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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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June 30, 2013

Tour de France: Bus sparks chaos at finish

Filed under: news, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 1:12 am

BASTIA, CORSICA—Riders at the Tour de France know to expect the unexpected. But nothing could have prepared them for the mayhem that turned Saturday’s first stage of the 100th Tour into a demolition derby on two wheels.

Seemingly for the first time at the 110-year-old race, one of the big buses that carry the teams around France when they’re not on their bikes got stuck at the finish line, literally wedged under scaffolding, unable to move. The timing couldn’t have been worse: The blockage happened as the speeding peloton was racing for home, less than 19 kilometres out.

Fearing the worst — a possible collision between 198 riders and the bus — race organizers took the split-second decision to shorten the race. Word went out to riders over their radios and they adapted tactics accordingly, cranking up their speed another notch to be first to the new line, now three kilometres closer than originally planned.

Then, somewhat miraculously, the bus for the Orica Greenedge team wriggled free. So organizers reverted to Plan A. Again over the radios, word went out to by-now confused riders and teams that the race would finish as first intended — on a long straightaway alongside the shimmering turquoise Mediterranean, where an expectant crowd waited to cheer the first stage winner of the 100th Tour.

Then, bam! Two riders collided and one of them went down, setting off a chain of spills that scythed through the pack like a bowling ball.

And this was just day one. The bad news for riders: They’ve still got another 20 stages and 3,200 more kilometres to survive to the finish in Paris.

Keeping his head and riding his luck amid the chaos, Marcel Kittel sprinted for the win, claiming the first yellow jersey payday loans in 1 hour.

“It feels like I have gold on my shoulders,” said the German rider for the Argos-Shimano team.

The 22 teams know from experience that the first days of any Tour are always tough. Everyone is nervous, full of energy and jostling for position. Adding to the stress this year is the race start in Corsica. The island’s winding and often narrow roads that snake along idyllic coastlines and over jagged mountains are superbly telegenic but a worry for race favorites — the likes of Team Sky’s Chris Froome and two-time former champion Alberto Contador — because a fall or big loss of time here could ruin their Tour before it really begins.

Froome survived day one more or less unscathed. Contador didn’t. The Spaniard, back at the Tour after a doping ban which also cost him his 2010 victory, crossed the line grimacing in pain, his left shoulder cut and bruised. He was tangled in the crash that threw about 20 riders to the tarmac. Contador said he’ll be sore for a few days, “but I still have enough time to recover.”

Even for the Tour, which has seen more than its fair share of dramas in 99 previous editions, Saturday’s calamitous chain of events was exceptional.

“We’ve never had to change the finish line before,” said Jean-Francois Pescheux, the event director who helps pick the route each year. “There’s never been a bus stuck before.”

The blockage at the line presented organizers with two solutions: cancel the stage entirely or shorten it, he said. They took the second option.

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June 17, 2013

North Korea makes u-turn from nuclear threat, tells U.S.: Let

Filed under: legal, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 1:12 am

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA—After months of threatening to wage a nuclear war, North Korea did an about-face Sunday and issued a surprise proposal to the United States, its No. 1 enemy: Let’s talk.

But the invitation from North Korea’s National Defence Commission, the powerful governing body led by leader Kim Jong Un, comes with caveats: No preconditions and no demands that Pyongyang give up its prized nuclear assets unless Washington is willing to do the same — ground rules that make it hard for the Americans to accept.

Washington responded by saying that it is open to talks — but only if North Korea shows it will comply with UN Security Council resolutions and live up to its international obligations.

“As we have made clear, our desire is to have credible negotiations with the North Koreans, but those talks must involve North Korea living up to its obligations to the world, including compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, and ultimately result in denuclearization,” U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “We will judge North Korea by its actions, and not its words and look forward to seeing steps that show North Korea is ready to abide by its commitments and obligations.”

North Korea’s call for “senior-level” talks between the Korean War foes signals a shift in policy in Pyongyang after months of acrimony.

Pyongyang ramped up the anti-American rhetoric early this year after its launch of a long-range rocket in December and a nuclear test in February drew tightened UN and U.S. sanctions. Posters went up across the North Korean capital calling on citizens to “wipe away the American imperialist aggressors,” slogans that hadn’t been seen on city streets in years.

The U.S. and ally South Korea countered the provocations and threats by stepping up annual springtime military exercises, which prompted North Korea to warn of a “nuclear war” on the Korean Peninsula.

Related stories in thestar.com:

North Korea warns South Korea of ‘state of war’

North Korea nuclear test ‘indication’ comment causes confusion

North Korea urges foreigners to leave South Korea

North Korea vows ‘sledgehammer blows’ if South Korea doesn’t apologize for protests

But as tensions began subsiding in May and June, Pyongyang began making tentative, if unsuccessful, overtures to re-establish dialogue with Seoul and Washington.

Earlier this month, it proposed high-level talks with South Korea — the first in six years online payday loans. But plans for two days of meetings last week in Seoul dramatically fell apart even before they began amid bickering over who would lead the two delegations.

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For Washington, there will be no talks just for talks’ sake, officials say.

Speaking on CBS television’s “Face the Nation” show Sunday, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said Washington has been “quite clear” that officials support dialogue and have engaged Pyongyang in talks in the past.

But “those talks have to be real. They have to be based on them living up to their obligations, to include on proliferation, on nuclear weapons, on smuggling and other things,” he said. “And so we’ll judge them by their actions, not by the nice words that we heard yesterday.”

He said smooth talk will not help Pyongyang evade UN sanctions supported by Moscow and Beijing, North Korea’s two traditional allies. UN Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Earlier this year, Kim Jong Un enshrined the drive to build a nuclear arsenal, as well as expand the economy, in North Korea’s constitution. Pyongyang, estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices, says it needs to build atomic weapons to defend itself against what it sees as a U.S. nuclear threat in Korea and the region.

The National Defence Commission reiterated its refusal to give up its nuclear ambitions until the entire Korean Peninsula is free of nuclear weapons, a spokesman said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula does not only mean ‘dismantling the nuclear weapons of the North’” but also should involve “denuclearizing the whole peninsula, including South Korea, and aims at totally ending the U.S. nuclear threats” to North Korea, the spokesman said.

The U.S. denies having nuclear bombs in South Korea, saying they were removed in 1991. However, the U.S. military keeps nuclear submarines in the region and has deployed them for military exercises with South Korea.

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May 26, 2013

Man charged with murder in Clearview Township death

Filed under: money, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:30 pm

A 49-year-old man is facing a second-degree murder charge following the Friday night death of a 50-year-old woman in Clearview Township, just west of Barrie.

On May 24, police responded to a disturbance in the village of New Lowell at around 8:30 p.m. where they discovered the body of a woman at the scene.

Ontario Provincial Police later identified the woman as Deena K. Brooks.

Police say that Mitchell Brooks, 49, has been charged and made his first court appearance in Barrie Saturday.

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