Senate Confirms First Openly Gay Army Secretary (Source Yahoo) The Senate today confirmed Eric Fanning to be secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay leader of a U.S. military branch. The confirmation of Fanning, who has been serving as the acting Army Secretary since November 2015, was eight months in the making. After President Obama nominated Fanning for the post back in September 2015, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) put a hold on the nomination in an effort to pressure the administration against moving detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility to a military base in his home state, Fort Leavenworth, as the White House had considered doing. On Tuesday, Roberts came to the floor to announce that the Department of Defense had assured him that there was insufficient time left in President Obama’s tenure to execute such a detainee transfer to the mainland United States. “I believe that because of last week, in a private meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, I received the assurances I needed to hear to release my hold on Mr. Fanning,” Roberts said on the Senate floor just before the unanimous vote to confirm Fanning. “Practically speaking, the clock has run out for the president,” he continued. The vote to confirm Fanning was by unanimous consent, meaning every senator agreed to support his confirmation before it came to the Senate floor. Roberts added that he never had any personal animus against Fanning and that he believes he will do an excellent job as Secretary of the Army.
China says it’s ready if US ‘stirs up any conflict’ in South China Sea (Source cnbc.com) China’s attempts to claim a nearly 1.4-million-square-mile swathe of open ocean are without precedent and probably without legal merit, but Beijing continues to assert its right to the economically critical zone — and increasingly puts its claims in military terms. Speaking to a small group of reporters in Beijing on Thursday, a high-ranking Chinese official made his warning clear: The United States should not provoke China in the South China Sea without expecting retaliation. “The Chinese people do not want to have war, so we will be opposed to [the] U.S. if it stirs up any conflict,” said Liu Zhenmin, vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Of course, if the Korean War or Vietnam War are replayed, then we will have to defend ourselves.”.
Investors are pulling billions from global stock market funds (Source businessinsider.com)
Stock markets haven’t had a great week. Investors are increasingly concerned that global shares are hitting a ceiling. According to analysts at Jefferies, the investment bank, global equity funds “recorded their fifth consecutive weekly outflow, at a net $7.3 billion (£4.9 billion).” Funds investing in European stocks were the among worst hit, seeing withdrawals of $3.1 billion, extending their outflow streak to 11 weeks, the longest since September 2007, according to Jefferies. Investors also pulled $4.9 billion of equities from Japanese stock market funds after the Bank of Japan surprised the market by leaving interest rates unchanged in April. Analysts had expected more easing measures. US stocks weren’t immune to the outflows either, experiencing withdrawals of $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley pointed out that funds investing in emerging markets saw their heaviest outflows since September last year – the month after China’s stock market saw heavy losses.
U.S. debt dump deepens in 2016 (Source CNN Money) Central banks are dumping America’s debt at a record pace. China, Russia and Brazil sold off U.S. Treasury bonds as they tried to soften the blow of the global economic slowdown. They each sold off at least $1 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds in March. In all, central banks sold a net $17 billion. Sales had hit a record $57 billion in January. So far this year, the global bank debt dump has reached $123 billion. It’s the fastest pace for a U.S. debt selloff by global central banks since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department. Treasuries are considered one of the safest assets in the world, but some experts say a sense of panic about the global economy drove the selloff. “It’s more of global fear than anything,” says Ihab Salib, head of international fixed income at Federated Investors. “There’s still this fear of ‘everything is going to fall apart.'” Judging by the selloff, policymakers across the globe were hitting the panic button often and early in the year as oil prices fell, concerns about China’s economy rose and stock markets were very volatile. In response, countries may be selling Treasuries to prop up their currencies, some of which lost lots of value against the dollar last year. By selling U.S. debt, central banks can get hard cash to buy up their local currency and prevent it from losing too much value. The leader in the selloff: China. “We’ve seen Chinese central bank foreign reserves fall dramatically,” says Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial. “Their currency is under pressure.” Between December and February, China’s central bank sold off an alarming $236 billion to help support its currency, which China is slowly letting become more controlled by markets and less by the government. In March, China sold $3.5 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds, Treasury data shows.
