Category Archives: Cuba

InSecurity Watch: Spies, pols, laws, flaws


Lots of ground to cover and the hour’s growing late, so on with the show, starfing with the latest from the Asian wild card via SINA English:

North Korea threatens nuclear strike on White House

A top-ranking North Korean military official has threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon after accusing Washington of raising military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military’s General Political Bureau, during a speech to a large military rally in Pyongyang on Sunday on the anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Hwang, who holds the rank of vice marshal in the Korean People’s Army, said a recent series of South Korea-US military drills, one of which included the deployment of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier, had ramped up tensions.

Heading to the other wise of the Pacific and the not-so-surprising but tragic, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama’s crackdown on leakers damages constitutional protections, activists say

Recent revelations of the U.S. government’s pervasive surveillance program and its crackdown on leaks are making it increasingly difficult for American journalists and lawyers to do their jobs, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report released Monday.

It’s becoming impossible to ensure privacy for sources and clients by protecting their information, the report found. Government officials not only are substantially less willing to be in contact with journalists than they were a few years ago, but they also are even refusing to discuss unclassified matters or personal opinions.

“They are afraid of losing their security clearances, being fired or even being prosecuted,” Alex Sinha, the author of the report and a fellow at Human Rights Watch, said in a news conference at the National Press Club.

More from Common Dreams:

Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report

  • Interviews with dozens of leading journalists and attorneys found that U.S. government overreach is eroding critically important freedoms

The impunity with which the American government spies on journalists and attorneys is undermining the American people’s ability to hold their leaders accountable, thus threatening the core of our democracy, charged a joint report published Monday by two leading rights organizations.

The report—With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy, published by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch—draws from extensive interviews with dozens of top journalists, lawyers and senior government officials. What the authors found is that recent revelations of widespread government surveillance have forced many professionals to alter or abandon work related to “matters of great public concern.”

According to the report, “Surveillance has magnified existing concerns among journalists and their sources over the administration’s crackdown on leaks.” With increasing prosecution of whistleblowers, restrictions on communication between intelligence officials and the media, and snitch programs for federal workers, journalists say that their sources have become “increasingly scared to talk about anything.”

On a related note, there’s this from MintPress News:

You’ve Got Mail: Judge Grants Feds Unrestricted Access To Gmail Account

In giving law enforcement unfettered access to search for “some needles” in one individual’s “computer haystack,” a judge fans the flames of the data debate.

Privacy advocates were dealt a major blow on July 18, when a federal judge in New York ruled that law enforcement has the legal authority to search the entire email account of an unnamed individual who police believe was involved in a money laundering scheme.

Google is now legally required to hand over the entire contents of the unnamed individual’s Gmail account — including all emails sent, received and drafted, all contacts, and other information —  to federal prosecutors.

In his 23-page ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wrote that email accounts should be treated like hard drives when it comes to search and seizure principles. In other words, Gorenstein believes law enforcement should be able to go through an individual’s entire email account if prosecutors can demonstrate probable cause showing a “sufficient chance of finding some needles in the computer haystack.”

Next up, the latest on the iSpy — er, iPhone, via PandoDaily:

Apple hit with class action suit for spying on iPhone users

Apple has been hit with a class action suit on behalf of 100 million iPhone users who, allegedly, are being spied on by the phone’s location tracking tools.

According to the suit, filed in Federal Court in San Jose by lead plaintiff Chen Ma…

In or around September 2012, Apple released iPhone 4 which contains an iOS operating system software that enables iPhone 4 to track its users’ whereabouts down to every minute, record the duration that users stay at any given geographical point, and periodically transmit these data stored on the users’ devices to Apple’s data base for future references.

…Plaintiff alleges that while using her iPhones, including her current iPone [sic] 5S, she was not given notice that her daily whereabouts would be tracked, recorded, and transmitted to Apple database to be stored for future reference. She was not asked for and thus has not given her consent, approval and permission nor was she even made aware that her detailed daily whereabouts would be tracked, recorded and transmitted to Apple database.

Want China Times adds insult to injury:

Apple admits iPhone security flaw

Consumer electronics giant Apple has admitted for the first time that company employees can circumvent backup encryption to extract personal data including text messages, contact lists and photos from user iPhones, according to a report from Reuters.

Tech researcher Jonathan Zdziarskiv said at a conference presentation last week that because Apple is collecting a lot more data as part of its diagnostic services than necessary, the company’s staff, law enforcement agencies or anyone else with access to “trusted” computers to which Apple devices have been connected can use the same methods to gain access to this highly personal data.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Apple users are not notified that the services are running, meaning there is no way they can know what computers have been granted trusted status. They also cannot disable the service by “unpairing” a device from a computer unless the phone is formatted, Zdziarski said.

From CNN, making out like bandits:

Pentagon security clearance holders owe $730M in taxes

About 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors with security clearances to protect the nation’s secrets have delinquent federal tax debts totaling $730 million, according to an internal government audit.

The findings in the new Government Accountability Office study raise security concerns for the U.S. government. Officials say employees and contractors who have financial problems are top targets of foreign intelligence agents.

Federal regulations governing security clearances say that a person “who is financially overextended is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds” and that indebtedness should be among factors considered when someone applies for a clearance, the GAO study said. But the study found that government agencies in charge of the issue can’t readily collect data on tax debt, in part because IRS privacy rules prohibit sharing certain taxpayer data.

And from intelNews, a blast from the past that fortunately fizzled:

FBI searched for Soviet atom bombs in 1950s’ New York, files show

American authorities suspected that Soviet intelligence had smuggled atom bombs in New York City and that Moscow was planning to detonate them “at an expedient time”, according to declassified documents. The revelation comes from a set of internal FBI files, which were declassified and released in redacted form in 2010.

Copies of the documents, which date from the early 1950s, were posted (.pdf) on The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents were then noticed last week by The Village Voice’s Anna Merlan. The file, titled “Atomic Bomb in Unknown Consulate, New York City”, is nearly 80 pages-long. It indicates that the search for a supposed Soviet atomic weapon in New York began shortly after the summer of 1950, when the FBI received a tip from a source in Brazil. The source reportedly told the Bureau that Soviet operatives had “placed an atom bomb in a consulate [...] in New York City to be detonated at such time as the Soviets consider expedient”.

The problem was that the FBI was not aware of the identity of the consulate, which was presumed to belong to the USSR or to a country politically aligned with it. The Bureau thus actively engaged in searching for the bomb during the years of 1951 and 1952.

Off to Europe and a more contemporary blast [of sorts] from TheLocal.no:

Swedish terror expert slams Norway terror alert

A Swedish terrorism researcher has blasted Norway’s handling of its recent terror threat, saying the day the threat began was a “total intelligence failure”.

Sweden has started analysing Norway’s reaction to its recent threat.

“It created unnecessary anxiety in Norway,”  Magnus Ranstorp, terrorist expert at the Swedish National Defence College, told The Local.

Norway has been on high-powered, ultra-defensive tip-toe for the past few days, since its intelligence service (PST) said last Thursday that it suspected an “imminent” terror attack.

And from TheLocal.se, a pullback:

Norway set to reduce terror alert

Norway’s terror alert level will be reduced from Tuesday, but security will still be somewhat tighter than normal, police chiefs said on Monday.

Police director Odd Reidar Humlegård informed at a press conference on Monday afternoon in Oslo that all police forces have received a directive to lower security across Norway.

Humlegård said: “The police are still going to be armed, but we are to start preparing for a reduction of visible presence.”

He announced a gradual reduction and change of measures, now more focused towards intelligence and analysis. Humlegård said that the increased security alert level has already come at the cost of several tens of millions of kroner of police resources.

The Guardian covers a setback for Washington:

Venezuelan government joy as Aruba frees former military intelligence head

  • President Maduro’s supporters jubilant after Hugo Carvajal is released instead of facing extradition to the US

Venezuela’s former military intelligence head Hugo Carvajal, wanted by the United States over drug accusations and arrested four days ago on the Caribbean island of Aruba, was released on Sunday.

Instead of being extradited to the US, the retired general flew home after the Netherlands government ruled he had diplomatic immunity, his lawyer and Venezuelan officials said.

Jubilant Venezuelan officials at a congress of the ruling Socialist Party celebrated the release as a “victory” over their ideological foes in Washington who wanted to extradite him.

And from the Independent, playing by the rules of a familiar game:

The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts

  • The slickness of Israel’s spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by the pollster Frank Luntz

Israeli spokesmen have their work cut out explaining how they have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, compared with just three civilians killed in Israel by Hamas rocket and mortar fire. But on television and radio and in newspapers, Israeli government spokesmen such as Mark Regev appear slicker and less aggressive than their predecessors, who were often visibly indifferent to how many Palestinians were killed.

There is a reason for this enhancement of the PR skills of Israeli spokesmen. Going by what they say, the playbook they are using is a professional, well-researched and confidential study on how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe. Written by the expert Republican pollster and political strategist Dr Frank Luntz, the study was commissioned five years ago by a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel, for use by those “who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel”.

Every one of the 112 pages in the booklet is marked “not for distribution or publication” and it is easy to see why. The Luntz report, officially entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was leaked almost immediately to Newsweek Online, but its true importance has seldom been appreciated. It should be required reading for everybody, especially journalists, interested in any aspect of Israeli policy because of its “dos and don’ts” for Israeli spokesmen.

Off to Asia and the latest on the Game of Zones, starting with a headline from Kyodo News:

Japan announces additional sanctions on Russia over Ukraine

Japan will impose additional sanctions on Russia for failing to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, where the recent downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet killed all 298 people aboard, the government said Monday.

Assets held in Japan by individuals or groups directly involved in Russia’s annexation of Crimea or the instability in eastern Ukraine will be frozen, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a daily press briefing.

Japan will also follow the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s recent decision to freeze funding for new projects in Russia, and limit imports of Crimea-made products, Suga said.

But the McClatchy Washington Bureau makes an interesting point:

U.S. sales to Russia have only risen since sanctions imposed

In the months since the United States imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and close associates of President Vladimir Putin’s, an odd thing has happened: U.S. exports to Russia have risen.

U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade data show that exports rose 17 percent from March through May _ the most recent months for which the data is available _ compared with the previous three months, before sanctions were imposed. The value of exports has risen in each consecutive month this year, an unusual trend in a trade relationship that historically fluctuates on a monthly basis.

Russian markets account for less than 1 percent of U.S. exports, but what the U.S. sells to Russia is largely high-tech and expensive goods, including technology and equipment for the energy sector, which faces the threat of targeted sanctions.

Meanwhile, Japan makes a push ion a new venue. From Nikkei Asian Review:

Japan moves to counter China, Russia influence in Caribbean

Japan’s prime minister met here Monday with leaders and top officials representing 14 Caribbean nations, in a bid to shore up ties in a region where Russia and China have recently made robust overtures of their own.

Attending a summit of the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, Shinzo Abe pledged continued economic assistance and sought support for Japan’s bid for a nonpermanent seat in the United Nations Security Council election next year.

As an ally of the U.S., Japan also aims to counter recent moves by China and Russia to strengthen their influence in what is effectively “America’s backyard.”

And from Xinhua, another blast from the past:

Japanese war criminal confession reveals persecution of Chinese

A written confession by Japanese war criminal Ryusuke Sako made public on Sunday revealed the persecution of thousands of Chinese including underground anti-Japanese operators during World War II.

The document is the latest in a series published on the website of China’s State Archives Administration (SAA) following denials of war crimes by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese right-wing politicians.

According to Sako’s confession, before his capture in August 1945, he served as section chief of Inspection Department of the Railway Security Police Forces of the “Manchukuo” puppet state and major general and brigade commander of Railway Security Forces in Jilin and Mudanjiang.

And for our final item, Frontera NorteSur covers a travesty of justice:

Massive Rights Violations Charged at New Mexico Detention Facility

After touring a New Mexico detention facility housing Central American refugees, immigrant advocates and lawyers have charged the Obama Administration with violating due process rights.

In a July 24 telephonic press conference hosted by the National Immigration Law Center, representatives of an advocates’ group that were allowed to conduct a short visit July 22 of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLTEC) in Artesia, New Mexico, where hundreds of Central American women and children are being held, detailed a laundry list of grievances.

In comments to reporters, advocates said women and children were held in crowded conditions; not adequately informed of their due process rights or given timely access to legal counsel, as per U.S. refugee law;  hustled through deportation proceedings; and forced to read  complex forms in English.  Additionally, serious concerns were raised about the physical and emotional health of children and their mothers.

Headlines of the day II: PoliEconoEcoFukus


A statement of reality from Quartz:

This land is not your land

  • Pete Seeger died in an America with record inequality

BBC News sounds a belated theme:

State of the Union: Obama promises action on inequality

  • US President Barack Obama: “Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do”

US President Barack Obama has promised to bypass a fractured Congress to tackle economic inequality in his annual State of the Union address.

He pledged to “take steps without legislation” wherever possible, announcing a rise in the minimum wage for new federal contract staff.

On Iran, he said he would veto any new sanctions that risked derailing talks.

Bloomberg Businessweek chills out:

Frozen Northeast Getting Gouged by Natural Gas Prices

As temperatures plunge anew into single digits across much of the U.S. Northeast, natural gas prices have been going in the opposite direction. On Jan. 22, thermostats in New York City bottomed out at 7 degrees, a day after the price to deliver natural gas into the city spiked to a record $120 per million British Thermal Units in the spot market on the outskirts of town. That’s about 30 times more expensive than what the equivalent amount of gas cost a hundred miles away in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, the biggest natural gas field in the U.S. and home to some of the lowest gas prices in the world. And you thought this was the age of cheap energy.

Most of the natural gas that gets used in the U.S. is contracted on a long-term basis and bought with futures and forward contracts, meaning that many consumers in the Northeast won’t feel the full brunt of that price spike. They’re not entirely insulated though. The spot market is there for a reason. Essentially, it’s a refuge for the desperate and unprepared—for those who need to buy or sell immediately. And when a natural gas-fired power plant or a big utility finds itself short, having underestimated the amount of demand it has to fill, its traders and schedulers have to jump into the spot market and pay whatever the going price is. For those buying in parts of the Northeast, it’s been reaching new highs.

PandoDaily exerts plutocratic pressure:

The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers’ wages

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”

Later that year, Schmidt instructed his Sr VP for Business Operation Shona Brown to keep the pact a secret and only share information “verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?”

These secret conversations and agreements between some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley were first exposed in a Department of Justice antitrust investigation launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. That DOJ suit became the basis of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered — an estimated $9 billion effectively stolen by the high-flying companies from their workers to pad company earnings — in the second half of the 2000s. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied attempts by Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe to have the lawsuit tossed, and gave final approval for the class action suit to go forward. A jury trial date has been set for May 27 in San Jose, before US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the Samsung-Apple patent suit.

The London Telegraph constricts:

Emerging markets forced to tighten by US and Chinese monetary superpowers

  • The global chain reaction resembles what happened in the East Asia crisis in 1997-1998 when domino effects swept the region

Turkey, India, Brazil and a string of emerging market countries are being forced tighten monetary policy to halt capital flight despite crumbling growth, raising the risk of a vicious circle as debt problems mount.

Turkey’s central bank on Tuesday night hiked interest rates to 12pc from 7.75pc at an emergency meeting in a bid to defend its currency. The lira strengthened to 2.18 against the dollar after the decision, from 2.25.

The move came as India raised rates a quarter-point to 8pc to choke off inflation and shore up confidence in the battered rupee, the third rate rise since Raghuram Rajan took off in September. South Africa’s central bank is meeting on Wednesday as the rand hovers near a record low at 11.06 to the dollar.

More from Nikkei Asian Review:

Inflation-wary emerging economies go for rate hikes

Fighting inflation has become a new mantra for emerging economies like India, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia as U.S. moves to curtail quantitative easing help weaken their currencies, pushing up the cost of imported goods in these countries. . .

