Class action launched by Australian bushfire survivors against SP AusNet

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The largest class action in Victorian history was commenced at the Supreme Court of Victoria on Friday the 13th by Slidders Lawyers against electricity distribution company SP AusNet and the Brumby Government in relation to the Kilmore East fire that became part of the Kinglake complex.

Because of the lawsuit, SP AusNet SPN.AX’s shares on Monday have dropped more than 13.36 per cent or 14.5 cents, to an intra-day low of 94 cents, was at 98.5 cents at 10:38 a.m. local time, before recovering slightly to be 7.5 cents lower at A$1.01 by 1144 AEDT (0003 GMT) or 6.9 percent in Sydney trading. Shares in SP AusNet closed 3.7 percent lower at A$1.045 on Monday.

Power supplier SP AusNet said it has asked the Victoria Court regarding the status of the class action proceedings saying the firm had insurance policies in place consistent with industry standards. “SP AusNet will continue to update the market as further information becomes available,” the company said.

The claim has focused on alleged negligence by SP AusNet in its management of electricity infrastructure. It maintains most of the power lines in eastern Victoria. Its fallen power line is believed to have sparked the blaze that tore through Kinglake, Steels Creek, Strathewen, Humevale, and St Andrews. The plaintiffs include thousands of angry Kinglake farmers, small business owners, tourist operators and residents who lost homes.

Leo Keane, the lead plaintiff in the class action has alleged “SP AusNet owed a duty of care to landowners to operate and manage power lines in a way that limited the risk of damage from bushfires.”

On Thursday Phoenix Taskforce had taken away a section of power line as well as a power pole from near Kilmore East, part of a two-kilometre section of line in Kilmore East that fell during strong winds and record heat about 11am last Saturday. It was believed to have started the fire there, since within minutes a nearby pine forest was ablaze, and within six hours the bushfire had almost obliterated nearly every building in the towns in its path.

“It is believed that the claim will be made on the basis of negligent management of power lines and infrastructure,” Slidders Lawyers partner Daniel Oldham said. The law firm has announced it was helping landowners and leaseholders get compensation for the 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009 bushfires. “If you have been burnt by the recent bushfires, please register your interest using the form below as soon as possible,” the law firm’s website stated.

The Insurance Council of Australia has placed the cost of the bushfires at about $500 million. “That means keeping electricity lines clear of trees and in a condition that won’t cause fires. They must also have systems in place to identify and prevent risks occurring,” Melbourne barrister Tim Tobin, QC, said. According to the 2006 census, Kinglake had a population of almost 1,500 people.

But SP AusNet’s legal liability has been limited at $100 million under an agreement inked by the former Kennett government with private utility operators, when the former State Electricity Commission was privatized in 1995. Accordingly, the Brumby Government could be legally obliged to pay damages of the differences amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

SP AusNet Ltd said some of its electricity assets have been damaged by the Victoria bushfire. “As a preliminary estimate, it is thought that damage has been sustained to approximately one per cent of SP AusNet’s electricity distribution network, mainly distribution poles, associated conductors and pole top transformers,” SP AusNet said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). It explained that up to 6,000 homes and businesses on its network were without power due to bushfires, including the Kinglake complex fire, Beechworth fire, and fires across Gippsland including Churchill and Bunyip.

SP AusNet said the firm will cooperate fully and will assist in any fire probe. “We stand ready to assist the relevant authorities with their inquiries if it is necessary for us to do so now and in the coming months,” SP Ausnet spokeswoman Louisa Graham said in a statement.

“Our priority is to restore power to fire-affected areas as quickly as possible. We believe the claim is premature and inappropriate … SP AusNet will vigorously defend the claim. If the claim is pursued, SP AusNet advises that it has liability insurance which provides cover for bushfire liability. The company’s bushfire mitigation and vegetation management programmes comply with state regulations and were audited annually by state agencies,” Grahams explained.

Victorian Auditor-General Rob Hulls said “there was an ‘unseemly rush’ by some lawyers to sue before the cause of the fires had been fully investigated.”

“The government body had audited the network’s bushfire risk to make sure required distances between power lines and vegetation were maintained. Power companies had been given a clean bill of health, and electricity firms were judged to be ‘well prepared for the 2008-09 bushfire season.’ There were no regulations applying to the distances between poles supporting electricity lines and spans of one kilometre were not unusual,” a spokesman for Energy Safe Victoria explained.

