I was reading in Romans 1 just now and came across this passage-
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
I mused a bit about natural law earlier in the week, when a couple of fashonistas got in trouble for being old-school on the role of the traditional family. This passage reinforces that concept, giving it a Biblical reference for those who look askance at papist things.
The truth gets suppressed by the wicked, but not eliminated. As much as folks might want to turn their back on God and things supernatural, creation shows their folly in the long run.
The former is designed to run westerners out of Tunisia, since the museum was loaded with European tourists looking at their collection of Roman artifacts; all but two of the 19 dead per the BBC were foreigners. That's militant Islam's game at present, de-westernizing the Muslim world. Nigeria's Boko Haram even has that as its name, "Western Education isn't kosher" would be a cheeky translation of their name. Their Tunisian buddies would be essentially saying that Western Civ is haram with their attack today.
If they keep turistas away from the country, it will weaken the ties with Europe and make a ISIS-style theocracy easier to achieve.
Meanwhile, we have a weenie roast in Frankfurt, where leftists are protesting the ECB actually making countries pay the debts their governments racked up. Police cars are getting torched by the usual suspects on the left- Blockupy is the broad term for this melange of leftists-
Or, if we can put an Islamic spin on it, "Kapitalism Haram." They would like to turn Europe into some sort of socialist state where foreign bankers aren't welcome.
The end game might see the north side of the Med as isolated as the south, at least economically.
Without financing from the more developed parts of Europe, a rejectionist south would have to maintain an roughly even balance of trade, since investors will avoid those countries and also avoid having the local currency. They'll also either have to raise taxes or confiscate property to make up any deficits that are currently being financed by foreign loans.
It's not a pretty future.
We've seen a number of concussion-prone players retire early over the years, but the news of SF linebacker Chris Borland opting to retire after his rookie year is interesting. He hadn't have a major track record of concussions (one each in junior high and high school) but wanted to keep it that way.
I can relate to that very loosely. I banged my head on the front step to the house last week, where my sandal caught the step while bringing groceries in and I face-planted into the front of the house without free hands to break my descent. I'm not sure if I got a concussion per-se, but my vision was a smidge off in my right eye for a day or two.
We've seen a lot of news items in the last few years on the effects of long-term brain damage that can be caused by banging your head against other folks at high speed. We've also seen a trend to move kids away from football into less-contact-oriented sports (although, interestingly, one of Borland's two childhood concussions was in soccer, one of the common beneficiaries of the child football diaspora), including a presidential admission that he'd likely be leaning a son away from the gridiron if he had one.
That has prompted the though of whether football has much of a future if it's seen as too traumatic to play and smart folks opt to avoid the sport, both as participants and viewers.
I'm reminded of the candy-bar ad of a few years ago (19, as it turns out) where a quarterback "gets his bell rung" and almost passes an impromptu concussion test before declaring "I"m...Batman!" Well, Borland's Bruce Wayne opted to jump in the Batcar without his cape and mask, blowing out of Gotham West before turning into the Caped Crusader.
37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Then, we get this in chapter 18-
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
What is interesting here is that the sermon went with the concept that the "rooster-crow" was a Greek term for o-dark-30, the 3AM or so shift change time for the night watch. A quick horn blow would indicate that all's well and the next shift should head on out.
That's a take I've never heard before, but it does have some backup-"An indefinite hour of the night between midnight and morning" per this page. Mark 13:35 also uses the phrase to indicate something between midnight and dawn.
It doesn't change the theology of the passage any, but changes the picture of the scene of the wee hours of Good Friday.
Interesting little blowup over IVF babies, where an Italian fashion firm is being boycotted by celebrities such as Elton John and Courtney Love. The Dolce and Gabbana firm, headed up by a namesake pair of gay Italians, is the object of scorn when they called IVF tots "synthetic". Sir Elton is ticked since he has a pair of them with his "husband."
Dolce and Gabbana alsoseem to be old-school on families-
But in an interview with Italian magazine Panorama this weekend they went further saying they also didn't agree with the idea of gay families.
"We oppose gay adoptions," they say, "The only family is the traditional one.
"No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed."
Domenico Dolce went on to say that having children should be an "act of love".
It seems like a certain amount of folk Catholicism seems to have stuck with these two, even if they missed the memo on homosexual activities. Some folks on the cultural left seem to understand that while an unorthodox lifestyle works for them, that it's unhealthy for the whole of society to go down that route. Camille Paglia is another gay liberal (with a bit of a libertarian streak) that has a bit of an old-school streak that shows from time to time.
This seems to have a strong echo of the Catholic natural law school of thought, that there are certain truisms that shine through the universe even without being beat over the head with a Bible. Designer babies trigger a natural law yuck-response in quite a few folks that aren't card carrying right-to-lifers, including a pair of gay fashionistas.
