Category Archives: Europe

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

CNBC tracks the hack:

Hackers go after Google users in advanced phishing attack

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

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

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

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

Drones: A military revolution

Program notes:

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

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

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

Next, drones Down Under with United Press International:

Safe use of drones in Australian airspace to be studied

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

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

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

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

And from Mashable, consulting with drones:

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

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

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

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

And the New York Times scrubs the Wayback Machine:

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

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

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

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

A more rational European move from MintPress News:

European Court Scraps EU Data Collection Law

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

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

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

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

Sky News takes action in Old Blighty:

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

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

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

More from The Intercept:

British Spies Face Legal Action Over Secret Hacking Programs

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

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

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

The Independent advocates:

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

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

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

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

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

While Spiegel casts doubt:

NSA Probe: Can Snowden Be Questioned in Germany?

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

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

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

And from RT America, another crackdown:

US spy chief cracks down on whistleblowers

Program notes:

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

From the Associated Press, security south of the border:

Mexico sets security plan for violent border state

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

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

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

MintPress News mulls Skynet controls:

UN Weighs Laws For Future ‘Killer Robots’

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines: Pols, EconoEnvirofails, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

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

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

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

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

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

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

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

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

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

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

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

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

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

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

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

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

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

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

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

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

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

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

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

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

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

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

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

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

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

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

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

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

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

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

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

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

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

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

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

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

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

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

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

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

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

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

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

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

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

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

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

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

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

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

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

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

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

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

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

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

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

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

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

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

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

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

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

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

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

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

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

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

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

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

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

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

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

Map of the day: European gay [in]tolerance


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

BLOG INtolerance

Headlines II: Spooks, shockers, zones, drones


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

From the Guardian, an Old Blighty hack alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is default mode for the Freedom of Information Act.

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

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

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

Government to create database for monitoring all Spanish bank accounts

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

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

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

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

Another disturbing alert, this time from Medill News Service:

Medical devices could fall prey to computer malfunctions, hackers

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

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

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

Wired hedges a bet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Japan Times, eyes and ears turn East:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian again, with a Greenwald alert:

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

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

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

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

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

From CNBC, duh:

NSA chief: US spy agency saw changed behavior after Snowden

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

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

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

Salon hints at things to come:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA lands spot in a German campaign poster


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

BLOG NSA

Headlines: EcoEconoDystopic pols, ecofails


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

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

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

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

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

From the New York Times, emphasis added:

Plaintiff in Silicon Valley Hiring Suit Maligns Deal

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

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

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

Added misery from the Washington Post:

Jobless contend with weight gain as they search for work

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

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

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

ThinkProgress offers a ray of sunshine:

Vermont Passes The Highest State Minimum Wage In The Country

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

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

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

But MintPress News notes another ominous sign:

The Minimum Wage Employees Of The Future, Today

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

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

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

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

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

Psychiatric beds disappear despite growing demand

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

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

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

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

Canada faces ‘crisis’ on indigenous living conditions

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

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

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

On to Europe with the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

And another alarm from EUbusiness:

Europeans still gloomy about economy, ahead of EU vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plutocratic hubris on the Emerald Isle from the Irish Times:

Trump and environmentalists on collision course

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

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

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

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

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

Germans accept gays more, immigrants less

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

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

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

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

France next, and controversial consolidation from New Europe:

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

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

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

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

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

More Francoausterity from ANSAmed:

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

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

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

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

Switzerland: referendum may herald world’s highest minimum wage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Headlines II: Zones, drones, spies, and lies


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

US private soldiers fighting in Ukraine

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

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

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

Meanwhile, your daily dose of paranoia from the Observer:

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

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

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

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

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

The Register adds fuel to the flames:

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

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

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

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

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

From Wired threat level, woes for the espionarchs:

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

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

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

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

Vice covers wretched excess:

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

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

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

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

From the Observer, when domestic insecurity leads to insecurity:

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

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

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

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

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

South China Morning Post lawyers up, famously:

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

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

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

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

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

From New Europe, turning a blind eye:

Merkel in Washington puts unity above NSA spying investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Guardian, ancient sins stay buried:

Foreign Office secrecy continues over archive of illegally held files

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

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

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

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

Computerworld covers unintended [?] consequences:

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

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

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

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

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

From Ars Technica, more online insecurity:

Significant portion of HTTPS Web connections made by forged certificates

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ seeks new authority to hack and search remote computers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National parks say no to personal drones

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

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

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

Marines go dronal, via Aviation Week & Space Technology:

U.S. Marine Corps Explores Extended-Range Blackjack

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

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

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

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

And from the Guardian, sharing the wealth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutbacks in California court system produce long lines, short tempers

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

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

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

TechCrunch covers hypocrisy from Obama appointees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Sky News, elite-a-palooza:

Billionaire Britain: New Nation Of Super-Rich

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

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

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

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

News Corp Australia covers a British plutocrat behaving badly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

London property empire amassed by controversial German landlord

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

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

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

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

While Sky News covers more austerian casualties:

‘Overworked’ Doctors Fear Missing Illnesses

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

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

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

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

Off to Scandinavia with the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

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

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

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

New Europe covers risks:

Norway’s economic risks predicted by OECD

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

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

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

On to France and another green movement from RT:

Hundreds march across France to legalize cannabis

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

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

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

From TheLocal.fr, the Great Game continues:

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

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

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

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

And the London Telegraph covers the bankster blues:

Cinema producer warned over ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn film’

  • French producer of film closely inspired by downfall of IMF boss warned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s wife will “destroy his life”

The producer of a film which appears to chart the spectacular downfall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said he was warned that the estranged wife of the former IMF chief would “destroy his life”.

The accusation will heighten controversy over the film Welcome to New York, which premieres next weekend at Cannes despite being shunned by festival organisers.

Producer Vincent Maraval also repeated his claims that the French political and media “elite” had done their best to prevent the film, which has Gérard Depardieu in the lead role, being made

On to Lisbon and moderately good news from the Portugal News:

Unemployment slightly down

Portugal’s unemployment rate closed the first quarter on 15.1%, down 2.4% on the same period in 2013 and down 0.2% on the previous quarter according to figures released by the National Institute of Statistics.

The institute reported some 788,100 persons were without employment and down by 138,700 and 19,900 people on annual and quarterly bases respectively with the former figure amounting to a 15% drop but also accounting for those who have left the workforce in the meanwhile.

The figures show that there was a total of 4.427 million people in employment, an annualised rise of 1.7% but down 0.9% on the final quarter of 2013.

Italy next, and a populist pander from EUbusiness:

Italy’s Grillo makes Nazi jibe against Schulz

Italian anti-establishment firebrand Beppe Grillo on Sunday likened European Commission presidency candidate Martin Schulz to a Nazi comic book character after Schulz compared him to Stalin and Hugo Chavez.

Grillo’s blog carried a photoshopped picture of Schulz as a Nazi whipping Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his post said that the European Parliament’s German president “has no shame in talking crap”.

Grillo said Silvio Berlusconi was “not completely wrong when he called him a kapo”, or concentration camp guard, recalling an infamous speech made by the then prime minister to the European Parliament in 2003.

Grillo called Schulz a “sturmtruppen” — a reference to a comic book series — and said he was a “krapo”, a combination of the word “kapo” and “crapun” — a dialect word meaning “big head” that was used to refer to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

From BBC Sport, more overt racism, soccer-style:

AC Milan: Bananas thrown at players by Atalanta fans

AC Milan players had bananas thrown at them during a 2-1 defeat at Atalanta.

Guinea international Kevin Constant and Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong picked up two bananas thrown onto the pitch, while Milan players appeared to sarcastically applaud the home support.

Fans were warned the game would be suspended if there was a repeat.

“Whoever threw the banana on the pitch deserves to have a coconut thrown back at them,” Atalanta boss Stefano Colantuono told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“They’ve ruined what was a great afternoon.”

After the jump, good news for Greek neoNazis, electoral violence in the Ukraine, Brazilian angst, waiting for Chinese promises in Africa, Indian elections and hankering for U.S. fracking, Indonesian Shariah second thoughts, Thai troubles continue, economic warning signs from China, Japanese casino dreams, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Some amazing sounds from a very small girl


Norway’s Got Talent discovered a truly amazing voice in a seven-or-eight-year-old [YouTube listings vary] named Angelina Jordan Astar, who haunts the bins at used record stores for choice vinyl, with a special weakness for the songs of Sinatra and Billy Holiday.

She earned standing ovations from the audiences and judges on the show, and these clips will give you a sense of why they were wowed.

And, yes, she sings barefoot, because it makes her feel more grounded.

First up, an in audition for the show she sings Lady Day’s “I’m a Fool of Want You”:

And here she is in a second round broadcast with another Billy Holiday offering, “Gloomy Sunday”:

Next up, her rendition for Norway’s version of The Late Show of a Sinatra standard, “Fly Me to the Moon”:

And, finally, a Sonny and Cher hit, “My Baby Shot Me Down”:

What a very large voice in such a very small body.

