Sunday, May 30, 2010

BP's latest Gulf failure met with anger and outrage

Ben Nuckols

Robert, La. The Associated Press

The most ambitious bid yet to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history ended in failure Saturday after BP was unable to overwhelm the gusher of crude with heavy fluids and junk. U.S. President Obama called the setback “as enraging as it is heartbreaking.”

The oil giant immediately began readying its next attempt – using robot submarines to cut the pipe that's gushing the oil and cap it with funnel-like device – but the only guaranteed solution remains more than two months away.

The company determined the “top kill” had failed after it spent three days pumping heavy drilling mud into the crippled well about 1.5 kilometres underwater. It's the latest in a series of failures to stop the crude that's fouling marshland and beaches, as estimates of how much oil is leaking grow more dire.

The spill is the worst in U.S. history — exceeding even the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster — and has dumped between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

“This scares everybody, the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven't succeeded so far,” BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said Saturday. “Many of the things we're trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet.”

Frustration has grown as drifting oil closes beaches and washes up in sensitive marshland. The damage is underscored by images of pelicans and their eggs coated in oil. Below the surface, oyster beds and shrimp nurseries face certain death. Fishermen complain there's no end in sight to the catastrophe that's keeping their boats idle.

News that the top kill fell short drew a sharply worded response from Mr. Obama, a day after he visited the Gulf Coast to see the damage firsthand.

They are going to destroy south Louisiana. We are dying a slow death here. — Billy Nungesser, Plaquemines Parish President

“It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole,” Mr. Obama said Saturday.

In the days after the spill, BP was unable to use robot submarines to close valves on the massive blowout preventer atop the damaged well, then two weeks later ice-like crystals clogged a 100-ton box the company tried placing over the leak. Earlier this week, engineers removed a mile-long siphon tube after it sucked up a disappointing 900,000 gallons of oil from the gusher.

In the latest try, BP engineers pumped more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy drilling mud into the well and also shot in assorted junk, including metal pieces and rubber balls.

The hope was that the mud force-fed into the well would overwhelm the upward flow of oil and natural gas. But Mr. Suttles said most of the mud escaped out of the damaged pipe that's leaking the oil, called a riser.

Mr. Suttles said BP is already preparing for the next attempt to stop the leak that began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, killing 11 people.

Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost. — Michael Ballay, Cypress Cove Marina

The company plans to use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. The effort is expected to take between four and seven days.

“We're confident the job will work, but obviously we can't guarantee success,” Mr. Suttles said of the new plan.

He said that cutting off the damaged riser isn't expected to cause the flow rate of leaking oil to increase significantly.

The permanent solution to the leak, a relief well currently being drilled, won't be ready until August, BP says.

Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.

“If they can't get that valve on, things will get much worse,” said Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama.

“It's a scary proposition,” Prof. Johnson said.

Word that the top kill failed was a blow to fishing communities along Louisiana's coast.

“Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost,” said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quantities almost two weeks ago.

Johnny Nunez, owner of Fishing Magician Charters in Shell Beach, La., said the spill is hurting his business during what's normally the best time of year — and there's no end in sight.

“If fishing's bad for five years, I'll be 60 years old. I'll be done for,” he said after watching BP's televised announcement.

The top official in coastal Plaquemines Parish said news of the top-kill failure brought tears to his eyes.

“They are going to destroy south Louisiana. We are dying a slow death here,” said Billy Nungesser, the parish president. “We don't have time to wait while they try solutions. Hurricane season starts on Tuesday.”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg delivers a speech during a press conference at the Facebook headquater in Palo Alto, California on May 26, 2010.

The big mess surrounding Facebook's privacy controls -- the disgruntled users, the angry government watchdogs, the organized boycotts -- should all fall squarely on the shoulder's of the company's 26-year-old founder and chief executive.

After all, Mark Zuckerberg is the one with the vision of a world where the Internet is no longer a private and anonymous experience, but rather a social tapestry, where people share their daily digital travels with not only their friends, but the rest of the world.

He's the one who wanted to make it so that Facebook's nearly 500 million users would be forced to share more of themselves with the outside world. He's the one who believes that social norms are changing, that privacy is no longer the default setting coveted by Web users and that "a world that's more open and connected is a better world."

Clearly, this recent backlash over privacy at Facebook is all his fault.

Then again, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to condemn Mr. Zuckerberg.

Truth is, many of us still don't really understand Facebook. Sure, we know it's a site where we can chat with our friends, share pictures and play games that allow us to cultivate small armies of farm animals, but when it comes to understanding just how intertwined Facebook has become with our day to day lives, with the fabric of our emerging connected culture, we just don't know what to make of it.

Not anymore, anyway.

Never before has the world seen something like Facebook. Not since the birth of the Internet itself has such a disruptive technology changed the way we interact and experience the world around us. Average users and privacy watchdogs have only recently begun to understand the intricacies of the House that Zuck Built.

For many Web users -- including more than 15 million Canadians -- Facebook is their base of operations on the Web. Facebook is literally the public face they present to the world, it is their social circle and it is a perpetually updated yearbook all rolled into one. It's the little piece of online real estate they can call home.

In just six years, the population of Facebook has exploded from a few thousand Ivy League students to eclipse the combined populations of the United States and Canada. Indeed, among certain demographics in North America, non-Facebook users are something of an anomaly.

It barely classifies as a social network anymore. Facebook is a category unto itself. An island nation in cyberspace, governed by Mr. Zuckerberg from the company's Palo Alto, California headquarters.

The problem is, the laws of Facebookland keep changing.

Over the past six months, Facebook has unleashed a number of alterations to its privacy controls that not only made more of its users' personal data public by default, but also swelled the company's privacy options to 50 buttons, 170 choices and a word count that surpassed even the United States Constitution.

This week, Facebook bowed to public pressure and simplified its privacy settings, creating one single page where users can control whether their information can be seen by their friends, friends of friends or everyone on the Web.

Facebook also enabled users to block outside software developers -- the makers of the addictive games and quiz features that have become a staple of the service -- from accessing their personal information.

To ensure that companies aren't viewing your details, however, means shutting down your Farmville account and deleting the "Which Simpsons Character Are You?" application for your profile.

Still, if you talk to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, even with the changes announced this week, Facebook is actually more open today than it was a year ago when the office concluded its 14-month investigation into the site's privacy controls, forcing sweeping changes.

Just how upset are users? When four New York-based college students started taking donations to help fund a project that would develop an open sourced Facebook rival where users' data would remain private, they raised more than $100,000 in a matter of months.

"Quit Facebook Day," an online protest started by a pair of Toronto men, will take place on Monday. As of press time, nearly 25,000 Facebook users had pledged to permanently erase their profiles from Facebook's database.

Facebook's citizens are angry. Many feel betrayed by a site which started out by offering them a chance to reconnect with long lost friends, organize parties and share photos in what felt like a closed, personal -- even private -- setting.

It's as though Facebook has broken an unwritten social networking contract with its users.

According to some philosophers, including the 17th century writer Thomas Hobbes, society or "the social" is only possible through the social contract, whereby citizens agree to surrender certain freedoms in exchange for order, peace and a relief from chaos.

With Facebook, users were willing to enter into the social networking contract offered by the company. In exchange for a personal homepage, a mechanism for connecting with friends, users were willing to let Facebook make money by helping marketers advertise to them based on the information in their profiles.

