A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Archive for the ‘Really?!?’ Category

Paul Ryan’s Cramped Vision – NYTimes.com

In Politics, Really?!? on August 11, 2012 at 13:47

Paul Ryan’s Cramped Vision 

Mitt Romney’s safe and squishy campaign just took on a much harder edge. A candidate of no details — I’ll cut the budget but no need to explain just how — has named a vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, whose vision is filled with endless columns of minus signs. Voters will now be able to see with painful clarity just what the Republican Party has in store for them.

RAs House Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan has drawn a blueprint of a government that will be absent when people need it the most. It will not be there when the unemployed need job training, or when a struggling student needs help to get into college. It will not be there when a miner needs more than a hardhat for protection, or when a city is unable to replace a crumbling bridge.

And it will be silent when the elderly cannot keep up with the costs of M.R.I.’s or prescription medicines, or when the poor and uninsured become increasingly sick through lack of preventive care.

More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan, and eagerly accepted by the Tea Party-driven House, come from programs for low-income Americans. That means billions of dollars lost for job training for the displaced, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry. These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations.

Mr. Ryan’s budget “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. “These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

Mr. Ryan responded that he was helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government. And yet he has failed to explain how he would make them self-sufficient — how, in fact, a radical transformation of government would magically turn around an economy that is starving for assistance. At a time when state and local government layoffs are the principal factor in unemployment, the Ryan budget would cut aid to desperate governments by at least 20 percent, far below historical levels, on top of other cuts to mass transit and highway spending.

Those are the kinds of reductions voters of all income levels would actually feel. People might nod their heads at Mr. Romney’s nostrums of smaller government, but they are likely to feel quite different when they realize Mr. Ryan plans to take away their new sewage treatment plant, the asphalt for their streets, and the replacements for retiring police officers and firefighters.

All of this will be accompanied, of course, by even greater tax giveaways to the rich, and extravagant benefits to powerful military contractors. Business leaders will be granted their wish for severely diminished watchdogs over the environment, mine safety and food quality.

Mr. Romney had already praised the Ryan budget as “excellent work,” but until Saturday the deliberate ambiguity of his own plans gave him a little room for distance, an opportunity to sketch out a more humane vision of government’s role. By putting Mr. Ryan’s callousness on his ticket, he may have lost that chance.


Israel’s Fading Democracy – NYTimes.com

In News, Politics, Really?!? on August 5, 2012 at 12:34

Israel’s Fading Democracy 

WHEN an American presidential candidate visits Israel and his key message is to encourage us to pursue a misguided war with Iran, declaring it “a solemn duty and a moral imperative” for America to stand with our warmongering prime minister, we know that something profound and basic has changed in the relationship between Israel and the United States.My generation, born in the ’50s, grew up with the deep, almost religious belief that the two countries shared basic values and principles. Back then, Americans and Israelis talked about democracy, human rights, respect for other nations and human solidarity. It was an age of dreamers and builders who sought to create a new world, one without prejudice, racism or discrimination.Listening to today’s political discourse, one can’t help but notice the radical change in tone. My children have watched their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kowtow to a fundamentalist coalition in Israel. They are convinced that what ties Israel and America today is not a covenant of humanistic values but rather a new set of mutual interests: war, bombs, threats, fear and trauma. How did this happen? Where is that righteous America? Whatever happened to the good old Israel?Mr. Netanyahu’s great political “achievement” has been to make Israel a partisan issue and push American Jews into a corner. He has forced them to make political decisions based on calculations that go against what they perceive to be American interests. The emotional extortion compels Jews to pressure the Obama administration, a government with which they actually share values and worldviews, when those who love Israel should be doing the opposite: helping the American government to intervene and save Israel from itself.Israel arose as a secular, social democratic country inspired by Western European democracies. With time, however, its core values have become entirely different. Israel today is a religious, capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodox interpretations. Its capitalism has erased much of the social solidarity of the past, with the exception of a few remaining vestiges of a welfare state. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state.” However, because Israel has never created a system of checks and balances between these two sources of authority, they are closer than ever to a terrible clash.In the early years of statehood, the meaning of the term “Jewish” was national and secular. In the eyes of Israel’s founding fathers, to be a Jew was exactly like being an Italian, Frenchman or American. Over the years, this elusive concept has changed; today, the meaning of “Jewish” in Israel is mainly ethnic and religious. With the elevation of religious solidarity over and above democratic authority, Israel has become more fundamentalist and less modern, more separatist and less open to the outside world. I see the transformation in my own family. My father, one of the founders of the state of Israel and of the National Religious Party, was an enlightened rabbi and philosopher. Many of the younger generation are far less open, however; some are ultra-Orthodox or ultranationalist settlers.This extremism was not the purpose of creating a Jewish state. Immigrants from all over the world dreamed of a government that would be humane and safe for Jews. The founders believed that democracy was the only way to regulate the interests of many contradictory voices. Jewish culture, consolidated through Halakha, the religious Jewish legal tradition, created a civilization that has devoted itself to an unending conversation among different viewpoints and the coexistence of contradictory attitudes toward the fulfillment of the good.


