Good evening, all! We’ve got quite a bit of catching-up to do on a variety of news items. Here goes.
❖After an emergency meeting, the UN Security Council has “unanimously condemned the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for using heavy weapons in Houla where more than 90 civilians, including dozens of children, died last week.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed his country’s “deep alarm” at the massacre, confirmed that “the government used artillery and tanks” but also pointed to the use of firearms at close range in the massacre, saying rebels “shared the blame”, and called for an objective inquiry. UN Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, is in Damascus now “seeking to shore up his peace plan that appeared more precarious than ever . . ..”
❖Meanwhile, UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg “has said Syrian delegation members with connections to the regime will be denied entry” to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Clegg continued, “‘as a government we have recently changed the rules about who we allow into this country and who we refuse entry to.” Mowaffak Joma, Syrian Olympic committee Chair countered that “the Olympic charter forbids host countries from banning athletes.”
❖Interesting diaries from Syria. The first is a summary of what the author learned from the people of Syria, primarily middle-class, members of “the silent majority”, while on a visit. The second is another account by a visitor, this one focusing more on the cultural responses of Syrians to the crisis.
❖Over in Bahrain, the activist Al-Khawaja has ended his 110-day hunger strike since it has resulted in the release of jailed activist Nabeel Rajam who was charged “with using social networking sites to incite illegal rallies and defame Bahrain’s security forces”. Bahrain’s royal family is Sunni; Al-Khawaja and Rajam are Shia Muslims.
❖Lloyd’s of London is “preparing for euro collapse” by putting into place “a contingency plan to switch euro underwriting to multi-currency settlement if Greece abandoned the euro.”
❖A “black economy” is on the rise in Greece. Tax payments have nose-dived. Government funding of the public sector has slowed as bailout payments have slowed. Even sound businesses have difficulty getting loans, “deposits have been reduced by about 70 billion euros, while withdrawals have accelerated . . ..” And 74% of businesses are not interested so much in increased sales, but in “a reduction in bad credit and the protection of their viability.” Meanwhile, foreign firms are reluctant to to continue transactions and imports have slowed because suppliers want to be paid in cash.
❖History repeats: Greece.
❖Tony Blair was testifying before a UK inquiry regarding media ethics Monday when a heckler began calling him a war criminal. The heckler said Blair should be arrested for war crimes since “JP Morgan paid him off for the Iraq war, three months after he invaded Iraq.” Blair responded that what the heckler said “about Iraq and JP Morgan is completely and totally untrue. I have never had a discussion with them about that.” Blair is an adviser to JP Morgan, to the tune of $2.5 million a year.
❖WIth his Enterprise Advisor “saying that there would be 900,000 more businesses in Britain if it had the same culture of entrepreneurship as the US”, UK PM Cameron has announced a StartUp loan program under which “more than 30,000 young people could benefit by 2014-15″. Let’s see, that’ll be about 3.3% of the total estimated.
❖Loreen of Sweden has won the 57th Eurovision Song Contest. Britain’s entry was Engelbert Humperdinck who finished second from last.
❖DDay’s obsession with Berlusconi merits a double feature today: 1) Berlusconi has announced he wants the Italian presidency to be more powerful than the prime minister, be extended to two terms, and be directly elected; and 2) In her testimony in Berlusconi’s trial for paying for sex with an underage prostitute, a young woman said she “dressed up as a burlesque version of U.S. President Barack Obama” during one of Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga parties. Ah, feel the excitement!
❖Kaspersky Labs, the Russian security firm, has announced that malware Flame has been around since August 2010 and that it is the work of government. “‘Flame is not designed to steal money from bank accounts. It is also different from rather simple hack tools and malware used by activists. So by excluding cybercriminals and hacktivists, we come to conclusion that it most likely belong to . . . nation states.’” Iran and Israel have been targets of Flame.
❖Although in its semiannual report the US Treasury Department states that China’s yuan “remains ‘significantly undervalued’”, the Obama administration continues to decline calling China a currency manipulator.
❖Things are still very perilous at Fukushima. There’s “a pool brimming with used fuel rods and filled with vast quantities of radioactive cesium [that] sits on the top floor of a heavily damaged reactor building, covered only with plastic”–a situation with the potential “for setting off a new catastrophe . . ..”
❖The EU has filed suit at the World Trade Organization against Argentina for its import restrictions. (They’re also disgruntled because Argentina nationalized Repsol several weeks ago; Repsol and Texas Yale Capital Corp have sued Argentina over that, too.)
❖Brazil President Dilma Rousseff has “vetoed parts of a controversial bill which regulates how much land farmers must preserve as forest.” Environmentalists had wanted the entire bill vetoed. Greenpeace reacted to Rousseff’s partial veto by blocking a freighter carrying pig iron and hung a large banner to a crane which read “The Amazon turns to Charcoal, Brazil Stop the Chainsaw”. Talks were promised with the pig iron industry and the protest was suspended.
❖5000 “Honduras march in protest of journalist killings”. At least 20 journalists have been killed in Honduras over the past three years. Protestors seek better security for journalists “and an end to the widespread impunity” criminals enjoy in Honduras.
