Google Search Bar


Thursday, December 9, 2010


So that's what the whole thing is about... a bunch of north americans video game players having the chance to do it for real....Enough Said...


Hacker Threatens More Attacks on Those Seen as WikiLeaks Foes

In a campaign that had some declaring the start of a “cyberwar,” hundreds of Internet activists mounted retaliatory attacks on Wednesday on the Web sites of multinational companies and other organizations they deemed hostile to the WikiLeaks antisecrecy organization and its jailed founder, Julian Assange.
State’s Secrets

On Thursday, a man identifying himself as one of the activists from a group called Anonymous, who used the pseudonym Coldblood in an interview with BBC radio, said: “This campaign is not over from what I’ve seen. It’s still going strong.” The speaker had an English accent and said he was a 22-year-old software engineer with no specific political loyalty.

Within 12 hours of a British judge’s decision on Tuesday to deny Mr. Assange bail in a Swedish extradition case, attacks on the Web sites of WikiLeaks’s “enemies,” as defined by the organization’s impassioned supporters around the world, caused several corporate Web sites to become inaccessible or slow down markedly.

Targets of the attacks, in which activists overwhelmed the sites with traffic, included the Web site of MasterCard, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks;, which revoked the use of its computer servers; and PayPal, which stopped accepting donations for Mr. Assange’s group. was also affected by the attacks, as were the Web sites of the Swedish prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the two women whose allegations of sexual misconduct are the basis of Sweden’s extradition bid.

The Internet assaults underlined the growing reach of self-described “cyberanarchists,” antigovernment and anticorporate activists who have made an icon of Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian.

Though no major Web sites appeared to be under attack early on Thursday, Reuters reported, a Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, reported that the Swedish government’s Web site had gone down briefly during the night.

The speed and range of the attacks appeared to show the resilience of the backing among computer activists for Mr. Assange, who has appeared increasingly isolated in recent months amid the furor stoked by WikiLeaks’s Web site posting of hundreds of thousands of secret Pentagon documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Assange has come under renewed attack in the past two weeks for posting the first tranche of a trove of 250,000 secret State Department cables that have exposed American diplomats’ frank assessments of relations with many countries, forcing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express regret to world leaders and raising fears that they and other sources would become more reticent.

The New York Times and four other news organizations last week began publishing articles based on the archive of cables made available to them.

In recent months, some of Mr. Assange’s closest associates in WikiLeaks abandoned him, calling him autocratic and capricious and accusing him of reneging on WikiLeaks’s original pledge of impartiality to launch a concerted attack on the United States. He has been simultaneously fighting a remote battle with the Swedish prosecutors, who have sought his extradition for questioning on accusations of “rape, sexual molestation and forceful coercion” made by the Swedish women. Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing in the cases.

American officials have repeatedly said that they are reviewing possible criminal charges against Mr. Assange, a step that could lead to a bid to extradite him to the United States and confront him with having to fight for his freedom on two fronts.

The cyberattacks in Mr. Assange’s defense appear to have been coordinated by Anonymous, a loosely affiliated group of activist computer hackers who have singled out other groups before, including the Church of Scientology. Last weekend, members of Anonymous vowed in two online manifestos to take revenge on any organization that lined up against WikiLeaks.

Anonymous claimed responsibility for the MasterCard attack in Web messages and, according to one activist associated with the group, conducted waves of attacks on other companies during the day. The group said the actions were part of an effort called Operation Payback, which began as a way of punishing companies that attempted to stop Internet file-sharing and movie downloads.

The activist, Gregg Housh, who disavows a personal role in any illegal online activity, said that 1,500 supporters had been in online forums and chat rooms organizing the mass “denial of service” attacks. His account was confirmed by Jose Nazario, a senior security researcher at Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass., firm that tracks malicious activity on computer networks.

Most of the corporations whose sites were targeted did not explain why they severed ties with WikiLeaks. But PayPal issued statements saying its decision was based on “a violation” of its policy on promoting illegal activities.

Almost all the corporate Web sites that were attacked appeared to be operating normally later on Wednesday, suggesting that any economic impact was limited. But the sense of an Internet war was reinforced when Netcraft, a British Internet monitoring firm, reported that the Web site being used by the hackers to distribute denial-of-service software had been suspended by a Dutch hosting firm, Leaseweb.

A sense of the belligerent mood among activists was given when one contributor to a forum the group uses,, wrote of the attacks: “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.”

Mr. Housh acknowledged that there had been online talk among the hackers of a possible Internet campaign against the two women who have been Mr. Assange’s accusers in the Swedish case, but he said that “a lot of people don’t want to be involved.”

A Web search showed new blog posts in recent days in which the two women, identified by the Swedish prosecutors only as Ms. A. and Ms. W., were named, but it was not clear whether there was any link to Anonymous. The women have said that consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange became nonconsensual when condoms were no longer in use.

The cyberattacks on corporations Wednesday were seen by many supporters as a counterstrike against the United States. Mr. Assange’s online supporters have widely condemned the Obama administration as the unseen hand coordinating efforts to choke off WikiLeaks by denying it financing and suppressing its network of computer servers.

Mr. Housh described Mr. Assange in an interview as “a political prisoner,” a common view among WikiLeaks supporters who have joined Mr. Assange in condemning the sexual abuse accusations as part of an American-inspired “smear campaign.”

Another activist used the analogy of the civil rights struggle for the cyberattacks.

“Are they disrupting business?” a contributor using the name Moryath wrote in a comment on the technology Web site. “Perhaps, but no worse than the lunch counter sit-ins did.”

John Markoff and Ashlee Vance contributed reporting from San Francisco.



Wednesday, December 8, 2010

STD fears sparked case against WikiLeaks boss

WASHINGTON (Reuters) The two Swedish women who accuse WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sexual misconduct were at first not seeking to bring charges against him. They just wanted to track him down and persuade him to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, according to several people in contact with his entourage at the time.

The women went to the police together after they failed to persuade Assange to go to a doctor after separate sexual encounters with him in August, according to these people, who include former close associates of Assange who have since fallen out with him.

The women had trouble finding Assange because he had turned off his cellphone out of concern his enemies might trace him, these sources said.

Assange, who was arrested and held in custody by a British court Tuesday, has both admirers and detractors. His WikiLeaks group publishes secret documents from governments and companies, most recently making public a vast trove of U.S. State Department cables between Washington and embassies abroad that have cast a revealing and sometimes embarrassing eye on the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy.

Assange's elusiveness may have worked against him in the Swedish investigation, which might well have gone nowhere had he taken the women's calls and not left Sweden when police started looking into the allegations.

The Swedish investigation has undergone head-spinning twists and turns. After initially issuing a warrant for Assange's arrest on rape and molestation charges in mid-August, a Swedish prosecutor dropped the rape charge the next day. After this U-turn, it appeared likely that the whole investigation of the 39-year-old Australian computer hacker would be abandoned.

Assange's accusers then hired a lawyer who declared he would press prosecutors not only to keep the investigation going but to reinstate rape charges. The case was soon transferred to one of Sweden's three Directors of Public Prosecutions, Marianne Ny, who indeed decided to reinstate the rape investigation and continue the molestation probe. She ordered that Assange should be subject to official interrogation about the allegations.

After Assange left the country, Swedish authorities issued a European arrest warrant under which Assange could be detained and returned to Sweden. A spokeswoman for Swedish prosecutors affirmed, however, that at the moment Assange is not formally charged in Sweden with any criminal offense, but is only wanted for questioning.


The most serious accusation Swedish prosecutors made against him in a statement on their website is that he committed "rape, less serious crime" -- the least serious of three levels of rape charges that are on the statute books in Sweden. Conviction carries a maximum four year jail sentence and a minimum of less than two years, depending upon the circumstances.

As described by several people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle at the time the allegations against him surfaced, both of his accusers are young Swedish women who came into contact with him during a visit to Sweden on behalf of WikiLeaks.

