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Purveyor's Journal
Purveyor's Journal
December 31, 2013

Despite More Gadgets, Electricity Use In U.S. Homes Falling To 2001 Levels

The average amount of electricity consumed in U.S. homes has fallen to levels last seen more than a decade ago, back when the smartest device in people’s pockets was a Palm pilot and anyone talking about a tablet was probably an archaeologist or a preacher.

Because of more energy-efficient housing, appliances and gadgets, power usage is on track to decline in 2013 for the third year in a row, to its lowest point since 2001, even though our lives are more electrified.

Here’s a look at what has changed since the last time consumption was so low.


In the early 2000s, as energy prices rose, more states adopted or toughened building codes to force builders to better seal homes so heat or air-conditioned air doesn’t seep out so fast. That means newer homes waste less energy.

Also, insulated windows and other building technologies have dropped in price, making retrofits of existing homes more affordable. In the wake of the financial crisis, billions of dollars in Recovery Act funding was directed toward home-efficiency programs.



I wish the electric rates were back to the 2001 levels...

December 31, 2013

Are Women of the Wall Pathbreakers or Provocateurs?

By Dahlia Lithwick and Susan Silverman and Hillel Halkin
Published December 30, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.

For 25 years, the Women of the Wall have met for prayer services at the Kotel at the beginning of each Jewish month. But until a Jerusalem court’s ruling this past April, women in the group who donned prayer shawls or sang too loudly would often be detained by police. Now the police are protecting the women’s new rights, and compromise plans to accommodate their demand for equality are in the works. But there has also been a backlash. Leading rabbis denounced the group in the harshest terms and called for protests, with some turning violent. And even non-religious Israelis fear that the women might be going too far in upsetting the status quo.

Hillel Halkin:

The Women of the Wall, as they’re called, are childish provocateurs. They have all of Israel in which to pray with tefillin and tallitot. Doing it demonstratively at a site that is and always has been heavily frequented by observant Jews who find the spectacle of women in traditionally male ritual garb repugnant has nothing to do with religious freedom. It has nothing to do with any sane kind of feminism. It has nothing to do with rational political protest. It has to do only with the narcissism of thinking that one’s rights matter more than anyone else’s feelings or the public interest.

This is a narcissism that’s typical of our me-first age. An Orthodox Jew is hurt by how I behave in his presence? That’s his problem. (If he were black, gay or transsexual, of course, it would be very much my problem — but that’s another story.) Large numbers of Jews coming to pray at the Wall have their experience spoiled by me? That’s their problem. I’m besmirching an Israeli government that’s simply trying to keep the peace by portraying it throughout the world as reactionary and misogynist? That’s its problem. I have my rights!

Dahlia Lithwick and Susan Silverman:

One of the arguments against us goes something like this: Since our prayer is more upsetting and horrifying to the Haredim, the right and decorous thing to do is to honor them with our capitulation. But the whole enterprise of speculating about each side’s relative sensitivity is like speculating about relative purity of body or religious conviction. It is an argument that merely repurposes all the old stereotypes: that women seeking to pray as they choose in the women’s section of the Kotel are less passionate, less sensitive or less heartfelt than other Jews. These are efforts to delegitimize and stigmatize the opponent, in lieu of entering into a meaningful debate about ideas. It’s an age-old — dare we say “political” — tactic. It’s also cheap. Take us on our own terms, accept that we are as worthy of our views as you are. That would require seeing us as equally human, which might also end the chair throwing. But it is the only, and happily the most Jewish, path to resolution.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/189580/are-women-of-the-wall-pathbreakers-or-provocateu/#ixzz2p0XVf6kU

December 31, 2013

Russia Bombings: Close Enough To Sochi Olympics For Terrorists' Aim

By Carol J. Williams
December 30, 2013, 3:53 p.m.

With a little more than 400 miles between them, Volgograd is as far from the southern Russian resort of Sochi as Los Angeles is from Lake Tahoe.

But for the purpose of sowing fear throughout Russia and among foreign athletes and spectators headed to the Olympic Games in the next few weeks, the presumed twin suicide bombings in the Volga River city were close enough to the sporting venue for the Islamic separatists presumed to be behind them.

The Caucasus mountain region between the Caspian and Black seas has for centuries been a seething caldron of ethnic and religious conflict between the Islamic peoples of statelets such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and Ossetia and the Russian forces that have sought to vanquish them.