As Facebook's audience grew, so did the company's value to marketers. Based on the information at Facebook's disposal, advertisers could tailor their marketing to smaller and more targeted groups. Instead of advertising on car Websites outside Facebook, marketers could have their messages appear beside only the Facebook profiles belonging to users who said they liked Honda Civics or Ford Mustangs, thereby maximizing the return on their investment.

The problem is, Facebook kept changing the terms of the user contract. Information that wasn't meant to be public became widely available. Default settings were changed so that more information could be shared with the wider Web.

Of course, this was all part of Mr. Zuckerberg's plan to gradually spread Facebook's tentacles across the Web, through new social features and open graphs. The idea was that Facebook would become the default social standard that would blanket the Web.

Mr. Zuckerberg's vision is a world where newspaper Websites can show you stories recommended by your Facebook friends, where retailers can suggest items you might like based on your Facebook interests and where Internet radio stations customize playlists based on your favourite bands and the songs your friends say they like.

Just as newspapers and magazines are only as valuable to advertisers as their reader base, Facebook's value lies in its collection of members. Mr. Zuckerberg knows this. Without its captive user base sharing their lives with each other and with Facebook, the company wouldn't be worth an estimated US$15-billion.

Facebook's challenge lies in finding ways to encourage its users to open up about themselves, to share more information publicly, safe in the knowledge that it's not just good for Facebook, but it's good for them too.

But after this recent user backlash, questions are now being raised about just how social we're willing to be online. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post this week, Mr. Zuckerberg admitted that perhaps Facebook moved too quickly in its quest to find new ways to "connect with the social Web and each other."

Mr. Zuckerberg believes that the social norm has evolved over time and that people are less concerned about privacy and more willing to share today than ever before.

Maybe he's right. How else do we explain our obsession with Facebook, reality television, blogging and services like Twitter?

Of course, the mere existence of Facebook as a central tenet of Western culture will continue to alter our notions of privacy. Things we consider private today may seem inconsequential in five years time.

Still, how social is too social? It's a question that will need to be answered by not just Facebook, but also by Twitter, Foursquare and other social connection services. As social networking gravitates towads mobile devices and smartphones -- and advertisers are able to target users based not just on their information, but also their location -- people will have to decide just how plugged into the social Web they're willing to be.

If anything, this recent rebellion from the citizens of Facebookland shows that at least some users aren't quite ready to share in Mr. Zuckerberg's vision of the future.

At least, not yet

Leo- Weekend of Saturday, May 29, 2010

You find yourself doubting if you made the right decision a little while back. Well, you based your choice on your belief of what was right at the time. Your intuition was on pretty good form, which means that the difficulties that have now come up will prove to be temporary in nature as long as you don’t allow your cerebral faculties to inflate them into more than they are. Believe in the power of your natural inborn luck.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Summerfest July 1 2010 Woodbine + Coxwell

Thursday July 1, 2010. 12pm-9pm.

Woodbine Park; Toronto, Ontario. Corner of Lakeshore Blvd. E and Coxwell Ave.

Hosted by Vinyl 95.3, and sponsored by Maple Lodge Farms and Lakeport. FREE admission.

• David Clayton Thomas
• Glass Tiger
• Five Man Electrical Band
• The Cast of 'Rock of Ages'
• The Spoons

• Fireworks display at Dusk
• Southern Ontario's largest outdoor Disco Dance Party (post-live performers)
• Lakeport licenced area
• Family Fun Zone

• Coolers
• Umbrellas (this event is rain or shine!)
• Blankets/lawn chairs
• Cameras
• Waterbottles

• Alcoholic beverages
• Glass containers
• Barbecues/cooking devices
• Motorized vehicles/mopeds
• Weapons
• Fireworks

• ATM Machines
• First Aid
• Washrooms (permanent and port-a-potties – wheelchair accessible)
• Security
• Band Merchandise Tent

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roseman: Don’t fall victim to energy fraud at the door

On April 23, Ontario passed the Energy Consumer Protection Act 2010. This long-awaited law will curtail unethical sales of energy contracts to households.

The Ontario Energy Board logs 100 to 150 consumer complaints a week about the practices of energy retailers, says the energy ministry.

I get almost as many some weeks – and I’m not a regulator, just a journalist and blogger who’s been writing about energy marketing abuses for the past decade.

Most of the new rules are expected to come into effect Jan. 1, 2011. Unfortunately, they don’t cover door-to-door sales of rental water heater replacements and carbon offset plans to reduce emissions.

Here are some recent stories that made me angry, involving pressure on seniors and misrepresentation by the big three (Summitt Energy, Direct Energy and Just Energy).

Bruno Iaboni: A Summitt Energy agent came to his elderly mother’s door and persuaded her to replace the water heater and pay $14.99 a month to offset her carbon use. She was caring for a sick husband and couldn’t speak or read English. Summitt agreed to cancel its evergreen program after Iaboni appealed to me. It also lowered the rental fee for the water heater to match what his mother was paying before the switch.

Jack Licht: His father is 86 and an Alzheimer’s patient, living at home with a caregiver, and is hard of hearing. He signed a contract for carbon offsets when Summitt Energy came to his door. His son called Summitt three times and was told it was a valid contract. Summitt cancelled when he threatened to go to the media, but didn’t reverse four months of bills for carbon offsets, adding up to $62.96.

Joy Daniels: She had been with Direct Energy for electricity in 2007, though she didn’t remember signing up. Suspecting fraud, the company sent her a recording of a call when she supposedly confirmed the contract. A man had answered (although she lives alone) and agreed he was Joy Daniels when asked. Direct Energy has now paid back $1,285 in excess charges (and also paid $200 in interest once I got involved). Daniels wants to know why the company gave out her personal details to a fraudster.

Peter Blair: He was surprised when Direct Energy sent him a renewal letter on April 1 for his five-year gas contract, since he had never signed up for gas. When he wrote to me, he had waited almost a month to get proof of the contract. Because Direct Energy couldn’t retrieve his “voice signature” from the outsourced supplier, it agreed to cancel the contract and send him a refund for any overpayments back to 2005.

Jeff Raymond: He had a five-year contract for electricity with Just Energy, but cancelled after two years because he found his bills 40 per cent higher than before. As instructed, he paid an early termination fee of $169.50 last February. Just Energy cashed his cheque (he had proof) and sent his account to a collection agency in error. When I got involved, it stopped collections and confirmed his credit rating was not affected.

Malcolm Rowe: An immigrant to Canada from South Africa, he was persuaded to sign for gas and electricity with Universal Energy in 2006 after being told he could cancel at any time. This year, he realized he was overpaying and called to cancel with Just Energy (which took over Universal). Because his reaffirmation call couldn’t be found, he will be reimbursed for the difference between the contract rates and the regulated utility rates.

Commission-paid energy sellers have committed fraud for years, abetted by weak rules and lack of enforcement by the Ontario Energy Board.

Always ask for identification when someone offers help on behalf of your local gas or hydro utility. They often work for a separate company.

Check your utility bills to see if you have relationships with retailers whose names you don’t recognize. And never renew any such contracts without checking their validity.

Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

ATM Inventor Passes Away At 84

John Shepherd-Barron, 84: ATM inventor, arguably

May 22, 2010

Daniel Dale

John Shepherd-Barron always withdrew money from his local bank on Saturday mornings. One Saturday in 1965, the bank closed just before he arrived. He had to ask a nearby auto garage to cash a cheque.

