Australian government to tackle banks on mortgages

Sunday, January 13, 2008

In response to higher than expected mortgage rate increases last week, Australian treasurer Wayne Swan flagged changes to banking regulations to increase competition between lenders on home mortgages.

Swan announced yesterday he had sought a Treasury report on the banking sector ahead of talks over the next fortnight on reforms to make it easier for bank customers to move mortgages between lenders by forcing banks to reduce exit fees, to “make the market more competitive”.

“Everybody knows we’ve been impacted upon by the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis that has pushed up the cost of money,” Swan said.

“But, as I said last week, some of the increases we saw by the banks were not justified. In my view, they were excessive. I urge people to vote with their feet. If there are obstacles to people voting with their feet, switching their accounts, we’ll have a look at those.”

The banking industry, however, insists that loan refinancing is not a complicated process currently, according to the head of the Australian Bankers Association (ABA), David Bell. “There is a competitive marketplace for home loans and the Cannex website shows the many products that are available,” said Bell. “Regarding the switching of transaction accounts, the Australian Payments Clearing Association is conducting a community consultation process on this issue. ABA member banks support this process.”

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Four families left homeless after apartment fire in Buffalo, New York

Monday, June 25, 2007

Buffalo, New York —At least four families have been left homeless after a fire ripped through an apartment in a four-apartment building at 630-632 Plymouth Avenue in Buffalo, New York. One person had to jump out of a second floor window to get to safety and one firefighter was injured while fighting the blaze.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. (Eastern time) firefighters were called to the building after initial calls reported that an oven had caught on fire after grease had spilled in Apt. #4. When firefighters arrived, Apt. #4 was completely engulfed in flames.

“When [the firefighters] arrived, one person was trapped on the second floor, but jumped out of a window to the neighbors second floor porch. The fire started in a kitchen oven, maybe by grease, but an investigation is being conducted,” said Buffalo Fire Department Chief Joe Fahey.

“One firefighter was injured,” added Fahey. Catalano, the injured firefighter, and whose first name is not known, received a small cut under his left eye, but did not require hospitalization and was treated at the scene by paramedics.

It is estimated that there is at least “US$100,000 in damage. $60,000 damage to the building and $40,000 to the contents,” said Fahey. At least three floors and two apartments were severely damaged by the fire.

All of the building’s occupants made it out safely, and none were injured. Arson is not believed to be the cause.

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Edmund White on writing, incest, life and Larry Kramer

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What you are about to read is an American life as lived by renowned author Edmund White. His life has been a crossroads, the fulcrum of high-brow Classicism and low-brow Brett Easton Ellisism. It is not for the faint. He has been the toast of the literary elite in New York, London and Paris, befriending artistic luminaries such as Salman Rushdie and Sir Ian McKellen while writing about a family where he was jealous his sister was having sex with his father as he fought off his mother’s amorous pursuit.

The fact is, Edmund White exists. His life exists. To the casual reader, they may find it disquieting that someone like his father existed in 1950’s America and that White’s work is the progeny of his intimate effort to understand his own experience.

Wikinews reporter David Shankbone understood that an interview with Edmund White, who is professor of creative writing at Princeton University, who wrote the seminal biography of Jean Genet, and who no longer can keep track of how many sex partners he has encountered, meant nothing would be off limits. Nothing was. Late in the interview they were joined by his partner Michael Caroll, who discussed White’s enduring feud with influential writer and activist Larry Kramer.

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Sydney bus driver accused of kidnapping schoolchildren

Friday, May 6, 2005

A Sydney bus driver dropped off a group of Mater Maria Catholic College school children at a Brookvale bus depot on Thursday, rather than following the normal route near their homes. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union said the incident occurred because the children were misbehaving and racially taunting the driver for a second day in a row. Parents of some of the Warriewood children have conceded that this did occur.

Some parents accused the driver of kidnapping their children, and asked police to press charges. The New South Wales State Government asked to see the CCTV footage, which does not include audio, as part of an inquiry into the incident.

Transport Minister John Watkins dismissed this as an overreaction. “To call it kidnapping or criminal behaviour is right over the top,” he said.

The union intends to support the driver, saying that he acted responsibly under the circumstances, and the children were safe at all times.

The opposition transport spokesman Peter Debnam has said that this is not an isolated incident, especially in rural areas, and accused Premier Bob Carr of spinelessness for not supporting bus drivers.

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World’s most expensive hotel-casino opens in Las Vegas

Friday, April 29, 2005

The world’s most expensive hotel-casino ever has opened in Las Vegas, Nevada. The casino, which was designed and built over a period of five years, cost US$2.7 billion to construct. The hotel stands nearly fifty stories above the Las Vegas valley, with a 180-foot tall mountain in front of the main entrance.