Solidarity Beyond Borders: A call for action


BLOG Europe

The growing movement to resist the neoliberal demands of austerity now being imposed across Europe will be taking action this week.

From their website:

Solidarity beyond borders – Building democracy from below

Call for Action

The programs of austerity and privatizations imposed by the Troika decide on the lives of millions of people in Europe. Together with people in Europe and the whole world we resist the rehabilitation of capitalism on the backs of employees as well as unemployed, retirees, migrants and the youth. Together with them we say: “We don’t owe, we won’t pay!”

While the European Union crisis regime builds more and more borders in order to divide, exploit and oppress us, new transnational movements are arising. We are social movement activists, altermondialists, migrants, precarious and industry workers, party members and unionists and many more, who want to connect our struggles and powers beyond nation-state lines. During the week before the elections for the European Parliament we call for the spirit of the multitude of these social movements to build real democracy from below.

We call for an international week of decentralised actions from May 15-25, 2014. Be part of it!

Starting on the symbolic date of the 15M movement in Spain, we aim for strong, united, internationally visible actions from May 15-18.

Beyond these days there will be actions in many cities in many countries linked to one another by the broader perspective of a transnational movement for democracy, solidarity and commons.

Then, in autumn, we will bundle our strength again – this time to prevent the new tower of the European Central Bank from opening in Frankfurt. We invite you to join the action days! Be creative and participate with your own initiative!

Build #Democracy

In times of crisis, we are told, there is no alternative to austerity.

But people pay, suffer, and die, while banks have been bailed out with billions of euros. Debt and exploitation, wealth and precarisation, are two sides of the same coin. The authoritarian crisis regime doesn’t represent us. Its true mission – to serve capital – is masked by the supposedly ideology-free benchmarks of finance. The crisis cannot be solved by more neoliberal adjustments. It destroys our social rights, cuts social spendings, and fixes economic redistribution in favor of capital, setting locations in competition with one another.

Capitalism is the crisis. Poverty is not only the result of unemployment and of unjust decisions enacted by governments, but is also the effect of a longer transformation, accelerated by the political management of crisis. Global capitalism divides rich and poor, migrants and citizens, even citizens and citizens, and exploits our creative and productive forces for profit. Is it freedom to choose between precarity or unemployment? Let us fight for social and economic equality in order to build real democracy from below!

Read the rest.

H/T to Corporate Europe Observatory.

Chart of the day II: Italian deflationary trend


From  Istat, the Italian state statistical agency:

FusionCharts

Headlines II: Spooks, laws, lies, zones, etc.


Today’s tales from the dark side covers the gamut, including drones, espionage at home and abroad, high crimes and misdemeanors in the name of security, and the ongoing Game of Zones playing out in Asia.

We begin with a sad tale of the lords of law from Reuters:

In U.S., when high-tech meets high court, high jinks ensue

One U.S. Supreme Court justice referred to Netflix as “Netflick.” Another seemed not to know that HBO is a cable channel. A third appeared to think most software coding could be tossed off in a mere weekend.

These and other apparent gaffes by the justices during oral arguments have became a source of bemused derision, as tech aficionados, legal experts and others have taken to social media, blogs, YouTube and other outlets to proclaim the justices black-robed techno-fogeys.

“Everyone who’s anyone inside that courtroom is most likely an incompetent Luddite,” Sarah Jeong, a 25-year-old Harvard Law School student, wrote on her personal blog following a recent Supreme Court argument dealing with a copyright dispute over TV online startup Aereo.

When it comes to cutting-edge technology, Jeong told Reuters: “Mom and Dad are the Supreme Court.”

From Ars Technica, adios, First Amendment:

Intelligence employees, current and past, barred from citing news leaks

  • Order comes amid steady stream of disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

The Obama administration is barring current employees and contractors, as well as former workers at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from addressing leaked media material.

The revelation of the edict, first disclosed by Secrecy News, means that those working for the agency that supervises the nation’s 17 spy organizations cannot mention any leaked material in speeches, opinion pieces, research papers, or books. It does not even matter whether the material is classified, according to the edict from the office run by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Citing leaked material is prohibited, according to the new “pre-publication review policy,”because it “can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security.”

A truly chilling headline from the New York Review of Books:

‘We Kill People Based on Metadata’

Supporters of the National Security Agency inevitably defend its sweeping collection of phone and Internet records on the ground that it is only collecting so-called “metadata”—who you call, when you call, how long you talk. Since this does not include the actual content of the communications, the threat to privacy is said to be negligible. That argument is profoundly misleading.

Of course knowing the content of a call can be crucial to establishing a particular threat. But metadata alone can provide an extremely detailed picture of a person’s most intimate associations and interests, and it’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”

Art in the pursuit of the legal arts from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Magistrate waxes poetic while rejecting Gmail search request

A federal magistrate in San Jose has rejected a bid by prosecutors to search an unidentified target’s Google e-mail account, criticizing the “seize first, search second” request as overbroad and unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. Magistrate Paul Grewal could have simply denied the request in a stark order without preamble or explanation.

Instead, Grewal waxed poetic, beginning his seven-page ruling Friday by painting a portrait of how each day he “joins the teeming masses of the Bay Area on Highway 101 or 280,” marked by “lengthy queues” at exits in Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Cupertino. “The Technorati are, in short, everywhere” in Silicon Valley, from the “humble downtown San Jose taqueria” to the “overpriced Palo Alto cafe,” he said.

Grewal said he was hammering home a point, that “too few understand, or even suspect, the essential role played by many of these workers and their employers in facilitating most government access to private citizens’ data.”

Droning on dangerously, with the Guardian:

Danger of drones highlighted by near collision with airliner in Florida

  • FAA says incident took place in March near Tallahassee
  • Risk of drone being ingested by airliner engine ‘is very real’

US officials say an airliner nearly collided with a drone in the sky over Florida in March.

Jim Williams of the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aircraft systems office acknowledged the incident on Thursday at a San Francisco drone conference, citing it as an example of the risks posed by drones.

“The risk for a small UAS [unmanned aircraft system] to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real,” Williams told the conference.

From the Associated Press, vigilante validation:

Mexico to transform anti-cartel vigilante forces

Mexico’s government plans on Saturday to begin demobilizing a vigilante movement of assault-rifle-wielding ranchers and farmers that formed in the western state of Michoacan and succeeded in largely expelling the Knights Templar cartel when state and local authorities couldn’t.

The ceremony in the town of Tepalcatepec, where the movement began in February 2013, will involve the registration of thousands of guns by the federal government and an agreement that the so-called “self-defense” groups will either join a new official rural police force or return to their normal lives and act only as voluntary reserves when called on.

The government will go town by town to organize and recruit the new rural force. “This is a process of giving legal standing to the self-defense forces,” said vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran.

From the Guardian, strange bedfellows:

Cuba gave information to US about four held in Florida for planning attacks

  • US confirms 8 May meeting in Havana
  • Cuba says four men were planning ‘terrorist actions’

US diplomats confirmed on Saturday that Cuban officials have given them some information about four Florida residents who were arrested on suspicion of preparing attacks against military installations on the island.

The US Interests Section in Havana issued a statement confirming the 8 May meeting with representatives of the Cuban ministry of foreign affairs. It said: “The Cubans provided some information about the allegations which we are now reviewing.”

Cuba’s interior ministry said the men – identified as José Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodríguez Gonzalez, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Félix Monzón Álvarez – were detained on 26 April for planning “terrorist actions” against military installations, masterminded from Florida.

Validation of the Law of Unintended Consequences from the Miami Herald:

Terrorists, dictators and the CIA are helping polio make a comeback

The near eradication of polio is one of the great global public-health success stories of the last few decades. Thanks to concerted vaccination campaigns, the number of cases was cut from around 350,000 in 1988 to just 187 in 2012.

Today, however, the World Heath Organization warns that the crippling disease could be making a comeback. At the end of last month, there were 68 confirmed polio cases worldwide, compared to just 24 at the same time last year:

The agency described current polio outbreaks across at least 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an “extraordinary event” that required a coordinated international response. It identified Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon as having allowed the virus to spread beyond their borders, and recommended that those three governments require citizens to obtain a certificate proving they have been vaccinated for polio before traveling abroad.

After the jump, it’s on to Asia and the latest chapters in the unfolding saga that is the Asian Game of Zones, where new players and new scenarios are added by the day. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the ecology, are weighted heavily toward the U.S. and Asia, with relatively little form Europe, save Greece.

There’s also plenty on the environment, including lots in the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with a global issue, a reminder of what always lurks within the world around us. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

The World Health Organization said Friday it would hold an emergency meeting next week on the deadly MERS virus, amid concern over the rising number of cases in several countries.

