ate the hanging chads, the Bratz have criminal records and are ineligible to vote, but the American Girl dolls are taking the upcoming presidential elections ultra-seriously. After all, just because someone is 18 inches tall and has a head made of vinyl doesn't mean she's given up her right to the franchise. When your very name is "American Girl," doesn't that guarantee your right to be as excited about the primaries as the next inanimate object?
These dolls may all have exactly the same face, but their political opinions are all over the map. Their views are as varied as their extensive backstories, all of which are provided in excruciating detail by the American Girl company, backed up by a merchandise line that includes books, movies, and accessories ranging from weaving looms to school lockers, velvet theater seats to desktop computers, wooden sleds to canopy beds.

Though the company declines to reveal which doll is leaning toward which candidate, pollsters deep inside the flagship store on Fifth Avenue have leaked this information to the Voice, and, as with all campaigns, there are some surprises.

For instance, according to americangirl.com, the doll named Julie Albright is "a fun-loving San Francisco girl who faces big changes." Julie, who grew up in Sodom-by-the-Sea in the '70s, is shown wearing bell-bottoms, a peasant blouse, and a macramé skullcap. So who is she voting for? After spending her childhood under a cloud of marijuana smoke and being forced to sit through interminable underground films, eat tofu, and chant "om" in an orgone box, Julie has become a born-again Christian, throwing away her belief in evolution along with her mood ring, and is now busy picketing abortion clinics with Mike Huckabee.

Addy Walker, the doll with by far the most harrowing history, is facing her own endorsement dilemma. According to the AG website, Addy's family, enslaved on a plantation in 1864, endures horrible hardships: "Addy's family must run away if they hope to be free. When Poppa and her brother, Sam, are sold away, Addy and her mother make the wrenching decision to escape to Philadelphia—to freedom—on their own. But that means leaving Addy's baby sister behind—her cries could cost them their lives." You might assume that with these tribulations, Addy is a solid Obama fan, but Addy, an early supporter of tough-through-her tears Senator Clinton, now wonders whether she should switch to Barack or stick with the Hill.

Which is not to say that no dolls are solidly for Barack. (In fact, all the American Girls—who have a surprisingly trashy side their website doesn't begin to acknowledge—got a little thrill when Obama acknowledged that in his early years: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it." The AGs, too, have been known to indulge in a bit of recreational drug use, to dull the long hours spent languishing on toy-store shelves.)

Felicity Merriman, who is described as "a girl who's as spirited and independent as the American colonies she lives in [and who] believes the colonies should be free, not ruled by a king who lives far away," is a fervent Obama supporter, though "her grandfather and her best friend, Elizabeth, support the king's rule." Grandpa and Liz, with their weakness for royalty and other guys who are full of themselves for no apparent reason, are rooting for Rudolph Giuliani.

And then there is Kirsten Larson, who "must leave all she's ever known to come with her family to the New World. They settle on the Minnesota frontier, where people don't speak her language or understand her traditions. Yet in time, Kirsten discovers the richness of her new land—and the true meaning of home." What the website doesn't tell you is that the adults in Kirsten's family become founding members of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, a left-wing institution that fought for the rights of farmers and labor unions in the early 20th century. Kirsten has inherited this progressive bent and has jumped aboard a UFO with Dennis Kucinich.

So many dolls, so many primaries! Mia St. Clair—the company's "Girl of the Year 2008" and a figure skater who purportedly "loves skating . . . but with three hockey-obsessed older brothers, she usually has to enjoy the kind that requires a puck"—is twirling on a frozen pond in Utah, and she's that rare thing, a groovy Romney voter. (In this enthusiasm she is joined by the stalwart Barbie, who thinks the candidate looks exactly like Ken.) Josefina Montoya, worrying about learning to read and starting a weaving business in New Mexico circa 1824, is planning to write in the name of state-mate Bill Richardson; Molly McIntire, saving scrap metal during World War II, says she's thrilled that Mac is back; Kit Kittredge, struggling in the depths of the Great Depression, is a sucker for the militant health-insurance rap falling from the pretty lips of John Edwards. (In case any of the dolls are under the weather, American Girl offers a miniature wheelchair for $30 and a pair of tiny crutches for $20.)

