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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood bends rules and expects to win big in Egypt

CAIRO – The Muslim Brotherhood has already started coloring outside the lines in order to win a majority in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

The organization, which gave its political branch the more ambiguous title, The Party of Freedom and Justice (FJP), is expected to win 40 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament, according to analysts estimates. Official results from the first round of voting will be announced Thursday.

Based on our own observations at polling stations across Cairo and anecdotal evidence, they seem to have won support at the polls by bending the rules in their favor.

Free food and cheap meat
In Cairo’s Saida Zeinab neighborhood, at one of the busiest polling centers in the city, we saw a party member and two other supporters of an independent candidate passing out leaflets to voters waiting in long lines to cast their ballots – in clear violation of election laws. Soldiers who were on site for crowd control, did nothing to stop them. At the same spot, a tech-savvy FJP member sat on a bench, laptop in hand, to conduct exit polls. At other polling stations, they provided polling information to baffled voters.

In a more economically disadvantaged part of Cairo known as “The Slaughterhouse,” Hanan Nasr, a mother of three, watched FJP members pass out free packages of rice and oil to voters on their way to the polling station – again in contravention of campaign law. They also bussed in party members from surrounding neighborhoods.

Voter confusion played into the hands of the FJP. Many voters simply did not know who the candidates were because of the sheer number of mostly unknown candidates (4,000), unknown parties (35 new ones since President Hosni Mubarak fell from power) and a complicated voting system requiring choices of farmer, labor and independent candidates.

For those who did not understand the voting system, the FJP had people on hand before the election to explain how to make their ballots count – for FJP candidates.
Read the rest here.

Egypt's Christians prepare for new political climate

CAIRO — A young woman with a kerchief on her head lit a candle and prayed Sunday beneath a mosaic of Mary and Jesus at a packed Mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church. Then she picked up a leaflet next to the candle rack from an organization called Shahid, or Witness. It listed emergency phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Facebook and Twitter information should trouble arise at voting stations during parliamentary elections this week.

For those attending Mass at St. Mark’s, in the upper-class district of Maadi in Cairo, the elections represent the beginning of a democratic Egypt but also instill fear of a party coming to power that favors Islamic law.

It is widely expected that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will dominate the political landscape. This expectation has already affected the Christian community. Since the Jan. 25 revolution that removed President Hosni Mubarak from power, 100,000 Christian families have emigrated abroad, according to Naguib Gibrael, the Coptic Church’s lawyer.

To counter the Muslim Brotherhood, St. Mark’s has encouraged its parishioners to vote for the secular Egyptian Bloc, made up of both Muslim and Christian candidates. Bishop Danial, spiritual leader for church members in Maadi, made a special appearance at St. Mark’s on Sunday. In his sermon, after emphasizing the need to reject hatred in favor of compassion, the bishop turned to politics.

“These elections matter a lot to us,” he told the congregation. “Perhaps the situation is not as stable as we would have liked before voting, but we must participate. This is freedom and democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, is very organized.”

“You can choose whomever you want,” he added, “but we have had meetings with the moderate Muslims and Christians in the Egyptian Bloc and we support these parties.”
Read the rest here.

Portable Churches Go On Sale In Serbia

A family in Serbia is commercializing a portable mini-church that it can deliver to anyone who wants a place of worship in their backyard.

The 5-ton, stone-and-steel construction is equipped with a cross, a bell tower, an altar, and frescoes. It can accommodate up to 15 worshipers.

The enterprise was initiated by Svetislav Mancic and his son Goran from the town of Gadzin Han, close to the southern Serbian city of Nis.

Svetislav Mancic, founder of the interior- and exterior-design company Mancic Granit, tells RFE/RL's Balkan Service that he came up with this idea when portable churches were used to hold services in the army. He says he quickly realized that there was likely a wider market for such mobile churches.

"It will be available in every restaurant that organizes weddings, in hotels, motels, and hospitals," says the older Mancic. "The only thing that we need is a blessing from the Serbian Orthodox Church, and we don't need any construction permits and approvals."
Read the rest here.

Big Day For Stocks On Central Bank Action

DOW up almost 500 pts.  All major indices post 4+% gains.  Gold rallies on more money printing.  Bonds take a hit.  Details here.

Man Sues Couple He Kidnapped

You know, especially given all the time we spent together and the long talks we had after I invaded your home and held you at knifepoint, I thought you were people I could trust. We shared a meal together, for God's sake. Yes, it was just Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, but I was so hungry from a long day of fleeing that to me it was like Thanksgiving. We even watched "Patch Adams," because you said that's what you wanted to watch, not because I like that movie. But the minute I fall asleep, you go and escape, which meant the police could come in and arrest me. I mean, I thought we had an understanding.

And that is why I'm suing you for breach of contract.
Read the rest here.

HT: Brian

Britain curtails most diplomatic ties with Iran

TEHRAN – Britain withdrew all its diplomatic staff from Iran on Wednesday and ordered the Iranian Embassy in London closed, after supporters of Iran’s ruling clerics ransacked the British Embassy and residential compound.

European Union member countries were scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to decide whether their embassies would remain open in light of the attack, which was a stark escalation of long-simmering anti-Western sentiment. Norway closed its embassy for the day on Wednesday.

“The PM and Foreign Secretary have made clear that ensuring the safety of our staff and their families is our immediate priority,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement. “In light of yesterday’s events, and to ensure their ongoing safety, some staff are leaving Tehran.”

William Hague, Britain’s foreign minister, said Britain had withdrawn its entire embassy staff from Tehran and had given the Iranian ambassador in London and his embassy staff 48 hours to leave the country.
Read the rest here.

This strikes me as a measured and appropriate response to Iran's outrageous behavior.

