Archives for the Month of February 2007 on Through the Magnifying Glass

Jim Cramer's Take on Today's Market Sell-Off

Link

Cramer: How the System Failed Us Today
By Jim Cramer
RealMoney.com Columnist
2/27/2007 4:15 PM EST

You didn't even have time to panic.

The system failed us, breaking down too fast for you to panic.

We totally collapsed between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. ET, dropping 200 points. All the circuit breakers and all of the rules that were put into place years ago after 1987 just utterly failed.

Then we had the backdraft, and it happened so fast we don't yet know how it went wrong. But it did, with the sellers' heavy tinder. Maybe that exacerbated the hard-selling ETFs. Whatever it was, the wick caught and then flared -- when we thought we were fireproof.

The buyers, and there are plenty of them, simply couldn't get to the floor fast enough to buy and put out some of that selling.

In the old days, when things were sane, we would have had order imbalances, a stoppage of trading. We didn't get that today. We got nothing. We got nothing but a gap, and it reminded us of the old days, when we used to have to have bids way underneath. In other words, be ready to buy because of the whims of sellers.

But there's another difference now. You can force the market down. The old rules put into place in the 1930s, the ones that were meant to stop motivated sellers from breaking the market are all gone now, taken out by a complacent Securities and Exchange Commission that never dreamed of what could happen today. My sources indicate that a big options trade went awry and some concentrated ETF selling simply cut through this market as easily as a knife through butter.

You only have a couple of protections from the whims of a broken system:

A company that pays you a dividend that is equal to or better than Treasuries after taxes is a good defense.
Or you want a stock that has a valuation so low that you know it's a bargain -- and its management knows it's a bargain (read: it's buying back stock right here).
Last chance: a company that is so defensive in nature that even if there's a worldwide slowdown, it will meet expectations regardless: Coke (KO - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), Pepsi (PEP - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), Altria (MO - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), Kellogg (K - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), General Mills (GIS - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), Clorox (CLX - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) and Colgate (CL - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr).
If you don't anything that fits one of those three criteria (I'd rather have two or three per company) you will not be OK for now. That's because we are now going to have people who just say, "Wow this is too crazy, let me out of here!"

But nobody ever made a dime panicking. This time will be no different, but only if you are shrewd about what won't hurt you and what can work in a volatile and down environment.

At the time of publication, Cramer was long Altria.

One hundred twenty-three pounds of burger-loving fat

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA have unveiled their Beer Barrel Main Event Charity Burger which weighs 123 pounds. The sizable sandwich features an 80-pound beef patty, along with a pound each of lettuce, ketchup, relish, mustard, and mayonnaise, 160 slices of cheese, up to five onions, and 12 tomatoes.

It's topped with a couple of pounds of banana peppers, then sandwiched into a 30-pound bun, plus a garnish of 33 pickles.

Price tag: $379 dollars

Expect to sign a waiver, and an ambulance waiting to take you to the mortuary if you happen to not survive the eating episode.

Clearly, how could anyone eat this monstrous burger? By a dozen or more people...sure! But by one person, I don't think so. I guess it's the best way to become obese in one setting.

Delta Zeta's Tall, Skinny, and Blonde

Is it a case where members were asked to leave because of their "lack of support" for the chapter and sorority, or because they did not fit the profile of the "supermodel?"

As Greeks, we pledge a fraternity or sorority for a house full of friends and a lifetime of brotherhood or sisterhood. It would seem that the exception was made at Delta Zeta's DePauw University chapter in Indiana.

Supposedly, after a decline in membership in the chapter, the national office interviewed the sisters and kicked out 23 out of 35 members who they said were "not committed" to the sorority. The former members allege that the women expelled included overweight, black and Asian members, but that the sorority kept sisters who were popular with fraternities.

On the "Good Morning America" show (Download Video), two former members accused the national organisation of promoting the fact that sorority girls have to be blonde, thin, and popular with the men. They were not given any reason for their dismissal from the chapter.

During a recruitment tour, Delta Zeta's national office brought women from other universities to meet and greet freshmen. According to Megan Sikes, who was asked to leave, they were all "basically tall, skinny and blonde."

Delta Zeta National stated that looks had nothing to do with its decision. They based their decision solely on whether an active member will remain committed to recruit for the chapter.

Its official statement:

"Delta Zeta finds it offensive that recent reports have suggested that decisions at DePauw University were related in any way to our members' races and nationalities."

The decision by the sorority's national organization touched off an outpouring of protest on campus, including a faculty petition and a letter of reprimand last week from President Robert G. Bottoms.

In the letter, Bottoms criticized the national organization for reportedly misleading members and disrupting their lives just before final exams.

Campus administrators will take steps to make sure fraternities and sororities can't restructure in the middle of an academic year, Bottoms said, if the process breaks student housing contracts.

Former member Lynsay Moy:

"We were never given any reason. No one was ever given any explanation, even though several times we asked for one ... You know, you pledge an organization and you fall in love with the girls that you're with and you become devoted to a sorority and then you're told you're not good enough."