But it is Samantha Parkington—an orphan being raised by her wealthy grandmother in 1904 who is "excited by the new ideas and inventions that are changing everyone's lives"—and her friend the servant Nellie ("while some think wealth matters most, Samantha befriends Nellie, knowing that true friendship is worth even more . . . "), who has perhaps the most intriguing backstory. Here's what the website leaves out: Samantha Parkington was born Sadie Parkowitz, and despite her family's protestations that they are members of the Society for Ethical Culture, she and Granny are crossing their fingers for Bloomberg.

And what of Nellie, the loyal servant girl? As it turns out, Samantha only thinks they're BFFs. When Nellie is holed up in her garret, she's poring over this week's issues of Workers World, The Militant, and Challenge-Desafío—and wondering whether Lenora Fulani is on the ballot.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Firefighters Battle Blaze at Construction Site


DENVER (Manny Gonzales / Denver Post).- Flames gushed from the top floor of a large residential building under construction in unincorporated Arapahoe County on Sunday, creating a huge plume of smoke that could be seen for miles.

Flames shot more than 50 feet into the air, wowing dozens of onlookers, some who came with cameras in hand. Damage was estimated at $1 million.

No one was reported injured. The 32-unit, six-story building was one of at least six buildings that make up the Ballantyne Apartments, a sprawling complex expected to open soon at 10001 E. Dry Creek Road, said Andy Lyon, spokesman for South Metro Fire and Rescue.

No cause had been determined, but there were construction workers inside the building who were installing drywall when the fire broke out, Lyon said. The fire was reported just after 5 p.m., and was finally under control by 8:30 p.m.

It took 50 firefighters from area fire departments more than two hours before the flames on the roof of the building died down, he said.

"The chief declared it a defensive fire pretty early on, and we didn't want to put firefighters inside the building like this because parts of it can collapse," Lyon said.

Laura Hoeppner and her husband, Kevin Singel, of Centennial said they could smell the smoke from their home more than a mile away, on the other side of Interstate 25.

"I'm glad there were no people living here yet and that no one got hurt," Hoeppner said.

Marilynn Hill, an insurance adjuster who came with her daughter to marvel at the fire, said it appeared the building would need to be torn down. "I'm sure it'll be a total loss," she said.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

McCanns keen to speak to police


Kate and Gerry McCann are willing to be re-interviewed in order to help the police rule them out as suspects in their daughter's disappearance.

The parents of missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann and British expatriate Robert Murat are the only people to be officially investigated by Portuguese police in the case.

The McCann's spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the couple were "anxious" for the police to complete the investigation into their alleged role in their child's disappearance and to officially eliminate them from the inquiry.

Mr Mitchell said: "If that means the police coming to Britain in the near future to re-interview Gerry and Kate and their friends, [they] are very keen for that to happen."

He added that the couple had no plans at the moment to visit Portugal but emphasised that they were willing to cooperate with the police.

In a statement on his blog, Gerry McCann said he was "extremely disappointed" that the couple had not been ruled out as official suspects as he felt that it was distracting from the effort to find Madeleine.

He said that he had now been back at work full-time for the last ten days, adding that he and his wife were still very busy with the campaign.

The McCann's recently spent their first Christmas without their daughter, who went missing from the Praia Da Luz resort on May 3rd.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sub Prime Mortgage Workshops Throughout California


In keeping with Governor Schwarzenegger's efforts to keep Californians in their homes, his interdepartmental task force has scheduled a series of nine workshops throughout the state aimed at helping subprime borrowers avoid foreclosure.

The workshops bring lenders and consumers together to discuss options available to homeowners with rate increases looming or those who've already defaulted on payments due to interest rate increases.

