Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Developer’s Unusual Plan for Bright Lights

May 21, 2008
A Developer’s Unusual Plan for Bright Lights, Inspired by a Dark Film

LOS ANGELES — The year is 2019. The illuminated windows of the city’s densely packed towers sparkle like stars in the night, and their facades are covered with bright, animated billboards. A flying car glides past the enormous eye of a smiling geisha hundreds of stories above the wet urban streets.

That is the world of “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s 1982 film set in a futuristic dystopia. It is also an obsession of a real estate developer, Sonny Astani, who hopes to evoke those atmospherics by affixing rows of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, to the facades of his two newest condominium towers in downtown Los Angeles.

“That movie really hit a chord with me,” Mr. Astani, 55, said with a broad smile. “It was beautiful.”

On a recent afternoon in his Beverly Hills office, he held up digital renderings of the two buildings, the geisha’s face from “Blade Runner” superimposed on their facades.

“I saw ‘Blade Runner’ at a time when L.A. was feeling like that,” he said. “I was feeling like that.”

In 1982 Mr. Astani was a struggling real estate broker here. He had come to Los Angeles from Tehran six years earlier to study engineering at the University of Southern California, with plans to return home after graduation. The Iranian revolution changed that. He never went back.

The dark mood of “Blade Runner” matched his own melancholy at the time, Mr. Astani said, and he was gripped by the notion of looming skyscrapers covered with moving images and graphics, and the layering of old and new structures. Today Mr. Astani is a successful businessman, with two million square feet of downtown real estate built or in development, including six tall residential buildings. His projects are part of a wave of development in the area that began around 2001 and gained momentum in 2003, when Los Angeles expanded adaptive reuse policies similar to those of New York.

“Everyone wants downtown to happen,” he said. “This could create some excitement and conversation,” he said of his “Blade Runner”-inspired facades.

His 30-story residential towers, scheduled to be completed in 2009, sit at the north end of an evolving entertainment district anchored by the Stapes Center and L.A. Live, a sports and entertainment complex sometimes described as Times Square West.

The area already has plenty of loud billboards and klieg lights that have drawn complaints from some neighborhood groups, so the city is concerned about anything billboardesque. Mr. Astani’s application to build the LED panels is undergoing an environmental review by city planning officials.

He has taken pains to distinguish his project from typical LED billboards with bright, fast-paced graphics. His panels would shine with one-sixth the intensity of ordinary models; adjust their brightness at different times of the day; and project slower-moving images, according to the ordinance application. They would cover about 10 stories on just one side of each building.

The panels would appear solid from a distance, although they consist of horizontal blades spaced six inches apart, like large blinds. Only a half-inch thick and three inches wide, each one carries a single row of diodes.

The blades were designed by Frederic Opsomer, who is also known for creating spectacular video, light and stage designs for pop-music acts. The only other building clad in similar LED blades is the T-Mobile headquarters in Bonn, Mr. Astani said. The screens would feature mostly paid advertisements but would include work by local artists and ads for nonprofit groups 20 percent of the time. The technology and content have sowed some confusion among the city officials weighing Mr. Astani’s application.

“The issue of it potentially being viewed as art has complicated it,” said Patricia Diefenderfer, of the Los Angeles Planning Department.

“We’re treating it like a sign,” she said. “Signs are a stimulus. They clutter our environment and can assault us, in a sense. This is something very large. What is the impact? What does that mean?”

Yet Eric Lynxwiler, a downtown resident and author who leads nighttime tours of the city’s neon signs for the Museum of Neon Art, favors the project.

“I think he scared far too many people when he compared it to ‘Blade Runner,’ ” Mr. Lynxwiler said of Mr. Astani. “But I remember L.A. as it was — dark, more like ‘Blade Runner’ before the development,” he said, describing streets that were mostly empty after 6 p.m. “I think downtown definitely has the vibe to support something that large, that new and that bold and daring.”

Syd Mead, a visual-effects artist who worked on “Blade Runner,” said that the city’s once-haunted look is what inspired Mr. Scott to film there. The director was also taken with the eclectic downtown mix of newer structures and historic buildings, he said.

That the movie could inspire innovation is not a surprise, Mr. Mead said, adding, “I’ve called science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule.’ ”

‘Recount’ Could Happen Again

Jay Roach Wonders If ‘Recount’ Could Happen Again
Larry Carroll
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Typically, powerhouse writer/director Jay Roach is exploring such questions as “Do I make you horny, baby?” and “I have nipples, Greg; could you milk me?” These days, however, the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” filmmaker has his mind on a far more important, political question.

Could it happen again?

“It definitely could, unfortunately,” explained Roach, whose HBO film “Recount” will debut on the network Sunday night and detail the chaos surrounding Florida’s role in the 2000 Presidential election. “Despite how traumatic that experience was. I think of it like a disaster film: When’s the boat gonna turn right-side up? Despite what we went through, not a huge amount of reform has occurred. There have been efforts, but there’s a certain resistance to reform…Why we made the film is to say ‘Hey, don’t forget this; take it seriously. It’s worth working on’!”

For his rare departure into drama, Roach lined up the sort of star-powered cast you’d normally pay ten bucks to see (Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Denis Leary, Laura Dern), but there are a few famous names he chose to depict only peripherally in “Recount”: Bush, Cheney, Gore and Lieberman.

“It was different in both camps,” he said of the Republican and Democratic responses to those crazy days of hanging chads, lawsuits and frenzied media. “Bush let [Former Reagan Chief of Staff] James Baker run the recount process, and I think Gore was more involved with his guys. The real choice was to ground it more in the everyman character of [Democratic insider] Ron Klain, so that the audience wouldn’t see it as a typical battle. Because of the strategies of the candidates to let these guys fight it out down in Florida, that allowed us to use archival footage of the real [candidates], so that we didn’t have to do some sort of special effects makeup to match them.”

Which might be for the best, since some of the portrayals in “Recount” (most noticeably Dern as former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris) could be considered less-than-flattering. “We tried to reach her before the film and she, understandably, was skeptical about how she may be portrayed,” Roach said of Dern’s performance, depicting Harris as a frustratingly optimistic, over-her-head, religion-driven puppet of the Bush administration. “I think we definitely researched that in depth, and we read the book she wrote about the experience in Florida. We also studied a ton of tape, and Laura Dern did an incredible job of not perfectly matching her in some ways, but evoking the public persona that we came to know from the process.”

Long story short: Harris might not be watching HBO this Sunday night, but Roach hopes that you will. “The script was a page turner,” he insisted. “And I hope that the film will hold your attention too.”

Fox wins TV season on strong 'Idol' finish

Fox wins TV season on strong 'Idol' finish

NEW YORK (AP) — With a strong finishing kick from "American Idol," Fox captured the distinction of America's most popular television network for the first time since it began operation in 1987.

Fox took that title from CBS. It was the only major broadcast network with more prime-time viewers than the previous season, a distinction helped by its telecast of the Super Bowl. Fox didn't show television's biggest event during the 2006-7 season.

The competition between the two Davids on "American Idol" — winner David Cook and runnerup David Archuleta — was seen by 31.7 million people on Wednesday, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research estimates. Last year's finale, won by Jordin Sparks, drew 30.7 million viewers.

It was a heartening finish for Fox executives, who admitted to concern when the ratings for TV's most popular show faded in recent weeks.

"It's part of the magic of the show," said Kevin Reilly, Fox entertainment president. "It's like a sporting event in that way, the competition takes on surprise and takes on drama. When it came down to the two Davids, it was a great story that created passion."

Although the finale's audience was the second highest in five years, it was slightly down from last year among 18-to-49-year-old viewers, an indication that the "American Idol" audience is aging.

Fox averaged 11.1 million viewers in prime-time this season through Tuesday, up 7 percent from last year. The numbers will probably inch up when the "American Idol" finale is figured in.

CBS was second with 10.5 million viewers. It had the sharpest drop among the big broadcast networks, at 16 percent. Analysts said CBS was particularly hurt by the television writers strike, when it relied heavily on reruns that didn't do as strongly in the ratings as the network anticipated.

ABC was third with 10 million viewers (down 7 percent) and NBC finished fourth with 8.9 million (down 9 percent). The troubled CW network was down 19 percent, with 2.6 million viewers, and faces the loss of professional wrestling next season, one of its most popular programs.

The historic victory left Reilly only mildly excited. That's because Fox cultivates a young, hip image and concentrates its business on the 18-to-49-year-old demographic (where it was the top network for the fourth year in a row).

"We want as many people watching Fox as possible," Reilly said. "We have to be mindful, we have to keep our brand rooted in what it has been historically. We're not looking to turn into CBS."

CBS traditionally has the oldest audience of the major networks.

Activision renames Guitar Hero 4 to 'World Tour'

Activision renames Guitar Hero 4 to 'World Tour'
by Blake Snow 05/22/2008

In addition to a name change, Activision on Thursday confirmed a fall release of Guitar Hero World Tour for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PS2, replete with wireless drums, guitar, microphone, a multitrack music studio, and enhanced online multiplayer modes.

