Archive for November, 2008

Not A Creature Was Stirring….

Library-like silence in the stores as Thanksgiving sales fail to draw crowds

The police officers who set up double metal barricades yesterday along the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan need not have bothered.

While the New York Police Department had erected the barriers to protect what they expected to be burgeoning crowds of shoppers yesterday from spilling onto the road, few of the bargain hunters turned up.

Traditionally yesterday – known as Black Friday – is the busiest shopping day in the American calendar when stores kick off the post Thanksgiving sales. Last year, about $20 billion was spent in American stores on that day alone. This time, only the discount stores appear to have flourished.

Yesterday, Wal-Mart stores, selling goods at rock-bottom prices, were so mobbed by bargain hunters that a 34-year-old security guard was trampled to death in Long Island as shoppers forced open the doors.

But across the East river in Manhattan, many of the luxury brand stores such as Gucci, Escada, and Versace on Fifth Avenue were empty. A few blocks over on the Upper East Side, Barney’s, the upmarket department store, was library-like in its silence with only four shoppers in its Yves St Laurent area, where one black velvet jacket had been reduced from $2,230 (£1,450) to $1,339. There were no takers either for a Barney’s own $350 mulberry-coloured woolly dog jacket.

While it was too early yesterday to ascertain how retailers had fared, Wall Street expects this year to be the worst shopping season since the recession of the early 1990s. The reason was within sight of any of the few shoppers on Fifth Avenue. From the stores near Central Park, one can just see the financial skycrapers on Wall Street at the other end of Manhattan, where the credit crisis erupted 18 months ago, and which has triggered a deep recession. With 240,000 Americans losing their jobs a month and banks slashing credit card and overdraft limits, many families have stopped spending on anything other than essentials.

Michael McNamara, the vice-president of SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across America and is owned by MasterCard, told The Times: “We have never seen the retail market this bad and decline this fast.” He added he believed that the only sector that will thrive during this recession would be food, with spending in some areas of clothing down 22 per cent in the first week of this month, compared with the same week the year before.

He said: “If you look at the electronics sector, you see that in August sales fell by about 5.5 per cent, that decline accelerated to 13.8 per cent in September, 19.9 per cent in October and 22.1 per cent in November so far.”

Mr McNamara’s statistics will come as no surprise to Circuit City, America’s second-biggest electronics chain, which applied this month for bankruptcy protection from the US courts and admitted to shareholders that its management had been “upended” by the speed of the economic decline.

In Circuit City’s Midtown Manhattan store yesterday, about 200 people eyed one-day discounts but comparatively few were buying, with just 11 people waiting to pay. Retailers are also being forced to compete with near-bankrupt stores that have slashed prices to generate some sales. AlixPartners, a US retail consultancy, estimates that there is $20 billion of liquidated stock stragnating on the American high street.

While early reports, including the tragic incident in Long Island, suggest that discount retailers across the country have been mobbed by bargain hunters, overall stores are expected to experience their worst performance since the recession of the early 1990s.

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‘The Doves Were Right’

RICHARD HOLBROOKE | NYT | November 28, 2008

McGeorge Bundy, center, and Gen. William Westmoreland, right, view the aftermath of the Vietcong attack on the air base near Pleiku in February 1965.

McGeorge Bundy, center, and Gen. William Westmoreland, right, view the aftermath of the Vietcong attack on the air base near Pleiku in February 1965.

In 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy brought to Washington a new generation of pragmatic young activists who came to be known as the New Frontiersmen. When the journalist Theodore White later wrote a memorable photo essay about them for Life magazine, he called them the “action-intellectuals.”

The most celebrated were Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, whose title — modest by today’s standards — was special assistant to the president for national security affairs, but whose importance was great (today the position has a more grandiose title — national security adviser). Mc­Namara, of course, became one of the most controversial public servants in modern times, while Bundy got less attention, except for Kai Bird’s excellent 1998 dual biography of him and his ­brother William (who had served as assistant secretary of state for East Asia).

51rdjzfgicl__ss500_But in “Lessons in Disaster,” Gordon Goldstein’s highly unusual book, Bundy emerges as the most interesting figure in the Vietnam tragedy — less for his unfortunate part in prosecuting the war than for his agonized search 30 years later to understand himself.

