Thursday, September 30, 2010

Britain: Austerity has its limits

LONDON — Every week without fail Lucy Elkin, a comfortably middle-class mother of two small children, receives a £33.20 child benefit payment, or about $52, from the debt-plagued British government.

“It’s useful and it helps pay the bills, but it is not as if we are struggling to put food on the table,” Ms. Elkin said as she led her children from the park to their house on the leafy fringe of Hampstead Heath, one of London’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Ms. Elkin, 40, is a freelance writer. Her husband is a computer programmer. Along with more than three million middle- to upper-income British families, they are among the recipients of £11 billion ($17.2 billion) a year paid to mothers with children here. It is a universal benefit that not only costs taxpayers about twice as much as the total for unemployment payments but also represents the largest chunk of the estimated £30 billion ($47 billion) the government pays each year to Britons with above-average incomes.

“It is one of those things that is quite hard to justify,” Ms. Elkin said.

She is not alone in thinking that Britain can no longer afford such generosities. But even as civil servants and ministers are preparing to drastically cut most categories of government spending to help close Britain’s budget deficit, the government is so worried about alienating middle-class voters that it is proceeding very cautiously in limiting the subsidy for having children.

“There is a long history of universal welfare schemes here,” said Patrick Nolan, an economist for Reform, a free-market-oriented research organization that has issued a report claiming that as much as 16 percent of total welfare benefits go to those who do not need them. “But it has become a very expensive luxury when hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs.”
Read the rest here.

To Russia with Nuns (Roman Catholic)

RAYTOWN, Mo. — Although Christianity can now be freely practiced in Russia, the effects of more than 70 years of communist rule have left a deep wound on the spirituality of Russians.

Forty percent of Russians are baptized, yet less than 1% attend church. Drunkenness is a common problem, as is abortion and the abandonment of children. The average Russian woman has seven to eight abortions in her lifetime.

The problems are significant, and in some places, the Church has limited resources for re-evangelization.

But in the Kansas City, Mo., area a recent development may have far-reaching effects in at least one part of Russia. A new community of sisters has been launched in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, after receiving the approval of Bishop Robert Finn to receive the canonical status of private association of the faithful. Members of the Sisters in Jesus the Lord, a budding five-member community, may now have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in their Raytown, Mo., convent, publicly wear a habit and use religious names.

The establishment of the community is the latest milestone in the 18-year history of the mission of Most Holy Mother of God Church in Vladivostok, Russia. The sisters have already begun visiting the mission and assisting in its apostolates, and plan one day to permanently establish a convent in Vladivostok itself. The Missouri convent’s purpose is to recruit and train sisters for the mission.

The far-eastern Russia port city of 600,000, 30 miles from China and less than 100 miles from North Korea, is a major shipping and fishing center and is home to a large Russian naval base.

When religion was allowed to flourish again in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Fathers Myron Effing and Daniel Maurer, both Americans, were looking to establish a religious community and learned that there was a need for priests in Vladivostok. They visited the city at the invitation of the diocesan bishop — at that time in Novosibirsk, Siberia, 2,300 miles away — and founded the community of the Canons Regular of Jesus the Lord.

They began their ministry at an early 20th-century Polish Gothic church, Most Holy Mother of God, one of the few houses of worship that had not been destroyed (although it had been used for secular purposes for decades).

Christianity came to Russia 1,000 years ago, but penetrated the Russian Far East only 180 years ago, said Father Maurer. However, it was virtually wiped out after three generations of Soviet communist rule. Christians — both Orthodox and Catholic — were persecuted, with an estimated 7,000 Catholics in the region martyred.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Europe's austerity anger grows

More than 100,000 marchers converged on Brussels from across the EU to protest austerity measures on Wednesday, while Spanish unions took the extraordinary step of breaking ranks with Spain's socialist government by launching a general strike.

"Workers are on the streets today with a clear message to Europe's leaders," said John Monks, head of the European Trade Union Confederation. "There is a great danger that workers are going to pay the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets. You have to reschedule these debts so that they are not a huge burden and cause Europe to plunge down into recession," he said, reflecting growing bitterness among ordinary people that they are bearing the brunt of austerity while bondholders have been shielded from losses.

Spain's car industry was entirely paralysed with the exception of the Mercedes plant in Vitoria, and transport stoppages caused severe disruption. Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, head of the country's CCOO trade union, said premier Jose Luis Zapatero was committing "political suicide" by carrying out harsh cuts while unemployment hovers at 20pc, or 41pc for youths.

Austerity fatigue is surfacing across a large arc of Eastern and Southern Europe, raising concerns that electorates may start to rebel. The Fidesz government in Hungary has already sent the EU and the International Monetary Fund packing, opting for "economic nationalism". Even the police joined demonstrations last week in Romania, hurling their kit at the presidential palace to protest public sector wage cuts of 25pc.
Read the rest here.

This is one of the main reasons why I see disaster ahead. Most of the heavily indebted nations are democratic and there is a limit to how much "austerity" the public will put up with in the name of paying off their debts. It will be even worse here in the United States where we have a two year election cycle.

There is no way any Congress can seriously undertake the kind of austerity that will be needed to deal with out debt. They would be thrown out of office on their ears before the ink was dry on the legislation. That leaves us with only one real scenario; default through inflation. Central banks will debase their currencies as far as necessary (the process is already underway) to get the Debt/GDP ratio to a desirable level. And of course debtors (bond holders) will be repaid in debased paper money.

China has pretty much figured out the game we are playing. Which is why they are no longer buying our long bonds. Now, to the extent they are lending us any money at all, it is strictly short term Treasuries. They know they are going to get cheated on the long term bonds they bought.

Currency "war" is escalating

I have said many many times, we are in the early stages of a major currency crisis that will affect the entire developed world. It is being fueled by out of control levels of sovereign debt coupled with central bankers gone wild with their printing presses in a mad effort to debase their currencies. And the effects (inflation) will not be limited to the United States. The world is drowning in an ocean of paper money.
Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Russia and even Poland are either intervening directly in the exchange markets to prevent their currencies rising too far, or examining what options they have to stem disruptive inflows.

Peter Attard Montalto from Nomura said quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve and other central banks is incubating serious conflict. "It is forcing money into emerging market bond funds, and to a lesser extent equity funds. There has truly been a wall of money entering many countries," he said.

"I worry that we are on the cusp of a competitive race to the bottom as country after country feels they need to keep up."

Brazil's finance minister Guido Mantega has complained repeatedly over the past month that his country is facing a "currency war" as funds flood the local bond market to take advantage of yields of 11pc, vastly higher than anything on offer in the West.

"We're in the midst of an international currency war. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness. Advanced countries are seeking to devalue their currencies," he said, pointing the finger at America, Europe and Japan. He is mulling moves to tax short-term debt investments.
Read the rest here.

A new planet that might support life

It might be a place that only a lichen or pond scum could love, but astronomers said Wednesday that they had found a very distant planet capable of harboring water on its surface, thus potentially making it a home for plant or animal life.

Nobody from Earth will be visiting anytime soon: The planet, which goes by the bumpy name of Gliese 581g, is orbiting a star about 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra.