Christine Nixon, the 19th and current Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police said investigations into the cause of the bushfires were ongoing. “I know people are angry, and so are all of us in this community. But we need to kind of have a sense that the proper processes are in place and we need to go through the investigation and through the court case,” Nixon said. “At this stage we are not able to confirm how it started. I understand there is some legal action that people are taking, but at this stage we’re still investigating its cause. But the whole circumstances of that fire are part of our Taskforce Phoenix, and as we move through that we’ll be able to tell the community more once we’re able to confirm or deny what we think is the cause of these fires,” Nixon added.

On Thursday, two people were arrested in connection with the fires, having been observed by members of the public acting suspiciously in areas between Yea and Seymour; although they were both released without charges laid.

Brendan Sokaluk, age 39, from Churchill in the Gippsland region, was arrested by police at 4pm on Thursday, in relation to the Churchill fires, and was questioned at the Morwell police station. He was charged on Friday with one count each of arson, intentionally lighting a bushfire and possession of child pornography. The arson case relates to 11 of the 21 deaths in the dire Gippsland fire, which devastated 39,000 hectares in the Latrobe Valley, Calignee, Hazelwood Koornalla and Jeeralang. Two teams of Churchill firefighters were almost lost in the inferno that remains out of control.

Mr Sokaluk joined the CFA Churchill brigade in the late 1980s as a volunteer fire fighter, left in the 1990s and attempted to rejoin twice, but was rejected. He failed to appear in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court Monday for a scheduled hearing, since the court reset the committal hearing on May 25. He is represented by lawyer Julian McMahon.

Magistrate John Klestadt has lifted the suppression order which kept the suspect’s identity a secret but identifying photographs were barred from being released. Mr Sokaluk was remanded in protective custody from Morwell to a cell in Melbourne for his own safety amid fears angry prisoners will target him and real risk of vigilante attacks. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years imprisonment if convicted on the arson charge.

“This is an extraordinary case. The level of emotion and anger and disgust that the alleged offenses have aroused in the community is unprecedented.” Mr Sokaluk’s defense lawyer Helen Spowart argued. The prosecution has moved the Court for more time to prepare its case, saying there would be up to 200 witnesses to interview.

Slater & Gordon has indicated that they were awaiting the report of the to-be-established Royal Commission, expected in late 2010, before initiating any claims.

Armed with a $40 million budget, the Royal Commission’s Chair Justice Bernard Teague will be assisted by former Commonwealth ombudsman Ron McLeod, who led the inquiry into the 2003 Canberra bushfires, and State Services Authority Commissioner Susan Pascoe. The Commission has said its interim report is due on August 17 while the final report will be submitted by July 31, 2010.

Judge Bernard Teague has announced Tuesday he will meet with fire victims and fire authorities within the next two weeks. “We want to do that as soon as possible – probably not next week but starting to have these discussions the week after,” he said.

Julia Eileen Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and deputy leader of the federal Australian Labor Party (ALP) said the federal and Victorian governments would respond quickly to the royal commission’s report. “Everybody who has lived through this experience in Victoria and around the nation has asked the question: ‘Why? What can we do better?’. No one wanted to see the report “as a book on a shelf gathering dust,” she said.

Victoria bushfire experts, led by Forest Fire Victoria – a group of scientists and forestry experts – have condemned the government’s “Living with Fire” policy and the state’s failure to initiate serious fuel-reduction programs. The Victoria government had failed to seriously act on bushfire safety recommendations submitted last June by the Victorian Parliamentary Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

As death toll rises, evidence mounts of lack of planning prior to Australia’s worst bushfire. “Living with Fire” policy means Kinglake fire trucks were dispatched to an earlier fire in Kilmore, leaving Kinglake undefended. “Kinglake was left with no fire brigade and no police. The trucks had been sent to Kilmore. I’ve been in the fire brigade for 10 years. There was always a law—the trucks had to be on the hill. Because of the government we got gutted at Kinglake. They should have been getting generators ahead of the fire—so people would have had a chance of fighting it. As soon as the power went, I couldn’t keep fighting the fire at my place,” Rick and Lauren Watts, and their friend Neil Rao, spoke to the WSWS.

Rick has also criticized the lack of early warning communications systems, since emergency siren warnings in the town had been stopped some years earlier. Humevale resident Sina Imbriano who has six children was angry about the failure of state and federal governments to set up a recommended telephone warning system amid its “stay and defend or go” policy. Bald Spur Road residents Greg Jackson and his wife Fotini said the government’s “stay and defend or go” policy was “fruitless” since the critical issue was early warnings, but “they [the government] just won’t spend the money.”

