Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ford, Dow execs to announce national summit in '09


DETROIT (AP) — Amid the turmoil on Wall Street, leaders from two global companies hard hit by economic and industrial upheavals are expected to unveil plans Monday for a national convention being held next year to discuss the future of manufacturing, technology, energy and the environment.

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford and Dow Chemical Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris were scheduled to announce The National Summit after the Detroit Economic Club meeting Monday. The nonpartisan, nonprofit group is convening the summit, which is set for June 15-17 at Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions.

Beth Chappell, the economic club's CEO, said the idea grew out of listening to leaders who have addressed the venerable speakers' forum during the past couple years.

"So many speakers from the platform have this call to action ... and the themes — technology, energy, environment and manufacturing — kept coming up over and over again," she said.

"This is not about Detroit, this is not about Michigan and this is not about automotive. It's cross-country and cross-industry."

Ford and Liveris will serve as the summit's co-chairmen. Ford is the economic club's outgoing chairman, and General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner succeeds him on Monday.

Organizers hope the first-of-its kind U.S. gathering, which they say has received sponsorship pledges of more than $2 million from more than 50 organizations, will draw as many as 5,000 leaders and others from business, government and academia.

The speaker lineup hasn't been announced, but companies planning to take part include GM, Chrysler LLC, IBM Corp., AT&T, Motorola Inc., Deloitte LLP and Masco Corp.

Liveris, who is scheduled to give Monday's keynote address to the economic club about the need for a national, comprehensive industrial policy, has been vocal about industry troubles and the effect on the Midland-based company he leads. Dow this year has announced two sets of wide-ranging price increases in an attempt to offset record costs for energy and raw materials.

In May, Liveris took the unusual step of directing blame at the nation's energy policy makers.

"For years, Washington has failed to address the issue of rising energy costs and, as a result, the country now faces a true energy crisis, one that is causing serious harm to America's manufacturing sector and all consumers of energy," he said at the time.

The Detroit Three automakers are lobbying Congress to fund a $25 billion loan program to help the companies modernize their plants, arguing that the sluggish U.S. economy could affect thousands of workers.

The auto executives have said they're committed to building more fuel-efficient vehicles, but the companies are going through the most difficult business environment in more than 30 years.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Council on Competitiveness have agreed to participate in the national summit, which includes concurrent town halls on each of the main topics, a "CEO Summit" for corporate leaders and an innovation exposition that incorporates technology displays and an effort to match entrepreneurs, researchers and venture capitalists.

Original here

Democrats Set Terms as Bailout Debate Begins


Lauren Victoria Burke/Associated Press

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. after appearing on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday.

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats began to set their own terms on Sunday for a plan to rescue the nation’s financial institutions, including greater legislative oversight of the Treasury Department, more direct assistance for homeowners and limits on the pay of top executives whose firms seek help.

The Democrats’ demands came as Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. blanketed the Sunday talk shows to promote the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout package, emphasizing that it was needed not just for Wall Street, but for all Americans. He urged Congress to move swiftly to approve a “clean” rescue plan without tacking on extra programs.

“I hate the fact that we have to do it, but it’s better than the alternative,” Mr. Paulson said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The Bush administration proposal could be the largest government bailout of private industry in the nation’s history, and it calls for nearly unfettered powers to the Treasury secretary. There is intense pressure to pass a rescue measure quickly because the markets remain jittery.

Still, competing interests were already complicating the negotiations, as Democrats pushed for assistance for distressed homeowners and for oversight authority of the bailout program. Some lawmakers also said they did not want to be rushed into approving extraordinary new powers for the Treasury secretary and the government without full consideration of the consequences.

Both presidential nominees, who face the prospect of inheriting an enormous new program, said there had to be more oversight of the Treasury Department than the Bush administration had proposed.

Financial companies were already lobbying to broaden the plan. And the Bush administration did indeed widen the scope by allowing the government to buy out assets other than mortgage-related securities as well as making foreign companies eligible for government assistance.

Banks and traders also braced themselves for another tumultuous week in the markets. But early signs indicate that investors in Asia were reacting positively to the developments in Washington. Shares in Asia jumped in early trading on Monday morning, as investors took their cues from a rally on Wall Street on Friday. The Nikkei 225 index climbed 2 percent in early trading in Tokyo, and the Kospi index rose 3 percent in Seoul, South Korea.

The Standard & Poor’s/Australia Stock Exchange 200 index increased 3.6 percent after markets there opened a half-hour late. The opening was delayed to allow time for further details to be issued regarding a monthlong ban imposed by Australian regulators on all short selling of shares traded on the exchange.

Meanwhile, top Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill said on Sunday that they would act swiftly on the administration’s request, but not without setting their own conditions.

“Congress will respond to the financial markets crisis by taking action this week in a bipartisan manner that will protect the taxpayers’ interests,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. She added that the administration’s proposal did “not include the necessary safeguards. Democrats believe a responsible solution should include independent oversight, protections for homeowners and constraints on excessive executive compensation.”

“We will not simply hand over a $700 billion blank check to Wall Street and hope for a better outcome,” she said.

Congressional Republicans, too, put the Bush administration on notice that they would not rubber-stamp the bailout proposal but would insist on a number of changes, including specific protections for taxpayers. Those would include a requirement that any profits from the program be returned to the Treasury.

Aides to senior House Republicans said that lawmakers would also demand greater oversight of the program and were proposing a joint select committee, consisting of members of both parties and both chambers of Congress.

Top administration officials and senior lawmakers said that the markets could be devastated if Congress and the administration failed to reach agreement on the plan.

On Sunday, Mr. Paulson defended the plan and the administration’s decision to expand it to protect foreign companies and authorize even wider latitude to buy assets other than those that were backed by mortgages.

