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April 18, 2014

Brewers seeks to rekindle Belgium’s love of beer

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 3:18 pm

DWORP, Belgium (AP) — The ruby lettering on the front of the old corner pub “In de Welkom” has peeled almost beyond recognition. Owner Leza Wauters, a tough 87-year-old, is holding on to her business but can’t say how much longer. Sooner or later, yet another bar with a warm “Welcome” will be gone.

Serving local geuze, triples and pils beers for generations, the pub has embodied what the drink means to Belgians — bringing together families and friends with cheers of “sante” and “gezondheid,” gulping down tasty suds before ordering more.

Now, the tables are often empty, a sign of the hard times many pubs like these have fallen upon as Belgians have stopped drinking beer like they used to. The beer industry, meanwhile, has increasingly relied on exporting the world-class beers to far-flung markets.

Not good, they say here.

The Belgian beer federation is trying to rekindle local interest in the drink with a “Proud of our Beers” public awareness campaign, including a tricolor national flag with the middle yellow turned into a glass of beer.

“Belgian beer made in Belgium but not drunk in Belgium is not really Belgian beer anymore,” said Gert Christiaens, the owner of the Oud Beersel brewery, which won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup last week with his geuze, a sour beer made through natural fermentation.

“If it is not in their roots anymore and they cannot pass it on to the next couple of generations, then we’ve lost. We cannot claim the heritage of Belgian beer if nobody knows about it,” he said.

Beer consumption in Belgium is still relatively high — at 74 liters (16 criminal records.2 gallons) a head annually. But that is a 27 percent drop since 1992.

In just about any town or village, pensioners can point out the places were bars used to be, and are now gone. Guidea, the research institute of the industry, says the number of drinking establishments has declined from 38,128 in 1983 to 17,512 in 2012, the last year on record in this nation of 10.5 million.

Exports, meanwhile, have risen, from 5.47 million hectoliters in 2000 to 11.69 million a dozen years later to account for roughly two-thirds of production now.

Sven Gatz, the head of the Belgian Brewers federation, says the overall trend is not good for the local industry.

“You cannot be a strong beer country only exporting beer,” he said at his gilded, baroque headquarters on one of Europe’s finest squares, the Brussels Grand Place, proof of the exalted status beer has in this country.

It’s not only about boosting current sales but about preserving for the future the identity and national heritage that had made the Belgian beers famous in the first place, he argued. In a globalized market, that identity is valuable.

Leza Wauters remembers the good times well. “Oh, we had more than 50 cafes in Dworp,” she said of the bucolic village 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Brussels, part of a hilly area of pastures whose landscapes, and beers, figured in the paintings of the famous artist Breughel. “It was incredible - it was almost like everyone had a cafe.”

Now the village’s pubs can be counted on two hands, she said.

Her granddaughter Barbara Danis fondly remembers time spent at the “In de Welkom” but recognizes its days may be numbered. Most clients are of an older generation that used to congregate daily in the pubs but that is now fading away.

“You used to have card players who came here every day,” she said. Now, her grandmother complains, those games are over.

Younger clients are tough to attract because they prefer to enjoy drinks at home. They move around mainly by car — and have to heed modern drunk driving laws — whereas clients in older times would walk to their local pub. Laws prohibiting smoking in pubs have also hurt business.

Siene Verhelst, who ducked into the “In de Welkom” after a walk in the surrounding woods to order an amber Westmalle trappist beer, pondered: “You are lucky to be here, because this can be over next week.”

Part of the decline in interest in beer was also due to the growing industrialization of beer production that often alienated locals.

“In the 1960s to the eighties, the bigger breweries took over the midsized breweries, the midsized breweries took over the small brewers and there was consolidation,” said Gatz. That has reduced the amount of choice and severed the sense of identification a local population had with their local brew.

The world’s largest brewer, AB Inbev, is an extreme example. Part of the Belgium-based conglomerate originated in the country but it has become so large that most of its brands are foreign — Budweiser, Corona, Beck’s criminal record search.

