Category Archives: Europe

Chart of the day: The exceptional Norway


From Statistics Norway, signs that the Norwegian economic activity has returnedpre-crisis levels:

BLOG Norse

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroSinoFukuFuel


We begin our collection of headlines form the economic, political, and environmental realms with a new reality from CNBC:

More men in their prime working years lack jobs, says WSJ

A large number of men who are still in their prime working years find themselves without jobs for extended periods, despite an improving economy, according to a piece in The Wall Street Journal.

The trend has been building for decades. The percentage of unemployed men 25 to 54 more than doubled between the early 1970s and 2007, from 6 percent to 13 percent, before jumping to 20 percent in the depths of the recession in 2009, according to the article.

As of December 2013, 17 percent of men are not working. Of that group, about two-thirds are not looking for work, which excludes them from the government’s official unemployment numbers.

Economists were alarmed to learn that 40 percent of those looking have been out of work for six months or more, according to the Journal. Some had expected employment figures to rebound to pre-recession levels, but the trend is actually getting worse.

One response, via The Hill:

Senate rejects jobless benefits

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked Democrats’ third attempt to pass an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

The Senate voted 58-40 Thursday on a proposal that would have continued unemployment insurance for three months, just short of the 60 votes needed to end debate.

“I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to yes,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “It’s a ‘no’ vote because they don’t want to extend unemployment insurance.”

Any excuse to gut environmental laws, via Salon:

House GOP overrides Endangered Species Act protections to pass California water bill

  • The bill would undermine years of conservation efforts in Northern California

Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would override federal rules and protections in California to allocate more water to farmers.

It would allow state and federal officials to pump more water out the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, a source of drinking water to 22 million Californians and home to endangered salmon, in what Gov. Jerry Brown called “an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California’s efforts to manage this severe crisis” and Rep. John Garamendi (D) referred to as “a theft of water from someone to give to somebody else, plain and simple.”

CNBC shivers in anticipation:

Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand

An unexpected fear haunts the land of the shale bonanza story: running low on natural gas.

Furnaces, utilities and power plants have guzzled trillions of cubic feet of the fuel as the U.S. slogs through what may be recorded as the coldest winter since the invention of gas futures in 1990.

Hedge funds are now betting the country will face a critical shortage before spring. The wager comes with long odds but a huge possible payout.

“It’s been a relentless cold,” says Eric Bass, managing partner at Velite Benchmark Capital Management, a Houston gas hedge fund. “This market has slowly started to realize there could potentially be an inventory problem.”

From Al Jazeera America, Banksters Behaving Badly™:

Banks under investigation for alleged currency exchange rate-fixing

  • Barclays, Goldman Sachs among institutions being investigated for allegedly manipulating foreign exchange markets

New York state’s financial regulator has opened an investigation into alleged manipulation of foreign exchange markets and is demanding documents from more than a dozen banks, a source familiar with the investigation told Al Jazeera.

Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Goldman Sachs and a number of other large banks that the Department of Financial Services regulates will be investigated in the probe, the source said.

Authorities in the U.S., Britain, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore have opened probes into whether the large banks manipulated foreign exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments.

Investigators suspect that traders from different banks may have used chat rooms to share information about trades in ways that benefited their positions.

Profligacy from The Guardian:

National lab in California scolded over Lusitania project

  • $80,000 in taxpayer money spent to help National Geographic with documentary about sinking of the ship during WWI

A federal watchdog agency reprimanded a national lab in Northern California for spending more than $80,000 in taxpayer money to help National Geographic with a documentary film about the sinking of the ship Lusitania during World War I.

The Energy Department’s inspector general said in a report issued last week that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory improperly used its licensing and royalty fees to perform tests for the documentary and should not have done the work.

“Federal officials at Livermore knew about it and didn’t take any action,” said Rickey Hass, a deputy inspector general at the Energy Department. “The work itself was not really the issue, but it was inappropriate in that it may have competed with private sector organizations and was funded with money that should have not been used for that purpose. It also wasn’t necessarily reported with complete transparency.”

NBC News greens the green:

Pot buyers add more than $1M to Colorado tax coffers

In the first month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, retailers who shared their proprietary data with NBC News say they have collected $1.24 million in tax revenue.

Half of the state’s 35 licensed recreational retailers participated in the NBC News survey. The 18 retailers shared the first 27 days of their tax data because they say they believe it will help their image.

In the first month of operation, sellers of recreational marijuana are doing brisk business in Colorado. One seller said she averages about $20,000 a day in sales.

Blowback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

India warns US of consequences on visa reform

India has warned the United States of consequences for its companies if lawmakers tighten visa rules on high-tech firms as part of an immigration overhaul.

Ambassador Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that India would see a decision to restrict certain temporary visas for skilled workers as a sign that the US economy is becoming less open for business.

“We think this is actually going to be harmful to us. It would be harmful to the American economy and, frankly, it would be harmful to the relationship” between the two countries, Jaishankar told AFP in an interview.

Sensible advice from Salon:

Elizabeth Warren calls on Obama to nominate fewer corporate judges

  • Massachusetts’ senior senator promotes more professional diversity in U.S. courts

Speaking at an event hosted by the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 groups who work on improving the justice system, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized President Obama for putting forward so many judicial nominees whose prior experience was mainly with big firms representing corporations.

“We face a federal bench that has a striking lack of diversity,” said Warren. “President Obama has supported some notable exceptions but … the president’s nominees have thus far been largely in line with the prior statistics.”

Repeating points made in the AFJ’s recent report on the federal judiciary’s excess of former corporate lawyers, Warren noted that 71 percent of Obama nominees’ prior experience was chiefly defending corporations. Just 3.6 percent of Obama’s nominees, according to the report, have previously worked mainly for public interest organizations.

Warren warned that, in America, “Power is becoming more and more concentrated on one side.” She recommended “professional diversity” in the judiciary, saying it would be “one way to insulate the courts from corporate capture.”

Heading north of the border with capital flight woes of another kind from South China Morning Post:

Exclusive: How mainland millionaires overwhelmed Canada visa scheme

Mainland millionaires swamped HK consulate with applications and led to freezing of world’s most popular investor immigration scheme

Canadian immigration department spreadsheets obtained by the Post show how the huge number of applications forced the government in Ottawa to freeze the world’s most popular wealth-based migration scheme. One document, dated January 8 last year, showed there was a backlog of 53,580 Hong Kong-based applications for Canadian federal investor visas.

That represented more than 70 per cent of the global backlog. And attempts by Ottawa in 2010 to tighten access to the coveted visas by doubling the wealth criteria had the effect of increasing Chinese domination. In 2011, applications sent to the Hong Kong consulate made up 86 per cent of the global total.

Analysis of arrival data suggests that about 99 per cent of applications in Hong Kong were lodged by mainlanders. Under the scheme’s current limits, applicants worth at least C$1.6 million (HK$11.2 million) receive residency if they “invest” C$800,000 in the form of a five-year interest-free loan to Canada.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

ECB rejects deflation fears as it holds rates at 0.25%

The head of the European Central Bank (ECB) has said deflation is not a threat to the eurozone economy.

The ECB kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.25% after its latest meeting. The rate was cut to its current record low in November.

ECB president Mario Draghi said: “We have to dispense with this idea of deflation. The question is – is there deflation? The answer is no.”

Eurozone inflation slowed to 0.7% in January from 0.8% in December. The figure fuelled worries about whether the euro bloc could suffer deflation, potentially de-railing economic growth.

Another take from the London Telegraph:

Split ECB paralysed as deflation draws closer, tightening job vice in southern Europe

  • Mario Draghi said the ECB’s council had discussed a wide range of measures but needed more information

The European Central Bank has brushed aside calls for radical action to head off deflation and relieve pressure on emerging markets, denying that the eurozone is at risk of a Japanese-style trap.

Yields on German two-year notes almost doubled to 0.12pc as markets slashed expectations for future rate cuts, while the euro spiked 1.5 cents to more than $1.36 against the dollar, implying a further tightening of monetary conditions for Europe.

Mario Draghi, ECB president, said the bank is “alert to the risks, and stands willing and ready to act” if inflation falls even further below target or if the fragile recovery falters, but offered no clear guidance on future policy.

The Guardian hasn’t recovered:

Real wages likely to take six years to return to pre-crisis level

  • Average wages are at 2004 levels and it will take until six years before they return to 2009 peak according to leading thinktank
  • The Governor of Britain’s Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaks

Britons will have to wait six more years before their inflation-adjusted wages are back at pre-crisis levels and it “feels” like recovery, a leading thinktank has warned.

Average real wages are still at 2004 levels and it will take until 2020 before they return to their 2009 peak, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

“It’s a long way off,” said Simon Kirby, principal research fellow at the thinktank. “It will take a number of years before people actually start to feel the recovery.”

The gradual rise in wages could take even longer if Britain’s productivity performance, which has been “abysmal” in recent years, did not improve, he said.

BBC News splits:

Divorce rate up ‘because of recession’, report says

  • A wedding ring on the bible The recession of 2008/9 could be to blame for more marriages failing

The divorce rate in England and Wales has gone up, possibly because of the last recession, according to a report.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were 118,140 divorces in 2012, up 0.5% on 2011.

Between 2003 and 2009 there was a general downward trend in the number of divorces, but in 2010 they rose 4.9%.

“One theory suggests recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain,” the report says.

Off to Iceland and an immigration crisis denied via the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Minister Dismisses Ministry Employee Requests For Independent Investigation

Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir has allegedly denied requests from ministry staff for an independent investigation of the ministry over a leaked memo regarding a Nigerian asylum seeker.

DV reports that several ministry employees approached the minister with the suggestion that an independent investigator be brought in to examine the ministry with regards to the case of Tony Omos, a Nigerian asylum seeker who, along with the expecting mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph, had his reputation impugned by a memo which leaked to certain members of the press last November. The memo made allegations about Tony and Evelyn which later proved to be untrue.

The minister allegedly told the employees who requested the independent investigation that this was not going to happen. Ministry employees are reportedly unhappy with the minister and her assistants over the matter.

The uncuttest kind of all from TheLocal.no:

Norway politician wants jail for circumcisers

A leading politician for Norway’s Centre Party has stepped up calls for a ban on ritual male circumcision, or failing that up to 10 years in prison, for those who botch the operation, as the government debates a proposed new law on the practice.

Jenny Klinge, the party’s justice spo complained about the stark difference in penalties under law for those who injure children through female genital mutilation and those who injure them through circumcision.

“It can not be such that when a boy dies, then it’s not punished at all, while if a girl dies it’s punishable by up to 10 years,”  Klinge said in parliament, according to NRK.

She called again for a ban, but said that failing that significant penalties should be put in place for those who injure children during the operation.

Danish austerity strikes again,, via the Copenhagen Post:

Parliament expected to end EU insurance coverage

  • As of August, CPR card will no longer cover Danish residents in other EU countries

You may want to be more careful on future trips to other EU countries. Today, parliament is expect to abolish the public travel insurance provided by the yellow health insurance card. According to DR Nyheder, a large majority will vote in favour of the bill, which then will come into effect by August.

When the proposal is passed, Danish residents will no longer have all their medical expenses paid when visiting another EU country. Instead they will fall under the same regulations as citizens of the respective country. To avoid unexpected medical bills on your next holiday in Europe, it will therefore be necessary to take out your own health insurance.

Nexit news from DutchNews.nl:

Leaving the EU would boost Dutch economy, report for PVV says

Leaving the European Union would boost the Dutch economy, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV, said on Thursday, quoting a study drawn up by a UK agency.

The Capital Economics report says leaving the EU would allow the Netherlands to increase its prosperity in a way only possible in the distant past. Economic growth figures would be higher than if the Netherlands remains in the EU, the report states.

The Netherlands would no longer be tied to EU rules and requirements, allowing a freer hand to trade with other countries. Gross Domestic Product would be between 10% and 12% higher by 2035 if the Netherlands left the EU, Capital Economics said.

EurActiv rebuts:

Dijsselbloem counters Wilders’ EU exit claim

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup, has hit back at far-right politician Geert Wilders’ claim that leaving the European Union would be good for the Dutch economy.

“The Netherlands is an economic powerhouse in Europe. We earn the bulk of our money in trade with EU countries so the Netherlands has a lot of interest in a single market with easy trade,” Dijsselbloem told local media, adding that quitting the EU would be “very unwise”.

On to Germany and a case of the Benz from TheLocal.de:

Daimler enjoys record €9 billion profit

Luxury auto maker Daimler said on Thursday that it achieved record sales and profits in 2013, and it expects to achieve “significant” growth again this year.

“Daimler concluded the year 2013 with record levels of unit sales, revenue, EBIT [earnings before interest and tax] and net profit,” the car maker said in a statement.

“The company anticipates renewed growth in 2014,” it added.

Net profit climbed by 28 percent to €8.72 billion and underlying profit, as measured by earnings before interest and tax, was up 23 percent at €10.82 billion.

Europe Online declines:

German factory orders post surprise slump in December

German industrial orders posted a surprise 0.5-per-cent fall in December despite a rebound in demand from the eurozone, the Ministry of Economics said Thursday.

The decline in the monthly data failed to offset the surge in orders in November, which jumped by an upwardly revised 2.4 per cent as a result of strong demand for bulk orders from Europe’s biggest economy.

“The trend toward increasing demand for industrial products continues despite the slight decline in December,” the ministry said.

TheLocal.de lights a fuse:

Court grants EU migrants German jobless benefits

A German job centre will have to pay a jobless Spanish family unemployment benefits, a court ruled on Thursday, in an apparent contradiction of German law.

The Court of Social Affairs in Dortmund ruled unemployed immigrants from the European Union could claim Hartz IV unemployment benefits, in a judgment which decided in favour of European Union law over German.

European law states citizens from other EU countries must be treated equally, which includes access to benefits.

But German law grants exemptions by classifying Hartz IV as a “social benefit” which can be denied to EU citizens rather than a “special benefit” which cannot be. It means EU migrants who are in Germany but are not seeking work are excluded from claiming unemployment benefits.

On to France and a walkout ahead from TheLocal.fr:

French teachers to strike over August return

Summer holidays are sacred in France and even more so it seems for French teachers. One union has called for a strike after the government did the unthinkable and timetabled the start of the autumn term before the end of August.

Even though back to school for autumn 2014 is a full six months away—and school isn’t even out yet—the first strike of the next school year has already been called.

The members of the national union of secondary and high school teachers (Sydicat National des Lycées et Collèges) sent out warning on Wednesday of the strike pencilled in for the end of August. This time its not about pay cuts or a lack of funding, but a decision to make them to return to school after the summer holidays, in the sacred holiday month of August.

The government has rewritten the school calendar so that teachers have to be back on August 29. Bearing in mind August is traditionally the month when the whole country pretty much shuts down and everyone goes to the beach, the move has not gone down well with in staff rooms.

Switzerland next and more hard times immigration politics from TheLocal.ch:

Immigration: ‘total chaos’ seen if curbs backed

Switzerland’s ties with the European Union face a crunch test on Sunday as voters decide whether to revive immigration quotas on EU citizens, in a referendum piloted by rightwing populists.

The result could be close, with the latest poll indicating 43 percent back the “Stop Mass Immigration” proposal and 50 percent oppose it.

Switzerland is not in the EU but is ringed by members of the 28-nation bloc, which is its main export market. If passed, the proposal would bind the government to renegotiate within three years a deal which gives the EU’s 500 million residents equal footing on the job market in this nation of 8.1 million people.

Opponents of the plan — the government, most political parties and the business sector — warn that ripping up free labour market rules for EU nationals in force since 2007 would unravel related economic deals.

Another consequence of the battle for women’s bodies from El País:

Doctors shun life-saving abortion

  • As 32-year-old Daniela found out, access to the procedure at a public hospital can be impossible
  • The government is planning to make the law covering terminations even tougher

La Paz Hospital, one of the largest public health centers in Madrid, refused to perform an abortion on Daniela, a 32-year-old woman who had lost all her amniotic fluid when she was 20 weeks pregnant. In these conditions, a fetus no longer has a chance to live, according to all the specialists consulted by this newspaper, and the mother is at risk of serious infection.

Even though she met all the requirements set out in the current abortion law – which the Popular Party government plans to toughen up on – the Madrid hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy. Eventually, Daniela, who was on intravenous antibiotics to prevent infections, was discharged from La Paz so she could go to a private center for her abortion, after the regional government confirmed her right to one.

A spokeswoman at La Paz said that all the doctors there are conscientious objectors – whose rights are enshrined in the current Spanish law on abortion – and that in 2010 the gynecology department in full decided not to carry out any abortions, ever.

thinkSPAIN charts the loss:

Salaries have fallen by 10 per cent since labour reform came into effect, say recruitment centres

  • Mass redundancies falling, but on-the-job training is a must, according to Adecco

WAGES have gone down by an average of 10 per cent, and the typical redundancy pay-off to 26 days’ salary per year of service, according to research by three recruitment agencies.

Adecco, the Sagardoy Foundation and the Excellence in Sustainability Club – which all form the official Observatory for monitoring the government’s labour reform – studied 200 companies, most of which have a minimum of 50 employees.

They say redundancy pay has gone down, but remains on the whole higher than the requisite 20 days’ salary per year of service which is the legal minimum for a ‘fair dismissal’.

TheLocal.es has poor possibilities:

Half of Spain’s job ads pay less than €1K/month

The so-called ‘mileurismo’ phenomenon continues to grow as data from employment portal jobandtalent.com reveals that 49 per cent of jobs offered in Spain in January had net salaries equivalent to less than €1,000 ($1,350) per month.

Information published in the company’s blog showed that jobs in the ‘mileurismo’ category – those that pay less than €1,000 a month – had risen from 30 per cent  to 49 per cent of those on offer.

Of those, positions offering gross annual salaries of under €15,000 rose from 20 per cent to 31 per cent of the total, and jobs offering €16,000 to €20,000  from 6 per cent to 18 per cent.

The blog presented the figures as a complement to data released this week by the Juan Alfaro Club of Excellence’s Labour Reform Monitor which showed that average wages across Spain had fallen by 10% since the introduction of new legislation designed to introduce flexibility into the job market.

But one number is heading up. From TheLocal.es:

Spanish bankruptcies hit the roof in 2013

The number of household and business bankruptcy filings leapt by 6.5 percent to 9,660, the National Statistics Institute said, as the economy emerged from a long recession.

Spain’s economy grew slowly in the second half of 2013, shaking off a double-dip recession but still weighed down by a 26-percent unemployment rate.

The eurozone’s fourth-largest economy is still overshadowed by the aftermath of a decade-long property bubble, which collapsed in 2008 destroying millions of jobs and flooding the nation in debt.

In a sign that the business sector’s decline may be steadying, however, bankruptcy filings rose at a slower pace last year when compared to a 15.1 percent increase in 2011 and a 32.2 percent surge in 2012. But the number of bankruptcy filings remains at historically high levels.

And battle over women’s bodies ends the same way, via thinkSPAIN:

Surrogate births not recognised under Spanish law, rules Supreme Court

CHILDREN born to surrogate mothers cannot be registered as the legal offspring of the parents who commissioned the woman who gave birth, Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled.

Whilst in the USA, couples who cannot have children or all-male couples can ‘rent a womb’ to enable them to start a family and register the baby as their own, Spanish law does not recognise the procedure, as two men discovered when they attempted to do so with their two children born in California.

The couple, who are married, had all the legal certificates issued by the county of San Diego, California to prove they were the legal fathers of the twin boys born in 2008 via a surrogate mother, in accordance with US law.

Italy next and another number of the way up from TheLocal.it:

Rents in Italy soar as wages stagnate

Italians are spending the bulk of their monthly salary on rent as prices climb and landlords refuse to negotiate even in times of job loss, a survey has revealed.

Over 40 percent of those surveyed by mioaffito.it, the Italian property website, said between 35 and 50 percent of their salary goes on rent, while 30 percent said they spend even more.

Rents in Italy have risen by 105 percent over the last twenty years, while average household salaries have gone up by just 18 percent, Gaia Merguicci, a community manager at mioaffito.it told The Local.

The average monthly rent in Italy is around €780, up from €738 since last August, according to data from the website. Florence saw the steepest climb over the past six months, with rents increasing by 14.2 percent.

However, the most expensive place to rent is the business hub of Milan, where the monthly average is €1,823 followed by Rome at €1,629 and Florence at €1,228. The cheapest place is Ragusa, in Sicily, where rents average €390.

The latest Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Italian senate to join civil case against Berlusconi

The speaker of Italy’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday announced the Senate would declare itself a civil party in a trial against former premier Silvio Berlusconi for allegedly bribing senators, according to Italian media reports.

Speaker Piero Grasso said said it was his “moral duty” to declare the Senate a civil party despite an earlier recommendation by a parliamentary
committee for the upper house to stay out of the media magnate’s latest legal troubles.

Embattled Berlusconi was ousted from parliament and stripped of legal protection in November after he was found guilty of tax fraud.

TheLocal.it once again, and a heads up for the big winners:

Bonino defends German role in euro crisis

Italy’s Foreign Minister Emma Bonino on Thursday defended Germany against charges its austerity demands were the cause of suffering in the crisis-hit eurozone.

“Those who hold Germany responsible for everything are not only telling an untruth but also behaving unfairly,” Bonino told Munich daily the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

“I find this criticism of Berlin quite petty and only partially appropriate,” said Bonino, a former EU commissioner.