Bundy was the quintessential Eastern Establishment Republican, a member of a family that traced its Boston roots back to 1639. His ties to Groton (where he graduated first in his class), Yale and then Harvard were deep. At the age of 27, he wrote, to national acclaim, the ‘memoirs” of former Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. In 1953, Bundy became dean of the faculty at Harvard — an astonishing responsibility for someone still only 34. Even David Halberstam, who would play so important a role in the public demolition of Bundy’s reputation in his classic, “The Best and the Brightest,” admitted that “Bundy was a magnificent dean” who played with the faculty “like a cat with mice.”

As he chose his team, Kennedy was untroubled by Bundy’s Republican roots —the style, the cool and analytical mind, and the Harvard credentials were more important. “I don’t care if the man is a Democrat or an Igorot,” he told the head of his transition team, Clark Clifford. “I just want the best fellow I can get for the particular job.” And so McGeorge Bundy entered into history — the man with the glittering résumé for whom nothing seemed impossible.

Keep reading…

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One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

DAVID BARSTOW | NYT | November 30, 2008


In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

Full story…

Related story from NYT, April 20, 2008:

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand



In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

Full story

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How Bush’s Privatizing Scams Have Gutted America!

The NeoCons have privatized our roads, our ports, our borders, our forests, our prisons, our water, our wealth, and our heritage for profit and they have destroyed our childrens future. If it wasn’t for a national outcry they would’ve had social security too.

Come Saturday Morning: The Sting Collapses


Just as the economic house of cards finally collapsed around George W. Bush and his cronies (and did so a good three months earlier than they’d hoped), the efforts to privatize public schools in order to make them “better” have been increasingly revealed to be less than successful at anything other than weakening education overall while lining the pockets of a fortunate few with our tax monies.

The horror show that is Chris Whittle has seriously damaged the public-school systems of Philadelphia and other American cities, in addition to raiding, with Jeb Bush’s help, the pension funds of Florida’s teachers in order to prop up his Edison Project.  (And no, his schools aren’t significantly better than the public schools they’re designed to supplant.  In a 2007 RAND study of Philadelphia’s schools, the study’s authors stated that “We find no evidence of differential academic benefits that would support additional expenditures on private managers.”  In fact, studies of charter schools nationwide have found that they usually do worse than comparable public schools.) Whittle, who found that he could no longer count on friendly governors turning over their employees’ pension funds to him, has now decided to forsake inner-city students in favor of the wealthy elite; he’s stepped down as Edison’s CEO and his new “Nations School” scheme has a tuition rate similar to Ivy League colleges.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, the cradle of the charter-school craze, a new, comprehensive study from the Institute on Race and Poverty shows that, far from helping inner-city kids, nearly two decades of charter schools have hurt them:  Most charter schools perform worse than comparable district schools on state tests.   In addition, charters intensify the very racial and economic segregation that the public schools in the state had previously worked hard to reduce.   The drive to cut corners by using unqualified persons to teach could be a factor; just this past week, the state of Minnesota was forced to withhold $60,000 in funds from a Golden Valley charter school that had hired unqualified teachers.

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Police Seeking Wal-Mart Shoppers Who Trampled Employee

COLLEEN LONG | November 29, 2008 11:48 AM EST | AP

NEW YORK — Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.

Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in Friday’s video may prove difficult, said Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

At least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries. The store in Valley Stream on Long Island closed for several hours before reopening.

Police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the Wal-Mart doors before its 5 a.m. opening at a mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the employee, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.


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OPEC: Oil Prices Will Not Rise Until Mid-2009

OPEC: Oil prices to remain flat through mid-2009

Raw Story/Agence France-Presse
Published: Saturday November 29, 2008

CAIRO (AFP) – OPEC predicted on Saturday that world oil prices would not rebound until mid-2009, after the cartel left its output unchanged at a consultative meeting in Cairo.

“The prices will not begin to rise before the second half of 2009,” said OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri.

Oil prices have slumped by two-thirds since striking record highs above 147 dollars per barrel in July, as the market has been rattled by a looming global recession and weak demand.

El-Badri added that OPEC ministers have reached a “consensus” about cutting output at the next production meeting in Oran, Algeria, on December 17.

“There’s a general consensus for an action,” in Algeria, he added.

“We have to look at what happens to demand from here to Oran and… what is happening to stocks.”

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The Quickening…Shop Till You Drop!


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Kristol Calls On Bush To Pardon Torturers And Wiretappers, Reward Them With Medal Of Freedom

In his new Weekly Standard column, right-wing pundit Bill Kristol lays out a to-do list for President Bush before he leaves office. He urges Bush to deliver speeches “reminding Americans of our successes fighting the war on terror.” Kristol dreams, “Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.”

After urging Bush to fight the incoming administration’s desire to close Guantanamo, Kristol concludes with this:

One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning–and should at least be vociferously praising–everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

In the Bush era, the Medal of Freedom has come to absurdly represent a reward for those who carried out policy failures at the urging of the Bush administration. By this standard, the implementers of torture and warrantless wiretapping certainly qualify for such a medal.


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Milk (2008)

“Give them hope” Speech by Supervisor Harvey Milk, in 1978 San Francisco

Milk Trailer 2008

Mr. Penn, an actor of unmatched emotional intensity and physical discipline, outdoes himself here, playing a character different from any he has portrayed before. – NYT

Freedom Fighter in Life Becomes Potent Symbol in Death

Sean Penn, center, portrays Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered in 1978.

Sean Penn, center, portrays Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered in 1978.

A. O. SCOTT | NYT | November 26, 2008

One of the first scenes in “Milk” is of a pick-up in a New York subway station. It’s 1970, and an insurance executive in a suit and tie catches sight of a beautiful, scruffy younger man — the phrase “angel-headed hipster” comes to mind — and banters with him on the stairs. The mood of the moment, which ends up with the two men eating birthday cake in bed, is casual and sexy, and its flirtatious playfulness is somewhat disarming, given our expectation of a serious and important movie grounded in historical events. “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant from a script by Dustin Lance Black, is certainly such a film, but it manages to evade many of the traps and compromises of the period biopic with a grace and tenacity worthy of its title character.

Read more…

Get Milk




Sheerly Avni | Truthdig | Nov 26, 2008

First things first. Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” is a movie to be thankful for. Go see it, tonight if you can, and in a crowded theater. See it because as a grass-roots activist and California’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk led and won the fight to defeat Proposition 6, an anti-gay measure as bigoted in its own time as Proposition 8 is today. Or because it features one of our best actors at his least actorly—in his most winning performance since “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Or because on Nov. 4, civil rights took a step back on the very day it leaped forward—though Milk would have known how to use that defeat to galvanize a movement. See it because Milk is a legend in his community and in San Francisco but he hasn’t yet been written into the history of American civil rights at large, where he belongs.

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Hollywood’s Closet Still Closed for Business

Larry Gross | Truthdig | Nov 26, 2008

On Nov. 27, 1978, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, was assassinated. Thirty years later, on Nov. 26, 2008, the film “Milk” will open, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

Read more…

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Police and emergency personnel are seen outside the Toys R Us store in Palm Desert, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Two people were shot to death in a crowded toy store on Black Friday in a confrontation apparently involving rival groups, city officials said. (AP Photo/Michael Snyder, The Desert Sun)

Police and emergency personnel are seen outside the Toys "R" Us store in Palm Desert, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Two people were shot to death in a crowded toy store on Black Friday in a confrontation apparently involving rival groups, city officials said. (AP Photo/Michael Snyder, The Desert Sun)

SoCal Toys ‘R’ Us Shooting Leaves Two Dead

GILLIAN FLACCUS | November 28, 2008 09:24 PM EST | AP

PALM DESERT, Calif. — Two men pulled guns and shot each other to death in a crowded toy store Friday after the women with them erupted into a bloody brawl, witnesses said. Scared shoppers fled but no one else was hurt.

The violence erupted on Black Friday, the traditional post-Thanksgiving start of the holiday shopping surge, but authorities indicated the shooting wasn’t related to a shopping frenzy.

Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said the fight was not over a toy. He said handguns were found by the men’s bodies, but he released little other information. He would not answer a question about whether the shooting was gang-related.

Witnesses Scott and Joan Barrick said they were checking out of the store when the fight began between two women, each with a man. The women were near the checkout area, but the Barricks did not think the women had purchases.

One woman suddenly started punching the other woman, who fought back as blood flowed from her nose, Scott Barrick, 41, said.

The man who was with the woman being punched pulled a gun halfway out of his pocket, then shoved it back in, he said.


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