Numerous lavish touches contributed to the high expense of the development. The sign in front of the Wynn property has an unusual mechanical design, with a large piece containing the Wynn logo, which can move vertically up or down as different announcements are presented.

“I think it’s going to start a shift of power. It’s been the south for a long time. Things will start moving to the north because of Wynn Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson with the expansion of the Venetian, the New Frontier — that whole area will become the new hot area of Las Vegas for the next decade or so,” gaming expert Anthony Curtis told Las Vegas KLAS TV.

As the property opened to the public, developer Steve Wynn greeted visitors at the front entrance.

“It’s always fascinating to watch people enter the thing and get their first moment after we open the doors,” Wynn told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

File:WynnSign.JPG

Analysts are not too concerned about the cost of the Wynn development. Wynn paid off the cost of The Mirage hotel-casino in 18 months, much earlier than the planned seven years for which the debt had been scheduled for repayment.

“If you remember the opening of The Mirage in 1989, Wynn needed to make a nut of $1 million a day. Everyone thought he was nuts; ‘couldn’t be done,’ they all said,” Las Vegas history department Chairman Hal Rothman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Wynn sold his interest in Mirage Resorts to MGM Grand (which became MGM Mirage and is now run by Kirk Kerkorian) for US$6.4 billion back in 2000, then turned around and purchased the property for the Wynn hotel-casino for US$275 million. The property was previously the home of the Desert Inn.

The hotel has 2,359 rooms, and a few hundred deluxe suites and “parlors” for high rollers. The casino has 1,960 slot machines and 137 table games on a 111,000 square foot casino floor. A FerrariMaserati dealership and the Le Reve stage show, featuring a million gallon water tank, round out the expensive offerings.

A round of golf will go for US$500 on the elaborate golf course located behind the main building.

All of these specifications add up to a record construction cost of over one million US dollars per room. Other expensive Las Vegas properties cost a fraction of the price, such as the Bellagio, which cost half the price at US$533,000 per room. The most expensive hotel property in the world was previously the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui, Hawaii, which cost US$775,000 per room.

“Yes, (Wynn) may be in over his head, but then he has found ways to survive before,” Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Several of Wynn’s largest competitors spoke with admiration of the property and looked forward to its impact on Las Vegas.

“I’ve never understood the hand-wringing about something new, especially in Las Vegas and Atlantic City,” Harrah’s Chairman and CEO Gary Loveman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Other casino bosses from the Mandalay and the MGM Mirage had positive comments as well, hoping to pick up some new business from the development.

“It’s a positive in terms of bringing more visitors,” Mandalay Resort Group President and CEO Glenn Schaeffer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“Steve will build a great property and bring new people to town. If we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, then we’ll pick up some of that business also,” MGM Mirage Chairman and CEO Terry Lanni told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Thousands of visitors gathered for hours in front of the property before it opened. Security guards had to monitor the number of visitors entering the building.

“I think it’s spectacular,” David Schwartz, coordinator of the Gaming Studies Research Center at the University of Nevada Las Vegas told Reuters.

“People were pushing and shoving,” Las Vegan Kathie Anderson told Associated Press.

“There is nobody in the world who creates such entertaining and beautiful casinos,” British billionaire Richard Branson told Associated Press from the casino floor. “I would say every other casino must be nervous. He’s lifted the bar dramatically,” Branson said.

“This would be hard to top,” Las Vegan Marlene DeMarco told Reuters.

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China overtakes Germany as world’s biggest exporter

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chinese officials have said that their country’s exports surged last December to edge out Germany as the world’s biggest exporter.

The official Xinhua news agency reported today that figures from the General Administration for Customs showed that exports jumped 17.7% in December from a year earlier. Over the whole of 2009 total Chinese exports reached US$1.2 trillion, above Germany’s forecast $1.17 trillion.

Huang Guohua, a statistics official with the customs administration, said the December exports rebound was an important turning point for China’s export sector. He commented that the jump was an indication that exporters have emerged from their downslide.

“We can say that China’s export enterprises have completely emerged from their all-time low in exports,” he said.

However, although China overtook Germany in exports, China’s total foreign trade — both exports and imports — fell 13.9% last year.

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Wikinews Shorts: January 1, 2009

A compilation of brief news reports for Thursday, January 1, 2009.

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

File:Dual pricing.JPG

The European country of Slovakia will have the euro replace the koruna as its official currency, starting January 1, 2009. Slovakia is the sixteenth country to start using the euro. The official conversion rate is set at 30.126 koruna to one euro.