Mr. Paulson, a former Wall Street deal maker, also suggested that the administration would have some flexibility in dealing with concerns raised by Congress.

Democrats said the plan would need to provide more specific relief for troubled homeowners. They said the program, which the administration proposed to be run by Treasury, would have to be more accountable to Congress. And they said that the plan must restrict the compensation of corporate executives from companies that make use of the program to sell the burdensome securities on their balance sheets to the United States.

“We need to offer some assurance to the American taxpayer that Congress is watching,” Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the banking committee, told reporters on Sunday. “One of the things that got us into this mess was the lack of accountability and the lack of oversight that was occurring, and I don’t think we want to repeat those mistakes with a program of this magnitude.”

Mr. Paulson said he hoped that the government would recoup much of the cost of buying distressed mortgage-related assets. But he did not rule out that the initial cost of the bailout could rise beyond $700 billion, the limit set in the terse proposal sent by the Treasury to Congress on Saturday.

“That doesn’t mean we’ll go all the way there, or it doesn’t mean it will stop there and we won’t ask for more,” Mr. Paulson said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “What we need is something that is big enough to get the job done. We’ll ask for what we think is a right amount to give us plenty of flexibility.”

Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, put forward the Democrats’ proposed changes to the administration’s plan. They would give the Treasury secretary the authority to set “appropriate standards” for compensation of senior executives whose companies sell troubled assets to the government.

Under a so-called claw-back provision, the secretary would have the power to force companies to recoup previous payments to executives of companies involved in the program. And Mr. Frank’s plan would give broad authority for the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, to audit and oversee the program.

But Mr. Paulson said that he was concerned that imposing limits on the compensation of executives could discourage companies from participating in the program.

“If we design it so it’s punitive and so institutions aren’t going to participate, this won’t work the way we need it to work,” Mr. Paulson said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Let’s talk about executive salaries. There have been excesses there. I agree with the American people. Pay should be for performance, not for failure.”

But he quickly added: “But we need this system to work, and so we — the reforms need to come afterwards.”

Republicans, though troubled by some of the same issues as Democrats, seemed ready to give Mr. Paulson wide latitude.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said on ABC: “We don’t need 535 members of Congress adding their best idea. We need to keep it clean, simple, move it through the House and Senate, and get it on the president’s desk.”

Even as Ms. Pelosi and other Congressional leaders were pledging to act swiftly and said a deal was probable by the end of the week, some lawmakers said they would not be rushed into approving a plan.

“I realize there is considerable pressure for the Congress to adjourn by the end of next week,” Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, wrote in a letter to the Senate leaders of both parties. “But I think we must take the necessary time to conduct hearings, analyze the administration’s proposed legislation, and demonstrate to the American people that any response is thoughtful, thoroughly considered and appropriate.”

Mr. Dodd said he expected that Treasury would not be particularly interested in any of the Democratic proposals. But he said he had already warned Mr. Paulson to keep an open mind.

“I suggested strongly to him that he leave this door open, or he is going to find himself facing some significant problems,” Mr. Dodd said at a briefing with reporters on Sunday at the Capitol. Mr. Dodd, who met with several of his Democratic colleagues, said that reaching a deal could keep Congress in session past this week, when leaders had hoped to adjourn for the fall elections. “This is of such import that if it takes a little longer to get it right, so be it,” he said.

As they plotted an endgame, Democrats said they planned to consider the bailout proposal separately from an economic recovery program that would include new public works spending, aid to states and added unemployment and food-stamp benefits. Congress could consider that plan and a stop-gap funding plan for the federal government before taking up the Treasury proposal later in the week.

While House Democrats were the first to propose additional legislative language, Senate Democrats were working aggressively behind the scenes on several provisions that could set off debate among lawmakers and aggressive lobbying by an array of interest groups.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, has proposed a provision that would grant the government warrants to purchase stock in companies that participate in the bailout plan, so that taxpayers might be able to profit should the firms flourish after selling their bad debts to the government.

Several Democratic senators are interested in reviving a provision that was knocked out of legislation last summer to grant bankruptcy judges the authority to modify the terms of mortgages for primary residences. That provision is opposed by the banking, lending and securities industries. But supporters say it would guarantee that lenders enter negotiations to modify loans to struggling homeowners.

Original here

How We Became the United States of France

By Bill Saporito

This is the state of our great republic: We've nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We're about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they're a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future in which too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national health care? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by half a dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn., and FedExed to Washington, D.C., to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We're now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride. Italy? Sure, it's had four governments since last Thursday, but none of them would have allowed this to go on; the Italians know how to rig an economy.

You just know the Frogs have only increased their disdain for us, if that is indeed possible. And why shouldn't they? The average American is working two and a half jobs, gets two weeks off and has all the employment security of a one-armed trapeze artist. The Bush Administration has preached the "ownership society" to America: own your house, own your retirement account; you don't need the government in your way. So Americans mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy overpriced houses they can no longer afford and signed up for 401(k) programs that put money — where, exactly? In the stock market! Where rich Republicans fleeced them.

Now our laissez-faire (hey, a French word) regulation-averse Administration has made France's only Socialist President, François Mitterrand, look like Adam Smith by comparison. All Mitterrand did was nationalize France's big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn't have to deal with bankers who didn't want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie. France doesn't have the mortgage crisis that we do, either. In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world. Sure, France has its banlieues, where it likes to warehouse people who aren't French enough (meaning, immigrants and Algerians) in huge apartment blocks. But the bulk of French homeowners are curiously free of subprime mortgages foisted on them by fellow citizens, and they aren't over their heads in personal debt.

