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June 22, 2014

British couple convicted of killing parents:

Filed under: marketing, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:01 am

LONDON—A British husband and wife were convicted Friday of murdering the woman’s parents, burying their bodies and collecting their pension checks for 15 years.

A jury at Nottingham Crown Court found Susan and Christopher Edwards guilty of shooting William and Patricia Wycherly in May 1998.

Prosecutors said the debt-ridden Edwards collected almost 250,000 pounds ($457,000) by pretending her parents were still alive. In 2005 they sold the parents’ home in the central England town of Mansfield, with the bodies buried in the backyard.


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Police Detective Chief Inspector Rob Griffin said the couple, desperate for money, “decided an easy way to get their hands on it was to kill their parents, and that’s what they did.”

“I think cold is the word,” he said.

They used some of the money to buy celebrity memorabilia, including autographs of Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra.

They told friends and relatives that the Wycherlys were travelling or had moved away.

Police unearthed the bodies in October after being tipped off by a family member that Christopher Edwards had admitted burying the bodies.

The couple had moved to France but were arrested at a London railway station after emailing police to say they wanted to surrender.

They pleaded not guilty to murder. Susan Edwards testified she had been provoked into shooting her mother after her mother killed her father.

But a jury did not believe the story.


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April 29, 2014

Audit finds issues with Toronto trustee expenses

Filed under: mortgage, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:11 am

Toronto trustees like to have their say in the boardroom, but they do a lot of talking outside of it as well — racking up thousands of dollars worth of calls to and from the Virgin Islands, Panama, Cuba, Greece and Mexico.

A detailed internal audit of Toronto District School Board trustees found numerous examples when they were, mostly without question, reimbursed for unauthorized or dubious expenses, including conference costs six days after the end of a three-day conference, $100 for alcohol and a $250 parking violation — issued for either blocking a fire route or a fire hydrant.

Trustee John Hastings, chair of the audit committee, said he could not explain the claims but wants the board to move quickly to address spending.

“I think it’s a combination of training that has to be provided to trustees, plus clearer policies and procedures … we need to bloody well pull up our socks and get at it,” he said before heading into a meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the audit.

The board paid out an additional $3,500 in international texting and data roaming charges from September 2010 to last January. “There appears to be no monitoring of trustee’s board cellphone charges,” the audit notes.

“We need to have a tracking system on that,” Hastings added. “We need to probably have better phone plans that adapt to the individual circumstances of trustees. Again, I see this as a big opportunity to get this ship turned around in this regard.”

The audit comes after a December report by Ernst and Young raised red flags about financial processes at Canada’s largest school board home insurance. It also comes amid revelations of trustee misbehaviour, after senior educators complained staff have been bullied, harassed and intimidated by elected officials.

There is no indication trustees harangued staff to approve expenses, Hastings added.

The audit details current differences in the rules for Toronto public and Catholic boards — showing limits and controls for the latter, with very few for the former.

(Spending at the Catholic board was tightened in 2009 after trustees made outrageous expense claims for things like lingerie and vacations.)

Toronto public trustees have annual expense accounts of $27,000, with extra money available through a fund for non-ward business such as professional development.

While some expenses “contradicted the policy … the estimated costs of these exceptions represent a small percentage of the total $2.5 million in trustee and governance expenses during the audit period” of September 2010 to this past January, the audit notes.

A new policy firming up expense reporting will go before another committee this week, and Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher continues to push to have all expenses posted online, in detail, as soon as possible.

The audit also revealed that trustees have hired board employees as their constituency assistants — not allowed — or have assistants who have no contract on file with the board.

It also raises questions about two trustees who charged taxpayers for stays at Ottawa’s luxury Chateau Frontenac hotel for a national school boards’ conference — one billing $354 a night for three nights, the other $414 a night for four nights.

Hastings himself said he had to reimburse the board for $60 for mileage he mistakenly claimed for meetings he didn’t attend.