There is some hope, however, that the beer culture might be revitalized by what is, ironically, a global trend — the surge in microbreweries.

Next door to Dworp is Buizingen, where Kloris Deville and his dad Bart have turned Den Herberg — “The Inn” — into a thriving little pub over a half dozen years with heaving weekend clientele, partly because they started their own microbrewery in the back.

Bart Deville says he’s produced up to a dozen new beers and is finding huge demand — he has a huge storage room full of a new brew for which he still has to find a fitting name.

Microbreweries have found success across the globe, but Belgians are inspired by their particularly rich and long tradition.

It is what moved Gert Christiaens to drop a career in the telecoms services and become a brewer. Twelve years ago, at the age of 25, he was shocked to hear a bartender tell him that his favorite geuze would soon be extinct, as the brewery had closed down.

“A couple of days later I rang the brewery,” he said, and now Christiaens brews the Oud Beersel gueze himself, winning global prizes along the way and expanding his business to make it sustainable.

“I did not want this heritage of Belgium to disappear,” he said.

___

AP Video journalist Mark D. Carlson contributed to this story

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Michaels confirms breach of as many as 2.6M cards

Filed under: loans, management — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 1:12 am

Michaels Stores Inc. says Thursday that about 2.6 million cards used at its namesake stores may have been affected in a security breach but it has received “limited” reports of fraud.

The nation’s largest arts and crafts chain, based in Irving, Texas, says that its subsidiary Aaron Brothers was also attacked. The company said that both stores were attacked by criminals using highly sophisticated malware that had not been encountered previously by the two security firms that were conducting the investigation guaranteed unsecured personal loan.

The details come nearly three months after Michaels disclosed that it may have been a victim of a data breach.

A massive security breach at Target Corp. that affected 40 million cards has many shoppers worried about the safety of their personal data.

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Payday loans no faxing fall on the less risky side simply because the money loaned to you is a percentage of your next paycheck.

April 6, 2014

Kathleen Wynne sues Tim Hudak, Tory MPP over gas-plant comments

Filed under: marketing, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 4:48 pm

Premier Kathleen Wynne has followed through with a threat to sue Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

‎A notice of libel was served Friday night for comments Hudak and his MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) made about Wynne overseeing criminal activities. The comments followed allegations by the Ontario Provincial Police that the computer-expert boyfriend of Dalton McGuinty’s former deputy chief of staff wiped computers in the premier’s office.

Wynne on Sunday threatened legal action‎ against Hudak for what she calls ‎”false, misleading and defamatory allegations about me” after the latest bombshell revelation in the $1 payday loans guaranteed no fax.1-billion scandal over two cancelled gas-fired power plants.

Wynne sent an open letter to Hudak on Sunday, calling him out on remarks made after the Star revealed that the OPP are investigating David Livingston, the former chief of staff to McGuinty, for breach of trust in the alleged wiping of computer hard drives to remove politically sensitive documents.

The Conservatives at the time branded Wynne’s letter as an “attempt to threaten the opposition.”

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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.

Source

March 31, 2014

Dimitri Soudas, Conservative Party executive director, resigns over nomination spat

Filed under: money, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:04 am

OTTAWA—Conservative sources say the party’s executive director Dimitri Soudas has resigned amid a controversy over his fianc

March 29, 2014

Senate Advances Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Extension - Bloomberg

Filed under: Uncategorized, loans — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:16 pm

The U.S. Senate voted to advance legislation restoring benefits for the long-term unemployed that the Obama administration has sought to revive since they expired late last year.

By a vote of 65-34, with 60 required for approval, the Senate agreed to move toward taking up the measure, which is the product of a bipartisan agreement struck earlier this month by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, Nevada Republican Dean Heller and eight other senators.

Ten Republicans joined with the chamber

March 18, 2014

RBA Saw More Signs Low Interest Rates Helping Spur Economy - Bloomberg

Filed under: debt, news — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:28 am

Australia

March 10, 2014

RBA Sees Rates Buffer Preferable to Other Tools, FOI Papers Show - Bloomberg

Filed under: business, marketing — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:36 am

The Reserve Bank of Australia has examined a range of macro-prudential tools to help contain house prices and sees loan tests that include buffers for higher interest rates as the preferable option, according to papers released today under a Freedom of Information Act request.