But if the finding is confirmed by other astronomers, the planet, which has three to four times the mass of Earth, would be the most Earthlike planet yet discovered, and the first to meet the criteria for being potentially habitable.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who, along with R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, led the team that made the discovery. “This is the first exoplanet that has the right conditions for water to exist on its surface.”

In a recent report for the National Academy of Science, astronomers declared the finding of such planets one of the major goals of this decade. NASA’s Kepler satellite — which was launched in March 2009 as a way to detect Earthlike bodies — is expected to harvest dozens or hundreds.

Gliese 581g (whose first name is pronounced GLEE-za) circles a dim red star known as Gliese 581, once every 37 days, at a distance of about 14 million miles. That is smack in the middle of the so-called Goldilocks zone, where the heat from the star is neither too cold nor too hot for water to exist in liquid form on its surface.

“This is really the first Goldilocks planet,” Dr. Butler said.
Read the rest here.

A college freshman, a secret video and a suicide

It started with a Twitter message on Sept. 19: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.

And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.

The Sept. 22 death, details of which the authorities disclosed on Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material. The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology.

Those who knew Mr. Clementi — on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., at his North Jersey high school and in a community orchestra — were anguished by the circumstances surrounding his death, describing him as an intensely devoted musician who was sweet and shy.
Read the rest here.

Incredibly tragic. May God have mercy on the souls of all those involved.

Germany pays off its World War I debt

BERLIN — Germany will finally pay off the last of its debts from World War One this Sunday, on the 20th anniversary of German reunification.

Germany's federal office for central services and unresolved property issues (BADV) said on Tuesday a bond issued to pay remaining debts stemming from the conflict would mature on Oct. 3, two decades after West and East Germany united.

The final 70 million euro ($94 million) installment will close a 92-year chapter that saw Germany plunge into totalitarian dictatorship and trigger a second world war that ended with its division during four decades of Cold War.

"On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany," the country's biggest-selling newspaper, Bild, said on Tuesday.
Read the rest here.

Many Years

To the family Fr. Milovan (Katanic) on the birth of Milica, his 6th(!) child. May God grant him joy and a dozen more!

A picture is worth a thousand words... or $13 trillion

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

China threatens Norway over peace prize

Awarding the Nobel peace prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo would contradict its founding principles, China's foreign ministry said today.

Its comments came after the director of Norway's Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, said a senior Chinese official had warned him that giving the author the award would affect relations between the two countries.

"This person was sentenced to jail because he violated Chinese law," the foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news briefing in Beijing.

"His actions are diametrically opposed to the aims of the Nobel prize. Mr Nobel's behest was that the Nobel peace prize be awarded to somebody who promoted peace between peoples, promoted international friendship and disarmament."

Earlier, Lundestad said China's deputy foreign minister, Fu Ying, delivered the warning in a meeting at the Chinese embassy during her visit to Oslo this summer.

"[Such a decision] would pull the wrong strings in relations between Norway and China, it would be seen as an unfriendly act," Lundestad told Norwegian news agency NTB.
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Inflation

In 2000 there were $26,977 in circulation, as measured by M3, for every man, woman and child in the United States. That amount has ballooned to $46,538, a 7.1% annual rate of growth, which is more than 7-times the 0.9% annual rate of population growth during this period.
Source

Venezuela: Opposition parties gain in critical elections

Opponents of Hugo Chávez made major gains yesterday in legislative elections that could weaken the president's dominant power in Venezuela.

The opposition overturned Chávez's two-thirds majority in the national assembly, and claimed to have won most of the popular vote. If it were confirmed, the result would mark a milestone.

With most of the votes counted, the Democratic Unity coalition won at least 65 of 165 seats in the assembly – well short of a majority, but enough to inhibit Chávez's ability to appoint judges and other officials and to push through laws.

The opposition claimed that it had won 52% of the popular vote but argued also that changes in electoral rules favouring rural areas, where Chávez is popular, meant that this support had failed to translate into proportional seats.

Both sides claimed victory and momentum for the 2012 president election, in which Chávez will seek a third consecutive term. Turnout was 66%, high for a legislative election...

...The assembly has acted as a rubber stamp since the opposition boycotted the last legislative election in 2005, giving Chávez free rein to push through radical legislation and appoint judges and members of the electoral council.

By securing more than 58 seats, the opposition can in theory exert influence over appointments and legislation; if it gets 67 – which seems possible – it could block the president's requests for temporary decree powers. Aveledo warned the outgoing "moribund" legislature against rushing out radical laws before the new assembly starts, in January 2011.
Read the rest here.

Capital Punishment: From the it would be funny if it weren't so sad file


Georgia executes man after suicide attempt




JACKSON, Ga. (AP) - A Georgia prisoner who tried to kill himself last week by slashing his arms and throat with a razor blade was executed Monday night amid heightened security for the 1998 murders of a trucking company owner and his two children.

Brandon Joseph Rhode, 31, was put to death by injection at the state prison in Jackson, Ga. He was pronounced dead at 10:16 p.m. by authorities. Rhode declined to speak any last words or have a final prayer.

He was convicted in 2000 of the killings of Steven Moss, 37, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during a burglary of their Jones County home in central Georgia. His coconspirator, Daniel Lucas, was also sentenced to death in a separate trial and remains on death row.

Rhode's execution had been set for 7 p.m. His attorneys applied Monday afternoon to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution. The court rejected the appeals later that night.

Rhode had initially been scheduled to be put to death Sept. 21, but the Georgia Supreme Court postponed the execution after Rhode was rushed to the hospital that day following a suicide attempt.
Read the rest here.

California delays execution by a day; may be last for months due to a shortage of lethal drug
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday ordered a one-day delay in the execution of convicted rapist- murderer Albert Greenwood Brown, citing a procedural complication in the state's attempt to carry out its first death sentence in nearly five years.

The reprieve coincided with an announcement by the attorney general's office that further lethal-injection sentences in California would have to wait until at least next year due to a nationwide shortage of the key drug used to render condemned prisoners unconscious.

Lawyers for the state had advised a federal judge in filings over the weekend that the San Quentin State Prison lethal injection facility has only 7.5 grams of sodium thiopental on hand, and as much as 6 grams could be used when Brown is scheduled to be put to death at 9 p.m. Thursday. That is just a few hours before the drug's shelf-life expires Friday, according to court papers filed by the attorney general's office.

But the governor's order delaying the execution was attributed to an unexpired period for Brown to petition the California Supreme Court for review of an appeals court ruling that lifted a ban on executions. That Sept. 20 appeals court ruling won't take effect until Thursday, the governor noted in issuing the reprieve that he said would expire at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

Brown, who raped and killed a 15-year-old Riverside girl in 1980, had been scheduled to be put to death at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

If the execution is carried out, it will likely be the last in the state for months, due to the shortage of sodium thiopental that has forced other states to postpone executions as well.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation "has been unable to secure sodium thiopental to perform any executions after Sept. 30," said attorney general spokeswoman Christine Gasparac. "This office will recommend that future executions be scheduled when [the corrections department] expects the drug to be available."
Read the rest here.

Are they joking? States are halting executions because they can't get a lethal drug??? OK. Setting aside for a moment my opinion that capital punishment should be abolished, couldn't someone just go down to the local hardware store and pick up a length of good old fashioned hemp rope? Not only is it more utilitarian and cheaper, it's probably more humane.

