Monday, August 29, 2011

WikiLeaks Leaves Names of Diplomatic Sources in Cables

WASHINGTON — In a shift of tactics that has alarmed American officials, the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks has published on the Web nearly 134,000 leaked diplomatic cables in recent days, more than six times the total disclosed publicly since the posting of the leaked State Department documents began last November.

A sampling of the documents showed that the newly published cables included the names of some people who had spoken confidentially to American diplomats and whose identities were marked in the cables with the warning “strictly protect.”

State Department officials and human rights activists have been concerned that such diplomatic sources, including activists, journalists and academics in authoritarian countries, could face reprisals, including dismissal from their jobs, prosecution or violence.
Read the rest here.

Flooding Devastates Vermont and Catskills

CHESTER, Vt. — While most eyes warily watched the shoreline during Hurricane Irene’s grinding ride up the East Coast, it was inland — sometimes hundreds of miles inland — where the most serious damage actually occurred. And the major culprit was not wind, but water.

As blue skies and temperate breezes returned on Monday, a clearer picture of the storm’s devastation emerged, with the gravest consequences stemming from river flooding in Vermont and upstate New York.
Read the rest here.

Obama prepares jobs speech

The White House scrambled Monday to finalize a new jobs initiative as President Obama nominated the last member of the economic team that will be charged with carrying it out.

In tapping Alan Krueger, a Princeton University professor and noted labor expert, to be chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Obama turned to an economist who officials said was well suited to guide the White House through a jobs crisis.
Read the rest here

Sunday, August 28, 2011

As Irene Fades Northeast Fears Severe Flooding

As Tropical Storm Irene chugged north into Canada, residents along the battered U.S. East Coast began surveying damage and fretted over the next danger: treacherous flooding.

The storm, downgraded from a hurricane as it lumbered up the coast Sunday, battered the Northeast with driving rain, inundating homes and cutting power to millions. At least 21 deaths were blamed on Irene.

Though it was nothing like the nightmare some had feared and New York City escaped the worst, the danger was far from over for many.

Rivers and creeks turned into raging torrents tumbling with tree limbs and parts of buildings in northern New England and upstate New York.

Authorities warned of possibly disastrous flooding in the days ahead, with Vermont's governor saying his state was facing "a full-blown flooding catastrophe."
Read the rest here.

Lockerbie Planner Reported Near Death

TRIPOLI, Libya — An official with the rebel government on Sunday ruled out extraditing the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted as the mastermind of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and released from a Scottish prison two years ago on the ground that he was near death.

The hero’s welcome back in Libya for the bombing planner, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, and his failure to die infuriated the United States and other Western governments, and calls for his return had been mounting as the Libyan revolution unfolded.

The rebels’ resolve to protect the former officer may prove only briefly relevant, however. Just hours after the official spoke, CNN reported that Mr. Megrahi was near death at his villa in the capital here, broadcasting images of a frail man lying comatose in an oxygen mask.

Mr. Megrahi’s death would end the possibility of eliciting his full account of the Libyan government’s role in the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans. But it would also remove a potentially serious point of friction between the rebels’ Transitional National Council and its Western backers.
Read the rest here.

Eternal Memory

Archbishop Dmitri (Royster) has reposed at 87.

Friday, August 26, 2011

War in one photograph

US Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson's dog Hawkeye at his master's funeral.  He lay under the casket throughout the service.  Tumilson was killed in Afghanistan.  Memory eternal.

From here.
HT: T-19

Swiss Kickstart Talks With U.S. to Settle Tax Probe

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland has made a proposal to try to kickstart talks to settle its impasse with U.S. authorities over Swiss banks suspected of helping wealthy Americans dodge taxes, its finance minister said.

"We have presented a discussion framework (to the U.S.)," Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on Friday. "We will try to solve it so that we do not get any more difficulties."

Widmer-Schlumpf said the proposal was an attempt to settle the dispute under the auspices of a new bilateral taxation agreement which the Swiss parliament approved in September 2009 and the U.S. Senate has yet to ratify.

She declined to give any timetable for the negotiations, which a spokesman would only say were proceeding.

Strict bank secrecy has helped Switzerland build up a $2 trillion offshore financial industry, but the country has agreed in recent years to do more to help hunt tax cheats amid a global crackdown on tax havens.

The United States is pushing for Switzerland to hand over thousands more bank client names as it did last year when it allowed UBS to bend bank secrecy and reveal the details of around 4,450 clients to avoid criminal charges.
Read the rest here.

A tax cut Republicans don't like (Hint: It's not for the rich)

WASHINGTON — It is hard to find a tax cut that Congressional Republicans dislike. Unless it is a tax cut pushed by President Obama.

In a turning of the tax policy tables, Democrats are increasingly hammering on Republicans who oppose the president’s proposal to extend for a year a payroll tax cut passed last year with bipartisan support.

That tax cut — which reduces workers’ contributions to Social Security this year to 4.2 percent of wages, from 6.2 percent — expires in December. The White House would like to extend it for another year. But Republicans in Congress are balking, arguing that such a cut adds needlessly to the nation’s budget deficit, and should be replaced with an overhaul of tax policy instead.

“All tax relief is not created equal,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader. “If the goal is job creation, Leader Cantor has long believed that there are better ways to grow the economy and create jobs than temporary payroll tax relief.”
Read the rest here.

C.I.A. Demands Cuts in Book About 9/11 and Terror Fight

WASHINGTON — In what amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, the Central Intelligence Agency is demanding extensive cuts from the memoir of a former F.B.I. agent who spent years near the center of the battle against Al Qaeda.

The agent, Ali H. Soufan, argues in the book that the C.I.A. missed a chance to derail the 2001 plot by withholding from the F.B.I. information about two future 9/11 hijackers living in San Diego, according to several people who have read the manuscript. And he gives a detailed, firsthand account of the C.I.A.’s move toward brutal treatment in its interrogations, saying the harsh methods used on the agency’s first important captive, Abu Zubaydah, were unnecessary and counterproductive.

Neither critique of the C.I.A. is new. In fact, some of the information that the agency argues is classified, according to two people who have seen the correspondence between the F.B.I. and C.I.A., has previously been disclosed in open Congressional hearings, the report of the national commission on 9/11 and even the 2007 memoir of George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director.