We've always dismissed the French as exquisitely fed wards of their welfare state. They work, what, 27 hours in a good week, have 19 holidays a month, go on strike for two days and enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch — except for the 25% of the population working for the government, who have an even sweeter deal. They retire before their kids finish high school, and they don't have to save for $45,000-a-year college tuition, because college is free. For this, they pay a tax rate of about 103%, and their labor laws are so restrictive that they haven't had a net gain in jobs since Napoleon. There is no way the French government can pay for this lifestyle forever, except that it somehow does.

Mitterrand tried to create both job growth and wage growth by nationalizing huge swaths of the economy, including some big industries — automaker Renault, for instance. You haven't driven a Renault lately because Renault couldn't sell them here. Imagine that: an auto company that couldn't compete with a Dodge Colt. But the Renault takeover ultimately proved successful, and Renault became a private company again in 1996, although the government retains about 15% of its shares.

Now the U.S. is faced with the same prospect in the auto industry. GM and Ford need money to develop greener cars that can compete with Toyota and Honda. And they're looking to Uncle Sam for investment — an investment that could have been avoided had Washington imposed more stringent mileage standards years earlier. But we don't want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do.

Mitterrand's nationalization program and other economic reforms failed, as the development of the European Market made a centrally planned economy obsolete. The Rothschilds got their bank back, a little worse for the wear. These days, France sashays around the issue of protectionism in a supposedly unfettered EU by proclaiming some industries to be national champions worthy of extra consideration — you know, special-needs kids. And we're not talking about pastry chefs, but the likes of GDF Suez, a major utility. I never thought of the stocks and junk securities sold by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as unique, but clearly Washington does. Morgan's John Mack calls SEC boss Chris Cox to whine about short sellers, and bingo, the government obliges. The élite serve the élite. How French is that?

Even in the strongest sectors in the U.S., there's no getting away from the French influence. Nothing is more sacred to France than its farmers. They get whatever they demand, and they demand a lot. And if there are any issues about price supports, or feed costs being too high, or actual competition from other countries, French farmers simply shut down the country by marching their livestock up the Champs Elysées and piling up wheat on the highways. U.S. farmers would never resort to such behavior. They don't have to; they're the most coddled special-interest group in U.S. history, lavished with $180 billion in subsidies by both parties, even when their products are fetching record prices. One consequence: U.S. consumers pay twice what the French pay for sugar, because of price guarantees. We're more French than France.

So yes, while we're still willing to work ourselves to death for the privilege of paying off our usurious credit cards, we can no longer look contemptuously at the land of 246 cheeses. Kraft Foods has replaced American International Group in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the insurance company having been added to Paulson's nationalized portfolio. Macaroni and cheese has supplanted credit-default swaps at the fulcrum of capitalism. And one more thing: the food-snob French love McDonalds, which does a fantastic business there. They know a good freedom fry when they taste one.

Original here

Growing right-wing opposition to the Paulson plan

On Saturday morning, I noted -- quoting Atrios -- the almost complete lack of debate over the ever-changing dictates issued by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Last week, whatever Paulson said on any given day -- no bailouts; only selected bailouts; massive $700 billion bailout plan -- immediately became the unchallenged conventional wisdom.

That has all changed. Prominent economists, who had previously been defending Paulson for the most part, began voicing serious doubts about his plan. As the AP put it yesterday: "Many of the same economists and opinion-makers who'd provided a bipartisan sheen of consensus to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's previous moves have quickly begun casting doubts on the wisdom of a policy that would allow Treasury to purchase without oversight hundreds of billions of dollars of difficult-to-price assets from financial institutions." Not only Paul Krugman, who was a skeptic from the start, but conservative economic experts have also now expressed opposition, including former Bush and Romney advisor Greg Mankiw and -- in an excellent column on Saturday -- Sebastian Mallaby, who described the rapid move to embrace Paulson's plan as "extremely dangerous."

And now, some of the most rabid ideologues on the Right are voicing increasingly strident opposition as well. At National Review last night, Newt Gingrich wrote that "watching Washington rush to throw taxpayer money at Wall Street has been sobering and a little frightening" and said he "hopes Congress will slow down and have an open debate." Thereafter, NR's Yuval Levin proclaimed that nobody could read through the Paulson proposal "without concluding that everyone in Washington has lost their minds." In The New York Times today, Bill Kristol said he's "doubtful that the only thing standing between us and a financial panic is for Congress to sign this week, on behalf of the American taxpayer, a $700 billion check over to the Treasury," while Michelle Malkin posted a lengthy alarmist screed warning that "Hank Paulson must be contained."

Right-wing opposition to the Paulson plan is vital for having any meaningful chance to stop it. Does anyone have any confidence at all in the Democrats' willingness and/or ability to impede this bailout train if the Bush administration and the Right were vigorously behind it, warning the nation of impending doom unless we submit to vast, unchecked government power of the type Henry Paulson is demanding? The instances of complete Democratic acquiescence under those circumstances -- including when they "controlled" the Congress -- are far too numerous to allow any rational person to think Democrats, standing alone, would stop the Paulson plan. As sad as it is, meaningful right-wing opposition is critical for that to happen.

More interesting are the reasons why these right-wing polemicists have decided they have real doubts about the wisdom of the Paulson plan. In opposing the plan, each of them cited -- with alarm -- the provision which vests full, unfettered and unreviewable discretion in the Treasury Secretary to determine how the $700,000,000,000 is allocated: Levin (plan gives "essentially unlimited power to use $700 billion to make purchases the scope of which is defined very loosely and vaguely"); Gingrich ("We are being reassured that we can trust Secretary Paulson 'because he knows what he is doing'. Congress had better ask a lot of questions before it shifts this much burden to the taxpayer and shifts this much power to a Washington bureaucracy"); Kristol ("There are no provisions for — or even promises of — disclosure, accountability or transparency"); Malkin (Washington is demanding we "fork over $700 billion to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and allow him to dole it out to whomever he chooses in whatever amount he chooses -- without public input or recourse").