One of the women, identified in the British court hearing on Sweden's extradition request as Miss A, was listed on publicity for Assange's Swedish visit as a spokesperson for a group hosting the WikiLeaks leader.

People who were in contact with both Assange and other members of his entourage at the time say that the woman at some point invited him to stay at her residence.

Assange's financial resources are opaque, but by most accounts he maintains an austere lifestyle, supporting himself on the donations of wealthy and not-so-rich supporters and overnighting in a succession of friends' spare rooms.

According to the accounts of Assange's associates, his overnight stays at his erstwhile spokeswoman's residence soon evolved into a sexual relationship between the two. During one of their encounters, the woman later said, a condom Assange was wearing broke or split.

People who saw Assange and the woman in the days after this incident is said to have occurred said the two displayed little if any obvious sign of tension or hostility; to some who saw them at the time, it was not clear their relationship was anything other than amicable and chaste.

A few days later, however, people who were in contact with Assange then told Reuters, a second, younger woman went to a seminar addressed by Assange.


According to an account published by London's Daily Mail -- which said it had access to heavily redacted versions of the statements both women made to Swedish police -- the second woman had become obsessed by Assange after watching him on television. After hearing him speak at the seminar, the newspaper said, the woman, identified in court as Miss W, loitered outside the meeting hall, and eventually was invited to lunch with Assange and his entourage at a local bistro.

A day after their initial meeting -- which the Mail account said included a visit to a natural history museum -- Miss W agreed with Assange that he should spend the night at her apartment about 45 minutes outside Stockholm. The paper says she had to pay for his $15 train ticket because he had no cash and didn't want to use a credit card in case it would help authorities locate him.

That night, according to the accounts of both the newspaper and people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle, he and Miss W had sex using a condom.

The next morning, however, under circumstances which remain deeply murky, the sources said, Assange allegedly had sex with the woman again, this time without a condom. Then, after a meal during which the Mail says that the woman joked that she could be pregnant, they parted on friendly terms, with Miss W buying Assange his train ticket back to Stockholm.

Two people who were in contact with Assange's entourage before, during and after these events said that while some details are still unclear, it appears that after parting from Assange, Miss W became increasingly concerned that he might have given her a sexually-transmitted disease.

According to the sources, Miss W anxiously tried to phone Assange to plead with him to go to a doctor and be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. However, the sources said that Assange had turned his phone off, leaving Miss W no way to get in touch with him.

Becoming increasingly anxious about possible dire consequences of having had sex without a condom, Miss W then began trying to contact Assange through various people she believed were in touch with him.
This eventually led her to Miss A -- who according to people who followed the case closely was not previously acquainted with Miss W.


The two women proceeded to compare notes on their encounters with Assange and decided that they would insist that he should go to a hospital or doctor and submit to testing for sexually-transmitted diseases. Eventually they managed to get in touch with Assange, according to a person who closely followed the case at the time.

But by the time the women had wrung this concession from Assange, the source said, it was a Friday evening and hospitals and medical clinics were closed.

At this point, Miss W, apparently exasperated at Assange's evasive behavior, decided to take her story to police, though initially she didn't want Assange to be prosecuted.

According to a version of the story published by London's Guardian newspaper, which has been in close and continuing contact with Assange for months, Miss A decided to go to the police with Miss W to offer moral support, but did not want charges brought against Assange either.

After taking statements from the women, according to both published accounts and to accounts confirmed by Swedish officials at the time, police officers passed the reports on to prosecutors. Based on the reports a prosecutor serving after-hours duty on a Friday night then decided to issue a warrant for Assange's arrest on suspicion of rape -- a charge which the Guardian said at the time was related to Assange's alleged encounter with Miss W.

The next morning, however, the file was sent for review to a more senior prosecutor, who concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the rape accusation and canceled the arrest warrant. But the second prosecutor decided that the investigation should continue as a lesser accusation of "molestation" against Assange, Swedish officials said at the time.

Over the following several days, prosecutors spoke about wanting to question Assange, though also dropped heavy hints that they wanted to wrap up their investigation rapidly -- with the most likely outcome being a closing of the file.

However, new life was injected into the investigation after Miss A and Miss W hired Claes Borgstrom, a prominent Swedish lawyer. Borgstrom confirmed to reporters at the time that his clients' allegations against Assange related to efforts he made to have sex with them without wearing condoms, and his subsequent reluctance to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Borgstrom said at the time that he would appeal the authorities' initial decision to close the rape investigation to a higher authority. Subsequently, Marianne Ny, one of three senior Swedish prosecutors who hold the title of Director of Public Prosecutions, issued a statement about the case, which, in an official translation published on the English language page of the Swedish Prosecution Authority's website, declared that: "There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed. Considering information available at present, my judgment is that the classification of the crime is rape."

In their official statement, prosecutors added that the original "molestation" investigation of Assange -- which was never officially closed -- also would continue and "will be extended to include all allegations in the original police report... There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed. Based on the information available, the crimes in question come under the heading of sexual coercion and sexual molestation, respectively."

In a flurry of statements and Twitter messages after the case first erupted, Assange and WikiLeaks charged that the whole Swedish case was the product of some kind of "dirty tricks campaign" related to the group's work. In one Tweet, WikiLeaks said that "The charges are without basis and their issue at the moment is deeply disturbing." Another Tweet said: "We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks'. Now we have the first one."

Assange kept to this theme in subsequent statements to the media. "I know by experience that WikiLeaks' enemies will continue to bandy around things even after they have been renounced. I don't know who's behind this but we have been warned that, for example, the Pentagon plans to use dirty tricks to spoil things for us."

But Assange was also quoted saying that he had "never, whether in Sweden or in any other country, had sex with anyone in a way that is not founded on mutual consent."

The Swedish prosecutor, Ny, said Tuesday the case was a personal matter and not connected with his work releasing secret U.S. diplomatic cables. "I want to make it clear that I have not been put under any kind of pressure, political or otherwise," Ny said in a statement.

Tuesday, a lawyer representing the Swedish government laid out for a British judge four specific charges of sexual misconduct, three related to Miss A and one related to Miss W. The word "rape" was not part of the charges but "unlawful coercion" and Assange's alleged reluctance to use condoms was.

Assange understood in August that Swedish authorities were seeking to question him about sexual misconduct charges, but the WikiLeaks founder left the country anyway, fearing a "media circus," according to someone who spoke with him at the time.

By bolting Sweden without appearing for interrogation, however, Assange forced the Swedes and British to launch an international legal effort that has created precisely the kind of media extravaganza he hoped to avoid.

(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Jim Impoco and Claudia Parsons)


Brief and to the Point:

This whole thing sounds like rubbish to us...


John Lennon fans to gather on 30th anniversary of death

                           John Lennon John Lennon was killed two months after his 40th birthday

Tributes are to be paid to former Beatle John Lennon later to mark the 30th anniversary of his murder.

Fans will gather at a memorial garden in Central Park, New York, opposite the apartment block where he was shot dead.

A vigil will also be held in Liverpool at a monument dedicated to the singer where fans will light candles and sing his songs.

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has urged people to remember him with "deep love and respect".

She said: "On this tragic anniversary, please join me in remembering John.

"In his short-lived life of 40 years, he has given so much to the world. The world was lucky to have known him. We still learn so much from him today."
'He made us proud'

Ono was with Lennon when he was killed by crazed fan Mark Chapman outside the Dakota building in Manhattan, where the couple lived.

Ono will lead the tributes at a charity concert she has organised in Japan called Dream Power John Lennon Super Live, which raises money for schools for deprived children all over the world.

Events will also take place across Liverpool - Lennon's home city - to remember the singer.

Pat Simpson, from Blackpool, was among those who made the pilgrimage to the city's Cavern Club on the anniversary.
Yoko Ono Lennon's widow Yoko Ono paid tribute at a concert in Tokyo

"I remember I was on my way to work when I heard," she recalled of 9 December 1980, the morning after Lennon was shot. "I can remember sitting on the bus and had tears rolling down my cheeks.

"Somebody had a radio and it was announced that he had died."

Another fan, Jim Collins, from Liverpool, said: "It was a bit like the night we found out Kennedy had been shot, the same sort of experience in terms of shock.

"Like all the Beatles, he made us proud to be Liverpudlians at a bad time for Liverpool in terms of depression and everything. But not only that, I think everybody loves his music."

A vigil will be held in the city's Chavasse Park on Wednesday.

On Thursday, charity concert Lennon Remembered - The 9 Faces of John will feature the Liverpudlian's friends and bandmates from his first band, The Quarrymen, performing his most famous songs.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Santana Unveils New Covers Disc in Vegas

By  Chris Steffen

Carlos Santana knows the power of a good guest vocalist: His 1999 album Supernatural, which paired the guitarist with a youthful cast of star singers, sold 28 million copies. His forthcoming Guitar Heaven (out September 21st) tweaks the formula, teaming Santana with singers to cover a healthily diverse mix of guitar-centric rock tracks. (See the song listing below.) Santana invited three of his new partners — Chris Daughtry, India.Arie and Gavin Rossdale — when he debuted the album last Wednesday, in a special edition of his residency at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel.

Before the show, Sony Music mogul Clive Davis (who signed Santana in 1969) played eight cuts from the disc for journalists and guests like NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton and Mary Wilson of the Supremes. Two big highlights: Surprisingly heavy renditions of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” featuring Nas and Janelle Monáe, and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” punctuated by Chris Cornell screaming his head off.  When the band came onstage, they powered through “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Maria Maria” (staples of the Santana residency) before bringing out India.Arie, who put a feminine, earthy spin on George Harrison's “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” as Olivia Harrison, George's widow, watched. “When I think of that song," Arie told Rolling Stone, "I always had this vision of George Harrison being at home with his wife and his kids, and going in at five o’clock in the morning and playing his guitar to himself. I imagined that and put a sensual energy on it.”

Chris Daughtry, who met Santana for the first time in rehearsal, offered a spirited take on Def Leppard’s “Photograph.” “I don’t have the Joe Elliott range, but I’ll do what I can with it,” Daughtry had warned, but he nailed all the big notes and brought the crowd to its feet.

Gavin Rossdale bounced around the stage while singing T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” and the evening’s highlight, “She’s Not There” by the Zombies, which morphed into a free-form jam as Santana issued precision licks and wails of feedback. Earlier in the day, Rossdale gushed about a prized memento from the Guitar Heaven recording sessions: a “gracious and mind-blowing” thank-you note from Santana, which the Bush singer says he has affixed to his bathroom wall.

“You see Carlos onstage and the way he approaches the instrument and the passion he brings to his music,” Clive Davis said after the show.  “Ecstasy is the word, when you see him playing.” Davis, meanwhile, literally crossed his fingers when suggested Guitar Heaven might reach the commercial heights attained by Supernatural. Santana’s passion — and Rolodex — can’t even guarantee that.

Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time
“Whole Lotta Love” featuring Chris Cornell (Led Zeppelin)

“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” featuring Scott Weiland (The Rolling Stones)

“Sunshine Of Your Love” featuring Rob Thomas (Cream)

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” featuring india.arie and Yo-Yo Ma (The Beatles)

“Dance the Night Away”
featuring Pat Monahan (Van Halen)

“Back In Black” featuring Nas and Janelle Monáe (AC/DC)

“Riders On the Storm”
featuring Chester Bennington and Ray Manzarek (The Doors)

“Smoke On the Water”
featuring Jacoby Shaddix (Deep Purple)

“Photograph” featuring Chris Daughtry (Def Leppard)

“Bang A Gong”
featuring Gavin Rossdale (T. Rex)

“Little Wing” featuring Joe Cocker (Jimi Hendrix)

“I Ain’t Superstitious” featuring Jonny Lang (Howlin’ Wolf, Jeff Beck Group)


Rolling Stone Reveals the Joys of Vamp Sex

If you watch “True Blood,” there really isn’t much on the latest cover of Rolling Stone that you haven’t already seen before, rivulets and spatters of blood included.

The hit HBO show is known for unabashedly delving into a mix of blood, sex and violence that even at its most disturbing – as some called the scene from an earlier season three episode, in which Bill literally made Lorena’s head spin in the bedroom – it leaves viewers thirsting for more.

"True Blood" creator Alan Ball said he wouldn't have it any other way, regardless of how many fictional awkward teen girls spring forth to pine for their sex-refusing vampire boyfriends. If it's about vampires, Ball told Rolling Stone, it's got to have some sex.

"To me, vampires are sex," Ball told the magazine. "I don't get a vampire story about abstinence. I'm 53. I don't care about high school students. I find them irritating and uninformed."

And so of course, in the middle of an article that traces the growth of the bloody phenomenon through the perspective of its stars, we get tidbits about how the actors deal with all of that nudity.

Anna Paquin, for one, admits to wearing a “patch” – a piece of attire that resembles a thong with the sides cut off – when she’s got to film a nude scene as her alter-ego Sookie Stackhouse. For men, there’s the “sock” option to cover the goods.

But while Stephen Moyer, who plays Sookie’s vampire lover Bill Compton, wears a sock on set (not that he has “anything to hide," he assured Rolling Stone), Alexander Skarsgard, who portrays the vampire Eric Northman, wants nothing to do with the tube of modesty.

“I don’t want a sock around it, it feels ridiculous,” Skarsgard said to Rolling Stone. “If we’re naked in the scene, then I’m naked. I’ve always been that way.”

Who, pray tell, could ever be melancholy on that kind of set?

“[W]orking on ‘Six Feet Under’ could sometimes be depressing, but ‘True Blood’ is very different,” Ball said of his two series, (the former of which came to an end in 2005). “It’s about archetypes, the subconscious, mythology and wish-fulfillment. I’m like a kid going to the playground everyday.”

You can read more on "True Blood's" sexy success in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.


2010 Emmys: Jewel Sings During In Memoriam

Jewel Kilcher led a touching in memoriam tribute at the 2010 Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, August 29 night, playing an unrecorded song she wrote for a close friend who recently died of cancer.

The singer took to the stage for an acoustic version of "The Shape of You" as a montage of tributes to stars who recently passed away played in the background. Beloved stars Jimmy Dean, Gary Coleman, Rue McClanahan, Dixie Carter, Lynn Redgrave, Lena Horne and Dennis Hopper were among those included in the Emmy in memoriam segment.

Jewel revealed the song's personal nature during the Emmy pre-show, confessing it would be difficult for her to sing live: "It's a song I wrote for a friend that passed away. It's a personal song and it's not recorded... Hopefully it will have a lot of heart and hopefully people enjoy it. I'm really happy to be able to sing for people who lost a love one. It's a hard song for me to sing."