"Hey, I'm in the band!"

As previously revealed, Guitar Hero World Tour features all wireless instruments, a multitrack music studio to create original songs (without vocals) that can be uploaded, shared, and in turn downloaded and played by other World Tour owners.

Guitar controllers have been redesigned, in addition to the new drum set, which includes three drum pads, two raised cymbal bads, and a bass pedal. The pads are larger and quieter than Rock Band's 5-piece set, and support velocity-sensitivity for crescendos and better bounce back for drum rolls.

Newly announced features include an online Battle of the Bands mode where two competing 4-piece bands can go head-to-head to determine who has the most skills. There's also an online Band Career mode that presumably allows for online cooperative play. All other online and offline modes from Guitar Hero III are said to be included in the game.

Confirmed tracks include songs from Van Halen, Linkin Park, The Eagles, Sublime and others in what Activision calls the "biggest selection of on-disc music with all master tracks." Also returning from Guitar Hero III is the ability to purchase additional songs from an online store.

"With the introduction of our advanced high-quality new wireless instruments, in-depth customization options and advanced online functionality, Guitar Hero World Tour enables music fans and gamers globally to share in the most social and expressive music experience ever," said Dusty Welch, head of publishing for RedOctane.

Guitar Hero World Tour launches this fall on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PS2. Pricing and an exact date have not been disclosed.

Boy band creator sentenced to 25 years in prison

Boy band creator sentenced to 25 years in prison
May 21, 2008
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. - Lou Pearlman, the man who created the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in federal prison for engineering a decades-long scam that bilked thousands of investors out of their life savings.

It was the maximum sentence the boy band mogul could receive for allegedly swindling some $300 million from investors and banks since the early 1980s.

He pleaded guilty in March to two counts of conspiracy and single counts of money laundering and presenting a false claim in bankruptcy court.

U.S. District Judge G. Kendall Sharp noted that many victims were Pearlman's relatives, friends and retirees in their 70s or 80s who lost everything.

"The sympathy factor just doesn't run very high with the court," Sharp said.

However, the judge said he would reduce Pearlman's sentence by one month for every $1 million returned to investors. It wasn't clear how, or if, investors would ever be compensated.

"I want to say clearly that there's no pot of gold out there," defense attorney Fletcher Peacock said.

Prosecutors allege Pearlman scammed individuals out of an estimated $200 million, and banks out of another $100 million.

The courtroom was packed with victims, some of whom gave emotional testimony. Another two dozen or so waited outside.

"Over the past nine months since my arrest, I've come to realize the harm that's been done," Pearlman said in a short courtroom statement. "I'm truly sorry and I apologize for what's happened."

Peacock said Pearlman meant to pay back all the investors, and noted he had returned about $103 million.

He said Pearlman got caught up in lawsuits - also alleged fraudulent business practices - over his otherwise successful entertainment ventures in the 1990s that prevented him from returning the money.

Lightsabre wins the battle of movie weapons

Lightsabre wins the battle of movie weapons
By Sophie Borland

It may look like a humble fluorescent kitchen light, but according to a new survey it is the best weapon ever featured in a film.

The lightsabre, wielded by the Jedi knight Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga, fought off stiff competition to win the title from other favourites including Robin Hood’s bow and arrow and the deadly bowler hat thrown at James Bond.

In second place came the 0.44 Magnum handgun from the film Dirty Harry while third was Indiana Jones’ 10ft-long bullwhip.

The survey of 2,000 film lovers, commissioned by 20th Century Fox, placed the samurai sword used in the film Kill Bill as fourth and the chainsaw from the 1974 horror the Texas Chainsaw Massacre fifth.

Since it first appeared in the first Star Wars film in 1977, the lightsabre has become one of the most famous props in film history.

According to the plot of the hugely popular science fiction films, it can only be handled by those strong enough to master its power and it is mainly used by the Jedi knights.

When activated, a beam of highly focussed energy emitting a distinctive hum is unleashed, which is so strong it can cut through most objects.

When it is deactivated, however, the lightsaber appears as a 12in long metallic handle.

Toy versions of the weapon consistently feature among the best-selling Christmas presents for children.

Top 10 Favourite Movie Weapons

1. Lightsabre (Star Wars)

2. .44 Magnum (Dirty Harry)

3. Bullwhip (Indiana Jones)

4. Samurai sword (Kill Bill)

5. Chainsaw (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

6. Golden Gun (James Bond - The Man With The Golden Gun)

7. Bow and arrow (Robin Hood)

8. Machine gun (Scarface)

9. The Death Star (Star Wars)

10. Bowler hat (James Bond - Goldfinger)

The Sims Goes to IKEA

The Sims Goes to IKEA

"The Sims 2 Ikea Home Stuff" Screenshots
Tuesday May 20, 2008

The announcement of "The Sims 3" hasn't slowed down the releases for "The Sims 2." We have new kitchen and bathroom furniture with "The Sims 2 Kitchen and Bath" stuff pack - now it is time to give our Sims' bedrooms, offices, and living rooms an updated look. June 23rd is the day "The Sims 2 Ikea Home Stuff" will ship. Ikea is known for their trendy designs. They use to be one of my favorite places to shop before to I moved to an area without an Ikea. The furniture we get with this pack should be good - and hopefully different from the furniture sets we already have (for those of us who haven't been downloading as much)!

The Sims™ 2 IKEA Home Stuff

Must-Have Stuff for Your Sims' Home from IKEA!

Give your Sims' home a makeover with new furniture and décor items based on stylish designs by IKEA!

Whether you want to create a trendy, spacious office, a chic living room, or a cozy and inviting bedroom, you can make your Sims' dream house into something even better-a home. Design your Sims' rooms to fit their personalities with all-new sofas, beds, tables, TV units, shelving, and more, in a variety of colors and patterns for a truly unique look. Add the finishing touches with popular IKEA wall art, mirrors, lighting, and vases. Be your Sims' personal interior designer with inspiring, contemporary styles from IKEA!

Indianapolis lands 2012 Super Bowl

Indianapolis lands 2012 Super Bowl
May 20, 2008
Sporting News staff reports

The Indianapolis Colts will have home-field advantage should they make it into Super Bowl 46.

Overshadowed by the labor vote, NFL owners also voted Tuesday to grant the 2012 Super Bowl -- if there's no work stoppage -- to Indianapolis. Arizona and Houston were the other finalists in a competition that usually goes to warm-weather cities. The next two Super Bowls are in Tampa and in South Florida.

Indianapolis narrowly lost a bid last May to host the 2011 Super Bowl. Indianapolis will be the fourth Super Bowl in a cold-weather city. Detroit has hosted two Super Bowls, and Minneapolis has hosted one.

Part of the Indianapolis' bid includes a pledge by the city to build a practice facility downtown that will be left in place for local residents to use.

Associated Press contributed to this report

Apple vs. Netflix: How do they stack up?

May 20, 2008
Apple vs. Netflix: How do they stack up?

The big gadget news Tuesday morning was Netflix’s entry into the set-top box market, with the inevitable comparisons to Apple TV.

So how do the two devices stack up? Technically, it’s an apples and oranges comparison. One box is a special purpose computer with a small (40 GB) or big (160 GB) hard drive built-in. The other is designed only to stream video to a TV.

But to consumers looking to watch their favorite movies and TV shows on demand, technical differences will mean less than the cost of the device, the cost of the service, and whether the titles they want to see are available for download.

In terms of content, Netflix (NFLX) seems at first glance to have a big edge, with 10% of its 100,000-title library available for download. Unfortunately, that 10% is mostly older movies (5 years or more) and TV shows, with some Indy flix thrown in.

Apple (AAPL), by contrast, has a much shorter list — in early May it finally delivered the 1,000 movies Steve Jobs promised back in January. But thanks to its latest round of deal-making, many of those titles are new releases, available the same day they come out on DVD.

Apple also has an edge in terms of quality: 720p versus 480i; Dolby versus mere stereo. Also, some of the Netflix titles that should be wide screen aren’t properly formatted.

But the price is right on Netflix. The player, made by Roku, is less than half the price of the entry-level Apple TV (and a lot less than the $329 high-end model). And if you’re already a Netflix member paying monthly dues, you get unlimited downloads for what feels very much like free.

Given the new competition, it will be interesting to see whether Apple rethinks its current pricing scheme: $2.99 to $3.99 to rent, $9.99 to $14.99 to own.

Filed under Apple, Apple TV, Netflix

Eastwood says he won't be back as Dirty Harry

Eastwood says he won't be back as Dirty Harry

CANNES, France (AP) — Clint Eastwood will not be back as Dirty Harry, but Angelina Jolie might want to give it a try. Eastwood was asked Tuesday at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival if he would be reprising the role of Harry Callahan, the renegade cop of "Dirty Harry" and four sequels.

As he laid to rest the notion that he might revive Harry, Jolie chimed in: "I am."

"Dirty Harriet and the `Tomb Raider' will play it," Eastwood joked about Jolie, whose screen credits include the "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" flicks.