Mr. Soufan, an Arabic-speaking counterterrorism agent who played a central role in most major terrorism investigations between 1997 and 2005, has told colleagues he believes the cuts are intended not to protect national security but to prevent him from recounting episodes that in his view reflect badly on the C.I.A.

Some of the scores of cuts demanded by the C.I.A. from Mr. Soufan’s book, “The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda,” seem hard to explain on security grounds.

Among them, according to the people who have seen the correspondence, is a phrase from Mr. Soufan’s 2009 testimony at a Senate hearing, freely available both as video and transcript on the Web. Also chopped are references to the word “station” to describe the C.I.A.’s overseas offices, common parlance for decades.

The agency removed the pronouns “I” and “me” from a chapter in which Mr. Soufan describes his widely reported role in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an important terrorist facilitator and training camp boss. And agency officials took out references to the fact that a passport photo of one of the 9/11 hijackers who later lived in San Diego, Khalid al-Midhar, had been sent to the C.I.A. in January 2000 — an episode described both in the 9/11 commission report and Mr. Tenet’s book.

In a letter sent Aug. 19 to the F.B.I.’s general counsel, Valerie E. Caproni, a lawyer for Mr. Soufan, David N. Kelley, wrote that “credible sources have told Mr. Soufan that the agency has made a decision that this book should not be published because it will prove embarrassing to the agency.”
Read the rest here.

Bernanke gives no hint at additional stimulus

JACKSON, Wyo. -- The recent swings in world financial markets pose risks to growth, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Friday, and the Fed must be “responsive to changes in the economy.” But he offered no hints that any specific action by the central bank is on the way.

Indeed Bernanke did not spell out what any new steps by the Fed to bolster the economy might look like, saying only that the central bank will “employ its tools as appropriate” and adding that the next Fed policy meeting, in September, has been extended from one day to two to allow a fuller discussion of options.
Read the rest here.

Hurricane Irene takes aim at the East Coast

Rains generated by Hurricane Irene began falling on the Carolinas on Friday, as the Washington region braced for a storm that could wreak havoc up the Eastern Seaboard into New York City and New England.

With the core of the tropical cyclone expected to approach the coast of North Carolina Friday night and a hurricane warning in effect for much of the East Coast , President Obama scheduled an address from his vacation getaway on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., which lies on Irene’s projected path and for which a hurricane watch is in effect. Obama is scheduled to return to Washington on Saturday, when the East Coast is expected to take the brunt of the storm.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Yes, I'm still alive

I have been away for a few days and forgot the computer.  Sigh.  I haven't looked at my email box yet.  I am debating if I should leave it til tomorrow.  My guess is its full.  Yes, I am in New York and no, I did not feel the ground shake at all.  I was so preoccupied that I had no idea anything had happened until I turned on the 11 o'clock news.  Hopefully I will get things back up and running shortly.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How bad is it really?

  • Banks are now sending out pre-declined credit card notices
  • When I hit the drive thru the other day the kid in the window asked me "can you afford fries with this?"
  • The latest big business deals are now being made on the 18th hole at Bert's mini-golf.
  • If your bank returns your check marked "Insufficient Funds" you have to call them to clarify whether they meant you or the bank.
  • Stock prices are higher for Hot Wheels and Matchbox than GM.
  • Parents in Beverly Hills and Hollywood are firing their nannies and learning their kids' names.
  • A truckload of Americans were caught trying to sneak into Mexico.
  • Dick Cheney took his broker hunting.
  • Motel Six is no longer leaving the light on for you.
  • The Mob is laying off judges.
  • Congress is investigating Bernie Madoff.  Yes, that's right.  The man who made $50 billion disappear is being investigated by the men who made $15 trillion disappear.
  • A buddy was so depressed about the state of the country and the economy that he called the suicide prevention line.  He was connected to a call center in Pakistan.  When he told them he was having suicidal thoughts they got very excited and asked if he could drive a truck.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday

The late Julia Child, born this day in 1912.

A few years ago I learned that Julia Child had served in the OSS during World War II and I almost fell out of my chair.  That has so warped my image of her that ever since I have had this picture in my mind of Julia Child standing next to an open door on a darkened plane over Nazi occupied France, wearing a parachute over a Sam Spade trench-coat with a slouched fedora hat... and a spatula in one hand with a rolling pin in the other.  The rolling pin is of course, a cleverly disguised gun and the spatula has a straight razor edge on it.

Gold Standard: Forty Years Gone — And Good Riddance

A good read for those looking for the anti-gold perspective. It's so full of links and quotes I am not going to excerpt it. But do read it (even if you favor the gold standard) here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos the Mother of God


The Telegraph: Abandoning the gold standard was a fatal error we're now all paying for

...Let's start with first principles: for as long as anyone can remember, politicians have sought to spend more than they can afford. Since the invention of money they have discovered ever more ingenious ways to do so.

The initial method involved debasing the currency. Henry VIII earned his nickname "Old Coppernose" because he added so much copper to what were supposed to be silver coins that eventually it would show through on the nose of his portrait.

These bouts of debasement typically end in disaster, as faith is lost in the currency, inflation shoots through the roof and the economy collapses, after which politicians introduce a new, more credible system.

After trust evaporated in gold and silver coinage, we had the gold standard and then the Bretton Woods system and now, today, fiat money – but the routine is painfully familiar. The main difference with fiat money is that whereas under the gold standard it was all too obvious when politicians were spending beyond their means (they would simply run out of gold reserves), these days it is slightly more difficult to tell quite how close the system is to breakage.
Read the rest here.

The Guardian: We've been warned: the system is ready to blow

...To understand the mess we are in, it's important to know how we got here. Today marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's announcement that America was suspending the convertibility of the dollar into gold at $35 an ounce. Speculative attacks on the dollar had begun in the late 1960s as concerns mounted over America's rising trade deficit and the cost of the Vietnam war. Other countries were increasingly reluctant to take dollars in payment and demanded gold instead. Nixon called time on the Bretton Woods system of fixed but adjustable exchange rates, under which countries could use capital controls in order to stimulate their economies without fear of a run on their currency. It was also an era in which protectionist measures were used quite liberally: Nixon announced on 15 August 1971 that he was imposing a 10% tax on all imports into the US.

Four decades on, it is hard not to feel nostalgia for the Bretton Woods system. Imperfect though it was, it acted as an anchor for the global economy for more than a quarter of a century, and allowed individual countries to pursue full employment policies. It was a period devoid of systemic financial crises.

