Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fr. Al Kimel is blogging again

Fr. Al Kimel is blogging again over at Eclectic Orthodoxy. For those who weren't around back in the day, he used to run one of the more famous sites in the religious blogosphere called Pontifications. He stopped blogging a few years back for personal reasons. Fr. Al, who is now a priest in the Orthodox Western Rite, has had a tough couple of years including a recent family tragedy. Please keep him in your prayers.

The world's most haunted hotels

At London’s Langham hotel guests report seeing the figure of a man in military dress standing by the window of the fourth floor. It's said the man is the ghost of a German Prince who jumped out of a window before the start of World War One. And if you really believe in ghosts you may be able to see former guest Napoleon III in the basement.

In Scotland it's said the ghost of Lady Catherine can be found at Dalhousie Castle, Edinburgh. Lady Catherine reportedly died of a broken heart. Tourists say she can be seen at night rustling her skirt, scratching and tapping on tours. Staff and guests have reported feeling someone tapping on their shoulders or pulling their hair, only to turn around and see no-one there.

But possibly the most spooky hotel experience could be at the Skirrid Mountain Inn in Wales. Here the ghosts of former convicts who were executed by hanging from a beam at the inn are said to have haunted the property since 1110. Guests claim to have felt a rope being tightened around their necks as they slept. The rope apparently left a mark that remained there for days.
Read the rest here.

Disclaimer: I don't believe in ghosts but the stories can be amusing at this time of year.

Mystery of woman's skeleton near Richard III's grave

Mystery surrounds the identity of a woman's skeleton found by archaeologists searching for the remains of King Richard III.

The team carrying out the dig under the car park in Leicester city centre, which is thought to have been the site of the monarch's last resting place at the Church of Grey Friars, are examining the second set of remains.

Mathew Morris, from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said the identity of the woman may never be uncovered.

"We know of at least one woman connected with the friary, Ellen Luenor, a possible benefactor and founder with her husband, Gilbert," he said
Read the rest here.

Happy All Hallow's Eve (open thread)

Or happy Halloween. As a kid I was partial to horror films and some of my favorites were the Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee. But the scariest by far was the late 1970's version of Salem's Lot. The Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee vampires never really left a lasting mark on me. Salem's Lot though was traumatizing. In hind sight it's almost campy. But at the time I was a kid and figured another horror movie, big deal. So I settled down to watch it with my best friend.

Bad move.

This film was different, for Stephen King had done something quite evil and sadistic. He had taken the vampires from 19th century Transylvania,which I could not have placed on a map if my life had depended on it and who were therefore remote and non-threatening, and moved them in next door to me... in the here and now. Now my buddy lived two doors down from me which was perhaps a two minute walk if I took my time. I think that was the longest walk home of my entire life. Every shadow that moved, every leaf that rustled in the breeze bore testament to the wisdom of my having answered the call of nature before setting out on my long journey. Not only did I sleep with a crucifix close at hand for days afterward but I would sneak into the kitchen at night and steal some of mom's garlic from the spice wrack and sprinkle it along the window ledge and by the door in my room.

And so in the spirit of the modern take on the western feast, what's your favorite scary movie or book?

Hungary may sell passports

BUDAPEST - Lawmakers in indebted European Union member Hungary are waving the prospect of a passport at well-heeled foreign investors.

Proposed legislation listed on parliament's website would grant permanent residency and ultimately Hungarian citizenship to outsiders who buy at least 250,000 euros ($322,600) worth of special government bonds.

Hungarian passport holders are entitled to live and work throughout the European Union.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A rising tide of Tibetan self-immolations

As China’s Communist Party prepares for its leadership transition, a wave of self-immolations has spread and accelerated across Tibet, in the most sustained protests against Beijing’s rule there in five decades.

Most of those who have set themselves afire are in their late teens or early 20s, activists said. Exiled Tibetan political leaders and scholars described the actions as an emphatic rejection of the economic development and material gains that China is offering the Tibetan people and an anguished call for independence and the return of the region’s religious leader, the Dalai Lama.
Read the rest here.

New York - New Jersey Devastated By Hurricane

Unbelievable damage. New York City hasn't been hit this hard by weather in probably 150 years. An entire neighborhood in Queens burned to the ground. Atlantic City is more like Atlantis. Lower Manhattan is badly flooded with cars and even boats scattered all over. Mass transit will be down in some areas for a week or more. Power is out for at least 8 million people. Blizzard warnings are up for West Virginia. Damage estimates are already topping $20 billion.

And most tragically, at least 30 people have died. That number is almost certain to rise.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Manhattan Goes Dark

The Manhattan skyline goes dark as the main Con-Ed power station blows up.


14 Rescued 1 Injured 1 Missing as Famous Sailing Vessel is Wrecked

Searchers on Monday evening found one of two missing crew members of the stricken ship HMS Bounty, which sank off the coast of North Carolina after it was caught in Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Claudene Christian, 42, was pulled from the water unresponsive and was being transported to Elizabeth City Hospital, the Coast Guard said. Crews continue searching for the remaining missing person, identified as the ill-fated ship's captain, Robin Walbridge, 63.

Earlier Monday, two Coast Guard helicopters rescued 14 people from life rafts after they were forced to abandon ship.
Read the rest here.

Sandy Hits The East Coast

Scene from a Manhattan parking garage as the ocean pores in.

New Jersey and Maryland are getting pasted. Atlantic City is mostly underwater as are large tracts of lower Manhattan where there are reports of cars floating down the concrete canyons of the Financial District. Power is out for millions. Sea water is flooding the construction site at Ground Zero and many of the tunnels leading into and out of New York.

The Military's Culture of Mediocrity and Non-Accountability

Generalship in combat is extraordinarily difficult, and many seasoned officers fail at it. During World War II, senior American commanders typically were given a few months to succeed, or they’d be replaced. Sixteen out of the 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat were relieved for cause, along with at least five corps commanders.

Since 9/11, the armed forces have played a central role in our national affairs, waging two long wars—each considerably longer than America’s involvement in World War II. Yet a major change in how our military operates has gone almost unnoticed. Relief of generals has become so rare that, as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling noted during the Iraq War, a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of a war. In the wars of the past decade, hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness. This change is arguably one of the most significant developments in our recent military history—and an important factor in the failure of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To a shocking degree, the Army’s leadership ranks have become populated by mediocre officers, placed in positions where they are likely to fail. Success goes unrewarded, and everything but the most extreme failure goes unpunished, creating a perverse incentive system that drives leaders toward a risk-averse middle where they are more likely to find stalemate than victory. A few high-profile successes, such as those of General David Petraeus in Iraq, may temporarily mask this systemic problem, but they do not solve it.

Ironically, our generals have grown worse as they have been lionized more and more by a society now reflexively deferential to the military. The Bush administration has been roundly (and fairly) criticized for its delusive approach to the war in Iraq and its neglect of the war in Afghanistan. Yet the serious failures of our military leaders in these conflicts have escaped almost all notice. No one is pushing those leaders to step back and examine the shortcomings of their institution. These are dangerous developments. Unaddressed, they could lead to further failures in future wars.
Read the rest here.