Eastwood was at Cannes for the premiere of his missing-child drama, "Changeling," starring Jolie. The 32-year-old actress was in Cannes for both "Changeling" and her animated comedy, "Kung Fu Panda," which premiered at the festival last week.

Eastwood, who turns 78 on May 31, went on to add that "Dirty Harry would not be on the police department at my age, so we'll move on from that."

The Cannes lineup this year features a retrospective of Warner Bros. classics, including 1971's "Dirty Harry," which comes out in a new DVD edition with the other four films in the series on June 3.

The character has become an icon: a vigilante cop fighting bureaucracy on behalf of victims. For Eastwood, though, it was an exciting detective story first and foremost.

"Whatever reaction it had, it was great fun at that time," Eastwood said. "It was a fantasy role. You point a .44 Magnum at someone and say, `Do you feel lucky?'"

Jessica Alba Goes Bridal!

It's official. Warren Cash is the luckiest man on the planet...

Jessica Alba Goes Bridal!
Steve Granitz/

Talk about under the radar.

Before the celeb-watching world even had the chance to speculate on wedding themes, mother-to-be Jessica Alba has gone and very quietly tied the knot with Cash Warren.

The actress' rep confirms to E! News that the comely twosome made it official on Monday, though its unclear where the ceremony took place or how many of their loved ones comprised the guest list.

As it is, the low-key couple has long kept mum on the finer points of their private life, only reluctantly confirming their engagement last December, just weeks after announcing their pregnancy.

The camera-ready couple first met in the fall of 2004 on the set of the Fantastic Four, where Warren worked as the director's assistant.

Their nuptial news, first reported by People, marks the first of two big announcements the 27-year-old actress and 31-year-old entrepreneur are expected to make this spring.

Still to come is the birth of their first child, whom guests at her baby shower last month confirmed was going to be a girl.

McCain Drops Pastors Like They’re Hot

Early and Often
McCain Drops Pastors Like They’re Hot

What is it with troublesome pastors and presidential candidates? We all know Barack Obama was forced to eventually break ties with that rapscallion Reverend Wright, but yesterday John McCain rejected the endorsement and support of not one but two crazy pastors! John Hagee had been creating controversy for a while — calling Catholicism the "Great Whore" is bound to rile a few people, like Catholics. As is claiming Hurricane Katrina was punishment for New Orleans's gayness. But when it surfaced this week that Hagee apparently once claimed in a sermon that Hitler and the Holocaust were part of God's plan for coaxing the Jews into Israel, McCain decided that was about enough. But while he was rolling, he let go of another pastor, too, Reverend Rod Parsley, of Ohio, whose statement that Islam (among other things) is an "anti-Christ religion that intends through violence to conquer the world" was played on Good Morning America yesterday. So what are people saying about McCain's pastor dumping?

• Jonathan Martin thinks it's a shrewd move to dump these pastors now, while the media is mostly distracted by veep talk and his own medical records, and it's far enough from the general election that it will likely be forgotten by voters. [Politico]

• Josh Marshall says he doesn't think McCain knew about the Hitler statements, but given all the other things Hagee has said, it really shouldn't have come as a surprise. [Talking Points Memo]

• Matthew Yglesias wonders if this could be the beginning of a "high-risk, high-reward" McCain strategy of separating himself from the party (as conservatives have "nowhere else to go") and appealing to voters in the middle. [Atlantic]

• Holly Bailey thinks it's a guarantee that people are digging for more pastor gold and that we probably haven't heard the last of Hagee. [Stumper/Newsweek]

• John Nichols isn't sure what Hagee's de-endorsement of McCain really means. Hagee still believes McCain is "the candidate most in line with his religious and political views," which should be what concerns people. [Campaign '08/Nation]

• Eve Fairbanks concurs. What is a "de-endorsement"? [Stump/New Republic]

• Matt Lewis thinks the "attacks" on Hagee are liberal payback for the Reverend Wright affair and an attempt to win over some skeptical Jewish voters. He's disappointed that McCain didn't show more "toughness." [Town Hall]

• Dan Gilgof places McCain's latest stumble in the context of his overall "ham handed approach to dealing with the Christian Right and with handling religious matters generally." The Hagee disaster will likely make McCain even more hesitant to reach out to the religious right later in the campaign. [God-o-Meter/BeliefNet]

• Domenico Montanaro posits that maybe McCain's "anxiousness about Evangelical support" caused him to jump the gun on these endorsements and not properly vet them first. [First Read/MSNBC] —Dan Amira

Obama's options for vice presidential candidate,CST-NWS-sweet23.article

Obama's options for vice presidential candidate
May 23, 2008

WASHINGTON -- There's no short list. At this very early stage, only a very long list of potential running mates for Sen. Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee.

The closely held project for picking a vice president for Obama will be a separate "silo," an organization outside the Obama campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

As I reported in the May 8 Sun-Times, the Obama team has been exploring for weeks the process to be used for selecting a running mate. Meanwhile, the Sun-Times has learned that Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett is already teed up to be highly involved in transition planning -- to be ready if Obama is sworn in as president next January.

On Thursday, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder disclosed that James A. Johnson will be a central figure on the Obama vetting team, reprising a role he played in 2004 for Sen. John Kerry and in 1984 for Vice President Walter Mondale, when they were the Democratic presidential nominees.

Johnson is putting together a task force, mostly lawyers, to do public records vetting at this initial stage for a very long list of potential partners, said a source familiar with the operation who did not want to be named.

Obama is looking for, in broad strokes, someone with complimentary expertise, who could be a successor, who he has good chemistry with and, in the political equation, would possibly help -- but certainly not hurt -- win electoral votes.

Johnson is the former CEO of Fannie Mae and former chairman of the Kennedy Center Board who with his wife, Maxine Isaacs -- a former Mondale spokesman -- were early supporters of Obama who became major fund-raisers for him.

While Obama is running an anti-Washington campaign, in turning to Johnson, Obama is asking for help from an insider's insider. Clearly, there is no reason to reject advice or guidance from Johnson, whose institutional knowledge is invaluable; rather it shows that Obama's rhetoric may not foreshadow how he would actually govern.

In picking a running mate, Obama "ought to be looking for someone who shares his values," someone "simpatico," said Abner Mikva, the former Bill Clinton White House counsel and congressman from Illinois and longtime Obama mentor.

The cable shows are buzzing each night over whether Obama should tap Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his running mate, even as she struggles to keep her own campaign alive.

"Not a good idea," said Mikva. "They have carved out their different positions. It would look like a political deal, contrary to what Barack has been talking about when he talks about change."

The first step for the Obama vice presidential task force will be to assemble a list of potential contenders. Sen. Dick Durbin should be on the long list, but he's aced out this time because he is from Illinois too. Here are the pluses and minuses for some of the obvious names:


HILLARY CLINTON brings in supporters who delivered victories for her in key swing states; a female vote and instant Democratic "dream ticket" unity. Yet it will be hard for Obama to have a campaign for change with her as a partner. They have no chemistry. Obama would have to figure Bill Clinton would be part of the picture.

VIRGINIA GOV. TIM KAINE may bring in a Southern state, was one of Obama's earliest backers and Obama seems to enjoy being with him.

Obama, who has no military background, is looking for Republicans and independent votes. SEN. JIM WEBB, a freshman senator from Virginia, is a former Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, a former Marine, speaks Vietnamese and comes from the South.

Several figures who backed Clinton from key swing states could fill the governing hole in Obama's resume and build a bridge to the Clinton supporters. They are Iowa Gov. TOM VILSACK, Ohio Gov. TED STRICKLAND and Indiana Sen. EVAN BAYH, a former governor.

As part of the hunt for those GOP and independent voters, Obama could look at Sen. CHUCK HAGEL (R-Neb.) and New York Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, now an independent.


This tier includes former Democratic rivals:

NEW MEXICO GOV. BILL RICHARDSON dropped his presidential bid after failing to get much traction; still, he would help Obama with his Hispanic deficit and as former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary has an impressive resume.

Former Sen. JOHN EDWARDS, Kerry's 2004 running mate. Could help Obama with his problem, in these latest contests, of winning white middle class votes. But Edwards did not put Kerry over the line.

SEN. CHRIS DODD and SEN. JOE BIDEN ran very respectable, if unsuccessful, campaigns. They bring in enormous foreign policy experience.


Former Sen. TOM DASCHLE is sort of a godfather to the Obama campaign; however, his wife, Linda is a Washington lobbyist. He would be a better fit as a Cabinet member or chief of staff.


Former Rep. TIM ROEMER of Indiana, a former member of the 9/11 Commission.

Former Sen. SAM NUNN of Georgia brings in foreign policy experience and could balance out Obama's liberal record. But he's been off the scene for a long time.

Pro-Obama governors from swing states: Kansas Gov. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS and Arizona Gov. JANET NAPOLITANO. But if Obama passes over Clinton, it would backfire to put these lesser qualified women on the ticket.