Lying in his bath that night, Shepherd-Barron had his eureka moment. Surely there could be a convenient way to allow people to obtain cash whenever they wanted it. If there were machines to dispense chocolate bars around the clock, why couldn't someone invent a similar machine to dispense money?

Shepherd-Barron, born in 1925 to Scottish parents in India, where his father did business, and educated at the University of Cambridge, was managing director of De La Rue Instruments, a British company that printed currencies. Soon after he conceived the automated teller machine in his mind, he ran into an executive of Barclays Bank at a party. “Give me 90 seconds,” he said, and made his pitch. According to Shepherd-Barron, the executive said: “If you can make this device you are speaking about, I will buy it right now.”

The ATM debuted to great fanfare at a Barclays branch in London on June 27, 1967. The star of a British sitcom was the first person to make a withdrawal. He obtained 10 one-pound notes, the only combination of bills the machine could offer.

The ATM, of course, changed banking; there are now about two million cash machines worldwide. In 2007, Shepherd-Barron was given a lifetime achievement award by the ATM Industry Association. In 2005, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

It was the announcement of this honour that brought a rival out of the woodwork. James Goodfellow, a fellow Scot, said he was the true ATM inventor, having patented a cash-dispensing device in 1966 that employed a PIN system. Shepherd-Barron's first machine used a PIN too, but it only dispensed cash to customers who inserted cheques encoded with a radioactive substance called carbon-14. Shepherd-Barron, moreover, never patented his concept, later claiming he “wanted to keep carbon-14 secret from potential forgers.” Said Goodfellow: “It's not sour grapes. He invented a radioactive device to withdraw money. I invented an automated system with an encrypted card and a pin number, and that's the one that is used around the world today.”

Perhaps Goodfellow was consoled by the fact that without a patent Shepherd-Barron did not make much money from his money machine. Married with three sons and six grandchildren, he spent his retirement years snail farming, fishing and shooting near his remote home in northern Scotland.

He died Saturday, after a short illness, at 84.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Incredible Gorrila Reunion After 5 years-Kwibi

Gulf Coast oil spill could eclipse Exxon Valdez

Gulf Coast oil spill could eclipse Exxon Valdez

VENICE, La. – An oil spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster spread out of control and drifted inexorably toward the Gulf Coast on Thursday as fishermen rushed to scoop up shrimp and crews spread floating barriers around marshes.

The spill was both bigger and closer than imagined — five times larger than first estimated, with the leading edge just three miles from the Louisiana shore. Authorities said it could reach the Mississippi River delta by Thursday night.

"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

The oil slick could become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world's richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.

The leak from the ocean floor proved to be far bigger than initially reported, contributing to a growing sense among many in Louisiana that the government failed them again, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina. President Barack Obama dispatched Cabinet officials to deal with the crisis.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, worried that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or oil company BP PLC.

"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive," he said. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."

The Coast Guard worked with BP, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water's surface.

The Coast Guard urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department. A BP executive said the corporation would "take help from anyone."

Government officials said the blown-out well 40 miles offshore is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated — about 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, a day.

At that rate, the spill could easily eclipse the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989 — in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the sea floor.

Ultimately, the spill could grow much larger than the Valdez because Gulf of Mexico wells typically hold many times more oil than a single tanker.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration and Production, had initially disputed the government's larger estimate. But he later acknowledged on NBC's "Today" show that the leak may be as bad as federal officials say. He said there was no way to measure the flow at the seabed, so estimates have to come from how much oil rises to the surface.

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occasional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You're pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to stop it," he said.

An emergency shrimping season was opened to allow shrimpers to scoop up their catch before it is fouled by oil. Cannons were to be used to scare off birds. And shrimpers were being lined up to use their boats as makeshift skimmers in the shallows.

This murky water and the oysters in it have provided a livelihood for three generations of Frank and Mitch Jurisich's family in Empire, La.

Now, on the open water just beyond the marshes, they can smell the oil that threatens everything they know and love.

"Just smelling it, it puts more of a sense of urgency, a sense of fear," Frank Jurisich said.

The brothers hope to get all the oysters they can sell before the oil washes ashore. They filled more than 100 burlap sacks Thursday and stopped to eat some oysters. "This might be our last day," Mitch Jurisich said.

Without the fishing industry, Frank Jurisich said the family "would be lost. This is who we are and what we do."

Friday, May 21, 2010

The scope of things today...

Leo- Friday, May 21, 2010

Mars is now starting to shift into a gallop after just trotting along for the past few weeks. You can now really start the process of freeing yourself from the shackles that have bound you to an unwanted event of the past. An escape is imminent, but not only that, it absolutely needs to happen. You simply can’t wait any longer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


May 20th, 2010

Thought for the Day

Thursday, May 20, 2010
The First Quarter Moon phase is here. Today is Day 7 of the 29.5-day lunar month. Issues that came up in the days around the New Moon of last Friday are taking root and growing towards next Thursday’s Full Moon. With Venus continuing its journey through turbulent skies, there will be a lot of pressure building up in the coming days. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, extreme weather and a worsening situation with the Gulf of Mexico’s oil disaster are highly likely. As far the volcanic activity goes, it will probably be Iceland, but other locations in the world could stir too.

An international investigation has determined that a North Korea torpedo sank the South Korean navy ship on March 24. If cool heads don’t prevail, tensions there could reach a head during the weekend and into next week’s Full Moon.

Turbulence in financial markets was severe yesterday as expected. This is linked to Venus (money) squaring of with Uranus (instability, shocks). As Venus’ link to Pluto (debts) comes into play by Monday, the debt crisis in Europe will probably unnerve financial markets even further. Venus is a female symbol, so perhaps Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will figure prominently in the news. Or perhaps, news around women’s issues or women’s rights will figure prominently. Venus/Pluto contacts bring angry women out of the woodwork. The angry female teacher, Sherry Lynn Davis, who beat a 13-year-old child in a school class room could be one of the faces of the Venus/Pluto alignment.

As well as giving Live Personal Readings in downtown Toronto, I am now also meeting clients in a superb venue in historic Georgetown(northwest of Toronto) every Monday. Please let me know if you are interested in booking a session in Toronto or Georgetown and I’ll email you with an explanation on how to go about it.

If today is your birthday
Cosmic vectors are directing toward a new style of life and a new range of expectations. Limits will be breached. Parameters will expand. You’ll realize how you been living with compromises that have kept you in the comfort zone, but prevented you from fulfilling your true potential. A new proactive and bullish attitude will empower you to take a giant step toward becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Happy birthday to:
Cher, 64.
Joe Cocker, 66.
Stan Mikita, 70.

Born today:
James Stewart (1908-1997)

We are all born with a distinct purpose and an exciting destiny waiting to be fulfilled, but the deafening din of this mad world makes it virtually impossible to correctly get our bearings.

If you need an objective view of a burning issue or require advice in making a major decision, the ancient wisdom of astrology can provide guidance.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The little drummer boy on You Tube

Posted Mon May 17, 2010 5:11am PDT by News Editor in Behind The Music

Reality TV shows may have opened up the world of entertainment to huge, undiscovered sections of the world's population, but they've got nothing on YouTube. Barely a week goes by without a new star emerging from nowhere to become an overnight online sensation.

