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War On Words: NYC Dept. Of Education Wants 50 ‘Forbidden’ Words Banned From Standardized Tests

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — George Carlin is rolling over in his grave.

The New York City Department of Education is waging a war on words of sorts, and is seeking to have words they deem upsetting removed from standardized tests.

Fearing that certain words and topics can make students feel unpleasant, officials are requesting 50 or so words be removed from city-issued tests.

The word “dinosaur” made the hit list because dinosaurs suggest evolution which creationists might not like, WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported. “Halloween” is targeted because it suggests paganism; a “birthday” might not be happy to all because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Julie Lewis’ family celebrates Christmas and Kwanzaa, but she told CBS 2′s Emily Smith she wants her children to appreciate and learn about other holidays and celebrations.

“They’re going to meet people from all walks of life and they’re going to have to learn to adjust,” Lewis said.

Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. “Poverty” is also on the forbidden list. That’s something Sy Fliegal with the Center for Educational Innovation calls ridiculous.

“The Petersons take a vacation for five days in their Mercedes … so what? You think our kids are going to be offended because they don’t have a Mercedes? You think our kids are going to say ‘I’m offended; how could they ask me a question about a Mercedes? I don’t have a Mercedes!’” Fliegal said.

In a throwback to “Footloose,” the word “dancing” is also taboo. However, there is good news for kids that like “ballet”: The city made an exception for this form of dance.

Also banned are references to “divorce” and “disease,” because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

Some students think banning these words from periodic assessment tests is ridiculous.

“If you don’t celebrate one thing you might have a friend that does it. So I don’t see why people would find it offensive,” Curtis High School Sophomore Jamella Lewis told Diamond.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE is simply giving guidance to the test developers.

“So we’re not an outlier in being politically correct. This is just making sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests,” Walcott said Monday.

To which Fliegal responded: “It’s all of life! I don’t know how they figure out what not to put on the list. Every aspect of life is on the list.”

There are banned words currently in school districts nationwide. Walcott said New York City’s list is longer because its student body is so diverse.

Here is the complete list of words that could be banned:

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)

Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs

Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)

Bodily functions

Cancer (and other diseases)

Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)


Children dealing with serious issues

Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)

Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)


Death and disease



Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes

Gambling involving money



Homes with swimming pools


Junk food

In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge

Loss of employment

Nuclear weapons

Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)





Rap Music


Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

Rock-and-Roll music

Running away




Television and video games (excessive use)

Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)

Vermin (rats and roaches)


War and bloodshed

Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)

Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.


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New Research: Compelling Evidence of Urban Heat Island Effect in Global Temperature Data

McKitrick & Michaels Were Right: More Evidence of Spurious Warming in the IPCC Surface Temperature Dataset

Guest post by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

The supposed gold standard in surface temperature data is that produced by Univ. of East Anglia, the so-called CRUTem3 dataset. There has always been a lingering suspicion among skeptics that some portion of this IPCC official temperature record contains some level of residual spurious warming due to the urban heat island effect. Several published papers over the years have supported that suspicion.

The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect is familiar to most people: towns and cities are typically warmer than surrounding rural areas due to the replacement of natural vegetation with manmade structures. If that effect increases over time at thermometer sites, there will be a spurious warming component to regional or global temperature trends computed from the data.

Here I will show based upon unadjusted International Surface Hourly (ISH) data archived at NCDC that the warming trend over the Northern Hemisphere, where virtually all of the thermometer data exist, is a function of population density at the thermometer site.


Depending upon how low in population density one extends the results, the level of spurious warming in the CRUTem3 dataset ranges from 14% to 30% when 3 population density classes are considered, and even 60% with 5 population classes.


Analysis of the raw station data is not for the faint of heart. For the period 1973 through 2011, there are hundreds of thousands of data files in the NCDC ISH archive, each file representing one station of data from one year. The data volume is many gigabytes.

From these files I computed daily average temperatures at each station which had records extending back at least to 1973, the year of a large increase in the number of global stations included in the ISH database. The daily average temperature was computed from the 4 standard synoptic times (00, 06, 12, 18 UTC) which are the most commonly reported times from stations around the world.

At least 20 days of complete data were required for a monthly average temperature to be computed, and the 1973-2011 period of record had to be at least 80% complete for a station to be included in the analysis.

I then stratified the stations based upon the 2000 census population density at each station; the population dataset I used has a spatial resolution of 1 km.

I then accepted all 5×5 deg lat/lon grid boxes (the same ones that Phil Jones uses in constructing the CRUTem3 dataset) which had all of the following present: a CRUTem3 temperature, and at least 1 station from each of 3 population classes, with class boundaries at 0, 15, 500, and 30,000 persons per sq. km.

