Good evening, all!

International Developments

❖ Primarily women and children, 700,000+ Syrian refugees are in Jordan, Lebanon, and other countries adjacent to Syria,  with thousands more arriving each day.  Most come with little more than the clothes on their backs, a situation now made much worse by winter cold.

Syria’s military police commander has defected, reportedly in Turkey.

❖ “Senior Hamas leader calls for third intifada”.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is “under pressure to drop a commitment to a two-state solution from his election platform”.  Israel, meanwhile, has ok’d another “1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem.”

❖  In the ’60s, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal separated “economic development from political and religious institutions” while the US sharply reversed its policy of pushing for political and social reform and instead “endorsed a state-building strategy” that ushered in American companies and financial interests.  Results: 40% of Saudis 20-24 years old are unemployed,  there is  ”a housing crisis and chronic inflation, . . . recurring bouts of domestic terrorism,  . . . [areas] plagued by poverty, drugs and street violence”, and women without rights.

International Finance

OPEC’s earnings in 2012–$1.05 trillion–are the highest in its history.  That translates to an average $3.63/gallon of gas for the typical US consumer.

❖ Perhaps the cruelest Austerity outcome yet:  “Growing numbers of elderly and sick Germans are being sent overseas [eastern Europe and Asia] for long-term care in retirement and rehabilitation centres because of rising costs and falling standards in Germany.”

Money Matters USA

❖ Petition to end corporate welfare up at White House.gov petitions site.

❖ Both Sens. Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) intend to file an amicus brief on behalf of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s defense of a provision in Dodd-Frank “that forces oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.”  Who is fighting to overturn it?  ”Oil industry groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Foreign Trade Council.”

❖ Woo-hoo, payback time.  “Hundreds of homeowners and condo associations [in FL] are foreclosing on banks that have failed to pay dues and other expenses on the properties they’ve repossessed.”  One attorney has filed 1100+ liens against banks on behalf of his clients.  He reports the banks settled 90% of the time.

❖ Seems the O-team is considering another mortgage refinancing scheme, “this one targeting subprime borrowers who are current on their loans but underwater”.  Also seems this new scheme would allow “Fannie and Freddie . . . to charge higher rates to borrowers” who are at greater risk of defaulting because they’re underwater.  Yves Smith turns a fine analytical eye on this scheme.

❖ This year’s holiday sales were the “weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession.”  They’re blaming “bad weather and consumers’ rising uncertainty about the economy”.  They’d predicted a 3-4% increase; reality was 0.7%.

Private equity funds “are using more debt to fund acquisitions than at any time since the start of the financial crisis”.  The amount of cash they’re using in acquiring investments is now 33%, almost as low as in 2007.

Some ways to avoid their “fiscal cliff“–”No Deal, Big Deal, Pending Legislation, Small Deal”–from McClatchy’s David Lightman.  He omitted  “Raw Deal”, which is the one they usually reserve for us.

Politics USA

President Obama has cut his Hawaiian vacation short to return to DC “to make a last-ditch push for a compromise on a tax and spending dispute with Congress”.  So, no time for us to relax as Washington engages in deal making involving our collective and individual futures.

❖ Meanwhile, Republican Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) is saying it’s up to President Obama to save us from the “fiscal cliff”.

❖ Here’s another comparison, or  “8 striking parallels” of the US to the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Gun Corner

❖ Surely this will be warmly received:  “Require both owners and sellers [of guns] to purchase liability insurance that is universally underwritten by actuaries according to relative risk.”

Frightened by the Newtown, CT shootings, a  MN teacher with 21-years’ experience,  brought a loaded gun to her school.  It was confiscated, and she was put on administrative leave.  (There’s also a slide-show of “People Who Want More Guns In Schools”, all Republicans.)

Al Sharpton and Ray Kelly (NYPD head honcho) are among thousands who have signed the NY Daily News’ petition  to ban “assault weapons and high-capacity magazines”.

NBC asked Washington, DC police if they could show a “high-capacity ammunition clip” on David Gregory’s teevee show Meet the Press.  The answer was “No”.

❖ There is now a counter-petition in Britain to keep Piers Morgan in the USA.

Homelessness, Health & Hunger

❖ Two months after Superstorm Sandy hit, hundreds of “elderly and disabled New Yorkers who were hurriedly evacuated from seaside nursing homes and assisted living residences . . . are still in a grim limbo . . ., sleeping on cots in temporary quarters”.  Some have physical illnesses and disabilities, others psychiatric disorders.

IL Democratic Gov Pat Quinn is very pleased that a new healthcare co-op, using a $160 million grant from the US Dept of Health & Human Services, is seeking licensure to operate in the state.

Women and Children

❖ Some 1,200 Boy Scouts of America files on volunteers and employees “expelled for suspected sexual abuse” have been released as ordered by the Oregon Supreme Court.  The total available on-line thus far is about 4,400 files.

❖ Disturbing news from Republican-governed GA:  Unemployment is 9%, with 300,000 families below the poverty line–”50 percent higher than in 2000, for a poverty rate that now ranks sixth in the nation”.  Only 19,000, or 6.3% of those 300,000 families are on TANF–and over 15,000 of them are “children only”.

❖ It only took thousands of people in the streets, facing riot police with tear gas and water cannons, for India’s government to announce “an investigation into the gang rape of a 23-year-old student” on a public bus in Delhi 10 days ago.  The victim, btw, is still in hospital on life support with “marginal” improvements.

Working for A Living

❖ A face-off between the International Longshore Workers and  owners looms December 31st.  Ports from MA, NY, NJ, etc., to TX and in the Northwest may be threatened by strikes and/or lockouts.

❖ In the US, “typical households” had  “just $100 left each month after paying basic expenses and debt payments” in 2010.   If they are unable to “keep pace”, they go further into debt.  Much more, including hard-hitting stats for non-whites.

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz wrote a letter to employees in his 120 Washington, DC stores urging them “to write ‘Come Together’ on coffee cups” tomorrow and Friday to encourage lawmakers to vote the way Schultz wants.  He referenced Fix the Debt, a right-wing, anti-Social Security outfit, in his letter.

Heads Up!

❖ Tampa Bay Times Editorial:  New sweeping “data-mining and storage rules for the National Counterterrorism Center . . . have already been secretly authorized by Attorney General Eric Holder. . . over the objections of privacy advocates within the administration.”  Privacy protections gone, without any public debate.

❖ Glenn Greenwald: “the US-supported Yemeni dictatorship lies to its public each time the US kills Yemeni civilians with a drone attack”, the US-friendly Bahrain government uses “extreme brutality . . . against its own citizens”, and  the Qatar regime which owns Al Jazeera is “increasingly shaping and dictating the news”.

Planet Earth News

❖ “The largest wind farm to be built in Kansas is set to begin operations by the end of the year.”  274 wind turbines for a total of 438 megawatts–electricity for 160,000 homes.

US energy consumption dropped 3% between Jan – Sep, 2012 over the previous year.   Energy production rose 2%–fossil fuels by 3.14%.  Renewable energy, however, fell 2.8%.

Mixed Bag

❖ Good news!  Nelson Mandela has been dismissed from hospital and is once again at home.

❖ Wonderful things they’re learning about two of the earth’s largest land-walkers.

Break Time

A youth of Uzbekistan!