Monday, January 31, 2011

Weather: Some see snow flakes, others see dollar signs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Government budgets around the nation, already busted by the bad economy, now have a new nemesis: Mother Nature.

Yet another winter storm is going to heap more ice and snow across a huge section of the country this week, meaning yet another big bill, on top of a lot of other big bills, for all the towns and cities that have to dig out again.

“On a weather map, some people see snowflakes, I see dollar signs,” said R. T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, as a light snowfall brightened the white mounds lining the city streets.

Not that officials have any choice. The streets have to be cleared, of course, but often with fewer plows and less salt than in years past.

Many cities — New York among them — have already overspent their snow budgets and many more expect this storm to push them into the red. In Minneapolis, a record-setting series of snowstorms in December pushed the city over the snow-removal budget for 2010 by $3.3 million — more than the city spends on pothole repairs for the entire year.

Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, Mich., said that the snowstorm came at a “desperate time” for the city and that paying for snow removal would force him to make cuts elsewhere.
Read the rest here.

We have two storms rolling in back to back. One comes in tonight and ends early afternoon tomorrow. The next one is due in tomorrow night and likely to last all day on Wednesday. Altogether we will get anywhere from 8 to 18 inches of snow. Also expected; the ever fun sleet, freezing rain and ice.

I forgot how much I love northeastern winters...

Ex-Pastor Facing Rape, Assault Charges

BOSTON -- A former pastor at a Worcester church has been accused of raping and assaulting a 43-year-old woman.

The Rev. Charles Michael Abdelahad, former pastor at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, is accused of attacking the woman on different occasions dating back to 2007, according to the Telegram and Gazette.

Abdelahad is accused of biting the victim, pulling her hair and punching her in the head. Police also allege he hit her with a religious icon and bat and scratched her on the stomach with keys, the newspaper reported.

He will be arraigned Friday on a single charge of rape, four counts of assault and battery and five counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Parishioners said Abdelahad has been a priest for at least 20 years, and he left the parish last month.

The Regicide of Charles the Martyr

Charles I executed 362 years ago yesterday. He remains the only formally canonized saint of the Church of England.

Federal Judge Rules Health Law Violates Constitution

A second federal judge ruled on Monday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to enact a health care law that requires Americans to obtain commercial insurance, evening the score at two-to-two in the lower courts as the conflicting opinions begin their path to the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., ruled that the law will remain in effect until all appeals are concluded, a process that could take two years. However, Judge Vinson determined that the entire law should fall if appellate courts agree with his opinion that the insurance requirement is invalid.

“The Act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker,” Judge Vinson wrote.

In a 78-page opinion, Judge Vinson held that the insurance requirement exceeds the regulatory powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Judge Vinson wrote that the provision could not be rescued by an associated clause in Article I that gives Congress broad authority to make laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its designated responsibilities.

“If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain,” Judge Vinson wrote.
Read the rest here.

Conrad Black's take on the State of the Union

...No nation in history rose so quickly from obscurity to world leadership, and none since the Roman Empire has enjoyed such preeminence, as the United States. After playing a genius strategic hand from aid to the democracies in 1939-1941, the military conduct of the Second World War in the years following, to the containment strategy opposite the Soviet Union, until it was left alone as the world’s only great power, the United States then suddenly became, in public-policy terms, an almost unrelievedly stupid country, about 20 years ago. During the Cold War, the United States led the triumph of democracy in Europe, South and East Asia, and Latin America — yet it now no longer ranks as one the world’s better functioning democracies.

...The United States is a rich country whose people are patriotic and hard-working. It is disoriented and very corrupt, and all its elites have failed. And yet it has no real rivals. Europe is crumbling, even more idle and debt-ridden than the United States, and withering demographically, almost comatose after generations of paying Danegeld to the urban mobs and small farmers. Japan is a geriatric workshop; Russia is an alcohol-sodden, self-depopulating gangster-state; and India, China, Brazil, and Indonesia comprise over 3-billion people, more than two thirds of whom live as they did 3,000 years ago. They are putting up good economic-growth numbers, but China’s inflation rate is now in double digits, and all of those countries are largely dysfunctional, and will require decades to have any chance of seriously rivaling America. This should provide time for the United States to pull out of its nose-dive. President Obama said, “We do big things.” The United States has, but after this presentational fiasco, I would not like to think of what he might have in mind for an encore.
Read the rest here.

HT: John Larocque

More talk in Rome of a doctrinal basis for clerical celibacy

See this post at Rorate Caeli. The implications for Eastern Rite Catholics are well worth considering.

Unrest in Egypt Unsettles Global Markets

On Wall Street, it is what is known as an exogenous event — a sudden political or economic jolt that cannot be predicted or modeled but sends shockwaves rippling through global markets.

Investors have largely shrugged off several of these unexpected developments recently, including the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, but the situation in Egypt has the potential to cause more widespread uncertainty, especially if oil and other commodities keep surging or the unrest spreads to more countries in the Middle East.

While Egypt’s banks and stock market were closed because of the protests there, other Middle Eastern markets declined in trading Sunday, with shares falling by 4.3 percent in Dubai, 3.7 percent in Abu Dhabi and 2.9 percent in Qatar.

By early Monday morning, Asian markets were also trending lower, with Japan’s Nikkei index falling 1.5 percent, while in South Korea, the Kospi index slid 1.4 percent.

Last week, the Dow Jones industrial average nearly surpassed the closely watched 12,000 level, but fell 166 points in late trading Friday as the protests in Egypt intensified and oil prices jumped 3.7 percent to $89.34.
Read the rest here.

Greetings from the right coast

I have arrived safely and am catching up on emails and comments.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Packing etc...

Off to the right coast tomorrow. No blogging (probably) before Monday. Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fr. John Whiteford vs She who must not be named

Orthoblogdom's resident wingnut is at it again. This time she/he has picked a fight with Fr. John Whiteford. This person has very serious issues. Please pray for her/him. For those unfamiliar with the back story, it has been addressed in a couple of earlier posts (see here and here). I will confine myself to strongly urging people to stay well clear of the blog in question. It is neither Orthodox nor Christian, any contrary representations notwithstanding.

Revolution Sweeps Egypt Challenging 30 Year Dictatorship

CAIRO — After a day of increasingly violent protests throughout Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak ordered the military into the streets to reinforce police struggling to contain one of the most serious challenges to his long and autocratic rule.

The president also imposed an overnight curfew nationwide, but fighting continued on the streets of Cairo, the capital, and smoke from fires blanketed one of the city’s main streets along the Nile. The ruling party’s offices were in flames at nightfall and Reuters reported looting at the burning complex.

News reports had said that Mr. Mubarak was expected to deliver a televised address, but he had not spoken by late evening.

Demonstrations began earlier in the day as thousands poured from mosques after noon prayers, growing increasingly violent as protesters clashed with police who fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. The demonstrations, on what protesters called a “day of wrath,” were on a scale far beyond anything in the memory of most residents and struck several cities besides the capital, including Suez, Alexandria and Port Said.

The unrest in Egypt — fueled by frustrations over government corruption, economic stagnation and a decided lack of political freedom — came after weeks of turmoil across the Arab world that toppled one leader in Tunisia and encouraged protesters to overcome deep-rooted fears of their autocratic leaders and take to the streets. But Egypt is a special case: a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, in part because of its peace treaty with Israel, and a key ally of the United States. The country, often the fulcrum on which currents in the region turn, also has one of the largest and most sophisticated security forces in the Middle East.