Weak local currencies are setting off inflation. Drops in currency value translate to costlier imports, driving consumer prices in general higher. Speculation that the U.S. would scale down its ultra-easy monetary policy triggered an exodus of money from emerging economies. In particular, currencies of nations with current-account deficits came under selling pressure in the market. The Brazilian real, the Indian rupee, the Indonesian rupiah, the South African rand and the Turkish lira are dubbed the Fragile Five.

Xinhua charts an uptick with mixed results:

Global foreign direct investment rises to pre-crisis levels, UN reports

Global foreign direct investment (FDI) rose to levels not seen since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008, increasing by 11 percent in 2013 to an estimated 1.46 trillion U.S. dollars, with the lion’s share going to developing countries, said a UN report released on Tuesday.

FDI flows to developing economies reached a new high of 759 billion dollars, accounting for 52 percent, and transition economies also recorded a new high of 126 billion dollars, 45 percent up from the previous year and accounting for 9 percent of the global total, showed the figures provided by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

But developed countries remained at a historical low, or 39 percent, for the second consecutive year. They increased by 12 percent to 576 billion dollars, but only to 44 percent of their peak value in 2007, with FDI to the European Union (EU) increasing, while flows to the United States continued their decline.

Quartz predicts:

Global unemployment is about to get worse

While the rich countries were most affected by the global economic crisis, there are signs of recovery. Although India and China won’t go back to the days of double-digit growth, other emerging countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, paint a more hopeful picture. But the scale of the recovery won’t help the unemployed much, whose numbers are only set to be growing.

In 2013, the unemployed grew by 5 million to 202 million people globally. According to a new report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), this number is set to grow by a further 13 million by 2018, even if the rate of underemployment remains same. In countries such as Greece and Spain, the average duration of unemployment has reached nearly nine months.

The ILO’s worries are threefold. First, the recovery is not strong enough to reduce the growing number of unemployed. Second, the fundamental causes of the global economic crisis are yet to be properly tackled. Third, the crisis has forced even those employed into more vulnerable jobs.

ANSAmed has numbers:

Crisis, Lagarde sounds the alarm: 20 mln unemployed in EU

  • IMF director, in Italy and Portugal 1/3 under 25 jobless

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde has sounded the alarm on record unemployment levels in Europe where almost 20 million are jobless.

‘We cannot say the crisis is over until its impact on the labor market has not reversed’, said Lagarde. When unemployment is high, growth is slow because people spend less and companies invest and hire less, Lagarde also noted, stressing that the most effective way to boost employment is growth.

According to a number of estimates, a growth increase by one percentage point in advanced economies would cut unemployment levels by half a percentage point, giving work to 4 million people.

More from Bloomberg:

Euro Jobless Record Not Whole Story as Italians Give Up

Euro-area data this week will probably show the region ended 2013 with a record jobless rate that reveals only part of the social legacy of the debt crisis.

While economists predict unemployment in December stayed at an all-time high of 12.1 percent, with about 19 million jobless, that tally excludes legions of adults who would also work if they could. Bloomberg calculations for the third quarter show a wider total of 31.2 million people of all ages are either looking for jobs, willing to do so though unavailable, or else have given up.

Giuseppe Di Gilio, 30, is one of 4.2 million such people who don’t appear in Italy’s unemployment statistics. The most recent so-called labor underutilization rate in the third-biggest economy in the euro area was 24 percent, more than double the official jobless rate.

And still more from New Europe:

Growth in the EU: the IMF warns against unemployment, German Fin Min against social spending

“I am convinced that the real problem in the economy is the human being”. That is how Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister opened his speech at the presentation of the IMF’s new publication, “Growth and Jobs: Supporting the European Recovery”. . .

German Finance Minister actually warned against “excessive social spending” in euro area countries and “endless regulation” from Brussels. As the EU makes an effort to recover from years of recession, we have to be “frank” he insisted. “Europe on average spends twice as much as other parts of the world in social security. You can see where some of the problems lie,” he said.  Moreover, asked whether investments in green economy can offer a sustainable solution to the problem of unemployment, creating an important number of jobs, he answered that what actually happens is the contrary, because the EU’s environmental regulation has gone a bit too far. “We have increasing energy costs which will harm jobs. We have to rebalance.”

EurActiv divides:

Schäuble advocates separate eurozone parliament

Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said yesterday (27 January) he was open to the creation of a separate European parliament for countries using the euro, a step that could deepen divisions within the European Union.

Schäuble’s comments, made during a visit to Brussels, challenge the very foundations of the European Union where lawmaking for all 28 nations is by the bloc’s current parliament.

Splitting that body, critics believe, would represent a dismantling of one of Europe’s biggest symbols of unity.

And then there’s that key piece of the neoliberal agenda, via EurActiv:

Brussels sets advisory group on EU-US trade deal

The European Commission launched on Monday (27 January) a special advisory group of experts to give fresh input on all issues being discussed at the EU-US negotiating table for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“The creation of this group confirms the Commission’s commitment to close dialogue and exchange with all stakeholders in the TTIP talks, in order to achieve the best result for European citizens,” read a Commission press release.

The group, composed of 14 advisors from different consumer, labour and business groups, will help the EU executive to frame the discussion at the negotiating table so that Europe’s high standards of consumer and environmental protection are fully respected.

On to Britain by way of the Irish Times:

No longer flush: Queen down to her last million

  • British monarch’s reserve fund has fallen from £35 million in 2001 to £1 millon now

British members of parliament criticised Queen Elizabeth’s royal household for blowing its annual budget while neglecting repairs at Buckingham Palace, which two MPs suggested was falling apart.

The royal household’s latest accounts showed it had exceeded its 2012-13 budget of £31 million by £2.3 million , the report said.

To plug the gap, it had to dip into a reserve fund.

BBC News booms:

UK economy growing at fastest rate since 2007

  • Chancellor George Osborne: “I am the first to say the job isn’t done”

The UK economy grew by 1.9% in 2013, its strongest rate since 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter slipped to 0.7%, down from 0.8% in the previous quarter, it said.

And economic output is still 1.3% below its 2008 first quarter level.

“There’s plenty more to do but we’re heading in the right direction,” Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC.

Sky News adds nuance:

Cable Warns About Wrong Type Of Recovery

The Business Secretary stresses Britain must avoid past mistakes and ensure the property market does not overheat.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that Britain’s economic recovery could prove to be a “short-term bounce” if it is based on a housing boom.

He made the comments on the eve of the publication of the latest GDP figures, which have shown the country’s strongest growth since the financial crisis began in 2007.

But the senior Liberal Democrat expressed concern that the recovery is too heavily based on housing prices and consumer spending.

Denmark next and strange bankster dealings from the Copenhagen Post:

Leaked document: Goldman Sachs wasn’t highest DONG bidder

  • As the finance minister faces parliamentary hearing today, a leaked document contradicts his previous claims

New information has changed the agenda ahead of today’s parliamentary hearing in which Finance Minister Bjarne Corydon (S) will explain the details of the controversial partial sale of DONG Energy to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Despite what the government claims, pension fund PensionDanmark’s bid for partial ownership of the state-owned energy company was higher than the bid Goldman Sachs offered, TV2 News reports.

A leaked note revealed that PensionDanmark estimated the stock capital of DONG shares to be 46 billion kroner, a 40 percent higher rate than the 32 billion kroner Goldman Sachs offered.

On Thursday, parliament will vote on allowing Goldman Sachs to invest eight billion kroner in 19 percent of DONG shares. Critics of the sale are concerned with the investment bank’s plans to establish its DONG Energy partial ownership in global tax havens, as well as conditions of the deal that give Goldman Sachs veto rights over the energy company’s future direction and leadership.

Germany next, and mimesis in action form TheLocal.de:

‘Gate’ named Germany’s English word of the year

The English suffix “gate” has been named Germany’s Anglicism of the Year. The quirky, linguistic award honours the positive contributions English had made to the German lexicon.

Gate is no newbie on German turf, having arrived in 1972 with the reporting of the Watergate scandal.

But Germans were slow to take it into their own language and it wasn’t until many years later that gate gained widespread acceptance as a bona fide suffix.

The London Telegraph drops a bombshell:

Rising risk that German court will block Bundesbank rescue for Southern Europe

  • Court can force German institutions to withdraw support for EU operations, wrecking market credibility for the ECB’s rescue policies

The risk is rising that the German constitutional court will severely restrict the eurozone bond rescue scheme for Italy and Spain, and may reignite the euro debt crisis by prohibiting the German Bundesbank from taking part.

The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper reports that the verdict has been delayed until April due to the complexity of the case and “intense differences of opinion” among the eight judges.

The longer the case goes on the less likely it is that the court – or Verfassungsgericht – will rubber stamp requests from the German government for a ruling that underpins the agreed bail-out machinery.

On to France and legalized hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France blocks return of Roma schoolgirl’s family

A French court Tuesday rejected an appeal for residency for the family of a Roma schoolgirl whose deportation sparked outrage and student protests in the country.

A court in the eastern city of Besancon ruled that the public magistrate handling the case had been right in upholding the October 9 expulsion of 15-year-old Leonarda Dibriani, her parents and six siblings to Kosovo.

The Dibriani family can appeal the latest ruling.

The case triggered outrage as Leonarda was taken by the authorities while she was on a school trip. The public magistrate had on January 7 said the decision by local authorities to deport Dibrianis was justified as they had made no attempt to integrate into French mainstream society.

Spain next, and fundamentalist politics from GlobalPost:

Spain’s prime minister pushes ahead with anti-abortion legislation despite almost no popular support

In the midst of a jobs crisis and economic dysfunction, Spain now must face a bitter debate over government plans to radically restrict women’s rights.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has a lot to worry about.

Despite tentative signs of economic recovery, more than a quarter of the workforce is still looking for a job. The legacy of a burst property bubble has saddled the country with around a million unsold homes and much of the banking sector remains crippled by debt.

In politics, Spain’s most populous and richest region — Catalonia — is threatening to break away after an independence referendum this year while the ruling conservative party reels from graft allegations and another fraud scandal is sapping respect for the monarchy.

Not the best time, then, to launch a bitterly divisive new policy initiative opposed by more than 80 percent of the population, including a significant slice of his own party.

TheLocal.es boosts:

Spain to grow ‘nearly one percent’ in 2014: minister

Spain’s economy is set to grow by “nearly 1.0 percent” in 2014, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Tuesday as the euro nation’s struggling recovery gains traction.

The official government prediction for the year is 0.7 percent growth, following a contraction of 1.2 percent in 2013, according to estimates by the Bank of Spain.

“Growth in 2014 will be nearly 1.0 percent but the revision will be included in our stability programme when it is released before the end of April,” de Guindos told reporters ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

El País retreats:

Madrid abruptly cancels plans to outsource management at public hospitals

  • Regional health commissioner Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, the architect of the proposal, resigns
  • Move comes after court rejects petition to lift a cautionary injunction against PP government

Madrid’s Popular Party (PP) regional government on Monday took a U-turn and canceled its planned outsourcing of management and services at six local hospitals – a move that thousands of health professionals had mobilized against.

At the same time, the region’s health chief, Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, who had been pushing the privatization efforts and outsourcing of services, announced he was stepping down from his post.

The developments came just hours after the Madrid regional High Court, which has been studying a lawsuit, denied the regional government’s petition to lift a cautionary injunction it issued last September against the efforts.

ANSAmed moves out, forcibly:

Evictions of mortgage defaulters rise in Spain

  • Almost double those in 2012, reports central bank

The number of evictions due to an inability to meet mortgage payments rose in Spain last year as a result of the economic crisis, and may double the number of those in 2012, reported the country’s central bank on Tuesday.

Some 19,567 evictions were carried out in the first quarter of 2013 compared with 23,774 in the entire year of 2012, the bank said. However, a sharp decline was seen in the number of cases (88) in which the police intervened to carry out the eviction. Over the past few years forced evictions by police had led to over 20 suicides.

Italy next and a new low from TheLocal.it:

Italian wages rise at lowest rate since 1982

Hourly salaries in Italy rose just 1.4 percent on average in 2013 – the lowest rate since 1982 – the national statistics agency, Istat, said on Tuesday.

However, wages increased more than the level of inflation – 1.2 percent – meaning real incomes nudged up by 0.2 percent last year, Istat said.

Italy’s economy stopped contracting in the third quarter of 2013, technically bringing to an end its longest post-war recession, but it is still struggling with an unemployment crisis and rising debt and deficit levels.

Figures released by the Bank of Italy on Monday revealed that the rate of poverty rose from 12 percent to 14 percent between 2010 and 2012, while half of Italian families live on less than €2,000 a month.

Europe Online covers the retreat of the retreat of the founder of the corporate owner of the neighborhood horse racing venue, Golden Gate Fields and a subject of our own frequent stories at the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Billionaire party founder withdraws from Austrian parliament

Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach said Tuesday that he would give up his parliamentary seat, as the party he founded ahead of last year’s elections loses popularity amid internal conflicts.

The 81-year-old automotive parts entrepreneur said that, for the time being, he would remain the nominal head of the eurosceptic and pro-business Team Stronach, which he founded in 2012.

Team Stronach initially received high poll ratings, but the party only won 5.7 per cent of the votes in September’s election.

Following the election, a series of party officials were kicked out of Team Stronach amid a debate about Stronach’s authoritarian leadership style.

After the jump, the ongoing and never-ending Greek meltdown, Ukrainian proscription and a pledge, ruble anxieties, interest ramp-ups in Turkey and India, calls for Latin unity and a tegime extension enabled, Thai troubles, Chinese crises averted and anticipated, Abe road platitudes, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFuku’d


We’ll begin today’s compendium of things political, economic, and ecologic right here in esnl’s own Golden State with this from the Pew Research Center:

In 2014, Latinos will surpass whites as largest racial/ethnic group in California

According to California Governor Jerry Brown’s new state budget, Latinos are projected to become the largest single racial/ethnic group in the state by March of this year, making up 39% of the state’s population. That will make California only the second state, behind New Mexico, where whites are not the majority and Latinos are the plurality, meaning they are not more than half but they comprise the largest percentage of any group.

California’s demographers also project that in mid-2014, the state’s residents will be 38.8% white non-Hispanic, 13% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 5.8% black non-Hispanic, and less than 1% Native American. But the state’s demographics in 2014 are very different from what they had been. In 2000, California’s 33.9 million residents were 46.6% white non-Hispanic, 32.3% Latino, 11.1% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 6.4% black non-Hispanic and about 1% Native American. In 1990, white non-Hispanics made up more than half (57.4%) of the state’s then 29.7 million residents, while 25.4% of Californians were Latino, 9.2% were Asian American or Pacific Islander, 7.1% were black non-Hispanic and about 1% were Native American.

More Californiosity from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Income inequity a hot topic on California ballots

When state voters cast their ballots in November, they could be making decisions on several measures intended to bring the income levels of rich and poor closer together. They include a cap on hospital executives’ pay, more taxes on oil companies and a higher minimum wage.

There’s real money behind each effort. The hospital CEOs are being targeted by a deep-pockets union. The oil-tax measure would be financed by a rich former hedge-fund manager, and a Silicon Valley millionaire is behind the minimum-wage hike.

The money lining up against them is just as formidable. Business groups, the health care industry and oil giants are expected to do whatever it takes to try to defeat what some conservatives denounce as the products of class-warfare ideology.

And some reallly bad news for a very dry state from the San Jose Mercury News:

California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say

California’s current drought is being billed as the driest period in the state’s recorded rainfall history. But scientists who study the West’s long-term climate patterns say the state has been parched for much longer stretches before that 163-year historical period began.

And they worry that the “megadroughts” typical of California’s earlier history could come again.

Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.

Just how bad is it? From the USDA’s National Drought Monitor:

BLOG Drought

Hopeful signs, via The Guardian:

Occupy the minimum wage: will young people restore the strength of unions?

  • The ‘Fight for 15′ movement, driven by millennials, picks up where Occupy left off and shows a new interest in labour unions

Alicia White, 25, defied the odds of a poor background by attending college on a partial scholarship and going to graduate school. While she spends her days applying for jobs, the only work she has found so far is face-painting at children’s birthday parties.

“By going to college and graduate school, I thought I was insulating myself from being broke and sleeping on friends’ couches and being hungry again. The big, scary part is that I am going to end up where I was, but now I am going to be in that awful situation with $50,000 of debt,” White says.

