Craig Eisele on …..

March 3, 2012

Can Zynga Survive the Perils of Becoming a Separate Platform from Facebook

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 10:18 pm

I will give Zynga (ZNGA) this much: The company has some serious stones for setting up Zynga.com as a place for its own games and those of third parties to live outside Facebook. You can’t really blame it for doing so. After all, too much dependence on someone else’s social network—whether it be for users, revenue, or both—is never a good thing. But being a platform provider and an aggregator of entertainment options is a hard business that’s not to be taken lightly.

The launch of Zynga.com is more than a bit of a reversal for the casual-gaming company. After all, Zynga exists today only because it tapped into Facebook’s app platform and rode the wave of social sharing to success. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Zynga has simply been better at social than anyone else in terms of getting users to share and convince their friends to sign up, gaining rewards all the while.

Prior to Thursday’s announcement of the new site, Zynga and Facebook had a symbiotic relationship in which, like the Nile crocodile and the Egyptian plover bird, each party helped the other out. Nearly all of Zynga’s revenues have come from Facebook and about 12 percent of all Facebook revenue has come from Zynga.

That might have been a fine relationship to have when Zynga was a scrappy little startup. Now that it’s a publicly traded company, its reliance on Facebook is a huge risk factor for investors. So it makes sense that Zynga would want to have a little more control over where and how users access its games—and a little more independence from Facebook.

But I question how many casual gamers recognize that Zynga makes FarmVille, Words With Friends, and Mafia Wars—and how many, knowing this, will take time out of their Facebook gaming sessions to go to some other site to play those games instead. Games will still be linked to a user’s Facebook profile. Zynga is just giving people the option to play on Zynga.com. But it’s notoriously difficult to create a platform and a destination site and to aggregate an audience, even one that is already using your product.

A lot will depend on how much actual value the Zynga.com platform will provide to consumers. Facebook works because (surprise) people spend more time on Facebook than pretty much any other site on the Internet—as much as seven hours a week, according to a recent study.

As time has gone on, there is evidence that it has become more and more difficult for game developers to stand out from the crowd on Facebook. Last month, IHS iSuppli reported that the percentage of all Facebook monthly active users visiting games on the site has dropped from 50 percent to about 25 percent. With a growing amount of content being shared, it has become harder for gaming companies to attract new users on the social network.

Will Zynga.com help reverse the trend? Can it get more people playing its games and others by providing an alternative place for casual gamers to congregate? Zynga is talking up the site as a place where users can quickly and easily find other friends who are active on the platform. The flip side is that it might become a place where only gamers congregate, which would mean the addressable audience for new games will be much smaller than the more heavily populated platform that Facebook has.

Morgan Stanley Exec Charged With Hate Crime

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 8:01 pm

William Bryan Jennings, Morgan Stanley’s bond-underwriting chief in the U.S., was charged with a hate crime in the stabbing of a New York City cab driver of Middle Eastern descent over a fare.

Mohamed Ammar said the banker attacked him Dec. 22 with a 2½-inch blade and used racial slurs after a 40-mile ride from New York to the banker’s $3.4 million Darien, Connecticut home.

Jennings, who had attended a bank holiday party at a boutique hotel in Manhattan before hailing the cab, refused to pay the $204 fare upon arriving in his driveway, the driver said. When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department.

Ammar, a native of Egypt, said he then backed out of the driveway to seek a police officer. The banker called him an expletive and said “I’m going to kill you. You should go back to your country,” according to the report, filed in state court in Stamford. A fight ensued as they drove through Darien, and Jennings, 45, allegedly cut Ammar, 44, police said.

The banker, who eventually fled the cab and turned himself in two weeks later after a vacation in Florida, was charged with second-degree assault, theft of services and intimidation by bias or bigotry. He faces as long as 5 years in prison on the assault charge.

Put on Leave

Pen Pendleton, a spokesman for New York-based Morgan Stanley (MS), said yesterday that Jennings, who is free on $9,500 bond and is set for a March 9 court appearance, has been put on leave.

The banker has worked at Morgan Stanley during his entire career in the securities industry, starting in 1993, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Now co-head of North American fixed-income capital markets, he worked his way up from associate; vice president, and then principal, for debt capital markets; to executive director for investment banking and then managing director for fixed income capital markets. He is a graduate of Williams College and received a master’s in business from Northwestern University.

Ammar, an American citizen who immigrated to the U.S. in 1994, is a resident of the Astoria section of the New York City borough of Queens. He is married and has three children, he said yesterday in a phone interview. Ammar has been driving yellow cabs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks cut business for a limousine service he had operated starting in 1997, he said.

Called Police

He told police Jennings flagged him down in front of Ink48, a hotel on Manhattan’s West Side. The hotel confirmed there was a Morgan Stanley party that night, which Jennings said he had went to following a charity event.

The banker appeared “drunk,” the driver said, according to court documents.

Jennings told police that, while he had been drinking throughout the afternoon, he wasn’t “highly intoxicated,” according to the police report. The executive said he had hosted the charity auction for Morgan Stanley until 6 p.m. before heading to the bank’s holiday party at the hotel’s rooftop bar.

He left the party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report.

Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police.

Threatened Him

Ammar told officers Jennings threatened him, and that he feared for his safety. He backed out of the driveway with Jennings still in the cab. Ammar said he had tried to call 911 but was hampered by poor cellular reception in the wealthy Fairfield County suburb.

As he drove off, Ammar said, Jennings pulled the knife and began stabbing him through the open partition that divided the front and rear of the cab. Ammar said he tried to defend himself by using his right hand to block the opening, and then pulled over and dialed 911 again, as Jennings got out and fled, police said.

Jennings told Darien police the cab driver accidentally cut his hand while attempting to block the banker from calling the police himself on his cell phone, according to the report.

Florida Vacation

The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said.

Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report.

“Jennings said he didn’t know what to do — he just wanted the whole thing to go away,” Darien Police Detective Chester Perkowski said in a court document filed with the report.

In the arrest warrant application dated Feb. 26, Perkowski wrote his investigation “discredits Jennings’ statement that Ammar reached into the back of the cab while he was driving.”

Ammar reaching into the backseat while driving, as Jennings claimed, would have been “virtually impossible,” he wrote, adding that Jennings never attempted to call police in the aftermath of the incident. Jennings was charged Feb. 29.

Eugene Riccio, his defense attorney, said the driver made an “exorbitant demand” closer to $300 and that he attempted to abduct his client.

Denied Claims

“My client was the victim of a crime that night — not the perpetrator of one,” Riccio said, denying that his client was drunk or made any racial slurs. “He was abducted against his will from his own driveway. Fortunately he was able to escape.”

The driver threatened to return to New York, Riccio said. Ammar denied the lawyer’s allegation.

Riccio contended that the driver was “seconds away” from the on-ramp to the highway heading back to the city when Jennings drew a knife from his pocket.

“He pulled it out in an effort to try to get the man to stop,” Riccio said. “He was in a car that was racing down the road, disobeying traffic signals with the back door open.”

In a telephone interview, Ammar said that, when he first quoted a price for the ride outside the Ink48 hotel, located on 11th Avenue in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Jennings said it was “no problem.”

‘Bunch of Money’

“He pushed his hand in his pocket and pulled out a bunch of money. I said it’s OK,” Ammar said, adding that he showed Jennings the price as listed in New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission’s guidebook for cab drivers.

Jennings asked him to stop somewhere for food before taking the highway, so he took him to a deli on 10th Avenue, a stop that helped police investigators identify the banker, Ammar said. Video footage from the deli allowed police to recognize Jennings after Ammar said he was unable to remember the location of the banker’s house in Connecticut.

Police also took garbage that Jennings left in the back of the cab as evidence, Ammar said.

“I don’t feel safe,” Ammar said yesterday of the events more than two months ago. “I never felt somebody could do something like this in America.” He said, however, that he had no choice but to continue working as a cab driver.

“This is my job and I have to do it,” he said.

Round Trip

Ammar denied allegations by Jennings and his lawyer that he tried to return to New York from Darien during the dispute.

“Why should I take him back to New York, give him a round- trip?” Ammar said. “I just want to get my money and that’s it.”

His hand required more than 60 stitches, he said. Ammar said he refused to be treated in Connecticut and instead chose a New York hospital.

Yesterday at Jennings’s home in Darien, nobody answered the door when a reporter visited seeking comment on the case.

Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the TLC, said the cab ride would have been outside the commission’s purview because the destination was outside mandatory drop off areas.

“The passenger and the driver would have had to come to an agreement on a flat fare,” he said.

Typically in cases like this, the cab meter runs until the city limits with the passenger and the driver negotiating on the final price, he said. Although the TLC uses GPS to track taxis, the system wouldn’t be engaged in a situation such as this because of the destination, Fromberg said.

