Daily Archives: October 12, 2008

Golden Gate Bridge to get suicide nets to catch would-be jumpers during financial meltdown

Stainless-steel netting hanging 20 feet down and extending 20 feet on either side will be placed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to catch would-be suicide jumpers, San Francisco officials decided Friday. Eric Risberg / Associated Press

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World crisis may cause suicide rise: WHO


Agency decides that the barrier would be the least visible of five alternatives. But no source of funding has been determined for the estimated $50-million project.

Los Angeles Times | Oct 11, 2008

Golden Gate Bridge to get suicide net to catch would-be jumpers

By Steve Chawkins

Stainless-steel netting costing up to $50 million will be placed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to catch would-be suicide jumpers, San Francisco officials decided Friday.

The decision by the board of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District follows several years of controversy. The agency has yet to determine how to finance it, said spokeswoman Mary Currie.

The netting was the “locally preferred alternative,” Currie said. More than 5,000 comments came flooding into the agency as part of its environmental review process.

About 2,000 people have jumped from the storied bridge since it opened in 1937. So far this year, 19 have made the leap, which is almost always fatal. Whether public funds should be used to prevent additional suicides has been passionately debated.

Writing to the board last summer, San Francisco resident Paul J. Miller expressed a view that many others had raised: “Attention should be given to mental health assistance,” he wrote, “not paying tens of millions of dollars to contractors who are just trying to milk money from citizens.”

On the other hand, the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California has supported the idea, contending that the effectiveness of barriers has been “dramatic” at such landmarks as the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower.

The group also cites a study of 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It concluded that 94% of them were alive or had died naturally long after their thwarted attempts.

In its 14-1 vote Friday, the agency’s directors determined that a net would be the least visible of five alternatives.

The others included extending the height of the bridge’s railing from four to 12 feet — an option widely criticized as too obtrusive.

All of the possibilities — except doing nothing — would cost $40 million to $50 million, Currie said.

The plastic-coated steel cable will be seen from only a few spots on the bridge’s walkway. Hanging 20 feet down and extending 20 feet on either side, it will be the same color as the Art Deco span.

It also will cost $78,000 a year to maintain, compared with $500,000 for the railing, according to the district.

James Eddie, the one board member who voted no, raised the issue of the barrier’s cost.

The agency will draw up a final environmental plan, examining, among other issues, the danger the net might pose to birds flying into it.

British woman gets criminal record for for selling fruits and vegetables by the pound

David Davis with Janet Devers, the so-called “Metric Martyr” Photo: PA

Market trader ‘in shock’ at conviction for selling fruit and veg by the pound

A market trader convicted of selling fruit and vegetables using imperial measures has spoken of her “outrage” at the decision.

Telegraph | Oct 12, 2008

By David Harrison

Janet Devers, 64, said she was “in shock” at the decision to sentence her for selling the goods in pounds and ounces rather than kilos and grams.

Magistrates ordered Mrs Devers, from Wanstead, east London, to pay just under £5,000 in costs and told her she would have a criminal record after being found guilty of eight offences under the Weights and Measures Act.

The “metric martyr” was also convicted of selling vegetables for £1 a bowl rather than counting them out individually, a common practice among Britain’s estimated 40,000 market traders to help customers confused by metric measures.

“I am flabbergasted by the decision,” the pensioner and mother-of-two told The Sunday Telegraph. “Last year the EU commissioner said that Brussels didn’t want to criminalise people selling in pounds and ounces – and yet the British authorities are doing exactly that.

“There are 30 other stalls in my market in Dalston doing what I am doing – and tens of thousands more all over the UK – and yet they have chosen to prosecute me.

“I’ve been made a scapegoat. To get a criminal record for this is absolutely outrageous.

Mrs Devers’ stall at the Ridley Road market has been in the family for more than 60 years since her mother ran a stall during the Blitz.

In September last year, Gunther Verheugen, the European Commission’s vice-president for enterprise and industry, said Brussels never intended to criminalise those who sold in pounds and ounces.

But days after Mr Verheugen made his remarks trading standards officials from Hackney Council, accompanied by two police officers, arrived at Mrs Devers’ stall to confiscate two sets of imperial, non-metric scales.

Mrs Devers was convicted at Thames magistrates’ court of using imperial scales without an official stamp and selling peppers in bowls for £1 without giving the quantity or weight of the produce.

