CommunityThe Bullpen

The Roundup for November 20, 2012

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Good Evening!

International Developments

? Hamas has announced a ceasefire is “imminent” in Gaza, though that seems a bit too optimistic at the moment. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Israel where she hopes to broker a truce “in the days ahead.”

? After more than 10 years, France has pulled its combat troops from Afghanistan.

? Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has “ordered Afghan forces to take control of the American-built Bagram Prison and accused American officials of violating an agreement to fully transfer the facility”.

? Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has been praised a lot, but flaws are becoming more noticeable. It cost $500 million, mostly paid by US tax payers–who are also underwriting the next innovation, David’s Sling.

International Finance

? Oh, how the mighty are falling! Charges stemming from corrupt payments have been made or are pending against: ex-communications chief of Downing Street Andy Coulson, ex-News of the World correspondent Clive Goodman, former chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks, ex-Sun chief reporter John Kay, and Bettina Jordan-Barber of the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

? Chinese auto parts company, Wanxiang America Corp, is trying to acquire A123 Systems, a battery maker in bankruptcy. Wanxiang America says it will take on the 2,400 employees of A123 Systems as part of the acquisition.

Money Matters USA

? David Horsey asks: “Can the bozos who created the ‘fiscal cliff’ save us from it?” His answer: “Prepare to find out what is at the bottom of that cliff.”

? Matt Taibbi’s account of a “SEC Rocked By Lurid Sex-and-Corruption Lawsuit” is a real hair-raiser.

? As Mark Thoma reminds, when a bank or other large financial system fails, “the costs were largely socialized which is a bit ironic given how quick business leaders are to speak out against socializing anything.” Imposition of a tax on size on “all large firms” (including banks) could relieve the rest of us of the enormous burden of bailing them out.

? Nice, tidy, concise history of income tax in the USA.

? Republican Senator Tom Coburn (OK) has a list of $70 billion in wasteful Pentagon spending. Included: $100,000 for a strategy workshop on “Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?” with attendees in “starship cocktail attire”; finding out whether men “were perceived as taller when they were holding a pistol than if they were simply wielding a caulk gun”; SETI, etc.

? For the second time in the past month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has punished a company for “trying to manipulate [CA’s] power market.” Last week it was JPMorgan Chase. This week it’s Gila River Power LLC which will pay $911,553. To its credit, Gila River Power is the first company to actually admit to violating the rules.

? No-one who’s been following DDay’s reporting on the mortgage scandal will be surprised to learn that “Mortgage Settlement Monitor ‘Progress’ Report Gooses Numbers to Hide Lack of Real Relief to Homeowners”. Yves Smith provides an excellent analysis and summary of this PR piece from the Mortgage Settlement Monitor.

? According to the California Monitor for the National Mortgage Settlement: about $8.2 billion in mortgage relief was paid to “nearly 62,000 homeowners statewide . . . between March and September this year”. Is that really $132,258/homeowner, on average?

? HP was warned that the cost of acquiring Autonomy was too high, but Meg Whitman went ahead with the deal. Now that it’s soured, HP is saying there are “serious accounting improprieties”; Autonomy says not. HP has sent the matter to the UK’s Securities and Exchange Commission and the Serious Fraud Office.

Politics USA

? “GOP’s Benghazi Conspiracy Falls Apart: White House Didn’t Change Susan Rice’s Talking Points”. Think this will put a damper on the Republicans’ zeal for hearings? Some seem to have that ‘impeachment gleam’ in their eye.

? The length of the cast of characters in WI’s Walkergate rivals a Cecil B. deMille production. Spotlight’s on three at the moment. Former Walker Chief of Staff Kelly RIndfleisch did campaign work while on the public payroll, has been sentenced to jail, but is out on appeal. Former Milwaukee County Republican Party Chair, Darlene Wink, guilty of doing campaign work while on the public payroll, will be sentenced tomorrow. Veteran campaign staffer Tim Russell‘s felony and misdemeanor embezzlement trial begins Dec 3rd. More to come.

? Finally: “Allen West Concedes Florida House Race”. Over in NC, however, Republican state senator David Rouzer wants a recount in his race against incumbent Democratic Representative Mike McIntyre.

? Former VA governor and current US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) “will not seek another term as governor”.

? Obama campaign legal advisor on “The Real Reasons You Waited Hours in Line to Vote”.

Health, Homelessness & Hunger

? Draft rules for “pre-existing conditions” and “essential health benefits” under the Affordable Care Act have been issued by the US Department of Health & Human Services.

? Hobby Lobby chain store has been ordered by a US District judge to “offer its 13,000 employees contraceptive coverage without a co-pay, as mandated by Obamacare.” The chain didn’t want to comply, citing the owner’s “personal religious objections”.

? Good news! Newly-reported cases of HIV among the world’s children have dropped so much that the 330,000 new infections reported in 2011 were 24% fewer than those reported in 2009. New infections among adults have held steady for the past four years.

Working for A Living

? The unemployment rate is now below 7% in 23 states. SC’s rate fell the most, followed by AK and WI. CA and TX added the most jobs. MI, NJ and MN lost the most jobs. NV has the highest unemployment rate, but it “is at its lowest level” in 3-1/2 years, while ND had the lowest.

? NJ’s minimum wage is $7.25, with Democrats pushing to raise it to $8.25 and include a COLA. This passed out of committee by 7-6 and now goes to the Senate floor.

Planet Earth News

? CA held its first cap-and-trade auction yesterday. “A ton of carbon sold for $10.09–just pennies above the $10 minimum established by the California Air Resources Board.” $286+ million were spent all total.

Latin America

? Nicaragua can’t claim some islets in the Western Caribbean (they belong to Colombia), but “the size of Nicaragua’s continental shelf and economic exclusion zone has been increased (oil and gas deposits, mining and fishing). Thats the decision of the International Court of Justice yesterday.

? Fingers crossed: “Colombia, FARC peace talks off to good start: rebel”. And according to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, “if the peace process . . . becomes successful, the economic growth of the country will be promoted.”

Mixed Bag

? Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been wildly successful. 160,000 students from 190 nations participated in the first such course last year–and now millions are “enrolled in hundreds of online courses”. Crowd-sourcing technology enables the professors to gauge their effectiveness.

? Students are shifting from for-profit colleges to less expensive state universities and colleges. Online programs by state universities will be accessible by 80% of the US population by 2014. 12 “of the 13 for-profit college companies tracked by Bloomberg have suffered stock declines this year.”

? After all those years and careers tainted and even ruined, the “son of Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson” apologized for the newspaper’s “role in the 1940s witch-hunts.” Led by Republican Joseph McCarthy (WI) in the Senate, the effort to find communists was also the work of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

Break Time

? What’ll you have, a cucumber or a grape?

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