Central Banks Launch Massive Global Intervention; Financial Markets Rally

The world’s major central banks unveiled a new strategy Wednesday morning to create a wall of money that could prevent Europe’s financial woes from undermining the stability of the global banking system.

The Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and central banks in Canada, Britain, Switzerland and Japan said in a joint announcement that they will extend the timing of and lower the interest rate paid on “swaps,” arrangements that have been used intermittently since late 2007 to funnel dollars to the banking systems of countries where there is need.

The action recalls the fall of 2008, when the global central bankers took a series of coordinated actions to try to combat a worldwide financial panic. However, the impact of the latest measure may be more symbolic than substantive. The Fed already had made available unlimited dollars to other leading central banks, and $2.4 billion of such lending was outstanding as of last week (that number may increase now that the loans are offered at a lower interest rate).

The policy does nothing to address the fundamental problems in Europe-namely a loss of confidence in the ability of Italy and other nations to repay their debts and fears that this could cause the euro currency area to break apart. It could, however, help European banks avoid any cash shortage. And more broadly, the new move was aimed at showing a sense of common purpose and deep resolve among the world's central bankers at a time of widespread fears, even if the substantive impact on the crisis is slight.

Separately, China’s central bank eased a key regulation to allow banks to lend more money as concerns mount about a possible slowdown in the world’s second largest economy. In cutting bank reserve requirements for the first time since December 2008, the People’s Bank of China signaled that its focus is shifting from inflation to maintaining growth. And a report from payrolls company ADP showed improved job creation in the United States in November.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SSPX says "No" to Vatican offer

Rome, Italy, Nov 29, 2011 / 01:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X says he will inform the Vatican “in the next few days” that they cannot give the doctrinal reassurances required of them to advance reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

“It is true that this Doctrinal Preamble cannot receive our endorsement,” said Bishop Bernard Fellay on the society’s website, Nov. 28.

However, Bishop Fellay said his understanding is that the document is “not a definite text” and that it “can be clarified and modified.” In particular, he would like to discuss what the Vatican means when it says that there is “leeway” for a “legitimate discussion” on the documents and legacy of the Second Vatican Council.
Read the rest here.

Britain: Muslim harassment of Christians on the rise

Nohad Halawi, who worked at Heathrow Airport, is suing her former employers for unfair dismissal, claiming that she and other Christian staff at the airport were victims of systematic harassment because of their religion.

She claims that she was told that she would go to Hell for her religion, that Jews were responsible for the September 11th terror attacks, and that a friend was reduced to tears having been bullied for wearing a cross.

Mrs Halawi, who came to Britain from Lebanon in 1977, worked in the duty-free section as a perfume saleswoman of the airport for 13 years but was dismissed in July.
Read the rest here.

WOW! Bobby Valentine is named new Red Sox Manager

When Bobby Valentine became manager of the Mets in 1996, he immediately set about igniting their competition with the Yankees. It has been nine years since Valentine last managed in major league baseball, but another rivalry with the Yankees is about to receive a jolt.

Valentine has been hired by the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees’ chief divisional rival, to be their manager, according to a person in baseball with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

While Valentine was in Japan on a charity tour this week, the new Red Sox general manager, Ben Cherington, extended an offer, and there was very little negotiation involved, the person said. Valentine agreed, and is expected back in the United States on Wednesday, with a news conference likely to be held in the next few days in Boston.

The 61-year-old Valentine brings with him the experience of more than 3,000 games managed for the Texas Rangers, the Mets and the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. He took the Mets to the World Series in 2000, losing to the Yankees in five games, and won the Japan Series with the Marines in 2005. Since leaving Japan after the 2009 season, he had been working as an analyst for ESPN.
Read the rest here.

Herman Cain reassessing his campaign in wake of latest allegations

Businessman Herman Cain told senior members of his campaign on a conference call this morning that he is reassessing whether or not to remain in the Republican presidential race.

On the conference call, which National Review listened to and transcribed, Cain denies the allegation of an affair with an Atlanta woman named Ginger White, which came to light on Monday, but acknowledged that the “firestorm” had caused a rethinking.

Cain said that he had reassessed his campaign over the summer, after the Ames Straw Poll and again after the Florida P5 Straw Poll, which he won. “We have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people’s minds, as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth,” Cain said, according to the National Review transcript.

He noted that he will continue with his campaign schedule including a national security speech later this week in Michigan; “I will deliver it with vim, vigor, and enthusiasm.”
Read the rest here.

Iranian students storm British Embassy

TEHRAN — Student hard-liners stormed the British Embassy compound on Tuesday to protest tough new sanctions against Iran, replacing the Union Jack with an Islamic flag and chanting “Death to England” as they hurled satellite dishes from the roof of a security building to the ground below.

About 300 militant students belonging to the pro-government paramilitary Basij organization set fires on the grounds of the compound and scattered papers that they found, waving banners emblazoned with Islamic slogans.
Read the rest here.

Clearly Iran is a country that does not know how to behave in a civilized world.

Sens. Paul, McCain clash over terrorist detainee amendment (scary and chilling)

Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and John McCain (Ariz.) battled on the Senate floor Tuesday over a proposed amendment to the pending defense authorization bill that could allow American citizens who are suspected of terrorism to be denied a civilian trial.

Paul argued the amendment, which is cosponsored by McCain, "puts every single American citizen at risk" and suggested that if the amendment passes, "the terrorists have won."

“Should we err today and remove some of the most important checks on state power in the name of fighting terrorism, well then the terrorists have won," Paul argued, "[D]etaining American citizens without a court trial is not American."

McCain, however, who has spent hours of floor time in the last weeks promoting his amendment, hurried to the floor to defend it against Paul's onslaught.