Calling out the military is a signal of how dramatically the situation had spiraled out of control after four days of demonstrations. The army, one of the country’s most powerful and respected institutions, prefers to remain behind the scenes and has not been sent into the streets since 1986.
Read the rest here.

Warning shot for America and Europe as S&P downgrades Japan

Standard & Poor's has downgraded Japan for the first time in nine years, citing lack of a "coherent strategy" to control its monster deficits or grasp the nettle to reform.

The move is a chilly reminder that sovereign debt woes continue to fester across much of the industrial world, and still pose a threat to the fragile global recovery.

The US rating agency cut Japan's $10.6 trillion (£6.6 trillion) debt one notch to AA-, warning that the mix of government paralysis, a shrinking workforce and a fast-rising interest burden have left the country's debt dynamics on an unsustainable footing.

Julian Jessop, from Capital Economics, said the unfolding drama in Tokyo has global implications since Japan is the world's top external creditor with $3 trillion of net assets abroad. "This is potentially a much bigger story than any default in Greece," he said.
Read the rest here.

Egyptian Revolt Gains Momentum

CAIRO — Egypt's government disrupted Internet service and deployed an elite special operations counterterrorism force Friday, hours before anti-government protesters prepared for a new wave of mass rallies.

The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak's regime was toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.

The police counterterrorism force is rarely seen on the streets. Its officers took up positions early Friday in strategic locations in Cairo, including central Tahrir Square, site of the biggest demonstrations earlier this week.

This week's grass-roots protest movement in Egypt has been fueled by traffic on social networking sites, but Internet outages have become widespread. A major service provider for Egypt, Italy-based Seabone, reported early Friday that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time. Mobile phone text messaging services also appeared to be partially disabled, working only sporadically. The government has denied disrupting communications networks.

A page on Facebook social networking site listed more than 30 mosques and churches where protesters were expected gather.

"Egypt's Muslims and Christians will go out to fight against corruption, unemployment and oppression and absence of freedom," the page said, adding more than 70,000 had signed up online.
Read the rest here.

French President Vows Support for the Euro

France and Germany will never turn their backs on the euro, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said in his most robust defence of the troubled single currency to date.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, he told speculators to be prepared for big losses if they bet against the euro. “[Germany’s] Chancellor Merkel and myself will never – do you hear me, never – let the euro fall,” he said.

“The euro is Europe. And Europe spells 60 years of peace. Therefore we will never let the euro go or be destroyed… To those who bet against the euro, watch out for your money because we are fully determined to defend the euro.”

President Sarkozy’s intervention comes with the single currency under greater strain than at any time in its short history. Davos has been abuzz with talk of a two-speed Europe, with billionaire investor George Soros warning that the “euro could possibly fall apart” under the strain.
Read the rest here.

In Bi-Partisan Compromise Senators Agree to Business As Usual (no filibuster reform)

In an agreement reached between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the world's most deliberative body will not change its rules on the filibuster after all.

A group of mostly freshmen senators were denied an opportunity to make changes with only a simple majority. They argue that the Senate rules allow that on the first day of a new session, the body may amend its rules with only 51 'yeas' instead of the 67 normally required. Democrats refer to this as "the constitutional option."

But Senate leaders have agreed not to take what many Republicans and some Democrats believe would be too drastic a step.

"Senator McConnell and I both believe that our reverence for this institution must always be more important than party," Reid said in a written statement. "And as part of this compromise, we have agreed that I won't force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate - that is, the so-called 'constitutional option.'"
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Republicans Split Over Plans to Cut Defense Budget

WASHINGTON — To hear the Republican leadership tell it, the once-sacred Pentagon budget, protected by the party for generations, is suddenly on the table. But a closer look shows that even as Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, insist on the need for military cuts, divisions have opened among Republicans about whether, and how much, to chop Pentagon spending that comes to more than a half trillion dollars a year.

Those differences were on display Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where the traditional Republican who now leads the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard P. McKeon, fought back against proposed cuts in the Pentagon budget even as fledgling committee members supported by the Tea Party said that the nation’s debts amounted to a national security risk.

“I cannot say it strongly enough: I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform,” Mr. McKeon said in an opening statement that followed up on a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urging him not to stop work on the Marines’ $14.4. billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a combined landing craft and tank for amphibious assaults that Mr. Gates canceled this month.

But Representative Chris Gibson, a Tea Party-endorsed freshman Republican and a retired Army colonel from New York’s Hudson River Valley, made it clear that no part of the Pentagon’s $550 billion budget — some $700 billion including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — was immune.

Read the rest here.

Pitcher Says No Thanks to $12 Million

The guaranteed contract is a fundamental principle of Major League Baseball, as much a part of the game as balls, strikes and outs. No matter how a player performs, or how his body holds up, he must be paid in full. Only in rare cases — an injury sustained off the field, gross personal misconduct — does a player forfeit his paycheck.

But the case of Gil Meche is rare for an entirely different reason. Meche, a 32-year-old right-handed pitcher, had a contract that called for a $12 million salary in 2011. Yet he will not report to Surprise, Ariz., with the rest of the Kansas City Royals for spring training next month. He will not have surgery to repair his chronically aching right shoulder. He will not pitch in relief, which involves a lighter workload.

Meche retired last week, which means he will not be paid at all.

“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche said this week by phone from Lafayette, La. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

Meche’s decision plays against type — the modern athlete out for every last dollar. There have been, over the years, athletes who took less money to play for one team over another, Cliff Lee being the latest when he agreed to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. And yes, Ryne Sandberg retired from the Chicago Cubs in 1994, forgoing nearly $16 million.

But there are very few parallels to what Meche did.
Read the rest here.

Wow. Just wow.

Some Catholics mull restoring Confirmation (Chrismation) to before Communion

This via Fr. Z.
Archbishop puts Confirmation before Communion

By David V Barrett

From next year children in the Archdiocese of Liverpool will be confirmed before receiving their First Communion, reversing the usual order of sacraments in the Catholic Church.

A leaflet being sent to all parishes in the archdiocese next week explains the changes. It says:?“These three sacraments make up the process of belonging to the Church (called Christian Initiation). The sacraments weren’t always in that order, and adults preparing for initiation have always received them in the original order: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Communion).”

From September 2012 children in the archdiocese who have been baptised will follow this order.
Read the rest here.

What surprises me is that the response from these mostly Trad or Trad sympathetic Catholics has been generally positive based on the comments at Fr. Z's site.

CBO issues stark warning on US debt

The big headline number from Wednesday’s Congressional Budget Office report is a jolting shot of bad news: a budget deficit this fiscal year of close to $1.5 trillion, or 9.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

That’s nearly as big as 2009’s shortfall, which was the highest in nearly 65 years. The $1.5 trillion deficit would be a nominal record, but not quite as big as the 2009 deficit when measured as a percentage of the economy.
Story: CBO: U.S. budget deficit to hit $1.5 trillion

More bad news: CBO’s forecasters don’t see employment returning to anything like normal before 2016.

Look inside the 190-page report and you’ll find facts, figures and forecasts that could help Republicans make their case that deficits and debt must be cut now. But you’ll also find other data that can aid President Barack Obama and Democrats in making their budgetary arguments — especially on the fiscal rationale for not repealing the health care law.