By requiring all three population classes to be present for grids to be used in the analysis, we get the best ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison between stations of different population densities. The downside is that there is less geographic coverage than that provided in the Jones dataset, since relatively few grids meet such a requirement.

But the intent here is not to get a best estimate of temperature trends for the 1973-2011 period; it is instead to get an estimate of the level of spurious warming in the CRUTem3 dataset. The resulting number of 5×5 deg grids with stations from all three population classes averaged around 100 per month during 1973 through 2011.


The results are shown in the following figure, which indicates that the lower the population density surrounding a temperature station, the lower the average linear warming trend for the 1973-2011 period. Note that the CRUTem3 trend is a little higher than simply averaging all of the accepted ISH stations together, but not as high as when only the highest population stations were used.

The CRUTem3 and lowest population density temperature anomaly time series which go into computing these trends are shown in the next plot, along with polynomial fits to the data:

Again, the above plot is not meant to necessarily be estimates for the entire Northern Hemispheric land area, but only those 5×5 deg grids where there are temperature reporting stations representing all three population classes.

The difference between these two temperature traces is shown next:

From this last plot, we see in recent years there appears to be a growing bias in the CRUTem3 temperatures versus the temperatures from the lowest population class.

The CRUTem3 temperature linear trend is about 15% warmer than the lowest population class temperature trend. But if we extrapolate the results in the first plot above to near-zero population density (0.1 persons per sq. km), we get a 30% overestimate of temperature trends from CRUTem3.

If I increase the number of population classes from 3 to 5, the CRUTem3 trend is overestimated by 60% at 0.1 persons per sq. km, but the number of grids which have stations representing all 5 population classes averages only 10 to 15 per month, instead of 100 per month. So, I suspect those results are less reliable.

I find the above results to be quite compelling evidence for what Anthony Watts, Pat Michaels, Ross McKitrick, et al., have been emphasizing for years: that poor thermometer siting has likely led to spurious warming trends, which has then inflated the official IPCC estimates of warming. These results are roughly consistent with the McKitrick and Michaels (2007) study which suggested as much as 50% of the reported surface warming since 1980 could be spurious.

I would love to write this work up and submit it for publication, but I am growing weary of the IPCC gatekeepers killing my papers; the more damaging any conclusions are to the IPCC narrative, the less likely they are to be published. That’s the world we live in.

Read the rest here.

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HURT: Brutal Week for Obama, the Worst of His Presidency

Charles Hurt

The past seven brutal days will go down as one of the worst weeks in history for a sitting president. It certainly has been, without any doubt, the worst week yet for President Obama.

Somehow, Mr. Obama managed to embarrass himself abroad, humiliate himself here at home, see his credentials for being elected so severely undermined that it raises startling questions about whether he should have been elected in the first place — let alone be re-elected later this year.


• Last Friday, Mr. Obama wandered into the killing of Trayvon Martin. Aided by his ignorance of the situation, knee-jerk prejudices and tendency toward racial profiling, Mr. Obama played a heavy hand in elevating a tragic situation in which a teenager was killed into a full-blown hot race fight.

Americans, he admonished, need to do some “soul-searching.” And then, utterly inexplicably, he veered off into this bizarre tangent about how he and the poor dead kid look so much alike they could be father and son. It was election-year race-pandering gone horribly wrong.

• By the start of this week, Mr. Obama had fled town and was racing to the other side of the planet just as the Supreme Court was taking up the potentially-embarrassing matter of Obamacare. While in South Korea he was caught on a hidden mic negotiating with the president of our longest-standing rival on how to sell America and her allies down the river once he gets past the next election.

• Meanwhile, back at home, the Supreme Court took up the single most important achievement of Mr. Obama’s presidency and, boy, was it embarrassing. The great constitutional law professor, it turns out, may not quite be the wizard he told us he was.

By most accounts, Mr. Obama and his stuttering lawyers were all but laughed out of the courthouse. They were even stumbling over softball questions lobbed by Mr. Obama’s own hand-picked justices.

• Mr. Obama closed his week pulling off a nearly unimaginable feat: He managed to totally and completely unify the nastily-fighting Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Late Wednesday night, they unanimously voted — 414 to zip — to reject the budget Mr. Obama had presented, leaving him not even a thin lily’s blade to hide behind.

So, in one week, Mr. Obama got caught whispering promises to our enemy, incited a race war, raised serious questions about his understanding of the Constitution, and then got smacked down over his proposed budget that was so wildly reckless that even Democrats in Congress could not support it.

It was as if you lumped Hurricane Katrina and the Abu Ghraib abuses into one week for George W. Bush. And added on top of that the time he oddly groped German Chancellor Angela Merkel and got caught cursing on a hot mic.