"Facts are stubborn things," McCain repeated from the floor several times. "If the senator from Kentucky wants to have a situation prevail where people who are released go back in to the fight to kill Americans, he is entitled to his opinion.”

The amendment, offered by McCain, who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would technically allow the executive branch discretion on whether a terrorism suspect ought to be tried in civilian courts or the military tribunal system.

Paul fired back that his opposition to the amendment did not meant that he believed prisoners of war sitting in Guantánamo Bay ought to be released.

“I don't think it necessarily follows I am arguing of the release of prisoners,” Paul said. “I am simply arguing that particularly American citizens should not be sent to a foreign prison without due process.”

But McCain ended the conversation by suggesting the junior senator from Kentucky did not understand the gravity of the danger the U.S. faces from terrorism.

"An individual, no matter who they are, if they pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, should not be allowed to continue that threat," said McCain. " We need to take every stop necessary to prevent that from happening, that’s for the safety and security of the men and women who are out there risking their lives ... in our armed services.”
Source.

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
- James Madison

HT: Bill (Aka The Godfather)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Three Wall St. Millionaires Win $254 Million Lottery (not a joke)

ROCKY HILL, Conn. — A trio of wealth managers from Greenwich, one of the most affluent towns in America, claimed a Powerball jackpot worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars Monday off a $1 ticket.

Greg Skidmore, Brandon Lacoff and Tim Davidson came forward as the winners of the $254.2 million jackpot and the trustees of The Putnam Avenue Family Trust, which they formed to help manage the money after Davidson bought the winning ticket at a Stamford gas station.

A lawyer who spoke for the group at a news conference said they contacted him immediately after the Nov. 2 drawing and came forward after making plans for the money. He said the trust will take the after-tax lump sum of $103,586,824.51 cash and a significant amount will go to charity.
Read the rest here.

This is just so wrong.

Herman Cain's woes continue with a new claim of indiscretion

A Georgia woman says that she and Herman Cain engaged in a 13-year affair, but the GOP presidential candidate issued a preemptive denial on Monday.

In an interview with the local Fox affiliate in Atlanta, Ginger White said she met Cain in the 1990s and he invited her to meet him in Palm Springs. From there, she said, the affair took off and he flew her to places where he gave speeches and lavished her with gifts.

“He made it very intriguing,” White said. “It was fun. It was something that took me away from my humdrum life at the time. And it was exciting.

“It wasn't complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.”

To substantiate her claims, White showed the Atlanta reporter phone records documenting 61 calls from a number that the reporter later traced to Cain. The calls were being made as late as September 2011; Cain, who has acknowledged a relationship with White but not an inappropriate one, responded to a text message to the phone number, but told the reporter he was helping her financially.
Read the rest here.

The wingnuts in the radical right are predictably dismissing this as a vast left wing  conspiracy.  However, I am dubious about the ability to get this many women to all lie about a man's character if there were not some truth in the allegations.  That said, if I were in Cain's shoes, and innocent as he claims, I would say that the time has come to end this nonsense once and for all.  Invite Ms. White to meet him at an independent attorney's office and have them both take a polygraph test.

Are lie detector's infallible?  No.  But most law enforcement agencies routinely use them in all manner of investigations.  Which is to say that while not perfect, they are highly reliable.

In strongly worded rebuke judge rejects SEC-Citigroup settlement

A federal judge Monday rejected the SEC’s plan to settle a major case against Citigroup and ordered the two sides to prepare for a trial.

In a powerful rebuke to a federal agency responsible for policing Wall Street, U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff said that if the charges against Citigroup are true, the SEC settlement is too weak to hold the bank accountable.

The sharply worded order faulted the SEC’s handling of one of the bigger enforcement cases to emerge from the financial meltdown.

Rakoff criticized the SEC’s decision to charge Citigroup with negligence instead of knowing or intentional fraud.

Rakoff, an outspoken critic of the Securities and Exchange Commission, also slammed the agency for following its standard practice of allowing defendants to settle charges without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
Read the rest here.

A small victory for justice.

Want Catholic art? Fundamentalist Bob Jones University has it

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Walking across the tidy campus of Bob Jones University, there’s no obvious sign this bastion of Christian fundamentalism is also home to one of the nation’s largest collections of Renaissance and Baroque religious art from the heart of Catholic Europe.

It’s all the more surprising since the school’s old-time Protestant leaders have for years taught that Catholicism is a “cult” and even the “Mother of Harlots.”

“You go into that gallery and its big, amazing paintings are really staggering, and you know you can’t buy altarpieces like that anymore,” said David Steel, curator of European art at the North Carolina Museum of Art and a longtime fan of the BJU collection. “They’re just not on the market.”

Edgar Peters Bowron, who oversees European art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, agreed.

“It’s one of the best collections in the Southeast generally, and certainly in terms of Italian painting from the Renaissance through the Baroque, it is one of premier collections of Italian paintings in America, without contradiction,” he said.

Just as surprising as the collection itself, however, is that the man who started it 60 years ago was Bob Jones Jr., the school’s second president and the son of the university’s namesake.

The younger Jones was not only a purveyor of fine painting but also of the hoariest anti-Catholic tropes, calling the church of Rome “a satanic counterfeit,” for example, and “drunk with the blood of the saints.”
Read the rest here.

Recusal battle looms on Supreme Court in health care case

Just a little more than an hour after some House Democrats recently demanded an inquiry into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s ethics, Senate Republicans stepped up the pressure on Justice Elena Kagan to take herself out of the court’s decision on the health-care reform act.

The process repeated itself a few days later. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) called for the release of more documents about Kagan’s role as President Obama’s solicitor general; the liberal group People for the American Way came out with another broadside against Thomas.
Read the rest here.

