Category Archives: Education

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

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

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

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

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

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

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

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

Salon finds brown noses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

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

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

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

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

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

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

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

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

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

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

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

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

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

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

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

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

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

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

>snip<

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

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

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

BLOG Drought

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

More of those not-so-random headlines to mull


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

Insanely Rich Reporter Covers White House Meeting of the Insanely Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has the West fallen prey to crony capitalism?

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

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

Oakland auditor sounds pension alarm

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

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

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

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

Student debt holds back many would-be home buyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students Loans Are HUGE Profit-Centers For The Government

Program notes:

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

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

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

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECB hardliner Weidmann comes in from the cold as deflation threatens

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

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

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

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

Random headlines again, for your consideration


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian, Bubba’s bankster buddies:

Wall Street deregulation pushed by Clinton advisers, documents reveal

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

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

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

And from USA Today, high anxiety:

Nerves fray as anniversaries of April attacks arrive

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

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

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

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

From the London Daily Mail, justice American style:

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

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

Another potential unemployment casualty in France from RFI:

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

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

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

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

Germany cancels scheme designed to attract young jobless from abroad

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

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

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

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

Venice secession vote underscores autonomist movements

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

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

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

A blow to partisan plutocrats from the New York Times:

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

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

DVICE eyeballs a spooky development:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Usual Suspects, cashin’ in — via Wired:

High Tech

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

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

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

California students feel UC admission squeeze

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

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

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

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

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

Boom town: Atomic tourism blooms in a western desert

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

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

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

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

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

Saudi Govt. Prohibits ‘Unauthorized’ Media Coverage Of MERS

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

UC Berkeley climbs in bed with the devil


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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.

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

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

Brunei’s plan to stone gays riles UN

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

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

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

Read the rest.

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

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

Bruneian Breslaur

Brunei George Breslauer

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

Maybe he feels like going out and getting stoned?

Chart of the day II: A real American drug problem


And it ain’t crack, smack or weed. . .

From an important Esquire article, which notes:

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.

BLOG Meds

Random thoughts on our plutocratic senator


Dianne Feinstein’s everything Ike warned us about in his farewell address to the nation, the embodied fusion of the elements of that military/industrial/academic [MIA] complex that so alarmed the old general during the latter years of his presidency.

And, yes, Ike included academia in his warning, something we’ve sadly forgotten over the years as the problem itself has grown exponentially.

Feinstein and her partner in pilferage — spouse/University of California regent/real estate peddler and developer/defense contract/investment bankster Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum — are exemplars of the demise of the last semblance of a government created to serve the common good.

That the press invariably describes DiFi as a “liberal” also reveals the utter debasement of the mainstream media and the corruption of language itself.

DiFi and Tricky Dickie are the incarnations of something new, a class of beings we call, for lack of a better term, lootocrats. . .public servants devoted to turning the public into servants of their own insatiable lust for power and pelf.

That they are Democrats is merely a delicious irony.

[And isn't it ironic that DiFi, who serves on the key Senate committees of the MIA complex, only became upset with nation's spooks when she discovered they were also spying on her?]

What’s truly remarkable are the sheer nakedness of the dastardly duo’s greed, their willingness to cast off ever the slightest shred of camouflage as they go about gutting the commons and ensuring that there fellow lootocrats will scoop up every bit of spare change remaining in the pockets of an increasingly impoverished public.

We suspect one major reason that the pair has been able to get away with conduct that would have raised headlines and generated screaming headlines in years past is the finale decline of the American press. Here in California, the press corps has been gutted, with scores of newspaper closed, radio and television news staffs laid off in droves, and the remainder terrified for their jobs and spread so thin that the day-to-day coverage of the consequences of political actions has been diluted to near-homeopathic levels of enfeeblement.

In a sane world, Feinstein and Blum would be clapped in irons, stripped of their ill-gotten gains, and either administered a nice veneer of tar and feathers or locked away with far more honorable thieves, murderers, and arsonists to be subjected to their tender ministrations.

It’s really that bad.

Instead, their names adorn public institutions.

The last time the couple ran into any troubled was fourteen years ago, when she made an unsuccessful run against Pete Wilson for the California governorship. It was the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission which caught them.

From the FPPC website:

Dianne Feinstein, an unsuccessful candidate for Governor in 1990, her committee, and the committee treasurer failed to properly report campaign contributions and expenditures. The campaign statements did not disclose expenditures of $3.5 million, accrued expenses of $380,000, and subvendor payments of $3.4 million. The guarantor of loans totaling $2.9 million, Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, was not disclosed. Monetary and non-monetary contributions totaling $815,000 were not reported on campaign statements and late contributions of $90,000 were not reported. Notices were not sent to 166 major contributors who made contributions of $5,000 or more advising them of possible filing requirements.

Not a lot of money to folks like them, but it ain’t chump change either.

Meanwhile, their wealth keeps growing as Blum makes tidy profits selling off post offices to his pals and selling degrees to students at his private colleges financed by federal loans indenturing their lives for years to comes, all thanks to the public purse.

Meanwhile, Blum played a key role in completing the capture of the the University of California by his cronies from the dark side when the former Director of Homeland Security was hired to run what had been the world’s finest public education system.

There oughta be a law. . .

Dianne Feinstein buys a luxury hotel in Berkeley


California’s plutocratic senator and her spouse have found yet another way to profit off the University of California, where spouse Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum serves as a member of the powerful Board of Regents, including a recent term as president.

From the press release:

FRHI Hotels & Resorts (FRHI), the parent company of luxury and upper upscale hotel brands Raffles Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, together with California financier Richard C. Blum and his family, have purchased the historic Claremont Hotel Club & Spa in Berkeley, California, it was announced today. FRHI and the Blum family are equal partners and terms were not disclosed.

The purchase supports FRHI’s growth strategy of acquiring strategic assets in key leading markets.

The new owners will begin work on a multi-million dollar capital investment project to update the hotel’s facilities and enhance the Claremont’s stunning architecture, while at the same time preserving and protecting the character and local charm of the Bay Area landmark. Once the revitalization work is complete, the hotel will join the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts collection, an unrivalled portfolio of hotels that includes famed landmarks such as New York’s The Plaza and The Fairmont San Francisco.

“Growth continues to be one of our top priorities, so we are extremely excited to be adding an asset as attractive as the Claremont,” said Kevin Frid, President, Americas, FRHI Hotels & Resorts. “We see this as an opportunity to grow one of our leading brands with the right product, in the right market, and firmly believe the hotel is a perfect complement to many of the other celebrated hotels in the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts portfolio.”

“My family and I are pleased to participate in an investment in this iconic property. The Claremont is a true California treasure and its future can only be enhanced with the Fairmont imprimatur,” Mr. Blum said.

Blum and his corporate empire have made fortunes preying on taxpayers, and among the senatorial spouse’s holdings via his Blum Capital Partners has been one of the nation’s leading nuclear defense contractors, EG&G. Not so coincidentally, its the University of California which has run the nation’s nuclear labs, including Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, though mismanagement scandals have loosened UC’s grip.

Immediately after Blum’s EG7G buy from the warmongering Carlyle Group, the company won a $600 million defense contract, under the aegis of the Senate  Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by none other than. . .yep, good ol’ DiFi.

Despite Blum’s position on the UC board, the regents voted to award his own URS a contract to build a high tech gym immediately adjacent to California Memorial Stadium, a facility which sits directly atop the Hayward Fault, which federal geologists have named the most likely source of the Bay Area’s next major earthquake. URS withdrew after the press focused attention on the clear conflict of interest. From as story we wrote for the Berkeley Daily Planet:

At that time, the construction firm hired to manage the gym project was the URS Corporation, of which UC Board of Regents Chair (and spouse of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein) Richard Blum had been a major shareholder until the year before. URS has subsequently withdrawn from the project.

Through another of his holdings, Blum is also profiting over the privatization of America’s historic post offices, complete with their remarkable trove of Depression-era public art.

Here’s a report from Peter Byrne, the journalist who’s done more than anyone else to expose the nest of military/industrial/academic corruption that is the DiFi/Tricky Dicky:

Add to that Blum’s holdings in private for-profit colleges, combined with UC’s aggressive moves to raise tuition for popular majors offered in his own money-making institutions, and you have a picture of remarkable institution corruption.

The Blum/Feinstein acquisition of the Claremont, spa favored by Hollywood luminaries is a logical move, given that the facility is favored by elite UC visitors of the sort entertained by regents in search of bug bucks donations. . .a search we documented over the course of our years at the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Ain’t it wunnerful?

The dynamic duo is the perfect embodiment of what Dwight David Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein. . .the American nightmare.

Video report: Rallying for compassionate politics


Here’s an important and ongoing story given far too little coverage in mainstream media.

First up, the Contributor Network poses a question:

This Past Saturday, 80K Plus Marched on Raleigh, NC. Why Didn’t We Hear About It?

A crowd declared by organizers to exceed 80,000 showed up to march to protest Republican policies in Raleigh, N.C. Saturday. But you wouldn’t know it if you live outside the area.

Saturday’s big march, organized by the North Carolina NAACP and more than 160 partner organizations, was called “the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Coalition.” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the NC NAACP and convener of HKonJ, said at the march:

“We are black, white, Latino, Native American. We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. We stand here – a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds.”

There were few reports in any national news outlets (though USA Today did carry a report, saying there was “a crowd of between 80,000 and 100,000 people”), but some local media picked up the story.

And for more depth, here’s a report on the rally and its origins from The Real News Network:

80,000+ Moral Monday Protesters Fight For Justice Regardless of Which Party Is In Power

From the transcript:

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

So, do you remember the Moral Monday protests? Well, they’re back, and last Saturday, tens of thousands marched in Raleigh, North Carolina, protesting policies enacted by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor Pat McCrory. Participants came from all over the country to join the Forward Together / Moral movement and the HKonJ, which is the Historic Thousands on Jones St. People’s Assembly, to reignite the Moral Monday protests.

Here’s just a quick look at the GOP’s record in North Carolina and what these protesters are fighting against. Since 2010, they’ve ended the earned income tax credit. They’ve also refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And they cut pre-K programs and passed voter ID laws requiring voter IDs, and eliminated same-day voter registration.

Now joining us to discuss all this is one of the leaders of the movement, Reverend Curtis Gatewood. Reverend Gatewood is the HKonJ Coalition coordinator for the North Carolina NAACP. From 2005 to 2011, Gatewood served as the second vice president of the state’s NAACP.

Thanks for joining us, Rev. Gatewood.

REV. CURTIS E. GATEWOOD, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, NORTH CAROLINA NAACP: Hello, Jessica. It’s a pleasure to be here.

DESVARIEUX: So, Rev. Gatewood, let’s get right into this. Can you just discuss why your group decided to participate in this march?

GATEWOOD: Well, first, I do feel that there’s a certain level of honor due as I bring greetings on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference, where we have the conspicuous and prophetic leadership of Rev. William J. Barber[incompr.]II, who in 2005 was elected to become the state NAACP president at the same time, as you mention, I was elected second vice president.

After that, Rev. Barber worked with leaders around the state to form what is now known as HKonJ, the HKonJ Coalition, which is the acronym for Historic Thousands on Jones St. As a part of the coalition, we were able to put together an agenda which was also related to the mission of the NAACP. And by putting together the agenda, we were able to identify experts within the community, for example education equality. Of course, then we would look for experts who speak to those issues–women’s rights, health care for all.

Or so–as we put together this, about a 14-point agenda, which basically now can be broken down to about five categories, we were able to identify issues at the state level. And since that formation of HKonJ and its coalition, we have gone across the state in building and focusing on legislative issues that were served the worst interests of our agenda.

