Category Archives: Crime

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?

California state senator en route to the hoosegow


Whilst on the subject of corrupt California politicians, it’s been a bad week for Democrats in the California Senate, with three of the rascals getting the boot, including one exceptional notes that caught the eye of those always over-the-top Taiwanese Animators:

California state Senator Leland Yee: Part-time politician, full-time arms dealer

Program notes/transcript:

California state Senator Leland Yee, a staunch advocate of gun control, was arrested on Wednesday by the FBI for illegally trafficking firearms and multiple counts of public corruption.

Yee supposedly asked for campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker and told him how to obtain shoulder-fired automatic weapons and missiles from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines, according to court documents opened Wednesday.

The charges against Yee were outlined in an FBI affidavit that accused Yee of conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms. He was arrested Wednesday and showed up later in federal court, where bail was set at $500,000.

Yee is also accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and accepting cash to provide introductions, help a client get a contract and influence legislation. He or members of his campaign team accepted at least $42,800 in cash or campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents in exchange for taking care of the agents’ specific requests.

Senator Yee told an undercover agent he could get him $500,000 to $2.5 million in automatic weapons and missiles from the Philippines. Yee also took the undercover agent through the entire process of getting the arms from a Muslim Separatist group in the Philippines to bringing them to the United States, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua.

Leland was also kind enough to accept cash from another undercover agent to set up a meeting, while in another instance, he took cash from the feds in exchange for a Senate proclamation.

Senator Yee was arrested on Wednesday with 25 other people including Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow. Looks like it’s going to be Chinese on the prison menu.

Headlines of the day I: EspioPoliCorporoZonal


We’ve been a bit under the weather, so today’s tales form the world of bugs, hacks [digital and political], corporate buccaneering, and military, geographic, and historical crises begins with a panopticon obstruction from the Oakland Tribune:

Oakland council sours on surveillance system

In a sharp reversal, council members made clear early Wednesday they would no longer support moving forward with an intelligence center that has the capacity to conduct surveillance on Oakland streets.

Twice last year, the City Council voted to support the Domain Awareness Center — a joint project with the Port of Oakland that was billed as helping police solve crimes, first responders react to emergencies, and the port protect itself from terrorist attacks.

But after further revelations of federal surveillance programs, threats of lawsuits from First Amendment advocates, and unsatisfactory attempts by city officials to address privacy concerns, a majority of council members said the center should not include any tools that could be used to spy on residents.

The full extent of the council’s reversal won’t be known until it revisits the issue on March 4. Council members did indicate that they would support the center to be used for its original purpose — to safeguard the port from attack.

From USA TODAY, American opinion takes a turn:

Poll: China, not Iran, now USA’s top enemy

  • North Korea rises to second place, with Iran, in Gallup survey. Russia is third.

China, not Iran, is now America’s No. 1 enemy, according to a new Gallup Poll.

The Chinese hold that distinction primarily because Americans have spread their negative views across several perceived threats — Iran (16%), North Korea (16%), Russia (9%), Iraq (7%), Afghanistan (5%) and Syria (3%) — while holding relatively constant in their mistrust of China (20%) over the past few years.

The poll, reported Thursday, also found that a slight majority (52%) sees China’s growing economic power as a “critical threat” to “the vital interests” of the United States in the next decade, while 46% cite such a threat from the country’s military.

From The Guardian, the disappointing but unsurprising decision about the partner of a principal Edward Snowden leak reporter:

David Miranda detention at Heathrow airport was lawful, high court rules

  • Detention of former Guardian journalist’s partner was justified by ‘very pressing’ interests of national security, judges say

Three high court judges have dismissed a challenge that David Miranda, the partner of the former Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, was unlawfully detained under counter-terrorism powers for nine hours at Heathrow airport last August.

The judges accepted that Miranda’s detention and the seizure of computer material was “an indirect interference with press freedom” but said this was justified by legitimate and “very pressing” interests of national security.

The three judges, Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Openshaw, concluded that Miranda’s detention at Heathrow under schedule 7 of the Terrorism 2000 Act was lawful, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.

Some consequences, also from The Guardian:

The David Miranda judgment has chilling implications for press freedom, race relations and basic justice

  • The interference of Britains’ security services is shocking, but it’s also vital that we shed light on the murky reality of schedule 7

One person’s freedom fighter may be another’s terrorist, but David Miranda is very clearly neither. Yet he was detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. That the high court has now found his detention to be lawful is disappointing to say the least.

If someone travelling as part of journalistic work can be lawfully detained like this – questioned for hours without a lawyer present, his electronic equipment confiscated and cloned and all without the merest suspicion of wrongdoing required – then clearly something has gone wrong with the law.

We’ve been here before. Schedule 7 suffers the same glaring flaws as the old section 44 counter-terrorism power that also allowed stop and search without suspicion. Such laws leave themselves wide open to discriminatory misuse: section 44 never once led to a terrorism conviction but was used to stop people like journalist Pennie Quinton. In a significant victory, Liberty took her case to the European court of human rights and the power was declared unlawful.

Meanwhile, parliamentary questions remain, via the London Telegraph:

Inquiry into phone and email snoopers

  • Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, says number of requests last year for access to people’s private data – around 500,000 – was “too large”

Britain’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies are facing an inquiry from Whitehall’s snooping watchdog into whether they are collecting too many private telephone and internet records, The Telegraph can disclose.

The investigation by Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, will start this year and comes after he told MPs he was worried that the security services were making too many requests for access to people’s private data.

In evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, Sir Anthony suggested that the number of requests last year – around 500,000 – was “too large”.

Bloomberg reminds:

NSA Official Warned About Threat 17 Years Before Snowden

Seventeen years before Edward Snowden began releasing secret documents on U.S. electronic spying, an analyst with the National Security Agency foresaw just such a threat.

“In their quest to benefit from the great advantages of networked computer systems, the U.S. military and intelligence communities have put almost all of their classified information ‘eggs’ into one very precarious basket: computer system administrators,” the unidentified analyst wrote in a 1996 special edition of Cryptologic Quarterly, an NSA magazine.

Despite the warning, the NSA remained vulnerable. When Snowden’s first disclosures became public last year, some of the agencies’ computers were still equipped with USB ports where thumb drives could be used to copy files, according to a National Public Radio report in September.

Snowden was a systems analyst working as a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) at an NSA regional signals intelligence facility in Hawaii when he exploited his administrative access to copy thousands of top-secret documents before fleeing to Hong Kong and then Moscow.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau has a deal:

Online company hawking Snowden action figure

He’s been called a low-down traitor and a noble whistleblower, and now there’s a new label for fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden: action figure.

An Oregon-based company, Thatsmyface.com, is offering Snowden’s “lifelike head mounted on a 12-inch fully-articulated action figure body with detailed pre-fitted clothes.” Clothing options include casual, business suit or “Indiana Jones.” Perhaps a spinoff line will include a Moscow airport-terminal play set?

Each doll is $99, with proceeds reportedly going to Freedom of the Press Foundation. (The foundation told news agencies that it hadn’t been contacted about the project.)

The website is here, including this video of the Snowden doll alongside their Julian Assange action figure:

And another pair of small victories from the ACLU Blog of Rights:

State High Courts Realize It’s Not 1986 Anymore, Broaden Privacy Protections

Technology in the digital age has changed the way the government conducts surveillance against targets, and the law must change accordingly. So ruled two separate state supreme courts in decisions that take on the so-called ‘third-party doctrine,’ an outdated legal precedent that serves as the foundation for the federal government’s defense of NSA and FBI bulk records surveillance programs.

In two state supreme court rulings published Tuesday, jurists in Massachusetts and Hawaii created new space for the expansion of privacy rights under their state constitutions. The Hawaiian justices found that, as technology changes, the law must change with it—and state courts have a role to play in pushing legislatures and federal courts to adapt more quickly. Massachusetts’ high court did just that, by limiting the government’s authority to obtain without warrants information held about us by third parties. Specifically, Massachusetts justices ruled 5-2 that police must obtain a probable cause warrant in order to obtain two weeks or more of cell site location information from our telecommunications companies.

The Intercept [new venue of Greenwald & Co.] lays the blame:

Judge Tosses Muslim Spying Suit Against NYPD, Says Any Damage Was Caused by Reporters Who Exposed It

A federal judge in Newark has thrown out a lawsuit against the New York Police Department for spying on New Jersey Muslims, saying if anyone was at fault, it was the Associated Press for telling people about it.

In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martini simultaneously demonstrated the willingness of the judiciary to give law enforcement alarming latitude in the name of fighting terror, greenlighted the targeting of Muslims based solely on their religious beliefs, and blamed the media for upsetting people by telling them what their government was doing.

The NYPD’s clandestine spying on daily life in Muslim communities in the region — with no probable cause, and nothing to show for it — was exposed in a Pulitzer-Prize winning series of stories by the AP. The stories described infiltration and surveillance of at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey alone.

Well, gollleeee! From the Washington Post:

U.S. intelligence agencies can’t justify why they use so many contractors

In the wake of last year’s NSA revelations, many agencies have been reviewing their contracting policies. But few people have a good grasp on just how many contractors the government employs. What’s worse, the country’s eight civilian intelligence agencies often can’t sufficiently explain what they use those contractors for, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Every year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is supposed to count how many contractors serve the intelligence community (IC). Due to differences in the way intelligence agencies define and assess their workers, however, the data are inconsistent and in some places incomplete. Out of hundreds of agency records, for example, GAO found that almost a fifth lacked enough paperwork to prove how much a contractor was paid. Another fifth of the records were found to have either over-reported or under-reported the actual cost of the contract work.

But the GAO reserves its harshest judgment for the agencies that couldn’t fully explain why they resorted to contractors in the first place.

From Deutsche Welle, attempting the ol’ pot/kettle maneuver:

‘Not shocked if Germany spied on us’

Americans would not be shocked if they found out that German intelligence services monitored them, former CIA Director John McLaughlin tells DW. He also explains why he feels mass surveillance is justified.

RT goes for the help:

No spying on friends: NSA bugs Merkel aides instead of chancellor

In the wake of President Obama’s promise to stop spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US intelligence has switched its attention to her top government officials, a German newspaper reported.

Washington’s relations with Germany were strained last year after revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting mass surveillance in Germany and even tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel.

Facing the German outrage, President Barack Obama pledged that the US would stop spying on the leader of the European country, which is among the closest and most powerful allies of America.

After the promise was made, the NSA has stepped up surveillance of senior German officials, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BamS) reported on Sunday.

Seeking a change with The Hill:

Dems press Holder on secret FBI letters

Two House Democrats are calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to make changes to secret letters that the FBI uses to get information.

In a letter on Wednesday, the lawmakers demanded answers about the FBI’s National Security Letters, which do not require a court order and require communications companies and financial institutions to turn over details about their customers.

“This is deeply troubling and, therefore, addressing the proper use of NSLs must be part of any meaningful reform of government surveillance authorities,” Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said in a joint statement accompanying the letter.

“We look forward to working with the Administration as we find a path forward on this issue.

Aviation Week fesses up:

USAF Space Chief Outs Classified Spy Sat Program

The U.S. Air Force is planning to launch two new and previously classified space situational awareness satellites into geosynchronous orbit this year, according to Gen. William Shelton, who leads Air Force Space Command.

The spacecraft were developed covertly by the Air Force and Orbital Sciences under the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSAP), according to service officials.

The first two spacecraft will be boosted this year with two more to follow in 2016 to prevent a gap in surveillance on activities in the geosynchronous belt, Shelton said at the annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando. This is where commercial satellite communications are based, as well as critical national security assets such as the Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) early missile warning system and Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellation designed to provide jam-proof communications for the president even during a nuclear event.

“One cheap shot” against Sbirs or AEHF would be “devastating” to the Pentagon’s capabilities, Shelton said of a potential anti-satellite attack.

From the London Daily Mail, guess who’s listening:

Head of NSA’s Korea division charged with beating adopted son, three, to death. But he INSISTS the boy’s injuries were suffered in fall and his wife believes him

  • Brian O’Callaghan and his wife adopted the boy from Korea in October
  • O’Callaghan told police the boy fell in the shower two days before he died
  • Authorities describe the boy’s injuries as being ‘from head to toe’
  • Investigators believe O’Callaghan beat the boy while his wife was out of town
  • The autopsy and other medical tests offer conflicting causes of the boy’s death
  • O’Callaghan is an Iraq War veteran who now works as the NSA’s Korea division chief
  • O’Callaghan’s wife and other families say he is incapable of hurting a child

The National Security Agency’s Korea division chief has been charged with murder in the alleged beating death of his 3-year-old son who he and his wife adopted from Korea just months before his tragic death.

Brian O’Callaghan, a decorated Iraq War veteran who was awarded the Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his part in a gun battle that helped lead to the rescue of captured soldier Jessica Lynch, is accused of beating his adopted son, Hyunsu, so badly that he ultimately died two days after the alleged beating.

From BBC News, a busted Murdoch operative with a friend in a very high place:

Phone-hacking trial: Blair ‘advised Brooks before arrest’

Tony Blair gave advice to newspaper executive Rebekah Brooks on handling the phone-hacking scandal six days before her arrest, a court has heard.

The court heard Mrs Brooks spoke to the former prime minister and passed on what he had said to James Murdoch, then News International executive chairman.

In an email, she said Mr Blair had said he was “available” to her, James and Rupert Murdoch as an “unofficial adviser”, the Old Bailey heard.

Mrs Brooks denies any wrongdoing.

From Ars Technica, hack attack:

Iranians hacked Navy network for four months? Not a surprise.

  • NMCI, now being phased out, is the world’s biggest intranet, and its biggest target.

In 2012, Iranian hackers managed to penetrate the US Navy’s unclassified administrative network, the Navy Marine Corps Intranet. While the attack was disclosed last September, the scale of it was not—the attack gave hackers access to the NMCI for nearly four months, according to an updated report by The Wall Street Journal.

Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, who is now President Barack Obama’s choice to replace Gen. Keith Alexander as both NSA director and commander of the US Cyber Command, led the US Fleet Cyber Command when the attack came to light. Rogers’ response to the attack may be a factor in his confirmation hearings.

Iranian hackers attacked NMCI in August of 2012, using a vulnerability in a public-facing website to gain initial access to the network. Because of a flaw in the security of the network the server was hosted on, attackers were able to use the server to gain access to NMCI’s private network and spread to other systems. While the vulnerability that allowed the attackers to gain access in the first place was discovered and closed by October, spyware installed by the attackers remained in place until November.

RT raises the bar:

German telecom firm to roll out text, voice encryption app

Deutsche Telekom plans to launch an app for smartphones that encrypts voice and text messages. The move is the latest step taken by the firm to address users’ privacy concerns following NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden’s, mass surveillance revelations.

The cloud-based app will encrypt each voice or text exchange between two devices using a unique code, Reuters cites Deutsche Telekom as saying in a statement.

The firm will roll the app out at Cebit – the world’s largest and most international computer expo – in Hanover, Germany, next month. It remains unclear when it will be available for download, though versions for Android smartphones will be released first, followed by a version for iOS smartphones. The product will be made available to business customers.

And Xinhua calls for a deal:

EU, Brazil to enhance cyber security cooperation

The European Union and Brazil have agreed to launch a new EU-Brazil dialogue on international cyber policy at the annual EU-Brazil summit held here on Monday.

Addressing a press conference, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said both the EU and Brazil share the common interest of protecting a “free and open” Internet, which has spurred tremendous economic and social progress.

“At the same time, we will continue to enhance data protection and global privacy standards,” he said.

EU and Brazil have agreed to have the first meeting on cyber security take place during the conference on Internet governance, which Brazil will host in Sao Paulo on April 23-24.

From Sky News, recycling:

US Airlines Warned Over Possible Shoe Bombs

Concerns are raised for the second time in less than three weeks over possible attempts to smuggle explosives onto planes.

Airlines flying to the United States have been warned to be on alert for explosives hidden in shoes.

It is the second time in less than three weeks the US government has raised concerns over possible attempts to smuggle explosives onto commercial jetliners.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declined to discuss specific details about the warning but said it regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners.

ANSA keeps the secret keepers safe:

Italian spy agency officials acquitted in CIA snatch

  • State secrecy invoked in extraordinary rendition case

Italy’s supreme court on Monday acquitted the former head and the No.2 of the Italian secret service agency, Nicolo’ Pollari and Marco Mancini, as well as three agents, for involvement in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr from Milan in 2003.

The Cassation Court said sentences could not be upheld due to State secrecy.

Pollari and Mancini were respectively appealing a 10-year and a nine-year sentence at a lower court for allowing the CIA to commit “a grave violation of national sovereignty” when they snatched Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, an Islamist suspected of recruiting jihadi fighters.

And from Al Jazeera America, the expected:

Turkey increases control of Internet

  • President Abdullah Gul signs law allowing telecom authority to block websites without a court order

Turkish President Abdullah Gul approved a new law Tuesday which critics said aims to increase government controls over the Internet.

The legislation, approved by Parliament earlier this month, allows the telecommunications authority to block websites without a court decision. It also requires Internet providers to keep records of users’ activities for two years and make them available to authorities.

The move is seen by critics of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s critics as an authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his government and a bid to stop leaks from circulating online.

SecurityWeek spots another player:

US Man Sues Ethiopian Government for Spyware Infection

  • US Man Sues Ethiopia for Cyber Snooping

A lawsuit filed on Tuesday accuses Ethiopia of infecting a US man’s computer with spyware as part of a campaign to gather intelligence about those critical of the government.

“We have clear evidence of a foreign government secretly infiltrating an American’s computer in America, listening to his calls and obtaining access to a wide swath of his private life,” said attorney Nate Cardozo of Internet rights group Electronic Freedom Foundation.

“The current Ethiopian government has a well-documented history of human rights violations against anyone it sees as political opponents.”

And from thinkSPAIN, the game of zones, European style:

UK to lodge formal complaint against Spain following ‘illegal incursion’ into Gibraltarian waters

BRITISH Foreign Office officials have announced they will make a complaint ‘to the highest-possible authority’ after a fresh incursion into Gibraltar’s waters by a Spanish Naval ship.

The UK’s Royal Navy was carrying out military sky-diving exercises in the sea off the Rock on Tuesday when the Spanish ship SPS Vigia approached the area, heightening the tension between London and Madrid over the concrete blocks placed in the sea in Gibraltarian territory to create an artificial reef, which the Spanish government insists are within the seas belonging to the Bay of Algeciras (Cádiz).

The Royal Navy continued with its parachuting practice despite the incursion, says the Foreign Office, which says it intends to present a ‘formal protest’ at the ‘highest level’ against the Spanish government.

After the jump, the latest on the rapidly escalating Asian military escalation, border-claiming, historical, revanchist, and other security crises — plus social media lie detection, punishing proof of insecurity, felonious pseudospooking sexpionage, an Internet ban defeated, and a very serious worm in the Apple. . . Continue reading

Business as usual: A little Dutch hypocrisy


From the television arm of Holland’s Katholieke Radio Omroep [Catholic Radio Broadcasting], a nice little takedown of corporate profiteering.

While esnl’s a cannabis-friendly blog, much of our journalism career has been spent tracking corporate shenanigans and organized crime [and, yes, the two are increasingly synonymous these days].

So when we caught this video we were delighted at the expose of corporate connivance with a large and still-illegal industry, an enterprise that continued until it was finally derailed in part because of the work of journalists.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

How Multinational Philips Profited From Illegal Cannabis Farms

Program notes:

Corporate Cannabis: The corporation that made millions from the illegal drug trade

When Philips, a huge multinational company, started supplying lamps to the cannabis industry it wasn’t breaking the law. Growing is illegal, supplying lamps isn’t. But it wasupporting a €1bn criminal network.

“I think his revenues are €5 to 6 million on Philips products alone. Philips is THE brand in the industry”, an insider says of the intermediary that Philips sold their lamps to the cannabis industry through. Nothing was put on paper with this intermediary and they were careful to filter their operations through a wholesaler, but his lawyer attests to his partnership with Philips and shows us an email in which Philips gave him advice on how the lamps were best used for growing cannabis.

As criminologist Frank Bovenkerk points out, while it may not have been illegal, the morals are certainly questionable. “It is absolutely clear that a number of serious criminal organizations are dealing with this business. Very unpleasant people.” Now that the law is changing to outlaw the supply of lamps to the growing industry, Philips has changed its policy and left its intermediary badly in the lurch, but many say it is too little too late. “They’re in a position that is conductive to crime, often organised crime.” A fascinating look at how large companies make money at the fringes of the law and a warning of the kind of industries that can grow up around Cannabis legalisation.

A transcript is posted online here.

Shareholder-owned corporations are, by law, immoral — potentially immortal creations endowed with a single prime directive: The generation of maximum profits for investors.

Banks have fallen over each other to attract the wealth of drug dealers, so why shouldn’t one of world’s leading suppliers of lighting?

And it might be argued quite reasonably that Philips is doing a lot less harm than those corporations which, will full government approval, sell the instruments of mass murder and social control. . .

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFukunews


We begin today’s collection of news political, economic, environmental, and nuclear — including the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! — with a take on the merger de jour from Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer:

BLOG Siers

From the Washington Post, consequences of enserfing students:

Student debt may hurt housing recovery by hampering first-time buyers

The growing student loan burden carried by millions of Americans threatens to undermine the housing recovery’s momentum by discouraging, or even blocking, a generation of potential buyers from purchasing their first homes.

Recent improvements in the housing market have been fueled largely by investors who snapped up homes in the past few years. But that demand is waning as prices climb and mortgage rates rise. An analysis by the Mortgage Bankers Association found that loan applications for home purchases have slipped nearly 20 percent in the past four months compared with the same period a year earlier.

First-time buyers, the bedrock of the housing market, are not stepping up to fill the void. They have accounted for nearly a third of home purchases over the past year, well below the historical norm, industry figures show. The trend has alarmed some housing experts, who suspect that student loan debt is partly to blame. That debt has tripled from a decade earlier, to more than $1 trillion, while wages for young college graduates have dropped.

A decline from the Los Angeles Times:

Builder confidence down sharply in February

Builder confidence in the new home market plunged in February, a combination of debilitating weather and few lots available for construction, a trade group said.

The National Assn. of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index tumbled 10 points from January to a seasonally adjusted level of 46, the largest drop since the index launched in 1985. A level higher than 50 means more builders see the market for new, single-family homes as good rather than poor.

From the Los Angeles Times again, another decline:

Coca-Cola announces $1 billion in cuts as demand, profit slide

Coca-Cola Co., faced with tepid demand and a drop in fourth-quarter earnings, said Tuesday it was initiating a $1-billion cost-cutting campaign to improve profitability.

The world’s largest beverage company said Tuesday that profit fell 8.4% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Investors were selling on the news. Shares of the Atlanta company were down $1.46, or nearly 4%, to $37.47 at 9 a.m. PST.

Another sort of decline from the Associated Press:

After UAW defeat, can GOP fulfill promise of jobs?

Republicans fighting a yearslong unionization effort at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee painted a grim picture in the days leading up to last week’s vote. They said if Chattanooga employees joined the United Auto Workers, jobs would go elsewhere and incentives for the company would disappear.

Now that workers have rejected the UAW in a close vote, attention turns to whether the GOP can fulfill its promises that keeping the union out means more jobs will come rolling in, the next great chapter in the flourishing of foreign auto makers in the South.

Regardless of what political consequences, if any, Republicans would face if that fails to happen, the Volkswagen vote established a playbook for denying the UAW its goal of expanding into foreign-owned plants in the region, which the union itself has called the key to its long-term future.

CNBC posits the negative:

$10.10 minimum wage could hit total employment: CBO

Raising the U.S. federal minimum wage to $10.10, as President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are proposing, could result in about 500,000 jobs being lost by late 2016, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated on Tuesday.

The non-partisan CBO also said that increasing the hourly wage could reduce U.S. budget deficits by a small amount for several years, but then increase them slightly in later years.

The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Democrats who control the U.S. Senate could try to advance minimum wage legislation as early as next month.

Xinhua invests:

Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury debt hits record in December

Foreign buyers continued to increase their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities for a fifth straight month in December, even though the two largest holders of U.S. public debt trimmed their shares, U.S. Treasury Department said Tuesday.

The total foreign holdings rose to 5.79 trillion U.S. dollars in December, up 1.4 percent from that in November, showed the Treasury International Capital report. The figure surpassed the all-time high hit in March of 5.73 trillion dollars.

China, the largest foreign buyer of the Treasury debt, trimmed its holdings by 47.8 billion dollars to 1.27 trillion dollars in December, its first reduction in the past four months, the report showed.

Japan, the second largest holder, sold 3.9 billion dollars to 1. 18 trillion dollars in December, according to the figures.

Salon disgraces:

Virginia county sheriff hosting anti-Muslim training by disgraced conspiracy theorist

  • John Guandolo says Muslims “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything.” Now he’s instructing law officers

The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia is planning to host a three-day training by John Guandolo, a notorious Muslim-basher and conspiracy theorist who resigned from the FBI before he could be investigated for misconduct, according to promotional materials.

It’s hard to believe that the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office would knowingly associate itself with such a disreputable character, who regularly attacks the U.S. government, claims that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is a secret Muslim agent for the Saudi government and says that American Muslims “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything.”

Guandolo joined the bureau’s Counterterrorism Division in the wake of 9/11, but by 2005 he was posing as a driver for a “star witness” in the corruption case of former Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA). He made “inappropriate sexual advances” to that witness and soon was having an “intimate relationship…that he thought could damage an investigation.” He also unsuccessfully solicited the witness for a $75,000 donation to an organization he supported and carried on extramarital affairs with female FBI agents.

And the Los Angeles Times talks a deal:

U.S.-Mexico-Canada talks will focus on strengthening economic ties

Mexico is expected to avoid discussions about its drug-related violence and focus on its oil and gas industry, along with border and immigration issues.

Twenty years after their countries signed a landmark regional trade agreement, the presidents of the United States, Mexico and Canada will meet this week to attempt to strengthen the economic ties envisioned in that pact, correct the omissions and find ways to expand.

Trade and commerce are expected to dominate the agenda when President Obama meets with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts — President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper — in the Mexican city of Toluca, just west of Mexico City, on Wednesday.

Large squads of soldiers and police were patrolling Toluca, the capital of Mexico state, and blocking off major roadways Monday. Schools in the central city were suspending classes. Leftist political parties were planning demonstrations, with several hundred people marching from Mexico City to Toluca.

EUbusiness covers another deal in the making:

EU, US reps meet ahead of free-trade talks

US Trade Ambassador Michael Froman received his European counterpart Karel De Gucht in Washington Monday, preparing for next month’s fourth round of talks on creating the world’s largest free-trade area.

The two sides have been in discussion since last year over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which aims to expand trade, investment and regulatory cooperation between the two huge economies.

Froman and De Gucht spoke briefly to reporters in Washington before two days of closed-door meetings with the EU trade commissioner, meant to take stock of progress made during three past rounds of negotiations, which wrapped up in December.

On to Europe and a call from The Guardian:

Eurozone countries should form United States of Europe, says EC vice-president

  • Viviane Reding calls for full fiscal and political union for 18 eurozone countries but says UK should remain apart

A celebrated call by Winston Churchill for the creation of a “United States of Europe” was revived on Monday by a leading member of the European commission who said the 18 eurozone countries should form a full fiscal and political union.