After the jump, the latest in the ongoing Greek disaster, Ukrainian warnings, drought and a protest victory in Latin America, Australian and Japanese tapering, Thai troubles, Chinese anxieties, Sony woes, a free-trade-for-dolphins ploy, U.S. and European GMO word wars, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: British productivity failure


While hours worked and employment levels have recovered to pre-crash levels in the U.K., productivity remains stuck  in the post-crash depths. From the Office for National Statistics:

 Index of output, employment and hours since Q1 2008, seasonally adjusted, Q1 2008=100

Index of output, employment and hours since Q1 2008, seasonally adjusted, Q1 2008=100

Headlines of the day I: Spies lies. LOLZ, pols


Today’s tales form the world of the dark arts and militarism begins with a saga playing out in classic spy vs. spy fashion, with the tapper suddenly becoming the tapped. Our first headline comes from New Europe:

EU, US, Russia, Ukraine: spy games on your youtube

US officials say they suspect Russia is behind the leak of an apparently bugged phone conversation about Ukraine between two senior American diplomats in which they make disparaging comments about the European Union. Another conversation also leaked features two EU officials making comments about the US.

“I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

The US officials noted that an aide to Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, was among the first to tweet about a YouTube video that contains audio of the alleged call between the top US diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The video, which shows photos of Nuland and Pyatt, is subtitled in Russian.

In the audio, voices resembling those of Nuland and Pyatt discuss international efforts to resolve Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis. At one point, the Nuland voice colorfully suggests that the EU’s position should be ignored. “F— the EU,” the female voice said.

The video in question via Re Post:

Casting suspicions with EUobserver:

Ukraine leak designed to ‘split’ EU-US diplomacy

The publication on YouTube of what appear to be two sensitive US and EU diplomatic conversations on Ukraine is designed to spoil relations between the allies, EU diplomatic sources say.

The items were uploaded by an anonymous user called “Re Post” on Tuesday (4 February) and have several thousand clicks each already.

In the imputed US clip, which appears to date to Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s offer of top jobs to opposition MPs on 25 January, Viktoria Nuland, a senior US state department official, is allegedly speaking to Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine.

They bat around ideas on which of the MPs should be Prime Minister in an interim government. Nuland adds she wants a senior UN diplomat to come to Kiev to seal an accord on the US-model cabinet.

“So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and, you know, fuck the EU,” she says.

“Oh exactly, and I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

And the mea culpa, via EUbusiness:

Top US diplomat for Europe says sorry for cursing the EU

US officials, while not denying such a conversation took place, refused to go into details, and pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats’ phones.

“Let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course has apologized,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

While Psaki said she had no independent details of how the conversation was captured and uploaded onto the social networking site, she added: “Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft.”

More from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

White House implicates Russia in leaked call between US diplomats

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney referred most of the questions to the State Department, but noted that the conversation “was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government.

“I think it says something about Russia’s role,” Carney said of the appearance of the leaked remarks. “But the content of the conversation is not something I’m going to comment on.”

Carney said relations between the US and the EU are “stronger than ever” and said there was “no question” that Nuland and the ambassador are trying to “help de-escalate the crisis” in Ukraine.

“It’s certainly no secret that our ambassador and assistant secretary have been working with the government of Ukraine, with the opposition, with business and civil society leaders to support their efforts to find a peaceful solution through dialogue and political and economic reform,” Carney said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future.”

Here’s a piece about the crisis from a Russian state medium, RT:

‘This is what you cook for Ukraine?’ State Dept. Psaki grilled over leaked tape

Program notes:

Senior US State Department official Victoria Nuland has allegedly been caught giving a harsh message to the EU while discussing Ukrainian opposition leaders’ roles in the country’s future government. The phone call was taped and posted on YouTube. US officials refused to confirm or deny the tape’s authenticity, but State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki said that she “didn’t say it was inauthentic.” While being grilled about this and other tape-related statements, Psaki hinted that the tape could have been leaked by Moscow.

Another Russo-centric crisis in the headlines from Network World:

Experts warn of Russian spying, hackers at Sochi Olympics

Americans heading to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics are being warned that privacy is not a right in the host country and all their electronic communications will likely be monitored.

The United States Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, is recommending the use of electronic devices that are devoid of sensitive information and can be left behind, if Russian authorities decide to confiscate the equipment.

To avoid problems, personal smartphones, tablets and laptops should be left at home. Americans should only use devices bought or borrowed for the trip and can be wiped clean when leaving the country to avoid taking malware back home.

Sam venue, different focus from Homeland Security News Wire:

DHS alerts Russia-bound airlines of toothpaste tube bombs risk

The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes. DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. The new concern about explosive toothpaste tubes notwithstanding, the biggest worry is still Islamist groups based in southern Russia’s Caucasus region.

The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes.

Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday that DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. McCaul said the bulletin indicated that officials believed the explosives might be used during flights or smuggled into the city of Sochi, where competition at the Winter Olympics begins later today. The opening ceremony will be held Friday.

Bringing it all back home with PCWorld:

More than 4,000 groups sign up to protest NSA

More than 4,000 groups and websites have signed on to support a day of protest against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, scheduled for Tuesday.

In addition, tens of thousands of people have pledged to make calls and post messages on the Web in support of surveillance reform, said organizers of The Day We Fight Back.

Among the groups supporting the day of Web protest are the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, BoingBoing, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Mozilla, Reddit and Tumblr.

“Together we will push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action,” organizers wrote on TheDayWeFightBack.org. “Together, we will make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.”

From Nextgov, Tweet this!:

Twitter Breaks Rank, Threatens to Fight NSA Gag Orders

Twitter threatened to launch a legal battle with the Obama administration on Thursday over gag orders that prevent it from disclosing information about surveillance of its users.

The statement puts Twitter at odds with other technology giants including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, who all struck a deal with the government last month to drop their lawsuits in exchange for looser secrecy rules.

“We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy, wrote in a blog post.

He said the company has pressed the Justice Department for greater transparency and is also “considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

North of the border and suspicions from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

RCMP, intelligence agency accused of spying on pipeline opponents

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has filed complaints against the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, saying the law enforcement agencies may have illegally spied on opponents of pipelines and then shared the intelligence information with the petroleum industry.

The group has asked the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to investigate the situation.

“What we’re hoping here is to find out more about what’s happened,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the BCCLA, said Thursday at a news conference in Vancouver.

RT covers yet another U.S. mea culpa:

US ambassador admits tapping Angela Merkel’s phone was ‘stupid’

The US ambassador to Germany has admitted it was a “stupid” idea to tap the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel while discussing business, friendship and mutual trust at a trade association meeting.

“We have done a number of stupid things, Chancellor Markel’s phone being one of them,” Ambassador John Emerson told the VBKI trade association at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Berlin.

He apologized for the stress and loss of trust the recent NSA wiretapping revelations might have caused the German government, according to reports by the Local.

Big Brother adds eyes via the Washington Post:

New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.

Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Juárez.

Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints.

From Al Jazeera America, a crackdown in Ankara:

Turkish parliament adopts Internet censorship bill

  • Measure also forces service providers to submit users’ activity records to officials on request, without notifying users

Turkey’s parliament has adopted a new Internet bill roundly criticized as an assault by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on freedom of expression, access to information and investigative journalism. The measure was approved as Erdogan’s government is in the midst of a sweeping corruption probe that has shaken his Cabinet.

After hours of debate, the measure was adopted late on Wednesday in parliament, where Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominates with 319 of the 550 seats.

The bill permits a government agency, the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB), to block access to websites without court authorization if they are deemed to violate privacy or to contain material seen as “insulting.”

Reaction from Deutsche Welle:

EU criticizes Turkey’s Internet law

The EU has criticized Turkey’s tightened Internet controls. Lawmakers adopted the new Internet legislation late on Wednesday following hours of debate involving fierce objections from the opposition.

The criticism came after Turkey’s parliament amended regulations allowing the government to block websites without a court order and mandate Internet service providers to store data up to two years. President Abdullah Gul still must sign the new law, which allows the blocking of websites believed to violate privacy or contain content considered insulting.

“The law needs to be revised in line with European standards,” said Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele. “The Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions.”

The legislation also forces providers to retain user data for two years and present it to authorities without notifying the user in question. The new measures build upon existing Internet restrictions introduced in 2007 that, according to a Google transparency report published in December, make Turkey equal to China as the world’s biggest web censor.

The 2007 law has allowed for temporary blocking of websites including WordPress, Dailymotion and Vimeo. YouTube was also blocked for two years until 2010.

After the jump, the latest developments in Asia’s sundry zonal, military posturing, and historical crises, Mission Impossible tech, a spooky blast from the past, hacks and embarrassments, cartels and vigilantes battle online, hackers seize control of cars, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


Our compendium of entries form the political, economic, and environmental realms opens with a spine-chiller from The Independent:

Scientists talk of ‘pandemic potential’ after first confirmed human death from new strain of bird flu

Chinese scientists have said the “pandemic potential” of a new strain of bird flu “should not be underestimated” after the first known human infection resulted in the death of an elderly woman.

The new strain is a variant of a virus known as H10N8, which scientists believe may have originated in wild birds, and later spread to poultry.

The victim, a 73-year-old woman from Nanchang City in south-eastern China, was the first person confirmed to have been infected with the new type, and a second case has since been discovered, raising concerns that the virus has evolved so that it can transfer easily from birds to humans.

Its emergence coincides with a surge in the number of cases of another bird flu strain, H7N9, which is known to have infected 286 people since March last year, causing 60 deaths. The vast majority of cases have occurred in China, but Taiwan has also recorded two infections, and the virus is known to have spread to Hong Kong, which has seen four cases.

Latter-day gladiatorial gaming and another sign of our cultural plight from BuzzFeed:

George Zimmerman Reportedly Set To Fight Rapper DMX

  • The man who was found not guilty of murder in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin will fight the rapper who promised to “f**k him right up,” according to TMZ. The fight promoter backtracked from announcing the fight on Trayvon’s birthday.

From The Guardian, costly folly:

Fracking is depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas, report shows

  • From Texas to California, drilling for oil and gas is using billions of gallons of water in the country’s most drought-prone areas

America’s oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found.

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.

Fracking those wells used 97bn gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America’s energy rush.

“Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the Ceres green investors’ network.

Just how bad is California’s drought? Consider the following from Bloomberg News:

BLOG Drought

From the Washington Post, stiffing the Praetorians:

CBO: Military pension payments to fall 5 percent by 2023 with cut

A controversial new pension cut for younger military retirees will help reduce the projected payments for those retirement benefits by about 5 percent by 2023, according to congressional number crunchers.

Estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released Tuesday, show that federal spending on military retirement benefits will rise from $51.5 billion this year to $64.3 billion in 2023.

The change is at least partly due to a provision in the budget bill Congress and President Obama approved in December that reduces cost-of-living allowances for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting next year. A higher rate will apply once those individuals reach age 62, and the plan does not affect disabled retirees.

The Register delivers the blow:

First Dell, now IBM: 15,000 jobs face the axe at Big Blue, says union

  • ‘Workforce rebalancing’ will take place in the first quarter

IBM is set to spend another $1bn on job cuts this year to eliminate an estimated 15,000 jobs worldwide, according to trade union Alliance@IBM.

The company has already spent the same amount of money last year on ‘workforce rebalancing’, its euphemism for redundancies.

Big Blue’s chief financial officer for finance and enterprise transformation, Martin Schroeter, has admitted there would be more cuts in 2014, during the announcement of IBM’s fourth quarter earnings last month.

And on a cultural front, this from a Carl Hiaasen headline in the Miami Herald:

Dr. Cheech called — your prescription is ready!

Medical marijuana will be on the Florida ballot in November, which is bad news for Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders who oppose any relaxation of the state’s backward cannabis laws.

They say medical use of weed is the first step toward Colorado-style legalization, and they might be right. They say that although the proposed constitutional amendment names only nine diseases, lots of people who aren’t really sick will find a way to get marijuana from certain doctors.

That’s probably true, too. This, after all, is the state that made pill mills a roadside tourist attraction. Who can doubt that future pot prescriptions will bear the signatures of a Dr. Cheech or a Dr. Chong?

A parallel development from the Washington Post:

D.C. Council weakens bill to decriminalize marijuana, keeps smoking in public a crime

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of marijuana but left smoking it in public a crime, keeping alive concerns about racial profiling in pot arrests in the District.

With an 11 to 1 vote, several council members reversed their previous support for a more far-reaching measure, weakening an effort to join the quarter of U.S. states that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.

While they stuck with their plans to drop possession to a civil offense — akin to a parking ticket — council members decided not to decriminalize public smoking. They did, however, reduce the maximum jail sentence from six months to 60 days.

North of the border to another bubble expanding from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Toronto home prices surge, again ‘outpacing family incomes’

Toronto home sales edged down in the bitter chill of January, but prices surged, again throwing up red flags.

Sales fell 2.2 per cent from a year earlier to 4,135 as new listings plunged 16.6 per cent, the Toronto Real Estate Board said Wednesday.

The average selling price, in turn, surged more than 9 per cent to $526,528. The so-called benchmark price climbed 7.1 per cent from a year earlier.

On to a story with a global focus from Al Jazeera America:

UN demands action from Vatican on child sex abuse

  • A scathing report urges the Catholic Church to ‘immediately remove’ clergy suspected of child abuse

The United Nations on Wednesday demanded that the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to civil authorities, in an unprecedented and scathing report that the Holy See’s ambassador to the U.N. promptly denounced.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child also urged the Vatican to hand over its archives on sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children so that culprits, as well as “those who concealed their crimes,” could be held accountable.

The watchdog’s blunt paper — the most far-reaching critique of the church hierarchy by the world body — followed its public grilling of Vatican officials last month. The U.N. report blasted the “code of silence” that has long been used to keep victims quiet, saying the Holy See had “systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.”

And on to Europe with a warning from the London Telegraph:

Insular ECB is playing dangerous game of chicken with deflationary world forces

  • An aborted recovery at this point might be more than democratic societies can tolerate

The US and China are withdrawing stimulus on purpose. The eurozone is doing so by accident, letting market forces drain liquidity from the financial system for month after month.

The balance sheet of the European Central Bank has fallen by €553bn over the past year as banks repay money that they no longer want, either because ECB funds are too costly in a near-deflationary world or because lenders are being compelled by regulators to shrink their books.

This is “passive tightening” or “endogenous tapering”. The ECB balance sheet has plummeted to 23pc of eurozone GDP from a peak of 32pc in July 2012.

BBC News takes a fall [and the subject of our Chart of the day]:

Eurozone retail sales fall sharply in December

Retail sales in the eurozone fell sharply over the Christmas period, with their biggest monthly fall in two-and-a-half years.

December’s sales fell by 1% compared to the same time a year ago, and by 1.6% compared to November. Both figures were much worse than analysts expected.

The drop in consumer demand followed a surprise fall in eurozone inflation to 0.7% in January.

The figure prompted concerns about deflation in the 17-nation bloc.

On to Britain with qualified optimism from Sky News:

Economic Recovery: ‘End In Sight’ For Austerity

  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the pain of cuts will soon start to ease but warns the recovery is “horribly imbalanced”.

Austerity plans put in place by the coalition may already go further than is needed in order to balance the Government’s books, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says.

In its closely watched Green Budget, the Government-spending think tank said that even if the most pessimistic forecasters are proved right on the economy, the coalition’s fiscal plans will repair the damage done to the public finances by the Great Recession.

The verdict is among the most positive yet delivered by the IFS – although it warned that there remains some uncertainty over whether it will be easy to implement the cuts planned for the coming years, since only 40% of them had been carried out.

An alarm from The London Telegraph:

NHS faces ‘unprecedented squeeze’, think tank warns

  • Ageing and growing population means spending per patient will fall by 9 per cent, despite pledge to ring-fence budgets, IFS warns

NHS faces an “unprecedented squeeze” over the next five years under the burden of an ageing population, a leading think tank has warned, while George Osborne’s cuts are not yet half way done.

Spending on each patient is set to fall by over 9 per cent over a decade, despite an “expensive and generous” ring fence around health service budgets, as the British population gets bigger and older.

The protection given to NHS and aid budgets and a series of new pre-election giveaways by David Cameron and Nick Clegg means George Osborne faces an uphill battle to balance the books by 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in its annual Green Budget.

The Tories have pledged to spare the health service from the cuts of up to 30 per cent that have hit other departments.

Sky News saves face:

Aidan Burley: MP Resigns Over Nazi Stag Party

  • Aidan Burley announces he will quit Parliament at the 2015 general election after he was slammed for organising the party.

The Conservative politician was sacked as a ministerial aide when reports of the episode emerged in 2011, and an internal party inquiry last month found he was “stupid and offensive” to have organised the party.

Groom Mark Fournier was fined €1,500 (£1,250) by a French court for wearing an SS uniform and insignia supplied by the MP. Mr Burley was his best man.

On to Ireland and Banksters Behaving Badly from the Irish Times:

Anglo directors knew about ‘absolutely illegal’ share-buying scheme, trial told

  • Prosecution says FitzPatrick did nothing to stop bank shares move

Three former Anglo Irish Bank directors were aware of a “choreographed” and “absolutely illegal” scheme to fund the buying of shares in the bank, the jury was told on the opening day of the bankers’ trial yesterday.

Seán FitzPatrick (65), William McAteer (63) and Pat Whelan (51) are accused of providing unlawful financial assistance to members of businessman Seán Quinn’s family and the so-called Maple 10, a trusted group of Anglo borrowers, to buy shares in Anglo in July 2008.

The prosecution says the transaction was designed to create the public perception of stability in the bank’s share price.

TheLocal.no laughs at Uncle Sam:

US committee approves blundering Norway envoy

The US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee has approved George Tsunis as the next ambassador of Norway, despite his catastrophic appointment hearing last month, and despite a warning from John McCain, its most prominent member, that he had already become “a mockery”.

McCain argued against the nomination during the meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, which went on to approve Tsunis by a majority of 12 to six.

“The question is whether . . . [Tsunis] will embarrass the United States of America while serving as our representative,” McCain said.

He reminded the committee’s members that Tsunis had referred to “the president” of Norway in his January 16 hearing and attacked the anti-immigration Progress Party, which has seven ministers in government, as “fringe elements” that “spew their hatred”.

Switzerland next and an embarrassment from TheLocal.ch:

Minister faces questions over Luxembourg links

Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann came under renewed scrutiny on Wednesday following revelations in the media that his family company used a subsidiary in Luxembourg to evade taxes in Switzerland.

Schneider-Ammann headed Ammann, a construction equipment company, until he was elected to the federal government in 2010 as a member of the centre-right Liberal party.

Der Bund and Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday that Ammann used a Luxembourg-based firm, Manilux SA, as a private bank for the company, providing lines of credit for its international operations.

And TheLocal.ch, this time with nominative culture clash:

Bern tells parents: Jessico not a boy’s name

A young couple in the canton of Bern have been ordered to change the name of their newborn son because it is too feminine, according to media reports.

Alain and Miriam Flaig, from the town of Huttwil, named the child Jessico after he was born last Wednesday at the Lagenthal maternity hospital, Blick newspaper reported.

The child was born in 15 minutes and the couple picked out his name. But the following day, problems arose, Blick reported. In a letter, the authorities from Oberaarggau sent a letter objecting to the selection.

“As a first name for your son you have written Jessico on the birth form,” the letter said, according to Blick. “According to the information at our disposal, Jessico is defined as a female first name.”

As a result, the Bern authorities have refused to register the name.

France next, and the politics of history with TheLocal.fr:

SNCF faces ban in US over Holocaust role

France’s state-owned rail company SNCF faces the prospect of being barred from bidding for a €4.4 billion project in the US because of its role in transporting Jews to concentration camps during World War Two.

American lawmakers in the state of Maryland have proposed a bill that could prevent SNCF from bidding for public projects on that side of the Atlantic until it makes restitution payments for its role in taking Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Two democrat lawmakers want compensation to be paid to Holocaust survivors and their families before rail company Keolis, which is majority-owned by SNCF, can bid for a €4.4 billion, 35-year contract, to build and operate a 16 km light rail project.

“The persistent refusal of SNCF to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust remains an insult for its victims,” sponsoring Sen. Joan Carter Conway told French daily Le Monde.

Spain next, and a pox on both their houses from El País:

PP and PSOE lose ground in latest CIS survey

  • UPyD gathers support while citizens are most concerned by unemployment and corruption

The results from the latest survey conducted by the Center for Sociological Studies (CIS) make grim reading for the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE), to the extent that the main opposition party has accused the state-funded body of cooking the results, despite a drop in voter support for the government.

The last study, in October 2013, reported 34 percent of Spaniards would vote for the PP in a general election, a figure that fell to 32.1 percent in the latest survey. The PSOE also lost ground and would receive the backing of 26.6 percent of the country, a loss of two percentage points. The United Left (IU) remained steady at 11.3 percent while the UPyD’s support rose from 7.7 percent to 9.2 percent.

The study, conducted between January 3 and 15, shows that unemployment remains the principle concern for 78.5 percent of Spanish citizens, up from 53.4 percent in October. In second place was corruption, up from 37.6 percent to 39.5 percent, with a raft of investigations into the PP, the PSOE, labor unions and the royal family dominating the headlines. However, just 0.6 percent of respondents said the monarchy was a source of concern.

TheLocal.es adds a monkey wrench to the mix:

Police reveal extent of bribes to ruling party

Spanish police investigating one of the country’s biggest ever corruption scandals have released a list of ‘gifts’ including plasma TVs, Cuban cigars and Mont Blanc pens allegedly given to top Popular Party officials to curry favour in return for public contracts.

The Economic and Fiscal Crimes Unit (UDEF) presented the details to the courts on Tuesday as part of the ongoing investigation into the complicated Gürtel affair, in which senior members of the government are alleged to have received presents and cash backhanders in return for public contracts.

