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Friday, June 25, 2010

Finance Deal Brings New Authority Over Wall Street - NYTimes.com

Finance Deal Brings New Authority Over Wall Street - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — An overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, reached after an all-night Congressional horse-trading session, will vastly expand the authority of the federal government over Wall Street in a bid to curb the free-wheeling culture that led to the near collapse of the world economy in 2008.

The deal between House and Senate negotiators, sealed just before sunrise on Friday, imposes new rules on some of the riskiest business practices and exotic investment instruments. It also levies hefty fees on the financial services industry, essentially forcing big banks and hedge funds to pay the projected $20 billion, five-year cost of the new oversight that they will face. And it empowers regulators to liquidate failing financial companies, fundamentally altering the balance between government and industry.

But after weeks of intense lobbying and months of debate, Congress in the end stopped short of prohibiting some of the practices that led to the crisis two years ago, betting instead that a newly empowered regulatory regime can rein in the big financial players without shackling the markets and drying up the flow of credit to businesses.

“We are poised to pass the toughest financial reform since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression,” President Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House, before leaving for the Group of 20 meeting in Toronto, where he was expected to press other nations to tighten their financial rules.

Democrats predicted that the full Congress would approve the legislation next week and that they would meet their goal of sending the bill to Mr. Obama for his signature by the Fourth of July. More...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Congress Fails to Pass an Extension of Jobless Aid - NYTimes.com

Congress Fails to Pass an Extension of Jobless Aid - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — Legislation to extend unemployment subsidies for hundreds of thousands of Americans who have exhausted their jobless benefits teetered on the edge of collapse on Thursday, as Senate Democrats and Republicans traded bitter accusations about who was to blame for an eight-week impasse.

Senate Republicans and a lone Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, joined forces to filibuster the legislation in a procedural vote on Thursday. Visibly frustrated, the majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said he would move on to other business next week because he saw little chance of winning over any Republican votes.

The procedural vote was 57 to 41, with the Democrats falling three short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure.

“You’ll hear a lot of excuses,” Mr. Reid said at a news conference following the vote. “The bottom line is the minority just said no.” More...

Gates and Mullen Disappointed With McChrystal - NYTimes.com

Gates and Mullen Disappointed With McChrystal - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, who had sponsored Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan, expressed profound disappointment in his judgment Thursday — tempered with thanks for his years in combat — after he was fired from the post. The dismissal followed publication of a profile of the four-star general in Rolling Stone that quoted him and his aides disparaging other officials.

“Honestly, when I first read it, I was nearly sick,” said Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Gates said he wholly supported the decision by President Obama to retire General McChrystal, who had helped design the administration’s risky and expensive strategy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and was in charge of implementing it......


For his part, Admiral Mullen spoke of the pre-eminence of civilian control of the military.

“We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed,” Admiral Mullen said. “We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders, no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.” More...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal Is Removed From Afghan Command - NYTimes.com

McChrystal Is Removed From Afghan Command - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — President Obama removed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of American forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday, and tapped as his replacement the general’s boss and the architect of the 2007 surge in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Mr. Obama, standing with General Petraeus and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the White House Rose Garden to underline the continuity and solidity of his Afghan policy, said that he had accepted General McChrystal’s resignation “with considerable regret.”

Mr. Obama said he had done so not out of personal insult over a magazine article featuring contemptuous quotes from the general and his staff about senior administration officials, but because it showed the general had not met standards of behavior for a commander, which threatened to erode trust among administration and military officials, as well as undermine civilian control of the military.

“War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or president,” Mr. Obama said. “As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security.”

“I welcome debate among my team,” he said, “but I won’t tolerate division.”

General Petraeus, who holds overarching responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of the United States Central Command, would be required to leave his current post to take on his new appointment, which must now be confirmed by the United States Senate. Mr. Obama stressed that the change in leadership did not signal a shift in his overall war strategy in Afghanistan, where thousands of new American troops have been arriving in recent months among increasing casualties and growing questions about the progress of the war.

“This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy,” Mr. Obama said. More...

STLtoday - Associated Press News

STLtoday - Associated Press News

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A source tells The Associated Press that President Barack Obama will name Gen. David Petraeus to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as top war commander in Afghanistan.

Judge who overturned drilling bans had shares in the oil industry | Environment | guardian.co.uk

Judge who overturned drilling bans had shares in the oil industry | Environment | guardian.co.uk

Martin Feldman, who ruled against Barack Obama's moratorium, accused of conflict of interests

An oil worker's hat lies on a polluted Louisiana beach. The White House is to appeal against the lifting of the drilling ban. Photograph: Lee Celano/Reuters
The judge who overturned deepwater drilling bans allowing BP to resume oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, had shares in Transocean and other firms in the industry, it was revealed today.

