Thursday, October 30, 2008
October 25, 2008
So When Will Banks Give Loans?
By JOE NOCERA
“Chase recently received $25 billion in federal funding. What effect will that have on the business side and will it change our strategic lending policy?”
It was Oct. 17, just four days after JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, agreed to take a $25 billion capital injection courtesy of the United States government, when a JPMorgan employee asked that question. It came toward the end of an employee-only conference call that had been largely devoted to meshing certain divisions of JPMorgan with its new acquisition, Washington Mutual.
Which, of course, it also got thanks to the federal government. Christmas came early at JPMorgan Chase.
The JPMorgan executive who was moderating the employee conference call didn’t hesitate to answer a question that was pretty politically sensitive given the events of the previous few weeks.
Given the way, that is, that Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. had decided to use the first installment of the $700 billion bailout money to recapitalize banks instead of buying up their toxic securities, which he had then sold to Congress and the American people as the best and fastest way to get the banks to start making loans again, and help prevent this recession from getting much, much worse.
In point of fact, the dirty little secret of the banking industry is that it has no intention of using the money to make new loans. But this executive was the first insider who’s been indiscreet enough to say it within earshot of a journalist.
(He didn’t mean to, of course, but I obtained the call-in number and listened to a recording.)
“Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously going to help the folks who are struggling more than Chase,” he began. “What we do think it will help us do is perhaps be a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side for some banks who are still struggling. And I would not assume that we are done on the acquisition side just because of the Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns mergers. I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment, and I think we have an opportunity to use that $25 billion in that way and obviously depending on whether recession turns into depression or what happens in the future, you know, we have that as a backstop.”
Read that answer as many times as you want — you are not going to find a single word in there about making loans to help the American economy. On the contrary: at another point in the conference call, the same executive (who I’m not naming because he didn’t know I would be listening in) explained that “loan dollars are down significantly.” He added, “We would think that loan volume will continue to go down as we continue to tighten credit to fully reflect the high cost of pricing on the loan side.” In other words JPMorgan has no intention of turning on the lending spigot.
It is starting to appear as if one of Treasury’s key rationales for the recapitalization program — namely, that it will cause banks to start lending again — is a fig leaf, Treasury’s version of the weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, Treasury wants banks to acquire each other and is using its power to inject capital to force a new and wrenching round of bank consolidation. As Mark Landler reported in The New York Times earlier this week, “the government wants not only to stabilize the industry, but also to reshape it.” Now they tell us.
Indeed, Mr. Landler’s story noted that Treasury would even funnel some of the bailout money to help banks buy other banks. And, in an almost unnoticed move, it recently put in place a new tax break, worth billions to the banking industry, that has only one purpose: to encourage bank mergers. As a tax expert, Robert Willens, put it: “It couldn’t be clearer if they had taken out an ad.”
Friday delivered the first piece of evidence that this is, indeed, the plan. PNC announced that it was purchasing National City, an acquisition that will be greatly aided by the new tax break, which will allow it to immediately deduct any losses on National City’s books.
As part of the deal, it is also tapping the bailout fund for $7.7 billion, giving the government preferred stock in return. At least some of that $7.7 billion would have gone to NatCity if the government had deemed it worth saving. In other words, the government is giving PNC money that might otherwise have gone to NatCity as a reward for taking over NatCity.
I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel as if we’ve been sold a bill of goods.
The markets had another brutal day Friday. The Asian markets got crushed. Germany and England were down more than 5 percent. In the hours before the United States markets opened, all the signals suggested it was going to be the worst day yet in the crisis. The Dow dropped more than 400 points at the opening, but thankfully it never got any worse.
There are lots of reasons the markets remain unstable — fears of a global recession, companies offering poor profit projections for the rest of the year, and the continuing uncertainties brought on by the credit crisis. But another reason, I now believe, is that investors no longer trust Treasury. First it says it has to have $700 billion to buy back toxic mortgage-backed securities. Then, as Mr. Paulson divulged to The Times this week, it turns out that even before the bill passed the House, he told his staff to start drawing up a plan for capital injections. Fearing Congress’s reaction, he didn’t tell the Hill about his change of heart.
Now, he’s shifted gears again, and is directing Treasury to use the money to force bank acquisitions. Sneaking in the tax break isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, either. (And let’s not even get into the less-than-credible, after-the-fact rationalizations for letting Lehman default, which stands as the single worst mistake the government has made in the crisis.)
On Thursday, at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, the chairman, Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, pushed Neel Kashkari, the young Treasury official who is Mr. Paulson’s point man on the bailout plan, on the subject of banks’ continuing reluctance to make loans. How, Senator Dodd asked, was Treasury going to ensure that banks used their new government capital to make loans — “besides rhetorically begging them?”
“We share your view,” Mr. Kashkari replied. “We want our banks to be lending in our communities.”
Senator Dodd: “Are you insisting upon it?”
Mr. Kashkari: “We are insisting upon it in all our actions.”
But they are doing no such thing. Unlike the British government, which is mandating lending requirements in return for capital injections, our government seems afraid to do anything except plead. And those pleas, in this environment, are falling on deaf ears.
Yes, there are times when a troubled bank needs to be acquired by a stronger bank. Given that the federal government insures deposits, it has an abiding interest in seeing that such mergers take place as smoothly as possible. Nobody is saying those kinds of deals shouldn’t take place.
But Citigroup, at this point, probably falls into the category of troubled bank, and nobody seems to be arguing that it should be taken over. It is in the “too big to fail” category, and the government will ensure that it gets back on its feet, no matter how much money it takes. One reason Mr. Paulson forced all of the nine biggest banks to take government money was to mask the fact that some of them are much weaker than others.
We have long been a country that has treasured its diversity of banks; up until the 1980s, in fact, there were no national banks at all. If Treasury is using the bailout bill to turn the banking system into the oligopoly of giant national institutions, it is hard to see how that will help anybody. Except, of course, the giant banks that are declared the winners by Treasury.
JPMorgan is going to be one of the winners — and deservedly so.
Mr. Dimon managed the company so well during the housing bubble that it is saddled with very few of the problems that have crippled competitors like Citi. The government handed it Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual because it was strong enough to swallow both institutions without so much as a burp.
Of all the banking executives in that room with Mr. Paulson a few weeks ago, none needed the government’s money less than Mr. Dimon. A company spokesman told me, “We accepted the money for the good of the entire financial system.” He added that JP Morgan would use the money “to do good for customers and shareholders. We are disciplined to try to make loans that people can repay.”
Nobody is saying it should make loans that people can’t repay. What I am saying is that Mr. Dimon took the $25 billion on the condition that his institution would start making loans. There are plenty of small and medium-size businesses that are choking because they have no access to capital — and are perfectly capable of repaying the money. How about a loan program for them, Mr. Dimon?
Late Thursday afternoon, I caught up with Senator Dodd, and asked him what he was going to do if the loan situation didn’t improve. “All I can tell you is that we are going to have the bankers up here, probably in another couple of weeks and we are going to have a very blunt conversation,” he replied.
He continued: “If it turns out that they are hoarding, you’ll have a revolution on your hands. People will be so livid and furious that their tax money is going to line their pockets instead of doing the right thing. There will be hell to pay.”
Let’s hope so.
The “dirty little secret” of the US bank bailout
27 October 2008
In an unusually frank article published in Saturday's New York Times, the newspaper's economic columnist, Joe Nocera, reveals what he calls "the dirty little secret of the banking industry"--namely, that "it has no intention of using the [government bailout] money to make new loans."
As Nocera explains, the plan announced October 13 by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to hand over $250 billion in taxpayer money to the biggest banks, in exchange for non-voting stock, was never really intended to get them to resume lending to businesses and consumers--the ostensible purpose of the bailout. Its essential aim was to engineer a rapid consolidation of the American banking system by subsidizing a wave of takeovers of smaller financial firms by the most powerful banks.
Nocera cites an employee-only conference call held October 17 by a top executive of JPMorgan Chase, the beneficiary of $25 billion in public funds. Nocera explains that he obtained the call-in number and was able to listen to a recording of the proceedings, unbeknownst to the executive, whom he declines to name.
Asked by one of the participants whether the $25 billion in federal funding will "change our strategic lending policy," the executive replies: "What we do think, it will help us to be a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side for some banks who are still struggling."
Referring to JPMorgan's recent government-backed acquisition of two large competitors, the executive continues: "And I would not assume that we are done on the acquisition side just because of the Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns mergers. I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment, and I think we have an opportunity to use that $25 billion in that way, and obviously depending on whether recession turns into depression or what happens in the future, you know, we have that as a backstop."
As Nocera notes: "Read that answer as many times as you want--you are not going to find a single word in there about making loans to help the American economy."