Post-Soviet Russia fought two wars in the 1990s to quell Chechen separatism, and the region has since been a launch pad for dozens of terrorist strikes against Russian cities and symbols. Caucasus militants over the last dozen years have killed hundreds of civilians in attacks on airports, trains, subway stations, schools, hospitals and theaters, all part of a loosely coordinated campaign of terror aimed at forcing Moscow to grant the predominantly Muslim region self-rule.

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov warned in July that Sochi would be a target of the multi-pronged insurgency, calling the Winter Games "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors."

Although the Olympics don't begin until Feb. 7, Sochi is already robustly patrolled by naval vessels along the Black Sea coast, and heavily defended checkpoints are operating along the roads and rail lines leading to the host city on the western flank of the roiling Caucasus.



December 31, 2013

EU Protests To Netanyahu Over Planned Wave Of Settlement Construction

The European Union’s ambassador to Israel lodged a protest Sunday over the decision to the build 1,400 new housing units in West Bank settlements, which was announced as Israel prepares to release a third group of Palestinian prisoners Monday night.

It is unclear if Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen’s protest to the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry will be also be accompanied by EU action against Israel.

An Israeli official and a European diplomat said Faaborg-Andersen called Eran Lerman, Israel’s National Security Council official in charge of foreign policy, and expressed “deep concern” over the plan for a new wave of construction. He approached Foreign Ministry officials with the same concern. At the same time, the British ambassador in Israel, Matthew Gould, conveyed an identical message in talks with senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials.

A week ago, Haaretz disclosed that the ambassadors from Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy had met with the acting director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, and demanded that Israel not announce new construction in West Bank settlements to follow the release of the Palestinian prisoners. The ambassadors warned that if the peace process collapsed in the wake of a new announcement of settlement construction, the EU would place the blame on Israel.



December 30, 2013

Unemployment Benefits Lapse Severs Lifeline for Longtime Jobless

Laura Walker, a 63-year-old paralegal, has been looking for work since January, when she was laid off from a California law firm. Until today, she could count on $450 a week in federal unemployment benefits for help.

Now, those checks will disappear, just as they will for 1.3 million other Americans whose emergency aid ran out Dec. 28.

“Not all of us have savings and a lot of us have to take care of family because of what happened in the economy,” said Walker, of Santa Clarita, who said she has applied for at least three jobs a week and shares an apartment with her unemployed son, his wife and two children. “It’s going to put my family and me out on the streets.”

The program, started during the recession, was intended to help jobless people after they exhausted state benefits, typically lasting six months. House Republicans resisted continuing the benefits without budget cuts elsewhere to cover the cost. Keeping it running another year would cost $25 billion and spur the economy enough to create about 200,000 jobs, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.

“It lacks compassion for the victims of the recession and, economically, it’s shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, which backs policies that help low-income workers. “The timing is very premature. The evidence is that people who want work can’t find it.”



December 30, 2013

Are The Sochi Olympics Heading For Disaster?

By Michael Hiltzik
December 30, 2013, 2:20 p.m.

Security concerns have been entwined with the planning for every Olympiad at least since Munich 1972. The horrific events in Volgograd in recent days are only a reminder that the Sochi Winter Olympics will open some five weeks from now in a frighteningly unstable part of the former Soviet empire.

The North Caucasus, as two prominent critics of the Olympics project have written, is "a region with a traditionally high terrorist threat level." The Volgograd bombings add another layer of tension and doubt about Russian security preparations.

But there are more reasons for concern for the success of these Olympics, a personal project of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They're being staged in the worst conceivable location, stupendously over budget, rife with corruption and logistically nightmarish. The head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, says he expects the games to be safe, secure, and successful, but what else can he say? The games open on Feb. 7.

Many people are wondering if these will be the Olympics where the most dire warnings come true.

The most assiduous critics are Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk. The former is a Sochi native and former candidate for mayor (he has said the election was rigged against him). He and Martynyuk are longtime anti-Putin activists. Their report on the chicanery surrounding the Sochi project, "Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics," first published on May 30 and since updated, makes for a shocking read.

"Russia is a winter country," they begin. "It’s hard to find a place on the map of Russia where there hasn’t been snow and where winter sports are not developed. But Putin found such a spot and decided to hold the winter Olympics there. It’s the city of Sochi."



December 30, 2013

Gold Declines on Way to Worst Year Since 1981 as Silver Drops

Gold fell for the first time in four sessions in New York, set for its biggest annual loss in three decades, as an improving economy cut demand for a protection of wealth. Silver futures also retreated.

