"God Bless the Dream, the Dreamer and the Result." 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How to Protect Your Money

After the biggest single-day's loss in Wall Street's history, even Americans whose sole investment is a bank account are nervously scratching their heads. Here are some guidelines to the failed-bailout crisis from the New York Times:

What happens next? The market's deep dive may scare Congress into passing the bailout or a new bill, at which point stocks may rebound.
Should I buy? Stocks are swinging wildly, so Wall Street is a gamble. Be prepared to lose big if you take the risk, but you may come out lucky.
If your retirement portfolio is bust, keep saving and give it time. If you're preparing to retire now, reconsider. It's not a good time to quit.

Plant: No Zep Reunion Tour for Me

Robert Plant denies he ever planned to join a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, saying "it's been both frustrating and ridiculous" to hear such rumors, Billboard reports. Plant says he won't be touring with anyone for at least two years, but wishes guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and late drummer John Bonham's son Jason "nothing but success” with a reunion tour.

His bandmates are said to be rehearsing together and contemplating vocalists to replace Plant on tour. Plant—who is "keen to get on" with individual projects—reaped acclaim for the album he released last year with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. Zep fans can seek some solace in a 10-disc boxed set of the band’s entire works, which will be out November 4.

Hedge Funds Poised to Be Next Victims of Credit Crisis

Many players in the $2 trillion hedge fund industry could fall victim to bad timing and markets as yesterday’s market plunge coincides with today’s deadline for many investors to decide whether to withdraw before year’s end, the Wall Street Journal reports. Funds may be forced to sell off stocks today to compensate fleeing investors.

Such a selloff wouldn't allow stocks and other fund holdings time to recover, and funds would continue to lose value as more investors withdrew."There's going to be a death spiral for a number of these funds, and I don't think we've even begun to see the unwinding," said the president of one brokerage firm.

Monday, September 29, 2008

10 Films About Nasty Business

Wall Street executives have it tough these days, but Hollywood has rarely gone easy on guys in suits. USA Today lists 10 definitive films about them:

Stagecoach (1939): Like all John Ford movies, this one makes a banker look bad.
Splendor in the Grass (1961): A 1930s investor doesn't just get depressed—he takes it out the window.
American Madness (1932): A bank man takes a rare turn as the nice guy, battling his board over loan policies.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967): What's better than a banker being robbed?
Trading Places (1983): A broker becomes a bum, a bum a broker: Audiences loved the comparison.
Wall Street (1987): A broker starts off nice until his boss shows him greed ain't bad.

Where US Consumers Can Turn Now

The failure of the bailout bill to clear the House has American consumers checking their retirement accounts, their wallets, and even their mattresses as they grapple with the implications of the worsening financial situation. With falling oil prices seemingly the only silver lining for the average consumer, MSNBC offers some advice.

Make sure investments eligible for FDIC protection actually have that protection.
Make sure your brokerage company belongs to the SIPC.
The larger the firm, the safer your money-market fund.
Don't depend on getting a mortgage, a car loan, or even a new credit card.
If none of that sets your mind at ease, you may find some consolation in the words of Wall Street Journal "Institutional Investor" columnist Jason Zweig: "It will not last indefinitely. It never does."

Charlotte Booms Amid Bust

As the rest of the nation struggles through the mortgage bust, Charlotte, NC, is experiencing a boom, Time reports. The pro-business Southern city—home of Bank of America and eight other Fortune 500 firms—manages $2 trillion in assets, making it the second-largest financial center in the US behind New York. Though Charlotte isn’t as sexy a metropolis as Manhattan, the city is quickly shedding its image as a sleepy backwater town.

In recent years, Charlotte has enjoyed the nation’s lowest office-vacancy rates, healthiest urban housing market, and fastest-growing airport. Its climate and quality of life are luring a new generation of workers. And businesses not only bankroll growth, building everything from a NASCAR Hall of Fame to an African-American cultural center, but also help write civic policy. "We don't mind when the competition thinks we're Mayberry," the mayor says. "We're happy to be America's best-kept secret."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dental Divide: US Goes for White, UK Prefers Character

The difference between British teeth and American teeth is in societal expectations, the BBC reports. “Americans have the idea uniformity is equivalent to looking good,” one UK expert says. “The British character is more free-spirited, more radical.” Brits like Ricky Gervais have resisted the lure of the super-white smile, and those who have fallen for it—hello, Simon Cowell—often are mocked at home.

