Due to an ongoing health crisis in the family, blogging will be 'on and off' as time and circumstances permit for the foreseeable future. I also beg your indulgence if I am slow in responding to emails. New posts will appear below this notice.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bernie Madoff: 'Whole government is a Ponzi scheme'

NEW YORK — Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff said in a magazine interview published Sunday that new regulatory reform enacted after the recent national financial crisis is laughable and that the federal government is a Ponzi scheme.

"The whole new regulatory reform is a joke," Madoff said during a telephone interview with New York magazine in which he discussed his disdain for the financial industry and for its regulators.

The interview was published on the magazine's website Sunday night.

Madoff did an earlier New York Times interview in which he accused banks and hedge funds of being "complicit" in his Ponzi scheme to fleece people out of billions of dollars. He said they failed to scrutinize the discrepancies between his regulatory filings and other information.

He said in the New York magazine interview the Securities and Exchange Commission "looks terrible in this thing," and he said the "whole government is a Ponzi scheme."

A Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme is a scam in which people are persuaded to invest through promises of unusually high returns, with early investors paid their returns out of money put in by later investors.
Read the rest here.

Sorry

I forgot to check my spam catcher over the last couple days and discovered that several non-spam comments got caught. I have cleared them and they are now posted.

Memory Eternal

Frank Buckles America's last living veteran of World War I has reposed at 110

Unions Debate What to Give to Save Bargaining

As Wisconsin’s governor and public employees square off in the biggest public sector labor showdown since Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981, government employees’ unions in a range of states are weighing whether to give ground on wages, benefits and work rules to preserve basic bargaining rights.

It is not yet clear whether Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will succeed in his quest to strip public employee unions of most of their bargaining rights. But by simply pressing the issue, he has already won major concessions that would have been unthinkable just a month ago.

Some of Wisconsin’s major public sector unions, faced with what they see as a threat to their existence, have decided to accept concessions that they had been vigorously fighting: they said they would agree to have more money deducted from workers’ paychecks to go toward their pensions and health benefits, translating into a pay cut of around 7 percent.

But Mr. Walker is not settling for that. He said that those concessions were “an interesting development, because a week ago they said that’s not acceptable.”
Read the rest here.

The King's Speech is crowned

LOS ANGELES — “The King’s Speech,” the period drama about King George VI of Britain and his vocal coach, won best picture and three other trophies at the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night. But in many ways the Oscars played out like the more populist and less prestigious Golden Globes: veering in multiple directions as voters sprinkled their attention among a half-dozen pictures, with no film walking away with a commanding sweep.

“The King’s Speech” did not make its presence felt until late in the night, with an unexpected victory for Tom Hooper as best director. David Seidler won for his original screenplay for this film, while Colin Firth took the best-actor prize.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Suddenly, a Rise in Piracy’s Price

At some point, Thomas Jefferson realized, you just can’t do business with pirates any more.

For years, the infant American government, along with many others, had accepted the humiliating practice of paying tribute — essentially mob-style protection fees — to a handful of rulers in the Barbary states so that American ships crossing the Mediterranean would not get hijacked. But in 1801, Tripoli’s pasha, Yusuf Karamanli, tried to jack up his prices. Jefferson said no. And when the strongman turned his pirates loose on American ships, Jefferson sent in the Navy to bombard Tripoli, starting a war that eventually brought the Barbary states to their knees. Rampant piracy went to sleep for nearly 200 years.

The question now is: Are we nearing another enough-is-enough moment with pirates?
Read the rest here.

Ireland: Governing party suffers severe defeat at the polls

DUBLIN — If there were people walking around during the national election on Friday who were passionate supporters of the ruling party, Fianna Fail, they were doing an excellent job of keeping it secret.

“I think Brian Cowen was probably the worst taoiseach we’ve ever had,” said David Ryan, 76, a retired businessman, using the Irish word for prime minister and speaking of Fianna Fail’s former leader. “I am totally angry,” Mr. Ryan went on — not just at Mr. Cowen, who resigned last month, but at the Irish banks whose spectacular debts his government promised to guarantee on a fateful day in 2008. “They were totally corrupt.”

The results of the election will not be announced until late Saturday. But an early exit poll predicted a crushing defeat for Fianna Fail, one of modern history’s most successful political parties, which has been in power for almost 60 of the last 80 years, most recently from 1997 until the present.
Read the rest here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Question to GOP Rep.: 'Who is going to shoot Obama?'

A Republican lawmaker in Athens, Ga., fielded a startling question by an audience member at a town hall Tuesday, prompting national headlines as well as a Secret Service inquiry.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, which first reported the incident, an unidentified person in the audience at a town hall hosted by GOP Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia asked “Who is going to shoot Obama?” The question — which was difficult for some to hear — was greeted with laughter.

Broun did not respond directly to the question, instead changing the subject to the issue of the Obama-backed health care bill that passed last year.

“The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president,” Broun said, per the Banner-Herald. “We’re going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

In a statement issued Friday, Broun said he "was stunned by the question and chose not to dignify it with a response."

"After the event, my office took action with the appropriate authorities," he said. "I deeply regret that this incident happened at all. Furthermore, I condemn all statements-made in sincerity or jest-that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated."

The Washington Post reports that the Secret Service has interviewed the constituent and determined that he or she is not a threat and was merely acting “in poor taste.”

“At this point it's a closed matter,” a Secret Service spokesman told the Post.
Source

Jury Nullification Advocate Is Indicted

Julian P. Heicklen sat silent and unresponsive as his bail hearing began one day recently in federal court in Manhattan; his eyes were closed, his head slumped forward.

“Mr. Heicklen?” the magistrate judge, Ronald L. Ellis, asked. “Mr. Heicklen? Is Mr. Heicklen awake?”

“I believe he is, your honor,” a prosecutor, Rebecca Mermelstein, said. “I think he’s choosing not to respond but is certainly capable of doing so.”

There was, in fact, nothing wrong with Mr. Heicklen, 78, who eventually opened his eyes and told the judge, “I’m exercising my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”

Indeed, it was not his silence that landed Mr. Heicklen, a retired Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor, in court; it was what he had been doing outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood there and at courthouse entrances elsewhere and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.

That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates the law against jury tampering. He was arraigned on Friday in a somewhat contentious hearing before Judge Kimba M. Wood, who entered a not guilty plea on his behalf when he refused to say how he would plead. During the proceeding, he railed at the judge and the government, and called the indictment “a tissue of lies.”
Read the rest here.

U.S. Plans Sanctions as Pressure Mounts on Libya

WASHINGTON — The United States moved to increase diplomatic pressure on the embattled Libyan government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Friday, suspending relations and preparing to impose unilateral sanctions because of the deadly violence the Libyan government has directed at protesters in the country.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters that the sanctions would be announced soon, but gave no specifics. Mr. Carney said the American embassy in Tripoli “has been shuttered” and that diplomatic and military-to-military relations were suspended.

American allies and the United Nations also moved to isolate Libya diplomatically on Friday. A senior U.N. official said the world should intervene to stop the killings and bloodshed in Libya, and France and Britain called on the international organization to approve an arms embargo and sanctions. NATO said it was ready to help to evacuate refugees.
Read the rest here.

OCA: Metropolitan Jonah is placed on leave by the Holy Synod

According to a report from Geneva on the Greek website Romofea.org late last evening, citing “exclusive information” from unamed sources, Metropolitan Jonah has been removed as the Primate, and Archbishop Nathaniel has been named Temporary Administrator by the OCA Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the day the retired Bishop of Los Angeles, Tikhon posted a short note on the web saying “Metropolitan Jonah.... has been given the “Bishop Nikolai’ treatment------mandatory leave of absence. Archbishop Nathaniel Popp has been named to temporarily fill the spot of First Hierarch.Bishop Melchizedek has been named as Chancellor, replacing the Archpriest, Alexander Garklavs.” Neither story has been confirmed or denied by OCA.org.

