Friday, April 3, 2009

Stocks extend 4-week rally; Dow breaches 8,000

MoneyWatch: Dow Soars 250 Pts, Above 8,000 Play Video CBS 2 New York – MoneyWatch: Dow Soars 250 Pts, Above 8,000

By SARA LEPRO, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK – Investors dove into stocks Thursday, extending a rally that gave the Dow Jones industrial average its best four weeks since 1933.

Stocks rose across the board in heavy trading following an accounting rule change that will help banks pare their losses and after commitments from world leaders to toughen regulatory oversight of financial institutions.

The Dow broke through 8,000 for the first time since Feb. 9 but ended slightly below that level ahead of the government's employment report Friday that could easily upset the market if it comes in below forecasts — or send prices rocketing higher if it's better than expected.

The Dow is now up 20.4 percent over the last month, its biggest percentage gain in a four-week period since the spring of 1933. Bits of good news about the economy in recent weeks, including better-than expected-numbers on housing and manufacturing, have given investors more reasons to buy.

The Dow gained 216.48, or 2.8 percent, to close at 7,978.08, after earlier rising as much as 314 points.

"People are worried about this (employment) report, so the last hour we sold off," said Richard Campagna, managing director and chief investment officer of Pasadena, Calif.-based investment manager 300 North Capital.

Broader market indicators also rose sharply. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 23.30, or 2.9 percent, to 834.38. The Nasdaq composite index rose 51.03, or 3.3 percent, to 1,602.63.

Industrial and consumer discretionary stocks picked up speed Thursday while demand for safe-haven assets like gold and Treasurys plummeted.

"Everyone is in a buying mood," said Eric Ross, director of research at brokerage Canaccord Adams. "Everyone is feeling good. ... A lot of this is simply confidence."

The market has managed to shrug off some negative data on employment recently such as initial claims for jobless benefits. But a surprisingly bad report on the March job market could easily stifle the market's growing optimism. Economists predict the report will show a loss of 654,000 jobs following a drop of 651,000 jobs in February, which was a record third straight month of job losses above 600,000. The unemployment rate is expected to rise to 8.5 percent from 8.1 percent in February.

Banking shares got a significant boost after a rulemaking body for the accounting industry relaxed financial reporting rules that force banks to value their assets at current market prices.

The change in "mark-to-market" accounting rules, which should help banks reduce losses, sends another lifeline to the troubled financial industry. Many investors believe financial stocks, which have largely carried the market's four-week rally, are a gauge of when the economy is turning.

Among the biggest advancers in the financial industry Thursday were Wells Fargo & Co., which jumped 85 cents, or 5.9 percent, to $15.33, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which rose $3.93, or 3.6 percent, to $114.22. Regional banks also rose sharply.

The conclusion of a one-day summit in London of the world's finance ministers sent stocks to their highest levels in early afternoon trading. While the G-20 leaders did not satisfy calls for new stimulus measures, they pledged an additional $1.1 trillion in financing to the International Monetary Fund and declared a crackdown on tax havens and hedge funds.

Another positive indicator on the economy also lifted sentiment on Wall Street. Factory orders posted a large increase in February, coming on the heels of better-than-expected readings on pending home sales, manufacturing activity and auto sales the day before.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies jumped 21.03, or 4.9 percent, to 450.19.

For every three stocks that fell, nearly nine stocks rose on the New York Stock Exchange where consolidated volume came to 7.36 billion shares.

The Dow is still down about 9 percent for the year, while the S&P 500 is down nearly 8 percent. The Nasdaq is up 1.6 percent.

While analysts have warned that the market could retest the lows hit early last month, there's no doubt a growing sense on Wall Street the economy, at least stateside, might be bottoming out.

"The market mindset is: OK, we're not in a tailspin," said Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell nearly 1 point, sending its yield up to 2.76 percent from 2.66 percent late Wednesday. The dollar fell against other major currencies after the European Central Bank cut its key interest rate by less than expected. Gold prices also fell.

Oil prices benefited from the better-than-expected economic news. Light, sweet crude jumped $4.25 to settle at $52.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Overseas markets also logged big gains. Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 4.4 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index jumped 7.4 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 4.3 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 6.1 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 5.4 percent.

Original here

Why numbers no longer win arguments

Michael Blastland

Numbers used to be cold, hard and clinical - a clincher in any argument. Now look at them: fluffy, soft and left meaningless by woolly-headed thinking, says Michael Blastland in his regular column.

Numbers lack warmth. Cold as last year's love, they sit counting their fingers. Think of numbers and what do you see? Dust and ledgers and the yellow fingers of a parched accountant.

No longer. Numbers have had the mother of makeovers. No ordinary scrubbing up, shiny PR or new logo, this transformation is complete: they have turned into their opposite.

Once they stood aloof. Now they gush. Now you can't shut them up for heart-felt passion. They cry and cheer and sneer and shout. Formerly a counterweight to emotion, they are often now nothing but. The one thing they don't do is count.

A number in the news is no longer a cold fact, it is a killer fact, with all the murderous zeal that word implies. Journalists everywhere know the meaning of the phrase, the dagger of detail that runs the opposition through: the 23% up! The £16m wasted! The 140,000 children!

Dick Morris
'5.0, 50... how many fingers am I holding up?"

For an example, try 271. I have it on reliable authority that this is the percentage increase in the money supply in the US in five months. There, he's gone cold on me again, you're thinking. But stay a moment. This is the killer fact in a piece by a smart, famous former senior advisor to President Clinton.

The point is obvious. The economy is in weirdness overdrive, things are out of control, cash is flooding through nook and cranny, but barely a cent is spent.

Feel the peril. 271%!

This was no typo. That the writer really believed the magnitude is apparent when he says that 271% is nearly three times higher.

But mull that number. Let it count its fingers a while. This is actually an increase of nearly four times (£100 increased by 271% is £371. A 300% increase is four times bigger, not three). Imagine nearly four times as many dollars in five months. Four times, seriously? What would your salary look like x4? Or GDP?

The actual number in the US statistics was 27.1%. He had moved the decimal point. This is wrong with bells on, but with no evidence of any reflection on the absurdity. I have a number therefore I need not think.

A moment for the number to do what numbers are supposed to do, to count and take seriously the counting, must suggest - mustn't it? - that an increase in the money supply of 271% in five months might be credible in a basket-case inflationary hell but not in America.

Perilous age?

My favourite example of this tendency is the heavyweight newspaper report that an increase in retirement age for men from 65 to 67 would mean one in five who formerly lived long enough to claim a pension would now die before they were eligible.

