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    US services firms expanding rapidly
    WASHINGTON ? U.S. services companies expanded in February at the fastest pace since October 2015. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group for purchasing managers, said Friday that its services index rose to 57.6 last month from 56.5 in January. Anything above 50 signals growth. The services sector has now expanded for 86 straight months. Production, new orders and hiring grew faster in February. Sixteen services industries reported growth in February, led by utilities companies and mines. Only real estate and information services reported a contraction in business. More than 70 percent of American jobs are in private services.

    Under review; Interior Sec. Zinke promises coal leasing evaluation
    WASHINGTON ? Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday promised a comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, even as President Donald Trump moves to do away with a moratorium on coal leases on public lands. Trump, who has vowed to revitalize the slumping coal industry, is expected to issue an executive order any day now abandoning the moratorium on new coal leases imposed under the Obama administration. Zinke, who was sworn in Wednesday as interior secretary, said he will ?look at everything across the board? on coal, adding that the department is likely to revamp the leasing program to ensure maximum value for coal companies and taxpayers alike. Under the current coal leasing program, ?there is no probability that actually you can do with that lease what?s intended with it,? he said, comparing federal lease sales to junk bonds. ?Rather than selling a junk bond, we need to look at maybe selling a double-A bond,? the former Montana congressman told reporters after an introductory speech to Interior employees. ?I think we all benefit from that.? The Interior Department ?needs to do a lot of homework upfront, look at that (lease) and value it correctly,? Zinke said. ?And also give the buyer a probability that there is a return on investment.? As a former Boy Scout, Zinke said he wants to ?make sure when I leave the campground it?s returned to the same or better? condition. ?I think America on our public lands has the same view,? he said. The Obama administration imposed a three-year moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change. The coal program has remained largely unchanged for more than 30 years despite complaints that low royalty rates and a near-total lack of competition have cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year in untapped revenue. The moratorium imposed by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell drew praise from environmental groups and Democrats, but condemnation from Republicans who called it another volley in what they asserted was a ?war on coal? waged by President Barack Obama. At least 30 mining applications in nine states have been blocked under the directive, according to a federal list obtained by The Associated Press.

    Yellen signaling rate increases
    WASHINGTON ? Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled Friday that the Fed will likely resume raising interest rates later this month to reflect a strengthening job market and inflation edging toward the central bank?s 2 percent target. Yellen also said in a speech in Chicago that the Fed expects steady economic improvement to justify additional rate increases. While not specifying how many rate hikes could occur this year, Yellen noted that Fed officials in December had estimated that there would be three in 2017. Yellen?s signal of a likely rate hike this month reflects an encouraging conclusion by the Fed: That nearly eight years after the Great Recession ended, the U.S. economy has finally regained most of its health. At a separate appearance Friday in New York, Vice Chair Stanley Fischer added his voice to a series of Fed officials who have indicated this week that they would likely favor raising rates at the Fed?s next meeting March 14-15. Asked whether there had been a conscious effort by Fed officials to signal a probable rate hike at that meeting, Fischer said, ?If there has been a conscious effort, I?m about to join it.? Many economists now say that barring an unexpectedly disastrous monthly jobs report next Friday, a Fed rate increase this month appears certain. ?The Fed will hike unless next week?s payroll report is calamitous,? said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. ?That?s unlikely, so we expect rates to rise.? At the March 14-15 meeting, Yellen said the Fed?s policymakers will ?evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate.? Friday?s remarks from Yellen and Fischer echoed those made earlier this week by several other Fed officials, including Lael Brainard, a board member who had been a leading voice urging caution in raising rates. What has shifted the sentiment of most Fed officials decisively toward a rate increase has been a wave of robust economic data ? notably on job growth, manufacturing and consumer confidence ? along with surging stock prices. On Thursday, for example, the government reported that first-time applications for unemployment benefits ? a proxy for the pace of layoffs ? fell last week to their lowest level in nearly 44 years. The stock market has been setting a string of record highs, fueled by confidence that President Donald?s Trump?s plans for cutting taxes and boosting spending will win congressional approval. And inflation, which had been lagging at chronically low levels, has been edging steadily up, reflecting in part a rebound in gasoline prices and higher wages.

    Keystone pipeline won?t use US steel
    PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) ? The Keystone XL oil pipeline won?t use American steel in its construction, despite what President Donald Trump says. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that?s due to language in a presidential directive Trump issued in January. The directive applies to new pipelines or those under repair. Sanders said it would be hard to do an about-face on Keystone because it?s already under construction and the steel has been acquired. Trump said as recently as last week that Keystone and the Dakota Access pipeline must use American steel ?or we?re not building one.? Trump used his executive powers shortly after taking office to greenlight the two pipeline projects that had been blocked by President Barack Obama. The Keystone pipeline would run from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

    Sound investments to reduce energy costs and extend life of our schools
    On March 7, voters in the Hollis School District will have the opportunity to consider Warrant Article 1. This article proposes a $2.8 million investment in cleaner, lower cost heating strategies for the Hollis Primary School and Hollis Upper Elementary School, energy efficiency improvements to the buildings and solar electric generation. The Hollis Primary School was built in 1952, with numerous additions to accommodate growth over the decades. The Upper Elementary School was built in 1980 with a major addition in 1997. Comprehensive planning and design for energy use has never been considered for either building, resulting in aging infrastructure and significant energy-related over-expenditures through the years. The substance of Article 1 is the result of a year of study and careful cost/benefit analysis set in motion by passage of Article 4 at the 2016 annual meeting.

