Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jim Cramer's Advice Slightly Worse Than A Coin Toss?

By freemoneyfinance

In a not-so-shocking analysis of one of the most-watched TV investment advisers, author Eric Tyson argues that Jim Cramer's actual stock-picking performance doesn't match the strength of his bellowing.

Besides his show Mad Money, Cramer is all over CNBC dispensing investment advice left and right. He's got to be out-performing other investment advisers and especially the market, right? Not really.

Tyson points out that Cramer's past hedge fund results (the basis for his claim of investment success) have never been audited or independently verified. Then Tyson starts his assault on Cramer's more-trackable public stock recommendations with the following:

There is a web site,, which, unbelievably, tracks all of the stock recommendations on Cramer's television show. The web site is operated by Michael McGown who has been tracking Cramer's television show picks since July, 2005. Over that time period, Cramer's picks, after being held accountable for trading fees, have performed worse than the broad market averages. His overall average with simply picking stocks that go up is pretty dismal. The most recent tally shows that out of more than 1500 stock recommendations, more than half have gone down!

A second source delivers similar, though more damaging, findings:

CXO found that Cramer's stock market predictions (monitored from 2000 onward) were worse than average and even worse than simply flipping a coin. Cramer's prognostications fared better than the market averages only 47 percent of the time. Regarding Cramer's predictions, CXO comments that, "His predictions sometimes swing dramatically from optimistic to pessimistic, and back again, over short periods. It is difficult to infer his guiding valuation theory, if he has one. We wonder whether he tends to be swayed by the arguments of forceful advocates with whom he most recently interacted...He seems more a stream of uncalibrated opinion than a stock market maven."

Finally, Tyson includes a link to a video where Cramer, "boldly proclaimed that the stock market lows hit in mid-July marked the end of the stock market's downturn!" We all know what's happened to the market since then — July was certainly not anywhere near the low point.

As with any advice, Tyson says it's "buyer beware" when listening to financial advisers who claim to have superior knowledge but no real proof of success. Media outlets build up investment "experts" (or "personalities" if you prefer) to generate ratings, period. If the advisers can do that, they're a success for TV. But that in no way means their advice will prove success for the viewer that applies it. Think about it this way, do you really want to take investment advice from an actor?

For our money, we'd go with Warren Buffet's advice and recommend index funds. Then again, our investment performance is yet to be verified as well. Time will tell.

Original here

As Economy Dips, Arrests for Shoplifting Soar


Richard R. Johnson is the first to admit it was a bad idea.

Enlarge This Image
Joe Raymond for The New York Times

Richard R. Johnson, accused of shoplifting, in front of his apartment in Elkhart, Ind., with his son.

Khampha Bouaphanh for The New York Times

Cherise Godwin of training Dallas police officers on software that helps track stolen goods being sold online.

Recently laid off from a job building trailers in Elkhart, Ind., Mr. Johnson came up a dollar short at Martin’s Supermarket last month when he went to buy a $4.99 bottle of sleep medication. So, “for some stupid reason,” he tried to shoplift it and was immediately arrested.

“I was desperate, I guess,” said Mr. Johnson, 25, who said he had never been arrested before. As the economy has weakened, shoplifting has increased, and retail security experts say the problem has grown worse this holiday season. Shoplifters are taking everything from compact discs and baby formula to gift cards and designer clothing.

Police departments across the country say that shoplifting arrests are 10 percent to 20 percent higher this year than last. The problem is probably even greater than arrest records indicate since shoplifters are often banned from stores rather than arrested.

Much of the increase has come from first-time offenders like Mr. Johnson making rash decisions in a pinch, the authorities say. But the ease with which stolen goods can be sold on the Internet has meant a bigger role for organized crime rings, which also engage in receipt fraud, fake price tagging and gift card schemes, the police and security experts say.

And as temptation has grown for potential thieves, so too has stores’ vulnerability.

“More people are desperate economically, retailers are operating with leaner staffs and police forces are cutting back or being told to deprioritize shoplifting calls,” said Paul Jones, the vice president of asset protection for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The problem, he said, could be particularly acute this December, “the month of the year when shoplifting always goes way up.”

Two of the largest retail associations say that more than 80 percent of their members are reporting sharp increases in shoplifting, according to surveys conducted in the last two months.

Compounding the problem, stores are more reluctant to stop suspicious customers because they fear scaring away much-needed business. And retailers are increasingly trying to save money by hiring seasonal workers who, security experts say, are themselves more likely to commit fraud or theft and are less practiced at catching shoplifters than full-time employees are.

