Sunday, March 30, 2008

Anglo-Saxon attitudes

Not such special friends

Illustration by David Simonds

TO TURN over the supposed Anglo-American common ground carefully, The Economist commissioned pollsters at YouGov in Britain and Polimetrix in America—supported by additional funds from the Hoover Institution, a California think-tank—to find out what people in both places thought about a number of social, political and economic matters. A thousand people in each country were consulted between March 7th and 11th. Broadly, the differences between the two countries look more striking than the similarities.

Like most west Europeans, Britons tend to have more left-wing views than Americans, but the first chart shows that this is often by a surprising margin. (“Left” and “right” are harder to locate than they were: here “left” implies a big-state, secular, socially liberal, internationalist and green outlook; right, the reverse.) The data are derived by subtracting left-wing answers from right-wing ones, for each country and for each main political grouping within each country. A net minus rating suggests predominantly left-wing views and a positive rating suggests a preponderance of right-wing views.

The gap between Britain and America is widest on religion: even British Conservatives are a great deal more secular than American Democrats are. The two are a bit closer on social values (abortion, homosexuality and so forth), and they overlap on ideology (mainly, how active the state should be), with Britain’s Tories to the right of America’s Democrats.

They overlap again on how free their countries should be to intervene militarily (both the Tories and Labour are more hawkish than the Democrats). Britons are more international than the Americans, keener on free trade and globalisation. Views coincide most nearly on climate change—ironically, the area where the two governments have been least in step.

On five of the six groups of issues selected, American opinion is far more polarised than British (only nationalism seems to unite America’s left and right). Gone are the days when it was British politics that embraced political extremes and Americans looked on bemused. The gap between Republicans and Democrats is almost always far greater than that between Tories and (usually) Liberal Democrats. Lib Dem supporters are to the left of Labour on every broad category except the role of the state.

Such nuggets abound. Americans have a wider anti-big-business streak. Britons are cooler on multiculturalism. Britons are more willing than Americans to curb civil liberties in pursuit of security. Americans are less keen not only on the United Nations but also on NATO—and more enthusiastic about the “special relationship” with Britain. If the British could choose their leader from a host of recent Anglo-American greats, they would pick Bill Clinton before Tony Blair. So would Americans, even if they may turn down his wife. Of the current presidential candidates, British Tories would vote for Barack Obama; Labour supporters prefer Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin.

People in both places are worried about the economic future but still bullish on chances for bright kids from poor families. They feel much the same about the death penalty: they are broadly against it. Neither group is conspicuously thrilled by the idea of a Muslim president or prime minister.

Do the differences we found matter? They might, for the world order is changing and its components are up for review. Few agree on the nature, let alone the future, of the special relationship between Britain and America. For much of the past half-century Britain and America have mostly presented a common front on security and foreign affairs and more besides.

No British premier bet more heavily on the special relationship than Mr Blair. He paid a heavy price for committing British troops to Iraq alongside Mr Bush’s, losing popularity at home and influence in Europe.

Walter Russell Mead, an American observer of foreign affairs, maintains that America and Britain act together so often not because they set out deliberately to do so but because they frequently reach similar conclusions on their own. “The family resemblance is so strong that even our most casual acquaintances can see that we are related,” he writes in “God and Gold”, a good recent book.

Some sort of Anglo-Saxon particularity appears to exist; and complacent, even triumphant, America and Britain have urged on the rest of the world their own prescriptions: lightly-regulated capitalism red in tooth and claw at home, and military intervention where needed to promote democracy around the world. Both seem rather less than winning strategies these days.

What next for the Anglo-Saxon alliance? In their fundamental attitudes—regarding religion, society, the role of the state—Britons are more similar to their western European neighbours (and Canadians) than they are to the United States. In foreign affairs and security matters, however, they usually stand somewhere between the two. Even though use of the term is said to be discouraged at the British Embassy in Washington, it is certainly too soon to write off the special relationship.

Two research outfits in Washington, DC, the Pew Research Centre and the German Marshall Fund, conduct regular surveys on global attitudes. Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Centre, points out that, although enthusiasm for America has slipped since 2000, a majority of people in Britain, unlike those in the rest of the big countries in his survey, still give America a favourable rating overall: 51%, compared with 39% of French people and 30% of Germans. Americans are far warmer towards Britons (and Canadians) than towards their other allies.

In polling for its 2007 Transatlantic Trends report, the German Marshall Fund found that whereas 74% of Americans believed that war is sometimes necessary to obtain justice, around 66% of Europeans thought the opposite. Britain echoed America: 59% agreed that military action may be justified in such circumstances.

But John K. Glenn, who heads the project, believes that America and Europe are nonetheless converging on some issues, principally on the threats that face them. Europeans are more alarmed than they were about Islamist fundamentalism, for example, and America is waking up to global warming.

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Cuba Lifts Curbs on Cellphone Use

HAVANA -- President Raul Castro's government said it is allowing cellphones for ordinary Cubans, a luxury previously reserved for those who worked for foreign firms or held key posts with the communist-run state.

It was the first official announcement of the lifting of a major restriction under the 76-year-old Mr. Castro, and marked the kind of small freedom many on the island have been hoping he would embrace since succeeding his older brother Fidel as president last month.

Some Cubans previously ineligible for cellphones had already gotten them by having foreigners sign contracts in their names, but mobile phones are not nearly as common in Cuba as elsewhere in Latin America or the world.

Telecommunications monopoly Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., or ETECSA, said it would allow the general public to sign prepaid contracts in Cuban convertible pesos, which are geared toward tourists and foreigners and worth 24 times the regular pesos Cuban state employees are paid in.

The decree was published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The government controls well over 90% of the economy and while the communist system ensures most Cubans have free housing, education and health care and receive ration cards that cover basic food needs, the average monthly state salary is just 408 Cuban pesos, a little less than $20.

A program in convertible pesos likely will ensure that cellphone service will be too expensive for many Cubans, but ETECSA's statement said doing so will allow it to improve telecommunication systems using cable technology and eventually expand the services it offers in regular pesos.

