How the Phillies' foursome was built

Friday, 1 April 2011

PHILADELPHIA -- In life, we can never truly know what might have been. We can know only what is.
So all we really know about the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, now that Opening Day has finally arrived, is that four of the most dominant starting pitchers alive happen to be lined up to start approximately 132 of their 162 games this year.
But there's a what-if subplot to this story that boggles the mind. And it begins with a question just about everyone was asking last year at this time, but almost no one is asking now:
Suppose, back in December 2009, the Phillies had never traded away Cliff Lee?
It's a question that still gnaws at the gut of the general manager who traded him, Ruben Amaro Jr. Sixteen months later, the GM still isn't sure "if it was the right move or the wrong move," he says.
Well, it was probably the wrong move on a million levels, despite the logic that motivated it. But -- cue the "Twilight Zone" soundtrack -- without that move, this never happens.
[+] EnlargePhillies
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarHow many wins for Philadelphia's starting rotation this season: 65, 70, 75 ...?

This rotation wouldn't exist, not in this star-studded form, at least. We can just about guarantee it.
When you look back now and piece together the unlikely sequence of events that brought this rotation together, it all becomes clear. The "wrong" move, the move the Phillies probably never should have made, triggered all the right moves that followed.
It started the dominoes toppling. It caused one dot to connect to the next dot, which connected to all the other dots.
"There were a lot of different scenarios that could have been created," Amaro says now. "We talk about this [in the front office] all the time. We don't get Roy Oswalt and we don't get Cliff Lee if it doesn't work out exactly the way that it did. I honestly believe that. Whether we're lucky or whether we're shrewd, I couldn't tell you that. But probably more lucky than shrewd."
Well, whatever it was, it was never some kind of master plan to bring all these aces together. The GM never did wake up one morning and decide it would be fun to go out and collect all the Cy Young Award winners in North America.
Sometimes stuff just happens in life, all because one thing leads to the next thing. And that's precisely what went down here.
Because Roy Halladay suddenly became available back then, the Phillies made a way-too-brief attempt to explore what it would take to get Lee signed long-term. And that triggered a second abrupt decision -- to trade Lee to Seattle.
Then, because Lee was gone, the Phillies actually went out in July and tried to make a deal to get him back. But because they got outbid by Texas, they turned around and traded for Oswalt instead.
And, finally, it all came full circle when Lee hit free agency during winter and decided he wanted to be a part of the Phearsome Phoursome -- or whatever we're calling this rotation this week.
How did all those pieces come to fit together the way they did? Well, accidents will happen. And this was one of them.
"We're very lucky," Amaro says, "that the ball just kind of rolled the right way."
But there are many more nuances to the path that ball took. And without each one of them, you wouldn't find an "R2C2" shirt hanging on a rack in any sporting-goods store in Philly.
So let's start with this question: A year and a half ago, didn't Amaro and his front office kick off this chain of events by totally misreading how much Lee wanted to remain in Philadelphia in the first place?

Things happen for a reason. You don't always have to like it. It doesn't always have to be what you want to happen. But things definitely happen for a reason.
-- Phillies LHP Cliff Lee
The GM admits now that, obviously, they did.
"But my concern," he says, "and the reason why we moved so quickly on it, was that [Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos] was anxious to make a move with Roy [Halladay]. And I didn't want to miss the boat there. That was an extremely stressful and dicey time, because of course I wanted to keep Cliff Lee. But we had the opportunity to acquire what we thought was the best pitcher in baseball at the time [Halladay]. And I didn't want to miss out on it."
In retrospect, Amaro says, he probably shouldn't have been in such a frenzy -- to arrange one trade (to import Halladay) and to line up the second (to export Lee) at the same time. But he also had a timing issue.
He had a good feeling he could sign Halladay if he traded for him. He wasn't so sure he could ever sign Lee. So Amaro was worried that if he waited, by the time he'd fully explored whether it would be possible to keep Lee, Halladay would have been gone.
So all these months down the road, the man who made those deals reflects often on what might have been if he'd passed on Halladay, kept Lee and then found out Lee was out of his price range. Then, the GM says, he was looking at a potential 2011 rotation of Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, the then-unproved J.A. Happ and … uh … well, who the heck knows?
Lee was going to be a free agent. Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer were also due to become free agents. So the only two starters the Phillies would have controlled -- heading into this season, remember -- were Hamels and Kendrick.
Instead, they wound up with the Four Horsemen plus Blanton.
"I think," Amaro chuckles, "I like the latter."
Well, who wouldn't? But of course, Amaro is still working under an assumption we don't know for sure to be accurate -- that had he not traded for Halladay right then, the Blue Jays would have turned around and traded him somewhere else.
"No question," Amaro says. "I would certainly think so. Why wouldn't they? I can't speak for Alex, but I know Alex's main goal was to get as much talent in his system as he possibly could. And I would assume, maybe incorrectly, that someone was going to give up enough talent to go get this man."
Now it's interesting to note that Anthopoulos says he isn't 100 percent certain of that. And it's even more interesting to note that Halladay, who had a full no-trade clause, says Philadelphia was "pretty close to the only place I was willing to go to." So if the Phillies deal hadn't worked out, "I don't think I would have gotten traded," he says.
But Amaro remains skeptical.
"You would think," he says of Halladay, "that if he doesn't come to Philadelphia, there's a scenario where he ends up being in New York [with the Yankees]" -- whereupon the Yankees would have done their darnedest to make him a multigazillionaire.
[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Kathy WillensWhat if the Phillies hadn't traded Cliff Lee to Seattle?
OK, maybe. Or maybe not. But even if Halladay hadn't gotten traded then, he'd have been quite the attractive Human Trade Rumor again this past July. Or he'd have become a free agent this past winter, when Amaro is convinced his price tag would have approached the gross domestic product of the Netherlands. In other words, the GM says, Cy Halladay wouldn't have been a Phillie.
"I don't think there's any chance," Amaro says. "God knows what he would have ended up signing for as a free agent."
As a free agent, would he have taken $60 million over three years -- the deal the Phillies signed him to when they traded for him? Seems almost preposterous. But Halladay says: Don't be so sure of that.
"To me, free agency was a chance to pick where you want to play," he says, "not a chance to see how much money you could get. … So more than likely, I would have pushed pretty hard, if I'd become a free agent, to be here."
Then again, Halladay concedes, "It might have been different [if] Cliff had been here. If he had stayed, he probably would have signed a long-term deal to stay, also. So I don't know what would have happened."
But Amaro says he knows what would have happened. Even if both Lee and Halladay had been willing to take the same below-market, five-year, $125 million deal Lee agreed to this past winter, there weren't enough dollars in the Phillies' checking account to do that twice.
"I can tell you this," Amaro says. "We wouldn't have been able to [afford] both those guys at five [years] times $25 [million] -- and that's at least what it would have been. I can absolutely tell you that."
In other words, under just about any other scenario than the one that unfolded, the chances that the Phillies would now be employing both Lee and Halladay are pretty close to none and none.
But say that miracle happened. Somehow. Say they'd traded for Halladay in July instead of December. Then there'd have been no trade for Oswalt. Or say they'd have traded to get Lee back in July. Then there also would have been no deal for Oswalt.
"Pretty good Plan B," Amaro says, laughing.