Last week, it was 12-year-old Oklahoman piano protégé Greyson Chance who won the hearts of the world, serenading his fellow school children with a compelling version of Lady Gaga's ‘Paparazzi' one day and speaking to the pop superstar herself on national TV the next.

But it looks as though even he could be surpassed this week. Because the latest candidate for international adoration is Howard Wong, aged three. Yes, Howard is barely out of nappies, let alone in short trousers. But that hasn't stopped him causing a global stampede to check out his drumming skills, reportedly filmed in Penang, Malaysia.

Almost 3,750,000 people have watched him gleefully powerhouse his way through the Joan Jett classic ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You' in a Santa hat, as a roomful of people look on open-mouthed. Little else is known about Howard, although there is other footage of him playing in a band and, most amazingly, singing The Beatles' ‘Hey Jude'. Macca had better watch his back!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More than $1 billion owed in speeding fines

Tanya Talaga Queen’s Park Bureau

Traffic scofflaws owe provincial municipalities more than $1 billion in unpaid speeding tickets and it is time to pay up, says the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards.

The drive by heist of revenue from lead foots, red light runners and illegal turners on roads in this province - actually $1,048,607,020.80 and counting – appeared to catch the cash-strapped Liberal government off guard.

“It’s a heck of a lot of money,” said Attorney General Chris Bentley, whose government is $19.7 billion in the hole and looking for ways to climb out from under the historic debt load. “Any amount of money that is owed by somebody is money we obviously want to collect for revenue reasons and for good enforcement reasons.”

Surprisingly, there is simply no mechanism to make people pay their speeding fines – especially those living out of the province, said Alok Mukherjee, president of the board, which governs local police departments. You can’t get arrested for getting a slew of speeding tickets, he added.

“You lose points … you can have your license suspended but you get it back,” he said. “Unless the consequences create a deterrent there is no incentive for people to pay because the consequences are pretty limited right now.”

The problem of unpaid fines was brought to the attention of the attorney general and Minister of Community Safety Rick Bartolucci by the police services boards at Queen’s Park on Monday.

There is no effective measure to get people to pay other than using a collection agency, said Henry Jensen of the Ottawa Police Services Board.

“If there is a lack of teeth in a statute to enforce collection, people are not going to pay,” he said.

That is not the case with unpaid parking tickets in Toronto. If motorists don’t pay those they can’t register their vehicle annually. The same holds true for those who do not pay outstanding Highway 407 road toll charges.

“We have a mechanism to deal with people who don’t pay for the 407 – they don’t get their plates,” said Mukherjee who is also chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. “So why should it be otherwise in terms of municipal bylaws and the provincial offences act and so on?”

Many who owe are vacationers from out of province or the United States who ignore the tickets when they leave, he added.

“You could get a speeding ticket in one part of the 401, you ignore it and keep driving,” he said. “You get a second one and ignore it, you could get three tickets, keep driving and throw them out and leave the province. How is anyone to collect it?”

Some U.S. troopers have the ability to charge foreign motorists and demand payment on the spot. That could be a method of collection used here.

The total value of uncollected fines is continuing to rise to unacceptable levels and lax laws undermine traffic enforcement and highway safety, board members say. Not to mention municipalities are without a lot of money, which translates into higher taxes.

“Who is losing out?” asked Jensen. “The taxpayer - you.”

The attorney general says the government has given the municipalities a number of tools to deal with unpaid tickets, said Mukherjee. But the government has also asked the association to further study the issue, try and find solutions and report back.

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne was surprised by the $1 billion amount. “It is unacceptable, obviously,” she said.

Wynne admits she is figuring out a better way for the province to get their hands on the dough. “I’ll be working with my colleague ministers to determine if there is anything else we should be doing,” she said.

NDP MPP Peter Kormos (Welland) called the figure “remarkable.”

“It is shocking licences aren’t being suspended for unpaid fines,” he said.

Out of province offenders need to be dealt with by way of reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions, he said.

But Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Murdoch (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) wonders “who is going to shoot all the bad dogs?”

While he is not supportive of speeding, he said the province is awash with laws – over 500,000 laws and regulations – and there is simply a lack of people around to enforce them all.

“Who will you hire to do it?” he asked. “There should be some laws, there is no doubt about that, but we’ve become a province of too many of them.”

A red-tape commission is needed to clean up all the unnecessary laws before other issues are dealt with, he said.

Delegates from the police boards also spoke to MPPs and opposition parties to discuss other public safety issues such as the need to update the Police Services Act, court security, police governance and training and the illegal use of prescription narcotics.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sex scandal rocks church in GTA Toronto, Ontario

Peter Edwards Staff Reporter
Jay Jung The Korea Times

Lurid allegations of sexual misconduct at a Greater Toronto Area church have sent shock waves across the Pacific Ocean.

Television news crews from South Korea's two largest networks — MBC and SBS —filed breathless reports in the spring about the myriad of charges and countercharges of sexual misconduct involving parishioners and leaders at the house of worship, which cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban.

Now, the church's founder, former Orangeville grocer Jae-Kap (Joe) Song, 55, faces charges in Canada of inappropriately touching a female parishioner.

On March 19, three former members of his congregation appeared in an Ontario Court of Justice courtroom at Finch Ave. W., while three others from the church had left for South Korea before they could be charged. Another two former members of the church would be charged later in the day. Together, they would face some 100 alleged offences, including threatening death, administering drugs for sex, gang sexual assault and making child pornography. The judge invoked a publication ban on identifying the church and the alleged victims.

Jacqueline An, a Toronto lawyer representing one of the accused, refuses to call Song a “pastor” or “reverend,” saying instead that he was the leader of a cult with branches in the GTA and South Korea.

“It’s a cult, not a church,” An said.

Song has declined repeated requests for interviews.

Part of the reason the turmoil at the church is huge news back in South Korean is that most of the accused and alleged victims are from that country, living in the GTA on student visas.

Not long after Valentine's Day, teams of South Korean reporters flew to Toronto and began filing stories to major South Korean news outlets.

The SBS network kept a team here for almost two weeks to produce a 60 Minutes-style investigation, which stated that Song received his religious credentials via the Internet from a mail-order house in California.

Song's legal woes increased this month, when three former members of his congregation — who are facing criminal charges in Canada — successfully pressed authorities in South Korea to lay charges against Song.

The South Korean charges against him are for mischief, threatening, forcible confinement and defamation of character.

None of the allegations has been proven in court and legal proceedings in Canada and South Korea are still in the early, pre-trial stages.

The media and legal maelstrom surrounding Song and his little church is a far cry from just a few months ago, when he and members of his congregation cheerfully roasted marshmallows and played soccer together, dressed up in matching pastel uniforms.

Other times, they sang Korean pop tunes like “What is Life?,” “My First Love” and “A Lady” in unison, after changing the lyrics to make them more spiritually acceptable.

Things changed forever for Song and his former flock on Valentine’s Day.

On that day, says a 28-year-old former member of his church, Song made a strange diagnosis for a skin problem she had been suffering.

According to the woman, Song told her: “Your husband’s spirit is very evil. That’s why your skin tone is changing. I need to see your body naked.”

She said she refused to strip for him, despite repeated requests. Eventually, she said she removed her blouse and lay on her stomach, as he had requested.

She said he then asked her if she ever engaged in anal sex, and she said she answered negatively.

“That’s why you’re having such a bad relationship with your husband,” she said he replied. “Why don’t you have sex with me right now?”

She said she refused yet again.

