Tuesday Reads: McCain Plays “Pretend President,” Pressure Cookers, Upcoming Zimmerman Trial, and Other News

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Last night Josh Rogin reported that warmongering Senator John McCain had sneaked across the Syrian border from Turkey and talked to Gen. Idris Salem, head of the “Free Syrian Army.”

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”

Apparently McCain decided to play Pretend President to celebrate Memorial Day. I haven’t been paying close attention to the news for the past few days, but I think I would have seen any reports that the White House or the State Department had requested Senator McNasty’s help in reaching out to opposition forces in Syria.

Prior to his visit inside Syria, McCain and Idris had separate meetings with two groups of FSA commanders and their Civil Revolutionary Council counterparts in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Rebel military and civilian leaders from all over Syria came to see McCain, including from Homs, Qusayr, Idlib, Damascus, and Aleppo. Idris led all the meetings.

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition.

john_mccain_syria_visit

More from Dan Roberts of The Guardian:

McCain’s office confirmed to the Guardian that he had slipped into the country in recent days but declined to comment on the outcome of his talks with the rebel groups or whether it had hardened his views on arming them.

The Arizona senator has been leading efforts in Congress in recent weeks to force Barack Obama to intervene in Syria following reports of alleged chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Assad.

As the most senior US politician to have visited Syria, his intervention is likely to strengthen the hand of hawks in Washington at a time when parallel efforts are being made by the French and British governments to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo.

At the same time, actual US Secretary of State John Kerry was working toward a different goal than loud-mouthed Obama critic McCain.

Meanwhile the US State Department continues to pursue diplomatic efforts to bring the civil war to an end, successfully encouraging the Russians to persuade Assad to take part in peace talks in Geneva next month.

Capping off an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Africa, secretary of state John Kerry flew into Paris on Monday to see Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and exchange updates on their respective diplomatic efforts.

No word yet on any reactions from the Obama administration to McCain’s attempt to influence its foreign policy decisions.

The EU is also pushing for intervention in Syria. CNN reports:

The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syrian rebels Monday, a move that could level the playing field and alter the course of Syria’s gruesome civil war.

While there are no immediate plans to ship weapons to rebels, the move sends a strong message to Syria’s defiant president: Negotiate or face consequences.

“It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a written statement.

“It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so.”

SCOTUS

In domestic news, CNN calls attention to the important rulings that could come from the Supreme Court in June.

Four weeks. Four major legal rulings. What the Supreme Court decides by the end of June could fundamentally change lives and legacies on a range of politically explosive issues.
The justices will meet in at least five public sessions to release opinions in its remaining 30 cases, among them some the most strongly-contested legal and social issues they have confronted in decades:

– Same-sex marriage: A pair of appeals testing whether gays and lesbian couples have a fundamental constitutional right to wed.

– Affirmative action: May race continue to be used as a factor in college admissions, to achieve classroom diversity?

– Voting rights: The future of the Voting Rights Act, and continued federal oversight of elections in states with a past history of discrimination.

– Gene patents: Can “products of nature” like isolated parts of the human genome be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies, through government-issued patents?

For more detailed summaries of these cases from CNN, click here.

“It’s almost unimaginable the number of things that the Supreme Court is going to decide that will affect all Americans in the next month,” said Thomas Goldstein, a top Washington attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com.

“What would surprise me this term is if the court upheld use of affirmative action or the (enforcement tool behind the) Voting Rights Act. And I think it would be a big surprise if the court did anything radical when it came to same-sex marriage — either saying there was a constitutional right to it, or rejecting that claim outright and forever. I think that’s something they’re going to try and tread that middle ground path.”

Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota are proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would establish a right to vote for every American citizen.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The brief amendment would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

After investigating the issue, Pocan said he and Ellison decided this type of amendment was the best way to combat measures to restrict voting access.

“Essentially, what it would do is it would put the burden on any of these states that try to make laws that are more restrictive that they would have to prove that they’re not disenfranchising a voter. Rather than, currently, where a voter has to prove they’ve somehow been wronged by a state measure,” said Pocan.

