Sunday, July 31, 2011

In World’s Eyes, Much Damage Is Already Done

WASHINGTON — With the deal reached Sunday night, the United States has a good chance of escaping the debt limit showdown with its credit rating intact.

The United States government may not be so lucky with its reputation.

Even before negotiations went down to the wire on Sunday night, the bitterness, division and dysfunction that resounded around the world in recent weeks as the United States veered toward default did more than just fuel a perception that Washington is approaching Japan-like levels of political gridlock. Among foreign leaders and in global markets, the political histrionics have eroded America’s already diminishing aura as the world’s economic haven and the sole country with the power to lead the rest of the world out of financial crisis and recession.
Read the rest here.

A Libertarian Renaissance

August is upon us, beaches beckon and Michele Bachmann has set the self-improvement bar high. She recently told The Wall Street Journal, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.” The congresswoman may be the first person ever to dribble sun lotion on the section of Ludwig von Mises’s “Human Action” wherein the Austrian economist (1881-1973) discussed “the formal and aprioristic character of praxeology.”

Autodidacts less exacting than Bachmann should spill sand on the pages of “The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America” by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. These incurably upbeat journalists with Reason magazine believe that not even government, try as it will, can prevent onrushing social improvement.

“Confirmation bias” is the propensity to believe news that confirms our beliefs. Gillespie and Welch say that “existence bias” disposes us to believe that things that exist always will. The authors say that the most ossified, sclerotic sectors of American life — politics and government — are about to be blown up by new capabilities, especially the Internet, and the public’s wholesome impatience that is encouraged by them.

“Think of any customer experience that has made you wince or kick the cat. What jumps to mind? Waiting in multiple lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Observing the bureaucratic sloth and lowest-common-denominator performance of public schools, especially in big cities. Getting ritually humiliated going through airport security. Trying desperately to understand your doctor bills. Navigating the permitting process at your local city hall. Wasting a day at home while the gas man fails to show up. Whatever you come up with, chances are good that the culprit is either a direct government monopoly (as in the providers of K-12 education) or a heavily regulated industry or utility where the government is the largest player (as in health care).”
Read the rest here.

White House, congressional leaders reach debt-limit deal

President Obama and congressional leaders sealed a deal to raise the federal debt limit late Sunday that includes sharp spending cuts but no new taxes, breaking a partisan impasse that has driven the nation to the brink of a potentially disastrous government default.

The deal, negotiated primarily by Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), teetered all day on the edge of completion, as House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) bickered with Democrats over whether to freeze next year’s defense budget.

In the end, Boehner conceded the point, and President Obama finalized the agreement in phone calls to each of the four congressional leaders shortly after 8 p.m. If all goes as planned, the package could clear the Senate and then the House as soon as Monday night — barely 24 hours before Treasury officials have said they could run short of cash to pay the nation’s bills.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Limited Posting

There will be limited posting for the rest of this week.  I hope to have a bit more time next week.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

House and Senate on collision course over debt limit

House and Senate leaders were preparing separate backup plans Sunday to raise the federal debt limit after another day of intense negotiations failed to break a partisan impasse that threatens to throw the government into default next week.

The rival strategies left Congress poised to start this week locked in bitter and messy legislative warfare, even as jittery financial markets were set to open for the first time since House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) abruptly abandoned debt-limit talks with the White House on Friday.
Read the rest here.

I agree...

...with the majority of the comments on my test redesign.  I don't like it at all.  I will start again when I have some time.  On which note I apologize for the dearth of posting.  I have been extraordinarily busy lately.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

OK; it's not funny anymore

The clowns running our country seem to be under the illusion that just because the stock market hasn't crashed, yet, or the credit rating agencies haven't stripped us of our AAA credit rating, yet, that it's OK to continue their insane games with our country's debt in the name of partisan political ideology.  Both parties are to blame, though at the moment I would say that the GOP bears the lion's share of responsibility with their pledge to drive us off a cliff before they will consent to raise a dime in taxes.

My gut is telling me that they have about run out of time, and they may not realize it.  There is no reason on Earth why S&P or Moody needs to wait to August 2nd to announce that Washington is in the grips of a pack of ideological knaves hell bent on destroying the United States.  Worse I think Wall Street is slowly coming to terms with the reality that this not just another round of Washington political brinksmanship.  There are at least 100 Republic members of Congress who have made it abundantly clear that they don't care what happens.  They will under no circumstances vote to raise the debt limit. Unless something credible appears in the next 24 hrs or so Monday could be a really really bad day.

All of which reminds me of the old saying that there are three types of people in the world.  Those who learn by reading, those who learn by observing and those who only learn by peeing on the electric fence.

Redesign is underway

I am not sure I like it but I will sleep on it and see how I feel tomorrow.  Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Vatican facing increasingly open defiance among liberal priests

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony that purported to ordain a woman as a priest, in defiance of church teaching.

The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.

While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Norway: Right wing extremism emerges as possible terror motive

LONDON — A report that Norway's bomb and gun rampage may be the work of a far-right militant confronts Europe with the possibility that a new paramilitary threat is emerging, a decade after al-Qaida's Sept. 11 attacks.

One analyst called the attacks possibly Europe's "Oklahoma City" moment, a reference to American right-wing militant Timothy McVeigh who detonated a truck bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.

Police forces in many western European countries worry about rising far-right sentiment, fueled by a toxic mix of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry and increasing economic hardship.

But violence, while sometimes fatal, has rarely escalated beyond group thuggery and the use of knives.

That may have changed in Oslo and on the holiday island of Utoya on Friday. Seven people were killed in a bombing in the capital — Western Europe's worst since the 2005 London al-Qaida-linked suicide attacks that killed 52 people — and at least 80 in a shooting rampage by a lake.

Independent Norwegian television TV2 reported on Saturday that the Norwegian man detained after the attacks had links to right-wing extremism .
Read the rest here.

Breaking News: Norwegian police now report at least 80 dead in youth camp massacre

OSLO, Norway — At least 80 people were killed in a shooting attack on a youth camp in Norway, police said early Saturday, a devastating elevation of the death toll in twin attacks that included a bomb attack in Oslo.

National police Chief Oystein Maeland said the attack had reached "catastrophic dimensions."

Police arrested a 32-year-old Norwegian man at the youth camp on the island and linked him to both assaults but said they did not know the motive.

Norwegian media identified him as Anders Behring Breivik and said authorities searched his home.

At least seven people were killed Friday when the bomb exploded in the Norwegian capital in mid-afternoon, blowing out the windows of the prime minister's building and damaging the finance and oil ministry building. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was not in the building at the time. The blast scattered glass, shattered masonry and twisted steel across the streets.
Read the rest here.

Norway: dozens killed in terror attacks

Gunman massacres teenagers at summer camp after explosion rocks centre of Oslo.

At least 30 people were feared dead in Norway last night after a gunman mowed down students at a summer camp hours after a bomb had devastated the centre of Oslo.

More than 20 youths attending a political gathering were reported to have been shot dead when a terrorist disguised as a policeman opened fire on a holiday island on a lake near the capital.

Seven people had earlier been killed in central Oslo when a car bomb went off outside the country’s main government building. Members of the country’s ruling Labour Party were the targets in both cases. Police had confirmed a total of 17 deaths last night.
Read the rest here.

Military certifies repeal of “don’t ask” policy

The Obama administration announced Friday that the military had made all necessary preparations to allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces, setting the stage for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 60 days.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented President Obama with a formal certification Friday afternoon at the White House that the military’s ability to fight and recruit would not be harmed by the overt presence of gays in the ranks.

The certification marked the final hurdle in a nearly two-decade-long campaign by gay-rights groups and civil-rights advocates to integrate the armed forces. Under a law passed by Congress and signed by Obama in December, the 18-year-old “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” policy will now automatically vanish in 60 days.
Read the rest here

I take note of this because I am sure it will be discussed actively in many quarters of the blogosphere. But someone is going to have to explain to me very slowly how this is big news with everything else going on. Or how who someone is sleeping with (provided we are discussing activities between consenting adults that don't interfere with job performance) effects the readiness of the military. How many policemen do we want in our bedrooms? Unless someone's rights are being violated, disgusting and sinful behavior aught to be province of the Church, not the state.

