Here’s your evening news!
❖ An estimated 9,000 Syrians–mostly women and children– have fled to Jordan “over the past six days”, for a total of 290,000 Syrian exiles in Jordan.
❖ The Syrian war death toll: several groups claim various numbers, and criticize the numbers offered by others. There is no independent group charged with “fact-finding on the ground”, using scientifically accepted methods.
❖ “Security forces used stun grenades to disperse hundreds of opposition activists trying to stage a march in Kuwait on Sunday and made several arrests.”
❖ According to an Iranian health official, “Air pollution in Tehran”–which has been so bad the city has had to close down twice in the past month–has left 4,460 people dead in a year”. Carcinogens in Iranian-made gas are higher than international standards. Is this smog crisis a result of US sanctions?
❖ “A senior lawmaker says Iran’s revenues from oil and gas exports have dropped by 45 percent because of sanctions over its suspected nuclear program.”
Money Matters USA
❖ Forbes: President Obama “Is The Smallest Government Spender Since Eisenhower”.
❖ Bank of America has reached a $11.6 settlement with Fannie Mae in the home foreclosure scandal ($3.6bn in claims settlement, $6.75bn to buy back 30,000 mortgages, and $1.3bn in compensation). Fannie Mae’s CEO is Tim Mayopoulous who was General Counsel of Bank of America “and one of the people scapegoated by Ken Lewis”, former Bank of America CEO.
❖ In another settlement, 10 US banks have agreed to $8.5bn settlement over “wrongful foreclosure practices”, only $3.3bn of which is to go to homeowners, though $5.2bn is supposed to be used for loan modifications. Settlements good for banks, good for regulators, but “less good for homeowners”. Surprise, surprise.
❖ Overall, US banks have agreed to pay $20bn in two settlements for the mortgage crisis they largely created. Bank of America’s settlement share, or $14.1bn, will “reduce its fourth-quarter pre-tax profit by $2.7bn.”
❖ “The wealthiest Americans save $3 trillion dollars a year through a system of subsidies and tax avoidance schemes, which totals three times more than our annual deficit. That’s enough for a full-time job for every middle-class household in America.” Subsidies and loopholes – $1.25 trillion; tax underpayments – $450 billion; tax havens – $250 billion; and on and on.
❖ Back on Jan 2nd we noted all the corporate goodies in the so-called “fiscal cliff” bill. Matt Stoller takes a closer look at those goodies and at the reporting (or lack thereof) concerning them.
❖ If Apple were to “come clean” with the taxman, according to wired.com that “could cost the company upward of $28.5 billion”.
❖ Minting a trillion dollar platinum coin has become quite the DC topic. Paul Krugman says yes, citing the “craziness that now characterizes House Republicans”. Video. Meanwhile, one House of Representatives member, Greg Walden (R-OR) has legislation ready to prohibit minting such a coin. Krugman to the rescue: Mint that coin with House Leader John Boehner (R-OH)’s face on it!
❖ John Brennan, currently Counterterrorism Advisor, will be nominated by President Obama to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The American Civil Liberties Union cautions that action should be deferred until the Senate “assesses the legality of [Brennan's] actions . . . in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program.” After all, Brennan is the person who decides “who gets targeted [for killing] and who doesn’t.” More from Greenwald and Emptywheel (here and here).
❖ Michael Boyle, past member of President Obama’s counter-terrorism group, says the US use of drones “is counter-productive, less effective than the White House claims, and is ‘encouraging a new arms race’” with negative long-term, international consequences.
❖ Republicans “seem to be struggling to explain exactly why they are”opposed to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)’s heading up the Department of Defense.
❖ Rasmussen survey: 8% of Americans said they were Tea Party members, 56% said the Tea Party is less influential than it was, and 33% had a favorable view of the Tea Party.
Health, Homelessness & Hunger
❖ The US Supreme Court has refused to review “a challenge to federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research”, so work can commence on effective interventions, even cures, for such maladies as Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s.
❖ 2,257 people in the US have been hospitalized during “a particularly aggressive early flu season”. 18 children have died from it. 75% of people with symptoms of the flu say they were not vaccinated against it.
Women & Children
❖ Two males allegedly involved in the Steubenville, OH rape case have come to the attention of two colleges. One, Charlie Keenan, had stated his intent to wrestle for Kent State but his status is under review with Kent State ”following the developments from Steubenville very closely.” A second, Michael Nodianos, “is no longer a student” at Ohio State.
❖ TX Republican Gov. Rick Perry has presided over a $5.4 billion cut in education funds, leading to the axing of 11,487 teacher and 15,000 staff positions while an additional 84,000 new students walked through the state’s school doors. Perry and TX Republicans want more–offering “up our children at $5000 a head to for-profit schools.”
❖ An unlicensed children’s home operating in FL’s Port St. Lucie for years may be shut down if a judge rules favorably on an “80-page petition . . . [from the FL] Department of Children and Families” which documents more than a dozen incidents of neglect, injury and mistreatment of children.
Working for A Living
❖ “Around 2001, . . . manufacturing jobs in the United States plummeted from just over 17 million to just over 14 million.’ Then there was further erosion to around 11.5 million. The culprit: “normalization of trade relations” with China in 2000, leading to a 29.6% reduction in US manufacturing jobs.
❖ Wendy’s franchise in Omaha, NE has announced it is going to cut “300 [non-management] employees’ hours to part-time to avoid providing them with health care coverage.”
❖ Mother Jones’ Gavin Aronsen provides information and analysis countering claims made by Naomi Wolf about what’s contained in the 100 pages of FBI documents concerning Occupy Wall Street that were recently made public.
Planet Earth News
❖ That oil rig stuck near Kodiak, AK has been dislodged and is now being towed to a “more sheltered position 30 miles away.” Where it goes next is undecided until maintenance work has been completed and an assessment can be made.
❖ News video of the environmental issues behind Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and Idle No More.
❖ A federal judge has temporarily halted wild mustang roundups by the Bureau of Land Management after seeing a video that “shows wranglers repeatedly abusing mustangs with electric prods in violation of agency policy.”
❖ A professor of the University of Costa Rica is testing growing food plants on floating rafts in lakes.
❖ “A Bolivian minister has alleged his government has ‘irrefutable evidence’ that the United States has been working to destabilise President Evo Morales.”
❖ Four mysterious visitors from space this year–not just Comet PANSTARRS and Comet ISON, but two bright asteroids, too. One darts by on January 9 and the other February 15, with the second coming “inside the orbit of geostationary satellites.” Whoa!