Utter mess

There have been big structural changes in the way the global economy has been managed since 1971, none of them especially beneficial. The fixed exchange rate system has been replaced by a hybrid system in which some currencies are pegged and others float. The currencies in the eurozone, for example, are fixed against each other, but the euro floats against the dollar, the pound and the Swiss franc. The Hong Kong dollar is tied to the US dollar, while Beijing has operated a system under which the yuan is allowed to appreciate against the greenback but at a rate much slower than economic fundamentals would suggest.

The system is an utter mess, particularly since almost every country in the world is now seeking to manipulate its currency downwards in order to make exports cheaper and imports dearer. This is clearly not possible. Sir Mervyn King noted last week that the solution to the crisis involved China and Germany reflating their economies so that debtor nations like the US and Britain could export more. Progress on that front has been painfully slow, and will remain so while the global currency system remains so dysfunctional. The solution is either a fully floating system under which countries stop manipulating their currencies or an attempt to recreate a new fixed exchange rate system using a basket of world currencies as its anchor.

The break-up of the Bretton Woods system paved the way for the liberalisation of financial markets. This began in the 1970s and picked up speed in the 1980s. Exchange controls were lifted and formal restrictions on credit abandoned. Policymakers were left with only one blunt instrument to control the availability of credit: interest rates.

For a while in the late 1980s, the easy availability of money provided the illusion of wealth but there was a shift from a debt-averse world where financial crises were virtually unknown to a debt-sodden world constantly teetering on the brink of banking armageddon.

Currency markets lost their anchor in 1971 when the US suspended dollar convertibility. Over the years, financial markets have lost their moral anchor, engaging not just in reckless but fraudulent behaviour. According to the US economist James Galbraith, increased complexity was the cover for blatant and widespread wrongdoing.

Looking back at the sub-prime mortgage scandal, in which millions of Americans were mis-sold home loans, Galbraith says there has been a complete breakdown in trust that is impairing the hopes of economic recovery.

"There was a private vocabulary, well-known in the industry, covering these loans and related financial products: liars' loans, Ninja loans (the borrowers had no income, no job or assets), neutron loans (loans that would explode, destroying the people but leaving the buildings intact), toxic waste (the residue of the securitisation process). I suggest that this tells you that those who sold these products knew or suspected that their line of work was not 100% honest. Think of the restaurant where the staff refers to the food as scum, sludge and sewage."
Read the rest here.

WSJ: The Nixon Shock Heard 'Round the World

By severing the dollar's convertibility to gold in 1971, the president ushered in a decade of inflation and economic stagnation.

On the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 13, 1971, high-ranking White House and Treasury Department officials gathered secretly in President Richard Nixon's lodge at Camp David. Treasury Secretary John Connally, on the job for just seven months, was seated to Nixon's right. During that momentous afternoon, however, newcomer Connally was front and center, put there by a solicitous president. Nixon, gossiped his staff, was smitten by the big, self-confident Texan whom the president had charged with bringing order into his administration's bumbling economic policies.

In the past, Nixon had expressed economic views that tended toward "conservative" platitudes about free enterprise and free markets. But the president loved histrionic gestures that grabbed the public's attention. He and Connally were determined to present a comprehensive package of dramatic measures to deal with the nation's huge balance of payments deficit, its anemic economic growth, and inflation.

Dramatic indeed: They decided to break up the postwar Bretton Woods monetary system, to devalue the dollar, to raise tariffs, and to impose the first peacetime wage and price controls in American history. And they were going to do it on the weekend—heralding this astonishing news with a Nixon speech before the markets opened on Monday.
Read the rest here.

Fortune Magazine (1931): The Great Gold Argument

Editor's note: Every week, Fortune.com publishes a favorite story from our magazine archives. This article from February 1931 explores a topic that's still hotly debated today -- what is the true value of gold? Back then the U.S. economy was in the throes of what would become known as the Great Depression, gold was the monetary standard, and it traded for just over $20 an ounce.
In two parts, hereunder. Part one, a free-hand sketch of the gold-money-credit machine which links gold dollars to doughnuts. Part two, bold summaries on what's said to be the matter with that mechanism. The whole, a primer designed to give the lay executive a running familiarity with the most bitterly discussed economic question of the day.

FORTUNE -- In the vaults of the Bank of England (Threadneedle Street, London), men are piling gold on a truck. The gold they lift has been bought and paid for by a foreign country and is about to be delivered. In the factory of Henry Ford (Dearborn, Michigan), men are tightening bolts on a moving automobile chassis. The car they are building will presently roll away and be offered for sale. Does every bar which is lifted from the vaults, 4,000 miles away, change the value of "the automobile Henry Ford's men are bolting together? If so, how? Conversely, will every new Ford which rolls from the line change the value of those so-accurately weighed bars under Threadneedle Street? FORTUNE here presents a working drawing of the machine which links them, an inconceivably complex machine in the study of which a known fact is something to cling to in a whirling eddy of hypotheses, trends, theories, nebulous generalizations, and conflicting interpretations. For the lamentable fact is that the engineers who watch over this machine disagree on its nature, about how to operate it, about what, if anything, is the matter with it, and, if it is malfunctioning, about how to fix it.

This much is certain: the commodities of the world are priced, first, in the money of the country in which they are produced. The nations of the civilized world (China is practically the only exception) relate their moneys to gold. Thus in the last analysis, according to the laws of today, gold is the common denominator in whose terms everything the world produces may be measured. Mechanically this involves:

I.-The physical existence of a supply of gold somewhere in the world.

II.-The issuance of currency against this supply of gold, extending and facilitating its everyday use.

III.-The establishment of credit beyond the limits imposed by any strict ratio of gold to currency.

The fundamental facts behind the ideas of currency and credit are (1) that there isn't, today, enough gold in the world for the everyday use, at current prices, of 1,906,000,000 people; and (2) that even if there were, the metal would be too unhandy.
Read the rest here.

40 Years Ago: The US abandons the last links to the gold standard

Forty years ago Monday, President Nixon stunned the world by repudiating America's pledge to redeem the dollar for gold at a rate of $35.00 oz.  Of course this pledge was only made to other central banks under the Bretton Woods Treaty (1944).  So as a matter of practical reality the last true gold standard, backed by full convertibility, had died in 1933.  But the writing had been on the wall even before then.  The massive expenditures required to fund the slaughter of the First World War could never have been undertaken using a hard currency.  As it was, most of Europe was bankrupted by the war.  Postwar efforts to reestablish the gold standard were short lived and ultimately abandoned as nations were forced to come to grips with the global economic crisis of the 1930's.