The statement promised further instructions in coming days about how the new plan will be implemented, and there were no lines of would-be customers mobbing ETECSA outlets as they opened for business.

ETECSA is a mixed enterprise that operates with foreign capital from the Italian communications firm Italcom.

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Threats push anti-Qur'an film Fitna offline

The Hague - The anti-Qur'an film Fitna made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders has once again been removed from LiveLeak, the British website where it was being shown. In its place is an official statement by the website saying the film was removed because of very serious threats to staff. The statement speaks of a sad day for freedom of speech but insists that the safety of the website's staff has to come first.

There have been a growing number of protests by people whose work features in the film. Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard says he wants his prominently featured cartoon of Mohammad to be removed from the film and says Geert Wilders never asked his permission to use it.

Broadcaster Robbie Muntz says he is considering taking legal action because the film includes an excerpt of him interviewing murdered film director Theo van Gogh. Rapper Salah Edin also plans to take Geert Wilders to court because the film features a photograph of him dressed as Theo van Gogh's killer, Mohammed Bouyeri.

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A Victim Treats His Mugger Right

· Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.

"You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help," Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

"The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi," Diaz says. "The kid was like, 'You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'"

"No, I just eat here a lot," Diaz says he told the teen. "He says, 'But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'"

Diaz replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?"

"Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. "He just had almost a sad face," Diaz says.

The teen couldn't answer Diaz — or he didn't want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill 'cause you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you."

The teen "didn't even think about it" and returned the wallet, Diaz says. "I gave him $20 ... I figure maybe it'll help him. I don't know."

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen's knife — "and he gave it to me."

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, "You're the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch."

"I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."

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Sitka fishermen strike herring mother lode

How about a job grossing half a million bucks in 60 minutes?

That's what some commercial seine fishermen in Sitka scooped out of the water on Wednesday -- in the form of fatty, silvery Pacific herring.

The Sitka sac roe herring fishery is already legendary for netting megabucks in minutes, but that day's catch was still a shocker -- for fishermen, regulators and seafood processors.

Expecting healthy numbers of spawning fish, state biologists are allowing seiners to harvest a record-breaking amount of herring in Southeast Alaska's Sitka Sound this year -- 14,723 tons.

But in just two stunning hauls on Wednesday afternoon, the fishermen netted more than 10,000 tons of fish -- most of their quota.

At a price of $550 per ton of herring, that was at least a $5.5 million day.

Some eight to 10 boats each bulged their nets with 500 or more tons of Pacific herring in the first 30-minute opening, said Chip Treinen of Anchorage, a seine fisherman who participated in the fishery.

That's like hauling up several blue whales or fully-loaded 747s. Ordinary seine boats can't carry that much weight. The fish have to be pumped out of the nets while they are still in the water, he said.

The commercially-caught herring, which are also highly valued by Southeast Natives for their eggs, are exported to Japan for their roe.

About 50 permit holders jockeyed for a sweet spot on the water near Kruzof Island on Wednesday, fishermen and biologists said Friday.

But as usual, the big hauls were made by a few lucky boats. Treinen said he was one of the lucky ones but declined to reveal his total catch.

"For those of us who were in the area ... we were like kids in a candy store," he said.


The huge hauls were mainly due to the unique spot the herring chose to spawn, said Treinen, who has been involved in the Sitka herring fishery for about a dozen years.

Very dense schools of herring appeared in very shallow water next to Kruzof Island right before the fishery opened at 2:25 p.m., he said. Some of the crowded fish seemed to be dying -- they turned belly up in the water before the fishery opened, he said.

Because the fish were in shallow water, about three fathoms deep, they couldn't dive to try to escape the nets. "We could contain bigger sets than we've ever been able to contain before," Treinen said.

The state Department of Fish and Game wouldn't have allowed two fishery openings if managers realized how many fish were getting caught, according to Eric Coonradt, the department's assistant area manager for commercial fisheries in Sitka.

As it turns out, the concern wasn't about violating harvest levels. The main concern was the ability of processors to handle so much fresh herring, Coonradt said.

The massive amount of herring required extra work and coordination among seafood processors over the past few days, but everything worked out OK, said Jon Hickman, general manager for Sitka Sound Seafoods.

Some herring had to be sent to Canada for processing, he said.


In one day, the Sitka Sound herring fishery exceeded last year's gross earnings, garnered over nine days.

Last year, 50 permit holders, the majority of them Alaskans, earned $3.8 million -- an average of $107,709 per permit -- by catching 8,320 tons of herring.

Prices were lower last year -- about $465 per ton.

Participating in the fishery isn't cheap. Permits are worth about $283,000 this year, according to the state's Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

A net to catch the herring is a $50,000 investment, according to Treinen.

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Fox on the Run

An electronic news ticker above a sign at the Fox News Channel television studios in New York City.

On super Tuesday, Bush's former brain, Karl Rove, debuted on Fox News Channel as a political analyst. Genteel, wry and armed with terabytes of political minutiae, he won critical raves. ("One of the best things in television news right now," said the New York Times, the equivalent of a Westminster Dog Show hopeful getting endorsed by Cat Fancy.) But there was something poignantly valedictory about the old warrior playing referee: the lion, if not in winter, then in a petting zoo.

You could say the same thing lately for Fox News Channel itself. Fox hasn't gone soft, but from watching its coverage lately, I get a sense that the haven for conservative hosts, and viewers alienated by liberal news, needs to figure out its next act. Fox News is not simply a mouthpiece for the Bush White House: it rose with Bush after 2000 and 9/11, was played on TVs in his White House and reflected the same surety and flag-lapel-pin confidence in its tone and star-spangled look. It was not just a hit; it was the network of the moment.

Now, with two Democrats locked in what seems like a general-election campaign and lame-duck Bush fading from the headlines, it has to figure out how not to seem like yesterday's news. At times recently, the network has appeared uncertain about its focus. Its primary-night coverage has felt staid and listless. Sometimes it has gone tabloid with celebrity-news, true-crime and scandal stories (WEBSITES POSTING SEXY PICS LIFTED FROM FACEBOOK). At other times it has retreated into a kind of war-on-terrorism news-talgia, playing up threatening chatter and new missives from al-Qaeda leaders while its rivals are doing the election 24/7; flipping to Fox can feel like time-traveling to 2002.