Complete List of Emmy Winners 2010

Actor, comedy series: Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory," CBS

Actress, comedy series: Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie," Showtime

Supporting actor, comedy series: Eric Stonestreet, "Modern Family," ABC

Supporting actress, comedy series: Jane Lynch, "Glee," Fox

Writing, comedy series: Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, "Modern Family," ABC

Directing for a comedy series: Ryan Murphy, "Glee," Fox

Drama: "Mad Men," AMC

Actor, drama series: Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad," AMC

Actress, drama series: Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer," TNT

Supporting actor, drama series: Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad," AMC

Supporting actress, drama series: Archie Panjabi, "The Good Wife," CBS

Writing, drama series: Matthew Weiner, Erin Levy, "Mad Men," AMC

Directing, drama series: Steve Shill, "Dexter," Showtime

Reality competition program: "Top Chef," Bravo

Writing, variety, music or comedy special: "63rd Annual Tony Awards," CBS

Directing, variety, music or comedy special: Bucky Gunts, "Vancouver 2010 Winter Games Opening Ceremony," NBC

Variety, music or comedy series: "The Daily Show," Comedy Central

Miniseries: "The Pacific," HBO

Movie: "Temple Grandin," HBO

Actor, miniseries or movie:
Al Pacino, "You Don't Know Jack," HBO

Actress, miniseries or movie: Claire Danes, "Temple Grandin," HBO

Supporting actor, miniseries or movie: David Strathairn, "Temple Grandin," HBO

Supporting actress, miniseries or movie: Julia Ormond, "Temple Grandin," HBO

Writing, miniseries, movie or dramatic special:
Adam Mazer, "You Don't Know Jack," HBO

Directing, miniseries, movie or dramatic special: Mick Jackson, "Temple Grandin," HBO

Friday, August 27, 2010

Robert Plant: 'I feel so far away from heavy rock'

Ahead of the release of his new album, Band of Joy, Robert Plant talks to Andy Gill about the move from fronting the biggest band in the world to his success in exploring a diverse range of styles, from vocal harmony and country to North African and Arabic

For a star of his magnitude, once the singer in the biggest band on the planet, frontman of the only group to seriously challenge the Rolling Stones' perennial claim on being the raunchiest of rockers, Robert Plant has managed to retain an admirably down-to-earth attitude to life. Matey and approachable in circumstances to which most stars react with bristling petulance, Plant seems to have mellowed well with age – as too has his music, which, over the years, has developed a burnished grain and texture comparable to that of the folk and blues heroes who originally inspired him to pick up what he calls "the great flaming torch of rock'n'roll" and run with it.

These days, he's more fascinated with the acoustic subtleties of North African scales and North American harmonies than with the bludgeoning power of electric blues-based rock music. Indeed, when Plant went to see his former Led Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones's new rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures at the Royal Albert Hall a few months back, he admits his ears "bled for two days" after the sonic assault. "But I feel so far away from heavy rock now," he reflects. "It's quite odd, how mine and John's paths seem to have crossed over – we've sort of gone into each others' worlds a bit."

It's an intriguing development, and one which could hardly have been foreseen during Plant's tenure with Led Zeppelin, when his falsetto shrieks and erotic double entendres combined with Jimmy Page's steamroller riffs to effectively invent the heavy rock grammar. Founded in the late 1960s, initially as The New Yardbirds – an attempt to glean some publicity from Jimmy Page's status as the last of The Yardbirds' stellar guitarists – Led Zeppelin were an alliance of extraordinary talents. Bass-player John Paul Jones, like Page, was a veteran session musician whose facility with keyboards and as an arranger would help furnish some of the textural depth that set Zeppelin apart from their peers. John Bonham, a friend of Plant's from the Midlands heartland of heavy rock, was perhaps rock's greatest powerhouse drummer, eschewing the fussy jazz filigree of such as Cream's Ginger Baker and Jimi Hendrix Experience's Mitch Mitchell in favour of a crunching, dynamic rhythmic undercarriage that was strong enough to carry the heaviest of riffs.

Jimmy Page himself was a dazzling technician with a questing, experimental spirit: even at the band's earliest shows, he was playing guitar with a bow, and incorporating a small Theremin to broaden the sonic palette with outlandish electronic effects. I vividly recall seeing the band in its infancy at Nottingham's Boat Club, where, despite packing as many decibels as groups like Earth (later Black Sabbath) and Free, the massive riff-driven songs boasted a superior finesse and subtlety which has rarely been equalled by later generations of heavy rockers.

But it was Robert Plant who was the decisive onstage presence, the quintessential rock'n'roll combination of sylph-like grace, crushed-velvet style and banshee blues-wail falsetto, capped with the waterfall of blond ringlets which, even as he turns 62, still form a resplendent cascade down his back. Although his countenance is more gnarled than in his youth, he yet commands the kind of rough-hewn appeal that doubtless still charms the pants off ladies half his age. Since his marriage ended in 1983, Plant has settled into a comfortable lifestyle as a rural rock squire, whose girlfriends have included the singers Najma Akhtar, Alannah Myles, and Tori Amos, his most substantial recent relationship being with Jessica Jupp. He had three children with his wife Maureen: Carmen Jane, Logan Romero and Karac Pendragon (who, sadly, died aged five in 1977); and another son, Jesse Lee.

Plant's distinctive mane of hair, in certain situations, continues to exert a strange fascination. "When I played in Essakane [in Mali, home of the Festival in the Desert] about five years ago," he recalls, "we were rehearsing 'Whole Lotta Love' in this tent, and it filled up with locals who, I later found out, were mainly discussing whether I was a woman. I thought it was because of my singing, but no, they just wanted to know if I was a chick!"

But at least their reaction was more restrained than that of the local women who were hired for a North African video shoot to promote one of Plant's 1980s solo releases.

"I got chased around the sand dunes by a bunch of women we'd hired to come over the dunes doing that Berber dance thing," he chuckles. "I'm singing this bollocks, 'what kind of fool am I...', and whenever we went out of sight of the cameras, they were just chasing me, trying to get hold of my old chap, to have a look! If there'd been a good-looking one, I could have done a deal, but as it was, I kept shouting, 'for god's sake, roll the camera!', and when I came over the top of the dune, I was flushed from running. They just didn't give a toss, 'cos they were either widows or prostitutes, so they had no social status. And they were miles away from their villages, so they were just running wild."

The story makes for an ironic comparison with the singer's time in Led Zeppelin, when the band became notorious for the carnal excesses to which they subjected groupies.

Led Zeppelin still exert a powerful grip on many rock fans, as witnessed by the response to the group's 2007 comeback performance at the O2 arena in tribute to Atlantic Records' late founder Ahmet Ertegun. But not, oddly enough, for Plant himself, the only original member of the band less than enamoured with the prospect of a longer-term reunion, turning down a reputed $200m offer to re-form the band on a longer-term basis. But then, by the time that show was being planned, the alternative career which he had spent over two decades developing was bearing spectacular fruit with the Raising Sand album recorded with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss. Released a couple of months before the Zep reunion show, it went on to scoop a shedload of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

Raising Sand effectively condensed into more potent form Plant's growing fascination with folk and country music, which is extended on his forthcoming follow-up album, Band of Joy (named after his Sixties group). This features a diverse selection of material ranging from antique blues and folk pieces such as "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" and "Cindy, I'll Marry You One Day", to songs written by Townes Van Zandt, Los Lobos, Richard Thompson and indie trio Low, made over in a variety of American roots styles.

Jangly folk guitars, banjos and mandolins collude with the deep, throbbing Native American pow-wow rhythms, skirling electric guitar drones, glistening pedal steel, chain-gang gravel-shaker percussion, Fifties rockabilly twang and vocal harmonies which draw on both gospel and Appalachian mountain music. Not once does Plant attempt the sky-splitting, larynx-shredding screams for which he was once renowned; instead, the more reflective, homely warmth of Raising Sand is employed to throw new light on further hidden corners of American musical heritage.

"For me, it's no longer to do with vanity, ego, and visible success," says Plant. "It's just about getting down into the earth of music. I spent three, four, five years never playing a Zeppelin song, from 1981 onwards, because I didn't just want to lean on Zeppelin. I've gone from being in that huge band to picking up the pieces of my own gift."

His friendship with Alison Krauss seems to have reignited in Plant a long-dormant affinity for the simple pleasures of family music. "She loves to sit around in the parlour singing those old songs with whichever family's coming into town," he explains, "in the same way that my grandfather used to do in the Black Country: they'd sit around with fiddles and sing. I never thought it had much relevance, until I realised that all of my memories of my father's father were jubilant. He was very funny, and he was the founder member of a famous Black Country brass band, he played piano, trombone and fiddle. My dad played fiddle as well. Three Roberts, we were."

Somewhere along the way, however, that family connection became strained in a way which was not the case, he realised, with the American musicians in the Raising Sand band, especially guitarist/singer Buddy Miller, who serves as musical director of Band of Joy.

