Category Archives: Europe

Headlines II: Spooks, pols, zones, drones, more


Today’s tales of from the dark side covers everything from political deception to the latest heated developments in the Asian Game of Zones as Washington pushes Japan into remilitarization and anxieties and violence rise.

But we begin at home with that political decepetion, covered by the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Bill to curb NSA spying looks like change, but isn’t really

The bipartisan bill that aims to put serious curbs on the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ communications is being hailed by Republicans and Democrats as a big breakthrough.

It’s not.

“The bottom line: This is largely faux reform and a surveillance salve,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior official turned whistle-blower who’s critical of the agency’s collection programs. “To date, neither the House nor Senate attempts go far enough.”

Another angle, covered by the Guardian:

Everyone should know just how much the government lied to defend the NSA

  • A web of deception has finally been untangled: the Justice Department got the US supreme court to dismiss a case that could have curtailed the NSA’s dragnet. Why?

If you blinked this week, you might have missed the news: two Senators accused the Justice Department of lying about NSA warrantless surveillance to the US supreme court last year, and those falsehoods all but ensured that mass spying on Americans would continue. But hardly anyone seems to care – least of all those who lied and who should have already come forward with the truth.

Here’s what happened: just before Edward Snowden became a household name, the ACLU argued before the supreme court that the Fisa Amendments Act – one of the two main laws used by the NSA to conduct mass surveillance – was unconstitutional.

In a sharply divided opinion, the supreme court ruled, 5-4, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs didn’t have “standing” – in other words, that the ACLU couldn’t prove with near-certainty that their clients, which included journalists and human rights advocates, were targets of surveillance, so they couldn’t challenge the law. As the New York Times noted this week, the court relied on two claims by the Justice Department to support their ruling: 1) that the NSA would only get the content of Americans’ communications without a warrant when they are targeting a foreigner abroad for surveillance, and 2) that the Justice Department would notify criminal defendants who have been spied on under the Fisa Amendments Act, so there exists some way to challenge the law in court.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, a show of resistance from Berlin:

Germany Plans To Ban Tech Companies That Play Ball With NSA

It didn’t take an Edward Snowden to figure out that American espionage service providers had access to confidential information about German citizens. It’s been known for years that the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) works for American secret services.

It’s also known that a former CSC subsidiary was involved in the abduction of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was turned over to the CIA and subjected to abuse and degradation before the agency finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake.

Nevertheless, German CSC subsidiaries have in past years received more than 100 contracts from state and federal governments in Germany, as Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcaster NDR reported last fall. The operative rule at the time was that only companies that were found guilty of crimes could be excluded from public contracts. So far, no CSC employee has been prosecuted for the abduction of el-Masri. Per se, working for the U.S. intel agencies is not punishable. So Germany’s federal government tied its own hands over the issue.

Turning the panopticon into art, via the Guardian:

Conversnitch turns covert surveillance into an art form

Somewhere in Manhattan, a lightbulb, a Raspberry Pi and a Wi-Fi card are listening in on idle chat and tweeting what they hear

In the pre-Snowden era, believing that a household object was speaking to you was enough to have you committed to correctional facilities for state-sponsored reprogramming.

In his new book, Nowhere to Hide, the journalist Glenn Greenwald explains how he and the NSA contractor turned whistleblower put their phones in a freezer with the batteries disconnected to thwart spooks’ ability to operate phones remotely as microphones. But what would happen if the fridge itself was listening to your words?

Two American artists are now taking that concept to a logical conclusion. Using only a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer, a microphone and a Wi-Fi card hacked into a lightbulb fitting, and a piece of open source software hosted at Github, they have installed a listening device at an undisclosed spot in Manhattan, New York, and connected it to a Twitter feed.

RT covers the hackable:

Tor-provided web anonymity not PRISM-proof – Microsoft security guru

The Tor anonymity network cannot provide internet users shelter from government hackers and cyber criminals, a top Microsoft security expert has revealed.

“There is no such thing as really being anonymous on the internet. If [hackers and government agencies] want you, they will get you,” Andy Malone, of Microsoft Enterprise Security and founder of the Cyber Crime Security Forum, said at the Microsoft TechEd North America 2014.

While The Onion Router (Tor) remains more resilient than alternatives such as virtual private networks, cyber criminals are able to exploit weaknesses in the system.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, to tell the truth:

Spy satellite agency says it fixed its ‘broken’ polygraph program

The nation’s spy satellite agency has announced it overhauled its lie detector program after its inspector general found “significant shortcomings” that could put national security at risk.

The National Reconnaissance Office’s inspector general found the problems were so widespread that one senior official described the agency’s polygraph program as “terribly broken.”

“This official added that the current status of the NRO polygraph program is ‘bleak,’” the inspector general report said.

The Guardian covers a Russian cutoff:

Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes

  • Russia announces decision to halt export of crucial rocket engines in response to US sanctions over annexation of Crimea

Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.

The move marks a serious deterioration in US-Russian cooperation in space, which for two decades had remained largely above Earthly politics. It could prove a serious set back for the ailing US space programme.

The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.

From RT, an added twist to the already controversial:

GMO producers should be punished as terrorists, Russian MPs say

A draft law submitted to the Russian parliament seeks to impose punishment up to criminal prosecution to producers of genetically-modified organisms harmful to health or the environment.

The draft legislation submitted on Wednesday amends Russia’s law regulating GMOs and some other laws and provides for disciplinary action against individuals and firms, which produce or distribute harmful biotech products and government officials who fail to properly control them.

At worst, a criminal case may be launched against a company involved in introducing unsafe GMOs into Russia. Sponsors of the bill say that the punishment for such deeds should be comparable to the punishment allotted to terrorists, if the perpetrators act knowingly and hurt many people.

IDG News Service covers corporate snoopage:

Online advertising poses significant security, privacy risks to users, US Senate report says

  • The online ad industry should offer better protections against ‘malvertising,’ a US Senate investigation found

The current state of online advertising endangers the security and privacy of users and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission should force the industry to offer better protections through comprehensive regulation, the U.S. Senate said in a report.

The report includes findings and recommendations of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs following an investigation into the distribution of malware through online ads — also known as “malvertising.” It was followed by a hearing Thursday that included testimony from Yahoo and Google about their efforts to combat such threats.

“Consumers can incur malware attacks [through online ads] without having taken any action other than visiting a mainstream website,” the subcommittee said, referencing two attacks that involved malicious ads distributed through Yahoo and Google ad networks.

Criminalization in the corporate interest from the Guardian [and can the “terrorism” label be far behind?]:

Sussex police under fire for ‘criminalising’ fracking protests

  • Force accused of misusing section 14 orders last year with just 29 convictions resulting from 126 arrests at Cuadrilla site

Most of the people arrested during a summer of demonstrations against fracking in the village of Balcombe have been acquitted, leading to accusations that police tactics in a £4m operation criminalised peaceful protest.

The last of the criminal trials resulting from 126 arrests made by Sussex police during days of action outside the Cuadrilla site last summer finished this month. Of 114 charges, relating to 90 individuals, only 29 resulted in convictions, according to freedom of information responses from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police.

Sussex police are accused of using mass arrests, draconian bail conditions and section 14 notices under the Public Order Act 1986 to criminalise peaceful protest at the site in Balcombe, where the energy firm Cuadrilla conducted exploratory drilling.

And an appealing possibility from the Guardian:

David Miranda allowed to appeal against ruling on Heathrow detention

  • Partner of former Guardian reporter to challenge high court ruling on legality of his detention under counter-terrorism powers

David Miranda, partner of the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, has been granted permission to appeal against a ruling that he was lawfully detained under counter-terrorism powers at Heathrow airport.

The case – which also involves a challenge to the police seizure of computer material related to the US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden – will now go to the court of appeal.

In February, three high court judges – Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Openshaw – concluded that Miranda’s detention at Heathrow under schedule 7 to the Terrorism 2000 Act in last summer was legal, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.

From the Guardian, grounds for domestic insecurity:

Albuquerque police promote officer accused of burning off man’s ear

  • Timothy Gonterman promoted despite report that was severely critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force

Albuquerque police promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun, officials announced Thursday.

Albuquerque police department chief Gorden Eden said in a statement he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh US Justice Department report that was critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force and demanded the agency adopt a number of reforms.

Foothills area commander Timothy Gonterman and criminal investigations commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side field services divisions respectively, Eden said.

intelNews.org turns a blind eye:

US Secretary of Defense ‘not aware’ of Israel spying on America

The supreme official of the United States Department of Defense has said he is “unaware of the facts” behind recent media reports that Israel is aggressively spying on America.

Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator who assumed the leadership of the Pentagon in 2013, is on a three-day official visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli military and security officials.

He was responding to a question posed by an Israeli reporter about allegations, made by American newsmagazine Newsweek on Tuesday, that Israel’s spies “have gone too far” in targeting American interests. In

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, prodding the bear:

Ukraine crisis may lead to Western military bases closer to Russia

When Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and other NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels in early June, their summit will be dominated by questions that would have seemed surreal just a few months ago.

How should Western leaders respond to military aggression by Moscow in Ukraine?

With defense budgets flat or declining in most of NATO’s 28 member countries and U.S. forces in Europe at their lowest levels in decades, is the trans-Atlantic alliance adequately prepared to defend its vast territory?

In the most extreme scenario, are the United States and its European allies strong enough to go to war against Russia?

From CNBC, say hello to Skynet:

Military dream come true: One system, many drones

One of the strongest wishes of America’s increasingly digital defense industry is to find a way to monitor or control several pieces of equipment on a single operating system. This is especially true in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), where too often, each manufacturer creates a unique platform for its drone, and customers who buy several different kinds of drones cannot easily coordinate operation between them.

That’s changing.

Now, buyers of a version of one of the most prolific UAVs on the market will soon be able to buy an operating system that can work with other drones. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been given permission by the Defense Department to sell unarmed versions of its famed Predator, called the Predator XP, to international customers in places like the Middle East, or friendly allies bordering the Ukraine and Russia, like Poland.

As for Skynet, consider a clip from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines:

Skynet takes over

But it’s not just drones, as another CNBC story reports:

Defense tech in 2039: The robots are coming

In 25 years, the U.S. military will operate under the principle of “less is more.”

Less manpower. More robots.

Robots on the battlefield of the future will carry a heavier load, both literally and figuratively. They will operate with more freedom and begin to think for themselves. They will be armed and take on more tasks.

“I think you’ll see many of the high-risk missions done by autonomous platforms,” said Tim Trainer, vice president of product management for defense and security at iRobot.

IRobot is perhaps best known for its Roomba vacuum, but it has a growing arsenal of defense and security robots—everything from a five-pound robot that can be easily tossed and even dropped on its head, to a 500-pound robot that can lift close to its own weight. A trainer demonstrated some of the robots at the company headquarters in Bedford, Mass., and he sees a future where one person can control multiple machines operating on a single software system without having to constantly monitor them.

With so many American drones striking at with Pakistan’s borders, Defense One joins the club:

Pakistan Wants Drones and It Doesn’t Need America’s Permission to Get Them

one breath to the next, Pakistani officials make the case for and against drone strikes. Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s minister of planning and development, for instance, calls American drone operations “very counterproductive.” He says, “If they hit one target, they also bring collateral damage…. The whole tribe stands up, we get into more problems, and the U.S. gets bad publicity.”

But, Iqbal offers, Pakistan “should have the technology to do it.

Already, Pakistan has remote-piloted aircraft. Islamabad uses surveillance drones to provide the military with a real-time picture of its restive border areas or counterterrorism operations. Pakistan unveiled two new drones in November: Burraq, named after the winged horse from the heavens that transported Islamic prophets, and Shahpar. They were developed by Pakistan’s defense industry, the government said, and would not be armed.

From BBC News, an underwater drone tanks:

Malaysia flight MH370: Defective drone delays search

The search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been delayed after the discovery of a technical issue with the underwater drone used in the hunt.

The communications equipment on the Bluefin-21, on loan from the US, has a “defect”, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

It is now awaiting spare parts from the UK before it can continue its search in the southern Indian Ocean.

Nextgov catches a virus:

Heartbleed Superbug Found in Utility Monitoring Systems

Software that monitors utility plants and other operations at several military installations has been found to be affected by the recently discovered superbug Heartbleed, when configured a certain way, according to the Homeland Security Department and the software’s manufacturer.

“The latest release of Schneider Electric Wonderware Intelligence Version 1.5 SP1 is not susceptible to the OpenSSL vulnerability. However, users have been known to reinstall Tableau Server, the vulnerable third-party component that is affected. Therefore, Schneider Electric Wonderware has issued a patch and a security bulletin addressing this vulnerability in all versions,” states a bulletin from the DHS Cyber Emergency Response Team.

Exploits made by hackers “that target this vulnerability are known to be publicly available” on the Web, DHS said. Heartbleed is a defect in common Web encryption software that researchers discovered in early April.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, considerations of privacy:

Sector-specific guidelines to offer clarity on personal data matters

SINGAPORE: The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) will be releasing advisory guidelines for the education, social services and healthcare sectors to provide greater clarity on the sectors’ obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

The guidelines will be open for public consultation on Friday.

In his opening address at the Personal Data Protection Seminar 2014 on Friday morning, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the guidelines will address sector-specific matters.

After the jump, the Asian Game of Zones intensifies, with Chinese fleeing Vietnam as the body count and burned business costs become clearer inthe ake of violent portest over Chinese oil drilling on an Island claimed by Hanoi, Japan raises the pressure as remilitarization becomes a done deal, and a lot more. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Southern European job angst


From the Pew Research Center [PDF]:

Microsoft Word - Pew Global Attitudes European Union Report FINA

Headlines: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFollies redux


We begin today’s compendium of news from the worlds of economic, politics, and the enviornment — including the latest sobering news from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster with a march back in time to the days of the ancient Roman tax farmers with a headline from the Washington Post:

Congress moves to turn back taxes over to debt collectors

The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.

The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.

It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.

Some taxpayers would be spared the barrage of notices and phone calls, including innocent spouses, military members deployed to combat zones and people “identified as being deceased.”

And from United Press International, a three alarm hint of the consequences of resurrecting tax farms:

Foreclosures drive up suicide rates, study finds

“Losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being,” said Jason Houle.

Data analysis has previously shown economic downturn to provoke an increase in suicide rates, but a new study shows an even stronger correlation between suicides and foreclosure rates.

According to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, higher rates of suicide are uniquely linked to spikes in foreclosures.

By comparing state-by-state suicide rates with the numbers of issued foreclosures — while accounting for other disruptive factors — the researchers were able to conclude that the correlation was “independent of other economic factors associated with the recession.”

From the San Jose Mercury News, back to the bad old days:

Report: California among worst in the nation in school segregation

As racial separation in education steadily grows, California now leads the nation in children going to school with their own kind, a UCLA study released Wednesday contends.

On the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling intended to dismantle segregation, the report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project says that California students are more likely than ever to attend racially isolated schools.

In the Bay Area, most schools followed the same pattern, though were more integrated than schools in Southern California.

From Salon, one of the major reasons:

Fox News’ divisive race strategy: How O’Reilly, Hannity and Coulter intentionally tore America apart

  • False claims go unchallenged, racial fears are stoked — and political scientists discover it helps GOP at polls

Right-wing political figures have often defended the content of Fox News and other right-leaning media. A common ploy is the insinuation that the “mainstream” news establishment is in fact biased in favor of liberal ideological framings of issues or that it is actually antiwhite. For example, Sarah Palin famously blamed the “leftist lamestream media” for allegedly pressuring Newt Gingrich to soften his critique of Republican congressman Paul Ryan (while in fact the disapproval came from Fox News), and Palin again insinuated charges of political targeting when she decried the media as attacking right-wing figures with their brand of unfair “gotcha journalism.” Rush Limbaugh also compared the mainstream press to a “drive by shooter except the microphones are guns.” Limbaugh further asserted that the anti-right, mainstream media attempts to “destroy people’s careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the drive-by media.”

And from United Press International, com;eting the taming of the Times:

Glenn Greenwald: Dean Baquet is too ‘subservient’ for journalism

Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson was abruptly fired this week. The lack of explanation for her dismissal has caused the newspaper to receive biting criticism.

Glenn Greenwald slammed the New York Times for the decision to make Dean Baquet executive editor, saying he will lead the newspaper into “neutered” journalism.

He may have had harsh words for Baquet but had nothing but compliments for his predecessor Jill Abramson, who was unexpectedly fired from her position earlier this week. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Greenwald said in the last ten years Abramson has been the “best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media.”

Greenwald, most famously known as the journalist to first publish the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is a strong proponent for freedom of the press and transparency in government.

From the Christian Science Monitor, another hint of things to come:

California wildfires set relentless pace months before typical season

This week, San Diego is the hardest hit. But drought, blistering winds, and unseasonably hot temperatures have produced 1,244 wildfires across the state this season, and officials expect no letup.

San Diego residents are bracing for a second day of wildfires, with temperatures expected to hit a high of 106 degrees, after at least nine fires closed schools and roads forced more than 21,000 people from their homes on Wednesday.

Thousands remain perched in front of their television sets, watching local broadcast team coverage of wildfires and hoping the wind won’t bring the fire and smoke toward their own communities.

For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.

From the Guardian, resistance:

Fast-food strike: US workers join world protests over wages and union access

  • Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food workers staged protests on Thursday in 150 cities across the US and in 33 other countries

And from Al Jazeera America completing corporatization:

FCC votes to advance new Internet rules

  • In split decision, commission put forward rule change that could lead to firms being charged for fast track delivery

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to formally put forward new rules on net neutrality that may result in a two-tier delivery service to consumers.

The controversial changes being proposed could allow for providers to charge content sites like Netflix for faster service. But it would prevent them from blocking or slowing down certain websites. The proposals were widely anticipated and have been the subject of intense debate in recent months.

Opponents of the new rules staged protests outside the FCC’s headquarters.

But Deutsche Welle raises an obstacle:

German Economy Minister: ‘Google breakup may be required’

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that a breakup of the company could become an option to consider. Google was not amused.

While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from “systematically crowding out competitors.”

The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.

“It’s about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe,” Gabriel commented.

Via the Christian Science Monitor, more privatization:

Detroit bankruptcy: Bondholders balk at plan for city’s artworks

The collection is central to how the Detroit bankruptcy plan is carried out. Bondholders – one group in the bankruptcy – believe the art should be valued higher, but the judge in the case isn’t making a reappraisal easy.