The British had hanging down to a science. They could have a man on the trap and pull the bolt in less than sixty seconds from the moment the hangman entered the condemned man's cell. It routinely takes anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes to execute someone by lethal injection depending on how hard it is to find a vein. Longer executions although rare, are not unknown.

Speaking of which, am I the only one who ever wondered why they swab the condemned man's arm with alcohol before sticking the needle in?

Brazilian assassinates the Pope and others in "art"

Citing the “alleged crimes” of a variety of world leaders, Brazilian “artist” Gil Vicente’s drawings of himself killing different leaders opened at the Sao Paulo Art Biennial on Saturday.

To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time that artwork - if you can call it that - depicting the assassination of the Pope has ever gone on display publicly. It’s offensive, outrageous, and hate-filled.

Vicente’s charcoal drawing of the Pope shows him confronting Pope Benedict XVI with a pistol. The Pope has his hands upturned.

As part of the series, Vicente is shown assassinating a total of nine world leaders, including former U.S. President George W. Bush, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Britain’s Queen.
Read the rest here.

I'm not gonna say that he broke any laws, though in many countries incitement to violence is illegal. But I will say that if I were in charge of the Secret Service, I'd tell this clown that he just bought himself a non-refundable ticket on the "No-Fly" list and a lifetime ban on entering the United States (not that he would necessarily care).

Does the GOP need the North-East in November?

"Where are our plans for a New Deal or a Great Society?" asked Edward W. Brooke, the legendary Massachusetts Republican.

It's not a question anyone in today's Republican Party would dare get caught even considering, but Brooke had the temerity to raise it in "The Challenge of Change," a book published in 1966, the year he became the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.

The midterm election that year was very good for Republicans in general, including a Californian named Ronald Reagan. But it was an especially fine year for moderate and progressive Republicans of the Brooke stripe across the Northeast. Their prizes included governorships in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Pennsylvania.

In 2010, Republicans run away in horror at the prospect of being called moderate, let alone progressive, and that is an obstacle in the GOP's path to a congressional majority. It will be very hard for Republicans to take the House if they don't break the Democrats' power in the Northeast -- and they still have to prove they can do that.

"When we do retain the majority," said Rep. Dan Maffei, a hopeful 42-year-old freshman Democrat from Upstate New York, "people are going to look at the map and see that the Northeast held." In 2006, Maffei ran and lost narrowly in what had been a Republican-leaning district. He then won handily in 2008. Like most freshman and sophomore Democrats, he assumed this year would not be kind to his party, so he's been campaigning hard ever since. The result: Absent a Republican wave of historic proportions, his seat now seems out of the GOP's reach.
Read the rest here.

While I agree that gaining seats in the N-E would make retaking the House of Representatives easier, I don't think it's essential. If the GOP wins by landslide margins in the South and the traditionally more conservative areas in "fly-over" country they can take the House. The question is, can the Democrats hope to hold the House by just hanging onto the liberal North-East and the Left Coast? Recall they retook Congress from the GOP in part by expanding their support into traditionally conservative states. They did not take the House or Senate in 2008 by increasing their majorities in the N-E. If they loose the seats they gained in the South and elsewhere they are in trouble.

Another point worth considering; in 1966 while the GOP did rather well in the N-E they did not break the Democrats grip on the House. It would not be until 1994 that the GOP would finally end the Democratic Party's multi-generational lock on the House of Representatives. I think Democrats who are counting on New York and New England to stem the GOP tide are grasping at straws.

Jury: Man guilty of murder in drunk driving deaths

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A jury convicted a drunken driver of murder Monday in the deaths of promising rookie Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two of his friends.

Andrew Gallo, 23, held white rosary beads and occasionally looked up at jurors as they returned convictions on three counts of second-degree murder and single counts of drunken driving, hit-and-run driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol and causing great bodily injury.

Gallo, who had a previous DUI conviction, was led away in handcuffs and briefly looked over his shoulder at the victims' sobbing relatives.
Read the rest here.

Good verdict. I just wish more people were prosecuted in this manner. Sadly I suspect that the publicity surrounding the rookie pitcher's tragic death had a lot to do with it.

Here they go again

I am not sure if it's the lunar cycle or something in the water. But in any event two or three times a year the mainstream media in general and the Catholic press in particular (I think the latter feeds the former) start printing wildly unrealistic reports of pending "reunion" between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Over the last week or so they have been at it again. I have seen posts all over the web (mostly Catholic blogs) reporting on "breakthroughs" and imminent meetings between the Pope and Patriarch Kyrill or outright restoration of full communion.

Over the years I have learned to ignore these reports, especially when they come from the Catholic media as unreliable, unless backed by credible and named sources from the Orthodox side (which has been rare in the extreme). In any case the latest wave of "imminent reunion" hysteria has been pretty effectively quashed by Met. +Hilarion in this interview posted over at Byzantine Texas.

It's well worth reading.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

US invokes "state secrets" in defense of assassinating an American citizen

When senior Obama administration officials invoked the state secrets privilege Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, they declared in federal court that the case threatened to expose secret military and intelligence operations against al-Qaeda's overseas network.

In a 60-page filing, the government asked U.S. District Judge Robert Bates to dismiss a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups retained by Aulaqi's father seeking to block his Yemen-based son's placement on the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command capture-or-kill list of suspected terrorists.

The filing also asked the court to dismiss the case without debating the merits of any future actions potentially taken against Aulaqi on the grounds that targeting in wartime is a matter for presidents, and that Aulaqi's father did not have legal standing to bring the case.

Civil rights groups filed a suit last month to halt the targeting of Aulaqi, arguing that such an action outside a war zone and absent an imminent threat amounted to an extrajudicial execution order against a U.S. citizen.
Read the rest here.

"You have the right to die. If you do not invoke the right to die, we, the government may do it for you. You do not have the right to remain silent. You do not have the right to a lawyer or to a trial before a jury of your peers. Because we are the government, and we have determined that you are an enemy of the state. Trust us; would we ever lie to you or abuse our power?"

I don't ever recalling being as frightened about where we are going as a nation as I have become in the last year or so. God save the United States of America.

Lax State Gun Laws Tied to Crimes in Other States

WASHINGTON — Nearly 600 mayors nationwide, led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and other city leaders, are mounting a new campaign to identify states with lax gun laws and push for tighter restrictions to prevent the trafficking of guns used in crimes.

A study due to be released this week by a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns uses previously unavailable federal gun data to identify what it says are the states that most often export guns used in crimes across state lines. It concludes that the 10 worst offenders per capita, led by Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky, supplied nearly half the 43,000 guns traced to crime scenes in other states last year.

The study also seeks to draw a link between gun trafficking and gun control laws by analyzing gun restrictions in all 50 states in areas like background checks for gun purchases, policies on concealed weapons permits and state inspections of gun dealers. It finds that, across the board, those states with less restrictive gun laws exported guns used in crimes at significantly higher rates than states with more stringent laws. An advance copy of the study was provided to The New York Times.

“There are 12,000 gun murders a year in our country, and this report makes it perfectly clear how common-sense trafficking laws can prevent many of them,” said Mr. Bloomberg, who is the co-chairman of the coalition with Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston. “For mayors around the country, this isn’t about gun control. It’s about crime control.”

The gun trafficking issue provides Mr. Bloomberg, often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012, with another national platform. He has been the face of the mayors’ coalition since it was created in 2006 in opposition to a Congressional amendment that restricted the sharing of federal gun data with the local police.
Read the rest here.

Liberal Groups Planning to Rally on National Mall

Hoping to overshadow last month’s large rally led by Glenn Beck that drew many Tea Party advocates and other conservatives, a coalition of liberal groups plan to descend on Washington on Saturday to make the case that they, and not the ascendant right, speak for America’s embattled middle class.

Predicting a crowd of more than 100,000, some 300 liberal groups — including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the National Council of La Raza and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force — are sponsoring a march on Saturday in the hope of transforming the national conversation so it focuses less on the Tea Party. The groups sponsoring the rally, which is called “One Nation Working Together,” say they hope to supplant what they say is the Tea Party’s divisiveness with a message of unity to promote jobs, justice and education.

“The Tea Party has been getting much more media attention than it deserves, and it’s been saying it represents the voice of middle-class America,” said George Gresham, president of 1199 S.E.I.U., a New York health care union local, who says his union has chartered 500 buses to carry 25,000 union members to the rally. “A lot of us feel we have to get a different voice out there speaking for working people, one respecting the diversity of this country, which the Tea Party does not.”
Read the rest here.

Feds seek broad internet wiretap powers

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.

“We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”
Read the rest here.

What price life: $93k for a few months?

BOSTON —Cancer patients, brace yourselves. Many new drug treatments cost nearly $100,000 a year, sparking fresh debate about how much a few months more of life is worth.

The latest is Provenge, a first-of-a-kind therapy approved in April. It costs $93,000 a year and adds four months' survival, on average, for men with incurable prostate tumors. Bob Svensson is honest about why he got it: insurance paid.

"I would not spend that money," because the benefit doesn't seem worth it, says Svensson, 80, a former corporate finance officer from Bedford, Mass.

His supplemental Medicare plan is paying while the government decides whether basic Medicare will cover Provenge and for whom. The tab for taxpayers could be huge — prostate is the most common cancer in American men. Most of those who have it will be eligible for Medicare, and Provenge will be an option for many late-stage cases. A meeting to consider Medicare coverage is set for Nov. 17.

"I don't know how they're going to deal with that kind of issue," said Svensson, who was treated at the Lahey Clinic Medical Center in suburban Boston. "I feel very lucky."
Read the rest here.

Gold is the final refuge against universal currency debasement

States accounting for two-thirds of the global economy are either holding down their exchange rates by direct intervention or steering currencies lower in an attempt to shift problems on to somebody else, each with their own plausible justification. Nothing like this has been seen since the 1930s.

“We live in an amazing world. Everybody has big budget deficits and big easy money but somehow the world as a whole cannot fully employ itself,” said former Fed chair Paul Volcker in Chris Whalen’s new book Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream.

“It is a serious question. We are no longer talking about a single country having a big depression but the entire world.”

The US and Britain are debasing coinage to alleviate the pain of debt-busts, and to revive their export industries: China is debasing to off-load its manufacturing overcapacity on to the rest of the world, though it has a trade surplus with the US of $20bn (£12.6bn) a month.

Premier Wen Jiabao confesses that China’s ability to maintain social order depends on a suppressed currency. A 20pc revaluation would be unbearable. “I can’t imagine how many Chinese factories will go bankrupt, how many Chinese workers will lose their jobs,” he said.
Read the rest here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Incredibly busy weekend

Really... So yea. Not much posting til Monday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quote of the day

"Our government, would be subject to every political pressure that desperate foreign statesmen can invent and their groups of nationals in our borders would clamor at the hill of Congress for special favors to their mother countries. Our experience in war shows that foreign governments which are borrowing our money on easy terms cannot expend it with the economy of private individuals and it results in vast waste... The collection of a debt to our Treasury from a foreign government sets afoot propaganda against our officials, against our government. There is no court to which government can appeal for collection of debt except a battleship. The whole process is involved in inflation, in waste, and in intrigue. The only direct loans of our government should be humane loans to prevent starvation. The world must stop this orgy of expenditure on armament. European governments must cease to balance their budgets by publishing paper money if ex- change is ever to be righted. The world is not alone in need for credit machinery. It is in need of economic statesmanship."

-Herbert Hoover December 1920 speaking against loans to foreign nations before the American Banker Association in Chicago.

A clarification from Sacramento

Regarding the Quran blessing mentioned here, Rorate has received and posted a response from the rector of the cathedral. In the interest of fairness I take note as it seems to (mostly) exonerate the cathedral clergy of what many (including myself) suspected was their willful participation in the blessing of a pagan religious book. These are the sorts of "correcting the record" that I really don't mind.

And now for a little trip in the way-back machine

It's a great indian summer evening and you are heading out to your favorite (slightly illegal) watering hole. After the obligatory password and cover charge you slide into a comfortable seat and order your favorite illegal beverage at the outrageous price of .50 cents. Go ahead. Lean back in your chair, light a cigar and set your feet up on the table, showing off your two tone alligator shoes and white spats. And while you contemplate how right the world is you can listen to the band. It's September 1929 and the immortal Miff Mole and His Little Molers are playing Birmingham Bertha...


Miff Mole- trumbone / Phil Napoleon- trumpet / Babe Russin- saxaphone / Art Schutt- piano / Stan King- drums / Jimmy Dorsey- clarinet

Happy Birthday

I am reminded that on this date (Sept 22) in the year 1290 (SR) Mr. Bilbo Baggins was born. On the same date many years later his nephew Mr.Frodo Baggins was also born. And finally it was on this date that Frodo and his companions set off on their grand adventure.

It has been a long time since I last read the Lord of the Rings, probably close to fifteen years. I think it's time for a trip to the library.

Ooops! Wrong turn...

LONDON — The Titanic hit an iceberg in 1912 because of a basic steering error, and only sank as fast as it did because an official persuaded the captain to continue sailing, an author said in an interview published Wednesday.

Louise Patten, a writer and granddaughter of Titanic second officer Charles Lightoller, said the truth about what happened nearly 100 years ago had been hidden for fear of tarnishing the reputation of her grandfather, who later became a war hero.

Lightoller, the most senior officer to have survived the disaster, covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried it would bankrupt the ill-fated liner's owners and put his colleagues out of a job.

"They could easily have avoided the iceberg if it wasn't for the blunder," Patten told the Daily Telegraph.

"Instead of steering Titanic safely round to the left of the iceberg, once it had been spotted dead ahead, the steersman, Robert Hitchins, had panicked and turned it the wrong way."
Read the rest here.

This story is so bizarre I am not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, a steering error does sound plausible. But I question why it never leaked before. Lightoller was not the only surviving officer from the ship. I find it difficult to believe that a secret as monumental as this could be kept under wraps for so long. Also there was testimony from many survivors that immediately after the collision the engines stopped. None that I am aware of ever indicated the ship started to move again afterward.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, but How

This is the first issue of Sovereign Subjects, a new Morgan Stanley publication focusing on sovereign risk in advanced economies. In this first installment, we take a broad perspective on government balance sheets and raise several themes to which we will return in more depth in subsequent issues. We encourage clients to provide us with feedback on this new publication.

Debt/GDP ratios are too backward-looking and considerably underestimate the fiscal challenge faced by dvanced economies' governments. On the basis of current policies, most governments are deep in negative equity.

This means governments will impose a loss on some of their stakeholders, in our view. The question is not whether they will renege on their promises, but rather upon which of their promises they will renege, and what form this default will take.

So far during the Great Recession, sovereign (and bank) senior unsecured bond holders have been the only constituency fully protected from partaking in this loss.

It is overly optimistic to assume that this can continue forever. The conflict that opposes bond holders to other government stakeholders is more intense than ever, and their interests are no longer sufficiently well aligned with those of influential political constituencies.

There exists an alternative to outright default. 'Financial oppression' (imposing on creditors real rates of return that are either negative or artificially low) has been used repeatedly in history in similar circumstances.

Investors should be prepared to face financial oppression, a credible threat against which current yields provide little protection.
Read the rest here.

This is a very sobering article by a highly respected expert on sovereign debt in one of the world's most prominent financial institutions. I recommend reading it carefully and in its entirety.

A prayer for internet thugs

Fr. Z's blog was hacked the other day and he, being a good Christian responded by composing a litany for the conversion of internet thugs.

From Fr. Z...

Litany for the conversion of internet thugs.
(private use only, and when truly irritated, and when the alternative is foul language)

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Lest internet thugs be eternally tormented by all the fiends of hell, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they pass eternity in utter despair, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they come to be damned for the harm they cause, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they roast forever in the deepest cinders of hell, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they suffer the unceasing pain of loss, convert them, O Lord.

Lest devils endlessly increase their physical agony, convert them, O Lord.
Lest devils twist their bowels and boil their blood in hell, convert them, O Lord.
Lest devils use them as their toys and tools, convert them, O Lord.
Lest devils gnaw on their skulls, convert them, O Lord.

Lest the innocent be harmed by their sins, convert them, O Lord.
Lest the innocent yield to them in weakness, convert them, O Lord.
Lest the innocent be drawn into their traps, convert them, O Lord.

From faceless Facebook admin drones, spare us O Lord.
From tweeting Twitter idiots, spare us O Lord.
From from heart-hardened spammers, spare us O Lord.
From rss feed problems, spare us O Lord.
From server memory resource difficulties, spare us O Lord.

From viruses, trojan horses, and all manner of snares, Lord save us.
From wasting our time, Lord save us.
From our own stupidity, Lord save us.

St. Isidore, defend us.
St. Francis de Sales, defend us.
St. Gabriel, defend us.
St. Michael, defend us.
Guardian angels, defend us.
All the angels and saints….. GRRRRR.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord,
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. Christ, Jesus who died for our sins.
R. Return, and return swiftly.

Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God,
who according to an ineffable plan
called us into existence to do your will
amid the vicissitudes and contagion of this world
grant, we beseech you,
through your mercy and grace
both to protect the innocent who use the tools of this digital age
and to convert from their evil ways all those who abuse them.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Source

Federal Reserve hints (strongly) at more money printing

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials signaled for the first time on Tuesday that they are worried that the slow-moving recovery could be undermined by very low rates of inflation and hinted that they might resume buying vast amounts of government debt.

While the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee did not take any new steps on interest rates, it communicated in unmistakable terms its concerns about the fragility of the economic recovery and the threat to stable prices.

It said inflation levels were “somewhat below those the committee judges most consistent, over the longer run, with its mandate to promote maximum employment and price stability.” And it said it was “prepared to provide additional accommodation if needed” to support the recovery and get inflation back to normal.

The Fed will continue to use money from its holdings of mortgage-related bonds to buy long-term Treasury debt, the tactic it announced on Aug. 10. That strategy was intended to prevent a slight tightening of monetary policy that would have occurred as the bonds held by the Fed were paid off and money was taken out of the economy.
Read the rest here.

Following the announcement the stock market is trading mixed and near flat. The bond market is rallying across the curve with Treasury yields dropping. Precious metals are up on renewed fears of inflation and currency debasement. Gold is currently trading at 1288.20 oz. (up $8.70), a new nominal record high. Silver is up more than 1.20% and is trading at a multi-year high of $21.00 oz.

Senate Republicans kill repeal of military gay ban

WASHINGTON — With Congress increasingly paralyzed by the partisan fury of the midterm elections, the Senate on Tuesday voted against taking up a major military bill that includes a provision allowing the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” regarding gay soldiers.

Senate Republicans voted unanimously to block debate on the bill — the huge, annual authorization of military programs — after the majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said he would attach a number of the Democrats’ election-year priorities to it while also moving to limit the amendments offered by Republicans.

The vote was 56 to 43, with Democrats falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and take up the bill. The Arkansas Democrats, Senators Blanche L. Lincoln and Mark Pryor, sided with all 40 Republicans present in opposing debate. Mr. Reid switched his vote to no at the last minute, a procedural maneuver that allows him to call for a revote.
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A report of Orthodox - Catholic concelebration and intercommunion

Via Carlos Antonio Palad at Rorate Caeli

Romanian "visionary" Vassula Ryden, a long time promoter of communio in sacris between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, is now reporting a Divine Liturgy concelebrated by a Romanian Orthodox priest and a Roman Catholic priest. Communion was knowingly given to Catholics. It is claimed that this has occurred with the blessing of Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu, who famously took communion from Uniate clergy in 2008.

See Rorate for the details.

A clarification: Carlos has posted the following...
Just to clarify: the report by Vassula (who is Greek, born in Egypt) claims that Met. Nicolae supported her Mission trip. However, there is no mention on whether he also blessed the concelebration.

Russian submarines do not sail without church blessing

Vilyuchinsk (the Kamchatka Territory), September 20, Interfax - Leaders of the Russian Pacific Fleet develop cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church.

"Today it is unthinkable to start a naval training for submariners or go out to the sea without a blessing of church representatives," the commander of the Joint Command and Forces in Russia's North East rear admiral Konstantin Maklov said on Sunday addressing Patriarch Kirill on the pier of the 16th Pacific submarine squadron in closed military town Vilyuchinsk not far from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

According to him, "participation of clerics in military marches of ships and submarines" witnesses to such cooperation.

Maklov also stated that submariners successfully interact with the local diocese and signed an agreement saying that the Russian Church would provide spiritual care for strategic submarine launch platform St. George the Victory-Bearer and diesel submarine St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.

He reminded that acting Archbishop Ignaty of Petropavlovsk and Kamchatka first time in history of submarine fleet in Russia participated in the unprecedented passage of atomic submarine from the North Fleet to Kamchatka under Arctic ice
Source

Nice to see more evidence of the revival in Russia. On a side note, I am somewhat dubious about naming warships after saints.

Daily Mail: If only the Archbishop of Canterbury dared to speak with a fraction of Benedict's authority

Only a few days ago we were being assured by many voices on the BBC that Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain might well turn out to be a damp squib.

It was widely predicted that few would turn out to see him.

Some even suggested that protests against the heinous crimes of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church might so dominate and disfigure his visit that there would be no room for the Pope to talk about anything else, or for us to listen.

In the event, the crowds were larger than had been forecast, if not as big as they were when the charismatic Pope John Paul II came to this country 28 years ago.

Particularly noticeable were the many enthusiastic young people among an estimated 80,000 congregation at a prayer vigil in Hyde Park in London on Saturday evening.