Apparently, the same political faction that has cheered on every instance of unchecked, absolute executive power over the last eight years -- which demanded that the President, and he alone, decide which citizens, including Americans, can be spied on, detained, even tortured, and that no oversight or disclosure was needed for any of that -- has suddenly re-discovered their desire for checks on federal government power. The reason? They say it themselves: with the looming prospect of an Obama presidency, they may no longer be in charge of that Government and these "small government conservatives" have thus suddenly re-awoken to the virtues of checks and balances, oversight and other restraints.

In explaining his opposition to the Paulson plan, Levin warns:

Even if Hank Paulson were the all knowing god of economics, would it make sense to give this kind of power to the treasury secretary for the next two years just forty days before an election? Shall we go through our mental list of who an Obama administration (or a McCain administration for that matter) is likely to put in that post?
Gingrich writes:
Imagine that the political balance of power in Washington were different.

If this were a Democratic administration the Republicans in the House and Senate would be demanding answers and would be organizing for a "no" vote . . . . But because this gigantic power shift to Washington and this avalanche of taxpayer money is being proposed by a Republican administration, the normal conservative voices have been silent or confused.

It's time to end the silence and clear up the confusion.

Malkin is actually worried about vesting such power in Paulson himself -- she thinks he's basically a tool of the Communist Chinese, a follower of "Gore-esque" eco-zealotry, and worst of all, someone with ties to some Democrats -- but the point is the same: people have long predicted that the Right will do a complete reversal (once again) in their positions on vast federal power and unlimited executive authority the minute that such power is vested in someone they oppose and fear rather than in themselves. The remarkable spectacle of watching these right-wing authoritarians suddenly demand Congressional oversight and voice opposition to unlimited executive power -- two months before a highly possible Obama victory -- is quite obviously reflective of that shift.

Rather hilariously, this was the very first comment from a Malkin reader after she sounded the alarm about the provision in the Paulson plan providing that his decisions are "non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency":

So something that is unconstitutional cannot be reviewed by a Federal court? I guess, not even the Supreme Court. Well, if it is accepted, a precedent has been set, which will allow other proposals/bills to go through, regardless of legality, being "non-reviewable" by Federal court. A government running amok . . . with people cheering.
This person obviously has no idea that such provisions are hardly "unprecedented," but have been appearing in several of the most controversial bills of the last eight years (as but one example, The Military Commissions Act, a right-wing favorite, essentially purported to bar courts from reviewing the President's decisions about who to detain and further barred judicial review of the Congressional scheme, and similar "court-stripping provisions" have long been a right-wing favorite in all sorts of contexts). And more generally, this is how our Government has worked: the President demands unlimited power and Congress gives it to him. It's only because visions of a Muslim, terrorist-sympathizing, socialist President Obama are haunting them in their feverish nightmares is the Right suddenly deeply fearful once again of vesting vast power in the Federal Government and the Executive.

But no matter. The blatant hypocrisy here, while extreme, craven and obvious, is also healthy. Hypocrisy of this sort is actually a vital part of how checks and balances are supposed to work. It is expected that political factions, when in charge of the government, will seek to obtain greater power for themselves, and the check against that is that the "opposition party" will battle and resist -- not necessarily out of ideology or principle but due to raw power considerations and self-interest.

That is what has been so tragically missing from our political process for the last eight years: while the GOP sought greater and greater government power, Democrats acquiesced almost completely when they weren't complicitly enabling it. While the Executive was off the charts in terms of the power it seized, the Congress was off the charts in its passivity and eagerness to relinquish its Constitutionally assigned powers to the Bush White House. That's what has caused the extreme imbalance, with a bloated Republican Party and virtually unlimited presidential power: the failure of Democrats and the Congress to serve as a check on any of that. As their newfound contempt for unlimited power makes conclusively clear, the executive-power-worshipping Republicans of the last eight years -- if there is an Obama presidency -- will quickly re-discover their limited government power "principles" and won't be nearly as accommodating.

UPDATE: I should add that Congressional Democrats, while largely on board with the fundamentals of the bailout plan, have been making noises about demanding some limits and oversight on how this fund is managed, and the political climate is certainly part of what is motivating the Right to voice these doubts, as illustrated by the bizarre and deeply cynical spectacle of the GOP presidential nominee -- of all people -- joining with the Democrats to demand limits on CEO compensation. The point, though, is that Democrats typically make noises of this type and then capitulate at the end if they stand alone. This Paulson bill can be stopped only with widespread opposition that cuts across the standard ideological/partisan lines, and it shouldn't be that hard to argue why handing over $700 billion to the very people who caused this disaster, while allowing them to walk away soaked with profits, is not a good idea, and that vesting unlimited power in the Bush administration to manage that is a particularly bad idea. If Democrats can't win that argument, what argument can they win?

UPDATE II: A Rasmussen Reports poll released today found that "most Americans are closely following news reports on the Bush Administration's federal bailout plan for the country’s troubled economy, but just 28% support what has been proposed so far." Thirty-seven percent oppose it and 35% are unsure. As El Zongo notes in comments, this bailout -- like the FISA gutting and telecom amnesty which preceded it -- has no real constituency beyond the Washington establishment. That the public is so opposed and/or primed to oppose it more doesn't mean this won't pass -- we don't exactly have a substantial connection between what Washington does and public opinion -- but it does provide an important foundation for derailing this if political leaders decide they should or must.

Original here

Only 28% Support Federal Bailout Plan

Most Americans are closely following news reports on the Bush Administration’s federal bailout plan for the country’s troubled economy, but just 28% support what has been proposed so far.