More than $35 million in merchandise is stolen each day nationwide, and about one in 11 people in America have shoplifted, according to the nonprofit National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

“We used to see more repeat offenders doing it because of drug addiction,” said Samyah Jubran, an assistant district attorney in Knoxville who for 13 years has handled the bulk of the shoplifting cases there. “But many of these new offenders may be doing it because of the economic situation. Maybe they’re hurting at home, and they’re taking a risk they may not take otherwise.”

Much of the stolen merchandise is sold online.

Dave Finley, the president of, which offers software that helps store owners track stolen goods being sold online and at pawn shops, said his company had seen a 50 percent increase over the last year in the number of shoplifting investigations handled by the company.

Security experts say retail theft is also being facilitated by Web sites that sell fake receipts that thieves can use to obtain cash refunds for stolen merchandise.

Andreas Carthy, the creator of one such site, denied that he was assisting with fraud.

“We provide a no-questions-asked service,” he said in an e-mail message, adding that his site was intended for people looking for prank gifts or students seeking to inflate spending to get more generous allowances from their parents.

At about $40 each, the Web site — which insists they are “for novelty use only” — sells about 80 fake receipts a month, Mr. Carthy said.

Local law enforcement and retailers have been trying new tactics to battle shoplifting and other forms of retail crime.

In Savannah, Ga., a local convenience store chain has linked its video surveillance to a police station so officers can help monitor the store for shoplifting and other crimes. In Louisiana, the police have been requiring shoplifters, even first-time offenders, to post $1,000 bail or stay in jail until their court date. On Staten Island, malls have started posting the mug shots of repeat shoplifters on video screens.

“There are more of them, and they seem more desperate,” said a store manager about shoplifters at the nation’s largest shopping center, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., which has seen a 19 percent increase in shoplifting this year over last.

The manager, who asked not to be identified because she was not permitted to speak to reporters, said stealing gift cards was especially popular during the holidays.

Shoplifters also seem to be getting bolder, according to industry surveys.

Thieves often put stolen items in bags lined with aluminum foil to avoid detection by the storefront alarms. Others work in teams, with a decoy who tries to look suspicious to draw out undercover security agents and attract the attention of security cameras, the police said.

“We’re definitely seeing more sprinters,” said an undercover security guard at Macy’s near Oakland, Calif., referring to shoplifters who make a run for the door.

The guard said that most large department stores instructed guards not to chase shoplifters more than 100 feet outside the store, because research showed that confrontations tended to become more serious beyond that point.

The holidays are a particularly popular time for pilfering.

About 20 percent of annual retail sales occur in November and December, and even with precautions, the increased customer traffic makes it tougher to track thieves. Moreover, cashiers are rushed by long lines, making them less vigilant about checking for stolen credit cards.

Mr. Johnson, who was arrested last month, said that after being laid off from his $20-an-hour job at a trailer factory a year ago, he took a job for $6.55 an hour at McDonald’s. Six months later, he was laid off and has not been able to find a job since.

He and his two small children rely on his wife’s minimum-wage job at Wal-Mart, groceries from a food bank and help from his mother, he said.

“I just know things are going to get a lot rougher,” said Mr. Johnson, who is awaiting trial. He added that no matter how tough it became, he had no intention of shoplifting again.

Mr. Johnson said he was shocked that the store had decided to prosecute him for stealing such a small amount. A manager at Martin’s Supermarket said the store had a policy of prosecuting all shoplifting.

Retail security experts, however, say that people like Mr. Johnson do not pose the biggest threat to stores. People like Tommy Joe Tidwell do.

Mr. Tidwell, 35, pleaded guilty last month to running a shoplifting ring out of Dayton, Ohio, that netted more than $1 million, according to court papers.

After Mr. Tidwell would print fraudulent UPC bar code labels on his home computer, he and several conspirators would place them on items at Wal-Mart and other stores, then buy the merchandise for a fraction of the real price. They would resell the goods on the Internet, according to court papers.

Joe LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, said that as the holidays approached, retail security workers were keeping a close eye on receipt fraud.

But to entice shoppers, three times as many stores as last year have loosened their return policies, extending the return period and being more lenient with shoppers who lack receipts, according to the federation.

“Retailers are trying to find a balance,” Mr. LaRocca said. “They want to provide good customer service at a time when it’s crucial for customers to be able to shop comfortably or to return unwanted or duplicate gifts.

