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August 23, 2014

Mexico creates special economic-crime force

Filed under: Uncategorized, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 12:15 am

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico launched a special 5,000-strong police force Friday to combat industrial, farm and business crime that has extended far throughout the country’s economy, strangling commerce in some regions.

Drug gangs have long penetrated some Mexican mining and agricultural sectors, but officials now reveal that everyone from fishermen to tourist resorts to banana growers have been hit by the wave of extortion, kidnapping and thefts by the gangs.

In some cases, like the western state of Michoacan, the cartels and gangs cut down trade so much that “even the barbershops weren’t serving customers. The whole social fabric broke down,” said National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido.

The new force known as the gendarmerie is made up of fresh recruits — average age 28 — who have never served on another police force. Trained by the Mexican army, the forces’ commanding officers got training from police forces from Colombia, Chile, Spain, France and the U.S.

It will act as a division of the federal police and will be sent to areas where there is an organized crime presence and there is no economic activity because production is being restricted by the criminals.

Most Mexicans had long been aware that parts of the country had such problems: Michoacan, where the Knights Templar cartel told farmers when to plant and took a cut on every product, and even ran the iron ore industry. Or the northern border state of Tamaulipas, where demands for businesses to pay protection money was common.

Mexico’s national statistics institute estimated that in 2012, the latest figures available, that crime cost the country about $16.5 billion, or 1.34 percent of GDP.

But the breadth of problems authorities have now acknowledged is staggering.

Luis Montoya Morelia, the head of federal police in Tamaulipas, said the hyper-violent Zetas cartel had threatened fishermen on the Gulf coast, forcing them to sell their catch to the cartel for just 7 cents per kilograms (3 cents per pound). The gang would then apparently take the fish to market and sell it for full price.

Rubido said cattle ranchers in southern Mexico were buying sorghum abroad because nobody would rent harvesting machines to sorghum growers in Tamaulipas, apparently fearing the cartels would burn or steal the equipment free credit report and score. This year, under police and military protection for every stage from harvest and packing to distribution, Tamaulipas was able to bring in a bumper crop.

Banana growers in the steamy southern Gulf state of Tabasco also have come under gang pressure. When the banana harvesting season comes around, extortion and kidnappings rise to some of the highest rates in Mexico, Rubido said.

And on the southern Pacific coast, gangs threaten the resorts of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, though Rubido did not offer specifics on the threat there.

Michoacan offers the most extreme example of the Mexican cartels’ Mafia-style control, especially with the region’s main crop, limes. “The planters, pickers, packing houses and distributors all had to pay a cut for the right to operate or ship to the criminals,” Rubido said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how such a small force would be used to attack such widespread problems. The task to date has largely fallen to soldiers and marines, whose tactics have spawned continuing complaints. But it doesn’t appear the new gendarme force would have enough officers to replace military units in a broad range of law enforcement roles.

“It is naive to think that just by creating a new force with people who haven’t been in the police before … things are going to change,” said Miguel Moguel, a researcher at Mexico’s Fundar think tank.

“We have been creating new police forces for decades, armored police, ‘incorruptible, super-trained police,’” with disappointing results, he noted.

This year, the government even took the unprecedented step of providing guns, uniforms and salaries for former vigilantes in Michoacan, recruiting about 2,000 of them into the newly created “Rural Force.” But critics say the force has little oversight and training.

Mexico hopes the gendarmerie will help break the cartels’ economic stranglehold, but Rubido said it won’t be easy. “Many times they have attacked with grenades,” he said of the cartels.

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July 2, 2014

Waffle House calls for Belgian waffle boycott in support of U.S. soccer

Filed under: debt, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:33 am

The breakfast of champions is anything but a Belgian waffle today as the U.S. soccer team prepares to take on Belgium this afternoon at the World Cup.

Waffle House is on board with a boycott of the fluffy breakfast food, too.

“We don’t believe in Belgium (sic) waffles,” the company’s official Twitter feed said.

The Georgia-based company sells “American waffles,” spokesman Pat Warner said. American waffles are round, while Belgian waffles are square, he said, and American waffles also have smaller and shallower indentations, which allows for better syrup distribution.