So obviously, once the doors began sliding, there was no stopping them.
"Roy Oswalt may not approve that trade if we don't have this rotation," Amaro says. "Cliff Lee may not want to come back to Philadelphia if we don't have Hamels and Oswalt and Halladay. I mean, all these things kind of lined up right for us."
Or say the Phillies already had both Halladay and Lee on their roster. Then the No. 1 pitcher on the Rumor Central charts this past July would have been (yep) Roy Oswalt. Who probably would have become a Ranger, not a Phillie.
So the only road the Phillies could have traveled that led them to this place was the one they wound up following practically by happenstance. But it still wouldn't have allowed their team to put this rotation in place if Lee hadn't followed his heart instead of his 401(k) this past winter and signed with the Phillies.
Yet even he sometimes has to scratch his head, look around and digest how crazy it is that it all turned out the way it did.
"You know, usually, when you're traded away by a team," Lee says, "you don't expect to end up back there, especially signing there as a free agent. I mean, I knew that if I had the opportunity to come back there, I would. But looking back at it, I don't think it would have been possible to get Oswalt, Halladay and myself here on the same team without going through that deal. So in the long run, it seems like it worked out better."
Oh, he's still a little confused about why he got traded, because "I thought I made it pretty clear how much I enjoyed my time here." And the Phillies are fortunate he didn't get traded to the Yankees in July, because if he had, there's a much higher probability he'd be a Yankee now.
But when it came time to choose his next employer this past winter, Lee saw a chance to win, a place he loved playing in, a clubhouse full of players he'd once had a great time playing alongside and four rotation co-stars named Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton who became a "huge factor" in his decision.
[+] EnlargePhillies Infographic
ESPN.comPhilly's Phearsome Phoursome throws strikes -- lots of them (click graphic to enlarge).
So voila. The Rotation was born.
"I don't know how far Ruben thinks in advance," Halladay says. "But one of the first things he told me [16 months ago] … after we agreed to the deal, [when] we were talking about Cliff, and he said, 'We're going to try to get him back.'
"You know, it's funny how it all works out," Halladay muses.
Well, it isn't so LOL funny to the hitters who will have to face this crew this year. But it's sure how'd-that-happen funny if you're someone who loves thinking those fascinating what-if kind of thoughts.
Was it luck? Was it karma? Was it front-office brilliance? Or, as the man whose trade kicked off this improbable journey now wonders, was this just the way the celestial bodies were supposed to line up all along?
"Things happen for a reason," Lee says all these months later. "You don't always have to like it. It doesn't always have to be what you want to happen. But things definitely happen for a reason. And that's not just baseball. That's life in general. So was it supposed to work out the way it did? I mean, you've got to think so. We're here, aren't we? And we're together.
"So I think definitely," says the man who became the final piece in the Four Horsemen jigsaw, "it was just meant to be."
READ MORE - How the Phillies' foursome was built

Atlanta Braves (0-0) at Washington Nationals (0-0), 1:05 p.m. Read more:

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Though they are coming off their first playoff appearance in five years, the Atlanta Braves are still set to begin a new chapter of their storied franchise.
The Washington Nationals will just be happy if they can take some baby steps forward in bringing a winning season to the nation's capital.
Led by new manager Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta kicks off its 2011 season against Washington in the opener of a three-game series at Nationals Park.
The Braves will begin a season without Bobby Cox as their manager for the first time since 1989, one year before Cox began his second tenure with the club. In total, he managed the Atlanta franchise for 25 seasons, winning over 2,000 games, five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series before retiring at the end of the 2010 season.
Atlanta tried to send Cox out on top, winning the NL Wild Card to return to the postseason for the first time since 1995, but was defeated in four games by the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series.
Gonzalez was hired on Oct. 13 to replace Cox after being fired by the Marlins in June. He spent four season's on Cox's staff from 2003-06 and went 276-279 during his three-and-a-half year tenure with Florida.
Dan Uggla will start at second for the Braves after being acquired from Florida this offseason and he will add some power to Atlanta's lineup. Uggla set career bests last season with a .287 average, 33 homers and 105 runs batted in, and is the only second baseman in MLB history to notch four straight seasons of at least 30 homers.
The acquisition of Uggla cost the Braves All-Star utilityman Omar Infante and reliever Mike Dunn and also moved All-Star Martin Prado to left field, while rookie Freddie Freeman is set to start at first.
Not everything is new for Atlanta as Chipper Jones is back for his 18th season with the club. Set to turn 39 in April, Jones is looking to bounce back from left knee surgery that ended his season early last year and the former MVP and 2008 NL batting champion hit .387 in 21 games this spring.
Taking the ball for the Braves on Opening Day for a third straight season is 37-year Derek Lowe, who was second on the club last year with 16 wins but also had a club-high 12 losses in 33 starts with a 4.00 earned run average. The righty, though, did win his final five starts of 2010 with a 1.17 ERA before yielding just three runs in a pair of playoff losses.
Lowe faced the Nationals five times last year, going 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA.
Washington will counter with its own veteran in Livan Hernandez, who went just 10-12 in 2010 despite a solid 3.66 ERA over a club-high 33 starts. The 36- year-old also topped 200 innings pitched for the 10th time in his 15 seasons.
The right-handed Hernandez, who is set to make his fourth Opening Day start with the franchise, went 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in five starts against the Braves a season ago, yielding two runs or less in four of those outings.
Hernandez will try to get Washington's season off on the right foot after the club posted its fifth straight losing season last year. Though they avoided a third straight 100-loss campaign, the Nationals haven't finished above .500 since the Montreal-based club went 83-79 in 2003.
Help is on the way as Stephen Strasburg, the top pick of the 2009 draft, had an outstanding debut last season that was cut short due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He should be able to contribute again full- time by 2012, which is also when 2010 top overall pick Bryce Harper may be ready for the big leagues.
Those two will join third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and right fielder Jayson Werth to form a solid core in Washington. Werth will make his Nats debut this afternoon after signing a seven-year, $126 million dealt this offseason. He spent his previous four years with the Phillies, hitting .296 last season with a career-high 106 runs scored while averaging 29 homers and 84 RBI over the previous three campaigns.
Washington, though, did lose first baseman Adam Dunn to free agency and replaced him with former Diamondback Adam LaRoche after failing to land both Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena. LaRoche, who began his career with the Braves, had a career-best 100 RBI a season ago with 25 homers and a .261 average.
Second base will also feature a new look in Danny Espinosa, who should improve a defense that committed 127 errors last season. Center fielder Rick Ankiel, another new addition, should also help.
Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez enters his second season with the club and the 14-time All-Star will play in the 2,500th game of his career today.
Washington won the season series with Atlanta last year, besting its NL East rival in 10 of the 18 meetings. That included a victory in six of nine at Nationals Park.

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READ MORE - Atlanta Braves (0-0) at Washington Nationals (0-0), 1:05 p.m. Read more:

Historians and educators share their favorite stories of Richmond

Monday, 28 March 2011

With the approaching 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently invited a group of area historians and educators to participate in a moderated roundtable about the importance of history. (Read a transcript and see video from the discussion at, search: history.)
We also asked them to share their favorite tales of Richmond. The following is a sampling of their stories.
Edward Ragan, staff historian, Valentine Richmond History Center, likes the story of Richard Gill Forrester because it shows how Richmond's history is more complex and intertwined than we may think.
Richard was 13 when the Civil War began. He worked as a page in the Virginia Assembly. As soon as that Secession Convention voted to secede, they pulled down the U.S. flag. Richard grabbed it from the trash heap and took it home, kept it tucked it under his bed for the duration of the war. And this was the first flag to fly above the capital at the end of the Civil War. On the morning when Union troops entered Richmond, Richard ran out and raised that flag for just a moment. But we got to see his commitment.
The reason that story is so striking to me is because Richard was both a free black man and Jewish. His father was Jewish, his mother was African-American. He grew up in a Jewish household. He's kosher. Yet at the same time he also participated in the First African Baptist Church.
Ultimately this story shows us that Richmond's story is more than a simple black-and-white story. It's never as simple as we think it is.

