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Former Regulators: Carbon Rules Don’t Threaten Power Grid Reliability

Cutting carbon pollution from power plants shouldn’t threaten electrical reliability according to the folks whose job it was to keep the grid humming in past years.

Critics of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut existing power plant greenhouse gas emissions warn it could cause rolling blackouts. But a number of former grid regulators say the nation’s electrical system has proven very adaptable.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Marc Spitzer says the current commission knows better than to mix politics with what is really a complex technical question.

“Politics in this country, we are polarized,“ Spitzer says. “The people who are responsible for the grid in terms of reliability, affordability and proper environmental outcomes, feel a little bit put upon by the rival political factions.“

The Gilmer Free Press


Spitzer says the politics bear little relation to principles of electrical engineering. Under the proposed EPA requirements, West Virginia would cut about 30 percent of carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030.

At least three separate studies have said the grid should be able to shift to cleaner power sources without threatening reliability. Cheryl Roberto, with the Environmental Defense Fund and a former member of Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission, says the industry is already evolving just as it has in the past.

“The system’s transforming, with or without these requirements,“ says Roberto. “We have system operators who have been extremely successful over the past transitions. And they have more tools to do it now.“

Roberto and others point to the flexibility the EPA plan gives states and utilities to find their own ways to meet the requirements.

One of those studies is by consulting firm the Analysis Group. Senior Advisor Susan Tierney says grid operators, power companies and regulators can coordinate, just as they always do, to keep the lights on.

“We have an electric industry that is so mission-oriented that it’s just a false premise to think they’re going to stand around and let the problem happen,“ says Tierney. “They’re going to do something ahead of time.“

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin: UNLOCKING THE DOOR TO A COLLEGE EDUCATION

The Gilmer Free Press


High school seniors have the world at their fingertips - and a lot on their plates. Planning for the future can be overwhelming. Choosing what’s next after graduation is one of the biggest decisions of they’ll face, but if that decision includes a college education then the first step is clear: Complete the FAFSA.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the key to accessing both federal and state financial aid programs. Here in West Virginia, our goal is to get 55 percent of high school seniors to complete a FAFSA by April 15. Currently, only 19 percent of seniors have taken this crucial first step. We have work to do, and we know how high the stakes are.

In today’s global economy, education or training beyond high school is vital.  In fact, by 2020, 51 percent of all jobs in West Virginia will require at least a two-year degree.  A large number of these will be high-skill, high-paying jobs in our state’s energy, advanced manufacturing and information technology sectors as well as health care and education.

The opportunities are there, but reaching them will require education or training after high school. And the good news is - a college education in West Virginia is among the most affordable in the nation.

Through merit- and need-based financial aid programs, our state offers robust opportunities that make college more affordable. And completing the FAFSA can ensure upcoming deadlines for these programs are met.

Students applying for the merit-based PROMISE Scholarship need to complete both the FAFSA and PROMISE application by March 1. The FAFSA is the only application students need to complete to be considered for our state’s need-based Higher Education Grant, which has a deadline of April 15.

Skilled and educated graduates strengthen our economy. They strengthen our workforce, create jobs and solve problems. They meet the challenges of new industries, care for our loved ones and educate our children.

Thanks to the many options for an affordable higher education across West Virginia, our students have the opportunity to make a life - and a difference - in the Mountain State.

If you are interested in pursuing education or training beyond high school, I encourage you to access the FAFSA at www.FAFSA.gov and to visit our state’s free college- and career-planning website, www.CFWV.com. There, you can get a jumpstart on a bright future - right here at home.

Gilmer County Schools: Child Find Letter - 03.02.15

The Gilmer Free Press

PSC and WVONGA Host Joint Seminar on Gas Pipeline Safety

The Gilmer Free Press

The Public Service Commission of West Virginia and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association (WVONGA) are holding a Pipeline Safety Seminar in Bridgeport on February 24 and 25, 2015.  The seminar is expected to have over 160 participants and will focus on subjects including a review of federal and state requirements and the top ten problems Public Service Commission Pipeline Safety inspectors have seen in the past year.

Featured speakers at the conference will include representatives of the US DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Public Service Commission’s Gas Pipeline Safety Division.

“The purpose of the seminar is to ensure all regulated pipeline operators in West Virginia understand and comply with pipeline safety regulations to ensure the safety and integrity of West Virginia’s pipelines,” according to PSC Gas Pipeline Safety Director Mary Friend.

West Virginia has over 14,000 miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines which are overseen by PHMSA and the Public Service Commission.

The Public Service Commission Gas Pipeline Safety Division is responsible for the inspection and enforcement of Federal and State pipeline safety regulations for intrastate natural gas and hazardous liquid transmission, regulated gathering pipelines and gas distribution.

WVONGA, the oldest trade association in West Virginia, has represented a wide cross section of the oil and gas industry for 100 years.  A membership organization representing over 200 companies, WVONGA members include all sections of the industry from exploration, drilling and transmission to legal and technical support.

G-Fin™: Genesis Healthcare Reports Fiscal Year End 2014 Results

The Gilmer Free Press

—Genesis HealthCare Combination with Skilled Healthcare Complete

—2014 Results Reported for Genesis HealthCare and Skilled Healthcare

—2015 Guidance Provided for Combined Company

Genesis Healthcare, Inc. (Genesis) (NYSE: GEN), one of the largest post-acute care providers in the United States, today announced the consolidated operating results for the quarter and year ended December 31, 2014, separately for each of FC-GEN Operations Investment, LLC, the parent company of Genesis HealthCare, LLC prior to the combination (also referred to as “Genesis” or the “Company” herein), and Skilled Healthcare Group (Skilled). 

Genesis HealthCare, LLC and Skilled combined on February 2, 2015 to form Genesis Healthcare, Inc. “The combination of our portfolios enables Genesis to re-enter the public equity markets and expand opportunities in new markets with our sub-acute and long-term care facilities and our rehabilitation services business,“ stated Genesis Chief Executive Officer, George V. Hager, Jr. “We believe the opportunities of scale created by this combination better position Genesis to meet the challenges facing the post-acute industry and enhance our ability to partner successfully with payors and providers across the country.“

Full Year 2014 Results
Genesis’ revenue and adjusted revenue for the year ended December 31, 2014 was $4.77 billion and $4.75 billion, respectively, up from revenue and adjusted revenue of $4.71 billion and $4.69 billion, respectively, in the year ended December 31, 2013.  Genesis’ skilled patient days mix remained relatively constant at 21.7% in the year ended 2014 versus 21.8% in the same period a year ago. Occupancy based on available operating beds increased 90 basis points to 89.2% at the year ended 2014 from 88.3% at the year ended 2013.

Skilled’s revenue for the year ended December 31, 2014 was $833.3 million, a decrease of 1.1% when compared to $842.3 million in the year ended December 31, 2013. Skilled’s skilled patient days mix remained constant at 21.8% in the year ended 2014 and for the same period a year ago. Occupancy based on available operating beds declined 60 basis points to 81.6% at December 31, 2014 from 82.2% at December 31, 2013.

Genesis reported adjusted EBITDAR of $589.8 million and adjusted EBITDA of $140.6 million for the year ended December 31, 2014, an increase of less than 1% from adjusted EBITDAR of $589.7 million and a decrease of 11.9% from adjusted EBITDA of $159.6 million in the prior year.

For the year ended December 31, 2014, Skilled reported adjusted EBITDAR of $98.8 million and adjusted EBITDA of $78.8 million, an increase of 8.4% from adjusted EBITDAR of $91.2 million and an increase of 9.0% from adjusted EBITDA of $72.3 million in the prior year.

Genesis’ loss from continuing operations for the year ended December 31, 2014 totaled $237.5 million, as compared to a loss from continuing operations of $169.6 million in the prior year. Genesis’ adjusted income from continuing operations for the year ended December 31, 2014 totaled $24.7 million compared to adjusted income from continuing operations of $26.6 million in the prior year. Adjusted income from continuing operations excludes other adjustments as found in the Reconciliation of Net (Loss) Income to EBITDA, EBITDAR, Adjusted EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDAR table in this press release.

