Claudia Parsons http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons Claudia Parsons's Profile Thu, 23 May 2013 16:30:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 Spreading the word that Latin lives, a monk comes to New York http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/23/us-usa-education-latin-idUSBRE94M0SQ20130523?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2013/05/23/spreading-the-word-that-latin-lives-a-monk-comes-to-new-york/#comments Thu, 23 May 2013 16:07:30 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/?p=142 NEW YORK (Reuters) – “Quomodo dicis latine life-jacket?” quipped one of the Latin-speaking passengers on a tour boat circumnavigating Manhattan on a rainy Sunday morning in May, just after the captain’s safety announcement. “How do you say life-jacket in Latin?”

Luckily, one of the greatest living experts in spoken Latin was on hand with the answer, instantly recalling the word used by the Roman poet Horace in his “Satires” about 2,000 years ago.

“Horace says, ‘When you grow up, nabis sine cortice’ – you will swim without a float, or a life-jacket,” said Father Reginald Foster, a Carmelite monk and priest.

Foster spent most of his working life translating the Pope’s words into Latin at the Vatican and teaching spoken Latin to Catholic scholars, Latin teachers, graduate students and anybody else who was interested.

Now retired from the Vatican and living in a monastery in his hometown of Milwaukee, Foster is something of a celebrity in the rarefied world of Latin scholarship. His visit to New York last weekend, at the invitation of a foundation created to continue his teaching work, drew former students (including this reporter) from as far as Maine and Virginia.

On the agenda: seminars on teaching Latin as well as Latin-themed excursions such as a tour of the New York Botanical Gardens with Latin commentary and a visit to the site of George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware to read “Life of George Washington in Latin Prose,” by Francis Glass, published in 1835.

On the boat trip, the text was a description of the island of Manhattan published in Latin in 1633 by the Dutch explorer Johannes de Laet. The writer remarked on the weather (much like what he was used to), the richness of the soil (good for producing wine and cannabis) and the savagery of the original inhabitants (no religion or politics).

The Paideia Institute (paideia-institute.org/), which organized the visit, is dedicated to promoting the study of Latin at a time when fewer American children are learning any foreign languages.

According to the American Classical League, Latin enrollment is not declining as fast as other languages and it is even expanding at the elementary school level, largely due to the expansion of charter schools.

Paideia runs a Latin summer school in Rome modeled on a program Foster ran for years. Students read original texts in the locations they were written, from Cicero’s speeches in the Roman forum to Pliny’s description of the eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii, which was destroyed by the volcano in 79 AD.

Since the focus is on living Latin, they are also pushed to speak the language.

“The first couple of days, it was pretty quiet,” admits Christopher Cochran, 20, a junior at Princeton who attended Paideia’s first session in Rome in 2011.

Foster, who is in his 70s and uses a wheelchair, still teaches. He also is working on a series of books, “Corpus Latinitatis,” compiling the teaching materials he developed over several decades. (www.thelatinlanguage.org) The first installment, titled “Ossa Latinitatis Sola,” or “The mere bones of Latin,” is now with the publisher, Catholic University of America Press, which has yet to set a date for publication.

Foster laments that for many people, learning Latin will forever be associated with rote-learning declensions and conjugations. Teachers who impose that “are committing crimes against humanity,” he said in a speech to Latin teachers explaining his methods a few hours after the boat tour.

He has always incorporated every kind of Latin in his teaching, from Roman poets to the liturgy, from St. Augustine to Papal encyclicals he translated himself.

“We start more or less with Plautus, around 184 BC,” he said. “And we go up until tweets that we wrote yesterday for the Pope in Latin that are going around the world tomorrow.”