S. Waite Rawls, III, president and CEO, Museum of the Confederacy, chose the story of Phoebe Pember, who was the head nurse at Chimborazo Hospital here in Richmond during the Civil War.
One of her patients was a young man who had had an experimental surgery done on his leg to mend it, but it didn't work. He rolled over in his sleep one night and the broken leg bone severed his femoral artery. He started spurting blood and people started yelling.
Phoebe Pember came in and reached into the wound and pinched the artery closed. They called for a doctor, who looked at the young man and whispered in her ear and left.
The young man said to her, "What did he say?" and she said, "It's not good."
He said, "Am I going to die?" and she said, "Yes, you are."
And he said, "When?" and she said, "As soon as I let go of this artery."
He said, "Ma'am, would you say a short prayer for me?" She did.
And then he looked up at her and he said, "Ma'am, it's OK. You can let go."

Jim Triesler, a history teacher at Clover Hill High School and 2007 teacher of the year for Chesterfield County and the region, uses the story of Lee and Grant after Appomattox to teach the value of keeping your word.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant paroled the Confederate soldiers who were at Appomattox Courthouse, when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865. Lee was also covered by the agreements of the surrender and parole of the Confederate troops.
Lee returned to Richmond to be with his wife. A short time later, Federal troops came to arrest General Lee. When General Grant got word that Lee was going to be arrested, he threatened to resign. Grant was the highest ranking general in the United States Army since George Washington and he threatened to resign because his enemy was going to be arrested!
The reason was that Grant had given his word to Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia when he paroled them at Appomattox. Grant's word meant so much to him that he would resign his commission rather than have it be broken. Lee was not arrested and Grant did not resign.
Many students today think that it is OK to say anything in order to get what they want. Their "word" sometimes has no value or meaning. That is why I think it is so important that we share stories like the one of Lee and Grant. We must help students to value the things that they say to others.

Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond and historian of the American South, talked about the period after the war.
"My Richmond story," as you might expect, is related to education. When I am telling visitors to Richmond about what they should make it a point to see, I urge them to visit the site of Lumpkin's Jail, the notorious slave pen known as "The Devil's Half Acre."
Anthony Burns, an escaped slave who was returned to Richmond in 1854, provides a horrific account of his incarceration at Lumpkin's Jail. His description, which also gives voice to the thousands who left no record of their confinement, leaves nothing to the imagination and no question as to how it got its name.
Freedom in 1865 gave birth to new possibilities, and in 1867 the bars on the windows of Lumpkin's Jail were knocked out and cells were removed by black men — former slaves — as they retrofitted it to become a school for freedmen. The school that began at Lumpkin's became Virginia Union University, which opened its doors to all. Virginia Union is recognized nationally for its prominent graduates and their leadership of important and enduring causes.
The history of Lumpkin's Jail and its transformation from "The Devil's Half Acre" to "God's Half Acre" is one I find myself repeating often.
Caroline Morris, Lemon Project Fellow, College of William and Mary found the story of Sunshine Sue while studying the history of radio station WRVA in Richmond.
Mary Workman, known as Sunshine Sue, was the "femcee" of the Old Dominion Barn Dance radio show in late 1940s and 1950s at the height of Harry Byrd's Virginia. Her stage was at the Lyric Theater, which was just uphill from the General Assembly Building and right across from the Governor's Mansion.
They all held their stages during the day. Hers was at night. And her stage had the biggest audience.
So even in Harry Byrd's Virginia, where it looked like a bunch of very upper crust elite men held all the cards, there are other ways of playing that game, and Mary Workman found a way to carve out a successful career and reach listeners all over the world through the Armed Forces Radio Network and through NBC.

Christy Coleman, president and CEO of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, recalled the murder of George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of American Independence and the first professor of law at the College of William and Mary, which was the first law school in North America. Thomas Jefferson was among his students.
A Colonial Williamsburg podcast and website tell the story:
George Wythe's murder, or alleged murder, took place in Richmond in 1806. His grandnephew, George Wythe Sweney , was accused of murdering Wythe and a young mulatto named Michael Brown.
Wythe, 80, had written his will in favor of Sweney, but he also gave generous bequests to a freed woman, Lydia Broadnax; a freed man named Benjamin; and the freed boy, Michael. All of them lived with Wythe in Richmond.
A ne'er-do-well, Sweney had forged checks against Wythe's accounts to cover pressing debts. Hoping to avoid detection and inherit his great uncle's entire estate, he poisoned strawberries or coffee eaten by Wythe, Broadnax and Michael Brown. Michael died within days. Broadnax recovered. Wythe endured two weeks of agony, but as he lay dying, Sweney's forgeries were discovered, and Wythe revised his will.
A grand jury indicted Sweney for murder, but Sweney went free, because the evidence against him was circumstantial. No witness was able to testify that he saw Sweney poison the food. Broadnax was thought to have been in the kitchen when the food was poisoned, but she was not allowed to testify against a white person in court.
Wythe is buried at St. John's Church in Richmond, the church in which Patrick Henry made his "Liberty or Death" speech.

Elvatrice Belsches, an independent historian, has chronicled the history of early blacks in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy in Richmond and beyond. One of her favorite characters is Dr. Sarah G. Jones, 1866-1905.
When she graduated from medical school at Howard University in 1893, she took the boards and subsequently became the first lady of any race to be granted a license to practice by the State Board of Medicine. That's a fact that isn't commonly known in the state.
After her husband followed in her footsteps, they, together with a group of professionals started the Richmond Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1902. That hospital continues more than 100 years later as Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital.
What people aren't cognizant of, she gave so much to the community that she passed away partly from being overworked. She saw people at three different offices every day. She would get in her buggy and go from Oregon Hill to Jackson Ward to Church Hill. In addition to that, she had a free clinic at least once a week for women and children. She had both black and white patients.
Why did they feel the need to start a hospital? One reason was to eradicate health-care disparities in African-Americans. Another was that those black health-care professionals didn't have a place to hone their medical skills. They weren't allowed to practice in the majority hospitals. It provided a place for professional development and a continuum of care.

Thelma Williams-Tunstall, director, Teaching American History Academy, Richmond Public Schools, said she appreciates the story of Maggie L. Walker, the pioneering banker whose home in Jackson Ward is a National Park Service Historic Site. In 1903, Walker became the first black woman in the nation to charter a bank, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank.
It showed how a woman during that period in history, a black woman, introduced herself to a life that would be different than she had experienced. She learned about how to handle money. ... She wanted to change things and always make them better for her family, her friends, and her city. She did that by setting up insurance and the penny savings bank and she motivated people to follow their dreams.
Her house at that time was a key place in the black history of Richmond. As she got older and had trouble walking, she put an elevator in, and that was an amazing thing for that period of time.
Her story not only zeroed in on women, so many of whom were left out, but (it also) made them see if this lady could do it, anybody could do it. Even at the point of using a wheelchair, she still went around and did what she needed to do.
READ MORE - Historians and educators share their favorite stories of Richmond

eBay Acquires GSI Commerce For $2.4 Billion In Cash And Debt

eBay has just announced that it has agreed to buy GSI Commerce, a provider of ecommerce and interactive marketing services, for $29.25 a share, or total consideration of approximately $2.4 billion. The acquisition, which will be financed with cash and debt, is expected to close in Q3 2011.
With more than 180 customers across 14 merchandise categories, GSI has long-term commerce services relationships with a wealth of retailers and brands. eBay says it expects GSI clients to benefit from eBay’s Marketplaces and PayPal services, particularly.
The merger consideration represents a 51 percent premium over GSI’s closing price on March 25, 2011. As usual, the transaction is subject to regulatory approval as well as other customary closing conditions.
Under the terms of the merger agreement, GSI Commerce may solicit acquisition proposals from third parties for a 40-day “go-shop” period continuing through May 6, 2011. The agreement, however, also provides eBay with a customary right to match a superior proposal.
As part of the transaction, eBay will divest businesses that it says are not core to its long-term growth strategy. The divestiture includes 100 percent of GSI’s licensed sports merchandise business and 70 percent of ShopRunner and Rue La La.
These assets will be sold to a newly formed holding company, which will be led by GSI founder and CEO Michael Rubin. eBay will loan said company $467 million in total, while Rubin will invest an additional $31 million in cash.
READ MORE - eBay Acquires GSI Commerce For $2.4 Billion In Cash And Debt