White’s story is no exception. One in two college graduates are now either unemployed or underemployed. Millennials – even those from the middle class – are experiencing income inequality and America’s failed dream of upward mobility first-hand. The mismatch of college-educated young workers with low-wage, unskilled, precarious jobs is creating a new face of the once-dwindling American labor movement: young, diverse, led by millennials in their twenties and thirties, and fighting what they see as an unfair labor market. Their modest cause? Pushing for a higher minimum wage.

Linking up with Nikkei Asian Review:

Silicon Valley venture capital enhancing US-China economic ties

Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China, is rapidly expanding its influence in Silicon Valley through a tech-oriented seed accelerator it supports.

Tsinghua, the alma mater of a legion of political and business leaders in China, including President Xi Jinping, is capitalizing on its powerful alumni network to make deep inroads into the heart of technological innovation in the U.S.

The seed accelerator set up by the university in April 2012, InnoSpring, has established a solid presence in America’s vibrant venture capital scene in less than two years.

Obama dives deeper into Reaganomics, resurrecting the Gipper’s “Enterpise Zones” with a new moniker. Via Bloomberg News:

Old Idea to Fix Inner Cities Gets New Name: ‘Promise Zones’

In 1994, Bill Clinton tried to revitalize the mean streets of West Philadelphia. At the time, unemployment and crime were high, graduation rates were low, and businesses were exiting. Clinton’s Philadelphia-Camden Empowerment Zone, one of several in troubled urban areas around the country, received $100 million over 10 years in federal grants and tax credits for companies that hired neighborhood residents and invested in the community. Two decades later, not a lot has visibly changed in West Philly. Shop owners work behind bulletproof glass, jobless men sit on stoops drinking beer, and another president is looking to local leaders and businesses to turn things around.

At a White House ceremony on Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first 5 of 20 “promise zones” in parts of San Antonio, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and West Philadelphia, including a half-dozen blocks that also were part of Clinton’s zone. Obama’s plan calls on federal agencies to help business owners cut through bureaucracy to win federal grants and bring together schools, companies, and nonprofits to support literacy programs and job training. “We will help them succeed,” the president said. “Not with a handout, but as partners with them, every step of the way. And we’re going to make sure it works.”

From Reuters, relevant to our latest Charts of the Day:

Why are US corporate profits so high? Because wages are so low

U.S. businesses have never had it so good.

Corporate cash piles have never been bigger, either in dollar terms or as a share of the economy. The labor market, meanwhile, is still millions of jobs short of where it was before the global financial crisis first erupted over six years ago.

Coincidence?

Not in the slightest, according to Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs:

“The strength (in profits) is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages, which are still growing at just a 2% nominal pace. The weakness of wages and the resulting strength of profits are telling signs that the US labor market is still far from full employment.

Another another American institution offshores its money and most of its ownership, via TheLocal.it:

Fiat-Chrysler to seek US stock listing, British base

The newly combined Fiat-Chrysler automaker will seek a fiscal domicile in Britain and a stock listing on a New York exchange, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne, who has overseen the company’s gradual purchase of Chrysler since 2009, is set to make the proposal to the board next week, people familiar with the plans told the Journal.

The Italian automaker completed its acquisition of Chrysler this week in a $4.35-billion transaction after a five-year merger that creates a new global car giant.

The deal involved buying the remaining 41.46 percent stake in Chrysler not held by Fiat from Veba, a fund controlled by the US autoworkers’ union UAW.

From USA TODAY, Alpine redoubt surrenders:

Swiss banks closer to deals in tax-evasion probe

  • More than 100 financial institutions willing to ID tax evaders in exchange for non-prosecution deals.

More than 100 Swiss banks and other institutions have signaled they will seek non-prosecution agreements and provide information to U.S. authorities investigating suspected off-shore tax evasion by Americans, a top Department of Justice official said Saturday.

The announcement by Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally provided the first government confirmation on the number of Swiss banks that are expected to disclose how they helped U.S. clients evade taxes, provide financial data about the clients and pay fines to settle criminal investigations.

In all, 106 Swiss financial institutions filed formal letters of intent by the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline set by federal investigators, said Keneally, who made the announcement at the winter meeting of the American Bar Association’s tax section in Phoenix.

And Sky News has good news for Wall Street banksters:

Non-EU Banks Slip Through Bonus Cap Loophole

  • Wall Street banks can raise bonuses without a vote from their parent’s shareholders under new EU rules, Sky News learns.

Major global banks such as Morgan Stanley and Nomura are benefiting from a loophole in new European pay rules that could leave British rivals at a big disadvantage.

Sky News understands that banks based outside the European Union (EU) are able to approve bigger bonuses for employees of their subsidiaries in the trading bloc without recourse to external shareholders.

That means Wall Street and Asian banks can instantly consent to variable pay for senior staff worth double the level of their salaries, the maximum permissible under the new EU cap.

A quick trip to Canada and a mind-boggling headline from the uber-conservative National Post:

‘Economically worthless but emotionally priceless’: Children don’t make you happy, but can still be rewarding, expert says

A global story from The Guardian:

IMF fears global markets threat as US cuts back on cash stimulus

  • Sudden slump in Argentina leads to fears that other emerging countries could face troubles

The International Monetary Fund is closely monitoring recent events in the world’s emerging markets amid concerns that the withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the US will add to the turmoil caused by the sudden slump in Argentina.

The IMF believes that the next phase of the gradual removal of stimulus to the US economy by the Federal Reserve, due later this week, could be the trigger for fresh turbulence in countries seen as vulnerable to capital flight, such as Turkey and Indonesia.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, told participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the so-called tapering by the US central bank was a potential problem.

And from Reuters, look forward for more of those too-big-to-fail banks:

Top bankers expect EU stress tests to reignite banking M&A

Bankers expect a thorough European Central Bank (ECB) health check of the euro zone’s largest banks to reignite domestic and cross-border merger activity by rebuilding confidence among lenders.

The sovereign debt crises that nearly caused a break-up of the single currency in 2011/12 has generated mistrust among banks and caused an effective breakdown of cross-border bank investment flows as they hoarded capital at home.

But the ECB’s asset quality review, an assessment of the balance sheets of more than 120 banks that is due to be completed next autumn, should bring transparency on the quality of banks’ loans and other assets, bankers and regulators at the World Economic Forum in Davos said.

Off to England and another sign of the times from The Independent:

Exclusive: Eating disorders soar among teens – and social media is to blame

  • Social media blamed for the doubling in the number of youngsters seeking help for anorexia and bulimia in the last three years

The number of children and teenagers seeking help for an eating disorder has risen by 110 per cent in the past three years, according to figures given exclusively to The Independent on Sunday.

ChildLine says it received more than 10,500 calls and online inquiries from young people struggling with food and weight-related anxiety in the last financial year. The charity believes this dramatic increase could be attributed to several factors, including the increased pressure caused by social media, the growth of celebrity culture, and the rise of anorexia websites.

The problem is most prevalent among girls of secondary school age. During 2012-13, counselling with girls about concerns of eating problems outnumbered counselling with boys by 32:1.

The Guardian covers an exodus:

The great migration south: 80% of new private sector jobs are in London

  • Talented young people are leaving provincial cities to make a success of their lives in London and never go back, report shows

Talented young people are leaving provincial cities in their 20s, making a success of their lives in London and never go back. London is where the work is: the capital was responsible for four out of every five jobs created in the private sector between 2010 and 2012.

The brain drain meant that every major city outside the south-east is losing young people to London. One in three 22-30 year olds leaving their hometowns end up with Oyster cards and Boris as their mayor.

On to Ireland for a very familiar headline from Independent.ie:

Priests’ organisation accuse Education Minster of “underminding religion”

THE Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has hit out at Education Minister Ruairi Quinn after he claimed that primary schools should divert time spent teaching religion to core subject areas.

The Labour Minister has sparked fury after suggesting that schools should use time allocated for religion to focus on improving pupils’ reading and maths.

The group described Mr Quinn’s remarks as “unacceptable” and accused the Labour TD of attempting to devise educational policy “on the hoof”.

Germany next and a gain for eurofoes from Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s euroskeptic party revamps its image

The upstart Alternative for Germany party attracted voters in the last election with its tough anti-euro currency stance. Now, in a quest to enter the European Parliament, the party is embracing populist sentiments.

At their most recent political convention, members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) were hoping to come up with a list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections, but their plan didn’t quite work out. Around 100 candidates had applied for the 10 available positions. Following a 12-hour session, only six candidates had been decided on – and the session has been extended to next weekend.

Nevertheless, AfD leader Bernd Lucke used the meeting as an opportunity to present the party’s new slogan, “Mut zu Deutschland” (loosely translated: “Courage to be German”) – which replaces the former slogan “Mut zur Wahrheit” (“Courage to Uphold Truth”) that helped the AfD gain 4.7 percent of the votes in Germany’s last federal election. The party members present welcomed the move.

More from EUbusiness:

German eurosceptics poll 7% ahead of European vote

The eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party scored seven percent in a poll published Sunday ahead of May’s European Parliament elections where populist groups are hoping to boost their numbers.

The Emnid institute poll was published by newspaper Bild am Sonntag a day after the political newcomer party elected its top European candidates and railed against Germany’s mainstream political groups.

Party chief Bernd Lucke, 51, branded Chancellor Angela Merkel a “chameleon” and, under a campaign dubbed “Courage for Germany”, promised an alternative to “adaptable, streamlined, slick politicians who stand for nothing”.

The AfD, which has said it favours a return from the euro to the deutschmark currency, was formed last year but missed out on seats in September national elections, scoring just below a five percent threshold.

The rise in anti-euro sentiment met with harsh words from Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner. From Reuters:

German SPD leader raps ‘stupid’ eurosceptic campaign in Europe vote

The head of Germany’s Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition on Sunday denounced eurosceptic parties on the far left and right as “stupid” and pledged a tough fight against them in the European parliamentary election campaign.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, also Merkel’s economy minister and head of the Social Democrats, blasted the “uniting enemies of Europe on the left and right” over their anti-European campaigning for the May election.

“Let’s stand up against these stupid slogans about Germany being ‘the paymaster of Europe’,” Gabriel said, referring in particular to the campaign of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that has attracted voters opposed to spending taxpayer money on bailing out struggling euro zone countries.

TheLocal.de charts a familiar trend:

‘Land grab’ ups prices in eastern Germany

  • Land prices in eastern Germany are rising at dizzying rates and local farmers feel they are being squeezed out by foreign investors in a phenomenon known as “land grabbing”.

The price of a hectare of land has risen by 54 percent between 2009 and 2012 in Brandenburg state and by 79 percent in neighbouring Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, even if prices remain below those in the west of the country — at least for now.

The rural east of Germany has vast swathes of arable land inherited from communist times, when farming was in the hands of huge collectives, known as LPGs.

But today the land is increasingly being snapped up by foreign investors, often with no background or interest in farming, pushing prices up and forcing out locals.

Denmark next, and more of that hard times intolerance from New Europe:

Right-wing MEP wants to punish beggars in Denmark

Police in Denmark should be allowed to arrest beggars on the spot and the courts should be less lenient, according to one Member of the European Parliamentary who is aligned with the Dansk Folkeparti (a right-wing populist party).

Morten Messerschmidt pointed to official justice ministry figures showing a drop in the number of people convicted of begging over the past five years. For instance, only seven of the 185 people charged with begging were ever convicted.

According to Messerschmidt, this number is “surprisingly low”. He said the reason is probably because police are required to issue a warning to beggars before arresting them. He also said that a growing number of beggars in Denmark are Eastern European.

From DutchNews.nl, booming business:

One of Tilburg’s biggest industries is marijuana: NRC

Between €728m and €884m is earned from marijuana production in Tilburg region on an annual basis, the NRC said at the weekend, quoting confidential research.

The illegal industry is so large that it poses a ‘serious threat to the safety and integrity of society,’ said the report, which was put together by researchers from Tilburg University and crime prevention experts.

Marijuana production in the area involves 2,500 people and between 600 and 900 plantations, the city’s mayor Peter Noordanus told the NRC. The drugs trade has grown into a criminal industry which ‘increasingly corrupts the legal and economic infrastructure,’ report said.

On to France and wild in the streets with France 24:

Thousands take part in Paris ‘Day of Anger’ targeting President Hollande

Several thousand people marched through central Paris on Sunday in a “Day of Anger” directly targeting France’s embattled President François Hollande and his policies, ending in both clashes and arrests.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse several hundred youths who lobbed police with bottles, fireworks, iron bars and dustbins.

Police said at least 150 people had been arrested after the clashes, during which 19 officers were injured, one of these “potentially seriously”, according to one police source.

Italy next and a forced quit from EUbusiness:

Italy minister resigns amid abuse of power, corruption probes

Italy’s Agriculture Minister resigned Sunday amid allegations of abuse of power over the appointment of staff in the public healthcare system and in the wake of an investigation into the management of European Union funds for agriculture.

“I am resigning as minister. I cannot remain part of a government which has not defended my honour,” Nunzia De Girolamo said on Twitter.

De Girolamo was accused this month of exerting improper influence over the choice of healthcare managers in the city of Benevento in the Campania region, following revelations in the media of phone-tapped conversations in 2012.

She is the second minister to step down from Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s shaky coalition government.

More corruption from Corriere della Sera:

Tax-dodging Magnate owned 1,243 Properties

  • Angiola Armellini, daughter of construction entrepreneur, under investigation for hiding more than €2.1 billion from tax authorities

From Rome’s glitzy jet-set and a two-storey penthouse a stone’s throw from the Vatican to an investigation by the prosecution service complete with financial police searches. Angiola Armellini, daughter of a surveyor who made a fortune covering the capital with 90,000 cubic metres of concrete, is alleged to have hidden 1,243 properties from the tax authorities. The buildings, of which 1,239 including three hotels are located in the municipality of Rome, are claimed to be worth €2.1 billion, including cash assets.

Public prosecutor Paolo Ielo entered Ms Armellini in the register of persons under investigation along with eleven nominees and accountants alleged to be complicit. Ms Armellini faces charges of criminal association, failure to submit tax returns and submitting fraudulent returns. Criminal association charges have also been brought against the accountants. Investigators calculate that the taxable base for the avoidance amounts to €190 million. City authorities also want to recover ICI property tax that was almost never paid. The bill could be €3.5 million for two years, a figure which multiplied by five – before that a time bar comes into play – becomes €17 million.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian crisis spreads, Latin American woes and protests, Aussie neooliberalism, Indian uncertainty, Bangla woes, Thai turmoil, Cambodian protests, Chinese financial uncertainty, Japanese wiseguy hopes, tarsands costs, fracking havoc, drought victims, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPlus


Straight to it, albeit belatedly and with little embe.llishment, we begin in the Big Apple with the Wall Street Journal:

Shelters Fill as Rent Aid Disappears

New York City residents who received rent subsidies are flocking to homeless shelters.

New York City homeless shelters—swelling with record-high populations not seen since the Great Depression—are increasingly being sought out by people who participated in a now-defunct rent-subsidy program designed to reduce homelessness, according to a report to be released Saturday.

The author of the report, the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, held up the report as evidence that homeless families need longer-term government help with rent to stay out of the shelter system. Since the rental-payment program, known as Advantage, was canceled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration after state budget cuts in June 2011, the city’s homeless shelter system population has grown to its highest-ever levels: 52,000 people, including 22,000 children.

As of August, the coalition report found, 49.4% of family placements in the Advantage program had returned to the shelter system, climbing from 24.5% nearly three years ago. The numbers rose rapidly as subsidies ran out in 2012, with more than 300 families a month seeking shelter from the city during that summer after losing their rent subsidies. In 2013, more than 200 such families were entering shelters each month, the report said.

MarketWatch uncovers another austerian dimension:

America’s hidden retirement crisis is racial

A troubling new study, Race and Retirement Insecurity in the U.S., reveals that America’s retirement crisis is particularly dire for blacks and Latinos.

“If nothing changes, the future for people of color is frightening,” author Nari Rhee, research manager for the nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security, told me.