So we first of all want to make clear that we did not just start challenging policies because we have now a majority Republican House. In fact, when we started, we had a majority Democratic House.

Chart of the day: Education and income


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

BLOG ed wages

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


Our compendium of headlines from the world of human economic and political actions and their impacts on our environment opens with a health alert from The Guardian:

Worldwide cancer cases expected to soar by 70% over next 20 years

  • New cancer cases expected to grow from 14m a year in 2012 to 25m, with biggest burden in low- and middle-income countries

Cancer cases worldwide are predicted to increase by 70% over the next two decades, from 14m in 2012 to 25m new cases a year, according to the World Health Organisation.

The latest World Cancer Report says it is implausible to think we can treat our way out of the disease and that the focus must now be on preventing new cases. Even the richest countries will struggle to cope with the spiralling costs of treatment and care for patients, and the lower income countries, where numbers are expected to be highest, are ill-equipped for the burden to come.

The incidence of cancer globally has increased in just four years from 12.7m in 2008 to 14.1m new cases in 2012, when there were 8.2m deaths. Over the next 20 years, it is expected to hit 25m a year – a 70% increase.

Closer to Casa esnl, the latest coverage of class war in Babylon by the Bay from USA TODAY:

SF residents caught in middle of tech hostilities

For the past month, protesters have confronted buses that transport employees from Google, Apple and Facebook to Silicon Valley. The flare-ups highlight the yawning gap between those benefiting from the enormous wealth generated by the tech boom and those left behind. Multimillion-dollar tax breaks for SF-based companies like Twitter have stoked rebellious tensions.

“We have a group which is mostly young and has not learned social norms or responsibility gaining wealth and power,” says Vivek Wadhwa, a Fellow at Stanford Law School. “This group has its own value system and lives in its own bubble. It is displacing the larger population of San Francisco.”

The city has had its neighborhood battles – hippies in the Haight in the 1960s, gays in the Castro in the ‘70s. But the latest gentrification clash is moving faster, making the current situation dicey.

The Verge Googles eyesore:

California orders Google to move floating barge from current construction site

The state of California has ordered Google to move its massive floating barge away from its current construction site in the San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission executive director Larry Goldzband said the four-story structure has drawn numerous complaints. “It needs to move,” Goldzband said. He also claims that Google never had the proper permits to start work on the project at Treasure Island. But today’s development may not spell any real trouble for Google — the company simply needs to relocate the barge to another Bay facility where construction is fully permitted. The news was first reported by the Associated Press.

Sightings of the barge led to rampant speculation about its purpose last year. Google eventually admitted ownership of the San Francisco barge, teasing that it hopes to explore using it as a space where “people can learn about new technology.” We reached out to the company for more details on how it plans to respond to this latest challenge. In a statement, a Google spokesperson told The Verge, “We just received the letter from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and we are reviewing it.”

From Bloomberg, the usual suspects operating in the usual way:

IBM Uses Dutch Tax Haven to Boost Profits as Sales Slide

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) has reduced its tax rate to a two-decade low with help from a tax strategy that sends profits through a Dutch subsidiary.

The approach, which involves routing almost all sales in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and some of the Americas through the Netherlands unit, helped IBM as it gradually reduced its tax rate over 20 years at the same time pretax income quadrupled. Then last year, the rate slid to the lowest level since at least 1994, lifting earnings above analysts’ estimates.

IBM is aiming for $20 a share in adjusted earnings by 2015, up from $11.67 in 2010 — a goal made more difficult as the company posted seven straight quarters of declining revenue. To stay on target, IBM has bought back shares, sold assets, and fired and furloughed workers. A less prominent though vital role is played by its subsidiary in the Netherlands, one of the most important havens for multinational companies looking for ways to legally reduce their tax rates.

MarketWatch tanks anxiously:

U.S. stocks see worst selloff in several months

  • Manufacturers expand in January at slowest rate in eight months

The U.S. stock market closed with sharp losses on Monday, after a much weaker-than-expected reading on manufacturing data as well as concerns over a slowdown in China, triggered the worst selloff in several months.

The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day with the steepest decline since June 20.

U.S. manufacturers expanded in January at the slowest rate in eight months as the pace of new orders sharply decelerated, according to the closely followed ISM index. The Institute for Supply Management index sank to 51.3% from 56.5% in December. That’s the lowest level since last May. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected the index to drop to 56%

From the New York Times, a belated recognition:

The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.

As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.

If there is any doubt, the speed at which companies are adapting to the new consumer landscape serves as very convincing evidence. Within top consulting firms and among Wall Street analysts, the shift is being described with a frankness more often associated with left-wing academics than business experts.

The Washington Post notes a sea change:

Report: Majority of U.S. kids under age 2 are now children of color

For the first time, a majority of American children under age 2 are now children of color  — and 1 in 3 of them is poor, according to a disturbing new report. “The State of America’s Children 2014.” that cites the neglect of  children as the top national security threat.

The report, published by the Children’s Defense Fund, calls on President Obama and America’s political leaders “in every party at every level to mount a long overdue, unwavering, and persistent war to prevent and eliminate child poverty.”

From the Project On Government Oversight, why the hell not?:

Could Post Offices Become Public Banks?

The U.S. Postal Service is floundering—2013 was the seventh year in a row to report a net loss, at a whopping $5 billion—and  nobody is quite sure how to fix it. Go Private? Close branches? Deliver Mail only four days a week? Ideas are being thrown around but little progress has been made in improving the troubled agency.

But last week, the office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service released a report with an out-of-the-box suggestion that would produce $8.9 billion in new annual profits: Turning the Post Office into a bank, with savings accounts, loans and debit cards. Furthermore, it would greatly benefit the poor, who lack banking options and are often gouged by predatory financial services.

The idea has been floated before but with official backing from the Inspector General it has a higher degree of credibility and plausibility. Add in the fact that it wouldn’t require Congressional approval, only an executive order from the President, and maybe the out-there proposal could actually become a reality.

Still think the idea sounds crazy? Consider this: The Post Office already was a bank. From 1911-1967, savings accounts were offered with 2 percent interest, ending because of competition from private banks with higher interest rates. The post office still provides money orders.

From Medical Daily, a notable side effect:

Medical Marijuana Cuts Suicide Rates By 10% In Years Following Legalization

Legalization of medical marijuana has been found to correlate to a significant drop in suicide rates, providing additional evidence that the federally outlawed substance may have a positive effect on U.S. public health.

The new study, which is published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows that the suicide rate among men ages 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 fell by 10.8 percent and 9.8 percent respectively following a given state’s decision to legalize medical marijuana. Although the relationship was weaker and less precise among women, the authors believe that the findings provide strong evidence in favor of medical cannabis. “The negative relationship between legalization and suicides among young men is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana can be used to cope with stressful life events,” they wrote.

On to Europe with an anxious twist from CNNMoney:

Pressure building for ECB rate cut

Another interest rate cut in Europe could be just around the corner as the risk of deflation rears its ugly head again.

The first official estimate of eurozone inflation in January was a weaker-than-expected 0.7% — the same level that prompted the European Central Bank to cut rates in November. Consumer prices rose by 0.8% in December.

The weaker January number “puts significant pressure on the ECB to take further stimulative action at its February policy meeting next Thursday,” said IHS Insight’s chief European economist Howard Archer.

Cheaper energy was largely to blame, but the stronger euro has also been pulling import prices down, economists said.

Quartz covers mordida:

Lithuanians and Romanians are more than six times as likely to be asked for bribes than the EU average

A fifth of Danes think corruption is prevalent, for example (the lowest level in the EU), but only 3% say they are personally affected by it in their daily lives. Some 12% claim they know someone who has taken a bribe, but only 1% say they have paid, or been expected to pay, a bribe themselves.

In much of western Europe, then, it seems that corruption is a somewhat abstract concept for the common person—confined to criminal cliques or a select few who abuse their positions of power (Danes reckon politicians are the most corrupt group in their country). But as you travel to the south and east, corruption appears to creep into one’s daily life, a depressingly routine feature of doing business or accessing public services. In the past 12 months, around one in three Lithuanians and one in four Romanians say they were asked or expected to pay a bribe; the EU average is less than one in 20.

Al Jazeera America sets the cost:

Report: EU corruption costs $162B annually

  • All 28 member states suffer from some level of corruption, the report found

Corruption affects all member countries of the European Union and costs the bloc’s economies about 120 billion euros ($162.19 billion) a year, an official EU report published Monday said.

European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who presided over the first-ever official EU-wide study on corruption, said the estimated amount lost annually due to padded government contracts, covert political financing, bribes to secure health care and other corrupt practices would be enough to fund the European Union’s yearly operating budget.

All 28 EU member states suffer from some level of corruption — defined broadly by the report as the “abuse of power for private gain” — the report found.

One more headline [only], from BBC News:

Corruption across EU ‘breathtaking’ – EU Commission

On to Britain and a call for caution from Deutsche Welle:

Steinmeier urges UK to stay in EU, voices doubt on treaty change

  • Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has appealed to the UK to remain in the European Union, regardless of progress on the EU treaty change sought by Britain’s Conservative-led government.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier made his first visit to London since returning to the foreign minister’s post on Monday, asking his British counterpart William Hague not to lose sight of the benefits of EU membership.

“In this 21st century world, we want to protect our political, economic and cultural influences,” Steinmeier said, adding that, on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, such European ties “really must not be underestimated.”

The German foreign minister said it would be “an exaggeration” to assert that Germany and the UK were on precisely the same page when it came to treaty reform for the EU.

Xinhua sounds the alarm:

London housing market under price bubbles risk, warns Ernst and Young

Housing market in London is beginning to show signs of bubble-like conditions, said a research report issued by Ernst and Young Item Club (EY ITEM Club) on Monday, while asking the government to monitor the trend closely and be prepared to intervene.

The EY ITEM Club forecast showed the average house price in London is expected to reach nearly 600,000 pounds (980,000 U.S. dollars) by 2018, some 3.5 times the average price in Northern Ireland and more than 3.3 times the average in the North East.

It said the average house prices in Britain growing by 8.4 percent this year and 7.3 percent in 2015, before cooling to around 5.5 percent in 2016.

And simultaneously booms:

British manufacturing off to strong start in 2014

Britain’s manufacturing sector maintained its strong growth into 2014, posing an improved domestic demand and solid output growth supported by rising export orders in January, said a survey report on Monday.

The report, jointly issued by Markit and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), showed the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for the British manufacturing sector was at 56.7 in January of this year.

The figure is at its lowest level in three months, but still showed a robust improvement in overall operating conditions for the manufacturing sector.

A reading of 50 points or greater indicates expansion, while below 50 indicates contraction.

A qualified UK separatism endorsement from El País:

Spain will not oppose Scottish EU entry: foreign minister

  • But García-Margallo warns that re-entry to the Union will take considerable time

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has stated that should Scotland elect to break away from the United Kingdom, Spain will not oppose the move because it does not have any bearing on the internal affairs of the country. “If the Constitution of the United Kingdom permits – and it seems that it does – that Scotland call a referendum on their possible independence, we will say nothing on the matter,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

However, the minister adhered to the Popular Party (PP) administration’s line over Catalonia’s own designs on a referendum for independence; one of staunch resistance.

On to Sweden and a call from TheLocal.se:

EU: Sweden should ban secret party donations

While the EU’s executive body acknowledged that Sweden was among the least corrupt countries in the EU, it pointed to several areas of potential improvement.

Specifically, Sweden could improve its transparency if it considered a general ban on anonymous political party donations. Sweden remains one of few EU countries without total party-funding transparency, and the government came under fire last month when it decided to keep the lid on private donations.