Bottle blonde Lady Gaga reveals her hair is falling out

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Lady Gaga has revealed her beauty secrets and confessed she is losing her hair.
The singer, who has become a style icon with her outrageous outfits, said she dyes her hair so much it falls out.
Naturally brown the 24 year old is known for her trademark platinum blonde.
Dyeing to be blonde: Lady Gaga, pictured here in concert last January in New York, says her hair is falling out because she uses so much dye
Dyeing to be blonde: Lady Gaga, pictured here in concert last January in New York, says her hair is falling out because she uses so much dye
The Paparazzi star also named Princess Diana as one of her beauty influences along with her mother Cynthia Germanotta.
Lady Gaga, who has dyed her naturally brown hair since launching her singing career, says she misses her dark hair when she has to 'get a chemical haircut because my blonde hair is falling out'.
Before she was famous: Lady Gaga is a natural brunette
Before she was famous: Lady Gaga is a natural brunette
Other parts of her beauty regime are also likely to horrify beauty experts such as sleeping with her make-up on seven days a week.
'That is not good for your skin, but I'm blessed with good genes,' she told People magazine.
The singer also revealed that she always uses sunblock on her face, explaining: 'I don't like to tan my face because it's bad for wrinkles.'
Asked about the one treatment she would get at a spa, Lady Gaga said he would be a foot massage to relieve her aching feet from wearing sky high heels.
Lady Gaga, who outrageous outfits have included one made of meat,advised fans that the best beauty secrets is just being yourself.
'Just go with your gut,' she said.
'Whenever you try to be someone else, it’s boring.'
Earlier this month Lady Gaga, real name Stephanie Germanotta, said she stayed slim by following a 'drunk diet' which involved working out while hung-over from a previous night
READ MORE - Bottle blonde Lady Gaga reveals her hair is falling out

Federal Reserve readies plan to lift all boats. Who knows how it will play out?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Federal Reserve is about to take a huge risk in hopes of getting the economy steaming along again. Nobody is sure it will work, and it may actually do damage.
The Fed is expected to announce today that it will buy $500 billion to $1 trillion in government debt, and drive already low long-term interest rates even lower. The central bank would buy the debt in chunks of $100 billion a month, probably starting immediately.
Economists call it "quantitative easing." It gets the name "QE2" — like the ship — because this would be the second round. The Fed spent about $1.7 trillion from 2008 to earlier this year to take bonds off the hands of banks and stabilize them.
Here's how it's supposed to work this time: The Fed buys Treasury bonds from banks, providing them cash to lend to customers. Buying so many bonds also lowers interest rates because demand for Treasurys leads to higher prices and lower yields. Interest rates are linked to yields. Lower rates encourage people to borrow money for a mortgage or another loan.
At the same time, lower interest rates make relatively safe investments like bonds and cash less appealing, so companies and investors take the cash and buy equipment or other investments, like stocks. The S&P 500 takes off and Americans celebrate with a shopping spree. Businesses see a rise in sales and begin hiring again, and a virtuous cycle of more spending and more hiring ensues.
But many analysts and even supporters of the plan see dangers. It could make the weak dollar even weaker and lead to trade disputes with other countries. It could lead bond traders to believe that higher inflation is on the way, and they could derail the Fed's efforts by pushing rates higher. Many investors argue that it may create bubbles as hedge funds and other speculators borrow cheaply and make even bigger bets on stocks, commodities and markets in developing countries like Brazil.
"It's a desperate act," says Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of the investment firm GMO. Grantham says it's a clear message from the Fed to the rest of the world: "The U.S. doesn't care if the dollar weakens."
Here is a look at the ways the Fed's strategy could backfire:
As word trickled out over recent months that the Fed was planning a new round of bond purchases, the dollar sank. It hit a 15-year low to the Japanese yen Nov. 1. Why? In the simplest terms, a country that cuts interest rates makes its currency less attractive to the worlds' investors. The interest rate is also the investors' yield, the payout they receive. When that yield falls, the world's banks move their money into countries with higher rates. They may exchange U.S. dollars for Australian dollars then invest the money in higher-paying Australian bonds.
"The Fed aims to push up the prices of stocks, bonds, real estate, and you name it," says Bill O'Donnell, head of U.S. government bond strategy at the Royal Bank of Scotland. "Everything is going to go up but the dollar."
A drop in the dollar can help companies like Ford that sell their products abroad. When the dollar weakens against the euro, for example, one euro buys more dollars than before. Foreign customers notice the price of the Explorer they've been eyeing is lower in their currency, yet Ford still pockets the same number of dollars for every sale.
The downside is that a weakened dollar pinches people in the U.S. because anything produced in other countries becomes more expensive, like oranges from Spain or toys from China.
"Look around you," says Thomas Atteberry, a fund manager at First Pacific Advisors. "How many things can you find that were made in the U.S.A?"
Buying bundles of Treasurys knocks down interest rates, making borrowing cheap. But it also motivates investors to move out of safe investments into riskier ones in search of better returns. The stock market, for instance, rises in value and everyone with some of their savings in stocks feels wealthier. Ideally, it produces what economists call a "wealth effect": People who feel better off spend more.
The problem, according to some critics, is that cheap borrowing costs and buoyant markets make a fertile environment for bubbles, which eventually pop. "The effort to help the economy sets up another more dangerous bubble," says Grantham, who warned of Japan's surging real estate and stock markets in the 1980s, soaring Internet stocks in the 1990s and the housing market in the 2000s.
Stocks in developing countries are a likely candidate for the next bubble. Cash from Europe and the U.S. has plowed into emerging markets, such as Brazil and Chile, since the financial crisis, largely because these countries have less debt and faster economic growth than in the developed world.
Another concern: Hedge funds borrowing cheap money can magnify their bets, taking a loan at 2 per cent to buy a security that's rising 10 per cent. They sell the security, pay off the bank and pocket the rest. That's true whenever interest rates remain low. Falling rates allow speculators to borrow larger amounts. In the extreme, losses from hedge funds and other borrowers can put their banks at risk and leave governments to clean up the mess.
The game only works as long as the investment keeps climbing. When the bubble breaks, the fallout can devastate an economy.
"I think bubbles are the main villain in this piece," Grantham says.
Cheap debt provided the fuel for the housing bubble, allowing home buyers to take out larger loans on the belief that somebody else would buy the house at a higher price. Fed chief Ben Bernanke's answer, Grantham said, is to start the cycle over again by blowing a new bubble. "All they can do is replace one bubble with another one," he said.
For others in the bond market, the greatest worry isn't that the Fed will flood the economy with dollars and let inflation run wild. It's that the Fed will prove too timid.
"Whether QE2 works or not will be decided by the bond market," says Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at Bank of Tokyo. "Without a big number that gets the market's attention, the program they announce could be dead on arrival."
News reports that the Fed may spend less than the $500 billion bond traders have been betting on has helped push long-term rates higher in the last three weeks. David Ader, head of government bond strategy at CRT Capital, sketches one scenario if the Fed shoots too small. Say the Fed announces a $250 billion plan. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which is used to set lending rates for mortgages and corporate loans, could jump from 2.6 per cent to maybe 3.2 per cent.
"If the Fed's efforts fail we suddenly look like Japan," Ader says. "Japan started off wimpishly, then did it again, and again and then they wound up losing a decade."
READ MORE - Federal Reserve readies plan to lift all boats. Who knows how it will play out?