Wednesday’s report carries political weight. Even though congressional Republicans have heaped abuse on the CBO for reporting last year that the health care bill that Obama signed into law would reduce the deficit, CBO still remains the neutral, professional budget scorekeeper. It sets the terms of the debate.

Arguments for cutting spending and debt

For Republicans, the CBO report supplies powerful arguments for cutting spending and reducing debt.

The CBO’s new estimate of the deficit for 2011 is $414 billion larger than the one the office produced last August

The new report uses the word “unsustainable” to describe deficits and debt in the years ahead.

It warns that interest rates — which it says are “very low by historical standards” right now — will go up and will drive up the cost of paying off the debt. Interest payments on the debt “are expected to skyrocket.” CBO projects that the government’s yearly net interest spending will more than triple between 2011 and 2021

As if that weren’t frightening enough, the CBO warns in unusually stark language — as it has before — of the potential for a sovereign debt crisis. The report uses the words “Greece” and “Ireland” only once but it spells out a scary scenario in detail.

Risk of 'a sudden fiscal crisis'

The growing debt, it says, “would increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates.”

It warns that “as other countries’ experiences show, investors can lose confidence abruptly and interest rates on government debt can rise sharply and unexpectedly. The exact point at which such a crisis might occur for the United States is unknown, in part because the ratio of federal debt to GDP is climbing into unfamiliar territory. ... There is no way to predict with any confidence whether and when such a crisis might occur and no identifiable tipping point of debt relative to GDP.”
Read the rest here.

Bondholders Left in the Dark

Investors and regulators are growing increasingly concerned about the quality and timeliness of information that state and local governments are disclosing about their finances.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is inquiring about public statements Illinois made about its pension funds amid the agency's increased scrutiny of the municipal-bond market, a representative for the governor said.

Amid governments' financial woes, meanwhile, angry investors are finding themselves blindsided by bad news. Those concerns are reflected in a forthcoming study that shows that public issuers routinely file information about their financial health well beyond the date they promise to bondholders, if at all.

This weak disclosure is raising anxiety in the $2.9 trillion market, where investors withdrew more than $20 billion from municipal bond funds in recent weeks.

Federal regulators' power in this realm is limited because municipal borrowers are unregulated. But they are trying to crack down on the disclosure issue.

"If a municipality is in dire financial straits, we want to know if that information was disclosed to bond holders in a timely fashion," says Elaine Greenberg, who runs the municipal-bond unit set up by the SEC last year. "It's not good enough to put the information out there late. Investors need information that is current, not stale, to make informed investment decisions."

At the request of The Wall Street Journal, DPC DATA Inc., a specialist in municipal disclosure, did an extensive analysis of disclosure and found the problem growing since a 2008 study. Of 17,000 bond issues it studied, more than 56% filed no financial statements in any given year between 2005 and 2009. More than one-third of borrowers entirely skipped three or more years, and the number grew to 40% in 2009, as credit woes mounted. Another 30% filed extraordinarily late in 2009.
Read the rest here.

New York by gaslight; a gentleman's guide to Gilded Age "entertainment"

Encyclopedic in breadth but compact enough for the vest pocket of a 19th-century gentleman on the go, the book was an insider’s guide to Manhattan, easily picked up at the newsstand before a night on the town, much the way tourists and locals now consult a guidebook when they are in the mood for a memorable restaurant or meal.

Only this palm-sized book, published in 1870 and long hidden away at the New-York Historical Society, did not confine its anonymous critique to the quality of wines or the ambiance of the 150 establishments listed between its covers. Rather, it defined its role as delivering “insight into the character and doings of people whose deeds are carefully screened from public view.”
Read the rest here.

Fed Votes to Maintain Bond-Buying Program

WASHINGTON — At their first meeting of the year, Federal Reserve policy makers voted unanimously on Wednesday to continue the central bank’s controversial $600 billion plan to spur the recovery by buying government bonds.

The Fed did note that commodity prices had risen, but cautioned that long-term inflation expectations had been stable and that measures of underlying inflation had continued to trend downward.

The acknowledgment about rising commodity prices was a slight but significant nod to the danger that the bond-buying plan could eventually touch off inflation.

As expected, the Fed left its benchmark short-term interest rate — the federal funds rate, at which banks borrow from each other overnight — at a range of 0 to 0.25 percent, where it has been since December 2008.

The unanimity within the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed panel that sets monetary policy, was a welcome and somewhat surprising vote of confidence for the Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, who has shown a willingness since the crisis to use aggressive and unconventional measures to stimulate the economy, even in the face of criticism.
Read the rest here.

It's QE to infinity. The moment they stop the money printing the house of cards will collapse. Of course it will collapse in any case. But they are hoping the kick the can down the road some more.

British Member of Parliament takes on reverse sexism

This week two Sky Sports pundits were rightly taken to task for sexist comments about a female linesman. But, when I pointed out that some feminists routinely make sexist comments about men – and that equality cuts both ways – I was rounded on by Harriet Harman. This is the same champion of Labour’s Equality and Diversity agenda who believes that 'men cannot be left to run things on their own’ and hints tantalisingly that the collapse of Lehman Brothers might have been averted had it been 'Lehman Sisters’.

Harman has been consumed by the prejudice she seeks to purge. This kind of subtle, but insidious, bigotry is no worse than the cruder comments made by Andy Gray (for which he has been sacked), and a lot more hypocritical coming from the self-styled champion of equality. This week two Sky Sports pundits were rightly taken to task for sexist comments about a female linesman. But, when I pointed out that some feminists routinely make sexist comments about men – and that equality cuts both ways – I was rounded on by Harriet Harman. This is the same champion of Labour’s Equality and Diversity agenda who believes that 'men cannot be left to run things on their own’ and hints tantalisingly that the collapse of Lehman Brothers might have been averted had it been 'Lehman Sisters’.

Harman has been consumed by the prejudice she seeks to purge. This kind of subtle, but insidious, bigotry is no worse than the cruder comments made by Andy Gray (for which he has been sacked), and a lot more hypocritical coming from the self-styled champion of equality.

Earlier this week I wrote that from cradle to grave, men are getting a raw deal. Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women. I also noted that while some say we should be less precious about light-hearted banter between the sexes, you can’t have it both ways. If sexism is wrong, the same standards apply to men and women. On the other hand, if you buy into the whole Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus theory of gender difference – with all its pseudo science - you can’t complain about inequalities of outcome that flow both ways from those essentially sexist distinctions.
Read the rest here.

Bank of England Chief: standard of living to plunge at fastest rate since 1920s

Households face the most dramatic squeeze in living standards since the 1920s, the Governor of the Bank of England warned, as he reacted to the shock disclosure that the economy was shrinking again.

Families will see their disposable income eaten up as they “pay the inevitable price” for the financial crisis, Mervyn King warned.

With wages failing to keep pace with rising inflation, workers’ take- home pay will end the year worth the same as in 2005 — the most prolonged fall in living standards for more than 80 years, he claimed.

Mr King issued the warning in a speech in Newcastle upon Tyne after official figures showed that gross domestic product fell by 0.5 per cent during the final three months last year. The Government blamed the unexpected reduction — the first since the third quarter of 2009 — on the freezing weather that paralysed much of the country last month.

But there were fears that the country was poised to slip back into recession, defined as two successive quarters of negative growth. Economists said the situation was “an absolute disaster”.