File this news story under "who cares?"

GOP Again Walks Out of Debt Talks

Debt-reduction negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner collapsed Friday, derailing an effort to reach a landmark agreement to cut spending, overhaul the tax code and avert a government default.

In subsequent statements, both sides blamed the other for an impasse that threatens to plunge the nation into a fiscal crisis if the government fails to meet a looming deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling.

“It’s hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal,” Obama said, but Boehner (R-Ohio) countered that it was the president who walked away from an agreement on revenue increases.

“The White House moved the goal posts,” Boehner said in a press conference, demanding “more money at the last minute — and the only way to get that extra revenue was to raise taxes.”
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heads up on some forthcoming changes

I have received several messages expressing concern about the color scheme on A/O.  Apparently it doesn't work well with some readers.  When I get some time, hopefully in the next few days, I will be doing some experimenting with new color schemes.  If the blog suddenly starts looking a little weird when you click here it will probably be because I am tinkering.

Ron Paul’s Solution to the Debt Ceiling Impasse

Representative Ron Paul has hit upon a remarkably creative way to deal with the impasse over the debt ceiling: have the Federal Reserve Board destroy the $1.6 trillion in government bonds it now holds. While at first blush this idea may seem crazy, on more careful thought it is actually a very reasonable way to deal with the crisis. Furthermore, it provides a way to have lasting savings to the budget.

The basic story is that the Fed has bought roughly $1.6 trillion in government bonds through its various quantitative easing programs over the last two and a half years. This money is part of the $14.3 trillion debt that is subject to the debt ceiling. However, the Fed is an agency of the government. Its assets are in fact assets of the government. Each year, the Fed refunds the interest earned on its assets in excess of the money needed to cover its operating expenses. Last year the Fed refunded almost $80 billion to the Treasury. In this sense, the bonds held by the Fed are literally money that the government owes to itself.
Read the rest here.

HT: Blog reader Sophocles

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Dollar, Gold And The Quality Of Money

...At the center of this political upheaval is the quality of money itself. “Is gold money?” is a show stopper because it raises the questions: “What is money and what power should government have to manipulate its value?

The answers to these questions reveal how our most basic trust in government has been betrayed.

When you or I accept dollars in exchange for providing goods and services, we do so trusting that when we spend those dollars, they will be accepted for an equivalent amount of goods and services. That’s how money frees us from a barter economy.

Trust is always an assessment of some future action. Making a grounded assessment requires us to understand who is making the promise, what action they are promising, and whether they are sincere and competent to fulfill their promise.

When an individual, company or government has a good credit rating, we are saying that we trust they will keep their promise to pay off their debts in the future.

So it is with the value of money. Today Bernanke is making the promise effectively to “do his best” to achieve the Fed’s dual mandate of achieving maximum employment and stable prices.

I do not doubt that Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed have done their best. Here are the results:
Read the rest here.

Egan-Jones Officially Cuts U.S. Credit Rating

Cutting a credit rating is significantly different that placing it on ‘watch’ or ‘under review’.

Most readers are likely fully aware that Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s have sent out serious warning signals about the potential downgrade of the United States AAA credit rating.

That said, another SEC officially recognized ratings entity has gone one step further and actually lowered Uncle Sam’s standing by one notch.

What firm is so bold and brazen to send this volley across Capitol Hill and down Pennsylvania Avenue?


Unlike the supposed brand name rating agencies which did little to help ordinary investors going into our economic crisis, Egan-Jones’ business model differs markedly from the industry incestuous nature of its counterparts. The resulting lack of inherent conflict allows Egan-Jones to speak freely and boldly. What a novel concept.

What does Egan-Jones have to say about Uncle Sam?
Read the rest here.

Pope Appoints Archbishop Chaput to Philadelphia

Denver, Colo., Jul 19, 2011 / 04:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Updated at 8:51 a.m. MDT with remarks from the press conference in Philadelphia.

Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver on July 19 to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, who reached the age of retirement in April 2010, will serve as apostolic administrator until Archbishop Chaput's installation on Sept. 8. Cardinal Rigali has headed the Philadelphia archdiocese since 2003.

“I know other bishops would have been smarter than I am, or more talented, or more connected to Philadelphia’s past,” Archbishop Chaput said at a July 19 press conference announcing the appointment.

“But I do promise that no bishop will love the people and priests of this local Church more than I will. No bishop will give more of himself than I will.”

Cardinal Rigali praised the appointment, saying the Denver archbishop's life “is marked by an evident joy in his priesthood, a fearless proclamation of the Gospel, and a clear commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church.”
Read the rest here.

This is very good news for Philly.  Chaput is one of the best bishops in RCC on this side of the pond.

An update

Just a quick note to let everyone know that my Godson Basil is back home (has been for a couple of weeks now) and is recovering, albeit slowly.  He is still taking meds for pain but is also complaining of cabin fever and boredom.  As far as I am aware his surgery went well.  Basil will have fun getting through airport security with all the metal they put in him, but that's a lot better than what might have happened.  Again my thanks for your prayers.

Debt-ceiling crisis still eludes compromise

Republican lawmakers moved ahead Monday on a doomed plan to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget, one day after President Obama met with the top two House GOP leaders in hopes of reaching a debt-limit agreement that could win approval from the hostile House.

House Republicans insist that a constitutional mandate is the only way to impose discipline on Washington’s spending binges and spare the country future dangerous political showdowns like the one now speeding the country to the brink of its first-ever default.

Beyond requiring that the budget be balanced each year, the so-called “cut, cap and balance” measure under House consideration would require that the constitutional provision include annual spending caps and a supermajority to approve tax increases.

That plan faces almost certain defeat in the Senate, where many lawmakers moved ahead on Monday with a compromise proposal.

The current timeline, according to aides in both parties, would call for the Senate to unveil its bipartisan plan later this week and begin to consider it Saturday. With a week of parliamentary hurdles to clear, the Senate could pass its bill by July 29, leaving the House just four days to consider whether to approve the plan before Aug. 2, when the country would no longer be able to pay its bills.
Read the rest here.

Cardinal Rigali resigns amid abuse scandal

Cardinal Justin Rigali, whose leadership of the Philadelphia Roman Catholic archdiocese has been tainted by a continuing scandal over sexual misconduct by priests, is set to retire Tuesday.

The archdiocese, the sixth largest in the United States with 1.5 million Catholics, has been under fire over accusations it concealed the sexual abuse of children by priests to avoid a costly scandal.

The archdiocese website announced that Rigali, 76, is to be replaced by Archbishop Charles Chaput, 66, who has been archbishop in Denver since 1997.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of sexual abuse cover-up scandals in both Europe and the United States in recent years.
Read the rest here.

As I have noted before, the problem is not the relatively small number of priests who are sexual deviants.  The problem is the bishops who have covered up for them. If the bishops had sacked problem clergy right away the RCC would not be tainted in the way it has been.  In my mind the real scandal is that not a single Catholic bishop has been charged with obstruction of justice, child endangerment and conspiracy.  Anyone else who had been engaged in such vast coverups would be spending their days turning big rocks into little rocks as a multi-year guest of the state.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How hot is it? Triple-digit heat buckles roads in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Upper Midwest was feeling some unaccustomed heat on Monday, but folks in Oklahoma were having it even worse: In Oklahoma City, they're expecting a 28th day of triple-digit heat, and several roads across the state have buckled from the stress.

Two lanes of a major interstate in downtown Oklahoma City were closed Monday morning after buckling on a bridge caused steel expansion joints to rise, damaging cars as they passed over.

The city, which is forecast to reach 103 degrees on Monday, is on pace to break its record for days at 100 or above — 50 set in 1980 — with triple-digit heat possible through September.

It's even worse in western Oklahoma, where temperatures at 110 or above have been common in recent weeks. In Enid, asphalt at a major intersection along U.S. Highway 412 buckled Saturday night from the intense heat.

