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Polling and Political Wrap-Up, 12/21/09

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

As we head into Winter (happy Solstice to one and all!), we also head into what will inevitably be a very slow set of news cycles in the world of electoral politics. No one wants to make news when virtually no one is watching the news, and what little oxygen exists in the political public conversation is going to get consumed by health care, anyway.

I’d expect it to be a pretty quiet two weeks here in Wrap-land. That said, there are a few items to toss out on this Monday evening, so let’s get after it….

ND-Sen: Rasmussen Claims Hoeven Has 80%+ Approval, Crushes Dorgan
By now, it is absolutely no surprise to anyone that Rasmussen Reports’ polling data is typically pretty amenable to GOP candidates, including some almost comically high favorables for GOP candidates (including virtual unknowns with 50%+ favorability). This poll, one could argue, takes the cake. Ras has North Dakota’s Republican Governor, John Hoeven, with a 22-point lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan (58-36). While almost everyone agrees that Hoeven would be a very formidable foe for Dorgan (and some might even dub Dorgan a slight underdog in such a race), twenty-plus point leads for the challenger have only been seen in GOP sponsored polls thus far. What’s more–Rasmussen gets Hoeven with an 87% job approval rating, which almost defies belief. Granted, North Dakota has weathered the economic woes of the recent past better than most, and that might result in a reservoir of goodwill for their governor. But 87% job approval? For what it is worth, Dorgan’s favorabilities (his job approval was not released) were pretty solid, as well (61/36).

IL-Gov: Rasmussen Decides To Poll Ryan…And Look! He’s Ahead!
Last week, we noted that Rasmussen had differed from form a little bit by putting the Democrats in the lead somewhere (specifically, the Illinois Governor’s race). Well, it took them a few days, but they finally took care of that. They added the GOP frontrunner to their Illinois polling (former state Attorney General Jim Ryan), and (wonder of wonders) they have him leading incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Quinn (46-39). Intriguingly, they have Quinn’s Democratic primary opponent, Dan Hynes, leading Ryan by a pair (42-40).

FL-Sen: Zogby Also Sees Single Digits in GOP Primary
Over the weekend we got a pair of surprising numbers from a new Zogby poll in the state of Florida, conducted on behalf of the Sayfie Review and Associated Industries of Florida. Like some other recent polls, they see the GOP Senate primary as a tight one, but they also give President Obama a quite favorable net +13 on his job approval (55/42). While not calling the GOP Senate primary a tie like their fellow pollsters at Rasmussen, Zogby does have the race in single digits, with Governor Charlie Crist sitting at 45% and insurgent Republican Marco Rubio at 36%.

The Race For 2010: SUSA’s Monthly Tracking Portends Tough ‘10 Races
Roughly every month, the team over at SurveyUSA does what they call their “50-State tracking” polls. It used to be just that, but somewhere along the line the fifty states were winnowed down to less than a dozen. In this incarnation of the monthly trackers, we see two things: a slight rebound in President Obama’s numbers over last month’s low points, and a couple of 2010 candidates who have to be more than a little concerned about their polling. Of particular concern were the net negative job approval ratings for Senator Barbara Boxer of California (39/49) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (36/44). In a sign of just how poisonous the political environment is for politicos of all stripes, the highest job approval rating recorded for anyone was a fairly middling 57% job approval for Senator Charles Schumer in New York.

Inside Polling: Blumenthal On Strategic Vision’s Fall From Grace
As we prepare to put 2009 in the books, one of the truly bizarre stories for political junkies has been the rise and utterly bizarre fall of Strategic Vision, the polling outfit that had been prolifically releasing political data for half a decade.

Today, in his column for National Journal, one of the deans of political/polling blogging, Mark Blumenthal, pens a postscript to the whole affair. You might recall that the whole affair began back in September, when Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight began to raise questions about some anomalies in SV’s data. This happened at the same time that the AAPOR (American Association of Public Opinion Research) had just censured SV for failure to disclose on some of their past polls. At the time, the head honcho at Strategic Vision, David Johnson, was loudly proclaiming that his firm would be vindicated.

