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The Roundup for September 28, 2012

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Here’s your Friday evening edition of the news:

International Developments

? African Union “forces have launched a beach assault and taken control of parts of Kismayo, the last major stronghold of Somalia’s Islamist militants”, in an effort “to wrest control of the country for the new UN-backed president.”

? “Syrian rebels in ‘decisive battle for Aleppo’ as regime hits back in capital: Syrian rebels in Aleppo reach Kurdish PKK areas, allied to regime, while summary executions are reported in Damascus.”

? US and NATO troops are resuming “joint operations with Afghan forces”, halted because of recent killings by Afghan troops of US and NATO soldiers.

? Although they peaked in 2010, then decreased a bit, the number of “enemy-initiated attacks” in Afghanistan remained fairly constant between 2011 and 2012. Nonetheless, insurgent attacks increased by 1000, and homemade bomb attacks from 475 to 625 between July 2009 and July 2012.

? President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked on the phone today, during which the “President reaffirmed his and our country’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security”. Mitt Romney intends to call Netanyahu next, perhaps because Netanyahu seems to have shifted toward Obama and away from Romney.

? In case you missed it, in his speech before the UN, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi urged the body “to consider cracking down on expression that defames religions”.

International Finance

? Why’d the price of a barrel of oil jump $1.50 overnight on June 30, 2009? Because a senior broker of PVM Oil Futures, one Steve Perkins, “had managed to spend $520 million on oil futures contracts throughout the night”–during which he’d had a “drunken blackout”. Perkins was fined 72,000 pounds and “had his trading license revoked for five years”.

Money Matters USA

? The mortgage settlement “looks to be every bit as bad as cynics predicted.” An “acceptable level of theft” is allowable (nothing will be done in 1% of wrongful foreclosure cases); document fraud is unaddressed; much oversight function has been contracted out with “troubling conflicts of interest”; etc.

? Bank of America and CitiMortgage are trying a rent-back program announced in 2009 by Fannie Mae to help overwhelmed homeowners. If all the requirements are met (e.g., renting the home for an agreed-upon time period), homeowners give up the deed to their property and the lender, in turn, forgives the outstanding debt and promises not to foreclose. Bank of America has about 2,500 such arrangements, CitiMortgage about 500.

? Bank of America is shelling out $2.4billion to settle a 2009 class action lawsuit brought by investors over its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. More here.

? US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants the Financial Stability Oversight Council to start regulating money-market mutual funds just in case the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t “act in a timely and effective manner”.

Politics USA

? Bill Moyers’ teevee show this weekend will focus on ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

? Seems President Obama will not entertain any “proposal to eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction”.

? Emptywheel has more on yesterday’s story about Mitt Romney and US torture policy.

? Mitt Romney’s counting on getting VA voters’ attention with a campaign about Lyme Disease?

? In the on-going will-they-or-won’t-they contest, the Princeton Election Consortium’s Phil Wang says, at this point, the Democrats just might re-take the House.

? A TSA security officer who ripped off more than $800,000 worth of stuff from air line passengers for 4 years, says it was “easy” since there is “lax oversight and tip-offs from TSA colleagues”. More than 400 TSA security officers have been fired for theft.

? Nakoula Basseley Nakoula of “Innocence of Muslims” film fame is now being held without bond in Los Angeles, CA. No bail; flight risk.

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

? AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has an on-line petition available, telling Jim Lehrer to include a question about Medicare and Social Security in the presidential debate on October 3rd.

? 1.3 million Veterans Administration claims were filed in 2011, with 890,000 still pending. Vietnam veterans constitute nearly 1/3 of all new claims, while Iraq-Afghanistan vets constitute another 1/3, though the latter typically claim 9-10 disorders or injuries compared to 6 for their Vietnam counterparts. Costs are skyrocketing. The silver bullet? A new training regimen, a team approach to complex claims, and a new computerized system. Meanwhile, sick and disabled vets are waiting up to 2 years to get their claims processed.

? The Grand Canyon Institute studied the situation and it seems AZ could miss out on $1.2 billion in savings and 20,000 new jobs over the next 4 years, if it doesn’t participate in the Medicaid expansion program.

The War on Women

? Aetna Life Insurance Co has been fined $1.5 million by the MO Department of Insurance for “among other things, providing coverage for contraceptives without allowing employers to opt out and routinely providing coverage for elective abortions.”

? MO Republican candidate for the Senate Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin seems to think it’s hunky-dory for employers to pay women less than men.

Working for A Living

? “An Ingham County [MI] judge on Friday struck down a requirement that long-term state employees contribute 4 percent of their pay to stay in a defined benefit pension plan as opposed to switching to a 401(d)-style system.” Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will no doubt appeal.

? Campbell Soup is closing its plant in Sacramento, CA by July 2013, eliminating 700 jobs. There are no plans to move the plant elsewhere. 70 workers in a Campbell spice plant in South Plainfield, NJ will also be losing their jobs as that plant closes in March 2013.

? 39% of likely voters polled say the CA public pension reform measure was “about right” while 18% said it “went too far”. Only 26% thought it didn’t “go far enough”, and 17% had no opinion.

? In a recent article results from statistical studies seemed to support the thesis that “seniority rules for teachers (the ‘last in, first out’ rule for layoffs) hurt student achievement”, a reason to dislike teachers’ unions. Mike Paarlberg, however, shows how the studies cited, did not support such conclusions.

Heads Up!

? 92 protestors in Grant Park in Chicago, IL last October had charges against them dismissed by a Cook County judge yesterday who ruled the city curfew law under which they had been arrested “violated their constitutional right to free assembly.”

? Austin, TX “violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution when it banned Occupy protestors from attending demonstrations in a public park” back in October of last year, according to a federal judge.

? There’s a call to Surround Congress in Madrid, Rome, Berlin, Brussels and Lisbon on September 29th.

Planet Earth News

? Sustainability in Prisons gets prisoners involved in rescuing imperiled species. Two men in Washington’s Cedar Creek Corrections Center–for robberies–have now raised 250 Oregon spotted frogs in the prison yard. A previous inmate-participant has almost finished his Ph.D. in molecular biology and a current one looks forward to pursuing degrees in bioengineering.

? Why our water bills keep going up-Up-UP: paying off bonds for repairs and upgrades; increases in energy, chemical, security costs, and even increases in pensions and health care for employees. The article concentrates on municipalities around the US and doesn’t look at the impact on overall costs of water consumed by businesses (including agribusiness), however.

? The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program is a big success. Goal: weatherize 600,000 homes by the end of 2012. Achievement: 1 million homes have been weatherized already. Requirement: Household income equal to or less than 200% of poverty, though priority is given to those families with children or where the homeowner is elderly or disabled.

Break Time

? Is there a Nepetelactone addict in your home?

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