This winter has seen a very interesting boom for Scott Walker, coming just about out of nowhere to be leading the early polls. He has a 27-19 edge over Jeb Bush in Nevada and a 25-13 lead over Rand Paul (with Bush, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee also cracking double-digits) in Iowa. With double-digit leads in two key early states and a photo-finish second (20-19) behind homeboy Ted Cruz in Texas, it's more that an "boomlet."
There's a slight irony there. Lest we forget, the W in George W Bush and George HW Bush is Walker. I can still hear Tom Harkin in his 1988 stab at the White House going after "George Herbert Walker Bush", placing emphasis on the aristocratic-sounding double-middle-name.
Walker the front-runner is now open to grilling on everything from the president's salvation to evolution to a lack of a college degree. Harry Truman was the last president without a college degree, but he turned out better than at least two ("I hear three, three over there, do I hear four, do I hear four?") Ivy League successors of his.
I haven't got my mind wrapped around Scott Walker quite yet. What I see looks OK, but I have yet to get a handle on the man rather than the conservative hero who stared down Big Labor and lived to tell the tale.
Jeb's a well spoken, earnest fellow who would do a solid job as president if given the chance. However, he's more of a manager than a leader, plus has the baggage of having his dad and brother as presidents before him. When he's likely to face down a former First Lady in a general election, a second Clinton-Bush race would leave far too many voters cold and open to opting for the first woman president rather than the third Bush president.
Might they like the option of the third Walker better?
What's the difference between ISIS and the Chinese communists circa 1946 or so? Both control a large swath of land and have a very militant driving world-view. Both are very willing to kill off people who don't fit their paradigm.
Mao and company would have been called rebels, revolutionaries or insurgents 70 years ago, since we didn't really have "terrorism" in our geopolitical vocabulary at the time.
Thus, are we at the point where we need a new adjective for ISIS? They seem to look more like a proto-government than a group of cells plotting bombings and gun rampages.
The Obama team doesn't mind the term terrorist to describe them, even while they bend over backwards to utter the tern "Islamic" in reference to them. Yes, they do employ terror tactics from time to time, as the Libyan beheadings clearly shows, but the police-drones-and-special-ops lawfare that the administration wants to do doesn't seem to be well suited for the task.
What to do about the situation is an open question. We don't seem to have the stomach or the leadership to do "boots on the ground" military actions to roll back ISIS.
In some places, we have friendly neighboring governments that can help provide troops and staging areas. In Libya, Egypt is in the process of stepping in to stop the ISIS-affiliated group there, and Jordan might be willing to swing north to help shore up their northern border. Turkey could be some help, but they seem not to have a dog in the Syrian fight, preferring that the Kurds get whittled down by both ISIS and the central government, keeping their aid more humanitarian.
It's not a pretty picture and isn't likely to get better any time soon.
Odd story out of Halifax, where authorities have stopped a planned massacre. One of the would-be shooters was from metro Chicago (Geneva), but no names have been released, even of the suspect who did himself in as the Mounties pulled up.
What makes it odd is that we have no names as of yet and the authorities are bending over backwards to say that it isn't terrorism or "culturally motivated." If it wasn't that, what brought a young woman up from Illinois to be part of a shooting? There are a lot of dogs that aren't barking here.
Interesting dynamic in yesterday's UNC shootings, where you had a militant atheist gunning down three Muslim neighbors. There were disputes between the shooter and the victims over noisiness and parking places in their campus apartment complex, so it may not have been due to their ethnic background.
Is this a "hate crime?" Most murders involve the shooter being upset enough at the victim that they're willing to kill them. That would apply to killing off a significant other or a rival gang member; the shooter would have hated what the other person did or was doing.
However, that's not how the term is used in modern political/legal discourse, where the term is reserved for killing someone of a particular demographic group.
If the case involved assault or vandalism, there is a case to be made that such crimes should be treated differently than a barroom brawl or the unauthorized spray-painting of a wall. However, the shooter here will most likely be up for first-degree murder charges, leading to at least a life sentence, if not the death penalty.
It's kind of hard to make extra punishment with that, at least not with anything that would pass constitutional muster. How do you tack on extra punishment onto a trip to Ol' Sparky?
Tax avoidance is legal. Using an IRA would be an example of tax avoidance; a government-approved way to defer taxes on retirement savings.
Tax evasion is illegal.
However, this piece on the UK's HSBC bank helping clients stash cash in Swiss accounts seems to be unclear what is going on here. If it is mere avoidance, then the bank should be in the clear.
Unlike the US, who taxes Americans on money made wherever they earn it, most foreign countries only tax income earned in their country. Thus, money held in foreign investments would be taxes by the country the investment was in rather than the investor's home country.
That's why a number of high-income Europeans set up shop in income-tax free locales. Monaco is one example of a flag of convenience for folks, giving reasons beyond the casinos and coastal living for being there; they have sales tax (value-added taxes to be technical) and a steep FICA-like payroll tax, but no income tax.
Living there is tax avoidance for many folks but not tax evasion.
