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COMMENTARY: OBAMA'S MONEY CLASS
By DAVID BROOKS
Barack Obama sells the Democratic Party short. He talks about his fundraising success as if his donors were part of a spontaneous movement of small-money enthusiasts who cohered around himself. In fact, Democrats have spent years building their donor network. Obama's fundraising base is bigger than John Kerry's, Howard Dean's and Al Gore's, but it's not different.
As in other recent campaigns, lawyers account for the biggest chunk of Democratic donations. They have donated about $18 million to Obama, compared with about $5 million to John McCain, according to data released on June 2 and available on the OpenSecrets.org.
People who work at securities and investment companies have given Obama about $8 million, compared with $4.5 for McCain. People who work in communications and electronics have given Obama about $10 million, compared with $2 million for McCain. Professors and other people who work in education have given Obama roughly $7 million, compared with $700,000 for McCain.
Real estate professionals have given Obama $5 million, compared with $4 million for McCain. Medical professionals have given Obama $7 million, compared with $3 million for McCain. Commercial bankers have given Obama $1.6 million, compared with $1.2 million for McCain. Hedge fund and private equity managers have given Obama about $1.6 million, compared with $850,000 for McCain.
When you break it out by individual companies, you find that employees of Goldman Sachs gave more to Obama than workers of any other employer. The Goldman Sachs geniuses are followed by employees of the University of California, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, National Amusements, Lehman Brothers, Harvard and Google. At many of these workplaces, Obama has a three- or four-to-one fundraising advantage over McCain.
When he is swept up in rhetorical fervor, Obama occasionally says that his campaign is 90 percent funded by small donors. He has indeed had great success with small donors, but only about 45 percent of his money comes from donations of $200 or less.
The real core of his financial support is something else, the rising class of information-age analysts. Once, the wealthy were solidly Republican. But the information age rewards education with money. There are many smart high achievers who grew up in liberal suburbs around San Francisco, L.A. and New York, went to left-leaning universities like Harvard and Berkeley and took their values with them when they became investment bankers, doctors and litigators.
Political analysts now notice a gap between professionals and managers. Professionals, like lawyers and media types, tend to vote and give Democratic. Corporate managers tend to vote and give Republican. The former get their values from competitive universities and the media world; the latter get theirs from churches, management seminars and country clubs.
The trends are pretty clear: Rising economic sectors tend to favor Democrats while declining economic sectors are more likely to favor Republicans. The Democratic Party (not just Obama) has huge fundraising advantages among people who work in electronics, communications, law and the catchall category of finance, insurance and real estate. Republicans have the advantage in agribusiness, oil and gas and transportation. Which set of sectors do you think are going to grow most quickly in this century's service economy?
(BROOKS. 834 words.)
COMMENTARY: WE LOVE A PARADE
By GAIL COLLINS
They don't make parades like they used to.
Back in the days of yore, hundreds of thousands of people would turn out just to see a marching band and a couple of political banners. Throw in a caged eagle, and you had a riot on your hands. "Again and again, the hosts overflowed into the avenues and had to be actually mashed by the scores of police that quickly rushed into the breach," The Times wrote of a parade in 1888. It was in honor of James Blaine, a Republican senator from Maine who wasn't there, and in fact wasn't even running for anything that particular year.
Ah, but those were the days, my friends. Politics was fun, if somewhat raucous and alcohol-fueled. People would flock to listen to a two-hour speech from a state senator whose oratory was undoubtedly improved by the fact that, in an unamplified era, he could only actually be heard by the front quarter of the audience.
Politicians had neat nicknames, like Old Hickory and Old Tippecanoe and Old Rough and Ready. Now we have become so disconnected from our candidates that even John McCain does not have a single nickname to call his own, despite his campaign's desperate attempts to convince the nation's voters that they should think of him as "Mac."
In yore, anything related to democracy and patriotism -- from Fourth of July parades to election night -- was huge. "Your identity was really defined in the streets," said Sarah Henry, the chief curator of the Museum of the City of New York, which currently has a wonderful display of artifacts from political campaigns of the past.
Henry was speaking on her cell phone from a traffic jam, en route to Cape Cod and the Wellfleet Fourth of July Parade. It is, she said, always a decorous affair, except for the tradition of throwing candy to the crowds along the sidewalks: "The lemon drops can be kind of painful."
That would have been nothing in the good old days. When political celebrations were at the peak of their popularity, torchlight parades tended to lead to things being set on fire. Women's enthusiasm for getting the vote was somewhat diminished by the fact that they connected elections with drunken fistfights. Independence Day in New York City was much like Baghdad after a big soccer game, with men racing outside to fire their guns into the air -- or into another person if the casualty lists in the newspaper were any indication.
Still, you can't help feeling wistful about the idea that at one time people would turn out to watch their neighbors raise a giant flagpole or push a large ball plastered with political slogans from town to town. During the current Fourth of July weekend -- which has been going on, for all practical purposes, since the latter part of June -- communities have had to continue to up the ante, trying to lure people out of their backyards with everything from speedboat races to enormous fireworks displays to concerts clogged with former "American Idol" contestants.
(COLLINS. 857 words.)
By ROSS DOUTHATT
"The Case for God"
By Karen Armstrong.
406 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.
The Bush era was a difficult time for liberal religion in America. The events of 9/11 were not exactly an advertisement for the compatibility of faith and reason, faith and modernity, or faith and left-of-center politics. Nor was the domestic culture war that blazed up in their wake, which lent a "with us or against us" quality to nearly every God-related controversy. For many liberals, the only choices seemed to be secularism or fundamentalism, the new atheism or the old-time religion, Richard Dawkins or George W. Bush.
But now the wheel has turned, and liberal believers can breathe easier. Bush has retired to Texas, and his successor in the White House is the very model of a modern liberal Christian. Religious conservatism seems diminished and dispirited. The polarizing issues of the moment are health care and deficits, not abstinence education or intelligent design. And the new atheists seem to have temporarily run out of ways to call believers stupid.
The time, in other words, is ripe for a book like “The Case for God,” which wraps a rebuke to the more militant sort of atheism in an engaging survey of Western religious thought. Karen Armstrong, a former nun turned prolific popular historian, wants to rescue the idea of God from its cultured despisers and its more literal-minded adherents alike. To that end, she doesn’t just argue that her preferred approach to religion – which emphasizes the pursuit of an unknowable Deity, rather than the quest for theological correctness – is compatible with a liberal, scientific, technologically advanced society. She argues that it’s actually truer to the ancient traditions of Judaism, Islam and (especially) Christianity than is much of what currently passes for “conservative” religion. And the neglect of these traditions, she suggests, is “one of the reasons why so many Western people find the concept of God so troublesome today.”
Both modern believers and modern atheists, Armstrong contends, have come to understand religion primarily as a set of propositions to be assented to, or a catalog of specific facts about the nature of God, the world and human life. But this approach to piety would be foreign to many premodern religious thinkers, including the greatest minds of the Christian past, from the early Fathers of the Church to medieval eminences like Thomas Aquinas.
These and other thinkers, she writes, understood faith primarily as a practice, rather than as a system – not as "something that people thought but something they did." Their God was not a being to be defined or a proposition to be tested, but an ultimate reality to be approached through myth, ritual and "apophatic” theology, which practices "a deliberate and principled reticence about God and/or the sacred" and emphasizes what we can’t know about the divine. And their religion was a set of skills, rather than a list of unalterable teachings – a "knack," as the Taoists have it, for navigating the mysteries of human existence.
It's a knack, Armstrong argues, that the Christian West has largely lost, and the rise of modern science is to blame. Not because science and religion are unalterably opposed, but because religious thinkers succumbed to a fatal case of science envy.
Instead of providing the usual portrait of empiricism triumphing over superstition, Armstrong depicts an extended seduction in which believers were persuaded to embrace the "natural theology" of Isaac Newton and William Paley, which seemed to provide scientific warrant for a belief in a creator God. Convinced that "the natural laws that scientists had discovered in the universe were tangible demonstrations of God’s providential care," Western Christians abandoned the apophatic, mythic approach to faith in favor of a pseudo-scientific rigor – and then had nowhere to turn when Darwin’s theory of evolution arrived on the scene.
(DOUTHATT. 1398 words.)
COMMENTARY: DREAMS OF LAURA
By MAUREEN DOWD
WASHINGTON -- The headline on the conservative blog, Townhall, stormed: "Book to Smear First Lady's Sex Life."
I'm not writing this just because I grew up in a house with a gun, a strong Catholic faith, an immigrant father, brothers with anti-immigrant sentiments and a passion for bowling. (My bowling trophy was one of my most cherished possessions.)
Radar magazine proclaimed: "On the gossip front, the novel doesn't disappoint," adding that its steamy and lurid scenes were "sure to send the White House into a fury."
MSNBC.com called the sex scenes "too graphic to reprint."
The cover of this fantasy version of Laura Bush's life, "American Wife," is alluring, a woman's shapely figure in a white gown, with white opera gloves and a diamond ring.
The author is not Anonymous, or Eponymous or Pseudonymous, yet there is the air of a "Primary Colors" stunt about this political roman a clef, which is timed to come out during the Republican convention.