Mid-Atlantic Braces For Rare Late Season Hurricane

Evacuations have been ordered and many schools and businesses will be closed in preparation for the unwelcome arrival of Hurricane Sandy which is expected to hit the middle Atlantic states near Philadelphia tomorrow. The storm is so large it is likely to dump devastating amounts of rain coupled with high winds over an area of many hundreds of miles as it moves inland. The New York Stock Exchange will be taking a very rare weather related day off as New York City has already shut down most public transportation. In Washington where up to seven inches of rain is expected, most government offices will be closed or operating with greatly reduced staff.

And of course, yet again, my family seems to be more or less directly in the path. Over the last seven years they have just gotten pasted by weather related events. To be frank this is starting to get old.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

World Series: The Giants Sweep The Tigers

The Giants just won the World Series in a four game sweep though it took ten innings to put the Tigers away tonight.

Fred Is Running For President

The Republic is saved!
I see that I shall have to take over the helm of the country to save it from the impending collapse. It has come to this. I have always said that I would undertake the presidency only under an assumed name—who would want that on his resumè?—but noblesse oblges. What could be nobler than this column?

You may say, “But Fred, how can you be so bloody arrogant as to think you can run the country?” To which I reply, “We know that the incumbents cannot. I may be able to. In any event, I couldn’t be worse: I have not that talent. Which do you prefer, assured disaster or a sporting chance?”

Apparently the key to a successful campaign is a bumper sticker of supernal stupidity and irrelevance. I can play that game. How about “A Fred in Every Pot.” Or Tippecanoe and Frederick Too.” Or “Better Fred than Dead.” Or "Fred...Ahhhh." Or, most pertinently, ”Well, Have You Got a Better Idea?”

It is my understanding that as a candidate, I need a platform. I think this means a pack of rhythmically mendacious platitudes that would put a crank freak to sleep.  I shall try to do better. The following appear to me serviceable:

“Defense” policy: We don’t have one. The last time the military defended the United States was 1945—the United States, remember,  being that place between Canada and Mexico, a region that does not include (recent graduates, check your atlas) Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Albania, Yugoslavia, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran, Nigeria, or Yemen.

Do not misunderstand me. I am as patriotic as the next guy, and consequently happy to kill remote strangers for no reason, and their wives, children, dogs, and flcoks. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford it. Do you know what bombs cost these days? Thus we must either find a cheaper means of terminating Afghan children, perhaps by poisoning, or else, on purely economic grounds, we must restrain the Pentagon’s appetites.
Read the rest here.

Beijing hints at bond attack on Japan

A senior advisor to the Chinese government has called for an attack on the Japanese bond market to precipitate a funding crisis and bring the country to its knees, unless Tokyo reverses its decision to nationalise the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. 
Read the rest here

The Rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe's Political Left

LAST week, Twitter shut down a popular account for posting anti-Semitic messages in France. This came soon after the firing of blanks at a synagogue near Paris, the discovery of a network of radical Islamists who had thrown a hand grenade into a kosher restaurant, and the killing of a teacher and young pupils at a Jewish school in Strasbourg earlier this year. The attacks were part of an escalating campaign of violence against Jews in France.

Today, a sizable section of the European left has been reluctant to take a clear stand when anti-Zionism spills over into anti-Semitism. Beginning in the 1990s, many on the European left began to view the growing Muslim minorities in their countries as a new proletariat and the Palestinian cause as a recruiting mechanism. The issue of Palestine was particularly seductive for the children of immigrants, marooned between identities.

Capitalism was depicted as undermining a perfect Islamic society while cultural imperialism corrupted Islam. The tactic has a distinguished revolutionary pedigree. Indeed, the cry, “Long live Soviet power, long live the Shariah,” was heard in Central Asia during the 1920s after Lenin tried to cultivate Muslim nationalists in the Soviet East once his attempt to spread revolution to Europe had failed. But the question remains: why do today’s European socialists identify with Islamists whose worldview is light-years removed from their own?
Read the rest here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Britain's Famed BBC Is Rocked By Child Sex Scandal

This is worse than Penn State by an order of magnitude...
LONDON -- The child sex abuse scandal engulfing Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC, has been producing disturbing headlines in the UK for almost a month, and the signs are this is just the beginning. Since the scandal broke, 300 victims have told police that they were abused by BBC TV host Jimmy Savile, suggesting this number may yet rise.

Savile hosted TV shows, worked for charities and was even awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. More than just a TV personality, he was a national institution. He was perhaps Britain’s answer to Dick Clark, hosting the UK’s equivalent of “American Bandstand,” the very British sounding “Top of the Pops.”

Savile died last year, but it is another institution, the one he worked for, that has become as much the focus of this scandal. The BBC says new allegations have been made against nine current BBC staff or contributors since the revelations about Savile. Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament: "These allegations do leave many institutions, perhaps particularly the BBC, with serious questions to answer."
Read the rest here.

Risk of Obama - Romney Splitting Popular and Electoral Votes High

Most polls at this moment suggest GOP nominee Mitt Romney is in the lead nationally, but surveys in the nine or so swing states are registering a narrow advantage for President Obama.

So here’s a prospect worth contemplating: What if Romney carries the popular vote, but Obama regains the presidency by winning 270 votes or more in the electoral college?
Read the rest here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Memory Eternal

My brother-in-law's father Ty Youngs reposed this evening surrounded by his family. Your prayers are appreciated.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prayers Please

In your charity please pray for Ty Youngs, my brother-in-law's father. His health has deteriorated precipitously and the doctors believe the end is near.

Lawrence O'Donnell: Vote 3rd party unless you live in a battleground state

HT: Molonlabe70

I rarely agree with O'Donnell about anything. But this was one of his twice a day moments. I too live in California. So my vote, at least for president, is meaningless. Who you vote for is of course a private matter, but on this one I totally agree with O'Donnell. Unless you live in one of the half dozen or so states where your vote could actually affect the election I would encourage you to consider voting your conscience for a change. Check out what the other parties are offering and vote for the one who is closest to your political convictions. No you aren't going to change anything. But if enough votes get cast for third party candidates it could make people sit up and take notice. He's not perfect but I will probably cast my vote for Gary Johnson.

As for those who have the misfortune of living in a state where your vote really will count... you have my sympathy. It's a weighty decision. Do you vote your conscience or, acknowledging that either Obama or Romney will be president for the next four years, do you swallow hard, hold your nose and pull the lever for the one you think will do the least damage? I can't answer that one. You will have to do what you think is right. To my mind it's a bit like when the warden comes by your cell and says it's time to choose... do you want the chair or the rope?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Germany quietly removed 2/3 of its gold from London

Germany withdrew two thirds of its vast holdings of gold from Bank of England vaults shortly after the launch of the euro more than a decade ago, according to a confidential report that emerged on Wednesday.

The revelation came as Germany's budget watchdog demanded an on-site probe of the country's remaining gold reserves in London, Paris, and New York to verify whether the metal really exists.

The country has 3,396 tons of gold worth €143bn (£116bn), the world's second-largest holding after the US. Nearly all of it was shifted to vaults abroad during the Cold War in case of a Soviet attack.

Roughly 66pc is held at the New York Federal Reserve, 21pc at the Bank of England, and 8pc at the Bank of France. The German Court of Auditors told legislators in a redacted report that the gold had "never been verified physically" and ordered the Bundesbank to secure access to the storage sites.
Read the rest here.