Cloud computing: How to get your business ready

Friday, 18 March 2011

Cloud computing is taking off on a massive scale, so what should companies look out for as they move their information technology into the cloud?
Cloud computing is not just a buzzword anymore. If 2010 was the year that cloud computing went mainstream, then 2011 will be the year that companies have to get their cloud strategy sorted.
At it's most basic, cloud computing is "just another word for something that's been going on for a long time - the internet," jokes Rowan Trollope, in charge of cloud services at web security firm Symantec.
In reality, though, cloud computing is a fundamental change of how we - companies and consumers - use computer technology.
Cloud computing is the delivery of computing power over the internet. It turns software into a service where customers don't pay for a licence but for how much they use; it makes computing power and storage space a commodity, bought when needed and scaled up when necessary.
The rush The cloud is such a "major technology disruption" that the new chief executive of computer giant Hewlett Packard, Leo Apotheker, has decided to refocus his whole company around a cloud strategy.
Continue reading the main story
Technology of Business
The early adopters are both the very big and the very small beasts in the corporate world.
"This year, especially for service providers like big telecoms companies, there is an extraordinary rush underway to deploy and go live with their cloud offerings," says Bob Beauchamp, CEO of BMC Software, a firm that helps large companies to build their own cloud solutions.
"The people who are most keen are those who see new revenue streams," says Mr Beauchamp.
One telecoms boss told him that "time is of the essence, we must hurry and get our cloud offering out because the market is very competitive, and we don't want to be late to the market."
Not everybody is quite ready yet. Many manufacturers, says Mr Beauchamp, haven't even started to think about their cloud strategy.
Many established small and medium-sized firms don't even know what the cloud is, reports Martin Leuw, until recently chief executive of Iris Software Group.
From zero to server in 30 seconds Ironically, small firms would be best placed to take advantage of the cloud. Indeed, it is usually start-ups that are seizing the moment.
After all, information technology is costly. It requires capital expenditure - for servers, software licences - and a team to maintain it all.
Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Cloud will ultimately become the prime architecture to deliver IT services”
End Quote Bob Beauchamp BMC Software
And it is slow. "Twelve years ago, it took a company six to eight weeks to commission a server," says Lanham Napier, chief executive of Rackspace, a webhosting and cloud services company.
Putting your IT into the cloud allows "you to have a new server in 30 seconds, and to innovate and grow faster," he promises.
But going into the cloud is not without pitfalls. Companies have to think strategically how to "enable the cloud, get the road map, embrace the implementation and work out the security dimensions," says Nick Coleman, in charge of cloud security at IBM.
The price of cheap The global economic crisis is helping with cloud adoption. Big IT providers report that customers' budgets are so squeezed that there's a huge reluctance to invest. So finance directors hope that moving to the cloud allows them to replace capital expenditure with operational expenditure.
Getting your IT from the cloud may be cheap, but it comes at a price: standardisation. Using the cloud means opting for off-the-shelf solutions.
There will be no, or hardly any, customisation. On the upside, instead of having the same big, pricey software package for everyone, your staff should be able to select smaller and cheaper applications with the functionality that is just right for them.
Mobile demands The cloud is also the perfect answer to the surge of corporate mobility. Workforces are becoming ever more mobile, while staff - from the chief executive down - carry smartphones and tablet computers, and expect that they can use them to access their work files everywhere.
Old school IT systems don't cope with that, but attempts to force users to comply with old IT rules are doomed to fail, says Rami Habal of Proofpoint, a web security firm. "Users will revolt instead of going through the normal IT channels," he says.
Using cloud services saves companies from building the expensive infrastructure to support mobile solutions.
Agile growth Most companies pay good IT money for little return. Their servers usually run at 15% to 25% of capacity at most.
Shifting the computing workload to a cloud provider is more efficient. Companies like Rackspace or Amazon run their cloud servers at 75% or even 90% of capacity. That's both greener and cheaper.
More importantly, extra storage or computing power can be switched on in an instant, and it is this agility and scalability that persuades most companies to venture into the cloud - even more important than cost, according to a survey by Gartner, a technology consultancy.
Cloud spotting
Not all clouds have been created equal, though. Asking for a cloud solution is like asking for a "vehicle" instead of specific type of car.
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Start Quote

Moving into the cloud is a cultural shift as well as a technology shift”
End Quote Dave Coplin Microsoft
For starters, there are public cloud solutions that deliver a service, but you won't know in detail how it is delivered. "The public cloud is a really cheap place to do business," says Dave Coplin, until recently the chief technology officer of Microsoft UK.
Big companies, however, often feel queasy about sharing their IT service with other companies. They want the "commercials of the cloud", paying only for what they use, but stay in full control as well, says Nick Wilson, the man in charge of Hewlett Packard in the UK and Ireland.
The solution is private clouds, where companies know exactly where their own software and data are, maybe even down to the server racks dedicated to their computing.
Realistically, though, most established companies won't even go that far and opt for a hybrid cloud instead, where a private cloud solution is closely integrated with a company's legacy system, says BMC's Bob Beauchamp.
As companies phase out these old systems, "cloud will ultimately become the prime architecture to deliver IT services," he predicts.
Cloud enthusiasts like JP Rangaswami, chief science officer at, one of the earliest firms to bet on the cloud, wants companies to ditch their legacy systems much faster. "It's the sunken cost fallacy," he argues, where IT departments feel more comfortable supporting old mainframes and enterprise software instead of supporting their company's business strategy.
The cloud check list Still, even the biggest cloud cheerleaders counsel companies to compile a thorough checklist.
The starting point for any such list will be a self-examination, because one size won't fit all.
Nick Coleman at IBM reels off a long list of vital questions: How much management do your data or applications need? What's the right measure of security for your company? Where is the workload? Which data are sensitive, which are not? Do you have specific regulatory issues like audits, compliance and privacy?
"Map your company's IT needs early for the right cloud strategy. In a start-up, the source code might be really sensitive; for others it is not a core issue. Ask yourself what you should put in the cloud," says Mr Coleman.
"Think of the cloud as a tool, an enabler, you have to think about what you want to have as an outcome," says Microsoft's Dave Coplin. For one company, security may equal reliability; for another it may be the safety of the data.
Rowan Trollope at Symantec has six tips for companies moving into the cloud:
  • Check out the reputation of the service provider: How long have they been offering cloud services, bearing in mind that size isn't everything; many big companies are piling into the market but don't know what they are doing
  • Security is key. Really understand how secure your data have to be, and ask the vendor how they would solve your security problems
  • Investigate how the cloud provider makes back-up copies of your data, how you can move the data to another provider, and what happens if the provider goes out of business
  • Work hard to get a good service level agreement with clear financial penalties to ensure a good service.
  • Be wary of industry certifications, because they capture just a moment in time. Do your own research on how the vendor is performing
  • Finally, try the service. The beauty of cloud computing is that it's easy to switch on and off. Obviously don't start your cloud adventure with confidential data or mission-critical systems, but if the service works for you, you can expand.
Culture shift The experts at Gartner counsel their customers to "put a small [cloud service] in place first and see what unexpected behaviours happen."
Mount Everest We are only beginning to understand the heights that cloud computing can reach
"The risk is in allowing that small private cloud to grow faster than your organisation, people, and processes and business model changes can handle it."
Companies have to understand that cloud computing is more than an IT deployment. "Moving into the cloud is a cultural shift as well as a technology shift," says Microsoft's Mr Coplin. "People lose some flexibility, but they get scalability and power in return."
For IT departments, and especially the chief technology and chief information officers, it requires a rethinking of their roles, away from operations and towards business strategy.
Moving to the cloud also results in new challenges. To "onboard" a new employee - putting them on the HR system, sorting their payroll, giving them access to the company's customer relationship management software, providing mobile access to the corporate IT etc - may involve half a dozen cloud services.
All this needs to be tied together, so that one click can enable all cloud services, says Bob Beauchamp.
IT service providers like Infosys of India have identified this as a big business opportunity. Chief executive Kris Gopalakrishnan believes that companies moving into the cloud will soon require a "cloud aggregation service" that integrates the patchwork of cloud services with a company's core IT systems.
Clearly, these are still early days.
There are no fully established policies that rule the behaviour of data and applications in the cloud.
Cloud-to-cloud communication is still a big issue, says Mr Beauchamp, although he predicts that soon they "will be able to interoperate".
At Rackspace, chief executive Lanham Napier even describes cloud technology as "still a little bit immature, but progressing".
JP Rangaswami at, meanwhile, calls for the adoption of 10 simple principles for cloud service providers - ranging from data portability and transparency to security breach notifications.
Then there is talk of IT becoming just another commodity, with spot prices for storage and computing power.
John Manley, in charge of cloud computing at HP Labs in the UK, says that "we are in the foothills of cloud computing and going towards Mount Everest".
READ MORE - Cloud computing: How to get your business ready