The Pope’s Latin tweets, penned with a little help from Foster who is in regular touch with his successor at the Vatican, can be found at @Pontifex_ln.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)

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New York region struggles to move on a week after Sandy http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/05/us-storm-sandy-hurricane-idUSBRE89N16J20121105?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2012/11/05/new-york-region-struggles-to-move-on-a-week-after-sandy/#comments Mon, 05 Nov 2012 06:03:15 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/?p=140 NEW YORK (Reuters) – A week after superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City and the surrounding area, schools were set to reopen on Monday and life expected to slowly return to normal for many, but close to 2 million people still have no power as cold weather sets in.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters faced a frustrating journey into the city as public transportation remained spotty. Service on many rail lines was reduced and the subway was running at about 80 percent of its normal service.

The challenges were more severe for tens of thousands of people unable to return to their homes and many more than that living without power or heat. A strong “Nor’easter” storm was forecast to bring freezing temperatures and more rain and wind by the middle of the week.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday 30,000 to 40,000 people in New York City were in need of shelter, including 20,000 in public housing.

Hurricane Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before turning north and slamming into the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on Monday with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds and a huge storm surge. The U.S. death toll has risen to at least 113.

Most New York schools were due to reopen on Monday, though some still lacked power and others were being used as shelters.

Concerns are also growing that voters displaced by Sandy won’t get to polling stations on Election Day on Tuesday. Scores of voting centers were rendered useless by the record surge of seawater in New York and New Jersey.

New Jersey has said it will allow people displaced by the storm to vote by email. In New York City, some 143,000 voters will be reassigned to different polling sites. Both states are normally easy wins for the Democrats.

About 1.9 million homes and businesses remained in the dark on Sunday as the pressure mounted on power providers to restore electricity to areas hit hardest by the storm.

In New York, utilities came under increasing pressure to restore heat and light to some 650,000 customers. More than half of those were served by the Long Island Power Authority, which was singled out for criticism by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Tab Hauser, deputy mayor of the still-dark Village of Flower Hill on the north shore of Long Island, said that not only has the clean-up been too slow, Long Island Power Authority “is doing nothing to prepare for the future.”

He would like to see the utility consider underground lines and metal rather than wood poles. “Every year it’s a Band-aid,” he said. “This can happen next year and nothing will change.”

Lee Green, 45, a firefighter who owns a property management company in Westhampton Beach on the southern shore of Long Island, said there were parts of the coastline “where the dunes are just completely wiped out and there’s a 20 foot drop from the back of the homes to the beach.”

He said the fire department had been deluged with dozens of emergency calls around the clock. “Wires down, road hazards, car accidents, telephone pole fires, alarms going off,” he said.

“The power grid out here is really old and quirky. And when it shorts out, it causes chaos all over town.”

In New Jersey, about a quarter of the state remained without power. For many, that meant they had no heat.

After a peak of 8.5 million outages across 21 states affected by the massive storm, the rate of restoring power each day has eased as line crews must work on increasingly difficult and isolated outages.

Another challenge was finding fuel, as power outages and supply disruptions closed many gas stations.

In New Jersey, where residents were waiting for hours in line at gas stations, Republican Governor Chris Christie tried to reassure people that refineries and pipelines were back online and gas was being delivered. “We do not have a fuel shortage,” he said at a news conference on Sunday.

Over the weekend, New Jersey gas stations were besieged by people carrying red gas canisters and miles-long lines of cars, despite a fuel rationing system based on license plate numbers.

In Montclair, New Jersey, some stations ran out of fuel after pumping gasoline on Saturday for cars with odd-numbered plates. This left few stations with gasoline to serve motorists with even-numbered plates, who waited for hours on Sunday.

The New York Harbor energy network was returning to normal on Sunday with mainline power restored, but there were growing concerns about heating oil supplies with cold weather forecast.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus throughout the U.S. Northeast; Writing by Claudia Parsons; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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The next emerging market: A billion women http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2012/02/02/the-next-emerging-market-a-billion-women/ http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2012/02/02/the-next-emerging-market-a-billion-women/#comments Thu, 02 Feb 2012 19:18:11 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2012/02/02/the-next-emerging-market-a-billion-women/ You would never dream of not investing in India. You would never dream of not investing in China. So why wouldn’t you invest in women? That question was posed by Beth Brooke of Ernst & Young at the launch on Wednesday of a campaign called The Third Billion that aims to empower women as a means to drive economic growth. The campaign is based on the notion that there are a billion women not participating in the global economy who should be.

