Saturday, March 31, 2012

Congrats!

To my friend Lori who won $7.00 on a $5.00 Mega Millions ticket.  She hasn't decided if she is taking the lump sum or the annuity.  I'd go with the lump sum.  The Mayans were pretty sure the world is going to end this year.  More good news, she won't have to declare that on her state income tax since California doesn't tax lottery winnings.

On a side note someone right here in Modesto (not me) actually got 5 of the numbers right and will collect a little over $250.000.00 before Federal taxes.  Another second prize ticket was sold just up the road in Manteca.  No jealousy of course.  None at all.

As Romney prepares to close the deal, what next?

It's not quite over, but the fat lady is warming up as I type.

Polls strongly suggest that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will win the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday.  A Romney victory will effectively end what has been a longer than expected and very bruising campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.  No, Wisconsin won't put him over the top in delegates. But it will give him a mathematical lead whose margin is effectively insurmountable by any of the other candidates either alone or in combination.  In short Romney will become the nominee presumptive of the Republican Party.

Things to watch for after Tuesday:

First expect the so called Veepstakes to heat up with increasing speculation on who Romney will choose as his running mate.  The current front runner for that is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  But a few other names have been floated as well including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (very popular with fiscal conservatives) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who is famous for a personality almost as large as his considerable girth.  A few have suggested one of his two principal rivals for the nomination might be chosen.  I think this unlikely however.  The primary campaign has simply been too acrimonious. Both Santorum and Gingrich have said too many things about Romney that could not be glossed over in the general campaign.  Although it is widely reported that Ron Paul and Governor Romney are personal friends, they are ideologically too far apart for Dr. Paul to be considered.  Romney has been roughed up rather badly and is widely suspected of being a closet moderate or worse by the right wing of the party.  Rubio is the safe bet, but whoever he picks he will need someone with solid neo-con / social conservative credentials if he is to have any hope of rallying the party base going into the general election.

Next start looking for a gradual but incremental change in tone from the campaign.  It is a given that in primary battles candidates must tack to the right (or left for Democrats) and then as soon as possible heavily qualify or simply forget many of their more extreme statements from the primary season as they try to present themselves as a centrist to the broader electorate.  It was most impolitic of one his top advisers to actually admit this on national television with his now infamous "etch-a-sketch" comment.  But it absolutely is the way it's done by all nominees of either party, if they are serious about winning the general election.  In this respect President Obama has a significant advantage as he is not facing a primary challenge.

Finally the pressure on his two main opponents to bow out of the race is going to pick up quickly.  Will they bow out?  My guess is probably not immediately. But neither of them are idiots and both have some aspirations to holding public office again at some point.  That would be jeopardized by any perception of playing spoiler or a lack of party loyalty once the nomination has been clearly decided. At the very least I expect them to tone down their rhetoric.  And of course there is the simple fact that presidential campaigns require money.  Santorum has shown an ability to run on a shoestring budget.  But even that requires some money.  Who is going to give money to a candidate who has clearly lost?  A lack of money and rapidly dwindling media coverage will sooner or later bring an end to the campaigns of the "also rans."  Dr. Paul is the exception.  He has money and a loyal following and I expect him to continue to campaign at least until Romney actually locks down the last delegates needed for the nomination.

The first phase of the 2012 presidential election is now coming to an end.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Canada begins phasing out the penny

The Canadians are doing what the U.S. has not been able to accomplish: Eliminating the money-losing penny.

The Canadian government has announced that it will stop distributing the Canadian penny beginning in the fall, with the gradual goal of removing it from circulation.

The move, unveiled as part of the Canadian government’s overall budget proposal, comes down to cold, hard cash. That is, the cash that can be saved by removing the penny from circulation.

The government said it expects it can save about $11 million Canadian dollars (about $11 million USD) a year by not supplying the penny, because the cost to produce a penny is more than the penny’s face value.
Read the rest here.

Vatican doctrinal office warns Catholics against schismatic group

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sounded a warning against four excommunicated priests who continue to claim they represent the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern churches in full communion with Rome.

Despite encouragement and hopes the excommunicated clerics would reconcile with the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Holy See, recent events and their continued slander demonstrate the leaders are only creating "confusion and havoc in the community of faithful," the congregation said in a written declaration, dated Feb. 22 and released by the Vatican March 29.

The doctrinal congregation formally does "not recognize the validity of their episcopal ordinations and all the ordinations that derived or will derive from them," it said.

The men, Fathers Elias A. Dohnal, Markian V. Hitiuk, Metodej R. Spirik and Robert Oberhauser, were expelled from the Basilian Fathers.

In 2008, they said they were consecrated as bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the statement said.

They were subsequently excommunicated in 2008 after being found guilty, according to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, of illegitimate usurpation of authority, inciting sedition and hatred toward people in the church hierarchy, provoking disobedience, and seriously damaging a person's good name through calumny, the doctrinal office said.

It said the so-called bishops recently sought to register with Ukrainian authorities as the "Ukrainian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church," a movement the four, with three other priests, established in 2009.

"The Holy See has followed with great apprehension" the group's unsuccessful attempt to register itself as part of the Catholic Church and said it was "illegitimate and illicit" for any group not recognized by the proper ecclesial authorities to assume the name "Catholic."

The doctrinal congregation warned all Catholic faithful to "not belong to the aforementioned group" as it is not in communion with the Catholic Church and to pray for the members of the group "to mend its ways" so as to return to the church.

According to its website, the movement "accepts the primacy of the Roman pontiff, is founded on the Apostolic and Eastern Catholic tradition and, above all, dissociates itself from the contemporary heresies which destroy both the Eastern and the Western church."

In 2011, the group excommunicated Pope Benedict XVI and most of the world's cardinals and bishops and declared the establishment of the Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate, with Father Dohnal as the patriarch.
Source.

Patriarch Kirill to visit Catholic Poland

Moscow, March 30, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill is due to visit Poland soon, the head of Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said.

"In a sequence of visits that any newly elected church leader makes to other local Orthodox churches, Patriarch Kirill is due to pay a visit to the Polish Orthodox Church in the very near future," the priest told a press conference at the Interfax on Friday.

The visit is expected to include contacts with the Roman Catholic Church, he said.

"Naturally, if the visit is to Poland, it would be strange to refuse from contacts with the country's leading Church, especially, in light of the recent dialogue aimed at working out mutually acceptable positions on the issues that the Poles and Russians have for one another. One way or the other, the visit to country with a strong Catholic tradition will involve a contact with this Church," Father Vsevolod added.
Source.

Keith Olbermann Is Sacked Again

(Reuters) - Television commentator Keith Olbermann has been fired by Current TV, the network's founders said on Friday, after just a year with the network.

The founders of the public affairs TV channel, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt, announced Olbermann's departure in an open letter.

"Current was ... founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it," they said.

Current TV said Olbermann's one-hour primetime slot would be taken by former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, beginning on Friday.
Read the rest here.

Army reprimands soldier for endorsing Ron Paul while in uniform

The soldier, 28-year-old Spc. Jesse Thorsen, is a 10-year veteran who has served two tours in Afghanistan.

At the nationally-televised Iowa caucus-night rally, Paul invited Thorsen to make remarks onstage. Thorsen, who was in uniform, said that meeting Paul was like meeting “a rock star” and told the crowd, “We are going to make sure this man is the next president of the United States.”

An Army spokesman later said that Thorsen’s action was “not in keeping with the spirit or the letter” of a Defense Department directive that calls on active duty soldiers to “avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.”
Read the rest here.

Euro zone pumps up bailout fund to nearly $1 trillion

BERLIN — European finance ministers agreed on Friday to bolster the total capacity of their bailout funds to $933 billion, a temporary measure to convince investors that they are serious about helping struggling countries repay their debts.

After meeting in Copenhagen, the euro zone finance ministers announced that they would substantially increase their commitments for a new permanent bailout fund to $667 billion. They said they will also make available an additional $267 billion from an earlier bailout until mid-2013.
Read the rest here.

Hackers Steal Mastercard Data

Law enforcement officials are investigating what appears to be a massive theft of U.S. consumers' credit card data, MasterCard confirmed Friday. The computer security expert who first reported the theft said it might involve 10 million MasterCard and Visa accounts, making it one of the largest credit card heists in recent memory.

"MasterCard is currently investigating a potential account data compromise event of a U.S.-based entity and, as a result, we have alerted payment card issuers regarding certain MasterCard accounts that are potentially at risk," the association said in a statement. "Law enforcement has been notified of this matter and the incident is currently the subject of an ongoing forensic review by an independent data security organization."
Read the rest here.

Lottery Rises to $640 Million

Someone just emailed me in response to the previous post to inform me that the lottery is now up to $640 million.  I tried to verify that but the lottery website seems to have crashed.  This reminds me of a famous book on manias and the madness of crowds.

