International Developments

No comment today from the White House, the State Department or the CIA over the report that “For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president–courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai did comment on the reported “wads” of cash delivered to him by the CIA.  He says “the amounts were small and used legitimately.” An unidentified American official said, “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.”

As Jim White points out, the “tens of millions of dollars” lavished on Karzai and Afghan warlords by the CIA “is chump change compared to the real theft of US funds in Afghanistan”–the $4.5bn that left Afghanistan in 2011, as documented by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  Where did that money come from; where did it go?

MI6 also gave money to Karzai, leading “some British officials” to wonder “whether eagerness to promote a political settlement may have been exploited by Afghan officials and self-styled intermediaries for the Taliban.”

In 2012, the USA spent $682bn on defense.  Second was China at $166bn, Russia at $90.7bn and the UK at $60.8bn.  The good news is that, since 2009, “the world total [military budget] levelled off . . . and has begun to fall.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today the administration needs “more evidence and thorough intelligence assessments on Syria’s use of chemical weapons before it can clearly declare a ‘red line’ was crossed.”

Syria’s Prime Minister, Wael al-Haiqi, survived a car-bomb attack in Damascus.

Some Burmese Buddhists and Muslims are locked in a violent struggle.  As one Buddhist scholarly monk  said, “We can’t live separately.  Maybe for a few days or months, but we have many years.”

International Finance

❖ Bowing to their EU masters, Greece’s parliament has “approved the firing of permanent civil servants”.  It had to do this in order to get its €2.8bn aid tranche. Break a country’s back, oppress the country’s people, then scoop up all the assets.

Enrico Letta, new Prime Minister of Italy, “pledged to pursue new growth agenda at home and across Europe”.  He’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow, who will no doubt not be too pleased with his approach.

Spain’s unemployment rate began taking off in 2009, resulting in 27.2% of the labor force today.  Moreover, there is a very large, persistent number who’ve been unemployed for 2+ years, 9.2% of the total.  Spain is in a Great Depression.

Spain’s Banco Santander head, Alfredo Saenz, has resigned “ahead of a decision by Spain’s financial regulator over whether a criminal conviction should see him banned from banking.”  Not to worry, Saenz leaves with retirement comp worth €87m.

Money Matters USA

❖ Push-back.  President Obama recently floated the notion that it might be time to privatize the TVA.  TVA’s Chief Executive says “the authority ‘isn’t broke’ and could fund the investment it needed while staying in the public sector.”  TVA’s electricity prices are “significantly below the US average”.

❖ Oh, nooooos.  The banking industry “says tighter guidelines on deposit advance loans could push consumers into higher-risk payday credit.”  (The banks don’t like being required “to better weigh the ability of consumers to repay the loans”.)

❖ What’s not to love?  “An Iowa agency is set to offer the largest-ever U.S. municipal junk bond sale to finance a fertilizer plant two weeks after an explosion at a Texas distributor of crop nutrients killed 14 people.”

Guess who fought against a 2009 bill aimed at tightening “security standards of chemical factors, fertilizer depots and water-treatment plants.” None other than “Mining companies, refiners, paint makers, explosive fabricators and fertilizer plants . . . the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Farm Bureau.”

Politics USA

Digby says, “There was a time not too long ago when nobody could have put these views on television.  But here they are.  And if you care about these things, you should watch. It’s important.”

bmaz walks us through the Tsarnaev “Miranda” rights matter, to the more important issue of Right to Counsel.

❖  “American Medical Association questions Guantanamo force-feedings”.

❖  President Obama has nominated Charlotte, NC Mayor Anthony Foxx (D), citing his “efforts to boost the city’s freight transport industry, . . . expansions to Charlotte International Airport and a light rail system.”

TX’ attorney general “has struck down the ability of cities, counties and school districts to offer domestic partner benefits.”

Gun Corner

Opinion polls down for five senators who voted against the bill to expand background checks for purchase of guns:  Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) plans to re-introduce a bill requiring “criminal and mental health background checks for gun buyers at shows and online.”

Education Directions

MI Gov. Rick Snyder (R)’s Chief Information Officer has been developing a strategy to get around of the state’s recently voter-approved Constitutional amendment prohibiting school vouchers.  His is a “voucher-like education reform strategy”.

Planet Earth News

❖ For the love of apples.

❖ “Bee deaths:  EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides“. It’s to begin “no later than 1 July this year.”  The UK and 7 other countries voted against it.  UK’s Environment Secretary wrote a letter to Syngenta expressing his extreme disappointment over the ban.

❖ “Carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere are on the cusp of reaching 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years.”  Measurement from Mauna Loa Observatory in HI.

❖ “Chile’s Humboldt penguins under threat of extinction.”  Their demise began in 1978 when a concrete breakwater was constructed connecting their island to the mainland “to protect the yachts of millionaire sailing enthusiasts.”

Norway has “rebuked” BP over a “North Sea oil leak”.

Mixed Bag

❖ “Act of Terror: arrested for filming police officers”.

Break Time

❖ The great OP:  Hymn to Freedom