Saturday, June 9, 2012

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Cost to lunch with Warren Buffett: $3.5 million

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The cost to dine with investor Warren Buffett has apparently spiked in value, with one deep-pocketed bidder forking over nearly $3.5 million during a charity auction.
The annual auction for a private lunch with the Nebraska billionaire closed following a flurry of activity in the final hours Friday night. In the end, the highest bid was a record-breaking $3,456,789.
The auction benefits the Glide Foundation, which helps the homeless in San Francisco. Buffett has raised more than $11.5 million for the group in 13 past auctions. The event provides a significant portion of Glide's roughly $17 million annual budget that pays for social services to the poor and homeless.
"We just had a most amazing, shocking experience occur in our great city," Glide's founder, the Rev. Cecil Williams, said in a statement Friday night. "We are shouting, dancing, rejoicing and celebrating."
The organization said Friday's winner bidder wished to remain anonymous. Williams said 10 people actively engaged in bidding.
Buffett became one of the world's richest men while building Berkshire Hathaway into a conglomerate. But he says most of the questions he gets at the lunches aren't about investing.
As in past auctions, the bids didn't reach astronomical levels until close to the end. Within the final hour of the auction's 9:30 p.m. CDT closing, bids jumped from $1 million to the final $3.46 million.
Buffett has supported the San Francisco organization ever since his late first wife, Susan, introduced him to Williams. Buffett says Williams is a key reason why Glide has been able to help so many people after the world had given up on them.
"He's changed thousands of lives that would not have been changed otherwise," Buffett said before the bidding closed.
The previous four winning bids have all exceeded $2 million with records set every year. Last year's winner, hedge fund manager Ted Weschler, paid $2,626,411.
In fact, Weschler paid nearly $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions, and he wound up getting hired by Buffett last year to help manage Berkshire's investment portfolio. Buffett says he doesn't expect to find another new hire through the auction.
Buffett's business brilliance and remarkable record of investment success as Berkshire's chairman and chief executive is a big part of the draw for bidders, though he won't talk about potential investments.
And Buffett has also made a mark on the world of philanthropy, so past winners of the lunch have also wanted to discuss giving. Buffett has slowly given away his fortune since 2006, and he plans to eventually divide most of his shares of Berkshire stock between five charitable foundations. The largest chunk will go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Buffett and Gates have also been encouraging other wealthy people to give away at least half of their fortunes. Nearly 80 of the nation's wealthiest families have signed the pledge.
The Glide auction's winners traditionally dine with Buffett at New York's Smith and Wollensky steak house. The restaurant donates at least $10,000 to Glide each year to host the auction lunch.
Past winners of the auction have said they believe the time with Buffett was well worth the price they paid in the auction. The lunches often continue for several hours as Buffett answers their questions.
Buffett says many of the questions he gets at the lunches are about nonbusiness subjects such as family and philanthropy.
Buffett's company owns roughly 80 subsidiaries including insurance, furniture, clothing, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants and natural gas and corporate jet firms, and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.
Associated Press writer Erin Gartner contributed to this report from Chicago.
Follow Business Writer Josh Funk at
Buffett Lunch Auction:
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Syria army kills 23 civilians amid massacre outcry

The Syrian army killed at least 23 civilians in two protest cities on Saturday, a watchdog said, as an international outcry mounted over a massacre in a central village.
UN observers who visited the village of Al-Kubeir, near Hama, said they witnessed blood on the walls and "a strong stench of burnt flesh," prompting Western governments to launch a push for tough new sanctions against Damascus.
Nine women and three children were among 17 people killed in a pre-dawn bombardment of a residential neighbourhood of the southern city of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Dozens more were wounded, some of them seriously, in the city which was the birthplace of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule which erupted in March last year, the British-based watchdog said.
In nearby Jordan, hundreds of Syrian refugees demonstrated at dawn in the border town of Ramtha to protest against the deaths in Daraa, Jordan's official Petra news agency reported.
Protesters marched to the Omari mosque in Ramtha, home to around 20,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom hail from Daraa province, Petra said.
In central Syria, government forces pounded several rebel neighbourhoods of the flashpoint city of Homs with artillery and mortars, killing six civilians, the Observatory said.
Diplomats in New York said Britain, France and the United States would quickly draw up a Security Council resolution proposing sanctions against Syria following a grim report from UN monitors on their visit to the village of Al-Kubeir following Wednesday's assault.
"We will move fast to press for a resolution," one UN diplomat told AFP.
More than 20 unarmed UN observers were allowed into Al-Kubeir on Friday, a day after they were shot at and prevented from entering the village.
"Inside some of the houses, blood was visible across the walls and floors. Fire was still burning outside houses and there was a strong stench of burnt flesh," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in New York, delivering a grisly account of the visit.
At least 55 people were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory.
UN officials were unable to confirm the death toll but made clear they believe government forces and their allies were behind the attack on the mainly Sunni Muslim village surrounded by an Alawite population loyal to Assad.
"Armoured vehicle tracks were visible in the vicinity. Some homes were damaged by rockets from armoured vehicles, grenades and a range of calibre weapons," Nesirky said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that according to preliminary evidence, troops had surrounded Al-Kubeir and militia entered the village and killed civilians with "barbarity".
Damascus denied responsibility and blamed foreign-backed "terrorists," as it has done repeatedly in the past.
Violence on Friday killed at least 68 people nationwide -- 36 civilians, 25 soldiers and seven rebel fighters, the Observatory said. More than 13,500 people have been killed since the start of the uprising.
Leaders of the exiled Syrian National Council met in Turkey on Saturday to pick a new leader after the resignation of Burhan Ghalioun last month to avert divisions in the opposition bloc.
Ghalioun resigned on May 17 after activists accused him of ignoring the Local Coordination Committees, which spearhead anti-government protests on the ground, and of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to play a leading role within the bloc.
Sources in the group said the aim was to pick a "consensus" candidate who would be acceptable to Islamists, liberals and nationalists.
"There is a consensus inside the council that there should be a rotating presidency, so we are now changing the president for the coming three months," said Bassma Kodmani, the SNC spokeswoman for external relations.
The new leader will face the challenge of boosting the SNC's credibility with activists and rebel fighters inside Syria as well as the international community.
Prior to the meeting, leaders of the armed opposition called on the international community to provide them with better weaponry and support.
"Those who claim to support the Syrian opposition should begin by supporting people on the inside of Syria," said Hussein Sayyed, head of the Supreme Council for the Leadership of the Syrian Revolution, speaking by telephone to a meeting in Washington.
Sayyed denied that the opposition was too divided to merit foreign support.
"It is unacceptable for the international community to claim that it is withholding its support because of the fracturing of the opposition while the Syrian people continue to be slaughtered," he told the meeting organised by the Rethink Institute.

