Like David versus Goliath, an upstart Christian film has shocked the world by winning an unlikely victory in the form of an Academy Award nomination. Only this time, the crowds aren’t cheering for David. Instead, mainstream-media Oscar watchers across the nation have blasted the Academy for choosing the hymn-like testament to God’s presence over hits by pop artists like Jay-Z and Taylor Swift. “I can’t figure any of this s— out,” an unnamed competitor told the Hollywood Reporter, or THR, after learning his or her song was beaten out by “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the title song from the faith-themed movie of the same name. “It is difficult to understand why ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’ snagged an Oscar nomination over more acclaimed and high-profile competitors,” THR remarked, claiming multiple people whose songs were snubbed by Academy’s music branch wonder how “a song that has been heard by virtually no one outside the branch from a film that hardly anyone has seen” secured an Oscar nomination. Across the country, dozens of Hollywood-watching publications were quick to heap criticism on “Alone Yet Not Alone.” The Wire called the song “the year’s most WTF [what the f—] Oscar nominee,” and Ty Burr of Boston Globe penned a blog post about “Alone Yet Not Alone” titled “The Oscar nomination that stinks to heaven.” “Its inclusion is questionable, and evidence that strides still need to be made when it comes to the Oscar song field,” reads a particularly pointed criticism from the Los Angeles Times.
NewNowNext, a division of Viacom’s LGBT channel LogoTV called it “a clunky song from an obscure Christian movie score” and blasted the movie for having an “anti-gay connection” because of endorsements from Rick Santorum and James Dobson, among others. “It’s crammed with sappy Christian aphorisms,” writes NewNowNext’s Dan Avery of the song, “and over-produced to within an inch of its life.” But it’s not as though the song has no pedigree nor business securing a nomination. As WND reported, “Alone Yet Not Alone” was performed by Christian author, singer and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada and was written by Dennis Spiegel and Bruce Broughton, who had already received an Academy Award nomination for his score for “Silverado” and who boasts nine Emmy Awards for his musical compositions on television. “Songs are highly subjective,” explains George D. Escobar, who served as a producer, co-director and co-writer on the film “Alone Yet Not Alone.” “The fact that some people do not like it is perfectly reasonable and acceptable. Others absolutely love the song. “Comparing ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’ against the popularity of other Oscar contenders is natural. But we should also compare it to the message it conveys,” he continued. “It’s the only song that is about God’s faithfulness during our times of affliction and persecution. Most of the other songs are about rebellion and self-reliance. Isn’t it nice to have some contrast in the marketplace?” Escobar also warned critics to beware masking another motive in criticizing the nomination of “Alone Yet Not Alone.” “It shouldn’t matter whether this movie is a ‘Christian film’ or not. That’s equivalent to someone criticizing another movie for being a ‘black film’ or a ‘white film.’ It’s hypocritical to impose a double-standard like that,” Escobar said. “I would ask audiences and critics to give the song fair consideration for its intent within the movie and how it supports the story being told. That’s a key eligibility criteria from the Academy itself.”
WARS N RUMORS OF WARS: The Philippine navy hopes to add two more warships to its fleet as Southeast Asian countries continue to expand their militaries in response to the Chinese government’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea. Armed forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said the new acquisitions would come under the fresh U.S. military assistance plan announced last month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he visited the Philippines. China began widening its territorial claims about five years ago to include nearly all of the seas dividing Southeast Asian countries and their northern neighbor. The claims defy international standards and maritime law, and Beijing refuses to have the dispute heard before an international court. Its attitude has angered Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, but the four countries have struggled to forge a united front within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when dealing with Beijing over the issue. Adding to recent tensions was Liu Yazhou, political commissar at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, who said in a magazine interview that the Chinese military could match the U.S. by “seizing opportunities.”
