Good evening!

International Developments

❖ This is turning out really well:  “Rebel groups across Syria are defying the United States by pledging their allegiance to a group that Washington will designate today a terrorist organization for its alleged links to al-Qaeda.”  Update: It’s now blacklisted.

❖ “Thousands of demonstrators are on the streets of the Egyptian capital Cairo”.   Several hundred people were able to breach the concrete barrier around the Presidential Palace, with the military  making no arrests, though Egyptian President Muhammed Morsi empowered them to do so.  Huge protests are planned in Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut.

According to “a bleak new Pentagon report . . . only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without” US and NATO support.

❖   US UN Ambassador Susan Rice has been “at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and [President Paul] Kagame in particular, from international censure” for his role in the bloody DR Congo conflict.  Kagame was Rice’s “client when she worked at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington” (since bought by Eurasia Group).  Update:  15 organizations have signed a letter asking the US impose sanctions on Rwanda “over human rights abuses in DR Congo”.

Israeli soldiers raided the Women’s Union, Palestinian NGO Network and Addameer (aimed at Palestinians in Israeli jails), seizing computers and such, before dawn today in Palestine. Why?  Because they “were associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”.

❖ Good news:  “Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates have withdrawn their proposal . . . to expand a 1988 [UN] treaty to allow governments more control over Internet issues.”

International Finance

❖   “US, EU Considering World’s Biggest Free Trade Pact” “in an attempt to boost their struggling economies.”  If the past is any indication, many difficulties lie ahead.

❖ Fears after Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi pulled political support from Prime Minister Mario Monti:  “News sees Italy’s borrowing costs rise and share prices fall, and EU leaders worry about possible spillover into Spain.” And Berlusconi?  He “has a pretty great line of attack on Monti” who emphasizes “yield spread” rather than “actual economic indicators that affect people.”

Three males have been arrested by “British police and investigators . . . on suspicion of manipulating the interbank lending rate Libor, the Serious Fraud Office said.”

❖ Oh, noooos.  “Cayman Islands prime minister arrested on suspicion of ‘financial irregularities’.”

Money Matters USA

Very cool data base, showing taxpayer $s cities, counties and states spend trying to lure businesses.  $s are shown in per capita and % of state budget dollars, too.  TX is tops, with MI , NE, WV and OK following.   2012 poverty stats for comparison.

❖ The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) announced  there are fewer than 700 “problem” banks now, “for the first time in three years.”  50 banks have failed so far this year, compared to 90 last year.  Failed bank list.

Political Matters USA

❖ New poll:  “60% of likely American voters favor raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year”–and 58% don’t believe that raising taxes on the $250,000+ households will “hurt the economy” as Republicans claim.

❖ Who’s not signed Grover’s pledge in the House and Senate and who in the Senate and House are bashing the pledge?  Lists are right here.

 Norquist won’t punish Republicans for having “impure thoughts” about raising taxes;  such thoughts actually are not treasonous, he opines.

Democrat Mark Schauer, former US House of Representatives member from MI,  and strong supporter of labor,  was pepper-sprayed today in Lansing, MI as he participated in the “right-to-work” protests.

❖ SC Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has narrowed the list from which she will select the new senator from her state,  replacing the departing Sen. Jim DeMint.  Stephen Colbert is not on it, which is too bad since his contract does allow him to have a part-time job.  Video.

❖ The Kochs need time to review election data in order to understand the results.  Therefore, their semi-annual meeting will be held in April this year, rather than in January as usual.

❖ “Scott Tranter, Republican Consultant: Voter ID And Long Lines Help Our Side”.

❖ “Things in Politico That Make Me Want to Guzzle Antifreeze, Point of No Return Edition”.  How’re you going to turn down a read with a headline like that?

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

UT Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has affirmed his state’s intent to continue operating their own health insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act.

TN Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has declined to create a health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

A 3-year fee “buried in a recent regulation” adds $63/person for approximately 190 million Americans covered under Obamacare.  It’s a cushion against “initial hard-to-predict costs of covering uninsured people”.

❖ Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Kay Hagan (NC) want to “delay a new tax on medical devices” under Obamacare.  The medical device industry has a “large presence” in their states.

Three years following her surgery, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield informed Lisa Dowden they made an overpayment “by more than $9,000″ to an assistant surgeon.  She’s a lawyer and she’s fighting it.

Women & Children

❖ The Marianna, FL School for Boys was a notorious hell-hole for youths locked up there by juvenile courts.  A couple of years ago, the FL Dept of Law Enforcement allowed as how there were 31 grave sites, but survivors knew there were many more.  A team of anthropologists and archaeologists announced finding twice as many more, for a total of 98 so far.

Colin Powell was among “dozens of military leaders” signing a letter to House and Senate leaders urging  approval of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)’s amendment to “extend the insurance coverage of abortion to military rape survivors.”  The Senate has passed the Shaheen amendment.

Education Directions

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, a lawyer and teacher,  proposes a national bar exam for teachers using the bar exam for lawyers as a model.

❖ “How Does Your Child’s School Rank Against the Rest of the World?”  Interactive map showing individual school districts’ rankings on math and reading.  (It’s from the GWBush Institute, btw.)

Working for A Living

❖ A US District Court judge in Dallas, TX  has ruled that Verizon’s “plan to convert pension obligations to an annuity” would not cause harm to retirees.

Hostess Brands “diverted workers’ pension money for other company uses”–and they have no idea how much money was involved.  Nonetheless, a judge last month ruled that Hostess could “pay $1.8 million in bonuses to 19 executives”.

Heads Up!

❖ More thorough update on yesterday’s article about plans in the Senate, led by Ron Wyden (D-OR),  to amend FISA so that our electronic communications are better protected from the feds.

Planet Earth News

❖ No more hunting wolves in MT on land that borders the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.   MT’s  Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission established the ban after eight unarmed Yellowstone wolves wearing only tracking devices for research were killed by gun-totin’ humans.

❖ A Nacogdoches County, TX  judge has halted TransCanada’s work on one piece of  private property until a hearing on Dec 19th.  The landowner filing the lawsuit states “TransCanada lied to Texans when it said it would be using the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil”; tarsands oil does not meet the TX definition of crude oil.

NJ’s coastal land-use regulations are so lenient that everything Superstorm Sandy destroyed can be rebuilt to be destroyed again. Negligible chances of appropriate regulations emerging since “several credentialed experts in environmental science and coastal management” at the state’s Dept of Environmental Protection were replaced “with people drawn from the business world.”

Scientists “have unlocked the genetic secrets of honey bees’ high sensitivity to environmental change” which offers hope in ensuring their survival despite what’s been done to the environment.

Mixed Bag

❖ Yes, people name babies after presidents.  But this?  Yale and Harvard scientists have named an ancient lizard they’ve recently discovered Obamadon gracilis.

 Porcupine quills have tiny backwards-facing barbs that make removing them very difficult–and reduces their penetrative force.  (Scientists have figured that out; speaking to First Nations people might have saved some time.)  They have a wonderful name for this: “polar-opposite dual functionality”.  Good medical applications should result.

Break Time

Cindy Sherman Retrospective at MOMA and SFMoMA. Pictures from the exhibition.