Labour accused ministers of jeopardising recovery by pushing ahead with public spending cuts too quickly.
Read the rest here.

N.R.A. Stymies Firearms Research, Scientists Say

In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, the familiar questions inevitably resurfaced: Are communities where more people carry guns safer or less safe? Does the availability of high-capacity magazines increase deaths? Do more rigorous background checks make a difference?

The reality is that even these and other basic questions cannot be fully answered, because not enough research has been done. And there is a reason for that. Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work.

“We’ve been stopped from answering the basic questions,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was for about a decade the leading source of financing for firearms research.

Chris Cox, the N.R.A.’s chief lobbyist, said his group had not tried to squelch genuine scientific inquiries, just politically slanted ones.

“Our concern is not with legitimate medical science,” Mr. Cox said. “Our concern is they were promoting the idea that gun ownership was a disease that needed to be eradicated.”

The amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result, researchers say.
Read the rest here.

Egypt is wracked by violent protests

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of people demanding an end to the nearly 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak filled the streets of several Egyptian cities on Tuesday, in an unusually large and sometimes violent burst of civil unrest that appeared to threaten the stability of one of the United States’ closest Arab allies.

The protests, at least partly inspired by the toppling of the authoritarian government in Tunisia, began small but grew all day, with protesters occupying one of Cairo’s central squares. Security forces, which normally prevent major public displays of dissent, initially struggled to suppress the demonstrations, allowing them to swell.

But early Wednesday morning, firing rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades, the police finally drove groups of demonstrators from the square, as the sit-in was transformed into a spreading battle involving thousands of people and little restraint. Plainclothes officers beat several demonstrators, and protesters flipped over a police car and set it on fire.

Protests also flared in Alexandria, Suez, Mansura and Beni Suef. There were reports of three deaths and many injuries around the country.

Photographers in Alexandria caught people tearing up a large portrait of Mr. Mubarak. An Internet video of demonstrations in Mahalla el-Kubra showed the same, while a crowd snapped cellphone photos and cheered. The acts — rare, and bold here — underscored the anger coursing through the protests and the challenge they might pose to the aging and ailing Egyptian leader.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A note to readers

Due to some fairly serious family issues I will be making what is likely to be a prolonged trip to back east beginning this weekend. There will probably be very little if any blogging over the weekend as I will be traveling (and recovering). After which I am unsure to what extent blogging will be effected though I do not currently expect a major disruption. One difference is that I will be on the East Coast which may effect the time you are accustomed to seeing posts show up.

IMF Warns US

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has issued its clearest warning to date that the latest US fiscal stimulus is ill-judged, unlikely to do much for growth and raises the risk of a bond crisis over the medium term.

The IMF said the US economy was enjoying a short-term spike as a result of quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve and the fiscal package agreed by Congress and the White House late last year, but expressed reservations about the side-effects of these policies.

"Although some targeted measures in the US are justifiable at this juncture given the still weak labour and housing markets, the recently implemented stimulus is expected to deliver only a relatively small growth dividend [given its size] at a considerable fiscal cost," the IMF said in its update to the World Economic Outlook.

The IMF said the deficit would remain stuck at 10.75pc of GDP in 2011, with public debt exceeding 110pc of GDP in 2016.

"The absence of a credible, medium-term fiscal strategy would eventually drive up US interest rates, which could prove disruptive for global financial markets and for the world economy," it said. The report called for an assault on America's entitlements behemoth, and caps on discretionary spending.
Read the rest here.

Remember Him

Sir Winston Churchill
November 30 1874 - January 24 1965

He saved us. He very likely saved Christian Civilization. Not many men can make that claim. Some in recent years have suggested we should have stayed out and that it would have been no big deal if Europe had become part of a greater Nazi Empire, which I find shocking. Try making that argument with anyone whose ancestors lived in Europe during the 30's or 40's or anyone who happens to be Jewish. Isolationism has its moral limitations. And its pragmatic ones (just ask the Dutch and Belgians). Try to imagine a world dominated to the East by a Nazi Reich and to the West by an Asiatic Japanese Empire with just us left in the middle somewhere with our heads buried in the sand like a giant ostrich.

But even those well versed in history have a hard time comprehending just how truly bleak it was in that long ago summer of 1940.

Germany had annexed or conquered Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. France, hitherto the world's preeminent military power, had been smashed in a month and German troops were goosestepping under the Arc of Triumph. The British Army had been hurled back to the sea. In one of the most desperate actions in the history of any war, a flotilla made up of every boat that could be found in the British Isles was sent across the channel to try and save whoever they could. The evacuation was carried out while under constant air and artillery attack. In London the military warned that they expected to loose 80-90% of the army.

Somehow most of the army was saved. Over 370,000 men were rescued. But almost all of the army's tanks, artillery and military hardware was left behind. Many soldiers had even been forced to abandon their rifles. Those who had rifles often had only the bullets they were able to carry on their person off the beach.

This was the situation in June of 1940. Europe was mostly conquered and France was folding like a cheap lawn chair. Britain was alone with an army that had no heavy equipment and a critical shortage of small arms and ammunition. Her air force was outnumbered by nearly 2:1. At sea British merchant ships were being torpedoed at a rate that would reduce the nation to starvation if it was not checked. Hitler controlled the French ports and was staring across the channel planning his victory dinner in Buckingham Palace.

But he was faced by a man who was, if you believe in such things, put on this earth for exactly this moment.

He was born in a palace, the grandson of the Duke of Marlborough. As a young man he served in the army and fought in some of his country's colonial wars. He also earned a credible reputation as a journalist for his daring exploits while covering the Boer War. In politics he shocked his fellow blue bloods by switching loyalties to the Liberal Party where he championed some of the great social reforms of the first decade of the 20th century. Churchill fought with the Liberals against child labor, for mine safety laws in Wales, old age pensions, free meals for children in schools, unemployment insurance and the first steps towards what would eventually become Britain's national health insurance. In the great battles of 1910-1912 he supported the constitutional reforms that stripped the veto power from the House of Lords. An act for which he was never completely forgiven by his own social class.

He was First Lord of the Admiralty when the Great War broke out but fell from grace and political office after being blamed (not without some cause) for the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. Later he served in the front lines in France. And yet somehow managed to emerge from the horror of the trenches with his romantic notions of war intact. A brief return to office in the 20's proved short lived as he quarreled with his own party (the Conservatives again) over relaxing colonial rule.

By the 1930's what had once been a promising political career was over. He had twice switched parties and was disliked and distrusted as much by his fellow Conservatives as by Labour. Most of the decade was spent warning in vain of the dangers of a rearmed and militaristic Germany while being accused of war mongering. He was a washed up has-been living in the past. A man who still believed in Empire and Monarchy and noblesse oblige.

When war finally came and he could no longer be ignored Neville Chamberlain restored him as head of the Navy. On the morning of May 10th 1940, as Germany launched its long planned invasion of France along with the isolationist - neutral low countries and Chamberlain's government collapsed, it was to him that the nation turned.

By 1940 Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was old and overweight. He was a heavy cigar smoker who drank brandy like water. In almost every respect he was a romantic aristocratic anachronism.

Now in mid June he had only been Prime Minister for a few weeks and the nation teetered on the brink of not just military defeat, but possible extinction. And there at the helm was a man from another era. A man who still believed that war could be both honorable and glorious. And in that long dark year of 1940, for just a brief moment in time he made an entire country believe the same thing.