“But they also want to prevent criminals from taking advantage of them.”

Original here

Software That Opens Worlds to the Disabled

Students at the University of Southern California are shown preparing to present their program at a competition aimed at helping disabled people expand their access to computers.


ONE computer program would allow vision-impaired shoppers to point their cellphones at supermarket shelves and hear descriptions of products and prices. Another would allow a physically disabled person to guide a computer mouse using brain waves and eye movements.

The two programs were among those created by eight groups of volunteers at a two-day software-writing competition this fall. The goal of the competition, sponsored by a nonprofit corporation, is to encourage new computer programs that help disabled people expand their capabilities.

The corporation, set up by computer science students and graduates at the University of Southern California, is named Project:Possibility. It grew out of an idea two years ago by Christopher Leung, then a master’s degree candidate in computer science and engineering at the university, who was working on a project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

As Mr. Leung explained in a recent interview, “The project manager came to me and said: ‘Chris, we have several blind students coming to work with us this summer. If you can think of anything we can do for them, let me know.’ ”

At the time, Mr. Leung said, he was working on a solar system visualization program. “I came up with a project called ‘touch the sky’ where a blind person would use a forced feedback device to feel three-dimensional reconstructions of terrain on other planets,” he said.

The experience inspired him to think beyond just one group of students and one project. “It was apparent that there was a need for a larger organized effort, a community of developers and disabled persons to conceptualize projects that can help people,” Mr. Leung said. “So I gathered colleagues into a room at J.P.L., pitched the idea and asked for their help. Several of them and dozens of others since then have taken on the challenge and brought Project:Possibility to where it is today.”

The effort is centered at the University of Southern California and led by volunteers, including Ely Lerner, an information systems developer at Amgen Inc.; Elias Sayfi, a senior software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Stanley Lam, an undergraduate business student at the university.

In 2007, they organized a competition called “Code for a Cause” in which 25 students in five teams engaged in a weekend of intense computer code-writing. The event attracted assistance from executives at Google, Amgen and the propulsion laboratory. This year, in October, the competition expanded to 50 students in eight teams with mentors from Google, Amgen and the laboratory, as well as judges from Lockheed Martin and Amgen and encouraging words from a Microsoft executive.

The competition was won by Bar Code Reader, the program to help the visually impaired read information on grocery items. Second place went to Mind Control, which allows the physically disabled to guide a computer mouse by neural impulses. All the code, written in 12-hour sessions on a single weekend, made progress, but also left room for further development.

The Bar Code Reader team “didn’t hook up a cellphone, so we used a Motorola simulator,” said Michael Crowley, an associate professor of engineering practice who was the mentor for the team.

James Han, founder of ProsForPros, an Internet hosting and consulting firm for small businesses, was the mentor of the Mind Control team. “We were able to leverage open-source codes for mouse control and link to the neural actuator in the first 12 hours,” Mr. Han said. “In the second 12, we created the user interface. I believe implementation of the program is currently in development with similar devices.”

Project:Possibility directors have plans for more ambitious projects. First, there will be a competition in February with teams of computer science students at the University of California, Los Angeles, in hopes of multiplying the number of programs to help the disabled. The project also plans to create a worldwide open-source Web site on which disabled persons and software developers can collaborate on new ideas and add to existing programs.

“Imagine a specialist Facebook or MySpace-type social network in which users would be involved in designing the tools they want and need,” said Stephen A. Lee, a British software developer who operates and is a director of Project:Possibility. “Students would talk to users and work on projects that meet needs as well as be exciting.”

He estimated that “an active online community may well take six or more months to organize, as there is inertia and shyness to overcome.” There will also be costs to create such an online community, he said, “for Web hosting, associated technology costs and set-up labor.”

To date, Project:Possibility has operated without revenue and without pay for participants. Its programs belong to the nonprofit project and to the University of Southern California. Its sole source of financing was a $15,000 grant in early 2008 from the Mozilla Foundation, an organization that promotes the concept of the Internet as a public resource open to everyone.

Nor does Project:Possibility intend to be a commercial venture, Mr. Leung said. “We do not plan to earn revenue through a spread of our programs. In fact,” he said, “we plan to be completely open-source — our programs can be downloaded, modified and used by anyone at no cost — in hopes that similar programs will spread to other universities and around the world with or without our involvement.”