The UN health agency will host the emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the worrying spread of the virus, which in less than two years has killed 126 people in Saudi Arabia alone, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss the mysterious corona virus, which surfaced in mid-2012.

More on an issue we’ve covered before via the Oakland Tribune:

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years.

Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier, a new analysis by this newspaper shows.

The shift feels like a betrayal to some families coping with — or fearing — rejection by the distinguished university system, which was built by and for Californians but now is turning them away in record numbers.

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

CNBC’s first-ever Millionaire Survey reveals that 51 percent of American millionaires believe inequality is a “major problem” for the U.S., and of those, nearly two-thirds support higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage as ways to narrow the wealth gap.

The findings show that—far from being a purely self-interested voting bloc—American millionaires have complicated views when it comes to the wealth gap and opportunity in America. They are unashamed of their own wealth and attribute their success to hard work, smart investing and savings. They also believe that anyone in America can get wealthy if they work hard.

Yet millionaires also believe that cultural and family issues prevent many Americans from climbing the wealth ladder. They advocate improved education, higher taxes on the wealthy and better savings incentives for the poor and middle class as important changes that would reduce inequality.

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

Split appears in GOP as more call for raising federal minimum wage

Several leading Republicans have called for raising the federal minimum wage and others are speaking more forcefully about the party’s failure to connect with low-income Americans — stances that are causing a growing rift within the party over how best to address the gulf between the rich and poor.

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

Brandon James Thompson, of New Castle, Ind., angered over the House’s failure to pass an emergency unemployment extension, admitted to sending threatening messages to House Speaker John Boehner and his wife.

The FBI arrested an Indiana man Thursday night for allegedly threatening to kill House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Brandon James Thompson, 32, of New Castle, Ind., was taken into custody at his home Thursday night and faces federal charges for making phone and email threats to an elected official.

According to an FBI affidavit, Thompson admitted to sending threatening messages to the Ohio Republican’s congressional website using his neighbor’s wifi, and leaving threatening voicemails on Boehner’s wife Debbie’s personal cellphone.

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

The retirement crisis in America is not contained to any one generation. Across the country, people of all ages are struggling with stagnant wages, rising living expenses, and an overall sluggish economy. Some are closer to their golden years than others, but one thing is clear: There are three unique generations with very different retirements ahead of them.

Many workers are simply trying to recover from the financial meltdown that took place more than five years ago. According to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement survey, one of the largest and longest-running national surveys of its kind, 35% of workers believe the Great Recession has not yet ended. That figure rises to 40% among Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, 65% of workers believe the recession has ended, but they have mixed views about the strength of the recovery. Only 14% say they have fully recovered financially from the historic downturn.

“Experts have long written about the changing retirement landscape over the past century,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Times are changing so rapidly that the retirements of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials will not only be a radical departure from their parents’ generations but from each other as well.”

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

401(k)s are retirement robbery: How the Koch brothers, Wall Street and politicians conspire to drain Social Security

The decades-long tale of how the Kochs, Reagan, Wall Street and even Democrats have tried to gut Social Security

Excerpted from “Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis”

On the eve of the Reagan presidency in 1980, Milton and Rose Friedman published “Free to Choose,” a proposal for gradually phasing out Social Security. The entitlements of retirees would be honored as would the accumulated credits of contributors who had not yet retired. But no new payroll taxes would be collected. The final elimination of Social Security would allow “individuals to provide for their own retirement as they wish.” Among the advantages would be that “it would add to personal saving and so lead to a higher rate of capital formation [and] stimulate the development and expansion of private pension plans.” While the Friedmans argued for such a plan, they acknowledged that immediate privatization of retirement was unrealistic in the current political climate, but they would accept incremental reforms with the hope that one day total privatization would become politically feasible.

That same year, the conservative Koch brothers-financed Cato Institute published “Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction,” by Peter Ferrara, which argued that instead of being required to participate in Social Security, people should “be allowed to choose from a variety of insurance and investment options offered in the private market. The previous year, two years after its founding in 1977, the institute had published an article by Carolyn Weaver in which she made the case for privatization, and in 1980 it also sponsored a conference on Social Security privatization that drew, among others, two hundred congressional staffers.

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

A battle against leisure is unfolding. In America, it’s a war that has been raging since the Puritan age.

Though recently American leisure time has appeared to rise, the averages are skewed by undereducated and lower-income men, who are likely “unemployed or underemployed,” as the Washington Post has noted. Work-life balances are abominable when compared to other developed countries. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “average American” is actually working “one month” more a year than he or she was in 1976.

But Sunday, the weekend day that even Puritans blocked off for worship and rest (a Puritan poet once pondered “over whether closing a stable door that was blowing in the wind constituted an act of work which would profane the Sabbath”), is also beginning to look more and more like just another day of the work week.

On the other hand, given the narcissism of some of our leisure time habits. . .From  United Press International:

Hundreds of ATV riders in Utah threaten sacred Navajo burial ground to protest federal government

  • Illegal route runs through protected Native American land, forced military veterans retreat to relocate.

Protesters who say the Bureau of Land Management has no right to criminalize use of ATVs in Utah’s Recapture Canyon plan to demonstrate today by illegally riding their vehicles through the protected land – a move that has drawn the ire of Native Americans and displaced a veterans retreat.

“It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor,” Jerry Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance said in a statement. “It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

Willie Grayeyes, chair of a nonprofit that lobbies to protect Navajo land, was offended at both the protesters’ dismissive attitude toward Native American culture and their disrespect for the American veterans who had to move their long-scheduled retreat to ensure it could be held in peace.

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads

What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

According to a recent report by the World Bank, that scenario is not so far-fetched. The bank is one of those high-minded organizations — Washington is full of them — that release hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.

The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record.

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

Swisspartners Ends U.S. Probe With Non-Prosecution Deal

Swisspartners Group, a Zurich-based money-manager, resolved a U.S. criminal tax probe by paying $4.4 million for helping American clients use secret accounts to evade taxes. In return, the government agreed not to prosecute the firm, citing its “extraordinary cooperation.”

The agreement resulted from Swisspartners’ voluntary production of the files for about 110 U.S. taxpayer clients, according to the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“The extraordinary cooperation of Swisspartners has enabled us to identify U.S. tax cheats who have hidden behind phony offshore trusts and foundations,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said today in a statement. “In this and other cases around the world we will continue to provide substantial credit for prompt and full cooperation.”

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.

You’ve read the headlines about nearly one in four of America’s bridges being either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, right? The $59 billion backlog for commuter railway maintenance? The $324 per year in mechanic visits that each U.S. motorist incurs by driving on deteriorated roads?

America has a transportation funding problem. And if Congress doesn’t fix it this summer, it could start doing some real damage.

First, a few basics. Most big transportation projects — bridge repairs, new highways, intercity rail — are paid for with a stack of local, state, and federal funds. The federal contribution ranges between 35 percent and 95 percent of a state’s total transportation budget, and is mostly supplied by the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is mostly supplied by the federal gas tax, which is a robust stream of money that can’t be used for anything other than transportation.

The problem for funding is that Americans are actually using less gas than they used to — both because they aren’t driving as much, and cars are getting more efficient. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994, which is now far behind what it was then when you take inflation into account.

From the  Los Angeles Times, the voice of reason from an unexpected quarter:

Jackie Lacey says L.A. County should stop locking up so many people

You wouldn’t expect the county’s top prosecutor to step up to a microphone and say it’s time to stop locking up so many people. But that’s exactly what L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey did last week. She told the county Board of Supervisors that, in her opinion, 1,000 or more people with mental illness who are currently incarcerated should probably be somewhere other than in jail.

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

From Business Insider, the Washington Post’s new owner’s other business demonstrates utter greed:

Amazon Is Claiming Exclusive Rights To A Basic Version Of An Extremely Common Practice

A photography site called DIY Photography wrote this week that the Amazon corporation applied for—and received—a patent for the process of taking a picture of an object against a white background.

Despite the technical detail in the patent documentation, the DIY site says, Amazon is ultimately claiming exclusive rights to a basic version of an extremely common practice:

The patent number is 8,676,045B1 and you can read the entire boring text on USPTO, or just about any basic studio photography book.

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

As you probably know, several of us at CT are big photography enthusiasts. While we seem to be more interested in taking photos of nature and architecture, next time we want to shoot a family portrait or an item, we’ll have to be careful with our approach. The US Patent Office recently granted Amazon a patent for taking photos against a white background. For real. So is their plan to start trolling portrait studios and Ebay/Etsy sellers to see whom they can sue?

I am no lawyer, but the language seems rather vague. For example, “a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white”. So what level of off-white should a photographer strive for to avoid litigation?

Having shot many a picture for publication we cam attest to the fact that Amazon has basically tried to patent the wheel.

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

Portugal received a vote of confidence from credit ratings agencies Friday for the first time since the country’s sovereign-debt crisis began.