Attacks on Drivers

Bhairavi Desai is executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which calls itself the largest taxi driver union in the country. She said the group gets one or two reports of assaults on drivers every week.

“We know that most of them go unreported both to the police and to us,” she said. “People are silent because it’s almost become a norm as part of this work.”

Desai said that while group doesn’t see a special pattern of assaults for trips out of town to places like Connecticut, it does see a pattern of fare beating.

“We do have incidents of people jumping out and running into their homes,” she said in an interview. “The driver is not as familiar with the area. They tend to be very residential areas, they’re not as well lit. There’s not as many people on the streets, not as many police.”

The alliance has been promoting the Taxi Driver Protection Act, a bill that would make an assault on a driver a felony, as it is for transit workers.

The case is State of Connecticut v. Jennings 12-0176761, Superior Court for the State of Connecticut (Stamford).

 

Zynga Game Company Can Fly Without Facebook… Or Can It??

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 7:43 pm

For several months in early 2010 the engineering team at Zynga (ZNGA) halted work on all new games. The San Francisco startup and maker of hits such as FarmVille was in tense negotiations with Facebook, which then and now provides a home—and a huge audience—for Zynga’s titles. Chief Executive Officer Mark Pincus realized he needed a backup plan in case talks fell apart, and his engineers started building an online gaming site of their own. “It became an around-the-clock effort,” Pincus recalls. “It was an amazing feat of engineering. In very short order we were ready to host our own games.” The hub never launched, though. Tensions eased, Facebook and Zynga recognized they had a mutually beneficial relationship, and the companies signed a five-year deal.

Two years have passed. Zynga is now a public company, and Facebook is on the verge of becoming one. (Their partnership is one of the most profitable on the Internet; Facebook revealed in its initial public offering filing that Zynga generates 12 percent of its revenues.) And on March 1, Zynga will finally take the wraps off that long-gestating website. It’ll be housed at Zynga.com, which previously was just an informational site, and will feature not just Zynga hits but games made by rival developers. Those outsiders will be able to store parts of their games on Zynga’s servers and advertise to Zynga’s players in exchange for giving up a cut of their revenues. It’s Zynga’s attempt to become a platform—a digital bulwark on top of which other companies can grow their businesses—just as Facebook, Twitter, and other successful tech companies have done. “We want to grow the market for everyone,” says Pincus. “Our vision is a billion people playing together.”

On Zynga.com players will use their Facebook logins to tap into games, and when they buy such items as virtual tractors and crops, they’ll use Facebook’s payment system. Pincus says using the social network’s tools “takes a ton of friction out” of online game playing. But he also acknowledges that it has never been a perfect marriage—Zynga estimates that one-third of Facebook social gamers are only casual players and get annoyed when friends gush about their FarmVille cows. That’s one reason Zynga is carving out its own territory.

On the site, which makes its debut in a beta phase later this month, games such as CityVilleZynga Poker, and Words with Friends are featured prominently. When players select one, the game board takes up nearly the entire Web browser. On one side of the screen, a “zFriends” feed shows a constantly updated stream of game-related news from other players. While it will still rely on Facebook to know which players are friends, Zynga itself will generate matches between strangers who are interested in the same games and spend similar amounts of time playing them.

Along with the new site, Zynga Platform will publish games for other companies. Michael Pachter, a video game analyst at Wedbush Securities, calls this “an acknowledgment by Zynga that they don’t have a monopoly on creativity.” The main appeal for developers is access to the 240 million customers who play a Zynga game at least once a month. In exchange for promoting other companies’ games, Zynga will take an undisclosed cut of revenues. One person familiar with the details but not authorized to speak publicly says Zynga will take a 30 percent slice of what is left after the 30 percent cut Facebook takes for using its payment system. That would leave the original developer with 49 percent of the haul.

Paying a cut to two companies sounds steep, but at least one developer sees the upside. Mob Science, a game studio in San Diego, will unveil its role-playing game King Worldon the Zynga Platform this spring. In the game, players build up a character and try to rescue a princess. “Going it alone on Facebook is a very risky proposition,” says CEO Michael Witz. “We would need a lot of capital to acquire customers, and spreading virally on Facebook is really difficult. Instead we are going to spend our time creating the game and let Zynga use its incredible institutional knowledge about what makes a game successful.”

Zynga has spent hundreds of millions over the past few years building its own server farms to replace those it previously rented from Amazon.com (AMZN). The new servers give Zynga the flexibility to offer more sophisticated services to other game makers. Later this year the company plans to offer a data analytics dashboard, which could tell game makers which features improve play or slow it down. Zynga execs also talk about one day serving as consultants to small game developers. “A lot of services we offer internally to our individual game studios we are planning to offer externally,” says Cadir Lee, Zynga’s chief technology officer. “Our hope is to make all games better. Even some big companies, as they scale, have technical difficulties.”Electronic Arts (ERTS), for one, has had trouble keeping its most popular Web game, The Sims Online, from experiencing downtime.

Pincus & Co. have no illusions about working with archenemy EA, but they believe they have developed a singular expertise in hugely popular social games, and if they can offer that insight to smaller rivals it will prove hard to resist. Many developers, though, are waiting to see exactly what Zynga offers and at what price. “Everyone we are talking to is interested in participating at one level or another,” Pincus says. But “they need to see us show up with some real there there.”

 The bottom line: To reduce its dependence on hits, Zynga has created its own platform, offering services to rival game makers at a steep price.

European Central Bank (ECB) Making Things Worse for EU??

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 6:37 pm

The ECB’s second dollop of easy money has comforted markets. But the euro crisis has not gone away. It would not take that much for it to turn acute again.

Most markets are indeed comforted, but not all. If the crisis is to turn acute again, we might expect the flare-up to begin here:

 

On a day when Mario Draghi is supposedly shoving a meltdown ever farther from the realm of possibility, markets are souring on Portuguese debt in a big way. Perhaps the long-term refinancing operations aren’t a cure-all after all. Given the onset of euro-zone wide deflation in January, Mr Draghi should soon find himself the target of serious, and deserved, criticism.

Bank Of America Plays Sneaky with Fee Structure AGAIN

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 5:36 pm

Less than five months after Bank of America (BAC) backtracked on its $5 monthly debit card fee, the country’s second largest U.S. bank is considering charging its millions of customers another fee. This time the fee would be for the use of a bank checking account, or what the bank calls an “Essentials” account. (See: Public Outrage Prompts Bank of America, Wells and Chase to Rethink Debit Fees)

The timing and certainty of the changes remains unclear, but the bank is already testing two options for the rollout in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts, reports The Wall Street Journal.

#1 Flat, Across the Board Fee: Some customers in those three states are currently paying a monthly across the board fee of between $6 and $9 to use Bank of America’s checking services.

#2 Conditional Fee: At the same time, some customers in those test-states are being charged a range of fees between $9 and $25 for a checking account, but have been given the option to avoid the additional cost if they keep a minimum balance or opt in to using other Bank of America services.

EDITOR’S NOTE The Daily Ticker reached out to Bank of America for a comment in response to The Wall Street Journal article Thursday morning.  After 3 pm here is the statement we received:

Media reports this morning provided inaccurate information. Bank of America is not planning to increase checking account fees with our existing customers.

Since January 2011, Bank of America has been testing checking account options for new accounts only, in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts.

Bank of America is continuing to learn from those tests and has not made any decisions about when, how, or if we would change our fees on new accounts.

Admittedly, no one likes paying more for the same service and at first mention many may balk at Bank of America’s potential price increase. But as The Daily Ticker’s Aaron Task and Breakout’s Jeff Macke remind us in the accompanying video, Bank of America is in the business of making money, and if you don’t like the fee structure, they suggest taking your money elsewhere.

That may prove a little more difficult in the post-Dodd Frank era, as many banks look to replace certain revenue streams that were squashed by the controversial banking regulation. JP Morgan Case (JPM) and Well Fargo (WFC) have already charge various fee to use their checking account services, which tend to otherwise be money-losers for the banks.

There is one issue, though, that Aaron has with this new practice of banks nickel and diming consumers for everything. “The problem I have is that we bailed them out — as taxpayers we bailed them out,” he says. “This is how they prepay me for bailing them out?”

Jeff, on the other hand, considers the new fees a small price to pay while reminding us just what we used to get in exchange for free checking: robo-signings and the mortgage crisis. He explains, before banks earned a lot of money from signing mortgages for people who could not afford them to pay them, which led to a run up in housing prices, an eventual burst of the housing bubble and people being thrown out of their homes. A nominal fee for checking is well worth the price when you consider the other options, he says.

Steven Wynn Vs Kazuo Okada Gets Nasty in Split

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 5:15 pm

Builders of Casino Empire Split, and the Bitter Accusations Fly

By KEITH BRADSHER

MACAO — For more than a decade, they were the odd couple of gambling.