The Gürtel leader, Francisco Correa, is said to have given politicians ‘presents’ including Habana cigars (€450); a Mont Blanc Pen; €6,000 of plasma TVs; smartphones; €500 crates of wine; trips to DisneyLand; holidays to Cancún, New York, Kenya and Mauritius; and luxury hotel accommodation worth over €1,000 per night.

With total employment at a record low, one sector gains with El País:

Spanish services sector grows at fastest pace in over six years

  • Companies increase staffing levels for first time in 70 months

Spain’s services sector, which accounts for over half of GDP, saw the fastest growth in activity in the first month of the year since July 2007, cementing expectations of a recovery in the economy this year, according to a survey released Wednesday by consultant Markit.

Companies in the sector also increased their staffing levels slightly in January, ending a run of 70 consecutive months of job cutting.

Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbed from 54.2 points in December to 54.9 points in the first month of 2014, marking the third successive month in which the index stood above the 50-point mark that denotes expansion. The increase in the month was also the strongest since before the current crisis took hold around the start of 2008.

Across the peninsula for a Lisbon demand from the Portugal News:

Country must pay off debt, not seek to restructure it – PM

Portugal’s prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, said on Wednesday that after the country exits the adjustment programme linked to its current euro-zone bailout, it must start accumulating budget surpluses so as to reduce its debt burden, rather than seeking to restructure it.

“What we want is not to restructure the Portuguese debt, what we want is to pay it, creating conditions for our economy to grow, but also managing our public finances in such as way as to free up surpluses that, essentially, can free up the economy itself, companies, citizen, families from the weight that this debt today imposes on us,” he said. For that reason, he went on, society in general must “project for this post-troika [period] a very great determination and a very great will.”

The prime minister was speaking at an event in Lisbon to launch a ‘Coalition for Green Growth’, an entity created by the Ministry of Environment and which brings together organisations from various sectors.

Passos Coelho dedicated much of his speech to the subject of the ratio of debt to gross domestic product: the higher this is, he said, the greater the upward pressure that financial markets exercise on Portugal’s sovereign bond yields.

Off to Italy and pricing the commons with The Guardian:

Italy threatens to sue Standard & Poor’s for failing to value its history and art

  • Ratings agency would not have issued damaging downgrade if it had taken account of cultural wealth, state auditor claims

Italy is threatening to sue the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for failing to value its historical and cultural treasures.

The country that bequeathed the world Dante, da Vinci and an enviable vision of La Dolce Vita, thinks financial analysts would not have issued a damaging credit downgrade against Italy if they had paid more attention to its cultural wealth than its spiralling budget deficit.

According to the Financial Times, Italy’s auditor general, the corte dei conti, believes that S&P may have acted illegally and could be sued for €234bn (£194bn).

TheLocal.it takes Bunga Bunga on the road:

‘Berlusconi for PM’ campervan tours Italy

Supporters of Silvio Berlusconi’s party Go Italy (Forza Italia) have set out on a campervan tour as part of a campaign calling for the former prime minister’s daughter, Marina Berlusconi, to become a candidate for the Italian premiership.

The campervan, branded with photographs of Silvio and his Marina Berlusconi, a 47-year-old business executive, is the brainchild of Gabriele Elia and fellow fans from the town of Cellino San Marco in south-east Italy.

Twenty years after Silvio Berlusconi first founded his political party, Elia has set out on his tour of Italy under the banner “the liberal dream continues”.

He has already toured the heel of Italy’s boot and driven the length of the country to reach Arcora, the home of Silvio Berlusconi’s mansion made infamous for erotic “bunga bunga” parties hosted by the billionaire.

From TheLocal.it, lost tolerance:

Italian MP laments ‘massive’ refugee influx

The number of refugees landing in Italy rose tenfold in January, the country’s deputy interior minister said on Tuesday, complaining of an “incessant and massive influx of migrants”.

January 2014 saw a total of 2,156 migrants in Italy, compared to 217 the previous year, the official added.

“In 2013, Italy was subjected to an incessant and massive influx of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East,” Filippo Bubbico told parliament.

Throughout the whole of 2013, a total of 2,925 vessels of various shapes and sizes landed on Italian shores, carrying about 43,000 people, including nearly 4,000 children.

After the jump, the Greek meltdown flares up, failing family finances in Cyprus, a Russian warning on the Ukraine, a Brazilian financial alarm, Thai troubles, Chinese warning signs, Japanese aging and income woes, a GMO victory, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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


Today’s tales of the worlds of espionage, laws, and the current crop of Asian zonal, militarization, and security crises [plus more] opens with a question from the ACLU Blog of Rights:

Who Did the NSA’s Illegal Spying Put in Jail?

Last week, the ACLU joined a constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), the statute that allows the NSA to engage in dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls and emails. With the Federal Defenders Office, we filed a motion on behalf of Jamshid Muhtorov, the first criminal defendant to receive notice that he had been monitored under this controversial spying law. But Mr. Muhtorov received this notice only after the Department of Justice (DOJ) abandoned its previous policy of concealing FAA surveillance in criminal cases — a policy that violated both the statute itself and defendants’ due process rights.

For criminal defendants and for the country, it’s good news that the government is reviewing criminal cases in which FAA evidence has played a role. But the FAA is just one surveillance program among many. And given what we now know about the DOJ’s unlawful notice policy, we should be asking whether the government has concealed in criminal prosecutions its use of other mass surveillance programs.

VOA News offers a claim:

NSA Says Snowden Leaks Put US Soldiers at Risk

Top U.S. intelligence officials say leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have put members of all branches of the U.S. military and other U.S. personnel abroad at risk, and that the Pentagon has had to make costly changes. The officials testified to a congressional panel about worldwide threats to U.S. national security.

Defense Intelligence Agency Chief Michael Flynn told the House Intelligence Committee that revelations by Edward Snowden, who is now living in Russia , have put the lives of U.S. service members in danger, and that the Pentagon is making adjustments.

‘Everything that he touched, we assume that he took, stole,’ he said. ‘So we assume the worst case in how we are reviewing all of the Defense Department’s actions, events, exercises around the world.’

Techdirt delivers a threat:

Congress Warns DOJ That If It Doesn’t Support NSA Reform Plan, It Won’t Renew Key Patriot Act Provision

  • from the get-your-act-together dept

While the USA Freedom Act isn’t perfect, it is one bill in Congress that has a lot of support and will fix many problems with the current NSA overreach. Much more needs to be done, but the USA Freedom Act is a good starting point. And yet, the Obama administration and his Justice Department have yet to take a public stand on the bill, and that seems to be annoying plenty of folks in Congress. At the recent Judiciary Committee hearings, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act and Section 215, made it abundantly clear that the DOJ/NSA’s interpretation of his bill was simply incorrect and that they were abusing the system. As the sponsor of the USA Freedom Act to fix this misinterpretation, he pointed out that if the DOJ doesn’t agree to support it, there’s a good chance that Congress simply won’t renew the provisions in Section 215 at all. Section 215, of course, is the part that has been misinterpreted by the DOJ, the FISA court, the NSA and the FBI to pretend it authorizes the collection of every phone record. In short, the message from Congress is: work with us to reform things, or we’ll pull the authority altogether. Of course, some of us think that pulling the authority altogether might be a better long term solution.

McClatchy Washington Bureau resists:

Some in Congress see just one option for NSA spying: Scrap it

“Congress never intended to allow bulk collections,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., author of the 2001 Patriot Act.

Debate is intensifying in Congress over whether to scrap the massive data collection effort or to modify it. There’s widespread skepticism among both parties over President Barack Obama’s plans for the program’s future and a desire for Congress to curb the National Security Agency.

“In my district, and many others, NSA has become not a three-letter word but a four-letter word,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said at a Tuesday hearing on the surveillance effort.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said Congress needs to end the bulk collection.

“Consensus is growing that it is largely ineffective, inconsistent with our national values, and inconsistent with the statute as this committee wrote it,” said Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

BBC News has a hack attack:

Snowden leaks: GCHQ ‘attacked Anonymous’ hackers

GCHQ disrupted “hacktivist” communications by using one of their own techniques against them, according to the latest Edward Snowden leaks.

Documents from the whistle-blower published by NBC indicate UK cyberspies used a denial of service attack (DoS) in 2011 to force a chatroom used by the Anonymous collective offline.

A spokeswoman for GCHQ said all the agency’s activities were authorised and subject to rigorous oversight. But others say it raises concerns.

Dr Steven Murdoch, a security researcher at the University of Cambridge, said using a DoS attack to overwhelm a computer server with traffic would have risked disrupting other services.

Computerworld advocates:

NSA spy program hurting U.S. vendors

  • NSA reforms needed to help restore worldwide trust in U.S. tech industry, trade group says

The U.S. Congress needs to help restore global trust in the nation’s technology vendors by reining in surveillance programs at the National Security Agency, an industry representative told lawmakers Tuesday.

Recent revelations about NSA surveillance programs have created a “misimpression” about the U.S. technology industry and are eroding trust in those companies, said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). The furor over the NSA surveillance programs could lead to lost income in the tens of billions of dollars for U.S. cloud providers, and many U.S. tech vendors are already hearing complaints, he said.

The U.S. needs a “public policy course correction” on NSA surveillance, Garfield told the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

“Made in the U.S.A. is no longer a badge of honor, but a basis for questioning the integrity and the independence of U.S.-made technology,” Garfield said. “Many countries are using the NSA’s disclosures as a basis for accelerating their policies around forced localization and protectionism.”

A case of outsourcing from DutchNews.nl:

The Netherlands, not USA, gathered info from 1.8 million phone calls

The Dutch security service was responsible for collecting information from about 1.8 million telephone calls and text messages at the end of 2012 and in early 2013, ministers have told parliament.

Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk told MPs in October the Americans were behind the tapping, after the revelations were first published in German magazine Spiegel.

However, in a two paragraph briefing on Wednesday, Plasterk and defence minister Jeanine Hennis said the information had been gathered by the Netherlands itself.

‘The details were collected in the interest of counter-terrorism activities and military operations abroad,’ the briefing stated. The information was then ‘correctly shared with the US’.

RT seeks an end:

‘Assange won’t come’: Swedish MPs urge end to whistleblower case

Swedish MPs are calling on the prosecutors in the Julian Assange sexual assault case to travel to London and question the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has been taking refuge since June 2012.

The members of the Swedish parliament say investigators should accept that Assange will not be leaving the embassy voluntarily.

“It is in the interest of everyone involved in this process that the prosecutor reaches a conclusion to either file charges or dismiss the case, and it is obvious that Assange will not come to Sweden,” Staffan Danielsson, from the Center Party, said, as quoted by the Times.

Anne Ramberg, the secretary-general of the Swedish Bar Association, said “You have to be a bit pragmatic to put an end to such a circus. They should have headed to London to interrogate him.”

However, Anders Perklev, the Swedish prosecutor-general, was convinced the lawmakers are interfering with the judicial matters.

A case of dilatory dronal deliberations from Medill News Service:

U.S. lags in putting drones to commercial use, FAA should move faster, advocates say

The U.S. is lagging on commercial use of drones, manufacturers and scientists told the Senate science committee, but several senators said they want to be sure the unmanned aerial vehicles won’t be used to spy on Americans.

“These 20th century eyes in the skies shouldn’t become spies in the skies,” said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who held up an inexpensive drone equipped with two cameras at the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meeting.

But privacy concerns aren’t a reason to limit the commercial use of drones in the U.S., Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences, told the committee. She said unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs — are only one type of technology that can be used for surveillance. There are small bug robots that can be slipped into bags, and ground technologies like cars will soon have cameras inside and outside, she said.

The real problem is the government is lacking experts with understanding of the technology, Cummings said.

Droning on some more with Deutsche Welle:

Drone usage on the rise, China drives Asia military spending increase says IISS report

Drones are becoming increasingly common in warfare as their operating costs go down, according to a new report by the IISS think tank. It added that China is driving an increase in military spending in Asia.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, is expected to increase in the future, the military aerospace expert for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Doug Barrie, said on Wednesday.

According to the IISS’ annual Military Balance report, as drone usage increases, the legal and ethical questions they raise come to the fore. One key issue is whether attacks on people can be justified as self-defense.

The report said that lethal strikes will be carried out by humans piloting the drones because handing that power over to a machine “will remain a threshold legislatures and the public will likely be unwilling to cross.”

While drones have been almost exclusively a tool used by Western militaries, smaller and cheaper technology has opened up the market to private companies and emerging economies.

A a major dronal move from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

U.S. curbs drone strikes in Pakistan

The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.

“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior Al-Qaida targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.

Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.

The current pause follows a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud just days before an initial attempt at peace talks was scheduled to begin. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government accused the United States of trying to sabotage the talks, and the Taliban canceled the meeting.

And a dronal secret revealad from BBC News:

Top secret UK drone Taranis makes first flight

A top secret unmanned drone, said to be the most advanced aircraft ever built in Britain, has carried out its first successful test flights.

It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. But it is also a window into the future of warfare.

Some will view it as an amazing piece of engineering. But not everyone will like what they see.

Taranis – named after the Celtic god of thunder – was first unveiled BAE Systems in 2010.

On to more local Bib Brotherly incarnations, first from MintPress News:

Privacy Advocates Gearing Up To Sue Oakland Over City “Spy” Center

The city says the goal is to monitor 24/7 for crime and to improve emergency response times, but privacy advocates and residents have serious doubts about that claim.

The Oakland Privacy Working Group, a coalition of civil liberties advocates, announced on Monday it would file a taxpayer lawsuit against the city of Oakland, Calif., if city officials continued to construct the Department of Homeland Security-funded Domain Awareness Center, which it says violates the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Oakland residents.

Specifically, the group says it is prepared to file a lawsuit to prevent the City of Oakland from awarding a contract to a company to dismantle all of the work that was completed under Phase 1, which involved adding and connecting computers, TVs, monitors, etc. But most importantly, the group says it wants to prevent Phase 2 from being implemented, which is when the surveillance system goes live.

Oakland Privacy says two other groups are also working on the lawsuit, but their identities have not been made public yet. Brian Hofer, media contact for Oakland Privacy, says the groups will remain anonymous until a lawsuit is actually filed.

And across the Oakland city limits with East Bay Citizen:

Alameda Chief on License Plate Readers: ‘I’m not Trying to Spy on Anyone’

The often insular community of Alameda may soon have Automated License Plate Readers rapidly scanning automobiles passing through the island city. However, critics of the police department’s plan say a recently released draft policy is far too vague and leaves wide gaps for potential abuse by police on civil liberties. Others questioned the proposed usefulness of retaining information obtained from the readers for up to one year.

During a public forum on the issue Monday night in Alameda, Police Chief Paul Rolleri provided an often candid glimpse into his department’s mindset when it comes to utilizing the controversial and relatively new technology, which employs scanning devices attached to patrol cars that rapidly scan thousands of license plates on public streets. Rolleri says Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) simply capture plate numbers without any corresponding information such as the name and address of the owner. Plate numbers are then matched against a “hot list” of vehicles that may have been recently stolen or involved in other crimes.

“I’m not trying to spy on anyone,” Rolleri said Monday night. “If we were, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” Rolleri responded to some speakers who criticized the one-and-a-half page policy for its brevity and lack of specificity, saying the proposal is merely in the draft stage. There is also a lack of case law currently available on ALPRs, he said. In addition, Rolleri expressed uncertainty over how long the department should retain data, an topic of great concern among many privacy advocates. “We’re trying to find that sweet spot,” said Rolleri. “I’ll be honest, we don’t know. We’re still trying to figure it out.” He later called the one-year proposal a good starting point that could be reevaluated in another six months.

Across another Oakland border with Pueblo Lands:

Fortress Piedmont

The city of Piedmont has installed automated license plate reader stations at busy intersections ringing its borders. The ALPR system was proposed last year. Installation began in November of 2013 after Piedmont’s city council set aside $678,000 for the technology that uses computer analytics to instantly identify the plate numbers of every vehicle passing under the watchful eyes of precision digital video cameras.

Home to bankers, lawyers, corporate executives, and real estate tycoons, Piedmont, population 10,000, is one of the wealthiest municipalities in America. When it was founded in the early 1900s it was immediately given the nickname “City of Millionaires” due to the concentration of wealthy families within its borders.

Piedmont has always been very much defined by its borders. The city is completely surrounded by Oakland, a much larger municipality whose population includes 88,000 persons whose incomes fall below the federally defined poverty line. The median household income in Oakland is $51,000. In Piedmont it’s $206,000, over four times Oakland’s average. The median home price in Piedmont is $1.5 million, and the small city has virtually no rental housing, making it an expensive community to buy a membership in.

And some plain old militarism from Deutsche Welle:

Germany paves way for new engagement

  • Germany’s cabinet is discussing ramping up its military involvement in conflicts ranging from Afghanistan to Mali. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has signaled a new engagement internationally.

While Reuters goes under in the Southern Hemisphere:

Insight: Brazil spies on protesters, hoping to protect World Cup

Brazilian security forces are using undercover agents, intercepting e-mails, and rigorously monitoring social media to try to ensure that violent anti-government protesters do not ruin soccer’s World Cup this year, officials told Reuters.

Demonstrations in recent months have been much smaller than those last June when Brazil hosted a dress rehearsal tournament for the World Cup, shaking President Dilma Rousseff’s government and contributing to an economic slowdown.

But they have still resulted in vandalism of banks and paralyzed parts of major cities as a hard core of perhaps a few thousand protesters nationwide, some of whom wear masks and call themselves “Black Blocs,” clash with police.

Rousseff’s government fears the protests, the most recent of which carried the slogan “There Will Be No World Cup,” could severely disrupt the tournament, which kicks off on June 12 in Sao Paulo and ends with the final on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro.

After the jump, the latest Asian crises of zones/history/rhetoric/alliances, classroom hackers, military/industrial fails, criminalized tweets, felonious Googling, and more. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: European retail sales decline


And the fall is in both for the single currency eurozone [purple] and the larger European Union [black]. From Eurostat [PDF]; click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Euro retail

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFukuFolly


We begin today’s headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms with the inevitable outcome of a healthcare system that isn’t public, via the New York Times:

Health Care Law May Result in 2 Million Fewer Full-Time Workers

A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office says that the Affordable Care Act will result in more than 2 million fewer full-time workers in the next several years, providing Republican opponents of the law a powerful political weapon leading up to this years midterm elections.

The law is also expected to have a significant effect on hours worked, the nonpartisan budget office said in a regular update to its budget projections released Tuesday. With the expansion of insurance coverage, more workers will choose not to work and others will choose to work fewer hours than they might have otherwise, it said. The decline in hours worked will translate into a loss of the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time positions by 2024, the budget office said.

Republicans immediately seized on the report as evidence of the health care law’s adverse effect on the economy.

From USA TODAY, third third state?:

Alaska moves toward August vote on legal pot

Alaska could be the next state to reconsider the prohibition on marijuana, following legalization votes by Colorado and Washington last year.

Alaska elections officials posted data Tuesday showing that a petition for a statewide vote on marijuana legalization has gained enough signatures and met legal thresholds needed to put the issue before voters.

Under Alaska law, the petition when officially certified would appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot. No formal opposition to the initiative has emerged thus far.

Reuters readies the job ax:

RadioShack to close about 500 stores: WSJ

U.S. electronics chain RadioShack Corp is planning to close about 500 stores within months, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The struggling retailer, which is due to report results for the fourth quarter later this month, said it could not comment on rumor or speculation.

RadioShack has been working with bankers from Peter J Solomon Co to boost its liquidity and with AlixPartners on its operational turnaround.

Its sales have been in free-fall amid executive departures, strong competition and an image problem. Despite its ubiquitous presence in the United States, analysts say it has not done enough to transform itself into a destination for mobile phone shoppers, nor has it become hip enough to woo younger shoppers.

And another ax-wielder from the New York Post:

500 layoffs expected today at Time Inc.

Tuesday is D-day at Time Inc.

Around mid-morning, staffers are expected to start hearing how deep the cuts will be as Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp unveils what is likely the last big downsizing before Time Warner spins off the publishing group as a separate company later this year.

“It’s very nerve racking,” said one source inside the company that publishes People, Time, Sports Illustrated and In Style.

The recently acquired American Express Publishing and the London-based IPC subsidiary, are expected to be particularly hard hit.

Out first global headline, via The Independent:

Das Capital: Trust in banks wanes as savers find other ways to protect their money

  • The ultra-rich are switching to real assets – gold, commodities, farm land

All systems – social, cultural, spiritual, economic and financial – rely on trust. Policy makers are now systematically undermining trust in institutions, turning to financial repression in attempting to deal with the economic crisis.

Current government policies focus on low interest rates, with returns artificially set below the true inflation rate. Where interest rates are near zero, governments print money, manipulating the amount rather than the price of money.

These measures reduce borrowing costs allowing borrowers to maintain high levels of debt. Rates below that of inflation help reduce the value of the debt, effectively decreasing the amount that must be paid back in economic terms. The policy subsidises borrowers at the expense of savers.

The London Telegraph sounds a warning:

Emerging markets more vulnerable than ever to Fed tightening, warns BIS

  • Bank for International Settlements says there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries

Emerging markets may be even more vulnerable to an interest rate shock today than they were during the East Asia crisis in 1998, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has warned.

The Swiss-based watchdog said there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries, leaving them exposed to “powerful feedback” risks as borrowing costs rise in the West.

“The deeper integration of emerging market economies into global debt markets has made emerging market bond markets much more sensitive to bond market developments in the advanced economies,” the BIS said in a working paper.

