Saturday, March 1, 2008

What a Choice! Sex With a Sleaze for $100,000 or Writing for Peanuts

Sites like lure young women by offering them far more money than they could get in most professions. What's wrong with this picture?

Few things are less appetizing than a man four years my father's junior, a dumpy, pasty, greedy-eyed man in a gray suit who says he doesn't care to screw fat women because they're harder to overpower, asking me over a big bowl of warm apple crisp if I like anal sex. But since he's just offered me $3,000 a month plus perks -- gifts, dinners, shopping sprees -- to get naked with him once a week, I keep my tight young ass in its place, laugh politely, and pick up my fork.

I learned about when an acquaintance I'll call "Kim" recommended it to my friend, who's had trouble finding a job despite (or because of) earning her master's in media arts several months ago. Kim collected $900 every time she went on a date with one of her sugar daddies; another gave her $3,500 in less than a week before announcing that he had to quit her because his wife had found out. Kim's best friend "Jill" had two sugar daddies giving her a combined $8,000 a month until one got jealous of the other. Jill has blond hair, amazing lips, and is 19.

All I had to do to gain access to the "meeting grounds of the rich and the beautiful" was enter a user name ("Nextdoor_Nicole"); some vitals like age (I lied and said 23, afraid 27 is overripe), marital status ("Do You Care?" is kind of an exciting choice), and body type (slim); and "Expectation: Select Financial Assistance You Desire," which ranges up to "more than $10,000 per month." I chose "negotiable," so as not to seem like a gold digger, I guess, and slapped up a picture my mom took of me last Christmas.

By the next day, I'd received 13 emails and 6 kisses, whatever that means, and been checked out by 36 older, wealthy men, two of whom added me to their "favorite list." Which brings me to my place across the table from Do You Like Anal, who puts proprietary hands on my shoulders and hips before we even get our cocktails and starts bartering for carnal treasure by the time dessert comes by asking me if I'd want to "hang out" once a week. I ask if "hang out" is a euphemism for "screw"; he says yes; I say that I wouldn't consider it for less than $5,000 a month. He counters with $3,000.

There is actually no stack of cash large enough to persuade me to have sex with this guy, but as his income is listed as "more than $1,000,000," I feel slighted. I ask why he uses this website if he's not prepared to dole it out, and he says regular dating sites don't cater to his preferences regarding age or "sensuality," and that the young girls on Craigslist are all unclassy whores. This statement is followed by an offer of $500 to "get into" my "cooch."

My double vodka doesn't do nearly enough to muffle his egotistical blather ("Enough about me," he says 20 minutes in. "Tell me about you. What do you think about me?") or the commentary he provides about his, um, girth. My roommate -- charged with checking in on me -- texts, "If he gets you the guacamole egg rolls you owe him a BJ. Also, ask him if I can have a pony."

When I arrive home to a houseful of twentysomethings, we rail against the lowball. The lone male in the group asks, "Would it have made a difference if he'd been attractive?" Nobody answers for a second. "Probably," I concede, and everyone reluctantly agrees; we are all sex-positive feminists here, offended not that he offered me money for sex, but that he offered so little and was so gross, and if the idea of doing him were palatable, and I were single, it's possible he'd be doing double duty as my boyfriend and payroll officer.

Clearly I'm not the only one intrigued by such a setup. Every time I log on to (a.k.a., around 2,000 other members are also online., "The meeting place for mutually beneficial relationships," has 100,000 users., "Where the classy, attractive and affluent can meet," has 200,000. "These websites make it very efficient," says historian Ruth Rosen, the author of a book on prostitution. "Because it's very clear; you don't have to use coded language."

She adds, "It's many fewer hours than working at Wal-Mart, and if it's not completely disgusting, the women may see it as just something that doesn't particularly identify them in any way; in other words, their identity as a person may not be, 'I am a prostitute or a sex worker.' It's just, 'I do this in order to support myself.'"

Steve Pasternack,'s founder, offers a more romantic view. "It's just natural for guys to want to take care of women and women to want to be taken care of," he explains. "It's hard to find a nice guy that's successful and so isn't gonna split the bill at McDonald's."

So true. Thus, three days later, I am pretending to negotiate with Potential Daddy No. 2. He's looking for a friend, someone he can trust, someone who is younger and hotter than he -- and his wife. He doesn't want a professional. He just wants to replace his last beloved sugar baby, who, he claims, slept with him four to eight times a week for $300 a pop, which would technically a professional make, but like my first date, he isn't here to quibble over semantics.

"Under California law, solicitation is to offer or accept anything of value for sexual services," says former San Jose police chief and Hoover Institute fellow Joseph McNamara. "But this is right on the line. If the relationship exists for some time and the guy is mega-rich, he can give you whatever he wants; it's not prostitution anymore. Let's face it -- a lot of relationships are like that. It's a common thing."

My friend of the disheartening post-graduate-school job search initially scowls when I tell her what Daddy No. 2 offered me. When I point out that it took me two days to get two offers that pay more than my job at Mother Jones, that I could make $9,600 a month -- $115,200 a year -- and the average starting salary for someone with humanities masters' like ours is $39,808, she sighs, "I really don't know if I could stand banging some disgusting creep for money. But there are really some pretty compelling reasons to try."