In the early going, Stephen A. Wynn, the Las Vegas magnate with a thousand-watt smile, was on the rebound after his casino and resorts empire, Mirage Resorts, fell prey to a hostile takeover in 2000.

To bankroll his comeback, he turned to a Japanese billionaire, Kazuo Okada, who had made much of his fortune manufacturing gaming machines for Japan’s notorious pachinko parlors — and who was adept at the wild ways of the mushrooming Asian gambling industry.

Together they formed Wynn Resorts, with Mr. Okada eventually becoming the company’s biggest shareholder.

“I love Kazuo Okada as much as any man that I’ve ever met in my life,” Mr. Wynn effused during an earnings conference call in May 2008.

The love affair is over. Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada are now embroiled in a nasty corporate divorce, in one of the most rancorous public feuds the international gambling industry has ever seen.

With each side accusing the other of questionable payments to public officials in Asia, many gambling executives fear collateral damage. They worry that the accusations could prompt government investigations into any number of ethically questionable business practices in gambling, where Asian regulators have often looked the other way.

“It’s like two gunslingers shooting it out,” said a longtime industry official, who insisted on anonymity because he knew both men and wanted to protect the relationships. “And what I’m wondering is whether they’ll both kill each other.”

The fight is playing out in Las Vegas, where Wynn Resorts is based, and here in Macao, the former Portuguese seaport colony now controlled by China, where annual gambling revenue is four times that of the Las Vegas Strip. Macao (often spelled Macau) was the source of all of Wynn Resorts’ $613.4 million in profit last year — more than offsetting its money-losing properties in the moribund Nevada economy.

Despite the partners’ joint success in playing the gambling game by Macao’s lax house rules, Mr. Wynn’s allies on the company’s board are now accusing Mr. Okada of violating American foreign-corruption laws.

These allegations of missteps include giving a visiting Philippine gambling regulator and his entourage free use of the Wynn Macau casino-resort’s Villa 81 — a 7,000-square-foot pleasure palace that normally rents for $6,000 a night and has amenities including his-and-hers bathrooms with showers built to accommodate six people at a time.

Mr. Okada’s camp, in turn, is questioning the propriety of a $135 million donation that Wynn Resorts made last year to the University of Macau — its chancellor is also the head of Macao’s government, with ultimate oversight of gambling. Mr. Okada’s litigation has prompted an inquiry by the United States.

Both sides deny wrongdoing. Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada declined to be interviewed.

One source of friction is that Mr. Okada is pursuing his own casino business in the Philippines, through a company separate from Wynn Resorts. Mr. Okada’s going it alone originally had Mr. Wynn’s public blessing.

But shortly after Wynn Resorts decided early last year that it would not follow Mr. Okada into the Philippine gambling industry — whose reputation is questionable even by Asian gaming standards — the company started an investigation of Mr. Okada, conducted by a firm run by the former F.B.I. director Louis J. Freeh.

The Wynn Resorts board cited the reporting by the Freeh Group last week in explaining that Mr. Okada’s suspected blandishments to Philippine gaming officials, through use of Wynn hotels in Macao and Las Vegas, were grounds for drastic action: forcing Mr. Okada to leave the company and to sell back his nearly 20 percent stake at a 30 percent discount to the current stock price.

It may eventually be left to courts to decide whether either side has actually broken any laws, and whether — as Mr. Okada’s camp contends — Mr. Wynn is seeking to jettison the Japanese executive over behavior he has long abided because he no longer needs Mr. Okada’s money.

Macao casino regulators have asked Wynn Resorts for “detailed information” about the various accusations. The Macao officials also want to know more about the company’s forced buyout of Mr. Okada and his ouster from the board of its Wynn Macau subsidiary.

The president of the Philippines, Benigno S. Aquino III, has ordered an investigation. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission has begun an informal inquiry into the university donation.

And Nevada regulators are watching the Wynn-Okada fight. “We are looking at it, and will evaluate it and come to our own conclusions,” said Mark A. Lipparelli, the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, in a telephone interview.

The Nevada board’s interest is more than idle curiosity. Under its relatively taut regulations, allegations of corruption raise the risk that a person or company can be declared unsuitable, lose their licenses and be barred from the gambling industry.

“Our license would be put under a cloud if we were to not take action, waiting for someone else to do so,” said Robert Miller, the chairman of Wynn Resorts’ compliance committee, in a conference call with reporters on Feb. 21.

But experts on Nevada regulations say that Wynn Resorts might have been overstating its case in implying that Mr. Okada’s suspected transgressions threatened the company’s very existence.

The company’s stock price has recently risen on news of the company’s discounted buyback of Mr. Okada’s shares. But it is still down 18.8 percent from its peak of $156.70 last July, with much of the decline coming last autumn after the Macao government delayed a decision on whether to let the company build a second casino and resort on land it had already leased. (On Friday, the company’s shares gyrated as it initially sent a filing to the S.E.C. claiming progress on the second casino application, but later rescinded the filing, saying it was a clerical error. The shares rose 4.3 percent for the day, ending at $127.27.)

By the time Wynn Resorts began its own investigation of Mr. Okada’s business activities last year rather than asking Nevada regulators to review them — partly because Nevada’s rules require companies to self-police — tensions had already reached the point that he resigned as the company’s vice chairman in October.

By that time, too, the board was pressuring Mr. Okada to sign an antibribery compliance agreement — which he dismissed as a set of restrictions better suited to keeping a croupier on the up and up than governing the activities of an international supplier of gambling equipment.

But it was not until Feb. 18, three days after investigators from the Freeh Group interviewed Mr. Okada for the first time, that the board voted to force him to sell back his stake to the company.

Mr. Okada and his lawyers have for months been pursuing their own grievances against Wynn Resorts. After coming last year to the donations ceremony, he now questions the $135 million donation — the largest in the university’s 31 years, and payable over 11 years — asking what the company would get in return. Mr. Okada’s lawyers have asked a Nevada court to force the company to hand over documents related to the gift.

When they first teamed up in 2000, Mr. Wynn was looking to reinvest part of the $500 million he took away after losing control of Mirage Resorts to the buyout billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Grand. Mr. Okada, for his part, had a $4.7 billion personal fortune built largely on selling pachinko machines — a cross between pinball tables and slot machines used in gambling parlors in Japan that have long been accused of links to organized crime.

Almost from the start, their partnership was dogged by controversy. Mr. Okada, who had been Japan’s largest individual taxpayer the year before, was engaged in a series of tax disputes with Japanese authorities.

At a 2004 regulatory hearing, a Nevada official told Mr. Okada that Mr. Wynn was putting his reputation on the line in allying himself with someone from the Japanese pachinko industry, even if regulators had never found ties between Mr. Okada and crime rings.

But Mr. Wynn made a show of being seen with his Japanese business partner, whether at Los Angeles Lakers basketball games, charity events or Nevada regulatory hearings.

Mr. Okada proved a valuable resource when Wynn Resorts opened its first casino and hotel complex in Macao in 2005, providing a deep knowledge of the Asian gambling scene. And in that 2008 financial conference call, when asked about Mr. Okada’s planned Philippines foray, Mr. Wynn professed his support and counsel on the project. “He’s my partner and friend,” Mr. Wynn said, “and there is hardly anything that I won’t do for him.”

Now, though, people on both sides of the feud question whether the two men were ever really close or whether they were simply maintaining appearances to help win regulatory approval for their projects in the United States and abroad. Skeptics now wonder aloud how simpatico the supposed buddies could have really been, given that Mr. Okada speaks little English, while Mr. Wynn understands virtually no Japanese.

“Steve told me, ‘We live 10,000 miles apart; we don’t speak the same language,’ ” said a person who knows Mr. Wynn and insisted on anonymity because of the likelihood of litigation between Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada. Whether it was a true friendship or just a business alliance, Mr. Wynn had clearly hedged his bets.

During one of Mr. Okada’s tax disputes, in 2000 Mr. Wynn flew to Tokyo to negotiate an unusual arrangement. Mr. Okada was forced to accept a series of restrictions on his holdings in the company, including a provision that might eventually give Mr. Wynn the discretion to declare him an unsuitable investor and force Mr. Okada to sell his stake back to the company in exchange for a 10-year promissory note.

The board invoked that provision Feb. 18 in forcing the sale of Mr. Okada’s 19.7 percent stake in Wynn Resorts back to the company, which went public in October 2002. (Mr. Wynn now owns 8 percent of the company’s stock — only half the stake he and his first wife, Elaine P. Wynn, jointly held before their divorce settlement in January a year ago.)

The company’s investigative report accuses Mr. Wynn’s erstwhile partner of providing Philippine regulators with a series of benefits worth a total of $110,000.

