Category Archives: Crime

InSecurity Watch: Spies, lies, laws, zones, drones


Our latest edition of tales form the dark side begins with a legal question from Wired:

New Ruling Shows the NSA Can’t Legally Justify Its Phone Spying Anymore

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.

The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for something Christopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

The Washington Post raises more legal questions:

4 senators worry about NSA collection of Americans’ e-mails, phone calls

Four Democratic senators have sent a letter to the director of national intelligence expressing concerns about the scope of the collection of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls under a National Security Agency program that targets foreigners overseas.

The lawmakers, led by Jon Tester (D-Mont.), told Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. that they were concerned by recent reports by The Washington Post and an independent executive branch panel about the surveillance.

The Post examined 160,000 communications intercepted under the program, which was authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008. The law does not require individualized warrants.

The Post found that “nearly half of the surveillance files . . . contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.”

And Wired offers opposition:

A Convicted Hacker and an Internet Icon Join Forces to Thwart NSA Spying

The internet is littered with burgeoning email encryption schemes aimed at thwarting NSA spying. Many of them are focused on solving the usability issues that have plagued complicated encryption schemes like PGP for years. But a new project called Dark Mail plans to go further: to hide your metadata.

Metadata is the pernicious transaction data involving the “To”, “From” and subject fields of email that the NSA finds so valuable for tracking communications and drawing connections between people. Generally, even when email is encrypted, metadata is not. Dark Mail ambitiously aims to revamp existing email structures to hide this data while still making the system universally compatible with existing email clients.

The project has made for an interesting pairing between Texas technologist Ladar Levison and convicted hacker Stephen Watt, whom he’s hired to help develop the code. Both have had previous battles with the government in very different ways.

From Social Science Research Network, a research summary raises troubling questions:

Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior

This paper uses data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government.

We use data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions.

Using panel data, our result suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive. These results have implications for policy makers in terms of understanding the actual effects on search behavior of disclosures relating to the scale of government surveillance on the Internet and their potential effects on international competitiveness.

From The Hill, another agency, another challenge:

Ex-officials demand to see CIA report

Former top officials at the CIA want to make sure that they get a chance to see an upcoming report about the spy agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to new reports on Saturday.

Former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden drafted a letter asking to see the Senate’s executive summary of the so-called “torture report,” which they sent to Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the New York Times reported.

The three chiefs and two former acing directors, John McLaughlin and Michael Morell, did reportedly get a chance to see the document, which reviews how controversial practices such as waterboarding were used. But many other top staffers did not.

About a dozen former officials who are named in the report were initially promised the chance to read it, according to the Associated Press. That offer was taken back on Friday, however, due to what CIA officials said was miscommunication.

More from Techdirt:

Senator Wyden Toying With The Idea Of Releasing The Senate’s CIA Torture Report

  • from the the-pressure’s-on dept

Senator Ron Wyden is apparently getting tired of waiting for the White House to use up its buckets of black ink in redacting everything important in the Senate’s big torture report. He’s publicly pondering the idea of using Senate privilege to just release it himself.

As you may recall, the Senate Intelligence Committee spent years and $40 million investigating the CIA’s torture program, and the 6,000+ page report is supposedly devastating in highlighting (1) how useless the program was and (2) how far the CIA went in torturing people (for absolutely no benefit) and (3) how the CIA lied to Congress about all of this. The CIA, not surprisingly, is not too happy about the report. At all. Still, despite its protests, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the executive summary of the report.

However, the CIA got to take first crack at figuring out what to redact, which seemed like a massive conflict of interest. Either way, the CIA apparently finally ran out of black ink in late June, and asked the White House to black out whatever else was left. The State Department has already expressed concerns that releasing anything will just anger the public (our response: probably should have thought of that before sending the CIA to torture people). And, now it appears the report is being held up due to “security” concerns.

From Motherboard, Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane ! It’s Fibbie Drone!:

Do the FBI’s Drones Invade Your Privacy? Sorry, That’s Private

The FBI has been flying drones since 2005, according to a trickle of documents released over the last eight months. Agents called in a small surveillance drone on a hostage situation in Alabama in February 2013, and to monitor a dog-fighting scheme in August 2011.

But despite a mandatory process designed to mitigate privacy concerns, the question of how FBI drones may be impacting Americans’ privacy rights remains unanswered.

Federal law requires the FBI to assess its own surveillance technologies for potential privacy and civil liberties snags. While these technology assessments are typically prepared for public consumption, the FBI has refused to release its privacy reviews on drones.

The E-Government Act of 2002 obliges federal agencies to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) prior to deploying any information technology that collects personal information. Per Department of Justice guidelines, the PIA process ensures that privacy protections “are built into the system from the start—not after the fact,” in order to “promote trust between the public and the Department by increasing transparency of the Department’s systems and missions.”

Meanwhile, another conflict, another sanction from South China Morning Post:

EU hits Russian intelligence chiefs in new round of sanctions over Ukraine

  • European Union announces broadened sanctions on Russia targeting 15 new individuals and 18 entities with asset freezes and visa bans

The European Union announced on Saturday it had widened its sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s role in conflict-torn Ukraine to include the heads of intelligence services.

The Russian foreign ministry responded later on Saturday, saying the measures put at risk international cooperation over security issues

The director of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, and the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Mikhail Fradkov are on the new list of 15 people and 18 entities targeted by an asset freeze and visa bans, the EU’s Official Journal said. Also on the list is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

And from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, mythbusters:

The evidence that shows Iron Dome is not working

In the early weeks of July, the conflict between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel flared up again, resulting in a new round of large-scale rocket attacks, launched by Hamas, operating from Gaza, against Israeli population centers. The last such large-scale rocket attacks occurred in November 2012.

Initially, the Israeli military responded to the rocket attacks with air strikes in Gaza, and with protective measures that include deployment of the Iron Dome rocket-defense system and a civil defense effort that includes an efficient system for early warning and sheltering of citizens. As of this writing, only one Israeli had died from Hamas fire, apparently from a mortar round (although that number increased with the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip begun late last week).

During the November 2012 conflict, a detailed review of a large number of photographs of Iron Dome interceptor contrails revealed that the rocket-defense system’s success rate was very low—as low as 5 percent or, perhaps, even less. A variety of media outlets have attributed the low casualty number to the supposed effectiveness of the Iron Dome system, quoting Israeli officials as saying it has destroyed 90 percent of the Hamas rockets it targeted. But close study of photographic and video imagery of Iron Dome engagements with Hamas rockets—both in the current conflict and in the 2012 hostilities—shows that the low casualties in Israel from artillery rocket attacks can be ascribed to Israeli civil defense efforts, rather than the performance of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

From the Associated Press, who do they think they are? The NSA?:

Turkey: 20 police arrested for illegal wiretaps

Turkey’s state-run news agency says an Istanbul court has charged 20 police officers with illegal wiretapping and ordered their arrest pending a trial.

The Anadolu Agency says 49 other officers are still waiting on Saturday to be questioned and face possible charges.

The officers were detained on July 22 in raids to their homes on suspicion of wiretapping officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After the jump, off to Asia for the latest installment of the Games of Zones, Google’s persistent cyberstalking, cops in the Klan, and so much more. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Scofflaws, nuke woes, more


Our second headline collection focuses on the environment, and the costs of living a world where consumption — and the attendant damages to the earth, our fellow living creatures, and ourselves — has become the driving impetus of the systems of power and control.

First up, MintPress News covers stark reality:

Criminal Prosecution Rates For Corporate Environmental Crimes Near Zero

Grappling with a shrinking budget and limited manpower, the EPA pursues criminal charges in “fewer than one-half of one percent” of total legal violations.

While U.S. regulators are actively flagging and tracking corporate violations of federal environmental laws, the government is rarely pursuing criminal penalties for those infractions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the key department in safeguarding the country’s health from pollutants, pursues criminal charges in fewer than one-half of one percent of total violations, according to new research. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges, which require less evidence to prove and fewer resources to prosecute.

Yet critics worry that civil proceedings, which typically result in fines but no jail time or restitution, don’t offer the robust deterrent effect necessary to substantively impact corporate decision-making or offer compensation to affected communities.

“More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in agency databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations,” according to a newinvestigation from the Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

BBC News combines the deplorable and the devastating:

Global decline of wildlife linked to child slavery

New research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.

Ecologists say the shortage of wild animals means that in many countries more labour is now needed to find food.

Children are often used to fill this need for cheap workers, especially in the fishing industry.

The decline in species is also helping the proliferation of terrorism and the destabilisation of regions.

From Mother Jones, a subject of our ongoing concern:

California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under

In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

  • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
  • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, DC.
  • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
  • “We’re acting like the super-rich:” California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

The report is posted online here [PDF]:

From Project Syndicate, another ravaged continent:

Antarctica’s Point of No Return

Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

Via DutchNews.nl, Big Pharma strikes again:

Criminal investigation begun into banned antibiotic in animal feed

The public prosecution department has launched a criminal investigation into the use of a banned antibiotic in Dutch animal feed from a producer near Utrecht.

In a statement on Friday the department said business premises and a private house have been searched as part of the investigation.

Food safety inspectors have shut 102 Dutch pig and veal farms and 11 in Germany because they were delivered feed containing the antibiotic furazolidone, the Financieele Dagblad said earlier on Friday.

From the Economic Times, conditional reistance to the globalization regime in the name of food autonomy:

US sees ‘crisis’ in WTO over customs disaccord with India, others

The World Trade Organisation is facing a “crisis” because of disagreement, most notably with India, over improved customs procedures, the United States said Friday.

“We are deeply disappointed that backsliding on Trade Facilitation has brought the WTO to the brink of crisis,” the US ambassador to the world trade body, Michael Froman, said in a statement.

“The current state of play on Trade Facilitation threatens to deal a serious blow to the credibility of the multilateral trading system and to set back the development needs of many countries around the world,” he said.

Off to Japan and the latest installment of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from NHK WORLD:

TEPCO: Groundwater bypass showing limited effects

Work to pump up groundwater to keep it from flowing into the contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is apparently having limited effects.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, reported the results of the operation so far at a meeting of experts at the industry ministry on Friday.

TEPCO began the so-called groundwater bypass operation in May. It involves draining water from wells and releasing it into the sea to keep it from flowing into reactor buildings and becoming contaminated.

NHK WORLD reassures

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

And speak of the devil! From Nextgov:

Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press ties it up:

U.S. Fukushima report: Think about unthinkable disasters

A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.

That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to the National Academy of Sciences report released on July 24. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.

“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.

Echoes of an earlier disaster resonate anew. From the Guardian:

Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep

  • Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions

In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.

“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.

The beneficiaries of all this mayhem, via United Press International:

85 wealthiest are richer than poorest 3.5 billion

  • The report found 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.

The U.N.’s annual Human Development Report released Thursday shows that the world’s 85 richest people are wealthier than the poorest 3.5 billion.

The top five countries ranked in the Human Development Index (HDI) are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. The bottom five are all from Africa: Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The U.N. attributed slowing improvements in health, education and income to worsening income inequality, climate change and government corruption.

The authors found that nearly one-third of people are poor or vulnerable to poverty with 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. The report says that human development can be improved by “universal access to basic social services, especially health and education; stronger social protection, including unemployment insurance and pensions; and a commitment to full employment, recognizing that the value of employment extends far beyond the income it generates.”

And to close, one of those beneficiaries wages war on the commons, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial

The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast.

The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him.

“If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?” he asked. “The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don’t want to compromise on anything.”

Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open.

InSecurity Watch: Spooks, hacks, & tensions


Today’s collection of headlines about matters of spooks, soldiers, and privacy privateers begins with the unsurprising but notable, via the Washington Post:

Proliferation of new online communications services poses hurdles for law enforcement

Federal law enforcement and intelligence authorities say they are increasingly struggling to conduct court-ordered wiretaps on suspects because of a surge in chat services, instant-messaging and other online communications that lack the technical means to be intercepted.

A “large percentage” of wiretap orders to pick up the communications of suspected spies and foreign agents are not being fulfilled, FBI officials said. Law enforcement agents are citing the same challenge in criminal cases; agents, they say, often decline to even seek orders when they know firms lack the means to tap into a suspect’s communications in real time.

“It’s a significant problem, and it’s continuing to get worse,” Amy S. Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch, said in a recent interview.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Big Brother is watching:

After CIA gets secret whistleblower email, Congress worries about more spying

The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.

At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.

The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight.

Defense One charts spooky trepidation:

The CIA Fears the Internet of Things

The major themes defining geo-security for the coming decades were explored at a forum on “The Future of Warfare” at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, moderated by Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron.

Dawn Meyerriecks, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s directorate of science and technology, said today’s concerns about cyber war don’t address the looming geo-security threats posed by the Internet of Things, the embedding of computers, sensors, and Internet capabilities into more and more physical objects.

“Smart refrigerators have been used in distributed denial of service attacks,” she said. At least one smart fridge played a role in a massive spam attack last year, involving more than 100,000 internet-connected devices and more than 750,000 spam emails. She also mentioned “smart fluorescent LEDs [that are] are communicating that they need to be replaced but are also being hijacked for other things.

And from The Intercept, partners in crime:

The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013, the U.S. State Department reported that “Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to torture and other physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011 episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one human rights activist. The report also notes the MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at political and religious dissidents.

But as the State Department publicly catalogued those very abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased surveillance assistance to the ministry that perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama Administration’s increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the MOI, the memo describes “a period of rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.

IDG News Service covers another partnership:

Dutch spy agencies can receive NSA data, court rules

Dutch intelligence services can receive bulk data that might have been obtained by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) through mass data interception programs, even though collecting data that way is illegal for the Dutch services, the Hague District Court ruled Wednesday.

The possibility that data received by Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD could have been collected in a way that would not be legal for the Dutch services, doesn’t mean that receiving this data violates international and national treaties, the court said.

The Hague District Court ruled in a civil case file by a coalition of defense lawyers, privacy advocates and journalists who sued the Dutch government last November. They sought a court order to stop the AIVD and MIVD from obtaining data from foreign intelligence agencies that was not obtained in accordance with European and Dutch law.

A tale of dissension from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

In Kansas, candidates spar over NSA

As a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo had a front-row seat to the brouhaha that erupted in Washington last year over revelations that the government was secretly collecting Americans’ data.

Todd Tiahrt, Pompeo’s challenger in the upcoming Republican primary for Kansas’ 4th Congressional District, has seized on the incumbent’s proximity to the controversy _ and his voting record _ to attack him. Now Pompeo finds himself in the awkward position of defending the National Security Agency’s surveillance program while campaigning as a tea party stalwart who sympathizes with voters’ distrust of the federal government.

Tiahrt is vulnerable on the issue of privacy too. As a former congressman who also served on the intelligence committee, he voted in favor of warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s surveillance powers _ facts that the Pompeo campaign is quick to point out.

While the Washington Post covers the not-so-spooky:

CNN’s Diana Magnay is latest reminder that Twitter can be a journalist’s worst enemy

Since the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other instantaneous digital platforms, reporters have lost their jobs, been suspended or been reassigned after posting things deemed inappropriate by readers, viewers and — most important — their bosses. The objectionable posts have usually called into question the journalists’ ability to remain neutral and fair to both sides of any story.

The latest casualty: CNN correspondent Diana Magnay, who last week stirred criticism for a tweet about a group of Israelis who were cheering a missile attack on Gaza. Magnay said in her tweet that members of the group had threatened her. “Scum,” she concluded. Amid an outraged reaction, the network apologized, saying Magnay was referring only to the group’s alleged harassment of her, not to its support of the military action. She was quickly reassigned to Moscow.

The incident echoed CNN’s dismissal in 2010 of Octavia Nasr, a longtime foreign-affairs editor. The network cut Nasr loose after she tweeted her thoughts about the death of a leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization, calling him “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

From intelNews, Washington pulls the reins:

Aruba arrests ex-head of Venezuelan intelligence, after US request

The former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence, who was a close associate of the country’s late president Hugo Chavez, has been arrested in Aruba following a request by the United States. Authorities in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island announced on Thursday the arrest of Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of Venezuela’s Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM), which is Venezuela’s military intelligence agency. A close comrade of Venezuela’s late socialist leader, Carvajal was accused by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 of weapons and drugs smuggling. According to the US government, Carvajal was personally involved in illegally providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftwing guerrilla group involved in a decades-long insurgency war against the government of Colombia.

It also accused the Venezuelan official of helping the FARC smuggle cocaine out of the country, in a bid to help them raise funds to support their insurgency against Colombian authorities. But the government of Venezuela rejects all charges and has been sheltering Carvajal. In January of this year it appointed him consul-general to Aruba, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean located just 15 miles off Venezuela’s coast.

Bloomberg raises the terror alert:

Norway on High Alert Amid Warnings of Attack Next Week

Police in Norway are on high alert after receiving intelligence that nationals returning from Syria may be plotting a terrorist attack within days against the Scandinavian country.

Information obtained by Norway’s security service, PST, suggests an attack could be imminent, the unit’s chief, Benedicte Bjoernland, said July 24. Authorities have strengthened their presence at Norway’s borders, airports and train stations, and police in all districts are at a heightened state of preparedness.

Police officers in Norway’s capital, Oslo, have been stationed at focal points in the city including parliament and the royal palace as well as at shopping centers, spokesman Kaare Hansen said by phone yesterday. Authorities have followed up on a number of tips received since yesterday, the police said, without providing more details.

More from TheLocal.no:

Statoil tightens security amid terror threat

Statoil, Norway’s biggest energy company, has ‘increased’ security after this week’s terror warning announcement, said the firm’s CEO on Friday.

Helge Lund, Statoil’s CEO, said to NTB that: “The security level of Statoil has increased as a consequence of the terror threat.”
“We are following the situation very closely. We have close contact with Norwegian authorities and are taking the measures we think are necessary, based on their threat evaluations.”

One-and-a-half year ago the company was struck by the worst terror action that has ever been directed towards a Norwegian company, when terrorists attacked the gas facility Tigantourine in In Aménas in Algeria. Five Norwegian Statoil employees were killed during the four days the hostage drama lasted.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Globe and Mail covers consequences of aggression:

The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society

Earlier this month, one of Israel’s most famous writers announced in his weekly newspaper column that he was packing up his family and moving to the United States – permanently. Sayed Kashua, an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel who resides in Jerusalem, is the author of critically acclaimed novels and a popular television series, all written in Hebrew with wit and insight into the complex, conflicted society of Arabs and Jews living uneasily side-by-side. But after more than two decades of believing that ultimately Arabs and Jews would find a way to co-exist as equals, he wrote, something inside him “had broken.” He no longer believed in a better future.

Mr. Kashua’s decision to emigrate came in response to a series of events that were marked by violence and incitement against the Arab population, from the government to the street. One member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, called for a war against the Palestinian people on her Facebook page. Another called an Arab legislator a “terrorist” during a parliamentary committee session, while still another, the leader of an ostensibly centrist party, submitted a proposal to ban an established Arab nationalist party with sitting members of the Knesset. The editor of a right-wing newspaper suggested that now was the time to transfer the Arab population out of the occupied West Bank. In Jerusalem, mobs of hyper nationalist youth rampaged through the cafe-lined downtown streets chanting “death to Arabs,” assaulting random passersby because they looked or sounded Palestinian.

Most horrifically of all, a 17 year-old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem was abducted from the street by six young Jewish men, three of them minors. The police found Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s corpse in the nearby Jerusalem Forest shortly after CCTV cameras recorded some young men forcing him into a car. He had been doused with gasoline and burned alive. Three of the six boys confessed to the crime and re-enacted it for the police.

On to the latest developments in the trans-Pacific Game of Zones, via China Daily:

Confessions of Japanese war criminals online

The State Archives Administration started releasing a large number of files on major Japanese war criminals on its website on Thursday to offer a clearer picture of history.

“The confessions written by all the war criminals and the detailed trial records contained in the archived files are irrefutable evidence of the heinous crimes committed by the Japanese militarist aggressors against the Chinese people,” Li Minghua, deputy director of Central Archives of China, said on Thursday.

Since the Abe Cabinet came to power in Japan, it has openly confused right and wrong to mislead the public on history, he said at a news conference of the State Council Information Office.

With the upcoming 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident – an incident that marked the start of Japan’s full aggression against the nation – the release of such materials can prove their crimes during the Japanese War of Aggression against China, experts said.

Pressure from Foggy Bottom, via the Japan Daily Press:

U.S. Senators seek Obama’s help to resolve issue of ‘comfort women’

With Japan’s announcement last week that it has begun reviewing the accounts of former “comfort women,” a euphemistic term for those forced into sexual labor by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, former victims and their supporters have expressed outrage over the development. Three senators from the United States are urging President Barack Obama to keep its interest and exert more effort in addressing the matter.

The letter calling for Obama’s actions was signed and sent by Senators Martin Heinrich, Tim Johnson and Mark Begich. The trio called upon the US president’s passionate statement regarding the atrocities done to the women. In his recent trip to Asia, Obama called what was done to the comfort women as a “terrible and egregious violation of human rights.” The trio of senators echoed his statement, noting “We affirm your statement that the ‘women were violated in ways that even in the midst of war was shocking.” They further went on to describe the women’s plight as deserving “to be heard and respected.” The letter closed by expressing their request that he continue to help resolve this particular issue.

The senators believe that finding a resolution to the issue of comfort women will be vital in further improving trilateral ties of the United States with Japan and South Korea. While both Asian countries are known U.S. allies, the two remain at odds with each other because of their wartime history that has prevented them from fostering cordial ties in recent years.

The Asahi Shimbun raises the heat:

NHK governor’s remarks on prewar Koreans in news show may violate law

A conservative Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) governor complained about comments made on prewar Korean immigrants to Japan in a news program, possibly violating the Broadcast Law that forbids governors from interfering with shows, according to insiders.

Naoki Hyakuta questioned and disputed NHK newscaster Kensuke Okoshi’s remarks at a July 22 meeting of the NHK Board of Governors.

Hyakuta, handpicked for the 12-member board by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is a writer who has generated controversy over his conservative stance on historical issues, such as calling the Nanking Massacre a fabrication crafted to cancel out U.S. atrocities.

Haruo Sudo, a professor emeritus of Hosei University whose specialty is media theory, said Hyakuta’s latest outburst was an obvious violation of the Broadcast Law.

Nextgov covers insecurity closer to home:

Virtual Border Fence Project Halted After Raytheon Protest

A major border security project involving the deployment of 50 surveillance towers across southern Arizona is temporarily on hold, following a protest by Raytheon that the government improperly awarded the work to a rival.

In a protest decision released Thursday afternoon, the Government Accountability Office ruled the Department of Homeland Security should reevaluate the competitors’ proposals. Among other things, it is possible Raytheon was “prejudiced by the agency’s errors” during an evaluation of proposals, the ruling stated.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection — part of DHS — had planned to initially build seven towers during the first year of a potentially 8 and 1/2 year, $145 million deal with vendor EFW, of Fort Worth, Texas. The contract was awarded in February, after a two-year competition among 14 companies.

PandoDaily resets the WABAC  Machine:

Report: Google has removed around 50,000 links thanks to Europe’s “right to be forgotten”

Europeans have asked Google to remove more than 91,000 links from its search results, and the company has granted more than half of those requests, according to a Bloomberg report. Combined, the requests are said to apply to more than 328,000 Internet addresses. The majority of removal requests have come from people who are living in France and Germany.

Google is thought to have revealed these numbers to privacy watchdogs and the press to show that it’s taking the right to be forgotten, which it has criticized in the past for being too broad and difficult to implement, more seriously than it seems. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Google’s disclosure could also soothe tensions with privacy regulators, who called Thursday’s meeting and have been critical of how the search company has implemented the ruling. Some have been demanding that Google end its notifications to websites that have been the subject of right to be forgotten requests, which have in some cases made it possible to identify the person making the request.

From IDG News Service, a familiar plea, this time from Moscow:

Russian government offers money for identifying Tor users

The Russian Ministry of Interior is willing to pay 3.9 million roubles, or around US$111,000, for a method to identify users on the Tor network.

The Tor software anonymizes Internet traffic by encrypting it and passing it through several random relays in order to prevent potential network eavesdroppers from identifying the traffic’s source and destination. The software was originally developed as a project of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, but is now being maintained by a nonprofit organization called The Tor Project.

The Tor network is popular with journalists, political activists and privacy-conscious users in general, but has also been used by pedophiles and other criminals to hide their tracks from law enforcement.

