Sunday, December 7, 2008

Oil Executive Predicts $1 Gas In 2009

A Massachusetts-based oil executive is boldly predicting that pump prices might fall to $1 a gallon in early 2009."The oil market is a manic-depressive market. It tends to overshoot," said Joe Petrowski, CEO of Gulf Oil.Petrowski, who has been studying the oil business since the 1970s when he wrote his Harvard thesis, said that the price of oil could sink to $20 per barrel, WCVB-TV of Boston reported.
"The market overshot last summer on the high side. Oil never should have gone to $147, but it did and it can," he said.Petrowski is betting that the slide in oil prices will continue to fall dramatically and overshoot on the low side."There is a better than 25 percent probability that we'll see oil go as low as $1 a gallon sometime after the first of the year," he said.Gulf Oil, which is based in Newton, Mass., is not an oil producer or a refiner. The company is a wholesaler that distributes fuel through a network of 1,800 Gulf gas stations throughout the Northeast.Dramatically lower gas prices would be quite a rebate check for consumers, Petrowski said. He said the drop may help ease the country out of the recession."The price of oil has a tremendous impact on discretionary consumer spending. I think it hurt us tremendously during July and August," Petrowski said.That's when high gas prices prompted motorists to cut back their travel by 9 percent. But Americans are conserving as much as now."But long term, we need to have oil prices at an equilibrium price that will encourage new production, will encourage efficiency and will encourage alternative sources," Petrowski said.He said he hopes that the motivation to create alternative energy sources will not be lost if pump prices continue to fall.

Original here

How to Avoid A Scam

By Ben Popken

The economic crisis has left many Americans deep in debt and looking for a deal-or a savior-to get them through tough times. But instead of a white knight, many are getting a shady scammer.

Inspired by the headlines, con artists slap new stories on old tricks, preying on the financial fears and desperation of hardworking citizens. After all, when you're drowning, you're interested in what the guy who claims to be selling life preservers has to say. Here, some of the newest and newsiest ploys to avoid.

100-dollar bill
How to Avoid A Scam
Bank failures, mergers, and takeovers have left depositors wondering, Is my money safe?
You receive an e-mail that says, "Do not let the financial markets' collapse affect your life. Protect yourself by clicking on the link below right now." This is the latest twist on the classic phishing scam: The link goes to a fake Web page that looks like your bank's. If you log in to update your account information, as requested, you've handed the keys to your account over to an identity thief.

The Details: Hillery Peacock, a 24-year-old student from Gainesville, Florida, received one of these e-mails, but a few warning signs tipped her off that it was a scam. It was from a free e-mail service rather than a company website, the "reply to" line was different from the "sent from," the subject line was blank, and the e-mail was text-only, says Peacock, without any "fancy ads" that usually come with official company marketing e-mails.

Fight Back: Never log on to your bank from a link in an e-mail. Always type in your bank's URL, then log on. You should also call your financial institution to report the incident and forward the e-mail to the Federal Trade Commission at

Banks are lending only to those with excellent credit.
Scam: Debt-settlement companies say they'll repair your credit, but instead they take your money and don't pay off your debt.

The Details: Dave Perks, 30, of Richmond, Virginia, was $23,000 in the hole. He had a wife and a six-month-old son and was working as a waiter, hoping to land a job in advertising. Then he heard a radio ad for a debt-relief firm.

A company representative told him to stop paying his creditors, that the company would make the payments for him with the $300 he'd authorized to be deducted from his bank account every month. The rep also told Perks to list the firm's office as the contact for his creditors so that he could stop receiving the collection calls and letters.

In seven months, Perks saved up enough money to rent a small house. Because the landlord would need to pull a credit report, Perks wanted to warn the debt-settlement firm so it wouldn't think he was taking out a new line of credit, which was forbidden under the agreement.

When Perks called the office, he listened to a message that said the firm had been forced into involuntary bankruptcy due to fraudulent business practices. Perks called his bank. It hadn't received a single payment from the firm and was about to write off Perks's account as uncollectible, leaving a serious black mark on his credit report.

Perks was out $2,100. His tiny nest egg went to paying down the debt, which had ballooned to more than $25,000. "It's so easy to fall into a trap when you're desperate for a solution," he says.