The heat wave is set to press on this week, with high humidity adding to the misery.

Heat indexes are predicted to stay in the triple digits, and the oppressive temperatures are likely to spread to the East Coast later in the week.
Read the rest here.

Artificial reef projects raise environmental questions

The USS Arthur W. Radford, a 563-foot naval destroyer, once rode the waves. Now it will break the tides.

Private contractors are preparing to sink it into the Atlantic Ocean, the latest addition to a Navy recycling program that turns outworn battleships into marine life habitats.

The Radford will go down 20 miles east of Fenwick Island, where officials are hoping it will prove a powerful lure for fish — and tourists — on the sandy sea floor.

“It should dramatically increase the use of dive boats operating on all three states’ ports,” boosting tourism for Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey, said Jeff Tinsman, Delaware’s artificial reef coordinator.

In the midst of an economic downturn, sinking naval vessels for artificial reefs aims to achieve multiple goals. It creates new ocean habitat and a tourist destination, while also ridding the Navy of outdated ships. Half of all U.S. coastal states have created artificial reefs or have plans to do so.

But some environmentalists, as well as federal and independent scientists, question whether the program provides ecological benefits.
Read the rest here.

Financial Markets Tank; Gold Silver Soar

Global equity markets are down sharply on worries over the US and European debt crisis. Gold and silver are both rising with gold trading above $1600 oz. for the first time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Requiem for H.I.H. Archduke Otto von Hapsburg

Part 1 of 9. See the rest here.

Vatican excommunicates schismatic Chinese bishop

BEIJING — The Vatican has excommunicated a newly ordained Chinese bishop, a move that is likely to exacerbate already frayed relations between the Holy See and China’s governing Communist Party.

The decision to formally announce the excommunication of the bishop, the Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin of Sichuan province, came a week after China’s state-run Catholic church ignored the Vatican’s objections and went ahead with the ordination ceremony, which was attended by seven other bishops previously recognized by Rome.

Church officials said this week in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened by the move, which “sows division and unfortunately produces rifts and tensions in the Catholic community in China.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government body that oversees state-run Catholic churches, would not talk about the clash with the Vatican. But in an emailed statement, the association expressed regret over the Vatican’s decision, saying it would prove divisive.

Last week, the planned consecration of another bishop in northern Hebei province ended much differently.

Bishop-elect Joseph Sun Jigen, whose appointment had been approved by the pope, was reported to have been forced into a police car three days before the planned ceremony. The ceremony was canceled and, as of earlier this week, the would-be bishop, according to parishioners, was still being held at a guesthouse.

Amid default bluster in Washington, bond markets remain cool

The bond investors who lend trillions of dollars to the U.S. government are still playing it cool.

With just over two weeks to go before the United States is at risk of defaulting on its financial obligations in the absence of a deal to raise a legal debt limit, global investors are still willing to buy Treasury bonds at rates that are very low by historical standards.

Fluctuations in the bond market in recent days have been driven by economic news, not the latest drama in Washington. The interest rate the government must pay to borrow money for two years, 0.36 percent Friday, is actually down a bit from a week ago. Treasury bills set to be repaid in the first few weeks of August are trading at near-zero interest rates, implying that investors see virtually no risk of disruption to payments.
Read the rest here.

Athens debt crisis taxes cosy ties between state and Greek Orthodox Church

The Greek Orthodox Church owns more land than anyone except the state, employs thousands on the public payroll, has a stake in the nation’s biggest bank, but campaigners say its tax payments are derisory. The Church vehemently denies accusations it is one of Greece’s biggest tax dodgers and says it is playing a vital social, economic and spiritual role in this time of hardship.

With the third year of recession tormenting Greece’s 11 million people, the Church has provided solace, comfort and nourishment but activists say it’s now time to dig deep into its coffers to help with the bailout.

The Greek Orthodox Church has long enjoyed a privileged, some would say cosy, status when it comes to taxes in a country where it is responsible for the sole official religion, with one critic calling its complex finances at best opaque. But the sovereign debt crisis that has rocked the Greek state, thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and forced painful cuts in salaries, pensions and benefits, has raised fresh questions about the Church’s tax position.

More than 100,000 people have joined a Greek Facebook page “Tax The Church”, and 29,000 have so far signed an online petition urging the state to harness “the huge fortune of churches” to reduce Greece’s crushing budget deficit. “The Church must pay its share of the tax burden,” said former finance minister Yannos Papantoniou. “It is totally unreasonable in this situation that they contribute so little.”

The Church angrily denies accusations it doesn’t pay its fair share. “This is a lie. We pay more land tax than ordinary businesses and we pay 20 percent of our rental income in tax,” said Father Timotheos, the Greek Church’s Holy Synod spokesman.

Despite the growing demands for more transparency, Prime Minister George Papandreou’s PASOK socialist government doesn’t dare take on the powerful Church, an adviser to the premier acknowledged, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Russia takes first steps to limit abortion

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a new law that restricts abortion in the country for the first time since the fall of communism.

Until now, abortion has been mostly unrestricted in Russia.

But the law signed by Mr. Medvedev on Thursday was seen by some as possibly the first in a series of restrictions on the practice in Russia, which has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Russian authorities say abortion has contributed to the country's declining population, now about 143 million people, down nearly six million since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago.

Russian officials say the new law is aimed at protecting the health of women. The changes require abortion providers to devote 10 percent of any advertising to warn potential clients of the possible health hazards of the procedure.

Russia has a liberal abortion policy, allowing the free procedure at any licensed medical clinic in the country. But the policy has come under attack from right-to-life conservatives and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia currently reports more deaths than births each year. Mr. Medvedev has made the fight against Russia's falling birthrate and plunging population one of the key goals of his presidency.

The New York Times reports that Mr. Medvedev's wife, Svetlana Medvedeva, has also taken up the cause. She is trying to reduce the number of abortions by starting a “Give Me Life!” campaign with brochures and an Internet site to promote a “week against abortion.”

A 2004 United Nations survey showed Russia with the highest abortion rate in the world with 53.7 per 100 women. The rate may have declined in recent years, but the country's health ministry recorded nearly 1.3 million abortions in 2009.

As a Watchdog Starves, Wall Street Is Tossed a Bone

The economy is still suffering from the worst financial crisis since the Depression, and widespread anger persists that financial institutions that caused it received bailouts of billions of taxpayer dollars and haven’t been held accountable for any wrongdoing. Yet the House Appropriations Committee has responded by starving the agency responsible for bringing financial wrongdoers to justice — while putting over $200 million that could otherwise have been spent on investigations and enforcement actions back into the pockets of Wall Street.

A few weeks ago, the Republican-controlled appropriations committee cut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fiscal 2012 budget request by $222.5 million, to $1.19 billion (the same as this year’s), even though the S.E.C.’s responsibilities were vastly expanded under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Charged with protecting investors and policing markets, the S.E.C. is the nation’s front-line defense against financial fraud. The committee’s accompanying report referred to the agency’s “troubled past” and “lack of ability to manage funds,” and said the committee “remains concerned with the S.E.C.’s track record in dealing with Ponzi schemes.” The report stressed, “With the federal debt exceeding $14 trillion, the committee is committed to reducing the cost and size of government.”
Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

S&P warns that chance of downgrading U.S. credit rating is 50 percent

Standard & Poor’s said late Thursday that it could downgrade the U.S. credit rating as soon as this month, and there is a 50 percent chance it will do so within three months, if Washington fails to come to an agreement over the nation’s debt.

In a statement, S&P indicated a “substantial likelihood” of downgrading the U.S. credit rating, citing a stalemate in Washington over raising the federal limit on borrowing.

S&P managing director John Chambers said in an interview that the downgrade could come by the end of the month if Congress has not voted to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

“The positions of the administration and the Republican leadership are still very far apart,” Chambers said. “The tone of the debate has made us wonder whether a compromise can be achieved.”

