May 24th, 2012
By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa magic that launched Barack Obama to the presidency four years ago has all but faded.
Soured by the direction of the nation and its economy, Iowa has drifted away from Obama since his 2008 caucus victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton made him the Democratic front-runner. And while he carried the state in the general election by a comfortable margin that year, polls this year have shown voters narrowly preferring Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who plans to wage his own major effort in Iowa.
Today, the Democrat who emerged Cinderella-like with a hope-filled message four years ago is sharply attacking Romney's economic credentials and his ability to grasp voters' everyday concerns.
Obama's visit Thursday to blue-collar Newton, Iowa, and his Des Moines campaign rally near where Romney once declared that corporations are people, underscored the president's own vulnerability with working-class voters and his effort to identify with the middle class.
While offering only six of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, how Iowa voters ultimately judge Obama is expected to be an important factor in the race.
"Last time it was a lot more exciting. It was a new thing," said Nancy Bobo, a Des Moines Obama volunteer and one of his earliest Iowa backers in 2008. "Today, we're all just very serious."
Obama was visiting a former Maytag Corp. appliance plant in Newton, a town devastated by the plant's closing in 2005. The plant now houses TPI Composites, a wind-turbine blade manufacturer.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has made the struggling economy the centerpiece of his campaign. But Obama can point to comparatively low 5.1 percent unemployment in Iowa, where stable financial services and strong agriculture sectors buoyed the economy while manufacturing has struggled to rebound.
Obama's Des Moines rally, his first in Iowa since announcing his candidacy for re-election, is symbolically set for the Iowa State Fairgrounds, within steps of where Romney declared last year that "corporations are people."
Romney made the comment as he argued against raising taxes as a way of shoring up Social Security and Medicare.
Members of the audience interrupted, calling for increased taxes on corporations, and Romney responded: "Corporations are people, my friend. ... Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."
The comment has been used by opponents to characterize Romney, a former private equity firm executive, as more comfortable in the boardroom than the shop floor.
Obama's campaign has emphasized episodes in which Romney's former firm closed plants and laid off workers, and has aired a stinging TV ad on the subject in Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Obama himself has struggled to attract blue-collar voters, keys to winning struggling swing working-class regions such as southeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania and rural Iowa. Newton is the seat of Jasper County, Iowa, where unemployment was 7.1 percent in April, higher than Iowa's average but down sharply from last winter.
While Iowa is known for its first-in-the-nation caucuses, it also is a coveted general election state, despite its small electoral total. Democrat Al Gore carried the state by less than a percentage point in 2000, followed by Republican George W. Bush's 2-point victory in 2004.
The state shows a candidate's ability to win support in the heartland. It could help Romney in his effort to peel back states Obama won in 2008, or help Obama put Romney away.
Obama has already spent more than $2.6 million on advertising, a pace as aggressive as in any other battleground state. He's been a regular visitor, and was making his second trip in a month.
Yet the president's approval rating here has been stuck below 50 percent for over two years, softened in part by criticism from Republicans campaigning for Iowa's leadoff caucuses.
Republican Terry Branstad took back the governorship easily from Democrat Chet Culver in 2010, as the GOP won back the state House and came close in the Senate.
Polls show Iowans also have become increasingly bothered by federal spending, an issue Romney stoked in Des Moines last week in a visit where he promised to shrink the deficit.
Iowans, many of whom met Obama in the 2008 campaign, also are disappointed by what they hoped would be a transcendent presidency, said J. Ann Selzer, the longtime director of The Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll.
"You hear disaffection. You hear them say, 'This isn't what I paid for,'" Selzer said. "The guy they sent there to recast things wasn't able to do it."
And Romney senses the opening.
He, too, has cultivated an Iowa network. Indeed, he campaigned aggressively for the 2008 caucuses during his narrowly losing bid for the state's delegates. And Romney's campaign has begun running television ads in Iowa.