New Europe pontif-icates:

Pope warns that ‘unjust’ unemployment can lead to sin, moral destitution and even suicide

Francis discussed three types of destitution — material, moral and spiritual — in his first message for Lent, the solemn period leading up to Holy Week and Easter, that was released Tuesday.

Moral destitution, he said, “consists of slavery to vice and sin” such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.

He noted that sometimes “unjust social conditions” like unemployment lead to this type of destitution by depriving people of the dignity of work and access to education and health care.

“In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide.”

How, then, about folks who are doing quite well, Say, such as the consumers of this little joy from the London Daily Mail:

The Mile-Low Club: Travel company launches £175k Valentine’s Day submarine package with interior design of your choice and aphrodisiac menu (flights to the mooring not included)

  • Luxury travel company unveil submarine treat whereby couples can choose to harbour wherever they like
  • Also includes aphrodisiac menu featuring champagne and oysters
  • The bespoke submarine will actually travel 200m under the water
  • Price for a basic vessel starts at £175,000
  • Extras including helicopter transfers, entertaining rooms and champagne breakfast available

And from TheLocal.de, the crabby old man was right:

Too much reality TV ‘harms pupils’ grades’

Have you ever been worried that too much reality TV might be frying your brain or more to the point your kids’ brains? Well you better read on.

Parents everywhere have been muttering it under their breaths for years and now French researchers claim to have dealt conclusive proof.

A study by the Ministry of Education linked body DEPP (Direction of Evaluation, forecasting and performance) shows a dramatic reduction in results for 15-year-old pupils who watch too much reality TV.

The study, which relied on stats from the Ministry of Education, looked at the impact on grades of the typical activities of young kids in France from playing video games to listening to music and sending texts to friends but it was watching shows like The Voice,  Koh Lanta (the French version of Survivor)  or the Infamous Angels of Reality TV, featuring Nabilla (pictured) that appears to have the most detrimental impact on standards.

“It is the frequent watching of reality TV programmes that impacts the most negatively on the cognitive and academic performances,” said the study.

On to Europe and intolerant umbrage from EUobserver:

MEP receives 41,000 emails against gay rights

An MEP who drafted a resolution on securing the basic rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) people in the EU has so far received almost 41,000 emails against the proposal.

“My website was hacked as well, I don’t know who it was from. It might be coincidence, it might not be a coincidence,” Green Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek told the Strasbourg assembly on Monday (3 February).

A large banner which says “Warning – visiting this website may harm your computer!” has replaced her personal site since last week.

Her office said they are working to get it back to normal. They suspect it was hacked by ultra-conservative groups.

Casting a cynical eye with EUbusiness:

Ombudsman wants EU probed for corruption

The European Union’s own institutions should be probed for corruption, the EU’s watchdog said Tuesday, a day after Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem described the bloc’s graft problem as “breathtaking.”

“The EU administration has to live up to the very highest standards,” European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in a statement, adding that it largely does so and compares favourably with many member states.

However, it should not be complacent, and accordingly, O’Reilly encouraged the European Commission to “include the EU institutions in the next Anti-Corruption Report.”

On to Germany and action in Berlin from MintPress News:

Fed Up With Agribusiness, Protesters Take To The Streets In Berlin

The protesters said agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes, and damages the environment and biodiversity.

United under the declaration, “we are fed up,” around 30,000 people from several associations representing farmers, beekeepers and consumers, as well as environmental, development and food organizations, gathered in Berlin to demonstrate against large-scale agribusiness.

The protesters said that agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes and damages the environment and biodiversity. They demanded environmentally friendly farming, protection for bees, access to land and healthy, affordable food for all. They’re also seeking fair prices for farmers, an end to hunger, food scandals, monocultures, GMOs and land grabs by governments and investors.

Escorted by some 70 tractors, they marched through the streets of the German capital, from Potsdamer Platz to the government buildings of the Ministry of Agriculture and the offices of the federal chancellor. The demonstrators expressed their demands to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

On to France and a taxing threat from EUbusiness:

French to make 1 bn euro tax claim against Google: report

French authorities have decided to make a tax claim of 1 billion euros against Google following a probe into the tax strategies by the US Internet giant, Le Point magazine reported Tuesday.

A Google spokesman in France declined to comment on the report, saying the company does not comment on rumours.

The French finance ministry also declined to comment, citing tax confidentiality.

France is one of a growing number of cash-strapped nations to pursue more aggressively what they see as abuse of tax and accounting rules that allows some multinational companies to pay less tax.

What Ailes France from France 24:

Is a new Tea Party brewing in France?

Interior Minister Manuel Valls has warned that France was seeing the birth of its own version of the grassroots, anti-tax Tea Party movement amid a surge of anti-government demonstrations by right-wing groups and religious conservatives across the country.

“We are witnessing the creation of the French version of the Tea Party. By exploiting the political and leadership crisis on the right, and the National Front party’s move away from the far-right, a conservative and reactionary right has been set free,” Valls, a Socialist, told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview published on Sunday.

The eye-opening comparison came hours ahead of massive rallies in defence of traditional families in Paris and the eastern city of Lyon. They were organised by the so-called “Manif Pour Tous” (Protest for all) group that staged massive protests against gay marriage last year.

Sunday’s march, which police said drew 80,000 people in Paris, was just the latest public display of anger against President François Hollande’s government in recent days.

EUbusiness goes medical:

France announces EUR 1.5 bn anti-cancer plan

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday announced a 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) anti-cancer plan aimed at reducing inequalities in treatment of the disease.

The 2014-2019 plan aims to give “the same chances to everyone everywhere in France” in preventing and fighting cancer, Hollande said in a speech to medical professionals.

His announcement comes a day after the United Nations warned that new cases of cancer will rise by half by 2030, reaching 21.6 million per year compared to 14 million in 2012.

On to Spain and a new low from El País:

Number of people in work in January declines to lowest level in 12 years

  • Jobless claims in Spain climb by 113,097 in first month of year

The number of people signed up with the Social Security system in Spain declined by 184,031, or 1.13 percent, in January from the end of last year to 16.173 million, the lowest figure since April 2002, according to figures released Tuesday by the Labor Ministry.

In what is traditionally a bad month for the labor market, jobless claims rose by 113,097, or 2.4 percent, from December to 4.814 million.

The ministry said that on a month-on-month basis, this January was the “least negative” since 2007, given that since the current comparable statistical series began there has never been an increase in the number of people signed up with the Social Security system. On a year-on-year basis, the number of affiliates declined by 5,829, or 0.04 percent.

TheLocal.es looks for resolution:

UN urges Spain to drop Civil War taboos

A UN expert on Monday urged Spain to break a decades-long taboo by investigating atrocities allegedly committed in its 1936-39 civil war and the Franco dictatorship that followed.

UN justice rapporteur Pablo de Greiff said Spain should scrap a 1977 amnesty law that stops victims from prosecuting the alleged perpetrators of such atrocities, which divide Spaniards to this day.

In a report, he urged Spain to scrap the amnesty and called on “the state institutions to show a decisive and determined commitment” to investigating and making sure that victims are compensated.

The amnesty was seen as a necessity by the leaders tasked with unifying Spain after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

Portugal next and a temporary halt to a sale of the commons from Deutsche Welle:

London auction house cancels sale of Miro paintings

Citing legal uncertainties stemming from the lawsuit in Portugal, auction house Christie’s said on Tuesday that it had decided to cancel the sale of the Miro paintings pending the resolution of the dispute.

“While the recent injunction to stop the sale was not granted, the legal uncertainties created by this ongoing dispute mean that we are not able to safely offer the works for sale,” Christie’s said in a press release.

Hours before the auction’s scheduled start time, a judge denied the opposition Socialist Party’s request for an injunction to stop the sale. Portugal’s government pleaded that harsh austerity measures have left the country short of cash, and it could not make retaining the collection of the Catalan surrealist Miro one of its priorities.

Portugal’s public prosecutor backed the appeal to stop the sale, which accused the administration of ignoring “the immeasurable immaterial value” of the collection to the country, forced into austerity measures following a 78-billion-euro ($105 billion) rescue by international creditors in 2011.

The Portugal News charts reduced losses:

BCP stems losses by around half a billion

BCP, Portugal’s largest private sector bank, announced a €740 million loss for 2013, down from €1.219 billion in 2012, following the closure of the stock market on Monday.

“This loss is significant but also substantially below that of the previous year. This reflects the macroeconomic situation and is in accordance with the restructuring plan agreed with the General Directorate of Competition of the European Commission,” BCP President Nuno Amado told a press conference.

The loss also includes €126 million in provisions for early retirement and redundancy payoffs as the bank advances with its plan expected to see several hundred employees leave the firm over the first half of this year.

On to Italy and an austerian declaration from AGI:

President Napolitano says Italy must stay course on debt

Italy cannot afford to let up its efforts to keep its public debt in check, President Giorgio Napolitano said in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Despite the government’s concerted response to financial market pressure and significant achievements in 2013, Italy cannot afford to relax in its efforts to further curtail its public debt, he said.

After the jump, the latest from tghe Greek meltdown, a Turkish retraction, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, a Latin American trade deal push and Brazilian woes, Australian immigration profits and environmental havoc, Indian protests, Thai warnings, troubling Chinese numbers, Japanese neoliberalism, toxic spills and criminal probes, ecocidal costs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, & pols


We begin today’s collection of events in the realms of espionage, militarism, and deep politics with an ominous warning via the Honolulu Star Advertiser:

Internments can happen again, Scalia warns

  • The longest-serving member of the U.S. Supreme Court talks at two isle schools

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told law students at the University of Hawaii law school Monday that the nation’s highest court was wrong to uphold the internment of Japa-nese-Americans during World War II but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the court issued a similar ruling during a future conflict.

Scalia was responding to a question about the court’s 1944 decision in Kore-ma-tsu v. United States, which upheld the convictions of Gordon Hira-ba-ya-shi and Fred Kore-ma-tsu for violating an order to report to an internment camp.

“Well, of course, Kore-ma-tsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia told students and faculty during a lunchtime question-and-answer session.

Scalia cited a Latin expression meaning “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

And that Latin phrase in question? Inter arma enim silent leges.

Techdirt calls out the posse:

Mike Rogers Tries To Make The Case That Glenn Greenwald Should Be Prosecuted For ‘Selling Stolen Material’

  • from the is-he-insane? dept

Rep. Mike Rogers apparently just can’t help but spin wild and ridiculous conspiracy theories. Fresh off his latest attempt to argue that Ed Snowden is a Russian spy — an argument debunked by just about everyone, including his Senatorial counterpart Dianne Feinstein — it appears he’s now decided to pick up the ridiculously insane thread kicked off (purposefully) last week by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, hinting that journalists who reported on Ed Snowden are somehow “accomplices” who can be prosecuted.

During a House Intelligence Committee in which many members (from both parties) angrily criticized the intelligence community, Rogers continued to do everything possible to defend them, including pushing the bogus argument that Glenn Greenwald “sold stolen goods” in questions to FBI director James Comey.

From the Dept of D’oh! via Nextgov:

Feds: NSA ‘Probably’ Spies on Members of Congress

The National Security Agency “probably” collects phone records of members of Congress and their staffs, a senior Justice Department official conceded Tuesday.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole buckled under questioning from multiple lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing reviewing proposals to reform the NSA’s surveillance activity.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, began by asking Peter Swire, a member of the president’s handpicked surveillance review board, whether lawmakers’ numbers are included in the agency’s phone-records sweeps. Swire protested that he was not a government official and couldn’t best answer the question, but said he was unaware of any mechanism that “scrubbed out” member phone numbers from the agency’s data haul.

TheLocal.de listens in:

NSA ‘tapped phone of ex-Chancellor Schröder’

The US National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly tapped the phone of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder over his opposition to the Iraq War, according to reports on Tuesday.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung and broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel was not the first German leader to be targeted by the NSA.

Schröder’s phone was allegedly tapped from 2002, while he was Chancellor, to find out his position on the Iraq War.

Schröder, who led Germany from 1998 to 2005, greeted the news with resignation rather than shock or anger. “At the time I wouldn’t have thought American security services were listening in on me, but it doesn’t surprise me now,” he said.

The Copenhagen Post makes an ornamental denial:

Intelligence officials deny NSA spying against Denmark

Intelligence agency FE rejects allegations that NSA spied on Denmark during COP15, but won’t rule out the option that other nations were bugged

The US intelligence agency NSA did not spy on Danish diplomats and politicians during the 2009 COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen, according to the Danish external intelligence agency Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE).

A NSA document revealing the agency obtained information from key countries ahead of the conference was leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and published in Information newspaper last week.

The disclosure also revealed that the agency obtained a secret discussion paper from a Danish official, but the government has continually shot down NSA spying allegations against Denmark.

The Guardian encourages:

House committee urges US government to get behind NSA reform bill

  • Judiciary committee warns Obama administration to back USA Freedom Act or risk losing its counter-terrorism powers

Members of Congress who want to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone data sharply warned the Obama administration on Tuesday to get behind a bill to end the controversial practice, or risk losing the counter-terrorism powers provided by the post-9/11 Patriot Act.

Deriding the paucity of legislative alternatives after President Obama’s announcement last month that he wants to transfer the responsibility for bulk collection out of the NSA, congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, told deputy attorney general James Cole at a House judiciary committee hearing that “you will get nothing” if the administration does not endorse the bill.

Asked why the Justice Department had not taken a position on the bill, Cole said: “The Department of Justice is a big place.”

A-maize-ing intel from the New York Times:

Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.

What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. The result was the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.

China has long been implicated in economic espionage efforts involving aviation technology, paint formulas and financial data. Chinese knockoffs of fashion accessories have long held a place in the mainstream. But the case of Mr. Mo, and a separate one in Kansas last year suggest that the agriculture sector is becoming a greater target, something that industry analysts fear could hurt the competitive advantage of farmers and big agriculture alike.

From USA TODAY, another cause for insecurity:

Navy nukes come under scrutiny in cheating probe

The Navy is investigating allegations of cheating among about 30 enlisted sailors who work on nuclear power systems on ships and submarines, top Navy officials said Tuesday.

The naval investigation follows weeks of bad news from the Air Force about rampant, “systemic” cheating on proficiency tests among airmen who handle nuclear weapons.

An enlisted sailor alerted superiors Monday about an offer to exchange answers to one of several tests needed to qualify to operate nuclear propulsion systems, said Adm. John Richardson, leader of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, and Richardson spelled out details of the investigation. “To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Greenert said.

And another cause for insecurity, via Nextgov:

Despite Spending $65 Billion on Cybersecurity, Agencies Neglect Basic Protections

After spending at least $65 billion since 2006 to protect federal computers and networks from hackers, government agencies remain vulnerable, often because officials have neglected to perform basic security steps such as updating software, according to a report released Tuesday by a key Republican senator.

The study cites lapses at the very agencies responsible for protecting U.S. networks and sensitive data, including the Homeland Security Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Although it has steadily improved its overall cybersecurity performance, DHS is by no means a standard-setter,” states the assessment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

SecurityWeek secures:

Snowden Leaks Spark Defense Firms to Change Security Practices: Survey

  • Survey: 75% of Defense Contractors Say Leaks by Edward Snowden Have Made Them Change Their Security Practices

According to the results of a survey conducted by ThreatTrack Security, the leaking of classified NSA documents by Edward Snowden has resulted in defense contractors changing their companies’ cybersecurity practices.

ThreatTrack Security published the study looking to shed light on the attitudes of IT and security managers working at U.S. defense contractors in the wake of the Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents related to some the NSA’s spying tactics.

From Colombia, yet another case of spookery run amok from the Miami Herald:

President Santos calls for investigation into alleged army spying on peace negotiators

President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday called for an investigation to see “what dark forces” might be behind an alleged army-run spy ring that targeted negotiators in Havana who are trying to broker a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group.

Santos’ announcement comes after Semana.com, one of the country’s most respected media outlets, reported late Monday that the army recruited civilian hackers to break into the email and text-message accounts of government peace negotiators, including chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle.

If the allegations are true, Santos said they would be “totally unacceptable.”

And from International Business Times, another leak icon and another leak:

Text Messages from Victim of Alleged Rape, Molestation Prove Assange Innocent: Wikileak Affidavit

Even as members of Sweden’s parliament have been stepping up pressure on prosecutors to question Julian Assange on the sexual allegations he faces in the country, Assange in a Wikileaks affidavit has claimed that text messages between the two alleged victims prove his innocence.

In the affidavit, which has been published on the WikiLeaks website, Assange tries to prove his innocence, citing the text message sent by the alleged victims.

Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been living at Ecuador’s embassy in London since the Latin American country granted him political asylum in the summer of 2012. He was arrested in the UK in December 2010 on a European Union-wide warrant requested by Sweden, over the rape and molestation allegations.

The allegation is that Assange raped one woman and molested another, during a visit to Stockholm in 2010. However, the affidavit has one alleged victim saying in a text message that “it was the police who made up the charges”. The text message further adds that she “did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him”.

After the jump, the latest rounds of rhetorical and legislative escalations and zonal boundary provocations from Asia, major Israeli and German arms sales, British Big Brother busted by British Big Brother, the New York Times does undercover edits, DEA courtroom duplicity, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF residents caught in middle of tech hostilities

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

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

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

The Verge Googles eyesore:

California orders Google to move floating barge from current construction site

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

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

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

IBM Uses Dutch Tax Haven to Boost Profits as Sales Slide

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

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

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

MarketWatch tanks anxiously:

U.S. stocks see worst selloff in several months

  • Manufacturers expand in January at slowest rate in eight months

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

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

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

From the New York Times, a belated recognition:

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

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

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

The Washington Post notes a sea change:

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

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

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

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

Could Post Offices Become Public Banks?

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

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

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

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

From Medical Daily, a notable side effect:

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

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

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

On to Europe with an anxious twist from CNNMoney:

Pressure building for ECB rate cut

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

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

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

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

Quartz covers mordida:

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

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

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

Al Jazeera America sets the cost:

Report: EU corruption costs $162B annually

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

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

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

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

One more headline [only], from BBC News:

Corruption across EU ‘breathtaking’ – EU Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xinhua sounds the alarm:

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

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

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

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

And simultaneously booms:

British manufacturing off to strong start in 2014

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

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

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

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

A qualified UK separatism endorsement from El País:

Spain will not oppose Scottish EU entry: foreign minister

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

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

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

On to Sweden and a call from TheLocal.se:

EU: Sweden should ban secret party donations

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

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

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

TheLocal.se again, with hard times intolerance:

Afrophobic hate crimes on the rise in Sweden

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

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

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

On to Brussels and a critique via DutchNews.nl:

Brussels criticises ‘revolving door’ between Dutch politics and industry

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

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

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

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

Germany next and a peculiar call from TheLocal.de:

Industry boss: ‘Too many students harm economy’

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

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

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

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

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

Hollande puts off family law to avoid new fight

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

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

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

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

Nature’s newsblog takes the pledge:

Hollande pledges to avoid cuts to France’s science funding

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

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

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

And from TheLocal.fr, a demand:

EU: France must root out corruption at local level

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

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

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

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

Swiss ban proposed on sex education for kids

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

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

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

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

Swiss want to reopen pot legalization debate

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

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

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

Spain next and a matter of perception from El País:

95 percent of Spaniards see corruption as institutionalized

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

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

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

From TheLocal.es, Coke Zero:

Zero tolerance to Coke plant closures

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

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

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

Another protest from thinkSPAIN:

Nationwide protest over ‘abusive’ electricity costs

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

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

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

And an austerian measure from TheLocal.es:

King freezes wages of Queen and Princess

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

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

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

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

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

El País schmoozes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy: Poll finds Berlusconi-led government would win election

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

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

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

TheLocal.it hyperbolizes:

Five Star bloggers ‘potential rapists’: MP

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

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

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

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

And from TheLocal.it, ubiquity:

Almost all Italians think corruption is rife

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis-hit Italians survive on out of date food

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian partially discloses:

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo release US surveillance requests

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

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

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

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

MintPress News cozies up:

Google’s New Partnership With Law Enforcement Disquiets Privacy Advocates

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

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

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

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

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

PCWorld ponders prosecution:

German federal prosecutor considers formal NSA investigation

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

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

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

The Guardian mulls disclosure:

Intelligence agencies should be subject to FoI, says information commissioner

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

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

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

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

PCWorld hacks away:

Prominent cryptographers targeted by malware attacks

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

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

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

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

National Post denies:

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

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

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

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

While CBC News equivocates:

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing for a conclusion with TheLocal.se:

Prosecutor pressed to speed up Assange case

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

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

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

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

Military/industrial profiteering from Spiegel:

Arms Exports: Berlin Backs Large Defense Deal with Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

Wasting it profligately, via Aero-News Network:

New C-27J Cargo Planes Stored In Arizona Boneyard

  • Military ‘Has No Use’ For For The Spartans

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

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

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

World Socialist Web Site gets right to it:

Germany, US push aggressive policies at Munich Security Conference

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

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

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

And that complex again, via the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart of the day: Soaring French unemployment


From INSEE, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies:

BLOG France

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFukuics


Today’s collection of headlines from the realm of human transactions and their consequences begins with the jaded avocations of the big winners. From The Guardian:

Super rich shift their thrills from luxury goods to costly experiences

  • Gourmet dining, private flights, bespoke safaris, slimming clinics and art auctions emerging as top status symbols

They say money can’t buy happiness but the world’s super rich are still giving it their best shot, spending $1.8tn (£1.1tn)last year on luxury goods and services – with extreme holidays, gourmet dining and art auctions emerging as the status symbols du jour.

“Luxury is shifting rapidly from ‘having’ to ‘being’ – that is, consumers are moving from owning a luxury product to experiencing a luxury,” said BCG senior partner Antonella Mei-Pochtler. “They already have the luxury toys; the cars and the jewellery.”