It is the same sentiment that I've elicited from a lawyer, who says, "I paid 100 grand to go to law school, and I could make more money on my back," the same response I get from an executive assistant, a service-industry worker, and a teacher, who hold five degrees between them. Even Rosen, after asking me how much I'm "worth," exclaims, "That's a lot! Think about your income. Think about mine. I'm not advocating this; I'm just saying I can understand the calculations."

Original here

Israel warns Gaza of "shoah"

GAZA: A year-old Palestinian girl and a senior Hamas bombmaker were killed in the Gaza Strip on Friday as Israel pressed home air strikes after a senior official warned Gazans they risked a "shoah" if rocket fire did not stop.

With the Palestinian death toll at 35 in three days, aides insisted the deputy defence minister used the Hebrew word not in its common meaning of holocaust but only as a term for disaster.

But the strength of his language reflected mounting anger after an Israeli was killed by a rocket on Wednesday and the government debated whether to mount a major ground offensive.

Hamas, which organised rallies in Gaza, held the comment up as proof their enemies in the Jewish state were the "new Nazis".

Friday saw fewer air strikes. One, which the army said had targeted a rocket team, killed Eyad al-Ashram. Hamas said he was one of the Islamist group's senior munitions experts, involved in what it said was a total of 208 rockets fired in February.

Doctors said one-year-old Malak al-Kafarna died in hospital from a shrapnel wound to the head after a missile exploded near her home, wounding four other civilians. Hamas officials said it was an Israeli surface-to-surface missile. Residents said some rockets fired by militants also fell short, landing inside Gaza.

Overnight Hamas gunmen clashed with Israeli troops backed by tanks in the north of the enclave, Hamas and residents said. The army had no comment. Small ground raids have not been uncommon.

But political sources said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was cautious on a major ground offensive and Israeli public radio stations quoted security sources saying that, while plans for an assault were being prepared, such an invasion was not imminent.

The United States, whose Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due next week to visit Olmert and Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank, urged Israel to "consider the consequences" of its action. Bloodshed could derail Washington's hopes of a peace deal this year before President George W. Bush steps down.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has shared Israel's hostility to Hamas since they routed his forces in Gaza in June, called Israeli threats "dangerous". Even Palestinians who want to see Hamas defeated are outraged that at least 16 civilians, including children as young as 6 months, are among the 35 dead.


An Israeli army spokeswoman blamed militants for civilian deaths: "All the attacks were against terror targets and if children were nearby, the responsibility is in their hands."

Critics say at least 68 deaths in Gaza in February and 62 in January are a disproportionate response to 3 Israeli deaths in a year. There has been international support for Israel's right to defend itself against enemies who deny the Jewish state's right to exist. But there have also been calls for restraint.

Hamas officials complained of an "international silence" over the "massacre", however, including from fellow Arabs.

Israel's deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio: "The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger 'shoah' because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

The word "shoah" is rarely used in Israel beyond discussions of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews but government spokesmen said Vilnai had employed the word only to mean "disaster".

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, a former prime minister, said: "They want the world to condemn what they call the Holocaust and now they are threatening our people with a holocaust".

Israeli leaders said rockets from the blockaded territory may leave them no choice but to launch a broader offensive into the blockaded coastal strip, which is home to 1.5 million people and which Israel occupied for 38 years until 2005.

Though rocket fire has long disrupted life in small Israeli border towns since then, the killing of an Israeli on Wednesday, the first such death since May, has increased public pressure on Olmert's already unpopular coalition government to act.

Hamas has also raised the stakes by firing Soviet-designed Katyusha missiles, more powerful and accurate than improvised Gazan Qassams, to strike the much larger city of Ashkelon.

Visiting there, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said an Israeli response was "required" and that "Hamas bears responsibility for this deterioration and it will also bear the results".

According to Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Barak has sought to prepare the way for an offensive by sending confidential messages to world leaders, including Rice.

"Israel is not keen on and rushing for an offensive, but Hamas is leaving us no choice," Barak told them, Yedioth said.

However, chastened by his 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Olmert is wary of an operation that would incur more casualties when Israel is reluctant to re-occupy Gaza long-term.

(Additional reporting by Adam Entous, Joseph Nasr and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah; Writing by Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Jones)

Original here

POLITICS: Iran Nuke Laptop Data Came from Terror Group

WASHINGTON, Feb 29 (IPS) - The George W. Bush administration has long pushed the "laptop documents" -- 1,000 pages of technical documents supposedly from a stolen Iranian laptop -- as hard evidence of Iranian intentions to build a nuclear weapon. Now charges based on those documents pose the only remaining obstacles to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declaring that Iran has resolved all unanswered questions about its nuclear programme.

But those documents have long been regarded with great suspicion by U.S. and foreign analysts. German officials have identified the source of the laptop documents in November 2004 as the Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK), which along with its political arm, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organisation.

There are some indications, moreover, that the MEK obtained the documents not from an Iranian source but from Israel's Mossad.

In its latest report on Iran, circulated Feb. 22, the IAEA, under strong pressure from the Bush administration, included descriptions of plans for a facility to produce "green salt", technical specifications for high explosives testing and the schematic layout of a missile reentry vehicle that appears capable of holding a nuclear weapon. Iran has been asked to provide full explanations for these alleged activities.

