And here’s your mid-week news.

International Developments

❖ “There has been further heavy fighting in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo.”

❖ “Militants have killed seven Turkish soldiers and injured at least 56 in a rocket attack on a convoy in the east”. Most of the injured were on a bus which caught on fire.

❖”Italy’s highest appeals court has upheld the guilty verdicts of 23 Americans, all but one of them CIA agents, accused of kidnapping a terror suspect” in Milan in 2003. The 23 Americans were tried in absentia. One of them, Robert Seldon Lady, claimed he opposed the abduction but was “overruled”.

Cyberattacks, apparently from China, are hitting various Japanese government offices, “courts and a hospital”, substituting “messages proclaiming Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu [or Senkaku in Japan) islands".

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said "some of the 'toughest' fighting in Afghanistan is yet to come" as an orderly US exit unfolds. With the "rapid increase of 'green-on-blue-attacks'", however, the planned NATO exit "appeared to be in serious jeopardy . . .."

❖ Video footage showing prisoners being horribly beaten, one even raped with a stick, has led the Georgia president, Mikhail Saakashvill to suspend all prison staff and order patrol police to take over the prisons.

❖ With Aung San Suu Kyl currently visiting the US, the Treasury Department "has lifted sanctions against Burma's President Thein Sein and the speaker of the lower house of parliament . . .." This action follows a series of reforms the Burmese government began in 2011.

International Finances

❖ Many Greeks can no longer afford heating oil, "following the increase of the special consumption tax to 80 percent". Greeks in rural regions are turning to firewood which has led to "a massive increase in illegal logging" and a marked increase in firewood imports.

❖ "Almost a third of Italian adults (31%) live with their parents". The rate was highest among the 18-29 age group--60.7%--which is also hit hardest by lack of jobs.

❖ "Canada rises to top five in world economic freedom ranking as U.S. plummets to 18th". 'Economic freedom' is defined as "plenty of personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete and security of private property", all of which apparently are measurable in terms of "higher GDPs, less poverty, longer life-expectancy and more political and civil liberties."

❖ The devastating drought in the US mid-west will result in at least a 15% hike in food prices with farmers slaughtering pigs and cattle early because they cannot afford the feed for them. Pork prices are expected to go up by 31% by the beginning of summer, 2013, and beef by 8%.

❖ "The Bank of Japan . . . has extended its asset purchasing programme by 10 trillion yen ($126bn)". The size of the increase took many analysts by surprise.

❖ The race is on to exploit the Arctic's newly-accessible cornucopia of oil, gas and minerals, and China is exploring ways to get its toe in the Arctic resources door.

Money Matters USA

❖ Why has there been "no serious federal criminal investigation of Wall Street . . . over the course of two presidential administrations"? According to author Jeff Connaughton, "former aide to Senators Ted Kaufman and Joe Biden", it's because of "The Blob" and none-too-subtle pressure brought to bear so that Wall Street thrives.

❖ "The net worth of the richest Americans grew by 13 percent in the past year to $1.7 trillion . . .." Their average net worth is $4.2 billion, a new record. The net worth of the "entire U.S. economy" is $13.56 billion.

❖ Neat overview of Americans' savings habits, compared to Europeans and East Asians by the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Conclusions: "government must do more to regulate predatory lending . . . [and] revive small savers’ accounts at the post office.”

❖ Interesting article, based on “thinly recorded” data from way back in 1774 and more recent figures, comparing income inequality then and now.

Politics USA

❖ After yesterday’s bumpy beginnings, the website Women Stand with Todd Akin seems to be up and running.

American Crossroads, KKKKarl’s baby, has released $10 million of ads against President Obama in CO, FL, IA, NC, NH, NV, OH and VA. Crossroads GPS, “an affiliated group that is not required to reveal donors”, is releasing ads against Democratic contenders in MN, NV, ND, WI and NY.

Washington, DC’s Court of Appeals has ruled “that tax-exempt groups like Crossroads GPS only had to disclose donors who give money for the specific purpose of funding campaign ads.” MD Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen, who challenged the Federal Election Commission’s regulation regarding donor disclosure, said the Court of Appeals “struck a blow against transparency”. He will continue the fight.

Emptywheel explains how Romney views hostage situations as “Electoral ‘Opportunities”.

❖ Remember those coal miners who got bussed in, at no pay, to be props at a Romney campaign event? They’re actually featuring footage of that event in Romney ads in eastern OH.

❖ Chief Judge Alex Kozinsky of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t mince many words about government deporting witnesses “who can provide exculpatory evidence for a criminal defendant before counsel for that defendant has even been appointed”.

Clint Eastwood says that if Mitt Romney’s campaign “was ‘dumb enough’ to ask him to speak then they deserve what they got.”

Tim Kaine, VA Democrat running for the Senate wants the Bush tax rates to rise not on incomes over $250,000, but $500,000.

Undocumented immigrants, including those “granted temporary status under the new deferred action policy still will not be eligible for insurance benefits . . . under Obamacare.

❖ There is a correlation between spending on school resources and student performance–and the spending has not escalated recently, as some maintain.

Chick-fil-A has announced they will no longer contribute to anti-gay organizations and that they are dedicated to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect–regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.”

The War on Women

❖ The number of women having abortions in AZ last year jumped by a whopping 25% to 13,606. The state Health Director is blaming the state’s new reporting system although Planned Parenthood Arizona reports the number as “relatively constant” based on their routinely collected data. AZ Teen pregnancies are declining and so are teen abortions. So what’s going on? Jezebel has a few ideas.

Human Rights Watch has “demanded the immediate release of Afghan women imprisoned for running away from home”. They were buoyed over the weekend when the Afghan Justice Minister, Women’s Affairs Minister and Deputy Interior Minister “condemned wrongful imprisonment of women and girls for leaving their homes.”

❖ An Iranian woman in Semnam Province was warned by a cleric that she was “badly covered”, to which she replied, “You, cover your eyes!”, he admonished her once more, so she pushed him to the floor and kicked him.

Planet Earth News

So-called super-weeds, genetically modified to resist chemical herbicides, are taking over, resulting in “millions of dollars in losses” to US farmers. Video.

France’s University of Caen is reporting results of research on “the long-term effects of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller”: it can “cause tumours, multiple organ damage and lead to premature death” among rats.

A new rule from the Ethanol Environmental Protection Agency achieves a new record in officialdom absurdity.

Latin America

❖ On-site report of the campaigns for President in Venezuela.

Colombia is claiming that they have busted “the country’s last major drug lord”, Daniel “El Loco” Barrera. He was caught in Venezuela “in an international sting led from Washington.”

Mixed Bag

❖ Amusing “You Didn’t Build That” Video.

Criticisms of replacement officials, trying to officiate since the regular referees are locked out of the game, are escalating.

Break Time

Science of orgasms.