Warner said he didn’t expect the social media explosion when the public conversation began a few days ago.

“One of our fans asked us on Twitter about Belgian waffles,” Warner said. “We responded and said ‘We will dominate them.’ It really kind of surprised us how quickly it spread. It kind of gives a nod to how impactful social media is.”

The idea to boycott Belgian waffles came from Waffle House Twitter followers, he said.

Midwesterners eat the largest share of waffles in the U.S. with 28 percent of total consumption, according to the NPD Group. They also eat 40 percent of the French toast consumed in the U.S.

Waffle House has served more than 877 million waffles since it opened in 1955. It currently has 1,700 locations in 25 states, but the only Illinois locations are near St. Louis.

The U.S. soccer team plays Belgium today at 3 p.m. If the U.S. loses its round-of-16 game, it will be knocked out. Chicago is hosting a viewing party at Soldier Field, where officials expect 10,000 to 20,000 people.

“We’re just supporting team USA hoping they come through with a victory today,” Warner said. “We think we have a good shot this year.”

About that “Belgium waffle” tweet? The chain attributed the misspelling to a “blonde moment” on its Twitter feed.

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April 29, 2014

Toyota to move U.S. HQ from Los Angeles area to Texas

Filed under: marketing, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:02 pm

Toyota Motor Corp. said it will move 3,000 jobs from Torrance, Calif., to new North American headquarters in Plano, Texas, in the next three years.

Toyota also will shutter its engineering and manufacturing office in Erlanger, Ky. — near the Cincinnati-area airport — with the personnel being distributed to a tech center in Ann Arbor, Mich.; the new Plano headquarters; and a new facility at the automaker’s Georgetown, Ky., factory.

Altogether, the moves will affect approximately 4,000 employees nationally. The shift is part of a corporate strategy to locate the employees running its engineering and manufacturing, sales and marketing, financial services and certain corporate functions all on one complex.

In California, the move will affect 2,000 workers in Toyota’s U.S. sales and marketing arm and 1,000 positions in its financial services business life insurance. That will leave about 2,300 Toyota employees in various positions at the company’s sprawling Torrance campus.

“Ultimately, enabling greater collaboration and efficiencies across Toyota will help us become a more dynamic, innovative and successful organization in North America,” said Jim Lentz, chief executive of Toyota’s North America region.

“This is the most significant change we’ve made to our North American operations in the past 50 years, and we are excited for what the future holds,” he said.

Toyota officials said that creating a more efficient corporate structure, not cutting costs, was the primary motivation in deciding to build a centralized headquarters in Texas.

The state of Texas announced Monday it has offered Toyota $40 million to make the move to suburban Dallas. Gov. Rick Perry has made two visits to California since last year, trying to convince top employers there to move to Texas. In a statement, he said Texas’ low taxes and relaxed regulations can help Toyota thrive.

Toyota has long been a Southern California fixture. Its first U.S. office opened in a closed Rambler dealership in Hollywood in 1957. The site is now a Toyota dealership. In 1958, its first year of sales, Toyota sold just 288 vehicles — 287 Toyopet Crown sedans and one Land Cruiser. Last year, Toyota sold more than 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S.

The U.S. branch picked Los Angeles for its first headquarters because of proximity to the port complex — where it imported cars — and easy airline access to Tokyo.

As Toyota grew, it opened its national sales and marketing headquarters in Torrance in 1982. The complex, built where its parts distribution warehouse was once located, now has 2 million square feet of office space hmo in california.

But today, about 75 percent of Toyota-branded vehicles sold in the U.S. are built in North America — many of them at plants in Texas, Mississippi and Kentucky. Moving the U.S. corporate headquarters to Texas puts senior management closer to those factories.

The company said it has committed to providing $10 million in continued funding for local nonprofits and community organizations in California and Kentucky over a five-year period beginning in 2017.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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April 1, 2014

Marois says report on husband is payback for corruption crackdown

Filed under: debt, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 7:36 pm

DRUMMONDVILLE, QUE—Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois suggested someone upset about her party’s crackdown on corruption is behind a damaging report that suggests her husband solicited political donations on her behalf that were illegal.