OCANews.org has, however, confirmed with mulitple sources that Metropolitan Jonah has indeed been placed on a leave of absence, and that indeed +Nathaniel has been named as a temporary replacement. However, the fate of Fr. Garklavs is as yet unclear. According to sources close to Syosset, Bishop Michael (Dahulich) was to travel to Syosset this morning to discuss the Synod’s decisions with Fr. Garklavs. (Fr. Garklavs returned from Santa Fe yesterday before the Synodal retreat was concluded.) Bishop Melchizedek, named by +Tikhon as Garklav’s replacement, was unavailable for comment as he is currently on a train travelling back to Pittsburgh from Santa Fe.
Read the rest here.

Update: Via Byzantine Texas the Holy Synod has issued a statement which can be read here.

Wisconsin labor bill advances

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly took the first significant action on their plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers, abruptly passing the measure early Friday morning before sleep-deprived Democrats realized what was happening.

The vote ended three straight days of punishing debate in the Assembly. But the political standoff over the bill — and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it — appear far from over.

The Assembly's vote sent the bill on to the Senate, but minority Democrats in that house have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote. No one knows when they will return from hiding. Republicans who control the chamber sent state troopers out looking for them at their homes on Thursday, but they turned up nothing.

"I applaud the Democrats in the Assembly for earnestly debating this bill and urge their counterparts in the state Senate to return to work and do the same," Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said in a statement issued moments after the vote.

The plan from Republican Gov. Scott Walker contains a number of provisions he says are designed to fill the state's $137 million deficit and lay the groundwork for fixing a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget.

The flashpoint is language that would require public workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance and strip them of their right to collectively bargain benefits and work conditions.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Student accused of plotting to assassinate George Bush

A college student from Saudi Arabia who studied chemical engineering in Texas bought explosive chemicals online as part of a plan to hide bomb materials inside dolls and baby carriages to blow up dams, nuclear plants or the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, the Justice Department said Thursday.

"After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad," or holy war, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari wrote in his private journal, according to court documents.

FBI agents arrested Aldawsari, who was admitted into the United States in 2008 on a student visa, in Texas on Wednesday. The Justice Department has charged him with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Aldawsari, a chemical engineering student at South Plains College near Lubbock, allegedly referred to Bush's Dallas home as a "tyrant's house," the Justice Department said.

Aldawsari entered the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University, then transferred earlier this year to nearby South Plains College.

The terrorism case against Aldawsari was significant because it demonstrated that radicalized foreigners can live quietly in the U.S. heartland without raising suspicions from neighbors, classmates, teachers or others. But it also showed how quickly U.S. law enforcement can move when tipped that a terrorist plot may be unfolding.

One of the chemical companies, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., reported $435 in suspicious order by Aldawsari to the FBI on Feb. 1.
Read the rest here.

Oil could hit $220 a barrel on Libya and Algeria fears, warns Nomura

Libya's descent into civil war has led to drastic cuts in oil shipments and prompted warnings that an escalation of the crisis could see Brent crude prices double to $220 a barrel.

Nomura's commodity team said oil prices risk vaulting to uncharted highs over coming weeks if chaos hits Algeria as well, reducing global spare capacity to the wafer-thin margins seen just before the first Gulf War.

On Wednesday, Brent crude rose more than 5pc to almost $112 a barrel, threatening levels that could derail the global economy. It closed at $111.25.

"We could see $220 a barrel should both Libya and Algeria halt oil production. We could be underestimating this as speculative activiites were largely not present in 1990-1991," said Michael Lo, the bank's oil strategist.
Read the rest here.

Egyptian Armed Forces Demolish Fences Guarding Coptic Monasteries

(AINA) -- Egyptian armed forces this week demolished fences surrounding ancient Coptic monasteries, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by armed Arabs, robbers and escaped prisoners, who have seized the opportunity of the state of diminished protection by the authorities in Egypt to carry out assaults and thefts.

"Three monasteries have been attacked by outlaws and have asked for protection from the armed forces, but were told to defend themselves." said activist Mark Ebeid. "When the terrified monks built fences to protect themselves, armed forces appeared only then with bulldozers to demolish the fences. It is worth noting that these monasteries are among the most ancient in Egypt, with valuable Coptic icons and manuscripts among others, which are of tremendous value to collectors."

On Sunday February 20, armed forced stormed the 4th century old monastery of St. Boula in the Red Sea area, assaulted three monks and then demolished a small fence supporting a gate leading to the fenceless monastery. "The idea of the erection of the gate was prompted after being attacked at midnight on February 13 by five prisoners who broke out from their prisons," said Father Botros Anba Boula, "and were armed with a pistol and batons. The monks ran after them but they fled to the surrounding mountains except for one who stumbled and was apprehended and held by the monks until the police picked him up three days later."

Father Botros said after this incident they thought the best solution to secure the monastery was to erect a gate with a small fence of 40 meters long at the entrance of a long wiry road leading to the monastery, which would be guarded day and night by the monks, and advised the army of their plan. According to Father Boulos, the army came with armored vehicles to demolish the gate, but it was agreed the monastery itself would undertake the demolition of the gate in stages as army protection is reinstated. "We told the Colonel it would look ugly to the outside world if Egyptian army is demolishing a gate erected for the protection of the unarmed monks under the present absence of security forces. We gave them full hospitality but we had a feeling that they wanted to demolish the gate in a 'devious' way."

On Saturday morning, seeing that only three old monks were guarding the gate, the army returned. "When the army found that very few monks were present the soldiers, who were hiding in military vans, came out," said Father Botros, "bound the three monks, threw them to the ground and confiscated their mobile phones so as not to photograph the incident."

The monks were set free after the gate and the 40 meter fence were demolished." Only four soldiers were left to guard the huge monastery.
Read the rest here.

See also this related story and video at Byzantine Texas.

Arizona vote moves to abolish Medicaid

Saying the state can't count on future federal funds, a legislative panel voted Wednesday to make Arizona the first -- and only -- state to withdraw from the federal Medicaid program.

The plan, approved on an 8-5 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee, would abolish the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, this state's version of Medicaid, effective Oct. 1. In its place, SB 1519 would direct the Department of Health Services to set up a program to provide care for the needy.

But that definition of "needy'' would be far more narrow than it is now.

How narrow?

Current AHCCCS enrollment, in all its programs, now exceeds 1.3 million. But AHCCCS officials said that, with people coming into and leaving the system, it provided care to about 1.8 million Arizonans last year.

By contrast, the plan by Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, would provide free care for only about 80,000.
Read the rest here.

Wow. This is insulting. If you want to eliminate all public funding for health care, fine. But be honest about it when you are telling people to go off and die somewhere quietly. This is a sham. And the claim that "he does believe there is an obligation to provide for the "most vulnerable'' in society..." I think is a bald faced lie.

Thousands March on State Capitols as Union Fight Spreads

COLUMBUS, Ohio — First Wisconsin. Now Ohio and Indiana.

Battles with public employees’ unions spread on Tuesday, with Republican-dominated Legislatures pressing bills that would weaken collective bargaining and thousands of pro-union protesters marching on Capitol buildings in Columbus and Indianapolis.

After a week of upheaval in Madison, Wis., where the thumping din of protesters has turned almost celebratory, the battle moved to Ohio, where the Legislature held hearings on a bill that would effectively end collective bargaining for state workers and drastically reduce it for local government employees like police officers and firefighters.

Several thousand pro-union protesters filled a main hall of the statehouse in Columbus and gathered in a large crowd outside, chanting “Kill the bill,” waving signs and playing drums and bagpipes. There were no official estimates, but the numbers appeared to be smaller than those in Madison last week. One Democratic state legislator put the figure at 15,000; local papers reported crowds of about 5,000.