Of course that’s pretty much pie in the sky considering how difficult it is to pass a Constitutional amendment and get it approved by three-quarters of state legislatures.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is calling for the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison

deceived federal regulators about an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant that eventually led to a radiation leak, The Associated Press has learned.

The California Democrat obtained a 2004 internal letter written by a senior Southern California Edison executive that she said “leads me to believe that Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators” to avoid a potentially long and costly review of four replacement steam generators before they went into service.

The twin-domed plant between Los Angeles and San Diego hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusually rapid wear inside hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water in the nearly new generators….

The letter [to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the generators] goes to a central issue at San Onofre, where Edison is seeking federal permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power in an effort to halt tube damage.

The replacement generators were different than the originals — they were far heavier and hundreds of additional tubes were added as part of design changes, for example. Edison installed the equipment in a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010 without an extended NRC review after concluding the new machines met a federal test to qualify as largely the same as the ones they replaced, requiring little or no changes to safety systems or components in the plant.

Just one more reminder that we have potential Fukushima disasters right here in the USA.

pressure-cooker

Police in Michigan are still freaking out over random pressure cookers after the common cooking utensils were used to make two bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon in April.

Police in Dearborn are trying to understand why a pressure cooker was left in the restroom of the Adoba Hotel, forcing the evacuation of guests until the early morning hours.

The evacuation also canceled Sunday night’s banquet of the University of Muslim Association of America….

The pressure cooker discovered at the hotel was detonated by police as a precaution, but contained no explosives.

Dearborn officers have determined that the pressure cooker had not been converted into any type of explosive device.

Meanwhile a Saudi man, Hussain Al Khawahir, is still in jail after being arrested at the Detroit airport for having a pressure cooker in his luggage–reportedly a gift for his nephew whom he planned to visit in the US. Al Khwahir is scheduled to be in court today.

A lawyer for Hussain Al Khawahir, arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on May 11 after a pressure cooker was found in his baggage, filed a request for release on bond Monday.
Al Khawahir was arrested by federal agents on suspicion of carrying an altered passport and making conflicting statements to Customs and Border Patrol agents about the pressure cooker….

Defense attorney James Howarth in the request for bond claimed Al Khawahir, a 33-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia, was carrying one valid passport and one expired passport that contained a visa stamp for his entry to the U.S.

He also argued that the two statements Al Khawahir made about the pressure cooker were not much different.

(Read the motion here .)

“The passport that was purportedly ‘altered’ was the expired document,” Howarth wrote.

Zimmerman

We’re getting closer to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. From The Orlando Sentinel:

SANFORD – With just two weeks remaining before his trial, George Zimmerman’s attorneys returned to court this morning for what may be his last pre-trial hearing, a session that could turn into a marathon with his attorneys asking for a trial delay and that an especially-damaging state audio expert be banned from testifying.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson will be asked to decide a long list of other issues, things that will determine how the trial plays out and what jurors will see and hear.

For example, defense attorney Mark O’Mara has asked that she take jurors to the scene of the shooting, a middle- to working-class gated townhouse community on Sanford’s west side where Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense. His second-degree murder trial is to begin June 10.

Defense attorneys on Tuesday also will ask the judge to keep jurors’ names a secret, something prosecutors are not expected to oppose.

Read more at the link. I guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to the publicly expressed racism that is likely to be unleashed during the trial.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Please post your recommended reads in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


Tuesday Afternoon…Eating a horse with no name.

animal,illustration,monkey,graphic,design,stamp-c337804f9edf7d8fbf14f95bdc3ec9af_hLater today, the new power cord for my laptop should be delivered.  I hope the damn thing works.

Good Afternoon,

…my thoughts are a bit off this afternoon, almost like I’m in a Virginia Woolf stream of consciousness state of mind. Sometimes it’s difficult enough to get my thoughts organized in some kind of rational order. But today it is random and ridiculous…

Tonight is the STFU speech…oops, I mean SOTU speech. (Eh, innit the same thing?)  We will be live blogging it here, so if you are around, be sure to stop by.