Also on Friday, five law firms from Victoria’s Western Districts, including Warrnambool-based Maddens Lawyers and Brown & Proudfoot, held a meeting to discuss a potential class action in relation to the Horsham fire, which was also thought to have been started by fallen power pole that burnt vast swathes of land in Mudgegonga and Dederang, Victoria. The lawsuit will also focus on the fire that blackened about 1750 hectares at Coleraine.

Maddens senior attorney Brendan Pendergast said: “We don’t know who the defendant is at this stage. We are unsure who the electrical supplier is for that area but we should know in a few days. There were people who had their homes burnt to the ground and they will need to reconstruct, replace their contents,” he said. Maddens has initiated a register of affected landowners for the recent bushfires, saying the firm has included victims of the Pomborneit fire that burnt almost 1300 hectares in the proposed class action amid the CFA’s statement the blaze could have been deliberately lit.

Frances Esther “Fran” Bailey, Liberal member of the Australian House of Representatives (1990-93 and 1996-present), representing the electorate of McEwen in Victoria said the Country Fire Authority (CFA) had told her one of the power lines had broken before the fire.

“The local CFA [Country Fire Authority] told me on that Saturday, with those very high winds, one of the lines had broken and was whipping against the ground and sparked,” she said. “Whether or not that is the cause of that terrible fire that actually took out Kinglake and maybe Marysville, the investigations will prove that, but we’ve got to do better,” she added.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the power line claim would be examined as part of the Royal Commission into the bushfire. “No stone will be left unturned. So, I think it’s important the Royal Commission does its work. And, the Royal Commission will, of course, look at all of the factors with the fires,” Mr Brumby said. At least 550 houses were incinerated and 100 people have been killed, leaving more than 1,000 homeless in the Kinglake bushfire and surrounding areas.

SP AusNet – Singapore Power International Pte Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore Power Limited (51% interest in SP AusNet). SP AusNet’s electricity transmission and distribution networks, along with the gas distribution assets, enable it to deliver a full range of energy-related products and services to industrial and domestic customers in Victoria, Australia.

Singapore Power ( ?????????) is a company which provides electricity and gas transmission, distribution services, and market support services to more than a million customers in Singapore. As the only electricity company in Singapore, and also one of its largest corporation, SP was incorporated as a commercial entity in October 1995 to take over the electricity and gas businesses of the state provider, the Public Utilities Board. Since 1995, Temasek Holdings controls the entire company with a 100% stake. SP is involved in a major investment in Australia‘s Alinta in partnership with Babcock & Brown, after putting up a bid of A$13.9 billion (S$17 billion), beating out a rival bid by Macquarie Bank.

The devastating 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires, a series of more than 400 bushfires across Victoria on February 7 2009, is Australia’s worst-ever bushfire disaster, claiming at least 200 deaths, including many young children, and is expected to pass 300. 100 victims have been admitted to hospitals across Victoria with burns, at least 20 in a critical condition, and 9 on life support or in intensive care. The fires have destroyed at least 1,834 homes and damaged many thousands more. Many towns north-east of Melbourne have been badly damaged or almost completely destroyed, including Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen and Flowerdale. Over 500 people suffered fire-related injuries and more than 7,000 are homeless. It has scorched more than 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers) of farms, forests and towns.

The Supreme Court of Victoria is the superior court for the State of Victoria, Australia. Founded in 1852, it is a superior court of common law and equity, with unlimited jurisdiction within the state. Those courts lying below it include the County Court of Victoria, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (which is technically not a court, but serves a judicial function). Above it lies the High Court of Australia. This places it around the middle of the Australian court hierarchy.

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Reasons To Call A Birth Injury Attorney In Bloomington

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The progress made by modern medicine in recent centuries has decreased the risk of death during childbirth to almost zero, yet birth injuries are still quite common. Most of these injuries take no more than a few days, weeks, or months to heal. However, some birth injuries, such as brain damage, can impact children so severely that they are not able to recover.

Some of these injuries are unavoidable. However, in rare cases, they are the result of carelessness or medical negligence. When this is the case, parents should hire a Birth Injury Attorney in Bloomington who can help them understand their legal options.

Breaches in Standard of Care

In order to prove medical negligence, a lawyer must demonstrate that the doctor responsible did not follow standard procedures or failed to provide an adequate standard of care. There are many different factors that can contribute to proving medical negligence, including the patient’s age and medical history.