Over one-third of voters (37%) oppose the $700-billion plan, and nearly as many (35%) are undecided, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken Sunday night. Details of the plan were made public on Saturday.

Investors, who account for 62% of the nation’s voters, are evenly divided on their views of the plan: 36% favor it, and 36% oppose it. Twenty-eight percent (28%) are undecided.

Among non-investors, only 15% support the plan, while 41% oppose it. A plurality of non-investors (43%) are not sure yet what they think of it (full demographic crosstabs are available for Premium Members).

Adding weight to the large number of undecideds is the finding that 82% of Americans are following the bailout story, including 44% who say they are following it very closely. Sixty-five percent (65%) say they are at least somewhat confident they understand the reasons why the plan is being proposed.

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls).

The plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would give the Treasury Department the taxpayer-funded power to buy up to $700 billion in mortgage debt from private firms. Treasury would have no restrictions on it other than semiannual reports to Congress. The administration argues that this is a systematic plan to deal with the country’s growing economic crisis, fueled by bad mortgages, as opposed to responding on a case-by-case basis. It was prompted by a series of high-profile bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies which sparked turmoil in the stock market.

Voters are fairly evenly divided on Paulson’s performance to date. Thirty-eight percent (38%) have a favorable opinion of the Treasury secretary, while 41% view him unfavorably.

Congress hopes to approve the bailout plan this week and then recess to begin political campaigning. Democrats are already talking about growing the plan to pump more money into the economy, while Republicans, many of whom are wary of a taxpayer-backed plan of this historic magnitude, are expected to quietly go along with it because of their fears of a further economic downturn.

In a separate survey last week, only seven percent (7%) of voters thought the federal government should use taxpayer funds to keep a large financial institution solvent. Sixty-five percent (65%) said let the company file for bankruptcy. The numbers were generally the same across Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

Both presidential campaigns have struggled with how to respond to the administration’s plan, with Barack Obama’s campaign largely stepping back to follow the lead of Democratic congressional leaders in Washington. John McCain has expressed concern about taxpayers backing a plan of this size and at a minimum has proposed a separate national agency to administer it.

Support and opposition to the bailout plan among likely McCain voters are evenly divided at 34% each. Among those who plan to vote for Obama, 39% oppose the plan, and 25% support it.

A survey taken last week before the bailout plan was announced found that neither presidential candidate had convinced a majority of voters that they know how to handle the country's growing economic problems.

Nationally, the race between Obama and McCain is very close in the Rasmussen daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Men are following the economic issue slightly more closely than women and oppose the bailout 41% to 33%. Women are against the bailout by a 33% to 24% margin.

An earlier survey found that 60% believe the U.S. economy is not fundamentally sound and that voters are evenly divided on whether Congressional action will make things better or worse.

Please sign up for the Rasmussen Reports daily e-mail update (it’s free)… let us keep you up to date with the latest public opinion news.

See survey questions and toplines. Crosstabs available for Premium Members only.

Rasmussen Reports is an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and distribution of public opinion polling information.

The Rasmussen Reports ElectionEdge™ Premium Service for Election 2008 offers the most comprehensive public opinion coverage ever provided for a Presidential election.

Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade.

Original here

Mad as hell - taxpayers lash out

We asked you what you had to say about the bailout, and we heard you loud and clear: 'No way!'

By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- "NO NO NO. Not just no, but HELL NO," writes Richard, a reader from Anchorage, Alaska.

"This is robbery pure and simple," Anna from Denver posted on CNNMoney.com's TalkBack blog this weekend.

"It's our money! Let these companies die," added Claudio from Plainville, Conn.

After President Bush petitioned Congress Saturday for the authority to spend up to $700 billion to to bail out a financial industry on the verge of collapse, he said the high price tag was not only justified, but essential.

"It is a big package because it's a big problem," Bush told reporters at a news conference. "The risk of doing nothing far outweighs the risk of the package."

But when asked what they thought of the government's proposal, most readers gave an overwhelming thumbs down.

"I'm tired of rewarding institutions and people for the bad decisions they have made," said Dean from Madison, Wis. "Sure, it will hurt tax payers if/when some of these institutions fail, but perhaps we need to let that happen. We do not need more big government involved in our lives. Enough is enough."

Don't hand me the tab

Readers focused most of their indignation on having to foot the bill for irresponsible lenders and borrowers.

"Companies, like individuals, should be held responsible for their decisions," wrote Jorge from El Paso, Texas. "This buyout does not address the other problems in the pipeline such as personal credit default and market slowdowns in most industries. No new jobs will be created."

Paul from Portsmouth, N.H., said banks are getting the soft treatment when taxpayers are suffering.

"It is time for the financial institutions of this country to be called to the mat. We should be expecting and demanding responsible and ethical business practice, not rewarding it at the expense of taxpayers."

And John from Springfield, Va., said the government action actually hurts the people it is intended to help.

"The government does not have $700 billion dollars. WE have $700 billion, and it is being taken from us. If this is passed then the next administration and the next will be extracting this one from the people who are supposedly being protected by this bailout."

Where's my bailout?

Other readers wanted to know why the government didn't spend the $700 billion investment on the majority of responsible Americans who are suffering because of the bad bets of the few.

"Why not take the billions and ... make funds available to home owners stuck in the loans these idiots created, marketed and sold," asked Don from Coarsegold, Calif. "It will put the money where it should be with the little guy who made a mistake, instead of the big guy who created the problem."

Jordan from Charlestown, Ind., asked why different rules applied to big banks and ordinary investors.

"Once I invested in something and lost money. Maybe I could just change the rules of investing so that my loss turns into a gain? Oh, I forgot only banks can do that!"

Vote these jerks out

Some readers said it was time for the politicians who support the bailout to get the heave-ho come November.

