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Northeast News

Tele-Centers Offer Assistance for Unemployment Insurance

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has made filing for Unemployment Insurance (UI) easier than ever before. Although unemployed Texans have been filing their claims by phone since 1999, new enhancements have made the system even more efficient and convenient.

Enhancements, such as additional assigned filing days, allow customers more convenience and relieve call congestion during peak filing days.

“It’s crucial for customers to know their options when coping with a layoff” said TWC Executive Director Cassie Carison Reed. “The ability to do business by phone provides valuable relief for workers in such a stressful time.”

UI is an employer-paid insurance that helps workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. It provides temporary financial help to qualified individuals based on their previous earnings while they are looking for work.

TWC uses an innovative service method that allows claimants to conduct HI and other related business by telephone. Since UI claims are no longer handled in local offices, instead of driving up to 50 miles to an office and then having to wait in line, a more efficient system now handles claims and UI business with a local or toll-free telephone call to one of the seven Tele-Centers.

To talk with a representative or file a claim, customers should call the nearest Tele-Center number or the toll-free number for calls outside local areas. Customer service representatives are available in most areas from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., local time, Monday through Friday. The Houston area Tele-Center recently extended its hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as an added convenience.

Houston: 713-982-7400 Telecommunications devices for hearing impaired can communicate with TWC offices by using Relay Texas. 1-800-735-2989 (TDD) or 1-800-735-2988 (voice)

The Texas Workforce Commission is a state agency dedicated to helping Texas employers, workers and communities prosper economically.

For details on TWC and the services it offers in unison with its network of local Workforce development boards, call 512-463-8556 or visit www.texasworkforce.org.

Florida needs win over Tennessee to throw its hat into BCS ring

The Big 12 Conference thinks it has a lock on landing its champion in the Rose Bowl opposite Miami (let’s face it folks, the Hurricanes are good, very good) in the BCS Championship Game, but don’t count out the Florida Gators.

Florida looked impressive again two weeks ago, disposing of the once powerful Florida State Seminoles, 37-13. Should the Gators win this week against Tennessee, which will put them in the SEC title game, and then win that game, it might be hard for the BCS computer to deny them a shot at cross state rival Miami. But then again, it would be hard to deny a 13-0 Nebraska team a shot at the national title, should the Huskers defeat Oklahoma for a second time in the Big 12 title game.

Before we take a look at that key SEC game, let’s review last week record. A 7-5 week brought the season record to a very respectable 84-36 97 percent).

Now let’s take a look at this week’s abbreviated, but pivotal college schedule.

Tennessee at Florida: This game was supposed to be played Sept. 15, but the game was moved to Dec. 1 after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Almost three months later, this is still a huge game in the SEC and in the BCS standings. The winner moves on to the SEC title game, where it should take care of business against a possible three-loss team from the SEC West. Florida is playing as well as any team in the country and quarterback Rex Grossman is a viable candidate to win the Heismann Trophy. If Grossman is on, and he’s been on all season, the Vols will be in for a long afternoon. Look for the Gators to strike early and keep applying pressure on both sides of the ball all day long. A convincing win over one of the country’s top teams could sway a lot of BCS votes their way. My pick, Florida 33, Tennessee 16

Miami at Virginia Tech: As the season has wound down, Miami has turned it up as evidenced by its 59-0 thumping of an 8-2 Syracuse team two weeks ago and not even a trip to Blacksburg, VA will keep Miami from its appointed date in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4. Virginia Tech is not the team it was two years ago when it faced Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, but Hokie fans would certainly like to see their team give Miami a game this weekend. Sorry, but Hokie fans are going to be in for a very long afternoon as Ken Dorsey and his mates chalk up another big win. My pick, Miami 34, Virginia Tech 10

Notre Dame at Purdue: This will probably be Bob Davie’s last game as head coach at Notre Dame. Rumors and have been circulating for weeks that he’s out in South Bend, but Davie isn’t buying them. Maybe when it’s official, he’ll start believing that it’s true. Davie is loyal to his players and one would hope that loyalty would be returned with an all out effort against in-state rival Purdue. The Boilermakers have slipped the last few weeks, having dropped two of their last three games, but expect them to put forth one of their better efforts of the year in this one, but it won’t be enough to stop a determined ND team. My pick, Notre Dame 23, Purdue 20

Auburn at LSU: The winner of this game gets the pleasure of being fodder for the Florida-Tennessee winner in the SEC title game the following week. Auburn is still smarting after the 31-7 pasting arch rival Alabama put on it two weeks ago at home, but if the Tigers are still feeling sorry for themselves, they could be in for another long evening when they travel to Baton Rogue. LSU has been inconsistent this season, but playing for the SEC West crown should be enough to motivate quarterback Rohan Davie and the rest of the team. Look for Davie to come out throwing all over the place as second-year head coach Nick Saban gets his team to the league’s championship game. My pick, LSU 27, Auburn 18

Now let’s see what the NFL has to offer this weekend.