“We’re all fallible,” he said.

He also defended a $2,100 expense for lanyards, with his trustee business card tucked inside, given to each graduating high school student last year.

Another unnamed trustee spent $11,600 for newsletter printing and graphic design.

Hastings said up to eight staff members were approving expenses without sufficient documentation, and feels that no more than two or three should be in charge.

TDSB audit highlights

Seven trustees incurred long distance charges on their cellphones: $55 for calls to and from Panama in one month; $947.50 to and from Cuba over one month; $2,218.47 to Barbados, Switzerland and the Virgin Islands; $1,473.90 in calls to China, Chile, Hong Kong, Greece and Polynesia; $320 in calls to and from Israel during one month; $800.43 to Guyana and Trinidad; $492.90 to Greece and Mexico over two months.

“The TDSB may have paid for personal long distance charges of the trustees,” the audit notes. Policy says they must reimburse such charges, and the audit recommends creating a special form for trustees to do so.

Almost $3,500 was billed for data roaming, international texting and text roaming life insurance for retirement.

One trustee charged the board for home Internet at two addresses in one month.

“A number of trustees submitted expenses for travel, accommodation, meals or other expenses in their conference claims that were outside of the conference dates … One trustee attended a three-day conference and incurred hotels, tours and other accommodation charges for up to six days after the conference. There were also two hotel rooms paid during one day of the trip.” One trustee billed $300 in tour costs and $400 in food at a conference with no explanation. Four trustees billed for a night at a Toronto hotel for a conference, when all live in the city and the conference took place during the day. One trustee expensed 181 kilometres in a day, with no details. One trustee billed cabs totalling $2,500, another $4,700. The audit notes there are no rules and that other transportation might be less expensive. Citing no clear policy on gifts, the audit found $40 spent on flowers for a parent council chair; $1,054 in glassware to “an organization in relation to the signing of a board agreement,” $30 for a music CD for a guest speaker, and Hastings’ lanyard giveaway. Parking receipts with no details, or details that don’t match mileage claims. $2,210 in “professional development” costs for constituency assistants.


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April 25, 2014

Don’t assume you’re safe from Heartbleed

Filed under: canada, money — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 1:35 pm

It sounds alarmist, but it’s true. Email, social media, banking — all of it is at risk.

The Heartbleed Internet bug is particularly nasty because it’s pervasive. It affects apps, hardware and websites.

Two weeks on, companies are still moving to address the bug:

, Fortune 500)didn’t release a firmware update for its AirPort routers until Tuesday. Dell’s SonicWALL app, which lets you connect to corporate networks from home, just got patched Monday. QNAP updated the firmware for its Turbo NAS data storage centers last week. Many of Cradlepoint’s 3G and 4G modems, used by businesses, weren’t patched until recently.

On April 17, there were still 150 million vulnerable apps running on Android smartphones, according to cybersecurity provider ). All must be updated.

“The fallout from this is likely to continue for weeks and months to come,” said Tom Brennan, a computer security expert who developed a free add-on to the Firefox Web browser that detects if a website is vulnerable.

To be safe from Heartbleed, you need to know that everything you use to connect online is updated and fixed: smartphone apps, Wi-Fi routers, office servers, the websites you visit — and their servers too.

The risk is inherent in the complicated way the Internet works. Signing into your bank might bounce you to data centers around the globe. That’s why solving the Heartbleed problem is a herculean task that’s largely outside of your control.

All you can do is change your passwords often — all of them — and update your software to the latest version. And don’t trust any app, device, computer environment or website until those in charge specifically say they’ve patched the problem.

“At this point, the best thing the average consumer should do is simply pay close attention to vendors’ notices and apply any fixes,” said FireEye researcher Hui Xue car warranty. Then change all your passwords again.