Former member Joanna Kieschnick who was invited to stay but chose to leave:

"These are my sisters, these are my friends. I love these women and I've seen them pour their heart and souls into the chapter and just to see this done to them [with] no reason given, it was just a form letter ... I don't want to be a puppet for the national organization. I want to be me."

*************************************

ABC News - Sorority Scandal: Were Girls Asked to Leave Because of Weight and Race?

WishTV-Ch 8 - Some Members Asked to Leave Sorority at DePauw

Journal & Courier - DePauw will tighten its leash on Greek system

WTHR-Ch 13 - DePauw students angry over sorority ousting

DePauw University - Two DePauw Students -- Both Former Members of Delta Zeta -- Appear Live on Good Morning America

Just Funny or is anyone offended?

He does a great job mimicking the evolution of dance from the 60's to today, but on the basis of political correctness, would anyone be offended? I mean, would any hip-hop & rappers' fans be thinking he was making fun of their dance moves? Imagine if it were a black person doing all those impersonations. Everyone would be laughing histerically. A white person... you may have some "serious" people asking questions.

Just pointing out to how people over-analyse certain things and actions that we do out there.

BTW, the video has been viewed over 42.7 million times.

Spin-offs:


Kid Jesus - Denied

While it is ok for boys and girls to dress up as devils and witches on Halloween, a Jesus costume is not ok.

A 10-year-old boy who said he was not allowed to wear a Jesus costume during his school's Halloween activities sued the district, alleging that his religious and free-speech rights were violated.

The complaint, filed in federal court Tuesday, says officials at Willow Hill Elementary School in Glenside told the boy Oct. 31 that he could not wear his faux crown of thorns or tell others he was dressed as Jesus.

Interestingly enough, most Roman emperors and nobles wore a crown of thorns and robes. But the school district reasoning that the Jesus costume would promote religion seems a bit far-fetched. Is the kid an official missionary of the Christian religion? Is he going around the classroom saying Jesus will save them?

Hell, they should sent the devil and witch costume students home for causing mental trauma! Perhaps a kid wearing a Bush face costume could get sent home for promoting the war in Iraq. Are we insane???

NYU College Republicans' "Find the Illegal Immigrant" Causes Uproar

2007_02_illegalim2.jpgIt is well known for NYU's College Republicans to stage controversial and provocative events guaranteed to receive local and national coverage and anger the liberal left campus groups and organisations.

Today, the student group is sponsoring a contest called "Find the Illegal Immigrant" - a mock hunt for a student posing as just that. It is to be held in Washington Square Park (NYC) from 11AM to 2PM. The student posing as the illegal immigrant will wear a name tag saying so. Other students will try to find him or her, playing the part of border patrol agents and wearing nametags that say "INS," referring to the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.

College Republicans president and CAS junior Sarah Chambers said, "The event will open up both vocally and physically the issue of illegal immigration. That it's not right to come here illegally while others are waiting to come here legally and receive free health care and jobs that undercut wages of American workers and people that are living here legally."

As usual, reaction from student groups such as ACLU at NYU, the College Democrats, and several multicultural clubs was far from pleasing. The groups plan to organise a protest, and they expect several hundred to attend.

College Democrats president and CAS senior Nora Toiv said, "The event is offensive because by playing a game like this, you make light of a real-life situation. To ridicule what is often a very traumatic experience is hateful."

Senior Democratic senator from New York, Charles Schumer, said in an event yesterday promoting his book, "Positively American":
What I really find obnoxious - and that's how I'd describe what the College Republicans are doing - is it dehumanizes [illegal immigrants]," the senator told WSN during a question-and-answer session after his speech. "A person who's making a dollar a day in Oaxaca, who risks their life to come and make two dollars an hour here in America, is not to be ridiculed. It's not to be despised. So what I think they're doing is obnoxious."

Toiv said the College Democrats' largest objection to the event is in the way it has been presented.

Protesters from the various other groups will be carrying signs and handing out pamphlets stating "No one is illegal" and calling the event "completely unacceptable."

The event has already garnered attention from national media such as CNN, Fox News, NPR, and talk radio.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Due to incidents with the Minutemen event last year, Toiv wants to make sure the protest is done peacefully. If a riot breaks out again where students are injured, it will make the protestors the assailants and their protest would fail. I am sure some radical leftists would point to the Republicans' event as a catalyst, but they have the right to stage the event, no matter how offensive it could be. Likewise, other groups can protest the event, but if they cause a riot, it's their fault.

I really doubt that this event can be construed as racist. Illegal immigration is a major problem on voters' minds. I have no problems with people legally coming into this country to work and receive education and benefits. I only have a problem when they try to sneak around the guards, use faulty documentation to get into this country, and not paying their fair share.

It is not about focusing on any one particular ethnic group. There are Asians, Mexicans, Latin and South American, Cubans, and even Europeans that try to get into our country through illegal means. This issue must be faced head on.