Skilled’s loss from continuing operations for the year ended December 31, 2014 totaled $0.9 million, as compared to a loss from continuing operations of $6.2 million in the prior year. Skilled’s adjusted income from continuing operations for the year ended December 31, 2014 totaled $15.5 million compared to adjusted income from continuing operations of $12.0 million in the prior year. Adjusted income from continuing operations excludes certain items as described in the Reconciliation of Net (Loss) Income to EBITDA, EBITDAR, Adjusted EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDAR table at the end of this press release.

Skilled’s loss from continuing operations per diluted share was $0.02 for the year ended December 31, 2014, as compared to loss from continuing operations per diluted share $0.17 for the year ended December 31, 2013. Adjusted income from continuing operations per diluted share was $0.40 for the year ended December 31, 2014, an increase of 25.0% compared to adjusted income from continuing operations per diluted share of $0.32 for the year ended December 31, 2013.

Fourth Quarter 2014 Results
Genesis’ revenue and adjusted revenue for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 was $1.19 billion, respectively, up from revenue and adjusted revenue of $1.19 and $1.18 billion, respectively, in the comparable period of the prior year.  Genesis’ skilled patient days mix increased 60 basis points to 21.4% in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 20.8% in the fourth quarter of 2013. Occupancy based on available operating beds increased 30 basis points to 88.6% in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 88.3% in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Skilled’s revenue for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 was $210.4 million, an increase of 1% when compared to $208.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2013. Skilled’s skilled patient days mix increased 10 basis points to 21.4% in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 21.3% in the fourth quarter of 2013. Occupancy based on available operating beds declined 110 basis points to 81.1% in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 82.2% in the fourth quarter of 2013.

For the quarter ended December 31, 2014, Genesis’ adjusted EBITDAR was $125.7 million and adjusted EBITDA was $12.0 million, a decrease of 15.4% from adjusted EBITDAR of $148.5 million and a decrease of 70.2% from adjusted EBITDA of $40.4 million in the comparable period in the prior year. 

For the quarter ended December 31, 2014, Skilled reported adjusted EBITDA of $20.9 million and adjusted EBITDAR of $26.1 million, an increase of 26.3% from adjusted EBITDA of $16.5 million and an increase of 22.9% from adjusted EBITDAR of $21.2 million in the comparable period in the prior year. 

Genesis’ loss from continuing operations for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 totaled $123.2 million, as compared to a loss from continuing operations of $54.2 million in the comparable period in the prior year. Genesis’ adjusted loss from continuing operations for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 totaled $2.3 million compared to adjusted income from continuing operations of $2.8 million in the same period in the prior year. Adjusted income from continuing operations excludes other adjustments as found in the Reconciliation of Net (Loss) Income to EBITDA, EBITDAR, Adjusted EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDAR table in this press release.

For the quarter ended December 31, 2014, Skilled’s loss from continuing operations totaled less than $0.1 million, as compared to income from continuing operations of $0.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2013. Adjusted income from continuing operations for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 totaled $5.2 million compared to adjusted income from continuing operations of $2.1 million for the fourth quarter of 2013. Adjusted income from continuing operations excludes certain items as described in the Reconciliation of Net (Loss) Income to EBITDA, EBITDAR, Adjusted EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDAR table at the end of this press release.

Skilled’s loss from continuing operations per diluted share was less than $0.01 for the quarter ended December 31, 2014, as compared to income from continuing operations per diluted share of $0.02 for the same period in 2013. Adjusted income from continuing operations per diluted share was $0.14 for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 compared to adjusted income from continuing operations per diluted share of $0.06 for the quarter ended December 31, 2013.

Management Commentary
“After strong performance for the first three quarters of 2014, fourth quarter earnings were below our expectations,“ said George V. Hager, CEO of Genesis. “Our occupancy and skilled mix in the fourth quarter were relatively stable as compared to the first three quarters of 2014 and the fundamentals of the business remain strong.  The earnings shortfall as compared to our guidance is primarily attributed to a few controllable areas of the business and unexpected growth in employee health benefit expenses.“

Genesis’ adjusted EBITDAR for the full fiscal year 2014 and fourth quarter was approximately $31 million below the low end range of previously announced guidance.  The shortfall is primarily attributed to the following:

EBITDAR Variance Summary (Genesis)



($ in millions)


Variance

Therapist efficiency


$              10.0

Controllable inpatient services routine costs


9.8

Current year self-insured expenses, principally employee health benefits


10.3

Total


$              30.1

Therapist Efficiency
Therapist efficiency in the fourth quarter fell short of Genesis’ expectations by approximately 300 basis points. After three consecutive quarters of improvement over the prior year, fourth quarter 2014 therapist labor hours were elevated relative to patient volumes.  Therapist efficiency for the first nine months of 2014 was 69% as compared to 67% for the first nine months of 2013.  In the fourth quarter of 2014, therapist efficiency dropped to 65% from 68% in the same period of the prior year.  Therapist efficiency is computed by dividing billable labor minutes related to patient care by total labor minutes for the period.

Controllable Routine Costs
Controllable routine costs in Genesis’ inpatient services segment were $9.8 million higher than projected.  About half of the incremental cost was driven by variable nursing labor hours that were not matched to occupancy levels.  The remaining half of the increased costs was attributable to higher dietary and property maintenance costs.

Self-Insured Expenses
Self-insured expenses recognized in the fourth quarter were $10.3 million higher than projected, largely driven by greater utilization of self-insured employee health benefits in the fourth quarter as compared to the first three quarters of 2014.  Genesis believes the increased utilization was, in part, a response to employee health benefit plan modifications set to take effect January 01, 2015 and does not expect this level of elevated utilization to reoccur. 

“We take pride in our ability to manage cost levels to business volume and have implemented a number of actions to improve performance and adjust our cost structure permanently,“ noted Mr. Hager.  We are focused on better managing variable costs to patient volume while maintaining quality of care.  I expect that we will be back on track with respect to routine cost management in the first quarter of 2015 and our results in January 2015 are encouraging.“

The planned cost reductions are expected to result in year-over-year improvement in pre-tax cash flow between $30 and $40 million.  All actions necessary to realize these savings have been executed, including:  the elimination of overhead positions and reduction in staff hours approximating over 300 full time equivalent employees and modifications to employee benefit programs. The cost reductions also include leveraging best practices across Genesis’ portfolio of centers.

Skilled Healthcare’s fourth quarter and full year 2014 results fell approximately $1.5 million short of the low end of previously announced guidance. The shortfall is attributed to higher than anticipated professional liability expenses and a higher than anticipated drop in hospice segment patient days.

Cash Flow and Balance Sheet
For the year ended December 31, 2014, Genesis generated operating cash flow of $107.7 million and Skilled generated operating cash flow of $26.3 million

In connection with the Skilled combination, Genesis entered into a five year Revolving Credit Facility having a total commitment size of $550 million, with borrowings subject to a borrowing base.  Genesis also entered into a two year $360 million Real Estate Bridge Loan with proceeds used to refinance Skilled’s previously held non-HUD real estate and revolving credit facility loans. 

Total net debt at the date of the combination approximated $970 million, resulting in pro forma net funded leverage of 3.5x and lease adjusted net leverage of 6.4x, using the mid-point of the guidance described below.

“We are committed to reducing our leverage and fixed charges during this year,“ stated Tom DiVittorio, Chief Financial Officer of Genesis.  “The Company is in the process of initiating a HUD financing program.  Our goal is to refinance, within the next twelve months, 67 properties currently under the bridge loan with HUD mortgages at an estimated annual pretax interest savings of approximately $14 million.  We also continue to evaluate the prospect of selling non-core assets and other deleveraging initiatives as a means to reduce our debt and fixed charges.“

2015 Guidance
The Company expects adjusted net income from continuing operations on a diluted per share basis of $0.34 to $0.39 in 2015, adjusted EBITDAR of $755.0 million to $770.0 million and adjusted EBITDA of $267.6 million to $282.6 million.  The 2015 guidance is based on 154.6 million diluted weighted average common shares outstanding and common stock equivalents on a fully exchanged basis. The Company’s earnings guidance was prepared on a pro forma basis to reflect full year estimates assuming the operations of Skilled were combined with Genesis as of January 1, 2015. It also assumes realization of approximately $13.0 million of synergies in 2015, with fourth quarter 2015 synergies approximating $5.2 million. The Company expects to reach approximately $25.0 million of annualized run-rate synergies by mid-2016.

