Category : * Economics, Politics

(NYT) Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen Are Poised to Advance in French Election

In France’s most consequential election in recent history, voters on Sunday endorsed Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen — one a political novice, the other a far-right firebrand — both outsiders but with starkly different visions for the country, early returns and projections indicated.

The result was a full-throated rebuke of France’s traditional mainstream parties, setting the country on an uncertain path at a critical moment when France’s election could also decide the future of the European Union. The two candidates appeared to be headed to a runoff on May 7.

Mr. Macron, a former investment banker, abandoned traditional parties a year ago to form his own movement with an eclectic blend of left and right views. He campaigned on a pro-European Union platform, coupled with calls to overhaul the rules governing the French economy.

“The French people have decided to put me ahead of the first round of the vote,” Mr. Macron told jubilant supporters at a rally in Paris. “I’m aware of the honor and the responsibility that rest on my shoulders.”

Ms. Le Pen’s success is a victory for skeptics who oppose the European Union and for those who want to see more “France first” policies to restrict signs of Muslim faith in public, like the wearing of head scarves.

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Posted in France, Politics in General

An Economist vs Eurasia Group debate–France’s presidential election: What are Marine Le Pen’s odds of victory?

“EURASIA GROUP and The Economist are frequently sympatico,” says Ian Bremmer, “but not on the French elections.” Mr Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy. He recently took us to task on Twitter regarding our statistical forecast for France’s upcoming election. Our model calculates that Marine Le Pen of the National Front has a 1% chance of becoming the country’s next president. Eurasia pegs her probability at a far higher 40%, and Mr Bremmer wrote that our analysis was the “biggest mistake I’ve seen from them in ages”.

After seeing Mr Bremmer’s tweet, our data editor offered him a friendly wager on Ms Le Pen’s electoral fortunes, at the current price on the PredictIt betting market of 30%. After some back-and-forth, we have agreed to a bet at those odds: $60 on Mr Bremmer’s end if Ms Le Pen loses, $140 on our data editor’s side if she wins. Either way, the proceeds will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières, a charity. However, the victor will also claim from the vanquished a fine bottle of Meursault wine. “Since we’re betting on Le Pen,” Mr Bremmer says, “a French white seems required”.

In addition to our wager, we have invited Mr Bremmer to share with our readers an explanation of how Eurasia Group reached its conclusion that Ms Le Pen has a 40% shot to win, and responded with an account of our own reasoning. We hope you enjoy the debate.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Europe, France, Politics in General

(CT) Blasphemy Blocks Re-Election of Indonesia’s Only Christian Governor

The blasphemy charges that cost Indonesia’s top Christian politician his re-election race won’t send him to jail.

Just a day after Basuki Purnama—popularly known as Ahok—conceded the runoff for governor of Jakarta, prosecutors recommended a light sentence of two years probation instead of the maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Ahok, a double minority in the archipelago as a Christian and as an Indonesian citizen who is ethnically Chinese, secured approval ratings as high as 70 percent in the capital region during his campaign. But when the anti-corruption crusader was accused of distorting a Qur‘an teaching to convince the nation’s overwhelming Muslim majority to vote for a Christian, public opinion shifted dramatically.

Ahok repeatedly denied the claims as a translation error, and accused Indonesia’s hardline Muslim groups of coordinating an attack against him. He ultimately conceded Wednesday’s election, trailing in the polls by less than 10 percentage points.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Indonesia, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(JSTOR Daily) Peter Feuerherd–How Religious Literacy Might Have Changed Waco

The siege had begun on February 28th of that year when, tipped off to an upcoming raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Koresh and his followers killed four government agents who came to investigate alleged firearms violations at their compound. Six Branch Davidians were also killed in that initial gun battle.

While government officials saw the tragedy as inevitable given Koresh’s obstinancy and violent tendencies, a cascade of religious scholars argued that the Waco raid was not completely justified and that, with a little more patience and understanding of biblical theology, the massive loss of life could have been avoided. They note that Koresh had been in touch with two scholars who challenged his teachings. When the final raid took place, Koresh was writing an interpretation of the Book of Revelation in response to that critique. A little more time, religion scholars argued, and Koresh and his followers might have left the compound peaceably. They say he needed time to finish his manifesto.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Eschatology, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government, Violence

(CT) Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable

Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

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Posted in Christology, Coptic Church, Egypt, Middle East, Terrorism, Theology: Scripture

(Bloomberg) Boko Haram Conflict Cuts Nigeria Wheat Crop as Farmers Flee

Wheat growers in Nigeria’s northeast have abandoned their farms under the onslaught of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, a setback for the country’s efforts to cut imports by boosting local production, a research agency said.

