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28 марта 2013, 20:49

Group files ethics complaint over Gohmert parking ticket

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint Thursday with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Louie Gohmert for his late-night verbal altercation with the U.S. Park Police. POLITICO reported that the Texas Republican was issued a parking ticket near the Lincoln Memorial earlier this month. Gohmert then argued with officers that his congressional placard allows him to park in the space marked for National Park Service vehicles only, and said he's on the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees the agency. Gohmert took the ticket off his windshield and placed it on a police car along with his business card with a written message: "Oversight of Park Service is my job! Natural Resources Thus the Congressional Plate in window." Gohmert's office said the congressman was taking his stepsister and her husband to the memorial, and the officer later accepted the ticket back and apologized. The police report obtained by POLITICO, which includes statements from three officers, makes no mention of apologizing to Gohmert or what happened to the parking violation. "By abusing his position as a member of Congress to yell at police officers and try and get out of a parking ticket, Rep. Gohmert engaged in conduct that reflects discreditably upon the House," said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan in a statement. "No wonder the public prefers cockroaches to members of Congress."

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28 марта 2013, 19:34

Lakanal House tower block fire: deaths 'could have been prevented'

Deaths of six people in UK's worst tower block fire could have been prevented by proper fire safety checks, inquest concludesThe death of six people in Britain's worst tower block fire was largely caused by botched and unsafe renovation work and a council's failure to inspect the building, as well as confusion and chaos during the firefighting operation, an inquest has concluded.In a carefully worded but ultimately damning narrative verdict into the death of three women and three young children trapped inside Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, on 3 July 2009, the jury highlighted numerous ways they could possibly have been saved.The fire, caused by an electrical fault in a television inside a ninth-floor flat, spread through the 1958-built block with a suddenness and ferocity that terrified residents and baffled firefighters.Six people remained in their flats one level above and were dead within 90 minutes. They were Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her daughter Thais, six, and son Felipe, three; Helen Udoaka, 34, and her 20-day-old daughter Michelle; and 31-year-old Catherine Hickman.The 10-week hearing saw some harrowing evidence, including details of the phone calls made by some of those trapped. Hickman, a fashion designer, spent 40 minutes in increasingly panicked conversation with an emergency operator, saying she could not breathe amid choking smoke. She yelled that flames were at the door and that something had fallen on her from the ceiling, before she eventually fell silent.Hickman was repeatedly urged to remain in her flat rather than fleeing, advice based on the theory of compartmentalisation – that individual high-rise flats should be able to contain a fire for sufficient time for the block to be made safe.But, the inquest heard, the Lakanal House blaze moved unusually quickly and in unexpected ways. Within half an hour of the first 999 call it had spread to several other floors, moving downwards as well as up, something so unusual that transcripts show emergency operators initially refused to believe this was happening.The jury heard that a change in the law in 2006 meant Southwark was responsible for fire safety checks at its flats, but by July 2009 the council had carried out no such checks at Lakanal or any other residential blocks. It had, however, managed to carry out the checks at buildings where its own staff worked.Southwark council, which owned the block, failed to carry out a proper fire inspection over the three years after it became its legal responsibility, the jury noted. A proper inspection would have picked up work from the 1980s that removed vital fire-stopping material between flats and communal corridors, the inquest said. It also noted that asbestos window panels had been replaced with PVC equivalents, which burned out in less than five minutes, accelerating the spread of the blaze.The failure to carry out inspections amounted to "a serious failure" by Southwark and its contractors, the jury said, and in the case of Hickman, something which made "more than a minimal contribution" to her death. Despite warnings from health and safety officials, the council "did not prioritise carrying out fire-risk assessments" on residential properties.While each of the six verdicts was worded neutrally – no party has accepted legal liability, which inquests are not allowed to assign – the ultimate message was clear, as was its emotional impact. Perhaps the most difficult moment came as a juror read out the details for Michelle Udoaka: "Born: 13 June 2009. Died: 3 July 2009.The fire brigade, meanwhile, was criticised for confusion among its 999 operators, who urged some victims to remain sheltering in smoke-filled flats when they should have fled. There was also confusion among controllers at the scene who failed to search the relevant flats in time despite the urging of relatives and neighbours of those trapped, partly because they did not understand the layout of the block.Those who died could all have probably saved themselves but were either advised to remain in their flats or did not seem to know about escape routes along communal balconies.The coroner in the 10-week inquest, judge Frances Kirkham, has written to the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, as well as Southwark and the London fire brigade with a series of recommendations. These include that fire services visit high-rise blocks to learn their layout, and landlords consider fitting them with sprinkler systems. Residents should also get better fire safety information, she said.Mbet Udoaka, whose wife and infant daughter died, read a statement welcoming the verdict. Standing next to Rafael Cervi, Dayana Francisquini's husband, he said: "Nearly four years later and after a long inquest, no authority, organisation or body has said sorry to us or accepted the blame. We fear very much that lessons have not been learned and that it could happen again."The Labour MP for Camberwell, Harriet Harman, said: "It's evident from the jury's verdict that these were unnecessary deaths. They shouldn't have died. A perfectly safe building became unsafe because of the way they did the refurbishments. Then there was no fire inspection that would have shown what the problems were."Later, however, Southwark said it did "apologise unreservedly" for it failings. Ian Wingfield, the council's deputy leader, said: "We have learned immediate and enduring lessons from this tragedy and have improved what we do to make our residents and homes safe."Ron Dobson, the head of the London fire brigade, expressed his "personal sadness" but stopped short of apologising on behalf of the service. He said: "We will now consider the jury's verdict and the recommendations that the coroner has made."The victimsThe six people who died in the Lakanal House fire were an arbitrary selection, both hugely disparate in their origins and typical of modern-day inner south London.The three women and three children trapped in three smoke-logged flats on the 11th floor came from Brazil, Nigeria and Hampshire. On the first day of the inquest Rafael Cervi told the jury how "everything that I built, everything that I dream of" – his 26-year-old wife, Dayana Francisquini, her six-year-old daughter, Thais, and the couple's son, three-year-old Felipe – was wiped out in little more than an hour.He first saw his wife, Cervi said, as she danced in a Brazilian nightclub. While Thais was sensible and studious, her younger brother was "always doing crazy things", he added, recounting an incident just before his death when the mischievous toddler covered himself with an entire jar of hair gel.His evidence was followed by that of Mbet Udoaka, who recalled meeting his future wife, Helen, at Lagos University before the couple moved to London. Just 20 days before the fire their first child, Michelle, was born. He said his religious faith had helped to keep him going: "I am really hoping that one day I'm going to see them. This is what I keep saying to Helen each time I visit the cemetery."Finally, Mark Bailey described being in New York for work when he heard about the fire inside the building where he shared a flat with his girlfriend of six years, fashion designer Catherine Hickman, 31. He described the wait for firefighters to recover his partner's body: "During that time, I was feeling indescribable. I was overwhelmed by grief and I would wake up every night screaming and crying. I would think Cat was next to me and then realise what had happened and break down."The inquest also heard of the wider impact of the fire. Helen Udoaka's father died of a heart attack the night he heard the news, the inquest was told.Among the firefighters who gave evidence was Christopher Rose, who discovered Michelle Udoaka's body. He broke down as he described finding the girl's body in a smoke-filled bathroom and how he had subsequently had to take seven months off work with post-traumatic stress.FirefightersLocal governmentPeter Walkerguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