Later in the conference call the same executive states, "We would think that loan volume will continue to go down as we continue to tighten credit to fully reflect the high cost of pricing on the loan side."
"It is starting to appear," the Times columnist writes, "as if one of the Treasury's key rationales for the recapitalization program--namely, that it will cause banks to start lending again--is a fig leaf.... In fact, Treasury wants banks to acquire each other and is using its power to inject capital to force a new and wrenching round of bank consolidation."
Early this month, he explains, "in a nearly unnoticed move," Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, put in place a new tax break worth billions of dollars that is designed to encourage bank mergers. It allows the acquiring bank to immediately deduct any losses on the books of the acquired bank.
Paulson and other Treasury officials have made public statements calling on the banks that receive public funds to use them to increase their lending activities. That, however, is for public consumption. The bailout program imposes no lending requirements on the banks in return for government cash.
Already, the credit crisis has been used to engineer the takeover of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual by JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, Wachovia by Wells Fargo and, last Friday, National City by PNC.
What the Wall Street Journal on Saturday called the "strong-arm sale" of National City provides a taste of what is to come. The Treasury Department sealed the fate of the Cleveland-based bank by deciding not to include it among the regional banks that will receive government handouts. It then gave Pittsburgh-based PNC $7.7 billion from the bailout fund to help defray the costs of a takeover of National City. PNC will also benefit greatly from the tax write-off on mergers enacted by Treasury.
All of the claims that were made to justify the bank bailout have been exposed as lies. President Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Paulson were joined by the Democratic congressional leadership and Barack Obama in warning that the bailout had to be passed, and passed immediately, despite massive popular opposition. Those who opposed the plan were denounced for jeopardizing the well being of the American people.
In a nationally televised speech delivered September 24, in advance of the congressional vote on the bailout plan, Bush said it would "help American consumers and businessmen get credit to meet their daily needs and create jobs." If the bailout was not passed, he warned, "More banks could fail, including some in your community. The stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account.... More businesses would close their doors, and millions of Americans could lose their jobs ... ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession."
One month later, the bailout has been enacted, and all of the dire developments--banks and businesses disappearing, the stock market plunging, unemployment skyrocketing--which the American people were told it would prevent are unfolding with accelerating speed.
While Obama talks about the need for all Americans to "come together" in a spirit of "shared sacrifice"--meaning drastic cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs--and the cost of the bailout is cited to justify fiscal austerity, the bankers proceed to ruthlessly prosecute their class interests.
As the World Socialist Web Site warned when it was first proposed in mid-September, the "economic rescue" plan has been revealed to be a scheme to plunder society for the benefit of the financial aristocracy. The American ruling elite, utilizing its domination of the state and the two-party political system, is exploiting a crisis of its own making to carry through an economic agenda, long in preparation, that could not be imposed under normal conditions.
The result will be greater economic hardship for ordinary Americans. The big banks will have even greater market power to set interest rates and control access to credit for workers, students and small businesses.
While no serious measures are being proposed, either by the Bush administration, the Republican presidential candidate or his Democratic opponent, to prevent a social catastrophe from overtaking working people, the government is organizing a restructuring of the financial system that will enable a handful of mega-banks to increase their power over society.
From The Sunday Times
October 26, 2008
Nouriel Roubini: I fear the worst is yet to come
When this man predicted a global financial crisis more than a year ago, people laughed. Not any more...
As stock markets headed off a cliff again last week, closely followed by currencies, and as meltdown threatened entire countries such as Hungary and Iceland, one voice was in demand above all others to steer us through the gloom: that of Dr Doom.
For years Dr Doom toiled in relative obscurity as a New York University economics professor under his alias, Nouriel Roubini. But after making a series of uncannily accurate predictions about the global meltdown, Roubini has become the prophet of his age, jetting around the world dispensing his advice and latest prognostications to politicians and businessmen desperate to know what happens next – and for any answer to the crisis.
While the economic sun was shining, most other economists scoffed at Roubini and his predictions of imminent disaster. They dismissed his warnings that the sub-prime mortgage disaster would trigger a financial meltdown. They could not quite believe his view that the US mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would collapse, and that the investment banks would be crushed as the world headed for a long recession.
Yet all these predictions and more came true. Few are laughing now.
What does Roubini think is going to happen next? Rather worryingly, in London last Thursday he predicted that hundreds of hedge funds will go bust and stock markets may soon have to shut – perhaps for as long as a week – in order to stem the panic selling now sweeping the world.
What happened? The next day trading was briefly stopped in New York and Moscow.
Dubbed Dr Doom for his gloomy views, this lugubrious disciple of the “dismal science” is now the world’s most in-demand economist. He reckons he is getting about four hours’ sleep a night. Last week he was in Budapest, London, Madrid and New York. Next week he will address Congress in Washington. Do not expect any good news.
Contacted in Madrid on Friday, Roubini said the world economy was “at a breaking point”. He believes the stock markets are now “essentially in free fall” and “we are reaching the point of sheer panic”.
For all his recent predictive success, his critics still urge calm. They charge he is a professional doom-monger who was banging on about recession for years as the economy boomed. Roubini is stung by such charges, dismissing them as “pathetic”.
He takes no pleasure in bad news, he says, but he makes his standpoint clear: “Frankly I was right.” A combative, complex man, he is fond of the word “frankly”, which may be appropriate for someone so used to delivering bad news.
Born in Istanbul 49 years ago, he comes from a family of Iranian Jews. They moved to Tehran, then to Tel Aviv and finally to Italy, where he grew up and attended college, graduating summa cum laude in economics from Bocconi University before taking a PhD in international economics at Harvard.
Fluent in English, Italian, Hebrew, and Persian, Roubini has one of those “international man of mystery” accents: think Henry Kissinger without the bonhomie. Single, he lives in a loft in Manhattan’s trendy Tribeca, an area popularised by Robert De Niro, and collects contemporary art.
Despite his slightly mad-professor look, he is at pains to make clear he is normal. “I’m not a geek,” said Roubini, who sounds rather concerned that people might think he is. “I mean it frankly. I’m not a geek.”
He is, however, ferociously bright. When he left Harvard, he moved quickly, holding various positions at the Treasury department, rising to become an economic adviser to Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. Then his profile seemed to plateau. His doubts about the economic outlook seemed out of tune with the times, especially when a few years ago he began predicting a meltdown in the financial markets through his blog, hosted on RGEmonitor. com, the website of his advisory company.
But it was a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September 2006 that earned him his nickname Dr Doom.
Roubini told an audience of fellow economists that a generational crisis was coming. A once-in-a-lifetime housing bust would lay waste to the US economy as oil prices soared, consumers stopped shopping and the country went into a deep recession.
The collapse of the mortgage market would trigger a global meltdown, as trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unravelled. The shockwaves would destroy banks and other big financial institutions such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, America’s largest home loan lenders.
“I think perhaps we will need a stiff drink after that,” the moderator said. Members of the audience laughed.
Economics is not called the dismal science for nothing. While the public might be impressed by Nostradamus-like predictions, economists want figures and equations. Anirvan Banerji, economist with the New York-based Economic Cycle Research Institute, summed up the feeling of many of those at the IMF meeting when he delivered his response to Roubini’s talk.
Banerji questioned Roubini’s assumptions, said they were not based on mathematical models and dismissed his hunches as those of a Cassandra. At first, indeed, it seemed Roubini was wrong. Meltdown did not happen. Even by the end of 2007, the financial and economic outlook was grim but not disastrous.
Then, in February 2008, Roubini posted an entry on his blog headlined: “The rising risk of a systemic financial meltdown: the twelve steps to financial disaster”.
It detailed how the housing market collapse would lead to huge losses for the financial system, particularly in the vehicles used to securitise loans. It warned that “ a national bank” might go bust, and that, as trouble deepened, investment banks and hedge funds might collapse.
Even Roubini was taken aback at how quickly this scenario unfolded. The following month the US investment bank Bear Stearns went under. Since then, the pace and scale of the disaster has accelerated and, as Roubini predicted, the banking sector has been destroyed, Freddie and Fannie have collapsed, stock markets have gone mad and the economy has entered a frightening recession.
Roubini says he was able to predict the catastrophe so accurately because of his “holistic” approach to the crisis and his ability to work outside traditional economic disciplines. A long-time student of financial crises, he looked at the history and politics of past crises as well as the economic models.
“These crises don’t come out of nowhere,” he said. “Usually they arrive because of a systematic increase in a variety of asset and credit bubbles, macro-economic policies and other vulnerabilities. If you combine them, you may not get the timing right but you get an indication that you are closer to a tipping point.”
Others who claimed the economy would escape a recession had been swept up in “a critical euphoria and mania, an irrational exuberance”, he said. And many financial pundits, he believes, were just talking up their own vested interests. “I might be right or wrong, but I have never traded, bought or sold a single security in my life. I am trying to be as objective as I can.”