How can this be any different? If you sneak into a Dave Matthews concert without a ticket and get caught, you get kicked out and possibly get arrested. You did not have the proper papers to attend the event, so it is justified for security to remove you from the venue.

If you come into country without proper documentation, the law enforcement agencies have the right to deport you. This is simple logic.

The College Republicans' event is helping revive this debate because the Democrats, the ACLU, and the other groups refuse to do so. Yep, it's a publicity stunt. It is guaranteed to generate coverage and debate. I think they ought to cancel the event because their PR stunt has been a success.

As with Schumer's comment, it is true that there are people who risk their lives to come to this country to enjoy a better life, but does it excuse them from the ones that come to this country legally? Is he telling me that it is better for an illegal immigrant to come into this country and get a better deal to benefits and citizenship than a legal immigrant? Has anyone asked immigrant advocates about the opinions of immigrants who have legally entered this country?

I have also ventured across the blogosphere and everyone is pretty much accusing the College Republicans for being racist. (Example) How can this be racist? This blogger called himself an intelligent, active, and anti-racist person calling on others to protest this event. We really love to say that's racist because it generates an automated reaction from the populace. In this blog, you have to question if those photos are true. Did they come from a Minutemen rally or a Nazi protest?

Here's one student's take on it.

The slogans "No one is illegal" or "World without borders" are nonsense words. You can not say these words as absolutes. I bet that most people signing up to protest were told word of mouth by organisers who are against the event and are willing to call it racist just to increase the turnout. Somehow people just fail to stand back, do some research on it, look at the viewpoints on why the CR club is doing this event and why people are against it, and make an informed decision. Ahh, the power of the mob at work.

The national media attention is pretty much overkill. It's like this event is not the first of its kind.

In any case, I applaud NYU for allowing this tasteless event to be held. This helps support our freedom to free speech especially politically incorrect speech. We should not let those individuals who want to redefine free speech to make it acceptable to their agenda.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NYU officials released a statement explaining why the college is allowing the game. Spokesman John Beckman writes:

"At universities, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas – even difficult and unpopular ideas – is a key mission. We hope the debates will be conducted with respect and civility, and will be driven by an impulse to provoke thought rather than anger. Illegal immigration is a totally appropriate topic for debate, though this event seems principally calculated to produce outraged reaction rather than dialogue.

"Our inclination is always to support free speech. Just as one group of students will conduct this so-called 'game,' others will be protesting it. At a university, this is exactly the kind of outcome we hope for from engaged students and scholars."

NBA All-Star Wknd in Vegas - A Failure

Taking into account the random acts of violence that occurred in Vegas during the NBA All-Star Weekend makes you think that martial law would be needed when the 2008 game is held in New Orleans.

The All-Star Game between East and West was meant to display the excellent performance of our basketball players, but instead it gave Commissioner David Stern a 72-hour headache.

If you can get a hold of the list of all the criminal activity that have transpired during that weekend, you can make a couple of made-for-TV movies. Out-of-control parties, gunplay, violence, weed, smoke, and general mayhem, and the lack of respect to the Vegas residents themselves.

With the way things were going, Las Vegas ought to drop any attempt in attracting an expansion franchise from the NBA.

It is alleged that NFL player Pacman Jones and Nelly were at the Minxx Gentlemen's Club where three people were shot. There were so many fights and one parking-lot shootout at the MGM Grand that hotel guests fled the premises for their safety. Even walking down Las Vegas Blvd. was discouraged. Even at the majestic Wynn Hotel, there were reports of a brawl between rappers and police.

A total of 403 arrests were made by police. Officially, there were four shootings related to the NBA weekend. Of course, more than half of the arrests were vice-related.

Las Vegas residents report a general rudeness among the NBA fans themselves. Reports of people walking out on their bills, lack of respect for casino rules and other players, and other acts of violence showed us that this type of clientele are better off going somewhere else. Vegas probably got some sort of positive economic benefit from the game, but there were other factors such as President's Day Weekend, and Chinese New Year. I think if you take the NBA out of it, the hotels and casinos would have still done a good job.

But something needs to be done to end the violence that comes with every NBA All-Star Game. Something that the young, hip-hop hoodlums would find another event to terrorise. We need a game without the Bloods, Crips, and hookers and hoes. It's been three years since the Ron Artest's fan brawl. It did not get any better after the Knicks-Nuggets brawl last year.

We have to be afraid of this and action must be taken, serious action. With the 2008 game in New Orleans and close proximity to Mardi Gras, you are asking for widespread looting and lawlessness. Do we want to give Big Easy the final nail in the coffin?

Another lawsuit against Brandy

As a follow-up to my first post with Brandy's car accident in which the parents of Awatef Aboudihaj filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the music artist, another wrongful lawsuit has been filed against her.