27 марта 2013, 04:41

Divide Over Gay Marriage Starker Than Ever

WASHINGTON -- Rarely has the divide over gay rights in the United States appeared so visible and so stark as on Tuesday morning on 1st St. NE, the road that runs past the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. On one side of the street, a sea of rainbow flags and signs demanding the freedom to marry. On the other, hundreds of signs declaring, "Kids do best with a mom and a dad," and "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." On one side, deeply personal conversations about decades-long relationships and civil rights, on the other, warnings of an apocalypse and cries for religious freedom. Inside the courthouse, lawyers were set to make arguments about the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California law that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Winding along the sidewalk closest to the court, a line of would-be observers formed to gain entrance to hear the arguments for just three minutes. Two women dressed in long, red velvet coats waited with a hand-drawn sign declaring they'd been together for 18 years. Like many gay-rights supporters gathered before the court, J. Hobart, a retired attorney, and Mary Wilberding, a retired fashion designer, had personal reasons for traveling from California to D.C. this week. They'd met 20 years ago in Los Angeles and were married in California in 2008, in the brief window after the state supreme court granted same-sex couples the right to wed and before Prop. 8 passed, taking that right away. "We're in a tenuous position," said Wilberding, 62, who wore ropes of pearls and dark sunglasses. "The vows of marriage were so deep with us," said Hobart, 54. "It's different than just making a promise, it was a sacred oath. It felt different and folks treated us differently." "It breaks your heart that your love could be questioned," Wilberding added, putting her arm around Hobart. "It's tenuous, but I particularly feel very confident that the justices will do the right thing." A second group of demonstrators approached the courthouse, led by the National Organization for Marriage, the country's foremost organization opposing same-sex marriage. As they drew abreast with the gay-rights advocates, the tension rose. Protesters on one side chanted, "What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!" Those across the street fell to their knees in prayer. "God forgive them, for they know not what they do," a man with graying hair said, pointing at the praying crowd. "God forgive them." "God doesn't need to forgive us," a blonde woman holding a toddler's hand shouted back. Both camps spilled off the sidewalks, inching closer on the street and shouting their opposing messages in each other's faces. Police officers walked up and down in between the groups, frequently pushing back demonstrators on one side or another to keep them apart. "Don't you people get it?" yelled one gay rights protester. "We're not governed by your god! You dumb-asses!" "Jesus! Jesus!" chanted back a group of African-American teenagers who appeared to be part of a church group, holding signs with the outline of a man and woman on them. A woman with short brown hair and a toddler sitting across her shoulders shook her head as she passed another woman who held a sign painted with block letters reading, "Let me marry who I love." "They'll pass the law to get married, and then force their way into our temples," said the first woman, Lenae Warr, from Fort Belvoir, Va. "We want our freedom protected." A Mormon stay-at-home mom with nine children ranging from 7 to 24 years old, Warr said she had traveled to D.C. because she felt same-sex marriage was "mocking God." Asked how two gay people getting married affected her personally, Warr paused for a long time. She turned to a man marching beside her and asked, "Should I tell her everything?" Warr then grabbed this reporter's arm and whispered fiercely, "I'm a lesbian who chose this lifestyle," gesturing to her three children who had come with her. "That other road never brought me happiness." Two women nearby, also from Northern Virginia, said they had driven to D.C. because they thought same-sex marriage could bring about "damnation." "This is the ultimate, this is what's going to push us over the edge," said Marty, 60, who asked that her last name not be used. "In June, if this passes, watch out -- we're toast!" Marty's friend from church, Janna, who also asked that her last name be withheld, agreed. In her youth she was more liberal, said Janna, who is now 63. "I gave to Planned Parenthood, all that," she said. "But now I can see -- it's like if the whole world were dying of cancer and we have the cure and we're not giving it to you. Would that be right?" Like many opponents of same-sex marriage who rallied on Tuesday, both women emphasized that they did not dislike gay people, and said they were not bigoted. "We love Anderson Cooper," Marty exclaimed. "We think of him as a point of contact -- and the thought of him burning in hell breaks my heart. Anderson, Rosie O'Donnell, all of them. It just breaks my heart." While many protesters tried to stick to their own groups, others appeared to relish the opportunity to confront their opponents directly. Many gay-rights activists echoed the words of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who during Tuesdays hearing asked a lawyer defending Prop. 8 to explain how letting gay and lesbian couples marry harmed the marriages of straight couples. “How does this cause and effect work?” Kagan asked. On the sidewalk across from the court, a shouting match broke out, as a group of men supporting same-sex marriage asked three women opposing it the same question. "Why is this so important," a man wearing a woolen cap asked. "Why don't you just say, you know, 'I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe?'" "They're going to force it on us," replied one young woman with frizzy black hair. "And force it on our children at school!" cried another, who said she was a retired school teacher. "Really," the man pressed, "they're going to force you to marry a woman?" Down on the National Mall, where a coalition staged a rally with musical acts and speakers who warned of the evils same-sex marriage would bring, a man tried to explain to a straight husband and wife wearing "marriage = one man + one woman" pins why he believed same-sex marriage should be legal. "Marriage is a human right," said Tom Dietz, a senior financial analyst for the Department of Homeland Security. "But you don't have to let yourself be carried away by every desire in your body," the husband responded, as though not hearing Dietz. "You chose this life -- and you can choose a more godly one." "I do control myself; I've been in a relationship for 20 years," Dietz replied. Although many in the crowd seemed all too aware aware that public opinion had shifted against them, speakers at the rally tried to boost their supporters' morale. "Don't give up on us young people," said Alison Howard, a graduate of Liberty University and an employee of Concerned Women for America. "The media will tell you that I don't exist. Well I'll be the unicorn! I do exist, and I believe in the marriage between a man and a woman." "We've got Jesus! We've got Jesus," shouted a woman waving a flag with a cross on it. Standing nearby, Evita, a 16-year-old from Chicago wearing a black leather jacket and dark mascara, listened carefully. She shook her head. She wasn't sure of her opinion yet, and she'd come down to D.C. on her spring break to hear arguments from all sides. "Some guys just asked me if I know God -- I said, 'I know who he is, I went to Catholic school!" she said, then paused. "I don't know what God thinks about this, but I don't think I should choose if someone should get married or not."

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25 марта 2013, 17:37

How Is The White House Seder Different From All Others?

By Devra FerstThe Jewish Daily Forward For a president of the United States, the personal is inevitably political. But there is one annual event at the White House that truly is personal for its current chief resident -- or at least as personal as anything can be in the most watched building in the country. President Obama’s upcoming Passover Seder, scheduled for March 25, will host just 20 or so participants this year -- more or less the same core crowd that has been attending it since 2008, when three young staffers began the tradition while on the campaign trail and then-senator Obama surprised them by dropping in. In many ways, this presidential Seder resembles that of many families, if you can look past portraits of former first ladies adorning the walls, the elegant crystal chandelier hanging over the guests’ heads and the White House china on which the gefilte fish is being served. The Haggadah of choice is Maxwell House, and the Passover fare is traditional, featuring classics like matzo ball soup, brisket and kugel. Click for more Passover stories. But there are some differences in the ceremony itself -- such as the annual reading of the Emancipation Proclamation right before Elijah sneaks in, and the president’s vocal impersonation of Pharaoh. And, of course, the Secret Service always knows where the afikomen is hidden. “When you work in politics, the people you work with are your family,” said Arun Chaudhary, one of the campaign aides who began the now annual tradition, explaining the uniquely personal nature of this Jewish White House event. It was in 2008, during the rough Pennsylvania primary, that Chaudhary, Eric Lesser and Herbie Ziskend unknowingly began an Obama White House tradition. Disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to return home for Passover, the three aides made plans to meet up at 10 p.m. in a basement conference room in the Sheraton Hotel in Harrisburg. Weaving through cheerleaders from a convention the hotel was hosting, the trio brought their collected Seder items: a burnt bone from the hotel kitchen, Maxwell House Haggadot, shmura matzo squirreled away from Penn Hillel by Lesser’s cousin, and a bottle of Manischewitz wine. “The spirit of Passover is, if you’re traveling, you do the best you can, and you celebrate it anywhere, under any circumstances,” said Lesser. Just as they started the Seder, Obama stopped in to join them. “He peppered us with questions, keeping with traditions of a Seder. ... We had a great time. It was a very special moment … in the middle of an exhausting campaign,” Lesser explained. At the end of the Seder, after everyone raised a glass and said “Next year in Jerusalem,” Obama “raised his glass and said ‘Next year in the White House,’” Lesser recalled. A year later, on the way to a meeting in the White House, “the president shouted, ‘Hey, are we doing the Seder again?’” to Lesser, who by then was working as a special assistant to Obama’s senior political adviser, David Axelrod. “Yeah. Sure,” he yelled back. That year, the original staffers, plus a few others, and a handful of Obama’s friends and family, initiated the first official White House Seder. Planned by the original trio, it was intended to be “true to the original spirit” of the 2008 Seder, Lesser said, though, he joked, “it was in much nicer surroundings.” Still, the group stuck with the Maxwell House Haggadah, served Manischewitz wine and shmura matzo, and tacked on the line “Next Year in the White House” to the end of the Seder. The traditions have stuck. The evening’s readings are done, as always, as a round robin. “We do a rotating leader. When you’re with the president, it’s presumptuous to say we lead it, but we start it,” Lesser said. (The “president does the best Pharaoh voice around,” Chaudhary added in an email.) The Seder service is fairly short and efficient, in deference to the president’s busy schedule. Nevertheless, some additions have been made -- most notably by Dr. Eric Whitaker, a personal friend of the Obamas who reads the Emancipation Proclamation aloud nearly every year. “There are interesting and poignant similarities between the Passover story and the African-American experience, and that’s not lost on the participants,” Lesser explained. The Seder, he noted, is “a moment to reflect on justice and themes of redemption and freedom in biblical, historical and present contexts.” Despite the addition, the Seder is decidedly nonpolitical, though Chaudhary acknowledged that given its theme of liberation, “in a way, every Passover is a political discussion. Ours is also like that, but no more so.” The evening he said, includes “a bit of argument, a bit of figuring it all out and time to get together.” For its three originators, it’s also a kind of homecoming. All have moved on to jobs outside of politics. But each Passover, Chaudhary said, “it’s very comforting and very familial and very familiar.” As in other family Seders, participants have taken on specific roles over the years. Chaudhary jokingly calls himself the crazy uncle. “I always make a big speech about the Hillel sandwich,” he said. “It was a major breakthrough in Passover technology and predates the Earl of Sandwich.” (The earl is often credited with inventing the sandwich.) Ziskend takes charge of breaking the first matzo and hiding the afikomen each year. “It’s no different than you hiding it at your grandmother’s house, except there’s a Secret Service person watching you stash it away. And the house is a bit bigger,” he said. Malia and Sasha Obama recite the Four Questions. They also hunt down the afikomen in exchange for small gifts -- like a rubber chicken for their dog, Bo, and bottles of nail polish -- instead of money. “It’s a great honor, but it’s become like [a] Seder we have at home,” Ziskend said. The White House staff adds important touches to preserve that atmosphere. There is, for example, the 1950s-era Seder plate complete with cartoonlike drawings from Chaudhary’s mother-in-law, instead of a fancy silver or crystal option. But the most notable staff effort is the food. The menu consists of recipes submitted by Seder participants. Cristeta Comerford, the White House’s executive chef, re-creates them, incorporating produce from the White House garden when possible. “It is always challenging to duplicate a grandmother’s recipe,” Comerford said. “Their years of expertise cooking a traditional recipe passed down from generation to generation is quite tough to duplicate.” According to Lesser, Comerford succeeds. The first time he tucked into his family’s carrot soufflé at the Seder, it was a “jarring experience,” Lesser recalled. “I’m sitting in the dining room of the White House, with portraits of first ladies and a beautiful setting and… I had a flashback to the house I grew up in.” Previous Seders have also featured a roast chicken breast recipe from Ziskend’s grandmother, and a rich matzo ball soup recipe from Patricia Winter, the mother of Seder attendee Melissa Winter, a deputy assistant to the president and senior adviser to the first lady. This year’s menu will include brisket and kugel, along with new matzo ball soup and haroset recipes. The haroset recipe, courtesy of Patricia Winter, includes apples, walnuts, ginger and Manischewitz wine. “Of course,” said Melissa Winter, “[my mother] thinks I should go down to the White House kitchen before the Seder to taste it and make sure it’s just right.” Lesser Family Carrot Souffle Winter Family Haroset Ziskend Family Matzo Ball Soup Ziskend Family Chick Roast Recipe Raspberry Genache Marjolaine Originally published by the Forward. Contact Devra Ferst at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @devraferst