The market trader was given a two-year conditional discharge, but Dr Patrick Davies, the chairman of the bench, said: ‘We note that you said you were doing this in the interests of your customers, although you ought to have known you were breaking the law in doing so.”

Mr Verheugen confirmed to this newspaper that the decision on whether to prosecute was up to the British authorities. “This is not a matter for Brussels but one for the UK authorities because it does not affect the internal market for goods,” he said.

Mrs Devers said that a criminal record meant she would not be able to go to America to see her cousins.

Hackney Council said it “regrets” that legal action was required and added: “It would have been much better if Mrs Devers had complied with the law.”

A government spokesman said: “Enforcement is a matter for Trading Standards”

The UK signed up to a series of European Directives to adopt the metric system in stages, ending with the switch to metric for “goods sold loose from bulk” in 1999.

Prices have to be displayed in metric units but imperial units can be used alongside them.

Obama to offer McCain a job if he wins election

Barack Obama would like to offer John McCain a job if he becomes president, in what his allies says is an attempt to end the bitter partisan rancour that engulfed the White House race last week.

Telegraph | Oct 12, 2008

By Tim Shipman in Chillicothe, Ohio

America might not know who is new president, Barack Obama or John McCain, until 10 days after voting

Both presidential rivals are working behind the scenes to calm the increasingly incendiary atmosphere on the campaign trail, which erupted with lurid claims about Mr Obama’s links with the former terrorist Bill Ayres and a lynch mob atmosphere at McCain rallies.

Two Democratic sources with knowledge of the thinking in the Obama camp say that forming a partnership with Mr McCain would prove that Mr Obama will reach across the aisle and also help rehabilitate Mr McCain, who many Democrats believe has been pushed by hardline advisers into making increasingly desperate attacks on his rival.

By his own admission, the Republican candidate “took the gloves off” last week , unleashing adverts and soundbites attacking Mr Obama’s character and judgment as polls showed him on course for a landslide election victory.

One well-connected Democrat, who spoke to Mr Obama last week, told The Sunday Telegraph: “John McCain is a good man. There’s no question about it. I think we’ll see Barack Obama reach out to him and say: let’s work together.”

He pointed out that Bill Clinton and the first President Bush “work together on common issues” despite their testy exchanges “in the heat of battle”.

And a Democratic strategist who talks regularly with Mr Obama’s senior advisors added: “Obama has said all along that he will work with the best people, regardless of party affiliation. John McCain has experience and he used to have a record of bipartisanship. We’re all going to need to pull together when this is over.”

Mr McCain will not be offered a cabinet job, but Mr Obama may ask him to spearhead a bipartisan overhaul of veteran’s affairs, an issue close to Mr McCain’s heart.

The claims that Mr Obama is already planning his administration come as a friend of Mr McCain revealed that the Republican candidate is concerned that the ugly rhetoric of the last week will damage his reputation as an honest patriot if he loses on November 4.

The Republican strategist, who used to work for Mr McCain, said: “John knows that his reputation as a decent man is on the line but he’s got devils on each shoulder telling him to hit harder.”

That sentiment appeared to be behind Mr McCain’s decision on Friday night to dial back the rhetoric, telling the crowd at one rally that they should be more “respectful” of Mr Obama and insisting that his Democratic rival is “a decent family man”. He dismissed one woman’s claim that Mr Obama is “an Arab” and added: “He’s a person that you don’t have to be scared of as President of the United States.” The booing that accompanied these gestures of conciliation is a measure of the rage which has gripped many Republican voters now that polls suggest an Obama presidency is likely.

With the Republicans slamming his character, this was a week Mr Obama had to survive intact if he is to ride voter angst at the Republican stewardship of the economy all the way to the White House.

The pressure cooker he chose as a stage was Ohio, the bellwether which decided the election for George W. Bush four years ago by just 110,000 votes. Mr Obama, who has edged into a lead in the Buckeye state held five rallies there on Thursday and Friday and Mr McCain sent his running mate Sarah Palin to campaign for him.

In conversations with voters in Cincinnati, Wilmington and Chillicothe, a town of 22,000 in southern Ohio seen as the ultimate swing town of the ultimate swing state, The Sunday Telegraph found a febrile atmosphere, where fear at state of the economy combined with fury among Republicans at Mr Obama’s lead and anxiety among Democrats that the assault on his character and judgment would cause it to evaporate.

At a rally in Wilmington on Thursday night members of the crowd yelled “terrorist” and “liar” as Sarah Palin questioned Mr Obama’s account of his time working on an education project in the mid 1990s with Mr Ayres, whose Weather Underground group bombed the Pentagon in the early 1970s.