The following table illustrates projected key growth drivers to bridge proforma combined 2014 adjusted EBITDAR to the low and high end ranges of the Company’s 2015 adjusted EBITDAR guidance:



Adjusted EBITDAR
Guidance Range Bridge

($ in millions)


Low End


High End






2014 Genesis & Skilled pro forma combined Adjusted EBITDAR


$            688.6


$        688.6

Combination synergies expected to be realized in 2015


13.0


13.0

Impact of cost reduction initiatives 


30.0


40.0

Incremental earnings from completed new builds / acquisitions


9.0


11.0

Organic growth - rehabilitation therapy segment


7.0


9.0

Organic growth - inpatient segment


7.4


8.4

2015 Genesis Healthcare, Inc.  Guidance 


$            755.0


$        770.0

Cash basis rent expense is projected to grow $18.2 million, with approximately $13.1 million driven by fixed rent escalators and the remainder due to incremental rent from newly acquired or built facilities.

Recurring free cash flow in 2015 is projected to approximate $70.0 million after accounting for projected cash interest of $72.0 million, recurring capital expenditures of $76.0 million and cash taxes of $56.0 million.  Cash income taxes assume tax depreciation and amortization expense approximating $62.0 million and a tax rate of 40.0%.

“Our growth beyond 2015 is expected to be fueled by a combination of organic growth, continued expansion of our best in class rehabilitation therapy segment and selective acquisitions and facility development; with an emphasis on growing our short stay PowerBack Rehabilitation brand,“ stated Hager. 

Conference Call
Genesis HealthCare will hold a conference call at 8:30 AM Eastern Time on Friday, February 20, 2015 to discuss fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2014 financial results.  Investors can access the conference call by calling 855.849.2198 or live via a listen-only webcast through the Genesis web site at www.genesishcc.com/investor-relations/, where a replay of the call will also be posted for one year. 

About Genesis HealthCare
Genesis HealthCare, Inc. (NYSE: GEN) is a holding company with subsidiaries that, on a combined basis, comprise one of the nation’s largest post-acute care providers with more than 500 skilled nursing centers and assisted/senior living communities in 34 states nationwide. Genesis subsidiaries also supply rehabilitation and respiratory therapy to more than 1,800 healthcare providers in 47 states and the District of Columbia.  References made in this release to “Genesis,“ “the Company,“ “we,“ “us” and “our” refer to Genesis HealthCare, Inc. and each of its wholly-owned companies. Visit our website at www.genesishcc.com.

Forward-Looking Statements
This release includes “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the federal securities laws, including the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. You can identify these statements by the fact that they do not relate strictly to historical or current facts. These statements contain words such as “may,“ “will,“ “project,“ “might,“ “expect,“ “believe,“ “anticipate,“ “intend,“ “could,“ “would,“ “estimate,“ “continue,“ “pursue” or “prospect,“ or the negative or other variations thereof or comparable terminology. They include, but are not limited to, statements about Genesis’ beliefs regarding its governance structure and its opportunities for the future. These forward-looking statements are based on current expectations and projections about future events, including the assumptions stated in this release.

Investors are cautioned that forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance or results and involve risks and uncertainties that cannot be predicted or quantified and, consequently, the actual performance of Genesis may differ materially from that expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements.

These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to the following:

  • reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates, or changes in the rules governing the Medicare program could have a material adverse effect on our revenue, financial condition and results of operations;
  • continued efforts of federal and state governments to contain growth in Medicaid expenditures could adversely affect our revenue and profitability;
  • recent federal government proposals could limit the states’ use of provider tax programs to generate revenue for their Medicaid expenditures, which could result in a reduction in our reimbursement rates under Medicaid;
  • revenue we receive from Medicare and Medicaid is subject to potential retroactive reduction;
  • our success is dependent upon retaining key executive and personnel;
  • health reform legislation could adversely affect our revenue and financial condition;
  • annual caps that limit the amounts that can be paid for outpatient therapy services rendered to any Medicare beneficiary may negatively affect our results of operations;
  • we are subject to a Medicare cap amount for our hospice business. Our net patient service revenue and profitability could be adversely affected by limitations on Medicare payments;
  • we are subject to extensive and complex laws and government regulations. If we are not operating in compliance with these laws and regulations or if these laws and regulations change, we could be required to make significant expenditures or change our operations in order to bring our facilities and operations into compliance;
  • we face inspections, reviews, audits and investigations under federal and state government programs and contracts. These audits could have adverse findings that may negatively affect our business;
  • significant legal actions, which are commonplace in our professions, could subject us to increased operating costs and substantial uninsured liabilities, which would materially and adversely affect our results of operations, liquidity and financial condition;
  • insurance coverage may become increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain for health care companies, and our self-insurance may expose us to significant losses;
  • we may be unable to reduce costs to offset decreases in our patient census levels or other expenses completely;
  • future acquisitions may use significant resources, may be unsuccessful and could expose us to unforeseen liabilities;
  • we lease a significant number of our facilities and may experience risks relating to lease termination, lease extensions and special charges;
  • our substantial indebtedness could adversely affect our financial health and prevent us from fulfilling our financial obligations;
  • following the combination of FC-GEN Operations Investment LLC and Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc., we may not be able to successfully integrate our operations, which could adversely affect us and the market price of our common stock;
  • We have incurred substantial costs and expect to incur additional transaction and integration costs in connection with the combination of FC-GEN Operations Investment LLC and Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc.;
  • the holders of a majority of the voting power of Genesis’ common stock have entered into a voting agreement, and the control group’s interests may conflict with yours;
  • some of our directors are significant stockholders or representatives of significant stockholders, which may result in the diversion of corporate opportunities and other potential conflicts; and
  • we are a “controlled company” within the meaning of NYSE rules and, as a result, qualify for and rely on exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements.

Genesis’ (formerly known as Skilled) Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2013, subsequent Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, recent Current Reports on Form 8-K, and other filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2014 when it is filed, discuss the foregoing risks as well as other important risks and uncertainties. Any forward-looking statements contained herein are made only as of the date of this release. Genesis disclaims any obligation to update the forward-looking statements. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.

Note Regarding Use of Non-GAAP Financial Measures
For a discussion of the reasons why the Company utilizes non-GAAP financial measures and believes that the presentation of such measures provides useful information to investors regarding the Company’s financial condition and results of operations, see the Current Report on Form 8-K furnished with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on February 19, 2015.

Genesis HealthCare Contact:
Investor Relations
610.925.2000

Proposals for Doe Hunting

The drastic drop in the number of bucks hunters killed in 2014 is reflected in the proposed regulations for the 2015 antlerless deer hunting season in West Virginia. Whether the changes are enough to satisfy hunters remain to be seen.

“The season framework is very similar or the same as in years past,” said DNR Game Management Supervisor Gary Foster. “There will be a lot of counties that are the same, but a lot of counties will be a lot more restrictive. That’s primarily due to that decreased buck gun harvest.”

Under the proposed regulations for 2015 Boone, Tucker, Wayne, Webster and portions of Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Mineral, Pendleton and Raleigh counties would have no antlerless hunting season.

Hunters in Randolph, Mercer, Nicholas, Pocahontas and portions of Clay, Fayette Raleigh counties will need to apply for a limited number of tags in 2015 and the bag limit will be one antlerless deer.

The biggest change may be a reduction in the antlerless bag limit in selected counties. Hunters in Barbour, Braxton, Cabell, Grant, Hancock, Kanawha (north of Elk River and west of Corridor G), Lincoln, Marshall, Pleasants, Preston, Summers, Taylor, and Upshur Counties will see their bag limit for 2015 set at one antlerless deer.

The Gilmer Free Press


The other major change will be in the number of counties where hunters are required to kill an antlerless deer before they could kill their second buck.  Thirty-one counties carried the so called “earn a second buck” restriction in 2014. The number this year is down to nine counties or parts of counties.  Those are Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, part of Greenbrier, Hampshire, Part of Mineral, Morgan, Ritchie, and Wood Counties.  The bag limit in those counties for antlerless deer remained at three as proposed by game biologists.

The bag limit will also remain at three without the “earn a second buck” restriction in Berkeley, Brooke, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lewis, Marion, Mason, Monongalia, Monroe, Ohio, Putnam, Roane, Tyler, Wetzel, and Wirt County.  The eastern portion of Pendleton County was also added to the three antlerless deer limit for 2015.

