US Senate committee investigates credit card practices

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On Tuesday, the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs‘s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing titled “Credit Card Practices: Unfair Interest Rate Increases.” The hearing examined the circumstances under which credit card issuers may increase the interest rates of cardholders who are in compliance with the terms of their credit cards. It was a follow-up to a March 2007 hearing.

Subcommittee Chairman Carl Levin said in his opening statement: “Today’s focus is on credit card issuers who hike the interest rates of cardholders who play by the rules — meaning those folks who pay on time, pay at least the minimum amount due, and wake up one day to find their interest rate has gone through the roof — again, not because they paid late or exceeded the credit limit, but because their credit card issuer decided they should be ‘repriced’.”

Present to testify on behalf of credit card issuers were Roger C. Hochschild of Discover Financial Services, Bruce L. Hammonds of Bank of America Corporation, and Ryan Schneider of Capital One Financial Corporation.

Much of the 90 minute hearing focused on specific cases where interest rates were raised, allegedly because credit scores of the debtor dropped, and not because they were delinquent or otherwise behind on payments. According to Levin, this practice made it so that almost all payments went towards finance charges with almost none toward repaying the principal. This, he felt, is an unfair practice, as the credit card companies were negligent in informing their customers of the rate hikes and the reason for such hikes.

Families find themselves ensnared in a seemingly inescapable web of credit card debt.

The collective credit card debt of Americans totals an estimated US$900 billion. Issuers have come under pressure to disclose their policies in regards to setting fees and interest rates. The US Truth in Lending Act requires that terms of a loan be set forth up front. Fluctuating interest rates on credit cards would, on the surface, appear to violate this act.

Roger C. Hochschild disagreed, arguing that “every card transaction is a new extension of credit … This makes it difficult — and risky — to underwrite, and price, the loan based solely on the borrower’s credit-worthiness at the time of application [for the card].”

Ryan Schneider, agreed: “The ability to modify the terms of a credit card agreement to accommodate changes over time to the economy or the credit-worthiness of consumers must be preserved.”

“Attempts to interfere with the market here … will inevitably result in less credit being offered,” warned Bruce Hammonds. “Risk-based pricing has democratized access to credit,” he added.

All three credit card executives also mentioned an ongoing Federal Reserve System review of credit card rules that already proposes a 45-day notification ahead of any rate changes.

Committee members criticized the industry for varying practices. Included in the criticism was the practice of mailing checks to card-holders, failing to notify applicants that obtaining additional cards could lower their credit score and raise their rates, and “ambushing” card-holders with raised rates.

Ranking minority member of the subcommittee, Norm Coleman said, “families find themselves ensnared in a seemingly inescapable web of credit card debt. They particularly report being saddled with interest rates that skyrocketed on them seemingly out of the blue.”

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Occupation in London enters fifth day

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street and other “Occupy” protests, activists set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Saturday, and they plan to remain indefinitely. The protest thus far has been described as “largely peaceful” by a police spokesman.

On Saturday, an estimated thousand or more people attempted to protest in Paternoster Square, the site of the London Stock Exchange, but were blocked by police enforcing a High Court judgment. Julian Assange from Wikileaks also joined the protest to address the activists. A flag flies over the occupation showing the ‘Anonymous’ logo of a headless man in a black suit.

At around 9:30am Wednesday, many campers were still asleep, but around 30–50 people were listening in solidarity to trade union representatives from the National Shop Stewards Network, while 20 to 30 officers from the City of London police watched on. On the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the speakers spoke about a variety of struggles including strikes by electricians that started in August against Balfour Beatty, one of Britain’s largest construction firms. Solidarity was expressed with the travellers at Dale Farm, and speakers described how the media and others were trying to “divide” workers, students and elderly people. One of the speakers said that while today they are occupying the square in London, “tomorrow we will be occupying universities and colleges” and spoke of the suspension of Vik Chechi, the Unison branch secretary who has been suspended by Queen Mary University. By 9:45am, the trade union talks had finished and the sound system was reactivated and reggae music started playing.

After the talks peter out, activity begins to resume on the site: people sorting out tents and serving food, under signs and banners playfully mixing politics (“The London Stock Exchange: Britain’s Biggest Casino”) with Internet memes (a Reddit cartoon man depicted saying “Y U NO JOIN US?”).