Moody’s Investors Service raised the debt rating to Ba2, from Ba3, citing an improved financial position and Lisbon’s decision not to seek additional aid after its bailout programme expires at the end of this month.

“Portugal’s economic recovery is gaining momentum, with signs of broadening beyond exports, which continue to perform strongly,” Moody’s said. The move followed a revised outlook from negative to stable by Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services earlier in the day.

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

An Italian court has upheld the conviction of retired parliamentarian Marcello Dell’Utri for ties to the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri is a close associate of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Dell’Utri was not present when Italy’s highest appeals court upheld his seven-year prison sentence on Friday. He had fled to Lebanon last month in order to avoid arrest.

The close Berlusconi associate (pictured center) is currently in police custody at a hospital in Beirut while Italian authorities seek his extradition.

In 2010, a Palermo court convicted Dell’Utri of acting as a mediator between the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite from 1974-1992. The decision by the Court of Cassation on Friday means his conviction is now final and can no longer be appealed.

After the jump, the latest from grief from Greece, Ukrainian turmoil, a Turkish tantrum, economic alarms form Latin America, Indian anxieties in Washington, Indonesian bankster woes, Australian bankster extravagance, Thai turmoil, Chinese housing, food & economic uncertainties, environmental ills, and the latest chapter of Fumkshimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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


Today’s tales from the dark side covers the gamut from political maneuvering in Washington, propaganda pols, and the latest and occasionally bizarre developments in the ever-growing area in which the Asian Game of Zones continues, rhetoric spiraling ever upward.

Defense One Today gives us our first security item, weaving together two critical threads of political discourse and debate:

How Climate Change Affects Terrorism

According to the Obama Administration’s newly released National Climate Assessment, climate change is already impacting communities in every corner of the country, with an increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events – storms, floods, and droughts – and rising sea levels destabilizing the everyday lives of Americans.

Worse, the impacts of these changes are accelerating, and they are affecting communities around the world. The Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review warns that “climate change may increase the frequency, scale and complexity of future missions.” Some of the least stable states in the world will face changing weather patterns that reduce arable land and fresh-water supplies, in turn driving mass-migration, provoking resource conflicts, and fostering global health threats.

From PCWorld, an espiometastasis:

Department of Justice wants expanded permission to hack and search remote computers

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

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

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

From IDG News Service, an attack compounded by errors:

Rush to fight Heartbleed leads to errors with certificates and patches

  • Some reissued SSL certificates use the same vulnerable key as the ones they replace, and some sites moved to a vulnerable version of OpenSSL

Despite taking prompt action to defend against the Heartbleed attack, some sites are no better off than before — and in some cases, they are much worse off.

Many of the sites that patched vulnerable OpenSSL installations after the Heartbleed attack was revealed on April 7 then went on to revoke compromised SSL certificates and order new ones. But 30,000 sites are now using replacements based on the same compromised private key as the old certificate, according to a study by Internet services company Netcraft released Friday.

That means that anyone who managed to steal the private key of such a server before it was patched could still use the key to impersonate the server in a man-in-the-middle attack, even with the new certificate in place.

IntelNews tries to repair a rickety bridge:

Efforts to restore US-German intelligence cooperation collapse

Negotiations aimed at restoring the intelligence relationship between America and Germany, following revelations last year that Washington spied on the communications of German leaders, collapsed before German Chancellor Angela Merkel met US President Barack Obama last week.

The two leaders had planned to make a public statement during Mrs. Merkel’s official visit to Washington last Friday, announcing a new intelligence agreement between their respective countries. But the announcement was never made, as Ukraine dominated the political agenda.

IntelNews readers will recall the dramatic way in which Germany and the United States fell out in October of last year, after American intelligence defector Edward Snowden revealed an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The program targeted the private communications of senior German officials, including those of Mrs. Merkel, for nearly a decade.

From MintPress News, heading to court:

NSA Bulk Phone Records Collection Cases Edge Toward Supreme Court

  • The plaintiffs vary, but their complaint is largely the same: the NSA overstepped its bounds and illegally collected their phone records and metadata.

At first glance, a San Diego cab driver serving 18 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group has little in common with members of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.

But both Basaaly Moalin and church members claim the National Security Agency illegally intruded on their electronic communications as part of its bulk telephone metadata collection program that was exposed last year by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In February 2013, a San Diego federal jury convicted Moalin and three other immigrants from Somalia of sending money back to their homeland to fund the al-Shabab group. After the Guardian newspaper published Snowden’s revelations in June, Moalin asked for a new trial, saying the NSA’s surveillance violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

From the Guardian, rare candor and honesty?:

MPs: Snowden files are ‘embarrassing indictment’ of British spying oversight

  • All-party committee demands reforms to make security and intelligence services accountable in wake of disclosures

Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the scale of mass surveillance are “an embarrassing indictment” of the weak nature of the oversight and legal accountability of Britain’s security and intelligence agencies, MPs have concluded.

A highly critical report by the Commons home affairs select committee published on Friday calls for a radical reform of the current system of oversight of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, arguing that the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and parliament itself.

The MPs say the current system was designed in a pre-internet age when a person’s word was accepted without question. “It is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley, not the 21st-century reality of the security and intelligence services,” said committee chairman, Keith Vaz. “The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny. It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in parliament.”

Al Jazeera America carries on a proud Bush tradition:

New documents point to CIA rendition network through Djibouti

New evidence culled from a court case involving CIA contractors has revealed flight paths through Djibouti that appear to indicate the country’s role as a hub of the CIA’s rendition network in Africa, according to documents released by the U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve and New York University’s Global Justice Clinic.

The documents could support the case of Mohammad al-Asad, a former CIA detainee who is suing the government of Djibouti for its alleged role in hosting CIA “black sites” – specifically the one where he says he was detained and tortured for two weeks between Dec. 2003 and Jan. 2004. A Senate investigation into the agency’s “detention and interrogation program” had previously confirmed that several individuals had in fact been detained in Djibouti, according to two officials who read the still-classified report and who spoke to Al Jazeera.

Investigators behind the document release combed through contracts, invoices and letters put into evidence for a court case – which involved CIA contractors and was separate from the Djibouti allegations – and pieced together a series of rendition circuits, or flight paths, between 2003 and 2004. They include legs through Djibouti – even though the Horn of Africa did not appear to be a convenient stopover between the United States and Afghanistan, the circuits’ endpoints.

From the Irish Times, dramatic evidence of police corruption on the Emerald Isle:

Guerin report finds Shatter, gardaí failed to adequately investigate whistleblower claims

  • Barrister calls for comprehensive commission of investigation into claims of corruption and malpractice

An Garda Síochána and former minister for justice Alan Shatter failed in their duties to properly investigate allegations of corruption and malpractice in the force, barrister Sean Guerin has said in his report to the Government.

In his 300-page report on a dossier of claims handed in by garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, Mr Guerin finds there is cause for concern about the adequacy of investigations into matters raised by Sgt McCabe.

The report vindicates Sgt McCabe.

And Kathimerini English, Grecian corruption:

Policeman accused of running escort service

A policeman was among four people arrested on Friday in connection with an escort agency in Athens.

The officer, reportedly a member of the security police, ran a website offering to arrange dates with female escorts who also had sex with their clients.

Another man and two women were arrested. The policeman was suspended and an internal investigation was ordered.

More of the same on the Iberian Peninsula from thinkSPAIN:

A fine verdict for the Guardia Civil: Bonuses linked to number of traffic sanctions issued ruled ‘illegal’

GUARDIA Civil officers in Spain have won their battle against ‘company’ rules which meant their bonuses were affected by how many traffic fines they dished out.

The Summary of Individual Activities brought in four years ago by the force’s top management linked officers’ extra pay – a significant portion of their take-home earnings which is added to their basic salary – would be increased or decreased on a ‘points’ basis linked to their performance.

And one of the performance indicators was the ‘level of service’ provided when they are on traffic duty, within which was included a direct connection between bonus payments and numbers of parking or driving fines issued.

The Guardian covers domestic insecurity closer to home:

Violence erupts again in Mexican state where drug wars began

  • Top detective among latest of around 80 people killed since April in Tamaulipas state, after new crackdown on criminal groups

A spate of extreme violence in Mexico’s north-eastern Tamaulipas state has ended the relative calm in the region where the country’s drug wars began.

Officials say about 80 people have been killed in almost daily street battles. This week the state’s top detective, Salvador de Haro Muñoz, was among five people killed in a shootout. Ten police officers have been arrested for allegedly leading him into an ambush.

Fourteen people were killed in one day this month in a string of gun battles between federal forces and unidentified gunmen in the city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas.