“An army that fails to achieve victory is nothing,” Liu was quoted as saying by a defense magazine “Those borders where our army has won victories are more peaceful and stable, but those where we were too timid have more disputes.” That type of language again irritated its neighbors. The Vietnamese have for the first time publicly marked a naval battle fought against Chinaover disputed islands 40 years ago. Commemorations came a month after the Chinese government published new rules requiring foreign fishing vessels to seek Beijing’s permission to operate in much of the South China Sea. Taiwan has rejected those regulations, described by some as potentially state piracy, while others have rejected or ignored them. Vietnam has also moved to bolster its own defenses, taking delivery of its first Russian-made Kilo class submarine, which is part of substantial military upgrade by Hanoi – primarily through a multi-billion-dollar deal with Moscow. Malaysia has also added two French-made Scorpene submarines, boosting its own maritime capabilities. Indonesia and Singapore are also expanding their fleets in what The New York Times described as “The Submarine Race in Asia.” The paper noted that much of this arms competition was being propelled by growing wealth in Southeast Asia but added these countries and China should realize that increasing their armaments can only undermine their security as well as the stability that nurtures their economies. INFO WARS
Taken together, these concrete actions represent an important step forward.” The European Union announced earlier Monday that it, too, was suspending some of the sanctions it has imposed on Iran. Carney said the five world powers — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China — also would begin providing relief to Iran. At the same time, Carney said the group will continue its aggressive enforcement of sanctions that will remain in effect during the next six months, the period that Iran and the world powers will use to negotiate a final deal. In a conference call with reporters, senior Obama administration officials noted the IAEA’s statement confirming that Iran was implementing initially agreed-upon requirements in what one official described as “a meaningful step forward.” A second official said that Iran will not necessarily now largely “be open for business,” emphasizing that the U.S. would reach out to its counterparts to remind them of the continuing sanctions. Regarding the desire of some in Congress to impose harsher sanctions, one of the officials said that Iran is starting to implement the steps and that “it would not be a wise time to take” take actions that “we don’t need.” These officials insisted on anonymity to discuss a diplomatic matter they were not authorized to talk about by name. Yahoo News
ORIGINAL STORY – Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to put the genie back in the bottle after the United Nations formally invited Iran to the next round of Syria peace talks, on the heels of Kerry floating the idea earlier this month. Kerry, in early January, suggested Iran could join the Geneva conference, but only if Tehran “publicly” accepts the premise that Bashar Assad must leave power. Absent that, he said, Iran could still play a role “from the sidelines.” However, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon went a big step further and invited Iran without such a public statement from its government. That invitation now imperils the talks, as Syria’s main Western-backed opposition threatened Monday to sit out the peace conference entirely unless the invitation is rescinded. The State Department is making the same demand. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Iran has never publicly backed a transitional government in Syria as she urged the U.N. to reconsider. ”If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communiqué, the invitation must be rescinded,” she said in a statement on Sunday.
With Iran now flexing its regional influence — and accessing additional funding under an interim nuclear deal — the U.S. could struggle to keep Tehran at bay in talks over the fate of its close ally in Damascus. Speaking to reporters on Monday, senior U.S. officials also said public statements from Iran about the conference, known as Geneva II, fall “well short” of what is required for Tehran’s participation. The peace talks are intended to bring together for the first time representatives of Assad’s government and members of the Western-backed opposition that is trying to overthrow him. Diplomats and political leaders acknowledge that a quick end is unlikely for a conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people and touched off the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. The battle lines have been largely frozen since early 2013, and the Syrian National Coalition has little sway or respect within Syria’s rebellion. But the U.N.-hosted peace talks in Geneva and Montreux this week had raised hopes of at least getting the two sides to talk — expectations that were called into question on Monday. Ahmad Ramadan, a senior member of the Syrian National Coalition, said the opposition is “suspending” its participation because the invitation was extended to Iran. Ramadan said that Coalition’s team in charge of logistics skipped their flight to Switzerland earlier Monday because of the invitation. He said U.S. and European officials are currently working to find an exit from the “crisis,” but that the Coalition would come out with the final decision later Monday because “time is running out.” Ban said he had issued the invitation to Iran after “speaking at length in recent days” with Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif, who had “pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.” In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Assad held a meeting with the official delegation that will head to the talks, telling them to “prevent any foreign intervention no matter what it is,” state TV said. The officials were quoted as saying that they were directed to “start a political dialogue as a first step toward an internal Syrian dialogue inside Syria.” The report said the nine-member delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, with Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban and Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi as deputy heads. Other officials would include Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mikdad, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Jaafari and head of the media office at the presidential palace Luna Chibil.