Many of the favors came in the form of free lodging at Wynn hotels, in Las Vegas and Macao. The most notable might be the four free nights at the Villa 81 here in September 2010 by an entourage led by the chairman of the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation, a government-owned enterprise that is both the regulator and main operator of Philippine casinos. The Freeh Group said he checked in incognito, suggesting someone wanted to hide his stay, but was recognized by hotel staffers.

Besides its showers for six, the Villa 81 amenities include a massage parlor, hair salon and media room with a 100-inch flat-panel TV. For paying customers, usually casino high-rollers, the boarding bill alone would have come to $24,000.

The Philippine chairman, Cristino Naguiat, acknowledged in a statement that he accepted the free lodging, but denied there was anything wrong with it. “Any insinuation that the complimentary accommodations extended to me and my family, who subsequently joined me for the weekend, were a bribe is untrue and just plain wrong,” he said.

Officially: Romney and Santorum TIE in Michigan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 4:00 pm

Not so fast. When it comes to delegates, it turns out Mitt Romneydid not win Michigan.

ABC News projects that the 30 delegates awarded based on Michigan’s  Tuesday primary will be evenly split – 15 delegates for Mitt Romney and 15 delegates for Rick Santorum.

Mitt Romney may have won the overall vote by a margin of 3 points , but Michigan awards it’s delegates based on how the candidates did in each of the state’s 14 congressional districts, not solely on the popular vote totals.

The system works like this: the winner of each Congressional district gets two delegates. Two additional delegates are awarded based on the overall statewide vote – one delegate for the first place winner and one delegate for the second place winner if he gets more than 15 percent of the popular vote.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney split the state’s congressional evenly, each triumphing in seven.

Counting Tuesday’s other primary, in Arizona, Michigan’s split primary still leaves Romney with a substantial delegate lead overall. He won 44 delegates from both states on Tuesday, bringing his overall count to 153. Santorum took home 15 delegates from Michigan on Tuesday and zero from the winner-takes-all state of Arizona, bringing his total to 87.

Congratulations to ALL Women You Are Now Classified!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 3:00 pm

Congratulations to ALL Women You Are Now Classified as One Of Three Groups.

The happy homemaker has hung up her apron. After years marveling over moisture-rich hand-soap and test-washing her kids’ dirt-stained soccer jerseys, the stay at home mom has all but disappeared from commercials. 

The new breed of female consumers arefinancially independent, tech-reliant and more interested in shopping for clothes, cosmetics and cars than cleaning supplies. They also span the decades from their mid-20s to their mid-60s. As a result, advertisers are rethinking the average women as anything but average. 

A feature in the latest issue of AdWeek, gathers marketing trends, statistics and feedback from advertising specialists to break our three new “types” of women targeted in commercials. They’ve been around for a few years now, but their numbers are growing in direct relation to women’s financial success. 

Instead of a mom doing laundry, the latest Tide commercial features a 20-something woman discussing the merits of yoga pants over brunch with a friend. The standard Dyson vacuum commercial plays up high-tech gadgetry rather than housework. And the latest Chevy commercialfeatures a pregnant woman apartment hunting with her slightly less demanding husband. 

Advertisers may have created new cookie cutter concepts of women, but it’s largely in reaction to statistics. Women are marrying later or not at all, earning higher salaries, having fewer kids and living longer. They’re also being taken seriously as consumers. 

It was only in the last century that a coffee ad featured a woman being spanked for buying her husband the wrong brand. Now most commercials geared to married women, from Progresso Soup to nuts, convey a very different dynamic. The husband is the comic relief with bad style and a slightly dopey demeanor who isn’t in always on the joke. 

As women’s status at home and at work evolve, so does the way they’re projected in ads. Consider these three new “breeds” of female consumers, according to Adweek. Advertisers are hoping you’ll recognize yourself in one of them. Regardless, you will recognize all three from the latest commercials. We did. 

The Indie Woman 

Age: 28-34 
Marital status: single 
Average Income: $33,200 
Career-driven with a healthy dose of cynicism, especially when it comes to romance, she relies on her friends as influencers more than the man in her life. To that end, she’s not afraid to talk about topics her mother shied away from (birth control, tampons). She’s also not afraid to splurge on big purchases, especially online. 
Biggest splurge: Designer clothes and accessories (bought for a bargain) 
We recognize her as: One of the Yaz besties who ‘dish’ on birth control over cocktails. The snarky Kotex tampon comedienne that makes fun of other tampon commercials. TJ Max’s Max-inista. 

 

The Mom Achiever 

Age: 35-45 
Marital status: Married or in a relationship with a child 
Average Income: $75,000 

AdWeek sums up this type of target audience in a word: driven. She’s a high-powered career woman who contributes heavily to the household income, and may even be the main-breadwinner in the family after the recent “man-cession.” Unlike the homemakers in detergent commercials of yesteryear, she isn’t the family washing machine. She also places a premium on alone time, away from work and family, which is why you’re not likely to see her forking over Stovetop to a table full of neighborhood kids. 
Biggest Splurge: Gadgets, beauty products 
We recognize her as: The successful female celebrity (SJP, Kelly Ripa, etc) in anti-aging skincare ads. The woman in the Tide commercial who hands her baby over to her husband to change the diapers. The lady who needs some Laughing Cow me-time every now and then.

 

The originalThe Alpha Goddess


Age: 55-64 

Marital status: Divorced, widowed or single 
Average Income: $69,000 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the single woman over 55. She’s a smart investor that’s as tech-savvy as someone half her age, and she’s becoming one of the most powerful consumers in the country. Prepared to reap the benefits of her independence by spending more on her own self-improvement, the quest for dream-fulfillment make this female prototype a target for vacation packages, luxury cars, home improvement and, notably, anti-depressants. An emphasis on sensuality is also key to this demographic. According to AdWeek, this group spends the most on perfumes and is a blossoming portion of online daters.
Biggest splurge: Travel, luxury cars, prescription drugs 
We recognize her as: The woman in the Pristiq ads who has to wind herself up to sell antiques. Martha Stewart. 

Can the European Crises Get Any Worse Than Worse

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 2:30 pm

THE European Central Bank has ridden to the rescue, the yields on Spanish and Italian 10-year debt are back below 5%, and all is well again, no? No:

 

 

Euro-zone unemployment continues to hit new record highs. Across the single-currency area, the rate rose from 10.6% to 10.7% in January. German unemployment actually moved up a bit, and the rate in France is back in double digits. The levels for Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are, respectively, 14.8%, 9.2%, 14.8%, and 23.3%. All represent increases from December.

In February, manufacturing activity across the euro-zone continued to contract, albeit at a slower pace than in January. The best performances were in the north; German activity dipped a bit, but declining activity in France has come to an end, for now at least. Contraction continued in Italy, Spain, and Greece. In Spain, the pact of decline actually worsened in February. And in Greece? Well, see for yourself:

 

 

Greek manufacturing activity has contracted for 50 consecutive months, and yet as of February the pace of decline was the worst in its history.

It is difficult to pay your debts when your economy is shrinking. The worse peripheral recessions become, the more markets may fear a Greek-like outcome for others. Italy looks surprisingly resilient these days. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Portugal and Spain, two big dominoes. 

Beyond financial crisis worries, it’s worth pointing out that there is a substantial human costs to long periods of economic weakness. European society and politics will be the worse for this outcome. While we may thank Mario Draghi for preventing a sudden euro-zone collapse, it should be clear that the ECB ought to be acting far more aggressively to fight what is clearly now a euro-zone recession.

Even As A Republican I Find Truth in This …….Women Beware!!!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 1:37 pm

I wish I could accept credit for this  ….But I found it on a bog I follow called  PSILOMELANE http://psilomelane.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/american-spring/

Have Republicans Already Lost November 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 1:30 pm

Top Line

Yes, it’s only February. Eight months from election day. And so it’s true that it is ridiculous to suggest this race is really over. But as of this moment, it does not look good for the Republican party caught up in a messy primary battle that often looks more like a circular firing squad.

And as ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out, Mitt Romney’s ugly win in Michigan last night didn’t help matters. Sure, a win is a win.  But the Romney campaign’s greatest strength has been eviscerating opponents, not making a strong case for Mitt Romney. “They figure out what the weakness is of their top opponent, they go in there spend a lot of money and do a lot of negative ads, and exploit whatever that weakness is. The problem with that is they don’t’ ever build themselves up,” Walter says.

The Republican primary battle in Michigan was so ugly, ABC’s Rick Klein points out, that this critical battleground state seems to have tilted back to the Democrats.  All the talk of the auto bailout, opposed by each of the Republican candidates, and the divisive social issues, did damage to the party in Michigan and perhaps more broadly as well, Klein says. “Now you’ve got Ohio coming up (on Super Tuesday next week). You’ve got another state that’s a lot like Michigan. If the same kind of battle happens over the next week, then they have to worry about another big state potentially tipping to the Democrats.”