As for the protests about child abuse, they did not overwhelm the visit. Pope Benedict effectively admitted the guilt of the Roman Catholic Church.

At a mass in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon, he moved some members of the congregation to tears when he appeared to liken the victims’ suffering to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

He spoke of the ‘shame and humiliation’ brought to the Church by the scandal.

This was a much more successful visit than the Roman Catholic hierarchy had dared to hope.

But I have a feeling it was more than that. In a manner wholly unlike our home-grown clerics, the Pope spoke to the soul of our country, affirming eternal moral verities which our own political and religious leaders normally prefer to avoid.
Read the rest here.

QE2 in round trillions

More money printing and the likely effects...
Here is a back-of-an-envelope guess by David Greenlaw at Morgan Stanley on what the Fed can expect from a second blitz of bond purchases, or `Shock & Awe’ as he calls it.

If Ben Bernanke does a further $2 trillion (on top of the $1.7 trillion already in the bag) the yield on 10-year US Treasuries will drop 50 basis points to around 2.2pc.

GDP growth will be 0.3pc higher than otherwise in 2011 and 0.4pc higher in 2012.

The unemployment rate will be 0.3pc lower in 2011 and 0.5pc lower in 2012 — (in other words drop from 9.6pc to 9.1pc, ceteris paribus).

That looks like trivial returns for a collosal adventure into the unknown, with risks of dollar flight and mounting Chinese suspicions that the US intends to default on its external debts by debasement.

I had dinner recently with a former Goldman Sachs hedge fund guru, and while I can’t remember the exact details through a fog of Mersault Premier Cru, I am pretty sure he said it would take $30 trillion to do the job – given the scale of wealth destruction from the US property crash and ferocity of debt deleveraging still to come.

We will find out tomorrow whether Fed hawks from such districts as Dallas, Richmond, Kansas, and Philadelphia are really willing to sign off so soon on the next helicopter drop. It seems very strange that they should do so when the official line is that there will be no economic double-dip, and that this Summer’s slowdown is just a mid-cycle correction.
Read the rest here.

How an 'eccentric' mutual fund beat Wall Street for a decade

Imagine going from investing zero to superhero overnight.

That is roughly what has happened to Michael Cuggino, manager of Permanent Portfolio. After struggling to stay above $50 million in assets for most of its life, the fund shot past $1 billion in 2007, more than doubled to $3.4 billion in 2008 and swelled to $5 billion last year. So far in 2010, $1.9 billion of new money has come piling in.

In August, according to Morningstar, investors added $327 million to the fund—as much in a single month as Permanent Portfolio had managed to accumulate in the entire first 25 years of its existence. Suddenly, the fund's assets surpass $7.6 billion.

Why? Two words: strong results. In 2008, when the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost 37%, Permanent Portfolio lost just 8.4%. In 2009, it lagged behind the stock market but still gained 19.1%; so far this year, the fund is up 6%, versus 2.3% for the S&P 500.

The fund has walloped the stock market by an average of nine percentage points annually over the past five years and 11.2 points annually over the past decade. And it keeps less than a third of its assets in stocks.

Launched in 1982 and based in San Francisco, this eccentric, no-load fund grew out of the ideas of Harry Browne, the author, investment adviser and Libertarian candidate for president. Mr. Browne, who died in 2006, advocated keeping one-quarter of your portfolio in each of four assets: stocks, bonds, gold and cash.
Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal.

I don't usually discuss my personal finances on here, but I am gong to make an exception after reading this article. For about four years I have had all or most of my retirement nest egg in this fund (ticker symbol PRPFX). Back when I first discovered it I had more than a few people snicker at me. That stopped a couple of years ago though. This is not where you go to make a pile of quick money. It's where you go (strictly a long term investment) with money for which you have a low risk tolerance. The emphasis is on return OF capital, not return ON capital. That said, it has a history of modest to better than modest returns. When times are rough it will usually outperform stocks and the long-term downside risks are very low because of its radical diversification among asset classes.

Annualized Returns:
3yr - 7.8%
5yr - 9.3%
10yr - 10.5%

Number of Up vs Down years: 24/4

Disclaimer: This is NOT an investment recommendation. Everyone's individual circumstances are going to be different and you should consult a qualified financial planner and do your own due diligence before investing any money anywhere. Blah blah blah...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Doves, roses mark blessing of Quran at Sacramento Catholic Cathedral

As 18 doves flew into the skies over the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Saturday night, more than 100 diverse Sacramentans blessed copies of the Quran with roses of love.

Again and again they uttered the refrain, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me" at the entrance to the downtown church framed by white statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. A musician with a white guitar accompanied them.

Representatives of Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, B'hai, Mormon, Sikh, Vedic Druid and Muslim beliefs read scriptures from the great religious texts - including six verses from the Quran calling for all faiths to live in harmony.

Irfan Haq, speaking on behalf of Sacramento's Muslims, told the rose bearing crowd outside the cathedral, "On this day September 11 - this day of infamy and darkness - what we are witnessing is a new beginning for Sacramento, for America - this is the America the world needs to see."

Instead of the image of burning Qurans suggested by Florida Pastor Terry Jones, "Today we saw the great faiths of the world and they blessed to the Quran ... Indeed, blessed are the peacemakers," said Haq, who read a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi: "Oh God make me an instrument of your peace ... Where there is hatred let me sow love!"

Michael Hunter, who with his wife Laura brought roses from Roseville to place roses on the Qurans, said this was a good way on the anniversary of 9-11 to promote "healing and peace among all religions."

Father Anthony Garibaldi of St. Francis Church said the blessing of the Quran tonight "needs to be done - on a human level you don't desecrate other peoples' holy objects. I wouldn't want my Bible burned.

Dr. Sajad Janmohamed, a Shiia Muslim scholar from Folsom, said Muslim here reacted with shock and disbelief at the idea of burning Qurans, but noted, "the Quran is not something that can be burned - like Jesus, it is a living thing in the lives of believers - it comforts them through moments of bereavement and hardship. If you destroy all the Qurans we know it by heart and we can chant it."

Darshan Singh Mundy of the Sikh temple and a member of Sacramento's interfaith community, which organized the peace rally, said Saturday night's ecumenical blessing was "the right response."
Source
Hat Tip: Rorate Caeli

Update: See this note posted on Rorate from the rector of the cathedral.

Secret Service moves and then loses car

Martena Clinton drove to the Congressional Black Caucus dinner at the Washington Convention Center on Saturday with high expectations. A friend had arranged a ticket, and Clinton wore a special diamond pendant over her black dress. She parked in a handicapped spot close to the intersection of 9th Street and Mount Vernon Place and glanced in the mirror. She decided the diamond pendant didn't go with her dress, took it off and put it in a console.

She displayed a handicapped tag prominently, locked her car and checked with a police officer who happened to be parked right behind her. He assured her the spot was legal. Clinton put her credit cards, cash and makeup in a pocketbook and left it in the trunk, carrying a small purse into the dinner. It was 5:30 p.m.

When she emerged from the dinner at 11:30 p.m., her black 1994 Lexus was gone.

The police officer who responded to Clinton's distressed call told her that the Secret Service had done what many Washingtonians have grown begrudgingly used to: They ordered numerous cars removed from the area as a security precaution because President Obama was speaking at the dinner.

It should have been simple for Clinton to find her car - police told her that relocated vehicles are typically towed to different spots within a few blocks - but this time police had not kept track of where they had moved it. The Lexus was lost.
Read the rest here.

Obama weighs aggressive attack on the GOP - Tea Party

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s political advisers, looking for ways to help Democrats and alter the course of the midterm elections in the final weeks, are considering a national advertising campaign that would cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists, people involved in the discussion said.

That is among a range of options and plans under consideration at the White House for energizing dispirited Democratic voters over the coming six weeks, in hopes of limiting the party’s losses and keeping control of the House and Senate. Democratic strategists are seeing new openings to exploit after a string of Tea Party successes split Republicans and culminated last week with developments that scrambled Senate races in Delaware and Alaska.

“We need to get out the message that it’s now really dangerous to re-empower the Republican Party because the people who have taken over the party are radical,” said one Democratic strategist who has spoken with White House advisers but requested anonymity to discuss private strategy talks.

But Democrats are divided. The party’s House and Senate campaign committees are resistant, not wanting to do anything that smacks of nationalizing the midterm elections when high unemployment and the drop in Mr. Obama’s popularity have made the climate so hostile to Democrats. Endangered Congressional candidates want any available money to go to their localized campaigns.

Proponents say a national ad campaign, most likely on cable television, would complement those individual campaigns and give Democrats a chance to redefine the stakes. The Democratic strategist said voters did not now see much threat to them from a Republican takeover of Congress, even though some Tea Party-backed candidates and other Republicans have taken positions that many voters consider extreme, like shutting down the government to get their way, privatizing Social Security and Medicare and ending unemployment insurance.
Read the rest here.

GOP divided on how to replace new health law

WASHINGTON — Republicans are promising to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's health care overhaul if they win control of Congress. But with what?

Not even they know.

Some have proposed major changes to workplace coverage, even turning Medicare into a voucher plan. Many prefer small steps that tiptoe around political land mines. Others want a clean start.

"During the health care debate there was just as much division within Republicans as there was between the parties," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a leading adviser to 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain. "It will be more visible now that Republicans may be in charge of one house because those divisions will come to the surface."

Republicans appear have better than even odds of winning the House. At least 75 seats are competitive, the vast majority held by Democrats, according to a recent Associated Press analysis. The GOP only has to win 40.

One of the first acts of a Republican majority would be a vote to repeal what they dismiss as "Obamacare." But they haven't said much about what would replace it.
Read the rest here.

Good news

Six men arrested on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate Pope Benedict XVI have been cleared by Scotland Yard and released.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eugene Robinson: Democrats should take little comfort from GOP civil war

Not to spoil the fun, but Democrats shouldn't take the Republican Party's bitter internal warfare -- and the inexperienced, flaky candidates who've emerged from the fray -- as any kind of reassurance about November. Try as it might, the GOP probably can't defeat itself. Not this year, anyway.

I don't mean that the battle between the Republican establishment and the take-no-prisoners Tea Party insurgency is inconsequential. When Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party favorite, won the Senate primary in Delaware on Tuesday, my first reaction was that this one result almost guarantees that the Democratic Party's majority in the Senate is safe.

On reflection, I think "almost guarantees" should be downgraded to something like "makes it likely." And in moments of existential despair, I fear that she might actually win.

Highly respected strategists in both parties have said that it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the GOP captures the Senate without the Delaware seat. The party establishment thought it had the perfect candidate in Mike Castle, a veteran congressman with moderate views. But the Tea Party movement staged an uprising, and a flood of out-of-state campaign money and volunteers delivered victory in the primary to O'Donnell -- whom the Republican establishment considers unelectable.
Read the rest here.

The Buckley rule

Tuesday in Delaware was a bad day not only for Republicans but also for conservatives. Tea Partyer Christine O'Donnell scored a stunning victory over establishment Republican Mike Castle. Stunning but pyrrhic. The very people who have most alerted the country to the perils of President Obama's social democratic agenda may have just made it impossible for Republicans to retake the Senate and definitively stop that agenda.

Bill Buckley -- no Mike Castle he -- had a rule: Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.

A timeless rule of sober politics, and particularly timely now. This is no ordinary time. And this is no ordinary Democratic administration. It is highly ideological and ambitious. It is determined to use whatever historical window it is granted to change the country structurally, irreversibly. It has already done so with Obamacare and has equally lofty ambitions for energy, education, immigration, taxation, industrial policy and the composition of the Supreme Court.

That's what makes the eleventh-hour endorsements of O'Donnell by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Sarah Palin so reckless and irresponsible.

Of course Mike Castle is a liberal Republican. What do you expect from Delaware? A DeMint? Castle voted against Obamacare and the stimulus. Yes, he voted for cap-and-trade. That's batting .667. You'd rather have a Democrat who bats .000 and who might give the Democrats the 50th vote to control the Senate?

Castle wasn't only electable. He was unbeatable. Why do you think Beau Biden, long groomed to inherit his father's seat, flinched from running? Because Castle, who had already won statewide races a dozen times, scared him off. Democrats had already given up on the race.

O'Donnell, a lifelong activist who has twice lost statewide races, is very problematic. It is not that the Republican establishment denigrates her chances -- virtually every nonpartisan electoral analyst from Charlie Cook to Larry Sabato to Stuart Rothenberg has her losing in November.
Read he rest here.

Five Islamists arrested in assassination plot against Pope Benedict

Police have arrested five suspected Islamist terrorists, working as street cleaners in London, over an alleged plan to assassinate the Pope.

The men were arrested during raids at 5.45am at a rubbish depot in central London based on an intelligence tip off received overnight.

The suspects, aged 26, 27, 36, 40 and 50 were arrested by officers from Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The NY Yankees and crime

Two men and a woman broke into a locker at a Manhattan gym in February and stole credit cards, the first in a series of similar thefts.

Three months later, in May, a young man tried to rob a Chase bank in the Bronx armed with only a note, which he slipped to a teller. She read it and stepped away, and he fled empty-handed. Weeks later, in June, a gunman robbed a Family Dollar store in Queens.

Gym-locker heists, bank robberies, daylight holdups — these New York City crimes have only one thing in common, and it is not the culprits.

It is the Yankees caps they wore.

A curious phenomenon has emerged at the intersection of fashion, sports and crime: dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing.
Read the rest here.

Were I a lesser man, given to sarcastic commentary directed at the evil empire, I would call this article a target rich environment. However being a Christian gentleman possessed of a charitable disposition, I shall confine myself to snickering quietly.

H/T: T-19

European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of schismatic Bulgarian Orthodox Church

The Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights mandated that Bulgaria must pay EUR 50,000 damages to the so-called 'alternative' or 'Inokentii' church synod.

The decision is a continuation of a prior verdict in June, in which the Court of Human Rights decided that the Bulgarian state has unduly forced Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox to worship under only one church by chasing out clergy from the 'alternative' synod out of temples.

The Strasbourg court mandated in June that the two parties should negotiate damages between themselves, but its decision was snubbed by Bulgarian authorities, with the cabinet taking no decision on the issue.

Cabinet representatives have stated that they see the hundreds of millions of euro claimed by the Inokentii synod as grossly exagerated

The schism in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was started in 1992 when a group of senior clergy headed by Nevrokop metropolitan bishop Pimen decided to split from the rest, claiming that a church headed by allegedly communist-related Patriarch Maxim is illegitimate.
Read the rest here.