The report also hinted that Sweden could do more to combat the risk of corruption at the municipality and county level, which the commission said could be fixed by making authorities obliged to secure transparency in public contracts with private entrepreneurs.

TheLocal.se again, with hard times intolerance:

Afrophobic hate crimes on the rise in Sweden

Hate crimes directed against Sweden’s black population have increased in recent years, according to a report published on Monday, prompting grave concern from Sweden’s integration minister.

Afrophobia, defined as hostility towards people with a background from sub-Saharan Africa, is soaring in Sweden, according to the researchers who compiled the government-commissioned report. They wrote on Monday in the opinion pages of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) that it was time society took these statistics seriously.

Between 2008 and 2012, the number of reported hate crimes against Afro-Swedes, defined as anyone with African heritage living in Sweden, rose by 24 percent, while hate crimes in general during the same period decreased by six percent. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the number of Afrophobic hate crimes rose by 17 percent, the researchers explained.

On to Brussels and a critique via DutchNews.nl:

Brussels criticises ‘revolving door’ between Dutch politics and industry

While the Dutch integrated approach to preventing corruption and bribery could serve as a model to other EU countries, the Netherlands should still do more to improve transparency in politics, the European Commission said on Monday.

While welcoming the fact that much has been done in the Netherlands to improve transparency, the Commission went on to recommend improvements in the way the business interests of ministers are examined.

Officials’ private, financial and business interests are considered a private matter and information about their assets and interests is not available to the public, the report points out.

Nor are there any rules forcing MPs to declare potential conflicts of interest or barring them from holding financial interests or engaging in external activities.

Germany next and a peculiar call from TheLocal.de:

Industry boss: ‘Too many students harm economy’

One of Germany’s top commerce experts warned on Monday that there were so many young people at university, and so few in traineeships, that the country’s economy would suffer.

“The consequences to Germany’s economy will be damaging, if the trend to study at any cost is not stopped,” said Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK).

Schweitzer was referring to the amount of young people who undertake lengthy study in Germany, while companies struggled to fill traineeships.

“The truth is that many years of increasing student numbers in Germany have resulted in our classrooms now bursting at the seams, while companies are desperately seeking apprentices,” he said in a statement.

France next and a concession to the “family values” set from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande puts off family law to avoid new fight

A day after massive protests over President François Hollande’s “family phobia”, his government on Monday abruptly postponed plans to pass a controversial new family bill, that would likely have picked another fight with France’s traditional conservatives.

France’s Socialist government on Monday put off plans for a new family law after demonstrations by thousands of angry conservatives.

Hollande’s administration announced on Monday it was postponing its plans to move ahead with legislation that would have legalized medically assisted procreation for same sex couples, and tackled issues like surrogacy.

A source in Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office said the government would no longer present a bill this year that officials had said was aimed at modernising the law to reflect the new “diversity” of families.

Nature’s newsblog takes the pledge:

Hollande pledges to avoid cuts to France’s science funding

French President François Hollande promised to spare the research and higher education budget from savings of €50 billion (US$67 billion) that his government has pledged to find over the next three years to reign in its massive public deficit.

The government will find other ways to cut the deficit, avoid tax increases and ensure business can increase investment and create jobs, he said during a visit to the University of Strasbourg.

In a speech devoted entirely to research and higher education, Hollande also said he would maintain the controversial research tax credit (CIR) because companies appreciate it and it helps attracts foreign investment.

And from TheLocal.fr, a demand:

EU: France must root out corruption at local level

France remains a country where the worlds of international business and public procurement are blighted by shady dealings and corruption, according to a new EU report. But just how bad is corruption in France and how does it compare to other countries in Europe?

France needs to do more to fight corruption a new report from the European Commission argues, especially in the areas of international business transactions and public procurement, which are still ripe with misdeeds.

“Corruption-related risks in the public procurement sector and in international business transactions have not been addressed,” the report concludes.

On to Switzerland and the first of a schizy set of headlines from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss ban proposed on sex education for kids

Swiss voters will decide whether to ban compulsory sex education for children under nine after conservative groups mustered enough signatures to force a plebiscite, the authorities said on Monday.

The federal administration said campaigners had gathered more than the 100,000 signatures of voters required to put their measure to the public for approval.

The campaign coalition — whose goal is the “protection against sexualisation in kindergartens and primary schools” — handed in its petition in December and the government is now obliged to set a date for a vote.

And out of left field, also from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss want to reopen pot legalization debate

A Swiss parliamentary committee looking into drug issues wants to reopen the debate on the legalization of marijuana in the wake of developments in the US, Uruguay and New Zealand.

“Many models that exist around the world should be studied and analyzed, that is the basis of our reflection,” Toni Berthel, committee president and a member of the Swiss association for addiction, is quoted as saying by the ATS news agency.

Berthel confirmed information reported on Sunday by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly newspaper about the new look at Swiss cannabis laws.

Spain next and a matter of perception from El País:

95 percent of Spaniards see corruption as institutionalized

  • “Political will is absent” in battle against graft, notes Brussels report

Ninety-five percent of Spaniards believe corruption is generalized, according to the first continent-wide study on the issue by the European Commission. Only respondents in Greece (99 percent) and Italy (97 percent) outdid Spain. The report, which was presented on Monday in Brussels, underscores the magnitude of the issue in Europe: three out of four EU citizens believe corruption is an institutional problem.

In two areas of the survey Spain topped the charts. Asked if the level of corruption has risen in the past three years, 77 percent said yes, more than in the other 27 member states. Two out of every three respondents said that corruption affected their daily lives, more than in any other nation. The survey was conducted in February and March 2013, when a series of corruption scandals involving the government, labor unions, political parties and the monarchy occupied the front pages in Spain.

From TheLocal.es, Coke Zero:

Zero tolerance to Coke plant closures

Thousands of workers from Coca-Cola bottling factories in Spain marched on Sunday in protest at plant closures they say will cost 750 jobs.

In red caps and vests bearing the logo of the giant US drinks company, crowds marched in Madrid and the eastern city of Alicante, where two of the threatened plants are located.

Coca-Cola’s plan to close four of its bottling factories in Spain is expected to lead to 750 workers being laid off and 500 others being offered relocation to other plants.

Another protest from thinkSPAIN:

Nationwide protest over ‘abusive’ electricity costs

THOUSANDS of people across Spain joined in a countrywide protest over rocketing electricity prices on Saturday.

Demonstrations were held in 23 cities, mostly provincial capitals, including Madrid, Valencia, Alicante, Barcelona, Murcia, Málaga, Almería, Granada, Córdoba, Huelva, Sevilla, Cádiz, Jaén, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Carrying banners calling for Luz a precio justo (‘electricity at a fair price’), the demonstrators clamoured against the government’s forcing the consumer to bear the cost of its own debt with energy suppliers, leaving already hard-pressed householders suffering prohibitive prices.

And an austerian measure from TheLocal.es:

King freezes wages of Queen and Princess

King Don Juan Carlos has gone against the trend of royal secrecy in Spain and publicized the new fixed salaries of his wife Queen Sofía and daughter-in-law Princess Letizia.

It’s the first time the 76-year-old monarch has willingly made information on royal earnings available to Spain’s general public.

In a press release published by Spain’s Zarzuela Palace, the newly-fixed wages of royal family members have been disclosed in detail.

Queen Sofía of Spain will earn €131,739 in 2014, a sum roughly resembling her wages last year but which is no longer determined by so-called representation costs.

As for Letizia Ortiz, wife of Prince Felipe and future queen of Spain, she will receive a grand total of €102,464.

El País schmoozes:

Rajoy looks to 2015 race with soothing pledges for tax reform and stimulus measures

  • PM bashes Rubalcaba for being negative and blames Socialist leader for current “agony”

The Popular Party (PP) on Sunday officially kicked off the beginning of the second half of its current term in government with pledges from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to carry out his long-awaited ambitious tax reform and other economic measures to help Spain get back on its feet.

As PP officials begin to look toward the next general elections scheduled for the end of next year, the ruling party has tried to use its three-day political conference in Valladolid to showcase proposed strategies in an effort to win voters’ confidence in its recovery plan. But at the close of national meeting, Rajoy avoided offering any specifics on his plans, but was able to muster rallying cheers from stalwart party members with an unusually aggressive attack on opposition Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

The verbal blitzkrieg was seen as an attempt to breathe new life into an increasingly embattled Popular Party, which finds itself bitterly divided on a range of issues, including the government’s proposal for abortion reform; the route that should be taken that would lead to ETA’s eventual demise; and the ongoing public corruption inquiries that have engulfed many of its members.

Italy next, starting with a Bunga Bunga bounceback from New Europe:

Italy: Poll finds Berlusconi-led government would win election

Judges may be convicting him and prosecutors opening yet new probes, but it seems that Italians would yet again elect a Berlusconi-led government it they had to vote now. According to a new poll published in February 3, a center-right alliance led by embattled former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would be the most likely winner if Italians were to vote now under a reform proposal currently before parliament.

The poll, commissioned by newspaper Corriere della Sera and conducted by the Ipsos agency found that potential center-right coalition would get 37.9 percent of the vote, above the 37 percent threshold needed under the new rules being examined to obtain a large winner’s bonus of parliamentary seats without having repeat elections.

The centre left according to the same poll would get 36 percent while Bepe Grillo’s 5-Star protest movement 20.7 percent.

TheLocal.it hyperbolizes:

Five Star bloggers ‘potential rapists’: MP

Italy’s lower house speaker has accused the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of instigating violence and slammed bloggers on the party website as “potential rapists” following a flurry of sexist abuse online.

Laura Boldrini was commenting on a post on the Facebook page belonging to the Five Star Movement’s leader Beppe Grillo, which asked on Saturday “what would you do if you found Boldrini in your car?”

The question, which accompanied a satirical video and was taken up on the movement’s official website, sparked a series of abusive comments, including calls for Boldrini to be raped.

The post was an “instigation to violence, just look at the comments it prompted, nearly all of which were made in a sexist context,” Boldrini said in an interview late Sunday on Italian television.

And from TheLocal.it, ubiquity:

Almost all Italians think corruption is rife

Almost all Italians believe that corruption is widespread in their country, according to the European Commission’s anti-corruption report released on Monday. While some progress has been made, the EU’s executive body highlighted a number of areas in need of urgent action.

Ninety-seven percent of Italians think that corruption is rife, second only to Greece with 99 percent and well above the European average of 76 percent, the European Commission report found.

Bribery and connections are the easiest ways to get certain public services, 88 percent of Italians believe, compared to 73 percent of Europeans.

People in Italy, however, are more optimistic than those in Greece, where 93 percent of the population believe bribery is the easiest way to get what you want, compared to 92 percent in Cyprus and 89 percent in Slovakia and Croatia.

TheLocal.it again, with oldies and not-so-goodies:

Crisis-hit Italians survive on out of date food

Italians may be well-known for their healthy diet, but more are eating food well past its use-by date as the effects of the financial crisis continue to bite, according to new figures from Coldiretti, the Italian farmers association.

Fifty-nine percent of Italians, or six out of ten, eat out of date food, with fifteen percent eating food that is a month or more old, the association revealed.

Eight percent are eating food that is way beyond a month after its use-by date, while 34 percent are consuming products up to a week old and two percent never check expiry dates.