From El País, crime and no punishment:

Why 95% of cybercrimes committed in Spain are going unpunished

  • Ministry report into digital offenses highlights dangers to society, the economy and infrastructure

Around 95 percent of cybercrimes, or offenses related to new technologies, are going unpunished in Spain, according to a new report from the Interior Ministry. “The phenomenon of cybercrime is of significant international and national importance, not only for the threat it represents to society, but also for the dangers it poses to the economy and key infrastructure,” reads the report.

Over the last year, Spain’s security forces received 42,437 complaints for sexual offenses, fraud, forgery, threats, scams, and illegal interception of emails. Of these cases, only 2,167 have been resolved. The Interior Ministry admits that this is a very low percentage, “compared to police successes in criminal cases (37 percent) or robberies and theft (23.9 percent).”

The speed, anonymity and ease of opportunity that new technologies offer are encouraging criminals to attack computer systems to illegally remove data, as well as stealing individuals’ identities, engaging in activities related to pederasty, phishing (posing as a bank or other reputable institution to acquire sensitive information), and sending out viruses and malware. The global reach of these criminals has alarmed governments around the world, which have responded by introducing new laws. One such example is the Budapest Cybercrime Convention of 2001, to which Spain signed up in 2010.

After the jump, the latest, sometimes astounding, developments in the ever-escalating Asian Game of Zones. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, players, loans, lies, pollution


And, of course, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including wordf that the nuclear waste dump used by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory faces a closeure of two years or more.

From PBS NewsHour, our first item features the usual suspects:

Koch group plans to spend $125 million on midterms

Kochs plan to spend big: To the surprise of no one, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s repeated attacks against Charles and David Koch have failed to dissuade the conservative billionaires from investing heavily in the 2014 midterm elections. Politico’s Ken Vogel reports that Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the Koch brothers, plans to spend more than $125 million “on an aggressive ground, air and data operation” to help boost conservative candidates. That sum would “exceed the total 2012 fundraising hauls of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the National Republican Senatorial Committee,” Vogel writes. The $125 million projection comes after the Kochs’ political network raised more than $400 million trying to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.

Aiming for the red-state Democrats in the South: This time their aim will be vulnerable Senate Democrats in red states such as Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. By the end of March AFP had already spent $7 million targeting Hagan. AFP has so far dropped more money than any other outside group on the right, and Friday’s headline signals that spending is only going to continue — and likely escalate — as the calendar moves closer to November.

Even before the election, they’ve already won one significant victory. From ABC News:

Wyoming is 1st state to reject science standards

  • Coal-producing state Wyoming declines new science standards with global warming components

Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state, is the first to reject new K-12 science standards proposed by national education groups mainly because of global warming components.

The Wyoming Board of Education decided recently that the Next Generation Science Standards need more review after questions were raised about the treatment of man-made global warming.

Board President Ron Micheli said the review will look into whether “we can’t get some standards that are Wyoming standards and standards we all can be proud of.”

BBC News raises the heat:

Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

Pressure is mounting on the US Federal Communications Commission to delay or abandon plans to change the rules that govern how internet traffic is treated.

More than 50 venture capitalists have sent a letter expressing concerns about proposals to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge for prioritised network access. It comes a day after 100 technology companies signed a similar letter.

Two FCC commissioners are now calling for the 15 May vote to be delayed.

Whilst on the subject of neutrality, ponder this from Montclair SocioBlog:

Whose Speech, Whose Religion?

Does a justice’s view of the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” depend on which religion is being established?

The First Amendment doesn’t specify any religions as more or less establishable. It just says no establishment.

This week, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court voted to allow a town council in Greece, NY to open their meetings with Christian prayers. These referred to “our Christian faith,” Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection. The justices ruled that these Christian prayers were in perfect accord with the First Amendment.  Needless to say, the five justice majority was all Christian (Catholic in fact).  The two Jews and two other Catholics dissented. (The Court has no Protestants.)

The Washington Post politics:

Obama warns Democrats that midterms could imperil his agenda — and America

On the West Coast to raise millions of dollars for his party, President Obama spent the second half of this week preaching to rich supporters about why Democrats are better than Republicans. It sounded like a conventional stump speech in the windup to the midterm battle — including a rote apology to the first lady for running another campaign.

As he toured a series of mansions, Obama made the case that should Democrats fail to keep their hold on the Senate and win back the House, both his second-term priorities and the country’s future could be imperiled.

He described the public’s dissatisfaction with Washington as nearly at a tipping point, where working-class Americans see leaders as unresponsive to their most basic concerns. If that were to continue, he said, more middle-class Americans could dismiss the political process completely.

CNBC covers a political blunder featuring a company where Hillary Cklinton once served as a director:

Obama heads to Wal-Mart, triggers backlash

Calling it the right thing to do for America’s bottom line, President Barack Obama announced new steps Friday by companies, local governments and his own administration to deploy solar technology, showcasing steps to combat climate change that don’t require consent from a disinclined Congress.

Framed by rows of clothing and patio supplies at a Wal-Mart in California, Obama said more than 300 companies and state and local governments have pledged to use solar energy

>snip<

The White House said it chose Wal-Mart because the company has committed to doubling the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers.

But in choosing the giant retailer as the backdrop for his announcement, Obama triggered a backlash from labor unions and pay equity advocates who say low wages paid by Wal-Mart fly in the face of Obama’s vaunted push on pay equity.

“What numbskull in the White House arranged this?” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said on Facebook.

And from Reuters, more about the company in question:

Wal-Mart should face lawsuit over alleged Mexico bribery: U.S. judge

Wal-Mart Stores Inc should face a U.S. lawsuit accusing it of defrauding shareholders by concealing suspected corruption at its Mexico operations, after learning that a damaging media report detailing alleged bribery was being prepared, a federal judge said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Setser in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Thursday recommended denying Wal-Mart’s request to dismiss the lawsuit led by a Michigan pension fund against the world’s largest retailer and former Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company disagrees with Setser’s recommendation, which is subject to review by U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey. District judges are not bound by magistrate judges’ recommendations but often follow them.

BBC News covers more corporate conundra:

US politicians raise questions over Pfizer bid

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca is being questioned by US politicians.

The governors of the states of Maryland and Delaware have written to Pfizer’s boss saying they are “very concerned” about the deal and the possibilities of job losses in their states.

Meanwhile senators Carl Levin and Roy Wyden are looking to close the tax loophole that Pfizer plans to use. One of the attractions of the deal to Pfizer is that it could significantly lower the company’s tax bill.

While MintPress News catches one of the more loathesome outcomes of Proposition 13:

Calif. City Boosts Revenue By Detaining And Deporting Immigrants

Despite protests and calls from activists, an immigrant-dominant California city opts to continue its controversial relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Santa Ana, Calif., welcomed its first Latino police chief on Tuesday during a City Council meeting, then the city with an 80-percent Latino population opted to increase its revenue by deporting undocumented immigrants.

As MintPress News previously reported, since 2006, Santa Ana officials have allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain those suspected of being undocumented immigrants at the Santa Ana City Jail for a fee of about $82 per day. Despite protests in recent years, city officials have not only expressed an interest in continuing their financial relationship with ICE, but also hope to increase the immigrant detainee fee to $110.

The controversial detention practice has been criticized by immigrants rights activists for years, as individuals can be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant — even if they are American citizens. This 48-hour period does not include weekends or holidays, which means many are detained for much longer than two days. As Theresa Dang, a representative of the Orange County May Day Coalition shared, more than 70 percent of the detainees do not have any criminal record.

From United Press International, a better way for regional governments to make a little spare change:

Colorado generates over $25M in marijuana revenue since legalization

Colorado made over $3 million in licensing and application fees before recreational pot shops even opened their doors.

Marijuana has already generated Colorado nearly $25 million in revenue since legalization, between taxes, licenses, and fees.

Before it even became legal to sell recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 of this year, the state had already collected over $3 million in licensing fees.

And in the first three months of this year alone, Colorado’s raked in nearly $22 million — over $16 million of that was in taxes, the rest in license and application fees — according to a report from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The license and application fees may represent the boom of a new economy, and might eventually slow as that market stabilizes and fewer new shops open. Still, the tax revenue so far continues to climb month to month, as recreational sales jumped to $19 million in March — up nearly a third from $14 million in February.

Consider also a second UPI story:

Report: Global war on drugs a failure

The report emphasizes public health treatment instead of incarceration and prosecution

The global war on drugs is a failure, economists of the London School of Economics, including five Nobel Prize winners, said in a report.

The 84-page report, entitled “Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy,” calls for reform of drug laws and theorizes a “drug-free world” based on prohibition is wasteful and expensive. It calls for a “major rethink of international drug policies.”

The report suggests decriminalization would reduce incarceration and health care costs worldwide, and notes countries with the harshest drug penalties have higher incarceration and HIV infection rates.

