Howdy! They’ve been busy while we took a little break. And here’s some of what they’ve been doing.

International Developments

❖ Anatolia news agency has reported “General Muhammed Ahmed Faris, a military aviator who became the first Syrian in space” has defected and fled to Turkey.

❖ “Some 48 Iranian pilgrims have been kidnapped from a bus in the vicinity of a shrine near the Syrian capital Damascus . . .. Iranian diplomat blamed the abduction . . . on “armed groups.” Update: A spokesperson for the “armed groups” said their captives were “members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards . . . Iranian thugs who were in Damascus for a field reconnaissance mission . . ..”

❖ “The Afghan parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in two of its most senior ministers and demanded that they be replaced.” Interpretation: “The vote is a blow to President Hamid Karzai’s administration . . . .”

❖ A Syrian television host, Mohammed al-Saeed, who was kidnapped in mid-July from his home in Damascus [Syria] has been “interrogated” and executed. Islamist militant group Al-Nusra has taken responsibility.

❖ Suspected? “A suspected US drone strike killed five members of Al-Qaeda traveling in the same vehicle late Saturday in eastern Yemen, a local official told AFP.”

❖ “Turkey’s military high command has retired 40 generals and admirals who are currently in custody on charges of coup plotting.” Underneath a picture of “the military” is this caption: “For decades, the Turkish military’s shadowy grip on society was known as ‘the deep state’.”

❖ There’s more on the Spanish terrorist arrests of last week: “A Spanish judge has charged two Russian [Chechen] men with being members of an armed terrorist organization and possession of explosives.” The Turk who was with them was charged with explosives possession on Friday.

International Finances

Greek police on Saturday announced they had rounded up and evicted about 2,000 illegal immigrants. A disturbing reason was given: “‘national survival’ was at stake for debt-choked Greece.” A police spokesperson was quite specific: “We must send the message that Greece cannot afford work and hospitality” to would-be immigrants.”

❖ Money laundering: the biggest game on the globe. Seems Sheldon Adelson, Republican gazillionaire and campaign donator, is under investigation for running quite the laundromat at his Las Vegas Sands Corp. The US Attorneys Office in Los Angeles is doing the investigation.

Money Matters USA

What can be done about the dire fiscal situation of many municipalities, counties and states? “We can start by asking why the Federal Reserve cannot refinance municipalities to preserve essential services at interest rates comparable to what it gave to rescue the insolvent banks and created this mess. . .. Another key point . . . is the importance of strong regulatory policies . . ..”

Politics USA

❖ The shooting at the Sikh temple near Milwaukee, WI is “being treated as a domestic terrorism case” and the FBI is stepping in.

❖ Interesting headline: “Obama administration struggles to live up to its transparency promise, [WA] Post analysis shows”. The article doesn’t exactly explain how they’ve been struggling to provide transparency, but does note that “the government is keeping more secrets than before”–and then provides the evidence of just that.

❖ Former AL Gov. Don Siegelman was sentenced to 78 months in prison. He was originally convicted in 2006 of taking $500,000 from HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, then using the money to help pay for a “referendum campaign to establish a state lottery.” He’s already served nine months. Scrushy is serving a six-year sentence.

MI’s draconian emergency manager law will be on the November ballot, per the Michigan Supreme Court.

New York City’s Police Department has a variation on the “Driving while Black” theme. They roughed up and cuffed a 15-year old who used a student MetroCard to get on the train, they wouldn’t accept her father’s word via telephone of her age, so her mother had to go down to the police station with the teen-ager’s birth certificate. The NYPD’s excuse: She didn’t look her age.

❖ On Tuesday, Jared Lee Loughner is supposed to plead guilty to at least some of the charges from the Tucson, AZ shootings during which he killed six and severely wounded Democratic Representative Gabrielle GIffords.

❖ Remember Larry “Wide-Stance” Craig, ID Republican Senator who was caught in a sex-sting in the Minneapolis airport men’s bathroom? Well, he’s claiming he was in the bathroom doing that as part of his “official business” as a Senator, so therefore does not have to repay $217,000 in campaign funds the Federal Election Commission is demanding.

Wal-Mart Moms: A newly recognized political force in the USA? They “represent 27 percent of women voters, making them about 14 percent of the electorate (according to research Wal-Mart paid for). Wal-Mart is getting savvier in terms of politicians, too. It used to donate–and so did its employees–almost exclusively to Republicans; now it’s donating about 50-50 Republicans/Democrats.

❖ What’s described as a “vast international child-porn network uncovered” and arrests are being made–so far 43 men over two years. Couldn’t read much of it, but what I did see was ghastly.

❖ The Titanic being one of few exceptions, “Women and Children First” is a myth. A couple of Swedish economists studied “18 shipping disasters in the 1850s . . [and found] the survival rate was 61% for crew members, 44% for captains, 37% for male passengers, 27% for women and 15% for children.”

Heads Up!

❖ Two factors are cited as the 34% decrease recently in those stop-and-frisk encounters used by the New York Police Department: “police commanders have grown wary” and there’s “a general feeling of unease about the tactic by officers on the street . . ..”

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

Is ill-health among newborns related to fracking? Is breast cancer? Great article gets into all the issues that must be addressed in order to draw a firm conclusion in public health research. And while public health researchers try to determine any causative links, subject to scrutiny by their peers, industry generates “study results” bereft of scrutiny which find their way into policy decisions.

Working for A Living

❖ “Thanks to globalization, declining union density and years of chipping away at labor laws, Caterpillar is set to prove that even unionized companies can operate as if they have no union at all.” Local 851 of the International Association of Machinists voted to strike three months ago. Caterpillar is prepared to just roll right over them.

Latin America

❖ Make me! An Ecuador court has ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion for contaminating large areas of the Amazon jungle. The damage was done between 1964-1990 by Texaco which was acquired by Chevon. Chevon is refusing to pay the fine, is accusing the judge of “fraud and breach of trust” and calling the ruling “unenforceable”.

❖ “Honduras, one of the most violent nations on Earth, has imposed a ban on guns in the northern coastal Colon region, a rich farming area afflicted by drug trafficking and conflicts over land.” But get this: citizens may not possess weapons in public, “however, police, soldiers and private guards [read: paramilitaries] will still be allowed to arm themselves.”

Break Time

Mark Twain: The Movie, by Thomas Edison (took a few liberties with that, but it is cool).