"When I was a kid, I was following black soul music," he explains. "Deep soul, from the American South, what in the end was bastardised into Northern Soul. I remember taking the money from my Saturday jobs and sending off for an import copy of James Brown Live at the Apollo, on King Records, very heavy vinyl.

"But if you go through all the little black soul labels around the various cities – Philadelphia, LA, Houston, wherever – the Memphis records had a real edge [this was before Stax]. And as well as his Nashville country references, Buddy had all these rhythm'n'blues points of reference as a guitarist and songwriter which we weren't privy to over here in the UK – we only got the hits over here, on labels like Stateside and London American.

"These people that I meet have got way more depth than I have – I mean, I know lots of stuff, but it's quite fluffy in certain areas! But they've just got it, they lived with it all the way through, from the radio, from their uncles and aunts, whereas my parents' approach to the music of my adolescence was one of horror, because of what it represented. Yet my father was the same age as John Lee Hooker, who was in Detroit singing 'Boogie Chillen' the year I was born! In America, whether it be Woody Guthrie, Fats Domino, the early Elvis, all those guys up in the mountains, music was coming out of the churches and from around the fireplaces, off the steam radio, onto the street, and it gambolled out."

This notion – of what's known as a "big sing" – is central to Plant's current endeavours, which is why Patty Griffin has been drafted in to provide harmonies alongside Buddy Miller, who previously sang sweet back-up on many Emmylou Harris records. After years of being the lone frontman, the idea of sharing the vocal spotlight with others is something Plant finds very refreshing.

"There are always generic terms like 'Americana'," he acknowledges, "but there are no boundaries as to where it can go." Not that boundaries have figured that highly in Plant's career anyway. Even during the Led Zeppelin years, the group's core blues-rock riffs were frequently augmented with folk music and the kind of North African influences (as on the mighty "Kashmir") which would provide inspiration for parts of Plant's solo career. He first encountered this beguiling Arabic strain on his first visit to Marrakesh in 1970, when he was "driven to distraction" by the Egyptian singer Oum Kalsoum.

"I was intrigued by the scales, initially, and obviously the vocal work," he says. "The way she sang, the way she could hold a note, you could feel the tension, you could tell that everybody, the whole orchestra, would hold a note until she wanted to change. When I first heard the way she would dance down through the scale to land on a beautiful note that I couldn't even imagine singing, it was huge: somebody had blown a hole in the wall of my understanding of vocals. There was just no window for it here, literally nothing at all in 1970 that said, 'this is the music of these people called Berbers, they move around the Sahara, they speak the same language despite being separated by vast distances, they have their own culture, they were the people who inhabited North Africa before the Arab invaders, and they are a uniquely spectacular people, both in terms of song and appearance and culture'."

For all that, the more Plant investigated this (then) alien music, the more correspondences he found with Western music.

"If you play North African chord progressions, quite often you'll find that it's similar to the way that Pentangle, or whomever, played," he explains. "There's a similarity between European and North African folk musics. The early Cheb Khaled stuff, I used to buy the cassettes in Morocco, and go home and work out the chord progressions, and it was 'Matty Groves'! Everybody's going round the same things."

Likewise, Plant finds many correspondences and links between traditional British folk music and the country music of the American south.

"Once I'd found these old bits of creaking music echoing down from the hills, there's so much of what I'd always wanted there to be in Britain there, which is very hard to find in these islands now," he reflects. "I think a lot of the stuff that I experienced in Tennessee and around there is basically music of the 18th and 19th centuries from these islands which came over with British and Irish settlers; but it's alive and well, and not being reduced to some kind of glorious middle-aged celebration of pissing it all up the wall. We are a little island, and because the music entertainment structure is so minimal, you aren't allowed to encourage fringe work to become mainstream. There should be a healthy scene that runs alongside cabaret for people of a certain age, so it doesn't have to be Lulu or David Essex, the Tin Pan Alley stuff. That's my current infection – that with the right apparatus, I can continue this adventure in finding out: it's not even looking for obscurities, it's looking for something that's tangible."

Then again, even the tangible traces of history and heritage are always dependent on where you're coming from, and which way you're heading, as Plant discovered when he was in Mississippi recently to sponsor a blues-heritage plaque in association with the University of Mississippi Historical Society.

"There's a general store in Friars Point, Mississippi, run by a Jewish family, and it's where Robert Johnson used to play outside of when he was in town," he says. "I went in there and bought some snacks, it was a pretty beat-up old place, in a not particularly affluent area, and I said to the old guy in there, 'how do you deal with the fact that, for many Europeans, this is a place connected with a blues legend?'

"'Oh, don't talk to me about Robert Johnson!' he said. 'My father used to moan and moan in his old age over how much business we had lost because Robert Johnson always chose to sing under our awning.' There'd be a huge crowd gathered around to watch him play, and customers couldn't get to the store! You don't get that in Rochdale, much as you'd like to. It's not part of the natural flow of these islands."

'Band of Joy' is released on 13 September



Thursday, August 26, 2010

Glenn Beck Rally Will be a Meaure of 'tea party' Strength

When Fox News and talk radio host Glenn Beck comes to Washington this weekend to headline a rally intended to "restore honor" to America, he will test the strength - and potentially expose the weaknesses - of a conservative grass-roots movement that remains an unpredictable force in the country's politics.

Beck, who is both admired and assailed for his faith-based patriotism and his brash criticism of President Obama, plans in part to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero. He will speak on the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech, from the spot where King delivered it.

Some "tea party" activists say the event, at which former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is also scheduled to speak, will have a greater impact than last September's "9/12" march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Although the attendance figures for that anti-tax rally are disputed, it was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and influence of the tea party movement.

But with just a few days before the Beck rally, basic questions linger, including how big it will be and whether the event, which Beck says is nonpolitical, will help or hurt Republicans in November. Also unanswered is whether Beck can pull off the connection to King without creating offense - or confrontation with another event the same day led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Beck said in a recent broadcast that he did not intentionally choose the "I Have a Dream" anniversary for his rally - but that he believes the coincidence is "divine providence."

"Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln," he said. "Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Those are American icons, American ideas, and we should just talk about character, and that's really what this event is about. It's about honoring character."

The rally, which is also being billed as a tribute to U.S. troops, will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Video screens and sound towers will be positioned along the reflecting pool and as far east as the Washington Monument.

It will be a weekend of political activity, with tea party organizer FreedomWorks hosting a convention in Washington on Friday, Beck's and Sharpton's events Saturday, and a major effort by Democrats to knock on 200,000 doors nationwide Saturday and Sunday.

Beck is expecting as many as 100,000 people and is heavily promoting his event on his TV and radio shows. Sharpton expects a smaller number for an annual commemoration of the "Dream" speech. That event, which focuses on education, will begin at 11 a.m. with speeches at Dunbar High School in Northwest. It will continue with a march to the site of the planned King memorial, at the same end of the Mall as the Lincoln Memorial, placing participants of both events in close proximity.

Little comment from GOP

Beck says his event, "Restoring Honor," is not intended to rally voters to the polls in November's midterm elections. No signs are allowed, and not one elected official currently in office will be part of the program. Operatives at virtually every Republican committee in Washington claimed little or no knowledge of the event.

They might well have cause to be squeamish: Beck has accused Obama of reverse racism and of having "a deep-seated hatred of white people," and his plan to celebrate the lessons of the civil rights era creates the possibility of confrontations. It could also result in damaging imagery, similar to the photos that emerged from some early tea party gatherings, which Democrats could use to paint Republicans as extreme. That may explain why the event is being met with near-total silence by Republicans.

"In general, people coming to Washington, being organized and active is a good thing," said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele. "But I gotta be honest with you - I don't know about any Glenn Beck event."

