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The Roundup for May 16, 2012

Whew! Has there been a flurry of news articles today! Here’re the ones I managed to catch. Please share ones from your stash, too.

?”EU naval forces have conducted their first raid on pirate bases on the Somali mainland, saying they have destroyed several boats.” Somali pirates are thought to be holding about 17 ships with 300 crew members, the latest being a Greek oil tanker. Helicopters and two European warships were involved in the action which resulted in “five of the pirates’ fast attack craft [left] ‘inoperable’. One of the pirate commanders confirmed that speed boats, fuel depots and an arms store had been targeted” and were left “in ashes”. European forces said “no Somalis were hurt during the action.”

?The bumpy relationship between the US and Pakistan is in a more positive mode today with the announcement that supply lines to Afghanistan through Pakistan, used by NATO for 40% of nonlethal supplies, could soon be approved. Pakistan had closed the supply routes after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a US airstrike on the border recently.

?MEK, or the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khaiq, was classified as a terrorist organization by the US State Department 15 years ago, but the Obama administration reportedly will remove them from that list. MEK has a fascinating and very complex history, from its origins as a Marxist student organization in 1965 to its anti-American actions (resulting in Americans killed) between 1973 – 1976, armed resistance to Khomeini in the early 1980s, alliance with Iraq’s Saddam in 1986, capture by US forces outside Fallujah in 2003, ousted by Iraq in 2009, and so on.

?”Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic goes on trial [at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague] for genocide on Wednesday, accused of leading the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica in 1995, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.” Genocide, murder, terrorist acts “and other crimes against humanity.” He’s pled “Not Guilty”.

?A Lebanese-born German citizen named Khald al-Masri has claimed “he was abducted in Macedonia in 2003 and flown to a US detention centre in Afghanistan, where . . . he was tortured.” He’s tried to sue U.S. and German officials several times in the past, with no success. He’s now taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

?”In a scathing, seven-page statement, the Office of Management and Budget ticked off a list of objections” to the GOP-dominated House Armed Service Committee’s $642 billion defense budget. Objections included the sheer size of the proposed allocation, the limitations placed on developing new defense strategies, “provisions on gays in the military, nuclear weapons and limits on the use of biofuels.” A war of words has erupted following the WH’s threatened veto of the thing.

?Following yesterday’s actions downgrading many Italian banks, Moody’s is now going after those in Spain. 21 Spanish banks are up for significant downgrades. This will be a blow since Spanish banks are already “heavily exposed to a real-estate sector that has been in a slump since 2008.”

?Alexis Tsipras, the left-wing leader in Greece, “has accused the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of ‘playing poker with European people’s lives’ by insisting on austerity measures” and warns if the “disease of austerity destroys Greece, it will spread to the rest of Europe.”

?Meanwhile, France’s newly-elected President, Francois Hollande, “has already been forced by the unforgiving calculus of military logistics to backtrack on his campaign promise to pull all French forces out of Afghanistan by the end of this year.”

?University students in Quebec have been on strike now for 14 weeks, protesting a tuition hike of 82%. Their parents have now joined the students, blocking a college entrance. “The 53 students in Sainte-Therese who split with the more than 165,000 [striking students]. . . were finally able to enter the college midday.”

?Here’s a follow-up on those NYPD “Stop-and-Frisk” searches we heard about recently. A judge has just ruled that those illegally searched after Jan 5, 2005, are eligible to join a lawsuit against the searches. US District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin noted that there were 2.8 million stops between 2004-2009 and that “Over fifty percent of those stops were of Black people and thirty percent were of Latinos, while only ten percent were of whites.”

?The US now has a National Alzheimer’s Plan, with the goal of effective treatment for the devastating debilitating condition by 2025. Right now, “about 5.4 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimers or related dementias, a number expected to reach 16 million by 2050, at a cost of $1 trillion”.

?The World Health Organization has warned that one in three people on the planet has high blood pressure. Africa is particularly hard hit–with an estimated 50% suffering from hypertension.

?The FAA has issued new rules for drones in domestic airspace. They were ordered to do so in February, so we now know that at least one federal agency has good response time. The new rules, however, do not just allow for drones smaller than 4.4 pounds, as originally proposed, but have increased the allowable weight to 25 pounds–more cost-effective and most appropriate for first responders, they say. Shoppers can choose from a wide variety–“146 models manufactured by 69 different companies”.