Nixon has been roundly criticized by gold bugs for the move but in reality he had little choice.  Like Obama he was left holding the bag by his predecessor who spent the country into bankruptcy.  LBJ had needed huge amounts of money to fund the two wars he started and ultimately lost (Vietnam and the war on poverty).  And the Federal Reserve had then as now printed money, although then they were in fact violating treaty obligations by creating more currency then could be redeemed in gold.

Oddly, like Obama, Nixon also did almost nothing to reverse the disastrous fiscal policies he inherited.  Point in fact he too exacerbated the situation with continued war and social spending coupled with his appointment of Arthur Burns as FED Chairman.  Still he had no choice but to de-link the dollar or massively devalue it.  The rest of the world had figured out our game and their central bankers were rushing to cash in their paper money for the real thing at an alarming rate.  By the summer of '71 we quite literally had a run on the bank at the FED as gold was poring out of the FED's vaults and being shipped overseas.  And so on August 15th 1971 Richard Nixon closed the gold window and for the second time in less than a half century the US defaulted on its obligations.

And the rest as they say is history.

In observation of this momentous anniversary I will be posting a number of articles and essays related to the gold standard from differing perspectives.  No endorsement of any views in them should be presumed unless specifically stated.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sacrificing for our Faith

Most of us talk about it.  But few of us are called to do a lot of really heavy lifting.  Here is one man who has been.

British Leader Seeks Public Housing Evictions for Rioters and Their Families

LONDON — As Britain begins to weigh the costs of the rioting of recent days and ponder measures to prevent a recurrence, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron put forward on Friday a new way of punishing the looters and vandals who rampaged through many of the country’s cities and towns: kick them and their families out of their government-subsidized homes.

If carried out on the scale Mr. Cameron and his ministers have proposed, the measure would probably be the most punitive of the sanctions that they have said would be considered in response to the worst civil disorder in a generation. More than 10 million Britons, about one in six, live in public housing.
Read the rest here.

Former Marine to be awarded Medal of Honor

A former Marine corporal who repeatedly braved enemy fire in attempting to rescue four comrades in Taliban-infested eastern Afghanistan has been selected to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest award given to members of the armed services, the White House announced Friday.

Dakota Meyer, a former turret gunner and scout sniper from Kentucky, is only the third living veteran of the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts to be chosen for the honor, and the first living Marine to designated for the award since 1973.

Meyer, 23, will be honored at a White House ceremony next month for “courageous actions” while serving in Afghanistan’s eastern Konar Province in Sept. 8 2009, according to a statement issued by the White House.

Meyer charged multiple times into a Taliban-held area near the eastern village of Ganjgal after learning that three fellow Marines and a Navy corpsman were missing after being attacked by a group of insurgents. Under heavy enemy fire, he located the four Americans--all of them dead--and extracted their bodies with the help of Afghan government troops.

“Sergeant Meyer embodies all that is good about our nation’s Corps of Marines,” said Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps in a statement.
Read the rest here.

Rick Perry’s entry sets up a clarifying contrast

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entry into the presidential race puts into especially sharp focus the clash of visions between Republicans and President Obama over the proper role of government.

In Perry and the state he has led for more than a decade, Republican voters are being offered the Platonic ideal of the GOP model for economic growth — low taxes, scant regulation and limited public services.

Texas has no income tax, ranks 46th overall for the taxes it collects per capita and has the strongest job growth in the country. The state has accounted for between 30 percent and half of the net new jobs in the country in the past two years, depending on who is counting.

While Obama points to his universal health care law as a historic achievement, Texas is often cited as an example of the need for health-care reform: A quarter of Texans lack coverage, the highest share in the country.
Read the rest here.

Appeals court strikes down health-care law’s insurance mandate

A federal appeals court Friday struck down a central provision of the 2010 health-care law, ruling that Congress overstepped its authority by requiring virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance.

The divided three-judge panel from the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta is the first appellate court to rule against any portion of the statute. The decision marks a significant victory for the 26 Republican attorneys general and governors who challenged the health-care law on behalf of their states.
Read the rest here.

Tough Week

Bouncing back from a bout of stomach flu on Wednesday while coping with my ill step-father.  Add to that the arrival of my two nieces for a visit.  Great kids, but they are a handful.  This week coming should be interesting.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

For my fellow Mets fans... Top Ten Reasons to Keep Going to Citi Field

No. 10. For the remainder of the season, fans will be selected at random to play second base.
No. 9. Beautiful sunset view over Manhattan from the mezzanine deck.
No. 8. You’re safe from getting hit by a home run.
No. 7. To find a date. (If any person is able to handle all that disappointment and still keep showing up, you’ve found a person who will stick with you through the tough times.)
No. 6. The apple will now pop up whenever Jason Bay gets an extra-base hit.
No. 5. They have started using real batting helmets for Carvel ice cream sundaes.
No. 4. Great parking for the U.S. Open.
No. 3. Thanks to the New York State Senate, Mr. Met will finally be able to marry the San Diego Chicken in an on-field ceremony this September.
No. 2. Because when you call up to order tickets and ask them what time the game starts, the clerk says, “What time can you be here?”
And, drum roll please, the No. 1 reason to keep going to Citi Field over the next two months:
(pause for dramatic effect)
Ollie Perez won’t be pitching!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

OCA: Mark Stokoe Dismissed From Church Positions

Joseph Flavius has the story at Byzantine Texas.    Mark's contributions to bringing an end to the scandals that plagued the OCA are well known.  Unfortunately there has been a lot of gossip about his personal life, most of which he has not denied, that has been spread by his detractors.  I intensely dislike this kind of "gotcha" game.  It bears repeating that gossip is among the most sharply condemned sins by Scripture and the saints. But all of that aside there are obviously some standards that have to be upheld for persons occupying offices within the church. Unless he was prepared to deny the allegations or repent, his removal was necessary to avoid scandal.  And truth be told, he probably should have resigned.  This is very sad.

Epic Dylan Ratigan Rant On Washington And The Banksters

Polygamist Warren Jeffs Gets Life In Prison

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl he took as a bride in what his church deemed a "spiritual marriage."