Just one story for you this afternoon, and it deals with the horse meat scandal over in Great Britain. Yup, you know what I am talking about!

“Ground beef” with a touch of Mr. Ed. From the same folks who brought you Mad Cow disease…there is now “beef” being sold in England and Europe that contain horse meat.

I’m not sure we have mentioned the horsemeat scandal here on the blog, but if you have been living in a barn for the past few weeks… here is a quick review of what happening in, on and around the burger scene across the pond.

A food safety group did some investigating and found horse DNA in some cheap burger meat being sold in supermarkets in the UK and Ireland.

It did not stop there, looks like Burger Kings in Great Britain also sold the Trigger burgers, since their meat supplier was the same company who supplied the supermarkets.

Testing has revealed some Findus beef lasagne  readymeals may have contained up to 100% horsemeatThen…Hi Ho, what d’ya know… Silver found himself in other “beef” products, like frozen lasagna dinners from a company called Findus. (Now, with a name like Findus….it has to be good…cough, cough.) As with Burger King, Findus Brand frozen dinner’s “beef” was also supplied by the same smeat factory. (Smeat btw is not a typo.)

The company bringing Seabiscuit to tables across Britain and the Continent of Europe is called Tesco.  You can see Tesco’s technical director dude in the hot seat, responding to the horse DNA found in its “Trojan” beef products. View the video here:

Tesco’s technical director, Tim Smith, says his company does not yet know how many products containing horsemeat have been sold in their shops, and an investigation is under way into how it happened. Samples from one of Tesco’s burger lines contained 29% horsemeat relative to beef content. Traces of horsemeat have also been found in food products sold by Iceland, Lidl and Aldi.

Watching that man and his expressions reminds me of that SNL skit with Martin Short playing Nathan Thurm, the smoking sleazeball lawyer…

You need to see this skit, if you don’t see the video embedded below, so be sure to watch Saturday Night Live: 60 Minutes online at this link.

Minkman Toys pushes 60 Minutes to investigate fraud in the novelty item business.

60 Minutes

Mike Wallace…..Harry Shearer
Herb Minkman…..Christopher Guest
Al Minkman…..Billy Crystal
Nathan Thurm…..Martin Short

Damn, I got distracted…can’t help it, that is a great skit! Funny as hell!

Okay, where was I?

Oh yeah, the horse meat.

Today some new light has been shed on the scandal:

The Guardian: Horsemeat scandal blamed on European meat regulation changes

The UK’s horsemeat scandal was in “large part” the result of a switch from UK to foreign meat suppliers in 2012 caused by an abrupt change in European regulation that the government failed to contest, according to the expert who led the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) surveillance programme for a decade.

The change meant that “desinewed meat” (DSM), a fine mince rubbed under pressure from carcasses, could no longer be called meat on packaging. DSM produced in the UK was the main ingredient in most value-range burgers, sausages, pies and kebabs and the change meant that thousands of tonnes of meat had to be sourced from elsewhere and at low cost.

BBC News: EU ban on UK mince made suppliers vulnerable to horse meat

A former senior scientist at the Food Standards Agency says an EU decision to reclassify a type of mincemeat widely used in the UK played a significant part in creating the horsemeat crisis.

Desinewed meat was a key ingredient in value items such as pies, lasagnes and other beef products.

Dr Mark Woolfe said the decision to ban it prompted producers to go outside the UK to source supplies of cheap mince.

He also raised the possibility that UK lamb products might need testing for horsemeat.

Until 2009 Dr Woolfe was the head of authenticity at the Food Standards Agency. He says the root cause of the current horse meat crisis can be traced back to a decision taken by the European Commission less than 12 months ago to ban a key food ingredient called desinewed meat.

Under pressure

This material was introduced in the the UK in the 1990s as a replacement for mechanically recovered meat (MRM). Sometimes called “pink slime” MRM was formed by removing residual meat from animal bones using high pressure water.

It was linked to the spread of the human form of mad cow disease and the UK government took steps to restrict it from the food chain.

Desinewed meat (DSM) was developed as a higher quality form of recovered meat. It was produced using low pressure, retained some structure and was regarded as a meat ingredient on value products.

Yup, and y’all know who buys value products. Poor or low income people.

Nuff said.

Check out these headlines, some of which are a pun filled laugh:

BBC has a couple of articles, their coverage is not as intense:

Horsemeat scandal widens across EU
Beef products ‘pose no health risk’

But, The Guardian has reported a lot on the scandal:

Tesco says some of its value spaghetti bolognese contains 60% horsemeat

Eating horsemeat: what are the steaks?

Horsemeat scandal: ‘immediate testing will be done’ in schools, hospitals and prisons, says environment secretary – video

Contaminated horsemeat could harm health, warns environment secretary
Horsemeat scandal exposes the cheap food imperative

The Independent is also reporting that beef may not be the only product containing horse meat….or, carne con caballo ala Flicka:

Horsemeat scandal: Chicken and pork products may also be contaminated warns FSA, as Tesco admits Every Day Value Spaghetti Bolognese contains up to 100% horsemeat

‘Yes we sold horse – but it was labelled correctly’: French suspicious over abattoir linked to Romanian minister

Galloping into controversy over Findus

Horsemeat: Regulation doesn’t taste so bad now, does it?

Big business is bad news for good food – and horse meat may be the least of our problems

From horse to lasagne: Findus, supply chains, and why buying local is the answer in an ideal world only

Damn, what a mess! However, I do love the puns in some of those headlines…the Brits have a great sense of humor.

This is an open thread…


Early Saturday De-Lite

For this third installment (y’all are probably sick of these cartoons now) we have a several commentaries on the debt ceiling and other topics that have been in the news this past week.

Hope you enjoy them!

01/16 Luckovich cartoon: Hostage taking | Mike Luckovich

011613-toon-luckovich-ed

Blackmail With the Debt Ceiling – Truthdig

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » National Buffoons

http://media.caglecartoons.com/media/cartoons/10/2013/01/16/125654_600.jpg

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Boeing Dreamliner Problems

Boeing Dreamliner Problems © Patrick Chappatte,The International Herald Tribune,Transports,Aviation,Boeing,Dreamliner,USA,Cars,Economy

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Lisa Benson, Victor Valley Daily Press – 01/18/2013 

*Please take a look at this comment regarding the Headstart cartoon below.

Cartoon by Lisa Benson -

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Piers Morgan Tonight

Piers Morgan Tonight © Tim Campbell,Indianapolis,gun control,assault weapons,piers morgan,cnn,2nd amendment,founding fathers,gun debate 2012, Living With Guns, nra, NRA 2012, second amendment

This last one is real funny, if you have trouble reading the small writing…click the image for a larger look.

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » The Masters Voice

125568_600

There you are, have fun this long weekend!

This is an open thread.


Friday Nite Lites: Homecoming

The Far Side…I always love this cartoon…

Hey Y’all

Tonight is Homecoming night for the Panther’s so this is going to be a short cartoon post. First a couple of news links…

I thought this was interesting, since this is the show I sort of got the Friday Nite Lite title from:  Friday Night Lights Creator Accuses Romney Of Plagiarism, Blasts His Politics

This next link is something I had been saving for a while.  Italian bicycle sales ‘surpass those of cars’

Italians bought more bicycles than cars in 2011 for the first time in decades, according to local media reports.

Last year some 1.75 million bicycles were sold, about 2,000 more than the number of new cars registered, La Repubblica newspaper reported.

It attributed the change to a slump in car sales during the economic crisis and the rising price of petrol, as well as bikes coming back into fashion.

Car sales have slumped to the level at which they stood in 1964, it said

Which made me think of the amazing film, The Bicycle Thief…where a man’s bicycle is connected to his making a living.

Bicycle Thieves (Italian: Ladri di biciclette), also known as The Bicycle Thief, is director Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film about a poor father searching post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family.

Adapted for the screen by Cesare Zavattini from a novel by Luigi Bartolini, and starring Lamberto Maggiorani as the desperate father and Enzo Staiola as his plucky young son, Bicycle Thieves is one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism. It received an Academy Honorary Award in 1950 and, just four years after its release, was deemed the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound magazine’s poll of filmmakers and critics;[3] fifty years later the same poll ranked it sixth among greatest-ever films.[4] It is also one of the top 10 among the British Film Institute’s list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.

That is what Wikipedia has to say, here is Rodger Ebert on the film: The Bicycle Thief / Bicycle Thieves :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies

The Bicycle Thief / Bicycle Thieves (1949)

The Bicycle Thief” is so well-entrenched as an official masterpiece that it is a little startling to visit it again after many years and realize that it is still alive and has strength and freshness.

You need to see this film, if you haven’t look online, they have the movie in full for free.

Okay, on with the cartoons.

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune – 10/07/2012

Cartoon by Pat Bagley -

Bagley is right about that, and did you see this?

Pennsylvania Fracking Law Opens Up Drilling on College Campuses

Last year, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett suggested offsetting college tuition fees by leasing parts of state-owned college campuses to natural gas drillers, more than a few Pennsylvanians were left blinking and rubbing their eyes. But it was no idle threat: After quietly moving through the state Senate and House, this week the governor signed into law a bill that opens up 14 of the state’s public universities to fracking, oil drilling, and coal mining on campus.

For a system starved by budget cuts, it’s an appetizing deal: The Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act mandates that 50 percent of all fees and royalties from the mineral leases will be retained by the university where those minerals are mined, 35 percent will be distributed across the state system, and another 15 percent will go towards subsidizing student tuition.

Of course, those benefits don’t take into account externalized costs.

“This has been a big giveaway by the state of Pennsylvania to drilling interests, and it’s at the expense of students and the public.”

Environmentalists and educators are concerned that fracking and other resource exploitation on campus could leave students directly exposed to harms like explosions, water contamination, and air pollution. They’re also worried oil and gas development would leave campuses ruined for future generations. It doesn’t help that Pennsylvania has a lousy regulation record, with a tally of violations that have increased more than fourfold since 2005. According to the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, Pennsylvania drilling companies racked up a total of 3,355 violations of environmental law between 2008 and 2011, 2,392 of which posed a direct threat to the environment and safety of communities. Meanwhile, in 2010, the state left 82,602 active wells go uninspected, more than all the active wells in New York and Ohio put together.

Cagle Post » ZombieCagle Post » Zombie

Zombie © Joe Heller,Green Bay Press-Gazette,zombie,walking dead,halloween,campaign ads,debates,costume,campaign ads 2012, Election polls, halloween 2012, Happy Halloween!, political halloween

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Gustavo Rodriguez, El Nuevo Herald – 10/12/2012

Cartoon by Gustavo Rodriguez -

Considering that cartoonist is from Spain, and that today the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, those mice are kind of funny! (I think it is safe to say we know who the cat is.)

Cagle Post » Droid Mitt Romney

Droid Mitt Romney © Pat Bagley,Salt Lake Tribune,Mitt, Romney, Star Wars, Moderate, Liberal, Flip Flop, Moderate, Conservative, Tea party, Death Star, Far Right, 2012

I love that one…

Alright, this is an open thread, but y’all know that already…


Sunday Reads….Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day! After spending the day trying to find some sort of tribute to all you Mother’s out there…I realized that my only experience with mother’s are those of the Sicilian and Cuban variety, meaning that my perception of Mama is that of a woman…a short woman with a predisposition towards obesity, dark eyes, olive complexion…and more hairs on her face then Fidel Castro. Okay, so I am exaggerating about the facial hair…just a bit.

Ah…you have to love the Sicilian Mother! They usually are trying to get you to eat, gifted in the art of making you feel guilty…and always help their children any way they can!

(Be sure you check out those video links above…I will try to embed them at the end of the post!)

So please humor me while I honor my own special mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers…Happy Mother’s Day!