The BBC piece seems to blend the two terms. It would be helpful to clarify what if any of the HSBC misdeeds are abetting evasion, if any.
Here's some interesting news from that other CMU-
Ride-share company Uber and Carnegie Mellon University will develop a research lab in Pittsburgh focused on developing self-driving vehicles and other technologies, company and university officials said Monday.
Self-driving cars are near on the horizon, as Google is working on prototypes and the latest Tesla is nearly self-driving. Uber is looking to keep up with this tech.
What this easily could mean for Uber is getting rid of their ad-hoc cabbies. However, I'm not sure if Uber is the company to be doing this research, unless they are going to change their business model. If Uber is looking to do research into driverless cabs, who is going to own said driverless cabs?
Uber's shtick is putting folks needing a ride in touch with folks willing to provide rides, taking a commission on the fares generated; they charge extra during high-demand periods in order to coax extra supply out of their providers. Uber's bad news for traditional taxi companies (and often banned in big cities where said companies are a force in local politics) but good news by and large for consumers.
If Uber shifts to this robocab model, then they'll have to be making large capital investments in a fleet of robocars-for-rent. That sounds more like a mash-up of a taxi company and a rental-car company. The first rents car and driver on demand while the latter rents just a car.
Advertisement of 2025-"Enterprise; our car will pick you up." Instead of a winsome young staffer driving the car up in the ad (do they double as an escort service?), the robocar comes to get you and comes back when you're done. The line between rental-car and taxi service becomes a matter of length of rental in that universe.
Uber could well be a player in that universe, but where they work with individual car owners to loan out their cars when they're not using them. If my car is sitting in the driveway for the evening, I could sent it out to take someone to the airport or take someone home from the bar and pick up a few bucks while I watch the Pistons game.
However, this research would lean towards Uber owning the cars they're driving rather than borrowing civilian robocars. That's a different business model than the brokering-rides model they're doing now.
In our family, the proper response for a cheeky or tacky comment is to make quick slapping motions in the air and say "Put your face in this!"
That's what was running through my mind when I heard an audio clip of the president last night plugging his new budget, one that was beyond DOA. Stone cold dead in the arctic cold, where Herr Thermometer won't talk to me this morning ("Nein! Nein!" he said just now).
It was the first half of the quote here that made the radio-
"I want to work with Congress to replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America," Obama said in a speech at the Department of Homeland Security. "I'm not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward. It would be bad for our security, and bad for our growth."
Reducing the budget is "mindless" although the across-the-board sequester cuts were something of a mindless autopilot way to tackle it. However, mindful cuts weren't reachable between Obama and Congress, so they settled for a blanket set of cuts that oxed everyone's gore.
His contributions, on the other hand, are smart.
Belittling foes. Check.
Inflated view of his own intellect. Check
Condescending tone. Double check.
The piece mentions that it is a 7% increase. In an economy with a lot of underemployment and discouraged workers, this is unlikely to do much to help folks struggling to even get on the career ladder and a lot to keep the economy spinning its wheels like my car trying to get through a half-foot of snow yesterday.
7% is a lot faster than the economy is growing, so that translates to a bigger government, when the added spending of the last half-decade haven't done much to help. The president's default response seems to be to throw more government at a problem.
I don't think the 2nd-and-goal interception play was a bad call. Yes, the conventional wisdom would have been to go Beast Mode and run the ball in. However, with only 0:20 seconds left and one time out, you can do two runs. A first failed run would take the clock down to about 15 seconds, then Seattle would have been hard-pressed to run the second play and then get a fourth down off before time expired.
Pete Carroll's strategy of trying a pass on second down is better clock-management. If the pass goes incomplete, the clock stops with about 15 seconds left. They then could cue Beast Mode, try a run on third down, call time out, and have a do-or-die fourth down try available.
Only a jumped route on the pass kept that from being seen to be prudent. With 20-20 hindsight, it was a bad call, but it made sense, just as move Bill Belichick made in 2009 to go for it on 4th down in his own territory made sense. Both went again macho conventional wisdom; Carroll was supposed to smash the thing in and Belichick was supposed to punt and let his defense keep Payton Manning from beating them in a two-minute drill.
Both gambits flopped, but were only bad with 20-20 hindsight.
Egypt and Syria were briefly merged into a United Arab Republic in the late 50s, essentially a Egyptian takeover of Syria in order to bail out the Syrian Baathists from insurgent communists. It fell apart when Syria resented being too junior of a partner, and they split back apart after 5 years.
That came to mind when I saw jihadis in the Sinai hooking up with ISIS. This time, the insurgents are teaming up.
Interesting times. You can't call ISIS a republic with a straight face, so the title is a bit of stretch, but it's an interesting parallel with the old UAR.
Interesting story out of Kentucky, where an Eastern Kentucky U player appears to have been beaten up by UK players at a bar in EKU's town of Richmond.