Alberto Gonzales says Mitt Romney needs a ‘personal connection’ to Hispanic community

Former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in the East Room of the White House for former President Bush's portrait …
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells Yahoo News that Mitt Romney needs to make "a personal connection" with Hispanic voters if he wants to have a shot at the presidency. Gonzales, who served under George W. Bush before abruptly resigning in 2007, says he holds out hope that Romney will support comprehensive immigration reform if he's elected, despite the candidate's statements during the primary that illegal immigrants should not be legalized as a group.
"I'm not sure Gov. Romney has rejected comprehensive immigration reform, and it very well may be that he'll look at the issue with a fresh eye," he said. Gonzales added that Romney has "backed away" from his primary call for "self deportation," an immigration strategy that encourages illegal immigrants to return to their home countries by ensuring that they are unable to find work. Romney ran to the right of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on immigration during the primary, but has pivoted since he became the presumptive nominee.
Gonzales was among those supporting President George W. Bush's attempt to pass a law in his second term that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants currently residing in the country who paid a fine and had no criminal record. He says the rhetoric in the Republican Party has changed dramatically since then, and that it may hurt the party's chances on the national stage. Analysts generally think a Republican presidential candidate needs about 40 percent of the Latino vote to win. Bush exceeded that in 2004, but John McCain picked up only 31 percent four years later. Only 27 percent of Hispanic voters said they supported Romney in a recent NBC poll.
"I think that members of our party have spoken about this in a way that's not only anti-immigration but anti-Hispanic, and I think that's harmful to the long term future of the party," Gonzales said, referencing statements that the entire border should be fenced and that every illegal immigrant should be rounded up and deported. "That's been disappointing."
"I believe in a secure border, I'm a law-and-order kind of guy, but it seems to me we can talk about achieving a secure border in a way that reflects the reality of why people come here and has a more compassionate tone," he said.
Romney announced his Hispanic outreach team on Wednesday; it is packed with Latino Republican politicians and former politicians who support comprehensive immigration reform, including former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who leads the team. The Obama campaign is exploiting this difference of opinion between Romney and his advisers, releasing a long list of the times the surrogates have disagreed with immigration positions Romney articulated during the primary.
Gonzales says Romney needs to find a way to connect with the Hispanic community, no matter what immigration policies he eventually embraces. Hispanic voters consistently say the economy and jobs are the most important issues to them, so focusing on those issues while avoiding a harsh tone on immigration may work, he says. "Policy is important, but the tone is equally important," he says. "He has to find some way to make a personal connection to the Hispanic community. Bush was able to do that. ... Many of us had the sense that Bush understood us. He believed in us and we believed in him," he said.
"I think [Bush] was able to make a personal connection, and I'm not sure that Governor Romney has done that yet."
Campaigning in front of Latino voters in Texas this week, Romney emphasized that the unemployment rate is higher for Hispanic Americans than for the general population and said that Obama's economic policies are hurting them.
Gonzales is not overly impressed with one outreach tactic some have suggested for Romney—picking the charismatic and young Republican Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida to be his running mate.
"He's obviously very talented and has been very successful to date, and I honor his service," Gonzales says. "What I try to emphasize is that I think a presidential nominee should look [for] someone who can be president on day one." He added that he thinks executive branch experience is more useful than legislative experience in a vice president. "People aren't going to vote for Romney based on who he picks for No. 2," he says.
Gonzales is now a counsel at Waller law firm and a law professor at Belmont University in Nashville.