Still, it's not a salacious tell-all, and words like "smear" and "gossip" are misplaced. It's a well-researched book that imagines what lies behind that placid facade of the first lady, a women's book-club novel by a young woman named Curtis Sittenfeld who has written two best sellers, including "Prep."
It's the sort of novel Laura Bush might curl up with in the White House solarium if it were not about Laura Bush. It would be interesting to hear how that lover of fiction feels about being the subject of fiction.
You don't get any fingerprints from Laura Bush. When you look into her eyes during an interview, you feel as if she is there somewhere, deep inside herself, miles and miles down. But though she is lovely and gracious, the main vibe she gives off is an emphatic: "I am not going to show you anything."
(DOWD. 860 words.)
Thomas L. Friedman
COMMENTARY: NO, NO, NO, DON'T FOLLOW US
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
NEW DELHI -- India is in serious danger -- no, not from Pakistan or internal strife. India is in danger from an Indian-made vehicle: a $2,500 passenger car, the world's cheapest.
India's Tata Motors recently announced that it plans to begin turning out a four-door, four-seat, rear-engine car for $2,500 next year and hopes to sell 1 million of them annually, primarily to those living at the "bottom of the pyramid" in India and the developing world.
Welcome to one of the emerging problems of the flat world: Blessedly, many more people now have the incomes to live an American lifestyle, and the Indian and Chinese low-cost manufacturing platforms can deliver them that lifestyle at lower and lower costs. But the energy and environmental implications could be enormous, for India and the world.
We have no right to tell Indians what cars to make or drive. But we can urge them to think hard about following our model, without a real mass transit alternative in place. Cheap conventional four-wheel cars, which would encourage millions of Indians to give up their two-wheel motor scooters and three-wheel motorized rickshaws, could overwhelm India's already strained road system, increase its dependence on imported oil and gridlock the country's mega-cities.
Yes, Indian families whose only vehicle now is a two-seat scooter often make two trips back and forth to places to get their whole family around, so a car that could pack a family of four is actually a form of mini-mass transit. And yes, Tata, by striving to make a car that could sell for $2,500, is forcing the entire Indian auto supply chain to become much more efficient and therefore competitive.
But here's what's also true: Last week, I was driving through downtown Hyderabad and passed the dedication of a new overpass that had taken two years to build. A crowd was gathered around a Hindu priest in a multicolored robe, who was swinging a lantern fired by burning coconut shells and praying for safe travel on this new flyover, which would lift traffic off the streets below.
(FRIEDMAN. 790 words.)
COMMENTARY: LURCHING WITH ABANDON
By BOB HERBERT
In one of the numbers from "Fiddler on the Roof," Tevye sings, with a mixture of emotions: "We haven't got the man ... we had when we began."
Back in January when Sen. Barack Obama pulled off his stunning win in the Iowa caucuses, and people were lining up in the cold and snow for hours just to get a glimpse of him, there was a wide and growing belief -- encouraged to the max by the candidate -- that something new in American politics had arrived.
His brilliant, nationally televised victory speech in Des Moines sent a shiver of hope through much of the electorate. "The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and the challenges we face," said Obama, "who will listen to you and learn from you, even when we disagree, who won't just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know."
Only an idiot would think or hope that a politician going through the crucible of a presidential campaign could hold fast to every position, steer clear of the stumbling blocks of nuance and never make a mistake. But Barack Obama went out of his way to create the impression that he was a new kind of political leader -- more honest, less cynical and less relentlessly calculating than most.
You would be able to listen to him without worrying about what the meaning of "is" is.
This is why so many of Obama's strongest supporters are uneasy, upset, dismayed and even angry at the candidate who is now emerging in the bright light of summer.
(HERBERT. 796 words.)
COMMENTARY: THE TRUTH COMMISSION
By NICHOLAS KRISTOF
When a distinguished American military commander accuses the United States of committing war crimes in its handling of detainees, you know that we need a new way forward.
"There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated abuses in Iraq, declares in a powerful new report on American torture from Physicians for Human Rights. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
The first step of accountability isn't prosecutions. Rather, we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul-searching and national cleansing.
That was what South Africa did after apartheid, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it is what the United States did with the Kerner Commission on race and the 1980s commission that examined the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Today, we need a similar Truth Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
We already know that the U.S. government has kept Nelson Mandela on a terrorism watch list and that the U.S. military taught interrogation techniques borrowed verbatim from records of Chinese methods used to break American prisoners in the Korean War -- even though we knew that these torture techniques produced false confessions.