Bullion slid to $1,186 an ounce on Dec. 19, near this year’s low set in June, before rebounding to a one-week high of $1,218.90 on Dec. 27. Global equities traded near the highest since 2007 before reports this week that may show gains in U.S. housing and manufacturing.

“We’re seeing improving economies with little or no inflation,” Frank McGhee, the head dealer at Integrated Brokerage Services in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “The fear has been stripped out of the market, and absent inflation, I think we’ll see gold continue to grind lower into next year.”

Gold futures for February delivery fell 0.8 percent to settle at $1,203.80 at 1:41 p.m. on the Comex in New York. Trading was 49 percent below the average for the past 100 days for this time of day, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Gold has tumbled 28 percent this year, set for the worst annual plunge since 1981. Some investors lost faith in the metal as a store of value amid a rally in equities and an improving economy, which prompted the Federal Reserve to pare its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. Holdings in exchange-traded products backed by bullion dropped 33 percent this year to the least since 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show.



December 30, 2013

Target Seen Losing Customers in Wake of Card Data Breach

At the height of the holiday shopping season, Target Corp. (TGT) finds itself grappling to maintain customers’ loyalty in the wake of a breach that exposed data from 40 million debit and credit cards.

Since disclosing the breakdown last week, the second-largest U.S. discount chain has agreed to give some shoppers free credit reporting, assured them they wouldn’t be responsible for fraudulent charges and offered a 10 percent discount on purchases last weekend to regain their trust. In its latest statement, Target said yesterday it’s unveiling a dedicated website for communications to customers.

“They’ve been doing everything that they can,” Robert Passikoff, president of New York consulting firm Brand Keys, said yesterday in an interview. Still, “you’re going to see, at the wrong time of year, people who are moving to other alternatives until some comfort level comes back.”

Target said Dec. 19 that security for the cards may have been breached between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 as they made purchases in stores. While the chain said it had identified and resolved the issue, the compromise occurred during the most important period of the year for retailers and with shoppers already showing reluctance to spend. The retailer said yesterday it’s aware of “limited incidents” of fake communications claiming to be from Target, prompting it to set up the dedicated breach communication site.

Even before the incident, Target had been struggling to boost sales and earnings. The retailer’s third-quarter profit trailed analysts’ estimates as U.S. shoppers held back and expansion into Canada dragged on earnings, sending net income down 46 percent from a year earlier.



December 30, 2013

Kerry Heads to Mideast for More Israeli-Palestinian Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is under pressure on his 10th visit to the Middle East to show tangible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian settlement after passing the midpoint of a nine-month timetable he set for resolution of core differences.

The top U.S. diplomat, set to return to the region on New Year’s Day, will meet in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in Ramallah with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Dec. 28 in a statement.

One symbolic sign of movement would be a face-to-face meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders as Kerry seeks to narrow differences -- over borders, security, the rights of refugees and the status of Jerusalem -- that have confounded U.S.-led efforts at mediation for years.

“Right now, the effort is to reach a framework agreement that will guide the negotiations in the direction of a final deal that will end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said yesterday in an interview on Israel’s Army Radio. While “the framework agreement could be more detailed, or less detailed,” it has to let the two sides know where the talks are heading, he said.



December 30, 2013

Life Support Cutoff Looms for Brain Dead California Teen

Source: ABC News Radio

(OAKLAND, Calif.) -- Time is running out for the family of a brain dead California teenager as it scrambles to find a facility to take her before the court order keeping her on life support expires Monday.

Jahi McMath, 13, was declared brain dead following a surgery to remove her tonsils and adenoids on Dec. 9.

An Oakland judge ruled last week that the hospital could remove Jahi from life support only after the family had time to appeal or make other arraignments.

Despite multiple doctors agreeing that Jahi is brain dead, her family has battled the Children's Hospital Oakland to keep her on life support.

Read more: http://www.wtma.com/common/more.php?m=58&ts=1388433002&article=79FB8D1F718911E3B51EFEFDADE6840A&mode=2

Jahi McMath Life Support Expires At 5 P.M. At Oakland Hospital, Family Of Brain-Dead Girl Will ‘Fight Until The Very Last Second’

At 5 p.m. Monday, Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland in Northern California will remove 13-year-old Jahi McMath from life support when a court order to keep the Oakland teen on a ventilator expires. McMath was put on a breathing machine earlier this month after a routine tonsillectomy left her brain-dead.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Jahi’s family is struggling to find a new hospital that will take the girl in before Monday’s deadline. Several hospitals in California have declined their requests, and the family’s attorney is now talking with a care center in New York.



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