This column aspires to sobriety. The facts might be shocking, the tone will not. Today is an exception.

One in five? Twenty per cent of men die in the space of two years? They'd be turning up their toes all over the golf course, 100,000 of them more than usual. Being 65 would be more dangerous than the front line in Afghanistan.

This column aspires to sobriety. The facts might be shocking, the tone will not. Today is an exception. Today, I'll be frank, the column is like its subject - a great Neanderthal grunt.

It will, from time to time, no doubt be wrong too. But these don't feel like mistakes, they feel like a reality-check failure, a breathless dash into print without passing the corner shop of normal life, all because the number appears to fit the mood.

So 271 doesn't mean 271, it means "wow!" The word "million"' likewise lost its currency years ago. "Billions" might go the same way. As with cliches, so with figures, inflationary use means they buy you less impact. Debts used to be bad, now they're toxic, regardless of whether they might make a good return. A plain old bad debt will never sound as problematic again. A billion will seldom sound so large.

Numbers become, in other words, the very thing numbers are supposed not to be: fur balls of undigested intellectual gunk. Writers who use them this way might as well say: "The government admits the figure is, like, you know, cor! oooooh!"

How big is huge?

Or here's an idea. Why not replace figures with emoticons - a smiley or a frown? These numbers do not measure. They are arrows pointing limply, like vague adjectives, fuzzy conveyors of warmth or fear that beam at you with pride, or scowl with cynicism, expressive of how the writer feels but not of the world he or she claims to feel about.

Carriage clock
Is the end nigh, if your colleagues present you with one of these?

Is this a scandal? Not really. Our treatment of numbers is not like our treatment of the old. It's hard, except in rare cases, to be outraged by abused statistics. And in truth there's nothing new here. But we'd do well to remember that numbers often represent people. To be careless of how we describe them in figures is to be careless of the truth about them, which in turn is not to care.

In a new book about energy, Professor David MacKay sees a problem in another subject many care about: the environment. He notes a news report about CO2-reducing LED traffic lights. The energy savings, the report said, could be "huge". Here are adjectives as if they were numbers. "Huge" being how big, exactly?

Professor MacKay found that traffic lights account for about 0.03% of UK energy consumption. Let's say the huge savings cut that by a third. That's 1/10,000th of the total.

One response is that every little helps. Mr MacKay replies that every big helps rather more - but it's no good being dim to the distinction.

How do we get away with it? In the first case because we have a number - and that beats thinking any time; in the second because we don't - and so elide the evidence entirely.

Numbers are often used without a sense of proportion. Proportion is often invoked without a sense of the numbers. But isn't proportion what numbers are for? Perhaps it's time to take out some of the heat.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I've always felt that "billion" should be replaced (in the US) with "thousand million." More money, more words. Not that anyone has taken up my suggestion...
Chris, Kansas City, Missouri USA

As for replacing figures with emoticons - I recently encouraged the amendment of a presentation that had "meaningless" figures (i.e. meaningless except to technical experts) to have smiley faces next to good figures, average faces for average, and sad or angry faces for bad and very bad figures. The original figures were left in for reference and transparency (well, for anyone who would know what they meant), but the interpretation was very useful for those who would not know whether a given figure was good or bad. My aim was not propaganda (besides, there was the risk of being patronising) but rather to just provide a genuinely useful interpretation of technical figures.
Conal, Ireland

As a physicist we get trained from the start that every number must have scale and comparison - something that you rarely see in the media. Pet favourite of mine is the standard of quoting percentages on values where the population is less than 100 (ie action X up 50% year on year - when last year it occurred twice and this year three times).
Sam, London

The classic misuse of numbers for sensational effect is in the phrase "children as young as...". It tells you nothing meaningful except they've managed to find one child of that age. All the others could be any higher age. The BBC is as guilty of this as anyone.
Colin McKenzie, London UK

I think that the increasing abuse of numbers by the press over the past 10 years to perpetrate their profitable new form of "shock-and-awe" journalism has been atrocious. One in five people does this! 80% of people don't know that! No context, no further investigation, and certainly no counter-point to the main story: today's reporter often seems to just grab a number, jump to a conclusion, and then embark on a page of sensationalisation, in the knowledge that the unthinking masses will buy their paper/magazine/whatever just to find out how bad it really is.
Adam the accountant, Edinburgh

Proportion and context, this has been the missing element all throughout this 'downturn' in the economy. The press have helped whip up the public into an ill-informed frenzy due to the lack of proportion and context for which they report a lot of these numbers which has scared us into recession.
Mark Johnson, Leeds, England

As an example of numbers that are often used without a sense of proportion, take the substantial budget deficit the UK government will run in the coming year. The actual numbers in billions of pounds will sound alarming - and they are. But as a percentage of our national income, the new borrowing will be around 10% - and in more "normal" recessions such as the early 1990s recession, the proportion reached 6% of GDP. And we survived that and even prospered in the years thereafter.

So OK, debt as a proportion of GDP will be higher than for decades; but dangerously higher? That's a question we can discuss, but it's better to discuss the relative proportions than merely to talk of the absolute figure. The other example where proportion is used without a sense of the numbers is in the latest medical research. "If you eat this food or drink this drink, your chances of falling prey to some terminal illness is increased x%."

But what were the chances of falling prey to that particular illness? Often very low. To get a sense of the actual risk, ask the researcher what the average life expectancy for the group in question would be if they followed the researcher's advice, and what it would be if they didn't. We might find out that the difference would be a matter of months, rather than years - in other words, the increased risk is hardly worth worrying about.
Richard, Beckenham, Kent

Original here

Want to keep your job? Be happy.

By Becky Fleischauer

Does the recession with its rampant layoffs and cutbacks make your job look better all the time? Believe it or not, donning a pair of "recession goggles" can be good for your career and your mental health. Research shows that an attitude of gratitude in trying times can not only help you keep your job, but get you the job you want.

It's a counterintuitive concept, for sure. In today's economic maelstrom, the most common responses are panic, fear, anger, distrust, and even hostility. But a Harvard Business Review article "How to Protect Your Job in a Recession" studied the characteristics of recession survivors and found that those who avoided being cut were cheerful, likable, generous contributors, and not necessarily the most skilled and proficient.

"Just don't be the guy who's always in a bad mood, reminding colleagues how vulnerable everyone is. Who wants to be in the trenches with him?" caution authors Janet Banks and Diane Coutu.

Workplace relationship expert Courtney Anderson agrees, and observes that tolerance for bad actors – particularly those higher up the food chain – is shrinking.