Study Slams Illinois State Finances and Debt

For years, Illinois has racked up billions in public debt to plug budget holes, pay overdue bills, and put billions into its mismanaged pension funds. And for the people who live there, this has resulted in decrepit commuter trains and buses, thousands of unsound bridges, 200 hazardous dams and one of the most inequitable public school systems in America.

Those are the conclusions of a new examination of Illinois finances by the State Budget Crisis Task Force, which was released Wednesday.

The group, led by the former Federal Reserve chairman, Paul A. Volcker, and the former New York lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, recommended a thorough overhaul of Illinois’ budgeting practices, to make it harder to kite money from year to year and warned that tax increases might be in store.
Read the rest here.

The Latest Polls: 'We don't have a clue'

The polls are all over the place. If you average them out it's a statistical tie with Romney holding the thinnest of leads but Obama ahead in enough states that he would still win in the electoral college.

The Island Where People Forgot To Die

...One day in 1976, Moraitis felt short of breath. Climbing stairs was a chore; he had to quit working midday. After X-rays, his doctor concluded that Moraitis had lung cancer. As he recalls, nine other doctors confirmed the diagnosis. They gave him nine months to live. He was in his mid-60s.

Moraitis considered staying in America and seeking aggressive cancer treatment at a local hospital. That way, he could also be close to his adult children. But he decided instead to return to Ikaria, where he could be buried with his ancestors in a cemetery shaded by oak trees that overlooked the Aegean Sea. He figured a funeral in the United States would cost thousands, a traditional Ikarian one only $200, leaving more of his retirement savings for his wife, Elpiniki. Moraitis and Elpiniki moved in with his elderly parents, into a tiny, whitewashed house on two acres of stepped vineyards near Evdilos, on the north side of Ikaria. At first, he spent his days in bed, as his mother and wife tended to him. He reconnected with his faith. On Sunday mornings, he hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started showing up every afternoon. They’d talk for hours, an activity that invariably involved a bottle or two of locally produced wine. I might as well die happy, he thought.

In the ensuing months, something strange happened. He says he started to feel stronger. One day, feeling ambitious, he planted some vegetables in the garden. He didn’t expect to live to harvest them, but he enjoyed being in the sunshine, breathing the ocean air. Elpiniki could enjoy the fresh vegetables after he was gone.

Six months came and went. Moraitis didn’t die. Instead, he reaped his garden and, feeling emboldened, cleaned up the family vineyard as well. Easing himself into the island routine, he woke up when he felt like it, worked in the vineyards until midafternoon, made himself lunch and then took a long nap. In the evenings, he often walked to the local tavern, where he played dominoes past midnight. The years passed. His health continued to improve. He added a couple of rooms to his parents’ home so his children could visit. He built up the vineyard until it produced 400 gallons of wine a year. Today, three and a half decades later, he’s 97 years old — according to an official document he disputes; he says he’s 102 — and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move home to Ikaria.
Read the rest here.

Feds Sue Bank of America For "Brazen Fraud"

Federal prosecutors in New York sued Bank of America on Wednesday, accusing the giant bank of carrying out a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the depths of the financial crisis.

In a civil complaint that seeks to collect $1 billion in damages from the bank, the Justice Department took aim at a home loan program known as the “hustle,” a venture that Bank of America inherited with its purchase of Countrywide Financial during the crisis. Prosecutors say the effort, created in 2007 but kept alive through 2009 by Bank of America, was designed to churn out mortgages at a rapid pace without proper checks on wrongdoing. The bank then sold the “defective” loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled housing giants, which were stuck with heavy losses and a glut of foreclosed properties.

“The fraudulent conduct alleged in today’s complaint was spectacularly brazen in scope,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement. Mr. Bharara brought the case with the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the government watchdog for the bank bailout program.
Read the rest here.

Anyone want to take odds on how many people land in prison over this? Banks are the enemy.

Senate Candidate: When life begins from rape, 'God intended' it

Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, said in a debate on Tuesday that "even when life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."

The remark drew criticism from his Democratic opponent, congressman Joe Donnelly, as well as from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's camp - even as Mourdock defended his words.
Read the rest here.

'Cash register justice': Private probation services face legal counterattack

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Kathleen Hucks was walking her dogs down the dirt road that leads out of Mim’s Rentals, a small trailer park in rural Augusta, Ga., when a police officer in a cruiser stopped her on Labor Day weekend.

The officer asked the slight 57-year-old for identification and ran her name through the system. Nothing came up for Richmond County, where she lives. Then the officer ran one more search.

“He says, ‘Ma'am I have to place you under arrest -- Columbia County’s got a hold on you for violation of probation,’” Hucks remembered.

...It was no mistake. A warrant for Hucks’ arrest had been issued in 2010, long after she completed a 24-month probation term arising from a 2006 conviction for drunken driving, possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. The reason: She hadn’t paid all the fees she owed to the for-profit company that supervised her probation.

Even though the company’s ability to collect the debt had expired when her probation did, she was arrested. Hucks spent 20 days in jail before a judge freed her.
Read the rest here.

Obama's off the record, now on the record interview

President Barack Obama suggested he'll be able to achieve a major fiscal reform deal as well as comprehensive immigration reform in his second term, according to his off-the-record conversation with the Des Moines Register.

The White House reversed course on insisting that the president's conversation on Tuesday with the editor and the publisher of the Iowa paper remain off-the-record and allowed the paper to publish a transcript of the conversation.
Read the rest here.

Cops: Racist attack was a hoax

Sharmeka Moffitt, 20, told police she parked her car by a walking trail in Civitan Park in Winnsboro, La., on Sunday evening to go exercise when she was set on fire by three men who she described as wearing white hoodies. She was able to extinguish the flames herself and when police found her car, the letters "KKK" and the N-word had been scrawled across the hood.

But what had the rumblings of a hate crime was all apparently a "self-inflicted situation," police said.

“In less than 24 hours, the state crime lab was able to analyze the evidence found at the scene, including a cigarette lighter, lighter fluid and also the hood of the car that had a paste-like substance spread across it, and it identified [Moffitt’s] fingerprints as well as some female DNA,” Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain told NBC News. “With this evidence, investigators were able to determine that she was alone in the park that night and made up the story.”
Read the rest here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Sad Fate of an American Historic Relic

The USS Williamsburg, the official yacht of President Harry Truman has all but rusted into oblivion sitting in Italy. It is for sale, though I fear it is now beyond viable restoration for anything less than nine figures. See here for a short history with some wonderful photos of the old girl in her prime.

Could "rogue" electors swing the election?

Extremely unlikely, but not impossible...
While Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns rage on toward November 6, another campaign has been under way for some time, one that's mostly out of the public's eye.

An investigation by The Associated Press last month revealed that as many as five Republican electors expressed uncertainty whether they would actually vote for Mitt Romney if he carried their state. These electors appear to be unhappy with Romney and continue to show support for his primary rival Rep. Ron Paul.
In the wake of this news, one of the electors abruptly resigned her position. On another front, a Minnesota elector suggested that he may not vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket if the candidates fail to furnish their birth certificates (in an effort to put pressure on all candidates to furnish their birth certificates).