As each new report of disaster came to the war cabinet (composed of the leaders of all political parties) it was inevitable the question would be raised as to how long they could go on. In one famous incident Churchill answered it. Representations were made that Germany was prepared to offer "generous terms" if Britain were to make peace. The event was recreated with an admirable respect for historical accuracy in this scene from the HBO film "Into the Storm."

Shortly after that he spoke to the House of Commons and by radio to the British people. Across the Atlantic America listened too, wondering if this was the end.

The answer was given, and the question never asked again.

Remember him.

Monday, January 24, 2011

150 years ago Georgia secedes (whether they liked it or not)

...But while Georgia may have the most slaveholders in the south, it has the most non-slaveholders as well, and the state’s attraction to secession has never attained the white-hot pitch that prevails in its short-fused neighbor to the east. Thus, while Governor Brown and Senator Robert Toombs were laboring mightily for secession, staunch unionists massed in town squares to declare their allegiance. We do not consider the election of Lincoln and Hamlin as sufficient cause for Disunion, was the message from a large crowd in Crawfordsville, according to reports. We are not of the opinion that the election of any man . . . is sufficient cause to disrupt the ties which bind us to the Union, was, reportedly, the view of attendees at a mass meeting in Walker County. “We will never forsake the old `Star Spangled Banner,’’’ wrote one newspaper editor in Harris County, and appended the names of 175 local men who pledged to “preserve the honor and rights of the South in the Union.’’

Recognizing the strength of the unionists, the ultras tried to persuade the legislature to bypass the people and accept responsibility and pass an ordinance of secession itself. “Come, then, legislators,’’ implored Thomas Cobb in the Milledgeville debates in November. “Represent the wisdom and intelligence of Georgia; wait not till the grog-shops and cross-roads shall send up a discordant voice from a divided people.’’ Said Toombs, more pithily, “I am afraid of conventions.’’ But it was precisely into the hands of that divided people that the legislature passed the decision, calling for a convention to discuss the matter to be held on Jan. 16...

...When the convention came to order on Jan. 16, the delegates constituted — to be sure, this is the opinion of one of the delegates — “the most distinguished body of men which had ever assembled in Georgia . . . . Of the 297 delegates, there were not four whose names were not of pure English, Scotch or Irish origin. It would not have been possible to assemble in one hall, by any method of selection, a more truly representative body of the best intelligence in Georgia.’’

Two days were spent on matters of organization, and then the body got down to business: a separatist resolution favoring secession was proposed. Before action could be taken on that proposal, however, a competing resolution was proposed by the cooperationists that proclaimed Georgia’s attachment to the union and called for Georgia to host a convention of the southern states where they would discuss their relations with the federal government and devise a plan of action that would safeguard the rights of the slaveholding states.

Once again, Alexander Stephens rose to defend the Union. “This step, once taken can never be recalled; and all the baleful and withering consequences that must follow will rest on the Convention for all coming time. When we and our posterity shall see our lovely South desolated by the demon of war which this act of yours will inevitably invite and call forth; when our green fields of waving harvests shall be trodden down by the murderous soldiery and fiery car of war sweeping over our land; our temples of justice laid in ashes; all the horrors and desolation of war upon us — who but this Convention will be held responsible for it?’’

Stephens’s sobering eloquence was admired, but not enough to win a majority in favor of the cooperationist alternative, which lost, 166 to 130. The following day, the separatist proposal passed, 208 to 89, and the convention president, George Crawford, immediately declared Georgia to be an independent nation. As the poet Sidney Lanier put it, “Tears of joy fell from many eyes, and words of congratulation were uttered by every tongue. The artillery from the capitol square thundered forth the glad tidings, and the bells of the city pealed forth the joyous welcome to the new-born Republic.”

At the convention on the following day, a second effort by a cooperationist delegate to obtain from Governor Brown the official vote tallies of the Jan. 2 election was officially defeated.

The tallies have yet to be released. Meanwhile, in Habersham County, one voter is loudly complaining that his delegate to the convention, a preacher named Singleton Sisk, fraudulently declared himself a union man to win election, and then voted with the secessionists. Reports of similar complaints have emerged in a score of other locations.

It is not likely that these objections will be long pursued. At the convention, the secession bloc pushed through a resolution mandating that all delegates, most specifically those who opposed the Ordinance of Secession, affix their signatures to the document as a “pledge of the unanimous determination of this Convention to sustain and defend the State, in this her chosen remedy.’’ As one of its very first actions, the independent republic of Georgia passed a law against treason, an act that includes attesting a continued allegiance to the United States. Disobedience is punishable by death.
Read the rest here.

Police fear 'war on cops'

A spate of shooting attacks on law enforcement officers has authorities concerned about a war on cops.

In just 24 hours, at least 11 officers were shot. The shootings included Sunday attacks at traffic stops in Indiana and Oregon, a Detroit police station shooting that wounded four officers, and a shootout at a Port Orchard, Wash., Wal-Mart that injured two deputies. On Monday morning, two officers were shot dead and a U.S. Marshal was wounded by a gunman in St. Petersburg, Fla.

On Thursday, two Miami-Dade, Fla., detectives were killed by a murder suspect they were trying to arrest.

"It's not a fluke," said Richard Roberts, spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations. "There's a perception among officers in the field that there’s a war on cops going on."
Read the rest here.

Suicide Bomber Kills dozens in Moscow Airport (the Quakers?)

MOSCOW — A bomber strode into the arrivals hall at Moscow’s busiest airport on Monday afternoon and set off an enormous explosion, eyewitnesses and Russian officials said, leaving bodies strewn in a smoke-filled terminal while bystanders scrambled to get the wounded out on baggage carts.

Russian authorities said at least 31 people were killed and 150 injured in the attack. The Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said in televised remarks that the blast was an act of terrorism and ordered police to track down the perpetrators.

Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said the attack was probably carried out by a male suicide bomber, and that authorities are attempting to identify him.

In the moments after the blast, the smoke was so thick that it was difficult to count the dead, eyewitnesses said. Arriving passengers stepped into the hall to the sight of blood on the floor and bodies being loaded onto stretchers. Ambulances sped away crowded with three or four patients apiece, bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to their arms and legs.
Read the rest here.

Note: This is a developing story. The text at the linked page may change.

Still Fighting Russia, This Time With Words

TBILISI, Georgia — The new teacher who arrived recently at School No. 161 could barely speak a word of the Georgian language, knew little about local customs and easily got lost in the crazy-quilt streets of this hilly capital. But she was at the forefront of one of the most notable educational initiatives — if not social experiments — being attempted in the former Soviet Union.

When the teacher, Deborah Cruz, walked into a classroom of squirmy teenagers, they grew rapt. Here was a stranger who would help connect them to the rest of the world, one irregular verb tense at a time.

Ms. Cruz, who is from the Seattle area, is part of a brigade of native English speakers recruited by Georgia’s government to spur a linguistic revolution. The goal is to make Georgia a country where English is as common as in Sweden — and in the process to supplant Russian as the dominant second language.

“What we are doing is really something groundbreaking,” Ms. Cruz, 58, said after leading her class in a form of tick-tack-toe on the blackboard, with students devising a sentence to fill in a box.