Romney and the Republican National Committee have hired state directors and are hiring staff to run a dozen or more offices planned for Iowa.
While Obama campaigned here, Romney spent Thursday visiting an inner city charter school in west Philadelphia. Romney was to spend the weekend in La Jolla, Calif., with his family.
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May 24th, 2012
By Tom Perry and Tom Pfeiffer
CAIRO (Reuters) – Millions of Egyptians, choosing their leader freely for the first time in their history, voted on Thursday with the Muslim Brotherhood saying their candidate had an early lead over fellow Islamists and rivals who served ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Counting started after polls closed at 9 p.m. (08:00 p.m. British time) with no reliable exit polls available. The Brotherhood said on its television channel that its candidate Mohamed Mursi was ahead based on the tally from some districts.
The influential Islamist group, with its well-organised support base, had been expected to do well. Other candidates claimed to be ahead in a handful of areas, but the overall picture will not be clear for some time.
After six decades under military-backed rule, Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters were choosing whether to entrust the nation to an Islamist president for the next four years, alongside the Islamist-led parliament they elected earlier.
But secular figures such as ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa, 75, and Mubarak’s last premier Ahmed Shafiq, 70, are in with a chance, appealing to Egyptians wary of radical change.
If no one wins more than half the votes needed for outright victory in Wednesday and Thursday’s first round, the top two candidates will contest a June 16 and 17 run-off.
Egyptians seemed increasingly polarised between those determined to avoid handing the presidency back a man from Mubarak’s era and those fearing an Islamist monopoly of ruling institutions.
Some voiced fears of a backlash on the streets, particularly if Shafiq, who like Mubarak was air force commander, triumphs. Protesters hurled stones and shoes at Shafiq when he voted in Cairo on Wednesday.
“If Shafiq or Moussa wins, they will create a revolution. Everyone will go down to Tahrir again,” said one voter, Sherif Abdelaziz, 30, who backs the Brotherhood’s Mursi, referring to the square in central Cairo where mass protests have been held.
Shafiq and Mursi supporters clashed in a village north of Cairo on Thursday, wounding five people, police sources said.
A page on Facebook, a medium used to devastating effect against Mubarak, was launched on Thursday threatening a “revolution if Moussa or Shafiq wins”.
The mother of Khaled Said, the activist whose death in 2010 at the hands of police helped galvanise anti-Mubarak protests, also derided “feloul”, or remnants of the old order.
“If any of the feloul win, it would be because the vote was rigged. Egyptians will never retreat from their revolution,” Said’s mother Leila told Reuters by telephone.
Mursi, 60, was pitched into the race after the Brotherhood’s first choice was disqualified. His main Islamist rival is ex-Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, 60.
Leftist Hamdeen Sabahy, 57, is a dark horse in the race.
As evening fell, Moussa made an 11th-hour appeal for Egyptians to head to the polls.
“Grab the chance of the last few hours to go down. It is vital that they vote … Go down, take part in building the new Egypt,” he said, walking near his campaign office.
He stopped to shake hands with motorists stuck in the jam created by the scene. “It’s the president,” shouted one woman.
Some voters voice disappointment with the performance of parliament, where the Brotherhood’s party has the biggest bloc. The assembly has been unable to assert itself over the government appointed by the generals who took over from Mubarak.
Alarmed by rising crime, disorder and a failing economy, some Egyptians favour a man with government or military experience, even if he harks back to the Mubarak era.
In an angry exchange as voting drew to a close, Moussa accused Shafiq of underhand methods and spreading “lies” that he had quit the race, saying Shafiq should withdraw himself.
Shafiq responded: “How can I pull out if all the voting centres say Amr Moussa is finished and … has no chance?”
Voters queued patiently, determined not to miss their chance to influence the first round. Election consultant Ossama Kamel said there were fewer abuses than in the parliamentary poll that ended in January, partly because of lessons learned then.
“We have seen a lot better control of campaigning on election day than during the parliamentary vote when there were lots of violations, with candidates and their supporters hustling people outside polling stations,” he told Reuters.
The vote marks a crucial stage in a turbulent army-led transition racked by protests, violence and political disputes. The generals who took charge when Mubarak was ousted on February 11, 2011, have pledged to hand over to the new president by July 1.
Even then the army, whose grip reaches deep into government and the economy, is likely to wield influence for years to come. A tussle over who should write the constitution also means the new president will not know his own powers when he is elected.
Egyptians accustomed to the routinely forged votes of Mubarak’s era have relished the uncertainty of the election.
“This is the first time we can really choose our president and no one will mess with the result,” said Ahmed Shaltout, a 36-year-old lawyer who said he would vote for Mursi.
The next president will face huge tasks in reviving Egypt’s wilting economy and restoring security. The sprawling police force, which virtually collapsed during the anti-Mubarak revolt, is only a shadow of its once-feared presence.
Security is Shafiq’s strongest card. A former aviation minister, he was appointed prime minister days before Mubarak fell and quit soon afterwards in response to popular protests.
He is also favoured by many of Egypt’s 10 percent Christian minority, fearful of the rising power of Islamists.
“We all need a president who will curb the Islamist or any other non-moderate current in society. Shafiq can do this because he will be a powerful president,” said Samuel George, a Christian in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city.
Mubarak, 84, is contemplating the spectacle of a free election from the upscale Cairo hospital where he is confined while on trial for ordering the killing of protesters and for corruption. A verdict is due on June 2, two weeks before any presidential run-off. A death sentence is possible but unlikely.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Samia Nakhoul and Edmund Blair; Editing by Giles Elgood)
May 24th, 2012
by Brent Bozelle
You’d think the largest legal action in American history in defense of religious liberty would be a major news story. But ABC, CBS, and NBC don’t judge news events by their inherent importance as relates to the future of our freedoms. They deliver the news according to a simple formula: Does it, or doesn’t it, advance the re-election of Barack Obama?
If it doesn’t, it isn’t news.
On May 21, 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations sued the Obama administration over its ridiculously narrow idea of how a “religious institution” can be defined under their ObamaCare law. Never has the Catholic Church – or any order, for that matter – undertaken something of this magnitude. It’s truly jaw-dropping that ABC and NBC completely ignored this action on their evening newscasts, while “CBS Evening News” devoted just 19 seconds to this historic event.
No, let’s be blunt: They spiked the news.
This is the worst example of shameless bias by omission I have seen in the quarter-century history of the Media Research Center. We recall the Chinese communists withholding from its citizenry for 20 years the news that the U.S. had landed on the moon, because it reflected poorly on their government. Never, never would the U.S. “news” media behave thusly.
They just did.
This is not an honest mistake. It was not an editorial oversight by the broadcast networks. It did not occur too late for the evening deadline. This was a deliberate and insidious withholding of national news to protect the “Chosen One” who ABC, CBS and NBC have worked so hard to elect and for whom they are now abusing their journalistic influence. Even when CBS mentioned the suit ever-so-briefly, like so many others, they deliberately distorted the issue by framing it as a contraception lawsuit when it is much broader, a religious freedom issue – and they know it.
This should be seen as a very dark cloud on Obama’s political horizon. The Catholic Church, with 60 million Americans describing themselves as Catholic, has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration, promising “we will not comply” with a health law that strips Catholics of their religious liberty. If this isn't “news,” then there's no such thing as news.
This should be leading newscasts and the subject of special, in-depth reports. So what trumped this story? ABC led their evening broadcast and devoted an incredible three minutes and 30 seconds to the sentencing of the Rutgers student who spied on his gay roommate with a web camera. NBC aired an entire story on a lunar eclipse. Both CBS and NBC devoted their first three and a half minutes to prostate-cancer screening.