These potentially rogue electors would effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters. The 2012 election will probably be very close. Consequently, in the worst of scenarios, a "faithless" vote might not only disenfranchise voters but alter the outcome of the race. While unlikely, this begs the question: Why do presidential electors still have independence in our current presidential selection process?
Read the rest here.

Entertaining Royalty in Belle Époque Britain

Twenty to thirty years ago, that is to say in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, there was formed a group of men and women who became familiarly known as “the Marlborough House set.” Of this set it is remarkable how few ” survive,” in the social sense. Some, indeed, have really died, notably Mr. Christopher Sykes, nicknamed the “Benefactor,” and Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, while others, not less conspicuous in their day, have suffered social extinction and have ” gone under,” of whom perhaps the most obvious example is Sir William Gordon-Gumming. At the present moment the Prince of Wales has but few contemporaries with whom he was really intimate as a young man, but such a circle reconstitutes itself with magic celerity, and in however sudden and tragic a fashion the void has been created, there have been always plenty who are eager to step in and take their chance of meeting with the same fate.

It has been computed, though of course such statistics are impossible to obtain with any accuracy, that the entertainment of royalty costs English society each year two millions sterling,—that is to say, fully ten million dollars. Hardly a week passes, save at those comparatively rare times when the whole of the British royal family is plunged into the deepest family mourning, without some fortunate persons finding themselves in the position .of host and hostess to a royal personage. A very clear distinction is still drawn between those houses where the Prince and Princess of Wales go together in semi-state, and those to which the Prince invites his own friends. In the latter case it is understood that he is quite at liberty to make a convenience of his hosts in every sense, and of course it was on such an occasion that the incidents which led to the great baccarat case occurred. The British plutocrat who desires to entertain royalty, buys or hires an estate close to one of the great race-courses. Tranby Croft, destined to mark an epoch in the social history of England, was a case in point. The Prince and a party entirely composed of his own immediate friends were staying with Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wilson during the St. Leger week, and, as became clear at the trial, the baccarat which was got up each evening on the royal party’s return from Doncaster races was played in absolute disregard and defiance to the host’s feeling, though the Prince of Wales—who is personally a courteous and well-bred man of the world—would certainly not have sanctioned even the mild gambling which then took place had he been aware of Mr. Wilson’s feeling on the subject.

It would be very difficult to lay down any hard and fast rules as to what are the special gifts and, it may be added, peculiarities required of those who form the charmed circle of entertainers of royalty, an exception of course being made in favor of the great nobility, who apparently regard the privilege as a not altogether desirable appanage of their position. Although great, or at any rate apparent, wealth is of course an essential, the golden key does not necessarily open the door to a royal visitor. But still human nature, even royal human nature, loves to be entertained, and several of the most successful hosts of royalty owe the favor with which they are regarded to their power of providing new and original forms of amusement. The late Mr. Christopher Sykes, who was for so many years one of the closest of the Prince’s intimates, was a Yorkshire gentleman of no great position in the world until he became known as his future King’s fidus Achates. Not only the Prince of Wales but the Princess and the young Princesses were very fond of Mr. Sykes; he was a frequent guest at Sandringham, and his fatal illness began while he was on a visit to the Duke and Duchess of Fife.
Read the rest here.

A note of caution; if you are an animal lover you may want to just skip this post.

Odds & Ends

A very slow day for blog worthy news or commentary. I note that Pope Benedict XVI canonized a number of saints today and created a stir among Traddies by wearing the long moribund papal fanon. The Giants have forced a game 7 for the NLCS. Not being a fan of St. Louis, this is good news. Also a quick reminder that I am generally not approving comments on really old threads. Once the post has dropped off the front page of the blog I pretty much consider comments to be closed. Most of the would be comments are SPAM but too many of the others are addressed to other commenters who have almost certainly stopped paying attention to the thread.

I have a huge stack of books that I am plowing through in my spare time. Most recently finished Friedrich Schiller's history of the Thirty Years War and "Anglican Difficulties" (thanks to Dr. Tighe for the book). Am currently about 1/3 of the way through Dr. Tim Blanning's "The Pursuit of Glory," a history of early modern Europe from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) to the end of the Wars of the French Revolution (1815). How good is it? I haven't finished it yet but I will make one observation. If someone had told me I would ever find myself enthralled by a sixty some odd page discussion of agriculture and policies related to that subject in 17th and 18th century Europe I would have been more than skeptical. And yet such was the case. Again, I haven't finished the book, but so far it's the best history of the period in question that I have read. And no it's not all about farming.

Among the works in line for my attention are Peter Wilson's modern and exhaustive work on the aforementioned Thirty Years War, "The Permanent Portfolio" by Craig Rowland & M L Lawson (both of whom I am honored to have corresponded with), and "The Court of the Last Czar" by Greg King. The latter being an extremely in depth description of the palaces, court ritual and daily life of the Romanovs in the twilight of the Russian Imperial Monarchy. (Bill TGF you really need to see if you can get a copy.)

And if it ever comes off the reserved until the Second Coming list at the local library, I would like to have a go at Stephen King's revisionist historical novel about the Kennedy Assassination. Longtime readers will know I am not a fan of conspiracy theories but the book sounds fun.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

For the Record

In line with the previous post, I support the Prague Declaration.

There may be differences in details, but morally they are on the same level.

Another Article On The Greek Neo-Nazi Party

ATHENS — At first glance, the shop on a nondescript street in this chaotic capital looks standard-issue military. Fatigues. Camouflage. Hunting gear. Deeper inside, the political message emerges. Black T-shirts emblazoned with modified swastikas — the symbol of the far-right Golden Dawn party — are on sale. A proudly displayed sticker carries a favorite party slogan: “Get the Stench out of Greece.”

By “stench,” the Golden Dawn — which won its first-ever seats in the Greek Parliament this spring and whose popularity has soared ever since — means immigrants, broadly defined as anyone not of Greek ancestry. In the country at the epicenter of Europe’s debt crisis, and where poverty and unemployment are spiking, the surplus shop doubles as one of the party’s dozens of new “help bureaus.” Hundreds of calls a day come in from desperate families seeking food, clothing and jobs, all of which the Golden Dawn is endeavoring to provide, with one major caveat: for Greeks only.
Read the rest here.

Interesting that WAPO seems fixated on a small though admittedly fascist political party while ignoring that the second largest party in Greece is neo-Communist. Communism and Nazism occupy the same moral plane. And yet the WAPO seems unable to tear its eyes from a minor right wing fringe party long enough to note the presence of the huge party that espouses an ideology responsible for the murder of tens of millions of people around the world.

Islamists Demolish Historic Tombs

Al Qaeda-linked rebels in northern Mali destroyed historic and religious landmarks in Timbuktu on Thursday, claiming the relics are idolatrous, residents told CNN.

Three four-wheel-drive trucks carrying at least 30 armed fighters arrived Thursday morning at three mausolea -- all U.N. World Heritage sites -- in the southern Timbuktu neighborhood of Kabara, two residents told CNN by phone.

"They started destroying the first mausoleum's wooden door with their axes," said Ibrahim Ag Mohamed, a guide. "Then they went inside and burned the cloth covering the grave before destroying the building with picks and axes."
Read the rest here.

Savages. How long I wonder before this sort of thing starts going down in Eurabia?