Of the $1.8tn spent on luxuries in 2013, according to BCG an estimated $1tn went on services – from private airline flights to luxury slimming clinics, to a five-star hospital stay where the patient will be waited on by a butler and the en-suite facilities include a marble bath.

The £1.1tn spent is slightly more than the wealth controlled by the poorest half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people. Oxfam recently estimated their combined wealth at £1tn in a report on inequality, where it pointed out that this sum was the same as the wealth controlled by the world’s richest 85 billionaires.

Warnings of things to come from the London Telegraph:

Currency crisis at Chinese banks ‘could trigger global meltdown’

  • A rise in foreign funding at China’s banks poses a threat for international lenders

The growing problems in the Chinese banking system could spill over into a wider financial crisis, one of the most respected analysts of China’s lenders has warned.

Charlene Chu, a former senior analyst at Fitch in Beijing and now the head of Asian research at Autonomous Research, said the rapid expansion of foreign-currency borrowing meant a crisis in China’s financial system was becoming a bigger risk for international banks.

“One of the reasons why the situation in China has been so stable up to this point is that, unlike many emerging markets, there is very, very little reliance on foreign funding. As that changes, it obviously increases their vulnerability to swings in foreign investor appetite,” said Ms Chu in an interview with The Telegraph.

Reuters covers losses:

Emerging market funds lose $9 billion in past week: data

Investors yanked $9 billion from emerging stock and bond funds during a turbulent past week, with equities seeing their biggest outflow in 2-1/2 years, banks said on Friday citing data from Boston-based fund tracker EPFR Global.

EPFR had released data to clients late on Thursday showing emerging equity funds lost $6.3 billion in the week to January 29, the biggest weekly outflow since August 2011.

This week has seen some major falls in emerging currencies’ exchange rates, with central banks forced into rate rises or market interventions to limit the swings. Those currency losses and rate rises have put pressure on bond and stock holdings, forcing exits.

The New York Times brings it closer to Casa esnl:

Parched, California Cuts Off Tap to Agencies

Acting in one of the worst droughts in California’s history, state officials announced on Friday that they would cut off the water that it provides to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.

With no end in sight for the dry spell and reservoirs at historic lows, Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said his agency needed to preserve what little water remained so it could be used “as wisely as possible.”

It is the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that water allocations to all of the public water agencies it serves have been cut to zero. That decision will force 29 local agencies to look elsewhere for water. Most have other sources they can draw from, such as groundwater and local reservoirs.

But the drought has already taken a toll on those supplies, and some cities, particularly in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, rely almost exclusively on the State Water Project, Mr. Cowin said.

MintPress News eases up:

CA Law Enforcement Proposes Softening Drug Laws

If passed, those convicted for drug possession would be sent to substance-abuse treatment centers, sentenced to probation or ordered to perform community service, instead of being incarcerated.

For decades, law enforcement officers across the U.S. have fought the war on drugs by locking users behind bars. But since that strategy hasn’t proven to be successful in the slightest, some officers in California have come together to propose reducing charges for the simple possession of all drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.

One of the proposal’s biggest supporters is San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who is working with San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne to push for the inclusion of such a measure on the state ballot this fall.

If passed, those convicted for drug possession, including heroin, would be sent to substance-abuse treatment centers, sentenced to probation or ordered to perform community service, instead of being locked behind bars. Unlike a felony, a misdemeanor charge would not appear on an individual’s permanent record.

The Guardian condescends to profit:

US newspapers fall out over ‘dead peasant’ insurance

Two weeks ago, the publisher of two Californian newspapers – the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise – laid off 39 employees, including eight full-time newsroom staff and four part-time sub-editors and designers.

It was part of a restructuring programme by Freedom Communications, following 42 redundancies in December, as it seeks to centralise Press-Enterprise production at the Register’s offices.

Then Freedom followed up that bad news by sending an email to the staff who remain informing them that the company wishes to buy life insurance for them.

But the beneficiaries of the million-dollar-plus policies will not be the employees or their families, but the company’s pension scheme.

A writer in the Los Angles Times (the Register’s rival), Michael Hiltzik, referred to the plan as a “ghoulish corporate strategy”. He went on to explain that it is not illegal – it’s known formally as COLI (“company owned life insurance”).

More losers from Al Jazeera America:

More jobless Americans losing benefits every week

  • Unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, as Congress fails to renew payments for more than 1.5 million on the dole

The lifeline of long-term unemployment benefits ended for at least 1.5 million Americans at the end of December, and more will see their payments cut each week that Congress fails to act. Almost 38 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for 27 weeks or more as of December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the unemployment rate is down to 6.7 percent from 10 percent in October 2008, at the height of the recession, 10.4 million people remained out of work in December.

The Guardian loads up the money bin:

Google reports 17% revenue rise for fourth quarter

  • Results come a day after search giant sells Motorola Mobile
  • Low-cost mobile ads chip away at the price for online ads

Google’s revenues climbed 17% in the final quarter of 2013, the company announced Thursday, but low-cost mobile ads chipped away at the price the tech giant commands for online ads.

The company’s results came a day after it announced it was selling Motorola Mobile for a fraction of its purchase price. Google’s consolidated revenue, which includes the money-losing Motorola smartphone business, rose to $16.86bn for the quarter from $14.42bn in the fourth quarter of 2012. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected $16.75bn. Profits rose 17% to $3.38bn, or $9.90 a share, up from $2.89bn, or $8.62 per share, for the same period last year.

From The Hill, Hillary-ous idiocy:

Mont. House candidate calls Hillary Clinton ‘Antichrist’

Montana House candidate Ryan Zinke, the early Republican front-runner for Montana’s open House seat, called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the “Antichrist” in a recent campaign appearance, according to a local newspaper.

“We need to focus on the real enemy,” he said referring to Clinton, according to the Big Fork Eagle, before calling her the Antichrist.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, is one of six Republicans in a crowded field to replace Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who is running for the Senate. He’s emerged as the early front-runner in the GOP primary due to his fundraising prowess. Zinke raised $450,000 in the last three months of 2013 and has $350,000 in the bank.

Bloomberg plays the middle:

House Republicans’ Economic Agenda Targets Middle Class

U.S. House Republican leaders are preparing an economic agenda that includes energy proposals aimed at lowering utility bills and countering President Barack Obama’s focus on income inequality, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News.

The agenda includes voting on an alternative measure to Obama’s health-care law and re-authorizing a funding program for career and technical education. The framework is designed to reach middle-class voters whose wages have remained stagnant even as the U.S. economy improves.

The broad outline was distributed to Republicans yesterday at a private meeting in Cambridge, Maryland, where lawmakers are concluding a three-day policy retreat today. Republicans, largely blamed for the 16-day partial government shutdown in October, want their positions to be seen as an alternative to those of Obama and the Democrats.

The Guardian spots the flaw:

The problem with retirement savings: making enough money to save

  • The president’s new MyRA plan is a tiny, positive step for Americans, but it won’t help so long as wages are shrinking

Americans don’t have a problem saving for retirement. The real issue is that Americans aren’t making enough money.

There’s no question that a retirement crisis is looming. The numbers just don’t work for many Americans right now. For instance, do you think you can live on only $575 a month? That’s for rent, food, utilities, and transportation as well as any fun you may want to have. Probably not: an income of $575 a month is well below the federal poverty line. Yet that’s the estimate of how much the average American with a 401k plan will be able to earn from his or her nest egg. And about half of all Americans don’t even have a 401k plan, often because their employer doesn’t offer one.

Across the Atlantic with Europe Online:

Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly falls in January

Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly fell in January, according to data released Friday, adding to deflation fears and increasing pressure on the European Central Bank to deliver a new interest rate cut.

The cost of living in the 18-member currency bloc dropped to 0.7 per cent in January, from 0.8 per cent in December, the European Statistics Office Eurostat said.

The fall in consumer prices took inflation further away from the ECB’s annual inflation target of below but close to 2 per cent.

Bothering BBC News:

Fall in eurozone inflation rate fuels deflation concerns

Calls for European Central Bank action to help protect the eurozone’s fragile recovery have grown after the release of inflation and jobless data.

Official figures showed that eurozone inflation fell to 0.7% in January, down from 0.8% in December and further below the ECB’s 2% target.

It has fuelled worries about whether the euro bloc could suffer deflation, potentially de-railing economic growth.

Separate data showed the unemployment rate in December was unchanged at 12%.

Edible insecurity from EurActiv:

Food security hindered by seed market dominance, MEPs warn

The EU seed market is dominated by a few large seed businesses rather than a diverse range of smaller companies, which has implications for the continent’s food security, says a report commissioned by European Parliament Green group.

Five companies control about 95% of the vegetable seed sector and 75% of the maize market share specifically, according to the report, presented in the European Parliament on Wednesday (29 January).

The assertion goes against European Commission and seed industry’s position that the market, and the five dominant companies, is made up of some 7000 mainly small and medium-sized entreprises, allowing for healthy competition.

“This is simply not true. The EU seed market is not healthy. It is not diversified,” said Bart Staes, a Green MEP from Belgium who presented the report, ‘Concentration of market power in the EU seed market’.

On to Britain with The Guardian:

Real wages have been falling for longest period for at least 50 years, ONS says

  • Real wages have been falling by 2.2% a year in the longest sustained period of falling real wages in the UK on record

Real wages have been falling consistently since 2010, the longest period for 50 years, according to the Office for National Statistics, adding that low productivity growth seems to be pushing wages down.

Real wage growth averaged 2.9% in the 1970s and 1980s, 1.5% in the 1990s, 1.2% in 2000s, but has fallen to minus 2.2% since the first quarter of 2010, the ONS figures showed.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Over the last four years British workers have suffered an unprecedented real wage squeeze.

All or none with EUbusiness:

British PM pledges renewed EU referendum push

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Friday to force through parliament a bill guaranteeing an in-or-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, after the upper house killed off legislation.

He pledged to wield the Parliament Act, which enforces the supremacy of the elected lower House of Commons over the appointed upper House of Lords.

The act is only rarely used to overcome the Lords blocking the will of the Commons. It has only ever been enacted a handful of times since it was introduced in 1911.

Norway next, with an exclusive from TheLocal.no:

Norway oil fund blacklists Israeli firms

Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, blacklisted two Israeli companies involved in construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, the country’s finance ministry said Thursday.

The ban on investing in the firms revived a three-year prohibition on them that the Government Pension Fund of Norway had dropped in August last year.

The companies are Africa Israel Investments, an Israeli real estate developer, and its construction subsidiary Danya Cerbus.

The ministry cited the company’s alleged “contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem,” a territory where Israel’s claims are not recognised by the international community.

On to Amsterdam and an austerian retreat from DutchNews.nl:

Single parents on welfare benefits ‘won’t have to apply for jobs’

The government has agreed to drop plans to force single mothers with young children and on welfare benefits to apply for jobs.

Kees van der Staaij, leader of the orthodox Christian party SGP, broke the news during a debate organised by the religious paper Nederlands Dagblad. Talks between junior social affairs minister Jetta Klijnsma and opposition parties on reaching a compromise on the reforms are currently ongoing.

Klijnsma wants to shake up the welfare system by making sure claimants are actively looking for work and introducing work for welfare schemes. But she needs the support of opposition parties to get the changes through the upper house of parliament, where the government does not have a majority.

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

US view of Germany ‘better than ever’

Despite America’s reputation in Germany taking a hit over the NSA spying scandal, Americans have a more positive impression of Germany than at any time in the last 12 years, according to a study released on Thursday.

The annual Magid study, which has been conducted every year since 2002, included questions on US-German relations as well as Germany’s role in Europe.

Carried out at the end of  2013, it found 60 percent of Americans had an excellent or good impression of Germany, particularly on economics, education and technology.

Germany was also seen as an economic leader and was chosen as the country best suited to lead Europe out of its debt crisis, followed by Great Britain and the US.

Europe Online declines:

German Christmas retail sales unexpectedly slump

German retail sales fell during the key Christmas shopping season, according to data released Friday, setting back hopes of private consumption emerging as a driving force behind growth in Europe’s biggest economy.

Retail sales fell 2.5 per cent in real terms in December, after gaining 0.9 per cent in November. Analysts had expected retail sales to increase by 0.2 per cent.

Year-on-year, retail sales also posted a surprise fall, dropping by 2.4 per cent in December, compared with a 1.1-per-cent rise in November.

Another decline from RFI:

France deports fewer illegal immigrants in 2013

French Interior minister Manuel Valls has announced that 27,000 illegal immigrants were deported in 2013, 9,000 fewer than in 2012. The right-wing opposition slammed the Socialist government’s performance as “laxism”.

Some 46,000 undocumented immigrants were given papers to stay, 10,000 more than the previous year, the figures, published Friday, showed.
Parliamentary elections 2012

They are the first official review of government migration policy since François Hollande came to power in May 2012.

TheLocal.fr hits the bricks:

Thousands march for traditional family values

Tens of thousands of people marched in Paris and Lyon on Sunday against new laws easing abortion restrictions and legalising gay marriage, accusing French President Francois Hollande’s government of “family phobia”.

Police said 80,000 people took to the streets of the French capital, creating a sea of blue, white and pink – the colours of the lead organising movement LMPT (Protest for Everyone) – who gave a far higher turnout figure of half a million.

Demonstrator Philippe Blin, a pastor from nearby Sevres, said he felt a “relentlessness against the family” in France.

At least 20,000 rallied in Lyon, many of them ferried in aboard dozens of buses, waving placards reading “Mom and Dad, There’s Nothing Better for a Child” and “Two Fathers, Two Mothers, Children With No Bearings” — a slogan that rhymes in French.

While France 24 notes odd political bedfellows:

Muslims join Paris protest against gender equality drive in schools

Tens of thousands of supporters of the conservative “Manif pour Tous” movement gathered in Paris on Sunday to protest against gender equality teaching in schools and fertility treatment for same-sex couples.

Sunday’s march included a prominent Muslim contribution in a protest movement, originally opposed to gay marriage legislation that was passed in 2013, that has so far been overwhelmingly linked to far-right political parties and to conservative Catholic groups.

The “Manif Pour Tous” (MPT) mounted huge protests before legislation was passed in 2013 allowing gay marriages. Its focus now is on a family law, due to be debated later in the spring, which would allow for medically-assisted procreation (MAP) and IVF treatment for same-sex couples.

Many protesters also told FRANCE 24 they were worried about the state’s role in sex education, and the supposed “gender theory” lurking behind an “ABCD of equality” initiative aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes in schools.

From Spain, a countermarch from TheLocal.es:

Thousands join Madrid abortion-rights rally

Thousands of pro-choice campaigners converged on the Spanish capital Saturday to voice their opposition to a government plan to restrict access to abortion in the mainly Catholic country.

Demonstrators shouting slogans and carrying banners that read “It’s my right, It’s my life” crowded around a Madrid station to greet a “freedom train” of activists from northern Spain for the country’s first major protest against the plan.

Under pressure from the Catholic Church, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government announced on December 20th it would roll back a 2010 law that allows women to opt freely for abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The new law — yet to pass parliament, where the ruling People’s Party enjoys an absolute majority — would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.

Xinhua takes vows:

Spanish PM Rajoy promises fiscal reform, tax cuts

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised on Sunday to see through a program of fiscal reform in the remaining two years of his mandate.

Speaking to close the national convention of his ruling Popular Party (PP), Rajoy said he would continue with the program of reforms his party have introduced in the slightly over two years since they have been in power.

“We will carry out fiscal reform: of course we will,” said Rajoy, who said it would be “an integral reform which will stimulate growth and employment in line with the recovery of the country.”

The ultimate human austerian cost from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s suicide rate highest in eight years

Figures from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE) show a surge in the suicide rate but heart attacks remain the leading cause of death.

The most recent data from 2012, released on Friday, reveals that 402,950 people died in Spain, some 15,039 (3.9 percent) more than in 2011.

There were 3539 suicides (2,724 men and 815 women), up 11.3 percent from the year before, a rate of 7.6  per 100,000 inhabitants. The figures were the highest since 2005.

According to official broadcaster RTVE, suicide was second only to cancer (15 percent of deaths) in the overall 25-34 age group, but the leading cause of death in young men (17.8 percent).

A Fourth Estate loss from TheLocal.es:

Corruption-probing newspaper chief sacked

Spain’s leading centre-right newspaper El Mundo said on Thursday it was dismissing its director Pedro J. Ramirez, under whose leadership the daily broke a series of political corruption stories.

Ramirez’s scoops included a report last year of alleged secret payments to members of Spain’s ruling party, which forced Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fight off calls to resign.

The paper has vigorously pursued stories of corruption on the right and left, including allegations of fraud involving former officials in the Socialist-run southern region of Andalusia.

The usual suspects, doing quite well, via TheLocal.es:

Spain’s top banks enjoy 2013 profit surge

Top Spanish banks have reported a 2013 profit surge, predicting better times ahead after taking hefty losses in Spain and other crisis-hit eurozone nations.

Santander, BBVA and CaixaBank said they had emerged stronger from banking troubles that led to a 41-billion-euro ($56 billion) rescue of their weaker rivals in Spain.

All Spanish banks have had to set aside money for losses on assets, pounded by the collapse in 2008 of a decade-long property boom.

At the same time, they have been obliged to boost the ratio of rock-solid core capital on their balance sheets.

Analysts say risks remain in the sector, with doubtful loans rising in November to 13.08 percent of all credit extended by Spanish banks, the highest since records began in their existing form in 1962.

Xinhua takes us to Portugal:

Portuguese protest against gov’t austerity measures

Thousands of Portuguese staged a protest Saturday against government austerity measures in the downtown of capital Lisbon.

General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers, or CGTP, who organized the demonstration, called for the Portuguese to struggle against the government, oppose the exploitation and poverty and demand for salary rise, employment and welfare.

Raising high placards, the demonstrators marched from Cais Sodre railway station towards Restaurante Square in downtown Lisbon, chanting slogans against government austerity measures and calling for the government to step down.

Italy next, and a populist movement critiqued via AGI:

M5S has been shown ‘excessive’ tolerance, says Letta

Italy’s Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, said “excessive levels of tolerance” had been shown to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) following recent controversy.

The group promised to never sit peacefully in parliament again after the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, used the hotly debated ‘guillotine’ to swiftly convert a decree on the IMU property tax into law, culminating in the group demanding her resignation, as well as the impeachment of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

“I think there has been an excessive level of tolerance towards methods falling outside those allowed by democratic rules”, Letta stated during a press conference. “Both the accusations towards President Napolitano and behaviour in parliament must be strongly and clearly condemned”.

After the jump, the ongoing Greek crisis, Ukrainian posturing, Argentine financial woes, Indian uncertainty, Thai electoral turmoil, Malaysian misery, mixed signals from China, Japanese anxieties, ecological disasters, and Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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


We begin today’s compendium of tales form the world of spooks and security with a video from RT America:

California to require warrants for drone surveillance

Program notes:

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would keep police agencies and other government entities from using drones to conduct warrantless surveillance in the Golden State. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to use drone surveillance, except in some emergency cases, and that those agencies notify the public when they intend to use drones. The data those drones collect would have to be destroyed within six months. RT’s Ameera David takes a look at the bill that would create some of the nation’s strictest standards on the use of drones in law enforcement.

And now, on with the latest blowback from those Edward Snowden NSA revelations, via The Guardian:

Obama admits intelligence chief fault over false Senate testimony

  • President continues to defend James Clapper in the face of calls for his resignation after ‘untruthful’ statement about bulk collection

President Barack Obama has said his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, ought to have been “more careful” in Senate testimony about surveillance that Clapper later acknowledged was untruthful following disclosures by Edward Snowden.

But Obama signaled continued confidence in Clapper in the face of calls for the director to resign from members of Congress who warn of the dangerous precedent set by allowing an intelligence chief to lie to legislative bodies tasked with overseeing the powerful spy agencies.

“Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded,” Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired on Friday.

From the Secretary of State via TheLocal.de, a plea to “trust us”:

Kerry in Berlin: ‘US is committed to privacy’

US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged on Friday that relations with Germany had gone through a “rough period” of late over NSA snooping but he said the US was “committed to privacy”.

After talks in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry told reporters that the United States took Germany’s anger seriously, which was sparked by revelations that US intelligence monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“I want to say to the German people that it’s no secret that we’ve been through a rough period,” Kerry said.

Asked whether the US administration would sign a no-spying agreement that Germany has demanded in the wake of the scandal, Kerry said only that Merkel and US President Barack Obama were in “consultations” on the issue.

Similar words and a response from China Daily:

Obama speech on NSA welcome, but effects remain to be seen: EU official

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem on Friday welcomed a speech made by US President Barack Obama on curbing the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), saying what that meant in practice was yet to be seen.

Malmstroem told participants at the 50th Munich Security Conference that there was a need to see the limits of the NSA and safeguards put in place.

Obama announced in a recent speech a reform of the NSA and its surveillance operations, mentioning the possibility of abuse while insisting operatives should consistently follow protocols.

Malmstroem made the remarks in a panel discussion about cyber security, which was joined by the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizieere, the US chairman of the house permanent select committee on intelligence Michael Rogers and others.

The ol’ “They’re just jealous ploy” from Deutsche Welle:

Hayden: Every agency wants to do what the NSA does

Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA, CIA and US national intelligence, tells DW he sees German anger at US spying as genuine and says the NSA shouldn’t have got caught tapping Chancellor Merkel’s phone.

“Have you been surprised how many Germans take this as a very personal issue? Do they take it very personally because they like the United States but they’ve been really taken aback by the surveillance?