Indianapolis at Baltimore: Indianapolis’ injury-riddled offense takes on a Baltimore team that is beginning to realize that it can’t take any opponent lightly. The Ravens were swept by the Cleveland Browns this year, a team that won two games a year ago. Baltimore’s defense is still one of the best in the business, but quarterback Elvis Grbac has been prone to turnovers and the offense has not gotten untracked this season. Maybe they miss super back Jamal Lewis more than they are leading on. Still, the Ravens should be able to handle the Colts, who are simply playing out the string. With Edgrin James gone for the year, teams will be able to unload on quarterback Peyton Manning and when it comes to applying pressure, the Ravens are the best. Manning may have to be put back together again after this one. My pick, Baltimore 26, Indianapolis 12

Denver at Miami: Both of these teams played poorly two weeks ago in losses to the Redskins and Jets, respectively. The Denver offense could not get untracked against a so-so Washington defense, while the Dolphins offense was inept all afternoon as quarterback Jay Fiedler had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Jets. Something has to give this week. Denver is playing for its playoff life, and a loss to the Fish could all but settle their fate for the rest of the season. There are three teams ahead of them in the AFC West and at this late juncture of the season, that’s not a good thing. Miami is in better shape in its division (they are thankful they don’t have to play the Jets again), but they need to beat a quality opponent to renew some confidence in their camp. Look for the Miami defense to be the difference in this one as they pressure Denver QB Brian Griese into some crucial mistakes. My pick, Miami 20, Denver 13

New England at New York Jets: The Patriots played hard in their 24-17 loss to St. Louis two weeks ago and even though they lost, they proved they can play with the NFL’s best team. This should be a competitive game and there is no love lost among these two AFC East rivals. The Jets may not look pretty, but they get the job done and that’s all that matters in the NFL. This should be a game dominated by the defenses. Give the Jets the advantage because they can run the ball better and in a tight game, that is a huge advantage. My pick, NY Jets 16, New England 13

Minnesota at Pittsburgh: The Vikings could be in for a long day when they take on the Steelers and their sack-happy defense. The lack of a running game has hurt Minnesota all year and that point will be driven home this week when they take on the league’s best defense. Viking quarterback Daunte Cullpepper will be harassed all day long, which will result in a key turnover or two. When the Steelers have the ball, look for them to pound running back Jerome Bettis at the Vikes’ suspect front seven. This one could be over by half-time. My pick, Pittsburgh 27, Minnesota 10

Dallas at Washington: Since the Redskins lost to the Cowboys on Monday night they’ve been on a roll, while the Cowboys have regressed. It’s obvious that the Dallas offense has no clue and it doesn’t help matters that they’ve gone through more quarterbacks than Liz Taylor has husbands. The Redskins are in the hunt for a playoff spot (not bad for a team that lost its first five games) and they will be out to end Dallas’ eight-game winning streak. ‘Skins’ running back Stephen Davis is starting to hit the holes with authority, so look for plenty of him this Sunday. My pick, Washington 26, Dallas 13

Green Bay at Jacksonville: The Packers will have had 11 days to get ready for this one after their Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit, so look for them to be rested and ready to make their push for the playoffs. They need to be wary of a Jacksonville team that plays hard on defense and plays well at home and with the glare of the Monday Night lights, the Jags could be a dangerous team to face. If Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre is on, and he has been most of the season, the Packers should be able to handle Jacksonville, even with Fred Taylor back in the lineup. My pick, Green Bay 27, Jacksonville 20.

PSI Homesavers complete fall home repairs

More than 2,500 volunteers from Houston businesses, churches, school and civic groups joined forces recently for the fall segment of PSI HomeSavers’ volunteer home repair program, according to Bob Conklin, executive director of PSI HomeSavers.

Volunteer crews invested some 30,000 hours in sweat equity to complete free exterior repairs for almost 100 elder or disabled homeowners in Houston. The repairs were valued in excess of $500,000.

“The response by volunteers to this service opportunity is remarkable,” Conklin said. “Once again the compassionate spirit of the people of Houston has given back to those in need.”