An Arrest in the News, an Exoneration in Silence

Google me, Travis Tremell said. See what comes up.

The first item on the screen is a short 2006 article in The New York Times. The headline read, “Man Charged in Killing After Brooklyn Robbery.”

Travis Tremell’s was the first name that popped up in the article. The second was Earl Williams, shot dead in a Bedford-Stuyvesant basement two weeks before.

Now, almost six years later, Mr. Tremell said, “I was arrested for a murder I didn’t do.”

That he said this standing on a sunny Brooklyn sidewalk, not inside a prison, lent him some credibility. 
Read the rest here.

Jewish Groups Rebuke Christians For Anti-Zionism

A letter signed by 15 leaders of Christian churches that calls for Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of accusations of human rights violations has outraged Jewish leaders and threatened to derail longstanding efforts to build interfaith relations.

The Christian leaders say their intention was to put the Palestinian plight and the stalled peace negotiations back in the spotlight at a time when all of the attention to Middle East policy seems to be focused on Syria, the Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear threat.

“We asked Congress to treat Israel like it would any other country,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “to make sure our military aid is going to a country espousing the values we would as Americans — that it’s not being used to continually violate the human rights of other people.”

The Jewish leaders responded to the action as a momentous betrayal and announced their withdrawal from a regularly scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting planned for Monday. In a statement, the Jewish leaders called the letter by the Christian groups “a step too far” and an indication of “the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations.”
Read the rest here.

Chuck Schumer: Democrats have tax reform all wrong

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is the Senate Democrats’ third-in-command, and widely acknowledged as the party’s top political tactician in the Senate. He’s also a bit shocked that his colleagues have, as he sees it, allowed themselves to get snookered into a vision of tax reform that begins with lowering rates. On Tuesday, he gave a speech trying to talk them out of it.We spoke on Friday about his position. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. 
Read the rest here.

France: Controversy Over Proposed Conversion of Catholic Church Into Mosque

VIERZON, France — When the Rev. Alain Krauth preached to his dwindling flock at Mass last Sunday, the subject was real estate. But it was also Christian charity, tolerance and, indirectly, the gnawing malaise in France over an increasingly visible Muslim minority.

The issue was Saint-Eloi’s, a graceless 1950s-vintage church on the edge of this declining French city 150 miles south of Paris. With six churches to maintain and fewer faithful every year, Roman Catholic authorities decided they could no longer afford Saint-Eloi’s. It must be sold, Father Krauth lamented, and if one of the prospective buyers is a peaceful Muslim association looking for a new mosque, then so be it.
Read the rest here.

An Indictment of the War on Drugs

Do you want to live in an authoritarian society? Do you desire an intrusive government? Do you wish for a government that is a nanny state? Do you yearn for government bureaucrats to tell you what you can and cannot do? Do you like puritanical busybodies telling you how to live your life? Do you believe that the government should define and enforce morality? Do you reason that vices should be crimes? Then you should support the war on drugs.

Do you love liberty? Do you treasure freedom? Do you want to live in a free society? Do you prefer government at all levels to be as limited as possible? Do you think people should be responsible for the consequences of their own actions? Do you wish the federal government would at least follow its own Constitution? Do you reason that vices should not be crimes? Then you must oppose the war on drugs.
Read the rest here.

Yes, there are limits to casual Friday

OK folks, what is up with that pic of Biden from the main page of the WAPO? He doesn't look like someone who is serious and getting ready for hard work. He looks like a drunk staggering home from an all night bender. And no that's not a partisan shot. I've seen similar photos of Romney and Ryan.

Look, if you don't want to dress professionally, fine. Skip the tie and button down shirt. Go casual. But please, if you are going to wear a tie, then wear it correctly. This is not an inspiring image. It makes me wonder if we are electing a back-alley bum.

Friday, October 19, 2012

If you want a passport, get it NOW!

Ignoring massive public opposition, and despite having recently admitted that it is already using the “proposed” forms illegally without approval, the State Department is trying again to get approval for a pair of impossible-to-complete new passport application forms that would, in effect, allow the State Department to deny you a passport simply by choosing to send you either or both of the new “long forms”.

Early last year, the State Department proposed a new “Biographical Questionnaire” for passport applicants, which would have required anyone selected to receive the new long-form DS-5513 to answer bizarre and intrusive personal trivia questions about everything from whether you were circumcised (and if so, with what accompanying religious rituals) to the dates of all of your mother’s pre- and post-natal medical appointments, your parents’ addresses one year before you were born, every address at which you have ever resided, and your lifetime employment history including the names and phone numbers of each of your supervisors at every job you have ever held.

Most people would be unable to complete the proposed new form no matter how much time and money they invested in research. Requiring someone to complete Form DS-5513 would amount to de facto denial of their application for a passport — which, as we told the State Department, appeared to be the point of the form.
Read the rest here.

Further evidence of our country's slow but inexorable decline into an authoritarian police state.

US Credit Downgrade Likely

The sovereign credit rating of the U.S. will be cut as “fiscal theater” plays out in the world’s biggest economy, according to Pacific Investment Management Co., which runs the world’s largest bond fund.

“The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.”

The Congressional Budget Office has warned the U.S. economy will fall into recession if $600 billion of government spending cuts and tax increases take place at the start of 2013. Financial markets are complacent about whether the White House and Congress will reach agreement on deferring the so-called fiscal drag on the economy until later next year, Mather said.

In a “base case” of President Barack Obama being re- elected and Congress becoming more Republican, there is a high likelihood an agreement “doesn’t happen in a nice way, and we have disruption in the marketplace,” he said.
Read the rest here.

What to do when the cops punch out

O'BRIEN, Ore. (AP) — There's no room in the county jail for burglars and thieves. And the sheriff's department in a vast, rural corner of southwest Oregon has been reduced by budget cuts to three deputies on patrol eight hours a day, five days a week.

But people in this traditionally self-reliant section of timber country aren't about to raise taxes to put more officers on the road. Instead, some folks in Josephine County, larger than the state of Rhode Island, are taking matters into their own hands — mounting flashing lights on their trucks and strapping pistols to their hips to guard communities themselves. Others have put together a virtual neighborhood watch, using Facebook to share tips and information.

"I believe in standing up for myself rather than waiting for the government to do something for me," said Sam Nichols, a retired marina manager.

Nichols has organized a posse of about a dozen fed-up residents who have started patrolling the small community of O'Brien, which has about 750 residents.
Read the rest here.

New York Hedge Fund Seizes Argentine Naval Ship

The Libertad, a three-mast tall ship with 330 navy cadets and crew aboard, was seized at Tema, an industrial port east of Ghana’s capital, Accra, on Oct. 2 through a court order obtained by N.M.L. Capital, a holdout creditor from Argentina’s default a decade ago that says it is owed more than $370 million. The creditor is among a few remaining holdouts to refuse debt restructuring agreements in 2005 and 2010. It had tracked the vessel through the Libertad’s Web site.

N.M.L., a subsidiary of Elliot Capital, a New York-based hedge fund with $20 billion under management, offered to release the ship if Argentina paid a $20 million security. It also offered to bear the costs of flying the sailors home.

Argentina’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, said in a statement, “The vulture funds have crossed a boundary in their attacks on the Argentine republic.” He said the seizure violated the Vienna Convention, which grants military vessels diplomatic immunity.
Read the rest here.