Fox is still the top-rated news channel, but there are signs it's plateauing. Its ratings started to lag in 2006, and in February, CNN's prime time (boosted by several presidential debates) beat Fox among 25-to-54-year-olds for the first time since 2001. (CNN and TIME are owned by Time Warner.) Maybe even more galling, the network has lately faded in the ephemeral category of buzz. MSNBC--with far fewer viewers--has been the political-media obsession of the 2008 primary, largely because of feuds between the Clinton campaign and the network for its perceived pro-Obama bias.

Ratings shmatings: if a Rupert Murdoch network cannot dominate the field of ticking off the Clintons, that has to sting.

Now let's not jump the gun. Somewhere in a cabinet at Fox headquarters, there must be a bulging file of the premature obituaries written for it. Fox debuted in 1996 and quickly flourished in the Clinton era. After Bush won, some thought the channel--and Rush Limbaugh et al.--would suffer from an outrage deficit.

Not exactly! Instead, it adopted a sexy, muscular triumphalism through 9/11 and Iraq. It wasn't just the politics; it was the aesthetics. News on Fox looks like a video game, full of bluster, blondes and blaring graphics. Ideology aside, Fox makes the news urgent, even when nothing's going on.

But for better or for worse, Fox became the signal cultural artifact of the Bush era, so it will need to remodel itself again. A President McCain could actually represent the trickiest shift. No matter how he has repositioned himself since 2000, he's still the Republican who knocked Rumsfeld and criticized 24, on Fox's sibling broadcast network, for glamorizing torture. Worst of all, the "liberal media" like him, which would play havoc with Fox's us-vs.-them, fair-and-balanced formula.

And if a Democrat wins? A Clinton restoration would give Fox the devil--or demonized figure--it knows. But TV abhors a rerun, and the challenge would be to make it fresh. As for Obama, the network is still figuring out how to palatably antagonize him. While the Jeremiah Wright story was a gift--Fox turned him into a dashiki-clad screen saver--Fox's Chris Wallace embarrassingly chastised the hosts of Fox and Friends on-air for "distorting" Obama's words. And Bill O'Reilly caught flak for using the phrase "lynching party" in a critique of Michelle Obama.

As it wades through the fin de régime, Fox News will have one important asset: its loyal viewer base. But even for them, it will need to shake up its comfortable Bush-era routine, perhaps by cultivating new hosts, perhaps by taking a page from McCain and branding itself as the channel of maverick authenticity, not of establishment dogma. The viewers are Fox's to keep. It just has to figure out what's going to make them mad starting in 2009.

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Plastic Card Tricks

Americans are struggling with a very rocky economy while they are also holding almost $1 trillion in credit card debt. In most cases, those cards provide a little flexibility with the monthly bills. But an increasing number of people are defaulting because of the “tricks and traps” — soaring interest rates and hidden fees — in the credit card business.

Before more Americans get in so deep that they cannot dig out, Washington needs to change the way these companies do business to ensure that consumers are treated fairly.

The stories about deceptive practices are harrowing. At a recent news briefing in Washington, a Chicago man told about what happened when he charged a $12,000 home repair bill in 2000 on a card with an introductory interest rate of 4.25 percent. Despite his steady, on-time payments, the rate is now nearly 25 percent. And despite paying at least $15,360, he said that he had only paid off about $800 of his original debt.

The Federal Reserve is focused mainly on making it easier for consumers to understand credit card contracts — some go as high as 30 pages of nearly unreadable fine print. Clarity, however, is not enough. One bank contract stated baldly: “We reserve the right to change the terms at any time for any reason.”

Congress needs to address numerous unfair practices, including interest rates that skyrocket for no apparent reason and due dates that suddenly shift — forward — so that an unwary consumer pays late. Late fees are a big profit center in some banks. Some raise interest rates when consumers get close to their credit limits. In other cases, a late payment on one company’s card raises the rates on other cards in your wallet.

Americans deserve better. Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, has been pushing hard for more consumer protections. Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, has put together an excellent first step with a cardholder’s bill of rights. It would require such reasonable changes as a ban on collection of interest on amounts already paid. It would require that cardholders get timely notices of changes in their rates and be able to cancel their cards if the rates suddenly skyrocket — and pay off the balances at the old rates.

Elizabeth Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, has an especially promising idea: a Financial Product Safety Commission to regulate the industry. Today’s credit card users could use the protection.

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10 resumes a day, no takers

wdavis_080326_hager.03.jpgJoshua Hager, out of work since February, is hustling to find a job.

A week ago, Joshua Hager was despondent. Laid off by a mortgage company, he has looked for jobs ranging from bank teller to risk analyst. He was sending out as many as 10 resumes a day but was getting barely a nibble from employers or recruiters.

This week, things are are looking up. Hager, a Jersey City, N.J., resident, went on one interview for a fraud investigator job at a mortgage insurance company and another for a position underwriting employee dishonesty insurance. Executives at the latter told him they'd make a decision within 10 days.

He doesn't know what next week will bring.

"It's always flowed for me," said Hager, 29, who discovered his love of math and finance in high school in Proctorville, Ohio, about three hours southeast of Columbus. "I've always had a job and every time I changed jobs, it was for advancement. Now, it's like 'What do I do with myself because I can't wait for that next step.' "

Hager has joined nearly 125,000 others on Wall Street and at mortgage firms and other financial companies who received pink slips since the start of 2007. It seems that nearly every week another financial firm lets go of thousands of workers at all levels. With the market flooded, it's hard for the unemployed to land a job, experts said.

Every time he turns on the television, Hager worries that he'll hear of more layoffs. He shuddered when he learned that JPMorgan Chase would acquire Bear Stearns, which employs 14,000 staffers.

"How many people will be swamping the job market?" he said. "Everybody in finance will be looking for a job."