This time a different lawyer, Paul N. Philips, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Awatef Aboudihaj's two sons who were injured in the Dec. 30 accident on the San Diego Freeway. The papers alleges that the sons received unspecified injuries that may result in some permanent disability (nice vague words to use). Damages will be determined at trial.

Would it seem obvious to merge both lawsuits into one? Now you have two different lawyers for the parents and children against Brandy. A two-prong approach to exact the maximum amount of money from the artist? Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Plus, the city attorney's office has not decided whether to charge the singer.

Somehow I am just waiting for another wrongful death lawsuit to be filed by the cousins, aunts, and uncles of Aboudihaj. Maybe another one on behalf of the friends. Then the future children to be born. It's a terrible tragedy, but I am finding it displeasing that the victims are trying to milk as much money as possible from the singer.

More Craps Etiquette

Since it is about 2.5 hours to Atlantic City from my home, I have been venturing over there a few times per month to test and improve my skills.

Craps has become my favorite table game, followed by Blackjack, then Caribbean Stud Poker. Slots are alright, but if you want a serious return on your bets, table games are your best approach.

After playing several times at Craps, there are a few rules that most people should go by.

1) The best time to cash in for chips is when the board is in an off position. The worst thing to do is cause a delay in the throw and ruin the shooter's momentum.

2) Always place your bets before the shooter rolls. It happens every time when the shooter rolls his dice, a person would be in the process of placing his/her bets, and the dice would hit the person's hands, and it would end in a 7-out. Be watchful of the shooter while placing your chips.

3) Hitting the number 7 is only good when the board is in an off-position. After the point has been made, 7 is taboo. Avoid mentioning the number 7, it's just bad luck.

While going around the many craps tables at the casino, it is clearly a fun and exciting game to enjoy. It is always true when a girl playing for the first time would do extremely well as the shooter. It is clearly the opposite for a guy rolling for the first time.

Players coming to the table betting on the Don't Pass line are the ones that want you to lose, and are probably not interesting in learning the finer points of the Craps game. If you are just there placing your bets on the Don't Pass or Don't Come areas, then why don't you go to the Let it Ride table game since you are not interesting in enjoying the game. If you see these people come to the table, they are bound to make the table "cold" and that's your sign to leave and find another table.

The only people justified in playing the Don't Come/Don't Pass are the ones that know that the shooter could be a bad thrower and they would know when to switch to Pass/Come playing when it's a good thrower. Adopting one stance won't result in consistent winnings.

Of course, the most likely people betting on Don't Pass/Don't Come are the young guys (21-25 age range), holding a couple of bucks, and are just there to put a bet on the Loser, collecting the winnings, and moving on. These are the non-risk takers. Plus I kinda hate it when they teach one of their buddies to play Don't Pass as a way to play Craps. It is one way to do it, but not the most optimal way. Yes, I do see a few rich players play the loser method, but at least they do it on and off and they do play the inside game. You can make over 100 bets on this game at any one time.

Last, be mindful of the people that are around you. No one wants to be unlucky and certain things must be respected. Some do take it in fun but some do take it seriously. There are times when joking around doesn't bring smiles around the table. There are players out there that want to have a good time and win money. Don't piss them off with your antics.

Refuse to Wear the Veil -> Get Shot

Fox News reports that a Pakistani minister and woman’s activist was shot dead Tuesday by an Islamic extremist for refusing to wear the veil.

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said.

According to the gunman, Mohammad Sarwar, he said “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again.”

Perhaps if we put him in a prison cell filled with pictures of ladies wearing bikinis, he would die of extreme fright!

NYC immigrant activists want to give right to vote to legal non-citizens

Do they know that this would open up Pandora's box?

The New Immigrant Community Empowerment group want to allow permanent residents (holding a green card) and other legal immigrants the right to vote in municipal election. The group's representative, Cheryl Wertz, quoted that "more than 50,000 adult noncitizen taxpayers in those two districts are disenfranchised by citizenship voting laws."

In case people are wondering what defines a permanent resident, check wikipedia. This permanent resident card, also known as a Green Card, is proof that the holder has permission to permanently reside and take employment in the U.S. After that, one can apply for naturalisation to become a full U.S. citizen.

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) is the sponsor of the Voting Rights Restoration Act, which has been stalled in the City Council since last year. He states that many years ago, immigrants were allowed to vote. In agreement was CUNY Professor Ron Hayduk, who stated that from 1776 to 1926, immigrants voted in national elections.

Well, people change and so do the laws. Perhaps the citizenry realised that we ought to maintain fair and just elections and these rules and regulations are needed to ensure that. It reminds me of the film, Gangs of New York, where Tammany Hall bought Irish votes. Plus becoming a U.S. citizen was very easy. Make your mark, you are a citizen and a member of the Union Army.

Of course, the processing time should be improved for permanent residents so they can get naturalised, but in the mean time, they know that they are not being accorded all the same rights as given to full U.S. citizens.