All three major credit rating agencies have now threatened the United States’ coveted status as the world’s most secure economy. Its AAA rating identifies U.S. Treasury bonds as one of the world’s safest investments — and has helped the nation borrow at extraordinarily cheap rates.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Obama-GOP debt talks get tense at White House

WASHINGTON — Tensions rose to the boiling point at a White House summit on the debt ceiling and budget talks on Wednesday, with House Republicans accusing President Barack Obama of abruptly walking out and Democrats painting GOP leaders as incalcitrant and irresponsible.

Republican and Democratic officials offered contrasting versions of an exchange between Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at the end of the meeting.

By Cantor's account, the president said that he "had sat there long enough and no other president, Ronald Reagan wouldn't sit here like this, and that he's reached the point that something's gotta give."

"And he said to me, 'Eric, don't call my bluff,'" Cantor said. "He said, 'I'm going to the American people with this.'"

Cantor and GOP aides said the president left the room abruptly.
Read the rest here.

Gold price hits all-time high on European debt crisis and US QE

The gold price hit an all-time high on Wednesday, as the euro crisis deepened and on the prospect of more quantitative easing in the US.

The price of gold for immediate delivery hit a record $1,578.55 on Wednesday evening. Gold is priced in dollars, but it also hit a record in sterling, the euro and the South African rand.

Moody’s downgrade of Ireland’s debt to junk status combined with minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting of its open markets committee to send investors fleeing to safety. Gold is a pseudo-currency as many investors regard it as a hedge against devaluing currencies.

EU leaders are expected to hold an emergency meeting on Friday as the prospect of some form of Greek default rises.

The Federal Reserve minutes showed the US central bank was contemplating further quantitative easing, known as QE3, a process which could cause the dollar to fall further. This was gold's eighth consecutive day of gains – something not seen since October 1996, when there were five consecutive days of rising prices.

“Gold will keep rising for the next five years, even if it has some crests and troughs,” Michael Widmer, an analyst at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, said. “Those holding gold should hold on to it, while others should probably get their hands on it as it is going to be on an upward trend,” he added.

Gold is up about 11pc this year and it is on track for its 11th consecutive yearly rise. This would be the longest winning streak since at least 1920.

Moody's warns it may downgrade US credit rating

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Moody's Investors Service on Wednesday threatened to lower the United States' credit rating, saying there is a small but rising risk that the government will default on its debt.

The credit rating agency said it will review the federal government's triple-A bond rating because the White House and Congress are running out of time to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion borrowing limit and avoid a default.

The government reached its borrowing limit in May. Treasury says the government will default on its debt if the limit is not raised by Aug. 2.

A downgrade would raise interest rates on U.S. treasury bonds, increasing the interest paid by U.S. taxpayers. It would also push up rates for mortgages, car loans and other debts, which are linked to Treasury rates.

Moody's had warned in June that it would take this step if President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers failed to make progress on an agreement by mid-July. The other credit ratings agencies, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, have said they may make similar moves.

Some Republican lawmakers have expressed skepticism that failing to raise the limit would have a major impact.
Read the rest here.

Eric Cantor: “Currently, there is not a single debt limit proposal that can pass the House of Representatives,”

Two top Republican leaders clashed Wednesday over a plan that could allow the government to avoid a potentially catastrophic default but would not ensure the deep cuts in federal spending that party members seek.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who offered a proposal this week that would allow President Obama to raise the federal debt limit without guaranteed spending cuts, warned that the Republican Party could “destroy” its brand with voters if Congress allows the government to default.

“All of a sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy. That is very bad positioning going into an election,” McConnell said on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” a conservative talk radio program.

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) rejected McConnell’s plan for resolving the debt stalemate, instead vowing to press ahead with the campaign to roll back government spending.

“Currently, there is not a single debt limit proposal that can pass the House of Representatives,” Cantor said in a statement released just before top lawmakers from both parties resumed afternoon negotiations at the White House.
Read the rest here.

Austria: Over 300 priests join 'call to disobedience'

Over 300 of Austria’s 4,200 priests have pledged to take part in Aufruf zum Ungehorsam (Call to Disobedience), an initiative launched in June.
The Call to Disobedience document cites “the Roman refusal of a long-overdue Church reform and the inaction of bishops.” Priests who support the document pledge

  • to pray for Church reform at every liturgy, since “in the presence of God there is freedom of speech”
  • not to deny the Holy Eucharist to “believers of good will,” including non-Catholic Christians and those who have remarried outside the Church
  • to avoid offering Mass more than once on Sundays and holy days and to avoid making use of visiting priests--instead holding a “self-designed” Liturgy of the Word
  • to describe such a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion as a “priestless Eucharistic celebration”; “thus we fulfill the Sunday obligation in a time of priest shortage”
  • to “ignore” canonical norms that restrict the preaching of the homily to clergy
  • to oppose parish mergers, insisting instead that each parish have its own individual leader, “whether man or woman”
  • to “use every opportunity to speak out openly in favor of the admission of the married and of women to the priesthood”

Read the rest here.
HT: Fr. Z.

Russia marks 450 years of St. Basil's Cathedral

MOSCOW (AP) — He was naked, homeless and fiercely argumentative — and his name is immortalized in one of Russia's most remarkable buildings, St. Basil's Cathedral.

An exhibition detailing the lives of St. Basil and other religious zealots known as "holy fools" opened Tuesday as part of ceremonies marking the 450th anniversary of perhaps Moscow's most famous tourist attraction.

After years of restoration work that cost 390 million rubles ($14 million) — including the reinforcement of the walls and the pile of brightly colored onion domes and spires that crown the architectural fantasia — the iconic church looks lavish, and a striking contrast to the extreme asceticism that the holy fools practiced.

Although originally named the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat, most know it as St. Basil's, referring to Basil the Blessed, a Muscovite "holy fool" who was buried on the original site before the present building was erected.

The "holy fools" braved Russian winters by walking stark naked — or mortified their flesh by wearing heavy fetters or lice-infested sackclothes. They fasted and never slept indoors, uttered prophecies, performed healings and even walked on water, according to their hagiographies.

And they dared to speak the truth to the powerful, being virtually the only group that could openly criticize the Kremlin rulers and channel ordinary people's frustration.

"They manifested the people's will," Tatiana Saracheva, director of the museum at St. Basil's, told The Associated Press. "It was only the holy fools who could directly tell the royals about the troubles they inflicted on the Russian people."

St. Basil was a peasant's son nicknamed "the Naked Walker" and revered by Muscovites for healings and prophecies.

His nakedness, however, was "hardly shocking" to Russians who often bathed nude in saunas with their wives and children, says the exhibition's artistic director, Andrey Reyner.

St. Basil fearlessly lambasted the tyrannical policies of Ivan the Terrible — one of the Russia's most violent czars.

And the moody, pious czar, whose slaughters claimed tens of thousands of lives, feared the naked ascetic whom he considered "the seer of people's hearts and minds," according to a church chronicle.

When St. Basil got sick, the czar and his wife Anastasia visited him, and after the ascetic's death, Ivan personally carried his coffin to the grave right outside the Kremlin.

After winning several decisive victories over the Mongol rulers who once dominated medieval Russia, Ivan commissioned a massive cathedral that was erected over Basil's burial site.

Completed in 1561, the soaring structure with nine onion-shaped, multicolored domes fused the Russian traditions of wooden architecture with Byzantine and Islamic influences. Over the years, it was associated with St. Basil, at whose grave many miracles happened, according to church chronicles.

St. Basil's was constantly expanded and survived several attempts to destroy it.

Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the cathedral blown up during his army's hasty retreat from Moscow in 1812. But a heavy rain extinguished the burning fuses.

A century later, the building was severely shelled during the 1917 Bolshevik takeover of the Kremlin. It was patched up during the subsequent civil war and famine.

Early Communist leaders — who persecuted countless clerics of all faiths and destroyed tens of thousands of religious buildings — wanted the building dynamited as it blocked the way to military parades.

However, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin told his comrades "don't touch the cathedral, leave it alone," said Alexei Levykin, director of the State History Museum that includes St. Basil's.