Other women who attended his congregation also said Song made sexual entreaties toward them through a female intermediary. One of his favourite lines, they said, was: “If you have sex with me, your spiritual level will grow.”

Later on Valentine’s Day, according to the 28-year-old, Song accused another female parishioner of being sexually promiscuous.

She said Song ordered the other woman, who was in Canada on a student visa, to run naked two times around an Orangeville convenience store as punishment.

In March, the mothers of one of Song’s followers who was shaken by the news reports, flew to Toronto to see her daughter and reassure herself that things weren’t as bad as they might have seemed.

Her daughter refused to leave Song’s residence to see her, and the mother returned home to South Korea without sharing as much as a meal with her, parishioners said.

It's the first time that there has been harsh media scrutiny for Song’s church, which has been in operation in the GTA for a decade.

The church wasn’t widely known in the local Korean community until three years ago, when Song and parishioners showed up at a community road race, dressed in matching pastel uniforms, with the girls in soft pink and the boys in white and baby blue.

Former church members describe Song as an excellent orator and something of a prophet, who some believed had the power to read minds and predict the future. Some church members were greatly impressed when he was able to pick the first and third-place finishers in a local half-marathon.

An, who represents defendant Sang Cheol Lee, 37, of Toronto, accused Song of terrorizing dissidents in his church by persuading female parishioners to make false allegations against them.

Others say the pastor often appeared to have sex and not religion on his mind.

An noted that about 40 of the 50 parishioners at his church were female, mostly South Koreans on student visas between the ages of 16 and 32.

Many of the congregation were in Canada studying theology and traditional Chinese healing.

The lurid sex allegations had the effect of driving almost all of the men out of the tiny church.

“They’re devastated by the allegations,” An said of the accused men. “They’re horrific. . . . Our Canadian judicial system is being manipulated by this fellow (Song).”

An said she recently visited Seoul to help prepare her case, where she said she was inundated with requests for interviews.

She said she discovered that an offshoot of the church with about 30 members had been established in South Korea.

For her part, one 28-year-old parishioner said she initially kept quiet about Song’s bizarre Valentine’s Day behaviour.

“I was so shaken I didn’t tell anybody,” she said in an interview, through a Korean-language interpreter. “I was ashamed to.”

She said that it wasn’t the first time Song had made a strange sexual advance toward her.

According to the woman, Song approached her in December 2009 after her husband went to South Korea for a funeral, and said, “Your mother-in-law’s evil spirit is upon you. . . . Let’s pray.”

Then he said that her genitals must be itchy because of evil spirits, and said he would pray for them, saying, “I’m going to fix it for you.”

On Feb. 21, according to former parishioners, Song gathered together eight or nine male parishioners at an apartment unit in Orangeville. The gathering included the six men who would later be charged with sexual assault.

According to the former parishioners, Song told the assembled men: “Gang sex has happened in our church, brothers and sisters. Among you are guys who did gang sex to sisters.”

According to some men at the meeting, the accused men were stunned and denied the accusation, volunteering to take DNA tests to prove they hadn’t done anything wrong.

Song sloughed off their offer of DNA testing, then went forward to police with his gang rape accusation, some of the accused men said.

Nowadays, the pastor and accused members of his flock are all out on bail, awaiting court dates.

Meanwhile, Song’s church has dwindled to just a dozen members, less than a quarter of its size before Valentine’s Day while An said the South Korean branch of the church has withered.

An said it’s easily the most bizarre case in her 12-year legal career.

Her defence strategy will include bringing in experts on cults when the court case finally begins, she said.

“I feel like I'm in a movie. . . a horrifying, nasty movie,” she said.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Marrying a younger man could shorten a woman’s life: study

Leo- Friday, May 14, 2010

A prevailing mood of gloom has you fearing that you are at the edge of disaster, when, in fact, you are actually poised on the threshold of success. What you are attempting to do is difficult. Slowly, but surely, though, progress is being made. Not many people, faced with a challenge of this magnitude, would be able to do as well as you are. You have something to be very proud of and nothing to be ashamed of.

Marrying a younger man could shorten a woman’s life: study

May 13, 2010

Lesley Ciarula Taylor

Staff Reporter

Women, be warned: Boy toys and sugar daddies alike are bad for your health.

Researchers have long thought that younger spouses were better for both men and women. But new data gleaned from crunching demographic numbers from 2 million Danish couples destroy that theory.

While younger wives are better for men’s health, researcher Sven Drefahl told the Star on Thursday, younger husbands can be deadly for women.

Women who marry men seven to nine years younger increase their mortality risk by 20 per cent, the study found. In contrast, men who marry younger women decrease their mortality risk by 11 per cent.

“The findings are strong, but the conclusions are not. We cannot explain the findings in women very well.

“One of the few possible explanations is that couples with younger husbands violate social norms and thus suffer from social sanctions,” said Drefahl. The study is published in this month’s journal Demography.

“Also, men are more dependent on the social contact of their spouse, so the effect of the death of a spouse is more severe in men.”

Thus, a younger husband may not enrich a woman’s social life or provide companionship and support late in life. A younger wife, however, appears to be able to do all of those things.

His next stage of research: to compare health records against these findings.

“I’d like to know whether a man who is healthy is marrying a woman who is much younger, or (if) it is a man less healthy, and the same for women.”

In particular, because the number of women who marry much younger men is small, Drefahl wants to see if they, as a group, share certain health aspects.

Much older husbands don’t help a woman, either, said Drefahl, who performed the analysis for the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany.

Although not many hit the mark, a woman’s best choice is to marry a man of exactly the same age: Even an older man shortens a woman’s life somewhat.

Drefahl cautions that marriage overall still raises life expectancy for women and men compared with people who don’t marry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sixth grader goes viral with Lady Gaga song

In one week, an American sixth-grader has captured 1 million YouTube hits, a Facebook fan club and a spot on The Ellen Show, all from a Grade 6 school performance.

Greyson Michael Chance sat down at a piano for the Chorus Performance Night at his middle school in Edmond, Okla., and belted out his cover version of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.”

The three-minute performance turns his audience of skeptical teenage girls into wide-eyed converts. The 12-year-old Chance, sporting a Justin Bieber haircut and shorts, gives an awkward little bow before dashing off-stage.

“I am very inspired by Lady Gaga and Augustana,” Chance says on his YouTube channel. “Lady Gaga is a freak but she has so much talent and her style of music is what I would like mine to be when I’m older. Augustana is one of the most underrated bands I think ever to step the planet. They have such a good concept with folk and rock. It is very sad that they are so unknown.”

Chance posted the video on his YouTube site, greyson97, along with two of his original songs, performed on his home piano. By Wednesday morning, the video had more than 1 million views and Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that he’d been signed to appear on her talk show on Thursday.

A Facebook site created Tuesday, called We Are Your Fans , had more than 2,500 members and was growing by 100 people an hour.

Leo- Thursday, May 13, 2010

Certain antagonistic celestial alignments are stirring things up with certain people. It’s becoming obvious that some people love to argue. Although, you’re not particularly inclined this way, you will put up a good fight if necessity calls for it. A drama that has sprung up should not be allowed to disturb your equilibrium. It’s not worth your time, so stay clear of it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Insurance: You can save now, but pay a lot later

Leo- Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A trying situation has got you wondering why and how you got yourself into a certain thorny dilemma. Self-doubt may suit some people, but it certainly doesn’t go well with you. Confidence is about to come around for a visit. This time it’s going to take up permanent residence. You’ll be surprised with the successes that are about to come your way.