Viviane Reding, a vice-president of the commission, told Cambridge University’s law faculty that “bold reforms” were needed to avoid tensions across Europe as new governance arrangements were introduced to stabilise the single currency.

A lop-sided take from New Europe:

EU industry: Towards an unbalanced recovery

  • The output of the EU industry remains below the pre-crisis levels

The EU industry lacks of a cohesive growth as according to a report by the European Commission most sectors have still not regained their pre-crisis level of output and significant differences exist between sectors and Member States.

The data for the EU industry shows a mixed picture. The economic output of the manufacturing sector has declined significantly, but important differences between sectors remain. According to the “EU Industrial structure report 2013: Competing in Global Value Chains,” the pharmaceuticals sector has experienced sustained growth since the start of the financial crisis, while high-technology manufacturing industries have, in general, not been impacted to the same extent as other industries.

Moreover, EU manufacturing output indicates significant differences between Member States. Strong recoveries can only be seen in Romania, Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic States, which all regained and exceeded their pre-recession peaks. On the other hand, the EU manufacturing recovery remains below the pre-recession levels in 20 Member States.

Spiegel diagnoses:

The Swiss Virus: Europe Gripped by Immigration Worries

  • The Swiss aren’t the only ones in Europe deeply concerned about immigration. Many across the Continent would also like to see limits placed on newcomers from elsewhere in the EU. Europe must remain firm, but right-wing populists stand to benefit.

Greeks, Italians and French blame economic policy from Brussels for their difficulties. At the same time, Germans and other Northern Europeans are afraid they will ultimately be forced to cough up for EU countries to the south. What some call “reform” and others call “austerity” is driving a wedge between Europeans. And now, the issue of free movement across the EU is being thrown into the discussion because many are concerned they could lose out on the employment market. But questioning the EU principle allowing people to choose where they wish to live and work is akin to questioning the entire European project.

On to Britain and the austerian price of a flooding disaster, via The Guardian:

Thames flood defences among schemes hit by coalition funding cuts

  • Avoidable damage estimated to cost £3bn as projects at Heathrow, Dawlish and Somerset Levels delayed or downsized

Planned defences along the length of the flood-hit Thames Valley were delayed and downsized after government funding cuts following the last election, the Guardian can reveal.

The schemes, totalling millions of pounds, include projects near Heathrow, near David Cameron’s country home in Oxfordshire and in the constituency of the minister who oversaw annual flood budget cuts of almost £100m.

West Drayton, near Heathrow, the scene of significant flooding in west London, was in line for £2.8m of funding to build up concrete and earth bank defences by 2014-15. But following budget cuts, the Arklyn Kennels scheme was downgraded to a £1m scheme and delayed until at least 2018-19.

At Penton Hook, on the Thames near flood-affected Staines in Surrey, a £5.6m dredging scheme was due to be completed by the end of March 2014, but has received just £2m to date. The scheme was also intended to clean up a site where contaminated silt dredged from the river was dumped.

From New Europe, a warning:

Reding: UK would lose influence outside EU

European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding warned that the EU would lose influence outside the EU and that all the talk of opt-out by the British government distracts from the real issue which is to find solutions for the EU economy.

“The truth is, outside the EU, the UK would lose influence. If the UK were to leave the EU, it would no longer be able to influence EU regulation. It would have to live with the rules decided on by the other EU countries,” Reding told an audience in Cambridge on February 17.

“To get access to the Single Market, you have to apply its rules. Just ask the Norwegians. It’s difficult to see why the other Member States would grant the UK unfettered access to their markets without requiring it to apply the EU’s rules,” she added.

The federalist Commissioner also added that the rhetoric of David Cameron’s Conservatives – who want to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership and have promised a referendum on the issue in 2017 should they win the next election – distracts from the real issues facing the bloc.

And from CNNMoney, the latest instance of Banksters Behaving Badly:

Ex-Barclays bankers charged with Libor rigging

Prosecutors have charged three former Barclays bankers in connection with the rigging of global interest rates.

The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office, which prosecutes complex cases of fraud, said Monday that it’s started criminal proceedings against Peter Charles Johnson, Jonathan James Mathew and Stylianos Contogoulas in connection with manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

All three have been charged with conspiring to defraud between June 2005 and August 2007.

Pondering a change of course with the London Telegraph:

Interest rate rise ‘a last resort’ to cool housing market

  • David Miles, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), describes rate rises as a “blunt tool” that will only be used if other policies fail

The Bank of England will only use interest rate rises to cool the housing market if its financial stability toolkit is “not up to the job”, one of its policymakers has said.

David Miles, an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), said rate rises were a “big stick” that would only be used as a last resort.

“We do have, as the last line of defence, the blunt instrument, the big stick of interest rates,” he told Bloomberg TV. “If you did get into a situation where the tools that the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) have seem not up to the job of stopping overheating in the housing market, we would then turn to the blunter instrument of using bank rate.

“We’re a long way from that.”

The Guardian delivers a jeremiad:

New Catholic cardinal renews attack on ‘disgraceful’ UK austerity cuts

  • Roman Catholic archbishop Vincent Nichols, who is to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis, inundated with messages of support

The leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales says he has been inundated with messages of support after branding the government’s austerity programme a disgrace for leaving so many people in destitution.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme to mark his imminent appointment as a cardinal by Pope Francis, Archbishop Vincent Nichols expanded upon his comments to the Telegraph when he criticised the government’s welfare reforms as “punitive”.

“The voices that I hear express anger and despair … Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks,” Nichols said.

In his Telegraph interview, published on Saturday, Nichols accused ministers of tearing apart the safety net that protects people from hunger and destitution. He said since he made those comments he had been “inundated with accounts from people … saying there are indeed many cases where people are left without benefits, without any support, for sometimes weeks on end”.

On to Sweden and a case of that Swiss fever from TheLocal.se:

Roma migrants evicted from Stockholm site

Officials evicted all remaining Romanian migrants from a campsite in southern Stockholm on Monday morning, just days after over 100 campers were given a free bus ride home.

The Swedish Enforcement Agency (Kronofogden) carried out the eviction in Högdalen, a suburb in the southern reaches of Stockholm, at 9am on Monday, just days after a bus load of the campers went home.

“All I know is that it’s more or less empty,” Henrik Brånstad, spokesman at the agency, told the TT news agency. “Many have apparently moved to other places while others have jumped at the chance of a bus ride home to Romania.”

Over 100 EU-migrants accepted the bus tickets home, many of whom had earned money begging in the Swedish capital. One of the buses crashed in southern Sweden on Sunday morning on the way to Bucharest. Only the driver was injured.

Rumbles from the right head to court with TheLocal.se:

First charges filed for Stockholm Nazi attack

Seven people were charged on Monday in the wake of a neo-Nazi attack on anti-racist demonstrators in Stockholm last year. But prosecutors say more indictments are on the way.

Charges were filed on Monday against people who took part in a violent riot in Stockholm’s Kärrtorp suburb in December last year. Four of the suspects were charged with violent rioting (våldsamt upplopp) and hate speech (hets mot folkgrupp) and another three were charged with instigating violent rioting. According to the indictment, several of those charged threw bottles, rocks, and firecrackers.

“There will be more charges filed than just these, altogether there were around 30 people detained after the demonstration,” Ulf Sundström of the Söderort police told the TT news agency.

And TheLocal.se, and a word for the teacher:

Teacher salaries too low in Sweden: OECD

Teacher salaries in Sweden are lower than in countries with higher–performing schools, according to an extra OECD evaluation requested by the government on the heels of Sweden’s dismal performance in the latest Pisa rankings.

“The quality of an education system can never exceed the quality of its teachers,” Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s Deputy Director of Education and Skills, told reporters at a press briefing in Stockholm on Tuesday.

“In higher-performing countries, teachers have higher salaries but also clear career possibilities.”

The analysis, which marks the first time ever that Sweden has asked the OECD for extra help in evaluating its school system, also found that Sweden has relatively high costs per student, with only nine other OECD countries spending more money per pupil.

The Associated Press covers a Norwegian whiner:

Breivik hunger strike threat: wants bigger gym

Convicted Norwegian mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik has threatened to go on hunger strike unless he gets access to better video games, a sofa and a larger gym.

In a letter received by The Associated Press Tuesday, Breivik writes the hunger strike will continue until his demands are met or he dies. Breivik’s lawyer Tord Jordet confirmed the letter was authentic and said his client is waiting for a response from prison authorities before starting the hunger strike.

Breivik is serving a 21-year prison sentence, which can be extended when it expires, for killing 77 people in bomb and gun massacres in 2011.

Among his demands, Breivik wants the lifting of restrictions on communications and improved air conditions. He wants the available PlayStation 2 console replaced by a modern version.

Germany next and a call for a New Deal from Deutsche Welle:

IW think tank urges change in German investment policy

A leading German economic think tank has announced that massive investments in infrastructure are needed so as not to lose out to competitors. The institute found many companies were worried about possible disadvantages.

In its study released Monday, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW) said despite a relatively good infrastructure many companies polled were increasingly worried about a deterioration of the country’s road network.

They also voiced concerns about the future state of the energy grid, with the shift to renewables currently posing enormous problems and a necessary expansion of the network facing community-level resistance.

Companies also worried about broadband Internet connections not being created fast enough in all regions. About two-thirds of the 2,800 firms polled reported that they were already experiencing disadvantages as a result of infrastructure problems.

The research institute calculated that all in all some 120 billion euros ($164.6 billion) would have to be invested into infrastructure over the next 10 years, to be spent evenly on road maintenance and extension, the broadband communications network and the national energy grid, with a major new north-south line.

From TheLocal.de, a cartel cabal busted:

Sugar giants fined €280m for price fixing

German consumers have been paying over the odds for sugar for years, it emerged on Tuesday, when authorities fined Germany’s three biggest sugar firms €280 million for illegally fixing prices.

Pfeiler & Langen, Südzucker and Nordzucker, along with seven unnamed individuals were found to have been fixing prices, sales territories and quotas between them for many years, the Federal Cartel Office in Bonn said.

The three German sugar producers agreed on various strategies between them aimed at pushing up sugar prices across the board, whether they sold to households or the food industry.

The manufacturers agreed “to keep to their traditional sales territories and not get in the way of the other cartel members,” said Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt in a statement.

And Europe Online notes a decline:

German investor confidence posts surprise fall in February

German investor confidence posted a surprise decline in February over concerns of a slowdown in the United States and uncertainties in emerging economies, a key survey showed Tuesday.

The closely watched indicator gauging the mood among analysts and institutional investors slipped to 55.7 from 61.7 in January, the Mannheim-based ZEW institute said.

While Spiegel covers blowback:

Child Porn Investigation: Merkel Cabinet Rife with Suspicion and Mistrust

It is a disastrous start for Angela Merkel’s new government: After details of a child pornography investigation were leaked, a cabinet member was forced to resign. Now, the chancellor’s new cabinet is consumed by backbiting and mistrust.

Deutsche Welle notes another downside to the German miracle:

Study: Eastern Europeans underpaid in Germany

  • Massive poverty-driven migration from Eastern Europe? Recent studies suggest a different situation: More than half of all immigrants from these countries have good credentials, but work for low wages in Germany.

The Employment Agency’s statistics show that a far larger percentage of Eastern Europeans receive low wages than their German counterparts do. In December 2012, around 52 percent were paid low-wage salaries, meaning they earned less than two-thirds of the country’s average income. The share of such workers among Germans makes up just under 20 percent.

At the same time, the educational level of immigrants keeps rising, says Nina Neubecker from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW): “We found that those who moved to Germany after 2004 are considerably more qualified than immigrants from years in the past.”

Neubecker says her research revealed that two thirds of Eastern European immigrants hold a university degree or have completed a vocational training course. She also found that a significant part of Romanians and Bulgarians who moved to Germany after 2007 carry out jobs not requiring their level of education. Depending on the method used, estimates of the proportion of these overqualified immigrant workers range from 40 to 58 percent.

And a call to chill from Deutsche Welle:

Merkel calls on EU to remain calm after controversial Swiss referendum curbing immigration

German Chancellor Merkel has called on EU states to remain calm after a controversial Swiss referendum which limits the number of immigrants within its borders. The comments followed a meeting with the Swiss president.

Chancellor Merkel warned fellow EU members against “rashly breaking” relations with Bern. “It can’t be that because one side did something in one specific area that the other side says nothing works in other areas,” she said, referring to Brussels’ retaliatory moves.

“The challenge will now be that we deal with the results in a way that relations between the European Union and Switzerland remain as intense as possible with respect for the referendum,” Merkel added.

Merkel and Burkhalter also reaffirmed their commitment toward maintaining German-Swiss ties. The current bilateral trade volume is worth roughly 75 billion euros ($103 billion) and some 350,000 Germans are employed in Switzerland.

On to France and a fear from TheLocal.fr:

French TV execs want protection from Netflix

French TV executives have asked to meet with top leaders to plead for “urgent measures” that would guard them against the pending arrival of video service Netflix and tech giants like Google.

The heads of France’s three largest private television networks have asked the government to protect them from US competitors like Google, Apple and Netflix who are set to enter the market.

The bosses of TF1, Canal+ and M6, alarmed by the impending arrival of the American tech giants, have sought a meeting with Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti to discuss “urgent measures” to reform the sector.

“It is not an economic crisis that is being faced by TF1, Canal+ and M6 but a rapid sectoral change,” Nonce Paolini, Bertrand Meheut and Nicolas de Tavernost said in the letter written last week and seen by AFP on Monday.

And another Roma tragedy from TheLocal.fr:

Blaze ravages another Roma camp in France

Fire raged through a Roma camp in Marseille on Sunday, just days after a blaze in a Paris area Roma camp killed an eight-year-old girl. Following that deadly fire the local mayor said it was time France dismantled its slums.

No one was hurt in the latest fire on Sunday morning, but all 15 makeshift homes near the Marseille port were completely destroyed, said the local fire brigade in a statement.

“Preliminary investigations suggest the fire was started accidentally,” a judicial source told AFP.

Around 45 people who were in the camp will now be housed by authorities in a hotel for the next week, but their future is in doubt since the local government was on the verge of evicting them.

Switzerland next and blowback from TheLocal.ch:

EU freezes research and student exchange funds

In a tit-for-tat retaliation, the European Union has frozen research grants for Swiss universities worth hundreds of millions of euros and suspended the involvement of Switzerland in the Erasmus student exchange programme.

A spokesman for the EU announced the freeze on Sunday, a day after after Bern announced it had refused to sign a deal opening labour market access to Croatia, the ATS news agency reported.

The Swiss government said it was unable to ink the deal because of the February 9th referendum decision to scrap the freedom of movement of labour agreement with the EU and impose immigration quotas.

But Brussels considers that Horizon 2020, an €80-billion research and innovation programme spread over seven years (2014-2020), and Erasmus, are tied to the free movement of people accord, ATS said.

More blowback from TheLocal.ch:

Moody’s: Swiss migrant vote ‘credit negative’

Curbs on immigration from the European Union will hurt Switzerland’s economy and its banking sector, ratings agency Moody’s said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Swiss voters on February 9th supported an initiative to reintroduce quotas on immigrants from the EU in a move that has already led to retaliation from the 28-country bloc.

“Limiting immigration is likely to affect the country’s growth potential, wealth and overall economic strength,” Moody’s said, noting that the effect of the vote was “credit negative”.

The agency noted that Switzerland has benefited over the past decade from the “strong inflow of highly qualified workers”.

And from RT, tucked in for the night:

Swiss jets not scrambled over hijacked plane because ‘airbases closed at night’

An incident with a highjacked Ethiopian passenger jet has exposed the Swiss Air Force’s inability to deal with threats in ‘off-duty’ hours. An emergency escort to the aircraft in distress was carried out by vigilant colleagues from Italy and France.

Early on Monday morning, an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot told ground control he had highjacked flight ET-702 from Addis Ababa to Rome and was going to land in Geneva. The Swiss Air Force was caught off guard and missed a rare opportunity to go on a real mission. It turned out that they were unable to scramble any jets because they only work during office hours!

“Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend,” Swiss Air Force spokesman, Laurent Savary, commented to AFP later on, adding that it is “a question of budget and staffing.”

According to Laurent Savary, the Swiss Air Force operates during office hours only, specifically from 8am until a lunch break at noon. A return to cockpits happens at 1:30 pm and they watch over Switzerland’s skies until 5pm.

Spain next, and blowback from anti-immigrant violence of another kind from El País:

Immigration law change in works: interior minister

  • Rajoy defends civil guards’ reaction to tragic Ceuta stampede
  • Brussels denies receiving Spain’s request for border help

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Tuesday announced that the Popular Party (PP) government is preparing a change in the immigration law to help civil guards facing mass attempts by migrants to cross the border into the Spanish North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

“The law is not designed for events such as the stampedes in Ceuta and Melilla,” Fernández Díaz said in the halls of the Senate after a tense session. “It is not the same as controlling the border at Barajas or Melilla [airports]. We are working on a reform to control the borders, so that the Civil Guard has adequate regulations to confront these situations.”

Earlier in the upper house he and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vigorously defended the actions of civil guards at the Ceuta security fence on February 6, when 15 sub-Saharan migrants died as a result of a mass attempt to cross the border during which rubber bullets were fired.

TheLocal.es has a deal for you:

Spain rolls out plans to flog off failed bank

Spain will sell its stake in bailed-out bank Bankia in stages over two or three years, its president said in an interview published on Sunday.

Bankia became the symbol of Spain’s financial crisis when it lost more than €19 billion ($26 billion) in 2012 and pushed the government to ask its eurozone partners for €41 billion in rescue loans to shore up the entire banking system.

Under the terms of the European Union’s 2012 bailout, the Spanish government has until 2017 to sell its 68 percent stake in Bankia.

“It would be reasonable for the privatization process to be similar to what is being carried out with Lloyds. That is, that it be carried out in phases and take two or three years,” Bankia president Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri said in an interview published in daily newspaper ABC.

Europe Online covers another record:

Spain’s public debt at record high

Spain’s public debt has risen to its highest level since records began, data released on Monday showed, with the country posting an unprecedented deficit of 961.6 billion euros (1.3 trillion dollars) at the end of 2013.

The debt level marks an 8.7-per-cent increase on the previous year’s figure, the Bank of Spain revealed on Monday.

It represents around 94 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), which is slightly higher than the Spanish government’s 2013 target of 94.2 per cent.

El País covers departures:

Chinese burned

  • Some Spanish firms are abandoning China because of the problems of doing business there

“The wave of news stories about the rise in the Chinese market is creating a very distorted image of what it means to do business in this country and the risks involved.” This is the opinion of the director of a big Spanish industrial company with a presence in China. The director spoke on the condition that he was not named. “Currently, although the opposite image is given, very few Spanish companies are making a profit in China, and many are having great problems finding room for themselves in a particularly difficult market,” the director says.

Cases such as those of Revlon and Garnier, which this year decided to pull out of China, have shown that such problems are common to all foreign companies, although the idea persists that Spanish firms are finding it particularly difficult because they “lack the right background and financial resources.”

“Many companies are reaching desperation point. Traditional markets are not working and they’re convinced that anyone can make money in China. But they limit themselves to putting an intern in a business center and hoping for results that obviously will never come,” says the director, who is a leading member of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. “The problem of human resources is a major one: they don’t invest enough in personnel, there is a lack of talent and the turnaround in staff is one of the highest in the world.”

On to Lisbon and a caution from the Portugal News:

‘Crisis not over’ – finance minister

Portugal’s finance minister, Maria Luís Albuquerque, said on Monday in Brussels, that one of the country’s biggest challenges was not to be tempted to give up on budget discipline because it felt the worst part of the crisis was over.

Maria Luís Albuquerque, who was speaking at an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) meeting before a Eurogroup meeting, said that “ among the reforms being implemented across Europe, the banking union was clearly the priority for Portugal”, since the current “credit conditions are a very negative factor for the competitiveness of Portuguese companies and the economy as a whole”.

Noting that the structural reforms, one of the topics of the seminar, are also high on the agenda, and there were reasons to be satisfied with the results, but added that there was “still a lot more work ahead”.

Italy next and a change at the top from ANSA:

Renzi handed govt mandate, sets ambitious reform goals

  • Premier-designate eying one major reform every month till May

Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi set ambitious reform targets on Monday after being given a mandate to try to form a government from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Renzi, 39, is set to become Italy’s youngest-ever premier after torpedoing the coalition administration of his PD colleague Enrico Letta last week over his lack of progress with much-needed institutional reforms and measures to revive the troubled economy.

Italy is slowly emerging from its longest postwar recession, but it is still ravaged by unemployment of over 12% with over four in 10 under-25s out of work. Constitutional changes are also needed to streamline government and reduce the cost of the country’s expensive, slow-moving political system.

Les than enthused with TheLocal.it:

Italians think Renzi takeover is ‘pointless’

Matteo Renzi was nominated as Italy’s new prime minister on Monday after a “palace coup” which saw Enrico Letta resign from the leadership. But a new poll has found that few Italians believe it is a positive political move.

Just 31 percent of Italians think replacing Letta with Renzi, who aged just 39 is set to be Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister, is positive, an Ipsos poll on Sunday found.

While 23 percent found the move outright wrong, 26 percent said it was “pointless” while 15 percent found the current situation “absurd”.

Still more enthusiasm absent from ANSA:

Fitch keeps outlook negative, ‘Renzi faces same problems’

  • Letta’s resignation highlights ‘volatility of Italian politics’

Ratings agency Fitch said Monday it was keeping a negative outlook for Italy with a BBB+ rating, saying premier-designate Matteo Renzi “will probably have the same problems as his predecessor” in pushing through reforms if he manages to form a new government.

Fitch said the resignation of outgoing Premier Enrico Letta on Friday highlighted the “volatility of Italian politics” pointing out that Renzi was set to be the country’s fourth premier since November 2011.

A plutocratic spat from the London Telegraph:

Tycoons quarrel over Italy’s young jobless

  • Two of Italy’s business heavyweights have gone to war over the country’s soaring levels of youth unemployment
  • Italy’s youth unemployment reached a record 41.6pc in January

Diego Della Valle, head of the Tod’s luxury leather goods empire, launched a blistering attack on John Elkann, the president of the Fiat auto giant, after Mr Elkann said Italy’s young unemployed had no desire to look for work.

Mr Della Valle, the colourful entrepreneur known for his exuberant ties and gold-tinted spectacles, labelled Mr Elkann an “imbecile” after a week of bitter exchanges between the two.

Unhappy other from TheLocal.it:

Desperate business owners march on Rome

An estimated 60,000 Italians protested in central Rome on Tuesday, calling for greater action to save the millions of small- and medium-sized businesses which employ almost half the country’s workforce.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on Tuesday; a collective army of business owners demanding the government do more to stem the worrying rise in bankruptcies.

“Without business there is no Italy,” was the slogan of the day, organized by the Italian Enterprise Network (Rete Imprese Italia) along with a number of business associations.

Among a series of demands was an overhaul of the tax system, often described as a barrier to growth with such high rates many Italians simply evade their tax duties.

After the jump, the latest on the endless Greek crises, violence in the Ukraine, Turkish joblessness rising, Turkish economic alarms, Venezuelan turmoil, troubles in Brazil, Argentinian woes, Latin legalization moves, Australian economic woes and a Murdochian bonanza, Indian populism and woes, Thai turmoil, a mixed report from China, Abenonics in extremsis in Japan, nuclear woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, leaks, lies, zones


Today’s tales form thw world of spooks, hackers, militarists, and politics begins with an honor for The Guardian:

Journalists who broke NSA story in Guardian receive George Polk Awards

  • Ewen MacAskill, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras honoured
  • Polk curator: repercussions of NSA ‘will be with us for years’

The three journalists who broke the National Security Agency revelations from Edward Snowden in the Guardian are among the recipients of the prestigious 2013 George Polk Awards in Journalism.

Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras will receive the award for national security reporting, along with Barton Gellman of the Washington Post.

Janine Gibson, Guardian US editor-in-chief, said: “We’re honoured by the recognition from the Polk awards and delighted for Ewen, Glenn, Laura, Barton and their colleagues that their work has been recognised.

And a related story from The Guardian:

Press freedom groups urge David Cameron to lay off The Guardian

A group of the world’s leading press freedom bodies is calling on prime minister David Cameron to distance himself from the investigation into The Guardian over the leaks by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The seven organisations also want Cameron to urge parliament to repeal the statute that underlies the royal charter on press regulation.

Signatories to a letter sent to Cameron today include the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

The decision to write to Cameron was taken at the annual meeting of the global coordinating committee of press freedom organisations, which took place in London last month. It followed what the signatories call an “unprecedented” fact-finding mission to Britain by WAN-IFRA.

From the International Business Times, intimidation by proxy:

Edward Snowden’s Lawyer Claims Harassment from Heathrow Airport Border Police

Jesselyn Radack, a human rights lawyer representing Edward Snowden, has claimed that she was detained and questioned in a “very hostile” manner on Saturday by London Heathrow Airport’s Customs staff.

Radack told civil liberties blog Firedoglake that she was taken to a room to be questioned by a Heathrow Border Force officer who showed very little interest in her passport documents but subjected her to questioning about whistle-blowers Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.

The 43-year-old lawyer was formerly an ethics advisor to the United States Department of Justice, who became a whistle-blower herself after disclosing an ethics violation made by the FBI in their interrogation of “American Taliban” suspect John Walker Lindh in 2001.

And The Guardian confers an honor:

Edward Snowden elected as Glasgow University rector

  • Students choose NSA whistleblower over cyclist, author and clergyman in record turnout for rectoral election

Students have elected the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to serve as rector of the University of Glasgow for the next three years.

The result of the online election was announced to candidates and their supporters shortly after polls closed at 5pm on Tuesday.

Snowden was nominated by a group of students at the university who said they had received his approval through his lawyer. Snowden is staying in Russia where he was given temporary asylum.

From TheLocal.fr, European blowback:

‘European internet’ plan to prevent US spying

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss the concept of creating a European Internet when she meets French President François Hollande this week. Her proposal is aimed at preventing US intelligence agencies from being able to intercept data.

Hollande and Merkel will discuss the proposal of creating a European internet when the pair hold talks in Paris on Wednesday.

Germany has been rocked by the revelations of former security contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed a mass spying programme by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

More from Spiegel:

Striking Back: Germany Considers Counterespionage Against US

  • Unsatisfied with the lack of answers provided by Washington in the NSA spying scandal, officials in Berlin are considering a new approach. Germany might begin counterespionage measures aimed at allies.

The question seemed out of place, especially when asked three times. A female journalist from a satire magazine wanted to know if Thomas de Maizière liked cheese snacks. “Questions like that are more appropriate for breakfast television than here,” the minister snipped back. It was de Maizière’s first visit as interior minister to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. And he was in no mood for jokes.

Instead, the minister preferred to focus on the basics during the appearance two weeks ago, with counterespionage at the top of his list. The issue, he warned, shouldn’t be underestimated, adding that the question as to who was doing the spying was but of secondary importance.

In other words: Germany intends to defend itself against all spying efforts in the future, even if they are perpetrated by supposed friends.

A graphic take from China Daily’s Li Feng:

BLOG NSA China

And another target of Angela’s ire via TheLocal.de:

Merkel targets Facebook in Euro-web privacy push

Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed plans for a “European internet” independent of America and targeted US internet giants Facebook and Google in her push for more privacy.