Even then, it wouldn’t be as bad as Mr. Obama’s week. You would probably also have to toss in the time Mr. Bush’s father threw up into the lap of Japan’s prime minister. Only then might we be approaching how bad a week it was for Mr. Obama.

Not that you will see any trace of embarrassment in the face of Mr. Obama. He has mastered the high political art of shamelessness, wearing it smugly and cockily. Kind of like a hoodie.

Read the rest here.

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Apple Supplier Foxconn Cuts Working Hours, Workers Ask Why

(Reuters) – When Chinese worker Wu Jun heard that her employer, the giant electronics assembly company Foxconn, had given employees landmark concessions her reaction was worry, not elation.

Wu, 23, is one of tens of thousands of migrants from the poor countryside who staff the production lines of Foxconn’s plant in Longhua, in southern China, which spits out made-to-order products for Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and other multinationals.

Foxconn’s concessions, including cutting overtime for its 1.2 million mainland Chinese workers while promising compensation that protects them against losing income, were backed by Apple, which has faced criticism and media scrutiny for worker safety lapses and for using relatively low-paid employees to make high-cost phones, computers and other gadgets.

But at the Foxconn factory gates, many workers seemed unconvinced that their pay wouldn’t be cut along with their hours. For some Chinese factory workers – who make much of their income from long hours of overtime – the idea of less work for the same pay could take getting used to.

“We are worried we will have less money to spend. Of course, if we work less overtime, it would mean less money,” said Wu, a 23-year-old employee from Hunan province in south China.

Foxconn said it will reduce working hours to 49 per week, including overtime.

“We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important,” said Chen Yamei, 25, a Foxconn worker from Hunan who said she had worked at the factory for four years.

“We have just been told that we can only work a maximum of 36 hours a month of overtime. I tell you, a lot of us are unhappy with this. We think that 60 hours of overtime a month would be reasonable and that 36 hours would be too little,” she added. Chen said she now earned a bit over 4,000 yuan a month ($634).

Foxconn is one the biggest employers of China’s 153 million rural migrants working outside their hometowns. Compared to smaller, mainland-owned factories, workers said, its vast plants are cleaner and safer, and offer more recreation sites.

Read the rest here.

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Do Stocks Always Outperform (in the Long Run)?

The equity premium puzzle is one of the longest standing anomalies in finance: the finding that stockmarket investing outperforms other types of investment by a significant amount. Generally you’d expect the price of shares to rise until this advantage was cancelled out, but this hasn’t happened and has made quite a lot of futurologists look rather silly.

It turns out, though, that the equity premium puzzle may be even more puzzling than it first appears. Basically researchers aren’t exactly sure how large it is, or even if it exists at all. So is the idea that stocks always outperform other investments in the long run just another market myth used to cajole unwary investors into parting with their hard-earned cash?

Read the rest here.

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A Health Law at Risk Gives Insurers Pause

“Many of us did not get the bill we wanted, but I think having to start over is worse than having to fix this,” said Robert Laszewski, a health care industry consultant and former insurance executive who opposed the bill.

Others say, however, the last two years have made it easier for Congress or the states to revisit the issue. The effort was not a waste of time, said Christine Pollack, vice president of government affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group that represents large retailers and opposed the law. “There has been an important dialogue that has happened over the last three and a half years that has been a long time coming,” she said.

The most ambitious provisions would be nearly impossible to salvage, like the requirement that insurers offer coverage even to those with existing medical conditions and the broad expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor. Popular pieces of the legislation might survive in the market, like insuring adult children up to age 26 through their parents’ policies, along with some of the broader changes being made in the health care system in how hospitals and doctors deliver care.

Abandoning the efforts and billions of dollars invested since the law was passed in 2010 would result in turmoil for hospitals, doctors, patients and insurers.

Many insurers would have difficulty changing course. “The risk of repeal and starting from zero frightens them infinitely more” than having to comply with the law as written, said Michael A. Turpin, a former insurance executive who is now a senior executive at USI Insurance Services, a broker.

Read the rest here.

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Girls Around Me: An App Takes Creepy to a New Level

Nick Bilton

Another day, another creepy mobile app. Here is one that allows you to find women in your area. It definitely wins the prize for too creepy.

Girls Around Me uses Foursquare, the location-based mobile service, to determine your location. It then scans for women in the area who have recently checked-in on the service. Once you identify a woman you’d like to talk to, one that inevitably has no idea you’re snooping on her, you can connect to her through Facebook, see her full name, profile photos and send her a message.

When you sign up for the Girls Around Me application, you are asked to log in to Facebook, giving the service your personal information, too. After connecting to Facebook, the app asks for everything, requiring people to share their basic information, profile information, photos, information people share with them and e-mail address. It will also ask permission to access your data when you are not using the app and post status updates, photos and more on your behalf.