Judge Steven Rhodes, who is presiding over Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy, agreed last week to a restructuring plan submitted by the city. The plan still requires a vote by pension groups, labor organizations, and bond insurers, and state lawmakers would have to approve a $350 million cash injection from the state. But it has appeared that most groups are onboard with the plan.

A potential snag, however, appeared Thursday. In a three-hour hearing, attorneys representing two bondholders – creditors for the city that do not fare as well in the plan as some other groups – took aim at the arrangement that has been struck for the city’s art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). That collection is central how the plan is carried out.

The plan values the collection at $816 million, but the bondholders argue it should be worth more. A higher value for the collection could enable the city to fulfill more obligations.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

Eurozone economic growth loses momentum

Eurozone economic growth lost momentum in the first three months of 2014, official figures show, with the growth rate unchanged from the previous quarter at 0.2%.

That was weaker than many economists had expected.

German growth picked up pace, with the economy expanding by 0.8%.

But France and Italy disappointed. The French economy failed to grow, while Italy’s contracted by 0.1%, having only just emerged from recession last year. Spain’s economy grew by 0.4% in the first quarter.

On to Old Blighty with BBC News and a truly terrible privatization:

Academics warn over child protection privatisation

A group of academics say they have serious concerns about proposals to let private contractors take over some child protection services in England.

Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University said child protection was too important to be handled by firms “driven by the profit motive”.

He said any such move could be destabilising and cause “chaos”.

BBC News again, running out of gas:

UK’s oil, coal and gas ‘gone in five years’

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

Class divisions with the London Telegraph:

One in five university graduates becomes a millionaire

  • More than two million degree-holders have a net worth of £1m or more as new statistics reveal the education gap between rich and poor

One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

Norway next and Obaman umbrage from TheLocal.no:

Top Obama aide raged at Norway over Nobel

  • Norway’s ambassador to the US received an angry “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s chief of staff after the US President won his controversial Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a senior Norwegian diplomat has claimed.

Morten Wetland, Norway’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told The Local that Rahm Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his explosive disposition, has taken US ambassador Wegger Strömmen to task after the award was announced.

“What I know for a fact is that he gave the ambassador some words, ‘a dressing down’, with respect to this,” Wetland said. “The word ‘fawning’ was used.”
Wetland, now a partner with the Oslo lobbying firm First House, speculated that Obama’s advisors must have seen the prize as an unwelcome embarrassment.

“My guess is that the president’s staff want to be in control and not to be forced into a position that they have not been seeking themselves,” he said. “It could have been perceived that someone was consciously or subconsciously thinking about the prospect of having Obama visit Norway. Obama wouldn’t have visited Norway if it hadn’t have been for the Peace Prize.”

On to Germany, sprinting ahead with EUbusiness:

Germany sprints ahead of flagging eurozone recovery

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, sprinted ahead in the first quarter of 2014, amid a big setback for the eurozone which highlighted the fragility of the recovery, data showed on Thursday.

Germany, the region’s economic locomotive, saw growth double to 0.8 percent in the period from January to March, the strongest quarterly growth for three years and ahead of analysts’ expectations.

But the French economy, described by some economists as the weak link in Europe, turned in zero growth in the same period, highlighting divergence between the eurozone’s two biggest economies which is of deep concern to policymakers.

Austria next, with intolerance rising from TheLocal.at:

Right-wing march in Vienna

Supporters of a German right-wing radical group Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement) are holding a march in Vienna on Saturday.

The movement, initiated by disaffected, tech-savy youth, began in France and now has groups in Germany and Austria.

The group spreads its anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural message via social media and has gained attention by posting clips of its protests on YouTube and Facebook.

France next, and the neoliberal imperative from TheLocal.fr:

Europe warns France about protectionism

The European Commission warned France on Thursday against resorting to protectionism after Paris unveiled new measures to head off hostile foreign bids for key companies.

“The objective of protecting essential strategic interests is clear when it involves security or public order and that is recognised in EU treaties,” EU Finance Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said.

“But we also must check if this is applied in a proportionate fashion, otherwise it could amount to protectionism,” said Barnier, a French politician.

From TheLocal.fr, another quarter heard from:

US business body scolds French ‘protectionism’

  • The leading US business group on Friday called France protectionist, after Paris asserted its right to veto any foreign takeover of key French companies.

The US Chamber of Commerce said the move by Paris, announced Thursday as US industrial giant General Electric presses to buy a division of France’s Alstom, would not help the country’s economy.

“From an open investment policy perspective there is nothing about the motivations behind the recent French decree… that isn’t explicitly a mix of industrial policy and protectionism,” said Sean Heather, executive director for international policy and antitrust policy at the chamber.

Such moves are “doing nothing to increase the country’s competitiveness,” he told AFP.

From TheLocal.fr, striking news:

Flights snarled as French civil servants strike

A country-wide civil servant strike on Thursday meant headaches for travellers on Thursday with dozens of flights cancelled. Strikers are angry about a four-year pay freeze that shows no signs of thawing.

Travellers were scrambling for alternatives on Thursday after a national civil servant strike meant dozens of flights were cancelled and dozens more delayed at France’s biggest airports.

Fliers coming into and out of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon were among those stuck on the ground with at least 20, 16 and seven cancellations respectively in the first half of the day, French daily Le Parisien reported.

From the Guardian, without comment:

Unemployed people in Czech Republic are ‘missing out on office sex’

  • Social Democratic party Euro election campaign video aims to highlight plight of young adult jobless in the country

The Czech Social Democratic party (C(SSD), which is hoping to add to its seven MEPs in Strasbourg, endorsed the video posted by its youth branch, the message of which can be summed up as “unemployment is depriving people of the joys of an office fling”.

The video shows a young woman in office clothes working at a computer. After glancing at the clock, she sneaks off to the next room and can be seen in passionate embrace with a colleague behind the adjoining door.

“Everybody who wants to should be able to enjoy something a bit different during breaks. It is a shame there are half a million people who don’t have jobs,” says a voice-over accompanying the video.

Spain next, and another American arrives via El País:

US wholesaler Costco opens first Spanish megastore in Seville

  • Warehouse club confident it can overcome reticence of local customers to pay membership fee

They have managed to get 15,000 people to pay for the privilege of shopping at their store, and they haven’t even opened their doors yet.

The US warehouse club chain Costco is disembarking in Spain with a first establishment due to open in Seville today.

Though modest, this incursion into Spanish territory has not gone unnoticed by the distribution sector, which will keep a close watch on the performance of its new rival.

El País covers costs:

Overrun costs or corruption? Why Spain’s public works are in crisis

  • In six years, the government has paid out €10bn to cover excess spending on construction projects
  • The amount is equivalent to the cuts it made on health and education when it came to office
  • Arrests of nine on embezzlement charges provide latest example of an overly abused process

Between 2008 and 2014, the Public Works Ministry has paid out €5.12 billion to modify already completed works. A further €4.1 billion has been paid to cover cost overruns, along with €900 million for expropriating land. In total, over the last six years, the Public Works Ministry has had to find more than €10 billion to cover cost overruns on roads, rail and ports, the same amount that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would be cutting from health and education spending in April 2012, shortly after he took office.

There are any number of examples: the new port complex at A Coruña was tendered in 2004 for €436 million, and then awarded later that year for €370 million, according to Spain’s Ports Authority. The job ended up costing €547 million. And more money will be required, with the final cost likely to be more than €700 million.

The Environment Ministry, the government’s other big public works spender, paid out €1.5 billion in cost overruns between 2004 and 2012 on desalination plants, dams and other projects.

From TheLocal.es, cash and a black hole:

Spain’s ‘black’ economy worth 25 percent of GDP

Spain’s illegal economy is worth a staggering 24.6 percent of its gross domestic product and the country needs to pump far more resources into its rickety tax collection regime, a top tax union said on Friday.

Spain is a world leader in fraud with around €253 billion ($347 billion) in illegal money floating around in the country’s economy in 2013, Spain’s tax office union Gestha said in a statement on Friday. This figure has also risen €50 billion since the country’s crisis kicked in in 2008.

Critically, Gestha also argues Spain that Spain is chronically short-staffed when it comes to fighting tax evasion. Spain has one tax worker for every 1,958 inhabitants, against 942 for France and 740 for Germany, the union said in its statement.

On to Italy and the latest bad numbers from ANSAmed:

Italy returned to negative growth in first quarter

  • GDP down 0.1% on last three months of 2013 – Istat estimate

Italy returned to negative growth in the first quarter of 2014, with gross domestic product (GDP) dropping 0.1% compared to the last three months of 2013, Istat said Thursday in its preliminary estimate for the period.

The national statistics agency said GDP was 0.5% down in the first quarter of this year with respect to the same period in 2013.

The figures are a big blow to Italy’s hopes of seeing a strong economic recovery after it emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of last year.

More austerity from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s state broadcaster braces for cuts

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has hinted at funding cuts to Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, saying the network “must also participate” in cuts as part of the government’s spending review.

The social media-savvy prime minister took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce “The future will also arrive at Rai,” following a heated debate on the broadcaster’s leading talk show.

“Rai must also participate in the spending review,” Renzi said on Rai 3’s Balarò programme on Tuesday evening.

The prime minister would not be drawn on a specific sum of cuts to the state broadcaster, although he said Rai’s numerous regional offices could be sites of “resounding waste”.

TheLocal.it again, with a neoliberal imperative:

Italy approves postal service privatisation

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government on Friday approved the sale of up to 40 percent of the postal service as part of a wide-ranging privatisation programme to raise some €12 billion.

The sale “can be carried out in several stages and through a public offering,” read the statement from a cabinet meeting authorising the sale of Poste Italiane, which is expected to raise around four billion euros.

The cabinet meeting also approved the sale of Enav, the state air traffic control agency, which could bring around 1.0 billion euros into state coffers.

The government is also planning to list up to 49 percent of state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri in the biggest privatisations in two decades as part of an effort to reduce Italy’s towering debt mountain.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga hubris:

Pope doing job as I would have says Berlusconi

  • ‘We’re same age but I look better’ says ex-premier

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said Pope Francis was doing his job exactly as he would have done if he had been elected head of the Catholic Church. “Yes, I like Pope Bergoglio. He is being pope exactly the way I would have done it,” Berlusconi said of former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The journalist the billionaire media mogul was speaking to noted that the pope and the centre-right leader are the same age, 77.

“The same age, but I look better for my years,” said Berlusconi.

TheLocal.it warns:

Magistrate sent bullets after Berlusconi ruling

A magistrate in Milan received bullets in the post after ordering former premier Silvio Berlusconi to do community service for tax fraud, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Public Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini received the bullets at her Milan office in April, remarking that they were the latest in a string of threats.

“I received the most recent bullets a few days ago when we decided Berlusconi should do community service,” she was quoted in La Stampa as telling Superior Council of Judiciary (CSM).

While ANSA covers the latest in growing evidence of Bunga Bunga mob ties:

Mafia arrests may be linked to Scajola

  • Two police officers among arrests, probe mole suspected

An anti-mafia round-up of 18 people on Friday – regarding alleged infiltration of the Neapolitan Camorra mafia into the northwestern Tuscan coastal area of Versilia – may be linked to last week’s arrest of former Italian interior minister Claudio Scajola, investigators said Friday.

Two police agents, working for the Italian premier’s office and the Lower House, were placed under house arrest in Friday’s anti-mafia sting, accused of breaching the confidentiality of investigations.

Information leaks indicate that investigators has focused on the hypothesis that a mole may have furnished Scajola with privileged information on criminal investigations.

And TheLocal.it, an all-too-common story:

Migrants revolt at Rome detention centre

Clashes erupted at an immigration detention centre in Rome on Thursday as around 250 people barricaded themselves inside the building, described as a place of “desperate detention” by one rights group. The protest comes in the same week a Tunisian man sewed his mouth shut in protest at a nearby facility.

Around a third of the 780 people detained at the facility in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, joined the protest on Thursday morning, La Repubblica said.

Police were brought in to break through the barricaded entrance and reportedly used a water hose to dispel some of the protesters, who threw stones at police officers, the newspaper said.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian anxieties, Turkish anger, Latin American troubles and a surprising alliance, the right surges to power in India, Thai coup hints, Chinese investor worries, a Japanese surge for the rich accompanied by bad news for the poor [sound familiar?], environmental woes [including the collapse of the American bee population], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: European dark times ahead?


From the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, evidence of a pervasive European pessimism about the road ahead:

Microsoft Word - Pew Global Attitudes European Union Report FINA

Headlines II: Spies, drones, zones, and pols


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with a deal from the New York Times:

Sony Pictures Buys Film Rights to Book on Snowden

After a long, slow haul, the film rights to Glenn Greenwald’s book about Edward J. Snowden and his revelations about electronic surveillance by United States security officials have found a home, at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony said on Wednesday that it had acquired rights to Mr. Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U. S. Surveillance State,” for the producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Mr. Wilson and Ms. Broccoli are known for their work on James Bond films like “Skyfall” and “Quantum of Solace,” both of which were released by Sony and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Mr. Greenwald’s book, whose rights were represented by both the Paradigm agency and Writers House, had been in consideration around Hollywood since the fall, as potential buyers fretted about how to tell a real-life story that is still playing out. Mr. Snowden remains in Russia, and is wanted by the authorities in the United States, where he faces criminal charges. Last month, he retained a Washington lawyer in hopes of reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Another whistleblower may also catch a break, though not nearly so lucrative, via BBC News:

US ‘considers Manning transfer’ to civilian prison

The Pentagon is considering transferring Private Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison in order to treat her gender dysphoria, US media report.

Pte Manning, formerly known as Bradley, was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking a massive trove of classified US documents.

After the conviction, she announced the desire to live as a woman. However, the US military prohibits transgender people from serving openly in the military.

From Ars Technica, a major cyberfail:

Al-Qaeda’s new homebrew crypto apps may make US intel-gathering easier

NSA spying revelations led to development of three new encryption apps.

Terrorists loyal to al Qaeda and its offshoots are using new encryption software, most likely in response to revelations that the National Security Agency is able to bypass standard cryptographic protections as part of an expansive surveillance program, according to a recently released report from intelligence firm Recorded Future.

The three new major encryption tools were adopted within a three- to five-month period following leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to the report. The apps replace or bolster the original Mujahideen Secrets crypto program that al Qaeda members have mainly used for e-mail since 2007. One of the new releases, known as Tashfeer al-Jawwal, is a mobile program developed by the Global Islamic Media Front and released in September. A second, Asrar al-Ghurabaa, was released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham in November, around the same time the group broke away from the main al Qaeda group following a power struggle. The third program is known as Amn al-Mujahid and was released in December by that Al-Fajr Technical Committee.

The influx of new programs for al Qaeda members came amid revelations that the NSA was able to decode vast amounts of encrypted data traveling over the Internet. Among other things, according to documents Snowden provided, government-sponsored spies exploited backdoors or crippling weaknesses that had been surreptitiously and intentionally built in to widely used standards.

The Guardian covers hackery by corporate hacks for the Rupester:

News of the World royal editor: I hacked Kate Middleton 155 times

  • Clive Goodman tells phone-hacking trial he himself intercepted princes’ voicemails, but has never been asked about it by police

Kate Middleton was hacked 155 times by a reporter on the News of the World who said he snooped on her voicemails on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Old Bailey has heard.

Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal editor, also revealed for the first time he directly hacked the phone of Prince William, adding that police had failed to ask him a single question about it in the eight years since he was arrested on related charges.

He told jurors he hacked Prince William 35 times, Prince Harry nine times and the Duchess of Cambridge 155 times.

CBC News covers specious secrecy involving a widely publicized Ottawa visit by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron:

David Cameron’s ‘top-secret’ visit to Canada revealed

Access to Information request results in redaction of name of British PM on official visit to Canada The Privy Council Office, it seems, is working hard to protect the identity of those who visit the prime minister.

According to documents recently released under Access to Information, the name of an individual who paid an official visit to Canada in September 2011 must be withheld because it is considered “personal information.”

Owing to an apparent clerical error, however, CBC News has uncovered the identity of the mystery world leader in question. One page in the batch of documents was printed in duplicate: one time with names blanked out and the other with the names readable.

The documents show the deletion was meant to be “Prime Minister Cameron,” presumably referring to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

From PCWorld, about damn time:

Senators want to limit companies’ use of student data

Two U.S. senators want to prohibit companies from sharing students’ personal data when advertising their products or services and require that organizations holding student data put data security safeguards in place.

A proposal from Senators Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, would largely regulate the use of student data by private companies. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 generally requires public schools to get parental consent before sharing students’ personal data with third parties, but lawmakers and some privacy groups have raised concerns in recent months that those protections are weakened when schools outsource data processing and other functions.

Markey and Hatch on Wednesday released a discussion draft of legislation called the Protecting Student Privacy Act. In addition to data protection and data-sharing rules, the proposal would allow parents to access personal information about their children held by private companies and change incorrect information.

From the Guardian, another despicable neoliberal move:

Privacy groups demand rethink over HMRC plan to sell tax data

  • Three groups hand in petition of 300,000 signatures, and Lib Dem MP says proposed scheme would undermine confidentiality

HM Revenue and Customs must rethink its plans to share millions of people’s personal tax data with private companies and researchers, a prominent Lib Dem MP and privacy campaigners have said – as they handed in a petition of 300,000 signatures to the government.

Julian Huppert, a Lib Dem member of the Commons home affairs committee, said HMRC would “seriously undermine the confidentiality we expect” if it proceeded with the proposal to relax restrictions on sharing taxpayer data and potentially selling it to private firms.

Although the data would be anonymised, critics fear it could include details about income, tax arrangements and payment history and carry a risk that people could be identified. The campaign groups 38 Degrees, Open Rights Group and Sum of Us handed in a petition calling for an end to the plans.

From Aero-News Network, our first drone story and an apparent win for the private sector:

FAA To Expedite Limited Commercial Operations Of UAS

  • Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Welcomes Move To Advance UAS Integration

Perhaps realizing that the UAV train has already left the station … during a speech at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2014, FAA Manager of UAS Integration Jim Williams on Tuesday announced that the FAA is working with several industries to expedite some limited commercial operations of UAS before UAS rules are finalized.

“We applaud the FAA for working collaboratively with the industry and other stakeholders to help UAS technology begin to take off,” said AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano. “UAS have a host of societal and economic benefits, and many industries are clamoring to harness their capabilities. Limited commercial operations is a good first step, but we also need to begin the small UAS rulemaking immediately. We look forward to continue working with the FAA to advance UAS integration safely and responsibly.”