Four our final items, we focus on another cause for insecurity, at least for half the population. First, this from Newswise:

Link Between Ritual Circumcision Procedure and Herpes Infection in Infants Examined by Penn Medicine Analysis

A rare procedure occasionally performed during Jewish circumcisions that involves direct oral suction is a likely source of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) transmissions documented in infants between 1988 and 2012, a literature review conducted by Penn Medicine researchers and published online in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society found. The reviewers, from Penn’s Center for Evidence-based Practice, identified 30 reported cases in New York, Canada and Israel.

The practice—known as metzitzah b’peh—and its link to HSV-1 infections have sparked international debate in recent years, yet no systematic review of the literature has been published in a peer-reviewed journal examining the association and potential risk. During metzitzah b’peh, the mohel, a Jewish person trained to perform circumcisions, orally extracts a small amount of blood from the circumcision wound and discards it.

Lead author Brian F. Leas, MS, MA, a research analyst in the Center for Evidence-based Practice at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, identified six relevant studies for the systematic review. All six studies were descriptive case reports or case series that documented neonatal HSV-1 infections after circumcision with direct oral suction.

And it’s not just babes in arm with cause for concern. Form the Independent:

US patient Johnny Lee Banks sues doctors over circumcision that ended up as amputation

Something was absent without leave when Johnny Lee Banks came out of the anaesthetic after what should have been a routine circumcision at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, last month. That, at least, is the claim in a medical malpractice suit filed this week that has men across the state, if not America, clenching their midriffs in horror.

“When the plaintiff … woke from his aforesaid surgical procedure, his penis was amputated,” the lawsuit states. It goes on to contend that no one at the Princeton Baptist Medical Centre in Birmingham has been able to explain why it had become necessary to remove the entire organ rather than just the foreskin as he had expected.

“My client is devastated,” said John Graves, a lawyer for Mr Banks. The lawsuit names two doctors as defendants in the suit as well as the facility attached to the hospital that was responsible for the procedure. It was filed jointly by Mr Banks, who is 56, and his wife, who is claiming the marvellously legalistic “loss of consortium”.

Chart of the day II: Running deadly numbers


From MintPress News. Whatever happened to “proportional response”? Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Kill4Peace

Which reminds us of a favorite song of ours from back when the U.S. was doing pretty much the same thing to a place called Vietnam.

From the late, great rock band, the Fugs, “Kill for Peace”:

Media mayhem: Odd juxtaposition of the day


From the homepage of China Daily USA, a reminder of the dangers of those darn Blue Meanies:

BLOG OopsUPDATE: Same photo, different context.

From the London Daily Mail:

BLOG Harrass

Headlines II: Spies, pols, threats, hacks, zones,


Lotsa ground to cover, so straight ahead, first with the Washington Times:

Greenwald to publish list of U.S. citizens NSA spied on

Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters who chronicled the document dump by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden via the U.K. press, now said he’s set to publish his most dramatic piece yet: The names of those in the United States targeted by the NSA.

“One of the big questions when is comes to domestic spying is, ‘Who have been the NSA’s specific targets?’ Are they political critics and dissidents and activists? Are they genuinely people we’d regard as terrorists? What are the metrics and calculations that go into choosing those targets and what is done with the surveillance that is conducted? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to still answer,” Mr. Greenwald told The Sunday Times of London.

And a video report from RT America:

Greenwald to reveal Americans targeted by NSA

Program Notes:

Journalist Glenn Greenwald will end his National Security Agency series by revealing the names of American citizens targeted for surveillance by the agency. Documents provided to Greenwald by whistleblower Edward Snowden have been central to his series, revealing the massive extent of the government’s surveillance on international and domestic populations. The journalist promises his last reveal will be similar to a fireworks display; the best and most impressive portion of the show is the finale. RT’s Ameera David has more information on the tantalizing tease by Greenwald.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, there’s a deeper story here:

Spy whistleblower advocate stays put

Less than two months ago, a high-profile government whistleblower advocate found himself under scrutiny — ironically in an investigation of an alleged leak to Congress.

The Pentagon’s inspector general was trying to suspend and possibly revoke the top secret access of Dan Meyer, that office’s former director of whistleblowing. At the time, the news triggered concerns in Congress that he was being retaliated against for doing his job. But Meyer, who is now executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Although he won’t comment on the specifics, he did say his security badge “had been restored.” Asked if he had any concerns about his future, he was cryptic, but upbeat. “I have been treated very well by the intelligence community,” he said.

From NBC News, both spook and eavesdropper:

Edward Snowden Tells Brian Williams: ‘I Was Trained as a Spy’

Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, is fighting back against critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker — saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government.

Snowden defended his expertise in portions of the interview that aired at 6:30 p.m. ET on Nightly News. The extended, wide-ranging interview with Williams, his first with a U.S. television network, airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden said in the interview.

From New Europe, politically inconvenient:

Austria constant partner of NSA: journalist

American journalist Glenn Greenwald has said in an interview with newspaper Der Standard on Monday that Austria “constantly” works together with the American National Security Agency (NSA).

This came despite recent claims from Austrian Minister for Defence Gerald Klug that the two work together only “occasionally.”

The confidant for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said the cooperation is discreet and aimed at specific goals, though added the NSA sees countries such as Austria — which it puts in a “Tier B” category — primarily as a monitoring target, and as a partner “only secondarily.”

He said further documents on the cooperation between Austria and the NSA would “probably” be released as he understood the Austrian public is interested in the information, and added that “we” are currently deciding the best way to distribute the documents amongst journalists to speed up their reporting.

From intelNews.org, raising curious questions:

Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran.

The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations.

From the New York Times, street level spookery:

In Complaint, Activists Seek Audit of New York Police Surveillance

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

From Homeland Security News Wire, repudiating another form of domestic “security”:

U.S. recalibrating Secure Communities

As more and more municipalities across the country refuse to hold undocumented immigrants in jail on behalf of DHS’ Secure Communities program, President Barack Obama is adopting a strategy to limit deportations to undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes. The new strategy would help relieve political pressure on the White House as immigrant rights activists continue to label Obama as the “deporter in chief” for his administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

Secure Communities began under the George W. Bush administration to coordinate enforcement of federal immigration laws with local communities. The FBI collects the fingerprints of individuals arrested by local and state police, to identify fugitives or individuals wanted in other jurisdictions. With Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials review the fingerprints against immigration databases to see whther arrested individuals are deportable.

Secure Communities requires that local law enforcement agencies hold detainees until an ICE agent arrives, but police chiefs say that the law has made undocumented immigrants less likely to report crimes when they have been victims or witnesses. “The immigrant community are the prey; they are not the predators,” said Ron Teachman, chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. “We need them to be the eyes and ears. They are exploited in their workplace, in their neighborhoods and in their own homes with domestic violence.”

From the Guardian, revelations assessed:

Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the apparatus of repression has been covertly attached to the democratic state. However, our struggle to retain privacy is far from hopeless

The 20th-century question was how many targets could be simultaneously followed in a world where each of them required hack, tap, steal. But we then started to build a new form of human communication. From the moment we created the internet, two of the basic assumptions began to fail: the simplicity of “one target, one circuit” went away, and the difference between home and abroad vanished too.

That distinction vanished in the United States because so much of the network and associated services, for better and worse, resided there. The question “Do we listen inside our borders?” was seemingly reduced to “Are we going to listen at all?”

At this point, a vastly imprudent US administration intervened. Their defining characteristic was that they didn’t think long before acting. Presented with a national calamity that also constituted a political opportunity, nothing stood between them and all the mistakes that haste can make for their children’s children to repent at leisure. What they did – in secret, with the assistance of judges appointed by a single man operating in secrecy, and with the connivance of many decent people who believed themselves to be acting to save the society – was to unchain the listeners from law.

And from RT, a curious blacklisting:

Snowden, Greenwald, Appelbaum, WikiLeaks ‘blacklisted’ from Stockholm Internet Forum

Key digital rights activists – including Edward Snowden and hacker Jacob Appelbaum – have been blacklisted from the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet openness and freedom. The move has caused a stir at the gathering and outraged Twitter users.

The third annual European meeting of internet activists kicked off in Sweden on May 26, with its main theme being “Internet– privacy, transparency, surveillance and control.”

But strangely enough, those whose names immediately spring to mind when it comes to the issue of surveillance are not allowed to attend the event.

And a video report from RT, focusing on the waffling of program organizations when put to the question:

Where’s Ed? Stockholm web summit slammed as Snowden, Greenwald ‘blacklisted’

Program note:

Blacklisting Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and others by the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet freedom provoked strong criticism from participants and outrage on Twitter.

From the New York Times, rewards for switching sides:

Hacker Who Helped Disrupt Cyberattacks Is Allowed to Walk Free

The New York man who helped the authorities infiltrate the shadowy world of computer hacking and disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military, courts and private companies was given a greatly reduced sentence on Tuesday of time served, and was allowed to walk free.

Federal prosecutors had sought leniency for the hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, citing what they called his “extraordinary cooperation” in helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation take down an aggressive group of hackers who were part of the collective Anonymous, of which he was a member, and its splinter groups, which had taken credit for attacking government and corporate websites.

Mr. Monsegur’s information, the authorities said, led to the arrest of eight “major co-conspirators,” including Jeremy Hammond, whom the F.B.I. had called its top “cybercriminal target” and who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November.

The Washington Post covers an equally spooky form of everyday espionage:

Brokers use ‘billions’ of data points to profile Americans

Are you a financially strapped working mother who smokes? A Jewish retiree with a fondness for Caribbean cruises? Or a Spanish-speaking professional with allergies, a dog and a collection of Elvis memorabilia?

All this information and much, much more is being quietly collected, analyzed and distributed by the nation’s burgeoning data broker industry, which uses billions of individual data points to produce detailed portraits of virtually every American consumer, the Federal Trade Commission reported Tuesday.

The FTC report provided an unusually detailed account of the system of commercial surveillance that draws on government records, shopping habits and social media postings to help marketers hone their advertising pitches. Officials said the intimacy of these profiles would unnerve some consumers who have little ability to track what’s being collected or how it’s used — or even to correct false information. The FTC called for legislation to bring transparency to the multi-billion-dollar industry and give consumers some control over how their data is used.

From the New York Times, caught in the crossfire:

Technology Companies Are Pressing Congress to Bolster Privacy Protections

A law that allows the government to read email and cloud-stored data over six months old without a search warrant is under attack from technology companies, trade associations and lobbying groups, which are pressing Congress to tighten privacy protections. Federal investigators have used the law to view content hosted by third-party providers for civil and criminal lawsuits, in some cases without giving notice to the individual being investigated.

Nearly 30 years after Congress passed the law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which government officials have interpreted to cover newer technologies, cloud computing companies are scrambling to reassure their customers, and some clients are taking their business to other countries.

Ben Young, the general counsel for Peer 1, a web hosting company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said his customers were keeping their business out of the United States because the country “has a serious branding problem.”

Defense One asks for spare change:

Are Paychecks the Problem? Senate Considers Bonuses for Pentagon’s Cyber Workforce

Current and aspiring Defense Department personnel with cyber skills could see a boost in pay under a Senate 2015 defense policy bill that lawmakers detailed on Friday.

Defense is up against the private sector’s lucrative salaries as it endeavors to boost cyber mission forces. Pentagon Secretary Chuck Hagel recently said these forces, expected to include 1,800 personnel by year’s end, should number 6,000 professionals in 2016.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a measure that directs each military service to determine “whether recruiting, retention, and assignment of service members with cyber skills requires bonuses or special and incentive pays,” according to the new details. The services would have to report their decisions to Congress by Jan. 31, 2015.

BBC News hacks you pocket pal:

Apple devices ‘hijacked for ransom’ in Australia

Several users of Apple devices in Australia have reported that their gadgets have been “hijacked” – with a message demanding money.

Experts believed the hack had targeted users by exploiting the Find my iPhone feature.

A message appeared on some targeted phones asking for “$100 USD/EUR” to be sent to a PayPal account.

Mobile networks have advised affected users to contact Apple, which has not yet commented on the problem.

And it’s not just Down Under, as the London Telegraph reports:

iPhones frozen by hackers demanding ransom

  • People around the world have found their iPads and iPhones frozen by hackers who are demanding cash ransoms to unlock their devices

Owners of iPhones and iPads have been targeted by a hacker who is freezing iOS devices and demanding a ransom of up to £55 to unlock them.

The majority of the attacks have taken place in Australia although there are also reports of Britons being affected.

It appears that the hacker, who goes by the name Oleg Pliss, has managed to exploit the Find My iPhone feature which can track and remotely lock stolen devices.

Reuters covers another hack attack:

Spotify to ask users to re-enter passwords after cyberattack

Music streaming service Spotify AB will ask some of its 40 million users to re-enter their passwords and upgrade their software in coming days after detecting unauthorized access to its internal systems and data.

Chief Technology Officer Oskar Stal said in a blogpost on Tuesday that it has found evidence of attackers accessing just one user’s data, which did not include payment or password information. But as a precaution, it intends to ask “certain Spotify users” to re-enter their log-in credentials, and upgrade their Google (GOOGL.O) Android app.

Spotify said it is not recommending any action yet for users of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) iPhones or devices based on Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Windows.

From CBC News, a spy in the bedroom, and for a good cause:

Spy cam nabs care worker stealing from 82-year-old Winnipegger

  • ‘What you did is despicable,’ Manitoba judge says in giving thief 2 years probation, community work

Viola Dufresne said she noticed money vanishing from her wallet starting last January, totalling nearly $1,100 over six months.

“My dad taught us morals, and all of a sudden I’m in my home and somebody rips me off. It made me mad,” she told CBC News on Monday.

Winnipeg police told Dufresne there wasn’t much they could do without evidence, so she went online and bought a spy camera. The camera, which resembles a clock radio, showed the home-care aide taking $25 from Dufresne’s wallet.

Techdirt laments:

Former CIA Director And Defense Secretary Says CIA Tried, But Failed, To Do Economic Espionage

  • from the this-doesn’t-make-the-us-look-any-better dept

US intelligence officials still seem to think that there’s some big distinction between the kind of intelligence work the US does versus the kind that other countries do. US officials time and time again claim that they don’t do “economic espionage” — even though it’s pretty clear that they do it, just through indirect means (i.e., while they don’t hand trade secrets over to companies, they’re certainly using economic information to impact policy and trade discussions).

Former Defense Secretary and CIA boss Robert Gates continued this sort of tone deaf line of thinking from US intelligence defenders by claiming that French intelligence downloads the contents of laptops from businessmen visiting Paris:

“There are probably a dozen or 15 countries that steal our technology in this way,” Gates said in an interview the Council on Foreign Relations posted online Thursday. “In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French — and they’ve been doing it a long time.”

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing, ever-transforming Asian Game of Zones, including the latest American plans for Afghanistan, Sino-American cyberwar gambits, allegations of ramming, corporate targeting, the relentless push for Japanese militarization, and Pyongyang blusters belicosely. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Beaucoup elections, and lots more


Whole lotta ground to cover, with elections — and their aftermaths — on three continents, plus the latest economic and ecological headlines and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

On with the show, starting with a trans-Pacific partnership of another sort from China Daily:

Children from China enroll in US summer academic camps

Summer is near, and that means that many Chinese parents will be sending their children to summer camps in the US for an academic performance boost.

Michelle Raz, the director of the Longfeifei Youth Summer Academy in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, said that Chinese parents are keen on “rounding out their kids’ experiences”, so they are enrolling them in programs like Longfeifei’s, which has an academic portion but also gives children time to learn about the arts and to participate in athletic activities.

“What the children have told me is that schools in China been very limited in sports and arts, where they are coming from,” Raz told China Daily. “Few of them have some experiences but the vast majority haven’t, so we’re teaching them American games and things like soccer.”

And more standardized testing from Washington, this time with ivy coverings, via the New York Times:

Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System

The college presidents were appalled. Not only had President Obama called for a government rating system for their schools, but now one of his top education officials was actually suggesting it would be as easy as evaluating a kitchen appliance.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons. For years that task has been dominated by private companies like Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report.

Next up, more neoliberalism north of the border with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Ottawa approved thousands of foreign worker requests at minimum wage, data reveal

The federal government approved thousands of requests to bring in temporary foreign workers at minimum wage in recent years, a practice that undermines claims from government and employers that there are serious labour shortages and that all efforts have been taken to hire Canadians.

The revelations in newly released data come as the Conservative government is weighing major policy reforms – including a new “wage floor” – in response to criticism that employers are relying on the temporary foreign worker program as a way to avoid raising wages.

Using Access to Information legislation, the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained extensive statistics about the program and provided its findings to The Globe and Mail. The union sought and obtained information on the number of Labour Market Opinions approved by Employment and Social Development Canada that were for minimum wage jobs. An LMO is a screening process meant to ensure employers have exhausted efforts to hire Canadians before turning to the program.

On to Europe, first with a hint of things to come from the Portugal News:

‘Risk of deflation’ – ECB president

The president of the European Central Bank (ECB) said on Monday that inflation was going to stay low for a prolonged period of time and that “there is a risk” of deflation, adding there was “no question” the objective of the institution was to control price changes.

“At the moment, our expectation is that the low inflation is going to remain with us, but that it will gradually return to the 2% level. However, our responsibility is to be aware of any risks that might arise and be prepared to act is necessary”, Mario Draghi said.

The ECB president was giving a speech opening Monday’s works at the ‘ECB Forum on Central Banking’, organised by the ECB in Sintra and which began on Sunday and is to continue until Tuesday.

And our first electoral story, via EUbusiness:

Europe’s leaders urge EU reform after eurosceptic poll wins

France’s President Francois Hollande Monday called for reining in Brussels’ power after eurosceptic and far-right parties scored stunning success in EU polls, sending shock waves through the continent’s political landscape.

“Earthquake” in Europe, read the headlines after European parliamentary elections ended Sunday, summing up a day of trauma for establishment parties and the accepted consensus that the European Union offers the best future for all.

Hollande went on national television to call for the EU to reduce its role which he said had become for many citizens “remote and incomprehensible”.

More from United Press International:

European Parliament election results illustrate growing dismay with economic austerity measures

The European parliamentary election results are in. While pro-EU parties are expected to retain the majority of the 751 seats in the new legislature, so-called Euroskeptic parties who oppose the EU made significant gains.

According to European politics expert Simon Usherwood, who spoke to CNN about the election results, “They don’t have enough votes to stop legislation going through but what they will get particularly on the far right, is the time for speaking in debates, the chairmanship of certain committees, which means that they’re going to have much more of a platform on which they can sell their message to voters.”

And ominous new additions from EUbusiness:

European Parliament set to usher in first neo-Nazis

Though no stranger to controversy or diatribe, the European Parliament is set to usher in its first fully-fledged neo-Nazis members, from Germany and Greece.

With around 300,000 votes at Sunday’s European elections the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is expected to claim one of the country’s 96 seats in the new Parliament, in a historical ground-breaker.

A recent change in German electoral laws, scrapping all minimum thresholds, paved the way for the march into parliament of the NPD, which has 6,000 members. It describes itself as “national socialist,” just like Germany’s Nazis in the 1930s, and is openly xenophobic and anti-semitic so a group of German regional governments have tried to have it banned for propagating racism.

EurActiv looks on the bright side:

Europe on course for ‘grand coalition’ after election

Despite a rise in anti-European parties, political balances remained broadly unchanged in the European Parliament following the elections yesterday, with the centre-right and centre-left parties on track for a grand coalition.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won 212 seats in the European parliament, followed by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), with 186 seats (out of 751). In the last European election, the EPP won 265 seats and the S&D 184. The Parliament was slightly larger at the time, counting a total of 766 seats.

This is the fourth consecutive victory for the EPP since the 1999 election and another disappointment for the Socialists, who failed to reverse the balance of power in Parliament, despite the popular resentment over austerity.

A different take from EUobserver:

New EP will struggle to find majorities

It will take days if not weeks for the political dust to settle after the EU vote but it is already clear that the new European Parliament will need to work harder to find majorities with discussions on issues such as migration and free trade deals set to become more polarised.

While the centre-right EPP gained the most seats in the EU vote, it lost around sixty seats compared to 2009, while the centre-left S&D came second, but did less well than expected. Together the two parties hold a majority (403) in the 751-strong EP, under current group projections, but it is a slim majority (54%).

“That means that in areas where only the S&D and the EPP agree, that will not be enough, they will have to get votes from some other places,” said VoteWatch’s Doru Frantescu at a post-election analysis on Monday (26 May).

On to Britain, and exuberance from an EU foe from Sky News:

Nigel Farage: ‘My Dream Has Become Reality’

  • UKIP’s leader likens the main parties to goldfish out of water “desperately gasping for air”, after his Euro election victory.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his “dream” of “causing an earthquake in British politics” has come true.

Mr Farage was speaking at a press conference after UKIP’s first win in a national election – the first time in more than 100 years a party other than Labour or the Conservatives has finished top.

He described the “legacy parties” as “like goldfish that have just been tipped out of the bowl onto the floor, desperately gasping for air and clinging on to the comfort blanket that this is a protest vote”.

The Guardian hears from Boris the Bloviator, the neocon’s friend:

Boris Johnson: Eurosceptic success due to ‘peasants’ revolt’

  • London mayor says European election results are expression of revulsion and a signal for the EU to change or die

Boris Johnson has described Ukip voters as peasants in revolt after Eurosceptic parties swept to victory across the union.

The London mayor painted a scene of “pitchfork-wielding populists” converging on Brussels “drunk on local hooch and chanting nationalist slogans and preparing to give the federalist machinery a good old kicking with their authentically folkloric clogs”.

Writing in the Telegraph, he compared Eurosceptic parties, including Ukip, Dutch rightwing firebrands and Greek anti-capitalists, to people taking part in “a kind of peasants’ revolt” or a “jacquerie” – a bloody uprising against the French nobility in 1358.

From the Independent, a loser struggles:

European elections 2014: Nick Clegg faces fight for survival after Lib Dems’ Euro disaster

Local Liberal Democrat party activists begin calling emergency meetings to force leadership contest as triumphant Nigel Farage predicts Ukip will hold balance of power at next year’s general election

Nick Clegg failed to quell a grassroots revolt by Liberal Democrat activists on Monday night as they stepped up an attempt to oust him following the party’s disastrous performance in the European elections.

After the Deputy Prime Minister refused to fall on his sword, The Independent learnt that activists had begun to call emergency meetings of local parties across the country in order to force a leadership election. They require the backing of 75 parties to trigger a contest.

Ditto from Sky News:

EU Must Reform For Jobs And Growth – Cameron

  • The Prime Minister tells fellow EU leaders they must reform the 28-nation bloc in the wake of successes for eurosceptic parties.

David Cameron has called fellow European leaders and urged them to “seize the opportunity” for reform on jobs and growth following the European Elections.

In a series of phone calls the Prime Minister urged them to “heed the views expressed at the ballot box” over recent days.

His intervention came ahead of today’s Informal European Council dinner in Brussels, where leaders are expected to discuss the results of the European poll.

Meanwhile, the austerians can proclaim another kind of victory, via the Independent:

‘If the NHS were an airline planes would fall out of the sky all the time’ says Mid Staffs inquiry chairman

Standards across the NHS have become so poor that if the health service were an airline “planes would fall out of the sky all the time”, the chairman of the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal has warned.

Robert Francis QC said the public had been given a falsely positive impression about the quality of care being provided in many of the country’s hospitals.

Mr Francis told The Telegraph: “If we ran our airlines industry on the same basis, planes would be falling out of the sky all the time. We’ve got to change the attitude that because it’s provided by the state, it’s all right for a number of people to be treated badly; well it’s not. Airlines would go out of business very quickly if they worked that way.”

Ireland next, and a win for the left from Bloomberg:

Sinn Fein Surges in Ireland as Voters Punish Austerity

Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, became the biggest party in Dublin city as voters punished the ruling coalition for three years of austerity amid a rise in protest votes across Europe.

The party has more members of Dublin City Council than any other after municipal elections on Friday and topped the Irish capital’s poll for a European Parliament seat. Support for Sinn Fein and other anti-austerity groups swelled across Ireland as they grabbed seats from government parties.

“It’s a profound change in the political landscape,” Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said in an interview posted on the Irish Independent’s website, adding the party is at its strongest in almost a century. “The government will think it can dismiss this as a bit of a scolding by the electorate, but it’s bigger and deeper than that.”