“This would be a very different application if it didn’t link back to Facebook, which is the treasure trove of information. With that link, this app could easily be a “let’s stalk women” app,” said Elizabeth Stark, a lecturer in law at Stanford who teaches about privacy on the Internet.

Read the rest here.

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Why One Gas Is Cheap and One Isn’t

Floyd Norris

THE price of gas has risen rapidly this year.

The price of gas has fallen to the lowest level in a decade.

Both of those statements are true. The first refers to gasoline, the second to natural gas.

As the accompanying charts indicate, never in the two decades that natural gas and oil futures have traded have their prices diverged as much as they have now. On an energy equivalent basis, oil costs more than eight times as much as natural gas.

This week, the price of a million B.T.U.’s of natural gas fell below $2.20 for the first time since 2002, while oil prices slipped a little but remained above $100 a barrel. The last time natural gas was this inexpensive, oil cost about $20 a barrel.

The diverging prices reflect the fact that while oil and natural gas can substitute for each other in some uses, the markets for the two products are very different.

Read the rest here.


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Stop Panicking About Bullies

Childhood is safer than ever before, but today’s parents need to worry about something. Nick Gillespie on why busybodies and bureaucrats have zeroed in on bullying.

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. The makers of “Bully” say that “over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year,” and estimates of the percentage of students who are bullied in a given year range from 20% to 70%. NCES changed the way it tabulated bullying incidents in 2005 and cautions against using earlier data. Its biennial reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available). Such numbers strongly suggest that there is no epidemic afoot (though one wonders if the new anti-bullying laws and media campaigns might lead to more reports going forward).

The most common bullying behaviors reported include being “made fun of, called names, or insulted” (reported by about 19% of victims in 2009) and being made the “subject of rumors” (16%). Nine percent of victims reported being “pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on,” and 6% reported being “threatened with harm.” Though it may not be surprising that bullying mostly happens during the school day, it is stunning to learn that the most common locations for bullying are inside classrooms, in hallways and stairwells, and on playgrounds—areas ostensibly patrolled by teachers and administrators.

None of this is to be celebrated, of course, but it hardly paints a picture of contemporary American childhood as an unrestrained Hobbesian nightmare. Before more of our schools’ money, time and personnel are diverted away from education in the name of this supposed crisis, we should make an effort to distinguish between the serious abuse suffered by the kids in “Bully” and the sort of lower-level harassment with which the Aaron Cheeses of the world have to deal.

Read the rest here.

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Obama Kills Oil Drilling off Atlantic Coast for At Least 5 Years

Devin Dwyer

The Obama administration today endorsed new oil and gas exploration along the Atlantic Coast, setting the stage for possible future drilling lease sales.

The announcement by the Interior Department sets into motion what will be at least a five year environmental survey to determine whether and where oil production might occur.

It also comes as President Obama faces mounting pressure over high gas prices and criticism from Republicans that he has opposed more drilling for oil.

“Making decisions based on sound science, public input and the best information available is a critical component to this administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

But Republicans say the announcement is simply for show. Obama delayed and then cancelled a planned 2011 drilling lease sale for areas off the Virginia coast following the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

There are also no guarantees the administration will approve drilling permits at the end of the environmental review.

“The president’s actions have closed an entire new area to drilling on his watch and cheats Virginians out of thousands of jobs,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

The announcement “continues the president’s election-year political ploy of giving speeches and talking about drilling after having spent the first three years in office blocking, delaying and driving up the cost of producing energy in America,” he said.

“If President Obama truly wanted to support energy production in the Atlantic, he would immediately reinstate the lease sale that he canceled.”

House Republicans say approving drilling off the Virginia coast would create at least 2,000 jobs and produce 750 million barrels of oil.


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MUST READ–Another View: March Badness

via NYT DealBook

Another View: March Badness

The New York Times

As March comes to an end and the NCAA basketball tournament heads into the Final Four, most office pools are likely to be in tatters. But Joshua Brown — a financial adviser for Fusion Analytics Investment Partners who blogs and tweets as The Reformed Broker — is giving Wall Street fans another chance at bracket dominance.

With his first book, “Backstage Wall Street,” hitting shelves this month, Mr. Brown sketched out a new type of tournament, a face-off between 16 well-known financial scandals. He calls it “March Badness.”

His rules are simple: the biggest scandal wins. Will Jon Corzine take down Jimmy Cayne? Will John Thain pull out an upset over Greg Smith, like Lehigh did over Duke?

Mr. Brown has come up with his own matchups for the Sweet 16, winnowing it down to the Elite Eight. In the end, he believes Mr. Cayne will take home the glory. It’s “too much money involved and too many livelihoods at stake,” said Mr. Brown.