Fight Back: There is nothing any debt-settlement, relief, or consolidation company can do to wipe out your debt legally that you can't do on your own. However, if you feel you need professional help, find an accredited counselor through the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling ( And watch for these warning signs:

  • Hefty or hidden fees-anything over $50 per month
  • Someone who wants you to sign up for the service over the phone
  • Agents who work on commission based on the total debt they're able to collect (if you're not sure, ask)
  • Anyone who tells you to stop paying your creditors
  • A "counselor" who doesn't take a genuine interest in ensuring you're educated about your financial options.
Interstate moves are at a near 20-year high as jobs get scarce and people move to keep them.
Moving company? More like hostage takers. Once all your goods are on the truck, the price skyrockets.

The Details: Clark Wilson, a flight instructor, and his wife, Marlys, a nutritionist, both 61, were relocating from Oregon to Arizona and found a good moving deal online. As the movers were loading the Wilsons' possessions, they told the couple that they had more items than had been estimated and they would have to pay more than the $6,950 quoted on the phone. By the time the crew had loaded everything, the price had jumped to $18,500, half of which was due on the spot. Feeling as if they had no choice, the Wilsons say, they paid by credit card.

After the movers left, however, the couple contacted MoveRescue, a consumer-assistance organization. When the movers showed up at the Wilsons' new house in Arizona, local police and a Department of Weights and Measures inspector were there to meet them. The state inspector did an official cubic-space measurement and calculated the final bill at $11,135. Lost in the move, Clark says, were his grandfather's antique guns.

Fight Back: Beware lowball quotes. Shady movers use them to lure you in, then leave you on the hook by demanding an exorbitant rate hike. "The guys who do this are brokers, not real movers," says Steve Meissner, a spokesman for Arizona's Department of Weights and Measures. "They sell the job to a moving company that no one's ever heard of."

Check out the company's reputation in advance at or On moving day, if the movers don't give you a copy of the federal handbook Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move, that's a red flag. If your price jumps at any point, call the National Conference on Weights and Measures (402-434-4880) for your local agency. For more resources, go to

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac imploded, resulting in a government takeover of the mortgage finance companies.
A phony prize drawing, supposedly sponsored by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, requires a hefty fee to claim your nonexistent winnings.

The Details: The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has received a number of complaints about a fax riddled with grammatical and spelling errors from the "F&F Mae Mac Equity Draw," declaring the recipient has won millions. The fax says it's "part of a promotional draws … to enable home owners who owned a home all over the United States of America have more money, and … buy more homes [sic]."

A BBB investigator faxed in the forms and called the "claim agent." The man who picked up the phone, the investigator reported, "said he had my fax right there in front of him, which is interesting, since I never told him who I was, nor did he ask. But he did tell me that to collect my big prize, I was required to wire a 'processing fee' of $850 to the Las Vegas address in my documents, and then I could collect my riches. I invited the FBI to share in my excitement."

Fight Back: It's illegal for a sweepstakes to require you to pay to get your prize. Any sweepstakes that does is a scam. Don't fall for it.

With national unemployment levels at 14-year highs, many people are desperate for work.
You're hired-to be a victim of check fraud.

The Details: A $4,000 check showed up unexpectedly in Owen West's mailbox, along with a job offer to become a "secret shopper," a person who makes undercover purchases and reports on how well a store is run. There was one curious item on the to-do list: Wire $3,000 to someone in New York.

West, a 25-year-old graduate student in San Diego, used to clear checks in a credit union. He noticed that the check account number was printed twice-next to the bank routing number and in the upper-right corner. That's not unusual, but the numbers didn't match. The check was drawn on the fictional State Employers' Credit Union, not the legitimate State Employees' Credit Union. Most tellers might not have noticed and would have deposited the check. Within a week, the check-clearing department would have spotted the fake and yanked the funds back. If West had wired the money to New York-thinking the $4,000 deposit would cover it-he would have been out $3,000.

"It was done really well," says West. "A desperate person who wanted this to be true could be easily scammed."

Fight Back: Never wire money to strangers. Whenever someone you don't know wants you to cash a check and send part of it elsewhere, it's a scam. If you've already wired the money, try to stop payment by calling the wire-transfer company. If no one has picked up the money yet, you'll get it back. Otherwise, it's too late.