European debt crisis: Investors’ confidence shows signs of crumbling

European leaders will continue this week to slowly hammer out new structural measures to shore up the euro currency zone, but market confidence among investors already showed signs of crumbling late last week.

One month after European leaders struck deals over a bailout fund and a debt restructuring for Greece, financial markets are again gripped with pessimism and impatiently looking for more.

Germany is pressing for tighter fiscal discipline through budget controls that would initially draw approval from a few of the 17 nations that belong to the currency union without requiring time-consuming revisions of the union’s treaty. Critics say the plan would effectively create two euro zones, a central one paying lower interest rates and a peripheral one paying higher borrowing rates.

Meanwhile, international investors are holding back, said people familiar with the financial industry, because of uncertainty about the future of the euro zone and worry about how further downgrades of sovereign bonds by credit agencies might hurt banks.

Banks in Europe have also practically stopped lending to other banks, a key task of the financial system that central banks are now performing. And international financial officials fear a self-reinforcing crisis of confidence that could slow down economies — and damage financial institutions and governments alike — just as experienced technocrats are taking charge in Greece and Italy.
Read the rest here.

Bond Brokers see QE3 coming soon (more money printing)

Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The biggest bond dealers in the U.S. say the Federal Reserve is poised to start a new round of stimulus, injecting more money into the economy by purchasing mortgage securities instead of Treasuries.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his fellow policy makers, who bought $2.3 trillion of Treasury and mortgage-related bonds between 2008 and June, will start another program next quarter, 16 of the 21 primary dealers of U.S. government securities that trade with the central bank said in a Bloomberg News survey last week. The Fed may buy about $545 billion in home-loan debt, based on the median of the 10 firms that provided estimates.

While mortgage rates are already at about record lows, housing continues to constrain the economy, with the National Association of Realtors saying in Washington last week that the median price of U.S. existing homes dropped 4.7 percent in October from a year ago. Borrowers with a 30-year conventional mortgage would save $40 billion to $50 billion annually in aggregate if they could all refinance into a new loan with a 3.75 percent rate, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“We need to see a bottom in home prices,” said Shyam Rajan, an interest-rate strategist in New York at Bank of America Corp., a primary dealer, in a Nov. 22 telephone interview. “These are not numbers that are going to get down your unemployment rate,” which has held at or above 9 percent every month except two since May 2009, he said.
Read the rest here.

New Jersey nurses charge religious discrimination over hospital abortion policy

A dozen nurses in New Jersey have rekindled the contentious debate over when health-care workers can refuse to play a role in caring for women getting abortions.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court Oct. 31, 12 nurses charge that the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey violated state and federal laws by abruptly announcing in September that nurses would have to help with abortion patients before and after the procedure, reversing a long-standing policy exempting employees who refuse based on religious or moral objections.
Read the rest here.

Paul Krugman: Things to tax

The supercommittee was a superdud — and we should be glad. Nonetheless, at some point we’ll have to rein in budget deficits. And when we do, here’s a thought: How about making increased revenue an important part of the deal?

And I don’t just mean a return to Clinton-era tax rates. Why should 1990s taxes be considered the outer limit of revenue collection? Think about it: The long-run budget outlook has darkened, which means that some hard choices must be made. Why should those choices only involve spending cuts? Why not also push some taxes above their levels in the 1990s?

Let me suggest two areas in which it would make a lot of sense to raise taxes in earnest, not just return them to pre-Bush levels: taxes on very high incomes and taxes on financial transactions.

About those high incomes: In my last column I suggested that the very rich, who have had huge income gains over the last 30 years, should pay more in taxes. I got many responses from readers, with a common theme being that this was silly, that even confiscatory taxes on the wealthy couldn’t possibly raise enough money to matter.

Folks, you’re living in the past. Once upon a time America was a middle-class nation, in which the super-elite’s income was no big deal. But that was another country.

The I.R.S. reports that in 2007, that is, before the economic crisis, the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — roughly speaking, people with annual incomes over $2 million — had a combined income of more than a trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money, and it wouldn’t be hard to devise taxes that would raise a significant amount of revenue from those super-high-income individuals.
Read the rest here.

Large scale redistribution of wealth has never lead anywhere other than into the economic gutter. 

Surging Newt Gingrich nabs key endorsement

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- In a significant development in the Republican presidential contest, the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper endorsed former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as his campaign surges in polls both nationally and locally. Despite his tumultuous political past, Gingrich was cited by the paper to have conservative credentials they believe to be critical to win the GOP nomination.

"A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington," wrote publisher Joe McQuaid. "Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again."

The paper called Gingrich's strategy "innovative, forward looking" and his leadership "positive." However, McQuaid was quick to conceded Gingrich is far from the ideal candidate.

"Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate," McQuaid wrote. "But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running ... he has the experience, the leadership qualities and the vision to lead this country in trying times."
Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why California is a Colossal Mess

In the Navy we had an acronym for situations like the below... "FUBAR."  I won't break that down.  But it applies to California perfectly.
SACRAMENTO — Across the country, the era of ambitious public works projects seems to be over. Governments are shelving or rejecting plans for highways, railroads and big buildings under the weight of collapsing revenues and voters’ resistance.

But not California.

With a brashness and ambition that evoke a California of a generation ago, state leaders — starting with Gov. Jerry Brown — have rallied around a plan to build a 520-mile high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, cutting the trip from a six-hour drive to a train ride of two hours and 38 minutes. And they are doing it in the face of what might seem like insurmountable political and fiscal obstacles.

The pro-train constituency has not been derailed by a state report this month that found the cost of the bullet train tripling to $98 billion for a project that would not be finished until 2033, by news that Republicans in Congress are close to eliminating federal high-speed rail financing this year, by opposition from California farmers and landowners upset about tracks tearing through their communities or by questions about how much the state or private businesses will be able to contribute.

The project has been mocked by editorial boards across the country — “Somebody please stop this train,” The Washington Post wrote — while Republicans here have denounced it as a waste. In an unfortunate turn of timing, state officials announced this month that revenues this year were so far behind projections that California was likely to have to impose $2 billion in cuts in January.
Read the rest here.

Tables Turned On Britain's Out Of Control Press

LONDON — It is a story made to order for the sensation-hungry tabloid newspapers that have millions of avid readers in Britain: a roll call of A-list celebrities and crime victims pouring out — day by day, live on the Internet — the personal miseries they say they have endured in seeking to protect the everyday normality of their private lives.

But this time, for the tabloids, it is a story with a bitter twist. For what is happening in a courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice has amounted to a turning of the tables, through the medium of a government-appointed inquiry into the “culture, ethics and practices” of British newspapers, that has turned into a legal soap opera in which the villains have emerged as the tabloids themselves.

The high court judge leading the inquiry, Sir Brian Leveson, has called the sessions that began this week, relayed live on the inquiry’s Web site, a “right of reply” for victims of tabloid excesses. He has refused requests by the newspapers’ lawyers for the right to cross-examine the witnesses, and issued a formal warning to the mass-circulation papers not to strike back against those testifying with new articles that invade their privacy or damage their reputations.

One of those taking advantage of the platform was Sienna Miller, 29, a New York-born actress who lives much of the year in London and found herself a target of intense tabloid scrutiny when she was dating the actor Jude Law. One of the inquiry’s most arresting moments came on Thursday when she described her experiences with London’s “relentless” paparazzi, and described being spat at, verbally abused and subjected to dangerous car chases while trying to elude them.

“I felt like I was living in some sort of video game,” Ms. Miller said. “For a number of years, I was relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily.”

“I would often find myself — I was 21 — at midnight running down a dark street, alone, with 10 big men chasing me, and the fact that they had cameras in their hands meant that was legal,” she added. “But if you take away the cameras, what have you got? You’ve got a pack of men chasing a woman, and obviously that’s very intimidating.”

The stories tumbling from the witness stand have been dismal enough to cause at least a minor shock wave in a country that had adjusted over the years with a collective shrug of resignation — mixed, for many readers, with a guilty pleasure — over tabloid newspapering and its relentless pursuit of scoops. Now it is commonplace, at the hearings and beyond, to describe the tabloids as a mafia, and to demand steps to bring them back within the scope of the law.

Beyond the wolf-pack excesses of paparazzi, beyond the phone hacking that has been news here for months, witnesses have told of practices that they described as bullying and intimidation, and of what one witness, Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One racing, referred to as “blackmail.” The film star Hugh Grant said that successive British governments had been intimidated into allowing the excesses to go uncurbed for decades.

The tales have been similar, whether they came from Ms. Miller and Mr. Grant, from J. K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, or Mr. Mosley. Perhaps more shocking have been the accounts of victims of crimes like Bob and Sally Dowler, the parents of a murdered 13-year-old girl whose cellphone was hacked into by a private investigator working for the now defunct tabloid The News of the World, and Gerry and Kate McCann, whose 3-year-old daughter, Madeleine, was abducted, and never seen again, while they were on vacation in Portugal’s Algarve region in 2007.

The accusations are the culmination of the phone hacking scandal that has enveloped Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire through the wrongdoing of The News of the World, which had been Britain’s best-selling Sunday paper. The Murdochs shut down the paper in July amid disclosures about its use of phone hacking and other potentially criminal techniques, including allegations of bribing police officers, to invade the personal lives of nearly 6,000 people.

At the inquiry’s hearings, the scandal has broadened to include all of what are known in Britain as the “red tops,” mass-circulation tabloids known for lurid headlines. A common theme of the witnesses has been the menacing tactics they say tabloid reporters have used. Mr. Grant said his London apartment was broken into after he was arrested with a prostitute in Los Angeles in 1995. Ms. Rowling said a tabloid reporter somehow placed a note seeking information for an article in her 5-year-old daughter’s schoolbag; she said years of stakeouts outside her homes, car chases and intimate revelations about her private life had left her feeling violated and paranoid.

“The attitude seems to be absolutely cavalier,” she said. “You’re famous, you’re asking for it.”
Read the rest here.

A Jewish New Testament

...Nearly all these Bibles are edited by and for Christians. The Christian Bible comprises the Old and New Testaments, so editors offer a Christian perspective on both books. For example, editors might add a footnote to the story of King David, in the Old Testament books I and II Samuel, reminding readers that in the New Testament, David is an ancestor of Jesus.

Jewish scholars have typically been involved only with editions of the Old Testament, which Jews call the Hebrew Bible or, using a Hebrew acronym, the Tanakh. Of course, many curious Jews and Christians consult all sorts of editions, without regard to editor. But among scholars, Christians produce editions of both sacred books, while Jewish editors generally consult only the book that is sacred to them. What’s been left out is a Jewish perspective on the New Testament — a book Jews do not consider holy but which, given its influence and literary excellence, no Jew should ignore.

So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus’s birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that “early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil.” He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a “magos.”
Read the rest here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Return to sovereign currencies wouldn't be as traumatic as assumed

For the record I don't agree with the headline.  But the article raises some interesting points.
The currency team at Bank of America Merrill Lynch have taken a stab at what "fair value" would be for the major legacy currencies in the euro in the event of a breakup. And they've come up with some quite surprising results (see bar graph below)



The conclusion is that Spain, Italy, Portugal and France are all overvalued against the US dollar as things stand, with Spain the most at around 20pc. That's not so surprising, you might say, and if anything probably understates the true position.

But look at the countries thought to be undervalued. Ireland, on the Merrill Lynch analysis, is the most undervalued even though it is undoubtedly completely bust, while Germany, which conventional wisdom would say was massively undervalued as a result of its membership of the euro, is actually only quite marginally undervalued – by around 5pc. If Germany left, says the team, then the euro fair value would fall only 2pc against the dollar. If Italy left, it would rise only 3pc.

These are not big swings. The trouble with this sort of analysis is that there is a world of a difference between academic modelling of fair value and where a currency actually trades. Any break-up or withdrawal from the eurozone would unlikely be orderly. There would be large shocks to all currencies involved, and no model can fully account for these. Currencies often show extreme deviation away from fair value.
Read the rest here.

Man vs Nature

Along Mexican border, US ranchers say they live in fear

FALFURRIAS, Texas — While walking along a dirt road bordering his property, a South Texas farmer complained about living in fear of Mexican traffickers smuggling drugs and illegal immigrants across his land. He would later ask his visitor not to reveal his identity, for his safety and that of his family.

"I'm a citizen of the United States. This is supposedly sovereign soil, but right now it's anybody's who happens to be crossing here," he said. "I'm a little nervous being here right now. Definitely don’t come down here after dark."

The farmer said a federal law enforcement agent told him to buy a bulletproof vest to use while working in his fields. Whenever he goes out to survey his agricultural operations, he always tells his office where he is headed, and he has purchased a high-powered rifle.

"One of the basic points of the federal government is to protect the people of this nation to secure the border, and they're not doing that," he complained.
Read the rest here.

Stumbling Upon a Castle in the Forest and Deciding to Finish It

TUPPER LAKE, N.Y. — Moving through his unfinished mountain home, Andy Ramsgard carries a leatherbound book full of sketches.

The sketches, when viewed in the open rooms of exposed concrete and scattered tools, conjure a sense of what will be: the floating balcony to the great room, the stone fireplace to gather around, the crenelated parapet rimming the rooftop — “So we can rain arrows down on unwanted intruders below,” he explained.

Up a winding road in this Adirondack town, past small houses stacked with firewood and marked by snowmobile trails, a castle rises in the forest.

Four stories of thick concrete, a spiral staircase and a turret stand amid white pines and cedar. The rooftop tower is yet to come, but it is in the sketches, as well as secret passageways and a spy hole hidden in a painting.

Oh, and there will be a drawbridge.
Read the rest here.

What kid didn't dream of having his own castle?

Death of a currency as eurogeddon approaches

It's time to think what hitherto markets have regarded as unthinkable – that the euro really is on its last legs.

The defining moment was the fiasco over Wednesday's bund auction, reinforced on Thursday by the spectacle of German sovereign bond yields rising above those of the UK.

If you are tempted to think this another vote of confidence by international investors in the UK, don't. It's actually got virtually nothing to do with us. Nor in truth does it have much to do with the idea that Germany will eventually get saddled with liability for periphery nation debts, thereby undermining its own creditworthiness.

No, what this is about is the markets starting to bet on what was previously a minority view - a complete collapse, or break-up, of the euro. Up until the past few days, it has remained just about possible to go along with the idea that ultimately Germany would bow to pressure and do whatever might be required to save the single currency.

The prevailing view was that the German Chancellor didn't really mean what she was saying, or was only saying it to placate German voters. When finally she came to peer over the precipice, she would retreat from her hard line position and compromise. Self interest alone would force Germany to act.

But there comes a point in every crisis where the consensus suddenly shatters. That's what has just occurred, and with good reason. In recent days, it has become plain as a pike staff that the lady's not for turning.
Read the rest here.

Banks Build Contingency for Breakup of the Euro

PARIS — For the growing chorus of observers who fear that a breakup of the euro zone might be at hand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has a pointed rebuke: It’s never going to happen.

But some banks are no longer so sure, especially as the sovereign debt crisis threatened to ensnare Germany itself this week, when investors began to question the nation’s stature as Europe’s main pillar of stability.

On Friday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Belgium’s credit standing to AA from AA+, saying it might not be able to cut its debt load any time soon. Ratings agencies this week cautioned that France could lose its AAA rating if the crisis grew. On Thursday, agencies lowered the ratings of Portugal and Hungary to junk.

While European leaders still say there is no need to draw up a Plan B, some of the world’s biggest banks, and their supervisors, are doing just that.

“We cannot be, and are not, complacent on this front,” Andrew Bailey, a regulator at Britain’s Financial Services Authority, said this week. “We must not ignore the prospect of a disorderly departure of some countries from the euro zone,” he said.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

My very best wishes for a joyous feast to you and yours.  Yes, I forgo the fast on Thanksgiving day.  No, I don't feel guilty.  On which note, there will be no posting before Friday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Pilgrim's Way



Part 8

Ore. governor bans executions; condemned imate gets reprieve

SALEM, Ore. – What was supposed to be Oregon’s first execution in 14 years won’t be taking place -- at least not while Gov. John Kitzhaber is in office.

Calling the death penalty “morally wrong,” the Democratic governor on Tuesday announced a state moratoriumon on executions and granted a reprieve to death-row inmate Gary Haugen.

The twice-convicted murderer was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Dec. 6.
Read the rest here.

Cheap Shot

Democrats are calling it one of The Roots' greatest hits.

Jimmy Fallon's house band welcomed Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann to the Late Night stage last night by playing a snippet of the Fishbone song, "Lyin' Ass B-."
Read the rest here.

OK, for the record I wouldn't vote for Michele Bachmann for dog catcher much less POTUS. But this was a cheap shot and very low class. You don't invite someone on your program and then ambush them like that. Fallon should be ashamed.

Quote of the day...

"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of congress. But I repeat myself."