    Skirting the city?s spending cap
    Maybe you?ve noticed that suddenly there?s no more talk of how challenging this year?s budget process will be. Last fall we heard at multiple public meetings about how the spending cap this year is so restrictive and the city employees? pension funding will eat up most of that amount. The result would leave us very little to spend on city employee salary increases. We no longer hear that story because the mayor and a majority of the Board of Aldermen have discovered a plan to cheat their way around the spending cap ? Ordinance O-17-031. To formally override the spending cap it takes a two-thirds majority, which is 10 aldermen votes in support.

    Claim of bad student behavior and retaliation not enough
    On February 24, 2017, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the trial court's dismissal of former teacher Beverly Cluff-Landry's claims against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, d/b/a St. Christopher's School. That case arose from Cluff-Landry suing with a claim: under our state's whistleblower statute; wrongful discharge; and slander. Cluff-Landry in 2008 had been hired by the school's former principal to work the 2008-2009 academic years as a pre-kindergarten teacher and a teacher of visual arts. Her contract was renewed annually in 2009, 2010, and 2011. However by the academic year of 2011-2012 a new principal was appointed and Cluff-Landry was given a notice of nonrenewal on April 15, 2012; meaning that she would not be renewed as a teacher for the academic year of 2012-2013. Cluff-Landry surmised that it was because of her reporting a 4-year old's unsafe behavior and the school's inability to keep other students safe.

    A $1B Mistake; Takata pleads guilty in air bag scandal
    DETROIT - Japanese auto parts maker Takata Corp. pleaded guilty to fraud Monday and agreed to pay $1 billion in penalties for concealing an air bag defect blamed for at least 16 deaths, most of them in the U.S. The scandal, meanwhile, seemed to grow wider when plaintiffs' attorneys charged that five major automakers knew the devices were dangerous but continued to use them for years to save money. In pleading guilty, Takata admitted hiding evidence that millions of its air bag inflators can explode with too much force, hurling lethal shrapnel into drivers and passengers. The inflators are blamed for 11 deaths in the U.S. alone and more than 180 injuries worldwide. The problem touched off the biggest recall in U.S.

    Cleaning House; Wells Fargo fires 4 senior managers in scandal inquiry
    NEW YORK - Wells Fargo's board of directors fired four senior managers as part of its investigation into the bank's sales practices scandal. Tuesday's announcement is the first public firing of managers and executives since Wells acknowledged in September that its employees opened up to 2 million bank and credit card accounts without customer authorization in order to meet lofty sales goals. When the scandal first broke, Wells had said it had fired roughly 5,300 employees as a result of the scandal, the vast majority of them lower-level workers. Numerous low-level employees at the bank have said that intense sales pressure from senior managers was at least partially why they were driven to open the accounts. The board said the four executives being terminated, effective immediately, were Claudia Anderson, the former community bank chief risk officer; Pamela Conboy, the lead regional president in Arizona; Shelly Freeman, the former regional president in Los Angeles; and Matthew Raphaelson, head of the community bank's strategy and initiatives. The board said the decision was unanimous. The board also voted to deny any 2016 bonuses to the executives, and they will forfeit any unvested stock and stock options. Wells' board has been conducting its own investigation into the bank's scandal. That inquiry is expected to be finished before the company's annual shareholder meeting in April, the board said. The four executives fired represent markets and parts of Wells that were among those believed to be most deeply involved in the unethical practices. Anderson has been on unpaid leave since June, a spokeswoman for the bank said.

    The trouble with truthiness
    Several years ago, while still hosting the Colbert Report (pronounced kohl-bear ree-pore), Stephen Colbert coined the word, "truthiness" in response to the phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to be responsive to that information that supports, or confirms, what we already believe. Confirmation bias happens frequently in areas such as politics, religion, and finance. Essentially, confirmation bias is the force behind tribes and tribalism. We tend to listen to and believe people and publications that "feel" true to us.