You can save now, but pay a lot later

Skimping on auto insurance options could prove costly for you and your family

James Daw
Business Columnist

Apr 27, 2010

Buying the right amount of automobile insurance coverage could prove far more important to you and your family than buying the right new car.

You may not be able to afford any more than the minimum coverage required by law. But if you can afford more, and you have assets and income to protect, skimping on coverage could prove costly to you and your family in the event of an accident.

There is always a chance you could cause more damage to someone else than the basic policy will cover, or that you will suffer more damage than another driver’s policy will cover.

The importance of optional additional coverage will rise starting Sept. 1. That’s when Ontario will cut the base level of medical and rehabilitation coverage from $100,000 to $50,000. So you may wish to buy an optional increase in statutory accident benefit coverage.

The amount drivers will pay in future for accident benefit coverage for serious injuries will depend in part on whether other government-approved changes reduce costs.

For example, treatment of minor injuries is to be controlled by a new $3,500 cap that will also apply after August.

We won’t know the effect on prices for a while. So the best we can offer now is a look at an example of current costs for basic and optional coverage for a new car buyer.

The price you pay will depend on a number of factors: The claims experience of the insurer you choose, your age and driving record, the neighbourhood where you live, your vehicle, plus the distance and type of driving you do.

Other factors include whether you also insure another car or a home with the same insurer, and how long you have stayed with that insurer. The price of optional benefits may also depend on these many variables.

Lets look at cost of policy options for a driver we will call Tim.

We were provided sample figures by Anne Marie Thomas of, a sister company of the Toronto Star that is one of three free, online, rate comparison services available to Ontario drivers.

Graphic: The difference between insurance policies (PDF)

Tim is married, 35 years old, with 19 years of driving experience. He lives in the Willowdale district of Toronto. He has committed no driving infractions. He has not been at fault in a collision.

The minimum

Tim would have to pay one insurance company $1,881 to buy Ontario’s basic auto insurance policy for a 2010 Honda Civic sedan. Of that total, $1,055 would pay for third-party liability coverage, direct compensation for property loss and uninsured automobile coverage. The remaining $826 would pay for various statutory accident benefits.

Accident benefit coverage nows pay up to $100,000 of medical rehabilitation, plus other accident benefits such as a couple of years of disability income, and $72,000 for attendant care after a serious injury. These two amounts can rise to $1 million for a catastrophic injury, such blindness or loss of a limb.

The accident benefits would be paid regardless of who was at fault in a collision.

Basic liability coverage, as per current regulations, will only protect Tim or someone he gives permission to drive his car for legal claims for damages of up to $200,000, and for Tim’s legal defence. This might not be enough if the person injured could prove they lost their ability to earn an income.

Under direct compensation, the insurer would pay to repair or reimburse Tim for up to the market value of his car, but only if the accident occurred in Ontario and was caused by a driver covered by an Ontario insurer.

The amount paid to Tim would be reduced by whatever percentage he was deemed to be at fault for the collision. Fault is determined by a set of regulations that describe common accident situations.

Uninsured motorist coverage would pay Tim up to $200,000 for damages he or his family suffered as a result of the negligence of an uninsured or hit-and-run driver. From that $200,000, 5 per cent or $10,000 would be available to pay for damage to his vehicle.

Important options

To increase the protection he would enjoy if he injured someone else, Tim could buy $1 million of liability coverage for an extra $175 a year. A further $1 million would cost $83 more, and bring the total of $2 million of coverage to $258 a year.

Brokers and agents would strongly recommend to Tim that he also pay for family protection, which is described in Ontario Policy Change Form (OPCF) 44R. This option would make his $1 million or $2 million of third-party liability coverage available to him or an eligible member of his family if a hit-and-run driver or someone without enough insurance or wealth caused them to be injured.

This extra coverage is relatively inexpensive, and well worth the money. For Tim it would cost an extra $27 if he chose $1 million in liability coverage, or $43 if he chose $2 million of coverage.

Tim could further protect himself or his family in the event of serious injury with OPCF 47. This policy option would provide an additional $1.17 million of medical, rehabilitation and attendant care coverage, regardless of who was at fault in the accident.

Few drivers buy this additional medical coverage, but it could make life a whole lot easier if a family member were ever injured seriously or catastrophically. Tim’s cost would now be $70 a year.

Protecting the car

It would cost Tim $452 a year for collision coverage to insure his vehicle in the event he ever caused a collision, or if his vehicle were ever damaged outside of Ontario or by an out-of-province vehicle. He might choose to go without this coverage once his car is much older.

For $138 a year Tim could also buy comprehensive coverage to protect his vehicle in the event of theft, fire, vandalism, storm damage, falling objects or aircraft and assorted other perils.

That would be the premium cost of collision and comprehensive coverage if Tim agreed that $500 would be deducted from his compensation. If he agreed to a $1,000 deductible with either type of claim, he would save a total of $21 a year.

It’s also possible to buy all-perils coverage for somewhat more. This combines the collision and comprehensive coverage, but also covers you for the theft of your vehicle by a resident of your home or an employee at your repair garage.

The OPCF 43 option at $35 a year would ensure Tim would be reimbursed the original purchase price of his new car during the first 24 to 29 months. The duration of this coverage will depend on the insurer he chooses.

Less vital options

There are numerous other options that Tim could consider.

It would cost $50 a year to protect himself from an increase in premiums after his first at-fault accident. (Some insurers charge nothing.)

OPCF 20 for $25 a year would ensure he got compensation for a rental vehicle while his own vehicle was being repaired after a collision he caused.

OPCF 27 for $25 a year would extend his liability coverage to a rented vehicle, but only in the continental United States and Canada.

He could double the basic death benefit coverage to $50,000 for him and his wife, $20,000 for a child and raise the funeral benefit from $6,000 to $8,000 for an extra $14 a year. But Tim should really have other, more comprehensive life insurance for himself and his wife.

It would cost $23 a year to increase caregiver benefits to $325 a week from $250 to look after one dependant, and to $75 a week from $50 for each additional dependant.

The sum of all these items mentioned would lift Tim’s annual premium from $1,881 to as much as $3,014, with $500 deducted from collision and comprehensive coverage.

Beyond that, Tim could increase his basic weekly income replacement amount from a maximum of $400 to a maximum of $600, $800 or $1,000 a week. But he may already have short-term and long-term disability insurance with his job, or coverage that he bought personally. And for a further fee, he could buy inflation protection for his benefit payments.

Tim could be eligible for various discounts, or he might find less expensive coverage with another insurer.

When Tim goes shopping for insurance, he can use one of three free online rate comparison services or approach three or more brokers that represent several insurers. He could also approach agents that represent a particular company, or call certain other insurers directly.

He should decide on what coverage he will need in order to get an accurate comparison of prices.

The names of all insurers and their recent average price changes can be found on the website of the Financial Services Commission of Ontario under auto quarterly rate approvals.

A broker, agent or representative of an insurer that sells directly to the public should be able to provide advice on coverage options to suit your circumstances. The more helpful that person is, the better service you are likely to get in future.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mazda dealer who fired manager after infamous sale owns other store with him

Leo- Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You’ve been dealing with some serious obstacles and you’ve been getting pretty bogged down with it all. Step back and rest a little. You’ll then realize that there is more that can be done to ensure your success. You can start by worrying less. Instead of waiting for an ideal opportunity to occur, you’ll now find a way to actually make it happen.