>Home energy costs are still high, and some consumers will have trouble paying those bills.
Scam: A door-to-door salesman pretending to be from your energy company tricks you into switching to his.

The Details: A young man knocked on Jeremy Hooper's door in New York City, claiming he was from Con Edison and needed to check Hooper's gas-and-electric bill. The guy circled parts of the bill that he said indicated Hooper could get a 7 percent discount. Hooper just needed to sign some forms.

"It wasn't until he asked for a second signature that I got suspicious," says Hooper. "The second signature was on a form that he covered up completely except for the signature line." Unnerved, Hooper refused and shut the door. It's a good thing he did.

The young man actually worked for IDT Energy, a $249 million company headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. The hidden form would have transferred Hooper's energy service from Con Ed to IDT. Hooper might have seen an initial discount, but within months, it's likely his bills would have started to fluctuate, depending on market prices. (Hooper did not file a complaint, and IDT says it doesn't condone such activity and has policies in place to discipline employees engaging in deceptive practices.)

Fight Back: Make any company rep on your doorstep show an ID. Better yet, don't open the door in the first place. If you get hoodwinked into switching companies, just ask your former provider to switch you back.

Strapped for cash, people are selling things online to pay their bills and get out of debt.
An online buyer uses a bogus "shipping agent" story to sucker you into advancing him money.

The Details: Janet Flair's employer, Jett Service, a commercial heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation service in Alexandria, Virginia, was selling a van on After a buyer sent his check to Flair-for more than the price they had agreed on-he told her that his secretary had accidentally included in the check the amount that was supposed to go to his "shipping agent." The buyer asked Flair to deposit the check and wire the extra money to the "agent."

He even told her to take $100 for her troubles. "Am sure I can count on you, that you can handle this with trust and have it sent to my shipper. Await your mail. Thanks, Eloquent Business Ahead," read the e-mail.

Had Flair fallen for this scam, she would have been out of any money she'd sent to the "shipping agent." "If this isn't a scam," Flair remembers thinking, "may lightning strike." While the rip-off was obvious to her, someone who has to choose between the lights going off and taking what looks like earnest money could be taken in.

Fight Back: Buyers asking you to pay their "shipping agent" are fraudsters. Find another buyer.

Increasingly, debtors are taking out payday loans to make ends meet.
Fake debt collectors call and threaten you with jail time for a payday debt you paid off years ago-or never owed in the first place.

The Details: Almost immediately after Laurie Lucas picked up the phone, a man who identified himself as Eric Matthews from Legal Affidavit Office began reading off a litany of charges: theft of property, fraud, money laundering. "Matthews" said that he "felt sorry for the tragedy that was getting ready to befall" Lucas because she'd failed to pay back a $5,000 payday loan to U.S. National Bank. "They" would be coming to arrest her the next morning at 11 unless she wired the funds to the bank.

When Lucas said she had never taken out such a loan and had never heard of U.S. National Bank (no doubt because it doesn't exist), "Matthews" said she should have kept better records. Growing suspicious, Lucas talked to "Matthews" while Googling the groups he said he worked for. She found a number of consumers telling similar stories. It was all a con.

Lucas told "Matthews" to send his request in writing and hung up. Anyone who regularly gets calls from creditors or who isn't as savvy might not have fared as well. "Some people may be so terrified that they'd send the money," says Lucas.

Fight Back: Whether it's a bona fide debt collector or a scam artist posing as one, tell him to put it in writing and hang up. If the crooks continue calling—as "Matthews" did for weeks-file a police report for harassment. Beware: These crooks use official—and ominous—sounding names, like Federal Investigations Bureau, Financial Crime Division, and United Legal Processing.

The foreclosure meltdown has many more people scouring online listings for bargain apartment rentals.
The property is real. The "landlord" just doesn't own it.

The Details: Beth Ann Bovino was shocked to find an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side for only $1,500 a month. She was even more shocked to find the place was her own.

Someone had grabbed a photo she posted online and placed a dummy rental listing on with her name and address. Bovino e-mailed her doppelgänger, posing as an interested renter. The flimflammer said he would send the keys if Bovino wired a month's rent in advance. When she asked to speak by phone, the impostor wrote back that he was a "deaf-mute." Bovino got Craigslist to take the listing down, but it popped up again.