“They have – and as I said before, that’s genuine. Also genuine is my belief that all nations conduct espionage and occasionally espionage gets conducted with people you truly do consider friends. So it’s a bit difficult having that discussion.

“Chairman Mike Rogers from our Intelligence Committee was here yesterday and I think he put a good program on the table. He said, “Let’s stick with the facts. Let’s actually have an adult conversation about what it is our security services do and don’t do.” And, frankly, in order for that to be a good conversation, I think German citizens are going to have to have a better idea about what their security organizations do and don’t do. I would be willing to bet that now, based on all these press accounts, most Germans know more about the NSA than about the BND [Germany’s federal intelligence service].”

Techdirt covers another ploy:

Canadian Gov’t Responds To Spying Revelations By Saying It’s All A Lie And Calling Glenn Greenwald A ‘Porn Spy’

  • from the wtf? dept

We’ve seen various government officials act in all sorts of bizarre ways after revelations of illegal spying on their own people (and foreigners), but none may be quite as bizarre as the response from the Canadian government, following the release late last night from the CBC (with help from Glenn Greenwald) that they’re spying on public WiFi connections. That report had plenty of detail, including an internal presentation from the Canadian electronic spying agency, CSEC. In the Canadian Parliament today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, decided to respond to all of this by by insisting it’s all a lie and then flat out insulting both the CBC and Glenn Greenwald.

Here’s the video via Maclean’s Magazine. Techdirt has the transcript. . .and more:

Paul Calandra calls Glenn Greenwald a porn spy

Program notes:

The Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, rose in the House before Question Period to bemoan the CBC’s journalistic integrity. Last night, the public broadcaster revealed top-secret documents that alleged a Canadian spy agency used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers’ wireless activity. Communications Security Establishment Canada isn’t supposed to monitor innocent Canadians.

Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist who lives in Brazil, collaborated with the CBC on its report. Greenwald retains copies of a trove of U.S. intelligence docs leaked by infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the journalist is working with the CBC—as a freelancer—to report stories relevant to a Canadian audience.

None of this impresses Calandra, who condemned the news report, questioned the CBC’s judgment, and mocked Greenwald’s past association with a porn company. He reacted in much the same way the first time the CBC published Greenwald’s work.

Calandra’s money line: “Why is furthering porn spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda and lining his Brazilian bank account more important than maintaining the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity?”

Hey, look at the bright side, CBC. He could have called you the state broadcaster.

SecurityWeek has saner umbrage:

Canada’s Eavesdropping Agency Blasts Tradecraft Leak

Canada’s ultra-secret eavesdropping agency on Friday blasted the disclosure of its tradecraft, after it was reported the agency had tracked airline passengers connected to Wi-Fi services at airports.

Communications Security Establishment Canada said: “The unauthorized disclosure of tradecraft puts our techniques at risk of being less effective when addressing threats to Canada and Canadians.”

On Thursday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said documents leaked by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the CSEC could follow the movements of people who passed through airports and connected to Wi-Fi systems with mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

The documents showed the agency could track the travellers for a week or more as they and their wireless devices showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and beyond.

While Deutsche Welle spurns:

Brazil continues to ignore Snowden asylum appeal

  • Over a million people have signed an online petition to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Brazil. However, experts doubt that the country will give in to this demand.

An online petition started in November on the websites of the civic activism Avaaz has attracted over 1 million signatures. The petition was initiated by David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who conducted the first media interviews with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda plans to present the petition to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff once it has attracted 1,250,000 supporters.

But it is not only the campaign’s signatories who believe Snowden would be in good hands if he received asylum in Brazil: Snowden himself has appealed for it. The request, however, has so far remained unanswered, according to Snowden’s official support website. In July 2013, Brazil’s foreign minister stated that Snowden would not be grated asylum in the country. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president has claimed that no official application has been submitted on Snowden’s behalf.

Rubbing the Belgians the wrong way, via De Standaard:

Belgian professor in cryptography hacked

A new Belgian episode in the NSA scandal: Belgian professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater, internationally renowned expert in data security was the victim of hacking. And, as was the case in the Belgacom hacking affair, there are indications the American secret service NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ might be involved.

There isn’t a card with an electronic chip available, or it has some sort of security technology that UCL professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater (67) was involved in developing. If you are able to withdraw money from a cashpoint safely, for example, that is to some extent due to Quisquater’s work on complicated mathematical algorithms. He was also involved in the development of the Proton payment system in Belgium. That very same Jean-Jacques Quisquater has now been the victim of a hacking attack, that has all the signs – as was the case in the Belgacom affair – of ‘state-sponsored espionage, De Standaard has discovered.

The authorities investigating the Belgacom hacking case confirm they have opened a case. Quisquater himself has lodged a formal complaint.

Earlier this week, whistle blower Edward Snowden gave an interview to German television channel ARD in which he claimed the NSA’s espionage activities are not only aimed at protecting US national security – in the so-called ‘war on terror’ – but also at companies and private individuals. The Quisquater case seems to indicate the Belgian justice department might be able to demonstrate Snowden’s claims are more than a mere figment of his imagination. As far as we are able to tell, this is the first instance in which a private person is seen as a victim in the NSA case.

And dis-Dane from Dagbladet Information:

For the NSA, espionage was a means to strengthen the US position in climate negotiations

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, the world’s nations were supposed to reach an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate change. But not everyone was playing by the rules. A leaked document now reveals that the US employed the NSA, its signals intelligence agency, to intercept information about other countries’ views on the climate negotiations before and during the summit. According to observers, the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations.

From BBC News, a story about a proposal with a peculiar motivation [see last line]:

David Cameron wants fresh push on communications data

David Cameron wants a fresh push after the next election to “modernise” laws to allow monitoring of people’s online activity, after admitting there was little chance of progress before then.

The prime minister told a parliamentary committee that gathering communications data was “politically contentious” but vital to keep citizens safe.

He said TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, drone, historical revisionism. Militarism, and secrecy crises. Plus Gitmo secrecy and a Canadian IP lawsuit, Fourth Estate under siege in UK and Russia, an Athenian terror scare, nuclear cheaters, drone warnings, email hacks, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFukunoma


Today’s collection of headlines economic, political, and environmental begins with on ominous note with The Independent:

Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment, warn experts

  • Academics say half of US jobs could be automated within a decade or two

Experts have warned that rapidly improving artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment just days after Google revealed the purchase of a London based start-up dedicated to developing this technology.

Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, Dr Stuart Armstrong from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford said that there was a risk that computers could take over human jobs “at a faster rate than new jobs could be generated.”

“We have some studies looking at to which jobs are the most vulnerable and there are quite a lot of them in logistics, administration, insurance underwriting,” said Dr Armstrong. “Ultimately, huge swathe of jobs are potentially vulnerable to improved artificial intelligence.”

Dr Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, agreed, noting that improvements in artificial intelligence were creating “short term issues that we all need to be talking about.”

BBC News booms:

US economy growing at 3.2% in the fourth quarter, official figures show

The US economy grew at a 3.2% annual rate for the final quarter of 2013, according to the country’s Commerce Department.

Many predict that 2014 will produce the strongest growth since the end of the US recession in mid-2009.

Optimism over the health of the world’s largest economy led to a further easing of the Federal Reserve’s stimulus measures on Wednesday.

A cautionary note from Reuters:

Exclusive: U.S. banking regulator, fearing loan bubble, warns funds

A U.S. bank regulator is warning about the dangers of banks and alternative asset managers working together to do risky deals and get around rules amid concerns about a possible bubble in junk-rated loans to companies.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has already told banks to avoid some of the riskiest junk loans to companies, but is alarmed that banks may still do such deals by sharing some of the risk with asset managers.

“We do not see any benefit to banks working with alternative asset managers or shadow banks to skirt the regulation and continue to have weak deals flooding markets,” said Martin Pfinsgraff, senior deputy comptroller for large bank supervision at the OCC, in a statement in response to questions from Reuters.

Among the investors in alternative asset managers are pension funds that have funding issues of their own, he said.

Banksters behaving badly from Reuters:

U.S. seeks $2.1 billion from Bank of America in fraud case

The U.S. government has raised the amount it is seeking in penalties from Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) to $2.1 billion after a jury found the bank was liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit.

The request in a court filing late on Wednesday was based on gross revenue generated by the fraud, the government said. The Justice Department had previously asked for $863.6 million.

The initial request was based on gross losses it said government-sponsored mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) incurred on loans purchased from Countrywide Financial Corp in 2007 and 2008.

Tapering with BBC News:

US Federal Reserve slows monthly bond-buying to $65bn

The US Federal Reserve announced a $10bn (£6bn) reduction in its monthly bond purchases from $75bn to $65bn in the second straight month of winding down stimulus efforts.

The central bank had been buying bonds in an effort to keep interest rates low and stimulate growth.

In a statement, the Fed said that “growth in economic activity picked up” since it last met in December.

Although the move was expected, US shares still fell on the news.

Screwing the poor with The Guardian:

Congress axes $8.6bn from food stamps in farm bill

  • Richer farmers get bigger subsidies in immediate snub to Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for action on inequality

Congress has agreed to cut $8.6bn from the federal food stamp program while increasing government subsidies for richer farmers, dealing a swift rebuke to Barack Obama’s call for a year of action on economic inequality.

Within hours of the president’s State of the Union speech, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to adopt the measures as part of a wide-ranging farm bill that passed by 251 to 166 votes and has already been endorsed by the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

The cuts to federal food stamps come on top of a $5bn cut in November and will reduce payments to 1.7 million of the poorest Americans by an estimated $90 a month.

Golden State woes from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Amid one of the worst droughts in California’s recorded history, state officials say 17 communities and water districts could run dry within 100 days

The threatened towns and districts are mostly small and in rural areas. They get their water in a variety of ways, from reservoirs to wells to rivers. But in all cases, a nearly rainless winter has left their supplies approaching empty.

In the greater Bay Area, Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County are among those at risk of running out of water. The small Lompico Water District in the Santa Cruz Mountains is also on the list.

Bloomberg itemizes:

California Farms Going Thirsty as Drought Burns $5 Billion Hole

The drought in California, the top U.S. agricultural producer at $44.7 billion, is depriving the state of water needed to produce everything from milk, beef and wine to some of the nation’s largest fruit and vegetable crops, including avocados, strawberries and almonds. Lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion, according to estimates by the 300-member California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group.

The state was the driest ever in 2013, a third straight year of little moisture. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17 as arid conditions he called “unprecedented” continued well into the annual rainy season that runs from October through March. Reservoirs on Jan. 27 were at 61 percent of average, while the mountain snow-pack as of Dec. 30 that supplies most of the state’s water was at 20 percent of normal for that time of year, data show.

And a global story from New Europe:

UNDP: Income inequality increased compared with 1990s

UNDP published a report on income inequality in the developing countries stressing that inequality increased by 11 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

According to the report, more than 75 per cent of the population in developing countries is living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. The report underlined that inclusive growth policies are important policy tools for reducing income inequality.

Helen Clark, administrator of the UNDP said according to a press release that “inequalities on today’s levels are unjust in both developing and developed countries…Over the last few decades, poverty rates have declined in every region of the world; emerging market countries have grown with unprecedented speed; and life

Advice from China Daily:

Replace dollar with super currency: economist

The World Bank’s former chief economist wants to replace the US dollar with a single global super-currency, saying it will create a more stable global financial system.

“The dominance of the greenback is the root cause of global financial and economic crises,” Justin Yifu Lin told Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy-research think tank. “The solution to this is to replace the national currency with a global currency.”

Lin, now a professor at Peking University and a leading adviser to the Chinese government, said expanding the basket of major reserve currencies — the dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and pound sterling — will not address the consequences of a financial crisis. Internationalizing the Chinese currency is not the answer, either, he said.

On to Europe and a regulatory call from Deutsche Welle:

EU presents more proposals to curb risky banking activities

  • The European Commission has proposed measures to rein in risky banking activities in heeding the lessons from the global financial crisis. It focused on stopping dubious trading by lenders “too big to fail.”

The proposals presented in Brussels on Wednesday centered on 30 large European banks, accounting for more than 65 percent of the EU’s total banking assets.

According to the suggestions made, these lenders would be banned from proprietary trading, a practice under which banks make bets using their own money and not that of customers.

The lenders could be forced to also separate other risky trading activities from their deposit-taking business which would make them far less vulnerable in a crisis situation.

Deutsche Welle again, with labor action:

European air traffic controllers go on strike over EU initiative

Air traffic controllers have begun a two-day strike over an EU initiative they fear will cause job cuts and more difficult working conditions, causing some delays. The EU is to vote on the measure on Thursday.

Air traffic controllers across several EU nations were expected to go on strike on Wednesday. The move was prompted by the EU’s Single European Sky initiative, which seeks to centralize the continent’s airspace and reduce congestion and inefficiencies costing airlines an estimated 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) annually.

Some 20 flights out of Lisbon in Portugal were cancelled on Wednesday, while Rome’s Fiumincino hub was also hit with cancelations and delays. In anticipation of the focus turning to Paris, the civil aviation authority asked airlines to reduce traffic into the French capital by 20 percent.

German workers had originally planned on joining the strike action. However, an injunction filed by German flagship carrier Lufthansa last week prevented them from doing so.

Britain next and an alarm from Xinhua:

Warning bells ring over British current account deficit

The British economy performed well in 2013 with 1.9 percent GDP growth, and some economists predict growth of up to 3 percent this year, but warning bells are sounding over the size of Britain’s current account deficit.

Simon Wells, chief UK economist with HSBC Global Research, raised worries over the unbalanced nature of growth in the British economy and the current account deficit, which stands at 5.1 percent of GDP in Q3 2013, close to a peacetime record.

Wells said, “Of the 40 countries covered by HSBC economists, the UK has the fifth largest current account deficit. And while most countries have narrowed deficits over the past five years, the UK’s is one of the few that have widened.”

The Guardian takes note:

Mortgage lending at six-year high

  • Bank of England says £12.4bn of new mortgages were approved in December 2013

The number of mortgages taken out to buy homes reached its highest level in almost six years in December, figures from the Bank of England showed, as the housing market continued to gather speed despite the slide into winter.

A total of 71,638 loans were approved for house purchase, above the previous six-month average of 65,001 and the highest monthly figure since January 2008 when the credit crisis and economic slowdown started to take hold of the market.

The government’s Funding for Lending scheme to offer cheap fund to banks and building societies, and the second part of Help to Buy which offers a taxpayer-backed guarantee on mortgages up to 95%, have both made home loans cheaper and more accessible to those with small deposits.

And a polyglot headline from the London Telegraph:

The 800,000 people living in Britain with little or no English

  • Analysis of census figures shows how most people living in Britain who do not have a good command of English do not have a job

Migrants with little or no English are 50 per cent more likely to be unemployed than native speakers and three times as likely to have no formal qualifications.

The study also showed that those who do work are condemned to the lowest paid and most laborious jobs if they do not have a working command of English.

Significantly the problem is most acute among women. Overall 60 per cent of those living in England and Wales but unable to speak the national tongue are female.

Bordering on controversy with TheLocal.de:

UK and Germany locked in immigration debate

The UK and Germany are locked in the same debate over the arrival of a new wave of immigrants from eastern Europe. But despite their arguments being the same, their presentation is very different, argues The Local’s Tom Bristow.

A conservative party calls for new measures to prevent migrants moving abroad to access welfare benefits. The left hits back, defending freedom movement as a cornerstone of the European Union.

A slogan from the conservative party in the ruling coalition government is deemed populist, even racist by the pro-immigration camp – “Those who cheat are out.”

That slogan could have come from UK Prime Minister David Cameron – yet it came from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Profiteering with The Independent:

Passports for profit: British company to make ‘disgusting amounts of money’ from controversial EU passport sale

A British company has been accused of making “disgusting amounts of money” from a controversial scheme by Malta to sell European Union passports to tycoons and celebrities ranging from a former Formula One world champion to a Chinese billionaire.

Henley & Partners, a private company registered in Jersey which specialises in “citizenship solutions”, stands to make at least €60m (£49m) from its role as the designer and principal contractor for the scheme, which will sell passports for €1.15m a piece.

The programme, which is due to begin processing its first applicants next month and will provide a right to reside anywhere in the EU, including Britain, has attracted sharp criticism both within the Mediterranean island and abroad.

Iceland next, and a counterfactual from Bloomberg:

Let Banks Fail Is Iceland Mantra as 2% Joblessness in Sight

Iceland let its banks fail in 2008 because they proved too big to save.

Now, the island is finding crisis-management decisions made half a decade ago have put it on a trajectory that’s turned 2 percent unemployment into a realistic goal.

While the euro area grapples with record joblessness, led by more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain, only about 4 percent of Iceland’s labor force is without work. Prime MinisterSigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson says even that’s too high.

“Politicians always have something to worry about,” the 38-year-old said in an interview last week. “We’d like to see unemployment going from where it’s now — around 4 percent — to under 2 percent, which may sound strange to most other western countries, but Icelanders aren’t accustomed to unemployment.”

Denmark next, and a walkout over a bankster win from The Guardian:

What would Birgitte do? Socialists quit Denmark coalition over energy deal

  • Goldman Sachs’s investment in state-owned energy prompts walkout and Borgen-esque political crisis

With Borgen no longer around to keep British audiences entertained, real-life politics in Denmark continues to give the fictional version a run for its money when it comes to drama.

After a recent spate of controversies and ministerial resignations, the Danish centre-left government suffered another blow on Thursday when the Socialist People’s party (SF) left the ruling coalition amid anger over Goldman Sachs’s investment in Denmark’s state-owned energy company.

Goldman’s 8bn kroner (£900m) purchase of a 19% share in Dong Energy has been championed by the government but caused a revolt among SF’s parliamentary group. After a night of tension and discussions, SF’s leader, Annette Vilhelmsen, announced her resignation and said her party was leaving the coalition.

Germany next, and do as we say, not as we do from Independent.ie:

Germany loosens own pension rules while demanding austerity from rest of EU

Germany’s coalition government presented a pension reform plan today that will cost €160bn to 2030 by letting some workers retire earlier, loosening the purse strings at home when Berlin has demanded austerity from its euro zone partners.

Despite criticism from industry and the pro-business wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the cabinet endorsed what is likely to be the most expensive single measure of the legislative period when it moves through parliament in May.

An additional 900,000 workers will be able to retire earlier than expected aged 63 over the next two years provided they have worked for 45 years. Some mothers will get pension increases.

TheLocal.de has income:

Foreign investment floods into Germany

Foreign investment into Germany increased by almost 400 percent last year, rising to €23.4 billion, a UN report revealed on Tuesday. It comes amid rising consumer and investor confidence.

In 2012 foreign direct investment stood at just €6.5 billion.

But 2013′s rise was helped by major deals including the purchase of Kabel Deutschland by Vodafone for €5.6 billion.

Germany also rose up the global rankings of the world’s most attractive foreign investment locations to 14th from 40th the year before.

Europe Online admonishes:

Deutsche bank warns of challenging year ahead

Deutsche Bank is making progress in restructuring its operations but faces further costs as a result of a string of lawsuits, the co-chief of Germany’s biggest bank said Wednesday.

The coming 12 months “will be another year of challenges,” Juergen Fitschen said in Frankfurt.

Deutsche announced earlier this month a surprise fourth-quarter loss because of a weak performance by its key investment banking operations and hefty legal costs following the bank’s involvement in a series of scandals.

New Europe exudes:

Record-high for consumer confidence in Germany

Consumer confidence in Germany is rising, and according to the latest data by a research group it reached to a level, last seen in 2007.

According to international market research group GfK, consumer confidence in Germany reached 8.2 points in January from 7.6 points in December. The research group said that the January reading was higher than expected by analysts and propelled the consumer index to a level last recorded in August 2007. German citizens were more optimistic regarding their economic and income expectations and their willingness to buy was improved.

According to the press release, Germans consider the national economy to be clearly on the upturn at present and this is reflected in the fifth consecutive improvement in economic expectations. “In the wake of this, income prospects climbed to reach a 13-year high. Willingness to buy also improved and surpassed its seven-year high of the previous month,” the report says.

While Deutsche Welle declines:

Beer sales in Germany lowest since early 1990s

Over the past years, Germans have drastically reduced their beer consumption. Fresh figures showed 2013 was no exception, with sales reaching their lowest level since the country’s unification.

With Germany still considered to be a major beer-drinking nation, annual sales of alcoholic beer in the country reached a new low in 2013, the National Statistics Office ( Destatis) announced Thursday.

While the nation still had 1,300 breweries making about 5,000 varieties of the beverage, they sold only 94.6 million hectoliters last year, a fall of 2 percent compared with 2012 and a drop to levels last reached shortly after German unification in 1990.

On to Amsterdam and an increasingly common trend from DutchNews.nl:

Postal deliveries could be cut to three days a week, if EU says yes

If the European Union gives permission, Dutch postal company PostNL could cut its deliveries to three days a week, a spokesman says in Wednesday’s AD.

European Union rules state post must be delivered five days a week but moves are being made to relax this, the AD says. PostNL stopped Monday deliveries at the beginning of this year.

‘If the EU allows it, we will cut back to four or perhaps even three delivery days,’ spokesman Werner van Bastelaar told the AD.

DutchNews.nl falls off:

Dutch savings are down for the first time in 20 years

For the first time in 20 years the Dutch have less in their savings accounts, Nos television says on Wednesday.

Figures from the Dutch central bank, ING and national statistics office CBS show the total amount of savings has gone down €1bn a month since reaching a high point of €330.5bn last summer.

