❖ Ethnic tensions erupt as Mali troops hunt down suspected Islamists: Malian army soldiers in Timbuktu make little effort to stop looting of shops owned by Tuareg and Arab minorities”. Update: French troops have retaken Kidal airport. No resistance reported.
❖ “The conflict in Syria has reached ‘unprecedented levels of horror’, peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has told the UN Security Council.” According to Syrian teevee, Israeli airplanes “carried out an airstrike” inside Syria. “Syria to receive $1.5bn humanitarian aid after [UN head] Ban Ki-moon appeal: Arab Gulf states among nations pledging aid”.
❖ Oxfam: “end extreme wealth by 2025, and reverse the rapid increase in inequality seen in the majority of countries in the last twenty years”.
❖ Oh, nooooos. JPMorgan traders during that London Whale scandal were betting “against the very derivatives positions placed by its chief investment officer”.
❖ “Libor Lies Revealed in Rigging of $300 Trillion Benchmark”. Emerging details about how this huge global rip-off was done–at the expense of regular folks (e.g., mortgages, savings accounts, etc). So much for “light-touch supervision”.
❖ “Zimbabwe has $217 in the bank: finance minister”
Money Matters USA
❖ When all taxes are combined, “the poorest 20 percent of Americans pay an average effective tax rate of 11.1 percent . . . the middle 20 percent pays a 9.4 percent rate . . . [and] the top 1 percent . . . just 5.6 percent”. Complete report here.
❖ Fascinating history of debt and class. E.g., The very wealthy Robert Morris had a comfortable, well-appointed debtors’ prison cell and entertained George Washington for dinner there while “common folks” struggled to even stay alive in their cells. Much more, continuing to the present day where debt “is relentlessly turning a developed country into an underdeveloped one.”
❖ “Student-Loan Delinquency Skyrocketing, Reportedly Hitting ‘Danger Zone’.”
❖ Equifax, credit reporting agency, “has assembled [a] powerful and thorough private database . . . containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults.” They even sell parts of it to “debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities.”
❖ In his Senate departure speech, John Kerry, new US Secretary of State, said the “most significant challenges to the proper functioning of the Senate . . . are a ‘decline in comity’, a ‘deluge of money’ and a ‘disregard for facts’.” Video here.
❖ Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA) will be running for John Kerry’s Senate seat. The Ed Markey campaign has begun, too, supported by former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). MA Gov. Deval Patrick has appointed “close confidant”, William “Mo” Cowan to occupy Kerry’s seat until the June election. At the moment, Scott Brown (R) has a slight lead over Markey in the Pubic Policy poll (48% – 45%).
❖ If he’s confirmed as Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel “would be the first to enter the Pentagon as a public advocate for sharply reducing the number of U.S. nuclear weapons . . . He supports an international movement called Global Zero that favors eliminating all” nukes.
❖ That bill in VA to count electoral votes by individual districts rather than the state-wide total was defeated in a state Senate committee yesterday. Republicans in VA, OH, FL and MI have decided to forego the issue, too. Things are still iffy in PA and WI.
❖ Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a huge Ayn Rand fan, ruminates about which of her characters he most identifies with. Yeah, riveting.
❖ A Democrat–Bill White--has a slight lead over TX Gov. Rick Perry (R) in a new poll.
❖ United Fresh Produce Association “has applauded the framework for comprehensive immigration reform put forward by a bipartisan group of eight senators.”
❖ The Senate hearing on guns: Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), assassination attempt survivor, made a “surprise opening statement”. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, had a direct confrontation with the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, who also ran into Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). An Independent Women’s Forum member said young moms need assault weapons to protect their children. (Several videos)
❖ Quinnipiac University poll: 95% of PA voters support background checks for gun purchases.
❖ A 15-year-old Chicago female who performed with a high school band at the recent Inauguration was gunned down in a park near her school yesterday.
❖ Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a dim view of gun control regulations “because future budget cuts in cities will constrain the size and quality of police forces across the country”. He’s foreseeing further budget cuts?
❖ MA’s Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the law mandating “guns not under immediate control of their owners [must] be stored in locked containers” or have a safety device.
❖ A shooting range in Burlington, VT has banned all local police officers because the Burlington City Council banned “assault-style firearms and large-capacity magazines within city limits.”
Health, Homelessness & Hunger
❖ The Protean Corporation model (contracting out for work, hence no employees), is being touted as a major “creative solution” to avoid paying for Obamacare.
❖ LA Republican Gov Bobby Jindal is set to heap more misery on the poor through “massive cuts” in Medicaid benefits for at-risk children, low-income HIV patients, and health education for poor, first-time mothers.
❖ Bravo, Jack Andraka! 15-year-old high school sophomore has “created a simple dip-stick sensor to test for levels of mesothelin, which is a biomarker for early-stage pancreatic cancer that’s found in blood and urine.”
❖ Legislation has been introduced in TX by Jonathan Strickland (R, of course) “that would give tax breaks to companies that don’t cover emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill”
Women & Children
❖ The Steubenville, OH rape trial–scheduled for March 13th–will be held in Steubenville and the press allowed inside.
❖ Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is preparing a bill to “introduce mental health care in schools”.
❖ A PA jury “has convicted a priest and teacher in a church abuse case that has rocked the Philadelphia Archdiocese.”
❖ How Christian! Several churches are threatening to remove their financial and member support from the Boy Scouts if the organization lifts its ban on gay participants.
❖ MO state Sen. Dan Brown (R) has a bill requiring gun safety training for first graders–using the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program”, and an 8-hour course for teachers “on responding to an armed intruder”.
Planet Earth News
❖ China is #1. In smog. Concentrated “airborne PM 2.5 particulates–the smallest and most deadly–went off the chart . . .[in Beijing] for the second time this month”. Update: “Beijing Takes Emergency Steps to Fight Smog”. Hong Kong is “clearing old commercial vehicles off the roads.” Chart comparing China’s coal consumption vs everybody else’s, 2000-2011.
❖ Hair-raising instances of fracking poisoning in ND, LA, PA, and NM replete with descriptions of the process.
❖ Blockade in Lawrence County, PA, featuring a huge pink pig, against a Shell shale gas well.
❖ HI state Sen. Russell Ruderman (D) has a bill for regulating potential geothermal fracking activity.
❖ February 17th: “State Department Rally to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.” East Coast: Washington, DC; West Coast: San Francisco, CA.
❖ In 2006, Lord Nicholas Stern published a report on climate change. Now he says “he underestimated the risks, and should have been more ‘blunt’ about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.” We must “act strongly”.
❖ Sea Shepherd reports they “intercepted the Japanese [whaling] fleet in its annual Southern Ocean hunt ‘before a single harpoon had been fired.’”