Yesterday, a Louisiana-based judge Martin Feldman ruled that Barack Obama's six-month drilling moratorium in the Gulf was unjustified because it assumed that all deepwater drilling was as dangerous as BP's.

The White House promised an immediate appeal. Meanwhile environmental groups have said Feldman's ruling may have to be rescinded because of the possible conflict of interests. More...

McChrystal’s Fate in Limbo as He Prepares to Meet Obama - NYTimes.com

McChrystal’s Fate in Limbo as He Prepares to Meet Obama - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan flew to Washington on Tuesday to find out whether he would be fired for remarks he and members of his staff made that were contemptuous of senior administration officials, laying bare the disarray and enmity in a foreign-policy team that is struggling with the war.

In an article in Rolling Stone magazine, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his aides spoke critically of nearly every member of the president’s national security team, saying President Obama appeared “uncomfortable and intimidated” during his first meeting with the general, and dismissing Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as “Bite Me.”

The firestorm was fueled by increasing doubts — even in the military — that Afghanistan can be won and by crumbling public support for the nine-year war as American casualties rise. More...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BBC News - Jamaican 'drugs lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke arrested'

BBC News - Jamaican 'drugs lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke arrested'

Police in Jamaica say they have arrested suspected drugs lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke on the outskirts of the capital, Kingston.

Jamaican media say he walked into a police station although Information Minister Daryl Vaz told the BBC he had been detained in a "police spot-check".

The Jamaican government wants to extradite Mr Coke to the US to face charges of drug and gun trafficking. More...

Executions In China Under Growing Scrutiny : NPR

Executions In China Under Growing Scrutiny : NPR

China's government is coming under increasing pressure to reduce its use of the death penalty, slowly shifting the country's legal system away from centuries of authoritarian tradition and toward greater legal protection for individual rights. More...

Judge Block Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium - NYTimes.com

Judge Block Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium - NYTimes.com

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 1:55 p.m. ET

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge in New Orleans has blocked a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects that was imposed in response to the massive Gulf oil spill.

Several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other services to offshore drilling rigs had asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans to overturn the moratorium.

President Barack Obama's administration has halted the approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling at 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.

Feldman says in his ruling that the Interior Department failed to provide adequate reasoning for the moratorium. He says it seems to assume that because one rig failed, all companies and rigs doing deepwater drilling pose an imminent danger.

Monday, June 21, 2010

guardian.co.uk Millions face starvation in west Africa, warn aid agencies

Agencies launch emergency appeals for drought-stricken region as up to 10 million face conditions of 1984 Ethiopia famine

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A woman holds her malnourished baby at an intensive nutritional rehabilitation centre in southern Niger. Photograph: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

 

Starving people in drought-stricken west Africa are being forced to eat leaves and collect grain from ant hills, say aid agencies, warning that 10 million people face starvation across the region.

With food prices soaring and malnourished livestock dying, villagers were turning to any sources of food to stay alive, said Charles Bambara, Oxfam officer for the west African region.

"People are eating wild fruit and leaves, and building ant hills just to capture the tiny amount of grain that the ants collect inside. More...

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Starvation in Africa is not inevitable.  It can be ended by a concerted effort by the wealthier, governments, religious organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address this issue.  A stance must be taken that starvation is unacceptable.  These starving people be viewed as if they are our relatives who need our help, not just as poor unfortunates living in a society far removed from our own.  This is our problem as well as theirs.  Our society one day will be judged by what we have done for those who could not do for themselves alone.   We must act now.  There are many organizations who you can contact to forward your donations.  Contact your religious institution or conduct a Google search of donar organizations.  Please help!

John H. Armwood

 

How can African agriculture be more productive? | Katine | guardian.co.uk

How can African agriculture be more productive? | Katine | guardian.co.uk

Better roads and irrigation would help, but there is no one silver bullet to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa


One of the first things that strikes you in Katine, in north-east Uganda, as you move around the sub-county is how much land seems to be lying fallow. The area could not be described as intensively farmed. Then, of course, the plots of land on which people subsist seem tiny – not much bigger than a generous allotment. Another puzzle is that farmers rely on unpredictable rains and often lose crops to drought, yet Katine borders Lake Kyoga, a huge lake. A fifth of Uganda's landmass is covered by lakes and swamps, yet there is very little irrigation. More...

BBC News - BP was told of oil safety fault 'weeks before blast'

BBC News - BP was told of oil safety fault 'weeks before blast'

BBC Panorama, Washington A Deepwater Horizon rig worker has told the BBC that he identified a leak in the oil rig's safety equipment weeks before the explosion.
Tyrone Benton said the leak was not fixed at the time, but that instead the faulty device was shut down and a second one relied on.
BP said rig owners Transocean were responsible for the operation and maintenance of that piece of equipment.
Transocean said it tested the device successfully before the accident. More...


U.S. exec must clean up oil spill and BP’s image - Oil & energy- msnbc.com

U.S. exec must clean up oil spill and BP’s image - Oil & energy- msnbc.com

By Raphael Satter and Tom Murphy

LONDON - BP's new strategy to clean up its image and the Gulf Coast is to hand the job from its British CEO, widely criticized for tone-deaf comments and yachting amid the crisis, to one of its top-ranking Americans.

Bob Dudley is no stranger to tough situations, having protected his company's interests in rough dealing in Russia even after he was barred from the country. Perhaps most importantly, he is a fresh face for the oil giant as it attempts to fix the spill and protect its future.

Dudley will take over as BP's point man on the spill response, reporting to CEO Tony Hayward. Company officials have variously put the time frame at anywhere from immediately until after the spill is plugged, which isn't likely to happen until August. More...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BBC News - BP 'estimated higher oil amount' from Gulf well leak

BBC News - BP 'estimated higher oil amount' from Gulf well leak

A BP document has revealed the company estimated that 100,000 barrels of oil a day could, in theory, flow from the ruptured Gulf of Mexico well.

That amount, included in an undated internal document released by US Congressman Ed Markey, is nearly twice the current US estimate of the leak.

BP says the 100,000 figure is not relevant as it is not based on reality. More...

Study: Blacks Routinely Excluded From Juries : NPR

Study: Blacks Routinely Excluded From Juries : NPR

Twenty-five years ago, Earl Jerome McGahee was charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend.

McGahee, an African-American, was tried by an all-white jury in an Alabama county that was more than 55 percent black.

The district attorney dismissed every one of the 24 blacks who qualified to serve on the jury, including Edith Ferguson, who had worked for the Selma, Ala., Police Department for many years. The reason cited for striking Ferguson from being a juror: "low intelligence."

Bryan Stevenson of the nonprofit group Equal Justice Initiative tells NPR's Guy Raz that assertions about intelligence are "one of the most troubling but persistent reasons" given to dismiss potential jurors who are black. Many of those potential jurors are college graduates, Stevenson says.

Last year, McGahee was granted a new trial because of the racially discriminatory jury selection in his original case. But many defendants are not so lucky.


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Unfortunately in America racial discrimination remains an intractable and often unacknowledged problem. Many people in their naivety think that that Obama's ascendancy to the presidency means that racial discrimination is no longer a current phenomena. Here is another example of how facts show otherwise.

John H. Armwood


Embattled Israel Reverses Rules on Gaza Blockade - NYTimes.com

Embattled Israel Reverses Rules on Gaza Blockade - NYTimes.com

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said Sunday it was easing a land blockade on the Gaza Strip to allow in all goods except for arms and materials used to make them. More...

Republican Study Committee (RSC) - The Caucus of House Conservatives

Chicago-Style Political Shakedown

Washington, Jun 16 - Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) issued the following statement after the White House announced it had reached a deal with BP to require the oil company to place $20 billion into an escrow fund to pay claims filed against the company in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

“We all agree that BP should be held fully responsible for its complicity in the oil tragedy in the Gulf,” said Chairman Price. “In fact, BP has already begun paying claims. Any attempt by the company to sidestep that responsibility should be met with the strongest legal recourses available. However, in an administration that appears not to respect fundamental American principles, it is important to note that there is no legal authority for the President to compel a private company to set up or contribute to an escrow account.

“BP’s reported willingness to go along with the White House’s new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics. These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control. It is the same mentality that believes an economic crisis or an environmental disaster is the best opportunity to pursue a failed liberal agenda. The American people know much better.” More...

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As the press release quoted above shows Joe Barton's statement apologizing to BP is the official policy of the Republican Party.  Barton's later statement back tracking from his initial statements was simply an attempt to limit the political damage caused by what he had said.  Here is a video of his initial statement at the BP congressional hearing.



Both the Republican Study Committee statement and Representative Joe Barton's statements speak for themselves.

John H. Armwood

N. Korea lifts restrictions on private markets as last resort in food crisis

N. Korea lifts restrictions on private markets as last resort in food crisis

SEOUL -- Bowing to reality, the North Korean government has lifted all restrictions on private markets -- a last-resort option for a leadership desperate to prevent its people from starving.

In recent weeks, according to North Korea observers and defector groups with sources in the country, Kim Jong Il's government admitted its inability to solve the current food shortage and encouraged its people to rely on private markets for the purchase of goods. Though the policy reversal will not alter daily patterns -- North Koreans have depended on such markets for more than 15 years -- the latest order from Pyongyang abandons a key pillar of a central, planned economy.

With November's currency revaluation, Kim wiped out his citizens' personal savings and struck a blow against the private food distribution system sustaining his country. The latest policy switch, though, stands as an acknowledgment that the currency move was a failure and that only capitalist-style trading can prevent widespread famine. More...