In Indiana, nearly all of the Democratic members of the state’s House of Representatives stayed away from a legislative session on Tuesday in an effort to stymie a bill that they say would weaken collective bargaining. By late Tuesday, they seemed to have succeeded in running down a clock on the bill, which was to expire at midnight. Representative Brian Bosma, the speaker of the Indiana House, said the bill would die when the deadline passed.

Fleeing was not an option for Ohio Democrats because the Republicans had enough members on their side for a quorum. Republicans have a 23-to-10 majority in the Ohio Senate, and the bill needs 17 votes to pass. It was not clear when it would be voted on.
Read the rest here.

How Chris Christie Did His Homework

Like a stand-up comedian working out-of-the-way clubs, Chris Christie travels the townships and boroughs of New Jersey­, places like Hackettstown and Raritan and Scotch Plains, sharpening his riffs about the state’s public employees, whom he largely blames for plunging New Jersey into a fiscal death spiral. In one well-worn routine, for instance, the governor reminds his audiences that, until he passed a recent law that changed the system, most teachers in the state didn’t pay a dime for their health care coverage, the cost of which was borne by taxpayers.

And so, Christie goes on, forced to cut more than $1 billion in local aid in order to balance the budget, he asked the teachers not only to accept a pay freeze for a year but also to begin contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care. The dominant teachers’ union in the state responded by spending millions of dollars in television and radio ads to attack him.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

Acid monologues like this have made Christie, only a little more than a year into his governorship, one of the most intriguing political figures in America. Hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers linger on scenes from Christie’s town-hall meetings, like the one in which he takes apart a teacher for her histrionics. (“If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, then I have no interest in answering your question.”) Newly elected governors — not just Republicans, Christie says, but also Democrats — call to seek his counsel on how to confront their own staggering budget deficits and intractable unions. At a recent gathering of Republican governors, Christie attracted a throng of supporters and journalists as he strode through the halls of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel like Bono at Davos.

While Christie has flatly ruled out a presidential run in 2012, there is enough conjecture about the possibility that I felt moved to ask him a few weeks ago if he found it exhausting to have to constantly answer the same question. “Listen, if you’re going to say you’re exhausted by that, you’re really taking yourself too seriously,” Christie told me, then broke into his imitation of a politician who is taking himself too seriously. “ ‘Oh, Matt, please, stop asking me about whether I should be president of the United States! The leader of the free world! Please stop! I’m exhausted by the question!’ I mean, come on. If I get to that point, just slap me around, because that’s really presumptuous. What it is to me is astonishing, not exhausting.”
Read the rest here.

California’s Tax Aversion Complicates Budget

OAKLAND, Calif. — For nearly two months, Gov. Jerry Brown has been immersed in a furious effort to win the support of the Legislature for his proposal to close a $26.6 billion budget gap with spending cuts and by asking voters to approve $12 billion in taxes in a special election this June.

Yet even if Mr. Brown rallies the Legislature behind the plan in the coming weeks — no small matter, given that he needs the support of two-thirds of lawmakers to put a tax measure on the ballot — the fight in Sacramento might prove to be the easy part.

Mr. Brown would then face the challenge of persuading voters to support extensions of sales, personal and vehicle registration taxes in a national environment where hostility to taxes is soaring, and in a state that, no matter its propensity for electing Democrats, has repeatedly rejected tax initiatives. And one of the major national antitax advocates — Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform — has intervened, pressuring Republicans here not to give Mr. Brown the votes to put the measure on the ballot, and pledging to make certain voters defeat it if they do.

The stakes are high, not only for the future of a state that has been under fiscal siege for three years — without the tax increases, Mr. Brown and lawmakers would have to make $26.6 billion in cuts — but for Mr. Brown’s governorship as well.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A quick note

There will probably be little or no posting tomorrow as I am finally departing the frozen wasteland that is upstate New York (-5 tonight) for warmer digs in southwest Florida.

On an unrelated note there have been some rather snarky comments posted of late by person(s) who apparently do not share my view on things or are attempting to provoke me and or other commentors. Unfortunately the person or persons in question are posting their comments under cover of anonymity. As I noted in my guidelines for commenting I don't have a problem with divergent opinions provided that they are not over the top. Nor do I prohibit anonymous comments. But as I observed those who decline to sign their name or at least use a pen-name greatly weaken whatever point they are attempting to make. And when the comments are ad hominem or of a rather caustic nature it begs the question... are you contributing to a conversation or just trolling?

Bottom line: Cut it out or post somewhere else.

New Zealand is devastated by powerful earthquake

SYDNEY, Australia — Rescue workers spent a cold, rainy night searching through rubble for survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck New Zealand’s second-largest city, Christchurch, on Tuesday, killing at least 65 people.

Photographs and video from Christchurch, a graceful 19th-century city of nearly 400,000 residents, showed people running through the streets, landslides pouring rocks and debris into suburban streets and extensive damage to buildings. Witnesses told of watching the spire of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral come crashing down during an aftershock. One witness called it “the most frightening thing of my entire life,” and television video showed a person clinging to a window in the cathedral’s steeple.

Officials warned that the death toll was likely to rise as scores of people were still missing and feared trapped in the wreckage of several buildings that were flattened by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake or the aftershocks still rocking the city.
Read the rest here.

Four American Hostages Are Killed By Pirates

Four Americans taken hostage after their yacht was hijacked by Somali pirates were killed early Tuesday after gunfire erupted during an attempt by the United States Navy to negotiate with their captors, according to United States military.

Two pirates were also killed in the confrontation and 13 were taken into American military custody.

The Americans, Jean and Scott Adam, from Southern California, and Phyllis Mackay and Robert A. Riggle, from Seattle, were sailing for Djibouti to refuel when they were hijacked several hundred miles off the coast of Oman on Friday afternoon.

A Navy warship had been shadowing the yacht since Saturday.
Read the rest here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Libyan regime teetering

Multiple news sources report that the 40 year dictatorship of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi is fighting for its survival tonight. Large parts of the country and at least some elements of the armed forces are in open revolt. There are unconfirmed reports that some members of the air force may have flown their planes and defected in Malta. Also today the Libyan diplomatic delegation at the UN broke with the regime. The Libyan ambassador to the UN called Qaddafi a war criminal and called on the international community to intervene to end what appears to be an effort to violently suppress the revolt. There are widespread bu as yet unconfirmed reports of massacres by troops loyal to the dictatorship. Few persons who are knowledgeable about Libya expect that Qaddafi will go quietly like the dictators of Egypt and Tunisia. Many believe he will have to be killed to end his grip on power.

A full scale civil war is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Gold and Silver rally on Middle-East unrest and global inflation fears

Gold rose $17.50 to close at $1407.60 and silver closed up $1.25 to close at $33.93 oz. a three decade record.

Source: Kitco (current spot prices for precious metals)

American Thinker: Russian Orthodox Leader Stands for Principle

The "great man" theory of history -- that strong, unique, and highly influential individuals shape history (for good or ill) through their commanding personal characteristics that imbue them with power and influence over a specific period of time or during certain circumstances -- may not be as widely accepted today among professional historians as in the past, but for many of us there is no denying what our own experience shows us: An individual's influence can have dramatic impact in specific situations or historic eras.

One contemporary leader who has that potential is Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Moscow, who serves the Patriarch of Moscow as chairman of External Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church. His education and training has prepared him for profound impact on the church and culture; Metropolitan Hilarion is the author of more than 300 publications, including numerous books in Russian, English, French, Italian, German, and Finnish. In addition to a doctoral degree in philosophy from Oxford, he also holds a doctorate in theology from St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris.