The Obama campaign benefits from the protracted Republican primary, but also from an improving economy. As Yahoo! News’ David Chalian points out, that not only helps the president but also steals the thunder from Romney’s main campaign theme. “If Mitt Romney is Mr. Fix It on the economy, but the guy who’s sitting in the Oval Office is actually fixing the economy right now, then where does Mitt Romney go from there?”

All that being said, election day is still a long eight months away. A lot could happen in the economy, in  international news, here at home and, of course, on the campaign trail that could impact all of this.

New Battery Makes Electric Cars More Feasible… Just Not Quite There Yet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 1:00 pm

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—A company founded in the Palo Alto public library has taken a dose of government money and technology and turned it into the most energy-dense battery ever. Envia System’s new lithium-ion battery packs roughly twice as much energy per gram as present batteries, the company will announce here at the third annual summit of the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA–e).

“We achieved 400 watt-hours per kilogram,” explains materials scientist Sujeet Kumar, Envia co-founder and chief technology officer. “We have made a 40 ampere cell in a large format that automakers can recognize and use,” and one that has been validated by independent energy densitytests at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind.

With a $4 million grant from ARPA–e, the Envia technology builds on work done at Argonne National Laboratory that found that including manganese in a mix of materials for the cathode—the electrode to which the lithium ions flock—better energy densities could be achieved. The team then switched focus to the anode—the electrode from which lithium ions flow to produce the electric current—and boosted its performance by incorporating silicon along with the typical graphite.

By blending silicon with carbon, the researchers claim to have gotten around the problems of silicon anodes that have disabled other batteries ability to charge and discharge time and time again. Simply put, silicon swells. “It will hardly last 10 cycles because of the high volumetric changes,” admits Kumar. But by encasing it in a carbon coating—as well as interlacing carbon fibers—the Envia team argues it has surmounted that problem and its battery has cycled 400 times—and counting. “Even if the silicon pulverizes in the first cycle, connectivity is maintained through the carbon fibers,” Kumar adds, though that impacts the voltage.

Then there is so-called “thermal runaway,” an engineering euphemism for batteries bursting into flame—a persistent problem with energy-dense storage devices based on lithium-ion technology. This is particularly true in cars where batteries must undergo a test in which an 8-millimeter nail penetrates the battery at speed. Envia claims its batteries pass that test. “It’s mainly that the cells are much thinner,” Kumar says. “It’s very easy to remove the heat,” though it will be up to each individual automaker whether they want to employ air or liquid cooling of battery packs.

The slim, energy-dense batteries developed at an Envia center in China could reduce the number needed per car by half. And the batteries are cheap at $125 per kilowatt-hour, less than half what current batteries cost, an expense that contributes some 65 percent of the cost of an electric car. But, in addition to further independent testing, the Envia battery must now embark on the multi-year process of testing by actual car-makers. GM is an investor, but Envia declines to identify who is interested. “We are working with all the brand name [carmakers] around the world,” says Atul Kapadia, Envia chairman and CEO. The idea is to either form joint ventures to produce the batteries in tandem or to license the technology to pre-existing partners.

But, assuming a single nail doesn’t bring down the new technology, the battery could boost the range of electric vehicles, such as GM’s Chevy Volt. The more watt-hours per kilogram, the farther an electric car can travel. That means a Nissan LEAF boasting Envia’s batteries might be able to travel the 300 miles between St. Louis and Chicago on a single $10 charge, rather than the roughly 80 it can travel today. “We expect Envia’s next generation lithium-ion battery will revolutionize the [electric vehicle] industry by eliminating the three remaining barriers to mass adoption: cost, range and safety,” Kumar said in a statement announcing the breakthrough. “The ability to drive up to 300 miles on a single charge will eliminate ‘range anxiety.’”

In their Haste to Strategize a New Primary, Republicans Ignored Planning Fundamentals

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 12:30 pm

Republicans changed their rules to emulate the Democrats’ epic, ultimately rewarding 2008 primary grudge match. Then the plan went terribly wrong

By this point in 2008, Republicans had already chosen Sen. John McCain as their presidential nominee, after a short battle that essentially ended on that year’s Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primaries. On the Democratic side, though, the epic race between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was just getting started, and the long primary fight turned out to be an organizational bonanza for Team Obama, which set up campaign operations and excited supporters in just about every state. In 2010, a somewhat-envious Republican National Committee decided to change its nominating rules to match the Democrats’. “It seemed like such a good idea at the time,” says Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo, but instead of “their own version of Obama vs. Clinton,” Republican have ended up in a “drawn-out primaries nightmare.” A look at what went wrong:

What changes did the RNC make for 2012?
Party leaders actually wanted a drawn-out contest, so they pushed the nomination calendar back a month, with Iowa and New Hampshire scheduled to kick things off in February, and ordered all states that held their primaries or caucuses before April to divide up their delegates proportionally, instead of the far-more decisive winner-take-all model. Any state that bucked those rules would get half their delegates taken away.

Why did they want a long fight?

A long waltz to the nomination was supposed to prompt “excited conservatives to register to vote in droves, donate early and often to the candidates, and keep the attention solely focused on the GOP’s message instead of the White House’s bully pulpit,” says TPM‘s Sarlin. Plus, Republicans wanted time “to properly vet all the candidates,” former RNC Chairman Michael Steele tells MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow, giving “the base a chance to have their voices heard in states that aren’t Iowa and New Hampshire and the bigger states that play early.”

How has that worked out for the GOP?
The early contests have winnowed the field down to four candidates, but now Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are embroiled in what promises to be a long, ugly, state-by-state fight. So far, GOP “turnout is down from 2008 levels in most states,” says TPM‘s Sarlin. “Romney’s favorability ratings have been dipping into dangerous levels, especially with independents,” and his war chest is “dwindling fast” as he dumps money into attack ads to fend off challengers. Changing the rules “was the dumbest idea anybody ever had,” Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) tells Fox News. “You’re running against an incumbent president who will not have a primary, so your idea is make ours longer so we can beat each other up longer?”

Why exactly did the new system fail?

RNC officials blame Florida and other states for flouting the rules by holding their primaries in January, pushing the whole calendar up a month, says Molly Ball at The Atlantic. Others, like Christie and RealClearPolitics‘ Sean Trende, blame the RNC’s mandated delegate apportioning, which prevents any one candidate from building an insurmountable delegate lead. Still others blame the “terrible” slate of candidates, Ball says, or the rebellious GOP voters who are “so obsessed with ideological purity” that they won’t “settle for Mr. Right Now,” or the flood of super PAC cash that keeps zombie campaigns up and walking, or even the long string of high-profile debates. It’s likely “a combination of all these factors,” Ball says. “What most observers seem able to agree on, though, is that they wish it would be over soon.”

So changing the rules was a mistake?
Not if you ask RNC officials. “The drama and the tough primary is a good thing for us,” and any bad feelings will be long gone by the general election, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tells CNN. “We put people to sleep in ’08 with our nomination process, and I think it’s laughable when I hear people claiming that we ought to put people to sleep again this time around.” I guess “generals always fight the last war,” University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato tells TPM. Running against an incumbent is much different than 2008′s open election, and “if ever there was a case when the out-of-power party would have been helped by a quick, painless nomination of a strong challenger, it’s 2012. No such luck for the GOP.”

Cultural Sensitivity When Traveling to Another Country is Important.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 12:00 pm

Because I traveled around the world and have made many cultural mistakes along he way, I thought maybe I would pass this along to those who might like to know a bit more about cultures before venturing out into the world for new and exciting experiences and adventures. Even if you make mistakes most people in other countries are very forgiving IF you are willing to lean and adapt when shown their way while you are in their world. .

You have good manners, right? After all, you (usually) keep your elbows off the table and say “Please pass the salt.” But when you head abroad, things get a little more complicated. Case in point: Rest your chopsticks the wrong way, and you might remind a Japanese friend of their grandmother’s funeral (Rule 2). 

But knowing what the etiquette rules are won’t just save you from some awkward situations, says Dean Allen, author of the Global Etiquette Guide series. It can also help you make friends. “It’s really a statement of your openness and awareness of the fact that the people you’re with … may in fact see the world differently,” he says. “It’s simply going to get you out of the tourist bubble.” Sound good? Then here are 15 rules to keep in mind.

In Thailand, don’t put food in your mouth with a fork. 