Lottery Fever Has Americans Seeing Green

With a world record $540 million (and growing) jackpot at stake, much of the nation is gripped by Mega Millions fever. Millions of lottery tickets are being snapped up ahead of Friday night's Mega Millions drawing, which could provide a lucky ticket holder with a lump-sum payoff of about $390 million.

From Vermont to Louisiana and New York to California, the jackpot has been the wistful talk of TV, social media sites, office water coolers and dreamy high rollers for the past week, electrifying ticket sales with a frenzy likely to amp up even further ahead of Friday night's drawing at 11 p.m. ET.
Read the rest here.

Go ahead and drop a buck or two if you want to daydream (I did). Just remember though that come Monday you will have to go back to work. Your odds of winning this thing are MUCH lower than the odds of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series... every year for the next ten years.

P.S. Just for fun, how do you plan to spend your new fortune (you know you have the winning ticket of course)?

Liberals to Conservatives: Careful what you wish for...

If the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare liberals will start rallying for a single payer health care system which would be a true move towards socialized medicine unlike the current plan that, GOP claims notwithstanding, more or less preserves the current for profit system of rationing health care.  Many liberals are praying that the GOP wins this battle for exactly that reason.
In arguments before the Supreme Court this week, the Obama administration might have done just enough to keep the Affordable Care Act from being ruled unconstitutional. Those who believe in limited government had better hope so, at least.

If Obamacare is struck down, the short-term implications are uncertain. Conservatives may be buoyed by an election-year victory; progressives may be energized by a ruling that looks more political than substantive. The long-term consequences, however, are obvious: Sooner or later, a much more far-reaching overhaul of the health-care system will be inevitable.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Valaam Step to the Skies



Click over to youtube to watch all seven parts.

San Francisco loses $5 sub specials due to higher wage law

Subway customers in San Francisco may be disappointed when they get to the counter and find out that the everyday selection of $5 footlong sandwiches has been scrapped, reportedly in response to a recent increase in the minimum wage. A story in local media outlet SF Weekly blamed the ban on $5 footlongs in local stores to the higher cost of doing business.

According to workers interviewed by SF Weekly, it's because of the local $10.24-per-hour minimum wage. San Francisco has a minimum wage that adjusts annually according to the Consumer Price Index. Business groups regularly decry automatically adjusting minimum wages, but usually don't tie their labor costs as explicitly to the price of their goods.

Subway spokesman Les Winograd said franchisees weren't running afoul of any corporate rules by scrapping the sandwich promotion. "We don't set prices, we recommend prices, so the franchisees do set their own prices," he said. The San Francisco case, he said, was the first instance he'd seen of a market eschewing the national $5 footlong price.

San Francisco customers, meanwhile, are relegated to tuna salad with jalapenos — the monthly "special" footlong — if they want a $5 lunch.
Source.

British Conservatives lead charge for gay marriage

LONDON — Americans watching the latest push for social change in Britain might feel as if they had stepped into an alternative political universe: Here, the Conservatives are leading the charge for same-sex marriage.

Gay couples in Britain won the right to civil partnerships in 2004, which granted them nearly the same legal status as married heterosexual couples while avoiding the controversial use of the word “marriage.” But Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition have launched a historic drive to grant gay men and lesbians the option of also entering into civil marriages, touching off a surprisingly fierce uproar in largely progressive Britain and fueling a rebellion on the right as the party comes under heavy fire from traditional allies in the British clergy.
Read the rest here.

House GOP passes austerity budget on party line vote

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $3.5 trillion budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on a 228 to 191 vote, largely along party lines.

It was a dramatic departure from the night before, when lawmakers took up a plan based on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction proposal.

Given a chance to vote for Simpson-Bowles for the first time — after many months of praise from officials in both parties for a proposal that would slash deficits by $4 trillion — the House rejected the measure soundly. Just 38 members voted for it. Supporters included 16 Republicans and 22 Democrats.

It appears that Simpson-Bowles, crafted more than a year ago by a bipartisan presidential commission, has become the idea a whole lot of people in both parties love to love — but virtually no one wants to vote for.

“In a way, it was a hypocrisy litmus test,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), of the Simpson-Bowles foray. “In their hearts, they want to be for this. . . . It’s a courage issue.”

Members rendered judgment on both plans in the midst of a series of budget votes this week ahead of the upcoming spring break recess that begins Friday.

The Ryan plan, which proposes cutting tax rates and a dramatic revamping of Medicare to curb costs for future retirees, faces all but certain rejection in the Senate but will frame the parties’ election-year debate on fiscal issues. The plan cuts $5.3 trillion over the next decade — entirely through deep cuts in entitlements and agency spending.
Read the rest here.

Spain teeters on the edge of chaos

MADRID — Spanish workers enraged by austerity-driven labor reforms to prevent the nation from becoming Europe’s next bailout victim slowed down the country’s economy in a general strike Thursday, closing factories and clashing with police as the new-center right government tried to convince investors the nation isn’t headed for a financial meltdown.

Tens of thousands held protest marches in Madrid and other cities, and the demonstrations turned violent in Spain’s second largest city of Barcelona, where hooded protesters smashed bank and storefront windows with hammers and rocks and set fire to streetside trash containers. Television images also showed the Barcelona demonstrators throwing rocks at riot police vans, and hitting them as they sped near the crowds.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Liberals brace for Supreme Court ruling on health care

CHICAGO — The Supreme Court’s skeptical consideration of President Obama’s landmark health-care legislation this week has forced his supporters to contemplate the unthinkable: that the justices could throw out the law and destroy the most far-reaching accomplishment of the Obama presidency.

The fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is uncertain. A ruling is not expected until June. White House officials are refusing publicly to consider that the law might be struck down or to discuss contingency plans, insisting that they do not address hypothetical questions.

Other Democrats have begun assessing how such an outcome could affect the political landscape of 2012, with some surmising that a backlash against Republicans could follow a ruling against the law. But supporters argue that on a substantive level, the results would be devastating.
Read the rest here.

Ecumenical Patriarchate deposes two bishops over monastic scandal

Read the story here.

Woman arrested after getting three speeding tickets in an hour

How fast is too fast? For a Hayward woman thrown in jail, it was three times in an hour, including twice at speeds over 100 miles an hour, according to reports.

Lynne Kathleen Cahill-Gomez was pulled over for speeding three times between 8:10 p.m. and 9:08 p.m. on Saturday on Highway 70 in Yuba County, according to the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.

She was pulled over for driving a Hyundai SUV 103 miles per hour and then again for going 105 miles per hour by 8:30 p.m. Then, 40 minutes later, she was pulled over for going 76 miles per hour, the newspaper reported.

She told officers she was in a hurry to get to Butte County to care for a sick relative, the newspaper reported.

California Highway Patrol officers arrested her for reckless driving. She was booked into jail but later released, and will be arraigned in Yuba County on April 19.
Source.

Lottery jackpot soars to record $476 million

The winning numbers for the $356 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot, the third-largest prize in the game's history, were 9, 19, 34, 44, 51 and Mega Ball 24, but they did not produce a winner, officials said.

The lack of winner on Tuesday night's drawing means the estimated jackpot will grow to an estimated $476 million for a drawing Friday, according to the offical Mega Millions website. Mega Millions drawings are held Tuesday and Friday at 11 p.m. EDT and Tuesday night's drawing took place in Atlanta, Ga.
Read the rest here.

Well look for all the people who are barely scraping by to be standing in long lines to throw their money away. I can understand dropping a buck on a ticket. I might do so myself if I don't have to wait in any lines. It's cheap entertainment (cheaper than a movie). But we are going to see millions of people who are dirt poor throwing $20, $50 and even $100 away on this foolishness. The only guaranteed winner is going to be the IRS.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Corruption and America's slide into the Third World

Brother Fred with another great post...
Several things characterize countries of the Third Word, whatever precisely "Third World" means.

The first is corruption. America is rotten with it, but American corruption is distinct from corruption in, say, Guatemala or Thailand, being less visible and better organized.

Several major differences exist between the usual corruption in the Third World and that in America. In most of the Third World, corruption exists from top to bottom. Everyone and everything is for sale. Bribery amounts to an economic system, like capitalism or socialism. By contrast, in the United States, graft flourishes mostly at the level of government and commerce. You don’t (I think) slip an admissions official at Harvard twenty grand to accept your shiftless and dull-witted slug of a misbegotten offspring. Nor do you pay a local judge to drop dope charges against your teenager. And in the Guatemalas and Egypts of the planet, corruption tends to be personal. The briber and the bribed act as individuals.