His experience, too, has prepared him for a significant role, not only in his own church but throughout Europe and the United States as well. It was a moment of high drama three years ago this month when then-Bishop Hilarion burst into the consciousness of many American Christians. Thanks mainly to a report from the Institute on Religion and Democracy (the IRD), we know about the bold statement he made at a meeting of the liberal World Council of Churches (WCC) in which he challenged the WCC on the most important moral issues of our day, particularly abortion and modern attempts to redefine marriage. According to the IRD, he asked: "When are we going to stop making Christianity politically correct and all-inclusive?" ... "Why do we insist on accommodating every possible alternative to the centuries-old Christian tradition? Where is the limit, or is there no limit at all?" And this: "Many Christians worldwide look to Christian leaders in the hope that they will defend Christianity against the challenges that it faces. ... Our holy mission is to preach what Christ preached, to teach what the apostles taught, and to propagate what the holy Fathers propagated."

The IRD's observer summarized it perfectly: One could almost imagine a "Preach it, brother!" ringing out from the evangelical amen corner.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The West is deluding itself over the extent of China's growth

There seems no end to the steady stream of highly significant economic and political developments these days. We live in incredible times.

Yet of all the events I followed last week, of all the data sifted and news wires perused, one story really grabbed me. Although I read it alone, it still elicited an audible "wow!"

China is in "advanced talks" with the Colombian government to build an alternative to the Panama canal. The mooted 220km rail link would run from the Pacific to a new port near Cartagena on Colombia's Atlantic coast. Imported Chinese goods would be assembled for re-export through the Americas and beyond, with Colombia-sourced raw materials filling ships making the return journey to Asia. Beijing is now reaching very high, pushing China onwards to the zenith of its modern-day power.
Read the rest here.

When liberals attack Mormons

150 Years Ago: Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as President of the CSA

A photographer captured the scene as Davis was sworn in as the Confederate President
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Wearing gray wool uniforms, hoop skirts, leather jackets and business suits, several hundred men and women marched to the Alabama Statehouse on Saturday afternoon, where they delivered defiant speeches, fired heavy artillery, and swore in an amateur actor playing Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy, 150 years and one day after the event took place.

The participants far outnumbered the spectators, and the city of Montgomery barely raised a collective eyebrow. But it was to be the largest event of the year organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of a series of occasions marking the 150th anniversary of the Confederacy and the War for Southern Independence (referring to this event as the Civil War, implying that it was anything other than an act of unwarranted Northern aggression upon a self-determined republic, is rather frowned upon).

Members of the S.C.V. distinguish themselves from the mere re-enactors, weekend warriors who simply enjoy indulging amateur enthusiasms for history, role-playing and military hardware.

Like garden variety re-enactors, the group’s members may don their battle grays and trade recipes for gunpowder. But, declared Chuck McMichael, a history teacher and former commander in chief of the group who gave the keynote speech, “the Confederate thing is personal with us.”

The principal message of the group is that the Confederacy was a just exercise in self-determination that has been maligned by “the politically correct crowd” through years of historical distortions. It is the right of secession that they emphasize, not the cause, which they often describe as a complicated mix of tariff and tax disputes and Northern attempts to politically subjugate the South.

The other matter of subjugation — that is, slavery — went unmentioned at the event (Davis did not refer to it in his original address, but he emphasized the maintenance of African slavery as a cause for secession in other high-profile settings). And the issue of slavery was largely brushed aside in interviews as a mere function of the time, and not a defining feature, of the Confederacy.
Read the rest here.

Chinese Security Officials Respond to Call for Protests

BEIJING — Skittish domestic security officials responded with a mass show of force across China on Sunday after anonymous calls for protesters to stage a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” went out over social media and micro-blogging outlets.

Although there were no reports of large demonstrations, the outsize government response highlighted Beijing’s nervousness at a time of spreading unrest in the Middle East aimed at overthrowing authoritarian regimes.

The words “jasmine revolution,” borrowed from the successful Tunisian revolt, were blocked on Twitter-like blogging sites and Internet search engines while cellphone users were unable to send out text messages to multiple recipients. A heavy police presence was reported in several Chinese cities.

In recent days, more than a dozen lawyers and rights activists have been rounded up, and scores of dissidents have reportedly been placed under varying forms of house arrest. At least two lawyers are still missing, family members and human rights advocates said Sunday.
Read the rest here.

Revolt spreads in Libya

TRIPOLI — Protests against the 40-plus-year reign of dictator Moammar Gadhafi have broken out in Tripoli, the capital, for the first time, according to news reports, as protesters in other cities count the dead from clashes with troops over days of protest.

A doctor told Al Jazeera that forces had fired on protesters in Tripoli, killing four, and Al Jazeera reported a resident saying she could hear gunfire in the city from her upscale suburb. Other sources told Al Jazeera that clashes between pro- and anti-Gadhafi sources in central Tripoli involved thousands of people.

Gadhafi's son, Seif el islam Gadhafi, will make a televised address Sunday night, Libya TV said, according to Al jazeera.

A doctor in the eastern city of Benghazi told Reuters that at least 50 people were killed and 100 others seriously wounded in Benghazi Sunday afternoon and evening. There were unconfirmed claims that the opposition had taken control of the city, with Gadhafi's forces holed up in a walled compound.
Read the rest here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Russian Orthodox monastery is consecrated in Thailand

Moscow, February 18, Interfax - The ceremony of minor consecration of the Holy Assumption Monastery and its civil opening was held in the Ratchaburi province, Thailand.

The monastery and its church were consecrated by the Russian Orthodox Church representative in Thailand Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin). In attendance were Orthodox priests, the officials of the Russian embassy, Thai authorities, Protestant and Catholic communities of the country, and multiple pilgrims, the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate reports Friday.

"The Orthodox history in Thailand cannot be viewed separately from the Russian Orthodox Church. Now we can evidence the appreciation of and respect to religious and cultural traditions of Thailand shown by Orthodox clergy in their activities," the secretary of the Parliament Defense Committee Akachai Chintoza said at the ceremony.

He called Father Oleg "a big friend of Thailand" and presented him with a large diamond cross specially made for this occasion as a sign of recognizing his merits to the Thai people.

The construction of Holy Assumption Monastery started in November, 2009 when the Orthodox Church Fund in Thailand purchased the land of 9,000 square meters to construct the church and the Orthodox cemetery.

Currently, the monastery includes a completed church, a chapel, father superior's suite, monks' cells, household premises and a garden. The monastery plans to put up a school and a belfry.

The citizens of Russia, Romania, Thailand and Laos wished to join the monastery. By the blessing of Patriarch Kirill, the list of brethren will be provided for the approval of the Moscow Patriarchate department for foreign institutions.
Source

Thursday, February 17, 2011

G.O.P. Freshmen, Numerous and Driven, Hold Sway

WASHINGTON — The last speaker was Representative Steve Southerland, freshman lawmaker from Florida, and so he dug deep. Drawing on the two things that propel him through each day — his experience as funeral home operator, and his general loathing of all things Washington — Mr. Southerland politely lit into Republican House leaders one day last week, explaining that he had not come to Washington to whack the federal budget this year by one dollar less than the $100 billion he had pledged to cut in his campaign.

“I wanted them to hear my heart, and not just my words,” recounted Mr. Southerland, one of scores of freshmen lawmakers — there are seven Republicans from his home state alone — who pressed for, and prevailed, in crafting a more aggressive plan to cut government spending.

The big question after the midterm elections: would this giant class of 87 Republican newbies in the House, many with little or no elected experience, change the ways of Washington or would Washington change them?

Round 1: advantage freshmen.
Read the rest here.

Wisconsin: Democrats on the lam

MADISON, Wis. — Debate in the State Senate over Wisconsin’s controversial bill to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers ended, at least temporarily, on Thursday morning before it began. As the session was due to begin, Democrats failed to appear in the chamber, leaving the body without a quorum and leading the Republicans to send capitol officials in search of the Democrats.

By noon, Ted Blazel, the sergeant-at-arms, began making his way through the Capitol building, packed with chanting protesters (elated at the development), in search of a Democrat — in offices, under desks, in corridors. “Nothing yet,” he said, his forehead drenched in sweat.

If none of the lawmakers were found in the building, the Wisconsin State Patrol would be assigned to begin searching for them elsewhere, said a Senate official.