Выбор редакции
25 марта 2013, 11:00

Camberwell fire inquest nears verdict

Jury deliberating on narrative verdict over deaths of six people in tower block blaze in south London in 2009One of the most complex and drawn out inquests of recent years will conclude this week, bringing not just the hope of answers for the relatives of six people killed in Britain's worst ever tower block fire but also, it seems likely, urgent and potentially far-reaching recommendations to prevent similar events in the future.Three young children were among those who died when a fire swept through Lakanal House, a 1958-built block in Camberwell, south London, on 3 July 2009. While other residents fled the 14-storey building, the six remained sheltering inside their flats, some on the advice of 999 operators, where they were overcome by smoke and heat.After a three-and-a-half year delay, bitterly condemned by relatives and caused in part by police investigations into possible corporate manslaughter charges, the inquest began in January with testimony about those who died: Dayana Francisquini, 26, her children, Felipe, three, and Thais, six; Helen Udoaka and her baby daughter, Michelle, aged 20 days; and Catherine Hickman, a 31-year-old fashion designer.Led by a judge, Frances Kirkham, rather than a coroner, the inquest heard 10 weeks of at times troubling evidence. A key issue was whether those killed could have survived if they had been urged to flee rather than shelter. The advice to stay put is based on the theory that fires remain contained within individual flats. However, the Lakanal blaze moved unusually quickly and in unexpected ways.Within half an hour of the first 999 call, from the occupant of the ninth-storey flat where the blaze began, the fire had spread to several other floors, moving downwards as well as up, something so unusual that transcripts show emergency operators initially refused to believe it was happening.Fire experts told the jury it was partly caused by renovations to the block in the 1980s, during which vital fire-stopping sections between flats and corridors were removed. Later work to replace windows in the block in 2006 and 2007 used PVC-based panels with minimal fire resistance, something the experts said greatly helped the blaze to spread. Southwark council, which owns the block, did not seek building control for this work as was required, the inquest learned.The jury heard that a change in the law in 2006 meant Southwark was responsible for fire safety checks at its flats, but by July 2009 the council had carried out no such checks at Lakanal or any other residential blocks. It had, however, managed to carry out the checks at buildings where its own staff worked.There was also some evidence of chaos in the firefighting operation, with six changes of incident commander, one of whom was in charge for three minutes.One fire watch manager, John Howling, was asked why he did not send out search teams after certain flat numbers were mentioned to him repeatedly. Among them was Hickman's flat 71, directly above the source of the fire. During a long and increasingly panicked phone call with an emergency operator, Hickman yelled that flames were at the door and that something had fallen on her from the ceiling, before eventually falling silent. Howling said: "It was an enormous amount of information I was trying to absorb and process."Kirkham has instructed the jury, who began their deliberations late last week, to record a narrative verdict, guiding them to look into issues such as confusion among fire teams and the renovations to the block. It appears likely she will then make her own recommendations about fire safety in high-rise blocks, which could have significant repercussions for social landlords.Finally, the verdict will bring some element of a halt to almost four years of agony for those who lost loved ones, a typically mixed south London group comprising people with origins in Brazil, Nigeria and Hampshire. Rafael Cervi, Francisquini's husband, told the jury he had lost "everything that I built, everything that I dream of" with the death of his wife and the two children.The inquest heard how the horror was spread widely: one firefighter, Christopher Rose, broke down as he described finding the tiny body of Michelle Udoaka in a smoke-filled bathroom and how he had been forced to take seven months off work with post-traumatic stress.LondonPeter Walkerguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

15 марта 2013, 05:46

Damning Report Slams Bank's Top Execs

A scathing report released by a Senate panel Thursday shows the financial crisis never really abated: The forces that delivered it -- a toxic combination of reckless speculation, balance sheet manipulation and outright disdain for regulators -- remained fully at work inside the biggest bank of them all, JPMorgan Chase, as recently as last spring. The 300-page report, which unfolds in tones worthy of an indictment, says JPMorgan executives brazenly misled and bullied their regulators, going so far as to call them "stupid." This, the report concludes, explains how a bet engineered by a trader called the London Whale for his enormous, market-moving positions burgeoned into losses reaching $6.2 billion. Chief executive Jamie Dimon initially dismissed the Whale losses as a “tempest in a teapot.” "In contrast to JPMorgan Chase’s reputation for best-in-class risk management, the whale trades exposed a bank culture in which risk limit breaches were routinely disregarded, risk metrics were frequently criticized or downplayed, and risk evaluation models were targeted by bank personnel seeking to produce artificially lower capital requirements," the report concludes. The top in-house regulator at JPMorgan, from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, told the Senate subcommittee that it was "very common" for the bank to push back on examiner filings and recommendations. The regulator recalled one instance in which bank executives yelled at OCC examiners and derided them as “stupid.” "The bank's initial claims that its risk managers and regulators were fully informed and engaged ... were fictions irreconcilable with the bank’s obligation to provide material information to its investors in an accurate manner," says the report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The report traces responsibility for JPMorgan’s trading fiasco to its highest offices, all the way to CEO Dimon. A JPMorgan spokeswoman rejected the report’s findings, maintaining that the bank has consistently been truthful to regulators and the public about the state of its balance sheet and overall health. "While we have repeatedly acknowledged mistakes, our senior management acted in good faith and never had any intent to mislead anyone,” Jennifer Zuccarelli, a spokeswoman for the bank, said in a statement. “We know we have made many mistakes related to the CIO matter, and we have already identified many of the issues cited in the report. We have taken significant steps to remediate these issues and to learn from them." The report is likely to intensify calls to finalize the so-called Volcker Rule, aimed at limiting trades that banks make for their own benefit. Inside JPMorgan, the loss-making trade was the handiwork of the Chief Investment Office -- a unit officially described as a source of hedging -- investments that diminished the risks on the institution by balancing its positions. But hedging was merely a euphemism, the report asserts, describing the CIO as a locus of increasingly speculative trading made for no reason other than to amplify the bank’s potential profits. Regulators reviewing the CIO’s trades after the blowup described the portfolio as a “make believe voodoo magic composite hedge,” the sub-committee report notes. The Senate report, the most detailed and damning examination of the Whale trading to date, promises to revive the controversy over Dimon's stewardship of the bank, and the ability of regulators to keep tabs on the nation's biggest financial institutions. It comes on the eve of eagerly-awaited Senate testimony by Ina Drew, who resigned as head of JPMorgan's Chief Investment Office after the Whale bet soured. The trade involved outsized bets by one trader, Bruno Iksil, on financial instruments known as credit default swaps. The trade tarnished Dimon's once-sterling reputation as Wall Street's savviest leader. The report cites emails, documents, instant message conversations and recorded telephone conversations between high-level JPMorgan employees. The Senate subcommittee collected nearly 90,000 documents, according to the report. Key JPMorgan executives claimed to be in the dark about the London Whale losses or downplayed them, even after Drew ordered the trades stopped on March 23, 2012, according to the report. John Hogan, JPMorgan's chief risk officer, told the Senate subcommittee that the first media reports about the losses in April surprised him and that the portfolio was not on his radar in an "alarming way" before then. The report reveals the thoughts of those most closely involved with the trade, including Iskil and Drew. In February 2012, JPMorgan asked the CIO’s office to document the ongoing losses and provide an explanation. The bank specifically asked the traders in that group to mark their losses in a way that would look good to investors. Iksil told the Senate subcommittee he wrote to his superiors he was attempting to reduce paper losses “as much as I can in a bleeding book." In a phone conversation on March 16, Iksil said to a junior trader: “I can’t keep this going ... I don’t know where he wants to stop but it’s getting idiotic.” On March 9, 2012, in a recorded conversation with Iksil, a junior trader said, “we’re lagging,” predicting “a big fiasco” and “big drama when, in fact, everybody should have ... seen it coming a long time ago. Anyway, you see, we cannot win here. ... I believe that it is better today that it’s dead, that we are going to crash. The firm will service the debt. ... It’s going to be very uncomfortable but we must not screw up. … It’s going to be very political in the end.” By the time Drew ordered traders to stop trading on March 23, emails and recorded phone conversations show, the traders were describing the portfolio as “huge” and “more and more monstrous.” Publicly, the bank was taking a very different tack. On April 13, Douglas Braunstein, then JPMorgan's chief financial officer, said on an earnings call with analysts and investors that the bank was "very comfortable with our positions." UPDATE: 9:52 p.m. -- The Office of Comptroller of the Currency released a statement, saying it recognizes "that there were shortcomings in the OCC supervision leading up to and responding to the unfolding events" in the bank's Chief Investment Office." The statement continues: As the bank revealed the true nature of the CIO operation and the level of loss exposure, the Comptroller escalated the agency’s response and ordered a two-pronged review into the bank’s actions as well as the OCC’s. As a result of that review, we have taken specific steps to improve our supervisory process across the large complex financial institutions we supervise.

11 марта 2013, 14:31

Why Is This The Quitting Generation?