McCain get-together may be a tryout,0,4355425.story

McCain get-together may be a tryout for running mate
At least three high-profile Republicans, including Mitt Romney, will join the Arizona senator at his Sedona cabin for Memorial Day.
By Maeve Reston
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 22, 2008

When he escapes to his retreat outside Sedona for Memorial Day grilling this weekend, Arizona Sen. John McCain will have some high-profile company -- at least three Republican politicians widely viewed as potential running mates.

Among the guests invited to McCain's cabin are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who campaigned with McCain recently in New Orleans.

McCain strategist Charlie Black insisted the gathering would be "purely social" and had "nothing whatsoever to do with the vice presidential selection process."

"Wouldn't it be difficult to interview people for vice president with the other competitors there?" he said.

McCain's aides have been silent about when McCain might choose a vice presidential candidate. And though McCain has said he's narrowed his list to about 20, he has said he will not reveal their names to spare them embarrassment if they are not chosen.

Playing down the significance of the weekend, Black noted that McCain and his wife, Cindy, have hosted similar events when other presumed contenders, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, have spent the day at McCain's secluded Hidden Valley Ranch.

McCain has invited nine couples this weekend, including Black and his wife. Black declined to name the other guests.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman and FedEx Corp. Chief Executive Frederick W. Smith are also expected to attend, according to campaign and Republican sources who asked not to be named when discussing the guest list.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said he expected McCain to look for a "next-generation governor" from a battleground state who would be seen as "a good potential president."

Several Republican strategists said McCain's campaign had an interest in fueling running-mate speculation to draw attention to the campaign, which has been overshadowed by the Democratic presidential contest.

Some political analysts also said there would be advantages for McCain to name a running mate early. A partner on the trail could help McCain raise money as he tries to catch up with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has raised significantly more. McCain's poll numbers are also expected to drop when Obama becomes McCain's lone opponent, and news about a running mate could help counter that.

Republican consultant Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996, said it was "extremely early" for McCain to be doing public tryouts. Serious interviews would likely come after the top candidates have been vetted by lawyers and accountants, Reed said. But he acknowledged a key component in choosing McCain's running mate would be determining compatibility. The weekend, Reed said, "is a perfect way to see how people really are, how they interact with other people."

The most crucial test of chemistry may be with Romney, who is seen as one of the strongest potential candidates to join a McCain ticket. When they were rivals for the GOP nomination, McCain was at times disdainful of the former CEO's experience and qualifications to be president, dismissing him as a "manager," not a leader.

Their personalities could not be more different. McCain is irreverent, temperamental and loquacious; Romney is straight-laced, even-tempered and disciplined.

But having Romney, 61, on the ticket could help McCain with the religious right and conservatives. Romney courted the party's conservative activists assiduously during his presidential campaign.

"I think Romney is the favorite of most who are one circle removed from McCain," said Vin Weber, a Republican lobbyist who supported Romney in the primary. "But no one knows what the innermost circle -- McCain, Cindy, [advisor Mark] Salter, [campaign manager Rick] Davis, Black -- are thinking."

Campaigning with them recently, McCain has lavished praise on Crist, 51, and Jindal, 36. Both men could provide a youthful presence on the ticket.

Crist is hugely popular among Republicans and Democrats in Florida. His eleventh-hour endorsement of McCain is credited with helping the senator clinch Florida's January primary and put him in position to win the nomination.

A former state attorney general and state lawmaker, Crist is more affable than ideological and is viewed with suspicion by conservatives. He has built a reputation as a consumer advocate and environmentalist who also backed prisoner work crews and opposed abortion.

Picking Crist, whose approval rating hovers around 70%, would all but assure a McCain victory in a state the GOP must win to gain an Electoral College majority.

A spokeswoman for Crist said McCain called him personally to invite him and his girlfriend, Carole Rome, a Miami businesswoman, to the weekend getaway.

Jindal has been considered a rising GOP star since he was elected governor in October. Before winning -- making him the nation's first Indian American governor -- Jindal served two terms in the House.

Choosing Jindal could appeal to younger voters. But he may be regarded as too green to be second in line to the presidency, particularly when the McCain campaign's central line of attack against Obama is that he is too inexperienced to be president.

Times staff writers Janet Hook and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.

Can Obama win over the working class?

Can Obama win over the working class?
Story Highlights
Working-class voters have supported Hillary Clinton in large numbers
Barack Obama does better with well-educated, affluent voters
Obama needs to appeal to voters on a personal level, experts say
Clinton supporters will probably vote Obama despite recent polls, experts say
By Kristi Keck

CNN -- As Sen. Barack Obama closes in on the Democratic nomination, a potentially challenging storyline for his campaign has emerged: He's yet to make his case with the working-class voters.

Exit polls in Tuesday's Kentucky primary were the latest to point to that problem. The numbers suggest that Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters are fiercely devoted to her.

Nearly half of the state's Democratic voters said they'd either vote for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, or not vote at all in November if Obama is on the ticket.

Those voters have overwhelmingly backed Clinton in previous contests, but they're not a lost cause for Obama, experts say.

In order for him to win their support in the general election, he needs Clinton in his corner, he needs to convince them that he can help alleviate their economic woes, and he needs to connect with them on a personal level, according to the experts.

But despite those numbers, support for Clinton is not necessarily Obama's loss in a general election, said Mark Peffley, a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

"I think what voters say now as a justification ... for being committed to a candidate is not going to be their sentiment during the general election," he said.

If Clinton throws her support to Obama and the party rallies behind him, Clinton's supporters will probably follow suit, Peffley said.

Right now, Democrats are choosing between Clinton and Obama, who have similar policies. In the general matchup, the differences between the Democratic candidate and McCain will be much more distinct.

"I can't imagine that anyone who would vote for Hillary Clinton would end up voting for McCain. If you look at the issues, there's a huge divide between Hillary and McCain," Peffley said.

Stephen Voss, a specialist in elections and voting behavior and a professor at the University of Kentucky, said that given the disappointment of Clinton's likely loss coupled with Obama's liberal leanings, it's quite possible some of her more moderate supporters might switch to McCain, but not enough to shake up the election.

If Obama can line himself up with Clinton and line McCain up with the Bush administration, he'll have a better chance of winning over the working class, according to the experts.

"The associations with George Bush are just too devastating for them to cross party lines at this point," Peffley said.

Clinton's populist message is tailor-made for the working class, and many of those voters have fond memories of her husband's presidency.

Voters tend to judge candidates by looking to the past, Voss said, and the economic performance of the country in the Clinton years is still fresh on voters' minds.

Voss said Obama needs to stress the "economic populism underlying his political agenda."

Obama has "put together a fairly progressive political agenda, so he'll be able to explain how the policies he endorses will help take some of the bite out of the current economic troubles for white, working-class voters," he said. "As he educates about his policies, a lot will float into his camp."

In addition to get voters behind his policy and plans, Obama needs to get them behind him as person, Peffley said.

"Obama needs to tell his story. He rose from humble origins. He's not a silver-spoon liberal," he said.

If voters can embrace Obama as a person, they'll be more inclined to embrace him as a politician, the experts said.

White, working-class voters usually have trouble with Ivy League-educated lawyers regardless of their race, Voss said. Just as Bill Clinton was able to overcome that, Obama will need to do the same thing, he said.

As some question whether Obama will be able to pick up the working class should he become the nominee, he already has the vote of confidence from their favorite candidate.

Speaking to her cheering supporters in Kentucky on Tuesday, Clinton assured voters that her party would come together once there's a nominee.

"While we continue to go toe-to-toe for this nomination, we do see eye-to-eye when it comes to uniting our party to elect a Democratic president in the fall," she told an audience in Louisville.

"We will come together as a party united by common values and common cause, united in service to the hopes and dreams that know no boundary of race and creed, gender or geography, and when we do, there will be no stopping us."

Do Republicans Believe In Free Markets?

Dave Johnson
Do Republicans Believe In Free Markets?
May 14, 2008

A news story on Monday, McCain urges free-market principles to reduce global warming. Which "free-market principles" does McCain mean?

McCain's major solution is to implement a cap-and-trade program on carbon-fuel emissions, like a similar program in the Clean Air Act that was used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that triggered acid rain.

Summary: the government sets a limit on how much CO2 companies will be allowed to emit. The government sets a fee for any emissions above that level. The government allows companies with emissions below that limit to sell "credits" to companies above the limit.

McCain describes this as a "free market" approach.

Conservatives always come up with nice-sounding ways to describe their ideas. They talk about "free markets." "Free" sounds so good. Has a nice ring to it. But is there really such a thing?

In McCain's example every single component of this market is defined, set up and regulated by government. But conservatives always say that government is the enemy of freedom and of markets. Do they not see the contradiction?

In fact, is there a market that is not defined, set up and regulated by government? Would markets even exist if there were no government? First, there is the money that is exchanged in a market. Unless we revert to a pure barter system where goods are exchanged money is entirely a creation of government. And it is entirely regulated by government. Next are the laws that, excuse the word, "govern" the market system. These laws are entirely a creation of government and it is government that enforces them and government that runs the courts that resolve disputes. And yes, these laws are "regulations."