Instead, when eating a dish with cooked rice, use your fork only to push food onto your spoon. A few exceptions: Some northern and northeastern Thai dishes are typically eaten with the hands—you’ll know you’ve encountered such a dish if the rice used is glutinous or “sticky.” Also, stand-alone items that are not part of a rice-based meal may be eaten with a fork. But, says Leela Punyaratabandhu, a food writer who blogs at SheSimmers.com, the worst thing to do at a traditional, rice-based meal would be to use chopsticks. “That is awkward and inconvenient at best and tacky at worst,” she says.

In Japan, never stick your chopsticks upright in your rice.

Between bites, your chopsticks should be placed together right in front of you, parallel to the edge of the table—and nowhere else, says Mineko Takane Moreno, Japanese cooking instructor and co-author of Sushi for Dummies. (If there is a chopsticks rest, you use it, putting the tips you’ve been eating with on the rest.) But sticking them upright in a bowl of rice is even worse: During funerals in Japan, the rice bowl of the deceased is placed before their coffin… with their chopsticks upright in the rice. So what would she rather see: Someone doing that at a meal, or asking for a fork? Mineko doesn’t hesitate. “Asking for a fork,” she says.

In the Middle East, India and parts of Africa, don’t eat with your left hand. 

In South India, you shouldn’t even touch the plate with your left hand while eating. That’s largely because the left hand is associated with, um, bodily functions, so it’s considered to be dirty. In fact, says Allen, don’t even pass important documents with your left hand. A lefty? Then it’s okay to use your left hand—as long as you take your right hand out of the game.

At a traditional feast in Georgia, it’s rude to sip your wine. 

At what Georgians call a supra (traditional feast), wine is drunk only at toasts. So wait for those… and then down the whole glass at once. On the upside, says Georgia-based photographer and videographer Paul Stephens, the glasses tend to be on the small side.

In Mexico, never eat tacos with a fork and knife. 

Worried about spilling refried beans and salsa all over your front? Tough. Mexicans think that eating tacos with a fork and knife looks silly and, worse, snobby—kind of like eating a burger with silverware. So be polite: Eat with your hands. 

See all food etiquette rules

In Italy, drink a cappuccino only before noon. 

Some Italians say that a late-day cappuccino upsets your stomach, others that it’s a replacement for a meal (it’s common to have just a cappuccino, or a cappuccino and a croissant, for breakfast). Either way, you won’t see Italians ordering one in a café at 3 p.m.—and certainly not after a big dinner. Do so, and you’ll be instantly branded a tourist. If you need that coffee fix, though, an espresso is fine.

In Britain, always pass the port to the left—and remember the Bishop of Norwich. 

It’s unclear why passing port on the left is so important; some say it has to do with naval tradition (the port side of a boat is on your left if you’re facing the helm). Regardless, passing the decanter to the right is a big gaffe. So is not passing it at all. If you’re at a meal and the decanter stalls, then ask the person with it, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” If they say they don’t know him, reply, “He’s a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port.” It sounds weird, but it’s true. This is such a nationwide tradition, the Telegraph wrote an article on it.

In France, don’t eat your bread as an appetizer before the meal. 

Instead, eat it as an accompaniment to your food or, especially, to the cheese course at the end of the meal. That said, one thing that would be a faux pas anywhere else—placing bread directly on the table and not on a plate—is perfectly acceptable in France—in fact, it’s preferred.

In China, don’t flip the fish.

Although you might be used to flipping over a whole fish once you’ve finished one side, don’t—at least not when you’re in China, especially southern China and Hong Kong. That’s because flipping the fish is dao yue in Chinese, a phrase similar to “bad luck.” Plus, says Allen, “to flip the fish over is like saying that the fisherman’s boat is going to capsize.” The most superstitious will leave the bottom part untouched, while others will pull off the bone itself to get to the bottom.

In Italy, don’t ask for parmesan for your pizza—or any other time it’s not explicitly offered. 

Putting parmigiano on pizza is seen as a sin, like putting Jell-O on a fine chocolate mousse. And many pasta dishes in Italy aren’t meant for parmesan: In Rome, for example, the traditional cheese ispecorino, and that’s what goes on many classic pastas like bucatini all’amatriciana, not parmesan. A rule of thumb: If they don’t offer it to you, don’t ask for it.

Don’t eat anything, even fries, with your hands at a meal in Chile. 

Manners here are a little more formal than many other South American countries. So while it might be the most practical to just pick up those fries with your fingers, don’t do it. “The greater need is to identify with European culture, so food is (eaten) with a knife and a fork,” Allen says.

In Korea, if an older person offers you a drink, lift your glass to receive it with both hands.

Doing so is a sign of respect for elders, an important tenet of Korean culture. After receiving the pour with both hands, you should turn your head away and take a discreet sip, says Stephen Cha-Kim, a Korean-born worker’s rights advocate who regularly visits family in Korea. “To this day, if anybody hands me anything, both hands shoot out instinctively,” Cha-Kim says. Similarly, don’t start eating until the eldest male has done so (and don’t leave the table until that person is finished).

Never mix—or turn down—vodka in Russia. 

The beverage is always drunk neat—and no, not even with ice. Adding anything is seen as polluting the drink’s purity (unless the mixer is beer, which produces a formidable beverage known as yorsh). But there’s another faux pas that’s even worse, says Allen: when you’re offered the drink and you turn it down. Since offering someone a drink is a sign of trust and friendship, it’s a good idea to take it. Even if it is 9 a.m.

When drinking coffee with Bedouins in the Middle East, shake the cup at the end. 

Typically, anyone Bedouin—or Bedouin-related—will continue to pour you more coffee once you’ve finished unless you shake the cup, meaning tilting the cup two or three times, when you hand it back. It’s such an important tip, says Middle East-based freelance correspondent Haley Sweetland Edwards, that last year, Bedouins she was eating with in Qatar made her practice it until she got it right.

In Brazil, play your tokens wisely. 

At a churrascaria, or a Brazilian steakhouse, servers circle with cuts of meat and diners use tokens to place an order. If a server comes out with something you want, make sure your token, which you’ll have at your table, has the green side up. If you don’t want any more, flip it with the red side up. Since the meat can be never-ending, it’s important to strategize—if you leave that token green side up you could end up ordering a lot more than you intended.

ONE BILLION DOLLAR BET on Mega Gambling Center near Atlanta, Georgia

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 11:39 am

ATLANTA (AP) — Developer Dan O’Leary already has several key pieces in place for a $1 billion lottery gambling facility in suburban Atlanta: A contract on a 122-acre tract of land for the complex, a deal with a gambling company to help run it and an opportunity to win political support by pumping new revenue into the struggling HOPE scholarship.

But O’Leary has yet to win approval for the Norcross project, and faces some challenges getting it. He must persuade local officials and win the backing of the lottery board, which would own and regulate the video lottery terminals.

And he must overcome opposition from gambling opponents who fear these types of facilities could erode family values and lead to increases in crime.

“It appears to be a tall hurdle to get over, but I’ve never given up on this,” said O’Leary, who has been working on similar proposals for eight years. “How could you look at the trouble the HOPE Scholarship is in, and say no to this project?”

O’Leary has a contract to buy the property in Norcross and build a complex that would include a towering hotel, a spacious theater and a game floor with 7,500 video lottery terminals. He’s careful not to call it a casino.

The terminals, which resemble video slot machines, would be owned and regulated by the lottery and could funnel $350 million each year into the struggling college scholarship program, he said.

The lottery board wouldn’t comment on the proposal, but members have said they are reluctant to add the machines without a broader discussion with policymakers. Gov. Nathan Deal’s office also wouldn’t comment on the proposal. But he said in an interview that he generally doesn’t think Georgia is “compatible with a casino-type environment.”

O’Leary has shied away from saying “casino” ever since his 2009 proposal to transform Underground Atlanta, the downtown development he operates, was abandoned amid opposition.

Georgia law bans Las Vegas-style card games like poker, but the state lottery’s charter doesn’t specifically outlaw video lottery terminals. The Georgia attorney general’s office said in a March 2010 letter that the terminals are “generally permitted” under state law, and O’Leary said his proposal wouldn’t require legislative approval.

Still, some legislators are already signaling their support for the effort. State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, said a resolution urging the lottery board to support video lottery terminals has attracted dozens of co-sponsors from both parties.

Gambling companies have long wanted to tap into the roughly 5 million residents of metro Atlanta, who are hours away from the nearest casinos in North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, analysts said. They said video lottery terminals often work a bit more slowly than traditional slot machines and there’s less variety, but they still tend to do well when they’re the only game in town.

“Gaming, at the end of the day, is really about convenience,” said John Maxwell, a senior gaming analyst for Jefferies & Co. “It’s one of the main drivers for how well a facility performs. And the closer you put it to a population base, the better it is.”

Michael Paladino, the lead gaming analyst for Fitch Ratings in New York, said many of these “convenience gamblers” would stop making out-of-town trips to nearby casinos even if those developments offer more choices.