In the United States, corruption occurs at the level of policy and contracts, between corporations, special interests, and Congress. It is done gracefully and usually legally. For example, Big Pharma pays Congress to insert, in some voluminous bill that almost no one will read, a clause saying that the government will pay list price for drugs instead of negotiating for a better price. Over time, this is worth hundreds of millions, paid by you. Yet the clause is legal. Or military industry pays Congress to buy an enormously expensive and unneeded airplane. It’s legal. Read the bill. Or agribusiness pays Congress to cough up large subsidies. Also legal.
Read the rest here.

Newt Gingrich sharply scales back campaign

Newt Gingrich, who once led the Republican presidential field only to see his standing diminished after a string of losses, will reduce his campaign schedule and lay off a third of his staff in a strategy shift that underscores his fading chances of claiming the party’s nomination.

The former House speaker has already replaced his top aide, Michael Krull, with Vince Haley, who had been deputy campaign manager and a policy adviser. Gingrich, who had pinned his hopes on a strong showing in the South but won only his home state of Georgia and neighboring South Carolina, will continue to visit primary states but will begin a post-primary strategy that zeroes in on the Republican National Convention, his aides said.
Read the rest here.

Obamacare: Legal experts see a skeptical Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared deeply skeptical Tuesday that a key component of President Obama’s sweeping health-care law is constitutional, endangering the most ambitious domestic program to emerge from Congress in decades.

In an intense interrogation of the government’s lawyer, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the justices posed repeated and largely unanswered questions about the limits of federal power. At the end of two hours, the court seemed split on the same question that has divided political leaders and the country: whether the Constitution gives Congress the power to compel Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.
Read the rest here.

LA Dodgers to be sold for $2 billion to Magic Johnson consortium

Former Nationals president Stan Kasten made an emphatic official foray back into baseball late Tuesday night, reaching an agreement as part of an ownership group that includes basketball legend Magic Johnson to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion, the Dodgers announced.

Kasten joined the Nationals in 2006 and served as team president, a conduit between ownership and all internal and external parties, until he stepped down at the end of the 2010 season. Kasten maintained a small ownership stake in the Nationals until March 2011, when he sold his shares in order to take on a new venture.

The Kasten-Johnson partnership will help extricate the Dodgers, one of baseball’s most revered franchises, from the mess created by previous owner Frank McCourt’s divorce and financial misadventures. The $2 billion price tag is record for the value of a North American franchise, a price offset by the value of the property surrounding Dodger Stadium and the revenue from an ensuing television contract.
Read the rest here.

Supreme Court Justices Sharply Question Constitutionality of Health Care Mandate

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared deeply skeptical that the Constitution gives Congress the power to compel Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, as the court completed two hours of debate Tuesday on the key component of the nation’s health-care overhaul law.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, traditionally the justice most likely to side with the court’s liberals, suggested that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act invoked a power “beyond what our cases allow” the Congress to wield in regulating interstate commerce.
Read the rest here.

California Democrats balk at budget cuts

In a show of good faith one year ago, legislative Democrats slashed Medi-Cal, cut universities and reduced welfare grants to slice the state deficit 13 weeks before the constitutional deadline.

But this year Democrats are refusing to go along with Gov. Jerry Brown's most controversial reductions, spurning his demand to have cuts in place by March.

They oppose Brown's plan to halve the amount of time that unemployed adults can receive welfare-to-work benefits and to slash grants to children. Assembly Democrats have voted against his proposal to cut scholarship aid for 26,000 low-income students through higher grade requirements for Cal Grants.

Brown wanted lawmakers to fast-track his cuts again because he said the state can save more money the earlier it reduces programs. But Assembly Democrats have rejected welfare and Cal Grant cuts, while Senate Democrats say they will wait until at least May before making any real decisions.

"It's just March, it's just March," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, emphasizing that it remains relatively early in the budget calendar.

Despite warnings by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office that Brown's fiscal forecast is too optimistic, Steinberg hopes tax receipts will be higher in April than the governor predicted and that a Facebook stock sale will boost state coffers.
Read the rest here.

US soccer team is knocked out of Olympic contention by El Salvador

The U.S. entered the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with high expectations. But it's going home empty-handed after Jaime Alas' goal in stoppage time lifted El Salvador to a 3-3 tie in the final game of group play Monday in Nashville, ending the Americans' Olympic soccer dreams.

The U.S. was about a minute shy of the victory it needed to advance to the tournament semifinals as the winner of its group when Alas charged up the center of the American defense and uncorked a blast from 25 yards out that bounced once before eluding backup U.S. keeper Sean Johnson, who got a hand on the shot but couldn't stop it. That not only knocked the U.S. out of the tournament, but also it changed El Salvador's fortunes, with the Central Americans leaping from elimination to the top of the Group A standings ahead of Canada, which tied Cuba, 1-1, in Monday's first game and advances as the group runner-up.

El Salvador, which last qualified for the Olympics in 1968, figures to play Honduras in the semifinals, provided its Central American neighbor gets past winless Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of Group B play Tuesday at the Home Depot Center. Canada is all but certain to face unbeaten Mexico, the probable Group B winner and the dominant team in the tournament so far. The winners of those two games will represent the CONCACAF region in London this summer.

None of that matters to the U.S., which will be watching at home after fighting back from a 2-1 deficit to take a one-goal lead in the 68th minute, only to give it back four minutes into stoppage time and miss the Olympics for the second time in three tries.
Read the rest here,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Some things are just wrong

In the midst of recruiting an all-star ensemble for his long-gestating passion project "The Butler," director Lee Daniels has tapped Jane Fonda to play Nancy Reagan.

Based on a Washington Post report by Wil Haygood, pic follows Eugene Allen, the White House butler whose career started with Harry Truman in 1952 and ended in 1986 with Ronald Reagan.

Forest Whitaker is closing a deal to play Allen, while Oprah Winfrey remains in talks to play his wife. David Oyelowo is in negotiations to play Allen's son, while Liam Neeson and John Cusack are circling presidential supporting roles as Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, respectively. Fonda will appear in a handful of scenes as the first lady of the United States.
Read the rest here.

Jane Fonda, a Communist sympathizer and traitor is to portray Nancy Reagan?  Whatever one may think of Ronald Reagan's politics this is just plain insulting.

One in three new babies are likely to live 100 years

One in three babies born this year will live to the age of 100, official projections have concluded.

Tens of thousands of extra people will live to see in the milestone, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The official projections on “mortality”, published on Monday, suggested that “at every age”, females had more chance of reaching their 100th birthdays than males did.

The projections said that a third of babies born in 2012 would live to be 100, with nearly 40 per cent of baby girls compared to just under a third of baby boys reaching the milestone.
Read the rest here.

Why losing a pet hurts so much

It’s been four months, and yet if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will crack. By “that day,” I mean the day I came home from work to find my Doberman, Red, splayed out on my bedroom floor, his head to one side, his body lifeless but still warm. It’s an image I can’t seem to shake, as much as I try.

I’m no stranger to death. I was a mess of anger and confusion when my father, suffering the aftermath of a stroke, took his last gasps one day in 1995, his children gathered around his hospital bed. And three years later, the death of my sweet, beloved sister Bonny after a withering battle with brain cancer was nothing short of heartbreaking. Yet somehow, and much to my distress, the death of my dog seems even harder. I haven’t felt grief quite like this since, well, the death of my previous dog five years ago.
Read the rest here.
(Tissue box warning)

Sane Investing: Avoid extremes and stay diversified

Excellent advice from Craig R...
I just read about a Vanguard retirement planning calculator recommending someone put 100% of their money into the stock market. Well, 100% in any asset class is gambling, not investing.

The Vanguard questionnaire assumes many things about the future that history simply doesn’t support in terms of market risk. The past does not predict the future. Just because U.S. markets have had good runs in the past does not mean they will have those runs on your particular timetable.

The last part is important because the investment industry will often show a chart with 200 years of U.S. stock returns (or some similar very long time horizon). But these charts make a lot of assumptions:

1) That U.S. stock market history will repeat the exact same way (it won’t).

2) That any person or organization was able to capture those returns consistently (they didn’t).
Read the rest here.

James Cameron's trip to the bottom of the world

For three decades, filmmaker James Cameron has vividly drawn alien worlds.

On Monday, ocean explorer James Cameron visited one: the bottom of the sea.

Nine hours after completing a historic solo dive to the deepest slice of the ocean floor, Cameron described his “very surreal day” in the language of an astronaut.

“When I came down, landed, it was very, very soft, almost gelatinous, a flat plain, almost featureless plain, and it just went out of sight as far as I could see,” Cameron said from the megayacht Octopus, owned by his friend, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

“The impression to me, it was very lunar, a very desolate place, very isolated,” Cameron said. “My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity. I felt like I had literally in the space of one day gone to another planet and come back.”
Read the rest here.