Only the cathedral's conversion into a museum saved it from destruction, he said.

The exhibition dedicated to the "holy fools" includes rare icons and textiles that depicted their lives and were not available to the public in the Soviet era.

One of the exhibits is a set of fetters worn by St. Ivan, who succeeded St. Basil as Moscow's most revered "holy fool." St. Ivan was nicknamed "the Big Cap" for wearing an oblong felt hat that hid a metal helmet that was part of his fetters.

The exhibition is part of wide celebrations of St. Basil's anniversary that also included a service led by Moscow Patriarch Kirill and an upcoming conference of scholars.

The building attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, who see it as a quintessential symbol of Russia.

"Just like Russia, it's been on the verge of collapse, got out of it, thrived and prospered and nearly collapsed again," Levykin said.

McConnell: Debt ceiling will not get ‘a single Republican vote’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that his party is united in opposing any effort to raise the debt ceiling, even as he maintained that the country will not default on its debt obligations.

“I bet there won’t be a single Republican vote to raise the debt ceiling at the end of the day,” the Senate’s top Republican said in a radio interview Wednesday morning with conservative commentator Laura Ingraham.

McConnell’s remarks come one day after the Kentucky Republican sketched out a “back-up plan” that would shift the political burden of raising the debt ceiling to President Obama and congressional Democrats, allowing for the borrowing limit to be raised without any Republican votes.

McConnell’s “Plan B” would first need to be approved by both chambers and signed into law by Obama in order to take effect – a prospect that was uncertain at best Tuesday evening, as some lawmakers of both parties balked at the idea.

Congress faces an Aug. 2 deadline by which to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit, or else the country will default, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said.
Read the rest here.

Big telecom firms make millions from cramming fees, senator says

Mysterious fees and services crammed onto phone bills are a “nationwide epidemic” for U.S. consumers, but a reliable source of revenue for some of America's biggest telecommunications companies, a year-long congressional investigation has found.

A report issued Wednesday by Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., says that three firms -- Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink/Quest -- earned $650 million as their cut of cramming charges levied by third-parties since 2006.

Cramming charges -- such as unwanted $10-per-month voicemail or Web design services -- have been frustrating phone customers for more than 15 years, thanks in part to ill-considered rules designed to enhance competition in local phone markets. Consumers often don't spot the small monthly fees, but even when they do getting refunds can be a nightmare: The telephone provider that sends the bills often refuses to issue refunds, instead referring consumers to the third-party firms, which are often unresponsive. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 15 million to 20 million consumers are crammed every year. Rockefeller’s report says cramming could cost U.S. consumers $2 billion annually.

Congress has been unable to fix the problem for more than a decade.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fed minutes: some ready to ease if recovery lags

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some Federal Reserve officials are ready to provide more monetary policy easing if the recovery is too sluggish to cut the lofty unemployment rate and if inflation eases as expected, minutes of their June meeting released on Tuesday show.

Others disagreed and said that if recent increases in inflation do not moderate, the Fed should consider tightening policy sooner than expected.

Ron Paul will not seek reelection to Congress

(Reuters) - Republican Ron Paul said on Tuesday he will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives in order to focus on his uphill presidential bid.

Paul, 75, who has served more than 20 years in the House, told his hometown Texas newspaper "The Facts" that he would step down from Congress to devote all his attention to winning the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

"I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election," Paul said. "It's about that time when I should change tactics."

Paul is making his third bid for the White House. He ran as the Libertarian candidate in 1988 and as a Republican in 2008, when he failed to win the nomination despite a devoted following attracted by his support for limited government, reduced federal spending and a noninterventionist foreign policy.

He is an underdog again in a 2012 Republican presidential race led by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Other contenders include Paul's fellow House member Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Paul was first elected to Congress in a 1976 special election, but lost the ensuing general election. He won the seat back two years later but left for an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1984 before returning to Congress in 1996.
Somewhere in the Federal Reserve building the sound of popping champagne corks can be heard.

Monday, July 11, 2011

OCA: Archbishop Dimitri is seriously ill

SYOSSET, NY [OCA] -- The Holy Synod of Bishops requests prayers from the faithful for His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri, retired Archbishop of Dallas and the South.

Archbishop Dmitri's health has deteriorated steadily in recent months, and especially during the past few days.

Prayers private and corporate are deeply appreciated.

Additional information will be posted as it is received.
HT: Byzantine Texas

Vatican reveals unpublished Armenian genocide documents from its secret Archives

In the Secret Vatican Archives are stored documents that testify to the unprecedented and shocking genocide by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians after the First World War, documents that will be published soon in a book co-edited by the same Vatican Archives.

The advanced news arrived, a little by surprise, during the presentation in the Vatican of the exhibit "Lux Arcana", which - from next February - will open to the public, for the first time, the treasures of one of the oldest and most extensive archives in the world.

The testimonials, explained the prefect of the Secret Archives, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, describe "in detail" the "procedures of torture that the Turks used towards the Armenians". For example, he said, there is evidence of how the soldiers of the Sublime Porte would bet "on the sex of fetuses in the wombs of pregnant women before they quartered them and with the same knife killed the babies".

These episodes, said the Vatican archivist, who "make me ashamed to be a man, and if it were not for faith, I would see only darkness".

It is easy to imagine that the publication of these documents reignite the tension between the Holy See and Turkey, at a time when the memory of the killing of Monsignor Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, a year ago June 3rd, is still alive.
Read the rest here.

Partisan divide on debt grows wider

Talks between President Obama and congressional Republicans grew increasingly contentious on Monday, as GOP leaders flatly rejected his call to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of a bipartisan agreement to restrain the nation’s mounting debt.

Dueling news conferences by Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) served as a testy prelude to an afternoon bargaining session that only emphasized the partisan divide, according to people on both sides with knowledge of the closed-door discussions.

During the meeting, Obama challenged Boehner to buck the anti-tax hard-liners in his party who, the president suggested, are blocking the path to a landmark compromise to reduce borrowing by as much as $4 trillion over the next decade. Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) responded by urging Democrats to settle for a more modest reductions-only deal that would save $2.4 trillion but would not touch tax breaks for the nation’s richest households.

In addition to major cuts to domestic agencies, the House GOP proposal calls for slicing about $250 billion from Medicare over the next decade by asking well-off seniors to pay more for health coverage, placing new restrictions on Medigap policies and putting in place new co-payments and cost-sharing provisions for home health care, among other changes. Those reductions would come on top of about $500 billion in Medicare savings previously enacted as part of Obama’s overhaul of the health-care system — cuts Republicans blasted during last fall’s midterm campaign.
Read the rest here.

Cantor wants to win by walking

The negotiating tactics of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor would probably make him lousy at selling cars. But as Congress and the president try to strike a deal on the national debt, they have made Cantor a hero to ardent anti-spending conservatives.

Cantor (R-Va.) thinks the way to win this haggling session — one of Washington’s most important in years — is by walking out of it.

Last month, Cantor walked out of talks led by Vice President Biden. Cantor said the reason was Democrats’ insistence on raising taxes as part of a deal to increase the national debt ceiling.

Then, last week, Cantor urged House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to reject a possible “grand bargain” with President Obama, which could have included tax increases. Boehner pulled Republicans out of those talks.

Now, as Cantor joins other leaders at the White House for near-daily summits in the third different grouping of negotiators, his moves have revealed him as a third major player in a legislative drama that had been dominated by Obama and Boehner. Where Boehner has sought to define what Republicans can do with their newfound power, Cantor, the House’s ambitious number-two, wants to underline what Republicans would never do.
Read the rest here.

Debt Contagion Threatens Italy

Throughout Europe’s debt crisis, Italy has largely managed to steer clear of the troubles that have engulfed its profligate Mediterranean neighbors.

But the contagion that started in the euro zone’s smaller countries is suddenly moving to some of its largest. As Greece teeters on the brink of a default, the game has changed: Investors are taking aim at any country suffering from a combination of high debt, slow growth and political dysfunction — and Italy has it all, in spades.