What does his objectivity tell him now? No end is yet in sight to the crisis.
“Every time there has been a severe crisis in the last six months, people have said this is the catastrophic event that signals the bottom. They said it after Bear Stearns, after Fannie and Freddie, after AIG [the giant US insurer that had to be rescued], and after [the $700 billion bailout plan]. Each time they have called the bottom, and the bottom has not been reached.”
Across the world, governments have taken more and more aggressive actions to stop the panic. However, Roubini believes investors appear to have lost confidence in governments’ ability to sort out the mess.
The announcement of the US government’s $700 billion bailout, Gordon Brown’s grand bank rescue plan and the coordinated response of governments around the world has done little to calm the situation. “It’s been a slaughter, day after day after day,” said Roubini. “Markets are dysfunctional; they are totally unhinged.” Economic fundamentals no longer apply, he believes.
“Even using the nuclear option of guaranteeing everything, providing unlimited liquidity, nationalising the banks, making clear that nobody of importance is going to be allowed to fail, even that has not helped. We are reaching a breaking point, frankly.”
He believes governments will have to come up with an even bigger international rescue, and that the US is facing “multi-year economic stagnation”.
Given such cataclysmic talk, some experts fear his new-found influence may be a bad thing in such troubled times. One senior Wall Street figure said: “He is clearly very bright and thoughtful when he is not shooting from the hip.”
He said he found some of Roubini’s comments “slapdash and silly”. “Sometimes the rigour of his analysis seems to be missing,” he said.
Banerji still has problems with Roubini’s prescient IMF speech. “He has been very accurate in terms of what would happen,” he said. But Roubini was predicting an “imminent” recession by the start of 2007 and he was wrong. “He hurt his credibility by being so pessimistic long before it was appropriate.”
Banerji said on average the US economy had grown for five years before hitting a bad patch. “Roubini started predicting a recession four years ago and saying it was imminent. He kept changing his justification: first the trade deficit, the current account deficit, then the oil price spike, then the housing downturn and so on. But the recession actually did not arrive,” he said.
“If you are an investor or a businessman and you took him seriously four years ago, what on earth would happen to you? You would be in a foetal position for years. This is why the timing is critical. It’s not enough to know what will happen in some point in the distant future.”
Roubini says the argument about content and timing is irrelevant. “People who have been totally blinded and wrong accusing me of getting the timing wrong, it’s just a joke,” he said. “It’s a bit pathetic, frankly. I was not making generic statements. I have made very specific predictions and I have been right all along.” Maybe so, but he does not sound too happy about it, frankly.
TOP 25 Daily Papers in New FAS-FAX
By E&P Staff
Published: October 27, 2008
NEW YORK Here are the top 25 daily papers ranked for the six-month period ending September 2008 based on a Monday-through-Friday average, according to the new FAS-FAX from the Audit Bureau of Circulations released today. The percent change compares this period to the same period a year ago.
USA TODAY -- 2,293,310 -- 0.01%
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -- 2,011,999 -- 0.01%
NEW YORK TIMES -- 1,000,665 -- (-3.58%)
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- 739,147 -- (-5.20%)
DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK -- 632,595 -- (-7.16%)
NEW YORK POST -- 625,421 -- (-6.25%)
THE WASHINGTON POST -- 622,714 -- (-1.94%)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE -- 516,032 -- (-7.75%)
HOUSTON CHRONICLE -- 448,271 -- (-11.66%)
NEWSDAY -- 377,517 -- (-2.58%)
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC -- 361,333 -- (-5.51%)
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- 339,430 -- (-7.07%)
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS -- 338,933 -- (-9.28%)
BOSTON GLOBE -- 323,983 -- (-10.18%)
STAR TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS -- 322,360 -- (-4.26%)
STAR-LEDGER, NEWARK, N.J. -- 316,280 -- (-10.40%)
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES -- 313,176 -- (-3.94%)
PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND -- 305,529 -- (-8.58%)
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER -- 300,674 -- (-11.06%)
DETROIT FREE PRESS -- 298,243 -- (-6.84%)
THE OREGONIAN -- 283,321 -- (-8.45%)
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION -- 274,999 -- (-13.62%)
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE -- 269,819 -- (-3.00%)
ST. PETERSBURG (FLA.) TIMES -- 268,935 -- (-6.88%)
THE SACRAMENTO BEE -- 253,249 -- (-4.22%)
2009 Ferrari California
A ripping front-mounted V-8 and a dual-clutch transmission highlight the Ferrari California.
By Mike Monticello
Talk about dragging the launch of a car out! The first official photos of the Ferrari California were published months ago. But here at the Paris show is the California's true world premier. And it's worth the wait to see it in the flesh. From a fully retractable hardtop to a dual-clutch transmission to the first-ever production Ferrari with a front-mounted V-8, the Ferrari California is packed with the latest and greatest from the engineers in Maranello...despite the fact the California is not Ferrari's flagship model.
Ferrari says the California "is aimed at owners who desire a car which embodies everything the Prancing Horse represents in terms of sporty design and innovation, but also seek a car with greater versatility than ever." This newest prancing horse is not a "baby Ferrari." It is, in fact, a brand-new model complementing, and similar in size to, the racier F430 — except the California has more flexibility in packaging. In addition to having a power retractable hardtop, the California can be ordered in a 2+2 configuration — children seating only — or for more storage space for weekend outings. There is even a trunk pass-through for skis for those who want to hit the slopes in the winter.
Despite a raft of new technologies, the California doesn't forget Ferrari's past. The car's styling uses several nostalgic elements from the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those elements include the large air intake on the hood, the side gills just aft of the front wheels, near identical grillework and similarly swoopy rear fenders. And photos don't do this car justice — we must say, the Ferrari California looks absolutely stunning in person.
Unlike the Ferrari Superamerica from a few years back, which featured a roof that simply flipped backward, the California will come only as a true retractable hardtop; when the top is down, the rear deck is completely flat — just like the Mercedes-Benz SL. The top is slick in its operation, and only takes 14 seconds to go from open to fully closed.
As with any Ferrari, the engine is the star. The 4.3-liter direct-injected flat-crank V-8 produces 460 bhp. Even more important is the car's use of Ferrari's first dual-clutch gearbox with not six speeds, as on every other recent Ferrari, but seven forward gears. Ferrari claims the California will be able to hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in less than 4 seconds.
In another dramatic move, Ferrari has swapped out its traditional double-wishbone suspension at the rear for a multilink setup on the California. And those amazing (but incredibly expensive, lightweight and fade-resistant) Brembo carbon-ceramic brake discs seen on so many Ferraris these days? Standard issue on the California.
Ferrari started production of the California late this summer in a brand-new building in Maranello. It will be on sale in Europe by the end of the year. U.S. sales will follow later, probably as a 2009 model and priced in the range of the F430.
Rafsanjani: US nuked Iraq in 1991
Fri, 24 Oct 2008
A senior Iranian cleric has urged an inquiry into a report that the US dropped a small nuclear bomb on an area near the Iraq-Iran border.
Speaking at the Friday prayers sermon, former Iranian president and currently Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said, "The bomb blast killed many people and spread cancer and other diseases in the area but no news items have been published about it."
Rafsanjani noted that the footage of the attack, which allegedly took place in a region between Iraq's Basra and Iran's border in 1991, was broadcast by an Italian television channel earlier this month.
He said that even though the report has not been officially confirmed, it was expected to receive widespread media coverage but it was censored in the media.
"If it the report turns out to be true, then the US should be asked why it has resorted to such a crime to punish the then-bankrupt Iraqi government," Fars news agency quoted Rafsanjani as saying.
The coalition forces from 34 countries led by the US launched the Persian Gulf War (2 Aug 1990-28 Feb 1991) to return Kuwait to the control of the Emir of Kuwait.
The nuclear bombing Rafsanjani was referring to was based on a claim by US war veteran Jim Brown who said that the US dropped a five-kilotonne nuclear bomb on 27 February 1991, the last day of the first Iraq-US War. Brown made the accusation during an interview included in a 30-minute current affairs report broadcast by Italian state news channel RaiNews24 on October 9.
RaiNews24 says it has conducted an independent inquiry and discovered that "a seismic event took place on that day equal to a five-kilotonne blast", citing as its source the online archives of the International Seismological Center, a non-profit UK-based organisation, as confirmation of its research according to Adnkronos International (AKI).
The documentary included an interview with an Iraqi doctor, Jawad al-Ali, who told RaiNews24 that before the beginning of the first Gulf War in 1989 there were 32 cases of tumours, while in 2002 the number had risen to 600 in the Basra area as reported by AKI on 8 October.