But some procedures are gaining popularity across the pond. Braces, crowns, and whitening are more common, though “nice natural smiles—natural in color” are preferred, a professor says. Does that mean Gervais, whose real teeth recently were mistaken for funny-looking fakes, will be hitting the dentist's chair? “For comedians, it's good to look unique,” a cosmetic dentist says.

Alcatraz Garden Blooms Despite Years of Neglect

The hardened inmates on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island had tough neighbors who endure to this day: sun-kissed geraniums, snapdragons, gazanias, and roses. Thanks to an ambitious restoration project, “The Rock” is blooming, the Sacramento Bee reports. After work began 5 years ago, gardeners discovered 145 plant varieties that survived 40 years of neglect amidst the island’s harsh conditions.

Before the prison closed in 1963, “Alcatraz residents, Army staff and prisoners, and later penitentiary inmates, staff and their families, all tended these plantings,” one official said. Roses and fuchsias were the darlings of prison staff. One inmate said the flowers saved his life: Upon release, became a horticulturalist at a golf course.

What Will Taxpayers Shell Out for All This?

If a $700 billion federal bailout sounds like a lot, it is—but Washington will actually shell out $1 trillion in all of its present and proposed plans. Between Henry Paulson's plan, and bailouts of Bear Stearns, AIG, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Wall Street Journal breaks down Washington's rescues into pieces to see how much of it will hit taxpayers' wallets.

Paulson's plan: The US is acquiring mortgage debt that may rise in value if markets recover. But they could lose value, leading to higher taxes or slashed government programs.
The Bear Stearns bailout cost chump change—just $29 billion—but some was spent on acquiring bad mortgages that could cost taxpayers.
The Treasury pumped $200 billion into Fannie and Freddie. Some of that may be lost as the firms' mortgage securities slide with home prices.
The US lent $85 billion to AIG, but it's still partly profitable, and agreed to steep interest rates and 80% government ownership.
The worst potential pitfall in all of this? That Wall Street will expect more bailouts the next time it gets into trouble.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

In Love With the Pet-Sitter? You Dog!

It can lead to tearful separations, but cheating is natural—for quadrupeds, that is. It really is them, not you, a veterinarian tells MSNBC. Pets may gravitate toward a new owner for any number of reasons. “Hallie was my dog, but I always sensed her unhappiness at having to share my attention with other dogs,” says one owner. “With her own person, she has blossomed.”

Those unwilling to part ways can establish a stronger bond by playing games to show that they are fun owners, a behaviorist suggests. And using a leash around visitors until the dog learns to focus on you first will tell the canine, “You can have what you want, but remember that I’m here and you should ask me first,” she says.

Conservatives: Blame Wall St., Not Minorities

Some conservative commentators have bypassed greedy Wall Street firms, reckless lenders, and a government asleep at the wheel to blame minorities for the credit crisis, Cynthia Tucker observes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. This a misguided move for many reasons, she writes. For starters, the affirmative action lending programs they blame for many subprime loans don't even exist.

It's true that many minority homeowners were pushed into risky loans, Tucker writes, but the lenders weren't complying with any regulations to ensure equality—they were just out to make money. "The credit crisis is an all-American disaster, a melting pot of greed, recklessness, and myopia," Tucker concludes. "Those all-too-human traits aren’t limited to any particular race or ethnic group."

Foreclosures Soar on Homes Over $1M

The housing crisis, having wreaked havoc on low- and middle-income homeowners, is moving into the mansion set. Foreclosures on $1 million plus homes have almost doubled since last year, MSNBC reports, and more than doubled for homes over $2 million. The reasons are familiar: layoffs in the executive and professional ranks, coupled with huge mortgages, are causing high-end homeowners to miss payments and lose their titles.

The market is now cramped with pricey abandoned homes, particularly in tony communities in California and Florida, where properties are on offer for as little as half the valuation before foreclosure. And continued layoffs on Wall Street could bring the phenomenon to the Northeast. “It doesn't make sense,” said one owner, whose $3.8 million home will be lucky to fetch $1.4 million.