There are four main reasons for the decline, the CBS says: one in 20 households are so hard up they have no more money to put aside; others are using savings to pay off debts and mortgages; investing in the stock market is popular again; and people who have lost their jobs are using up their savings to live on.

France next and an economic sweet spot from TheLocal.fr:

French arms industry enjoys boom in trade

Crisis, what crisis? While certain sectors in France continue to suffer in the downturn France’s arms industry is doing a roaring trade. A new report, that won’t be welcomed by pacifists, revealed this week that sales of arms abroad have rocketed.

Despite the seemingly endless stream of bad economic news for France, there is at least one sector that’s booming: weapons. French arms makers confirmed €6.3 billion in orders to foreign countries in 2013, which represents a 31 percent jump on the previous year.

The figures released on Wednesday by the Ministry of Defence ensure France keeps its spot at number four among the world’s largest providers of weapons. The United States, the United Kingdom and Russia all sold more weapons than France in 2013.

Departures note from TheLocal.fr:

Foreign investors desert France in 2013: report

As if high unemployment, heavy public debt and an unhappy populace weren’t enough, France also saw a double digit drop in foreign investment in 2013, according to a new United Nations report on Wednesday.

Signalling yet more bad news for France’s troubled economy, a United Nations report said the country saw a 77 percent decline in direct foreign investment last year, while the global average was an 11 percent increase.

France’s results were the worst in the European Union, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade Development report released on Tuesday.

A culture war panic from France 24:

French parents pull children from school over ‘gender theory’ scare

France’s education chief threatened Wednesday to summon parents who pull their children from school after a wave of absenteeism. The row was sparked by a rumour about sex education classes that could become a new ideological battleground in France.

Thousands of parents in France received a text message on their mobile telephones last week urging them to keep their children from school on Monday. The collective action was to protest an alarming development in French primary schools: the attempt to teach students that “they are not born as boys or girls, but can choose to become one or the other.”

The grassroots campaign opposing teaching of so-called “gender theory” in French schools asked parents to go further by taking their kids out of school one day every month. It recommended this be done with no prior warning to teachers.

Hints of things to come? From TheLocal.fr:

‘First ever’ bill proposes legal cannabis in France

France is no Amsterdam when it comes to marijuana laws, in fact it has some of the toughest possession statutes in Europe, but a first of its kind bill proposed this week could change that. The lawmaker behind the legislation tells The Local why marijuana should be legalized in France.

People smoking a joint in France face a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a €3,750 fine for the first offence, yet 13.4 million French people admit to sparking up at least once in their life. Even France’s top cop, Interior Minister Manuel Vallls, said in a recent interview, he’d tried it “maybe once.”

The numbers go up as you look at the younger portion of the population. France had the unhappy distinction of being the European “champion” of teen pot smokers in 2011 when 24 percent of its 16-year-old kids admitted to smoking at least once a month, daily Le Monde reported.

Swiss hard times intolerance from TheLocal.ch:

Support for immigrant quotas rises before vote

A plan by Swiss right-wing populists to reimpose immigration quotas for citizens from the European Union has won increased support ahead of a referendum, raising the prospect of a clash with Brussels, a new poll shows.

A total of 43 percent of those surveyed said they backed the “Stop Mass Immigration” measure which goes to a vote on February 9th, according to the survey released on Wednesday by public broadcaster SRG. That marked a major gain on the 37 percent support shown in a poll released just two weeks ago.

The survey was commissioned from the GfS Bern public opinion institute, which found that opposition to the measure had dropped by five points to 50 percent.

On to Spain and a warning from El País:

Brussels warns of risks to Spain from the crisis in emerging markets

  • Report says economic recovery “remains fragile”
  • Commission expects bad bank to have posted losses last year

The upbeat message Economy Minister Luis de Guindos gave to his colleagues at an Ecofin meeting on Tuesday on the Spanish economy contrasts with the more cautious tone of the final report on Spain’s compliance with the bailout program for its banks, made public on Wednesday by the European Commission (EC).

De Guindos told fellow European economy and finance ministers that he expects the economy to grow 1 percent this year, above the Spanish government’s official forecast of 0.7 percent, with the pace of activity sufficiently strong to allow net job creation. He also minimized the possibility of fallout from the latest crisis in emerging markets, particularly Argentina. “We can’t fall any more. Now the recovery begins,” De Guindos said, arguing that Spain “has scarcely any exposure to Argentina and other emerging markets.”

However, Brussels’ report, based on a joint mission by the EC and the European Central Bank to Madrid in the period December 2-13, warns that: “The economic recovery […] remains fragile as imbalances continue to be worked out, and subject to external risks such as a reversal of the current benign global financial environment and a slowdown in emerging markets, especially in Latin America, to which Spanish companies are particularly exposed.”

More misery demanded from TheLocal.es:

‘Spain’s record wage cuts not enough’: IMF

The International Monetary Fund has asked Spain to further reduce salaries even though it has already slashed average wages by 20 percent over the past two years – the fastest drop in the country’s democratic history.

The International Monetary Fund has revised up its 2014 growth forecast for Spain to 0.6 percent, or more than triple the figure it forecast in October last year, but this is still very modest and it continues to expect more.

The monetary body claims the 20 percent drop in average wages over the past two years does not make up for the excessive salary increases seen prior to that, a factor which they claim has contributed to Spain’s ailing unemployment rate.

El País reduces:

Spanish banks drastically cut exposure to sovereign debt

  • Sector sold 22.4 billion euros in government bonds in December
  • Lenders gearing up for ECB stress tests later this year

Spain’s banks in December picked up the pace at which they have been offloading their holdings of sovereign debt ahead of the solvency tests they will be subjected to by the European Central Bank later this year.

According to ECB figures released Wednesday, Spain’s banks took advantage of improved market conditions to sell 22.4 billion euros worth of government bonds, more than double the 10 billion they sold in November and October’s 8.9 billion. After the latest sell-off, the exposure of Spain’s banks to sovereign debt stands at 272 billion euros.

The extent of European banks’ exposure to sovereign debt will be one of the key features in the stress tests to which they will be submitted. If banks are required to write down the value of sovereign debt not being held to maturity to current market levels, this might entail them having to increase their capital to enhance their solvency.

Off the books with the London Telegraph:

Untaxed work equal to 25pc of GDP in Spain

  • Cash transactions carried out behind the Spanish taxman’s back in 2012 hit nearly €253bn

Untaxed transactions in Spain have surged to equal nearly a quarter of the country’s output as unemployed workers scrape a living in the black economy.

The cash economy has flourished since 2008, when the collapse of a building boom hurled Spain into a double recession, a report by Treasury experts and academics said.

Cash transactions carried out behind the taxman’s back in 2012 hit nearly €253bn, or 24.6pc of gross domestic product, according to the report released by GESTHA, a tax inspectors’ union.

More cultural warring from thinkSPAIN:

Mass protest outside European Parliament in Brussels over Spain’s abortion reform

AT least 2,000 people staged a demonstration outside the European Parliament building in Brussels yesterday (Wednesday) evening in protest over Spain’s abortion law reform.

As well as members of the public of all nationalities, organisations including the European Women’s Lobby, Abortion Right, the European Humanist Federation, Catholics for Choice and the International Planned Parenthood Federation were joined by MEPs from the socialists, liberalists, the ‘greens’ and United Left.

Banners read, ‘Rights for men, but also for women’; ‘Free abortion’, and ‘All of us are Spanish women’ – a message of support meaning restrictions on legal abortion could one day affect any of them.

El País draws the line:

Five regions rebel against Popular Party’s education reform

  • Commissioners claim Minister Wert’s law is step backward and segregates students

The regions not governed by the Popular Party on Wednesday objected to the controversial new Education Law, known as the LOMCE — the seventh overhaul of the public system since the restoration of democracy in Spain — as retrogressive and divisive, and lamented the lack of debate on the legislation.

Initially drawn up to address high dropout rates, the law also enhances the role of religion in schools and permits state funding for educational centers that segregate students by gender. The law was passed in Congress with only the votes of the PP, which has an absolute majority in the lower house.

At a news conference, the educational commissioners of the Basque Country, Andalusia, Asturias, Catalonia and the Canary Islands accused Education Minister José Ignacio Wert of a “lack of institutional loyalty” in failing to adequately consult the regions on the changes. The regions are responsible for the education and health services.

TheLocal.es enumerates:

One third of Spanish kids at risk of poverty

More than a third of children in Spain live at risk of poverty, the aid charity Save the Children said on Wednesday, blaming austerity measures for worsening the situation.

The number of under-18s “at risk of poverty or marginalization” — an official EU measure of various aspects of economic hardship — soared to more than 2.8 million in 2012, the charity said.

That was equivalent to 33.8 percent of Spain’s children, it said in a report that used the latest official European Union data.

El País deplores:

Council of Europe slams Spain for denying healthcare to illegal immigrants

  • Organization’s Committee on Social Rights concerned about general slide on basic protection

The economic crisis has undermined social protection in Spain. The Council of Europe, which oversees respect for human rights in 47 countries on the continent, on Wednesday expressed concern over “regressive legislative developments concerning access to health care by foreigners illegally present in the country.”

The conclusion is part of a wide-reaching report by the European Committee on Social Rights that examines whether national laws conform to the European Social Charter.

The 2013 conclusions, released on Wednesday, found that Spain was one of several countries that had regressed on social rights compared with earlier periods. Other states where healthcare, social welfare and occupational safety have been curtailed included Austria, France, Finland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia.

On to Lisbon and a demand from the Portugal News:

Socialists demand pension cut clarification

The Portuguese Socialist (PS) party has demanded that the prime minister specify what pension and wage cuts were considered to be temporary and accused the government of acting with a lack of transparency and creating uncertainty among the population.

These criticisms were made by António Galamba MP, a member of the PS national secretariat at a press conference where he also accused the centre-right coalition of rehearsing “propaganda manourvres” and trying to “sell illusions”.

“Isn’t it time for the government to clarify what cuts are temporary and what are definitive? “, he asked, after accusing the government of a lack of transparency by creating a work group to prepare definitive cuts to the pension system.

Italy next and a rebuke from ANSAmed:

Council of Europe blasts Italy on pensions, poverty

  • Lacks ‘overall and coordinated approach’

Italy is failing to address growing levels of poverty and to provide retirees with an adequate level of subsistence, a Council of Europe committee said in a report released on Wednesday.

The report, drawn up by the European Committee of Social Rights, noted that Rome had not demonstrated ‘’the existence of an overall and coordinated approach providing adequate measures to combat poverty and social exclusion’‘.

Italy’s national statistics bureau Istat reported in late December that the number of people in crisis-hit Italy living in absolute poverty had doubled between 2005 and 2012 and tripled in the industrial north, up to 6.4% from 2.5%. More than 1.7 million families live in a state of absolute poverty – for a total of 4.8 million individuals – amid rising unemployment and a stubborn recession, Istat said.

Raising a ruckus with The Guardian:

Italian parliament erupts amid vote on central bank capital

Opposition MPs storm government benches after speaker cuts short debate on measure to boost commercial banks

There have been chaotic and at times violent scenes in the Italian parliament after the lower house speaker made unprecedented use of her powers to cut short a filibuster by deputies of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S).

Late on Wednesday, M5S MPs stormed the government benches, put on symbolic gags and kept up a barrage of whistling after the speaker, Laura Boldrini, cut short the debate and ordered a vote on a complicated and intensely controversial measure to square Italy’s public accounts. One of Grillo’s followers said an MP from the governing majority had slapped her during the disorder.

Opposition MPs claim that the measure would hand more than €7bn (£5.8bn) of taxpayers’ money to the banks.

Emulation from TheLocal.it:

27 percent of Italians want to be more German

Over a quarter of Italians would like their country to be more like Germany, while some would prefer Italy to resemble Cuba or China, a poll this week has found.

Despite the anti-German rhetoric of populist politicians, targeting the country’s leader Angela Merkel, this week’s Ipsos poll showed that Italians may be warming to Europe’s economic powerhouse.

Twenty-seven percent of Italians said they would like Italy to more closely resemble Germany, swiftly followed by 19 percent opting for a more Norwegian approach.

After the jump, the latest on the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian uncertainty and admonitions, Turkish anxieties, Indian inflation, Thai turmoil, mixed news from China, Japanese easing, ecological alarms and woes, plus the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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


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

Nuclear law again threatens Oakland surveillance hub

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

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

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

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

Snowden revelations of NSA spying on Copenhagen climate talks spark anger

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

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

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

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

Confrontation from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Senators grill spy chiefs, accuse them of lies

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

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

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

Whistyleblower hate from the Los Angeles Times:

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post offers a plea:

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

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

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

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

RT gets hyperbolic:

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

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

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

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

Nomination from the London Daily Mail:

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

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

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

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

The Project On Government Oversight plotting a coup:

Six House Members Seek to Oust Intelligence Director

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

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

Justification from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Attorney General Holder defends legality of surveillance program

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

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

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

Tokenism from Network World:

NSA gets its first civil liberties and privacy officer

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

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

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

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

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

Boing Boing gets ominous for the Fourth Estate:

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

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

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

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

Wired gets legal:

Terror Defendant Challenges Evidence Gathered by NSA Spying

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian, Trans-Atlantic ornamental blowback:

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

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

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

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

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

Network World offers the symbolic:

Hackers deface Angry Birds website following NSA spying claims

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

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

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

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

From the Washington Post, cause for real insecurity:

Officials: 92 Air Force officers involved in test cheating scandal

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

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

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

RT strikes a trans-English Channel drone deal:

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

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

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

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

And from intelNews.org, the old school method:

Israel jails Orthodox Jew who offered to spy for Iran

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: PoliEconoEcoFukus


A statement of reality from Quartz:

This land is not your land

  • Pete Seeger died in an America with record inequality

BBC News sounds a belated theme:

State of the Union: Obama promises action on inequality

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek chills out:

Frozen Northeast Getting Gouged by Natural Gas Prices

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

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

PandoDaily exerts plutocratic pressure:

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph constricts:

Emerging markets forced to tighten by US and Chinese monetary superpowers

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

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

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

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

More from Nikkei Asian Review:

Inflation-wary emerging economies go for rate hikes

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

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

Xinhua charts an uptick with mixed results:

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

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

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

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

Quartz predicts:

Global unemployment is about to get worse

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

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

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

ANSAmed has numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

More from Bloomberg:

Euro Jobless Record Not Whole Story as Italians Give Up

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

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

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

And still more from New Europe:

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

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

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

EurActiv divides:

Schäuble advocates separate eurozone parliament

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

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

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

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

Brussels sets advisory group on EU-US trade deal

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

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

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

On to Britain by way of the Irish Times:

No longer flush: Queen down to her last million

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

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

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

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

BBC News booms:

UK economy growing at fastest rate since 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News adds nuance:

Cable Warns About Wrong Type Of Recovery

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

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

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

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

Denmark next and strange bankster dealings from the Copenhagen Post:

Leaked document: Goldman Sachs wasn’t highest DONG bidder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph drops a bombshell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

France blocks return of Roma schoolgirl’s family

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

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

The Dibriani family can appeal the latest ruling.

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

Spain next, and fundamentalist politics from GlobalPost:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es boosts:

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

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

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

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

El País retreats:

Madrid abruptly cancels plans to outsource management at public hospitals

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

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

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

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

ANSAmed moves out, forcibly:

Evictions of mortgage defaulters rise in Spain

  • Almost double those in 2012, reports central bank

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

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

Italy next and a new low from TheLocal.it:

Italian wages rise at lowest rate since 1982

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

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

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

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

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

Billionaire party founder withdraws from Austrian parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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


We begin with a belated celebration of a special day!

From RT:

Theater of Absurd: Happy Data Protection Day…oh, and we spy on you!

Program notes:

The latest leak from Edward Snowden suggests it was Britain’s cyber-spy base GCHQ that showed America’s NSA how to monitor Facebook and Twitter without consent. That’s as Europe marks Data Protection Day – which is supposed to show EU citizens how to keep their online data away from prying eyes. RT’s Polly Boiko looks at how effective that’s likely to be.

From the Associated Press, welcome to the Hall of Infinite Regress:

US looks at ways to prevent spying on NSA spying

As the Obama administration considers ending the storage of millions of phone records by the National Security Agency, the government is quietly funding research to prevent eavesdroppers from seeing whom the U.S. is spying on, The Associated Press has learned.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has paid at least five research teams across the country to develop a system for high-volume, encrypted searches of electronic records kept outside the government’s possession. The project is among several ideas that could allow the government to store Americans’ phone records with phone companies or a third-party organization, but still search them as needed.

Under the research, U.S. data mining would be shielded by secret coding that could conceal identifying details from outsiders and even the owners of the targeted databases, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with researchers, corporate executives and government officials.

RT gives instruction:

GCHQ taught NSA how to monitor Facebook, Twitter in real time – Snowden leak

British intelligence officials can infiltrate the very cables that transfer information across the internet, as well as monitor users in real time on sites like Facebook without the company’s consent, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The internal documents reveal that British analysts gave instruction to members of the National Security Agency in 2012, showing them how to spy on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in real time and collect the computer addresses of billions of the sites’ uploaders.

The leaked documents are from a GCHQ publication titled ‘Psychology: A New Kind of SIGDEV’ (Signals Development). Published by NBC News on Monday, the papers detail a program dubbed ‘Squeaky Dolphin,’ which was developed for analysts working in “broad real-time monitoring of online activity.”

The Guardian opines:

Huge swath of GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal, says top lawyer

  • Legal advice given to MPs warns that British spy agency is ‘using gaps in regulation to commit serious crime with impunity’

GCHQ’s mass surveillance spying programmes are probably illegal and have been signed off by ministers in breach of human rights and surveillance laws, according to a hard-hitting legal opinion that has been provided to MPs.

The advice warns that Britain’s principal surveillance law is too vague and is almost certainly being interpreted to allow the agency to conduct surveillance that flouts privacy safeguards set out in the European convention on human rights (ECHR).

The inadequacies, it says, have created a situation where GCHQ staff are potentially able to rely “on the gaps in the current statutory framework to commit serious crime with impunity”.

Gettin’ outa Dodge with the Buenos Aires Herald:

British spy chief accused by Snowden leaks will step down at year end

The British spy chief whose agency was accused in documents leaked by former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden of playing a principal role in mass Anglo-US surveillance will step down at year end, Britain’s Foreign Office said today.

The leaks detailed the close cooperation of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency with the US National Security Agency (NSA), and embarrassed and angered the British government and its spy chiefs.

Iain Lobban, 53, has served as GCHQ’s director for six years.

“Iain Lobban is doing an outstanding job as Director GCHQ,” said a spokeswoman. “Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on, planned at the end of the year.”

MIT Technology Review has a how-to:

How App Developers Leave the Door Open to NSA Surveillance

  • U.S. and U.K. surveillance of smartphone users has been helped by mobile developers—few of whom bother to adopt basic encryption.

News that the National Security Agency has for years harvested personal data “leaked” from mobile apps such as Angry Birds triggered a fresh wave of chatter about the extent of the NSA’s reach yesterday. However the NSA and its U.K. equivalent, GCHQ, hardly had to break much technical ground to hoover up that data. Few mobile apps implement encryption technology to protect the data they send over the Internet, so the agencies could trivially collect and decode that data using their existing access to Internet networks.

Documents seen and published by the New York Times and Guardian newspapers show that the NSA and GCHQ can harvest information such as a person’s age, location, and sexual orientation from the data sent over the Internet by apps. Such personal details are contained in the data that apps send back to the companies that maintain and support them. This includes data sent to companies that serve and target ads in mobile apps.

“This is evidence of negligent levels of insecurity by app companies, says Peter Eckersly, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Eckersly says his efforts to persuade companies to secure Web traffic shows widespread disregard for the risks of sending people’s data over the Internet without protections against interception. “Most companies have no legitimate reason” not to secure that data, says Eckersly. “Often the security and privacy of their users is so far down the priority list that they haven’t even thought about doing it.”

The Guardian squawks:

Angry Birds firm calls for industry to respond to NSA spying revelations

  • Rovio rethinks relationship with ad platforms
  • CEO tells users it was not complicit in surveillance
  • ‘We do not collaborate or share data with spy agencies’

Angry Birds Spy agencies can collect sensitive user data from ‘leaky’ smartphone apps ranging from basic technical information to gender and location.

Rovio, the Finnish software company behind the Angry Birds game, has announced it will “re-evaluate” its relationship with advertising networks following revelations that the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ have the capability to “piggyback” on the private user data they collect.

On Monday, the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica revealed that the US and UK spy agencies had built systems that could collect data from “leaky” smartphone apps, ranging from basic technical information to gender and location. Some apps mentioned in the documents collected more sensitive information, including sexual orientation of the user.

In a statement released in the wake of the story, Rovio’s chief executive said the company would examine its business relationships, but also called for the wider industry to respond to spy agencies’ use of commercial data traversing the web.

The Guardian reassures Down Under:

Microsoft rules out ‘back door’ access to MPs’ electronic communications

  • Officials assured that US agencies do not have unauthorised entry to Australian parliamentary IT operating systems

Parliamentary officials say Microsoft has given some assurances that electronic communications by MPs are not being accessed by American intelligence agencies through a “back door” in the IT operating systems.

Last November during a Senate estimates hearing a senior parliamentary official left open the prospect that parliamentary communications in Australia could be monitored by US intelligence through a “back door” provided by Microsoft operating systems.

The lack of clarity and the concern about the broad sweep of electronic surveillance and intelligence sharing, undertaken through the “5-Eyes” partnership of the US and its allies, prompted Greens senator Scott Ludlam to pursue the issue by putting further questions on notice.

