Your Wednesday news, folks:
❖ “Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days”, according to the Obama administration. Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney ”cannot confirm” the report. Update: The Syrian Ministry building in Damascus was hit by three explosions, one by car bomb.
❖ President Obama announced that the US will “formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative”.
❖ The Rwanda issue gains momentum with members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee squaring off against Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and 13 House Democrats “pleading for the appointment of a presidential envoy”. Human rights groups are also applying pressure for an envoy and slashing of aid to Rwanda.
❖ “Well, around $4.5 billion [of US tax dollars] flowed out of Afghanistan in 2011 . . . the vast majority of it unmonitored and unregistered”. Attempts to staunch the outflow included US-bought high-tech currency counting machines connected directly to the Afghan central bank for oversight–but the system was never fully installed, etc.
❖ Egypt, long a gas exporter, “is set to become an importer for the first time just as the new government needs energy shipments to revive an economy weakened by civil unrest.”
❖ Anything to make a buck: “German prosecutors and tax police have raided the offices of Deutsche Bank . . . ‘As part of an ongoing investigation against individuals suspected of tax fraud connected with trading in carbon emissions certificates’.”
❖ Argentina’s struggle with hedge fund Elliott Management continues with Paul Singer, the hedge fund manager, doggedly pursuing collection of debt through US courts. Seems a “hedge fund has become an important political player in a democracy of 41 million people.” How did hedge funds get to be so powerful? History from George Soros’ astounding victory in 1992, to Enron, the housing bust and today.
❖ “Malaysian authorities have seized an enormous haul of 1,500 elephant tusks worth [£12 million], weighing as much as all the illegally traded ivory seized globally last year [20 - 24 tons].”
Money Matters USA
❖ A new Government Accountability Office dispels major myths: “spending is not out of control. . . Social Security and Medicare are rising gently . . . All other spending . . . falls–with the notable exception of interest on the debt.” Not only that, but the GAO “assumed that revenue will not be permitted to rise above its historical average–as Republicans continually insist.”
❖ “The Obama administration is continuing its outreach to Wall Street executives in pressing for a resolution of the U.S. budget dispute, with a meeting . . . today between Valerie Jarrett and hedge fund managers” of Och-Ziff Capital Management, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Blackstone Group, JPMorgan. Last week administration members met with execs from Avenue Capital Group and Goldman Sachs Group.
❖ Mary Schapiro, Chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, will be leaving her position this week. The Commission is split between two Democrats and two Republicans, so major concern that many rules “could run aground, including the so-called Volcker rule”. Schapiro is intent on getting the rule done before she leaves.
❖ Goldman Sachs is predicting that corn prices will rise to “near record highs” as inventories sink to a 39-year low worldwide.
❖ Hoo-boy. FedEx “has been ‘systematically overcharging’ customers by billing businesses and government offices at higher residential rates”, as revealed in an internal email that was recently unsealed as a result of a class action lawsuit charging violations of federal civil racketeering laws.
❖ “Did risky mortgage lending cause the financial crisis?” Perhaps not, perhaps the crisis was caused by underestimating the risks involved in the mortgages, “mortgage-backed bonds, derivatives of mortgage-backed bonds (CDOs)”, etc. “What happened in the financial crisis was that risk was mispriced.” More.
❖ “State spending on corrections, after adjusting for inflation, has more than tripled in the past three decades, making it the fastest-growing budgetary cost except Medicaid.” As a result, state budgets are overstretched, to the detriment of education. Much more.
❖ The Atavist and the Byliner are e-singles, publishing lengthy articles on the web directly to readers for a small fee ($1.99 – $3.99). Their success has stimulated others–including large publishers such as Penguin–to launch similar ventures. ”We’re all sort of figuring it out as we go along.”
❖ ID Republican Gov C. L. “Butch” Otter has announced his state will establish a health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act (but no mention of Medicaid), assuming the ID Legislature approves.
❖ US Attorney General Eric Holder has added his voice to the need for national standards on elections.
❖ WI Republican Gov. Scott Walker has decided not to end same-day voter registration since the state’s Government Accountability Board estimates a $5.2 million cost to do so.
❖ Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has said of making the 6,000-page report on torture public: “Absolutely it should be made public.” They Senate Intelligence Committee will vote on the report tomorrow.
❖ NJ Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez had an unpaid intern from Peru working in his office. The intern has now been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents because he was “a registered sex offender and an illegal immigrant.”
Women & Children
❖ MI’s repressive efforts continue, with the legislature turning to abortion. They’ve passed a bill prohibiting “insurance plans from covering abortion services”. They’re working on bills prohibiting physicians performing abortions, prohibiting tele-medicine about abortion (“83% of [MI] counties. . . have no abortion provider”), and allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions. Update: MI’s Omnibus Anti-Abortion Bill passed the Senate this afternoon.
❖ Republican TX Gov. Rick Perry is bragging about his anti-abortion accomplishments and promising even more, including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks with no mention of exceptions. Anti-abortion zealots believe the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, contrary to scientific studies which indicate that occurs at the 29th week.
❖ Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has allowed schools lunch standards to relax so that “unlimited grains and meats” are allowed. Why? “Conservative critics of the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act have claimed USDA standards are too stringent”.
❖ Although it’s “bogged down by legal fights”, LA’s voucher program is a “model for the nation” according to Gov Bobby Jindal.
Working for A Living
❖ How can US unions achieve more relevance in today’s economy? David Rolf has a few ideas.
❖ “Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses”. Funds are from US Dept of Homeland Security “in some cases”. San Francisco and Baltimore are among the first cities to have the systems installed. Some call it warrantless eavesdropping.
❖ The judge at the Guantanamo trials has ruled that “the government may censor testimony from the defendants about their torture” and agreed to “a 40-second delay for the audio feed from the courtroom”. The American Civil Liberties Union will be appealing both.
Planet Earth News
❖ Depending on the amount of civil fines imposed on BP, estimated allocations for restoration of the Gulf’s ecosystem range between $5 – $20 billion. Not just BP blowout damage, either, but also “U.S. agricultural practices and the management of the Mississippi and the rivers that drain into it”. The first public meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was held earlier this week (here and here).
❖ MI’s two W wars (War on Workers, War on Women) have now been extended to a third–their War on Wolves.
❖ CA Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is setting up a Climate Change Caucus.
❖ By 2025, all of the city of Indianapolis’ vehicles will be plug-in hybrids. First are the city’s cars, followed by “snow plows, fire trucks and other heavy vehicles”. Talks are to begin with automakers about plug-in hybrid police cars, too.
❖ Water levels in the Great Lakes are so low that old shipwrecks are being revealed.
❖ Excellent news! Loud teevee commercials end tonight at midnight–per Federal Communications Commission rules followed closely by one Dave Dayen.
❖ Now this is aged cheese.
❖ “The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year’s Epic Campaign for Gay Equality” is an in-depth report on all the energy and effort applied for this historic achievement.
❖ OMG. A female from Panama was arrested at the Barcelona, Spain airport and suspicions proved correct after she was taken to a hospital–smuggling 1.38kg of cocaine concealed in breast implants.