Remembering Washington’s Inauguration

George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States on this date in 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City.

Washington, the only man to receive 100 percent of the electoral votes cast, remains one of the history’s most remarkable individuals.

Against almost unfathomable odds, he led a rag-tag collection of volunteers and state militia troops to victory over the greatest military force on the planet, enabling the Thirteen Colonies secure their independence from Great Britain.

He also presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and his support convinced many states to vote for ratification.

As president, Washington avoided the temptation of war and his farewell address was a primer on republican virtue and a stern warning against partisanship, sectionalism and involvement in foreign entanglements.

He reluctantly began a second term in office in 1793 but afterward retired to Mount Vernon.

Few men, given the opportunity to hold office for life, would be able to walk away in the manner of Washington. Washington did it twice, first after the American Revolution and then after his second term as president.

That didn’t escape the notice of the British monarch, King George III. Following the end of the American Revolution in 1783, George asked painter Benjamin West what Washington would do next and was told of rumors that he’d return to his farm.

The king responded by stating, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

India cotton duty good news for US growers

Cotton prices have jumped after the Indian government announced recently it would enact a $56-per ton duty on raw cotton exports in a bid to check the rising price of the commodity in that country.

After the announcement, which came April 19, July 2010 cotton rose to 84.6 cents per pound, while December 2010 futures rose to 76.85 cents.

The export duty on raw cotton has been levied for six months, an official in the textile ministry said. India’s domestic textile industry has been lobbying for cotton export restrictions in the wake of steep rise in prices of the fiber, according to Nationwide International News

India is the world’s second largest cotton producer.

O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University, told Southeast Farm Press the move wasn’t a complete surprise.

“In-country prices in India had gotten unreasonably high for the textile mills,” he said. “They used their political power to sway the government.”

The announcement had more of a price impact on old crop than new crop cotton futures, but both have been affected, noted Cleveland. “Even over the last few months, we’ve seen old crop prices rise over new crop prices by about 3 to 1, so without a doubt, it’s pulling new crop along with it,” he told the publication.

Cotton prices had already been on the move upward, thanks to the fact that demand for cotton products had weathered the economic recession as well or better than most consumer goods and the reduction in world stocks of cotton over the past two years. 

Nationwide, US cotton producers intend to plant 10.5 million acres in 2010, which is 15 percent higher than last year and the first increase following three straight years of declines.

Stalin signed off on Katyn massacre

polish prisoners

Russia has made public top secret documents which prove that Josef Stalin personally approved one of the Second World War’s most infamous massacres, in which nearly 22,000 Polish officers were murdered.

Although the documents have been available to a handful of researchers since 1992, it is the first time that the general public has been given access to the files which concern the 1940 Katyn massacre, according to The Telegraph.

“The sight of Stalin’s signature on what amounts to a collective death warrant quells decades of debate on the massacre and gives the lie to claims by die-hard Stalinists that their idol did not personally sanction the killings,” the paper wrote.

The massacre was a mass murder of Polish nationals carried out by the Soviet secret police in April-May 1940. The victims were murdered in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkov prisons and elsewhere.

About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, the rest being Polish doctors, professors, lawmakers, police officers and other public servants arrested for allegedly being intelligence agents, gendarmes, saboteurs, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, priests and officials.

The Soviets were able to round up much of the Polish intelligentsia, and the Russian, Ukrainian, Protestant, Muslim Tatar, Jewish, Georgian, and Belarusian intelligentsia of Polish citizenship.

Nazi officials announced the discovery of mass graves in 1943.

The Soviet Union continued to deny responsibility for the massacres, blaming the Nazis for the killings until 1990, when it officially acknowledged the massacre, as well as the subsequent cover-up.

The files detail the decision-making process that culminated in Stalin and his associates approving the execution of 21,587 unarmed Polish army reservists.

One of the documents made public is a note from Lavrenty Beria, the head of the Soviet NKVD secret police, to Stalin about the fate of the Poles, which included military officers, priests, writers, professors and aristocrats.

“In the note, Beria proposes that the NKVD ‘quickly examine the use of the highest means of punishment – death by shooting.’ Stalin’s signature and a red stamp reading ‘Top Secret’ are on the first page of the document, which is dated March 1940,” according to The Telegraph.

“Another document, a secret internal Soviet Communist party memo from 1965, refers to ‘what was formerly Bourgeois Poland’ and warns against any public disclosure, arguing that the documents have no historical value,” the publication added.

While opening the files to the public is seen as positive step, Russia has stubbornly refused to fully open its archive on the subject or to prosecute or even reveal the names of surviving secret policemen who took part in the killings, the paper reported.

The files were posted on the web site of the Russian state archive service on Wednesday morning, which swiftly ground to a halt after more than 700,000 people rushed to take a look.