March 8, 2014

What you need to know about March health deadline

Filed under: Uncategorized, marketing — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 12:04 pm

WASHINGTON • Sick of hearing about the health care law?

Plenty of people have tuned out after all the political jabber and website woes.

But now is the time to tune back in, before it’s too late.

The big deadline is coming March 31.

By that day, for the first time, nearly everyone in the United States is required to be signed up for health insurance or risk paying a fine.

Here’s what you need to know about this month’s open enrollment countdown:

ALREADY COVERED? NO WORRIES

Most people don’t need to do anything. Even before the health care law passed in 2010, more than 8 out of 10 U.S. residents had coverage, usually through their workplace plans or the government’s Medicare or Medicaid programs. Some have private policies that meet the law’s requirements.

If you’re already covered that way, you meet the law’s requirements.

Since October, about 4 million people have signed up for private plans through the new state and federal marketplaces, President Barack Obama’s administration says, although it’s not clear how many were already insured elsewhere. In addition, many poor adults now have Medicaid coverage for the first time through expansions of the program in about half the states.

Obama is urging people who have coverage to help any uninsured friends and relatives get signed up.

IT’S CRUNCH TIME

Chances are you’ll hear more reminders about health care this month. The push is on to reach millions of uninsured people.

Wooing Hispanics is a priority, but it’s just one component of a broader effort by the administration, insurers, medical associations and nonprofit groups to get the word out and guide people through the sometimes-rocky enrollment process. They plan special events at colleges, libraries, churches and work sites.

Singing cats, dogs, parrots — even a goldfish — are promoting the message in TV and online spots from the Ad Council.

A big hurdle for the effort: As recently as last month, three-fourths of the uninsured didn’t know there was a March 31 deadline, according to polling conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most said they didn’t know much about the law and had an unfavorable opinion of it.

Plus, many worry they won’t be able to afford the new plans.

The enrollment campaign is emphasizing that subsidies are available on a sliding scale to help low-income and middle-class households pay for their insurance.

How to enroll? Start at HealthCare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. Residents of states running their own marketplaces will be directed there; people in other states go through the federal exchange.

After March 31, many people won’t be able to get subsidized coverage this year, even if they become seriously ill.

The next open enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 15, for coverage in 2015.

DEADLINE DETAILS

There are exceptions. The big one is the Medicaid program for the poor. People who meet the requirements can sign up anytime, with no deadline.

Also, people remain eligible for Medicare whenever they turn 65.

If you are insured now and lose your coverage during the year, by getting laid off from your job, for example, you can use an exchange to find a new policy then. People can sign up outside the open enrollment period in special situations such as having a baby or moving to another state payday advance.

You can choose to buy insurance outside the marketplaces and still benefit from consumer protections in the law.

People who do that wouldn’t normally be eligible for premium subsidies. But the Obama administration says exceptions will be made for people whose attempts to buy marketplace insurance on time were stymied by continuing problems with some enrollment websites.

MILLIONS WON’T GET COVERED

Some 12 million people could gain health coverage this year because of the law, if congressional auditors’ predictions don’t prove overly optimistic.

Even so, tens of millions still would go without.

That’s partly because of immigrants in the country illegally; they aren’t eligible for marketplace policies.

Some of the uninsured will not find out about the program in time, will find it confusing or too costly, or will just procrastinate too long. Some feel confident of their health and prefer to risk going uninsured instead of paying premiums. Others are philosophically opposed to participating.

Figuring out just how many of the uninsured got coverage this year won’t be easy because the numbers are fuzzy.

The administration’s enrollment count includes people who already were insured and used the exchanges to find a better deal, or switched from private insurance to Medicaid, or already qualified for Medicaid before the changes.

Some who sign up will end up uninsured anyway, if they fail to pay their premiums.

The budget experts predict enrollment will grow in future years and by 2017 some 92 percent of legal residents too young for Medicare will have insurance.