Volunteer representatives came from many Houston businesses, churches and organizations including ExxonMobil, Conoco, Bank of America, Second Baptist Church, Episcopal High School, Duke Energy and Schlumberger, among others.

HomeSavers organizes volunteer home repairs for elder or disabled homeowners in Houston twice a year. The spring 2002 segment of the home repairs will take place Saturday, April 20 and 27, 2002. The deadline for volunteer crew commitment is March 22, 2002.

PSI HomeSavers, a non-profit organization founded in 1982 by Rob Mosbacher, is located at 1111 Fannin, Suite 1335. HomeSavers initiates and encourages private sector involvement in addressing critical community needs with resources, expertise and compassion. HomeSavers’ primary focus is to deliver home repairs to qualified low-income elderly or disabled homeowners. For more information, call 713-659-2511 or visit www.psihomesavers.org.

TDH checking retail stores for recalled toys

They’re so cute – that soft goldfish rattle with the big eyes and that lifelike stuffed kitten that purrs when you pet it. And what child wouldn’t love a little toy troll that sticks out his tongue when you squeeze him, a flexible-neck lamp with Tweety’s face on its plastic shade or a cool baseball video game that features an electronic home plate, ball and bat?

Unfortunately, the goldfish’s sewn-on eyes and the troll’s balloon tongue can detach, causing a choking hazard. The water inside the stuffed kitten that makes it “lifelike” is contaminated. The bulb in the lamp is a fire and burn risk. And the video game’s electronic bat can separate during a swing, releasing broken pieces that have hit and injured numerous children.

These and several other potentially hazardous items make up a sort of “l0 Most Wanted” list for product safety division inspectors from the Texas Department of Health. Each fall, just before the big holiday shopping season the inspectors visit retail stores around Texas making sure that certain recalled toys are no longer available and giving retailers detailed information about each of the recalled items.

It’s called “Toy Sweep,” and it’s a four-day campaign to educate retailers and remind consumers that certain items have been recalled and are not safe for children. This year’s effort in the Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio areas was last week.

“We hold the Toy Sweep at this time because the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, and we want safety to be foremost in parents’ minds when they select toys for their children,” said Annabelle Dillard, chief of the field operations and compliance branch for TDH’s product safety division.

This year’s Toy Sweep will focus on a sampling of many different products. Some are choking hazards – toys in which the eyes are not sewn on well or toys that can break, causing small parts to be released. Some are electrical hazards (the lamp). Some are mechanical hazards – bicycles with frames or front-suspension forks that can break during use, resulting in serious injury, and the bat that can come apart. And one item, a soft toy for babies, has wire that can poke through fabric, causing cuts, scratches and other injuries.

Why these 10 out of the hundreds of items that manufacturers, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, recall each year? Dillard says TDH tries to select different types of toys with different types of hazards that were distributed in Texas and have been recently recalled. Other criteria considered include whether any injuries were reported and whether a significantly large number of the toys were affected by the recall.

Dillard says that manufacturers have gotten better in recent years at getting information about recalled items to retailers. “The problem is that, once a product has been distributed, it’s very difficult to get the word out to all the retail outlets,” she said. “That is why a recalled product may still be on store shelves.”

For their part, retailers are extremely cooperative with inspectors, she adds. “They don’t want to sell an item that’s been recalled. They actually welcome our inspectors into their stores because they very much appreciate the information that we provide to them and because we can help them prevent the sale of these items.”

Educating the public is also an important aspect of the Toy Sweep. Dillard says it’s a good time to remind parents of things to keep in mind when they’re shopping for toys or evaluating toys they have at home.

• Read the label carefully. “It’s very important to look at the age levels that are recommended on the package,” she said. Even if you feel your child is advanced for his or her age, skill level isn’t the only issue; there are safety considerations as well.

•Look for any hazards associated with the toy. “The eyes may not be sewn on very well; they may have points or sharp edges that would not be appropriate for a younger child,” she said. “It’s important for parents to look at the toy as a whole and determine whether or not it’s an appropriate toy for their child.”

•Go ahead and buy the accompanying protective gear when you purchase items such as bicycles, scooters and roller blades. That means helmets for bikes and scooters, kneepads, helmets and shin guards for skates, says Dillard.

•If there is more than one child in the household, remember that there will be toys around that aren’t appropriate for all ages, abilities and skill levels. “It’s important to instruct older children how to take care of their toys, especially toys with small parts. Make sure they keep those out of the reach of their younger brothers and sisters.”