The schedule is as follows:


Saturday, January 12th - Oakland

Thursday, January 24th - Bakersfield

Saturday, January 26th - Fresno

Tuesday, January 29th - Roseville

Saturday, February 2nd - Stockton

Saturday, February 9th - Downey

Wednesday, February 13th - San Diego

Saturday, February 16th - Sacramento

Saturday, February 23rd - Riverside


Homeowners are asked to bring their loan documents and other relevant financial information to the workshops to take advantage of on-site loan counselors.

The workshops last approximately two to three hours, and have been scheduled on evenings and weekends to encourage participation and are always free of charge.

For detailed information about the workshops, please visit www.yourhome.ca.gov/events or sucasa.ca.gov/events-sp.

Last month, Governor Schwarzenegger joined the OneCalifornia Foundation to announce a bridge loan fund for homeowners facing foreclosure in Oakland, which has the tenth highest foreclosure rate in the nation. The OneCalifornia Foundation Bridge Loan Fund is designed to assist homeowners that don't qualify for other assistance.


Governor Schwarzenegger launched a $1.2 million public awareness campaign - funded through existing consumer education efforts within the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and the State and Consumer Services Agency - to help educate homeowners about options that can help them avoid losing their homes to foreclosures. He also announced an agreement with four loan servicers - representing 25 percent of the market - to streamline the loan modification process for subprime borrowers living in their home.

Earlier this year, Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation to increase protections for Californians who own or plan to purchase homes and to expand affordable housing opportunities. The Governor has also lobbied Congress to raise federal loan limits so that more California families can take advantage of these secure products, rather than relying on subprime loans.

Friday, January 11, 2008

UK Surfers launch British Stand Up Paddle Association


The British Stand Up Paddle Boarding Association is launched
The British Stand Up Paddle Surfing Association (BSUPA) has been set up to provide information, organisation, training and contests for this new sport in the UK. It was set up in September 2007 by Olaus Macleod and since then has started to grow from strength to strength.

BSUPA’s objectives are to help promote the sport by running a series of events through out the UK to find a national champion by the end of 2008. Alongside this will be a number of distance events which this season will be individual contests, next season we hope to be running a series. The other core activities will include developing a teaching program, training coaches and accreditation for SUP schools.

On the BSUPA website there are forums, general information and information on where to ride your SUP. BSUPA will also be working with other organizations to promote SUP riding, safety conduct and deal with any access issues on certain locations.

BSUPA membership provides up to £5 million, worldwide, third party insurance, as well as a free T-shirt, a car sticker, membership card and e-zine. You will also be able to enter any of the BSUPA competitions. Membership prices are as follows: Family Membership: £50, Adult Membership: £37, Junior (under 18): £25. You can join online via the BSUPA website or call our membership hotline on 07752 398933 or email grant.winter@bsupa.org.

Olaus MacLeod is the president of the BSUPA, Bill Fitzhugh is Chairman, Grant Winter is Treasurer and runs the membership, Matt Argyle is the Secretary and deals with marketing and PR, Simon Bassett is the director of training and events. The reason that we are all involved with BSUPA is that we are all passionate about the sport and when we are not talking about it you can find us on the water riding.

The first BSUPA national event will be held at West Wittering beach, hosted by 2XS on 17th and 18th May 2008. This will be a surf and distance event. Paddle round the pier at Brighton will also be holding a SUP distance race from Brighton Pier to Worthing Pier. The Isle of Wight Air Festival (20th and 21st September 2008) will be running a surf and distance event. There will be two others events later in the year to be announced.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hospitals in Europe: pain in the wallet

A guide to social security the French way (to help avoid a head-ache or heart attack when you check your bank balance)

The French social security system presents many peculiarities to the inhabitants of other EU countries. Despite the worrying reasons for being admitted to a hospital, we ought to pay attention to the health of our purse or wallet, which can become weakened by bureaucratic fees and multiple payments, even if part of these are reimbursed by the French government.