The aim of the conference, dubbed Geneva 2, is to agree on a roadmap for Syria based on one adopted by the U.S., Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government of national unity, with full executive powers, and eventual elections. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, was quoted Monday by the official IRNA news agency as saying that Iran will attend the Geneva 2 conference after it was invited, adding that it will not accept any preconditions. She did not elaborate. Saudi Arabia, a main backer of the Syrian opposition, said Iran should first approve the 2012 meeting in Geneva that calls for a transitional government for Syria. “Iran is not qualified to attend because it did not declare this (accepting Geneva 1) and has forces on the ground,” state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted an unnamed official as saying. Iran is Assad’s strongest regional ally, offering billions of dollars in credit since the crisis began in March 2011. The United States, Saudi Arabia and several countries in the Persian Gulf suspect Tehran is also shipping him weapons. Fox News
Last year, China reportedly sunk a mock U.S. aircraft carrier utilizing the DF-21D anti-ship missile, dubbed the “carrier killer,” during a wargame which took place in the Gobi Desert. Bellicose rhetoric directed at the United States by China has intensified in recent months in light of heightened tensions over the disputed Senkaku Islands. Last month, Beijing bragged that its first aircraft carrier combat task force, led by the inaugural Liaoning warship, matched anything the United States had to offer. A lengthy editorial which appeared in Chinese state media last month explained how the Chinese military’s current reformation process was part of a move by President Xi Jinping to prepare the People’s Liberation Army for war in response to US aggression in the Asia Pacific, developments which have prompted “major changes” in China’s national security situation. Beijing has also pontificated about China’s ability to attack US military bases in the Western Pacific, as well as releasing a map showing the locations of major U.S. cities and how they would be impacted by a nuclear strike launched from the PLA’s strategic submarine force. INFO WARS
Along the leading edge of the invading polar blast, accumulating snow will spread from the Midwest to the East Coast on Tuesday. The snow will come courtesy of yet another Alberta Clipper set to drop through the Dakotas and Ohio Valley on Monday through Monday night with accumulations on the order of a coating to 2 inches. The snow will become heavier as it streaks across the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, then makes a northeastward turn toward southern New England late in the day and evening. Travel conditions will deteriorate with slippery roads and flight delays expected to unfold even in areas that avoid heavy snow. As colder air invades the storm, winds will increase and cause some blowing and drifting of the snow that has already fallen. For part of the mid-Atlantic such as the District of Columbia and a large part of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and southeastern New York state including Long Island, this could unfold to be the biggest snowfall of the season so far. The storm could rival the storm from early December in parts of southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. According to Winter Weather Expert Brian Wimer, “For Washington, D.C., this could be the biggest storm since Jan. 26, 2011, when about 5 inches of snow fell.” Accumulations of 3 to 6 inches are forecast over a heavily populated part of the mid-Atlantic to southeastern New England.
The mountains of Virginia and West Virginia will likely have upwards of 6 inches from this quick-moving storm. Other locations near the mid-Atlantic and southeastern New England coast have a chance at a 6- to 12-inch snowfall. Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno stated, “The heavy snow may expand northward along the coast, as the storm approaches the Atlantic Ocean, taps into more moisture and that moisture is released into the cold air.” Much less snow will fall over northern Pennsylvania, upstate New York and the northwestern part of New England. In these areas cold, dry air will win out. ”Even though the storm is coming during the day Tuesday, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Roanoke and Richmond, Va., Dover, Del., Philadelphia, New York City, and Atlantic City, N.J., will have enough snow to shovel and plow,” Wimer stated. Temperatures will hold steady or slowly fall in these areas, ignoring the time of day. Heavy snow is also forecast for southeastern New England, especially over Rhode Island and Cape Cod, Mass. With a few inches of snow in the forecast, Tuesday’s snow could lead to slick roads and even some flight delays. Motorists planning to travel along I-64, I-66, I-68, I-70, I-81 and I-95 should use caution and prepare for possible slowdowns. Gusty and chilly winds developing on the back side of the clipper will blow the snow around, causing some reduction in visibility for motorists. A little snow will even drop southward to Greenville, S.C., and Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday. A coating to an inch of snow is forecast in these areas Tuesday afternoon and evening. In the wake of the snow, the door will open for cold air to settle across the entire East for midweek. Highs on Wednesday will be held 10 to 20 degrees below normal, even down to Miami.