And, then…as Blumenthal writes…nothing happened. Not only did Johnson never provide the exculpatory evidence that he promised back in September, but his firm has not released a single poll since. Lawsuits against both Silver and the AAPOR, as had been threatened by Johnson back in September, never materialized.

Furthermore, when Johnson penned an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his bio identified his firm as a “public relations and public affairs agency.” Previous bios for Johnson represented SV as a “public affairs and polling company.” A small change in wording, but a potentially critical one.

IN OTHER NEWS….

  • What are the latest polls? Did a NASCAR guy really deserve AP’s Athlete of the Year award (my answer: maybe)? Find the answers to these and other burning issues over at my little patch of turf over at Twitter.
  • PA-10: A big break for potentially vulnerable sophomore Democrat Chris Carney this afternoon: one of the top GOP recruits for his seat, state legislator Mike Pfeifer, announced today that he would not be a candidate for Congress in 2010. Carney is not out of the woods yet, though: both former US Attorney Tom Marino and County Commissioner Malcom Derk are contemplating bids.
  • RI-Gov: While the only Republican in the field for the Governorship of Rhode Island walked last week, a former Republican appears just about ready to run. According to the Providence Journal, former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee is teasing a major announcement shortly after the New Year. Chafee has been ramping up for a campaign, sending out fundraising appeals and staffing up. At present, the GOP bench is barren, although there are persistent whispers that some GOPers are still trying to talk former Cranston Mayor (and 2006 Chafee primary opponent) Stephen Laffey into the game.
  • VA-05: Hard to say whether this is good news or bad news for the Republican Party. The Richmond Times-Dispatch crunches the numbers, and finds that there are at least seven Republicans vying for the opportunity to challenge Democratic freshman Congressman Tom Perriello. The problem is that some of the more vocal right-wingers in the party are now openly gunning for the frontrunner (and NRCC darling), state Senator Rob Hurt. Just today, right-wing talk show host Laura Ingraham (who is being quite the kingmaker lately) announced a preference for real estate developer Laurence Verga. Hurt has rankled some on the right because he voted for a tax increase once, but he did get spared a bit by the decision that the nomination would be done in a primary rather than by an activist-driven convention. Remember that it was the threat of having to win a convention that drove somewhat sane Republican Congressman Tom Davis out of the 2008 Senate race, serving up Jim Gilmore to lose by thirty points to Democrat Mark Warner.
  • SC-05/IN-09: Another day, another set of Democratic incumbents on the GOP’s “Force Them Into Retirement” list that announce that they will seek re-election in 2010. The Democrats that made that call today were John Spratt (whose seat in South Carolina would have been a very tricky hold for the Democrats had it come open) and Baron Hill (who represents a potentially tricky district in Southern Indiana). Spratt and Hill join other Democrats (Collin Peterson, Chet Edwards, and Lincoln Davis) who have recently confirmed that they will be seeking re-election next year.


Betwa Sharma: Another hunger strike? Is anyone listening to the Iranians?

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

She came all the way from Switzerland to join the three-day hunger strike a block away from the United Nations. “They’re my people and it is my cause,” says Monel, a 60-year old nurse who did jail-time under the Shah and then clashed with the Islamic regime.

A few years after the revolution, Monel fled the country after being beaten in a rally to protest the new regime’s imposition of conservative clothing that forced women to don chadors. “The fundamentalism became too repressive,” she says.

“They stole our revolution from us,” chimes in Essie Mohaddessi, 47, who landed from Sacramento last evening and hasn’t eaten since the morning. The real estate developer left Tehran at 19 after becoming a nuisance for demanding the right to free speech.

Both Monel and Mohadessi made long trips because they want the United Nations to crack down on the Iranian regime; this means that chief Ban Ki-moon needs to appoint an investigative team to probe into human rights abuses and put pressure on the mullahs to release all political prisoners.

Do they really think that the UN is listening? So far, the world body has respected Iran’s sovereignty by not interfering with the internal political turmoil and the treatment of its people. A medical resident from Seattle, Babak Roshanaei, says “UN can condemn but the Iranian regime would not give a damn.”

So did Monel come from Switzerland simply to go on a diet? “It is different this time because now the people decided to help themselves first,” she says. “Contrary to popular perception I don’t think the UN is ineffective,” adds Mohadessi.