Richmond's about 20 miles south of Lexington, not quite a suburb but close enough where a couple from our Sunday School class in Lexington lived in Richmond and commuted in to Lexmark in Lexington and to church. Thus, it wouldn't have been that odd for some UK folks to wander down there, especially if one or more of them had a Richmond-area connection.
However, it seems to have been a bit of a turf battle, as the EKU guy resented the UK guys coming down to their town. EKU is, as the name would indicate, a regional school a notch down in prestige than UK; they play good I-AA football and can often rival UK's brand of mediocre I-A ball, although UK had a very competitive 5-7 club last year that was better than the record.
Smack was talked, and fists appeared to fly.
An Eastern Kentucky offensive lineman suffered multiple facial fractures during a fight that allegedly involved three Kentucky football players over the weekend, according to a report by The (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
One would think that the Lexington Herald-Leader would have the story given that it is in their back-yard and in their sphere of influence. However, the Herald-Leader bleeds Big Blue and might conveniently bury bad news about UK. This is their current piece on the story, talking to the Richmond police.
There have been reports that the fight involved University of Kentucky football players, but Brock didn't mention UK or identify anyone.
I assume Brock is the name of the police chief; a quick Google found this piece that confirms that it's Larry Brock that is the chief, but his identity was not elaborated on in the article. Sloppy editing by the McClatchy folks.
It is very interesting that the piece mentioned "reports" without mentioning the source, since they likely don't want to give any props to their rival newspaper in the state.
Getting a handle on Yemen is a bit of a struggle. It's in the news this week as Shia northerners, the Houthis, took over the capital of Saana, forcing the resignation of president Hadi.
Hadi is a southerner, a Sunni military guy with extensive overseas training, the kind of guy Westerners and Saudis can do business with. Hadi took over only in 2012, when the Arab Spring forced the former president to resign.
Yemen has been a mess since getting loose from British oversight. The country was split into northern and southern countries for many years, with the southern side being allied with the Soviets during the Cold War. Both the northern and southern sides went through civil wars inside themselves, and have only been reunited since the end of the Cold War. The resulting unified government wasn't all that unified, without a coherent consensus of governance.
As of late, we have a three-ring circus, with the southern side split between the government faction and the now-infamous Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP holds large chunks of territory on the southern coast, acting something more like ISIS than your stock terror group. The Charlie Hebdo shooters were AQAP fans, with one of them getting training there.
Iran backs the Houthis, although the Yemeni brand of Shia is a different faction than the Iranian version. The Houthis can be heard mouthing Iranian-style death-to-America-and-Israel chants (according to a public radio show on Yemen I listened to yesterday), but they also don't like AQAP, since they have quite a bit of anti-Sunni rhetoric in their "Fiver" theology. That makes them possible partners in the continuing droning of AQAP targets, but on an enemy-of-my-enemy basis at best.
The US doesn't have much of a coherent interest in Yemen other than tamping down AQAP and making sure it doesn't devolve into a pirate haven on the east side of entrance to the the Red Sea to match the Somali side on the west. There isn't much of a nation to build there, even if we were in the market for nation-building there.
The retired diplomat on the To The Point public radio panel pointed out that the drone strikes tend to radicalize the clans of those hit, creating more jihadis then they kill. However, not all jihadis are created equal. Spawning 10 low-grade warriors might be worth it if you kill off a general.
"Boots on the ground" doesn't seem to be a great option, since we wouldn't have a clear objective that the current whack-a-jihadi drone game (with some occasional special ops) can't handle. I don't see the Obama team wanting to play the new colonial power and occupy the place, nor do I see it helping much.
This is one with no real good options other than trying to not let things metastasize into ISIS South.
Standard and Poors isn't above making political statements with their bond ratings. For instance, their move to drop the US government out of AAA status in 2011 in the midst of a debt-ceiling showdown. Here's my take at the time.
While there is a non-trivial chance that the US might default somewhere down the line, the timing might be more a policy hissy-fit from S&P than a coherent assessment of American default chances. ... Investors are giving Uncle Sam a 0.01% interest rate yesterday; there isn't a lot of room to slide any default risk premium into that yield.
However, they may well be right in their call to move Russian sovereign debt to BB+, the top tier of non-investment-grade (a.k.a junk) status, as much as Pooty-poot doesn't like it-
Moscow on Tuesday slammed Standard and Poor's for downgrading Russia's credit rating to "junk", saying the move was motivated by the West's current standoff with Russia over Ukraine.
A Russian deputy foreign minister, Vasily Nebenzya, even claimed the S&P downgrade to BB+ was "ordered from Washington (in a) new wave of anti-Russian hysteria", while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called ratings a "purely political instrument".
I sense a bit of projection in that; they would likely have the power (and the willingness to use it, as the Alexander Litvinenko story reminds us) to tell their folks to downgrade foreigner's debt if it was politically expedient, so they assume everyone else has that power.