But, at a project meeting early this month, the directors decided to establish a paid position. “We are looking to grow and that will require people to dedicate even more of their time to this project,” Mr. Leung said. So it will be necessary to “compensate for our core positions and perhaps one day to have a full-time staff.”

Mr. Leung lives and works these days in Beijing. “I’m a Chinese-American who grew up in Northern California and never spoke Chinese,” he said. “So I’m learning Chinese and working here, but keeping in touch online with Project:Possibility.”

To pay for staff, the project will continue to depend on grants from companies and charitable groups. At some point, it hopes to establish regular fund-raising efforts for its nonprofit operations.

“What’s great is that companies like Google and Mozilla support our projects,” Mr. Leung said. The companies gain by getting ideas on technological breakthroughs and seeing ways to adapt them to everyday products. One Project:Possibility program, for example, called Community Captioner, integrates subtitles with YouTube “so the hearing-impaired can have sound with their videos.”

This column about small-business trends in California and the West appears on the third Thursday of every month. E-mail:

Original here

American Express, CIT get approval for TARP funds

By Juan Lagorio

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American Express Co and CIT Group, received approval to get $5.72 billion under the government's financial bailout program on Tuesday.

Both companies, struggling with mounting credit losses and higher financing costs, morphed into bank holding companies in order to qualify for funds under the $700 billion U.S. Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The new status would also allow American Express, the fourth-largest U.S. credit card company, and CIT to borrow funds directly from the Federal Reserve's discount window.

American Express, which has been growing more than its peers in the last years by expanding aggressively in troubled markets such as California and Florida, got preliminary approval to receive $3.39 billion in fresh funds, in exchange for preferred shares and warrants.

In addition, commercial finance firm CIT will receive $2.33 billion of government funding.

Neither company would explain how they intend to use the taxpayers' money nor did they respond to repeated calls seeking further information.

The U.S. government launched the TARP plan in October in an attempt to strengthen the capital base of banks hammered by mounting losses and unfreeze the credit markets.

The program was later extended to other non-banking financial institutions, such as American Express and CIT, and the cash-starved automakers.

"We are in a significant financial crisis. The Treasury and the Fed are making up a game plan on the fly and they are trying to strengthen lots of these financial institutions in order to get them through this period," said Marshall Front, chairman of Front Barnett Associates in Chicago, adding that further measures could still be needed.

Front does not hold shares of American Express or CIT.

The U.S. Treasury has spent around $350 billion of the TARP funds.

American Express and CIT -- which had to go through a debt-for-equity swap in order to raise $1.5 billion to become a bank holding company -- said that in exchange for the TARP funds they would sell preferred stock and warrants to the U.S. Treasury.

"We continue to believe that CIT's conversion to a bank holding company should substantially enhance the company's financing platform over the longer term," Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said in a research note.

American Express shares fell 2.5 percent to $17.96, and CIT stock rose 1.91 percent to $4.26. Shares of American Express have fallen 65 percent this year, while the stock of CIT has lost 80 percent of its value.

Original here

Petition Urges China to Free Dissident


BEIJING — More than 160 prominent writers, scholars and human rights advocates outside mainland China have signed an open letter to President Hu Jintao asking him to release a well-known intellectual and dissident who was detained this month. The letter was posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

The letter to Mr. Hu indicates that the case of the intellectual, Liu Xiaobo — one of the driving forces behind a bold manifesto demanding democratic reforms that has received worldwide attention — is quickly turning into the latest human rights cause célèbre in China. The call for his release could embarrass the Communist Party at a time when Chinese leaders are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the policy of “reform and opening up.”

Among the writers signing the letter are three Nobel laureates in literature — the South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney and the Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka — as well as other writers who regularly champion freedom of expression, including Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie.

Just as notable is the fact that foreign China scholars also signed the petition, possibly risking their access to the country. Academics specializing in Chinese studies are often cautious about taking stands on political issues deemed sensitive by the Communist Party because the Chinese government has a track record of denying visas to people who publicly oppose the party’s views. Some of the scholars who signed the petition are already on the Chinese government’s blacklist, but others still have regular access to the country.

The scholars include Geremie R. Barmé of Australian National University; Richard Baum of the University of California, Los Angeles; and Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University.

Prominent scholars in Hong Kong, which is controlled by China but enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, also signed the letter.

Mr. Liu, a 53-year-old literary critic who has directed the Independent Chinese PEN Center, a group of writers who advocate broader free speech, was taken by security officers from his home on the night of Dec. 8 and has not been heard from since.

Human rights advocates say Mr. Liu has been made a target because he was one of the driving forces behind Charter 08, the recent manifesto demanding democratic reforms and accountability from the Communist Party that was signed by more than 300 Chinese and posted on the Internet.

Others who signed the manifesto have also been detained and questioned. All except Mr. Liu have been released.

The officers who detained him took computers, cellphones and personal papers from his home. His wife and other family members have received no word of his whereabouts or condition.

The open letter to Mr. Hu says: “For the international community to take seriously China’s oft-stated commitment to respect human rights and the rule of law, and for China’s own citizens to trust the judicial system to redress legitimate grievances, it is urgent that China’s central leadership ensure that no one be arrested or harassed simply for the peaceful expression of his or her views.”

The letter notes that although Mr. Liu has been detained in the past for several years, he has never been convicted of a crime.

Mr. Baum, the political scientist at the University of California, circulated the petition on Chinapol, a Listserv managed by Mr. Baum that is read by many scholars of China. In an interview via e-mail, Mr. Baum said that he usually tried to avoid using the Listserv for political causes but that this case was different.

“While I have always tried to maintain Chinapol’s political neutrality, some violations are so egregious that I cannot, as a sentient being, remain neutral,” he said in an e-mail message.

Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Australia, said he signed the petition because “Liu was clearly arrested because of Charter 08.”

Mr. Liu supported the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and continued his dissident writings afterward, work that led to his detention by the authorities. Starting in 1996, he spent three years doing hard labor for having “repeatedly stirred up trouble and disrupted public order.” Since 1999, he has been allowed to continue his activism, but has been under surveillance.

Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that if Mr. Liu was formally arrested and charged, that would mean Chinese leaders wanted to show intellectuals that the Communist Party was hardening its line and was unwilling to tolerate any dissent.

“He’s been detained before,” Mr. Bequelin said. “But if they send him to jail, that sends a political signal.”

Original here

Dallas police link former Utah trooper to rush-hour rampage

By SCOTT GOLDSTEIN and JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News

A former Utah state trooper who attempted suicide during a standoff appears to be behind a shooting rampage that left two drivers dead during Monday evening's rush hour in Garland and northeast Dallas, police said Tuesday.

KTVX ABC TV Salt Lake City
Former State Trooper Brian Smith

Dallas police said they have preliminarily matched ballistic evidence recovered after Brian Smith, 37, fired a bullet into his head in Garland early Tuesday with evidence in the fatal freeway shooting of truck driver William Scott Miller, 42.

Dallas police said they moved quickly to establish the link, in part because of growing concerns from the public that a killer randomly targeting motorists might be on the loose.

"It is safe to be out and about doing your Christmas shopping," homicide commander Lt. Craig Miller said. "Go about your business as normal."

Mr. Smith, who was also wanted on arrest warrants for robbery and burglary in Southlake, was on life support Tuesday night at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Garland police stopped short of a similar link in the slaying of Jorge Lopez, 20, of Rowlett, who was shot north of LBJ Freeway minutes before Mr. Miller.

"Do things point in his direction? Yes, they do, but we want to prove that forensically and we just don't feel we've got enough evidence to say forensically, for sure, that's him," said Officer Joe Harn, Garland police spokesman.

Mr. Smith resigned from the Utah Department of Public Safety in May for drinking in his patrol car and theft.

Pharmacy robbery

He moved to North Texas and was suspected in several crimes, including a robbery at a Kroger pharmacy at Walnut Street and Garland Avenue shortly before the shootings were reported Monday night.

Police were called to the store about 5:30 p.m. after a man who identified himself as Brian Smith, armed with a handgun, jumped the counter and stole painkillers, Officer Harn said.

At 5:41 p.m., Garland police were called to the intersection of Jupiter Road and Marquis Drive. Mr. Lopez was stopped at a red light when someone pulled alongside his car and fired several shots, killing him, police said.

The next three shootings were reported in quick succession along westbound LBJ between Jupiter Road and Forest Lane. Kenneth Black Jr., 62, was not injured when shots were fired at him, police said.

Mr. Miller was shot and killed minutes later, his United Van Lines 18-wheeler coming to rest in a middle lane of westbound LBJ, just west of Miller Road.

Next, Gary Roberts, 46, suffered minor injuries when shots were fired into the cab of his 18-wheeler along westbound LBJ, near Forest Lane.