“Wheat production in the zone has declined to just 20 percent of what it used to be due to insurgency,” Oluwashina Olabanji, executive director of the Lake Chad Research Institute, said in an interview in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Borno, which used to account for about a quarter of Nigeria’s production, currently grows no wheat, he said.

Nigeria produced an average of 80,000 metric tons of wheat a year for decades until the introduction of a new variety in the 2012-13 season that tripled the average yield to as much as 6 tons per hectare (2.47 acres), increasing output to 400,000 tons in 2015-16 as more areas were cultivated, according to the institute. This compares with the output of 3.3 million tons during the same period by Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest producer.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Nigeria, Terrorism

Jerri Savuto–Easter Memories: Escaping the Commercial Trap

As I am in the US for the first time in many years, I find myself longing for the simplicity of Maua, Kenya, during Easter time. There Easter has none of the commercial trappings we find here. As I enter grocery stores, discount stores, and department stores I am shocked at the amount of space taken by the Easter candy, bunnies and stuffed animals, baskets, decorations, and new spring clothing. These items take more space than any grocery store has for all their goods in Maua.

I recently read that an estimated $2 billion will be spent on Easter candy this year in the US. Two billion dollars to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who asked us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, care for the sick and imprisoned, and welcome the stranger.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Easter, Theology

(Christian Today) Ancient Sinai monastery targeted by Islamic militants in Egypt a week after Coptic church bombings

Islamist gunmen attacked security forces near St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt’s south Sinai yesterday, killing at least one police officer and injuring four others outside one of the world’s most important and oldest Christian sites.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a police checkpoint about 800 metres from the entrance to the monastery, which comes just 10 days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt.

The incident follows two deadly suicide bombings on Coptic Christian churches last week, which were also claimed by Islamic State and which plunged the country into mourning and marked one of the bloodiest days for the country’s Christian minority in decades.

St Catherine’s, founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Middle East, Terrorism

(Economist) America has a retirement problem, not a saving problem: Policymakers need to learn the difference

[Political leaders]…continue to ignore the savings crisis that should worry them: Many Americans do not have enough savings ever to be able to retire. Traditional macroeconomics cares only about aggregate levels of capital stock. There is plenty of that. But it is shared among too few people. The median family of retirement age has $12,000 in savings. That is a terrifying figure for a country where Social Security, the state pension, pays out a maximum of roughly $2,500 a month, and pensions for both public and private employees are underfunded.

For the median, wage-earning family, the best way to encourage saving is not to lower capital gains taxes or estate taxes, but to give the family access to a retirement plan that delays taxation until retirement. (In his textbook, Mr Mankiw encourages these plans, but only as another way to increase capital investment.) For those who put money into one, median accounts at retirement age rise to about $100,000—still inadequate for a lengthy retirement, but a significant improvement. About 70 percent of Americans have access to these plans through their employers. But just over half use one.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Economy

(NDTV) Iraqi Christians Hold Easter Celebrations At A Church Damaged By ISIS

Hundreds of Iraqi Christians gathered on Sunday in a church damaged by ISIS north of Mosul, celebrating Easter there for the first time since 2014.

“God willing, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ will also mark the return and rising-up of the Christians in Iraq,” said Kyriacos Isho, 75, who was accompanied by his 12 children and grandchildren at Mar Gewargis (St George) Chaldean Catholic church in Tel Esqof.

Tel Esqof, or Bishop’s Hill in Arabic, did not sustain the same amount of damage as other Christian towns overrun by the terrorists three years ago in the plain of Nineveh.

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Posted in Easter, Iraq, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Terrorism

Queen Elizabeth distributes Royal Maundy money at Leicester Cathedral

Queen Elizabeth II has distributed ceremonial pouches of coins to 182 men and women in a Maundy Thursday ceremony that dates back to the 13th Century. The queen, wearing a turquoise green coat and matching hat, handed out the money during a service at Leicester Cathedral in the English Midlands. In doing so she has now taken part in the traditional annual Maundy Thursday service in every one of England’s Anglican cathedrals.

The recipients were selected for their service to the church and community. Each of them – 91 each of male and female as the Queen is 91 years of age – received two pouches. A red one contained a commemorative £5 coin, commemorating the Centenary of the House of Windsor and a 50p coin commemorating Sir Isaac Newton; while a white pouch contained 91 pence – again, equal to her age – in specially minted Maundy coins.