But many companies aren’t making it easy for you to figure it out. Banks aren’t placing announcements on their website homepages to reassure customers they’re safe. Information about whether routers are vulnerable — and how to fix them — are located deep within the websites of Apple, D-Link and Netgear.

Rick Dakin, CEO of IT department auditor Coalfire, said websites should be alerting customers, and company IT departments should be informing employees about their own company’s situation.

“If you go to a website today, and they don’t have a statement on Heartbleed, I would be wary,” Dakin said.

It’s difficult to overstate the problem. Heartbleed isn’t a computer virus that automatically gets deleted by your computer’s antivirus program. It’s a flaw in the software devices use to talk to one another. And because these are all interconnected, it only takes one weak point to let hackers peek in. Even some versions of )Norton AntiVirus software were impacted. Bryan Harris, a researcher at analytics software maker SAS, called it “a systemic issue” with a long, uphill road ahead.

So severe are the problems with OpenSSL, the encryption software that had the Heartbleed bug, that some are ditching it entirely. A Canadian computer programmer recently created another version of it, called LibreSSL, in an attempt to simplify and clean it up.

But even if everything seems patched, we’ll never know for sure, said Joe Touch, director of the Postel Center of computer research at the University of Southern California. New computer systems are often built relying on older ones which are no longer maintained.

“Like most bugs, there are some systems that will correct very quickly, some less so, some never,” he said.


April 18, 2014

Defend ‘Obamacare’ unabashedly, some Democrats say

Filed under: economics, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:36 am

WASHINGTON • With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it’s time to stop hiding from the president’s health care overhaul, even in this year’s toughest Senate elections.

Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace “Obamacare,” the GOP’s favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.

President Barack Obama recently announced that first-year sign-ups for subsidized private health insurance topped 7 million, exceeding expectations. And the Congressional Budget Office — the government’s fiscal scorekeeper — said it expects only a minimal increase in customers’ costs for 2015. Over the next decade, the CBO said the new law will cost taxpayers $100 billion less than previously estimated.

Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to “repeal and replace” the health care law without having a viable replacement in mind, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he said, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic.

“Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare,” Mills said. “They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can’t get away from it. So they’d better start defending it.”

Even some professionals who have criticized the health care law say the political climate has changed.

“I think Democrats have the ability to steal the health care issue back from Republicans,” health care industry consultant said Bob Laszewski said. “The Democratic Party can become the party of fixing Obamacare.”

In truth, some Democratic lawmakers often talk of “fixing” the 2010 health care law arrest records. But it’s usually in response to critics or in a manner meant to show their willingness to challenge Obama.

For instance, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces a tough re-election bid, used her first TV ad of the campaign to highlight her demand that Obama let people keep insurance policies they like.

But Landrieu and other hard-pressed Democrats have not gone as far as a pro-Democratic group in Alaska that is unabashedly highlighting the health law’s strongest points.

The independent group Put Alaska First is airing a TV ad that praises Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for helping people obtain insurance even if they have “pre-existing conditions,” such as cancer. The ad doesn’t mention Obama or his health care law by name, but it focuses on one of the law’s most popular features.

Other Democrats should consider such tactics, political consultant David DiMartino said.

“There is still time to tell the story of Obamacare to voters,” he said. Democratic candidates don’t want to be defined entirely by the health law, he said, “but now they can point to its successes to fend off the inevitable distortions.”

GOP strategists don’t agree. The recent upbeat reports might help Democrats temporarily, but “the negative opinion of Americans toward Obamacare is baked in,” Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said. “If Obamacare was truly trending positively,” he said, “Sebelius would have stayed, and Democrats in tough races would be picking a fight on Obamacare, instead of mostly hiding from it.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary closely associated with the health care law, is stepping down. Democrats say it’s a sign that the biggest problems are past, but Senate Republicans vow to use her successor’s confirmation hearings as another forum for criticizing the law.

Democrats hardest hit by anti-Obamacare ads — including Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — continue to defend the health law when asked, but they generally focus on other topics, campaign aides say.