The French-language broadcaster Radio-Canada reported Monday that two representatives of Quebec engineering firms say they were asked by Claude Blanchet to give money to Marois’ leadership campaign in 2007 and to her provincial election campaign in 2008.

A sworn affidavit from one of those individuals says Blanchet received a series of cheques totalling $25,000 in the spring of 2007 and the hope was that the engineering firm would have “privileged access to Madame Pauline Marois.” Two employees of that same firm said in the Radio-Canada report that the company later reimbursed them for the expense.

Allegations of improper political fundraising for the Parti Quebecois by Pauline Marois’ husband show that the party’s ethical standing is tarnished, says Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard.

“The last two or three years apparently the PQ was without any stain. That’s obviously not the case,” said Couillard, recalling how members of the PQ made a show of wearing white scarves outside the provincial legislature to demand an inquiry into government corruption in May 2010. The Liberal’s Jean Charest was premier at the time.

“Remember the white scarf,” Couillard told reporters Tuesday. “The white scarf is stained, and even ripped.”

Related:

Pauline Marois’s husband denies collecting illegal political donations

Liberals accuse PQ of ‘despicable’ ploy to spark Quebec referendum

he names of the four individuals cited in the report were not published and the Star has not been able to independently verify the information, which has been firmly denied by Marois, Blanchet and the PQ.

“I can’t say who these people are . . . but I am certain that there are people who have an interest in the Parti Quebecois not returning to power because the work we have done has been exemplary,” Marois said Tuesday morning.

“There are people who have gone before the Charbonneau commission, who have lost their jobs and have been profoundly affected by what we have learned at the Charbonneau commission and who hold us, in part, responsible because we asked for the inquiry.”

The fundraising scheme laid out in the Radio-Canada report would have been illegal under Quebec’s election laws, which until recently had limited donations to $3,000. But such manoeuvres have been documented in detail at the ongoing Charbonneau corruption inquiry as a way for large companies to fund municipal and provincial political parties faxless pay day loans. The expectation is that those firms will in turn have preferential access to lucrative government contracts and sway over legislation that may affect its business interests.

The bulk of the revelations about illegal political financing thus far have focused on funds raised by the Quebec Liberal party but witnesses at the corruption inquiry have testified that they also gave money to the PQ.

The allegations concerning Marois’ husband are significant because they come in the final days of an election campaign in which she has been sharply critical of the Liberal party’s ethical record and called on current party leader Philippe Couillard, who was elected leader just last year, to denounce the past actions of his party.

The PQ leader said while Blanchet has at times been a fundraiser for the party, she was “certain” that her husband never raised money for the leadership campaign in 2007.

She said that “like all parties” the PQ asks for financial contributions from “people we know, friends, supporters and citizens.” When the party receives a donation by cheque, it tries to assure the account can be traced back to a real person with a bank account and a verifiable residential address.

“Even our tax system presumes that people are acting in good faith and respect the law,” Marois said.

How the province’s political parties raise money has been a dominant issue in the province for months — including how construction and engineering firms fill party coffers in return for lucrative public projects — as a public inquiry probes government corruption. The commission was put on hold in March for the duration of the provincial election campaign.

Speaking Tuesday before an appearance at the Montreal Chambre of Commerce, Couillard said Blanchet still has questions to answer about the alleged fundraising scheme for his wife. “I don’t assume culpability,” he added.

When Marois came to power with a minority government in 2012, the PQ changed the maximum individual contribution limit, axing it from $3,000 to $100.

Couillard said the rules of the game have therefore changed in recent years, and that the current campaign shows elections can be carried out without “large amounts of money that circulates.”

“We have to remember that changes have already occurred, both before and after the election of September 2012,” said Couillard.

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March 26, 2014

Walgreen Co. to close 76 unprofitable stores

Filed under: management, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 8:00 am

Walgreen Co. on Tuesday said it plans to close 76 unprofitable drugstores by August as part of a plan to save $40 million to $50 million per year beginning in its fiscal 2015.