Important Iranian figures at the protest compared the situation to the recent visit by the Secretary General to Myanmar where he called on the junta’s leader to deliver free and fair elections next year. He was not allowed to meet Nobel peace prize laureate and political prisoner Aung San Su Kyi.

After the visit, the Myanmar envoy told the Security Council that the military rulers were considering “amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian grounds” — the details are still not clear. Let’s see what happens.

“If he could go to Myanmar then why not Iran,” asks Akbar Ganji, the country’s leading political dissident who was released after spending six-years in prison. Ganji also added that the regime was not immune to “symbolic gestures.” “If there had been no international pressure they could have also killed me.”

Roshanaei has his own theory on the matter. “Ahmadinejad won’t step down and there will be no big change in the short term.” But, the 35-year-old medical student says that the current upsurge is a practice ground for the next push for democracy. “The 1999 student movement led to this movement and this one will lead to the next big change,” he says.

Everyone seems to be saying, “It’s different this time” — different because liberal and religious, rich and poor, old and young — who have different ideologies — bonded against a common enemy. “Previous movements have been undermined because of factionalism,” explains Nader Hashemi who teaches international affairs at the University of Denver.

While this opens the door for change, it does not spell out what that change should be. Fresh elections do not necessarily mean that there will be more democracy in Iran. “There are huge tensions in the way forward,” noted Hashemi, also the author of Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies.

The renowned professor from Denver invited cheers from the crowd when he asked America and Israel to cease using “the politics of militarization” against Iran. His point was that the Iranians fight for democracy showed that country was deeper than Ahmadinejad and foreign policy could not be confined to, “should US bomb Iran?”

Most of all, the strikers came for the international media. The use of new media technology from Facebook to Twitter to You Tube, successfully turned the post-election turmoil into a live movie and getting past the government’s attempt to create a news black hole.

Would China look different if the students at the Tiananmen Square could twitter, asked Iranian scholar, Reza Aslan, at a recent journalist’s awards dinner. “Tyrants stay in power by isolating their people,” he said.

A graphic designer who was updating his blog and twittering about the strike, Mehdi Saharkhiz, felt that that media had done a bad job of covering the post-election turmoil. “Michael Jackson’s death became bigger than the Iranian people.” he said.

Until new media technology gets more organized, the rally highlighted the need for the good old TV crew and print journalists. “We are not just here for the UN but also the media,” noted Saharkhiz whose father was kidnapped earlier this month and has not been heard from since. “Ahmadinejad and his people will be watching.”

So, where does the hungry group figure in the maze of geo-political realities and the Westphalian garb of sovereignty? What if UN and Ahmadinejad don’t listen to the hunger strikers? No matter! The power of a gesture should not be undervalued. “It’s not about them, this is about us,” says Babak.

2009-07-22-protest2.jpg

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Yahoo’s Revenues Drop 13 Percent In Second Quarter (Conference Call Notes: Bartz Likes Bing!)

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Yahoo just released earnings for the second quarter. Total revenues dropped 13 percent to $1.5 billion. Google, in contrast, saw total revenues rise 3 percent in same quarter. After paying partner sites traffic acquisition costs (TAC), Yahoo’s take-home revenue was $1.1 billion.

Yahoo’s net income rose 8 percent to $141 million. Operating income fell 17 percent to $101 million, and net income fell a whopping 78 percent to $118 million (but much of that difference was due to a $401 million non-cash gain Yahoo took in the first quarter related to its stake in Alibaba, which had an IPO).

Yahoo’s search advertising revenues on Yahoo-owned sites declined 15 percent to $359 million, while display advertising on owned and operated sites declined 14 percent to $393 million. Yahoo announced a deal with AT&T to sell local online ads.

Correction: This post briefly included information about layoffs which was incorrect. My apologies for alarming any Yahoo employees.

During the conference call, CEO Carol Bartz praised Bing (Microsoft’s search effort) and promised to get rid of annoying ads on Yahoo Mail. My live notes are below (bolded parts are for emphasis):

Carol Bartz:

Considering the economy I am pleased with our results, revenues above midpoint of our expectations, upside coming from currency fluctuations.

Less fear from advertisers.