Rhee’s report comes on the heels of other recent surveys from financial services firms and consultants with their own scary stats documenting the general lack of retirement savings among blacks and Latinos.

Reuters closes a chapter:

Fannie Mae settles with Wells Fargo as mortgage review ends

Wells Fargo & Co will pay a net $541 million to Fannie Mae to settle claims over defective home loans, completing the government-controlled mortgage company’s efforts to have banks buy back troubled loans made before the financial crisis.

Fannie Mae said on Monday it has reached settlements worth roughly $6.5 billion over loan buybacks with eight banks, including Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage lender and fourth-largest bank by assets.

About damn time, with USA TODAY:

13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers

State minimum wages will exceed the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour in 21 states on Jan. 1.

The trend reflects growing concerns about the disproportionate spread of low-wage jobs in the U.S. economy, creating millions of financially strained workers and putting too little money in consumers’ pockets to spur faster economic growth.

The Progressive covers the despicable:

Norquist Tells ALEC He Wants U.S. to Revive Decapitation

During a speech about criminal justice reform earlier this month at the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, anti-government crusader Grover Norquist compared criminals to fish caught in a net and exclaimed that he would like to see America revive the practice of beheading convicted killers.

“We gotta fight crime, we gotta have less crime, we have to be more secure in our persons and our property,” he said. “I’m all in favor of chopping the heads off of people who commit murder and putting people in prison for a long, long time. There’s no bleeding heart whatsoever. This is about punishing real criminals and making sure we don’t just toss everybody in the net, the porpoises and the tuna, and treating them all the same.”

And CBC heard the giant sucking sound:

NAFTA turns 20: Mexico is pact’s biggest winner

North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada. U.S. and Mexico signed in 1994

Ross Perot may have had it right after all about who would win under NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was an important step for all three members, but the evidence points to Mexico — at the time the weak sister in the group that included two G7 economies, the United States and Canada — as by far the biggest winner.

News Corp Australia takes us global:

World braces for retirement crisis

A GLOBAL retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages.

Spawned years before the Great Recession and the 2008 financial meltdown, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65. Living standards will fall and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people’s rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can’t afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

Off across the pond with Europe Online:

Sceptics, right-wingers set to challenge EU in 2014 poll

Four years into its fight against a debilitating economic crisis, the European Union will in 2014 face a new litmus test: the ballot box.

In May, citizens from the bloc’s 28 member states will vote for a new European Parliament. And the indications are that eurosceptic and far-right parties will score big gains, amid public frustration over the painful measures that have been implemented to tackle the crisis.

“For many, making ends meet isn’t as easy as it used to be, and could well become even harder for their children,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy noted during a recent speech in Berlin. “Today, Europe is seen as being intrusive, meddling, dictating, correcting, prescribing, imposing, even punishing,” he added.

The eurobankster speaks, via Xinhua:

Draghi plays down anticipation of immediate rate cut

European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi has tried to play down the anticipation of an immediate rate cut in an interview published on Saturday.

Draghi told German magazine Der Spiegel that he saw no need of an immediate rate cut, citing “many encouraging signs” including the economic recovery in some euro area countries, decreasing budget deficits and other improvements.

His claim came as expectations for more monetary easing by the ECB are running high. The ECB has clarified in its forward guidance that the current low interest rates would remain for a long period of time or become even lower.

On to Britain with the South China Morning Post and a familiar name on the UC Berkeley campus:

Li Ka-shing’s British power firm UKPN under fire over alleged tax avoidance

UK Power Networks allegedly reduced tax bill with payments to firms in the Cayman Islands

UK Power Networks, owned by Li Ka-shing, is alleged to have avoided £38 million (HK$485 million) in British taxes over last three years. Photo: Sam Tsang

A British energy firm owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing has come under fire amid allegations the company, at the centre of a storm over Christmas power blackouts, avoided paying millions of pounds in taxes.

Fretting with Sky News:

Millions Stress About Finances ‘Every Day’

Money worries are an even greater concern for Britons than health or job security, new research reveals.

In the UK, 18.1 million people feel stressed about their finances every day, according to new research seen by Sky News.

The Independent bills:

Migrants will have to pay at A&E – and all patients will have to prove they are not foreigners to get free NHS treatment

As part of proposals to recoup up to £500m from visitors from outside the European Union who use the NHS, hospitals will be required to identify those patients who are not eligible for free care – and make foreigners pay for life-saving treatment they receive on accident and emergency wards.

But the reforms mean that eligible patients will also have to prove they have the right to be treated free of charge.

Sweden next, where TheLocal.se beggars the conscience:

Swedish professor: Ban begging handouts

A leading Swedish professor has said that it should be illegal for people to give money to beggars but his idea has been described as a “joke” by campaigners.

Bo Rothstein, a political science professor long associated with the University of Gothenburg, made the argument for a begging donation ban in an opinion editorial in Dagens Nyheter.

“Anybody who begs in front of us on the street doesn’t offer anything apart from their social vulnerability and the person that gives is exploiting their situation to get satisfaction and ease their social conscience,” wrote Rothstein in the newspaper.

TheLocal.no takes us to Norwegian opposition:

Most Norwegians oppose new private schools

Norway’s government has said it would like to make it easier to open fee-paying private schools, but most Norwegians are against the idea, according to a new poll.

53 percent of those asked by pollsters Sentio Research said they were opposed to allowing more private schools to open. Some 36 percent were in favour, with 11 percent saying they didn’t know. The poll was carried out for radical left-wing newspaper Klassekampen.

Norway’s governing parties, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet, have said they want to change the law regulating private schools by the end of 2015. The law currently requires that private schools have a special religious or educational philosophy to qualify for co-financing from the state. The government wants to remove this requirement and allow all private schools that pass quality tests to qualify.

Holland next where DutchNews.nl brings us Beancounters Behaving Badly:

Accountants KPMG fined for role in Ballast Nedam bribery case

Accountancy group KPMG has reached a €7m out of court settlement with the public prosecution department over its role in a construction sector bribery scandal.

The investigation into three former KPMG accountants is continuing, the public prosecution department said in a statement.

KPMG was accused of disguising bribes paid on behalf of building group Ballast Nedam to win orders. The company also failed to pay proper attention to ensuring integrity demands were met, the public prosecutor said.

On to Germany with the London Telegraph:

Draghi complains of ‘perverse angst’ among Germans

ECB head says German worries over eurozone are misplaced

Mario Draghi has spoken out against the “perverse angst” displayed by Germans over the European Central Bank’s policies.

The Frankfurt-based central bank cut rates to a new record low of 0.25pc in November, despite resistance from German policymakers, who are fearful that low interest rates could fuel housing bubbles in its major cities. In April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country’s economy, which has consistently outperformed its eurozone peers since the financial crisis, was ready for a rate rise even though the rest of the single currency bloc needed looser monetary policy.

Reuters looks for a final solution:

Merkel says permanently fixing euro zone crisis vital for Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel will tell Germans their fate is so closely entwined with the European Union that it is imperative to come up with answers on how to permanently resolve the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis.

In an advance text of the traditional New Year’s Eve address that she will deliver on Tuesday evening, Merkel said Germany had a lot of work to do to maintain its own economic strength.

EUobserver constrains:

Merkel allies keen to curb EU powers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian-Social Union (CSU), plans to call for fewer EU commissioners and less new EU legislation in next year’s European Parliament elections.

“We need a withdrawal treatment for commissioners intoxicated by regulation,” the party’s four-page election strategy paper – seen by Der Spiegel and due to be adopted in January at a CSU congress – says.

TheLocal.de has conflicts:

MPs spar over eastern EU immigration fears

Hours before immigration restrictions on people from Romania and Bulgaria coming to Germany are lifted, politicians are arguing over attempts to discourage those with poor work prospects from coming to the country.

As of January 1st, Bulgarians and Romanians will be free to seek work throughout the European Union, which their countries joined back in 2007. This has prompted fears of a flood or an influx of people seeking welfare payments in richer countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies have reacted by drawing up proposals to toughen social welfare laws, prompting criticism from Social Democrat politicians – now their coalition partners in the national government.

France next and taxing time with Al Jazeera America:

France’s top court approves 75 percent ‘millionaire tax’ on employers

Companies will be taxed for employees who make more than 1 million euros a year

France’s Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court – gave the green light on Sunday to a controversial “millionaire’s tax,” to be levied on companies that pay salaries of more than 1 million euros ($1.38 million) a year.

The measure, introduced in line with a pledge by President Francois Hollande to make the rich do more to pull France out of crisis, has infuriated business leaders and soccer clubs, which at one point threatened to go on strike.

On to Spain with separation anxieties from El País:

Premier Mas admits EU will expel an independent Catalonia

Government would look for other alternatives “outside the treaties,” says regional leader

For the first time since heated debate broke out over Catalonia’s proposed independence referendum next year, regional premier Artur Mas, who is pushing for the status vote, has admitted that his northeast region would be ejected from the European Union if it seceded from Spain.

Stop the presses with TheLocal.es:

Struggling Spanish paper closes print edition

Spanish national newspaper La Gaceta has scrapped its print edition, a spokeswoman said on Monday, as it fights to survive a financing crisis in the recession-damaged country’s media.

“The paper edition has been closed” since Friday, said a spokeswoman for the strongly conservative newspaper, which was founded in 1989 and employs about 60 people.

“The newspaper will continue, but online — that is what we will focus on,” the spokeswoman told news agency AFP.

Occupy USA TODAY:

Spain squatters take over buildings after foreclosures

One in four Spaniards is out of work, which in a country that boasts one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world means many families fall behind on their mortgage payments and face foreclosure.

At the same time, the number of empty buildings across the country swelled after a building boom went bust.

The Spanish government estimates that there are more than 650,000 finished properties that sit empty across the country, alongside nearly half a million properties that were left idle while under construction.

El País covers a breakthrough:

ETA prisoners recognize damage caused by campaign, accept legitimacy of jails

Collective releases statement giving 527 inmates go-ahead to begin negotiating early release

The prisoner collective of terrorist group ETA, which represents more than 500 inmates from the Basque separatist organization, released a taped statement on Saturday recognizing the legality of Spain’s penitentiary system, expressing its agreement for individual prisoners to negotiate individual early release terms, and rejecting the violence and “suffering and multilateral damage caused” by their terror campaign.

Portugal next with EUbusiness:

EU ready to offer Portugal more help: Rehn

European Union is ready to offer Portugal further aid once its current bailout expires in May, Economics Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Monday.

“Europe will keep its word” and continue to help Portugal, but only on condition it “continues reforms already under way,” Rehn wrote in an editorial for business daily Diario Economico.

“The absolute priority is to successfully conclude the current programme,” Rehn wrote, while warning that it was “indispensable that Portugal maintain budgetary discipline and structural reforms in the upcoming years”.

And on to Italy with ANSAmed:

Italy: Poverty hits record high amid unemployment, recession

Absolute poverty double since 2005, triple in industrial north

The number of people in crisis-hit Italy living in absolute poverty has doubled between 2005 and 2012 and tripled in the industrial north, up to 6.4% from 2.5%, according to an annual report on social cohesion by national statistics bureau Istat released on Monday.

Overall, more than 1.7 million families live in a state of absolute poverty for a total of 4.8 million individuals amid rising unemployment and a stubborn recession, Istat said.

On to Eastern Euroipe, with in Solvenia with EUobserver:

Slovenia: Bank tests treated as military secret

Bank stress tests indicate that Slovenian lenders do not need a bailout, but private consultancies played a controversial role in the evaluation.

The test results, published last month and accompanied by positive statements from the Slovenian government, the Bank of Slovenia and the European Commission, say Slovenia can recapitalise its banking sector without international help.

South China Morning Post covers a tragedy:

Romania’s children being left behind as their parents seek work abroad

A generation is growing up with absentee parents, who are supporting their families by working in more prosperous western Europe

Tens of thousands of Romanian children are growing up parentless because their mothers and fathers work abroad, according to figures that raise questions about the extent and impact of large-scale migration on the eve of new EU rules governing Bulgarians and Romanians.

According to the Romanian ministry of labour, family and social protection, there are now more than 80,000 families in Romania in which both parents are working abroad while their children stay at home, with 35,000 more families in which one parent is overseas.

After the jump, the Greek crisis unfolds, Latin American inflation, changes in Cuba, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese boosterism, environmental woes, and the latest stunning chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFuku


We open with a global story, via CNBC:

Goldman: Cut your emerging markets exposure by a third

Goldman Sachs has a clear warning for investors: Emerging markets will continue to disappoint.

In a December report, the bank’s investment management division predicted “the strong possibility of significant underperformance and heightened volatility over the next five to 10 years.”

On to the U.S. with booster from Reuters:

IMF says will raise U.S. economic growth forecast

The International Monetary Fund predicts the U.S. economy would expand at a faster pace next year, given positive economic data and some signs of compromise in Congress, the head of the Washington-based lender said on Sunday.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde also praised the U.S. Federal Reserve’s communication of its decision last week to start scaling back its massive monetary stimulus.

Al Jazeera America de.livers a pre-Yuletide blow:

Chase limits customer spending after credit-card security breach at Target

Bank says holders will only be allowed to withdraw $100, make purchases of up to $300 per day until security restored

The new limit affects roughly 2 million accounts, or about 10 percent of Chase debit-card holders, according to a bank spokeswoman. It does not apply to credit cards. The bank detailed the limits in an email sent to customers with the subject line: “Unfortunately, your debit card is at risk by the breach at Target stores.”

Sky News brands:

US: ‘Obama Care’ Printed On Heroin Packets

Police say the labels are a form of drug marketing “like putting Pepsi or Coca-Cola on a bottle”.

More than 1,200 packets of heroin with the words “Obama Care” and “Kurt Cobain” printed on them have been seized by Massachusetts State Police.

They were discovered when Trooper Joseph Petty stopped a vehicle with four people inside in the Town of Hatfield.

Crying fowl, via Associated Press:

Lt Gov: Duck Dynasty important to La. tourism

Louisiana’s lieutenant governor says the “Duck Dynasty” reality TV show is important to state tourism — and he could help connect the Robertson family with new producers if they cannot reach agreement with the A&E network.

In an emailed statement, Jay Dardenne says the state “has the infrastructure in place to maintain their record-breaking program.” Dardenne authored the state’s film and TV tax credit program. He says he’d use his influence in the state’s industry to help the Robertsons.

A notable transition from MediaWire:

Report: No black-owned and operated full-power TV stations remain in U.S.

The planned sale of Roberts Broadcasting’s remaining stations means there are “zero black-owned and operated full-power TV stations in our country,” Free Press’ Joseph Torres and S. Derek Turner write.

Low-power TV stations have a fair percentage of minority ownership, but they’re facing speculation that the FCC plans to auction their part of the broadcast spectrum to mobile-phone providers.

On to Canada with the big chill from the National Post:

‘Catastrophic ice storm’ knocks out power for 300K in Toronto as system blasts region

‘It truly is a catastrophic ice storm that we have had here, probably one of the worst we’ve ever had,’ Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said Sunday

From the Asahi Shimbun, the first of two trade deal heads:

U.S. sees Pacific trade pact talks taking time

Negotiations on a trade pact between a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim will take whatever time they need as the deal has to be both ambitious and comprehensive, U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said on Dec. 21.

The U.S.-backed deal, which Washington had wanted to conclude this year, aims to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.

But differences over farm tariffs between the United States and Japan have proved to be one of the major roadblocks and it will now not be finalized this year.

EUbusiness yields the second:

US, EU wrap up third round of free-trade talks

The United States and the European Union on Friday ended a third round of talks to create the world’s largest free-trade area to boost growth and jobs in their huge economies.

US and EU trade officials wrapped up five days of negotiations in Washington, where the talks began in July, to hammer out the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an ambitious agreement to expand trade, investment and regulatory cooperation.

The two economies combined make up 40 percent of output in the world economy.

Sky News immiserates:

Mortgage Misery For Millions If Rates Go Up

There is growing speculation that the Bank of England may begin to consider lifting the cost of borrowing within months.

Around four million families would not have enough cash to pay their mortgage if interest rates rose to barely half the rate they were before the crisis, according to Bank of England research.

