Archive | January, 2017

OMG! SRK’s train journey ends on a bad note

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

One person died and two policemen were injured after police lathicharged a crowd going berserk following the arrival of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan at the train station here.

Khan arrived in Vadodara onboard the August Kranti Rajdhano Express on Monday to promote his new film Raees. The deceased has been identified as Farid Khan Pathan of Hatikhana area of Vadodara, who arrived at the railway platform with his wife and daughter to catch a glimpse of the actor.

Two constables of the Railway police also collapsed during the chaos and are undergoing treatment.

Officials at the railway police control room here said, “At around 10.30 PM the train arrived at platform number six of the station and halted for 10 minutes.” “Shah Rukh’s fans had gathered in large number to have a glimpse of the actor who had boarded the train from Mumbai and is going to Delhi as part of the promotional campaign for his film,” railway police said.

Pathan was rushed to hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. Earlier, reports said he felt suffocated during a stampede at the railway station and then suffered a heart attack.

“The crowd went berserk when the train halted and began banging its window panes and even falling on top of each other. Police had to resort to mild lathicharge to control the crowd. When the train started moving, people started running along with it,” officials said.

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Priyanka reveals Dwayne Johnson’s plans

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Bollywood’s leading ladies Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone are making waves in the West with plum projects. Dippy, promoted her international film along with co-star Vin Diesel in India recently.

Now, all eyes are on Priyanka’s Baywatch. The film, which has her essaying the antagonist’s role, also stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in pivotal roles. So, will it have an India premiere before its US release?

Priyanka told BT, “Dwayne and Zac, and in fact the entire team of my film love India and they really want to come. There are almost five months left for the film to hit screens and we are still shooting. There is a big plan for the film’s release around the world and I am sure India will be incorporated in it.”

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Richa excited to join stand-up comedians on stage

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Richa Chadha is excited to do a special set with a few stand-up comedians.
Richa said:”I think making people laugh is a tough task. And by doing so you can capture an audience like no other. Stand-up (comedy) is something I have always been intrigued by because it doesn’t feel so rehearsed and these guys who are up on stage literally take the pulse of the audience and reactions and build their jokes or lines accordingly.
“And that I think is a commendable thing to do. I agreed the moment the idea of doing a guest portion for a stand-up comedy special came to me. It was an instant yes. It’s going to be a whole new experience on stage which is far different from acting.” The script of the show is being worked upon. 

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Brampton man heading to India to be ‘part of real change’ in Punjab vote

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Surinder Mavi’s political awakening began with his arrival in Canada eight years ago, when he realized bribes were unnecessary and basic rules, like stopping at red lights, were respected.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why shouldn’t the system work like this in the Punjab?” he says, referring to his home state in northern India.

On Tuesday, Mavi will be among 90 or so residents from the Toronto area flying to India to help the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contest elections on Feb. 4 for Punjab’s legislative assembly.

“I want to be a part of real change,” says Mavi, a 31-year-old Brampton resident who helped organize the plane load of AAP election volunteers.

Mavi said the Toronto area volunteers are part of a campaign that will see thousands of Indian expatriates arrive in Dehli Thursday to help the AAP in the state elections.

For the election, Mavi will be ride an AAP campaign bus that will rally support in 16 of Punjab’s largest constituencies.

Before coming to Canada, Mavi was a politically inactive and unemployed engineer. But in 2014, after landing a job as a senior technical service analyst at a major Canadian bank, he decided it was time to act.

He joined the Canadian branch of AAP, which had burst onto the Indian political scene two years earlier with a platform of ending the culture of “bribe-taking.” Its leader is an austere former civil servant, Arvind Kejriwal.

Up for grabs in Punjab are 117 assembly seats in a state where Sikhs make up the majority of its 28 million people. The election will test the AAP’s support outside of its base in Dehli, where in 2015 it won all but three of the capital’s 70 assembly seats in local elections.

The Dehli results were a spectacular comeback for a party that, the previous year, was trounced in national elections by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The AAP won only four seats — all of them in Punjab.

The Punjab election will also test the popularity of Modi’s BJP, which is part of the state government thanks to its alliance with the Sikh-based Shiromani Akali Dal party.

The election is the first since Modi’s bold “demonetization” policy of fighting tax evasion and corruption by scrapping India’s two biggest notes — 1,000 rupees (about $20), and 500 rupees (about $10). The policy has resulted in lengthy lineups at banks as Indians scrambled to exchange the old notes for new ones.