"The handwriting is on the wall for them in a lot of organizations," says Ms. Anderson, founder of Courtney Anderson & Associates, a human resources firm in Austin, Texas. "When times are good, companies will tolerate a lot. But in this economy, every single decision is double- and triple-checked. It will be tough for the really poor managers to make it through,"

This could explain why the ax is falling higher up the management chain.

Companies are looking to save more money, and bigger salaries yield larger savings. Today's unemployment rate for college-educated workers, 4.1 percent, is the highest it's been since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the data in 1992. It is more than twice its prerecession level, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, putting the risk of being unemployed proportionately higher for college-educated workers than for less-educated ones.

When productivity is in decline, Anderson says, other factors gain more value in the decisionmaking process about who stays and who goes.

"I used to go to organizations," Anderson says, "and they would describe a horrible situation: 'Felicia curses people out, she yells and is mean, but she delivers.' They would want me to figure out how to keep the person and be flexible because the person delivered. Now, with the current macroeconomic picture, they won't put up with it. There is a financial opportunity to get rid of the people who create problems."

Anderson says corporate leaders are now placing more value on workers who add positive energy to the atmosphere beyond increasing sales and visibility. She says that includes placing those who are grouchy and unpleasant on the layoff list, but also the person who never says anything, the colleague who is invisible and flies under the radar.

"All variations of not contributing and making it a positive, efficient workplace are being considered," Anderson says.

If striking a cheerful pose in tough times doesn't come naturally, consider that it does require conscious effort. And even the act of trying to be happy can make a difference.

"If you stay positive, you'll have more influence on how things play out," advise Ms. Banks and Ms. Coutu.

Banks is a veteran of at least a dozen corporate downsizings, and Coutu has studied resilience in many settings. They say survivors and those who leverage layoffs to their advantage focus on anticipating the needs of customers and those above and below them inside the office.

During periods of numerous layoffs, vacuums occur at all levels, leaving many opportunities to help your boss and the company get more accomplished.

"Prove your value to the firm by showing your relevance to the work at hand," Banks and Coutu note, "which may have shifted since the economy softened."

The key to donning recession goggles is to make decisions you won't regret when the recession fades and more prosperous times return.

"We should affirm to ourselves each day why we are doing what we do," Anderson says. "If you are truly, truly miserable, even in a bad economy, you may be better off doing something else: taking a break, going back to school, or working part time. It's valid to ask ourselves: 'Do I enjoy this? Why am I here?' Reevaluate."

She reminds us that if you find you are in a job exclusively for the paycheck – that is, uh, OK. It is a superb reason to go to work and be satisfied in this economy.

"You can still go to work and have a good day," Anderson says. Especially pay day. "Bad times remind us all of the basics.... We shouldn't take things for granted."

Original here

Inside the Magic Kingdom


Ed Grier has one of the busiest jobs in America. He ensures day-to-day business operations at the world’s first and most iconic theme park run smoothly. We are speaking of Disneyland. “It’s multi-faceted, very complex, and it never stops,” he explains to Business Management’s Ben Thompson.

It is his first week in Anaheim, and Ed Grier is doing the usual rounds in the park – speaking with staff, meeting and greeting guests, and generally getting acclimated to how things operate. Grier is getting a good feel of the place. Only on the job a couple of days, he has just flown in from Disney’s Tokyo resort to take on the role of President at the California attraction. While the jetlag has just recently disappeared, having a visible presence in the park is vital to his new role, and with Disney, interaction with staff and guests is expected on a daily basis for senior management. “Hello Mr Grier,” beams the little old lady in front of him. “Welcome to Southern California.”

Remembering the incident, he grins. “She was so knowledgeable about the park, about the history of the place, about current developments,” he recalls. “I, on the other hand, was just amazed that anyone would even know who I was, let alone recognize me amongst all the thousands of other people there in the park and after only a few days in the role.” In the land of the mouse, it’s clear that the big cheese has an extremely high profile.


There was no need to be so surprised. This is the number one theme park destination in the western United States. The second most popular in the world. The Disneyland Resort contributes over $3.6 billion in third-party annual economic impact to Southern California and supports around 65,700 jobs. Spurring decades of development in Anaheim, Disney has been the catalyst for its transformation from what one local resident describes as “just a town on the way to the beach” into a tourist destination unparalleled by many much larger. “Tourism is a significant business in California,” explains Executive Director of the California Travel and Tourism Commission, Caroline Beteta. “In addition to representing California’s reputation for fun and one-of-a-kind experiences, the Disneyland Resort also creates tens of thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars for our economy.”

It is true that most of the gains have been related to tourism and sports, but it is likely that the profile Disney gave Anaheim helped in attracted many other businesses as well. It is absolutely no wonder that the arrival of a new face to the Disneyland big seat is big news for Anaheim residents. The resort’s location has proved invaluable to the local area’s economy. It brings in almost 15 million visitors per year, who generate approximately $225 million in taxes for Southern California.

The business of fun

“The Disneyland Resort is a vital component of California’s nearly $80 billion tourism market,” explains Director of the Center for Entertainment and Tourism at California State University, Fullerton, Cynthia King. “There aren’t many other players that create the kind of resort atmosphere they do.”

It is a massive operational challenge to manage the 430-acre site. The area is the home of two theme parks, three hotels and a shopping, dining and entertainment district known as Downtown Disney. Additionally, the park also has its own administrative center monorail. “It’s analogous to running a small city – and not so small of a city when you think about what happens here,” laughs Grier. “It operates 24 hours a day, and we have over 20,000 cast members that work at the resort. Add in the thousands of visitors that come through our gates every day and it makes the day-to-day business operations very complex.”

Grier is a proud 25-year Disney veteran and has run business operations on three continents. He has been in this role in Anaheim just over two years. His prior responsibilities are various, and surely contributed to his preparedness for his current role. They included a stint at Disneyland Paris where he was a component of a marketing team assigned to increase awareness of the resort throughout Europe, and most recently a period of time in charge of Walt Disney Attractions Japan. This is where he ran the business operations for the Tokyo Disney Resort. It’s been a long journey since he joined the company in 1981 as an auditor at the Florida location. One thing Grier will hold fast to, however, is that all of his previous roles have provided important lessons in what it takes to run a multimillion-dollar theme park.


“It’s maybe been an unusual route to the top, but I think each one of those experiences has really prepared me for this job because I need to have a huge grasp of all those different disciplines,” he explains. “A grounding in finance is really helpful; understanding business operations is essential to running the resort; and a knowledge of the marketing aspects of what we do here is hugely important, too. Most importantly, though, you need to have a sense of fun.”