One witness to the Garland shooting reported seeing a tan extended-cab Ford F-150 pickup at the time. However, one of the surviving Dallas victims said he saw a black sport utility vehicle following closely behind him before shots were fired at him.

Several hours later, about 9:15 p.m., Garland police spotted Mr. Smith stopped at State Highway 66, near Commerce Street, in a black Honda sport utility vehicle. Police knew that he was wanted in Southlake and that he was reportedly suicidal and armed.

SWAT officers called to the scene surrounded him and tried to contact him for nearly three hours, to no avail. Shortly after midnight, Mr. Smith drove the vehicle forward, a SWAT truck blocked him in and he struck it with his car.

As officers rushed toward him, he fired a single shot.

At the scene early Tuesday, Garland police said there was no indication that Mr. Smith was connected to the motorist shootings. But over the next several hours, the investigation began to point in his direction.

TV show

A $20,000 reward was posted for information in the case, and hundreds of tips poured in from across the country. Many tipsters referred to a recent episode of the TV series Criminal Minds, in which a man kills blond women driving luxury cars on Southern California freeways, according to the show's Web site.

The families of the victims, meanwhile, grappled with the senseless killings.

When Mr. Miller was shot, he was on his way to park his rig before flying home to Frankfort, Ky., to be with his wife and children.

"He was a good man – honest and hardworking," said Dennis Tolson, president of Vincent Fister Inc., an agent of United Van Lines. "Customers loved him. He had great personal skills."

Mr. Miller, who was in the National Guard and served in Desert Storm, worked in a tool-and-die shop and was a cabinet maker before becoming a trucker.

"He always had a smile on his face and was the first to lend a hand to family and friends in need," said Donna Hammons, Mr. Miller's sister.

Mr. Lopez's friends and family mourned a young man who had planned to propose to his girlfriend of three years on Christmas Day.

"The whole family is just in shock. ... We just can't believe it," said his brother Luis Lopez. "You know, he was so innocent, he never would try to do anything to nobody."

Mr. Lopez, 20, enjoyed fishtailing in his small Nissan. The car he died in was an ongoing project of his.

For those who narrowly escaped serious injury or death, the shootings remained a frightening ordeal.

Mr. Black was driving west on LBJ Freeway when he heard a "pop" that shattered the window on the passenger side of his truck.

The Euless man ducked to avoid any more bullets, raising his head only long enough to steer his vehicle.

"I was trying to keep my rig on the road," said Mr. Black. "I tried to outrun him but couldn't, so I slammed on the brakes."

"It was scary," said Mr. Black. "I was just trying to get away from him."

Staff writers Wendy Hundley and Jason Trahan and WFAA-TV contributed to this report.

Original here

Obama chooses Lincoln's Bible for inauguration

President-elect Barack Obama will use the same Bible at his inauguration that Abraham Lincoln used for his swearing in.

Obama will be the first president since Lincoln to use that Bible, part of the collection of the Library of Congress.

"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett Beliveau said in a statement Tuesday.

Obama is also tracing the train route that Lincoln took and holding a welcome event at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration.

The burgundy velvet Bible with gilded edges was purchased and inscribed by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court.

It will be on display at the Library of Congress Feb. 12 to May 9 as part of an exhibition titled "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition." The exhibit will then travel to five other American cities — Sacramento, Calif., Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Omaha, Neb. — in commemoration of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth on Feb. 12, 1809.

Original here

Pope likens "saving" gays to saving the rainforest

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behavior was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

"(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed," the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.

"The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less."

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality "a deviation, an irregularity, a wound."

The pope said humanity needed to "listen to the language of creation" to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as "a destruction of God's work."

He also defended the Church's right to "speak of human nature as man and woman, and ask that this order of creation be respected."

(Reporting by Phil Stewart)

Original here


BEIJING — The Chinese government unblocked the Web site of The New York Times on Monday, allowing Internet users in mainland China to view the site after access had been stopped for more than three days.

Chinese authorities began blocking the site on Thursday night without giving any explanation. The Chinese government usually blocks access to Web sites that it deems to have sensitive information, including sites with information about Tibet, Taiwan and Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement.

During the Summer Olympics in August, the government lifted bans on some sites, such as the Chinese-language site of BBC News; it then reimposed the bans in recent weeks, affecting the BBC site and other sites such as the Chinese language versions of Voice of America and Asiaweek, before lifting them again last week.

Government employees reached by telephone on Monday said they did not know why the site of The New York Times was blocked in recent days.

Original here