The warning from the Bank comes amid growing speculation that it may begin to consider lifting the cost of borrowing within months.

An Irish lack from Independent.ie:

Firms look abroad as graduates here lack key skills

The warning comes as Japanese technology company Fujitsu, which employs 350 people here, confirmed it would have to recruit abroad for many of the PhD level experts it needed for its Irish operations.

The company’s head of research, Anthony McCauley, warned there was a skills shortage in certain technical areas. “A lot of the graduates we’ve found are from Egypt, Syria, France and Germany,’‘ he told the Sunday Independent.

Bubble building from Independent.ie:

House prices to rise 30pc in city shortfall

Taoiseach hopes a rebound in construction industry will lay foundations for ‘year of jobs’

The Government last week announced that 2014 would be the “year of jobs”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the number of family homes being built needed to treble to 25,000 a year.

However, industry sources told the Sunday Independent that supply next year would struggle to exceed 8,000, creating a huge demand for houses that will result in rising prices.

From the Reykjavík Grapevine, a master agreement:

Collective Bargaining Agreement Reached, Many Unions Disappointed

While a new collective bargaining agreement between many of Iceland’s labour unions and management was signed yesterday, many other unions believe the agreement does not do enough for Iceland’s workforce.

Vísir reports that yesterday, officials from the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA) signed a new collective bargaining agreement, only weeks away from the current one expiring.

Wage increases have been a hotly contested part of these negotiations, and the new agreement calls for a 5% wage increase for those making the lowest wages, and a 2.8% increase for everyone else. Union proposals for higher wages, as well as tax relief for minimum wage earners, was rejected by management.

From Sweden, TheLocal.se concludes:

‘Neo-Nazis are lost young boys who want to shock’

Ahead of Sunday’s protest rally against the attack by neo-Nazis on a peaceful demo last weekend, Stockholm University criminology professor Jerzy Sarnecki explains the allure of extreme-right organizations.

TheLocal.se follows up:

Anti-racism rally attracts thousands in Stockholm

Over 10,000 people took to the streets of Stockholm to protest against Nazism and racism in a demonstration which had a heavy police presence numbering over 100 officers.

The rally was held in Kärrtorp in the south of capital with numbers swelled by last week’s violence after a similar rally in the same place was marred by ugly scenes instigated by neo-Nazis.

Germany next, with Deutsche Welle hitting the road:

Transport Minister Dobrindt again advocates foreigners’ tolls on autobahns

Germany’s new transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, has said that a toll for foreign cars on highways could be implemented by 2015. He postulated an annual pass costing 100 euros, to be reimbursed for domestic drivers.

Alexander Dobrindt told Sunday’s mass-circulation “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper that he hoped for a new toll system for passenger vehicles on the German network of autobahns, or highways, by 2015. The CSU politician, a member of the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, said the new German grand coalition government would work on draft laws next year.

On to Spain, where Spanish Property Insight takes the plunge:

Building industry continues on path towards oblivion

Planning approvals crashed again in September, as the Spanish housing building industry heads towards oblivion.

There were just 2,228 planning approvals in September, down 29pc on last year, and 98pc compared to September 2006, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Works (Fomento).

Looking back, September 2006 marked the zenith of Spain’s runaway building boom. There were 127,000 planning approvals that month, and it’s been downhill ever since. However, I doubt anyone could see quite how bad it was going to get.

thinkSPAIN maintains the connection:

Catalunya to prevent utility firms from cutting off power to householders in poverty this winter

CATALUNYA’S regional government plans to push through a draft bill of law banning electricity and gas companies from cutting off the supply to residents struggling with poverty or in a precarious financial situation.

Regional minister for business Felip Puig wants to get the new legislation on the table before the end of the year so that those families who have little or no income and cannot pay their fuel bills will not be left with no heating or means of cooking during the winter.

Spain’s central government has already rejected a proposal to pass a similar law affecting the whole country.

El País re-volts:

Electricity companies hit back in war of words over wholesale auction

Unesa says minister’s claim of “crude manipulation” is a sign of “contempt” for the sector

The government’s decision to annul the result of last Thursday’s electricity wholesale auction, which would have meant an 11- to 13-percent rise in consumers’ bills as of January, has been taken as a declaration of war by the sector, which is considering legal action against the administration.

The government based its decision on a report by Spain’s CNMC anti-trust authority that identified “atypical circumstances” in the run-up to Thursday’s auction – essentially accusing the power companies of manipulating the market to hike the price of electricity.

TheLocal.es follows the line:

Spanish demand for soup kitchens on the rise

More and more Spaniards are seeking free food in the form of soup kitchens as the soaring costs of everyday life are set to bring a cruel Christmas as AFP’s Daniel Bosque investigates.

A 2013 survey found that 17 percent of Spanish households say they get to the end of the month “with great difficulty”, and 9.2 percent have been late on paying their bills, according to the National Statistics Institute.

From thinkSPAIN, Banksters Behaving Badly:

Bankia sued for knowingly selling shares to customer with Alzheimer’s

STATE-OWNED financial institution Bankia has come under fire for selling preferential shares to a customer it knew was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

His widow, 72, who says the couple were customers of what used to be Bancaja – one of the two institutions along with Caja Madrid which fused after being bought by the State and renamed Bankia, having gone bankrupt – for 44 years, was reportedly told they could not have their money held on deposit in cash, only in shares.

From El País, detailing regression:

Abortion reform will give medical staff right to conscientiously object

Previously, only doctors directly involved in termination procedure could opt out

Pro-life gynecologists may choose to withhold ultrasound scan information from women who are pregnant

The Portugal News elevates:

Economy reaches pre-bailout high

The economic climate indicator has recorded its third successive month of growth. This latest increase has now pushed this figure to levels last seen in the spring of 2011, when Portugal was forced into seeking international financial assistance in order to pay its dues.

Statistics Portugal (INE) has for the third consecutive month released numbers revealing renewed optimism in the national economy. After a slight increase this past August of 0.3 percent, every passing month since has reported stronger results, with September seeing growth in the economic indicator of 0.8 percent followed by 1.3 percent in October.

The underlying new austerian reality, also from the Portugal News:

Labour costs fall in Portugal

Portugal ranked alongside Slovenia as the euro-zone country whose labour costs in the third quarter were most sharply down on the year, by 0.4%, and was third among members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on the same measure, the OECD said in a statement

Portugal thus bucked the general trend for a slight increase in unit labour costs (the ratio between remuneration per work and productivity) in the euro zone, up 0.1% on the year. In the previous quarter, labour costs had been down 1.9% on the second quarter of 2012.

Another austerian enactment, via the Portugal News:

Government approves increase in retirement age to 66 from 2014

Portugal’s government has approved legislation to increase the statutory retirement age to 66, from 65 at present, from next year, in a move aimed at saving €205 million in 2014 alone.

The decision was taken at the weekly cabinet meeting of the right-of-centre coalition government.

Italy next, with mute injustice from TheLocal.it:

Migrants sew lips together in Rome protest

Four North Africans held in a migrant centre on the outskirts of Rome have sewn their lips together in protest at their lengthy detention, Italian news agency ANSA reported Sunday.

The men, aged between 20 and 30, used a thread from a blanket and a small needle to sew their mouths shut at the Ponte Galeria facility on Saturday.

Al Jazeera America implores:

Pope urges Italy to find housing for all families

In his Sunday blessing, Pope Francis asks anti-austerity protesters to use dialogue rather than violence

And the Los Angeles Times suspects:

Vatican bank finds over 100 suspicious transactions, official says

A crackdown on money laundering at the Vatican bank has uncovered more than 100 suspicious payments this year, an official says.

The Vatican’s bank has unearthed more than 100 suspicious payments this year after starting full-scale checks on its customers for the first time to crack down on money laundering, up from six last year, said an official knowledgeable about the cleanup effort.

The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the inquiry publicly, spoke after the Vatican said Monday that it had been given a positive progress report by Moneyval, the Council of Europe money-laundering monitor, after a middling grade in a full evaluation last year. The new report, which was signed off Monday and will be formally released by Moneyval on Thursday, gives an assessment but no grades.

After the jump, Greek austerity, Ukrainian cooldown, Turkish disorder, Pakistani and Indian inflation, Thai protests, neoliberal moves in China and Japan, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Eco/Fukububble


The impetus behind these headline collections is our personal drive to understand currents at work in this world we share, and to share our understandings with whoever cares to pay heed.

That’s about as neat a way of defining the journalist-by-avocation, a deeply endangered species in this austerity-dominated environment.

We were driven to try to understand by the circumstances of our childhood, and we are possessed of both a certain set of skills and a persistence driven by an imperative that has, too often, run afoul of forces that prevail in a once significantly more secure and economically rewarding.

One of the great joys of the newsroom in those analog days where folks got modestly but comfortably paid to spend their das turning over rocks was the access to an ongoing flow of uo-to-the-minute news — provided first by noisy impact printers fueled by ink ribbons impressing letters on rolls of paper.

We spent good portions of our days in “wirerooms,” reading the news as keys hammered out the letters on constantly fed newsprint.

Computers came next, with newswires feeding into newsroom mainframes and out to terminals. Between stories, green character danced on blackbackgrounds on cathode ray tubes as you searched the queues for the latest works of wire service reporters and member media.

With a wide range of input, our own experience from years of digging, and a relentless curiosity, we have been working a long list of global news sources, seeking threads to weave together in a sort of linear gestalt in which we discern patterns for your consideration.

On with today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental, starting with a telling headline from Spiegel:

Feeding the Bubble: Is the Next Crash Brewing?

Twitter executives and founders at the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7 clap as their company launches its initial public offering.

Central banks around the world are pumping trillions into the economy. The goal is to stimulate growth, but their actions are also driving up prices in the real estate and equities markets. The question is no longer whether there will be a crash, but when.

Another telling sign of bubbledom from Business Insider:

Institutions Have Been Dumping Billions Of Dollars Of Stocks All Year, But Now The Selling Is Really Accelerating

Ditto, from SINA English:

Global housing market returns to bubble territory

It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis, along with the severe recession that followed. While the US is the best-known case, a combination of lax regulation and supervision of banks and low policy interest rates fueled similar bubbles in the UK, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Dubai.

Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London). In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centers in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

From the New York Times, reconsidering another form of austerity:

Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance

Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.

From the New York Times, unhealthy inflation:

As Hospital Prices Soar, a Single Stitch Tops $500

A day spent as an inpatient at an American hospital costs on average more than $4,000, five times the charge in many other developed countries, according to the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurance industries. The most expensive hospitals charge more than $12,500 a day. And at many of them, including California Pacific Medical Center, emergency rooms are profit centers. That is why one of the simplest and oldest medical procedures — closing a wound with a needle and thread — typically leads to bills of at least $1,500 and often much more.

From NBC News, have we got a deal for you:

Wal-Mart’s hottest Black Friday seller was a 29-cent towel

The must-have item at Wal-Mart on “Black Friday” wasn’t a mega TV, sleek tablet or the latest giggling Elmo. It was towels.

It’s a sign of the times that consumers battered by a recovery that has boosted corporate profits but has done little to raise their own bottom lines are reduced to scrapping over basic bathroom supplies.

From the Contributor Network, corporate parasitism:

Fast Food Giants Starve Workers’ Wages, Gorge on Taxpayers

As the nation’s largest fast food giants continue to push back against the ongoing fight for better wages by fast food workers across the country, a report released Monday reveals a world in which those companies are “pocketing massive taxpayer subsidies” as they feed their CEOs’ growing paychecks.

According to the report, Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay, published by the Institute for Policy Studies, current tax code allows corporations such as Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s “to deduct unlimited amounts from their income taxes for the cost of stock options, certain stock grants, and other forms of so-called ‘performance pay’ for top executives,” meaning that the more corporations pay their top earners, the less they pay in federal taxes.

From Al Jazeera America, stirrings in the new underclass:

Workers of the (finance) world unite – and unionize

New effort to organize low-wage bank workers in US targets entire industry

Gettin’ by with Bloomberg:

Americans Due to Replace Oldest Goods Since JFK; Jewelry? FDR

Americans have been holding on to their wobbly washing machines and sagging sofas even longer than their grandparents did 50 years ago, setting the stage for a rebound in consumer spending as old household goods wear out.

The average age of consumer durable goods — long-lasting items such as furniture, appliances and computers — is the highest since 1962, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis dating to 1925. Among things Americans are keeping for the longest time: jewelry and wristwatches and home and garden tools like lawnmowers.

From The Guardian, what we suspect is more a temporary setback than signs of defeat [think rebranding]:

ALEC facing funding crisis from donor exodus in wake of Trayvon Martin row

  • Rightwing lobby group appealing to major donors to return
  • Internal documents reveal so-called ‘Prodigal Son Project’
  • Network lost almost 400 state legislators over past two years

CNBC covers a candidate:

Detroit eligible for bankruptcy protection: Judge

A federal judge presiding over Detroit’s bankruptcy hearing said on Tuesday the city is eligible for bankruptcy protection.

The long-awaited decision will pit the city’s finance officials against its unions, creditors and retirees, ahead of what are expected to be steep cuts in pensions, as well as fire sales of treasured assets. The ruling is expected to be appealed.

From Reuters, another diagnosis:

Companies, academics say budget cuts threaten U.S. competitiveness

Mandatory U.S. budget cuts known as sequestration are resulting in job losses across the country and threaten to undermine U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, industry executives and academics said on Monday, urging Congress to reverse the cuts.

The Guardian covers a related cause for concern:

‘A picture of educational stagnation’: study finds US teen students lagging

US students scored at international average in science and reading and far below in math, while Asian nations dominated

Al Jazeera America covers another austerian cost:

Arizona’s privatized prison health care under fire after deaths

A year and a half ago, the state handed over prison healthcare to a private, for-profit company. Legislators who supported the privatization promised that it would save taxpayers money, while maintaining adequate levels of care for inmates. At least 27 other states have also privatized prison health care, rewarding private companies for keeping costs down.

But there are studies showing prisoners could be suffering as a result. An October report from the American Friends Services Committee in Arizona found that since the state privatized its prison health care, medical spending in prisons dropped by $30 million and staffing levels plummeted. It also found a sharp spike in the number of inmate deaths. In the first eight months of 2013, 50 people died in Arizona Department of Corrections custody, compared with 37 deaths in the previous two years combined.

Heading north of the border with Boing Boing and another corporate power-and-wealth grab:

ACTA about to be quietly written into Canadian law

Widespread, global protests killed ACTA, the secretive, over-reaching “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement,” which imposed brutal copyright rules on its signatories. But now, the Canadian Conservatives have introduced Bill C-8, which turns ACTA’s provisions into Canadian law, and they’re fast-tracking it through with little debate or public input.

From BBC News, UC Berkeley’s corporate sponsor recruits a powerful ally:

BP gets UK government support over US contracts ban

The UK government has intervened in support of BP over a US ban on the oil major seeking federal contracts. In a court filing lodged as part of BP’s appeal against the ban, the document says the move could be “excessive” and “destabilising”.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) barred BP from new contracts last year, after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster in which 11 workers died.

Quartz covers a parallel regional development:

How US trade negotiators are secretly changing intellectual-property law

If someone buys a book in Thailand, should she be able to sell it to a used bookstore—or anyone else—in the US? The US Supreme Court says yes. But US trade negotiators say no, and they’re working to make sure the same prohibition would apply around the world.

From EurActiv fears of another corporate power-and-wealth grab in progress:

NGOs fear TTIP clauses will affect EU chemicals regulation

Last week, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could include Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures which will not allow foreign investors to go to court in the US. Green Party observers have called the statement ‘astonishing’.

Speaking at a committee meeting in the European Parliament, de Gucht reportedly promised to check whether such settlements would allow lawsuits over health sector privatisations.

On to Europe, starting with an alert from ANSAmed:

Austerity poses a risk to citizen rights, Council of Europe

The austerity measures brought in by European governments are threatening the economic, social, political and civil rights of its citizens, said Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks

From EUbusiness, another alert:

Commissioner warns of far-right surge at May polls

European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem voiced concern Tuesday that the EU Parliament will shift toward the far right in elections set for May.

