Greetings!

International Developments

❖ The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction:  ”The Afghan government [with no legal basis] has charged a tax bill of nearly $1bn . . . to foreign firms working for the US military and government over the last five years”.

❖ “Hundreds of refugees who fled to Turkey to escape the conflict in Syria are turning back, following the detonation of two car bombs in the southern town of Reyhanii which left 46 people dead.”

Syrian rebels are conducting “a massive assault on the prison” in Aleppo.

❖ The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to vote on arming Syrian rebels, perhaps as early as next Tuesday.

Is Egypt devolving into anarchy?  “[P]olitical movements in Egypt have shown a growing willingness to confront opponents with force or take the law into their own hands”–with “no effective authority to stop them.”

Russia’s Federal Security System has expelled a US Embassy official, calling him a spy.

International Finance

Over in the EU they’re not raiding news organizations, they’re raiding oil companies.

❖ “Whereas Spain and Italy are suffering from a severe credit crunch and drastic austerity, France’s biggest problem appears to be the generalised gloom infecting businesses and households.”  Update: “French economy returns to recession“.  Update:  “This isn’t a uniquely French problem–EU nations of various political hues are in trouble because of a fixation on austerity”.

In Spain, “with more than 6m unemployed, and 1.9m households without a single breadwinner, the economic struggle is often seen as more important than political activism.”

❖ No surprise, but it’s now documented:  “The gap between rich and poor widened more in the three years to 2010 than in the previous 12 years, the OECD group of industrialised nations has said.”

❖ “Water security threatens China”.

Money Matters USA

❖ No way.  Profits reported last year:  $44.9b – Exxon Mobil, $41.7b – Apple, $51bn – US Department of Education.  Over the past five years, the Dept of Education “has generated nearly $120 billion in profit off student borrowers”.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has written to the Securities & Exchange Commission, Federal Reserve and Justice Department, asking them “to justify their policy of settling charges with Wall Street’s bad actors out of court.”

❖ The great Ry Cooder takes on the Koch Brothers.  He’s also involved in the protests against the Kochs taking over the Tribune company (including the Los Angeles Times).

❖ “U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for overseas lobbying that promotes controversial biotech crops developed by U.S.-based Monsanto Co and other seed makers” even to the point of trying “to quash public criticism of particular companies”.

❖ A report on the West, TX fertilizer plant explosion will be released tomorrow by the Texas Dept. of Insurance.

Politics USA

❖ AP records seizure scandal rolls on:  In an NPR interview this am, Justice Dept head Eric Holder said “he is not sure how many times such information has been seized by government investigators in the four years he’s led justice.”  Update:  The White House has “asked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to reintroduce legislation that would grant journalists added protection from federal seizure requests”.  Update:  Schumer will oblige.

❖ The “IRS Sent Same Letter to Democrats That Fed Tea Party Row”. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have a bill requiring “all groups spending money on politics to disclose their donors.”  Update:  “Blame Citizens United for the IRS scandal: The real outrage is why these political groups have tax-exempt status in the first place.”

Walk-through of the IRS uproar.  Glenzilla on “The major sea change in media discussions of Obama and civil liberties”.

❖ “Internal Revenue Service acting commissioner Steve Miller fired”.

❖ “Who doctored a White House email[on Benghazi]?”   Update:  The White House has released the Benghazi emails “in bid to quell Republican uproar: Emails reveal intense negotiation over talking points”.

Did Attorney General Eric Holder hint that “the Obama administration may be planning to move over Yemeni prisoners held at Guantanamo”?

More fallout from the Bloomberg scandal:  Now the “UK, US, German and European central banks and the US Treasury” are making inquiries.

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

❖ “89 arrested in crackdown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force”.  About $223m in false charges are involved.

❖ “2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US, CDC says”.  286 dead.

Psychiatrists may finally have gone a step too far with the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). Critics maintain “that many of the conditions [included] are simply inventions dreamed up for the benefit of pharmaceutical giants.”

The War on Women

Accusations of “pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault, and maltreatment of subordinates” against an unnamed coordinator in the Army’s Sexual Assault Prevention Program in TX.  He’s been suspended.  Update: Lawmakers are “outraged“.  Update: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has “ordered the services to retrain, re-credential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.”

❖ “Advocates have filed the first of several lawsuits expected against North Dakota’s restrictive abortion laws.”

The ACLU’s legal challenge to AR’s “new law banning most abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy can proceed”.

Education Directions

❖ Yes!  ”The Seattle public school system, facing a rebellion that stoked the national protest movement over standardized testing in U.S. public schools, is backing away from the contentious multiple-choice exam for its upcoming school years.”

Planet Earth News

❖ The US Department of Agriculture hasn’t approved “new genetically modified crops from agrichemical giants Monsanto and Dow” for over a year now–something initially considered a shoo-in.

They’ve found water “at least 1.5 billion years old” underneath the community of Timmins, Ontario.

99-42: the Vermont House vote to “require the labeling of foods derived from genetically modified organisms.”

Latin America

❖ “Venezuelan opposition TV channel Globovision has been sold and will change its editorial line”.

❖ “Mayan pyramid in Belize destroyed for road gravel”.  Video.

Mixed Bag

The fabled Ciudad Blanco found?

Boycott with Buycott.

Break Time

Wayfaring Stranger