Sunday morning was the coldest so far this winter across most of South Florida. Frost even made a rare appearance in Naples and the western suburbs of the Palm Beach metro area. Wednesday night may not be quite as cold as this past Sunday morning, but frost could return to the coldest interior locations of the Florida Peninsula. After the midweek cold snap, another dose of cold air will follow later in the week for the South. AccuWeather.com
Immigrant groups and Democrats will try to politicize the issue during this November’s elections to gain control of the state Senate. Washington state lawmakers opposed to the measure noted that 30,000 students in the state “applied for state financial aid didn’t get it,” and the bill would strain the state’s coffers even more. ”I’m looking for more dollars for state need grants, but not expanding the pool (of eligible student applicants) at this time,” Sen. Barbara Bailey, the Republican chairwoman of the Senate education committee, told the Associated Press. Some Republicans believe that Democrats are going to politicize the issue to distract voters away from the economy and the impact Obamacare will have on voters leading up to November elections. According to the Associated Press, four other states–California, Texas, New Mexico and Illinois–have passed similar legislation.Breitbart
According to new poll, a huge majority of Israelis do not trust President Obama with regard to Iran, and believe Obama will allow Iran to go nuclear. Only 22 percent of Israeli voters believed that Obama would “ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon.” Almost two-thirds of Israelis thought that statement was untrue, and 15 percent gave no answer. President Obama has just a 33 percent favorable rating in Israel, as opposed to a 50 percent disapproval rating. Even those who favor Obama are split evenly on whether or not he will prevent Iran from going nuclear. Obama’s favorability ratings actually rate higher than many Israeli officials, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clocks in at a healthy 51 percent approval rating. Thirty percent of voters for Netanyahu’s Likud party favor Obama. Obama rates higher with Israeli leftists, who favor him by a 42 percent to 35 percent margin, with 23 percent claiming ignorance. A full 45 percent of Israeli Arab voters refused to rate Obama; those who did answer disfavored Obama by a shocking 11 percent to 44 percent margin. Truth Revolt
U.S. counterterrorism operatives are helping Russian security agents in the hunt for four female potential terrorists, including a “white widow” — the wife of a dead terrorist — who could already be inside the massive security zone set up for next month’s winter Olympics. Ruzanna Ibragimova, the 22-year-old widow of a jihadist killed by Russian security forces, is believed to have traveled from Dagestan to Sochi, according to a Russian security bulletin obtained by FoxNews.com, along with photos of her. The bulletin and photos were distributed by the Russian security force FSB and Sochi security officials to U.S. and other security agencies late last week. ”The notice is the first sign that terrorists may have managed to penetrate the security cordon,” stated a bulletin from U.S. security forces that was obtained by FoxNews.com. An intelligence source who spoke to FoxNews.com called Ibragimova a “white widow,” and explained that the term is used to jihadists’ widows who seek to “blend in” to mount attacks. But the term “black widow” is also prevalent as a description particularly of Chechen widows whose husbands have been killed in the ongoing fight against Russia. U.S. forces are working with their Russian counterparts inside the massive, 1,500-mile security zone set up to prevent attacks during next month’s games.
Sochi security officials are “looking for as many as four women,” a source told FoxNews.com. “According to our information, Ms. Ibragimova may be used by the ringleaders of illegal armed groups for the organization of terrorist acts in the zone of the 2014 Olympics,” read a bulletin put out by the FSB, which has also been distributed to hotels in the Sochi area. Ibragimova is believed to have traveled to Sochi on Jan. 11, or the next day. She was spotted recently on the street outside the foreign ministry near Sochi, a source told FoxNews.com. She was described as a white widow and known member of a Chechen jihadist group. ”Russia has deployed 40,000 police and security personnel in a “ring of steel” around Sochi to deter attacks by Islamist militants from the nearby North Caucasus republics,” the U.S. bulletin states. U.S. and international experts have become increasingly concerned about security in the zone, in light of recent attacks and a call from Doku Umarov, the jihadist leader who has been described as Russia’s Bin Laden, for attacks and to stop Russia from hosting the games. “We have our athletes over there and they are targets, so practically all our terrorism and national security agencies are operating over there,” the source said, explaining U.S. security and intelligence agency’s involvement in counterterror operations leading up to and during the Olympic games. On Sunday, a video was posted online by a group identifying itself as Vilayat Dagestan by two men claiming responsibility for recent suicide bombings of a train station and bus that killed 34 people in Volgograd. In the video, the men warn that other suicide attacks will follow. ”We’ll have a surprise package for you,” the men in the video said. “And those tourists that will come to you, for them, too, we have a surprise…This will be our revenge.” The video was released one day before the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to go through Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. U.S. officials are studying the video, according to security officials. On Jan. 9, Russian officials in Stavropol, about 300 miles from Sochi, caught a suspected would-be suicide bomber from the Muslim region of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, reportedly traveling with a small boy and equipped with a suicide bomb belt. The Russian FSB is still interrogating the woman, sources told FoxNews.com. ”In addition to the failed suicide-bomb plot, Russian authorities are also searching for Islamist militants suspected of killing six people throughout the region,” according to a security memo. “On January 9, 2014, authorities found the bodies of three men and explosive material in a vehicle in Maryinskaya, a Stavropol province. On January 8, 2014, a vehicle containing a body exploded in Tambukan, in the same province, and two other bodies were found in other vehicles in Zolskaya a day earlier.” Fox News