Japan tries to cool off nuclear reactors from air, ground

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Tokyo (CNN) -- Japanese authorities launched an urgent attempt Thursday to avert a nuclear disaster by air, but initial attempts to drop tons of water at the quake-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi plant appeared to do little to lower potentially perilous radiation levels.
Helicopters made four passes in about a 20-minute span Thursday morning, dropping 7.5 tons of seawater each time on the facility's No. 3 reactor in order to cool its overheated fuel pool. Experts believe that boiling steam rising from that pool, which contains at least partially exposed fuel rods, may be releasing radiation into the atmosphere.
But hours later, the Tokyo Electric Power Company -- which runs the plant -- told Japan's Kyodo News that the operation didn't appear to lower radiation levels. The report suggested levels actually rose to about 3,000 microsievert per hour. It takes a year for a person to be naturally exposed to that level of radiation.
Officials from the government and Tokyo Electric had said Thursday that cooling down the No. 3 reactor was top priority.
Spokesman outlines Japan plant radiation
Nuclear workers focused on priorities
Nuke official: Radiation extremely high
Map: Fukushima Daiichi
Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, in conjunction with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said he decided early Thursday to address the crisis from the air and ground despite concerns about exposing workers to radiation.
"We could not delay the mission any further, therefore we decided to execute it," Kitazawa told reporters.
Authorities said they suspended the water-drop operation, so that they could get new readings on radiation levels. Kitazawa said that plans are in place to bring in 11 special water cannon trucks, along with one from Tokyo's police department, later Thursday to spray water at the No. 3 unit from the ground.
Since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast Japan Friday, officials have been working to resolve cooling problems at four of Fukushima's six reactors.
On Wednesday, Gregory Jaczko, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Congress that spent fuel rods in the No. 4 reactor had been exposed because there "is no water in the spent fuel pool," resulting in the emission of "extremely high" levels of radiation.
But Japanese authorities disputed Jaczko's assertion, citing information gathered from a helicopter flight over the plant.
"We have been able to confirm that there is water in the spent nuclear fuel pool," a Tokyo Electric official said Thursday. "But we do not know how much water."
The government itself further came under fire, with the release Thursday of a WikiLeaks cable attributed to the U.S. State Department that notes claims by Japanese legislator Taro Kono accusing Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of "covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry."
Also Thursday, engineers were planning to begin the process of restoring power to the stricken nuclear complex using power lines from outside. The plant lost power when the quake struck.
"This is one of the high-priority issues that we have to address," said an official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Once the power supply has been re-established, the cooling system will be operated using seawater, he said. But he warned that the process will not be immediate.
When will the Japan crisis end?
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Gallery: Japan reeling after massive quake
Explainer: Producing nuclear energy
"It will take time to restore the function of the main part of the facilities, because the pumps were contaminated by seawater and must be repaired before reuse," he said, adding that temporary pumps would be used initially.
A Japanese government spokesman, Noriyuki Shikata, warded off fears of an imminent meltdown, telling CNN Thursday, "We have not seen a major breach of containment" at any of the plant's troubled nuclear reactors.
A meltdown occurs when nuclear fuel rods cannot be cooled and the nuclear core melts. In the worst-case scenario, the fuel can spill out of the damaged containment unit and spread radioactivity through the air and water.
That, public health officials say, can cause both immediate and long-term health problems, including radiation poisoning and cancer.
Tests in Fukushima city, 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, found radiation measuring 12.5 microsieverts per hour -- well above the average reading of 0.04, but still well below that considered harmful to humans.
Small, and for now, harmless amounts of iodine -- a potential bi-product of a nuclear meltdown -- were found in the city's water.
Citing Fukushima Prefecture officials, Kyodo News reported Thursday that about 10,000 people had gotten screening tests for radiation exposure the previous day at evacuation centers and medical offices.
About 200,000 people living within a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius of the plant have been evacuated; those living 20 to 30 kilometers from the site have been told to remain inside. Authorities also have banned flights over the area.
Koichi Shiga described the town of Minamisoma, 25 kilometers from the plant and site of the Hotel Iseya that he owns, as ghostly quiet with most all shops closed and empty streets. Electricity and water were still flowing, though evacuation efforts have been hampered by a paucity of gasoline.
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Japanese angry over power plant crisis
Radiation worries spread outside Japan
  • Japan
  • Nuclear Energy
  • Earthquakes
  • Tsunamis
  • U.S. Geological Survey
"People have not evacuated, they are staying at home," Shiga told CNN. "There was a ration of 10 liters of gas, and I saw a long line of people."
Several countries, including the United States, have called for a broader range, urging their citizens in Japan to evacuate or at least stay indoors if they live within 80 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
One positive development is that winds have been blowing from the northwest, helping push emitted radiation off to sea.
Asked about the report of a high level of radioactivity near the plants -- which may be related to at least a partial meltdown in some reactors -- Shikata said, "We have not seen the level that is, for example, dangerous to human bodies beyond the very close vicinity of the reactors."
Still, at least 20 people have fallen ill due to possible radiation contamination (in addition 19 injured and two missing at the plant), the International Atomic Energy Agency reported. And experts and Japanese authorities fear that overheating and evaporation of water in spent fuel pools around the plant could lead to the release of further radiation.
The IAEA said the water temperature in spent fuel pools is typically kept below 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit). That requires a constant cooling source, which requires a constant power source -- both unavailable at the damaged plant.
"The concern about the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi is that sources of power to cool the pools may have been compromised," the agency, whose chief Yukiya Amano is heading to Japan, said.
On Tuesday, temperatures at the the fuel pools in Unit 4, 5 and 6 all registered far above the recommended levels: 84 degrees Celsius; 60.4 degrees Celsius and 58.5 degrees Celsius respectively, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said.
By the following day, it was reporting "no data" for Unit 4 and worrying trends for the other two:
Unit 5 had risen to 62.7 degrees Celsius and Unit 6 to 60 degrees Celsius.
The water in the fuel pool served to both cool the uranium fuel and shield it. But once the uranium fuel was no longer covered by water, the zirconium cladding that encases the fuel rods heated, generating hydrogen, said Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former official with the Department of Energy.
That caught fire, resulting in a situation that is "very, very serious," he told CNN.
He said the next step may involve the remaining 180 nuclear plant workers taking heroic acts.
"This is a situation where people may be called in to sacrifice their lives," Alvarez said. " It's very difficult for me to contemplate that but it's, it may have reached that point."
CNN's Brian Walker, Stan Grant, Steven Jiang, Barbara Starr, Sabriya Rice, Elise Labott and Richard Greene contributed to this report.
READ MORE - Japan tries to cool off nuclear reactors from air, ground