Democrats aren't passing up the chance to tie the GOP to the rally. "Republicans for well over the past year have firmly embraced the tea party and some of these right-wing fringe groups that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have rallied around, and these are becoming serious campaign liabilities in the general election," said Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The fact that they're trying to plead ignorance is just completely absurd."

Conservative activists, meanwhile, promise that the rally will show their unity and voice, as last year's 9/12 event did. Jamie Radtke, founder of the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots, predicted an event as much as twice as large as last year's, based on the number of buses that local tea party organizers have chartered. The Richmond Tea Party alone is sending 15 buses - up from seven last year, she said.

Marcus Kindley, an organizer for Americans for Prosperity in Greensboro, N.C., predicted a similar showing from his region. "There's a buildup of energy out here of people frustrated because they don't think Washington's listening," Kindley said. "At 9/12, it was a wonderful coming together of people who felt like their voices weren't being heard. And I think the reason so many more are coming this year is because our voices still aren't being heard."

Beck, the third-highest-rated radio personality, has promoted the event relentlessly to his enormous audience. FreedomWorks, the tea party group that staged 9/12, is lending its organizational muscle and grass-roots network.

Effects on the midterms

It's not clear what the political effect of the rally will be. Despite the potential for conflict and bad press, it could energize a segment of conservative voters.

The disconnect between tea party groups and GOP electoral efforts has been viewed as evidence that the movement would struggle to translate its power into political results. Yet that disconnect could help draw activists Saturday who are unhappy with both major parties and would be reluctant to participate in a GOP event. Though they profess distaste for Washington, their energy would help Republicans if they turn out in November.

Sharpton, meanwhile, is expecting thousands of participants and has been promoting his event on his daily talk radio show, sending word through the grass-roots groups affiliated with his National Action Network and coordinating small rallies around the country. Spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger noted that Sharpton decided in April that his group's annual commemoration of King's speech would be in Washington this year, including a march and rally around the King memorial site, and she stressed that it is not in response to the Beck event.

But Sharpton argues that Beck's message is counter to King's. "Glenn Beck and others are expected to push for the expansion of states' rights - the exact antithesis of the civil rights movement and Dr. King's legacy," Sharpton said in a news release promoting his march. "The Tea Party and allied conservatives are trying to break that national stance on justice and, in turn, break the crux of what the civil rights movement symbolized and what Dr. King fought and literally died for."

Alveda King, the pro-life niece of Martin Luther King Jr. who will appear with Beck, disagreed.

"The theme of the 8/28 rally is not political," she said. "We're putting honor over politics. I will not be talking about any political position or any political party. I'll simply be calling all Americans to pray, to have faith, to honor god and all humanity. I am very interested in agreeing that this is not a political event and so those expecting to be offended will not receive that kind of approach from me."


Brief and to the Point:

This is an unprecedented provocation. Can the US Democracy put up with such high level of insult?

Tiger Woods: Can He Get on Course After Divorce?

Woods Leads With 65 in First Round at Barclays, Looks to Turn Season Around After Marriage Split

Tiger Woods' former wife, Elin Nordegren, may have been the one to say she's been "through hell" as the golf great's cheating scandal exploded, but the same could be said for Woods' golf game. Now with the divorce finalized, fans and golf experts alike are turning their attention on Woods in a setting he's more accustomed to, and where he could start to bounce back: on the course.

Woods teed off today at The Barclays Pro Am, shooting a first-round 65 to take the lead. His game appeared to be back on track after admitting to reporters Wednesday that the split with Nordegren was "a lot more difficult than I was letting on.

"Concentration on the golf course," he said, "at times it was difficult."

"If you watched Tiger Woods over the course of this season, there are certainly times when he looks like he wants no part of being on the golf course at all," golf writer Jason Sobel told "Good Morning America." "He looks like he would rather be anywhere but playing professional golf."

Speaking to reporters, Woods agreed.

"There were a few tournaments like that," he said. "Yeah, most of the summer was like that."

While his now ex-wife was speaking to People magazine in a headline-making interview about the divorce Wednesday, Woods was teeing off for a practice round in which he said he played "better."

"[I was] pleasantly surprised and pleased the shape of shots I was able to hit today," Woods told reporters.

But with the divorce behind him, Woods said relief is not what he's feeling.

"I don't think that's the word. I think it's just more sadness. Because I don't think you ever -- you don't ever go into a marriage looking to get divorced," he said.

Woods is running out of time to nab a tournament win before he marks his first professional career year ever without one. Woods, who has consistently been the No. 1 ranked golfer for the past three years, is starting the PGA Tour playoffs at No. 112.

Elin Nordegren Breaks Her Silence

Elin Nordegren said she wanted to save her marriage to Tiger Woods even after she was "blindsided" by his multiple affairs, but in the end the damage was irreparable and she didn't trust him.

"I've been through hell," Nordegren, whose divorce was finalized Monday, told People magazine in the issue to hit newsstands Friday.

At a press conference Wednesday preceding The Barclays, Woods called the divorce a "sad time."

"You know, it's a sad time in our lives," he said. "And we're looking forward in our lives and how we can help our kids the best way we possibly can. And that's the important thing."

Nordegren: 'I Never Suspected'

"I never suspected, not a one," she said in the exclusive interview. "For the last three-and-a-half years, when all this was going on, I was home a lot more with pregnancies, then the children and my school."

And even though she tried to shield her two young children as much as possible, daughter Sam, 3, picked up on her grief, asking, "Mommy, where is your boo-boo?"

While she has withheld some details, Nordegren, 30, said she is speaking out now because she wants to set the record straight and also sees opening up as a step toward healing. But she told People she had no intention of addressing the matters again, saying she hoped she and her children could get the privacy they needed to adjust to their new lives.

Despite everything Nordegren said she has no regrets and is gracious toward her ex.

"I wish him all the best in the future, as a person and as an athlete," she said. "I know he is going to go down as the best golfer that ever lived, and rightfully so. I feel privileged to have witnessed a part of his golfing career."

Nordegren's interview with People was conducted in four parts totaling 19 hours, with the Swedish-born Nordegren writing down some of her answers to make sure her English was accurately describing her feelings.

"She's still in a bad place, but getting better," People Magazine Deputy Managing Editor Peter Castro told "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "This is a woman with incredible grace and poise and really a model for how you should repair your life."

Nordegren's seemingly perfect life started to unravel in a public way in November, when Woods crashed his SUV outside the family's Florida home.

In the days that followed, there were reports of an alleged relationship between Woods, 34, and a New York City nightclub hostess. Before long, several other allegations were made about even more women.

And there was the now infamous voicemail, purportedly left by Woods for cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs.

In the message, a panicked voice identified as Woods by US Weekly apparently begs Grubbs to change her voicemail greeting. The voicemail is from Nov. 24, the day before reports of his alleged affairs surfaced, according to US Weekly.

"Hey it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor," the caller says in the message. "Can you please, uh, take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. If you can, please take your name off that and, um, what do you call it, just have it as a number on the voice mail. Just have it as your telephone number. You have to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye."

Couple Tried 'Really Hard' to Save Marriage

In the end, Woods was rumored to have been involved with more than a dozen women, including a porn star.

He eventually admitted he cheated. In an effort to save his marriage, he took time off from golf and sought treatment in a private clinic.

As all this unfolded, Nordegren said she experienced "absolute shock and disbelief."

"I felt stupid as more things were revealed -- how could I not have known anything? The word 'betrayal' isn't strong enough. I felt embarrassed for having been so deceived. I felt betrayed by many people around me," she said.

Even so, she wanted the marriage to work.


Brazil’s Election: All over Bar the Voting?

There are 40 days to go until Brazil’s general elections on October 3 and as everybody knows, that is a very long time in politics. But at present it is hard to imagine any other outcome than a resounding victory in the presidential race for Dilma Rousseff, chosen successor to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the left-wing PT, in power for the last eight years as the most popular president in Brazilian history.