Al-Ali also told RaiNews24 that tumours that used to affect older citizens had started to impact younger children. He then showed alleged photos of the tumours in the documentary.
Nicolas Sarkozy under attack after EU president proposal
Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of making a power grab to install himself as president of the European Union, a post that no longer exists after the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June.
25 Oct 2008
The French president, who holds the EU's rotating six month presidency until the end of December, has dominated the international stage following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August and the global financial crisis in recent weeks.
But he has dismayed Brussels diplomats and angered the Czech Republic, which takes over the EU presidency in January, by suggesting that countries belonging to the euro, with an invitation extended to Britain, should form an emergency "economic government" with President Sarkozy at its head.
"What is important is that the impetus, the energy of the French EU presidency remains," said Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French Europe minister, in defence of the plan.
"Do we want to return to business as usual? Or do we want to capitalise on the impetus?"
Alexandr Vondra, the Czech vice-prime minister, has criticised Mr Sarkozy's plans to extend his time at the head of the EU into next year.
"Any speculations on extension of the current presidency are groundless and unacceptable," he said.
"Nobody can take the presidency away from the Czech Republic. There are formal rules of the game which cannot be changed without the consent of everyone. No such new rules in the EU primary law have been approved."
The Lisbon Treaty created the post of the EU president, a job for which, until Ireland's referendum rejection in June, Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, was the front-runner.
One Brussels diplomat, from a small EU member state, said: "Mr Sarkozy is trying to become, by the back door, President of the EU. It also seems he wants to be President of France at the same time."
Mr Sarkozy has proposed regular summits of the EU's 15 euro-zone countries, meeting in a series of 2009 summits of heads and state and government, to deal with a looming recession and the economic fall out of the financial crisis.
Gordon Brown, the leader of the EU's second biggest ecoomy, would also be invited to attend the meetings, following his presence at the first ever Eurogroup summit in Paris on October 12.
Mr Vondra admitted that non-euro members, such as the Czech Republic, "will not be able to prevent" the summits but has attacked the move as divisive.
"It would not be a wise move but one which would divide EU rather then unify it. Bypass is a method used to cure an heart attack, but is not a suitable method for cooperation within the EU. The EU hopefully, does not suffer from heart attacks," he said.
The French plan also risks a serious rift with Germany because Berlin is a staunch defender of Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister and finance minister of Luxembourg, who currently chairs meetings of Eurogroup economic ministers.
A German government spokesman said: "The natural chairman of such a group would be the Luxembourg Prime Minister and Finance Minister Jean-Claude Juncker."
EU diplomats have suggested that Mr Sarkozy is trying to "soap the plank" for Mr Juncker by accusing Luxembourg's banking secrecy rules as constituting a tax haven.
"France is not a greater example of financial morality than Luxembourg," he said.
Slurpee drinks are all served at 28 degrees.
Early prototypes for the Slurpee machine made use of an automobile air conditioning unit.
Slurpee was "invented" when some sodas were put in a freezer to cool them down — and they became all slushy.
Bob Stanford, a 7-Eleven agency director, coined the term "Slurpee" in 1967.
Winnipeg, Canada is generally thought to be the Slurpee capital of the world, due to their amazing Slurpee fanaticism.
When Slurpee first hit the market, it wasn’t self-serve. The machine was behind the counter and the clerk served the product to you.
At Slurpee, we call it a BrainFreeze. The scientific name for it is Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia. Really.
Slurpee drinks are carbonated.
Many Slurpee flavors are certified kosher "parve," as well as halal.
Slurpee Day is July 11th.
Sugar is the anti-freezing agent in most Slurpee drinks.
American Slurpee is injected with air. Canadian Slurpee is not.
Half of all Slurpee drinks are purchased between the hours of 4 and 11 p.m.
Every day more than 11.6 million Slurpee drinks are consumed around the world.
Pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth is a known cure for brainfreeze.
In 2004, 7-Eleven created an edible Slurpee straw.
In 1998, Slurpee Lip Balm hit the market.
More than 40% of all Slurpee drinks are sold during the months of June, July and August.
Every year enough Slurpee drinks are sold to fill up 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Only one private individual owns a bona fide Slurpee machine. The rest are in 7-Eleven.
The average Slurpee drinker's age is 29.
Oil Options at $50 Soar After OPEC Cut Fails to Support Prices
By Alexander Kwiatkowski
Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Oil options contracts to sell crude at $50 by December almost tripled today after an OPEC decision to slash production failed to allay concerns that the global economic slump is hurting demand.
The cost of the $50 December 2008 put option, which gives the holder the right to sell oil futures at $50 a barrel, rose as much as 142 percent to $1.50 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, compared with 62 cents yesterday, according to exchange data.
``It certainly seems to me that we could get down to $50 a barrel,'' Adam Sieminski, Deutsche Bank's chief energy economist, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview today. ``You could look at the OPEC cut as a sign of weakness, not strength.''
The cost of the option jumped on speculation that an output cut announced today by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which supplies about 40 percent of the world's oil, won't be enough to stem plunging prices.
OPEC decided at its Vienna headquarters today to lower the production quota for 11 of its members by 1.5 million barrels a day, to 27.308 million barrels a day, starting from Nov. 1.
Crude oil futures for December delivery dropped as much as $5.19, or 7.7 percent, to $62.65 a barrel in electronic trading on Nymex, and traded at $64.51 a barrel at 9:59 a.m. local time.
The price of crude has tumbled 56 percent since rising to a record $147.27 a barrel in New York on July 11.
Speculators can profit from the rising value of put options by selling the options themselves back into the market. Alternatively, if crude futures fall below the $50-a-barrel ``strike'' price, holders of the put options can exercise their right to sell futures at $50, and then buy the futures back for less in the market, making a profit.
The Nymex options contracts are for 1,000 barrels each, as are the underlying futures contracts. On Oct. 3, the $50 December put option was valued at 1 cent a barrel, or $10 for the 1,000-barrel lot.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alexander Kwiatkowski in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
John Kerry wants New Deal II
Backs big fed stimulus
By Jay Fitzgerald
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Jay Fitzgerald has been a journalist and blogger for years. He's now the general economics reporter for the Boston Herald.
The nation’s battered economy needs an old-fashioned “Rooseveltian lift” of regulatory reforms and government spending on the infrastructure, clean energy and other sectors, U.S. Sen. John Kerry said yesterday.
Kerry, facing a re-election challenge from Republican Jeff Beatty, rejected GOP calls for more tax rebates to stimulate the economy, as was done last spring.
“I am for a stimulus package. I am not for a stimulus package that just sends out checks,” said Kerry at a Boston Herald editorial meeting yesterday.
Instead, Kerry said the nation needs to spend more in areas that will both help the economy in the short run and long run - such as on roads and bridges, clean energy initiatives and life sciences.
Calling current financial woes the most “complicated economic time we’ve had since the Great Depression,” Kerry said new approaches are needed to reform the current financial system.
“We’re operating with old institutions that are incapable of responding fast enough, dealing with vast sums of money that cross boundaries in different financial centers,” said Kerry, who plans to provide more details of his economic agenda Tuesday at North Shore Community College in Lynn.
Democrats in Washington are pushing for more New Deal-like spending approaches for helping the economy, while the Republicans support boosting the economy via tax cuts.
But asked to respond to Kerry’s economic remarks, Beatty’s camp made references to a famous anti-Kerry crack by former state Senate President William Bulger and to rumors Kerry might be in line to become secretary of state if Barack Obama wins the presidential race.
“The only thing we know about John Kerry’s ‘plans’ is that printed on the bottom line is JFK - Just for Kerry. We just wonder how he’s going to get all this done from inside the Secretary of State’s suite in Foggy Bottom,” the Beatty camp’s statement read.
I just read this in a Christopher Hitchens column:
Obama is lucky, another fact that drives McCain into a frenzy of elderly irritation.
A few years ago the Republican senator in Illinois, a promising young man who could have been expected to hold the seat for a long time, was found to have insisted his wife go with him to live sex shows.
Suddenly there was a snap election. Grabbing the Democratic nomination by the skin of his teeth, Obama found the Republicans were hastily running their own black man against him: a conservative fanatic named Alan Keyes who accused him of being insufficiently black!
The "Republican senator from Illinois" was married to Jeri Ryan (7 of 9 in Voyager). The details about this came out in their divorce filings. So the Borg helped catapult Obama to the presidency!
The goodness of wholesome dairy cream since 1948.
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While some whipped toppings are made with hydrogenated oils, Reddi-wip® has always been made with real dairy cream. With Reddi-wip®, you know you’re getting the high-quality ingredients and real cream taste that you and your family deserve. Nothing’s more real than Reddi-wip®!
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The newspaper article below is even funnier than the sign!
What are the mothers called?
What would you be learning at the Fucking High School ?
Does the Fucking Hospital help you with anything else?