Fight Back: For big-ticket items, try to do business in person. Scope out the other party's reputation-check references, the BBB, and the Chamber of Commerce-and see if the details add up. If a fraudster makes a fake listing for your property online, ask the hosting site to take it down. Unfortunately, once a scammer finds a good place to park his listing, he or his buddies will keep reusing it, and you could be in for a Whac-A-Mole endurance test.

It's Probably a Scam if …
  • You get a call or an e-mail out of the blue.
  • The English is shaky, at best.
  • There's a promise of lots of money for minimal effort.
  • The e-mail is from someone in Eastern Europe, Asia, or Nigeria.
  • It involves depositing a check, then sending money somewhere through a wire-transfer service.
  • You must "act now."
  • It sounds too good to be true.
Original here

Can China's savers save the world?

By Richard Spencer in Funan County, China

China wants its citizens to buy more consumer goods such as washing machines to fill a big gap left by the collapse in consumer confidence in the West.
China wants its citizens to buy more consumer goods such as washing machines to fill a big gap left by the collapse in consumer confidence in the West. Photo: Getty

What the rest of the world expects of China is altogether more ambitious. Gordon Brown wants China to bail out the International Monetary Fund. Others want the whole investment-led Chinese economy to be "rebalanced", for its citizens to save less, spend more and fill an economic black hole left by the collapse in consumer confidence in the West.

Even the Chinese government has high hopes. Last month, it announced a 4 trillion yuan (£400bn) stimulus package to get the nation spending again, restoring its formerly stellar GDP growth rates and making sure newly redundant workers from closed toy and television factories don't start rioting.

But while £400bn seems like a huge sum, it is starting to come under fire from an unlikely coalition, including economists and even state media. It certainly does not seem to be enough to bail out the world's finances, while many believe it may actually make China's economic imbalances worse.

When it was announced, it was immediately clear that the 4 trillion yuan, to be spent by the end of 2010, was aspirational, not a detailed blueprint. Only a quarter was a central government stimulus at all – the remainder was supposed to be stumped up by banks and businesses at the behest of local authorities. Much of the money – two-thirds or more – had already been planned for.

Nevertheless, its headline size meant that it was welcomed around the world as a sign of China's commitment to "do its bit" to boost world demand. It was also another impressive tribute to the newly acclaimed world power, the only major economy left with significant growth rates.

"[It will] become a catalyst for the export industries of other countries and help the world shake off recession earlier," said Justin Lin Yifu, the chief economist of the World Bank.

But since then, economists have looked at the numbers, and compared them to China GDP rates, under assault from a swift decline in export growth. GDP growth has fallen from 11.9pc last year to 9pc in the third quarter and is already predicted by many economists to drop below 8pc next year.

The stimulus package could contribute 2pc to 3pc to growth – but with estimates dropping monthly, even optimists say that might just stabilise the rate, rather than boost it. "We are still maintaining a growth rate prediction above 8pc," says Huang Yiping, chief China economist for Citi in Hong Kong. "But that's because of the stimulus package."

What that means for the rest of the world, so used to double-digit Chinese growth rates, is not reassuring.

The assumption is that boosting the economy boosts demand for the consumer goods no longer being bought by the West. But is that reasonable for hundreds of millions of people like Mr Zhao? China may have got richer in the past three decades, but many of its people have not. He lives in the poorest county, Funan, of one of China's poorest provinces, Anhui, and while his income of about 3,000 yuan a year (£300) is not unusually low, it does not leave a lot spare for washing machines – even if he had running water to attach one to.

In fact, while everyone agrees it is in the interests of everybody for Chinese people to spend more of their savings, the base level is so low that the idea they can substitute for stay-at-home shoppers elsewhere is considered laughable.

"A pipe dream," said Stephen Green, of Standard Chartered in Shanghai in a research note. Michael Pettis, an American professor of finance at Beijing University, worked out what it would take for China's consumers to stand in for their American cousins. China's GDP is less than a quarter of America's, and household consumption 35pc of that.

He calculates that if US household savings rise and consumption decreases by a sum equal to 5pc of GDP, in China it would have to rise by a sum equal to 17pc of GDP to balance out – an astronomical amount. Prof Pettis calls 5pc as an estimate of US rebalancing "conservative".