Leave your own match-ups in the comments below.

Dick Fuld (Lehman Brothers) vs. Jimmy Cayne (Bear Stearns)

In the battle to see who could blow up their firm faster, Jimmy Cayne had a slight edge on the timing, having fortuitously spent as much time as possible out of the office playing bridge and other extracurricular activities. Dick Fuld preferred a more hands-on approach in his firm’s implosion, turning away suitors and masking losses right up to the buzzer.

Winner: Jimmy Cayne.

Jon S. Corzine at a House panel last year on MF Global's collapse.Alex Wong/Getty ImagesJon S. Corzine at a House panel last year on MF Global’s collapse.

MF Global vs. the Rogue Trader All-Stars

How does one trump the world’s sneakiest rogue traders operating at firms like SocGen? How about getting the board of directors to allow you to put the entire firm on the line with a half-court Hail Mary of a European sovereign debt trade! Why skulk in the shadows, quietly losing the firm’s cash with unauthorized trades when you can actually do it all in broad daylight from a BlackBerry – and with increased leverage to boot! Sorry Jérôme Kerviel, Jon Corzine wiped the floor with you guys – he beat you so badly there’s still a billion dollars in the wind somewhere!

Winner: MF Global

Raj Rajaratnam vs. Martha Stewart

It’s the insider trading showdown of the century – the Domestic Doyenne put on quite a defensive show on the court, complete with horrible legal advice and the stonewalling of federal agents. But in the end, Raj was just too much for poor Martha – the man was getting assists from tipsters, company executives, expert networks and even rival players in the hedge fund game. Raj’s moves were unstoppable, and poor Martha had no answer to the flirtatious offensive moves of his point guard Danielle “the Refrigerator” Chiesi.

Winner: Raj Rajaratnam

Michael Milken at a health conference in 2009.Fred Prouser/ReutersMichael Milken at a health conference in 2009.

Long Term Capital Management vs. Michael Milken

L.T.C.M., led by the unsinkable John Meriwether, brought his A game out to the courts, leveraging every instrument he could get his hands on and wrapping them altogether into a wicked knot that only the entire Wall Street brain trust could unravel in time to prevent the world’s end. But Michael Milken would emerge victorious in terms of absolute damage across the entire economy. By the time he was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house nor was there an unleveraged balance sheet in the country – you name it, he indebted it, and sold the bonds off for a double-dip fee on the other side. A crossover dribble so vicious he ought to have been jailed. Oh, wait a minute…

Winner: Michael Milken

Dennis Kozlowski vs. John Thain

The Koz, C.E.O. and master of everything he surveyed at Tyco, got off to an extremely promising start. His raiding and spending of shareholder cash and his “versatility” with accounting seemed like an invincible combo – a $2 million Sardinian birthday party complete with seminude entertainers and a Jimmy Buffett concert, man that’s unbeatable! But Sir John Thain, the cybernetic new C.E.O. of credit crisis-era Merrill Lynch wasn’t backing down so easily. Did Thain let the fact that Merrill was facing losses of capital in the $39 billion range get him down? No, sir! An $87,000 area rug – bang! A $68,000 credenza and a $1,400 parchment waste can – boom! Thain looked Kozlowski dead in his eye and said “Watch me drop $35,000 on a toilet, Homeboy.” And he did. Thain’s $1.2 million office renovation at the bankrupt Merrill Lynch put him over the top in terms of sheer audacity. Better luck next time, Dennis.

Winner: John Thain

Greg Smith said that Goldman Sachs employees referred to clients as "Muppets."Fred Prouser/ReutersGreg Smith said that Goldman Sachs employees referred to clients as “Muppets.”

Abacus vs. Muppetgate

Two Goldman Sachs alums, but only one can advance to the next round! Fresh from the European League, “Fabulous” Fabrice Tourre came to win. Pecking out a half-French, half-English e-mail about the coming real estate collapse was one thing. But then turning around and producing a 65-page flipbook to sell the billion dollar Abacus portfolio of real estate loans? Transcendent! But then Greg Smith comes bounding up the court, fire in his eyes and an acute attack of conscience in his gut. Smith, a former Jewish Olympics bronze medalist in table tennis, is in peak condition as he resigns from Goldman Sachs via an opinion article in The New York Times. He head fakes Fab under the basket, then pivots with his revelation that Goldman MDs refer to their clients as Muppets. In the end, the eyeball-gouging Smith article is simply too viral to be defeated.

Winner: Muppetgate

Frank Quattrone, the founder of Qatalyst Partners, at a technology conference in 2010.Tony Avelar/Bloomberg NewsFrank Quattrone, the founder of Qatalyst Partners, at a technology conference in 2010.

