Howdy, all.

International Developments

❖ US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta “has applauded France’s surprise airstrikes on Islamist rebels in northern Mali” and said the US “is readying plans for assistance in the ongoing operations”.  No surprise, since the US “has been conducting an ambitious counterterrorism program [in Mali] for years.”  West African troops will be in Mali “within days”.

❖ “More than 50 [to 82] people have been killed by two blasts” at the University of Aleppo during exams time.  The Syrian government and the rebels are blaming each other while distraught survivors and the dead are in the streets.

❖ As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government reacted angrily to the UN vote in November upgrading the Palestinians’ status, US President Obama “said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.’”

❖ “UN experts go to Iran, hope to restart nuke probe”.

International Finance

❖ “The German economy grew by 0.7% in 2012,” way below the 3% growth in 2011.

Germany is rounding up and bringing home some of its gold, including some 1,500 tons of it at the Federal Reserve in NY.

Goldman Sachs backed down on its plan to delay its UK bonuses until April when the tax rate was to go from 50 to 45%.  Why?  A “flurry of criticism”.

Money Matters USA

❖ Sham! The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Fed blew off  House members Darryl Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD)’s request “to review the foreclosure fraud settlement before it was finalized early last week”–and no wonder.  Seems “the reviews were never designed to succeed” and “the OCC was changing the goalposts as the reviews were underway.”  Copious quotes from whistleblowers.

Fitch has warned the US’s top credit rating could be downgraded if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

Wal-Mart’s promise to hire veterans, in context: Wal-Mart pays sales associates $8.81/hour ($10.30 at Sam’s Club); has a 37% employee turnover rate;  and the tax credit for hiring veterans was extended into 2013.

California’s public employee retirement system, CalPERS, reported 13.3% return on investments in 2012, up from 1% during the last fiscal year (ending June).

Politics USA

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is saying “the Senate is unlikely to pass an assault weapons ban or a radical revamp of filibuster rules.”  NY Democratic House member Nita Lowey says Reid “should ‘wake up’ and enact” an assault weapons ban.  Sen. Jeff Merkeley (D-OR) is strongly advocating  the “talking filibuster”.

 Representative Steven Palazzo (R-MS), who voted against the $97bn relief bill for Superstorm Sandy relief, got so much flack he is now urging his Republican colleagues  to “help pass a larger Sandy aid measure”.  Update:  “The Republican-led House Rules Committee . . . approved a rule for the massive Hurricane Sandy relief package that shuts out most GOP proposals to pare back the size of the bill.”

FL Republican Gov. Rick Scott “adopted” a dog who was featured during the campaign but subsequently disappeared.  Having fulfilled its function, the dog was returned to wherever it had been prior to its “adoption”. Update.

❖ Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford (R) is running for the SC Congressional seat vacated when then-Rep Tim Scott (R) was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by then-Sen. Jim DeMint (R).

Gun Corner

❖ The NY state Legislature has “easily passed the toughest gun control law in the nation”.

New York City’s Public Advocate “has called on the city’s twelve largest corporate investors in the gun industry to immediately divest from gun manufacturers continuing to sell military-grade weapons and ammunition to civilians.”  #s 1 and 2 on the list:  Ceberus Capital Management and Blackrock, Inc.

❖  MD and DE “have joined push for a ban . . . on assault weapons and some types of ammunition magazines”.

❖ A “major gun show in Harrisburg”, PA has banned assault weapons at their February event.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence has delivered a letter to President Obama and Congress, “signed by 40 national religious leaders”.

❖ You have neither seen nor heard all until you’ve read this:  A Citadel.  In northwest Idaho.  For gun nuts.

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

Pigs flew in AZ:  Republican Gov. Jan Brewer said in her State of the State address yesterday that AZ will participate in the expanded Medicaid program.

Women & Children

❖ “Hundreds of women have been arrested, convicted, jailed, detained in mental institutions or forced to endure medical procedures as a result of the ‘criminalisation of pregnancy’ over the last four decades”, according to a study of 413 cases in 44 states between 1973-2005.

❖ “Men who father a child during a [first-degree] sexual assault would lose all parental rights but could still be ordered to pay child support under a bill introduced Monday by a Nebraska lawmaker.”

Thousands again protesting in India following the rape of a 7-year old girl in Goa.

Planet Earth News

❖ Studies are mounting up:  “Manmade Global Warming Has Increased Monthly Heat Records By A Factor Of Five, Much Worse To Come”.

Bill McKibben:  Although the “cap-and-trade flop” was “profoundly depressing”, there are two recent positive developments:  “a public far more concerned with climate change” and a revived grassroots movement, as seen in the Keystone pipeline protests.

❖ Who’s in charge?  “Virginia Waters Down Report On Impacts of Climate Change After Tea Party Complains”.

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) has decided to attack renewable energy in NC, with NC Republican Mike Hager, former Duke Energy employee, pushing its Electricity Freedom Act bill.

Heads Up!

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) “has a few rather touchy questions” to ask of John Brennan, nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency.  Wyden wants to know about “secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that explain the basis for . . . the authority to knowingly use lethal force against Americans”.

❖  Petition to fire the US District Attorney responsible for the Aaron Swartz case, Carmen Ortiz, has more than the 25,000 signatures needed for an official response.  The Aaron Swartz Memorial JSTOR Liberator is now available. The line prosecutor in the Swartz case, Stephen Heymann, was part of the prosecution against a hacker and juvenile, Jonathan James, back in 2008.  James also suicided.

❖ “5 Creepy New Ways for Police to Intrude on Your Rights: Handcuffs that give shocks?  Mobile iris scan readers?  Thanks to Homeland Security cash, police departments are stocking up on all kinds of creepy new technologies.”

❖ A $1 million settlement has been reached in the pepper spray law suit filed by UCDavis students.

Latin America

Kichwa tribespeople in Sani Isla, Ecuador–about 400 people, all total–have vowed to “die fighting” to defend the rainforest where they live from “oil prospecting by state-backed company Petroamazonas”.

Centro de Integracion Monteagudo in Buenos Aires provides “shelter, education and employment to 110 [homeless men struggling] with addiction, depression or disabilities.”  The Center was built entirely by homeless males who banded together during the throes of the 2001 depression.

Vancouver-based Goldcorp’s  mining in southern Guatemala “will greatly endanger the water quality in the Lempa River’ which flows to Honduras and El Salvador.  El Salvador has turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights to “help . . . push for a halt” to Goldcorp’s activities.

Break Time

Way past time, now.