Proving the Cause of Birth Injuries

In addition to proving that an adequate standard of care was not met, a Birth Injury Attorney in Bloomington must also prove that this negligence directly caused the child’s injuries. There are several ways in which this may occur. These include misdiagnosis of medical problems or failure to diagnose them properly, failing to administer adequate treatment, prescribing the wrong medications, or failing to inform patients of any treatment risks.

Get Help with Ongoing Medical Bills

When a child has sustained a substantial injury during his or her birth, the medical bills can pile up fast. The family may be left providing care throughout the child’s life, placing a substantial burden on everyone involved. That’s why families are often awarded monetary compensation after birth injuries that result from medical malpractice or negligence.

Consult a Lawyer

Although families are free to pursue malpractice claims without any official help, it is highly advisable that anyone considering filing a claim after a birth injury contact an attorney with experience in the field. Not only does taking this step increase families’ chances of receiving a better compensation package, but it also helps to remove some of their stress. Learn more about us or call us today to set up an initial consultation.

Wikinews Shorts: September 3, 2008

A compilation of brief news reports for Wednesday, September 3, 2008.

 Contribute to Wikinews by expanding these briefs or add a new one.

The United States military has handed Anbar province, once the centre of Iraq’s Sunni insurgency, to Iraqi control at a ceremony in the provincial capital. For Iraqi politics, the Anbar handover is especially meaningful because the Shiite-dominated Iraq military will now provide security in a largely Sunni province. Anbar is the eleventh of 18 provinces that the coalition has returned to Iraqi control, but it is the first Sunni province. President George W. Bush said that “Today, Anbar is no longer lost to al-Qaeda, it is al-Qaeda that lost Anbar.”

Sources

  • Patrick Cockburn. “US hands control of Anbar province to Iraqi military” — The Independent, September 2, 2008
  • “Victory in Anbar” — The Wall Street Journal, September 2, 2008
  • “US hands over key Iraq province” — BBC News Online, September 1, 2008

Stanford University has developed an artificial intelligence software that allows their model helicopters to learn complex aerial acrobatics simply by “watching” a human. The human controlled helicopter is monitored by a variety of sensors which funnel all the data into the AI software. Once the acrobatic trick has been repeated a few times, the computer analyzes the data. It is then capable of repeating, with greater accuracy than the human controller, the acrobatics. This system allows the helicopters to preform aerial maneuvers far more complicated than previously possible.

Sources

  • “‘Autonomous’ Helicopters Teach Themselves To Fly” — Science Daily, September 2, 2008
  • Dan Stober. “Stanford’s “autonomous” helicopters teach themselves to fly” — Stanford News Service, August 29, 2008

A Malaysian man, who was about to be engaged, attempted to use a nut to weigh down and elongate his penis. Once he got an erection, the nut became stuck and he was unable to remove it. He sought treatment at a local hospital where they were able to remove it. He is expected to be released from the hospital shortly.

Sources

  • “Malaysian man gets nut stuck in delicate place” — China Daily, September 2, 2008
  • AFP. “Malaysian man gets nut stuck in delicate place: report” — Yahoo! News, August 31, 2008

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UK energy companies announce that prices for bills could increase

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Six energy companies in the United Kingdom have announced that it is likely that the prices for energy bills could increase over the course of 2010.

The companies, which are nicknamed the “big six” in the United Kingdom, did not pass on information that there would be price cuts in energy bills despite increasing profits. However, the companies have in fact sent a message in response saying that the prices of bills may even increase over the course of the next year. Energy company watchdog the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) have estimated that energy companies will make gross margins of £170 ($276) per dual fual customer over the course of the next twelve months, due to the recent fall in wholesale energy costs.

Ofgem have said: “Our analysis shows that based on an 18-month hedging strategy and assuming that retail prices remain unchanged, projected gross margin is set to increase by around £80 for dual fuel customers over the next six months.”

The “big six” energy companies in the United Kingdom are British Gas, E-on, Npower, Scottish and Southern Energy, Scottish Power, and EDF Energy. British Gas stated: “Prices [are] likely to remain at historically high levels, and in fact likely to increase as non-commodity costs rise ever upwards.”

EDF Energy said: “[We] would of course be prepared to reduce tariffs if market conditions allowed.” Scottish Power stated: “There are no immediate signals that would indicate a fall in retail prices for this winter, and risks of an increase next year.” Scottish & Southern Energy commented: “With forward annual wholesale prices significantly higher, and with upward pressures in terms of distribution, environmental and social costs, seeking to avoid an increase between now and the end of 2010 is an important goal.”

