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News Roundup from April 23, 2012

Newspaper over cat

Missing the roundup is bad luck (photo: tamdotcom)

Quite a mixed-bag of news was circulating out there on the internets today, folks, so much so that I decided to abandon all attempts to organize it.

?Rules are made to be broken, it seems.   The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission may provide relief to non-US banks and subsidiaries of US banks overseas from new rules regarding swaps. This is such a hot issue that even a “sternly-worded letter” has been issued by the EU’s Financial Services Commissioner.  Some US banks fear they’ll lose business if their subsidiaries oversees are forced to adhere to the rules, while banks overseas fear the rules could mean they’ll be supervised by US authorities.  I think we can safely predict which way this will go.

?A former Chief Executive of CalPERS (CA’s Public Employees Retirement System) was sued today by the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Seems the former CEO, Alfred Villalobos, and a good buddy of his, Fred Buenrostro, were involved in a “fraudulent scheme” through which Villalobos secured big investment deals for his Wall Street private equity clients from CalPERS.   In 2010, both men were sued by the state of CA; that case has not yet been decided.

?Here’s an Army you might consider joining.  Just bring your own version of Woody’s “This Machine Kills Fascists”.

?Actions taken by Argentina to nationalize the oil company YPF has sparked major reaction in this hemisphere and in Europe.  This article presents a concise overview of the situation, its history, and the pros and cons of President Kirchner’s plans.

?The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are now on strike against Lockheed Martin.

?And how about this:  The US Supreme Court has “rejected a constitutional challenge to New York City’s famed rent-control ordinance, a post-World War II housing measure that limits the rents of more than a million apartments.”

?Wearing somber faces, Timmeh Geithner and Hilda Solis warned during a press conference today of the prospects of depletion of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds in the distant future, which the LA Times mischaracterized as “insolvency.”  The ever-nimble Orrin Hatch was quick to react, decrying the programs’ being on “autopilot” and growing “beyond their means”.  Since there seems to be insufficient interest in stimulating the economy effectively so there will be decent-paying jobs and workers contributing more into the programs, we’re no doubt in for another brutal round trying to defend SS and Medicare.

?“The New Jim Crow Museum is Now Open to the Public”. Be prepared to be revolted by many of the objects shown.  Perhaps what is most horrifying is to realize that, in decades past, certain people actually gleefully collected these things.  What was it Hannah Arendt said?

?The Pentagon had hoped to use their fabled “pain ray” machine, which delivers excruciating pain via microwaves, for crowd control (non-lethal, of course).  Seems the thing has turned out to be sort of a bust.  “It takes sixteen hours to boot up and loses effectiveness in the rain or snow.”  Gee, that’s too bad.

?Deja vu:  Peoples’ Park all over again?  Some folks broke through one of UC Berkeley’s chain-link fences surrounding a vacant space and began tilling the ground and planting gardens.  My favorite from the 1969 effort was the “Ronald Reagan Memorial Tomato Patch”.

?France’s Sarkozy, under considerable pressure from Francois Hollande’s showing in Sunday’s election, is courting the right in his quest to round up votes.  According to French polls, Hollande is on track to win in the May 6th (and final) round of elections. [cont’d]

?Surely we won’t be confining this  just to foreigners such as Iran and Syria, right?  An executive order signed by Obama on Monday allows sanctions “against foreigners who use technologies [including cellphone tracking or the Internet] to carry out human rights abuses”.

?Meanwhile, somebody from somewhere launched a cyber-attack on Iran’s Oil Ministry, resulting in their taking their main oil export off-line.

?Brazil’s President Rousseff, in office since January 2011, has achieved record approval ratings, with 64% saying she’s doing “a good or excellent job” overall and 68% approving of her handling of “Brazil’s economic slowdown and a tough stance against corruption. . ..”  Nonetheless, 57% also hope ex-President Lula will run in the next election.

?Germany is closing down its nuclear reactor power plants and moving toward a solution that includes “23 sea-based wind farms, 29 gas-fired stations, 17 coal generators and 10 hydro-power pump stations.”  Nuclear plants, which supplied about 20% of Germany’s electricity, are to be gone by 2022.

?Fall-out from Wal-Mart’s Mexican scandal hit the market this morning, as the company’s shares dropped almost 5%.

?The US and UK have agreed to collaborate on developing ‘floating’ wind turbines” for use in deep waters. Currently, off-shore wind turbines are anchored to the seabed, which cannot be done in much deeper waters.  In addition, wind speeds above those deeper waters are much higher than those nearer the coasts.  Floating the turbines will also allow their being towed into port for repairs, a much safer alternative.

?Iceland’s ex-prime minister, Geir Haarde, has been on trial for his role during the 2008 financial crisis.  “Some Icelanders have seen the trial of Mr. Haarde as scapegoating, while others have argued that public accountability is essential following the world’s financial collapse.”  Outcome of the trial seems to reflect just that:  Haarde was found not guilty of negligence during the crisis but was found guilty of not holding cabinet meetings during it.  Haarde thought the verdict was ‘absurd'”.

?40 years after the first world-wide summit on the environment, and 20 years since the UN’s Earth Summit which made the environment a high priority, the 100 world leaders attending the UN’s Rio de Janeiro Summit this week face even more daunting tasks:  “eradicating entrenched poverty and placing growth onto a sustainable path, with measures to stimulate the green economy.”  One expert put it bluntly:  “We are clearly entering the sixth mass extinction.”  Obama is not expected to attend the conference.

?The News Desk’s Roundup just wouldn’t be complete without an occasional update on Berlusconi.  At the on-going trial in Milan, in a taped telephone conversation “Ruby the Heart Stealer” was heard telling a friend that Berlusconi promised to “cover her in gold” for her silence regarding their–ahem–relationship.  Apparently, she took him at his word and asked for $6.5 million.

?And a big round of applause for Linus Torvalds.  Well done.

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David Dayen

David Dayen