It seems unlikely, then, there is much Beijing can do to prevent more closures of the factories now shedding millions of labourers.

This may be why, despite promises to focus spending on healthcare and social provision, the most visible parts of Beijing's package involve roads, railways and an expansion of nuclear power. These are projects local governments and banks know how to fund and manage, and they quickly soak up unskilled labour.

One of the reasons Chinese people save rather than spend is because their income is so uncertain: Mr Zhao earned more from his grain in the last five years, but that has been matched by rises in costs.

Then there are hospital bills. Four years ago, when his son's wife gave birth by emergency caesarean section, the hospital bill was 2,700 yuan, nearly his entire annual income. The government has promised to provide medical insurance to free up consumers from such worries, allowing them to spend more. But medical insurance does not provide a quick return on the sort of loans being offered by the stimulus package.

"The government's attempts are in fact half-hearted," Prof Pettis says. "But if they put in place the best healthcare system in the world it takes time to stop saving."

The result: at best, the current imbalance staggers on, in which China continues to save and the West continues to borrow to buy even more excess capacity; at worst, protectionism, as the West closes its door to the invincible, state-backed Chinese export machine.

Even the China Economic Observer is pessimistic, pointing to previous stimulus packages in which government spent too much money on infrastructure. The private sector was squeezed out of bank funding and the whole economy became dependent on investment.

"Increasing domestic consumption became mission impossible and China's transformation to a consumption economy was impeded again," it concluded. "If we let the economic express of China follow the same old tracks instead of reforming it, we will inevitably face a more dire climate in the future."

China – even Funan – is undoubtedly richer than it was, and the ability of the government to command and control is unquestioned.

This leads Liu Jin, professor of finance at Chung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, to be more cheerful. "The government has lots of firepower," he says. "The world is too big to be saved by China. But the fiscal stimulus is intended to get us through the crisis, not save the system. After the 4 trillion yuan there could well be many other things that come along after."

In other words, the government is promising it will do what it takes, whatever debts it has to pile up.

Citi's Huang Yiping says China has the capacity to keep the economy churning, even if the old structural problems remain. "I'm sure the issue of rebalancing the economy will come back again but really you have to look at what is the most important challenge, and at the moment that is economic growth is falling rapidly."

Make me good, but save me first, China's leaders are saying: but then they are not alone in that.

Original here

Former drug officer launches 'KopBusters' TV show

Barry Cooper, a former Texas police officer with eight years of specialty in drug interdiction, first made waves when he released the film "Never Get Busted Again," a how-to guide for evading police drug seizures.

Austin, Texas-based Cooper's latest project is not nearly so benign, and will likely generate for the former drug warrior an army of enemies in law enforcement.

'KopBusters' is a reality TV program that aims to sink crooked officers.

"KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana," claims a release from "When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house."

"The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.

"The attorney was handcuffed and later released when eleven KopBuster detectives arrived with the media in tow to question the illegal raid. The police refused to give KopBusters the search warrant affidavit which is suspected to contain the lies regarding the probable cause.

"It is not illegal to grow plants under a light in your home but it is illegal to lie on an affidavit and plant drugs on a citizen. This operation was the first of its kind in the history of America. Police sometimes have other police investigating their crimes but the American court system has never dealt with a group of citizens stinging the police. Will the police file charges on the team who took down the corrupt cops? We will keep you posted."

Cooper's "Never Get Busted Again" was a runaway success, the sales of which serve as financial support for this most recent project.

"The drug war is a failed policy and the legal side effects on the families are worse than the drugs," Cooper said to the Dallas Observer in early 2007. "I was so wrong in the things I did back then. I ruined lives."

The 'Kop Busters' sting was the feature of a CBS 7 report, aired Dec. 4, 2008.

Original here

Letter to Sean Hannity of Fox News

I sent the following letter to Sean Hannity recently in response to his misrepresentation of what I said on his show regarding the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I have not received any response back from him. Today I read it aloud on my Sirius-XM radio program and am now making it public here as well.