It used to be easy

Not too long ago, it was easy to land work in real estate or finance. After spending three years in the Navy, Hager joined the booming mortgage industry in 2003, signing on with Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC, Fortune 500) in Tampa, Fla., as a junior loan processor. Within a year, he was promoted to underwriter, a job he loved because it allowed him to analyze borrowers' applications and determine how risky it would be to lend to them.

For instance, during the mortgage frenzy's height, when stated-income loans became all the rage, one applicant he reviewed said that he was a school engineer making $5,000 a month. A quick call revealed he was actually the janitor making about $1,600. Hager said he did not approve the application, the same decision he made on about half those that crossed his desk.

Last February, Hager transferred to a Countrywide office in New Jersey to be closer to New York City and to relatives. He moved in with a friend, who owned an apartment in downtown Jersey City, a suburb of the Big Apple.

Two months later, he switched to Aurora Loan Services, a subsidiary of Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500). In addition to a salary boost, he took on increased responsibility, getting more involved with investigating fraud and doing second reviews on loans.

By the fall, it was clear to Hager that his job was in trouble. Lehman had shuttered its subprime mortgage unit and he figured that his division, which handled so-called Alt-A loans that required little or no income documentation, was next.

As someone who always plans his next step, Hager didn't want to wait until he was laid off to start looking for another job. So he began sending out resumes in November, staying clear of the mortgage and real estate industries. Instead, he focused on insurance underwriting positions.

After applying for more than 100 jobs and getting only two interviews, he realized he had to broaden his search. By that time, he was out of a job, one of 1,300 people at Aurora that were let go in late February. Starting to get more desperate, he branched out to consumer credit analysis at companies such as American Express or Mastercard.

Just trying to find a way in

With the job fairs, networking events and resume blasts yielding little, Hager found he had to set his sights lower and lower. In mid-March, he began exploring bank teller postings.

"The strategy is continually changing," Hager said. "You are trying to think of a way to get your foot in the door."

For now, Hager has enough money to get by, though he's starting to worry. The $1,900 he collects every month in unemployment is a far cry from the $4,600 he took home while he was working, but his expenses are relatively low. He pays $600 a month for his share of the apartment, though the maintenance is going up. He's signing up for veterans benefits so he can get health insurance since he can't afford COBRA. Also, his parents have said they would help him out.

If the economy weren't on the rocks, Hager feels he'd be able to land a job more easily. Companies are posting jobs, but they don't seem to be hiring, he said. He still sees notices from September that have gone unfilled. And it takes weeks for executives to respond, if they do at all.

"The consumer dictates what employers do and no one is spending money," Hager said. "Employers don't want anybody right now because no one wants products or services."

How is the economy affecting your everyday life? Tell us about how your money situation has changed - or stayed the same - in the last few months. What's your biggest economic worry? Send us your photos and videos, or email us and share your story.

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A dumb branding strategy

ewelry Central is a really bad brand name. So are Party Land, Computer World, Modem Village, House of Socks and Toupee Town.

It's a bad brand name because Central or Land or World are meaningless. They add absolutely no value to your story, they mean nothing and they are interchangeable. "Here honey, I bought you these cheap earrings at Diamond World!" Not only are they bland, but you can't even remember one over the other. This is the absolute last refuge of a marketer who has absolutely nothing to say and can't even find the guts to stand for what they do. It's just generic.

The second reason this is an exceedingly dangerous strategy is that if you start to succeed a little bit, you suddenly want to protect your lame name. So you hire a lawyer and start to harass people for using the English language. So Computer Land sued Business Land (or maybe it was the other way around) and lost. Or consider the angry lawyer at Jewelry Village (or was it Central, I can't remember) who sent a letter to Squidoo complaining about an editorial (not a retail) page that used the phrase. There are more than 15,000 matches for this phrase in Google, which means he's got a lot of letters to send, and a lot of people to annoy. For what? Even if he manages to make a lot of noise, he's just reminding the world how generic the phrase is in the first place. Can you name one successful brand (except Pizza Hut and I think they succeeded despite the name) that managed to pull this off? [Yes, there's Central Market and IHOP and Radio Shack... thanks for the submissions. I'm going to argue that in each case, the name slowed down something else that was truly powerful...]

You can do better.

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Fed offers $100 billion more to banks

The Federal Reserve announced Friday it will auction an additional $100 billion in April to cash-strapped banks as it continues to combat the effects of a credit crisis.

The central bank said it would make $50 billion available at each of two auctions, on April 7 and April 21.

Through the end of March, the Fed has provided $260 billion in short-term loans to commercial banks through the innovative auction process. It also has employed Depression-era provisions to provide money to investment banks.

All the moves have been designed to cope with a serious financial crisis that has roiled U.S. and global markets and caused the near-collapse of Bear Stearns Cos., the nation's fifth largest investment bank.

The Fed has been holding auctions every two weeks since December to provide short-term loans to commercial banks. It started with auctions of $20 billion, then pushed the level to $30 billion, and in early March raised the auction amount to $50 billion as the credit shortage grew more severe.

In announcing the move to $50 billion last month, the Fed said it would continue the auctions for at least the next six months, unless credit conditions show they are no longer needed.

The auctions are just one of a series of unorthodox steps the Fed has taken to battle the current crisis. The biggest of those moves was an announcement that it was allowing investment banks to borrow directly from the Fed. Previously, only commercial banks, which face tighter regulations, had that privilege.

The Fed also said it would make available $30 billion in financing to support the sale of troubled Bear Stearns to JP Morgan Chase & Co., hoping to prevent a bankruptcy that could have rocked Wall Street.

Private economists said the auctions were having a positive impact but that troubles still exist in many sectors of the credit markets because of multibillion-dollar losses many financial institutions have suffered as the result of soaring defaults on mortgage loans.

"The Fed has worked some positive magic," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "At least the panic has subsided as the risk of another major failure has receded given that financial institutions now have access to a lot of cash through the various lending facilities the Fed has established."

The Fed's auctions have drawn criticism from some that the central bank, and ultimately U.S. taxpayers, could be financing a bailout for big Wall Street firms that had engaged in risky lending practices.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will face questions about the Fed's recent moves when he testifies on Wednesday before the congressional Joint Economic Committee.