One response from Independent.ie:

Eamon Gilmore resigns as leader of Labour Party

EAMON Gilmore has warned against the Labour pulling out of government following his dramatic decision to resign as party leader.

Mr Gilmore said he “agonised” over the decision to step down which was made just hours before eight members of the Labour Parliamentary party tabled a vote of no confidence.

A new Labour leader will be put in place on July 4 following a postal ballot of all party members.

On to Iceland, and an odd election issue from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Mayoral Candidates Speak Out On Mosque Issue

In the wake of recent remarks from a mayoral candidate that she would revoke a plot of land the city of Reykjavík granted for building a mosque, numerous mayoral candidates have expressed their disagreement with this sentiment.

Vísir spoke with other candidates running for mayor, to get their reactions to recent remarks made by Progressive Party mayoral candidate Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir, who said last week that if elected mayor, she would reverse a city council decision made in January 2013 to grant Iceland’s Muslim population a plot of land on which to build a mosque.

“This is a desperate way to get votes during the last days before elections,” said Social Democrat mayoral candidate Dagur B. Eggertsson. “You don’t run a city by discriminating against people based on their religious beliefs.”

Sweden next, and harumphing from TheLocal.se:

‘Nationalists threaten EU openness’: Malmström

Sweden has in total fewer seats in Strasbourg than the French National Front does, and the upswing of nationalist parties worries Sweden’s European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

“They’re scary,” Malmström said about the rise of nationalist, extreme-right, and xenophobic parties in the European parliament elections over the weekend.

“What worries me is that their rhetoric has infected other parties.That means it could be difficult henceforth to make decisions on everything from labour migration, taking more responsibility for refugees… it won’t be easier after this.”

On to Norway, and a deal nearly done from TheLocal.no:

Rosneft to buy stake in Norway drill company

Russian state oil giant Rosneft could buy a major stake North Atlantic Drilling, a subsidiary of Norway’s Seadrill, in a deal which would give the company access to the lucrative Russian drilling market.

Norwegian shipping tycoon John Fredriksen announced the deal, which will see Rosneft book “a significant portion” of the company’s idle rigs, at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on Saturday.

“We have sought to access the growth opportunity represented by the Russian market for several years,” NADL chief executive Alf Ragnar Lovdal, said in a statement.  “After the closing of this transaction, will have created a powerful force in the Russian market and for the Arctic region.”

On to Copenhagen and more right wing triumphs via EurActiv:

Danish far right party wins in EU elections, doubles mandate

The far-right Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party has won 26.7% of the votes and becoming by far the biggest Danish party in the Parliament with four seats. The party has doubled its mandates since 2009.

Meanwhile, the two biggest parties in the Danish parliament, the Social Democrats (at 19.1%) and the Liberals (16.7%) both had poor showings, each losing a seat, leaving them at three and two seats, respectively. The Greens lost one seat, while the Conservatives, the Social Liberals and a left-wing Eurosceptic party together make up Denmark’s 13 mandates.

The Danish People’s Party has looked to Britain’s UKIP for inspiration, calling for less EU influence over Danish matters, an end to ‘benefits tourism’ and tougher border controls. After Sunday, UKIP, the Danish People’s Party and France’s National Front are the three most successful eurosceptic parties in this Parliament election. But the three parties are unlikely to work together in the same group, as the Danish People’s Party has decided to seek influence via the European Conservatives and Reformists’ group of Tory MEPs.

Germany next, with a qualified win for the Iron Chancellor via TheLocal.de:

Merkel’s party tops vote but loses ground

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives came out ahead in European Parliament elections, official results showed on Monday, but a neo-Nazi party also won a seat in Brussels, echoing far-right gains elsewhere.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU – a team that last September celebrated a landslide win at the national level – between them secured 35.3 percent of votes cast.

The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), won 300,000 votes, one percent of the total, and so wins its first seat in the 751-member European parliament.

Another winner from EUbusiness:

German’s anti-euro professor Bernd Lucke scores in EU polls

Bernd Lucke, an economics professor with boyish looks, seems an unlikely revolutionary, but in little over a year he has led his German anti-euro party from the political wilderness straight into the European parliament.

Lucke’s small Alternative for Germany (AfD) party demands nothing less than Germany’s return to its once beloved Deutschmark, an end to EU bailouts and the orderly dissolution of the euro common currency.

Like populist leaders elsewhere in Europe, Lucke wants to repatriate many powers from Brussels to the national level, although he doesn’t want to scrap the EU itself — a stance summed up in the vague campaign motto “Have Courage to Be Germany”.

And a predictable reaction from EUbusiness:

German Jews shocked at far right’s EU success

The leader of Germany’s Jewish community Monday denounced gains made by far-right parties in EU-wide elections and urged democratic forces to block their path and defend European values.

Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the extremist parties performed “shockingly well”, as feared, in Sunday’s European parliamentary vote.

He pointed to France, Hungary and Greece, saying in a statement: “Right-wing MPs are now coming into the European Parliament from all over Europe in order to implement their anti-European and extremist course.”

“Democratic parties are now called on to curb this way of thinking and to defend and maintain European values,” Graumann said.

More of the same from TheLocal.de:

Steinmeier ‘horrified’ at far-right seat win

Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday he was horrified that the neo-Nazi party, the NPD, had won a seat in the European Parliament. Jewish leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced concern about the rise of the far right.

“There is no doubt that many populist, eurosceptic and even nationalistic parties are entering the European Parliament,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, speaking on NTV television.

“In some countries it won’t be as bad as had been feared, for example in the Netherlands, but France’s National Front is a severe signal, and it horrifies me that the NPD from Germany will be represented in the parliament,” he said, referring to the extremist anti-immigrant National Democratic Party of Germany.

From Deutsche Welle, a reminder:

Audi comes clean about its Nazi past

A historical probe commissioned by the German car maker Audi revealed Monday that the company’s predecessor exploited thousands of slave laborers under the Nazi dictatorship.

German car maker Audi unveiled a dark chapter in its history on Monday, saying its predecessor company had exploited slave labor under the Nazi regime on a massive scale.

A historical investigation commissioned by the company found that thousands of concentration camp inmates had been forced to work for Auto Union, an automobile manufacturer founded in 1932 and a forerunner company of today’s Audi AG .

Audi is the last major German car company, after Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, to come clean about its Nazi-era history, and the study marked a clear push to be more transparent about that past.

On to Brussels and a post-election quit from euronews:

Belgian PM hands in resignation after defeat in elections

Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has handed his government’s resignation to the King. It comes after this weekend’s general election which saw his Socialist party defeated.

The palace confirmed that King Philip had accepted the resignation and that the government would continue in its job until a new one was sworn in.

The Flemish separatist party N-VA won 32 percent of the vote, while the Socialists managed 30 percent. The NVA wants to dissolve Belgium and have it become a confederation of regional governments divided along linguistic lines.

On to France and explanation of sorts from TheLocal.fr:

‘We’re not racist, just angry’ say French voters

The historic victory for the far-right National Front party does not mean France is a country full of racists, voters told The Local on Monday. Rather people are simply seething with anger at the main political parties’ inability to fix the economy.

There were no anti-National Front demonstrations on Monday morning in the heart of Paris, the day after the anti-EU, anti-immigrant party took first place in the European Parliament elections in France.

In fact voters shrugged their shoulders in typical Gallic fashion and told The Local they were not surprised the party had won 25 percent of the vote, beating the centre-right UMP and the Socialists by wide margins.

Predictable panic from Europe Online:

Hollande holds crisis talks on far-right win in European elections

French President Francois Hollande convened a crisis meeting Monday with several cabinet ministers to discuss the victory of the far-right National Front (FN) – and trouncing of his Socialists – in the European elections.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Finance Minister Michel Sapin were among the ministers who huddled with Hollande to discuss how to proceed after the FN became France’s biggest party in Europe.

Provisional results showed Marine Le Pen’s anti-Europe FN winning 26 per cent of Sunday’s vote, a four-fold increase on its take in the last European election in 2009.

And a pickle for a predecessor from TheLocal.fr:

Cops grill Sarkozy ally over €400m state payout

A right-hand man to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning on Monday over his role in a highly controversial state payout to disgraced former tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Claude Gueant, a former interior minister who also served as Sarkozy’s chief of staff, was placed in custody after he arrived at the headquarters of France’s fraud squad to clarify his role in the €400 million($557-million) payout to Tapie in 2008.

The payment was connected to a dispute between the businessman and partly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over his 1993 sale of sportswear group Adidas.

Next, Austria, and more electoral results from TheLocal.at:

EU Election: ÖVP defends first place

Austria’s conservative ÖVP (People’s Party) has emerged the winner in Sunday’s European elections, in spite of slight losses compared to its result in the 2009 elections.

According to preliminary results the ÖVP won 27.3 percent of the vote.  The SPÖ received 23.8 percent, almost unchanged in second place.

Both the right wing, eurosceptic FPÖ (Freedom Party), and the Grüne (Greens) made strong gains, coming in at third and fourth place respectively, with 19.5 percent and 15.1 percent.

The FPÖ made gains of 6.8 percent and will double its seats in the European Parliament – with four instead of two representatives.

Off to Poland with New Europe:

Poland’s ruling party, opposition share seats in European Parliament

Poland’s ruling Civic Platform (PO) and opposition Law and Justice (PIS) parties each took 19 seats in the European parliament after the European elections Sunday, according to preliminary results.

PO secured 31.29 percent and PIS 32.35 percent in voting in Poland. Social Democrats, New Right and Polish Peasant’s Party won five seats, four seats and four seats respectively, according to results from 91 percent of the polling stations in the country.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Sunday a low turnout in European Parliament elections “is a problem not only in Poland, but I would like to see a time when everyone … sees voting as something positive.”

Hungary next, via EUobserver:

Hungarian PM breaks ranks on Juncker

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will not support Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid to become president of the European Commission even if the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) wins the European elections.

Orban is the first EPP leader to publicly break ranks on the issue.

“We don’t think he should lead the Commission,” Orban said in an interview with Hir TV on the eve of the election.

The EPP supported Orban’s ruling Fidesz party when the government was under criticism over questions of rule of law, media freedom and constitutional changes. Orban said “there is no way” he would vote for Juncker.

Next, Romania, via EUbusiness:

Ruling Social Democrats win Romania EU vote: official results

Romania’s ruling left-wing alliance led by the Social Democrats won 37.6 percent of the vote in European parliamentary elections, official results showed Monday.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s PSD won 16 seats according to official data issued after 99.99 percent of Sunday’s ballots had been counted.

The EU’s second-poorest country since joining the bloc in 2007, Romania will send 32 legislators to the European Parliament. The opposition National Liberal Party came second with around 15 percent of the vote, giving them six seats.

Portugal next, with EurActiv:

Socialists win in Portugal, stay second in Spain

Portugal’s main opposition Socialists won elections for the European Parliament yesterday in an austerity-weary country which earlier this month exited an international bailout. In Spain, the opposition Socialists came second, but both centre-left and centre-right lost support compared to 2009.

With more than 99% of the vote counted, the centre-left Socialists had won with 31.45% of the ballot that was marked by high abstention levels at over 66%.

The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s Social Democrats and their smaller rightist partner CDS-PP that implemented painful cuts over the three years of bailout, garnered 27.7%.

It was followed by the Communist-Greens alliance, with 12.7% and the agrarian-environmentalist Partido da Terra (Party of the Earth), which built its campaign on disillusionment with traditional political parties.

El País takes us to Spain:

Spain’s two-party system dealt major blow in EU elections

  • Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE) fail to attract even 50 percent of the vote
  • But xenophobe and anti-European parties fail to make any headway in Spanish polls

Spain’s two main parties, which have been taking turns in power since 1977, obtained their worst results in democratic history at the European elections on Sunday.

Together, the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) failed to attract even 50 percent of the vote, compared with the 80 percent they garnered at the 2009 EU elections.

This massive loss of support reflects the rapid rise of smaller parties that portray the two main players as being similarly corrupt, beholden to money and unable to effectively deal with the economic crisis.

El País again, with another resignation:

Socialist leader throws in the towel after poor showing at European elections

  • Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba calls extraordinary party meeting in July to choose new leadership

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and his team have decided to throw in the towel. In the wake of the Socialist Party’s (PSOE) poor showing at Sunday’s European elections, the leader of the main opposition group in Spain’s Congress has called an extraordinary party meeting for July 19 and 20. The order of the day will be choosing a new general secretary, given Rubalcaba’s decision to bow out.

“The meeting will serve for us to choose new leadership for the party,” he told the press on Monday. “I am assuming my responsibility for the results.”

Rubalcaba described Sunday’s election results – which saw the PSOE take just 14 seats, with 23.03 percent of the vote – as “bad, with no palliatives.” The Popular Party (PP), which is currently in power in Spain, took 16 seats (26.04 percent) at a poll that saw the two main parties secure their worst results in democratic history.

And El País one more time, with a symbolic result:

Town with controversial “Killjews” name votes in favor of change

  • Burgos municipality will become “Little Fort on Jew Hill” following local referendum

The end has come for Castrillo Matajudíos, the small village in Burgos province that gained global notoriety after announcing it would hold a referendum on May 25 to consider a name change from the current “Little Hill-Fort of Jew Killers.”

“Everyone is watching expectantly to see what we will do: in Italy, in New York…” said Mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez a few days before the vote, which was made to coincide with elections to the European Parliament.

The uncertainty came to an end at 8pm on Sunday, when the vote count showed a majority support for changing the village’s name to Castrillo de Mota de Judíos, or Little Hill-Fort on Jew Hill. “Mota” means hill or mound in Spanish, and the mayor has posited that this was probably the community’s original name before a spelling mistake on an official document changed it to Matajudíos in 1623.

Off to Italy and a market response from TheLocal.it:

Italian stocks surge after Renzi’s EU victory

Italian stocks rocketed up 3.61 percent on Monday after Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party swept to victory in the European Elections, claiming 40.8 percent against of the vote against 21.2 percent for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and 16.8 percent for disgraced former leader Silvio Berlusconi.

The victory will give Renzi’s centre-left party a leading voice in Europe and bolster his ambitious reform programme.

The landslide gives the party the highest number of MEPs among Europe’s leftists and was one of the best showings for any European leader – a far higher result than the 25.4 percent it scored in a 2013 general election.

Cheering up also-rans with ANSA:

Grillo tells M5S supporters not to lose heart

  • Leader tells supporters M5S opposition will do more

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), urged his followers Monday to not lose heart despite the political party’s failure to do as well as it expected in the European elections that ended Sunday.

“Do not be discouraged, (I am) confident that we can move forward,” said Grillo, whose party won 21.16% of votes, in second place behind the ruling Democratic Party (PD) with 40.81%.

The M5S will make its mark as a strong opposition force that will demand positive changes to Italy, added Grillo in comments posted on his blog, one of his favoured methods of communication.

ANSA again, with more also-rans:

Berlusconi says FI remains ‘linchpin’ despite poor result

  • Ex-premier says his ‘guiding star’ is uniting moderates

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that his Forza Italia (FI) is the linchpin of the centre right and a “decisive partner” of the Italian government despite placing third in European Parliament elections. Premier Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) took almost 41% of Sunday’s vote while FI captured less than 17%. Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment, Euroskeptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) took 21.16%.

Berlusconi was unable to stand or even vote in the election after being ejected from parliament following a binding tax-fraud conviction last year. The three-time premier and his supporters say that conviction is the result of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary who are trying to eliminate him from Italy’s public life. Berlusconi said that despite the poor showing, his party is still important to ensuring necessary government reforms announced by Renzi are passed.

“We are at the same time the decisive partners without which there are not the numbers in Parliament to make real reforms, definitive and lasting for the good of the country,” he said.

And some more Bunga Bunga woes from TheLocal.it:

Ex-MP ‘pilfered public money’ in Iraq deal

  • Italy’s former environment minister has been placed under house arrest for alleged embezzlement involving an Iraq water deal.

Corrado Clini, who served as environment minister with Mario Monti’s government, allegedly stole over €3 million from public money that was meant to fund a water purification project in Iraq, Corriere della Sera reported.

A businessman from Padua, whose company oversaw the deal in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates basin, was also placed under house arrest by Italy’s Finance Police on Monday morning, the newspaper added.

They face charges of embezzlement against the Italian ministry of environment, land and sea.

After the jump, its on to Greece and Syriza’s win and woes for the losers, the latest electoral and uprising news from the Ukraine, electioneering and ridicule in Egypt, intensified turmoil in Libya, Brazilian pre-World Cups woes and tensions, elections in Colombia and Venezuela, more austerity Down Under [targeting jobless youth], Macau unrest, Indian triumphalism, Thai troubles, more signs of a Chinese slowdown, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Headlines II: Spies, laws, pols, zones, drones


For today’s tales from the dark side, we begin with this from MintPress News:

Will The House’s Gutted USA Freedom Act Really Stop The NSA?

“While it represents a slight improvement from the status quo, it isn’t the reform bill that Americans deserve,” says a staff attorney with the ACLU.

In a Thursday op-ed for Hays Post, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp explained his reasoning for not voting for the USA Freedom Act, which cleared the House earlier in the day in a 303-121 vote.

“[The] bill presented on the House floor today does not address many of privacy and constitutional concerns expressed by Kansans over the warrantless bulk collection of Americans’ personal information,” wrote Huelskamp.

Huelskamp was an original sponsor to the bill. Originally meant to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata from Americans’ phone records, the bill was initially heralded as the first serious attempt to bring balance to the way the nation handles electronic surveillance.

From the Guardian, the obvious conclusion:

The year of living more dangerously: Obama’s drone speech was a sham

  • We were promised drone memos. And a case for legal targeted killing. And no more Gitmo. We’re still waiting

Twelve months ago today, Barack Obama gave a landmark national security speech in which he frankly acknowledged that the United States had at least in some cases compromised its values in the years since 9/11 – and offered his vision of a US national security policy more directly in line with “the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” It was widely praised as “a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America”.

Addressing an audience at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, the president pledged greater transparency about targeted killings, rededicated himself to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and urged Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been invoked to justify everything from military detention to drones strikes.

A year later, none of these promises have been met. Instead, drone strikes have continue (and likely killed and wounded civilians), 154 men remain detained at Guantanamo and the administration has taken no steps to roll back the AUMF. This is not the sort of change Obama promised.

Coming up with a drone report the old-fashioned way with RT:

Over 60% of US drone targets in Pakistan are homes – research

The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s domestic buildings more than any other targets over the past decade of the drone war launched by the US, says the latest research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Almost two thirds, or over 60 percent, of all US drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, says joint research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), a London-based non-profit news group, along with Forensic Architecture, a research unit based at Goldsmiths University, London, and Situ Research in New York.

The authors of the paper analyzed thousands of media reports, witness testimonies and field investigations to obtain the data on drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

According to the study, at least 132 houses have been destroyed in more than 380 strikes over the past decade with at least 222 civilians being among the 1,500 or more people killed.

Security checks and no security, from Quartz:

You should fear background checks even if you’ve done nothing wrong

  • 41% error rate

This issue matters not only because innocent people and employers who hire screening companies are getting ensnared by a digital dragnet; it also matters because 65 million Americans have criminal records, and those who want to turn their lives around are hurt by background check mistakes. Maybe you don’t care that employers end up screening out deserving applicants. Maybe you scoff at liberals like me who worry that background screening has a discriminatory impact on people of color.  At least you should care that the mistakes cut both ways: employers can end up hiring applicants whose full criminal records are not showing up on background screens.

You can find a litany of common screw-ups in this report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). It’s impossible to quantify the extent of the errors, partly because the industry has no registration requirements and any fly-by-night operation with web access can set up shop. But the NCLC says “tens of millions of workers may pay for these third-party errors with their jobs.” One screening company studied federal corrections databases and found a “41% error rate.”

If you got arrested 30 years ago for selling a little weed but were never charged, or if you went to trial but were never convicted, you still might be tagged with a criminal record. That’s because too many screeners don’t bother to check original court records to verify the status of cases, according to Welby. These screening companies often rely only on bulk databases that aren’t properly updated.

Techdirt covers another reason for insecurity:

Another Bogus Hit From A License Plate Reader Results In Another Citizen Surrounded By Cops With Guns Out

  • from the verification-to-be-performed-at-gunpoint dept

We recently covered a story about a lawyer who found himself approached by cops with guns drawn after an automatic license plate reader misread a single character on his plate as he drove by. The police did make an attempt to verify the plate but were stymied by heavy traffic. Unfortunately, it appears they decided to force the issue rather than let a potential car thief escape across the state line.

As I pointed out then, the increasing reliance on ALPRs, combined with the one-billion-plus records already in storage and the millions being collected every day, means the number of errors will only increase as time goes on — even as the technology continues to improve. This person was lucky to escape with nothing more than an elevated heart rate. Others won’t be so lucky… like Denise Green of San Francisco.

Green’s civil rights lawsuit has just been reinstated by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned an earlier decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the San Francisco Police Department. The lower court found that the officers had made a “good faith, reasonable mistake” when they performed a felony stop of Green, which included being ordered out of her vehicle and onto the ground at gunpoint and held in cuffs for nearly 20 minutes while officers verified the plates and filled out paperwork.

From the Christian Science Monitor, righting wrongs:

Dallas targets wrongful convictions, and revolution starts to spread

The Conviction Integrity Unit formed in Dallas to correct wrongful convictions has become a national model that is slowly changing prosecutors’ willingness to reopen the books nationwide.

Some of these units are window dressing created mostly for public relations, critics say. But the Dallas CI Unit has had a profound impact in the city and has come at a time when concerns about wrongful convictions are rippling through the American justice system.

Indeed, as exonerations nationwide force prosecutors to reconsider their role in public safety, Mr. Watkins has cast himself as a leading reformer, taking on the insular culture within district attorneys’ offices and challenging the credo that the most effective district attorney is the one who wins the most convictions.

“One overriding truth is that the prosecutor is by far the most important and powerful actor in the criminal justice system,” says Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

RT covers a curious possibility:

Snowden ‘considers’ returning to US – report

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is “considering” returning home to the USA under certain conditions, his lawyer told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“There are negotiations,” Snowden’s German lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck told Der Spiegel. “Those who know the case are aware that an amicable agreement with the US authorities will be most reasonable.”

All efforts are now focused on finding a solution acceptable for Edward Snowden, at least in the medium term, according to Kaleck, who is also secretary-general for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

From Medill News Service, snitchin’ in the kitchen?:

With ‘Internet of Things,’ your fridge will know when milk is low

Americans are adapting to a world in which virtually everything _ from cellphones and cars to washing machines and refrigerators _ is going to be connected to the Internet or networks. Many of these devices will _ and do _ “talk” to one another via tiny sensors that function almost like human senses, logging information such as temperature, light, motion and sound.

Theoretically, the sensors could allow a new refrigerator, for example, to send an alert to a homeowner’s smartphone whenever the fridge is running low on milk. This concept of device conversation is known as the Internet of Things. The technology will make life easier, but it also means more people are vulnerable to device malfunction or hacking.

Experts and government officials acknowledge the transformative power of the Internet of Things. But the authors of a White House report in May on the effects of big data _ including all the information that devices collect _ are also concerned about the potential for privacy abuses that comes with the technology.

Getting censorious with the New York Times:

Twitter Agrees to Block ‘Blasphemous’ Tweets in Pakistan

At least five times this month, a Pakistani bureaucrat who works from a colonial-era barracks in Karachi, just down the street from the former home of his country’s secularist founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, asked Twitter to shield his compatriots from exposure to accounts, tweets or searches of the social network that he described as “blasphemous” or “unethical.”

All five of those requests were honored by the company, meaning that Twitter users in Pakistan can no longer see the content that so disturbed the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority: crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star who now attends Duke University.

The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan — in line with the country-specific censorship policy Twitter unveiled in 2012 — is the first time the social network has agreed to withhold content there. A number of the accounts seemed to have been blocked in anticipation of the fourth annual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” on May 20.

Digital Alzheimer’s from the Associated Press:

Europe’s move to rein in Google would stall in US

Europe’s moves to rein in Google — including a court ruling this month ordering the search giant to give people a say in what pops up when someone searches their name — may be seen in Brussels as striking a blow for the little guy.

But across the Atlantic, the idea that users should be able to edit Google search results in the name of privacy is being slammed as weird and difficult to enforce at best and a crackdown on free speech at worst.

“Americans will find their searches bowdlerized by prissy European sensibilities,” said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “We’ll be the big losers. The big winners will be French ministers who want the right to have their last mistress forgotten.”