Tehran has denounced the documents on which the charges are based as fabrications provided by the MEK, and has demanded copies of the documents to analyse, but the United States had refused to do so.

The Iranian assertion is supported by statements by German officials. A few days after then Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the laptop documents, Karsten Voight, the coordinator for German-American relations in the German Foreign Ministry, was reported by the Wall Street Journal Nov. 22, 2004 as saying that the information had been provided by "an Iranian dissident group".

A German official familiar with the issue confirmed to this writer that the NCRI had been the source of the laptop documents. "I can assure you that the documents came from the Iranian resistance organisation," the source said.

The Germans have been deeply involved in intelligence collection and analysis regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. According to a story by Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer soon after the laptop documents were first mentioned publicly by Powell in late 2004, U.S. officials said they had been stolen from an Iranian whom German intelligence had been trying to recruit, and had been given to intelligence officials of an unnamed country in Turkey.

The German account of the origins of the laptop documents contradicts the insistence by unnamed U.S. intelligence officials who insisted to journalists William J. Broad and David Sanger in November 2005 that the laptop documents did not come from any Iranian resistance groups.

Despite the fact that it was listed as a terrorist organisation, the MEK was a favourite of neoconservatives in the Pentagon, who were proposing in 2003-2004 to use it as part of a policy to destabilise Iran. The United States is known to have used intelligence from the MEK on Iranian military questions for years. It was considered a credible source of intelligence on the Iranian nuclear programme after 2002, mainly because of its identification of the facility in Natanz as a nuclear site.

The German source said he did not know whether the documents were authentic or not. However, CIA analysts, and European and IAEA officials who were given access to the laptop documents in 2005 were very sceptical about their authenticity.

The Guardian's Julian Borger last February quoted an IAEA official as saying there is "doubt over the provenance of the computer".

A senior European diplomat who had examined the documents was quoted by the New York Times in November 2005 as saying, "I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."

Scott Ritter, the former U.S. military intelligence officer who was chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, noted in an interview that the CIA has the capability test the authenticity of laptop documents through forensic tests that would reveal when different versions of different documents were created.

The fact that the agency could not rule out the possibility of fabrication, according to Ritter, indicates that it had either chosen not to do such tests or that the tests had revealed fraud.

Despite its having been credited with the Natanz intelligence coup in 2002, the overall record of the MEK on the Iranian nuclear programme has been very poor. The CIA continued to submit intelligence from the Iranian group about alleged Iranian nuclear weapons-related work to the IAEA over the next five years, without identifying the source.

But that intelligence turned out to be unreliable. A senior IAEA official told the Los Angeles Times in February 2007 that, since 2002, "pretty much all the intelligence that has come to us has proved to be wrong."

Former State Department deputy intelligence director for the Near East and South Asia Wayne White doubts that the MEK has actually had the contacts within the Iranian bureaucracy and scientific community necessary to come up with intelligence such as Natanz and the laptop documents. "I find it very hard to believe that supporters of the MEK haven't been thoroughly rooted out of the Iranian bureaucracy," says White. "I think they are without key sources in the Iranian government."

In her February 2006 report on the laptop documents, the Post's Linzer said CIA analysts had originally speculated that a "third country, such as Israel, had fabricated the evidence". They eventually "discounted that theory", she wrote, without explaining why.

Since 2002, new information has emerged indicating that the MEK did not obtain the 2002 data on Natanz itself but received it from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Yossi Melman and Meier Javadanfar, who co-authored a book on the Iranian nuclear programme last year, write that they were told by "very senior Israeli Intelligence officials" in late 2006 that Israeli intelligence had known about Natanz for a full year before the Iranian group's press conference. They explained that they had chosen not to reveal it to the public "because of safety concerns for the sources that provided the information".

Shahriar Ahy, an adviser to monarchist leader Reza Pahlavi, told journalist Connie Bruck that the detailed information on Natanz had not come from MEK but from "a friendly government, and it had come to more than one opposition group, not only the mujahideen."

Bruck wrote in the New Yorker on Mar, 16, 2006 that when he was asked if the "friendly government" was Israel, Ahy smiled and said, "The friendly government did not want to be the source of it, publicly. If the friendly government gives it to the U.S. publicly, then it would be received differently. Better to come from an opposition group."

Israel has maintained a relationship with the MEK since the late 1990s, according to Bruck, including assistance to the organisation in beaming broadcasts by the NCRI from Paris into Iran. An Israeli diplomat confirmed that Israel had found the MEK "useful", Bruck reported, but the official declined to elaborate.

*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.


Original here

$4-a-gallon gas? Predictions surprise Bush

WASHINGTON — The bulletin reached President Bush toward the end of his news conference Thursday.

Peter Maer of CBS News Radio asked: "What's your advice to the average American who is hurting now, facing the prospect of $4-a-gallon gasoline, a lot of people facing ... "

"Wait, what did you just say?" the president interrupted. "You're predicting $4-a-gallon gasoline?"

Maer responded: "A number of analysts are predicting $4-a-gallon gasoline."

Bush's rejoinder: "Oh, yeah? That's interesting. I hadn't heard that."