And then there’s this, from the Guardian:

Arrests for low-level marijuana crime plummet in New York City

  • Commissioner says police are using ‘more discretion’ as arrests for minor crimes fall 34% in first quarter of new mayor’s term

Minor marijuana arrests in New York City have plunged in recent years amid questions about police tactics. But new statistics show the arrests dropped more modestly in the first three months of a new mayoral administration that has pledged to reduce them.

Arrests for the lowest-level marijuana crime fell 34% in the first quarter of – and 9% in the first quarter of this year, to roughly 7,000, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services data obtained by the Associated Press. Both comparisons are to the same period in the previous years.

Police commissioner William Bratton recently said the department is “attempting to use a lot more discretion” and decreasing the arrests, which Mayor Bill de Blasio decried during his campaign last year.

While Want China Times takes the fast track:

China mulls building high speed railway to the US

The first of the three cross-border high-speed railway plans being constructed or promoted is the high-speed railway line connecting Europe and Asia, which starts from London, will pass through Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev, Moscow and then branch out to Kazakhstan, or Khabarovsk and then enter China’s Manzhouli. The domestic section of this line has already started construction while the sections outside China are still being negotiated.

The second line is a Central Asia high speed railway that will start in Urumqi, pass through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey and conclude in Germany. The domestic section is being promoted, while the sections outside China are still being negotiated.

The third line will be the Pan-Asian high speed rail, which starts in China’s southwestern province of Kunming.

From the San Jose Mercury News, a local-to-esnl reminder that it ain’t over yet:

Underwater homes: Minorities still suffering from housing collapse

Despite the Bay Area’s robust housing recovery, the East Bay communities of Vallejo, Antioch and Richmond are among the nation’s 100 cities with the highest percentages of underwater mortgages, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, points out that these communities and others with large minority populations have substantial percentages of homes still underwater, or worth less than their mortgages. Initially targeted by subprime lenders and then hit with the steepest home price declines, the communities are still struggling from the housing crash.

The study called for more federal action to help the cities, and without that, endorsed Richmond’s plan to use eminent domain to take over underwater homes and modify their mortgages. That proposal has critics saying it would end up in the courts for years, and would hurt the city’s real estate market if it were implemented.

On to Canada, and one of the dumbest political moves ever from CBC News:

Tim Hudak would cut 100,000 public sector jobs if Tories win Ontario election

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader drew swift condemnation from his opponents Friday as he announced a plan to slash the number of public sector workers in the province by 100,000 if he wins next month’s election.

Tim Hudak said it would be a tough move, but one that would reap benefits in the future. “I take no joy in this, but it has to be done if we want job creators to put more people on the payroll in our province,” he said in Barrie, Ont.

Hudak’s vision — which forms part of his much-touted plan to create one million jobs over eight years — would trade jobs in the public service for the creation of new positions in the private sector.

Another reason why it’s a stupid move from BBC News:

Canada sees little employment growth in last year

The Canadian economy shed 29,000 jobs in April while the unemployment rate remained flat at 6.9%, according to Statistics Canada. However, the number of people working rose 0.8% from a year earlier, split between full- and part-time workers.

Employment fell in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick but rose in Saskatchewan.

Since August 2013, the Canadian economy has seen little overall employment growth, according to the report. And labour force participation fell to 66.1% from 66.5% in April 2013.

There’s much, much more after the jump, including Britain’s household debt timebomb and some Cameron intransigence, a Dutch call for restricting European labor movement and a boom in yachts, then on to Germany for a unique legal victory and a business decline, France next, with Chinese police on the streets and an administration in trouble, a Swiss bankster surrender, a harsh austerian prescription for Portugal, Italian legal woes, the latest from Greece [including electioneering, dirty tricks and all], Russia nostalgia for the Soviet era, turmoil and trucks in the Ukraine, Latin American inflation and political turmoil, a Chinese economic invasion of Africa, Indian bankster chutzpah, billionaires in fisticuffs Down Under, Indonesian graftm, Thai turmoil, mixed news from China, Japanese corporate shenanigans, a host of environmental woes, a cartoon, music, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Greek deflation continues


After a brief uptick between November and February, the Greek Consumer Price Index [red] resumed its fall, while the overall rate for the 18-memmber common currency zone [eurozone, blue] has stabilized, at least for the moment. From the Hellenic Statistical Authority [PDF], and click on the image to enlarge:

A0515_DKT90_DT_MM_04_2014_01_F_EN

Moscow flexes muscle in military drills, parades


Two notable videos from RT [AKA Russia Today] released today offer a powerful reminder of Moscow’s considerable military heft.

First up, a military drill held yesterday with missiles aplenty, including short range surface-to-surface types, antiaircraft batteries, and heavy duty land-based and naval missiles, all conducted to mark today’s anniversary of the Soviet Union’s dominant role in the defeat of the Nazi regime which had devastated the land, resulting in an estimated 20 million Soviet deaths.

From RT:

Video: Russia test-launches missiles during planned military drills

Program notes:

During the drills, it was demonstrated how the missile corps, artillery, aviation and anti-aircraft defenses can be used — for instance, to destroy troops on the ground or to counter massive missile, aviation or nuclear strikes by an enemy. The planned drills come ahead of the May 9 celebrations dedicated to victory in World War II.

The second video, with the voice-over in Russia, is of the military demonstrations and parade held in Sevastopol in the newly  Crimea:

Victory Parade in Crimea’s Sevastopol 2014

Program notes:

Sevastopol is celebrating the 69th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War with a parade by the Black Sea Fleet and Air Force. It’s the first military parade since Crimea became part of the Russian Federation.

Headlines II: Tales from the dark side


From the world of spies, lies, drones, hacks, and more.

For our first headline, this from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Despite Senate hopes of speedy release, CIA torture report won’t be made public for months

The release of the long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques — widely denounced as torture — is certain to take much longer than the 30 days sought by Senate Democrats.

The panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the beginning of April that she hoped the CIA would complete by now the process of excising from the report information deemed harmful to national security.

The procedure, however, likely will take months, several experts said. That’s because it’s complex and time-consuming. Not only does the CIA have to review information that came from its archives, but other U.S. intelligence agencies as well as the Pentagon and the State Department have to evaluate material that they provided, they said.

Reuters delivers a glass of whine:

Snowden leaks prompt ‘insidious’ claims about spies: UK lawmaker

Supporters of former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden use “insidious” language that blurs lines between spying in democratic and authoritarian states, a senior British lawmaker said on Thursday.

Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee which oversees the work of Britain’s spy agencies, said their staff had “noble motivations” and no desire to be “all-seeing” or “all-hearing”. . .

“Unfortunately, the insidious use of language such as ‘mass surveillance’ and ‘Orwellian’ by many of Mr. Snowden’s supporters to describe the actions of Western agencies blurs, unforgivably, the distinction between a system that uses the state to protect the people, and one that uses the state to protect itself against the people,” Rifkind said.

Deutsche Welle covers a coming hearing — or not:

German NSA investigative panel to allow Snowden to testify

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is to testify before a German panel investigating the activities of the spy agency. However, the panel has not yet determined whether he may travel to Berlin for the hearing.

The parliamentary committee, comprised of representatives from Germany’s four parties in the Bundestag, announced the decision on Thursday after deliberating over the matter for roughly two hours.

The vote was unanimous, according to Martina Renner, the chairperson of Germany’s Left party for the special committee.

Lawmakers involved the formal inquiry of NSA activities did not decide on Thursday, however, where the long-awaited hearing would take place.

Meanwhile, the ex-top eavesdropper has taken a spin in the revolving door. From Politico:

Ex-NSA chief Keith Alexander seeks post-Snowden second act

Former National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander is launching a consulting firm for financial institutions looking to address cybersecurity threats, POLITICO has learned.

Less than two months since his retirement from the embattled agency at the center of the Edward Snowden leak storm, the retired four-star general is setting up a Washington-based operation that will try to attract clients based on his four decades of experience in the military and intelligence — and the continued levels of access to senior decision-makers that affords.

“He’s already out pushing hard,” said an industry source recently briefed by Alexander on the new business venture. “He’s cleared. If something does pop, he can get in the door and get a briefing. That’s part of his stock and trade.”

North of the border, and more snoopery from CBC News:

Chantal Bernier says Ottawa snooping on social media

  • Privacy commissioner urges government to clarify rules for when and where data can be collected

Federal government departments are collecting data on Canadian citizens via their social media accounts for no good reason, Canada’s privacy watchdog says.

In a letter to Treasury Board president Tony Clement in February, interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier says “we are seeing evidence that personal information is being collected by government institutions from social media sites without regard for accuracy, currency and accountability.”

The letter dated Feb. 13th also reads: “Should information culled from these sites be used to make administrative decisions about individuals, it is incumbent upon government institutions to ensure the accuracy of this information.”

The letter is just the latest example of how Canada’s chief privacy watchdog has raised a red flag about troubling gaps in the security of Canadians’ personal information.