Mountain View, California -based Google says it’s still figuring out how to comply with the European Court of Justice’s May 13 ruling, which says the company must respond to complaints about private information that turns up in searches. Google must then decide whether the public’s right to be able to find the information outweighs an individual’s right to control it — with preference given to the individual.

After the jump, the latest developments from the Asian Game of Zones, including Chinese strategy, bonding afloat with Moscow and Beijing, playing chicken over the China Seas, nukes afloat, Chinese domestic insecurity, and Japan’s relentless remilitarization push. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Bubbles, bull, bile, pols, threatcetera


Today’s compilation of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with a bubble inflating, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

S.F. hot housing prices back, bidding wars fiercer than ever

Prices have climbed 33 percent since 2011, with many neighborhoods exceeding that.

And while bidding wars have long been part of buying a home in Noe Valley, Glen Park and Cole Valley, they are now just as fierce in less fashionable areas such as the Excelsior, Mission Terrace and Ingleside.

Citywide, properties are now commanding an average of 10.7 percent more than asking price, according to Paragon Real Estate Group, with Bernal Heights leading the pack at an average of 21 percent over asking. That’s up from April 2012, when homes were selling for an average of 3.5 percent over asking.

The Wall Street Journal covers the other side of the coin:

Poor Americans Direct 40% of Their Spending to Housing Expenses

Housing and food expenses absorb more than half of low-income Americans’ annual spending. Even the wealthiest Americans devote a sizable share of their spending to keeping a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerators.

That’s according to the Labor Department’s latest survey of Americans’ buying habits. The consumer expenditure survey report released Friday contained data on spending from July 2012 through June 2013.

On average, the report found, Americans upped their spending on food, transportation, health care, housing and “cash contributions” like child support payments and charitable donations. Overall, they spent 1.5% more compared with the previous 12 months, while average income ticked down 0.2%.

While The Hill finds cause for rejoicing:

Bankers breathe sigh of relief as Tea Party power fizzles

Banks are breathing a sigh of relief after established GOP incumbents bested a handful of Tea Party challengers at the polls recently.

Industry sources said the establishment wins improve Republican odds of retaking the Senate, which would in turn lead to a friendlier climate for the long-beleaguered sector. But some note that the Tea Party has left a mark on the Republican Party, presenting a challenging landscape for the industry.

The Tea Party movement can trace its roots back to fury about bailouts and banks, but the force that pulled the Republican Party right in recent years is finding less success at the polls recently.

And from the East Bay Express, a sign of rationality:

Californians Overwhelmingly Support a Ban on Fracking

A new poll shows that a super-majority of California residents — 68 percent — say they support a ban on fracking in the state. Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial oil- and natural gas-extraction method that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals into the earth. It’s been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to causing earthquakes. The new survey was published earlier this week by public policy opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, or FM3. Of the 807 California voters who were polled over the phone at random, 68 percent suppored a moratorium on fracking, with 45 percent of respondents stating that they “strongly” supported it.

Just a week after FM3 conducted its poll — and on the same day that the firm released its poll results — Californians learned that the estimate of extractable oil via fracking or acidization in the state was significantly lower than originally thought. The Monterey Shale, a 1,750 square-mile rock formation stretching from Sacramento to Los Angeles, was expected to provide 13.7 billion barrels of oil. A new estimate by the US Energy Information Administration lowered the number to 600 million barrels — about four percent of the original estimate.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, Proposition 13 strikes again [the measure limiting property taxes used to find the state’s schools]:

Governor’s teacher pension plan shocks school districts

When local school district officials pulled out their calculators and started crunching the numbers based on the governor’s new plan to shore up the state’s teacher pension fund, their jaws hit the floor.

The proposal, part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision, would more than double the 8.25 percent of payroll that districts now pay toward teacher retirement each year. Phased in over seven years, districts would end up paying 19.1 percent.

For San Francisco, that would mean spending $34 million each year above the current $25.8 million for teacher pensions, district officials said Friday.

From Bloomberg, a dire warning?:

U.S. Retailers Missing Estimates by Most in 13 Years

U.S. retailers’ first-quarter earnings are trailing analysts’ estimates by the widest margin in 13 years after bad weather and weak spending by lower-income consumers intensified competition.

Chains are missing projections by an average of 3.1 percent, with 87 retailers, or 70 percent of those tracked, having reported, researcher Retail Metrics Inc. said in a statement today. That’s the worst performance relative to estimates since the fourth quarter of 2000, when they missed by 3.3 percent. Over the long term, chains typically beat by 3 percent, the firm said.

Extreme winter weather through February and March forced store closings and stifled sales, Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics said. Lower- and moderate-income consumers had little discretionary spending power, and chains also faced price competition from e-commerce sites.

And from CNN, the first of two headlines in what we suspect will be a stream to come as the long, hot summer commences:

Arizona residents evacuate as fierce wildfire rages

The online Incident Information System reported Friday night that much of the fire burned with lower intensity throughout the day, allowing firefighters to make some progress.

However, despite that progress, the total area scorched climbed to 8,500 acres that night, and the containment level held steady at 5%.

The equivalent of a battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers, have been fighting the fire between Flagstaff and Sedona — a tourist and retirement destination famed for its red rock formations — since Tuesday afternoon.

CNN again:

Wildfire scorches nearly 80,000 acres in Alaska

A days-long wildfire had covered more than 78,000 acres of Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge by early Saturday, a state agency said.

The Funny River Fire began burning Monday evening and was 20% contained by early Saturday, Alaska’s Interagency Incident Management Team said.

No evacuations or injuries have been reported. There were more than 409 firefighters battling the blaze.

North of the border, and an all-too-familiar headline south of the border, via CBC News:

39% of unemployed have given up job search, poll suggests

In a poll carried out by Harris Poll and published Friday by employment agency Express Employment Professionals, the company surveyed 1,502 unemployed Canadians. None of them had a job, and not all of them were receiving EI benefits.

The results were eye-opening.

Some 39 per cent of those polled were in agreement with the statement that “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job” with five per cent saying they “agree a lot” 11 per cent saying they “agree somewhat” and 17 per cent saying they “agree a little.”

In the poll, which saw people respond to questions online over a week in April, more than a third responded they hadn’t had a job interview in over a month. A full 13 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t had a job interview since 2012 or before — well over a calendar year ago.

Britain next, and another slap on the wrist from BBC News:

Barclays Bank fined £26m for gold price failings

Barclays Bank has been fined £26m by UK regulators after one of its traders was discovered attempting to fix the price of gold. The trader, who has been sacked, exploited weaknesses in the system to profit at a customer’s expense, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

The incident occurred in June 2012, the day after the bank was fined a record £290m for attempting to rig Libor. Barclays said it “very much regrets the situation” that led to the fine.

The FCA found the bank failed to “adequately manage conflicts of interest between itself and its customers”, in relation to fixing the price of gold.

The Independent sets a precedent:

Slovak Roma parents fail in attempt to block same sex couple adopting their children

A Slovakian couple who have accused Kent County Council of social engineering have failed in their bid to block the adoption of their two sons by a same sex couple.

The Catholic couple, who are of Roma origin, took their case to the High Court earlier this month in an attempt to prevent their sons, aged two and four, from being adopted by a same sex couple in Kent.

In the judgement – released on Friday –Sir James Munby, the most senior judge in the Family Court, refused the pair’s request, saying that they had no grounds in law to appeal the decision.

And Sky News covers hard times populism resurgent:

Parties Reel From UKIP Election Success

  • The establishment faces up to the fallout from UKIP’s election “earthquake” as it wins more than double the seats many predicted.

UKIP’s haul of seats in the council elections is up to 184 with the main parties now mulling the prospect of four-party politics in next year’s general election.

Nigel Farage has said his anti-EU party is a “serious player” for 2015 after they added 167 councillors at the expense of the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

UKIP made gains in traditional Labour and Conservative heartlands, including strong showings in Rotherham – where it returned 10 out of 21 councillors.

One reaction from EUbusiness:

British deputy PM faces calls to quit

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg came under pressure Sunday to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats after the centrist party took a pounding in local elections.

Two would-be Lib Dem parliamentary candidates — staring at a much-reduced prospect of winning a seat at nexy tear’s general election — have put heir names to an online letter, signed by more than 200 party members, calling for Clegg to step aside.

He insisted Friday he would not quit despite being down 307 seats to 427 in the English local authority seats voted for on Thursday, with two of the 161 councils still to declare.

Sweden next, and a surge to the left form TheLocal.se:

Greens, feminists surge ahead of EU vote ‘thriller’

  • The Green Party climbed ahead of the Moderates into second spot in the polls ahead of Sunday’s EU elections with the upstart Feminist Initiative taking a further step forward in what promises to be a tough election to forecast.

The Green Party (MP) now has the support of 15.5 percent of the Swedish electorate ahead of Sunday’s vote, according to the latest opinion poll by Novus. The poll shows that the party has overtaken the Moderates who came in at 15 percent and now trails only the Social Democrats on 25.1 percent.

“We have not seen anything like it. I think that in Sweden, this is unique in itself,” said Torbjörn Sjöström at Novus to Sveriges Radio.

The Feminist Initiative (Fi) continued their dramatic success of recent months to claim a statistically significant rise to 5.4 percent and look set to claim their first seats in the parliament.

From BBC News, more of that hard times intolerance:

Brussels fatal gun attack at Jewish museum

  • Police have cordoned off the area but will not confirm if the gunman is still being pursued, as Duncan Crawford reports from the scene

A gunman has shot dead two men and a woman at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital Brussels.

A fourth person was seriously wounded, emergency services said.

The attacker arrived by car, got out, fired on people at the museum entrance, and returned to the vehicle which then sped away, Belgian media report.

Germany next, and political idiocy rebuked from EUbusiness:

Schulz mocked for ‘German’ appeal in EU election ad

The Socialists’ top candidate in European elections, Martin Schulz, drew online ridicule Sunday for telling Germans only a vote for his party would ensure one of their compatriots runs the European Commission.

“Only if you vote for Martin Schulz and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) can a German become president of the EU Commission” read an advertisement published in Germany’s top-selling Bild daily ahead of the election.

The appeal to national sentiment in the pan-European polls quickly sparked derisive commentary on Twitter under the hashtag #NureinDeutscher (Only a German).

“Youth unemployment in Europe is a huge problem, only a German can solve it,” quipped journalist and blogger Tilo Jung.

From Reuters, deals undone:

Germany stops numerous arms exports, risks compensation fees: report

Germany’s national security council declined two-thirds of applications for arms export licenses at its most recent sitting three weeks ago, German news weekly Spiegel said on Saturday.

The economy ministry had prevented a license application to export to Saudi Arabia 500 million euros worth of sight devices for armored personnel carrier guns from even being discussed in the council, it said.

Spiegel said the sights were made by a unit of Airbus. A spokesman for Airbus said: “We have no information about any government decision. We hope however for a swift and positive decision.”

And TheLocal.de protests:

Thousands protest at Erdogan German rally

Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Germany on Saturday, splitting the large Turkish community between passionate street protesters and conservative supporters flocking to what was widely seen as a campaign speech.

Erdogan is expected to run for the presidency in August, and Germany – with a Turkish community of three million, about half of them eligible voters – would be a strong constituency for the controversial leader.

Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have polarized Turks at home and abroad over what critics call his authoritarian style, a crackdown on civil liberties and corruption scandals under his rule.

On to Eastern Europe and epidemic apathy from New Europe:

Record abstention in Chech Republic reaches 80%, exit poll

  • Right wing TOP 09 leads with 18%

Right wing opposition party TOP 09 is taking the first place in the European Elections in the Czech Republic, according to exit polls. Czech news agency CTK calculates abstention to have reached record levels at around 80%

According to the exit poll done on behalf of the Dnes newspaper, TOP 09 gets 18% of the poll, while the ruling Social Democratic party (CSSD) follows with 17%.

Spain next, and significant symbolism from the Guardian:

Why Spain’s goal to leave racism behind could be decided by 56 villagers

  • A mayor’s quest to change his village’s name could help to alter attitudes in the country as a whole

At 4pm on Friday, it’s eerily quiet in this tiny village. The blinds on the stone houses are drawn and there’s not a person to be seen wandering the few streets that make up Castrillo Matajudíos.

It’s a sharp contrast to the noisy, relentless chatter about the place in the outside world. Ever since the mayor announced his intention to hold a referendum on changing its name, the spotlight has been on this Spanish village near the northern city of Burgos. Hundreds of media outlets around the world have shared its story. Thousands have taken to social media to opine on the name change. And come Sunday evening, when journalists are expected to outnumber residents at the announcement of the referendum result, millions around the world will hear about the outcome.

For 400 years, this place has borne the name of Castrillo Matajudíos, or Fort Kill the Jews in English. Starting at 9am on Sunday, the village’s 56 residents will have the chance to decide whether the time has come to change the name to Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or Hill of Jews. “We had no idea that this would be something that would gain worldwide attention,” said Lorenzo Rodríguez Pérez, mayor of Castrillo Matajudíos.

After the jump, mixed Latin American signals, That turmoil, serious Chinese economic uncertainty, Japanese Olympic fraudsters, the tragic loss of play, pre-cooked chickens, and fears of another Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Spies, hacks, zones, militarism


The latest tales from the dark side covers everything from deceptive legislation in Washington to the Games of Zones in Asia, plus lots more sandwiched in between.

First up, from MintPress News, listing the veil at an American concentration camp:

Judge Orders Release Of Guantanamo Force-Feeding Videos

  • For Guantanamo detainees, their last bargaining chip is the U.S. government’s determination to keep them alive. But their hunger strikes come at a cruel, painful cost: force-feeding.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has lifted the temporary restraining order which blocked federal officials from force-feeding Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab.

“Thanks to the intransigence of the Department of Defense, Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions,” wrote Kessler. “However, the court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die.”

Dhiab has indicated that he would submit to being force-fed by tube if it was done at a hospital at Guantanamo Bay, adding that he wished to “be spared the agony of having the feeding tubes inserted and removed for each feeding, and…the pain and discomfort of the restraint chair.”

According to Kessler, the Department of Defense has declined this request.

Al Jazeera America lifts another veil ever so slightly:

The unexpected way Congress is making the drone program more transparent

  • The confirmation process for Obama nominees has turned up some of the only disclosures about the US drone program

The Senate confirmed David Jeremiah Barron to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, but only after Barack Obama’s administration agreed to make public a controversial secret memo about the U.S. targeted killing program it has long sought to keep secret.

The administration’s decision is a revealing look at how nomination hearings have become an effective new weapon in the fight for more transparency in the government’s covert counterterrorism policies.

Though the president nominated the Harvard Law professor in September, several influential senators from both sides of the aisle — including Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon — threatened to block the nomination unless key memos written by Barron while he was acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel in 2009 and 2010 were disclosed.

From The Hill, belated gumption:

Tech companies: FBI ‘gag orders’ violate Constitution

  • Four tech companies claim that the FBI is ignoring their First Amendment rights by barring them from revealing what types of information they turn over to the government

In court documents unsealed on Friday, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook claimed that the national security letter (NSL) orders are a “prohibition on speech [that] violates the First Amendment.”

“The government has sought to participate in public debate over its use of the NSL statute,” the companies wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief. “It should not be permitted to gag those best suited to offer an informed viewpoint in that debate; the parties that have received NSLs.”

The FBI uses the letters to get information from banks, Web companies and others about their customers. Under the terms of the letters, though, companies are prevented from disclosing details about having received the request and handed over information.

Al Jazeera America covers a half-measure:

Anti-spy phone firm gets major funding boost

  • Silent Circle’s Blackphone received $30 million this week and is slated to ship this summer

The smartphone encryption startup Silent Circle announced a boost in funding Wednesday, grabbing $30 million in investment capital ahead of the June shipping of its signature Blackphone, which the company says can deflect cybersnooping.

The announcement came a day before the House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would end mass spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). It also comes in the wake of charges against more than 100 people announced this week for unleashing a sophisticated malware that has infected half a million computers in more than 100 countries.

Silent Circle’s founder, however, warned that Blackphone still wouldn’t deter the most determined efforts of the National Security Agency to monitor mobile phones.

From China Daily, corporate blowback from NSA spooks:

Cisco weighs in on new Chinese cyber security policy

Cisco Systems Inc said it will take “active measures” to safeguard product safety and reliability after a Chinese government announcement to impose tighter cyber security checks on overseas information technology providers.

The California-based IT firm was the first overseas company to directly respond to a government decision that IT products, services and suppliers related to national security and key public interest should submit to a review program before being put into use.

Cisco is planning to work with the US government and industry contacts to learn more about the new regulation and any implications for IT companies in China, the company said in an e-mail reply to China Daily.

From the Guardian, muzzling the inconvenient press:

Scotusblog loss of Senate press credentials fuels media uproar

  • Website to mount appeal of press gallery decision on Friday
  • Legendary reporter Lyle Denniston may be affected

It is widely praised for doing what no other news organisation can. But now Scotusblog may lose what hundreds of other publications take for granted: access to the Senate.

Scotusblog, a website dedicated to coverage of the US supreme court, is preparing to mount an appeal Friday morning to a decision last month by the Senate press gallery not to renew its press credentials. The gallery granted Scotusblog credentials in 2013.

The blog’s reporters appear likely to retain access to the supreme court through temporary arrangements. The court has traditionally honored Senate credentials but is currently reviewing its press procedures.

The London Daily Mail, crusading Pee Tardies:

Three more Tea Party activists arrested over photo taken of Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s ailing wife in a nursing home

  • Mark Mayfield, a Tea Party board member, school teacher Richard Sager and John Mary were arrested Thursday
  • The activists were hoping to use the picture of Rose Cochran in an ad claiming Thad Cochran is having an affair
  • Mrs Cochran has been suffering from dementia for 13 years and is in hospice care
  • The men were hoping to support the campaign of Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel

International Business Times covers the latest vileness from a household name:

Facebook Microphone Update: Electronic Surveillance Experts React To Smartphone Mic Data Collection

  • Digital Privacy Experts React To Facebook’s Intentions To Collect Data Through Smartphone Mics

On Thursday, the International Business Times reported that Facebook will use a forthcoming mobile app update to save and collect data captured by your smartphone’s microphones–a development that privacy experts found worrisome.

Though Facebook guaranteed users that “no sound is stored” by the new feature, the social media giant confirmed to the IBTimes that “data is saved, but all data is anonymized and aggregated.”

The social networking company declined to comment on how it planned to use the data once they were gleaned.

A hack attack from TechWeekEurope:

Pro-Russian Hackers Attack Central Election Commission Of Ukraine

  • CyberBerkut steals a huge archive of emails three days before the elections, sends it to the media agencies

Ukrainian hacker outfit CyberBerkut, which was previously spotted defacing at least 40 local media websites and carrying out a DDoS attack against NATO infrastructure, has struck again.

This time, the group has managed to break into the systems of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Ukraine – an independent body of the Ukrainian government. The hackers have stolen large archive of emails, as well as the technical documentation of the CEC system administrators.

They refer to the current government of the country as a “junta” – a word which describes the ruling council of a military dictatorship.

After the jump, it’s on to Asia and the last chapter in the Games of Zones, including an Iranian stand-down, Sino-Russian exercises afloat, Japanese remilitarization, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Spooks, pols, laws, hacks, & zones


Today’s tales form the dark side covers a lot of ground, with a lot of domestic developments, new NSA questions, and much more — including the latest developments in the ongoing every-shifting Asian Game of Zones, including the Washington-pushed remilitarization of Japan.

We begin with an item sure to make you feel more secure. From the Associated Press:

AP Exclusive: Botched nuclear silo drill revealed

An Air Force security team’s botched response to a simulated assault on a nuclear missile silo has prompted a blistering review followed by expanded training to deal with the nightmare scenario of a real attack.

The Air Force recognized the possibility of such an intrusion as more worrisome after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But an internal review of the exercise held last summer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana said the security forces were unable to speedily regain control of the captured silo, and called this a “critical deficiency.”

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Next up, a looming conflict of interests from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

CIA secrecy over detention program threatens 9/11 prosecutions, senators warned Obama

Two powerful Senate committee chairs told President Barack Obama earlier this year that the CIA’s insistence on keeping secret how it treated prisoners under its enhanced interrogation program threatens the country’s ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., head of the Armed Services Committee, sought the president’s help in getting information declassified about the CIA’s so-called harsh interrogation techniques and stressed the need for transparency on a program that essentially had ended in 2006 and that Obama formally killed when he took office in 2009.

The two senators blamed the CIA’s obsession with hiding the details of the program for the logjammed military commission process that has yet to try any of the alleged 9/11 conspirators, some of whom have been in custody for nearly a dozen years.

And about those detentions. . . From the Guardian:

Guantánamo inmate vomited blood after force-feeding, documents show

  • Ahmed Rabbani held without charge for more than 10 years
  • New filing details force-feeding regime in hunger strike

New documents filed in a federal court in Washington have revealed that a Guantánamo Bay detainee contracted a chest infection as a result of force-feeding, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood.

The filing on Thursday came a day after a federal court forced the government to reveal that it has secretly recorded dozens of force-feedings of one hunger-striking Guantánamo detainee, raising the possibility that the US military may have similar films of other detainees.

The fresh documents, filed in the US district court for the District of Columbia, relate to a detainee named Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three who has been held without charge for more than a decade.

On to NSAgate, starting with an alarmist assessment, via the Guardian:

Pentagon report: scope of intelligence compromised by Snowden ‘staggering’

  • Classified assessment describes impact of leaks as ‘grave’
  • Report does not include specific detail to support conclusions
  • 12 of 39 heavily redacted pages released after Foia request

A top-secret Pentagon report to assess the damage to national security from the leak of classified National Security Agency documents by Edward Snowden concluded that “the scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering”.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s classified damage assessment in response to a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit filed against the Defense Department earlier this year. The heavily redacted 39-page report was prepared in December and is titled “DoD Information Review Task Force-2: Initial Assessment, Impacts Resulting from the Compromise of Classified Material by a Former NSA Contractor.”

But while the DIA report describes the damage to US intelligence capabilities as “grave”, the government still refuses to release any specific details to support this conclusion. The entire impact assessment was redacted from the material released to the Guardian under a presidential order that protects classified information and several other Foia exemptions.

From the Guardian, when “victory” proves largely ornamental:

NSA reform bill loses backing from privacy advocates after major revisions

  • Facebook, Google and others warn of ‘unacceptable loopholes’
  • Bill’s passage expected in House even after 11th-hour changes

A landmark surveillance bill, likely to pass the US House of Representatives on Thursday, is hemorrhaging support from the civil libertarians and privacy advocates who were its champions from the start.

Major revisions to the USA Freedom Act have stripped away privacy protections and transparency requirements while expanding the potential pool of data the National Security Agency can collect, all in a bill cast as banning bulk collection of domestic phone records. As the bill nears a vote on the House floor, expected Thursday, there has been a wave of denunciations.

“It does not deserve the name ‘USA Freedom Act’ any more than the ‘Patriot Act’ merits its moniker,” wrote four former NSA whistleblowers and their old ally on the House intelligence committee staff.

More from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Wyden opposes House USA Freedom Act, says it’s “watered down”

The USA Freedom Act may change the federal government’s bulk data collection system, but Sen. Ron Wyden, a leader critic of surveillance policy, sees the measure as “watered down.”

Wyden, D-Ore., issued a stinging statement Friday as the House passed the act, 303 to 121.

“I am gravely concerned that the changes that have been made to the House version of this bill have watered it down so far that it fails to protect Americans from suspicionless mass surveillance,” he said.

Wyden noted that the new text says the government has to use a “selection term” to collect Americans’ records, but the bill’s definition of such terms is too vague–and, Wyden said, “could be used to collect all of the phone records in a particular area code, or all of the credit card records from a particular state.”

Still more from Wired threat level:

NSA Reform Bill Passes the House—With a Gaping Loophole

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records. Unfortunately, it may not end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records.

The House voted 303 to 121 Thursday in favor of the USA Freedom Act, broad legislation aimed at reforming the NSA’s surveillance powers exposed by Edward Snowden. The central provision of the bill, which now moves on to debate in the Senate, is intended to limit what the intelligence community calls “bulk” collection–the indiscriminate vacuuming up of citizen’s phone and internet records. But privacy advocates and civil libertarians say last-minute changes to the legislation supported by the White House added ambiguous language that could essentially give the NSA a generous loophole through which it can continue its massive domestic data collection.