But so much conflicting info form the market, too early to call.

1. great team (hired CFO)
2. great experience (mobile, social, advertising) have to make sure ads are more relevant, less irritating to users.
3. Better business processes. Want to be a better company to work for and with.

CFO Tim Morse:

Pageviews up 7%
Rev: $1.573 billion (down 13%)
Search revenues down 15%
display revenues down 14%
encouraging sign: guaranteed display inventory increased on a sequential basis
growth in health and travel

Affiliate business (primarily search) down
TAC was 28% of total revenue, rising slightly

listings revenue down 21%

OCF (operating cash flow) $385M
free cash flow $266M

savings at the low end of our expectations due to cost savings. Planning on hiring new sales people, invest in branding efforts to seize growth opps that will come as economy recovers.

$365M restructuring charge, real estate related and $25M related to headcount reduction
$67M pretax gain from sale in Gmarket.

Carol Bartz:

Biggest content site. Lead in news, sports, finance, and other categories. Yahoo homepages leads all others.
brags about a single link from Yahoo home page to NYT, creating 9M pageviews.
“We work with publishers, not against them” (subtle dig at Google)

Yahoo mail, open features, improvements in speed and performance and engagement.
Talks about annoying ads, calls them a “detriment,” “cheapening the Yahoo brand.” Will be trying to get rid of blaring ads.

Initiative around improving ad experience

Talks about mobile search deal with cell phone carrier in Taiwan to displace Google [she's digging deep there]

expanded relationship with AT&T to sell Yahoo local inventory by AT&T advertising salesforce. Yahoo’s salesforce with its advertising partners is now 13K strong.

Q&A:

Q: Carol, what is your first impression on Bing? Seeing any user behavior changes?

Carol: I think Bing is actually a good product. Experimentation around search instead of thinking just a standard blue link. only a month in, hard to understand if it is just curiosity or if they will gain share, but I think they have done a nice job.

Q: Search business seems to have deteriorated, display shows sequential improvement. Where is the bets ROI, display or search, since you will prob. have to choose one or the other?

Carol: Search did decline Q over Q, that is not a meaningful trend. Our volume was healthy, more that there was RPS pressure. The whole idea is to keep to optimize and drive relevancy for advertiser’s ROI. Advertisers being smarter, chose less keywords.

At the end of the day, our investment priority is in the user. If we can increase our audience, which we know we can, we can drive both search and display revenues. We can provide both, but what we really need to provide ad partners is an engaged audience.

Tim: CPCs not that different, more a mix in the queries.

Q: Do you get renumerated for links to Facebook or Gmail?

Carol: No, it is really about giving consumers an experience on Yahoo without having to leave Yahoo. To be the center of their online life. Not about money, about helping them organize their online life.

Q: Ebitda margins lowest guidance since 2003. You said you would be ramping spending in Q, how should we think about margins?

Carol: When we gave the guidance last Q we told you we were going to to layoffs to have room to put the same cost into the system to reinvest into the business. Pretty much on target with that. Marketing spend for 3Q is in the additional cost already ($75M?). Adding people into product, engineering, sales people.

Tim: Repositioning cost structure, drained some buckets, now filling up different buckets.

Q: What percentage of ad inventory is guaranteed? How should we think about yearly cost structure?

Tim: We don’t break out between guaranteed and non-guaranteed. We did see strength in guaranteed in high-single digits. Strength in 7 out of 10 categories we track like finance, health, consumer products. In non-guaranteed ads, more steady.

Carol Bartz: It’s like 30 to 40 steps to buy a display ad from us. Want to have a much. much easier way to do business with us. Looking forward to making this better.

Q: How is growth in Q2 breaking down?

Carol Bartz: We don’t actually break this out, but there are those people experimenting more with non-guaranteed and new customers coming in with guaranteed. By moving more into the mid-market that will be a lot more non-guaranteed because that is their first online ad experience.

Tim: We are doing very well with our top advertisers. On Display, revs are up with top ten advertisers. Also in Search, but not quite as good.

Q: O and O search vs. affiliate revs?

Bartz: I don’t see a trend.

Q: U.S. was down, looks like RPS (revenue per search) pressure, is that because of scale vs. Google?