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Armstrong announces retirement from professional cycling

Monday, April 18, 2005

At a press conference Monday, Lance Armstrong announced his intention to retire from professional cycling after going for his 7th Tour de France title in July 2005.

“Ultimately, athletes have to retire,” said the 33 year-old American. “The body doesn’t just keep going and going.”

Speculation on the retirement of the six-time Tour de France winner had been growing in recent months. The Texan had hinted at wanting to spend more time with his children and his cancer charity, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. There was talk he may marry his well-known girlfriend, rock-star singer Sheryl Crow.

Armstrong battled with testicular cancer in 1996 before coming back to win the 1999 edition of the legendary French race. He went on to win the next five Tours de France and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest riders in the history of the sport.

Asked about his chances for Tour success, he expressed hope tempered with praise for his opponents. “Can I win this year? I’m not sure, but I’ll try… This will be a different year for the Tour with Jan Ullrich looking better and a host of young riders coming up,” he said.

Should Armstrong follow through with his plans, he will begin his final race in the United States tomorrow at the first stage of the Tour de Georgia. He has successfully used the springtime race in the past as a tune-up to the Tour de France in the summer. The contract with his new team sponsor, the Discovery Channel, obligates him to compete in one more Tour de France.

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2008 Computex Preview: WiMAX, threat? opportunity?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

2008 Computex Taipei (a.k.a Taipei International Information Technology Show), the second largest IT show in the world, will start on June 3 to 7 at the TWTC Hall 1 & 3, Taipei International Convention Center (TICC), and TWTC Nangang, in conjunction with 2008 WiMAX Expo Taipei, which will start earlier at the Taipei Show Hall 2. With two IT-related industry shows will be concurrently showcased in different venues, it will bring on many convergences and opportunities for networking and mobile-related industries worldwide including Taiwan.

Since the Taipei Computer Association, Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), and Industrial Technology Research Institute preliminary imported the “WiMAX Forum Showcase & Conference” into the TICC, WiMAX-related topics were mostly focused by several worldwide media and industrial elites. In extremity, some technologies and solutions like eSNG, wireless medical care, wireless transmission, and mobile entertainment were showcased there. And the MOEA also signed MOUs with 5 world-class WiMAX companies to help the networking industry last year in Taiwan.

Even though the signing of MOUs and new technologies will bring opportunities for WiMAX-related industries, and the mobile devices will be progressively popular in the future and more slim like an UMPC, but some companies from information security industry were worried about the future trend because of invisible threats on the Internet.

As of “Asia-pacific IT Security Forum” and “IT Security Pavilion” of SecuTech Expo 2008, there were several changes on participation from IT industry, but due to a major impact of “Edison Chen’s photo scandal“, several crisis were exposed with improper habits on modern people when using the Internet.

There were several weak points on IM or P2P software, and USB mass storage devices. For example, Skype, a famous Internet telephony software, progressively became a hacking tool by several fraud groups although several enterprises had awareness on IM software and made several policies to prevent using them. According to a statistic on virus-infected users, even though there were 99% of Microsoft Windows users (infected by viruses), but a minor of 0.03% mobile device (e.g. Windows Mobile, Palm OS, etc.) users shouldn’t be unnoticed. If the infrastructure of WiMAX technology is matured, although it (WiMAX) will bring convergences and opportunities for networking and digital content industries and bring on mobile populations, as the fraud groups updated their crime tools and extended their platform into mobile devices, there will be a lot of risks for mobile and Internet users as they welcomed the WiMAX technology.

It’s a real deal that the WiMAX will bring different kind profits and benefits for different industries, but before the WiMAX became the trend, if Internet users didn’t cultivate proper habits on using the Internet, the WiMAX will still bring on threats for end-users and industries.

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Italian police find 24 children living in Rome’s sewers

Monday, April 6, 2009

98 people, including 24 children, were found Saturday by Italian police in the sewer system of Rome.

The Afghan youths were reported to be between the ages of 10 and 15. According to the newspaper La Repubblica, the children had stowed away on trailer trucks traveling from Turkey and Greece. They had spent nights sleeping in a standing position in filthy sewer pipes after removing the manhole covers and some of them were found in a sickly condition.

There had been reports to the police of children under the Ostiense train station, a common place for the homeless to seek shelter on cold nights.

The children, who do not speak Italian, are under the care of Rome’s Social Services. Efforts are being made by interpreters to identify the children who traveled without parental care.