Coldiretti said the “worrying trend” poses a “significant risk to health”

After the jump, the latest on the Greek crisis, Ukrainian uncertainty, Russia currency freefall, Indian action, Thai troubles continue, Vietnamese expectations, more Chinese warning signs and neoliberal moves, Abenomics fails, pesticide alerts and other environmental woes, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .and more:  Continue reading

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian partially discloses:

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo release US surveillance requests

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

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

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

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

MintPress News cozies up:

Google’s New Partnership With Law Enforcement Disquiets Privacy Advocates

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

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

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

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

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

PCWorld ponders prosecution:

German federal prosecutor considers formal NSA investigation

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

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

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

The Guardian mulls disclosure:

Intelligence agencies should be subject to FoI, says information commissioner

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

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

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

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

PCWorld hacks away:

Prominent cryptographers targeted by malware attacks

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

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

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

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

National Post denies:

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

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

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

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

While CBC News equivocates:

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing for a conclusion with TheLocal.se:

Prosecutor pressed to speed up Assange case

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

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

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

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

Military/industrial profiteering from Spiegel:

Arms Exports: Berlin Backs Large Defense Deal with Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

Wasting it profligately, via Aero-News Network:

New C-27J Cargo Planes Stored In Arizona Boneyard

  • Military ‘Has No Use’ For For The Spartans

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

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

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

World Socialist Web Site gets right to it:

Germany, US push aggressive policies at Munich Security Conference

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

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

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

And that complex again, via the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charts of the day: Lines on maps, history


Two graphics deftly sum up key aspects of the unfolding confrontations in Asia.

First, from the Wall Street Journal conflicting China Seas borders:

BLOG Border claims

Second, conflicting historical claims in classrooms from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

BLOG Asian isles

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


We begin today’s headlines from the worlds of cloaks, daggers, and militarism with a story close to home via the Oakland Tribune:

Nuclear law again threatens Oakland surveillance hub

Once again a Cold War era law prohibiting Oakland from contracting with firms that work on nuclear weapon projects is threatening to derail completion of an intelligence center whose surveillance capabilities have spurred opposition from privacy advocates.

The City Council will meet Tuesday to decide whether to contract with Schneider Electronic Inc. to complete the Domain Awareness Center. The joint city and Port of Oakland project would establish a data hub where feeds from street cameras, gunshot sensors and other surveillance tools would be broadcast on a bank of constantly monitored television screens.

Should the council determine that Schneider violates the Oakland’s Nuclear Free Ordinance, the city and port most likely would lose $1 million in federal grant funding that is tied to the project being completed by the end of May, officials said.

And on to the latest Edward Snowden revelation from The Guardian:

Snowden revelations of NSA spying on Copenhagen climate talks spark anger

  • Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show NSA kept US negotiators abreast of their rivals’ positions at 2009 summit

Developing countries have reacted angrily to revelations that the United States spied on other governments at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored communication between key countries before and during the conference to give their negotiators advance information about other positions at the high-profile meeting where world leaders including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel failed to agree to a strong deal on climate change.

Jairam Ramesh, the then Indian environment minister and a key player in the talks that involved 192 countries and 110 heads of state, said: “Why the hell did they do this and at the end of this, what did they get out of Copenhagen? They got some outcome but certainly not the outcome they wanted. It was completely silly of them. First of all, they didn’t get what they wanted. With all their hi-tech gizmos and all their snooping, ultimately the Basic countries [Brazil, South Africa, India and China] bailed Obama out. With all their snooping what did they get?”

Confrontation from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Senators grill spy chiefs, accuse them of lies

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee lambasted the nation’s top intelligence chiefs on Wednesday, complaining of lies about gathering the phone records of Americans and failing to cooperate with Congress in an investigation of the CIA’s controversial interrogation programs.

Committee members grilled Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan at the first intelligence committee hearing since President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the spy program.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told them an ongoing “culture of misinformation” has undermined the public’s trust in America’s intelligence leadership.

Whistyleblower hate from the Los Angeles Times:

Intelligence leakers pose ‘critical threat’ to U.S., say spy chiefs

Insiders such as Edward Snowden who leak secrets about sensitive U.S. intelligence programs pose a “critical threat” to the United States, America’s spy chiefs warned Congress in their annual report on global national security risks.

For the first time, the threat of unauthorized disclosures from “trusted insiders” was ranked as the second greatest potential threat to the country, after cyberattacks but ahead of international terrorism, in the document prepared by the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

Those individuals aren’t necessarily working with foreign intelligence agencies, the document says. Some members of Congress have all but accused Snowden of working for Russia’s spy service, but no clear evidence has emerged to support the contention.

“The capabilities and activities through which foreign entities — both state and nonstate actors — seek to obtain U.S. national security information are new, more diverse and more technically sophisticated,” the document says.

The Washington Post offers a plea:

U.S. intelligence director calls on Snowden to return NSA documents

The head of the U.S. intelligence community on Wednesday called on Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, to return the massive trove of documents in his possession.

Speaking before a Senate panel, James R. Clapper Jr., delivered blistering criticism of Snowden, describing him as a hypocrite who has severely harmed national security.

Clapper said the materials exposed by Snowden have bolstered adversaries, caused allies to cut off cooperation with the United States, triggered changes in communications by terrorist networks and put lives of intelligence operatives and assets at risk.

RT gets hyperbolic:

US officials say Snowden disclosures will lead to deaths, plead for an end to leaks

Revelations made possible through documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden could cause the deaths of United States diplomats, citizens and soldiers, government officials said Wednesday, and remaining files should be surrendered immediately.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper implored Mr. Snowden during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, DC early Wednesday to hand over what remains of a trove of top-secret documents allegedly still in his possession after fleeing the country last year with a cache of classified material. Officials have claimed the total number of stolen documents could exceed 1.7 million.

Speaking before the committee, DNI Clapper and his colleagues testified that the documents that have already been released to the media by Snowden during the last seven months have caused a significant blow to national security because they exposed an array of sensitive intelligence gathering tactics that have been jeopardized as a result.

Nomination from the London Daily Mail:

Edward Snowden is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘restoring balance between national security and individual freedom’

  • Norwegian members of parliament nominate Snowden for Peace Price
  • Socialist Left Party politicians say he has made world ‘a safer place’
  • Nobel Peace Prize committee accepts nominations until February 1st

Two Norwegian MPs have nominated NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014.

Bård Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen, both parliamentary representatives of Sosialistisk Venstreparti, the Socialist Left Party, argue that Snowden’s release of classified documents has made the world a safer place.

The Project On Government Oversight plotting a coup:

Six House Members Seek to Oust Intelligence Director

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be removed because of untruthful statements he made before Congress concerning the intelligence community’s use of bulk data collection programs, six members of Congress said this week in a letter sent to President Obama (pdf).

The letter—signed by  Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.)—refers  to testimony Clapper gave the  Senate Intelligence Committee in March, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s responded without hesitation: “No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”

Justification from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Attorney General Holder defends legality of surveillance program

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday aligned himself with the conclusions of judges who found the mass collection of telephone data to be constitutional.

But that legal conclusion, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not the end of the debate over the so-called Section 215 program.

“I believe (the judges) are correct that it is constitutional,” Holder said, under questioning by a skeptical committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “The question is, just because we can do something, should we do it?”

Tokenism from Network World:

NSA gets its first civil liberties and privacy officer

Former Homeland Security official Rebecca Richards is said to have new role

The National Security Agency has reportedly appointed Rebecca Richards, a former deputy privacy official at the Department of Homeland Security, as its first privacy officer.

Richards will start her new role next month, according to a blog post Tuesday by former deputy assistant secretary at the DHS Paul Rosenzweig.

An NSA spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny Rosenzweig’s report. Instead, she pointed to comments by President Obama last August about the NSA’s taking steps to install a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer following NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about the agency’s surveillance practices.

The NSA spokeswoman confirmed that the appointee would start in the new role next month. Additional details would become available today, she said.

Boing Boing gets ominous for the Fourth Estate:

US intel chief James Clapper: journalists reporting on leaked Snowden NSA docs “accomplices” to crime

In a Senate Judiciary Hearing on NSA surveillance today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insinuated dozens of journalists reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were “accomplices” to a crime. His spokesman further suggested Clapper was referring to journalists after the hearing had concluded.

If this is the official stance of the US government, it is downright chilling.

Clapper is engaged in the same treatment of journalists that the Justice Department allegedly repudiated just months ago.

Wired gets legal:

Terror Defendant Challenges Evidence Gathered by NSA Spying

A U.S. terrorism defendant who was formally notified that he was spied on by the NSA filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the surveillance today, in a case likely to be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jamshid Muhtorov, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to Colorado, is one of only two criminal defendants the government has conceded was charged on the basis of evidence scooped up by the NSA’s surveillance programs. The spying was authorized by the controversial FISA Amendments Act.

The Supreme Court last year rejected a suit challenging the law because the civil rights groups and others who brought the case could not prove their communications were intercepted, and hence didn’t have “standing” to sue. That issue won’t come up for Muhtorov, says the Americans Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Muhtorov.

“For five years the government insulated this statute from judicial review by concealing from criminal defendants how the evidence against them was obtained,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU’s Colorado chapter. “But the government will not be able to shield the statute from review in this case.”

From The Guardian, Trans-Atlantic ornamental blowback:

Angela Merkel warns US over surveillance in first speech of third term

  • ‘A programme in which the end justifies all means … violates trust,’ German chancellor says

Angela Merkel has used the first, agenda-setting speech of her third term in office to criticise America’s uncompromising defence of its surveillance activities.

In a speech otherwise typically short of strong emotion or rhetorical flourishes, the German chancellor found relatively strong words on NSA surveillance, two days before the US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due to visit Berlin.

“A programme in which the end justifies all means, in which everything that is technically possible is then acted out, violates trust and spreads mistrust,” she said. “In the end, it produces not more but less security.”

Network World offers the symbolic:

Hackers deface Angry Birds website following NSA spying claims

  • The hackers placed an image with the message ‘Spying Birds’ on the site’s home page

The official Angry Birds website was defaced by hackers following reports that U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have been collecting user information from the game and other popular mobile apps.

Some users trying to access the http://www.angrybirds.com website late Tuesday were greeted by an image depicting the Angry Birds game characters accompanied by the text “Spying Birds.” The U.S. National Security Agency’s logo was also visible in the image.

The NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been working together to collect geolocation data, address books, buddy lists, telephone logs and other pieces of information from “leaky” mobile apps, The New York Times reported Monday based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

From the Washington Post, cause for real insecurity:

Officials: 92 Air Force officers involved in test cheating scandal

At least 92 Air Force officers assigned to the nation’s nuclear arsenal have been implicated in a proficiency test cheating scandal and temporarily relieved of their duties, officials said Thursday, announcing they had temporarily taken out of commission nearly one-fifth of the nuclear force.

The widening scandal, which came to light after a probe into alleged drug use by nuclear operators, has exposed systemic integrity lapses in one of the Pentagon’s most critical, albeit largely unseen, missions.

The 92 personnel who were decertified are based at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Officers at the base oversee 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, one-third of the nation’s Minuteman 3 arsenal. The base is one of three where America’s 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles are kept. Officials on Thursday did not say whether they are reviewing the possibility that cheating has been commonplace at the other facilities.

RT strikes a trans-English Channel drone deal:

Entente Lethal: Britain, France to sign military drone development deal

Britain and France are set to develop a new generation of armed drones which will free them of their dependence on US-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

President François Hollande will arrive in Britain on Friday for a summit with David Cameron at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The two leaders, flanked by their foreign, defense, and energy ministers, are set to ink multiple deals for developing combat drones, missile systems and submarines. There are also plans to establish a joint expeditionary force which will be applicable for a wide range of scenarios, including high intensity operations.

Friday’s summit stems from the Lancaster House Treaties of 2010, in which Cameron and then-French President Nickolas Sarkozy agreed on a raft of measures in defense and security cooperation.

And from intelNews.org, the old school method:

Israel jails Orthodox Jew who offered to spy for Iran

An Israeli citizen, who belongs to an Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish group that rejects the existence of the state of Israel, has been jailed for offering to spy for Iran. Yitzhak Bergel, 46, a father of eight, who resides in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood, is a member of the Neturei Karta —which translates in English as “Guardians of the City”.

The Jewish group opposes Zionism —the belief that a state-sanctioned Jewish homeland ought to be created in the territory described as “Land of Israel” in Jewish scriptural texts. The group, which was founded in the 1930s and has thousands of adherents in Israel, the United States and Europe, is one of several branches of conservative Judaism whose members believe that Jews are forbidden by the Torah to create their own state before the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

After the jump, the escalating Asian zonal and historic crises, a Chinese web crackdown, journalism under siege on four continents, some newpaper hackery in Old Blighty, and more. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: DiFi spouse, domestic enemy


And it’s not just anyone who’s effectively calling Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband an enemy of the people. It’s Jerome Kohlberg, billionaire and founder of Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts and chair of the Initiative to Protect Student Veterans.

While he doesn’t name plutocratic newly reappointed-by-Jerry-Brown University of California Regent Richard Blum himself as a domestic enemy, he does name a key holding of the regent’s Blum Capital Partners, ITT Educational Services, Inc [previously].

Kohlberg’s targets are those for profit-colleges which fasten, vampire-like, on veterans to extract the last drop of blood.

His statement is so important we’re violating our usually policy of not linking to its venue, Puffington Host [sic]:

These for-profits businesses — I will not call them colleges — target veterans, because they are eligible for GI Bill and other federal education benefits. Approximately 85-95 percent of their revenue comes from taxpayer-supported benefits. Former recruiters told U.S. Senate investigators they were trained to tap “the military gravy train” and “probe for weaknesses” to emotionally manipulate vulnerable prospects into enrolling. Even while still in uniform, these young men and women are hounded via phone calls and emails, approached on military bases by cynical recruiters posing as “military advisors,” and ultimately duped into signing over their GI Bill benefits and taking out student loans. This is unconscionable.

These for-profit predators must be seen for what they are — domestic enemies.

Increasingly, federal and state investigators are looking at whether these companies are violating consumer protection laws. State Attorneys General have filed lawsuits against some of the worst offenders, and the Obama Administration and Congress have moved to strengthen oversight and transparency.

The growing spotlight on these companies is affecting their bottom line. Several of the biggest players have reported steady losses in enrollment and revenue over the past few quarters, and their stocks have fallen. DeVry University and ITT Educational have seen their stock prices cut in half. The University of Phoenix reported an 18% drop in enrollment from a year ago; DeVry’s enrollment fell by more than 16%.

Read the rest.

That Gov. Jerry Brown can appoint such a creature as a regent of the increasingly hard-pressed University of California is a sign of just how depraved governance has become in the not-so-Golden State.

Oh, and it’s also Blum’s real estate company that’s making a fortune selling off America’s historic post offices.

To learn more about this odious creature, read the brilliant series of investigative pieces by Peter Byrne, posted online here.

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 I: Big Brother, zone zealots


Today’s walk on the dark side begins with the latest in provoked [by Edward Snowden] political posturing from the New York Times:

Obama Calls for Overhaul of N.S.A.’s Phone Data Collection Program

President Obama, declaring that advances in technology had made it harder “to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,” announced carefully calculated changes to surveillance policies on Friday, saying he would restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to gain access to telephone data, and would ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government.

But Mr. Obama left in place significant elements of the broad surveillance net assembled by the National Security Agency, and left the implementation of many of his changes up to Congress and the intelligence agencies themselves.

Another take, from The Guardian:

Obama presents NSA reforms with plan to end government storage of call data

  • President stops short of ending controversial bulk collection
  • Obama assures allied foreign leaders on NSA surveillance
  • Reforms also include added Fisa court safeguards

US president Barack Obama forcefully defended the embattled National Security Agency on Friday in a speech that outlined a series of surveillance reforms but stopped well short of demanding an end to the bulk collection of American phone data.

In his widely anticipated address at the Justice Department on the future course of US surveillance policy, Obama said the government should no longer hold databases of every call record made in the United States, citing the “potential for abuse”.

But Obama did not say what should replace the databases and made it clear the intelligence agencies should still be able to access call records information in some unspecified way, signalling a new round in the battle between privacy advocates and the NSA’s allies.

Still another take, also from The Guardian:

Obama’s NSA ‘reforms’ are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public

  • Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place

In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America’s most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama’s much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for “reforming” the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.

The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are “serious questions that have been raised”. They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic “reforms” so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.

And seen from Germany by TheLocal.de:

Obama: We won’t tap allies’ phones

US president Barack Obama announced on Friday in a speech that he would restrict the NSA’s powers. It will no longer be allowed to monitor phones of allied country leaders, including Germany.

The National Security Agency (NSA) will have to get the permission of a special court to view mass telephone data, Obama said from Washington, in a hotly anticipated speech following Edward Snowden’s revealing of the country’s mass spying programmes.

Mass data will also no longer be stored by the NSA, making it harder to access, he said. This curbing should “protect the privacy and civil liberties, no matter their nationality or where they are.”

A laconic techie take from The Register:

Obama reveals tiny NSA reforms … aka reforming your view of the NSA

  • Prez announces tweaks here and there for ordinary American citizens

From TheHill, a critical take:

Critics: Obama spy plan keeps status quo for NSA

Privacy rights advocates and tech companies on Friday dismissed President Obama’s proposed overhaul of government surveillance as preserving the status quo.

CNN parses semantics:

Despite Obama’s NSA changes, phone records still collected

After the firestorm over Edward Snowden’s disclosure of U.S. surveillance programs, the most contentious aspect revealed by last year’s classified leaks will continue under reforms announced Friday by President Barack Obama.

Someone will still collect records of the numbers and times of phone calls by every American.

While access to the those records will be tightened and they may be shifted from the National Security Agency to elsewhere, the storage of the phone metadata goes on.

The Guardian gets itchy:

US telecoms giants express unease about proposed NSA metadata reforms

  • AT&T concerned US may force company to retain data
  • Tech firms hail ‘positive progress’ on privacy protections

Privately, telecoms executives have expressed concern that they will be forced to retain customers’ metadata – information about call duration, recipients and location. Speaking anonymously, one executive said the firms were concerned about how long they would have to keep data, which government agencies would have access to it and what protections they would have should there be legal challenges to their retention or distribution of the information.

The Verge has the predictable praise:

Intelligence and defense leaders offer support for Obama’s NSA reforms

President Obama today announced his approach to reforming some government surveillance practices, and at least for right now, the US intelligence and defense communities are supportive of those ideas. Both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have issued statements vouching for the changes outlined in Obama’s speech. “These programs must always balance the need to defend our national security with the responsibility to preserve America’s individual liberties, and the President’s decisions and recommendations will do that,” said Hagel in a statement.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee respectively, also seemed happy with Obama’s speech. According to a joint statement, they “look forward to working with the president to increase confidence in these programs.” Not everyone was impressed with Obama’s remarks. Senator Rand Paul said the new strategy basically amounts to “the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration.”

Roseate musing from The Guardian:

NSA critics in Congress sense reform momentum after Obama speech

  • Three new co-sponsors for USA Freedom Act
  • Sensenbrenner: ‘Reform cannot be done by presidential fiat’

Critics of National Security Agency surveillance are hoping President Barack Obama’s call to stop government collection of telephone data will give fresh momentum to legislation aimed at banning the practice entirely.

On Friday, three new co-sponsors joined the 120 congressmen who have already backed the so-called USA Freedom Act, but their reform bill faces tough competition from rival lawmakers who claim the president’s broad support for the NSA favours separate efforts to protect its powers.

Reviews from abroad via The Guardian:

Obama NSA reforms receive mixed response in Europe and Brazil

  • EU commissioner says speech is a step in right direction, but German ex-minister says changes fail to tackle root problem

Europeans were largely underwhelmed by Barack Obama’s speech on limited reform of US espionage practices, saying the measures did not go far enough to address concerns over American snooping on its European allies.

A compendium of the  eurocommentariat from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

European commentators see little to praise in Obama’s NSA changes

President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated revisions to the National Security Agency international spying program didn’t come close to satisfying European commentators.

The French newspaper Le Monde called them “timid and partial.” The British newspaper The Guardian referred to them as “sleight of hand.” The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel called them “Refoermchen,” meaning less than a real reform, or a “tiny reform.” The Russian news agency Novosti reminded its audience that “neither the reform nor the statement would have happened without the leaks from Edward Snowden,” a former NSA contract worker who began leaking secret files back in June. The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau simply noted in a headline: “Obama disappoints the world.”

The reason? The speech made it clear to Europeans that the Obama administration intends to continue to collect almost as much data as it always has, but has promised not to use it unless necessary. To Europeans, who since last summer have grown increasingly distrustful of the intentions of the American spy program, such words are of little comfort.

Wired wonders:

So what did the tech companies get?

As expected, they will have more freedom to disclose the number and the nature of requests from the government for data related to national-security concerns. So we can expect more detailed transparency reports from the companies showing that they only provide a fraction of their information to the government.

Additionally, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will add members with expertise in civil liberties and technology and will declassify more of its decisions.

BuzzFeed gets to the bottom of it:

America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead

  • “I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official told BuzzFeed.

The NSA leaker is enemy No. 1 among those inside the intelligence world.

Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30-year-old whistle-blower.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

Also drawing considerable attention was the latest Snowden leak from The Guardian:

NSA collects millions of text messages daily in ‘untargeted’ global sweep

  • NSA extracts location, contacts and financial transactions
  • ‘Dishfire’ program sweeps up ‘pretty much everything it can’
  • GCHQ using database to search metadata from UK numbers

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.

The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.

The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

The Wire sums up:

NSA on Text Messages: ‘A Goldmine to Exploit’

If you were curious: Yes, the National Security Agency is collecting and filtering text messages to the tune of 194 million a day. It’s a collection of data that one agency slide, obtained by The Guardian from leaker Edward Snowden, called “a goldmine to exploit.”

The Guardian details the NSA’s text message collection infrastructure in a new report, including its massive scale.

  • The agencies collect 194 million messages a day.
  • They include 76,000 geocoordinates for users, thanks to people seeking directions or setting up meetings.
  • The agencies track 1.6 million border crossings and 5,000-plus occurrences in which someone is traveling.
  • They’re able to link hundreds of thousands of financial transactions.
  • They collect over 5 million missed call alerts, which then get pushed into the “contact-chaining” system, building out the NSA’s ad hoc social network.

More from The Guardian:

NSA leaks: Dishfire revelations expose the flaws in British laws on surveillance

How can we have a meaningful debate about excessive snooping when so much information is a state secret?

What we have no words for we cannot discuss except crudely. The latest revelation about the security services brings a new word to our growing vocabulary: Dishfire. This week’s exposé reveals the NSA collecting and extracting personal information from hundreds of millions of text messages a day. While messages from US phone numbers are removed from the database, documents show GCHQ used it to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to British citizens.

We are not so much free citizens, innocent until proven guilty, but rather, as one of the Dishfire slides says, a “rich data set awaiting exploitation”. Prism, Tempora, Upstream, Bullrun – as our language grows we begin to speak with greater clarity. We move from James Bond fantasies to a greater understanding of what the intelligence services actually do in our name and with our money. Is indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance the best way to protect democracy?

NSA Dishfire presentation on text message collection – key extracts

A pre-Obamacast declaration from The Hill:

Sen. Leahy on NSA claim: ‘Baloney’

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Thursday the National Security Agency’s claim that they’re “very protective” of Americans’ information is “baloney.”

Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” that the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program has not thwarted a single terrorist attack.

President Obama, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, and lawmakers, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), have said the program has helped stop at least 50 terrorist plots.

“The other thing that keeps striking me is that [the NSA says] ‘we’re very protective of this information.’ Baloney,” Leahy said. “They weren’t protective enough that they could stop a sub-contractor, Mr. Snowden, from stealing millions of their biggest secrets. To this day, they still don’t know all of what he’s stolen.”

Leahy has introduced several bills that would change the NSA’s operations. One bill, the USA Freedom Act, would end the NSA’s metadata program.

After the jump, European blowback, German inquiries, NSA-tech-enabled hackers,  compliant corporations, direct action claims, lethal attack on the press, another Mideast causus belli debunked, Asian crises hit the textbooks, claims, zones, corporate espionage, a Google setback, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuMania


We begin today’s headlines close to home with Al Jazeera America:

North California drought threatens farmers, ag workers, cities – and you

  • Driest conditions in 100 years could hit the nation’s food basket hard, affecting half of US fruits and vegetables

Water shortages are affecting urban areas too. Voluntary and mandatory water restrictions are in effect in Northern California cities and counties. Mendocino declared a state of emergency. The city of Folsom’s 72,000 residents are under mandatory water restrictions: Limit lawn watering to twice a week, use a shutoff valve on hoses when washing cars.

Meanwhile, in Santa Cruz, residents can’t wash paved surfaces and may be cited if they water their yards between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Local restaurants may serve water only on request, and swimming pools may not be drained and refilled. If the drought continues, restrictions will get tighter, said Eileen Cross, the city’s community-relations manager.

The Globe and Mail delivers a blow:

Internet neutrality rules struck down by U.S. appeals court

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday struck down the government’s latest effort to require internet providers to treat all traffic the same and give consumers equal access to lawful content, a policy that supporters call net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission did not have the legal authority to enact the 2011 regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit brought by Verizon Communications Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in its ruling.

“Even though the commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates,” Judge David Tatel said.

MIT Technology Review parses consequences:

Net Neutrality Quashed: New Pricing Schemes, Throttling, and Business Models to Follow

Depending on who you ask, a court loss for “net neutrality” will mean either a new era of innovation or preferential treatment and higher costs.

The Internet was built on the principle that all packets of data should be treated equally, which shaped the products and companies built on top of it.

A decision issued today by a U.S. federal appeals court struck down parts of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet, or “net neutrality,” rules issued in 2010. Accepting much of a challenge by Verizon, the court killed the FCC’s policies that aimed to prevent data-discrimination or data blocking. But the ruling does require carriers to disclose when they block, slow, or expedite various kinds of traffic in the future.

The results could be far-reaching. Consumers may see new offerings such as free content from companies willing to pay carriers extra for delivery; app companies could find themselves charged a fee to ensure that their videos get glitch-free performance; and e-commerce companies could be asked to pay to make sure their bits go through quickly enough to close a sale.

Quartz stays:

Jamie Dimon says he has no plans to step down as CEO after $22 billion in fines

A feisty Jamie Dimon said that he’s not planning on resigning in the wake of a raft of fines that has plagued JP Morgan over the past year. Asked if he would consider resigning on a conference call this morning to discuss the bank’s fourth-quarter results with reporters, the chairman and CEO fired off: “No, no and no.” He qualified his comments in the same breath, “And it’s all up to the board.”

JP Morgan has faced a litany of legal fines related to its business practices—resulting, last quarter, in its first-ever loss under Dimon’s tenure. Most recently, the firm was fined $2.6 billion for charges that it had turned a blind eye to signs of fraud in the massive Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. That fine, the firm reported today, drove down quarterly profits for the latest quarter by 7.3%. Overall, the sprawling firm has been hit with $22 billion in fines and penalties in the past year.

Sources have also told Quartz that Dimon has no intention of stepping down. So far both of directors of the firm and investors have expressed support of the 57-year old exec, who took the helm of the bank in 2005, the sources say.

From Salon, academia vanquished:

GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms

  • In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

TheLocal.no invests:

Oil fund in $480m San Francisco office deal

Norway’s Oil Fund has struck a $480m deal to buy stakes in office blocks in San Francisco and Washington DC, as it continues its push to increase the proportion of property investments in its portfolio.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages Norway’s Government Pension Fund or Oil Fund, teamed up for the deal with the US insurer MetLife, with whom it did a deal to buy stakes in a financial centre in Boston in December.

“With these two investments, we are expanding our joint venture with MetLife in line with our strategy and original intent,” Karsten Kallevig, chief investment officer for real estate at Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), said.

“Our growing partnership with NBIM speaks to our strong capabilities in the asset-management business,” said Robert Merck, global head of real estate investments at New York-based MetLife.

On to Canada with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canadian home prices return to record high

Canadian home prices ticked back up to a record high in December, thanks entirely to Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index.

The 0.1-per-cent rise in home prices in December reversed a 0.1-per-cent decline in November, and returned the index to its all-time high.

But the majority of the 11 cities that the index tracks have seen prices edge down in recent months. Winnipeg, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec City, Montreal, Hamilton, Halifax and Vancouver each saw prices decrease from November to December.

On to Europe, first with a tussle from EUbusiness:

Euro-MPs take ‘Troika’ to task

EU lawmakers took the ‘Troika’ to task Tuesday, seeking answers about how the controversial trio of international creditors ran painful eurozone debt bailouts which encouraged austerity instead of growth.

European Parliament deputies asked who among the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund should be held to account for the policies followed since 2010.

They were also keen to hear how economic forecasts, key to the bailout programmes and aid payments, fell short, especially in the case of Greece which required a second massive rescue marked by even more tough austerity provisions.

And a Troikarch spins it, from EUobserver:

Former ECB chief blames governments for euro-crisis

The former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet, has blamed EU governments for what he called the “worst economic crisis since World War II” and said the eurozone is still at risk.

Trichet, who led the ECB between 2003 and 2011, spoke out on Tuesday (14 January) at a European Parliament hearing on the “troika” of international lenders which managed bailouts in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Echoing EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn’s remarks to MEPs ealier this week, Trichet underlined the “extraordinary” and unpredictable nature of the euro-crisis.

A threat assessed with TheLocal.se:

Extreme right ‘biggest threat to EU’: Malmström

An EU push to counter extremism will give member states cash to help defectors, with Sweden’s European Commissioner identifying right-wing extremists as the biggest threat in the union today.

“The biggest threat right now comes from violent right-wing extremism,” Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Tuesday. “For example in Greece and in Bulgaria, but also in Hungary.”

Malmström said both right-wing and left-wing extremists were radicalizing in Europe.

On to Britain with an ultimatum from The Independent:

George Osborne to tell EU to ‘reform or decline’ in speech to Tory party’s Eurosceptics

  • The latest outbreak of infighting over Europe has placed fresh strain on Coalition unity, with one senior Lib Dem figure likening David Cameron to Neville Chamberlain in his willingness to appease

The European Union will be challenged by George Osborne today to “reform or decline”, as backbench pressure intensifies on the Tory leadership to demand the return of widespread powers from Brussels.

The latest outbreak of infighting over Europe has placed fresh strain on Coalition unity, with one senior Liberal Democrat figure provocatively likening David Cameron to Neville Chamberlain in his willingness to appease Eurosceptic critics.

The source claimed that continuing concessions by the Prime Minister echoed his predecessor’s behaviour in negotiating with Hitler ahead of the Second World War.

The Guardian stiffs the poor:

Warning that fund for poorer students faces £200m cutback

  • Treasury targets cash for disadvantaged students as Labour says coalition is punishing the poorest again

Funds to help disadvantaged students attend university could be slashed by as much as 60% as the Treasury seeks to close the budget deficit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), according to a group that represents universities.

The student opportunity fund – a £327m programme for disadvantaged students paid to universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) – could be slashed by about £200m, it fears, after wrangling between the Treasury and BIS over the latter department’s shortfall, caused in part by an explosion in course fees paid to private further education providers.

The million+ policy group, which represents many new universities, claimed that the Treasury and the Cabinet Office were pressing for the reductions as part of the cost savings being imposed on BIS.

Ireland next and another no from the Irish Times:

New party seeks euro exit and end to immigration

  • National Independent Party to run European election candidates in new South constituency

Ireland’s newest political party, the National Independent Party, has said it favours exiting the euro and opposes economic migration.

Formally launched in Dublin today, it has an estimated 120 members and lodged its registration papers as a political party to run a limited campaign in Dublin and Limerick for the local elections.

It then aims to reach a 300-member threshold and run in the 2016 general election.

Austerity to come from the Health Service Executive via the Irish Times:

HSE chief raises prospect of further cutbacks in health service

  • O’Brien tells Oireachtas committee it will not be possible to meet fully all demands

HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien held out the prospect of further health cutbacks this year given the financial challenge facing the service.

Mr O’Brien said this evening it will not be possible to meet fully all of the growing demands being placed on the health service this year.

Addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, he said that “some service priorities and demographic pressures may not be met”.

On to Germany, with a bonus from EurActiv:

German banks too slow to cap bonuses, says watchdog

Germany’s banks have made little progress on efforts to curb bonuses of top managers ahead of new European rules designed to control the type of risky behaviour that fuelled the financial crisis, the country’s financial watchdog said on Monday (13 January).

Only four of the 15 banks that Bafin examined last year capped bankers’ bonuses at the level of their base salaries, in line with the European Union-wide rule that came into force this year.

“We are not entirely happy with any bank,” Bafin chief Raimund Röseler told journalists.

France next, and another presidential promise evaporates, from TheLocal.fr:

France doubles number of Roma evictions

France’s controversial expulsions of Roma, which has drawn condemnation from the European Commission, hit a record high in 2013. A new report says nearly 20,000 were deported – double the number that were expelled in 2012.

France expelled nearly 20,000 Roma people in 2013, which is not only a record, but more than double the number kicked out of the country the previous year.

Despite President François Hollande’s criticisms of his predecessor’s policy towards the Roma, the number of expulsions has been climbing since he took office in 2012, French newspaper L’Express reported. About 9,400 were expelled in 2012 and 8,400 were forced out in 2011.

“The expulsions are part of a policy of refusal,” of the Roma, “that has got worse since the left-leaning government took power,” the report says. “The authorities want only one thing: send the Roma back to their country of origin.”

Spain next, and class war from El País:

Wage gap in Spain widens hastening the decline of the middle classes

  • Remunerations of directors rose seven percent last year as middle management salaries fell, according to a study

The salary gap in Spain is getting bigger. While directors saw their remuneration rise by 6.9 percent last year, middle management suffered a fall of 3.8 percent and workers a drop of 0.4 percent.

The figures released Tuesday, in an annual report carried out by Barcelona business school Eada and the consultant ICSA, are further proof of the unraveling of the middle classes, according to the director of the study, Ernest Poveda. “What we’re seeing is a clear polarization trend: with a rise in what directors receive and a fall in the rest — two segments where wages are moving downward to the same level, that is where the trend is one of homogenization, while those who earn the most earn even more.”

The study, which is based on 80,000 interviews, shows that the average salary of directors has been on the rise in spite of the crisis, with the exception of 2009. The average annual gross salary of this group rose from 68,705 euros to 80,330 last year. Workers and middle management saw an increase in what they earn in 2008 and 2009 before experiencing falls thereafter. The average gross salary of middle managers last year was 36,522 euros, and for other employees it was 21,307 euros.

Along the same line, from TheLocal.es:

Credit squeeze ‘killing’ 90 Spanish firms a day

Spanish banks, alarmed by multiple bankruptcies and mass unemployment, are keeping a tight rein on loans and potentially choking off the lifeblood of a longed-for economic recovery, analysts say.

Insufficient credit threatens to throttle Spain’s fragile recovery, they warn, after a double-dip recession triggered by a 2008 property crash, which left banks awash with bad loans.

Last year, Spain shored up its tottering banks’ balance sheets with a €41.3-billion ($56 billion) programme financed by its eurozone partners.

But the banks have shown reluctance to lend, economists and industry say, as the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy struggles with a 26-percent unemployment rate and, according to official data compiled by auditors PwC, a 20-percent rise in bankruptcy filings in 2013.

Bloomberg totals the tab:

Spain Says CAM Savings Bank Rescue Cost May Reach $21 Billion

Spain’s 2011 bailout of savings bank Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM) may cost as much as 15 billion euros ($21 billion) because its assets performed worse than expected, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said.

Banco Sabadell SA (SAB) bought the failed savings bank known as CAM for 1 euro after Spain’s deposit-guarantee fund, financed by the nation’s banks, injected 5.25 billion euros into the lender and offered guarantees against certain assets souring, shielding the national budget from losses.

De Guindos said yesterday the assets included in the so-called asset-protection plan had performed worse than predicted, and the total cost of the cleanup may amount to as much as 15 billion euros. By comparison, Bankia SA, the lender whose nationalization in 2012 pushed Spain to seek a European banking bailout, took 18 billion euros of European rescue funds and transferred about 22 billion euros of real estate-linked assets to the nation’s so-called bad bank.

El País notes a decline:

House sales in November plunge close to lowest levels since the crisis broke

  • Transactions declined an annual 15.7 percent in the month to 21,847, the second lowest figure since the real estate boom bust

Just a day after Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said that the housing market was beginning to touch bottom in a recovery that is gathering pace, the National Statistics Institute (INE) on Tuesday announced that home sales plunged in November of last year to their second-lowest level since the crisis began around the start of 2008.

The INE said housing transactions in the month shrank by 15.7 percent to 21,847, a figure only above that of April 2012, which coincided with that year’s Easter holidays and therefore had fewer working days.

Despite an accumulated fall in prices since the highs set in 2007 of around 40 percent after a decade-long boom that suddenly burst, house sales have fallen for the last seven straight months. In the first 11 months of last year, home sales dropped 2.1 percent.

On to Lisbon and another decline from the Portugal News:

Bad year for national vehicle production

Last year saw a 5.8 percent slide in overall vehicle production, 3.1 percent below the average for the last five years, with a total of 154,016 vehicles coming out of multinational owned factories in Portugal according to figures from ACAP – the National Car Association published this week.

Adding to glimmers of life flickering back into the economy, December did see a sharp improvement with a total of 9,440 vehicles produced, up 92.3 percent year-on-year as last year automobile firms were mothballing in the run up to the Christmas period having already built up reserve stock levels.

Annual passenger car production was down 5.2 percent year-on-year while the vans, heavy-goods and commercial vehicles shed 6.6 percent, 14.9 percent and 7.3 percent of their output respectively.

ACAP added that 2013 saw car production at “15.4 percent of the average for the last ten years and 3.1 percent below the five-year average.”

Italy next, and a ray fo sunshine from AGI:

Finance Minister reports modest signs of growth

Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, speaking in Milan at a conference on the euro, reported weak and modest signs of growth in the economy. Saccomanni does not underestimate anti-European feeling in various countries just a few months before the elections for the European parliament.

“These feelings are not a surprise considering the unprecedented economic crisis and we must now concentrate on revival and unemployment,” he added.

TheLocal.it blows smoke:

Turin votes in favour of legalizing cannabis

Turin’s city council has approved a motion in favour of making the drug legal for therapeutic purposes, making it the first of Italy’s large cities to do so.

The proposal is an appeal to the Italian Parliament that they “move from a prohibitionist structure to one where soft drugs, particularly cannabis, are legally produced and distributed”. This means that while the vote doesn’t make it legal to consume, buy or sell cannabis for individual use yet, it paves the way for a more tolerant view of the drug in the eyes of the law.

There are two parts to the proposal; the first called for the right to use cannabis for ‘therapeutic’ purposes, something already permitted in Tuscany, Liguria and Veneto, where as well as authorizing pharmacies to sell cannabis-based products, experimental distribution of free medications containing cannabis has been approved in hospitals, as well as direct production of marijuana.

The second part is more drastic: it overrules the Fini-Giovanardi law, by which offences involving cannabis are treated in the same way as those involving cocaine or heroin. This would pave the way for legalization of recreational cannabis use.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, a Turkish proposal, Latin American trade and travails, Indian finance, Thai troubles, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese deficits, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFukuish


We begin in the U.S., first with a corporate fail quickly amended from the Los Angeles Times:

McDonald’s kills employee-resource website critical of fast food

McDonald’s has taken down its resource website for its employees — the one that advised that fast food was unhealthy — after realizing, the company says, that the site linked to “irrelevant or outdated” information.

The fast-food giant was a subject of ridicule and other unwanted attention this week after photos surfaced of infographics on the website, McResource Line. Under a section of the site titled “fast food tips,” a picture of a meal of fries, a burger and a soft drink were labeled “unhealthy choice,” while a picture of a submarine sandwich, salad and water was labeled “healthier choice.”

The infographics and posts were created by a third-party provider for the McDonald’s site.

Reuters boosts:

U.S. jobless claims fall, holiday retail sales rise

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly a month, a hopeful sign for the labor market, while holiday retail sales rose in November and December.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Los Angeles Times covers a corporate giveaway:

Hollywood’s new financiers make deals with state tax credits

Brokers take the credits given to studios for location filming and sell them to wealthy people and companies looking to shave their state tax bills.

About $1.5 billion in film-related tax breaks, rebates and grants were paid out or approved by nearly 40 states last year, according to Times research. That’s up from $2 million a decade ago, when just five states offered incentives, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation.

Film tax credits have become so integral to the filmmaking process that they often determine not only where but if a movie gets made. Studios factor them into film budgets, and producers use the promise of credits to secure bank loans or private investment capital to hire crews and build sets.

CNBC entitles:

New mortgage rules may favor wealthiest borrowers

New mortgage rules that go into effect Jan. 10 are designed to protect borrowers and lenders from the ills of the last housing crash. If lenders apply the rules, they are protected from legal recourse by borrowers or investors should the loans go bad.

The rules, however, are not mandatory, and some lenders say they will make loans outside of them, especially in the jumbo and adjustable-rate spaces.

The Hill backs down:

Regulators agree to revisit ‘Volcker Rule’

Financial regulators are considering a fresh exemption to the “Volcker Rule” just weeks after they finalized the long-awaited crackdown on risky trading.

Facing a legal challenge from banks, the Federal Reserve and other Wall Street watchdogs on Friday said they were reviewing whether it would be appropriate to exempt a small subset of securities from the rule. A final decision will be announced by Jan. 15.

Industry groups have threatened to sue the government if the exemption is not granted.

The Independent has a Randian wet dream:

Super-yacht not big enough? ‘Seasteads’ offer libertarians the vision of floating cities for the future

For (very) wealthy libertarians, seasteads – floating cities – might be the way forward, with their ambition of ‘guaranteeing political freedom and enabling experimentation with alternative social systems’

Available soon, for sale or rent: brand new island with sea views from the terrace, fresh fish daily and swimming pool in the resort hotel. An ideal base for 225 pioneers with £100m-plus to spare and a yearning for a new political and social system.

And if you don’t like it, no problem. Hitch the house to the back of a tug boat and try somewhere else.

For the right-wing American libertarian with deep-seated problems with Big Government, the 19th century challenge to “Go West, young man” retains a powerful appeal. But for the current target audience – the free-wheeling capitalist dotcom millionaire in Silicon Valley – going west means getting wet.

The London Daily Mail calls up an austerian posse in Oregon:

Residents form ‘vigilante groups’ after cuts to sheriff department’s budget mean police only respond to life-threatening incidents

  • 12-strong ‘response team’ armed with guns will operate around the clock
  • Follows government cuts, and residents refusing tax hike, forcing state-funded departments to scale back operations
  • Josephine County police dept has had to release prisoners and cut hours

POLITICO exposes a farce:

‘Small typo’ casts big doubt on teacher evaluations

A single missing suffix among thousands of lines of programming code led a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., to be erroneously fired for incompetence, three teachers to miss out on $15,000 bonuses and 40 others to receive inaccurate job evaluations.

The miscalculation has raised alarms about the increasing reliance nationwide on complex “value-added” formulas that use student test scores to attempt to quantify precisely how much value teachers have added to their students’ academic performance. Those value-added metrics often carry high stakes: Teachers’ employment, pay and even their professional licenses can depend on them.

The Nation covers another Obama corporate surrender:

Ted Mitchell, Education Dept. Nominee, Has Strong Ties to Pearson, Privatization Movement

As head of the NewSchools Venture Fund, Mitchell oversees investments in education technology start-ups. In July, Zynga, the creators of FarmVille, provided $1 million to Mitchell’s group to boost education gaming companies. Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and textbook companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school, Connections Academy.

Jeff Bryant, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, says it seems likely that Mitichell will “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”

From the Atlantic Monthly, doctorates on aisle 4:

‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’

As colleges feel pressure to graduate more students for less money, professors worry that the value of an education may be diminished.

Universities in South Dakota, Nebraska, and other states have cut the number of credits students need to graduate. A proposal in Florida would let online courses forgo the usual higher-education accreditation process. A California legislator introduced a measure that would have substituted online courses for some of the brick-and-mortar kind at public universities.

Some campuses of the University of North Carolina system are mulling getting rid of history, political science, and various others of more than 20 “low productive” programs. The University of Southern Maine may drop physics. And governors in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have questioned whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing public universities for teaching the humanities.

Salon delivers a smackdown:

Paul Ryan lectures the pope

The Catholic conservative who insists he cares about the poor says Pope Francis doesn’t understand capitalism

“The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina,” Ryan said (referring to the pope as “the guy” is a nice folksy touch.) “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.”

Independent.ie unfriends:

Young users see Facebook as ‘dead and buried’

A study of how older teenagers in eight countries use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, one of the researchers working on the project, said in a blog post: “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it.

“This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks instead, while the worst people of all, their parents, continue to use the service.

Off to Britain with BBC News booming:

UK could be Europe’s ‘largest’ economy by 2030

The UK will be in a position to overtake Germany as Europe’s largest economy, according to the think tank the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR).

The CEBR predicts that Germany will lose its current top spot in Europe by 2030.

It cites the UK’s population growth as an aid to economic acceleration.

The Guardian admonishes:

Rising household debt is cause for alarm, warns thinktank IPPR

IPPR warns Help to Buy scheme risks pumping up housing market bubble and puts recent recovery at risk

George Osborne has been warned that his policies to boost the economy will lead to ballooning household debt.

The Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR), the left-of-centre thinktank, said the chancellor’s attempts to increase business lending had been a failure and that by resorting to policies such as Help to Buy in the housing market he risked undermining the recent recovery.

Intolerance from The Independent:

Islamophobia: Surge revealed in anti-Muslim hate crimes

Many forces reported a particular rise in anti-Islam hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby

Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed.

Hundreds of offences were perpetrated against the country’s Muslim population in 2013, with the Metropolitan police alone – Britain’s largest force – recording 500 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 336 incidents in 2012 and 318 in 2011.

From The Guardian, unsurprising:

Fury with MPs is main reason for not voting — poll

Poll reveals anger, not boredom, lies behind drop in political engagement

Nearly half of Britons say they are angry with politics and politicians, according to a Guardian/ICM poll analysing the disconnect between British people and their democracy.

The research, which explores the reasons behind the precipitous drop in voter turnout – particularly among under-30s – finds that it is anger with the political class and broken promises made by high-profile figures that most rile voters, rather than boredom with Westminster.

Sweden next with TheLocal.se and profits from poverty:

Financier fears ‘populist welfare profit debate’

A high-profile financier has withdrawn his support from the Social Democrats, stating that both the opposition and the government risk populist pandering with moves to curtail profits in the welfare sector.

Swedish businessman Carl Bennet, who owns shares in companies that employ over 17,000 people, said on Friday he would no longer voice his support for the socialist opposition due to its critique against venture capital firms making a profit in the tax-funded welfare sector.

“Populism is concealing something that fundamentally is good for the Swedish people,” Bennet told the business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

Germany next, with that good old money via The Local.de:

Germans still have €7 billion worth of D-Marks

Germany’s central bank believes nearly €7 billion-worth of the country’s old currency is still floating around, 12 years after the switch to the euro.

The Bundesbank’s last check in November revealed that there were around 170 million Deutsch Mark (D-Mark) notes unaccounted for, and 24 billion coins. This would make 13.05 billion D-Marks, or €6.67 billion.

But the Bundesbank said this was not a problem, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday. “A huge amount of D-Marks have been handed over anyway,” it said in a statement.

France next and a fail from The Independent:

François Hollande heading for crisis as he fails to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment

President François Hollande suffered a blow tonight to what remains of his credibility with news that he had failed to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of this year.

Anxiously awaited jobless figures for November showed that the number of people without employment in France had increased by 17,500, almost wiping out a modest a reduction in French dole queues in October.

More from the London Telegraph:

François Hollande ‘in denial’ over France’s unemployment

François Hollande accused of cooking unemployment statistics after he insists he is still on track for reversing the jobless trend by year’s end despite figures suggesting the reverse

François Hollande’s credibility is lying in tatters after figures indicated he had failed to deliver on a central government promise to “turn the tide” on unemployment by year’s end.

Riding lower in the polls than any of his postwar predecessors, the Socialist leader chose to defy predictions by the IMF, the European Commission and the vast majority of private economists to bank on a turnaround in French unemployment by the end of 2013.

The Guardian crashes, doesn’t burn:

Elysée palace protester against arts cuts used car as weapon, say French police

Director angered by his theatre’s subsidy loss tried to crash through presidential palace gates

The director of a Paris theatre was arrested on Thursday after trying to force his way into the Elysée presidential palace by crashing his car against its gates.

A security cordon was thrown around the building after police took 67-year-old Italian Attilio Maggiulli into custody on charges of damaging a public utility, endangering lives and violence against a public servant with an weapon, his car.

The suspect wanted to bring to President François Hollande’s attention the cuts in public subsidies to his theatre, the Comédie Italienne, police said. He was reported to have sprayed his car with white spirit and “lightly tapped” the gates “at a slow speed” at around 10am.

On to Spain with El País and a chill:

Cabinet to approve minimum wage freeze, say unions

CCOO and UGT argue that workers’ purchasing power has not stopped falling since 2007

The Cabinet is expected today to approve a freeze on the minimum wage for next year, unions said Thursday.

This would mean that salaries will remain at a minimum of 645.30 euros per month in 14 payments. In other words, workers who put in a full day’s work in Spain will earn at least 9,034.20 euros annually.

The CCOO and UGT unions made the government’s proposed freeze public in joint statements in which they rejected the government’s plan.

thinkSPAIN inflates:

Train fares and electricity rise at 10 times the level of inflation

TRAIN fares on regional lines will go up by 1.9 per cent on January 1, the same day that electricity will rise in price by 2.3 per cent, the PP government has announced.

Both are way above inflation – which is 0.2 per cent in the last year – but lower than the train fare increase of January 1, 2013 when these rose by three per cent.

Medium-distance and provincial lines, known as Cercanías, are considered ‘public services’, which means their prices are State-controlled.

El País dissents:

Dissenting voices against abortion reform grow within Popular Party

Central government delegate in Madrid and Basque assembly spokesman speak out against restrictive bill

Socialists vow to take opposition to the measure onto European stage

The central government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, has expressed her personal opposition to the government’s draft abortion reform. Although Popular Party (PP) official Cifuentes, who recently returned to the public eye after sustaining serious injuries in a motorcycle accident, recognized that the legislation was an electoral promise that had to be carried through, she said that she preferred the previous system of time periods to the government’s proposal to return to a system of scenarios.

Under 2010 legislation introduced by the previous Socialist government, a woman could freely terminate a pregnancy up to 14 weeks. The new draft law, passed by the Cabinet this month ahead of debate on the floor of Congress, allows for abortion in only two instances: rape, and the risk of serious psychological or physical harm to the mother.

Off to Lisbon with the Portugal News:

Portuguese among Europe’s most pessimistic

Portuguese citizens are among the most pessimistic in Europe when it comes to the economic outlook and only outstripped in their negativity by the Cypriots and Greeks according to a recent Eurobarometer study.

A total of 64 percent of Portuguese citizens declared they were pessimistic about the future of the European economy with only citizens in Cyprus and Greece, 66 percent and 69 percent respectively, returning more negative outlooks as against a European Union average in which 51 percent managed to express optimism.

Of the 1,047 Portuguese citizens who responded, 77 percent identified unemployment as a cause for concern, against a European Union average of 49 percent while the economic situation concerned 39 percent of respondents against an average 33 percent.

Xinhua warns:

Interview: IMF official warns next year not to be cakewalk for Portugal

Portugal seems to be ending 2013 on a good note. Earlier this month the Portuguese central bank improved its 2013 and 2014 economic outlook and on Friday the national institute of statistics (INE) unveiled that Portugal might have reached the target it agreed with its international creditors commission for this year.

However, Portugal’s implementation of the bailout program with the troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank next year “won’t be a cakewalk”, IMF Resident Representative in Lisbon Albert Jaeger told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“The economy is still at the early stages of recovery following a pretty long slump in activity,”he said,”so big challenges are still to be tackled.”

The Portugal News walks out:

Chaos looms as strikes are promised to continue into the New Year

This year’s New Year celebrations could be spoiled for many should a series of strikes announced for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day by airlines, airport ground-staff, public transport companies and even hotel workers go ahead as planned, causing widespread travel disruption and general frustration and disappointment from north to south of the country.

The Portugal News with another walkout:

Tax offices shut down

Tax and customs offices around Portugal were closed for much of the past week as workers protested against planned cuts to the service and worsening prospects for public employees’ pay and conditions.

Off to Italy and a necessary move from The Local.it:

Italy transfers migrants from scandal-hit centre

Italy on Tuesday transferred migrants from a centre on the tiny island of Lampedusa at the heart of a controversy over unsanitary conditions and mistreatment, as protests continued in other facilities.

Nine migrants at an expulsion centre near Rome’s airport have also sewn their mouths shut and a total of 37 are on hunger strike, said the director of the centre, Vincenzo Lutrelli, Italian media reported.

“I hope that this being Christmas Eve there will be an end to the protest,” said Lutrelli, who has supported the initiative to draw attention to the long months in which migrants are held in prison-like condition

TheLocal.it unstitches:

Migrants end sewn mouths protest in Italy

A dozen migrants who had sewn their mouths shut in an immigrant detention centre outside Rome ended their protest on Friday, officials at the facility and a visiting parliamentary delegation said.

The last of the migrants taking part allowed medical personnel to remove the thread he had used to stitch his lips and the migrants also ended a hunger strike.

ANSAmed loses:

South Italy has lost ‘600,000 jobs in 6 years’

South GDP eroded of 43.7 billion euros during crisis

Southern Italy has lost 600,000 jobs over the past six years and the economic crisis has wiped out some 43.7 billion euros of area’s gross domestic product, according to data released by industrial employers’ association Confindustria Friday.

And TheLocal.it ponies up:

Italy pledges €800m to fight poverty in 2014

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Friday that the coalition government will spend €800 million on fighting poverty next year as more Italians struggle to make ends meet.

A report by Eurostat in early December revealed that 29.9 percent of Italians were suffering, or risked suffering, poverty in 2012, a figure surpassed in the Eurozone only by Greece.

Letta said on Friday that the government had raised an extra €300 million in addition to the €500 million already allocated to fight poverty.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Russian woes, Indonesian anxiety, Chinese transformations continue, environmental threats, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Kansas abolishes tenure, academic freedom


From The Real News Network a conversation with William K. Black, who rteachs both law and economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and the dangerous and unprecedented decision by the Kansas Board of Regents giving universities power to fire tenured faculty for social media postings [which include journal articles by their definition] that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” amongst other things.

The new rules were sparked by a Tweet from Kansas University Associate Professor of Journalism David Guth following the Washington Navy Yard shootings, in which he declared The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

The NRA launched the inevitable campaign for his dismissal, and the university responded with a suspension, while state legislators eager for his scalp demanded action, only to discover tenure protected him.

The Kansas City Star reported on the outcome last week:

The Kansas Board of Regents just adopted a new social media policy, which allows Kansas state universities to fire (tenured and untenured) employees for “improper use” of social media. “Improper use” includes inciting violence (perhaps justifiable though potentially open to contentious interpretations), posting confidential information about students (fine) or posting things that are “contrary to the best interests of the university” (not fine at all!)

Read the rest.

The university’s rationale, as reported in a second piece in the Star:

“When the incident with David Guth occurred at the University of Kansas, it made the nine-member board realize no policy existed regarding the use of social media,” said Breeze Richardson, a board of regents spokeswoman.

The board said in a statement that the policy was needed because of social media’s “particular susceptibility to misuse and damage to our universities.”

“The goal was to craft a constitutionally sound policy, utilizing Supreme Court language, that does not violate the free speech or due process rights of university employees while also establishing guidelines for employees and employers,” Richardson said.

Read the rest.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education cites some of the Orwellian reasons the university can use to fire faculty:

The chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media. … “Improper use of social media” means making a communication through social media that:

[...]

ii.  when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university;

[...]

iv.  subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

Read the rest.

In this report from The Real News Network, Jaisal Noor discusses the real and profoundly disturbing implications of the new policy:

Kansas Board of Regents Undermine Academic Freedom at State Universities

Program notes:

Bill Black: Draconian measure enacted by Kansas Board of Regents that effectively ends tenure and limits academic freedom could be replicated at colleges nationwide

No Job Land: The human cost of austerian crisis


A short, searing documentary on the real costs of the austerian agenda now being imposed across the globe as reflected in the everyday plight of Spaniards.

From Narratively:

No Job Land

From the film’s web page:

From Gabriel Pecot, Olmo Calvo and Eva Filgueira

Five years ago, Spain was flush with cash and the sky was the limit. Today, millions of unemployed citizens are clinging to their homes, despairing for the future—and demanding that their government finally take a stand.

The global financial crisis and a culture of real estate speculation gone bad has had a desperate effect on once-wealthy Spain, where there are now millions of unemployed citizens, many on the verge of social exclusion. Now, they are self-organizing and bringing their grief to the streets, demanding the government take a stance to defend the future of their families.

* * *

Olmo Calvo is a Spanish freelance photojournalist, member and cofounder of the SUB photography cooperative in Buenos Aires. He lives in Madrid and never leaves his cameras at home.

Eva Filgueira is a freelance journalist and multimedia editor based in Madrid. She loves storytelling and has done multimedia projects for Magnum Photos (NYC).

Gabriel Pecot is a freelance photojournalist and multimedia producer living in Madrid, Spain. Since he discovered audio and motion, nothing was the same again.