Dear Sean,

I saw a report about last night's show that quotes you as follows:

"Hannity continued by saying, "We had Deepak Chopra on last night and he's blaming America! ...He was blaming America for the attacks in Mumbai and I challenged him on it and I'm like, 'Wait a minute. You've done so well in America. Why are you blaming us?' We protect 100% of the world's population. We're 4% of it."

I am really disappointed in you. Do you not remember your other guest when I was on, former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen? He made the same point I did about America's policy toward the jihadists: "Are we creating more terrorists than killing them?" Ironically, this question is attributed to Donald Rumsfeld.

It really doesn't matter to me personally whether you agree with me or not. Leaving our debate aside, your habit of taking statements out of context and playing the blaming game is sad. You have a powerful platform that influences many people. Why do you use your influence to monger fear, militancy, divisiveness, and jingoism?

I was hoping to come back on your show and have a reflective, intelligent dialogue, but perhaps the attack mode is the only way you know to make a living. The best excuse for your dishonest accusations against me is that you don't believe what you're saying. The far right has deflated, so you are there to pump it up with hot air. If you stop blowing, you'll be out of a job. I empathize.


PS: No one expects the right wing to change, but for what it's worth, they have entered an era of reconstruction. They've lost both their power and their credibility. Instead of trying to educate me about being an American, you might want to re-educate yourselves about dirty pool and below-the-belt attacks. Just a thought.

Read Deepak Chopra on to listen to his Sirius-XM radio podcasts

Original here

Head of Russian Orthodox church dies

Patriarch Alexy II: The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has died at the age of 79.
Alexy II took stances on foreign policy issues that often matched the Kremlin line Photo: AFP/Getty

He died at his residence outside Moscow although here was no immediate word on the cause of death.

Patriarch Alexy II was an establishment figure who restored the authority of the church after decades of Soviet repression.

Born Alexei Ridiger, Alexy II made his ecclesiastical career at a time when the church was controlled by Soviet authorities before forging an alliance with the new Russian state under presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.

The patriarch was an impressive character with a benign expression and moral authority among millions of Russian believers but his personality was always locked in by the deeply hierarchical nature of his role.

Alexy II took stances on foreign policy issues that often matched the Kremlin line, criticising Nato strikes against Yugoslavia, the US-led war in Iraq and defending the rights of ethnic-Russians in the former Soviet Union.

But his role in the international arena was marked above all by wariness of Catholics, whom he accused of "proselytism," and he refused repeatedly to meet Roman Catholic pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI.

The main reason for the row was a property dispute between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Ukraine, where the Greek Catholic church, which was banned by Stalin and dispossessed, took back hundreds of parishes from the Orthodox church at the beginning of the 1990s.

The creation of four Catholic dioceses in Russia also created suspicion among Orthodox leaders. Several rounds of negotiations between Catholic and Orthodox officials failed to smooth differences.

He was also, however, a unifying Orthodox figure who helped engineer a union with a branch of the Russian Orthodox church that separated from Moscow-based church authorities after the 1917 Soviet revolution.

Ridiger was born on February 23, 1929 in then independent Estonia, the son of an Orthodox priest. He worked in two cathedrals after Estonia became part of the Soviet Union and entered a religious seminary under Stalin.

He married but then divorced in order to become a monk in 1961 during the anti-religion campaigns launched by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was soon promoted to become an Orthodox bishop.

Ridiger had a successful career under Leonid Brezhnev at a time when the Orthodox church was effectively controlled by the KGB and dissident priests were thrown into jail.

The future patriarch conformed and rose rapidly through church ranks, becoming number two in the influential external affairs section of the patriarchate.

Despite his ties with the Communist establishment, he made some efforts to curb Soviet repression, including keeping a famous convent in Estonia open despite the threat of closure.

He became patriarch in 1990, shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union.

At the time, Ridiger was seen as more in touch with the reforms to the Soviet system being undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev than another candidate, metropolitan Filaret, considered even closer to the Communist regime.

The new patriarch remained prudent after the fall of the Communist system, ruling out investigations against church officials accused of links to the Soviet secret services.

In close collaboration with Yeltsin Putin, Alexy II used his close relations with the authorities to rebuild the influence of the Orthodox church.

Seminaries were restored, churches were rebuilt and church finances were greatly boosted by income from customs duties granted by the Russian government during the 1990s.

The lavish Christ the Saviour cathedral in central Moscow, which was destroyed under Stalin and replaced by an open-air swimming pool, was rebuilt in full splendour during Alexy II's patriarchate.

Religion gained influence in schools, prisons, hospitals and the armed services.

Within the church, Alexy II was never an innovative leader and opposed himself to liberal policies but he also rejected deeply anti-Semitic and nationalistic currents in religious thinking.

The patriarch died at a time when the Russian Orthodox church had not yet determined its preferred status, as an institution closely allied with political authorities or a church more in tune with the Russian people.

Original here

Sailor Epitomizes Heroism With His Life

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — An Iraqi reporter from Al Jazeera met his worst nightmare and possibly his best friend when he was caught in the crossfire while covering combat operations.

The journalist, whose name wasn’t available, was reporting on the actions of the First Iraqi Army Division when he was struck by incoming small arms fire, leaving him severely injured and unconscious in full view of more enemy fire.

Iraqi Army medics were hesitant to provide assistance to the reporter due to his insecure position. This was not the case for Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan P. Faulhaber, a hospital corpsman serving with Military Transition Team 111 of 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. Despite the high rate of continuous enemy fire, Faulhaber made his way to the casualty and proceeded to provide medical aid.

“The other Iraqis in the area did brave things during our time with them, but on that particular occasion, none of the Iraqis were willing to assist the wounded reporter,” said Maj. Mark Slusher, who served as Faulhaber’s team leader in Iraq. “Faulhaber did not hesitate for a moment. There is no better example to set for courage under fire than him.”

Enemy insurgents noticed the Faribault, Minnesota native’s lonely effort and began to increase their rate of fire in an attempt to take him down. Faulhaber ignored the personal risk and continued to calmly provide treatment as rounds impacted the terrain around him. He quickly stabilized the reporter and slowly made his way back to the casualty collection point with the journalist in tow. Iraqi translators later informed Faulhaber that the reporter lived.

The transition team participated in all four of the major insurgency clearing operations that comprised the Basra campaign for the following three weeks. During this time, the Iraqi battalion suffered 25 casualties, and the MTT suffered five. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ian Anthony, the administrative advisor for the MTT, said that Faulhaber was personally responsible for providing life care to more than 15 of the casualties, in addition to supervising the Iraqi medics’ care of the remaining casualties.

“His prompt and effective medical treatment saved the lives of at least five of the more seriously wounded Iraqi soldiers,” Anthony said.

This wasn’t the last instance of heroism that Faulhaber would exhibit during his service with the Iraqis. Elements of the MTT were exiting the Basra city limits April 24 after conducting a combat patrol when one of the team’s vehicles was attacked by an explosively formed penetrator, which is an improvised explosive device commonly used to penetrate armor at stand-off distances. The device destroyed the vehicles and wounded all five members inside.

Faulhaber was one of the first service members to reach the burning vehicle. The fire quickly began to ignite the ammunition inside, producing a toxic smoke. He ignored this and the incoming enemy fire and proceeded to help remove casualties from the vehicle.

“We had five casualties, which was 30 percent of our operation force strength,” said Slusher, a native of Lebanon, New Jersey. “Same thing again, courage under fire, total disregard for his own safety, vehicle’s on fire, yet doc is totally focused on providing care to our wounded comrades.”

Anthony said two of the vehicle’s occupants were critically wounded. He said Faulhaber’s actions were credited with saving both Marines’ lives.

Faulhaber returned from Iraq in August and now serves as the assistant leading petty officer for the operations section of 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with a combat distinguishing device, Nov. 19, for his actions in Iraq. He said there is now talk that he may receive a combat meritorious promotion to the rank of petty officer first class. Regardless of the outcome, Faulhaber remains modest and unregretful about his actions.

"Faulhaber had a big impact on the Iraqis," Slusher said. "During our time with them, we saw a significant change in their skills and professionalism. That really goes to the heart about being a good advisor. The Iraqi medics are now better trained and more able to care for the Iraqi soldiers, and frankly, many of them are alive today because of Faulhaber."