"I will be watching to see which of our representatives vote for this bailout," said R. Kidd in Troy, N.C. "Let the American people see how many we can fire come election time."

And many readers, including Danny from Texas said we should stop typing and start dialing the lawmakers who are prepared to give the OK to the bailout.

"Call your Congressman. Stop blogging, posting comments, and call your congressman. This is the patriotic thing to do. Let them hear your opinion, show them this is still America and that you will not stand for this!!"

A necessary sacrifice

But not all readers agreed. Some thought the bailout was an unfortunate but necessary move to rescue our financial system from collapse.

For instance, Bill from St. Louis said he changed his mind about the bailout when he realized the consequences of doing nothing.

"I was opposed to the bailout at first, but realized that the scope of this thing is global and so massive that the entire global economy could collapse if nothing was done. ...The priority has to be resolving the present crisis of confidence in our economy. Remember, if Wall Street collapses, Main Street will go with it."

Andy from Chicago said the cost to the taxpayer will not be what the headline number makes it seem.

"This money is not a handout to companies. It's simply giving banks and mortgage companies loans, since the banking system itself is too unstable to raise this kind of capital. And no, the government cannot just use the $700 billion to pay back all the citizens that will be hurt by this. If the companies like AIG fail, the cost will be far far greater than $700 billion. Wake up!!"

And Surfta from Brooklyn, N.Y., says the government action is really not a bailout at all.

"It's NOT a bailout. The government is not handing out cash, they actually stand to make a great deal of money out of this, which will trickle down to YOU. First priority should be to try to control and fix the problem, then regulate sufficiently to make sure this NEVER happens again."

Original here

Best Buy Cancels Your Order As You Stand There Shouting "Stop!"

Best Buy didn't want to honor the sale price of the 2GB flash drive Matt ordered through their website, so when Matt arrived to pick-up his purchase, the store's assistant manager called customer service and, pretending to be Matt, asked to cancel the order. Let's read Matt's story and see how it violates Massachusetts law, inside...

Matt writes:

Today Best Buy had a PNY 2GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive SKU# 8202045 onsale for $2.49. I purchased 5 online for instore pickup, order was placed, charged and picked. I recieved both emails from Best Buy saying that the order was ready to pick up.

When I get to the store in Milford, Ma to pick them up I am told that the order was canceled do to a pricing mistake and that I was informed by email. My order was never canceled and when I inquired about this email that I never recieved, I was told the the Manager Josh sent them out to everyone but somehow he missed me. I told the assistant manager who was treating me like I was in the wrong that the order was placed, it was never cancelled and that I am still being charged for the items. The Flash Drives are right behind the counter and the assistant manager, Brian or bill i believe his name was, told me that he would not let me leave the store with my order.

To top it all off, he then takes my printed receipts from my emails and calls 1-800-Best Buy from the store and tells the CRS that "I" wanted to cancel my order and that it shouldn't have been picked. After 30 minutes of arguing with this person, while he is on the phone I tell him that I wanted to talk to the CSR and he refused to let me speak. I wanted to tell the CSR that I did not want my order cancelled and that I expected my order to be honored. He gets off the phone and tells me that my CC would be credited immediately and that they would send me out a new gift card to replenish the one I used with my order. Needless to say I left that store very irate and went right home to call Customer Service and Customer Relations to complain about how I was treated.

I explain my situation to Customer Service and they tell me there is nothing they can do with my order since it has already been cancelled and to make matters worse they tell me that if it wasnt cancelled they would have been able to ship my order out to me with free shipping since the pricing mistake was on thier end. I dont understand how a company can cancel my order without even speaking to me in the first place.

I then asked to get transfered to Customer Relations to complain about how I have been treated by this store, the assistant manager and how that the store manager Josh wouldnt even come out to talk to me and just had his assistant deal with my problems. Their way of solving this Is to offer to send me out a $15 Giftcard for my inconvenience and that nothing will come of the fact that this assistant manager cancelled my online order without my consent and has the charges returned to my credit card and a new giftcard issued to me.

I feel totaly ignored by this company and that no matter how rudely I was treated it just didnt matter to them one bit and these people will still have a job come next week. Not to mention the fact that Brian took it on to himself to handle my personal finances while just pushing me aside like I wasnt even in the store. I have never been so mad as I am at this very moment.

I hope that maybe this story can get posted on your site and maybe I can get some kind of advice on how to just get my order honored. The item has been pulled off of Best Buy's site now I notice and CSR's are unable to even pull it up by the SKU #

Matt's story falls under a little thing governing retail advertising called 940 CMR 6.13 (2).

6.13: Corrections

(2) It is an unfair or deceptive act for a seller, manufacturer, franchisor or distributor who discovers a material error in an advertisement subsequent to the submission date of the advertisement to fail to either honor the terms of the advertisement or to promptly correct any material misrepresentation by clearly and conspicuously disclosing the information necessary to eliminate such misrepresentation in the same advertisement or, if not feasible, in the same advertising medium, if reasonable, and as close thereto in both proximity and time as reasonably possible. Examples of misrepresentations requiring correction include, but are not limited to, information relating to prices, product descriptions or availability of products.

Best Buy had two choices: honor the deal, or, in the same medium, tell Matt that the mistake was an error. "Whoops you didn't get our email" isn't sufficient. Best Buy must honor the terms of the deal.

Since they did not, Matt should call Best Buy corporate and tell them he's going to small claims court, where he's entitled to triple damages:

If the court finds for the petitioner, recovery shall be in the amount of actual damages; or up to three, but not less than two, times such amount if the court finds that the use or employment of the method of competition or the act or practice was a willful or knowing violation of said section two.

The actual damage here was $16. With five drives and triple damages, that works out to $240. Call it the cost of terrible customer service. Wouldn't it have been so much easier if the assistant manager simply honored the deal?