Meanwhile, a study by Consumer Focus in early September 2009 suggested that “energy companies were overcharging customers by £100 ($162) every year. A spokesperson for Ofgem said that there was no evidence of any cartel in operation, or evidence of profiteering. The spokesperson commented: “It is up to the companies themselves to decide whether to cut their bills. Consumer Focus data suggests that Scottish Power has increased dual fuel prices by the most since 2003 – up 148% – while decreasing prices by 0.6% so far this year. RWE’s Npower has increased tariffs by 132% since 2003, but has reduced bills by 2.7% in 2009.”

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US Federal Reserve Chairman gives first news conference

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Wednesday, at the first live public news conference ever given by the Federal Reserve (Fed), Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke explained the US central bank’s recent policy to a small group of reporters and answered some questions.

The conference was conducted two hours after the release of a report by the Fed’s policymaking committee, the Federal Open Market Committee outlining its policies decided the day before. Until 1994 the Fed gave no information about the policy decisions made in its meetings pertaining to short-term interest rates and other policies. The public was left to guess what decisions were. In 1994 the Fed began issuing brief reports.

Unlike the US, the central banks in Europe, Japan, Canada and other countries have regularly meetings with the press after making such policy decisions.

The public has increasingly been aware of the secretive practices of the Fed, especially after its unprecedented intervention with massive bailouts of large financial institutions during the recent financial crises.

At Wednesday’s meeting, it was decided that the Fed would maintain near-zero interest rates to stimulate the economy. It announced that it plans to end its program of buying back treasury bonds by the end of June, a program receiving criticism from Republicans concerned about the budget deficit.

Bernanke’s exchange with reporters, called “historic” by the Los Angeles Times, was the first of a series of regular news conferences planned to be held quarterly by Bernanke to provided the Fed with more transparency. He was cautious in his remarks. He made no news but explained in general terms the Fed’s policy.

He said the Fed is attempting to revive the US economy by creating jobs and keeping inflation low.

“The trade-offs are getting less attractive at this point,” Bernanke said. “Inflation has gotten higher … it’s not clear we can get substantial improvements in payrolls without some additional inflation risk.”

Unfortunately, the reason we use this vaguer terminology is we don’t know with certainty how quickly response will be required.

During the conference, Bernanke said he recognized that the average American was unhappy with the increasing inflation and the slow job growth, but said the Fed projected that long-term inflation will remain stable while he acknowledged the effects of the short-term price increases which he said were driven largely by the increase in the price of oil.

“There’s not much the Federal Reserve can do about gas prices, per se, at least not without derailing growth entirely, which certainly is not the right way to go,” Bernanke said. “After all, the Fed can’t create more oil.”

When asked by reporters to explain his vague answers, he gave general replies. For example, when asked to clarify the Fed’s intention to maintain near-zero interest rates for an “extended period” he said the wording suggested this period would probably continue through a couple more policymaking meetings at least.

“Unfortunately, the reason we use this vaguer terminology is we don’t know with certainty how quickly response will be required,” he said.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said of Bernanke’s performance at the press conference, “He was well-prepared and did exactly what he wanted to do – do no harm.”

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New London police commissioner blames middle-class cocaine users for violence in Colombia and on British housing estates

Sunday, February 6, 2005

LONDON,United Kingdom —The new London police commissioner Sir Ian Blair has warned middle class dinner party users of cocaine that he is out to get them. In contrast, he is relaxed about cannabis smokers, saying he does not wish to waste police time pursuing them. He has been quoted as saying: “People seem to think the price of a wrap of cocaine is 50 quid [UK pounds], but the cost is misery on estates here and a trail of blood back to Colombia. Someone has died to bring it [cocaine] to a dinner party. People who wouldn’t dream of having a non-organic vegetable don’t seem to notice the blood on their fingers.”

Blair is clearly trying to prick the conscience of the 624,000 estimated cocaine users in the UK, hoping to persuade them to boycott this Class A drug. Others, including Colombian Nobel Prize winner and author Gabriel García Márquez, have stated that the misery both in Colombia and on poor housing estates in the UK is caused not by drugs themselves but by the banning of them. Marquez has specifically said that he cannot see the end of the civil war in Colombia as long as the illegal drug trade exists, and he cannot see the end of the illegal drug trade unless drugs are legalized. The trade in cannabis also generates violence both at home (in the UK) and abroad, in spite of Sir Ian’s softly, softly approach to this recently reclassified Class C drug.