Officials say it could take days to repair a massive sinkhole that has opened up in downtown Detroit. The sinkhole, which opened up Saturday just blocks away from the North American International Auto Show, is now about 14 feet deep, WJBK reports. Traffic in the area is being disrupted as crews work to fix the hole, which is 10 feet wide, according to WWJ-AM. When asked about the cause of the sinkhole, Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Cross said the city has “older substructures underneath the roadways.” “Age is always a factor – that’s going to be the kind of thing that’s going to have to be determined as well,” she said, according to Deadline Detroit. Fox News
Transgender jailbird demands another $15,000 of cosmetic surgery on the NHS… after $20,000 taxpayer-funded sex change behind bars
DAYS OF LOT – A former prisoner who had a sex-change operation on the NHS is demanding another £15,000 of cosmetic surgery at the taxpayers’ expense. Jasmine Goode, formerly Darren, started her £18,000 sex-change operation in 2010 while serving an 11-year sentence for burglary. The treatment sparked outrage as Ms Goode, 37, claimed it was a better use of money than drugs for cancer. Two years after leaving Leyhill Open Prison in Bristol, the self-professed surgery addict, who has three children, is now applying to enlarge her breasts from a size 36E to 36G. Ms Goode told the Daily Star Sunday: ‘They are OK now but I’m quite a big person so it would look better if they were larger.’ She also claims it is her ‘right’ to have her jaw realigned, hairline lowered, and a nose straightened in a series of treatments amounting to £15,000. ’I don’t see why not, otherwise it’s half a job. They did it last time so I don’t see why it’s different. ’The NHS needs to finish the job.’ Ms Goode, from Rhyl, north Wales, was born with both male and female genitals and was raised as a girl called Sarah-Jane until she was eight. She claims she was encouraged by her parents to live as a boy called Darren and says she felt pressured to be ‘macho’ by her father. It was as a result of this gender confusion that she took her first steps into a life of crime in an attempt to appear more macho. In 1994, aged 18, she was jailed for burglary for the first time. She spent the next few years in and out of prison until May 2006 when, while serving an 11-year stretch for a string of burglaries, she told a prison nurse she was transex and wanted to live a new life as a woman. When the details of the operation emerged, Ms Goode, then Darren, argued her condition was as ‘life-threatening as cancer’ because of high suicide rates among the transgender community.
Darren added that giving him the treatment was cost-effective as, too depressed to work, he would be forced to claim benefits. Ms Goode, who works for a charity that helped her with the sex change, has a 16-year-old son from one relationship and two children from a marriage to a different woman, who are now nine and 10. When she – then he – was alone with his eldest son, she would pretend to be the child’s mother and wore her girlfriend’s clothes. She no longer sees her children. After the breakdown of the marriage and she was moved to an open prison, Ms Goode applied to the NHS for cash for gender reassignment. Hormone tablets made her grow breasts, a charity donated women’s clothes and make up and £18,000 from the NHS paid for electrolysis and laser treatment to remove body hair, followed by surgery to transform her genitals. Although the NHS refused to pay for breast enhancement, she has since had surgery to gain a 36E chest – and claims her sex life has ‘gone wild’ since the op. NHS guidelines only permit taxpayer-funded plastic surgery in extreme cases, such as to protect a patient’s mental health. A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘Prisoners have the right to receive the same range and quality of NHS treatments and services as anyone else, including services for gender reassignment.’ MailOnline
According to the agreement Iran is freezing parts of its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions by the EU and the US, including lifting restrictions on Iranian exports of petrochemicals. Iran will also be able to import parts for its auto manufacturing industry and trade in gold and other precious metals. The value of sanctions relief could amount to $7 billion, according to US government estimates. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to try to persuade Western companies to invest in Iran at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. Several European political and trade delegations have already visited the country in recent weeks, signaling a thaw in the EU-Iran relations. The interim nuclear deal with Iran which came into force Monday will be in effect for six months, until the country and the P5+1 strike a permanent agreement, supposed to bring more stability to the volatile Middle East. Achieving that won’t be easy though, as RT’s Middle East correspondent Paula Slier reports from Tel Aviv, where the government is the main opponent of the accord. “What is not clear in how the US is going to maneuver its way forward,” Slier says. “It has a very fine line to walk. On the one hand you have Israel that continues to say that this was the deal with the devil. But on the other hand you have Iran, which Barack Obama is urging to come to the party, and he himself needs to show transparency and commitment while not alienating his friend, Tel Aviv, in the region. There are also threats for more sanctions coming from a group of US senators, who have been preparing legislation to enact new economic constraints in case no new deal is reached in six months. Tehran has long been irritated by the plans voiced in the US Congress. “Those in the United States who are pushing for more sanctions have to see what this policy has produced and whether it is worth risking. I don’t want to get engaged in a childish discussion on whether Iran is bluffing or not. They can test us,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze earlier in January. RT
Whenever I think of the predominant sound emerging from Amazon, I decide it has to be a snigger. First, the company intimated that it will soon be delivering your intellectual and household items by drone. Now it’s decided it’s become so familiar with your predilections that it’s going to ship the things you want to buy before you’ve even thought of buying them. Somewhere in the Bay Area, executives at Google ululated with envy. As TechCrunch reports, Amazon has filed a patent called “Method and System For Anticipatory Package Shipping.” The essence is this: Amazon believes it has a good idea which item of clothing, electronics or beauty product you will covet next. As with so many retailers, it has come to deduce from your buying patterns and other data what sort of person you are. Because we’re all, you know, one sort of person or another. So with this system, it intends to ship those products to the vast warehouse nearest you, in anticipation of your predictable behavior.