The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also received a 20-year sentence for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl.

He stood quietly Tuesday as the decision of the Texas jury was read. He received the maximum sentence on both counts. They are to be served consecutively.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said the 55-year-old will be eligible for parole in 35 years.

Prosecutors had asked the jury for the life sentence after presenting their painstaking and sometimes graphic case, and rejected Jeffs' contention that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs.

"The evidence in this case shows that this isn't a prosecution of a people," prosecutor Eric Nichols said in his closing argument. "This is a prosecution to protect people."
Read the rest here.

Federal Reserve to keep printing money through 2013

The Federal Reserve pledged to keep interest rates very low for two more years after a policy meeting Tuesday in an effort to try to bolster the flailing U.S. economy.

Even as it acknowledged that “economic growth so far this year has been considerably slower” than Fed leaders had expected, the central bank’s policy committee gave no indication that it will launch any major new programs to try to combat the weakening economy and financial markets. It said only that it is “prepared to employ” other tools to support the economy “as appropriate.”

And even the modest step of promising to keep very low interest rates in place through summer 2013 provoked sharp internal disagreement: Three members of the Fed’s policy committee dissented, the most to do so since 1992.

U.S. stocks dipped after the announcement but quickly recovered, surging back into positive territory and ending the day with solid gains. But the Dow Jones industrial average, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell far short of recouping Monday’s dramatic losses, when they shed a total of about $1.2 trillion in value.

By explicitly stating the central bank’s easy money policies — specifically, a short-term interest rate target near zero — for two more years, the Fed is hoping to lower interest rates throughout the economy to encourage immediate investment and consumption. The Fed had previously said only that rates would remain low for an “extended period,” which was widely taken to mean a few months.
Read the rest here.

Catholic religious order sacks dissident priest

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who refused to renounce his increasingly public campaign to see women ordained as priests in the Roman Catholic Church, has been notified of his dismissal by his religious order, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

A letter to Father Bourgeois, signed by the superior general and the general secretary of the Maryknoll order in the United States, said the dismissal was necessary because of his “defiant stance” in opposition to church teaching.

“Your numerous public statements and appearances in support of the women’s priests movement continues to create in the minds of many faithful the view that your position is acceptable to our Church,” the letter said, adding that Father Bourgeois had caused the church “grave scandal.”

Father Bourgeois has gone further than any other priest in good standing to ally himself publicly with the growing women’s ordination movement. The group Roman Catholic Womenpriests claims to have ordained 120 women as priests and 10 as bishops in the last few years. The Vatican regards the ceremonies as illicit and invalid. Father Bourgeois participated in one such ceremony in 2008, and since then has given speeches around the country in support of female priests.

“They want two words: I recant,” Father Bourgeois said. “And they can’t get that out of me. For me, the real scandal is the message we are sending to women: you’re not equal, you cannot be priests, you’re not worthy.”

The case now moves to the Vatican for his formal removal from the priesthood, or laicization. Father Bourgeois said he had hired the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer known for testifying as an expert witness on behalf of victims suing the church in clergy sexual abuse cases, to represent him at the Vatican.
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Great Britain: Riots spread to 4th city

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday police will crack down hard to quell a wave of rioting and looting across London over the past three nights — the worst violence in the British capital in decades.

Citing "sickening scenes," Cameron announced that 16,000 police officers would be deployed on London's streets on Tuesday — up from 6,000 on Monday night.

Cameron, who cut short his summer vacation in Italy and recalled Parliament from its summer recess to deal with the crisis, also promised "even more robust police action."

"This is criminality pure and simple and it needs to be confronted," he added. "Justice will be done and these people will see the consequences of their actions. If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."

As calls mounted for stronger measures, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said police would consider using baton rounds — rubber or plastic bullets. These have been used in Northern Ireland and while they are seen as a non-lethal alternative, they have caused deaths in the past.
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Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate.

Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.

The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that.

But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.
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Recall vote opens in Wisconsin

* It’s decision time: After months and months of drama, today the voters have their say in elections to recall six GOP state senators who helped Scott Walker pass his onerous budgeting and anti-union proposals, which triggered a massive backlash that has turned Wisconsin into a dress rehearsal of sorts for 2012 and ground zero in the national war over the future of organized labor.

It will all be decided by turnout, and what’s got both sides nervous, as Dem pollster Mark Mellman told me the other day , is that there’s no precedent of any kind to predict turnout in a slate of six off-year recall elections. Andy Kroll has an eye-opening glimpse into the scope of the Dem/labor turnout operation. And National Review writer Robert Costa says “Republicans are worried” because Dems have energy on their side and are on track to oust GOP state senators Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper, and only need to win one of two races against Alberta Darling and Luther Olsen, both of which remain very close calls, to take back the state senate.

As Chris Bowers rightly notes, the three races that will likely decide the outcome are those to recall Hopper, Darling, and Olsen — and there’s simply no predictive model in existence for the elections that are taking place today.

Whatever ends up happening, Wisconsin Dems and labor have already succeeded in one sense: They reminded us that it’s possible to build a grass roots movement by effectively utilizing the sort of unabashed and bare-knuckled class-based populism that makes many of today’s national Dems queasy. Their effort — whether or not they take back the state senate — could provide a model for a more aggressive, populist approach for national Dems in 2012.
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Stocks rally after huge sell off

NEW YORK — Wall Street rallied at Tuesday’s opening bell, rebounding from the previous session's nosedive, as investors looked to a Federal Reserve statement for clues on how it may combat the growing perception the nation was headed for recession.

The Dow Jones industrial average was lately up over 200 points, having plunged 635 points Monday after Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating late Friday. The broader market recorded its worst loss since December 2008 at Monday’s close and approached bear market territory.
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Monday, August 08, 2011

Huge sell off continues overseas

Asian markets are all down sharply (it's Tuesday morning there).  The Korean stock market has suspended trading with its main index already down 8%.  Oil has dropped to $75 a barrel. The flight to gold and cash is continuing with gold trading near $1750 oz and short term government bonds offering record low yields (near zero).  Selling is accelerating after worse than expected inflation reports from China.

House Shuts Down Its Page Program

WASHINGTON — In the more than 175 years since young people began coming to Washington to work as Capitol messengers, the experience of being a Congressional page has marked the start — and on occasion the scandalous end — of many a political career.