“The 2014 harvest was definitely low, but I don’t think it’s a reflection of a lower deer population,” said Foster. “There are a lot of other factors that came into play including the really strong mast crop and terrible weather in the first week of buck season, particularly on the first day.  The data looks very similar to what we had in 2010 after the bumper crop when mast was at an all time high.”

The proposals keep the season framework intact.  The season would be October 22-24, November 23-December 5 concurrent with the buck season. December 17-19 and December 29-31 on private land.  The season dates for public land include November 23-December 5 concurrent with buck season, December 17-19, December 29-31.

The agency indicated harvest objectives and population density is more inline with management plans on the state’s public hunting areas. The proposals include a limited antlerless hunt with a bag limit of one on the Elk River, Big Ugly, and Wallback WMA’s and Greenbreir State Forest and Kumbrabow State Forest.

Biologist suggest unlimited hunting with a one deer bag limit for does on Castleman’s Run, Stonecoal Lake, Camp Creek, McClintic, Stonewall Jackson Lake, Amherst/Plymouth, Cross Creek, Beury Mountain, Chief Cornstalk, Lewis-Wetzel, Bluestone, and Greenbottom Wildlife Management Areas as well as Cooper’s Rock State Forest.  Any public hunting area not specified in the proposal would follow the county’s proposed regulations for antlerless deer hunting.

The dates and bag limits are only proposals at this point. They will go out for public comment and the agency will accept comments on the ideas during the upcoming sectional meetings in March.  The state Natural Resources Commission will vote on the proposals at their next meeting.

~~  Chris Lawrence ~~

G-Fin™: Lignetics and Bear Mountain Forest Products Merge to Create the…

The Gilmer Free Press

Lignetics and Bear Mountain Forest Products Merge to
Create the Largest Residential Wood Pellet Producer in the United States

The two longest running wood pellet manufacturing companies in the U.S. announced
a merger that will create the largest residential wood pellet fuel producer in the United States.

The two longest running wood pellet manufacturing companies in the U.S. announced a merger that will create the largest residential wood pellet fuel producer in the United States. Ken Tucker, CEO of Lignetics, Inc. (“Lignetics”) and Bob Sourek, CEO of Bear Mountain Forest Products, Inc. (“Bear Mountain”), announced that the two companies have completed a merger, creating a company that will now have a production capacity of approximately 450,000 tons of wood pellets per year. The company will also be the only pellet manufacturing company that will have wood pellet manufacturing plants on both the East Coast and the West Coast. The combined company will have plant locations in Brownsville, Oregon, Cascade Locks, Oregon, Sandpoint, Idaho, Glenville, West Virginia and Kenbridge, Virginia. The merger brings together some of the industry’s most well-known brands including Golden Fire, Lignetics, Bear Mountain, America’s Best, Pres-to-Log, Dry Den, Cozy Den and EZ Equine.

“Completing this merger marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our two companies’ history, making us the market leader in the residential wood pellet industry in the U.S.,“ stated Ken Tucker.  Bob Sourek added, “We are excited about the merger with Lignetics and the ability to offer all of our customers a more diverse product offering, now from five different plant locations.” 

In addition to having the market leading, high quality brands of wood fuel pellets (Golden Fire, Lignetics, Bear Mountain, America’s Best and Pres-to-Logs), the array of products that the combined company will be able to offer its customer base is now even more diverse. In the animal bedding category, products feature the patented Dry Den Animal Bedding Pellets with Zeolites, the EZ Equine 100% All Natural Pine Animal Bedding Pellet, and Cozy Den Premium Shavings in both pine and cedar. In the product category of fire logs and bricks, the featured products are Bear Mountain Bear Bricks and Pres-to-Logs® fire logs, which have been on store shelves since the 1980’s. Additionally, the merger will strengthen the companies’ position in the BBQ pellet market with increased production and distribution of Bear Mountain BBQ Pellets

Financing for the transaction was provided by Taglich Private Equity LLC, management and Gladstone Capital Corporation, who provided subordinated debt and equity financing, along with Texas Capital Bank, who provided senior debt in support of the transaction.  Tucker and Sourek also noted that the transaction will give the company the capital base to pursue expansion plans at their current facilities, as well as exploring potential future add-on acquisitions.  Tucker noted, “We are excited about the growth opportunities in our business and believe we have chosen excellent financial partners to support us in our goal of being the largest and highest quality residential wood pellet manufacturing company in the U.S.” 

Lignetics was founded in 1983 and is one of the founding pioneers of manufacturing premium wood pellets and Pres-to-Logs® fire logs for home heating. For more information on Lignetics and all its products, visit www.lignetics.com.

Since 1988, Bear Mountain Forest Products has been a driving force in the wood pellet fuel industry across the western U.S. Their superior brands are well-known for producing wood fuel pellets with the lowest moisture content in the industry, creating the hottest, cleanest, and longest-lasting wood fuel pellets using only 100% Douglas Fir.  For more information on Bear Mountain Forest Products and its product lines, visit www.bmfp.com

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The Legislature Today 02.24.2015

At the legislature today, bills are read in their entirety on the senate floor as Democrats retaliate for action on the charter schools bill.

In the house, the judiciary committee begins to consider amendments to the coal mine safety and jobs act.







West Virginia News   150225

The Gilmer Free Press

GOVERNOR TOMBLIN VETOES ‘ANTI-OPIOID’ BILL OVER TECHNICAL ISSUE

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has vetoed two bills over technical issues.

On Tuesday, the Democrat nixed a proposal about net metering relationships between utilities and people who generate their own electricity.

Some solar advocates have opposed the bill.

Tomblin also vetoed a bill giving access to potentially life-saving medication to people at risk of overdosing on opioids, including heroin.

The governor pointed out that the bill was introduced at his request, and pledged his support for it.

However, he pinpointed technical problems in it.

Tomblin suggested changes to both bills in his veto messages.


TRIAL SET FOR FORMER CAPITAL HIGH-KANAWHA COUNTY PRINCIPAL

A former Kanawha County principal is scheduled to stand trial in March on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a sexual assault allegation.

Media outlets report that former Capital High School principal Clinton Giles pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster scheduled Giles’ trial for March 23. He will remain free on a personal recognizance bond.

The 64-year-old Giles retired after he was charged on February 03.

Prosecutors say a 15-year-old female student told a counselor at the school on January 26 that she was sexually assaulted by a male student. Giles is accused of taking no action that day after the counselor reported the alleged assault to him.

Charleston police have charged a 17-year-old male student with second-degree sexual assault.


WV GOP RESURRECTS CHARTER SCHOOL BILL KILLED BY DEMOCRATS

West Virginia Republican senators have resurrected a charter school bill, sparking outcry from Democrats who say the bill should be dead.

The move on the Senate floor Tuesday prompted Democrats, in protest, to request that bills be read out loud in their entirety.

On Monday, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler led a charge to postpone indefinitely the charter school bill. The motion passed with three Republicans absent in the committee.

On Tuesday, Republicans moved to pull the bill out of the committee for floor consideration. The motion passed 18-16 along party lines. The bill could get a vote by Thursday.

Kessler said Republicans disregarded Senate rules. Republican Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael disagreed.

Republicans have control of both legislative chambers for the first time in more than eight decades.


HEALTHY HEARTS THE AIM OF GRANT MONEY IN VA, WV

More than $644,000 in grant funding aimed at promoting healthier lives in Appalachia is being awarded to care providers in Virginia and West Virginia.

The grants are from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation and are aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease accounts for 23% of all deaths in West Virginia and 22% of all deaths in Virginia.

In Virginia, the grant money will benefit St. Mary’s Health Wagon in Wise. It will be used for a program to identify, minimize and prevent heart disease through education, screening and medication management.

Also sharing in the grant will be West Virginia Health Right Inc. and its SCALE program. It aims to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among obese patients.


NCWV AIRPORT ANNOUNCES DIRECT FLIGHTS TO MYRTLE BEACH THIS SUMMER

North Central West Virginia Airport, partnering with Allegiant Travel Company, has announced a new direct flight service to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“We try to provide what the community asks for, and they’ve asked for Myrtle Beach,“ Rick Rock, Airport Director said. “West Virginians, when they say ‘the beach,‘ nine times out of 10, they’re talking about Myrtle Beach. To have this service available at the convenience that our airport offers with the professionalism of Allegiant, it’s really a great opportunity for us.“

A nearly packed house of Airport Authority members, airport employees, community leaders and local residents was on hand for the announcement, Tuesday.