Merkel mentioned the two US companies in her weekly podcast on Saturday as an example of companies which circumnavigate German data protection laws.

Germany has been rocked by the revelations of former security contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed a mass spying programme by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

By creating a “European internet” all servers and cables would be based in Europe meaning they would be subject to European data protection laws.

“Google or Facebook can naturally go where privacy is at its lowest and we in Europe cannot approve this in the long run,” Merkel said.

From Ars Technica, a sad tale of underutilized hysteria:

Clapper: We should have disclosed NSA bulk data collection in 2001

  • Intelligence chief says program would have seen support in the wake of 9/11 attacks.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has admitted that the National Security Agency should have disclosed more about the bulk data collection that it has engaged in for more than a decade. He made the surprising statements in an interview with The Daily Beast.

The bulk data program is designed to collect certain information on all US phone calls, although there have been recent disagreements about how much cell phone data is swept up. In the interview, Clapper said the controversy could have been avoided if more information about the program was disclosed at its outset, back in 2001. He suggests the public, still shaken from the 9/11 attacks, would have been on board with such a program.

The Guardian offers a rationale:

Merkel phone tapping fair game under international law, says ex-MI6 deputy

  • Nigel Inkster says interception of German chancellor’s calls by NSA might be judged ‘politically unwise’

Intercepting the telephone calls of Angela Merkel would have been “politically unwise” and “certainly illegal under German law”, according to a former senior British secret intelligence officer.

However, he says that under international law, tapping into the German chancellor’s telephone conversations “would appear to be fair game”.

Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of MI6, was responding to the disclosure by Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency targeted Merkel’s mobile telephone. Though the White House has not officially admitted it, it has said the US will not monitor the chancellor’s conversations in future.

And the latest Snowden lead, via The Intercept:

Snowden Documents Reveal Covert Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Supporters

Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.

The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.

One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.

Another classified document from the U.S. intelligence community, dated August 2010, recounts how the Obama administration urged foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.

And the target speaks, via RT:

‘Reckless & unlawful’: Assange calls for probe into NSA ‘manhunt’ on WikiLeaks

Julian Assange has called on the White House to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate NSA spying on WikiLeaks. Secret documents have revealed how the NSA spied on WikiLeaks and its followers, seeking to classify it as “a malicious foreign actor.”

In its latest release of US government documents, WikiLeaks has accused the National Security Agency of tracking its members and followers. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has called the NSA’s espionage program “reckless and illegal” and has demanded Washington open an investigation into the claims.

“News that the NSA planned these operations at the level of its Office of the General Counsel is especially troubling,” Assange said in a statement on WikiLeaks’ website. “Today, we call on the White House to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the extent of the NSA’s criminal activity against the media, including WikiLeaks, its staff, its associates and its supporters.”

The Hill desists:

NSA, DHS drop parody complaint

It isn’t illegal to print the National Security Agency’s (NSA) official seal above the words “Spying On You Since 1952″ on a novelty mug, the agency acknowledged on Tuesday.

The NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are abandoning their protests against a line of mugs, hats and shirts that mock official government insignia, settling a lawsuit filed by the consumer interest group Public Citizen on behalf of Dan McCall, a Minnesota activist who sold products poking fun at the government.

“This is an important win,” said Paul Levy, a Public Citizen lawyer involved in the case, in a statement on Tuesday. “Citizens shouldn’t have to worry whether criticizing government agencies will get them in trouble or not. This settlement proves the First Amendment is there to protect citizens’ rights to free speech.”

McCall’s site, LibertyManiacs.com, sold bumper stickers, shirts, hats and other goods featuring a series of parody images. One graphic featured the DHS seal with the words “Department of Homeland Stupidity.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau sources:

Report: Cyberattack on German government traced to China

Hackers attempted to take control of senior German government officials’ computers last year and the source has been traced to China, the news magazine Der Spiegel said Sunday.

Emails infected with a virus were sent to officials in several ministries and to banks in September, just before G-20 nations including China met for a summit in St Petersburg, Russia.

One of the emails pretended to contain an exchange of information among economic advisers known as “sherpas,” the officials below the rank of minister who conduct most of the negotiations in advance of summits.

A well-considered rationale from Slate:

Why the NSA Should Keep Holding On to Surveillance Data

  • Let the NSA Keep Hold of the Data
  • Giving it to private companies will only make privacy intrusion worse.

I think the proposal makes things worse in several respects.

First, the NSA is going to do a better job at database security than corporations are. I say this not because the NSA has any magic computer security powers, but because it has more experience at it and is better funded. (And, yes, that’s true even though Edward Snowden was able to copy so many of their documents.) The difference is of degree, not of kind. Both options leave the data vulnerable to insider attacks—more so in the case of a third-party data repository because there will be more insiders. And although neither will be perfect, I would trust the NSA to protect my data against unauthorized access more than I would trust a private corporation to do the same.

Second, there’s the greater risk of authorized access. This is the risk that the Review Group is most concerned about. The thought is that if the data were in private hands, and the only legal way at the data was a court order, then it would be less likely for the NSA to exceed its authority by making bulk queries on the data or accessing more of it than it is allowed to. I don’t believe that this is true. Any system that has the data outside of the NSA’s control is going to include provisions for emergency access, because … well, because the word terrorism will scare any lawmaker enough to give the NSA that capability. Already the NSA goes through whatever legal processes it and the secret FISA court have agreed to. Adding another party into this process doesn’t slow things down, provide more oversight, or in any way make it better. I don’t trust a corporate employee not to turn data over for NSA analysis any more than I trust an NSA employee.

On the corporate side, the corresponding risk is that the data will be used for all sorts of things that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. If corporations are forced by governments to hold on to customer data, they’re going to start thinking things like: “We’re already storing this personal data on all of our customers for the government. Why don’t we mine it for interesting tidbits, use it for marketing purposes, sell it to data brokers, and on and on and on?” At least the NSA isn’t going to use our personal data for large-scale individual psychological manipulation designed to separate us from as much money as possible—which is the business model of companies like Google and Facebook.

The Independent beams:

Star Wars to become reality as US Navy on course to arm ship with laser

Some of the US Navy’s futuristic weapons sound like something out of Star Wars, with lasers designed to shoot down aerial drones and electric guns that fire projectiles at hypersonic speeds.

The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship later this year, and it intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within two years.

For the Navy, it’s not so much about the whizz-bang technology as it is about the economics. Both are cheap compared with missiles and smart bombs, and they can be fired continuously.

“It fundamentally changes the way we fight,” said Captain Mike Ziv, programme manager for directed energy and electric weapon systems for the Naval Sea Systems Command. The Navy’s laser technology has evolved to the point where a prototype to be deployed aboard the USS Ponce this summer can be operated by a single sailor, he said.

After the jump, the latest in the Asian zonal, militarism, and historical crises, a stealthy spyware infestation, automotive espionage, the total tab $200 million] for the Target hack, a digital assault targeting an online tollbooth, A Dutch spookshop takedown, and another kind of war on the press. . . Continue reading

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


We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of spooks and “security” with European Edward Snowden blowback by way of SecurityWeek:

Germany to Beef Up Spy Defenses Against Allies: Report

Germany plans to beef up its counterintelligence tactics against allied countries in response to revelations of widespread US spying, Der Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.

The weekly said the German government was considering deploying its own agents to keep tabs on Western secret services and embassies on German soil including those of the United States and also Britain.

It said the domestic intelligence service aimed to glean precise information about foreign spies using diplomatic cover and technical equipment at diplomatic missions used to snoop on German officials and the country’s citizens.

“This step would be an about-face from the decades-long practice of systematically monitoring the activities of countries such as China, Russia and North Korea but rarely the activities of Western partners,” Spiegel said.

Here’s more in the form of a video report from Deutsche Welle in which Germany’s top counterspy — Hans-Georg Maaßen, president of the German Domestic Intelligence Service — has curious things to say:

German Response on NSA Spying Scandal

On the side of the pond, obfuscation, via The Hill:

NSA reform stalls in committee

  • Legislation to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs has stalled in the House and Senate.

More than 130 House lawmakers in both parties have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation that would prevent the NSA from collecting bulk records about people’s phone calls. In the Senate, companion legislation has won 20 co-sponsors.

Both bills, however, have been stuck in their chambers’ respective Judiciary Committees since October, and committee aides say there are no plans to move them soon.

In the House, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) seems to be waiting for the Obama administration to take a formal position on the USA Freedom Act, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), before scheduling a markup.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to see what recommendations Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence leaders make by a March 28 deadline set by President Obama.

And from The Guardian, the latest Snowden revelation:

Australia spied on Indonesia talks with US law firm in 2013

  • New Edward Snowden documents show ASD listened to Indonesian government talks and shared what they learned with US
  • Australia and the US share access to bulk Indonesian telecommunications data, including those of Indonesian officials
  • Australian spies have obtained 1.8 million encrypted master keys from an Indonesian telecommunications company and decrypted almost all
  • US mentored Australia to break encryption codes of the PNG army

Australia spied on Indonesia and shared the information with the United States when the two countries were involved in a trade dispute in February 2013, a new document from whistleblower Edward Snowden shows.

Australia listened in on the communications of an unnamed American law firm which was representing Indonesia in the discussions and passed the information to the National Security Agency, according to a document obtained by the New York Times.

It is unclear what the discussions were about – but two trade disputes around that time were about the importation of clove cigarettes and shrimp, says the paper.

And the response from Down Under via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australia says spying “for the benefit of our friends”

  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday his government used intelligence material “for the benefit of our friends” and “to uphold our values” following fresh reports it spied on Indonesia.

Abbott refused to confirm the report, also based on Snowden-leaked material, that the Australian Signals Directorate listened in on trade talks between the Indonesians and their US lawyers and offered information gleaned to the US National Security Agency.

“We never comment on operational intelligence matters, that has been the long-standing practice of all Australian governments of both political persuasions,” Abbott told reporters.

However, Abbott observed that Australia did not “use anything that we gather as part of our ordinary security and intelligence operations to the detriment of other countries.”

“We use it for the benefit of our friends. We use it to uphold our values,” he said.

More reaction from one of the targets, also via The Guardian:

Indonesia: Australia and US need to clean up their mess

  • Presidential adviser responds to ‘perplexing revelation’ that ASD spied on a law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute

New documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute and offered the information to America, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Indonesian presidential adviser and spokesman on foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said the president had been advised of the revelations by foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

“Indeed, it is another perplexing revelation of spying toward Indonesia’s national interest,” he told Guardian Australia via text message.

“I wonder what more Snowden has in store? Therefore, it is the responsibility of countries (US & Australia) engaged in this complicity to clean up the mess, to salvage their bilateral relations with Indonesia.”

And the result, again from The Guardian:

Australia and Indonesia are now in ‘open conflict’, says Tanya Plibersek

  • Dressing down of ambassador over ‘unacceptable’ border protection policies a matter of enormous concern

Australia and Indonesia were now in “open conflict” and repairing the “worsening” relationship was imperative, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said on Saturday.

After Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta Greg Moriarty was reportedly called into the country’s foreign affairs ministry for a “dressing down” over the Abbott government’s border protection policies, Plibersek said it was crucial the government acted now to settle the rocky relationship.

“It’s absolutely vital that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop get on with repairing the relationship with Indonesia,” she said.

And to those other Asian border, militarism, and shifting alliance stories, first from South China Morning Post:

Top US envoy John Kerry fails to make headway over sea disputes in Beijing

  • Only result of Beijing visit was a commitment to seek greater co-operation on climate change

US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to China without any breakthroughs on two matters at the top of his agenda – sovereignty tensions in the East Sea and the South China Sea.

The only solid outcome of the trip came in a joint statement issued by the two governments yesterday that vowed closer co-operation on climate change.

Shi Yinhong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said: “Kerry’s China visit only provided an opportunity for both sides to make clear their differences on these issues.”

Jin Canrong, with the same university, said it was expected no consensus on regional issues would be reached during the trip. Instead, the visit was important for Beijing and Washington to prepare for an upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama at a nuclear security summit at The Hague late next month.

And another endorsement from the Pentagon for Japan’s newly aggressive militarism this time from Want China Times:

US-Japan amphibious joint exercises slated for 2014 Rim of Pacific

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, the de facto army of Japan, will participate in amphibious joint exercises with the United States Marine Corps at the 2014 Rim of the Pacific off Hawaii between June and August, reports Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

This year’s joint naval exercise, the 24th since the US Marines began holding them bi-annually since 1971, will involve 20,000 soldiers, 30 vessels and 100 jets from more than 10 countries including China, Australia and South Korea.

While Japan has participated numerous times in the past, Tokyo has usually sent the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to join in anti-pirate or disaster rescue exercises. Analysts believe the decision to send ground forces to participate in amphibious joint exercises with the US is aimed at developing combat techniques and gaining experience as Japan’s ground forces plan to develop a new amphibious force before 2018.

The amphibious force plans to be eventually eqipped with US-made Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, amphibious armored vehicles and large amphibious assault ships, but for now it will try and learn from US forces and gain valuable operational experience, Sankei Shimbuns said.

Yet another American endorsement from Kyodo News:

Japan eyes boosting ground troop communications with U.S. military

Japan plans to boost communications between its Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. military using smartphone-type terminals, a Japanese Defense Ministry source said Sunday.

The Japanese government will create prototype software from April with the aim of fully rolling it out in fiscal 2018, the source said.

The move is in line with efforts to more closely coordinate operations between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. troops, at a time Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to move forward discussions on allowing Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally such as the United States if it is attacked.

Want China Times covers Chinese anxiety:

Beijing slams US Navy official for ‘aiding Philippines’ remarks

China’s government on Friday slammed a US Navy official’s remarks concerning the South China Sea and asked the United States to keep its position neutral on territorial disputes between China and the Philippines.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, commander of the US Navy, said on Thursday that his country will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of any conflict with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the remarks at a regular press briefing. She said China has repeatedly expressed its firm position on the disputes and will address the issue through discussions and negotiations directly with concerned parties.

As a bilateral arrangement, the US-Philippines alliance should not undermine the interests of third parties, Hua said.

And a demand from the China Post:

Kerry presses China to ease Internet controls

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday he urged Chinese leaders to support Internet freedom and promised to look into whether American companies help Beijing curb access to online material.

“Obviously, we think that Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the internet,” Kerry said at a meeting with bloggers following talks with Chinese leaders.

Kerry met earlier with President Xi Jinping and other senior officials to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to refocusing U.S. foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific. He urged Beijing to convince neighboring North Korea to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

During the 40-minute meeting Saturday, the bloggers appealed to Kerry to support Chinese human rights activists and freer use of the Internet.

After the jump, more on the ever-shifting Asian security crises [including rebukes, recriminations, and a meeting of old enemies], plus an Israeli deal to sell arms to Iran [really] an Icelandic leak probe, George Washington, spookfather, and cyber-stalking in the cereal aisle. . . Continue reading

Please, send us to a Norwegian prison. Now!


You’ll see why such a fate could be appealing to, say, an unemployed member of a dying vocation like, say, journalism, in this clip from RT:

Sing Sing: Norway jail with music studio, cooking classes

Program notes:

In Norway some criminals may loose their right to freedom but not jogging trails, salmon steaks and flat-screen televisions. 252 million dollars in the making of one jail resting in a tranquil forest place law-breakers in conditions many would consider a blessing rather than a punishment. RT’s Egor Piskunov reports.

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


Welcome to the world of the dark side, where the walls have ears, the cloaks have daggers, and lots of things go bump in the night.

We open with some numbers from PCWorld:

NSA protest results in tens of thousands of phone calls, emails

Organizers of The Day We Fight Back, a protest Tuesday against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, called the effort a “tremendous success,” with nearly 100,000 phone calls made to U.S. lawmakers and 185,000 people signing up to send email blasts to their congressional representatives.

Participants in the protest made 96,000 calls to Congress, although 7,000 of those calls weren’t delivered because lawmakers turned voice mail services off, organizers said. Organizers will deliver 555,000 email messages protesting the NSA surveillance to lawmakers, with emails going to the two U.S. senators and one representative who represent each of the 185,000 people who signed up for the email blasts.

Another 245,000 people signed a petition calling for the end to mass surveillance, and participating websites showed a protest banner ad 37 million times during the day, with about two-thirds of those ads delivered in the U.S., organizers said.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, called the protest a big success. Organizers will continue to push for changes in NSA surveillance, he said.

Threat Level covers the loathesome:

How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

And from The Guardian, yet another challenge raised:

Rights groups begin UK court challenge over mass surveillance

  • Full hearing at investigatory powers tribunal scheduled for July into legality of programmes including Tempora and Prism

The extent of the intelligence services’ bulk interception of online communications came under scrutiny for the first time in a British courtroom on Friday.

Lawyers for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ faced challenges brought by nearly a dozen British and international civil liberties groups over the legality of US and UK digital surveillance programmes, including Tempora, Prism and Upstream.

Claims that the mass collection, storage and analysis of emails and electronic messages are illegal were made at the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which adjudicates on complaints against the intelligence services and surveillance by government bodies.

The government, adopting a “neither confirm nor deny” approach, is responding to allegations about the programmes on a hypothetical premise. The case follows a series of reports published in the Guardian last year based on revelations by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

And one more step contemplated from the European Parliament:

NSA snooping: MEPs table proposals to protect EU citizens’ privacy

The European Parliament should withhold its consent to an EU-US trade deal unless it fully respects EU citizens’ data privacy, says an inquiry report on US National Security Agency (NSA) and EU member states surveillance of EU citizens, approved by the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday. It adds that data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US.

The text, passed by 33 votes to 7 with 17 abstentions, condemns the “vast, systemic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information”, adding that “the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programmes”.

“We now have a comprehensive text that for the first time brings together in-depth recommendations on Edward Snowden’s allegations of NSA spying and an action plan for the future. The Civil Liberties Committee inquiry came at a crucial time, along with Snowden´s allegations and the EU data protection regulation. I hope that this document will be supported by the full Parliament and that it will last beyond the next European Parliament’s mandate”, said rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), after the vote.

A bemused response from RT:

Former German chancellor surprised that NSA continued to spy on Merkel

The former chancellor of Germany now says he was surprised to hear that the United States National Security Agency, or NSA, spied on his country’s current head of government after he left office almost a decade ago.

Earlier this month, NSA documents showed that the spy agency conducted surveillance operations starting in 2002 that targeted Gerhard Schröder during his term as chancellor.

Schröder told reporters at the time that he wasn’t surprised about the operation, which was made public due to documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During an event in Berlin on Thursday this week, however, the former chancellor said he didn’t expect the NSA to continue monitoring his office after he ended his tenure in 2005.

Also from Germany via Homeland Security News Wire, security lucre:

German IT industry hopes to benefit from NSA leaks-inspired distrust of U.S. tech companies

The German IT sector is hoping to benefit from trust lost in American technology firms in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The German government is looking to develop Internet security initiatives, with government departments vying with each other for a lead role. Both inside and outside the German government a proposal, known as “Schengen Routing,” is advanced which calls for data originated in Europe to be processed and stored within Europe. Critics warn that plans to create a European routing system could affect the openness of the Internet.

News that some American technology and communications firms gave the National Security Agency (NSA) access to consumer records has alarmed Americans, but also non-Americans who rely on these companies for data storage. According to market analysts James Staten of Forrester Research, American firms could lose up to $180 billion in turnover by 2016 due to distrust from customers.

And another German tale from TheLocal.de:

Child porn scandal: Minister quits over leak

The first minister of Germany’s new cabinet resigned on Friday. Hans-Peter Friedrich came under fire when it emerged he passed on information to a party chief about an MP suspected of possessing naked photos of children.

Agriculture Minister Friedrich (CSU) said earlier on Friday that he would only step down if the state prosecutor opened an investigation into him over his former role as interior minister.

He gave information to Social Democrat (SPD) leader, Sigmar Gabriel, that one of the SPD’s leading politicians, Sebastian Edathy, possessed inappropriate images of boys.

But on Friday afternoon news agency DPA quoted government sources who stated that Friedrich would step down anyway. He has been under pressure from the opposition, who claim he breached official secrecy by providing the SPD with information about the Edathy case.

The Daily Dot outsources:

NSA seeking private company to store its massive collection of metadata

Do you have a some data storage space lying around that you’re not using? Like a lot of space? Enough to, let’s say, handle all of the information gathered from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) telephone metadata collection program? If so, do we have a deal for you.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the body managing all of the United States’ spying activities, put out a request for information (RFI) looking to determine if there are any commercially available systems offered by private companies capable of holding all of its phone metadata.

Metadata collected from cell phone calls includes things like the phone number of each caller, the unique serial numbers of the physical devices involved, the time and duration of the call, the precise geographic location of the callers, and if any calling cards used to make the connection.

The government is looking for systems that can provide intelligence agencies instantaneous access to the data, ensure that the data is completely secure to outside penetration, and make it so no data is provided to the agencies in question ?unless in response to an authorized query.”

And from Defense One, how Tweet it is:

Secret Military Contractors Will Soon Mine Your Tweets

The Army wants a contractor to conduct detailed social media data mining to “identify violent extremist influences” around the world that could affect the European Command, responsible for operations in Europe as well as Iceland, Israel, Greenland and Russia.

Though the project is classified Secret, an Army contract shop in Europe posted a wealth of information on the FedBizOps contract website Tuesday.

The data mining contract, which has the very long title of “Social Media Data-mining, Localized Research, Market Audience Analysis, and Narrowcast Engagement Requirements,” will support both the European Command and Special Operations Command Europe.

In its request for information, the Army said it wants a contractor to “provide detailed social media research and analysis, on-the-ground native research and analysis, and customized social media website development and execution.”  This will include open source information, “detailed social media data-mining, social media monitoring and analysis, target audience analysis, media kit development and social media platform operations.”

And a case of security enhanced from MercoPress:

Colombian peace process makes headway before presidential elections

The Colombian government and FARC guerrilla negotiators said that they had made progress toward an agreement on combating illegal drug trafficking, a sign that peace talks were making headway before elections.

The joint statement by President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said there had been “advances” in the negotiations, the latest round of which concluded on Thursday. The talks are due to resume on Feb. 24.

“We have been working nonstop throughout this round of conversations and we have started building agreements on the point ‘solving the illicit drugs problem,’” the statement said.

After the jump, shifting patterns and alliances in Asian geopolitical and historical crises, a nuclear blast from the past, Bing’s peculiar censorship, Indian book banning, rampant censorship in Greece, hacking alert ignored, and sympathy for the devil. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: MegaloEconoPoliFuku


A verrryyyy long collection, with the latest global economic, political, and environmental news for your perusal.

First up, playing monopoly with Sky News:

Comcast To Buy Time Warner Cable For $45bn

The deal would create an entertainment superpower with 32 million TV subscribers, but there are calls for regulators to step in.

The two biggest US cable companies are joining forces in a $45bn (£27bn) deal, creating an entertainment giant with some 32 million TV subscribers.

Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable was confirmed at the start of trading on Thursday.

Its offer, which is subject to regulatory approval, is about 17% higher than the company’s closing share price on Wednesday.

The takeover bid trumps an earlier $38bn (£23bn) offer from Charter Communications, which appeared to concede defeat by announcing: “We’ve always maintained our greatest opportunity to create value for shareholders is by executing our current business plan.”

More from Business Insider:

What’s in it for Comcast Cable shareholders?

“This combination creates a company that delivers maximum value for our shareholders,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

How are they going to do that?

The company explains in one sentence that probably has every Comcast and Time Warner Cable employee nervous.

“The transaction will generate approximately $1.5 billion in operating efficiencies and will be accretive to Comcast’s free cash flow per share while preserving balance sheet strength.”

“Operating efficiencies” usually means the closing and combining offices, which also often comes with job cuts.

Still more from The Guardian:

Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable ‘will throttle choice on the web’

  • Angry consumer groups say proposed $45.2bn mega-deal will drive up costs for millions – and call on FCC to block takeover

Consumer groups reacted angrily to the merger of cable giant Comcast and Time Warner Cable on Thursday, claiming the combination could “throttle” choice on the internet.

Comcast’s proposed $45.2bn takeover of TWC will create a media behemoth that will dominate broadband internet access across the US. Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, will also cement its position as the pre-eminent force in cable TV.

Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at consumer rights group Public Knowledge said: “This is a deal that needs to be blocked.” She said Comcast was likely to use the extra leverage to “drive up costs and reduce choices for consumers.”, and claimed the new company would be too powerful, becoming a “gatekeeper” capable of “throttling competition.”

And from In These Times, a symbolic action taken years too late:

It’s Official: Obama Signs Minimum Wage Hike for Some Federal Contract Workers

Today, President Barack Obama honored his promise from last month’s State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage for some workers indirectly employed by the federal government. In a new executive order, he raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. The White House estimates the order will affect hundreds of thousands of workers employed by private companies with government contracts.

“Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty,” Obama said during a signing ceremony at the White House. He used the ceremony to repeat his calls for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers and for state and local governments and private businesses to also act to boost the income of low-wage workers.

Labor groups and union supporters reported they were pleased with the final shape of the executive order.

From The Hill, reversing idiocy:

Senate reverses pension cut

The Senate on Wednesday sent legislation to President Obama’s desk that would repeal the controversial $6 billion cut to military pensions.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in a 95-3 vote, undoing the spending cut that Congress had approved two months prior in the December budget deal.

The only senators to vote against the bill were Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

The legislation passed in the House just a day earlier in a 326-90 vote.

From MintPress News, necessary action:

Justice Department Sued Over Secretive JPMorgan Settlement

The agreement settled both “actual and potential” civil claims against the company brought by five federal agencies and several state attorneys general, thus offering broad immunity for years.

A public interest group is suing the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder over the agency’s recent record-busting settlement with JPMorgan Chase for the bank’s fraudulent conduct leading up to the 2007-08 bursting of the housing bubble and subsequent meltdown of the financial industry.

Better Markets, a watchdog group based here, alleges that the Justice Department broke both federal law and constitutional mandate when it agreed to and finalized the $13 billion settlement in November. The agreement process, reportedly decided upon personally by Holder and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, included no judicial oversight, despite what critics say are multiple statutory obligations to do so.

“There are certain statutes regarding certain violations of law that expressly state that the Department of Justice must seek court approval, and then there are others where it’s silent,” Dennis Kelleher, the head of Better Markets, told MintPress while announcing the lawsuit on Monday.

CNBC frets:

Wealthy more worried about being seen as wealthy

  • Is success being vilified in America? The successful seem to think so.

A new poll from American Express Publishing and Harrison Group finds that 1 percenters no longer like to be seen as such.

One-third of members of the group said they “like it when others recognize me as wealthy.” Though that number (taken in the fourth quarter of 2013) may sound high, it’s down from 40 percent a year earlier. And it’s far below the 53 percent who agreed with the statement in 2010.

Fully 28 percent say they worry about “being scorned for being in the top part of the economy,” versus 24 percent who were concerned about that in the first quarter of 2013.

From USA TODAY, that old hard times intolerance [the first of several in today’s compendium]:

Immigration debate is reignited in Fremont, Neb.

Voters in Fremont, Neb., are still trying to curb illegal immigration.

Residents voted 60%-40% on Tuesday to re-approve an ordinance that requires property owners not to rent houses or apartments to illegal immigrants and requires renters to declare their legal residency. Landlords who violate the ordinance face fines.

Fremont has a complicated history with the ordinance, which thrust this city of 26,000 people near Omaha into the national spotlight in 2010, when residents first approved the law after the City Council defeated the proposal. The law also requires employers to verify the legal status of employees; that part of the law is in effect.

After voters approved the measure, the City Council put the law on hold when the Nebraska ACLU and other groups sued. Lower courts upheld the law, and the council sent the housing portion back for another vote of the people.

Al Jazeera America protests:

Portland, Ore., residents tell mayor: ‘Stop arresting homeless people’

Residents of Portland, Ore., gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday to protest the government’s treatment of its homeless population. The group, a self-described “angry mob,” carried pitchforks and torches while demanding that Mayor Charlie Hales end policies that criminalize homelessness.

The city government has come under fire in recent months for enforcing an ordinance that prohibits camping on public property, which critics say unfairly targets the homeless.

A 2013 city count found nearly 1,900 individuals in the Portland metropolitan area to be homeless and unsheltered, a 10 percent increase from 2011.

From PandoDaily, paying the piper:

The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS’s news division

On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on  major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.

However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.

In recent years, Arnold has been using massive contributions to politicians, Super PACs, ballot initiative efforts, think tanks and local front groups to finance a nationwide political campaign aimed at slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. His foundation which backs his efforts employs top Republican political operatives, including the former chief of staff to GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX). According to its own promotional materials, the Arnold Foundation is pushing lawmakers in states across the country “to stop promising a (retirement) benefit” to public employees.

Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts. (note: the term “PBS officials” refers interchangeably to both PBS officials and officials from PBS flagship affiliate WNET who were acting on behalf of the entire PBS system).

United Press International sues:

Magazines sue Colorado over marijuana advertising restrictions

Two publications are challenging Colorado’s recreational marijuana rules about advertising, with a lawsuit filed in federal court, records said.

The national magazine High Times and the local weekly magazine Westword sued the state of Colorado Monday because of rules stating recreational marijuana stores can advertise only in publications aimed at a readership over the age of 21, the Denver Post reported Wednesday.

The lawsuit argues the rules, which also apply to outdoor and broadcast advertising, are restrictions of free speech, and notes there are no similar restrictions on medical marijuana businesses.

It marks the first time the state’s advertising rules have been challenged in court.

From MintPress News, a stunning development:

HIV/AIDS Cure May Be Found In Marijuana: Study

For years, many Americans with HIV/AIDS have used medical marijuana to relieve some common symptoms associated with the illness such as nausea, vomiting and appetite loss.

Now, a new study published last week in the journal AIDS Researcher and Human Retroviruses found that a daily dosage of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, may actually fight the HIV/AIDS virus itself.

In this most recent study, the team of researchers from Louisiana State University found that when HIV-infected monkeys were given THC daily during a 17-month time period, the monkeys had less damage in the immune tissue of their gut — an important site of HIV infection — than those given a placebo.

Researchers also reported that they found consuming THC had improved the monkeys immune tissue at a gene level as well, and was in a way, preventing the disease from killing healthy immune cells — a discovery other studies have found as well.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, blowing smoke:

Marijuana gets a show of support on Capitol Hill

  • Eighteen House members ask Obama to reclassify the banned drug

In the biggest show of support yet for legalizing marijuana on Capitol Hill, 18 House members today asked President Barack Obama to reclassify the drug, removing it from a list of banned substances deemed to have no medical value.

The letter, distributed by Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, argued that including marijuana in the Schedule 1 list of banned drugs, along with heroin and LSD, disregards the laws of 20 states that allow pot to be used for medical purposes.

It comes after Obama last month said that he doesn’t believe that marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol.

MintPress News cashes out:

Banking Regulations For Marijuana Industry “Imminent”

“Without access to basic banking services, many legitimate cannabis businesses are forced to manage sales, payroll, and even tax bills entirely in cash.”

On Tuesday U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, Wash., said the federal government’s new guidance for banks and bank regulators will be released “imminently.”

What Heck is referring to is Attorney General Eric Holder’s pledge that the Justice Department and the Treasury Department would issue guidance “very soon” to banks on how they can work with marijuana businesses.

Though the guidance had not been issued by the time of this article’s publication, Heck, a member of House Committee on Financial Services, who along with Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Colorado has pressed for marijuana banking reform, said legal marijuana businesses will be provided with a “full range of banking service, including accepting credit cards, direct depositing payroll checks and more,” under the guidance.

In other words, marijuana-related businesses will no longer be forced to operate on a cash-only basis.

On to latest in the global neoliberal trade agreement games from Jiji Press:

Japan, U.S. to Hold Working-Level TPP Talks Next Week

Working-level officials of Japan and the United States will meet in Japan next week to discuss sticky issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks ahead of key four-day TPP ministerial talks in Singapore from Feb. 22, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.

Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will arrive in Japan on Monday and hold talks with Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief representative in the TPP negotiations, and other officials, according to the sources.

The two sides are expected to discuss the handling of tariffs on farm products and issues related to automobile trade, the sources said.

Another deal, with problems, via Deutsche Welle:

Tripping over TTIP: Obstacles overshadow EU-US trade pact

  • With talks on the EU-US transatlantic free trade deal set to continue next month, this week’s outrage over a European Parliament vote on genetically modified corn will hardly be the last obstacle negotiators face.

This coming Monday (17.02.2014), EU trade chief Karel de Gucht and his US counterpart Michael Froman are scheduled to meet in Washington to discuss the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a transatlantic free trade area. They are expected to make a political assessment of the past three rounds of US-EU trade talks and to discuss the upcoming fourth round of negotiations in March.

The pact would unify standards and licensing procedures across a EU-US trade zone and would waive tariffs on goods traded between the EU and the US. According to the Munich-based IFO institute, the treaty will create up to 400,000 new jobs in Europe – 110,000 of them in Germany alone. A done deal, it would seem.

But the deal is far from done: the EU and the US differ over a wide variety of issues, one of which is genetically modified food. On Tuesday (11.02.2014), a new type of genetically modified corn from the US was approved by the European Parliament amid great controversy. The decision paves the way for compromise over one of the differences in EU-US consumer attitudes that has been a stumbling stone in TTIP negotiations.

But opponents of the trade pact are becoming more vocal, and more debates over standards, consumer protection, cultural protectionism threaten to erupt when EU-US negotiators get down to the deal’s fine print and put the agreement up for domestic scrutiny.

From Canada, riches spurned from South China Morning Post:

Canada scraps millionaire visa scheme, ‘dumps 46,000 Chinese applications’

Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires in the queue will have their applications scrapped and their application fees returned

Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires face an uncertain future after Canada’s government moved to scrap its controversial investor visa scheme, which has allowed waves of rich Hongkongers and mainland Chinese to immigrate since 1986.

The surprise announcement was made in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget, delivered to parliament in Ottawa on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires in the queue for visas will have their applications “eliminated” and their fees returned.

The announcement came less than a week after the South China Morning Post revealed how the scheme was overwhelmed by an influx of applications from mainland millionaires at Canada’s Hong Kong consulate. Applications to the scheme were frozen in 2012 as a result, as immigration staff struggled to clear the backlog.

ANSAmed covers a ploy:

EU and southern Europe in re-industrialization pact

  • Italy, Spain, Portugal heads of State meet at COTEC in Lisbon

An EU Industrial Compact adopted in January has led to a ‘pact’ between the European Commission and southern European countries to speed up the re-industrialization of Europe by exploiting the first signs of economic recovery, European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani made known in a joint statement with ministers from Italy, Spain and Portugal on Wednesday in Lisbon.

The statement was issued on the sidelines of the annual COTEC conference, which was attended by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Spanish King Juan Carlos, and Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva.

The aim of the Industrial Compact is for the manufacturing sector to make up 20% of EU GDP, and this can be achieved by speeding up innovation and marketing, COTEC experts from Italy, Spain and Portugal said.

And from MintPress News, more of that old hard times intolerance:

The Rebirth Of European Racism

The mass influx of migrants has triggered a wave of nationalistic fervor goaded by public statements of right-wing leaders.

Bulgaria has recently seen a surge in xenophobic attacks since a wave of Syrian refugees escaping the horrors of the war started arriving. But it appears what these refugees have found in Bulgaria isn’t much better than what they left behind.

Last year, roughly 11,600 migrants and asylum seekers crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey, most of them Syrian. Human rights organizations expect tens of thousands to make the journey across the Turkish border in the coming months.

But the mass influx of migrants has triggered a wave of nationalistic fervor goaded by public statements of right-wing leaders. Last November, several neo-Nazi factions, including the local branch of the international Blood and Honor Skinhead network, formed the Nationalist Party of Bulgaria, which says it wants to “cleanse Bulgaria from the foreign and alien immigrant scum that have been flooding the towns of Bulgaria.”

The party has organized so-called “civil patrols,” which stop and check foreigners—and a portion of the general population thinks that this is a good idea.

And an admission from The Guardian:

Migration in the EU ‘has caused strains,’ admits José Manuel Barroso

  • President of the European Commission says free movement is open to abuse but that he will not compromise on citizens’ rights

José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, will on Friday acknowledge that the free movement of people across the EU has put “unintended strains” on public services and is open to abuse.

In a move to show that Brussels understands the concerns raised in Britain, Barroso will say in London that the commission has recently clarified anti-abuse rules to crack down on sham marriages which allow non-EU citizens to claim benefits as a family member.

But the commission president will make clear in a speech to the London School of Economics that he will not compromise on the right of all EU citizens to move across all 28 member states – one of the four founding pillars which guarantees the free movement of labour, capital, goods and services.

Reuters ponders:

ECB still assessing if lower inflation temporary: Coene

The European Central Bank is awaiting further information, particularly signs on whether the current easing of euro zone inflation is temporary, before it acts, Governing Council member Luc Coene said.

Annual inflation in the 18-member euro zone slowed to 0.7 percent in January from 0.8 percent in December, confounding expectations of a rise and matching a four-year low hit last October.

The ECB left interest rates at record low last week, but put markets on alert for a possible move in March, when the Governing Council should have new forecasts from the bank’s staff extending into 2016.

On to Britain and an ongoing disaster from the London Telegraph:

Flood-hit areas are a ‘battlefield’ as thousands of soldiers are deployed

  • Army chief says that commanding officers are applying ‘battle-group’ skills an ‘unparalleled natural crisis’

Britain is in the grip of an “unparalleled natural crisis”, the Army officer in charge of the flood recovery effort declared on Wednesday.

As hurricane-force winds gusting at more than 100mph lashed the country, forecasters warned that the weather will get worse this weekend as a month’s worth of rain falls in just 48 hours.

The chaos now threatens to derail Britain’s economic recovery, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England warned. His comments came as storms that have battered the South West and Wales for weeks spread to the north of England for the first time this winter, bringing parts of the country to a standstill.

A bankster alert from the London Telegraph:

RBS warned of credit rating ‘downgrade’

  • Royal Bank of Scotland has been told its credit could be downgraded by ratings agency Moody’s

Royal Bank of Scotland has been warned by one of the world’s main ratings agencies that its credit is at risk of being downgraded following the surprise revelation last month of weaker than expected capital levels.

Moody’s said it had put RBS’s debt “on review for downgrade” pointing to the taxpayer-backed lender’s “weaker than previously anticipated regulatory capital position”.

The move comes after RBS’s unscheduled announcement on January 27 of £3.1bn of extra provisions for issues ranging from its sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and interest rate hedging products.

More immigration tension, this time from Iceland and the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Newspaper Editor Defends Leaked Memo

Davíð Oddsson – the current co-editor of Morgunblaðið – defended the leak of a memo on an asylum seeker that launched a police investigation as “allowing the public to get the whole picture”.

In an editorial for Morgunblaðið, Davíð – who is also, amongst other things, the former chairperson of the Independence Party, from which Ministry of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir hails – argued in favour of government offices publishing personal information about refugees as a means to take part in the public discussion about asylum seekers.

“Is it not right that the public get the whole picture?,” Davíð wrote. “That nothing is hidden about what’s at stake?”

As reported, the police are currently investigating the Ministry of the Interior over a leaked memo which impugned the reputations of Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos and the mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph. It later came to light that the accusations in the memo were false. Whilst the ministry denies the memo came from their offices, all evidence indicates the ministry as the only source.

On to Norway with EUbusiness and a hard times intolerance rebuke:

Norway rules out referendum on immigration

Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen on Wednesday ruled out holding a referendum on immigration, rejecting a request by a fellow member of his populist party to follow in the footsteps of Switzerland.

“For many years, the (populist) Progress Party has claimed that more influence should be granted to the citizens. This proposition shouldn’t shock anybody,” Anundsen, a Progress Party minister was quoted by Norwegian news agency NTB during parliamentary question time.

“But within the government coalition, the Progress Party is sticking to our cooperation agreement (with the other right and centre-right parties) and does not plan a referendum on this matter.”

A Finnish proclamation from New Europe:

Finland: OECD wants more structural reforms

Most people would not associate Finland with past high-tech successes like Nokia and Ericksson with structural reforms that have come to be associated with the EU’s troubled south. But the latest report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) urged Helsinki to make more efforts in the structural reform to stimulate the economy, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE reported on Wednesday.

OECD called for more measures in restructuring municipalities, raising retirement age and stricter mortgage rules, in order to promote the economic growth and deal with the aging population in Finland.

The report pointed out that the rising cost of pensions and healthcare for an aging population is one economic to Finland, suggesting higher retirement age and an end to part-time retirement.

On to the Netherlands and significant decision from DutchNews.nl:

The Netherlands to vote against approving the EU’s 2012 accounts

The Netherlands will join Britain and Sweden in voting against giving approval to the EU’s accounts for 2012 because of an increase in mis-spending, finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Thursday.

Dijsselbloem told MPs there are still too many uncertainties about the accounts and the error rate in the EU’s books has risen from 3.9% in 2011 to 4.8% in 2012. This is equivalent to €6.7bn being wrongly spent.

The problems centre on funds allocated to reducing the prosperity gap between different members states and money earmarked for rural development. In some cases, projects were not put out to tender properly or they were ineligible for grants under Brussels’ rules.

‘We cannot simply let this happen,’ Dijsselbloem, who also chairs the influential Euro Group, is quoted as saying by news agency ANP.

Germany next and higher hopes from Deutsche Welle:

German government revises growth forecast slightly upwards

The German government has confirmed the Economic Ministry’s 2014 growth outlook, saying that GDP will expand slightly more this year than previously predicted. It said the labor market would benefit as well.

German cabinet ministers on Wednesday adopted the 2014 Annual Economic Report, which included slightly higher expectations for growth in the course of this year.

The government said it expected the national economy to expand by 1.8 percent in 2014, marginally up from an earlier prediction of 1.7 percent. The report said the growth rate would increase to 2 percent next year.

Commenting on the report, conservative lawmakers in Berlin said everything should be done to avoid jeopardizing the growing economic momentum amid problems caused by the country’s energy transition and the aftermath of the protracted eurozone debt crisis.

And from Deutsche Welle, another chorus of that old. . .:

DW exclusive: Germans would vote just like the Swiss on curbing immigration

  • A survey commissioned by Deutsche Welle has found the majority of German citizens would vote for limiting immigration. The survey follows a decision in Switzerland to limit its annual immigration from the EU.

If Germans were to vote in a referendum on limiting immigration to Germany nearly half would support the measure (48 percent ) while almost as many (46 percent) would oppose it, according to a DW commissioned survey.

On behalf of DW, opinion research institute infratest dimap surveyed 1,001 Germans over the age of 18 on February 11-12, 2014. Three percent of those surveyed were undecided.

The survey showed that a particularly high number of Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party members (84 percent) would support an immigration limit. Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and its sister party the Christian Social Union voted 51 percent for a limit.

Paris next, and plutocratic woes from France 24:

French billionaire senator Dassault loses immunity over graft claims

The French Senate stripped billionaire industrialist senator Serge Dassault of parliamentary immunity on Wednesday, clearing the way for him to face possible criminal charges for allegedly buying votes.

The decision by a Senate committee means that UMP senator Dassault, 88, can be taken into custody for interrogation by judges investigating allegations dating from his 14 years as mayor of Corbeil-Essonnes, a Paris suburb.

The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote-buying that influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter, the current mayor of Corbeil.

Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France’s 4th richest man and the 69th richest in the world, with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros. He heads Dassault Group, which owns France’s prestigious conservative newspaper “Le Figaro” and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation, which makes business and military aircraft including the Rafale fighter jet.

Europe Online rakes it in:

Societe Generale nearly triples profits in 2013

France’s second-biggest bank Societe Generale nearly tripled its profits in 2013, helped by higher earnings in both its retail and corporate and investment banking units, the group said Wednesday.

Net income shot up to 2.2 billion euros (3 billion dollars), from 774 million euros in 2012. Group revenues were up 4.3 per cent to 22.8 billion euros.

Societe Generale ended the year on a high note, with fourth-quarter profits of 322 million euros far exceeding analysts’ expectations.

TheLocal.fr parks it:

French taxi drivers call for ‘indefinite strike’

The announcement will not go down well with Parisians or tourists but angry taxi drivers in France are clearly not willing to lie down without a fight. On Tuesday they called for an “indefinite strike”, saying they will take action “anytime, anywhere”.

Paris taxi drivers continued to vent their anger on Tuesday when they brought traffic to a standstill in the centre of the French capital leading to the arrest of dozens of drivers. The trouble comes as unions called for ongoing industrial action.

On Tuesday evening as cabbies fronted up to police at Place de La Concorde union leaders called for an indefinite strike, which could see wildcat blockades and go slows continue for the foreseeable future.

In a joint statement drivers’ unions said they “reserved the right to take action at any place at any time.”

Switzerland, and that old familiar tune from TheLocal.ch:

Populists urge more immigration controls

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the initiative narrowly accepted by Swiss voters to limit immigration from the European Union, is set on Friday to push for for more measures to tighten immigration as tensions mount in Switzerland over the issue.

The initiative against massive immigration, backed by 50.3 percent of the electorate, calls for an end to the freedom of movement agreement between Switzerland and the EU and the imposition of quotas.

But the deal is fuzzy on details. It does not, for example, stipulate how many foreigners would be accepted into the country and through what criteria the level of needed workers would be selected for different sectors of the economy.

The SVP is being prodded to clarify how it expects the quota system to work.

Spain next, and an affirmative declaration from thinkSPAIN:

Economy starts to grow as GDP predictions more optimistic

SPAIN’S Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase by 0.9 per cent this year and 1.9 per cent next year – signs that the economy is growing once again, according to figures released by the BBVA bank.

This will be enough for creation of ‘sustainable’ employment to begin, says the entity, but it warns that jobless figures are unlikely to drop below 25.6 per cent this year and 24.8 per cent in 2015.

Consumer spending in Spain is expected to rise in 2014 by 0.9 per cent and by 1.3 per cent next year, with lack of national demand gradually ceasing to pose barriers to micro-economic growth over the next two years and ongoing efforts in increasing exports will set the scene for the economy to begin its recovery, the BBVA reveals.

ANSAmed has a harsher take:

Spain: fewer jobs, lower wages two years after reform

  • Trade unions and ILO slam reform, OECD praises it

Two years to the day from Spain’s last labor reform, there are fewer jobs, more long-term unemployed, and fewer people paying into social security.

A negative balance according to trade unions and a ‘’not very encouraging’‘ picture according to the Savings Banks Foundation (Funcas), but the government says the reform is beginning to have positive effects within the context of a recovering economy.

Jobless benefit claims totaled 4,599,829 people as of January 2012, one month before the labor reform was enacted. Two years later, that number is at 4,814,435, up by 241,606 people or +4.6% as of January 2014. In the same period, the number of workers paying into the social security fund dropped by 769,627 people, or -4.5%, to a total of 16,176,610 people. A quarterly report by national statistics bureau INE showed 5,273,600 were unemployed when the reform was enacted in the fourth quarter of 2011, a number that rose to 5,896,300 in the same period of 2013, equal to 622,700 more unemployed people (+11.8%) in two years.

ANSAmed again, and a comedown for high-flyers:

Spain: Iberia; agreement with pilots, salaries down 14%

  • The deal provides for a salary freeze till 2015

Spanish carrier Iberia and pilots’ union Sepla have reached an agreement in principle ending years of conflict which provides for salary cuts by at least 14%.

The agreement also introduces ‘’permanent structural changes’‘ at the company to cut costs and allow the development of the airline and its low-cost company Iberia Express, Iberia’s Iag group said in a statement to the market authority committee on Thursday.

The deal provides for a salary freeze till 2015, previously rejected by pilots, and from that date onwards salary increases depending on the company’s results.

From El País, the bankster blues:

Failed lender CAM wants prison for two of its former executives

  • Bank’s lawyer seeks six to 10 years for ex-director general and oversight committee chief
  • Attorney accuses them of inflating expense accounts and favoring own interests

The lawyer of failed lender Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM), appointed by the government’s bank bailout fund, the FROB, wants prison terms for two of the bank’s former top executives.

Former director general Roberto López Abad and former chairman of the Valencian savings bank’s oversight committee, Juan Ramón Avilés, face the prospect of between six and 10 years in prison for misappropriation of funds and deliberate mismanagement.

The state prosecutor is seeking shorter jail terms for the two men.

And the social counterrevolution prevails, via TheLocal.es:

‘New abortion law to stay’: Spanish lawmakers

A controversial plan to ban women in Spain from freely opting for abortions overcame a key hurdle on Tuesday when lawmakers voted in secret against a motion to scrap the reform.

The plan has outraged pro-choice groups and brought thousands of people out onto the streets to protest, but has sparked division even within the conservative ruling party.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal submitted by the opposition Socialists to “immediately withdraw” the bill by 183 votes to 151. Six lawmakers abstained.

The ruling Popular Party (PP) holds a strong majority in parliament, but the abortion reform, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, has been delayed amid dissent by senior party figures.

And another sign of the times from El País:

House sales fall for third year in a row

  • Property purchases hit record low in December

The Spanish housing market remained locked in a trough in 2013, six years after a massive property bubble burst.

According to figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INE), the number of homes sold last year, excluding public housing schemes, fell 1.2 percent from a year earlier to 276,600 after falling 11.3 percent in 2012 and 18.2 percent in 2011. During the height of the boom over 800,000 houses were exchanged in a year. In December alone sales fell 11.0 from a year earlier to a new monthly record low of 18,619.

The only respite the market has had since boom turned to bust was in 2010 when sales increased 4.8 percent, driven by the purchase of new homes before the introduction of a hike in value-added tax.

And from TheLocal.es, an unconscionable demand:

Cancer drug maker wants 4000% Spanish price hike

Drug manufacturer Aspen Pharmacare has reportedly threatened to stop selling its leukaemia and ovarian cancer treatments in Spain if Health Minister Ana Mato refuses to raise fixed purchase prices by up to 4,000 percent.

According to online daily El Confidencial Digital, the habitual bargaining between Aspen and the Ministry of Health has taken a turn for the worse.

The South African manufacturer of generic medicines is currently undergoing a rapid expansion in international markets.

The company is allegedly insisting on massive price increases for a number of drugs but the Ministry has flatly refused.

On to Lisbon with EUbusiness:

Portugal passes new IMF rescue program review

The International Monetary Fund approved Wednesday the disbursement of 910 million euros ($1.24 billion) to Portugal after the country passed the 10th review of its bailout program.

The disbursement took the country a step closer to the May 2014 end of the European Union-IMF rescue program, with the country’s finances stabilizing.

But the IMF urged the Portuguese government not to give in to pressure to increase public spending and to keep pushing ahead on structural reforms to its finances.

“The Portuguese authorities’ implementation of their Fund-supported program has been commendable,” said IMF Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik in a statement.

And on to Italy with the New York Times:

Italy’s Prime Minister Announces Resignation Amid Party Revolt

Prime Minister Enrico Letta of Italy, whose weak coalition government has come under increasing criticism, announced his resignation on Thursday night after his own Democratic Party staged a dramatic insurrection and voted to replace him with the party’s new leader, Matteo Renzi.

The Democratic Party is the largest member of Italy’s coalition government, and the party’s decision to dump Mr. Letta will likely have to be put to a confidence vote in Parliament. Mr. Letta will meet with his cabinet on Friday morning and then present his resignation letter to Italy’s president, making way for Mr. Renzi, 38, to become Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Mr. Renzi, the mayor of Florence who recently won a nationwide primary to become leader of the Democratic Party, has a reputation for boldness and has long been considered Italy’s most promising young politician. He has spoken repeatedly about the need for sweeping political and economic changes. But few analysts foresaw that he would lead a revolt against his party’s sitting prime minister.

AGI has a skeptical take from the populist right:

M5S co-founder doubtful government will last until 2018

M5S co-founder, Gianroberto Casaleggio says he is doubtful the government can last until 2018: “I see a high instability situation. A 2018 forecast is very risky”.

The statement was made at the Termini train station, while Casaleggio was waiting for a train to Milan. Asked by journalists about the likelihood of a government lead by Matteo Renzi to survive until 2018, Casaleggio added: “One can never tell, but the beginning of this year seems to be marked by a great political instability”.

From TheLocal.it, austerian rigor:

Italians drop holiday plans as crisis bites

The number of trips taken by Italians since the economic crisis began in 2008 has plummeted by 48.6 percent, new statistics show.

Last year Italy’s resident population took just over 63 million trips with overnight stays, whether for work or holiday, the country’s statistics agency Istat said this week.

With a population of nearly 60 million one trip per person may seem like a fair ratio, but a broader look shows that Italians have nearly halved travel in recent years.

They took 48.6 percent fewer holidays or work trips last year than five years’ previously, continuing a year-on-year decline.

EUbusiness divides:

Catalonia, Scotland, Venice? Italian party eyes autonomy

The head of Italy’s Northern League on Wednesday said he supported the autonomy bids of Catalonia from Spain and Scotland from Britain, and hoped that the Venice region “will be next on the list”.

Matteo Salvini said two other regions of northern Italy — Lombardy and Piedmont — could also follow suit, adding that it was time to reduce the powers of the European Union and return to “national and regional sovereignty”.

Salvini also said that plans for a coalition of far-right parties including his own at the European Parliament after elections in May were “well advanced”.

The coalition “will not be Eurosceptic but will be in favour of a different Europe,” he said, adding however that he continues to support an abandonment of the euro. “The euro has massacred our economy,” he said.

TheLocal.it inhales:

Italy relaxes cannabis penalties

Italy’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down an anti-drug law from 2006 that imposed tough sentencing for the sale and possession of cannabis, putting it on the same level as heroin and cocaine.

The court declared “illegitimate” the law, which imposed sentences of six to 20 years for trafficking in cannabis, whereas the previous law which is now back in force included sentences of between two and six years.

Leftist lawmakers and civil society representatives immediately hailed the court ruling, saying it would help ease overcrowding in Italian prisons.

The scrapping of the law could affect 10,000 detainees who are in pre-trial detention or serving time and could see a revision of their sentences and their release.

After the jump, deeper misery in Greece, Blackwater creator’s African dreams, Venezuelan violence, Argentine inflation, Indian populist payoffs, parliamentary riots, and bankster woes, Thai turmoil prolonged, Aussie bubble alarms, Chinese marketeering and GMOs, Japanese desperate measures, environmental woes, and a jam-packed Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day I : EspioLegoPoliManiacs


We’ve been a bit under the weather, and consequently a very lonnngggg collection today of headlines for the world of spies, security, operators, militarists, hackers, and deep politics.

