Category Archives: Academia

InSecurityWatch: War, spooks, hacks, zones


We begin today’s walk on the dark side with a story everyone knew was coming, via the New York Times:

U.S. Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting ISIS as well as fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But as Deutsche Welle notes, some things remain unsayable:

Germany ‘regrets’ comments on Qatar support for ‘IS’

  • Germany has upset Qatar, with one of Angela Merkel’s ministers saying the Gulf monarchy was funding the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” terror group, and another attempting some sensitive World Cup wordplay

The German government said on Friday that it had no direct evidence of Qatar funding the so-called “Islamic State” (“IS”) group active in Iraq and Syria.

“If there were misunderstandings, we regret these,” foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told reporters in Berlin, after Development Minister Gerd Müller told public broadcaster ZDF earlier in the week that efforts to cut off “IS” funding had the “keyword Qatar.”

Schäfer on Friday said that Qatar had contacted the government in Berlin over the comments, and called the Gulf monarchy an important partner for Germany. However, he said that there were several issues, “where we are not always of the same opinion.”

While the Independent notes that America’s closest Arab ally is still killing people for witchcraft:

Saudi Arabia executes 19 during one half of August in ‘disturbing surge of beheadings’

Saudi Arabia has beheaded at least 19 people since the beginning of August in a surge of executions, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. The deaths relate to the period from 4 to 20 August and are included in the 34 deaths ordered since the beginning of January.

According to HRW, international standards require that capital punishment should only be reserved for the “most serious crimes” in countries that still use it.

Offences that resulted in the Saudi Arabian death penalties in August ranged from drug smuggling and sorcery.

And closer to home, the latest GOP cross-border xenophobia alert, via Mother Jones:

Iowa GOP Official Warns That Child Migrants Might Be Highly Trained “Warriors”

Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott has a special theory about the flood of child migrants entering the United States: What if they’re secretly ninjas?

Republican congressmen have previously argued that the 70,000 youths who will come across the border in 2014 are being brought over to bolster Democratic voter rolls at some point in the distant future, or that they are carrying a deadly disease that does not actually exist in their home countries. Scott, in a Thursday radio segment flagged by Right Wing Watch, sought to outdo them all:

For us just to open our borders it’s chaos we don’t know orderly who’s coming in, who’s not. When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds, maybe even…middle-schoolers. But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year-olds fighting in our revolution. And for many of these kids, depending on where they’re coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans. We have no idea what’s coming through our borders, but I would say biblically it’s not a Christian nation when you entice people to do wrong.

Wired threat level totes up another tab:

Personal Privacy Is Only One of the Costs of NSA Surveillance

There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping have had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.

These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

“Too often, we have discussed the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs through the distorting lens of a simplistic ‘security versus privacy’ narrative,” said Danielle Kehl, policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute and primary author of the report. “But if you look closer, the more accurate story is that in the name of security, we’re trading away not only privacy, but also the U.S. tech economy, internet openness, America’s foreign policy interests and cybersecurity.”

And the Guardian raises grounds for real domestic insecurity:

Ferguson: officer relieved of duty after ‘black little perverts’ video surfaces

  • Dan Page, among the police working at Ferguson protests, is relieved after video emerges of him saying ‘I’m into diversity, I kill everybody’

A police officer involved in the protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, has been relieved of his duty after video surfaced of him describing black people as “little perverts” and Barack Obama as an illegal immigrant.

Dan Page – who was seen live on CNN earlier this week threatening to arrest the network’s anchor Don Lemon – was recorded in April giving a speech in which he railed against Muslims and gay people, saying: “I’m into diversity – I kill everybody.”

Page is the second St Louis county officer to have been stood down in controversial circumstances surrounding the Ferguson protests. Lieutenant Ray Albers was suspended on Wednesday after video emerged of him pointing his assault weapon at protestors and threatening to kill them.

And closer to Casa esnl, more grounds for insecurity from the Fairfield, California, Daily Republic:

Fairfield cops under investigation for possible database checks on potential dates

A pair of veteran Fairfield police officers are under investigation for possible felony conduct relating to their trolling of personals dating websites while on duty and possibly using confidential law enforcement databases repeatedly to screen women they found appealing.

The officers, Sgt. Stephen Ruiz and Detective Jacob Glashoff, had their desktop computers, their laptop computers, their duty cellphones and a Fairfield police iPad seized by an internal affairs investigator in June, according to court documents filed Thursday. The equipment was turned over to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, which was joined in the investigation of the two officers by a data analyst with the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Analysis.

The investigation began in June when another detective reported to his superiors that some of his peers in the Investigations Bureau office at 1100 Texas St. were misusing the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System database. It connects to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and state and federal law enforcement records.

The Miami Herald makes a point with which we agree:

Miami-Dade mayor: ‘I want a camera on every police officer’

In the wake of national outrage over alleged police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Thursday vowed to make “body cameras” mandatory for all county patrol officers.

His proposed budget calls for purchasing 500 of the mini cameras, enough to outfit about half of Miami-Dade’s patrol force. Made by Taser, they’re small enough to snap onto a pair of glasses or a hat in order to record everything an officer sees.

“I want a camera on every police officer,” Gimenez told the audience at a budget town hall meeting in Little Haiti.

From TechWeekEurope, friends in high places for a high-security service otherwise often decried by governments aplenty:

Tor Is Being Kept Safe By Dissenting GCHQ And NSA Agents, Claims Project Director

  • Apparently a few of the government spies want to keep Tor anonymous and secure

Employees of the UK and US intelligence services have been helping the Tor network maintain anonymity of its users, claims Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project.

Lewman told the BBC that his development team regularly gets ‘tipped off’ when the National Security Agency (NSA) or Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) find a vulnerability that could compromise the security of the network.

“There are plenty of people in both organisations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,” he said. “And they have.”

From the Guardian, a spooky blast from the past:

Botched Nazi spy mission was act of sabotage, says historian

  • German intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans chose agents with poor English for Operation Lena, book suggests

Of the 12 spies who landed in Britain as part of Operation Lena in September 1940, most were arrested without having come closing to fulfilling their mission, and “because of their own stupidity”, as British official records put it. Why Germany sent such inept agents on one of the most important missions of the second world war has remained an enduring mystery.

A book published in Germany this summer comes up with a new explanation. In Operation Sealion: Resistance inside the Secret Service, the historian Monika Siedentopf argues that the botched spying mission was not the result of German incompetence, but a deliberate act of sabotage by a cadre of intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans.

Siedentopf first became interested in the story of Operation Sealion – the German plan to invade Britain – while researching a book on the role of female spies during the war. For many other missions, German spies had been meticulously well-prepared, she noticed, so why not in 1940?

From Techdirt, censorship on campus:

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages On Dorm WiFi

My understanding is that there was once a theory that America’s public universities were havens of free speech, political thought, and a center for the exchange of ideas. I must admit that this seems foreign to me. I’ve always experienced universities primarily as a group-think center mostly centered around college athletics. That said, if universities want to still claim to be at the forefront of idea and thought, they probably shouldn’t be censoring the hell out of what their students can access on the internet.

Yet, as btr1701 writes in about, that’s exactly what Northern Illinois University appears to be doing.

Northern Illinois University enacted an Acceptable Use Policy that goes further than banning torrents, also denying students access to social media sites and other content the university considers “unethical” or “obscene.” A discussion on the ban was brought to Reddit by user darkf who discovered the new policy while trying to access the Wikipedia page for the Westboro Baptist Church from his personal computer in his dorm room. The student received a filter message categorizing the page as “illegal or unethical.” It seems possible to continue to the webpage, but the message warns that all violations will be reviewed.

While DutchNews.nl resists a similar measure on a national scale:

Dutch minister opposes new law to criminalise ‘glorifying violence’

Justice minister Ivo Opstelten has rejected calls for the government to bring in a new law making it a crime to glorify terrorist violence.

Christian Democrat MPs have called for a change in the law following the murder of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State. The government is currently not doing enough to tackle the problem, CDA leader Sybrand Buma said on Thursday.

Opstelten said in a reaction he is not in favour of the introduction of ‘thought police’. ‘There is freedom of expression,’ the minister is quoted as saying.

While the Mainichi covers a real domestic security threat:

Dominican Republic bans Miley Cyrus concert

The Dominican Republic government commission that oversees public performances is banning a Sept. 13 concert by Miley Cyrus on morality grounds.

The commission said in a statement Thursday that it took the action because Cyrus often “undertakes acts that go against morals and customs, which are punishable by Dominican law.”

Tickets ranging from $27 to $370 for the concert in the capital have been on sale since July.

PandoDaily covers a banner year:

Are the hackers winning? 2014 is shaping up as a record year in security breaches

Hackers have been busy in 2014. According to a Data Breach QuickView report by Risk Based Security (RBS), the first half of 2014 has already surpassed the record set across all of 2013 for the number of consumer records exposed.

The company writes, “Mid-year 2014 data breaches exposed over 502 million records far exceeding the mid-year point in 2013, the previous all-time record setting year… and the recently reported exposure of 1.2 billion email addresses and usernames has not been included.”

This news comes weeks after Target released an analysis of the cost of its 2013 breach which, at 110 million records exposed, was the seventh largest breach in history and and was surely among the most-widely publicized. The final tally: $148 million, plus an incalculable loss of consumer trust. The incident, and a confidence eroding response by management, also ended up cost the company its CEO and CIO.

More hackery news from RT:

User beware: Researchers have 92% success rate hacking into Gmail app

Your smartphone may be far less secure than you think. A group of computer scientists say they’ve found a way to hack into six out of seven popular apps like Gmail on Android, Windows and iOS platforms, with a success rate of up to 92 percent.

The weakness, which was discovered by researchers from the University of California Riverside, means they could get potentially sensitive information, such as looking at emails and changing passwords. Thankfully for unsuspecting citizens, the team says it has no interest in using any personal data, but will instead present its findings in a paper: “Peeking into Your App without Actually Seeing It: UI State Inference and Novel Android Attacks,” at the USENIX Security Symposium in San Diego on Friday.

The team believed they could find a fault in an app because so many are produced by so many different developers. Once a user downloads a number of apps to his or her smartphone they are all running on the same shared platform, or operating system. Therefore users leave themselves open to attacks as an Android phone allows itself to be hijacked or pre-empted.

Network World covers still more hackery:

US warns ‘significant number’ of major businesses hit by Backoff malware

Over a thousand major enterprise networks and small and medium businesses in the U.S. have been compromised by a recently discovered malware package called “Backoff” and are probably unaware of it, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a cybersecurity alert on Friday.

Backoff first appeared in October 2013 and is capable of scraping the memory contents of point of sales systems—industry speak for cash registers and other terminals used at store checkouts—for data swiped from credit cards, from monitoring the keyboard and logging keystrokes, from communicating with a remote server.

“Over the past year, the Secret Service has responded to network intrusions at numerous businesses throughout the United States that have been impacted by the “Backoff” malware,” the alert said. “Seven PoS system providers/vendors have confirmed that they have had multiple clients affected.”

Meanwhile, a privacy battle shapes up in Europe, via RT:

Facebook given deadline in ‘largest privacy class action in Europe’

Facebook has been given four weeks to respond to a class action, launched against it by an Austrian activist and supported by 60,000 users. The suit claims Facebook violated users’ privacy, by cooperating with the NSA’s PRISM program.

The class action initiated by Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, data privacy activist and founder of Europe vs. Facebook group has passed its first review in the Vienna Regional Court.

Facebook Ireland, which runs the social network’s activities outside the US and Canada, has been given four weeks to respond to the action.

BBC News covers a crackdown on aisle three:

Venezuela plans to introduce supermarket fingerprinting

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela has announced a mandatory fingerprinting system in supermarkets to combat food shortages and smuggling.

He said the system would stop people from buying too much of a single item.

But the opposition in Venezuela rejected the plan, saying the policy treated all Venezuelans as thieves.

And Factor has Robocop, Mark I:

Bots on patrol: Mobile security robot to be mass produced

In a move that will rock the job security of night watchmen everywhere, the world’s first commercially available security robot is set for mass production in the US.

Designed by Denver-based Gamma 2 Robotics, the robot will now be manufactured entirely in the States, with a process that can be scaled up to full mass production as demand grows.

The robot, which is known as the Vigilant MCP (mobile camera platform), features a digital camera and an array of sensors to detect the presence of unauthorised intruders, and will activate the alarm and send out an alert should it find someone where they shouldn’t be.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including a call for a cyberwar treaty, talks in Karachi, a nautical seizure, a Chinese question, a Sino/American aerial close encounter, North Korean missiles ahead, tensions on the high seas, an Obama administration thumbs up for Japanese militarism, an anti-propaganda call in Japan, posturing by exercise, and still more turmoil over Japanese ethnic intolerance towards Koreans and that the ongoing crisis over Japanese reluctance to fully acknowledge World War II sex slavery. . .   Continue reading

Chart of the day II: A textbook case of inflation


Because the inflationary costs are those of textbooks, which, according to this short video, are rising in price at three times the overall inflationary rate. And while The Economist seems to blame instructors for the phenomenon, we suspect that consolidation in the poublishing realm, acvompanied by rampant greed, plays a greater role..

One consequence of soaring prices had been the increasing refusal of students to pay for new textbooks, and a study of Connecticut college students reveals that two-thirds have simply opted out of buying at least one textbook, while others are buying used or sharing texts.

Overall, students pay an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks, a figure that is nothing less than obscene.

And three hundred dollars for one text? Really?

From The Economist:

Live chart: The price of textbooks

Program notes:

A textbook case of price-gouging: Why university books in America are so expensive.

The new America: College campus soup kitchens


From RT [yes, we know that stands from Russia Today], a telling example of the consequences of rigging the game.

Food for Thought: US students struggle with hunger as tuition skyrockets

Program notes:

Skyrocketing tuition fees in America are now forcing many students to struggle to find any food for thought. So some universities are now setting up soup kitchens, to make sure their pupils can make it through the day.

Quote of the day: Academic trigger warnings


From the redoubtable Thomas Frank, writing for Salon:

The New York Times described a push at a handful of fancy colleges to require “trigger warnings” on class syllabi, which would alert sensitive students to reading materials that might cause them psychic distress. Note that “trigger warnings” have been actually applied at no college campus to any literary classic. The mere suggestion here and there is all that was needed to make this 100-proof pundit bait. One after another, the columnists piled on, mocking the hypersensitive and moaning about what kids these days have come to.

However, when I read the Times story—especially the part where trigger warnings are being proposed for any text that bears hints of something called “classism”—I felt strangely euphoric. I’d finally discovered a PC campus trend I could get behind.