While Reuters covers a fine time for Banksters Behaving Badly:

EU readies multi-million euro benchmark rigging fines: sources

EU antitrust regulators will impose record multi-million euro fines on six banks including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland on Wednesday for rigging key interest rate benchmarks, sources said.

British news begins with a headline from Global Times:

Cameron backs free trade

British Prime Minister David Cameron commenced a three-day visit to China on Monday with a 100-strong business delegation, the largest of its kind, and pledged to lay the groundwork for a free trade deal between Beijing and the European Union.

Cameron said the scale of the business delegation “mirrors the scale of the ambition that we have for the British-China partnership.”

While South China Morning Post covers the reception give Tory grandiosity:

Tiny old Britain? It’s only good for study and travel, says China’s state media

As British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a charm offensive at Shanghai Jiao Tong University yesterday, a state-owned newspaper derided the United Kingdom as merely a destination for Chinese students and tourists.

From The Guardian, British bubbling:

Bank of England committee flags up housing market concerns

Financial policy committee ‘concerned about potential risks to financial stability’ from possible housing bubble

From BBC News, selling off the commons to fix the commons:

UK government’s infrastructure spending plan unveiled

A plan to boost infrastructure spending in the UK over the next two decades is being unveiled by the government. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) includes the government selling off its 40% stake in the Eurostar rail service.

In all, about £375bn of investment in energy, transport, communications, and water projects is planned.

An Irish item from Independent.ie:

Squeeze on household finances hits consumer confidence

Consumer sentiment fell to 71 in November from 76.2 in October, according to the KBC Bank/ESRI index.

Austin Hughes of KBC Bank said the fall indicated that the recovery in the economy was still fragile.

On to the Netherlands, with anti-Roma xenophobia from EUobserver:

Dutch against opening up to Romanians and Bulgarians

Eighty percent of Dutch people are against lifting restrictions on 1 January to allow Romanians and Bulgarians to come and work in the Netherlands. The poll of 1,800 people, carried out by Maurice de Hond, found that among supporters of the PVV – an anti-EU party – it is 100%.

From DutchNews.nl, poverty numeration:

1.2 million Dutch households below poverty line, 11% of children are poor

At least 1.2 million people were living in poverty in the Netherlands last year, a rise of over 150,000 people on 2011, according to a new report.

Research by the national statistics office CBS and the government’s socio-cultural think-tank SCP, shows 7.6% of the population is now living below the poverty line. Last year’s rise is the sharpest since the economic crisis began in 2008.

Germany next, with more bankster news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Germany’s Commerzbank raided in client tax probe

German authorities on Tuesday raided some 40 branches of Commerzbank, the country’s second biggest bank, over suspected tax fraud by hundreds of clients, the bank and prosecutors said.

From TheLocal.de, inflationary:

Crop failures push up German food prices

Food in Germany was more expensive this year, with some crops such as potatoes costing nearly half as much again as in 2012.

The cold winter, floods in June and a particularly hot summer are being blamed for crop failures leading to an above-inflation jump in German food prices over the past 12 months.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, another sign of the times:

Refugee Protests Leave Berlin Divided

A refugee slams a briefcase down on the table, snaps it open and takes out a series of plastic cards. “Here,” he says, “health card from Italy, residence permit, identity card. We have everything. Our asylum cases are complete. We’re allowed to move around in Europe, but we’re not allowed to work, not at all.”

It is Thursday morning in the Berlin district of Wedding. We are in a former retirement home that is now run by charity organization Caritas, and houses 80 refugees. Almost all are men from African countries. Many made the perilous journey from Libya to Lampedusa, and from there were sent on an odyssey through Europe. They were most recently living in tents on Oranienplatz square in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, protesting against deportations and unfair asylum laws.

France next, with austerian receptivity from TheLocal.fr:

Most French ‘ready to sacrifice public services’

Traditionally the French place a high value on their public services but as the economic crisis takes hold it appears the mood might be changing, according to the results of new poll published this week that were described “taboo-breaking”.

A majority of French people believe that it is now necessary to close some public services and lay off civil servants in order to help reduce public deficit, according to a new poll.

TheLocal.fr again, with another sign of the times:

Inequality on the increase in French education

The three-yearly Pisa report by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) published on Tuesday revealed that France has dropped three places in the global rankings compared to 2009, the last time the study was carried out.

The overall rankings for 2012, based on the performances of 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading, were dominated by Asian countries with France coming in 25th place out of 65.

On to Spain with El País and banksters behaving frugally:

Lending to households suffers record fall as banks remain parsimonious after bailout

Company credit also slumps to lowest level since 2007

ThinkSpain has Bankster Behaving Badly:

Novagalicia Bank fined for selling shares to baby

A BANK has been ordered to pay compensation after knowingly selling shares to a four-month-old baby.

The court of Ponferrada (León province) has declared the sale contract between the infant and Novagalicia Banco (NGB) null and void, and instructed the entity to refund the 4,800 euros it invested in subordinate shares, plus interest and legal costs.

From TheLocal.es, divisions:

Spain’s top parties won’t govern alone: Poll

Spain is facing an increasingly splintered political future with neither of the country’s two major parties likely to be able to form government alone in a future election, a new poll published on Sunday shows.

El País has mixed signals:

Unemployment falls in November for the first time in decades

Opposition points to falling Social Security affiliation as sign of declining active population due to emigration

And from ThinkSpain, going down?:

Spain falls 10 places on world corruption index, reveals Transparency

SPAIN is 40th out of a list of 177 countries on the world ‘corruption scale’, with number 177 – the most corrupt – being Somalia, according to figures released by a German charity.

On to Italy with TheLocal.it, and company for Spain:

Italy among most corrupt countries in Europe

Italy has been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, although it is slightly less corrupt than a year ago, according to Transparency International’s annual index released on Tuesday.

Italy came 69th in the list of 177 countries and territories in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The country’s public sector is perceived to be more corrupt than dozens of other nations including Saudi Arabia and Cuba, which came in joint 63rd place.

TheLocal.it with one reason why:

‘Anti-mafia’ mayor arrested for mafia ties

A mayor described as an “anti-mafia icon” has been put under house arrest for allegedly buying votes of the mafia she campaigned against, Italian media reported on Tuesday.

Carolina Girasole was arrested on Tuesday morning in Isola Capo Rizzuto, where she served as mayor from 2008 to 2013, La Repubblica reported.

A troikarch delivers a slam, via TheLocal.it:

Italy ‘failing to cut debt quickly enough’

Italy is failing to cut debt quickly enough but is past the worst of its crisis, the EU’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an interview in La Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday.

“Italy should respect a certain speed of debt reduction, and it is not doing so. The structural adjustment should have been equal to half a percentage point of gross domestic product, and it is only 0.1 percent,” he said.

The New York Times has the response:

PM Letta Raps EU’s Rehn for Sceptical Comments on Italy

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Tuesday criticised European Commissioner Olli Rehn for expressing scepticism about Italy’s ability to respect pledges to cut its public debt.

The economic and monetary affairs commissioner warned in a newspaper interview that Italy was not cutting its debt fast enough and he “had to be sceptical” over its plans to cut spending and sell state assets.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Ukrainian upheaval, Russian violence, change in Cuba, Brazilian slowdowns and setbacks, Indian concerns, Thai troubles, the Chinese neoliberal push, mixed Japanese signals, environmental notes, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroGrecoSinoFuku


Today’s wrap of economic, political, and environment news is lengthy, with the contours of the emerging New Ownership society with the rest of us enmeshed in its panopticon embrace as our pockets are picked.

We begin with the latest bankster hubris from the Financial Times:

U.S. Banks Warn Fed Interest Cut Could Force Them to Charge Depositors

Leading US banks have warned that they could start charging companies and consumers for deposits if the US Federal Reserve cuts the interest it pays on bank reserves.

Depositors already have to cope with near-zero interest rates, but paying just to leave money in the bank would be highly unusual and unwelcome for companies and households.

Bloomberg reminds us, with numbers:

Hungry Americans Less Productive as Budget Cuts Deepen: Economy

Hunger costs the U.S. at least $167.5 billion each year in lost economic productivity and earnings, health-care expenses that could have been avoided by better nutrition and the value of charity to keep families fed, according to a 2011 report from the Center for American Progress.

Bloomberg again, with others doing better:

Faucets at $1,000 Abound as Home Equity Spigot Opens

“People don’t want granite countertops — they want marble costing at least 25 percent more,” said Mroz, owner of Michael Robert Construction in Westfield, an affluent town less than an hour’s commute to Manhattan. “Money is so cheap today, people can splurge on $1,000 faucets.”

USA Today covers shameful federal profiteering:

Government books $41.3 billion in student loan profits

Figures come as concerns mount about growing loan debt for students, graduates.

From Salon, a new Big Box boss:

Wal-Mart’s new controversy: Taps head of scandal-ridden division as new CEO

Current head of Walmart International, which drew ugly headlines over alleged bribery, will soon run entire company

ThinkProgress covers one of his challenges:

Walmart Strikes Hit Three More Cities In Florida And California

Walmart workers went on strike on in Miami on Monday morning, following strikes in Tampa on Saturday and in Sacramento, CA on Friday.

From USA Today, a diagnosis:

Pitfall of working for Amazon: Mental illness?

And CNBC covers buyers with bucks:

Chinese buying up California housing

At a brand new housing development in Irvine, Calif., some of America’s largest home builders are back at work after a crippling housing crash. Lennar, Pulte, K Hovnanian, Ryland to name a few. It’s a rebirth for U.S. construction, but the customers are largely Chinese.

From Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, sexual statistics:

Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican

They found that overall, “compared to those with no daughters, parents with all daughters are 14% less likely to identify as a Democrat….[and] 11% more likely to identify as a Republican than parents with no daughters,” they write in the journal Sociological Forum.

On to Europe, starting with a Sino twist from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Chinese PM Li wants to see a strong euro currency

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday during a visit in Bucharest that he would like to see a strong euro currency.

“We consider that the cooperation between China and Eastern Europe is in favour of European integration. We wish to see a united and prosperous Europe and we also wish to see a strong euro currency,” Li told a press conference.

From Xinhua, contrasting numbers:

SMEs main driver of European economy: EU data

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) now compose 93 percent of all enterprises in the European Union (EU) and are the main driver of the bloc’s economy, the EU statistics office Eurostat said Monday.

According to latest data, the majority of firms in the EU were micro enterprises with between 10 to 249 employees. These firms accounted for 30 percent of the working population and generated 17 percent of turnover. Only 0.2 percent were large enterprises with 33 percent of persons employed and generating 44 percent of turnover.

Bloomberg covers Eurobankster anxiety:

Weidmann Says ECB Council Shouldn’t Permanently Supervise Banks

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said the European Central Bank’s Governing Council should only temporarily be responsible for banking supervision.

“The decision-making body responsible for monetary policy should not be in charge of supervising banks as well,” Weidmann said in a speech prepared for delivery today in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “To avoid possible conflicts of interest, this should not become a permanent solution.”

And the taxman cometh, via EUobserver:

EU unveils plans to go after tax ‘freeloaders’

The European Commission Monday (25 November) unveiled plans to clamp down on tax ‘freeloaders’ in its latest bid to target corporate tax avoidance.

Officials plan to re-write rules on the tax status of parent and subsidiary companies to prevent firms from setting up ‘letter-box’ companies in different countries to evade tax.

From EUbusiness, not-so-open borders on the horizon?:

EU addresses concerns over ‘benefit tourism’

The European Commission outlined on Monday proposals to tackle abuse of the right to free movement enjoyed by EU citizens, which critics claim has led to people migrating to gain benefits in richer states.

Sky News takes us to Britain and a numbers game:

Payday Loans To Be Capped By Government

The under-fire industry will be forced to limit the cost of its loans amid claims it is trapping vulnerable people in debt.

The Guardian gives us another lucrative numbers game:

Energy firms’ profit from customers has risen 77% in a year, says Ofgem

Big six energy companies made £53 profit per customer before latest price rises – up from £30 a year earlier

From Sky News, selling the commons on the cheap?:

Royal Mail Rise ‘As Expected’, Say Ministers

A Government report seen by Sky News says Royal Mail’s share price increase was “expected”, fuelling the debate about its sale.

The Guardian delivers an independent pounding:

Currency union bad for independent Scotland and UK, says minister

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish secretary, says shared currency zones need more economic and political integration, not less

Ireland next, with TheJournal.ie and a semi-cleaned slate:

Most of borrower’s debt written off in first deal under new insolvency regime

The first debt settlement arrangement has been agreed today.

A BORROWER HAS had 70 per cent of a six-figure debt written off as part of the country’s first debt settlement deal under the new personal insolvency regime.

TheLocal.no Takes to Norway and a game of hardball:

US embassy employees face jail for tax evasion

Up to twenty employees at the US embassy in Oslo face jail for tax evasion as a result of the embassy’s continuing refusal to report salary information to Norwegian tax authorities.

Sweden next, with TheLocal.se and hard times for folks born elsewhere:

Sweden ‘worst in EU’ for jobless foreigners

Sweden is the worst country in the EU when it comes to closing the long-term unemployment gap between foreign-born workers and people born in the country, according to statistics published on Monday.

The Guardian takes us to a strike in Germany:

German Amazon workers strike in long-running dispute over pay

Employees at two distribution centres stop work in latest in series of strikes co-ordinated by Verdi union

Employees of two Amazon distribution centres in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld stopped work in the latest in a series of strikes co-ordinated by the Verdi union. Workers are demanding a collective wage agreement to meet pay standards in the German retail sector.

Spiegel scents troubles ahead:

Growing Risks: Government Bond Holdings Could Burden Banks

European banks hold increasingly large shares of government bonds as a result of the debt crisis. If those states default and can no longer service their debt, it could lead to massive losses. Germany’s Bundesbank is pushing for new rules at the ECB.

Ditto from MISH’S Global Economic Trend Analysis:

Expect “Dramatic Slowdown” in Germany: Saxo Bank Analysis

The German economy is heavily exposed to global growth which we see dramatically slowing down – the strong EURO will impact export 5-7 month from now which creates dramatic slow-down where we even could see the German economy going below 1% growth and come close to recession.

RFI takes us to France and more woes for the government of President François Hollande:

Top French trade unions meet with government as protests mount

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is meeting with leading French trade unions today to discuss proposed reforms to the tax system that would be debated in the National Assembly next summer.

An equally alarming companion story from RFI:

42% slated to vote far-right in the next local elections

A poll published today by the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) revealed that 42 per cent of French voters could vote for a far-right candidate in their next municipal election.

The Guardian covers another French woe:

Cicadas could destroy Provence’s lavender fields in 20 years

Plague of cicada insects in southern France, linked to global warming, is devastating Provence’s famous flower crops

While EurActiv covers profiteering:

French nuclear giant Areva slammed for ‘tax negotiation’ in Niger

The French uranium mining firm Areva is facing calls to end its practice of securing tax exemptions from the government of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, as contract negotiations between the two reach a critical stage.

Uranium makes up about 70% of exports from Niger, but only 5.8% of the country’s GDP. Campaigners say that one of the reasons for this is a series of national tax opt-outs that the company has secured in its existing contracts.

From Europe Online, a hungry winter ahead:

One million French expected to need free meals this winter

One million French people are expected to need food assistance this winter, a leading charity said Monday as it launched its annual free meal programme.

Each year, Les Restos du Coeur (the restaurants of the heart) charity dishes up millions of hot meals to the poor at over 2,000 distribution centre around France.

Last year, 960,000 people stood in line for free meals, an increase of 40 per cent since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008.

TheLocal.fr covers another austerian byproduct:

Dental care becoming a ‘luxury’ in France

Have you been left with a huge dent in your wallet after a trip to the dentist in France? According to a collective of French consumer rights associations, access to good quality dental care is becoming a “luxury” in France. They blame those holding the drills.