One of those shouting was housewife Courtney Jenkins, 33, a mother of four, who revealed afterwards that she considers the Ayers affair “the biggest don’t ask, don’t tell scandal that the world has ever seen”.

She said: “There is a lack of education about his past. Obama’s not good for America.

He has told lies and he has no experience. I truly think it would be a travesty if he won.

“If he’s in charge, I’ll be concerned about where our tax dollars are going. He could send it to terrorists for all we know. It truly would be frightening. He’s pro-communist and pro-socialism. It’s not the kind of society I want my kids to grow up in.” The tone of Mr Obama’s events was much more laid back but there was still a sense of tense expectation among his supporters, many of whom still cannot quite believe that he stands on the cusp of making history.

There is fear among Democrats that the imminent prospect of an Obama presidency has unleashed the primal motives of racism, prevalent in the Appalachian region of Southern Ohio.

A black volunteer at a rally in Cincinnati, who asked not to be named, confided: “They say they will vote for him but in the end I wonder whether they will go into that voting booth and say: ‘No’.” Mr Obama was introduced in Chillicothe and Cincinnati by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, himself a product of Appalachia, who went out of his way to answer local suspicions about Mr Obama’s faith and stance on gun rights, stressing that the Democratic candidate is “a strong Christian family man” and telling sportsmen they “have nothing to fear” from him. The candidate himself, basking in the sunshine, pointedly praised “this beautiful day that the Lord has made”.

Others are more confident. Democratic campaigners in Chillicothe and Wilmington report that even voters who have called Mr Obama a “nigger” on the doorstep have said they will vote for him because they blame Republicans for the economic crisis.

Harold Beach, 44, a carpenter and union member from Chillicothe, said: “There’s always going to be that [racism] but I think people have changed a little bit. It’s a different world than what it used to be.

“There are some people that never change but I think he’ll do good here. I think people are tired of the economy we’ve got right now.

Eight years is enough.” Joe Sulzer, the Democratic Mayor of Chillicothe, believes the economic crisis has shifted thousands of votes to Mr Obama in the last fortnight. “This town voted for George Bush by three per cent last time. He carried it by the same percentage as the entire state. We’re the bellwether. I expect him to stretch his lead.

“We’ve had factories close where the jobs were shipped to China.

When this election started out most people here didn’t know Barack Obama. Most were sceptical. They didn’t think he had enough experience. But they have got to know him. On the economy John McCain sounds like George Bush and Obama sounds like a breath of fresh air.”

There is evidence aplenty that the economy is working for Mr Obama. In Cincinnati, Raquel Houseman, who lost her job when a Ford car plant closed, said she was for Mr Obama, who grew up with a single mother, since “he doesn’t need advisers to tell him about our struggles because he has lived them”. She said: “We have found ourselves relying more and more on credit cards for day to day living, which really scares me.”

In Chillicothe, Matt Kendall, 31, who recently lost his job, said: “We grew up in an America where hard work was rewarded with financial freedom, but we’re losing sight of that. We need a leader who understands the tough times for working people.” Not everyone is convinced Mr Obama is the answer, but for some no politician is the answer. Paul Gilmer, a 41 year old veteran, who attended the Chillicothe rally in a T-shirt bearing a picture of Sitting Bull and the logo, “You can trust the government, just ask an Indian”, expressed the views of many, weary of politics as usual.

“I haven’t voted since I was young because of the bickering between the two parties. I like John McCain because he might take on the people in Washington, but I probably won’t vote.”

Mr Obama devoted the bulk of his speeches to the economy, but he also found time to criticise Mr McCain’s aggressive campaigning. “It’s easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division,” he told 3,000 people in Chillicothe. “But that’s not what we need right now in the United States.

The American people aren’t looking for someone who can divide this country – they’re looking for someone who will lead it.

“They can run misleading ads, they can pursue the politics of anything goes. It will not work. Not this time.” Republican sources say that this attitude, conveying the expectation of victory, has infuriated Mr McCain, who believes that Mr Obama is presumptuous and has not shown him enough respect for his decade of military service and his three decades of bipartisan work in Washington.

The McCain friend said: “John is infuriated by him, just like Bill Clinton was during the primaries. They both think Obama never gives them credit for the difficult decisions they made. He is so consumed by now that he doesn’t give credit for things in the past. It’s very annoying.”