“Warning labels!” I cried. “Classism! Great leaping Christ, that’s it!”

Yes! Elite university students must be warned about “classism”! Not on course syllabi or the cover of a book as though it’s comsymp lit or something. No, they need to see it in big red letters inscribed on those elite universities themselves — stamped on every tuition bill and financial aid form and diploma they produce, spelled out in the quadrangle pavement, flashing from a neon sign above every dormitory so no one can miss it:

“Warning: This place exists to enforce class distinctions.”

Perhaps those universities exist to educate, too. Perhaps professors here and there still concern themselves with whether students understand epic poems and differential equations. But that stuff is incidental. The university’s real purpose, as just about every modern college entrance guide will confirm, is to make graduates wealthy. Not too many employers really care what you studied there, or how well you did; they only care that you got in and that you got a diploma, our society’s one-and-only ticket into the middle class. Graduate from college and you have a chance of joining life’s officer corps. Quit after high school and it doesn’t matter how well you know your Nietzsche; you will probably spend the rest of your days as a corporal.

Headlines: CorporoEconoEcoPoliFarce


Having lost a host of entries through a browser crash, we’re feeling touched by absurdity, and so we begin with this from Taiwanese Animators:

AT&T buys DirecTV for $48.5 billion: Monopoly Media Mergers Edition

Program notes:

AT&T announced it plans to buy DirecTV, the top US satellite TV operator, for $48.5 billion in an attempt to grow beyond an increasingly hostile cellular market.

The deal was announced on Sunday. AT&T said it is offering $95 per DirecTV share in a combination of cash and stock, a 10 percent premium over Friday’s closing price of $86.18. The cash portion, $28.50 per share, will be financed by cash, asset sales, financing already lined up and other debt market transactions.

If the deal is approved by US regulators, AT&T would add 20 million DirecTV customers to its paltry 5.7 million U-verse customers, plus another 18 million DirecTV customers in Latin America.

The Wire adds more, less theatrically:

AT&T Promises to Uphold Net Neutrality for Three Years if DirecTV Deal Goes Through

In the event the $48 billion AT&T-DirecTV deal closes, the new joint company is promising to uphold the current net neutrality rules for at least three years. This promise would be valid regardless of how the FCC vote on the issue goes later this year.

In their proposal for the DirecTV purchase, AT&T issued a list of commitments, which they are calling “benefits of the transaction.”  One of these “benefits” is the following:

Net Neutrality Commitment. Continued commitment for three years after closing to the FCC’s Open Internet protections established in 2010, irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules.

In the event the FCC’s paid prioritization proposal passes, AT&T won’t actually participate in the potentially multi-million dollar scheme (if they keep their promise, that is.) This is also a major show of good faith to the FCC, which will have to approve the merger.

From the Guardian, a rare cause of a faint twinge of something approaching but not exactly qualifying as joy:

Credit Suisse pleads guilty to criminal charges in US tax evasion settlement

  • Bank is first in more than a decade to admit to a crime in US and will pay more than $2.5bn in penalties

Credit Suisse Group has pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it helped Americans evade taxes, becoming the first bank in more than a decade to admit to a crime in the US. It will now pay a long-expected fine of $2.5bn (£1.5bn).

“This case shows that no financial institution no matter its size or global reach is above the law,” said the attorney general, Eric Holder. He said the years-long investigation had uncovered evidence of an “extensive and wide-ranging” conspiracy to hide taxes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the bank’s involvement in it.

“The bank went to elaborate lengths to shield itself, its employees, and the tax cheats it served from accountability for their criminal actions. They subverted disclosure requirements, destroyed bank records, and concealed transactions involving undeclared accounts by limiting withdrawal amounts and using offshore credit and debit cards to repatriate funds. They failed to take even the most basic steps to ensure compliance with tax laws,” said Holder.

From Al Jazeera America, an unsurprising correlation:

Study: Student debt worst at universities with highest-paid presidents

  • Executives at 25 universities saw 14 percent higher salary increase than national average after 2008 recession

Student debt and the hiring of relatively low-paid adjunct faculty rather than full-time professors have grown fastest at public universities with the highest-paid presidents, a new report found.

University president pay has risen dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, according to the report, which focuses on 25 state universities that pay their presidents almost double the national average. Released Sunday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive Washington D.C.-based think tank, the study is called The One Percent at State U — referring to the financial gains made by executives after the 2008 recession.

Nationwide, between the fall of 2009 and the summer of 2012, average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent to $544,544, according to the study

Another unsurprising correlation, via KCBS:

Inner City Oakland Youth Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Centers for Disease Control said 30 percent of inner city kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The CDC said these children often live in virtual war zones. Doctors at Harvard said they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD.

Unlike soldiers, children in the inner city never leave the combat zone. They often experience trauma, repeatedly.

“You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar. Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home,” said Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University.

A cross-border legal beef from the Canadian Press, with that old “corporate person” free speech once again at issue:

Canada-U.S. meat labelling row hears free speech arguments

Canadian livestock producers were in an American courtroom Monday fighting against labelling requirements blamed for having devastated their exports to the United States.

The case revolves around the free-speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, one of the most sacrosanct provisions of the American Constitution.

Canadian and Mexican producers, and the U.S. partners they supply, argue that those speech rights are being violated by the requirement that they stamp country-of-origin labels on meat packaging.

On to Europe, with growth at the margin from TheLocal.st:

Europe’s far right expect election gains

Europe’s far-right is looking to overcome deep divisions and establish itself as a major player in Brussels after EU elections this week where it is expected to make significant gains.

With voters tired of a European Union handing down decisions from on high, parties like France’s National Front (FN), Britain’s UKIP and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPOe) are going strong in the polls ahead of the May 22-25 ballot.

But it might not be all plain sailing in the months to come.

Ireland next, and austerity once again victimizing its victims, via TheJournal.ie:

Two rape crisis centres are to close temporarily as cuts take hold

  • The services in Clare and Tipperary will be closed for at least a month because of a €120,000 shortfall.

TWO RAPE COUNSELLING services in the Midwest are to be temporaily closed because of a funding shortfall the service estimates at €120,000.

Rape Crisis Midwest has centres in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary but is to close the latter two services for a least one month to save costs.

The service provides confidential one to one counselling to survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse and says that it helps about 80 people a week.

Cash flowing from one end of Eurasia to another, via TheLocal.no:

Chinese tycoon agrees to buy Norway land

The Chinese property billionaire blocked from buying a huge chunk of Iceland is reportedly close to buying up a 100 hectares of the scenic Lyngen coastline.

Huang Nubo, a Communist party member who spent ten years working in the country’s propaganda ministry, on Thursday agreed to buy the site, which has already received planning permission for a series of villas, from Ola OK Giæver Jr, a local landowner, pilot and businessman.

“I can promise you a new era for Lyngen municipality. I trust that Huang Nubo will create huge and positive financial ripples throughout the north of Norway,” Giæver jr said. “There is not a better capitalist than Huang.”

Sweden next, and one way to make homelessness vanish, the neooliberal version, via TheLocal.se:

Stockholm says no to ‘freakshow’ soup kitchen

Stockholm municipality has ruled that a soup kitchen which had served hearty broth to the city’s homeless for the past two years must move on due to the risk of the city square being “turned into a zoo”.

“Nazis can march freely and water is thrown on people begging, but to create a meeting place to challenge politicians and other people to actually do something is obviously very dangerous and terrible,” Elin Jakobsson at Soup Kitchen Stockholm said in response to the decision via social media.

The organization has been active for the past two years and works both as a source of food and a monthly meeting place for the city’s homeless population. The soup kitchen requires a police permit and on Monday its application for renewal was rejected.

But it can be carried to far, of course, via TheLocal.se:

Shopkeeper charged over beggar dousing

A Gothenburg shopkeeper has been charged over the drenching of a beggar with water in front of his shop in March, an incident which sparked an outraged response on social media.

The man was charged on Monday with two counts of harassment.

The first was for an incident on March 10th when he threw a bucket of warm water at his own Hemköp window, effectively soaking a beggar sitting nearby. The second charge was for the day after, when the man did the same thing with a bucket of cold water.

On both occasions, the woman begging by the windows was drenched, and the prosecutor argued on Monday that both acts were carried out with intent.

From GlobalPost, going medieval:

In Germany, no means yes

  • A regressive definition of rape highlights the country’s stubbornly traditional attitudes toward women.

No means yes, at least in this country.

When a rape court in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia acquitted the alleged rapist of a 15-year-old girl in 2012, women’s rights advocates were outraged.

The ruling found that saying no, or even screaming it, wasn’t enough to merit rape charges. Now findings from a new study indicate that case was hardly unique, despite a European initiative to step up efforts to stop violence against women.

The number of German rape cases ending in convictions has plummeted from 22 percent to 8 percent over the past 20 years, according to a study released by the Hanover-based Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony

A suggestion for a foreign visitor from TheLocal.de:

Mayor urges Erdogan to cancel German trip

German politicians called on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to cancel an upcoming pre-election appearance to Cologne in the wake of a deadly mine disaster.

Amid mounting anger within Turkey over his response to last week’s coal mine blast in which 301 died, Erdogan faced condemnation and calls to cancel his visit next Saturday from across the political spectrum in Germany.

Erdogan is due to address supporters in Germany, where three million Turks or people of Turkish origin live, with a visit to the western city of Cologne. For the first time, some 2.6 million Turks living abroad, including 1.5 million in Germany alone, will be able to cast their votes in the August presidential vote in which Erdogan is expected to stand.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Germany urges restraint ahead of Erdogan’s planned speech in Cologne

The German government has urged Turkey’s prime minister to exercise restraint when he visits the country on the weekend. This followed calls from some German politicians for Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel his visit.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday that as the prime minister of a “really close and important partner” nation, Erdogan was welcome in Germany, where he plans to deliver a speech to local Turks on Saturday.

At the same time, though, Seibert said the German government expected Erdogan to choose his words carefully at what he described as a “difficult” time, given the political tensions in Turkey in light of the recent mining disaster and the fact that it comes one day before the European elections.

Seibert said in light of this, the government expected Erdogan to deliver a “sensitive, responsible” speech, when he addresses thousands of his fellow countrymen and women at an indoor stadium in the western city of Cologne.

Another bankster busted, from TheLocal.fr:

Rogue trader Kerviel imprisoned in France

The former trader Jérome Kerviel was finally behind bars in France on Monday after being picked up by French police at midnight. Kerviel is due to start a three year prison sentence over his role in losing former employers Société Général €5 billion through high-risk trading.

French police arrested rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel at midnight on Sunday, shortly after he had crossed the border from Italy into France on his walk home from Rome to Paris.

A local prosecutor then announced on Monday morning that Kerviel was behind bars in the Riviera city of Nice.

TheLocal.fr again, with some reassurance for the poorest:

French income tax cuts for poorest to last to 2017

A plan to exempt France’s poorest households from income tax will not just be a one-off for this year, the government finance minister said this week. The income tax breaks will actually apply until 2017, the minister Michel Sapin said.

There was more cheer for the more hard-up tax payers in France on Monday when the finance minister Michel Sapin announced a government plan to apply the recently revealed breaks until 2017.

Sapin’s pledge comes days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made the headlines by announcing that the government plans to exempt 1.8 million households from the income tax burden.

From El País, Spanish repos rising:

Home repossessions up 10% in 2013

  • Spanish lenders took back nearly 50,000 properties last year
  • Figures released by Bank of Spain suggest more borrowers are handing back keys in payment

Spanish lenders repossessed 49,694 homes from defaulting borrowers in 2013, a 10% rise from a year earlier, figures released on Monday by the Bank of Spain show.

Of these, 38,961 were first residences, according to statistics provided by the banks. The vast majority of properties were empty at the time of repossession.

Meanwhile, the proportion of cases involving dation in payment, in which borrowers in arrears hand over the keys of the property to the lender that approved the mortgage to cancel debt obligations, reached 32.5% of all repossessed homes.

Pimping the rich fails to enrich, via TheLocal.es:

Spain’s ‘golden visa’ scheme fails to shine

Just 72 people have signed on to a controversial Spanish ‘visa for cash’ scheme which grants automatic Spanish residency to people who buy a property worth at least €500,000 ($685,000).

The so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme has reaped only small rewards, according to Spain’s El País newspaper.

Introduced in September 2013, the law gives foreigners who invest large sums in Spanish property, public debt and projects of general interest the right to reside in Spain.

And from thinkSPAIN, another way California is like Spain:

Worst drought in 150 years hits southern and eastern Spain

A DROUGHT of the scale not seen in over a century and a half is threatening water resources in Spain’s south and east after the lowest rainfall on record over the autumn, winter and spring.

The worst-hit provinces are Valencia and Alicante where, following a sudden and unprecedented gota fría or Mediterranean ‘monsoon’ in late August, it has barely rained between September and June.

Murcia, Albacete, Cuenca, Teruel, Cádiz, Málaga, Jaén and Almería are also at high risk – the only provinces in Andalucía which are safe are Granada, Sevilla and Huelva.

From El País, and how [to employ a sexist term] broad-minded of them:

Spanish conservatives forgive sexist remarks by their European contender

  • Women at Popular Party rally play down Arias Cañete’s views about male “intellectual superiority”

It was just a minor “slip.” Popular Party (PP) voters are writing off as unimportant statements about the intellectual superiority of men made last week by the party’s top European candidate, Miguel Arias Cañete, despite leaders’ fears they might have jeopardized his chances of winning.

Several women who attended a Sunday rally by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal in Cuenca sought to play down the controversy over the sexist remarks.

During a televised debate with Elena Valenciano, his Socialist rival in next Sunday’s European elections, Arias Cañete claimed that he had held back from serious intellectual confrontation because “if you abuse your intellectual superiority, you end up looking like a sexist intimidating a defenseless woman.”

Italy next and a wiseguy lipoff lambasted via ANSA.it:

Renzi hits back after Grillo mafia jibe

  • Premier says PD marks real face of change

Premier Matteo Renzi hit back Monday after Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), used a Mafia jibe to suggest his political career was close to ending as the campaign for Sunday’s European elections grew increasingly venomous.

Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is top in most polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S, who are second in the surveys after capturing a stunning 25% of the vote in last year’s general election, can come first with a late surge.

“Renzie has been hired on a temporary project to win the European elections, but he’ll lose them,” Grillo wrote Monday on his popular blog, using a nickname that refers to the premier’s alleged attempt to come across as cool like TV’s Fonzie.