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Return to $1 gas? Energy prices evaporate

By MARK WILLIAMS, AP Energy Writer Mark Williams, Ap Energy Writer

Regular unleaded gasoline sells for $1.32.9 per gallon at a Valero station AP – Regular unleaded gasoline sells for $1.32.9 per gallon at a Valero station Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008, in

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Oil prices hit four-year lows Friday as employers cut the highest number of jobs in 34 years. The continuing decline in prices is so dramatic and so sudden that it is raising the prospect that gas prices could soon fall below $1 a gallon.

The worst jobs data in 34 years on Friday just added more fuel to the deepening global recession as U.S. employers slashed a far worse-than-expected 533,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate rose to a 15-year high of 6.7 percent.

A gallon of gasoline can be had for 50 cents less than it cost just last month, and people are starting to talk about $1 gas.

Granted, gas prices are a long way off from that magic number last seen in March 1999 when prices were at 97 cents a gallon, according to motor club AAA. Prices at the pump fell 1.6 cents overnight to $1.773 nationally, according to AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

But consider what has happened since July 11 when a barrel of oil hit a record $147.27 and a gallon of gas was $4.117 on July 17. In less than five months, oil has fallen 72 percent.

Just this week, in which the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that the U.S. is in recession, oil has fallen 25 percent.

On Friday, light, sweet crude for January delivery settled at $40.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down by nearly $3 per barrel. Prices fell as low at $40.50, levels last seen in December 2004.

Gasoline futures for January delivery tumbled to 90 cents.

For gas prices to get close to a $1, oil prices probably would need to fall another $10 a barrel — something that would have been impossible to fathom during the first part of this year as oil prices soared near $150 per barrel.

"Just seeing that '1' up there is just hard to imagine," said Kevin Keating, 65, an attorney as he filled up his Volvo S60 at a station in Phoenix that advertised prices at $1.67. "Wasn't that long ago that we worried about the '4' being up there."

Prices in New York City are well above the national averages, but still well off their highs of nearly $5 this summer.

"When gas prices are OK, we make a little profit," said Mamady Kourouma, 36, a cab driver from Guinea who paid $2.41 a gallon at a station in Chelsea.

With wages stagnant, home prices plummeting and foreclosure rated soaring, dollar-a-gallon gas may help mom fill up in the family minivan and cab drivers in New York City, but prices that low also would truly speak to how rotten the economy has become.

"The economy at that point worldwide would be in a serious, serious deterioration," said Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA.

Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said Thursday on his blog that retail prices could fetch $1.25 a gallon soon in parts of the Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

Already, some parts of the country are seeing prices around that level. The Web site, where motorists can post local gas prices, motorists can fill up for $1.29 in Neelyville, Mo., a village of about 500 people near the Arkansas state line.

The jobs number suggests that demand for gasoline, which has been running well below year-ago levels even with the cheaper prices in the last several weeks, will fall even more in early 2009 as work-related driving plummets, said Kloza.

"I believe that January 2009 will represent the most 'challenging' and ugly economic month of my lifetime, and my first memory is of Sputnik," Kloza said.

There is plenty of reason to suspect Kloza is right.

Since the start of the recession, the economy has lost 1.9 million jobs, the number of unemployed people has increased by 2.7 million and the jobless rate is up 1.7 percentage points. The meltdown in financial markets has crushed lending, the Detroit 3 are on the brink of bankruptcy without a big government bailout.

Friday's report was much deeper than the 320,000 job cuts economists were forecasting. If there is a plus side it is that the unemployment rate did not climb to the 6.8 percent level economists were expecting.

Kloza does not believe prices will make it to a $1. Gas prices neared a dollar last time on Dec. 18, 2001, three months after the terrorist attacks and the country in its last recession, when prices hit $1.08 a gallon.

Though the weak gasoline prices point how bad the economy is, they also could help it turnaround.

Kloza figures the U.S. gasoline bill at $1.75 per gallon average will be about $20.5 billion this month, down about $16 billion a year ago. Five years ago, the bill was $17.2 billion.

"That could be one important spur to some kind of economic recovery," Sundstrom said.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures tumbled 6.83 cents to settle at 90 cents. Heating oil slid 8.26 cents to $1.4265 a gallon while natural gas for January delivery shed 24.7 cents to sell at $5.77 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, January Brent crude slipped by $2.42 cents to $39.86 on the ICE Futures exchange.

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