In the House’s final version of the bill, the NSA would be stripped of the power to collect all Americans’ phone records for metadata analysis, a practice revealed in the first Guardian story about Snowden’s leaks published last year. It instead would be required to limit its collection to specific terms. The problem is that those terms may not be nearly specific enough, and could still include massive lists of target phone numbers or entire ranges of IP addresses.

And the latest shot from Snowden’s cache via RT:

NSA spies on OSCE HQ in Vienna – report

Among the many targets for the UN National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance is the Vienna-based headquarters of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Austrian media reported.

The OSCE is mentioned among the targets for NSA in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a confidential document outlining intelligence gathering priorities, reported on Wednesday Austrian newspaper Die Presse. It cites German journalist Holger Stark with Der Spiegel magazine, who has access to NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The NIPF update from April 9, 2013, lists OSCE’s foreign policy as a Level 4 point of interest for the US and its involvement in arms trade control as a Level 3 point of interest, Stark told the newspaper. Level 3 information is considered important enough by the US intelligence community to make its way to the US secretaries of defense and state, he added.

More from TheLocal.at:

NSA ‘spying on OSCE and IAEA’ in Vienna

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has reportedly bugged the Vienna-based OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), according to Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

Spiegel reporter and NSA expert Holgar Stark said it was highly likely that the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, as well as the Russian, Iranian and North Korean embassies in the Austrian capital, were bugged as well.

The “foreign policy goals” of the OSCE are of particular interest to the NSA, the Austrian daily Presse said.

The current crisis in Ukraine has revived the prominence of the OSCE – previously it became important as a connection between the east and west during the Cold War.

A trip through the NSA hackery from TheLocal.de:

How the NSA may have tapped Merkel’s phone

German security services have come up with five different ways the US National Security Agency (NSA) may have succeeded in spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, a leaked report revealed on Thursday.

The seven-page secret report by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), seen by Bild newspaper, discusses five possible ways the NSA could have gained access to Merkel’s phone. The story caused outrage in Germany when it came to light in October last year.

Possibilities considered most likely were that US agents either used “passive receiving antenna” planted in central Berlin or else intercepted Merkel’s communications as they were transmitted through undersea cables.

The first “very likely” scenario would have involved placing receiving antennas near the capital’s Reichstag parliament building and using these to listen to the Chancellor’s phone calls and read her text messages. . .

And a retraction demanded, via the Associated Press:

German university rector faults Snowden doctorate

The rector of a German university where academics voted to award NSA leaker Edward Snowden an honorary doctorate is trying to have the decision reversed — arguing that his actions don’t fulfill the required criteria.

The University of Rostock’s philosophy faculty decided by a large majority last week to award Snowden the title.

But rector Wolfgang Schareck said in a statement Thursday that Snowden’s leaking to media of NSA documents doesn’t constitute the “special academic achievement” required by law in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for a doctorate to be granted.

Today’s lone drone headline, via The Hill:

Senate confirms drone memo author

The Senate narrowly voted Thursday to confirm the author of memos justfying drone strikes against U.S. citizens to a federal court.

In a 53-45 vote, the Senate confirmed David Barron to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The successful vote came after the administration said it would make public the memos Baron authored on the drone program.

From Ars Technica, a challenge declined:

FBI withdraws national security letter following Microsoft challenge

  • Rather than litigating gag order, FBI goes directly to the customer.

The FBI withdrew a national security letter targeting an Office 365 enterprise customer following Microsoft’s challenge to a provision of the letter gagging the company from informing the target, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

“In this case, the Letter included a nondisclosure provision and we moved forward to challenge it in court. We concluded that the nondisclosure provision was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression. It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel wrote in a blog post Thursday.

While it’s not everyday that a company’s policy benefits the customer, the flap highlights the unsettled state of gag orders associated with national security letters. The letters, which come directly from the FBI, require entities like Internet companies, banks, or others to cough up a wealth of information to the authorities. Recipients of them are generally forbidden from disclosing them.

From RT, a de facto beginning of recriminalized debt in Old Blighty:

Brits jailed as Interpol takes ‘debt collector’ role for Gulf States – rights group

UK residents go to jail and lose jobs over unpaid loans as Interpol has started issuing ‘red notices’ – their strongest criminal alert – over unfunded checks, which are a criminal offense in states with sharia law, a rights group has found.

The Fair Trials International has labeled the International Criminal Police Organization a ‘debt collector’ for countries like Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The UK-registered charity has stated that by this, Interpol’s services are being ‘misused’.

The rights group wrote a letter to Interpol’s Secretary General, Ronald K. Noble, urging safeguards to be put in place “so that its Red Notice system focuses on bringing serious international criminals to justice rather than wrecking the lives of normal people who have provided blank cheques as security, a common practice in a number of countries across the region,” said a statement published on the group’s website.

When photography is a crime [criminal trespass and invasion of privacy] via United Press International:

Top Mississipi Tea Party official charged in videotaping of Sen. Cochran’s wife in nursing home

  • Primary challenger says those involved in secretly videotaping Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in a Mississippi nursing home should be prosecuted.

The vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party was charged Thursday with being involved in the nursing home videotaping of Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Mark Mayfield. Mayfield, a lawyer, is also an official with the Central Mississippi Tea Party.

Two other men were also charged Thursday. Last week, Clayton Kelly, a right-wing blogger, was charged with entering a Madison nursing home surreptitiously and videotaping Rose Cochran.

Corporate hack generates blowback, via Sky News:

Hacked eBay Faces Multiple Investigations

  • Several inquiries have been launched in the US into the data breach, as UK authorities also consider a formal investigation.

Web retailer eBay is facing transatlantic scrutiny from the authorities over a massive cyber attack that compromised the personal data of its 145 million users.

Connecticut, Florida and Illinois have launched a joint inquiry over the hack, which came to light on Wednesday.

The investigation will focus on the scope of the data breach and eBay’s response, said Connecticut officials.

Another, even more ominous hack, via The Wire:

An American Utility’s Control System Was Hacked

This week in hacking: The control system for a U.S. public utility was compromised. The Department of Homeland Security did not specify which utility was affected in the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) report.

A DHS official told Reuters, “While unauthorized access was identified, ICS-CERT was able to work with the affected entity to put in place mitigation strategies and ensure the security of their control systems before there was any impact to operations.”

Details of these cyber attacks are rarely revealed to the public, and even more rarely do they provide details into the matter. What we do know: this particular attack was on a utility that was previously hacked and the hackers used the employee access portal to get in. The actual hack was relatively simple: they determined the password through a tactic known as “brute forcing.” In a brute force hack, the attackers auto generate a variety of password combinations and try them until something clicks.

And another security violation from TheLocal.de:

Officer puts neo-Nazi stickers in police van

Police in Bavaria have been forced onto the defensive after an officer stuck neo-Nazi stickers in a police van. State prosecutors are investigating a 25-year-old policeman.

An unnamed passer-by on their way to a football match on Sunday in Fürth was shocked to find several far-right stickers stuck on a box in the trunk of a USK police car – a special unit used for crowd control.

Zeit Online on its far-right watch blog, Störungsmelder, wrote on Thursday that the passer-by took a photo which then opened the police force up to a host of criticism.

The stickers, which were clearly visible through the rear window, were printed with well known far-right slogans advocating violence against anti-fascists. “Good Night Left Side” and “Organize against Antifa. Know your enemy. Name your enemy,” they read.

From the Verge, sanctions blowback hinders spy satellite programs?:

Russian rocket ban could delay US space missions for years, report says

The United States military’s space program could see more than 30 missions delayed for an average of three and a half years each if Russia follows through with its threat to ban exports of the RD-180 rocket engines used for launching satellites, according to a Pentagon report obtained by SpaceNews. The Pentagon reportedly also found that, in a worst-case scenario, the delays may cost the US as much as $5 billion. In a best-case scenario, the numbers drop to nine missions delayed by around two years each and a loss of $2.5 billion.

“The US ‘needs to develop a domestic engine’”Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said the ban would be going into place earlier this month, but SpaceNews reports that the government is yet to see signs that it’s been put in place. While that remains the case, the Pentagon suggests accelerating the pace at which RD-180s are purchased to increase the remaining US stock. Right now, there are reportedly only 15 of the engines left between the military’s rocket contractors, United Launch Alliance and RD Amross.

The Pentagon reportedly also found that speeding up production of a US-made engine that’s in the works from United Launch Alliance would not be able to avoid the delays.

After the jump, the latest developments in Asia’s increasingly dangerous Game of Zones, starting with a major Chinese hit for American corporations as “high tech” and “spy tech” become synonymous, a Korean artillery exchange, posturing in Vietnam, Japan ups the ante, and alliances form. . . Continue reading

PINAC and the ongoing war on photography


While the First Amendment guarantees free speech to everyone inside the United States, that right has been increasingly compromised in recent years, as we have witnessed firsthand in our journalistic endeavors.

Nowhere has this trend become more apparent than in the case of people attempting to document the actions of officialdom, particularly in those case of those empowered to use deadly force on behalf of the state.

We experienced firsthand that use of force when working here in Berkeley as a reporter for the local print newspaper, as we reported 18 June 2008:

This Berkeley Daily Planet reporter was threatened with arrest after he questioned an officer’s order to leave the rim of the stadium, the only place where activities of the officers could be monitored.

As the reporter was leaving, he was shoved in the back by a university officer and would have fallen down the concrete stairs had not he been grabbed by Doug Buckwald, one of the long-time supporters of the tree-sit.

Officer C. Chichester, badge 36, told this reporter, who was carrying valuable camera gear, that if he were arrested, “Who knows what would happen to your camera equipment when you’re in jail?”

The stadium rim was the only place from which a journalist could have a view of the events unfolding in the grove below. It was from the rim that the reporter saw one of the cranes brush a support line, from which a tree-sitter was suspended between two evergreens at least 50 feet apart.

Millipede, the treesitters suspended from the line, screamed in terror. She was the same tree-sitter arrested hours later. University spokesperson Dan Mogulof said she had bitten one of the workers.

Zachary Running Wolf, the first of the tree-sitters, said she and other protesters had been terrified when the arborists placed a saw next to the lines from which the tree-sitters were suspended between the trees.

Read the rest.

We’ve posted repeatedly about the ongoing law enforcement efforts to supress the power of the lens, indelibly demonstrated by the Rodney King beating video, so powerful that after officers involved were acquitted, Los Angeles erupted in flames.

We’ve followed Photography is Not a Crime for several years, a website devoted to covering confrontations between law enforcement and photographers, both amateur and professional. And so it was with considerable interest we discovered this video report from WeAreChange:

The Amazing Accidental Start of Photography Is Not A Crime!

Program notes:

In this video Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange sits down with the one and only epic story teller Carlos Miller from Photography Is Not A Crime (PINAC). Carlos recounts a story in which he was assaulted simply for taking pictures. WeAreChange learns more about what inspired Carlos to create PINAC and the subsequent evolution of the blog. Film power tripping Police officers & know your rights Learn more about PINAC @ http://photographyisnotacrime.com

Headlines II: Spies, lies, laws, zones, more


We open today’s tales from the dark side with a demand via The Intercept:

The Bahamas Wants to Know Why the NSA is Recording Its Phone Calls

Government officials in the Bahamas want their U.S. counterparts to explain why the National Security Agency has been intercepting and recording every cell phone call taking place on the island nation.

Responding to a report published by The Intercept on Monday, which revealed that the NSA has been targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network and storing the audio of every phone call traversing the network for up to 30 days, Bahamian officials told the Nassau Guardian that they had contacted the U.S. and vowed to release a statement regarding the revelations.

In a front-page story published Tuesday, Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told the Guardian that his government had reached out to the U.S. for an explanation. Mitchell said the cabinet was set to meet to discuss the matter and planned to issue a statement on the surveillance. The Bahamian minister of national security told the paper he intended to launch an inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance but did not provide a comment.

The New York Times parses spookery:

Fine Line Seen in U.S. Spying on Companies

The National Security Agency has never said what it was seeking when it invaded the computers of Petrobras, Brazil’s huge national oil company, but angry Brazilians have guesses: the company’s troves of data on Brazil’s offshore oil reserves, or perhaps its plans for allocating licenses for exploration to foreign companies.

Nor has the N.S.A. said what it intended when it got deep into the computer systems of China Telecom, one of the largest providers of mobile phone and Internet services in Chinese cities. But documents released by Edward J. Snowden, the former agency contractor now in exile in Russia, leave little doubt that the main goal was to learn about Chinese military units, whose members cannot resist texting on commercial networks.

The agency’s interest in Huawei, the giant Chinese maker of Internet switching equipment, and Pacnet, the Hong Kong-based operator of undersea fiber optic cables, is more obvious: Once inside those companies’ proprietary technology, the N.S.A. would have access to millions of daily conversations and emails that never touch American shores.

Then there is Joaquín Almunia, the antitrust commissioner of the European Commission. He runs no company, but has punished many, including Microsoft and Intel, and just reached a tentative accord with Google that will greatly change how it operates in Europe.

In each of these cases, American officials insist, when speaking off the record, that the United States was never acting on behalf of specific American companies. But the government does not deny it routinely spies to advance American economic advantage, which is part of its broad definition of how it protects American national security. In short, the officials say, while the N.S.A. cannot spy on Airbus and give the results to Boeing, it is free to spy on European or Asian trade negotiators and use the results to help American trade officials — and, by extension, the American industries and workers they are trying to bolster.

From Agence France Presse, taking it on the road:

Eric Holder To Discuss NSA Spying Scandal In Germany

US Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Germany to discuss privacy concerns after the NSA spying scandal damaged relations between the two allies, Germany said Wednesday.

German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told journalists in Washington that Holder has accepted an invitation from Berlin to explain how the US would curb spying on foreign nationals overseas.

“We will have this discussion together in Germany,” he said.

The Christian Science Monitor raises a reasonable question:

US hacking charges against China for economic cyber-spying: Why now?

The US indictment of five military officials in China’s secret ‘Unit 61398′ aims to put China on notice but also plays to US corporate concerns that Washington has done too little to curb cyber threats.

While many believe it is unlikely those Chinese military officers will ever be extradited for trial in the US, the public outing of China’s military for engineering the cyber theft of the crown jewels of US companies’ intellectual property is the punitive part of a multipart “carrot and stick” policy the Obama administration adopted to deal with a problem shortly after it took office, these experts say.

In the administration’s early days, cyber threats were already a priority. But by 2010, cyber espionage had vaulted to the top of the list. The next year, a nonpublic internal federal review determined that “China’s economic espionage activities were greater than all others combined, including Russia,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

By early 2013, the US and China had agreed to regular diplomatic talks – a cyber working group – that was one of the White House “carrots” designed to deal with sensitive cyber issues behind closed doors. In those talks, the US told Chinese representatives that using the powerful state-controlled military to conduct cyber-espionage operations against hundreds of US corporations was unacceptable.

From the Associated Press, stupid is as stupid does:

U.S. hacking victims fell prey to slapstick, mundane ruses

The hacking techniques the U.S. government says China used against American companies turned out to be disappointingly mundane, tricking employees into opening e-mail attachments or clicking on innocent-looking website links.

The scariest part might be how successfully the ruses worked. With a mouse click or two, employees at big-name American makers of nuclear and solar technology gave away the keys to their computer networks.

In a 31-count indictment announced on Monday, the Justice Department said five Chinese military officials operating under hacker aliases such as “Ugly Gorilla,” “KandyGoo” and “Jack Sun” stole confidential business information, sensitive trade secrets and internal communications for competitive advantage. The United States identified the alleged victims as Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse, Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel, United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld.

From the Verge, an embarrassment:

The US Navy was hacked from inside its own aircraft carrier

When the Navy Criminal Investigative Service started looking into a breach of one of their low-security networks, the team got an unpleasant surprise: at least one of the culprits was a Navy sailor, performing the attacks from an aircraft carrier at sea.

The hacking group called Team Digi7al breached at least 24 websites in 2012, including the Navy’s own SmartMove system, used to help sailors coordinate changes of address. The team was looking for social security numbers and other personal data, the raw material for identity theft, targeting sites like the Toronto Police Service and Stanford University. For the most part, the attacks were small enough to stay under the radar — but when a tweet posted to Team Digi7al’s Twitter account from an internal Navy network, NCIS realized the SmartMove attack had been an inside job, and sprang into action.

It took an elaborate sting operation to find Digi7al’s inside, including a fake database designed as an attractive target, but finally NCIS traced the breach back to Nicholas Paul Knight, the systems administrator for the nuclear reactor onboard the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier. On Tuesday, Knight plead guilty to charges of identity theft and obstruction of justice in federal court. He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A paradigm shifts from Homeland Security News Wire:

Snowden revelations spur a surge in encrypted e-mail services

The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency(N.S.A) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said the co-developer of a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday. The company notes that its servers are based in Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them.

The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said Jason Stockman, a co-developer of ProtonMail, a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday with collaboration from scientists from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the European research lab CERN.

Yahoo News reports that ProtonMail is marketed as user-friendly as major commercial e-mail services such as Google Gmail and Yahoo Mail, but it offers extra security. The company notes that its servers are based in  Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them. E-mail encryption has been a go-to-tool for dissident activists in China and Iran to avoid detection by the authorities, but the adoption of encryption services is now favored by many Americans who want to avoid surveillance from the NSA or other intelligence services.

From the Washington Post, a legacy for the University of California’s new president [former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano]:

Planned Homeland Security headquarters, long delayed and over budget, now in doubt

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the George W. Bush administration called for a new, centralized headquarters to strengthen the department’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism and respond to natural disasters. More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.

The entire complex was to be finished as early as this year, at a cost of less than $3 billion, according to the initial plan.

The Tribune Washington Bureau seeks release:

Obama administration to release drone memo on killing US citizens

President Barack Obama’s Justice Department will release a long-sought secret document laying out the legal basis for using drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorist activities abroad, administration officials confirmed Tuesday.

Rather than appeal a court order that the so-called “drone memo” be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. concurred with the decision of Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli not to pursue the appeal and agreed to release a redacted version of the document, the officials said.

Officials requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations, first disclosed Tuesday by The Associated Press. The documents will be released later, pending court approval.

From CNN, an announcement with suspicious timing:

Stream of al Qaeda threats has U.S. intelligence concerned

A series of al Qaeda-based threats to attack American and Western targets in Europe, as well as threats to launch attacks inside the United States, has caused significant concern inside the U.S. intelligence community, CNN has learned.

Officials are trying to determine the extent to which the threats may be linked and determine what it may mean about the strength of al Qaeda in several countries. While the “threat stream” has evolved during the past six months, according to a senior U.S. official, none of the threats has been corroborated.

The official said the threats appear to detail “a lot of activity where intelligence suggests there are operational cells,” but so far, “we do not see operational cells of al Qaeda inside the United States,” the official said, although he emphasized it could not be ruled out.

From the Arizona Republic, about damn time:

FBI reverses no-recording policy for interrogations

Since the FBI began under President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, agents have not only shunned the use of tape recorders, they’ve been prohibited by policy from making audio and video records of statements by criminal suspects without special approval.

Now, after more than a century, the U.S. Department of Justice has quietly reversed that directive by issuing orders May 12 that video recording is presumptively required for interrogations of suspects in custody, with some exceptions.

There was no news release or press conference to announce the radical shift. But a DOJ memorandum —obtained by The Arizona Republic — spells out the changes to begin July 11.

From the Dept. of Oh, Puhleeeze via The Wire:

GOP Senator Does Not Think the FBI Director’s Weed Joke Was Very Funny

FBI Director James Comey made a weed joke earlier this week; turns out the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t find it funny. Speaking at a conference on Monday, the FBI chief made headlines when he admitted that the agency is “grappling with the question” of whether it could be more open to hiring people who smoke pot, especially as the demand for cybercrime fighters increases.

What went mostly unreported was a little funny that Comey made when he added that some of the prospective hires “want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

Today we found out that Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was not so amused:

Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use and that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?”

From the Boston Globe, with maximum security:

Ohio Prison Shows Pirated Movies to Prisoners Convicted of Pirating Movies

Pirated movies are being shown to Ohio inmates convicted for selling pirated films, according to Cleveland.com. The Lorain County Correctional Institution confirmed that prison officials know about the practice and that it’s being investigated.

Richard Humphrey, who was released on May 6 for a parole violation, posted on torrentfreak.com that guards let the inmates watch “Ride Along” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” before the films’ DVD releases. Humphrey faced a 29-month sentence in 2010 for selling pirated copies of movies on a subscription-based website.

From CNN, keeping kids secure from security people:

Cop, rabbi, scoutmaster among arrests in child porn bust

They are people children are supposed to trust: A New York Police Department officer, a Fire Department of New York paramedic, a rabbi and a scoutmaster were among more than 70 people arrested in a major child porn bust, a U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday.

The police officer allegedly used the video chatting service Skype to have women pose their children naked for him, another law enforcement official said.

Another of those arrested — a supervisor with the Transportation Security Administration — allegedly traveled to the Dominican Republic to have sex with children, the official said. He allegedly made more than 50 trips there.

From Reuters, how much for a hack attack?:

EBay says client information stolen in hacking attack

E-commerce company eBay Inc said hackers stole email addresses, birthdays and other identity information between late February and early March in a data breach that may have affected a “large number” of accounts.

In the latest major cyber attack at a U.S. company, eBay said it had found no evidence of unauthorized access to financial or credit card information, which is stored separately in encrypted formats.

But the company urged all of its users, including the 145 million customers who bought or sold something on eBay in the last 12 months, to change their passwords.

Blowback blues from Global Times:

Microsoft ‘surprised’ at move to change systems

  • Windows 8 ban to aid security

In an e-mail to the Global Times, Microsoft said they are surprised by the news.

“Windows 8 has some unique back doors reserved by developers for later system upgrade and daily maintenance. The downside of the back doors is the potential risk of leaking sensitive personal information to developers or Internet hackers,” Zhang Yi, CEO of Shenzhen-based iiMedia Research, told the Global Times.

Zhang’s opinion was echoed by Ni Guangnan, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who reportedly appealed that the government should not purchase Windows 8 devices.

Ni was quoted by China Electronics News as saying the new generation of Windows system would leave information vulnerable to monitoring from the US government, as shown in the scandal of PRISM.

More blowback from South China Morning Post:

US cyberespionage charges may cool Westinghouse’s China nuclear deal

  • Business ties at risk after Washington accuses five PLA officers of hacking

China may consider postponing negotiations for buying eight nuclear reactors from an American nuclear company embroiled in a US indictment of five PLA military officers for alleged cyberespionage, Chinese experts say.

The deal, together with parts and services, would potentially be worth more than 24 billion yuan (HK$30 billion) and create thousands of jobs.

Five cybertechnology experts, allegedly from the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398 that has been accused of being a major source of cyberattacks abroad, are now wanted by the FBI for hacking into a number of US firms, including Westinghouse Electric, the company tendering to supply the Chinese nuclear power plants.

And north of the border, and sure to move south, from CBC News:

La Ronde under fire for scanning visitors’ fingerprints

  • Quebec privacy commissioner says La Ronde has not been cleared to have biometric database

La Ronde, the Montreal amusement park owned by Six Flags, is scanning biometric data from its users to admit them to the park. The only problem is, it hasn’t been cleared to do so.

This year, the park brought in measures to scan what it calls “fingerpoints.” The scans of season-pass holders’ index fingers are then used to admit them to the amusement park.

“So what happens is season-pass owners come to the park, they have two options. Either they can do a traditional way, so they can get a season pass with picture or they can go through our new system, which is quicker,” La Ronde’s communications officer Jules Hébert told CBC Daybreak on Wednesday.

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing and ever-escalating Asian Games of Zones, with an emphasis on the latest efforts of to send Japan down Abe’s Road of rash remilitarization. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Pols, crooks, corps, & polluters


And so much, much more, including the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! In today’s collection from the realms of political, law, economics, and the environment.

First up, a slowdown on the road to another skid-greasing for corporocrats and banksters from Kyodo News:

TPP ministers fail to set timeline for striking deal

Ministers in the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks fell short of setting a clear timeline for ending their long-running negotiations as they wrapped up their two-day meeting Tuesday in Singapore, although they stressed that progress has been made on tariff issues.

“We cemented our shared views on what is needed to bring negotiations to a close,” the ministers said in a joint statement issued following the meeting, but it was unclear what outcome was yielded during their gathering.

The ministers did decide that the chief negotiators from the member countries will meet in July to further accelerate talks but they did not clarify where the meeting will be held.