“It’s a good bellwether for the effect that demonetization has had,” said professor Kanta Murali, an expert on Indian politics at the University of Toronto, noting that Punjab’s farmers and large agricultural sector rely heavily on cash transactions.

Azad Kaushik, Canadian president of the Overseas Friends of BJP, notes “an anti-incumbency factor” prevalent in Punjab. But in a phone interview from Dehli, where he was visiting, he insists the BJP’s economic record and its development of infrastructure — from roads to airports — will keep its state coalition in power.

Kaushik, who accuses the AAP of having “failed miserably” as Dehli’s government, stresses his group is not a political party and therefore will not be sending volunteers to India to help the BJP in the Punjab election.

Polls in the last several months have indicated widely different results. But all show the AAP having a significant impact.

Mavi, whose parents live in Punjab, said the Toronto-area volunteers will largely be staying with family and relatives. Key platform issues, he said, are the AAP’s proposals to fight widespread drug abuse among youth and programs to give farmers more money for their crops.

He has high hopes for his party but no plans to take his wife and one-year-old son to live in India, at least not until big changes happen.

“If the system started working as it is in Canada, then there’s no harm in going back,” he said.

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Stop deportations under defunct rule

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Canada would be lucky to have Gina Bahiwal.

Since arriving here in 2008 the university-educated social worker from the Philippines has worked tirelessly as a farm labourer, housekeeper and McDonald’s employee to support her family back home — and still found time to fight relentlessly for migrant workers’ rights.

Now, in a cruel irony, the temporary foreign worker is being deported out of Canada under the so-called four-in-four-out regulations that she fought so successfully to revoke.

According to the rule, migrant workers had to leave after four years and could not return to Canada for another four. Though the policy was quashed by the Trudeau government in December, Bahiwal and other foreign temporary workers whose work visas had expired before that date were not grandfathered.

Her deportation would be a loss for this country. Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, should halt it before it occurs on Sunday — and reconsider the fates of other workers still in the country whose visas expired under the now defunct rule.

“Every victory that we have accomplished, from banning recruitment fees to ending the four-in-four-out rule, is attributed to the activism of Gina,” said Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers. “She is a leading force for a more compassionate, fair and inclusive society.”

While Bahiwal could apply for re-entry to Canada after deportation it would be difficult. She would need a rare authorization from the minister because she has overstayed her welcome which ran out in October 2015.

But there is still hope. In the spring of 2015, before forming government, Justin Trudeau said the Harper regime’s four-in-four-out rule was “yet another example of a government that lacks compassion and a flexible reasonableness around . . . some very vulnerable people.”

He now has a chance to prove how compassionate, flexible and reasonable his own government can be when it comes to the vulnerable. He can start by revoking Bahiwal’s deportation order and then look beyond.

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Technology can’t replace the human touch

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Everywhere you turn these days, there’s talk of automation replacing people. Technology is surely advancing at a rapid rate, and in today’s click-driven media environment, sensationalism sells, but just because tech can replace a human worker doesn’t m e a n we’re always going to want that. In some instances, even when tech can do an adequate job, we still want to deal with a person.

While a machine can perform a given task, often more efficiently than we can, what it lacks is the artistry in the activity, that uniquely human ability to cater to the needs of the individual. The protocol may suggest one approach, but a person who is good at their job understands when to adjust and the subtleties that are required.

The Obama administration’s recent report on the possible economic impact of artificial intelligence and automation looked at the issue at least partly through a policy prism. “Whether AI leads to unemployment and increases in inequality over the long run depends not only on the technology itself but also on the institutions and policies that are in place” the report stated. It went on to peg the percentage of jobs affected by automation over the next 10-20 years somewhere between 9 and 47 percent, a broad range that suggests the true impact won’t be known for some time.

Many people involved in the startup ecosystem believe that we will always push tech to its fullest extent simply because we can, but not everyone agrees that’s a desirable approach. The New York Times reported on a McKinsey study last week, that found that, while automation is growing, it may not be at the pace we have been led to believe. “How automation affects employment will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible, which is what technologists tend to focus on,” McKinsey’s James Manyika told the Times.

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TDSB chief defends handling of cash aimed at needy kids

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

The head of Toronto’s public school board has fired back at critics who say millions of dollars in provincial grants earmarked for at-risk students aren’t reaching them.