The notorious E111

Be it through illness or an accident, all foreign students or workers have the opportunity to rest their bones in any hospital bed. What do you need to do? The first line of defence in making sure you don’t suffer further worry is to have with you the European Health Insurance Card (the former 'E111').

The process for getting one is very simple and needs to completed before leaving your country of origin. It usually takes a few minutes in your local social security office. In the case of foreign workers, they already have a French social security number thanks to the 'Carte Vitale', supplied by the French Ministry for Health. Both cards allows treatment, as for as the costs are concerned.

The hospitals themselves

Imagine the scene: a hospital. To give it a name, we move to the Hospital Saint Joseph-Saint Luc, in the centre of Lyon, southern France. A modern building, with fantastic views of the Rhone. Televisions and a library service (mens sana in corpore sano, or 'a sound mind in a sound body'), 350 beds and more than 1, 300 employees. On the other hand, muggins here, who, during a visit to see some Spanish Erasmus friends, decided one night to climb a statue in the rain. Not a good idea following a bolletón drinking session!

Gaining access to the emergency services - I had to fill in a form (an obligatory process) within the first 48 hours of my stay. Luckily for me, the treatment was a success, and I managed to understand from hospital staff, albeit with my level of French (knocked a bit due to the reason for being there in the first place), that it was time to say goodbye, with my discharge papers under my arm (bulletin d’hospitalisation in French). An 80 euros lighter welcome to the world of bureaucracy.

The patient patient?

To a Spaniard, German or Brit, accustomed to the fact that post-medical treatment bureaucracy ends the moment you walk out the hospital doors, the idea of having to battle with further bureaucracy and pay fees is not met with enthusiasm.

In the majority of European countries, such as Spain, Germany, Scandinavia and the UK, social security covers the vast majority of areas related to health, from hospitalisation through to out-patients and post-discharge treatment, with neither of the two causing explicit damage to your bank balance.

It’s comforting to know that the French state reimburses the majority of fees paid during hospitalisation. The reimbursement of fees totals 80% of the total paid. Then, should we require post-discharge treatment, we have to choose, quite freely, a medical consultant from more than 110, 000 medical offices around France. Then, the patient continues in the same way as those newly admitted; payment upfront and reimbursements after … the same as the vast majority of treatments offered in pharmacies! Sometimes, the French consider their healthcare system – though not only their healthcare system – the most advanced in the world! Everyone chooses which doctor they want to see. But let’s be honest, it’s awkward and (surprise, surprise!) extremely bureaucratic!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Step onto the property ladder in Lancashire


First-time buyers in Lancashire have got a final chance to get onto the property ladder in Chorley with Redrow’s innovative Debut range. Just a handful of properties remain at Debut II, which is part of the award-winning Buckshaw Village, in Euxton.

The collection of affordable, yet stylish properties has proved extremely popular with young homebuyers in the area, who have been struggling to buy a home of their own.

Lesley Myers, area sales manager for Redrow Homes (Lancashire), says: “It has become increasingly difficult for first-time buyers to purchase homes, with rising interest rates and house prices and this is something that Redrow has tackled with its Debut range.

“Debut offers stylish homes and a quality living environment but without the big price tag, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to get a foot on the property ladder.”

There are just 11 homes remaining at Debut II, with available properties including the one-bedroom, two-storey ‘D3’ design and the two-bedroom, two-storey ‘D4’ and ‘D4a’.

All properties offer modern open-plan living areas, which are becoming increasingly popular as more people choose to entertain at home rather than go out, and come with a single parking space.

The D4 homes are set on top of single-storey Debut homes in a three-storey building, while the D4a homes are situated in a two-storey mews block.

Buyers can take advantage of the Easi-buy scheme which allows them to defer 10 per cent of the initial purchase price of their new home for up to 10 years on a fixed sum basis. This interest free sum can be paid back via occasional lump sums, monthly repayments or in whole at any time.