So when conservatives complain about "government" and "regulation" and advocate "free markets" what is it they are really saying? The best way to understand what they want is to look at what they do, not what they say. If we look closely at the results of those times when conservatives gain power we can see that they really seem to mean they will use the power of government to protect the wealthiest people and biggest corporations.

For example, conservatives in government have always defended the big energy companies against threats to use of their products. They oppose mass transit, alternative energy research, even requiring cars to get better gas mileage.

A closer look reveals that what they really stand for is a protection of the status quo, defending the rich and powerful against the rest of us.

'Seven Wonders of America'

'Good Morning America' names 'Seven Wonders of America'
Mon May 19, 2008

New York City, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and South Dakota's Badlands were named to a list of seven U.S. wonders featured on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Also on the list were the Grand Canyon, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Preserve, Washington D.C.'s National Mall, and the Saturn V moon rocket at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration in Huntsville, Ala. Huntsville is nicknamed Rocket City because the U.S. space exploration program began there in the late 1940s.

The show assembled a panel of experts to choose the seven destinations, which included manmade as well as natural wonders. The places were announced one at a time over seven shows, with the final one airing May 14.

The experts who chose the wonders were Annie Griffith Belt, a photographer for the National Geographic Society; Brent D. Glass, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; Michael Roberts, executive editor of Outside Magazine; Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History; Patricia Schultz, author of "1,000 Places to See Before You Die," and the travel guidebook writer and editor Pauline Frommer.

Viewers chose Yellowstone National Park as an eighth wonder in an online vote.

Details at

FBI agents created “war crimes file”

FBI agents created “war crimes file” documenting US torture
By Joe Kay
22 May 2008

FBI agents who witnessed the torture of detainees at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba created what they called a “war crimes” file documenting what they had seen, according to a report released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The file, initiated in 2002, was ordered shut down by higher-ups in 2003 and agents were told to stop keeping records of the illegal acts that they had seen. Nonetheless, the use of the term “war crimes” by the US government’s main domestic intelligence arm, an agency with its own long record of political repression, is an extraordinary confirmation of charges that have long been leveled by opponents of the Bush administration and the criminal practices it has carried out in the so-called “global war on terror.”

According to the OIG report, FBI agents objected to the use by the CIA and the US military of techniques that one FBI official called “borderline torture.” Some agents raised concerns within the agency, but these concerns were ignored or squelched by the White House.

The report is on the role of the FBI in observing or participating in abusive practices, and is based on a survey of several hundred FBI agents. It seeks to absolve the bureau and its agents of responsibility for the abuse.

Although it deliberately ignores the question of accountability, the 437-page report by Inspector General Glenn Fine makes clear once again that the policy of torture was approved at the highest levels.

Among the techniques used by the military and the CIA to which the FBI agents objected were: sleep deprivation; prolonged “short-shackling,” or the shackling of the hands and feet together; the use of dogs to terrorize detainees; humiliation, including tying a detainee to a leash and forcing him to perform tricks; and sexual humiliation, including enforced nudity and touching.

The military and CIA used these methods against prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. Many of these same torture techniques would become notorious when they were depicted in photographs involving prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Their replication makes it clear that the crimes in Abu Ghraib were not an aberration perpetrated by rouge prison guards, but rather a deliberate and planned implementation of methods designed to “break” detainees.

The FBI agents objected to the methods largely on the grounds that they would not provide “actionable intelligence.” They were also worried that the use of torture could undermine future trials and might cast the FBI and the US government in a bad light if they were publicly revealed.

According to the report, some FBI personnel began complaining to their supervisors as early as 2002. These complaints were reported to at least one meeting of the National Security Council at the White House in 2003. However, there was no change in policy and the torture continued.

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly questioned some of the methods, including to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. However, Ashcroft refused to be interviewed by Fine, citing the confidentiality of the discussions.

It is hardly surprising that the FBI agents’ concerns were ignored, since the impetus behind the use of torture came from the White House itself. Beginning with the capture of alleged Al Qaeda members Mohammed Al-Qahtani in December 2001 and Abu Zubaydah in March 2002, top administration officials saw an opportunity to shred international law and employ torture more openly on the pretext of the “war on terror.” Administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, were closely involved in directing the details of the interrogations.

A report by ABC news last month found that top Bush administration officials participated in discussion about torture techniques that were so detailed that “some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed—down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.”

In part as a response to concerns within the CIA and military over legal accountability, the Justice Department itself issued at least two legal opinions in 2002 and 2003 that provided a pseudo-legal rationale for torture.

The focus of the OIG report is on military-controlled facilities between 2001 and 2004. The report has very limited information on the torture of prisoners at the hands of the CIA, as the CIA refused to cooperate with the investigation. According to the report, “we were unable to obtain highly classified information about CIA-controlled facilities, what occurred there, and what legal authorities governed their operations.”

The CIA also refused to allow the OIG to interview Abu Zubaydah. The White House has acknowledged that it used waterboarding on Zubaydah, among other methods. The CIA claimed that the inspector general had no pressing need to interview Zubaydah, and that he might provide false allegations against CIA agents.

The report’s section on the interrogation of Zubaydah seeks to exonerate FBI Special Agent Gibson, who has been accused of participating in the torture. An email written by an acquaintance of Gibson charged that Gibson “spoke openly and with much enthusiasm about the torturing of captured al-Qaeda terrorists [including Zubaydah], undisclosed locations and the brutal interrogation techniques by both CIA and FBI which Agent [Gibson] was involved.”

The interrogation of Zubaydah was initially in the hands of the FBI but was quickly taken over by the CIA. Much of the details in the report about the treatment of Zubaydah are redacted. It does note, however, “Gibson stated that the CIA personnel assured him that the procedures being used on Zubaydah had been approved ‘at the highest levels’ and that Gibson would not get in trouble” for participating.

The report cites an email from Spike Bowman, head of the national security law unit at the FBI, declaring in July 2003: “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” referring to the treatment of Zubaydah.

Another section of the report deals with a facility in Iraq, the name and location of which is redacted along with large portions of the section. It notes that an FBI Agent, referred to as Ryan, worked at the facility in the spring and summer of 2004 and reported that “a military interrogator told him that detainees at the facility were confined in ‘inhumane conditions’ and were subjected to abusive interrogation techniques, including food, water, and sleep deprivation and ‘water interrogation.’”

“Water interrogation” is apparently a reference to “waterboarding,” which would indicate that this particular torture technique was more widely employed than the Bush administration has acknowledged.

A substantial section of the report is devoted to disputes between FBI agents and the military over the treatment of Mohammed Al-Qahtani at Guantánamo Bay in 2002. The report found that these disputes were ultimately resolved in favor of the more aggressive methods employed by the military, which was operating under the close supervision of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The brutal interrogation methods used on Al-Qahtani have been reported already—including the use of dogs, tying him to a chain and forcing him to perform dog tricks, and sexual humiliation.

The report details, however, the close interest of the military—including General Geoffrey Miller, who was then in charge of Guantánamo Bay and was later sent by Rumsfeld to Iraq—in the interrogation of Al-Qahtani. Citing an FBI agent, the report states that Miller used such terms as “relentless” and “sustained attack” to describe the way that he wanted Al-Qahtani to be treated.

The fact that several FBI agents protested strongly against the treatment of prisoners held by the military and CIA is an indication of how blatantly illegal this treatment was. They were clearly seen by some agents as “war crimes” for which the authors could ultimately be prosecuted.

In implementing this policy, the Bush administration systematically violated the most basic tenants of international and domestic law, including anti-torture statutes and the Geneva Conventions.

This policy has been known for years. Leading figures from both political parties were briefed on it from the very beginning. What is most remarkable is that not a single individual responsible for its implementation has been held accountable.

Let churches define what 'marriage' is,0,3604605.column

Let churches define what 'marriage' is
Eric Zorn
May 22, 2008

How about this for a compromise?

How about instead of granting government recognition to gay marriages, we deny government recognition to straight marriages?

How about, in other words, we get government out of the sacrament business altogether?

Let the various churches, denominations and other belief groups decide who gets to perform the marriage ritual with whom, and leave the blessing and the consecrating to religious institutions.

And let the government handle the contract end of things. That's government's job—outlining the binding nitty-gritty of mutual obligations and privileges in legally sanctioned relationships.

One reason the debate over gay marriage gets so heated is that many Americans believe, as President George W. Bush has said, that "marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman."

But in that assertion lies the problem.

The way I read my Constitution, defining the terms of "sacred institutions" isn't the job of the government. Under our system, government isn't deputized to decide what is and isn't sacred or to make rules for the rites, rituals and other observances of faith.

Who is or isn't, can or can't be baptized, Christened, confirmed, bar mitzvahed, ordained, entitled to extreme unction and so on is no more the state's business than who is and isn't "married."

Contributing columnist Dennis Byrne, an opponent of gay marriage, wrote the other day that "this fight is about a word."

And, indeed, most polls show that majority opinion has come to favor marriage-like civil unions between same-sex couples, but still opposes such unions if we call them "marriages."