“Every country, every company in the world is looking for growth wherever they can find it,” Brooke said at a panel discussion (which I moderated) at Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York. “Where is the growth coming from? It’s coming from the emerging markets … We historically think of those emerging markets as India and China and many others. But it is clear that women are an emerging market.”

DeAnne Aguirre, senior vice-president at Booz & Company, said the concept of the “Third Billion” comes from the notion that if China and India each represent 1 billion emerging participants in the global marketplace, then a third billion is made up of women around the world whose economic lives have been “stunted, underleveraged or suppressed.”

The figure is based on a Booz & Company analysis of International Labor Organization data on women in the global workforce that showed some 860 million women were excluded for one reason or another, a number forecast to rise to 1 billion in the next decade. (Many of those women are in India and China, of course, so there is overlap with the first and second billions.)

La Pietra Coalition, the global alliance behind the campaign, has identified five factors that contribute to keeping women from playing a more productive role: access to finance; legal and social status; barriers to entrepreneurship; lack of education and training; and labor policy and practice.

The group wants to bring together corporations, governments, NGOs and institutions such as the World Bank to address each of those issues.

Among those that have already partnered with La Pietra are Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs and Standard Chartered Bank. Brooke, who is global vice-chair for public policy at Ernst & Young, said a key goal of the campaign is to enlist more big companies.

“It is good for their business,” she told Reuters. “They have women as consumers.  They have women as employees. Their supply chains could be filled with women entrepreneurs.”

“The point of “The Third Billion” is that they will have so much more of all of that in the next decade — if they invest wisely,” she said. “The investment will add to their bottom line.”

For an audit and consulting firm like Ernst & Young, there’s a real possibility of payback. As Brooke says: “The entrepreneurs of today are our biggest and best clients of tomorrow.”

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Behind the scenes at UBS http://blogs.reuters.com/the-deep-end/2011/09/26/behind-the-scenes-at-ubs/ http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/09/26/behind-the-scenes-at-ubs/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2011 19:59:10 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/09/26/behind-the-scenes-at-ubs/ Emma Thomasson and Edward Taylor tell the inside story of UBS’s turbulent week in today’s second special report “How a rogue trader crashed UBS.

UBS chief Oswald Gruebel’s decision to resign after the bank said a rogue trader lost as much as $2.3 billion was not just a response to the immediate crisis. It was also an admission that the bank’s latest scandal has effectively undone all his efforts over the past two years to lobby against tougher bank regulations.

The alleged rogue trades have killed any remaining ambitions UBS might have to compete with the titans of Wall Street. They also cast a huge shadow across the entire industry and make tough new regulations far more likely, as the 67-year-old hinted in a memo to staff after he quit. “That it was possible for one of our traders in London to inflict a multi-billion loss on our bank through unauthorised trading shocked me, as it did everyone else, deeply. This incident has worldwide repercussions, including political ones,” he wrote.

After a round of job cuts, the recent events sparked some gallows humor in the banking world. As one senior banker in Zurich put it:

“The joke going around is that Gruebel didn’t need to sack 3,500 people to save 2 billion. He could have just sacked ONE.”

UBS had only recently started to win back the trust of its wealthy private banking clients after risky bets on subprime mortgages came close to felling it in the financial crisis of 2008, as this graphic shows:

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Nevada’s Big Bet http://blogs.reuters.com/the-deep-end/2011/09/26/nevada%e2%80%99s-big-bet/ http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/09/26/nevada%e2%80%99s-big-bet/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2011 16:23:12 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/09/26/nevada%e2%80%99s-big-bet/ By Brian Grow

What happens in Nevada, stays in Nevada. Literally. Especially when it comes to Nevada shell companies.

That’s the gist of our latest special report in the SHELL GAMES series, “Nevada’s big bet on secrecy.”

The story takes a close look at how changes to Nevada’s incorporation laws a decade ago have made it a haven for U.S. shell companies, as well as a hub for current executives of mass-incorporators who previously went to prison, in large part for using Nevada shell companies for illegal activities.