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Best Buy Calls Cops On You For Telling Fellow Customer Jawbone Headset Is Overpriced, Sucks

bestbuythugs.jpgBest Buy called the cops on Alex because he told another shopper that the Jawbone headset he was considering was poor quality and marked up $30 from the manufacturer's price. Alex went to Best Buy to purchase a new Bluetooth headset because the Jawbone he recently purchased from Verizon wasn't cutting it. While browsing the headsets, he struck up a conversation with another customer who was checking out the Jawbone. Alex told his fellow customer that he had been disappointed in the quality of the Jawbone, and that Best Buy was charging $30 more than the manufacturer or Verizon. A sales associate overheard this and told the manager, who asked Alex to leave the store, then threatened to call the police, then did.

Alex called Best Buy's corporate number, but was on hold so long that the police arrived before he could speak with anyone. After getting the manager's information, he left the store, then called Best Buy corporate again, where he spoke with a supervisor who told her that no, actually it's NOT Best Buy's policy to call the cops whenever a customer shares her experiences with another customer, unless it's "disruptive." Alex's email:

Dear Consumerist,

I absolutely love reading your blog and have learned a great deal about the horrors of Best Buy "customer service." But never in a thousand years did I think I'd be sending in my very own Best Buy horror story.

I had recently purchased the Jawbone headset from my local Verizon store based on good reviews, but I quickly discovered my supreme dissatisfaction with it and was looking to replace it with a different brand. On March 5, 2008, at around 9 PM, I entered the Best Buy store in East Brunswick, NJ to see their selection of bluetooth headsets.

The selection of headsets at this Best Buy was dismal, and the merchandising was less than appealing, but that's not why I'm writing. While I was browsing the selection, another customer picked up the Jawbone headset and was taking a look at it. I shared my disappointing experience with the headset and also alerted him to the fact that Best Buy was charging an additional $30 on top of both the manufacturer's price online and Verizon's price. All of this was said within earshot of a sales associate, and I walked away after sharing my experience.

Within 30 seconds, a manager named Tom approached me and asked me to leave the store. I thought he was joking, since I had done absolutely nothing wrong, and I asked Tom for the reason why I needed to leave. According to Tom, "it was policy."

I was incredulous. I've worked far too many retail jobs to know the extent of "power" a manager has over customers, and my intuition told me he was pissed that I lost him a potential sale. I refused to leave the store, based on the fact that I had done nothing wrong and that this so-called policy was pulled out of his ass. Tom walked away and directed an associate to call the police.

I was shocked that Tom treated me like a thief—the cops were coming! I asked Tom for the Best Buy customer service number and immediately called to speak with someone that would knock some sense into trigger-happy Tom. Of course, I had to wait for what seemed like forever to speak with a representative, but before I could actually talk to a live person, the cops came.

Two cops and about four Best Buy associates in tough guy poses stood at the front of the store, obviously creating a dramatic scene. I was calmly waiting for a customer service rep to pick up the phone. I gave up on the customer service line, got the store's phone number and Tom's full name and title and left as per police request.

I have never been so humiliated and infuriated in my life. I felt like my First Amendment rights were violated—all I did was tell a fellow customer my experiences with a product! When I got home I FINALLY spoke to Daniel, a supervisor at Best Buy's customer service line, and he was shocked and appalled at Tom's actions. Daniel confirmed that Tom COULD have asked me to leave, had I been disruptive, then stated that Tom had no right to police a conversation between two customers, regardless of what was said. Daniel apologized profusely, took all of my contact information down, and noted that I had requested to receive a follow up email from a district manager that would deal with the investigation and formal complaint.

As far as I'm concerned, Tom can rot in hell. But I know how retail works, and he'll most likely get some insignificant writeup and a slap on the wrist. What I really want is a massive gift card because of Tom's flagrant abuse of "policy" and for embarrassing the hell out of me in front of the whole store. What steps can I take to get Best Buy to make a customer happy, formally apologize, and give me a free gift card?

Thanks so much. I love the blog and tell all of my friends about it! Keep up the amazing work!



We're not big on demanding apologies; money is better. Alex should wait to hear back from the manager he spoke with. If he doesn't hear back or is unsatisfied with Best Buy's response, he should check out The Ultimate Consumerist Guide To Fighting Back to get help writing a formal complaint letter or launching an EECB.

(Photo: ob1left)

Original here

House to investigate defense contract to firm that shipped Chinese-made ammo to Afghanistan

A lengthy investigation published Thursday reveals that the Pentagon gave an inexperienced 22-year-old a $300 million contract to provide ammunition to Afghanistan. The shady deal resulted in decades old, substandard munitions being delivered to US and Afghan troops fighting on the front lines of the war on terror.

Following publication of a lengthy New York Times article, the House Oversight Committee announced it would investigate AEY Inc., a fledgling company that thrived after 2003 as the US government began handing out billions of dollars to private defense contractors. Chairman Henry Waxman invited company officials as well as representatives of the State and Defense departments to testify at a hearing next month, according to a news release.

The results of that investigation, which sent seven reporters across three continents, were published Thursday.

But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur. With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces. Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed. In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

The company's president was 22-year-old Efraim E. Diveroli, who ran the company with a 25-year-old from Miami Beach, Florida. Waxman has requested that Diveroli testify, along with company vice president David M. Packouz and Levi Meyer its general manager.

On his MySpace page, Diveroli claims that "problems in high school" forced him to work through most of his teenage years, but that "of course im (sic) a super nice guy!!!"

"I finally got a decent apartment and im (sic) content for the moment," he writes on the page, "however i (sic) definately (sic) have the desire to be very successful in my business and this does take up alot (sic) of my time.

After the Times began asking questions about the suspicious contract, the Army suspended the company from future contract efforts. The Associated Press confirms that the company's contracts have been suspended because it shipped Chinese-made ammunition "in violation of its contract and US law."

AEY is apparently still in business, and it is hiring, according to this Craigslist ad.

When asked about the report, a woman who answered the phone at the number listed told RAW STORY, "I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to comment on that. Have a nice day." She immediately hung up.