Wall Street’s link to Libor – Guardian

In News, Really?!? on July 19, 2012 at 13:12

Wall Street’s link to Libor 

Britain is abuzz with the Libor scandal, but so far it’s been a yawn in the United States. That’s because Americans have assumed that the wrongdoing is confined to the other side of the pond. After all, “Libor” is short for “London interbank offered rate”, and the main culprit to date has been London-based Barclays. It’s further assumed that the scandal hasn’t really affected the pocketbooks of average Americans anyway.

Wrong, on both counts. It’s becoming apparent that Barclays’ reach extends far into the US financial sector, as evidenced by its $453m settlement with American as well as British bank regulators, and the US justice department’s active engagement in the case. Even by American standards, the Barclays traders’ emails are eyepopping, offering a particularly a chilling picture of how easily they got their colleagues to rig interest rates in order to make big bucks. (Bob Diamond, the former Barclays CEO, says the emails made him “physically ill” – perhaps because they so patently reveal the corruption.)

Most importantly, Wall Street will almost surely be implicated in the scandal. The biggest Wall Street banks – including the giants JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America – are likely to have been involved in similar manoeuvres. Barclay’s couldn’t have rigged the Libor without their witting involvement. The reason they’d participate in the scheme is the same reason Barclay’s did – to make more money.In fact, Barclays’ defence has been that every major bank was fixing Libor in the same way, and for the same reason. And Barclays is “co-operating” (giving damning evidence about other big banks) with the justice department and other regulators in order to avoid steeper penalties or criminal prosecutions, so fireworks in the US can be expected.

There are really two different Libor scandals, and both are about to hit America’s shores. The first has to do with a period just before the financial crisis, around 2007, when Barclays and, presumably, other major banks submitted fake Libor rates lower than the banks’ actual borrowing costs in order to disguise how much trouble they were in. This was bad enough. Had American regulators known then, they might have taken action earlier to diminish the impact of the near financial meltdown of 2008.

But the other scandal is worse, and is likely to get the blood moving even among Americans who assume they’ve already seen all the damage Wall Street can do. It involves a more general practice – starting around 2005 and continuing until … who knows, it might still be going on – to rig the Libor in whatever way necessary to assure the banks’ bets on derivatives would be profitable. This is insider trading on a gigantic scale. It makes the bankers winners and the rest of us – whose money they’ve used to make their bets – losers and chumps.

Obviously, Libor is not limited to the UK. As the benchmark for trillions of dollars of loans worldwide – mortgage loans, small-business loans, personal loans – it affects the most basic service banks provide: borrowing money and lending it out. People put their savings in a bank to hold in trust, and the bank agrees to pay interest on those. And people borrow money from the bank and agree to pay the bank interest.

The typical saver or borrower on both sides of the Atlantic trusts that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that the banks’ guess is based, in turn, on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand for money.

But if that assumption is wrong – if the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money we lend or repay them, bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting which they’re not sharing with the rest of us – it’s a different story altogether.

It would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportions – trillions of dollars that average people would otherwise have received or saved on their lending and borrowing that have been going to the bankers instead.

It would make the other abuses of trust Americans have witnessed in recent years – predatory lending, fraud, excessively risky derivative trading with commercial deposits, and cozy relationships with credit-rating agencies – look like child’s play by comparison.


Mississippi’s only abortion clinic fights to stay open amid onslaught of protest – guardian.co.uk

In Really?!? on July 10, 2012 at 12:03

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic fights to stay open amid onslaught of protest 

Mississippi is not alone in its attempts to limit access to abortions. Across conservatives states, there has been a concerted campaign by conservative, anti-abortion groups to shift the focus away from the treatment room to the court room in a bid to undo the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in the Roe v Wade supreme court decision in 1973.