The learning opportunities grant goes directly to “programming, staff and services” and is being used for its intended purpose, John Malloy, education director at the Toronto District School Board, told reporters Thursday.

“It is directly connected to student achievement. It does support our students at risk, but it also supports their classmates as well.”

Malloy made the comments hours after the release of an explosive report from Social Planning Toronto, which said the TDSB is diverting millions of dollars of the annual learning opportunities grant designated for its neediest students and using it for other purposes as it struggles to balance its $3.3-billion budget.

The report from the social policy research group said $61 million — 48 per cent of the $127 million “demographic allocation” portion of the grant — did not go directly to programs and services aimed at low-income students in 2014-15. And it noted the grant is one of the few that allows school boards discretion in how they deploy those resources.

It also placed much of the blame squarely on the province for underfunding the Toronto board and forcing it to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

But Malloy said while poverty is a key issue in Toronto, there are other ways that students can be considered vulnerable, and that funds spent across the school board help many of those.

The grant covers items ranging from breakfast programs and homework clubs to Model Schools for Inner Cities, a program that provides extra funding and community supports at 150 high-needs schools. The grant is also used for things like outdoor centres that serve students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. And that falls well within the provincial guidelines for the grant, Malloy stressed.

“What I do want to state emphatically is the grant is not used inappropriately based on what the regulation expects,” he said.

That money doesn’t go towards keeping the lights on or heating the buildings, he added.

Malloy said the TDSB and Social Planning Toronto have different views on the how the grant should be used. While the advocacy group asserts it should all go to students in poverty, the board is adhering to a broader definition permitted by the province.

That’s “technically right,” says Sean Meagher, executive director of the organization. But he argues that the explicit purpose of the “demographic allocation” of the grant is to level the playing field for students of different demographic backgrounds.

“That’s why the city of Toronto gets it.”

Instead, $61 million of it is going into the board’s general revenue and there is no clear way to track how those dollars are being used, he added.

He said while serving all students is important, that was not the purpose of this particular money, which the report argues should be “sweatered” so that boards have to adhere to stricter rules on how it is spent.

Last year the TDSB launched an Enhancing Equity Task Force, which includes outside experts and consultants, to tackle the thorny issue, which has been a matter of contention over the last few years among some researchers and trustees. It will look at how resources for at-risk students are used, their impact and future priorities. It is due to make recommendations next November.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement Thursday that when it comes to allocating funds, locally-elected school boards “are in the best position to make decisions that support local priorities based on student needs and available staff and resources.”

“This grant is focused on addressing the needs of students and cannot be used towards central board administration costs,” she added. “I expect school boards to remain committed to using this grant in a way that prioritizes the success and well-being of students.”

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Ontario drivers with unpaid speeding tickets to be denied licence plates

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Speeding scofflaws in Ontario will soon be feeling extra pressure to pay outstanding fines, as the province gives municipalities the power to deny them licence plates.

Under changes the Liberal government is set to enact in May, people who have not paid fines for driving-based offences, such as speeding and careless driving, won’t be able to get or renew their plates.

The current plate denial regime only applies to vehicle-based offences, such as parking tickets and red-light camera fines.

Municipalities in the province are owed a collective $1.4 billion in unpaid fines for provincial offences, including those under the Highway Traffic Act. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has been asking the government for more than a decade for more tools to collect that money.

Some of those fines date back 50 years and couldn’t be feasibly collected, so the government is making the policy retroactive seven years.

About one-third of the defaulted fines are from the past seven years. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca acknowledged that even with the changes, municipalities won’t be able to collect all of the approximately $500 million, but it sends a strong message to people with outstanding fines.

“If they’ve managed to navigate the system to their benefit up until this point in time, it’s that much harder now for them to do it,” he said. “With any system that government puts in place there will always be those who will find creative ways to avoid playing by the rules, I suppose, but this is another opportunity for us to be able to get those fines collected and make sure people get a clear message that they can’t continue to act in this way.”

Municipalities had been hoping the change would apply farther back than seven years, but are now just anxious to collect more of the outstanding fines, said Lynn Dollin, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

“If those fines aren’t paid, it’s you and I covering those administration costs out of our property taxes, so we want to make sure that we’re getting the full bang for the buck and everything that we’re entitled to is coming to us,” she said.

People with unpaid speeding tickets are already subject to licence suspension, but plate denial will be an added motivator to pay those fines, said Del Duca.