Money launderers get the ticket, via  Reuters:

Credit Suisse fined $2.5 billion after pleading guilty to U.S. tax charge

Credit Suisse has agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine to authorities in the United States for helping Americans evade taxes after becoming the largest bank in 20 years to plead guilty to a U.S. criminal charge.

The bank’s guilty plea resolves its long-running dispute with the United States over tax evasion, but could have implications for the clients and counterparties that do business with the group.

Credit Suisse said it had not seen a material impact in the past few weeks on its business, and that clients faced no legal obstacles from doing business with it despite the guilty plea.

Other banksters/other woes, from the Irish Times:

Drumm facing litany of fraud allegations at bankruptcy trial

  • Document detailing dozens of allegations against former Anglo boss submitted to US court

Former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drum will face a litany of fraud and perjury allegations when his bankruptcy trial begins in Boston tomorrow.

A list of “itemised allegations” against the 47-year-old Dubliner, which include accusations of fraud, concealment and lying under oath, has been submitted to the court where he filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

The document was submitted by the plaintiffs in the trial, bankruptcy trustee Kathleen Dwyer, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, his former employer.

From iMediaEthic, without comment:

Nat’l Journal dumps comments section after ‘worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable’

The National Journal is getting rid of most online comments because it has been filled with “the worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable.”

National Journal’s editor-in-chief Tim Grieve announced the decision in a May 16 post,  explaining that there was no civil discussion on topics and it was getting worse.

“The debate isn’t joined. It’s cheapened, it’s debased, and, as National Journal’s Brian Resnick has written, research suggests that the experience leaves readers feeling more polarized and less willing to listen to opposing views,” Grieve wrote.

From China Daily, a float from abroad:

More Chinese companies choose US as destination to go public

A senior vice president with NYSE Euronex says that more and more Chinese enterprises are attracted to do initial public offering (IPO) in the United States and predicts that around 15 to 20 of them could go public in the States this year.

“What I’ve seen is a nice building process from two years ago when we only had two IPOs. One of them, VIP (Vipshop Holdings Limited), was listed here and did extremely well,” said David A. Ethridge, senior vice president and head of the Capital Markets Group at NYSE Euronext, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Shares of Vipshop, an online discount retailer, were traded at around $165 per share Monday, compared to $6.50 per share since it announced its IPO in March 2012. China’s social gaming portal YY Inc, which was listed on Nasdaq in November 2012, also saw its shares surge to around $56 per share from its IPO price of $10.50 apiece.

From the Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY, maybe retirees will have to get a bridge loan:

Gov. Christie cuts N.J. pension payments

Gov. Chris Christie is slashing the contributions scheduled to be made to New Jersey public workers’ pension funds by nearly $2.5 billion over the next 14 months to deal with a revenue shortfall facing the state budget.

Christie announced today at the Statehouse that he will make a $696 million payment into the pension funds this year, rather than $1.58 billion. He said he will put in $681 million next June, instead of the $2.25 billion that would have been made if the terms of the pension reforms he signed into law in 2011 were followed.

Christie said the payments cover the costs accrued during his administration for active employees but exclude the unfunded liability accrued under past governors and legislatures. He said that means the unfunded liability for active workers will not increase.

From Network World, corporations benefits, public services lose. Call it a neoliberal wet dream:

Driverless cars could cripple law enforcement budgets

  • Local government have long looked to speeding tickets to increase revenue. What will they do when autonomous cars stick to the speed limit?

Shortly after the state of Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana late last year, opponents made a very interesting, if somewhat counterintuitive, argument against legalized pot – law enforcement would miss out on the huge revenue stream of seized assets, property, and cash from pot dealers in the state.

Justice Department data shows that seizures in marijuana-related cases nationwide totaled $1 billion from 2002 to 2012, out of the $6.5 billion total seized in all drug busts over that period. This money often goes directly into the budgets of the law enforcement agencies that seized it. One drug task force in Snohomish County, Washington, reduced its budget forecast by 15% after the state voted to legalize marijuana, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. In its most fruitful years, that lone task force had seen more than $1 million in additional funding through seizures from marijuana cases alone, according to the report.

Naturally, this dynamic is something law enforcement either is or should already be preparing for as driverless cars make their way onto the roads. Just as drug cops will lose the income they had seized from pot dealers, state and local governments will need to account for a drastic reduction in fines from traffic violations as autonomous cars stick to the speed limit.

From the Associated Press, gladiator-doping alleged:

Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs

A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.

The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.

Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, said the complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.

The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, both a story and a metaphor for our times:

Train hits, kills woman wearing earphones in San Leandro

An 18-year-old woman using earphones while talking on her cell phone was struck and killed Monday by an Amtrak train in San Leandro after a witness tried unsuccessfully to warn her of its approach, police said.

On a similar vein, from north of the border via CBC News:

Physical inactivity of Canadian kids blamed on ‘culture of convenience’

  • Parents encouraged to weave opportunities to move and play with their kids into daily life

Canada’s “culture of convenience” means children and youth sit too much and move too little, in gym class, on the playground, and while travelling to and from school, according to a new global comparison.

Tuesday’s report, “Is Canada in the running?”, from Active Healthy Kids Canada grades kids from 15 countries on their physical activity levels in various areas.

Europe next, and the usual suspects, doing the usual via BBC News:

JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole accused of euro rate-fixes

The European Commission has accuses JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole of colluding to fix a key euro benchmark borrowing rate – Euribor.

JP Morgan and HSBC will fight the charges. Credit Agricole will study the European Commission’s findings. Penalties for the guilty are up to 10% of annual revenue.

Euribor is a cousin to Libor, which is used to set trillions of dollars of financial contracts from complex financial transactions to car loans.

And the electoral divide, with more to come next weekend, via EUbusiness:

Conservatives narrowly lead Socialists in EU vote: poll

Conservatives across Europe hold a narrow lead over their Socialist rivals in the upcoming European Parliament elections but eurosceptics and more radical parties will make significant gains, a poll showed Tuesday.

The PollWatch2014 survey issued as EU citizens prepare for the May 22-25 ballot put the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) on 217 seats against 201 for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

While that would leave them still the two biggest parties in the new 751-seat assembly, the EPP would be down from 274 seats and the S&D up only marginally from the previous 196.

In third place, the centrist Liberals (ALDE) would fare especially badly, falling to 59 seats from the current 83, PollWatch2014 said.

A predictable alarm, via Greek Reporter:

Credit Agricole: SYRIZA’s Victory May Cause Shock to EU markets

According to Bloomberg news agency, Mark McCormick, a currency strategist at the French Credit Agricole, sent a to the bank’s clients, stating that a possible victory of SYRIZA in the euro elections might cause a shock to the European markets.

McCormick claimed that a possible victory by SYRIZA can cause a  shock to Europe’s assets (bonds, equities, interest bearing securities, etc.) at a time when Greece is trying to implement reforms.

McCormick, according to Bloomberg, stated that the European elections should not be underestimated given that their results will have an impact on the above-mentioned assets.The increasing popularity of anti-European parties constitutes a threat to the progress that has been achieved in financial reforms. The greatest danger lies in Greece, which could be led to early elections if the Greek main opposition party wins a majority in the European elections.

And the lobbying will commence, via EurActiv:

Google cannot be broken up without new legislation, says EU Competition Commissioner

Google cannot be broken up into smaller companies without new EU legislation, the European Commission said today (20 May), after detailing two potential new antitrust investigations into the internet giant.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia was responding to comments made earlier this week by German’s Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel,  who said Google may have such a dominant market position that a break-up had to be “seriously considered.” Existing competition law was not powerful enough to split up the business, Almunia said.

The California-based company may yet face a separate antitrust investigation to the one ongoing since November 2012. Open Internet Project, a group of 400 European digital market members, made a different complaint [PDF] on Friday.

Britain next, and the bubble continues with BBC News:

UK house prices up 8% in a year, says ONS

UK house prices rose by 8% in the year to the end of March, official figures show, as the prime minister says he will consider changes to Help to Buy.

The annual increase slowed compared with a 9.2% year-on-year price rise to the end of February.

However, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the annual property price increase in London stood at 17%. Excluding London and the South East of England, prices were up by 4.7%.

On a related front, via the London Telegraph:

Lloyds acts to curb ‘inflationary’ London housing

  • UK’s biggest mortgage provider, which also owns Halifax, will not lend any more than four times those of incomes on properties over £500,000

The UK’s biggest mortgage provider, Lloyds Banking Group, has taken radical action in the face of what it called “inflationary pressures” in London’s housing market, tightening up the requirements for high-value property purchases.

The state-backed lender said that on lending of over £500,000, it would not approve mortgages in which consumers are borrowing more than four times their incomes.

The announcement is the first major step taken by lenders to cool rapidly-rising house prices in the capital, where prices have risen by 17pc in the last year – more than double the national average. Lloyds said the policy would be applied nationally, but was deliberately targeted at London.

On to Germany and the predictable, via TheLocal.de:

‘Germany can deny foreigners benefits’

Germany can refuse to give unemployment benefit to EU citizens it believes are “welfare tourists”, according to a European ruling on Tuesday.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice said the state could reject applications for German unemployment benefit Hartz IV from foreigners from other EU countries to prevent abuse of the system and “welfare tourism”.

The Luxembourg court will make its ruling over the next few months, but normally follows the advocate general’s advice.

The decision was made in a high-profile case of a 24-year-old Romanian woman and her son who have lived in Germany since 2010. The woman’s local job centre in Leipzig refused to give her Hartz IV, prompting her to take legal action.

And from Deutsche Welle:

Migration to Germany skyrockets

The sovereign debt crisis is driving a surge in migration to Germany. New figures reveal hundreds of thousands of foreign workers flocked to Europe’s largest economy in 2012 – a nearly 40 percent jump in just a year.

The number of people migrating to Germany jumped nearly 40 percent in a year, according to data released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of mostly developed nations.

Driven mainly by economic uncertainty in the euro zone’s periphery, which includes weaker nations that are still recovering from the global financial crisis, some 400,000 people flocked to Germany in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available.

“We can clearly speak about a boom of migration to Germany without exaggeration,” Thomas Liebig, an OECD migration expert, said as the group released its latest migration outlook just days ahead of European elections in which immigration has been hotly debated.

More from Reuters:

Germany becomes world’s top migration spot after U.S.: OECD

Germany has become the world’s second most popular destination for immigrants after the United States, attracting many southern Europeans driven from the ravages of the euro zone financial crisis to overtake Canada and Australia.

Germany soared to second place in the 2012 in a survey of permanent migration published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday. It ranked eighth in 2009.

“This really is a boom – without any exaggeration … no other OECD country experienced such a rise,” said Thomas Liebig, an expert on international migration at the Paris-based OECD.

Vienna next, and just say Nein!?, From TheLocal.at:

Vienna mayor wants right wing group banned

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Häupl (SPÖ) has called for a ban on a right wing group calling themselves Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement).

Last Saturday a march by the group in central Vienna resulted in clashes between protesters and police after it was obstructed several times by a left-wing counter-demonstration.

“A group like this should have been banned a long time ago,” Häupl said at his weekly press conference. “This is a neo-fascist organization that quite clearly falls under the prohibition act,” he added.

The Verbotsgesetz (Prohibition Act) is an Austrian law which banned the Nazi Party and aimed to suppress any potential revival of Nazism.

While parts of Spain face unparalleled drought, at the other end of Europe with euronews:

Bosnia flood destruction ‘as bad as the war’

The government in Bosnia says more than 1 million people, or a quarter of the population, has been affected by flooding and landslides, comparing the destruction to that of the country’s war in the 1990s.

Some reports speak of around 50 deaths in Bosnia and in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia amid the worst rainfall to hit the Balkans in living memory.

Having survived the war and built a new life, many have lost everything.

Spain next, whipping up the religious for a neoliberal advantage with El País:

Abortion clinics report spike in vandalism

  • Anti-abortion activists step up pressure ahead of government changes to legislation

Anti-abortion groups are getting more radical in their rhetoric and in their actions.

In the face of government delays, these groups have been making increasingly vocal demands for legislative reform to curtail access to pregnancy terminations.

But now, abortion clinics are also reporting several instances of vandalism against their premises, according to formal complaints to which EL PAÍS has had access.

El País again, this time weith another outburst of that hard times intolerance:

Racist gestures at soccer game cost Barcelona employee her job

  • Llagostera fan also barred from her team’s stadium for performing monkey actions at black player

A woman has lost her job and been barred from a soccer stadium for life after she was caught on camera making racist gestures at a Spanish second division game between Llagostera and Racing Santander on Sunday.

Video footage of the match clearly shows the Llagostera fan making monkey actions at Mamadou Koné, a black player from the Ivory Coast who plays for Racing.

The images immediately spread around the social networks, and the consequences soon followed. Llagostera president Isabel Tarragó has barred the woman, who is not a club member, from ever returning to its stadium.

El País again, with more:

Jewish community to file complaint after anti-Semitic tweets posted from Spain

  • Offensive comments appeared on Twitter after basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid
  • The victory on Sunday saw the Israeli side win the Euroleague title

The Jewish community in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia has taken action over anti-Semitic messages posted on social networking sites after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid to win the Euroleague title on Sunday.

After the game in Tel Aviv was over, nearly 18,000 offensive messages appeared on Twitter, according to Jewish associations, which have announced they are planning to file a complaint with the state attorney on Tuesday. According to sources from the Jewish community, the complaint will include tweets from five users of the micro-blogging site – along with their full names – which, the complainants will argue, constitute incitement of hatred against Jews.

Portugal next, and a Troikarch release from ANSAmed:

Portugal officially out of Troika bailout plan

  • Without seeking precautionary credit line, premier says

Portugal officially exited on Monday the bailout programme drafted by the Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) under which it obtained in 2011 a loan worth 79 billion euros provided it implemented a number of austerity measures to cut expenditure.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced the country will ‘’not seek further security measures, although the road ahead is still long to get out of the crisis’‘.

The premier added that ‘’the government’s priorities are economic and employment recovery’‘.

Italy next, starting with Bunga Bunga bloviation from TheLocal.it:

‘Did you call Merkel an ‘unf**kable lard-arse’?’

Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s hard-nosed interviewer, asked Italy’s gaffe-prone former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi whether he called German Chancellor Angela Merkel an “unf**kable lard-arse” in an interview that will be aired on Tuesday night.

Berlusconi, who is currently undertaking community service at a home for Alzheimer’s patients for his tax fraud conviction, reportedly said Merkel was a “culona inchiavabile” (unf**kable lard-arse) during a wiretapped conversation with a man accused of supplying prostitutes to the former prime minister’s “bunga bunga” parties in July 2011.

More bloviatin’ from the Bunga Bunghole via ANSA:

Berlusconi calls Grillo a ‘killer’

Vitriol escalates with reference to manslaughter conviction

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday called Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), a “killer” as the political venom ahead of Sunday’s European elections reached a new high. Berlusconi was referring to Grillo’s 1980 manslaughter conviction for a car accident in which he was the driver and three people died.

Grillo has never stood personally in elections because he says people with criminal records should not be in parliament, although he is still the undisputed leader of the M5S from outside the buildings of power.

The comedian-turned-politician has been brutally critical of three-time premier Berlusconi, who was ejected from parliament last year and is currently doing community after a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year, over his many judicial problems.

After the jump, it’s on to Greece and more electoral mayhem, a Ukrainian pullback, Brazilian jitters and an Argentine memory hole, a case of Thai anxiety, Chinese real estate woes, environmental alarms, and Fukushuimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: Spies, pols, hacks, zones, drones


We’re reversing the normal sequence of headline posts and starting with today’s very newsy tales from the dark side, featuring major developments in Asia [after the jump], drones, the SinoAmerican EspioCyberwar, and a whole lot more.

But first, the toke’s on J. Edgar, with Fibbie pragmatism triumphant, via The Verge:

The FBI admits it might have to toke up to fight cybercrime

As the FBI looks to hire more cybersecurity agents, it’s running into a big problem: the siren song of marijuana. The FBI has a no-tolerance policy for employees using illegal drugs, but new statements by director James Comey suggest the agency is considering loosening that policy to attract employees from the cybersecurity community.

To hear Comey tell it, it’s a talent pool that’s notorious for rampant weed-smoking. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cybercriminals,” Comey told an audience at the New York City Bar Association, “and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

The bureau’s weed problem is particularly severe given the rise of legal marijuana use within the US, implicating many potential FBI hackers along the way. As a result, Comey said he was “grappling with the issue” of how the bureau’s policies might be amended.

From The Age, suspicions confirmed:

Assange targeted by FBI probe, US court documents reveal

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange remains the subject of an active criminal investigation by the United States Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, newly published court documents reveal.

Papers released in US legal proceedings have revealed that a “criminal/national security investigation” by the US Department of Justice and FBI probe of WikiLeaks is “a multi-subject investigation” that is still “active and ongoing” more than four years after the anti-secrecy website began publishing secret US diplomatic and military documents.

Confirmation that US prosecutors have not closed the book on WikiLeaks and Mr Assange comes as a consequence of litigation by the US Electronic Privacy Information Centre to enforce a freedom of information request for documents relating to the FBI’s WikiLeaks investigation.

Justice Department lawyers last month told the US District Court in Washington DC that there had been “developments in the investigation over the last year.”  In a document filed with the court on Monday, the US Government further affirmed that the “main, multi-subject, criminal investigation of the [Department of Justice] and FBI remains open and pending” making it necessary “to withhold law enforcement records related to this civilian investigation.”

There’s just no rest for the Wiki-ed, via South China Morning Post:

WikiLeaks vows to reveal second country where NSA is recording all mobile phone calls

  • WikiLeaks to name second country where the NSA is said to be recording the content of phone calls, despite warnings from Glenn Greenwald that this could “lead to deaths”

WikiLeaks has pledged to reveal the name of a second country that is having virtually all of its mobile phone calls recorded by the US National Security Agency, despite a warning that leaking the information could “lead to deaths”.

The pledge came after The Intercept revealed that the Bahamas and one other country were having most of their mobile calls recorded and stored by a powerful NSA program called SOMALGET. While the Bahamas was named, the identity of the mystery second country was kept hidden.

Greenwald, who first broke the Edward Snowden story to the world, had said on Twitter the decision not to reveal the name was made because “we were *very convinced this 1 would –> [lead to] deaths”.

Meanwhile, Truthdig raises a crucial question:

What’s the Point of a Source Protection Law That Wouldn’t Protect Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden?

Laws are bad when they don’t do what they are meant to and even worse when they cause harm instead. The journalist-source protection law being debated by Congress—the Free Flow of Information Act (FFIA or “federal shield law”) fails in both respects. Despite being pushed by media organizations after Associated Press reporters and other journalists were served court orders last summer, it is doubtful that the proposed law will meaningfully protect anyone. Instead, it sets the stage to punish whomever the government decides are “illegitimate” journalists.

Indeed, any outlet committed to giving voice to whistle-blowers—such as The Intercept or WikiLeaks—is not considered a “covered journalist” under the measure. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who drafted the bill, conceded that The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, whose coverage of whistle-blower Snowden’s releases won a Pulitzer for The Guardian, would probably not be covered. The FFIA would fail to protect Snowden, or Manning, who provided evidence of war crimes and military cover-ups to WikiLeaks. Both sparked unprecedented public debates on government accountability and suffered the full wrath of the federal government. In other words, they are precisely the sources we need a shield law to protect.

The FFIA does not include those “whose principal function, as demonstrated by the totality of such person or entity’s work, is to publish primary source documents that have been disclosed to such person or entity without authorization.” This is colloquially called the WikiLeaks clause. But The Intercept is also in trouble owing to what its new editor-in-chief, John Cook, described in mid-April as a “commitment to continue the work of reporting on, publishing, and explicating” Snowden’s releases.

Techdirt, as usual, spots the ironic:

Keith Alexander: We Need More Spying In The Future Because All Of Our Previous Spying Has Only Increased The Number Of Terrorist Attacks

  • from the No-Such-Agency:-no-such-thing-as-‘too-much-surveillance’ dept

The New Yorker has published excerpts of a lengthy interview with retired NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander. Along with the usual defenses of the surveillance apparatus he ran for eight years (with his fiery “collect it all” attitude), Alexander makes the case for continued pervasive surveillance while admitting the last decade-plus of spying hasn’t made the US — or the world — any safer.

Al Jazeera America acts symbolically:

California bill would require judge’s warrant for government spying

  • Measure passes state Senate with just one opposing vote; proponents argue surveillance is unconstitutional

A bill in California’s state legislature would require the federal government to have a warrant from a judge if it wants state officials to cooperate when federal agencies search residents’ cellphone and computer records.

The bill, which passed the state Senate with just one opposing vote this week, was introduced in the wake of information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, revealing massive internal surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA.

“The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is very clear. It says the government shall not engage in unreasonable search and seizure,” said the bill’s author, Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu, of Torrance. “The National Security Agency’s massive and indiscriminate collecting of phone data on all Americans, including more than 38 million Californians, is a threat to our liberty and freedom.”

The bill wouldn’t bar the NSA or any other federal government agency from continuing to spy. But it would prohibit the state from participating in that surveillance or providing material support to the agencies involved.

And on to that conveniently timed [for Washington] SinoCyberwar, first from Global Times:

China summons US ambassador over indictment against Chinese military officers

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned US Ambassador to China Max Baucus on Monday night, lodging a complaint with the US over its indictment against five Chinese military officers despite China’s protests, according to a press release by the Foreign Ministry Tuesday morning.

The United States seriously violated the norms of international relations, breached China-US cooperation in cyber security and badly hurt China-US ties by fabricating information and indicting Chinese military officers on allegations of cyber theft, Zheng said.

China expressed strong indignation and opposition to the move by the United States, he added.

More from South China Morning Post:

China warns Washington it could take ‘further action’ over US hacking charges

  • The US Justice Department on Monday indicted five members of the Chinese military on charges they stole US secrets through hacking to aid state-owned companies. Beijing quickly rejected the claims

The US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, met with Zheng Zeguang, assistant foreign minister, shortly after the United States charged the five Chinese, accusing them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets.

Zheng “protested” the actions by the United States, saying the indictment had seriously harmed relations between both countries, state news agency Xinhua said.

Zheng told Baucus that depending on the development of the situation, China “will take further action on the so-called charges by the United States”.

Sky News raises the obvious defense:

China Angry Over US Spy Charges ‘Hypocrisy’

  • The United States is accused of “double standards” on cyber security after five Chinese officers are charged over alleged hacking.

Geng Yansheng, a Chinese defence spokesman, said the steps taken by the United States had “severely damaged the mutual trust” between the two countries.

“From Wikileaks to the Snowden incident, America’s hypocrisy and double standards on issues of cyber security are abundantly clear,” he said. “The Chinese military is a severe victim of America’s behaviour.

“According to statistics, the servers used by the Chinese military have been widely attacked by foreigners and according to the IP addresses, a significant number of them come from America.”

And then, inevitably, came this, from Sina English:

China publishes evidence of US cyber attack

A spokesperson for China’s State Internet Information Office on Monday published the latest data of US cyber attack, saying that China is a solid defender of cyber security.

The US is the biggest attacker of China’s cyber space, the spokesperson said, adding that the US charges of hacking against five Chinese military officers on Monday are “groundless”.

Latest data from the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China (NCNERTTCC) showed that from March 19 to May 18, a total of 2,077 Trojan horse networks or botnet servers in the US directly controlled 1.18 million host computers in China.

intelNews.org backgrounds:

The mysterious Chinese unit behind the cyberespionage charges

On Monday, the United States government leveled for the first time charges against a group of identified Chinese military officers, allegedly for stealing American trade secrets through cyberespionage.

The individuals named in the indictment are all members of a mysterious unit within the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) command structure, known as Unit 61398. It is estimated that the unit has targeted at least 1,000 private or public companies and organizations in the past 12 years. Western cybersecurity experts often refer to the group as “APT1″, which stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat 1″, or “Byzantine Candor”. It is believed to operate under the Second Bureau of the PLA’s General Staff Department, which is responsible for collecting foreign military intelligence.

Many China military observers argue that Unit 61398 is staffed by several thousand operatives, who can be broadly categorized into two groups: one consisting of computer programmers and network operations experts, and the other consisting of English-language specialists, with the most talented members of the Unit combining both skills.

And Reuters strikes back:

China bans use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 on government computers

China has banned government use of Windows 8, Microsoft Corp’s latest operating system (OS), in a blow to the U.S. technology company which has long been plagued by sales woes in the country.