Ammo provided by AEY included some manufactured in China more than 40 years ago, and other munitions provided by the company were in such bad shape, the Army decided not to use it, according to the Times.

Diveroli apparently had little experience in arms procurement, and the Times article suggests his dealings with the Albanian government were corrupt. An audio recording of Diveroli, mentioned in the article, was discovered on this YouTube site apparently based in Hong Kong. A transcript is available here.

The company and the Army would not divulge where the ammunition AEY provided came from, but the Times reports that interviews and records from several sources show the company "shopped from stocks in the old Eastern bloc, including Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Romania and Slovakia."

In the audio recording, Diveroli is speaking to Kosta Trebicka, an Albanian businessman, about Ylli Pinari, director of an Albanian agency in charge of arms exports.

Diveroli says he "can't play monkey business with the mafia ... and all those fucking guys in Albania" because his contract is with the US government and "everyone is watching me."

Trebicka, who was acting as a middle man for the deal, said "Pinari and his mafia guys ... will create lots of problems," but he tried to calm the young AEY president.

"Probably I will be invited in Washington DC from the CIA guys and from my friends over there," Trebicka tells Diveroli in the conversation recorded June 11, 2007. "Two weeks from now I will come to Florida to shake hands with you and discuss future deals."

Diveroli stresses to Trebicka the need to push a Pinari to go through with a a sale of material, according to the recording.

"Call him up, beg him, kiss him, whatever..." Diveroli tells his Albanian contact. "Send one of your girls to fuck him... Let's get him happy. Maybe he gives you one more chance to do the job. No?"

The Times says Diveroli was entering a shady and lightly regulated world.

The international arms business operates partly in the light and partly in shadows, and is littered with short-lived shell companies, middlemen and official corruption. Governments have tried to regulate it more closely for years, with limited success. As Mr. Diveroli began to fill the Army’s huge orders, he was entering a shadowy world, and in his brief interview he suggested that he was aware that corruption could intrude on his dealings in Albania. “What goes on in the Albanian Ministry of Defense?” he said. “Who’s clean? Who’s dirty? Don’t want to know about it.” The way AEY’s business was structured, Mr. Diveroli, at least officially, did not deal directly with Albanian officials. Instead, a middleman company registered in Cyprus, Evdin Ltd., bought the ammunition and sold it to his company. The local packager involved in the deal, Mr. Trebicka, said that he suspected that Evdin’s purpose was to divert money to Albanian officials.

Albanian political observers say the Times story just begins to scratch the surface of corruption there.

"There is more to this story," writes Gary Q. Kokalari, a political analyst, reacting to the Times article. "Stay tuned."

Original here

Net Neutrality's Quiet Crusader

Bearing video cameras, laptops and cellphones, a small army of young activists flooded into a recent federal meeting in protest.

Members of public-interest group Free Press weren't there to support a presidential candidate or decry global warming. The tech-savvy hundreds came to the Federal Communications Commission's hearing at Harvard Law School last month to push new rules for the Internet.

For the first time, Congress and the FCC are debating wide-reaching Web regulations and policies that would determine how much control cable and telecommunications companies would have over the Internet. The issue has given rise to a new political constituency raised on text messaging and social networking and relies on e-mail blasts and online video clips in its advocacy.

Although Free Press has generated buzz for its aggressive and sometimes controversial tactics online, its ringleader in Washington is an unlikely crusader. A soft-spoken 30-year-old PhD candidate, Ben Scott has become an operator in multibillion-dollar battles involving corporate titans, regulators and consumers debating policies over who controls the media and the Internet.

"There have been policy moments in the past when the market has been shaped by decisions made in Washington -- radio in the 1930s, television in the 1950s and cable in the 1980s. That moment is now for the Internet," said Scott, who runs a nine-member office.

Working mostly behind the scenes, Scott has been a driving force for "net neutrality," a concept that in policy terms has come to mean enforcement of open access online, so cable and telecom operators cannot block or delay content that travels over their networks. In a complaint filed at the FCC last November, Scott and his staff called for action against Comcast, which admitted it slowed content over its network involving the BitTorrent file-sharing site.

Scott and the group's 500,000 members, most of whom joined online, helped sell their argument. Free Press drew together strange bedfellows, including the Christian Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gun Owners of America, and helped set in motion a broader debate on the issue that resulted in the recent FCC hearing in Cambridge, Mass. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) also sponsored a bill to strengthen governance against Internet service providers trying to control consumers' Web access over their networks.

"Ben has exquisite political judgment and is a key player in net neutrality and wireless issues because he represents a new, grass-roots dynamic in the battle against media concentration and the communications colossus," said Markey, chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet.

Under pressure, Comcast yesterday said it would work with BitTorrent to improve the transfer of large files over the network.

Free Press's critics -- who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions on net neutrality policy are ongoing -- say the group often oversimplifies complex technical issues, dismissing the importance of some network management practices that block spam and pornography, for example. Free Press is also not the populist group it makes itself out to be, critics noted, partnering with corporate interests when it suits its goals, as it did with Google on net neutrality. Also, they said the group is not as boot-strapped as it may appear, with donors such as billionaire George Soros and singer Barbra Streisand.

Free Press has more than $5 million in funding, in part from major foundations such as the Soros Open Society Institute. Its annual lobbying budget is $250,000, compared with the $13.8 million spent by Verizon Communications, $17.1 million by AT&T and $8.9 million by Comcast last year.

The group, founded in 2003, was the brainchild of Scott's doctoral adviser, University of Illinois media history professor Robert McChesney. Its first mandate was to fight policy changes allowing greater media consolidation between local newspapers and broadcast concerns.

Scott, who was in Washington at the time, joined soon after.

"It was the moment when core policies were being set up on the future of digital media and communications," McChesney said. "For Ben, who had studied this stuff, it was like asking a political scientist to be chief of staff to the president."

The issue also resonated with Free Press's fast-growing membership. Members regularly blasted the FCC and lawmakers with e-mails, video and online petitions. They flooded the agency's hearings on media ownership around the country to protest the rules. A Philadelphia district court eventually overturned the regulations, sending the FCC back to the drawing board.