Now the ubiquitous teenage pages, with their navy blue blazers and earnest looks, will disappear from the House side of the Capitol — a victim, House leaders said Monday, of budget cuts and improvements in technology, like BlackBerrys, that have rendered their document-ferrying and message-taking duties obsolete.

The announcement came in a “Dear Colleague” letter to lawmakers from Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, who said they decided to terminate the program after a review by outside consultants raised concerns about its costs and effectiveness.

The news caught alumni of the program, including current and former members of Congress, by surprise. Many called it short-sighted. (The pages will not disappear from the Capitol entirely; the Senate will still have them.)
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Why Gold?

Gold is rising because the world’s monetary system is being debased – and there is no sign of this stopping.

Gold is not a commodity it is a currency – and the devaluation of paper money by money printing is making it more and more attractive.

The metal was desirable long before the concept of money was ever invented - and it has been used as a medium of exchange for thousands of years. (The first gold coins were minted in Lydia, in modern-day Turkey, in 610 BC).

The money in your pocket is effectively worthless. The government declares it as legal tender and will accept taxation payments with this bill of exchange but the £5 note is no longer backed by anything. When push comes to shove, a £5 note is just a piece of paper and ink with no intrinsic value at all. It certainly isn't worth £5.

Fiat currencies are not backed by gold. When most currencies were on the gold standard, a unit of currency could be exchanged by central banks for a fixed weight of gold. That way, paper money could be used instead of using gold or silver coins.

The world’s monetary system used to be backed by gold – until Richard Nixon scrapped the dollar’s convertibility into gold 40 years ago. This made the dollar the defacto reserve currency, but successive administrations have mismanaged government policy and the US economy is now drowning in a sea of debt.
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STOCKS PLUNGE ON WAVES OF SELLING: DOW -635 S&P -6.5% NASDAQ -7% OIL -$6.50 GOLD SURGES 4%


Gold soars; trades over $1700 oz

NEW YORK (AP) -- The price of gold streaked past $1,700 an ounce for the first time Monday. Investors, beset by worries about the U.S. debt downgrade, Europe's financial crisis and slowing global growth, sought safety in the metal as stocks tumbled around the world.

Gold's allure stems in part from fears that the world's major economies are dangerously indebted. Its value, unlike that of a currency, doesn't hinge on whether countries can make their bond payments.
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Wall Street Sell Off Continues As Markets Open Sharply Lower

NEW YORK — Wall Street tumbled again Monday amid a rout in global stocks after rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time.

S&P cut the long-term debt rating for the U.S. by one notch to AA+ from AAA late Friday. The move wasn't unexpected, but it comes when investors are already feeling nervous about a weak U.S. economy, European debt problems and Japan's recovery from its March earthquake.

The agency’s move came after a wild week for U.S. stocks — the worst in more than two years — as lingering concerns about sluggish economic growth and heavy public debt loads in developed economies dented investor sentiment.
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Friday, August 05, 2011

S&P strips US of AAA credit rating

WASHINGTON — The United States lost its top-notch AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's Friday in a dramatic reversal of fortune for the world's largest economy.

S&P cut the long-term U.S. credit rating by one notch to AA-plus. The credit agency said it was making the move because the deficit reduction plan passed by Congress Tuesday did not go far enough to stabilize the country's debt situation.

U.S. Treasury securities, once undisputedly the safest investment in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France or Canada.

The move is likely to raise borrowing costs eventually for the American government, companies and consumers.

"The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," S&P said in a statement issued late Friday, after financial markets were closed for the week.
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Long overdue.

Coptic Orthodox threaten to withdraw children from Catholic schools if they abandon church teachings

TORONTO, Ontario, July 29, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Coptic Orthodox Churches in Toronto are threatening to withdraw 4,000 families from the Toronto Catholic District School Board if it does not amend its controversial equity policy to protect Catholic teaching in the schools. According to one expert in Ontario education, if the threat were carried out, the board could lose upwards of $40,000,000 in annual public funding, and over 150 teachers.

If the board implements its policy, wrote Fr. Jeremiah Attaalla on June 22nd, “we will not hesitate to withdraw our children at once from attending any Catholic school within Toronto or [the Greater Toronto Area].”

The equity policy, passed earlier this year as part of the Ontario government’s sweeping equity and inclusive education strategy, has sparked an unprecedented mobilization of parents who fear that it will give homosexual activists a foothold in order to further subvert already weak Catholic sexual teaching in the schools.

In August the board will be considering a set of amendments to the policy promoted by trustee John Del Grande and Angela Kennedy to ensure that equity and inclusion are interpreted consistently with Catholic teaching.

Fr. Attaalla wrote in his letter, which was addressed to Director of Education Ann Perron, that they will withdraw their children “if the requested amendments are not implemented.” He said the amendments are “faithful to the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

The priest explained that he was writing on behalf of the parishes of St. Mark (Scarborough), St. George and St. Ruiess (North York), St. Mourice and St. Verena (North York), and Ti Agia Maria and St. Demiana (Etobicoke).

He said these parishes have a population of at least 5,000 families, not one of which support the public schools because of their implementation of the government’s controversial equity agenda. He said at least 80% of those families attend the Catholic schools and the rest attend private schools.

The school board reportedly receives about $10,000 in public funding for every child and it requires approximately 19 children to support one teacher.

See a copy of the official Coptic statement here.
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HT: An anonymous blog reader

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Wall Street Plunges on Economic Fears; Dow Sinks More Than 500 Points; S&P, Nasdaq Down 4%; VIX Soars 30%

Fears of worsening economic turmoil in the United States and Europe triggered a broad-based retreat on global markets Thursday, with stock market indexes plunging more than 4 percent in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down for its ninth session out of 10, finishing the day down more than 500 points or 4.3 percent in the red; the Standard &Poor’s 500 fell 4.8 percent; and the Nasdaq tumbled 5.1 percent. All three indices experienced their biggest weekly drops since May 2010.
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Economic worries spark steep sell off on Wall Street

NEW YORK — Worries about the state of the economy in the U.S. and around the world slammed stocks on Thursday, driving the Dow briefly down more than 400 points and sending the S&P 500 into correction territory.

Bonds soared as investors sought a safe place to park their money.

The Dow Jones industrials average was down about 3 percent. The broader S&P 500 index was down around 10 percent from its May high. The market's so-called "fear index," the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), jumped to its highest since March.