Escalations in a New Cold War. US-NATO Military Deployments on Russia’s Borders (Source consortiumnews.com) The Obama administration poked Russia in the eye again by activating a missile defense site in Romania while building up NATO forces on Russia’s borders, acts that could escalate toward nuclear war, notes Jonathan Marshall. If the United States ever ends up stumbling into a major conventional or nuclear war with Russia, the culprit will likely be two military boondoggles that refused to die when their primary mission ended with the demise of the Soviet Union: NATO and the U.S. anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program. The “military-industrial complex” that reaps hundreds of billions of dollars annually from support of those programs got a major boost this week when NATO HYPERLINK “http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36272686” established its first major missile defense site at an air base in Romania, with plans to build a second installation in Poland by 2018. Although NATO and Pentagon spokesmen claim the ABM network in Eastern Europe is aimed at Iran, Russia isn’t persuaded for a minute. “This is not a defense system,” Nato-shield-russia-said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. “This is part of U.S. nuclear strategic potential brought [to] . . . Eastern Europe. . . Now, as these elements of ballistic missile defense are deployed, we are forced to think how to neutralize emerging threats to the Russian Federation.”
Here’s why Russia’s humongous new missile is worth worrying about (Source businessinsider.com)
Russia is testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that is so large and powerful it could hit any strategic target in the United States or NATO with independently targeted warheads possibly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses. According to a TASS report on May 6, Col.-Gen. Sergei Karakayev, commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, said Russia will move their new l28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles to bases at Uzhurskogo and Dombarovsky. The first location is near Krasnoyarsk in Siberia; the second is located in the Urals in the Orenburg Oblast and is a major ICBM base first built by the Soviets during the 1960s. In particular, Dombarovsky is a site associated with missile training exercises. For example, in the early 2000s the SMF held as many as seven launches from the Dombarovsky site using decommissioned missiles that delivered commercial payloads. The bases also are ideal for launching the new missile toward targets either in the United States or in NATO countries such as Germany, France, or the United Kingdom once it becomes operational. In the report, Karakayev also said a “completed missile complex” will hold the Sarmat as a “silo-based heavy missile” intended to replace the venerable ICBM. The Soviets first deployed the SS-18 in 1977 – the missile in its Cold War SS-18 MOD 4 configuration carried 10 multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles each with up to a 750 kiloton yield. An individual warhead had more than 20 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. It was specifically designed to attack and destroy American ICBM silos and other hardened targets. Code named Satan by NATO, the SS-18 MOD 6 version of the ICBM currently deployed by Russia has a single 20-megaton warhead.
Lynch: States Can’t ‘Insist’ a Man is a Man and a Woman is a Woman, If Person Feels Otherwise(Source cnsnews.com) The U.S. Justice Department is putting the feelings of transgenders — men who think they are women and women who think they are men — above the privacy rights of the vast majority of people who don’t contest the biological facts of who they actually are. “And what we must not do, what we must never do, is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans for something that they cannot control and deny what makes them human,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Monday.”[N]one of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insists that a person pretend to be something or someone that they are not.” But Lynch was referring to people who, in fact, are pretending to be something that — biologically — they are not. A man “identifying” as a woman is not a biological woman. And likewise, a woman “identifying” as a man is not a biological man. Until now, that is, when the federal government has determined that biological facts matter less than wishes and feelings. Lynch announced a federal civil rights lawsuit against North Carolina because of the state’s new law (HB-2), which requires transgender people in public facilities to use the restrooms consistent with their sex “as noted at birth,” rather than the restrooms that fit their “gender identity.” “We are seeking a court order declaring HB-2’s restroom restriction impermissibly discriminatory, as well as a statewide bar on its enforcement,” Lynch announced. She said the Justice Department also retains the option of “curtailing federal funding to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina as this case proceeds.” This came hours after North Carolina sued the Justice Department “for their radical reinterpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which would prevent plaintiffs from protecting the bodily privacy rights of state employees while accommodating the needs of transgendered state employees.”