Our first headline comes from Al Jazeera America:

Report: Democratic countries curbing press freedoms in name of security

  • Countries like US, UK that pride themselves on media freedoms tumble in annual World Press Freedom Index

Pervasive national security and surveillance programs have scaled back press freedom in established democracies like the United States, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its World Press Freedom Index released Tuesday.

In an index that usually shifts incrementally from year to year, “for the first time, the trend is so clear,” Delphine Halgand, the group’s U.S. director, told Al Jazeera. She said the “chilling effect” on investigative journalists fearful of government prosecution is most palpable in the U.S.

“After 2013, we cannot deny any more that in the U.S., the whistle-blower is the enemy,” Halgand said. “The U.S. is going after confidential sources, compromising the only possibility to do a real journalist’s work.”

From the report:

BLOG Press freedom

More from The Guardian:

NSA actions pose ‘direct threat to journalism’ leading watchdog warns

  • Agency’s dragnet of communications data threatens to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, Committee to Protect Journalists said

The National Security Agency’s dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world’s leading journalism watchdogs has warned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based body that promotes press freedom around the world, has devoted the first two chapters of its annual report on global threats to an assessment of the impact of the NSA’s data sweep. Its internet advocacy co-ordinator, Geoffrey King, warns that the NSA’s dragnet threatens to put journalists under a cloud of suspicion and to expose them to routine spying by government agencies.

By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter’s research, retrace a source’s movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. “It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later.”

And then there’s the blunter approach. From Al Jazeera English:

The risk of reporting US drone strikes

  • Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yeen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

From EnetEnglish.gr, another journalist jailed:

Police detain journalist for divulging ‘military secrets’

  • Article based on information from law published in government gazette, journalist says

Police detained journalist Popi Christodoulidou on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, over a report claiming coastguard divers are involved in guarding sensitive sites along with the police, despite the fact that the law does not provide for that

A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove An Athens-based journalist was detained by police for a number of hours on Wednesday at Attica police headquarters on suspicion on disclosing military secrets in a blogpost, which she claims is based on information contained in a law published in the government gazette.

On the same day that Greece was ranked 99th in the World Press Freedom Index, Popi Christodoulidou was detained by police detectives shortly after 1pm, on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, who at the request of the Hellenic Coastguard’s state security directorate opened a preliminary investigation on the leaking of “military secrets” by a civilian “perpetrator”.

The journalist was released at around 6pm and has been ordered to remove the offending post on her Peiratiko Reportaz blog or face arrest.

More journalistic woes from Mashable:

Report: Ethiopian Government Hacks Journalists in U.S. and Europe

The Ethiopian government reportedly used surveillance technology created by an Italian company to hack into the computers of Ethiopian journalists in the United States and Europe.

Journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), a news organization comprised mostly of Ethiopian expatriates, were targeted with spying software made by the Italian company company Hacking Team, according to a new report by Citizen Lab, a nonprofit research lab that investigates surveillance technology across the world.

The investigation, released on Wednesday, is another example of how governments around the world are increasingly using hacking tools. These are often purchased from vendors that design and market them specifically for law enforcement agencies — but often governments end up using them against dissidents or journalists.

From EurActiv, a friend of The Guardian:

Media freedom watchdog defends the Guardian against government pressure

Europe’s main media freedom watchdog told Britain today (12 February) it believed that political pressure applied to the Guardian newspaper over its handling of leaked intelligence data could have a “chilling effect” on independent journalism.

Former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden’s disclosures about activities of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency and its cooperation with America’s National Security Agency (NSA) have embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron’s government which has said they damaged national security.

Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.

“The continual accusations and attacks on the Guardian, their editor-in-chief and journalists by leading politicians is nothing but harassment and intimidation,” Dunja Mijatovic, representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters.

And from euronews, when “liberals” meet:

Hollande and Obama stress common Syria-Iran stance as French state visit nears end

The French and American presidents have continued to stress their common ground as François Hollande’s state visit draws to a close.

Barack Obama said both had resolved to put more pressure on Russia and Iran over stopping the bloodshed in Syria.

The French leader tackled the thorny issue of data protection after the revelations of US spying exposed in the NSA scandal.

“We have worked towards cooperation which can enable the fight against terrorism and at the same time to respect principles. And we are making headway over this cooperation. And there is a mutual trust which has been restored and which should be based both on respect for each other’s country and also based on the protection of privacy,” François Hollande told a joint news conference in Washington.

And on to the world of that espio-Superstar, first from The Guardian:

Congressional trio criticise James Cole’s NSA testimony as misleading

  • Lawmakers write to deputy attorney general after Cole described limits on NSA’s power to surveil members of Congress

Deputy attorney general James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill. Deputy attorney general James Cole. Sensenbrenner, Issa and Nadler said Cole’s testimony was ‘not entirely accurate’. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Three powerful members of the House judiciary committee said James Cole, the US deputy attorney general, was “not entirely accurate” in testimony describing limits on the National Security Agency’s powers to surveil the US Congress.

The letter from former committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, oversight committee chair Darrell Issa – both Republicans – and New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, came as the Obama administration saw a new front open up in the battle over its surveillance powers: a class-action lawsuit filed by Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, who said he plans to contest the bulk collection of US phone records “all the way to the supreme court.”

Cole told the House judiciary committee on 4 February that while the NSA “probably” collects the phone records of members of Congress – a subset of the dragnet the NSA casts on practically all US phone data – the NSA only studied those records when it has “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of a number’s onnection to terrorism, a restriction imposed by the secret surveillance court overseeing the NSA.

From the New York Times, making excuses:

Spy Chief Says Snowden Took Advantage of ‘Perfect Storm’ of Security Lapses

The director of national intelligence acknowledged Tuesday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale.

The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Mr. Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Mr. Clapper said. “And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

But Mr. Clapper confirmed the outlines of a New York Times report that the former N.S.A. contractor had used a web crawler, a commonly available piece of software, to sweep up a huge trove of documents.

The Daily Dot makes an exit:

NSA employee resigns after admitting he gave Snowden access

A civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) has resigned his position after admitting he shared access to classified information with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A memo detailing the incident and signed by Ethan Bauman, NSA’s director of legislative affairs, was obtained by NBC News and published online.

According to the memo, which was labelled as sensitive but not classified, the unidentified NSA employee entered his password into Snowden’s computer terminal upon request. Allegedly, Snowden was then able to capture the password and use it to gain greater access to classified materials. The letter identifies the civilian as male, but does not refer to him by name.

“On 18 June 2013, the NSA civilian admitted to FBI Special Agents that he allowed Mr. Snowden to his (the NSA civilian’s) Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate to access classified information on NSANet; access that he knew had been denied to Mr. Snowden,” the memo reads.

From The Hill, the Aqua Buddha acolyte acts:

Paul sues Obama over NSA spying

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration for violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

Paul, a Tea Party star, called it the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.

He and FreedomWorks, the co-plaintiff in the case, have named President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander among the defendants.

“We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user all the time, without limits, without individualization,” Paul said at a press conference in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Paul, who has circulated a petition to build support for his case, said 386,026 people have expressed support.

From The Guardian, no taps for the NSA?:

Utah lawmaker floats bill to cut off NSA data centre’s water supply

  • Impending bill from Republican Marc Roberts highlights growing movement at state level against government surveillance powers

The National Security Agency, already under siege in Washington, faces a fresh attempt to curtail its activities from a Utah legislator who wants to cut off the surveillance agency’s water supply.

Marc Roberts, a first-term Republican lawmaker in the Beehive State, plans this week to begin a quixotic quest to check government surveillance starting at a local level. He will introduce a bill that would prevent anyone from supplying water to the $1bn-plus data center the NSA is constructing in his state at Bluffdale.

The bill is about telling the federal government “if you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you,” Roberts told the Guardian.

Here’s a video report about a similar measure on the other side of the country from RT America:

NSA headquarters could go dark if bill passes in Maryland

Program notes:

State legislators in Maryland have introduced a bill that would cut off water, electricity and other utilities to National Security Agency headquarters, which are located in the Old Line state. The bill is called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and supporters say the bill would block the NSA from spying on citizens in Maryland. Similar bills are being introduced in Washington, Utah and Missouri. RT’s Liz Wahl asks Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and who helped draft Maryland’s legislation, how the bill would impact NSA operations.

The Hill raises another legal issue:

NSA operating outside the law, panelist says

The collection of phone records by the National Security Agency has no basis in the law, a member of an independent federal advisory board said Wednesday.

“With all respect to both executive branch officials and judicial officials, nobody looked at the statute as carefully was we did,” James Dempsey, the vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I came to this conclusion slowly. I came to it a little bit to my own surprise. But if you read the statute, the words just don’t add up to this program.”

Members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) testified Tuesday for the first time since their 3-2 decision last month to condemn the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records as an illegal program that should be terminated.

Backtracking, via The Guardian:

Edward Snowden asylum demand dropped by European parliament

  • MEPs fail to reach consensus on amendment to inquiry calling on governments to assure NSA whistleblower of his safety

Edward Snowden Meets With German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele
The report will call for international protection for whistleblowers without mentioning Edward Snowden by name. Photograph: Sunshinepress/Getty Images

The European parliament is to ditch demands on Wednesday that EU governments give guarantees of asylum and security to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee is to vote on more than 500 amendments to the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ scandal, a 60-page report that is damning about the scale and the impact of mass surveillance.

And the result, via EUobserver:

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

A European Parliament committee on Wednesday (12 February) voted against calling for asylum protection for former US intelligence agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden leaked top secret documents last summer to the media exposing the scale of US and British global surveillance. He is in Russia to avoid prosecution from American authorities.

The vote was part of a larger, non-binding, resolution backed by the MEPs in the civil liberties committee. The resolution condemns the blanket collection of personal data on the scale he disclosed.

A short paragraph, buried among the hundreds of amendments in the committee’s National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry report, had requested that EU member states drop criminal charges against him, if any, and “offer him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition.” But it did not make the final cut.

The Guardian views Snowden from Down Under:

Scott Ludlam’s support of Snowden ‘celebrates treachery’, says Brandis

  • George Brandis says former NSA contractor’s disclosures about western intelligence gathering ‘put Australian lives at risk’

Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, has criticised a senator for celebrating “the American traitor Edward Snowden”, arguing the disclosures about western intelligence gathering has “put Australian lives at risk”.

Brandis asked in parliament how the Greens senator Scott Ludlam could hold his head up high while honouring the former US National Security Agency contractor’s “criminal conduct and treachery”.

The trigger for the criticism was a question from Ludlam about “indiscriminate government surveillance” and whether the government recognised the legitimate concerns of Australians and the need to follow the US in reforming intelligence practices.

And the target of that Aussie ire raises a question, via United Press International:

Snowden: Danes should question government about NSA surveillance

U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says Danes should not trust their government’s statement that there has been no illegal surveillance in Denmark.

Snowden, in an interview with the blog denfri.dk, said Danish citizens should not depend on the government or on journalists to reveal the truth, the Copenhagen Post reported Thursday.

“The Danes should start asking some serious questions when their government starts acting in the same way as the German one,” he said.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said publicly that the U.S. National Security Agency had assured him that on surveillance had been conducted in Germany in violation of its laws or against its interests. Documents leaked by Snowden revealed the NSA had done both.

And from TheLocal.se, a call to end another legal whistleblower nightmare:

‘Interrogate Assange in London’: lawyers

Lawyers representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden have demanded that he be questioned in London over rape and sexual molestation allegations made by two Swedish women.

“All Assange asks is that he be treated according to Swedish law,” lawyers Thomas Olsson and Per Samuelsson wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Assange broke bail and sought refuge at the Ecuador’s embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning under a European arrest warrant. He claimed that he would risk further extradition to the United States on espionage charges over his whistleblowing website if he went to Sweden.

From TheLocal.de, when a Hawk becomes a turkey:

Drone scandal costs another €200 million

Germany’s Euro Hawk drone scandal showed no sign of ending on Wednesday, with alternatives for the failed programme running €200 million over budget. It means the military may turn back to the discarded, original plan.

The Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, Volker Wieker, told a defence committee on Wednesday that the tests on four alternatives to Euro Hawk were not only taking longer than expected but were €200 million over budget. The budget had been set at €613 million.

It means that reactivating the discarded Euro Hawk programme could no longer be ruled out, he said.

The Euro Hawk scandal erupted in May last year when it emerged the drones were unlikely to get permission to fly in German airspace because of a lack of an anti-collision system to protect other aircraft. By that point more than €500 million had already been spent on the programme.

And from RT, class war declared:

Greece on high alert after extremists declare war on ‘German capitalist machine’

Greek authorities have stepped up security after a leftist extremist group declared war on the “German capitalist machine.” The group has claimed responsibility for attacks on a Mercedes-Benz branch and on the German ambassador’s residence in Athens.

An anarchist group calling itself the Popular Fighters has come forward, claiming to be behind a botched rocket attack on the offices of German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz in the Greek capital.

The attack itself was carried out on January 12. Investigators found evidence this week that showed the rocket was fired from the near vicinity of the factory, but veered off course and landed in a field.

On Tuesday the group sent a 20-page manifesto to Greek satirical magazine To Pontiki, explaining the attack was carried out in solidarity with the Greek people against the “German capitalist machine.”

After the jump, a lethora of Asia news, including Afghan anxieties, Sci Fi scenarios, cyberwar and hack attacks, a Spanish check, the Greek panopticon emerges, another Swedish info-expat, Twitter censorship, drones in your pocket, and Nazis on acid. . .and more: Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, protests, lies, zones


A whole lot going on in the realm of spooks, lack ops, rampant militarism and other dark corners of the realms of deep politics and distrus.

We open on an upbeat note with this from The Guardian:

Protesters rally for ‘the day we fight back’ against mass surveillance

  • Alongside demonstrations in 15 countries, thousands contact congresspeople and take online action supporting privacy rights

Tens of thousands of people and organisations were participating in a protest against the NSA’s mass surveillance on Tuesday, bombarding members of Congress with phone calls and emails and holding demonstrations across the globe.

Dubbed “The day we fight back”, the action saw scores of websites, including Reddit, BoingBoing and Mozilla host a widget inviting users to pressure elected officials.

The online demonstration saw more than 18,000 calls placed and 50,000 emails sent to US congressmen and women by midday Tuesday. Physical protests were planned in 15 countries.

“The goal of the day we fight back is to stop mass surveillance by intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency,” said Rainey Reitman, activism director at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which helped organise the events.

And a report from RT America:

‘Day We Fight Back’ takes on NSA

Program notes:

It was declared ‘The Day We Fight Back’. Internet companies and activists around the world had an international day of protest on February 11th. Over 5,700 websites changed their homepages to demand the National Security Agency stop its massive surveillance efforts. On Capitol Hill, representatives from privacy groups, religious institutions NS Congressman Rush Holt came together to talk about the issue of NSA spying. RT correspondent Meghan Lopez was there and brings us more.

Meanwhile, from TheLocal.fr, Barry O has a new BFF:

France and US reconcile over NSA spying scandal

On the occasion of President François Hollande’s visit to the US, he and American President Barack Obama said on Tuesday they have settled differences over digital spying efforts revealed by leaker Edward Snowden.

French President Francois Hollande, speaking alongside his US counterpart Barack Obama, said Tuesday that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

Leaders from many US allies, including Germany’s Chancellor Angel Merkel, were angered by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s revelation that the United States monitors their telephone calls. But it is not known if Hollande’s own telephone was tapped, and France has been more cautious in its critique, emphasizing the importance of its intelligence cooperation with Washington.

“We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles. And we are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored,” Hollande said.

More from the Associated Press:

Obama: No country where we have no-spy agreement

President Barack Obama says there is no country with which the United States has “a no-spy agreement.” But he says the United States endeavors to protect privacy rights as it collects foreign intelligence.

Obama says the United States and its allies remain concerned about specific potential terrorist networks that could attack and kill innocent people. He says the U.S. will have to maintain a robust intelligence gathering effort, but says it will respect privacy.

Obama made his remarks during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande.

The Guardian carries a call for debate:

Ed Miliband calls for US-style debate over Britain’s intelligence agencies

  • Labour leader calls for examination of oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 in wake of Edward Snowden leaks

A major overhaul of the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, which could lead to an opposition politician chairing parliament’s intelligence and security committee and reform of the intelligence commissioners, needs to be introduced, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader praised Barack Obama for starting an “important debate” in the US – after the White House appointed a panel in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks – and called for a similar debate in Britain.

In some of his most extensive comments on the NSA leaks, Miliband told a Guardian audience that reforming the oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was “definitely” part of his campaign to challenge “unaccountable power”.

From the Greens/European Free Alliance office of the European Parliament, the latest on the instigator of Spookgate 2013-2014:

Snowden confirms wish to address MEPs; EP must take into account

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has confirmed in writing that he is prepared to answer questions from the European Parliament’s inquiry into the revelations of mass surveillance by intelligence services. He will at least respond in writing, possibly also via a recorded video message. The Greens welcomed the confirmation and insisted that the EP must immediately move to facilitate this, with Green justice and home affairs spokesperson Jan Philipp Albrecht stating:

“The confirmation that Edward Snowden is willing to answer questions in the context of the EP’s inquiry is a significant and positive development. To conclude the inquiry without testimony from its key witness would render the process clearly incomplete. We would urge those centre-right MEPs that have hitherto resisted giving Snowden a hearing to drop their resistance. We will request an additional, extraordinary meeting of the EP inquiry before a vote is taken on its final report, with a view to ensuring the testimony can be taken into account.

“It is clear that Edward Snowden will only be able to give us comprehensive information if he can be guaranteed a safe stay in Europe for a later in-depth testimony. Next week, the EP’s civil liberties committee will decide if the European Parliament will call on EU governments to grant such protection. The Greens have pushed for this and continue to urge all political groups to support the move.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau hits a roadblock:

Americans find swift stonewall on whether NSA vacuumed their data

Since last year’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s massive communications data dragnets, the spy agency has been inundated with requests from Americans and others wanting to know if it has files on them. All of them are being turned down .

The denials illustrate the bind in which the disclosures have trapped the Obama administration. While it has pledged to provide greater transparency about the NSA’s communications collections, the NSA says it cannot respond to individuals’ requests without tipping off terrorists and other targets.

As a result, Americans whose email and telephone data may have been improperly vacuumed up have no way of finding that out by filing open records requests with the agency. Six McClatchy reporters who filed requests seeking any information kept by the NSA on them all received the same response.

Reuters probes:

Democrats seek probe of U.S. contractor for security checks

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sought an investigation of the largest U.S. government contractor for security checks, saying it received huge bonuses during the time it is accused of bilking the government of millions of dollars.

Representative Elijah Cummings said a congressional report found United States Investigations Services “adopted aggressive new financial incentives to accelerate its work” in 2007 and took shortcuts in its review of background checks while charging the federal government for the full service.

The company, the largest private provider of security checks for the government, was accused in a Justice Department lawsuit last month of bilking the government of millions of dollars through improper background checks.

The contractor also received millions of dollars in bonuses from the Office of Personnel Management, including $2.4 million in 2008, $3.5 million in 2009 and $5.8 million in 2010, said Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform committee.

And a video report from RT:

Firm that conducted Snowden background check accused of fraud, Microsoft’s Sino-censoring search engine, literary censorship in India, and a security threat averted by some toy-grabbing zealots. . . Continue reading

Headline of the day II: EconoAggroGrecoCrises


Our collection of headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms opens on a progressive profession from BBC News:

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio targets income gap ‘threat’

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to raise the minimum wage and issue ID papers to undocumented immigrants.

Setting out the policies of his new administration in a State of the City address, Mr de Blasio took aim at the city’s yawning inequality gap.

The 52-year-old also wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund universal pre-kindergarten programmes.

Elected in November, he is New York’s first Democratic mayor in two decades.

From The Guardian, eyes on Oakland from across the pond:

The city that told Google to get lost

Highly paid employees are pushing up rents near the tech giant’s California headquarters, forcing locals out and destroying communities, say activists. Now Oakland’s residents are fighting back – hard. But are they too late?

If pushing your enemy into the sea signifies success, then Google’s decision to start ferrying workers to its campus by boat suggests the revolt against big technology companies is going well. Standing on the docks of Oakland, on the east side of San Francisco Bay, last week, you could watch the Googlers board the ferry, one by one, and swoosh through the chill, grey waters of the bay towards the company’s Mountain View headquarters, 30 or so miles to the south.

Not exactly Dunkirk, but from afar you might have detected a whiff of evacuation, if not retreat. The ferry from Oakland – a week-long pilot programme – joined a similar catamaran service for Google workers in San Francisco launched last month. The search engine giant is not doing it for the bracing sea air. It is a response to blockades and assaults against buses that shuttle employees to work.

From The Independent, that old time religion:

Utah’s Mormons celebrate as polygamy restrictions are struck down

  • Part of law was ruled in violation of First Amendment

A US federal judge has struck down a key part of Utah’s law banning polygamy – providing welcome relief to one practising Mormon family. Joe Darger, who described himself as an “independent Mormon fundamentalist”, has 25 children with three wives.

US District Judge Clark Waddoups threw out part of a bill which allows the state to use cohabitation as a basis for prosecution, although Utah does still prohibit bigamy.

Reuters records a visit:

Obama, France’s Hollande make pilgrimage to Jefferson’s Monticello

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande toured Thomas Jefferson’s plantation estate on Monday in a show of solidarity for Franco-American ties that have endured for more than two centuries despite the occasional tempest.

The visit to Monticello, home to America’s third president, served to showcase a relationship that stretches back to the founding of the United States in the late 18th century, an alliance still strong despite spats over U.S. eavesdropping and trade talks with the European Union.

Hollande, 59, who split from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, last month after an affair with an actress, arrived solo for the first state visit hosted by Obama since he won a second term in 2012.

Heading north of the border with an offer Rob Ford can’t refuse from The Independent:

Canada installs first ever crack-pipe vending machines

  • Controversial vending machines dispense them for $0.25 in attempt to curb spread of HIV and hepatitis

A Canadian NGO has installed crack pipe vending machines in the city of Vancouver in a bid to curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis among users.

The polka-dot vending machines are operated by the Portland Hotel Society, a drug treatment centre, and dispense newly packaged crack pipes like snacks for $0.25 (13p).

The group says the pipes are less likely to chip and cut users’ mouths as a resulting of overheating and overuse, preventing the spread of disease among crack addicts.

“They don’t run the risk of then sharing pipes, or pipes that are chipped or broken,” Kailin See told CTV Vancouver.

On to Europe with bankster news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Eurozone banks will be allowed to fail, says regulator

The incoming head of Europe’s new single banking supervisory authority has warned that weak eurozone banks will be allowed to fail following upcoming stress tests, in an interview in Monday’s Financial Times.

Frenchwoman Daniele Nouy was giving her first interview since being appointed chief of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, set up as part of attempts to stabilise the EU’s banking system and shift the financial costs of failed banks away from sovereign governments

“We have to accept that some banks have no future,” she told the FT. “We have to let some disappear in an orderly fashion, and not necessarily try to merge them with other institutions”.

EurActiv regulates with dubious efficacy:

EU rules to light up derivatives markets set for shaky start

New rules coming into force in Europe this week to shine more light on the $700 trillion (€513 trillion) derivatives markets will take years to produce a clearer picture of these complex products which were at the heart of the financial crisis.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 markets were in the dark over a tangle of derivatives on the US investment bank’s books. Financial markets froze because of uncertainty about who was exposed to Lehman’s derivatives, such as credit default swaps or interest rate swaps. US insurer AIG also ran up big losses linked to derivatives.

In response, politicians and regulators around the world called for action to make risks easier to spot in this opaque part of global financial markets.

The new EU rules, coming in on Wednesday, aim to increase transparency by requiring reporting of transactions.

On to Britain and a warning from the London Telegraph:

Lord Turner: UK economy is like 90s Japan

  • City regulator during the 2007/8 crisis says that the UK has not rebalanced its economy, and risks further shocks as a result

Lord Turner has warned that the UK has failed to rebalance its economy and is simply repeating the errors made in the run-up to the 2007/8 financial crisis.

The self-styled technocrat, who was chairman of the City regulator until last April, likened the domestic economy over the last five years to Japan in the 1990s.

The former Financial Services Authority chief – who made it on to the shortlist to replace Lord King as Governor of the Bank of England – said that although the economy was now showing obvious signs of growth, there was the potential that it will not be sustained due to the continued build up of credit in the system.

“The concerning thing about the UK economy is that from 2009 until early last year, a lot of the debate was around the need to rebalance, from being over focused on financial services and the housing market,” Lord Turner told The Telegraph.

The Independent doesn’t feel the love:

Where is the love? Majority of international students in the UK do not feel welcome

The majority of international students studying in the UK feel unwelcome in the country with a significant number saying they would not recommend to their friends that they come here to attend university, says a survey published on Monday.

A study of the attitudes of 3,100 international students by the National Union of Students revealed that more than 50 per cent believed the UK Government was either “not welcoming” or “not welcoming at all towards overseas students”.

Figures show PhD students are most likely to feel unwelcome (65.8 per cent) with those from Japan (64.5 per cent), Nigeria (62.8 per cent) and India (62 per cent) the next most likely to say they have received hostile treatment. Students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria are most likely to advise their friends not to study here.

The Guardian, with banksters doing what bankster do:

City bonus row reignites with Barclays to admit £2bn in payments

  • Bonus payout contrasts with bank boss Antony Jenkins’ pledge for restraint and helps push total since 2008 crisis towards £80bn

Controversy over City bonuses will be reignited this week when Barclays admits it paid its staff more than last year, fuelling predictions that the amount of bonuses paid out across the Square Mile since the 2008 crisis could soon hit £80bn.

Barclays is expected to reveal on Tuesday that its bonus pot topped £2bn last year – more than it paid out in the previous 12 months – despite a pledge by its boss Antony Jenkins to show restraint on pay.

Starting the reporting season for the high-street banks, Barclays will be followed in the coming fortnight by bailed-out banks Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as HSBC, in disclosing how much each has paid in bonuses for 2013.

The Irish Times gives us the latest instance of Banksters Behaving Badly, this time involving the €12.3 million collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, the biggest bustout in Irish history:

Seán Quinn suspected Anglo was doing ‘a sweetheart deal’

  • Businessman tells court the bank knew it was in serious trouble from November 2007

Former businessman Sean Quinn has told the Anglo Irish Bank trial that he suspected Anglo was “doing a sweetheart deal” when it forced him to sell his stake in the bank.

Mr Quinn, who admitted he used to be Ireland’s richest man, said he could not understand why the share price of Anglo fell so much in July 2008 as the deal was going through. He said that he approached a solicitor in London about the matter.

Mr Quinn told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that the bank knew from November 2007 that it was in serious trouble but that Sean FitzPatrick and David Drumm maintained it was “in rude health” as late as September 2008, shortly after the bank guarantee.

On to France and presidential woes from The Guardian:

Sluggish French growth figures pile more pressure on François Hollande

  • Bank of France forecasts economy will grow 0.2% in January-March compared with the final quarter of 2013

France will eke out meagre economic growth in the first three months of 2014, a spokesman for the central bank said on Monday, as the eurozone’s second-biggest economy struggles to avoid falling further behind the pack.

Data on Monday indicated that French industrial production dropped 0.3% in December by comparison with November, falling short of expectations, although the figure for the fourth quarter as a whole was positive.

The weakness of France’s recovery is adding to pressure on President François Hollande to deliver faster growth. The deeply unpopular Socialist leader has embarked on a shift to more business-friendly policies to bring down near-record unemployment.

France 24 hits the picket lines:

Mass taxi strike strands Paris commuters, tourists

Hundreds of taxis gathered at Paris airports before dawn on Monday as part of a nationwide protest against what cab drivers say is unfair competition posed by a recent surge in popularity of chauffeured cars offered by private companies, or VTCs.

The striking taxis gathered at 6am local time at Charles de Gaulle airport amid a cacophony of blaring horns and under a banner reading “55,000 angry taxis”, with one airport source saying no taxis were servicing the airport, a major international hub.

At regional hub Orly, a hundred vehicles blocked taxi queues to prevent cars from picking up passengers.

Would-be taxi drivers face exorbitant fees ahead of receiving an operating license, often running into the hundreds of thousands.

Switzerland next, and post-electoral anxiety from TheLocal.ch:

Government in damage control mode after vote

Reeling from a vote to cap EU immigration, Switzerland’s government and business community moved on Monday to limit the damage to trade ties with the big European bloc.

Swiss President and Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter played down talk of a “Black Sunday” in ties with Brussels, after 50.3 percent of voters backed a referendum proposal to end a seven-year-old pact that gave equal footing to most EU citizens in the Swiss labour market.

“We need to avoid that kind of language,” he told reporters.

“Switzerland is not going to rip up its deal with the EU on freedom of movement,” he insisted.

EUbusiness covers another set of winners:

Swiss vote is boon for far-right ahead of EU parliament vote

Anti-EU parties already expected to do well in European Parliament elections in May claim the Swiss vote to curb immigration vindicates their stand.

“What the Swiss can do, we can do too,” said Geert Wilders, leader of Holland’s extreme-right PVV.

France’s extreme right National Front party too hailed “the Swiss people’s lucidity,” calling for Paris to stop “mass immigration” while Austria’s far-right FPO party said the country would vote the same way given the chance.

“With the (Swiss) referendum, it becomes more likely that the anti-Europeans will represent the biggest group in the European parliament, with a quarter of the MEPs,” German daily Tagesspiegel said.

Another potential blowback from New Europe:

After the Swiss referendum: the possible return of bank secrecy

The result of the Sunday referendum in Switzerland has stunned the EU. Many politicians reacted with dismay, sometimes even bordering on anger. Thus, Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean Asselborn said: “I respect the decision of the Swiss people… but the Swiss people must also respect the values of the EU.”

The same tone was heard from the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who said on Monday that Europe would review its relations with Switzerland after the “worrying” Swiss vote to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union. “In my opinion it’s bad news both for Europe and for the Swiss because Switzerland will be penalised if it withdraws,” Fabius said. “We’re going to review our relations with Switzerland,” he said.

The withdrawal in question would be Switzerland’s retreat from the Schengen agreement, of which Switzerland is one of the signatories, but which cannot be applied selectively.

The Commission was less vociferous, with the spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen stating on Monday only that “ The Commission regrets the initiative, since it infringes the principle of the free movement”. “Will examine politically and juridically our relations with Switzerland, but restrictions are unacceptable”, she said.”

Counting costs with EUobserver:

Swiss vote jeopardises involvement in multi-billion EU programmes

The EU’s multi-billion research programme Horizon 2020 and its Erasmus student exchange with Switzerland hang in the balance following a Swiss vote over the weekend in favour imposing quotas on EU migrants.

The two would automatically be suspended should Switzerland move to include limits on EU’s newest member state, Croatia. Both agreements are conditioned on free movement.

Croatia is scheduled to sign off on a reciprocal free movement agreement with Switzerland on 1 July. All other member states have a similar agreement.

Still more blowback from Deutsche Welle:

Swiss vote to stem immigration could cause ‘a lot of problems’

Switzerland’s neighbors and the EU say they regret the country’s narrow vote to limit annual migration inflows. Veteran German politician Wolfgang Schäuble warns of “a lot of problems” for the Swiss government in Bern.

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Germany respected the result of Switzerland’s vote. However, he added, it “raises considerable problems,” and said that Merkel had repeatedly stated free movement was a “prized asset” for Germany.

The European Commission said in a statement released after the referendum that it regretted the decision, and would “analyze the consequences of this initiative to our relations in general.”

Despite voicing regret about the result, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned against ignoring the sentiment expressed.

“Of course this does show a little that people are increasingly uneasy about unlimited freedom of movement in this world of globalization. I believe we must take this seriously,” Schäuble said on ARD public television. “We regret this decision. It will cause a lot of problems for Switzerland.”

And a parallel story from TheLocal.ch:

Foreigner jobless rate rises again in January

The unemployment rate in Switzerland remained at 3.5 percent in January, unchanged from the previous month, but the percentage of expats out of work rose again, figures released by the government showed on Monday.

The number of people registered for jobless benefits edged higher to 153,260 people, up 3,823 from December 2013, the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said.

But the level of unemployed foreigners in the country jumped significantly to 7.1 percent in January from 6.9 percent the previous month, while the rate for Swiss nationals stayed unchanged at 2.4 percent.

The rate of expat jobless in Switzerland, accounting for almost half the unemployed in the country, has grown every month for the past several months.

On to Spain, and a change underway from TheLocal.es:

3.5 million ‘Spanish’ Jews to apply for citizenship

Jewish associations expect 3.5 million Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish citizenship after Spain’s Justice Ministry approved a draft law which will allow them to return to the country their ancestors were kicked out of more than 500 years ago.

The descendants of Sephardic Jews banished from Spain in 1492 will now be able to regain Spanish nationality under a new law approved by Madrid’s Cabinet of Ministers on Friday.

Those who can prove their Spanish origins will be able to apply for dual nationality at the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, El Mundo newspaper reported on Sunday.

According to Israel’s Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese Association (OLEI), the newly-approved legislation has already resulted in a flurry of applications from Sephardic Jews around the world.

TheLocal.es trods the boards:

Abortion takes centre stage at Spain’s Oscars

A controversial plan in Spain to scrap easy access to abortions took centre stage at the Goya Awards, the country’s equivalent of the Oscars, with several actresses slamming the reform as they accepted their prizes.

The ceremony was broadcast live on public television network TVE to an estimated audience of 3.6 million people.

The issue has prompted deep debate and big protests in Spain, with many opposed to the conservative government’s draft law unveiled in December that would allow abortion only in cases of rape or health risk to the mother.

Critics say the measure scrapping more liberal access to abortion would throw the Catholic country back decades, when Spanish women had to go abroad to seek pregnancy terminations.

If the law is adopted, Spain would be the first country in the 28-member European Union to reverse legalizing abortion.

On to Portugal and a pronouncement from El País:

“Portugal is not going to need a second bailout”

  • Economy Minister António Pires de Lima says the program will be exited with a growing economy

May 17 is a key date for Portugal. It’s the day on which the 78-billion-euro bailout program it sought in April 2011 is due to end and Portugal will supposedly fully return to the sovereign debt market to fund itself. However, it remains to be seen how Spain’s Iberian neighbor will emerge from this financial assistance program; whether it will be a clean break without any further support, or the current bailout will be replaced by a softer rescue package that still involves some form of external help.

In an interview with EL PAÍS, Portuguese Economy Minister António Pires de Lima explains that the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho will unveil its plans when it believes the moment is right to do so. He is encouraged by the fact the Portuguese economy is already on the road to recovery, although this has yet to become a reality for the population at large.

Among other draconian measures, a brutal increase in taxes, the elimination of extra payments for civil servants and pensioners, wage cuts, and the increase in the standard value-added tax rate to 23 percent have all hit the middle classes hard. The 2014 state budget maintains the fiscal adjustment drive of the previous two years. On top of the withdrawal of extra payments and cuts in salaries introduced in 2012 and the rise in taxes in 2013, this year’s budget also includes a further cut in wages for civil servants earning more than 675 euros a month.

The Portugal News excludes:

Dictator can’t buy Portuguese bank- MEP

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes told Lusa on Friday that the Bank of Portugal and the Portuguese Stock Market Regulator (CMVM) had to fulfill “their role” and stop Equatorial Guinea buying into troubled bank Banif and that she was going to ask the European Commission (EC) to step in.

“This is yet another case where I have to intervene and ask the EC to ensure that a bank that is being rescued with funds that are part of Portugal’s bailout loan, and which are going to have to be paid back by Portuguese taxpayers, is not bought up in part by a corrupt and criminal regime as part of a money laundering scheme”, the Socialist MEP told Lusa News Agency.

“I think it is unbelievable that something like this can happen and hope that the Bank of Portugal and the CMVM do their job properly and do not allow this to happen because it is extremely dangerous for BANIF and I would like to alert all account holders about how incredibly dangerous it is going to be to have financing from somewhere like Equatorial Guinea, a sinister regime that is flagged on all indexes of dictatorial, miserable regimes where the population gets poorer and poorer while the presidential family lines their pockets on a daily basis”, she said.

On to Italy and more bad news from TheLocal.it:

Recovery hopes dwindle as Italian industry lags

A 0.9-percent slump in Italy’s industrial production in December, following three months of consecutive increases, disappointed investors on Monday and cast a shadow over hopes for a recovery this year.

The official data from the Istat agency showed industrial production was also down 0.7 percent from December 2012 and down 3.0 percent over all of 2013.

Analysts had expected the monthly figure to remain unchanged, after the economy in the third quarter formally ended two painful years of recession with zero growth in Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“The result does not question the forecast of a return to growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 but it does confirm that the recovery will be very gradual,” said Paolo Mameli, an economist from Intesa Sanpaolo bank. The fourth quarter figure will be announced on Friday.

After the jump, the latest crises news from Greece, Bosnian outrage, Ukrainian regime change dreaming, Mexican vigilantes, Indian worries and wages, Thai troubles, neoliberalism moves in Myanmar, development bank devastation in Cambodia, Aussie auto woes, the latest Chinese angst, more down numbers in Japan, energy environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Spools, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compilation of headlines from the realms of espionage, militarism, and territorial ambitions with the latest Edward Snowden leal form the New York Times:

Snowden Used Low-Cost Tool to Best N.S.A.

Intelligence officials investigating how Edward J. Snowden gained access to a huge trove of the country’s most highly classified documents say they have determined that he used inexpensive and widely available software to “scrape” the National Security Agency’s networks, and kept at it even after he was briefly challenged by agency officials.

Using “web crawler” software designed to search, index and back up a website, Mr. Snowden “scraped data out of our systems” while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official. “We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” the official said. The process, he added, was “quite automated.”

The findings are striking because the N.S.A.’s mission includes protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence computer systems from cyberattacks, especially the sophisticated attacks that emanate from Russia and China. Mr. Snowden’s “insider attack,” by contrast, was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found.

Moreover, Mr. Snowden succeeded nearly three years after the WikiLeaks disclosures, in which military and State Department files, of far less sensitivity, were taken using similar techniques.

On to the Emerald Isle and an Irish Times claim of sensitive bugging beyond the ken of  Minister for Justice Alan Shatter [or so he says]:

Bugging found at offices of Garda complaints watchdog

  • Government not informed, Shatter yet to comment on controversy

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates complaints made against Garda members, has found evidence that its discussions, telephone calls and emails had been hacked by an unidentified source.

The discovery was made last year when the organisation carried out a sweep of its offices using a UK-based private contractor that specialises in counter surveillance. Since then, security has been improved in Gsoc including the establishment of a dedicated meeting room that cannot be bugged.

The sweep of Gsoc’s offices in Middle Abbey St in Dublin’s north inner city found a speaker phone in a conference room where cases were discussed was bugged. There was no physical bugging device in the phone, though a check on the line revealed it had been electronically monitored in a way that enabled a third party to listen in to conversations being conducted in the room and on the phone in question.

The UK security consultants that carried out the inspection on behalf of Gsoc also concluded that the office’s wi-fi system had been compromised from outside the building.

From BBC News, a security struggle south of the border:

Mexico vigilantes enter Knights Templar cartel stronghold

  • Vigilantes checkpoint in Apatzingan The vigilantes say they will only rest when the Knights Templar leaders are in jail

Vigilante groups in the troubled Mexican state of Michoacan have entered a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel, occupying the main square.

Hundreds of vigilantes, backed up by armoured vehicles and troops, arrived in Apatzingan on Saturday.

They have also set up roadblocks around the city, in western Mexico.

The cartel controls much of the drug trafficking in the area, carrying out killings and kidnappings and extorting money from local people.

Vigilante leaders, who have joined the official security forces, and the army have been searching house by house for leaders of the Knights Templar.

On to Asia for the latest round of zone, militarism, historical, and political crises, starting with a turndown from Kyodo News:

N. Korea cancels invitation for U.S. envoy over release of missionary

North Korea has backed off on its decision to allow a U.S. special envoy to visit in connection with a Korean-American missionary imprisoned in the North, sources familiar with relations between the two countries said Sunday.

The latest move came after North Korea on Wednesday made known its approval of the visit by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, through its mission to the United Nations known as the “New York channel.” The North’s about-face means hopes are receding that it will respond to calls by Washington to release the missionary, Kenneth Bae.

The U.S. side, which has repeatedly reached out to the North on dispatching King, had been making the final arrangements to send King to the North in the coming days after Pyongyang notified Washington of its initial approval, the sources said.

South China Morning Post tries to settle up:

Manila to offer ‘generous’ payout over bus tragedy

  • But latest effort to settle bus tragedy row fails to impress victims

Manila hopes to settle the diplomatic rift between Manila and Hong Kong over the 2010 hostage bloodbath with a “generous” compensation payout, Philippine media reported yesterday.

But the initial reaction from survivors was one of fury that they were being offered money instead of an apology.

It comes just days after the city imposed its first sanction against a foreign state – cancelling visa-free arrangements for Philippine officials and diplomatic passport holders.

The news also coincides with a report in the mainland Southern Metropolis Daily in which Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said it was “regrettable” he had not been able to come to Hong Kong to offer a formal apology as promised, blaming pressure from Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

People’s Daily prepares:

PLA Navy conducts confrontation training in Indian Ocean, the Pacific

  • The taskforce, composed of an amphibious dock landing ship and two guided missile destroyers, as well as three helicopters and an airboat, is scheduled to cross the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait, and the Makassar Strait during the training which started on Jan. 20, 2014.

South China Morning Post has a trial run:

Rescue of blazing boat by frigate seen as PLA statement in East China Sea

  • Swift action by PLA Navy – after Japanese had offered to assist burning Zhejiang fishing boat – seen as sign of its readiness in East China Sea

A naval frigate came to the rescue of a Zhejiang fishing boat on fire near disputed waters in the East China Sea, shedding light on the People’s Liberation Army’s readiness to deploy in the region amid the simmering territorial spat with Japan.

The missile frigate Zhoushan sailed at high speed for 3½ hours to reach the burning boat late on Friday, 280 kilometres west-northwest of Amami-Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture.

It arrived ahead of three Japanese coastguard patrol ships that responded to an earlier request by China for help, according to mainland media and Japan’s Kyodo news agency. Xinhua reported six of the 24 people aboard died in the blaze.

The Guardian condemns:

China accuses US of adding to regional tensions

  • Washington only making things worse by ‘playing up’ South China Sea disputes, says Beijing

An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with China over the South China Sea An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty

China has rejected US allegations it is using vague territorial claims to gradually assert control in the disputed South China Sea and in turn accused Washington of exaggerating tensions in the region.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the US should take a “rational and fair attitude”. Hong reiterated China’s position that its claims are based on history and international law, and said some US officials’ remarks were “playing up tensions”.

The United States said on Wednesday that actions by China had raised concerns it was trying to assert control over an area covering roughly 80% of the South China Sea despite the objections of its neighbours.

The resource-rich waters are dotted with reefs and islands subject to multiple disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

And the Asahi Shimbun has the latest developments in one of the most recent revisionism crises, a strong word from Uncle Sam:

U.S. State Department calls remarks by NHK governor ‘preposterous’

The U.S. State Department described as “preposterous” remarks by a governor for Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) who alleged the Tokyo war crimes trial was designed to cover up U.S. atrocities during World War II.

The writer Naoki Hyakuta made the comments Feb. 3 when he gave speeches on behalf of Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff running for Tokyo governor. The election will be held Feb. 9.

Hyakuta said the U.S. military committed “cruel massacres” by fire-bombing Tokyo and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He went on to say that the Nanking Massacre was brought up in the Tokyo tribunal because the U.S. military wanted to cancel out its own crimes.

He also claimed that the massacre never happened.

The Japan Times lends support:

NHK governors back Abe agenda, minutes reveal

Minutes of a recent NHK board of governors meeting seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan’s news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK’s website, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the Jan. 14 meeting.

One of the four new members favored by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan’s territorial claims on islands at the center of a dispute with China, its wartime history, as well as the problems with the post-World War II U.S.-led Allied tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

“I think there should be room for programs that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with,” said one governor, Naoki Hyakuta, author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another governor, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressedthe need to promote “correct education” for the public.

NHK WORLD promises:

NHK chief vows to uphold fairness, impartiality

NHK’s new President Katsuto Momii says he’s retracting all personal remarks made at his inaugural news conference, and will work to ensure that the public broadcaster fulfills its duty to be impartial, fair and just.

Momii spoke at a session of the Upper House committee on Friday. He was questioned by an opposition lawmaker about remarks he made in late January.

Momii replied that he is truly sorry for not making a distinction between his personal views and his position as NHK president.

He said he would like to retract all he has said on several issues. They include a recently enacted state secrecy law and the so-called comfort women who were recruited to serve in brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War Two.

And The Diplomat casts a skeptical eye:

NHK and Abe’s Agenda

  • Disturbing statements by the new head of Japan’s national broadcaster raise questions about its future role.

The Imperial Japanese army’s system of sexual slavery during World War Two was not wrong judged by the standards of the time. At least not according to the new chairman of NHK, Japan’s giant public broadcaster. Katsuto Momii, recently appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, set off a firestorm last week with remarks dismissing the forcible rape of twenty thousand Asian “comfort women” as morally no worse than the red light district in modern Amsterdam. He described demands to compensate surviving victims as “puzzling.” Momii then announced his belief that NHK’s foreign news coverage should support government policy on controversial issues such as the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute with China.

These comments prompted fierce criticism across East Asia (as did later remarks by NHK governor Naoki Hyakuta denying the Nanking Massacre). Momii’s statements also led to some harsh questioning in the Japanese Diet. Yet Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are standing by their appointee. The episode reveals a deep-seated misogyny within Japan’s ruling elites which casts serious doubt on Abe’s professed commitment to improve the status of women, a key part of the as-yet-undelivered structural reforms essential for the success of Abenomics. Equally troubling, Japan’s most prominent news organization is now headed by someone who, rather than fighting for editorial independence, is openly sympathetic to political influence. If Momii does let NHK’s foreign reporting be guided by the hawkish prime minister, the consequences could be terrible for peaceful relations across East Asia.

Moving on, another network, another history-based crisis from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Russians rally to support TV station

At least 20 people have been detained in Russia for protesting what they believe is overt political pressure on the country’s main independent TV station.

Around 40 people gathered in downtown Moscow on Saturday to protest the decision of leading Russian cable and satellite companies to drop the channel, Dozhd (TV Rain). Protesters gathered near Red Square and opened up umbrellas, playing on the name of the TV station. Except for women with children, most were immediately detained.

Dozhd, which broadcasts on the Internet, cable and satellite channels, stirred controversy in January with a poll about the blockade of Leningrad during World War II.

The Kremlin said the station crossed a moral “red line,” but many have ascribed the pressure to Dozhd’s independent and often critical coverage of the government.

The Mainichi has bugs and drones:

Gov’t to relax weight regulation on drones for pesticide spraying

The government has decided to relax restrictions on the maximum gross weight of unmanned helicopters used to spray pesticides on farms in the hope of increasing the amount of pesticides that can be loaded on one chopper and improving productivity.

The decision came after a panel on reviving primary industries such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded at the end of last year to ease the weight regulations on unmanned helicopters. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the government’s council for regulatory reform then agreed to relax the regulation from less than 100 kilograms to less than 150 kilograms.

The Cabinet is set to approve a revision to the enforcement order of the Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Act in March and aims to put the revised law into effect the following month.

From The Register, a drone apart:

UK claims ‘significant lead’ in drones after Taranis test flight

  • Supersonic Brit stealth drone did the business in 2013 tests

BAE Systems kindly let the world know of the test flight late last week, a mere six months after the fact.

They’re telling us everything went swimmingly and that a Taranis prototype piloted from the ground did so well “ that the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected.”

To be a little less paranoid, it can take rather a while to crunch data that enables an assertion like that above.

The Register again, accessorizing:

Renault unveils mini-SUV equipped with a QUADCOPTER DRONE

  • Target: Hip young Asian ‘trend setters’ – the marketers’ target, not the Flying Companion’s

Visitors to the Delhi Auto Expo motor show are getting the first look at a new concept car from Renault, the Kwid, which features a controllable quadrocopter drone that flies out of the roof.

“This is the first time we have chosen to reveal a concept car outside Europe and this is an eloquent sign of our commitment to India,” said Gilles Normand, chairman of Renault Asia-Pacific in a statement.

“Young customers in India are often trend setters, looking forward to pushing the envelope when it comes to technology and enjoyable drives. Kwid, with its Flying Companion, meets this forward-looking spirit with both its dynamic styling and hyper connectivity.”

From RT, an attempt to kill the messenger?:

Finnish police probe Wikipedia’s donation campaign

Finnish police have asked Wikipedia to reveal details of its donation campaign in the country to determine whether the free online encyclopedia is in breach of Finland’s fundraising laws.

Law enforcement wants to take a look at the encyclopedia’s donation program – which runs globally – as well as the Finnish version of the website, fi.wikipedia.org, according to a police letter posted by Wikimedia.

According to the country’s laws, organizations seeking donations must obtain permission from Finnish police. The measure was introduced to crack down on fraudulent donations drives in the country.

One of the central requirements in the fundraising legislation is that organizations seeking donations must be working in the public interest.

Police are investigating whether Wikipedia’s donation program breaches any of the country’s laws, as the company did not apply for the proper license.

From Deutsche Welle, Turkish censorship:

Saka: ‘Government will decide what violates privacy’

Turkish laws censoring the Internet extend existing policies clamping down on free speech, Istanbul communications instructor Erkan Saka tells DW. Any opposition to Prime Minister Erdogan will be blocked.

Turkey has already blocked more than 40,000 sites. They include child pornography and any kind of porn sites and any sites that are deemed “obscene.” Radical political sites are also banned. With the new law, instead of blocking a whole site – especially social media based sites – the government intends to block particular pages and accounts. It is easy to see that any opposition will be blocked. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proven many, many times that he is not open to even minor criticism.

And for our final item, an Indian lament from Firstpost:

The Whistleblowers act is a joke, but better than no act at all

The primary purpose of any Whistleblowers Bill is to prevent the victimization of individuals who make a disclosure against their organization in public interest. So, naturally the first question that a potential informant will ask is what actions is he/she protected against? What constitutes ‘victimization’? Does it include only suspension and transfer or also indirect forms of retribution like denial of promotion, dilution of powers, withholding increments and adverse remark in the service record?

Against all logic, the Bill provides no definition of ‘victimisation’ even though a comprehensive definition of this term was provided in the Law Commission’s version of the Whistleblowers Bill.

And suppose, in the middle of the most vulnerable and turbulent time of his life, a whistleblower does manage to establish this undefined crime of ‘victimization’, what is the punishment prescribed for the public official in the Bill? Nothing- zero, zilch, nada- despite the recommendation of Administrative Reforms Commission in 2007 that ‘victimization’ should be made a criminal offence with substantial penalty and sentence.

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliSinoFuku


Opening our compendium of headlines fromn the economic, political, and environmental developments, a Trans-Pacific Panic from Techdirt:

USTR Finally Realizing Its All Encompassing Secrecy May Be A Problem, Calls Frantic Meeting For All ‘Cleared’ Lobbyists

  • from the you’re-doing-it-wrong dept

It’s been funny for years watching the USTR continue to repeat the same laughable line about how they’ve had “unprecedented transparency” concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement — an agreement that is still completely secret, other than a couple chapters leaked to Wikileaks. Here’s a hint: if the text of the agreement is only available thanks to Wikileaks, you’re not being transparent, precedented or not. Even the NY Times slammed the USTR’s lack of transparency, and multiple members of Congress have been arguing that they’re not at all comfortable with the lack of transparency from the USTR. Because of this, it seems that the USTR’s desire for fast track authority, which would let it route around Congressional review, is on life support and close to dead.

Given that, it appears that the USTR is in panic mode, and has frantically called an all day meeting for all “cleared advisors” (i.e., the corporate representatives who actually do get to see the document) concerning the whole transparency issue.

From the New York Times, double trouble:

Payroll Data Shows a Lag in Wages, Not Just Hiring

For the more than 10 million Americans who are out of work, finding a job is hard. For the 145 million or so who are employed, getting a raise is even harder.

The government said on Friday that employers added 113,000 jobs in January, the second straight month of anemic growth, despite some signs of strength in the broader economy. The unemployment rate inched down in January to 6.6 percent, the lowest level since October 2008, from 6.7 percent in December.

But the report also made plain what many Americans feel in their bones: Wages are stuck, and barely rose at all in 2013. They were up 1.9 percent last year, or a mere 0.4 percent after accounting for inflation. Not only was that increase even smaller than the one recorded in 2012, it was half the normal rate of wage gains in the two decades before the last recession.

More from Deutsche Welle:

US employment figures fail to thrill analysts

  • Fresh figures from the US Labor Department have shown employers have hired far fewer workers in January than expected. Analysts viewed this as a loss of momentum in the national economy after an already weak December.

Meager job gains towards the end of last year were barely improved upon in January, the US Labor Department reported Friday.

The latest monthly figures showed nonfarm payrolls rose only by 113,000, with 185,000 penciled in by analysts.

With strong job increases in construction, cold weather was not a major factor for the slow pick-up, nurturing fears of a general loss of momentum of the national economy.

CNBC diversifies:

Wealthy avoiding stocks, buying art

Art often imitates stocks—at least when it comes to prices.

But so far this year, stock markets are down and art is up.

Sotheby’s two days of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales racked up £215.8 million (more than $345 million), the highest ever for a sale series in London. All its lots sold. The top was Camille Pissarro’s 1897 painting “Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps,” which went for £19.7 million, or about $32 million—nearly double its top presale estimate.

Christie’s had a good week, too, selling Juan Gris’ 1915 still life “The Checked Tablecloth” for $56.7 million. The previous record for a Gris was $28 million. The Impressionist and Modern evening sale totaled $288 million.

Collectible cars are also on a tear. A 1957 Ferrari Testarossa sold in Britain this week for $40 million. And a series of auctions in Paris set a spate of new records for certain cars. RM Auctions gaveled down on a 1955 Jaguar D-Type for about $5 million.

The Project On Government Oversight notes the exceptional:

Head of SEC Given Waiver to Oversee Past Client

Mary Jo White, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), will be allowed to oversee her former client, Credit Suisse, according to a new ethics waiver the U.S. Office of Government Ethics posted to its website this week.

