The Middle Class Are Shoplifting to Keep Up Appearances - (www.timesonline.co.uk) Middle-class shoppers who have been hit by the recession are stealing hundreds of millions of pounds of expensive food in an effort to maintain their high standard of living, according to a new survey. Quality cuts of meat, fresh fish and high-priced cheeses are being taken by mostly middle-class women from speciality food and convenience shops, where thefts have risen sharply in the past year. Thousands of retailers have found that luxury foods are being stolen for individual use rather than to be sold on. The information comes from more than 42,000 shops in Europe with combined sales of £262 billion, who were questioned by the Centre for Retail Research, an independent organisation, for Checkpoint Systems, the retail security specialists. They found that shoplifting in Britain has increased in the past year by nearly 20 per cent to almost £5 billion, £750 million more than in 2008, keeping Britain at the top of Europe’s shoplifting table. Clothing and fashion accessory shops were hardest hit, with branded designer goods high on thieves’ shopping lists, closely followed by DIY stores.
Hundreds of thousands of prisoners are released each year. They are now virtually unemployable. – (money.cnn.com) If you think it's tough getting a job during a recession, imagine what it's like for an ex-convict. Gregory Headley, 29, knows exactly what it's like. The Harlem resident was released from prison in July after serving two years and eight months for the criminal sale of a firearm. Now that he's out, he said, the conviction is dogging his attempts to land a full-time job. "There's no nice way of saying, 'I sold a gun,' " Headley said recently as he headed to his part-time job cleaning sidewalks. Headley was placed in the temporary, minimum-wage job by the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit organization in Manhattan that helps ex-convicts transition into law-abiding lifestyles. "I'm not going to lie: $40 a day hurts," said Headley, feeling the squeeze of the $28,000 in child support debt that he accumulated in prison. "But what I need to do is stay on the path I'm on, try to get used to the struggle instead of trying to beat the odds." Terrence Mason, assistant director of participant services at the employment center, described Headley as a "good guy" and a "go-getter." But he acknowledged that many employers will look no further than his rap sheet. "His conviction is a tough sell to employers," said Mason.
Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died - (www.nytimes.com) Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials. Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients. Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials. Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.
Every phone call, text message, email and website visit made by private citizens is to be stored for a year and will be available for monitoring by government bodies (In the UK) - (www.telegraph.co.uk) All telecoms companies and internet service providers will be required by law to keep a record of every customer’s personal communications, showing who they have contacted, when and where, as well as the websites they have visited. Despite widespread opposition to the increasing amount of surveillance in Britain, 653 public bodies will be given access to the information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors. They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to obtain the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority. Ministers had originally wanted to store the information on a single government-run database, but chose not to because of privacy concerns. However the Government announced yesterday it was pressing ahead with privately held “Big Brother” databases that opposition leaders said amounted to “state-spying” and a form of “covert surveillance” on the public. It is doing so despite its own consultation showing that it has little public support. The Home Office admitted that only one third of respondents to its six-month consultation on the issue supported its proposals, with 50 per cent fearing that the scheme lacked sufficient safeguards to protect the highly personal data from abuse. The new law will increase the amount of personal data that can be obtained by officials through the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which is supposed to be used for fighting terrorism. Although most private firms already hold details of every customer’s private calls and emails for their own business purposes, most only do so on an ad hoc basis and only for a period of several months. The new rules, known as the Intercept Modernisation Programme, will not only force communications companies to keep their records for longer, but to expand the type of data they keep to include details of every website their customers visit, effectively registering every online click. While public authorities will not be able to view the contents of these emails or phone calls, they can see the internet addresses, dates, times and identify recipients of calls. Firms involved in storing the data, including Orange, BT and Vodafone, will be reimbursed at a cost to the taxpayer of £2 billion over 10 years. Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said he had fears about the abuse of the data. He said: “The big danger in all of this is 'mission creep’. This government keeps on introducing new powers to tackle terrorism and organised crime which end up being used for completely different purposes. We have to stop that from happening”.