Beware the Ides of March... and Be Careful Around the FOMC Meeting

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

hus was the warning given to Julius Caesar prior to his being killed on that very day. Today is the Ides of March, and a death has occurred. Only it is the financial markets that have taken the place of Caesar, as there is a massive sell-off taking place. And while I don’t fancy myself the soothsayer, I have been warning about the risk in the markets for some time. Today news out of Japan is that there are radiation leaks from the nuclear reactors that were affected by the earthquake and tsunami, which could have an even greater negative impact of the economy. As a result, the Nikkei was down 10% overnight, inducing some major risk aversion. This also has dragged European stock markets lower, ranging anywhere from 2.5% to 4.5% lower so far today. U.S. stocks are also set to open significantly lower, and both oil and gold have pulled back.
So this is definitely the type of day where the risk themes have out-weighed the fundamental data, not that the data is that great to begin with. In the Euro zone, CPI data has come in slightly lower than expected and German confidence figures are also lower than expected. This may give the ECB a reason to keep interest rates steady at its next policy meeting.
But all is not lost today, as "Bubble Ben" and the FOMC could save the day. With QE2 coming to an end shortly, I was wondering if today would be the day where he starts to prepare the market for when the punch bowl of free cash is taken away. However with today’s action already pushing markets extremely lower and strengthening the dollar, it is extremely doubtful that he will invoke that tone.
In the forex market:
Aussie (AUD): The Aussie is lower across the board as risk aversion and its positive correlation to the MSCI Pac Rim index has dragged it lower.
(Click to enlarge)
Kiwi (NZD): The Kiwi is trading similarly to the Aussie, though it does make as extreme a high or low as its antipodean neighbor.
Loonie (CAD): The Loonie is also lower, as oil prices have pulled back to 97.50 as a result of the uncertainty of the Japanese nuclear situation. The ripple effects are now enveloping the global economy which could mean a lack of demand going forward.
Euro (EUR): The euro is mixed, trading higher vs. the commodity currencies but lower against the safe havens. German ZEW confidence figures came in lower than expected, but today is about the fallout from Japan.
Pound (GBP): The Pound is also lower as home price figures came in worse than expected, which means it is extremely doubtful that the BOE will raise rates at the next meeting given what is going on in the global economy.
(Click to enlarge)
Dollar (USD): The Dollar is higher today as the flight to safety trade is in full effect. While there are some ancillary data points due out tomorrow, the big news is the FOMC meeting at 2:15 EST. As a result of today’s sell-off, Bernanke will do all in his power to convince the markets that monetary policy will remain accommodative, perhaps even longer than QE2 is set to expire. Unfortunately that is the problem with blowing bubbles—they have to pop sooner or later.
Yen (JPY): The Yen is strengthening across the board despite the Bank of Japan efforts to pump money into the system. As overseas assets are re-patriated to Japan, demand for Yen goes up. In addition, as selling in the Nikkei picks up (down 16% in the last 2 days—the largest 2-day drop in nearly 25 years), the Yen also strengthens.
The problem with creating bubbles through weak monetary policy is that when disaster strikes, there is nowhere left to go. It is hard to be even more accommodative then "Bubble Ben" has already been, so any tightening of policy at this point would be disastrous.
The ripple effects and the fallout from this catastrophe are unknown at this point, so the "sell now, ask questions later" mentality is the prevailing theme. Yen strength appears to be a short-term phenomenon that could reverse if the BOJ gets serious about injecting liquidity into the economy Bernanke-style.
So be careful around the FOMC meeting, as volatility is sure to ensue and let’s hope that Bernanke’s comments have the effect that’s intended.
READ MORE - Beware the Ides of March... and Be Careful Around the FOMC Meeting

U.S. dollar drops against euro in market shift

Monday, 14 March 2011

NEW YORK (AFP) -– The U.S. dollar fell against the euro Tuesday after recent gains as the market adjusted positions ahead of an expected sharp cut in eurozone interest rates as part of European responses to market turmoil.
The euro rose to 1.2710 dollars around 2200 GMT from 1.2607 dollars in New York on Monday.

Despite losing to the euro, the dollar firmed to 93.27 yen from 93.21 yen a day earlier.

The euro's strength stemmed from increased measures of European central banks to spur growth, experts said.

Many EU countries were due to present stimulus plans in the coming days and weeks. Traders also anticipate a hefty interest rate cut by the European Central Bank later this week.

It would be the third interest rate cut in less than two months by the ECB. There is speculation that this week's cut could be bigger than the 50 basis point reduction seen in early November that disappointed markets.

""The euro is stronger against the U.S. dollar ... driven by the increased measures of central banks to spur growth, and firmer equity markets that have eroded the safety allure of the dollar,"" said Jordan Eburne of PNC Bank.

U.S. and European shares rallied Tuesday a day after punishing losses as investors looked past the gloom that provoked Monday's rout, but analysts say the rally remains fragile. Wall Street was lifted by hopes for an auto sector rescue by the U.S. government and General Electric's better-than-expected business update while European bourses rose on a pledge by European Union ministers to implement economic stimulus measures.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 270.00 points (3.31 percent) to close at 8,419.09, coming off a horrific 679-point loss on Monday.

European investors drew encouragement from news that finance ministers from all 27 European Union endorsed plans for a stimulus plan totaling 200 billion euros, equivalent to 1.5 percent of EU gross domestic product.

In London, the FTSE 100 index of leading shares closed 1.41 percent higher at 4,122.86. In Paris, the CAC 40 was up 2.35 percent at 3,152.90 and in Frankfurt the DAX jumped 3.12 percent to 4,531.79.

""More stimuli to the financial markets should add some support to the equity markets, which has been translating to a weaker dollar when investors are lured out of Treasuries,"" Eburne said.

The euro last week lost ground after official data showed that 12-month inflation in the 15-country eurozone sharply fell in November.

The decline set the stage for a steep cut in interest rates by the European Central Bank on Thursday, dealers said.

The greenback's weakness was also a reflection of the U.S. Federal Reserve running out of room to lower interest rates, with suggestions it might start to look into other strategies to spark the economy such as buying Treasury securities.

In late New York trade, the dollar rose to 1.2063 Swiss francs from 1.2059 on Monday.

The British pound however firmed to 1.4906 dollars from 1.4884 dollars a day earlier.
READ MORE - U.S. dollar drops against euro in market shift

Nuclear Reactor Damaged by Japan’s Biggest Earthquake

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Nuclear Reactor Damaged by Japan’s Biggest Earthquake

Another horrible side effect from Japan’s biggest earthquake has been on the minds of many people every since the quake happened. Everyone is afraid there is going to be a nuclear meltdown after a nuclear reactor was damaged.
                   Smoke and shaking at nuclear plant

A large explosion was reported to have happened inside a concrete reactor building which was at Fukushima number 1 power station. This is north of Tokyo because the reactor’s cooling system failed. The plant was billowing smoke last night and four people were injured.
Most people do not believe that there was serious damage but there is still a possibility.
After radioactive cesium material left by atomic fission was detected near the site fuel roads at the reactor may be melting. This was told by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Yuji Kakizaki. If the fuel roads are continues and it melts a reactor meltdown is possible.
READ MORE - Nuclear Reactor Damaged by Japan’s Biggest Earthquake

Obama, Calderon Pledge Cooperation On Drug Wars

Friday, 4 March 2011

WASHINGTON — Seeking to repair damaged relations, President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon agreed Thursday to deepen their cooperation in combating drug violence and declared a breakthrough in efforts to end a long-standing dispute over cross-border trucking.

During a joint news conference at the White House, Obama praised Calderon for his "extraordinary courage" in fighting the violent drug cartels that have been responsible for deaths on both sides of the border. Obama pledged to speed up U.S. aid to train and equip Mexican forces to help in those efforts, but he also acknowledged that the U.S. must stem the flow of cash and guns to Mexico that have aided the cartels.