If your friend came from another town, he wouldn't be your Fucking friend.
NOW YOU CAN FORWARD THIS TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE FUCKING TOWN.
Not a single one could choose between George Bush and John Kerry in 2004.
Or at least that’s what their ballots said.
The Secretary of State at the time told me, “Some of those people just can’t make up their minds.” Dirt-poor Dona Ana is 63% Hispanic and the precinct is made up entirely of overseas voters, mostly the Chicano soldiers in Iraq or on duty. The machines say that Hispanic soldiers don’t care who becomes their commander-in-chief.
Or maybe, the machines failed to register their votes.
Few Americans realize that in 2004, 1,389,231 ballots were never counted because they were “spoiled.” How do ballots spoil? They get left out of the ‘fridge? No, they’re supposedly unreadable, blank, or just somehow lost in the machines.
Go to http://www.stealbackyourvote.org/ to download the guide for free or pick up print copies of the investigative comic book by Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Every donation you make for copies of the comic allows us to send more out to low income groups in states like Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado. Get the guide now - all copies will be sent out via priority mail. If your group would like to distribute the Steal Back Your Vote guide please contact keri (at) gregpalast.com for special rates.
After you've picked up the comic book get the t-shirt. Wear it into the polling place and tell them that they can't steal your vote! Support the fund by picking up the Steal Back Your Vote t-shirt by the cool people over at Clothing for the American Mind. A portion of every purchase goes to support the Palast Investigative Fund.
What is the number one YouTube account for news reporting right now? Higher than DailyKos & AP?
Tullycast, courtesy of Uncle John "JT" Tully (not to be confused with Uncle Fats...)
‘They Both Suck’ Campaign Sign Draws Stares
News 4 JAX
Friday, Oct 24, 2008
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Campaign signs in support of presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama decorate lawns across the country, but a man who said he doesn’t support either candidate has created quite a stir with a sign of his own.
“They Both Suck ‘08" reads the sign in Timothy Connors’ front yard.
Connors, who lives in San Marco, told Channel 4 he supports politics but said he doesn’t support either of the frontrunners in this year’s election.
“I get a lot of response — notes on the door or people honk if I’m outside or what not,” Connor said.
He said he made the sign because he has an interest in politics. He said he just doesn’t have an interest in this year’s candidates.
“I feel a lot of people get caught up in the lesser of two evils. I think it would waste a vote if I don’t 100 percent support a candidate,” said Connor.
Connor said he isn’t going to support either candidate. Instead, he said if he can’t cast a ballot for who he wants, he’ll wait until 2012 and not vote in this election.
“My theory is if I can’t vote for who I want, it really doesn’t count,” Connor said.
He said the person he would like to see on the ballot is Ron Paul.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
That's still the way AC/DC wants to rock 'n' roll
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
Evolve or die? Darwin never met AC/DC.
Black Ice, the band's 15th studio album and first since 2000's Stiff Upper Lip, is barely distinguishable from the rip-snorting discs of its mid-'70s heyday. Guitarist Angus Young puts it simply: "We're always going to sound like AC/DC."
Hatched in 1973, the Australian outfit never wavered from a template of muscular riffs, monster beats and shrieked appreciation for sex, booze and rock 'n' roll. No ballads. No greatest-hits albums. No downloads. Resisting change has made has-beens of countless rockers, and yet AC/DC's popularity swells with each new generation. In fact, tweaking the formula can be risky.
That's why singer Brian Johnson won't hit the stage without "me old beanie," a wardrobe staple almost as familiar as Young's schoolboy uniform.
"I walked on stage without it once in 1995 in Belgium," Johnson says. "I got booed. I had to go back and put it on. They cheered."
Fans are cheering AC/DC's 15-track return, a beefy, howling and, yes, familiar hard-rock assault produced by Brendan O'Brien, who corralled Johnson, guitarists Malcolm and Angus Young, drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, B.C.
"Critics tend to lambaste bands who don't show some development," says Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune music critic and co-host of syndicated public radio show Sound Opinions. "The Ramones, Motorhead and AC/DC have shown that you can make the same album over and over again. It's not so much a lack of evolution as a signature sound. They invent it and claim ownership."
Black Ice, out today, "nails that classic sound with no gimmicks, no frills, no grand statements."
Growth and maturity are overrated, Johnson says. "We stick to the maxim 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " he says. "It's not that we're afraid of anything. By sticking to what we do, that's being brave. The pressures we were under in the '80s and '90s to use wind machines and wear leather coats, those were hard times. People thought we were dinosaurs, that we lost the plot because we weren't sparkly and cutie-wootie enough."
From the outset, AC/DC had little use for advice from media or industry experts, and that tunnel vision saw them through every trend, from disco to grunge to rap-metal.
"When I started, the music was very polite, very bubblegum," Angus says. "What you heard on the radio was fluff. It never deterred me then. It's the same nowadays."
Staying the course never hurt the band's bottom line. Since SoundScan began tabulating sales in 1991, AC/DC has sold 26.4 million albums, eclipsed only by The Beatles. At 22 million copies, 1980's Back in Black is the fifth-best-selling album in U.S. history, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, which reports AC/DC's total U.S. sales at 69 million copies. That's ahead of the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith.
Available exclusively at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and acdc.com, Ice already has leaked online; an estimated 400,000 illegal downloads have been reported at BitTorrent alone. Still, brisk sales are expected. A U.S. tour launches Oct. 28 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and wraps up Jan. 31 in Nashville. Most dates are sold out.
The band has been rehearsing in Philadelphia, reviving vintage crowd-pleasers and working Black Ice songs into the set list.
"At 61, this could be my last shot," Johnson says, but he adds that the run-throughs "have been smooth as a gravy sandwich."
The years haven't enfeebled Angus, 53, who promises AC/DC's usual spectacle.
"I try to look after my health," he says. "I don't do a 6-mile jog. I might do a half-hour on a bike in the morning."
He'll again don the cap, shorts and tie ensemble he has sported for 35 years. "Do I really want to squeeze into it again? I can't really think about it," he says, joking that his bared legs "won't disappoint."
Johnson expresses amazement at the band's enduring appeal and credits much of its longevity to chemistry and an obsessive focus on music.
"People talk a lot about Angus and Malcolm, but that's not fair," he says. "There's more than two brothers. There are five. Malcolm, our spiritual leader, always told us to be a rock band first and a celebrity way, way after that. Stay below the radar, don't get involved in politics, stop covering yourself in glory on the stages of the world."
Angus credits rock's durability for keeping AC/DC afloat. "We're living proof it ain't dying. The Stones are still out there. Led Zeppelin was playing again. A hell of a lot of younger bands are coming along. And I'm sure plenty of bands are rehearsing in garages.
"As for us, we'll do it as long as we can do it well," he says. "I've got a song or two still left in me that I think can kick a few butts."
Dow Average May Sink to 5,000, Boockvar Says
By Thomas R. Keene and Ken Prewitt
Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average may sink as low as 5,000 next year, a 41 percent decline from its current level, according to Peter Boockvar of Miller Tabak & Co.
``The market's going to overshoot on the downside,'' Boockvar said in a Bloomberg Radio interview yesterday. ``When that occurs, I'll be a raging bull.''
The CHART OF THE DAY shows 40 years of the Dow average. It last closed below 5,000 on Nov. 20, 1995. A retreat to that level would represent a 65 percent plunge from its all-time high of 14,164.53 set in October 2007.
Earnings estimates are too high and when investors realize that, they will drive the stock market lower, added Boockvar, Miller Tabak's New York-based equity strategist. Companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index will earn a total of $60 a share in 2009, not more than $90 as some analysts estimate, he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Thomas R. Keene in New York at email@example.com; Ken Prewitt in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 24, 2008
Oil price falls despite supply cut by producers
Oil producers this morning unanimously voted to cut their output by 1.5 million barrels a day, following an emergency meeting in Vienna to discuss the plunging price of crude.
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), which is responsible for 40 per cent of the world's production, said the cut, which was more than the one million barrel forecast, would come into effect from November 1.
While a fall in daily output is expected to increase the price of oil, Brent North Sea crude slumped to a 17-month low of $61.08 a barrel and New York prices declined to $63.05 after concerns about the global economy's march towards recession overode fears about shrinking fuel supply.
Ministers from the oil producing nations are thought to be keen to push prices above $70 a barrel, although they said this morning that they had not set a price target.
Oil has plunged by more than 50 per cent from July's record high of $147 as the global financial crisis bit into energy demand in the US and other industrial countries.
British supermarket groups have been passing on the falling price of oil to its customers, as part of a price war on the forecourts which yesterday saw additional reductions by Sainsbury's and Asda, reducing a litre of unleaded to 94.9p.