I fear that giving legal non-citizens the right to vote will empower immigrant activists to pursue voting rights for illegal aliens. You got 12 million of them waiting to be used as a pawn on the political stage. Follow the system, and help improve it, but do not find ways to go around it. These 50,000 so called non-voters are just amble ammunition for the NYC Democratic Party.

Holocaust, Hitler, Abortion - Blame Darwin

A new video documentary suggests that we should blame Charles Darwin for the Holocaust and abortion. Titled "Darwin’s Deadly Legacy," the stunning documentary shows that Darwinian theory, "which is scientifically bankrupt, has probably been responsible for more bloodshed than anything else in the history of humanity," Jerry Newcomb, one of the program's two co-producers, told WorldNetDaily.

Are we on the verge of insanity? Let's hope natural selection will help get rid of the crackpots and extremists that are throwing the rest of us into the fire.

Seems violence is normal with NBA games

I really think the NBA should take Las Vegas off her list for future All-Star games. Rowdy crowds, a fight at Wynn Hotel & Casino involving rappers and police, and as a result, the nightclub was shut down.

Plus a shooting at the MGM Grand. Lasvegasnow.com has already reported that nearly 300 people involved with NBA-related festivities have been booked into the Clark County Detention Center. Plus the usual 400 or so arrests police make in a 48-hour period.

Happy Chinese New Year: Pig

350px-Chinatown_london.jpg

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Year of the Pig, associated with fertility and virility. It is lucky for people to bear children during this year because they will be happy and honest.

Ralph Nader to run if Hillary wins Democratic nomination

ralph_nader.jpgFormer presidential candidate Ralph Nader may consider jumping into the 2008 race if Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) wins the Democratic Party nomination.

According to Nader, Hillary has "no political fortitude."

"Flatters, panders, coasting, front-runner, looking for a coronation, not taking on the huge waste in the military budget as a member of the armed services commission, never going after the corporate crimes against pensions, against workers. ... She has no political fortitude.''

FOX News Poll indicates 76 percent voters said they would never vote for Nader, while 44 percent said they would never cast a vote for Clinton.

Nader made an unsuccessful bid for president as the Green Party candidate in 2000, gaining more than 2.7 percent of the national popular vote. He gained less than one-half of 1 percent during a second run in 2004.

Also, in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer:
“I'm committed to trying to give more voices and choices to the American people on the ballot. That means more third parties, independent candidates and to break up this two-party elected dictatorship that is becoming more and more like a dial for the same corporate dollars.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

I say bring it on. Democrats have always accused Nader of their loss in the presidential election in 2000. A third-party is only helpful if it causes the loss of the other major party in our electoral process. Democrats will say Gore lost because of Nader (a pretty much whining excuse). Republicans would blame Perot for Bush Sr. losing to Clinton back in 1992.

Also, it is time for people to understand there are more options available besides the Democrats and Republicans. The presidential debates will be even more interesting if at least one third-party candidate can garner more than 10 percent of the opinion polls like Perot.

I do not know if Nader can do it again if he runs in 2008. But you cannot doubt that he will win votes because he is an anti-establishment candidate. If the Green and Reform parties are allied with each other for the next election, expect some fun!


Jan Schaefer - Failed Audition in being a victim

Chaos at a Tuesday night City Council meeting in Carson, California, was caught on videotape. The tape shows Vera Robles Dewitt, a former councilmember leading an effort to recall Mayor Jim Dear, hitting Commissioner Jan Schaefer on the head with some papers. After being struck, "Schaefer waited a beat or two, then let out a blood-curdling shriek and rolled onto the floor in apparent agony," according to Daily Breeze newspaper.

Judges....

Number 1 - 2.5

Number 2 - 3.0

Number 3 - 1.5

Number 4 - 8.0, I liked it, it was almost like the commerical "I've fallen, and I can't get up"

Beer-Bong Bowling Excitement in NYC

Great bowling alley in New York City featuring beer bongs! Yep, at Leisure Time Lanes, located on the second floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street, offers beer selections in bottles, pitchers, and beer bongs.

blog_bowling.jpgIt was hard to believe to have a bowling alley at the Bus Terminal, but it's pretty cool. I would say about 30-40 lanes and it got recently renovated with new digital LCD screens for the scoring. Some of the walls are still under construction. It costs about $8 per game per person, or $45/hour. Wait is at least one hour, so get there early.

We had to order three tall beer-bongs for about 8 people. The selection is limited though. Food includes pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.

Google censors anti-satellite graphic

ASAT3.jpgSeeing that the anti-satellite test was a bit embarassing for China, Google has blocked Chinese users from seeing an image showing the anti-satellite graphic.

According to officials, three MIT researchers, Geoff Forden, Ted Postol and Subrata Ghoshroy, produced a color graphic showing the flight path of the missile that destroyed an orbiting Chinese weather satellite by ramming it with a non-explosive warhead.

Google removed the graphic from its service.

Al Franken running for Senate

Election 2008 is over!

Yes, Republican presidential nominee Rudy Guiliani defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton for the 2008 election. The win was guaranteed after California and Florida declared their electoral votes for Guilani yesterday pushing his electoral vote total past 270.