Paul Newman Dead at 83

Paul Newman, the Academy-Award winning actor who personified cool as an activist, race car driver, popcorn impresario and the anti-hero of such films as Hud, Cool Hand Luke and The Color of Money, has died after a long battle with cancer, the AP reports. He was 83. In May, Newman had dropped plans to direct a fall production of Of Mice and Men, citing health issues.

Newman got his start in theater and on television during the 1950s, and went on to become one of the world's most enduring and popular film stars, as well as a favorite of his peers. He was nominated for Oscars 10 times, winning one regular award and two honorary ones. He is survived by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

'Gordon Gekko': Wall Street Isn't Wall Street

Questions from reporters apparently confused by the fantasy-reality divide forced Michael Douglas to explain yesterday that he isn't actually the investment banker he played in 1987's Wall Street. Although he won an Oscar for portraying "greed is good" proponent Gordon Gekko, he's not an expert on the current financial crisis, the actor-producer explained at a UN news conference nominally about a nuclear test ban treaty.

"Are you saying Gordon that greed is not good?" a reporter asked. "I'm not saying that," Douglas replied. "And my name is not Gordon. He's a character I played 20 years ago."

Fewer Blink at Prominent Ink

Aggressively visible tattoos, like those on the neck and hands, are no longer the sole purview of ne’er-do-wells and pop stars, the New York Times reports. Until recently, most reputable tattoo artists wouldn’t dare cross the cuff or the collar of a subject with a straight job. But taboos are relaxing, and doctors, teachers and even models feel comfortable showing their ink.

Longtime devotees aren’t happy with the trend; ink spilling over to the head and hands used to indicate a body tatted to overflowing. Though some employers still frown on it, attitudes towards body modification have softened, allowing regular working folk to let their imaginations go. There is a corollary; one dermatologist noted “an increase in the number of people coming in to have … tattoos removed.”

Lawmakers: We Have a Deal

The bipartisan group of legislators working on either a Wall Street bailout or a rescue package has reached "a fundamental agreement on a set of principles," Senate Banking Committee Chris Dodd said today. Racing to make a deal before a scheduled 4pm meeting at the White House, the lawmakers were optimistic the measure had enough support to satisfy both houses of Congress and President Bush, CQ Politics reports.

"There really isn't much of a deadlock to break," House financial services chairman Barney Frank told the AP. "But I'm always glad to go to the White House."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Millen Out as Lions' President

Matt Millen’s tenure as the Detroit Lions’ president and GM is over, Fox Sports reports. His removal came after an executive meeting last night, and Millen reportedly packed up his office this morning. Millen, 50, was among the most reviled executives in sports—with even the son of owner William Clay Ford saying recently he would fire Millen if it were his decision.

It is unclear if Millen—who won four Super Bowls during 12 seasons as an NFL linebacker—resigned or was formally fired. But with the Lions at a league-worst 31-84 since he took over in 2001, and fans staging in-game walkouts known as “Millen Man Marches”, the consensus has been clear. Detroit started this season 0-3.

Evacuees Return to Battered Galveston

Heaps of furniture and electronics lined Galveston's streets as evacuees returned to the Texan island to salvage their belongings, the Galveston County Daily News reports. Some were spared from Hurricane Ike’s wrath altogether, while others discovered their homes completely flattened. In the city's central housing projects, first-floor residents found dead pets in courtyards that were submerged under 8 feet of water during the storm.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Salary Gender Gap May Be All in Your Head

Not only is the gender gap in pay persistent, it affects men as well as women. Men with traditional views on a woman's place in the world earn, on average, $12,000 more per year than men who believe in egalitarian business practices, the Washington Post reports. Traditionally minded women make the least of all, according to a new study.

The study, which covers the last quarter-century, looked at men and women working similar jobs, with similar hours and lengths of tenure. Controlling for those variables dispelled some long-held conventional wisdom, suggesting that "a lot of the difference may be in men's salaries," says a study co-author. Traditional-minded men may negotiate harder for higher wages, and employers may discriminate against men who flout stereotype by holding egalitarian attitudes.