South of the border, lawmakers also fret, as BuzzFeed reports:

Democratic Congressman Worries About NSA Having Access To Phone Calls With His Hypothetical Mistress

  • Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York was speaking at the House Judiciary Committee mark-up of the USA Freedom Act which would end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications records, when he commented on metadata being able to show calls to a “mistress if I had one.” “You can learn a lot from metadata about a person and invade his privacy tremendously.”

From the Independent, and, like, they’re surprised?:

US accuses Israel of ‘alarming, even terrifying’ levels of spying

Friends do not spy on friends. That illusion about America’s attitude to its allies was conclusively debunked by Edward Snowden’s revelations about America’s National Security Agency and its British partner in global electronic eavesdropping, GCHQ. But by every account, the US is being repaid in kind by one of its closest international friends – Israel.

Israel has been trying to steal secrets from the US, its principal protector and benefactor, but also occasional rival, ever since the inception of the Jewish state in 1948, and even before. But according to the latest issue of Newsweek, quoting Obama administration officials, these activities have “crossed red lines” rarely encountered in the past.

In the words of one Congressional aide, with access to classified briefings in January on the subject, Israel’s behaviour was “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying”. Israel, it would appear, is after everything it can lay its hands on: not just diplomatic and policy documents, but industrial and military technology. The means include Israeli trade missions to the US, joint ventures between Israeli and American companies and, presumably, spying by Israeli intelligence agencies.

Quartz recruits [and they’re, like, surprised?]:

China and the US are racing to turn poor, naive Millennials into spies

Chinese state media are accusing an “unnamed foreign country” of recruiting spies at Chinese universities and through popular blogs and social media. This week, a series of news reports claim that unsuspecting Chinese, some of them as young as 16 years old, are being lured into working for foreign intelligence agents.

The reports seem to be a response to a short documentary posted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations last month, telling the story of a 28-year-old Michigan native, Glenn Duffie Shriver who says he was was recruited to spy for the Chinese while living in Shanghai, and was eventually caught by US authorities. The FBI video describes Chinese intelligence officers plying the young American with cash and luxury liquor, and appealing to his fascination with China.

The fact that this kind of covert recruitment occurs isn’t as surprising as each government’s attempts to paint the other as emotionally manipulative and ruthless. It may be a sign that US and Chinese intelligence agencies are waging a war for public opinion, as well as critical information.

From the Guardian, a non-disappearing act:

Regulators reprimand Snapchat over false claims about messaging service

  • Company had promised messages ‘disappear forever’
  • FTC says Snapchat deceived over personal data collection

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on Thursday that the fast-growing service had deceived people about the privacy of the messages sent through its service and secretly collected sensitive information about its users.

According to Snapchat, this month users are sending 700m photos and videos per day. Snapchat messages, known as snaps, are timed to delete after they have been viewed and it has become a popular service for people “sexting” – sending pornographic photos and texts – as well as for people wanting greater privacy from their messaging services.

The FTC said that in marketing the service Snapchat failed to disclose the ease with which users can save a message by taking an undetectable screenshot or by using a third-party app. Apps allowing snap recipients to copy and store messages indefinitely have been downloaded “millions of times”, said the FTC. Despite a security researcher warning the company about this possibility, the FTC said, “Snapchat continued to misrepresent that the sender controls how long a recipient can view a snap.”

The Guardian again, with questions about domestic security:

Albuquerque residents attempt citizen’s arrest of police chief

  • Protests against police brutality cause rowdy city council meeting to end with attempted citizen’s arrest of controversial chief

As the threat of another tense standoff at an Albuquerque city council meeting brews, protesters angry over a series of police shootings are harkening back to the city’s long history of civil disturbance and modeling their demonstrations after those including a notorious 1960s citizen raid of a northern New Mexico courthouse.

In 1967, protesters contending the US government stole millions of acres of land from Mexican American residents stormed a courthouse to attempt a citizen’s arrest of the district attorney. During the raid, the group shot and wounded a state police officer and jailer, beat a deputy and took the sheriff and a reporter hostage.

Now a leader of this week’s protest cited that episode as the motivation for the city council demonstration in which protesters attempted a citizen’s arrest of the police chief.

Here’s a video report from station KRQE in Albuquerque:

Protesters take over Albuquerque City Council meeting

Program notes:

Angry protesters took over Albuquerque City Council Monday night calling for immediate change at APD and the ousting of both Albuquerque’s Police Chief, Mayor and more.

BBC News covers criminalized blogging, the venue not so surprising:

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi gets 10 year jail sentence

A Saudi court has imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi for 10 years for “insulting Islam” and setting up a liberal web forum, local media report. He was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000; £133,000).

Amnesty International called the verdict “outrageous” and urged the authorities to quash the verdict.

Mr Badawi, the co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested in 2012.

From TheLocal.se, flying high to spy high, oops:

SAS flight in Russian spy plane near miss

A Scandinavian Airlines flight had to take last minute evasive action to avoid colliding with a Russian spy plane just off the Swedish south coast in March, according to a report which emerged on Thursday.

According to a Sveriges Television report on Thursday, the incident occurred on March 3rd just 50 kilometres south of the Swedish city of Malmö – home to over 300,000 people.

The plane was reportedly a Russian Ilyushin 20m military aircraft used for signals surveillance. The two aircraft are reported to have passed by each other a mere 90 metres apart.

From Guardian, criminal stupidity?:

FBI agent faces charges in Pakistan for boarding a flight with weapons

  • US State Department confirms that Joel Cox is federal agent and says Pakistani authorities are co-ordinating to resolve arrest

A FBI agent arrested in Pakistan for trying to board a civilian flight with bullets and a knife in his luggage is being investigated on possible criminal charges, Pakistani authorities said on Thursday.

Joel Cox, confirmed by the US State Department as an FBI agent, was arrested on Sunday at the airport in the southern city of Karachi after trying to board a flight with the knife and 15 9mm bullets in his luggage, police said.

The case has revived memories of Raymond Davis, an American CIA contractor who was arrested in January 2011 after shooting dead two men he believed were about to rob him in the eastern city of Lahore.

After the jump, the latest from the ongoing Asian Game of Zones, including drones, a ship-ramming China/Vietnam engagement and sundry responses, history wars, Japanese remilitarization, and more. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: eCons, banksters, crimes, more


Today’s collection of headlines on the unfolding events in economic, politics, and the environment covers lots of ground, but our sense that events are moving toward a climax as the drama continues to accelerate.

First up, another sign of hard times, Catholic fundamentalism, via the London Telegraph:

Decline of religious belief means we need more exorcists, say Catholics

  • Decline of religion in the West has created a rise in black magic, Satanism and the occult

The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism have said.

The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.

The conference, “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms.

And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:

Google, Facebook strike back against FCC plans to reshape the Internet

  • Some 150 tech companies sent a letter to the FCC, saying proposed rules would undermine ‘net neutrality,’ which has fueled the exponential growth of the Internet, they say.

After years of setbacks, the supporters of “net neutrality” have begun a full-throated counterattack this week. On Wednesday, 150 tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Netflix asked the Federal Communications Commission to preserve a core principle that has guided the Internet’s exponential growth since its advent decades ago.

At issue are new FCC rules announced last month that allow Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to treat some content on the Internet differently. For example, they can create “fast lanes” that will move content across the Internet more quickly, but companies like Google and Facebook will have to pay to use it. This, critics say, is a violation of net neutrality, in which all content – whether it’s a Netflix stream or an e-mail to grandma – is treated the same.

Internet providers such as Comcast say it’s common sense that companies that make more demands on their networks – like Netflix – should pay more for quicker service. Critics say this would turn the Internet – one of the greatest engines of innovation and freedom in the 21st century – into the playground of the highest bidders.

Another response from Al Jazeera America:

Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’

  • Protesters plan to stay in front of communications regulator until it supports Net neutrality

Internet libertarians calling for the equal treatment of all Internet data have camped out in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C., saying they won’t quit their Occupy-style protest until the regulator stands up for Net neutrality.

About 15 people stood outside the FCC’s headquarters on Wednesday afternoon in a protest organized by the two groups, Fight for the Future and Popular Resistance. Five of the demonstrators said they were determined to set up camp overnight and stick around until May 15, when the commission is set to unveil proposed new Net neutrality rules — or perhaps longer, if the new rules don’t meet their expectations.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance says members of the protest — officially called “Camp Out to Save Net Neutrality” or “People’s Firewall FCC Camp” and unofficially as “Occupy FCC” — are in it for the long haul, bringing sleeping bags and signs and engaging in chants, such as “Hey, hey, FCC, the Internet must be free” and “FCC, drop the barrier, make the Internet a common carrier.”

From CNBC, a case of too little, too late:

US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday proposed a rule to limit concentration in the financial sector, a requirement of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to make banks safer after the crisis.

The rule would prohibit a bank merger if the new company’s liabilities exceed 10 percent of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies, the central bank said in a press release.