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Some Useful Tips To Control The Birds

Some useful tips to control the birds

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Birds are both intelligent and cunning, and as their personalities and habits vary greatly between species, it is crucial that each species is judged individually.

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Birds and Pigeons originate in every place of the globe. This can be done by adopting an effective pigeon control measure. Pigeons can be spotted on walkways and rooftops. Although pigeons are harmless creatures, they can cause a considerable amount of damage to the property. Bird’s spikes are the devices designed to keep birds from perching on the edges, parapets, pipes, beams, cutouts and ledges of building structures. it is easy to set up and are available in many dimensions. Useful Tips on pigeon control: 1. Natural pigeon control: You can prevent pigeons from trespass areas such as terrace and courtyard by using ‘block-off nesting’ and netting techniques. You may also make use of several strong spices such as pepper, garlic and cayenne, which act as deterrents for pigeons and reduce their infestation in the gardens. 2. Pigeon spikes: it is a common method used in bird control method. It can be prohibited pigeons from nesting on the roof, ledge or any other habitation area. 3. Pigeon wires: You can mount pigeon wires on your terrace or your courtyard. Pigeon wires are not only affordable, but also very effective pigeon control tools. 4. Anti-roosting bird spikes: These kinds of thorn when glued on to windows and other areas where pigeons flourish, work effectively. 5. Bird repellent: It has 13-inch long plastic base along with multiple stainless steel wires that protrude upwards in 4 different angles. 6. Bird spikes: Defender 4T’, a kind of bird spike is a useful pigeon control tool. 7. Electric Bird Wires: Electric bird wires are designed to give mild shock to birds when they step on the line. 8. Bird cage: These cages have door built of wire rebar and consist of a dispenser in which bird food such as grains and seeds are placed. Birdcages are relatively ineffective, as they can catch only 20% of the pigeons that are around. Author is an executive.Her interest is in gardening ,traveling. More information bird control

is available on their website.

Article Source:

ArticleRich.com

Highway billboard gives Moscow drivers an unexpected show

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Drivers in the Russian capital, Moscow, were given an unexpected show courtesy of a 30-by-20 foot electronic highway billboard when an explicit pornographic video was played for nearly twenty minutes in place of the paid advertisement clips that are usually shown. The incident happened near the entrance into Serpukovskiy tunnel on Sadovoe Ring Road, about 2 kilometers south of the Kremlin.

“Within three minutes we found it out, and within fifteen minutes the screen was shut off,” the deputy head of the Moscow city advertising committee, Alexander Menchuk, said in a statement to Interfax. A passerby told the Associated Press that she was “so shocked that I couldn’t even shoot video or take a picture of it.”

The display screen’s owner, the Three Stars Advertising Agency of Panno.ru, said that computer hackers attempting to execute a practical joke were likely to blame. Viktor Laptev, commercial director for the firm said, “They were either acting out of hooliganism or were from a rival company.”

Although a city official has been quoted as telling local media that Moscow would increase security of data transmission in light of what happened, local police say they have yet to receive a single complaint about the incident, and thereby have not opened an investigation. Nudity on television is officially banned in Russia.

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Bank of America leads Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints about mortgages

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A review this week by Wikinews of US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) complaints about mortgages in the United States shows Bank of America leads all lending institutions in complaints.

Since mortgages complaints were recorded in December 2011, 77,622 total have been added to CFPB’s database. 29.2% of these complaints involved Bank of America, with the second most received by Wells Fargo, accounting for 15.5% of all complaints. JPMorgan Chase ranked third by volume of complaints with 9.8%. Ocwen was fourth with 8.7% and Citibank was fifth with 4.8%. Nationstar Mortgage; Green Tree Servicing, LLC; HSBC; PNC Bank; U.S. Bancorp; OneWest Bank; SunTrust Bank; Flagstar Bank; and Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. each had between 1.0 and 3.8% of total complaints. The remaining 14.4% of all complaints about consumer mortgages were divided between about 530 other lending institutions.

The Motley Fool reported last month that for the past fiscal quarter, the biggest US based mortgage lenders were from first to fifth Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Quicken Loans and U.S. Bancorp.