Specifically, Williams said the FAA is expected to allow limited commercial operations for filmmaking, powerline inspection, precision agriculture and flare stack inspection. Williams said these industries approached the FAA for expedited approvals.

CNN covers the latest dronal body count:

Drone strike kills at least 10 militants near Afghan-Pakistani border, official says

A U.S. drone strike Wednesday morning killed at least 10 militants and injured 14 near the Afghan-Pakistani border, a Pakistani military official said.

The attack targeted militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It wasn’t immediately clear which militant group or groups were targeted.

And from Ars Technica, a good PR move for the military’s drones:

US sends its giant spy drone to look for kidnapped Nigerian girls

  • It can look through trees, but can a Global Hawk find 276 girls in the forest?

The drone that the United States Air Force sees as the replacement for the venerable U-2 spy plane is now flying surveillance missions over Nigeria as part of the search for 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group. A Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a mission over Nigeria on Tuesday, according to an NBC News report.

The Global Hawk, which first flew in 1998, can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and has a range of 8,700 miles. It has a wingspan close to that of a Boeing 747, weighs more than 32,000 pounds, and carries the Hughes Integrated Surveillance and Reconnaissance (HISAR) sensor system, a down-market version of the infrared, optical, and synthetic aperture radar gear Hughes developed for the U-2.

At least some of the current RQ-4 aircraft carry a signals intelligence sensor as well, which can be used to intercept radio transmissions from the ground. The latest generation of RQ-4s (Block 40) will carry an improved radar system called the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP), which can both provide synthetic aperture radar imaging of the ground below and track multiple moving targets.

SecurityWeek covers snitches in unsuspected places, including those “smart” household thermostats, refrigerators, and suchlike:

The Massive Challenge of Securing the Internet of Things

If the buzz last year was all about software defined networking (SDN), this year’s buzz is about the Internet of Things – everyday devices that are IP-enabled, can communicate over the Internet and can transmit what may be very confidential and important data. In fact, according to data from Cisco, there are now more “things” connected to the Internet than there are people on Earth, and these “things” are not just smartphones and tablets. For example, a Dutch startup, Sparked, is using wireless sensors on cattle so that when one of them is sick or pregnant, it sends a message to the farmer.

While devices that are used in the Internet of Things (IoT) can address either consumer or enterprise needs, its use within enterprises and critical infrastructure such as manufacturing plants or transportation hubs may pose the biggest security risks, and the biggest targets for criminal organizations and nation states.

Spiegel covers a covert blast from the past starring some nasty Nazi volk:

Files Uncovered: Nazi Veterans Created Illegal Army

Newly discovered documents show that in the years after World War II, former members of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS formed a secret army to protect the country from the Soviets. The illegal project could have sparked a major scandal at the time.

For nearly six decades, the 321-page file lay unnoticed in the archives of the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency — but now its contents have revealed a new chapter of German postwar history that is as spectacular as it is mysterious.

The previously secret documents reveal the existence of a coalition of approximately 2,000 former officers — veterans of the Nazi-era Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS — who decided to put together an army in postwar Germany in 1949. They made their preparations without a mandate from the German government, without the knowledge of the parliament and, the documents show, by circumventing Allied occupation forces.

Independent.ie has Irish police behaving badly:

Doctor: ‘Special needs boy was stripped naked and whipped with belt in garda custody’

A RETIRED doctor has claimed a “special needs boy” was stripped naked and whipped with his own belt in Garda custody.

Dr Richard O’Flaherty told the Oireachtas Justice Committee the 17-year-old was arrested after he borrowed his father’s car.

He said the young man was arrested by gardai who took off his clothes and beat him while he was detained.

Dr O’Flaherty was speaking at an Oireachtas hearing on proposed changes to the Garda Siochana Act.

Relatively good news, at least for one state, from MintPress News:

Minn. Closer To Stopping “Policing For Profit”

Starting in August, police in Minnesota will no longer be able to seize property from people suspected of — but not charged with — criminal involvement.

Starting Aug. 1, new legislation goes into effect in Minnesota that will stop law enforcement from seizing a person’s property — including cash, stocks, real estate, vehicles, guns, cars and homes — if that person is only suspected of being involved with wrongdoing or crime.

Under the bipartisan supported legislation, Minnesota will soon require law enforcement to first convict an individual, or require the property owner to plead guilty to a crime or become an informant, in order for law enforcement to be able to seize that individual’s property under civil forfeiture rules.

The new law also shifts the burden of proof onto the government. Previously, those who had their property taken away under civil forfeiture practices had to prove that their property was not used in, or obtained through any illegal activity.

After the jump, a host of stories for the increasingly accelerating Game of Zones, including massive violence in Vietnam, a whole lot of serious saber-rattling, and a whole lot more. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, lies, eCons, and polluters


Today’s tales from the worlds of economics, politics and the environment — plus added Fukusihmapocalypse Now! — opens with hope for modest relief for some via the Guardian:

Sallie Mae and Justice Department in $60m deal over military student loans

  • US government had claimed the student loan giant imposed interest rates on service members above the 6% allowed by law

Student lender Sallie Mae has reached a $60m settlement with the Justice Department to resolve allegations that it charged members of the military excessive interest rates on their student loans, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The deal settles a government lawsuit that asserted the student loan giant violated the rights of service members by imposing interest rates above the 6% permitted by federal law and by improperly seeking default judgments against them. Separately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced a settlement of $30m in restitution arising from allegations that the company maximized consumer late fee charges, as well as $6.6m in civil penalties.

The lawsuit was the Justice Department’s first against owners and servicers of student loans for violating rights of service members. The settlement has been filed in federal court in Delaware and is awaiting a judge’s approval.

From the New York Times, business as usual:

Citigroup Says It Has Fired 12 in Mexico Over Fraud

Citigroup disclosed on Wednesday that it had fired a total of 12 employees in Mexico, including some senior executives, in connection with a $400 million fraud involving a Mexican oil services company.

In an internal memorandum to Citigroup employees, the bank’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, disclosed the terminations of the employees, including several managing directors, two of whom were business heads at the bank’s Banamex unit.

“Additionally, before our investigation concludes, we expect that several other employees, both inside and outside of Mexico, may receive forms of disciplinary action as well,” Mr. Corbat said in the memo.

From the Guardian, more business as usual:

Banks return to risky business: lax standards and subprime loans

  • Big banks like JP Morgan have rewired troubling, familiar tactics as they scrounge for profit in a difficult market

With business lending sluggish and mortgage lending slumping, Wells Fargo has decided it can cut those credit standards. Last month, it raised eyebrows by cutting the minimum credit score required to qualify for an FHA mortgage. It’s also making a big push into another area of lending notorious for poor lending standards: auto loans. Forget subprime mortgages; by the end of 2013, Wells was the second-biggest subprime auto lender in the country.

At least we’re all alert to the risks tied to lending, thanks to the vivid memories of 2008. The other side of the banking business is how they manage their deposits, and the quest to replace missing profits from this part of the enterprise is much less obvious to the casual observer. Nonetheless, analyst Mike Mayo says it’s this that keeps him awake at night far more often than worrying about stupid lending practices. “We haven’t had enough loan growth yet to cause a big problem.”

Specifically, Mayo frets that bankers are too complacent about whether depositors will stick around in a rising interest rate environment – and how much they’ll have to pay out in interest rates to hang on to those deposits. Then, too, there’s the question of what the banks are doing with all those deposits in the meantime.

From the Guardian again, the elite indulges:

Christie’s racks up $745m in one night – and the bubble keeps inflating

This week’s mega-auctions are once again reaching obscenely high prices, with a Barnett Newman selling for $84.2m and a Bacon triptych close to that. Why is there no sign of a crash?

Christie’s evening sale racked up a wacky, near-incomprehensible $745m, the highest total in history for a single sale – smashing past the house’s own high estimate of $500m, and beating November’s $691.6m sale, whose own Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, set a record (in nominal terms) for the priciest painting ever. The sale established new record prices for 10 artists, including Newman, Alexander Calder, and Joan Mitchell – who became the most expensive woman at auction for a messy blue abstraction from 1960.

Boggling enough on its own, the $744m sale came just a day after the end of Frieze New York, where untold millions changed hands, and on the heels of Christie’s own warm-up auction highlighting the “gritty, underbelly-esque side of contemporary art,” a rather ludicrous phrase to describe $134.6m worth of safe, predictable painting and sculpture. And collectors are set to do it all again Wednesday, when Christie’s rival Sotheby’s mounts its own evening sale.

“We are not in a bubble,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy insisted after the sale on Monday. To which the correct response is the one Mandy Rice-Davies gave during the Profumo scandal: “He would, wouldn’t he?” All the same, here are four theories on why the bubble keeps inflating, and why it may be a while before it bursts.

From the Los Angeles Times, a light frost in Hades?:

Howard Jarvis group won’t oppose bill to close Prop. 13 loophole

The staunchest defender of California’s politically untouchable property-tax initiative, Proposition 13, has tacitly approved a bid to change the landmark law for the first time since voters passed it 36 years ago.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the anti-tax group named for the champion of the 1978 measure, dropped its opposition to a bill that would clamp down on companies avoiding higher property taxes when they buy commercial real estate by using a corporate ownership maneuver.

“I think that the withdrawal of our opposition, at least for now, suggests that we don’t see this as a direct threat to Prop. 13,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, whose crusade for the law sparked a nationwide tax revolt.

From BBC News, a story to shake you up:

Water extraction for human use boosts California quakes

Extracting water for human activities is increasing the number of small earthquakes being triggered in California.

A new study suggests that the heavy use of ground water for pumping and irrigation is causing mountains to lift and valleys to subside.

The scientists say this depletion of the water is increasing seismic activity along the San Andreas fault.

Another California water story, this time from the East Bay Express, reporting on Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan [BDCP]:

The Water Tunnel Boondoggle

  • Experts say the eye-popping costs of Governor Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels far outweigh the financial benefits. And taxpayers may be left holding the bag.

The project — along with the costs of mitigating the damage wrought by it — also promises to be hugely expensive. Two water agencies — the Westlands Water District, which services about seven hundred farms in a vast strip of desert in the western San Joaquin Valley, and the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 19 million Southern Californians with water — plan to cover the majority of the costs of the tunnels, an estimated $15 billion, along with any economic damage they cause to the Delta.

But even as the project’s public comment period draws to a close next month, the state has yet to develop a clear financial plan for the tunnels. Moreover, the relatively few financial facts that do exist are hotly contested. The Department of Water Resources, for example, often states that the entire plan will cost a total of $25 billion, yet many economists think that, when interest on the bonds is factored in, the true figure will run closer to $70 billion.

In terms of benefits, state officials say the tunnels will generate an overall net gain of roughly $5 billion for California’s economy. But other water experts contend the plan could actually result in an annual net loss of about $100 million a year for water contractors backing the project.

From the Los Angeles Times, more ominous signs of a deadly summer to come in the Golden State as a record drought continues:

San Diego County fires: ‘It’s like a scene from Armageddon’

Brush fires broke out in more than half a dozen spots in northern San Diego County and spread at a dangerous pace as hot, dry, erratic winds, backed by record temperatures, raked Southern California for a second day Wednesday.

The fires forced evacuations of schools, businesses, homes, a mobile-home park and Cal State San Marcos, along with causing massive traffic jams and stretching firefighting resources almost to the breaking point.

The most destructive of the blazes was the Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, which burned several hundred acres, hopscotching between pricey neighborhoods near brushy canyons.

And another faint hope for reform from within via the Guardian:

Google investors press for code of conduct on tax

Proposal by group of activist investors will be voted on at annual shareholder meeting and is opposed by Google board

A group of activist investors are calling on other Google shareholders to press the company to adopt a code of conduct on tax that would bring its corporate structures back in line with its “Don’t be evil” motto.

“A set of principles to address misalignments between Google’s tax strategies and its commitments to employees, communities, shareholders and the environment would help protect long-term value,” they argue in a proposal to be voted on at Google’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

The proposal has been made by Domini Social Equity Fund, which has close to $1bn of assets, and five other investors in the internet firm. It is opposed by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, and his board.

From the Register, surrendering to the corporate tracking imperative online:

Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

  • ‘We don’t like it, but we have to use it’

Mozilla has announced that it will add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for digital rights management into a future build of Firefox, even if the organization disagrees with the technology on principle.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is to add EME into the specifications for HTML5 at the behest of Microsoft, Google, and Netflix. Sir Tim Berners-Lee supports the move, but Mozilla had been objecting to the plans as technically unnecessary. However, it has decided to cave.

“We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM ,” said Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal.

Opening shots from an academic battle from USA TODAY:

For-profit colleges, student advocates lobby Obama

As the Obama administration prepares to establish new rules governing for-profit colleges later this year, student advocates and the career college industry are waging a fierce battle to shape the coming regulations.

Stakeholders on both sides of the debate are ramping up their push on the administration just as the public comment period on a proposed “gainful employment” regulation is set to close May 26.

Under the proposal that the administration unveiled in March, colleges would have to demonstrate that graduates’ debt load on average does not exceed 30% of their discretionary earnings or 12% of their total earnings.

And another national shame, reported by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the UC Berkeley Blog:

How the right wing is killing women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

And another national shame, via The Contributor Network:

REPORT: Children as Young as 7 Working in US Tobacco Fields

  • An international rights group is pushing the federal government and the tobacco industry to take further steps to protect children working on U.S. tobacco farms.

A report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch claims that children as young as 7 are sometimes working long hours in fields harvesting nicotine- and pesticide-laced tobacco leaves under sometimes hazardous conditions. Most of what the group documented is legal, but it wants cigarette makers to push for safety on farms from which they buy tobacco.

Human Rights Watch details findings from interviews with more than 140 children working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where a majority of the country’s tobacco is grown.

New enterprise struggles from the New York Times:

The Bud Light-ification of Bud

There’s a pressing economic reason for the pot industry to get better if it is to survive, aside from its formidable legal challenges. The plant is relatively cheap and easy to grow, and not complicated to process either. Left to the whims of the open market — meaning ignoring taxes and regulations — the price of a joint could plummet to the price of a tea bag or a packet of sugar. So how will investors help the market mature while still making money?

The market for marijuana is nothing like the market for corn or wine or tobacco — at least not yet — and the reasons start in the ground: Marijuana growing and processing is downright bush-league compared to modern American agribusiness. Much of the pot produced in the United States still comes from illegal or semi-legal grow sites, even given the surge of production and processing in states with recreational or medicinal laws. And strains remain understudied and underanalyzed, compared with the wheat in your cereal or even the marigolds in your garden.

The inefficiencies continue to pile up after the harvest. Marijuana has to be cured, then trimmed, before it is sold, and much of this work is still done by hand. Workers use scissors to cut away tough outer leaves and expose the smokable part of the plant. It’s a labor-intensive process, the kind that in other instances is completed by a machine, like a thresher or a cotton gin.

And from the Japan Daily Press, still time to resist:

U.S. sees no conclusion to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations anytime soon

The stalemate is still on as the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not expecting a conclusion to be met in the negotiations anytime soon. With a ministerial meeting happening in Singapore this month, members of what will be the world’s biggest free trade deal are yet to finalize the deal as both Japan and the United States, both key economies in the deal, failed to reach a conclusion on the negotiations last month.

While many expected progress to happen when US President Barack Obama himself went to Japan last month to discuss this, many were disappointed to learn that further talks are needed to come to a final agreement. The deadlock remains to be because of Japan’s refusal to give up tariffs on key products such as farming produce and automobiles, both the bread and butter of the Asian nation. This has affected widely the negotiations of the 12-nations included in the TPP as they wait for the final outcome of the talks between Japan and the U.S. The countries included in the TPP will meet in Singapore this week to give updates regarding other talks. They are expected to outline other details including regulations on labor, intellectual property and the environment as soon as the deal has been ironed out.

For our first European story, a plaintive pontifical plea from ANSA:

Pope condemns ‘massacre’ of migrants at sea as ‘shameful’

  • Francis asks for prayers for people fleeing homelands by boat

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the “massacre” of desperate migrants who are killed in boat disasters on the Mediterranean Sea as they flee their homelands for a new life in Europe. During his weekly general audience, the pope said it was “shameful” that thousands of migrants are killed on the seas between North African and the southern borders of Italy.

Shortly before he spoke, police in southern Italy said they had arrested two alleged human smugglers who authorities say deliberately caused a boat carrying as many as 400 migrants to sink off the coast of Libya Monday to induce an Italian sea rescue.

So far, 17 have been confirmed dead and more than 200 rescued but as many as 200 more are still missing.

Next, via EUbusiness, another hint of things to come:

Eurozone industrial output slips back in March: Eurostat

Eurozone industrial output fell in March, official data showed on Wednesday, consistent with recent data showing the economic recovery to be patchy so far.

Industrial output in the 18-nation eurozone dropped 0.3 percent in March compared with the figure for February when it gained 0.2 percent, the Eurostat statistics agency said.

Compared with March 2013, eurozone industrial output was down 0.1 percent, after posting a year-on-year gain of 1.7 percent in February.

From Europe Online, another form of resistance to the austerian imperative:

Brussels expects stronger resistance to austerity in next EU assembly

The European Commission believes that it will be harder to get the European Parliament to approve austerity legislation after this month’s elections, internal documents seen by dpa showed Wednesday.

The European Union’s executive arm acknowledged that based on polling trends, the staunchest backers of recent budget discipline reforms, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), will be “substantially weakened.”

“Some of the winning coalitions” that supported reforms in the outgoing Parliament, which had “the EPP and ALDE at their core,” are likely to “no longer be sufficient to reach a majority” in the next EU assembly, according to an analysis by the commission’s economic and financial department.

EurActiv raises an objection:

Norway accuses Apple of breaching EU consumer law

Apple’s iCloud service violates European law by giving itself the right to change its terms and conditions at any time, without notifying its customers, according to a complaint lodged 13 May by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The council, a government agency, earlier published a study accusing Apple iCloud’s terms of service of violating consumer rights and privacy before the complaint to Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman.

The unfair practice complaint is based on the EU’s directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts. Because people often store important information in the cloud, such as documents and photos, it is particularly important they understand the contract, the council said.

On to Britain and xenophobic fears fail to materialize, via Sky News:

East European Migrant Influx Fails To Emerge

The number of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria has fallen since border controls were lifted but rose over the long-term.

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has fallen by 4,000 since transitional controls on immigration were lifted on January 1.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show 140,000 people born in one of the two countries were employed between January and March this year.

That is down from 144,000 between October and December, suggesting concerns about mass immigration following the New Year have been unfounded.