Pope Francis mulls opening door to female deacons in Church (Source AFP) Pope Francis said Thursday he would set up a commission to study the possibility of women entering the Catholic clergy, in his latest potentially historic opening on a vexed issue for the Church. In apparently off-the-cuff remarks the 79-year-old pontiff promised to examine whether women could join the clergy at the rank of deacon, one below a priest. The pledge came in a question and answer session with members of female religious orders during a meeting at the Vatican. In the exchanges, Francis said he had discussed the use of female deacons in the early centuries of the Church with experts on the subject but was not clear as to their exact role and status. “I believe, yes, it would do good for the Church to clarify this point,” he said, in comments first reported by the National Catholic Reporter and confirmed by the Vatican’s own newspaper Osservatore Romano. “I am in agreement. I will speak (in favor of doing) something like this.” He later added: “It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this.” – Women pitifully under-represented – Progressives in the Catholic Church have long argued that women are pitifully under-represented in the hierarchy, despite the number of women in religious orders (700,000) far outweighing the number of priests and monks combined (470,000). Although deacons cannot celebrate mass on their own or hear confessions, they are ordained and can carry out many tasks in place of a priest, while remaining free to marry and have a family. Deacon tasks can include presiding over baptisms, weddings and funerals as well as prayer services. They also often play a role in parish management and in offering pastoral guidance to believers. Historians say women played this role in the first centuries of the Church, but the practice died out and calls for women to be allowed to become priests were categorically rejected by Pope John Paul II in 1994. A commission charged with studying the term “deaconess” in 2001 concluded there was no basis for ordaining women to the role. Historian Lucetta Scaraffia said ordaining female deacons would have “nothing to do” with the issue of female priests, but would recognise “the role that women already play in the Church. Francis has often championed the special qualities of the female sex, saying in December 2014: “Women are like strawberries on a cake — you always need more of them.” He has also repeatedly said since becoming pope in 2013 that he does not represent all Church teaching as being set in stone. He has tried to make the global institution more understanding, less judgemental in its approach to divorced, cohabiting and gay believers.
GEORGIA LAUNCHES U.S.-LED MILITARY DRILL DESPITE RUSSIAN WARNING (Source newsweek.com) Georgia has launched a two-week military exercise with NATO allies led by the U.S. despite Russia’s warnings that they have been following the preparations and consider Georgia’s actions provocative. Relations between Georgia and Russia took a severe turn for the worse in 2008 when, after years of political deadlock with separatists in two of its regions near its border with Russia, Georgia opted for a military solution. In response, Russia, who had supported separatists in both regions—South Ossetia and Abkhazia—advanced forces to fight Georgian troops away from the territories. Since then Russia has moved towards effectively incorporating the two regions under its leadership, while Georgia has refused to recognize them as anything but its sovereign territory, temporarily out of its control. Meanwhile, Georgia has also actively sought to join NATO, despite Russia repeatedly making clear that it considers any increase of NATO presence near its borders a threat. In the latest of these moves, Georgia kicked off the 2016 HYPERLINK “http://www.eur.army.mil/noblepartner/” \t “_blank” Noble Partner exercise on Wednesday. The drill sees 500 Georgian, 650 U.S. and 150 U.K. soldiers train together to improve the military-to-military relationship between NATO states and Georgia and to raise Georgia’s standards to NATO levels.
San Andreas fault ‘locked, loaded and ready to roll’ with big earthquake, expert says (Source latimes.com) Southern California’s section of the San Andreas fault is “locked, loaded and ready to roll,” a leading earthquake scientist said Wednesday at the National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach. The San Andreas fault is one of California’s most dangerous, and is the state’s longest fault. Yet for Southern California, the last big earthquake to strike the southern San Andreas was in 1857, when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake ruptured an astonishing 185 miles between Monterey County and the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. It has been quiet since then — too quiet, said Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. “The springs on the San Andreas system have been wound very, very tight. And the southern San Andreas fault, in particular, looks like it’s locked, loaded and ready to go,” Jordan said in the opening keynote talk. Other sections of the San Andreas fault also are far overdue for a big quake. Further southeast of the Cajon Pass, such as in San Bernardino County, the fault has not moved substantially since an earthquake in 1812, and further southeast toward the Salton Sea, it has been relatively quiet since about 1680 to 1690. Here’s the problem: Scientists have observed that based on the movement of tectonic plates, with the Pacific plate moving northwest of the North American plate, earthquakes should be relieving about 16 feet of accumulated plate movement every 100 years. Yet the San Andreas has not relieved stress that has been building up for more than a century. A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey report warned that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas fault would cause more than 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries, $200 billion in damage and severe, long-lasting disruptions. Among the predicted problems: The sewer system could be out of commission for six months.