The state’s liberal incorporation laws – which allow for nominee officers and directors and a higher degree of liability protection than any other state – are a magnet for questionable corporate behavior, it appears.

“Nevada’s Big Bet on Secrecy” had some immediate impact: Ross Miller, Nevada’s Secretary of State, said in August that he planned to introduce a bill which would bar former felons from running mass-incorporators. In September, his office announced a new Corporate Ownership Fraud Task Force, in collaboration with the Internal Revenue Service and the Nevada Attorney General’s office, based in part on data contained in questions posed by Reuters.

The data are sure to raise eye-brows. Reuters found four former felons who run or until recently ran three mass-incorporators in the state which have formed or represented more than 14,000 companies. Over 3,000 of those firms have been the subject of state and federal tax liens and civil judgements, or have been named in federal civil and criminal litigation.

We also detailed a March study by two professors at the University of Virginia which shows that Nevada had the nation’s highest rate of financial restatements and fraud allegations or investigations involving publicly-traded companies on average each year between 2000 and 2008.

What’s more the state is home to almost half of all publicly-traded shell companies tracked by financial consultancy Private Raise. Public shells have drawn fire for helping foreign firms access a backdoor to trading on U.S. stock exchanges, with less scrutiny from regulators and investors.

Nevada’s reputation – via its gambling hub Las Vegas — for being an anything-goes oasis extends to the world of opaque corporate ownership, too

Read the story in multimedia PDF format here.

Here are the previous stories in the series:

    A little house of secrets:   http://link.reuters.com/wug23s

    China’s shortcut to Wall St: http://link.reuters.com/sep93s

    Bonds that turned to dust:   http://link.reuters.com/vep93s

And some video from Nevada:

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Stress testing the UAW http://blogs.reuters.com/the-deep-end/2011/09/22/stress-testing-the-uaw/ http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/09/22/stress-testing-the-uaw/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2011 20:40:55 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/09/22/stress-testing-the-uaw/ By Deepa Seetharaman

Today’s special report from Detroit, “Crunch time for America’s richest union,” takes a close look at the finances of the historic United Auto Workers union.

Over its 76 years, the UAW has built up a more than $1 billion war chest that has proven to be its big stick at the negotiating table and on the political stage.

Most of the UAW’s wealth sits in its strike fund, which stood at $763 million at end 2010. That money can only be used to fund strikes unless UAW representatives approve a change to the constitution, a step possible every four years.

The sheer size of the strike fund hides the weakening of the UAW’s finances, particularly since 2007, a period when the U.S. auto industry nearly collapsed and membership fell by about a fifth.

At first glance, the UAW’s financial reports show that overall cash receipts and disbursements have fallen almost exactly in tandem. But a deeper look shows that since 2007, the UAW has relied more and more on selling its investments to offset the sharp drop in dues, its largest source of annual funding.

As shown in the graphic below, in 2007 dues represented more than half the UAW’s incoming revenue, while investment and assets sales were just over 6 percent, according to U.S. Labor Department filings. By 2010, dues composed 43 percent of the UAW’s income, while sales of investments and assets were 23 percent.

Union officials say the UAW can’t rely on selling off its investments indefinitely. Their response includes steps to cut costs and to recruit new members by organizing the “transplant” auto plants run by Japanese, Korean and German automakers.

The UAW also sees the period of 2007 to 2009 as a kind of anomaly that won’t be repeated because of the crisis in Detroit during those years.

Those were “horrible years for a lot of people, and it took more assets to operate as a union than it will in the future,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams said in an interview at the union’s headquarters in July.

There’s also a sidebar on the UAW’s golf course, “Trouble at Black Lake: the UAW’s property exposure.”

