7.30.2011

Blue Cross-Blue Shield consolidating Great Falls, Helena offices

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Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Montana announced on Tuesday that it's consolidating its Great Falls and Helena offices.

BCBS MT president Mike Frank was in Great Falls to inform the employees of the changes.

The consolidation will impact the Great Falls office, which handles the company's government contracts.

Fifty employees currently work at the Great Falls facility, and it is anticipated that some employees will have the opportunity to relocate to Helena.

In an email to employees, Frank wrote that Blue Cross aims to bend the costs of healthcare down and maintain the company's financial strength," adding that consolidating facilities is one way to achieve that mission.

Frank issued a statement saying, "We intend to achieve this consolidation in a manner that will minimize the impact to our customers. Further and very importantly, our colleagues in the Great Falls office are being treated with respect and honesty."

Blue Cross-Blue Shield has developed a benefit package for employees who will lose their jobs.

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7.28.2011

Tech sends Seoul shares higher after Apple results

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* Techs rally after Apple results offer both hope and concern

* Auto, steel, bank issues firm; shipbuilders lose ground

* Hyundai Heavy down ahead of earnings report (Updates to mid-morning)

SEOUL, July 20 (Reuters) - Seoul shares were poised to snap a two-session loss on Wednesday on eased U.S. debt jitters, led by tech shares after Apple Inc. announced forecast-crushing quarterly results.

"Uncertainty has dissipated about U.S. debt problems, while good earnings are being reflected," Lee Seon-yeob, an analyst at Shinhan Investment Corp said.

U.S. stocks recorded their best day since March on Tuesday after strong corporate results and renewed hope for an agreement in Washington on thorny budget issues boosted investor confidence. Groundbreaking for U.S. homes scaled a six-month high in June.

"But foreigners are still hesitating to buy Seoul shares," Lee said.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) rose 1.05 percent to 2,152.67 points as of 0300 GMT.

Investors snapped up battered tech shares after Apple's staggering earnings triggered expectations of higher demand for components and offered a glimmer of hope for the battered tech sector.

Shares in chipmaker Samsung Electronics gained 3.8 percent, while display maker LG Display jumped 6.2 percent and battery producer Samsung SDI rose 6.1 percent.

"Tech shares are rising after their recent sharp falls and on expectations that their earnings may not be as bad as previously concerned," Lee said.

But the euphoria may be short-lived since the outlook for the tech sector is clouded by macroeconomic concerns and because Apple is emerging as a bigger threat to Korean handset makers.

"The key is whether Intel Corp's earnings to be released tomorrow morning boost tech shares... Apple's strong results mean that it is difficult for Samsung to beat Apple," said Lee Sang-jae, an analyst at Hyundai Securities.

Auto, steel and bank issues gained ground across the board.

Hyundai Motor gained 0.9 percent, while POSCO advanced 2.6 percent and KB Financial Group climbed 2.5 percent

Shares in SK Telecom rose 1.1 percent, outperforming telecom peers after the country's top mobile operator announced a buyback plan for 201.6 billion won ($190.3 million) worth of shares.

Shares in shipbuilders lost ground, with Hyundai Heavy Industries slumping 3.4 percent and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering sliding 3.4 percent. (Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Ken Wills)

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7.26.2011

Murdoch scandal: How are his big US media outlets covering it?

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Indeed, for about a week now, the head of the scandal-besieged News Corp. has tried to send a more contrite message. But while his response seems to have shifted in Britain, the memo appears to be having a bumpy ride across the Atlantic to his flagship US holdings.

The Wall Street Journal, owned by Mr. Murdoch since 2007, ran a lead editorial on Monday that media analysts have characterized as a mixture of defiance, deflection, and denial. The editorial reads in part: “It is up to British authorities to enforce their laws.”

RECOMMENDED: Key people to watch as News of the World scandal unfolds

Later on it says, “We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can't cut it with a chainsaw.”

Meanwhile, Fox News, another News Corp. media outlet, has served up more than 90 segments on the Murdoch scandal, which centers on phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World, a British tabloid also among the News Corp. holdings. Yet some media critics, including James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, have found fault with Fox News’s coverage.

In an online article Saturday, Mr. Fallows pointed to a July 15 segment on “Fox & Friends” that lumped two computer hackings, targeting the Pentagon and Citibank, together with the phone hacking done by News of the World. Bob Dilenschneider, a guest on the show and public relations expert, said, “Citigroup and Bank of America – are they getting the same kind of attention for hacking that happened less than a year ago that News Corp. is getting today?”

Fallows writes: “I submit that this could not happen at any other news organization. Rather, it could not happen at a news organization. It happened at the agitprop operation known as Fox News.”

The New York Post, another key News Corp. holding in the United States, has offered a half dozen or so short stories on the phone-hacking scandal in the past two weeks. As of Monday morning, The New York Times, which is not affiliated with News Corp., had published about 100 pieces on the scandal. The Wall Street Journal had published 35.

“This is about the future of the fourth estate,” says Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington – whether the public has lost faith in the media and whether journalism will take the lead in demanding the highest standards possible. “We have The Wall Street Journal interviewing its own corporate boss [Murdoch], saying that he has handled the crisis well, with no rebuttals,” he says.

“It’s embarrassing,” says Jeff Cohen, a journalism professor at Ithaca College in New York, referring to The Wall Street Journal’s editorial. Mr. Cohen, who was a paid commentator on Fox News for five years, says that just when that newspaper ought to take the lead in full transparency and self-reflection, “all they are doing is full damage control.”

The Wall Street Journal did not return requests for a response. Fox News also declined to comment, in particular on The Atlantic article by Fallows.

Circling the wagons is certainly understandable, says Jeff Rice, who is joining the writing, rhetoric, and digital-media faculty at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “Markets do matter,” he says in an e-mail. “To pretend otherwise is not to be honest about journalism as a business.”

However, damage control without transparency will ultimately hurt all News Corp. products, says Leonard Steinhorn, director of the Public Communication Division at American University in Washington.

The Wall Street Journal is correct in saying that politicians should tread carefully in asking for investigations that possibly could abridge press freedoms, says Mr. Steinhorn, noting a further comment in the editorial. “But if the business side of a newspaper engages in influence peddling and buying off politicians and other forms of corruption,” he says via e-mail, alluding to what has been alleged in Britain, then it is “equally dangerous” if The Wall Street Journal were “to hide those practices behind a veil of press freedom simply to exonerate its corporate owner.”

However, late on Tuesday, Murdoch sent a letter to News Corp. employees that promises a future of accountability. His team has formed “an independent Management & Standards Committee, to determine new standards that will be clearly communicated,” the letter reads.

“[W]e will emerge a stronger company,” he adds. “It will take time for us to rebuild trust and confidence, but we are determined to live up to the expectations of our stockholders, customers, colleagues and partners. We are determined to put things right.”

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7.24.2011

Ellen Gray: Murdoch scandal has all the elements of good drama

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SO MUCH television, so little time:

* Sunday's World Cup match between the U.S. women's team and Japan may have proved to ESPN that we Yanks will watch soccer - because 13.5 million Americans can't be wrong - but are we really ready for scandal, British-style?

The 24-hour news networks seemed to think so yesterday, providing wall-to-wall coverage of the testimony of a craftily clueless and occasionally cranky Rupert Murdoch and his smooth-as-silk son James before a House of Commons committee looking into the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the now-closed British tabloid News of the World and may threaten Murdoch's media empire.

I'm not saying the Murdochs weren't good television (though I'm still trying to figure out why the best moment, when Wendi Deng sprang into action to defend her 80-year-old husband from a man with a pie, wasn't initially clear - Fox News seemed to have the best view of the attack - but by midafternoon was everywhere).

For the purpose, however, of the seemingly inevitable movie, the subsequent testimony of Rebekah Brooks was probably more useful.

Not so much for what she said, but because of how she said it.

And, let's face it, how she looked saying it.

Brooks, the 43-year-old former News of the World editor and News International chief executive who was arrested Sunday in connection with the phone-hacking scandal, is just the kind of character who'd render a movie about the scandal watchable, with a meteoric rise from humble beginnings followed by a terrible fall.

And the fact that she's an interesting-looking woman with an unruly mane of red hair doesn't actually hurt.

So for "Hacked" (or whatever they eventually call it), I propose Julianne Moore for Brooks and Michael "Dumbledore" Gambon for Rupert. Lucy Liu could probably handle Deng's moves (and vice versa).

But as for James Murdoch, any pretty boy in a suit who can stick to a script would probably do fine.

* I'm not sure who first decided that one of the big incentives - let's just call it a prize - on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Weight-Loss Edition" (10 p.m. Mondays, 6ABC) should be skin-removal surgery, but it kind of makes me miss the days when people just went on TV to win cars or refrigerators.

OK, so maybe a fridge would send the wrong message, but what's the right message here? That someone who's upended his or her life to lose a tremendous amount of weight shouldn't expect to be physically acceptable until a surgeon's been involved?

Or that although many surgeons reportedly recommend waiting a year or two after reaching a goal weight before going under the knife, "Extreme Makeover," which this week featured a woman who'd lost more than 200 pounds in a single year, simply can't wait that long?

Or - and here's an idea - maybe losing more than a hundred pounds in a single year is too much change for anyone's body to properly absorb and what "Extreme Makeover" is doing is simply too extreme?

* In a move that would probably never fly on a network that depended on advertising dollars - and the 18- to 49-year-old viewers those dollars chase - HBO's decided to put Dick Cavett and Mel Brooks together onstage before a live audience and just let them - talk.

Actually, the pair, who've been discussing this on and off for decades, filmed the hourlong special last December. But I'm guessing that like the men doing the talking, the show's well-preserved.

"Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again" will premiere on HBO Sept. 9.

* HBO's not the only premium network going retro for a night.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, Showtime's announced the Sept. 10 premiere of "The Love We Make."

A documentary from Albert Maysles ("Gimme Shelter," "Grey Gardens") and Bradley Kaplan, it follows Paul McCartney's "poignant and cathartic journey through the streets of New York City in the aftermath of the World Trade Center's destruction," according to Showtime, as well as chronicling the planning of the subsequent "Concert for New York City."

(McCartney was on a plane in New York, waiting to leave the U.S., when the World Trade Center was attacked.)

Oh, and if the focus on the former Beatle isn't retro enough, the film itself is in black and white, shot on the same 16 mm film Maysles employed in 1964 for "What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A." *

Is there really any information about that is nonessential? We all see things from different angles, so something relatively insignificant to one may be crucial to another.

7.22.2011

Lil Boosie indicted on charges of smuggling codeine into prison

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Maybe you've only heard of Lil Boosie in passing, or perhaps you've never heard of him at all. His songs have never earned regular local radio play, and his influence west of the Rockies is usually relegated to street rap diehards and those who read their RSS feed intravenously.

But in the South, his influence is omnipresent, crossing racial and class divides. He's a cult figure with a mass following, a high-top faded and ferocious performer perennially enduring some sort of struggle (whether it's women, diabetes or triumphing over illegal downloading to buy a candy-painted car).

From his first days as a member of C-Loc's Concentration Camp clique to being promoted as the next Trill star by Pimp C, to his classic mixtapes, to a trio of solo albums released on Asylum Records, Boosie has earned a reputation as one of the rawest rappers in the South, a region known for unfiltered flamboyant personas.

Alas, it's also a region known for the frequency with which its most popular artists are incarcerated. Over the last few years, T.I., Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne, Mystikal and Lil Boosie have been incarcerated for various indiscretions. Yet Boosie's charges trump them all.

While it's dificult to parse his current legal woes, at the moment he is facing charges ranging from ordering the murder of rivals (a charge that could get him the death penalty) to various conspiracy charges to distribute and smuggle narcotics into a federal penitiary. And on Monday, he was indicted on charges of trying to smuggle codeine into a second state prison. The indictment comes from a May 25 charge that Boosie and two local men had been attempting to smuggle in the banned substance. If convicted, it could lead to two to four years being tacked onto Boosie's prison time.

Ignoring speculation about his guilt or innocence, it's sad to watch one of the most singular voices of his generation get shut down. With his sinister amphibian croak, Boosie rapped about many of the same tropes as his peers, but he always conveyed greater anguish, sincerity and unfiltered passion. He created music to triumph over adversity, which resonated with anyone going through any sort of woe. He also stole the show on "Wipe Me Down," which remains one of the funnest songs of all time.

Recently, a bootleg mixtape compilation of his most recent work has cropped up. Downloading it is recommended. Of local interest is "California," a paean to the streets of L.A. and its most famous cash crop.

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7.20.2011

Reps. Cooper, Wolf call for a House vote on the Gang of Six debt plan

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A House Republican and a member of the New Democrat coalition are jointly calling on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring the Senate’s Gang of Six deficit-reduction proposal to a House vote alongside an increase in the debt ceiling.

Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) sent a letter Tuesday to Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voicing their support for the just-released Gang of Sixproposal, which calls for $3.7 trillion in budget savings over a decade.

“We applaud this effort and ask that you provide the opportunity to vote on this proposal as part of any request for an increase in the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline,” Wolf and Cooper wrote.

Cooper has been involved in New Democrat discussions over the debt limit in recent days. Members of the business-friendly coalition, which comprises 43 Democrats, talked about the Gang of Six proposal at a meeting Tuesday, and its leadership, led by chairman Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), released a statement supporting a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction and the debt limit. Cooper is also a member of the more conservative Blue Dog coalition.

Wolf is one of only a few House Republicans to embrace the Senate framework in the hours after it was released. A Boehner spokesman said Tuesday that while the proposal “shares many similarities” with the outline the Speaker has discussed with President Obama, it “also appears to fall short in some important areas.”

Several other House Republicans withheld comment, saying they had yet to see the details of the plan.

Obama praised the proposal in a statement, though he stopped short of a full endorsement.

“The Gang of Six plan is bitter medicine and, while not perfect, could restore our fiscal health,” Wolf and Cooper wrote. “There is never a convenient time to make tough decisions, but the longer we put off fixing the problem, the worse the medicine will be.”

“We believe this approach deserves the full and immediate attention of the House of Representatives,” they wrote.

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7.08.2011

JoJo LeMond wastes no time bouncing back

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Six weeks ago, the 20 sections owned by LeMond, his wife, Blair, and another family burned in a grassfire that decimated thousands of acres of Texas landscape. LeMond suddenly had no grazing land, no fences and "nothing to do."
LeMond got on the phone with Canadian heeler Marty Becker, who had stayed with him in Texas last fall, when LeMond was still thinking about staying on the rodeo road, and asked him if would consider being his partner for the rest of this year.
LeMond and Becker won the first round at the Sisters (Ore.) Rodeo June 9 with a time of 4.5 seconds, breaking the arena record of 4.6 set 15 years earlier by Speed Williams and Dennis Gatz, and finished second in the two-head average behind Chad Masters and Jade Corkill (9.9 seconds to 10.0). The next day, LeMond/Becker put down a time of 4.6 seconds at the Livermore (Calif.) Rodeo, and that stood up to win the event by six-tenths-of-a-second over Wrangler NFR veterans Riley and Brady Minor.
"I have always wanted to rope with Marty," LeMond said. LeMond and Becker won the rodeo in Rosenberg, Texas, and won a round in Pasadena, Texas, last fall before LeMond decided to take his hiatus, so he had $3,144 in 2011 earnings entering the June 9-12 weekend. Becker, who has recently roped with Keven Daniel and Speed Williams, is 30th in the world with $14,332 while LeMond sits 50th with $8,636.

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7.05.2011

JoJo covers Drake's 'Marvin's Room' -- Listen to the female response here

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It's not what we'd expect from 20-year-old JoJo, but her cover of Drake's "Marvin's Room" is earning plenty of buzz around the interwebs these days.

If there are any doubts that the tween sensation who won our hearts over with her hits "Leave (Get Out)" and "Too Little Too Late" is growing up, she's doing her darnedest to make them disappear. In May, JoJo released the single "Other Chick" off her third studio album, "Jumping Trains." Based on the title alone, it's easy to see the love-triangle theme, here.

In her answer to Drake's drunk-dialing confessions, she echoes his "I'm just sayin' you could do better." Read a few of her NSFW lyrics below and listen to both of the tracks. Though she's not old enough to legally drink, we're kind of into JoJo's response. How about you?

"I hear you got a new chick,
A dancer little barbie doll.
I feel so pathetic,
But you still haven't heard it all.
F*** that new girl that you like so bad.
She's not crazy like me,
I bet you like that.
I said f*** that new girl that's been in your bed,
And when you're in her,
I know I'm in your head."

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7.02.2011

Greinke struggles, Brewers stumble in loss to Cubs

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CHICAGO – The Milwaukee Brewers came to Chicago looking every bit like a contender primed to roll over one of the league's worst teams.
It's one of those games. Kosuke Fukudome had three hits and broke it open with a three-run homer, and Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Pena also went deep.
Fukudome singled and scored in the first, hit an RBI triple and scored in the second, and delivered the big blow in the sixth when he connected off reliever Daniel Herrera to make it a four-run game. "Overall, we didn't play very good baseball and they played good baseball," the Brewers' Ryan Braun said. It's a combination of us playing bad and them playing good."
Starlin Castro had three hits and the Cubs got a shot of momentum heading into their weekend series against the Yankees.
"I talked to Rickie," manager Ron Roenicke said. Greinke was far from awesome.
The Brewers got two-run homers from Braun and George Kottaras off Matt Garza in the first two innings, but the Cubs answered each time.
Herrera came in and Fukudome quickly gave the Cubs some breathing room when he drove a 1-2 pitch to the right-field seats for his third home run. Greinke simply shrugged off his rough outing.
Fukudome had a couple hits that started a rally and drove in a run. Notes: Cubs manager Mike Quade wasn't exactly shedding tears over New York's Derek Jeter missing this weekend's series. Six hits shy of 3,000, Jeter is sidelined by a strained right calf. "I'm like every other baseball guy. I don't want this guy coming here getting his 3,000th hit," Quade said. "Zach's a good guy and works hard, he's trying to manage his stuff," Roenicke said.

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