But even then, about 30 million people in the United States would go uncovered.

SOME ARE LEFT OUT

A gap in the law means some low-income workers can’t get help.

The insurance marketplaces weren’t designed to serve people whose low incomes qualify them for expanded Medicaid instead. But some states have declined to expand their Medicaid programs. That means that in those states, many poor people will get left out.

People who fall into the gap won’t be penalized for failing to get covered.

Some others are exempt from the insurance mandate, too: American Indians, those with religious objections, prisoners, immigrants in the country illegally, and people considered too poor to buy coverage even with financial assistance.

THE IRS IS WATCHING

The law says people who aren’t covered in 2014 are liable for a fine. That amounts to $95 per uninsured person or about 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The penalty goes up in later years.

A year from now, the Internal Revenue Service will be asking taxpayers filing their forms for proof of insurance coverage. Insurance companies are supposed to provide that documentation to their customers.

If you owe a penalty for being uninsured,the IRS can’t put people in jail or garnishee wages to get the money. But it can withhold the penalty from a future year’s tax refund.

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March 1, 2014

Volatility will keep Bitcoin on the fringes of finance

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:56 pm

For anyone who’s fascinated by investment fads, bitcoin has been one for the ages.

It has no intrinsic value, and yet it rose nearly 90-fold last year, inviting comparisons to Dutch tulip bulbs and dot-com stocks. Now it’s down by 50 percent after a series of blows, including last week’s failure of a major bitcoin exchange.

Yet it’s too soon to declare bitcoin a failure. Fans still claim it can catch on as a virtual currency that’s widely accepted as payment for goods and services. Even skeptics concede that it might have a place in the financial markets of the future.

“I have my doubts that it could be a good currency,” says David Andolfatto, a St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist who’s hosting a public discussion on bitcoin later this month, “but I can see some modest value if a growing number of merchants start accepting bitcoin.”

Of course, bitcoin could also go the way of Pets.com or Semper Augustus, the most prized tulip bulb in the 17th century. That’s why the collapse of Mt. Gox, once the largest exchange for converting bitcoin to other currencies, poses a big test. The Tokyo-based exchange filed bankruptcy last week amid reports that more than $400 million worth of bitcoins had gone missing.

The world of virtual currencies already seemed like a dark and secretive place to most people. Bitcoin was used by Silk Road, an illicit drug trading site that authorities shut down last year. Apple has banned bitcoin-related apps from its App Store, apparently out of concern over the currency’s legal status.

Now, on top of those problems, we have the disappearance of about 6 percent of all the bitcoins in the world. Could that be enough to send bitcoin’s price spiraling toward zero? Andolfatto doesn’t think so.

“It’s like a bank robber going to the Bank of America and stealing all the money in the vault,” he said. “You don’t lose faith in the U.S. dollar just because somebody stole it.”

Vance Crowe, who owns the Articulate Ventures communications firm in University City, still has faith in bitcoin. He accepted $3,000 worth from a client last November and still holds some of the virtual currency.

“The way I look at it, this is a sad but important step for bitcoin,” he said. “Maybe it will make the bitcoin system stronger.” He pointed out that bitcoin’s underlying software — a shared ledger system that keeps track of all transactions — hasn’t been implicated in the Mt. Gox failure.

Kevin LaFata, who runs software firm High Orbit in Fenton, has advertised that he’ll accept bitcoin. No one has paid him that way yet, but he thinks some foreign clients could reduce transaction costs by using the virtual currency.

LaFata isn’t deterred by the Mt. Gox collapse, either. “It’s probably a good thing if somebody who had a bad reputation is finally getting out of the game,” he says.

With the support of true believers like Crowe and LaFata, bitcoin should be able to survive. Its volatility, though, will probably consign it to the fringes of finance.

“Bitcoins are not going to be very good money because their purchasing power is going to fluctuate wildly,” Andolfatto said. “If you got paid in bitcoins and then you discovered your paycheck would buy just half as much bread as the one before, it would be really frustrating.”

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