Last year the number of bills to restrict abortion, from the defunding of Planned Parenthood to gestational limits, were the highest on record, according to the Guttmacher Insitute.

One of the most controversial in recent months was Virginia’s attempt to pass a law requiring women seeking a termination to have a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound. Eleven states, including Mississippi, have similar laws in the pipeline, while a further 11 state’s legislators have proposals to restrict medicated abortion, and 14 have introduced laws that seek to restrict abortion later in pregnancy – but prior to foetal viability.

Mississippi, the poorest state in the US, already has some of America’s strictest laws on the procedure and an accordingly low abortion rate. But lawmakers are determined to bring it down to zero and are throwing their political muscle behind their goal.

Last November, residents rejected a “personhood” amendment to the state constitution that would have eliminated all abortions and some forms of contraception by defining life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. During the debate, Bryant, then the Republican candidate for governor, warned that if the amendment failed, “Satan wins”.

“This is a battle of good and evil of biblical proportions,” he said.

In April, he signed HB1390, another constitutional scheme with the same aim.

Such increasingly intense rhetoric against abortion from state leaders has silenced the pro-choice voice. One physician who spoke to the Guardian refused to be quoted because he has been falsely vilified as an abortion doctor after speaking out in the past.

“Even the common sense things don’t get said” he said. “It’s hard to have a reasonable discussion.”

Doctors are ostracised for pro-choice beliefs. In April, the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, blocked the appointment of Dr Carl Reddix, a Harvard and John Hopkins-trained doctor from the state’s board of health. Reddix does not perform abortions but has admitting privileges and is the physician who the clinic would call if a woman in their care was rushed to hospital.

Abortion opponents pray outside the clinic. Photograph: Rogelio V Solis/AP

Critics argue that such overtly political decisions by leaders who frame the debate in moral terms clouds their ability to address the many problems Mississippi faces.

One example is a blind spot over the teenage birth rate, the highest in the country. Mississippi has 55 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19 in 2010, 60% higher than the US average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Yet until this year, there was no mandatory sex education in its schools. Even then it is limited. Following a new law, introduced in 2011 to tackle teen pregnancy, schools can choose from two curriculums, one emphasising abstinence, the other an “abstinence-plus” programme, which includes information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents also have to opt their children into the programme, restricting the number of children who receive it.

Felicia Brown-Williams, regional director of Planned Parenthood Southeast, who has been advocating sex education in schools for years, said it was at least “a step in a positive direction”.

Brown-Williams sees at first hand the effect Mississippi’s poverty


China plans £3bn theme park in Tibet – guardian.co.uk

In Really?!? on July 6, 2012 at 19:12

Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet

China plans £3bn theme park in Tibet 

Chinese officials have announced plans to build a £3bn Tibetan culture theme park outside Lhasa in three to five years.

Authorities see developing tourism as crucial to the economic future of Tibet and have set a goal of attracting 15 million tourists a year by 2015, generating up to 18bn yuan (£1.8bn), in a region with a population of just 3 million.

But Tibetan groups have expressed concern that the surge in tourism has also eroded traditional culture and that the income has economically benefited Han Chinese more than Tibetans.

Ma Xinming, deputy mayor of the city, told journalists that the park would cover 800 hectares (1980 acres) on a site just over a mile from the centre. He said it would improve the Tibetan capital’s attractiveness to tourists and be a landmark for its cultural industry, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The mayor said it would include attractions themed around Princess Wencheng – the seventh-century niece of a Tang-dynasty emperor who married a king from Tibet’s Yarlung dynasty – whose tale has been embraced by Chinese authorities as a parable of ethnic harmony.

The park will include outdoor shows about the princess, along with other educational and entertainment facilities. Business and residential districts would also be included.

Ma said the park would also reduce tourist pressure on the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor in the heart of old Lhasa, helping to protect the city’s heritage.

According to state media, the number of visitors to the region rose by 25.7% year-on-year in the first five months of 2012. The tourism bureau has said Tibet expects 10 million tourists this year – up one million from last year – with tourism revenues growing to 12bn yuan. But foreigners were last month indefinitely banned from visiting, amid growing tension.

The announcement came after two Tibetan men set fire to themselves in Lhasa. Tibetan areas across western China have seen a spate of self-immolations, with those involved protesting against Chinese policies.

Officials in China often see theme parks as a way to develop tourism, though many have failed to attract the investment and visitors they anticipated. Whether the Lhasa government ends up building the project on the massive scale envisaged remains to be seen.