TheLocal.it notes another grime number:

Italy’s employment rate is one of Europe’s worst

  • The Italian employment rate fell to 59.8 percent last year, one of the worst in Europe, according to figures released on Monday by the European Commission.

Fewer than 60 percent of Italians aged 20 to 64 were employed in 2013, far below the EU average of 68.3 percent.

The new figure sees Italy slip to figures not seen for over a decade, with last year’s rate just higher than the 59.2 percent recorded in 2002. Between then and 2008 the situation steadily improved for workers in Italy, until the global financial crisis struck and led to a steady decline in employment.

According to the European Commission data, Italy now has one of the worst employment rates in Europe, just slightly higher than Spain’s 58.2 percent. Only Greece, with 53.2 percent, and Croatia (53.9 percent) fared worse in 2013.

ANSA.it demands:

Napolitano says EU must help on migrants

  • Italy is main entrance for flow that’s creating emergency

President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday that the European Union must provide Italy with greater help in coping with a massive wave of migrants arriving from North Africa. “Today we are faced with the absolute need to achieve a concrete, operative model of cooperation with the European Union,” Napolitano told Italian officials at the United Nations in Geneva, ANSA sources said. The Head of State added that while migrant arrivals had caused an emergency for all of southern Europe, Italy is “the main entrance”. There has been friction between Rome and Brussels after two migrant boat disasters south of Italy last week in which around 60 people are confirmed dead and many more may have lost their lives.

Rome says the EU is not doing enough to support it after it launched the humanitarian Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) search-and-rescue border operation in October, after roughly 400 migrants drowned in two wrecks off the coast of Sicily.

On Wednesday Premier Matteo Renzi accused the European Union of looking the other way as Italy struggles to cope with the crisis.

After the jump, fascinating electoral news from Greece, the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan turmoil, pre-World Cup jitters in Brazil, polio rising, a Thai takeover, Chinese real estate developments, Japanese Trans-Pacific intransigence, melting polar caps, other environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Grinnin’ Bobby Birgeneau, spurned by Quakers


Former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. “Grinnin’ Bob” Birgeneau has pulled out as speaker at the Haverford College commencement after students demanded he apologize for allowing Cal campus cops to release their inner thug on student protesters.

The school was founded by Quakers, and while it’s no longer formally affiliated with the Society of Friends [in part because of a push for higher enrollments], the Quaker pacifist ethos is still a strong component of of the campus ethos.

From the New York Times:

Some students and faculty members at Haverford, a liberal arts college near Philadelphia, objected to the invitation to Mr. Birgeneau to speak and receive an honorary degree because, under him, the University of California police used batons to break up an Occupy protest in 2011. He first stated his support for the police, and then a few days later, saying that he was disturbed by videos of the confrontation, ordered an investigation.

Those at Haverford who objected to his being honored asked Mr. Birgeneau to apologize and to meet a list of demands, including leading an effort to train campus security forces in handling protests better; he refused.

Mr. Birgeneau bowed out a day after Smith College said that Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, had withdrawn from its commencement because of protests. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, said this month she would not deliver the address at Rutgers University after the invitation drew objections. Last month, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist, over her criticism of Islam.

We’re not surprised at Birgeneau’s refusal to apologize, given that under his tenure the university continued redefined itself as a bulwark of corporatism and the global elites, tearing down a building named after Earl Warren, a UC Berkeley law school graduate and the Supreme Court Chief Justice whose court extended the mandate of civil rights to minorities and extended civil liberties protection for the criminally accused.

The replacement building was named for Asia’s richest man, a Chinese billionaire real estate developer who had never set foot on campus until the building was dedicated. But, hey, the dude’s got cash, right, and Earl Warren’s long dead.

Grinnin' Bobby Birgeneau

Grinnin’ Bobby Birgeneau

It was also Birgeneau who presided over the largest corporate research program in American academic history, $500 million BP-funded Engergy Biosciences Institute,  premised on the used of genetically modified microbes to develop fuels from crops, a lot of them to be planted in Africa and India, and here in the U.S. on lands formerly kept out of farming to prevent massive erosion of the scale that ravaged the nation during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.

Under Birgeneau’s regime, campus cops brought in the notorious Israeli Border Police to teach them how to handle upset citizens, including the most effective ways to use those batons.

Here’s how they put their skills to use during a 9 November 2011 Occupy protest at Berkeley. The first person grabbed [by the hair] is a UC Berkeley professor, Celeste Langan, who had already offered to submit to arrest by holding out her arms for the wrist ties cops carried in abundance:

The police conduct was denounced by both an overwhelming majority of the university’s faculty association and faculty at the law school in a separate resolution.

Science News: Of plates and platitudes


For your Sunday viewing pleasure, we bring you a pair of fascinating videos from University of California Television [UCTV]

First, best-selling author and student of human behavior parses the mysteries of those telling phrases and speech patterns that serve as social lubricants:

The Elephant in the Room: The Psychology of Innuendo and Euphemism

Program notes:

Why don’t people just say what they mean? In this lecture, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker explains the paradoxical appeal of euphemism, innuendo, politeness, and other forms of shilly-shallying.

And for our second video, a look at some of the fundamental forces shaping our world through a look at the great African Valley which may have given rise to the human species:

Rift! Geologic Clues to What’s Tearing Africa Apart

Program notes:

East Africa is one of the most geologically intriguing places on the planet—a place where the African continent is literally ripping apart. Deep rift valleys, active volcanoes, and hot springs are dramatic evidence for the powerful forces deep within the earth that are slowly reshaping the continent. Join geochemist David Hilton on an adventure to the East African Rift Valley and learn how he and his colleagues utilize geologic samples to understand this dynamic region of our planet.

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the ecology, are weighted heavily toward the U.S. and Asia, with relatively little form Europe, save Greece.

There’s also plenty on the environment, including lots in the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with a global issue, a reminder of what always lurks within the world around us. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

The World Health Organization said Friday it would hold an emergency meeting next week on the deadly MERS virus, amid concern over the rising number of cases in several countries.

The UN health agency will host the emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the worrying spread of the virus, which in less than two years has killed 126 people in Saudi Arabia alone, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss the mysterious corona virus, which surfaced in mid-2012.

More on an issue we’ve covered before via the Oakland Tribune:

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years.

Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier, a new analysis by this newspaper shows.

The shift feels like a betrayal to some families coping with — or fearing — rejection by the distinguished university system, which was built by and for Californians but now is turning them away in record numbers.

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

CNBC’s first-ever Millionaire Survey reveals that 51 percent of American millionaires believe inequality is a “major problem” for the U.S., and of those, nearly two-thirds support higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage as ways to narrow the wealth gap.

The findings show that—far from being a purely self-interested voting bloc—American millionaires have complicated views when it comes to the wealth gap and opportunity in America. They are unashamed of their own wealth and attribute their success to hard work, smart investing and savings. They also believe that anyone in America can get wealthy if they work hard.

Yet millionaires also believe that cultural and family issues prevent many Americans from climbing the wealth ladder. They advocate improved education, higher taxes on the wealthy and better savings incentives for the poor and middle class as important changes that would reduce inequality.

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

Split appears in GOP as more call for raising federal minimum wage

Several leading Republicans have called for raising the federal minimum wage and others are speaking more forcefully about the party’s failure to connect with low-income Americans — stances that are causing a growing rift within the party over how best to address the gulf between the rich and poor.

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

Brandon James Thompson, of New Castle, Ind., angered over the House’s failure to pass an emergency unemployment extension, admitted to sending threatening messages to House Speaker John Boehner and his wife.

The FBI arrested an Indiana man Thursday night for allegedly threatening to kill House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Brandon James Thompson, 32, of New Castle, Ind., was taken into custody at his home Thursday night and faces federal charges for making phone and email threats to an elected official.

According to an FBI affidavit, Thompson admitted to sending threatening messages to the Ohio Republican’s congressional website using his neighbor’s wifi, and leaving threatening voicemails on Boehner’s wife Debbie’s personal cellphone.

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

The retirement crisis in America is not contained to any one generation. Across the country, people of all ages are struggling with stagnant wages, rising living expenses, and an overall sluggish economy. Some are closer to their golden years than others, but one thing is clear: There are three unique generations with very different retirements ahead of them.

Many workers are simply trying to recover from the financial meltdown that took place more than five years ago. According to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement survey, one of the largest and longest-running national surveys of its kind, 35% of workers believe the Great Recession has not yet ended. That figure rises to 40% among Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, 65% of workers believe the recession has ended, but they have mixed views about the strength of the recovery. Only 14% say they have fully recovered financially from the historic downturn.

“Experts have long written about the changing retirement landscape over the past century,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Times are changing so rapidly that the retirements of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials will not only be a radical departure from their parents’ generations but from each other as well.”

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

401(k)s are retirement robbery: How the Koch brothers, Wall Street and politicians conspire to drain Social Security

The decades-long tale of how the Kochs, Reagan, Wall Street and even Democrats have tried to gut Social Security

Excerpted from “Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis”

On the eve of the Reagan presidency in 1980, Milton and Rose Friedman published “Free to Choose,” a proposal for gradually phasing out Social Security. The entitlements of retirees would be honored as would the accumulated credits of contributors who had not yet retired. But no new payroll taxes would be collected. The final elimination of Social Security would allow “individuals to provide for their own retirement as they wish.” Among the advantages would be that “it would add to personal saving and so lead to a higher rate of capital formation [and] stimulate the development and expansion of private pension plans.” While the Friedmans argued for such a plan, they acknowledged that immediate privatization of retirement was unrealistic in the current political climate, but they would accept incremental reforms with the hope that one day total privatization would become politically feasible.

That same year, the conservative Koch brothers-financed Cato Institute published “Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction,” by Peter Ferrara, which argued that instead of being required to participate in Social Security, people should “be allowed to choose from a variety of insurance and investment options offered in the private market. The previous year, two years after its founding in 1977, the institute had published an article by Carolyn Weaver in which she made the case for privatization, and in 1980 it also sponsored a conference on Social Security privatization that drew, among others, two hundred congressional staffers.

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

A battle against leisure is unfolding. In America, it’s a war that has been raging since the Puritan age.

Though recently American leisure time has appeared to rise, the averages are skewed by undereducated and lower-income men, who are likely “unemployed or underemployed,” as the Washington Post has noted. Work-life balances are abominable when compared to other developed countries. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “average American” is actually working “one month” more a year than he or she was in 1976.

But Sunday, the weekend day that even Puritans blocked off for worship and rest (a Puritan poet once pondered “over whether closing a stable door that was blowing in the wind constituted an act of work which would profane the Sabbath”), is also beginning to look more and more like just another day of the work week.

On the other hand, given the narcissism of some of our leisure time habits. . .From  United Press International:

Hundreds of ATV riders in Utah threaten sacred Navajo burial ground to protest federal government

  • Illegal route runs through protected Native American land, forced military veterans retreat to relocate.

Protesters who say the Bureau of Land Management has no right to criminalize use of ATVs in Utah’s Recapture Canyon plan to demonstrate today by illegally riding their vehicles through the protected land – a move that has drawn the ire of Native Americans and displaced a veterans retreat.

“It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor,” Jerry Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance said in a statement. “It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

Willie Grayeyes, chair of a nonprofit that lobbies to protect Navajo land, was offended at both the protesters’ dismissive attitude toward Native American culture and their disrespect for the American veterans who had to move their long-scheduled retreat to ensure it could be held in peace.

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads

What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

According to a recent report by the World Bank, that scenario is not so far-fetched. The bank is one of those high-minded organizations — Washington is full of them — that release hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.

The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record.

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

Swisspartners Ends U.S. Probe With Non-Prosecution Deal

Swisspartners Group, a Zurich-based money-manager, resolved a U.S. criminal tax probe by paying $4.4 million for helping American clients use secret accounts to evade taxes. In return, the government agreed not to prosecute the firm, citing its “extraordinary cooperation.”

The agreement resulted from Swisspartners’ voluntary production of the files for about 110 U.S. taxpayer clients, according to the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“The extraordinary cooperation of Swisspartners has enabled us to identify U.S. tax cheats who have hidden behind phony offshore trusts and foundations,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said today in a statement. “In this and other cases around the world we will continue to provide substantial credit for prompt and full cooperation.”

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.

You’ve read the headlines about nearly one in four of America’s bridges being either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, right? The $59 billion backlog for commuter railway maintenance? The $324 per year in mechanic visits that each U.S. motorist incurs by driving on deteriorated roads?

America has a transportation funding problem. And if Congress doesn’t fix it this summer, it could start doing some real damage.

First, a few basics. Most big transportation projects — bridge repairs, new highways, intercity rail — are paid for with a stack of local, state, and federal funds. The federal contribution ranges between 35 percent and 95 percent of a state’s total transportation budget, and is mostly supplied by the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is mostly supplied by the federal gas tax, which is a robust stream of money that can’t be used for anything other than transportation.

The problem for funding is that Americans are actually using less gas than they used to — both because they aren’t driving as much, and cars are getting more efficient. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994, which is now far behind what it was then when you take inflation into account.

From the  Los Angeles Times, the voice of reason from an unexpected quarter:

Jackie Lacey says L.A. County should stop locking up so many people

You wouldn’t expect the county’s top prosecutor to step up to a microphone and say it’s time to stop locking up so many people. But that’s exactly what L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey did last week. She told the county Board of Supervisors that, in her opinion, 1,000 or more people with mental illness who are currently incarcerated should probably be somewhere other than in jail.

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

From Business Insider, the Washington Post’s new owner’s other business demonstrates utter greed:

Amazon Is Claiming Exclusive Rights To A Basic Version Of An Extremely Common Practice

A photography site called DIY Photography wrote this week that the Amazon corporation applied for—and received—a patent for the process of taking a picture of an object against a white background.

Despite the technical detail in the patent documentation, the DIY site says, Amazon is ultimately claiming exclusive rights to a basic version of an extremely common practice:

The patent number is 8,676,045B1 and you can read the entire boring text on USPTO, or just about any basic studio photography book.

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

As you probably know, several of us at CT are big photography enthusiasts. While we seem to be more interested in taking photos of nature and architecture, next time we want to shoot a family portrait or an item, we’ll have to be careful with our approach. The US Patent Office recently granted Amazon a patent for taking photos against a white background. For real. So is their plan to start trolling portrait studios and Ebay/Etsy sellers to see whom they can sue?

I am no lawyer, but the language seems rather vague. For example, “a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white”. So what level of off-white should a photographer strive for to avoid litigation?

Having shot many a picture for publication we cam attest to the fact that Amazon has basically tried to patent the wheel.