By the time Kai Nagata got out of the pool, the iPhone on his towel was vibrating out of control. A half hour earlier, before taking a night swim in July, 2011, at a public park in Kitchener, he had tweeted the following: After careful reflection, I've decided to leave my job at CTV. You can read more at www.kainagata.com— Kai Nagata (@kainagata) July 8, 2011 He linked it to his website, where he posted a 3,000-word manifesto explaining his resignation as the media company's Quebec bureau chief. The post – a musing on the moral shortcomings of TV journalism ("there was a growing gap between the reporter I played on TV, and the person I really am and want to become") – went viral. After publishing it, Nagata began receiving constant tweets, text messages and e-mails, some deriding him as a coward, others lauding him as a hero. By the time he had reached his next destination, London, Ont., and met a friend at a bar, his phone had died because of the non-stop vibrations. In the next few weeks, Nagata would receive 1,000 e-mails, 2,500 Twitter messages and 1,500 comments on his post, not to mention retweets from the likes of Margaret Atwood and Roger Ebert and personal e-mails from Elizabeth May and Michael Ignatieff. Nagata hadn't just quit his job at CTV, he had become the poster boy for the debate around Millennial attitudes towards the workplace. Millennials, loosely defined as those born after 1980, aren't afraid of quitting their jobs (full disclosure: I am one). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation Y is expected to stay in jobs for just over two years, about half the amount of time spent by the current average worker. Seventy per cent of recent graduates reported leaving their first jobs within two years, according to Experience.com's recent "Life After College" survey. While this tendency to flee may seem baffling -- considering that young people graduated into a job market devastated by the 2007-2008 financial downturn and are increasingly taking on more student debt -- economic turmoil actually helped spawn a generation of quitters. Many Millennials are forced to take jobs outside their field of study with which they quickly grow impatient and leave at the next best opportunity. Remember, this is a generation that has no company loyalty and was raised by boomer parents who told them "you can be whatever you want to be." Financial turmoil is just a bump on the road to the dream job they deserve. Story continues below slideshow When Rema Gouyez graduated from journalism school in 2011, she was terrified. She kept hearing from professors and journalists how it was the worst time to be job hunting. And they were right. Millennials were the group hit hardest by the latest recession, whose effects still taint the job market. According to #GenerationFlux, a study released last year by Community Foundations of Canada, more than half the jobs that disappeared during the economic downturn were for Millennials aged 15 to 24, and the youth unemployment rate is now 14 per cent compared with 11 per cent before the recession. A recent survey of Millennials commissioned by HuffPost Canada found that the generation's biggest challenges was the ability to find a quality job. Meanwhile, student debt levels continue to grow – in 2010, almost 60 per cent of university grads owed an average of $20,000 to 30,000 in debt. Gouyez, who was born in Britain, was even worse off: she had the Canadian equivalent of $50,000 in debt from the City University London and was having no luck finding work in her field. Her mother, a Moroccan immigrant who worked her way from a cleaner to a biomedical scientist after coming to Canada, was "a bit of a snob" about jobs. She would tell her daughter: "I don't want you to do anything you're not good enough for," which to Gouyez was looking increasingly more likely. After applying for jobs in London, she decided it would be easier to find a journalism job in Toronto, where she had done an exchange during her third year at school. That was just as hopeless. After a few months, Gouyez had heard nothing back, until a friend offered to help her land a job as an event planner for the historic distillery district in downtown Toronto. Gouyez jumped at the opportunity. "It wasn't even a case of I thought I could enjoy it," she said. "It was literally just to be able to pay the bills." According to #GenerationFlux, a third of 25 to 29-year-olds with a college or university degree move into low-skilled occupations after graduating, though they rarely stay in them for long. Although Gouyez at least wasn't working at McDonald's, after four months she grew bored of organizing events for small corporate clients, booking rooms and co-ordinating menus. "Once I learned [the work], there was nowhere to progress," she said. "I was losing my mind and thought ‘I can't do this anymore.'" Her mom was also hounding her to "stop wasting her time," so after four months, Gouyez started a job search, applying for three jobs a week. After two months, all she had got was an interview at a fashion magazine. Desperate, when an opportunity came up to be the marketing co-ordinator for a boutique merchant bank that funds resource projects, Gouyez took it. "I had no interest in the mining industry," she said, "but I thought it would be a great stepping stone into a marketing position. I just wanted that title on my résumé to further my career." She "hated it" and quit after three months to work as the digital marketing co-ordinator at Benefit Cosmetics, where she has been since July 2012. That's three jobs in just over a year and a half. Rema Gouyez is now working in her third job in a year and a half For many Millennials, giving themselves the pink slip is a golden ticket to career growth. According to research done last year by the Harvard Business Review, 95 per cent of high achievers around the age of 30 leave companies after 28 months and regularly watch for potential employers. Instead of staying at companies that dictate after how many years an employee can be promoted, get a raise and – gasp! – from where and for how long they must work, Gen Y simply looks for a new opportunity. With every career jump she has made, Rebecca Thorman has received a minimum 20 per cent wage increase (a typical raise is 2-to-3 per cent). Like hipster fashion, her résumé is cool because it is mismatched: Her first job after graduating in 2005 from interior design and environmental studies from a college in Madison, Wisc., was at an eco-consulting firm where she had interned. She lasted half a year before her next job as a fundraiser at St. Vincent de Paul. Thorman then decided she wanted to apply as the organization's development director, but her bosses said that at 21, she was too young. Wrong answer. Rather than wait, Thorman quit to work as executive director at Madison Magnet, a networking group of young professionals and a company that thought she was old enough for the title. In the past four years, Thorman has switched jobs twice more, first to work as director at Alice.com, an e-commerce site for household products, and most recently at Speek.com, a D.C.-based company that manages conference calls. "I've built a portfolio career because I don't perceive the employer as loyal anymore," she said. "I've taken that loyalty upon myself rather than rely on an employer that could care less about me or an elusive dream job to give me satisfaction." It wasn't supposed to be this dramatic. Two days before quitting his job, Nagata pulled out of his driveway in Quebec City to begin a six-week road trip during which he would contemplate his future. He had asked his boss for a leave of absence since after two years in the broadcast world – first at CBC and then at CTV – Nagata was feeling burned out. The then 24-year-old had started working in the industry soon after graduating in 2008, and caught a series of lucky breaks that eventually resulted in the job running political coverage from Quebec City. But Nagata had slowly been building up to a breaking point – exhaustion from overtime, deadline pressures and physical demands (he once herniated a disk in his back and was off the job for six weeks) and mental frustration with the way the corporate agenda of his company determined which stories were covered and how. Objectively, it was a dream job, but Nagata didn't feel right about his work. He had been driving on the highway for two hours in his 2007 Ford Ranger when his cellphone rang. It was his boss, calling to inform Nagata that he no longer had a six week leave of absence. CTV was no longer comfortable allowing him to soul search with no assurance he would stay with the company. Nagata had 72 hours to make up his mind. (Nagata's manager needed his decision in 72 hours.) After the call, he stared out on to the road and realized the corporate pressure made his decision easier: Did he want to work for a company that views its human capital purely as moneymakers? No. He thought about freedom. A life without HR and cubicles. As Nagata drove to his first stop in Gatineau, he contemplated how to make his exit. *** Believing that you would work for one company your entire career was the norm 30 years ago, but that was before "corporate" became such a dirty word. Growing up, many Millennials had family members who were affected by mass layoffs in the in the 1980s and 1990s and the erosion of benefits such as pensions, all of which planted the seed of distrust in youth. Stan Smith, who worked as the national director for Cross Generation Initiatives at Deloitte LLP for almost a decade, saw during a series of focus groups with 14 to 24-year-olds in 2006 how distrust of companies had spread like a pandemic among American Millennials. In both liberal-minded cities such as San Francisco and conservative places such as Greenville, S.C., all kids raised their hands when asked whether they had family members who had been laid off by companies. The kids said that, though they wanted to trust companies and ideally have multiple roles at one place, they were skeptical that employers could be loyal to them. "They had seen the way their grandparents and uncles and aunts were treated by corporations and they didn't like it," Smith said. "The pain it caused their families – they saw no reason to trust businesses." The fact that so few managers are willing to adapt in ways that accommodate Millennials' views means that Gen Y's negative attitude persists. INFOGRAPHIC: Expand There is no doubt that young people have high expectations of their workplace, a fact that often leads them to be dubbed "entitled." It's easy to mock this quest for meaning for its sanctimonious quality, epitomized by a line that Lena Dunham's character in the HBO series "Girls" delivers to her parents over a tense dinner: "...I am busy – trying to become who I am." Yet Generation Y has some concrete demands from the workplace that managers would be wise to heed. Smith's research found that 79 per cent of Millennials consider a "good" company to be one that invests in its employees, community and the environment. Forty per cent of North American MBA grads say they would sacrifice almost $14,000 a year to work at a company that prized corporate social responsibility, according to a study done by Stanford University. They also want to feel personally challenged. "A lot of workplaces just kind of put you into your spot in the system and expect you to stay there," Thorman said. "But I think Gen Y wants to have control and touch every piece of the workplace." The conflicts between Millennials and management have created a niche of literature filled with titles such as Motivating the "What's In It For Me" Workforce and >i?Not Everyone Gets a Trophy. According to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 61 per cent of chief executives say they have trouble recruiting and integrating younger employees, a fact that does not surprise Smith. "Older bosses think they have to run a business and have no time to communicate with young people," he said. "They ask me how to work with kids, and I say ‘you have to talk with them.'" Beth N. Carver, a consultant who has delved into exit interviews, found the two biggest reasons young people leave their jobs are a lack of both training opportunities and mentors. When Craig Alexander, the senior vice-president and chief economist at TD (and a member of Gen X) interviews young people to work on his team of 13 economists, they inevitably ask about mentoring. While he has invested in coaching as a result, many managers that Alexander encounters are reluctant to invest in employees who are likely to leave. "My question is always: ‘What if you don't invest in these skills and they stay?'" he said. "If you only have them for a few years then you've had a smart person contributing to your output for several years. That's a better outcome than hiring someone mediocre who is going to stay with you for a long time." And a company's investing in those skills might lead to the unthinkable: a Gen Y employee might actually stick around. For the first time in her short career, Gouyez feels loyal to an employer. She now works as the digital marketing coordinator for Benefit Cosmetics, a job that satisfies many Millennial needs: "Before, I had managers yelling at me or telling me I'm doing this or that wrong," she said. "Here, I'm more like the manager of my own digital department. Knowing that is really encouraging and pushes me to work harder." She is allowed to show personality on the company's social media accounts and enjoys the positive work atmosphere – employees are given points for making each other laugh. When she thinks of career growth, it's within the company. As for Nagata, he is now working as a freelancer in his hometown of Vancouver and believes that leaving CTV was the best decision he has made. "The last year and a half has been a long, unbroken exercise in figuring out what I'm not good at," he said. "I can think with some realism now about what I want to do well and how I can apply that to my larger goals about who I want to be." He admits to having alienated some people in his profession with his blog post ("I burned ... no, I blew my bridges into the stratosphere," he said in a recent interview with Vancouver Magazine) but says most of the criticisms revealed people's own insecurities and anger. "I didn't like being used as ammo for tired attacks against young people for somehow being clued out to their own privilege or having the temerity to want to work for people they respect and respect them back," he said. "Just because most people don't find themselves in a position where they can make the decision to quit doesn't mean it's okay." Shortly after posting the blog, Nagata returned to Vancouver and became a writer-in-residence for the independent website the Tyee. He filmed a documentary that he released online about a blind lute player who jumped motorcycles. He grew a beard. He continued to maintain his website, where he voices the opinions he couldn't in mainstream media (see his ethical oil rap, for example). Late one morning on a weekday in January, Nagata was being picked up by his friend to shoot a film, the subject of which he refused to divulge. "I'm rattling around in a 1992 Ford Ranger with video equipment." he said. "It seems to be a theme in my life. Would I go back to an office job? Yeah. I mean, absolutely, if the conditions were right. I don't have some sort of philosophical opposition. If something comes along with people I respect and a job I think I'd be useful at then, yeah. Why not?"