Obama and Romney Meet Over Jokes And Tails

Both presidential candidates took the night off (sort of) from campaigning to attend the annual Al Smith charity dinner held in New York. The event is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, raising millions for Catholic Charities, and regularly attracts the 'A list' of New York politicians and high society figures. In presidential election years it has become a tradition for the nominees of both parties to appear at the dinner and deliver usually humorous remarks to the crowd. Over the years the dinner has attracted its share of luminaries including Sir Winston Churchill. It also has gained a measure of fame as one of the last remaining society functions with a formal (white tie) dress code.

See here for Governor Romney's speech.
See here for President Obama's speech.

Romney gains in the polls

Former Governor Mitt Romney got more good news from some daily tracking polls today. The Rasmussen poll showed him up by 2 points over Obama and the daily tracking poll from Gallup showed him up by a whopping 7 points. That indicates a Romney lead that is outside the margin of error. It is looking like this is going to be a much tighter election than many people thought.

SSPX: Rumors of an ultimatum to their wayward bishop

I have been hearing rumors, recently repeated on some generally credible websites,that Bishop Fellay has reached the end of his patience with his fellow Bishop Williamson. As is widely known Williamson has been repeatedly ordered to refrain from making comments online and elsewhere and to desist in repeating opinions which call into serious question his temperament and judgment without express permission from his boss. Those orders have been openly flouted. Indeed it is widely believed that Williamson has become the most vocal opponent in the Society of any rapprochement with the Holy See and some of his activities are viewed as coming close to open revolt against the Superior General.

According to these rumors which seem to be gaining credibility Fellay has issued an ultimatum to Williamson demanding he take down his blog and cease any and all public commentary. It is also reported that the Superior General is demanding a public act of repentance from Williamson for all of the trouble he has caused the Society. If he refuses he will be expelled from the SSPX.

Assuming the reports are true, this is a long overdue measure. Williamson has been a loose cannon for years and is a certifiable nut whose anti-Semitic comments and opinions have been a recurring source of scandal.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Episcopal Organization Deposes South Carolina's Bishop

Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, one of the last orthodox (small 'o') leaders of the Episcopal Organization, has been deposed on the supremely ironic charge of abandoning the church. The arch-heretic Ms. Katherine Jefferts Schori notified him of the action on Monday, a week before a scheduled meeting between the two.  It had been hoped the meeting would find a way for the Diocese of South Carolina to remain in TEO while remaining true to traditional Christian teachings.

Read the details at T-19.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guilty Plea in Iranian Plot To Murder Saudi Ambassador

A former used-car salesman accused of conspiring with Iranians in an audacious murder-for-hire plot pleaded guilty Wednesday to helping plan the assassination of a Saudi diplomat at a posh Georgetown restaurant.

Manssor Arbabsiar, 58, a Texan with dual Iranian and U.S. citizenship, entered the plea in a New York courtroom just over year after his arrest in a case that shocked the world and drove U.S.-Iranian relations to a new low.
Read the rest here.

I am glad this got stopped. Much as I am loathe to get dragged into all the crap in the Middle East which is mostly none of our business, this would have been a big deal if it had gone down. No self respecting sovereign state can allow foreign governments to orchestrate the assassination of diplomatic envoys on their soil. If it had happened I don't see how we could have failed to treat it as a causus belli without dishonor.

And the lunatics in Tehran should give thanks to their false god that this ended with an embarrassing whimper rather than a bang.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Britain prepares for historic referendum on Scottish independence

LONDON – Britain and Scotland signed an accord Monday paving the way for a historic vote for independence that could see this island’s northern lands stand alone for the first time in three centuries as Europe’s newest sovereign state.

Monday’s accord effectively launches a critical two-year independence campaign during which the Scottish National Party — whose surprise victory in regional elections last year laid the path for a referendum — will go toe-to-toe against those fiercely opposed to rupturing modern Britain.
Read the rest here.

Tiny Azerbaijan Irritates Iran

BAKU, Azerbaijan — The latest weapon in this country’s ideological war with Iran arrived late last month in an armada of jets from California, accompanied by a private security force, dazzling pyrotechnics and a wardrobe that consisted of sequins and not much else.

A crowd of nearly 30,000 gathered to watch as the leader of this mini-invasion pranced onto a stage built on the edge of the Caspian Sea. With a shout of “Hello, lovers!” Jennifer Lopez wiggled out of her skirt and launched into a throbbing disco anthem, delighting her Azerbaijani fans and — it was hoped — infuriating the turbaned ayatollahs who live just across the water.
Read the rest here.

Ex Dem Nominee George McGovern Is Dying

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- Longtime former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate who lost to President Richard Nixon in a historic landslide, has moved into hospice care near his home in South Dakota, his family said Monday.

"He's coming to the end of his life," his daughter, Ann McGovern, told The Associated Press. She declined to elaborate but noted that her 90-year-old father has suffered several health problems in the last year.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Republican Road Not Taken: The Foreign-Policy Vision of Robert A. Taft

First elected to the Senate in 1938, Robert A. Taft represented Ohio from 1939 until his death in 1953. Although Taft was defeated for the Republican presidential nomination three times, in 1940, 1948, and 1952, he was universally acknowledged as the leader of the Republican Party’s congressional wing. Taft offered both a positive vision of international organization following World War II and a prescient critique of the internationalist policies developed by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. Dwight Eisenhower embraced and continued these internationalist Democratic policies during his two terms in office (1953–61), so his victory over Taft at the Republican convention in 1952 represented a decisive rejection of the alternative foreign policy advocated by Taft and other isolationist Republicans of that period. The significance of Taft’s defeat—and the thesis of this article—was well articulated by journalist Nicholas von Hoffman, writing in the midst of the Vietnam War almost two decades later. Observing that Taft’s critique of internationalism had been vindicated subsequently on almost every point, von Hoffman characterized Taft’s foreign-policy vision as “a way to defend the country without destroying it, a way to be part of the world without running it” (qtd. in Radosh 1975, 147).

Many of Taft’s contemporaries dismissed him as an “isolationist” in foreign policy (for good examples, see Schlesinger 1952 and Van Dyke and Davis 1952). Although subsequent scholarship has suggested that this characterization was highly misleading (Berger 1967, 1971, 1975; West 1952), Taft was isolationist if isolationism is defined, following careful scholarship, as “an attitude of opposition to binding commitments by the United States government that would create new, or expand existing, obligations to foreign nations” (Rieselbach 1966, 7). Like many Americans of his era, Taft did not welcome the intrusion of foreign policy and gladly would have “let the rest of the world go its own way if it would only go without bothering the United States” (Osgood 1953, 433). For much of his career, Taft advocated what he called “the policy of the free hand,” whereby the United States would avoid entangling alliances and interference in foreign disputes. This policy permitted government leaders the freedom of action to decide in particular cases whether a sufficiently vital U.S. interest warranted involvement (Taft 1951, 12).[1]

The real problem with the term isolationism is not that it misrepresented Taft’s general orientation, but rather that it permitted defenders of various Roosevelt and Truman policies to discredit Taft without having to engage his arguments seriously. Labeling opponents of administration policies as “isolationists” implied that they were naive, like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, nostalgic for an earlier era in which the United States could hide behind the safety of two oceans and avoid involvement in international affairs (Doenecke 1979, 11–12; Graebner 1968).[2] In reality, however, none of the members of the isolationist wing of the Republican Party ever believed it possible for the United States to isolate itself from the rest of the world, and so all of them accordingly rejected that label.