And if that is not enough to whet your appetite enhanced Easi-buy is available on selected D3 homes, offering buyers the chance to defer 15 per cent of the price – making home ownership even more affordable.

Debut home owners also benefit from having a single fixed monthly service charge which covers the cost of water, electricity, gas and buildings insurance, as well as all external maintenance and window cleaning.

Lesley adds: “The Debut properties are built with practicality, affordability and quality in mind – but this doesn’t mean we have scrimped on the style. All of the Debut properties are really fresh and modern and designed to maximise the potential of every inch of space.

“Though not restricted solely to first time buyers, Debut homes can only be bought by owner occupiers and we have a legal framework in place to prevent buy-to-let investors from snapping them up. Again, this helps first time buyers by ensuring a supply of homes they can afford.”

Carefully landscaped communal grounds cared for by Redrow’s own management company help to create a sense of place.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better the attractive properties, which are constructed using light-weight structural steel frames and other modern methods of construction, are designed to achieve an Eco-rating of “excellent”, so new home-owners can do their bit for the environment as well

The Debut II development forms part of Buckshaw Village – a mixed use, sustainable community that incorporates a wide range of residential properties as well as leisure and retail facilities and more employment for the area.

The D3 is available from £79,995,* while a single D4 is on offer for £93,995** and the last remaining D4a is priced at £97,395***.

Located directly between the M6 and M61, at Euxton, near Chorley, Buckshaw Village also features a range of more traditional homes for people at every stage of the property ladder. There’s also a business park and proposals for a district shopping centre, provision for a new railway station with park and ride facilities, a primary school, health centre and outdoor sports amenities.

For more information on Redrow’s Debut range, including video walk-throughs of each design, go online at Debutbyredrow.co.uk.

For general information about Redrow and its developments log onto Redrow.co.uk.

*The price of £79,995 is with Debut ‘Easi-buy’ assistance of 15%. The total cost without Easi-buy is £94,995.

**The price of £93,995 is with Debut ‘Easi-buy’ assistance of 10%. The total cost without Easi-buy is £103,995.

***The price of £97,395 is with Debut ‘Easi-buy’ assistance of 10%. The total cost without Easi-buy is £107,995.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Sachse woman hospitalized since being hit by go-cart on Christmas


SACHSE – It was a Christmas present no one would want, but Gloria Williams considers herself fortunate, nonetheless.

"The doctors told me I'm lucky to be alive," said Ms. Williams, who was run down by a child on an out-of-control go-cart as she stood outside her Sachse home on Christmas Day. "I am lucky."


MICHAEL AINSWORTH/DMN
Gloria Williams has a plate in her face, a cast on her shattered wrist and a broken hip after a Christmas accident in her Sachse neighborhood in which she was hit by a go-cart driven by two girls, 12 and 13. In this post-holiday season where many kids are testing out the gifts they found under the tree or in the driveway, Ms. Williams' accident is a reminder that go-carts aren't toys.

Experts say the vehicles – which can be designed to go up to 150 mph – should never be driven by children on the street or without adult supervision.

Ms. Williams, 43, has been in the hospital since the accident Dec. 25. She has a plate in her face, a cast on her shattered wrist and a broken hip.

She can eat only pureed food – mashed potatoes and applesauce, mostly – and doctors tell her she'll be in the hospital for another week, at least, as they evaluate her hip. She undergoes physical therapy twice a day.

"I just want to get to eat my Christmas dinner," Ms. Williams said from her hospital bed at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

Ms. Williams said she was finishing up dinner preparations when she walked outside her house to say goodbye to visiting friends. She had crossed the street to reach the friends' car and was about to return home when she saw two girls in a large go-cart with a metal roll cage speeding down the street.

She said she stepped back, but the girls, 13 and 12, were weaving in and out of parked cars and didn't appear to see her. She said they hit her at full force – many witnesses said the kart was going between 30 and 40 mph – and she flew into the air before landing against the pavement.