Gwinnett County business leaders say they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the proposal by O’Leary, who also has a letter of intent from Delaware gaming firm Dover Downs to develop the project.

“The more information we get about it, the more excited I get about it,” said Chuck Warbington, executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, which includes the Norcross site. “It’s the total package — a resort, a spa and a hotel as well as a gaming facility. It will be a totally transformative project for the entire area.”

Stephens said it should be up to the locals, not state lawmakers, whether to accept the project.

“If a county decides and votes to do this, who are we as legislators to get in the way?” he said.

So far, local leaders sound cautiously optimistic about the project. Charlotte Nash, who chairs the Gwinnett County Commission, said she and other officials traveled to a Dover Downs casino and she’s eager to learn more about O’Leary’s project.

“We need to fully vet it through and do due diligence,” she said. “We’re not ready to sign off on it yet, but we definitely think it’s worth considering.”

Expect a stiff fight from conservative groups still smarting from the failure to halt Sunday alcohol sales in many cities and counties across Georgia. Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said his organization will urge Deal to block the project.

“The governor has said he doesn’t favor an expansion of gambling,” said Luquire. “And we will hold him at his word.”

Obama Forcefully warns Israel and Iran of Consequences

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 11:00 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama delivered his most explicit threat yet that the United States will attack Iran if that’s what it takes to prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb. At the same time, he warned Israelis they would only make a bad situation worse if they moved pre-emptively against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The double-barreled warning, in an interview published Friday, came before Obama’s high-stakes meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and a speech Sunday to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israeli lobby. Obama said an Israeli strike would stir sympathy for the Islamic republic in a region where it has few allies. But he made clearer than before that Iran could face attack from the United States.

“I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say,” Obama told The Atlantic magazine. “I don’t bluff.”

He said Iran and Israel both understand that “a military component” is among a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy, making plain a threat to attack that had previously been more subtly implied.

The warning reveals how the threat that Iran could pose to Israel has eclipsed every other issue in the close but often contentious U.S. relationship with Israel, and raised the political stakes for Obama. Iran’s disputed nuclear ambitions dwarf the unfinished business of peace with the Palestinians and Obama’s sometimes testy relationship with Netanyahu.

The White House dispute with Israel is about the risks versus the benefits of a military strike in the near term, not whether one is ever appropriate. The issue is infused with domestic politics in both the United States and Israel, and Obama is at pains to show American Jewish voters that he is not being harder on Israel than on Iran.

“Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept,” he said in the magazine interview. “Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?”

Obama then suggested an election-year answer to his own question, accusing Republicans of trying to fan the doubts and slam a wedge “between Barack Obama and a Jewish-American vote that has historically been very supportive of his candidacy.”

He firmly rejected the notion that the United States might settle for a strategy of letting the Iranians build a nuclear weapon but deterring them from using one.

“You’re talking about the most volatile region in the world,” he said. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe. “

Israel has been publicly debating whether to launch air strikes on Iran’s known nuclear facilities in the next several months, before Israel judges that Iran’s program would be too far along to stop. The Obama administration argues that the time for a strike is farther away, and that there is still time to persuade Iran’s leaders to back down. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Israel wants U.S. backing for any military action against Iran, but has signaled it would go it alone if need be. Israeli officials have said they have made no decision yet, but the Obama-Netanyahu meeting comes amid a growing sense in Israel and in Washington that a strike is likely.

Israeli officials appear unmoved by the U.S. arguments, and Obama is unlikely to talk Netanyahu out of launching a strike if the Israeli leader decides not to wait. Both governments maneuvered Friday to set the terms for their discussion.

Netanyahu warned the world Friday not to fall into the “trap” of renewed nuclear talks. Speaking in Canada, the hawkish Israeli leader said he not would set down “red lines” for Israeli or U.S. action on Iran — a reference to reports in Israel that the country intended to press the United States to set such demands.

Until now, Obama has said a nuclear Iran is unacceptable but has not spelled out just what the U.S. would do or when. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday that Obama does not intend to tip his hand to Iran about what lines it cannot cross because doing so would not be in U.S. interests.

Three delegations of senior U.S. national security officials made the case against an Israeli strike in visits to that country over the past month. They argued that launching a strike before the last possible moment, and without international support, would do more harm than good.

It could actually make Israel less safe by angering neighbors that don’t like either Israel or Iran but would be forced to side with Iran in the event it is attacked, the U.S. has argued. In that sense, an attack coming from Israel could be even more polarizing in the region than one launched by the United States.

An Israeli strike would also be unlikely to eradicate the Iranian nuclear program, and would at best set it back a few years, the U.S. argument goes. In the end, the Iranian program could grow back stronger.

“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?” Obama asked in the interview.

Israel takes little comfort in the U.S. assessment, reiterated Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, that Tehran has not decided whether to build a nuclear bomb.

Israel has refused to guarantee any notice to the U.S. ahead of time, a U.S. intelligence source told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because much of the planning for Iran is classified. A preemptive Israeli strike would probably be similar to Israel’s 1981 strike on an Iraqi weapons site that Israeli officials cite as a success.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose a “grave threat to the peace and security of the world,” Netanyahu said, and other nations cannot stand by and allow it to happen. In the past he has likened the growing Iranian nuclear threat to the risk that Nazi Germany represented before the Holocaust.

“As for Israel, like any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country, against a country that calls and works for our destruction,” Netanyahu said Friday.

The meeting and Obama’s address to the lobby will also revisit what the U.S. sees as lackluster Israeli efforts toward peace with the Palestinians. It’s a sore subject, despite Obama’s strong defense of Israeli actions before the United Nations and in other venues. Before his AIPAC speech last year, Obama outlined U.S. terms for resuming Palestinian peace talks that infuriated Netanyahu and many Israel supporters in the United States.

Netanyahu speaks to the group’s annual conference Monday evening.

The group’s influence and the importance of Jewish voters in American politics have made its glossy Washington conference a must-do for both American and Israeli politicians. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will also address the group this year

Does Ohio Reflect the Country in Terms of the Republican Parimariry?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 10:31 am

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (AP) — This state’s Super Tuesday primary is proving to be the perfect microcosm of the nation’s unruly race for the Republican presidential nomination: Mitt Romney is spending lots of money, Rick Santorum is aggressively courting conservatives and Newt Gingrich is counting on big ideas to swing votes his way.

Of the 10 states weighing in on Tuesday, Ohio offers the hottest contest. And with its diverse population, reputation as a presidential battleground and preoccupation with the same economic worries that nag the nation at large, Ohio seems destined to foreshadow the shape of the campaign as it heads toward November.

“You seem to always be the center of the political universe in America,” Santorum declared Friday night during a packed campaign stop in this northeastern Ohio town set along Lake Erie.

And despite the vast territory in play across the country, from Alaska and Idaho to Vermont, Virginia and Georgia, Romney will sleep in Ohio every night until Tuesday. It’s that important to him.

Even so, the race was playing out in similar fashion in the other states with contests Tuesday. The former Massachusetts governor and his allies were flooding the airwaves, outpacing his rivals in every Super Tuesday state except in North Dakota, where Santorum was alone on the air but spending less than $8,000. Romney campaigned in Washington on Friday, the day before the state’s caucuses, as he closed a Western swing.

Romney has much of Ohio’s Republican establishment behind him after years of courting the party’s county chairmen and donors.

“When a party chairman gets a call early on from someone perceived as the front-runner and they ask you to sign on as a county chairman, it’s easy to say yes and it’s hard to say no,” said Mark Munroe, the Mahoning County GOP chief who is leading Romney’s efforts in the northeastern Ohio county. “We’ve seen the Romney campaign in action since late last year. He was able to start early and that makes such a huge difference.”

Romney’s camp insists he does not need to win Ohio to get the presidential nomination or even to keep alive the expectation that he eventually will. Losing here, however, would drive persistent doubts about the strength of Romney’s candidacy after a closer-than-expected race in Michigan and a string of comments that have drawn attention to his personal wealth.

Campaigning Friday night in Cleveland, Romney delivered his standard speech and kept his focus on the economy, though he cited trade — a critical issue in a manufacturing state that’s been hurt by foreign competition

“When we have trade with other nations it’s good for us … we do better as a society. We’re able to have more stuff and have a more prosperous life,” he said. “But that’s only the case as long as the people we trade with don’t cheat. And in the case of China, they’re cheating.” The crowd cheered, with many nodding their heads.

Romney, who’s visited Ohio, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington state in the past two days, also said the campaigning allows him to meet people who aren’t regularly in the news. “When you get to do what I do and you meet, you know, average, ordinary citizens like ourselves, well, you get a sense of what is really at the heart and at the core of the American people,” he said.

Figures provided to The Associated Press show Romney’s campaign is spending more than $1.5 million in television ads this week in Ohio and his allies are on the air with almost $1.5 million. In total, Romney and his supporters planned to spend more than $3.8 million on cable and broadcast television ads.

His rivals dismiss the spending.

“The Romney organization is nothing more than money,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, an early Romney backer who defected to Santorum just as the former Pennsylvania senator’s late rise captured the interest of conservative leaders who were lukewarm, at best, about Romney’s record.

Santorum and his allies are spending only $796,000 in total on Ohio. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found Santorum polling at 35 percent support and Romney at 31 percent support — essentially a tie.

“When Ohio whispers, people listen,” Santorum said Friday night. “When Ohio shouts, ‘We want a conservative,’ this country will stand up and join you.”

Ohio’s Republican electorate is similar to that of the most recent hard-fought state, Michigan, containing both blue-collar, rural voters as well as churchgoers focused heavily on social issues. Here, as in that fellow Rust Belt state narrowly won by Romney, the economy dominates voters’ concerns, and Romney and Santorum both were playing to them.

And, as they could in Michigan, voters in Ohio will be able to declare party affiliation at the polls.

“We’ve got the same problems as everyone else does,” said Gary Green, a 56-year-old Chillicothe business owner who attended a Santorum event Friday but still is leaning toward candidate Ron Paul. “We need jobs.”

Sen. Rob Portman, a Romney supporter who plans to campaign with him at four events on Saturday, said Romney “doesn’t have to win in Ohio, but it sure would help.”

“I don’t think people in Ohio thought this primary was going to be a big deal,” Portman said. “They thought this thing would be wrapped up in Florida.”

It isn’t clear whether Santorum has any paid staff on the ground. As is the case elsewhere, Santorum is relying on volunteers and local leaders such as DeWine to power his campaign. Santorum’s top aides still don’t have a national campaign headquarters. Highway rest stops and advisers’ hotel rooms are the base of their ragtag yet oddly durable operation.

His campaign faces another problem in Ohio. He failed to qualify for the ballot in three congressional districts, and party officials said Friday he filed an incomplete slate of delegates in another six districts, costing him up to nine delegates more. The state Republican Party would make the final determination on what to do with unallocated delegates based on party rules.

Santorum hosted his rally late Friday evening, hoping to generate the enthusiasm that helped him win the Iowa and Minnesota caucuses, as well as the Colorado primary and Missouri’s nonbinding primary. He’ll spend Saturday in the state as well, before traveling to Tennessee and Oklahoma. He’s tentatively scheduled to return to the state Monday and stay through Super Tuesday.

Gingrich is short on cash and has been camped out in Georgia trying to prevent an embarrassing home state loss on Tuesday. But he’s still a player of sorts in Ohio, where he plans one day of campaigning as well as a 30-minute, policy-thick cable television commercial about energy, an ad costing him $2,750 to run five times through Monday. The poll that found Romney and Santorum vying for the Ohio lead put Gingrich at 17 percent.

Paul, the favorite of the libertarian wing of his party, had 12 percent support in the poll. He planned no television ads or serious campaigning yet was sure to draw his fervent supporters to the polling stations for a campaign that has yet to win a state.

Gingrich planned to visit Ohio on Saturday to appear in a forum with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and give remarks to a National Rifle Association event in Findlay and a GOP dinner in Bowling Green.

Campaigning in Savannah, Ga., Gingrich called Romney the “inside, establishment candidate” who would go to Washington “to manage the decay,” and said Santorum would not change the status quo, either.

“We’re not worried about losing Georgia,” said Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide who is with a pro-Gingrich political committee that is spending almost $740,000 in advertising in Georgia. “But at the same time, he has to do well in Georgia.” Tyler described the state as “a lot like South Carolina,” where Gingrich pulled off his only victory to date.

In Bellevue, Wash., Romney implored supporters to come out for the Saturday caucuses, promising them “it won’t take a long time, it’ll just make a big difference.” His Western campaigning included stops in North Dakota and Idaho. Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Tennessee are among the other Super Tuesday states.

No Surprise GREECE gets Moody’s LOWEST Bond Rating Possible

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 10:00 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Greece to the lowest rating on its bond scale late Friday, following a deal with private investors that would see them ultimately lose an estimated 70 percent of their holdings in Greek debt.

Moody’s lowered Greece’s sovereign rating to C from Ca, arguing that the risk of default remains high even a bond-swap deal with banks and other private investors, due to be completed this month, is successful.

It said it would “re-assess the credit risk profile” after Greece issues the new bonds.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s took similar action on Feb. 27.

The swap deal aims to cut euro107 billion ($144 billion) from the country’s debt, and would see private investors lose more than half the face value of their Greek bonds in exchange for new ones issued with more favorable repayment terms for the crisis-hit country.

The exchange is an integral part of a second bailout package for Greece by other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

“Looking ahead, the EU program and proposed debt exchanges will reduce Greece’s debt burden, but the risk of a default even after the debt exchange has been completed remains high,” Moody’s said.

“Moody’s believes that Greece will still face medium-term solvency challenges: its stock of debt will still be well in excess of 100 percent of gross domestic product for many years, the country is unlikely to be able to access the private market once the second assistance package runs out, and its planned fiscal and economic reforms will still face very significant implementation risks.”

Greece has been relying since May 2010 on rescue loans from eurozone partners and the IMF. But despite receiving euro73 billion from its initial euro110 billion bailout and pushing through tough austerity measures in return, the country has consistently missed its reform targets.

To limit a threat to Europe’s single currency, its leaders have agreed to extend the country a second bailout, this time worth euro130 billion ($172 billion), which is accompanied by the debt reduction deal.

So far, the eurozone has agreed in principle to release the first batch of bailout loans to Greece to finance the bond-swap, with the final green light to due till come next week.

But harsh austerity has pushed the country into a fifth year of recession and seen the unemployment rate reach nearly 21 percent.

Earlier Friday, provisional figures from the finance ministry figures showed Greece posting a deficit in January of euro490 million ($652 million), in contrast to last year’s equivalent surplus of euro154 million.

The ministry’s General Accounting Office said revenues during the month were hit by the expiry of a one-off business tax, as well as reduced revenues from consumption.

Revenues in January totaled euro4.87 billion ($6.48 billion). Though a little bit better than the government’s latest target, it’s markedly worse than last year’s equivalent of euro5.12 billion.

Connecticut Considering Raising Minimum Wage to $9+ /hour

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 9:27 am

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Low-wage workers, economists and others are pushing Connecticut lawmakers to support legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage during the coming years and eventually tie it to inflation.

The bill, which is being considered by the state’s Labor and Public Employees Committee, would raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, beginning July 2012, and to $9.75 an hour the following year. The bill requires the minimum wage rate to be tied to inflation beginning in July 2014.

If passed, the bill would raise pay for the nearly 106,000 people currently earning minimum wage inConnecticut — more than 80 percent of them over age 20. The bill also would place Connecticut among the states with the highest minimum wage in the country.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee heard arguments for and against the bill during a Tuesday afternoon public hearing.

Advocates in favor of the legislation say that the current minimum wage — $8.25 an hour or around $17,000 a year for full-time employment — puts the state’s low-wage workers below the poverty line. They also argue that increasing the minimum wage would help put more money back into the economy, because the workers would have more spending cash.

Margot Dorfman, chief executive officer of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, who testified at the hearing, said raising the minimum wage would help level the playing field for women-owned businesses. Dorfman said these businesses, as a whole, tend to pay employees above the minimum wage. She said requiring big-box stores to raise their minimum wage payments would help female-owned businesses compete.

Opponents say, however, that they are concerned the proposed wage increase could discourage employers from hiring new workers, resulting in potential job losses.

Andrew Markowski, the state’s director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said raising the minimum wage would be devastating for small business owners under the current economic conditions. He said NFIB members in Connecticut would suffer under the increase as small businesses are still recovering from last year’s tax increases and did not include the raise in their budgets.

“Increasing the minimum wage is a good idea wrapped in bad policy,” he said.

The potential ripple effect associated with increasing the minimum wage and other payroll costs could result in job losses, Markowski said.

Despite Markowski’s claims, Arindrajit Dube, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, testified that he and his colleagues conducted two studies on the issue that found moderate minimum wage increases do not result in job loss and that other studies suggesting this use inadequate survey methods.

Dube’s first study compared job growth over 17 years in multiple bordering counties in different states. He said his study is more accurate because it compares two similar job markets in the same geographical location.

Committee Chairs Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, and Rep. Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski, D-Plantsville, have both said they support raising the minimum wage.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters Tuesday that he has not decided whether he will support legislation increasing the minimum wage. He said the results of the earned income tax credit, new system for paid sick days and what surrounding states do on the issue will play a role in his decision.

The current national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. At least 18 states have set a minimum wage exceeding the national requirement.

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