Jack Grubman vs. Frank Quattrone

The Ranking for Banking Bowl is one of this tournament’s most anticipated matchups as two, shall we say, morally agile Wall Streeters face off for the title. Jack Grubman is the fan favorite (and at $20 million a year during the telecom bubble’s heyday, one of Wall Street’s highest paid analysts in history). His ability to guarantee Strong Buy ratings to secure lucrative I.P.O. business for Smith Barney put him squarely ahead of the field in the early going. ButFrank Quattrone goes hard in paint for Credit Suisse. He is based in Silicon Valley and runs the vaunted “Friends of Frank” offense — you play by Frank’s rules or you don’t exist. In the end, Grubman was simply no match for Quattrone, a banker who controlled the analysts with an iron fist.

Winner: Frank Quattrone

Stan O’Neal (Merrill Lynch) vs. Angelo Mozillo (Countrywide)

On paper, Angelo Mozillo is easily the more devastating in this head-to-head, and he’s certainly the more orange hued. Having steered his mortgage machine to a $200 billion monstrosity by the peak of the housing bubble, Mozillo walked off just in time to watch it blow up in someone else’s hands (BofA – who else?). Ol’ Angelo nailed the timing walking off the court at halftime with a mere $65 million in fines and disgorgement. But his rival, Stan O’Neal had driven Merrill into the ground in spectacular fashion, turning the old stalwart brokerage firm into a leveraged debt hedge fund almost by accident. O’Neal’s negligence was magnificent to behold, golfing while his firm went to 20, then 30, then 40-to-1 debt to equity all in the name of slathering their bank accounts with bigger and bigger bonuses. And the losses at Merrill were simply breathtaking. From July 2007 to July 2008, a total of $19.2 billion vaporized – or $52 million in losses per day! Reached for comment after the game, the oblivious O’Neal was quoted as saying, “Wait, what happened again?”

Winner: Stan O’Neal

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Market Update

Energy stocks recently staged a strong run that has the sector sporting a 0.6% gain. Although that isn’t quite as strong as the 0.7% gains currently displayed by Consumer Staples stocks and Health Care stocks, the Energy sector carries much more influence because of its market weight.

Still, overall gains remain only modest as stocks chop along in the final session of March. As things currently stand, the S&P 500 will book a first quarter gain of 12%, which is owed to an impressive run that has taken the broad market to 11 weekly gains in 13 tries.

Financials and Tech have been integral in the stock market’s first quarter performance, but both sectors have been relatively quiet today. While Financials have at least worked their way up to a 0.3% gain, the Tech sector remains mired in negative territory with a narrow loss of 0.1%.

Corporate news has been without any real consequence and economic data has hardly been influential in today’s trade.

Personal income increased in February by slightly slower-than-expected 0.2%, but personal spending proved better than expected by climbing 0.8%. Separately, the Chicago PMI slipped more than expected to 62.2 in March, while the final reading on consumer sentiment in March from the University of Michigan improved unexpectedly to 76.2. DJ30 +52.48 NASDAQ +1.70 SP500 +4.97 NASDAQ Adv/Vol/Dec 1305/835 mln/1125 NYSE Adv/Vol/Dec 1895/295 mln/990

Market Update

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Documentary: Orwell Rolls In His Grave

You are still free to discover the truth. Perhaps one day that will not be.

Cheers on your pleb robotic weeknd activities…..

[youtube://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_lYGyIaK80 450 300]

Director Robert Kane Pappas’ “Orwell Rolls Over In His Grave” is the consummate critical examination of the Fourth Estate, once the bastion of American democracy. Asking whether America has entered an Orwellian world of doublespeak where outright lies can pass for the truth, Pappas explores what the media doesn’t like to talk about: itself.

Meticulously tracing the process by which media has distorted and often dismissed actual news events, Pappas presents a riveting and eloquent mix of media professionals and leading intellectual voices on the media.

Among the cast of characters in “Orwell Rolls Over In His Grave” are Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, Vincent Bugliosi, former L.A. prosecutor and legal scholar, film director and author Michael Moore, Rep. Bernie Sanders, Danny Schecter, author and former producer for ABC and CNN, and Tony Benn, former member of the British Parliament.

“Orwell Rolls Over In His Grave” expresses ideas that will never be heard in mainstream media. From Globalvision’s Danny Schecter: “We falsely think of our country as a democracy when it has evolved into a `mediacracy’, where a media that is supposed to check political abuse is part of the political abuse.” New York University media professor Mark Crispin Miller says, “These commercial entities now vie with the government for control over our lives. They are not a healthy counterweight to government.”