And some positive numbers from BBC News:

UK unemployment rate falls to five-year low

The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 133,000 to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million in the three months to March, official figures show.

The jobless rate also fell to a five-year low of 6.8%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people in work rose to 30.43 million, the highest since records began in 1971, helped by a rise in self-employment. Average earnings in the three months to March were up 1.7% from a year earlier.

But other numbers hint of another reality, via the Independent:

Anger as Employment Minister Esther McVey denies food bank use is linked to welfare reforms

Charities and politicians have reacted with anger to a claim by the Employment Minister that the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks has nothing to do with the Government’s welfare reforms.

In a letter to the Scottish government, Esther McVey said “the rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this Government has put in place”, adding that there was “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, have shown that demand has increased by more than 300 per cent in the past year.

Sky News hints at a bankster victory:

Banks Warn Regulator On ‘Illegal’ Bonus Rules

Bank of England proposals to toughen bank bonus rules could be legally unenforceable, a document obtained by Sky News warns.

New rules that would force bankers to wait more than a decade to get their hands on bonuses would breach “the principle of natural justice” and leave lenders exposed to costly legal challenges, a trade body has warned.

In a document obtained by Sky News, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) argued that plans to apply clawback provisions retrospectively would be illegal in Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico, countries in which UK-based lenders such as HSBC have a substantial presence.

The BoE’s proposals would force banks to reclaim variable compensation from senior employees for up to six years after it has been handed over and spent.

On to Norway and trepidation from TheLocal.no:

Norway slashes growth forecast on oil slowdown

Norway’s government on Wednesday slashed its growth forecast for this year, citing a slowdown in spending by the key oil sector in the Nordic country.

In a revised budget the government said the Norwegian economy is now forecast to grow by 1.9 percent in 2014, compared to the 2.5-percent increase expected in the original budget submitted last November.

This forecast concerns the country’s “mainland” GDP, which leaves out fossil fuels and maritime transport and is preferred as an indicator in Norway
since it excludes the strong cyclical variations related to oil, one of the country’s main exports.

However the purchase by the oil sector of goods and services is included in the country’s “mainland” GDP calculation, and the finance ministry expects this to stabilise then decrease.

Hypocritical criticism of the day award goes to. . .Well, you get the idea. And imagine if the U.S. had the same priorities as one of the happiest nations on earth. From TheLocal.se:

‘Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security’

No one doubts the Swedes’ ability to fight, but they do doubt Nato-ambivalent Sweden’s commitment to helping its neighbours, argues former US defence attaché to Sweden Bruce Acker.

In the wake of Russian annexation of Crimea, the Swedish defense debate has intensified over the nature of its security structures and partnerships. The Swedish solidarity declaration of 2009 is frequently criticized for being unresourced and therefore weak:

On to Austria and a slowdown from TheLocal.at:

Verbund shuts five power plants

Verbund, Austria’s leading electricity company, is mothballing five power stations to cut costs.

The company said it would temporarily decommission several combined cycle gas-fired power plants in Austria and France, including the 848-megawatt Mellach power station that was commissioned only three years ago.

Additionally, a coal-fired power plant in Dürnrohr and an oil-fueled plant in Styria will be closed, the company added.

The reason for the closures is the “massive disruption in the European electricity market” and “sector-wide economic pressures”, Verbund said. It hopes the restructuring will lead to “lasting economic improvements”.

TheLocal.at again, with a shortfall:

Austrian army ‘going broke’

The Austrian army is in serious financial trouble – so much so that regiments can’t afford fuel and soldiers are forced to march on foot.

Defence Minister Gerald Klug (SPÖ) has said that with its current budget the army “is no longer financially viable”.

His staff have done an analysis of the army’s current saving plan and found that by autumn it won’t even be able to afford its fuel bill.

And a good use for a house linked to a murderous xenophobe extraordinaire from TheLocal.at:

Hitler’s house to become migrant centre?

A long-running debate over the future of the house where Hitler was born finally appears set to be resolved.

The Renaissance-era structure, located near the central square of the picturesque town of Braunau in Upper Austria, is considered prime real estate.

At a recent ‘Birthplace Summit’, held at the Interior Ministry in early May, the house’s current owner and representatives from Braunau met with Austria’s Interior Ministry to discuss the fate of the controversial building.

For decades however, the shadow of Adolf Hitler – its most infamous son – has hung over the former guest house, creating a constant headache for Braunau’s administration.

On to Spain with thinkSPAIN and political provocation:

Mock ‘abortion package tour’ travel agency launched in protest over Spanish law reform

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the proposed restrictions on abortion announced by Spain’s minister of justice have set up a spoof travel agency offering trips to Europe for women wishing to terminate a pregnancy.

Dubbed ‘Abortion Travel – the agency that shouldn’t exist’, the pretend online ‘company’ offers packages to London, Paris and Berlin ranging from 1,940 euros to 2,620 euros.

Its organisers even give women advice relating to where to travel to in Europe depending upon how far gone their pregnancy is and the national law relating to their stage of gestation.

TheLocal.es covers a dismal ratio:

Spain: One vacancy for every 110 jobseekers

Spain had only one job opening for every 110 unemployed people in the final three months of 2013, the second worst rate in the European Union, a new study released on Wednesday shows.

Before Spain’s economic crisis kicked off in 2007, this rate was one job opening for every 17.5 jobseekers, the latest labour market bulletin by job agency Asempleo and financial consultants Afi shows.

Only Cyprus had a worse ratio: there the ratio was one job per 154 people searching for work.

The lack of job openings in Spain — where the official unemployment rate is 25.93 percent — is also in stark contrast with the EU average for the final quarter of of 2013. That figure was 12.3 unemployed people for each job on offer.

Italy next and a Bunga Buna bloviation from ANSA:

Berlusconi says accord with Renzi ‘useless’

  • Forza Italia leader says party will vote as it sees fit

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that continuing an accord with Premier Matteo Renzi on government reforms would be “useless”. Instead of advance agreements, he said, his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party would decide for itself how to vote on each reform measure.

“It is useless to make arrangements before,” any vote, Berlusconi said in a television interview with Rai.

“We expect to see the reforms in Parliament (and) if we believe they are the best, we will vote for them,” and otherwise, FI will vote against the measure, he added.

TheLocal.it asks for a helping hand:

‘EU officials asked US for help to oust Berlusconi’

EU officials asked the US government for help to oust Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian premiership at the height of the economic crisis in 2011, a former advisor to US President Barack Obama has claimed.

Tim Geithner, former US treasury secretary, said that he refused to cooperate in a plot against the then Italian prime minister in the autumn of 2011. “European officials contacted us with a plot to find a way of forcing the Italian Premier Berlusconi to stand down,” Geithner was quoted in La Stampa as saying in his new book – Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.

The EU officials wanted their US counterparts to refuse to back an Italian rescue package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unless Berlusconi resigned, Geithner alleged. The former treasury secretary claimed that he refused to go along with the plot, telling the Europeans “we cannot have blood on our hands.”

Blissful high level ignorance from ANSA:

Napolitano didn’t participate in Berlusconi ‘plot’ meetings

  • Geithner book feeds speculation Berlusconi was felled in 2011

President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday that he did not participate in any of the international meetings in which European officials allegedly plotted to bring down Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2011.

Rumours that the third Berlusconi’s government was scuppered by a conspiracy were fueled this week by a new book by former US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. The former Treasury secretary wrote that in 2011, at a G-20 meeting, Europeans were pushing the White House to get involved in pressuring Berlusconi out of office, as Italy risked a Greek-style financial meltdown with the spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German counterpart ballooning to over 500 points and yields above 7%.

Napolitano was instrumental in engineering the emergency technocrat administration led by ex-premier Mario Monti that replaced Berlusconi’s administration in November 2011.

After the jump, the latest anxieties from Greece, More Ukrainian turmoil and Russian retaliation [including a lethal blow the U.S. space program], a Georgian courtship, Turkish outrage, agrofuel and presidential woes in Latin America, Australian austerity run amok, a blow for GMOs in Pakistan, Thai turmoil, Southern Korean economic woes, bubble-plugging measures, corruption and economic and corporate imperialism in China, economic winners and losers in China, Trans-Pacific Partnership wheeling and dealing, MERS warnings, historical tragedy, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . .
Continue reading

Headlines II: Spies, lies, hacks, drones, zones


We begin today’s tales form the dark side with another Snowden revelation via Ars Technica:

Encrypted or not, Skype communications prove “vital” to NSA surveillance

  • Newly published memo leaked by Edward Snowden details the value of Skype data.

Last year, Ars documented how Skype encryption posed little challenge to Microsoft abuse filters that scanned instant messages for potentially abusive Web links. Within hours of newly created, never-before-visited URLs being transmitted over the service, the scanners were able to pluck them out of a cryptographically protected stream and test if they were malicious. Now comes word that the National Security Agency is also able to work around Skype crypto—so much so that analysts have deemed the Microsoft-owned service “vital” to a key surveillance regimen known as PRISM.

Ars catches Microsoft accessing links we sent in our test messages.
“PRISM has a new collection capability: Skype stored communications,” a previously confidential NSA memo from 2013 declared. “Skype stored communications will contain unique data which is not collected via normal real-time surveillance collection.” The data includes buddy lists, credit card information, call records, user account data, and “other material” that is of value to the NSA’s special source operations.

The memo, which was leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and released Tuesday by Glenn Greenwald to coincide with the publication of his book No Place to Hide, said the FBI’s Electronic Communications Surveillance Unit had approved “over 30 selectors to be sent to Skype for collection.”

CNBC tracks the hack:

Hackers go after Google users in advanced phishing attack

Hackers are targeting Google users’ passwords in a new advanced phishing scheme that is difficult to detect and block, security experts at the firm Bitdefender said on Tuesday.

The attack began a couple of days ago and has managed to spread fast, said Bianca Stanescu, a security specialist at the firm.

“We haven’t spotted this type of phishing attack. It’s enhanced, usually the security solutions block the webpage for malicious activity before users open it, but this time security solutions receive the encoded content and they can’t really block it.”

And today’s drone coverage begins with a video report from France 24:

Drones: A military revolution

Program notes:

Drones: unmanned, discreet and economical planes, are the secret weapons of approximately 30 armies around the world. But these small remote-controlled aircraft are also criticized for the significant collateral damage they can cause on the ground. Our reporters in the United States bring you an exclusive report filmed on a US Army base in New Mexico.

When it comes to reporting on the use of drones by the United States, one can only scratch the surface, because of the secretive nature of the American drone programme. Only a relatively small part of it is public, and its deadliest component remains a secret.

According to the US military, drones don’t even exist. The term “drones”, that is. The planes are officially called “RPAs” by all US officials, except, notably, US President Barack Obama. RPA stands for remotely piloted aircraft. By using this term, the military wants to underscore that these machines are actually piloted by humans, and aren’t just robots.

Next, drones Down Under with United Press International:

Safe use of drones in Australian airspace to be studied

Northrop Grumman Australia and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University have joined to study the requirements for the safe use of unmanned aerial systems in the country.

Requirements for operating unmanned aircraft in Australia are to be studied by Northrop Grumman and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University.

Northrop Grumman Australia said the collaborative project is to develop solutions for the safe operation of the aircraft, particularly of large-sized UAVs.

“As a producer of large-scale unmanned aircraft systems, our goal is not only to provide the aircraft, but also to understand fully the Australian government’s needs to certify them for operation,” said Ian Irving, chief executive for Northrop Grumman Australia. “We’re extremely excited to work with RMIT University because of their leadership in the development of innovative approaches to civil and military airspace regulatory reform and air vehicle certification.”

And from Mashable, consulting with drones:

Consulting Firm Plans to Offer ‘Drone as a Service’ Option

On May 12, a strategic consulting firm called 32 Advisors announced the creation of a drone subsidiary it calls Measure. Rather than build or sell drones, the new company will offer what it calls “Drone as a Service.” Think Rent-a-Drone: Companies that believe they might have use for a drone — but don’t have the money, expertise, or interest to buy, run, and maintain their own drone or drone fleet — would hire Measure to do it for them.

Chief Executive Officer Brandon Torres Declet is a former legislative aide and lobbyist specializing in homeland security issues. Here’s what he says about it:

We have a lot of manufacturers trying to sell everything to everybody, and as a company we thought, look, there’s a space here to provide both advisory services for companies — let’s say in agriculture or oil and gas — to develop missions, to develop requirements and to develop the best drones they should use for those particular missions. And then to provide a “Drone as a Service” platform, a turnkey solution. So if an oil and gas company tells us, “Look, we have to fly our pipeline every two weeks,” we’ll provide the drone, the operator, the sensor or other payload, and fly it for them.

And the New York Times scrubs the Wayback Machine:

Google Must Honor Requests to Delete Some Links, E.U. Court Says

The highest court in the European Union decided on Tuesday that Google must grant users of its search engine a right to delete links about themselves in some cases, including links to legal records.

The decision by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg is a blow for Google, which has sought to avoid the obligation to remove links when requested by European users of its service.

By ruling that an Internet company like Google must comply with European privacy laws when operating in the European Union — a consumer market of about 550 million people — the court is indicating that such companies must operate in a fundamentally different way than they do in the United States.

A more rational European move from MintPress News:

European Court Scraps EU Data Collection Law

An EU law requiring telecom companies to store their customers’ metadata for up to two years has been ruled “invalid” by the EU Court of Justice.

The Court of Justice of the European Union concluded last month that the EU law forcing telecommunication companies to retain customer data for up to two years is illegal.

In a press release issued after the ruling in April, the European judges said the Data Retention Directive “interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data,” and as such, the court considers the directive “invalid.”

The Data Retention Directive requires Internet service providers and telephone companies to store metadata — the details of digital communications, including the phone numbers of both a caller and a recipient, the date and duration of a call, the location where a call was placed, as well as email addresses, but not the actual content of a conversation — for a period of up to two years. This storage, according to the law, allows “for the prevention, investigation, detection, and prosecution of criminal offences [sic],” particularly organized crime and terrorism.

Sky News takes action in Old Blighty:

The first legal challenge against alleged GCHQ snooping on UK smartphones has been filed.

The challenge alleges that the Government Communications Headquarters listening post has infected “potentially millions” of computers and smartphones around the world with malicious software, which could be used to extract photos and text messages, switch on the phone’s microphone or camera, track locations and listen in to calls.

Privacy International, a UK-based charity, brought the case to demand “an end to the unlawful hacking being carried out by GCHQ which, in partnership with the NSA”.

More from The Intercept:

British Spies Face Legal Action Over Secret Hacking Programs

Privacy International argues in its 21-page legal complaint that the hacking tactics are more intrusive than more traditional eavesdropping methods, and that, if left unchecked, they could amount to “one of the most intrusive forms of surveillance any government has conducted”:

In allowing GCHQ to extract a huge amount of information (current and historical), much of which an individual may never have chosen to share with anybody, and to turn a user’s own devices against him by coopting them as instruments of video and audio surveillance, it is at least as intrusive as searching a person’s house and installing bugs so as to enable continued monitoring. In fact, it is more intrusive, because of the amount of information now generated and stored by computers and mobile devices nowadays, the speed, ease and surreptitiousness with which surveillance can be conducted, and because it allows the ongoing surveillance to continue wherever the affected person may be.

The case is the latest in a string of actions against GCHQ in the United Kingdom following the Snowden disclosures. But it is the first to focus specifically on the legality of hacking techniques used to infiltrate computers and spy on communications. It has been lodged with the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a special judicial body that handles complaints about the conduct of spy agencies.

The Independent advocates:

Create independent oversight committee for spy agencies, says former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove

An independent committee should be created to oversee the work of Britain’s spy agencies in the wake of damaging revelations from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, according to the former head of MI6.

Sir Richard Dearlove told the Reuters news agency that while he did not believe that the UK’s spies had acted illegally, the heated public debate around Snowden’s actions meant that there was now a greater need for transparency and assurances that they were not misusing their powers.

“Snowden has damaged the West’s capability with his revelations,” Sir Richard said. “But I also think what he has done is increase the knowledge and understanding of what the Government’s capabilities are in these areas.

“There is probably a need to create some sort of committee which is independently appointed – isn’t from the judiciary, isn’t made up of politicians – that acts as a guarantor in terms of assuring the public that these powers are not being abused.”

While Spiegel casts doubt:

NSA Probe: Can Snowden Be Questioned in Germany?

A special investigative committee in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, is currently probing allegations first published in SPIEGEL that the United States’ National Security Agency intelligence apparatus spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and also on the communications data of millions of German citizens. The allegations have become the source of significant tensions between Germany and the United States.

One of the central questions facing the committee is whether and how it will question former NSA employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose archive has been the source of numerous investigative reports about the intelligence agency’s activities.

The German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel is adamantly opposed to having Snowden testify in Germany. In a classified position paper provided to the committee — that was leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and other media in late April — the government argued that if Snowden testified in Germany, it would endanger the “welfare of the state.” It added that his questioning in Germany would “run contrary to important political interests of the Federal Republic,” and that if the former intelligence worker were allowed to travel to Germany, the US secret services “would at least temporarily” limit cooperation with their German counterparts. Indeed, according to SPIEGEL reporting, Merkel pledged to US President Barack Obama the NSA whistleblower would not be brought to Germany.

And from RT America, another crackdown:

US spy chief cracks down on whistleblowers

Program notes:

Open-information activists are calling a new rule being implemented by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence a “gag order” on public debate. The rule in question prohibits employees of the office from publically discussing or writing about leaked information. Activists believe this will prevent employees from speaking out on perceived wrongdoing by the intelligence community, forcing them to repeat official positions given by government officials. As many note, these official positions and the truth are often very different. RT’s Lindsay France discusses the controversial new policy with Kathleen McClellan, the national security and human rights counsel for the Government Accountability Project.

From the Associated Press, security south of the border:

Mexico sets security plan for violent border state

After a recent surge of bloodshed, Mexico’s top security official said Tuesday that military commanders will lead what he called a new security strategy in the northern border state of Tamaulipas.

But Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong’s description sounded more like a doubling down on the current approach rather than a new plan. He said the government will continue working to dismantle cartels, block smuggling routes for people, weapons and drugs, and vet local police for corruption. He gave no numbers for troop or federal police reinforcements.

At least 76 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the start of April in Tamaulipas from cartel infighting and clashes between gunmen and security forces.

MintPress News mulls Skynet controls:

UN Weighs Laws For Future ‘Killer Robots’

Campaigners say the ruling effectively backs individual privacy rights over the freedom of information.