An opinion poll published today gives Dilma an 18 point lead over her nearest rival, José Serra of the centrist opposition PSDB. Serra led most opinion polls until last month, largely, it now seems, because he was simply better known. His hope was to maintain enough momentum to force Dilma into a two-way run-off on October 31. But the latest polls give Dilma more votes than all other candidates combined – enough to secure outright victory in the first round.

Dilma’s campaign has been quick to exploit her commanding lead.
Serra’s campaign is in disarray. He seems to be running on a single issue: his achievements as health minister a decade ago and his investments in health services as mayor of São Paulo city and governor of São Paulo state. He has taken up valuable column inches accusing Evo Morales of Bolivia of running cocaine into Brazil, accusing the PT of links to the FARC in Colombia and accusing the government of censoring Brazil’s press – surely one of the most uncensored in the world.

None of this has anything to do with his programme for government. Indeed, it is hard to see what his programme is. It should be to continue the overhaul of the Brazilian state begun in the 1990s by his party colleague Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Instead, Serra has allowed Dilma to position herself as the champion of orthodoxy and fiscal responsibility, floating the possibility of a “positive shock” like that delivered by Lula in 2003, his first year in office.

Then, Lula enacted a partial reform of the public pensions system and cut public spending, before allowing it to expand thereafter. Dilma’s aides are promising to lower the government’s inflation target and increase its primary budget surplus (before debt payments – including those, the government is running a deficit). Whether this will be a short-term bid to win over investors or the beginnings of root and branch reform, Brazilians look very likely to find out soon.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sao Paulo Shoppers Send Emerging Consumer Stocks to Lone Gain

Emerging-market consumer stocks are posting the only gains among 20 industry groups since MSCI Inc.’s gauge of global shares peaked in April as investors bet shoppers from Moscow to Sao Paulo will provide a haven amid signs the global recovery is faltering.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Consumer Staples Index rose 2 percent and the MSCI Emerging Markets Consumer Discretionary Index gained 1.2 percent since April 15, leaving both measures within 5 percent of their all-time highs. Every other emerging and developed-nation industry group fell, led by a 15 percent drop in the MSCI World Information Technology Index.

While the MSCI All-Country World Index has slid 11 percent from this year’s peak on stagnant U.S. jobs growth and spending cuts by European governments, retail sales are surging at an 18 percent pace in China, 11 percent in Brazil and 5 percent in Russia. The gains sent Russian grocer OAO Magnit to the highest ever price-earnings ratio relative to London-based J. Sainsbury Plc and lifted Brazilian fashion retailer Lojas Renner SA to its most expensive level compared with San Francisco-based Gap Inc.

“People are willing to buy these sectors even though they have some concerns on valuations,” said Gareth Morgan, a London-based emerging markets money manager at F&C Asset Management Plc, which oversees about $156 billion worldwide. “You’re looking for stocks and sectors with a higher degree of certainty and some of these consumer stocks fit the bill.”

Rising Incomes

Investors are counting on rising incomes in developing nations to boost demand for everything from food and cigarettes to designer shoes and cars even as increased saving rates in the developed world pare spending.

Emerging nations will account for 93 percent of the global “middle class” by 2030 -- up from 56 percent in 2000 -- and half of a projected 800 million new middle-income consumers will come from India and China, according to Citigroup Inc.

Developing countries will expand 6.4 percent as a group next year, almost three times faster than the 2.4 percent growth in advanced economies, according to International Monetary Fund estimates. Retail sales will climb an average 7.5 percent in 12 major emerging markets during 2011, compared with 2 percent growth in advanced countries, forecasts by research and consulting firm Euromonitor International show.

The savings rate in the U.S. reached the highest level in almost 18 years in June, climbing to 6.4 percent, the Commerce Department said on Aug. 3.

Growing Middle Class

The MSCI AC World index has retreated 4.1 percent this week after the Federal Reserve said the economic recovery is weakening and U.S. initial jobless claims unexpectedly climbed. The emerging consumer staples index of food, beverage and household products companies lost 1.6 percent during the period, while the discretionary gauge of clothing retailers, real-estate companies and automakers lost 3.1 percent.

“Valuations are not cheap anymore, so we may see some profit-taking here and there,” said Ivo Kovachev, a senior emerging markets money manager in London at JO Hambro Capital Management Ltd., which oversees about $6.3 billion including shares of Krasnodar-based Magnit. “But the long-term story is still there. The emergence of the middle class is the main driver.”

Emerging-market fund managers had their top “overweight” positions in consumer stocks last month, according to a survey by Bank of America Corp.

Investors are bullish even after the companies failed to post the best returns during six global equity retreats tracked by Bloomberg since MSCI’s industry indexes began in 1995. When the MSCI AC World Index tumbled 60 percent through March 2009, both the emerging-market consumer staples index and the consumer discretionary index sank more than their developed-world counterparts.

Recession Threat

Should the global economy slip back into recession, even developing-nation consumer stocks may not be a haven, said Deborah Medenica, the global head of emerging-market equities at PineBridge Investments LLC, which has about $90 billion under management in New York.

“What this downturn has shown is that market correlations are high,” Medenica said. “If there’s a fear of double dip re- emerging no one is safe from that.”

Magnit, which operates a chain of discount supermarkets in Russia, is trading at 31 times per-share earnings during the past 12 months, almost triple the ratio of 11 at U.K. grocer Sainsbury, according to monthly data compiled by Bloomberg. Renner of Porto Alegre, Brazil’s biggest publicly traded clothing retailer, has a price-earnings ratio of 26, compared with 10.3 for Gap, the operator of Old Navy and Banana Republic clothing chains. The 152 percent premium is near the record 162 percent reached on July 30, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

‘Domestic Society’

India’s ITC Ltd., a Kolkata-based producer of cigarettes and snack foods, is trading at 25 times analysts’ estimates for next year’s earnings, near the highest since Bloomberg began compiling the data in May 2009. Belle International Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong-based seller of women’s shoes, is valued at 30 times profit estimates, the highest since its May 2007 initial public offering, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“We’re seeing favorite opportunities specifically in China because the government is steadily shifting from an export society to a domestic society,” said Audrey Kaplan, who helps oversee $337 billion as a New York-based money manager at Federated Investors Inc. The Federated Intercontinental Fund held 1.7 million shares of Belle as of June 30, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

More Spending

Chinese retailers are benefiting from increased spending by the nation’s 1.3 billion people as the economy expands at an annual rate near 10 percent. Belle may boost earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization at a 19 percent pace over the next two years, more than double the rate of global peers, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Magnit’s earnings are forecast to climb at a 30 percent pace next year and 26 percent in 2012, analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg show. Renner’s long-term growth rate is estimated at 23 percent, while ITC may increase earnings at a 12 percent annual pace, according to analysts’ estimates.

ITC shares have climbed 21 percent in Mumbai trading since April 15, while Renner has gained 31 percent in Sao Paulo, Belle is up 20 percent in Hong Kong and Magnit’s London-listed shares have gained 13 percent.

Growing Confidence

JO Hambro’s Kovachev says rising incomes in emerging markets are boosting companies outside MSCI’s consumer indexes. He cited Ankara-based Turk Traktor & Ziraat Makineleri AS, which surged 8 percent yesterday after saying second-quarter profit more than tripled. The tractor maker is benefiting from higher spending by farmers, Kovachev said.

Turk Traktor shares are valued at 8.3 times earnings, less than half the ratio of 18 for MSCI’s global consumer discretionary index, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“People are more confident in the domestic growth in emerging markets,” said Greg Lesko, the head of emerging-market equity at Deltec Asset Management in New York, which oversees $750 million. “If you can find companies that are uniquely taking advantage of this growth it’s an opportunity.”


Thursday, August 12, 2010

School Bans Viagra When 1,000 Teachers Prescribed Erectile Dysfunction Drug

Two years ago, the Milwaukee school district decided that it was more interested in enhancing teacher performance in the classroom than the bedroom.