Polls don’t suggest public sentiment is shifting toward Democrats, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. But with at least 7.5 million people enrolled despite last fall’s disastrous rollout of insurance markets, Blendon said, Democrats have some strong new material to use.

“Each of the Democratic candidates is going to have to make a calculation on whether or not they can motivate Democrats,” Blendon said. “For Democrats to get an advantage out of the law, they have to convince people they have something to lose if the Senate changes hands.”

Republicans need to gain six seats to control the 100-member Senate.

New political problems might arise for the health care law before the Nov. 4 election. For instance, the individual requirement to carry health insurance remains generally unpopular, and now penalties may apply to millions of people who remain uninsured.

So far, Republicans have had an edge in public opinion, particularly when those with strong sentiments about the law are considered. A recent AP-GfK poll found that strong opponents outnumber strong supporters, 31 percent to 13 percent. And motivated voters often make the difference in low-turnout nonpresidential elections criminal search. But the poll also found that most Americans expect the health law to be changed, not repealed.

That puts Republicans in a tricky situation: GOP primary voters demand repeal, but general election voters in November are looking for fixes.

“It’s not a cheap and easy political target anymore,” Laszewski said. “Republicans are going to have to tell us what they would do different.”

Democrats deride GOP proposals to “replace” the 2010 health care law, saying they collapse under close scrutiny. Since they generally contemplate a smaller federal government role, many of the GOP ideas are likely to leave more people uninsured. Some approaches do not completely prohibit insurers from turning away people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advises many top Republicans, said the emerging GOP plans aren’t tied to the ups and downs of Obama’s law but look ahead to the 2016 presidential election, when the party will need alternatives.

Ultimately, he said, “there can’t be a Republican ‘replace.’ … There needs to be a bipartisan reform.” That doesn’t seem likely, but Holtz-Eakin said it was the only kind of change that will prove durable.

Democrats can cheer the latest statistics, “but they are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “They have waived and deferred a million things they knew were unpopular, and those are still out there.”

AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


April 13, 2014

Foster families have been

Filed under: economics, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 1:48 am

MONTREAL—They speak Yiddish, follow the Jewish law to the letter and they’ve been on standby for months, waiting to welcome into their homes the children of Lev Tahor, the ultra-orthodox sect at the centre of a two-province child abuse probe.

Four months after child-welfare authorities in Quebec first went to court to have 14 children from two families taken into protective custody, the hassidic community of Montreal has been waiting to play its part.

Foster families able to meet some of the exacting needs of the children — namely, speaking Yiddish and keeping a high degree of religious observance — have been located. Now they are waiting for the ruling of an Ontario court judge Monday that could send the children along Highway 401 from Chatham-Kent to the hassidic enclave of Outremont in central Montreal.

“It was last week that they were expecting the children would be returned to Quebec, and so they have made contingency plans,” said David Ouellette, associate director of public affairs with Montreal’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “As far as the foster families are concerned in Quebec, they’ve been ready for months.”

Four months, to be exact. It was last November that Quebec’s director of youth protection first went to court seeking an order that the 14 children be taken into temporary foster care for physical and psychological examinations. Social workers testified that the children were living in filth, lacked access to doctors and dentists, received a religious education that didn’t come close to meeting the provincial curriculum and were subject to a regime of psychological abuse and underage marriages.

A few days before that court order was granted, the entire Lev Tahor community fled to Ontario. They hoped to find escape from the snooping social workers and freedom to follow their strict interpretation of the Torah. Instead, they have been subject to the scrutiny of Ontario social workers, a police raid and an immigration probe that resulted in the detention and deportation of several adult members of the group.

Mixed in with those Ontario tribulations was the failed exodus of the children and their parents, who took a run for Guatemala last month. That incident resulted in six children being forcibly returned to Canada when they landed at the Trinidad airport; one infant child being apprehended with his 17-year-old mother at the Edmonton airport; and another six who made it to the Central American country and are currently fighting attempts to have them brought back.