I get that. I don't agree with it, but I get it: "Marriage" is a profound word with roots that go very deep in religious traditions. Many faiths have elaborate customs that go along with marriages—when they are appropriate, how they are performed, how they are dissolved and so on.

Redefining the concept of marriage feels to many like an assault on those customs.

Proponents of gay marriage can argue that this isn't so—that allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn't harm or cheapen the marriage of opposite-sex couples; that marriage is a positive and stabilizing force in gay society, just as it is in straight society; that the Golden Rule itself demands we grant dignity, respect and full recognition to gay couples. And they will inevitably prevail.

The goal is to have the law—and society—redefine these marriage-like civil unions between same-sex partners as "marriages," plain and simple. But it might be easier to have the law—and society—redefine marriages between opposite-sex partners as "civil unions," plain and simple, and put an end to this fight about a word.

Years ago, in places where religion and government were indistinguishable, we affixed a religious term to what is for most practical purposes a civil contract. This seems like the cleanest and fastest way to separate the ideas while continuing to honor both.

If a faith group wants "marriage" to be the Bushian "sacred institution between a man and a woman" and nothing more, that will always be their right.

But if any couple, gay or straight, wants to avail themselves of the literally hundreds of entanglements and perks of matrimony, they'll have to do so by entering into a contract.

The law, having graciously returned the word "marriage" to the real of faith whence it came, will register their relationship as civil union.

What they call it will be up to them and their community, of course.

It's a free country, after all. Or it will be.

How about that?

Paper money unfair to blind - court

Paper money unfair to blind - court
Federal appeals court says Treasury Department is violating the law by keeping dollars the same size and feel.
By Jessica Dickler, staff writer
May 20, 2008

NEW YORK ( -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law by failing to design and issue currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired people.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a 2006 district court ruling that could force the United States to redesign its money so blind people can distinguish between values.

Suggested solutions include making bills different sizes, including raised markings or using foil printing which is a method of hot stamping that is tactically discernable.

Judge Judith Rogers, in a ruling on a suit by the American Council of the Blind, wrote that the Treasury Department's failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to the visually impaired violates the Rehabilitation Act's guarantee of "meaningful access."

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was originally designed to extend civil rights to disabled individuals and provide them a full opportunity to participate in American society.

Rogers also wrote that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has not met his burden to show why changing the money would impose an undue burden.

"A large majority of other currency systems have accommodated the visually impaired, and the Secretary does not explain why U.S. currency should be any different," Rogers wrote in her ruling.

The euro, for example, is one currency designed to be more readily identifiable. Each banknote has a predominant color and large numbers to make them easier to see. Also, the larger the denomination of the euro, the larger the banknote.

"We are very pleased with the ruling," said a spokeswoman for the American Council of the Blind. "We are hopeful that the Treasury Department will now get busy and come up with a plan to make paper money more readily identifiable for the visually impaired people all over the world."

The Treasury Department has been working to improve the nation's paper currency, according to Jennifer Zuccarelli, a spokeswoman for the Treasury.

"Most recently the Bureau of Engraving and Printing contracted with a research firm to conduct a comprehensive study to gather additional data, research and analysis for development of methods to help the blind and visually impaired," Zuccarelli said in an e-mail to "The results of this study will be available by early 2009, and the Bureau will take that information under consideration when they transition in new production equipment in both printing facilities in the following years."

However, Paul Schroeder, vice president for programs and policy for American Foundation for the Blind, a nonprofit group based in New York, said he "would not be surprised" if the Treasury Department appealed the court's decision.

While Schroeder said it would be feasible to address this challenge, whatever solution is ultimately found must "work within a very substantial infrastructure" of U.S. currency.

The suit was originally filed in 2002 by the American Council of the Blind and two individuals with visual impairments, Patrick Sheehan and Otis Stephens.

The appeals court ruled 2-1, with Judge A. Raymond Randolph dissenting. Judge Thomas Griffith joined Rogers in voting to uphold the lower court ruling.

Sen. Edward Kennedy has malignant brain tumor

Sen. Edward Kennedy has malignant brain tumor
May 20, 2008
By Globe Staff

US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the veteran lawmaker from Massachusetts who is the last surviving brother in the legendary Kennedy family, has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, his doctors said today.

Doctors investigating the cause of a seizure that led to Kennedy's hospitalization this weekend said that preliminary results from a brain biopsy indicated the cause of the seizure was a tumor in the top left portion of his brain.

The usual course of treatment for the tumor -- a "malignant glioma" -- includes combinations of various forms of radiation and chemotherapy, Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of the neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy's primary care physician, said in a statement.

The doctors said decisions regarding the best course of treatment for the 76-year-old senator would be determined after further testing and analysis.

"He has had no further seizures, remains in good overall condition, and is up and walking around the hospital," the statement said. "Senator Kennedy will remain at Massachusetts General Hospital for the next couple of days according to routine protocol. He remains in good spirits and full of energy."

Dozens of reporters, cameramen, and producers surrounded one of the entrances of Massachusetts General Hospital this afternoon, waiting for further word on Kennedy.

Kennedy's wife and children have been with him each day since he was hospitalized but have made no public statements.

The senator's wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, arrived today at Mass. General at 6:20 a.m., stepping out of a black sport utility vehicle and walking briskly inside. His sons -- Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island -- came to visit their father at 9:45 a.m. None of the Kennedys talked to the gaggle of photographers and reporters standing watch outside.

Senate Democrats and Republicans were in their separate weekly policy lunches when word reached them of the diagnosis. CNN reported there was stunned silence.

At a news conference after the meeting, Kennedy's fellow senators offered support.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said he had talked to Kennedy's wife and the senator was in good spirits.

"The Senate really is a family," Reid said. "We, as a family, are tremendously concerned about Senator Kennedy."

Senator John F. Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, said the Kennedys have faced more serious adversity more times than most families face once.

"Everyone of us knows what a big heart this fellow has," Kerry said, calling his colleague a "living legend." "This guy is one unbelievable fighter ... He's in a fighting mood."

Malignant gliomas are a type of brain cancer diagnosed in about 9,000 Americans a year and are the most common type among adults. It's a starting diagnosis: How well patients fare depends on what specific tumor type is discovered.

Average survival can range from less than a year for very advanced and aggressive types -- such as glioblastomas -- to about five years for different types that are slower-growing.

One expert, Dr. Joseph Madsen, a neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital Boston, said the diagnosis was "very sad news."

“High-grade glio-malignancies” such as Senator Kennedy has “are unfortunately the most common kind of brain tumor in this age group, and they have a poor prognosis for long-term survival,” he said.

They can also be very debilitating during treatment, Madsen said, and Kennedy’s tumor is in an area where it may well eventually affect his speech.

Kennedy's hospitalization Saturday triggered shock in the political world and drew an outpouring of support from around the nation. But the initial alarm subsided when friends and associates said that he was talking and joking with family later that day -- and watching the Red Sox game.

The youngest of the nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Edward Kennedy was first elected to the Senate in 1962 to finish the final two years of his brother's term. He is serving his eighth term and is the second most senior member of the Senate.

A champion of liberal causes, he unsuccessfully ran for president in 1980, losing the Democratic nomination to President Carter.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Beast of the Month - April 2008

Beast of the Month - April 2008
Henry Paulson, Treasury Secretary

"I yam an anti-Christ... "
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"

"I have a message for every homeowner worried about rising mortgage payments: The best you can do for your family is to call 1-800-995-HOPE."
George W. Bush, giving the wrong number (it's an 888 prefix) for his "solution" to the subprime crisis last December

Since moving Konformist headquarters from across the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to across the UNLV college campus in Las Vegas last April, The Konformist editorial staff have rediscovered the joys of drinking games. Here's one new favorite we particularly recommend: The "Since the Great Depression" Drinking Game. Here's how you play: talk about current economic and financial conditions, and every time somebody uses the phrase "since the Great Depression" in the discussion, everyone needs to take a swig. Trust us, you'll get drunk off your ass real quick.

The big financial story in recent months has been the subprime crisis, which is the Godzilla of the 2008 economic crisis. Eight million homeowners are overwhelmed by subprime loans - ones with low introductory interest rates for prospective homeowners that often pay only interest initially, but later have higher interest rates and huge increases in monthly payment after the introductory period - with two million in or headed to foreclosure. Meanwhile, 10 percent of homes are worth less than their mortgage. All in all, the last two housing market crisis this big in the USA were the S&L scandal of the late eighties and, of course, The Great Depression. (Gulp gulp gulp...)

The Great Depression comparisons are no mere hype: as Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, told the London Times last December: “American real estate values have already lost around $1 trillion. That could easily increase threefold over the next few years." The New York Times has put the figure at up to $4 trillion. In retrospect, it shouldn't be a surprise: while the Bush Team's debacle in Iraq and its attack on civil liberties have been the main focus of Shrubian criticism in recent years, it is the destructive economic policies to benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else that is the hallmark of the Dubya years.