The president, once known for his common-guy skills, sounded eerily like his father, who in 1992 seemed amazed to discover that supermarkets had bar-code scanners.

The $4-a-gallon forecasts were reported widely in newspapers and on TV in the past week. The White House press secretary took a question about $4 gas at her Wednesday media briefing. A poll last month found that nearly three-quarters of Americans expect $4-a-gallon gas.

The president, however, had difficulty grasping the possibility, even after Maer told him.

"You just said the price of gasoline may be up to $4 a gallon — or some expert told you that," Bush repeated. "That creates a lot of uncertainty."

Bush's acknowledged unfamiliarity with the recent cost of gasoline produced some fumes at the pump.

At a Shell service station in San Mateo, Calif., the price of a gallon of regular had already reached $4.29, well above the California average of $3.42, as measured by AAA.

"Bush is out of touch with a lot of things we are facing today," said Marisa Cajbon, 33, who was filling her Toyota Sequoia SUV. "I have to buy gas. I need to work. I have two kids. I think it's unfortunate. I think it's a crime."

Bush also tried to put the best spin he could on months of bleak economic news. "I don't think we're headed to a recession, but no question we're in a slowdown," he said.

When NBC's David Gregory invited him to criticize Democratic presidential candidates for not knowing much about the expected new Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, Bush replied: "I don't know much about Medvedev, either."

Agence France-Presse's Olivier Knox asked Bush why he was going to the Olympics in China despite the country's human-rights record. "I'm a sports fan," the president said.

Bush waded into presidential politics, criticizing the Democratic contenders for their positions on free trade and taking particular aim at Sen. Barack Obama for his comments about the wisdom of meeting the new leader of Cuba.

Bush did not attack by name either Obama or his rival for the party's nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But there was no masking his disdain for the Democrats' positions on several campaign issues, including the war, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the political transition in Cuba.

While both Democratic candidates have called for renegotiating NAFTA, the president stood behind the pact.

"The idea of just unilaterally withdrawing from a trade treaty because of trying to score political points is not good policy," he said.

He reserved his harshest comments for Obama's recent statement that he would be willing to meet the new leader of Cuba, Raul Castro, "without preconditions."

Bush has refused to meet with foreign adversaries such as Kim Jong Il of North Korea and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

"What's lost by embracing a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs?" Bush said in reference to Castro. "What's lost is it will send the wrong message. It will send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners."

Bush went on: "I'm not suggesting there's never a time to talk, but I'm suggesting now is not the time — not to talk with Raul Castro."

But "sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him," Bush said. "He gains a lot from it by saying, 'Look at me, I'm now recognized by the president of the United States.' "

Material from The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Chicago Tribune is included in this report.

Original here

20 Money Hacks: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Finances

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” - Woody Allen
We had the Parent Hacks earlier this week, and I was thinking it would be fun to do the same with finances — ways to trick yourself, to get around obstacles, to boost your accounts, without it hurting.

Improving your finances improves your happiness, in general, so I thought it would be important to share stuff that’s worked for me.

I’m in the best financial shape in my life, despite quitting my job and my wife recently quitting hers too. A lot of that is thanks to you guys, the readers, but it’s also thanks to frugality, to eliminating debt, to saving as much as I can. To these hacks.

Here’s what works for me — please avoid flaming me, as I’m not saying they’ll work for everybody. Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