According to the US Federal Reserve, debt for family residences stands at US$10.706 trillion for the second quarter of 2013. As of the end of June of this year, Bank of America is the United States’s second largest commercial bank with US$1.343 trillion in domestic assets. Wells Fargo is the fourth largest commercial bank with US$1.251 trillion in domestic assets. JPMorgan Chase is the largest US commercial bank with US$1.329 trillion in domestic assets and US$1.947 trillion in total assets.

The mortgage complaints in the CFPB report include several subproducts. Conventional fixed mortgages account for 27.1% of all complaints. Conventional adjustable mortgages account for 10.0%. FHA mortgages account for 7.7% of all complaints. Home equity loans or lines of credit account for 3.8% of all complaints. VA mortgages are 1.4% of all complaints. Second mortgages and reverse mortgages each account for 0.6% of complaints. The remaining 48.7% of complaints are about other mortgages or other mortgage issues. A few years ago, FHA loans accounted for about 10% of all US mortgages while VA loans accounted for about 3%. Prime loans accounted for over 75% of the market and the rest were subprime mortgages.

California leads all states by volume of complaints with 14768. It is followed by Florida, New York, Georgia and Texas. When complaints are divided by a state’s total population, New Hampshire leads. The state is followed by Washington D.C., Maryland, Georgia and Florida. Complaints do not correlate with national rankings for August’s foreclosure rate by state where Nevada topped the list, followed by Florida, Ohio, Maryland and Delaware.

Two zip codes account for over 1,000 total complaints between them. 565 complaints originated in the 48382 zip code, which is in Commerce Township, Michigan, located in suburban Detroit. 553 complaints originated in the 33071 zip code, in Coral Springs, Florida. According to real estate website Zillow, there are currently 1,033 properties in foreclosure in Coral Springs while Commerce Township only has 131 properties currently in foreclosure. Four other zip codes have 100 plus complaints originating from them. 91730, in Rancho Cucamonga, California, had 158 complaints. 33409, in West Palm Beach, Florida, had 132. 92626, in Costa Mesa, California, had 125 complaints. 92660, in Newport Beach, California, had 122 complaints. Respectively, the towns had 534, 1,068, 153, and 134 properties currently in foreclosure. These numbers are higher than for the cities of a few sampled zip codes where there was only one complaint, such as Gold Hill, Oregon which has 4 properties in foreclosure, and Decatur, Illinois which has 6 properties in foreclosure.

The CFPB categorizes complaints into six categories: “Loan modification, collection,foreclosure” or problems when a person is unable to pay; “Loan servicing, payments, escrow account” or problems with making a payment; “Application, originator, mortgage broker”; “Credit decision / Underwriting”; “Settlement process and costs”, and “Other”. The CFPB says the complaint types indicate consumers “appear to be driven by a desire to seek agreement with their companies on foreclosure alternatives. The complaints indicate that consumer confusion persists around the process and requirements for obtaining loan modifications and refinancing, especially regarding document submission timeframes, payment trial periods, allocation of payments, treatment of income in eligibility calculations, and credit bureau reporting during the evaluation period.” Currently, 59.6% of all complaints against lenders deal with being unable to pay. 25.1% deal with problems in making a payment. 7.0% have to do with the application process.

Of the complaint-heavy zip codes, for 48382 in Commerce Township, Michigan, 98.9% of all complaints have to deal with being unable to pay. Accounting for 23.4% of all mortgage complaints in Commerce Township, 132 of the complaints for being unable to pay were made regarding Bank of America, accounting for 97.8% or all but 3 complaints against them from the zip. 121 of the Bank of America responses in Commerce Township were closed with explanation and 12 were closed with non-monetary relief. 33071 in Coral Springs is different, with 537 of the 553 complaints being categorized under other. Only 11 complaints relate to foreclosure and issues with being able to pay. 92626 in Costa Mesa, where 32% of the mortgage complaints were about Bank of America and 26.4% were about Wells Fargo, had 93.6% of its complaints dealing with being unable to pay. 5 total complaints dealt with payment issues and 3 dealt with applications.

Beyond regional variance in complaint types lodged, the top five mortgage lenders by volume of complaints all had being unable to pay as their top complaint category, ranging between 55.8% for Citibank and 69.4% for Bank of America. Problems with payment accounted for the second largest area of complaints, with Ocwen having the largest percentage of complaints at 31.9% and Bank of America having the smallest at 18.8%. Foreclosure was the top area of complaints for a number of other lending institutions including 1st Alliance Lending, OneWest Bank, Ally Bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Bank of the West, BMO Harris, BOK Financial Corp, Caliber Home Loans, Inc, Capital One, Deutsche Bank and EverBank.