To read the story in multimedia PDF format, click here: http://link.reuters.com/tuj83s

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New York City gets back to business after Irene http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/08/29/uk-storm-irene-idUKTRE77S3OR20110829?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11708 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/29/new-york-city-gets-back-to-business-after-irene/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2011 16:22:28 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/29/new-york-city-gets-back-to-business-after-irene/ NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City was slowly getting back to business as usual on Monday after Hurricane Irene but hundreds of thousands of people who normally travel in from the surrounding area faced a hellish commute as flooding knocked out some transit routes.

Downgraded to a tropical and then a post-tropical storm, Irene pelted eastern Canada with rain and 50-mile-per-hour (80-kph) winds late on Sunday after killing 20 people in the United States. It cut power to 5 million homes and businesses and choked towns with floodwaters, especially in Vermont and New Jersey.

Financial markets were expected to open as normal, albeit with reduced volume.

New York subways and air travel at major airports slowly started to resume service but there were expected to be delays and overcrowding and commuter rail services feeding the city from the north and from New Jersey were out indefinitely.

Brian Pearson, 59, who works at the CBS television show called “The 22″ and took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station, said he was “fashionably late,” but at least he made it. “The show must go on,” he added, as he bought a coffee from a street vendor outside the station.

Those who could avoid public transport seemed to be resorting to driving. Traffic was unusually heavy on Manhattan’s West Side Highway in the early hours, with cars nearly bumper-to-bumper at one point.

In one small, residential northern Manhattan neighbourhood that is ordinarily well-served by the subway system, no fewer than 13 cars-for-hire were idling on the side of the road at 5:30 a.m., waiting for fares.

“It’s too early,” said driver Nelson Peralta, who was just getting back to work after staying off the roads Sunday.

Wall Street was largely unaffected by the storm as was Ground Zero, where the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks is soon to be observed.

TENNIS ON

The National Tennis Centre in Queens escaped serious damage and the U.S. Open was due to start on Monday as scheduled. A football game between the New York Giants and New York Jets was also due to go ahead on Monday evening at the Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey, despite forecasts that flooding in the state could get worse in the coming days.

Suburban New Jersey and rural Vermont were hit particularly hard by flooding. Both states were inundated with rain after an unusually wet summer season left the ground soaked and rivers swelled even before the storm rumbled through.

“It’s very serious for us at the moment in Vermont. The top two-thirds of the state are inundated with rapidly rising waters, which we anticipate will be an issue for the next 24 hours,” said Robert Stirewalt of the Vermont Emergency Management Agency.

The state’s many waterways were overflowing, prompting hundreds of evacuations, and some 40,000 to 50,000 people were without power. New Jersey Transit said most rail service would remain suspended until further notice, though some bus service would resume on a limited basis.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie said “we dodged a bullet” after dire predictions failed to produce a catastrophe. But he urged people to stay home from work as the state recovered and pieced together its battered transit system.

“If you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, don’t go to work tomorrow,” Christie told a news conference on Sunday. “Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day to travel around the state of New Jersey.”

UPDATE NEW YORK FLOODING

Parts of upstate New York were still experiencing severe flooding and Governor Andrew Cuomo urged residents of affected areas to follow the directions of emergency officials.

“I urge residents of the Schoharie Valley and near the Mohawk River to take extreme caution overnight and tomorrow. Follow the directions of local emergency officials. If ordered to evacuate you should do so without hesitation,” he said in a statement issued overnight.

Rivers and streams in New Jersey were expected to peak over the next two days, reaching record or near-record flood levels because the ground was already saturated, officials said.

It was not immediately clear how much Irene would cost, but in New Jersey alone the damage was expected in “the billions of dollars,” Christie told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

With thousands of homeowners enduring flooding there will be questions over whether insurance policies offer cover and whether the federal government’s flood program can handle the claims. All this came at a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.

Eqecat, one of the three companies that provide disaster modelling for the insurance industry, said on Monday Irene “is a major event and will be responsible for significant levels of insured losses to property and people.”

New York City’s 8.5 million people are not used to hurricanes, but authorities took unprecedented steps to prepare, including ordering mandatory evacuations and a total shutdown of mass transit systems. That will have had a major economic impact.

About 370,000 city residents who had been ordered to leave their homes were told they could return on Sunday afternoon.