Anger at Goldman Still Simmers

Just before the financial crisis began in September 2008, a prominent hedge fund appeared well positioned to take advantage of any turmoil in the markets. That fund, Copper River Partners, had made sizable bets months earlier against companies whose stocks it expected to suffer.

Within weeks, however, Copper River, once a successful $1.5 billion hedge fund, was out of business, having unexpectedly absorbed losses on the very bets it thought would be profitable. While the market turmoil contributed to its problems, Marc Cohodes, head of Copper River, says that a significant force behind the failure was Goldman Sachs, which for years had been the firm’s broker.

Testifying recently in a lawsuit that is unrelated to Copper River’s closing, Mr. Cohodes maintained that actions taken in the fall of 2008 by Goldman in the handling of trades for Copper River had done irreparable damage to the fund. His testimony, which has not been made public, was obtained by The New York Times.

Copper River relied on Goldman to handle its negative bets, known as short sales, in compliance with securities laws. These regulations require that before a short sale can be made, the shares must be borrowed; Mr. Cohodes said his fund had paid Goldman approximately $100 million to borrow shares over many years.

In his testimony, Mr. Cohodes said he and his partners at Copper River had even come to wonder if Goldman had in fact borrowed the shares for the firm. Without the shares, Copper River faced losses, while Goldman could have come under regulatory scrutiny.

When asked whether Goldman had borrowed the shares, Michael DuVally, a Goldman spokesman, said: “Mr. Cohodes is wrong. We met our obligations under applicable law.” He added that Copper River’s problems were the result of the extreme stress in the financial markets at the time.
Read the rest here.

Supreme Court begins review of health-care law

The Supreme Court began its constitutional review of the health-care overhaul law Monday with a fundamental question: Is the court barred from making such a decision at this time?

The justices opened their three-day review by hearing 90 minutes of argument about whether an obscure 19th-century law — the Anti-Injunction Act — means that the court cannot pass judgment on the law until its key provisions go into effect in 2014.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

OK this is really cool

Click here.

HT: Basil (my Godson)

Santorum wins in Louisiana

Rick Santorum’s campaign netted a victory Saturday night in Louisiana, where he won that state’s GOP primary by a significant margin. The win sparks hope of a campaign rebound, following Santorum’s lopsided losses to Mitt Romney in the Illinois and Puerto Rico primaries.

The former Massachusetts governor finished second and Newt Gingrich third in Saturday's contest.

The political terrain in Louisiana was favorable to the former Pennsylvania senator. Saturday’s vote was limited to Republicans only, making the electorate more conservative.

Exit polls from Louisiana showed Santorum dominating with voters labeling themselves as "very conservative." He also fared very well with those identifying as born-again or evangelical Christian.
Read the rest here.

Former Vice-President Cheney Has Heart Transplant

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney had a heart transplant Saturday and is recovering at a Virginia hospital, his office said.

An aide to Cheney disclosed that the 71-year-old, who has had a long history of cardiovascular trouble including numerous heart attacks, had been waiting for a transplant for more than 20 months.

“Although the former vice president and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift,” aide Kara Ahern said in a written statement that was authenticated by several of the Republican politician’s close associates.
Read the rest here.

Royal Wedding and Gate Crashers

The newly married Mr. and Mrs. John Canning had an unexpected guest at their wedding when Queen Elizabeth II dropped in to congratulate them.  By coincidence, the Cannings had booked their wedding in part of Manchester's gothic city hall for the same date that The Queen and Prince Philip were later scheduled to make a nearby appearance as part of the Diamond Jubilee events.  The royal couple having heard about the nuptials decided to pop in and wish them well.  Mrs. Canning said she thinks she is going to need a larger photo album.

Many years to the happy couple!

On another gate crashing note, a 32 year old Irishman has apologized to The Queen after getting so tanked that he mistakenly climbed a wall at Windsor Castle believing that he was getting off the grounds.  In fact however he landed uncomfortably close to the royal apartments.  Close enough that he triggered alarms that sent armed police detectives scrambling.

Robert Pennefather was fined £1,100 and sentenced to 14 days in the clink.  The jail time was however suspended for a year.  Rumors, which the Palace has declined to comment on, suggest that the Royal Family may have quietly intervened on Pennefather's behalf to keep him from more serious legal trouble.  The worst punishment for him may well be the absolute ban he is under which bars him from every licensed public house in the UK for one year.  Ouch!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Slow posting for a few days

Lots going on in my life right now and the blog will be taking a back seat for a little bit.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Russian Orthodox Church criticizes British hostility to Christianity

Moscow, March 13 (mospat.ru) – People in the Russian Orthodox Church are amazed at the loyalty that the British authorities, who have forbidden wearing crosses at work, have shown towards other religious and non-religious symbols.

‘This decision of the British authorities cannot but give rise to anxiety, especially given the existence of other tendencies aimed at liberation of human instincts in the European society today. Why then is the public demonstration of one’s involvement in the gay culture considered a norm whereas the wearing of a cross is not? Indeed, there is a diversity of symbols connected with the gay culture, but just try to sack a person who openly demonstrates his sexual orientation. Clearly he will make a row and will certainly manage to be reinstated. And what is the danger of old Christian symbols? Who are insulted by them?’ the chairman of the Synodal Information Department Vladimir Legoida stated on Tuesday. The attitude to the Sikhs is another example of the double standards exercised by the British government. He said that the Sikhs, even those who serve in the London police, are officially permitted to wear the turban, one of the symbols of Sikhism.
Read the rest here.
HT: Bill (aka The Godfather)

A Florida Law Gets Scrutiny After a Teenager’s Killing

MIAMI — Seven years after Florida adopted its sweeping self-defense law, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, has put that law at the center of an increasingly angry debate over how he was killed and whether law enforcement has the authority to charge the man who killed him.

The law, called Stand Your Ground, is one of 21 such laws around the country, many of them passed within the last few years. In Florida, it was pushed heavily by the National Rifle Association but opposed vigorously by law enforcement.

It gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, regardless of whether the killing takes place on a street, in a car or in a bar — not just in one’s home, the standard cited in more restrictive laws. In Florida, if people feel they are in imminent danger from being killed or badly injured, they do not have to retreat, even if it would seem reasonable to do so. They have the right to “stand their ground” and protect themselves.

That is precisely the question in the case: Was the gunman, George Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., in imminent danger and acting in self-defense during his encounter with Trayvon Martin, as he asserts?...

...Investigating the cases, prosecutors say, is time-consuming. “You have to be very careful and very thorough,” Mr. Eddins said.

Unless there are good witnesses and clear-cut physical evidence, the self-defense murder cases are often murky and hard to sort out, prosecutors say. The gunman’s side of the story usually prevails because the victim is not alive to challenge the claim. So rather than let a jury decide a self-defense case, which is mostly what happened under the old law, prosecutors sometimes must drop the case.

“The person who is alive always says, ‘I was in fear that he was going to hurt me,’ ” Mr. Meggs said. “And the other person would say, ‘I wasn’t going to hurt anyone.’ But he is dead. That is the problem they are wrestling with in Sanford.”
Read the rest here.

This is a tragic situation.  While generally supportive of 2nd amendment rights, I am not supportive of the so called "make my day" laws.  The Florida state legislature (also known in some circles as the Florida State Chapter of the National Rifle Association) seems to have conflated the right to legitimate self defense with the right to gun down anyone who looks cross eyed at you.  In cases of self defense, at least in situations outside of one's home or business, the burden of proof should not be on the police.  If you shoot someone dead in a quasi public environment where you had the option of walking (or in this case driving) away, you should bear the burden of justifying your actions in court. 

I am having a very hard time believing that an unarmed 17 year old kid, alone, who has never been in trouble with the law, would pick a fight with a man armed with a pistol.  Everything I have read about it makes me strongly suspect that this is a case of cold blooded murder.

Unfortunately under Florida law all you have to do is utter two magic words, "self defense," and absent strong evidence to the contrary you have a get out of jail free card.  In this case you have the dubious statements of a man known for carrying a gun and an attitude, versus the silence of a kid who can't speak for himself because he is fertilizing dandelions and whom the law has largely deprived of any champions.

The lesson here... if you visit Florida and get into any kind of altercation shoot first and be damned sure that the other guy doesn't have a chance to offer his version of events in court.

Update: MSNBC has a story on the same lines here.

Ryan introduces GOP budget plan, slashing social programs and tax rates

House Republicans renewed their commitment Tuesday to the politically risky strategy of targeting Medicare and other popular social programs to tame the national debt, unveiling a $3.5 trillion spending plan that would also slash the top tax rate paid by corporations and the wealthy.

The GOP blueprint, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is designed to draw a sharp contrast with President Obama heading into the November election in the ideological battle over taxes and spending. But the plan also renews a narrower fight over agency budgets that has tied the Capitol in knots since Republicans took control of the House last year.

Bowing to demands from conservatives influenced by the tea party movement, House leaders are pressing to protect the Pentagon in 2013 while cutting budgets for domestic agencies below levels set during last summer’s showdown over the federal debt ceiling. The decision has alarmed both Democrats and some GOP moderates, who said the move could spark a fresh clash over the annual bills needed to keep the government running into the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

If that dispute is not resolved, Democrats warned that the government — or significant parts of it — could shut down five weeks before the election.
Read the rest here.

Romney wins in Illinois by wide margin

Mitt Romney won the Illinois Republican primary with some ease on Tuesday evening, allowing him to likely grow his delegate advantage over his rivals in the fight for the party's presidential nomination.

NBC News projected that Romney had won the contest, the lone presidential primary taking place on Tuesday, less than an hour after polls closed. The primary had offered Republicans maybe their best chance yet of a genuine one-on-one battle between the former Massachusetts governor and Santorum, his chief competitor for the nod.

"Elections are about choices. And today, hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois have joined millions of people across the country to join our cause," Romney told a throng of supporters in Schaumburg, Ill.
Read the rest here.

Santorum's chances of stopping Romney are starting to fade rapidly.  Right now Romney would have to really stumble badly to lose the nomination.  It aint over.  But I am pretty sure I hear the fat lady warming up just off stage.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dismissing economics; Santorum vows to campaign on social conservative agenda

MOLINE, Ill. — Defying almost all conventional wisdom about the 2012 election, Rick Santorum said the race would not turn on the economy and so it wasn’t important if unemployment and growth rates rose or fell.

Seeking to sharply contrast himself with Mitt Romney, Mr. Santorum waved away economics as he went after his chief rival as insufficiently conservative in his core values.

“I don’t care what the unemployment rate’s going to be,” Mr. Santorum said on Monday, the day before the Illinois primary. “It doesn’t matter. My campaign doesn’t hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. There’s something more foundational that’s going on here.”
Read the rest here.

Russian troops are reported in Syria

A Russian military unit has arrived in Syria, according to Russian news reports, a development that a United Nations Security Council source told ABC News was "a bomb" certain to have serious repercussions.

Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad's strongest allies despite international condemnation of the government's violent crackdown on the country's uprising, has repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council's attempts to halt the violence, accusing the U.S. and its allies of trying to start another war.

Now the Russian Black Sea fleet's Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency. The Russian news reports did not elaborate on the Russian troops' mission in Syria or if they are expected to leave the port.

The presence of Russian troops in Syria could be a "pretty obvious" show of support to the regime, according to Russian security expert Mark Galeotti.

"No one thinks of the Russians as anything but Assad's last friends," said Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University.
Read the rest here.

HT: Bill (aka The Godfather)

Sounds like Putin is marking his sphere of influence and warning NATO not to even think of trying to intervene in Syria. I am no fan of the Assad regime, which is utterly brutal. But to the extent that this throws cold water on those beating the drums for yet another round of Euro-American military adventurism I am pleased.

On Eve of Illinois Primary Romney Widens Lead

Several polls are showing former Governor Romney's lead in tomorrow's critical Illinois primary widening over Rick Santorum. The former US Senator from Pennsylvania is Romney's only remaining serious challenger. Santorum's campaign has largely conceded that they have little hope of gaining the necessary number of delegates to nail down the nomination before the August national convention in Tampa Florida. Their current objective is to deny Romney enough delegates to prevent him from being nominated on the first ballot and hope for a brokered convention. At present Romney has slightly more than twice the number of delegates as all of his challengers combined and slightly less than half the number needed to secure the nomination (1144). The mathematical wall however is daunting and Romney will likely be able to count on the support of so called super delegates who are usually loyal party establishment types. If Romney wins Illinois decisively the odds of Santorum being able to force the nomination fight on to the convention floor will be greatly reduced.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Catholic, Orthodox leaders reach accord on reconciliation between Poland and Russia

Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian have reached agreement on a joint statement calling for reconciliation between the people of Russia and Poland: a historic agreement on an issue that has caused enormous friction between the two countries and the two churches.

The joint statement, which is the product of two years of careful negotiations, received final approval at a meeting in Warsaw on March 15. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is expected to sign the statement when he visits Poland in August.

The document, which calls for mutual forgiveness and an end to lasting animosities, represents a breakthrough in relations between Catholics and Orthodox. Archbishop Stanislaw Budzik of Lublin, who participated in the talks leading up to the agreement, noted that “never before in history” have bishops of the Polish Catholic Church joined with entered into such a joint statement with their Russian Orthodox counterparts.
Source.

Though still unlikely GOP prepares for possible convention battle

Is the GOP about to bring back the smoke filled back room dealing of conventions past?
CHICAGO — For the first time in a generation, Republicans are preparing for the possibility that their presidential nomination could be decided at their national convention rather than on the campaign trail, a prospect that would upend one of the rituals of modern politics.

The race remains Mitt Romney’s to lose, and if he continues to accumulate delegates at a steady clip starting with contests in Puerto Rico on Sunday and Illinois on Tuesday, he can still amass the 1,144 necessary to secure the nomination before the last primary, in Utah on June 26.

But as he struggles to win the hearts of conservative voters and hold off a challenge from Rick Santorum, party leaders, activists and the campaigns are for the first time taking seriously the possibility that neither he nor anyone else will get to that total.

In that case, the nomination would be decided by the more than 2,200 delegates — from obscure local officials and activists to national figures — who will attend the party’s convention in Tampa, Fla., in late August.

They would embark on an unscripted, contentious and televised drama that has not played out in 36 years, a period in which both major party conventions have become slickly produced and highly choreographed pep rallies kicking off the general election campaign.

With that in mind, campaign and party lawyers are dusting off their party rule books, running through decades-old procedural arcana and studying the most recent convention-floor fight, between Ronald Reagan and President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. Republican officials also are bracing for the possibility of a prenomination clash between the party’s establishment and members of the Tea Party movement, many of whom may be attending their first national convention.
Read the rest here.

1976 was technically not a brokered convention since President Ford won the nomination on the first ballot. But it was messy. Going into it, no one knew with certainty how it was going to turn out.  Reading between the lines you can tell two things though.  Most establishment Republicans are terrified of the prospect of an unscripted convention where anything could happen.  And secondly most reporters are probably lighting candles in church in prayerful supplication for an open convention.  The bloody floor fights, wheeling and dealing for delegate votes and campaign managers sniffing the winds, trying to guess which way the various votes are going to go would make for terrific political theater.  I can just imagine gaggles of reporters trying to figure out which hotel rooms were being used for the famous back room dealing by following the trail of cigar smoke and room service with bottles of whiskey.

But alas I still think it is petty unlikely.  There are so many super delegates controlled  by the party establishment that Romney would have to stumble badly to blow this.  So I'd hold off on the cigars and booze for now.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fred Reed on War Crimes and Atrocities

OK. Take a break from the Guinness for a few minutes and read brother Fred's latest essay, a rather sobering reflection on war crimes.
I remember being a young Marine recruit at Parris Island, August of 1966, running, running, boots thumping on the grinder, exulting in the sense of power and communion that comes of men acting in unison, shouting, “Luke the Gook comes marching by, stick your bayonet in his eye, lef rye lef rye lef....” Only an idiot goes to PI—Third Batallion, Disneyland, in my case—in August. I was one. It goes with being nineteen.

Under a leaden sun that beat down like a soft rubber truncheon, we unlearned civilization. How to clap a hand over a sentry's mouth while inserting your Kbar in his kidney; agony, shock and instant blood loss prevent a struggle. We ran in formation shouting Kill! Kill! Kill! We learned that it is better to shoot an enemy in the bowels than the head because trying to keep him alive would strain the enemy's medical resources, and the man would probalby die anyway. Peritonitis is your friend, we learned. The other guy's peritonitis.

Months later at Lejeune we slogged day after day, on three and a half hours sleep, through the greasy clay mud of a North Carolina autumn, from range to range. We learned flame throwers, which if you haven't you don't know what hell is, and how to burn the enemy alive. Again, that sense of power. We learned to use white phosphorus, WP, Willy Peter or other names less printable, to cover enemies in burning goop that you can't put out. We learned to be what human beings shouldn't be. We felt an exhilarating freedom, of not being subject to moral constraints. We learned to suppress conscience, morality, and empathy. This, more than the use of weapons, is the goal of military training.
Read the rest here.

The Case for Crazy: What the GOP Would Learn by Picking Rick Santorum

A cleansing bout of craziness in 2012 could be just what the GOP needs.

I’m talking about a nominee so far to the right that conservative populists get their fondest wish—and the Republican Party is forced to learn from the result. Namely, that there is such a thing as too extreme.

The dangerous groupthink delusion being pushed in conservative circles over the last few years is that ideological purity and electability are one and the same. It is an idea more rooted in faith than reason.

If Mitt Romney does finally wrestle the nomination to the ground, and then loses to Obama, conservatives will blame the loss on his alleged moderation. The right wing take-away will be to try to nominate a true ideologue in 2016.

But if someone like Rick Santorum gets the nomination in an upset, the party faithful will get to experience the adrenaline rush of going off a cliff together, like Thelma and Louise—elation followed by an electoral thud.
Read the rest here.

HT: Blog reader Sophocles

Adding to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy

Mystagogy has an excellent post up addressing the practice (common among old calendarists and the ultra-Orthodox) of editing, and specifically adding anathemas to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy chanted on the first Sunday of Great Lent.  It is well worth a read and for the record I concur with his points.

Memory Eternal: Pope Shenouda III

Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenuda III, [sic] spiritual leader of the Middle East's largest Christian minority, died at the age of 88, state television and cathedral sources said.

The cause of death was not immediately clear, but the Christian leader has suffered health problems for years.

State television reported he was 89, but the pope was born in August 1923, which would make him 88 at the time of death.
Read the rest here.

Santorum vows to enforce obscenity laws

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL -- Rick Santorum accused President Barack Obama of not enforcing the country's obscenity laws and said Friday that as chief executive he would crack down on illegal pornography.

Santorum found himself answering pornography questions during a stop at an Italian restaurant here after the discovery of a statement posted in his campaign website in which he asserts that "America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography." Recent reporting has shed light on the letter in which the former Pennsylvania senator vowed to "vigorously enforce" all the country's obscenity laws, though he said the statement was posted three weeks ago.
Read the rest here.

Untouchable Pensions May Be Tested in California

When the city manager of troubled Stockton, Calif., had to tell city council members why it was on track to become the biggest American city yet to go bankrupt, it took hours to get through the list.

There was the free health care for retirees, the unpaid parking tickets, the revenue bonds without enough revenue to pay them. On it went, a grim drumbeat of practically every fiscal malady imaginable, except an obvious one: municipal pensions. Stockton is spending some $30 million a year to pay for them, but it has less than 70 cents set aside for every dollar of benefits its workers expect.

Some public pension experts think they know why pensions were not on the city manager’s list. They see the hidden hand of California’s giant state pension system, known as Calpers, which administers hundreds of billions of dollars in retirement obligations for municipalities across the state.

Calpers does not want cities like Stockton going back on their promises, and it argues that the state Constitution bars any reduction in pensions — and not just for people who have already retired. State law also forbids cuts in the pensions that today’s public workers expect to earn in the future, Calpers says, even in cases of severe fiscal distress. Workers at companies have no comparable protection.

Stockton is in the midst of a mediation process with its creditors that will determine by the end of June whether it will file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which would allow the city to negotiate reductions in its debt in court.

For Calpers, the prospect of a California city in Federal Bankruptcy Court portends a potential test of the constitutional mandate that federal law trumps state laws — in particular, the state laws that protect public workers’ pensions in California. Such a challenge could blow a hole in what experts consider the most airtight pension protections anywhere.

“Obviously, what Calpers wants is that it doesn’t come up in the process, which I think is ridiculous,” said David A. Skeel Jr., a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who writes frequently on bankruptcy. “My view is that even the California Constitution is subsidiary to federal bankruptcy law.”
Read the rest here.


Feast of St. Patrick Enlightener of Ireland

A blessed feast of St. Patrick to all my fellow Irish in blood and spirit. Erin go bragh!

Friday, March 16, 2012

How will the Supreme Court rule on Obamacare?

From the inaugural oath do-over to an unprecedented State of the Union throwdown, relations between President Obama and the conservative members of the Supreme Court have had an unusually cantankerous feel.

If it had been up to Obama, after all, John G. Roberts Jr. would not have been holding the Bible at the president’s swearing-in, and Samuel A. Alito Jr. would still have been in his New Jersey judicial chambers rather than in the second row of the House mouthing “not true” during Obama’s 2010 address to the nation. As a senator, Obama voted against the Supreme Court confirmations of both men.

But these days, the president must hope that grudges are put aside. He will need at least one Republican-appointed justice on the increasingly conservative court to uphold the signature domestic achievement of his presidency: health-care reform. The court’s four liberals, two appointed by Obama, are forecast as reliable votes in favor. But Obama needs at least five.
Read the rest here.

Stunning Upsets

Wow!  Just wow! 15th ranked Norfolk State beats 2nd ranked Missouri and just a couple of hours later Lehigh, also 15th ranked, stunned Duke University which was also a 2nd seeded team.  This has never happened in the history of the March playoffs.

Details here.

Spring Break Gets Tamer as World Watches Online

KEY WEST, Fla. — Ah, Spring Break, with its copious debauchery, its spontaneous bouts of breast-baring, Jager bombing and après-binge vomit.

In this era of “Jersey Shore” antics and “Girls Gone Wild,” where bikini tops vanish like unattended wallets, it would seem natural to assume that this generation of college student has outdone the spring break hordes of decades past on the carousal meter.

But today’s spring breakers — at least some of them — say they have been tamed, in part, not by parents or colleges or the fed-up cities they invade, but by the hand-held gizmos they hold dearest and the fear of being betrayed by an unsavory, unsanctioned photo or video popping up on Facebook or YouTube.

Late one March evening at Rick’s Bar on rum-soaked Duval Street, college students alternated Jell-O shots with iPhone shots.

“We are very, very reserved,” said Mia Klein, 22, a University of Connecticut senior from Amityville, N.Y., who stood around a table at Rick’s with friends and cups of beer. “You don’t want to have to defend yourself later, so you don’t do it.” The “it” being get sloppy, word-slurring drunk in an unvetted crowd.

“People do regret it later,” chimed in her friend and sorority sister Kelsey Tynik, who had just finished checking e-mail amid the screaming house music.

To help keep students in check, college Web sites, magazines and blogs post dos and don’ts for spring break. Chief among them is the peril that comes with uninhibited spring break celebrations getting on the Internet and doing long-term damage. “Don’t lower your standards or let your judgment be impeded just because you’re in a different time zone,” one Web site cautioned.
Read the rest here.

Well I'd say this is the first positive thing I have read about Facebook in a long time.  But setting aside the benefits of toning down some of the excesses of our college kids, it really reinforces my gut feeling that a lot of so called "social media" is an engraved invitation to invasion of privacy, or worse. Don't look for me on Facebook or MySpace.  You won't find me.

Former Rutgers student convicted of hate crime, invasion of privacy in webcam suicide case

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate’s love life was convicted Friday of invasion of privacy and anti-gay intimidation in a case that exploded into the headlines when the victim threw himself to his death off a bridge.

Dharun Ravi, 20, shook his head slightly after hearing guilty verdicts on all 15 counts against him. He and his lawyers left the courthouse without comment, his father’s arm around his shoulders.
Read the rest here.

My take: There is no question of harassment and invasion of privacy. That's a given. But I am not a fan of so called "hate crime" laws. Anything which places a thought or opinion, no matter how odious, under the ban of public law is unconstitutional in my opinion. I think the family of the victimized young man has a very good civil case here (wrongful death), but the criminal charges are hugely overblown. This was a legal lynching. Look for a vigorous appeal.

California could decide the GOP nominee

California is not exactly the GOP’s idea of home turf.

But in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, it’s the most important state on the calendar.

California’s June 5 primary, despite being the second-to-last contest, is looking more and more like it may determine whether Mitt Romney can win the Republican nomination or whether the party goes to its August convention without a nominee.

“If Gingrich drops out and Santorum can go at Romney one on one, it could be competitive all the way to California, in which case California would pretty much decide the nomination,” said John Ryder, a Republican National Committeeman from Tennessee who is an expert on the delegate process.

Part of the reason is the state’s sheer size. Because states are given three delegates to the Republican National Convention for every congressional district they have, California has a whopping 172 delegates. That’s more than 15 percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination.

California is technically a winner-take-all state, but because basically all of its delegates are awarded by congressional district, there is the possibility that they get sliced up any number of ways.
Read the rest here.

Debate rages over Mexico 'spillover violence' in U.S.

TUCSON -- On an isolated ranch 10 miles from the Mexican border in southern Arizona, Tangye Beckham worries about what the night will bring. That's usually when her family's 100-acre ranch begins to crawl with drug and immigrant traffickers from Mexico heading north into the United States.

"They're belligerent, they carry weapons," she said. "It's a nightly problem with them being on the property. They've already tried to break in."

Recently, as she was closing one of her gates in the pre-dawn hours, Beckham found herself surrounded by a group of illegal immigrants and feared being attacked. By running to her car, she said, she was able to get away, badly shaken. Two mountain ranges away, ranchers Christin Peterson and Sonny McCuistion have the same problem with armed Mexican smugglers crossing their properties. "It's upsetting and there's a lot of them. It hasn't decreased; there's a lot of traffic," said Peterson.
Read the rest here.

Dr. Tighe: Is the Papacy in Need of Structural Reform?

Dr. Tighe has written a review of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, by Adam A.J. DeVille.
Despite its subtitle, this book, written by an assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, does not to any significant extent examine the “prospects” of unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Rather, in light of John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, and particularly the late pontiff’s request therein to leaders of other Christian churches and communities for “dialogue” on how papal primacy (or the Petrine “ministry of unity”) could be exercised in a mutually acceptable way, this book considers Catholic and Orthodox views of the papacy since 1960, and advances proposals for a major restructuring of the papacy that would separate the role and functions of the pope as “Patriarch of the West” (or “of Rome”) from those that pertain to his Petrine “universal primacy.”

After an introduction that adumbrates the arguments and conclusions of the book, and which postulates, accurately enough, that the papacy’s claims for itself and its ministry constitutes the fundamental obstacle to East-West ecumenical progress, the book examines Ut Unum Sint (UUS) and the very few official Orthodox responses the Pope’s request evoked — and why there were so few of them. It proceeds with a discussion of the views of twenty-four Orthodox theologians who have written on the papacy in recent decades, and the views of eighteen Catholic theologians. Two of the latter are Eastern Catholics: the current Mel­kite Patriarch of Antioch, Gregorios III, and the Ukrainian Catholic Michel Dymyd. The Western Catholics include Joseph Ratzinger (the fact that all but one of the works cited come from between 1964 and 1971 is, as we shall see, significant); Yves Congar; the Polish ecumenist Waclaw Hry­niewicz; Geoffrey Robinson, the retired liberal auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia; and Walter Cardinal Kasper, the recently retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Some of the Orthodox theologians whose views are discussed are, if not exactly hostile to the papacy, then at least negative and “stand-offish” in tone, while others are much more positive about the ecumenical potential of a “reformed” papacy. DeVille himself draws three positive and three negative conclusions from their writings. Positively, they all acknowledge that the primacy of Rome is a historic fact, and that Rome is the only plausible claimant to such a universal primacy; many of them acknowledge the desirability and necessity of such a primacy, given the current “jurisdictional chaos” of Orthodoxy; and they envisage Rome’s proper function as being “a center of appeal [from the decisions of other churches and patriarchates] of coordination and of solicitude for all the churches.” Negatively, they all reject papal universal jurisdiction as defined by the First Vatican Council; they reject a “juridical understanding” of papal primacy; and they insist that it is as “first bishop” and “patriarch of the first see of Rome” that he must exercise this universal primacy. The gap thus seems nearly absolute.
Read the rest here.

Rome's latest to the SSPX

Via Rorate Caeli word that the Holy See has sent a note to Bishop Fellay "inviting" him to clarify the SSPX's position not later than April 15 in order to avoid a potentially serious rupture.  If this is not exactly an ultimatum, it is a none too thinly veiled threat and a clear signal that Rome's patience is at last running out.

On a side note, for those with superstitious inclinations the date is an ominous one.  April 15th... (Orthodox Easter this year) is also the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, The Ringling Brothers circus fire, the sinking of the Titanic and was for many centuries the date most widely believed to be the one on which Jesus Christ was crucified.  It is also Income Tax Day here in the United States.  Just saying...

Rowan Williams to Retire

Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams announced his plans to retire today.  He will stand down at the end of the year.  Dr. Williams has been perhaps the most controversial ABC in centuries as he presided over the near breakup of the Anglican Communion.  While I believe his motives were generally honorable, the man simply could not assert himself and was totally unable or unwilling to act decisively, even within the admittedly significant limitations of his office.  My take... a brilliant man, but a very poor leader who is likely to be remembered for trying to straddle a fence that was on fire.

I'm not going to post any specific links, this is all over the web.  Check out T-19 for a myriad of articles and links dealing with the subject.

Oh My

Lots of news and bloggable stuff today.  My inbox is overflowing.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Financial Markets Recover to Pre-Crash Levels

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 closed above 1,400 for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis on Thursday as stocks resumed the upward climb that has produced a steady stream of gains this year.

The benchmark index is up for six of the past seven sessions and is on target for its best week since early February. Financial stocks <.GSPF>, which have dragged lately, led the day with the S&P sector index up 1.9 percent as another round of better-than-expected economic data bolstered investors' enthusiasm.

"The data is lifting us today, but so is the momentum of the market," said Rex Macey, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust in Atlanta, Georgia, which manages about $60 billion.

"People are getting more comfortable with the S&P above 1,400 and financials leading, which by itself is indicative of a sigh of relief. The trend is your friend, and lately the trend has been higher."

Though 1,400, which marks the highest level for the index since June 2008, does not have much technical importance, it is viewed as a bullish psychological marker.
Read the rest here.

California: College students may be asked to declare their sexual orientation

Officials of the University of California system have proposed asking incoming freshmen to identify their sexual orientation, a move that might cement such declarations as an emerging topic in the college admissions process.

ABC News reports that the Academic Senate of the University of California system initiated the proposal to ensure that services are provided for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Financial Hurricane Warning

If you're putting money to work for the long-term, you might want to prepare for a rough ride.

Rob Arnott, the money manager who runs the $45 billion PIMCO All Asset and All Asset All Authority Funds, tells us a storm is coming – one he calls a financial ‘hurricane.’

“Deficits are higher that most people realize,” he says. “The debt burden is soaring as a consequence of that. And we’re asking our kids to pay it off." He sees these market influences as dark clouds swirling on the horizon and they could hit as early as next year, he says. And probably no later than 2015.
Read the rest here.

Greetings citizen!

You have been determined to be an enemy of the state and the President of the United States has sentenced you to death.  Please click here for instructions and relevant information.  Have a nice day!

Goldman Sachs Exec Resigns With Blistering Op-Ed

NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs, arguably the most storied investment bank on Wall Street, has been compared to a money-sucking vampire squid and called the evil empire of finance. On Wednesday it got an entirely different kind of black eye — delivered by one of its own.

Greg Smith, an executive director at the bank, resigned with a blistering editorial that accused the bank of losing its “moral fiber,” putting profits ahead of customers’ interests and dismissing customers as “muppets.”

The decline of the bank’s culture, he wrote, threatened the bank’s survival after 143 years.

The stinging editorial, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” appeared in The New York Times, was the talk of Wall Street and was widely circulated online. Smith became a trending topic on Twitter, the social network website.
Read the rest here.
Read the actual op-ed from the Times here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Santorum Wins Mississippi and Alabama in Blow to Romney

Rick Santorum has won Republican primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, exit polls and vote tallies show--a surprising Deep South sweep that signals Santorum is consolidating support among the party’s conservatives.

Both of the wins were narrow: just a few points separated Santorum from rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The larger lesson of the night was that this long-running primary--far from leading the party to unite behind a favorite--has left Republicans divided stubbornly into thirds.
Read the rest here.

Consumer spending up despite higher gas prices

Americans might complain about higher gas prices, but new government data show that hasn’t stopped them from driving to the mall.

The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that retail sales climbed 1.1 percent in February compared with the previous month. Consumers pulled out their wallets for new cars and clothes, electronics and sporting equipment despite spending 3.3 percent more at gas stations. The results boosted estimates of how fast the economy is growing, particularly as it comes on the heels of data showing a strengthening job market.
Read the rest here.

FED remains cautiously optimistic

The Federal Reserve stood pat on Tuesday, saying in a relatively upbeat statement that the job market has been more vibrant recently but that the economy is still likely to improve only gradually.

The Fed did not take any new policy action, reaffirming its plan to keep interest rates extraordinary low through at least late 2014.
Read the rest here.

How to do (and not do) Lent


Shamelessly stolen from here (an outstanding blog).

Egypt: The coming persecution

Makram Diab, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, was sentenced to six years in prison by a court in the province of Assiut on charges of “insulting the Prophet.” But the trial took place with a crowd of two or three thousand Muslims outside the courthouse demanding the death penalty. Eyewitnesses said that many protesters were armed with knives, and that the police barely managed to prevent them from breaking into the courtroom and lynching the accused.

Diab’s lawyer, a Muslim called Ahmad Sayed Gabali, said he had never seen anything like it in 18 years of practicing law. “More than 80 Islamic lawyers representing the plaintiffs filled the courtroom. They locked the door from the inside, preventing the judge from leaving and preventing me from entering the courtroom to defend my client.”
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Santorum sees nomination being decided in brokered convention

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum’s campaign has begun to argue forcefully that Mitt Romney will fail to win the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, leaving the decision to a wide-open national convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.

The argument suggests that Mr. Santorum’s strategists have all but given up on the idea that their own candidate can reach that magic number himself. A count by The Associated Press found that Mr. Romney has already collected 454 delegates, more than twice the 217 that have pledged to support Mr. Santorum.

But Mr. Santorum and his advisers believe that he — along with Newt Gingrich and Representative Ron Paul— can effectively block Mr. Romney’s march to the nomination over the next three months. If that happens, they argue, Republicans will gather for their convention with no certain winner — and with Mr. Romney at a disadvantage.

Aides to Mr. Santorum predicted that convention delegates — including a majority of the “superdelegates” — would throw their weight behind Mr. Santorum once Mr. Romney failed to lock up the nomination.

“When we go to this convention, if that’s where we end up, it’s a conservative party,” Mr. Santorum said Monday morning on NBC’s “Today” show. “If an opportunity provides itself at an open convention, they are not going to nominate a moderate Massachusetts governor.”
Read the rest here.

I think this is wishful thinking on Santorum's part.  Modern conventions and nominating processes are specifically designed to avoid the uncertainty of a brokered convention.  So called super delegates can very often tip  the balance on the first ballot if things are too close with primary delegates.  For the record, the last time the Republicans had a brokered convention was 1948 (Thomas Dewey).  The last time the Democrats had one was 1952 (Adlai Stevenson).  The last brokered convention to pick a winning presidential candidate was the 1932 Democratic Convention (FDR).

An Open Letter to Jamie Dimon

I am posting this in its entirety as it is an open letter and one I think well worth reading.
“People fall not from their weaknesses, but from their strengths gone to excess.”- Aeschylus

Dear Mr. Dimon,

I used to be one of your biggest fans. Back when I was 17 years old working at a Salomon Smith Barney branch in Ft. Lauderdale, you were fired from Citigroup when everyone had you pegged as the heir to Sandy Weill’s burgeoning empire. Everyone at the branch was shocked, as we all knew you by reputation as a brilliant CEO-in-the-making, and frankly, most of us were disappointed as we genuinely were all looking forward to working under your leadership one day.

While your ousting was unexpected, you recovered quickly, and perhaps it helped motivate you to accomplish great things in the financial industry. You came to the CEO post at Bank One, then engineered its acquisition by JPMorgan Chase and took the CEO prize for yourself. All the while, Citi floundered, and you led JPMorgan Chase to become the premier American bank. Under your stewardship, Chase eschewed most of the sub-prime crisis and snapped up some of the choicest prizes in the ensuing crisis, namely Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. Well done, sir.

Personally, I was proud to be a JPMorgan customer and proudly listed in our offering documents that our firm’s operational capital was safely held with your institution. I enjoyed great relationships with both your hedge fund/commercial banking division and your newly resurgent futures prime brokerage group. We were even on good terms with your private bank.

Then, the MF Global bankruptcy happened. And, I became aware of your bank’s involvement with the firm’s collapse. How the New York Times reports that JPMorgan received 325M in segregated customer funds despite the fact that JPMorgan Chase was a primary custodian for them. Then, JPMorgan Chase reportedly failed to return the funds when MF Global reported that they erroneously transferred customer assets and went a step further into “CYA” mode by requesting a comfort letter indicating that JPMorgan Chase had not received customer funds. JPMorgan Chase reportedly did not receive this letter, yet still, it kept customers’ property.

Through my role as the co-founder of the Commodity Customer Coalition and pro bono counsel for some 8,000+ customers whose property it looks like your institution may be holding without their consent, I have loudly advocated for JPMorgan Chase to return this property. In response to this, rather than doing the right thing, you closed all of my personal and corporate bank accounts and my personal credit card. I have been told by multiple members of the media that JPMorgan Chase has called them and stated that if their media outlet has me on television again, that JPMorgan Chase will pull their advertising from the offending network.

These bully tactics have only strengthened my resolve to protect my clients whom you have knowingly wronged and continue to wrong by improperly holding their property. It has made me delve deeper into what I have found is a pattern of such malicious conduct across JPMorgan Chase’s business groups. JPMorgan Chase bribed officials in Jefferson County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in the United States, to enter into a disastrous derivative transaction that bankrupted the county and caused an increase of 400% in sewage prices, forcing these poor people to have to choose between food and clean water. JPMorgan Chase designed an overdraft processing system that intentionally prioritized higher dollar transactions so that as many transactions as possible would overdraft, again generating usurious-like fees on the bank of those who can ill afford it. Let’s not forget about robo-signing, forging foreclosure documents, or, getting back to the futures world, failing to properly segregate customer funds.

Mr. Dimon, why do you impugn your character and reputation by allowing your firm to engage in these immoral activities? Sure, the regulators have failed to assess you any meaningful punishments that would deter you from this conduct on a strict, short-term dollars and cents analysis. Every penny of earnings counts, I get it. But, sir, you do not strike me as someone who is trying to pump your company’s stock price for a quarter or two. You are the face of JPMorgan Chase and, I would assume, you plan on being there for a while. Why intentionally destroy any and all goodwill your firm has to make additional revenue that is mostly insignificant in the short-term and, quite possibly, deleterious in the long-term? The only reason I can think of is: because you can. And, that, sir is where hubris starts.

Lately, it seems you’ve come to relish the role of antagonist, bully, and even, villain. You’ve gone on rants about tax rates, how gosh darn profitable you are going to make JPMorgan Chase, and even gone so far as to call out journalists for their share of salaries versus the revenue of news organizations. Put plainly, the confidence that enabled you to build JPMorgan Chase has now become arrogance. Mr. Dimon, I happen to have been a classics scholar and have read this story many times before. It never ends well.

While you have led your firm to a dominant position in the banking industry and record profits of late, you haven’t done it alone. You’ve had the benefit of taxpayer funds, whether you needed them or not (as you claim). You’ve had extremely favorable regulation and public policy that for years has prioritized re-capitalizing banks over the rights of Main Street Americans to be able to bear the fruit of their labor. Yet, you have begun to act like a megalomaniac, drunk on his own power ala Caligula, and attribute 100% of your success to your personal superlatives. People are starting to notice. While Occupy Wall Street has failed to articulate any clear message or goals, they have tapped into a rage in this country that is real and palpable. You have alienated many of your peers on Wall Street and in the hedge fund industry (yes, you have peers). And, now, you have alienated many members of the media that have the voices to spread the word of the ill conduct which your firm has repeatedly engaged in.

In the Niccomedean Ethics, Aristotle described the worst kind of man as the “Incontinent Man,” namely he who knows what he does is wrong and does it anyway. I believe somewhere deep down, you realize that a lot of what you and the bank that you lead do has become increasingly wrong. Why continue to go on like that? You’re at the pinnacle of wealth and power, and continuing to do wrong will not make you meaningfully richer or more powerful. It can only serve to hurt you. “For what will it profit a main if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Based on all of your accomplishments, you may think you’re beyond reproach, that you will never have your comeuppance. But, there’s a reason that during Triumphs in Ancient Rome, a slave stood behind the Emperor whispering “all glory is fleeting” in his ear. Because, it is. And, one day, something bad will happen to JPMorgan Chase. I don’t know if it will be a blow-up of the bank’s some $500 Billion in re-hypothecation exposure or a squeeze on its rumored massive short silver position. Or, if the United States will again see a regulator that believes in, and enforces, stiff punishment for misconduct by banks. But, we will all find out should you continue down the path you are on.

So, rather than continuing to corrupt your soul to harm others for negligible gain to yourself, choose a different path. Use your intelligence and your leadership abilities and your charisma to do the right thing, and set an example for the rest of the financial industry by showing that it is better for all society, JPMorgan Chase and Jamie Dimon included, to not crush those weaker or poorer than you by exacting every last cent from them just because you can. Rein in your malicious activities and focus on the legitimate ones. Be just a little humble -- and remove the target you’ve placed on your own back.

Perhaps, you can start by voluntarily returning the returning all the excess overdraft fees JPMorgan Chase overcharged average Americans through mal intent. While you’re at it, give back the hard-earned property of the farmers, ranchers, retirees, and others who were MF Global clients before I come take it back in court. JPMorgan Chase can borrow at 0% interest from the Fed. Do you really need an illicit free loan borne on the backs of farmers?

Whether you realize it or not, you’re at a crossroads. And, I promise you, one Greek to another, I will ardently help you to come to the end of whichever path you choose.

James L. Koutoulas, Esq.
President, Commodity Customer Coalition
CEO, Typhon Capital Management
Source.

HT: Stone over at the Permanent Portfolio discussion forum.