Provident trims losses, sees deposits slip

Provident Community Bancshares posted a loss of $101,000 for the quarter ended March 31, compared to a $1.7 million loss a year earlier, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

However, not all the news was good: Nonperforming loans totaled $21.9 million as of March 31, or 8.9 percent of total loans, compared to $16.6 million a year earlier; and total assets fell from $467 million a year ago to $438.5 million at the end of the first quarter of 2010.

Deposits for the Rock Hill-based parent of Provident Community Bank also decreased, from $331.6 million to $325.9 million, the result of reductions in municipal deposits, according to company information.

Stock in Provident is trading for around $2.50 a share.

First National sees stock price falter

The uptick in First National Bancshares’ stock price appears to have been short-lived. Shares of the Spartanburg-based bank company, which more than doubled within the past week, have fallen back below $1.

First National dropped 24 cents Tuesday and another 19 cents Wednesday, down more than 37 percent from Monday’s close of $1.43. It finished Wednesday at 90 cents a share.  

It’s  unclear what drove the company’s price up in the first place.

There were no recent filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, no press releases or news stories about First National and no indication on the company’s Yahoo! message board regarding a change in fortune.

First National lost $43.7 million in 2009 and $44.8 million in 2008.

Subsidiary First National Bank of the South entered into a consent order with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last April which, among other things, contained a requirement that it achieve and maintain minimum capital requirements that exceed the minimum regulatory capital ratios for “well capitalized” banks by Aug. 25, 2009.

As of Nov. 25, 2009, the bank was notified by the OCC that it was significantly undercapitalized.

First National’s independent registered public accounting firm stated in its March 9, 2010, report that the uncertainty raises substantial doubt about the company’s ability to “continue as a going concern.”

You just can’t pretty up Innovista

First Financial reports $19 million loss

The troubled coastal real estate market appears to have caught up with First Financial Holdings.

The Charleston-based parent of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Charleston lost $19.1 million during the three months ended March 31, compared to a $3.1 million gain in 2009, it announced Tuesday.

Earnings were impacted by an increase in the company’s provision for loan losses as well as credit and collateral value deteriorations, according to chief executive Tom Hood.

First Financial recognized a provision for loan losses of $45.9 million for the quarter, compared to $12.8 million a year earlier. for the quarter ended March 31, 2009.

“We believe loan loss provisions and charge-offs will remain elevated through 2010 because of the continued deterioration in the real estate sector and the weak economy,” Hood said.

Stock in First Financial was down about 60 cents in morning trading to around $14.10 a share.

Lost trove of masterpieces up for auction

More than 70 years after a young Jewish art dealer hid a collection of Impressionist and Modernist masterpieces in a Paris bank vault in hopes that they would elude the grasp of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, the paintings will go up for auction.

Erich Slomovic, the Croatian-born assistant of legendary French art collector Ambroise Vollard, came into possession of the works in the summer of 1939, after Vollard was killed in a car crash.

With Europe careening toward World War II, Slomovic took 141 pieces, which included works by Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mary Casatt, Andre Derain and Pablo Picasso, and stowed them away in the vaults of Societe Generale.

He then fled to his native Yugoslavia but was eventually caught by the Germans and sent to the gas chambers, according to The Independent.

For more than three decades, the remarkable horde he had hidden from the Nazis gathered dust inside the bank vault. When officials finally opened the vault in 1979 and discovered what was inside, it sparked a monumental series of court battles as the Vollard and Slomovic families battled it out with competing claims to the artistic treasure trove, the paper reported.

“Now, more than 70 years after it was first hidden, the remarkable collection is to be sold in one of the biggest Modernist auctions of the year – the first time many of the works have been seen in public since the Second World War,” it added.

The lot with the largest price tag is a canvas painting by Derain, who spearheaded the short-lived Fauvist movement with his contemporary Henri Matisse. The pair used such bold colors in their works that they were quickly labeled “wild beasts” by critics of the time.

Arbres Collioure, seen above, a woodland landscape painted by Derain in southern France in 1905, has an estimated sale price of $13 million to $21.6 million, which would smash the previous record for a Derain painting, set last year in New York at $13.1 million.

Because of his untimely death, little is known of how Slomovic actually managed to get his hands on so much of Vollard’s collection, The Independent reported. Just before the war broke out, Vollard’s chauffeur-driven car skidded off the road, killing him and his driver. As war approached, Slomovic was put in charge of hiding the Vollard collection from the Nazis.

“In legal battles in the 1980s and 1990s, Slomovic’s heirs claimed Vollard gave the paintings to the young entrepreneur so he could launch a gallery in Belgrade. Many books and pictures in the collection were personally inscribed by Vollard, who also wrote letters of introduction for Slomovic to artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Georges Rouault,” the publication reported.

“But Vollard’s family argued that he gave the works to his business partner to sell on his behalf. The court cases dragged on for decades but were eventually settled in 2006, with the most of the art collection going to Vollard’s descendants. A much larger portion of the collection was taken by Slomovic to Yugoslavia, where he had hoped to set up an exhibition at the National Museum of Belgrade, in what is now Serbia,” The Independent reported.