Bartz: Of course scale matters in search. I’d switch positions, that’d be fun. When you have fewer click-throughs and you have a longer tail you get to monetize more. But our search volume is holding fine. We have to convince those buyers to get off the chair and push buy.

Q: Follow up on RPS, you talked about improving relevancy of ads. Can you talk about levers you can pull to improve RPS, how do you view new homepage impact on search

Bartz: Alot of what we are talking about in improving ads is display. You know what an irritating ad is. With RPS, working to drive teh right ad to the right query, better targeting. With how Metro will impact search, we are pleased with search placement on the homepage. improved quality in display, improved relevance in search and make search more prominent will help drive relevancy.

You have to get users to say, I like those. then they tell their friends. You take some of the bad ads off mail, guess what, they stay. All of that is a better experience. All of that will drive advertisers to us.

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Linda Buzzell: Is Your Yard an Ornamental Desert?

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

If the trucks ran short of fossil fuel and the supermarkets sold off their 3 days worth of food, is there anything to eat in your garden — or on your patio or balcony? Or in your neighbor’s yard?

Most suburban yards (and government and business landscapes) are chock full of pampered plants that perform just one function: looking good.

Our hungry/thirsty lawns, fancy ornamental shrubs and flowery perennials aren’t just there for us to enjoy but also to impress our neighbors and the local realtors. In fact, some real estate developments and condo associations mandate certain plantings — almost always solely ornamental. Dare to plant a few veggies in your front yard and you may hear from the ornamental plant police!

But there’s a new movement in landscaping, away from “ornamental deserts” and towards local food security. It’s called edible landscaping — or “foodscaping.” These gardens combine beauty and food in an aesthetically pleasing and tasty combination.

The idea is that to be truly sustainable, we must use at least some of the land we live on to provide a portion of our own food. Local food is healthiest as it hasn’t traveled for days in a truck or plane, losing nutritional value. And you can’t get much more local than your own yard.

The desire to grow at least some of our own food is sweeping the country. Seed sales are up. Even the Obamas are in on the trend, digging up part of the White House “ornamental desert” to put in a few veggies.

For some of us, the goal is just to save a few pennies at the supermarket or eat fresher food. But veggie-mania is part of a larger back-to-nature trend. People are discovering that nature-connection of many kinds is profoundly healing and satisfying.

Pulling up part of your ornamental desert to grow some edibles doesn’t mean you have to grow all your food yourself, of course. In many towns around the world neighborhood food exchanges are popping up, where folks share the bounty of their very different gardens. You bring your string beans, and I’ll bring my apricots.

And community gardens in many towns offer places for folks without gardens to grow their tasty, healthy edibles and meet the neighbors.

It’s all good medicine for our bodies, minds and souls.

For more info check out…

Heather C. Flores’ inspiring book Food not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community.

Food not Lawns International


New Yahoo Home Page Tomorrow. Here’s What It Looks Like

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Remember that new Yahoo home page we previewed waaaay back in September 2008? Tomorrow it will go live for many U.S. users, and it will eventually roll out to everyone who uses Yahoo around the world. France, India and the UK are next up after the U.S.

The final version looks a little more like one of the test pages we caught in the wild in March, without the dark background coloring on the left sidebar. But it has evolved further from that bucket test page, too.

The main difference from the current Yahoo home page is that users can now customize the page with widgets/apps from third parties. Some apps have been pre-created by Yahoo and others. And others can be added as well, Yahoo will make the app based on the URL you supply (they don’t say it needs RSS, although I’m not sure how they create it on the fly without it).

The key change, besides personalized content, is the removal of the tons of links to scores of Yahoo services. Most people only use a handful of those services, says Yahoo, so it’s better to let users decide which ones are present and take up screen real estate.

Yahoo also says they will be letting users sync up the customizations between their mobile and desktop versions of Yahoo starting soon.

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Boutique Marin real estate firm buys Pac Union

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Boutique real estate firm Morgan Lane Marin is swallowing up its larger competitor, Pacific Union GMAC Real Estate, through an acquisition that promises to create a local brokerage powerhouse. The deal, for an undisclosed sum, will bring together 17

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Journalism Boot Camp: Middle East Christians Vie For Religious Freedom In Qatar, Egypt

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

By Christopher Rosacker

The church where Greek Orthodox Ft. Makarios Makarios will hold services in the Arabian Gulf state of Qatar hasn’t been built yet. Right now, it is a construction site just poking out of the sand, just a mile south of the Qatari capital of Doha.

Arriving there one early Friday morning for liturgy, he walks through the site, past sand piles and unused two-by-fours, to a cement basement entrance. By 10:30 am, 60 members have seated themselves inside, among mismatched rows for a two-hour service.

Its resemblance to a bunker is coincidental, but it is the only place in Qatar where Christians can safely pray. “After a long time, we are getting the opportunity to have our own place,” Makarios said.

The estimated 175,000 Christians in Qatar are cautiously building the foundation to practice their faith within this conservative country in the Muslim world. But while they move forward to that goal, many Christians in Egypt say they are trying to hang on to the freedoms they have long enjoyed.

U.S. President Barack Obama came to Cairo in June to address the Muslim world, and in his speech he said the region suffers from “a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s,” and referred to Egypt’s Coptic Christians, urging that “the richness of religious diversity must be upheld.”

With more than 80 million Egyptians, the CIA World Factbook reports 10 percent are Christian. Copts represent 90 percent of all of Egypt’s Christians.

2009-07-20-bootcqatarchurch.jpg

The heart of Coptic Cairo is home to the city’s oldest mosque, synagogue and church. It is where Moses is said to have rescued from the Nile, and where the Holy Family rested during a journey.

Unlike Qatar, Christians have worshiped in several ornate churches there for centuries. But in recent times, like the Qatari Christians, the Copts have adopted a bunker mentality, as extremists have attacked the community across the country.

A few months ago, a crude car bomb was set off outside a popular church for pilgrims in Cairo where the apparition of the Holy Mary was witnessed. Outside the churches in Coptic Cairo, access is now restricted by police checkpoints and roadblocks.

Adding to tensions was a controversial decision in April by Egypt’s government to slaughter the country’s entire pig population to prevent the H1N1 flu virus from spreading in the country (that didn’t work). Egypt’s pig farmers are all Christian, and they interpreted the decision as an attack against them because of their faith.

“The government of Egypt had planned since 2006 to relocate the pig population,” said Nadia El Awady, of the World Federation of Science Journalists, “and used the crisis to get rid of the pigs.”

Egyptian Copts cite other examples of discrimination, such as employment signs that read “Muslims Only.” In turn, many Copts bear tattooed crosses on their wrists and on necklaces to identify themselves to one another.

“There’s generally a feeling that there’s some places we can’t go, and some things we can’t talk about with certain friends,” said Victor, a Copt business owner in Cairo.

It partly is an issue of perception. According to a recent study by C1 World Dialogue Foundation, an interfaith group that includes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 45 percent of Egyptians look unfavorably upon Christians.

“We need profound change,” said H.E. Ali Gomaa the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and co-chair of the foundation. “To move religious discourse from aggressive and negative attitudes towards other religions, to the spirit of tolerance and co-existence.”

In Qatar, tensions aren’t aired publicly, partly because most Christians keep concerns to themselves, worried that speaking out will result in their deportation.

Much of their worship is also private; many choose to pray in small groups at home. At the church complex near Doha, no crosses will be visible, as it is forbidden for non-Muslim religious symbols to be displayed in Qatar. Parish leaders also advised congregants not to wear crosses around their necks or hang them on rear-view mirrors.

“How the people receive the Christians are different (from the government),” said Patrick Manabat, also a Philippine expatriate Catholic. “Some accept us, others do not.”

For Egypt’s Christians, they say their futures will be closely tied to the fate of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose son Gamal is expected to succeed him.

Many Copts said they viewed Mubarak’s 28-year presidency under martial law as a godsend and attribute their freedoms to his reign. As Mubarak and his regime gained support from the U.S., churches sprang up.

But the president’s uninterrupted rule has fed support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the conservative Sunni movement, which is feared by Copts for what it would do if it came to power in Egypt.

In an interview, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesman, Mohamed Habib, insisted the party saw no differences between Muslim and Christian Egyptians.