Professor Robert Barnett, an expert on Tibetan culture at Columbia University, said that while some officials had talked about environmentally and culturally appropriate tourism in Tibet, “this represents a nail in the coffin – symbolically and perhaps practically – of attempts by Tibetans and Chinese to promote that.”

He added: “To recoup that cost, you have to have tourism on an unimaginable scale.”

Barnett said Tibetans might well go to the theme park themselves, but would also be likely to question whether it was good for their culture and worth the huge investment.

“They are very acutely aware of these issues … but I am not sure they have any form to ask them publicly,” he said.

Xinhua reported last month that officials have also earmarked more than 400m yuan to develop tourism in Nyingchi prefecture in southeastern Tibet, renowned for its scenic beauty.

In addition to creating an international “Swiss-style” tourism town, the schemes will involve building 22 “model villages”, where tourists will be able to enjoy homestays. Critics have warned the plan could damage the fragile environment.


London 2012 Olympics: chaos hits Heathrow as Games approach – Telegraph

In News, Really?!? on July 1, 2012 at 20:48

London 2012 Olympics: chaos hits Heathrow as Games approach 

Angry passengers reported queuing for nearly two and a half hours last week – with some starting far outside the immigration hall – to be met with empty passport control desks and uninterested staff.

Labour on Sunday night warned the Government it had to get a grip of the “immediate crisis brewing less than four weeks before the Olympics”.

BAA, which runs Heathrow, admitted that target times for passengers passing through immigration were missed.

Union officials warned of a doomsday scenario caused by the “triple whammy” of fewer fully trained staff, an influx of holiday passengers, and Olympic crowds.

An extra 650,000 passengers are expected to pass though the airport during the Games.

BAA said visitor numbers were starting to increase in line with the holiday season, and Olympic athletes and delegations were also arriving.

On Friday passengers at Terminal 4 were stuck in half-mile queues, starting long before they even got to the immigration hall.

They said that once they got there, two out of three desks were not manned and immigration officers “talked among themselves” while ignoring passenger demands to know what was causing the delays.

Officials were also seen trying to prevent passengers taking photographs of the chaos as an estimated 4,000 people waited in line.

Eye recognition technology – Iris – was not available to many passengers, and some could not use the E-passport queues.

One businessman, who was waiting in the non-EU line, told The Daily Telegraph that he was forced to wait more than two and a quarter hours on Friday after returning to Britain from Italy.

The man, who did not want to be named, arrived on an Alitalia flight from Milan, just after 8.30am, but did not get though immigration until after 11am.

He said: “I have never seen anything like it. If they think they are going to be ready for the Olympics, which is now less than a month away, then this was a very poor training exercise – and it wasn’t even busy.”

BAA target times are 45 mins for non-EU passengers and 25 mins for those with UK and EU passports.

The company said that over a two-hour period on Friday morning queue times were on average 1hr 30 mins. There were similar problems later that day and also during busier periods on Saturday.

With the eyes of the world on London, senior politicians are dreading a repeat of the scenes in April which led to the situation being called a national embarrassment in a report by MPs.


Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes set to divorce: report – NYPOST.com

In Really?!? on June 29, 2012 at 13:42


Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes set to divorce: report 

TomKat is no more.

Tom Cruise will soon be a three-time marital loser, now that he’s headed for divorce from Kaite Holmes, according to a published report today.

The “Top Gun” and “Dawson’s Creek” stars have been hitched for five years and have a 6-year-old daughter together.

“This is a personal and private matter for Katie and her family,” Holmes’ lawyer Jonathan Wolfe told People magazine.

“Katie’s primary concern remains, as it always has been, her daughter’s best interest.”

The 49-year-old cruise had been previously hitched to Mimi Rogers and Nicole Kidman.


Wimbledon 2012: RBS criticised for ‘token gesture’ – Telegraph

In Economy, Really?!? on June 27, 2012 at 22:20

Wimbledon 2012: RBS criticised for ‘token gesture’ .

The package, which is understood to cost £260,000 for the fortnight, includes a four course lunch, afternoon tea and a selection of wines.

The bailed-out bank had already paid for the suite, which overlooks the SW19 site, and admitted that the money would simply be lost.

But it declared that it would be “inappropriate” to provide client hospitality at a time when so many customers were experiencing such disruption and were unable to access their accounts and that their top staff needed to be available to deal with the computer glitch that had affected up to 17 million customers.

A source said: “It was never about the money.”

Robert Oxley, campaign manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said that for as long as tax payers owned a stake in RBS they would be “on the hook” for the bank’s lavish lifestyle.