"We are very mindful that the battle President Calderon is fighting inside of Mexico is not just his battle, it's also ours," Obama said. "We have to take responsibility just as he's taken responsibility."

Calderon's visit comes three weeks after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was shot to death in northern Mexico with a gun smuggled in from the U.S. The incident raised questions in the U.S. about Mexico's ability to control violence and has Obama administration officials considering arming U.S. agents working across the border to ensure their safety.

Mexican law bans foreign law enforcement agents working in the country from bearing arms, and Calderon vehemently expressed his opposition to making an exception for U.S. personnel. But he said Zapata's death showed a need to consider alternative methods for protecting agents.

"His death must urge us to work together to ensure a prosperous and peaceful future for our region," Calderon said.

Obama said the U.S. is seeking extradition of several suspects arrested in Mexico in connection with Zapata's death.

Tensions between the North American allies were already heightened ahead of Zapata's death. Secret State Department cables released last year revealed a grim assessment by U.S. officials of Mexico's ability to fight drug cartels, saying the country has limited intelligence-gathering capacity and quoting Calderon as saying politicians could be tempted to return to a tacit policy of tolerating the gangs.

In a show of confidence in Calderon's efforts, the Obama administration said it would continue to send aid to support Mexico in the drug war. A senior administration official said the U.S. plans to speed up implementation of the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, with $900 million to be doled out by the end of the year. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was not authorized to speak publicly about the agreement.
Stephen Johnson, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that given the breadth of the U.S-Mexico relationship, it was critical that Obama and Calderon meet before tensions escalated further.

"There are junctures like this where leaders have to get together and work through any misunderstanding that there might be, and then agree ways on ways to move forward," Johnson said.

Eager to show signs of a productive partnership, Obama and Calderon agreed to a phased-in plan that would authorize both Mexican and U.S. long-haul carriers to engage in cross-border operations provided the Mexican trucks meet U.S. safety standards. Both countries were given this authority under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, but the U.S. has refused to allow Mexican trucks access amid concerns over their ability to meet stringent U.S. safety and environmental standards.

Mexico has placed higher tariffs on dozens of U.S. products in response to the unresolved dispute. Under the proposed agreement, Mexico will agree to lift those tariffs in phases, with all tariffs lifted once the first Mexican carrier receives authorization to travel on U.S. roads.

Negotiating teams, which are still working out details of the plan, are expected to send an agreement to Congress this spring.

News of a pending agreement won Obama praise from some in the business community, who have argued that the delay in opening cross-border trucking and the resulting tariffs have cost Americans jobs.

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said finalizing a deal between the U.S. and Mexico would be, "a major step toward providing certainty to trucking companies and shippers throughout North America."

Johnson said it was important for the U.S. and Mexico to lower tensions ahead of Obama's trip to Latin America later this month. He'll visit Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.

Calderon last visited the White House in May, at the height of the debate over Arizona's immigration law that makes it a crime to be in the U.S. illegally and requires police to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they are in the country illegally. Mexican officials strongly oppose the law, as does Obama, who told Calderon on Thursday that he's still committed to comprehensive immigration reform, saying it was vital to the U.S. economy.
READ MORE - Obama, Calderon Pledge Cooperation On Drug Wars


Invitation to GOP fundraiser stirs some concern

Days before Ohio Gov. John Kasich is to release his rumored Draconian state budget, a freshman Republican House member is holding a fundraiser for himself with a minimum $250 donation advertised as a "Last chance before the Governor's Budget!"
State Rep. Michael Henne of Clayton, a suburb of Dayton, recently distributed an invitation to his fundraiser Wednesday at the Athletic Club of Columbus that was obtained by The Dispatch. The document does not include a disclaimer notifying recipients of who paid for the invitation - a breach of Ohio election law punishable by a fine of up to $500 - and promises a "free valuable gift for all attendees."
At the bottom of the invitation is a reference to Kasich's looming budget proposal - due March 15 to the Ohio House. Kasich's budget will affect schools, hospitals, prisons and many other institutions that rely on state funding.
"We hope to get a lot done this GA (general assembly session) but need your help," the invitation reads. "Last chance before the Governor's Budget!"
Some Democrats and government watchdogs decried the invitation for what they said was its appearance of offering influence on the budget in exchange for cash donations.
In an interview today, Henne denied those charges and said his only intent was to "have a little fun before the governor's budget" is released.
"After the budget comes out, there's going to be some really hard work to do," said Henne, who owns an insurance company.
"I just thought we'd go have a drink together before the hard work truly begins March 15. I've never been in politics before, so I'm not used to looking for hidden meanings in everything."
Catherine Turcer, a campaign-finance specialist with the nonprofit government watchdog Ohio Citizen Action, said Henne's invitation sounds like it is promoting a pay-to-play atmosphere.
"It says 'This is your last chance before the governor's budget.' That's pretty direct," Turcer said. "He may have had a more innocent meaning, but ask someone on the street about it and they wouldn't see the subtext."
Tony Bledsoe, Ohio's legislative inspector general, said Henne's budget reference wasn't illegal because there is no "blatant quid pro quo," but "the appearance (of a quid pro quo) can certainly be an issue here."
Henne said he would post signs at the event indicating who was paying for it, to make up for the fact that the invitation did not explain it.
Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for the Republican Ohio House caucus, said the "free gift" Henne advertised is actually a cheap button that reads "I like Mike."
Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he is issuing a "pass" for Henne because he is in his first year as an elected officeholder.
"I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt that he's a very new and uninformed legislator and didn't have a deeper intent," Redfern said. "I'd like to think that he doesn't understand the laws of the state and that he might not get it that's a bad idea to tie votes to donations."
READ MORE - Invitation to GOP fundraiser stirs some concern

UPDATE 4-Website says imperiled by Wall St hot-news ban seeks to put injunction on hold
* Website says losing subscribers
* BofA, Barclays, Morgan Stanley won ruling on research (Adds Bank of America and Barclays decline to comment)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, April 14 (Reuters) - Financial news service Inc has urged a Manhattan federal judge to lift a ban on its quickly reporting "hot news" about analyst research from three Wall Street banks, saying the ban has cost it subscribers and could threaten its survival.
The company made its request to U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who last month issued an injunction requiring it to wait two or more hours before publishing research from Bank of America Corp'Merrill Lynch unit, Barclays Plc  and Morgan Stanley
Such a delay "constitutes irreparable harm of the highest order," President Ron Etergino said in a court filing.
He said the order puts the Summit, New Jersey-based company at a "distinct competitive disadvantage in the online financial news business," and will cause "substantial adverse financial consequences" as time passes.
In her March 18 ruling, Cote said the company engaged in "systematic misappropriation" and got an improper "free ride" in quickly publishing the three banks' analyst upgrades and downgrades.
Such analyst research can move stocks higher and lower, and be critical to traders as well as to the news media they depend on for fast, and often instantaneous, news dissemination. on Wednesday asked Cote to lift her injunction while it appeals to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
Alternatively, it sought permission to report research first published by one of six "mainstream" news services: Bloomberg LP, CNBC television, Dow Jones Newswires, the New York Times, Thomson Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
Bank of America spokesman Bill Halldin declined to comment. Barclays spokesman Mark Lane also declined to comment as did Morgan Stanley spokeswoman Sandra Hernandez. A lawyer for did not immediately return a request for comment.
In issuing her injunction, Cote ordered to wait until 10 a.m. to report research from the three banks that was issued before the market opens, and at least two hours for research issued later. She said the service could apply in one year to lift the injunction.
But said the order gives competitors under no such constraints an unfair advantage, and raises issues under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
READ MORE - UPDATE 4-Website says imperiled by Wall St hot-news ban