Dr Pepper flowing as new Guns album arrives
Thu Oct 23, 2008
By Jonathan Cohen
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Guns N' Roses fans thirsting for the band's first album of new material in 17 years will have a sweet, fizzy treat to savor as they listen.
Dr Pepper is making good on a promise to provide every person in America a can of the soft drink if "Chinese Democracy" were to arrive in 2008, and has revealed details of the plan.
"We never thought this day would come," Dr Pepper vp marketing Tony Jacobs said Wednesday. "But now that it's here all we can say is: The Dr Pepper's on us."
Interested fans are being asked to visit DrPepper.com (http://www.drpepper.com) on November 23, the day "Chinese Democracy" is released in the U.S. exclusively via Best Buy. After registering online, fans will receive a coupon redeemable for a 20-ounce Dr Pepper wherever the drink is sold.
The twist: The coupon is available for only 24 hours and will expire on February 28.
World For Press Freedom
October 22, 2008
The United States is ranked 36th in the world in terms of press freedom, up from 48th last year, according to a report released Wednesday by Reporters Sans Frontieres.
The US is tied with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, South Africa, Spain, and Taiwan in the 36th spot. Iceland, Luxembourg, and Norway are tied for first. Iran, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea are all featured among the ten lowest-ranked countries.
According to the survey, the index "measures the state of press freedom in the world. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom."
The ranking examines "every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). And it includes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations."
Self-censorship, financial pressure, the legal framework of the media, and the level of independence of the public media are also taken into account.
The report explains the United States' rise from 48th to 36th:
The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal "shield law" means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions.
They are the leadership of the Mormon Church, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and led by President-Prophet Thomas Monson. The Mormon Church has spent the last three months intimidating their members into giving money to "Yes on Prop 8" -- which would take marriage rights away from same-sex couples -- telling Mormon families that their "souls will be in jeopardy" if they do not contribute portions of their income.
According to the Sacramento Bee, members of the Mormon Church have contributed a whopping $8 million to the "Yes on 8" campaign -- about 40% of the total amount raised as of October 13 -- to pass a ballot measure that removes basic civil rights from our state constitution.
And what has this money bought? A pernicious pack of lies, broadcast dozens of times a day into California homes. A church whose ninth commandment reads "thou shalt not bear false witness" is helping fund false ads that claim California parents do not have the right to remove their children from sex education classes -- a right they have and that courts have repeatedly confirmed.
Today, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell expressed his strong opposition to Prop 8 in a hard-hitting TV ad, emphatically reminding voters that "our schools aren't required to teach anything about marriage." In fact, every education authority in the state has rejected the lies and distortions of the Prop 8 campaign, including the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association.
It's time for Californians to fight back against these dishonest attacks by the religious right. On Tuesday, we will deliver a letter to President-Prophet Thomas Monson at the Los Angeles Mormon Temple, demanding that his church stop funding the blatant lies of the "Yes on 8" campaign. Please show your support by signing our letter right now:
The Mormon Church hopes these lies scare California's parents into voting against same-sex rights. That's why we're going to deliver this letter to President-Prophet Monson in Los Angeles on Tuesday:
"We, the undersigned, call upon you to direct your church to cease funding the 'Yes on 8' campaign and to cease all forms of advocacy for Proposition 8. We ask you to stay out of our state's governance. We ask you to respect the religious freedoms of those churches that choose to conduct same-sex weddings, just as we respect your church's right to refuse to do so. We ask you to uphold both the spirit and the letter of the California and United States Constitutions and not attempt to eliminate the fundamental rights of Californians."
Simply put, the Mormon Church should not be imposing its religious doctrine on Californians by funding lies that eliminate civil rights or religious freedoms.
That's why I plan to personally deliver thousands of your signatures to President-Prophet Thomas Munson on Tuesday. Please sign our letter to him today so that we can gather as many signatures as possible before Tuesday's delivery to the Los Angeles Mormon Temple:
Morris Thurston, a Mormon scholar and adjunct law professor at Brigham Young University, has denounced Mormon leadership and called on them to "instruct its members that reliance on misleading and false 'consequences' is not worthy of our basic values of honesty and fair dealing."
If you agree, please forward this email message to your friends and family across California and the country. To shed light on these lies and defeat Prop 8, we need the support of as many people as possible, regardless of religious faith.
Thank you for doing everything in your power before election day to protect marriage equality in California.
The Courage Campaign Issues Committee is part of the Courage Campaign online organizing network empowering nearly 100,000 grassroots and netroots activists to make 2008 a new era for progressive politics in California.
Haider widow believes death 'not an accident'
The widow of Joerg Haider believes the far-right Austrian politician's death in a car crash may not have been an accident and has saved his body from cremation for a second post mortem, a Vienna newspaper has reported.
By David Wroe in Berlin
24 Oct 2008
Today cited senior members of Mr Haider's party as claiming that his widow Claudia had doubts about the official explanation of her husband's death and wanted a further examination by a coroner, possibly in Italy.
The paper suggested that Mr Haider's body was abruptly withdrawn from a planned cremation on Saturday. It said Mrs Haider feared her husband may have been drugged.
Theories that the charismatic politician, 58, was assassinated have simmered in Austria since the crash on Oct 11.
Party sources pointed to the fact that there were no tyre skid marks as evidence Mr Haider was unconscious when he crashed, Today said.
Last week, a Volkswagen spokesman said the speed at which Haider was driving – 88mph – although nearly double the speed limit, should ''not have been a problem for the car's physics'' on the curved road.
Mr Haider's car, a VW Phaeton, struck a pillar and flipped near the city of Klagenfurt. The governor of the state of Carinthia, was nearly four times over the legal blood alcohol limit.
Stefan Petzner, his protégé, has been linked to Haider romantically by Austrian media after Mr Petzner said: "We had a relationship that went far beyond friendship. Me and Jorg were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life."
Mr Petzner briefly succeeded Mr Haider as leader of the Alliance for the Future of Austria but was sacked after his tearful revelation.
Mrs Haider declined to comment to the Austrian paper about the plan for a further post mortem. A spokesman for the party yesterday also refused to comment on the story to the Telegraph.
Mr Haider, who rose to notoriety in the late 1990s as leader of the far-right Freedom Party, died just days after his new party more than doubled its vote in Austria's national election.
Though you did not say so explicitly in your post, you seem to suggest that the establishment favors Obama because he will be a better salesman than McCain at implementing some very unpopular policies. That is probably true.
That much said, I will still vote for Obama. First, I could never forgive myself if I helped, even in a small way, another Republican get into the White House after eight years of Bush. Second, it's pretty clear what kind of Supreme Court justices McCain/Palin will appoint, and the next president will likely appoint at least one or two. Third, with Obama in the White House, I think there will be opportunities to do things (e.g., renewable energy initiatives, returning troops from Iraq, etc.) that simply will not exist with a McCain presidency. Of these, it is the Supreme Court appointments that frighten me the most. Republican presidents tend to appoint relatively young ideologues who will likely be on the Court for the rest of our lives.
Again, I understand the points that you are making, and it is possible that your danger detector has picked up on something that mine hasn't when it comes to Obama. The media, and the establishment in general, tend to be so anti-progressive in their orientation, we should be suspicious when it throws its support behind a particular candidate (which at this point appears to be Obama).
However, I like to take a glass half-full approach when I look at Obama. On one hand, there is the idealistic Obama that won some limited victories as a community organizer in Chicago; on the other, there is the Obama who has admittedly made many compromises as a politician. I have thought for some time now that American politics has been a battle between the Jekyl and Hyde personalities in our national psyche. With more and more people's eyes being opened, it appears that Dr. Jekyl finally seems to be winning. It is my hope that the establishment will be forced to grant concessions to the shift in American public opinion that appears to be taking place right now, and that Obama will follow suit. It is difficult for me to see that happening with McCain in office.
In the end, I suspect that an Obama presidency will be very Clintonesque in that he will be savagely criticized during his term, then looked back upon with fondness after the next Republican attack dog wins the White House.
In any event, after Obama (hopefully) wins the White House, I take comfort knowing that people like you will be there to keep him honest. Like any president, if elected, Obama should be supported when he deserves support and criticized when he deserves criticism.
Thanks again for your post.
P.S.: Where can I get one those great T-shirts about the bailout?
What you didn’t hear is that, besides the Sisters of the Holy Cross who lost their vote because their drivers licenses expired, 144,896 other legal voters were told to scram in this year’s primary -all caught attempting to vote without a license. The rejected were, disproportionately, African-American,according to data from the University of Washington.
Apparently, the idea for this racially rancid rule came to Karl Rove while he was buying his Pampers: “If I try to cash a check at a grocery store, I have to show an ID. Why not for voting?”
The answer, Karl, is that for a century, Indiana folks have voted without photo ID with not a single known case of voter identity theft.
It’s true the law nabbed Shirley Preiss, a 98-year old Democrat whose driver’s license expired. Drop that ballot, Shirl, and no one gets hurt.
Santiago Juarez sees some truth in Rove’s remarks. We met with Santiago in Espanola, New Mexico, where he was running a registration drive among low-riders, the young Mexican-Americans who cruise the street in hopping, bopping, neon-outlined Chevys. He says, “The same poverty and racism that keeps these kids from getting credit cards keeps them from getting ID.” A young Mexicana he escorted to the polls was turned away from her first-ever attempt to vote for failure to produce an ID to the white pollworker’s satisfaction, despite Santiago’s protest.
“She said, well, something you can’t print, and refused to try again. She said, ‘They don’t want me to vote, anyway.’”
Download the rest of the comic book that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow calls "really cool" at http://www.stealbackyourvote.org/
Go to http://www.stealbackyourvote.org/ to download the guide for free or pick up print copies of the investigative comic book by Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Every donation you make for copies of the comic allows us to send more out to low income groups in states like Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado.
Get the guide now - all copies will be sent out via priority mail. If your group would like to distribute the Steal Back Your Vote guide please contact keri (at) gregpalast.com for special rates.
After you've picked up the comic book get the t-shirt. Wear it into the polling place and tell them that they can't steal your vote! Support the fund by picking up the Steal Back Your Vote t-shirt by the cool people over at Clothing for the American Mind. A portion of every purchase goes to support the Palast Investigative Fund.
Monday, October 27, 2008
W: A crude approach is not good for grasping much of anything
By David Walsh
22 October 2008
Directed by Oliver Stone, screenplay by Stanley Weiser
W. is veteran American director Oliver Stone's film about the life and career of President George W. Bush. It was shot and edited rapidly for release while Bush was still in office. The November 4 election was no doubt a consideration as well.
The film is a collection of episodes, broadly written and performed, following Bush from his student days at Yale to the disastrous turn that the Iraq war took for the US in 2003-2004. W. contains two time frames—the first treats Bush's earlier life impressionistically, offering glimpses of him over the course of several decades; the second, dealing with his first years in the White House, dwells at greater length on the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
The pivot of the film occurs in 1986, around the time of his 40th birthday, when Bush "sees the light" and becomes a reborn Christian. The film takes seriously the notion that he conquered his inner demons and made something of himself.
A theme throughout is Bush's conflict and rivalry with his father, George H. W. Bush, congressman, CIA director, vice president and, ultimately, president from 1989 to 1993. We first see the youthful Bush (Josh Brolin), 20 or so, when he's being hazed at a Yale University fraternity house. Later, Bush phones his father (James Cromwell)—now a congressman—from jail, and receives a warning that this had better be the last such incident.
Intercut with that material are scenes of the Bush White House, and in particular, the debate over a prospective war with Iraq following the events of September 2001. Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris) are the most ardent advocates of an invasion, countering the skepticism and reluctance of Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright).
The young Bush carries on, from one escapade to another, eventually meeting his future wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks), in 1977. Defeated in a run for Congress by a populist Democrat, Bush promises "never to be out-Texased again." In 1986, he moves to Washington, and experiences his conversion. A huckster evangelist, Earle Hudd (Stacy Keach), presides over Bush's change of heart.
Switching once again to the more recent past, Stone's film presents Cheney delivering a lecture on Iraqi and Iranian oil reserves, pointing to the region and the Straits of Hormuz in particular as the "chokepoint of civilization."
The film cuts back in time again, and we see Bush senior presiding over the Gulf War in 1991, making the decision, with which his son disagrees, not to march on Baghdad. George W. announces his plan to run for governor of Texas in 1994, much to his family's consternation.
In 1999, he tells his preacher-advisor, "God wants me to run for president." We jump to 2003 and the fraudulent claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the Hussein regime's efforts to get hold of "yellow cake" uranium ore from Niger. Finally, the invasion occurs and Bush announces "mission accomplished" in May. The fiasco then unfolds.
Oliver Stone has never been a subtle director. He perceives himself, it seems, as someone who strives to treat a given subject in broad strokes. Stone told an interviewer from GQ magazine that, like George W. Bush, he has the tendency not to want "to pay too much attention to details."
The director possesses a lively vulgarity, which he applies to glaringly public and intimate moments alike. Occasionally, this is effective and attractive; here, more often than not, however, it is not.
The references to Bush's fascination with baseball and his aspiration to become the professional sport's commissioner seem about right. He and the world might have been happier. A final scene, in which now-President Bush is unable to answer a simple question from a reporter, as to whether he had made any mistakes or done any soul-searching, is telling. These moments are exceptions.
Malice doesn't seem the clue to the problems in W. so much as great confusion, and ignorance of American social realities.
It is a fallacy to imagine that a crude approach can adequately grasp a crude subject. In general, a crude approach is not good for grasping much of anything. Because Bush is an extremely limited human being doesn't mean that his life and advancement are not bound up with complex questions, or even that his own psychology is an open book. Stone, unhappily, seems most at home with moments of drunkenness, backwardness, unconsciousness. He revels in and savors them.
Stone's and screenwriter Stanley Weiser's Bush is an eternal frat boy, living in the shadow of his father. He's essentially well-intentioned, if unevolved, amiable, but prone to angry outbursts, impulsive. Brolin does an effective impersonation of the public Bush, but it's not clear that we are much further in the direction of understanding the man who would become America's 43rd president.
The film catches largely at externals, in its look, feel and social perceptions. As always, a good deal of effort has gone into making certain that hairdos, clothes, automobiles and furniture correspond to the respective eras.
To explain Bush's trajectory, as W. does, largely on the basis of his unresolved conflict with his father begs the question. Many people have such battles, many, alas, also "find Jesus" at present, many leave off drinking—very, very few are elevated to the White House.
It's true that W. makes obligatory reference to other questions: the pursuit of Iraq's oil reserves, for example. In relation, however, to the significance of that issue and its consequences—1 million or more Iraqis killed, thousands of Americans dead and wounded, a country ruined, a region driven to the brink of a wider war—the scene is relatively perfunctory and formulaic. Cheney is filmed from a distance, and the moment is not likely to linger in the memory.
This isn't what Stone feels most deeply or what interests him, in the end. What's placed in the foreground, in almost perpetual, warts-and-all close-up, are Bush the younger's relations with his father and family. The sequences in the White House, the discussions of war and torture, are fairly flat and unevocative. The film gets its adrenaline pumping almost exclusively during the intra-family squabbles.
Neither element is entirely convincing, because a deeper grasp of the relation between Bush's personality, his family and the larger world of American politics social life eludes the director and screenwriter.
Stone framed his film to an interviewer from the Guardian in the following manner: "How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?" He continued: "He had tremendous personal problems, and I have to give him enormous credit—he did overcome them, through willpower. Whether he solved them is another issue, but he overcame certain states of mind."
This, to put it politely, is inadequate. To put its shallowness in context, one must consider Stone's background.
Born to privilege in a staunchly Republican family, and a fellow student of Bush's at Yale in the 1960s, Stone enlisted in the military and volunteered for combat in Vietnam. The experience shattered and changed him. To his credit, he translated that into two films hostile to US imperialism's intervention in Southeast Asia, Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
Vietnam and related events knocked Goldwater Republicanism out of Stone and propelled him toward the "counter-culture" and various strands of protest and liberalism, and hedonism, but it did not equip him with a coherent and profound understanding of American class society. This is not entirely his fault. The intellectual laziness and evasiveness of the New Left and the anti-war protest movement could not have provided such an insight, nor did they have any desire to.
Stone is something of a lost soul, alienated from his social and ideological roots, but never finding his way to a more substantial and politically informed opposition to American capitalism. He is congenitally all over the place; indeed, one might say, that is his life's vocation.
His comments about W. wander here and there, and few of them indicate any grasp of the questions involved in the effort to bring Bush's life accurately and meaningfully to the screen.
"It's not a political film," Stone told Maxim magazine, "but a Shakespearean one. It's a film about George W. rebelling against his father, doing better than his father, believing that he's stronger than his father, and outdoing his father...and it's about the colossal mistakes he made and the lies he told. In a way it's Oedipal. One can say he did kill the father because he did destroy the legacy, the name. It's a big thing with the Bushes."
In passing, the same interviewer can note that Stone "has little sympathy for Bush, who he says is responsible for tens of thousands of needless deaths abroad and the corrosion of civil liberties at home and the fortune of future generations squandered." The director, however, tells the interviewer from GQ that the film is "light," prompting the question, "Wait, are you saying this movie is a comedy?," to which Stone replies: "Well, it has to be done with an ebullience and a certain fun, because the guy is goofy. He's a goofball!"
The inconsistency and unseriousness are not Stone's alone, they are shared by a wide layer of pragmatic middle class iconoclasts and critics in the US, who lament this or that feature of American life, even warn histrionically about incipient "fascism," and then go about their daily business complacent as clams.
That George W. Bush is an empty vessel would not be disputed by many thinking people. But how, the filmmakers might have asked themselves, is it possible that American capitalism placed its fortunes in the hands of such a lowlife?
No serious reference is made to the ultra-right forces that pushed Bush forward, the same forces responsible for the Clinton sex scandal and impeachment drive. Stone, in a peculiar manner, takes the Bush "success story" at face value. No doubt Bush junior had his conscious or semiconscious motives, but what driving forces, as Marxists know to ask, stood behind those motives and by what social elements was he picked up?
A more plausible explanation than the time-worn Oedipal story is that Bush was merely a front man for more conscious and politically motivated forces, with a wide-ranging and reactionary agenda at home and abroad. Painted as amiable and down-to-earth by the media, partial to vague "values," supposedly conservative but "compassionate," with a well-known family name, Bush was directed toward the White House; he had relatively little to do with the matter. No doubt, if he had not stopped drinking and carousing, the opportunity would have been closed to him, but that is about the most one can say of his "overcoming" his "personal problems."
The deterioration in the political representatives of the ruling elite is a function, in the final analysis, of the decline in its fortunes and prospects. George W. Bush's ascension to prominence speaks to the terminal crisis of American capitalism. Now a cosmetic change may be necessary, but Bush was no accident: he represented accurately the dominant section of the US establishment—arrogant, shortsighted and criminal to the core.
Some of those same forces, chastened by the experience, are now endorsing Sen. Barack Obama in an effort to compensate for their sin.
Stone and Weiser sacrifice art and truth to narrow political concerns. Scandalously, they make no mention of Bush's presiding over 153 executions as governor of Texas, in one case mocking a woman's pleas for mercy. The deep sadism of the man is missing. Nor is the hijacking of the 2000 election treated. In both cases, no doubt scenarist and director sought to avoid "partisan" and "controversial" issues, which would have brought the right-wing media down on their heads. As a result of Stone's ideological blindness or, not to mince words, political cowardice, the full picture of the man and his period is not here.
Along the same lines, Stone portrays Bush the elder as a stern and honorable figure, when, in fact, he was (and is) a corrupt, greedy representative of the ruling elite, and as CIA director, up to his elbows in blood. The filmmakers also, in passing, canonize Colin Powell as a voice of moderation, entirely undeservedly. The chief diplomatic liar for the Bush administration and a war criminal in his own right, Powell developed public differences only after he saw that the Iraq war was going badly.
All in all, Stone and Weiser have no historical or sociological purchase on Bush. Such an understanding wouldn't preclude individual psychology; on the contrary, it would create the context in which those private relations would take on real, full-bodied life. That opportunity was not taken.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
See it with your own eyes: Obama's book blurb for Ayers
As state senator, presidential candidate praised work of former leader of Weather Underground
October 20, 2008
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wrote a review of domestic terrorist Bill Ayers' book in 1997, calling it "searing" and "timely," according to a blogger who tracked down the original printed version of the endorsement since that was before the publication in which it appeared was digitized.
According to the blogger at Zombietime.com, Obama, who was an up-and-coming state senator at the time, endorsed Ayers' book called "A Kind and Just Parent: Children of Juvenile Court."
In the short review on Dec. 21, 1997, Obama in the Chicago Tribune calls Ayers' book, "A searing and timely account of the juvenile court system, and the courageous individuals who rescue hope from despair."
The documentation calls into question Obama's repeated efforts to distance himself from Ayers, who boasted as recently as 2001 of trying to bomb various federal buildings such as the Pentagon and wishing he had done more.
Obama has described Ayers and someone who lived in his neighborhood and with whom in worked on a school project, but he's denied any close link.
"I find it very hard — no, make that impossible — to believe that Barack Obama had 'no idea' who William Ayers really was, or that he had a past as a notorious domestic terrorist (as Obama's campaign has claimed) while serving on panels with Ayers and simultaneously praising Ayers' book in a major newspaper," the blogger wrote.
The blogger described tracking down the book endorsement.
"I had seen mentions of the existence of this review in a very few media outlets, including CNN, National Review, American Spectator, and a handful of others. But because the review was published before the Chicago Tribune began digitizing and archiving its articles online, there was no direct Web link to the review itself — only citations of it. So, out of curiosity, I took it upon myself to visit a library in San Francisco, and using the library's Lexis-Nexis access and its archive of microfilm versions of major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, I finally tracked down a copy of the actual review itself," Zombietime said.
The endorsement came in part of the Chicago Tribune column called "Mark My Word," where Chicago leaders praised their favorite current books.
Ayers book had just recently been published by Beacon Press.
The blogger noted that Ayers, in his book, also mentioned Obama.
Ayers' wrote: "Our neighbors include Muhammad Ali, former mayor Eugene Sawyer, poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and writer Barack Obama. Minister Louis Farrakhan lives a block from our home and adds, we think, a unique dimension to the idea of 'safe neighborhood watch': the Fruit of Islam, his security force, has an eye on things twenty-four-hours a day."
"So there's no question they knew each other," the blogger wrote.
On the Zombietime forum page, one participant wrote, "Obama is not running to change government he's running for overthrow government. Ayers wins."
"The more time that passes, the more obvious it becomes that the links between Ayers and Obama are multiple, and that Obama had to know about Ayers' criminal past," said another. "It certainly looks like he's hiding something."
On a Boston Globe forums page, the readers were concerned not so much about the relationship with Ayers, but Obama's repeated efforts to distance himself from Ayers.
"Personally I don't care too much about him associating with Ayers, the 60s were a turbulent time though bombing your own country is despicable; it bothers me a great deal that a presidential candidate can flat out lie and get away with it," wrote one contributor. "Just because many Americans are tired of Bush shouldn't mean we accept old style politics and deceit, but it seems to be the case this election."
The review came about the time, as WND reported, Obama's wife, Michelle, organized a university event in which she invited her husband and former radical Ayers to serve on a panel discussion about whether child murderers should be tried as adults.
Both Barack Obama and Ayers served on the side that opposed treating offending minors as adults.
Michelle Obama at the time was the University of Chicago's associate dean of student services and director of the college's Community Service Center, which sponsored the juvenile detention discussion Nov. 20, 1997.
She told the university's student newspaper she hoped the panel discussion would open a dialogue between members of the college and the broader Chicago community.
"We know that issues like juvenile justice impact the city of Chicago, this nation and – directly or indirectly – this campus. This panel gives students a chance to hear about the juvenile justice system not only on a theoretical level, but from the people who have experienced it," she said.
Panel leaders invited by Michelle Obama included her husband, who taught law at the university; Ayers, who was a university education professor; and four other speakers who had experience with Chicago's juvenile detention system.
Barack Obama was billed as a leader "who is working to combat legislation that would put more juvenile offenders into the adult system."
Ayers, promoting the panel event, told the student newspaper, "We should call a child a child. A 13-year-old who picks up a gun isn't suddenly an adult. We have to ask other questions: How did he get the gun? Where did it come from?"
During his Weathermen days, Ayers once famously commented, "Kill all the rich people. ... Bring the revolution home. Kill your parents."
In an ABC News interview, Obama described Ayers as "guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis."
But several other blogs earlier raised questions about the links between the two men. The Sweetness and Light blog, which first reported on Michelle Obama's panel event, commented "we all must be mistaken, since we have been repeatedly reassured that Mr. Ayers 'was just a guy who lived in the Obamas' neighborhood.'"
The two men also worked in 1994 on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, founded by Ayers.
Also in 1995, the first organizing meeting for Obama's state senatorial campaign reportedly was held in Ayers's apartment. In a widely circulated article, WND first reported Obama served on the board of the Wood's Fund, a liberal Chicago nonprofit, alongside Ayers from 1999 to Dec. 11, 2002, according to the Fund's website. Tax filings showed Obama received compensation of $6,000 per year for his service in 1999 and 2000.
Ayers' wife, Bernadine Dohrn, also has served on panels with Obama. Dohrn, once on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List, was described by J. Edgar Hoover as the "most dangerous woman in America." Ayers and Dohrn raised the son of Weathermen terrorist Kathy Boudin, who was serving a sentence for participating in a 1981 murder and robbery that left four people dead.
As WND reported, an FBI report claims Dohrn built and planted the bomb that killed a San Francisco police officer in 1970.
Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has admitted to involvement in the bombings of U.S. governmental buildings in the 1970s. The charges against him were dropped in 1974, however, because of prosecutorial misconduct, including illegal surveillance.
But Ayers told the New York Times in an interview released Sept. 11, 2001, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."