Before coming to the SEC, White, a former attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton, represented Wall Street giants such as UBS and JPMorgan. President Obama nominated her to head the SEC in January 2013.

Her waiver underscores the complications that can often arise when a former white-collar defense attorney becomes a top regulator overseeing an industry she used to represent.

According to the waiver, signed by the SEC’s ethics officer on Feb. 6, White had been prohibited from overseeing Credit Suisse since joining the agency because she provided legal services to the bank during her stint at Debevoise. In the two years prior to her SEC nomination, she “billed in total less than one hour (0.5 hours in January 2012 and 0.4 hours in February 2012) for work on Credit Suisse matters,” the waiver says.

Wrist-slappage from the Los Angeles Times:

Gov. Brown, Newsom to get warning letters from ethics agency

Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among 40 officials receiving warning letters from the state ethics agency after their campaigns received improper contributions from a lobbying firm, representatives said Friday.

A firm headed by Kevin Sloat has reached a tentative agreement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay more than $100,000 in fines involving violations of California’s campaign finance laws, according to sources familiar with the investigation who are not authorized to speak publicly.

The firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates provided prohibited contributions, including expensive wine and cigars, at fundraisers held for elected officials at his Sacramento mansion.

Top-heaviness from The Wire:

Universities Are Cutting Tenured Faculty While They Load Up on ‘Non-Academic’ Administrators

As the cost of college remains exorbitant, recent trends indicate schools in the United States are trading tenured professors for non-academic administrative staff. It’s pretty clear where American colleges have their priorities, and it’s not in academics. Students are paying more to attend schools that are spending less to teach them, and instead spending that tuition money on administration.

According to a new report from the New England Center for Investigating Reporting, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years.” Meanwhile, full-time tenured faculty positions are at the lowest rate in 25 years, while the prevalence of adjunct professors – part-time, non-tenured professors – is at its highest. In fact, according to the American Association of University Professors, “more than three of every four (76 percent) of instructional staff positions are filled on a contingent basis,” meaning without tenure.

The reason that non-tenured professors are so much more popular than tenured faculty is simple: they’re cheaper. Adjunct professors, especially, make very little. Most are paid on a per-course basis, making somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 for each course taught.

Bloomberg Businessweek bemoans:

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Be Born at AOL

AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong ruffled more than a few of his employees’ feathers when he disclosed this week that two AOL workers’ “distressed” babies had whacked the company with $2 million in medical bills.

The costly children were cited—along with more than $7 million in costs from the Affordable Care Act—as the reason AOL (AOL) changed its 401(k) account match to an annual lump sum payment. Workers who aren’t on the payroll at year’s end will forfeit AOL’s 3 percent matching contribution to the accounts. IBM (IBM) made a similar change in 2012. If you plan to quit, management thinking goes, forget about collecting our share of your retirement savings.

Many employees didn’t react well to either bit of news, according to news reports. First, there’s the financial blow to workers, who will lose 401(k) funds if they leave AOL, as well as miss the opportunity to have the company’s match bolster their financial returns over a full year. There’s also the shock that accompanies hearing your boss tag a colleague’s difficult pregnancy and her newborn child as the reason your retirement plan was cut.

Stark realization from the Exchange:

Why Walmart is getting too expensive for the middle class

Walmart is struggling with weak sales and an underperforming stock price. The company recently cut its profit outlook, with analysts polled by S&P Capital IQ expecting just a 2.1% gain in sales when Walmart reports its quarterly earnings on February 20. That’s for a company that has consistently outcompeted nearly every other retailer except, perhaps, Amazon. Walmart’s stock has suffered, rising just 4% during the past year, while the S&P 500 index rose 17% during the same timeframe.

Walmart, though known as a discounter, may be too expensive for millions of shoppers finding themselves more pinched — not less — as the pace of the so-called recovery accelerates. “Their consumer is shifting downward,” says Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for financial-data firm Bloomberg LP. “The competition for Walmart is changing. It’s now dollar stores.”

Where some of their money went, via the Los Angeles Times:

Walton group funds more charter schools in L.A. than elsewhere

Los Angeles charter schools have been the largest recipients of funding from the foundation associated with the family that started Wal-Mart, according to figures released Wednesday.

Since 1997, the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation has distributed $35.9 million in start-up grants to 159 L.A.-area charters. By comparison, Walton has supported the creation of 125 charters in New York City.

Last year alone, the foundation made grants to 23 new L.A. schools, totaling more than $4.69 million, that were set to open in the near future. Both the annual and cumulative totals are higher than for any other region.

Charter schools are independently managed, free from some rules that govern traditional schools and outside the direct control of the local Board of Education. In California, local school boards are required by law to authorize and oversee all financially viable and academically sound charter school petitions. No school system has more charters than the L.A. Unified School District.

More from Slashdot:

25% of Charter Schools Owe Their Soul To the Walmart Store

Among the billionaires who helped Bill Gates pave the way for charter schools in WA was Walmart heiress Alice Walton. The Walton Family Foundation spent a whopping $158+ million in 2012 on what it calls ‘systemic K-12 education reform,’ which included $60,920,186 to ‘shape public policy’ and $652,209 on ‘research and evaluation.’

Confirming the LA Times’ speculation about its influence, the Walton Foundation issued a press release Wednesday boasting it’s the largest private funder of charter school ‘startups,’ adding that it has supported the opening of 1 in 4 charter schools in the U.S. since 1997 through its 1,500 ‘investments.’

In These Times fuels around:

Angering Environmentalists, AFL-CIO Pushes Fossil-Fuel Investment

Labor’s Richard Trumka has gone on record praising the Keystone pipeline and natural gas export terminals.

Trumka’s comments come at a sensitive time, as trade unions and leading environmental groups have sought to build political partnerships with each other in recent years.

The nation’s leading environmental groups are digging their heels in the sand by rejecting President Obama’s “all-of-the above” domestic energy strategy—which calls for pursuing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but simultaneously expanding oil and gas production.

But it appears the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, won’t be taking environmentalists’ side in this fight, despite moves toward labor-environmentalist cooperation in recent years. On a recent conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed two initiatives reviled by green groups: the Keystone XL pipeline and new natural gas export terminals.

“There’s no environmental reason that [the pipeline] can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs,” said Trumka.

In response to a question from In These Times, Trumka also spoke in favor of boosting exports of natural gas.

Bad news from the Associated Press:

Moody’s downgrades Puerto Rico credit rating

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Puerto Rico’s credit rating to junk status.

The announcement Friday by the credit rating agency comes just days after Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. territory’s debt to junk as well.

Moody’s says its decision was based in part of not seeing sufficient economic growth to help reverse negative financial trends.

News from north of the border via South China Morning Post:

Exclusive: Vancouver facing an influx of 45,000 more rich Chinese

  • Over 60pc seeking Canadian wealthy investor visa are from China and want to live in British Columbia’s main city, data shows

A South China Morning Post investigation into Canada’s immigration programme for millionaire investors has revealed the extraordinary extent to which it has become devoted to a single outcome: Helping rich mainland Chinese settle in Vancouver.

Immigration Department data obtained by the Post suggests there was a backlog of more than 45,000 rich Chinese waiting for approval of their applications to move to British Columbia as of January last year. They are estimated to have a minimum combined wealth of C$12.9 billion (HK$90 billion).

And a complication, also from South China Morning Post:

Canada floats new citizenship rules that could affect thousands of Chinese

  • Longer abode requirement and demand for tax returns may affect thousands of Hongkongers and mainlanders granted permanent residency

Canada has unveiled sweeping reforms that would require immigrants spend more time as permanent residents, file tax returns and sign an undertaking to continue living in the country if they want to become citizens.

The proposed redrawing of the Citizenship Act, unveiled on Thursday, would lengthen the period of residency required from three years to four years.

Language proficiency requirements would be extended to children as young as 14 and adults as old as 64, and penalties for fraudulent applications toughened.

China is the biggest single source of applications for Canadian permanent residency and among those who may be affected by the changes are the 110,813 mainland Chinese and 3,305 Hongkongers granted permanent residency between 2010 and the middle of last year.

And a global alarm from Spiegel:

Troubled Times: Developing Economies Hit a BRICS Wall

  • Until recently, investors viewed China, Brazil and India as a sure thing. Lately, though, their economies have shown signs of weakness and money has begun flowing back to the West. Worries are mounting the BRICS dream is fading.

It was 12 years ago that Jim O’Neill had his innovative idea. An investment banker with Goldman Sachs, he had become convinced following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that the United States and Europe were facing economic decline. He believed that developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia could profit immensely from globalization and become the new locomotives of the global economy. O’Neill wanted to advise his clients to invest their money in the promising new players. But he needed a catchy name.

It proved to be a simple task. He simply took the first letter of each country in the quartet and came up with BRIC, an acronym which sounded like the foundation for a solid investment.

O’Neill, celebrated by Businessweek as a “rock star” in the industry, looked for years like a vastly successful prophet. From 2001 to 2013, the economic output of the four BRIC countries rose from some $3 billion a year to $15 billion. The quartet’s growth, later made a quintet with the inclusion of South Africa (BRICS), was instrumental in protecting Western prosperity as well. Investors made a mint and O’Neill’s club even emerged as a real political power. Now, the countries’ leaders meet regularly and, despite their many differences, have often managed to function as a counterweight to the West.

On to Europe and uber-bankster empowerment from Reuters:

ECB to gain far-reaching powers as euro zone banks’ supervisor

The European Central Bank will attain significant powers over the euro zone’s commercial banks once it becomes their supervisor later this year, including withdrawing bank licences and assessing acquisitions, it said on Friday.

From November, the ECB will supervise directly around 130 of the bloc’s largest lenders as part of a broader push towards closer integration of Europe’s banks that aims to create a more level regional playing field for the sector.

The region’s other 5,900 or so banks will remain under the brief of national supervisors, though the ECB will have powers to intervene if it deems necessary.

“(The ECB) will be exclusively competent to grant and withdraw authorizations for credit institutions and to assess acquisitions of qualifying holdings in all credit institutions,” it said in a draft document that laid out how the ECB and national supervisors will cooperate under the new Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM).

Channel NewsAsia Singapore tosses in a monkey wrench:

Germany sends ECB’s crisis-killing action to EU court

Germany’s highest court expressed doubts on Friday about the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme, credited with stopping the eurozone crisis, and sent the case to the European Court of Justice.

Some analysts suggested that the decision might turn out to be helpful to the central bank.

Back in September 2012, the Constitutional Court had rejected legal challenges by a group of eurosceptics to the two key eurozone crisis tools — the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European fiscal pact.

As a result, German President Joachim Gauck was able to sign those two crisis tools into law.

But the eurosceptics also filed a last-minute challenge to the ECB’s OMT bond purchase programme, arguing that it amounted to monetisation of sovereign debt and overstepped the central bank’s mandate.

The London Telegraph-ic take:

German court parks tank on ECB lawn, kills OMT bond rescue

  • Doubtful whether ECB’s back-stop scheme for bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again

Germany’s top court has issued a blistering attack on the European Central Bank, arguing that its rescue plan for the euro violates EU treaty law and exceeds the bank’s policy mandate.

The tough language leaves it doubtful whether the ECB’s back-stop scheme for Spanish and Italian bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again, and greatly complicates any future recourse to quantitative easing if needed to head off Japanese-style deflation.

And an affirmation from EUbusiness:

ECB insists bond buying programme ‘within mandate’

The European Central Bank insisted on Friday that its contested OMT bond buying programme did not breach its rules, after Germany’s constitutional court expressed some scepticism.

“The ECB takes note of the announcement made today by the German constitutional court. The ECB reiterates that the OMT programme falls within its mandate,” the central bank said in a short statement.

On to Britain and a disappointment from Bloomberg:

U.K. Manufacturing Rises Less Than Forecast as Growth Eases

U.K. factories increased production by less than forecast in December, suggesting manufacturing is set for steady rather than runaway growth this year.

Output rose 0.3 percent from November, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. That compares with the 0.6 percent median of 26 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Industrial production, which also includes utilities and mines, climbed 0.4 percent, also less than predicted.

While the U.K. economy expanded at the fastest rate since 2007 last year, industry surveys on services and manufacturing this week suggested the pace may have eased at the start of 2014. The Bank of England kept its key policy rate at a record-low 0.5 percent yesterday, while a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research today says consumer spending and a buoyant housing market will drive growth.

The Guardian has guilty knowledge:

Bank of England ‘knew about’ forex markets price fixing

  • Notes from 2012 meeting reportedly show key Bank officials were told of rival currency dealers’ sharing of customer orders

The Bank of England has been dragged into the mounting controversy over allegations of price fixing in the £3tn-a-day foreign exchange markets after it emerged that a group of traders had told the Bank they were exchanging information about their clients’ position.

The latest twist in the unfolding saga – already the subject of investigations by regulators around the world – puts the focus on a meeting between key officials at the central bank and leading foreign exchange dealers in April 2012, when they discussed the way they handled trades ahead of the crucial setting of a benchmark in the prices of major currencies. This benchmark is used to price a wide variety of financial products and is the subject of regulators’ attention amid allegations that traders at rival banks were sharing information about their orders from clients to manipulate the price.

New Europe complicates frack-tiosly:

Shale Gas Fear Leaves UK Vulnerable

Cuadrilla Resources, one of the energy firms hoping to exploit the UK’s shale gas resources, has announced two new exploration sites in Lancashire. But drilling for shale gas in Britain is going to be extremely controversial.

“There is potential but the level of public reaction to it is extremely negative at the moment and anybody trying to carry even testing at the moment is finding a lot of demonstrations,” Justin Urquhart Stewart, Director of Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe on 7 February, adding that the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is going to find it very difficult to actually get it through. “The potential is there but realistically I think they’re going to run into a lot of public concern unless it can be proven not to be dangerous to local communities,” Urquhart Stewart said. Unlike America, Britain is a crowded island and has a much bigger impact on a smaller area, he said.

From The Guardian, a land rush:

Fresh wave of super-rich looking to buy up London properties, says estate agent

  • Political and economic instability driving rise in inquiries from Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and elsewhere, reckons Frank Knight

Political and financial upheaval in some of the world’s largest emerging economies is driving a wave of rich migrants to London to park their wealth in the city’s property market, according to data from a leading estate agency.

Knight Frank, a specialist in upmarket properties, said on Friday that online inquiries from Argentina, Ukraine and Turkey have soared during the past year.

“There is potentially a further wave of investment headed for the prime central London property market,” said Tom Bill of the firm’s residential research team.

The Observer covers austerian reality:

Changes to state pensions will hit the poorest, warns think tank

  • Inequalities set to grow as people in the most deprived parts of the country live healthy lives 20 years shorter than the average

Changes to the state pension age will only expand the already yawning gap between rich and poor in Britain, according to an academic study.

Inequalities are set to grow because of the failure to take into account differences in health and life expectancy across the country, says the report from independent think tank the International Longevity Centre – UK and backed by the charity Age UK.

While most people will live to state pension age and beyond, a large proportion are unlikely to get there in good health, especially in more disadvantaged parts of the UK – places like inner city Glasgow, where the healthy life expectancy is just 46.7 years – close to 20 years lower than the national average of 65.

BBC News embarrasses:

Immigration minister Mark Harper quits over cleaner’s visa

Immigration minister Mark Harper has resigned from the government after it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.

Mr Harper notified Prime Minister David Cameron, who accepted his resignation “with regret”, Number 10 said.

It added there was “no suggestion” the 43-year-old Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean had “knowingly employed an illegal immigrant”.

Fellow Tory James Brokenshire has been appointed the new immigration minister.

The Observer has frustrations:

Nick Clegg: Britain must join debate on new approach to war on drugs

  • Deputy PM angry at Tory refusal to debate alternatives and says: ‘If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’

Nick Clegg has dragged the case for reforming the drugs laws to the centre ground of British politics, saying that blanket prohibition has seen cocaine use triple in less than 20 years, a trend that has helped perpetuate conflict and violence in South America.

Writing in today’s Observer, after a week in which he visited Colombia to learn first-hand the devastating effects that Europe’s enthusiasm for cocaine has had on the country, Clegg said the UK needed to be at the heart of the debate about potential alternatives to blanket prohibition and that he wanted to see an end to “the tradition where politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences”.

The deputy prime minister said such an approach “has stifled debate and inhibited a proper examination of our approach. Put simply, if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform”.

On to the Emerald Isle and a neoliberal endorsement from the Irish Times:

Taoiseach defends corporate tax policy at OECD

  • Kenny shrugs off French anger at loss of internet companies and backs efforts to close tax loopholes

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and the four Cabinet Ministers who flew on the government jet to Paris yesterday did not see a single member of the French socialist government.

Instead, they spent the day at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that hotbed of liberal economics, at a sensitive time in Franco-Irish relations. The US internet giant Yahoo had just announced it is transferring financial operations from France to Ireland.

Asked about Yahoo’s defection, President François Hollande said “we must act” against “big companies who move to countries with low corporate tax”. He promised to raise the subject with President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

On to Germany and a case of bad heilth from Deutsche Welle:

German newspaper report highlights right-wing crime in Germany

  • More than 11,000 right-wing criminal offenses were committed last year, according to a report by a German newspaper. Of those cases, more than 500 were violent.

German police registered 11,761 criminal offenses motivated by right-wing extremism between January and December of 2013, Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper reported on Friday. Of the reported cases, 574 were violent offenses that resulted in injuries to 561 people, according to Tagesspiegel.

Of the 5,631 suspects in the offenses, 126 people were arrested. In 11 cases, warrants were issued. Some 788 cases were reported as being of an anti-Semitic nature, including 32 cases of assault and other violent crimes.

According to the newspaper, the figures come from monthly inquiries by the Bundestag’s Vice President Petra Pau and her Left Party parliamentary faction. With the release of the December figures, a complete look at the last year is now available.

Tagesspiegel said, however, the actual number of right-wing criminal offenses for 2013 is expected to climb, as many incidents are registered after the fact. In 2012, the total number was initially listed as 11,660, but late registrations ended up driving the total up to 17,134.

TheLocal.de boosts the books:

German trade surplus hits record level

Germany’s trade surplus soared to a new record high in 2013, although export momentum tailed off at the end of the year, official data showed on Friday.

Europe’s biggest economy notched up a trade surplus of €198.9 billion in 2013, the highest since foreign trade data have been compiled.

In 2012, the surplus had stood at 1€89.8 billion.

Germany has come under fire for its booming trade surplus, with critics arguing that its economic prowess comes at the expense of the eurozone’s weaker members.

On to France and the rural right from France 24:

France’s National Front courts the rural vote

As municipal and European elections approach, France’s far-right party the National Front is poised for another strong showing. Rural areas are key to the party’s strategy: economic decline and feelings of neglect in the countryside have been fuelling the National Front’s renaissance.

Our assignment was to understand why the far-right is making strides in rural areas. So we headed out for the “Meuse”, a department in the east of France where the party traditionally does well.

To our initial surprise, villagers readily expressed their support for the National Front, even on camera. “We’re 100 percent for Marine Le Pen around here”, smiled one supporter as we approached. “I’m not afraid to say so, and I always will!”

Reuters turns the coat:

Special Report: Francois Hollande puts on a new political face

As Hollande heads without a First Lady to the United States on Monday, he is projecting a more business-friendly persona than the “regular guy” left-winger France chose in May 2012 to replace conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Several people who know Hollande say that, deep down, he has always been more of a centrist, who had calculated that he should present himself as a man of the left to win election.

“This is not so much a U-turn as a self-revelation. He has finally outed himself,” said Serge Raffy, author of the 2011 Hollande biography “Itineraire secret” (Secret Route).

Switzerland next and a defining vote from Deutsche Welle:

Referendum to keep foreigners out of Switzerland?

  • On Sunday, the Swiss vote on whether to restrict immigration to their country. The ramifications of a yes vote, experts say, could be huge. To their shock, the referendum has a decent shot at passing.

When Germans hear Switzerland, they first think of the children’s book “Heidi”, snow-covered mountains and secure bank accounts. Their neighbor to the south is a popular vacation destination, but more and more Germans also come to Switzerland to work. They can do so because the small, neutral state entered a freedom of movement agreement with the European Union in 1999. Even though Switzerland isn’t a member of the union, EU citizens have been allowed to immigrate to Switzerland with hardly any restrictions since then.

That might change soon. In a nationwide referendum, the Swiss are voting on an “initiative against mass-immigration” this Sunday (09.02.2014). The initiative was put forward by the nationalist-populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP). The party wants to restrict the number of immigrants and allocate a limited number of slots to certain national or occupational groups.

Roughly 80,000 immigrants enter Switzerland every year – and this in a country of 8.1 Million. According to the German weekly “Die Zeit”, this is the largest population growth the country has experienced since the 1960s.

On to Iberia and austerian woes from thinkSPAIN:

More firms and individuals in Spain declared insolvent last year than ever before in history

A RECORD number of companies and sole traders went into receivership or were declared bankrupt last year – a total of 9,660, which is the highest ever seen since bankruptcy became legally-recognised 10 years ago.

This represents a rise of 6.5 per cent on the figure for 2012, and never before have this many insolvencies been declared in the space of a year in Spain, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

In the first three years after the Insolvency Law was passed in 2004, up to and including 2007 there were between 968 and 1,147 firms going bankrupt or into receivership each year, but this shot up to 3,298 with the start of the financial crisis.

This again nearly doubled in 2009 when the recession and mass unemployment began to truly bite in Spain, reaching 6,197 that year, dropping slightly to 5,962 in 2010 but then soaring again in 2011 to 6,863. However, the last two calendar years have seen a sharp increase, with insolvencies shooting up by over 50 per cent.

The Associated Press takes a turnabout:

Spain to restore nationality to Sephardic Jews

Spain has announced new measures to speed up the naturalization of Jews of Sephardic descent whose ancestors fled the Iberian peninsula five centuries ago when they were told to convert to Catholicism or go into exile.

The Cabinet approved a bill amending previous legislation that granted nationality by naturalization to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it. The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their previous citizenships.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Friday the measure smooths the bureaucracy involved in obtaining Spanish nationality.

Italy next, and corruption with a flair from TheLocal.it:

Space boss quits over tango dancer scandal

The head of Italy’s space agency submitted his resignation on Friday after a scandal over dubious expenses including hiring as a consultant a former tango dancer with no apparent aerospace credentials.

Enrico Saggese in a statement denied the accusations and said that he wanted to step down “so as to better defend my integrity, honour and prestige”.

Prosecutors opened an investigation on Thursday into corruption, including Saggese’s use of a credit card provided by an agency subcontractor.

They are also looking into consultancy fees paid to the wife of an employee to provide “psychological assistance” and expense-paid trips to the United States for several managers of the space agency.

After the jump, the latest Greek disasters, Ukrainian turmoil, class war in Brazil, Argentine anger, a Latin American plague, Pakistani stalemate, the latest Thai violence, Vietnamese letdown, Chinese uncertainty, an Abenomics fail, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chris Hedges on class war and crisis cults


The Pulitzer-winning journalist talks with Abby Martin for a two-part conversation on RT’s Breaking the Set.

It’s well worth a listen.

From Breaking The Set:

Chris Hedges Part I: Crisis Cults and the Collapse of Industrial Civilization

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an exclusive interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, concerning areas of extreme poverty that he refers to as ‘sacrifice zones’, as well as the reasons behind the collapse of complex societies.

Chris Hedges Part II: The Military Mind & the Antidote to Defeatism

Program notes:

Abby Martin features Part 2 of her interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Chris Hedges, discussing the unsustainable nature of the economic system, the military mind in solving world problems, and the antidote to defeatism.

And a bonus segment from CNN’s Anderson Cooper featuring a subject of te Martin/Hedges conversation.

From CNN:

Glenn Greenwald: I will definitely come back to the U.S.

Program note:

Snowden reporter Glenn Greenwald promises to return to the U.S. despite threats that he will be criminally charged.

Headlines of the day I: Spies lies. LOLZ, pols


Today’s tales form the world of the dark arts and militarism begins with a saga playing out in classic spy vs. spy fashion, with the tapper suddenly becoming the tapped. Our first headline comes from New Europe:

EU, US, Russia, Ukraine: spy games on your youtube

US officials say they suspect Russia is behind the leak of an apparently bugged phone conversation about Ukraine between two senior American diplomats in which they make disparaging comments about the European Union. Another conversation also leaked features two EU officials making comments about the US.

“I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

The US officials noted that an aide to Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, was among the first to tweet about a YouTube video that contains audio of the alleged call between the top US diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The video, which shows photos of Nuland and Pyatt, is subtitled in Russian.

In the audio, voices resembling those of Nuland and Pyatt discuss international efforts to resolve Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis. At one point, the Nuland voice colorfully suggests that the EU’s position should be ignored. “F— the EU,” the female voice said.

The video in question via Re Post:

Casting suspicions with EUobserver:

Ukraine leak designed to ‘split’ EU-US diplomacy

The publication on YouTube of what appear to be two sensitive US and EU diplomatic conversations on Ukraine is designed to spoil relations between the allies, EU diplomatic sources say.

The items were uploaded by an anonymous user called “Re Post” on Tuesday (4 February) and have several thousand clicks each already.

In the imputed US clip, which appears to date to Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s offer of top jobs to opposition MPs on 25 January, Viktoria Nuland, a senior US state department official, is allegedly speaking to Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine.

They bat around ideas on which of the MPs should be Prime Minister in an interim government. Nuland adds she wants a senior UN diplomat to come to Kiev to seal an accord on the US-model cabinet.

“So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and, you know, fuck the EU,” she says.

“Oh exactly, and I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

And the mea culpa, via EUbusiness:

Top US diplomat for Europe says sorry for cursing the EU

US officials, while not denying such a conversation took place, refused to go into details, and pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats’ phones.

“Let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course has apologized,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

While Psaki said she had no independent details of how the conversation was captured and uploaded onto the social networking site, she added: “Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft.”

More from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

White House implicates Russia in leaked call between US diplomats

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney referred most of the questions to the State Department, but noted that the conversation “was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government.

“I think it says something about Russia’s role,” Carney said of the appearance of the leaked remarks. “But the content of the conversation is not something I’m going to comment on.”

Carney said relations between the US and the EU are “stronger than ever” and said there was “no question” that Nuland and the ambassador are trying to “help de-escalate the crisis” in Ukraine.

“It’s certainly no secret that our ambassador and assistant secretary have been working with the government of Ukraine, with the opposition, with business and civil society leaders to support their efforts to find a peaceful solution through dialogue and political and economic reform,” Carney said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future.”

Here’s a piece about the crisis from a Russian state medium, RT:

‘This is what you cook for Ukraine?’ State Dept. Psaki grilled over leaked tape

Program notes:

Senior US State Department official Victoria Nuland has allegedly been caught giving a harsh message to the EU while discussing Ukrainian opposition leaders’ roles in the country’s future government. The phone call was taped and posted on YouTube. US officials refused to confirm or deny the tape’s authenticity, but State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki said that she “didn’t say it was inauthentic.” While being grilled about this and other tape-related statements, Psaki hinted that the tape could have been leaked by Moscow.

Another Russo-centric crisis in the headlines from Network World:

Experts warn of Russian spying, hackers at Sochi Olympics

Americans heading to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics are being warned that privacy is not a right in the host country and all their electronic communications will likely be monitored.