    Payment plan; bailout negotiators get OK to return to Greece
    Greece and its European creditors agreed Monday to resume talks on what economic reforms the country must make next in order to get the money it needs to avoid bankruptcy and a potential exit from the euro this summer. The creditors also hinted that they would temper their demands for budget cuts - a welcome thought for austerity-weary Greeks who have seen poverty and unemployment spike as their economy shrank by a quarter over the recent crisis-ridden years. "There will be a change in the policy mix, if you will, moving perhaps away from austerity and putting more emphasis on deep reforms," said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the eurozone's top official. At face value, that means fewer tax rises and spending cuts and deep reforms to the country's tax system, pensions and labor laws. Such reforms could help the economy and generate income that the Greek government can use to push for further growth - such as through tax cuts or even spending increases. "There could be fiscal space for growth-enhancing measures," Dijsselbloem said. Easing up on austerity has been a key demand of Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Greece's left-wing government has lost a lot of support as it legislated for more austerity in return for the bailout cash - it's about 15 percentage points behind the main opposition conservatives according to opinion polls. Energy Minister George Stathakis said Monday's agreement will mean that there will be no net increase in austerity, as any tax increases from 2019 will be offset by reductions in other forms of taxation. This has also been one of the demands of the International Monetary Fund and could help persuade it to contribute to the latest Greek bailout program, which was agreed on in July 2015. The IMF's involvement was envisioned in that bailout deal, Greece's third.

    More than Baseball; Fisher Cats transforming ballpark into regional entertainment destination
    The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, have unveiled the biggest, boldest renovation project in team history. In advance of the 2017 All-Star Season, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium will be transformed into an entertainment destination you?ll need to see to believe. ?We?re thrilled to introduce this project, and I can?t wait for our fans to experience it this season,? Fisher Cats Owner Art Solomon said. ?We?re providing our guests with a brand new, one-of-a-kind location to relax and enjoy a night at the ballpark and want our fans ? old and new ? to take in the new sights and sounds this season.? With construction already underway, the ballpark entrance will be completely redesigned into a breathtaking pavilion and plaza, featuring a tiki bar, game area and live music stage. The stage will come equipped with full audio, video and lighting systems for musical performances, speaking engagements, live broadcasts and more. Guests will be greeted with a majestic rock waterfall atop the main stairway, designed by Stonemakers of Merrimack, which leads to the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill.

    Kraft still hungry for Unilever; In wake of rejected deal, companies stocks surge
    NEW YORK ? Kraft Heinz is attempting to buy Unilever in a $143 billion deal that would join the U.S. maker of cheeses and lunch meats with the European producer of mayo, teas and seasonings in a global powerhouse. Unilever rejected the approach and called the price too low, while Kraft Heinz says it?s still interested in a deal. The shares of both companies surged to new highs as investors saw prospects for cost cutting. A combination of Kraft Heintz, which sells Oscar Mayer meats, Jell-O pudding and Velveeta cheese, and Unilever, which owns brands including Hellmann?s, Lipton and Knorr, would rival Nestle as the world?s biggest packaged food maker by sales. That might not lead to big changes that customers would notice on the supermarket shelves. But it?s people?s changing tastes, shifting away from boxed and canned groceries in favor of items that seem fresher or healthier, that are driving deal-making in the food industry. Companies like Kraft Heinz, itself formed from two century-old businesses in 2015, are trying to find new avenues for growth amid heightened competition. Part of the challenge is the proliferation of smaller food makers marketing more wholesome products, which makes it harder for the established companies to drive up sales simply by selling more of their well-known products or by raising prices, as they have in the past. ?That obviously has its limits,? said David Garfield, head of the consumer products unit at consulting firm AlixPartners. Instead, companies are being forced to dig deeper to find cost efficiencies or tap into new markets, Garfield said.

    Verizon joins carriers with unlimited data; company to offer plan similiar to competitors
    NEW YORK - Verizon, in a major reversal, has joined other carriers in offering an unlimited data plan. As recently as January, Verizon's chief financial officer said unlimited plans were "not something we feel the need to do" even though rivals had made inroads against Verizon by offering them. Verizon stopped offering such plans to new customers in 2012 and has been trying to push longtime customers off those old plans through rate hikes. The arrival of the iPhone and other smartphones made unlimited plans more of a rarity as carriers saw opportunities to make money by charging customers based on how much data they use. But Sprint and T-Mobile recognized in unlimited data an opportunity to snare customers from heavyweights Verizon and AT&T. Because carriers must poach each other's customers to grow, the competition has intensified. AT&T also started offering unlimited plans after discontinuing them, but they are available only to customers who also subscribe to DirecTV, which AT&T owns. Its prices are similar to Verizon's for a family; Verizon is cheaper for an individual. Verizon's new unlimited plan replaces several higher-data plans and starts at $80 for one person, not counting fees and taxes.

    Follow that car!; Toll-collecting bureaus to step up enforcement
    TRENTON, N.J. - No one likes to pay tolls, some more so than others. And toll-collection agencies across the country are fed up. Some drivers blatantly zip through toll gates without paying. Others get more creative, like the truck driver accused of using fishing line to flip his license plate to avoid capture, or the motorcyclist who used a toggle switch to retract his plate. Agencies that operate highways, tunnels and bridges say they're losing millions of dollars annually to the scofflaws, and they're stepping up efforts to collect what's owed with a stronger police presence, partnerships between states and other stricter enforcement measures. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's police force has arrested several drivers in recent weeks who had each racked up hundreds of toll violations and owed thousands of dollars - or much more - in unpaid tolls and fees.