Off the Wires

Crucifixion re-enactment in the Philippines

March 25th, 2016  |  Source: Thecircumference.org

For approximately 73 million Catholic Filipinos, this is a special time of year when penance and sacrifices are made prior to the resurrection of their Lord Jesus. They say Filipino faith can move mountains, and in some cases it can even influence them to nail their hands to a cross or be cut by whips in order to endure the suffering of Jesus. It may sound a bit weird, but Filipinos take the word sacrifice very seriously. 

Every Good Friday, thousands of locals and tourists flock to small towns throughout the Philippines, such as Pampanga or Jordan, to witness the crucifixion acted out in what is known as "Pagtaltal sa Guimaras." This re-enactment of Christ's Passion includes the last supper, scourging at the pillar, carrying of the cross, the seven last words and the crucifixion. Leading up to the crucifixion re-enactment, thousands of penitents will whip themselves in this voluntary ritual. The practice of crucifixion itself is controversial and not encouraged by the church—willing participants have their palms nailed into a cross. For over thirty-three years the crucifixion re-enactment has been taking place every Good Friday and ends at 3 p.m. when the person portraying the role of Jesus is nailed on the cross. According to Catholics, this is also the exact time when Jesus died. 

The people who portray the role of Jesus during the crucifixion re-enactment say they do it for sacrifice, personal penance, good will and blessings. Over the years, different people have portrayed the role of Jesus, including females and even visiting tourists. Whether you're Catholic or not, the crucifixion re-enactment is a shockingly bold introduction to the Filipino faith.


Radovan Karadžić sentenced to 40 years for genocide at Srebrenica

March 24th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić has been found guilty of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica and sentenced to 40 years in jail.

The key verdict from a United Nations tribunal in The Hague was delivered 18 months after a five-year trial of Karadžić, who was accused of being one of the chief architects of atrocities during the 1992-95 Balkans war.

The 70-year-old, who insisted his actions were aimed at protecting Serbs during the Bosnian conflict, was found guilty of 10 out of the 11 charges he faced at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).


This gun looks exactly like a smartphone

March 23rd, 2016  |  Source: Marketwatch.com

Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just... carrying an iPhone?

The Ideal Conceal handgun has made waves for what its maker calls an “ingenious” design that looks exactly like a smartphone when in the “locked” position.

Ideal Conceal says on its website that, indeed, hardly anybody will notice it: “Smartphones are EVERYWHERE, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment. In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.”

The Ideal Conceal weapon is a .380-caliber derringer. Two bullets in two barrels. While the gun is still patent-pending, It’s expected to be available by mid-2016 for $395 each.

“From soccer moms to professionals of every type, this gun allows you the option of not being a victim,” the company says. “Most threats will occur in less than a 30’ range. Ease and speed of deployment will mean the difference in the outcome. With the Ideal Conceal pistol you can be quick on the draw stopping a threat effectively and immediately.”

Ideal Conceal looks to be tapping into the gun market at an opportune time. Earlier this month, firearms giant Smith & Wesson SWHC, +0.57%  rode a groundswell of demand to surprisingly strong quarterly results. The stock has more than doubled in the past year, as uncertainty over gun laws and the rising threat of terrorism have caused customers to load up.


U.S. airlines cancel Brussels flights after blasts

March 22nd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

U.S. airlines including Delta, United and American canceled flights on Tuesday after two deadly blasts in a packed departure area of the Brussels Airport at Zaventem.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in one of the Tuesday morning airport explosions, which public broadcaster VRT said killed 14 people. Another 20 were killed when a blast tore through a rush-hour metro train in the European capital shortly afterward, VRT said.

Video at the airport, which was shut down, showed devastation, with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes.

While there were no credible threats to U.S. airports or transportation hubs, police presence was beefed up as a precaution in the nation's major cities, including New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

Delta Air Lines Inc said its flight DL42 from New York to Brussels was diverted to Amsterdam. Another flight, DL80 from Atlanta, had landed safely at the Zaventem airport and was parked remotely while the airline's local staff helped passengers exit safely.

News of the multiple blasts, which have Brussels on lockdown and have snarled some cross-border traffic, sent shares of U.S. airlines and travel-related companies lower. Delta was down 2.1 percent at $49.04 in morning New York Stock Exchange trading, while United Continental Holdings Inc fell 1.4 percent to $69.34.

United Airlines, which had two flights due in Brussels on Tuesday morning, said both landed there safely.

The company said it was suspending all remaining flights to and from Brussels.

American Airlines Group Inc said it had canceled flight 751 from Brussels to Philadelphia and would accommodate its passengers when the airport reopens.

The explosions did not occur where American's check-in operates, the company said, so all of its airport employees are safe and accounted for.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc said all of its hotels in Brussels were on lockdown, along with the rest of the city.

Facebook Inc said it had activated its "safety check" feature, which allows its users to check on friends who were in the area of the blasts.


Defense Department agency aims to tap into Boston's cybersecurity industry

March 21st, 2016  |  Source: www.bizjournals.com

The head of U.S. Cyber Command said he'd like to see the military cybersecurity agency establish a unit in Boston.

U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers told lawmakers in Washington last week that his goal is to allow the U.S. Department of Defense to set up an outpost of CYBERCOM in Boston. It would be the second satellite location for the agency; a similar outpost was set up in Silicon Valley.

The Boston effort would function on its own, but the command would also rely "on a cadre of former military people who work in the area and can act as advisers and intermediaries," according to Politico.

CYBERCOM's goal would be to try to tap into technology being developed at local companies and apply them to government cybersecurity-related missions.

 

Rogers told lawmakers that working with the private sector is the “next big area we need to get into."

CYBERCOM, based in Fort Meade, Maryland, reports to the Defense Department's United States Strategic Command. The agency's goals include defending the U.S. against cyber attacks from other countries or state actors as well as supporting combatant commanders.


The U.S. Is Exporting Its Oil Everywhere

March 18th, 2016  |  Source: Bloomberg

Three months since the U.S. lifted a 40-year ban on oil exports, American crude is flowing to virtually every corner of the market and reshaping the world’s energy map.

Overseas sales, which started on Dec. 31 with a small cargo aboard the Theo T tanker, have been picking up speed. Oil companies including Exxon Mobil Corp and China Petroleum and Chemical Corp have joined independent traders such as Vitol Group and Trafigura Pte in exporting American crude.

The "growing volumes of exports" from the U.S. are now "spooking the markets," Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultants Energy Aspects Ltd. in London, said in a note. The "flurry of export activity" is helping to support spot oil prices in the U.S. relative to contracts for later delivery, she wrote.

With American stockpiles at unprecedented levels, oil tankers laden with U.S. crude have docked in, or are heading to, countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, China and Panama. Oil traders said other destinations are likely, just as supplies in Europe and the Mediterranean region are also increasing.

Small Scale

That said, the U.S. is likely to remain for the foreseeable future a small exporter compared with OPEC giants Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq and non-OPEC producers Mexico and Russia. Ian Taylor, chief executive of Vitol, the company behind the first export, believes exports will remain a "very marginal business.”

Yet, tanker by tanker, overseas sales are growing.

Enterprise Products Partners LP, one of the biggest operators of oil ports in the U.S., told investors this month it alone expected to handle exports of crude and condensates -- a form of ultra-high quality oil -- of about 165,000 barrels a day during the first quarter, up almost 28 percent from the 2015 average.

Cheaper Transport

One reason behind the rise in exports is cheap pipeline and railway fees to move crude from the fields in Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota into the ports of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Another is that U.S. oil prices have been trading at a discount to Brent crude, allowing traders to move oil from one shore of the Atlantic to another at a profit.

The exports could relieve pressure on storage capacity in the U.S. after stockpiles rose to the highest level in official data going back to 1930. The tanks at the oil hub of Cushing, the biggest in the country and the delivery point for benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude, are 92.5 percent full, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The risk is that the U.S. could shift the glut into Europe and the Mediterranean, where there are higher-than-usual loadings from the North Sea and the arrival of the first barrels of Iranian crude to the region since 2012.

Texas to Sicily

The export ban was imposed in the aftermath of a 1973 to 1974 oil embargo by the Arab members of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It crippled the U.S. economy and highlighted its dependence on imports.

Before it was lifted, the U.S. sold as much as 500,000 barrels a day overseas, from Alaska and a few other origins allowed under federal law.

Exxon in early March became the first major U.S. oil company to ship American crude from elsewhere, sending the Maran Sagitta tanker from Beaumont, Texas, into a refinery it owns in Sicily, Italy. Days later, Sinopec lifted on the Pinnacle Spirt tanker a cargo of U.S. crude, a first for a Chinese oil group.

Oil traders are starting to export American crude to store it overseas and profit from a market condition called contango. That’s where prices of oil for delivery today are lower than those in future months. Buyers with access to storage can fill up their tanks with cheap crude and sell higher-priced futures contracts to lock in a profit.

Gunvor Group Ltd., a commodities trader with main offices in Geneva, plans to ship 600,000 barrels of U.S. crude to a storage terminal in Panama. It’s then likely to ship the crude in Europe.

Oil traders are expecting more vessels to depart over coming weeks, with companies seeking to open new export routes from the U.S. West Coast and also moving barrels from new locations, including directly out of Cushing.


Diamond Hunters Scent Hidden Fountainhead of Huge Gems in Angola

March 17th, 2016  |  Source: Bloomberg

The diamond explorers known for discovering some of the world’s most-valuable gems in recent years, including a 404-carat stone sold last month, say they’re closing in on the source of their finds.

Lucapa Diamond Co., the Perth, Australia-based company that’s unearthed a stream of discoveries sifting through Angola’s gem-rich soil, is using cash from such sales to seek the “kimberlite” diamond-bearing rock where the stones probably originated.

“We’re finding some of the very best diamonds in the world,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Wetherall said in an interview in London. “It’s telling us there is something big close by.”

Lucapa are currently alluvial miners, combing for diamonds that have been washed out of the kimberlite core. However, about 85 percent of the world’s diamonds are found by directly mining the cores, carrot-shaped pipes formed when violent explosions forced molten rock from the Earth’s mantle up to the surface, carrying a diamond lode.

Tell-Tale Signs

This is what Lucapa is hoping for next. While alluvial gems are easier to mine, it’s hard to tell how long any deposit will last. Hitting kimberlite is where the big money is made.

The CEO and his team say they’re finding tell-tale signs of kimberlite beneath the area they’re currently mining. Using cash from their share of the $16.7 million raised from the 404-carat diamond, the biggest ever found in Angola, the company is bringing in drill rigs and hopes for a better idea of what they have by the end of the second quarter.

Lucapa has also discovered five more gems greater than 50 carats this year.

Discovering kimberlite is no guarantee of success. Of the more than 6,000 such pipes that have been tested in the past 140 years, only 60 have been worthwhile mining, according to De Beers, the former monopolist and still the biggest producer of diamonds. No more then 10 of those have been so-called super deposits, capable of shifting global supply.

Another obstacle is Angola, not always an easy place to operate. De Beers has cut back its operations there, while BHP Billiton Ltd., Petra Diamonds Ltd. and Trans Hex Group Ltd. also surrendered deposits in the past. Producers must sell their stones through Angola’s Sodiam state marketing unit, resulting in discount prices relative to global trading hubs.

Should Lucapa find the conditions it’s seeking, the Australian-listed miner will probably look to London and its mining-investor base to fund the expensive business of building a mine.

“London understands diamonds and London has the pockets,” Wetherall said.


Secret Service manpower shortage as campaigns ramp up

March 16th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

The Secret Service, tasked with simultaneously protecting President Barack Obama and some of the Republican and Democratic candidates now running to replace him next year, is facing a manpower shortfall at a time of peak demand, the agency told Congress on Tuesday.

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told a House Appropriations panel the agency is focused on “human capital needs across the organization” and accruing enough agents to ease overtime demands on the existing force.

The Secret Service hopes to have 7,600 agents in its ranks by fiscal year 2019, up from the current figure of approximately 6,200, Committee Chairman John Carter of Texas said during Tuesday's hearing.

While Clancy said the Secret Service was making progress in hiring more agents, "we have yet to see the desired impact on our overall staffing levels due to increased attrition.”

Clancy testified at a hearing to review the agency's funding needs for the fiscal year starting on Oct. 1.

Demands of the mission are peaking, he added, with Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions slated for this summer, the general elections in November and presidential inaugural events in January.

Carter cited the loss of 19 agents in the last four months and the large amounts of overtime hours agents have had to put in on the president’s detail, on the campaign trail and in the uniformed division.

Carter, a Republican, questioned whether the service’s hiring goals were “obtainable” with the agency “losing more agents than they have brought on board.”