"People are throwing in the towel because they can't find relief on any front. There are a lot of worries about the economy," said Milton Ezrati, market strategist at Lord Abbett Co. in Jersey City, New Jersey, which manages $110 billion in assets.

Analysts predicted further losses ahead, given the strong degree of pessimism in the market.
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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Career Sustained by Unwavering Faith

Jack McKeon’s baseball days begin in a pew. At 8 on Tuesday morning, the Florida Marlins’ manager attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, less than 12 hours after his team beat the Mets on a 10th-inning grand slam. Such games are testament to his faith in the saint he prays to every game during the national anthem.

“A good night for St. Thérèse,” he said, sitting in the lounge of a Midtown Manhattan hotel.

In each major league city, McKeon has a favorite, or at least a convenient, Roman Catholic church. If he does not know their names, he can describe them or tell you how to get there. In Cincinnati, it’s SS. Peter and Paul. In Chicago, Mass is at Holy Name Cathedral. In Philadelphia, he goes to what he calls “the oldest church in the U.S.” When the Marlins stayed at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he followed these directions: “Walk out the door, take a left, walk 30 yards, and take a right, where the homeless hang out.”

For each of the regular churches in his personal directory, he learns the Mass schedule.

“At St. Patrick’s it’s 7, 7:30, 8, noon and 12:30,” he said. “They’re very flexible.”

Mornings at church “give me energy,” he said. “You’re free. You feel good.” His daily ritual is part of a baseball routine that is now in its 62nd year, stretching back to D League ball in Greenville, Ala.

“When I go to the ballpark, I have no worries,” he said. “God’s looking after me.”
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A Liberal Catholic's View of the Orthodox Liturgy

I’m drawn to the beauty and sacredness of the Orthodox liturgy, the sense of an inherited tradition not invented by us, the absence of commentators and announcers and songleaders waving arms at us, the absence of ad-libbing celebrants, the purity of vocal music without accompaniment. But the people do not seem to form a community celebrating the liturgy together. Each individual makes the Sign of the Cross repeatedly, seemingly whenever moved to do so; only when a certain word or phrase is picked up by the worshipers did they (or many or most of them) make the Sign of the Cross at the same time. The iconostasis, as artistically beautiful as it is, distorts the liturgy and divides the assembly too much into privileged clergy and excluded people, even though the entire church space is clearly sacral, and the people are clearly connected to what is going on behind screen, even when the doors are closed and they can only hear but not see the liturgy.
From here.
HT: A blog reader.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bill Gross on the debt deal (we are still broke)

“Over the years we’ve had some fun together – killin some ‘bars,’ drinkin moonshine – some even in these chambers. (Whiskey that is – the ‘bars’ I’ve seen once or twice, but only when I was plum drunk). But the time for funnin is over. They’ll be no jokes from David Crockett today.”
Davy Crockett Speech to Congress, 1830

Figurative coonskin cap on head, I echo the sentiments of Davy Crockett – Indian fighter, Alamo defender and Tennessee Congressman – not necessarily in that chronological order. The debt ceiling may have been raised and the palpable sighs of relief heard across global financial markets, but the fun times are over. They’ll be no jokes from Bill Gross today, nor across this land for years to come I suspect. Even though the U.S. has managed to avert a debt crisis and perhaps a ratings downgrade, there remains a stain on our reputation, a scarlet “A” for budgetary “Abuse,” that will not disappear. The whole world was watching, and what they saw was a dysfunctional government taking its country to the financial precipice and backing off at the very last moment. “Shades of a Banana Republic,” as former Reagan budget director David Stockman opined somewhat harshly last week. We may not be Greece just yet, but Mr. Stockman is looking in the right direction.

Nothing in the Congressional compromise reached over the weekend makes a significant dent in our $1.5 trillion deficit. “Out year” fantasies, as opposed to “current year” realities, is an apt description of the spending cuts that characterize this compromise. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that future deficits will be reduced at most by .5%, and if so, it would be welcomed, but that .5% comes with no new taxes and a continuation of the belief that we don’t have to pay for our trespasses. Like many a Banana Republic, we may one day be invoking the Lord’s Prayer, pleading – “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” yet at the same time looking towards the heavens á la Saint Augustine with a fervent “let me be chaste, but let it be tomorrow.”

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner noted last week that it would be unthinkable that the U.S. would not meet its obligations on time. Now that the timeliness has temporarily been put aside, an investor must logically ask how we will meet our obligations, and how much they really are. In addition to an existing nearly $10 trillion of outstanding Treasury debt, the U.S. has a near-unfathomable $66 trillion of future liabilities at “net present cost.” As shown in the following table from a Mary Meeker “USA Inc.” study, and validated by the Department of Treasury and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculations, the combined present cost “payment due” from Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is over six times our current obligations of Treasury debt. The press and most professional investors are accustomed to measuring “paper” debt as opposed to walking/living liabilities in the form of people. I call these liabilities “debt men walking” because as long as 330 million living Americans require promised entitlements – the $66 trillion that wear shoes are as much of a liability as the $10 trillion on paper.
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HT: T-19

Gold sets new records as financial markets tank

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Gold futures pushed to record highs Tuesday as concerns about a slowdown in global growth and Europe's debt crisis spurred investor demand for the metal as a refuge.

U.S. leaders Tuesday gave final approval to legislation raising the country's debt limit, averting a default. But the deal wasn't enough to stem the tide of investment in perceived safe-haven assets, as investors remain cautious on the chance that U.S. could see its credit rating downgraded and as growth stumbles across much of the developed world.

The most actively traded gold contract, for December delivery, climbed $22.80, or 1.4%, to settle at a record $1,644.50 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract climbed as high as $1,646.80 an ounce, a record intraday high.

"There's still concern about the weak economy, growth generally, weak [purchasing managers' indexes] in a range of countries," said David Jollie, strategic analyst at Mitsui Global Precious Metals. U.S. debt was only part of the story behind gold's recent rise, he added.

Weaker-than-expected U.S. and European manufacturing data Monday dampened investors' appetite for risky assets. And currency markets Tuesday were rattled as worries about Europe's debt crisis sent Italian and Spanish bond yields to their widest levels since the adoption of the euro.

Some investors turn to gold as a refuge from turmoil in other markets, and the metal has reached all-time highs for four consecutive weeks. The Swiss franc hit record highs against the U.S. dollar and euro Tuesday and Treasury prices rose, highlighting the demand for a safe place to park cash.