Metallica Tops List of Rock Hall Nominees

The nominees for next year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction were announced today, with rockers Metallica and rappers Run-DMC nominated for the first time, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Artists are eligible for induction 25 years after their first recording is released; just five acts are admitted each year. A rundown of some of the nominees:

The Stooges: The Iggy Pop-fronted proto-punk band, recently resurgent, has been nominated 7 times.
War: The genre-bending LA funk group had hits like Low Rider in the 1970s. This is their first nomination.
Wanda Jackson: Nominated for the second time, this rockabilly singer toured with Elvis and Buddy Holly in the 50s.
Chic: Niles Rodgers' disco-funk band was sampled for the original hip-hop hit, Rapper's Delight.

Italy's National Airline Could Shut Down Within Week

Italy’s aviation authority is poised to ground Alitalia permanently if the bankrupt national carrier doesn’t present a credible reorganization plan by Thursday, ANSA reports. The airline is laden with debt and flying under a provisional license, one the aviation authority will revoke if it doesn’t get an acceptable proposal.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi doesn't think other carriers will want to help save Alitalia, which has seen suitors scared off by various union complaints. "Time is running out," said one aviation official, though he said the board could perhaps be "a little more flexible if it's just a matter of days, since thousands of jobs are at stake."

Panhandlers More Often Pros Than Cons

Panhandling has turned professional, with determined and resourceful "spangers"—spare-change artists—overwhelming street corners throughout the country, some pulling in as much as $40,000 a year, Steven Malanga writes in City Journal. Beggars can even turn to the web for shakedown tips. If that seems like an unlikely destination, that's exactly the point: Many are hardly helpless, or even homeless.

It's "especially bad in cities that have a reputation for being liberal and tolerant," says the co-founder of a partnership that helped oust panhandlers from 1990s Manhattan. "People in New York would be shocked at what one encounters in other cities these days, where the panhandling can be very intimidating." The centralized advice explains the proliferation of the pointed, humorous approach to begging: "I won't lie," read many signs. "Need money for booze and drugs."

How to Make That First-Date Movie Count

"The difference between marital bliss and a train wreck of a relationship is the difference between Charlie Wilson's War and Saw IV, " writes Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle. There's no overestimating the power of that first-date movie. How to walk the tightrope:

Bad isn't bad: Think brainless Matthew McConaughey bad, not brain-exploding Dane Cook bad.
No porn, dude: Seriously. You'd think Taxi Driver would have drilled this one home. Also, no Taxi Driver.
No epics: If Braveheart seems like an awesome first-date movie to you, study this list like a textbook.
No hot actors: If it's a choice between Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt as your leading man for the evening, think about which one is substantially more attractive than you.

Doc: Rockers Will Recover From Crash

Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and celebrity disc jockey DJ AM are expected to fully recover from burns they suffered in a fiery South Carolina jet crash that killed the other four people aboard, their doctor said today. The two suffered second- and third-degree burns but had no other injuries from the crash that one witness described as a fireball shooting across a highway.

The doctor said Barker was burned on his torso and lower body and DJ AM, whose real name is Adam Goldstein, was burned on his hands and part of his head. The doctor declined to discuss specific recovery times for the musicians, but said such injuries can take a year to fully heal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Killed Bear, Lehman Is What the World Needs

Sure, subprime loans toppled two pillars of American investment banking, gutted the world’s largest insurer, and plunged the entire US financial system into a tailspin. But they are exactly what the world needs today, Daniel Gross argues in Slate. “Far from the madding, depressed crowds of Wall Street, billions of people are starving for credit,” the columnist writes.

Small loans help fight worldwide poverty, but the trick is figuring out what borrowers can afford to pay back. “We need loan officers with a banker's head, a social worker's heart, and the stamina of a distance runner,” said one microlender. With new technologies that boost access to credit, nations only need to foster an entrepreneurial system—if America's hasn't scared them off yet.