"What we've done is organize the massive pent-up frustration that the media wasn't measuring up," Scott said.

Harnessing that is sometimes just a matter of capturing a moment and publicizing it online.

When Free Press employees discovered Comcast had paid people to attend the hearing at Harvard and appear supportive of the company, it blasted e-mails with photos and video of some hired stand-ins sleeping in the front rows. The video was viewed 60,000 times on YouTube.

Members of Free Press "are people in their 20s and 30s who are active in politics, who have grown up on the Net, who have come to learn and appreciate the value of the Net and want to preserve it," said Richard Whitt, the Washington telecom and media counsel for Google.

If the issues are new to Washington, so is Scott's understated style.

The son of a Methodist minister, Scott is no bombast. He doesn't interrupt people. When he speaks -- whether it's about media ownership or low-power radio -- he does so with a studied economy of words, and in a voice that makes people crane to hear him.

"Ben Scott and his people are bringing thoughtful, knowledgeable arguments and doing their homework," said Blair Levin, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. "And they never are saying they want you do something 'because we said so.' "

Scott's kindred spirit at the FCC might be Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps, also a student of history who recently read a biography on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Scott and Copps recently bonded over the book, drawing comparisons between the New Deal and net neutrality. At another meeting that day, Scott and the other Democratic commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, held forth on legal definitions and case law for net neutrality.

Scott understands that effectiveness lies in the ability to cater the message to the right audience.

"Ultimately power is transacted on a personal level," he said, "and ultimately people make decisions based on conversations with people that they trust."

Catherine Bohigian, chief of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning, said Scott keeps discussions going by advocating without aggression.

"You are able to talk about issues and don't have personalities that get in the way," she said. "We've been on the other side with him on some issues; but being a nice guy, you want to work with him."

It's not that Free Press's approach doesn't occasionally backfire.

On Valentine's Day, as part of an e-mail campaign, Free Press posted an fictional online video of FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin in a hotel room with big corporate lobbyists.

"Let's just say I didn't get calls back from the chairman's office for a couple weeks," Scott said.

Eventually Scott was forgiven, and Martin consulted him about a net neutrality hearing scheduled for next month at Stanford University.

"There have been times I might have agreed or disagreed with the position he's taken, but his ability to mobilize at the grass-roots level and advocate and communicate effectively has certainly had an influence at the commission," Martin said of Scott.

At Scott's urging, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) wrote a bill in June to expand the number of low-power radio stations on the FM dial -- an issue that had languished for a long time.

After low-power advocates Pete "Petri Dish" Tridish and Hannah Sassaman approached Scott three years ago to craft their message and go against the powerful National Association of Broadcasters, Doyle took up their cause.

"What people don't know is that getting a bill like this together requires a lot of hard work. It's laborious, and a lot of people don't want to do it," Doyle said. "But Ben and his people are coming prepared and with all the facts and figures and willing to do the hard work and that makes us on the committee really take notice."

Original here

The Color of Money from Around the World

In honor of this month’s release of the United States’ redesigned five dollar bill I have been scouring through the 191 currently circulating currencies of the 192 member states of the United Nations to find some of the most colorful, unique and dramatic bank notes.

The New Five

The redesigned $5 bill was unveiled on September 20, 2007, and was issued on March 13, 2008. Previously covered here on COLOURlovers, the redesign involves some very noticeable changes, mostly for security reasons, but also in an attempt to make the bill more friendly to the visually impaired.

The new five incorporates the use of micro printing of type to make it more difficult to copy. On the front, “FIVE DOLLARS” is written inside the left and right borders. “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is printed at the top of the shield. “USA” is between the columns of the shield and “USA FIVE” is printed on the edge of the most noticeable change, the giant purple “5″.

Photo from

The giant purple “5″. Yes, well, it was added to help those who are visually impaired but it may just leave more of us wishing that we were. Not that I necessarily dislike it, mostly I’m not too concerned with what the money looks like since I’m not collecting it for its aesthetic qualities, but a more reasonable choice, or at least a more colorful choice, would have been just to make the whole thing purple and start color coding all of the bills, much like many, if not most, other countries do. Maybe the Government doesn’t want to get too far away from our ‘greenback’.

One Interesting thing about the new five is the use of the EURion constellation which many photocopiers will refuse to copy. This pattern, which is used for the series of little yellow “05″s, is used on many other currencies as well.

Other changes to the bill include the increased use of water marks and an added security strip like those already used for higher denominations.

The Most Colorful Currencies

Compared to those previous drab gray and green bills the US has made some colorful changes to the currency, but it is still nothing compared to the beautifully crafted and colored currencies of Venezuela, Switzerland, and Kyrgyzstan.

The Bolívar Fuerte

The Bolívar Fuerte is the new currency of Venezuela since January 1, 2008. It replaced the old Bolívar which was the currency between 1879 and 2007. My personal favorite currency, it is a great example of the amazing bright and colorful notes that are seen throughout many South America countries.

The Bolívar Fuerte includes illustrations of Francisco de Miranda, Pedro Camejo, Cacique Guaicaipuro, Luisa Cáceres de Arismendi, Simón Rodríguez and Simón Bolívar, on the fronts. On the backsides, the notes feature Amazon river dolphins, a giant armadillo, an American Harpy eagle, the hawks bill turtle, a spectacled bear and the red siskin.

The Swiss Franc

The Swiss Franc is the legal currency of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The current eighth series of banknotes was designed by Jörg Zintzmeyer around the theme of the arts and was released in 1995. All the banknotes are quadrilingual and display information in each of the four national languages. The notes feature Le Corbusier, Arthur Honegger, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Alberto Giacometti, Charles Ferdinand Ramuz and Jacob Burckhardt.

In February 2005, Switzerland held and open competition for the design of the 9th series, planned to be released around 2010. The results were announced in November 2005, but the selected design drew widespread criticisms from the population.