The Central Government Procurement Center issued the ban on installing Windows 8 on government computers as part of a notice on the use of energy-saving products, posted on its website last week.

The official Xinhua news agency said the ban was to ensure computer security after Microsoft ended support for its Windows XP operating system, which was widely used in China.

The same concept, another front, via the Associated Press:

Germany clamps down on exports of spy tech

Germany says it will restrict exports of surveillance technology to states that fail to respect their citizens’ human rights.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel says the move is designed to prevent spy software ‘Made in Germany’ from being used for internal repression by autocratic regimes.

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders welcomed the decision. Rights groups have in the past accused German companies of selling spy software to countries such as Bahrain and Uzbekistan, where the technology is allegedly used to monitor dissidents and journalists.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse covers old school business, run both profitably and hypocritically:

Peace-loving Sweden ‘arms dictators’ as defence exports soar

Alongside a global reputation for peacemaking and generous foreign aid, Sweden has become a major world supplier of weapons counting a number of regimes criticised for human rights abuses among its customers.

Ranked the third largest arms exporter per capita after Israel and Russia, Sweden’s booming industry has stirred up ethical concerns among Swedes about some countries it is doing business with.

[C]ritics charge that Sweden has become more inclined to arm regimes accused of human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan, as demand from Western nations has declined since the Cold War ended.

On to the Game of Drones, first with The Hill:

Reid: Drone-memo author is a go

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he has the votes to confirm David Barron, the author of memos justifying drone strikes against American citizens, to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

Reid said most of the members of the Senate Democratic caucus were satisfied with the defense of Barron provided by White House lawyers at a private briefing last week.

“We’ll vote on the Barron filibuster, stopping that tomorrow. I think we’ll be okay,” Reid said at a Tuesday press conference.

Anchors Aweigh with United Press International:

Navy taps Textron Systems Unmanned Systems for task order work

The U.S. Navy has issued a task order to Textron Systems Unmanned Systems to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data using its catapult-launched Aerosonde SUAS.

Textron Systems Unmanned Systems reports receipt of a new Navy task order to provide mission support services with its Aerosonde Small Unmanned Aircraft System.

The task order was issued under the Navy Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance contract, and indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity program under which Textron will supply the SUAS, together with system operators and field service representatives on a fee-for-service basis.

And from Aviation Week & Space Technology, strike up Le Marseillaise:

France Weighs Arming UAVs

  • France inches closer to a decision on arming UAVs

The French government is carefully avoiding raising ethical objections to the French air force’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), including General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers acquired from the U.S. and recently delivered to the 1/33 Sqdn. French authorities believe UAV reconnaissance capabilities -offer unprecedented advantages, while weapons continue to be carried only by manned combat aircraft such as Dassault -Mirage 2000Ds and Rafales.

Official comments on France’s employment of UAVs are rare and cautiously focus on their complementary role. “They are not expected to replace aircraft; they don’t cover the complete spectrum of operational needs,” says Col. Christophe Fontaine, head of the 1/33 Sqdn. “They complement other capabilities.”

The French forces, which long delayed expressing a clear policy on UAV use, have been operating limited numbers of EADS Harfangs and General Atomics MQ-1 Predators in the last few years and selected the Reaper in the absence of a satisfactory domestic candidate. The U.S. UAV entered service in France recently, and two have already accumulated 700 flight hours across several theaters of operation. The French air force plans to order a total of 12 Reapers, which are capable of carrying weapons—although only with Pentagon approval. To date, Washington has been reluctant to allow even allies such as France or Italy to arm the UAVs it sells them.

And for our final dronal item, sharing the wealth with TheLocal.it:

Finmeccanica launches European drone project

A subsidiary of Finmeccanica has joined forces with fellow aerospace companies in France and Germany to develop a European drone, months after the Italian company built the UN’s first such aircraft.

Alenia Aermacchi will work with France’s Dassault Aviation and Airbus Group in Germany to develop an unmanned aircraft by 2020, Finmeccanica said in a statement released on Monday.

Announcement of the project follows preliminary discussions at the Paris Air Show last year, Finmeccanica said. The three European companies have delivered the joint proposal to their respective governments and aim to develop the plans along with national defence ministries.

From the Christian Science Monitor, the first of three Libyan headlines, with the stinger at the end:

Rogue Libyan general attracts militia support as parliament flails

  • Libyans are waiting to see how the government responds to Khalifa Haftar’s recent attacks – but even decisive action is probably not enough to stem rising chaos.

A former Libyan general appears to be gaining allies among armed factions for his self-described campaign to restore stability in defiance of a weak government.

Two camps are taking shape: The Islamist politicians who dominate Libya’s interim parliament, and their rivals, who are gradually amassing behind Khalifa Haftar, the retired general. His forces have attacked Islamist militias in Benghazi and claimed credit for an attack on the General National Congress (GNC), as parliament is called.

In a bid yesterday to diffuse the crisis, acting prime minister Abdullah Al-Thinni called on the GNC to vote immediately on a 2014 budget and to confirm his successor, the prime minister-elect, before a recess and elections for a new interim legislature.

The Los Angeles Times gets clandestine:

Libyan lawmakers meet in secret after being targeted by ex-general

Libyan lawmakers met in hiding Tuesday, two days after forces loyal to a renegade ex-general stormed the parliament building and demanded that the Islamist-dominated body disband.

Onetime general Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against Islamists and their allied militias, launched last week in the eastern city of Benghazi, threatened to escalate into the worst fighting Libya has seen in the three years since an uprising ousted and killed dictator Moammar Kadafi.

It also posed a stark challenge to the weak central government, which has flailed in its attempts to establish order.

But it takes the World Socialist Web Site to get to the heart of the matter:

CIA-linked general launches Libya coup bid

The leader of the latest military revolt is a former Libyan army general, Khalifa Haftar. A supporter of the 1969 military revolt led by Colonel Gaddafi that overthrew the US and British-backed monarch, King Idris, Haftar was captured during the 1980s Libyan intervention in Chad and then released at Washington’s request, becoming an “asset” of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA moved him to Virginia, near the agency’s headquarters in Langley, and helped him set up training camps for a “Libyan National Army”—the same name he has given to the collection of military and militia units now fighting to overthrow the regime in Tripoli.

When the US and NATO launched their war for regime change in Libya three years ago, Haftar was airlifted back into Benghazi to assume military command of proxy forces on the ground as the US and NATO bombarded the country. He was supplanted in this role, however, by a former Gaddafi interior minister, Abdel Fatah Younis, who was himself subsequently assassinated. He was then eclipsed by the Islamist militias who came to dominate the NATO-backed ground forces.

Meanwhile, from BBC News, a story few will believe in the countries where vaccinating for polio can be lethal to doctors and nurses because the program was arrogantly and lethally used by the CIA to suss out Osama bin Laden and presumably other things as well [can anyone saw war crime, giving the growing numbers of victims?]:

White House: CIA has ended use of vaccine programmes

The CIA has ended the use of vaccine programmes in its spying operations amid concerns for the safety of health workers, the White House has said.

In a letter to US public health schools, a White House aide said the CIA stopped such practices in August. The CIA used a fake vaccine programme to try to find Osama Bin Laden before US special forces killed him in 2011.

The CIA’s move comes after a wave of deadly attacks by militants on polio vaccination workers in Pakistan.

After the jump, shots fired in Korean waters, China/Vietnam tensions remain high, new alliances form, the Japanese remilitarization push morphs, and, oh yeah, folks claim North Korea’s got nuclear-capable missiles. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: CorporoEconoEcoPoliFarce


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

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

Program notes:

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

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

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

The Wire adds more, less theatrically:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Al Jazeera America, an unsurprising correlation:

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

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

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

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

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

Another unsurprising correlation, via KCBS:

Inner City Oakland Youth Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe’s far right expect election gains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese tycoon agrees to buy Norway land

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

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

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

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

Stockholm says no to ‘freakshow’ soup kitchen

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

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

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

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

Shopkeeper charged over beggar dousing

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

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

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

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

From GlobalPost, going medieval:

In Germany, no means yes

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

No means yes, at least in this country.

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

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

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

A suggestion for a foreign visitor from TheLocal.de:

Mayor urges Erdogan to cancel German trip

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

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

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

More from Deutsche Welle:

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

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

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

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

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

Another bankster busted, from TheLocal.fr:

Rogue trader Kerviel imprisoned in France

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

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

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

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

French income tax cuts for poorest to last to 2017

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

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

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

From El País, Spanish repos rising:

Home repossessions up 10% in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Spain’s ‘golden visa’ scheme fails to shine

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

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

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

And from thinkSPAIN, another way California is like Spain:

Worst drought in 150 years hits southern and eastern Spain

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

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

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

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

Spanish conservatives forgive sexist remarks by their European contender

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

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

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

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

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

Renzi hits back after Grillo mafia jibe

  • Premier says PD marks real face of change

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

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

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

TheLocal.it notes another grime number:

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

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

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

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

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

ANSA.it demands:

Napolitano says EU must help on migrants

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

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

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

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

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

A crisis in Italy: Mafia toxic waste dumping


From SBS Dateline, a documentary from the doomed [by a neoliberal Australian government] network on the massive scale of illegal toxic and nuclear waste dumping by the mafia with the collusion of successive governments:

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Inside Italy’s Secret Toxic Waste Crisis

Program notes:

On the foothills of Mount Vesuvius a new threat has emerged. Known as the “triangle of death”; 20 tonnes of toxic waste have been illegally dumped by the Mafia, causing child cancer rates to double.

“The ground is smouldering with unnatural fumes”, explains Enzo Tosti, a local activist. As the fumes rise, lethal contamination spreads into the local farms and the aquifers surrounding Naples. The effect of the Mafia waste disposal has been devastating as these toxins have now found their way into the food chain, causing “carcinogenic, mutagenic damage” and an upsurge in child cancer rates. Carmine Schiavone, the former Mafia boss in charge of disposing the toxic waste, has a price on his head. But he has now had a turn of conscience. Exposing that the waste near Naples was dumped under the “knowledge of senior officials”, Schiavone also indicates that Naples isn’t the only place in Italy facing this toxic time bomb.

Headlines II: Spies, pols, drones, & zones


Today’s tales from the dark side begins with this from the Independent:

White House lawyers ‘unable to find’ critical Iraq letter from Tony Blair telling George Bush: ‘I’m with you whatever’

A letter sent by Tony Blair to George Bush that is “critical” to the Iraq Inquiry has gone missing from official White House records, it has been reported.

The publication of secret correspondence between the UK and US administrations in the build-up to the Iraq War has become a major stumbling block for Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the 2003 invasion.

While the Cabinet Office has said privately that it wants to release as many of the Blair-Bush communications as possible, there is one letter which lawyers at the White House say they have “not been able to locate”.

From the San Jose Mercury News, the panopticon on those other courts:

Big Data meets big-time basketball

As of this year, every NBA team has access to sophisticated tracking data that can tell them the position of the ball and every player on the court for every second of every game of the season. The data, provided by a system of cameras developed by a company called SportVU and installed in every NBA arena, is starting to revolutionize professional basketball, influencing everything from game strategy and player conditioning to how fans interact with the sport.

“It’s a real game changer,” said Ben Alamar, a professor of sport management at Menlo College in Atherton who works as a consultant to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s allowing us to ask questions that we really couldn’t ask before.”

The NBA’s new camera system is only the latest example of the power and pervasiveness of big data — the collection of large sets of small tidbits of information to explore everything from the farthest stars to individual consumer desires.

And on the roads, via the Los Angeles Times:

Use of license plate photo databases is raising privacy concerns

A growing number of cameras — hundreds around Los Angeles, thousands nationwide — are engaged in a simple pursuit: Taking pictures of license plates.

The digital photos, automatically snapped by cameras mounted on cars and street poles and then tagged with time and location, are transmitted to massive databases running on remote computer servers. Cops can then search those databases to track the past whereabouts of drivers.

Law enforcement officials say the data collection is invaluable for tracking down stolen cars and catching fugitives.

But such databases are also being built by private firms, which can sell access to anyone willing to pay, such as lenders, repo workers and private investigators. That is raising worries among privacy advocates and lawmakers, who say the fast-growing industry is not only ripe for conflicts of interest but downright invasive.

From TechWeekEurope, a victory perhaps, but also an exploit for Those Who Shall Not Be Named:

Minnesota Passes Smartphone Kill-Switch Legislation

  • Minnesota becomes the first US state to require manufacturers to offer kill switch for all smartphones sold

Minnesota has become the first US state to introduce legislation that requires all smartphones sold to have a kill-switch feature in the event that the device is lost or stolen.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have been campaigning for such a measure and last month, manufacturers and operators agreed to include a “baseline anti-theft tool” in handsets sold in the US. However this is the first time such a requirement has been written into law.

“Any new smart phone manufactured on or after July 1, 2015, sold or purchased in Minnesota must be equipped with preloaded antitheft functionality or be capable of downloading that functionality,” reads the legislation. “The functionality must be available to purchasers at no cost.”

From the Miami Herald, more cause for domestic insecurity:

Behind bars, a brutal and unexplained death

The purported details of Darren Rainey’s last hour are difficult to read.

“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’‘ he screamed over and over, according to a grievance complaint from a fellow inmate, as Rainey was allegedly locked in a shower with the scalding water turned on full blast.

A 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution, Rainey was pulled into the locked shower by prison guards as punishment after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, said the fellow inmate, who worked as an orderly. He was left there unattended for more than an hour as the narrow chamber filled with steam and water.

When guards finally checked on prisoner 060954, he was on his back and dead. His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.

And via the Fort Collins Coloradoan, another whistleblower punished:

Whistleblower: VA punished me for not cooking books

The whistleblower behind the federal investigation of the Fort Collins Veterans Affairs clinic said she was put on two-week unpaid leave for not “cooking the books” when scheduling appointments.

Lisa Lee, a former Navy reservist now on active duty in Hawaii, told the Fort Collins Coloradoan she and another scheduler were transferred from Fort Collins, Colo., in March 2013 for refusing to hide wait times between desired appointment dates and actual dates. She said the suspension came after she filed an internal grievance about the transfer and scheduling practices.

The VA aims to see veterans within 14 days of desired appointment dates and uses it as a performance measure. It is a contributing factor to administrator bonuses, according to a VA spokesperson. Lee said a spreadsheet detailed which schedulers met the 14-day goal.

Bad news for would-be immigrants at home, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Records show Border Patrol agents typically not disciplined for abusing immigrants

Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Immigration Council(AIC) found that of 809 abuse complaints reported to the Border Patrol’s internal affairs unit between January 2009 and January 2012, only thirteen led to disciplinary action, and most of the agents cited for disciplinary action were only ordered to undergo counseling. One expert on unauthorized migration says that Border Patrol agents are not properly trained or disciplined by the agency.”People are not being held accountable for their actions,” he said. He conducted a survey in which he found that 10 percent of migrants reported abuse by Border Patrol agents when they were found illegally crossing the border.

And in Old Blighty, via the Observer:

MPs to investigate Serco over sex assault claim at Yarl’s Wood centre

  • Firm forced to disclose secret internal report as Keith Vaz says he is ‘shocked’ by events at immigration detention centre

Serco, the private outsourcing giant, is to be investigated by MPs after it was forced to disclose a secret internal report revealing evidence that it failed to properly investigate a claim of repeated sexual assaults by one of its staff against a female resident at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.

The document, which was marked confidential, was made public last week following a four-month legal battle between Serco and Guardian News and Media. Lawyers said the report demonstrates a culture of disbelief towards women inside the detention centre, which is run by Serco, and hailed the high court’s decision forcing Serco to disclose the document as a victory for greater transparency.

The revelation comes a day after it was disclosed that Serco could be among companies to take over the running of privatised children’s social services, including child protection, under proposals being considered by Michael Gove’s Department for Education.

While Want China Times warns of other insecurities:

PLA wary of data leaks and malware from USB drives

In the internet era, mobile storage capacity is essential, especially in the form of USB flash drives or other portable storage drives. However, the risk of information leaks has prompted many, including the military, to consider how to monitor usage of such devices, reports the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of China’s armed forces.

The USB flash drives now readily available on the market are cheaper, smaller, faster and have thousands of times more capacity than the storage units that were around just a few years ago. Flash memory drives are also more durable and reliable than hard drives as they have no moving parts.

The drives present a significant security challenge for companies and organizations as their small size and ease of use allows unsupervised visitors or employees to smuggle out confidential data with little chance of detection. Both corporate and public computers are vulnerable to attackers connecting a flash drive to a free USB port to download material or to upload malicious software such as keyboard loggers or packet sniffers.

And Deutsche Welle sounds the panic alarm:

Spiegel: NATO unprepared if Russia moved into Baltic members

According to the German magazine Spiegel, NATO is examining scenarios in the event of a Russian military move in Eastern Europe. Alarm bells are already ringing in eastern states, and NATO is keen to show it could cope.

The article, which appeared in Spiegel’s online edition in German on Sunday, cites an internal North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) draft document pertaining to discussions occurring within the military alliance and among individual members about possible scenarios if Russia were to launch a military campaign in Eastern Europe.

The draft document arrives at the conclusion that Russia’s ability to “execute a significant military action without much warning poses a wide-reaching threat for maintaining safety and stability in the Euro-Atlantic zone.”

NATO has observed a Russian troop buildup near its border with Ukraine, but Russia claims it has no current plans for a military move. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but the alliance is keen to show that it can effectively defend its Baltic members should the need arise.

On to the drone front, first with a video report from RT America:

“Drone Memos” author headed for Senate confirmation

Program notes:

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced President Barack Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, David Barron, will receive a confirmation vote in the Senate next week. The nomination has drawn calls from both sides of the aisle for the White House to release the drone memos, written by Barron, to the public. Those memos served as a legal basis for the drone strike that killed American citizen Anwar al Awlaki in 2011, but they remain classified. RT’s Sam Sacks reports.

From TheLocal.se, drones over Scandinavia:

Swedish police mull drone deployment

The Swedish National Police Board is to review how unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, could be of use while conducting routine police work.

The National Police Board (Rikspolisstyrelsen) has been awarded funds to investigate possible applications of the technology.

Examples of when the unmanned aerial vehicles could be of use include incidents such as oil spills and at crime scenes when forensic scientists could send in the drones to take pictures, reducing the risk of evidence being destroyed.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including emerging alliances, political posturing, and the nearly completed remilitarization authorization in Japan. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Spooks, pols, zones, drones, more


Today’s tales of from the dark side covers everything from political deception to the latest heated developments in the Asian Game of Zones as Washington pushes Japan into remilitarization and anxieties and violence rise.

But we begin at home with that political decepetion, covered by the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Bill to curb NSA spying looks like change, but isn’t really

The bipartisan bill that aims to put serious curbs on the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ communications is being hailed by Republicans and Democrats as a big breakthrough.

It’s not.

“The bottom line: This is largely faux reform and a surveillance salve,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior official turned whistle-blower who’s critical of the agency’s collection programs. “To date, neither the House nor Senate attempts go far enough.”

Another angle, covered by the Guardian:

Everyone should know just how much the government lied to defend the NSA

  • A web of deception has finally been untangled: the Justice Department got the US supreme court to dismiss a case that could have curtailed the NSA’s dragnet. Why?

If you blinked this week, you might have missed the news: two Senators accused the Justice Department of lying about NSA warrantless surveillance to the US supreme court last year, and those falsehoods all but ensured that mass spying on Americans would continue. But hardly anyone seems to care – least of all those who lied and who should have already come forward with the truth.

Here’s what happened: just before Edward Snowden became a household name, the ACLU argued before the supreme court that the Fisa Amendments Act – one of the two main laws used by the NSA to conduct mass surveillance – was unconstitutional.

In a sharply divided opinion, the supreme court ruled, 5-4, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs didn’t have “standing” – in other words, that the ACLU couldn’t prove with near-certainty that their clients, which included journalists and human rights advocates, were targets of surveillance, so they couldn’t challenge the law. As the New York Times noted this week, the court relied on two claims by the Justice Department to support their ruling: 1) that the NSA would only get the content of Americans’ communications without a warrant when they are targeting a foreigner abroad for surveillance, and 2) that the Justice Department would notify criminal defendants who have been spied on under the Fisa Amendments Act, so there exists some way to challenge the law in court.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, a show of resistance from Berlin:

Germany Plans To Ban Tech Companies That Play Ball With NSA

It didn’t take an Edward Snowden to figure out that American espionage service providers had access to confidential information about German citizens. It’s been known for years that the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) works for American secret services.

It’s also known that a former CSC subsidiary was involved in the abduction of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was turned over to the CIA and subjected to abuse and degradation before the agency finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake.

Nevertheless, German CSC subsidiaries have in past years received more than 100 contracts from state and federal governments in Germany, as Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcaster NDR reported last fall. The operative rule at the time was that only companies that were found guilty of crimes could be excluded from public contracts. So far, no CSC employee has been prosecuted for the abduction of el-Masri. Per se, working for the U.S. intel agencies is not punishable. So Germany’s federal government tied its own hands over the issue.

Turning the panopticon into art, via the Guardian:

Conversnitch turns covert surveillance into an art form

Somewhere in Manhattan, a lightbulb, a Raspberry Pi and a Wi-Fi card are listening in on idle chat and tweeting what they hear

In the pre-Snowden era, believing that a household object was speaking to you was enough to have you committed to correctional facilities for state-sponsored reprogramming.

In his new book, Nowhere to Hide, the journalist Glenn Greenwald explains how he and the NSA contractor turned whistleblower put their phones in a freezer with the batteries disconnected to thwart spooks’ ability to operate phones remotely as microphones. But what would happen if the fridge itself was listening to your words?

Two American artists are now taking that concept to a logical conclusion. Using only a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer, a microphone and a Wi-Fi card hacked into a lightbulb fitting, and a piece of open source software hosted at Github, they have installed a listening device at an undisclosed spot in Manhattan, New York, and connected it to a Twitter feed.

RT covers the hackable:

Tor-provided web anonymity not PRISM-proof – Microsoft security guru

The Tor anonymity network cannot provide internet users shelter from government hackers and cyber criminals, a top Microsoft security expert has revealed.

“There is no such thing as really being anonymous on the internet. If [hackers and government agencies] want you, they will get you,” Andy Malone, of Microsoft Enterprise Security and founder of the Cyber Crime Security Forum, said at the Microsoft TechEd North America 2014.

While The Onion Router (Tor) remains more resilient than alternatives such as virtual private networks, cyber criminals are able to exploit weaknesses in the system.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, to tell the truth:

Spy satellite agency says it fixed its ‘broken’ polygraph program

The nation’s spy satellite agency has announced it overhauled its lie detector program after its inspector general found “significant shortcomings” that could put national security at risk.

The National Reconnaissance Office’s inspector general found the problems were so widespread that one senior official described the agency’s polygraph program as “terribly broken.”

“This official added that the current status of the NRO polygraph program is ‘bleak,’” the inspector general report said.

The Guardian covers a Russian cutoff:

Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes

  • Russia announces decision to halt export of crucial rocket engines in response to US sanctions over annexation of Crimea

Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.

The move marks a serious deterioration in US-Russian cooperation in space, which for two decades had remained largely above Earthly politics. It could prove a serious set back for the ailing US space programme.

The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.

From RT, an added twist to the already controversial:

GMO producers should be punished as terrorists, Russian MPs say

A draft law submitted to the Russian parliament seeks to impose punishment up to criminal prosecution to producers of genetically-modified organisms harmful to health or the environment.

The draft legislation submitted on Wednesday amends Russia’s law regulating GMOs and some other laws and provides for disciplinary action against individuals and firms, which produce or distribute harmful biotech products and government officials who fail to properly control them.

At worst, a criminal case may be launched against a company involved in introducing unsafe GMOs into Russia. Sponsors of the bill say that the punishment for such deeds should be comparable to the punishment allotted to terrorists, if the perpetrators act knowingly and hurt many people.

IDG News Service covers corporate snoopage:

Online advertising poses significant security, privacy risks to users, US Senate report says

  • The online ad industry should offer better protections against ‘malvertising,’ a US Senate investigation found

The current state of online advertising endangers the security and privacy of users and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission should force the industry to offer better protections through comprehensive regulation, the U.S. Senate said in a report.

The report includes findings and recommendations of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs following an investigation into the distribution of malware through online ads — also known as “malvertising.” It was followed by a hearing Thursday that included testimony from Yahoo and Google about their efforts to combat such threats.