However, the markets are making themselves heard. Russian 10-year bonds are yielding 14%. The Greeks, looking a possible default in the face after the Syriza government took over this week, are a bit over 9% per Bloomberg.
Unless there's some inflation premium at play with the Borscht Bonds, the bond markets are calling BS. There is a certain amount of room for government manipulation of bond and foreign exchange markets (the "dirty float" as its called), but the markets will generally win
There would seem to be a significant chance that Putin and company would be willing to turn their back on world financial markets if their current cash flow crisis, caused by both low oil prices and trade sanctions from their adventures in Ukraine, comes to a head. That would be consistent with the Orthodox Russia against the heathen world meme that Putin is running.
The markets are reflecting that, unlike the AA+ call of four years ago, where the markets kept giving the US the "risk-free rate" rounding to zero on T-Bills despite S&P's misgivings.
"If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment?" That sounds like the kind of logic that creates Sharia Courts that this Newsmax piece is afraid of.
An Islamic Tribunal of four attorneys is operating in Dallas where it issues voluntary rulings on civil disputes, Breitbart Texas reported Tuesday.
Taher El-badawi, one of the lawyers who call themselves "judges," told the conservative website that the tribunal applies Shariah law to litigants who voluntarily accept their rulings on disputes involving family and business issues.
Actually, my opening quote wasn't from the Koran, but from 1 Corinthians 6:1. Christians, generally of a more evangelical bent, will sent up comparable arbitration settings to avoid taking things to court. Newsmax would likely not be worried about those.
However, if we want to ban the kind of Islamic arbitration above, we're going to wind up banning any Christian or Jewish or secular arbitration service as well if the First Amendment is honored. Free exercise of religion should cover both our Dallas Islamic tribunal as well as any Christian analogs in the Metroplex as well.
In this context, "sharia law" is the Muslim analog of "biblical principles". Catholic "canon law" might be a good analog as well. Sharia evokes the vision of ISIS or the Taliban running a whole region by their harsh take on Islam, especially in conservative American discourse, but it also has a more mundane application in this case.
The center surely didn't hold in the Greek elections. They've been dealing with some serious budget cutting as of late in order to get a huge deficit in order and keep in the EU's good graces, needing two elections in 2012 to get a workable coalition of the right-of center New Democracy and the mainstream socialist PASOK. The "austerity" budgets have helped create high (25% or so) unemployment and fostered the rise of an anti-austerity left wing Syriza party.
Syriza came in a close second in that second 2012 poll with 17% of the vote. Yesterday, they doubled that with a 36% showing. That was good for 99 of the 250 seats divvied up by proportional representation. Add the 50 seats that gets tacked on as a bonus to the plurality party and Syriza came up with 149 of the 300 seats, just short of a majority.
News of the morning has Syriza teaming up with the paleoconservative Greek Independents to form a majority. Note that these aren't the Naziesque Greek-supremacist Golden Dawn, The Indy-Greeks sound more like Pat Buchanan as Greek Orthodox by way of the UK Independence Party than straight-up bigots.
Culturally, the two get along about as well as Tea Partiers would get along with Occupy Wall Street folks, but they both have a common populist distrust of centralization of power. Syriza's new partners don't like the EU much and like the austerity cram-down even less, so they can form a working coalition for the moment.
New Democracy didn't do that badly, only 2% worse than 2012B. Syriza gained 9%, mostly out of the hide of PASOK, who came in 7th and last (among parties that broke the 3% seat-getting barrier) at 5%. There isn't a coherent pro-austerity majority to be had at this point, so, to borrow from Samizdata's evoking of Mencken, the Greek public will get what it wants....good and hard.
The new government will try to talk the EU and the European Central Bank into easing up on the austerity and giving them some forgiveness on their debt. However, doing so will encourage other countries to do likewise, with Spain first on that list with a Syriza-flavored Podemos party (they could have gone with Si Podemos and got the echos of Obama's "Yes, we can" down perfectly) poised to do well in their next national election.
We could well see Greece leave the EU in the next year or two if the rest of the EU isn't interested in big bailouts of their southern tier. It will be interesting geopolitics and international finance, bringing the creation of the Euro that started a quarter-century ago to an inflection point.
When I was taking my International Econ minor in grad school in the early 90s, the Maastricht Treaty that set up the framework for what became the Euro was news. The British were initially in the system, but opted to bail in 1992 when propping up the pound to keep it in synch with the other pre-Euro currencies was too much to handle.
Now, the Greeks are poised to do likewise two decades later, seeing the heirs of Maastricht being way too strict for them.
It's not been a good day on Michigan roads. A massive pile-up closed I-94 near Kalamazoo, a smaller one closed I-75 north of Flint, US-23 (effectively a I-75 Detroit bypass from Toledo to Flint) got shut down between Ann Arbor and Toledo and a stunt-man special saw a van dragged 16 miles in the northern parts of I-75 about an hour north of us after hitting and sticking under the back of a semi.
The weather wasn't that bad (we got 2-3 inches worth overnight in Midland), but it was bad enough, with blowing snow making driving change from OK to blinding in short order. If the snow was really bad, folks would be off the road, but this not-that-bad weather coupled with high winds proved to be a nasty package.
Flint, Saginaw and Bay City all had their schools closed today, while Midland schools soldiered on. I can see why the others opted to pack it in.
Foreign currency markets often don't act the way central banks would like them to. I used to use the old joke about the Boy Scout who did his good deed for the day by helping an old lady across the street. It took him 45 minutes to do it, since the old lady didn't want to go across the street.
The European Central Bank might be like that Boy Scout, trying to drag investors across to the Euro when investors don't want to go.
The euro has hit a fresh nine-year low against the dollar, in part after a surprise decrease in German manufacturing.
German factory orders fell by 2.4% in November compared with the previous month, worse than expected.
The euro dropped below $1.176, before recovering slightly.
The ECB is in roughly the same spot as the Fed in that they've pinned short term interest rates at near-zero without seeing the economy respond much. The Fed's found another unorthodox knob to crank, buying long-term debt ("Quantitative Easing" in econ-speak) in an effort to lower long-term rates and get investors and durable-good consumers to borrow cheap to buy stuff.
The ECB is more hawkish on inflation, inheriting the German memory of hyperinflation in the Weimar era that helped bring Hitler to power. However, the anemic Eurozone economy has them looking at their own tranche of QE.
The problem with that is buying long term debt will include buying some government bonds, including those of Greece, who is going to the polls later in the month. The Greeks had to be dragged kicking and screaming in 2011 into a austerity package that trimmed their budget deficits and budgeted enough money to keep the interest-checks to Greek bond-holders coming.
However, populists on both left and right didn't like bending over for big bankers overseas, and the polls have the hard-left Syriza party in the lead, promicing to renegotiate the deal and goosing spending back to drunken-sailor levels.
That makes putting central-bank assets in Greek bonds an iffy proposition if a Syriza-led government defaults. It's impolite to not buy one member-country's bonds and imprudent to buy Greek junk-bonds, so the ECB is at the minotaur horns of a dilemma.
The Greek situation is the Conventional Wisdom culprit, but ongoing discontent with the EU, the Russo-Ukranian war's fallout, lack of assimilation of a sizable Muslim minority (Google Charlie Hebdo if you've been off the web for a couple days) and a number of nativist and anti-EU parties doing well add to the instabiliity. With all those question marks along with a tendency of the EU to micromanage and micromanage poorly, investors might not want to be dragged across the street to the Eurozone.
I'm trying to wrap my mind around the current situation in Washington, especially the interplay between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans.
Conservative fans of "limited government" will be quick to mention the meme of "checks and balances." However, they seem to be focused on the check part of that phrase. For something to go down, you need a majority of both houses of Congress and the president to agree, with the courts getting to chime in if the law is of questionable constitutionality.
That gives each branch an effective veto on what happens in government. Congress needs a two-thirds majority of both houses to do things over the objections of the president and needs an additional three-quarters of the states if they want to overrule the Supreme Court with a constitutional amendment. Congress is well within its rights to say "hell, no" to stuff that isn't in the best interest of the country, checking any autocratic tendencies of the White House.
However, we also have the issue of balance in "checks and balances." The House is elected by various sub-regional districts every two years, which gives voters a quick way to change things and representatives that will go to bat for their district. The Senate is elected on a state-wide basis, a third every two years, giving both a less homogenous clientele and a moving average of public opinion over the last six years. The president is elected nation-wide (in state-by-state Electoral College races) every four years, the one official that has to represent a broad swath of the country in order to get elected rather than one state or a subset of a state.
Getting all three of those to agree will create a balance, not allowing one person or one moment in time to carry the day. That's a status-quoian framework, making it hard to make changes since it needs to get approved by different factions elected at different times and in different constituencies.
A parliamentary system can turn on a dime. If the Greeks want to elect a hard-left government that scraps austerity and tells the European Central Bank to do an unnatural act with itself, they can do so without having to wonder if it can get things passed the Senate or a presidential veto; at least, I don't recall the Greek governmental system to hae such road-blocks.
Washington is not designed to turn on a dime, unless the crisis at hand can create consensus enough to get everyone to sign off on that 180; a simple, 50.1% majority of one body isn't going to do the job with our Constitution.
That means getting the president on board, unless he is so out of step with even his own party to allow enough members of his party to dis him and create a 2/3rd overriding majority. That doesn't happen too often.
I'm reminded of a quip about tradition giving the dead a vote. The 2012 electorate isn't dead, but it gets a vote in our system in that they sent Obama back for a second term. Likewise, the 2010 electorate has its say in the class of senators elected that year and who will be up for reelection next year. Next year. they'll wind up replacing 2010 with 2016 in the moving average of the Senate.