The Kyrgyzstani Som

The Som is the currency of the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia. The som was introduced in May 10, 1993 and replaced the Soviet ruble. The notes include illustrations of musicians, dancers and scientists on the the fronts of its notes. The colors are very subtle but they create beautiful compositions. What I find most amazing about these notes is the incredibly intricate and unique patterns in the center of each bill.

More Colorful Currencies

Ghana Cedi
Brazil Real
Rwandan Franc
Nigerian Naira
Colombian Peso
Serbian Dinar
Estonian Kroon
Taiwan Dollar
Turkish lira
Ukrainian Hryvnia
Vietnamese Dong
Bermudian Dollar
South Korean Won
Chilean Peso
Images complied from Wikipedia.

Original here

Pentagon: Inventory ordered of all U.S. nukes

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has formally ordered the Air Force, Navy and Defense Logistics Agency to conduct an inventory of all U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon-related materials to make sure all items are accounted for, according to a Pentagon memo released Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates orders an inventory of all U.S. nuclear weapons and related materials.

The order comes in the wake of the discovery last week that four nuclear warhead fuses were accidentally shipped to Taiwan in 2006.

Gates' memo, issued Wednesday, calls for all items to be accounted for by serial number.

Pentagon officials said at a news conference Tuesday that Gates would call for the review in addition to a full investigation into how the shipment to Taiwan from a Defense Logistics Agency warehouse happened 18 months ago.

The inventory review, which will involve thousands of items, is due to Gates in 60 days. Pentagon officials said the request was ordered, in part, because this latest incident comes after the August 2007 accidental flight of six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 bomber across the country.

"At a minimum, your report should include the results of the inventory and your personal assessment of the adequacy of your respective department or agency's positive inventory control policies and procedures," Gates said in the memo.

Four officers --- including three colonels -- were relieved of duty last year after a B-52 bomber mistakenly carried six nuclear warheads from North Dakota to Louisiana, the Air Force said.

A six-week investigation uncovered a "lackadaisical" attention to detail in day-to-day operations at the bases involved in the incident, an Air Force report said.

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Tour of prison reveals the last days of Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The guards at the Baghdad detention facility called their prisoner "Vic," and let him plant a little garden near his cell.


The cell where Saddam Hussein spent his final days is furnished with the basics.

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The rest of the world knew him as Saddam Hussein, a man blamed for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during more than 20 years as the country's president.

The nickname and the garden are among the details about the former Iraqi dictator that emerged during a tour of the Baghdad cell where Hussein slept, bathed, and kept a journal in the final days before he was executed in December 2006.

U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, who oversees detention operations for the U.S. military in Iraq, shared excerpts from the journal and showed CNN the cell -- the first time it's been recorded on video.

Hussein was hanged on December 30, 2006, for his role in the killings of 148 people in a town north of Baghdad after a 1982 attempt to assassinate him. Video Watch Stone tell how Hussein prepared for execution »

Stone described how Hussein began that day.

"So he got up. He was informed that, in fact, [this] would be the day that he would be going to the execution. He bathed himself here in a very modest manner," Stone said, pointing to the sink in the corner of the room. "It was winter, so it was cold."

Hussein took extra time to put on the familiar dark suit he always wore to court, Stone recalled.

"As he went out, he said goodbye to the guards and then got into the vehicles and proceeded to the execution," the general said. See timeline of events leading up to Hussein's execution »

Notes taken by the guards assigned to Hussein said he asked them to give his belongings to his lawyer and tell his daughter he was going to meet God with a clear conscience, as a soldier sacrificing himself for Iraq and his people.

The cell is a small, windowless room painted a nondescript beige, with a gun-metal gray floor and concrete sleeping platform. It has a stainless-steel combination sink and toilet in the corner.

Those guarding the former Iraqi leader developed a sort of rapport with him, giving Hussein the nickname Vic -- derived from the initials V-I-C posted near his name in the holding facility.

"Why did you all call him Vic?" asked CNN's Kyra Phillips.

"Ah, a little-known secret," Stone said. "When he came here there was a debate. Do you call him Mr. President? No, that doesn't sound very good. What do you call him?"

Hussein also had a prisoner number, but that wasn't going to work as a name either.

"One day he looked across at us and said why do you have initials by my name?" Stone said. "And we said, well, that stands for 'Very Important Criminal'" ... and he said, 'OK, that's what I want to be called.'"

Guards allowed Hussein to exercise and keep a garden in a small outdoor courtyard.

"This was probably his favorite area," Stone said of the courtyard, where Hussein also smoked cigars and wrote in his journal, trying to shape his legacy even though he had lost control of the country.

In his writings, Hussein said it was his responsibility to document history so that "the people ... may know the facts as they are and not as those who want to counterfeit it."

"So he is afraid that history will not be recorded as he wants it recorded?" Phillips asked.

"As he wants it recorded, exactly!" Stone said.

The former Iraqi leader showed a philosophical side in his poetry.

"The nights are darker after the sunset, but the smoke and the burning overwhelms the city," Hussein wrote as bombings and fighting enveloped Baghdad and echoed into the prison.

"You will feel suffocated under its skies. The days are now nights. No stars. No moon, but lots of screams."

In another piece, Hussein called on citizens to change.

"Dear nation: Get rid of the hatred, take the clothes of hate and throw it into the ocean of hatred," he wrote. "God will save you and you will start a clean life, with a clean heart."

Though authorities executed Hussein for his role in killing about 150 people, he was on trial at the time of his death for genocide. Those charges implicated him in the killings of up to 100,000 Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign against Kurdish rebels -- a campaign that included the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns in northern Iraq.

Stone said Hussein's poetry may have been another attempt to ensure his legacy.

"There is a certain cunningness to him," Stone said. "There's a desire to sort of piece things together so that this is what you'll remember."

  • Fighting that has left scores dead in Iraq's strategic southern oil city of Basra and other regions continued to rage on Thursday, with officials and witnesses reporting pitched battles between Iraqi security forces and militia members.
  • In Washington on Wednesday, a federal indictment was unsealed charging that Hussein's intelligence agency footed the bill for a U.S. congressional delegation's trip during a buildup to the Iraq war.

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