“We do not discriminate against them, they are part of who we are,” Habib said. “However, we blame them for not having any real political role. Politics is an open arena and they can take part of it whenever they want.”

Some Egyptian officials took issue with Obama’s speech for mentioning the Copts and religious tolerance. Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., said that foreign pressure isn’t the answer.

“It’s a problem that we have to deal with in our own society,” he said. “I accept that there’s a concern the Copts have in Egypt and I’m ready to discuss that here.”

Home to outspoken television broadcaster al-Jazeera and the BBC co-produced Doha Debates, officials in Qatar said they have been flexible in discussing concerns about religious freedoms, and point to their allowances to Christians in their country.

In 2003, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani allotted the land outside the capital to build churches for 28 different denominations, including Makarios’s Greek Orthodox church.

It isn’t prime real estate. Depending on the day and where the hot wind blows, parishioners can smell an overwhelmingly putrid stench. There is a goat farm not far away.

Still, they come. Outside its guarded and unmarked walls, cars line the road on Fridays, since they are not given a holiday to worship on Sunday. Five other churches are under construction.

Makarios said at first, many of his members were afraid to come and worship. But he expects his flock will grow soon enough. “They had had bad experiences in the past,” he said. “But, step by step, they started to come.”

Christopher Rosacker graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in August. He has worked for the Daily Nebraskan and held an internship at the Bismarck Tribune, in North Dakota.

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50 Cent Slashes Price Of Mansion A Second Time – To $10.9M

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

FARMINGTON, Conn. — The price of the Connecticut mega-mansion owned by rapper 50 Cent has dropped again – to $10.9 million.

The 50,000-square-foot mansion is in the Hartford metropolitan area suburb Farmington. It was owned by boxer Mike Tyson.

It has 19 bedrooms and 37 bathrooms. It boasts a gym, billiards rooms, racquetball courts and a disco with stripper poles.

The New York City rapper bought it for $4.1 million. He said it had “a ‘Miami Vice’ feel” and spent $6 million on renovations and repairs.

The home was for sale for nearly two years before being pulled off the market in May. The initial $18.5 million price dropped to $14.5 million late last year.

50 Cent says he’s tired of the two-hour commute to New York City and wants to downsize.

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Laurie David: Day 36 of Algalita’s Oceanographic Research Vessel Expedition: A Letter From Captain Charles Moore

July 18th, 2009 admin No comments

On June 10, 2009 Captain Charles Moore set off on Algalita’s Oceanographic Research Vessel for the first leg of a four month expedition from California to past the Northern Hawaiian Islands to test for plastic marine debris.

Captain Moore discovered the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the the Pacific Gyre, and he is continuing his research to help all of us understand that the rapid rise in global plastic production is leading to a rise in plastic pollution and its devastating effects on our oceans and our lives.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting emails directly from Captain Moore so we can follow his journey and better understand what we are doing to our oceans.

July 17, 2009
Day 36
Noon position:36.05N, 179.60E

Dear Laurie,

The main purpose of our voyage to the International Dateline was to see if the concentration of large debris items believed to accumulate there in winter lasted into summer and whether micro debris was also present there in large quantities.

So far we have not found more ghost nets in the area than elsewhere in the gyre, and the micro-debris, while significant, has not been found in heavier amounts than in the Eastern Garbage Patch.

We are here in summer, and it is believed that the nets have dispersed to who knows where by now. We have found fresher debris from Asia, and more Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene), but the concentrations have been extremely patchy.

I think what this voyage has shown us, more than anything else, is that on a scale of meters to a few kilometers, plastic pollution may vary dramatically. While none of our manta trawls have been plastic free, some taken right after each other have had extreme variability in their plastic content.

Just today, as Joel and Drew were filming for a school program using their small net which takes “education samples,” (unquantified trawls mixed together for showing the plastic pollution problem to young students and politicians), they informed me that they saw a particularly heavy amount of Styrofoam beads coming up, along with dozens of other plastic particles.

We immediately deployed our larger manta trawl and pulled it for half an hour, but when we observed the resulting sample in a large petri dish, we were surprised to see that no Styrofoam and only a few pieces of plastic were visible.

