‘Evening all elves and FDLers.  Here is your news.

International Developments

Israel has cast doubt on recent Syrian rebels’ reports that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against them.

❖ “Senior Syrian official in US and co-operating with intelligence agencies:  Guardian understands that US intelligence officials helped Jihad Makdissi to flee, though details of journey are unknown”.

❖ A female in Afghan security forces uniform shot and killed a US contractor in Afghanistan yesterday.  Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry is saying the shooter came to Afghanistan from Iran ten years ago.

❖ Next month, “Muslim scholars and clerics from around the world” will converge on Kabul, Afghanistan to “condemn suicide bombings as un-Islamic.”

Israel’s right-right Jewish Home Party is gaining on the Likud-Beitenu Party as elections near.

❖ Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to “repatriate tens of thousands of African illegal migrants” and claims to have halted “inflow” from Sinai.

Festivities abounded in Bethlehem as people celebrated the first Christmas there since UN recognition of Palestine.

International Finance

Russia hopes to be a major exporter of  oil through its East Siberia-Pacific Ocean link, connecting oil fields west of Lake Baikal to the Pacific port, Kozmino.  This opens up Japanese and North Korean markets, but 35% of the oil is destined for the US.

Mario Monti, a technocrat and unelected former prime minister of Italy, is contemplating running for the position in February’s elections.  Polling at the moment shows Monti-led “centrist group” are lagging far behind the “centre-left Democrats”, and would “struggle to compete” with Silvio Berlusconi’s group.

Money Matters USA

❖ As Bill Black notes, the US recovered from the Great Depression because of massive injection of federal funds used to prepare for and wage WWII.  Today’s fiscal negotiations have been termed “the Grand Bargain”, but Black prefers “the Grand Betrayal” and points out almost all Democrats and most Republicans know what will result in they cut the safety net (pain, misery as far as the eye can see), so what gives?

❖ Well, well!  Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb Counties, GA have sued HSBC bank of the UK.  Seems they think the bank should be “accountable for losses in tax revenue based on what they claim are discriminatory or predatory lending practices.”

❖ “MERSy Christmas Everyone!”  Great take on the mortgage scandals, in the tradition of Clement Moore.

Politics USA

53% in the US are “hopeful” about the new year, but 44% are “fearful”.  Those are “the least optimistic figures in a decade”, in sharpest contrast to 2001, when 16% were “fearful”.  Yes, it’s the economy.  Also, 75% of Democrats are hopeful but only 25% of Republicans.  Given the leadership of the latter, their pessimism seems well placed.

400,000 illegal immigrants were deported in 2012, the largest number ever, a “stinging reminder to Latinos that President Obama failed during his first term to pursue the comprehensive immigration reform that they seek.”

❖ Prior to his arrest Sunday morning for drunk driving in Washington, DC, Republican Senator and Mormon Mike Crapo of ID said he “would celebrate [passage of his bill to lower taxes on small breweries] with root beer because he doesn’t consume alcohol.”

❖ Singed and frayed by November’s elections, the Tea-Party is said to be turning to “Fringe Issues”, things they can really sink their teeth into–”a two-decades-old United Nations resolution that they call a plot against property rights, and on ‘fraud’ by local election boards that . . . let the Democrats steal the November vote.”

Gun Corner

❖  Wayne LaPierre of the NRA may have done the world a favor with his recent raving teevee appearances (here and here).  Despite fierce opposition from his 4.3million-member NRA, the “United Nations General Assembly on Monday voted to reconsider an international treaty to regulate the global arms trade”.  Reports were that the US voted in favor.

❖ The cold-blooded murderer of two firefighters in Webster, NY on Christmas Eve wounded two other firefighters and apparently killed himself.  The shooter had killed his own grandmother 40 years earlier and spent 18 years in prison for it.  He had been living with his sister who is missing whose  remains apparently have been found.

Brownells, a company in IA, is a major supplier of AR-15 gun magazines–and sold out their entire supply in three days as gun-lovers scurried  to stock up even more since they are sure the gubmint is going to take away their preciouses–and apparently are unaware of the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies.

David Gregory, host of the Meet the Press teevee show, is being investigated for showing–on air from Washington, DC–a 30-round magazine during his interview with NRA top-gun Wayne LaPierre.  Such cartridges are illegal in Washington, DC.  6,000 signatures have been collected thus far on a petition to have Gregory arrested.

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

❖ “The Bottom Line: Healthcare” video lays out the complex issues, underlying motivations and solutions of this subject in easily-understood, even entertaining ways.

Women & Children

Planned Parenthood requested a temporary block be placed on OK’s stopping a contract to the agency for nutritional services to low-income mothers.  A US District Judge disagreed, likely leading to the closure of one clinic and loss of six full-time positions.

❖ A state judge has “temporarily suspended a Georgia law that would ban abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded to widespread public outrage over the prevalence of rape in India by telling people to calm down, that “all possible efforts” will result in safety for women and punishment for those “who commit these monstrous crimes.”  At the end of his comments, however, the mic caught him asking someone “was that ok?”

Planet Earth News

Idle No More, a First Nations movement, “has spread like wildfire over the past week in response to bills passed by the conservative Canadian government”.  Those bills make it easier to wrest land from native peoples and remove “thousands of lakes and streams from the list of federally protected bodies of water”, a boon to tar sands industries.  Atiwapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence continues her hunger strike, begun December 11th, in an attempt to have Prime Minister Cameron meet with her to discuss treaty rights.  Videos: Toronto,  Billings, Seattle.

Warning of flooding, encroaching desertification and sandstorms, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs has called for concerted Arab action on climate change.

Latin America

Stray dogs protest, too,  in Chile (like Kanellos in Greece).  “They run with protesters, lap up shots from water cannons, bark at police in riot gear and sometimes even bite officers.”  These dogs are part of protests which have been on-going for over a year and a half, demanding much improved public education for all Chileans, and not just the wealthy.

Mixed Bag

RIP Jack Klugman, whose many roles included sportswriter Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple”, a “regular guy, an audience-pleaser“.

RIP Charles Durning, Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and police negotiator in “Dog Day Afternoon”, among many others.

Break Time

Winters on Paar