One of her students, Tekla Iordanishvili, 15, chimed in, “English is the international language, and we need it.”

The government has already lured 1,000 English speakers to Georgia, and by September, hopes to have another 500 in place so that every school in the country has at least one. Under the program, which resembles both the Peace Corps and the Teach for America program, the teachers live rent-free with Georgian families and receive a stipend of about $275 a month.

The initiative to embed these foreigners across Georgia reflects the ambitions of its Western-leaning president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who speaks excellent English and studied law at Columbia University. Since taking office after an uprising in 2003, Mr. Saakashvili has worked to wrench Georgia out of Moscow’s orbit and move it closer to the United States — so determined is his effort that it was a factor in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
Read the rest here.

Better if they were taught Mandarin.

RIP: Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne, whose obsession with grueling workouts and good nutrition, complemented by a salesman’s gift, brought him recognition as the founder of the modern physical fitness movement, died Sunday afternoon at his home in Morro Bay, Calif. He was 96.

The cause was respiratory failure resulting from pneumonia, said his son Dan Doyle.

A self-described emotional and physical wreck while growing up in the San Francisco area, Mr. LaLanne began turning his life around, as he often told it, after hearing a talk on proper diet when he was 15.

He started working out with weights when they were an oddity, and in 1936 he opened the prototype for the fitness spas to come — a gym, juice bar and health food store — in an old office building in Oakland.

“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” he remembered. “The doctors were against me — they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.” But Mr. LaLanne persevered, and he found a national pulpit in the age of television.

“The Jack LaLanne Show” made its debut in 1951 as a local program in the San Francisco area, then went nationwide on daytime television in 1959. His short-sleeved jumpsuit showing off his impressive biceps, his props often limited to a broomstick, a chair and a rubber cord, Mr. LaLanne pranced through his exercise routines, most notably his fingertip push-ups.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Labour 'heavies' run riot in the House of Lords

The House of Lords - A gentlemanly place where politics is done discreetly over whisky and cigars.

The Speaker never even needs to shout "order" because, well, their Lordships don't overstep the mark. They would never do anything so crass as to shout or talk over each other.

Imagine the horror of this civilised breed, therefore, when last week the Upper House was transformed into a bear pit of flying insults and political dirty tricks as a cadre of battle-hardened former Labour MPs, newly ennobled, set about disrupting legislation on voting reform.
Read the rest here.

Someone explain to me again, how kicking out the hereditary peers and replacing them with Tony's Cronies was such a great idea...

Britain in battle over stagflation

A preview of coming attractions on our side of the pond...
Fears are growing that the UK is running the risk of a period of painful "stagflation", as official figures should this week show that growth continued to slow down in the final three months of 2010.

Analysts think the economy is already showing symptoms of stagflation – the toxic cocktail of stagnating growth and rising prices that leaves policymakers unable to tackle one problem without making the other worse. Households suffer, as the weak labour market means wages do not keep pace with wider price rises in the economy.

The UK experienced a severe bout of stagflation in the 1970s, when the oil price shock contributed to larger contractions in output and a surge in inflation.
Read the rest here.

Alan Greenspan warns of unlimited money printing and hints at a gold standard

MTV’s Naked Calculation Gone Bad

What if one day you went to work and there was a meeting to discuss whether the project you were working on crossed the line into child pornography? You’d probably think you had ended up in the wrong room.

And you’d be right.

Last week, my colleague Brian Stelter reported that on Tuesday, the day after the pilot episode of “Skins” was shown on MTV, executives at the cable channel were frantically meeting to discuss whether the salacious teenage drama starring actors as young as 15 might violate federal child pornography statutes.

Senior executives are now considering additional editing for coming episodes, but that’s a little like trying to lock the door after a naked 17-year-old has already busted out and gone running down the street, which is precisely what one of the characters does in Episode 3 — with a pill-enhanced erection, no less.

No one at MTV, which is owned by Viacom, set out to make child pornography, but make no mistake: the series is meant to provoke. “Skins” — a title that derives from the rolling papers that are used to make the blunts that go with the vodka that washes down the pills that accompany the hookups — is mostly about explicitly teenage characters doing explicit things. In a cluttered programming era, controversy is oxygen, so MTV was undoubtedly happy with the tsk-tsking the show incited in advance.

But objectifying teenage pathology, along with teenage bodies, is a complicated business — and the business that MTV is in.

I’ve watched the first three episodes of “Skins,” and I have no idea if the show is “sufficiently sexually suggestive,” as the law reads, to run afoul of the authorities. What “Skins” does clearly suggest is that MTV and its corporate parent erred when they decided that conjuring a show out of piles of semi-nude teenagers would be lucrative, harmless fun.

“Skins” has a TV-MA rating and MTV has suggested in press releases that the show is “specifically designed to be viewed by adults.” That’s a preposterous position. “Skins” is a show meant to offend adults and create did-you-see chatter among young people.
Read the rest here.

These people are scum.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A foretaste of paradise

After two days of living on water (when I could hold that), I ate my first real food tonight, a small chicken sandwich.


...for the slow posting. I have been under the weather for the last couple of days.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Keith Olbermann Leaves MSNBC

I am not a fan of Mr. Olbermann's. But I do regret his departure. In a media culture dominated by the right wing talking heads on FOX he was really the left's only serious response. And yes sometimes Beck and Co. were in serious need of having their windbags popped by Olbermann's often skewering commentary.

218 years ago today

The Regicide of Louis XVI

Given his crucial support for the American Revolution it is unlikely that any monarch can be more credited with the rise of republicanism. What a great irony that he should be its first, but by no means last, bloody victim.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

50 years ago

John F. Kennedy is sworn as President of the United States. It was in many ways a bellwether of change. The youngest President to be elected to the office, probably the most charismatic, and the last president elected before the nation would be profoundly shaken by a controversial war abroad and sweeping social tensions at home. He was the last president to dress for his inauguration (a state occasion) and the last to ride in an open car during the parade.

Path Sought to Permit State Bankruptcies

Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid.

Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.

Bankruptcy could permit a state to alter its contractual promises to retirees, which are often protected by state constitutions, and it could provide an alternative to a no-strings bailout. Along with retirees, however, investors in a state’s bonds could suffer, possibly ending up at the back of the line as unsecured creditors.
Read the rest here.

Wow! There is going to be a bloodbath in the municipal bond markets tomorrow.

GOP proposes $2.5 Trillion in spending cuts

Moving aggressively to make good on election promises to slash the federal budget, the House GOP today unveiled an eye-popping plan to eliminate $2.5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years. Gone would be Amtrak subsidies, fat checks to the Legal Services Corporation and National Endowment for the Arts, and some $900 million to run President Obama's healthcare reform program. [See a gallery of political caricatures.]
Click here to find out more!

What's more, the "Spending Reduction Act of 2011" proposed by members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, chaired by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, would reduce current spending for non-defense, non-homeland security and non-veterans programs to 2008 levels, eliminate federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, cut the federal workforce by 15 percent through attrition, and cut some $80 billion by blocking implementation of Obamacare. [See a slide show of the top Congressional travel destinations.]

Some of the proposed reductions will surely draw Democratic attack, such as cutting the Ready to Learn TV Program, repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, the elimination of the Energy Star Program, and cutting subsidies to the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Read the rest here.