It has been announced by the FEC that the 2012 election will be held three years earlier. Better yet, the Ohio State legislature has announced that the results for the next 10 years will be decided next week.

* * * * * * * * * *

On Tuesday, the California Senate voted to move the state's presidential primary from June to February. It is expected to be heard in the Assembly next week and to pass easily. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will sign it. Legislation similar to California's is pending in Illinois, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey.

It seems the traditional starting race of face-to-face persuasion in New Hampshire and Iowa are no longer important to other states who are determined to become more influential in the primary elections and caucuses.

For California, they do not want the state to be a cash machine for presidential candidates who raise money here but don't stick around to discuss issues of keen concern. According to the sponsor, state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), he said, "California is the biggest, most influential state in the nation, yet its current June presidential primary virtually ensures that the major party nominees will be determined before our votes are cast."

Is California jealous? The state has 55 electoral votes, followed by Texas with 34, New York with 31, and Florida with 27. It does play an important part in the main presidential election in 2008, but it seems it wants to grab a bigger piece of the decision pie on electing the final candidates themselves.

Perhaps it would be nice for the rest of us. Let's get the final candidates decided by March. All of us will get sick and tired of hearing the many candidates from each political party trying to convince us that he or she is the right person for the job.

New York State Legislature - Bastion of un-Democracy

Just a gripe. The New York State legislature is probably one of the most entrenched and special interest-tied entity out of all fifty state legislatures. Its gerrymandering ensures or should I say guarantees incumbents in winning re-election every year. Democrat Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate leader Joseph L. Bruno are like the Father and Mother of modern Tammany Hall.

Recently, the state legislature chose to appoint of its own members to the post of State Comptroller General.

This incurred the wrath of popular Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Here's a quote that is hard to believe:

Westchester Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky called the New York State Assembly, the "best legislative body in America" and said America was a "beacon of democracy" because it had legislatures to check executive authority.

Spitzer's answer:

"His sense of irony is pretty remarkable."

Student Party Correctness

Today, political correctness is known as the life blood of sensitivity to every ethnic, religious, and geopolitical group across the spectrum. Any persons that do not follow the supposed saint of "diversity" are considered to be ignorant, lacking respect or even racist.

The over-regulated rules of what's appropriate and what's not is being challenged by students who feel society has become too engrossed with it. They could be the most tolerant generation in years, and they are basically telling the rest of us to "lighten up."

It is true that some things are definitely inappropriate, but do we blame them for being racist, ignorant, or just doing a stupid thing? Over the last several months, there has been outrage at student parties and incidents across the nation that have involved racial overtones.

At Trinity College and Whitman College, there were parties where students showed up in racially offensive costumes or blackface. At Texas A&M University, students made a racist video portraying three students demonstrating crude racial slurs, including slave-to-master relationships while wearing blackface makeup. A fraternity at Johns Hopkins University was suspended after a "Halloween in the Hood" party displayed a fake pirate skeleton hanging from a noose. At Tarleton State University, Clemson University, and the University of Connecticut held "gangsta" parties. At Macalester College, students held a "politically incorrect" party where one student was costumed as a Ku Klux Klan member and another wore blackface with a noose around his neck.

So where do you draw the line? What's funny and what's wrong? What's entertaining and what's offensive?

Fraternities hold parties with themes like "golf pros and tennis hoes" or sex reversal parties where guys dress up as girls and vice versa. Go to a halloween party hosted by a downtown nightclub, and you will see people dressed up as gangstas, but girls dressed up as slutty cheerleaders, or guys dressed as a penis? Is that just very crude humor?

How can these be different from what we see in the media? Steven Colbert routinely mocks politics and religion. Some of Saturday Night Live's "funniest" skits make fun of homosexuals, ethnic and religious groups. Is there a national boycott for the film "Borat" for its horribly politically incorrect ways? It got an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay instead. Or Family Guy's making fun of Osama bin Laden's terrorist speech to America?

Most were perplexed when Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington got criticised by the press and sent to counseling after supposedly uttered a slur about a cast member's sexuality. Now you got Tim Hardaway saying he hates gay people. I guess he's off to counseling too.

Obviously, wearing blackface or a KKK outfit is really offensive, but is it likely that the person was being racist about it or trying to act stupid? But complaining about people wearing "gangsta" outfits? Could it be possible a person wearing a "Al Capone" costume may be trying to make fun of blacks? Or a person wearing a kung-fu outfit is offensive to Asians? I guess costume stores would need to remove "Aunt Jemima" from their catalog list too. Maybe we can get really serious and prevent students from dressing up as pilot or a soldier, it could offend our war veterans out there.

I also find it unfortunate that certain people out there would declare that racism is abundant and widespread at the school where the incident takes place. It is very amusing when after one or two costumes are found to be insensitive and offensive, the accusers would start saying it is a sign of racism and it has been happening on campus for years, and administrators and student leaders have been ignoring it. It's all a coverup, they cried! They see a pirate skeleton hanging from a rope, and to them, it's a lynching. Perhaps we should ban Pirates of the Caribbean.