-M.Twain

Monday, November 21, 2011

$1.2 Billion now missing at MF Global

The court-appointed trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global’s brokerage now estimates that the shortfall in the firm’s customer funds could be more than $1.2 billion, double previous estimates.

Regulators currently suspect that MF Global improperly used customer money for its own purposes in the days before filing for Chapter 11 protection, according to people briefed on the matter.

The decision to release the updated figure on Monday came after authorities concluded that much of the customer money had left the firm, these people said.
Read the rest here.

Obama threatens to veto changes to $1.2T in cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Monday he will veto any effort to get rid of automatic spending cuts that would begin to take effect in 2013 if Congress can't find other ways of trimming government deficits.

Those spending cuts include significant reductions to the Pentagon that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said would be devastating to the military.

Obama issued his threat an hour after leaders of Congress' deficit-reduction supercommittee announced that they had failed to reach agreement on cutting the debt. The inability of the bipartisan committee to meet its deadline means the government is facing about $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that start to kick in in January 2013.
Read the rest here.

Good for him.  One of the few things he has said or done I agree with.

Stocks plunge on debt fears

There’s only so much bad news the stock market can ignore.

Investors woke up Monday morning to news that a select congressional committee had failed, as expected, to break a long-running deadlock on solutions to the federal budget deficit. Analysts had been saying for weeks that the committee’s work would have much less impact on the markets than the high-profile bickering that sent stocks reeling in August.

But the deepening debt crisis in Europe is harder to ignore.

“Complacency is running at an uncomfortably high level,” said Gluskin Shiff's Chief Economist David Rosenberg. "Hope is one thing; denial quite another. Neither are very effective investment strategies.”

That complacency was tested Monday, as heavy selling sent stocks lower, knocking more than two percent off the major market indices.
Read the rest here.

Panel’s failure shifts debt fight to Bush tax cuts

The imminent failure of the congressional deficit “supercommittee,” which had a chance to settle the nation’s tax policy for the next decade, would thrust the much-contested Bush tax cuts into the forefront of next year’s presidential campaign.

Those tax changes have repeatedly provoked fiery partisan debate since they were enacted during President George W. Bush’s first term. Now, with the cuts due to expire at the end of 2012 and their fate left unresolved by the supercommittee, both parties are already positioning themselves to exploit the issue for maximum electoral advantage.
Read the rest here.

They should never have been passed in the first place.

Many Years

To Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on his 65th birthday.  The below is the Hierarchical Liturgy celebrated on his birthday (November 20).



Part 1



Part 2

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Updated the sidebar

Periodically I add to (and occasionally remove from) the links in the sidebar.  It's been a while since I have mentioned it so if you haven't looked recently you may want to see what's new.  Today's addition is a promising new blog called Orthodoxy and Recovery.  It explores the issue of alcohol and substance abuse from an Orthodox perspective.  On a side note, I really don't like removing links, especially blogs from the sidebar.  But if a blog appears to have been abandoned (usually 4-6 months of no activity) then I will remove the link.

Finally please pray for George the owner of the new blog who is recovering from an appendicitis.  Ouch!  I am fighting a touch of the flu myself.  Just thinking about the appendicitis makes me feel better.

And now for something different... a nice story

ABC News’ Luchina Fisher and Leezel Tanglao report:

Dressed in elegant black, her hand in a patriotic pose, Mila Kunis made good on a promise and made one serviceman just back from Afghanistan, the happiest guy at a military gala this past week.

The “Black Swan” star attended a Marine Corps ball Friday night with Sgt. Scott Moore.

“It’s good that she gets to come on a date with a marine so it’s good for her, you know,” said Corporal William Steffy.

The star arrived in Greenville, N. C. in a black SUV as anticipation for the evening ran high.

“Where all going to have a great time celebrating the Marine Corps birthday,” said Captain Scott Sasser with the U.S. Marine Corps.

In July, the 28-year old actress was invited by Moore on YouTube.

“Hey Mila, Sgt. Moore, but you can call me Scotty,” the sergeant said in uniform and dark sunglasses outside his bunker in Afghanistan in the video. “I just want to take a moment out of my day to invite you to the Marine Corps Ball with yours truly. So take a second to think about it and get back to me. All right, bye now.”

The invite became a viral sensation with 4 million hits.
Read the rest here.

Very classy.  Good for both of them.  

The Run On Europe Begins, As Global Investors Head For The Hills...

Until recently, the concern about Europe was mostly theoretical--a potential train-wreck that would occur if/when the world's lenders decided that the continent's problems extended beyond the basket case known as Greece to Europe's "core."

Well, that concern is no longer theoretical.

It's happening.

The world's lenders are increasingly deciding that it's better to be safe than sorry, and they're pulling their money out of Europe.

As a result, the borrowing costs of many European countries are rising fast. And so are inter-bank lending rates, because the second huge problem with the Euro-train-wreck is that Europe's banks have Euro debts coming out of their ears.

(When bond yields rise, the market value of existing bonds drops, so any bank that owns the debt of any European country is suffering huge embedded losses. The banks don't mark these losses to market, so you can't see them on the balance sheet, but they're there.)

Last week, Italian borrowing costs soared over 7%, which has been viewed as a sort of Rubicon level. Spanish yields hit nearly 7%. And French "spreads" over German bonds expanded sharply.

Nelson Schwartz in the New York Times has some other details:

  • The Royal Bank of Scotland and pension funds in the Netherlands have been heavy sellers of European sovereign debts in recent days.
  • Kokusai Asset Management in Japan unloaded nearly $1 billion in Italian debt this month.
  • Vanguard let a $300 million CD with Rabobank expire earlier this month and pulled the money out of Europe
  • European banks like SocGen and BNP Paribas cut exposure to Italy by 26 billion euros in Q3
  • American money-market funds have cut their exposure to European bank paper by 54% ($261 billion) since May
And so on.