❖Turns out, US Drug Enforcement Administration agents were overhead in helicopters on the pre-dawn Patuca River raid May 11 while Honduran authorities were below in boats. Four people traveling on a ferry boat were killed. The US DEA is saying its agents “did not actually fire their guns.” The local mayor was on board the ferryboat and claims gunfire did come from the helicopters. An investigation is underway.
❖”The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service will offer buyouts this summer to nearly all of its 45,000 mail handlers, part of a plan to consolidate operations at 140 mail-processing facilities in the next year.” Why is the USPS “cash-strapped”? Actions by Congress. The USPS has been placed in an “artificially generated noose”, creating a crisis that otherwise would not be threatening the very existence of the agency. And if it weren’t for Congress, the USPS could be providing other productive services such as simple banking, issuing licenses, etc.
❖MERS is now suing MERS. Yes, it’s come to that. A Utah homeowner named Harvey obtained a ruling giving him title to a property “even though he owed $136,000 on a mortgage . . . [and] after which he stopped making mortgage payments.” A couple named Sedgwick subsequently bought the property, after which the conflict came to light. Now, “MERS is suing MERS because it is named on both the Harvey and Sedgwick deeds of trust . . ..”
❖Black churches are, once again, calling on their parishioners to counter the current attacks by states on the ability of people to vote. 15 states have already passed “voter-fraud” legislation and 38 states are leaning toward photo ID or “proof of citizenship”. “Other changes . . . include restricting voter-registration drives by third-party groups such as the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, curtailing or eliminating early voting,” and so on. You’d like to think these George Wallace-era tactics are the last gasp, but . . .
❖WI Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had a debate last Friday. They argued quite a bit over numbers–Walker’s jobs report which was based on data from an unusual source and which Barrett said “cannot be verified”. Walker also said that unemployment in Milwaukee went up 27% while Barrett was mayor and Barrett countered that in Milwaukee County it went up 34%, and debt by 85% while Scott Walker was the county executive.
❖”The rich are different from you and me.” In WI, one Diane Hendricks gave Scott Walker $500,000 for his campaign. She owns ABC Supply Company and is worth $2.8 billion. ABC paid no corporate income tax for 2005 – 2008 (info for the last three years is not yet available).
❖Oh, snap! Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Republican from Detroit, revealed that he just might not have enough signatures on his petition “to qualify for the Aug. 7 Republican primary in his suburban Detroit district.” McCotter is a popular Fox News and right-wing radio talk show participant and briefly ran for president last year.
❖I feel safer already, don’t you? “[Gov] Brownback Signs Anti-Sharia Law in Kansas“.
❖Poor Grover–they just aren’t groveling before him like before. The number of GOP candidates who won’t sign Norquist’s anti-tax pledge is now 27.
❖NM’s chief medical officer says she was asked to resign an hour after she said the word “condom” three times on the tee-vee, while discussing prevention of sexually transmitted diseases among teens. Apparently, Gov Susana Martinez (R-of course) “favors abstinence-only sex education.”
❖According to the US Department of Justice, AL’s Tutwiler Prison for Women is “the most dangerous women’s prison in the country”. Seems the DOJ has known about this for five years now. “Corrections officers . . . regularly sexually harass, abuse and even rape female inmates with few consequences . . ..” The Equal Justice Initiative has been gathering data and documenting the ghastly conditions in the prison.
❖Three Washington County, PA families have sued Range Resources Marcellus Shale and two commercial laboratories for conspiring “to produce fraudulent test reports . . .” and for assuring the families that all was safe. Members of one family had their urine tested and learned they had “higher than safe levels of toluene, benzene, arsenic, cobalt and cadmium.”
❖And from WI: “How Rural America Got Fracked: The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About”
❖How sick! If you don’t use your health insurance at a certain Long Beach, CA hospital, but pay in cash, your bill for a CT scan would be $1,054–in contrast to your share-of-cost under Blue Shield of $2,336 or the total you would otherwise have been billed of $6,707.
❖In 2000, 12.6 million people in the US were in Deep Poverty; today the number is 20.5 million (“Deep Poverty”=$11.157 for a family of four). Food stamps are the only income for 6 million of us.
❖45% of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are filing for disability benefits, “claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.”
❖For many decades in the US, May 30th was Memorial Day. Then, in 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed so everybody could have a three-day weekend, conflating a day for honoring the fallen–whether they volunteered or were forced by their government into battle (including over 58,000 extracted from my generation)–with a weekend of backyard BBQs and Big Sales. Nonetheless, most of us do appreciate the elegant tribute that comes straight from the heart:
As toilsome I wander’d Virginia’s woods,
To the music of rustling leaves kick’d by my feet, (for ’twas autumn,)
I mark’d at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier;
Mortally wounded he and buried on the retreat, (easily all could understand,)
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose–yet this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl’d and nail’d on the tree by the grave,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering,
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life,
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier’s grave, comes the inscription rude in Virginia’s woods,
Bold, cautious, true and my loving comrade.