The seven children who did not escape the long arm of Canadian law are currently with Ontario foster families fast payday loans.

Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said there are three possible outcomes of Monday’s court decision: the children could be returned to their families; the children could remain with foster families in Chatham-Kent; or the children could be returned to Quebec.

He said that the agency has been sensitive to religious considerations in their dealings with the children and has had help from nearby social service agencies that have Yiddish or Hebrew-speaking staff members that can act as translators.

“Some of the children and many of the adults in Lev Tahor speak or understand some English as well,” Doig said.

But adding to the difficulty of handling kids from a community like Lev Tahor — one that frowns on speaking any language but Yiddish, whose interpretation of kosher means extreme dietary restrictions and whose contact with the outside world is said to be next to nil — is what the children are said to have endured since last November. Put it all together and long-term care for the children may require a more intensive effort that only an ultra-orthodox Jewish clan can provide.

Eluzor Moscowicz, who has been caring for five Lev Tahor children for more than a year, said that when the children arrived in his home, they were unclean and wore too-small shoes that had left them with a stunted gait when they walked.

He told the Canadian Jewish News in February that they were suspicious and uncertain about such things as using scented soap or bathing. He said the children also had a habit of informing on one another, which coincides with testimony by a former Lev Tahor member that they were encouraged to report bad habits or breaches of the community’s strict rules to the group’s leadership.

The seven children affected by Monday’s court ruling may be in better physical shape, but the ordeal they have gone through since last November will have left psychological marks all the same, Ouellette suggested.

“The whole idea of having hassidic foster families is to ease the trauma that these kids are going to go through,” he said.

And even when the final decision is handed down, there could still be one additional snag that draws out the fate of the Lev Tahor children just a little bit longer. Monday will be marked by a flurry of preparation for the Jewish holiday of Passover, which would prevent observant Jews from travelling or working on Tuesday and Wednesday.


November 29, 2012

BP banned from federal contracts

Filed under: online ads, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:56 am

The U.S. government temporarily banned oil giant BP from bidding on any new federal contracts as a result of its recent criminal pleas stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The move prevents ) from getting new federal government “contracts, grants or other covered transactions,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which was charged with issuing the ban.

Among BP’s government contracts are hundreds of leases it has signed to drill for oil or gas in the United States and agreements worth billions of dollars to supply the government with fuel. Wednesday’s move does not impact existing agreements.

“EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout,” the EPA said in a statement. “Suspensions are a standard practice when a responsibility question is raised by action in a criminal case.”

The ban will remain in effect “until the company can provide sufficient evidence to EPA demonstrating that it meets federal business standards,” the agency said.

BP said it is already working with the EPA to prove it is meeting standards, and said that this temporary suspension should be lifted “soon no fax cash advance.”

Shares in BP fell earlier in the day, but recouped most of their losses by noon.

Earlier this month, BP pleaded guilty to 11 counts of misconduct or neglect of ship officers, a felony count for obstruction of Congress, a misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act and a misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty in relation to the 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drill rig that killed 11 people.

The explosion and subsequent oil spill poured millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and led to what EPA called “the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”

BP also agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines as part of the settlement earlier this month. The company said it has now spent over $40 billion on spill related costs.

In addition to charging BP as a company, the federal government also brought criminal charges against two high ranking BP employees involved with the drilling, who now face jail time if convicted.


October 15, 2012

Softbank could play Sprint’s savior

Filed under: legal, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:56 am

Sprint Nextel’s seven-year nightmare may soon be over. The nation’s third-largest wireless carrier confirmed Thursday that it is in talks with Japanese technology giant Softbank to sell at least part of the company.