Inside the Capitol, speculation swirled: Were the Democrats together somewhere, maybe even in another state by now?
Read the rest here.

Reuters: China gold demand growing at "explosive" pace

Demand in China for physical gold and gold-related investments is growing at an "explosive" pace and its appetite for the yellow metal is poised to remain robust amid inflation concerns, said an Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) executive.

ICBC (1398.HK)(601398.SS), the world's largest bank by market value, sold about 7 tonnes of physical gold in January this year, nearly half the 15 tonnes of bullion sold in the whole of 2010, said Zhou Ming, deputy head of the bank's precious metals department on Wednesday.

"We are seeing explosive demand for gold. As Chinese get wealthy, they look to diversify their investments and gold stands out as a good hedge against inflation," Zhou told Reuters.

"There is also frantic demand for non-physical gold investments. We issued 1 billion yuan worth of gold-price-linked term deposits in 2010, but we managed to sell the same amount over just a few days in January this year," Zhou said, adding that such deposits would easily exceed 5 billion yuan ($759 million) this year.

Gold imports into China soared in 2010, turning the country, already the largest bullion miner, into a major overseas buyer for the first time.
Read the rest here.

Federal deficit on track to exceed U.S. economy

President Obama‘s budget, released Monday, was conceived as a blueprint for future spending, but it also paints the bleakest picture yet of the current fiscal year, which is on track for a record federal deficit and will see the government’s overall debt surpass the size of the total U.S. economy.

Mr. Obama‘s budget projects that 2011 will see the biggest one-year debt jump in history, or nearly $2 trillion, to reach $15.476 trillion by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. That would be 102.6 percent of GDP — the first time since World War II that dubious figure has been reached.

And the budget projects the government will run a deficit of $1.645 trillion this year, topping 2009’s previous record by more than $230 billion. By contrast, 2007’s deficit was just $160 billion altogether.

Still, amid the other staggering numbers in the budget Mr. Obama sent to Congress on Monday, the debt stands out because Congress will need to vote to raise the debt limit later this year, and because the numbers are so large.

In one often-cited study, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff have argued that when a nation’s gross debt passes 90 percent it hinders overall economic growth. The government measures debt several ways. Debt held by the public includes the money borrowed from Social Security’s trust fund.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

House Votes to End Alternate Jet Engine Program

In a sign that more than half the Republican freshmen are willing to cut military spending, the House voted 233-198 on Wednesday to cancel an alternate fighter jet engine that the Bush and Obama administrations had tried to kill for the last five years.

The vote was another instance in which some of the new legislators, including several affiliated with the Tea Party, broke ranks with the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, where the engine provided more than 1,000 jobs.

Of the 87 new Republican members, 47 voted to cancel the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, while 40 others voted to keep it alive.

Many of the freshmen Republicans in the House had been hesitant to trim military spending as part of their drive to reduce the nation’s large budget deficits.

But after forcing Mr. Boehner and other Republican leaders to propose greater cuts in domestic programs, they agreed to include $16 billion in military cuts in this year’s spending bill, which is being debated on the floor this week.
Read the rest here.

Francis Turrentin's latest post on Sola Scriptura and Apostolic Succession.

In November 2009, the Roman Catholic website Called to Communion posted an article titled Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority, critiquing one of the claims of my book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001). The article is attributed to Bryan Cross and Dr. Neal Judisch. According to their website, Cross is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and currently a Ph.D. student at Saint Louis University. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 2006. Judisch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma and a 2008 convert to Roman Catholicism. Like the other regular authors at Called to Communion, Cross and Judisch come from a Reformed background and are relatively recent converts to Roman Catholicism.
Read the rest here.

California Priest Concelebrates With Presbyterian Minister

Some parishioners at St. Norbert’s Church in Orange describe themselves as “shocked and appalled” after a priest there allowed a Presbyterian minister to concelebrate a Mass and receive Holy Communion on Sunday, Feb. 13.

Sources from the parish told California Catholic Daily that Fr. Agustin Escobar introduced Pastor Steve Whitney of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Sacramento at St. Norbert’s 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. The sources said Rev. Whitney concelebrated the Mass with Fr. Escobar, took Communion, and was allowed to distribute Communion to parishioners.

The parish’s pastor, Fr. Pat Rudolph, was away at the time and did not participate. Parishioners who tried to contact him about the situation were told he would not be back at St. Norbert’s until March. But, said sources at the parish, Fr. Escobar admitted he did not have the pastor’s permission to invite the Protestant minister to concelebrate Mass and receive Communion.
Read the rest here.

Should 'Magic Underwear' Disqualify a Presidential Candidate?

COMMENTARY | At CPAC, Mitt Romney underscored President Obama's shortcomings, describing him as a "weak president." Romney hasn't announced candidacy for the presidency of the U.S. but his CPAC speech last week officially signaled it was open season.

Amid largely insincere calls for "civil discourse" in politics, 2012 promises to be just the opposite. The Internet, a double-edged sword often wielded anonymously, carries dark messages which sometimes bubble to the media surface.

The same internet that bristles with the "news" that President Obama is a Muslim tells us that Mitt Romney wears "magic underwear." If there were such a thing, I would be a customer. You can be sure Neiman-Marcus would offer a stylish version.

We are so often counseled to be tolerant of Muslims, that our minds go blank at the notion that there may be intolerance of Jews, Mormons, Hindus, Zoroastrians and other religions. Were anyone today to disparage Muslim undergarments, there would be major condemnation from all quarters.

The U.S. Chief of Staff, Mike Mullen, could be first to speak out. Mullen reproached Americans in 2009, saying our outreach to Muslims was ineffective.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WSJ: Fed’s Lacker Warns More Easing Would Lead to Inflation

A top Federal Reserve official Tuesday warned that any move by the central bank to reduce unemployment could lead to inflation, indicating he would oppose any further policy easing by the Fed to try and boost U.S. economic growth.

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker told Bloomberg in an interview the central bank is keeping a close eye on inflation, especially now that the U.S. economy is gaining speed and global food and energy prices are surging.

“I am not sure we can push unemployment that much further down or more rapidly without risking inflation picking up,” Lacker said.

Lacker, who doesn’t have a vote on the central bank’s policy-setting committee this year, has been skeptical of the Fed’s latest attempt to boost the economy and jobs by buying government bonds, warning it could spark inflation. Last week, he urged Fed officials to seriously reconsider the $600 billion bond purchases before the June deadline now that the U.S. economy looks stronger.
Read the rest here.

I don't know what this guy is smoking, but I have a bulletin for him. The inflation has arrived, and it's rising rapidly.

Source

Commodities are rising at a breathtaking pace. Food inflation is already into double digits. But in the Federal Reserve's universe people don't need to eat, or buy gas or heating fuel for their home. Other commodities that dictate prices for all manner of consumer goods and services are skyrocketing. Cotton (think clothes) is rising at its fastest rate since the Civil War.

If we measured inflation the way we did when Jimmy Carter was president, inflation would be in the same range as it was when... Jimmy Carter was president.

Disturbing News

Via The Young Fogey two pieces of regrettable news...
WASHINGTON – The House on Monday agreed to a 10-month extension of three key law enforcement powers in the fight against terrorism that some privacy advocates from both the right and left regard as infringements on civil liberties.

The House measure, passed 275-144, would extend authority for the USA Patriot Act-related provisions until Dec. 8. Common ground must be found with the Senate before the provisions expire on Feb. 28.

At issue are two provisions of the post-Sept. 11 law that give counterterrorism offices roving wiretap authority to monitor multiple electronic devices and court-approved access to business records relating to a terrorist investigation.

The third "lone wolf" provision of a 2004 law permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. individuals not known to be linked to a specific terrorist organization.

Last week the House, in an embarrassment for the new GOP leadership, failed to pass the same bill under an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. Twenty-six Republicans joined 122 Democrats in voting against it. Monday's vote drew 27 Republican no votes.
Read the rest here.