The district cut Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs like Cialis and Levitra from its health insurance plan, hoping to save $786,000 a year.

Officials said too many teachers were using the expensive drugs for recreation, swelling their insurance rates. An estimated 1,000 of the 10,000 school's staff, which includes employees, dependents and retirees, were using the drugs.

Now, teachers are fighting to get the benefit back with a lawsuit. The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA) argues that the new policy discriminates unfairly against men and "creates barriers" to receiving necessary medical treatment.

In recent years, several lawsuits have claimed that health plans discriminate against women by not providing contraceptives, but now medications like Viagra -- which can cost $20 a pill -- are being viewed as so-called "lifestyle" drugs.

Drug companies have invested more than $20 billion in research into drugs like weight loss pills, smoking cessation medications, hair restoration products and erectile dysfunction drugs since the 1990s, according to the scientific journal Nature.

But as budgets tighten, federally funded programs like Medicare are dropping their coverage of these expensive drugs and some employers are following suit.

In 2002, Milwaukee's school district agreed to cover six tablets a month. But when the bill skyrocketed to $207,000, the benefit was ended in 2005.

Kris Collett, spokesman for the MTEA, said the union had filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division in 2008, but it was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2009. Now, the union has appealed to the Labor and Industry Review Commission to go forward with the lawsuit.

"The health plan provides medications to women for similar medical conditions, but men are excluded from pharmacy treatment," said Collett, referring to insurance coverage for female sexual dysfunction treatments like vaginal creams, estrogen and anti-bacterial medicine.

The health plan still covers options such as penile pumps and implants, but the union says they are "far less desirable than oral medication," according to the filing.

As sparks fly, even a union-endorsed gubernatorial candidate is getting into the fray. Democrat Tom Barrett, whose wife lost her job as a teacher, has asked the union to drop the lawsuit.

Viagra for Recreation, Not Medicine

"I know you agree there are fewer issues more important to the future of our communities and our state than the education of our children," wrote Barrett in a letter to the MTEA this week. "In tough budgetary times, it's even more essential that we invest our precious education resources wisely."

"As governor I will work to invest more resources to strengthen education in Wisconsin," he wrote. "However, I believe education dollars should be devoted to enhance performance in the classroom."

"The reality is that in other places across the country, millions of school districts are facing enormous budget crunches," said Phil Walzak, spokesman for the Barrett campaign. "Here we have a situation in Milwaukee where 490 teachers were laid off recently causing constraints."

Although 89 teachers were reinstated, "it impacts what happens in the classroom and individual attention for students," he said. "We have seen increasing property tax rates in the past several years. When they saw the costs, one has to reconsider."

"These drugs were identified as recreational, as opposed to a medical necessity," said Walzak.

But other men take exception. Texas divorcee Paul Franco said the erectile dysfunction drug Levitra saved his mental health. Ten years ago, as a stressed-out car salesman, he had difficulty performing.

"It caused my divorce," said Franco, 61. "My wife kept saying, 'How come you don't love me anymore?"

"I was wondering why I can't have an erection with my wife," said Franco, a father of five. "I have a beautiful wife."

Now, his insurance covers his Levitra and he has a girlfriend. 'I feel great," said Franco, who now sells insurance. "I feel 100 percent better."

Franco said he cannot understand why Milwaukee teachers can't have the same benefit, especially considering the stress they face daily in the classroom.

Why Can't Stressed Teachers Get Benefit of Viagra?

"It definitely sounds unfair to me because of the male teachers," he said. "You hear about a lot of stuff going on in school these days. I bet you have a bunch of teachers where the marriages go wrong. Having a sexless marriage doesn't work at all."

Insurance plans generally cover prescription drug treatments for erectile dysfunction, according to Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans.

"The underlying principle is if you want something covered and it's not outright harmful, typically it's covered, if the purchaser is willing to pay for it," she said.

State laws vary in what coverage they can mandate -- emergency room care, for example -- and the new federal health care law will also determine new requirements. Even prescription drug coverage is not universally required by law.

"Some employers purchase a health plan more or less off the shelf, and others want to have something more tailored to their needs," said Pisano. "Where there is not a state law, the employer's decision plays heavily into it."

How many in a group plan use a prescription drug can affect the employer's costs.

"It may be that a drug for a very rare disease costs a lot of money and is not used that much and something less expensive is used more extensively," she said. "Drug costs are going to keep going up and hospitals, doctors and employers are going to face tough choices."

But the American Urological Association says these drugs are medically appropriate for erectile dysfunction, and with more than one-third of all Americans obese, some doctors agree.

"Look at demographics of our society," said Dr. Robert Davis, clinical professor of urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "Erectile dysfunction goes with hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome with a waist over 40 inches in men and high cholesterol. There is an obesity crisis in this country and a third of Americans are overweight."

As for those who may use these drugs recreationally, Davis said doctors have no way of knowing whose claim is legitimate -- and he said the school district probably does not either.

The Viagra Wars: Milwaukee Teachers Fight for Insurance Coverage

"I don't knowingly prescribe them that way, but patients can present stories and manipulate us," Davis said. "We have no truth serum and have to accept stories as they are related."

Some pharmaceutical-funded studies have shown Viagra is effective for treating depression, according to Davis.

"People who can't sexually function often lose their self esteem and a part of life they value and regain with Viagra," he said.

Such was the case with Charles, a 41-year-old from Alaska, who did not want his last name used. He said he uses these drugs and they "work very well."

"I believe health insurance should cover the cost of Viagra because when you are unable to get an erection your confidence is destroyed, you are unhappy and depressed, which will lead to more health risk," he wrote "It has been proven that a happy person is a healthier person. Saving the money will make you even more happy."


Jennifer Aniston vs. Bill O'Reilly: The Family Factor

There's one man who won't be sitting down for Jennifer Aniston's "Switch" next weekend:

Bill O'Reilly

The Fox News talking head took the actress to task this week on "The O'Reilly Factor," calling recent comments she made about single motherhood "destructive to our society."

While promoting her upcoming movie "The Switch," about a single woman seeking a sperm donor, Aniston told reporters at a press conference in Los Angeles Sunday that "times have changed" when it comes to thinking about the traditional family.

"Women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle. They don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child," she said. "They are realizing if it's that time in their life and they want this part they can do it with or without that."

She also challenged the idea that a single woman having a baby without a father is selfish.

"I don't think it's selfish," she said. "It's quite beautiful, because there are children that don't have homes that have a home and can be loved. And that's extremely important."

In O'Reilly's eyes, Aniston's comments make her a threat to the American family.

"She's throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that 'Hey, you don't need a guy. You don't need a dad.' That is destructive to our society," he said on Tuesday's "O'Reilly Factor."

Fox News contributor Margaret Hoover and Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson chimed in on the topic, agreeing with O'Reilly that teens and tweens can't understand the difference between a mature woman raising a child on her own (Aniston is 41) and a teen having a baby.

"She is glamorizing single parenthood," Carlson said.

Aniston's representative did not immediately return's request for comment.

Jennifer Aniston Wants Kids
But it seems that regardless of what O'Reilly thinks, and despite her single status, Brad Pitt's former flame is determined to have kids of her own one day.


Brief and to the Point:

Should Ms. Aniston need a real man to handle the task, Bill would never be up to the job anyway...


Singer George Michael Arrested in London

Singer George Michael has been charged with possession of cannabis and driving while unfit through drink or drugs, London's Metropolitan Police Service said Thursday.

Michael, 47, was released on bail and told to appear at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court in north London on August 24, police said.

Police did not say what led to the arrest, but Michael -- whose real name is Georgios Panayiotou -- was widely reported to have been involved in an accident in the early hours of July 4, in which he allegedly crashed his car into a north London photo shop.

Michael was found guilty in 2007 of unfit driving through tiredness and prescription medication and received a two-year driving ban, according to British media.

He was arrested again the following year near Hampstead Heath park in north London and cautioned for possession of a controlled substance, according to news reports.