The United States Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, is recommending the use of electronic devices that are devoid of sensitive information and can be left behind, if Russian authorities decide to confiscate the equipment.

To avoid problems, personal smartphones, tablets and laptops should be left at home. Americans should only use devices bought or borrowed for the trip and can be wiped clean when leaving the country to avoid taking malware back home.

Sam venue, different focus from Homeland Security News Wire:

DHS alerts Russia-bound airlines of toothpaste tube bombs risk

The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes. DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. The new concern about explosive toothpaste tubes notwithstanding, the biggest worry is still Islamist groups based in southern Russia’s Caucasus region.

The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes.

Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday that DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. McCaul said the bulletin indicated that officials believed the explosives might be used during flights or smuggled into the city of Sochi, where competition at the Winter Olympics begins later today. The opening ceremony will be held Friday.

Bringing it all back home with PCWorld:

More than 4,000 groups sign up to protest NSA

More than 4,000 groups and websites have signed on to support a day of protest against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, scheduled for Tuesday.

In addition, tens of thousands of people have pledged to make calls and post messages on the Web in support of surveillance reform, said organizers of The Day We Fight Back.

Among the groups supporting the day of Web protest are the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, BoingBoing, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Mozilla, Reddit and Tumblr.

“Together we will push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action,” organizers wrote on TheDayWeFightBack.org. “Together, we will make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.”

From Nextgov, Tweet this!:

Twitter Breaks Rank, Threatens to Fight NSA Gag Orders

Twitter threatened to launch a legal battle with the Obama administration on Thursday over gag orders that prevent it from disclosing information about surveillance of its users.

The statement puts Twitter at odds with other technology giants including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, who all struck a deal with the government last month to drop their lawsuits in exchange for looser secrecy rules.

“We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy, wrote in a blog post.

He said the company has pressed the Justice Department for greater transparency and is also “considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

North of the border and suspicions from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

RCMP, intelligence agency accused of spying on pipeline opponents

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has filed complaints against the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, saying the law enforcement agencies may have illegally spied on opponents of pipelines and then shared the intelligence information with the petroleum industry.

The group has asked the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to investigate the situation.

“What we’re hoping here is to find out more about what’s happened,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the BCCLA, said Thursday at a news conference in Vancouver.

RT covers yet another U.S. mea culpa:

US ambassador admits tapping Angela Merkel’s phone was ‘stupid’

The US ambassador to Germany has admitted it was a “stupid” idea to tap the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel while discussing business, friendship and mutual trust at a trade association meeting.

“We have done a number of stupid things, Chancellor Markel’s phone being one of them,” Ambassador John Emerson told the VBKI trade association at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Berlin.

He apologized for the stress and loss of trust the recent NSA wiretapping revelations might have caused the German government, according to reports by the Local.

Big Brother adds eyes via the Washington Post:

New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.

Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Juárez.

Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints.

From Al Jazeera America, a crackdown in Ankara:

Turkish parliament adopts Internet censorship bill

  • Measure also forces service providers to submit users’ activity records to officials on request, without notifying users

Turkey’s parliament has adopted a new Internet bill roundly criticized as an assault by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on freedom of expression, access to information and investigative journalism. The measure was approved as Erdogan’s government is in the midst of a sweeping corruption probe that has shaken his Cabinet.

After hours of debate, the measure was adopted late on Wednesday in parliament, where Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominates with 319 of the 550 seats.

The bill permits a government agency, the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB), to block access to websites without court authorization if they are deemed to violate privacy or to contain material seen as “insulting.”

Reaction from Deutsche Welle:

EU criticizes Turkey’s Internet law

The EU has criticized Turkey’s tightened Internet controls. Lawmakers adopted the new Internet legislation late on Wednesday following hours of debate involving fierce objections from the opposition.

The criticism came after Turkey’s parliament amended regulations allowing the government to block websites without a court order and mandate Internet service providers to store data up to two years. President Abdullah Gul still must sign the new law, which allows the blocking of websites believed to violate privacy or contain content considered insulting.

“The law needs to be revised in line with European standards,” said Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele. “The Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions.”

The legislation also forces providers to retain user data for two years and present it to authorities without notifying the user in question. The new measures build upon existing Internet restrictions introduced in 2007 that, according to a Google transparency report published in December, make Turkey equal to China as the world’s biggest web censor.

The 2007 law has allowed for temporary blocking of websites including WordPress, Dailymotion and Vimeo. YouTube was also blocked for two years until 2010.

After the jump, the latest developments in Asia’s sundry zonal, military posturing, and historical crises, Mission Impossible tech, a spooky blast from the past, hacks and embarrassments, cartels and vigilantes battle online, hackers seize control of cars, and more. . . Continue reading

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


Today’s tales of the worlds of espionage, laws, and the current crop of Asian zonal, militarization, and security crises [plus more] opens with a question from the ACLU Blog of Rights:

Who Did the NSA’s Illegal Spying Put in Jail?

Last week, the ACLU joined a constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), the statute that allows the NSA to engage in dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls and emails. With the Federal Defenders Office, we filed a motion on behalf of Jamshid Muhtorov, the first criminal defendant to receive notice that he had been monitored under this controversial spying law. But Mr. Muhtorov received this notice only after the Department of Justice (DOJ) abandoned its previous policy of concealing FAA surveillance in criminal cases — a policy that violated both the statute itself and defendants’ due process rights.

For criminal defendants and for the country, it’s good news that the government is reviewing criminal cases in which FAA evidence has played a role. But the FAA is just one surveillance program among many. And given what we now know about the DOJ’s unlawful notice policy, we should be asking whether the government has concealed in criminal prosecutions its use of other mass surveillance programs.

VOA News offers a claim:

NSA Says Snowden Leaks Put US Soldiers at Risk

Top U.S. intelligence officials say leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have put members of all branches of the U.S. military and other U.S. personnel abroad at risk, and that the Pentagon has had to make costly changes. The officials testified to a congressional panel about worldwide threats to U.S. national security.

Defense Intelligence Agency Chief Michael Flynn told the House Intelligence Committee that revelations by Edward Snowden, who is now living in Russia , have put the lives of U.S. service members in danger, and that the Pentagon is making adjustments.

‘Everything that he touched, we assume that he took, stole,’ he said. ‘So we assume the worst case in how we are reviewing all of the Defense Department’s actions, events, exercises around the world.’

Techdirt delivers a threat:

Congress Warns DOJ That If It Doesn’t Support NSA Reform Plan, It Won’t Renew Key Patriot Act Provision

  • from the get-your-act-together dept

While the USA Freedom Act isn’t perfect, it is one bill in Congress that has a lot of support and will fix many problems with the current NSA overreach. Much more needs to be done, but the USA Freedom Act is a good starting point. And yet, the Obama administration and his Justice Department have yet to take a public stand on the bill, and that seems to be annoying plenty of folks in Congress. At the recent Judiciary Committee hearings, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act and Section 215, made it abundantly clear that the DOJ/NSA’s interpretation of his bill was simply incorrect and that they were abusing the system. As the sponsor of the USA Freedom Act to fix this misinterpretation, he pointed out that if the DOJ doesn’t agree to support it, there’s a good chance that Congress simply won’t renew the provisions in Section 215 at all. Section 215, of course, is the part that has been misinterpreted by the DOJ, the FISA court, the NSA and the FBI to pretend it authorizes the collection of every phone record. In short, the message from Congress is: work with us to reform things, or we’ll pull the authority altogether. Of course, some of us think that pulling the authority altogether might be a better long term solution.

McClatchy Washington Bureau resists:

Some in Congress see just one option for NSA spying: Scrap it

“Congress never intended to allow bulk collections,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., author of the 2001 Patriot Act.

Debate is intensifying in Congress over whether to scrap the massive data collection effort or to modify it. There’s widespread skepticism among both parties over President Barack Obama’s plans for the program’s future and a desire for Congress to curb the National Security Agency.

“In my district, and many others, NSA has become not a three-letter word but a four-letter word,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said at a Tuesday hearing on the surveillance effort.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said Congress needs to end the bulk collection.

“Consensus is growing that it is largely ineffective, inconsistent with our national values, and inconsistent with the statute as this committee wrote it,” said Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

BBC News has a hack attack:

Snowden leaks: GCHQ ‘attacked Anonymous’ hackers

GCHQ disrupted “hacktivist” communications by using one of their own techniques against them, according to the latest Edward Snowden leaks.

Documents from the whistle-blower published by NBC indicate UK cyberspies used a denial of service attack (DoS) in 2011 to force a chatroom used by the Anonymous collective offline.

A spokeswoman for GCHQ said all the agency’s activities were authorised and subject to rigorous oversight. But others say it raises concerns.

Dr Steven Murdoch, a security researcher at the University of Cambridge, said using a DoS attack to overwhelm a computer server with traffic would have risked disrupting other services.

Computerworld advocates:

NSA spy program hurting U.S. vendors

  • NSA reforms needed to help restore worldwide trust in U.S. tech industry, trade group says

The U.S. Congress needs to help restore global trust in the nation’s technology vendors by reining in surveillance programs at the National Security Agency, an industry representative told lawmakers Tuesday.

Recent revelations about NSA surveillance programs have created a “misimpression” about the U.S. technology industry and are eroding trust in those companies, said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). The furor over the NSA surveillance programs could lead to lost income in the tens of billions of dollars for U.S. cloud providers, and many U.S. tech vendors are already hearing complaints, he said.

The U.S. needs a “public policy course correction” on NSA surveillance, Garfield told the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

“Made in the U.S.A. is no longer a badge of honor, but a basis for questioning the integrity and the independence of U.S.-made technology,” Garfield said. “Many countries are using the NSA’s disclosures as a basis for accelerating their policies around forced localization and protectionism.”

A case of outsourcing from DutchNews.nl:

The Netherlands, not USA, gathered info from 1.8 million phone calls

The Dutch security service was responsible for collecting information from about 1.8 million telephone calls and text messages at the end of 2012 and in early 2013, ministers have told parliament.

Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk told MPs in October the Americans were behind the tapping, after the revelations were first published in German magazine Spiegel.

However, in a two paragraph briefing on Wednesday, Plasterk and defence minister Jeanine Hennis said the information had been gathered by the Netherlands itself.

‘The details were collected in the interest of counter-terrorism activities and military operations abroad,’ the briefing stated. The information was then ‘correctly shared with the US’.

RT seeks an end:

‘Assange won’t come’: Swedish MPs urge end to whistleblower case

Swedish MPs are calling on the prosecutors in the Julian Assange sexual assault case to travel to London and question the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has been taking refuge since June 2012.

The members of the Swedish parliament say investigators should accept that Assange will not be leaving the embassy voluntarily.

“It is in the interest of everyone involved in this process that the prosecutor reaches a conclusion to either file charges or dismiss the case, and it is obvious that Assange will not come to Sweden,” Staffan Danielsson, from the Center Party, said, as quoted by the Times.

Anne Ramberg, the secretary-general of the Swedish Bar Association, said “You have to be a bit pragmatic to put an end to such a circus. They should have headed to London to interrogate him.”

However, Anders Perklev, the Swedish prosecutor-general, was convinced the lawmakers are interfering with the judicial matters.

A case of dilatory dronal deliberations from Medill News Service:

U.S. lags in putting drones to commercial use, FAA should move faster, advocates say

The U.S. is lagging on commercial use of drones, manufacturers and scientists told the Senate science committee, but several senators said they want to be sure the unmanned aerial vehicles won’t be used to spy on Americans.

“These 20th century eyes in the skies shouldn’t become spies in the skies,” said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who held up an inexpensive drone equipped with two cameras at the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meeting.

But privacy concerns aren’t a reason to limit the commercial use of drones in the U.S., Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences, told the committee. She said unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs — are only one type of technology that can be used for surveillance. There are small bug robots that can be slipped into bags, and ground technologies like cars will soon have cameras inside and outside, she said.

The real problem is the government is lacking experts with understanding of the technology, Cummings said.

Droning on some more with Deutsche Welle:

Drone usage on the rise, China drives Asia military spending increase says IISS report

Drones are becoming increasingly common in warfare as their operating costs go down, according to a new report by the IISS think tank. It added that China is driving an increase in military spending in Asia.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, is expected to increase in the future, the military aerospace expert for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Doug Barrie, said on Wednesday.

According to the IISS’ annual Military Balance report, as drone usage increases, the legal and ethical questions they raise come to the fore. One key issue is whether attacks on people can be justified as self-defense.

The report said that lethal strikes will be carried out by humans piloting the drones because handing that power over to a machine “will remain a threshold legislatures and the public will likely be unwilling to cross.”

While drones have been almost exclusively a tool used by Western militaries, smaller and cheaper technology has opened up the market to private companies and emerging economies.

A a major dronal move from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

U.S. curbs drone strikes in Pakistan

The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.

“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior Al-Qaida targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.

Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.

The current pause follows a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud just days before an initial attempt at peace talks was scheduled to begin. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government accused the United States of trying to sabotage the talks, and the Taliban canceled the meeting.

And a dronal secret revealad from BBC News:

Top secret UK drone Taranis makes first flight

A top secret unmanned drone, said to be the most advanced aircraft ever built in Britain, has carried out its first successful test flights.

It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. But it is also a window into the future of warfare.

Some will view it as an amazing piece of engineering. But not everyone will like what they see.

Taranis – named after the Celtic god of thunder – was first unveiled BAE Systems in 2010.

On to more local Bib Brotherly incarnations, first from MintPress News:

Privacy Advocates Gearing Up To Sue Oakland Over City “Spy” Center

The city says the goal is to monitor 24/7 for crime and to improve emergency response times, but privacy advocates and residents have serious doubts about that claim.

The Oakland Privacy Working Group, a coalition of civil liberties advocates, announced on Monday it would file a taxpayer lawsuit against the city of Oakland, Calif., if city officials continued to construct the Department of Homeland Security-funded Domain Awareness Center, which it says violates the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Oakland residents.

Specifically, the group says it is prepared to file a lawsuit to prevent the City of Oakland from awarding a contract to a company to dismantle all of the work that was completed under Phase 1, which involved adding and connecting computers, TVs, monitors, etc. But most importantly, the group says it wants to prevent Phase 2 from being implemented, which is when the surveillance system goes live.

Oakland Privacy says two other groups are also working on the lawsuit, but their identities have not been made public yet. Brian Hofer, media contact for Oakland Privacy, says the groups will remain anonymous until a lawsuit is actually filed.

And across the Oakland city limits with East Bay Citizen:

Alameda Chief on License Plate Readers: ‘I’m not Trying to Spy on Anyone’

The often insular community of Alameda may soon have Automated License Plate Readers rapidly scanning automobiles passing through the island city. However, critics of the police department’s plan say a recently released draft policy is far too vague and leaves wide gaps for potential abuse by police on civil liberties. Others questioned the proposed usefulness of retaining information obtained from the readers for up to one year.

During a public forum on the issue Monday night in Alameda, Police Chief Paul Rolleri provided an often candid glimpse into his department’s mindset when it comes to utilizing the controversial and relatively new technology, which employs scanning devices attached to patrol cars that rapidly scan thousands of license plates on public streets. Rolleri says Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) simply capture plate numbers without any corresponding information such as the name and address of the owner. Plate numbers are then matched against a “hot list” of vehicles that may have been recently stolen or involved in other crimes.

“I’m not trying to spy on anyone,” Rolleri said Monday night. “If we were, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” Rolleri responded to some speakers who criticized the one-and-a-half page policy for its brevity and lack of specificity, saying the proposal is merely in the draft stage. There is also a lack of case law currently available on ALPRs, he said. In addition, Rolleri expressed uncertainty over how long the department should retain data, an topic of great concern among many privacy advocates. “We’re trying to find that sweet spot,” said Rolleri. “I’ll be honest, we don’t know. We’re still trying to figure it out.” He later called the one-year proposal a good starting point that could be reevaluated in another six months.

Across another Oakland border with Pueblo Lands:

Fortress Piedmont

The city of Piedmont has installed automated license plate reader stations at busy intersections ringing its borders. The ALPR system was proposed last year. Installation began in November of 2013 after Piedmont’s city council set aside $678,000 for the technology that uses computer analytics to instantly identify the plate numbers of every vehicle passing under the watchful eyes of precision digital video cameras.

Home to bankers, lawyers, corporate executives, and real estate tycoons, Piedmont, population 10,000, is one of the wealthiest municipalities in America. When it was founded in the early 1900s it was immediately given the nickname “City of Millionaires” due to the concentration of wealthy families within its borders.

Piedmont has always been very much defined by its borders. The city is completely surrounded by Oakland, a much larger municipality whose population includes 88,000 persons whose incomes fall below the federally defined poverty line. The median household income in Oakland is $51,000. In Piedmont it’s $206,000, over four times Oakland’s average. The median home price in Piedmont is $1.5 million, and the small city has virtually no rental housing, making it an expensive community to buy a membership in.

And some plain old militarism from Deutsche Welle:

Germany paves way for new engagement

  • Germany’s cabinet is discussing ramping up its military involvement in conflicts ranging from Afghanistan to Mali. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has signaled a new engagement internationally.

While Reuters goes under in the Southern Hemisphere:

Insight: Brazil spies on protesters, hoping to protect World Cup

Brazilian security forces are using undercover agents, intercepting e-mails, and rigorously monitoring social media to try to ensure that violent anti-government protesters do not ruin soccer’s World Cup this year, officials told Reuters.

Demonstrations in recent months have been much smaller than those last June when Brazil hosted a dress rehearsal tournament for the World Cup, shaking President Dilma Rousseff’s government and contributing to an economic slowdown.

But they have still resulted in vandalism of banks and paralyzed parts of major cities as a hard core of perhaps a few thousand protesters nationwide, some of whom wear masks and call themselves “Black Blocs,” clash with police.

Rousseff’s government fears the protests, the most recent of which carried the slogan “There Will Be No World Cup,” could severely disrupt the tournament, which kicks off on June 12 in Sao Paulo and ends with the final on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro.

After the jump, the latest Asian crises of zones/history/rhetoric/alliances, classroom hackers, military/industrial fails, criminalized tweets, felonious Googling, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, & pols


We begin today’s collection of events in the realms of espionage, militarism, and deep politics with an ominous warning via the Honolulu Star Advertiser:

Internments can happen again, Scalia warns

  • The longest-serving member of the U.S. Supreme Court talks at two isle schools

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told law students at the University of Hawaii law school Monday that the nation’s highest court was wrong to uphold the internment of Japa-nese-Americans during World War II but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the court issued a similar ruling during a future conflict.

Scalia was responding to a question about the court’s 1944 decision in Kore-ma-tsu v. United States, which upheld the convictions of Gordon Hira-ba-ya-shi and Fred Kore-ma-tsu for violating an order to report to an internment camp.

“Well, of course, Kore-ma-tsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia told students and faculty during a lunchtime question-and-answer session.

Scalia cited a Latin expression meaning “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

And that Latin phrase in question? Inter arma enim silent leges.

Techdirt calls out the posse:

Mike Rogers Tries To Make The Case That Glenn Greenwald Should Be Prosecuted For ‘Selling Stolen Material’

  • from the is-he-insane? dept

Rep. Mike Rogers apparently just can’t help but spin wild and ridiculous conspiracy theories. Fresh off his latest attempt to argue that Ed Snowden is a Russian spy — an argument debunked by just about everyone, including his Senatorial counterpart Dianne Feinstein — it appears he’s now decided to pick up the ridiculously insane thread kicked off (purposefully) last week by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, hinting that journalists who reported on Ed Snowden are somehow “accomplices” who can be prosecuted.

During a House Intelligence Committee in which many members (from both parties) angrily criticized the intelligence community, Rogers continued to do everything possible to defend them, including pushing the bogus argument that Glenn Greenwald “sold stolen goods” in questions to FBI director James Comey.

From the Dept of D’oh! via Nextgov:

Feds: NSA ‘Probably’ Spies on Members of Congress

The National Security Agency “probably” collects phone records of members of Congress and their staffs, a senior Justice Department official conceded Tuesday.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole buckled under questioning from multiple lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing reviewing proposals to reform the NSA’s surveillance activity.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, began by asking Peter Swire, a member of the president’s handpicked surveillance review board, whether lawmakers’ numbers are included in the agency’s phone-records sweeps. Swire protested that he was not a government official and couldn’t best answer the question, but said he was unaware of any mechanism that “scrubbed out” member phone numbers from the agency’s data haul.

TheLocal.de listens in:

NSA ‘tapped phone of ex-Chancellor Schröder’

The US National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly tapped the phone of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder over his opposition to the Iraq War, according to reports on Tuesday.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung and broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel was not the first German leader to be targeted by the NSA.

Schröder’s phone was allegedly tapped from 2002, while he was Chancellor, to find out his position on the Iraq War.

Schröder, who led Germany from 1998 to 2005, greeted the news with resignation rather than shock or anger. “At the time I wouldn’t have thought American security services were listening in on me, but it doesn’t surprise me now,” he said.

The Copenhagen Post makes an ornamental denial:

Intelligence officials deny NSA spying against Denmark

Intelligence agency FE rejects allegations that NSA spied on Denmark during COP15, but won’t rule out the option that other nations were bugged

The US intelligence agency NSA did not spy on Danish diplomats and politicians during the 2009 COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen, according to the Danish external intelligence agency Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE).

A NSA document revealing the agency obtained information from key countries ahead of the conference was leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and published in Information newspaper last week.

The disclosure also revealed that the agency obtained a secret discussion paper from a Danish official, but the government has continually shot down NSA spying allegations against Denmark.

The Guardian encourages:

House committee urges US government to get behind NSA reform bill

  • Judiciary committee warns Obama administration to back USA Freedom Act or risk losing its counter-terrorism powers

Members of Congress who want to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone data sharply warned the Obama administration on Tuesday to get behind a bill to end the controversial practice, or risk losing the counter-terrorism powers provided by the post-9/11 Patriot Act.

Deriding the paucity of legislative alternatives after President Obama’s announcement last month that he wants to transfer the responsibility for bulk collection out of the NSA, congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, told deputy attorney general James Cole at a House judiciary committee hearing that “you will get nothing” if the administration does not endorse the bill.

Asked why the Justice Department had not taken a position on the bill, Cole said: “The Department of Justice is a big place.”

A-maize-ing intel from the New York Times:

Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.

What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. The result was the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.

China has long been implicated in economic espionage efforts involving aviation technology, paint formulas and financial data. Chinese knockoffs of fashion accessories have long held a place in the mainstream. But the case of Mr. Mo, and a separate one in Kansas last year suggest that the agriculture sector is becoming a greater target, something that industry analysts fear could hurt the competitive advantage of farmers and big agriculture alike.

From USA TODAY, another cause for insecurity:

Navy nukes come under scrutiny in cheating probe

The Navy is investigating allegations of cheating among about 30 enlisted sailors who work on nuclear power systems on ships and submarines, top Navy officials said Tuesday.

The naval investigation follows weeks of bad news from the Air Force about rampant, “systemic” cheating on proficiency tests among airmen who handle nuclear weapons.

An enlisted sailor alerted superiors Monday about an offer to exchange answers to one of several tests needed to qualify to operate nuclear propulsion systems, said Adm. John Richardson, leader of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, and Richardson spelled out details of the investigation. “To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Greenert said.

And another cause for insecurity, via Nextgov:

Despite Spending $65 Billion on Cybersecurity, Agencies Neglect Basic Protections

After spending at least $65 billion since 2006 to protect federal computers and networks from hackers, government agencies remain vulnerable, often because officials have neglected to perform basic security steps such as updating software, according to a report released Tuesday by a key Republican senator.

The study cites lapses at the very agencies responsible for protecting U.S. networks and sensitive data, including the Homeland Security Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Although it has steadily improved its overall cybersecurity performance, DHS is by no means a standard-setter,” states the assessment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

SecurityWeek secures:

Snowden Leaks Spark Defense Firms to Change Security Practices: Survey

  • Survey: 75% of Defense Contractors Say Leaks by Edward Snowden Have Made Them Change Their Security Practices

According to the results of a survey conducted by ThreatTrack Security, the leaking of classified NSA documents by Edward Snowden has resulted in defense contractors changing their companies’ cybersecurity practices.

ThreatTrack Security published the study looking to shed light on the attitudes of IT and security managers working at U.S. defense contractors in the wake of the Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents related to some the NSA’s spying tactics.

From Colombia, yet another case of spookery run amok from the Miami Herald:

President Santos calls for investigation into alleged army spying on peace negotiators

President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday called for an investigation to see “what dark forces” might be behind an alleged army-run spy ring that targeted negotiators in Havana who are trying to broker a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group.

Santos’ announcement comes after Semana.com, one of the country’s most respected media outlets, reported late Monday that the army recruited civilian hackers to break into the email and text-message accounts of government peace negotiators, including chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle.

If the allegations are true, Santos said they would be “totally unacceptable.”

And from International Business Times, another leak icon and another leak:

Text Messages from Victim of Alleged Rape, Molestation Prove Assange Innocent: Wikileak Affidavit

Even as members of Sweden’s parliament have been stepping up pressure on prosecutors to question Julian Assange on the sexual allegations he faces in the country, Assange in a Wikileaks affidavit has claimed that text messages between the two alleged victims prove his innocence.

In the affidavit, which has been published on the WikiLeaks website, Assange tries to prove his innocence, citing the text message sent by the alleged victims.

Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been living at Ecuador’s embassy in London since the Latin American country granted him political asylum in the summer of 2012. He was arrested in the UK in December 2010 on a European Union-wide warrant requested by Sweden, over the rape and molestation allegations.

The allegation is that Assange raped one woman and molested another, during a visit to Stockholm in 2010. However, the affidavit has one alleged victim saying in a text message that “it was the police who made up the charges”. The text message further adds that she “did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him”.

After the jump, the latest rounds of rhetorical and legislative escalations and zonal boundary provocations from Asia, major Israeli and German arms sales, British Big Brother busted by British Big Brother, the New York Times does undercover edits, DEA courtroom duplicity, and more. . . Continue reading

Breaking the Set: Big Brother’s Oakland plans


RT America’s Abby Martin takes a look at Oakland’s plans for a massive public surveillance system in this latest episode of Breaking the Set.

The segment, which begins at 5:48, includes a discussion of city emails revealing that the dominant focus of planners in not the city’s homicide rate but the containment and control of movements like Occupy, which dominated headlines three years ago when police launched a major and violent crackdown.

The monkey wrench currently disrupting the city’s plans is Oakland’s ban on doing deals with nuclear weaponry contractors.

From Breaking the Set:

Skinny Puppy Torture, NFL Robbery, Big Brother in Oakland & Keystone XL Problems

Program notes:

On this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin talks about the industrial rock band, Skinny Puppy, releasing their new album ‘Weapons’ as an invoice to the US government after learning their music was used to torture inmates at Guantanamo Bay. Abby then remarks on the NFL’s tax exempt status, and the fact that the organization is stealing millions of dollars from taxpaying Americans through loopholes in the tax code. Abby then speaks with Brian Hoffer of the Oakland Privacy Working Group, about the city of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center (DAC) as a hub for surveillance to spy on peaceful protesters in the wake of one of the most egregious crackdowns on the Occupy Movement. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Josh Saks of the National Wildlife Federation and Zoe Carpenter of the Nation, discussing the State Department’s report on the Keystone XL pipeline, and outlining how the construction of the pipeline would impact the environment, the economy and the surrounding communities.