  1. Use cash. Instead of charging things to credit cards or debit cards, use cash for non-bill spending such as eating out, gas, groceries. Spending cash makes the spending more real, and there’s an added advantage of knowing when you’re out of cash, instead of spending more than you
  2. Small weekly savings transfers. I got this idea from my friend Trent at The Simple Dollar, who automatically deducts $20 a week from his check to savings. I decided that I could live with $40/week without really feeling it — it’s a relatively small transfer that I barely notice, and I save about $2,000 a year on top of my larger bi-weekly savings transfers.
  3. Stay home. Going out makes you more likely to spend unnecessarily. You eat at restaurants, go to the mall, stop at the gas station for snacks. It’s hard to avoid spending when you’re on the road. Instead, stay home, and find free entertainment. It’s also a great way to bond with your family.
  4. Don’t get catalogs. Or emailed announcements from companies trying to sell you stuff. Their announcements of sales or cool new products make it very tempting to buy something you don’t need. Instead, stop the catalogs and emails from ever getting to you in the first place, and you’ll spend less.
  5. Keep a 30-day list. If you have an impulse to buy something you don’t absolutely need, put it on a 30-day list. You can’t buy anything but necessities — everything else goes on the list, with the date that it’s added to the list. When the 30 days are up, you can buy it — but most likely, the strong urge to buy it will be gone, and you can evaluate it more calmly.
  6. Cook at home. I know, it seems more difficult than eating out. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Throw together a quick stir-fry with frozen veggies and either boneless chicken or (my favorite) tofu with soy sauce or tamari. Make home-made pizza with a ready-made crust, some sauce, cheese and veggies. Put some spices on something and throw it in the oven while you cook some brown rice. Not only is this much cheaper than eating out, but it’s healthier.
  7. Exercise. Staying healthy is the best way to avoid costly medical bills later.
  8. Use the envelope system. It’s the same idea as using cash for spending, but in addition you use envelopes to split your spending cash into categories. My non-bills categories are groceries, gas and miscellaneous spending. Three envelopes, and when they’re empty, I’ve spent my allotment.
  9. Talk with your SO weekly. It’s important that you and your significant other be on the same page. You should have the same financial goals, and from there you should agree on a general spending plan and a policy for impulse buying that won’t have either of you wanting to choke the other. Make sure you both know what bills have been paid, what your balances are, etc. A weekly meeting of just 20 minutes accomplishes that. Communication is key.
  10. The spreadsheet tracker hack. There are expensive programs like MS Money, Quicken, and the like that will do amazing things with your financial information. There are even free ones, on your desktop or online, that can do all kinds of things. Trouble is, I don’t need all that. All I want is a way to track my money easily, with no other bells and whistles, and a way to access that online so that I can view it from anywhere. The best way I found to do that is through Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I created a simple spreadsheet to track my bank accounts, that does everything I used to do with MS Money. It has the date of each transaction, the title and amount, a little field for memos, and a running balance. What more do I need? Keep it simple. Update: View a sample I put online here.
  11. Pay savings and debt first. When you sit down to pay your bills (I do them all online), make the first bills you pay be your savings transfer and your debt payments. If not, if you pay them last … you’ll often end up shortchanging them. But if you pay them first, you’ll make sure you still pay your rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries and gas … so you’ll just cut back on other spending.
  12. Exercise at home. Some of you will disagree with me on this, which is OK — everyone should do what works for them. But I’ve saved a lot of money that I used to spend on gyms by just running at the local track or on the roads in my neighborhood, and buying some simple weights and a chin-up bar. I do a lot of body-weight exercises (pushups, Hindu squats, lunges, pullups, dips, etc.) and I don’t need a gym for those things.
  13. Cut out cable TV. I’m not saying I don’t watch TV — I watch DVDs, so that I’m sure that what I’m watching is something great, rather than the useless stuff you find on TV most of the time. And there’s a lot of it online for free if you look. Not a huge savings, but it adds up.
  14. Declutter. By getting rid of all the excess stuff in your home, you not only make your life much simpler and more peaceful, but you make it harder to buy stuff that will just clutter things up again. Once you’ve simplified your home, you won’t want to go back.
  15. Lend and borrow. Give books and clothes and toys you don’t need anymore to your friends and family. If you need something, send out an email asking if anyone has it. Chances are, they’ll give it to you for free if they don’t use it anymore.
  16. Barter. It’s a lost art, but lots of people will take your services or goods instead of money, especially if you’re friends or at least know each other. Get into the habit of offering to barter, and you’ll find yourself saving a lot of money. My website design was done through the barter system, so I saved well over $1,000 there, for example.
  17. Use online savings. I use Emigrant Direct, but IMG Online is also popular, as are a bunch of other online banks. Not only do you earn like twice the interest of a normal bank savings account, but if you don’t get the ATM account it’s not as easy to withdraw money … making it less likely that you’ll get money out on an impulse. Read more at Get Rich Slowly.
  18. Try frugal gift-giving. Giving people gifts is one of the most wonderful traditions, as it shows generosity and caring. Until it becomes commercialized. Then it’s just really really expensive. Instead, try giving the gift of spending time with someone. Try giving them something you baked or made yourself. Try giving them services they’d appreciate. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to be generous.
  19. Teach your kids about advertising, saving, earning, and gift-giving. If you have kids, educating them about money will save you a lot of money in the long run. If they know about how advertising influences them in tricky ways, they’ll be less likely to demand (OK, beg and plead for) the latest fad toys. If they know about saving and earning money, they’ll respect the money that you earn, and that you are trying to save. If they know that gift-giving doesn’t have to be about spending a lot of money (see above), they won’t necessarily want expensive stuff.
  20. Find happiness in life, not spending. Many times people buy stuff because they think (subconsciously perhaps) that it will bring them happiness. They just HAVE to have the latest gadget or shoes or cars. It’s so fun! And yet, you buy that stuff, and you’re only happy for a day or two at most. Then you just need to buy more. It’s a never-ending cycle. Instead, learn to love life. Find joy in nature! In the people around you! In doing something you love! In exercise and meditation! There’s so much in life to make us happy, there’s no need to find it in spending.
Original here

Comcast Will Charge You $2 To Stop Sending You Junk Mail

We don't mean to influence the "Worst Company In America" voting, but check this out: if you call Comcast and ask them to stop sending you anything other than your bill, they'll agree but quietly slap you with a $1.99 "change of service" fee. Like most made-up, totally indefensible fees from cable and cell phone companies, Ian found that a chat with a customer service agent can get the fee removed. Update: Comcast has responded to this and apologized for the fee.
I noticed a $1.99 "change of service" charge on my most recent Comcast bill. During an online chat, a Comcast rep explained the source of the fee:

"It looks like on 2/5/08 you contacted us and requested to have all direct mailers stopped on your account. There is a one time "Change of service" fee associated with making that change on the account."

I had in fact called Comcast a few weeks earlier and asked them to stop sending me anything except a monthly bill. They were happy to do so, but had not told me that they would try and stick me for $2. They rep removed the fee from my bill.

Your readers might want to be on the lookout for bogus charges on their Comcast bill if they've ever spoken to Comcast on the phone. Perhaps this is how they pay for people to fill seats for them at FCC


Of course Ian is referring to this little stunt. In Comcast's defense, however, we think with the FCC hearing they were just trying to solve the sleepy technician problem that's plagued them in the past.

We can't come up with a way to justify charging someone to stop sending them junk mail they never asked for, though.

(Photo: Tyler Durden's Imaginary Friend)

Original here

Top Chicago ad exec Paul Tilley, 40, dies apparently of suicide

DDB creative executive who oversaw marquee accounts such as Dell, McDonald's

Paul L. Tilley, 40, managing director of creative at advertising agency DDB, died Friday, Feb. 22. The Wilmette resident apparently jumped from the upper floors of the Fairmont Chicago Hotel early Friday evening, and his death was ruled a suicide by the Cook County medical examiner's office.

As the top creative executive at advertising agency DDB's Chicago office, Paul L. Tilley oversaw commercials and campaigns for marquee clients such as Budweiser and McDonald's.

Mr. Tilley was named managing director of creative at DDB in September 2006, nine years after he joined the shop. Over those years, he led creative teams that came up with Dell's "Dude, You're Gettin' a Dell" campaign and advertising in McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" effort.

Mr. Tilley, 40, died on Friday, Feb. 22. The Wilmette resident apparently jumped from an upper floor of the Fairmont Chicago Hotel Friday, and his death was ruled a suicide by the Cook County medical examiner's office.

"Life is complicated, and Paul was a complicated man," said Mr. Tilley's wife, Cristina.

Mr. Tilley grew up in Austin, Texas.

At Northwestern University, Mr. Tilley studied journalism and played bass guitar in a band called Scuttlebutt. Upon graduation, he worked in the marketing department at LaSalle Bank writing brochures and speeches.

"I think he always wanted to be in advertising," his wife said. "He loved words, and he loved wordplay. The thing he loved about advertising was that it involved words in the service of an idea."

A copywriting job followed at Tassani Communications. Mr. Tilley's print work for American Express gained notice and he moved on to J. Walter Thompson, working as a creative director. Over the years, he won a slew of industry awards for his work.

"Paul was a mentor to many, a friend to all," said Rick Carpenter, DDB Chicago's chief executive officer, in a statement. "His ability to lead, inspire, and yes, entertain will be so greatly missed."

Mr. Tilley is also survived by two daughters, Caroline and Margaret; his mother, Diana Stallings Tilley; and a sister, Elizabeth Smith.

Visitation is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in Donnellan Family Funeral Home, 10045 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Alice S. Millar Chapel at Northwestern University, 1870 Sheridan Rd., Evanston.

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This war on terrorism is bogus

The 9/11 attacks gave the US an ideal pretext to use force to secure its global domination

Massive attention has now been given - and rightly so - to the reasons why Britain went to war against Iraq. But far too little attention has focused on why the US went to war, and that throws light on British motives too. The conventional explanation is that after the Twin Towers were hit, retaliation against al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan was a natural first step in launching a global war against terrorism. Then, because Saddam Hussein was alleged by the US and UK governments to retain weapons of mass destruction, the war could be extended to Iraq as well. However this theory does not fit all the facts. The truth may be a great deal murkier.

We now know that a blueprint for the creation of a global Pax Americana was drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy), Jeb Bush (George Bush's younger brother) and Lewis Libby (Cheney's chief of staff). The document, entitled Rebuilding America's Defences, was written in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

The plan shows Bush's cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says "while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

The PNAC blueprint supports an earlier document attributed to Wolfowitz and Libby which said the US must "discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role". It refers to key allies such as the UK as "the most effective and efficient means of exercising American global leadership". It describes peacekeeping missions as "demanding American political leadership rather than that of the UN". It says "even should Saddam pass from the scene", US bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will remain permanently... as "Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests as Iraq has". It spotlights China for "regime change", saying "it is time to increase the presence of American forces in SE Asia".

The document also calls for the creation of "US space forces" to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent "enemies" using the internet against the US. It also hints that the US may consider developing biological weapons "that can target specific genotypes [and] may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool".

Finally - written a year before 9/11 - it pinpoints North Korea, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes, and says their existence justifies the creation of a "worldwide command and control system". This is a blueprint for US world domination. But before it is dismissed as an agenda for rightwing fantasists, it is clear it provides a much better explanation of what actually happened before, during and after 9/11 than the global war on terrorism thesis. This can be seen in several ways.

First, it is clear the US authorities did little or nothing to pre-empt the events of 9/11. It is known that at least 11 countries provided advance warning to the US of the 9/11 attacks. Two senior Mossad experts were sent to Washington in August 2001 to alert the CIA and FBI to a cell of 200 terrorists said to be preparing a big operation (Daily Telegraph, September 16 2001). The list they provided included the names of four of the 9/11 hijackers, none of whom was arrested.

It had been known as early as 1996 that there were plans to hit Washington targets with aeroplanes. Then in 1999 a US national intelligence council report noted that "al-Qaida suicide bombers could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House".

Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their visas in Saudi Arabia. Michael Springman, the former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah, has stated that since 1987 the CIA had been illicitly issuing visas to unqualified applicants from the Middle East and bringing them to the US for training in terrorism for the Afghan war in collaboration with Bin Laden (BBC, November 6 2001). It seems this operation continued after the Afghan war for other purposes. It is also reported that five of the hijackers received training at secure US military installations in the 1990s (Newsweek, September 15 2001).

Instructive leads prior to 9/11 were not followed up. French Moroccan flight student Zacarias Moussaoui (now thought to be the 20th hijacker) was arrested in August 2001 after an instructor reported he showed a suspicious interest in learning how to steer large airliners. When US agents learned from French intelligence he had radical Islamist ties, they sought a warrant to search his computer, which contained clues to the September 11 mission (Times, November 3 2001). But they were turned down by the FBI. One agent wrote, a month before 9/11, that Moussaoui might be planning to crash into the Twin Towers (Newsweek, May 20 2002).

All of this makes it all the more astonishing - on the war on terrorism perspective - that there was such slow reaction on September 11 itself. The first hijacking was suspected at not later than 8.20am, and the last hijacked aircraft crashed in Pennsylvania at 10.06am. Not a single fighter plane was scrambled to investigate from the US Andrews airforce base, just 10 miles from Washington DC, until after the third plane had hit the Pentagon at 9.38 am. Why not? There were standard FAA intercept procedures for hijacked aircraft before 9/11. Between September 2000 and June 2001 the US military launched fighter aircraft on 67 occasions to chase suspicious aircraft (AP, August 13 2002). It is a US legal requirement that once an aircraft has moved significantly off its flight plan, fighter planes are sent up to investigate.

Was this inaction simply the result of key people disregarding, or being ignorant of, the evidence? Or could US air security operations have been deliberately stood down on September 11? If so, why, and on whose authority? The former US federal crimes prosecutor, John Loftus, has said: "The information provided by European intelligence services prior to 9/11 was so extensive that it is no longer possible for either the CIA or FBI to assert a defence of incompetence."

Nor is the US response after 9/11 any better. No serious attempt has ever been made to catch Bin Laden. In late September and early October 2001, leaders of Pakistan's two Islamist parties negotiated Bin Laden's extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for 9/11. However, a US official said, significantly, that "casting our objectives too narrowly" risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr Bin Laden was captured". The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Myers, went so far as to say that "the goal has never been to get Bin Laden" (AP, April 5 2002). The whistleblowing FBI agent Robert Wright told ABC News (December 19 2002) that FBI headquarters wanted no arrests. And in November 2001 the US airforce complained it had had al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in its sights as many as 10 times over the previous six weeks, but had been unable to attack because they did not receive permission quickly enough (Time Magazine, May 13 2002). None of this assembled evidence, all of which comes from sources already in the public domain, is compatible with the idea of a real, determined war on terrorism.

The catalogue of evidence does, however, fall into place when set against the PNAC blueprint. From this it seems that the so-called "war on terrorism" is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving wider US strategic geopolitical objectives. Indeed Tony Blair himself hinted at this when he said to the Commons liaison committee: "To be truthful about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent to have suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened on September 11" (Times, July 17 2002). Similarly Rumsfeld was so determined to obtain a rationale for an attack on Iraq that on 10 separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to 9/11; the CIA repeatedly came back empty-handed (Time Magazine, May 13 2002).

In fact, 9/11 offered an extremely convenient pretext to put the PNAC plan into action. The evidence again is quite clear that plans for military action against Afghanistan and Iraq were in hand well before 9/11. A report prepared for the US government from the Baker Institute of Public Policy stated in April 2001 that "the US remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma. Iraq remains a destabilising influence to... the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East". Submitted to Vice-President Cheney's energy task group, the report recommended that because this was an unacceptable risk to the US, "military intervention" was necessary (Sunday Herald, October 6 2002).

Similar evidence exists in regard to Afghanistan. The BBC reported (September 18 2001) that Niaz Niak, a former Pakistan foreign secretary, was told by senior American officials at a meeting in Berlin in mid-July 2001 that "military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October". Until July 2001 the US government saw the Taliban regime as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction of hydrocarbon pipelines from the oil and gas fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean. But, confronted with the Taliban's refusal to accept US conditions, the US representatives told them "either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs" (Inter Press Service, November 15 2001).

Given this background, it is not surprising that some have seen the US failure to avert the 9/11 attacks as creating an invaluable pretext for attacking Afghanistan in a war that had clearly already been well planned in advance. There is a possible precedent for this. The US national archives reveal that President Roosevelt used exactly this approach in relation to Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. Some advance warning of the attacks was received, but the information never reached the US fleet. The ensuing national outrage persuaded a reluctant US public to join the second world war. Similarly the PNAC blueprint of September 2000 states that the process of transforming the US into "tomorrow's dominant force" is likely to be a long one in the absence of "some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor". The 9/11 attacks allowed the US to press the "go" button for a strategy in accordance with the PNAC agenda which it would otherwise have been politically impossible to implement.

The overriding motivation for this political smokescreen is that the US and the UK are beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy supplies. By 2010 the Muslim world will control as much as 60% of the world's oil production and, even more importantly, 95% of remaining global oil export capacity. As demand is increasing, so supply is decreasing, continually since the 1960s.

This is leading to increasing dependence on foreign oil supplies for both the US and the UK. The US, which in 1990 produced domestically 57% of its total energy demand, is predicted to produce only 39% of its needs by 2010. A DTI minister has admitted that the UK could be facing "severe" gas shortages by 2005. The UK government has confirmed that 70% of our electricity will come from gas by 2020, and 90% of that will be imported. In that context it should be noted that Iraq has 110 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves in addition to its oil.

A report from the commission on America's national interests in July 2000 noted that the most promising new source of world supplies was the Caspian region, and this would relieve US dependence on Saudi Arabia. To diversify supply routes from the Caspian, one pipeline would run westward via Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Another would extend eastwards through Afghanistan and Pakistan and terminate near the Indian border. This would rescue Enron's beleaguered power plant at Dabhol on India's west coast, in which Enron had sunk $3bn investment and whose economic survival was dependent on access to cheap gas.

Nor has the UK been disinterested in this scramble for the remaining world supplies of hydrocarbons, and this may partly explain British participation in US military actions. Lord Browne, chief executive of BP, warned Washington not to carve up Iraq for its own oil companies in the aftermath of war (Guardian, October 30 2002). And when a British foreign minister met Gadaffi in his desert tent in August 2002, it was said that "the UK does not want to lose out to other European nations already jostling for advantage when it comes to potentially lucrative oil contracts" with Libya (BBC Online, August 10 2002).

The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the "global war on terrorism" has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda - the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project. Is collusion in this myth and junior participation in this project really a proper aspiration for British foreign policy? If there was ever need to justify a more objective British stance, driven by our own independent goals, this whole depressing saga surely provides all the evidence needed for a radical change of course.

· Michael Meacher MP was environment minister from May 1997 to June 2003

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Chemical Ali' execution OK'd in Iraq

BAGHDAD - Iraq's presidential council has endorsed the execution within a month of Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali," for his role in the 1980s scorched-earth campaign against Kurds, officials said Friday. But it spared the life of two other officials amid Sunni protests that they were only following orders.

The approval by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and two vice presidents was the final step clearing the way for Ali Hassan al-Majid's execution by hanging. It could now be carried out at any time, a government adviser and a prosecutor said.

Al-Majid was one of three former Saddam officials sentenced to death in June after being convicted by an Iraqi court of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their part in the Operation Anfal crackdown that killed nearly 200,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas.

Al-Majid was nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for ordering poison gas attacks that killed thousands.

The officials said the three-member presidential council agreed to al-Majid's execution, but did not approve death sentences against the other two — Hussein Rashid Mohammed, an ex-deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, and former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie.

The fate of the men — who are in U.S. custody — had been in legal limbo since this summer and the decision could represent a compromise to ease Sunni objections to executing al-Taie, widely viewed as a respected career soldier who was forced to follow Saddam's orders in the purges against Kurds.

Al-Majid would be the fifth former regime official hanged for alleged atrocities against Iraqis during Saddam's nearly three-decade rule.

Saddam, who also had been a defendant in the so-called Anfal trial, was hanged Dec. 30, 2006, for ordering the killings of more than 140 Shiite Muslims from the Iraqi city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against him.

A government adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. officials had been informed of the decision by phone and that a meeting was planned to decide when and where the execution should take place.

A senior U.S. military official said the military was aware the order had been signed, and that the date for the execution would be determined by the Iraqi government.

The other two men remain in U.S. custody but are under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government, the official said, declining to be identified ahead of an official announcement.

Prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, who said he had received word of the decision from the presidential council, said there was a legal basis for the execution of "Chemical Ali" but not of the other two.

He said no law existed that could force the presidential council to endorse the execution of all three, so it had the prerogative to just sign off on one of the orders.

An appeals court upheld the verdicts against the three in September. Under Iraqi law the executions were to have taken place within a month. But they were put on hold after Sunni leaders including Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi launched a campaign to spare the life of al-Taie.

President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, had also refused to sign the order against al-Taie, a Sunni Arab from the northern city of Mosul who signed the cease-fire with U.S.-led forces that ended the 1991 Gulf War.

Al-Taie surrendered to U.S. forces in September 2003 after weeks of negotiations. His defense has claimed the Americans had promised al-Taie "protection and good treatment" before he turned himself in.

Many Sunni Arabs saw his sentence as evidence that Shiite and Kurdish officials are persecuting their once-dominant minority and as a sign of Shiite influence over the judiciary, raising concerns the executions could ignite retaliatory sectarian attacks.

The case also strained relations between al-Maliki's Shiite-led government and U.S. officials. In late November, the Shiite prime minister asked President Bush to hand over "Chemical Ali" and the other two former regime officials.

The officials said al-Hashemi had refused to agree to the executions of the other two because he considered them career soldiers following orders.

There have been few calls for leniency, however, regarding al-Majid.

Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were hanged in January 2007.

Saddam's former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, had been sentenced to life in prison for his role in Dujail but was executed in March after the court decided this was too lenient. Three other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in jail in the Dujail case, while one was acquitted.

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