Scientists are beginning to become more sophisticated in their ability to understand ocean currents on the smaller, “meso ” scale, and are looking at what they are calling “sticky” parts of the ocean that can accumulate more plastic debris.

We are seeing this phenomenon on a regular basis as we cull debris out of the ocean by standing on the bow and grabbing it as it floats by with various sized pole nets. We will stand there for 10 or 15 minutes and not see many bits float by, and then there will be a “patch” of many pieces in a short interval, or the concentration may last for some time.

We have also seen “rivers” of calm water and/or plankton that we can navigate and find heavier concentrations of plastic discards than in the surrounding sea water. It must be emphasized, however, that on a larger, or “macro” scale, the entire gyre is a plastic soup or stew of debris.

Every day we pull up a collection of plastic bits and bottles, fishing net parts and buoys, and miscellaneous plastic junk, that now occupies several square meters of deck space. The issue of debris “hot spots” is an important one for NOAA and others who wish to implement “end of pipe” solutions to the marine debris problem.

If they are to be able to make any kind of a dent in the 52 tons a year of ghost nets that impact the new Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument, they need to know where to go to find them in high concentration, as doing what we are doing, sailing along a random transect, has not yet produced even one ton for us.

Their basic strategy is to use known oceanographic parameters that can be measured from satellite, and get a general concentration zone they can then send drone aircraft deployed from ships to find specific targets worth picking up because of their large size.

While NOAA still believes this to be a promising strategy, their first trial voyage last March with a drone aircraft did not succeed in locating any nets. Targeting the areas where derelict fishing gear accumulates and going out and trying to pick it up is what is known as an “end of the pipe” solution.

This term is often used by stormwater managers and refers to the difficulty of treating the storm runoff from urban areas at the end of its journey. Stormwater, running off of the urban hardscape does not have the pollutants it collects along the way filtered out by soil, plants or sand as it would in a natural watershed.

A new strategy is to create settling ponds and natural habitats where pollutants can be mitigated before they arrive at the receiving body, which is usually the ocean or a river or lake.

The problem is creating the political will to convert expensive urban real estate into what amounts to bio-filtration media, and some municipalities can only install expensive ozone treatment systems at the end of the pipe to protect swimmers from bacteria.
These systems may not be able to remove excess nutrients or other contaminants that might still affect sensitive habitats that receive the runoff.

With an internaltional community of nations in disarray, it is also very difficult to develop the political will to deal with the worldwide increase in fishing and synthetic polymer fishing gear. After the establishment of 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones around the coastal nations of the world, the incentive to develop the capability to exploit a nation’s marine resources or sell the right to one that could increased dramatically.

The world’s fishing fleets became markedly overcapitalized, meaning that there were more nets and boats than fish to catch. With increasing pressure to supply world demand for seafood, it was inevitable that the more economical synthetic polymer nets, lines and floats would be lost in increasing quantities. Accidental loss is not covered under MARPOL Annex V, which prohibits the dumping of plastics anywhere in the ocean. Therefore, no reporting of such losses is required.

Faced with the possible extinction of the critically endangered Hawaiian Monk seal, the only tropical seal, our nation has no choice but to try to remove some of the 52 tons of such nets and gear that impact the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument annually. A long term solution will require the invention of photdegradable or biodegradable fishing gear and reporting and take back schemes on an international level.

It is imperative that more strict regulation of international fishing be implemented and many conservation organizations are working toward this goal. It is our hope that changes in the polymer chemistry of the gear will also be on the table during these discussions.

The schooling fish in the deep ocean are practically gone. We have only caught one tuna in over a month of fishing, and it was a baby skipjack weighing less than half a pound. What we catch are Mahi Mahi which do not school and feed mainly on the pelagic flying fish which we are also seeing in fewer numbers than on previous trips.

We have found plastic in some of the Mahi Mahi and also found them consuming lantern fish and rainbow runner, species which are known to eat plastic fragments.

From the Asian side of the International Dateline
Captain Charles Moore, Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita


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Commercial real estate lending program picks up

July 17th, 2009 admin No comments

Investors’ appetite picked up this month for a government program aimed at spurring lending in the troubled commercial real estate market. The program is part of larger consumer lending effort called the Term-Asset Backed Securities Loan Facility, or

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