It's a national disgrace that more than 100 inmates have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. After two Afghan inmates were beaten to death by American soldiers, the American military investigator found that one of the men's legs had been "pulpified."
Moreover, many of the people we tortured were innocent: The administration was as incompetent as it was immoral. The McClatchy newspaper group has just published a devastating series on torture and other abuses, and it quotes Thomas White, the former Army secretary, as saying that it was clear from the moment Guantanamo opened that one-third of the inmates didn't belong there.
(KRISTOF. 784 words.)
COMMENTARY: WHERE'S MURPHY?
By WILLIAM KRISTOL
From the gun clubs of Northern Virginia to the sports bars of Capitol Hill -- wherever D.C.-area Republicans gather -- you hear the question:
"Murphy" is Mike Murphy, the GOP strategist who masterminded John McCain's 2000 primary race against George Bush, helping McCain come close to pulling off an amazing upset. Murphy was then chief strategist for Mitt Romney's successful Massachusetts governor run in 2002.
Murphy remained close to both men, and as a result sat out the GOP nominating contest this past year, not wishing to work against either of them. It was widely assumed, though, that if either McCain or Romney won the nomination, the winner would bring Murphy on board for the general election. So far it hasn't happened. I believe it soon will.
I hasten to disclose that Murphy is a friend. I should also disclose that when I called to say I had heard he might well be signing on with McCain, he went Sergeant Schultz on me, saying nothing.
But here's what I gather from acquaintances and sources in and around the McCain campaign.
(KRISTOL. 834 words.)
COMMENTARY: BEHIND THE BUSH BUST -- WHO'S TO BLAME?
By PAUL KRUGMAN
By huge margins, Americans think the economy is in lousy shape -- and they blame President Bush. This fact, more than anything else, makes it hard to see how the Democrats can lose this election.
But is the public right to be so disgusted with Bush's economic leadership? Not exactly. We really do have a lousy economy, a fact of which Bush seems spectacularly unaware. But that's not the same thing as saying that the bad economy is Bush's fault.
On the other hand, there's a certain rough justice in the public's attitude. Other politicians besides Bush share the blame for the mess we're in -- but most of them are Republicans.
First things first: pay no attention to apologists who try to defend the Bush economic record. Since 2001, economic conditions have alternated between so-so and outright bad: a recession, followed by one of the weakest expansions since World War II, and then by a renewed job slump that isn't officially a recession yet, but certainly feels like one.
Overall, Bush will be lucky to leave office with a net gain of 5 million jobs, far short of the number needed to keep up with population growth. For comparison, Bill Clinton presided over an economy that added 22 million jobs.
And what does Bush have to say about this dismal record? "I think when people take a look back at this moment in our economic history, they'll recognize tax cuts work." Clueless to the end.
(KRUGMAN. 802 words.)
COMMENTARY: WALL-E FOR PRESIDENT
By FRANK RICH
So much for a July Fourth week spent in idyllic celebration of our country's birthday. This year's festivities were marked instead by a debate -- childish, not constitutional -- over who is and isn't patriotic. The fireworks were sparked by a verbally maladroit retired general, fueled by two increasingly fatuous presidential campaigns, and heated to a boil by a 24/7 news culture that inflates any passing tit for tat into a war of the worlds.
Let oil soar above $140 a barrel. Let layoffs and foreclosures proliferate like California's fires. Let someone else worry about the stock market's steepest June drop since the Great Depression. In our political culture, only one question mattered: What was Wesley Clark saying about John McCain and how loudly would every politician and bloviator in the land react?
Unable to take another minute of this din, I did what any sensible person might do and fled to the movies. More specifically, to an animated movie in the middle of a weekday afternoon. What escape could be more complete?
As it happened, "Wall-E" opened the same summer weekend as the hot-button movie of the 2004 campaign year, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." Ah, the good old days. Oil was $38 a barrel, our fatalities in Iraq had not hit 900, and only 57 percent of Americans thought their country was on the wrong track. (Now more than 80 percent do.) "Wall-E," a fictional film playing to a far larger audience, may touch a more universal chord in this far gloomier time.
(RICH. 1546 words.)
UN HOYO EN EL SUELO HACE ERUPCION, PARA DELEITE DE ESTONIA
Por ELLEN BARRY
Copyright 2008 New York Times News Service
TUHALA, Estonia -- Durante todo el día, la gente caminó por el bosque helado, con trajes para la nieve, chamarras de cuero y peligrosos tacones, hasta llegar al lugar donde el agua estaba agitándose. Según la leyenda, las brujas de Tuhala estaban tomando un sauna subterráneo, golpeándose vigorosamente con ramas de abedul, ignorantes de la conmoción que estaban creando en la superficie.