?Along North Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, FL, “there are piles of trash, and also dozens of homeless people” camping on vacant property. The city says it can’t remove the trash–asserting that the property owners must do so–but have been able to fund increased police presence in the area. It looks like one property owner will be cited–and then what will happen to the homeless campers?

?In Rochester, NY, a struggle is underway to “win control of Catherine Lennon-Griffin’s foreclosed, [Bank of America]-owned home as a community land trust”. A SWAT team forcibly evicted Lennon-Griffin in March, arresting some of the neighbors in the process. Ms. Lennon-Griffin and her grandchildren have been living in a homeless shelter since the eviction. Activist group, Take Back the Land, is spear-heading the effort. The organization “has helped communities take over dozens of abandoned, bank-owned homes in Miami, Madison, Rochester and other cities . . .” and they are by no means done yet! Says a spokesperson, “At some point it will cost the banks more to evict us from all these homes than the value of the homes. We need to reach that critical mass.”

?Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has released a report criticizing the TSA‘s failure “to adequately report, track and fix airport security breaches”. NJ Dem. Sen. Frank Lautenberg requested the report following problems at Newark Airport including “a dead dog transported without being screened for explosives.” TSA only took corrective action in 42% of the reported security breaches at Newark Airport and in 53% of breaches reported in other, unnamed, airports.

?CA Dem. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s request to the Federal Elections Commission to replace campaign contributions embezzled by Kinde Durkee was partially successful. The FEC said she “can ask for replacement contributions from past donors so long as their prior checks were never deposited in a campaign account.” DiFi wanted to replace about $4.5 million in donations, however.

?Ohio Rep Gov John Kasich just signed a bill that reverses legislation from last year that Democrats “called a blatant attempt at voter repression . . ..” Seems Kasich and the Republicans weren’t worried so much about not repressing voters as they are “worried that a referendum on the voting law would drive Democratic-leaning voters to the polls in greater numbers in the November election . . .” Priorities, priorities.

?Its appearance was greeted with fanfare and flourish (by Tom Friedman, anyway) “What did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life–remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in.” They spent about $35 million, tried to attract national candidates, built an on-line apparatus, circulated ballot petitions, and meant to get 10,000 supporters from ten states. Seems their lack of transparency was a problem and perhaps the public wasn’t really interested. The most votes anyone received through Americans Elect was 5,840 (Buddy Roemer). There are some murmurs about 2014, though, so they may not be done yet.

?Guess who’s endorsing the House GOP version of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)? The National Coalition for Men (used to be the National Coalition of Free Men). Democrats are delighted.

?Sen. Olympia Snow (Rep-Maine) has signaled her interest in re-examining the filibuster and its use in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin (Dem-IA) added some fuel to the issue today by saying, “I think the filibuster rule in the Senate is inherently unconstitutional.”

?Know when to fold ’em. General Motors has spent “about $10 million on paid advertising and $30 million on unpaid marketing on Facebook”. Contrary to expectations, those expenditures resulted in very little customer activity, so GM is pulling its Facebook ads and other advertisers are questioning whether to continue with Facebook, too.

?Brazil has installed a 7-member truth commission which will focus on human rights abuses, including torture, during 1946-1988. President Dilma Rousseff, who was tortured while jailed between 1970-72, “said the motive behind the commission was not revenge, hate or the desire to rewrite history” but a “celebration of the transparency of truth . . ..” Under a 1979 amnesty law, “neither military officials accused of torture nor left-wing guerrillas accused of violence” can be prosecuted.

?A news director “for one of Honduras’ most important radio stations” was kidnapped about a week ago and has been killed in Tegucigalpa. His death brings the toll to 22 journalists killed in Honduras since 2010, according to the government.

?Violence in Colombia continues unabated. One car bomb exploded in Bogota and another was defused before it could go off. The first was attached to the car of former Interior Minister (under Uribe) Fernando Londono, who escaped serious injury though his driver and a bodyguard were killed and 40 passers-by injured. The other was found and defused near police headquarters. FARC is being blamed for both incidents.

?RIP Carlos Fuentes, Cervantes prize winner, author of “The Old Gringo” and “The Death of Artemio Cruz”, among many other works.

?And for all you Tweety watchers–“Matthews bombs on ‘Jeopardy!'”

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