HT: The Young Fogey
There’s one typographical atrocity that drives me nuts. And it’s the one I’ve just committed. I’m raising the subject because the most-read article on Slate at the moment is a denunciation of double spaces after “periods”, as Americans call them, by Farhad Manjoo
Read the rest here.

For the record, I never took keyboarding. I took "typing." And yes double spacing after ending punctuation was drilled into me as obligatory. As for the guidelines of MLA, I could not care less. Anyone who advocates parenthetical in text citations is a linguistic - stylistic philistine who if ever right on any subject, is so purely by accident. Chicago Manual of Style however is not so easily dismissed. If they are telling me that you only use one space and not two then I am wrong. End of discussion.

A Texas sized deficit

These are tough times for state governments. Huge deficits loom almost everywhere, from California to New York, from New Jersey to Texas.

Wait — Texas? Wasn’t Texas supposed to be thriving even as the rest of America suffered? Didn’t its governor declare, during his re-election campaign, that “we have billions in surplus”? Yes, it was, and yes, he did. But reality has now intruded, in the form of a deficit expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next two years.

And that reality has implications for the nation as a whole. For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere.

How bad is the Texas deficit? Comparing budget crises among states is tricky, for technical reasons. Still, data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest that the Texas budget gap is worse than New York’s, about as bad as California’s, but not quite up to New Jersey levels.

The point, however, is that just the other day Texas was being touted as a role model (and still is by commentators who haven’t been keeping up with the news). It was the state the recession supposedly passed by, thanks to its low taxes and business-friendly policies. Its governor boasted that its budget was in good shape thanks to his “tough conservative decisions.”

Oh, and at a time when there’s a full-court press on to demonize public-sector unions as the source of all our woes, Texas is nearly demon-free: less than 20 percent of public-sector workers there are covered by union contracts, compared with almost 75 percent in New York.

So what happened to the “Texas miracle” many people were talking about even a few months ago?
Read the rest here.

The above was published on January 6th 2011. We now have Texas' answer to their budget crisis.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Texas lawmakers unveiled a Spartan budget late Tuesday night that slashes $31 billion in spending to close the state's massive budget deficit. Education, Medicaid and corrections would be hit particularly hard.

House legislators were forced to rely on spending cuts to close the shortfall -- estimated at between $15 billion and $27 billion -- because Republican leaders pledged not to raise taxes. They also did not touch the state's projected $9.4 billion rainy day fund, one of the most flush in the nation.

The spending plan calls for a 13% hit to public education and a 7.6% drop in higher education support. Among the cuts, funding for pre-K Early Start programs would be slashed, and four community colleges would be closed.

Such a drastic decline in public education support could be problematic because it would drop the education budget below a level mandated by the state, and force the legislature to change the law.

Health and human services would see funding plummet by nearly a quarter, while government services would fall by almost the same percentage.

Nearly 9,300 government jobs would be eliminated and Medicaid providers would see a 10% rate reduction. Fewer residents would receive meal deliveries and services to keep them in their homes. Some 60,000 students would lose financial aid for college.

Funding for defending the poor in court would drop by 15%. And the department that supervises and supports parolees would by cut by nearly 21%.
Read the rest here.

Last Christians Ponder Leaving a Hometown in Iraq

HABBANIYA CECE, Iraq — The last Christian man in town goes to church each morning to clean the building and to remember the past. Romel Hawal, 48, was born in this town in Anbar Province back when most of the population was Christian. Now, he said, his 11-year-old son knows no other Christians and has no memory of attending a church service.

“When my son swears, it is on the Koran, not the Bible,” Mr. Hawal lamented.

His wife wants to leave town or leave the country, joining what is becoming an exodus of Christians from Iraq and throughout the Middle East. But Mr. Hawal said he felt an obligation to stay. And he found support from an unlikely source.

“What gives me courage,” he said, “is that my Muslim brothers say, ‘Don’t leave.’ ”

Here in Habbaniya Cece, residents talk about their town as an oasis of ethnic and religious harmony, where Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites all lived together for decades without friction. On one short stretch of rutted road near Mr. Hawal’s church, Mary Queen of Peace, are an Assyrian church, a Sunni mosque, a Shiite mosque and another, older, Sunni mosque.

“This is the best place you will find in Iraq, because we have Christians and Muslims together,” said the mayor, Sabah Fawzi, a Muslim, who stopped by the church to look in on Mr. Hawal. “When my wife and daughters want something, sometimes they come to the church to ask God for it.”
Read the rest here.

When do we start calling this ethnic (or religious) cleansing?

New York: Gov. Cuomo considers eliminating 15000 state jobs

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is considering reducing the state workforce by up to 15,000 workers in his budget, the largest cut to the government payroll in recent years, two people briefed on the plan said Wednesday night.

The prospective cuts are likely to accompany large reductions in Medicaid and state education spending, those people said, as Mr. Cuomo and his administration seek to close a projected budget gap of more than $9 billion.

But the cuts would represent a substantial downsizing of the state’s workforce, including clerical workers, state troopers and park rangers. And that belt-tightening would almost certainly be accompanied by noticeable reductions in government services, though it is hard to predict where and how much until Mr. Cuomo releases his proposed budget in early February.

Mr. Cuomo has made trimming the state’s far-flung bureaucracy a top priority of his new administration, hoping to reduce costs to taxpayers and root out waste. Along with Medicaid and education spending, money for so-called “state operations,” including payroll, health and pension benefits, is one of the larger portions of spending borne directly by New York taxpayers.

But layoffs of the magnitude the governor is considering are likely to spur a major counterattack from unions that represent state workers, who have in recent years agreed to concessions that would reduce long-term pension costs but sharply resisted calls by Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor, David A. Paterson, to agree to downsizing the state workforce or other cost-saving measures.
Read the rest here.

Patriarch Kyril blessing Holy Water in Christ the Savior Cathedral with Met. Jonah on Epiphany

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Well at least he didn't wear a Mao Jacket

Britain: Cameron proposes sweeping changes in national health care

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday proposed a radical reorganization of England’s health care system, introducing legislation that would hand responsibility for most of the country’s health budget to its 42,000 general practitioners and, his political opponents say, open the door to private competition that could threaten the foundations of socialized care.

Mr. Cameron argues that the bill, said to be the biggest overhaul of the National Health Service since it was founded in 1948, is essential to increase efficiency and allow doctors, patients and localities more control of how the health budget is spent.

Yet the prime minister, who promised during last year’s election campaign that he had no radical plans to change the health service, faces formidable opposition from a wide array of critics. These include the British Medical Association, members of Mr. Cameron’s own Conservative Party, patient advocates, health care specialists, health workers’ unions and even many of the primary care doctors who are supposed to benefit under the proposals.
Read the rest here.

GOP votes to add $282 billion to the national debt

WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday voted to repeal the Democrats’ landmark health care overhaul, in a largely symbolic step that the new Republican majority said marked the beginning of an all-out effort to dismantle President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate have said that they will not act on the repeal measure, effectively scuttling it.

A House majority voted 245 to 189 to repeal the measure.

While conceding the reality that the measure would not advance in the Senate, House Republicans said they would still press ahead with their “repeal and replace” strategy. The next steps, however, will be much more difficult, as they try to forge consensus on alternatives to the new law emphasizing “free market solutions” to control health costs and expand coverage.

Republicans have sketched their ideas without giving many details.