05 марта 2013, 07:53

Colorado Lawmakers Advance Gun Control Bills

DENVER — Firearm restrictions pitched by Colorado Democrats advanced Monday, as the battle over them intensified with hundreds of gun rights supporters cramming the state Capitol and circling the building all day with car horns blaring. Inside, the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords urged lawmakers to pass universal background checks and victims of mass shootings in Connecticut and a suburban Denver movie theater pleaded for more gun controls. Colorado has become a focus point in the national debate over what new laws, if any, are needed to prevent gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings, including an attack at a suburban Denver movie theater last summer – a massacre that brought to mind the Columbine High School shooting of 1999 for many in the state and across the nation. Lawmakers in the politically moderate state are considering a package of gun control measures, including plans that would limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and expand background checks to include private sales and online purchases. Both measures cleared Democratic-controlled committees on 3-2 party-line votes but still need approval from the full Senate, which could debate the bills as soon as this week. Retired astronaut and Navy captain Mark Kelly told lawmakers that he and his wife support the Second Amendment, but he said the right to bear arms shouldn't extend to criminals and the mentally ill. Kelly compared the different background check requirements for private and retail sales to having two different lines at the airport, one with security and one without. "Which one do you think the terrorist is going to choose?" he asked. Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman from Tucson, Ariz., was severely wounded in a mass shooting in January 2011 while meeting with constituents. Gun control opponents say the proposals will not reduce violence. They say lawmakers should focus on strengthening access to mental health services for people who could be dangerous to communities. The bill hearings were at times testy, and included some outbursts from the audience. After one bill passed, someone leaving the committee yelled "That sucks!" to lawmakers. "I've never seen such unprofessional behavior," Democratic Sen. Irene Aguilar told the audience at one point. Meanwhile, gun rights advocates complained that lawmakers limited testimony time and many didn't have a chance to speak on proposals. The commotion at the Capitol underscored the attention the debate has generated nationally from gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association, to victims' families and White House officials. Several bills before state senators already have cleared the House. And because Democrats control both chambers of the state Legislature, some of the proposals have a strong chance of passing. Other measures that picked up initial Senate approval would place new restrictions on gun ownership by people convicted in domestic violence cases, and another requires gun buyers to pay for their own background checks. The state's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, supports magazine limits and expanded background checks. He hasn't indicated where he stands on other measures, including whether he supports a proposal that would hold sellers and owners of assault weapons liable for shootings by such firearms. Gun rights supporters walked the Capitol halls wearing stickers that read, "I Vote Pro-Gun." Several dozen people outside the Capitol waved American flags as light snow fell, and a small plane flew overhead carrying a banner with a message for the governor, "HICK: DO NOT TAKE OUR GUNS!" One of the nation's largest producers of ammunition magazines, Colorado-based Magpul, has threatened to leave the state if lawmakers restrict the size of its products. Its founder said smaller magazines can be easily connected to each other and the company fears it would legally liable if people were to do that. About 20 Colorado sheriffs opposed the expanded background checks and the magazine limits. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of lawmakers in committee, they said that both bills were unenforceable. "This bill just doesn't make any sense from our perspective," Pueblo Sheriff Kirk Taylor said about the bill to limit magazine sizes. Victims who have lost relatives to gun violence say it's time for legislators to take action. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was among the 12 killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, was among the people urging lawmakers to pass magazine restrictions. "He was enjoying the movie one second, and then the next second he was dead," Tom Sullivan said. Jane Dougherty, whose sister, Mary Sherlach, was a psychologist killed in the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has been lobbying Colorado lawmakers to pass new gun laws. She said she doesn't understand gun owners who worry the bills are putting a burden on their rights. She said the Connecticut shooter used "the same type of weapon that we use in war" to "slaughter these babies" and asked lawmakers for stricter gun laws. "We cannot wait for yet another massacre to transpire," Dougherty said. ___ Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed. ___ Ivan Moreno is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ivanjourno

02 марта 2013, 16:37

We need a surreal fantasist like Beppe Grillo to rescue Italy, says Nobel-winning playwright Dario Fo

The author tells Tom Kington in Rome that the comedian, who finds himself kingmaker of the Italian government, is taking his cues from medieval comics who bedevilled the powerfulWhat makes Beppe Grillo tick? After a quarter of Italians voted for his brand of populist insurgency in last week's general election, it is a question preoccupying the country's political class and much of the eurozone. According to Italy's most distinguished playwright and prominent Grillo supporter, the answer is simple."Grillo is like a character in one of my plays," says Dario Fo, whose satires on medieval and modern life have seen him handed a Nobel prize and hounded off Italian stages in a career that has covered 50 years. "He is from that school of medieval minstrels who played with paradox and the absurd," adds Fo.Fo, 86, is best known for his play Accidental Death of an Anarchist, inspired by the death of a man in police custody in 1969, and has long been a leftwing hero in Italy. He publicly backed Grillo this year, co-writing a book on the comedian's fledgling political movement and giving him a ringing endorsement at a packed rally in Milan's Piazza Duomo days before the election.In return, Grillo, 64, suggested that Fo be nominated as the next president of Italy, an offer that the playwright turned down.The high-profile backing contributed to a campaign that achieved an astonishing momentum. As a result of the 8.7 million votes Grillo received, his movement is now the biggest single party in the chamber of deputies, which makes him a kingmaker in a hung parliament.After building a cult following through his blog, which denounced the austerity drive of the former prime minister, Mario Monti, and dubbed ex-president Silvio Berlusconi "a saliva salesman" and "the psycho-dwarf", Grillo's breakthrough before the election came when middle-class professionals started to see him as the best way to express their alienation from Italy's self-perpetuating political class.Experts and analysts have been drumming up ideas about new political paradigms in Italy ever since. Journalists mobbed Grillo all last week for clues as to what comes next. His only response so far has been to refuse an offer from Italy's centre-left Democratic party to work together in parliament, using characteristically earthy language to describe the party's leader Pier Luigi Bersani as an "arse face". On Saturday he said he would accept a centre-left alliance with Berlusconi, only to add "they will never do it."For Fo, the key to understanding Grillo is not in 21st-century Italy but in the 13th century, when storytellers – giullari – roamed Italy, entertaining crowds in piazzas with lewd and ancient tales interwoven with satirical attacks on local potentates."In English the equivalent word is 'juggler', but in Italy they juggled with words, irony and sarcasm," says Fo, who has attended Grillo's shows for years.Grillo rose to fame mixing comedy routines with references to political scandals in the towns he was playing in, a straight lift from his medieval peers."He is from the tradition of the wise storyteller, one who knows how to use surreal fantasy, who can turn situations around, who has the right word for the right moment, who can transfix people when he speaks, even in the rain and the snow," explains Fo.At one rain-soaked pre-election rally in Viterbo, in Lazio, central Italy, Grillo yelled: "Put down your umbrellas, I want to look you in the face." The crowd duly obeyed the comedian's demand.Even the internet-based forums where Grillo's followers argue over policy have their roots in the Middle Ages, argues Fo. He says: "We had extremely democratic town councils in medieval Italy which knew the value of working together and every now and then, down the centuries, this spirit returns."Grillo's focus on the web followed his ejection from Italian state TV in the 1980s after he made fun of corrupt Italian Socialist politicians, a few years before many of them were rounded up during Italy's Clean Hands probe.His TV ban was part of a proud tradition, says Fo. "Nothing has changed since the Emperor Frederick II issued a decree in the 13th century against giullari who criticised power."Fo himself was thrown off state TV in 1951 after he adapted biblical tales as political satire, the start of a series of run-ins with Italy's fascists, communists and the Vatican as his radical theatre group challenged taboos.By 2004, Fo was being sued by an associate of Berlusconi after he staged a satire that poked fun at Berlusconi's small stature. "Every time you touch those who have power over the media, they seek to stop you," he says.As a young man in Milan during the second world war, Fo helped his father – a resistance fighter – smuggle escaped British prisoners of war into Switzerland and his memories flooded back when he was invited on stage by Grillo at the Milan rally."The end of the war was the last time I saw that piazza filled with the same joy, with people changing their way of thinking about politics," he says.Fo draws a parallel between Grillo's Five Star Movement's attack on Italy's privileged political class and the activists he worked with in the late 1960s. "Back then, people were also realising the importance of culture, of schools, and a generation of Italian singer-songwriters were giving voice to that."The difference is that those artists never held the balance of power in Italy as Grillo does, with 162 deputies and senators under his movement's control in parliament. Now, after his election triumph, Grillo faces the challenges of real politics.The first came last week when thousands of supporters urged him to form a functioning government with the centre-left leader, Bersani, who needs his backing in the senate to reach a majority."It is not easy, the Democratic party treated Grillo with disrespect, called him a fascist, a buffoon, but now they are offering their hand," says Fo, who is actively encouraging Grillo to negotiate, meaning that a playwright and a comic were making Italy's political headlines at the end of the week.In Sicily, where the Democratic party runs the regional council but Grillo's movement is the biggest party, the two have formed a cagey alliance. "This is the model, it is working," explains Fo.The real trap for Grillo, warns Fo, is being beguiled by flattery. Turning again to history, he cites Cola Di Rienzo, the charismatic son of a tavern owner in the 14th century who wooed Romans with his oratory and became the city's leader, setting his sights high and ousting corrupt noble families, only to see his support slip away before he was murdered by a mob as he sought to flee in disguise."I have seen the glowing press for Grillo and he must be careful not to fall for the adulation, it's a honey-like trap."Beppe GrilloItalyMario MontiDario FoTom Kingtonguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