So people want to speak up and complain, hold your forums and meetings. Go and share your feelings and explain your viewpoints and misconceptions. Then we can move on more smoothly.

Different Party, Same Tactics

House Republicans assailed Democrats Tuesday for barring them from offering their own Iraq resolution during this week's landmark war debate, accusing them of stifling votes on a vital issue.

Determined to send an unambiguous and bipartisan message of disapproval for President Bush's troop surge, Democrats moved Monday night to block Republicans from proposing any alternative, including one that would have guaranteed funding for U.S. forces in Iraq.

All I can say is that the anti-war group is hijacking the Democratic party platform.

Of course, how can I trust Democrats if they are not willing to let the minority offer alternative legislation? You can say that the Republicans were bad during their 12-year stint in charge, but a party needs to change to show the American people that this time it's different.

Suddenly, the need for a third-party is more urgent.

Bank of America offers credit cards to illegal immigrants

BofA has begun offering credit cards to customers without Social Security numbers. This new card will be open to people who do not have a SSN and a credit history, as long as they have held a checking account with the bank for three months without an overdraft.

Is it possible that an illegal immigrant has a better chance at getting a credit card than a college student? To some banks, this group is an untapped resource, but are they willing to take the high-level risk that comes with it?

Authorities label online gambling 'terrorist financing'

It now appears that the FBI and other state and federal law enforcement groups are labelling online gambling as a "terrorist threat" to the United States. Currently, authorities are attempting to link NETeller's online payment processing of gambling money to terrorist funding.

This is a sign of how short-sighted US regulators are. They are taking one step forward and three steps back.

Since electronic money is terrorist financing, I guess we will need to shut down Paypal and Google checkout. No more paying your goods online, it could get shunted to terrorists!!!

So now HSBC, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Kleinwort are all accessories to supporting terrorists?!?!?! How far fetched is that?

As for the Neteller customers, they cannot get their money back because authorities have declared everything "as evidence."

Mexico: No Sportsmanship

us_vs_mexico.jpgOnce again, USA defeated Mexico 2-0 in an international friendly in Glendale, AZ. Goals by Jimmy Conrad and Landon Donovan extended the Americans' dominance of their regional rival.

Playing in front of a heavily pro-Mexican sellout crowd of 64,462, the Americans improved to 8-2-1 against Mexico since 2000. The United States is 7-0-1 against Mexico on home soil in that stretch, outscoring its southern neighbor 13-0.

However, the Mexican players failed to do the customary ritual of shaking hands at the end of the match and exchanging jerseys. After the whistle blew, the players went off the field without shaking the Americans' hands.

USA Player Donovan:
"The sportsmanship -- it would be nice if you guys (reporters) and the Mexican press talked about it, because it's really poor," Donovan said. "When we lose to them there, we shake their hands and say, `Good job.' There's none of that reciprocally, and it's kind of disappointing."

Mexican Player Marquez:
"They were a little opportunistic and stayed in their own end for the majority of the match, but they did beat us," Marquez said. "Considering the tactics that they utilized, I think that is the credit I would give them considering the fact that on the field, they were not superior to us."

It is not unusual for a team to stage a defensive strategy once you are ahead in the match. If Mexico felt there were the stronger team, well, the USA team had a strong defense to counter their attacks. It would seem they were acting like sore losers.

This is a friendly match and not yet a qualifying match for the next World Cup.

Steve Martin makes fun of the 72 virgins

Steve Martin's Seventy-Two Virgins on The New Yorker

Get Arrested for iPod Walking

State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, New York City plans to introduce legislation that would ban people from using an MP3 player, mobile phone, Blackberry, or any other electronic device while crossing the street in either New York City or Buffalo.

He is doing this because of two recent pedestrian deaths in his district. One of the pedestrians who was struck and killed was listening to his iPod while walking across the street.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

This is basically unenforceable. You cannot force police to add the stressing duty to watch every major sidewalk and make sure every person is not listening or talking to their electronic device. Plus, how would you know if a person is still listening to their iPod player while walking down the block? Why waste a few minutes to take off your earphones, walk across the street, and put them back on?

Common sense is more practical. Perhaps it's better to remind pedestrians to look both ways before crossing, or not to max the volume on your headphones.

Student Executive Council Reform Required

As noted in the USG Briefs section on the February 2, 2007 Observer issue, there was discussion about two USG members writing a letter to the editor in the Jan. 26 issue calling for University intervention in the current Student Executive Council (SEC) structure. Please note that ideas and suggestions to reform the SEC is not new. Student leaders in the past, including myself, have attempted to change the existing structure, but without success.