The Deerfield-based drugstore chain, the nation’s largest, declined to specify the locations of the stores slated to close aside from saying they’re “spread across the country.” Walgreen said it will confirm the closures in the coming months after it notifies employees.

Most stores that will close either have had other Walgreens locations open in the same area or have seen real estate values decline since they’ve opened, the company said.

In a morning conference call with investors, Walgreen Chief Executive Greg Wasson said the move, which effects less than 1 percent of its locations nationwide, is part of an effort to “optimize our footprint and ensure our stores remain at the best corners of America.”

The majority of the stores that will shutter are located near other Walgreens locations, and most of their employees will be reassigned, Wasson said.

Including the closures, the company still plans to have a net increase in store count in 2014 of between 55 and 75 locations. It operates 8,210 drugstores nationwide, 138 more than a year ago.

Walgreen will take charges of between $240 million to $280 million in its third and fourth quarters related to the closures.

The company also on Tuesday said second quarter net income fell slightly to $754 million, or 78 cents a share, down from $756 million, or 79 cents a share, in the same period a year ago, as a slower cold and flu season and severe weather throughout much of the United States dragged on profits payday loans.

Profits also were hurt by the introduction of fewer new generic drugs, which are generally more profitable for pharmacies.

The Deerfield-based drugstore chain said sales rose 5.1 percent to $19.6 billion, with sales in stores open at least a year up 4.3 percent.

Adjusted for certain items, net income was 91 cents a share, down from 96 cents a year earlier, missing Wall Street estimates by a penny.

Despite a 1.4 percent dip in customer traffic, the average purchase size rose 3.4 percent.

Shares opened higher, rising nearly 5 percent to $67.48, in morning trading.

Wasson also said the company has no plans to stop selling tobacco products, despite the February decision by its primary competitor CVS Caremark to halt sales by Oct. 1.

“What we’re focused on is to help encourage our customers to make healthy choices, not just with cigarettes, but with their daily habits,” Wasson said. “We think we’re well-positioned to help folks change their behavior who want to quit … and I don’t think there’s anyone better positioned with our retail pharmacists” and smoking cessation programs and products to help people kick the habit.

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March 11, 2014

US wholesalers boost stockpiles 0.6 pct in Jan., despite biggest sales drop since March 2009

Filed under: lenders, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:44 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — US wholesalers boost stockpiles 0.6 pct in Jan., despite biggest sales drop since March 2009.

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January 31, 2014

New ammo packs 3 shots into one bullet

Filed under: house, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 7:20 pm

So he invented the Multiple Impact Bullet, a unique new round that, upon firing, splits into several fragments connected by ballistic-strength fiber.

The fiber holds the shrapnel together in a Y-shaped pattern, which makes for much better accuracy than a shotgun’s blast of pellets. That minimizes the chances of hitting unintended people or things, said Kuchman.

The bullets spread to a diameter of 14 inches for handguns and 24 inches for long guns. The fiber itself, which is spooled up inside the core of the slug, slices paper targets to ribbons, but does only “superficial” damage to flesh, Kuchman said.

They’re intended for self defense, says Kuchman. Multiple impact bullets improve the accuracy of nervous, would-be victims with unsteady hands by giving them several chances to hit their target with just one shot. The company uses slogans such as, “Because you can’t afford to miss” and “First hit advantage is everything!”

Todd and his brother Jaye, who refer to themselves as the “bullet brothers,” founded the Denver-based Advanced Ballistic Concepts, or ABC, in 2010 and launched their new bullet on Jan. 6.

The company says it already has $100,000 worth of orders. “It’s been selling [like] gangbusters,” said Kuchman. “In fact, our web site crashed after our initial press release.”

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The ammunition is available on ABC’s web site, as well as at some Colorado gun stores. The 10-round packs of .45 bullets for handguns and 12-gauge slugs for shotguns run about $50 or $60. Soon, 9mm will be available also.

ABC employs a full-time staff of 11 and about 90 part-time assemblers.