Joaquín Almunia, the European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, stated that the conversion will be “a proud moment for the euro area […] the euro has become the symbol of EU identity and is protecting us against the tremendous external shocks that we have had to cope with since the summer of 2007.”

January 1 also marks the tenth anniversary of the euro being introduced as globally exchangeable currency.

Sources

  • “Slovakia poised to embrace euro” — BBC News Online, December 31, 2008
  • “Slovakia Becomes 16th EU Country to Adopt Euro” — novinite.com, December 18, 2008
  • DPA. “Brussels hails Slovakia’s ‘superb’ euro entry” — The Earth Times, December 29, 2008

A woman in Tennessee, United States dressed up like a nurse and tried to steal a baby from a hospital’s maternity room but police arrested her. Adriene Johnson, 24, is now in custody after trying to steal the baby. The woman entered the hospital’s maternity room dressed in scrubs and was going to take the baby’s temperature said police.

Security was alerted to Johnson when she tried to take the baby out of the hospital. The room was then locked down and the baby was handed over to the doctor. Johnson was on bond after being arrested by police on Monday. She was also charged with trying to steal a baby’s rocker from a Wal-Mart which she tried to get a refund on.

Sources

  • Associated Press. “Police: Dressed as nurse, woman tries stealing kid” — Yahoo! News, December 31, 2008
  • “Woman dressed as nurse tries to steal baby from maternity ward” — The Telegraph, December 31, 2008

Wikinoticias, the Spanish edition of Wikinews, has reached 4000 articles two days after the Polish edition had published its 9000th article. The news item was published today at 8:27PM (UTC) and it has information about the death of the South African anti-apartheid activist and politician Helen Suzman.

Wikinoticias is the seventh largest Wikinews edition, based on number of published stories.

Sources

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President-elect Sarkozy promises change for France

Monday, May 7, 2007

After winning the presidential election on Sunday, President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy immediately began to lay out his plans for France. Political observers consider the 53% to 47% the victory over Ségolène Royal, a “resounding win,” lending credibility to his policies.

Sarkozy is expected to announce his government soon. He left Monday to go on a retreat with his family, while considering his cabinet line-up and strategy for the important parliamentary election in June.

Cheering crowds were seen at Place de la Concorde in Paris. “I am proud to be French with him as president. He is a man of action, he doesn’t give up,” said Laurent Scipio, 55. “We are happy because Sarkozy will let people keep their hard-earned money,” said Martine Vellard, 52. “He will discourage people from living off benefits.”

Elsewhere people were not so happy. Rioting broke out on the other side of the city at Place de la Bastille. Unrest was reported from several suburbs. “Sarkozy ran a better campaign. Ségolène did not have a positive message. She only rallied those who were against Sarkozy,” said Doriana, 22, a Royal supporter. Another had a different view: “Sarkozy won because he manipulated the media,” and added “He is just like [Silvio] Berlusconi. We have a fascist in power!”

Tonight is not the victory of one France over another.

Official figures released by police today, said Sunday’s unrest saw 730 cars set ablaze and 78 policemen injured across France. 592 people were arrested in the violent protests against Sarkozy.

His party, the Union for a Popular Movement, wants to capitalize on the victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 10 and June 17. “We are going to see how we can give him the biggest parliamentary majority possible so he can put into effect his undertakings,” Alliot-Marie said.

“We have to act, the French people expect it. They have given him a real mandate,” said Sarkozy’s chief of staff, Claude Guéant.

“As he said again last night, he wants to carry out all the commitments he made during the campaign,” said Michèle Alliot-Marie, the Defense Minister and high-ranking member of UMP, outside his campaign-headquarters.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who has often been described as a devisive cabinet minister, was conciliatory in his victory speech. “France has given me everything, and now it is my turn to give back to France what France has given me,” he said. “Tonight is not the victory of one France over another,” he continued and pledged to represent “all of France and leave no one by the side of the road.”

Sarkozy is expected to seek an end to the 35-hour workweek which was one the mainstays of his campaign. “I want a France where everyone has a chance – but chance comes for those who work for it,” he said. Another part of his so-called “economic revolution” is a pledge to bring unemployment down from current 8.3% to below 5% by 2012, the end of his term.

I want a France where everyone has a chance – but chance comes for those who work for it.

Another reform would be a curb on the amount of power that is held by labor unions. “All attempt to pass things by force would backfire,” said Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of Force Ouvrière one of the five biggest unions in France.

Sarkozy also proposes allowing employees to work overtime, as well as reducing restrictions on hiring and firing staff. He is also expected to tighten immigration laws.