Fun is certainly not something your average person would associate with an accountant, one now in charge of all business operations, but the combination of imagination with a results-oriented business goal has been vital to Disney’s success decade over decade, and Grier is the embodiment of this ethos. In order to maintain that sense of magic that Disneyland is famous for it takes hard work in addition to inspiration. “We have a tremendous heritage here, but at the same time we always need to be looking forward to the future,” he explains. “So while we try to stay very consistent with what we deliver to our guests, over time the park evolves and I think that’s one of the things we really focus on – how to evolve the parks and make sure they’re relevant to our guests today and tomorrow.”

Harnessing creativity

Of course, being able to draw upon the huge well of creative talent across the Disney brand is a tremendous asset in this regard. “We may take a hit movie, for example, and make a great stage show or attraction out of it. Disney’s all about telling stories, so if we can tell the right story we’ve no doubt that our designers – Imagineers, as we call them – can find a way to make sure we tell that story in a very entertaining, very immersive way that our guests will enjoy.”

One example is the recently opened Toy Story Mania! attraction. Based on the Pixar characters, the ride is one of the most technologically sophisticated attractions yet developed by Walt Disney Imagineering, costing an estimated $80 million to design and build. In it, park guests wear 3D glasses aboard spinning vehicles that travel through virtual environments based on classic carnival midway games. “It was a great example of how we took a successful element from elsewhere in the brand and said: ‘How can we tell this story in the context of the resort? How can we use new technology to make sure our guests are immersed in great storytelling, in a ride that’s very repeatable because it’s different every time you go on it?’ I think anytime we have a great story to tell, we have to use the technologies not for technology’s sake, but to help bring an attraction to life.”

Another example of this is the resort’s repurposing of its 1959 submarine ride attraction. Closed since 1998 due to maintenance issues, the ride was overhauled and re-imagined as the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure. “Creativity really drives this company, no matter where it comes from – the movies division, consumer products, music, it doesn’t matter. We can tap in to that inventiveness and turn it into something new and valuable for our guests. So I think that’s one of the big strengths of the company: the synergy between all the different divisions, and the fact that we have a brand behind us that is powered by the value of great ideas.”

In 2007, Disney announced a multi-year, billion-dollar expansion program for the Anaheim resort. In addition to building 250 more rooms to the property’s Grand Californian hotel, the expansion will be bringing more of Walt Disney into Disney’s California Adventure, celebrating the hope and optimism of California that attracted Walt to this land of opportunity in the 1920s. The new, interactive Walt Disney Story attraction will set the stage for the unfolding story of Walt that will permeate the park, while other attractions include an amazing Little Mermaid attraction, a groundbreaking, signature night-time spectacular and new viewing area for 9000, and the addition of the 12-acre Cars Land inspired by the hit Disney/Pixar animated film. Extensive landscaping, new retail and dining will create an even richer environment throughout the park in ways that reinforce guests’ connection with Walt, and will also add new various challenges for business operations.

“We want out guests to have that same emotional connection with Disney’s California Adventure that they have with the Disneyland park,” says Grier. “It’s a great park right now, with some of the highest-rated attractions in all our parks – the Tower of Terror, Soaring Over California, The Aladdin Show, and of course Toy Story Mania! – but we want to expand it and maintain our status as the premier resort destination in Southern California. It’s about making the resort as a whole a multi-day experience. So over the next 12-18 months, we’ll be going through the whole planning process, the sequence of opening up new shows and attractions, and that’s gonna keep me pretty busy for the next few months.”


The heart of the park

In his role running the business operations, Grier admits to getting up at around 5am every day in order to squeeze in a session at the gym – often accompanied by his children, who he says “push me pretty hard” – before heading to the office in plenty of time for when the day’s guests arrive. It’s a pretty daunting schedule, made up of meetings with direct reports on the business operations team, overseeing marketing strategy decisions, planning for the future – and of course, those all-important park walks. “ I try to spend time out in the parks as much as I can, talking to our cast and guests,” he insists. “It’s really valuable. So much of what we do here is based on how our customers experience the resort, so spending time in the parks and talking to our cast members firsthand gives me a great insight into what happens in our resort and how well we’re doing.”

For one thing, some of those employees have been working at the park since the day it opened in 1955. “ We have cast members that have worked here for 50 years, and they take tremendous pride in what they do,” he confirms. “Harnessing their knowledge is vital to the ongoing success of the park – they understand where we’ve been, and they’ve seen a lot of different things. So they have a lot to offer.” As a result, making time to actually sit down with cast members from across the resort to get an idea of what they’re thinking – on ways to enhance the visitor experience, on how to improve business operations or how to do things more efficiently – is vital. “Anything they want to bring up they can bring up in those meetings. And surprisingly, they’re very honest. They tell me what they think, because that’s the atmosphere I like to provide. I try to be very approachable, so they can tell me what’s on their mind; it’s hugely beneficial.”

And it’s not just the customer-facing employees that make a difference to the way the park is run. In addition to his early starts, Grier often stays behind after the park has closed to the public in order to interact with and get feedback from what Disney calls ‘the third shift’ – the army of workers who come in after dark to carry out essential maintenance work and ensure the resort is ready for new guests the following day. “ The parks are beautiful even when the guests are in it, but it’s a special place when you’re there at night with the third shift team. They do a tremendous job, and they’re really the unsung heroes because they’re gone by the time the sun comes up and the guests are starting into the park.”

This, says Grier, is where much of the essential work that goes into maintaining a world-class resort takes place – from the clean-up operation to the disposal of waste, from the painting of the façade to the upkeep of the décor – and includes vital safety checks and maintenance work for the multitude of rides and attractions. “They have a nightly checklist of things to do, and there is a huge amount of information they have to keep track of in making sure that things are done correctly,” he says. “We’re making a statement to the guests, and to ourselves, too, that our parks are beautiful, that our parks are well maintained, and that creating the right atmosphere is important. Once you enter one of our parks it takes you to a different time and place, and that’s what it’s all about.

“It is a huge responsibility to make sure we maintain our heritage,” he continues. “Disneyland is such a vital part of the local community – more so, I think, than any of the other parks – and also holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who has been here to visit. And it’s the only park that Walt Disney actually walked in, so it’s a huge responsibility, one that I cherish.”

Rewarding work

Indeed, it is significant that at the heart of a business so embedded in the local community lies its most important asset: people. Of the 65,700 jobs supported by the resort, 20,000 are direct resort employees, 3800 are third-party employees at the resort and 41,900 are employed directly or indirectly by Anaheim Resort Area businesses. The resort generates over $1 billion in annual employee wages and vendor payments, including more than $500 million in annual payroll for jobs at the resort and $430 million in annual payroll for jobs with third-party hotels and retailers. Cast members volunteer thousands of hours every year for the local community. And city planners work hand-in-hand with senior management to ensure the resort expands in a socially, environmentally and economically beneficial fashion.