28 февраля 2013, 14:28

You can't change everything or everyone, but you can change the people who matter

Marketing is about change--changing people's actions, perceptions or the conversation. Successful change is almost always specific, not general. You don't have a chance to make mass change, but you can make focused change. The challenge of mass media was how to run ads that would be seen by just about everyone and have those ads pay off. That problem is gone, because you can no longer run an ad that reaches everyone. What a blessing. Now, instead of yelling at the masses, the marketer has no choice but to choose her audience. Perhaps not even with an ad, but with a letter, or a website or with a product that speaks for itself. And yet, our temptation is to put on a show for everyone, to dream of bestseller lists and the big PR win. So the first, most important question is, "who do we want to change?" If you can't answer this specifically, do not proceed to the rest. By who, I mean, "give me a name." Or, if you can't give me a name, then a persona, a tribe, a spot in the hierarchy, a set of people who share particular worldviews. People outside this group should think you're crazy, or at the very least, ignore you. Then, be really clear about: What does he already believe? What is he afraid of? What does he think he wants? What does he actually want? What stories have resonated with him in the past? Who does he follow and emulate and look up to? What is his relationship with money? What channel has his permission? Where do messages that resonate with him come from? Who does he trust and who does he pay attention to? What is the source of his urgency—why will he change now rather than later? After he has changed, what will he tell his friends? Now that you know these things, go make a product and a service and a story that works. No fair changing the answers to the questions to match the thing you've already made (you can change the desired audience, but you can't change the truth of what they want and believe).

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21 февраля 2013, 00:45

Germany Warns Against "Silvio the Savior" (And That May Backfire); Fake Horse Race Odds Get Around Blackouts

Italians head to the polls on February 24-25 to replace the technocrat government of prime minister Mario Monti. Pier Luigi Bersani, who heads the centre-left Bene Commune (Common Good) coalition was considered a shoo-in a few short weeks ago, at least in the Chamber (the lower house of parliament). It's all up in the air now as Silvio Berlusconi, head of the centre-right Il Popolo della Libertà (the People of Freedom) has staged a massive rally in the polls (now blacked out). Berlusconi has been on a rampage lately blaming Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel for the unemployment problems in Italy. It's a populist message that is resonating well with voters. Beppe Grillo's Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) has been largely ignored in the Italian press, yet Grillo has been wildly popular at rallies. Grillo has a chance to come in second, and I would not be surprised by a first place finish. Mario Monti, who heads the centrist Con Monti per l’Italia (With Monti for Italy) coalition, is running a very distant 4th. "Fare per Fermare il Declino" (literally "Act to Stop the Decline", acronym FiD), is a primarily Libertarian party founded less than a year ago but until a recent stumble had been gaining enough steam to possibly overtake Monti. For further analysis of FiD and the other parties, please see European Reader Offers Insights on Upcoming Italian ElectionPoll Blackouts Officially, pollsters cannot post poll results in a blackout period before the election. That blackout period started February 9. Here is a snapshot of the polls on February 8. Those results are misleading because they do not include undecided voters, and the undecided vote is a whopping 20-25 percent! With such little difference between Berlusconi and Bersani, and with huge rallies for Beppe Grillo and Berlusconi, any outcome is possible. Will Grillo take votes from Berlusconi or Bersani (or both). If enough of both I could even envision a win. If he takes more votes from Bersani, then Berlusconi is likely to win. From my experience, late deciders break in a massive way for one candidate or the other (and in the US election I predicted for Obama). Here, it appears against Bersani (to who is more uncertain).Fake Horse Race Odds Get Around Blackouts Adding more confusion rather than clarity, Yahoo!News reports Fake horse racing blog dodges Italy's election polls blackout A blog appears to have found a way around a publishing ban on polls in the two weeks before the vote by writing up the results of pretend "underground horse races", which appear to reflect each party's standing. On the final day polls could be published before the blackout fell, bloggers Andrea Mancia and Simone Bressan posted "The illegal races return!" on their site Notapolitica.it setting out the main "stables" and "jockeys" competing. In line with the last published official polls, the winning horses of Tuesday's "San Nicola Racetrack" came from the "Bien Comun" stables, a thinly disguised name for the centre-left "Italia Bene Comune" coalition. The centre right of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was shown coming in just 3.5 "seconds" behind.  Using a mix of puns and French, Notapolitica.it renders centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani as jockey "Pier le Smacchiateur" and Mario Monti as "Mario de la Montaigne". Berlusconi is dubbed "Burlesque". Horses representing Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement are referred to as "stellar", while the names of races allude to different pollsters. "San Walter Giuliano Racecourse", for example, appears to refer to research group SWG. It is difficult to say if those are official polling results or fictional. Assuming the polls are accurate (not an assumption I am ready to make), it is still difficult to know how undecided voters were handled.Germany Warns Against Berlusconi Of potentially more importance, Berlin Warns Italians against Berlusconi Here are a few examples from the story. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble reportedly said (but later denied) "Silvio Berlusconi may be an effective campaign strategist, but my advice to the Italians is not to make the same mistake again by re-electing him." Polenz, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said: "Italy needs political leaders who stand for the future. Berlusconi is certainly not one of them." One Italian bank even went so far this week as to issue a report arguing that a Berlusconi election would almost certainly force the country to apply for emergency bailout aid from the EU. Mediobanca, Italy's largest investment bank, wrote that "a last-minute Berlusconi victory would scare the market sufficiently to put pressure on the spread." "Silvio the Savior" In Italy, the opposite is happening. Spiegel reports Berlusconi's Faithful: 'Only Silvio Can Save Italy' Adoration of Berlusconi in Italy remains widespread. In the parallel universe occupied by his followers, there is no room for doubt about Berlusconi and lines are clearly drawn. Silvio is good and the others are bad. These fans gather at his speeches, like the Saturday rally in Palermo, where thousands crowded into the venerable Teatro Politeama. There were women in long fur coats and fine gentlemen in three-piece suits. Dock workers like Ferrante squeezed with them through the entrance, everyone pushing and shoving each other like adolescents at a rock concert. The hundreds who didn't make it in must stand outside. Silvio the Savior Fans of the 76-year-old ex-premier see him as more than just a beacon of hope. "Berlusconi will now start a revolution," says teacher Marinella Romano. She confesses "I have always loved Silvio." Donatella Catalano, a friendly retiree, gushes, "He stands for everything that is good in the world." The unemployed Ferrante says that "only Silvio can save Italy, he will bring us much good." Fully a quarter of Italians are prepared to vote for Berlusconi again. It is an astounding degree of homage paid to man who faces allegations of abuse of power and bribery; who faces the scandal surrounding the underage escort Karima el-Marough, alias Ruby Rubacuori; who has been blasted for blatantly misogynistic comments; and who broke many promises as prime minister. Instead, the opposition, left-leaning judges and even the Germans are blamed for all that is not right with Italy. "It was Merkel who toppled him," says retiree Catalano, referring to the German chancellor. She then turns to her neighbor and says: "It's better not to tell the man anything, because the Germans always write negatively about Berlusconi." Another voice yells: "First World War II and now attacks against Berlusconi!" The comments are not surprising. In almost every campaign speech, Berlusconi rails against Germany. "Should we continue to allow Germany to dictate policies that ruin Italy?" he calls out. "Nooooo!" scream his followers. Election Predictions It's difficult to judge from this side of the Atlantic, but things do not look good for a viable center-left coalition. At best, Bersani will win the Chamber and lose the Senate. That would likely result in a hung parliament. Anti-German sentiment in Italy is high already. The entrance of German politicians into the battle may fuel that sentiment in a major way. It is conceivable "Silvio the Savior" pulls off a stunning upset win in both the Chamber and Senate, but a Senate victory would still require a coalition (no party will come close to a majority). In theory, Movimento 5 Stelle and Silvio Berlusconi could form a nice anti-Euro coalition and put the Euro to a vote, but given the anti-political party platform of Movimento 5 Stelle it's hard to see that coalition forming. Indeed it may be difficult if not impossible for any party to form a Senate coalition if Monti's party does poorly enough (as I expect it will). The most likely outcome once again is a hung parliament, and the next most likely outcome may very well be a return of Silvio Berlusconi (rather than a weak center left coalition of some sort that most seem to expect). Regardless, Berlusconi is no savior (nor is there one to be found in the entire group). There are no good outcomes for Italy. Mike "Mish" Shedlock http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com Mike "Mish" Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. Sitka Pacific is an asset management firm whose goal is strong performance and low volatility, regardless of market direction. Visit http://www.sitkapacific.com/account_management.html to learn more about wealth management and capital preservation strategies of Sitka Pacific.

20 февраля 2013, 19:30

Bruce Fleming: How to Stop Sexual Assault at Military Service Academies: First, Legalize Sex

The day before the second semester of my 26th year as an English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, the Navy's two top men, the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, summoned the Academy's entire student body for a mandatory lecture about eliminating sexual assault at the Academy. Both told midshipmen they were "angry" at the content of the "Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies," released in December 2012, that showed a 23 percent spike in reported cases of sexual violence and assault at the service academies (even though those at USNA were the exception dropping in a year). There should be no reports of sexual violence at all, the midshipmen were told. The Academy's superintendent, a three-star admiral who functions as our president, and the commandant, a Navy Captain that is the equivalent of a Dean of Students for military matters, sprang into action. That very night a new rule was instituted: A Second Class midshipman (in civilian terms, a junior) patrols the halls of Bancroft Hall (the mandatory sleeps-all home to our 4,500 students) until after midnight to make sure nobody was being assaulted; a First Class (senior) then takes over until 6 a.m. This is ridiculous for many reasons. I don't know that there has ever been a case of someone being assaulted in the hallways, which are fully lit and full of students. It also means even less sleep in an institution that already insists against all evidence that it can teach students to function on a boat under sleep-deprived conditions by depriving them of sleep for their four years of college -- and then punishing them for "unprofessional" behavior when they nod off in class. (There are also suddenly mandatory musters in the middle of the night to ensure that students are really trying to sleep rather than do something else.) More fundamentally, this new policy renders more intense the atmosphere of fear and repression that has always ruled the service academies. Of course, as well as being unable to concentrate in class, the midshipmen are infuriated -- as I know by talking to several groups of them in the days that followed the abrupt tightening of the screws. Many of the men feel that they are being told that they are potential rapists; some of the women are groaning at the suggestion that they are, or should be, afraid of their male friends and classmates. "What's the problem?" one woman asked. "I don't feel afraid, and I don't know anybody who is." True sexual assault is of course a heinous crime and a big problem. But by and large the situation at Annapolis is not of this nature: Rather, there's a lot of sleazy but predictable young-adult behavior being made into something much worse by the over-reaction of the brass, and by their inability to draw distinctions between truly bad behavior and problems created by the unwillingness of a repressive system to acknowledge reality. Reportable behavior includes full-fledged sexual assault as well as "unwanted sexual contact" (which includes "unwanted touching of... sexually related areas of the body"). I'm not sure that "unwanted sexual contact" in whatever gender combination can ever be completely stamped out in a college populated by libidinal 18- to 21-year-olds where men and women live cheek by jowl in alternating rooms, and where up to four men or four women share a single room. However, I can tell the brass how to radically decrease it and reduce the tension among students to a manageable level: legalize sex at the service academies. Some readers will be puzzled: Am I saying that sex itself, of any sort, not just unwanted or of the assault variety, is forbidden at taxpayer-supported service academies? Yes. Everything is forbidden with any sexual overtones or content at all, starting with hand-holding and moving to consensual sexual intercourse. The midshipmen's short version of this is "no sex in the Hall" -- Bancroft Hall, their common dormitory. But actually the prohibition extends to all of the 338 (partly wooded) acres of Annapolis's campus, as it does to the Coast Guard Academy and the considerably larger estates of West Point and Air Force. We can reduce the problem with sexual assault by ceasing to police more normal varieties of sex. As it is, we make it impossible to show them what's wrong with unwanted sex when even wanted sex is against the rules. Because all sex is forbidden, we can't talk with them about distinguishing between okay and not-okay. All we can do is yell louder, threaten them with expulsion, create a hostile working environment (ironically, a punishable offense when expressed in sexual terms), make them even more resentful than they already are, and keep them up all night so they sleep through their taxpayer-supported $400,000 education. This is hugely destructive, and it also won't solve the problem it's designed to address. Young adults nowadays simply won't listen to older adults who are telling them that all sex is off limits. They tune it out. So let the brass "train" the midshipmen all they want. It won't help. The justification for this bizarre policy of wrap-around abstinence is always that sex is forbidden on ships under deployment or in a platoon underway and the service academies are practice for the military. In fact, a lot of sex happens on ships and on deployment -- as evidenced by the number of pregnancies that result from tours of duty. And by what strange logic do four years of college on dry land become comparable to a few weeks or months of deployment in the real military, a deployment that lets you go home when it's over? Besides, just the way you can't lessen the effects of sleep-deprivation by forcing students to practice it, so it seems unlikely that you can make short-term celibacy easier by mandating four years of enforced practice. Abstaining from sex makes sense under battle conditions or on deployment for short periods where the ship is going somewhere. It makes no sense for college. The mechanism the brass use to try and force this strange prohibition involves use of the so-called "general articles" of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), numbers 133 and 134. 133 outlaws "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" (and is also used to police officers in training, such as all service academy students are). 134 outlaws conduct that results in the "prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces" and also conduct that "brings discredit upon the armed forces." These can be used any way the brass wants to use them; before the repeal of DADT, they were used against gay servicemembers. Another article, the one forbidding sexual contact between officers and enlisted, has also been used to outlaw sexual contact between different enlisted ranks, as it is at the service academies. Each class year at the academies has a separate rank, rising (at USNA) from Midshipman 4th Class, or MIDN 4/C (freshmen, usually called plebes) to MIDN 1/C, seniors. Thus in addition to the prohibition on any sexual acts on campus, sex with plebes anywhere, any time (even off campus or on leave), is forbidden. Sex with the other ca. 150 people in your "company" (the student body is divided into 30 of these) is also forbidden. Thus if you think you might be interested in sex or romance with a company-mate, and it's otherwise legal (to repeat: never on Academy grounds), you have to get a so-called "love chit" and change companies before you date. What if you change companies (essentially moving in among strangers) and the first date changes your mind? Tough luck. Advocates of abstinence before marriage aside (our students can't marry), most people will probably agree that "no sex in college" is a hugely bizarre policy in 2013. Back in the day, these rules actually more or less made sense -- it's just that the world has changed and the military brass don't seem to have realized this. Before women were admitted to the academies in 1976 as a result of Congressional fiat (that the Academies fought until they had to accept), "no sex" was virtually a non-issue -- expressed only as a ban on gay sex, cause for expulsion from the military, not just the academies. And it wasn't the academies, or even the military, that criminalized gay sex: that was the doing of society. Thus sexual assault was not a separable issue, nor was "no sex." Now 20 percent of our student body is female, with an undeterminable percentage of out gays. Homosexual acts are no longer criminal in the world outside, and homosexual orientation is no longer grounds for dismissal from the military. But any sexual acts, in any combination(s) of men and women, are. Sex of any sort, a background issue before if an issue at all, as moved to center stage. Midshipmen are going to have sex with each other, or at least try. Our criminalizing all sex of any sort has tied our hands to any response but greater force and stronger punishments to sexual assault. We can't talk with the students to help them negotiate the line between permissible and impermissible sexual acts, simply because for us all are impermissible. Thus all we can do is talk at rather than with them, threaten them, increase penalties for infractions, "train" them incessantly, get them up in the middle of the night. The men increasingly see the female midshipmen as threats to their careers. "Stay away from the women," I've heard the men tell each other. As it is they call dating a female midshipman, even when it's legal, "going over to the dark side." So let's start by legalizing sex at the academies. This doesn't mean permitting all sex everywhere. The military strictures against "fraternization," "frat," are only a codified version of rules we try to observe in the civilian world: no bosses with subordinates, "I'm not interested" means "back off," hands off the interns, and so on. No people in authority positions taking advantage of that power, and sex in the workplace is never a good idea. Yet for most people students look the same, whether freshmen or seniors. We create distinctions that don't exist by defining each of the four years as a Navy rank. Let's change this or cease to use the UCMJ to police sex between them (the "general articles" are completely open-ended with regards to how they are used). Close quarters in Bancroft Hall? Let them live off campus after a year or two, and marry or co-habit as students at European academies (as well as our Canadian cousins) may do. We need to help them see that anywhere in the world, there are rules for sexual interaction. We can talk to midshipmen about the need to channel sexuality so society can function, what's okay and what's not, and why. Now we've lost them by forbidding normalcy and punishing its expression. A version of this post was originally published in the Atlantic.

20 февраля 2013, 05:12

McCain Town Halls Get Heated

BY CRISTINA SILVA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOENIX — Arizona took center stage in the national immigration debate Tuesday as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano toured the state's border with Mexico and Sen. John McCain defended his proposed immigration overhaul to an angry crowd in suburban Phoenix. The presence of the top officials is the latest sign that Arizona will play a prominent role in the immigration debate as President Barack Obama looks to make it a signature issue of his second term. Napolitano toured the border near Nogales with the highest-ranking official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the incoming chairman of the Senate's homeland security committee and an Arizona congressman. Napolitano, Arizona's former governor, said afterward that comprehensive immigration reform will strengthen the nation's border against criminals and other threats. Also Tuesday, McCain hosted two town hall meetings in Arizona, during which he defended his immigration plan to upset residents concerned about border security. A bipartisan group of senators – including Arizona Republicans McCain and Jeff Flake – want assurances on border security as Congress weighs what could be the biggest changes to immigration law in nearly 30 years. Arizona is the only state with both of its senators working on immigration reform in Congress, a sign of the state's widely debated border security issues. Immigration activists and elected officials say it's only natural for Arizona to continue to take the forefront in the national conversation on immigration after years of internal debate on how to handle scores of immigrants. "No state in this country has had more experience with enforcement-only immigration laws than Arizona," said Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, which opposes the state's tough immigration laws. During a heated town hall gathering in the Phoenix suburb of Sun Lakes, McCain said the border near Yuma is largely secure, but said smugglers are using the border near Tucson to pump drugs into Phoenix. He said immigration reform should be contingent on better border security that must rely largely on technology able to detect border crossings. McCain said a tamper-proof Social Security card would help combat identity fraud, and noted any path to citizenship must require immigrants to learn English, cover back taxes and pay fines for breaking immigration laws. "There are 11 million people living here illegally," he said. "We are not going to get enough buses to deport them." Some audience members shouted out their disapproval. One man yelled that only guns would discourage undocumented immigration. Another man complained that undocumented immigrants should never be able to become citizens or vote. A third man said undocumented immigrants were illiterate invaders who wanted free government benefits. McCain urged compassion. "We are a Judeo-Christian nation," he said. McCain's other town hall meeting took place in Green Valley, south of Tucson. Arizona gained international recognition as an epicenter of the U.S. immigration debate when it passed its tough anti-immigrant law in 2010. A handful of other states – including Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah – have since adopted variations of Arizona's law. Arizona has the nation's eighth-highest population of undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center. In 2010, undocumented immigrants represented roughly 6 percent of the state's population. Activists said Arizona's anti-immigrant laws inspired many undocumented immigrants to demand more rights. Last week, some college students rallied outside Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's office for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. "They no longer are afraid to come and say, `I am not able to vote, but I can make my voice heard, and they have to listen to me,'" said community organizer Abril Gallardo. A report released in January showed the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector remains the busiest along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Tucson sector accounted for 38 percent of all drug seizures and 37 percent of all apprehensions along the border. Brewer said last week the border cannot be declared safe until the people living near it feel secure from drug human trafficking. But Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona told Latino and black community leaders at a Phoenix luncheon Tuesday that Arizonans need to spread the word on how much more secure the border has become. "There are lots of folks who don't live in Arizona who have no idea what the border is like," Sinema said. Napolitano toured the border Tuesday afternoon with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar, Democratic Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. Carper is the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She said in a statement after the tour that border crossings are down 50 percent since 2008 and 78 percent since their peak in 2000. ___ Cristina Silva can be reached at . http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva

19 февраля 2013, 23:48

Did Ed Henry blow it?

It started as a plea for transparency; it's ending up as a public relations disaster. When the White House press corps made its plea for greater access to President Obama, they were hoping to force the administration to cooperate on an issue that has frustrated them since the earliest days of Obama's presidency. But by choosing to raise their voices over a golfing vacation -- rather than, say, a foreign or domestic policy issue -- the press corps may have blown its chances for public sympathy, and even damaged its own reputation. For years, the White House press corps has been frustrated with their lack of access to Obama. It started immediately after his inauguration in 2009, became a fact of life in 2010, and continues right on through the present day. Those frustrations are very real: they pertain not just to photo-ops, but to questions regarding everything from the president's jobs policy to his use of drone strikes for the targeted killings of American citizens. But in the end, the straw that broke the camel's back was a golf outing with Tiger Woods. For critics of the mainstream and Beltway media, the plea was perfect fodder for a thousand jokes, memes and blog posts. It didn't help that when the President returned to the South Lawn on Monday, a group of reporters yelled to the president, in unison, "Did you beat Tiger?!?" It was tantamount to the media's embarrassment when a young Washington Post reporter shouted "What about your gaffes!?" at Mitt Romney from the sidelines of a Polish war memorial. In an interview with POLITICO on Monday, Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents' Association, stressed that the press corps didn't care about golf -- they wanted greater transparency in general. Even so, he seemed strangely preoccupied with Tiger and the flagstick. "We're not interested in violating the president's privacy. He's entitled to vacations like everyone else. All we're asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green," Henry said. In a way, the golf dust-up, however insignificant, was a legitimate affront to Henry and the "broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV" whom he spoke for on Sunday. Think of it this way: The press corps had flown with the president to Florida on President's Day Weekend and gone 48 hours without so much as a scrap of news. Then, while kept outside The Floridian National Golf Club like dogs not allowed inside, they started reading the news they were supposed to be reporting from a Golf Digest reporter inside the club house. Many a federal case was made over that sort of behavior during the Republican primaries, to be sure. And yet Henry and his colleagues are ultimately responsible for choosing to act when they did. How did a body of seasoned journalists familiar with the rules of the modern-day news cycle not see that this issue would blow up in their faces? How did they not think to channel the frustrations felt in Florida to a legitimate protest over a more substantive issue? Henry tried that today. At the daily press briefing, he raised the issue of access and transparency -- not in regard to the golf outing, mind you, but in regard to President Obama's forthcoming meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "There's a lot going on with the Japanese economy that have a lot of international implications; there are island disuputes between China and Japan that have a lot of people nervous," Henry said. "When the president meets with the Japanese Prime Minister, will the White House press corps come in and get a chance to actually ask questions of the president? Is that your plan on Friday?" It was too late. As soon as Henry prefaced his question with the word "access," Carney was digging around in his breast pocket and briefing book for the transparency talking points: 35 solo news conferences, 591 interviews, etc. "I am completely sympathetic," Carney told Henry. In other words: I pity you. As for Henry's question, Carney had no scheduling announcement for an event on Friday.

19 февраля 2013, 06:34

Michael Calderone: Obama Has Off The Record Conversation After WH Press Corps 'Frustration'

A day after the White House press corps expressed "extreme frustration" in not getting access to cover President Obama's golf weekend, which included an outing Sunday with Tiger Woods, the president met with the White House pool aboard Air Force One. The conversation, however, was off the record. The Washington Post's Scott Wilson, who was serving as pool reporter on Monday evening, thereby writing reports used by the press corps not on board, noted the exchange in a report filed just before 8 p.m. "AF1 wheels down Andrews at 7:45pm. POTUS came back to have a 10-minute off the record talk with pool at the end of the flight," Wilson wrote. So did Obama come back to offer an olive branch? Given that the conversation was off the record, Wilson cannot discuss specifics. But Wilson told The Huffington Post on Monday night that Obama "did not come back with a message in mind." "He didn't come back because he had to tell us something," Wilson said. "He came back to hang out." That suggests Obama wasn't there to apologize, but instead to casually talk to reporters on board. Obama doesn't often mix it up with reporters, but he has headed to the back of the cabin on previous occasions to chat with reporters off the record. Obama hasn't given an on-the-record interview to the Washington Post since 2009, while last sitting down with the New York Times in 2010. So should the White House press corps, which has long complained about access and lack of interviews, allow the White House to set the ground rules? Wilson explained that if reporters decide not to accept the ground rules, its unlikely Obama will head back there at all. If reporters do, then they'll have the opportunity to get a few minutes with the president, an exchange that may inform their reporting going forward. However, the president won't be held accountable for any of his words and the lucky pool reporter -- as well as the rest of the press corps -- won't be able to report anything discussed. Wilson said the situation is "not ideal at all," but noted that "the choice is not seeing him at all or seeing him for 10, 15 minutes off the record." So Wilson, and his colleagues on board, opted for the latter. "In general, if someone is presented with an opportunity to talk to the president off the record, it's a balancing act," Ed Henry, a Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association, told The Huffington Post. "Some people think that's a really bad idea. Some people think it's a really valuable way to get information about what somebody's thinking -- whether a mayor, Congressman, Senator, or president." Henry said the WHCA doesn't have a policy "condoning" or "banning" off the record interviews with the president, but allows individual news organizations to decide whether or not to agree to the ground rules. As for the tension playing out between the White House and press corps this past weekend, Henry said that WHCA's concern is not over a golf game, but about getting at least a "minimal level of access" when following the president around the country and the world. The golf game, Henry said, was "just something that is symbolic of a broader fight." The golf game was still on the mind of some reporters as the president returned to the White House on Monday night, according to a pool report filed by the Daily News' Joseph Straw. The president emerged from the helicopter a couple minutes later wearing a white shirt, dark green slacks and a long black coat. He smiled and waved to reporters as he strode toward the South Portico. As the president walked close by, a group of reporters yelled, in unison, "Did you beat Tiger?!?" He appeared to hear over the helicopter engines, but just smiled and continued on inside. The president's return was open-press. This post was updated at 10:09 pm after speaking with Ed Henry.

19 февраля 2013, 05:50

Obama goes off-record with 'frustrated' White House press corps

One day after the White House press corps expressed "extreme frustration" with their lack of access to the president, Obama visited the back of Air Force One tonight for a chat with reporters. But the talk, which lasted 10 minutes, according to a pool report, was off the record -- another sign, as if one was needed, that when it comes to the relationship between the president and the press, the commander-in-chief sets the rules. In emails to POLITICO, reporters from various political news outlets expressed frustration that the White House press corps, which yesterday raised such a stink over "transparency," was now engaging with President Obama entirely on his terms. (The press corps had travelled with the president to Florida, where he went golfing with star-golfer Tiger Woods.) (VIDEO: Obama's softball interviews) "Off the record? Is the press pool (that was angry all weekend at having no contact with the President on his golf vacation) now happy?," Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren asked on her blog. "Did they get a pat on the head from the President?" Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry, the president of the White House Correspondents Association who spoke yesterday on behalf of the 'extremely frustrated' press pool, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the off-the-record talk. (Also on POLITICO: Obama, the media puppet master) When President Obama returned to the South Lawn of the White House tonight, a group of reporters yelled, in unison, "Did you beat Tiger?!?," according to the pool report. "He appeared to hear over the helicopter engines, but just smiled and continued on inside," the report stated. UPDATE (10:15 p.m.): Henry talks to POLITICO: "This isn't about a golf game."