And...
The conservative group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) announced Saturday that Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) would be expelled from the group's National Advisory Board because of his "delusional and disturbing alliance with the fringe Anti-War movement."

"It is a sad day in American history when a one-time conservative-libertarian stalwart has fallen more out of touch with America’s needs for national security than the current feeble and appeasing administration," YAF’s Senior National Director Jordan Marks said in a statement.

"Rep. Paul's refusal to support our nation's military and national security interests border on treason, aside from his failure to uphold his oath to the United States Constitution and defend our country and citizens against all enemies, foreign and domestic," Marks continued.
Read the rest here.

So, a principled opposition to a war of aggression (Iraq) and another war that although I believe justified (Afghanistan) seems to be more and more in support of a corrupt regime is now TREASON? The GOP and its neo-con acolytes throw that term around far too casually for my comfort. God save us from those who would hang or shoot a man (the customary sanction for treason) because he says we are wrong to wage aggressive war and at least some of our problems in the world are of our own creation.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Can Ron Paul crush the Federal Reserve?

Rep. Ron Paul's feelings about America's central bank are a matter of public record. An extensive public record: In dozens of congressional hearings over the past four decades, he has ribbed, cajoled, harassed, or annoyed any representative or defender of the Federal Reserve brave or unlucky enough to appear before him.

Normally, his interrogations concern America's profligate money printing, Congress' unnecessary spending, the Fed's secrecy, and, especially, gold, which he believes should underpin the currency to render it sound. But his distrust runs wide and deep. Consider this comment from a 2007 hearing: "This whole notion that a central bank somehow has the wisdom to know what interest rates should be is, to me, rather bizarre. And also the source of so much mischief."

That first sentence is a neat encapsulation of his economic worldview. And the second could well apply to Paul himself. His career in and out of public office has been devoted to two propositions: 1) The Fed is bad. 2) The gold standard is good. His consistency has been impressive—which is not to say he has been influential. He rarely gets satisfactory answers in hearings, and he'll probably never get satisfaction in his long, lonely crusade to radically alter America's monetary policy.

But if you tilt at windmills long enough, sometimes you hit. And on Wednesday, Paul did: He held his first-ever hearing as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee's subcommittee on monetary policy, inviting two Austrian-school economists and one lonely representative from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute to debate how Fed policy affects the unemployment rate.

This may be Ron Paul's moment. The question now is what he does with it.
Read the rest here.

Ron Paul wins CPAC straw pole (again)

For the second year in a row, conservatives attending the annual CPAC conference in Washington D.C. have selected Rep. Ron Paul of Texas as the winner of their presidential straw poll.

Paul received 30 percent of the vote.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts came in second, with 23 percent of the vote. Romney, considered a frontrunner to win the GOP nomination for the 2012 race, was the victor in three consecutive CPAC straw polls before Paul’s victory last year.

The selection of Paul – an isolationist, anti-war fiscal conservative who advocates for the dismantling of the Federal Reserve – as the attendees’ top choice to run for the White House signals a strong libertarian streak of many of the annual conference’s attendees, many of whom are students. Paul raised eye-popping sums on the web during his 2008 presidential run but almost certainly lacks the campaign organization and wide appeal with GOP primary voters to be a serious contender to win the nomination.
Read the rest here.

OK. Ron Paul can't win the GOP nomination. But what this does signal is that the Neo-Cons and Evangelicals who have taken over the GOP should not assume that they have a lock on libertarian leaning votes. If they nominate someone like Palin a large number of us will simply stay home or vote 3rd party. What this country does not need is just another statist party that is no different than the Democrats except in respect to which aspects of people's lives they want to regulate.

Britain's Inflation Problem

Preview of coming attractions...
In a quiet corner of a Newport office, a group of 10 statisticians worked late into the night on Friday to put the finishing touches to January's inflation update. Theirs looks like any other open-plan office, except that the Office for National Statistics prices team works alone and keeps its market-moving documents hidden in safes over the weekend.

Having already double- and triple-checked the newly updated weightings, tweaked annually, for the basket of goods and services that are used to calculate consumer price inflation (CPI), their final tasks were to identify the likely talking points in the data and pre-empt the likely questions their team leader, Darren Morgan, will face.

Those final preparations were conducted with even more care than usual – as this month, more than any other, is likely to be incendiary. All together, when the number is announced on Tuesday, CPI is expected to rise to at least 4pc, twice the Bank of England's target level and above December's already alarming 3.7pc.

Retail price inflation (RPI), which includes housing costs and is traditionally used as a benchmark for pay settlements, will be even worse, with the average estimate at 5.1pc.

On the rather more glamorous setting of Threadneedle Street in London, home to the Bank of England, the figures will be keenly awaited by Bank officials, who alongside their counterparts at the Treasury, Number 10 and the business department, receive the data 24 hours ahead of the markets.
Read the rest here.

Britain: Law to allow for religious same sex marriages

Ministers are proposing to change the law to allow homosexual couples to "marry" in traditional religious ceremonies – including in church.

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, is expected shortly to outline firm plans to lift the current ban on civil partnerships being conducted in places of worship.

In a political "win" for Nick Clegg and his party, the Coalition will also say that such ceremonies should for the first time be allowed to have a religious element, such as hymn-singing and readings from the Bible.

They could, it is understood, also be carried out in the future out by priests or other religious figures.

The landmark move will please equality campaigners but is likely to prompt a fierce backlash from mainstream Christian leaders, as well as some Right-leaning Tories.
Read the rest here.

Silent Tom

WASHINGTON — The anniversary will probably be observed in silence.

A week from Tuesday, when the Supreme Court returns from its midwinter break and hears arguments in two criminal cases, it will have been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken during a court argument.

If he is true to form, Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions.
Read the rest here.

The Calvin Coolidge of the Supreme Court.

Obama’s budget seeks deep cuts in domestic spending

WASHINGTON — President Obama, who is proposing his third annual budget on Monday, will say that it can reduce projected deficits by $1.1 trillion over the next decade, enough to stabilize the nation’s fiscal health and buy time to address its longer-term problems, according to a senior administration official.

Two-thirds of the reductions that Mr. Obama will claim are from cuts in spending, including in many domestic programs that he supports. Among the reductions for just the next fiscal year, 2012, which starts Oct. 1, are more than $1 billion from airport grants and nearly $1 billion from grants to states for water treatment plants and similar projects. Public health and forestry programs would also be cut.

Home energy assistance to low-income families and community service block grants would be cut in half, and an initiative to restore the Great Lakes’ environmental health would be reduced by one-quarter.

The administration readily concedes, even boasts, that the president will not win any race to outcut Republicans. In the House, Republicans are trying to slash up to $100 billion in the current fiscal year alone before they begin writing their own proposed budget for 2012 and beyond.

But the administration contends that its plan would leave the country in better overall fiscal health than the path Republicans envision. Even as they seek to downsize domestic programs, they would exempt the Pentagon from budget reductions, make permanent all the Bush-era tax cuts that are to expire at the end of 2012 and repeal cost-saving provisions of the health care law.
Read the rest here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Bad Document’s Good Ideas

The Southerners who gathered in Montgomery, Ala., a century and a half ago saw themselves as the true inheritors of the original Founding Fathers. Indeed, the Constitution they approved — its sesquicentennial is today — was more imitation than innovation. “We the people of the Confederate states,” said their preamble, “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Despite the familiar ring, there were important differences. In trying to build their own version of a more perfect union, the secessionists protected “the right of property in negro slaves.” In doing so, they rendered their entire project suspect, both then and now.

Yet the authors of the Confederate Constitution were serious, learned men who thought hard about the principles of democratic government and sought ways to improve on the original document. They also came to their project with something that their forebears in Philadelphia lacked. In 1787, James Madison may have had clear notions about the operation of American government. The men of 1861, though, could draw from three score and fourteen 14 years of actual experience.