Diplomats urged the adoption of new international laws Tuesday that could govern the use of “killer robots” if the technology becomes reality someday.

At the first United Nations meeting devoted to the subject, representatives began trying to define the limits and responsibilities of so-called lethal autonomous weapons systems that could go beyond human-directed drones.

The tone of the four-day gathering was set by Michael Moeller, acting head of the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva, who urged the delegates to take “bold action” by adopting pre-emptive new laws to ensure there is always a person directing the weapons.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including the latest outrageous umbrage from Pyongyang. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, EconoEnvirofails, more


Today’s headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and the environment begins with business as usual from BuzzFeed:

Biden’s Son, Polish Ex-President Quietly Sign On To Ukrainian Gas Company

Revelations that Hunter Biden and Aleksander Kwasniewski serve on the board of a company controlled by a Yanukovych ally raise serious conflict of interest questions for Western countries’ Ukraine policy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son has joined the board of a gas company owned by an ally of Ukraine’s fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and a key European interlocutor with Kiev who was previously president of Poland.

The move raises questions about a potential conflict of interest for Joe Biden, who was the White House’s main interlocutor with Yanukovych while the latter was president and has since spearheaded Western efforts to wean Ukraine off Russian gas.

Company documents in Cyprus show that Joe Biden’s son, R. Hunter Biden, became a member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, which describes itself as Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer, on April 18. Burisma announced Hunter Biden’s appointment in a press release Monday on its website which was quickly picked up by Russian state media.

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

U.S. alone among Western countries on lack of paid maternity leave, UN finds

The United States is the only Western country — and one of only three in the world — that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from their jobs, a new U.N. study reports.

Two other countries share the U.S. position of providing “no cash benefits during maternity leave,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the International Labor Organization: Oman, an absolute monarchy in the Persian Gulf; and Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific nation where the U.S. State Department says violence against women is so common that 60 percent of men in a U.N. study acknowledged having committed a rape.

The other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

From the Associated Press, signs of a dangerous summer ahead in the Golden State:

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north.

No homes were reported damaged in either fire, but hundreds were considered threatened. The rugged terrain and unseasonably warm temperatures made firefighting even more difficult.

The flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego quickly grew to 700 acres, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds that whipped through areas dotted by hilltop estates and pricey new housing tracts.

From TheLocal.fr, with a reminder that the figures refer to the total populations, not per capita consumption:

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

For the first time, the United States has snatched from France the title of the world’s top wine consumer, according to a report released on Tuesday. France’s wine mastery already was threatened earlier this year.

Global wine consumption fell marginally in 2013 and the United States outstripped France as the top consumer, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV) said Tuesday.

Consumption dipped 1 percent last year to 238.7 hectolitres of wine in the global market worth 73 billion euros ($100 billion).

The United States was the top consumer for the first time at 29 million hectolitres, with domestic production accounting for four-fifths, said Jean-Marie Aurand, the head of the intergovernmental organisation that compiles global statistics for the industry.

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

U.S. retail sales rise a scant 0.1 percent in April

  • U.S. retail sales growth slowed in April, with consumers shopping less online and cutting back on purchases of furniture and electronics.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after surging 1.5 percent in March following a harsh winter that had curtailed shopping.

Several economists said the April figures might have been depressed because of seasonal adjustments connected to a later than usual Easter. Still, the modest sales suggest that consumers may remain cautious during the still-slow economic recovery. Higher sales would help drive faster growth because consumers account for about 70 percent of the economy.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, plutocrat behaving badly [and he’s Al Gore’s bosom buddy]:

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

The billionaire landowner who bought a popular beach in San Mateo County and then locked out the public was evasive and uncooperative when questioned Monday about his decision, stating repeatedly he “did not recollect” conversations, letters or legal documents.

Vinod Khosla testified during the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court that he did not remember why he set up two limited liability companies to buy Martins Beach, what amount he paid for the property, when he bought it or why the decision was made to keep the public out.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist remained calm but gave no ground during the intense questioning – sometimes tinged with disbelief and sarcasm – by the lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla for blocking the only access road to the beach. Khosla explained that he never had a conversation about the property without his lawyers present, a strategy that allowed him to invoke attorney-client privilege for virtually every question whose answer he could recollect.

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

World economy still faces various risks despite its recent improvements, and further efforts on growth and consolidation are needed, said heads of world’s leading economic organizations on Tuesday.

High unemployment, significant output gap, low investment, rising inequality and slowdown in emerging economies still have an impact on global growth prospects, said chiefs of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel released after their meeting in Berlin.

“The global economy has noticeably improved, but is still far from a robust, sustainable growth,” the statement said.

And form the Japan Times, the neoliberal agenda marches on:

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

The 12 countries involved in the haggling over a Pacific free trade agreement are narrowing their differences on intellectual property rights, one of the issues blocking the conclusion of the pact, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, said Tuesday.

“There has been confrontations between emerging and developed economies in the area of intellectual property, but things are moving forward considerably,” Amari said.

“But I am aware that we have yet to reach an agreement” on the issue, Amari told reporters.

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

Poll: Most Europeans believe ‘the worst is still to come’

With the European elections opening next week, a new survey shows that most Europeans believe the crisis is not over yet and that “the worst is still to come”, although the trend is slightly improving.

A Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission on Monday (12 May) shows Europeans are still depressed about their future.

44% Europeans believe “the impact of the crisis has already reached its peak” while 47% believe “the worst is still to come”.

Britain next, and a bubble only the rich can love from Sky News:

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

A combination of soaring house prices and falling real wages is making home ownership an ever more distant dream for some.

The proportion of English and Welsh homes selling for over £1m has more than doubled during the Great Recession, in the latest evidence of the property market boom.

In London a record 7% of all home sales listed by the Land Registry in the year to March were for £1m or more – a sharp increase from the 3% level when Britain slid into recession in 2008.

Ireland next, and a confidence game from Independent.ie:

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

CONSUMER confidence rose again last month to hit a seven-year high.

The increase is despite household finances being under continued pressure, especially with the advent of water charges.

KBC Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute said the index of consumer sentiment jumped to 87.3 in April, from 83.1 in the previous month.

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

A comprehensive survey of the 28 EU member states revealed that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes believe immigrants contribute significantly to society, and 97 percent are satisfied with their lives.

All but 3 percent of Swedes are happy with their lives. At least, that’s according to an EU report published on Tuesday.

“I’m astonished by the results,” Swedish anthropologist Gillis Herlitz told The Local. “Swedes nowadays complain about everything.” The report revealed that Swedes were the most positive nationality in the EU when it came to both life satisfaction and perceptions of immigrants.

Germany next, and a curious move from TheLocal.de:

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

A planned taxpayer-funded project in western Germany to get unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts cleaning streets has sparked controversy by offering those who take part beer as part of their compensation.

The “Pick-up” initiative, planned by charity Addict Support Essen to start in mid-June, offers addicts beer – along with food and medical treatment – in exchange for working three to six hours a day collecting litter off streets.

They will also get “pocket money” of €1.25 per hour, similar to the established “one-euro-jobs” which employ unemployed and homeless people in Germany for public projects at an hourly rate of €1.

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticized Germany for not doing enough to prevent a growing number of people from sliding into poverty. It called for a speedy action plan.

The organization of the world’s leading 34 industrialized nations pointed out in its latest biannual report on Tuesday that Germany’s recent economic upswing had failed to reach the weakest in society.

“The relative poverty risk and pronounced income inequality have remained unchanged over the past couple of years,” the reports said. The report also pointed out that it had become harder for low-paid workers to move up.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria called on the government to prepare reforms quickly to rectify the current situation. “Germany must act now,” he told reporters in Berlin.

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

Germany must do more to reduce poverty risks made worse by reforms to the labour market that have reduced joblessness but widened inequality, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long term,” the OECD wrote in a new report.

Presenting the report at a news conference, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria said that reforms were usually enacted in times of crisis when there was no other option.

Off to France and a disturbing sign of that ol’ hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

France may have taken the historic step of legalising gay marriage last year, but it appears the landmark social reform came at a cost. The number of reported homophobic acts increased in 2013 by a staggering 78 percent, according to a watchdog group.

In 2013 there was a homophobic physical attack every two days in France, which represented a rise of 54 percent on 2012.

That is just one of the worrying stats contained in a new report by French gay-rights organisation SOS Homophobie, which monitors the levels of homophobia in the country.

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

  • EPA says only 32.5% get them, labor ministry says 58.9%

The length of the economic crisis and recession in Spain has led to four million jobless not receiving any sort of unemployment benefits or social assistance, according to the Labour Force Survey (Encuesta de Población Activa, EPA) released on Tuesday.

The survey was on the first quarter of 2014. The EPA report shows that 32.5% of the unemployed receive benefits, while a labor ministry report released in March had instead put the figure at 58.9%.

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

They may have endured spending cuts and tax hikes overseen by Brussels, but Spaniards still seem surprisingly pro-EU and keen to vote in this month’s European elections.

Crawling out of a crisis in which European authorities helped bail out its banks but approved pay freezes for ordinary Spaniards, Spain is nevertheless a cheerleader for European integration — a once-marginal state that has done well in the union.

More than 58 percent of Spaniards are still in favour of the European Union against just under 30 percent who are against it, according to a study published last week by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS).

The economic crisis that erupted in 2008 did affect Spanish views of the EU. A European Commission study showed that the ratio of people who thought Spain had benefitted from the EU was much higher at 75 percent in 2007.

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

Support for the European Union is on the rise across some of the continent’s major economies apart from Italy, a study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed.

As voters head to the European elections, which get under way on May 22nd, the survey found that there has been a 12 percent decline in support for the EU among Italians since 2013.

The survey was conducted in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Favourable sentiment towards the economic bloc has been on the decline in Italy in since 2012, falling from 59 percent that year to 46 percent in the recent survey.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, belated Hungarian vengeance, Ukrainian turmoil, Russian retaliation, Turkish tragedy, Israeli corruption, a Latin American warning and troubles in Brazil, Pakistani busts, Indian electoral exuberance, a warning from Thailand, economic anxieties and death by testing in China, more financial woes in Japan, controlling your dreams, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .   Continue reading

Map of the day: European gay [in]tolerance


Via EUobserver, results of a new survey of European national attitudes towards non-heterosexual relationships:

BLOG INtolerance

Headlines II: Spooks, shockers, zones, drones


A lot to cover and little time to write, so onward.

From the Guardian, an Old Blighty hack alert:

Privacy is at risk owing to basic security failures, warns information regulator

  • Organisations are told that missed software updates and poor password management lead to same breaches being repeat

British people’s privacy is being put in danger because organisations are failing to get rudimentary security right, the information commissioner’s office warned on Monday.

In a review of the breaches reported to the privacy regulator, the ICO uncovered some common basic errors that led to data breaches, including failing to update software and poor password management.

“It’s the same sort of breaches occurring again and again,” the ICO’s group manager for technology Simon Rice told The Guardian.

Techdirt covers the latest form The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

The Government’s Antipathy Towards Transparency Has Made FOIA Lawsuits The Default Process

  • from the gov’t-resorting-more-and-more-to-‘make-me’-response dept

This is default mode for the Freedom of Information Act.

In a federal FOIA complaint, the ACLU and University of Arizona Professor Derek Bambauer and Associate Professor Jane Yakowitz Bambauer claim that the Department of Homeland Security has failed to respond to requests made in January and February for records that may “shed light on Border Patrol’s extensive but largely opaque interior enforcement operations.”

The professors seek “records related to U.S. Border Patrol’s interior enforcement operations in Tucson and Yuma Sectors, including relevant agency policies, stop data, and complaint records.”

From Spain, the panopticon extends its reach, via El País:

Government to create database for monitoring all Spanish bank accounts

  • Measure aimed at combating money laundering and terrorism funding
  • But experts fear new system could be used as a political weapon

The government is creating a massive database to monitor the banking activities of everyone living in Spain, with the goal of fighting money laundering and funding for terrorist activities.

Judges, prosecutors, police officers, intelligence agents and the Tax Agency will have access to the 34 million bank accounts, assets and deposit accounts included in this database.

This is the first time that the financial activities of all Spaniards and residents have become the targets of such a program. France and Germany are the only other European countries to have adopted the system.

Another disturbing alert, this time from Medill News Service:

Medical devices could fall prey to computer malfunctions, hackers

As more and more medical devices and hospital equipment become connected to the Internet or networks, they may become lucrative targets for cyber-criminals or hackers trying either to harm the users or make points about their own technological skills.

“The health care industry is not technically prepared to combat against cyber-criminals’ basic cyber intrusion tactics,” an April report from the cyber division of the FBI says. It also says the industry “is not as resilient to cyber intrusions compared to the financial and retail sectors, therefore the possibility of increased cyber intrusions is likely.”

Experts also are worried about the potentially deadly consequences of unsecured systems being violated accidentally. As people become more dependent on medical devices that share information, the chance increases that their codes could be scrambled, causing malfunctions.

Wired hedges a bet:

Obama: NSA Must Reveal Bugs Like Heartbleed, Unless They Help the NSA

After years of studied silence on the government’s secret and controversial use of security vulnerabilities, the White House has finally acknowledged that the NSA and other agencies exploit some of the software holes they uncover, rather than disclose them to vendors to be fixed.

The acknowledgement comes in a news report indicating that President Obama decided in January that from now on any time the NSA discovers a major flaw in software, it must disclose the vulnerability to vendors and others so that it can be patched, according to the New York Times.

But Obama included a major loophole in his decision, which falls far short of recommendations made by a presidential review board last December: According to Obama, any flaws that have “a clear national security or law enforcement” use can be kept secret and exploited.

And the first in a series of headlines with a common theme, first from the Guardian:

Glenn Greenwald: how the NSA tampers with US-made internet routers

The NSA has been covertly implanting interception tools in US servers heading overseas – even though the US government has warned against using Chinese technology for the same reasons, says Glenn Greenwald, in an extract from his new book about the Snowden affair, No Place to Hide

For years, the US government loudly warned the world that Chinese routers and other internet devices pose a “threat” because they are built with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA’s documents show is that Americans have been engaged in precisely the activity that the US accused the Chinese of doing.

From the Japan Times, eyes and ears turn East:

Book on whistleblower Snowden details U.S. spying on Japan

A Japanese edition of the book titled “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” and written by Glenn Greenwald, a former columnist with The Guardian newspaper, will hit bookstores in Japan on Wednesday after its worldwide release Tuesday.

The book says the NSA surveilled entities including the permanent mission of Japan to the United Nations in 2010 before the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. used various methods, including hacking, to obtain information from Japan’s U.N. mission, the book says. Japan was one of the nonpermanent members of the UNSC at the time.

It also says the NSA placed bugs and hacked more than 50,000 computers in Japan and other countries, allowing it to see the words typed and the messages on the screens.

The Guardian again, with a Greenwald alert:

Glenn Greenwald: ‘I don’t trust the UK not to arrest me. Their behaviour has been extreme’

He has been lauded and vilified in equal measure. But did the journalist’s ‘outsider’ status help him land Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations? Why did he nearly miss the story? And how powerless did he feel when his partner was detained at Heathrow? One year after the scoop, we meet him in his jungle paradise in Rio

“I don’t trust them not to detain me, interrogate me and even arrest me. Their behaviour has been so extreme and offensive, and the political and media class was so supportive of it, that I feel uncomfortable with the entire atmosphere,” says Greenwald.

He insists he has never had animosity towards Britain. “But the more I’ve learned, the more troubling it has become.”

His new book, No Place to Hide, begins with Greenwald’s account of how, together with Poitras and the Guardian, he broke what may well be the story of the decade. The funny thing, as he recalls, is how close it came to never happening. This seems a good place to start our conversation when we meet down at sea level in the bustling heart of Rio.

From CNBC, duh:

NSA chief: US spy agency saw changed behavior after Snowden

Foreign governments, individuals and groups targeted by the U.S. National Security Agency for intelligence collection have changed their “behavior” following disclosures by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, the NSA’s new chief said on Monday.

“They’re changing the way they communicate,” said Admiral Mike Rogers, who became NSA’s new director last month following the retirement of U.S. Army General Keith Alexander. Rogers was speaking to the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington.

Rogers strongly condemned Snowden, who after fleeing to Hong Kong accepted an offer of asylum in Russia last year.

Salon hints at things to come:

Glenn Greenwald on Snowden docs: I’m saving the best for last

  • The Pulitzer Prize-winner talks Snowden, the “banal” Hillary Clinton, and why Tim Russert is so vastly overrated

TheLocakl.de takes us to Germany and a big bill:

Spy base will cost €1 billion (and it’s late)

The budget is not enough – Germany’s new spy headquarters is costing hundreds of millions of euros more than expected – and it’s late.

The cost of the huge new secret service complex in central Berlin has already risen to almost €1 billion, and is expected to tip over the billion mark.

The new home of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) – Germany’s equivalent of the CIA in the US, or Britain’s MI6 – was supposed to be finished by 2013, at a cost of €720 million.

One part opened earlier this year, but Der Spiegel magazine reported on Monday that the spy base had joined Germany’s long list of flagship building projects which are late and over-budget.

Der Spiegel said the latest budget estimate of €912 million would not be enough to finish building the complex which has 260,000 square metres of office space. An internal government report seen by Der Spiegel put the cost at €1.034 billion.

After the jump, beaucoup stories from the Game of Drones and the ongoing, always portentous Asian Game of Zones. . . Continue reading

NSA lands spot in a German campaign poster


From the Green Party, with Gegen unbegrenzte Abhörmöglichkeiten translating to Against unlimited interception. From TheLocal.de:

BLOG NSA

Headlines: EcoEconoDystopic pols, ecofails


Straight into it, starting at home with an offering from Reuters:

Weaker U.S. personal earnings, home-price expectations: New York Fed survey

Americans expected weaker personal earnings growth and home prices, according to a survey done last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The survey, released on Monday, showed median earnings growth expectations dropped to 2 percent, the lowest so far this year, thanks in part to respondents with lower education levels.

Median home price-change expectations slipped for the fourth straight month to 3.8 percent, the lowest since the survey was launched in June 2013, when the result was 4.7 percent. The New York Fed said the most recent decline was driven by higher-income households.

From the New York Times, emphasis added:

Plaintiff in Silicon Valley Hiring Suit Maligns Deal

Apple has more than $150 billion in the bank, eclipsing the combined cash reserves of Israel and Britain. Google, Intel and Adobe have a total of about $80 billion stored up for a rainy day.

Against such tremendous cash hoards, $324 million is chump change. But that is what the four technology companies have agreed to pay to settle a class action brought by their own employees.

The suit, which was on track to go to trial in San Jose, Calif., at the end of May, promised weeks if not months of damaging revelations about how Silicon Valley executives conspired to suppress wages and limit competition. Details of the settlement are still under wraps.

Added misery from the Washington Post:

Jobless contend with weight gain as they search for work

A subject long ignored by policymakers, and one that unemployment counselors are too sheepish to raise with job seekers, the link between bulging waistlines and joblessness is now of intense interest to researchers studying the long-term effects of the country’s economic malaise.

Recent studies and surveys have shown a distinct relationship between unemployment and obesity, particularly for lower-skilled workers who struggle to find work — a search made more challenging by their weight.

In Hagerstown, where blue-collar jobs have gone overseas or to cheaper parts of the country, 8.4 percent are unemployed — well above Maryland’s 5.9 percent rate. Last month, Gallup identified the area as the third-heaviest place in the United States, with almost 37 percent of its residents obese. Local studies put the number even higher.

ThinkProgress offers a ray of sunshine:

Vermont Passes The Highest State Minimum Wage In The Country

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise from $8.73 to $10.50 over the next four years under a bill that won final passage just before the legislative session ended on Saturday. The measure puts Vermont on track to have the highest minimum wage of any state in 2018, higher than a handful of states whose pay floors will rise to $10.10 under laws approved this year.

“I will be proud to sign it,” Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) said of the bill. The final version will phase in the higher wage in order to win nearly unanimous support in both chambers. The state’s minimum wage was already indexed to inflation.

The Green Mountain state is the seventh to enact a minimum wage hike this year and the fourth to crack the $10 mark. Delaware and West Virginia lawmakers raised their wages above $8 an hour. Minnesota raised the minimum wage for most large companies to $9.50. And Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut each established $10.10 minimum wages.

But MintPress News notes another ominous sign:

The Minimum Wage Employees Of The Future, Today

A boom in self-service kiosks in restaurants have some people wondering if technology is replacing minimum wage workers.

“People don’t go into business to create jobs; they go into business to make money,” wrote Jonah Goldman for Omaha.com in opposition to the president’s push to raise the nation’s base pay. “Labor is a cost. The more expensive labor is, the more attractive nonhuman replacements for labor become. The minimum wage makes labor more expensive. Obama knows this, which is why he so often demonizes ATMs as job-killers.”

Those who buy into this line of thought point to Panera Bread’s recent announcement that it will be replacing some of its manned registers with self-help kiosks. Panera’s kiosks will enable customers to look at pictures of the prepared dishes, make their selections from mounted touchscreens and pay for their orders by credit or debit card without the help of a cashier. Customers would then take a pager — which would inform them when their food is ready — and be seated, with a server delivering orders as they are ready. Customers will also be able order tableside, using a smartphone or a tablet.

Panera CEO Ron Shaich, however, insists that this is not being done to reduce labor costs. “The dirty little secret in the food industry is one in seven orders is wrong. We’re one in ten, a little better than average,” said Shaich in an interview. “Half of those inaccuracies happen during order input.” Shaich insists that only one or two registers in each restaurant will be replaced by the kiosks and that the kiosks are meant to improve issues with checkout speed. They would also facilitate food customization to accommodate a growing population of picky eaters.

And form USA TODAY, austerity’s most hapless victims:

Psychiatric beds disappear despite growing demand

Across the country, it’s getting harder to find a psychiatric hospital bed for patients in crisis, doctors and advocates say.

States have been reducing hospital beds for decades, because of insurance pressures as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply, he says.

North of the border to more austerian castoffs from BBC News:

Canada faces ‘crisis’ on indigenous living conditions

Canada faces a “crisis” over the living conditions of its aboriginal residents, the UN special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples has said.

James Anaya said Canada had taken “positive steps” but that “daunting challenges” remained, including a lower level of “well-being”.

He said aboriginal women and girls remained vulnerable to abuse, and noted a lack of trust of the government.

On to Europe with the Guardian:

IMF chief Lagarde warns Europe’s crisis isn’t over

Europe’s financial crisis is not over, and that the Ukraine crisis could derail the global recovery, Christine Lagarde has warned today, urging against a “false sense of security” in the euro area.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund said that weak bank lending, and low inflation rates, posed serious threats to the European recovery.

In an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt, Lagarde cautions against undue optimism, just because countries (such as Ireland) have emerged from their bailout programmes.

And another alarm from EUbusiness:

Europeans still gloomy about economy, ahead of EU vote

Support for the EU is slowly rising ahead of European Parliament elections, but most Europeans remain gloomy about the economy and complain their voices are not heard in Brussels, a poll found.

Fears about immigration are also coloring public opinion in the run-up to polls later this month with most Europeans believing that newcomers are a burden on their already struggling economies, the Pew Research Center found.

The survey was conducted across seven key European Union members — Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain — from March 17 to April 9 among 7,022 people.

Britain next, and peculiarly convenient austerity, at least for banksters, from the Guardian:

City fraud cases on brink of collapse in growing row over legal aid cuts

  • Appeal court ruling could derail high-profile prosecutions designed to clean up London’s financial markets

The biggest City fraud cases since the crash of 2008 are close to collapsing because of the government’s cuts to legal aid. The refusal of barristers to work at the government’s new low rates has already led to Judge Anthony Leonard throwing out charges against five men accused of conning investors out of their savings by selling them land at grotesquely inflated prices.

If the court of appeal upholds the verdict on Tuesday, a string of prosecutions designed to clean up London’s financial markets may be dropped. Last week, solicitors for alleged insider dealers caught in the Financial Conduct’s Authority’s Operation Tabernula – the most ambitious and expensive investigation into the City – said they would seek to have the charges against their clients thrown out.

Colin Nott, who represents Richard Baldwin, one of six defendants who are due to stand trial in September, said he could not find a QC to represent his client. Unless the fight between the coalition government and the legal profession stopped, it would be impossible for Baldwin to have a fair trial. Detectives told the Observer that they feared an investigation into the manipulation of Libor rates, welcomed by chancellor George Osborne, could also come to nothing.

Plutocratic hubris on the Emerald Isle from the Irish Times:

Trump and environmentalists on collision course

  • Billionaire hints he hopes to extend Doonbeg golf links course across EU-protected sites at the property

Donald Trump looks set for a collision course with environmentalists after strongly hinting yesterday he hopes to extend his Doonbeg golf links course across EU-protected sites at the property.

The course – originally designed by Greg Norman – omitted EU-designed Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) from the 18-hole course design.

At his press conference in Shannon yesterday, Trump said: “Greg Norman couldn’t use the right land. A lot of people would say ‘that’s strange, why didn’t you use the right land?’ I don’t want people to say that anymore.”

Germany next, and politically acceptable targets from TheLocal.de:

Germans accept gays more, immigrants less

Tolerance of homosexuality has increased in nearly all German states since the fall of the Wall 25 years ago, but acceptance of immigrants who keep their traditions has declined, according to a study published on Monday.

Published on Monday by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the social cohesion study showed tolerance for social diversity had grown since reunification. The report stated that there was a “more relaxed approach” towards sexual minorities.

Even in Bavaria, ranked as the least tolerant of the western German states, acceptance of homosexuality had increased.

Immigrants on the other hand, were still being met with scepticism, with fewer Germans considering immigrants to be an “enrichment of cultural life in the country”.

France next, and controversial consolidation from New Europe:

France drawing ire with plans to redraw nation’s map, erasing borders to save money

France’s administrative regions — Normandy, Alsace, Burgundy, etc. — have long been part of the identity of citizens of this diverse country. Now, merging some of them is seen as a logical way to save money on bureaucracy, and the French support it — as long as it’s someone else’s turf.

The recent proposal of France’s new prime minister to cut the number of regions in half by 2017 is provoking sharp disputes — especially in areas with strong historical identity. It’s somewhat like erasing the state lines between Texas and Oklahoma.

A poll suggests that 68 percent of the French believe the measure to be a necessity — but 77 percent reject the disappearance of their own region. Polling agency LH2 questioned 5,111 people nationwide in February and March. The margin of error was 1.4 percentage points.

“This is where we will learn who the real reformers are and who are the conservatives,” French President Francois Hollande said this month on national TV. He’s trying to counter his image as a man afraid of unpopular cost-cutting reforms that many economists say his nation needs in order to thrive.

More Francoausterity from ANSAmed:

Crisis: France, cuts for ministry expenses by 15% in 3 years

In a framework letter concerning the 2015-17 budgets sent over the weekend to the government’s ministries, the premier asked for a 15% cut in ordinary expenses by 2017 and expenses in general including pensions.

”There is an across-the-board objective but is has to be adapted to different ministries”, a government source was quoted as saying by Les Echos over complaints from a number of ministries already targeted by significant cuts last year. The austerity measures don’t only concern ordinary expenses but also aid to State institutions (universities, weather services, chambers of commerce and research centres), which will have to shrink 2% a year in the next three years, and investment operations so there is no specific number indicated but a more general call to operate under a tight budget, especially in terms of expenses for real estate, computer technology and support services. As far as the number of employees is concerned, the framework letters asked for an overall stabilization which will translate in a 2% cut for some ministries, necessary to compensate new hires in schools, the judiciary and police.

On to Switzerland and another form of anxiety, with a price tag of $24.79 an hour from the Guardian:

Switzerland: referendum may herald world’s highest minimum wage

  • Business leaders uneasy at prospect of 18 May vote on proposal to increase minimum to 22 Swiss francs an hour

Swiss business leaders shocked by past popular votes on executive pay and immigration are wary of a referendum on 18 May that could see Switzerland adopt the world’s highest minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (£14.70) an hour.

A recent opinion poll by gfs.bern found that 64% of voters were against the proposal, made by the SGB union and supported by the Socialist and Green parties. But Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, with frequent popular votes on social, political or economic matters, has brought surprises before: the Swiss unexpectedly voted in February to curb EU immigration.

“I’m feeling uneasy about the upcoming vote,” said Ralph Mueller, division head at electronic components maker Schurter.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga wiseguy unmasking from the Independent:

Silvio and the Cosa Nostra: Berlusconi’s links with Italian organised crime confirmed

Silvio Berlusconi – Italy’s former Prime Minister and one of the world’s most recognisable politicians – did business with the mafia for nearly two decades.

That is the conclusion of the country’s Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome. The billionaire tycoon, nicknamed the Teflon Don, worked with Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, via his conduit and former senator Marcello Dell’Utri after judges sentenced Dell’Utri to seven years for mafia association.

Three-time premier Berlusconi, 77, has always denied rumours that mob links were behind the large and opaquely sourced investments used to kickstart his construction and media businesses in the 1970s and 1980s.

After the jump it’s on to Greece and the latest economic and political crises, the unfolding Ukrainian saga, Europe’s Bulgarian blues, a Turkish legal hit, In Afghan fields the poppies grow, a Uruguayan rebuke for Obama, Aussie austerity China’s burst real estate bubble and elite spending, Japanese economic woes, a full slate of major environmental developments, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

Continue reading

Headlines II: Zones, drones, spies, and lies


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with an ominous entry from Europe Online:

US private soldiers fighting in Ukraine

Soldiers from a private US security company with a record of alleged atrocities in Iraq are supporting Ukraine’s security forces in the volatile east of the country, the German newspaper Bild reported Sunday.

The report, citing Germany’s federal intelligence agency BND, said 400 of the heavily-armed men employed by the group formerly known as Blackwater were deployed in the vicinity of Lugansk where pro-Russian separatists are seeking self-rule.

The BND declined to comment on the report, while the security company – now known as Academi – dismissed similar reports in March.

Meanwhile, your daily dose of paranoia from the Observer:

Attempts to stay anonymous on the web will only put the NSA on your trail

The sobering story of Janet Vertesi’s attempts to conceal her pregnancy from the forces of online marketers shows just how Kafkaesque the internet has become

When searching for an adjective to describe our comprehensively surveilled networked world – the one bookmarked by the NSA at one end and by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and co at the other – “Orwellian” is the word that people generally reach for.

But “Kafkaesque” seems more appropriate. The term is conventionally defined as “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”, but Frederick Karl, Franz Kafka’s most assiduous biographer, regarded that as missing the point. “What’s Kafkaesque,” he once told the New York Times, “is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behaviour, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world.”

A vivid description of this was provided recently by Janet Vertesi, a sociologist at Princeton University. She gave a talk at a conference describing her experience of trying to keep her pregnancy secret from marketers. Her report is particularly pertinent because pregnant women are regarded by online advertisers as one of the most valuable entities on the net. You and I are worth, on average, only 10 cents each. But a pregnant woman is valued at $1.50 because she is about to embark on a series of purchasing decisions stretching well into her child’s lifetime.

The Register adds fuel to the flames:

Hey, does your Smart TV have a mic? Enjoy your surveillance, bro

  • Little reminder: Your shiny new telly is a computer, it can run malware

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told lawyers he met during his sojourn in Hong Kong to put their cell phones in his fridge to thwart any eavesdroppers.

But new research suggests he should have been worried about nearby TVs, too.

Smart tellies with built-in microphones and storage can be turned into bugging devices by malware and used to record conversations, security experts at NCC Group said. And they demonstrated exactly that just down the road from the Infosec Europe conference, held in London.

From Wired threat level, woes for the espionarchs:

How a Chinese Tech Firm Became the NSA’s Surveillance Nightmare

The NSA’s global spy operation may seem unstoppable, but there’s at least one target that has proven to be a formidable obstacle: the Chinese communications technology firm Huawei, whose growth could threaten the agency’s much-publicized digital spying powers.

An unfamiliar name to American consumers, Huawei produces products that are swiftly being installed in the internet backbone in many regions of the world, displacing some of the western-built equipment that the NSA knows — and presumably knows how to exploit — so well.

That obstacle is growing bigger each year as routers and other networking equipment made by Huawei Technologies and its offshoot, Huawei Marine Networks, become more ubiquitous. The NSA and other U.S. agencies have long been concerned that the Chinese government or military — Huawei’s founder is a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army — may have installed backdoors in Huawei equipment, enabling it for surveillance. But an even bigger concern is that with the growing ubiquity of Huawei products, the NSA’s own surveillance network could grow dark in areas where the equipment is used.

Vice covers wretched excess:

How a Power-Mad Illinois Mayor Launched a Police Crusade Against a Parody

On the night of April 15, police in Peoria, Illinois, raided the house of my friend Jon Daniel in response to his operating a parody Twitter account mocking Peoria mayor Jim Ardis. The incident sparked a media firestorm, with Peoria all of a sudden being covered by national outlets like Al Jazeera and the Washington Post, and Ardis was condemned for what looked like a clear violation of the First Amendment. (Daniel is not being charged with any crime in connection with the Twitter account because, obviously, it’s not illegal to mock a public official.)

What wasn’t clear at the time was how intimately involved Ardis and Chief of Police Steve Settingsgaard were in ordering the raid, but according to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, city officials were so eager to nail the author of the parody Twitter account that they had a detective comb through Illinois statutes to find something to charge him with, in the process bungling the legal aspects of the case and drawing the ire of local citizens.

Ardis and others learned of the account on March 11 and sent dozens of emails over the next few days, apparently panicked by the idea that someone with a few dozen Twitter followers was making fun of the mayor. On March 12, Ardis himself asked City Manager Patrick Urich, “Any chance we can put a sense of urgency on this?” Urich passed that request on to Settingsgaard, saying, “Quickly please.”

From the Observer, when domestic insecurity leads to insecurity:

In the Breaking Bad city, trust in the trigger-happy police has broken down

  • Albuquerque’s people are struggling with poverty, mental illness and drugs – and have had enough of a police force that has killed 25 in four years

Last month the US department of justice issued a 46-page report that detailed a pattern of excessive force, including a policy of shooting at moving vehicles to disable them, and officers being allowed to use personal weapons instead of standard-issue firearms. “Officers see the guns as status symbols,” it said. “APD personnel we interviewed indicated that this fondness for powerful weapons illustrates the aggressive culture.”

Concern about police heavy-handedness is spreading. Elsewhere in New Mexico this week state police killed Arcenio Lujan, 48, outside his home after he allegedly pointed a rifle. Dozens marched on police headquarters in the Texas town of Hearne after an officer shot dead a 93-year-old woman, Pearlie Golden, who allegedly brandished a gun. Las Vegas and Los Angeles have also been rocked by anger at police shootings.

Police and sheriff departments in towns and hamlets from Iowa to Connecticut have fuelled anxiety by snapping up the Pentagon’s offer of mine-resistant ambush-protected armoured personnel vehicles, behemoths known as MRAPs, back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

South China Morning Post lawyers up, famously:

Spy case legend hired by Edward Snowden speaks about five-decade career

  • Veteran of high-profile US espionage cases believes his vast experience will help NSA whistle-blower, who fled to Russia from HK

A veteran lawyer who could hold the key to Edward Snowden’s eventual return to the United States has spoken of his fivedecade career cutting deals for some of America’s most notorious spies.

Washington-based legal heavyweight Plato Cacheris has been retained by the whistle-blower, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia.

And he spoke to the Sunday Morning Post as the first anniversary approaches of former National Security Agency contractor going public in Hong Kong with revelations that mass digital surveillance by the US extended to targets in China.

From New Europe, turning a blind eye:

Merkel in Washington puts unity above NSA spying investigation

United States President Barack Obama welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington last week. He gave her a personal tour of the White House and showed her everything from the vegetable garden to the birds nesting in the Rose Garden. But what Obama did not do, at least in front of reporters, was to address the NSA spying scandal and the contentious no-spy deal that has since collapsed.

According to the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, Merkel is no longer committed to investigating the extent of NSA spying in Germany, despite the fact that her own mobile telephone had also been bugged.

In the world of diplomacy, moments of candour are rare, obscured as they are behind a veil of amicability and friendly gestures, reports Der Spiegel. It was no different last week at the meeting between Obama and Merkel in Washington.

From the Guardian, a day that will live in [fill in the blank]:

Glenn Greenwald: the explosive day we revealed Edward Snowden’s identity to the world

In the hours after his name became known, the entire world was searching for the NSA whistleblower, and it became vital that his whereabouts in Hong Kong remained secret. In an extract from a new book, No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald recalls the dramatic events surrounding the moment Snowden revealed himself in June 2013

On Thursday 6 June 2013, our fifth day in Hong Kong, I went to Edward Snowden’s hotel room and he immediately said he had news that was “a bit alarming”. An internet-connected security device at the home he shared with his longtime girlfriend in Hawaii had detected that two people from the NSA – a human-resources person and an NSA “police officer” – had come to their house searching for him.

Snowden was almost certain this meant that the NSA had identified him as the likely source of the leaks, but I was sceptical. “If they thought you did this, they’d send hordes of FBI agents with a search warrant and probably Swat teams, not a single NSA officer and a human-resources person.” I figured this was just an automatic and routine inquiry, triggered when an NSA employee goes absent for a few weeks without explanation. But Snowden suggested that perhaps they were being purposely low-key to avoid drawing media attention or setting off an effort to suppress evidence.

From the Guardian, ancient sins stay buried:

Foreign Office secrecy continues over archive of illegally held files

Historian Katie Engelhart reports on last week’s FCO ‘records day’ to discuss the fate of thousands of historic files, some containing evidence of murder and torture by colonial authorities

Last Friday afternoon, 50 historians and archivists piled into the Entente Cordiale room in London’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). They were there to discuss the fate of hundreds of thousands of historic files dating back to the 17th century, some of which contain damning evidence of murder and torture by British colonial authorities.

In October, the Guardian revealed that the FCO had unlawfully retained millions of historic documents in violation of the Public Records Act at a maximum security compound in Buckinghamshire known as Hanslope Park, which the FCO shares with intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6.

Friday’s “records day” was a kind of public airing – to which the public and media were barred from attending – at which FCO officials detailed “plans for the review and release of these legacy records” to the National Archives.

Computerworld covers unintended [?] consequences:

Hackers now crave patches, and Microsoft’s giving them just what they want

  • At least one of next Tuesday’s updates looks like an excellent candidate to hackers as they sniff for bugs in the now-retired Windows XP

Hackers will have at least one, perhaps as many as four, patches next week to investigate as they search for unfixed flaws in Windows XP, the 13-year-old operating system that Microsoft retired from support April 8.

“Come Tuesday, Microsoft will be patching some vulnerabilities in Windows, and it is realistic to assume that at least one of these will also affect Windows XP,” said Kasper Lindgaard, director of research and security at Secunia, in an email Friday. “Generally speaking, newly discovered vulnerabilities in XP will be unpatchable for private users, and therefore we will see a rise in attacks.”

On May 13, Microsoft’s regularly-scheduled monthly Patch Tuesday, the Redmond, Wash. company will issue eight security updates for its software. But because it has stopped providing updates to owners of Windows XP PCs, those customers will not see any of the eight.

From Ars Technica, more online insecurity:

Significant portion of HTTPS Web connections made by forged certificates

  • Scientists unearth first direct evidence of bogus certs in real-world connections.

Computer scientists have uncovered direct evidence that a small but significant percentage of encrypted Web connections are established using forged digital certificates that aren’t authorized by the legitimate site owner.

The analysis is important because it’s the first to estimate the amount of real-world tampering inflicted on the HTTPS system that millions of sites use to prove their identity and encrypt data traveling to and from end users. Of 3.45 million real-world connections made to Facebook servers using the transport layer security (TLS) or secure sockets layer protocols, 6,845, or about 0.2 percent of them, were established using forged certificates. The vast majority of unauthorized credentials were presented to computers running antivirus programs from companies including Bitdefender, Eset, and others. Commercial firewall and network security appliances were the second most common source of forged certificates.

At least one issuer of certificates—IopFailZeroAccessCreate—was generated by a known malware sample that was presented 112 times by users in 45 different countries. The discovery helps to explain bug reports such as this one made to developers of the Chromium browser describing the mysterious inclusion of a TLS certificate on a large number of end users’ computers.

Meanwhile, the spooks want more. From IDG News Service:

DOJ seeks new authority to hack and search remote computers

  • The agency asks that judges be allowed to issue warrants to search computers outside their judicial districts

The U.S. Department of Justice wants new authority to hack and search remote computers during investigations, saying the new rules are needed because of complex criminal schemes sometimes using millions of machines spread across the country.

Digital rights groups say the request from the DOJ for authority to search computers outside the district where an investigation is based raises concerns about Internet security and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“By expanding federal law enforcement’s power to secretly exploit ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities in software and Internet platforms, the proposal threatens to weaken Internet security for all of us,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said by email.

Another case of insecurity in a familiar venue, via the Guardian:

Calls to class far-right Jewish settlers as terrorists after Israeli soldiers attacked

  • Senior ministers Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Aharonovitch condemn ‘price-tag’ attacks as author Amos Oz calls militants neo-Nazis

Calls are mounting for hardline Jewish settlers to be classified as terrorists after a spate of attacks on Palestinian property in the West Bank and Israel, and threats of violence towards Israeli soldiers.

Last week, the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and the internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, both argued that rightwing extremists should be classified as terrorists following attacks on soldiers at the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

And on Friday, the Israeli prize laureate author Amos Oz described the hardline Jewish settlers that carry out so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians as neo-Nazis.

And we begin today’s Game of Drones coverage with a bad from USA TODAY:

National parks say no to personal drones

A growing number of national parks are taking steps to prohibit the use of drones on park property, a move that has some drone users concerned.

A recent incident here in which an unmanned aerial system was seen separating several young bighorn sheep from adults in the herd spurred park officials to make it clear their use is illegal.

“If the young can’t find their way back to their parents they could actually die,” said Aly Baltrus, chief of interpretation for Zion National Park in Utah.

Marines go dronal, via Aviation Week & Space Technology:

U.S. Marine Corps Explores Extended-Range Blackjack

  • As the first RQ-21As deploy to Afghanistan, the U.S. Marine Corps is eyeing new payload and fuselage options

For a U.S. Marine Corps bent on remaining as light, mobile and lethal as possible on land and at sea, good things do come in small packages.

The service has deployed an early version of its newest unmanned aerial system (UAS), the small, rail-launched Block 1 RQ-21 Blackjack to begin early operations in Afghanistan in April in response to a Central Command urgent need for signals-intelligence collection there. The plan is to begin operations of the Marine Corps’ first full-up RQ-21As—different from their predecessors in that they are capable of shipboard operations—this fall.

Though the U.S. plans to sharply reduce the number of soldiers in Afghanistan by year-end, the Marine Corps expects to deploy on land in the future to support contingencies such as operations in the Horn of Africa. But as the Pentagon shifts its focus to the Pacific theater, the corps is also eager to reconnect with its roots as a premier amphibious force. The Blackjack will be used to support both goals.

And from the Guardian, sharing the wealth:

Iran claims copy of captured US drone will soon take test flight

  • Officer says on state TV: ‘We have broken its secrets’
  • White House blamed 2011 loss on technical problem
  • Iran captured the RQ-170 Sentinel Drone in 2011

Iran said on Sunday it had succeeded in copying a US drone it captured in December 2011. State television broadcast images apparently showing the replicated aircraft.

Iran captured the US RQ-170 Sentinel while it was in its airspace, apparently on a mission to spy on the country’s nuclear sites, US media reported.

At the time, the White House blamed the loss on a technical problem causing a loss of control. Iran claimed to have brought the drone down by electronically disrupting its GPS system.

And from the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Game of Drones meets the Game of Zones:

U.S. drone missions to monitor Chinese, N. Korean activities

Full-scale large military drone operations will start shortly in Japan and its nearby airspace to monitor Chinese military activities and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

The U.S. Air Force plans to deploy two Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to its Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture late this month and the Air Self-Defense Force plans to procure three UAVs of the same type in fiscal 2015 and later.

However, experts warn that regulations on their flights must be put in place because Japan’s current aviation laws lack clear stipulations on large drones.

After the jump, the latest from the Asia Game of Zones, including new players of zome very old games, social engineering, recruiting games, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines: eCons, pols, hate, polluters. . .


Today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of politics, economics, and the environment — plus the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Beguns with a frightener from The Observer:

Why global recovery could depend on China’s taste for luxury

  • Attitudes are changing in China, but western export hopes are pinned on a swelling middle class embracing its inner consumer

China’s looming coronation as the world’s largest economy, years ahead of schedule, is probably not particularly surprising in one sleepy corner of Oxfordshire. Around half of the international visitors who flock to Bicester retail village are Chinese nationals, making the one-hour train trip from London, or using the fleet of special coaches that head there each day – to stock up on luxury goods.

A World Bank-backed report has declared that the country’s national currency, the yuan, will go further than previously thought in the hands of the Chinese consumer and that this supercharged purchasing power will push the world’s second-largest economy ahead of the US this year.

This could be the century of the Chinese consumer, now a figure of central importance for luxury goods companies including some of the biggest retail names in Britain.

Closer to home with disorder in the courts from the Los Angeles Times:

Cutbacks in California court system produce long lines, short tempers

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye remembers the moment she learned that the Kings County Superior Court had resorted to holding a garage sale to raise money.

“That was a day of extreme humiliation and embarrassment to me,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

During her three years as chief justice, recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.

TechCrunch covers hypocrisy from Obama appointees:

FCC Said To Tweak Proposed Net Neutrality Rules, But Preserve Pay-For-Speed

Call it a non-fix: According to the Wall Street Journal, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tweaked the language of his proposed rules to allow content providers to pay for faster delivery of their content across an ISPs network.

He has not recanted that proposal. Instead, according to the Journal, “the new language by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to be circulated as early as Monday is an attempt to address criticism of his proposal unveiled last month that would ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites,” but would still let companies that are content-intensive “pay [ISPs] for faster delivery of Web content to customers.”

Doesn’t that feel precisely the same as the plan before? Yes, but, this time, the Journal continues, we’re going to have “language that would make clear that the FCC will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don’t unfairly put nonpaying companies’ content at a disadvantage.” So, the paid advantage would be “fair.” Defining that isn’t going to be easy.

Heading north of the border, Canada’s effort to sway American legislators via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada’s $207,000 oil sands ad: Putting a price on deception

The ad in The New Yorker is pretty, if not quite arresting. The full-page photo on the inside back cover – prime real estate in the United States’ leading upmarket magazine – features a pristine river meandering through a lush mountain valley, untouched by humanity. It is not a tourism ad. It is designed to convince influential Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline is environmentally safe, even desirable.

What is clever about the ad is not the photo; it is the headline and the succinct lines of copy beneath it. They are slick pieces of propaganda – misleading without being outright lies. Of course, advertising is all about propaganda. But this ad is unconscionable because you, the Canadian taxpayer, paid for it. The rate for a full-page ad in that location, according to Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, is $207,000 (U.S.).

The ad appeared in the April 14 issue and was sponsored by GoWithCanada.ca, the federal government site that is trying to convince the skeptical that the Alberta oil sands – known as the tar sands to non-Canadians – and the export pipelines that would allow the megaproject to thrive for decades are a “secure, responsible source of energy for the global market” (“Keystone” does not appear in the ad).

On to Europe and another hint of darker days to come from the Guardian:

Mario Draghi drops hint of imminent move to tackle risk of deflation

  • European Central Bank boss signals that a move could come once his economists produce forecasts for inflation in June

European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi has dropped his broadest hint yet of imminent moves to head off deflation when he said policy makers at the bank were “comfortable” about action in early June.

Upward pressure on the euro eased and yields on government bonds fell after the ECB president expressed concern that weak growth and the possible knock-on effects from the Ukraine could derail the eurozone’s fragile recovery.

Although Draghi announced no change in policy following the meeting of the ECB’s general council in Brussels, he signalled that a move could come once his in-house economists produce updated forecasts for inflation in the first few days of next month.

From Sky News, elite-a-palooza:

Billionaire Britain: New Nation Of Super-Rich

This year’s Sunday Times Rich List reveals Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country.

More than 100 billionaires are now living in Britain – the first time the milestone has been reached.

According to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 104 billionaires with a combined wealth of more than £300bn are now based in the UK – more than triple the number from a decade ago.

Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country, while London has more than any other city with 72.

News Corp Australia covers a British plutocrat behaving badly:

British millionaire Shoja Shojai ‘fathered seven children with harem of women he held against their will in Spain’

A BRITISH millionaire accused of fathering seven children with a harem of aspiring models he kept against their will has been arrested.

Shoja Shojai, 56, allegedly met many of the women in London and convinced them to move to his mansion in Spain, telling them he was an oil tycoon who was friends with Barack Obama.

Police were called to the luxurious Arabic-style mansion in the hills above Marbella when one of the women filed a domestic violence claim against him, T he Telegraph reports.

Nine of the women, mostly in their 20s, who live at the mansion claim Shojai lured them to Spain under false pretences, abusing them and forcing them to cover the 6500 pound ($11,6700) monthly rent.

From the Guardian more of London’s billionaire attracting power:

London property empire amassed by controversial German landlord

  • Henning Conle, who has reputation for shabby buildings and disgruntled tenants in Germany, has snapped up almost £2bn of prime London real estate

A German landlord with a reputation for shabby buildings and disgruntled tenants has emerged as one of the biggest investors in London property in recent years.

Henning Conle, 70, has snapped up almost £2bn of prime real estate, including a series of historic buildings in central London, raising inevitable questions about where he got his money from.

The portfolio includes buildings that house department stores such as Liberty and House of Fraser, the Kensington Roof Gardens complex, the London offices of Manchester United and the art deco Shell Mex House on the Strand.

While Sky News covers more austerian casualties:

‘Overworked’ Doctors Fear Missing Illnesses

  • More than eight out of 10 family doctors say they worry about failing to spot serious conditions because of their workloads.

More than eight out of 10 GPs have said they fear missing serious illnesses in patients because they are so overworked, according to a survey.

Nine out of 10 family doctors, meanwhile, feel their general practices do not have sufficient resources to provide high quality care.

The survey was carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the professional membership body for family doctors.

Off to Scandinavia with the Christian Science Monitor:

Nordic cuddly capitalism: Utopia, no. But a global model for equity

The cuddly capitalism of the Nordic nations provides an economic equity that makes a middle class lifestyle the norm, where the sharp edges of worry about the cost of health care, elder care, child care, and education simply don’t exist. But is it a sustainable model for anyone but the pragmatic North?

And these countries have pioneered public policies, the effects of which – if not the tax burden – are the envy of the common man worldwide: from universal preschool and paternity leave to vocational training schools and voucher programs for private schools.

Some of it is hype, which naysayers love to shoot down, as in the recent viral Guardian article that spelled out “the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle.’ “ Much of Nordic success has happened because the countries are small, nimble, and, until recently, homogenous. But problems do loom on the horizon, with growing inequality and anti-immigration sentiment, stubborn youth unemployment, and education scores dropping in Sweden and one of the world’s star education performers, Finland.

But by so many measures, the Nordic countries simply work well, sustaining the security of a welfare state while being unabashed capitalists and innovators, adapting to change, and doing so with a long tradition of pragmatic consensus. The region tops charts on equality, transparency, and innovation.

New Europe covers risks:

Norway’s economic risks predicted by OECD

Norway’s economy faces two risk factors that threaten its overall development, warned the OECD in its latest Economic Outlook which was released on May 6.

These two risk factors, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, are the price of oil and the real estate market.

“The ripple effects from a weak oil sector may be greater than expected,” the OECD concludes in its report, which also notes that the country is still volatile when it comes to changing oil prices.

On to France and another green movement from RT:

Hundreds march across France to legalize cannabis

Hundreds of protesters all over France have been rallying demonstrating in favor of legalizing cannabis. The event coincides with the so-called world march for the legalization of the drug.

In Paris, protesters gathered on Bastille Square on Saturday, after Cannabis Without Frontiers, an organization struggling to legalize marijuana in the country, called for the rally.

The crowd chanted “Marie-Jeanne!” in a reference to the nickname for marijuana in France. Many of the protesters held joints or leaves of marijuana, dancing to reggae music.

From TheLocal.fr, the Great Game continues:

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

French President Francois Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia’s southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

French President Francois Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia’s southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

Hollande was due to arrive in the Azerbaijani capital Baku around 6:00 pm Sunday, on the same day separatists in eastern Ukraine held referendums on breaking away from the country.

And the London Telegraph covers the bankster blues:

Cinema producer warned over ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn film’

  • French producer of film closely inspired by downfall of IMF boss warned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s wife will “destroy his life”

The producer of a film which appears to chart the spectacular downfall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said he was warned that the estranged wife of the former IMF chief would “destroy his life”.

The accusation will heighten controversy over the film Welcome to New York, which premieres next weekend at Cannes despite being shunned by festival organisers.

Producer Vincent Maraval also repeated his claims that the French political and media “elite” had done their best to prevent the film, which has Gérard Depardieu in the lead role, being made

On to Lisbon and moderately good news from the Portugal News:

Unemployment slightly down

Portugal’s unemployment rate closed the first quarter on 15.1%, down 2.4% on the same period in 2013 and down 0.2% on the previous quarter according to figures released by the National Institute of Statistics.

The institute reported some 788,100 persons were without employment and down by 138,700 and 19,900 people on annual and quarterly bases respectively with the former figure amounting to a 15% drop but also accounting for those who have left the workforce in the meanwhile.

The figures show that there was a total of 4.427 million people in employment, an annualised rise of 1.7% but down 0.9% on the final quarter of 2013.

Italy next, and a populist pander from EUbusiness:

Italy’s Grillo makes Nazi jibe against Schulz

Italian anti-establishment firebrand Beppe Grillo on Sunday likened European Commission presidency candidate Martin Schulz to a Nazi comic book character after Schulz compared him to Stalin and Hugo Chavez.

Grillo’s blog carried a photoshopped picture of Schulz as a Nazi whipping Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his post said that the European Parliament’s German president “has no shame in talking crap”.

Grillo said Silvio Berlusconi was “not completely wrong when he called him a kapo”, or concentration camp guard, recalling an infamous speech made by the then prime minister to the European Parliament in 2003.

Grillo called Schulz a “sturmtruppen” — a reference to a comic book series — and said he was a “krapo”, a combination of the word “kapo” and “crapun” — a dialect word meaning “big head” that was used to refer to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

From BBC Sport, more overt racism, soccer-style:

AC Milan: Bananas thrown at players by Atalanta fans

AC Milan players had bananas thrown at them during a 2-1 defeat at Atalanta.

Guinea international Kevin Constant and Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong picked up two bananas thrown onto the pitch, while Milan players appeared to sarcastically applaud the home support.

Fans were warned the game would be suspended if there was a repeat.

“Whoever threw the banana on the pitch deserves to have a coconut thrown back at them,” Atalanta boss Stefano Colantuono told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“They’ve ruined what was a great afternoon.”