As news of the subprime crisis first began to be reported, a right-wing spin (echoed more than partially in the "establishment" media) circulated as the explanation: it was the fault of the millions of families who, in stupidity, bought homes they couldn't afford with loans that were doomed to swallow them. And, to be fair to these talking points, there were many (including those in The Konformist editorial staff) who realized that subprime loans were definitely a bad idea.

But then in February, New York Governor (and former hard-nosed Attorney General) Eliot Spitzer gave another explanation for the subprime crisis in The Washington Post: the loans should've been illegal as predatory lending. As Spitzer noted: "Some were misrepresenting the terms of loans, making loans without regard to consumers' ability to repay, making loans with deceptive 'teaser' rates that later ballooned astronomically, packing loans with undisclosed charges and fees, or even paying illegal kickbacks." Tellingly, 73% of high-income Black and Hispanic borrowers (repeat, that is high-income, not low-income) were given sub-prime loans versus only 17% of similar-income Whites.

So why were these loans not stopped? They were legitimized by the Bush Administration. More specifically, the Treasury Department (currently led by Henry Paulson, The Konformist Beast of the Month) not only stopped federal enforcement to regulate and stop these loans, they selectively used obscure laws and created new rules to block states from enforcing their own predatory lending and consumer protection laws against national banks. This was so unprecedented and outrageous, all 50 state attorneys general and banking superintendents fought the Treasury, but were stonewalled by the Bush minions like it was a 9/11 investigation. The end result: millions of working-class and middle-class Americans (a high percentage, coincidentally, of racial minority status) were forced by criminal market collusion sanctioned by Bush to either accept highly risky subprimes or give up the apparently foolish fantasy of owning their own home.

(Also coincidentally, less than a month after his WaPo expose, Spitzer was forced to resign in disgrace after being exposed as a customer for an expensive Big Apple prostitution ring. So far, none of the other johns have been exposed by Feds, and it appears the target of the DOJ investigation begins and ends with Mr. Spitzer.)

Okay, big surprise. A destructive economic agenda to help the rich at the expense of everyone else was hatched by the Bush Team. Tell us something we don't know. The question then becomes what to do about the mess. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration has thus far only offered "voluntary" deals they have encouraged between bankers and mortgage debtors who are delinquent on payments. Even this minimal plan has helped less than eight percent of all subprime borrowers. But anything beyond a voluntary deal worked out between debtors and the banks is decried by right-wing mouthpieces as a "moral hazard" which will encourage future individuals to recklessly enter dangerous loans with the supposed expectation of a bailout.

Oddly, this concern over a "moral hazard" doesn't seem to apply to big boys involved in the mess. Already the subprime crisis has wreaked havoc on the financial establishment, causing the near collapse of venerable investment bank giant Bear Stearns and the liquidation of Carlyle Capital, the mortgage investment fund off-shoot of the notorious Carlyle Group. (Which leads to some Konformist konspiracy theorizing: Bear Stearns was widely despised in the Wall Street establishment as a banking maverick, and the sweetheart deal leading to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. takeover of the firm appears to be a vengeful payback against a lone wolf. Meanwhile, though Carlyle Capital has indeed gone belly up, its parent Carlyle Group - the private equity group whose partners have included George H. W. Bush and the bin Laden family, and whose founder, perhaps not-so-symbolically, bought the original copy of the Magna Carta for $20 million - has only been marginally damaged by the liquidation, as Carlyle Capital was an spin-off of mortgage securities. Did Carlyle suspect the mortgage market was doomed to sink over toxic subprime loans and thus create the spin-off, the first in its history, to dump a loser on sucker investors?) Moral hazards and laissez-faire philosophy be damned: the Federal Reserve decided to give $400 billion in loan packages to Wall Street banks and financial institutions to help them weather the storm. (And that was in just one decisive action: all told, the Fed has offered nearly a trillion bucks in discounted loans to the fat cats who pushed for this mess.) Before the Senate Banking Committee, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke conceded: “If you want to say we bailed out markets in general, I guess that’s true.”

Which led The Konformist to do a little mathematics. Just taking the $400 billion figure alone, divide it by 2 million, the number of families at the brink of foreclosure due to predatory subprime loans. That comes to $200K per family. Do you think giving 2 million working-class and middle-class families $200 grand each in financial aid backed by their property couldn't solve the current crisis?

Of course, the Fed is merely the scapegoat here of the Bush Administration's failings, just as George Tenet and the CIA became the scapegoat of the Bush lies leading to the Iraq War. (It's a sad indictment of the Bush Team that they could make The Konformist feel sympathy for the CIA and Federal Reserve.) The fact is the Fed was acting in the capacity it had available to aid ailing markets, while helping the average American is the job of Bush, Paulson and co. So far there's been a grand total of zero.

That's fine with John McCain, the almost certain Republican nominee for the 2008 presidential race. In one speech, McCain declared: “It is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.” But talking out the other side of his mouth, he would add: "Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy." So helping out subprime debtors is rewarding the irresponsible, but helping out bankers is okay to defend the financial system.

Here's another quote: "There's no sense in which you're rewarding someone for taking too big a risk. If you lied about your income in order to get a bigger mortgage, then you're not qualified. Do you really want to give a subsidy to the guy who wasn't prudent?" Nice right-wing talking points, that the subprime crisis is the fault of lying debtors. But the quote doesn't come from Bush, Paulson or McCain, but rather a Barack Obama economic advisor. As it turns out, Obama has echoed these same right-wing talking points on the campaign trail. This should be little surprise: for all his charming talk of "hope" and "unity" this campaign, Obama - who has a bizarre media cheerleading behind his campaign similar to what Bush had in 2000 - has been pushing right-wing economics in his content-free mantras. To be fair, Obama has offered a $20 billion fund plan to help struggling borrowers, but that still is a pittance of what has already been given to Wall Street. It's hardly how we imagine MLK (or even JFK, the pair Obama salesmen are pitching him as a combination of) would respond to the crisis.

Ironically, it is the widely maligned and despised Hillary Clinton who has pushed the most to protect the real victims of the subprime crisis. Behind her shameless pandering and sometimes demagogic manipulations this campaign, there is a surprising level of economic populism to her pitch. She has pushed for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, a five-year rate freeze on subprime ARMs and backed legislation allowing bankruptcy judges to amend mortgage terms. She's also backed a total of $40 billion in aid to subprime debtors, twice what Obama has offered. Of course, even that is only a tenth of what the Fed gave Wall Street in its bailout.

Of course, The Konformist isn't saying that the US government lending $200K to every American family facing subprime foreclosure is the best way to solve the problem. And The Konformist isn't saying that propping up the financial market, even with $400 billion in Federal Reserve help, isn't a completely bad idea either. What we are saying is the frame of argument is clearly out of whack, even from the supposed "liberal" viewpoint of Obama and Hillary. And it isn't helped by pundits of the both "left" and "right" who silence and demonize criticism of this status quo as "engaging in class warfare."

Henry Paulson knows a thing about benefiting from class warfare. Like his predecessor John Snow, Paulson has been deservedly derided for his clueless figurehead status as Bush's economic point man. But he didn't get there by accident: after a stint as Nixon's Assistant Secretary of Defense, he parlayed his Pentagon connections into becoming Chairman and CEO of investment bank titan Goldman Sachs. (As The Konformist has previously noted, he's hardly the only CEO in the BushMob mix.) For his work at the behest of the defense industry and the financial community, he's been rewarded with a net worth of over $700 million.

This leads to the final class warfare punch line. If the 2 million families now in threat of losing their homes fall into foreclosure, the homes will go to the banks and investment houses that lended them the subprime loans. While that should mean some short term pain, they should be able to weather it thanks to the Federal Reserves aid. Eventually they will have at their disposal hundreds of billions in dollars of property to find new prospective buyers for. This could make the subprime crisis the greatest transfers of wealth to the rich in the history of the USA since, well, since the Bush Team's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Class warfare that.

In any case, we salute Henry Paulson as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Hank!!!


Bajaj, Vikas and Andrews, Edmund L. "Reports Suggest Broader Losses From Mortgages." New York Times 25 October 2007 <>.

"Fed Staves Off Disaster, but That's Not Enough." San Jose Mercury News 20 March 2008 <>.

Fraser, Max. "Subprime Obama." The Nation 11 February 2008.

Grey, Barry. "Clinton, Obama, McCain Defer to Wall Street." World Socialist Web Site 29 March 2008 <>.

Jackson, Jesse. "Banks Bailed Out, Homeowners Sinking." Chicago Sun-Times 18 March 2008 <,CST-EDT-jesse18.article>.

Jagger, Suzy. "Top Economist Says America Could Plunge Into Recession." Times Online 31 December 2007 <>.

Krugman, Paul. "Loans and Leadership." New York Times 28 March 2008.

Palast, Greg. "The $200 Billion Bail-out for Predator Banks and Spitzer Charges Are Intimately Linked." 14 March 2008 <> .

Prins, Nomi. "Obama vs. Clinton on the Top 10 Economic Policy Issues." Mother Jones 28 February 2008 <>.