“Consumers can incur malware attacks [through online ads] without having taken any action other than visiting a mainstream website,” the subcommittee said, referencing two attacks that involved malicious ads distributed through Yahoo and Google ad networks.

Criminalization in the corporate interest from the Guardian [and can the “terrorism” label be far behind?]:

Sussex police under fire for ‘criminalising’ fracking protests

  • Force accused of misusing section 14 orders last year with just 29 convictions resulting from 126 arrests at Cuadrilla site

Most of the people arrested during a summer of demonstrations against fracking in the village of Balcombe have been acquitted, leading to accusations that police tactics in a £4m operation criminalised peaceful protest.

The last of the criminal trials resulting from 126 arrests made by Sussex police during days of action outside the Cuadrilla site last summer finished this month. Of 114 charges, relating to 90 individuals, only 29 resulted in convictions, according to freedom of information responses from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police.

Sussex police are accused of using mass arrests, draconian bail conditions and section 14 notices under the Public Order Act 1986 to criminalise peaceful protest at the site in Balcombe, where the energy firm Cuadrilla conducted exploratory drilling.

And an appealing possibility from the Guardian:

David Miranda allowed to appeal against ruling on Heathrow detention

  • Partner of former Guardian reporter to challenge high court ruling on legality of his detention under counter-terrorism powers

David Miranda, partner of the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, has been granted permission to appeal against a ruling that he was lawfully detained under counter-terrorism powers at Heathrow airport.

The case – which also involves a challenge to the police seizure of computer material related to the US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden – will now go to the court of appeal.

In February, three high court judges – Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Openshaw – concluded that Miranda’s detention at Heathrow under schedule 7 to the Terrorism 2000 Act in last summer was legal, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.

From the Guardian, grounds for domestic insecurity:

Albuquerque police promote officer accused of burning off man’s ear

  • Timothy Gonterman promoted despite report that was severely critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force

Albuquerque police promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun, officials announced Thursday.

Albuquerque police department chief Gorden Eden said in a statement he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh US Justice Department report that was critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force and demanded the agency adopt a number of reforms.

Foothills area commander Timothy Gonterman and criminal investigations commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side field services divisions respectively, Eden said.

intelNews.org turns a blind eye:

US Secretary of Defense ‘not aware’ of Israel spying on America

The supreme official of the United States Department of Defense has said he is “unaware of the facts” behind recent media reports that Israel is aggressively spying on America.

Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator who assumed the leadership of the Pentagon in 2013, is on a three-day official visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli military and security officials.

He was responding to a question posed by an Israeli reporter about allegations, made by American newsmagazine Newsweek on Tuesday, that Israel’s spies “have gone too far” in targeting American interests. In

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, prodding the bear:

Ukraine crisis may lead to Western military bases closer to Russia

When Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and other NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels in early June, their summit will be dominated by questions that would have seemed surreal just a few months ago.

How should Western leaders respond to military aggression by Moscow in Ukraine?

With defense budgets flat or declining in most of NATO’s 28 member countries and U.S. forces in Europe at their lowest levels in decades, is the trans-Atlantic alliance adequately prepared to defend its vast territory?

In the most extreme scenario, are the United States and its European allies strong enough to go to war against Russia?

From CNBC, say hello to Skynet:

Military dream come true: One system, many drones

One of the strongest wishes of America’s increasingly digital defense industry is to find a way to monitor or control several pieces of equipment on a single operating system. This is especially true in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), where too often, each manufacturer creates a unique platform for its drone, and customers who buy several different kinds of drones cannot easily coordinate operation between them.

That’s changing.

Now, buyers of a version of one of the most prolific UAVs on the market will soon be able to buy an operating system that can work with other drones. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been given permission by the Defense Department to sell unarmed versions of its famed Predator, called the Predator XP, to international customers in places like the Middle East, or friendly allies bordering the Ukraine and Russia, like Poland.

As for Skynet, consider a clip from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines:

Skynet takes over

But it’s not just drones, as another CNBC story reports:

Defense tech in 2039: The robots are coming

In 25 years, the U.S. military will operate under the principle of “less is more.”

Less manpower. More robots.

Robots on the battlefield of the future will carry a heavier load, both literally and figuratively. They will operate with more freedom and begin to think for themselves. They will be armed and take on more tasks.

“I think you’ll see many of the high-risk missions done by autonomous platforms,” said Tim Trainer, vice president of product management for defense and security at iRobot.

IRobot is perhaps best known for its Roomba vacuum, but it has a growing arsenal of defense and security robots—everything from a five-pound robot that can be easily tossed and even dropped on its head, to a 500-pound robot that can lift close to its own weight. A trainer demonstrated some of the robots at the company headquarters in Bedford, Mass., and he sees a future where one person can control multiple machines operating on a single software system without having to constantly monitor them.

With so many American drones striking at with Pakistan’s borders, Defense One joins the club:

Pakistan Wants Drones and It Doesn’t Need America’s Permission to Get Them

one breath to the next, Pakistani officials make the case for and against drone strikes. Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s minister of planning and development, for instance, calls American drone operations “very counterproductive.” He says, “If they hit one target, they also bring collateral damage…. The whole tribe stands up, we get into more problems, and the U.S. gets bad publicity.”

But, Iqbal offers, Pakistan “should have the technology to do it.

Already, Pakistan has remote-piloted aircraft. Islamabad uses surveillance drones to provide the military with a real-time picture of its restive border areas or counterterrorism operations. Pakistan unveiled two new drones in November: Burraq, named after the winged horse from the heavens that transported Islamic prophets, and Shahpar. They were developed by Pakistan’s defense industry, the government said, and would not be armed.

From BBC News, an underwater drone tanks:

Malaysia flight MH370: Defective drone delays search

The search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been delayed after the discovery of a technical issue with the underwater drone used in the hunt.

The communications equipment on the Bluefin-21, on loan from the US, has a “defect”, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

It is now awaiting spare parts from the UK before it can continue its search in the southern Indian Ocean.

Nextgov catches a virus:

Heartbleed Superbug Found in Utility Monitoring Systems

Software that monitors utility plants and other operations at several military installations has been found to be affected by the recently discovered superbug Heartbleed, when configured a certain way, according to the Homeland Security Department and the software’s manufacturer.

“The latest release of Schneider Electric Wonderware Intelligence Version 1.5 SP1 is not susceptible to the OpenSSL vulnerability. However, users have been known to reinstall Tableau Server, the vulnerable third-party component that is affected. Therefore, Schneider Electric Wonderware has issued a patch and a security bulletin addressing this vulnerability in all versions,” states a bulletin from the DHS Cyber Emergency Response Team.

Exploits made by hackers “that target this vulnerability are known to be publicly available” on the Web, DHS said. Heartbleed is a defect in common Web encryption software that researchers discovered in early April.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, considerations of privacy:

Sector-specific guidelines to offer clarity on personal data matters

SINGAPORE: The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) will be releasing advisory guidelines for the education, social services and healthcare sectors to provide greater clarity on the sectors’ obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

The guidelines will be open for public consultation on Friday.

In his opening address at the Personal Data Protection Seminar 2014 on Friday morning, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the guidelines will address sector-specific matters.

After the jump, the Asian Game of Zones intensifies, with Chinese fleeing Vietnam as the body count and burned business costs become clearer inthe ake of violent portest over Chinese oil drilling on an Island claimed by Hanoi, Japan raises the pressure as remilitarization becomes a done deal, and a lot more. . . Continue reading

Headlines: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFollies redux


We begin today’s compendium of news from the worlds of economic, politics, and the enviornment — including the latest sobering news from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster with a march back in time to the days of the ancient Roman tax farmers with a headline from the Washington Post:

Congress moves to turn back taxes over to debt collectors

The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.

The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.

It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.

Some taxpayers would be spared the barrage of notices and phone calls, including innocent spouses, military members deployed to combat zones and people “identified as being deceased.”

And from United Press International, a three alarm hint of the consequences of resurrecting tax farms:

Foreclosures drive up suicide rates, study finds

“Losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being,” said Jason Houle.

Data analysis has previously shown economic downturn to provoke an increase in suicide rates, but a new study shows an even stronger correlation between suicides and foreclosure rates.

According to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, higher rates of suicide are uniquely linked to spikes in foreclosures.

By comparing state-by-state suicide rates with the numbers of issued foreclosures — while accounting for other disruptive factors — the researchers were able to conclude that the correlation was “independent of other economic factors associated with the recession.”

From the San Jose Mercury News, back to the bad old days:

Report: California among worst in the nation in school segregation

As racial separation in education steadily grows, California now leads the nation in children going to school with their own kind, a UCLA study released Wednesday contends.

On the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling intended to dismantle segregation, the report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project says that California students are more likely than ever to attend racially isolated schools.

In the Bay Area, most schools followed the same pattern, though were more integrated than schools in Southern California.

From Salon, one of the major reasons:

Fox News’ divisive race strategy: How O’Reilly, Hannity and Coulter intentionally tore America apart

  • False claims go unchallenged, racial fears are stoked — and political scientists discover it helps GOP at polls

Right-wing political figures have often defended the content of Fox News and other right-leaning media. A common ploy is the insinuation that the “mainstream” news establishment is in fact biased in favor of liberal ideological framings of issues or that it is actually antiwhite. For example, Sarah Palin famously blamed the “leftist lamestream media” for allegedly pressuring Newt Gingrich to soften his critique of Republican congressman Paul Ryan (while in fact the disapproval came from Fox News), and Palin again insinuated charges of political targeting when she decried the media as attacking right-wing figures with their brand of unfair “gotcha journalism.” Rush Limbaugh also compared the mainstream press to a “drive by shooter except the microphones are guns.” Limbaugh further asserted that the anti-right, mainstream media attempts to “destroy people’s careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the drive-by media.”

And from United Press International, com;eting the taming of the Times:

Glenn Greenwald: Dean Baquet is too ‘subservient’ for journalism

Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson was abruptly fired this week. The lack of explanation for her dismissal has caused the newspaper to receive biting criticism.

Glenn Greenwald slammed the New York Times for the decision to make Dean Baquet executive editor, saying he will lead the newspaper into “neutered” journalism.

He may have had harsh words for Baquet but had nothing but compliments for his predecessor Jill Abramson, who was unexpectedly fired from her position earlier this week. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Greenwald said in the last ten years Abramson has been the “best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media.”

Greenwald, most famously known as the journalist to first publish the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is a strong proponent for freedom of the press and transparency in government.

From the Christian Science Monitor, another hint of things to come:

California wildfires set relentless pace months before typical season

This week, San Diego is the hardest hit. But drought, blistering winds, and unseasonably hot temperatures have produced 1,244 wildfires across the state this season, and officials expect no letup.

San Diego residents are bracing for a second day of wildfires, with temperatures expected to hit a high of 106 degrees, after at least nine fires closed schools and roads forced more than 21,000 people from their homes on Wednesday.

Thousands remain perched in front of their television sets, watching local broadcast team coverage of wildfires and hoping the wind won’t bring the fire and smoke toward their own communities.

For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.

From the Guardian, resistance:

Fast-food strike: US workers join world protests over wages and union access

  • Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food workers staged protests on Thursday in 150 cities across the US and in 33 other countries

And from Al Jazeera America completing corporatization:

FCC votes to advance new Internet rules

  • In split decision, commission put forward rule change that could lead to firms being charged for fast track delivery

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to formally put forward new rules on net neutrality that may result in a two-tier delivery service to consumers.

The controversial changes being proposed could allow for providers to charge content sites like Netflix for faster service. But it would prevent them from blocking or slowing down certain websites. The proposals were widely anticipated and have been the subject of intense debate in recent months.

Opponents of the new rules staged protests outside the FCC’s headquarters.

But Deutsche Welle raises an obstacle:

German Economy Minister: ‘Google breakup may be required’

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that a breakup of the company could become an option to consider. Google was not amused.

While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from “systematically crowding out competitors.”

The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.

“It’s about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe,” Gabriel commented.

Via the Christian Science Monitor, more privatization:

Detroit bankruptcy: Bondholders balk at plan for city’s artworks

The collection is central to how the Detroit bankruptcy plan is carried out. Bondholders – one group in the bankruptcy – believe the art should be valued higher, but the judge in the case isn’t making a reappraisal easy.

Judge Steven Rhodes, who is presiding over Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy, agreed last week to a restructuring plan submitted by the city. The plan still requires a vote by pension groups, labor organizations, and bond insurers, and state lawmakers would have to approve a $350 million cash injection from the state. But it has appeared that most groups are onboard with the plan.

A potential snag, however, appeared Thursday. In a three-hour hearing, attorneys representing two bondholders – creditors for the city that do not fare as well in the plan as some other groups – took aim at the arrangement that has been struck for the city’s art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). That collection is central how the plan is carried out.

The plan values the collection at $816 million, but the bondholders argue it should be worth more. A higher value for the collection could enable the city to fulfill more obligations.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

Eurozone economic growth loses momentum

Eurozone economic growth lost momentum in the first three months of 2014, official figures show, with the growth rate unchanged from the previous quarter at 0.2%.

That was weaker than many economists had expected.

German growth picked up pace, with the economy expanding by 0.8%.

But France and Italy disappointed. The French economy failed to grow, while Italy’s contracted by 0.1%, having only just emerged from recession last year. Spain’s economy grew by 0.4% in the first quarter.

On to Old Blighty with BBC News and a truly terrible privatization:

Academics warn over child protection privatisation

A group of academics say they have serious concerns about proposals to let private contractors take over some child protection services in England.

Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University said child protection was too important to be handled by firms “driven by the profit motive”.

He said any such move could be destabilising and cause “chaos”.

BBC News again, running out of gas:

UK’s oil, coal and gas ‘gone in five years’

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

Class divisions with the London Telegraph:

One in five university graduates becomes a millionaire

  • More than two million degree-holders have a net worth of £1m or more as new statistics reveal the education gap between rich and poor

One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

Norway next and Obaman umbrage from TheLocal.no:

Top Obama aide raged at Norway over Nobel

  • Norway’s ambassador to the US received an angry “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s chief of staff after the US President won his controversial Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a senior Norwegian diplomat has claimed.

Morten Wetland, Norway’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told The Local that Rahm Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his explosive disposition, has taken US ambassador Wegger Strömmen to task after the award was announced.

“What I know for a fact is that he gave the ambassador some words, ‘a dressing down’, with respect to this,” Wetland said. “The word ‘fawning’ was used.”
Wetland, now a partner with the Oslo lobbying firm First House, speculated that Obama’s advisors must have seen the prize as an unwelcome embarrassment.

“My guess is that the president’s staff want to be in control and not to be forced into a position that they have not been seeking themselves,” he said. “It could have been perceived that someone was consciously or subconsciously thinking about the prospect of having Obama visit Norway. Obama wouldn’t have visited Norway if it hadn’t have been for the Peace Prize.”

On to Germany, sprinting ahead with EUbusiness:

Germany sprints ahead of flagging eurozone recovery

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, sprinted ahead in the first quarter of 2014, amid a big setback for the eurozone which highlighted the fragility of the recovery, data showed on Thursday.

Germany, the region’s economic locomotive, saw growth double to 0.8 percent in the period from January to March, the strongest quarterly growth for three years and ahead of analysts’ expectations.

But the French economy, described by some economists as the weak link in Europe, turned in zero growth in the same period, highlighting divergence between the eurozone’s two biggest economies which is of deep concern to policymakers.

Austria next, with intolerance rising from TheLocal.at:

Right-wing march in Vienna

Supporters of a German right-wing radical group Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement) are holding a march in Vienna on Saturday.

The movement, initiated by disaffected, tech-savy youth, began in France and now has groups in Germany and Austria.

The group spreads its anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural message via social media and has gained attention by posting clips of its protests on YouTube and Facebook.

France next, and the neoliberal imperative from TheLocal.fr:

Europe warns France about protectionism

The European Commission warned France on Thursday against resorting to protectionism after Paris unveiled new measures to head off hostile foreign bids for key companies.

“The objective of protecting essential strategic interests is clear when it involves security or public order and that is recognised in EU treaties,” EU Finance Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said.

“But we also must check if this is applied in a proportionate fashion, otherwise it could amount to protectionism,” said Barnier, a French politician.

From TheLocal.fr, another quarter heard from:

US business body scolds French ‘protectionism’

  • The leading US business group on Friday called France protectionist, after Paris asserted its right to veto any foreign takeover of key French companies.

The US Chamber of Commerce said the move by Paris, announced Thursday as US industrial giant General Electric presses to buy a division of France’s Alstom, would not help the country’s economy.

“From an open investment policy perspective there is nothing about the motivations behind the recent French decree… that isn’t explicitly a mix of industrial policy and protectionism,” said Sean Heather, executive director for international policy and antitrust policy at the chamber.

Such moves are “doing nothing to increase the country’s competitiveness,” he told AFP.

From TheLocal.fr, striking news:

Flights snarled as French civil servants strike

A country-wide civil servant strike on Thursday meant headaches for travellers on Thursday with dozens of flights cancelled. Strikers are angry about a four-year pay freeze that shows no signs of thawing.

Travellers were scrambling for alternatives on Thursday after a national civil servant strike meant dozens of flights were cancelled and dozens more delayed at France’s biggest airports.

Fliers coming into and out of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon were among those stuck on the ground with at least 20, 16 and seven cancellations respectively in the first half of the day, French daily Le Parisien reported.

From the Guardian, without comment:

Unemployed people in Czech Republic are ‘missing out on office sex’

  • Social Democratic party Euro election campaign video aims to highlight plight of young adult jobless in the country

The Czech Social Democratic party (C(SSD), which is hoping to add to its seven MEPs in Strasbourg, endorsed the video posted by its youth branch, the message of which can be summed up as “unemployment is depriving people of the joys of an office fling”.

The video shows a young woman in office clothes working at a computer. After glancing at the clock, she sneaks off to the next room and can be seen in passionate embrace with a colleague behind the adjoining door.

“Everybody who wants to should be able to enjoy something a bit different during breaks. It is a shame there are half a million people who don’t have jobs,” says a voice-over accompanying the video.

Spain next, and another American arrives via El País:

US wholesaler Costco opens first Spanish megastore in Seville

  • Warehouse club confident it can overcome reticence of local customers to pay membership fee

They have managed to get 15,000 people to pay for the privilege of shopping at their store, and they haven’t even opened their doors yet.

The US warehouse club chain Costco is disembarking in Spain with a first establishment due to open in Seville today.

Though modest, this incursion into Spanish territory has not gone unnoticed by the distribution sector, which will keep a close watch on the performance of its new rival.

El País covers costs:

Overrun costs or corruption? Why Spain’s public works are in crisis

  • In six years, the government has paid out €10bn to cover excess spending on construction projects
  • The amount is equivalent to the cuts it made on health and education when it came to office
  • Arrests of nine on embezzlement charges provide latest example of an overly abused process

Between 2008 and 2014, the Public Works Ministry has paid out €5.12 billion to modify already completed works. A further €4.1 billion has been paid to cover cost overruns, along with €900 million for expropriating land. In total, over the last six years, the Public Works Ministry has had to find more than €10 billion to cover cost overruns on roads, rail and ports, the same amount that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would be cutting from health and education spending in April 2012, shortly after he took office.

There are any number of examples: the new port complex at A Coruña was tendered in 2004 for €436 million, and then awarded later that year for €370 million, according to Spain’s Ports Authority. The job ended up costing €547 million. And more money will be required, with the final cost likely to be more than €700 million.

The Environment Ministry, the government’s other big public works spender, paid out €1.5 billion in cost overruns between 2004 and 2012 on desalination plants, dams and other projects.

From TheLocal.es, cash and a black hole:

Spain’s ‘black’ economy worth 25 percent of GDP

Spain’s illegal economy is worth a staggering 24.6 percent of its gross domestic product and the country needs to pump far more resources into its rickety tax collection regime, a top tax union said on Friday.

Spain is a world leader in fraud with around €253 billion ($347 billion) in illegal money floating around in the country’s economy in 2013, Spain’s tax office union Gestha said in a statement on Friday. This figure has also risen €50 billion since the country’s crisis kicked in in 2008.

Critically, Gestha also argues Spain that Spain is chronically short-staffed when it comes to fighting tax evasion. Spain has one tax worker for every 1,958 inhabitants, against 942 for France and 740 for Germany, the union said in its statement.

On to Italy and the latest bad numbers from ANSAmed:

Italy returned to negative growth in first quarter

  • GDP down 0.1% on last three months of 2013 – Istat estimate

Italy returned to negative growth in the first quarter of 2014, with gross domestic product (GDP) dropping 0.1% compared to the last three months of 2013, Istat said Thursday in its preliminary estimate for the period.

The national statistics agency said GDP was 0.5% down in the first quarter of this year with respect to the same period in 2013.

The figures are a big blow to Italy’s hopes of seeing a strong economic recovery after it emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of last year.

More austerity from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s state broadcaster braces for cuts

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has hinted at funding cuts to Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, saying the network “must also participate” in cuts as part of the government’s spending review.

The social media-savvy prime minister took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce “The future will also arrive at Rai,” following a heated debate on the broadcaster’s leading talk show.

“Rai must also participate in the spending review,” Renzi said on Rai 3’s Balarò programme on Tuesday evening.

The prime minister would not be drawn on a specific sum of cuts to the state broadcaster, although he said Rai’s numerous regional offices could be sites of “resounding waste”.

TheLocal.it again, with a neoliberal imperative:

Italy approves postal service privatisation

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government on Friday approved the sale of up to 40 percent of the postal service as part of a wide-ranging privatisation programme to raise some €12 billion.

The sale “can be carried out in several stages and through a public offering,” read the statement from a cabinet meeting authorising the sale of Poste Italiane, which is expected to raise around four billion euros.

The cabinet meeting also approved the sale of Enav, the state air traffic control agency, which could bring around 1.0 billion euros into state coffers.

The government is also planning to list up to 49 percent of state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri in the biggest privatisations in two decades as part of an effort to reduce Italy’s towering debt mountain.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga hubris:

Pope doing job as I would have says Berlusconi

  • ‘We’re same age but I look better’ says ex-premier

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said Pope Francis was doing his job exactly as he would have done if he had been elected head of the Catholic Church. “Yes, I like Pope Bergoglio. He is being pope exactly the way I would have done it,” Berlusconi said of former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The journalist the billionaire media mogul was speaking to noted that the pope and the centre-right leader are the same age, 77.

“The same age, but I look better for my years,” said Berlusconi.

TheLocal.it warns:

Magistrate sent bullets after Berlusconi ruling

A magistrate in Milan received bullets in the post after ordering former premier Silvio Berlusconi to do community service for tax fraud, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Public Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini received the bullets at her Milan office in April, remarking that they were the latest in a string of threats.

“I received the most recent bullets a few days ago when we decided Berlusconi should do community service,” she was quoted in La Stampa as telling Superior Council of Judiciary (CSM).

While ANSA covers the latest in growing evidence of Bunga Bunga mob ties:

Mafia arrests may be linked to Scajola

  • Two police officers among arrests, probe mole suspected

An anti-mafia round-up of 18 people on Friday – regarding alleged infiltration of the Neapolitan Camorra mafia into the northwestern Tuscan coastal area of Versilia – may be linked to last week’s arrest of former Italian interior minister Claudio Scajola, investigators said Friday.

Two police agents, working for the Italian premier’s office and the Lower House, were placed under house arrest in Friday’s anti-mafia sting, accused of breaching the confidentiality of investigations.

Information leaks indicate that investigators has focused on the hypothesis that a mole may have furnished Scajola with privileged information on criminal investigations.

And TheLocal.it, an all-too-common story:

Migrants revolt at Rome detention centre

Clashes erupted at an immigration detention centre in Rome on Thursday as around 250 people barricaded themselves inside the building, described as a place of “desperate detention” by one rights group. The protest comes in the same week a Tunisian man sewed his mouth shut in protest at a nearby facility.

Around a third of the 780 people detained at the facility in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, joined the protest on Thursday morning, La Repubblica said.

Police were brought in to break through the barricaded entrance and reportedly used a water hose to dispel some of the protesters, who threw stones at police officers, the newspaper said.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian anxieties, Turkish anger, Latin American troubles and a surprising alliance, the right surges to power in India, Thai coup hints, Chinese investor worries, a Japanese surge for the rich accompanied by bad news for the poor [sound familiar?], environmental woes [including the collapse of the American bee population], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading