Hello.

RIP Hugo Chavez, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

International Developments

❖ An estimated 1 million Syrian refugees could be in Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq “within a week” as more people flee to escape the civil war.

❖ “Syrians tear down statue of Bashar al-Assad’s father after rebel advance” into the city of Raqqa, near Turkey.  Update:  “Warplanes ‘bomb Raqqa after rebel gains’.”

❖ Where’d he come from?  “Davos 2013: Kissinger says Iran nuclear crisis close”.

❖ “The UN agency which organises Gaza’s marathon has cancelled the event, blaming the refusal of the territory’s governing Islamist Hamas movement to allow women to run.”

❖ “The head of France’s joint chiefs of staff has said that it is ‘probable’ that Islamist commander Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was killed in fighting in Mali.”

❖ “Relaxation of US cannabis laws ‘violates UN drug conventions’: International Narcotics Control Board criticises decision by some US states to legalise use of cannabis.”

❖ It’s happening in the UK, too:  MP Kenneth Clarke has admitted that ministers have no idea how many court cases will be heard in secret as MPs passed laws to allow them.”

International Finance

Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Trade Deal are conducted in secrecy, with no members of the public allowed although “600 corporate lobbyists” are.  Obama is pushing for an October deadline, which some think is an effort to “run out the clock.”

❖ The UK’s “Financial Services Authority has admitted there was widespread knowledge of Libor-rigging among its employees years before it launched an investigation in 2010, but denies ‘major regulatory failure’.”

❖ “Thousands of workers facing pay and job cuts at loss-making Spanish airline Iberia . . . started a second wave of protests”, potentially  grounding 1,300 flights.

❖ Is it “over” for the Eurozone? Portugal’s unemployment rate is about 25.6%, the left is gaining and about 10% of the population has taken to the streets, frightening politicians;  10% of the Greek people are “living in extreme material deprivation.”

Cyprus is unlikely to get that bailout from the Eurozone “until it wrestles with a long-standing issue: money laundering.”

China is “turning away from breakneck growth based on exports in favor of a broader economy driven by spending at home.”

Money Matters USA

❖ Those Arrogant Agents of Austerity, the  “Credit rating agencies shrug off sequester, say more cuts needed” in the US.

DDay on the “mega-banks illegally foreclosing on active duty members”.  Jail may be the penalty, “But, . . . there’s a catch.”

❖ “The 6 most appalling statements of America’s biggest CEOs.”

❖ “The Federal Bureau of Investigation has teamed up with securities regulators to scrutinise computerised trading for potential market manipulation as part of an effort better to understand and police increasingly complex markets.” Meanwhile, the “Securities and Exchange Commission is deploying an innovative computerised tool designed to automatically trigger alerts concerning suspicious accounting at publicly traded companies.”

❖ “What The Combined Wealth of All 1,426 Billionaires Could Do”.  Colorful illustrations, comparisons.

Detroit contradictions: “Private industry is blooming . . . , even as the [Detroit]‘s finances have descended into wreckage”.

GEO Group, for-profit prison corporation, is doctoring its Wikipedia page.

❖ “Service Industries in U.S. Grow at Fastest Pace in a Year.”

Politics USA

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced the White House provided her committee  access to secret memos “justifying the use of armed drone strikes”.  In return, the Committee approved the  appointment of John Brennan as CIA Director.

❖ New book by Vali Nasr, who worked with Richard Holbrooke (President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan),  describes “Barack Obama [as] a ‘dithering president whose controlling tendencies and extreme risk-averse attitude to foreign policy has damaged US interests in the Middle East”.

Justice USA

Attorneys for George Zimmerman, accused of killing Trayvon Martin a year ago in FL,  waived his rights to a “Stand Your Ground” hearing in April.

❖ Defense attorneys are saying there’s a “widespread hunger strike” at Guantanamo; a prisons spokesperson says there’s not.

❖ The “police involved in the brutal 2011 crackdown on Occupy protesters at the UC Berkeley campus will face charges for excessive force, false arrest, retaliatory prosecution and abuse of process.”

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

❖ Things are heating up between Fl Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the legislature over Scott’s proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to some 1 million poor Floridians, under the Affordable Care Act.

TX Republicans, including most of the legislature and Gov. Rick Perry,  are against any Medicaid expansion in their state.

❖ “Health insurers that offer private plans [in the] Medicare program . . . were overpaid by as much as $5.1 billion over the past three years”.  How?  Medicare Advantage plans assigned diagnostic codes that made their patients appear sicker.

Homelessness in New York City  is escalating with “more than 50,000 people” sleeping in homeless shelters nightly in January–an unprecedented number–including 21,000 children.  Homeless families are increasing, too.  Between December 2011 and 2012, homeless families in Boston increased by 7.8%–and by 18% in Washington, DC.

Planet Earth News

Environmental issues are ethical issues.   Who benefits from environmental degradation?  Who gets harmed?  How are the beneficiaries able to impose these harms on others? Human rights and future generations are key concerns.

“This Cheat Sheet Will Make You Win Every Climate Argument”.

❖ “Red Lake [MN] Tribal Members Occupy Illegal Enbridge Pipeline on Their Land”.

❖ “The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air jumped dramatically in 2012″.

❖ “Warmer climate to open new Arctic shipping routes by 2050–study.  Cross-the-pole route would be limited to light ice-breakers.”

Latin America

Venezuela’s “Vice President Nicolas Madura, speaking on live teevee, accused “enemies of the fatherland” of attacking Venezuela and said he’d given the US Air Force attaché David Delmonico 24 hours to leave the country.

Widespread fear in Mexico, particularly in the north, “because anyone can be caught up in the ongoing deadly conflict between the security forces and criminal drug trafficking gangs.”  Thousands of cases of “human rights abuses”, including torture, have been recorded.

Break Time

Venezuela (Dudamel and Youth Symphony)