940 CMR 6.13 [The Attorney General of Massachusetts]
Chapter 93A: Section 11. Persons engaged in business; actions for unfair trade practices; class actions; damages; injunction; costs [The General Laws of Massachusetts]

Original here

Goldman, Morgan Switch To Bank-Holding Firms

The Federal Reserve says it has granted a request by the country's last two major investment banks—Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—to change their status to bank holding companies.

The Fed announced late Sunday that it had approved the request of Goldman [GS 117.30 -3.48 (-2.88%) ] and Morgan [MS 26.22 -0.87 (-3.21%) ].

The change in status will allow them to create commercial banks that will be able to take deposits, bolstering the resources of both institutions.

It also will put them directly under the regulatory supervision of the U.S. central bank.

To provide increased liquidity to the companies, the Fed agreed to lend to the firms' broker-dealer subsidiaries on the the same terms as the Fed discount window for banks and the central bank's Primary Dealer Credit Facility lending window for investment banks.

It said it was making the same collateral deals available to the broker-dealer subsidiary of Merrill Lynch [MER 27.22 -0.83 (-2.96%) ].


The change continued the biggest restructuring on Wall Street since the Great Depression.

Because of the change, Morgan Stanley is unlikely to do some kind of deal with Wachovia [WB 15.00 0.19 (+1.28%) ] or even get a cash infusion from the Chinese government.

Shares of both institutions had come under pressure ever since the bankruptcy filing last week by investment bank Lehman Brothers [LEH 0.14 -0.045 (-24.32%) ] and the forced sale of investment bank Merrill Lynch to Bank of America [BOFA Unavailable () ].

Investors feared that the last remaining independent investment banks would not be able to survive in their current form.

There had been speculation that both institutions would be acquired by commercial banks, whose ability to take deposits would give them a stable source of funding.

The decision by the two giants of finance to get approval from the Fed to change their own status represented another dramatic development in one of the most turbulent periods in Wall Street history.

In the surprise announcement late Sunday, the central bank said that to provide increase funding support to the two institutions during the transition period, they would be allowed to get short-term loans from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York against various types of collateral.

The Fed said its action would take final effect after a five-day waiting period required under law.

The decision means that the Goldman and Morgan Stanley will be able not only to set up commercial bank subsidiaries to take deposits, giving them a major resource base, but they will also have the same access as other commercial banks to the Fed's emergency loan program.

After the collapse of Bear Stearns and its forced sale to JP Morgan Chase last March, the Fed used powers it had been granted during the Great Depression to extend its emergency loans to investment banks as well as commercial banks.

However, that extension was granted on a temporary basis.

But as commercial banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley will have permanent access to emergency loans from the Fed, the same privilege that other commercial banks enjoy.

The action by the Fed's board of governors in Washington came on a day when the Bush administration continued to campaign for quick congressional approval of its request for authority to use $700 billion to purchase a mountain of bad mortgage debt held by financial companies.

The effort represented the boldest action yet aimed at stabilizing chaotic financial markets.

Democrats in Congress said they would demand provisions in the bailout measure to protect people in danger of losing their homes as well as seeking to cap executive compensation at firms who get to unload their bad mortgages debt onto the government.

But the proposal was expected to win quick congressional passage because both parties are concerned about the adverse reaction in financial markets should the measure look like it was being delayed.

Original here

$39 billion: The Wall Street bonuses for the big five investment banks last year.

ABC News reports:

resp.gif In 2007, Wall Street’s five biggest firms — Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley — paid a record $39 billion in bonuses to themselves.

That’s $10 billion more than the $29 billion loan taxpayers are making to J.P. Morgan to save Bear Stearns.

Those 2007 bonuses were paid even though the shareholders in those firms last year collectively lost about $74 billion in stock declines — their worst year since 2002.

These company executives are still fiercely fighting to protect their pay. Politico notes that the Bush Treasury Department is “resisting efforts” by House Democrats “to impose pay limits on Wall Street executives and bankers.”

Original here

Stonehenge birthdate discovered by archaeologists

Archaeologists have discovered Stonehenge's birthdate, solving one of the historic site's longstanding mysteries.

By Jon Swaine
Archaeologists say Stonehenge was a prehistoric Lourdes - the stones famed for their healing properties. ; http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1488655367/bctid1811454216 http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=1139053637

The monument's original stones were erected in about 2300 BC, it has been discovered - 300 years later than had previously been thought.

Analysis has indicated that the original circle of bluestones was transported to the site from the Preseli hills, 150 miles away in South Wales - an extraordinary feat.

The finding came in an ambitious project, involving the first dig inside the historic stone circle for 44 years.

Professors Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, the project leaders, are set to disclose other early findings.

The pair have found evidence suggesting Stonehenge was a centre of healing. They have compared the monument to a "Neolithic Lourdes", to which sick people travelled from far away, hoping to be healed by the stones' powers.

An "abnormal number" of remains found in tombs nearby display signs of serious disease, they say, while teeth found in graves prove that about half the bodies there were "not native" to the local area.

Prof Darvill said: "Stonehenge would attract not only people who were unwell, but people who were capable of healing them. Therefore, in a sense, Stonehenge becomes 'the A & E' of southern England."

Discovering the site's birthdate - which was done by sending 14 samples for carbon dating at Oxford University - was described as a "dream come true" by Prof Wainwright. "It's an incredible feeling," he added.

Before the project it was believed the first stone circle dated from between 2600 BC and 2400 BC. The new testing has rounded this down to between 2400BC and 2200 BC - and a more precise date is expected by the end of the project.

"We told the world we were going to date Stonehenge. That was a risk, but I was always confident," said Prof Darvill.

Experts said the new discovery was a major milestone in the history of Britain's most famous monument.