Even as four committees begin drafting legislation, Republicans said they would seek other ways to stop the overhaul, by choking off money needed to carry it out and by pursuing legislation to undo specific provisions, including its linchpin requirement that most employers help pay to insure their workers.
Read the rest here.

(Note: This is breaking news. It is likely the linked text will change with time.)

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that blanket repeal of the (deeply flawed) health care reform would add $282B to the national debt over ten years and several times that much over the following ten. Speaker Boehner responded with "well that's their opinion." The GOP suspended it's own rules forbidding any legislation that added to the national debt without offsetting cuts in spending. Nor have the Republicans offered any concrete legislation to address the added debt burden of repeal.

Philadelphia abortionist accused of 8 murders

A Philadelphia physician, Kermit Barron Gosnell, was charged Wednesday with murder and other offenses for allegedly causing the death of one of his female patients and killing seven viable babies in illegal, late-term abortions, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said.

The babies were born alive in the sixth, seventh and eighth months of pregnancy, but their spinal cords were allegedly severed with scissors, Williams said in a statement.

Nine other people who worked in the west Philadelphia medical office, including Gosnell's wife and sister-in-law, were also charged, Williams said. The practice, called the Women's Medical Society, served mostly low-income minority women for years, he said.

Williams' statement provided a grisly scenario of the shuttered abortion clinic: A search of the office last year by authorities found bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses scattered throughout the building. Jars contained the severed feet of babies and lined a shelf. Furniture and equipment was blood-stained, dusty and broken.

Gosnell, 69, is not a board-certified obstetrician or gynecologist, Williams said.
Read the rest here.


Ala. gov. apologizes for remarks on non-Christians

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized Wednesday for his remarks about only Christians being his brothers and sisters.

Bentley said he didn't mean to insult anyone when he told a church crowd on Monday that those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior are not his brothers and sisters, shocking some critics who questioned whether he can be fair to non-Christians.

"Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother," Bentley said Monday, just moments into his new administration, according to The Birmingham News.
Read the rest here.

Stocks take a hit

The stock market took its worst beating since November today with the tech heavy NASDAQ dropping by more than 1.4%. The S&P 500 fell by a little over 1%. The DOW managed to dodge most of the selling dropping only very slightly. Crude oil closed at $90.70 a barrel and precious metals traded within a narrow range with gold closing up $2.80 closing at $1371.50 oz. Silver fell 11 cents closing at $28.79 oz.

Giffords may leave hospital on Friday

Good news...
TUCSON, Ariz. — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will likely leave the hospital Friday and move into a Texas rehabilitation center to begin the next phase of her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head, her family said Wednesday.

In a statement released by Giffords' congressional office, Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said his wife will be moved — likely Friday barring medical issues — to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. Doctors say the exact timing of the move will depend on Giffords' health.

Kelly, who has been married to Giffords for three years, lives in Houston.

Giffords was gravely wounded by a gunshot to the forehead on Jan. 8 as she was meeting with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. The gunman shot 18 other people, killing six and wounding 12 more.

"I am extremely hopeful at the signs of recovery that my wife has made since the shooting. The team of doctors and nurses at UMC has stabilized her to the point of being ready to move to the rehabilitation phase," Kelly said.
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Senator Lieberman will retire in 2012

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut lawmaker whose successful re-election run as an independent in 2006 resurrected him after defeat in the state’s Democratic primary, announced Wednesday he will not seek a fifth term.

The veteran lawmaker made the announcement in Stamford, Conn., surrounded by his wife, children and other family members.

"At the end of this term, I will have served 24 years in the U.S. Senate and 40 years in elective office," Lieberman said. "For me, it is time for another season and another purpose under Heaven," he added, making a Biblical reference to Ecclesiastes.

Lieberman said he intends to put his full energy into the remainder of his current term in the Senate and plans to stay engaged in public life after he leaves his seat. "I will keep doing everything in my power to build strong bridges across party lines," he said.

Lieberman, 68, was defeated the last time he ran for the Democratic Senate nomination in Connecticut, in 2006, but won a new term running as an independent in a three-way race.
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Irkutsk Jordan

It's in Russian but that's OK. You don't need to know the language to follow what's going on. Some kids build a shrine out of ice in the Russian Far East for the Feast of Epiphany/Theophany. This is a GREAT video!

Bomb found on MLK march route; FBI suspects domestic terrorism

SPOKANE, Wash. — A backpack found along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in Spokane contained a bomb "capable of inflicting multiple casualties," the FBI said Tuesday, describing the case as "domestic terrorism."

The FBI said the Swiss Army-brand backpack was found about 9:25 a.m. PST on Monday on a bench at the northeast corner of North Washington Street and West Main Avenue in downtown Spokane.

In an interview on msnbc cable's "The Rachel Maddow Show," Spokesman-Review reporter Thomas Clouse said confidential sources told him that the device was equipped with a remote control detonator and contained shrapnel.

A bomb disposal unit was called in and neutralized the device with a robot. The FBI said in a statement on Tuesday that "the backpack contained a potentially deadly destructive device, likely capable of inflicting multiple casualties."

The FBI has refused to discuss how the bomb was constructed.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In State Secrets Case, Justices Ponder Telling Litigants to ‘Go Away’

WASHINGTON — It has been almost 60 years since the Supreme Court last had a hard look at the state secrets privilege, which can allow the government to shut down litigation by invoking national security. In the years since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the government has invoked the privilege frequently to scuttle cases, saying they would frustrate its efforts to combat terrorism.

The privilege was at the center of an argument at the court on Tuesday. But the justices did not seem inclined to use the opportunity to give the lower courts guidance about its contours.

The case arose from a 1988 contract between the Navy and two companies, General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, to develop a stealth aircraft called the A-12 Avenger.

Three years later, dissatisfied with the contractors’ progress, the Navy declared them in default and demanded the return of $1.35 billion.

The contractors sued, asking to keep the money and seeking $1.2 billion more. They said their work had been frustrated by the government’s failure to share classified technology. The government disputed that, but would not explain why, invoking the state secrets privilege.

An appeals court repeatedly ruled against the companies, saying at one point that national security interests trumped the companies’ rights under the Constitution’s due-process clause.

There was no dispute during the argument on Tuesday that the government was entitled to invoke the privilege. The question was what should have happened when it did.
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Church Official Calls for ‘All-Russian Dress Code’

MOSCOW — A top official for the Russian Orthodox Church on Tuesday proposed creating an “all-Russian dress code,” lashing out at women who leave the house “painted like a clown” and “confuse the street with striptease.”

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin has angered women’s groups recently with his comments about female modesty. At a December round table on interethnic relations, he said a woman wearing a miniskirt “can provoke not only a man from the Caucasus,” the predominately Muslim region on Russia’s southern border, “but a Russian man as well.”

“If she is drunk on top of that, she will provoke him even more,” he said. “If she is actively inviting contact, and then is surprised that this contact ends with a rape, she is all the more at fault.”

Feminists began a series of protests and petitions against Father Chaplin, who leads the church’s social outreach department and is a close associate of Patriarch Kirill I. He responded Tuesday with a pungent letter, saying provocative clothing led to “to short-term marriages, which are immediately followed by ratlike divorces, to the destruction of children’s lives, to solitude and madness, to life-catastrophe.”

He argued that clothing was not a private business, and that he hoped that Russia would soon be a place where scantily dressed women or men in track suits would not be admitted into public venues.
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