, Fortune 500) has struggled to keep up with stronger competitors , Fortune 500) and , Fortune 500) ever since its disastrous 2005 merger with Nextel. The company is up to its eyeballs in debt, undergoing an expensive — and late — transition to 4G-LTE, and losing contracted customers in the wake of its decision to ditch the Nextel brand. With smaller rival T-Mobile entering into an agreement to buy , Fortune 500) earlier this month, Sprint is feeling the heat of stronger competition from all sides.

Forced to go it alone, the company has been working on a major upgrade intended to modernize its network. It’s also toying with backup plans: Sprint’s shares rose last week on a Bloomberg report that said the company was considering making a counter-offer to MetroPCS.

But then, seemingly out of the blue, Softbank arrived dangling a new rescue plan. It’s the kind of white knight with deep pockets that Sprint desperately needs. Softbank had roughly $13 billion in cash at the end of last year. Sprint, by comparison, has $21 billion in debt and just $7 billion in cash and short-term investments.

Shares of Sprint jumped by as much as 19% Thursday on the news.

Japan’s third-largest carrier, led by colorful and outspoken CEO Masayoshi Son (he devised a 300-year plan in 2010, which involved brain-computer symbiosis and machines that know how to love), isn’t shy about dealmaking. It owns a stake in ), had a chunk of ) until last year, and orchestrated a blockbuster deal to buy Vodafone’s Japan unit that gave the company a huge presence in the burgeoning wireless space no fax payday loan. Softbank was the first Japanese wireless company to carry the , Fortune 500) iPhone.

Softbank’s flair and assertiveness could give Sprint a needed jolt. The company lost its brief marketing edge — billing itself as the only nationwide network with unlimited data — when T-Mobile recently reverted to its unlimited data plans as well. Despite a network technology transition that appears to be on schedule and promises cost savings and improved coverage, Sprint’s management has been criticized for lacking the chutzpah to do something bolder. The company seems locked in a losing battle with its two much-larger competitors.

“If Softbank does acquire Sprint Nextel, it is not a forgone conclusion that the company will do well,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst. “However, the chances it can do well are there if the company can understand the U.S. marketplace.”

Terms of the deal that is being negotiated were not disclosed, and Softbank declined to comment. A Wall Street Journal report said the deal, worth roughly $13 billion, would give Softbank a controling stake in Sprint.

Regulators would likely cheer the deal, which would ensure that four strong, nationwide wireless competitors remain in the U.S. market. In AT&T’s scuttled $36 billion buyout offer for T-Mobile last year, regulators said they opposed the deal because it would bring the number of national wireless choices down from four to three.


October 5, 2012

Premarkets: Stocks head for early gains

Filed under: finance, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:28 am

U.S. stock futures were higher Thursday following two reports on the U.S. labor market.

The Labor Department reported that the number of people filing for first-time unemployment claims rose by 4,000 to 367,000 for the week ended Sept. 29. That was slightly higher than expected.

Ahead of that report, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut 33,816 jobs in September, down 71% from a year earlier.

These reports, along with Wednesday’s ADP report on private sector job growth, are all precursors to the government’s closely watched monthly jobs report due out Friday.

Investors will also be keeping a wary eye on Mario Draghi, the ECB president who recently said he’d do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.

ECB officials kept rates at 0.75% when they met in Slovenia Thursday. And while Draghi isn’t expected to announce any new initiatives when he speaks at 8:30 a.m. ET, he may give more details about where the ECB’s new bond buying program stands.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England left its key interest rate unchanged at 0.5%, where it’s been since early 2009.

At 2 p.m. ET, the Federal Reserve will release minutes for its most recent policy making meeting, in which it announced the latest round of quantitative easing, or QE3. The report could shed light on the Fed’s open-ended program of buying $40 billion in mortgage debt every month.

It’s that kind of monetary easing that explains why markets are higher, even though worries about the global slowdown remain severe, said Elisabeth Afseth, a fixed income analyst with Investec in London.