Save the Children said that Afghan minors in Rome have increased to 264 in 2007 from 32 in 2004.

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Podolski announces retirement from international football

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Yesterday, Poland-born German football player and Galatasaray S.K. forward Lukas Podolski announced retirement from international football.

Debuting internationally in 2004, Podolski has won 129 international caps, Germany’s third all time most capped player after Lothar Matthäus and Miroslav Klose. 31-year-old Lukas Podolski is the third top-scorer for Germany, netting 48 goals.

Four years ago, Podolski became the youngest player to make 100 international appearances for Germany aged 27 years 13 days. He was part of the German squad for the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament in France making his final appearance for Germany against Slovakia which was his seventh major tournament.

Podolski won the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Podolski was awarded Best Young Player in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, hosted in Germany. Podolski said, “I feel like my focus has shifted […] My time is over […] I arrived in Germany as a two-year-old boy with basically only a football under my arm and am now a world champion. That is more than I could ever have dreamt of.”

German football manager Joachim Löw said, “Just like Basti [Bastian Schweinsteiger], Lukas was always a constant for me. We have always relied on him and still do to this day. He is a role model in terms of his professionalism and attitude, and he always puts the team’s success ahead of anything else.” ((de))German language: ?Lukas war genauso wie Basti [Bastian Schweinsteiger] immer eine feste Größe für mich. Auf ihn war und ist Verlass, bei aller Lockerheit und Leichtigkeit, für die er steht, ist er ein Vorbild an Professionalität und Einstellung, dem Erfolg hat er immer alles untergeordnet, auch sich selbst..

Podolski was the fifth player to retire from Germany’s 2014 World Cup squad. Last month, German captain Bastian Schweinsteiger announced retirement from international football. Other players who left the German national squad after winning the World Cup are Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, and Per Mertesacker.

 This story has updates See Podolski plays his last international match; scores the winner, March 24, 2017 

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO apologies for financial planning scandal

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ian Narev, the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, this morning “unreservedly” apologised to clients who lost money in a scandal involving the bank’s financial planning services arm.

Last week, a Senate enquiry found financial advisers from the Commonwealth Bank had made high-risk investments of clients’ money without the clients’ permission, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars lost. The Senate enquiry called for a Royal Commission into the bank, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Mr Narev stated the bank’s performance in providing financial advice was “unacceptable”, and the bank was launching a scheme to compensate clients who lost money due to the planners’ actions.

In a statement Mr Narev said, “Poor advice provided by some of our advisers between 2003 and 2012 caused financial loss and distress and I am truly sorry for that. […] There have been changes in management, structure and culture. We have also invested in new systems, implemented new processes, enhanced adviser supervision and improved training.”

An investigation by Fairfax Media instigated the Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning division and ASIC.

Whistleblower Jeff Morris, who reported the misconduct of the bank to ASIC six years ago, said in an article for The Sydney Morning Herald that neither the bank nor ASIC should be in control of the compensation program.

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John Constable painting location mystery solved after 195 years

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The mystery of the location of a viewpoint used by English painter John Constable has been solved, after nearly 200 years. The Stour Valley and Dedham Church was painted in Suffolk, England, between 1814 and 1815, but changes to the landscape meant that the spot he chose was not known, despite the best efforts of historians and art experts.

Now the puzzle has been answered. Martin Atkinson, who works for the National Trust as property manager for East Suffolk, used clues from the painting and looked at old maps to track down the viewpoint. Trees had grown, a hedgerow had been planted and boundaries had moved or disappeared, but Atkinson eventually worked out where Constable had stood. He said, “When I discovered that I had worked out the location where Constable painted this particular masterpiece, I couldn’t believe it. All the pieces of the jigsaw finally fitted together.”

Atkinson used an 1817 map of East Bergholt, where Constable grew up, as a reference point, but found that the view would have changed not long after the painting was completed. “The foreground didn’t fit at all, it was quite unusual as we know Constable painted it in the open air so he would have been standing in the scene. The hedgerow in his work no longer exists and there’s another hedgerow that runs across the scene today which wasn’t there. When you stand on the road on which he would have stood, and use the oak tree as a reference point, you see the same view. It’s great to see where an old master stood – and be inspired by the same view,” he said.