Taft’s foreign-policy views were neither naive nor nostalgic. To the contrary, his critique of internationalism deserved to be taken seriously and was vindicated subsequently on many points. Taft criticized the Roosevelt/Truman approach to postwar international organization, correctly pointing to features of the United Nations that would prevent its serving as a real force for peace and equality under the law. He also challenged the Truman administration’s assessment of the Soviet military threat against western Europe, a threat that now appears to have been overstated consciously and deliberately to secure congressional support for the Marshall Plan, universal military training, and an expanded air force (Berger 1967; Kofsky 1993). He anticipated correctly that a steady rise in defense outlays could lead to a “garrison state” and the erosion of civil liberties (Higgs 1987). Finally, Taft was prescient in warning that even well-meaning internationalism would necessarily degenerate over time into a form of imperialism that would breed resentment against the United States around the globe, eventually endangering U.S. national security.
Read the rest here.

The Best Legal Advice You Will Ever Get

Never ever ever talk to the police. Yes, even if you are 100% innocent.

HT: Craig

An America eternally ‘at war’

A great power without a significant enemy? That's what the U.S. has become.

Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is reportedly a shadow of its former self. The great regional threats of the moment, North Korea and Iran, are regimes held together by baling wire and the suffering of their populaces. The only incipient great power rival on the planet, China, has just launched its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished Ukrainian throwaway from the 1990s on whose deck the country has no planes capable of landing.

The U.S., by contrast, has 1,000 or more bases around the world. It spends as much on its military as the next 14 powers (mostly allies) combined.

It will spend an estimated $1.45 trillion to produce and operate a new aircraft, the F-35 — more than any country, the U.S. included, now spends on its national defense annually. The U.S. Navy, with its 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carrier task forces, dominates the global waves, and the U.S. Air Force controls the skies in much of the world. And the president now has at his command two specialized armies to supplement the traditional armed forces: the CIA, which has been heavily militarized and is running its own private assassination campaigns and drone air wars throughout the Middle East and environs; and the Joint Special Operations Command, cocooned inside the U.S. military, whose members are deployed to hot spots around the globe.

By all the usual measuring sticks, the U.S. should be supreme in a historically unprecedented way. And yet it couldn't be more obvious that it's not. Despite its overwhelming military superiority, nothing seems to work out in an imperially satisfying way.
Read the rest here.
HT: T-19

RIP: Arlen Specter the Senate's Fierce Moderate

Former senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s most durable political figures, who during three decades in the Senate became known for his command of constitutional law, died of cancer Oct. 14 at his home in Philadelphia. He was 82.

The death was confirmed by Scott Hoeflich, Sen. Specter’s former chief of staff.
Read the rest here.

How The West Is Killing Free Speech

Free speech is dying in the Western world. While most people still enjoy considerable freedom of expression, this right, once a near-absolute, has become less defined and less dependable for those espousing controversial social, political or religious views. The decline of free speech has come not from any single blow but rather from thousands of paper cuts of well-intentioned exceptions designed to maintain social harmony.

In the face of the violence that frequently results from anti-religious expression, some world leaders seem to be losing their patience with free speech. After a video called “Innocence of Muslims” appeared on YouTube and sparked violent protests in several Muslim nations last month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that “when some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected.”

It appears that the one thing modern society can no longer tolerate is intolerance. As Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard put it in her recent speech before the United Nations, “Our tolerance must never extend to tolerating religious hatred.”
Read the rest here.

The Good News In the Global Debt Crisis - Military Budgets Are Going To Be Cut

WASHINGTON — Whether or not America's politicians can find a way to sidestep the brutal automatic military cuts of sequestration, the era of rising Western spending on weapons and wars is over.

That reality increasingly is challenging major arms manufacturers, spurring them to look for new markets, cost cuts and mergers. It is also confronting policymakers with difficult political and strategic choices as new rivals, particularly China, spend more on their armed forces.

U.S. military spending still dwarfs that of other countries - the equivalent of the next 13 nations' spending by some estimates - but the global military balance is clearly shifting. With European states already cutting, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies this year reported that Asian military spending outstripped Europe's for the first time in several centuries.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

George Will: End Too Big To Fail And Break Up The Mega Banks

If in four weeks a president-elect Mitt Romney is seeking a Treasury secretary, he should look here, to Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Candidate Romney can enhance his chance of having this choice to make by embracing a simple proposition from Fisher: Systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs), meaning too-big-to-fail (TBTF) banks, are “too dangerous to permit.”

Romney almost did this in the first debate when he said the Dodd-Frank Act makes TBTF banks “effectively guaranteed by the federal government” and constitutes “the biggest kiss that’s been given to — to New York banks I’ve ever seen.” Fisher, who has a flair for rhetorical pungency, is more crisp:

There are 6,000 American banks, but “half of the entire banking industry’s assets” are concentrated in five institutions whose combined assets amount to almost 60 percent of the gross domestic product. And “the top 10 banks now account for 61 percent of commercial banking assets, substantially more than the 26 percent of only 20 years ago.” The problems posed by “supersized and hypercomplex banks” may, Fisher says, require anti-obesity policies equivalent to “irreversible lap-band or gastric bypass surgery.” The land of TBTFs is “a perverse financial Lake Wobegon” where all crises are “exceptional,” justifying “unique” solutions that are the same — meaning bailouts. This incurs “the wrath of ordinary citizens and smaller entities that resent this favorable treatment, and we plant the seeds of social unrest.”
Read the rest here.

California may lead prison-reform trend, ease '3 strikes'

SAN FRANCISCO — More than a decade after California set a national trend toward longer sentences for habitual criminals with its three-strikes law, crime in the Golden State is down, prison costs are up - and voters are poised to soften the hardline stance.

A California ballot measure that would let some nonviolent offenders out of jail faster is the most high-profile example of what Adam Gelb, a criminal justice expert at the Pew Center, calls "a sea change across the country in attitudes on crime and punishment."

While the main financial backer of the campaign to pass the measure is a liberal billionaire, it has drawn support from religious conservatives, fiscal hawks and a broad array of constituencies who have supported "tough on crime" policies in the past.
Read the rest here.

US Deficit Tops $1 Trillion For Fourth Year

The federal budget deficit has topped $1 trillion for a fourth straight year. But a modest improvement in economic growth helped narrow the gap by $207 billion compared with last year.

The Treasury Department said Friday that the deficit for the 2012 budget year totaled $1.1 trillion. Tax revenue rose 6.4 percent from last year to more than $2.4 trillion, helping contain the deficit.

The government's revenue rose as more people got jobs and received income. Corporations also contributed more tax revenue than in 2011. This pushed receipts up to $2.449 trillion in 2012, up 6.4 percent from last year, according to the Treasury Department.
Read the rest here.

Quote of the day...