Joseph Goebbels, former head of Nazi propaganda, said that what you want in a media system- he meant the Nazi media system – is to present the ostensible diversity that conceals an actual uniformity. From the very size of the media monopolies and how they got that way to who decides what gets on the air and what doesn’t, “Orwell Rolls Over In His Grave” moves through a troubling list of questions and news stories that go unanswered and unreported in the mainstream media.

Are Americans being given the information a democracy needs to survive or have they been electronically lobotomized? Has the frenzy for media consolidation led to a dangerous irony where, in an era of more news sources, the majority of the population has actually become less informed? Orwell Rolls Over In His Grave reminds us that 1984 is no longer a date in the future.

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Fact Check: A Last Look @ Healthcare Before the Supreme Court Ruling

“Both the Republican National Committee and the Obama administration are making misleading claims about health insurance premium costs. An RNC ad falsely implies that the federal health care law is responsible for all of the $1,300 average increase in family coverage premiums last year. But at the same time, the Obama administration makes the misleading claim that families “could save up to $2,300″ on health care costs per year in the future by buying insurance through exchanges called for by the law.

Let’s start with the RNC ad, which was launched last week. It takes Obama to task for promising to lower the typical family’s premiums by $2,500, an optimistic claim we have questioned several times, ever since the soon-to-be president first made the promise on the campaign trail. But, the RNC says, “it didn’t happen.” That’s true, and it’s unknown whether it will ever happen.

Then, the RNC implies that the health care law is to blame for all of the increase in premiums from 2010 to 2011. The ad says, “The average cost of a family policy is up $1,300.” That’s the total increase in the average employer-sponsored premium for family plans from 2010 to 2011, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey. And that’s the total cost for both employers and employees — not $1,300 out of pocket for the average family. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation report said that the increase in what workers contribute wasn’t “a statistically significant increase over the 2010 values.”

Standard economic theory holds that even if the employers picked up the vast majority of the bump in premium costs, they passed that expense on to employees in the form of lower wages. So it’s fair to argue that families bear the full $1,300 cost increase one way or another. But was the health care law to blame for the rise in premiums? We looked into premium increases last October, and experts told us more generous coverage requirements in the law caused premiums to go up by 1 percent to 3 percent. All told, premiums went up 9 percent, the bulk of which was due to rising health care costs….”

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ANALYSIS: Lack of Leadership at the Top of Corporate Ladder

“As I was reading former Wall Street executive Greg Smith’s bombshell of an Op-Edin the New York Times last week, I mentally inserted the names of the big for-profit health insurers — two of which I worked for — in place of Goldman Sachs, where Smith worked until resigning on the day his column was published.

Smith wrote that he decided to leave Goldman-Sachs because it had veered so far from the company he had joined straight out of college that he could no longer say in good conscience “that I identify with what it stands for.”

He put the blame squarely on Goldman’s current CEO and president. It was during their watch, he wrote, that “the firm changed the very way it thought about leadership.

“Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.”

Had Smith been an executive at any one of the big investor-owned insurers that have come to control the U.S. health care system, he could have written the same thing.

Like Smith, I came to realize toward the end of my career that the companies I had worked for had changed so much during my two decades with them that I could not in good conscience continue to serve as an industry cheerleader and spokesman.

Shortly before I turned in my notice in 2008, the human resources manager who had hired me nearly 15 years earlier turned in his as well. He told me that in his exit interview, his boss, the head of HR, told him — not with regret but with pride — that the company he was leaving was not the company he had joined. He was right, which is why that HR manager and I and many other former colleagues have left in recent years, dismayed at what the leaders of health insurance companies have come to value more than anything else: making big money for themselves and their companies’ shareholders.

Smith wrote in his op-ed that “not one single minute [at Goldman] is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them.”

In the many executive-level sessions I participated in over the years — including with peers from other companies at trade association meetings — I cannot recall one time in which we talked for a single minute about designing health benefit plans that truly were in the best interest of consumers. We talked instead about making sure policyholders had sufficient “skin in the game” to ensure “profitable growth.”

Smith soured on common practices at Goldman like persuading clients to invest in mortgage backed securities without mentioning to those clients that the company had already bet against those very same securities. By doing this, Goldman was guaranteeing itself a profit, even as some of its clients were losing a fortune and many of the rest of us were about to lose our homes and our jobs.

Similarly, I soured on common practices in the health insurance industry like refusing to sell coverage to children and others with “pre-existing conditions,” cancelling peoples’ coverage when they got sick and spending less and less every year of policyholders’ premiums on their medical care because of pressure from Wall Street analysts and investors….”

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Red Flags Ignored by DOE Over Solyndra

“The Department of Energy was fully aware of the risks in backing Solyndra Inc., a start-up company that pocketed a half-billion dollar DOE loan but never turned a penny in profit before shutting its doors, concludes a former FBI agent hired to examine the company’s books.