The New York Stock Exchange and broader U.S. marketplace are mostly automated, running quietly out of powerful data centres in New Jersey and elsewhere. Electronic trading is expected to function normally on Monday. But without full staffing, volume will take a hit.

“This is a slow week anyway, and if anything this will just result in lessened volume,” said Randy Billhardt, head of institutional sales and trading at MLV & Co in New York.

COMMUTER HEADACHE

Grand Central Station was unusually quiet shortly after 6 a.m., with no Metro-North commuter trains arriving, but the subway was back in action.

Stephanie Lopez, 23, who works as a cashier at a midtown cafe, said she had started out a half hour earlier than usual to begin her commute from Woodside, Queens. She said seven trains were running less frequently than usual and were more crowded. “There were no seats,” she said.

The Mass Transit Authority said it was restoring “near-normal service” on six of the lines on the Long Island Railroad, though it warned travellers to expect cancellations and shorter trains than usual.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there were no reports of deaths or injuries in the city, though there were some close calls. On Staten Island, firefighters with boats rescued more than 60 people including three babies from 21 homes flooded with 5 feet of water.

While it weakened before it hit New York, the swirling storm still packed a wallop, especially in districts such as the Rockaways peninsula, a low-lying strip of land exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on the southeastern flank of the city.

Four people were killed in Pennsylvania due to the hurricane, including two men killed by falling trees, a state official said. That brought to 20 the total number of people killed by the storm in addition to three killed in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico.

After Irene, weather watchers were keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Jose, which formed near Bermuda.

This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus throughout the East Coast; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Eric Beech)

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NY City back to business after Irene, Vermont flooded http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/08/29/idINIndia-59027420110829?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11709 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/29/ny-city-back-to-business-after-irene-vermont-flooded/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2011 13:25:44 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/29/ny-city-back-to-business-after-irene-vermont-flooded/ NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City was back to business on Monday after Hurricane Irene but hundreds of thousands of people who normally travel in from the surrounding area faced a difficult commute as flooding knocked out some transit routes.

Farther north, Vermont was battling the state’s worst flooding since 1927 after Irene swept through as a tropical storm late on Sunday. It dumped huge amounts of rain in New Jersey and other states on its way up to Canada.

The storm killed at least 21 people in the United States and cut power to 5 million homes and businesses.

Financial markets were opening as normal, although volume was expected to be reduced. Federal courts in New York also were due to be open.

New York subways and air travel at major airports slowly started to resume service but commuter rail services feeding the city from the north and from New Jersey were out indefinitely, plagued by debris on the tracks and standing water.

On Sunday the doors of the New York Stock Exchange had been lined with sandbags and tarps in anticipation of a flood but they were were nowhere to be seen on Monday morning.

Paul Orlando, 45, who works at a private bank, stood outside two blocks from Wall Street smoking a cigarette and laughed that, in anticipation of a difficult commute, he had gotten to work two hours early from his home in the borough of Queens.

“The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) website had one story, the news another and the hotlines yet another,” Orlando said. “I took the train. It was very smooth. There were no problems.

“I’ll get a lot of work done today, I guess. I get an A for effort.”

Peter Rugen, 45, a banker who normally commutes to work from his home in Manhattan to Stamford, Connecticut, was frustrated to hear from a clerk at Grand Central Station there would be no trains on Monday. “I’ll probably just pay a taxi a lot of money to take me there,” he said, adding it would cost about $120, compared to the train fare of $12.25.

The National Tennis Center in Queens escaped serious damage and the U.S. Open was due to start on Monday as scheduled. A football game between the New York Giants and New York Jets was also due to go ahead on Monday evening at the Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey, despite forecasts that flooding in the state could get worse in the coming days.

VERMONT, NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY

Suburban New Jersey and rural Vermont were hit particularly hard by flooding. Both states were inundated with rain after an unusually wet summer season left the ground soaked and rivers swollen even before the storm rumbled through.