For Grier, this sense of collaboration, of being part of a community, is what makes his role so special. “The most rewarding thing from me is that everything we do here – the recruiting, the training, the marketing, the service, the design and development – makes a visible difference to the resort,” he concludes. “I can look out my window and see the impact of what we do, whether we’re building a new attraction that the guests are gonna love, reducing the time spent waiting in lines through our FastPass system, enhancing the range of services on offer – and that gives me a huge sense of pride, just to see the impact of the decisions that we collectively make. It takes a lot of hard work to get to this level of excellence, so that’s very satisfying.”

Original here

Chicago Sun-Times files for bankruptcy

Sun-Times files Chapter 11

The Sun-Times has filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. (Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans / May 18, 2008)

Sun-Times Media Group Inc., reeling from a painful revenue decline and tax liabilities that date back to the looting of the company during the tenure of former CEO Conrad Black, disclosed Tuesday that it has filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

The publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and other Chicago-area papers emphasized that it will continue to operate its newspapers and online sites as usual "while it focuses on further improving its cost structure and stabilizing operations" during the Chapter 11 financial reorganization.

Tuesday's filing can't be characterized as a surprise. Many observers have marveled that the company has been able to stay on its feet as long as it has, given the pressures it faces.

The bankruptcy comes on the heels of a proxy fight that led to the ouster earlier this year of almost all of Sun-Times Media's former board members, and the subsequent exit of CEO Cyrus Freidheim, the turnaround expert brought in two years earlier to revive the company's fortunes.

Freidheim had been given the unenviable job of cleaning up the mess left after Conrad Black and his lieutenant, David Radler, diverted millions of dollars' in company revenue into their own pockets. Sun-Times' fortunes were also damaged by an embarassing and costly circulation-overstatement scandal that occurred when Radler was publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Black and Radler were eventually convicted on criminal fraud charges and jailed, but the financial fallout from their actions has been an additional burden as Sun-Times Media fought to stay viable in a newspaper industry that has seen its century-old financial model upended.

Like other newspaper companies, Sun-Times has slashed repeatedly at its staffing levels in order to reduce costs, as ad revenues continued to dwindle because of recessionary pressures and an ongoing migration of advertisers' spending to less-costly Internet platforms.

Left-over issues from the Black era also played a role. Sun-Times Media recently paid $21 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a Canadian company that claimed Black deceived it when it purchased Canadian newspapers from the Chicago holding company several years ago. And although some tax claims from the company's financial footwork during the Black era have been resolved, others linger.

"Unfortunately," said Jeremy Halbreich, Chairman and interm CEO of the company, the "deteriorating economic climate, coupled with a significant pending IRS tax liability dating back to previous management, has led us to today's difficult action."

Sun-Times executives, he added, "firmly believe that filing for Chapter 11 protection and exploring the potential sale of assets or new investment in the company offers us the best opportunity to protect our respected media properties for the long term."

In seeking the shelter of Chapter 11, Sun-Times Media joins Chicago-based Tribune Co. -- the much larger media holding company that prints the rival Chicago Tribune daily -- which entered bankruptcy in December.

Tribune is being buffeted by the same negative industry trends that have hit Sun-Times Media, to be sure.

But Tribune's Chapter 11 filing was sparked not by operating losses, (it remains profitable by some measures) but rather by an inability to keep up with heavy debt payments born out of the company's highly leveraged buyout in late 2007.

Real estate mogul Sam Zell led the LBO that took Tribune private, but he and the other investors failed to foresee the extent to which Tribune's once voluminous cash flow would weaken as industry conditions eroded.

In recent months, the one-two punch of structural change and economic decline has caused some papers to simply fold, as the Denver-based Rocky Mountain News did recently; or to go to a much-diminished, website-only format, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has opted to do.

Chapter 11 filings remain relatively rare in the newspaper business, although Yardley, Pa.-based publisher Journal Register has taken that path. In Southern California, the owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune recently took the unusual option of selling the financially stressed paper to private-equity interests.

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Should You Buy a Home Right Now?

(Photo by Chad Jones)

Conventional wisdom says that buying is preferable to renting. Instead of throwing money away on a home, you can invest in your future and have the sense of fulfillment that comes from owning a home. Turns out, conventional wisdom is wrong. Today, many long-term renters are in a much stronger financial position than many recent homebuyers, and the last thing these homeowners are feeling is contentment. But the combination of firesale prices on homes, the drop in mortgage rates, and government assistance in the form of the first time home buyer tax credit, may have you reconsidering the idea of buying your own home. Is now a good time?

The Good

Here are a few of the reasons why now is a better time to buy a home than it has been at any point in the past few years:

Tax Credits

In the stimulus plan signed by President Obama, there is a first-time home buyer tax credit of $8,000, provided that you stay in the home for 36 months. This isn’t a tax deduction like your mortgage interest, which reduces your taxable income - a tax credit actually reduces your total income taxes owed. In addition, some states, such as California, are offering tax credits for home buyers that will further reduce your tax liability. Keep in mind that the federal program ends on December 1st of this year, and while it could easily end up being extended, it isn’t a given.

Rates last week dipped to an all-time low when the Fed announced that it would continue buying additional mortgage backed securities. Even though they ticked back up slightly in the past few days, with full income documentation and good credit, you can easily get down to 4.5% on a conventional 30 year fixed if you have 20% down, and if you want to get into an FHA loan, you can more typically get around 5.0% with a down payment of only 3.5%. Be careful when shopping for rates online, and think twice before giving out personal information. It is far better to ask friends and family for a strong personal recommendation, and use the information that you see on sites such as to approximate where your rate should be. Keep in mind that everyone’s scenario is different and there are a lot of new rate adjustments for conventional loans that didn’t exist in prior years, so you can easily end up paying 1 point (or percentage of the loan amount) for a loan that might cost your friend zero points for the same rate on the same day with the same lender.

Because You Don’t Absolutely Need to Buy

The best time to shop for a home is when you don’t need to. You can be as aggressive as you want to on your offer, and time is on your side because prices aren’t going to go back up overnight. If you are patient, you can find a home that you love, and just make sure that you can comfortably afford it and have a long-term plan to keep the property.