In recent days, Italy has become Europe’s next weak link after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, harmed in particular by a power struggle between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti. The dispute threatens to turn the euro zone’s third-largest economy, after Germany and France, into one of its biggest liabilities.

On Monday, the Italian government struggled to rein in the tensions, as fears rose that political paralysis could make it harder for Italy to embrace the austerity demanded by outsiders to reduce one of the highest debt levels in the world. European policy makers also sought to figure out how they would put out a bigger fire if Italy were to succumb.

Those jitters hit stock markets on Monday not just in Italy, where the major index fell nearly 4 percent, but across much of Europe as well, with the markets in France and Germany off more than 2 percent each. The United States was affected, too, with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index down about 1.8 percent on European debt fears and worries about the showdown in Washington over raising the United States debt limit.

“Italy is too big to fail,” said Moisés Naím, a senior associate in the international economics program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “If Italy really gets hit by contagion because of political mismanagement, it would be a threat not only to the euro zone, but to the global economy.”
Read the rest here.

Stocks close sharply lower on fears that Europe’s debt crisis could spread to Italy and Spain

NEW YORK — Stocks are closing at their lowest level so far in July on fresh fears that Europe’s debt crisis will spread beyond Greece to much larger economies.

Italy, Europe’s third-largest economy, and Spain, its fourth-largest, could be sliding toward default.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 151 points, or 1.2 percent, to close at 12,506 Monday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 24, or 1.8 percent, to 1,319. The Nasdaq composite fell 57, or 2 percent, to 2,803.
Read the rest here.

Obama challenges GOP on debt reduction and says 'no' to short term deal

President Obama, facing a bitter partisan stalemate over how to raise the federal borrowing limit, summoned congressional leaders to a new round of White House talks Monday and warned that he would not accept a temporary, stopgap measure.

“That is just not an acceptable approach,” he told a news conference ahead of the scheduled talks. “So we might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas. Now is the time to do it. If not now, when?”
Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Corporate Espionage (from 1902)

At the turn of the previous century those wishing to travel generally had to do so by surface transport (rail or ship). Apparently competition in the early 1900's was as cutthroat between steamship companies as it is today between airlines. What follows is a fascinating report from a company spy sent to check out the competition in 1902.
The document is in the form of a quasi-official report, written by one of P&O's traveling inspectors on two voyages in 1902, one from Southampton to New York, the other from Vancouver to Yokohama.

The writer (whose signature is, alas, indecipherable) was clearly more than a passenger, he was a benevolent spy, assessing conditions aboard the competition, though in fact, the two services were scarcely competitive. But his is a marvelously cogent evaluation of two rival vessels.)

I have the honor to report my arrival here yesterday. The following details of the steamers in which I have traveled may interest you.
S.S. St Louis

Left Southampton on 20th September, called at Cherbourg the same evening and embarked about thirty cabin and nearly a hundred steerage passengers, her total passenger list being:
1st Class--362 adults, 5 children
2d Class--156 adults, 8 children
Steerage--477 in all.

The ship has 351 berths 1st Class, 206 berths 2d class and is licensed to carry 649 persons in the steerage. The crew consists of 6 officers, 8 quarter masters, 43 deck hands, 30 Engineers Etc. 66 firemen, 21 oilmen, 48 stokers, and 125 in the purser's department. The ship's daily runs were respectively 300, 406, 398, 437,431,400, 444, and 236 miles. Arrived at New York on Sunday, 28th September, at 9 a.m.

Cabins: of the 170 staterooms, 1st Class, no less than 88 are inner ones, but all are well ventilated by an airtrunk passing through with an opening in each cabin, the air begin exhausted in the usual way by fans. The majority of the cabins are four- berthed. On the promenade deck, there are 14 suites of bed-and-sitting rooms with bath and W.C. attached; the fares for these cabins vary, according to size and position from 80 to 115 pounds in the slack season and from 130 to 180 pounds in the full season.

(The 1904 dollar/pound exchange rate was five to the pound. Hence, cheapest first class fare on the St Louis in the off-season amounted to $400; for the period, quite pricey--Editor)

I was told by the purser that they are always in great demand. The outer 95 O cabins are generally small, the inner ones being more roomy; no door curtains to any of the cabins, so that the doors must be invariably kept closed, which in hot weather would be very trying. The cabins were poorly supplied with cloak hooks, no chests of drawers or whatnots, but a small wardrobe in each.

The bunks are old-fashioned wooden ones, with wooden bottom- boards provided with an air bed only, no mattress. These are most uncomfortable for, after a time, the weight of the body forces the air to the sides and feet and one is lying with nothing but the bed tick over the hard boards! The switch of the electric light is so placed that one is within easy reach of every bunk, so that a passenger can turn the light on or off without rising.

A notice is posted in each cabin that the company is not responsible for money or valuables unless deposited with the purser; this is the only notice of any kind in the ship.

Enameled plates are affixed to the bulkheads at the foot of each companion, and in the alleyways, with the cabin numbers and arrows point ing in the direction. This is a very convenient direction and looks better than the cardboard notices used in our vessels. Saloon is large and plainly decorated in white and gold. It seats 370 people, double meals are un known. !
Drink Consumption Enormous

Library, forward of saloon, furnished with six writing tables and comfortable lounges, well supplied with stationary. Smoking Room is very large. In the center there are tables with seats for four persons each, and settees all around, accommodating altogether 100 people with seats. The Bar is closed at 11 o'clock, lights extinguished at midnight. All transactions at the Smoking Room bar are in cash, the consumption of drinks enormous. Mineral waters are sup plied in "splits" as well as the ordinary sized bottles. Two stewards are always 95 S in attendance in the Smoking Room. The Saloon, Smoking Room and passageways were all heated with steam-pipes.

Passengers are not allowed to use their own deck chairs, a stock of common folding chairs is kept on board and can be hired at one dollar for the voyage.

Baths etc: all on spar deck against the stoke-hold bulkhead, none on the ship's side. There are 10 ladies WC's and 16 for gentlemen; only 8 bath rooms, which are used indiscriminately by either sex. They are excessively cramped, hot and cold water is laid on but no shower, spray of another adjunct. Fresh water is not obtainable in bathrooms.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Boehner Abandons Comprehensive Debt Reduction Talks

House Speaker John A. Boehner abandoned efforts Saturday night to cut a far-reaching debt-reduction deal, telling President Obama that a more modest package offers the only politically realistic path to avoiding a default on the mounting national debt.

On the eve of a critical White House meeting on the debt issue, Boehner (R-Ohio) told Obama that their plan to “go big,” in the speaker’s words, and forge a compromise that would save more than $4 trillion over the next decade had fallen victim to the toughest ideological issues: how to raise taxes and cut spending on popular health and retirement programs.

That leaves negotiators reexamining a less-ambitious framework — aimed at saving roughly $2.4 trillion over the next decade — that had been under discussion between Vice President Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. But that group’s talks broke down more than two weeks ago over the tax issue as well.

“Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes. I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure, based on the cuts identified in the Biden-led negotiations, that still meets our call for spending reforms and cuts greater than the amount of any debt limit increase,” Boehner said in a statement released less than 24 hours before the White House meeting was to take place.
Read the rest here.

Republican Presidential Candidates Oppose Any Debt Compromise

DES MOINES — Even as Republican Congressional leaders press ahead in high-stakes budget negotiations with President Obama, the party’s presidential candidates are campaigning against any outcome that smacks of compromise, underscoring divisions in the party over whether to raise the federal debt limit.

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota seized on the issue last week to introduce herself to voters in the first television commercial of her presidential campaign. Regardless of what type of agreement is reached, Mrs. Bachmann declared in the ad: “I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.”

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who was critical of the deal brokered this year between Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner that averted a government shutdown, said he was not convinced of the dire consequences predicted by Democrats if no deal was reached and the government lost its authority to borrow on Aug. 2.

“I hope and pray and believe they should not raise the debt ceiling,” Mr. Pawlenty told voters here last week. “These historic, dramatic moments where you can draw a line in the sand and force politicians to actually do something bold and courageous are important moments.”
Read the rest here.

Derek Jeter Goes Long For His 3,000th Hit

Not a Yankee fan, but an impressive accomplishment all the same.  Congrats.

David Stockman on the debt bomb

Swiss Parliament to discuss gold franc

ZURICH (MarketWatch) — The Swiss Parliament is expected later this year to discuss the creation of a gold franc — a parallel currency to the official Swiss franc, with the fringe initiative likely triggering a broader debate about the role of the precious metal in the Alpine nation.

The initiative is part of “Healthy Currency,” a campaign sponsored by politicians from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) — the country’s biggest — that is seeking to capitalize on popular fears about global financial turmoil and inflation to reverse the government’s current policy on gold.

“I can imagine that this will spark some sort of debate about gold and there may be some pressure to accept the parallel currency,” said Dr. Gebhard Kirchgaessner, an economics professor at St. Gallen University. “But it won’t have any real effect on the economy. It seems incredible to imagine that there are people out there willing to buy millions of these things.”

Switzerland, which in 2000 became one of the last countries to decouple its currency from gold, is not the only place to contemplate a change in the precious metal’s role amid controversy over government involvement in the economy. In March, Utah became the first state in the U.S. to legalize gold and silver coins as currency, while similar legislation was considered in Montana, Missouri, Colorado, Idaho and Indiana.

“I want Swiss people to have the freedom to choose a completely different currency,” said Thomas Jacob, the man behind the gold franc concept. ”Today’s monetary system is all backed by debt — all backed by nothing — and I want people to realize this.”
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Officials warn of cyber sabotage and spyware on foreign software being imported into the US

Confirming years of warnings from government and private security experts, a top Homeland Security official has acknowledged that computer hardware and software is already being imported to the United States preloaded with spyware and security-sabotaging components.

The remarks by Greg Schaffer, the Department of Homeland Security's acting deputy undersecretary for national protection and programs, came Thursday during a tense exchange at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The panel is considering an Obama administration proposal to tighten monitoring and controls on computer equipment imported for critical government and communications infrastructure.

Schaffer didn't say whether the equipment he was talking about included end-user consumer tech like retail laptops, DVDs and media players. If so, his comments, first reported Friday morning by Fast Company, would be the first time the United States has publicly confirmed that foreign consumer technology is arriving in the country already loaded with nasty bugs like key-logging software, botnet components and even software designed to defeat security programs installed on the same machine.
Read the rest here.

Lord Norwich's history of the papacy

John Julius Norwich has written a history of the papacy. If it remotely resembles the book that Bill Keller reviewed for the NY Times my guess is that Lord Norwich may be in for some flak from the Catholic press and blogosphere. I haven't read the book, but may look for it when it hits the local library. For the record I did find his three volume history of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) reasonably thorough and surprisingly readable given the topic. But he did demonstrate some weakness in areas dealing with complicated matters of church doctrine.

Senate Democrats draft debt-reduction plan

Senate Democrats have drafted a sweeping debt-reduction plan that would slice $4 trillion from projected borrowing over the next decade without touching the expensive health and retirement programs targeted by President Obama.

Instead, Senate Democrats are proposing to stabilize borrowing through sharp cuts at the Pentagon and other government agencies, as well as $2 trillion in new taxes, primarily on families earning more than $1 million year, according to a copy of the plan obtained by The Washington Post.

With debt-reduction talks under way between Obama and congressional leaders, Senate Democrats are unlikely to adopt the blueprint. However, it has gained broad support among those eager to chart a path to solving the nation’s budget problems without making politically painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

“The very strong feeling was we needed to get this into the conversation, because it provides an alternative view,” said a Senate Democrat familiar with the blueprint, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly released. “What’s striking is how modest the changes need to be to get us back on track.”
Read the rest here.

Democrats incensed with White House over Social Security, Medicare

Long-simmering tensions between the White House and congressional Democrats on how best to address the country’s debt boiled over Friday, with leaders and rank-and-file members alike fuming at reports that President Obama is mulling cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of a bipartisan debt-limit deal.

“What I’ve heard from people you might not expect to hear it from ... is if they bring to the Senate a [deal] that really comes down heavy on working families and children and the elderly and they expect me to matter-of-factly vote for it, they’ll have another thing coming,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Friday morning.

In a Friday afternoon news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), emerging from what she called a “lively” House Democratic Caucus meeting, declared that Democrats “would not reduce the deficit or subsidize tax cuts for the rich on the backs of America’s seniors.”
Read the rest here.

Family Battles U.S. Over 10 Coins Worth Millions

A 1933 Double Eagle
PHILADELPHIA — Who owns 10 exceedingly rare American gold coins from 1933?

Is it the family of a local gold dealer who died 21 years ago? Or is it the United States government, which produced a half million of the coins before melting all of them — well, almost all of them — down?

Family members, who say they found the coins in a safe deposit box in 2003, argue they are the rightful owners of the exquisite “double eagle” $20 coins, each now worth millions of dollars. The government argues that the coins, never officially released, belong to the United States, and not the heirs of Israel Switt, the gold dealer.

And so to court.

In a case that began on Thursday, jurors are getting an unusual lesson in Depression-era history, and will ultimately decide whether Mr. Switt was merely “colorful,” as a lawyer for the family described him, or a thief.

Each side explained in opening arguments that, for all of the history and complexities of 1930s Mint procedures and records to come, the case is quite simple. They disagreed, however, about what the simple point of the case was.

Assistant United States Attorney Jacqueline Romero, presenting the government’s case, told jurors, “You are going to hear a remarkable and intriguing story about gold coins that were stolen from the U.S. Mint.”

“Israel Switt was somehow involved” in the theft, she said, probably with the help of a corrupt cashier at the Philadelphia Mint. The government had linked Mr. Switt to every double eagle that had emerged over the decades, she said, including 10 tracked down in the 1940s and one sold with the agreement of the government by a dealer, Stephen Fenton, in 2002 for $7.6 million. That sale was based on a government mistake, she said; these coins would not get the same dispensation.

The government will prove, she pledged, that the heirs knew that the goods were not legitimately theirs, and so the jury should return the coins “to their rightful owner, the people of the United States of America.”

Barry Berke, a lawyer arguing on behalf of Mr. Switt’s heirs, the Langbord family, told the jury that the case was, simply, about power and government overreach. Washington should not be able to seize property from citizens “unless it can prove it is entitled to — and not just powerful enough to take it,” he said.

He called the government’s case an attempt to “rewrite history,” and promised to present alternate explanations for treasured coins coming legitimately into the Langbords’ hands: the mint commonly exchanged coins for gold, he said, and the cashier of the mint kept an “open bag” of 1933 double eagles near his desk.

How did the coins get out? Gloriously designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the 1933 double eagles were never officially distributed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, trying to stop a bank panic and to stem hoarding, issued an executive order that made owning large amounts of gold bullion and coins illegal. So while nearly a half million were made, all but two, sent to the Smithsonian, were supposed to have been reduced to bullion.

But in 2004, Joan Langbord, Mr. Switt’s daughter, and her sons contacted the United States Mint to say they had discovered the 10 coins tucked away in a safe deposit box, within a folded Wanamaker’s department store bag, and asked for help in authenticating them. Instead, the government seized the double eagles — an eagle was a $10 piece, a half eagle a $5 — saying that since they had never been circulated, they must have been stolen. The Langbords sued to get them back.

In 2009, Judge Legrome D. Davis of Federal District Court, said that the government could not simply assume the coins were government property, and would have the burden of proving the facts in court. While the government has the burden of proof, this is not a criminal case in which guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. It must convince jurors only that a preponderance of the evidence supports its case.

In a tough pair of detailed orders issued just before trial, Judge Davis stated flatly that some of the evidence could allow jurors to infer that the coins were stolen and that the family knew it and concealed them. He noted somewhat acerbically in a footnote that the safe deposit box in which Ms. Langbord “claims to have discovered” the coins had been opened by her in 2002, “the day before the Fenton coin was sold at auction.”