At least one person was killed after being swept into a river in mountainous, landlocked Vermont, which rarely sees tropical storms. That brought to at least 21 the total number of people killed by the storm in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico.

At least one of Vermont’s historic covered bridges was washed away as Irene’s rains sent rivers spilling over their banks, and 50,000 people were without power, officials said on Monday. Governor Peter Shumlin called the flooding catastrophic and several people had to be rescued.

In some Eastern Seaboard states Irene was not as bad expected. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said “we dodged a bullet” after dire predictions failed to produce a catastrophe. But he urged people to stay home from work as the state recovered and pieced together its battered transit system.

“If you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, don’t go to work tomorrow,” Christie said at a news conference on Sunday. “Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day to travel around the state of New Jersey.”

New Jersey Transit said most rail service would remain suspended until further notice but bus service was operating on a reduced schedule.

Rivers and streams in New Jersey and New York state were expected to peak over the next two days, reaching record or near-record flood levels because the ground already was saturated, officials said.

While it weakened before it hit New York, the swirling storm still packed a wallop, especially in districts such as the Rockaways peninsula, a low-lying strip of land exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on the southeastern flank of the city.

It was not immediately clear how much Irene would cost but in New Jersey alone the damage was expected in “the billions of dollars,” Christie told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

With thousands of homeowners enduring flooding there will be questions over whether insurance policies offer coverage and whether the federal government’s flood program can handle the claims. All this comes at a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.

Eqecat, one of the three companies that provide disaster modeling for the insurance industry, said on Monday Irene “is a major event and will be responsible for significant levels of insured losses to property and people.”

New York City’s 8.5 million people are not used to hurricanes but authorities took unprecedented steps to prepare, including ordering mandatory evacuations and a total shutdown of mass transit systems. That will have had a major economic impact.

This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.

(Reporting by Basil Katz, Edith Honan, Clare Baldwink, Ryan Vlastelica, Angela Moon, Ben Berkowitz in New York and Reuters bureaus throughout the East Coast; Writing by Claudia Parsons; Editing by Christopher Wilson, Eric Beech and Bill Trott)

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Hurricane Irene poised to hit New York hard http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/28/storm-irene-newyork-idUSN1E77R00520110828?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/28/hurricane-irene-poised-to-hit-new-york-hard/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2011 04:59:00 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/28/hurricane-irene-poised-to-hit-new-york-hard/ NEW YORK, Aug 28 (Reuters) – The force of Hurricane Irene
began to build in New York City early on Sunday morning, with
major roads already flooding and the tourist mecca of Times
Square abandoned to a hearty few.

Local forecasters said the path of Irene was shifting
westward, putting the city squarely on the wrong side of the
storm and raising the prospect of 10-foot storm surges.

If the forecasts bear out, it would lend some support to
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s order for the evacuation of low-lying
areas such as Manhattan’s financial district. Just across the
Hudson River from the district in Hoboken, New Jersey, an
evacuation shelter had to be evacuated itself due to flooding.

“Conditions are expected to deteriorate rapidly,” a
tired-looking Bloomberg told a news conference late on
Saturday, urging people to stay indoors. “The storm is now
finally hitting New York City. The winds will increase, the
rain will increase and the tidal surge will increase.”

By all accounts, most heeded his plea to shelter in place,
but Times Square still proved irresistible to some tourists who
had nothing better to do.

“We just came to see how few people are in Times Square and
then we’re going back,” said Cheryl Gibson, an Edmonton,
Canada, resident who has been on vacation in the city for a
week and had been planning to go to the other side of the
Hudson River on Sunday.

“We can’t get to New Jersey and I’m not sure it’s any
better there,” she said.

Further up the street, on a pedestrian mall, a group of
firefighters from Vancouver in town for the World Police and
Fire Games played an impromptu game of street hockey.

Despite the pouring rain, many played bare-chested, but the
game did not last — approximately 20 New York police officers
broke up the game with no arrests.

NO SHELTER

By mid-evening, one of the many umbrella sellers who pop up
all over New York whenever it rains was sold out — he said it
had been a good day for, but he was not planning to take
shelter from the storm.

