Congress calls Obama on Libya war

We had been blogging about how President Obama has been ignoring the War Powers Act in waging war in Libya without Congressional consent.  Now Congress has overwhelmingly struck back, with a bipartisan 3/4 of the House calling him on it:

Crossing party lines to deliver a stunning rebuke to the commander in chief, the vast majority of the House voted Friday for resolutions telling President Obama he has broken the constitutional chain of authority by committing U.S. troops to the international military mission in Libya.

In two votes — on competing resolutions that amounted to legislative lectures of Mr. Obama — Congress escalated the brewing constitutional clash over whether he ignored the founding document’s grant of war powers by sending U.S. troops to aid in enforcing a no-fly zone and naval blockade of Libya.

The resolutions were non-binding, and only one of them passed, but taken together, roughly three-quarters of the House voted to put Mr. Obama on notice that he must explain himself or else face future consequences, possibly including having funds for the war cut off.

“He has a chance to get this right. If he doesn’t, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and make it right,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who wrote the resolution that passed, 268-145, and sets a two-week deadline for the president to deliver the information the House is seeking.

Minutes after approving Mr. Boehner’s measure, the House defeated an even more strongly-worded resolution offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, that would have insisted the president begin a withdrawal of troops.

Most lawmakers said that was too rash at this point, and said they wanted to give Mr. Obama time to comply. Some also said immediate withdrawal would leave U.S. allies in the lurch.

The Kucinich resolution failed 148-265. In a telling signal, 87 Republicans voted for Mr. Kucinich’s resolution — more than the 61 Democrats that did.

Still, taken together, 324 members of Congress voted for one resolution or both resolutions, including 91 Democrats, or nearly half the caucus. The size of the votes signals overwhelming discontent with Mr. Obama’s handling of the constitutional issues surrounding the Libya fight.

via Bipartisan Congress rebuffs Obama on Libya mission – Washington Times.

China dumping U.S. treasuries

What if everyone stops lending the U.S. government money?

China has dropped 97 percent of its holdings in U.S. Treasury bills, decreasing its ownership of the short-term U.S. government securities from a peak of $210.4 billion in May 2009 to $5.69 billion in March 2011, the most recent month reported by the U.S. Treasury.

Treasury bills are securities that mature in one year or less that are sold by the U.S. Treasury Department to fund the nation’s debt.

Mainland Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury bills are reported in column 9 of the Treasury report linked here.

Until October, the Chinese were generally making up for their decreasing holdings in Treasury bills by increasing their holdings of longer-term U.S. Treasury securities. Thus, until October, China’s overall holdings of U.S. debt continued to increase.

Since October, however, China has also started to divest from longer-term U.S. Treasury securities. Thus, as reported by the Treasury Department, China’s ownership of the U.S. national debt has decreased in each of the last five months on record, including November, December, January, February and March.

via China Has Divested 97 Percent of Its Holdings in U.S. Treasury Bills | CNSnews.com.

Cranach’s artistic confession of faith

We had been discussing Lucas Cranach’s seal of the winged serpent, crowned with a ring, and what it might mean.  Thanks to Tom Hering for digging up this scholarly article by Wayne Martin, professor of philosophy of the University of Essex, who offers a reading of the artist’s “Eden” in the Courtald Gallery in England.  As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but  that meaning was rendered visually.  Prof. Martin points out that Cranach this time puts his signature seal not at the bottom in a corner, where it usually goes, but right on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  (You can just make it out below the snake.)  The squiggly curves of the stylized seal are echoed in the similar squiggly curves of the snake and in the curls of Eve’s hair.  Thus, the artist is identifying himself with temptation and with sin.  But those squiggles are also echoed in the vine, laden with grapes, a symbol of Christ (“I am the vine”): specifically, His sacrificial blood as given for us in Holy Communion (“This is my blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins”).  In the painting, the vine covers Adam and Eve’s nakedness, just as Christ’s blood covers the sinfulness of Lucas Cranach and all of us.

Prof. Martin doesn’t quite understand the Gospel of the evangelical Reformation.  He professes “shock” that a pious Christian would “identify himself with evil.”  Like many people he assumes that being a Christian means being good, rather than facing up to one’s true sinfulness and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.  He is also confused about different covenants and the pre-lapsarian state.  Still, even despite himself,  he discerns Cranach’s ubiquitous theme of Law and Gospel.

Banning circumcision?

San Francisco is considering a bill that would ban circumcision.  There would be no religious exemptions.  Voters will vote on the measure in November.  Now it turns out that the author of the bill runs an anti-semitic website:

Author of SF’s Anti Circumcision Initiative Engages in Disturbing Anti Semitic Advocacy » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

This is another attempt to use government power to suppress religion.  The target in this case, once again, is the Jews.

India companies hiring Americans for call centers

Free market economics has a way of evening things out.  A country with low labor costs can attract lots of employers, who bid up the price of labor.  And as that country prospers, it may start looking for cheaper labor in countries that have high unemployment.  Some of that appears to be happening, as call center companies in India are opening up operations in the United States:

India’s outsourcing giants — faced with rising wages at home — have looked for growth opportunities in the United States. But with Washington crimping visas for visiting Indian workers, some companies such as Aegis are slowly hiring workers in North America, where their largest corporate customers are based. In this evolution, outsourcing has come home.

Capuana, a manager for Aegis in New York, motivates this U.S. office with dress-down days and the prospect that workers could, one day, earn a stint training call center workers in Goa, India. One of his tasks is to staff 176 cubicles, where workers make or take calls for customers of prescription drug plans or Medicare contracts and enter and verify information. The pay runs $12 to $14 an hour, with bonus checks of up to $730 a month.

“Our recruitment model is simple,” says Capuana, who played Division III college football, wears rosary beads on his wrist and has a picture of Jesus above his desk. “I don’t care if you come from Park Avenue or the park bench. If you can do the job, we want you.”

Aegis, a subsidiary of India’s Essar Group, an energy, telecom and metals conglomerate, says it’s pioneering the next generation of outsourcing: putting the work close to its global customers. Its executives call the practice “near-sourcing,” “diverse shoring” and, sometimes, “cross-shoring.”

Madhu Vuppuluri, chief executive and dealmaker for the Americas division of Essar Group, remembers watching outsourcing grow in India in the late 1990s and early 2000s and thinking that the decline of U.S. call centers was overdone. He persuaded the billionaire Ruia brothers, Essar’s Indian owners, to let him make a counterintuitive bet: In 2000, he bid on the bankrupt assets of Telequestion, a 500-person call center in Arlington, Tex., for $2.5 million.

That led to other acquisitions in the United States and abroad. Today, Aegis employs 50,000 of Essar’s 70,000 employees on several continents. About 5,000 people work at nine U.S. call centers. Aegis, which is on the hunt for more acquisitions, has said it aims to triple its U.S. head count, to more than 15,000.

via As Indian companies grow in the U.S., outsourcing comes home – The Washington Post.

Super E. Coli

A food-poisoning epidemic in Europe is reportedly caused by a super-toxic strain of the E. coli bacteria:

Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe’s worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a “super-toxic” strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.

But while suspicion has fallen on raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as the source of the germ, researchers have been unable to pinpoint the food responsible for the frightening illness, which has killed at least 18 people, sickened more than 1,600 and spread to least 10 European countries.

An alarmingly large number of victims — about 500 — have developed kidney complications that can be deadly.

Chinese and German scientists analyzed the DNA of the E. coli bacteria and determined that the outbreak was caused by “an entirely new, super-toxic” strain that contains several antibiotic-resistant genes, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory BGI. It said the strain appeared to be a combination of two types of E. coli.

“This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before,” Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. The new strain has “various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing” than the many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines.

via Outbreak in Europe blamed on ‘super-toxic’ strain – Yahoo! News.

The specific source of the outbreak has not yet been pinpointed.  In the meantime, stay away from European vegetables.  Let’s hope the super bacteria can be isolated and dealt with before it spreads throughout the world.


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