She blacked out momentarily and opened her eyes to see neighbor Kris Alexander kneeling at her side. He told her not to move.


Seeing the crash

Mr. Alexander had been smoking a cigarette in his open garage when the accident occurred. He saw the go-cart slam into Ms. Williams' body and speed forward into his yard, where it got caught on brick edging around his bushes. The two girls tried to dislodge the vehicle, but when they couldn't, they ran to a nearby house.

"It was horrible," Mr. Alexander said. "I couldn't hardly recognize her because of the blood. It looked like she got hit by a semi."

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 15,600 people were sent to the hospital in 2006 from go-cart accidents, although the vast majority of the injuries were to go-cart drivers and their passengers.

Go-carts come in many shapes, sizes and prices. Some reach top speeds of only a couple miles an hour while others, designed for racing on tracks, can go 150 mph or faster.

Many of the mass-market go-carts reach about 30 mph, but they can be tweaked to go faster.


Keep off streets

No matter the speed, no one should be driving the unlicensed vehicles on the road, experts say. Like "pocket bikes" – a fad that city councils across North Texas banned from streets a couple years ago – they are too light and too difficult for other cars to see.

"You should never, ever, ever drive a go-cart on a public street," said Ray Williams, who has been selling go-carts since 1988. He owns Reliable Go-Karts in Waxahachie and is not related to the injured woman.

"It is not safe, and it is not legal," he said

Mr. Williams stressed that children should always be supervised when riding go-carts. Parents should also buy carts that require a key to turn on the engine and unlock the steering wheel, so children cannot use them unattended.

After the Sachse accident, the girls returned to the scene with their families. Witnesses said members of the Williams family were arguing with the girls' families as Ms. Williams lay on the ground, waiting for the police and an ambulance to arrive. Ms. Williams was flown to Methodist.

Ms. Williams said that her husband has been trying to reach the girls' families to discuss the costs of the hospital treatment but that he has not been able to contact them since the accident.

Calls by The Dallas Morning News to the go-cart's owner, who is listed on the Sachse police's accident report, were not answered, and no one came to the door at the home Thursday.

A man answering another phone number – given to police by the 13-year-old – said he knew the driver, but she had no telephone at home and had given his number instead. He then hung up.


Ongoing investigation

Sachse Police Chief Dennis Veach said the investigation into the accident is ongoing.

Ms. Williams, an adjuster at an insurance company, said she doesn't blame the children for the accident.

"They're just kids, but the parents shouldn't have let them run the bikes in the street," she said.

Mr. Alexander said he would have never imagined such an accident could happen in his newly built, quiet neighborhood in the suburbs.

"It's a place you would like to live in," he said.

However, since the accident, he's seen other children in the neighborhood riding go-carts in the street, and he's cautioned them of the dangers.

The 27-year-old said he doesn't want to be a curmudgeon because he enjoyed riding go-carts as a kid in a field beside his house, but his father never let him ride them in the street.

"We usually listened to what my dad said," he said.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Buzz Off On A Brightly Coloured Bee


Sachs have given their retro-styled 125cc Bee scooter a colourful makeover that is sure to create a buzz on the street.

Now available with a choice of metallic orange-and-white or metallic red-and-white body panels, the chrome trim on the headlight and deeply valenced front mudguard give the classically styled Bee a timeless appearance.

Powered by a reliable and economical 125cc automatic 4-stroke engine, the Bee is learner legal for anyone age 17 or older. Its low weight of just 96 KG combined with a 770mm seat height ensure that the Bee is as easy to manoeuvre on the road as it is in the parking bay.

These head-turning new colour schemes cost no more than the standard silver and at only £1,299 the price is sure to create a buzz too. The Bee 125 is available from Sachs dealers nationwide with a 2-year factory warranty included in the price for peace of mind.

Sachs offers a very competitive insurance scheme through their long-term insurance partner MCE, telephone 0870 01 01 125.

For more information call 01202 823344 or visit www.sachsmotorcycles.co.uk.