Suffolk, where Constable painted many of his finest paintings, is often called “Constable country”. Most, but not all, of the locations that Constable depicted are known. The picture is now housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

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B.B. King’s daughters allege blues musician was poisoned

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Two daughters of blues legend B.B. King are claiming on Monday that he was poisoned by business manager LaVerne Toney and personal assistant Myron Johnson. The allegations were made by daughters Karen Williams and Patty King in affidavits provided by their lawyer to the Associated Press.

“I believe my father was poisoned and that he was administered foreign substances,” Williams and King said in identically worded sections of the affidavits. “I believe my father was murdered.”

Williams and King also allege that family members were prevented from visiting their father prior to his death. The lawyer for King’s estate says the claims are ridiculous.

“I hope they have a factual basis that they can demonstrate for their defamatory and libelous allegations,” lawyer Brent Bryson said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Bryson says that King was appropriately cared for by medical professionals up until his death on May 14 in Las Vegas.

An autopsy of B.B. King’s body was carried out on Sunday by the Clark County, Nevada coroner’s office. The coroner’s office said on Twitter that it would be a minimum of six to eight weeks before results of the autopsy are finalised.

The Las Vegas Police department said that a potential homicide investigation into the death of the blues legend will depend on autopsy findings.

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200 candles: Chileans celebrate country’s Bicentennial

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chile is celebrating its Bicentennial, with several events that have been organized by the government for almost a decade. It commemorates two hundred years since the First Government Junta of 1810 was formed, starting the Independence process, that ended in 1818 after Bernardo O’Higgins proclaimed it.

The Bicentennial takes place on a holiday from September 17th until 21st. Sebastián Piñera inaugurated the official fondas (places where typical food and drinks of Chile are sold; similar to a tavern) earlier on Friday. Piñera also danced a “pie” of Cueca, Chile’s national dance, with Government Spokeswoman Ena Von Baer.

More than 60 thousand people gathered on Plaza de la Ciudadanía (Citizen’s Square) in Santiago to celebrate the Bicentennial. There was a projection of historical images that also contained a message from the trapped miners in Copiapó. A giant flag of Chile (18 meters of height, 27 of width; weighing 200 kilograms) was raised on the square on Friday morning.

Celebrations of the Bicentennial in Pichilemu started earlier this month. On September 2, two thousand people lined up in a formation to create the message “Viva Chile Bicentenario Cardenal Caro” on Pichilemu beach “Las Terrazas”. The message was used to create a postal stamp to be released worldwide. The event was promoted by the Government of Cardenal Caro Province.

Private schools in the city, such as Colegio Preciosa Sangre, prepared events specially for their students. On Thursday, “Fonda Don Vicente Nario” was opened on Preciosa Sangre. Several games were performed there on that morning, including “el emboque”, “ponerle la cola al burro” (to put the tail to the donkey), and others.

Another event on Preciosa Sangre took place on Thursday night, when students recreated scenes of the History of Chile, including: a tertulia featuring Manuel Montt (starred by Luis Rojas); a chingana (a popular tavern); and selected colonial professions, such as the “motero” (person who sold motemei and chestnuts).

The official fonda of Pichilemu, La Bombonera, was inaugurated on Thursday night by Mayor Roberto Córdova, who danced cueca with people who attended the event. According to Córdova, at least 30,000 people have arrived at Pichilemu as of Friday, and it is estimated that another 30,000 will arrive during the next three days.

A great event took place on Pichilemu beach on Friday afternoon. Chilean typical games highlighted the event. People danced reggaeton, Américo’s cumbias and cuecas, while others were swimming. The National Shoe Fair (Feria Nacional del Calzado) was established on Agustín Ross Hotel on Thursday, and will stay in the town until September 23rd. Alicia Grez, who works on a kiosk in the Pichileminian Craft Fair located in front of One Discotheque, said that “sales have been excellent,” and that “[they] won’t miss the possibility to experience such an event like this.”

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File:Parque bicentenario.JPG

Postcard released by the Chilean Government in 1910. At the top, from left to right: José Miguel Carrera, José de San Martín, Bernardo O’Higgins, Lord Thomas Cochrane, and Manuel Rodríguez. At the bottom, from left to right: Manuel Vicuña, Manuel Blanco Encalada, José Manuel Balmaceda and Pedro Montt.

Official poster of the Centennial of Chile.

Official plans for the Centennial of Chile, in 1910. Pedro Montt is pictured at the top, and Bernardo O’Higgins at the bottom. Image: Memoria Chilena.

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