Spain next, and a bankster warning via El País:

Bank of Spain says weak recovery doesn’t invite “complacency”

Governor Linde says government revenues need to pick up toward the end of the year to ensure deficit target is met

From TheLocal.es, another embarrassment:

Top ally of Spain’s PM convicted of tax evasion

A judge convicted Carlos Fabra on four counts of tax evasion but acquitted him of charges of accepting bribes and influence-peddling, the court in the eastern province of Castellon said in a written ruling.

Fabra was the leader of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party in Castellón, part of Valencia, a region now synonymous with claims of political corruption during the Spanish building boom that went bust in 2008.

El País covers wishful thinking:

ECB sees downward price trend as good sign despite risks of deflation

Spain views inflation drop as an indicator that adjustment is on the right track

From TheLocal.es, disruption:

Austerity strikes cause Spain air travel chaos

Air passengers travelling to and from Portugal will see their travel disrupted for a second day running on Monday with an anti-austerity strike by border police resulting in long queues and delayed international flights, a union spokesman said.

thinkSPAIN hits the bottle:

Spanish teenage girls smoke and drink more than boys; Luxembourg is booziest nation in the OECD

TEENAGE girls in Spain smoke and drink more than any others in the developed world, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Girls of 15 admit to having been ‘blind drunk’ at least twice in their lives and to smoking regularly at least once a week.

And TheLocal.es evokes a fondness for fascism:

Spain’s right wing honours dictator Franco

The 38th anniversary of the death of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco was marked by both right-wing and anti-fascist demonstrations in Spain on Saturday and Sunday. The legacy of the former leader continues to divide Spain.

Off to Lisbon and another action from the Portugal News:

Ferry srike to hit Lisbon services all day Monday

Employees of Transtejo, whose ferries ply routes between Lisbon and the towns on the south bank of the River Tagus, are to stage a 24-hour strike this Monday that is expected to stop all but a handful of services from operating to and from Montijo, Seixal, Almada and Trafaria.

The Portugal News again, with another action:

Immigration strike blocks airports

Entry into Portugal through the country’s airports was taking about two hours on Monday morning as almost 100 of the immigration officers were on strike for a fourth day in a row.

TheLocal.it takes us to Italy and a Bunga Bunga appeal:

Berlusconi requests review of fraud trial

Silvio Berlusconi on Monday requested a review of his tax fraud trial head of a vote this week that will likely force him from parliament for the first time in 20 years and make him vulnerable to arrest.

Romania next, with EUbusiness and a Chinese helping hand:

Romania, China ink nuclear cooperation agreements

Romania and China on Monday signed two nuclear cooperation agreements expected to give China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) a role in Romania’s sole Cernavoda plant as it builds extra reactors.

After the jump, Greek meltdown, Ukrainian agitation, elections and free trade in Latin America, an Indian bankster behaving badly, Chinese taxes and rotten Apples, Japanese dirty money, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spooks, secrets, more


A timely reminder from Bloomberg about that thing spooks do:

King Address That Stirred World Led to FBI Surveillance

From Techdirt, strange bedfellows:

The NSA Is Dianne Feinstein’s And Mike Rogers’ Abusive, Cheating Spouse

from the you’d-think-the-head-of-an-intelligence-committee-would-know-how-to-quit-som dept

Deutsche Welle on umbrage in high places:

UN says it will contact Washington over NSA spying report

The UN has said it plans to speak with the US government about the latest reports on alleged NSA espionage. A spokesman said he was “aware” of claims that the NSA hacked the UN’s internal video-conferencing system.

And from our Department of Tongue Planted Firmly in Cheek, via Spiegel:

German Interior Minister: ‘US Takes Privacy Concerns Seriously’

In an interview, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich discusses his confidence in the United States and its claims it is not conducting mass spying on Europe, concerns about Facebook and a determination to continue the fight against terrorism

From Reuters, blowback with a Gallic twist:

French prosecutor investigates U.S. Prism spying scheme

From The Guardian, First Amendment contempt:

Obama administration asks court to force NYT reporter to reveal source

Previous ruling said reporters have no privilege to safeguard confidentiality leaving Risen to reveal his source or go to jail

From Deutsche Welle, “Like” it or not:

Facebook report reveals depth of data requests

Governments around the world issued around 25,000 requests for information about Facebook users in the first half of this year. Facebook has published its first report on the matter; Washington fielded the most requests.

More from The Guardian:

Facebook report: governments asked for data on 38,000 users this year

First report of its kind reveals more than half of government requests for user data in first half of 2013 came from the US

From Techdirt, a statement of the factual and absurd:

Thirty Years Of NSA ‘Oversight’ And The Only Change Is Better Snooping Technology

from the downhill-with-the-wind-at-its-back dept

From RIA Novosti, a denial:

Castro Denies Cuba Caved In to US Pressure on Snowden

From CBS2 News in Los Angeles, Orwell in academia:

Glendale Unified Hires Local Company To Monitor Students’ Social Media Posts

From the East Bay Express, Big Brother’s corporate sponsor:

Oakland’s Surveillance Contractor Has a History of Fraud

The multibillion-dollar company hired to build a citywide surveillance system also has a record of supplying weapons and training to anti-democratic governments around the world.

From the Los Angeles Times, reporting a classic case f corporate chutpah that could endanger your privacy:

Call DirecTV, risk identity theft?

Despite the risk of identity theft and fraud, DirecTV asks for the Social Security numbers of people who aren’t even signing up for service but are merely checking out costs.

Finally, from Wired, reporting on a hack crack of the supersecret National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab:

Hacker Pleads Guilty to Selling FBI Access to U.S. Supercomputers

Cuba at the crossroads: The rise of the co-op


In the aftermath of the 1917 revolution in Russia, Vladimir Lenin aggressively nationalized industry and merchandising, a policy that quickly led to popular

“Socialist Russia will come from NEP.” —Lenin Source.

“Socialist Russia will come from NEP.” —Lenin
Source.

discontent. The Party’s response was to allow small-scale private enterprises and food production, a policy known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP.

But the NEP was brutally destroyed by Stalin after his consolidation of power after Lenin’s death, with the program declared finished in 1928.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro’s revolutionary took control of the Cuban government, both of the world’s leading self-declared communist states were still in the throes of Stalinist central control, though Nikita Khrushchev had loosened the reins a bit in the Soviet Union.

Castro, financially supported by the Soviets, adopted a modified version of the Moscow system, which was maintained trough the collapse of the Soviet system, then modified creatively and by necessity when the flow of Soviet cash and oil evaporated — leading to, among other things, the world’s most productive system of urban agriculture.

Cuban adapted and endured, and despite the decades-long economic embargo by the United States and a ban on U.S. tourism — once an economic mainstay of the island nation.

Now Cuba is embarking on what might be described as its own version of the NEP, most notably in agriculture.

Now the Cuban experiment is treated to coverage by only major international power claiming the communist mantle, China — which has traveled much farther down the market economy road than Cuba.

Here’s the coverage by CCTV’s Americas Now:

Cuba Shifting from State-Operated Establishments to Private Co-Ops

The program notes:

In 1968, Cuba nationalized its businesses, adopting a Soviet style system that had all enterprise controlled by the state. CCTV correspondent Michael Voss finds that conditions appear to be changing.

We love that 1951 Chevrolet driving by the food co-op manager, an amazing testament both to the durability of Detroit’s vintage iron and to the spirit of the Cuba people in keeping it running for the last 62 years.

Headlines of the day I: The spooky edition


We open with the latest brushfire from Spiegel, which covered the story that ignited the latest NSA controvery:

Codename ‘Apalachee': How America Spies on Europe and the UN

President Obama promised that NSA surveillance activities were aimed exclusively at preventing terrorist attacks. But secret documents from the intelligence agency show that the Americans spy on Europe, the UN and other countries.

Blowback from The Independent:

NSA spying row deepens after UN and EU allegations

United Nations refuses to comment directly on claims US intelligence agency hacked internal communications

And from the Guardian, the press bites back:

NSA leaks: David Cameron’s response is intimidation, says world press body

World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers tells the UK government its actions could threaten press freedom

From The Observer, “we all hang together”:

The next David Miranda might work for the Daily Mail

Recent developments show dangers of press infighting – but also that public interest defences must extend to tabloids

And from Techdirt, the logical conclusion from the former Boss Bobby:

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Says Anti-Terror Laws Should Be Used To Stop Investigative Journalism

from the wtf? dept

SINA English reports on a Russian newspaper’s report that threats from Washington prompted Havana to spurn Edward Snowden:

Snowden got stuck in Russia after Cuba blocked entry

And a “silver lining” story from Spiegel:

Boom Triggered By NSA: German Email Services Report Surge in Demand

German email providers are enjoying a jump in demand following the NSA data surveillance scandal. Companies are beefing up their security features and promoting their accounts as being among the most secure in the world, thanks in part to strong privacy laws.

Meanwhile, spooks are so good for business back home that corporations battle for the right to serve them, as Slashdot notes:

Why Amazon’s Fighting So Hard for a CIA Cloud Contract

Amazon and IBM are battling over a contract to provide the intelligence agency with private-cloud infrastructure.

From the Tribune Washington Bureau, blowback triggers memories:

NSA having flashbacks to Watergate era

Meanwhile, The Independent reminds us once again that governments aren’t the only snoops [though with so much of the snooping outsourced. . .]:

Hacking scandal: Blue-chip firms that used corrupt private investigators are identified

Financial institutions among those on a list from Serious Organised Crime Agency to MPs

From the Department of Hear/Speak/See No Evil via Europe Online:

Germany says it has no information about US spying on UN, embassies

And some more blowback with political implications from Ars Technica:

German politician: Stop US trade talks until NSA surveillance is disclosed

“I don’t think a chancellor should wait when civil liberties are at stake.”

From BuzzFeed, another news medium piles on:

ProPublica Joins NSA Chase

Broadening the journalistic front on the National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The BRAD BLOG reports the obvious:

Experts Say Release of Secret Surveillance Court Ruling Underscores Overclassification

Some redactions in the document, they tell The BRAD BLOG, appear solely to protect government, not national security…

And from Grist, with the answer in the affirmative:

Is the NSA surveillance program really about spying on environmentalists?

And from Raw Story, another ominous sign:

Ohio Attorney General: State secretly uploaded all drivers license photos into police database

The Register reports on another nation’s online anxiety:

Chinese authorities say massive DDoS attack took down .cn domain

Middle Kingdom pledges immediate action

And for our final story, a truly Orwellian tale from Techdirt:

Guantanamo Bay Authorities Ban Solzhenitsyn’s ‘The Gulag Archipelago’

from the stranger-than-fiction dept

Edible City: Remarkable film about city farming


From director Andrew Hasse, a delightful documentary on the urban agriculture movement, focusing mainly on what’s happening along the eastern side of San Francisco Bay.

Local readers will see a lot of familiar faces, including UC Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri, the last remaining faculty member from the university’s now-gutted agroecology program, Jason Harvey of the Oakland Food Collective, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Willow Rosenthal of Oakland’s City Slicker Farms, educator Joy Moore of Berkeley Alternative High School, Leon Davis of the Hope Collaborative, permaculture specialist Brock Dolman, and more. Altieri also addresses the short-lived occupation of the university’s Gill Tract in Albany.

Hasse’s done an excellent job of exploring a very important response to the global economic crisis, a way to reclaim some of our independence as citizens and communities. And note the job on the faces of the young people as they participate in growing food to feed themselves and their families.

The film’s website is here.

Venezuela launches urban farming initiative


A fascinating report from Agence France-Presse on one nation’s efforts to reduce the price of food by opening up urban land to community farming. Providing citizens with free seeds, tools, and other materials needed to organically grow food, Venezuela is following in the footsteps of Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union:

And for more on the Cuban program, see here.

Important documentary: The Power Principle


An important documentary by Scott Noble. The Power Principle exposes the hidden agenda driving American foreign policy over the last seven decades and its gruesome consequences.

Historian Michael Parenti calls the film “A gripping, deeply informative account of the plunder, hypocrisy, and mass violence of plutocracy and empire; insightful, historically grounded and highly relevant to the events of today.”

In an interview for Soldiers for the Cause, a veterans group supporting the Occupy movement, filmmaker Noble outlines the theses advanced in his documentary:

  • The Cold War was not just a struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States; the real struggle was between American corporations and the Third World.
  • Top policy planners in the US and other Western nations were acutely aware that the Soviet Union had a conservative foreign policy. You can see this in numerous declassified documents.
  • Nevertheless, the American government engaged in what can only be described as a campaign of terrorism against the American people, constantly invoking the “Soviet Menace” to justify military spending and war.
  • The United States does not have a free press.
  • The Pentagon is a Keynsian Mechanism.
  • The American government was responsible for genocide during the Cold War.
  • The Empire is similar to the mafia.
  • Corporate interests are inextricably wed with military policy.
  • American imperialism is not of recent vintage.
  • Elites deceive themselves as well as the public.
  • The US is not exceptional. It is behaving pretty much as powerful states always have.
  • Western elites supported fascism prior to, during and after WWII.
  • A WWIII scenario is almost inevitable unless the American public wakes up – and fast.

For more information see the film’s website.

And now, the documentary:

The Power Principle – I: Empire

The program notes:

An Introduction to the Empire; Iran – Oil and Geopolitics; Guatemala – the “merger of state and corporate power”; The Congo – Neocolonialism; Grenada – “The Mafia Doctrine”; Chile – “libertarianism with a small l”; Globalization: Consequences.

1945: Grand Area Strategy; Fascism: a “rational system of the plutocracy”; Case Studies: the Greek Communists; The Italian Communists; the Spanish Anarchists; Fascism’s Western backers; Trading with the Enemy; Fascism as “preservation of civilization”; the Cold War and “A Century of Fear”.

The Power Principle – II: Propaganda

The program notes:

The Soviet Menace?; Case Studies: El Salvador, Nicaragua; Propaganda: Self-Deception and blowback; The “International Communist Conspiracy”; Declassified Documents; NSC 68; The Pentagon as Keynsian Mechanism; The Military Industrial Complex; The War against the Third World; Shifting rationales; What is imperialism?; Case Study: Haiti; “War is a racket”.

Fear-based conditioning – The War of the Worlds, The Triumph of the Will; World view Warfare; The Russians are coming; Television: The “perfect propaganda medium”; Soviet vs. American propaganda; Hollywood and the Pentagon; Psywarriors and the media; Operation Mockingbird; The Pentagon Pundits; Project Revere; The Bomber Gap; “scare the hell out of them”.

The Power Principle – III: Apocalypse

The program notes:

Mutually Assured Destruction; MAD men – Curtis Lemay and the super hawks; MAD men – Hermann Kahn and the Rand Corporation; Over flights as provocation; Cuba: the “danger of a good example”; terrorism against Cuba; “Unconventional warfare”; the Cuban Missile Crisis and the “man who saved the world”.

Why did the Soviet Union collapse?; Gorbachev: a “more violent, less stable world”; the Pentagon’s New Map; Did Ronald Reagan end the Cold War?; The Brink of Apocalypse: Able Archer; The betrayal of Russia; The expansion of NATO; Yugoslavia and Libya; the Yeltsin coup; Living standards in the former Soviet Union; A third way?

Assange, Chomsky, and Ali: On popular risings


Though Julian Assange may be holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, waiting for word on his bid for refuge in that land, he’s still at work, as witnessed by the latest of his interview webcast for RT.

It’s an important discussion about the rise of popular movements, primarily in Latin America and the Middle East, among Assange, MIT prof and provocateur Noam Chomsky, and Tariq Ali.

The Julian Assange Show: Noam Chomsky & Tariq Ali

The program notes:

A surprise Arab drive for freedom, the West’s structural crisis and new hope coming from Latin America. That’s the modern world in the eyes of Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, two prominent thinkers and this week’s guests on Julian Assange’s show on RT.

Occupy the Farm, nurturing sustainability


UC Berkeley’s claim that Occupy the Tract — the peaceful takeover of UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract farmland in Albany — lacked support from Cal researchers took a big hit Saturday when several of them showed up for an occupation open house.

Professor Miguel Altieri spoke at an afternoon session, offering his full support for the movement which includes many of his own students.

Altieri is an agroecologist who devotes his research to finding the most effective ways to grow crops without the use of chemicals, a movement which began in its modern form with research at the site.