The expert’s report, filed this week in Solyndra’s voluminous bankruptcy case in California, could embolden critics who say the government ignored financial red flags in supporting the solar panel maker with President Obama’s maiden green energy loan in 2009.

The $535 million loan, which bankrolled a vast new manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., was part of a broad government mission to kick-start the clean energy movement: Solyndra’s unique solar panels would cover commercial rooftops across the country, aiding the environment and boosting the economy.

Yet the company collapsed under a sea of debt and a business plan that, amid dramatic shifts in the global solar market, caused it to sell far fewer panels at far higher costs than envisioned. From 2009-11, it cost Solyndra $3.92 more per watt to make its panels than to sell them, the bankruptcy report shows.

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy Sept.6, 2011. Two days later, it faced a raid by agents from the FBI and the Energy Department inspector general. With those clouds looming, the company’s board hired R. Todd Neilson — the former federal agent and veteran trustee in bankruptcy cases — as chief restructuring officer.

Solyndra’s board wanted a CRO to not only manage its bankruptcy case, but to explore whether the company committed misdeeds on its road to collapse. “In light of the Federal criminal investigation and ongoing Congressional investigation … the Subcommittee agreed that the CRO would act in an independent capacity in determining if any improprieties had occurred with respect to the Debtors’ finances,” Neilson’s report said.

After examining tens of thousands of pages of records, Neilson concluded that Solyndra did not improperly divert funds. “The construction costs were correctly recorded in the accounting records and no material funds were diverted from their original intended use,” he wrote.

All funds drawn from the DOE loan, he found, “were spent in accordance with the relevant loan documents.”

And, Neilson made clear, the DOE was fully informed of Solyndra’s finances when it initially backed the company in 2009 — and restructured its loan in 2011, seven months before the bankruptcy and raid.

“The CRO has reviewed the vast level of communications and the underlying records between the DOE and Solyndra,” he wrote. “It is the opinion of the CRO that the DOE had sufficient information to understand the risks and challenges associated with the guarantee obtained from DOE and make an informed decision as to the ongoing financial condition of Solyndra throughout the loan guarantee time frame.”

In fact, records show, the Energy Department supported the Solyndra financing in the early days of the Obama administration in the face of criticism from officials within several wings of government — the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Treasury and DOE. “This deal is NOT ready for prime time,” one OMB employee wrote March 10, 2009, government emails show. Ten days later, energy officials announced Solyndra was in line to be the first company to secure a green energy loan guarantee….”

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Don’t Let Emotions Wreck Your Portfolio


“Any investor would love to think he’s the next Warren Buffet, but according to data compiled by wealth management site Jemstep, the majority of us don’t have a clue what we’re doing.

“Investors are clearly harmed by their delusions of stock market expertise,” the site says. “Instead of staying the course, emotional biases drive investors to respond to the market’s ups and downs in a way that harms their financial well-being.”

The proof is in the pudding: The average stock fund investor netted just 1.9 percent in annual returns for the 20-year period ending in 2008, according to the investor research firm Dalbar. If they’d kept their funds in the S&P 500 and maintained a diversified portfolio, they could have racked up 8.4 percent in returns.

Look below to see how you could be letting your emotions wreck your investments:



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BofA ECONOMIST: China’s Economic Data Is About To Get A LOT Better

“A string of weak economic data has brought back talks of a Chinese hard landing.

But in a new note to clients Ting Lu, China economist for Bank of America-Merrill Lynch says “China might be bottoming out from the unlucky Jan-Feb”.

Lu the #1 China economist according to Bloomberg says in the first two months, the Chinese economy was hit by weaker external demand, its coldest winter in 27 years, political tensions that distracted from the economy, and destocking by manufacturers following declining home sales in the last quarter of 2011.  But he thinks the worst may bet over:

The inevitable fight for political succession was finished ahead of schedule. The situation is turned for the better, and the leadership change will be even smoother, we believe. Top leaders, both outgoing and incoming, will refocus on delivering stable growth. Winter is gone finally; banks are cutting their exorbitant lending rates; new home sales rebounded as mortgage rates for first home buyers were slashed; daily steel output reached new record high as destocking is close to its end. Last but not the least, with the 2nd round LTRO, at least there is no imminent risk of another global financial crisis, in our view.”

While others like Morgan Stanley’s Joachim Fels have revised up their GDP forecasts to 9 percent for 2012, Lu maintains his annual forecast for 8.6 percent because he doesn’t expect Beijing to “overly stimulate the economy”. He argues that China already is a major consumer of big commodities and faster growth will only raise the costs of raw material imports and consequently inflation.

Going forward Lu sees some positive data coming out of China….”

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