“Bosses at the bank should be focused on paying taxpayers back as soon as possible, not enjoying centre court and fine dining at Wimbledon,” he said.

“RBS tried to spin it was doing the right thing by ditching the corporate hospitality but with the bill already paid it appears it was a token gesture that is too little, too late.”

The menu for Wednesday, which had already been paid for and ordered, included smoked salmon, parma ham, fig and goat’s cheese salad, smoked Gressingham duck breast, coronation chicken with toasted almonds and apricots, a selection of salads, desserts and a cheese board.

Staff in the suite were unaware that the bank, 82 per cent of which is owned by the tax payer, had decided not to take up the hospitality package on Tuesday evening and were expecting more than 40 people for lunch the following day.

However, the much sought-after corporate suite remained empty yesterday and the food and drink wasted.

RBS clients were told that they could still take up their seats on the tennis courts to ensure that they did not remain empty.

The bank has booked 48 seats for each of the first nine days of Wimbledon on Centre Court and No 1 court and 24 on Centre Court for the last four days.

Sources said the decision to ditch the hospitality came “from the top” after Stephen Hester, the chief executive, realised his employees were entertaining clients despite customers still having difficulties accessing money.

It was claimed that he had to “smooth the water” with around 500 clients who were told by email that they were no longer welcome.

In a statement, the bank said: Technical issues have caused considerable disruption to many of our retail and business customers, as well as customers of other banks.


Southern Baptists declare that gay rights aren’t civil rights  – NY Daily News

In News, Really?!? on June 22, 2012 at 10:15

Participants in the Southern Baptist Convention on June 19, 2012.

Southern Baptists declare that gay rights aren’t civil rights 

NEW ORLEANS — A day after electing their first African-American president in a historic move that strives to erase its legacy of racism, Southern Baptists passed a resolution opposing the idea that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue.

Thousands of delegates at the denomination’s annual meeting in New Orleans on Wednesday were nearly unanimous in their support for the resolution that affirms their belief that marriage is “the exclusive union of one man and one woman” and that “all sexual behavior outside of marriage is sinful.”

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination is attempting to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white Southern base. At the same time, leaders said they feel it is important to take a public stand on their opposition to same-sex marriage.

The resolution acknowledges that gays and lesbians sometimes experience “unique struggles” but declares that they lack the “distinguishing features of classes entitled to special protections.”

“It is regrettable that homosexual rights activists and those who are promoting the recognition of ‘same-sex marriage’ have misappropriated the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement,” the resolution states.

Another resolution passed on Wednesday is intended to protect religious liberty. It includes a call for the U.S. Justice Department to cease efforts to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and for the Obama administration to ensure that military personnel and chaplains can freely express their religious convictions about homosexuality.

It also condemns the administration’s mandate requiring religiously affiliated institutions, but not houses of worship, to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.

Leaders of several other faiths and Christian denominations, especially Roman Catholics, have also organized and filed lawsuits against Obama administration policies that they see as threatening religious expression.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was one of the authors of the gay marriage resolution.

“It’s important to sound the alarm again, because the culture is changing,” he said in an interview after the vote.

McKissic, who is black, said it was “an unfair comparison” for gays to equate same-sex marriage with civil rights because there is not incontrovertible scientific evidence that homosexuality is an innate characteristic, like skin color.

“They’re equating their sin with my skin,” he said.



Mayor Bloomberg signs bill to punish cabbies who knowingly transport prostitutes – NYPOST.com

In Really?!? on June 22, 2012 at 10:12

Women in sexy clothes protested the bill outside CIty Hall last week

Mayor Bloomberg signs bill to punish cabbies who knowingly transport prostitutes 

This is absolute nonsense…. up there with Arizona’s law relating to checking the immigration statuses….. Hang your head in shame mayor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed a bill to strengthen penalties against cabbies who knowingly work with sex traffickers.

After considering arguments for and against the bill, Bloomberg signed it Friday on his weekly WOR radio show.

The bill imposes a $10,000 fine on drivers who are convicted of a felony related to sex trafficking. The cabbies would also lose their Taxi and Limousine Commission licenses. The measure targets drivers who assist sex traffickers by driving women to johns.

Bloomberg said, “As we are speaking, I am signing the bill.”

The bill’s sponsor, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, said she is “very happy that this is finally happening.”

Some opponents of the bill had said they worried it could make cabbies afraid to pick up passengers who are provocatively dressed.