Security Clearance gets intense:

Homeland Security details Super Bowl safety plan

More air marshals and behavioral detection officers, radiological detection teams and random baggage checks at transit hubs are among the security measures the federal Homeland Security Department will deploy in the next few days to help local police in New Jersey and New York secure the Super Bowl.

The game will be played at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands area just outside New York City. The stadium’s location near a major airport and busy commuter train lines presents security challenges. Unlike audiences for other championship games, spectators of Super Bowl XLVIII will rely heavily on mass transit.

Homeland Security officials say that federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation will deploy hundreds of employees to help New Jersey and New York police secure what’s been officially designated “an event of national significance.”

Drone-saving with the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama said to rescue spy aircraft from budget ax

In a surprising reversal, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk unmanned aircraft is now seen as having a strong shot at avoiding the Pentagon’s ax when President Barack Obama sends his proposed fiscal 2015 budget to Congress in March, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Air Force said in 2012 that it reluctantly favored scrapping the Global Hawk, one of whose production facilities is just outside Biloxi, Miss., in favor of Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane.

But increasing demands for drones to help the service fulfill its high-altitude surveillance mission may have swung things in the opposite direction.

The Guardian loses eyes in the sky:

US border patrol drone crashes off California coast

  • Drone part of fleet that patrols Mexico border
  • Crew crashed $12m drone after mechanical problem

An American drone that is part of a fleet that patrols the border with Mexico has crashed off the coast of southern California.

Customs and Border Protection said the drone was looking for drug and people smugglers when a mechanical problem developed about 20 miles south-west of San Diego late on Monday. Spokesman Mike Friel said the Arizona-based crew operating the drone decided to crash it in the Pacific ocean.

The $12m surveillance drone was part of a fleet of 10 the Department of Homeland Security uses to patrol the border. It was just one of two maritime Predator B drones equipped with radar specifically designed to be used over the ocean.

USA TODAY drones on:

At nation’s doorstep, police drones are flying

  • Just across the U.S. border, drones are making an impact on police efforts

Just across the border from the United States, police have begun using drones carrying video cameras to patrol residential neighborhoods and watch over parts of the city often visited by Americans.

Tijuana’s use of low-altitude unmanned aircraft for law enforcement surveillance, in darkness as well as daylight, appears to far exceed what state and local police agencies have been permitted to experiment with in the United States.

Unburdened by the sort of aviation restrictions and privacy concerns that have slowed domestic U.S. drone use, Tijuana police recently purchased three specially configured commercial drones and are testing their use in flight now, says Alejandro Lares, the city’s new chief of police.

He says he hopes to put them into full normal operation within weeks.

MintPress News seeks to disambiguate:

Vague Language In MN Drone Bill Could Affect Privacy Rights

  • Before drone use by the masses takes off, lawmakers and privacy advocates say there needs to be rules on when and where the technology can be used.

In order to make sure the rules for using a drone are as clear as possible, Minnesota state Rep. Brian Johnson, a Republican, has reintroduced legislation clarifying when law enforcement can use the technology in the state.

Although drones were first used by the U.S. military abroad, local law enforcement officials, farmers, journalists and hobbyists have all begun to express interest in using drones for various reasons. But before drone use by the masses takes off, lawmakers and privacy advocates say there needs to be rules on when and where the technology can be used.

One of the biggest areas of concern is law enforcement’s use of the new technology.

From The Observer, it finally happens:

North Dakota Cow Thief Is First American Arrested, Jailed With Drone’s Help

  • A SWAT team also got involved in the armed standoff.

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane — it’s a Predator drone finding you because you wouldn’t give your neighbor his cows back after they wandered onto your property.

Rodney Brossart, the farmer from North Dakota, was arrested after being located by Predator drone, Forbes reports. Sentenced yesterday, he is the first American to be sent to the clink thanks to drone assistance.

In June 2011, Forbes reports, police attempted to arrest him because he wouldn’t return the three cows that had grazed onto his property. This resulted in “an armed standoff between Brossart, his three sons and a SWAT team” on his property. It ended only after the family of perps was located by a Predator drone borrowed from Customs and Border Patrol.

Nextgov deceives:

Twice As Many U.S. Missileers Now Implicated in Cheating Probe

The number of U.S. nuclear missile-launch officers caught up in a probe into cheating on proficiency exams has roughly doubled in size, the Associated Press reports.

The news service cited unidentified U.S. officials as sources of the report.

The Pentagon revealed earlier this month that 34 Air Force nuclear missile officers were under investigation for either cheating on an autumn 2013 proficiency test or for having knowledge of the misconduct and not reporting it.

It is not yet clear what roles the approximately 30-plus additional Minuteman 3 operational officers allegedly had in the cheating scandal.

And Deutsche Welle discovers the expected:

US whistleblower laws offer no protection

The White House says that Edward Snowden should have reported his concerns within the NSA, instead of revealing surveillance programs to the press. But who exactly do US whistleblower laws protect?

For years, would-be whistleblowers in the US intelligence community had no legal protections to shield them from retaliatory measures by their superiors. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 covered most of the federal government with the glaring exception of the intelligence agencies.

In an effort to close this legal gap, Congress passed the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) a decade later. The law covers employees and contractors at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) as well as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

But according to Thomas Drake, the act failed to adequately protect whistleblowers from retaliation. A former senior executive at the NSA, Drake blew the whistle on a failed surveillance program called Trailblazer. He used what the government calls “proper channels” to express his concerns about the program’s exorbitant cost and its lack of privacy protections, reaching out to his immediate supervisor, the office of the inspector general, and the congressional intelligence committees.

“I was reprised against severely within the proper channels,” Drake told DW. “I was identified as a troublemaker.”

SecurityWeek sounds the alert:

Canada Privacy Czar Warns Against Spies Trawling Social Media

Canada’s interim privacy commissioner on Tuesday urged lawmakers to crack down on government spies who trawl without cause on social media websites to gather people’s personal data.

“It is our view that (government) departments should not access personal information on social media sites unless they can demonstrate a direct correlation to legitimate government business,” said Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier.

In a special report to Parliament, Bernier noted that technical capabilities for surveillance have “grown exponentially” in the digital age.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, militarization, coalescing coalitions, and saber-rattling news, plus Aussie military austerity, Orwell in Sochi, Mexican vigilantes legalized, corporate agent recruiting, financializing insecurity, and MSM containment. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Italian employment falling


From the Italian National Institute of Statistics [Istat]:

Blog ital jobless

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoPoliFukufolly


Our tour of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with some hopeful opposition from nsnbc international:

Congressmen Oppose Fast Track and Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP

Last week, House Representative Tim Bishop met with union leaders, environmentalists and various activists to join forces against the fast track being debated in Congress concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

To the attendees, Bishop said: “I urge my colleagues in Congress to do something, to see to it that we help to create an economy that creates good, solid, middle-class jobs. This agreement takes us in the opposite direction.”

Bishop wrote a letter to President Obama stating that he and 150 other members of the House reject the fast track.

One point of the TPP is to ensure sovereignty among corporations, which is why they have been integral in the creation of the drafts while schmoozing those they deem having power to sway the final document as in their best interests.

Cheapskates from The Hill:

Hotel industry vows to fight back against ‘extreme’ minimum wage bills

The hotel industry says it plans to fight state-by-state this year to defeat “extreme” minimum wage legislation.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which includes hotel chains such as Best Western International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Marriott International, placed wage legislation near the top of its lobbying agenda for 2014.

The group plans to “lead the charge to beat back the growing emergence of extreme minimum and living wage initiatives that are proven job-killers and ultimately hurt those who are building successful careers from the entry level,” according to an advance copy of the agenda obtained by The Hill.

Insert lowest extremity into orifice yet again, from The Verge:

Kleiner Perkins founder apologizes for Nazi comments, goes on wild class warfare rant

  • Tom Perkins says his Richard Mille watch “could buy a six pack of Rolexes”

Appearing on Bloomberg West today, Perkins said that while he regretted his use of the word “Kristallnacht,” he stood by his original message. “I don’t regret the message at all,” he said. “The message is that any time the majority starts to demonize a minority, no matter what it is, it’s wrong, and dangerous. And no good ever comes from it.” He also said “the majority” should not attack the 1 percent. “It’s absurd to demonize the rich for being rich and for doing what the rich do, which is get richer by creating opportunity for others,” he said. But he also drew scorn for saying that his Richard Mille watch, estimated to be worth $379,000, “could buy a six pack of Rolexes.”

Kleiner Perkins responded to Perkins’ original letter with a tweet saying Perkins had not been involved with the firm for years. “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree,” the firm said. “They chose to sort of throw me under the bus, and I didn’t like that,” Perkins said today.

The Associated Press has a fair deal:

Marijuana contests join county fair in Colorado

Colorado’s Denver County is adding cannabis-themed contests to its 2014 summer fair. It’s the first time pot plants will stand alongside tomato plants and homemade jam in competition for a blue ribbon.

There won’t actually be any marijuana at the fairgrounds. The judging will be done off-site, with photos showing the winning entries. And a live joint-rolling contest will be done with oregano, not pot.

But county fair organizers say the marijuana categories will add a fun twist on Denver’s already-quirky county fair, which includes a drag queen pageant and a contest for dioramas made with Peeps candies.

North of the border and a decline from CBC News:

Canadian dollar closes below 90 cents

The Canadian dollar slipped below 90 cents US Monday, its lowest point since July of 2009.

The loonie closed at 89.96 US after gaining ground earlier in the session, as concern over emerging market currencies snowballed.

The steep slide in stocks that began last week slowed on Monday in U.S. markets, but Toronto stocks continued their drop, hurt by falling gold prices and a dip in oil and natural gas prices.

A global warning from a man with something to sell you. From MercoPress:

Coca Cola CEO warns youth unemployment is a great risk for social peace

Unemployment among teens and young adults represents a huge global problem, says Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola. In the United States, teenage unemployment totaled 20.2 percent in December and if the situation isn’t addressed, the results could be devastating, the social peace and fabric of the world is in danger.

“Seventy-five million [young] people [globally] are unemployed, do not have the opportunity to work at the moment,” Kent said in a talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “That’s bigger than France. It’s a terrible thing when people are coming into the workforce in their late teens and early 20s and don’t have opportunities to create value”. In May 2012, the global youth unemployment rate totaled 12.6%, compared to 4.5% for the adult unemployment rate, according to the International Labor Organization. “If we’re not successful in creating better

On to Europe and a shoulder shrug from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Euro chief says no contagion from emerging markets

The eurozone’s recovery will not be affected by contagion from growing fears over emerging economies, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Monday.

The eurozone’s recovery will not be affected by contagion from growing fears over emerging economies, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Monday.

The worries over markets such as Argentina and Turkey come as the euro is overcoming the worst of its debt crisis.

“I think they’re quite different, separate issues,” Dijsselbloem told reporters ahead of a meeting in Brussels of finance ministers from the 18 countries that use the euro.

Dismal numeration from New Europe:

31.2 million EU citizens are either looking for better jobs or given up

  • Bloomberg survey reveals serious labour and social crisis in Europe

Labour and social crisis in Europe is deepening as the labour underutilisation rate is increasing according to a Bloomberg survey published on 27 January.

The US financial news agency said that economists predicted that Eurozone unemployment in December will remain at an all-time record high of 12.1 per cent meaning that 19 million European citizens are out of work. However, the Bloomberg survey indicated that labour and social crisis in Europe is much worse, as in the third quarter of 2013, 31.2 million people of all ages in Europe are either frustrated from their current jobs or stopped the job hunt.

According to Bloomberg, the most recent labour underutilization rate in Italy, the third-biggest economy in the Eurozone, was at 24 per cent being more than double the official jobless rate. Di Gilio, who has a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering and lives with his parents, stooped searching for a job and said Bloomberg journalists. “I don’t want to work myself to death to survive…My friends who do work still need their parents’ support and those who start working often don’t get paid.” Di Gillio stressed, that looking for employment would be worth it if he had the chance to improve his living standards by being able to buy a house and start a family.

Hard times intolerance and familiar targets from GlobalPost:

Roma face mounting discrimination across Europe

Three months after news about a girl alleged to have been abducted by Roma proved false, prejudice continues to grow.

Greece isn’t alone in mistreating Roma, says Eleni Tsetsekou, a consultant on Roma to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

“There’s no difference in Roma lives in other European countries, or in how they’re confronted by the majority of people,” she said. “Negative stereotypes are always present and deeply rooted.”

Romanian and Spanish schools also remain segregated between Roma and non-Roma children despite the European court’s decision. In France, police have dismantled Roma shantytowns and deported even minors, violating laws allowing for the free movement of EU citizens.

In Hungary, local governments have turned off water supplies to Roma districts. In Slovakia, towns have erected concrete barriers to isolate Roma neighborhoods. In Bulgaria, the far-right political group Ataka openly blames Roma for the poverty-stricken Balkan country’s economic ills.

On to Britain and an upbeat take from the London Telegraph:

Economy growing at fastest pace since financial crisis

  • Official figures to show UK economy grew by 1.9 per cent last year – the fastest pace since the financial crisis struck seven years ago

The British economy is growing at the fastest pace since the financial crisis struck seven years ago, official figures will confirm on Tuesday.

The latest positive sign on the economy came as Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said Britain is now experiencing “a real recovery” and business leaders spoke of “real upsurge”.

However, he also warned that there were significant risks to a sustained recovery, particularly the housing market.

BBC News covers the geography of class:

Centre for Cities says economic gap with London widening

The economic gap between London and the rest of the UK is widening because other cities are “punching below their weight”, according to research.

London has created 10 times more private sector jobs than any other city since 2010, analysis by the Centre for Cities found.

The think tank is calling for more power to be devolved to the regions.

From EurActiv, a neoliberal wet dream

David Cameron pledges to rip up green regulations

David Cameron will on Monday (27 January) boast of tearing up 80,000 pages of environmental protections and building guidelines as part of a new push to build more houses and cut costs for businesses of up to £850 million (€1 billion) per year.

In a speech to small firms, the prime minister will claim that he is leading the first government in decades to have slashed more needless regulation than it introduced.

Among the regulations to be watered down will be protections for hedgerows and rules about how businesses dispose of waste, despite Cameron’s claims to lead the greenest government ever.

PetaPixel eliminates a craft we’ve practiced:

UK Newspaper Chain Follows in Sun Times Footsteps, Shutters All Photographer Jobs

Britons tend to take their newspapers a bit more seriously than Yanks, but that hasn’t stopped a newspaper chain there from Chicago Sun-Timesing (yes, we verbed it!) its way to ignominy by firing its entire photography staff.

It’s unclear exactly how many photographers will hit the pavement as a result of the decision by Johnston Press, but the National Union of Journalists counts 24 at newspapers scattered across Scotland and the Midlands.

Faithfully following the script set by the Chicago Sun-Times last year, the axed professionals will be replaced by freelancers, reader-submitted photos and reporters with smartphones.

Norway shows the door, via TheLocal.no:

Record number of foreigners deported

A record number of foreign citizens were deported from Norway last year, after country’s police stepped up the use of deportation as a way of fighting crime.

Some 5,198 foreign citizens were expelled from the country in 2013, an increase of 31 percent since 2012, when 3,958 people were deported.

“It is the highest number we’ve had ever,” Frode Forfang, head of the Directorate of Immigration (UDI), told NRK. “We believe that one reason for the increase is that the police have become more conscious of using deportation as a tool to fight crime.”

Nigerian citizens topped the list of those expelled for committing crimes, with 232 citizens expelled as a punishment in 2013, followed by Afghan citizens with 136 expelled as a punishment, and 76 Moroccans expelled as a punishment.

Germany next, and lumpen-loopholes from TheLocal.de:

A third could miss out on minimum wage rise

  • More than a third of low-paid workers in Germany could miss out on the proposed nationwide minimum wage because of exceptions being put forward by employer organizations and Conservative politicians.

A nationwide minimum wage of €8.50 an hour is due to be introduced in Germany in 2015.

But research released on Monday by the Hans-Böckler Foundation, a centre-left think-tank, found around two million of the more than five million workers who would otherwise have their wages boosted, would miss out on wage rises under plans to exclude certain sectors and workers.

Head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer said in December that seasonal workers and pensioners should be excluded. According to the report, such exceptions could turn the minimum wage into a “Swiss cheese” policy – full of holes – and pose a serious threat to the job market.

Keep Talking Greece takes it to the bank:

German Bundesbank: “Capital Levy” on citizens to avoid government bankruptcies

Germany’s Bundesbank said on Monday that countries about to go bankrupt should draw on the private wealth of their citizens through a one-off capital levy before asking other states for help.

“(A capital levy) corresponds to the principle of national responsibility, according to which tax payers are responsible for their government’s obligations before solidarity of other states is required,” the Bundesbank said in its monthly report.

It warned that such a levy carried significant risks and its implementation would not be easy, adding it should only be considered in absolute exceptional cases, for example to avert a looming sovereign insolvency.

On to France with the London Telegraph:

Rise in French jobless claims means Francois Hollande fails to keep his promise

  • French President Francois Hollande had repeatedly promised to get unemployment falling by the end of 2013

French jobless claims rose a further 10,200 in December to hit a new record, dashing President Francois Hollande’s hopes of keeping his pledge to start lowering unemployment by the end of 2013.

Labour Ministry data showed the number of people registered as out of work in mainland France reached 3,303,200 last month, the largest total since records have been kept. It represented an increase of 0.3pc over one month and 5.7pc over one year.

Mr Hollande has struggled to kick-start activity in the eurozone’s second-biggest economy and keep his oft-repeated promise to get unemployment falling by the end of last year.

On the edge with TheLocal.fr:

‘Millions of French workers’ close to burnout

The French are known for the 35-hour week, a guaranteed five weeks of vacation and as keepers of the sacred notion of a proper lunch break. Yet more than 3 million of the working population is on the brink of burning out, a new study revealed. And what about expats?

The French may have a reputation for working as much as they play, but that stereotype is countered by a growing body of evidence that suggests they are slogging away too far too hard.

About 3.2 million French workers, who put an excessive and even compulsive effort into their jobs, are on the verge of burning out, a new study says.

The study from Technologia, a French firm that looks at way to reduce risks to workers, found that farmers, at 23.5 percent, were most prone to excessive work, followed closely at 19.6 percent of business owners and managers.

The all-consuming nature of people’s jobs has left them feeling exhausted, emotionally empty and sometimes physically in pain, Technologia found.

Spain next and a bizarre justification from TheLocal.es:

‘Spain’s abortion law will boost economy’

The Spanish government has prepared a memo claiming that tough new abortion laws will have a “positive impact” on the country’s economy thanks to an increased birth rate, it emerged on Monday.

The claims were part of a draft “impact analysis” study into the effects of Spain’s new abortion reform, put together by the country’s justice ministry.

Spain’s conservative Popular Party hopes the planned legislation would boost the country’s birth rate rise as abortions would only be possible in cases of rape or when the mother’s life was seriously at risk during pregnancy.

The authors of the study do remark however that the new draft law’s “economic impact is difficult to quantify” and “should not be directly associated with its approval” as that is not its primary objective.

Lisbon next with a mixed result from the Portugal News:

Deficit met but no easing of austerity

Following confirmation by the General Directorate of the Budget that Portugal had met its troika deficit target, Luís Marques Guedes, Minister to the Presidency, added the government would not be easing on its austerity measures.

Marques Guedes said that the exact deficit for 2013 would only be definitively ascertained in March but that the value would be in the region of 5%, significantly short of the troika agreed target of 5.5%.

The Minister went on to dismiss any “illusions” as to scope for relaxing tax hikes and budget cuts and said there remained “a road of effort and of rigour ahead.”

This followed the report that the state had clocked up a provisional deficit of €7.15 billion in 2013 against a target set at €8.9 billion.

Italy next and the class divide from ANSAmed:

Almost half of Italy’s wealth owned by richest 10%

  • Family incomes eroded, poverty up in 2010-2012 says central bank

Between 2010 and 2012, low- and middle-income families in recession-battered Italy have seen their quality of life eroded along with their incomes while the richest have gotten richer, according to a biannual study on family finances released Monday by the Bank of Italy.

Poverty rose from 14% in 2010 to 16% in 2012 amid Italy’s worst postwar recession, with almost half of Italian families living on less than 2,000 euros a month, the central bank report said.

Also in 2012, the richest 10% owned 46.6% of the country’s total net worth, up from 45.7% in 2010 and equal to a 64% concentration of wealth, according to the report.

Only 50% of households have annual incomes higher than 24,590 euros, while 20% of them cope with annual incomes of less than 14,457 euros, or roughly 1,200 euros per month. Just 10% of families make more than 55,211 euros per year, the Bank of Italy said.

TheLocal.it exits:

More Italians flee while migration to Italy falls

The number of Italians leaving their recession-hit country to seek work elsewhere rose sharply in 2012, while incoming migration levels dropped, official figures showed on Monday.

The figures support reports that Italy – hit hard by the financial crisis and rocketing unemployment levels – is losing brain power and labour to other
countries and has also become less appealing a destination for foreigners.

The number of Italians leaving the country rose by 36.0 percent to 68,000 people, up from 50,000 in 2011. They headed primarily for Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and France, the national institute of statistics (ISTAT) said.

More than a quarter of over 24-year-olds emigrating had university degrees, it said. Conversely, the number of immigrants arriving dropped by close to 10 percent in 2012 from a year earlier, to 321,000 people.

After the jump, the Greek meltdown continues, a Ukrainian concession and dark undercurrents, Argentine outrage, a new port for Cuba, a Latin boundary dispute resolved, an Indian crash, Thai troubles, Vietnamese bank fraud, reduced expectations in China, Abenomics woes and an iconic downfall, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading