Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Mid-Week Post

The first one of the year.

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Many thanks.

Some more truth about that devastating cliff crash the Americans now own:

Despite headlines that claim this bill will avert certain doom and that taxes will go up on the rich, disaster still looms and taxes will go up for most households.

“The budget deal passed by the U.S. Senate today would raise taxes on 77.1 percent of U.S. households, mostly because of the expiration of a payroll tax cut, according to preliminary estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington.”

The deal also doesn’t cut spending but instead adds $4 trillion in spending over the next decade according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Don’t worry though, everyone is doing their fair share. Hollywood is getting an extension on their tax breaks, so is NASCAR and algae growers, rum producers and electronic motorcycle manufacturers also get a break.

This deal also will see $41 in tax hikes for every $1 in spending cuts, and of course the spending cuts are outpaced by all that new spending in the bill, some $330 billion in new spending.

The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington research group, estimates that 77% of American households will face higher federal taxes in 2013 under the agreement negotiated between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans. High-income families will feel the biggest tax increases, but many middle- and low-income families will pay higher taxes too.

Households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will face an average tax increase of $579 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center’s analysis. Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will face an average tax increase of $822.

 If there is a bright light it's that there is a congressional pay freeze.

What do Chief Double-Dipping-Double-Chin and Kim Jong-Un have in common? Both are fat, holding their respective countries hostage and are hiding lots of cash.

For more on Chief Theresa Spense's fast (yes, fast because she is still consuming liquids), please go here.

At least this terrorist knew what a hunger strike was.

With little fanfare, an exchange program between North Korea and the University of British Columbia that only worked one way is finishing:

Just as quietly as it began, the second phase of the Knowledge Partnership Program (KPP), North Korea’s only academic exchange program with North America, had come to a close.

It is the product of a little-known relationship forged even before Canada had opened relations with the Stalinist country, and the University of British Columbia is the only academic institution in North America — and possibly the West — to host regular delegations of North Koreans. Little is known of the program and details are carefully guarded from public scrutiny, but just as a U.S. ping pong team helped open Maoist China to the West, proponents contend that one of UBC’s most obscure international programs may hold the key to opening the borders of one of the world’s most closed countries.

This program just started, so it’s good to keep it low-profile particularly when we do not have active interactions between Canada and North Korea, I think academic exchange is really needed,” said Kyung-Ae Park, a UBC political scientist and founder of the KPP.

She called the KPP an early step toward “bilateral relations” with the nation known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

From June to December, professors from three North Korean institutions underwent a study program of English, international trade, finance and economics at UBC, enrolling in standard undergraduate and graduate-level courses.

The group was following in the lead of another sextet of professors who arrived in June 2011, and returned home just in time for the country-wide mourning kicked off by the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Both times, the professors lived in dorms, attended regular classes and were slotted into work groups with other members of the student body. “They’re just like any other students on campus … there’s no special treatment or special space for them,” said Ms. Park.

During downtimes, the group even headed out on field trips to Toronto and Vancouver to sit down with bank managers, corporate directors and the other actors of Canada’s free market economy. “We just asked them to explain how they do business in Canada,” said Ms. Park.

In short, the KPP students are given a surprising amount of flexibility. At both the Beijing and London Olympics, by contrast, members of the North Korean Olympic team were barred from socializing with other athletes or even leaving the Olympic Village to go sightseeing.

An exchange program is supposed to be open and work both ways, preferably with parties not from Stalinist states attempting to prop up their decrepit economies.

For one's perusal: here, here and here. Note the lack of transparency, emphasis on economic trade for one party and various lofty leftist ideals therein.

Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!':

One of Afghanistan’s most feared warlords has made a withering attack on Prince Harry, who has spent Christmas serving in the country, labelling the prince a “jackal” who was “drunk” while hunting innocent Afghans.

In a rare and exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States, heaped insults on the Prince and pledged to carry out more attacks before the UK’s withdrawal in 2014.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, the warlord accused Britain of dragging “herself into this unjustified, useless but cruel conflict to please the White House. The British did not gain anything instead they lost blood and treasure.

That's some smack from a guy hiding in a cave, you woman-killing child-rapist.

Come on, England. Stand up for your prince. Are you going to let this thug talk to you like that? If he were an Irishman you would have burned down his church and sent his mum to Australia already.

Why does it take the French to do something like this?

Charlie Hebdo, the long-running French satirical magazine, has published what it’s website calls a “halal” comic book on the life of Islamic prophet Mohammed.

Regret nothing.

The political left will have something to say about this any day now:

The line about the American general meeting the Arab Christian isn't as familiar as it should be. "When did your family convert?" the general asked. "About 2,000 years ago," the Arab answered wryly.