El famoso Pozo de las Brujas de Tuhala hizo erupción a principios de este mes por primera vez en tres años, atrayendo a peregrinos de toda Estonia. Exhalando nubes de vapor en la luz mortecina, los visitantes hacían oscilar pendientes para probar los campos de energía y sostenían dedos artríticos perfectamente inmóviles sobre piedras.
"Estonia está lleno de magia natural", dijo Mari-Liis Roos, de 37 años, una traductora que había llegado a Tuhala con su esposo y su hijo. "Es difícil de describir. En ocasiones uno no quiere explicar estas cosas, porque es demasiado personal".
Estonia ha adoptado por intimidación una serie de sistemas de creencias a lo largo de los siglos, desde el catolicismo y el luteranismo hasta la ortodoxia rusa y el ateismo soviético. Diecisiete años después de independizarse de la Unión Soviética, Estonia es una de las naciones más laicas del mundo; en el censo de 2000, sólo 29 por ciento de sus ciudadanos se declaró seguidor de alguna religión en particular.
(BARRY. 947 words.)
DARFUR: JOVENES ENOJADOS Y FRANCOS SE CONVIERTEN EN UNA FUERZA
Por NEIL MACFARQUHAR
Copyright 2008 New York Times News Service
CAMPAMENTO HAMIDIYA, Sudán.- El jeque atravesaba por un ataque de pánico.
Los agitados jóvenes en este campamento de refugiados en el oeste de Darfur, hombres y adolescentes que tradicionalmente habrían mostrado deferencia a su autoridad, se habían enterado de su presencia en una ceremonia a la que también asistió un funcionario del gobierno sudanés, su antagonista desde hace ya largo tiempo atrás.
Aterrado de que los jóvenes fueran a acusarlo de traición, el jeque les suplicó a funcionarios de Naciones Unidas que salieran en su ayuda y respaldaran que él ni siquiera había sacado a colación el tema de un acuerdo relacionado con la causa de su pueblo.
Los jóvenes son conocidos colectivamente como "shabab", la palabra árabe para referirse a los varones jóvenes. Además, se han convertido en una fuerza política que apoya con vehemencia a los rebeldes en los campamentos para las 2.7 millones de personas desplazadas por años de guerra entre el gobierno sudanés, dominado por árabes, y rebeldes en la región de Darfur en Sudán.
Cada vez más enojada y franca con respecto a su incierto destino, la generación que alcanzó la mayoría de edad en los campamentos está desafiando a los jeques tradicionales, poniendo de cabeza la antigua estructura de autoridad de los viejos en su sociedad tribal y complicando esfuerzos por alcanzar la paz.
"Ellos son mucho más extremistas que los jeques", destacó el funcionario de Naciones Unidas que relató el incidente del jeque aterrado, hablando de manera anónima para evitar poner en peligro su propia aceptación entre los shabab. "Y ellos son muy temperamentales".
Once jeques tribales en torno a Zalingei -- donde Hamadiya es uno de cinco campamentos de refugiados que albergan a 120,000 personas -- han sido muertos desde comienzos de 2007. Uno de los jeques fue hallado muerto con un clavo en la frente. Otro fue baleado a quemarropa. Estos casos aún no se resuelven, pero algunas sospechas recaen en los shabab.
(MACFARQUHAR. 1309 words.)
LA TRAMPA EN EL PLAN DE REACTIVACION ECONOMICA DE OBAMA
Por LOUIS UCHITELLE
Copyright 2008 New York Times News Service
Mientras se profundiza la recesión, el presidente electo Barack Obama se prepara para gastar miles de millones de dólares en proyectos de inversión pública, contando con ellos para levantar la economía, como ha sucedido en el pasado.
Pero esta vez quizá no sea así. El gasto público al estilo estadounidense funciona mejor en buenos tiempos, cuando la gente tiene empleo y los ejecutivos están ansiosos por invertir. Una supercarretera nueva pronto se ve bordeada -- en buenos tiempos -- de tiendas y centros comerciales poblados de consumidores. Un dólar gastado por el gobierno genera tres o cuatro del sector privado.
Esta simbiosis hace marchar mejor a una economía en marcha, como fue el caso en los años cincuenta y sesenta. Pero quizá no dé resultados cuando la economía estadounidense está en plena retirada, como fue en los años treinta y como parece ser el día de hoy.
Como medida del desastre actual, la Reserva Federal bajó la semana las tasas de interés a un insólito porcentaje cerca del cero y de hecho ofreció regalar dinero con tal de que el temoroso país lo gaste. Pero, asustada por las pérdidas en inversiones o temerosa de perder su empleo, la gente tiende a retraerse. En tales circunstancias, la carretera nueva podría estar bordeada no de centros comerciales sino por tierras baldías y descuidadas.
Ese es el riesgo al que se enfrenta el plan de Obama. Para enero es probable que se le pida al congreso que apruebe un desembolso de más de 700,000 millones de dólares. Gastado en un año en construcción, investigación y equipo, bien podría compensar la contracción al principio. Pero a menos que también reviva la confianza general, una vez gastado ese dinero, la economía podría volver a derrumbarse.
"Si ese gasto no puede echar a andar a la economía, entonces será sólo una operación de mantenimiento con un trabajo en balde", advierte Stanley Moses, economista del Hunter College en Nueva York.
La historia ilustra lo difícil que puede ser hacer que el gasto público arroje las resultados esperados. Las numerosas presas construidas durante el gobierno de Franklin D. Roosevelt generaron una abundancia de electricidad, bajando tanto su costo que las familias pudieron darse el lujo de hacer funcionar los electrodomésticos que por entonces empezaron a surgir. La construcción misma de las presas puso dinero en el bolsillo de los trabajadores. Pero durante la gran depresión, los electrodomésticos eran demasiado costosos para la mayoría de las familias y los fabricantes no otorgaban crédito. Pese a todo el dinero gastado por el gobierno de Roosevelt, la inversión pública no pudo echar a andar un sector clave de la industria privada to the venue or other logistics, but Post says this should be a last resort. Never include it on the wedding invitation itself.
(UCHITELLE. 1611 words.)
CENTS-OFF COUPONS AND OTHER SPECIAL DEALS, VIA YOUR CELL PHONE
By BOB TEDESCHI
Copyright 2008 New York Times News Service
In the last decade, retailers and manufacturers pushed to put their coupons online, figuring people would love browsing on PCs for deals. They didn't for a long list of reasons, including the fact that it was not easier than leafing through the paper and tearing out what you need.
Now the cell phone industry is trying its own approach. The theory is that you will browse for deals when you are at the store, or maybe receive deal alerts when you are nearby, and simply use the phone as a virtual coupon when you are at the cashier.
The idea has lots of promise. Whether it's worth your while depends on where you live, how much you use the products featured by these coupon services and how much work you're willing to do for a bargain.
Of the services emerging in the nascent cellular-coupon industry, two -- Cellfire and 8Coupons -- offer good examples of the state of the art. Both are free, and will work on virtually any phone, but the experience can be disappointing if you use one of the services in the wrong place.
After I completed a short registration form on Cellfire (the service works on most Internet-enabled phones), the service scanned its database for deals near me. Or sort of near. When I registered as a user in Midtown Manhattan, the featured deals included a free used DVD and a free movie rental from Hollywood Video. Great news, except the closest locations were in New Jersey.
I could also get a free photo portrait from Sears, provided I wanted to trudge to Brooklyn for it, or order something online from 1-800-Flowers.com.
That's it. Three deals, and none was actually located in one of the biggest shopping zones in the universe.
In reviews posted to the iTunes site, some Cellfire users have complained openly about the dearth of available coupons from the application. (Cellfire's iPhone app garnered two stars, out of a possible five, from about 50 reviewers.)
Greg Sterling, an industry analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said that no mobile-coupon service had a great inventory of deals, although he predicted that stores would start to "get with the program" in the coming year.
(TEDESCHI. 1162 words.)
Newspaper Shuns Web, and Thrives
By DAVID CARR
Copyright 2008 New York Times
With 2008 drawing to a brutal close on the media beat — bankruptcies, daily newspapers that are no longer daily, magazines that are downsizing into brochures — a little ray of light appeared in my e-mail inbox. It was from a newspaper owner, of all people.
Into the teeth of a historic recession, the newspaper had just published the biggest issue in its history. The product is double-digit profitable, and it has been growing at a clip of about 10 percent a year since it was founded in 1999, right about the time the Web was beginning toput its hands around printÕs neck.
Finally, I thought, a story about a print organization that has found a way to tame the Web and come up with a digital business approach that could serve as a model. Except that TriCityNews of Monmouth County, N.J., is prospering precisely because it aggressively ignores the Web. Its Web site has a little boilerplate about the product and lists ad rates, but nothing more. (The address is trinews.com, for all the good it will do you.)
"Why would I put anything on the Web?" asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. "I don't understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?"
Other publications much larger than TriCityNews have been wondering about pumping resources into a medium that does not seem to show a promise of returns any time soon.
(CARR. 1100 words.)