Yankee Stadium's Greatest Moments

As Yankee Stadium hosts its last game today, the New York Post looks back at the greatest moments in “The House That Ruth Built." A smattering:

April 18, 1923: Seventy-five thousand fans cheer Babe Ruth's three-run homer on opening day.
April 27, 1947: Ruth says goodbye to the Bronx faithful, one year before succumbing to throat cancer. "People were crying," one fan said. "Especially the older men, which would normally not happen."
Dec. 28, 1958: In the "greatest football game ever played," the Baltimore Colts top the New York Giants in overtime.
Sept. 28, 1976: Muhammed Ali lands a still-controversial 15-round win against Derek Norton. "I still think I won the fight," Norton said.
Oct 18, 1977: Reggie Jackson cranks three homers to help the Yanks win the World Series. "As I went to the dugout" after the third one, Jackson said, "everybody who hated me loved me."
June 21, 1990: Nelson Mandela makes the Stadium his first international stop after 27 years in prison. "I am a Yankee!" he shouted, draped in a team jacket.
Sept. 23, 2001: Thousands of New Yorkers come together in the aftermath of Sept. 11 for an interfaith prayer service.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rock Star Jet Crash Kills 4, Injures 2

Two music stars were the only survivors of a Learjet crash late last night, NBC reports. The small jet crashed while taking off from a South Carolina airport. Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM, whose real name is Adam Goldstein, are in critical condition at a Georgia burn center; the other four people aboard the jet, including two passengers and two crew, were killed.

Before the flight, Barker and DJ AM had performed with former Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell and Gavin DeGraw. Neither performer was on the plane, notes MTV News and the Times Herald-Record. Barker also starred in the MTV reality series Meet the Barkers.

Bush Asks Congress for $700B Bailout Fund

The Bush administration today formally asked Congress to authorize a $700 billion fund, administered by the Treasury Department, to help troubled financial institutions unload bad debt, the Washington Post reports. The figure is $200 billion higher than legislators were led to expect yesterday, and the national debt limit would be raised to $11.3 trillion. “It is a big package because it's a big problem,” said President Bush, who added that he abandoned his free-market impulses because of the risks involved for the financial system.

The streamlined proposal to Congress, not even 3 pages long, represents the biggest government bailout since the Great Depression. The $700 billion figure represents $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the US, the New York Times notes. Meetings are underway on Capitol Hill between congressional and Treasury Department staffers to work out the details before an expected vote next week.

Muppets Hit the Comeback Trail

A generation that never saw the Muppets is about to meet Kermit and Miss Piggy, the New York Times reports. Disney has owned the old puppet/marionette gang for 4 years, but inertia and infighting have kept them undercover. Now the media giant is blitzing outlets with viral video, clothing lines, and customizable toys to hype a 2010 Muppets movie.

So far Kermit and Miss Piggy are doing promos with pop phenoms as diverse as the Jonas Brothers and Desperate Housewives, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall scribes are writing the Muppets movie for an adult crowd. “Have they been a little slow? Perhaps,” said a Jim Henson company executive. “But the most important thing to us is that they are careful. Now, more than ever, we believe they are doing just that."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Meet Vintners of Sideways Fame

If you’ve seen the movie Sideways, you likely remember the Hitching Post II: the Santa Barbara County restaurant where Paul Giamatti nervously meets his future love. But even the most dedicated oenophile may not know that Hitching Post owner Frank Ostini and colleague Gray Hartley have been making wine nearly 30 years, Gourmet reports, after teaching themselves how.

They met by chance and wound up in wine-making nearly by accident, but the results, particularly their famed pinot noirs, are impressive. The partners stay true to their roots, even naming some wines after fishing terms in reference to Hartley’s 27-year-career as an Alaskan salmon fisherman. And fans of Sideways will appreciate the fact that they still make their first wine—a merlot. "Our joke is that we’re making merlot tongue-in-cheek," Ostini said.

Supreme Court to Hear Huge Consumer Rights Case

The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in what could be one of the biggest consumer-rights cases in years, reports the New York Times. The case focuses on whether customers who have been harmed by products that meet federal regulations can sue the manufacturer for damages, and is centered on a Vermont woman whose arm was amputated after an intravenous migraine drug gave her gangrene.