Mazda dealer who fired manager after infamous sale owns other store with him

May 10, 2010

Tony Van Alphen

A Mazda dealer, who fired his general manager for allegedly selling a car for $25,000 more than its value, owns an area Suzuki store where the same former senior employee is a partner.

Sunny Bains, owner of Mazda of Orangeville, confirmed Monday his ex-manager “Moe” Shaikh is a vice-president and partner at Bains Suzuki of Pickering but he won’t be much longer.

“Absolutely, that will be ending very soon,” Bains said in an interview.

Bains fired Shaikh last week as general sales manager at the Mazda store after the industry’s regulator said he sold a 2010 car to an Orangeville woman for about $66,000 after taxes and the value of her trade-in vehicle when its value was actually less than $41,000.

The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, which regulates new and used car dealers, charged Mazda of Orangeville, Shaikh and another senior employee with “engaging in unfair practice, by making an unconscionable representation,” contrary to the Consumer Protection Act.

Among other things, the regulator’s probe found the dealership sold the Mazda6 G6 to the unemployed woman who should not have qualified for an expensive long-term loan and charged her extra items for three times their real value. Furthermore, the car wasn’t new, according to the regulator.

Bains, who also dismissed the other employee, said he could not comment on the allegations against his Mazda dealership because the case is before the courts.

Shaikh, 46, of Mississauga could not be reached for comment on the charge and his ties to the Suzuki dealership in Pickering. A court hearing is scheduled Wednesday.

The dealership could face a maximum fine of $250,000 and the former employees $100,000 each if a court finds them guilty.

The regulator could also revoke the registrations of the defendants that would prevent them from selling autos in Ontario.

Regarding the Suzuki dealership, Baines noted that although it lists Shaikh as the second top executive on its “team,” the former Mazda manager never played an active role in the store and only holds a small equity stake.

Bains acknowledged he has worked with Shaikh in the past at a Toronto Chrysler dealership before the general manager joined the Mazda store about 1½ years ago.

Bains acquired the Suzuki store last fall but another company is already close to buying it from him, an official for the automaker said.

Meanwhile, Mazda Canada called the details of the sale to the woman “very disturbing.”

“Let me assure you this is not a common situation among Mazda dealers, nor is it behavior that Mazda Canada condones,” said company spokesperson Greg Young.

After the Star reported the incident and charges last week, Bains said the dealership would immediately rescind the contract, reimburse all payments and apologize to the woman.

Kevin Coon, a lawyer representing Mazda of Orangeville, said it is discussing a speedy resolution of “all matters” with the regulator and the woman.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Indian call centres try a new tack: ‘This is Warren phoning from Calgary’

NOIDA, INDIA–It’s a few minutes before midnight on a recent evening and Warren Rungsung can smell a sale.

Sitting in a crowded call centre in Noida, a fast-growing suburb on the outskirts of New Delhi, Rungsung has spent 10 minutes chatting up Dave, a man in his 30s who lives in Chicago. Rungsung has been trying to convince Dave to buy erectile dysfunction medication.

A handsome 21-year-old from Manipur, a state in northeast India, Rungsung rubs his hands together. He’s drawn Dave into a surprisingly intimate conversation about bedroom anxieties and Dave seems ready to place an order.

But first a seemingly innocuous question: “Where you calling from?” Dave asks over a crackly phone connection.

Rungsung doesn’t miss a beat as he answers, “Calgary, Canada.”

His fingers fly over his keyboard as he types “Calgary forecast.”

“It’s nice today,” he says as a five-day forecast for the Canadian city pops up on his screen. “But we may get rain tomorrow.”

Rungsung’s trickery speaks to the uncertain times India’s call centre industry is facing.

India’s call centres — a key cog in the country’s championed services industry — have been going through hard times as anger has simmered in North America over jobs being outsourced overseas. The issue is a political minefield and in some call centres, including this one in Noida, employees are convinced it’s easier to say they’re calling from Canada.

“It’s believable,” Rungsung’s boss Sandip Mehra says with a shrug and a grin.

Perhaps a laid off General Motors worker in Michigan would be less likely to snap at a caller from Calgary rather than one from India, the thinking goes. It’s also easier to coax a U.S. customer to provide credit-card information for a purchase if they think they’re dealing with someone “next door” in Canada.

“Many scams are happening right now and Canada is close to the U.S.,” Mehra says. “With everything going on, people think it’s less risky to send your information to Canada.”

That kind of deception isn’t isolated, industry officials say.

It’s standard practice in so-called “accent neutralization” classes to teach new employees how to sound North American.

In a chilly office two floors below Rungsung’s cubicle, an instructor gives nine new employees tips for pronouncing words like “turtle” and “bucket” as westerners do. She is quick to correct her students’ efforts.

“Please don’t take this criticism to heart,” she says, as an air conditioner roars and her new colleagues scribble notes.

But as any Anglophone studying French knows, it’s not easy to disguise an accent and the Indian accent remains a point of contention for some clients.

That’s good news for the Philippines, where locals are said to speak with an American accent, and bad news for India.

The Philippines’ share of the call centre industry has climbed from virtually zero a decade ago to 15 per cent. Meanwhile, India’s share of the market, while growing in value, has fallen to 40 per cent from about 80 per cent in 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported recently.

Earlier this year, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines, boasted that her nation “with 90 million people has challenged India’s one billion population for (call centre) supremacy.”

India’s call centre business is also under fire from the World Trade Organization, which charges that the lengthy tax holidays enjoyed here by call centre companies are inappropriate.

But don’t count Indian call centres out just yet — many have begun diversifying.

At Genpact, one of the world’s largest outsourcing companies with 37,000 employees, call centre business now accounts for just one-fifth of company revenue, says chief operating officer Tiger Tyagarajan.

“It’s all about value added services,’ he says.

For one western-based financial services company, Genpact’s employees produce daily sales decks.

If the potential customer has leased a power plant, the financial services salesperson can immediately access information such as the lease rate and when it expires. “They spend less time researching and more time selling,” Tyagarajan says.

Told of Rungsung’s cunning, Tyagarajan nodded and said it’s become widespread practice among smaller industry players.

By contrast, Genpact’s call centre employees would try a different tactic. For instance, if they were phoning a customer in Boston who was overdue on paying their credit-card debt, they might start the call by saying that while the were calling from New Delhi, they were aware of a recent storm in the Boston area which might have caused the client to miss making their payment.

Back in Noida, Manoj Kumar Singh sits next to Rungsung and is similarly midway through his shift. The two started work at 6:30 p.m. and took a break around 10:30 for a piece of pizza. They make their last call to a customer each night at around 3:30 a.m.

Over the course of their shift, they figure to make 400-plus calls and speak to at least 20 or 30 potential customers everywhere from California to Florida.

Singh says some customers have asked him to become “friends” on the social networking website Facebook so he’s set up a fake profile using the name Darius Black, a name he also uses during sales calls.

“You really do have some people out there who just want to talk,” Singh says. “If it helps make the sale we do it.”