East or West, They Speak Chanel
By CATHY HORYN
Copyright 2008 New York Times
Ms. Prokopov, a statuesque woman with a streaked blonde hair, works in the Chanel area, and many of her best clients are rich Russians. At first she sold perfume, but between mangling the French names and outselling the other salesclerks, she reckoned she could do better. The store, eager to keep her, granted what she wanted, which was Chanel.
That was 25 years ago. By placing a jeweled brooch on a lapel or going to unusual lengths to please a client, Allachka, as she was called, gained access to Moscow's elite circles. She didn't feel the need to go there. "My world is home and Bergdorf, Bergdorf and home," she said recently. But when the wife of a high-ranking government official invited Ms. Prokopov to an elegant party, she decided it was time to see for herself what was happening in Moscow. Pushing her was Galina Royzman, Ms. Prokopov's dark-haired and more pragmatic Bergdorf colleague at Chanel for the last 17 years. They do everything as a team, racking up some of the store's highest sales numbers, according to executives. It's not unusual for a client to spend $25,000 to $50,000 with them in a morning of shopping, although once a client dropped around $360,000; and just six months ago another spent $275,000. That was in a single day. Despite working through at least two recessions, the women say they usually meet their annual sales goals. "Galina, she wanted to work more with Russians," Ms. Prokopov said. "She had very strong feelings that we had to be in that market. Anyway, I went to Russia. It was shocking." Ms. Prokopov chuckled. "First of all, I couldn't sleep," she said. "I called Galina every night. I was so overwhelmed, so excited. There was so much I cannot even describe it. So I went to the party. And I called Galina from the car right after, and I said, "We have so many people here to dress up!'"
In a city of big-league saleswomen, where it's possible in a fancy store for a person working on commission to earn $250,000 or more annually, Ms. Royzman and Ms. Prokopov stand out. Bergdorf won't say how much business they do, but it's undoubtedly a lot, because nobody stays in Chanel 25 years unless she is good. Still, Ms. Prokopov was ready to move on. The Moscow trip persuaded her there was an opportunity to dress more women. Lately, 60 percent of their clients are Russian, but they also cater to other Europeans (often by e-mail), as well as young New Yorkers.
(HORYN. 1500 words.)
HEALTH AND FITNESS NEWS AND NOTES
By ERIC NAGOURNEY
Copyright 2008 New York Times News Service
Does it matter which runner is closest to the starter's pistol at the beginning of a race? It just might, a new study says.
Researchers who looked at results from the 2004 Olympics say sprinters who were closest to the gun took off faster, probably because they perceived the shot as louder than their competitors did.
The study, which appears in the June issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, suggests that Olympic officials consider extending the use of "silent" guns, which set off a sound behind each runner. The lead author of the study is Alexander M. Brown, a student at the University of Alberta in Canada.
The researchers looked at runners' reaction times in the 100-meter sprint and the 110-meter hurdles. Competitors in those races hear "on your marks," "set" and a pistol shot from speakers behind them. The study found that runners in the first lane, next to the starter's pistol, reacted more quickly. The differences were slight, but they occurred in races where a few hundredths of a second can make a difference.
When the researchers measured reaction times of volunteers in the lab, they found that the louder the sound of the shot, the faster the reaction time.
The study did not suggest the outcomes of the races had been affected. One explanation, said David F. Collins, a physical education professor at the university, is that in the final races, the runners who have done the best in heats tend to be placed in the center lanes.
(SCIENCE TIMES. 719 words.)
Special Reports - Business
ODYSSEY OF TRADER WHO WENT UNDERCOVER TO STOP PONZI SCHEME
By EDWARD WYATT
Copyright 2010 New York Times News Service
Sitting in a Minneapolis mansion and listening to a charismatic investment manager describe a currency trading system that kept earning handsome returns year after year, Arthur F. Schlobohm IV was certain he had stumbled onto a Ponzi scheme.
A longtime trader who started running tickets on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as a teenager, Schlobohm, known as Ty, knew that Minneapolis, his home for nine years, was too small a town for a $4.4 billion investment fund to have escaped his notice.
It had taken him just a few Google searches to discover that the fund’s manager, Trevor G. Cook, had been suspended twice by the National Futures Association and been fined $25,000 for using false information to open a trading account for a customer. Calls to contacts in Switzerland and Kuwait also raised doubts about Cook’s boasts about deal-making abroad.
Yet Schlobohm later found himself back in Cook’s mansion, surrounded by a room full of his neighbors, many of whom were about to hand their life savings to a charlatan.
“If I could have just leaned over and whispered in someone’s ear, ‘Don’t invest in this! Just trust me!,' there would be a family out there now with kids that could go to college,” Schlobohm recalls of the meeting.
But he couldn’t do that. At the time, Schlobohm, now 37, was working as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Wired to record Cook’s sales pitches and carrying a hidden camera, Schlobohm gathered evidence for at least four months as the Justice Department zeroed in on the scheme.
Cook pleaded guilty to mail and tax fraud last summer and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for orchestrating what ultimately became a $160 million swindle. William J. Mauzy, a lawyer who has represented Cook, did not respond to repeated requests for comment and for an interview with Cook.
That the authorities brought Cook to justice is undoubtedly a positive outcome. But Schlobohm’s journey as a whistle-blower, and some of the financial losses that still occurred even though authorities were closely monitoring Cook, also underscore the limitations of the system.
During the period when Schlobohm helped the FBI to gather evidence, from April through July 2009, at least $16 million flowed into Cook’s fund – and disappeared. From the time securities regulators first had credible information that he was engaged in a fraud and when the authorities shut down his fund, December 2008 to July 2009, some $35 million flowed into his coffers
– funds that afforded Cook a lifestyle that included an expensive gambling habit, a collection of Faberge eggs, fancy cars and the construction of a casino in Panama.
“There was a tremendous amount of guilt being there,” watching Cook lure investors, said Schlobohm in an interview, the first in which he has spoken publicly about how he helped put Cook behind bars. “Knowing this was a fraud with the highest degree of certitude, and having to watch people in the process of losing their life savings, was extremely difficult.”
The U.S. attorney for Minnesota prosecuted the case against Cook, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission are both pursuing civil suits against Cook and helped with the federal investigation. Those agencies point to the Trevor Cook case as an example of the positive lessons authorities learned from the Bernard L. Madoff scandal and other regulatory debacles. (In the Madoff case, tipsters warned regulators for years of problems, but they did not take action until Madoff’s fund collapsed.)
For all of the Justice Department’s efforts, though, only about 5 percent of the $160 million invested in Cook’s scheme has been recovered.
And for his part, Schlobohm says that his time as a whistle-blower was often an ordeal, leaving him worried about his safety and that of his family. After he began acting as an informant, he was spending considerable time on the case. He and his employer, an investment company, agreed that it was better for him to quit than to risk dragging the firm into the probe.
Before Schlobohm’s involvement there had been others who had raised questions about Trevor Cook. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a federal agency that regulates commodity markets and monitors foreign currency trading, got a full report on Cook’s suspension in 2006.
Then, in April 2008, Duke Thietje, a Florida investor, filed a lawsuit in a Minnesota state court against Cook and his firm, Universal Brokerage Services, contending that Cook lost $450,000 he had turned over to him in 2005 to invest in foreign currencies.
Thietje abandoned his lawsuit in the fall of 2008. But around that time, his lawyer turned over copies of his filings to the CFTC, providing that agency with its second warning about Cook.
The CFTC would not comment on the documents, in part because its civil fraud charges against Cook and his companies are still pending.
After examining Thietje’s allegations, the CFTC decided that it lacked the jurisdiction to do anything about Cook, according to people close to the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because some charges are still pending. It wasn’t until March 2009, when Schlobohm contacted both the CFTC and the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis with his information about Cook, that the CFTC began to connect the dots.
That was made more difficult because Cook’s ventures went by an ever-changing lineup of names: Universal Brokerage Services, UBS Diversified, Oxford Global, Market Shot, the Basel Group, Crown Forex.
None of them, however, were registered with either the Commodity Futures Trading Commission or the SEC. So even after Schlobohm provided his own research pointing to a Ponzi scheme, regulators said they had limited options as to how they could act.
According to two senior regulatory officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because the civil cases are still in court, the agencies could not simply walk in and demand to see the firms’ books and records without running the risk that the group would fold up shop and disappear with investors’ money.
And the agencies thought that convincing a judge that the Cook firms’ assets should be frozen required more evidence than they had from Schlobohm, the officials said. Cook was indeed sending some of his victims’ funds to foreign currency trading accounts, where his unauthorized trading was losing millions of dollars. In the end, regulators discovered 21 domestic bank accounts and 27 brokerage accounts involved in the scheme, as well as 19 foreign accounts at 17 institutions in 12 countries, many of which zealously guard the identity of depositors.
Early in his discussions with the FBI, Schlobohm recalls, an agent informed him “that Trevor Cook had been on their radar screen before,” but the bureau had been unable to pin anything on him.
The FBI took the lead in the Cook investigation, focusing on gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution rather than on immediately shutting down the fraud and securing investors’ funds. An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.