Church Times: Russians threaten to end dialogue with Anglicans

More on the speech by Met. +Hilarion
THE Russian Orthodox Church has threatened to withdraw from dialogue with Anglicans because of the “liberalism and relativism” of some Anglican Churches, and the development of women bishops in the Church of England.

In a speech at Lambeth Palace on Thursday of last week, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk attacked the Anglican Church for what he described as “betraying our common witness by departing from traditional Christian values and replacing them by contemporary secular standards”. He urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to resist pressure from liberal Anglicans.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, was speaking at the Nikaean Club annual dinner. His prolonged attack on liberalism in the Anglican Church stunned Dr Williams, onlookers said.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Met. +Hilarion criticizes the mandatory celibacy of the Roman Church

Moscow, September 15, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate supports the idea to cancel celibacy of the Catholic clergy.

"Mandatory celibacy of the clergy introduced by the Western Church in the 12th century was not known in the early Christian time. Eastern Churches have followed the ancient practice which allowed them to ordain married men. The Eastern Christianity has always criticized the Roman Catholic Church for this celibate practice," head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said in an interview published Wednesday by NG-Religii paper.

According to him, "Orthodox believers think the problem of obligatory celibacy to be an internal matter of the Roman Catholic Church and they would only acclaim its cancellation, if it happens."

"We would rather consider such cancellation of celibacy the return to the age-old traditions of the ancient Church, than a break from the ancient traditions and a liberal deviation," he added.

Speaking of the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Protestant Church, he noted that there were many Protestants "who shared more Orthodox and Catholic positions than that of their own church authorities."

"We know that such believers are pronounced "fundamentalists", "fanatics" and "separatists" in their own Churches just for the reason that they share views different from the officially declared standpoint and try to defend their positions. We are ready to cooperate with such Protestants on different projects including the project of the New Evangelization of Europe," Metropolitan said.
Source

I have a lot of respect for Met. +Hilaion. But I think this is something that is best filed under the heading "None of our business." We aren't Catholic and they aren't Orthodox. How they run their church is their business (though as a matter of private opinion I think the policy is silly). That said, I would note that Rome has a history of trying to ram their Latin disciplines down the throats of their so called sui juris Eastern Rite churches. They have backed off of that a lot, especially since Vatican II. But Rome has never renounced its claimed right to dictate discipline to any part of their communion.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wrongfully deported American home after 3 month fight

A Texas-born U.S. citizen who was detained, questioned and deported to Matamoros, Mexico, in the middle of the night has been allowed to re-enter the United States, ending a nearly three-month ordeal.

Luis Alberto Delgado, 19, was carrying his American birth certificate, Social Security card and Texas ID when he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop on June 17, according to Houston immigration lawyer Isaias Torres, who represented him in his legal battle for repatriation.

A South Texas sheriff’s deputy who apparently believed the documents were not authentic handed Delgado over to U.S. border agents. After eight hours of questioning, Torres said, Delgado felt pressured to sign a document agreeing to voluntary removal from the country and waiving his right to a lawyer. The Border Patrol then drove Delgado to Matamoros and left him, he said.

He was finally able to return home over the weekend, Torres said.
Read the rest here.

I see a large check in this young man's future.

Mark Shea blasts the hysterical xenophobia of the radical right

Hat Tip: The Young Fogey
...Am I the only person who thinks that this is, well, barking mad? Does anybody outside the right wing nuthouse really think kicking 18 million people out of America for no other reason than "they're Muslim" is a great idea, the core of Truly Truly Americanism *and* of Truly True Catholic charity.

The Right is going insane. A hundred years ago, when Chesterton was asked "What's Wrong with the World?" his answer was succinct: "I am." Now the answer is from more and more of the Right is, "They are!"

We've been hearing for weeks that all people were saying was "Don't build the mosque at Ground Zero." Now it's starting to look more and more like the real message to all Muslim citizens from What's Wrong with the World is "Don't breathe American oxygen. Doesn't matter if you've never done a thing. Doesn't matter if you've been an exemplary citizen. Doesn't matter if you fought for your country. Doesn't matter if you have been a good neighbor. You are Other and you must leave." And who says so? Why Americans who are such truly true *real* Americans that they want to shred the Bill of Rights and then blame it on the people they mean to shove into the Atlantic when they are done shredding it.

No thanks. They tried that xenophobic crap 150 years ago...
Read the rest of this excellent post here.

I have been and remain a staunch critic of Islam as a religion and a culture. But what has been going on in recent weeks and months is nothing less than good old fashioned bigotry and 19th century Know Nothingism repackaged. As an American I am both disgusted and deeply embarrassed.

Gold hits record high on world inflation and debt worries

The spot price for gold rose by $23.70 oz. today on inflation fears centered in Great Britain and China and rising concerns over sovereign debt levels in many developed nations. The US Dollar Index fell sharply especially against the Japanese Yen and the Swiss Franc. Gold on the New York COMEX closed at $1269.70 a new nominal high. Silver also rallied closing up .43 cents at $20.50 oz. its highest close in more than two years. The bond market rose with the yield on US Treasuries falling slightly. Stocks were mixed with the major indexes trading in a narrow range and closing near flat.

The price of gold has risen by more than 33% in the last twelve months.

The high tide of (true) political conservatism

My favorite president is finally getting some respect.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

President Coolidge speaking on taxes and government expenses. This is believed to be the first film footage of an American President with sound.



Some great (and rare) film footage of President Coolidge.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Met. +Hilarion addresses "liberal" Protestantism and the Anglican Communion

The full text of his speech to the Nicean Club Dinner at Lambeth Palace (Rowan Williams was there) can be found here. I am not going to post any excerpts. You need to read the whole thing. It is damning.

H/T Byzantine TX

Britain: Food inflation may hit 7% by year's end

Annual food inflation could reach 7 per cent later this year, a leading City economist has warned. The jump, from 1.7 per cent in June, is likely if global food commodity prices continue to rise, said Simon Ward, chief economist at Henderson.

Rising food costs could have the effect of pushing up the consumer prices index (CPI), the official measure of inflation, to 4 per cent – double the Bank of England's 2 per cent target, warned Mr Ward.

The impact on household budgets could even persuade the Coalition to cancel its planned rise in VAT, he added.

"Such an increase [in food prices] would hit consumer spending and recovery prospects and could destabilise inflationary expectations," said Mr Ward.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Inflation is rising rapidly in China

HONG KONG — For K. K. Lam, a 37-year-old accountant in Guangzhou, inflation means higher prices for pork and for vegetables like bok choy.

For Allen Dong, the sales manager for a home appliance manufacturer 700 miles to the northeast in Ningbo, inflation means trying to persuade retailers to pay more for dehumidifiers so his company can cover rising costs for wages and raw materials.

From street markets to corporate offices, consumers and executives alike in China are trying to cope with rising prices. The National Bureau of Statistics announced on Saturday that consumer prices in China were 3.5 percent higher compared with a year earlier, the largest increase in nearly two years.

To make matters worse, inflation over the short term also seems to be accelerating. A seasonally adjusted comparison of August prices to July prices showed that inflation was running at an annualized pace closer to 4.8 percent.
Read the rest here.