Leo- Monday, May 10, 2010

It’s no use running around in circles. That won’t do you any good. You appear to be looking in all the wrong places for something that is right there before you. The strain is getting to be too much, so stop the worrying and ease up on the fretting. Relax a little. Think about things that make you happy. If you can do that, what you now so keenly desire will appear quite naturally.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Orangeville Mazda Cancels Car Deal- Toronto Star Wins For Consumer

Madeline Leonard’s nightmare with an area Mazda dealership, who charged her an eye-popping $25,000 more than a car was worth, appears to have drawn to a close.

The dealer promised Friday night to tear up the Orangeville woman’s contract, reimburse all payments and apologize to her. Earlier in the day he fired two senior employees for their conduct in the sale of the 2010 Mazda6 G6 sedan.

“I will do whatever it takes to make this woman happy,” said Sonny Bains, owner of Mazda of Orangeville, although he stopped short of offering Leonard a new car for her troubles. “I don’t want her to be short one penny out of her pocket.”

On Friday, the Star reported that Leonard arrived at the Mazda dealership last December to replace her tires. She drove away the unexpected owner of a car whose price had been massively overinflated.

“I’m very excited and almost totally relieved,” she said Friday night. “It has been very stressful.”

Leonard, 56, who is intellectually disabled, said she had never intended to buy a car or trade in her other Mazda, but the salesman talked fast, confusing her with numbers, and she signed a deal.

A few days later, after doing some homework, she complained to the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, which regulates new and used car dealers.

“I felt manipulated and cheated,” she said.

The regulator’s investigation revealed that Leonard actually paid a whopping $66,000 for the car, including taxes and the value of a trade-in vehicle. The car should have cost $41,000 or less. Bains promises to reimburse Leonard $8,000 the dealership paid for her trade-in once Leonard returns the car.

Investigator Carrey Smith said the dealership had actually sold Leonard a “demonstrator” model, which dealers use for test driving. As well, add-on items had been sold three times what they should cost.

The dealership had also saddled her with an eight-year loan and heavy financing costs. Leonard, who is unemployed and lives on a disability pension in a subsidized apartment, should have never qualified for the loan, Smith said.

Last week, the regulator charged the dealership, business manager Kien Trung and sales manager Mohammed “Moe” Shaikh with “engaging in unfair practice by making an unconscionable representation” contrary to the provincial Consumer Protection Act.

In an interview on Thursday, Trung said he didn’t do anything wrong and “made a little bit of money on the deal.”

Bains said he could not discuss the reasons for the abrupt dismissals of the salesmen because the case is before the courts. The defendants are to appear in court next week.

“In my opinion, everyone thinks we did something wrong,” Bains said. “Therefore, I’m going to fix the situation. I do apologize for what she went through and suffered.’’

If found guilty, the dealership could face a maximum penalty of $250,000. The salesmen could receive fines of $100,000 each and/or two years less a day in jail. The regulator could also revoke their registrations to sell vehicles.

The Better Business Bureau of Mid-Western and Central Ontario has issued a D+ rating for the dealership, on a scale of A to F, after receiving complaints

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The scope of things ...

Leo- Weekend of Saturday, May 8, 2010

It seems that an awkward situation is thwarting your progress at a time when you can ill afford to be held up. The trouble however is not nearly as serious as you fear. Try and get your mind off what is blocking your way and on to finding the best way to carry out your mission. A solution is waiting to be discovered. By adopting a positive and determined attitude, it will come to you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Car salesmen charged for overselling by $25,000 May 06, 2010 Tony Van Alphen

The Mazda dealership in Orangeville may have given new meaning to the automaker’s slogan of “zoom, zoom, zoom” for motorist Madeline Leonard.

Leonard walked into the dealership wanting to replace the tires on her 2004 car.

By the time she left she was on the hook for a spiffy, black 2010 Mazda6 sedan at the eye-popping price of almost $66,000, after taxes and the value of her trade-in vehicle.

That’s $25,000 more than she should have paid, according to Ontario’s auto regulator.

She says “Moe,” the salesman, talked fast. The numbers whizzed by and before she knew it she had bought the 2010 model.

“I was overwhelmed and confused and I soon felt like I had been mistreated,” the 56-year-old woman said in an interview from her small, subsidized apartment in the town 85 km northwest of Toronto.

The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, which regulates new and used car dealers, took action after she complained. Its investigation found she should have paid about $41,000 for the vehicle — which wasn’t even new.

“In my eight years here, I haven’t seen a case like this,” said Carey Smith, the regulator’s director of investigations. “The deal was way over the top regarding pricing.”

Smith has charged Mazda of Orangeville and two senior employees with breaching Ontario legislation that protects consumers. The dealership could face a fine of up to $250,000 if found guilty.

Kien Trung, business manager at Mazda of Orangeville and one of the employees facing charges, said he did not treat Leonard improperly or make any big profits in the deal in late December.

“We didn’t do anything wrong in the case of this transaction,” said Trung. “We made a little bit of money on the deal. I guess she was not happy with it.”

In promotional messages, the dealership says it treats customers “with dignity and respect.”

But Smith said in Leonard’s case, the store and two employees used several tactics to unfairly jack up the price.

“They put a list price of a new vehicle on the model but it was a demonstrator that the dealer used with about 6,000 kilometres on it,” he noted.

Mazda Canada lists the base price of the new sedan at $39,969 on its national website, but the dealership allegedly posted a sticker of $45,846 on the car.

Smith said the salesmen also billed Leonard, who is intellectually disabled, about $4,500 for a “protection package” that included fabric guarding, rust and sound proofing and window etching. Other dealers charge about a third of that for the same items, he said.

Furthermore, Smith said Leonard, who is unemployed, should not have qualified for a loan from the dealer because her monthly income including a disability pension is less than $2,000.

But Smith added that didn’t stop the two employees from offering an eight-year loan that will result in about $16,000 in financing costs for her, including a final balloon payment of $7,000.

Mazda of Orangeville says in a promotional message for phone callers that owning “your dream vehicle might be easier than you think.” The message goes on: “If you are a great person with not-so-good credit, we have you in mind.”

Leonard said she originally came to the store to replace the tires on her 2004 Mazda3 and didn’t even want to buy a car.

“I wished I had never walked into the place,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of trouble keeping up with these payments. The stress has been terrible.”

Leonard described the salesman at the dealership as “slick” and the process mesmerized her. But after signing a contract and driving the vehicle away, she checked prices at other Mazda outlets.

“The differences were shocking,” she said. “I felt very disappointed how I was treated.”

The regulator charged the dealership; Trung, 38, of Vaughan; and sales manager Mohammed (Moe) Shaikh, 46, of Mississauga with “engaging in unfair practice by making an unconscionable representation,” contrary to the provincial Consumer Protection Act.

Trung said the defendants will plead not guilty when they appear in court this month.

Under the act, the employees could receive up to $100,000 each and/or two years less a day in jail if found guilty. The defendants could also be liable for damages to Leonard.

The regulator could also revoke the registrations of the dealerships and salesmen.

“Dealers tell me there is nothing wrong with making money but the law says there is something wrong if you take advantage of someone,” Smith said.

Mazda Canada said it would not decide on any action involving the dealership until a court rules on the charges.

“Obviously we expect our dealers and staff to operate professionally,” said spokesman Greg Young. “We’ll see what the (court) determination is.”

Mazda of Orangeville has also popped up on the radar screen of the Better Business Bureau of Mid-Western and Central Ontario.

Although the dealership is not a member, the bureau has received six complaints and issued a D+ rating on a scale from A+ to F since January 2008.

“It speaks for itself,” said a bureau official.

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