The woman sued the drug company in Vermont and won more than $6 million—but now that award is being disputed in the Supreme Court, whose term opens next month. The legal principle in question is called pre-emption, and the Roberts court has taken on a slew of similar cases in an attempt to clarify what one expert calls “the fiercest battle in products liability law today.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Paulson's New Plan: Buy Bad Wall Street Debt

The US government is considering the creation of a federal institution that would buy up bad debt from struggling Wall Street concerns, CNBC reports. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is reportedly pushing the proposal around Washington. By relieving financial institutions of toxic debt, they could return to lending money as per usual, perhaps stabilizing the country’s economy. News of the proposal gave stocks a huge lift today.

“This will bring real trust back into the market,” one commentator said. “It would free up real, spendable capital in these organizations.” Many insiders see the current shakeup as a “confidence crisis.” If the Feds could help institutions offload suspect debt, customers would feel more comfortable doing business on Wall Street. “Confidence has eroded for entire sectors,” another watcher said, “sometimes not rightfully so.”

Wall Street's Falling Stars Burn Hollywood

When Steven Spielberg is feeling a budget pinch, you know the financial crisis is bad. His hunt for financing on a new studio deal gets tougher with each day of bad news from Wall Street, Time reports. With credit as tough to come by in Hollywood as everywhere else, many studios are “making a conscious decision to slow it down,” one exec says.

Wall Street poured billions into the industry in recent years, with movie “mutual funds” created 4 years ago allowing investors to diversify by funding several projects. Those sticking with Hollywood in the current market want more money and choice over the movies in their portfolios. But there’s no “fire sale” yet, assures a studio financier. “Smart deals will continue to get made.”

Cracking Palin's Email Was Easy, Hacker Writes

The hacker who recently accessed Sarah Palin’s email hardly broke a sweat, reports PC Magazine, citing the alleged perp’s account: All he or she had to do was look up some personal information on the Republican VP candidate. Using Yahoo’s password-recovery service, the hacker entered easily accessible biographical info—Palin’s birthday and zip code—then stumbled upon the answer to her security question.

Palin sometimes uses her Yahoo email to conduct government business, making the hack especially troubling. But this should serve as a lesson for everyone, writes Brian Heater in the magazine's AppScout feature. “You don't need to access a Wikipedia page about someone to get this kind of information. If someone who knows you personally has malicious intent, tidbits about how you met your significant other are easy to come by.”

Google Android Phone to Sell for $199

The first cell phone loaded with Google’s “Android” software will cost $199, the Wall Street Journal reports. Partner T-Mobile hopes the low-priced handset and data services, due out next month, will attract mass market consumers, not just geeky early adopters. Competitors Apple and AT&T priced their “3G” iPhone at $200 this summer, and Samsung and Sprint Nextel’s Instinct costs even less, at $129.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Much More Will Taxpayers Have to Pony Up?

More than $320 billion in taxpayer funding has already been pledged to treat firms sickened by the subprime contagion—more than twice the $124 billion the government spent fixing the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, reports the Los Angeles Times. The question, writes Michael Hiltzik, is how much farther will this "bailout binge" go?

The "too big to fail" criteria that was applied to Freddie, Fannie and AIG could be used to justify financial help to General Motors; a proposed $50-billion assist to the auto industry, struggling to retool to meet higher mileage standards, could in turn open the door for the beleaguered airline industry. Critics say the handouts only exacerbate corporate recklessness and lead to more supplicants. "Every time you do it, that creates an equitable argument for someone else to get bailed out," says one.

Feds Search for WaMu Buyer

Washington Mutual, America's largest savings and loan, may be the next big financial institution to fail, the New York Post reports. Fearing a run on the struggling bank, federal regulators placed calls yesterday gauging interest in a WaMu buyout to Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, and others, but no further negotiations have been scheduled.

Standard and Poor cut WaMu’s credit rating to "junk" on Monday, and a plummeting share price has customers wondering if they should get their money out now. The bank has about $143 billion in deposits. Washington Mutual reported $3.33 billion in losses on soured mortgage bets in the second quarter.

LA Times Staffers Sue Zell for Trashing Tribune

A group of current and former Los Angeles Times journalists is suing the Tribune Company for recklessly mismanaging the chain of newspapers, the Wall Street Journal reports. The suit claims billionaire boss Sam Zell has trashed the company in a hunt for quick profits, destroying the value of their pension and stock-ownership plans—though the stock plan is majority owner in the unusual buyout scheme.

Zell took over Tribune Co. in December, and has since slashed payrolls and news pages. "We believe he's running the Tribune like a piece of property," a lawyer for the journalists told the AP. "It's more than a piece of property. The company itself is a series of newspapers, which demand the highest caliber of journalism."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shortest Man Meets Leggiest Woman

London's Trafalgar Square routinely serves as a stage for mimes, jugglers, and other acts, but the tourist attraction drew an exceptionally curious crowd today when the shortest man who can walk met the woman with the longest legs, the AP reports. He Pingping of China stands precisely 2 feet 5.37 inches tall. Svetlana Pankratova of Spain, a Russian native, has legs nearly 52 inches long.

The pair met to publicize the release of Guinness World Records 2009. This year's version of the popular book is due out tomorrow. He called Pankratova's legs "very beautiful." Pankratova, who stands just over 6-foot-4, said she liked her legs, though they can complicate things. "It's hard to find clothes," she said. "Especially pants."

Fed to Bail Out AIG With $85B Loan

The Federal Reserve is poised to rescue insurance giant AIG with an $85 billion loan, MSNBC reports. In return, the Fed will take an 80% stake in the company, which is one of the world's biggest insurers. The move is a reversal for the US government, but federal officials determined that AIG's failure would be "catastrophic" in the current financial climate, the Wall Street Journal notes. AIG's board approved the deal late today.

If AIG went bust, it could affect small investors who have money-market funds that invest in the company, the Journal notes. Fed chief Ben Bernanke and Treasury chief Henry Paulson decided to act after trying unsuccessfully to drum up help from the private sector. AIG shares closed at $3.75 today, down from $70.13 in the past year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Paulson, Wall Street Execs Let Lehman Die

As the dust settles on Wall Street, details of the final frantic negotiations on Lehman Brothers reveal that Henry Paulson’s opposition to a government bailout ultimately sealed the investment bank’s fate, the Journal reports. Paulson summoned an emergency meeting of 30 Wall Street executives Friday to definitively state that taxpayer rescue wasn’t coming, and urged them to work on saving Lehman.

Paulson laid out a plan where the executives’ collective firms could buy Lehman’s “bad assets” while its stronger ones were sold to an independent buyer. But the execs were unwilling to bail a rival out, and lack of government backing deterred would-be bidders. “We've re-established ‘moral hazard,’” one source said of removing a government safety net that encouraged risk-taking. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing? We're about to find out.”

Bank of America CEO Lands His Biggest Fish Yet

Like predecessor Hugh McColl, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis loves enormous deals. His 7-year reign has seen flashy conquests adding up to more than $150 billion, but never has he bagged a bigger trophy than Merrill Lynch, Reuters reports. The deal should fulfill Lewis’ oft-frustrated ambition to make BofA, already the country’s top retail bank, its top brokerage as well.

Coupled with the takeover of Countrywide 11 weeks ago, the Merrill acquisition has made Lewis something of a Wall Street hero. “Ken Lewis … just got that much more powerful in the global financial structure,” said one analyst. But Lewis’ past forays into investment banking have proved ill-fated: Less than a year ago he declared he’d “had all of the fun I can stand in investment banking.”

Surgeon General Targets Killer Blood Clots

An easily treatable complication related to blood clots kills 100,000 Americans every year, but a new federal awareness campaign aims to change that, the AP reports. Although deep vein thrombosis affects up to 600,000 people a year, "I don't think most people understand that this is a serious medical problem or what can be done to prevent it," the acting surgeon general said at the announcement of a "call to action."

DVT involves the formation of large clots, usually in the legs. It is most common in sedentary situations, like long plane flights or bed rest, but is related to a number of other common conditions, Reuters reports. A cardiologist praised the government's effort, saying "DVT after all these years will finally get the national spotlight like cigarette smoking did in the mid-60s."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Barclays Quits Lehman Talks

Barclays told federal regulators today that it is walking away from talks to buy all or part of Lehman Brothers. Barclays reportedly balked at a request that shareholders approve the agreement, a process that could take weeks—and left some wondering why the demand came up as late as today. But Barclays may only be walking away as a negotiating tactic, the Wall Street Journal reports.

If the UK bank returns to the table, it must also convince British regulators it’s strong enough to handle the deal, and questions remain over whether the bank’s two bosses can agree to buyout terms. Bank of America, the other contending bidder, quit talks this morning, saying it would not help buy out Lehman without financial support from Washington.

Ike Boosts Gas Prices Up to $5

Gas prices have shot up an average of 5 cents nationwide in the wake of Hurricane Ike, which has shut down almost 100% of oil and natural gas production in the Gulf Coast region. Gas prices in the Gulf area have risen as high as $5 per gallon, and an expert warns that many Americans may see the return of $4 gas, reports the Washington Post.

Power outages have plagued many Gulf refineries, making it difficult for officials to predict when normal production levels will resume. President Bush has warned against price gouging and the EPA has temporarily relaxed some import restrictions to allow an infusion of foreign fuel into the hardest-hit states. The Gulf Coast provides about 40% of domestic oil supplies.

US Arms Sales Skyrocket

Seeking to arm allies and contain countries like Iran and North Korea, the Bush Administration has significantly stepped up international weapons sales, the New York Times reports. The Defense Department will sell or transfer $32 billion in arms this year, particularly in the Middle East, compared to $12 billion two years ago. Some lawmakers fear the sales could threaten stability instead of bolstering it.

"This could turn into a spiraling arms race," said the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Others fear that American weapons could eventually end up in enemy hands. The US has long been the top arms supplier in the world—but the list of nations that rely on America as the main source of key weapons systems has greatly expanded recently.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Accidents Drop After Town Pulls Traffic Lights

Would life be better without stop lights? The people of Bohmte, Germany think so. The little town has not only removed traffic lights from its busy main drag, but curbs and crosswalks as well. All that’s left is one simple rule: Yield to the person on your right. It’s a daring gamble on Bohmte's busy thoroughfare, but amazingly, it’s working, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

One resident says she originally dismissed the idea, inspired by a Dutch engineer, but has since come around: “Instead of thinking, 'It's going to be red, I need to give gas, people have to slow down, to be considerate,” she says. Moreover, pedestrians and motorists are forced to look at each other, which has drawn the community closer together. “The whole village has become more human.”

Wall St. Groans as Lehman Deal Takes Shape

A possible deal to salvage Lehman Brothers took shape today but cast a dark mood over Wall Street, the Wall Street Journal reports. Washington refused to save the ailing bank, sparking a plan for either Barclay's or Bank of America to buy "good" Lehman assets while other banks propped up an $85 billion "bad" Lehman bank—a move that could send ripples of pain through the financial industry.

Observers fear that Lehman's fire sale prices may hurt other banks' portfolios, compelling them to raise more capital—or that firms backing the "bad" bank may need to call in loans and spark more selling that depresses prices. "Unless something is settled, it's going to be a bloodbath Monday," one source close to the deal said. Talks are expected to continue tomorrow.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lehman Employees Feeling the Pain

Lehman Brothers employees who watched their colleagues at Bear Stearns lose their jobs earlier this year are preparing for a similar fate in an already clogged field, reports the New York Times. “Everyone is walking around like they have just been Tasered,” said one Lehman employee. Making matters worse, many receive a sizable chunk of their paycheck in the form of stock and stock options, and shares have plunged from $60 to about $4 this year.

When Bear Stearns was sold, fewer than half of their 13,500 employees were kept on, casualties of cost cutting as duplicate jobs were eliminated. And, while the company’s stars had little trouble finding work, the continued deterioration of Wall Street’s own economy has flooded the market with resumes of more nominal job-seekers chasing just a trickle of openings.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 Years Later, US Remembers 9/11

Americans marked the seventh anniversary of 9/11 with a heartfelt ceremony at Ground Zero and other solemn remembrances nationwide. Relatives of victims gathered in Lower Manhattan for readings from dignitaries and a recitation of the names of the dead. Later today, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain were due at Ground Zero to pay silent respects.

In Washington, President Bush led a brief White House gathering under threatening skies in observing the moment that served to shape his presidency. "Today marks the seventh anniversary of the day our world was broken," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a crowd in New York. "It lives forever in our history, a tragedy that unites us in a common story ... the day that began like any other and ended as none ever has."