Even if the jury decides in favor of the Langbords, Judge Davis could still declare the government the rightful owner. That possibility worries coin collectors, said Armen Vartian, a lawyer who filed briefs in the case on behalf of the Professional Numismatics Guild. “The government cannot just go around saying, ‘You have this. We think it’s ours. Give it back,’ ” he said. Having looked at the evidence against the Langbords, he said, “At best, it’s inconclusive,” and added, “You would think that the government has better things to do.”

In the courtroom, jury selection took much of the first day. The process, as usual, was grindingly slow, but had its moments. Judge Davis, a large man with a sonorous voice who tips back so far in his chair that sometimes only his head is visible over the desk, asked a potential juror whether the fact that her husband collected coins would influence her. Did she share his hobby?

“I don’t collect coins,” she said. “I spend them.”

She was seated.

RIP: Betty Ford

A very classy and courageous woman, the former First Lady was 93.

Russian and Ukrainian Churches – friends or foes?

A Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchy, started in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, on July 8. The last similar council took place some 20 years ago.

Some people are afraid that the present council, in fact, means a revival of the activity of those people who want to separate the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Church and make it self-governing. However, the council’s organizers say that these fears are groundless. The council is convoked because there are some problems of the Ukrainian Church which need immediate solution, they say.

A representative of the Ukrainian Church Archbishop Mitrofan says:

“In the last few years, many changes have taken place in the Ukrainian Church. The number of dioceses and monasteries has grown. Church life has become more active. The state laws which have to do with the Church have changed, and the Church has to outline its policy in the new circumstances. That’s why we convoked the council.”

However, some observers doubt that this is the real aim of the council. The news about the coming council was announced only a few days before its start. Some people suspect that the council, in fact, has been convoked to increase the role of the Ukrainian Patriarch’s locum tenens, and, thus, make the Ukrainian Church less dependant from the Russian Patriarchy. Usually, a locum tenens is appointed if the patriarch is ill or too old to perform his duties. Rumors that the Ukrainian Patriarch Vladimir is seriously ill have long been circulating in Ukraine. It is believed that these rumors are being spread by those who want to separate the Ukrainian Church from the Russian one. Another thing that raises many eyebrows is the fact that, though the council is set on the eve of the Russian patriarch’s visit to Ukraine, Russian bishops have not been invited to the council. (The Russian Patriarch Kirill will come to Kiev on July 28 to take part in celebrations of the Day of Russia’s Christianization, for it was from Kiev that the Christianization of Russia started in the year 988.)

Still, leaders of the Russian Church are not afraid that separatist moods will prevail at the Ukrainian council.

“Most probably, the council will not move the Ukrainian Church away from the Russian one,” says Igor Gaslov, an expert in church politics. “On the contrary, it will only make them closer to each other.”

“The main event of this council will be the adoption of a new charter of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The current charter was adopted in 1990, and in 1992, a split took place in the Ukrainian Church. Thus, some points of the existing charter do not reflect the current situation. Moreover, some points in the charter run counter to Orthodox Christianity, how it is understood by the Russian Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is under the auspices of the Russian Patriarchy, and there must be no theological disagreements between the two Churches.”

At present, there are three religious organizations in Ukraine, each of which claims to be the only real Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, only one of them – the one which is under the Russian Patriarchy – is recognized by all Orthodox Churches of the world. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the then Ukrainian political leaders supported the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian one. Now – to a great extent, thanks to the efforts of the Russian Patriarch Kirill, who often visits Ukraine, - separatist moods ceased to prevail in the Ukrainian Church. Now, more and more former “apostates” in Ukraine are returning to the Church which is part of the Russian Patriarchy.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

An Editorial Endorsement

I fully agree with this statement and will not entertain any discussion of the Casey Anthony murder trial on this blog.

Rupert Murdoch Shuts Down Scandal Plagued Paper

Britain's biggest-selling newspaper was shut down last night by the Murdoch family in a surprise move designed to bring an end to the phone hacking scandal engulfing the News of the World.

James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, which owns the newspaper, announced that the final edition would be published this weekend, citing the “inhuman” alleged behaviour of some staff as prompting the decision.

The 168-year-old newspaper will donate all this weekend’s revenues to good causes and would not accept any paid advertising, he said.

Hundreds of staff now face an uncertain future. However, Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International and former editor of the News of the World, has been allowed to keep her job despite widespread calls for her to be sacked.

Last night she faced angry scenes at the paper as she broke the news to journalists. There were reports she had to be escorted from the offices by security guards for her protection.
Read the rest here.

Texas Executes Mexican National Despite Treaty Violation

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Texas executed a Mexican citizen Thursday for the rape-slaying of a teenager after he and the White House pleaded in vain for a Supreme Court stay, saying he was denied help from his home country that could have helped him avoid the death penalty.

In his last minutes, Humberto Leal repeatedly said he was sorry and accepted responsibility...

...Leal was just a toddler when he and his family moved to the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico, but his citizenship became a key element of his attorneys’ efforts to win a stay. They said police never told him following his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty.
Read the rest here.

Tense Negotiations Over Debt Continue

Negotiations over the national debt entered a critical phase Thursday as President Obama challenged congressional leaders to embrace an ambitious but politically painful strategy to raise revenue and make changes to popular federal retirement programs.

Top Democrats were open to the idea, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged her “full cooperation” after meeting with Obama and other senior lawmakers at the White House. Republicans were more skeptical, with one prominent exception — House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Boehner enthusiastically endorsed Obama’s call for a far-reaching plan. Later at the Capitol, Boehner made his own pitch to reluctant Senate Republicans, arguing in a closed-door luncheon that securing the nation’s economic future requires bold action. Boehner also said he expects a deal to come together quickly — or to collapse under the weight of partisan resistance.

“He is always an optimistic man, and he was optimistic today,” said freshman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who served for three years under Boehner in House leadership. “I think if they can get there, they’ll get there pretty quickly — or they won’t get there.”
Read the rest here.

(Georgia) Patriarch: Legislative Amendment on Religious Groups' Status 'Dangerous'

Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, expressed regret over hasty approval of legislative amendments on religious minorities’ legal status, saying that the law “is dangerous” and it required thorough consideration.

“This law is so important and so dangerous that lawmakers should have thought about what its consequences might be in ten, hundred years… We lack analytical thinking. Analysis should be made before doing something and not afterwards,” Ilia II said.

“You all know my [July 4] statement… We are not saying that religious [minorities] should not be granted with [legal] status. We are saying that we should sit down, invite academicians, clerics and specialists and discuss it.”

“It is regrettable that lawmakers were so in hurry that they passed [the legislative amendments] in one day,” the Georgian Patriarch said.

He also said that the Georgian Church’s position should not be interpreted as being against the Armenian Church or Armenians.

A senior cleric from the Georgian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Zenon, linked hasty approval of the legislative amendments by the Georgian Parliament to Armenia, suggesting that after a failure to agree with the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church managed to achieve its goal of gaining legal status through the consent of the Georgian authorities. Georgian Church officials also say, that the legal status would now pave the way for some religious minority groups, particularly the Armenian Apostolic Church, to formally claim ownership over several disputed churches in Georgia. The Georgian Patriarchate was insisting that the Georgian Church too should have been granted a legal status in Armenia in parallel to the similar decision by Georgia.
Read the rest here.

Britain: Press hacking scandal widens

LONDON — Relatives of British servicemen who died in Iraq and Afghanistan may have had their phones hacked by the British tabloid that is also accused of intercepting voice mails of the families of terror victims and a slain 13-year-old girl, the Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

The new accusations widened the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed the News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday tabloid, and is drawing international media attention.

The Daily Telegraph said that “personal details of the families of servicemen who died on the front line” were discovered in records kept by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who worked for News of the World.

The revelation raised the possibility that the relatives’ phones had been hacked. Earlier media reports accused the tabloid of intercepting the voice mails of celebrities, aides to the royal family, relatives of those killed in the 2005 terrorists attacks in London and the slain teen.
Read the rest here.