The Bad

These are factors that should not be driving your motivation to purchase a home right now:

Timing the Market Bottom

The same advice that applies to the stock market applies to the housing market. Don’t try to time it. If you have played around with the stock market in the past year and tried to catch a falling knife in the hopes of maximizing your return, you can probably look at the scars on your financial statements and let it serve as a reminder not to time the bottom. The turnaround in prices is gradual, and you are not going to miss out on an instant, overnight spike in real estate prices, no matter how fast the bank-owned properties are selling locally.

The Illusion of the Discount

Perhaps a new development popped up three years ago and was so shiny and perfect that you would have taken a third job to afford it. Now, the model that you love has popped up for $400,000 and all of the recent sales were at $450,000. In a stable market, that is great, but if you live in a declining market, you have now become the new comparable sale that any listings in the development in the near future will be measured against. So, if you buy this place for $400,000, and your new neighbor decides to move, they now will likely be advised by their real estate agent to price their property at or below your price in order to sell quickly. The same holds true for purchasing bank-owned properties. Bank-owned sales may be somewhat less frequent and given slightly less weight in determining the next sales prices in your neighborhood. However, if you buy in a neighborhood with a relatively high level of short sales and foreclosures, that great deal you just got on the bank-owned property just set the bar lower for the whole neighborhood.

The Ugly

If you don’t know what you are doing or have enough of a cash reserve to justify the risk, this real estate market can eat you alive, especially if you are short-sighted.

Fix It and Flip It

Unless you are lightning fast, experienced at managing renovation projects and holding plenty of cash that you are comfortable risking, that late night real estate fix-and-flip infomercial that was recorded in 2003 should not be considered your ticket to financial freedom. Of course there are gurus who have been waiting for this opportunity, and you are driving around listening to Robert Kiyosaki on iTunes with your Bluetooth intact looking for the bargain of the century. Just do your research, and don’t think that any particular property is the last opportunity you will ever have to get a great deal.

Until you see your local median price leveled off or even slightly increasing for a few months consecutively, you are dependent on sweat equity, which in many cases is wiped out by a few homes in the neighborhood going into foreclosure and further reducing home prices. Again, this market has become hyperlocal, down to the subdivision. In Orange County for example, prices for stronger neighborhoods may be down only 10% in the last year while properties less than a mile away have been cut in half or more in extreme cases.

Are you really ready?

How much are you paying now for rent? You should look at a good principal and interest calculator or talk to your lender to get the whole picture, including monthly amounts for taxes, insurance, any applicable homeowners association dues, and any applicable mortgage insurance. This is important even if you plan on paying taxes and insurance on your own (rather than impounding them and making monthly payments to the lender) because you will want to make sure to budget monthly to set aside for these expenses. So, if you are paying $1,500 currently for rent, and the new home will be $2,500, put your budget to the test and see how well your finances run when you put the amount of the increased housing expense (in this case $1,000) into your savings account. Take it out right when you pay your rent, and don’t touch it. This is a great test of how much you can really comfortably afford, and of course has the nice side effect of padding your savings for a few months before you start shopping for a home.

Of course, if you have a long-term plan to be in the home, the fluctuations and potential decrease in value in the near term doesn’t need to get you down, as the only price that matters is the price you are able to sell for when you need or want to move.

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Hiding a Mountain Of Debt

By David S. Broder

With a bit of bookkeeping legerdemain borrowed from the Bush administration, the Democratic Congress is about to perform a cover-up on the most serious threat to America's economic future.

That threat is not the severe recession, tough as that is for the families and businesses struggling to make ends meet. In time, the recession will end, and last week's stock market performance hinted that we may not have to wait years for the recovery to begin.

The real threat is the monstrous debt resulting from the slump in revenue and the staggering sums being committed by Washington to rescuing embattled banks and homeowners -- and the absence of any serious strategy for paying it all back.

The Congressional Budget Office sketched the dimensions of the problem on March 20, and Congress reacted with shock. The CBO said that over the next 10 years, current policies would add a staggering $9.3 trillion to the national debt -- one-third more than President Obama had estimated by using much more optimistic assumptions about future economic growth.


As far as the eye could see, the CBO said, the debt would continue to grow by about $1 trillion a year because of a structural deficit between the spending rate, averaging 23 percent of gross domestic product, and federal revenue at 19 percent.

The ever-growing national debt will require ever-larger annual interest payments, with much of that money going overseas to China, Japan and other countries that have been buying our bonds.

Reacting to this scary prospect, the House and Senate budget committees took the paring knife to some of Obama's spending proposals and tax cuts last week. But many of the proposed savings look more like bookkeeping gimmicks than realistic cutbacks. The budget resolutions assume, for example, that no more money will be needed this year to bail out foundering businesses or pump up consumer demand, even though estimates of those needs start at $250 billion and go up by giant steps.

Republicans on the budget committees offered cuts that were larger and, in some but not all instances, more realistic.

But the main device the Democratic budgeteers employed was simply to shrink the budget "window" from 10 years to five. Instantly, $5 trillion in debt disappeared from view, along with the worry that long after the recession is past, the structural deficit would continue to blight the future of young working families.

The Democrats did not invent this gimmick. They borrowed it from George W. Bush, who turned to it as soon as his inherited budget surpluses withered with the tax cuts and recession of 2001-02. But Obama had promised a more honest budget and said that this meant looking at the long-term consequences of today's tax and spending decisions.

There are plenty of people in Congress for whom the CBO report was no surprise, and some of them have proposed a solution that would confront this reality. Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Judd Gregg, its ranking Republican, have offered a bill to create a bipartisan commission to examine every aspect of the budget -- taxes, defense and domestic spending, and, especially, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Congress would be required to vote promptly, up or down, on its recommendations, or come up with an alternative that would achieve at least as much in savings.

In the House, Democrat Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia have been pressing a similar proposal but have been regularly thwarted.

The roadblock in chief is Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. She has made it clear that her main goal is to protect Social Security and Medicare from any significant reforms. Pelosi has not forgotten how Democrats benefited from the 2005-06 fight against Bush's effort to change Social Security. Her party, which had lost elections in 2000, 2002 and 2004, found its voice and its rallying cry to "Save Social Security," and Pelosi is not about to allow any bipartisan commission to take that issue away from her control.

The price for her obduracy is being paid in the rigging of the budget process. The larger price will be paid by your children and grandchildren, who will inherit a future-blighting mountain of debt.

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General Motors CEO resigns as part of bailout deal

(CNN) -- General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner announced his resignation early Monday -- the latest change for the troubled automaker.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner's resignation statement is on the GM Web site.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner's resignation statement is on the GM Web site.

White House and GM sources had told CNN Sunday that Wagoner would resign as part of the federal government's bailout strategy for the troubled automaker.