Nationally, complaints reached a high of 5,840 for January 2013, 1,107 more than the next highest month of April 2013. The total emerging for September is the second lowest since records were first kept in December 2011. On a state by state level, this pattern largely repeats with a major exception for Florida which saw a peak of 849 complaints in June 2012. Then, as now, Florida was one of the top five states in the nation in its foreclosure rate. The national January spike came as the Qualified Mortgage standard required by the The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 came into play. It required mortgage lenders to take steps to insure borrowers could repay their mortgages.

Bank of America’s complaint volume follows the national trend, with a spike in January 2013 with 1,925 total complaints. Unlike nationally, the next month by volume of complaints was February of this year with 1,598 complaints. Prior to that, the highest month was May 2012 with 1,418 complaints. The lowest volume of complaints is September this year with 334.

Wells Fargo matched national trends for volume of complaints by month, with the exception of the current month being the lowest on record for number of complaints with 197 compared to the next lowest month, December 2011, when they had 221. JPMorgan’s complaint volume by month spiked in January and March of this year with 504 complaints. April of this year was the next highest month with 493 complaints, edging out May of last year with 488 complaints. September this year is on track to be the lowest month by complaint volume.

The federal government shutdown is unlikely to impact the current mortgage situation in the United States directly for most consumers, though mortgage processing by the Federal Housing Administration could be slower, resulting in fewer mortgages processed.

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Sixth arrest warrant issued for Thailand’s former PM Thaksin

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Today, the Constitutional Court of Thailand (Supreme Court) issued the sixth arrest warrant for Thailand’s deposed premier, Thaksin Shinawatra. Following on from a string of corruption charges, the latest centres on the country’s telecommunications industry. The former Prime Minister was removed by a bloodless military coup in September 2006 while at the United Nations in New York. Prior to the coup the country experienced widespread unrest, demonstrations, and allegations against Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party of corruption and vote buying.

The warrant is over Thaksin’s failure to appear in court on charges relating to conversion of concession payments in the country’s lucrative telecoms market to excise tax during 2003; a move that is estimated to have cost the country’s exchequer 40 billion baht (US$1.2 billion). The deposed PM remains in self-imposed exile in London, having been there since August. At that time he and his wife left Thailand whilst on bail related to the charges surrounding the Ratchadaphisek land purchase deal. The deal saw Thaksin’s wife, Khunying Potjaman purchase what is considered a prime piece of real estate for 772 million baht ($22.7 million) at auction; this price was described as a bargain. At this point the ex-PM has not been convicted on any of the charges, although his wife, Khunying, faces a jail sentence.

Next Tuesday, will see the trial over the Ratchadaphisek land case again come before the Supreme Court—this time with a verdict possibly to be read. This could be deferred due to the defendants’ absence, but a guilty verdict could see Thaksin facing jail time should he return to Thailand.

Last month, saw other warrants issued against Thaksin, in relation to the country’s numbers lottery. Malfeasance allegations led to charges over the sale of two and three digit numbers during the 2001-2006 period of his time in office as Prime Minister. The trial, currently suspended by the Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office, will resume and examine further evidence in December.

The ongoing controversy surrounding Thaksin has seen calls for his diplomatic passport to be revoked. The movement for the coveted red passport to be withdrawn started in mid-September with Thai air force chief, Chalit Phukpasuk, referencing the then-outstanding warrants and widespread lack of respect for the former PM stated, “he has now fallen from grace, he no longer deserves such an honour”. The general, who retired at the end of September, condemned Thaksin for failing to appear in court and defend himself. The newly appointed Foreign Minister and deputy PM has washed his hands of the diplomatic passport issue, preferring to pass this off as an issue for the Prime Minister himself. The military junta of Surayud Chulanont had revoked the passport, but this decision was revoked by the democratically elected Foreign Minister when civilian government was restored.

Adding to the public pressure on the former PM, Thailand’s armed forces’ supreme commander, Boonsrang Niempradit, called on the current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to ensure appropriate justice was meted out to Thaksin. Boonsrang asserted the prime minister must, “dispense justice to everyone, ensuring justice does not necessarily mean offering assistance. Sometimes, justice involves meting out punishment as well”. Current PM Somchai, brother-in-law of exiled Thaksin, has his own legal worries that could see him removed from office and parliament; charges against him centre round a share scandal. His holdings in a telecoms company which does business with the state are allegedly in contravention of several constitutional articles.

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