Catholic taxpayers who help fund National Public Radio were also ignored on the evening newscast with that sad joke of a title – “All Things Considered.”
If only some deceased priest had been accused of sexual improprieties in 1953…then Catholics would be seen as newsworthy. These “news” operations can’t argue these are more important stories than the loss of religious freedom in America.
The print press isn't much better. For the Washington Post, there was a little one-column story buried on page A6. That fishwrap known as USA Today had a really tiny headline and 128-word item at the very bottom of A2. The New York Times had a perfunctory 419-word dispatch on page A17.
Two pages later, the Times defined as “news” what it prefers to report on Catholics: “2 Philadelphia Priests Punished in Sexual Abuse Cases.” The paper noted one priest has been suspended from ministry for two years and the other had been placed on leave in December based on abuse that occurred about 40 years ago. This wasn’t really “news” as a current matter, but this is always and everywhere the bigoted narrative the Times prefers to perpetuate.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops used the word “horror” to describe what Team Obama is mandating. On the only broadcast show to give Catholics some coverage, CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose asked Dolan if the White House misled him on this issue. Dolan began by saying he hesitated to question the president’s sincerity – even though anyone who heard Obama’s 2009 commencement speech at Notre Dame about “honoring the conscience” of his opponents on abortion has proven he is completely insincere.
The cardinal said “I worry, Charlie, that members of his administration might not particularly understand our horror at the restrictive nature of this exemption that they're giving us, that for the first time that we can remember, a bureau of the federal government seems to be radically intruding into the internal definition of what a church is. We can't seem to get that across.”
He’s not finding much help getting anything across from those supposed “mediators” of the national press corps.
May 24th, 2012
Reputation aside, Facebook's bungled IPO turned out to be a very good trade for its investment bankers.
FORTUNE -- Here's another example of how on Wall Street for the big banks it's heads they win, tails they win.
Even as Facebook's shares dropped, causing losses for regular investors, Morgan and other underwriters of the company's IPO likely racked up big profits trading the social media company's shares. In fact, Morgan Stanley and the other banks who were selling Facebook shares to the public were positioned to make more money the lower Facebook's shares went.
"We think Morgan has done pretty well on the deal," says a person at a bank that was one of Facebook's other underwriters. "Reputation of the bank aside, Facebook hasn't been a bad trade for Morgan."
IPO experts say what Morgan and Facebook's other underwriters likely did is a common, though little understood outside of IPO circles, practice on Wall Street. The trading itself doesn't appear to have broken any rules. It was even disclosed in Facebook's prospectus. Nonetheless, the fact that Morgan profited as Facebook's stock sank raises more questions for the bank at a time when it's facing increasing scrutiny for how it handled the IPO. Regulators are looking into whether analysts at Morgan and other underwriters warned some clients but not others about problems at Facebook shortly before the IPO. Investors are suing as well.
Here's how Morgan likely booked a profit on Facebook's fall: Investment bankers typically sell 15% more shares in an IPO than they actually have. For Facebook, the difference was about 63 million shares. How can they do that? Included in every IPO deal is an agreement that gives underwriters the ability to buy more stock from the company at a slight discount to the IPO price. So if the price rises after the offering, the underwriters can buy the shares from the company that they have promised to other investors, but don't actually have, and book a small profit. That's what typically happens.
But, as we all know, that's not what happened in Facebook's IPO. The stock dropped. As a result, the underwriters were able to pick up shares they didn't have in the market, rather than buying them from the company, at lower and lower prices. In effect, the underwriters were short the stock. And like all short trades, the lower the price you buy the stock back at, the more profit you make. Morgan, as the lead underwriter on the deal, sold the majority of Facebook's shares, so it booked the majority of the trading profit.