Okay…on with the show. This week has been a crazy one indeed. With each new “release” of information/video/statement about the bin Laden raid, the more surreal it all becomes. I don’t know if I am watching The Onion or CNN. Boston Boomer has discussed this in two of her post this week…I’ll link to them here and here. So I will refrain from discussing bin Laden, and get on with other news that you may have missed this week.

They are calling this a 500 year flood…as Residents brace for more flooding as Mississippi River swells – CNN.com

As the Mississippi River gushes downstream with no clear boundaries, flooding continues to deluge parts of Tennessee as residents farther south brace for what will come.

“When you see the Mississippi River and it’s about two miles wide because it’s lost its borders, it’s sobering,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

In some areas, murky brown water inundated entire neighborhoods, with only the roofs of buildings and treetops visible from the sky.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest about 14 feet above flood stage at Memphis as early as late Tuesday.

Yup, that is me…on the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis, early 1990′s.

I spent a lot of time staring out over the Mississippi while in Memphis, the thought of that muddy water spanning two miles wide is overwhelming. Here is more on the floods:  Watery week ahead as Mississippi floodwaters hit Memphis, move downriver – CSMonitor.com

Record high floodwaters are expected to crest throughout the southern Mississippi Delta next week, starting in Memphis, Tenn., Wednesday and continuing through New Orleans by May 17. As momentum builds, the bulging waters moving down the Mississippi River are backing up tributaries that feed into it, resulting in evacuations, school cancellations, and road closures as water builds.

Some areas in and around Memphis are already under water, as river levels sit at 46 feet, breaking the record of 45.8 feet set during the historic 1927 flood. The National Weather Service forecasts that the Mississippi will crest there at 48 feet Wednesday and is expected to remain standing for as many as four days.

For up to date Flood Warnings and Watches click the image below.

Floods Monitor – NOAAWatch

On Saturday, Wonk the Vote had a great post about New Orleans and the Gulf.  Be sure to check it out if you missed it.

On to some world news.  Read the rest of this entry »


Not that kind of Protection

The European Union appears to be serious about stopping the hedge fund casino where you get to bet on the failure of countries to meet their sovereign debt obligations with other folks’ money. It also wants to increase regulation that provides more transparency which should–theoretically–lead to increased protection from moral hazard and insiders with inside information acting against the best interests of other investors. Would you consider this action to be protectionist? (i.e. against free trade agreements?) Once again, I’m turning to the UK’s Financial Times for more information.

Evidently, Timothy Geithner our Secretary of Treasury Goldman’s Sachs Financial Interests is arguing just that.

Tim Geithner, US Treasury secretary, has delivered a blunt warning to the European Commission that its plans to regulate the hedge fund and private equity industries could cause a transatlantic rift by discriminating against US groups.

A letter sent by Mr Geithner this month to Michel Barnier, Europe’s internal market commissioner, makes it clear that the European Union is heading for a clash with Washington if it pushes ahead with what the US – and Britain – fear could be a protectionist law.

As we see the continual watering-down of financial regulation met to rein in the worst of credit abuses in the country, we now see our government arguing against reining-in the casino-style side bets of the hedge funds. The UK is raging against the reform machine too.

The draft EU directive would impose tighter restrictions on hedge funds, private equity and other alternative investment funds. It has caused alarm in the City of London, where some in the industry say it is a thinly veiled attempt by France and Germany to undermine the UK’s dominance of financial services.

Okay, so this is my question. How is this going to undermine the dominance of the UK and US investment houses? How does this stop them from competing for business? The answer is in one clause that may or may not be the real issue here.

Mr Geithner warns that US hedge funds, private equity groups and banks could be discriminated against if proposals to restrict the access of EU investors to funds based outside the 27-country bloc are included in the final law.

So-called “third country” elements of the directive would force non-EU funds to comply with the new rules if they wish to market themselves at all within the EU. The directive could also force EU-based private equity and hedge funds to use only locally based banks as custodians and depositaries.

Contentious areas also include rules on remuneration, limits on borrowing, the disclosure of sensitive information and the regime for depositaries.

Paul Myners, UK financial services minister, told a meeting of private equity executives on Wednesday that he would fight “line by line and minute by minute” to defend the free movement of capital. But he also warned that “nobody in this room is going to get the directive they want”.

One senior private equity executive said the UK needed to take a stand before others would rally behind it.

I can see how portions could restrict the movement of capital from one country to another if investors are forced to use local banks. However, asking the UK and US hedge funds to comply with the EU rules doesn’t seem any different than asking FORD or GM to comply with the tougher MPG or emissions standards by the EU or for that matter asking US food companies to restrict certain ingredients either. Most other U.S. industries comply with EU rules daily. One major example is the use of the metric system. So, why can’t Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan just shut up and comply?

Here’s what is more likely at the heart of the argument.

One regulation they do not want is one that bans speculative trading on naked CDS.

The momentum for a ban on naked CDS is getting stronger. Germany and France on Wednesday called on the European Union to consider banning speculative trading in credit default swaps and set up a compulsory register of derivatives trading, the FT reports. Angela Merkel and Francois Fillon sent a letter to Jose Barroso yesterday, asking for an immediate investigation of the role and effect of speculative trading in CDSs in the sovereign bonds of European Union member states. Fillon assured after talks in Berlin, that both governments are “very much in agreement in tackling extreme speculation”.

Earlier this week, Mario Draghi indicated that tighter regulation of CDS could become a G20 issue when he confirmed that the subject will be on the agenda of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), Reuters reports.

Four EU member states have called for an investigation into the role of these things in Greece’s problems.

An inquiry must be opened into the role and impact of speculation linked to credit default swaps trading in EU government bonds as soon as possible to determine any market abuse, the heads of four countries said.

The move stops short of repeating recent calls for an immediate ban on selling CDS contracts to ‘naked’ buyers who have no interest in the underlying asset — thereby making it easier to find broad backing from the bloc’s finance ministers who will discuss CDS markets next Tuesday.

In a joint letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, dated March 10, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Greece also called for more transparency on derivative markets.

The moves would be aimed at preventing undue speculation, enhancing transparency and improving the safety of derivative transactions, according to the letter, which was released by the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday.

So is Geithner complaining about the provision to restrict business in certain countries to local banks or the restrictions on some of the more exotic and toxic financial innovations? That would include the ones that have troubled both Greece and Iceland.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Senator Future Lobbyist of America member Chris Dodd is about ready to unveil his version of Financial Reform. This reflects his compromise with Republican committee member Bob Corker. Have I mentioned recently that nothing particularly good ever comes from compromising with a right wing nut? Oh, yes, that would be yesterday’s post where we talked about Corker’s goal of exempting payday lenders from regulation meant to stop lending abuse. Still, let’s go to Bloomberg for the latest controversy in OUR financial industry reform.

The new Dodd bill will include some elements negotiated with Corker. For example, it won’t propose the stand-alone agency, which Corker opposed, and will probably put the consumer unit in the Federal Reserve with an independent budget, a director appointed by the president and some enforcement powers, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plan.

“It has always been my goal to produce a consensus package,” Dodd said in the statement. “And we have reached a point where bringing the bill to the full committee is the best course of action to achieve that end.”

Notice the difference in the content between the EU talks and the US version. The EU is talking about serious regulation and the US is creating another level of bureaucracy within the FED with “some enforcement powers”. This is like trying to protect some one from AIDS by handing them a virginity pledge to sign when they ain’t no virgin.

It has to be the power of the FIRE lobby. All you have to do is read any of the academic literature on the financial industry to know that standardization of process and translucency, along with making investors have skin in their game creates stronger and deeper financial markets. While we are shuffling decks on the Titanic, the Europeans are looking at the engines. I just wish I had more control over my pension plan (which unfortunately has to be a selection of professionally ‘managed’ screwed up funds rather than letting me have my own money to invest as I see fit.

Who is going to stop Wall Street before they kill again?