Under the University's Grant of Power to the major governing groups that comprised the SEC, the Council was envisioned as a place where USG, UPB, Media Board, and IFC/Panhel can meet to share information about their projects and issues, cooperate in major events, govern the Student Activity Fee allocation, and resolve disputes. From the document, each major group had a different form of obligation and responsiblity to the students. At that time, the SEC was never used in any official capacity. If you wanted to complain about campus issues, go to USG. Programming and concerts was UPB. Television, newspapers, magazines, and newsletters fell under Media. Greeks were under IFC/Panhel.

In the late 1990's, student leaders from the major groups convened the Student Executive Council for the first time in years. It was definitely a surprise when the student leaders of that time did not know they had a SEC though the grant of power document stated the existence of one. The groups were just using standard liaison representatives to attend each other's meetings.

It was realised (obviously!) that the SEC could be used as a forum for inter-communication between the major groups. It was also the first time the SEC got officially involved in major projects such as the Heart of the Campus and the Student Center Project via the Student Life Coalition (SLC). Another first was the invitation of the Residence Hall Association (RHA) into the Council as a non-voting member. One major achievement of the SEC was the funding of SpringFest via the student activity fee. UPB introduced such a proposal in 1998, and the rest of the boards agreed to a permanent percentage in 2001. This was the first ever change made to the SAF fee structure.

Cooperation and respect were probably the only ways to get substantial progress done through the SEC. While most members wanted reform, no one wanted to be seen as invading someone's turf, or trying to increase one board's prestige and power over the others. Even discussion on the fee structure was hard. One time, as USG Vice-President of Finance, I introduced a resolution in the SEC to give USG a 0.5 to 1.0 percent increase in next year's fee structure. Much of the increase was supposed to come from the increase of the SAF overall revenue since it was tied to our tuition rate. UPB and Media Board rose in disagreement. They suggested that USG review its books and see if student groups were not accountable in their funding, and should watch their spending. IFC/Panhel were quite protective of their share of the proceeds so they did not want any change. Thus, the resolution died pretty quickly. The reason why SpringFest passed was the overall positive impact it had on the University community and that every Board had to give up something for it.

Of course, with eight members (2 USG, 2 UPB, 2 Media, 1 IFC, 1 Panhel), USG, UPB, and Media could just get together and decide the SAF percentages, locking out the Greeks. Or USG, UPB, Greeks versus Media, and so on. Unfortunately, it would not improve campus relations at all.

Realistically, we cannot ask the University to intervene and force-change the existing SEC governing structure. One, it shows that the student leaders that you have elected are unable to resolve their differences. Two, it is bad sportsmanship. It is similar to asking the linesman if there was a penalty after the referee decided there wasn't any. The students must solve their own problems.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After many years of reflection, I have a proposal for this:

1. Based on the assumption that USG is our primary governing authority on campus, the Student Executive Council should not be held to a higher level. Thus, the Student Executive Council should be renamed the Student Administrative Council.

2. The new Student Administrative Council shall cover:

  • Student Activity Fee structure (year to year basis)
  • Required budget and audit reporting from all members (current and upcoming years)
  • Oversee Springfest revenue allocation
  • Oversee Senior Week revenue allocation
  • Share communication between its members on events, projects, and issues
  • Establish ad-hoc committees related to the above items

    3. The membership of the new Student Administrative Council:

  • Undergraduate Student Government (2)
  • University Program Board (2)
  • Media Board (2)
  • Three student voting members
  • IFC (non-voting)
  • Panhel (non-voting)
  • RHA (non-voting)

    4. The Council shall organise the SAF fee structure (year to year):

  • USG (revolving percentage)
  • UPB (revolving percentage)
  • Media (revolving percentage)
  • IFC (set amount)
  • Panhel (set amount)
  • Senior Week (set percentage)
  • SpringFest (set percentage)

    This is a drastic proposal, but it should be able to start effective discussion on the right solution to address this. We cannot just put on several band-aids and hope it will work. Substantial action must be taken to show the willingness of our student leaders to combat favoritism, turf battles, and personal ego to give the students what they want.

    While it is factually true that only members of SEC can decide what changes they can make to it, it does not mean that they can enjoy a free ride within the Board organisations themselves. The officers that represent the Boards to the SEC are also accountable to the members of the group itself, as well as the entire student populace.

    I understand it is a big task to take. Over my years as a member and officer of USG, I was chair of the Constitution Committee that pushed through changes in our constitution for the first time in a decade. I threw out the Funding Bylaws, and wrote a new set instituting categorical recognition (of course, that got replaced several years later), and a new set of Operating Bylaws. These things will take time, but they are not impossible.

    Kind regards,

    James Chang
    Former Vice-President of Finance, USG (1999-2000)
    Class of 2000

    Savings Rate lowest in 74 years

    Commerce Department reported that the savings rate for all of 2006 was a negative 1 percent (that's -1%), meaning that not only did people spend all the money they earned but they also dipped into savings or increased borrowing to finance purchases.

    It was -0.4% in 2005. The poorest showing was -1.3% in 1933 during the Great Depression.

  •