After the jump, good news for Greek neoNazis, electoral violence in the Ukraine, Brazilian angst, waiting for Chinese promises in Africa, Indian elections and hankering for U.S. fracking, Indonesian Shariah second thoughts, Thai troubles continue, economic warning signs from China, Japanese casino dreams, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Some amazing sounds from a very small girl


Norway’s Got Talent discovered a truly amazing voice in a seven-or-eight-year-old [YouTube listings vary] named Angelina Jordan Astar, who haunts the bins at used record stores for choice vinyl, with a special weakness for the songs of Sinatra and Billy Holiday.

She earned standing ovations from the audiences and judges on the show, and these clips will give you a sense of why they were wowed.

And, yes, she sings barefoot, because it makes her feel more grounded.

First up, an in audition for the show she sings Lady Day’s “I’m a Fool of Want You”:

And here she is in a second round broadcast with another Billy Holiday offering, “Gloomy Sunday”:

Next up, her rendition for Norway’s version of The Late Show of a Sinatra standard, “Fly Me to the Moon”:

And, finally, a Sonny and Cher hit, “My Baby Shot Me Down”:

What a very large voice in such a very small body.

Solidarity Beyond Borders: A call for action


BLOG Europe

The growing movement to resist the neoliberal demands of austerity now being imposed across Europe will be taking action this week.

From their website:

Solidarity beyond borders – Building democracy from below

Call for Action

The programs of austerity and privatizations imposed by the Troika decide on the lives of millions of people in Europe. Together with people in Europe and the whole world we resist the rehabilitation of capitalism on the backs of employees as well as unemployed, retirees, migrants and the youth. Together with them we say: “We don’t owe, we won’t pay!”

While the European Union crisis regime builds more and more borders in order to divide, exploit and oppress us, new transnational movements are arising. We are social movement activists, altermondialists, migrants, precarious and industry workers, party members and unionists and many more, who want to connect our struggles and powers beyond nation-state lines. During the week before the elections for the European Parliament we call for the spirit of the multitude of these social movements to build real democracy from below.

We call for an international week of decentralised actions from May 15-25, 2014. Be part of it!

Starting on the symbolic date of the 15M movement in Spain, we aim for strong, united, internationally visible actions from May 15-18.

Beyond these days there will be actions in many cities in many countries linked to one another by the broader perspective of a transnational movement for democracy, solidarity and commons.

Then, in autumn, we will bundle our strength again – this time to prevent the new tower of the European Central Bank from opening in Frankfurt. We invite you to join the action days! Be creative and participate with your own initiative!

Build #Democracy

In times of crisis, we are told, there is no alternative to austerity.

But people pay, suffer, and die, while banks have been bailed out with billions of euros. Debt and exploitation, wealth and precarisation, are two sides of the same coin. The authoritarian crisis regime doesn’t represent us. Its true mission – to serve capital – is masked by the supposedly ideology-free benchmarks of finance. The crisis cannot be solved by more neoliberal adjustments. It destroys our social rights, cuts social spendings, and fixes economic redistribution in favor of capital, setting locations in competition with one another.

Capitalism is the crisis. Poverty is not only the result of unemployment and of unjust decisions enacted by governments, but is also the effect of a longer transformation, accelerated by the political management of crisis. Global capitalism divides rich and poor, migrants and citizens, even citizens and citizens, and exploits our creative and productive forces for profit. Is it freedom to choose between precarity or unemployment? Let us fight for social and economic equality in order to build real democracy from below!

Read the rest.

H/T to Corporate Europe Observatory.

Chart of the day II: Italian deflationary trend


From  Istat, the Italian state statistical agency:

FusionCharts

Headlines II: Spooks, laws, lies, zones, etc.


Today’s tales from the dark side covers the gamut, including drones, espionage at home and abroad, high crimes and misdemeanors in the name of security, and the ongoing Game of Zones playing out in Asia.

We begin with a sad tale of the lords of law from Reuters:

In U.S., when high-tech meets high court, high jinks ensue

One U.S. Supreme Court justice referred to Netflix as “Netflick.” Another seemed not to know that HBO is a cable channel. A third appeared to think most software coding could be tossed off in a mere weekend.

These and other apparent gaffes by the justices during oral arguments have became a source of bemused derision, as tech aficionados, legal experts and others have taken to social media, blogs, YouTube and other outlets to proclaim the justices black-robed techno-fogeys.

“Everyone who’s anyone inside that courtroom is most likely an incompetent Luddite,” Sarah Jeong, a 25-year-old Harvard Law School student, wrote on her personal blog following a recent Supreme Court argument dealing with a copyright dispute over TV online startup Aereo.

When it comes to cutting-edge technology, Jeong told Reuters: “Mom and Dad are the Supreme Court.”

From Ars Technica, adios, First Amendment:

Intelligence employees, current and past, barred from citing news leaks

  • Order comes amid steady stream of disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

The Obama administration is barring current employees and contractors, as well as former workers at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from addressing leaked media material.

The revelation of the edict, first disclosed by Secrecy News, means that those working for the agency that supervises the nation’s 17 spy organizations cannot mention any leaked material in speeches, opinion pieces, research papers, or books. It does not even matter whether the material is classified, according to the edict from the office run by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Citing leaked material is prohibited, according to the new “pre-publication review policy,”because it “can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security.”

A truly chilling headline from the New York Review of Books:

‘We Kill People Based on Metadata’

Supporters of the National Security Agency inevitably defend its sweeping collection of phone and Internet records on the ground that it is only collecting so-called “metadata”—who you call, when you call, how long you talk. Since this does not include the actual content of the communications, the threat to privacy is said to be negligible. That argument is profoundly misleading.

Of course knowing the content of a call can be crucial to establishing a particular threat. But metadata alone can provide an extremely detailed picture of a person’s most intimate associations and interests, and it’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”

Art in the pursuit of the legal arts from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Magistrate waxes poetic while rejecting Gmail search request

A federal magistrate in San Jose has rejected a bid by prosecutors to search an unidentified target’s Google e-mail account, criticizing the “seize first, search second” request as overbroad and unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. Magistrate Paul Grewal could have simply denied the request in a stark order without preamble or explanation.

Instead, Grewal waxed poetic, beginning his seven-page ruling Friday by painting a portrait of how each day he “joins the teeming masses of the Bay Area on Highway 101 or 280,” marked by “lengthy queues” at exits in Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Cupertino. “The Technorati are, in short, everywhere” in Silicon Valley, from the “humble downtown San Jose taqueria” to the “overpriced Palo Alto cafe,” he said.

Grewal said he was hammering home a point, that “too few understand, or even suspect, the essential role played by many of these workers and their employers in facilitating most government access to private citizens’ data.”

Droning on dangerously, with the Guardian:

Danger of drones highlighted by near collision with airliner in Florida

  • FAA says incident took place in March near Tallahassee
  • Risk of drone being ingested by airliner engine ‘is very real’

US officials say an airliner nearly collided with a drone in the sky over Florida in March.

Jim Williams of the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aircraft systems office acknowledged the incident on Thursday at a San Francisco drone conference, citing it as an example of the risks posed by drones.

“The risk for a small UAS [unmanned aircraft system] to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real,” Williams told the conference.

From the Associated Press, vigilante validation:

Mexico to transform anti-cartel vigilante forces

Mexico’s government plans on Saturday to begin demobilizing a vigilante movement of assault-rifle-wielding ranchers and farmers that formed in the western state of Michoacan and succeeded in largely expelling the Knights Templar cartel when state and local authorities couldn’t.

The ceremony in the town of Tepalcatepec, where the movement began in February 2013, will involve the registration of thousands of guns by the federal government and an agreement that the so-called “self-defense” groups will either join a new official rural police force or return to their normal lives and act only as voluntary reserves when called on.

The government will go town by town to organize and recruit the new rural force. “This is a process of giving legal standing to the self-defense forces,” said vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran.

From the Guardian, strange bedfellows:

Cuba gave information to US about four held in Florida for planning attacks

  • US confirms 8 May meeting in Havana
  • Cuba says four men were planning ‘terrorist actions’

US diplomats confirmed on Saturday that Cuban officials have given them some information about four Florida residents who were arrested on suspicion of preparing attacks against military installations on the island.

The US Interests Section in Havana issued a statement confirming the 8 May meeting with representatives of the Cuban ministry of foreign affairs. It said: “The Cubans provided some information about the allegations which we are now reviewing.”

Cuba’s interior ministry said the men – identified as José Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodríguez Gonzalez, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Félix Monzón Álvarez – were detained on 26 April for planning “terrorist actions” against military installations, masterminded from Florida.

Validation of the Law of Unintended Consequences from the Miami Herald:

Terrorists, dictators and the CIA are helping polio make a comeback

The near eradication of polio is one of the great global public-health success stories of the last few decades. Thanks to concerted vaccination campaigns, the number of cases was cut from around 350,000 in 1988 to just 187 in 2012.

Today, however, the World Heath Organization warns that the crippling disease could be making a comeback. At the end of last month, there were 68 confirmed polio cases worldwide, compared to just 24 at the same time last year:

The agency described current polio outbreaks across at least 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an “extraordinary event” that required a coordinated international response. It identified Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon as having allowed the virus to spread beyond their borders, and recommended that those three governments require citizens to obtain a certificate proving they have been vaccinated for polio before traveling abroad.

After the jump, it’s on to Asia and the latest chapters in the unfolding saga that is the Asian Game of Zones, where new players and new scenarios are added by the day. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


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

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

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

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

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

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

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

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

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

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

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

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

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

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

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

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

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

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

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

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

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

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

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

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

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

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

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

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

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

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

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

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

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

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

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

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

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

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

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

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

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

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

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


Today’s tales from the dark side covers the gamut from political maneuvering in Washington, propaganda pols, and the latest and occasionally bizarre developments in the ever-growing area in which the Asian Game of Zones continues, rhetoric spiraling ever upward.

Defense One Today gives us our first security item, weaving together two critical threads of political discourse and debate:

How Climate Change Affects Terrorism

According to the Obama Administration’s newly released National Climate Assessment, climate change is already impacting communities in every corner of the country, with an increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events – storms, floods, and droughts – and rising sea levels destabilizing the everyday lives of Americans.

Worse, the impacts of these changes are accelerating, and they are affecting communities around the world. The Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review warns that “climate change may increase the frequency, scale and complexity of future missions.” Some of the least stable states in the world will face changing weather patterns that reduce arable land and fresh-water supplies, in turn driving mass-migration, provoking resource conflicts, and fostering global health threats.

From PCWorld, an espiometastasis:

Department of Justice wants expanded permission to hack and search remote computers

The U.S. Department of Justice wants new authority to hack and search remote computers during investigations, saying the new rules are needed because of complex criminal schemes sometimes using millions of machines spread across the country.

Digital rights groups say the request from the DOJ for authority to search computers outside the district where an investigation is based raises concerns about Internet security and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“By expanding federal law enforcement’s power to secretly exploit ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities in software and Internet platforms, the proposal threatens to weaken Internet security for all of us,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said by email.

From IDG News Service, an attack compounded by errors:

Rush to fight Heartbleed leads to errors with certificates and patches

  • Some reissued SSL certificates use the same vulnerable key as the ones they replace, and some sites moved to a vulnerable version of OpenSSL

Despite taking prompt action to defend against the Heartbleed attack, some sites are no better off than before — and in some cases, they are much worse off.

Many of the sites that patched vulnerable OpenSSL installations after the Heartbleed attack was revealed on April 7 then went on to revoke compromised SSL certificates and order new ones. But 30,000 sites are now using replacements based on the same compromised private key as the old certificate, according to a study by Internet services company Netcraft released Friday.

That means that anyone who managed to steal the private key of such a server before it was patched could still use the key to impersonate the server in a man-in-the-middle attack, even with the new certificate in place.

IntelNews tries to repair a rickety bridge:

Efforts to restore US-German intelligence cooperation collapse

Negotiations aimed at restoring the intelligence relationship between America and Germany, following revelations last year that Washington spied on the communications of German leaders, collapsed before German Chancellor Angela Merkel met US President Barack Obama last week.

The two leaders had planned to make a public statement during Mrs. Merkel’s official visit to Washington last Friday, announcing a new intelligence agreement between their respective countries. But the announcement was never made, as Ukraine dominated the political agenda.

IntelNews readers will recall the dramatic way in which Germany and the United States fell out in October of last year, after American intelligence defector Edward Snowden revealed an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The program targeted the private communications of senior German officials, including those of Mrs. Merkel, for nearly a decade.

From MintPress News, heading to court:

NSA Bulk Phone Records Collection Cases Edge Toward Supreme Court

  • The plaintiffs vary, but their complaint is largely the same: the NSA overstepped its bounds and illegally collected their phone records and metadata.

At first glance, a San Diego cab driver serving 18 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group has little in common with members of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.

But both Basaaly Moalin and church members claim the National Security Agency illegally intruded on their electronic communications as part of its bulk telephone metadata collection program that was exposed last year by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In February 2013, a San Diego federal jury convicted Moalin and three other immigrants from Somalia of sending money back to their homeland to fund the al-Shabab group. After the Guardian newspaper published Snowden’s revelations in June, Moalin asked for a new trial, saying the NSA’s surveillance violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

From the Guardian, rare candor and honesty?:

MPs: Snowden files are ‘embarrassing indictment’ of British spying oversight

  • All-party committee demands reforms to make security and intelligence services accountable in wake of disclosures

Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the scale of mass surveillance are “an embarrassing indictment” of the weak nature of the oversight and legal accountability of Britain’s security and intelligence agencies, MPs have concluded.

A highly critical report by the Commons home affairs select committee published on Friday calls for a radical reform of the current system of oversight of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, arguing that the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and parliament itself.

The MPs say the current system was designed in a pre-internet age when a person’s word was accepted without question. “It is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley, not the 21st-century reality of the security and intelligence services,” said committee chairman, Keith Vaz. “The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny. It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in parliament.”

Al Jazeera America carries on a proud Bush tradition:

New documents point to CIA rendition network through Djibouti

New evidence culled from a court case involving CIA contractors has revealed flight paths through Djibouti that appear to indicate the country’s role as a hub of the CIA’s rendition network in Africa, according to documents released by the U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve and New York University’s Global Justice Clinic.

The documents could support the case of Mohammad al-Asad, a former CIA detainee who is suing the government of Djibouti for its alleged role in hosting CIA “black sites” – specifically the one where he says he was detained and tortured for two weeks between Dec. 2003 and Jan. 2004. A Senate investigation into the agency’s “detention and interrogation program” had previously confirmed that several individuals had in fact been detained in Djibouti, according to two officials who read the still-classified report and who spoke to Al Jazeera.

Investigators behind the document release combed through contracts, invoices and letters put into evidence for a court case – which involved CIA contractors and was separate from the Djibouti allegations – and pieced together a series of rendition circuits, or flight paths, between 2003 and 2004. They include legs through Djibouti – even though the Horn of Africa did not appear to be a convenient stopover between the United States and Afghanistan, the circuits’ endpoints.

From the Irish Times, dramatic evidence of police corruption on the Emerald Isle:

Guerin report finds Shatter, gardaí failed to adequately investigate whistleblower claims

  • Barrister calls for comprehensive commission of investigation into claims of corruption and malpractice

An Garda Síochána and former minister for justice Alan Shatter failed in their duties to properly investigate allegations of corruption and malpractice in the force, barrister Sean Guerin has said in his report to the Government.

In his 300-page report on a dossier of claims handed in by garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, Mr Guerin finds there is cause for concern about the adequacy of investigations into matters raised by Sgt McCabe.

The report vindicates Sgt McCabe.

And Kathimerini English, Grecian corruption:

Policeman accused of running escort service

A policeman was among four people arrested on Friday in connection with an escort agency in Athens.

The officer, reportedly a member of the security police, ran a website offering to arrange dates with female escorts who also had sex with their clients.

Another man and two women were arrested. The policeman was suspended and an internal investigation was ordered.

More of the same on the Iberian Peninsula from thinkSPAIN:

A fine verdict for the Guardia Civil: Bonuses linked to number of traffic sanctions issued ruled ‘illegal’

GUARDIA Civil officers in Spain have won their battle against ‘company’ rules which meant their bonuses were affected by how many traffic fines they dished out.

The Summary of Individual Activities brought in four years ago by the force’s top management linked officers’ extra pay – a significant portion of their take-home earnings which is added to their basic salary – would be increased or decreased on a ‘points’ basis linked to their performance.

And one of the performance indicators was the ‘level of service’ provided when they are on traffic duty, within which was included a direct connection between bonus payments and numbers of parking or driving fines issued.

The Guardian covers domestic insecurity closer to home:

Violence erupts again in Mexican state where drug wars began

  • Top detective among latest of around 80 people killed since April in Tamaulipas state, after new crackdown on criminal groups

A spate of extreme violence in Mexico’s north-eastern Tamaulipas state has ended the relative calm in the region where the country’s drug wars began.

Officials say about 80 people have been killed in almost daily street battles. This week the state’s top detective, Salvador de Haro Muñoz, was among five people killed in a shootout. Ten police officers have been arrested for allegedly leading him into an ambush.

Fourteen people were killed in one day this month in a string of gun battles between federal forces and unidentified gunmen in the city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas.

From El País, crime and no punishment:

Why 95% of cybercrimes committed in Spain are going unpunished

  • Ministry report into digital offenses highlights dangers to society, the economy and infrastructure

Around 95 percent of cybercrimes, or offenses related to new technologies, are going unpunished in Spain, according to a new report from the Interior Ministry. “The phenomenon of cybercrime is of significant international and national importance, not only for the threat it represents to society, but also for the dangers it poses to the economy and key infrastructure,” reads the report.

Over the last year, Spain’s security forces received 42,437 complaints for sexual offenses, fraud, forgery, threats, scams, and illegal interception of emails. Of these cases, only 2,167 have been resolved. The Interior Ministry admits that this is a very low percentage, “compared to police successes in criminal cases (37 percent) or robberies and theft (23.9 percent).”

The speed, anonymity and ease of opportunity that new technologies offer are encouraging criminals to attack computer systems to illegally remove data, as well as stealing individuals’ identities, engaging in activities related to pederasty, phishing (posing as a bank or other reputable institution to acquire sensitive information), and sending out viruses and malware. The global reach of these criminals has alarmed governments around the world, which have responded by introducing new laws. One such example is the Budapest Cybercrime Convention of 2001, to which Spain signed up in 2010.

After the jump, the latest, sometimes astounding, developments in the ever-escalating Asian Game of Zones. . . Continue reading