The EU won the Nobel Peace Prize for what, not invading Poland?
-The Young Fogey

A Really Bad Day

So yea, yesterday was the worst day I can remember in baseball playoffs in years. First the Yankees win against Baltimore and then the Nationals undergo the most excruciatingly painful late game collapse I think I have ever seen in a postseason game.

Somebody wake me up in April.

Strauss-Kahn Exposes Libertine Lifestyle of French Elite

PARIS — More than a year after resigning in disgrace as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is seeking redemption with a new consulting company, the lecture circuit and a uniquely French legal defense to settle a criminal inquiry that exposed his hidden life as a libertine.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 63, a silver-haired economist, is seeking to throw out criminal charges in an inquiry into ties to a prostitution ring in northern France with the legal argument that the authorities are unfairly trying to “criminalize lust.”

That defense and the investigation, which is facing a critical judicial hearing in late November, have offered a keyhole view into a clandestine practice in certain powerful circles of French society: secret soirees with lawyers, judges, police officials, journalists and musicians that start with a fine meal and end with naked guests and public sex with multiple partners.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Washington stays alive with dramtic walk off home run

The ball tore a hole in the cold October air, headed out toward the Capitol dome, gleaming white in the starless sky. Jayson Werth tossed his bat and pointed to the home dugout at Nationals Park. Red fireworks exploded behind home plate. Werth’s teammates charged out of their dugout and the raucous fans exulted, all of them warmed by the knowledge the baseball season still lived in Washington.

They all got another day. They have another game. In the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night, Werth ended a 13-pitch at-bat with a walk-off home run to lift the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals to even the National League Division Series at two games each. Werth came to Washington two years ago vowing he could win in this city. Thursday night, he gave them the chance to play again.
Read the rest here.

Feds are silent as three states ponder legalizing marijuana

Voters are set to cast their ballots in three Western states next month on whether to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use, initiatives that would directly violate federal law but that have drawn only silence from the Justice Department.

Despite the urging of drug enforcement experts, officials in Washington have not said how the federal government would deal with possible state laws in Colorado, Washington and Oregon that would conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act. Federal law prohibits the production, possession and sale of marijuana and classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, putting it in the same category as LSD and heroin.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bad Liturgy

We've all seen it. Some of us who were (or still are) Catholic had to endure it routinely. But this is so over the top, it's unquestionably the worst I've seen in a long time. Or in the minds of some it is one of the great examples of liturgical renewal thanks to Vatican II.

How California can stop the flight of the wealthy

California was once the land of opportunity, but it is going down the tubes. Several California cities have declared bankruptcy, such as Vallejo, Stockton, Mammoth Lakes and San Bernardino. Others are on the precipice, and that includes Los Angeles, California's largest city. California's 2012 budget deficit is expected to top $28 billion, and its state debt is $618 billion. That's more than twice the size of New York's state debt, which itself is the second-highest in the nation.

Democrats control California's Legislature, and its governor, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat. California is home to some of America's richest people and companies. It would then appear that the liberals' solution to deficit and debt would be easy. They need only to raise taxes on California's rich to balance the budget and pay down the debt – or, as President Barack Obama would say, make the rich pay their fair share.

The downside to such a tax strategy is the fact that people are already leaving California in great numbers. According to a Manhattan Institute study, "The Great California Exodus: A Closer Look," by Thomas Gray and Robert Scardamalia (October 2012), roughly 225,000 residents leave California each year – and have done so for the past 10 years. They take their money with them. Using census and Internal Revenue Service data, Gray and Scardamalia estimate that California's out-migration results in large shares of income going to other states, mostly to Nevada ($5.67 billion), Arizona ($4.96 billion), Texas ($4.07 billion) and Oregon ($3.85 billion). That's the problem. California politicians can fleece people in 2012, but there's no guarantee that they can do the same in 2013 and later years; people can leave. Also, keep in mind that rich people didn't become rich by being stupid. They have ingenious ways to protect their money.
Read the rest here.

Conspiracy Mania

When Republicans began questioning President Obama’s birth certificate four years ago, it seemed at first like a petulant reaction to a lost election, a flush of nativist and racist anger that would diminish over time. But the preposterous charges never went away. As this election cycle shows, many in the Republican Party continue to see the president as the center of a broad and malevolent liberal conspiracy to upend the truth.

To live and seethe in that world of conspiracy theories means rejecting any form of objective reality. When unemployment numbers make the administration look good, they are obviously “cooked.” When poll numbers put Mr. Obama ahead, they are skewed. Birth certificates are forgeries. Safety-net programs are giveaways to supporters. Health insurance reform is socialism. And campaign donation disclosure is antibusiness.

It’s an upside-down version of life, and it is not innocuous. When desperation leads political critics of the president to discredit important nonpolitical institutions — including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office — the damage can be long-lasting. If voters come to mistrust the most basic functions of government, the resulting cynicism can destroy the basic compact of citizenship.
Read the rest here.

It is rare in the extreme for me to be able to say that I substantively agree with an op-ed piece in the NY Times. But while I have major issues with some of the entities they name in here, like the Federal Reserve, their main point is a fair one. The political right is drifting into an alternate reality of dark conspiracy theories that appears largely motivated by a visceral hatred for President Obama. Throughout the course of history there have always been a certain amount of kooks and nut jobs that populate the political fringe. But when the nuts take over one of the two major political parties we have a serious problem.

In 1960 the John Birch Society accused President Eisenhower of being a conscious agent of The International Communist Conspiracy. This obviously lunatic pronouncement was immediately and vociferously denounced by almost every respectable member of the conservative movement lead by the late William F. Buckley at his National Review magazine. The result was that the extremist element on the right was isolated and began a rapid decline into political irrelevance. That isolation and irrelevance lasted until the election of Bill Clinton when it began to slowly regain strength and a certain amount of respectability in conservative circles. Today right-wing extremism has gained a level of power in American politics not seen since the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's. Republican members of Congress and US Senators are afraid to call out the Birther nuts for fear of political retribution. Some are openly sympathetic with to this extremist insanity.

I don't know how far this is going to go, but I am increasingly alarmed by a movement that made it possible for a Republican candidate for president to ask aloud during a campaign speech, to wild cheers, whether or not the time had come for a second amendment solution to Barack Obama's presidency. When that sort of thing is happening we have reached a dangerous point in our political society. My question is where are the voices of reason in today's GOP?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Israel to hold early elections

 JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday called for elections early next year instead of as scheduled in October 2013, saying that conversations with his coalition partners had proved it would be impossible to pass “a responsible budget” with deep cuts.
Read the rest here.

Taliban guns down teen girl for advocating education

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A 14-year-old Pakistani student who won international acclaim for speaking out for girls barred from school by the Taliban was critically wounded Tuesday by a gunman who boarded her school bus, asked for her by name, aimed his pistol at her head and fired, officials said.

The Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack on ninth-grader Malala Yousafzai, who gained notice in early 2009 when she wrote a diary about Taliban atrocities under a pen name for the BBC’s Urdu service. Yousafzai lives in Mingora, a city in the scenic northwestern Swat valley, where Taliban insurgents imposed harsh Islamic law for two years before being routed by a major military operation in May 2009.
Read the rest here.

These people are barbarians. That said what goes on in Pakistan is not our government's business.

1920: Out of Beer

Comedian Ernie Hare's famous photographic commentary on the start of prohibition.

From Shorpy