“My shelter used to be on the trains but now they stopped
that,” said the man, who declined to give his real name but
said “Call me Motown.”

“This is what keeps me going,” he added, pointing to the
small portable radio playing music in his cart. “Hey, listen,
it’s ‘Walking in the rain,'” he said with a laugh.

While Motown was in good cheer despite the storm, the
situation grew increasingly serious overnight. At least 8,000
customers were already without electricity in the city, hours
before the worst of the wind and rain hit.

Both the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan’s west side and
FDR Drive to the island’s east were starting to flood, with
heavy pooling and tow trucks strategically idling on the sides
of the road. The city’s mass transit system, including subways,
was shut down from the middle of Saturday.

After Bloomberg ordered the unprecedented evacuation of
370,000 people living in neighborhoods near the water’s edge,
more than 3,700 took refuge in the city’s shelters, thousands
more fled to the homes of friends or relatives and others
defiantly stayed behind.

A smattering of food and liquor stores stayed open while
the public transit system that moves 8.5 million people each
weekday halted operations, also a first.

The giant 580-mile (930-km)-wide storm unleashed 😯 miles
per hour (130 km per hour) winds, grounding aircraft all along
the heavily populated eastern seaboard.

While shelters were mostly empty, others such as the John
Adams High School in Queens overflowed.

At the Brooklyn Tech High School shelter, evacuees watched
weather reports on a large television screen in the auditorium
while others dined on mozzarella sticks, string beans, milk and
apple sauce.

“I didn’t want to leave (home), I wanted to stay, but I
feared for my life. I didn’t want to get stuck in the dark and
in the flood,” said Margie Robledo, 58, of Coney Island, who
just arrived in New York from Puerto Rico, where the storm had
hit days earlier.

CALM IN THE DANGER ZONE

Others defied the evacuation order after Bloomberg
announced police would not enforce it. Despite the persistent
warnings and ominous skies, the neighborhood around Brooklyn’s
Coney Island — within the danger zone — was calm. Parked cars
lined the streets, and there was no sign of a mass exodus.

“They are right, we should be evacuating, but we are not,”
said John Visconti, 47, who owns an auto repair business and
lives on the ground floor of his building in the nearby
Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. “We just want to stay home and
hope for the best. We should be OK.”

The evacuation zones included shiny apartment buildings in
Manhattan’s wealthy Battery Park City, working class Red Hook
in Brooklyn and run-down public housing in Coney Island — all
neighborhoods at the water’s edge.

“If the neighborhood is eventually legitimately flooded, I
have food and books and whiskey,” said attorney Neal D’Amato,
31, sipping a beer at the Red Hook Bait and Tackle shop bar.

He said he would ride out the storm in his fourth-floor
apartment.

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More bloodshed in Monterrey http://blogs.reuters.com/the-deep-end/2011/08/26/more-bloodshed-in-monterrey/ http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/26/more-bloodshed-in-monterrey/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2011 16:22:17 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/claudia-parsons/2011/08/26/more-bloodshed-in-monterrey/ After the latest news from Mexico where armed men torched a casino in Monterrey, killing at least 52 people, it’s a good time to re-read Robin Emmott’s special report “If Monterrey falls, Mexico falls.”

As the story says:

In just four years, Monterrey, a manufacturing city of 4 million people 140 miles from the Texan border, has gone from being a model for developing economies to a symbol of Mexico’s drug war chaos, sucked down into a dark spiral of gangland killings, violent crime and growing lawlessness.

Since President Felipe Calderon launched an army-led war on the cartels in late 2006, grenade attacks, beheadings, firefights and drive-by killings have surged.

That has shattered this city’s international image as a boomtown where captains of industry built steel, cement and beer giants in the desert in less than a century — Mexico’s version of Dallas or Houston.

By engulfing Monterrey, home to some of Latin America’s biggest companies and where annual income per capita is double the Mexican average at $17,000, the violence shows just how serious the security crisis has become in Mexico, the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter and a major U.S. trade partner.

 

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