CommunityThe Bullpen

The Roundup for January 17, 2013

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Good evening!

International Developments

? “Algerian forces have moved against Islamic militants holding hostages at a gas facility in eastern Algeria”, freeing 100s of Algerians as well as 2 Scots, 1 Kenyan and 1 French national, but involving the deaths of 34 other hostages and 14 kidnappers.

? Informative assessment of the catastrophe that is Syria:  US and Russia fuel the conflict but simultaneously try to manage it;  zero-sum game with Assad.  Humanitarian assistance is desperately needed; etc.

? Meanwhile, government forces are said to have “swept through a small farming village in central Syria, torching houses and shooting and stabbing residents in an attack that killed up to 106 people, including women and children”.  Offic government forces were involved.

? “U.S. Sees Hazy Threat From Mali Militants“.   At this point, lots seems “hazy” about Mali.

? Retired Admiral William Fallon advises against a US military strike on Iran which would take weeks and “probably only set back the country’s nuclear program by several years.”  Both Fallon and Pentagon Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel signed a study last year recommending military action against Iran be “a last resort”.

? The US Northern Command, Special Operations will be instructing Mexican security forces on “how to hunt drug cartels the same way special teams hunt al-Qaida”.  This move favors Admiral Bill McRaven as his “special operations empire” pivots from Iraq and Afghanistan to Mexico.  Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has “talked about setting up a paramilitary force” (always such a boon to the people of Latin America).  More.

? “Virtually all” of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner craft have been grounded worldwide.

International Finance

? Greece will be getting their next bailout installment following International Monetary Fund’s Chief Christine Legarde affirming Greece had “made progress” but also urging more effort to “boost productivity.”  (entry 8.08am)

Money Matters USA

?  Grrrrr. Federal regulators have settled with 12 financial institutions over the mortgage scandal–at a bargain rate (for the banksters).  And now:  Since the IRS “regards the [mortgage] lenders’ compensation to homeowners [through the settlement] as a cost incurred in the course of doing business . . . It’s fully tax-deductible.”

? “Corporate Profits Have Grown By 171 Percent Under ‘Anti-Business’ Obama”.

? The American Bankers Association’s Economic Advisory Committee reports “Congress’s agreement to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ is holding back the economy and [could] bring the recovery to a screeching halt.”  They specifically mention  “the possibility of severe spending cuts in 2013” and “a prolonged fight over the debt ceiling”.

? Citigroup shares for the fourth quarter were 28% less than expected.  Citi reported a $1.3bn legal bill–$305m of which resulted from the mortgage foreclosure settlement. Bank of America has also been “hit hard by legal settlements” with 4th quarter net earnings falling from $2bn to $732m.

? With payroll taxes back at 6.2% this year, affecting January paychecks,  the economic outlook of most Americans declined 7 points.

Politics USA

? John Kerry (D-MA)’s confirmation hearings for Secretary of State will commence next Thursday.

? Gerrymandering wins!  “Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.”  That’s from the Republican State Leadership Committee.

? CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corp, Gary Loveman, who’s also on the Business Roundtable,  says “Congress should cut programs like Social Security rather than raise taxes.”

Gun Corner

? A New York Times-CBS News poll reports 90% support background checks of all gun purchases.  About 75% want increased security at schools, too.  Full report.

? Cue the Wurlitzer:  the NRA sent a mass email warning “that politicians in Washington D.C. were ‘closing in fast on your Right to Keep and Bear Arms.'”

? A security officer left “an unloaded weapon in a restroom ‘for a few moments'” at Chatfield School, a charter school in Lapeer, MI.  No children “were exposed to the handgun”.

?  Treasure trove!  National Rifle Association contributions to politicians, PACS and  lobbying groups–dollar amounts by names of recipients.

? In AK, there’s now a bill which “would make it a misdemeanor for a federal official or agent to try to enforce any new restrictions on gun ownership.”

? Among the National Rifle Association’s 9-member Nominating Committee are:  the CEO of Freedom Group (Bushmaster rifle), a Newtown  resident, a “licensed federal firearms dealer” in  PA, and an AL  “timber company executive”.  The 76-member board includes Ted Nugent, Tom Selleck, Oliver North, Grover Norquist,  Karl Malone,  and Larry “Wide Stance” Craig.

Women & Children

? Murder of women and girls in Guatemala is epidemic–560 females murdered in 2012, down from 631 in 2011 and 695 in 2010.  Amnesty International is waging a campaign demanding Guatemalan authorities protect women and girls, systematically investigate each killing and prosecute whenever possible.

Education Directions

US student scores “are low [in international comparisons] partly because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students comes from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low” in all countries. Correct for that, and US rankings go from 14th to 4th in reading and from 25th to 10th in math.

? Report from several concerned groups (ACLU, NAACP, etc.) concludes that “harsh disciplinary practices at many Mississippi schools lead to children being expelled and even incarcerated for minor infractions, policies that disproportionally affect minorities.”

Dorothy June Hairston Brown and four associates have been charged with “defrauding three charter schools [in Philadelphia, PA] of more than $6.5 million in tax dollars.”  Altogether, 62 counts, reportedly resulting in “rampant fraud and obstruction.”

Working for A Living

? 29 miners were killed during an explosion (methane and coal dust) at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West VA in April, 2010.  One superintendent who admittedly “falsified records, disabled a methane gas monitor”, etc., has been sentenced to 21 months in prison. The mine chief was sentenced to three years last February, the new owners “have agreed to pay $210m . . . in damages” and former executive David Hughart’s hearing begins next month.

Heads Up!

? Aaron’s Law.  Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has a bill to “limit the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act [of 1986] and exclude ‘crimes’ that are nothing more than a breach of contract.”  It won’t bring Aaron Swartz back, but it will tell the government: “You need to earn your trust with every single prosecution.”

Planet Earth News

?  “Sudden Stratospheric Warming Split the Polar Vortex in Two”.  This particular one this year “is exceptional on all counts.”  50-foot waves near Kauai and Oahu?

? “Carbon emissions from power generation in California tumbled 22 percent in 2011, countering increases from other industrial sources and helping drive statewide plant emissions down 5.6 percent.”

Latin America

? Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos “announced that he will lead a campaign aimed at tackling illegal arms trafficking”, thus “reducing gun-related violence in Latin America”.  Meanwhile, two off-duty Colombian soldiers “have been arrested after they were caught transporting half a ton of cocaine”.

? Quinoa’s good for you and popular, but its popularity has put it beyond the means of many people in its native land, Peru.  Quinoa costs “more than chicken” in Lima and threatens to turn local, traditionally diverse agriculture into monoculture as peasants raise it for export.

Mixed Bag

? RIP “Dear Abby” author, Pauline Friedman Phillips.

Break Time

? It’s Betty White’s 91st!

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MENA Mashup: Israel ‘Doesn’t Know What Its Best Interests Are’, ‘Institute for Scary Iran Stories’, And, Mali