“A person might be theoretically out there driving with an expired or suspended licence, therefore they’re not going forward to get it renewed, but you have the visual sticker on your licence plate, you have all that stuff that is easier for law enforcement to recognize at a glance,” he said.

The change is one of the last to be enacted under the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act that passed in 2015. The legislation also increased fines for distracted driving and “dooring” cyclists and introduced new penalties for drug-impaired driving.

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Gap between rich and poor increase as Pakistan’s exports falls

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

  Dr. Hasan Askari

  There is a general agreement at the international level that stable economy holds the key to dealing effectively with internal social and economic challenges and external security problems. A good economy that ensures a secure future for people increases the capacity of the state to play an active role at the international level. A state will always face strong diplomatic pressures if it is heavily dependent on foreign loans, economic assistance, and it has declining exports.

 There is a debate in Pakistan on the strengths and weaknesses of its economy and how far it affects Pakistan’s choices for foreign policy and domestic affairs. The official circles and the ruling PMLN express strong satisfaction on what they describe as an outstanding performance of the economy. They talk of the Vision 2025 and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to emphasize that Pakistan would in the next decade become one of the leading “emerging economies” of the world. The official circles argue that Pakistan has successfully completed the IMF Economic Restructuring Program and that the World Bank, the IMF and several important economic review groups appreciate the economic achievements of the Muslim League government. The growth of the economy at the end of the financial year in June 2017 is expected to be over 5 percent. The foreign exchange reserves with the State Bank of Pakistan and other Pakistan banks have exceeded 23 billion dollars.

 This official Pakistani optimism about the Pakistan’s economic development is not shared by non-official and independent circles. They argue that Pakistan’s economic performance gets appreciation from the IMF and the World Bank because its government is running the economy in accordance with the guidelines given by these international financial institutions. If it diverts from their advisories, it will face their criticism. Further, the IMF also warns Pakistan of the hazards and risks in its economy.

 The latest data released by the government of Pakistan shows that exports have been falling for the last several years. In 2012-13, Pakistan’s exports were $ 24.5 billion which declined to $ 20.8 billion at the end of the last financial year in June 2016. The remittances from Pakistanis based abroad declined by 2. 27 percent during July-December 2016. Pakistan’s total foreign debt is $ 73 billion at the beginning of January 2017 which has exceeded the approved higher limit of 60 per cent for the ratio between public debt and Gross Domestic Product. Pakistan’s total foreign exchange reserves amounted to $ 23.16 billion at the end of December 2016. However, in view of decline in exports, foreign remittances and foreign direct investment, the increase in foreign exchange reserves can be explained with reference to the loans available to Pakistan and the bonds floated by the PMLN government over the last three years.

 If we analyze these two views of Pakistan’s economy, it can be argued that the economic development in Pakistan is imbalanced. Economic development is limited to some sectors of the economy. Its rewards have been limited to a small section of populace from the upper and ruling sections of population to the middle class. The people from the middle to the lower strata of the society have faced increased economic pressures and difficulties. Daily life for these people has become difficult because of price hike at the retail level in the shops for the food and other items that are needed for running a kitchen. Though Pakistan produces enough food for all population, all people do not get enough food for two meals a day. A good number of people go hungry or they have to rely on charity and voluntary meal distribution centers run by some people or organizations.

 In Pakistan, the number of people who make over one hundred thousand Rupees a month has increased during the last ten years. The economic sectors that have experienced much expansion are banking, Information Technology, Telecommunication and real estate business, private sector education and private health care. However, for illiterate and half-literate Pakistanis, the job opportunities have not increased significantly. The industry has shown little expansion that could accommodate such people. Agriculture has also shown nominal progress during the last financial year.

 Consequently, the gap between the rich and the poor sections of population has widened. The allocations for social and human development sectors are inadequate. The government run education and health care systems range from medium to low quality which has increased problems of the poor section of the population. All this is causing alienation among common people from the political system. Some of these people become vulnerable to extremist appeals.

 The federal and the Punjab governments prefer to build glamorous and publicity oriented projects like motorways, modern bus service on selected routes and local trains which provide relief to a limited number of people. They also offer personalized favor programs to win over the loyalties of the selected populace. Therefore, the PMLN governments at the federal level and in the Punjab have announced several personalized favor-schemes like lap top distribution, Kissan package, Industrial relief package, scholarship schemes for the students in the name of the PMLN top leaders, the health care card scheme, provision of buses to schools in Islamabad and other favors that are distributed directly by the Prime Minister or Chief Minister Punjab.