“He was forced to flee once more when German forces invaded, hiding out in a village near the Yugoslav capital,” it added. “Eventually, Slomovic and his family were betrayed to the Nazis by locals and were packed off to a concentration camp. It is believed he was killed in a portable gas chamber in the summer of 1942. He was 27 years old.”

The paintings he had managed to take with him to Yugoslavia were successfully hidden by his relatives during the war, but were promptly seized by Marshal Tito’s communists and “gifted” to the Yugoslav state. More than 125 pieces, including a string of works by Degas and Renoir, are held by what is now the National Museum of Serbia.”

The pieces will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in late June.

FNSC sees inexplicable rise in stock price

Despite being counted among South Carolina’s most troubled financial service companies, First National Bancshares has seen its stock price rise precipitously – relatively speaking – over the past few days.

Monday, Spartanburg-based First National saw its stock jump 65 cents, or 84 percent, to $1.43 in extremely heavy trading. Nearly 500,000 shares traded hands, compared to average daily volume of less than 14,000.

Last Friday, First National, the parent of First National Bank of the South, was trading for less than 60 cents a share before it closed at 78 cents. It then opened Monday at 89 cents and continued upward the rest of the day.

It’s unclear what’s been driving the company’s stock price upward. There have been no recent filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, no press releases or news stories about First National and no indication on the company’s Yahoo! message board that there’s been a change in fortune for the struggling bank company.

Last month First National announced it had entered into a loan modification and settlement agreement with Nexity Bank regarding nearly $10 million First National owes Nexity.

According to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, First National agreed on March 26, 2010, to the extension of its loan modification and settlement agreement with Birmingham, Ala.-based Nexity.

Although the outstanding principal balance on First National’s loan from Nexity is more than $9.6 million, the amended settlement agreement extends First National’s ability to pay a discounted sum of $3.5 million, plus accumulated 2010 interest in full satisfaction of the loan.

According to information released at that time, both institutions were awaiting final regulatory approval of their amended settlement agreement. Perhaps anticipation of that approval is what is driving First National’s stock price up. Or maybe an investor has been lined up to give the company a much-needed transfusion of cash.

No matter what, the company has a long way to go before it’s out of trouble. It lost $43.7 million in 2009 and $44.8 million in 2008.

Subsidiary First National Bank of the South entered into a consent order with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last April which, among other things, contained a requirement that it achieve and maintain minimum capital requirements that exceed the minimum regulatory capital ratios for “well capitalized” banks by Aug. 25, 2009.

As of Nov. 25, 2009, the bank was notified by the OCC that it was significantly undercapitalized.

First National’s independent registered public accounting firm stated in its March 9, 2010, report that the uncertainty raises substantial doubt about the company’s ability to “continue as a going concern.”

Of Facebook, nut jobs and Obama

Facebook, the social networking website that has grown exponentially over the past half decade, appears more and more to be an online repository for the mentally unbalanced.


Looking past the fact that Patrick Swayze’s last name is misspelled and Farrah Fawcett’s first name is misspelled, the obvious implication here is that the author is asking God to “take” President Obama, as in have him die.

Is it surprising that someone (anonymously, of course) would come up with a page like this? Hardly. What’s a bit more disconcerting is that as of this past weekend, more than 1.1 million people had clicked on the icon indicating that they “liked” the page.

Political discontent is an American tradition and Obama, along with Congress, has certainly stirred up considerable opposition with what many see as a sharp shift to the left.

Free speech is a critical element in any democratic form of government, but there appears to be an over-the-top element in American society that sees nothing wrong in wishing death on the duly elected leader of our nation, and it’s found an outlet in such media as Facebook, Twitter and through blogging.

This isn’t a characteristic limited to the right, either. Three years ago, when George W. Bush was in office, there likely would have been a similar page, though perhaps without the religious overtones, if Facebook had been as popular then.

For your reading pleasure, here are a few comments on the “Take Obama” page:

  • “Dear Lord, please bless the man or woman who created this page : )” (The smiley face is a nice touch. I’m sure the Lord appreciates it.)
  • “Dear Lord, Please let Obama have a long life so he can be reminded every day how big a failure he was as President. Oh wait, thats right, blood sucking vampires live forever. Amen” (Grammar is certainly a weak spot among the nut job crowd. We’ve got unnecessary capitalization, a missing apostrophe, a missing hyphen and a missing period.)
  • “come november I’M voting against the socialist [democratic regime] .vote republican for congress and senate , and tie this rotten traitor dictating son of a bitches hands to keep him from selling us out to his muslim friends, he’s done enough the way it is. I don’t know who turned him on , but it’s time to turn him off…” (Where to start on this one?)

Ah, such enlightened discourse. If only John Stuart Mill or Edmund Burke were still around to debate these deep thinkers.

Many Christian denominations espouse the belief that it’s necessary to pray for everyone, not just those you like or agree with. Even if you can’t find it in yourself to pray for those you disagree with, it hardly seems like the Christian thing to do to hope for the death of a political foe.