"On Friday I was in Washington for a meeting with Administration officials. In the course of that meeting, they requested that I 'step aside' as CEO of GM, and so I have," Wagoner said in a statement posted to the GM Web site.

He is being replaced by GM's president and chief operating officer, Fritz Henderson. Kent Kresa will serve as interim chairman.

"Having worked closely with Fritz for many years, I know that he is the ideal person to lead the company through the completion of our restructuring efforts. His knowledge of the global industry and the company are exceptional, and he has the intellect, energy, and support among GM'ers worldwide to succeed," Wagoner said.

The Obama administration gave General Motors and Chrysler failing grades Monday for their turnaround efforts and promised a sweeping overhaul of the troubled companies. The government plans to give the automakers more money, but it is also holding out the threat of a "structured bankruptcy."

The federal government will provide operating funds for both automakers for several weeks, during which time the companies will have to undergo significant restructuring, administration officials said late Sunday night.

President Obama is expected to make a formal announcement Monday morning about his plans for the companies, which have already been given $17.4 billion.

GM will get 60 days and Chrysler 30 days in which to make a final push toward proving they can run viable businesses. If Chrysler succeeds, it will receive a $6 billion loan. In GM's case, the officials would not specify how much money the carmaker might receive.

In the case of both companies, the officials said, stakeholders -- and particularly debt holders in both companies -- had not done enough to relieve the automakers of ongoing financial burdens.

"We have made very clear that we expect a very, very substantial reduction in liability for both companies," one official said.

The administration held out the possibility of a so-called structured bankruptcy as an option.

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Sixteen feared dead in North Sea helicopter crash

by Guy Jackson

LONDON (AFP) – Sixteen people were feared dead Thursday after a helicopter transporting them from an offshore oilfield crashed off the northeast coast of Scotland.

Rescuers retrieved eight bodies from the North Sea after Wednesday's crash but eight people remained missing after the search was called off at 10:00 pm -- eight hours after the helicopter went down.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said late Wednesday that the outlook for the missing was "extremely bleak".

About 15 vessels had been combing the area for survivors, but the search was called off until dawn on Thursday.

"We can confirm that eight bodies have been recovered from the North Sea after a helicopter came down around 35 miles off the coast of Crimond," police said in a statement Wednesday.

"The remaining eight persons are unaccounted for," they said.

Oil giant BP said the helicopter was operating on its behalf. Carrying 14 passengers and two crew, it had been flying from the Miller oilfield, about 270 kilometres off the Scottish coast, back to the mainland when it crashed.

It went down just before 2:00 pm, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

Salmond expressed shock and sadness at the accident, telling reporters in Aberdeen: "Eight bodies have been recovered and I am afraid to say the outlook for the other eight people involved is extremely bleak."

He said the North Sea provided "enormous riches, millions, billions of pounds" in oil and gas.

"But it's incidents like this that remind us that there is another price, and that's the price in human life, which has been played out over the years," he said.

Queen Elizabeth II sent a private letter of condolence to the families of the victims, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said.

A BP spokesman said the firm was working closely with the coastguard and had put in place all its emergency response systems.

The Super Puma helicopter was operated by offshore aviation firm Bond, which was not immediately available for comment.

Another helicopter operated by the firm also went down in the North Sea with 18 people on board in February, although no one was injured.

An official report into that incident found a warning system which would have told pilots they were close to the water in foggy conditions had failed to sound.

Salmond said it would be "foolish to speculate" on what caused Wednesday's crash but said it was "catastrophic".

A spokeswoman for Scotland's emergency services said late Wednesday that it was unlikely someone could survive in the sea for much longer, even wearing special suits as the missing were.

Aberdeen Airport is one of the world's busiest heliports and dozens of flights serve the oil platforms off from the airport every week.

The Super Puma has been involved in a number of incidents over the past 20 years.

Eleven men were killed in February 1992 when a Super Puma taking oil workers from Shell's Cormorant Alpha platform to a nearby barge crashed into the sea immediately after takeoff, 100 miles northeast of Shetland.

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Shoplifting couple go on Dr. Phil, get house raided

The Dr. Phil Show aired a segment yesterday about a couple from San Marcos, California who are jobless and make a living by shoplifting, often in other states to avoid being recognized. The couple, identified as “Laura” and “Allen” have three small children and brag that they’ve made about $100,000 a year by stealing and re-selling stolen goods. The show billed them as “the most successful shoplifters on the West Coast” and they claim that they’ve amassed $1 million in stolen goods over the seven years they’ve been running this racket.

“Laura” and “Allen” revealed some of the bold ways they pilfer from stores, even inviting cameras to come along on a multi-state spree. Their methods include using store bags that they smuggle in, using their children as decoys, and running “buy 1 get one” schemes where one of them will buy an item and pass the receipt off to the other, who will grab a second item for free. They’ve never been caught.

The couple went on the show without disguising their faces or voices, and said they’re coming out with this now in order to stop their life of crime. Dad of three and professional thief “Allen” told Dr. Phil why they’re going public: ” Putting it out in the open and knowing that everybody has seen us now, it will help us to not want to go to the stores, because we’re going to feel like they’re going to recognize us now. I think it’s something to help us to stop, because my cover’s blown.”

It looks like “Allen” got his wish because his house got raided last week. His real name is Matthew Eaton:

A couple whose house was raided by a fraud task force may be linked to their appearance on the “Dr. Phil” television show.

A couple appeared on an episode of the TV show titled “Shoplifting Confessions” Nov. 19, saying they were “professional shoplifters” who have amassed nearly $1 million in stolen goods, according to the show’s Web site. They were identified as Laura and a man who used the names Matthew and Allen.

A lawyer representing Laura and Matthew A. Eaton of San Marcos said the couple appeared on the show in November, but declined to say whether they were guests on that episode or to discuss it further.

A spokesman for the San Diego Regional Fraud Task Force, which conducted the raid on the house on the 1400 block of Leslie Court on Thursday, wouldn’t disclose the reason for the raid or if it was connected to the TV show.

“It’s still early on in the investigation,” said Greg Meyer, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service San Diego Field Office. “There have been no arrests at this point and no indictments at this point.”

According to the TV show’s Web site, a woman named Laura said the couple stole goods in other states, such as Arizona and Nevada, to avoid being recognized.


Allen/Matthew bragged on Dr. Phil about stealing “lots of Lego stuff.” TMZ uncovered his eBay account, in which he’s sold thousands worth of Lego goods and has a 100% positive rating.


