Hope your week’s off to a good start. Here’s your evening news:
❖Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is being challenged by left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon in France’s Parliamentary elections next month. The key town of Henin-Beaumont gave Le Pen more than 30% of its votes for president in the recent elections and Melenchon only 11%. Melenchon sums up his position as follows: “Is the problem with the immigrants or is it with the bankers? For us, it’s the bankers.” Interesting that the same question could be posed in many parts of the US today.
❖On May 31, Ireland’s voters will weigh in on “Austerity”. Right now, unemployment in Ireland is at 14% and the country is “still in the throes of an EU/IMF/ECB bailout.” On one side is the “Stability Treaty” which its supporters claim will “allow Ireland access to the eurozone’s future permanent bailout fund . . . in case it is ever needed again [!] . . . .” But opponents “(including socialists and left-wing parties, plus Sinn Fein) have dubbed it the ‘Austerity Treaty’” and urge a “No” vote. Stay tuned.
❖Oh, the company they keep! The Republican National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is hosting their 2012 Summit this week in DC featuring Karl Rove and John Boehner. NFIB has generously funded Republican election campaigns, “is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against . . . Obamacare,” opposes environmental and small business regulations, etc. So who’s the keynote speaker at this $150/person event? David Gregory, NBC’s “trusted journalist” and Meet the Press host. ThinkProgress raises some interesting professional ethics points about this arrangement. (Just yesterday, NFIB held their annual Capitol Conference in Sacramento, btw. Here’s their event calendar if you want to see when they’re coming to a town near you. )
❖Oh, the causes they fund! The newly-formed Committee to Save New York rounded up $12 million from 20 donors (!) in 2011, using the funds to advance Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agenda. That agenda includes “reducing state spending, passing a cap on local property taxes, and cutting pension benefits for public employees”. Did I mention Cuomo’s a Democrat? It’s difficult to find out who the contributors are, but a few names are known–and they are persons in real estate.
❖WI Gov. Scott Walker, in the now-famous video, told one of his major supporters, a billionaire, about his “divide-and-conquer” tactics against labor unions. Turns out, this billionaire’s firm, ABC Supply, has “paid exactly $0.00 in state corporate income tax in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. ”
❖Politico has an article focusing on the impact of Jamie Dimon’s recent–ahem–difficulties on the Obama-Romney race and the kinds of criticisms we might be hearing repeatedly over the next few months. “Now the administration has the worst of both worlds. Wall Street executives think the White House beat up on them unfairly. And critics think the administration let bankers off way too easy.” Politico even brings Eric Schneiderman into the mix, arguing that he could help if he “gets around to the more glamorous work of putting people in handcuffs sometime in the next six months.”
❖ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has roiled some waters, all right. Initially their Secure Communities was a pilot program in a few states, including MA and NY, identifying illegal immigrants through fingerprints furnished by local law enforcement. Gov. Patrick of MA, Gov. Cuomo of NY and Boston Mayor Menino–all Democrats–expressed concern about continuing the program given that it is catching and deporting people with minor offenses and using racial profiling, among other practices. ICE has now determined, however, that 2002 anti-terrorism legislation means they don’t need states’ permission to install the program. So there!
❖This is “a story about the age of the rentiers, their retreat, and subsequent return”. By 1913, the rentiers (those who produce nothing but own a lot, sometimes more colorfully referred to as ‘parasites’) were laid low after their robber baron hey-day. Two graphs illustrate how the situation began to reverse in the 1980s and then exploded in the 1990s, fueled by unprecedented cuts in taxes for the super-rich. As a result, the top 1% enjoy incomes barely imaginable a few years ago, and the top 0.1% even more.
❖Nothing else has worked; maybe this will. “Cuba embargo could threaten oil-drilling safety, expert says”
❖Last week we learned the US State Department had promised Bahrain military hardware, but none that could be used against protestors. Now, we’re told that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain “are expected to announce closer political union at a meeting of Gulf Arab leaders” today. Iran is mentioned, but there’s also this little gem “Saudi Arabia fears that Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement has the potential to spill over into its own Shi’ite-populated Eastern Province region, home to major oilfields.” Hmmmmm.
❖Juan Cole blasts the latest US arms sales to Bahrain, contrasting that country’s record of violent repression of its citizens with that of Syria. “There is no difference between the US acting this way and Russia running interference for Syria. Each is following its geopolitical interest. Neither has any morality. They are great powers.” Whew!
❖”U.S. Coal Generation Drops 19 Percent In One Year, Leaving Coal With 36 Percent Share of Electricity”. US Energy Information Administration attributed the sharp decline to “low natural gas prices”, but pointed to other factors that are coming into play–”aging fleet of plants, cost-competitive renewables, new clean air regulations, and a strong anti-coal movement . . ..” Results? A reduction of 3% this year in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, and a 5.5% rise in emissions from natural gas with a decrease of almost 12% in emissions from coal.
❖As we all know, the US is way behind other rich nations in terms of health and medical coverage for its citizens. Seems it will soon be behind less affluent countries as well. Mexico, China, Chile, Thailand, Rwanda, Ghana and many others are vigorously pursuing the goal of health care for their populations.
❖Scary stuff. “A severe decline in stocks has nearly paralyzed the fishing industry in east China, leaving many boats anchored at harbor during what should be the prime fishing season.” Major factors in the decline are “overfishing, pollution and lower sea water temperatures . . ..” And it’s not just the fisheries either, but also the “many businesses engaged in seafood processing, storage and shipping. Many factories have been forced to close . . . .”
❖Mexico’s drug wars rage on. “50 most mutilated bodies [were discovered] dumped on the side of a highway between Monterrey and the U.S. border, a region where rival gangs are battling for control over a lucrative drug-trafficking corridor.” The Zetas are being blamed. This follows discovery of 15 bodies earlier in the month in Jalisco and 23 bodies in Nuevo Laredo.
❖With 86.5 murders/100,000 inhabitants and “nearly 3,000 people killed” in the last four months, Mother’s Day in Honduras wasn’t much to celebrate. Honduras has become “the most violent nation in the world . . ..” Deaths among children under five are 14/1000 births, and violent deaths among those under 18 years old are 11/day.
❖In yesterday’s Roundup, we noted that NYPD stopped and questioned more young black men in 2011 than the actual number of young black men residing in the city. Today, we learn that the number of homicides in NYC is, thus far, the lowest on record and that the NYPD’s “Stop, Question, Frisk” policy is credited with a reduction in street crime. Whatever the impact the practice may have on crime reduction, it does seem to entail an awful lot of personnel time: 200,000-plus people were stopped and questioned from January through March of this year on “reasonable suspicion”, “a much lower standard than probable cause”. More than 90% of those stopped and questioned, however, were never charged with anything.
❖Not thinking ahead has its consequences. “Some Alabama farmers say they are planting less produce rather than risk having tomatoes and other crops rot in the fields a second straight year because of labor shortages linked to the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration.” You mean AL natives didn’t flock to the fields for the jobs? Said one farmer, “They’ll work a morning and come up at lunchtime and say, ‘I’m done’”.
❖Gas prices for most of the nation east of the Rockies are decreasing. West of the Rockies, however, they are increasing. Over the past week, prices went up by 12.7 cents/gallon in WA, 13.5 cents/gallon in CA and 15.6 cents/gallon in OR. Decline in the number of refineries is cited as the reason. An analyst for the Utility Consumers’ Action Network summed it up as follows: “This is all about supply and demand. They restrict supply and demand more money.”
❖Tom Tomorrow enlightens us about The Austerions.