“Central banks providing large amounts of liquidity to the system — and the search for a pick up above government yields — is driving the risk markets higher, rather than strong confidence in the economy or the fundamentals,” she said.

European stocks were mixed in morning trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.1%, while the DAX in Germany and France’s CAC 40 shed 0.1%.

Meanwhile, Asian markets ended higher, with markets in Shanghai closed this week for a holiday. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong ticked up 0.1% while Japan’s Nikkei added 0.9%.

U.S. stocks closed modestly higher Wednesday.

Companies: Shares of , Fortune 500) edged lower in premarket trading, after falling 13% Wednesday on a disappointing 2013 earnings outlook.

) shares rose more than 2% after CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that as of Thursday morning, there are more than one billion people using Facebook actively each month.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro and British pound, but it gained against the Japanese yen.

Oil for November delivery added 61 cents to $88.75 a barrel.

Gold futures for December delivery rose $12.20 to $1,792.00 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury slipped, pushing the yield up slightly to 1.64% from 1.62% late Wednesday.


August 7, 2012

Visas come up short for entrepreneurs

Filed under: economics, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 9:28 am

Even as the economy has slowed, the nation’s visa system remains a high hurdle for foreigners who want to start businesses and create jobs in the United States.

Few viable options exist for entrepreneurs eager to come to America, and those that do offer little predictability.

For example, the investor visa carries a $1 million price tag — too high for most aspiring small business owners. And the so-called executive visa requires immigrants to start a firm abroad and create a U.S. subsidiary.

For those who want to launch in the United States, the principal route is through E-2 visas. But they’re available only to people in certain nations, prohibiting entry from the world’s most promising countries, such as Brazil, India and China. Also, they must be renewed every few years and offer no path to permanent residency.

Related: Immigrants file most patents at top schools

The U.S. policies are at odds with other countries that are opening doors for entrepreneurs. They have the ideas, build the companies, create the jobs. Why not invite them in?

Chile does it by offering $40,000 of equity-free capital and temporary visas. Singapore sets a low bar for "EntrePasses" and creates an avenue for residency.

Meanwhile, the U.S. immigration system can be openly hostile, say business owners, advocates and lawyers.

For a British couple who came in 1995 to manage a hotel and restaurant in Missouri, it might mean soon sending their eldest daughter back to a country she barely knows.

Ali and Ian Gray came on E-2 visas, and the program allowed them to bring Lauren, then four years old. She grew up on the flat plains, was a cheerleader in high school and studied dance at a nearby women’s college.

But she will no longer be able to stay on her parents’ visa as of Wednesday, when she turns 21. She can try and get her own visa but she’s been on that list since she was 12. The U.S. immigration system is so backlogged she’s still in line.

"It’s just not right and not fair. I am an American," Lauren said. "I had so many plans here, so many options, so many connections. I’m going to have to learn an entire new culture.

No consideration is given to her family’s economic contribution to the tiny Midwestern town of Trenton, where they’ve doubled the staff at the Lakeview Motor Lodge and Restaurant to 30.

In a last-ditch effort, Lauren and her mother traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with congressional staffers to plead for a solution. They faced resistance.

"It’s so frustrating," Lauren Gray said. "They know the system is broken, but they still enforce it. No one seems to think anything can be changed, so they’ve given up."

The family is trying to get an exemption, but it’s still uncertain.

For entrepreneurs with an eye toward the United States, it’s an ominous warning: You can come here and hire Americans, but expect no gratitude.

Another problem with the E-2 visa is that renewals aren’t guaranteed.

A married couple from Ireland that owns a restaurant in New England experienced that first hand earlier this year.

In February, they returned to Ireland to renew their visas, as they had done every two years for almost a decade. While there, U.S. immigration officials denied the renewal and wouldn’t let them back in to shut their business. The restaurant, which had three employees, eventually closed.

It took six weeks and creative legal moves to get them in temporarily and reunite them with their children. They’ve asked to remain unnamed, fearing retribution in a system without recourse.

Related: Cinnabon is first U.S. franchise in Libya

Still, the E-2 visa program is popular. Since 2009, at least 33,000 applications have been filed every year; on average, 25,926 visas were issued annually. But its narrow options "discourage investment," said Brent Renison, a Portland, Ore., immigration attorney representing the Grays.

"People need to be assured that if they’re putting all this money into the United States, they can stay here," Renison said.

The U.S. State Department, which issues visas, told CNNMoney it can only follow orders from Congress.

A proposal that seeks to change that was introduced in a House bill in late July by Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat. It would offer green cards to business owners here on E-2 visas who hire at least five Americans.

The bill’s Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, said it starts to chip away at a system that is broken "top to bottom."

"If we fix legal immigration, the country will be better off," Chaffetz said. "It’s good for our economy, and it’s good for our vitality."

However, it’s doubtful whether Congress can come together to address an issue as divisive and complex as immigration, especially during an election year. 


August 6, 2012

Romney promises 12 million jobs in four years

Filed under: canada, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:56 am

Mitt Romney’s economic advisers issued a rosy set of projections Thursday that predict 12 million new jobs and a sharp economic expansion if the Republican candidate were to capture the White House.

The paper, authored by four conservative economists, projects that the Romney plan would add between 0.5% and 1% per year in gross domestic product growth over the next decade.

The estimates, the economists write, are "conservative." Growth could be even stronger if hard-to-model gains from more effective regulation and decreased policy uncertainty could be captured.

Yet 12 million new jobs over just four years would be one of the strongest periods of employment growth in recent history, and require the economy to consistently add 250,000 jobs every 30 days for 48 straight months.

According to the position paper, the quick turnaround would be spurred by the lower tax rates and drastic spending cuts that are the hallmark of Romney’s plan.

The implementation of Romney’s plan will of course require the cooperation of Congress, and it should be noted that presidential campaigns often make promises that fail to materialize.

The paper’s authors — Glenn Hubbard of Columbia, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, John Taylor of Stanford and Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute — also include a boilerplate critique of the Obama administration’s policies.

"America took a wrong turn in economic policy in the past three years," the authors write. "The United States underperformed the historical norm shown in the administration’s own forecasts, and its policies are to blame."

Much of the critique is focused on what the authors characterize as a pursuit of short-term patches — such as the stimulus — that failed to address deep-seated structural problems like an overly complicated tax code cheapest personal loan rates.

The paper criticizes Obama’s housing policies, for example, saying the administration "ignored" the weak market. But Romney has not offered a detailed alternative — and the paper does not shed any light on the candidate’s plan for the housing market.

And while the projections are spelled out in detail, the paper does not address any of the bubbling criticisms of Romney’s economic plan.

Related: Mitt Romney’s other tax secret

According to a study released Wednesday by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, Romney’s plan would provide large tax cuts to the very wealthy, while increasing the tax burden on the lower and middle classes.

Romney’s tax cuts would produce a $360 billion revenue loss in 2015, and offsetting that would require a reduction of 65% of all available tax expenditures, according to the study.

The end result is that individuals who make less than $200,000 would actually have to pay $500 more, on average, in taxes — a 1.2% decrease in after-tax income. Meanwhile, the after-tax income of individuals who make more than $1 million would increase by 4.1%.

The campaign disputed the Tax Policy Center’s conclusions, arguing that increased growth resulting from corporate tax reductions was not included.

The Tax Policy Center, meanwhile, said it could not score the plan directly, as "certain components of [Romney’s] plan are not specified in sufficient detail."

The notable lack of detail is a critique that has dogged the campaign for months.

On the spending side of the government ledger, for example, Romney has promised to reduce federal spending from 24% of gross domestic product to 20%. But has not offered a comprehensive list of programs he would cut. 


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