Sarkozy announced that “France is back in Europe,” saying that the European Union should pay more attention to the people it is supposed to protect. During Jacques Chirac’s term the European Constitution failed to pass. Sarkozy favors a shorter, less ambitious treaty for changes in the EU to be submitted to the French parliament for approval, and not voted on in a referendum.

“I enjoyed that he said the word ‘Europe,’ which in the campaign was a non-word,” Peter Radu?ski, a former advisor to Helmut Kohl, said. “I hope it will get us moving forward.”

The only issue of foreign policy that Royal and Sarkozy debated was the EU membership of Turkey. Sarkozy is opposed to admission of Turkey. This concerned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who told reporters: “Our heart-felt wish is that we won’t hear the kind of statements made by Mr. Sarkozy during his election campaign in our bilateral relations as well, both in contacts between France and Turkey and in the EU process.”

Nicolas Sarkozy also wants to thaw the oft frosty relations between France and the United States. “I want to call out to our American friends to tell them that they can count on our friendship,” he said shortly after being declared the winner.

“He will be a better partner for the United States,” said Peter Radunski. “It was important that he mentioned he wants a good relationship, which for a French president, is very significant.”

“He does not come to office with the baggage of a certain kind of anti-Americanism,” observed Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“We know that there have been areas of disagreement but on the other hand there are certainly real opportunities to work together on a broad range of issues,” White House spokesperson Tony Snow said.

“I mean, it would be nice to have someone who is head of France who doesn’t almost have a knee-jerk reaction against the United States,” U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer told CNN.

In a recent television interview, Sarkozy said he is opposed to keeping French troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.

“I want to tell all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, liberty, democracy and humanism, that France will be at their side, that they can count on her,” Sarkozy said, hoping to base French foreign policy on a commitment to human rights.

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BDSM as business: An interview with the owners of a dungeon

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Torture proliferates American headlines today: whether its use is defensible in certain contexts and the morality of the practice. Wikinews reporter David Shankbone was curious about torture in American popular culture. This is the first of a two part series examining the BDSM business. This interview focuses on the owners of a dungeon, what they charge, what the clients are like and how they handle their needs.

When Shankbone rings the bell of “HC & Co.” he has no idea what to expect. A BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism) dungeon is a legal enterprise in New York City, and there are more than a few businesses that cater to a clientèle that wants an enema, a spanking, to be dressed like a baby or to wear women’s clothing. Shankbone went to find out what these businesses are like, who runs them, who works at them, and who frequents them. He spent three hours one night in what is considered one of the more upscale establishments in Manhattan, Rebecca’s Hidden Chamber, where according to The Village Voice, “you can take your girlfriend or wife, and have them treated with respect—unless they hope to be treated with something other than respect!”

When Shankbone arrived on the sixth floor of a midtown office building, the elevator opened up to a hallway where a smiling Rebecca greeted him. She is a beautiful forty-ish Long Island mother of three who is dressed in smart black pants and a black turtleneck that reaches up to her blond-streaked hair pulled back in a bushy ponytail. “Are you David Shankbone? We’re so excited to meet you!” she says, and leads him down the hall to a living room area with a sofa, a television playing an action-thriller, an open supply cabinet stocked with enema kits, and her husband Bill sitting at the computer trying to find where the re-release of Blade Runner is playing at the local theater. “I don’t like that movie,” says Rebecca.

Perhaps the most poignant moment came at the end of the night when Shankbone was waiting to be escorted out (to avoid running into a client). Rebecca came into the room and sat on the sofa. “You know, a lot of people out there would like to see me burn for what I do,” she says. Rebecca is a woman who has faced challenges in her life, and dealt with them the best she could given her circumstances. She sees herself as providing a service to people who have needs, no matter how debauched the outside world deems them. They sat talking mutual challenges they have faced and politics (she’s supporting Hillary); Rebecca reflected upon the irony that many of the people who supported the torture at Abu Ghraib would want her closed down. It was in this conversation that Shankbone saw that humanity can be found anywhere, including in places that appear on the surface to cater to the inhumanity some people in our society feel towards themselves, or others.

“The best way to describe it,” says Bill, “is if you had a kink, and you had a wife and you had two kids, and every time you had sex with your wife it just didn’t hit the nail on the head. What would you do about it? How would you handle it? You might go through life feeling unfulfilled. Or you might say, ‘No, my kink is I really need to dress in women’s clothing.’ We’re that outlet. We’re not the evil devil out here, plucking people off the street, keeping them chained up for days on end.”

Below is David Shankbone’s interview with Bill & Rebecca, owners of Rebecca’s Hidden Chamber, a BDSM dungeon.

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