The interbank-lending problems, by the way, are exactly what happened in the United States in 2007 and 2008.

If the run continues, for banks and countries and companies that live on borrowed money, the effect will be similar to the oxygen being sucked out of the room.

And because of the absurd opacity of bank balance sheets, there's no way to tell when or if some critical threshold will be breached and banks and insurance companies (think AIG) will suddenly have to start handing over tens of billions of dollars of "collateral" to counter-parties, blowing huge holes in their balance sheets.

Importantly, once runs like this get started, they can accelerate fast. Recall how quickly Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers went from angry denials and "exploring options" to bust. Recall how quickly, a month ago, MF Global went from confident to flailing to broke.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The mail just came...

Including a couple of books I ordered. Sitting within arms reach and screaming "READ ME!" is This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff. Probably not much posting for the next couple days. Enjoy your weekend.

Veneration of the Belt of The Most Holy Theotokos

Friday, November 18, 2011

For The Record

I will not knowingly patronize any retail business during the Christmas shopping season that is open on Thanksgiving and forcing its employees to work on that day.  Right now that list includes at least three major retailers, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Target.  Shame on them.

Enough with the greed already!

The Durham NC Legal Circus Is Back In Business

An extraordinary legal shouting match has broken out in Durham, N.C., between the county’s beleaguered local district attorney and its senior Superior Court judge, who has chastised the D.A. in open court.

In a harshly worded court filing, Durham Dist. Atty. Tracey Cline accused Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. of "moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption" and complained that the judge "harbors animosity" toward her and has engaged in "retaliatory conduct" and "gross misconduct."

Court filings are typically written in dry, obtuse legal argot. But Cline’s filing contains unusually accusatory and vituperative language replete with fractured syntax and spelling errors. She wrote that Hudson’s actions "striped away" her rights, and that credibility of the criminal justice system is a "causality" of Hudson’s conduct. She described Hudson’s behavior as "without responsibility or conscious."

Saying crime victims have been "emotionally and relentlessly repeatedly raped" by the judge’s rulings, Cline said she will attempt to have Hudson removed from overseeing criminal cases. She also wrote that she has filed a misconduct complaint against Hudson with the state commission that oversees judges.

Cline's filing, submitted late Thursday, accuses Hudson of "intentional and malicious acts with GROSS UNCONCERN for this conduct and done in BAD FAITH."
Read the rest here.

The current DA in Durham was a top aid to Mike Nifong who was disbarred for trying to railroad three Duke University Lacrosse players on trumped up gang rape charges. I blogged rather extensively on this subject back in 2006 and very early on expressed doubts about the case.

US economy shows signs of life, but risks abound

There were compelling signs this week that the U.S. economy is, ever so gradually, picking up speed. Keeping the recovery on track, though, will mean dodging several very large obstacles that could derail it again.

The latest piece of upbeat news came from the Conference Board, which said Friday that its index of leading economic indicators jumped by 0.9 percent in October, up sharply from a 0.1 percent increase in September and a 0.3 percent rise in August.

The private research group said much of the increase was due to a rise in building permits for future construction, which jumped nearly 11 percent in October, to the highest level since March 2010.

The dismal housing market has been one of the main dampers on the U.S. economic recovery. Now, four years after the new housing market all but shut down, home construction is showing signs of life. On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that single family housing starts jumped 3.9 percent in October. A separate report by an industry group found that homebuilders are getting more optimistic than they've been since May 2010.

"I think everyone is feeling a little more confident in what they think future looks like," said Frank Sorrentino, CEO of North Jersey Community Bank, which lends to home builders in Northern New Jersey. "I don't think anyone believes were falling off a cliff any more, and people are starting to think that 2012 may actually start to look like a decent year."

Other recent economic data -- on everything from jobs to retail sales -- are pointing to an improved outlook for next year. New claims for unemployment insurance, which tend to track the pace of layoffs, fell to 388,000 in the latest week, a seven-month low. It was also the fourth decline in five weeks. That's a sign that the job market has at least stabilized.
Read the rest here.

Good news from Canada, Hate speech law to be repealed

OTTAWA - Canada's human rights commissions could soon be de-fanged.

New legislation would repeal Section 13, the hate speech portion of Human Rights Act.

“Our government believes Section 13 is not an appropriate or effective means for combating hate propaganda. We believe the Criminal Code is the best vehicle to prosecute these crimes,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told the House of Commons during question period.

“I say to the opposition: get onside with the media, MacLean's magazine, National Post, and even the Toronto Star says this section should go.”

Quebecor and its media properties, including Sun News Network and QMI Agency, also want the section scrapped.

Tory backbencher Brian Storseth drafted the private member's bill, C-304.

“This is a great first step,” Storseth told The Source host Ezra Levant on Sun News Network. “Free speech is something we all hold very dear to our hearts and something we all have a necessity for.”

Levant, a lawyer, put the boots to the Alberta Human Rights Commission after they accused him of spreading hate speech in 2006 for reprinting a cartoon of Mohammed wearing a turban bomb in his Western Standard magazine.

The same Danish cartoon had sparked Islamist riots that killed more than 200 people in one month. The artist lives under constant threat.

“The entire Canadian Human Rights Act ought to be repealed. It's worse than just useless,” said Levant. “You don't even have to cause hurt feelings — just to have published something likely to cause hurt feelings. What an insane law, so un-Canadian, so contrary to our traditions of liberty that go back centuries, inherited from the United Kingdom,.”

With a Conservative majority in the House and the Senate, the bill will likely become law quickly, after 32 years accusations and convictions over allegations of hate speech.

“No more witch hunts by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, no more persecuting their political enemies, said Levant.
Source.

This law has been used for years to bludgeon conservatives and persons or religious faith.