Related: Duck Commander launches line of Mossberg guns

Earl Griffith, firearms technology expert for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said that generally speaking, any bullet is legal as long as it can’t pierce armor.

While the Multiple Impact Bullet is certainly innovative, says Wedbush gun analyst Rommel Dionisio, it will be tough to break into a market dominated by “tried-and-true” brands like Winchester and Remington.

Dionosio said it might take extensive testing, which could take years, and maybe even adoption of the ammunition by a major law enforcement agency to give it the credibility it needs to succeed in the consumer marketplace.

The Kuchmans grew up on a farm in a relatively rural section of New Jersey where they learned to hunt and fish. Guns were a way of life.

Todd Kuchman has invented various products over the last 12 years, including the Scratch-less Disc, which fell by the wayside in a digital world.

ABC already makes several other types of ammunition, specializing in “green” metals free of lead. They include the Stinger, a bullet that’s advertised as “less lethal” because it’s made of aluminum, plastic or rubber. It also sells the Stunner, which inflicts more serious damage, but is designed to not pass through walls.

“Our mantra is perpetual innovation,” said Kuchman.

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August 19, 2013

Prader-Willi teen receiving U.S. care to be sent back to Ontario

Filed under: house, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 7:48 am

An Ontario teen receiving treatment for a rare genetic disorder in a U.S. hospital could be sent back to Canada on Monday, despite pleas from her doctors and family for her to stay.

Mikaela Clark, 18, of Orillia, was admitted in May to the Hospital at the Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh for treatment of Prader-Willi syndrome, a potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by insatiable hunger and extreme obesity.

She entered a three-month treatment program at a cost of $100,000, but two weeks ago received an extension due to complications. Her stay ends Monday, and her family does not know whether it will be extended again.

“The government is letting us wait until the last second,” said Mikaela’s father, Jon Clark. “We don’t know anything. We’re really in a bad spot.”

Simcoe Child and Youth Services are set to pick Jon up in a transport ambulance Monday at 1 p.m. If Mikaela’s stay is not extended, he will be left with no choice but to admit her to the emergency room at North York General Hospital.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care refused to comment on specific cases due to privacy legislation.

The Pittsburgh Institute’s Center for Prader-Willi Syndrome is the only one of its kind in North America. After a Star story revealed the family’s plight, the ministry gave the green light for Mikaela to receive out-of-country care guaranteed high risk personal loans.

However, she became sick soon after arriving in Pittsburgh, showing elevated transaminases levels in her liver and undergoing an operation to remove her gall bladder. She has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on antipsychotic medication.

The four-foot-six teenager has lost 30 lbs. since entering the program, down to 155 from 185 lbs. But her treatment is far from complete, said her father.

“She got ripped off for her time there,” said Jon. “Now, she’s got more diagnoses and things are a thousand times worse.”

Dr. Gregory Cherpes, the director of Behavioural Health at the Center for Prader-Willi Syndrome, warned in an Aug. 8 letter to Mikaela’s doctor that she would be at “significant risk” of self-injury if moved to Canada.

Mikaela has been accepted into a treatment bed at a Toronto group home for Prader-Willi patients. But her father said she needs to finish her treatment in Pittsburgh first.

“If you keep moving her, she’s going to be even further out there,” said Jon, referring to her psychiatric problems. “We don’t even know who our kid is anymore. What’s happened to our little girl?”

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July 9, 2013

Dave Mathews Band to enjoy STL groceries

Filed under: finance, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 6:48 pm

So where does Dave Matthews and his Band get their energy for those seemingly endless jams?

When DMB plays Wednesday at Verizon Amphitheater, the fuel will be provided by Green BEAN Delivery, a home-delivery service that provides organic produce and natural groceries in STL.

The rockers will knosh on items from Heartland Creamery, Todd Geisert Farms, Buttonwood Farm and Companion Bakery.

Speaking of Companion, Josh Allen gets a shout-out from his cousin, TV star/STL fave Andy Cohen, who touts Companion’s 20th anniversary in the latest edition of “Food & Wine.”

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