And, in fact, parts of the Confederate Constitution improved on the original. One section gave the president the ability to delete parts of spending bills, for example. Today, most governors possess the same authority. The Confederates’ objectionable views on slavery should not automatically invalidate their opinions on unrelated matters. It’s hardly racist to think that Americans would benefit if President Obama also had a line-item veto on the budget.
Read the rest here.

Pakistan Holds US Diplomat Accused of Murder

LAHORE, Pakistan — A Pakistani court on Friday ordered an American official, arrested in the killing of two Pakistanis, to be held for another two weeks while the authorities prepared charges in what the police called a “coldblooded” murder.

The official, Raymond A. Davis, 36, whose arrest has a cast a deep chill over relations between the United States and Pakistan, said he acted in self-defense when he shot the men in an attempted daylight robbery on Jan. 27.

After a 30-minute, closed-door court hearing, the Lahore city police chief, Aslam Tareen, said that Mr. Davis had committed “cold blooded” murder, a statement that appeared likely to further inflame the highly contentious case. Mr. Davis was transferred to a crowded city jail to await formal charges.

A lawyer for Mr. Davis, Hassam Qadir, asked Judge Aneeq Anwar Chaudry of the Municipal Court to adhere to the principles of diplomatic immunity and release Mr. Davis. The State Department has repeatedly said that he is protected by diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention and must be released immediately.
Read the rest here.

GOP Leadership Promises Steeper Cuts In Spending

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders said Thursday that they would accede to demands from conservatives and dig deeper into the federal budget for billions of dollars in additional savings this year, exhibiting the power of the Tea Party movement and increasing chances of a major fiscal clash with Democrats.

In response to complaints from rank-and-file Republicans that the party was not fulfilling a campaign promise to roll back domestic spending this year by $100 billion, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said his panel would abandon its initial plan and draw up a new one to slice spending more aggressively.

“Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred,” Representative Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who leads the committee, said.
Read the rest here.

Switzerland Freezes Bank Accounts Linked to Mubarak

GENEVA (AP) — The Swiss government on Friday froze any assets belonging to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak or his family in Switzerland.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said the order took effect immediately but gave no details on what bank accounts or other assets Mubarak or his family might have in Switzerland.

He spoke as pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo were jubilantly celebrating the announcement that Mubarak has resigned after nearly three decades of authoritarian rule and handed power over to the military.

"(The government) wants to avoid any risk of misappropriation of state-owned Egyptian assets," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It also forbid the sale of any assets, especially real estate holdings.
Read the rest here.

Mubarak Quits

The Egyptian dictator has resigned (or more likely was forced out by the military). Hysterical celebrations have erupted throughout the country. It's not clear who is running the government.

Brrrrr

Bitterly cold here with temps well below zero overnight and into the morning. Hoping to warm up to a balmy 20+ degrees over the next few days.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

European Court of Human Rights forces Britain to give the vote to prison convicts

Despite David Cameron again outlining his personal abhorrence at allowing prisoners to take part in elections, it became clear that Downing Street and the Ministry of Justice accept that the measure will, in some form, have to be adopted because Britain is bound by European human rights laws.

After a six hour debate MPs voted by 234 to 22 to reject a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Britain must let some prisoners vote.

The Daily Telegraph first disclosed in November that the Prime Minister had been told by Government lawyers that he faced a welter of compensation claims from inmates if he did not agree to abide by the European ruling. Mr Cameron reluctantly admitted defeat.

He has since repeatedly talked of his distaste for the plans and yesterday again set out why he believed it was wrong.

Mr Cameron said: “I just think that if you are sent to prison and you have committed a crime then you give up the right to be able to vote.
Read the rest here.

Tobacco-Free Hiring in Workplaces

Smokers now face another risk from their habit: it could cost them a shot at a job.

More hospitals and other medical businesses in many states are adopting strict policies that make smoking a reason to turn away job applicants, saying they want to increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living.

The policies reflect a frustration that softer efforts — like banning smoking on company grounds, offering cessation programs and increasing health care premiums for smokers — have not been powerful-enough incentives to quit.

The new rules essentially treat cigarettes like an illegal narcotic. Applications now explicitly warn of “tobacco-free hiring,” job seekers must submit to urine tests for nicotine and new employees caught smoking face termination.

This shift — from smoke-free to smoker-free workplaces — has prompted sharp debate, even among antitobacco groups, over whether the policies establish a troubling precedent of employers intruding into private lives to ban a habit that is legal.

“If enough of these companies adopt theses policies and it really becomes for difficult for smokers to find jobs, there are going to be consequences,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, who has written about the trend. “Unemployment is also bad for health.”
Read the rest here.

Leader of Ukrainian Greek Rite Catholics Resigns

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, has resigned at the age of 77.

Cardinal Husar asked Pope Benedict XVI to accept his resignation because of his declining health, according to informed sources within the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Pope has reportedly accepted his request, although no official announcement has yet been released.

The resignation of the Ukrainian prelate, who has led the Eastern-rite Church since 2001, would trigger a meeting of the Ukrainian Synod of Bishops to elect a new Major Archbishop.

With well over 7 million faithful—including large numbers in the US and Canada as well as Ukraine-- the Ukrainian Catholic Church is by far the largest of the Byzantine churches in communion with the Holy See. Brutally persecuted during the Stalin era, the Ukrainian Catholic Church emerged with new vigor in Ukraine after the fall of the Communist regime.

Ukrainian Catholics have argued forcefully for the recognition of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarchate. The late Pope John Paul II reportedly gave that possibility serious consideration, but was ultimately dissuaded by the recognition that the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims Ukraine as part of its historical sphere– would vehemently object.

In 2005, under the guidance of Cardinal Husar, the major see of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was moved from Lviv to Kiev, the nation’s capital. That move was opposed by the some Orthodox leaders, particularly in Moscow, who saw it as a bid to extend Catholic influence in a region that has been mostly Orthodox.
Source

Egypt: Mubarak defies protestors; remains in office

The situation is now extremely dangerous. There is a very real possibility that this could turn violent at any moment.

China's Central Bank Advised to Massively Increase Its Gold Reserves

CAPE TOWN (miningweekly.com) – China’s central bank is being advised to increase its gold holdings nearly tenfold to a level greater than the world’s biggest bullion depository, the US’s "Fort Knox".

Global economist David Hale, who addressed the packed Mining Indaba in Cape Town attended by a record 5 700 people, says that China’s gold reserves are currently at 1 050 t – only $30-billion to $40-billion compared with the country’s total assets of $2,8-trillion.

Various officials in China have proposed the central bank should increase its gold reserves to 10 000 t, which would give China larger gold reserves than Fort Knox.

“This would be a huge development for the gold market,” he says, with global mining output of gold only at 2 500 t a year.

“China will probably start to buy gold in the near future, but they won’t report it for two or three years,” Hale says.

When China announced new gold reserves from 600 t to 1 050 t in April 2009, purchsing had been done in the preceding years..

“The odds very much favour China making, over five years, very large gold purchases, and this in turn makes me bullish on the gold price,” he adds.

In addition to the central bank purchases of gold, preliminary data suggests that the Chinese private sector has bought 300 t of gold in the last year, compared with zero three to four years ago.

Given the rising Chinese incomes and inflation, Chinese private demand for gold could increase in the next few years to the historical levels of India, which for many years has been the world’s largest private buyer of gold.

“China offers the prospect of very healthy demand for gold and this could over the next couple of years set the stage for further major gains in the price of gold.”
Source

The Chinese are waking up to the reality expressed more than 100 years ago by JP Morgan...

"Gold is money. Everything else is paper."

IMF Director calls for new world currency

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has called for a new world currency that would challenge the dominance of the dollar and protect against future financial instability.

“Global imbalances are back, with issues that worried us before the crisis - large and volatile capital flows, exchange rate pressures, rapidly growing excess reserves - on the front burner once again,” Strauss-Kahn said. “Left unresolved, these problems could even sow the seeds of the next crisis.”

“When we worry about the deficiencies of the international monetary system, we are mostly worrying about volatility,” he added. There is “a sense that money sometimes flows around the globe in too-volatile a fashion and that countries need a more stable, more predictable external environment in order to prosper”, he said.

He suggested adding emerging market countries' currencies, such as the yuan, to a basket of currencies that the IMF administers could add stability to the global system.
Read the rest here.

There is already a global currency. It's called gold.

Prince William begins stepping into ceremonial role

Prince William has received his first honorary Army appointment - becoming Colonel of the Irish Guards.

The Queen has given her formal approval for the honour which will see the prince take a close interest in the lives and activities of the regiment's personnel.

William, 28, succeeds Major General Sir Sebastian Roberts who previously held the post.

The second-in-line to the throne already holds honorary ranks in the RAF and Royal Navy.

In 2006 he was made Commodore-in-Chief of Scotland and Commodore-in-Chief of Submarines, and two years later was appointed Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Coningsby near Lincoln.

William is the Irish Guards' first royal colonel and its Colonel-in-Chief is the Queen.

The regiment was formed on April 1, 1900 by order of Queen Victoria in response to the courageous actions of Irish regiments in the Second Boer War.

The unit is heavily involved in ceremonial duties but its servicemen are also fighting soldiers who are currently in Afghanistan.
Source

Obama Says Plan to Expand Wireless Access Is Critical

MARQUETTE, Mich. — Declaring that “we can’t expect tomorrow’s economy to take root using yesterday’s infrastructure,” President Obama traveled to this snowbound town in a remote corner of Michigan on Thursday to make the case that expanding wireless access is critical to the nation’s economic recovery.

“This isn’t just about a faster Internet or being able to find a friend on Facebook,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at Northern Michigan University here, after viewing a demonstration on long-distance learning over the Internet.

“It’s about connecting every corner of America to the digital age,” the president said. “It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers can monitor weather across the state and markets across the globe. It’s about an entrepreneur on Main Street with a great idea she hopes to sell to the big city. It’s about every young person who no longer has to leave his hometown to seek new opportunity — because opportunity is right there at his or her fingertips.”

In his State of the Union address last month, Mr. Obama called for securing high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans within five years; on Thursday, the White House released details of how he would spend billions of dollars for the plan, which also includes a high-tech wireless public safety system that would tie cities and towns together in the event of a national emergency like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
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Extreme weather pushes food prices higher

Among the economic havoc brought by this winter’s extreme weather, none has been more severe than the impact on the global food supply chain.

Over the past few years, rising global demand for crops and production shortfalls have whittled grain surpluses to historically low levels. As extreme weather continues to cut production, those surpluses have shrunk further and forced prices higher.

Now meteorologists and weather risk analysts are warning that more frequent floods and droughts may continue to crimp production and keep foods supplies tight for years to come. Until surpluses of key grains can be restored to more normal levels, weather-related crop failures will produce more price spikes.
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Egypt: Mubarak likely to step down under pressure

Breaking news from Egypt.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Britain faces dementia catastrophe without 'aggressive' research drive

Britain faces a “dementia catastrophe” unless Alzheimer’s is tackled with the same aggression as the fight against Aids, charities are warning.

More people fear being diagnosed with the debilitating brain condition above anything else than fear cancer or death itself, research shows.

A million people in Britain will suffer some form of dementia within two decades, and one in three pensioners will die with it, figures suggest.

Yet 12 times as much is spent each year on cancer research, and there are six times as many scientists working on how to treat tumours. Currently, as many as two-thirds of people who develop dementia are never diagnosed while the best treatments can only help reduce symptoms and cannot prevent the degenerative disease progressing.

At the launch of a campaign by Alzheimer’s Research UK to increase the “pitifully low” investment in dementia, Sir Terry Pratchett, the author, said: “Alzheimer’s is a large number of small tragedies usually played out behind closed doors, so in spite of the numbers living with it, the world still doesn’t take much notice.
Read the rest here.

Ecumenism V: Met. Hilarion weighs in

There’s been encouraging — sometimes tantalizing — news in recent years about the growing potential for Catholic-Orthodox unification. Pope Benedict XVI is said to be viewed more favorably by the Orthodox than his predecessor. The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow exclaimed in 2009 that unity with the Orthodox could be achieved “within months.” And the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation issued a document last October that envisions practical steps each Church can begin taking to begin the process of reunification.

But Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev is a lot more cautious about any predictions of imminent unity between East and West. Archbishop Hilarion heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, a position that was held by now-Patriarch Kirill before Patriarch Alexei died in 2008.

At 44, Hilarion has experienced a meteoric rise in the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. A brilliant theologian and author, he was elected bishop at age 35, has served as bishop of Vienna and head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. He is deeply involved in ecumenical dialogues with the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

He’s also an accomplished composer and is in New York for the U.S. English-language premiere of his St. Matthew Passion oratorio this evening. He also delivered the annual Father Alexander Schmemann lecture at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., on Saturday, where he spoke about the meaning of icons in the Orthodox Church.

Thanks to Father John Behr and Deborah Belonick of St. Vladimir’s, I was able to sit down with Archbishop Hilarion for a chat after the lecture. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.
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Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of The Assumption

click to enlarge

See the post at New Liturgical Movement for more really awesome imagery of the liturgy.

Irish priests try to stop new Mass translation

A group representing more than 400 of Ireland’s 4,500 priests has made an urgent plea to the country’s bishops to postpone the introduction of the new English translation of the Missal for at least another five years.

The call from the Association of Catholic Priests came as the National Centre for Liturgy in Maynooth launched a new publication aimed at explaining and preparing priests and lay people for the changes in the Missal. The new texts will be introduced on November 27, the first Sunday of Advent and the start of the liturgical year.

At a news conference in Dublin, representatives from the priests’ group said the proposed literal translations from Latin had produced texts that were “archaic, elitist and obscure and not in keeping with the natural rhythm, cadence and syntax of the English language”.

The association also criticised the new translation for “exclusivist, sexist language”.

Fr Dermot Lane, president of Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin, said the priests were making an 11th hour appeal to the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and urged the bishops to begin consulting with priests, liturgical committees and lay people to develop new texts that would inspire and encourage the faithful.
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Ugg. If I were their bishop I would tell them that if you don't like the new translation you are free to stick to the Latin.

China again raises interest rates as inflation rages

HONG KONG — China staged its third interest rate increase since October on Tuesday, the latest sign of the authorities’ intensifying efforts to temper the blistering pace of economic growth and prevent already worrisome inflation levels from escalating further.

The central bank in Beijing raised its benchmark one-year deposit rate by a quarter of a percentage point, to 3 percent, and its one-year lending rate by a similar amount, to 6.06 percent.

The timing of the announcement, at the very end of the Lunar New Year holiday, which has kept mainland Chinese markets shut for the past week, was in line with what many analysts had expected.
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Monday, February 07, 2011

Arizona prepares bill abolishing 14th Amendment

PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers give their first hearing Monday to a bill that challenges automatic U.S. citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, the state's latest foray into the national debate over illegal immigration.

The bill to be heard Monday by the Senate judiciary committee seeks a court interpretation on an element of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. who are "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country.

Supporters of the bill the amendment doesn't apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don't owe sole allegiance to the U.S.

The bill's sponsors say the goal is to force a court to rule that a child born in the U.S. is a citizen only if either parent is a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant. Similar proposals have been introduced by lawmakers in Indiana , Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
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Sorry. I am sympathetic with the basic complaint. But the Constitution is crystal clear.
14th Amendment: Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Pretending the Constitution means something different than its plain English meaning is what liberals do. It is a slippery slope. If you don't like part of the Constitution then amend it. This bill is so blatantly unconstitutional it should be laughed out of court and every legislator who votes for it should be fined for violating their oath of office and wasting the court's time.