The general's ignorance is widely shared. Take but one example from closer to home. Over-zealous teachers in London have recently been pulling Syrian Orthodox refugees out of school assemblies in London, on the basis that Arab children must by definition be Muslims. The truth, of course, is that Christianity is an import from the Middle East, not an export to it. Christians have formed part of successive civilisations in the region for many centuries – they were, as Rowan Williams has pointed out, a dominant presence in the Byzantine era, an active partner in the early Muslim centuries, a long-suffering element within the Ottoman empire and, more recently, "a political catalyst and nursery of radical thinking in the dawn of Arab nationalism".

Today, though, the religious ecology of the Middle East looks more fragile than ever, as the Arab spring gives way to Christian winter. Ignorant western assumptions about cultural uniformity are mirrored by Islamists bent on purging other faith groups from their lands. Such intolerance has grown steeply since 9/11 of course, but its roots long predate the disastrous policies of George W Bush.

In Egypt, large numbers of Coptic Christians have moved abroad in response to a tide of discrimination and outright oppression. Though still numbering at least 5.1 million of an 80 million-strong population (according to government estimates disputed by the Coptic church), Copts face many professional glass ceilings, and scores of their churches have been attacked by Salafist extremists. About 600,000 Copts – more than the entire population of Manchester – have left their homeland since the early 1980s. If Mohamed Morsi's new constitution is implemented, the second-class status of Christians will be set in stone. Egypt will stagnate still further in consequence.

The catastrophe faced by Iraq's Christians is more widely recognised in the west, partly because of the media spotlight on individual tragedies, such as the storming of Baghdad's Syrian Catholic cathedral two years ago. More than 50 people were killed, and scores of others maimed, when al-Qaida-linked militants hurled grenades into the building before shooting worshippers at random. In 1990 there were between 1.2 and 1.4 million Christians in the country. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 500,000 remain.

The current conflict in Syria has placed Christians in the eye of yet another storm. Despite its brutality, the Assad regime guaranteed freedom of worship to minorities before the outbreak of civil war. This year, though, tens of thousands of Christians have fled from cities such as Homs and Qusayr in the face of Islamist rebels. The traditional Christmas market and lights in Qatana are now things of the past, because Islamist militias want all traces of Christian life to be erased. Their threats are anything but idle. On 25 October, Father Fadi Haddad, parish priest of St Elias's Greek Orthodox Church in the town, was found dead beside a road near Damascus. He'd been abducted several days beforehand after seeking to negotiate with the kidnappers of a local Christian dentist.

Even in notionally progressive Middle Eastern societies such as Turkey, anti-Christian discrimination is extensive, and "apostates" – former Muslim converts to Christianity or other faiths – face heavy penalties. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, this problem is yet more severe. The apostate is at real risk of death in Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Yemen, apostates risk punishments including the loss of property and the annulment of a marriage, "honour" killings by family members, detentions, imprisonment, torture and physical intimidation.

Why is all this so under-reported? This answer is simple: Christians rank low in an unacknowledged hierarchy of victimhood. Young Christians in the west don't become radicalised in support of their fellow believers, and persecuted Christians rarely respond with terrorist violence. This also tends to render their plight less newsworthy in the media eyes.

The truth about religious oppression – that it is Christians who are targeted in greater numbers than any other faith group on earth – thus comes as a surprise to many. A survey from 2007 found that some 200 million believers, or 10% of the global total, are threatened by discrimination or harassment or outright violence. The problem extends well outside Islamic countries to include India, the communist world, and even to Buddhist-majority societies such as Burma and Sri Lanka.

Indian women who protect themselves against rape have blood on their hands... or so some say:

Hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman by six men in a bus in the city last month.


And now, some feel-good stories:

After going blind from cataracts, 8-year-old dog Terfel struggled to get around on his own. He spent most of his time lazing around in his basket in his owner's North Wales, UK home.

Then his owner, Judy Godfrey-Brown, welcomed a stray cat into her home.

The cat, dubbed Pwditat, walked up to the blind dog and led him into the garden. Ever since, the cat has been Terfel's trusty guide, leading him everywhere.
Just in time for the holidays, Shane Weeks, 19, of Wagoner, Oklahoma, was surprised with a new custom Super Focus midget race car.

This weekend, he raced the car for the first time.

Shane's best friends built him the car, using car parts and donations from members of the racing world and local supporters, when they saw that the young cancer patient couldn't afford to drive a bigger car.

"A guy always wants to step up and climb the ladder in racing to drive a bigger car and Shane was bummed out he wasn't really following the rest of us up," Evan Sewell, who initiated building the custom car along with his brother, Alex, told News On 6.
"I would have done it for him no matter what. If he had the flu, I would have still built this race car for him if I could have," Evan said.

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