Dr Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage - which maintains Stonehenge - described the dig as "tremendously exciting".

He said: "The bluestones hold the key to understanding the purpose and meaning of Stonehenge.

"Their arrival marked a turning point in the history of Stonehenge, changing the site from being a fairly standard formative henge with timber structures and occasional use for burial, to the complex stone structure whose remains dominate the site today."

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said: "This is a great result - a very important one.

"The date of Stonehenge had been blowing in the wind. But this anchors it. It helps us to be secure about the chronology of events."

The last time an excavation was allowed inside the sarsen stone pillars was in 1964.

A documentary on the dig has been recorded by BBC Timewatch and will be broadcast on Saturday.

Original here

Nightclub fire in China kills 43, injures 88

A fire that broke out late Saturday inside a nightclub near the Hong Kong border caused a stampede of panicked partygoers trying to escape killing at least 43 people, and leaving more than 88 injured. What caused the inferno is said to be fireworks which were a part of a show featured inside the nightclub.

Chinese firefighters and investigators check the burnt out 'Dance King' nightclub in the city of Shenzhen. The fire broke out at around 11:00 pm on September 20, and a subsequent stampede killed 43 people and left 88 injured in the latest deadly incident highlighting China's abysmal fire safety record.

A fire caused by fireworks set off inside a nightclub and a stampede of panicked partygoers trying to escape has killed at least 43 people in southern China, state media and government officials said Sunday.

The fire, which broke out late Saturday, also injured at least 88 people, an official with the Shenzhen Work Safety Bureau said. Like many Chinese officials, the man refused to give his name.

Shenzhen is just over the border with Hong Kong in Guangdong province.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the fire broke out in a club called King of the Dancers while hundreds of people were watching a show.

An initial police investigation showed that the blaze was triggered by fireworks ignited during the show, Xinhua said.

Many partygoers were hurt in a stampede to escape down "a narrow aisle,“ a club staff member was quoted by the agency as saying.

"I saw people rushing out ... and all the lights were off,“ it quoted Yang Zhi as saying. Xinhua said Yang suffered burns to his neck.

Video footage aired Sunday by Hong Kong’s ATV news showed the smoke-filled nightclub after the fire. Overturned tables, broken glass and shoes lost by partygoers littered the floor.

Guangdong Province Governor Huang Huahua blamed poor ventilation for the deaths.

"There was something wrong with the architectural design,“ Huang told Hong Kong media after inspecting the nightclub.

"If there was a better ventilation system, there wouldn’t be so many deaths in the fire,“ he said.

ATV said the nightclub had no windows and only one exit.

Hong Kong’s government-run broadcaster RTHK reported that Shenzhen authorities had detained 12 people after the fire.

An injured Hong Kong man surnamed Cheng said the fire started after one performer on the stage set off fireworks.

"I saw one of the performers shoot fireworks to the ceiling. I had no idea what the performance was, but the fire started,“ Cheng told ATV from his Shenzhen hospital bed.

"Many people fell to the floor. They shouted for help and cried. It was like in hell,“ said Cheng, whose first name was not given.

Fires and accidents in bars, theaters and other public places are common in China despite government pledges to improve safety. Many are caused by negligence and lax safety procedures, such as a lack of fire extinguishers and emergency exits.

In China’s worst recent nightclub disaster, a fire blamed on a welding accident tore through a disco in the central city of Luoyang in December 2000, killing 309 people.

Original here

Fort Drum Highlights Suicide Prevention

by David Sommerstein

Listen Now [3 min 41 sec] add to playlist

Staff Sgt. Chad Wood at an event in Fort Drum to raise suicide prevention awareness.
David Sommerstein for NPR

Staff Sgt. Chad Wood writes a note on a memorial banner to a comrade who committed suicide after returning from Iraq in 2003. Wood and other soldiers took part in a walk at Fort Drum designed to raise awareness about suicide in the military.

The U.S. Army is nearing a grim statistic: The number of soldiers who committed suicide this year is on pace to be an all-time high. The record was set in 2007 when there were 115 suicides.

The Army says there have been 62 confirmed suicides by active duty members in 2008, with 31 unconfirmed cases that appear to be suicides.

The Army has responded with suicide prevention programs, but the trend has yet to be reversed.

To draw attention to the issue, Fort Drum, an Army base in upstate New York, hosted a march on Sept. 12 to remember victims of suicide.

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Marshall, one of 40 soldiers and civilians who joined the walk, remembers when one of his soldiers returned from a tour in Afghanistan. Marshall says the gunfire, violence and stress took the soldier, a private, by surprise.

"He didn't want to be here no more. He didn't want to be in the Army. He didn't want to live. He just wanted to end it all," Marshall says.

The soldier is still alive; Marshall identified the signs in time and his platoon rallied around the private.

Getting Help

Army officials acknowledge repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are taking their toll. They hope events like this memorial march will help reverse the trend.

Penny Pierce, who works at Fort Drum, helped organize the march. She says the taboo surrounding suicide makes soldiers particularly vulnerable.

"They feel like they're supposed to be tough and strong all the time and that asking for help is something that they don't want to do," she says.

Despite the Army's recent attention to mental health issues, Staff Sgt. Chad Wood, whose colleague committed suicide when they returned from Iraq in 2003, says seeking help is too often still seen as a sign of weakness. Wood tries to teach his unit otherwise.

"I try to enlighten a lot of the new soldiers that have not deployed to make sure that they understand that my door is open to come and talk to seek the right help if they are encountering any sort of issues," he says.

A few dozen walkers along a soggy road seem almost invisible on this sprawling base of more than 17,000 soldiers. Fort Drum officials say any light shed on the dark, painful reality of suicide is a step in the right direction.

Original here