Fannie, Freddie - They Need More Money - (bubblemeter.blogspot.com) Fannie Mae, the federally controlled mortgage finance giant, said Thursday it lost $19 billion in the third quarter and had submitted a request to the Treasury Department for $15 billion in more aid to stay afloat. District-based Fannie Mae and its McLean sibling, Freddie Mac, were seized in early September 2008 by the federal government. Since then, Fannie Mae has lost $111 billion. The $15 billion in aid it has requested comes on top of $45 billion it already received. Freddie Mac has received $51 billion in aid. In total, the seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has cost taxpayers $121 billion, among the costliest of the government's interventions to stabilize the financial markets. Fannie Mae said its losses and its need for additional government aid are both likely to continue. And it said activities it was undertaking at the behest of the Treasury Department, such as modifying mortgages to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, were magnifying its losses. ... In its earnings statement, Fannie Mae said its assistance to struggling homeowners "could adversely affect our economic returns, possibly significantly."
LA Times on Michael Ruppert's 'Collapse' Documentary - (www.latimes.com) But what is surely the strangest film about our doomsday fantasies arrives this Friday. Called "Collapse," it features a spellbindingly weird one-man monologue by Michael Ruppert, a former LAPD officer and investigative journalist who believes that we are about to run out of oil, an event sure to plunge the world into a state of collapse since Ruppert is convinced that our entire world economy is built on an unsustainable addiction to petrol. If you ever thought it was impossible to top Beck's over-the-top fantasies, listen to Ruppert, who says that "what I see now is the end of a paradigm that is as cataclysmic as the asteroid event that killed almost all the life on Earth, and certainly the dinosaurs." The film is directed by Chris Smith, who has made a number of documentaries about oddball characters pursuing impossible dreams -- his 1999 film "American Movie" chronicled the story of a hapless slacker trying to make a $3,000 homemade horror film. But what makes "Collapse" so sneakily compelling is that we have no inkling of what Smith thinks of his subject. Filmed with one camera over the course of two days in the basement of an abandoned meatpacking plant in downtown L.A., "Collapse" is a hermetically sealed package, open to whatever interpretation we might bring to it. It allows us the same freedom we have in watching Beck's show -- we can take it as gospel, be appalled by its wild, undocumented claims or simply watch bemused, appreciating Ruppert's gifts as a performer. "I think there is something quintessentially American about Michael," says Smith, who financed the film himself, using the money he's made as a successful commercial director. "He comes out of the culture of the moment, in the same way that we foster all these high-flying entrepreneurs and self-help gurus. When you look at his upbringing, to have gone from being a police officer to someone who questions authority, it fits into a storyline that could only happen in this country." "Collapse" opens Friday in theaters in New York and L.A. while also debuting this weekend on the Film Buff video-on-demand channel. Smith admits that he has "very conflicted feelings" about Ruppert. "A lot of what he says is incredibly thought-provoking, with lots of historical support, but there are things that you'd probably get a lot of criticism for believing," he says. "So I wanted to give the audience the experience of living inside his world for 85 minutes. Even if you can't prove all of his ideas, his passion and belief is definitely concrete." I got hooked on "Collapse" for much the same reason that millions of viewers have fallen for Beck. Every time I'd start to think that Ruppert was a deluded crackpot, he'd reel me back in, grabbing me by the throat with a burst of seemingly persuasive analysis. He poses his oil-collapse scenario in simple, hard-to-refute logic. "Saudi Arabia has 25% of the oil reserves on the planet," he explains in a soothing, almost hypnotic voice. "Why, if Saudi Arabia has all these untapped reserves on shore, are they moving heavily into offshore drilling? If it's 5, 10 or 15 times more expensive to drill offshore than land, doesn't that tell you that Saudi Arabia knows that they've no more oil to find?"
CNN Anchor Lou Dobbs Says He is Leaving Network - (money.cnn.com) CNN host Lou Dobbs, whose outspoken views on U.S. immigration have made him one of the most controversial figures on cable news, said on Wednesday he is leaving the 24-hour cable news network because he wants a freer platform to state his opinion. Dobbs, who announced his decision near the start of his nightly news and commentary show, did not say where he plans to go after finishing nearly 30 years at CNN, now a unit ofTime Warner Inc. "For the past six months it has become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us," Dobbs said. "Some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and engage in constructive problem-solving," said Dobbs, referring to himself as one of the last original CNN anchors. A CNN source told Reuters Dobbs will be concentrating on his syndicated radio show, "The Lou Dobbs Show," and would not confirm a New York Times report that he had met with Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of the Fox News channel, a CNN rival owned by News Corp.