 The policy of personalized favor scheme and the government’s tolerance for corruption have given economic relief to some people. However, there is a need to have long term economic development projects that benefit all people and all regions. Greater attention will have to be given to overcoming economic inequality in the society and how to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on external loans and grants.

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Online shopping drives surge in holiday returns, and what happens next may surprise you

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

It’s the place where unwanted Christmas gifts go to start a new life on the resale market.

The Feisty Ferret Home cage that didn’t quite work out as planned; the Star Wars mask; the Jimmy Choo shoes that maybe you actually wore on New Year’s Eve; dozens and dozens of television sets, returned for all kinds of reasons, end up in the new year on the floor of warehouses such as the one in Brampton operated by Liquidity Services.

“This Christmas returns season is our peak, from now to the first week in March,” said John Lee, vice-president and general manager, Canada, for Liquidity Services, a global company headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The returns business is booming, thanks to an increase in shopping online, where return rates are higher than at bricks-and-mortar retailers, according to Lee.

Figures from the Retail Council of Canada, the National Retail Federation in the U.S. and card-payment processing company Moneris peg regular retail returns at about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of sales, or about $26.6 billion in Canada in 2015.

Online returns are closer to 20 per cent, surging to 30 per cent during the holiday gift-giving season, as good intentions give way to panic and last-minute delusions about how happy your loved ones will be to find a trout tie or electric bug vacuum under the tree meet with grim reality.

The goods at Liquidity Services and similar companies, which collect returns from major retailers they’re not allowed to publicize, will be bought by resellers and end up in neighbourhood stores, at flea markets, on Kijiji and Craigslist, even on Amazon, where many of them were purchased in the first place.

The bad news for shoppers is that liberal return policies in effect today are costing retailers big money and may not be sustainable.

“Retailers are concerned, absolutely,” said Diane Brisebois, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Council of Canada.

“Eventually, I am guessing, someone will blink and say: ‘We just can’t ship and accept returns for free 24-7 all the time. It is not sustainable.’ ”

There are many reasons online returns are higher; the most obvious is that it remains difficult to judge a product without seeing it in person.

Some online shoppers order an item in different colours and sizes, knowing ahead that they will be returning all but one of them.

There’s a learning curve when it comes to online shopping, Brisebois points out; once people figure out what products work for them, they’re less likely to return items.

As the online shopping experience continues to improve thanks to technologies such as 3D and virtual reality, returns will decline, Brisebois believes.

Failure to stem the increase in returns could result in higher prices to consumers.

“It will take a couple of years, we believe, for this to settle and for return policies to adjust in order to make sure they are servicing customers and avoiding abuses because, at the end of the day. Let’s not fool ourselves, it’s the customer who pays,” said Brisebois.

Different retailers have different policies when it comes to restocking returned items, Lee said.

For some retailers, as long as a product is “reasonably retail-ready” (an industry term), it goes back on the shelves.

Other retailers won’t return an item to the shelves if the packaging is so much as wrinkled.

Returned items follow different journeys. Some are returned directly to stores. Some retailers direct returns to their distribution centres.

Liquidity Services buys the returned items from the retailers.

Other retailers arrange to have customer returns sent directly to Liquidity Services, which, for a fee paid by the retailer, processes the credit card refunds and arranges to liquidate the products.

Returned merchandise used to end up in landfill, said Lee.

But the idea of an ocean of returned items continuing to wash through the retail system, being unboxed, re-boxed, resold, unboxed and sold again — possibly even shipped by mail again and returned again — doesn’t seem all that environmentally friendly.

That’s actually not the biggest problem, said Emily Alfred, waste campaigner with Toronto Environmental Alliance.

“Once you get into the shipping and retailing stage, it’s just a tiny, tiny fraction of the environmental impact of a product,” she said.

“It’s usually making the thing in the first place that is the problem.”

An e-commerce study by Antony Karabus of HRC Advisory released last year found that operating earnings as a percentage of sales declined by as much as 25 per cent due to both a shift from in-store to online sales and the investments required to support e-commerce.

The study analyzed the financial data for 37 retailers across three sectors, including department stores and luxury chains, specialty apparel and beauty stores and discount retailers.

Karabus said that retailers may need to tighten return policies so that returned items can still be sold in season at full price, not at reduced prices or at liquidation prices because the items are used, worn or damaged.

For now, businesses such as Liquidation Services, and the people who buy from them, will continue to ring up sales.

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