•Periodically examine your children’s toys. “It’s important for parents to look in their child’s toy box regularly, discarding any broken toys and seeing if any of the items there could present a choking hazard or are now dangerous,” she said. “A toy that was perfectly safe before may have received so much wear and tear that it’s no longer safe.”

If you find toys you believe are dangerous, defective or mislabeled, call the TDH product safety division at 512-834-6773. Information is available on the TDH product safety Web site at www.tdh.state.tx.us/beh/ps/ about toy and product hazards.

For more information about all recalled items, consumers can visit the CPSC Web site at http://www.cpsc.gov.

Celebrate an Old-fashioned Christmas at Jones Park

With the Houston area weather often remaining rather warm into the winter months, it is sometimes difficult to get into the spirit of the Christmas holiday season. What better way to kick things off than an Old-fashioned Christmas celebration Saturday, December 1 from 4 to 7 p.m.? This family-oriented event affords participants the opportunity to experience the Christmas traditions of earlier times as well as our international heritage.

The celebration begins on Jones Park’s outdoor stage with the traditional Hispanic music of Mariachi Continental, followed by the Aldine ISD Honor Choir singing a variety of Christmas favorites. Then Die Rathcarnp Deutsche Volkstanzgruppe und Singers, a German dance group, gives participants a festive interpretation of traditional German folk dances, celebrating the area’s German heritage.

To add to the holiday atmosphere, a pot-luck style feast is served during this festive holiday event. Each family brings an old-fashioned dish to add to the feast.

The festivities don’t stop there. Following the feast, everyone walks to Jones Park’s Redbud Hill Homestead for a multi-faceted Christmas celebration in the style of the early Texas settlers. Events take place at the log cabin, barn and open homestead area. Details are being held in strictest confidence and even a few surprises are possible, so this is sure to be an event to remember. Reservations are required for this event.

For those parents who need to do some holiday shopping “child-free,” Jones Park affords you an opportunity Sunday, December 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. during Drop-n-Shop. Children ages five and older are welcome to join park staff for this fun afternoon filled with holiday crafts, videos and snacks while you shop. Reservations are required.
Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 facility, is located at 20634 Kenswick Drive in Humble. All programs are free of charge and open to the public. Harris County Precinct 4 programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, national origin or disability. For more information on the park or any of its programs, call 281-446-8588.

Veteran’s reunion group to visit Europe

Normandy,(D-Day) European Theater reunion group (WWII) will return to England & France may 17, 2002
Veterans of D-Day, June 1944 and the European Theater of Operations (ETO) will depart New York, May 17, 2002 for a nostalgic Reunion Tour of London, Portsmouth, Brighton, Normandy including Omaha & Utah Beaches, Military Cemeteries, Cherbourg, Caen, Ste. Mere Eglise, Paris, etc.
American & Canadian Veterans can contact Sy Canton, Executive Director. Normandy- European Theater of Operations (ETO) Reunion Group (WWII) at 5277B Lakefront Blvd., Delray Beach, FL., 33484 or telephone 561-865-8495.

METRO and Crime Stoppers team together to combat copycat terrorist activities

In what is believed to be the first such partnership of Its kind. Metro and Crime Stoppers announced today a joint partnership to proactively deter future terrorist acts against this regions public transit system.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States and since October 13, Metro has seen close to 30 copycat anthrax-type scares on its buses and property. While all the powdery substances left aboard Metro buses or at Metro facilities have proven harmless, these threats have inconvenienced bus patrons and cost hours of law enforcement and emergency personnel time.

Metro and Crime Stoppers are asking the community to help ensure public transportation remains safe by reporting any suspicious activity to 713-222-TIPS. Crime Stoppers pays cash rewards up to $5,000 for felony crimes, and under this new partnership is guaranteeing a reward of $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and charging of those committing terrorist acts on Metro property.

Marketing materials in both English and Spanish encouraging patrons to “Stop Crime” are being put on all Metro buses, trolleys and MetroLift vehicles, as well as at all Park & Ride lots and Transit Centers. Fliers are being distributed to bus riders. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office are working with Metro and Crime Stoppers to prosecute offenders.

“Riders need to feel safe when they’re using public transportation – and need to know we don’t tolerate those who make threats against our patrons or our employees,” said Metro President & CEO Shirley A. DeLibero. “All of us, together, must ensure that in these extraordinary times we can go about our ordinary lives in a safe way. What better community partnership than buses full of eyes and ears to help stop crime.”

“This is the first proactive measure taken by a mass transit authority and Crime Stoppers to deter copycat terrorism,” said Crime Stoppers Executive Director Kim Ogg. “Those who ride transit because they want to or because they have to should not suffer because of cowards who threaten bioterrorism – real or fake.”