That's how our system works. Tea Partiers might like to have a more majoritarian system that was 100% 2014, but a just-say-no check of the White House gets called for a cross-check that gives you a two-minute stay in the sin-bin. They might be able to get a veto, but Congress and the president need to hash things out, lest we want to revisit 1787's rules of the road and start from scratch with a new system.
Some of the responses to the Charlie Hebdo shooting are predictable. The BBC wants to blame the victim, playing up their outrageousness, while others reprint their cartoons to give the middle-digit sal-oot to the would-be censors.
Here's part of this 2012 post when CH was in the news-
Teasing and mocking doesn't make for good rhetoric; it doesn't endear you to the target and makes you look thuggish. In this case, there seems to be little benefit from insulting Muslims other than a juvenile desire to make fun of others outside your in-group. We see that in politics, where liberals will make fun of conservatives for the amusement of their fellow progressives and conservatives follow suit.
Making fun of Mohammad's sexual habits isn't going to win anyone over to Jesus; making a negative case for another religion (and a lame one at that) doesn't make a case for yours.
There is reflexive "Oh-yeah?!" response to attempts to stifle expression. We saw that over the holidays with The Interview, where a lame comedy about trying to assassinate North Korea's dictator became a must-see item when Sony was hackmailed into pulling the firm. Likewise, some tacky cartoons become the cutting edge of freedom of speech when their editorial staff gets mowed down.
Meanwhile, the authorities in France have three suspects named, two of them French-Muslims. One is a repeat customer-
Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Interesting, a guy who was pro-ISIS before it was cool. This really doesn't sound like a trio of lone wolves, like the Ottawa shooter who had an old non-automatic hunting rifle-
The gunmen moved with the skill and precision of highly-trained commandos, military experts told FoxNews.com.
Masked and garbed in black, the AK-47 wielding assassins appeared to be executing a well-coordinated plan in the late-morning raid, methodically seeking out and executing those targeted for death, and making a clean getaway -- all in the span of a few minutes.
Not a good sign, unless you're Marine Le Pen; nativism starts to look good after this morning.
Somehow, today's attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo isn't surprising. The over-the-top satire magazine has been "looking for trouble" for years by turning their satire to Islamic figures, and it was only time before someone carried through on the death threats the editors had been getting.
One would hope that cooler heads would prevail, but it only takes a few properly roused rabble to take offense and go on the offensive.
Yes, that does "blame the victim" a bit. Tacky cartoons shouldn't be a capital offense, but the CH folks were poking at the bear and shouldn't be too surprised to have the bear take a swipe at them.
Reports have three gunmen storming the offices, so this isn't quite the "lone wolf" attack that we've seen pop up from time to time. With a large number of Muslims in France, there's plenty of folks who would be candidates for waging asymmetrical warfare against the infidel.
However, it seems more likely that this wasn't some well-planned al Qaeda outing but a few French Muslims who wanted to vent their spleens. Two Chechen immigrant brothers did the Boston Marathon bombings, while a Libyan-Quebecker was behind the Canadian Parliament shootings. Neither seemed to be following outside orders, and our shooters of this morning might well be in that class of free-range jihadis, a trio of "lone wolves."
I lived through the late 60s as a juice-boxer before there were juice-boxes, so I really don't have any coherent memories of the era from a political perspective beyond what I have learned as an teenager and adult of the era as history. We didn't have the Internet and a 24/7 news cycle to drive news and make local issues national ones in hours if it hits the right nerve.
That being said, the current level of rhetoric is a bit hot on the topic of police interaction with black suspects. This Fox piece on the NYPD arresting some anti-cop hot-heads for threatening cops online, along with shots of Guy Fawkes-masked protestors on the news had me thinking of the Black Power era pig-haters.
However, there was also a lot more real brutality going on in that era as opposed to the bad-judgement of a couple of cops in the Ferguson and Staten Island cases of 2014. You don't have the "do you want to go peacefully or do you prefer internal bleeding?" stuff nearly as much in the early 21st century as opposed to the mid 20th. The angst of that era seems more real rather than somewhat contrived.
We didn't have Fox News playing up the outrages of the pig-haters for the Silent Majority of the 10s or CNN playing up the outrages of the cops for their target audience. A half-hour news window at 6:30PM Eastern limited what got covered back in the day, nor did it have as much partisan spin attached on the news.
That being said, we seem to have an odd merger of the spiritual grandchildren of Stokey Carmichael and El Cleaver with your white intelligentsia anarchosocialists with their Guy Fawkes masks, both with an interest in anarchy in the inner city. There's likely a silent majority of blacks and whites who don't see the cops as an occupying force, but they don't get on TV.
It seems troubling, but there also seems to be a magnification of the issue by the modern media. It bleeds and leads, making good TV and good link fodder. It feels like it's about 10% of the ferver of the 60s magnified 6.5X by the modern media to the point where it brings back images of the Rodney King riots for modern adults and "burn, baby, burn" memories for Boomers.
I don't have any good answers other than for folks to understand God's love a bit more and to show that to others. That will help take the chip off the black youth's shoulder and to have everyone else not assume the youth is a crime-spree looking to happen. That's easier said than done.
A cop-free world is an anarchy with gated communities and shootouts at 2:15AM outside of those gates. I don't want to live in that world.
The NOAA radar feed for the Great Lakes region has an interesting feel to it today. You can see the storm that closed schools in the Lexington and Columbus areas (locales of FB friends) heading off to the east, and also see lake effect snow, as clouds shoot off of Lake Michigan onto the western side of the Lower Peninsula.
Not much at Midland's latitude, however. There seems to be a gap between a southern snow-band (Muskegon to Benton Harbor) and a northern snow band (Traverse City to Petosky) that leaves the US-10 corridor largely untouched.
We've got temperatures well below normal for mid-November, the beginnings of what may well be another very cold winter. Here, at least, climate change is changing in the cold direction with "polar vortex" becoming part of the lexicon. It doesn't disprove global warming worries, but it sure doesn't help proving them.
I'm having to gear up for a trip into the teeth of the Great Plains going out to Colorado to visit my in-laws over Christmas. This is the first full winter Eileen's folks have spent out there, and all those snow gates on the highways in Nebraska and Colorado might actually come into play rather than being a quaint conversation piece as we bop along in the spring and summer.
It's only 24 in Midland as we go to press, but it feels a lot colder, almost as cold as the political climate in Washington.
There seems to be little common ground left in Washington if the tone on this Politico piece on the lame duck session is correct. If cooler heads don't prevail, we may be looking at the unraveling of the United States of America in very short order and that President Obama could be the last president of the 50 states.
For normal business to proceed, you need a majority of the House, a majority (often a super-majority to invoke cloture) of the Senate and the President to sign off on things. That may not be possible in the present political climate.
This other piece on immigration policy notes what could be the tipping point, a pending move by the president to basically stop deporting most people caught here illegally; that's a slight simplification, but not by too much. It's hard to make someone do something if there is no power to force them to move. Courts can make rulings but they require both an issue that they can rule on and have an executive branch willing to execute said ruling.
If the executive branch is unwilling to enforce the law, impeachment is an option that Congress has, if they they can get two-thirds of the Senate to convict. Turned around, 34 senators can enable the president to ignore the legislature if he has the funds to maintain the government.
If 34 of the 46 Senate Democrats returning stick with the president on immigration policy, one way to slow the President down is to stop funding the government. However, that requires a majority of at least one chamber of Congress to refuse to agree on a spending plan, which will become problematic as any government shutdown starts to bite and pressure placed on moderate Republicans to relent.
December 11th is the date that the current continuing resolution ends. A few days with laid off federal workers has been bearable in the past, but if those days turn into months and checks go unwritten, there could be some major chaos, one that could lead the president to try and rule by decree and ignore Congress altogether.
That sounds like some bad Glenn Beck nightmare, but we're not far from that if both sides lose a game of political chicken. Republicans are likely to "lose" by having enough "moderates" go along with a funding plan, but if neither side backs down, we could see the US cease to function, reverting back to 50 state governments that will still operate in the absence of a federal government.
Groups on the left have been running ads saying that the Republicans have cut a billion dollars from the education budget while Republicans have been running ads saying they've added a billion dollars to the education budget. Both seem to be off, unless they are talking about future budgets that have yet to come to fruition.
The most recent full write-up of government spending on the State Budget Office site is the FY2013 budget. We're just a month past the end of FY2014, so it might be a bit before those figures are finalized.
I grabbed the figures for 2010 to 2013, to cover the year before Rick Synder took over to the most recent year available; the numbers below are in thousands of dollars-
|Education||% of FY2010||Total||% of Budget|
Going from 2010 to 2013, we see about a $400 million dollar drop in education spending on the state level, $655 million if we go from the 2011 budget that straddled the end of the Granholm era and the beginning of the Tough Nerd's reign. Not quite the billion that the MEA is crowing about, unless they are looking at a different data set than this.
I also don't see the billion dollars of added spending that Mt Pleasant's state rep's ad touted. From these numbers, the MEA seems to be closer to the truth, as much as I'd rather not admit that.
Even so, we're looking at under a 3% cut from the last Democratic-run budget. As a percentage of the overall budget, it's dropped by less than a percent since Synder took over. That's not going to make the MEA happy, to be sure, but in tough economic times, it doesn't seem particularly draconian.
Some of the trimming might be at the college level, since the K-12 budget for FY2015 that just started this month is at an all-time high, per this piece a Mackinac Center employee friend of mine just sent my way when I posited the question on Facebook.
In this area of Michigan, Synder is the only potential bum to throw out, since our state rep, state senate, US House and US Senate seats will all see new blood either way come January. The data doesn't beg for his ouster unless you were planning to vote Democratic regardless of the education budget data.