But as Mr Obama rode out the attacks last week, and the polls failed to budge, Mr McCain discovered that the forces of Republican frustration he unleashed by letting that irritation show could have consequences that effect his own public image as well as Mr Obama’s.

If the Republican candidate does succeed in closing the lid on Pandora’s Box, he might be rewarded with more than just respect if Mr Obama becomes president.

IMF chief warns of global financial meltdown

MSNBC | Oct 11, 2008

WASHINGTON – The International Monetary Fund warned Saturday that debt-ridden banks were pushing the global financial system to the brink of meltdown and wealthy nations had so far failed to restore confidence.

The IMF’s policy setting panel said the economic crisis is so deep and widespread that it will require a willingness to take bold action.

The Group of 20 nations, which includes the world’s wealthiest nations and the largest developing countries such as China, Brazil and India, issued a joint statement late Saturday night stressing their resolve to work together to overcome the current financial turmoil.

President Bush paid an unexpected visit to the group’s meeting. Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the president had stressed the seriousness of the situation and told the finance ministers he was doing all he could to involve other countries in efforts to resolve the crisis.

Bush appealed for patience as world leaders raced to stabilize financial markets and avert the deepest global recession in decades, but the 185-nation IMF said even more steps would be needed in the coming months.

“Intensifying solvency concerns about a number of the largest U.S.-based and European financial institutions have pushed the global financial system to the brink of systemic meltdown,” IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.

The IMF endorsed a plan of action adopted Friday by the G-7 economic powers to protect the financial system and get credit flowing again.

Bush huddled with economic chiefs from the G-7 — Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — and officials from the IMF and World Bank, and said top industrial nations grasped the gravity of the crisis and would work together to solve it.

“In an interconnected world, no nation will gain by driving down the fortunes of another. We are in this together. We will come through it together,” Bush said. “There have been moments of crisis in the past when powerful nations turned their energies against each other or sought to wall themselves off from the world. This time is different.”

“I’m confident that the world’s major economies can overcome the challenges we face,” Bush said, adding that Washington was working as fast as possible to implement a $700 billion financial bailout package approved a week ago.

Yet there was no concrete offer of new moves when Bush spoke on a Rose Garden stage just after daybreak, flanked by representatives from nearly a dozen nations and international organizations.

Resolving the crisis

The fresh message of the day was Bush’s plea that nations work together to address the crisis, avoiding the go-it-alone protectionist trade strategies that worsened conditions during the Great Depression.

“We will do what it takes to resolve the crisis and the world’s economy will emerge stronger as a result,” he said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush’s commitment to collaborative action was repeated and agreed to by every official and minister who took part in a private White House meeting before the statement. Participating in that session with the president were top officials from the G-7 — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — as well as from the European Union, World Bank and IMF.

Bush did not mention any specific action that prompted his call. But Ireland recently moved to guarantee all bank deposits, triggering similar actions in Germany and other countries concerned that nervous depositors would move their bank accounts to Ireland.

The president barely referenced a significant new step from his administration — partial nationalization of some banks. After days of speculation this move was coming, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced late Friday night that the government would buy part ownership in an array of American banks.

Intense market turmoil

President Hoover tried something like that in 1932 during the Great Depression. No detail was provided about how the new approach would work, only that it was similar to Britain’s move to pour cash into its troubled banks in exchange for stakes in them. The U.S. government would use an unspecified portion of the $700 billion approved by Congress a week ago to purchase stocks in a wide variety of banks and other financial institutions.

The rescue program originally was sold to Congress and the public as a plan to buy mortgage-related loans from financial institutions. The goal was to remove troubled assets from those institutions’ books and inspire them to restart more normal lending operations.

Congress passed the massive and hard-fought legislation, and Bush signed it. The government raised the amount of bank deposits it insured. Billions of dollars of reserves have gone into banking systems in the U.S. and other countries. Yet credit, the economy’s lifeblood, has remained virtually frozen.

This paralysis in the credit markets has translated into intense turmoil in the stock markets. The Dow Jones industrial average just completed its worst week in history, plummeting more than 18 percent. Over the past year, people in the U.S. have watched $8.4 trillion drain from investment accounts and retirement savings.

So the administration decided to use the bailout bill to pump equity directly into the banks — an idea never mentioned during the congressional debate. The administration says it is authorized in an obscure corner of the 400-page legislation.

Officials are not saying how long it will take to get this program under way — just as is the case with the even more complicated effort to buy mortgage-backed securities.

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