Clancy responded that the agency is exploring initiatives to lure more applicants and retain current agents.

The Secret Service was rocked in 2012 when it surfaced that some agents working a presidential trip to Colombia were involved with prostitutes. In 2014, agents failed to stop a man who jumped the White House fence, ran across the lawn and made it into the mansion before he was apprehended.

More recently, during a rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump in Radford, Virginia, a Time magazine photographer was grabbed by the neck and shoved to the ground by a Secret Service agent. An agency spokeswoman said the service is investigating the incident.

Besides protecting the president and presidential candidates, Secret Service agents investigate financial crimes such as counterfeiting of U.S. currency and credit card and fraud.


Russian warplanes leave Syria, raising U.N. hopes for peace talks

March 15th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

 

Russian warplanes began leaving Syria on Tuesday as Moscow started to draw down forces that have tipped the war President Bashar al-Assad's way, and the U.N. envoy said he hoped the move would have a positive impact on peace talks under way in Geneva.

As the first aircraft touched down in Russia, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura called it a "significant development" and said he hoped President Vladimir Putin's move would advance progress toward a solution and a peaceful political transition in Syria.

Putin's announcement of the withdrawal of the "main part" of Russian armed forces in Syria has led Assad's opponents to speculate Moscow may be trying to press him toward a political settlement, though Damascus has dismissed any talk of differences with its ally and says the move was coordinated.

It was unclear what the withdrawal would mean for the outcome of the war or for the future of Assad.

The talks under way in Geneva are part of a diplomatic push launched with U.S.-Russian support to end the five-year-long war that has killed more than 250,000 people, created the world's worst refugee crisis, and allowed for the rise of Islamic State.

U.S.-Russian cooperation had already brought about a lull in the war going into the talks via a "cessation of hostilities agreement" that led to a sharp decline in fighting between rebels and the government in western Syria.

But the Syrian government, which had been losing ground to rebels before Russia intervened, had indicated it was no mood to compromise on the eve of the talks, calling the presidency a "red line" and ruling out a negotiated transfer of power.

Read on here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKCN0WH0LT


The Gold Medal for Questionable Spending Goes to Olympic Sportswear Sponsors

March 14th, 2016  |  Source: Bloomberg

To judge by revenue, perhaps Nike, Adidas, and company would be better off without the Games.

Let the Olympic marketing games begin.

Under Armour already has released a commercial featuring Michael Phelps that made the god of swimming cry. Dick’s Sporting Goods put out a tear-jerker of its own, featuring employees who are bound for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Nike, meanwhile, is gathering a dozens of journalists in New York on Wednesday for a product unveiling expected to be heavily geared toward athletes competing for medals in Brazil.

"The Olympics give us the opportunity to deliver our very best," Jeanne Jackson, Nike president of product and merchandising, recently told a Wall Street crowd. "We get to inspire the consumer, we get to accelerate the business through our product."

"Accelerate" might be overselling it a bit. Sure, the Olympic marketing blitz is powerful, emotional stuff and it may win some brand loyalty. But track spikes, fencing foils, and skin-tight swimsuits won’t be flying off the shelves this summer. When it comes to actually selling sportswear, the Olympics are downright unimpressive. Compared with the global might of the FIFA World Cup, for example, the Olympic Games are indeed amateur hour.

heart-rending marketing doesn't come cheap. Operating expenses during Olympic quarters outpaced sales gains, with an average 12.2 percent increase. All things considered, the return on Olympic marketing for companies such as Nike may actually be negative, depending on what kind of expected lifetime value executives put on badminton maniacs.

“At the end of the day, what are these companies really going to sell?” asks Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand. “Are you going to go out and buy a track suit? Maybe a javelin?”

An aggressive Olympics strategy can even backfire on sponsors. During the Sochi Games in 2014, Under Armour was stuck in a public-relations disaster after struggling U.S. speed skaters cast aspersions on its aerodynamic suits.

Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, said that even though direct sales may be sluggish, it's increasingly important for big brands to have a presence at the Games. "The revenue gains by Under Armour have produced a very legitimate third entrant in the race with Adidas and Nike," he explained. "While the ROI is always hard to prove, the risk of not investing is too great. "

Read on here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-14/the-gold-medal-for-questionable-spending-goes-to-olympic-sportswear-sponsors




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