How much did Morgan make? From the outside, it's impossible to know. Facebook's shares hit $31 on Tuesday. If Morgan and the other underwriters bought back every share they had sold at that price, the Wall Street banks would have pocketed nearly $450 million. And that's on top of the roughly $170 million they split in underwriting fees on the deal. Much of those fees went to Morgan as well. But it's likely they didn't make nearly that much. Many have speculated that Morgan and the other underwriters bought shares on Friday at $38, Facebook's IPO price, to support the stock. Those purchases were losers and would have cut into their trading profits. And it's likely Morgan and the others tried to continue to support the stock as it slipped further, buying back shares constantly as the stock dropped. A person close to the deal puts the trading profits at $100 million, still a big payday.
To anyone outside of Wall Street, this whole arrangement seems like a giant conflict of interest. Just days before the IPO, Morgan agreed to allow Facebook to sell more shares than it originally proposed. Morgan also set the IPO price higher than originally expected. That, in part, set the stock up for the fall, creating the trading gains for Morgan. Wall Street, of course, doesn't see it that way. In fact, Facebook's own prospectus says that the underwriters "may sell more shares than they are obligated to purchase under the underwriting agreement, creating a short position."
Regulators don't seem particularly concerned with the practice either. Walter Van Dorn, a partner at law firm SNR Denton who spent seven years at the Securities and Exchange Commission in part monitoring IPOs, says that the practice of over allotment in IPOs was well-known. "The SEC doesn't see it as a conflict of interest," says Van Dorn. Indeed, it's unlikely that Morgan was rooting for Facebook's stock to drop. The deal has likely been a big hit to the reputation of its tech banking team, which had generated huge fees for the firm.
Still, what's clear is that there is a lot that's not understood about the way Wall Street sells shares to the public. Even among Wall Streeters, the fact that underwriters can profit from IPO stock drops is not widely known. The Facebook deal is shedding some light on the process, and hopefully dispelling the myth that IPOs are the last guaranteed way to make a quick buck on Wall Street. That's long overdue.
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May 24th, 2012
Arizona's secretary of state said on Wednesday he has received information from state officials in Hawaii that verifies Barack Obama's birth records, satisfying criteria to put the president on the November ballot in the state.
Ken Bennett, who in addition to his secretary of state duties serves as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign co-chairman in Arizona, made a request to authorities in Hawaii on March 30 about Obama's birth records on behalf of more than 4,000 constituents, his office said.
Bennett said in a statement that he received verification on Tuesday of Obama's birth from the officials in Hawaii in lieu of a certified birth certificate.
"Late yesterday, our office received the 'verification in-lieu of certified copy' from officials within the Hawaii Department of Health that we requested in March," Bennett said.
"They have officially confirmed that the information in the copy of the Certificate of Live Birth for the President matches the original record in their files. ... I consider the matter closed," he added.
Most Republican critics of Obama have given up pushing discredited, long-running allegations that he was not born in the United States, as required by the U.S. Constitution to become president. Obama, a Democrat, is seeking re-election on November 6. Romney is the presumptive Republican challenger.
Bennett said last week that, while he did not buy into the "birther belief," he was attempting to confirm that Obama's name can appear on Arizona's presidential ballot. So-called birthers contend Obama was not born in the United states.
Democrats in the state last week accused Bennett of sacrificing common sense to secure "cheap political points," and said that Arizona deserved better.
The White House has denied repeated claims that Obama was not born in the United States. Last year, Obama released a longer version of his birth certificate to try to put to rest speculation that he was not born in the country.
In March, an Arizona sheriff declared Obama's birth certificate a forgery following an investigation by a "volunteer posse," or group of untrained citizens, acting at the request of conservative Tea Party activists in the Phoenix area.
Not content with Bennett's probe, the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said on Wednesday that an investigator with this volunteer posse and a deputy detective had been sent to Hawaii in recent days to carry out their own investigation.
The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against Arpaio on May 10, accusing him of civil rights violations and saying he and his office intentionally engaged in racial profiling and unlawful arrest of Latinos in violation of their constitutional rights. Arpaio vowed to fight the suit.