Dr. Phil had an expert on the show that said these two aren’t kleptomaniacs because they steal items with the intention to resell and run a scheme, not for the pure urge to steal. Their crimes are federal because they crossed state lines to steal, and Dr. Phil’s security expert said they face “thousands” of indictments. You have to wonder why they decided to come forward now. They know they’re going to lose their kids if they both go to jail, which seems highly likely. They could have just stopped on their own and got jobs, but that way they wouldn’t have bragging rights and a brief taste of fame.

Click here to find out more! Written by Celebitchy

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Death of USC student stuns campus

distraught mother
Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Carmen Bachan, mother of hit-and-run victim Adrianna Bachan, 18, holds up a photograph of her daughter at a Monday news conference. “If anybody knows anything, I want them to help me,” she said.
Police and relatives call on the public's help in locating the driver in the fatal hit-and-run accident in a busy intersection near the school.
By Ari B. Bloomekatz

The death of a USC student and the critical injury of another in a violent hit-and-run accident left the urban campus reeling Monday as authorities and relatives called on the public for help in locating the driver and the badly damaged car.

"We need to find the vehicle," said LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese. "We need to find it quickly."

The accident, which occurred at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street at 3 a.m. Sunday, left Adrianna Bachan, 18, dead and Marcus Garfinkle, 19, clinging to life. According to witnesses, Garfinkle was carried about 500 feet on the vehicle's windshield before the driver stopped and a passenger removed him from the car. The vehicle then sped off.

At a Monday news conference, Bachan's mother, Carmen Bachan, held up pictures of her daughter and pleaded, "If anybody knows anything, I want them to help me."

Police say the driver had run a red light before the accident. Investigators and relatives said they were shocked by the cold behavior of the driver and passenger.

"The passenger got out of the car and threw the young man on the street after they destroyed my baby," Carmen Bachan said.

Albanese said investigators were looking for a black sedan -- possibly a Lexus, a Honda Accord or a Toyota Corolla -- that sustained heavy damage to its front end and a cracked windshield. Officers have already begun canvassing auto repair shops and have told employees to keep an eye out for the vehicle.

The intersection at Jefferson and Hoover is one of the busiest near USC. Scores of students walk, ride bicycles or skateboard across it each day, to and from class. It was far from deserted early Sunday morning when the two first-year students found themselves in the path of a speeding car.

Will Sturgeon, a 19-year-old freshman in environmental studies, said he was walking back to campus from a party when he heard a loud crash.

"We look over and we see this girl in the air and hitting the ground," he said. Sturgeon and others called authorities while a friend blocked traffic. Sturgeon and the friend flagged down a passing fire engine, he said.

Sturgeon said he thought the two students might have crossed the street outside of the crosswalk, because Bachan's body ended up about 15 yards away from it.

News of the accident quickly spread through the campus.

"A lot of people were talking about it on campus. It's in the Daily Trojan and it's all over people's Facebook" pages, said freshman Gieselle Allen, 19, who is studying screenwriting. "I just think it's sad."

Other students said it was difficult to fathom how the driver could speed off without helping the students.

"Everybody is pretty shocked," said Robert Hooks, 21, a senior who is studying political science.

"How do you just leave somebody on the side of the road like that?"

The daughter of a Croatian father and a Cuban mother, Bachan was born in Los Angeles. She grew up in Montecito and went to Santa Barbara High School, Carmen Bachan said. She said her daughter was an honors student and played soccer at the school.

Before Monday's news conference began, Carmen Bachan squeezed Albanese's hand as the officer tried to console her.

"Do you have children?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Think if they died!" Carmen Bachan said. "Think if they died!"

Kelly Wirht, chapter president of Bachan's sorority, Pi Beta Phi, said a candlelight vigil had been planned for Monday night. In a written statement, she said that everyone in the house "is saddened at the tragic loss of its sister."

"Adrianna was both an amazing woman and an outstanding member of our chapter," she said. "She will be greatly missed."

Michael Jackson, USC's vice president of student affairs, said university officials have been proactive in trying to cope with the heavy amount of pedestrian and vehicle traffic around campus and will install a light within the next few months at 28th and Hoover streets, where another student was struck and injured earlier this year.

Jackson said the Jefferson-Hoover intersection sees an enormous amount of pedestrian traffic because some 10,000 students live north of Jefferson Boulevard.

"Just imagine," he said. "That's a lot of people going back and forth."

Jackson said university officials have worked with the city to improve the intersection and that a new system was implemented within the last couple of years that allows pedestrians to cross at several points while all traffic is stopped.

He said officials are planning to reexamine the spot after Sunday's fatality, but that it's difficult to stop someone from running a red light.

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North Korea has nuclear warheads - International Crisis Group analyst Daniel Pinkston

INTELLIGENCE agencies have obtained information that North Korea has assembled several nuclear warheads for its medium-range Rodong missiles capable of targeting Japan, an analyst says.

Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said he had received the information from agencies he declined to identify.

"Intelligence agencies believe the North Koreans have assembled nuclear warheads for Rodong missiles, which are stored at underground facilities near the Rodong missile bases," Mr Pinkston said.

He said the agencies believe that probably five to eight warheads have been assembled.

Mr Pinkston said the agencies did not reveal the source of their information to him.

"It might be right, it might be wrong - but if others believe it is true, it has implications for the psychological aspects of deterrence," he said, describing the assessment as "quite significant".

In public at least, intelligence officials have not previously said that the communist North - which tested a nuclear weapon in 2006 - has the capability to manufacture nuclear warheads.

The North is preparing to test-fire its longest-range missile the Taepodong-2 within the next few days, but is not believed to have created any atomic warhead for this.

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NASA in Colbert conundrum over Space Station

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA's outreach to the public to drum up interest in the International Space Station started innocently enough with an online contest to name the station's new living quarters.

But Stephen Colbert, a comedian who poses as an ultra right-wing news commentator on cable television's Comedy Central, nosed into the act with a grass-roots appeal that has backed the staid U.S. space agency into a corner.

The comedian's supporters cast 230,539 write-in votes to name the new module at the $100-billion space outpost "Colbert." The top NASA-suggested name, "Serenity," finished a distant second, more than 40,000 votes behind.

Contest rules stipulate that the agency retains the right to basically do whatever it wants, but it may not be that easy.

Last week, U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah, a Pennsylvania Democrat, called on NASA to do the democratic thing and use the name that drew the most votes.

"NASA decided to hold an election to name its new room at the International Space Station and the clear winner is Stephen Colbert," Fattah said in a statement. "The people have spoken, and Stephen Colbert won it fair and square -- even if his campaign was a bit over the top."

NASA is taking some time to ponder its next move.

"We have a plan and we're working with some folks and in a couple of weeks you'll know what the answer is," NASA's associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier said.

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