There’s even a suggestion in the patent that it might be more cost-effective to give the customer the product for free — even if they haven’t clicked to buy it — rather than ship it back where it came from. There will be those who will shiver at the prospect. They’ll imagine that they’ve sacrificed the last vestige of themselves to a highly secretive corporation. I prefer to think of this in terms of intimate human relationships. Isn’t the perfect lover the one who anticipates your needs, rather than reacts to them? Isn’t the perfect spouse the one who feels that you’re about to go into one of your profligate/depressed/frustrated/tetchy phases and creates an atmosphere around you that allays the worst effects? With this system, Amazon is laying down a challenge not merely to other retailers, but to those closest to you. In time, you may discover that a Washington corporation cares more about you than any human being you know. (Yes, it’s a pity it isn’t a Washington DC entity, but you can’t have everything.) Either the humans will then have to step up their performance, or you’ll have the perfect excuse to replace them. Just as Amazon might be sniggering, I fancy Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly might be smiling at the prospect of this new caring world. C/Net
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a ruling that said the state must provide a taxpayer-funded sex change for a convicted Massachusetts murderer as part of the individual’s constitutional rights. In a 2-1 ruling, the court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled courts “must not shrink from their obligation to enforce the constitutional rights of all persons, including prisoners,” according to the Boston Globe. “And receiving medically necessary treatment is one of those rights, even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox,” the court reportedly said. The 80-page decision would pave the way for Michelle Kosilek to receive the first court-ordered, state-funded sex change for a U.S. prisoner. According to the Boston Globe, the Department of Correction said it is working to “determine next steps.” Kosilek was named “Robert” when convicted of murdering his wife, Cheryl McCaul, in 1990, the Associated Press reported. After prison officials declined to provide a sex reassignment surgery, Kosilek sued the Department of Correction and a federal judge later ruled in 2012 the surgery was the “only adequate treatment” for the gender identity disorder Kosilek purportedly suffered from. The Associated Press reported that prison officials have said they are worried about Kosilek’s safety, should a surgery take place. The Blaze
SOCHI, Russia – Russia is not “going after” gays, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, defending a ban on “propaganda of homosexuality” that has brought criticism from the West ahead of the Winter Olympics. The Kremlin hopes the games, starting on Feb. 7 in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea, will showcase Russia’s modern face more than two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed. Putin has identified himself closely with the $50-billion event. But Russia last year upset the West and human rights activists by banning what it called the promotion of homosexuality among minors. Calls for a mass boycott of the games have failed, but the row has clouded the build-up to the event. Critics say the law is discriminatory and part of a rolling back of human rights and democratic freedoms under Putin, who has taken a more conservative course on social issues since returning to the presidency in mid-2012. “There is no ban on non-traditional forms of sexual interaction between people.
We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality,” Putin told a meeting with young volunteers preparing for the games. “We ban nothing, we aren’t going after anyone, we have no responsibility for such contacts.” Putin said some U.S. states had laws envisaging criminal responsibility for gay sexual intercourse. “We have no such thing, people can feel free and at ease but please leave the children in peace,” he said. Putin did not elaborate. In a victory for gay rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 invalidated any remaining anti-sodomy laws that prohibited sex between adults of the same gender. In a clear message to Moscow, U.S. President Barack Obama included three openly gay athletes in his Olympic delegation and Britain said it would sent to Sochi a minister responsible for the country’s same-sex marriage laws. Moscow has said it expects more than 6,000 athletes from 85 countries and hundreds of thousands of sports fans in Sochi. Visibly relaxed and making jokes throughout the meeting, Putin said he would like to go to some ice hockey matches during the Games if time allows. “Everybody in our country likes figure skating, I do too. I like cross-country skiing, biathlon, Alpine skiing. This is what I know and what I like,” Putin said. New York Times
The Deputy Defense Minister, MK Danny Danon (Likud-Beytenu), has penned an article in the US-based Politico website that appears to be a warning about an Israeli intention to strike Iran’s nuclear weapon facilities. The article refers to two previous cases in which Israel struck Islamic nuclear sites without US approval. In 1981, writes Danon, “when Prime Minister Menachem Begin warned the Reagan administration that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was developing military nuclear capabilities, the Americans failed to act. Faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed enemy Israel was compelled to take matters into its own hands.” While the bombing of the Osirak reactor was widely condemned, Danon notes that former Vice President Dick Cheney admitted years later that Israel’s actions “had averted a catastrophic situation in which Hussein would have been armed with nuclear weapons.” In 2007, Danon continues, Syria was “caught red-handed” attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Then-President George W. Bush wrote in his memoir that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called him to say: “I’m asking you to bomb the compound,” but Bush declined. Danon cites the memoir, in which Bush wrote: “I told him [Olmert] I had decided on the diplomatic option backed by the threat of force. The Prime Minister was disappointed… On September 6, 2007 the facility was destroyed. Prime Minister Olmert hadn’t asked for a green light, and I hadn’t given one.
He had done what he believed was necessary to protect Israel.” “Disagreements among friends on serious policy matters are legitimate and even to be expected,” Danon adds. “At the same time, both sides must work hard to ensure that hurtful words and personal attacks do not become regular elements of our ongoing dialogue,” he explains, in a possible reference to recent acrimony around an attack by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on US Secretary of State John Kerry, which was leaked by an Israeli newspaper. “Over the next few months, the negotiations with the Iranians and the Palestinians will reach the crucial stages when difficult decisions will need to be made by all those involved,” Danon explains. “It is safe to assume that areas of contention will arise between us and our American allies. I am confident that both sides will work hard to ensure that whatever differences we may have on specific policy questions, we will not let these distractions impede upon our unwavering alliance.” Against the context of the prior allusions to the attacks on nuclear sites in Iraq and Syria, this appears to be a rather broad hint that Israel may, in the next few months, embark on a similar attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. The choice of Politico as the venue for the article may be a way of ensuring that the message reaches all US lawmakers, who will not be able to say afterward that they had not been forewarned of Israel’s intentions regarding the Iranian nuclear program. The US and other world powers have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, in an attempt to stop the program by diplomacy and avert war. Israel has strenuously opposed the concessions that the powers recently made in the negotiations, and warned that Iran was being deceitful and would not give up its nuclear weapons program unless it was forced to, either by military force or by crippling sanctions. US lawmakers are poised to pass a bill slapping new sanctions on Iran, but President Barack Obama is adamantly opposed to the initiative. Danon’s article appears to be a message to the lawmakers, saying in effect: “If you don’t slap more sanctions on Iran, Israel may have to strike on its own.” Arutz Sheva 7
On Friday, Chinese state media reported that China Credit Trust Co. warned investors that they may not be repaid when one of its wealth management products matures on January 31, the first day of the Year of the Horse. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China sold the China Credit Trust product to its customers in inland Shanxi province. This bank, the world’s largest by assets, on Thursday suggested it will not compensate investors,stating in a phone interview with Reuters that “a situation completely does not exist in which ICBC will assume the main responsibility.” There should be no mystery why this investment, known as “2010 China Credit-Credit Equals Gold #1 Collective Trust Product,” is on the verge of default. China Credit Trust loaned the proceeds from sales of the 3.03 billion-yuan ($496.2 million) product to unlisted Shanxi Zhenfu Energy Group, a coal miner. The coal company probably is paying something like 12% for the money because Credit Equals Gold promised a 10% annual return to investors—more than three times current bank deposit rates—and China Credit Trust undoubtedly took a hefty cut of the interest. Zhenfu was undoubtedly desperate for money. One of its vice chairmen was arrested in May 2012 for taking deposits without a banking license, undoubtedly trying to raise funds through unconventional channels. In any event, the company was permitted to borrow long after it should have been stopped—reports indicate that it had accumulated 5.9 billion yuan in obligations.
Zhenfu, according to one Chinese newspaper account, has already been declared bankrupt with assets of less than 500 million yuan. The Credit Equals Gold product is not the first troubled WMP, as these investments are known, to risk nonpayment, but Chinese officials have always managed to make investors whole. CITIC Trust did that in 2013 on a steel-loan product in Hubei province, and a mysterious third-party guarantee rescued a Hua Xia Bank WMP. An investment marketed by ICBC’s Suzhou branch was similarly repaid. There has never been a default—other than one of timing—of a WMP, so the Credit Equals Gold product could be the first. If it is, it will edge out the WMP that invested in loans to Liansheng Resources Group, another Shanxi coal miner. Jilin Trust packaged Liansheng’s loans into a wealth management product sold by China Construction Bank , the country’s second-largest lender by assets, to its customers. Liansheng is in bankruptcy, and it looks like the WMP holders will not be repaid in full. A WMP default, whether relating to Liansheng or Zhenfu, could devastate the Chinese banking system and the larger economy as well. In short, China’s growth since the end of 2008 has been dependent on ultra-loose credit first channeled through state banks, like ICBC and Construction Bank, and then through the WMPs, which permitted the state banks to avoid credit risk. Any disruption in the flow of cash from investors to dodgy borrowers through WMPs would rock China with sky-high interest rates or a precipitous plunge in credit, probably both. The result? The best outcome would be decades of misery, what we saw in Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s. More
China’s secretive central bank may have stocked up heavily on gold in the past few years, and might own about 2,710 tons as of the end of 2013, according to an industry expert. Precious metals expert and gold bug Jeff Nichols, a managing director of the American Precious Metals Advisors, wrote on Thursday that much of this reported increase in holdings came from domestic Chinese mine production and secondary supply, which involves scrap or recycling gold. According to Nichols’ sources, the Peoples’ Bank of China (PBOC) bought 654 metric tons of gold from 2009 to 2011, 388 tons in 2012, and more than 622 tons in 2013. There is no recent official data about Chinese central bank gold holdings, as the institution last announced its gold holdings in April 2009, at 1,054 tons. The PBOC doesn’t regularly report on its gold buying, as many other central banks do, and it hasn’t said when it might update the gold market on its purchases. Estimating how much gold the Chinese central bank has bought in recent years is something of a parlor game for Wall Street analysts and gold investors, though official announcements could have real price impacts. Nichols declined to specify his sources to IBTimes. He had no details on the potential timing of an official central bank announcement. “The important thing isn’t the specific numbers themselves,” Nichols told IBTimes. “There’s growing appreciation of indications that the [Chinese] central bank has been accumulating gold in recent years, probably in significant quantities.” If Nichols is right, China would become the fourth largest gold holder in the world, beating out Italy and France, when including the extra 1,664 tons added since 2009. That more than doubles China’s reported holdings as of 2009. A Bloomberg metals and mining analyst gave similar figures last week, citing conversations with officials in China and Mongolia.
“There is no official data at all on Chinese official sector demand,” HSBC Holdings Plc gold analyst James Steel told IBTimes in late 2013, stressing the difficulty of devising accurate estimates here. “It is one of the opaque elements of the market.” China may be buying gold to diversify its foreign reserve holdings away from its heavy exposure to the U.S. dollar, which accounts for the vast majority of its foreign reserves. China holds U.S. treasury bonds worth $1.3 trillion, Bloomberg reported earlier this week, a new record. Gold and the euro were the main diversification options for China’s central bank managers before the continent’s euro zone crisis, according to experts. “China were diversifying their holdings away from dollars towards euros,” ETF Securities investment analyst Nick Brooks told IBTimes in late November. “And then of the course the euro crisis broke out. And there were questions about the structural stability or viability of the euro.” China’s gold holdings on a percentage basis were also already low compared to major developed economies, Brooks added, which was another incentive to beef up gold reserves. They were only 1 percent of holdings in 2009, according to industry data. Central banks in developing nations have added to their gold reserves in recent years, though the pace slowedin 2013. Russia has been a prominent player in that trend. Gold bugs tend to cite massive central bank buying by China as being bullish for prices, though it’s unclear if that unknown factor has a significant price impact compared to, say, U.S. monetary policy. Central banks globally held 31,900 tons of gold, according to latest World Gold Council data. Yemen and Albania held the least, with 1.6 tons of gold each. Even with the supposed additions, China’s gold reserves as a percent of its total holdings, including gold and foreign exchange reserves, only come to 2.5 percent, on Nichol’s analysis. That compares with 70 percent in gold holdings for the U.S and 69 percent for Germany. Switzerland’s central bank recently lost $16.5 billion in gold write-downs thanks to the metal’s steep price declines in 2013. Gold had its worst year of price declines since 1981 in 2013, as the U.S. Federal Reserve threatened to taper bond purchases and skittish gold investors turned to booming equity markets instead. International Business Times