"People are concerned about what currencies they hold," said Sterling Smith, a market analyst with Country Hedging. "Risk aversion is growing stronger."

Sentiment in the gold market also received a boost from the news that South Korea's central bank made its first gold purchases in 13 years. The bank acquired 25 tons of gold during June and July, bringing its total reserves to 39.4 tons at the end of last month. Central banks have been moving to reduce their dependence on the U.S. dollar, the world's chief reserve currency.

The central banks of Russia, Mexico and Thailand have also announced substantial gold purchases this year.
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Moody’s Affirms U.S. AAA Rating, Assigns Negative Outlook After Debt Deal’s ‘First Step’

The compromise package to raise the U.S. debt ceiling signed by President Barack Obama Tuesday was enough to avert a default and, for now, get the ratings agencies off Uncle Sam’s back.

Moody’s affirmed its AAA rating of U.S. government debt Tuesday morning, hours after Fitch Ratings signaled it is likely to do the same when it completes a review at the end of August. While Moody’s acknowledged the debt ceiling hike eliminated the risk of default it also, unsurprisingly, assigned a negative outlook and said a downgrade could be in the offing if:

(1) there is a weakening in fiscal discipline in the coming year;

(2) further fiscal consolidation measures are not adopted in 2013;

(3) the economic outlook deteriorates significantly; or

(4) there is an appreciable rise in the US government’s funding costs over and above what is currently expected.
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Stocks' free-fall leaves S&P negative for the year

NEW YORK — The S&P 500 turned negative for the year Tuesday as the wrangling over the U.S. debt ceiling faded and investors turned their attention to the stalling economy.

The broad-based index fell for a seventh day and crashed through the key 200-day moving average in an ominous sign for markets. The seven days of losses mark the longest losing streak since October 2008.

"It is going to be a long week," said Jim Maguire Jr., a NYSE floor trader at E.H. Smith Jacobs. "The bid is not here in the market."

The selloff accelerated into the close as volume jumped well above average. The fall was broad-based, with four stocks falling for every one rising on the New York Stock Exchange.

The index also broke through its 2-1/2 year uptrend line from its bear market low in March 2009. Thursday was the index's worst day in a year.

Investors seemed to find little to cheer after the U.S. Senate agreed to a deal to raise the debt ceiling because of the possibility it will not stave off a downgrade of the U.S. government's triple-A rating.
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Moderate Senate Dems prepare a balanced budget amendment

One of the big victories by tea-party Republicans in the debt-ceiling measure signed into law Tuesday was securing a requirement that Congress vote later this year on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

The measure would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and then ratification by 38 states, to succeed. And most observers believe passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate is all but impossible.

Enter Sen. Mark Udall, the centrist Democrat from Colorado, who has introduced an amendment proposal and said Tuesday that Democratic leaders have chosen his legislation to be considered in the fall.

President Obama and other senior Democrats have opposed any balanced-budget amendment, but the idea is popular with many voters – particularly independents, who are growing more fiscally conservative.

Udall is up for reelection in 2014. Many of his Democratic co-sponsors – including Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) – are running this year and need support from centrists.

Republicans in the Senate will likely rally around their own proposal, sponsored by Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, which would limit spending to 18 percent of GDP and require congressional supermajorities to raise taxes.

Both measures would require that the president submit and Congress pass balanced budgets. And both provide for exemptions in wartime.

But Udall’s amendment has a couple of provisions that might win over some Democrats. It creates a “Social Security lockbox” (with apologies to Al Gore and his Saturday Night Live impersonator) that his office says would “protect the revenue and outlays of Social Security from any balanced budget requirement.” And it prohibits Congress from providing income tax breaks for people earning over $1 million a year unless the country is enjoying budget surpluses.

“What I’m proposing is the most responsible, thoughtful, and workable balanced budget amendment,” Udall said.

The senator said his proposal marks the first time since 1997 that the Senate will consider a Democratic-sponsored balanced budget amendment. That year, the measure failed by one vote.
 Source.

Will the defense cuts stick?

“The deal puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years,” says the White House. That’s been one of the catchy headlines from the debt-ceiling deal: Expect sweeping cuts to the Pentagon’s budget. But defense observers are discovering all sorts of caveats embedded in the fine print. So is there any way to figure out how much the Pentagon’s budget will actually shrink in the coming decade? And how likely is it that those cuts will stick?

The way the bill treats defense is fairly confusing. The White House told Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin that in the first round, there are roughly $420 billion in cuts over 10 years to “security” spending (which includes the Pentagon, Homeland Security, State Department, Veterans Affairs and USAID), compared with the baseline. Of that, $350 billion is supposed to come out of the Pentagon’s pockets. But as Rogin points out, the White House was reticent on the fact that that $350 billion number wasn’t a sure thing. It’s up to Congress, not written into the bill.

Take the near term. In fiscal 2011, the total security budget was $689 billion, of which $529 billion went to the Pentagon. Next year, under the debt deal, security spending gets capped at $684 billion. But there’s no guarantee that the Pentagon will absorb that $5 billion cut. In fact, if — as many hawks in Congress would prefer — the Pentagon’s budget grows next year, then agencies such as the State Department and Homeland Security will have to absorb even more in cuts.

“We just don’t know how that will play out yet,” says Gordon Adams, a senior White House budget official for national security in the Clinton administration.
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What more can the Fed do now?

With the U.S. economy flatlining and at risk of falling into a new recession, the Federal Reserve lacks good tools to do much of anything about it — though that won’t necessarily stop the central bank from trying.

The Fed has a policy of ultra-low interest rates and other unconventional steps to pump up the economy already in place. But the central bank has declined to take any new actions to try to further loosen monetary policy this year, amid projections that economic growth will rebound in the second half of the year. But the most recent data has made those predictions look more doubtful.
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Obama signs debt-limit bill into law

The Senate passed a landmark plan to raise the federal debt limit and reduce government spending Tuesday, ending a partisan stalemate that threatened to plunge the nation into default and destabilize the world economy.

The measure was approved by a vote of 74 to 26. It promptly went to President Obama, who signed it into law, giving the government the money to pay its bills ahead of a midnight deadline.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden after the Senate vote, Obama called the legislation “an important first step” in ensuring that the nation lives within its means, and he said it avoids “cutting too abruptly while the economy is still fragile.” He vowed to keep working for a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that includes “reforming our tax code so that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share.”
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