Spitzer, Eliot. "Predatory Lenders' Partner in Crime." Washington Post 14 February 2008.

Sterling, Robert. "Subprime Bailout & Shrubonomics: A Mathematical Analysis." Konformist Blog 20 March 2008 <>.

"Wall St. Unlikely to Bemoan Passing of Bear Stearns, Which Made Few Friends Over the Years." International Herald Tribune 18 March 2008 <>.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

MPs vote against ban on hybrid embryos

MPs vote against ban on hybrid embryos
Monday, 19 May 2008

A cross-party attempt to ban the use of hybrid human-animal embryos for scientific research was rejected by the Commons tonight. MPs voted 336 to 176 (a majority of 160) against the move led by Tory former minister Edward Leigh.

The Commons then rejected a cross-party bid to ban the use of so called "true hybrids" using the sex cells of a human and an animal. Voting was 286 to 223, majority 63.

It was the first in a series of critical votes on emotive issues in committee stage debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill - the biggest shake-up of law in this area for 20 years.

Mr Leigh (Gainsborough) said the use of "admixed" embryos, using genetic material from both humans and animals, would cross an "entirely new ethical boundary," and turn the UK into a scientific "rogue state".

The embryos created would have to be destroyed after 14 days, but scientists hope stem cells can be harvested and used to create brain, skin, heart and other tissue for treating diseases.

Mr Leigh warned it was a "step too far" adding: "In many ways we are like children playing with landmines without any concept of the dangers of the technology that we are handling."

But Labour's Chris Bryant (Rhondda), a former Anglican curate, compared Mr Leigh's arguments to those used by church leaders against the smallpox vaccine.

"They were wrong and I think you are wrong today," Mr Bryant said.

All the main parties have allowed MPs a free vote on the creation of the "admixed" embryos and on the next issue to be debated tonight - the creation of so-called "saviour siblings" whose genetic material could help sick relatives.

Controversial attempts to reduce the abortion time limit will be debated tomorrow.

For the Tories, Mark Simmonds said he did not agree that admix embryos showed no prospect of providing solutions to the "very real problems that exist" to find cures for debilitating diseases.

But he raised concerns about the creation of "true hybrids", warning that the scientific community had expressed "serious reservations" about hybrids that weren't always at the "human end of the spectrum".

Mr Simmonds accused the Government of "shifting" its position on true hybrids, adding: "This seems to undermine any consistent ethical position surrounding admixed embryos."

Lib Dem spokesman Evan Harris, a doctor, said his conscience told him to back the Bill.

And he took issue with claims it was a radical departure from the ethical principles in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

"The same principles in the 1990 Act apply in this Bill. Embryo research will still be heavily regulated in at least five ways."

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said the shortage of human eggs presented a "significant barrier" to embryonic stem cell research and experts believe hybrid embryos were a "pragmatic" solution to the problem.

She assured MPs: "Any licence application to create a human admix embryo for research will need to prove to the HFEA that the proposed use of the embryo is necessary.

"Not simply that they want to try it as scientists, but that it is necessary and no other route of research will enable the development of the science to understand the development of the treatment."

Tory leader David Cameron confirmed earlier today that he backed proposals for the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research as well as so-called "saviour siblings" selected by parents in order to provide tissue material for seriously ill children.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister also voiced his support, hailing new ground-breaking techniques as "an inherently moral endeavour" which could save millions of lives.


Monday May 19,2008

Allowing the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos would make the UK a scientific "rogue state", MPs have been warned as a fierce debate opened on highly-controversial new laws.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both firmly backed the ground-breaking technique as a means to develop treatments for common conditions that could potentially save millions of lives.

The Prime Minister and Tory leader also support the creation of "saviour siblings" selected by parents in order to provide tissue material for seriously ill children.

Mr Brown has hailed both innovations as "an inherently moral endeavour". But opponents from all parties hope to unite to axe both from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in crunch Commons votes on Monday evening.

And with MPs allowed to vote according to personal conscience, not the party line, on the most contentious elements of the Bill, the result is not predictable.

Leading the fight against so-called "admixed embryos", Tory MP Edward Leigh said the technique, which involves implanting a human nucleus inside an animal cell, was "a step too far".

Scientists believe that stem cells harvested from these embryos could provide the key to breakthroughs in the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy. Research is currently being held up by the shortage of human eggs to create stem cells.

But critics of hybrids have branded them "Frankenstein science", saying it is obscene to combine human and animal genetics. They also question the benefits, insisting other methods are more effective.

But Mr Leigh said 21 other countries had banned the creation of hybrids. "In terms of embryonic research we will almost be like a rogue state," he warned.

But Labour MP Chris Bryant, a former Anglican curate, compared Mr Leigh's arguments to those used by church leaders against the smallpox vaccine. He said: "They were wrong and I think you are wrong today."

Zimbabwe party: Military plotting to kill leader

Zimbabwe party: Military plotting to kill leader

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Zimbabwe's opposition party accused the country's military Monday of plotting to assassinate the group's presidential candidate using snipers.

The Movement for Democratic Change said Morgan Tsvangirai planned to return to Zimbabwe to contest the June 27 runoff election once security measures are in place to protect him against the alleged assassination plot. The opposition says it received details of the alleged plot on Saturday as Tsvangirai was on his way to the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, to return home.

"The assassination plot involves snipers," party Secretary-General Tendai Biti told The Associated Press after a news conference in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. He said 18 snipers were involved in the alleged plot.

"It is the military (plotting), the JOC (Joint Operational Command) that has been running the country" since Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, lost March 29 elections to Tsvangirai. "I cannot speak (more) of that because it would put a lot of lives at risk," Biti said.

Biti also condemned African leaders' failure to confront Mugabe, Zimbabwe's leader of 28 years, in the strongest terms yet used by his party.

He said the campaign of violence blamed on Mugabe's regime could backfire, saying that many of the millions of Zimbabweans who have fled the country planning to return to vote in the June runoff presidential election.

A third of the population has fled Zimbabwe in recent years as the country confronts chronic shortages of food, medicine, fuel and cash precipitated by the government's seizure of white-owned farms that once produced enough to feed the country and export to neighbors.

The government this month introduced a half-billion Zimbabwe dollar note in efforts to deal with runaway inflation that unofficial estimates put at 700,000 percent a year.

Tsvangirai says he won the elections outright. But official results and those compiled by independent monitors show he did not win the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Biti said the runoff legitimizes Mugabe's "theft" and would not resolve Zimbabwe's crisis. He said it still was not too late to negotiate a "unity government of national healing." Not contesting was not an option as it would hand Mugabe victory, he said.

"The basic problem is that we have an old man, a geriatric, who is not prepared to give up power and that situation isn't going to change on June 27," Biti said.

A runoff was "merely extending and exacerbating the crisis" and legitimize "Mugabe's constitutional coup."

The answer, he said, is for African leaders to persuade Mugabe to negotiate a coalition government.

Biti railed against African leaders' failure to confront Mugabe: "What's concerning us is this lack of statesmanship, of leadership by African leaders," he said. "I think that the paralysis of leadership and perspective lies (with) certain officers indebted to Robert Mugabe. ..."

Mugabe's credentials as the leader of a liberation movement that fought a seven-year guerrilla war to force an end to white rule in 1980 still enhances his stature among many Africans.

But this year's crisis, and the violent government response, which human rights defenders say has killed dozens, injured hundreds and forced thousands from their homes, has divided leaders.

Biti's party has asked the Southern African Development Organization to replace South African President Thabo Mbeki as its chief negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis.

Mbeki's insistence on "quiet diplomacy" to persuade Mugabe to change has largely failed, though his negotiations that led to election results being posted outside ballot stations did ensure a more open process that allowed the opposition to claim victory.

International efforts to intervene have been hampered by Mbeki and South Africa's current chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.

"The Zimbabwe crisis is exposing every leader on the African continent, embarrassing us as Africans because we are not able to resolve our own problems," Biti said.

Kenny Chesney Honored but Upset

May 20, 2008
Arts, Briefly
Kenny Chesney Honored but Upset
Compiled by Lawrence Van Gelder

No sooner had the Academy of Country Music handed out its awards on Sunday than Kenny Chesney, above, objected to the method that gave him his fourth straight win as entertainer of the year. For the first time in the show’s 43 years, its foremost accolade, traditionally decided by academy members, was determined in an online vote by the public. Backstage on Sunday night, Mr. Chesney said that although he favored the inclusion of fans, he did not think they should determine the academy’s most important award, The Associated Press reported. He emphasized that his criticism was directed at the industry, not the fans, and said that this year’s voting method amounted to “complete disrespect” of the artists, turning the award “into a sweepstakes to see who can push people’s buttons the hardest on the Internet.” The academy did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. At the ceremony in Las Vegas, Brad Paisley was named top male vocalist and Carrie Underwood top female vocalist, both for the second consecutive time. Honors for vocal group went to Rascal Flatts (six in a row) and for vocal duo to Brooks & Dunn (13 in a row).