‘Game,’ set and match

“Spy Game” is an entertaining set piece for the star match up of two of Hollywood’s premiere blond pretty boys, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

The craggy, but still handsome Redford plays mentor to Pitt who is finally losing some of boyishness. Not that the duo’s looks play a big part in “Spy Game.”

But it obviously was a coup for director Tony Scott (“Crimson Tide,” “Enemy of the State”) to get Pitt and Redford because of their star power, which would appeal to a wide range of people – young and old.

It helps that the two can do more than look good and be charming when given decent material. Thankfully, “Spy Game” is just such material.

It doesn’t help that Scott almost messes up the taut, intelligent script with dizzying quick cuts, superfluous freeze frames and too many types of film stock and unnatural lighting.

Try to ignore those aspects of the film along with the unnecessary times stamped on the screen to tell us the clock is ticking down. That’s a literary devise best handled another way in movies.

Time is a major factor in “Game.” Redford is Nathan Muir, a veteran spook down to his last day on the job. His last 24 hours are spent explaining Tom Bishop, one of his star pupils, to stuffy, very serious suits at CIA headquarters. They care about Bishop, played by Pitt, because he’s being held prisoner in China after trying to free an inmate there.

Bishop’s mission in the prison – the exciting opening scene – was not authorized by the agency and his capture is an embarrassment in light of an upcoming presidential visit. So the agency wants to deny his existence and let the Chinese execute him in 24 hours.

It’s a game of the suits against the grunts. The agents in the field know how to do dirty work. They have to face the people they are about to play as suckers or let loose to the bad guys – or kill. Suits do this while sitting behind soundproof doors in front of television or computer screens.

Muir has spent years being callous, but has mellowed in his last days and does not want the agency to give Bishop up, but he can’t tell them that, so he must play his cards very close to his nose and be ultra cool and calm while doing it. This is not easy because even though they all wear nearly identical black suits, they’ve had some spy training too. Plus they are all, including Muir, very paranoid – not that that’s always a bad thing.

There are numerous tense, exciting scenes as Muir recounts the 16 years he’s known Bishop while in Vietnam, East Germany and Beirut, but the narrative is dialogue driven. The talk never gets boring because of the snappy dialogue and performances that let us know there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.

The times we live in help make the whole espionage genre a bit more interesting. These are not James Bond figures running around with gadgets making quips. These spies are in realistic danger as they play their life and death games.

There’s a lot of good stuff in “Spy Game,” – especially if you like the genre – but it could have been much better. On top of the excesses of the director already mentioned, a little motivation would have been nice.

With all it has going for it, it does not seem like it would have been hard to add some more depth.
Oh well, it’s still entertaining and would make a good companion to the recent “Heist” for those who want more adult fare than “Harry” and “Monster.”
Rated-R for language, some violence and brief sexuality.

Just for Women Conference at Community Center, Dec. 1

The Aldine Youth Community Center will host a Just for Women Conference from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 1st.

The luncheon speaker will be Dr. San Juanita Garza.
Conference topics will include Relationships with Tameka Susberry; Spirituality with Brandy Thompson; Etiquette and Social skills with Rochelle O. Barrow and Women’s Health Issues with Carrie Robertson.
There will be a Fashion Show presented by the Majestic Ladies of Jones High School.

To make reservations, please call 281-449-4828. Conference attendees are asked to bring a salad and/or an unwrapped toy.

American Cancer Society’s 2002 Texas Golf Pass is on sale now

Trying to find something for that special person who has everything? Want to help out a good cause while you’re sharing the holiday spirit with friends and family? Then why not give the American Cancer Society’s 2002 Texas Golf Pass?

Available now, the new Texas Golf Pass offers free green fees at 289 participating courses throughout Texas. Courses in the Houston area include Green Meadows Golf Club, Hackberry, Melrose, Pinecrest, Clear Lake and Brock Park. There are 52 courses in the Gulf Coast area including: Channelview, Conroe, Crosby, Friendswood, Houston, Kingwood, Pasadena and many more.

The 2002 Texas Golf Pass is only a contribution of $35 and will benefit the cancer research, education, advocacy and patient services programs of the American Cancer Society. So, not only is the Texas Golf Pass a good gift, it’s a good investment in the fight against cancer.

For more information or to order the 2002 Texas Golf Pass, contact your local American Cancer Society office at 713.266.2877 or call l-800-ACS-2345 or order online at www.texasgolfpass.com