We counted five other Cal faculty at the site, including two who spoke briefly during the information session held on a bright, sunny day.

Altieri said UC Berkeley faculty have been heavily involved in past efforts to save the land for sustainable urban agriculture, including the 1997 drive by Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture [BACUA], which was endorsed by 45 agricultural and environmental groups including Food First, Urban Habitat Project, and Earth Island Journal.

BACUA came up with a detailed proposal for the site, which is posted online here. The university rejected it.

“We did everything the university asked us to do in developing a plan to convert the Gill Tract to a center for sustainable agriculture,” said Shyaam M. Shabaka, founder and executive director of EcoVillage Farm in nearby Richmond. “The university reneged without explanation on the day the agreement was to be finalized.”

Albany activist Michael Beer helped organize another proposal with the backing of the Albany school board to transform the tract into Village Creek Farm and Garden, a site as a site for interdisciplinary academic research, a teaching center for young people, and as a working farm to provide organic food for local consumers and restaurants.

The proposal is posted online here as a PDF.

The Gill Tract and the global land struggle

Miguel Altieri

Altieri said Occupy the Farm is part of a larger global struggle for land.

Control of the land is essential both for feeding the world sustainably and for the preservation of identities and culture.

Urban farms are critical to the struggle, he said.

“More than 30 percent of the food in the world is grown in cities,” Altieri said. He cited the case of Cuba, where urban agriculture saved the country from famine after the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the supplies of oil and other critical resources.

Now Cuban urban farms produce 15 to 20 kilograms of food per square meter annually, compared to 5 kilograms in the U.S.

Altieri’s ideal would be the transformation of the site into a teaching and outreach center. His own research on the Gill Tract has been halted for the moment since the university shut off water to the site.

A look back at the BACUA plan

Fifteen years after it was proposed, it’s worth looking back at BACUA.

Writing in Earth Island Journal in 1997. Food First Executive Director Peter Rosset described the group’s vision:

BACUA believes that the explosion in urban farming taking place throughout the world is a positive development – people taking control of the resources that they need for their own livelihoods.

In this era of privatizaton, the University’s Agricultural Research Stations are casting about for a new research mission. It is becoming increasingly common throughout the world for public institutions (and universities in particular) to form partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to share resources and promote common survival. Such a partnership at the Gill Tract, would involve university professors, researchers and students with committed NGOs, working together in a new and rapidly expanding field. (Something similar already exists at the UC Santa Cruz Agroecology Program, but this program doesn’t serve an urban region anything like the Bay Area.)

We can imagine a working community farm that would provide good jobs to local youth and quality organic food to local residents. The farm would simultaneously serve as a demonstration training site for young farmers and as a research site for the University. The farm’s greenhouses could support research directed at improving urban farming technologies while the vacant buildings could become offices shared by NGOs (ranging from urban gardening, school, and community groups, to food policy and education organizations and advocacy groups) and by university professors studying the economic, agronomic, nutritional, ecological and sociological aspects of urban agriculture.

If the potential is unlimited, the alternative is appalling. The loss of this precious of urban farmland would forfeit a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create something new, something where the total would clearly be bigger than the sum of the parts.

The creation of a unique working farm/research station would be true to the legacy of the Division of Biological Control, which over the last two decades fought the long good fight against the state’s dominant agribusiness interests and the agrochemical industry.

Read the rest.

And for a history of the Gill Tract from its pre-Columbian days to the present, see this essay by Miguel Altieri.

Headline of the day II: They’ve forgotten their motto


From Unredacted:

CIA Claims Release of its History of the Bay of Pigs Debacle Would “Confuse the Public.”

And the CIA’s motto: “And Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free.”

British military plotted to arm French fascists


Another reminder that rigid civilian oversight of the military is the sine qua non of sane governance comes from Radio France Internationale:

Newly-revealed documents from World War II show that British military chiefs secretly approved plans to arm the Vichy French regime and intended to hide the plot from then Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the leader of the free French forces, Charles de Gaulle.

The documents, which were discovered by a history professor Eric Grove from the University of Salford in north-west England, show the chiefs wanted to arm eight French divisions of the supposedly neutral Vichy regime, to take part in the liberation of France.

In an interview with the BBC, Grove said “his eyes widened” when he unearthed the documents.

“Having been fighting the Vichy French in Syria in 1941, and indeed, in May 1942, we were actually fighting Vichy forces in Madagascar, and here we are talking about arming their colleagues in France itself,” he said.

Read the rest.

The secret plot dissolved after Vichy troops offered no resistance to the Allied invasion of North Africa, but the lesson is clear: The generals often think they know best, and will, on occasion, launch programs on their own.

The story also doesn’t tell us how far up the chain of command the plot went. This is important because the Allies’ Supreme Commander would later become President of the United States and launched a few secret ops of his own that were kept way too secret., including that notorious failure called the Bay of Pigs.

Another secret op, much closer to home

This one — Operation Midnight Climax [previously here and here] — wasn’t cleared by the Eisenhower White House, but it helped launch the Swinging Sixties by dosing lots of unsuspecting San Francisco Bay Area residents with hefty doses of LSD.

Writing at SF Weekly, Troy Hooper offers another look at this most peculiar of Central Intelligence Agency black ops, one which involved the dosing of unsuspecting civilians in three “safe houses” equipped with hidden movie cameras to observe the effects of drugs on their hapless suspects, some of whom thought they were merely headed for a quickie with an Agency-recruited hooker or two.

It’s a good read, and a timely reminder that spies, like generals, aren’t always to be trusted.

And just for the fun of it, here’s the first of three parts of a dramatic re-enactment of the op from Brightlight Productions. We’ve previously posted the rest here.

Stupid Obaman tricks: Seizing Danish cop’s money


His offense? Buying a Cuban cigar.

Not in the U.S., where it’s a crime to smoke a Cuban stogie, but his offense was to attempt buy his smokes of choice from a German company so he could smoke it in Denmark.

Uncle Sam has grabbed up his cash, citing the U.S. trade embargo against the Caribbean island nation, and that has sparked what they call a “diplomatic incident.”

From Politiken DK in Copenhagen:

Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal is to investigate the case of a Danish policeman who bought cigars from a German company but has fallen foul of the US trade embargo against Cuba, according to Berlingske.

Funen Police Officer Torben Nødskou runs a part-time business known as Cognachuset and attempted to buy Cuban cigars from a German supplier in Hamburg when US authorities confiscated his deposit of DKK 137,000 (ca. USD25,000).

”I not feel it is reasonable for the United States to act against European companies in a case like this in which we have a legal transfer of funds between two European companies,” Søvndal tells Berlingske.

Nørskou sent his funds in dollars through the small, local Funen bank Totalbanken, but the funds were snapped up by US authorities who confiscated them. In January, the Justice Department refused to release the funds.

According to the Justice Department Nødskou had contravened the US trade embargo on Cuba, which was imposed in 1960 when Fidel Castro nationalised private property owned by Americans.

Read the rest.

Call it one more instance of Hope™ and Change™.

We would note with a certain irony that the Bush administration didn’t go after the funds of one very well known afficianado of Cuban smokes. Consider the following exchange between film director and then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as reported by the New York Times eight years ago:

Mr. Cameron asked him how governing was going.

“They’re really shaken up up there,” he said of Sacramento. “It’s a trip. You should see it.”

He talked about the art of compromise, popularity polls, special interests, prison investigations and the atrium outside his Sacramento office, where he is able to smoke his Cuban cigars—20 feet from the entrance as state law requires.

“A lot of business gets done there,” he said. “Who doesn’t like a good stogie?”

Three years later, the Associated Press reported this:

The celebrity governor known for his love of premium cigars was headed to the Ottawa airport Wednesday when his motorcade made a detour to a hotel. There, Schwarzenegger picked up a Cuban Partagas  cigar in a shop, with the $14.83 bill paid by an aide traveling with him, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported.

Under trade restrictions, U.S. citizens are prohibited from buying Cuban cigars anywhere in the world.

Schwarzenegger’s office wouldn’t confirm or deny that the governor indulged in a forbidden smoke while in Canada, where he was on a trade mission.

“He stopped and bought a cigar and smoked it on the way to the airport,” spokesman Aaron McLear said.

Was it a banned Cuban cigar?

“There’s no way of telling now because he smoked it,” McLear said.

Better watch out, Ahnie, Obama’s gonna getcha!

Yeah, sure.

We suspect his Justice Department is way to busy justifying extrajudicial killings of American citizens, busting medical marijuana clinics, and hassling Danish cops to terminate Schwarzenegger’s smoking habits.

November 22 and 9/11, two legacies of blowback


For anyone of a certain age, two days are burned into memory: 22 November 1963 and 11 September 2001.

The first date, known to those who remember it as “November 22,” ushered in the loss of the America’s 20th Century sense of innocence.

It was then that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was fatally show from ambush as he rode in an open-topped limousine between the Texas Schoolbook Depository and a grassy knoll in downtown Dallas.

A single person, Lee Harvey Oswald, was detained soon afterwards, then shot by a low-level mobster with ties to Chicago’s notorious Outfit, the old Al Capone organization.

A hasty investigation followed, chaired by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, which carried out a slipshod examination and came to the rapid conclusion that the deed was done by one disgruntled ex-Marine, acting alone.

Even by the official verdict of the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald’s act was inspired in part by his outrage over the United States’ treatment of Cuba, which had two years earlier been the target of a disastrous “black op” carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency, the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

The slain President, unbeknownst to the American people at the time, had also been waging an ongoing series of assassination attempts directed at Cuban Premier Fidel Castro in collusion with the CIA in collusion with the Chicago Outfit and other mafia families.

Then there was Oswald himself, who had defected to the Soviet Union after working at a top secret facility in Japan employed in conducting U-2 intelligence overflights of China and the Soviet Union on behalf of — yep — the CIA.

And then there were the numerous inconsistencies in the evidence, the rash of deaths among other key witnesses, and a whole host of other red flags no one seemed to notice.

Were there other assassins? Was Oswald the “patsy” he claimed to be? Did the CIA and FBI have foreknowledge that Oswald posed a danger to the President? The questions, still lacking answers, are endless.

More than a thousand books have been written over the years about an event which made the words “conspiracy theory” a popular meme in the American media.

But one overarching question stands out: Was the Dallas assassination a classic case of “blowback,” a case when intelligence operations turned around and bit the perpetrators in the ass?

Having read more than a hundred books on the case, we have no clear cut answers. One thing is certain, though: The Warren Commission was a farce, a political creation designed to yield a preordained conclusion.

Many of the key files remain classified to this day, while others have vanished. It’s likely, in the end, that we’ll never have conclusive proof of the chain of events that lead to the events of that bright Dallas morning.

Blowback at the World Trade Center?

Just as Lee Harvey Oswald’s motives may have been the fruits of blowback from one set of CIA black ops, the events of 9/11 also owe their origins to another set of spooky dealings: The CIA’s secret war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

It was under the direction of Ronald Reagan’s CIA director William Casey, an ardent Catholic drawn to secret church societies, that the spies at Langley launched their second major covert war, this time aimed at destroying the Soviet Union by fomenting rebellion among that nation’s Muslim minority.

The place Casey chose to begin the fight was Afghanistan, where a Soviet-backed regime was confronting a rebellion in a land that no foreign power had ever been Continue reading

WikiCable: The semantics of a war of words


Today, a SECRET/NOFORN 6 January 2010 dispatch from Jonathan D. Farrar, Chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which Washington maintains in lieu of an embassy.

The subject: An assessment of the recent ratcheting up of the war of words between Havana and Washington.

An excerpt:

Despite the challenges to the GOC’s authority, its economic mismanagement and its unwillingness to adapt with the times, the GOC remains confident and in control. A less hostile United States has helped allay real or imaginary fears that the regime will come under fire if it retreats from the dogmatic stance of years past. President Castro acknowledged in December that domestic change was needed, but asked for more time for consultations. And, despite his criticism of U.S. democracy programs, he again called for improved relations.

We note the use of two words in the cable — “blogger movement” — to describe one source of antiregime activism and remind readers of the State Department’s ongoing recruitment of bloggers in the propaganda war against regimes deemed unfriendly, as in, say, Egypt and Syria.

In one instance, the name of a Cuban blogger briefly detained by Cuban police is omitted. We can’t fathom why WikiLeaks removed the it in paragraph 7, given that the 6 November 2008 confinement of Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was widely reported at the time.

And we also note the palpable loathing of Hugo Chavez on the part of Obama’s man in Cuba.

The document is posted online here. We’ve added missing names and the meanings of acronyms [in brackets].

VZCZCXRO1987
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL
DE RUEHUB #0009/01 0062020
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 062020Z JAN 10
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5071
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOGCA/COMNAVBASE GUANTANAMO BAY CU PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 HAVANA 000009
NOFORN
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
STATE FOR WHA/CCA AND WHA/PD
STATE FOR DRL CNEWLING
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2019
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV SMIG CU

SUBJECT: U.S.- CUBA CHILL EXAGGERATED, BUT OLD WAYS THREATEN PROGRESS

REF: A. REF A HAVANA 639 (“A SPLENDID LITTLE VISIT”)
B. B HAVANA 772 (CONSULAR VISIT TO JAILED AMCIT)
C. C HAVANA 763 (CUBA PASSES UP ON REFORMS)
D. D HAVANA 739 (STRIDENT PROTEST)
E. E HAVANA 736 (HUMAN RIGHTS MARCHES TURN VIOLENT)
F. F HAVANA 755 (CUBAN FEATHERS RUFFLED BY USCG
RESCUE)
HAVANA 00000009 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Joaquin F. Monserrate for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. Over the course of the last month the tone coming out of Havana seems a regression to the hostile language that kept U.S. – Cuba relations on ice for much of the last 50 years. The U.S. press is playing it that way, and both U.S. and Cuban observers are publicly throwing their hands up in the air in frustration. The reality is far more complex, and possibly less pessimistic. The most vitriolic language was the result of Cuba’s, and more specifically Fidel Castro’s, sense of humiliation at being excluded from the negotiating table at Copenhagen. The GOC [Government of Cuba] would like nothing more than to firewall its civil society from foreigners, but its grumblings over U.S. observance of Human Rights Day were par for the course. Much more threatening to the regime are our overtures to and complaints of mistreatment of bloggers, a group that frustrates and scares the GOC like no other. The arrest of an Amcit, publicly denounced by President Raul Castro, remains a wild card that could further complicate progress. The GOC remains interested in improving relations and extracting what benefits it can but harbors no unrealistic expectations about a radical shift in U.S. policy. That interest wanes and is subject to the whims of Cuba’s rulers. This gerontocracy would rather abandon improved relations if it feels its political authority undermined. END SUMMARY.

HEATED WORDS OVER CLIMATE CHANGE
——————————–

2. (S/NF) The language coming out of Havana after the Climate Summit was as incendiary as it has been over the last year and a half. Communist Party boss and former President Fidel Castro railed about the U.S. “deceit” and “arrogance” and his Foreign Minister, upon his return from Copenhagen, duly repeated the charges at a press conference (Septel) [separate cable]. The atmosphere became so charged, that retired General Barry McCaffrey called off a 2010 visit to Cuba in disgust over the “shallow and vitriolic” language that “made the Cuban leadership appear non-serious, polemical amateurs.” The head of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, said that he had given up too, and did not expect “big changes in the near future.” The international press was quick to declare that the U.S.-Cuba “honeymoon” was over.

VERBAL WARMING A STAND-ALONE ISSUE
———————————-

3. (S/NF) Other Cuban leaders and the official media, however, have refrained from regurgitating, as they often do, the vitriolic language of the elder Castro. Many interlocutors, both foreign and Cuban, believe that Castro’s (and by extension his Foreign Minister’s) words constitute a stand-alone tantrum, and are not necessarily reflective of the state of relations between Cuba and the U.S. The British and Danes, for instance, were targeted just as fiercely. Castro’s topical obsessions are notorious, and climate change is certainly one of them (Septel). Adding insult to injury is the palpable sense of humiliation at seeing the Cuban Foreign Minister, and wannabe world leader and Continue reading