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

Portugal received a vote of confidence from credit ratings agencies Friday for the first time since the country’s sovereign-debt crisis began.

Moody’s Investors Service raised the debt rating to Ba2, from Ba3, citing an improved financial position and Lisbon’s decision not to seek additional aid after its bailout programme expires at the end of this month.

“Portugal’s economic recovery is gaining momentum, with signs of broadening beyond exports, which continue to perform strongly,” Moody’s said. The move followed a revised outlook from negative to stable by Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services earlier in the day.

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

An Italian court has upheld the conviction of retired parliamentarian Marcello Dell’Utri for ties to the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri is a close associate of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Dell’Utri was not present when Italy’s highest appeals court upheld his seven-year prison sentence on Friday. He had fled to Lebanon last month in order to avoid arrest.

The close Berlusconi associate (pictured center) is currently in police custody at a hospital in Beirut while Italian authorities seek his extradition.

In 2010, a Palermo court convicted Dell’Utri of acting as a mediator between the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite from 1974-1992. The decision by the Court of Cassation on Friday means his conviction is now final and can no longer be appealed.

After the jump, the latest from grief from Greece, Ukrainian turmoil, a Turkish tantrum, economic alarms form Latin America, Indian anxieties in Washington, Indonesian bankster woes, Australian bankster extravagance, Thai turmoil, Chinese housing, food & economic uncertainties, environmental ills, and the latest chapter of Fumkshimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Discrimination in academia


Dramatic evidence that discrimination is at work in the Groves of Academe comes from a study [PDF] by three academics, Katherine L. Milkman of Whrton, Dolly Chugh of NYU’s Stern School of Business, and Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School on how academics at universities would respond to an email request for a meeting with a prospective student seeking advice.

The recipients were 6,500 professors at the nation’s top 250 schools.

The message was the same in all the emails, save for the ethnicity and gender of the supposed sender. Just who received answers was illuminating, and the results are graphed here with non-response rates [red] and response rates [black] in comparison with a supposed with mail.

Discrimination rates were lower at public compared to private institutions.

Click on the image to enlarge [and alarm]:

Microsoft Word - 30Mar2012_Manuscript_Final_QJE

Academic imperialism: Cal schools look East


The University of California at Berkeley, cash-strapped by a state government already overburdened by covering costs of local and county governments impoverished by Proposition 13, is looking abroad for cash.

It makes sense, of course. The increasingly wealthy elites of former Second World countries like China and Russia and the oil-enriched aristocratic an technocratic elites of the Mideast are eager to give their children appropriately elite educations.

So while Cal cuts enrolments of students from the state it was created to serve and replaces them with overseas students whose parents or states are able to pay the far higher enrolments charged non-Californians, it has taken the next step and established offshore campuses as well.

And why not? For the host country, there are the benefits of technology transfer coupled with the presitge of hosting academic names. And for cash-strapped American schools, there’s all that lovely money.

From the 3 April 2013 issue of the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal’s engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China’s biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

Two years earlier — when the center was in the planning stages — the New York Times reported, tellingly:

The public university, which is struggling under budget constraints imposed by the state of California, said the Shanghai center would cater to engineering graduate students and be financed over the next five years largely by the Shanghai government and companies operating here.

And the Shanghai campus isn’t the only link to Beijing, as China Daily reported two weeks ago:

West Point, Berkeley become must-stops for Chinese CEOs

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the US Military Academy at West Point have become popular must-stops for Chinese CEOs and business executives enrolled in an overseas education program organized by China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A group of 66 Chinese business executives in the program ended their 10-day tour of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 20. The tour that included meetings with key international financial institutions and government officials is part of a 12-month non-degree course at the university that also includes the UK.

On April 18, the Haas School of Business at the UC Berkeley campus hosted the Chinese executives.

“The Shanghai Jiaotong University Global CEO program provides our group of Chinese CEOs with advanced management training and face-to-face dialogue with key people in the US, which helps us understand and participate effectively in the globalized market,” said Jiang Zhaobai, chairman of Shanghai Pengxin Group, a leading Chinese conglomerate with interests in real estate, infrastructure construction.

Berkeley isn’t new at the foreign partnership game. Nor has the imperial expansion been entirely without complications, as in the case of the Graduate School of Management at Russia’s St. Petersburg University, a partnership between Cal’s Haas School of Business and the Russian school launched in 1993.

UC Berkeley plutocratic professor David J. Teece , who directs the Center for Global Strategy and Governance at Cal’s Haas School of Business, also chairs of the St. Petersburg business school’s International Academic Council. [He’s also vied with David Koch for pride of place among the top five contributors to a California Republican senatorial candidate.]

Let us quote from a WikiLeaks-ed 5 February 2001 CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN cable from Ambassador William J. Burns in Moscow to the Secretary of State’s office:

2. (C) During the November 2006 inauguration of the newly-opened premises of the St. Petersburg State University School of Management, an American academic long associated with the school told CG about Vice Governor Yuri Molchanov’s “sinister” presence in their dealings.

3. (C) The Haas School of Management at U.C. Berkeley has nurtured the development of a new St. Petersburg School of Management since 1993. In addition to academic exchanges and curriculum development, representatives of the Haas school led a unique fund-raising campaign which collected $6.5 million in private U.S. and Russian funds to entirely renovate a dilapidated building for classroom use. As steward of the funds, which included a whopping $1 million from U.S. citizen Arthur B. Schultz, the Haas School kept close tabs on all expenditures. At one point in the early 1990s, when lenders were sought to renovate the old building, Vice Governor Molchanov’s private construction firm placed a bid. As the only local bidder and as a close associate of the now Dean of the School of Management, Molchanov apparently expected to win the tender. He did not. This provoked an angry response in which he demanded compensation from the Haas School representatives for the costs of preparing his bid. While the Haas School did not comply with his demand, they did find a way to mollify the Vice Governor, who “was always present at all our discussions”, according to the American source. “He gave me the creeps.” Although the source did not describe any specific intimidation, it was clear that the Americans experienced some degree of fear – a not unreasonable reaction in 1990s Russia.

4. (C) Vice Governor Malchanov is widely rumored to be corrupt, enjoying a convenient intersection of interests between his construction company and his position in the city government. He played a very visible role in the School of Management inauguration alongside Governor Valentina Matviyenko and President Putin.

BURNS

Just what the school did to mollify Molchanov remains an open question. The only mention of him on the Russian university’s website is as one of seven judges in a 23 November 2000 student business plan competition. His name doesn’t appear in a search of UC Berkeley’s website.

What was most peculiar is that no mention of this fascinating story has appeared in the local news media after WikiLeaks put on line, with the notable help of Chelsea Manning. But then such is the plight of the impoverished, gutted, and pathetically understaffed American news media.

One has to wonder how many similar situations are confronted by other institutions, and by their staff members.

Perhaps these are just the moaning and musing of a stubborn old journalist who’s spent a great many years investigating corruption much closer to home. . .

The provocation for this rambling post follows, a pair of video reports from CCTV, like China Daily a Chinese state medium, reporting on similar deals by other American universities.

From CCTV:

USC President C.L. Max Nikias on Investment in China

Program notes:

China is also one of the biggest markets for U.S. universities. The number of Chinese students studying abroad is soaring, but the U.S. only attracts a fraction of them. Now American colleges are trying to change that: they already have the biggest number of satellite campuses and partnerships in China. The University of Southern California (USC) is one school investing time, money, and people towards this goal. CCTV’s Phillip Yin speaks to USC President C.L. Max Nikias about the university’s efforts in China.

Foreign Universities Setting up Shop in India

Program notes:

For years, India has been sending students away to learn the skills to build the economy back home. Now overseas universities are coming to India. CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj reports from New Delhi.

Headlines: Labor, wealth, pols, porn, more


Belated postuing today, thanks to a visit from grandbaby Sadie Rose and parents.

First up, form McClatchy Washington Bureau, consolidating the wealth:

Report: large employers could shift nearly all workers’ health coverage to marketplace by 2020

A new investor report predicts that Standard & Poor’s 500 companies could shift 90 percent of their workforce from job-based health coverage to individual insurance sold on the nation’s marketplaces by 2020.

If all U.S. companies with 50 or more employees followed suit, they could collectively save $3.25 trillion through 2025, according to the report by S&P Capital IQ, a division of McGraw Hill Financial.

Standard & Poor’s 500 companies could save $689 billion over the same period if they did likewise, the report found. Savings for S&P 500 companies could top $800 billion if health care inflation remains at the traditional 7.5 percent rate over the next decade, the report estimates.

From Wall Street On Parade, that’s classified:

Suspicious Deaths of Bankers Are Now Classified as “Trade Secrets” by Federal Regulator

It doesn’t get any more Orwellian than this: Wall Street mega banks crash the U.S. financial system in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of financial industry workers lose their jobs. Then, beginning late last year, a rash of suspicious deaths start to occur among current and former bank employees.  Next we learn that four of the Wall Street mega banks likely hold over $680 billion face amount of life insurance on their workers, payable to the banks, not the families. We ask their Federal regulator for the details of this life insurance under a Freedom of Information Act request and we’re told the information constitutes “trade secrets.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy of a 25 year old male with a Bachelor’s degree or higher as of 2006 was 81 years of age. But in the past five months, five highly educated JPMorgan male employees in their 30s and one former employee aged 28, have died under suspicious circumstances, including three of whom allegedly leaped off buildings – a statistical rarity even during the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

CNNMoney torpedoes the workforce:

Subway leads fast food industry in underpaying workers

McDonald’s gets a lot of bad press for its low pay. But there’s an even bigger offender when it comes to fast food companies underpaying their employees: Subway.

Individual Subway franchisees have been found in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations spanning from 2000 to 2013, according to a CNNMoney analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Each investigation can lead to multiple violations and fines. Combined, these cases found about 17,000 Fair Labor Standards Act violations and resulted in franchisees having to reimburse Subway workers more than $3.8 million over the years.

From CNBC, peonage and the classroom:

The other student debt crisis

Student debt is straining millions of students’ finances, and it is a hot-button topic on college campuses across the country. But if you look at who is really borrowing heavily, it’s the graduate students.

Graduate students made up less than 18 percent of all the students receiving federal loans in the academic year 2012-2013, but they received about 40 percent of the federal money, according to an analysis of Department of Education data. And a study released in March by the New America Foundation found that for the roughly 64 percent of graduate students who take out loans, the median debt for their undergraduate and graduate education was over $57,000 in 2012, up from just over $40,000 in 2004.

“The people who are borrowing are borrowing everything,” said Jason Delisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation and the author of the recent study. “If you’re going to borrow for graduate school, it’s generally not people who are borrowing just to fill in the gaps.”

More woes for students, from the Christian Science Monitor:

State college tuition skyrocketed during recession, study finds

Strapped from the recession, states foisted more of the cost of public college tuition onto students. In 45 states, tuition rose more than 20 percent since 2008. The trend is only now starting to ease.

As state budgets bounce back from the Great Recession, most are starting to increase their funding of higher education, an area of spending where cuts went especially deep. But all but two states – Alaska and North Dakota – still spend less per student than they did before the recession.

With both college tuition and student loans skyrocketing in recent years, much attention has gone to those state funding levels – a major reason behind the spiraling cost of attending college, at least for public institutions. A new report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington think tank, quantifies just how much funding for public colleges and universities was cut in the past six years, and what the effects of those cuts have been.

“In many states the cuts have been extraordinarily deep,” said Michael Mitchell, an author of the report, in a call with reporters. “Over the last 25 years, nearly every state has shifted higher education costs from the state to students – this has been a trend for some time. But the recession, and the years following the recession, absolutely kicked this trend into high gear…. The cuts are in part a result of state revenue collapse, but they were also a product of poor policy choices, with states relying on spending cuts to make up for lost revenue.”

From Newswise, twice victimized:

Unemployment Common After Breast Cancer Treatment

  • Women who had chemotherapy less likely to be employed 4 years later

Nearly one-third of breast cancer survivors who were working when they began treatment were unemployed four years later. Women who received chemotherapy were most affected, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Researchers surveyed woman in Detroit and Los Angeles who had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. They narrowed their sample to the 746 women who reported working at the time they were diagnosed. Participants were surveyed about nine months after diagnosis, and then given a follow-up survey about four years later.

Overall, 30 percent of these working women said they were no longer working at the time of the four-year follow-up survey. Women who received chemotherapy were more likely to report that they were not working four years later.

Many of these women reported that they want to work: 55 percent of those not working said it was important for them to work and 39 percent said they were actively looking for work. Those who were not working were significantly more likely to report they were worse off financially. Results of the study appear in the journal Cancer.

Obama whines, via Techdirt:

Obama Complains That TPP Critics Are ‘Conspiracy Theorists’ Who ‘Lack Knowledge’ About Negotiations

from the well,-that-would-appear-to-be-your-own-fault dept

It’s become fairly clear that the TPP agreement is in trouble these days (for a variety of reasons). And it appears that President Obama is losing his cool concerning the agreement and its critics. In a press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, President Obama lashed out at TPP critics, calling them “conspiracy theorists” whose criticism “reflects lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations.” Oh really?

If you take an issue like drugs, for example, the United States does extraordinary work in research and development, and providing medical breakthroughs that save a lot of lives around the world. Those companies that make those investments in that research oftentimes want a return, and so there are all kinds of issues around intellectual property and patents, and so forth.

At the same time, I think we would all agree that if there’s a medicine that can save a lot of lives, then we’ve got to find a way to make sure that it’s available to folks who simply can’t afford it as part of our common humanity. And both those values are reflected in the conversations and negotiations that are taking place around TPP. So the assumption somehow that right off the bat that’s not something we’re paying attention to, that reflects lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations.

More on the TPP from the Japan Daily Press:

TPP deal talks in the ‘last stretch’ says Japanese official

A week after U.S. President Barack Obama left Japan after a three-day state visit that saw no conclusion to bilateral negotiations crucial to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, a high-ranking official from Japan said that significant progress has been made but further efforts are needed to finalize an agreement.

Speaking to reporters via a translator in New York, Senior Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office Yasutoshi Nishimura said that the two countries are in the “last stretch” of their negotiations. He admitted that while there “was some progress” last week, “there still remains a gap and we have to make efforts to come to a compromise.” He added that the final stages of talks will be difficult as it seemed that neither side wants to budge on some of their considerations, particularly in agriculture for Japan and automobiles for the US. Finalizing a TPP deal is essential in the growth strategy of the so-called “Abenomics,” a series of economic policies introduced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to increase consumer spending and ease monetary policies. This strategy was proposed by no other than Nishimura to the prime minister.

