Greater Portland rated 15th in U.S. for secure living

A national insurance group has rated the area covering Greater Portland and Biddeford as one of the nation’s most secure places.

Farmers Insurance ranked the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford area the 15th-most secure place to live in the U.S. among places with populations of 500,000 or more.

The survey, by Sperling’s Best Places, took into account economic stability, crime statistics, extreme weather, risk of natural disasters, housing depreciation and foreclosures, air quality, environmental hazards, life expectancy, car crash fatalities and employment, according to the ninth annual Farmers Insurance Group of Companies study.

The company said this is the seventh time that the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford area has made the top group in the Farmers study.

The list released Wednesday was topped by Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick, Md.

Microsoft hopes to reverse troubles with Windows 8.1

Microsoft is trying to avert slumping PC sales and growing criticism of its flagship operating system with the release of a revised version of Windows 8.

On Wednesday, Microsoft made a preview version of Windows 8.1 available for download. It includes alterations meant to address consumer dissatisfaction with the operating system. Analysts believe users’ frustration with Windows 8 is partly to blame for the biggest drop in personal computer sales in nearly two decades.

At a conference in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged that the company pushed hard to get people to adopt a radical new tile-based “Modern” user interface in Windows 8. Microsoft is now back-pedaling, making it easier to reach and use the older “desktop” interface.

Rich dies at 78, was center of pardon controversy

He was a wheeler-dealer pardoned by another consummate dealmaker, a working-class Jewish boy who left Belgium to escape the Nazis and rose to become the billionaire “King of Commodities.”

Marc Rich — who died Wednesday in Switzerland at 78 — had connections to the rich and powerful that made him fabulously wealthy. And when he was indicted for fraud, racketeering and tax evasion on a grand scale, those connections helped secure him a pardon from Bill Clinton, hours before the U.S. president left office.

In the end, the pardon triggered a political firestorm from critics who alleged Rich bought his pardon through donations that his ex-wife had made to the Democratic Party.

BP looks to challenge some payouts in Gulf spill

With an ad blitz and a tersely worded letter, BP is mounting an increasingly aggressive campaign to challenge what could be billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses following its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In letters that started going out Tuesday, BP warns lawyers for many Gulf Coast businesses that it may seek to recover at least some of their clients’ shares of the multibillion-dollar settlement.

The London-based oil giant said it is sending hundreds of the letters to attorneys for businesses the company believes received excessive payments from the court-supervised settlement program.

Monsanto earnings take a dip in fiscal third quarter

Monsanto’s fiscal third quarter earnings slipped 3 percent, as hits to the agricultural product maker’s cotton and soybean segments weighed on results.

The St. Louis company said the 2012 drought that parched stretches of the United States forced it to use South American greenhouses more often to produce corn seeds. Monsanto decided to eat the higher expenses instead of passing them along through price hikes.

— From staff and news services