Representatives from the rather busy travel company were in attendance as well and eager for the service to get underway.

“This is one of 22, 22 route announcements that Allegiant is making [on Tuesday],“ Brandon Myers, Public Relations Specialist with Allegiant said. “We’re excited to bring this Myrtle Beach low-cost travel option to Clarksburg and Bridgeport area residents. We saw a pent up demand here in the region for it, so we’re taking advantage of it.“
The 40-minute flights will begin June 05 and will run through August 17 on Mondays and Fridays.

The announcement comes roughly 18 months after the airport and travel company announced a partnership to offer direct flights to the Orlando/Sanford area.

Rock said the partnership has been great for the airport and community.

“Allegiant has come in and has done a spectacular job at our airport. Their on-time factor is tremendous. They’re great to work with. They’re very demanding, but they expect excellence and so do we.“

To kick off the seasonal service, Allegiant will offer one-way flights to Myrtle Beach from June 05-12 at a cost of $44. The return flight and all flights after the promotion will start as low as $58.

“I think the price is right, the timing is great and we’ll see,“ Benedum Airport Authority President Ron Watson said. “It will be up to the public to see whether or not they utilize the services.“

More information on tickets can be found at Alleginat’s website.

U.S.A. News   150225

The Gilmer Free Press

OBAMA VETOES KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE BILL

Defying the Republican-run Congress, President Barack Obama rejected a bill Tuesday to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, wielding his veto power for only the third time in his presidency.

Obama offered no indication of whether he’ll eventually issue a permit for the pipeline, whose construction has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate about environmental policy and climate change. Instead, Obama sought to reassert his authority to make the decision himself, rebuffing GOP lawmakers who will control both the House and Senate for the remainder of the president’s term.

“The presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously,“ Obama said in a brief notice delivered to the Senate. “But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.“

Obama vetoed the bill in private with no fanfare, in contrast to the televised ceremony Republican leaders staged earlier this month when they signed the bill and sent it to the president. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans were “not even close” to giving up the fight and derided the veto as a “national embarrassment.“

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-WV, issued the following statement today expressing disappointment in President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline:

“Today’s veto shows just how determined President Obama is to place politics ahead of people. The Keystone XL pipeline would reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East. By vetoing the Keystone XL pipeline, the president has said no to new jobs, no to secure energy, and no to working together with Congress.”

The move sends the politically charged issue back to Congress, where Republicans haven’t shown they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override Obama’s veto. North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, the bill’s chief GOP sponsor, said Republicans are about four votes short in the Senate and need about 11 more in the House.

Although the veto is Obama’s first since Republicans took control on Capitol Hill, it was not likely to be the last. GOP lawmakers are lining up legislation rolling back Obama’s actions on health care, immigration and financial regulation that Obama has promised to similarly reject.

“He’s looking at this as showing he still can be king of the hill, because we don’t have the votes to override,“ Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a vocal opponent of Obama’s climate change agenda, said in an interview. “If he vetoed this, he’s going to veto many others that are out there.“

First proposed more than six years ago, the Keystone XL pipeline project has sat in limbo ever since, awaiting a permit required by the federal government because it would cross an international boundary. The pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands with refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast that specialize in processing heavy crude oil.

Republicans and the energy industry say the $8 billion project would create jobs, spur growth and increase America’s independence from Mideast energy sources. Democrats and environmental groups have sought to make the pipeline a poster child for the type of dirty energy sources they say are exacerbating global warming.

For his part, Obama says his administration is still weighing the pipeline’s merits, and he has repeatedly threatened to veto any attempts by lawmakers to make the decision for him.

Environmental groups said they were confident Obama’s veto was a prelude to a full rejection of the pipeline. But TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, said it “remains fully committed” to building. And the Canadian government said it was not a matter of if, but when.

The GOP-controlled House passed the bill earlier in February on a 270-152 vote, following weeks of debate and tweaks in the Senate to insert language stating that climate change is real and not a hoax. Republican leaders in Congress delayed sending the bill to the White House until they returned from a weeklong recess, ensuring they would be on hand to denounce the president when he vetoed the bill.

The veto forced Republicans, still reveling in their dramatic gains in the midterm elections, to confront the limitations of being unable to turn their ideas into law without the president’s consent — despite the fact they now control both chambers of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said the Senate would start the process to try to override Obama’s veto by March 3. Republicans were also considering inserting Keystone into other critical legislation dealing with energy, spending or infrastructure that Obama would be less likely to veto, said Hoeven.

Obama last wielded his veto power in October 2010, nixing a relatively mundane bill dealing with recognition of documents notarized out of state. With the Keystone bill, Obama’s veto count stands at just three — far fewer than most of his predecessors. Yet his veto threats have been piling up rapidly since Republicans took full control of Congress, numbering more than a dozen so far this year.

The president has said he won’t approve Keystone if it’s found to significantly increase U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. A State Department analysis found that the tar sands would be developed one way or another, meaning construction of the pipeline wouldn’t necessarily affect emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month called for that analysis to be revisited, arguing that a drop in oil prices may have altered the equation.


HOW STEPHEN HAWKING, DIAGNOSED WITH ALS DECADES AGO, IS STILL ALIVE

On April 20, 2009, a moment arrived that doctors had foretold for decades. Stephen Hawking, a scientist who overcame debilitating disease to become the world’s most renowned living physicist, was on the cusp of death. The University of Cambridge released grim prognoses. Hawking, diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, was described as “very ill” and “undergoing tests” at the hospital. Newspapers ran obituary-esque articles. It seemed time was up for the man who so eloquently explained it.

But, as is his custom, Hawking survived.

Hawking shouldn’t be able to do the things he now does. The 73-year-old shouldn’t be able to deliver meditations on the existence of God. He shouldn’t be able to fret over artificial intelligence or humanity’s capacity for self-destruction. And he most definitely shouldn’t be able to attend the BAFTAs — Britain’s academy awards — settled inside the wheelchair that has carried him for decades, expressing admiration for a recent biopic that paid homage to his struggle. But yet, he is. And he does.

The Gilmer Free Press


It’s difficult to overstate the lethality of ALS, the condition with which Hawking lives. The disorder can befall anyone. It first brings muscle weakness, then wasting, then paralysis, ripping away the ability to speak and swallow and even breathe. The ALS Association says the average lifespan of someone diagnosed with the condition is between two and five years. More than 50% make it past year three. Twenty% make it past year five. From there, the number plummets. Less than 5% make it past two decades.

And then there’s Hawking. He has passed that two-decade mark twice — first in 1983, then in 2003. It’s now 2015. His capacity for survival is so great some experts say he can’t possibly suffer from ALS given the ease with which the disease traditionally dispatches victims. And others say they’ve simply never seen anyone like Hawking.

“He is exceptional,” Nigel Leigh, a professor of clinical neurology at King’s College London, told the British Medical Journal in 2002. “I am not aware of anyone else who has survived with [ALS] as long. What is unusual is not only the length of time, but that the disease seems to have burnt out. He appears to be relatively stable. … This kind of stabilization is extremely rare.”

This description is not in any way unusual. More than a decade later, when Hawking turned 70 in 2012, more researchers were baffled and amazed. Anmar al-Chalabi of King’s College London told the Associated Press Hawking was “extraordinary. … I don’t know of anyone who’s survived this long.”

So what makes Hawking different from the rest? Just luck? Or has the transcendent nature of his intellect somehow stalled what seemed an imminent fate? No one’s quite sure. Even Hawking himself, who can expound at length on the mechanics that govern the universe, is circumspect when it comes to an accomplishment that rivals his academic triumphs. “Maybe my variety [of ALS] is due to bad absorption of vitamins,” he said.

Hawking’s battle with ALS was different from the beginning. And those differences, scientists say, partly explain his miraculous longevity. The onset of ALS normally occurs later in life — the average age of diagnosis is 55 — but Hawking’s symptoms materialized when he was very young. It began with a stumble.

“In my third year at Oxford, I noticed that I seemed to be getting more clumsy, and I fell over once or twice for no apparent reason,” Hawking once wrote. “But it was not until I was at Cambridge that my father noticed, and took me to the family doctor. He referred me to a specialist, and shortly after my 21st birthday, I went into hospitals for tests. … It was a great shock to me to discover that I had motor neuron disease,” the name for the group of progressive neurological disorders that includes ALS.

Though the early diagnosis resigned him to a life of sickness, it also granted him a chance at surviving the disease longer than those who are diagnosed much later. “We have found that the survival in younger patients is strikingly better and is measured in many years — in some cases more than 10,” Leigh told the British Medical Journal. “… It’s a different beast if you start young, oddly, and no one knows why.”

Leo McCluskey of the University of Pennsylvania told Scientific American that ALS primarily kills in two different ways. One affects the breathing muscles. “So the common way people die is of respiratory failure,” he said. The other is the failure of swallowing muscles, which can result in dehydration and malnutrition. “If you don’t have these two things, you could potentially live for a long time,” he said.

But as long as Hawking has lived? For his part, Hawking says his work, focused through his disability, granted him years that wouldn’t have been available to others. Someone in a more physical field — like, say, Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankee who contracted ALS in his 30s — couldn’t have functioned at so high a level. “It has certainly helped that I have a job and that I have been looked after so well,” Hawking told the New York Times in 2011. “I am lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap.”

If anything, Hawking illustrates the very different ways ALS can afflict its victims — “just an incredible, incredible example,” McCluskey said.

It has also given rise to one of the most striking contrasts of pop science. There is Stephen Hawking’s atrophied frame, slack-jawed expression and slumped shoulders. And there is Hawking’s unmatched mind, inhabiting the stars.


NO FEDERAL CHARGES IN TRAYVON MARTIN DEATH

George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in a 2012 confrontation with the teenager, will not face federal charges, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

The decision, announced in the waning days of Attorney General Eric Holder’s tenure, resolves a case that focused on self-defense gun laws and became a flashpoint in the national conversation about race two years before the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting.

Zimmerman has said he acted in self-defense when he shot the 17-year-old Martin during a confrontation inside a gated community in Sanford, Florida, just outside Orlando. Martin, who was black, was unarmed when he was killed.

Once Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder by a state jury in July 2013, Martin’s family turned to the federal investigation in hopes that he would be held accountable for the shooting.

That probe focused on whether the killing amounted to a federal civil rights violation, which would have required proof that it was motivated by racial animosity. Although Martin’s parents have said Zimmerman initiated the fight and racially profiled Martin, the Justice Department said there was not enough evidence to bring federal civil rights charges, which would have required proof that the killing was motivated by racial animosity.

“This decision is limited strictly to the department’s inability to meet the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statutes; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the shooting,“ the Justice Department said in a news release announcing the decision Tuesday.

Zimmerman’s attorney, Don West, was on a flight and couldn’t immediately comment on the decision.

The February 2012 confrontation began after Zimmerman saw Martin while driving in his neighborhood. Zimmerman called police and got out of his car and approached Martin, who was returning from a store while visiting his father and his father’s fiancee at the same townhome complex where Zimmerman lived.

Zimmerman did not testify at his trial, but he told investigators that he feared for his life as Martin straddled him and punched him during the fight.

The decision to not prosecute Zimmerman comes even though Holder has made civil rights a cornerstone of his tenure. The Justice Department is also moving to resolve a separate high-profile civil rights case — the August shooting by a Ferguson police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. The killing sparked weeks of protests.

Days after Zimmerman was acquitted, Holder said he considered Martin’s death an “unnecessary shooting.“ In a news release Tuesday, Holder echoed remarks he made in the shooting’s aftermath.

“Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface,“ Holder said. “We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.“

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The Gilmer Free Press

PAKISTANIS FACE A DEADLINE: SURRENDER FINGERPRINTS OR GIVE UP CELLPHONE

Cellphones didn’t just arrive in Pakistan. But someone could be fooled into thinking otherwise, considering the tens of millions of Pakistanis pouring into mobile phone stores these days.

In one of the world’s largest — and fastest — efforts to collect biometric information, Pakistan has ordered cellphone users to verify their identities through fingerprints for a national database being compiled to curb terrorism. If they don’t, their service will be shut off, an unthinkable option for many after a dozen years of explosive growth in cellphone usage here.

Prompted by concerns about a proliferation of illegal and untraceable SIM cards, the directive is the most visible step so far in Pakistan’s efforts to restore law and order after Taliban militants killed 150 students and teachers at a school in December. Officials said the six terrorists who stormed the school in Peshawar were using cellphones registered to one woman who had no obvious connection to the attackers.

But the effort to match one person to each cellphone number involves a jaw-dropping amount of work. At the start of this year, there were 103 million SIM cards in Pakistan — roughly the number of the adult population — that officials were not sure were valid or properly registered. And mobile companies have until April 15 to verify the owners of all of the cards, which are tiny chips in cellphones that carry a subscriber’s personal security and identity information.

The Gilmer Free Press


Muhammad Safdar, age 30, uses his cellphone in Islamabad after he and his three children waited in line for hours for a biometric screening that would allow him to keep the phone.

In the past six weeks, 53 million SIMs belonging to 38 million residents have been verified through biometric screening, officials said.

“Once the verification of each and every SIM is done, coupled with blocking unverified SIMs, the terrorists will no longer have this tool,” said a senior Interior Ministry official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the government’s security policy. “The government knows that it’s an arduous job, both for the cellular companies and their customers, but this has to be done as a national duty.”

As Pakistan’s decade-long struggle against Islamist extremism has stretched on, residents have grown accustomed to hassles such as long security lines and police checkpoints. Now they must add the inconvenience of rushing into a retail store to keep their phones on.

“I spend all day working and sometimes have to work till late in the night. . . . I cannot afford to stand in line for hours to have my SIM verified,” said Abid Ali Shah, 50, a taxi driver who was waiting to be fingerprinted at a cellphone store. “But if I don’t do it, my phone is my only source of communication that I have to remain in touch with my family.”

Though Pakistan’s first cellphone company launched in 1991, there was only sparse usage until the turn of the 21st century. Since then, the number of cellphone subscribers has grown from about 5 million in 2003 to about 136 million today, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.

The mobile phone subscription rate now stands at about 73%, roughly equal to the rate in neighboring India, according to the World Bank. It’s even common for Pakistanis in remote or mountainous areas, where electricity can be sporadic and few have access to vehicles, to own a cellphone.

With 50 million more SIM cards left to be verified, phone companies are dispatching outreach teams deep into the countryside and mountains to notify customers of the policy.

“It’s a massive, nationwide exercise with a tight deadline, but hopefully we will be able to verify our customers by the April deadline,” said Omar Manzur, an executive at Mobilink, which has 38 million customers in Pakistan. “We have sent out 700 mobile vans all across Pakistan to reach out to these far-flung areas, the villages and small towns.”

One region that appears largely unaffected by the plan is the immediate area around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where many Islamist militants have historically sought refuge. Pakistani cellphone networks generally do not provide service to those areas, and residents try to get coverage from Afghan networks, officials said.

Cellphone owners’ fingerprints are being matched with those on file in a national database the government began creating in 2005. Those whose prints are not in the database must first submit them to the National Database & Registration Authority. Some residents, including several million Afghan refugees not eligible for citizenship, also have to obtain a court affidavit attesting they will properly use their cellphones.

Over the years, several countries, including South Africa and India, have implemented broad systems for obtaining and storing residents’ biometric information. But analysts and communications experts say they can’t recall a country trying to gather biometrics as rapidly as Pakistan is doing.

“In a country like this, where the infrastructure is not available in many areas, this looks unprecedented,” said Wahaj us Siraj, the chief executive officer of Nayatel, a major Pakistani Internet supplier.

Once the nationwide verification process is complete, police and intelligence officials will have a much easier time tracing the origins of crimes or terrorist attacks, said Ammar Jaffri, the former deputy director of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency.

Jaffri noted that cellphones have often been used to detonate explosive devices in Pakistan. Authorities are also struggling to curb extortion carried out by criminals, often affiliated with banned militant groups, who make threatening phone calls demanding money.

Jaffri said Pakistanis should just accept that a SIM card “becomes part of you” and that any privacy concerns do not override government regulation of airwaves.

“We have new technology now, and we shouldn’t be afraid of these things, we should face it,” said Jaffri, president of the Pakistan Information Security Association. “Watching people when they move, it’s natural: Every country does it. ”

As they show up at cellphone stores, some Pakistanis are learning firsthand just how lax Pakistan had been in tracking SIM cards.

At a Mobilink office in Islamabad, Muhammad Safdar, 30, was told that six different SIM cards were attached to his name.

“I think some of my friends had my ID card number,” Safdar said. “Earlier it was very easy to simply redeem that number and get a SIM issued in that name.”

Ghulam Rasool, a 24-year-old Afghan citizen living here, waited in line only to learn that the SIM card he had bought at a fruit market four years ago was now illegal.

“Before, no one asked, but now they are, and it has to be in my name,” said Rasool, who emerged from the Mobilink office with a new phone number. “Everyone has my old number, and now I have to contact hundreds of people” in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Still, many Pakistanis are taking the process in stride, saying they are willing to do whatever it takes to reduce terrorism. They are skeptical, however, that this will be the answer to ending a war that has killed more than 50,000 Pakistani residents and soldiers over the past 13 years.

“If this can bring peace, it’s okay,” said Khan Gul, his thumb still stained with blue ink. “But I am wondering how a mobile phone verification can bring peace.”

THE SPY CABLES: A GLIMPSE INTO THE MURKY WORLD OF ESPIONAGE


NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: NETANYAHU IS A MANIAC

Norman Finkelstein, author of ‘Method and Madness - The hidden story of Israel’s assaults on Gaza’, says the Goldstone report was ‘devastating’ in its conclusion that Israel was trying to punish and humiliate the citizens of Gaza, and that Israel has a ‘maniac’ for a head of state.


Afshin Rattansi goes underground on the recent Israeli attack on Gaza.

Norman Finkelstein, author of ‘Method and Madness - The hidden story of Israel’s assaults on Gaza’, says the Goldstone report was ‘devastating’ in its conclusion that Israel was trying to punish and humiliate the citizens of Gaza, and that Israel has a ‘maniac’ for a head of state.

Edzard Ernst, a leading authority on alternative medicine, warns they are ineffective and ‘dangerous’, and could cost lives if introduced to the NHS. We take a look at claims that GCHQ could have been monitoring all communication using major mobile networks after allegations they hacked into the world’s biggest producer of SIM cards.

It’s invasion time in Breaking Views, with Russian planes off the coast of Cornwall and ISIS infiltrating Turkey.

And Chris Grayling celebrates Magna Carta with a £1,500 a-head party today – whilst cutting legal aid and decreasing access to justice.


THE MISGUIDED DEBATE ABOUT HOW ‘ISLAMIC’ THE ISLAMIC STATE IS

What does the Islamic State really want? The extremist militants have carved a fiefdom of their own in the imploding nation-states of Syria and Iraq. They have proclaimed a caliphate and lured thousands of foreign fighters to their ranks. They have butchered untold numbers of innocents, enslaved women and beheaded hostages. But to what end?

This week, the Atlantic answered the question in the form of a 10,000-word cover story by Graeme Wood. Through interviews with a number of Islamic State supporters and sympathizers, Wood builds a case for why we should take the jihadists’ religious worldview seriously.

“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,“ Wood writes. “Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.“

The piece is worth reading, not least as it appeared the same week that the White House convened a summit on “countering violent extremism.“ President Obama ended proceedings with a speech reaffirming his stated belief that the U.S. is “not at war with Islam,“ but rather “with people who have perverted Islam.“ In the overheated atmosphere of Washington, this benign talking point is curiously divisive, with political opponents angry that the administration isn’t more forcefully calling out the religious underpinnings of the terrorists.

“You’ve got to be able to criticize Islam for the parts of Islam that are wrong,“ said former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“The holy war is here,“ bloviated Bill O’Reilly, “and unfortunately it seems the president of the United States will be the last one to acknowledge it.“

Giuliani and O’Reilly represent the blunt end of the conversation, which in their zeal to score political points appears to embrace the same clash of civilizations favored by Islamic State ideologues, who want nothing better than to array themselves against Western crusaders. But Wood’s lengthy piece, which has spawned many thousands more words of reaction, offers a more sophisticated reading.

To put it very simply, Wood explores the Islamic State’s “assiduous, obsessive seriousness” — the degree to which its followers genuinely believe in an apocalyptic creed that’s rooted in Islamic doctrine and await its fulfillment on Earth. The group’s mass slaughters are part of an active attempt to return the world to a primeval moment where national borders are erased and only the Islamic State’s religious law will be observed. They want to draw the West into a battle that conjures up visions of messianic end times.

“Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do,“ Wood writes, when explaining what underlies the “mettle” of the jihadists. “But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it.“

The article is rich and nuanced, and is hardly calling upon a war on Islam. But, as many critics argue, its fixation on the Islamic State’s brand of Islam obscures other important truths about the jihadists.

In a thoughtful series of comments, Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid said the piece took the Islamic State’s religious motivations “too seriously,“ and ignored the many ways in which the organization’s ideologues have forgotten or defied a long tradition of Islamic thought.

That’s echoed by the New York Times’ Ross Douthat. Wood does not convincingly dismiss the contention that the jihadists, for all their medievalist fervor, are still creatures of our modern moment. Beyond placing itself well outside the pale of centuries of accumulated Islamic jurisprudence, the Islamic State emerged out of a set of historical conditions laid down in the 20th century, and grew its ranks and spread its message through the networks of the 21st century.

Others reckon Wood too readily accepted the worldview of the Islamic State’s followers. “Though [the Islamic State] assembles its rhetoric with bits and pieces of religion,“ writes Haroon Moghul in Salon, “its relationship to Islam is like Frankenstein to a human being, or a zombie to a living person.“ Wood skirted the work of a whole raft of established Islamic scholars to produce “a 10,000 word exercise in confirmation bias,“ says the Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain.

And then there’s a larger question to consider: Does it really matter what a bunch of criminal murderers believe? Some compared this obsession with the Islamic State’s ideology to conversations in other eras about the “ethnic” or Marxist identities of insurgent groups.

“Wood’s essay reminds me of some of the breathless tracts during the Cold War that pointed out that the communists really, really believed in communism. Of course many Islamic State leaders believe their ideology,“ writes Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post. “The real questions: Why has this ideology sprung up at this moment, and why is it attractive to a group — in fact, a tiny group — of Muslim men.“

The answer to those questions can’t really be found in Wood’s meditation on the jihadists’ messianic death wish. It’s interesting to think about their delusional mindset, but it’s probably more important to reckon with the real challenges of the present: the Arab regimes whose authoritarianism has bred Islamist extremism; the disasters of Western foreign policy that in part gave life to the jihadists; the many roadblocks to development and political reform that remain in the Middle East.

We can get caught up in the “Islamic” part of the Islamic State. But matters of “state” will be what ultimately unravels it.

TOWN OF SAND FORK VETERAN’S MEMORIAL

The Gilmer Free Press

THE TOWN OF SAND FORK WOULD LIKE TO INSTALL A THIRD PLAQUE ON OUR

VETERAN’S MEMORIAL WALL FOR BOTH GILMER COUNTY AND SAND FORK AREA

VETERANS …. …

TO DO THIS WE NEED YOUR HELP…. … ADDITIONAL NAMES ARE NEEDED TO FILL

THE PLAQUES….. 52 NAMES MAKE A FULL PLAQUE…


OUR ORIGINAL PLANS WERE TO INSTALL THE NEXT PLAQUES ON VETERANS DAY

2014, HOWEVER TO DATE WE HAVE NOT RECEIVED ENOUGH NAMES TO FILL THE

PLAQUES AND THE ORDER FOR THE GRANITE PLAQUES MUST BE PLACED 3 MONTHS

IN ADVANCE TO ALLOW TIME TO HAVE THEM IN STOCK AND ENGRAVED …WE ARE NOW

LOOKING AT MEMORIAL DAY 2015.


IF YOU HAVE A FAMILY MEMBER, FRIEND OR NEIGHBOR YOU WISH TO HONOR THIS

WOULD BE A VERY SPECIAL WAY TO SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION FOR THEIR

SERVICE…DONATION OF $20.00 PER NAME IS REQUESTED, APPLICATION FORMS ARE

AVAILABLE AT SAND FORK POST OFFICE, PICK ONE UP FROM ANY TOWN COUNCIL

MEMBER OR AT   GILMER COUNTY SENIOR CENTER…..


QUESTIONS CONTACT ANY TOWN COUNCIL MEMBER OR CALL THE OFFICE AND LEAVE

A MESSAGE 304.804.2177 AND SOMEONE WILL CONTACT YOU

Nonviolence Is U.S. – Nonviolent Activists Shape American Identity

The Gilmer Free Press

As an American writer, I often examine the story of our nation for emergent archetypes of U.S. identity. Several are terribly embarrassing for a citizen of conscience: the Couch Potatoes of Consumer-Capitalist Society, the American Gladiator of War-Rage and Bigotry, the Avaricious and Appalling Wall St. Tycoon.

Yet, one plucky character threads its way stolidly through the story of the US, challenging the apathy and atrocities of other archetypes, marginalized in the media, misrepresented in history, proposing itself as an audacious, eternal figure in the identity of this nation: the Activist, linking arms with fellow citizens and striving for change. Flawed and heroic, with blind spots the size of Texas, with imperfect vision yet awe-inspiring determination, this character has appeared in many millions of Americans of all races, genders, sexualities, classes, faiths, creeds, and ages.

Against the backdrop of violence and greed, this character shows up again and again, refining the tools of nonviolent action into something as American as apple pie.

Nonviolent action, you say?

Yes, nonviolent action. We are steeped in a culture of violence, but as I was researching in preparation for writing my novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, which depicts a nonviolent movement in a slightly fictional United States, I was surprised to discover how frequently nonviolent action has been used to make change in the US . . . and how powerfully it has shaped our nation. The Civil Rights Movement comes to everyone’s mind, and perhaps the United Farmworkers’ struggle, but nonviolent action also liberated slaves via the Underground Railroad, brought us women’s suffrage and environmental protections, formed the core of the labor movement tactics, replaced child labor with public education, and, according to John Adams, won the American Revolution.

Often minimized in our history books, the tactics of nonviolent action played a powerful role in achieving American Independence from British rule. One hundred and fifty years before Gandhi, the colonists were employing many of the same tactics the Indian Self-Rule Movement would use to free themselves from Great Britain. The boycotting of British goods (tea, cloth, and other items) significantly undermined British profits from the colonies. Noncooperation with unjust laws eroded British authority as the colonists refused to comply with laws that restricted assembly and speech, allowed the quartering of soldiers in colonists’ homes, and imposed curfews. Non-payment of taxes would prove to be a landmark issue for the independence movement. The development of parallel governments and legal structures strengthened the self-rule and self-reliance of the colonists and grew local political control that would ultimately prove strong enough to replace British governance of the colonies. Acts of protest and persuasion, petitions, pamphlets, rallies, marches, denouncements, legal and illegal publications of articles, and disruption of British meetings and legal proceedings were also employed.

Reflecting on these actions, John Adams remarked that the independence of the United States was won long before a single shot was fired. Acts of noncooperation, civil disobedience, protest and persuasion, intervention, parallel institutions, and economic boycotts brought the independence movement to such a powerful position that the so-called War of Independence was not the Americans’ way of achieving freedom, but rather, the British Crown’s attempt to regain what was already lost.

Most Americans are familiar with the violent methods of the revolutionary period, but unaware of the potent effectiveness of the nonviolent actions that strengthened the internal organization of these American activists. The founding fathers and mothers were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination: subjugation of women, enslavement of Africans, genocide of native tribes, blatant racism, class prejudice and discrimination – the list goes on. Yet, an examination of how they waged struggle for independence from British rule will reveal early applications of the same tools the suffragettes would use for women’s rights, the centuries-old peace movement would use for anti-war struggles, the African-Americans would use for civil rights, the labor movement would use to win eight-hour work days, minimum wages, health and safety standards, etc. Although it was Gandhi who first used the term “nonviolent resistance,” it was an American, Henry David Thoreau, who coined the term “civil disobedience”.

Nonviolent action is as American as apple pie. It is part of our history and heritage. It has shaped this nation powerfully and potently. It has been one of our more noble contributions to global struggles for justice and equality. At a time when the American identity hangs between the archetypes of violence, greed, and apathy, the lineage of the nonviolent activist offers us an alternative . . . one it would behoove every U.S. citizen to emulate.

~~  Rivera Sun - The author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books ~~

G-TechNote™: U.S. URGES REMOVING SUPERFISH PROGRAM FROM LENOVO LAPTOPS

The Gilmer Free Press

The U.S. government on Friday advised Lenovo Group Ltd customers to remove a “Superfish,“ a program pre-installed on some Lenovo laptops, saying it makes users vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The Department of Homeland Security said in an alert that the program makes users vulnerable to a type of cyberattack known as SSL spoofing, in which remote attackers can read encrypted web traffic, redirect traffic from official websites to spoofs, and perform other attacks.

“Systems that came with the software already installed will continue to be vulnerable until corrective actions have been taken,“ the agency said.

Adi Pinhas, chief executive of Palo Alto, California-based Superfish, said in a statement that his company’s software helps users achieve more relevant search results based on images of products viewed. He said the vulnerability was “inadvertently” introduced by Israel-based Komodia, which built the application described in the government notice.

Komodia CEO arak Weichselbaum declined comment on the vulnerability.

Komodia’s website says it produces a “hijacker” that allows users to view data encrypted with SSL technology.

“The hijacker uses Komodia’s redirector platform to allow you easy access to the data and the ability to modify, redirect, block, and record the data without triggering the target browser’s certification warning,“ according to the site.

Marc Rogers, a researcher with CloudFlare, said that means companies which deploy Komodia technology can snoop on web traffic.

“These guys can do everything from just collect a little bit of marketing information, all the way to building a profile on you and spying on your banking connections,“ he said. “It’s a very dangerous slope.“

Rogers said that use of Komodia’s technology in other products makes them vulnerable to the same types of attacks as Lenovo’s Superfish.

He said other vulnerable products include two parental filters: One from Komodia known as KeepMyFamilySecure and another from Qustodio.

Komodia’s Weichselbaum said his company was investigating reports of vulnerabilities in KeepMyFamilySecure.

Qustodio CEO Eduardo Cruz Chief Executive said his company’s Windows parental filter was vulnerable and he hoped to push out a fix within a few days.

Lenovo did not disclose how many machines were affected, but said that only machines shipped from September to December of last year had been pre-loaded with the vulnerable software.

Affected Lenovo products include laptops in its Yoga, Flex and MiiX lines as well as its E, G, U, Y and Z series, according to the company’s support website. (lnv.gy/1LiWKX2)

G-TechNote™: How to Use Apple’s New Security Features (And Why You Should)

Apple says it’s offering users a new security feature for its Messages and Facetime features.

Now Apple users can opt to be asked to enter a second, one-time use code, in addition to their normal username and password when they log in on a new device.

The code can be texted to you, or show up on an Apple device already linked to your account.

The move extends the option, which is already offered on iTunes and iCloud.

Admittedly, it sounds a bit like a hassle for people who are already having trouble remembering their passwords.

You may be thinking, “Hackers won’t be interested in my text messages. Should I really take the effort to do that?“

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but:  Yes, you absolutely should.

The Gilmer Free Press


Setting up two-factor authentication means that you will get a message when anyone is trying to log into your Apple ID from a new device, and can keep them from doing so.

And that’s important. If you’re an Apple user at all, your Apple ID is the key to a lot of information about you—pretty much everything that the company has about you, including your payment information, whatever data you may have stored in Apple’s cloud and your personal communication.

Protecting that is worth the extra 10-15 seconds—I just timed it for you—that it takes to get and use a unique code sent to your phone.

Setting this up does take a little time and effort. To do that, head to your “My Apple ID” page and log in. From there, select the “Password and Security” setting, and you should see the instructions for setting up the feature on that menu.

You’ll need to have a device to which you can send a code during set-up to get everything set into place. You’ll also have to get Apple to generate app-specific passwords if you want to link other apps—calendar or mail apps, for example—to your Apple account. That’s the part of the process that get arduous; just remember it’s for a good cause!

It would be great if, down the line, Apple rolled out the option for two-factor authentication on all of its services. Until then, however, anyone who wants to give themselves the best protection possible should opt-in to this feature.

One thing to remember, though: this will make it harder to get into your own account if you lose your phone and have set your account up to send the code to your cell phone.

For instances like this, Apple has something called the “Recovery Key,“ a code that will let you get back into your account if all other options have been exhausted. This is a code you should keep handy, physically, in a couple of places—I have a copy of mine secured with my social security card and passport—away from your phone so that you will always have a way back in to your own data.

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