And from TMZ, the first of two porno posts:

Samuel L. Jackson

Stop Promoting Free Porn …Say Angry XXX Actors

Samuel L. Jackson likes his porn … but he wants it for FREE … and that’s pissing off some XXX stars who accuse Sam of promoting film piracy.

Jackson — aka Nick Fury —  was at a news conference for the new Capt. America movie when he was asked to name one of the best pop culture achievements of the last 50 years. SLJ had a quick answer: RedTube — the free porn sharing website.

Now some actors in the skin biz are demanding an apology from Sam … telling TMZ RedTube is nothing more than a pirate site that allows users to illegally post stolen porn.  And, they add, “Superheroes don’t steal porn.”

Our second porn post, via Al Jazeera:

PayPal blocking transactions of porn professionals

  • Emails obtained by cite concerns over webcam transactions and security

Online payment giant PayPal closed porn star Teal Conrad’s accounts and “banned her from the site,” she told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, one day after a report on how financial institutions are shutting out clients who work in the adult entertainment industry.

An email sent by PayPal to Conrad, obtained by Al Jazeera, said: “We’ve recently reviewed your PayPal account activity and determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy regarding your sales / offers of cam shows.”

PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy bars people from using the service for transactions involving “certain sexually oriented materials or services.”

Digesting legal weed with the Independent:

Colorado’s new cannabis laws: OK to smoke, not OK to eat

Colorado, the US state which recently became the first to legalise cannabis for recreational use, is considering new legislation to govern pot-infused food. A task force comprised of lawmakers and marijuana producers met in Aurora, near Denver, on Wednesday to begin discussing new rules for the labelling and consumption of so-called “edibles”, following two recent deaths that were said to have been marijuana-related.

In late 2012, Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment legalising marijuana for recreational use. The new law came into force on 1 January 2014, when legal commercial weed sales began. In its first month, the state raised around $2m (£1.2m) in pot taxes.

For many, edible pot products have proved to be a more practical alternative to smoking the drug: the law prohibits smoking weed outdoors and few hotels allow it on their premises. Yet while edibles are increasingly popular, there are also widespread complaints from consumers that they are inadvertently ingesting too much pot too quickly, leading to bad experiences.

From The Register, getting a little for a lot?:

Google Glass teardown puts rock-bottom price on hardware

  • Google objects to notion that $1500 headset only costs $80 to make

A teardown report on Google Glass is raising eyebrows over suggestions that the augmented reality headset costs as little as $80 to produce.

Researchers with the TechInsights’ teardown.com service placed the bill of materials (BOM) of the device at a mere $79.78. The report, which considers the cost of components ranging from processor and battery to non-electric structural pieces, estimates that no part of a Glass headset costs the company more than $14.

Thus far, Google has limited the Glass headset to tightly-controlled demo programs and a one-day sale which require users to cough up $1,500 to get their hands on the headset.

Al Jazeera America covers the plight of Native Americans in the U.S.:

Exclusive: Navajo Nation report raises concerns on ‘food sovereignty’

  • Researchers suggest the nation needs to develop homegrown solutions to counter the scarcity of healthy food

Many in the Navajo Nation do not have the food they need, even though more than half the population receives some kind of nutritional subsidy, according to a study by Navajo Nation researchers released exclusively to Al Jazeera.

The inability to adequately feed its people poses a threat to the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty and sustainability, according to the study’s authors, who suggest the need to develop homegrown solutions to food scarcity.

The Diné Food Sovereignty Report, the most extensive exploration to date on the nation’s food supply, is scheduled for release next week by the Navajo think tank the Diné Policy Institute (DPI). The study reveals that 63 percent of 230 Navajo people surveyed receive some kind of government food subsidy such as food stamps.

And the Canadian Press covers their plight north of the border:

Report of 1,000 murdered or missing aboriginal women spurs calls for inquiry

  • APTN reports RCMP arrived at tally after contacting other police forces across Canada

The Conservative government is resisting renewed calls for an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls despite a media report that suggests there may be hundreds more cases than previously thought.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney was asked Thursday to finally call a inquiry in light of a report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that Canada may be home to more than 1,000 cases of murdered and missing women.

His answer, in short: no.

Instead, Blaney launched a partisan broadside against the NDP’s refusal to support the government’s budget bill, which includes a five-year, $25-million renewal of money aimed at stopping violence against aboriginal women and girls.

And another nother-of-the-border woe from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Rob Ford takes leave as recent drug video emerges

A second video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what has been described as crack cocaine by a self-professed drug dealer was secretly filmed in his sister’s basement early Saturday morning.

The clip, which was viewed by two Globe and Mail reporters, shows Mr. Ford taking a drag from a long copper-coloured pipe, exhaling a cloud of smoke and then frantically shaking his right hand. The footage is part of a package of three videos that the drug dealer says he surreptitiously shot around 1:15 a.m., and which he says he is now selling for “at least six figures.”

The footage comes to light weeks after Mr. Ford embarked on a re-election campaign styled on the importance of second chances and forgiving mistakes. Nearly a year ago, the mayor thrust himself into worldwide infamy when another drug dealer, Mohamed Siad, tried to sell another video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack to media outlets in Canada and the United States. At the time, the mayor denied using the drug, only to later admit that he had smoked crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor” and that he was not an addict.

Off to Europe starting with a bubble alarm from the Guardian:

Bank of England warns UK housing market could suffer hard landing

Deputy governor for financial stability says it’s ‘dangerous’ to ignore momentum in housing market, and warns it could end in sharp correction and negative equity for many households

And the neoliberal agenda strike again, tragically. From the Guardian:

Owen Paterson defends ‘privatising’ UK environmental science agency

  • New commercial partner sought for Food and Research Agency, but Labour denounces move as a ‘secretive sell-off’

The UK environment secretary has defended government plans to seek a private investor for its environmental science agency.

But the Labour party said that the lack of detail from Owen Paterson made the move look like a “secretive sell-off” and “anti-science”.

The Guardian reported on Monday that plans were in motion to open up the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which undertakes research on pesticides, bee health, GM safety, alien pests and food-testing, to a joint venture with investment from the private sector.

Easing separation anxieties with the London Telegraph:

Scottish ‘yes’ vote could improve UK credit, says Moody’s

  • Moody’s has said an independent Scotland would likely receive an investment grade rating and that the rest of the UK’s credit could actually be improved in the event of a ‘yes’ vote

Britain could end up with a better credit rating if Scotland votes for independence, with a ‘yes’ providing the catalyst for an upgrade of the remaining UK’s debt, according to Moody’s.

The rating agency said Scottish independence was “unlikely” to have any impact on the country’s credit and that the elimination of the sizeable fiscal transfers between the rest of Britain and Scotland could actually be a “credit positive”.

In a series of reports on the impact of independence, Moody’s said it believed Scotland would likely hold an investment grade rating, but warned that the rest of the UK would only maintain its current credit if the Scottish accepted their share of Britain’s debt pile.

From the Guardian, austerianism strikes again:

Freeze minimum wage for a decade, says Commission of Audit

  • Level should be reduced to 44% of average weekly earnings, or $486.20 a week, from its current $622.20, says report

The minimum wage should be frozen for a decade, reduced to 44% of average weekly earnings and vary between states and territories, according to the Commission of Audit.

The current minimum wage is $622.20 a week, or $16.37 an hour, about 56% of average weekly earnings. Reducing it by 44% this year would see it fall to $486.20 a week.

The report recommends that the cut could be implemented over 10 years by keeping the growth at 1 percentage point less than inflation.

And from the Independent, the geography of health:

People born in the wealthy south east have 14 more years without disability than those from Liverpool or Manchester

Further evidence of the scale of the UK’s health divide was revealed today as it emerged that those born in the richest London boroughs and affluent parts of the South East can expect to enjoy up to 14 years of additional disability-free life compared with those from the most deprived parts of England.

An average man born in Liverpool or Manchester will live for just 56 years before developing a major life-limiting condition, spending a quarter of his natural span coping with disability, figures published by the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

The findings have major implications for health policy makers who were urged to take urgent steps to end the lifespan lottery of an individual’s birthplace dictating their future longevity and wellbeing.

On to Sweden and more hard times intolerance from TheLocal.se:

Mass arrests at neo-Nazi May Day demonstration

A total of 19 people have been arrested and dozens of others carted away following clashes at a neo-Nazi May Day march in Jönköping, central Sweden, where counter demonstrators outnumbered the far-right activists.

The protest march by the right wing Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas party – SVP) attracted a large police presence, reckoned to be as high as 450 officers, following trouble at a similar rally last year.

In addition to the 19 arrests, a further 90 people were taken away from the scene by bus. Another 32 people were taken into custody on grounds of causing disorder. It’s understood that of the 19 arrests, 13 of them were as a result of disobeying police orders.

And from Amsterdam, warnings of corporate misbehavin’ from DutchNews.nl:

Dutch central bank says trust office performances are ‘worrying’

Trust offices, which manage letter box companies in the Netherlands, are not doing their job properly, according to the Dutch central bank, the Financieele Dagblad reports on Thursday.

The central bank looked into 10 trust offices and concluded that only two were completely above board.

Four lost their licences, two were fined and two others are the subject of further investigation to assess if their managers are ‘suitable and trustworthy’, the Financieele Dagblad says.

Germany next, and a labor day demand from Deutsche Welle:

German unions demand wage minimum without loopholes

Germany’s DGB trade union federation has marked May Day by demanding that a minimum wage be introduced nationwide without loopholes. Leaders also blamed high youth unemployment in southern Europe on austerity policies.

Germany’s trade union chief Michael Sommer told Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government on Thursday to resist employer pressure for exceptions while legislating to introduce a planned hourly wage minimum of 8.50 euros ($11.50).

The minimum – known in German as ‘Mindestlohn’ and to be phased in over the next two years – was one of the key policy planks of the coalition which Merkel’s conservatives formed with the union-allied Social Democrats (SPD) in January.

Speaking at a May Day rally in Bremen, Sommer said “no hour should be cheaper than 8.50 euros,” adding that the unions saw that wage minimum’s introduction as a “test” on whether Merkel’s government was “really serious” about social justice.

Reuters delivers the cuts:

Siemens to cut thousands of jobs as part of new strategy: report

A new strategy to be unveiled by Siemens (SIEGn.DE) on May 7 will include thousands of job cuts, Germany’s Manager Magazin Online reported on Monday, citing several senior Siemens managers.

It said the strategy would see Siemens’ four main divisions – Industry, Energy, Healthcare and Infrastructure & Cities – dismantled, creating a flatter hierarchy and resulting in job cuts of roughly between 5,000-10,000.

It also said Siemens would announce an acquisition in the energy sector worth at least 1 billion euros ($1.38 billion), separate to the deal with Alstom (ALSO.PA) currently being considered by Siemens.

Off to Italy, and a judicial shoe-in from TheLocal.it:

Dolce & Gabbana duo get 18-month jail sentence

Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were on Wednesday sentenced to 18 months in prison for tax evasion, going against a prosecutor’s call last month to have the pair acquitted.

The designers were found guilty of €200 million worth of tax evasion, through the creation of a shell company in Luxembourg in 2004 and 2005.
Wednesday’s decision by Milan’s Court of Appeal upholds the guilty verdict of Dolce and Gabbana’s trial last year, reducing their prison sentences by two months.

After the jump, Latin American news, a postal privatization push Down Under, mixed economic and environmental news form China, economic uncertainly in Japan, emerging global environmental threats, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


First, a stunning landmark is reached. From the New York Times:

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

On of the key mechanisms of the collapse of the middle class from Mother Jones:

How Taxpayers Subsidize the Multi-Million Dollar Salaries of Restaurant CEOs

  • Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz raked in $236 million in taxpayer-subsidized compensation over the past two years.

As the fight to raise the minimum wage has gained momentum, the restaurant industry has emerged as the biggest opponent. This is no surprise, since the industry claims the highest percentage of low-wage workers—60 percent—of any other business sector. Front-line fast-food workers earn so little money that about half of them rely on some form of public assistance, to the tune of about $7 billion a year. That hidden subsidy has helped boost restaurant industry profits to record highs. In 2013, the industry reaped $660 billion in profits, and it in turn channeled millions into backing efforts to block local governments from raising pay for low-wage workers and to keep the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour (exactly where it’s been for the past 22 years). But public assistance programs aren’t the only way taxpayers subsidize the restaurant industry.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the public has been contributing to excessive CEO compensation as well, helping to widen the gap between the lowest-paid workers and their bosses. Thanks to a loophole in the tax code, corporations are allowed to deduct unlimited amounts of money from their tax bills for executive compensation, so long as it comes in the form of stock options or “performance pay.” The loophole was the inadvertent result of an attempt by Congress to rein in CEO compensation by limiting the tax deduction for executive pay to $1 million a year. That law exempted pay that came in the form of stock options or performance pay. This loophole has proven lucrative for CEOs of all stripes, but it is particularly egregious in an industry that pays its workers so little that it is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the pay of a typical worker; in big companies, to 354 times.

Meanwhile, over the same thirty-year time span the median American worker has seen no pay increase at all, adjusted for inflation. Even though the pay of male workers continues to outpace that of females, the typical male worker between the ages of 25 and 44 peaked in 1973 and has been dropping ever since. Since 2000, wages of the median male worker across all age brackets has dropped 10 percent, after inflation.

This growing divergence between CEO pay and that of the typical American worker isn’t just wildly unfair. It’s also bad for the economy. It means most workers these days lack the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing — contributing to the slowest recovery on record. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives use their fortunes to fuel speculative booms followed by busts.

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

The familiar image of international surrogacy until now has mainly involved Americans and Europeans crossing the world to find women to birth their children. Now, wealthy Chinese couples are seeking surrogates in the US. The practice—a new version of Chinese “birth tourism”—offers a solution to rising infertility in China, a way around Chinese population controls, and even the added bonus of US citizenship for babies born in the States.

For years, pregnant Chinese women have come to the US, mainly to the West Coast, to give birth to baby US citizens who can, at the age of 21, sponsor their parents for green cards. In a new wrinkle, some are instead paying American women to carry their children—a way of getting citizenship as well as dealing with the fact that more Chinese couples are facing trouble having children. (Other surrogacy destinations for wealthy Chinese include Thailand, India, and Ukraine, but the US is still the favorite.)

Salon finds brown noses:

Welcome to Plutocrat-geddon! Obama and Thomas Friedman flatter our new billionaire overlords

  • Forget inequality! Judging by the White House and the media, the real answer is sucking up to the wealthiest

Inequality is a burning topic among economists, especially since the release of Thomas Piketty’s recent book on the subject. Many are questioning whether this is a temporary period of runaway inequality, or whether we are on the verge of an irreversible collapse into extremes of wealth and poverty. (What would we call it? The Oligopolypse? Plutogeddon?)

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. Culture, too, is adapting to this unequal world. We idealize the wealthy today in ways that would have been unthinkable decades ago.

With the children of today’s baby boomers scheduled to inherit $30 trillion in the next several decades, politicians and the press are hard at work flattering plutocrats of all ages by portraying them as paragons of wisdom.

Another assault on the potential middle class from the New York Times:

Student Loans Can Suddenly Come Due When Co-Signers Die, a Report Finds

For students who borrow on the private market to pay for school, the death of a parent can come with an unexpected, added blow, a federal watchdog warns. Even borrowers who have good payment records can face sudden demands for full, early repayment of those loans, and can be forced into default.

Most people who take out loans to pay for school have minimal income or credit history, so if they borrow from banks or other private lenders, they need co-signers — usually parents or other relatives. Borrowing from the federal government, the largest source of student loans, rarely requires a co-signer.

The problem, described in a report released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arises from a little-noticed provision in private loan contracts: If the co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy, the loan holder can demand complete repayment, even if the borrower’s record is spotless. If the loan is not repaid, it is declared to be in default, doing damage to a borrower’s credit record that can take years to repair.

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

The future of factories? Swarm of super-fast robotic ‘ANTS’ powered by magnets can independently climb walls and even build

  • The army of robo-ants can move at around 13.7 inches (35cm) a second
  • This is equivalent to a human running at just under the speed of sound
  • Each ant can be individually controlled using magnets on a circuit board
  • Swarm has already built a tower 30cm (11.8 inches) high from carbon rods

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

DAVID EINHORN: ‘We Are Witnessing Our Second Tech Bubble In 15 Years’

Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn, who runs Greenlight Capital, says we’re seeing another tech bubble, CNBC reported, citing his fund’s quarterly investor letter.

“Now there is a clear consensus that we are witnessing our second tech bubble in 15 years. What is uncertain is how much further the bubble can expand, and what might pop it,” Einhorn wrote in the letter (PDF) posted online by @Levered_Hawkeye.

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

General Mills drops arbitration clause, but such contracts are ‘pervasive’

Consumer advocates warn that clicking ‘I agree’ to online contracts can crimp buyers’ legal rights, if a contract requires arbitration and nixes class-action lawsuits. The practice is spreading, though General Mills encountered a backlash.

When consumers click “I agree” to online contracts, two things can happen: They may give up their right to pursue a class action lawsuit if something goes wrong, and they can seek damages only through arbitration, an out-of-court legal process that many experts say weighs against the harmed consumer.

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on the use of racial affirmative action in its state universities Tuesday, ruling that voters are entitled to decide the issue.

The 6-2 decision clears away constitutional challenges to the state bans on affirmative action, which began in California in 1996.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said the democratic process can decide such issues. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he said. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

Conservative Koch-backed group uses soft touch in recruiting U.S. Hispanics

The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads.

But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida – even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads.

Taking a cue from liberal groups that have been active in Hispanic neighborhoods for decades, Libre says it aims to use these events to build support for small-government ideas in communities that typically support big-government ideals.

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

Nearly half of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, a state that is drying up. , the entire state is considered “abnormally dry,” and two-thirds of California is in “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions.

Earlier this year, many farmers in California found out that they would get no irrigation water from state or federal water projects. Recent rains have helped a little. On Friday, government officials said there was enough water to give a little more to some of the region’s farmers — 5 percent of the annual allocation, instead of the nothing they were getting.

>snip<

Economists say it’s too early to accurately predict the drought’s effect on jobs, but it’s likely as many as 20,000 will be lost.

That might not sound like a lot, but many of those workers are already living paycheck to paycheck in communities that depend on that work.

Via the National Drought Monitor, the current state of affairs in California, ranging from lightest [abnormally dry] to darkest [exceptional drought]:

BLOG Drought

After the jump, the latest from Europe [including spiking austerian suicides], Asia’s Game of Zones, an American Nazi whose work inspired a French film, spy games, and muich more. . . Continue reading

More of those not-so-random headlines to mull


First up, how the New York Times covers the elite from Gawker:

Insanely Rich Reporter Covers White House Meeting of the Insanely Rich

There’s a lot to pore over in the New York Times Style section’s coverage of a conference for über-wealthy “next-generation” philanthropists that was recently held at the White House.

There’s the list of attendees, which includes the young progeny of such hallowed, moneyed families as Hilton, Rockefeller, and Pritzker. There’s the breathless, classically Style section-y way in which participants and organizers are described: eloquent, nimble, and commanding gravitas, wearing pinstripe suits and “scraggy Brooklyn-style facial hair.” There’s the reference to one 19-year-old attendee’s “swooping” Bieberesque bangs, despite the fact that Bieber hasn’t had that haircut in years.

Most of all, however, there’s this disclosure notice from the reporter, about halfway through the article:

Disclosure: Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.

At a conference for such refined people as these, not just any reporter will do. No, it must be a writer who intimately knows the struggles of the young and wealthy, and who can accurately transmit the ways in which they’re saving the planet to the unwashed Times-reading masses. It must be Jamie Johnson (net worth about $610 million, according to Business Insider in 2011), heir to the Johnson & Johnson company fortune.

And from the London Telegraph, that bastion of Toryism, gilding a turd:

Has the West fallen prey to crony capitalism?

  • There are certainly signs of a wealth gap – like the explosion of buy-to-let landlords in London – but that will inspire the strivers and innovators

From the Oakland Tribune, yet another gift from Proposition 13 [and here]:

Oakland auditor sounds pension alarm

Pension costs have more than doubled over the past decade, leaving Oakland with fewer police officers, more potholes and a growing threat of insolvency, City Auditor Courtney Ruby warned in a report released Sunday.

Oakland’s payments to the state pension system jumped from $37 million in 2003 to $89 million in 2012, the report found.

That $52 million gap is enough to pay the salaries of 300 police officers, according to city budget figures.

From the Los Angeles Times, the grift that keeps on giving:

Student debt holds back many would-be home buyers

Of the many factors holding back young home buyers — rising prices, tougher lending standards, a still-shaky job market — none looms larger than the recent explosion of college debt.

Of the many factors holding back young home buyers — rising prices, tougher lending standards, a still-shaky job market — none looms larger than the recent explosion of college debt.

The amount owed on student loans has tripled in a decade, to nearly $1.1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. People in their 20s and 30s — often the best-educated and highest-earning among them — owe most of that tab. That is keeping a crucial segment of home buyers on the sidelines, deferring one of the traditional markers of adult success.

The National Assn. of Realtors recently identified student debt as a key factor in soft demand for home-buying this spring. A recent study by the trade group identified student loans as the top reason many home buyers delayed their purchase. Many more didn’t buy at all.

Surveys show today’s adults value homeownership just as much as their parents did. But the shaky job market, higher debt loads, and the roller-coaster market of recent years is keeping many from pulling the trigger, said Selma Hepp, senior economist with the California Assn. of Realtors.

And the darker side of the picture from The Young Turks:

Students Loans Are HUGE Profit-Centers For The Government

Program notes:

“The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, students and their families are forecast to pay more to borrow from the department than they did prior to last summer’s new student loan law, which set student loan interest rates based on the U.S. government’s costs to borrow. The higher costs for borrowers would arrive at least a year sooner than previously predicted.”* The Young Turks hosts Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian break it down.

And it’s not just in the U.S. From TheLocal.se:

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

The Swedish government has proposed scrapping the 25-year span for repaying student loans, by suggesting those who attend higher education should keep paying the money back well into retirement.

At present some 200,000 students have their student loan written off every year when they reach the age of 67. However, proposals in the government’s spring government bill are set to increase the financial burden on students.

Along with the idea of extending the debt into old age, the government are going to more than double the fee when students get a late payment reminder.

Next up, grief from Old Blighty as Tory Dubyafication of British education rouses ire, via The Independent:

Furious teacher brands Michael Gove a ‘demented Dalek on speed’ as NUT threaten more strikes

A furious teacher has branded Michael Gove a “demented Dalek on speed” during a series of scathing attacks against the Education Secretary at the teachers’ union conference.

Mr Gove was likened to the Doctor Who monster, known as the most hated adversary in all of time and space, as teachers threatened a major escalation of strike action at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton on Saturday.

A member of the teachers’ union insisted that the Education Secretary was determined to “exterminate anything good in education that’s come along since the 1950s”.

And from Reuters, even Germany is finally realizing that financial crisis ain’t over:

ECB hardliner Weidmann comes in from the cold as deflation threatens

As recently as last November, Jens Weidmann steadfastly opposed any move by the European Central Bank to print money to buy assets and buoy the euro zone economy. No longer.

The Bundesbank chief, known for his hardline stances at the ECB and as head of the German central bank, is now ready to support such quantitative easing (QE) if he and his ECB colleagues deem it necessary. What has changed is that “the situation has changed”, according to one person familiar with the German’s thinking, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Euro zone inflation has slowed to 0.5 percent from 0.9 percent in November, falling far below the ECB’s target of just under 2 percent and stoking fears the bloc could become stuck in a prolonged period of so-called “low-flation”, or even sink into outright deflation.

After the jump, environmental nightmares, the Koch brothers declare war on solar, Japan and U.S. unions contract frack-o-mania, the Sino-Japanese cold war amps up, snoops on your shelves and in your thermostat, docs call for legal pot, drugged soldiers, and more. . . Continue reading

Random headlines again, for your consideration


We begin with one from United Press International, offering proof of what we all know:

The US is not a democracy but an oligarchy, study concludes

  • “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Oligarchy is a form of government in which power is vested in a dominant class and a small group exercises control over the general population.

A new study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities concluded that the U.S. government represents not the interests of the majority of citizens but those of the rich and powerful.

“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” analyzed extensive data, comparing nearly 1,800 U.S. policies enacted between 1981 and 2002 with the expressed preferences of average and affluent Americans as well as special interest groups.

UPDATE: Link fixed. Read it all here [PDF].

From The Guardian, Bubba’s bankster buddies:

Wall Street deregulation pushed by Clinton advisers, documents reveal

  • Previously restricted papers reveal attempts to rush president to support act, later blamed for deepening banking crisis

Wall Street deregulation, blamed for deepening the banking crisis, was aggressively pushed by advisers to Bill Clinton who have also been at the heart of current White House policy-making, according to newly disclosed documents from his presidential library.

The previously restricted papers reveal two separate attempts, in 1995 and 1997, to hurry Clinton into supporting a repeal of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act and allow investment banks, insurers and retail banks to merge.

And from USA Today, high anxiety:

Nerves fray as anniversaries of April attacks arrive

As most Americans this week enjoy mid-April’s well-deserved warm weather, educators, law enforcement and civil rights groups are perhaps understandably a bit on edge with the approach of several dates that bring bad memories.

Saturday marks the anniversary of the 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, as well as the 1993 FBI attack of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, which killed cult leader David Koresh and 75 followers.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh called his attack payback for the deaths at Waco at the hands of the FBI, calling the siege “first blood.” The Oklahoma City bombing killed killed 168 people.

Six years later, Colorado teenager Eric Harris would boast in his journal that he planned to outdo McVeigh’s body count in an attack on Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The 15th anniversary of that attack falls on Sunday. Harris, along with Dylan Klebold, killed 13 in a siege that was actually a failed bombing, police say. The Columbine attacks took place on the 110th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth.

From the London Daily Mail, justice American style:

Judge rules that Texas inmate still behind bars 34 years after his conviction was overturned is at fault because he NEVER asked for a new trial

  • Jerry Hartfield was sentenced to death row in 1976 but his conviction was overturned four years later
  • He has an IQ of 51 and maintains police used a false confession in his case
  • Judge ruled that his right to a speedy trial had not been violated, even though the state was negligent in failing to retry him

Another potential unemployment casualty in France from RFI:

President Hollande won’t run for re-election if unemployment remains high

French President François Hollande made a shock announcement on Friday during a lunch with employees of the Michelin company: if unemployment continues to plummet between now and 2017, he will have “no reason to be a candidate” for a second mandate.

Hollande said that employment, particularly for young people, was a priority for him. “We’re going to put all our energy into this issue because there’s no other challenge [this important],” said the president.

From El País, the Iron Chancellor reneges on a promise:

Germany cancels scheme designed to attract young jobless from abroad

  • Spaniards made up half of all applicants for The Job of My Life
  • The program offered funding for language studies and help finding work
  • “I thought the Germans were serious”

The German government has announced that it is closing its The Job of My Life program, set up at the beginning of last year to attract young people from some of Europe’s hardest-hit economies – such as Greece and Spain – to work in Germany.

The €400-million program, which was aimed at 18- to 35-year-olds, was initially scheduled to run until 2018. This year’s budget, €48 million, has already been spent. The aim was to provide financial aid to young people in their own countries while they learned German, help them with interviews and then assist with the move to Germany to look for work.

From United Press International, giving the boot on The Boot:

Venice secession vote underscores autonomist movements

“We are now experiencing a strong return of little nations, small and prosperous countries, able to interact with each other in the global world,” Paolo Bernardini, European history professor at Italy’s University of Insubria, commented.

A vote in Italy’s Veneto region, which includes the city of Venice, indicating widespread support for secession from Italy, underscores the rise of nationalism in the world.

Considering the recent referendum in Crimea, the legitimacy of which was questioned, and prior to a September referendum in Scotland, whose approval could mean independence from England as early as 2016, the Venice vote in March was more like a survey. Online and without official status, it nonetheless indicated 89 percent of two million voters approved of formally separating themselves from Italy.

A blow to partisan plutocrats from the New York Times:

China Signals a Change as it Investigates a Family’s Riches

A corruption inquiry targeting the retired Communist Party leader Zhou Yongkang and his family could challenge a tacit rule that has allowed elite clans to accumulate vast wealth.

DVICE eyeballs a spooky development:

Forget Glass, Google wants to put a camera on your eyeball

Google Glass has been getting a lot of time in the spotlight lately, but if the boffins from Mountain View have their way, that fancy Google Glass rig may soon look about as cutting edge as having a Motorola Razr phone attached to your hip.

A recently published patent shows that Google has been looking at ways to build a camera directly into a contact lens on the surface of your eye. That would certainly make it more discreet than the clunky looking Glass, perfect for when you don’t want people to know that you’re using it. But it also means that the camera will be able to follow the direction of your vision, opening new possibilities for how it could be used.

From the Miami Herald, a rare chance to look inside the black box:

Guantánamo judge to CIA: Disclose ‘black site’ details to USS Cole defense lawyers

The military judge in the USS Cole bombing case has ordered the CIA to give defense lawyers details — names, dates and places — of its secret overseas detention and interrogation of the man accused of planning the bombing, two people who have read the still-secret order said Thursday.

Army Col. James L. Pohl issued the five-page order Monday. It was sealed as document 120C on the war court website Thursday morning and, according to those who have read it, orders the agency to provide a chronology of the overseas odyssey of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 49, from his capture in Dubai in 2002 to his arrival at Guantánamo four years later.

The Usual Suspects, cashin’ in — via Wired:

High Tech

How Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are rushing to cash in on cannabis.

For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry. Maybe it’s the Firefly. Maybe it’s something still being developed in someone’s living room. There’s a truism about the gold rush days of San Francisco: It wasn’t the miners who got rich; it was the people selling picks and shovels. As the legalization trend picks up steam, Silicon Valley thinks it can make a better shovel.

From the Los Angeles Times, stiffing Californians to collect on high out-of-state tuitions:

California students feel UC admission squeeze

  • Most campuses take a lesser number of state students even as more get in from elsewhere.

California high school seniors faced a tougher time winning a freshman spot at most of the UC campuses for the fall, with their chances at UCLA and UC Berkeley now fewer than one in five, according to a report released Friday.

Six of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses accepted a smaller number of California students than last year even though the number of applicants rose. Competition was fiercest at UCLA, where only 16.3% of state students were admitted, down from 17.4% last year, and at UC Berkeley, where 18.8% were accepted, compared with 21.4% last year.

Increased competition is part of a national trend this year at the most elite level of higher education. Even though the population of American high school graduates dropped a bit, students are applying to more colleges, and schools are recruiting more overseas, especially in Asia. In the most extreme example, Stanford University accepted only 5% of applicants; many other highly selective campuses reported record low rates.

From Al Jazeera America, nostalgic for blasts from the past:

Boom town: Atomic tourism blooms in a western desert

  • As nuclear age approaches eighth decade, visitors flock to historic bomb craters at New Mexico test sites

Standing a few yards from the spot where the world’s first atomic bomb detonated with a blast so powerful that it turned the desert sand to glass and shattered windows more than 100 miles away, tourist Chris Cashel explained what drew him here.

“You don’t get to go to very many places that changed the entire world in a single moment,” said Cashel as he glanced around the windswept, desolate Trinity Site in the New Mexico desert packed with tourists. “The world was never going to be the same after that.”

The military veteran was among thousands of visitors who piled into cars and buses to drive out to the secluded site about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, where Manhattan Project scientists split the atom shortly before dawn on July 16, 1945, ushering in the atomic age. The successful test of the nuclear “gadget” unleashed a blast equivalent to 19 kilotons of high explosive, and led to the devastation of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weeks later.

And for our final item, worrisome corona virus censorship from Avian Flu Diary:

Saudi Govt. Prohibits ‘Unauthorized’ Media Coverage Of MERS

As you might expect, this announcement is making quite a stir on the twitter feed from Saudi Arabia, with many people clearly not pleased with this edict.

Just some random headlines. . .or are they?


First, from the London Telegraph:

Infants ‘unable to use toy building blocks’ due to iPad addiction

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warn that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads

Next, from the London Daily Mail:

Pregnant women who take SSRI antidepressants are three times more likely to have a child with autism

  • The effect of  the drugs is particularity pronounced during third trimester
  • Researchers suggest rising rates of autism and SSRI use may be linked

Next up, from the Los Angeles Times:

Household rat poison linked to death and disease in wildlife

Evidence of rat poison is found in a sickly puma whose territory includes Griffith Park. Researchers suspect a link between poisons and mange.

During nearly two decades of research in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, park service scientists have documented widespread exposure in carnivores to common household poisons. Of 140 bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions evaluated, 88% tested positive for one or more anticoagulant compounds. Scores of animals are known to have died from internal bleeding, researchers said.

The poisons also affect protected or endangered species including golden eagles, northern spotted owls and San Joaquin kit foxes.

And the Los Angeles Times again:

EPA drastically underestimates methane released at drilling sites

Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

Next, from the East Bay Express:

Environmental Activist Forcibly Removed from Chevron-Sponsored Event in Oakland for Mocking the Company’s ‘News’ Website

Security guards forcibly removed Paul Paz y Miño, an employee of the environmental group Amazon Watch, from a Chevron-sponsored event today in Oakland because he was carrying flyers that he said he had planned to distribute outside the building after the program. When Miño, who had paid $75 for a ticket to the public event, refused to leave, guards forcibly removed him.

Called the “Illuminating Ideas: ENERGY & Sustainability Summit,” the economic development event was held at the Oakland Marriott. It was organized by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and primarily sponsored by Chevron. PG&E, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch were also sponsors. The event offered several panel discussions on green infrastructure, energy smart cities, and private and public partnerships. The keynote speaker was Jon Wellinghoff, the immediate past president of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was also a speaker at the event.

And them this, from VentureBeat:

The future of Silicon Valley may lie in the mountains of Afghanistan

The future of Silicon Valley’s technological prowess may well lie in the war-scarred mountains and salt flats of Western Afghanistan.

United States Geological Survey teams discovered one of the world’s largest untapped reserves of lithium there six years ago. The USGS was scouting the volatile country at the behest of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. Lithium is a soft metal used to make the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries essential for powering desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. And increasingly, electric cars like Tesla’s.

The vast discovery could very well propel Afghanistan — a war-ravaged land with a population of 31 million largely uneducated Pashtuns and Tajiks, and whose primary exports today are opium, hashish, and marijuana — into becoming the world’s next “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” according to an internal Pentagon memo cited by the New York Times.

Finally, from the New York Times:

The Environmentalist Who Decided It Was Too Late

After decades of fervent environmental activism, Paul Kingsnorth concluded that collapse is inevitable. So now what?

Okay, so maybe they’re not such random headlines after all.

Rather, they are examples that should stir a form of thinking that the late UC Santa Barbara ecologist Garrett Hardin called ecolacy, the much-needed complement to the more commonly cultivated skills of literacy and numeracy.

Hardin, who was tragically wrong about what he called “the tragedy of the commons” [mistaking what economists term a free-for-all for the community-engendered commons], was spot on in his formulation of his First Law of Human Ecology, which states with deceptive simplicity: “You cannot do only one thing.”

Many of the headlines we have cited are examples of Hardin’s law, proof that actions hailed as desirable in one context can be devastating in the second. . .as in children skilled at screens and inept at manipulating real world objects. . . and as mothers relieved of depression and rewarded with the depressing burden of autistic offspring. . .and as when posons designed to kills household vermnin spread to destroy the wildlife around us.

Another grouping reminds us of the distortion of information to suit the interests of the few at the peril of the many. . .as when producing a fuel touted as a way to cut greenhouse gases actually produces vastly more atmosphere-imperiling emissions that the corporateers would have us believe. . .and when a corporation that touts itself as a bastion of community responsibility censors those who proclaim otherwise. . .and when a glimpse is revealed of deeper causes behind devastating flag-draped bloodshed.

The last headline speaks for itself.

UC Berkeley climbs in bed with the devil


UC Berkeley, mistakenly seen across the world as a hotbed of radicalism, has a strange new bedfellow, and we’re curious just how the school will react to the latest move of their new partner.

First up, the announcement of the partnership, reported by the Brunei Times last 1 May:

UBD and USA varsity to collaborate in new Master’s programme

THE Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and the Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP) of the University of California, Berkeley in the USA will be collaborating in the new Master of Public Policy and Management (MPPM) programme to be introduced by UBD later this year.

The MoU was signed by UBD Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs Dr Hjh Anita Binurul Zahrina POKLWDSS Hj Abdul Aziz and Director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at UBD, Dr Joyce Teo Siew Yean with Professor George Breslauer, Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost and Professor Henry Brady, Dean of GSPP of the University of California, Berkeley.

With the latest signing, IPS has now formalised its partnership with four of the world’s leading schools of public policy, namely Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, a statement from UBD said yesterday.

Read the rest.

And just what sort of enlightened public policies have emerged since the announcement of the partnership.

Well, consider this, posted today by RT, a state organ of Russia, a country not known for tolerance of the victim’s of Brunei’s latest move:

Brunei’s plan to stone gays riles UN

The Sultan of Brunei has announced that those committing same sex relations could be stoned to death. The draconian law has brought condemnation from the UN, with the tiny Asian oil rich nation having a virtual moratorium on the death penalty since 1957.

Homosexuality has long been a criminal offence in Brunei, which is situated on the island of Borneo, with a penalty of 10 years in prison previously handed out for the offence. However, stoning is now set to be allowed for a range of sexual offences, such as rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations. The law is planned to come into force on April 22.

The United Nations has been very critical of the move, with Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights saying, “the application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law.” The death sentence could also be imposed for insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder. The new law will only apply to Muslims, who make up about two thirds of a total population of just over 400,000.

Read the rest.

At the minimum, the Berkeley administration should immediately call a halt to the new partnership, but we’ve seen no coverage of the university’s response to Brunei’s move.

Given that the chancellor himself was involved in sealing the pact with the sultanate, action is clearly called for at the highest level, but so far the silence is deafening.

Bruneian Breslaur

Brunei George Breslauer

And Breslauer, the university”s provost and Bruneian visitor, is retiring next spring. We wonder what he thinks now of his much-ballyhooed but thoroughly dubious accomplishment?

Maybe he feels like going out and getting stoned?

Chart of the day: Education and income


While soaring costs of both public and private colleges have soared in the last decade, so too has the price of not gaining a degree. From “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” a new report from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG ed wages

Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, zones, threats


We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of espionage and security with on ominous note with this entry from Threat Level:

Judges Poised to Hand U.S. Spies the Keys to the Internet

How does the NSA get the private crypto keys that allow it to bulk eavesdrop on some email providers and social networking sites? It’s one of the mysteries yet unanswered by the Edward Snowden leaks. But we know that so-called SSL keys are prized by the NSA – understandably, since one tiny 256 byte key can expose millions of people to intelligence collection. And we know that the agency has a specialized group that collects such keys by hook or by crook. That’s about it.

Which is why the appellate court challenge pitting encrypted email provider Lavabit against the Justice Department is so important: It’s the only publicly documented case where a district judge has ordered an internet company to hand over its SSL key to the U.S. government — in this case, the FBI.

If the practice — which may well have happened in secret before — is given the imprimatur of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, it opens a new avenue for U.S. spies to expand their surveillance against users of U.S. internet services like Gmail and Dropbox. Since the FBI is known to work hand in hand with intelligence agencies, it potentially turns the judiciary into an arm of the NSA’s Key Recovery Service. Call it COURTINT.

The Guardian partially discloses:

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo release US surveillance requests

  • Tech giants turn over data from tens of thousands of accounts
  • Limited disclosure part of transparency deal made last month

Tens of thousands of accounts associated with customers of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo have their data turned over to US government authorities every six months as the result of secret court orders, the tech giants disclosed for the first time on Monday.

As part of a transparency deal reached last week with the Justice Department, four of the tech firms that participate in the National Security Agency’s Prism effort, which collects largely overseas internet communications, released more information about the volume of data the US demands they provide than they have ever previously been permitted to disclose.

But the terms of the deal prevent the companies from itemising the collection, beyond bands of thousands of data requests served on them by a secret surveillance court. The companies must also delay by six months disclosing information on the most recent requests – terms the Justice Department negotiated to end a transparency lawsuit before the so-called Fisa court that was brought by the companies.

MintPress News cozies up:

Google’s New Partnership With Law Enforcement Disquiets Privacy Advocates

What’s concerning most about the system for privacy advocates is that the information, which includes the photos and videos, is shared directly by Google with law enforcement.

Google may be in bed with U.S. government and law enforcement agencies more than the American public may have realized.

While the tech giant maintains it was unaware of the extent that the National Security Agency was using its cookie technology to gather information about the public, it was recently discovered that the company filed for two patents last year that actually benefit law enforcement.

Known as “Mob Source Phone Video Collaboration” and “Inferring Events Based On Mob Sourced Video,” the patents are for a system that would identify when and where a “mob” event takes place and would send multimedia alerts to those with a vested interest in the event, namely law enforcement and news agencies.

According to the patents, a “mob” event is anything that attracts an “abnormal” amount of attention in the form of photos and videos, which is determined by the system’s monitoring photos and videos for similar time and location stamps.

PCWorld ponders prosecution:

German federal prosecutor considers formal NSA investigation

Germany’s federal prosecutor is considering if there is enough evidence to warrant a formal, criminal investigation into the German government’s alleged involvement in the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) data collection program, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Privacy and human rights campaigners including the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), the International League for Human Rights (ILMR) and Digitalcourage on Monday filed a criminal complaint against the German federal government and the presidents of the German secret services for their alleged involvement in illegal and prohibited covert intelligence activities, they said in a news release.

The complaint also targeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German Minister of the Interior as well as U.S., British and German secret agents who are all accused of violating the right to privacy and obstruction of justice by cooperating with the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ to electronically spy on German citizens, they said.

The Guardian mulls disclosure:

Intelligence agencies should be subject to FoI, says information commissioner

  • John McMillan says FoI Act ‘can suitably apply to any agencies, parliamentary departments and the intelligence agencies’

Australia’s information commissioner has called for intelligence agencies to be subject to freedom of information laws and has expressed concern about “mixed messages” on open government and transparency.

In a wide-ranging interview with Guardian Australia on the state of privacy and freedom of information in Australia, the information commissioner, Professor John McMillan, said intelligence agencies should be subject to freedom of information (FoI) legislation.

“My preference would be at least for the FoI Act to apply to the intelligence agencies,” he said.

PCWorld hacks away:

Prominent cryptographers targeted by malware attacks

Belgian cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater had his personal computer infected with malware as the result of a targeted attack that’s believed to be related to a security breach discovered last year at Belgian telecommunications group Belgacom. According to him, other cryptographers have also been targeted by the same attackers.

Belgacom, whose customers include the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, announced in September that it had discovered sophisticated malware on some of its internal systems.

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported at the time, based on documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, that British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was responsible for the attack on Belgacom as part of a project code-named Operation Socialist.

The magazine later reported that GCHQ used packet injection technology called Quantum Insert developed by the NSA to target network engineers from Belgacom and other companies when they visited the LinkedIn and Slashdot websites. This technology can impersonate websites and can force the target’s computer to visit an attack server that uses exploits to install malware.

National Post denies:

Stephen Harper’s top security advisor denies reports of illegal spying on Canadians using airport Wi-Fi

The head of Communications Security Establishment Canada defended the collection of “metadata” on Monday, saying it helped identify foreign adversaries without snooping on the private communications of Canadians.

Testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, John Forster shot back against allegations of overzealous government electronic surveillance that have arisen as a result of leaks by Edward Snowden.

In a rare public appearance that follows unprecedented scrutiny of the ultra-secretive spy agency, Mr. Forster denied CSEC had been monitoring the private communications of Canadians as it vacuumed up metadata, or “data about data.

While CBC News equivocates:

Spy agencies, prime minister’s adviser defend Wi-Fi data collection

  • ‘It’s data about data,’ Stephen Harper’s national security adviser says of metadata collection

The head of Canada’s communications surveillance agency defended its use of metadata Monday and argued a test using Canadian passengers’ data — revealed by CBC News last week — didn’t run in real-time and wasn’t an actual operation.

John Forster, chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada, defended the cybersecurity agency over revelations contained in a document released by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Forster appeared before the Senate national defence committee amid the report that CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track the movements of Canadian passengers, including where they’d been before the airport.

Pushing for a conclusion with TheLocal.se:

Prosecutor pressed to speed up Assange case

The Swedish prosecutor handling the Julian Assange case lashed out on Monday to calls urging him to push on with efforts to interrogate the whistle blower over sex crimes allegations stemming from a 2010 visit to Sweden.

Assange, who is suspected of rape and sexual assault involving two Swedish women in connection with a visit to Stockholm in 2010, remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been for the last 18 months.

But Swedish MP Johan Pehrson, legal policy spokesperson for the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), said on Sunday there was no point letting such a case fester.

“This is an exceptional case,” he said on the Agenda programme on Sveriges Television (SVT). “Which gets you thinking whether the prosecutor shouldn’t take one more look at it and take care of it once and for all.”

Military/industrial profiteering from Spiegel:

Arms Exports: Berlin Backs Large Defense Deal with Saudi Arabia

Berlin has often been criticized in recent years for selling weapons to questionable regimes. Now, the German government is backing a billion-euro deal for 100 patrol boats.

The German government has often drawn serious criticism for supporting defense deals with countries known to have democratic deficiencies. In the latest controversial move, SPIEGEL has learned that the new government in Berlin wants to secure a major defense deal with Saudi Arabia by offering Hermes export credit guarantees.

The information comes from a classified letter from a senior official in the Finance Ministry to the German parliament’s budget committee. The letter states that the German government intends to provide guarantees for the planned export of more than 100 patrol and border control boats to the Gulf state with a total value of around €1.4 billion ($1.9 billion). In the letter, official Steffen Kampeter writes of the “high importance in terms of economic and employment” of the deal, which includes contracts for the Bremen-based Lürssen Shipyard. Kampeter, a politician with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, asked for the “confidential handling of the business data” because negotiations are still in progress and competition is expected from other countries.

Wasting it profligately, via Aero-News Network:

New C-27J Cargo Planes Stored In Arizona Boneyard

  • Military ‘Has No Use’ For For The Spartans

New C-27J Spartan cargo planes ordered by the U.S. Air Force are being delivered … directly to a storage “boneyard” in the Arizona desert. There are reportedly nearly a dozen new Spartans sitting on the ramp at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ.

The Dayton Daily News reports that the Air Force has spent some $567 million to acquire 21 new Spartans since 2007, but has found that the Air Force does not have missions for many of the aircraft.

The planes had originally been acquired because of their ability to operate from unimproved runways. But sequestration forced the Air Force to re-think the airplane’s mission, and it determined that they were not a necessity, according to an analyst with the Project for Government Oversight.

World Socialist Web Site gets right to it:

Germany, US push aggressive policies at Munich Security Conference

This weekend, some 400 leading international political and military figures and representatives of defense contractors, banks and corporations gathered at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) to discuss the global military and security situation. Both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel participated, marking the first time the US secretaries of state and defense both attended the conference.

The MSC featured a series of speeches by top German officials announcing an aggressive military policy, effectively repudiating the traditional restraints on German militarism that have existed since the collapse of the Nazi regime at the end of World War II. The belligerent tone of the conference was laid down by the former East German pastor and current president of Germany, Joachim Gauck.

Declaring that Germany must stop using its past—i.e., its role in starting two world wars in the 20th century—as a “shield,” Gauck called for the country’s armed forces to be used more frequently and decisively. “Germany can’t carry on as before,” Gauck argued. It was necessary to overcome German indifference and European navel-gazing, he said, in the face of “rapid” and “dramatic” new threats to the “open world order.”

And that complex again, via the London Telegraph:

China and Russia help global defence spending rise for first time in five years

  • New forecasts show China’s defence spending will outstrip Britain, Germany and France combined by 2015

Soaring defence budgets in China and Russia mean global military spending is growing for the first time in five years, according to new forecasts.

Spending across Asia and the Middle East is surging even as the military powers of Europe and the US are forced to scale back dramatically in the face of austerity cuts – contributing to a steady change in the balance of military power.

The figures were disclosed as the secretary general of Nato issued a stark warning that the West will cede influence on the world stage because of its falling spending.

After the jump, Asian zone and militarism crises, censorship run amok, an assault on academic freedom, censorship in Egypt, a Spanish muckraker fired, military corruption, the German government hacked, and more. . . Continue reading

Research from Cal: The sociopathology of wealth


From RT America, the latest research from right here in ensl’s own backyard:

Study proves: rich people are jerks

Program notes:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently conducted many studies to test their hypothesis that the more money a person has, the more likely they are to be a jerk. Over and over again, the studies led to the same conclusion: that as a person’s level of wealth increases, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases. The Resident (aka Lori Harfenist) discusses.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compendium of tales form the world of spooks and security with a video from RT America:

California to require warrants for drone surveillance

Program notes:

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would keep police agencies and other government entities from using drones to conduct warrantless surveillance in the Golden State. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to use drone surveillance, except in some emergency cases, and that those agencies notify the public when they intend to use drones. The data those drones collect would have to be destroyed within six months. RT’s Ameera David takes a look at the bill that would create some of the nation’s strictest standards on the use of drones in law enforcement.

And now, on with the latest blowback from those Edward Snowden NSA revelations, via The Guardian:

Obama admits intelligence chief fault over false Senate testimony

  • President continues to defend James Clapper in the face of calls for his resignation after ‘untruthful’ statement about bulk collection

President Barack Obama has said his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, ought to have been “more careful” in Senate testimony about surveillance that Clapper later acknowledged was untruthful following disclosures by Edward Snowden.

But Obama signaled continued confidence in Clapper in the face of calls for the director to resign from members of Congress who warn of the dangerous precedent set by allowing an intelligence chief to lie to legislative bodies tasked with overseeing the powerful spy agencies.

“Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded,” Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired on Friday.

From the Secretary of State via TheLocal.de, a plea to “trust us”:

Kerry in Berlin: ‘US is committed to privacy’

US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged on Friday that relations with Germany had gone through a “rough period” of late over NSA snooping but he said the US was “committed to privacy”.

After talks in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry told reporters that the United States took Germany’s anger seriously, which was sparked by revelations that US intelligence monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“I want to say to the German people that it’s no secret that we’ve been through a rough period,” Kerry said.

Asked whether the US administration would sign a no-spying agreement that Germany has demanded in the wake of the scandal, Kerry said only that Merkel and US President Barack Obama were in “consultations” on the issue.

Similar words and a response from China Daily:

Obama speech on NSA welcome, but effects remain to be seen: EU official

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem on Friday welcomed a speech made by US President Barack Obama on curbing the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), saying what that meant in practice was yet to be seen.

Malmstroem told participants at the 50th Munich Security Conference that there was a need to see the limits of the NSA and safeguards put in place.

Obama announced in a recent speech a reform of the NSA and its surveillance operations, mentioning the possibility of abuse while insisting operatives should consistently follow protocols.

Malmstroem made the remarks in a panel discussion about cyber security, which was joined by the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizieere, the US chairman of the house permanent select committee on intelligence Michael Rogers and others.

The ol’ “They’re just jealous ploy” from Deutsche Welle:

Hayden: Every agency wants to do what the NSA does

Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA, CIA and US national intelligence, tells DW he sees German anger at US spying as genuine and says the NSA shouldn’t have got caught tapping Chancellor Merkel’s phone.

“Have you been surprised how many Germans take this as a very personal issue? Do they take it very personally because they like the United States but they’ve been really taken aback by the surveillance?

“They have – and as I said before, that’s genuine. Also genuine is my belief that all nations conduct espionage and occasionally espionage gets conducted with people you truly do consider friends. So it’s a bit difficult having that discussion.

“Chairman Mike Rogers from our Intelligence Committee was here yesterday and I think he put a good program on the table. He said, “Let’s stick with the facts. Let’s actually have an adult conversation about what it is our security services do and don’t do.” And, frankly, in order for that to be a good conversation, I think German citizens are going to have to have a better idea about what their security organizations do and don’t do. I would be willing to bet that now, based on all these press accounts, most Germans know more about the NSA than about the BND [Germany’s federal intelligence service].”

Techdirt covers another ploy:

Canadian Gov’t Responds To Spying Revelations By Saying It’s All A Lie And Calling Glenn Greenwald A ‘Porn Spy’

  • from the wtf? dept

We’ve seen various government officials act in all sorts of bizarre ways after revelations of illegal spying on their own people (and foreigners), but none may be quite as bizarre as the response from the Canadian government, following the release late last night from the CBC (with help from Glenn Greenwald) that they’re spying on public WiFi connections. That report had plenty of detail, including an internal presentation from the Canadian electronic spying agency, CSEC. In the Canadian Parliament today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, decided to respond to all of this by by insisting it’s all a lie and then flat out insulting both the CBC and Glenn Greenwald.

Here’s the video via Maclean’s Magazine. Techdirt has the transcript. . .and more:

Paul Calandra calls Glenn Greenwald a porn spy

Program notes:

The Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, rose in the House before Question Period to bemoan the CBC’s journalistic integrity. Last night, the public broadcaster revealed top-secret documents that alleged a Canadian spy agency used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers’ wireless activity. Communications Security Establishment Canada isn’t supposed to monitor innocent Canadians.

Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist who lives in Brazil, collaborated with the CBC on its report. Greenwald retains copies of a trove of U.S. intelligence docs leaked by infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the journalist is working with the CBC—as a freelancer—to report stories relevant to a Canadian audience.

None of this impresses Calandra, who condemned the news report, questioned the CBC’s judgment, and mocked Greenwald’s past association with a porn company. He reacted in much the same way the first time the CBC published Greenwald’s work.

Calandra’s money line: “Why is furthering porn spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda and lining his Brazilian bank account more important than maintaining the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity?”

Hey, look at the bright side, CBC. He could have called you the state broadcaster.

SecurityWeek has saner umbrage:

Canada’s Eavesdropping Agency Blasts Tradecraft Leak

Canada’s ultra-secret eavesdropping agency on Friday blasted the disclosure of its tradecraft, after it was reported the agency had tracked airline passengers connected to Wi-Fi services at airports.

Communications Security Establishment Canada said: “The unauthorized disclosure of tradecraft puts our techniques at risk of being less effective when addressing threats to Canada and Canadians.”

On Thursday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said documents leaked by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the CSEC could follow the movements of people who passed through airports and connected to Wi-Fi systems with mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

The documents showed the agency could track the travellers for a week or more as they and their wireless devices showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and beyond.

While Deutsche Welle spurns:

Brazil continues to ignore Snowden asylum appeal

  • Over a million people have signed an online petition to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Brazil. However, experts doubt that the country will give in to this demand.

An online petition started in November on the websites of the civic activism Avaaz has attracted over 1 million signatures. The petition was initiated by David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who conducted the first media interviews with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda plans to present the petition to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff once it has attracted 1,250,000 supporters.

But it is not only the campaign’s signatories who believe Snowden would be in good hands if he received asylum in Brazil: Snowden himself has appealed for it. The request, however, has so far remained unanswered, according to Snowden’s official support website. In July 2013, Brazil’s foreign minister stated that Snowden would not be grated asylum in the country. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president has claimed that no official application has been submitted on Snowden’s behalf.

Rubbing the Belgians the wrong way, via De Standaard:

Belgian professor in cryptography hacked

A new Belgian episode in the NSA scandal: Belgian professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater, internationally renowned expert in data security was the victim of hacking. And, as was the case in the Belgacom hacking affair, there are indications the American secret service NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ might be involved.

There isn’t a card with an electronic chip available, or it has some sort of security technology that UCL professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater (67) was involved in developing. If you are able to withdraw money from a cashpoint safely, for example, that is to some extent due to Quisquater’s work on complicated mathematical algorithms. He was also involved in the development of the Proton payment system in Belgium. That very same Jean-Jacques Quisquater has now been the victim of a hacking attack, that has all the signs – as was the case in the Belgacom affair – of ‘state-sponsored espionage, De Standaard has discovered.

The authorities investigating the Belgacom hacking case confirm they have opened a case. Quisquater himself has lodged a formal complaint.

Earlier this week, whistle blower Edward Snowden gave an interview to German television channel ARD in which he claimed the NSA’s espionage activities are not only aimed at protecting US national security – in the so-called ‘war on terror’ – but also at companies and private individuals. The Quisquater case seems to indicate the Belgian justice department might be able to demonstrate Snowden’s claims are more than a mere figment of his imagination. As far as we are able to tell, this is the first instance in which a private person is seen as a victim in the NSA case.

And dis-Dane from Dagbladet Information:

For the NSA, espionage was a means to strengthen the US position in climate negotiations

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, the world’s nations were supposed to reach an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate change. But not everyone was playing by the rules. A leaked document now reveals that the US employed the NSA, its signals intelligence agency, to intercept information about other countries’ views on the climate negotiations before and during the summit. According to observers, the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations.

From BBC News, a story about a proposal with a peculiar motivation [see last line]:

David Cameron wants fresh push on communications data

David Cameron wants a fresh push after the next election to “modernise” laws to allow monitoring of people’s online activity, after admitting there was little chance of progress before then.

The prime minister told a parliamentary committee that gathering communications data was “politically contentious” but vital to keep citizens safe.

He said TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, drone, historical revisionism. Militarism, and secrecy crises. Plus Gitmo secrecy and a Canadian IP lawsuit, Fourth Estate under siege in UK and Russia, an Athenian terror scare, nuclear cheaters, drone warnings, email hacks, and more. . . Continue reading