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Posted in England / UK, Holy Week, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Tel) Lord George Carey: Christians face genocide, but the Government looks the other way

On Maundy Thursday today in which we remember the last supper, it is distressing beyond belief to know that the steady ‘crucifixion’ of Middle East Christians continues.

There are millions in the Middle East today whose identities are attacked daily. They are being eradicated in a region of the world where they have always coexisted with others. These are ancient communities who face a daily threat of being slaughtered in the relentless brutality of war.

One of the most disturbing things about the current crisis is how slow the world has been to recognise that Christians, and indeed other groups such as Yazidis, are facing genocide in Syria and Iraq. Even those governments which recognise there is a serious problem are sitting on their hands and doing nothing to prevent the eradication of Christians from the birthplace of our faith.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Middle East, Terrorism, Uncategorized

(Sky News) Boko Haram using drugged child suicide bombers – UNICEF

Islamist group Boko Haram is increasingly forcing children to carry out suicide bombings – often drugging them before missions, according to UNICEF.

At least 117 suicide attacks have been carried out by young people in the Lake Chad basin region since 2014, with nearly 80% of the bombs strapped to girls, a new report says.

UNICEF’s Marie-Pierre Poirier said the mere sight of children at checkpoints and markets was sparking fear – meaning almost 1,500 children were detained last year across Nigeria, Cameron, Niger and Chad.

Ms Poirier said: “These children are victims, not perpetrators. Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”

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Posted in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Teens / Youth, Terrorism, Violence

(AI) Bp Mouneer Anis–Please pray for us and for Egypt

Palm Sunday this year was a sad one. As I was going to celebrate Palm Sunday at All Saints Cathedral, Cairo, I heard the news of the explosions at Mar Girgis [St George’s] Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta, in the middle of the Nile Delta area. During the Service, I heard of another explosion at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. The outcome of these terrorist attacks is that 45 were killed and 129 injured, some of whom were Muslim policemen and guards. Sadness overshadowed all Palm Sunday celebrations all over Egypt.

Intensive security measures and regulations have been made since this last Saturday. This included security personnel emptying all the streets around the churches and cathedrals of cars with extra policemen and sniffer dogs checking all church buildings and worshippers before Services start. I believe these measures were done to safeguard all church buildings in the country. Although the security was very tight, the evildoers have their own ways and it is extremely difficult to achieve 100 per cent security. This was also the case behind the recent terrorist attacks in Sweden, Britain, Germany and France.

Both terrorist attacks were done by suicide bombers. In Tanta, the suicide bomber succeeded to enter the Church, while in Alexandria, the metal detector gates beeped as the bomber was going through and to avoid being arrested, he detonated the bomb.

As I am writing these words, the burial of the Coptic Orthodox martyrs from the Church in Alexandria are being held at Mar Mina Monastery in a mass grave.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Holy Week, Jerusalem & the Middle East, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Terrorism, Violence

Adrian Hilton–The Palm Sunday massacre targeted Pope Tawadros II – why the media silence?

If a suicide bomber had detonated himself in a pew at St Peter’s Basilica while the Pope of Rome was presiding over the liturgy, the world’s media would be talking about an assassination attempt on the life of Francis, which it surely would have been. When a bomb or a bullet gets within a whisker (that is to say, within a church compound) of a pope at prayer, it may reasonably be surmised that the target is that praying pope. Why else would a rather devout Muslim seek to outfox security to gain entry to an iconic church on that particular day? It’s not likely to be for inter-religious dialogue and ecumenical fellowship, is it?

But when a suicide bomber tried to gain access to St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria on Palm Sunday while the Pope of Alexandria was presiding over the liturgy, the world’s media seemed to ignore the presence of Tawadros II, for some reason, as though he were a bit player in a fringe play. To around 18 million Coptic Christians worldwide, he isn’t ‘a pope’; he is His Holiness the Pope, Patriarch of the See of St Mark in the Province of Alexandria, Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan and all Africa, with an apostolic lineage going all the way back to 42 AD. A bomb going off in his historical seat is an attack on him.

Alexandria’s pontiff doesn’t get as many column inches as Rome’s; perhaps he isn’t supreme enough. But you’d think an assassination attempt on his life – however amateurish and botched – would merit a few headlines, wouldn’t you? The mainstream media have condemned the Palm Sunday outrage with an outpouring of sorrow and sadness, compassion and prayers, and column inches dedicated to political assurances that more will (or must) be done. But no mention at all that Pope Tawadros II was the likely target.

Make no mistake, this was an attempt on the life of the Pope – not that Pope, but this one.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Media, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence