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Monday, February 28, 2011

Temporary Patriot Act extension gets final OK in Congress

The House passes a three-month extension of parts of the law, 279 to 143, and President Obama is expected to sign it. But the move only postpones debate on the issue, which has created unusual political allies.

Congress gave final approval Thursday to a temporary extension of parts of the Patriot Act, a step that merely postpones a burgeoning political debate over the controversial anti-terrorism law and its implications for civil liberties in the United States.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, forming an unusual coalition with Republican leaders to prevent three key surveillance provisions favored by intelligence officials from expiring at the end of the month.

But an equally unusual coalition opposes the extension. It's composed of congressional Democrats and conservatives — veteran Republicans as well as new lawmakers who won with support from the "tea party" movement. They dislike the expanded surveillance powers the law provides to government agents.

The three-month extension gives Republican leaders and administration officials time to forge a new political strategy and allows opponents room to propose changes before the measures expire again this spring.

"We cannot afford to leave our intelligence officials without the tools they need to keep America safe," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

But civil liberties advocates said the provisions lacked proper privacy safeguards. Foreshadowing the coming debate, Republicans said they wanted to make the law permanent, while civil liberties groups will press for continued expiration dates to ensure congressional oversight.

"There's going to be a tension between those who want to put some very modest checks and balances in the law and those who might use this as an opportunity to seek more spying authority," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Los Angeles Times


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Ozarks can expect to feel effects of a New Madrid earthquake, experts say

In the event of significant seismic activity along the New Madrid fault line, experts say damage to the Ozarks will most likely be more severe than that of recent tremors in Arkansas, but not on the scale of damage caused by the Feb. 22 earthquake in New Zealand. Polk County will need to be self-sustaining for several days and can expect to take in evacuees from the harder-hit areas of east and southeast Missouri.
The New Madrid fault line falls through the Missouri bootheel and could affect six other states.

“Most of what we’ve been told by state and federal officials is that if it’s based on a 7.2 we would feel, obviously, some shaking,” Bolivar Emergency Manager Kermit Hargis said. “There could be some damage to buildings, but nothing like the catastrophic damage we would see in southeast Missouri.”
A rock formation between the Ozarks and the New Madrid fault line would absorb some of the shock of an earthquake, Hargis said. Land along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers will fare differently, according to Steve Besemer, earthquake program manager with the State Emergency Management Agency.
“Softer, wetter type soils tend to amplify, to make the shaking worse,” Besemer said.
Damage from a severe quake could affect food and fuel supply, creating a national emergency.
“St. Louis could suffer some serious damage and a lot of things could happen in St. Louis and Memphis, two cities that are major players in the Midwest,” Hargis said. “This earthquake, when it happens, is going to have a major impact on the whole United States.”
Old masonry would be a factor for some buildings, including those along the Bolivar square, Polk County Emergency Manager Rick Lewis said.
See Earthquake Page 2A
“Some of our town squares still have old buildings like that,” Lewis said. “They may be fine, but it’s a possibility that we may lose some of those buildings.
“Our biggest issue, because of the way that our rock tables are, is the possibility of water wells being damaged,” Lewis said.
Water and gas lines could rupture as well, Hargis said.
Recent tremors in Arkansas are called a swarm, Besemer said, which usually consists of several small earthquakes under a 4.0 magnitude.
“Most of them are in the 1-2 magnitude range,” he said. “If you’re up over it, you’re not going to feel it. They’re still trying to really get a handle on what’s going on in Arkansas and the cause.”
The quake in Christchurch, New Zealand, was an aftershock of a bigger earthquake in September, Besemer said. However, the aftershock was shallower and closer to the city.
“It’s actually caused more problems. Those are the kind of variables you take into account.”
The Ozarks would become a temporary home for those evacuating from the disaster and those traveling to respond to it, Lewis said.
“West is the only way they’re going to be able to go because they won’t be able to cross the river,” Lewis said. “A lot of it’s going to be where it attacks at, too. If it’s the St. Louis area, they’re probably going to go north or straight west. But if it’s in the bootheel area, we’re probably going to get a lot of people from the bootheel.”
The state plan even calls for the Ozarks to receive evacuees from a New Madrid earthquake, Hargis said.
“We’ll be working with regional people on identifying shelter locations and how take a massive amount of people that could move into this area, just like they did with Hurricane Katrina,” he said.
“Our plans are to handle it like we do any other emergency and see what happens. If our damages aren’t too bad, then we’ll be sending people to [the affected] area.”
Disaster kit
The last sizable earthquake in this area was two centuries ago, Hargis said.
“Because we’ve never been through it, I really don’t know entirely what to expect. I do know, as hard as we’re hit, that area of southeast Missouri is going to be a lot worse. People need to be prepared like they do for any other emergency.
“The moral of the story is everybody needs to prepare by having a disaster kit, being able to self-sustain for four or five days without electricity, without water.”
First responders, including fire, police and emergency medical, will probably be delayed or unable to respond, Besemer said.
“They’re going to be kind of dealing with their own situations, their family situation,” Besemer said. “They may be injured. The equipment may be damaged or can’t get out.”
Have a kit ready and remember to include medication and supplies for pets, Lewis said.
“Have money accessible, because if the power grid goes, our ATMs go out.”
Earthquake meeting
A community earthquake preparedness meeting set for earlier this month was postponed due to the blizzard. It is rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9, Hargis said.
The location is tentative. Watch the BH-FP for more information.
“Usually, with these big earthquakes, you don’t get much of a warning, much of a building of earthquakes prior to that,” Besemer said. “The bottom line is we really don’t get any warning at all for something like that.”

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'Arab unrest signals Messiah's coming'

Are Arab leaders being punished for religious persecution? Prominent rabbis offer explanations for Mideast uprisings

Prominent rabbis from the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox sector have offered their own curious interpretations for the upheaval that is spreading through the Middle East, stating that the events are a clear proof that a higher power is at work.

The cellular portal Haredim, which offered a collection of responses on the matter, quoted Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian sector in Bnei Brak, as blaming the instability in the region on contemptuous attitudes towards Torah study.

"Recently it appears that there is a powerful effort to destroy and agitate the world of the Torah, through various attempts to prosecute kollels and yeshiva students," Steinman said. "When you try to agitate the world of the Torah, God agitates the world."

Steinman explained that the sages of the Talmud teach that there is a connection between Torah study and the existence of the world.

"God does great and strange things in the world, to make them deal with the (disasters) instead of looking for ways to mind those observing the Torah and the mitzvot," he said. "Because if they don't study, it will continue to move closer to us."

Carmel fire as punishment?

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, an unconventional Lithuanian leader who is believed to have mystic powers, offered a different explanation. "It is evident that many unnatural things are happening," he said. "People have come to me and said that it's 'Gog and Magog'. We cannot know. But it's probable that any unrest that God creates shows that the Messiah is coming, and that we must begin to prepare for it and become stronger."

Another prominent rabbi, Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, is certain that God is causing the turmoil in order to put the people in their place.

"God goes and humiliates (those feeling) sinful pride," he said. "At first there was this little fire here, and a state that thought that it is big and strong suddenly needed help from the entire world. Not a war, nothing special, just a small fire.

"When they continued to think that they are smart, and see everything and understand what to do and how to do it, God came and disturbed the nations, and here they are, scared again because they could not predict such a big thing, and again they do not know what to do," he added. "God is laughing at them, waiting to see when they will understand and become wiser."

The one who does not see that God is running the world, Lefkowitz concluded, is not evil, but a fool.


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Food Inflation

Food inflation is here. Main stream economists and government officials have done everything they can in order to pretend that it wasn't happening. They tried to cheerfully report a fatally flawed monthly CPI number or focus on core inflation which excludes food and energy. However, with the world entering a state of turmoil due to rising unemployment, food costs, and a complete breakdown in the Keynesian model, no one can deny the truth any longer.
Food price inflation has run a muck and has sparked civil unrest in several nations. The math for predicting food prices is easy, wholesale commodity prices are soaring, there's no other way to describe it. The digital printing press is being ramped up with QE2 policies and QE3 rumors already beginning to start from none other than a federal reserve official. Earlier this month the Federal Reserve Kansas City Bank President mentioned that QE3 may be needed. Now in our opinion, most of this food price inflation is a result of QE1 started back in early 2009. In fact, a lot of the major price increases came before QE2, so it is our analysis that we will see a second wave of price inflation in the coming months. However, this could come a lot sooner with oil recently breaching 100 dollars per barrel. In fact, any further disruptions in the middle east could even cause global transportation disruptions in the middle part of 2011. If we see the citizens of Saudi Arabia beginning to protest and demand regime change, then 150-200 oil could happen very quickly. The uncertainty alone would cause oil traders to panic and push the price up just as we have seen over the past few days. Oil of course is in everything, so as oil prices rise, so will most of everything else because even if your product doesn't have oil in it, it still takes a machine that uses oil to transport it.

When looking at the type of price increases we have seen recently (pre-Egypt) it is simply shocking.Cotton is up 150%, wheat 100%, corn 100%, soybeans 50%, and most red meats are up 30% since late 2010. Corn, which has doubled, is in over 4,000 products at the grocery store. You may not eat corn, but it sure is in a lot of the ingredients of foods you do eat. Of course, it doesn't help that nearly 40% of corn is going towards ethanol. Not getting into the politics of corn, but using a core ingredient for livestock and human food has to be one of the stupidest things our government has encouraged. Cotton is currently at a record and the last time we saw a spike in cotton, oil was at 15 dollars a barrel, oil in just the past week has seen a 15 dollar price move, so you know it's not a far stretch to expect cotton and other commodities continue to rise.

2011 was already setting up to be a year of high food prices. Last month the USDA lowered their harvest forecast, raised their demand forecast, and stated that corn reserves will fall to the lowest they've been in 15 years. The first wave of price inflation was at first absorbed by the food companies, but after a prolonged surge in commodities, General Mills, Kraft, Kelloggs, and many others have recently announced they will be hiking prices on their food products. Whether you believe the economy will experience deflation, stagflation, or inflation over the next decade, we believe the evidence for more short term food price inflation is undeniable.

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Attack cripples Iraq's largest refinery, kills 1

FILE - In this April 18, 2005 file photo, Iraqi police officers, assigned to protecting oil production and distribution, watch from across the Tigris

BAGHDAD – Gunmen stormed Iraq's largest oil refinery and bombed the facility Saturday, forcing operations to shut down at a time when Iraqis are already suffering through electricity shortages and lines at the gas pump.
The attack north of Baghdad casts doubt on the Iraqi government's ability to protect its vital infrastructure and could shake already nervous international investors. If not fixed swiftly, the shutdown will likely further fuel anger over a lack of public services that led to violent nationwide protests last week.
"It probably couldn't have come at a worse time for (Prime Minister) al-Maliki and his government," said Raad Al-Kadiri, an energy analyst with the Washington-based PXE Energy.
The Beiji oil refinery accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country's entire refining capacity — all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations.
One of the key demands during protests Friday in which at least 14 people were killed was that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government improve the country's electricity output — some Iraqis get only a few hours a day.
A lengthy outage would force Iraq, already grappling with a $13 billion budget deficit, to purchase more refined products on the open market. Analysts said storage facilities in Dora and Basra will be able to compensate for at least some of the immediate shortfall in production.
The sophisticated attack against the Beiji facility, located about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Baghdad in the heart of what used to be an al-Qaida infested area, was carried out in the dead of night.
Assailants carrying pistols fitted with silencers attacked the guards at about 3:30 a.m. and planted bombs near some benzene and kerosene production units, said the spokesman for Salahuddin province, Mohammed al-Asi.
One guard was shot dead and another wounded, al-Asi said. Smoke could be seen billowing from fields around the sprawling facility where fires raged for hours.
Dr. Abdul Jabbar al-Halfi, a professor at Basra University's oil engineering department and frequent visitor to the Beiji refinery, pointed out that visitors to Beiji need a special badge to even get within a mile (2 kilometers) of the facility and suggested it might have been an inside job.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although insurgents have targeted oil facilities in the past.
The attackers knocked out the installation's North Refinery, which handles about 150,000 barrels a day; the refinery's other section, called the Salahuddin Refinery, is under renovation and was not affected.
Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said an investigation would be launched.
Technicians currently repairing the refinery estimated it would be back online later this week, the province spokesman Al-Asi said. Authorities dispatched about 45 soldiers to temporarily protect the facility.
But the complicated attack on one of the most vital installations in the country raises questions about thegovernment's ability to protect its own infrastructure.
At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Beiji refinery was under the control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations.
Iraq has the world's third-largest known oil reserves with an estimated 115 billion barrels, but its production is far below its potential due to decades of war, U.N. sanctions, lack of foreign investment and insurgent attacks.
Al-Maliki's government has tried to drum up international investment through three energy auctions. While those have focused on developing oil fields as opposed to refineries, any uptick in violence against oil-related installations could rattle investors.
Most oil companies doing business in Iraq, even in the relatively stable southern region, spend huge sums of money on security, including armed guards, armored vehicles.
"The oil industry and investors, while they're there in great numbers, already have one eye toward security," al-Kadiri said.
Hours after the Beiji facility was attacked, a fire in a storage unit at the small refinery in Samawa, a city on the Euphrates River about 230 miles (370 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, knocked the facility offline, according to a local official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, said the fire was caused by a technical failure, not sabotage. He wouldn't say when work would resume at the plant, which has a production capacity of 30,000 barrels per day.
Iraq's current nationwide refining capacity stands at just more than 500,000 barrels per day. The country's three main oil refineries — Dora, Shuaiba and Beiji — now process around 350,000 barrels per day, roughly half of their prewar capacity.
Last year, Baghdad invited investors to help build four oil refineries at an estimated cost of $23 billion that would more than double the country's current refining capacity.

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Marc Faber says Pakistan next....

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IMF says weaker dollar would help global growth

The International Monetary Fund called for a weaker dollar to help the United States reduce its deficits with the rest of the world and rebalance the global economy, in a report released Wednesday.
AFP - The International Monetary Fund called for a weaker dollar to help the United States reduce its deficits with the rest of the world and rebalance the global economy, in a report released Wednesday.

In the report prepared for a Group of 20 finance chiefs meeting last week, the IMF said that its calculations showed the dollar remains "on the strong side" of medium-term fundamentals, while the euro and the Japanese yen were "broadly in line" and several Asian currencies, including China, were undervalued.

To address global imbalances, the G20 should allow the dollar to fall, the Washington-based institution said.

"Some further real effective depreciation of the US dollar would help ensure a sustained decline of the US current account deficit towards a level more consistent with medium-term fundamentals, helping to support more balanced growth," the IMF said.

The widening US current account deficit -- a broad measure of trade in goods, services, income and payment -- rose a fifth straight quarter in the third quarter last year, to $127.2 billion, according to the latest US official data.

The issue of a weak dollar is particularly sensitive in Brazil, where the government has said an international "currency war" is under way with the United States pumping cheap dollars into its post-crisis economy, while China's yuan sinks in tandem.

The IMF report was provided to finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 major developed and emerging economies for their meeting Friday and Saturday in Paris.

The G20 countries reached agreement on a series of economic indicators to measure imbalances within and between countries, with the goal of helping nations avoid a repeat of the problems at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.

The IMF urged stepped-up G20 efforts to sustain the global economic recovery, citing elevated downside risks for advanced economies and "overheating" in some emerging economies.

Among the threats to global growth, the IMF highlighted "insufficient progress in developing medium-term fiscal consolidation plans, especially in the United States and Japan" and "sovereign and banking sector risks in the euro area periphery."

In emerging economies, the key policy challenge is to keep overheating pressures in check and respond appropriately to capital inflows, the IMF said.

"In key surplus economies, overheating pressures can be alleviated by permitting currency appreciation, facilitating a healthy rebalancing from external to internal demand."

The 187-nation institution also said it "appears highly unlikely" the United States would be able to meet its commitment to halve its budget deficit between 2010 and 2013, pledged at a G20 Toronto summit in June 2010.

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