Companies subject to the rule would be depository institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies, foreign banking organizations, companies that control insured depository institutions, and non-bank financial companies designated “as systemic’‘ by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a tag that carries greater regulation and Fed oversight.

And from the Department of Snowball’s Chance in Hell of Survivng a GOP House, this from BBC News:

Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole

US senator Carl Levin has said he plans to introduce legislation into Congress that would close a loophole allowing US companies to move overseas and avoid US taxes.

The loophole – known as an “inversion” – allows US firms to reincorporate abroad, generally in an effort to avoid the US corporate tax rate of 35%.

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca has put renewed focus on the practice.

From Al Jazeera America, a verdict of the Bush/Obama education agenda:

National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills

Handing out dismal grades on Wednesday, the Nation’s Report Card said America’s high school seniors lack math and reading skills critical in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Only about one-quarter are performing proficiently or better in math and just 4 in 10 in reading. And they’re not improving, the report says, reinforcing concerns that large numbers of today’s students are unprepared for either college or the workplace.

Scores on the 2013 exam in both subjects were little changed from 2009, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress was last given to 12th graders. The new results come from a representative sample of 92,000 public and private school students.

From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:

Exclusive: Barnes & Noble seeks big expansion of its college stores

The U.S. bookseller, which opened in 1965 as a university bookstore in New York, wants a much bigger presence on college campuses, where students last year spent an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to the College Board.

Barnes & Noble, now the second largest operator of college bookstores with 696 shops, plans to have about 1,000 locations within five years, Max Roberts, chief executive of the company’s college business, said in an exclusive interview at Rutgers University’s bookstore in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It intends to do that by getting more schools to outsource their bookstore operations with the lure of nicer, higher-grossing stores and by poaching accounts from larger rival Follett Corp, which runs 940 stores.

A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:

North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic

North Dakota’s male-dominated oil fields have created huge demand for sex workers. This demand has led to a human trafficking epidemic that the state can’t remedy on its own.

The men working on the oil fields don’t seem put off by the large rent checks they are writing, but the highly skewed male-to-female ratio is proving problematic, prompting many to seek out prostitutes.

Although prostitution is currently illegal in North Dakota and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, the demand for prostitutes has never been higher in the Roughrider State.

Windie Jo Lazenko is an advocate for human trafficking victims who founded 4Her North Dakota — a ministry that helps educate the public and advocate for victims in the hope of eradicating human trafficking for the purpose of sex in the United States. Though she was raised in Southern California, Lazenko has found herself in North Dakota in recent years investigating rumors of rampant human trafficking in the state.

From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:

US exports to China total $120b last year: USCBC

The US exports to China hit $120 billion last year, making China the third largest export market for American goods, said the US-China Business Council (USCBC) Wednesday.

In a newly released report, the USCBC, a private, non-profit organization, noted that US exports to China have grown at an average annual rate of 15.1 percent over the past 10 years, fastest among all major US trading partner.

The American exports to China rose by 10.4 percent last year, making it a major export market for US goods only behind Canada and Mexico, the two neighbors with which the United States has a free trade agreement.

CNBC delivers another verdict:

Yellen: Economy remains on track but keep an eye on housing

The economy is “on track for solid growth this quarter,” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday, but warned that a deterioration in housing or financial markets could alter that scenario.

After recent weakness that was mostly weather-related, Yellen said many recent indicators suggest a rebound in spending and production. However, the Fed chief told a joint Congressional committee that housing remains a risk to the recovery, even as the Fed expects that sector to pick up eventually.

The newly-appointed top central banker walked a fine line between preparing markets for normalizing monetary policy from its crisis era levels, and assuring the public that the Fed would continue to safeguard a still fragile recovery. A brutally cold winter triggered a run of weak activity that caused economic growth to flatline in the first three months of the year.

From CNBC again, another verdict:

Fed Chair Yellen: Minimum wage hike to have negative impact on jobs

In testimony before a Senate committee on Thursday, Fed Chair Yellen said a minimum wage increase would likely have some negative effects on jobs, though it’s not clear how large.

Still, boosting the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 per hour since mid-2009, would benefit some people, she added.

In recent months, the federal minimum wage has been a hot-button issue. In February, President Barack Obama boosted the minimum pay for federal contractors hired in the future to $10.10 per hour. He’s also voiced his support for the federal level for all workers to rise to $10.10 from the current $7.25. Separately, organized protests of fast food workers have lobbied for a jump to $15.

While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:

US household debt nearly twice as high as annual wages and salaries: Inflating the consumer debt bubble with student loans and auto debt.

The latest consumer credit report surprised to the upside. What was the surprise? Americans are back to borrowing money they don’t have. Are they borrowing for investing or possibly purchasing a modest home? No.

The latest data shows that Americans are once again going deep into student debt and auto debt. This is actually worse than borrowing for a home you can’t afford. A car will begin losing its value seconds after you drive it off the lot. Yet this is where Americans are pouring their money. So don’t be surprised if you see a pizza delivery person driving in a nicer car than you are.

Since the 1980s, households have been supplementing the decline in their standard of living by going into deep debt.

And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:

SEC Official Describes Widespread Lawbreaking and Material Weakness in Controls in Private Equity Industry

At a private equity conference this week, Drew Bowden, a senior SEC official, told private equity fund managers and their investors in considerable detail about how the agency had found widespread stealing and other serious infractions in its audits of private equity firms.

In the years that I’ve been reading speeches from regulators, I’ve never seen anything remotely like Bowden’s talk. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post and strongly encourage you to read it in full.

Despite the at times disconcertingly polite tone, the SEC has now announced that more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws. These abuses were detected thanks to to Dodd Frank. Private equity general partners had been unregulated until early 2012, when they were required to SEC regulation as investment advisers.

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash

  • Commentary: Fed-driven rally is about to end badly

Yes, “the bull market may come to an end any time,” warns Jeremy Grantham, founder of the $117 billion GMO investment giant. An unpredictable collapse. Risky valuations, 10 bubbles peaking, and black swan megatrends: The bull “could be derailed by disappointing global growth, profits sagging as deficits are cut, a Russian miscalculation, or, perhaps most dangerous and likely, an extreme Chinese slowdown.”

Yes, Grantham’s hedging his near-term: Betting the S&P 500 could rally past 2,250 before the 2016 presidential election, “depending on what new ammunition the Fed can dig up.” But then, a black swan will ignite “around the election or soon after, the market bubble will burst” and “revert to its trend value, around half of its peak or worse.”

Yes half. The S&P 500 will collapse to about 1,125. This Fed-driven rally “will end badly.” Repeating the dot-com losses of 2000-2003. Repeating Wall Street’s $10 trillion losses in 2007-2009.

Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:

A Win For Civil Society As Corporations Divest From Private Prison Industry

Corporate divestment from the U.S. private prison sector could major a big impact on the industry — even if it’s mostly symbolic.

Three corporations considered major investors in the U.S. private prison industry are moving to dump their holdings in the sector, apparently in response to newly stepped-up pressure from civil society.

The total divestments add up to about $60 million, and organizers say more divestment announcements are on the way. Two of the three companies — Amica Mutual Insurance and Dutch chemicals manufacturer DSM North America — have reportedly offloaded all of their shares in the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, the country’s two largest for-profit corrections companies.

“In accordance with [U.N.] principles … with respect to the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights, the [DSM Netherlands] pension fund has divested from the for-profit prison industry,” Hugh Walsh, president of DSM North America, said in a statement late last month.

On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:

ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has hinted the bank’s policymakers may act soon to reverse the eurozone’s prolonged low inflation.

The ECB chief said on Thursday that the monetary authority was “not resigned” to low inflation, which at 0.7% is well below the 2% target.

The comments followed that ECB’s decision to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.25%.

Attribution, via EUobserver:

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

Low inflation, weak demand and high unemployment are not the only reasons for a strong euro, which is a “matter of serious concern” for the governing board of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Russia’s actions in Ukraine are “certainly one of the reasons”, with credit flows from Russia and Ukraine “having the effect of keeping the euro strong,” ECB chief Mario Draghi said Thursday (8 May) in a press conference.

The euro is appreciating because it is seen as a safe haven by investors, compared to the shaky Ukrainian hryvnia and the Russian ruble.

And from New Europe, vast indifference:

Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans

  • Suppose they held an election and nobody came?

A poll has shown that six out of ten Europeans are uninterested in the elections to the European Parliament in three weeks time.

The survey of 9,000 people in 12 countries will cause great concern in Brussels where the parliament has faced declining turnout since elections were introduced in 1979.

‘This time it is different’ is the slogan used by the parliament in a 15 million Euro campaign to persuade voters to turn up on polling day, 22 to 25 May.

The political parties of Europe have also tried to boost the poll by picking lead candidates and campaigning across the continent.

New Europe again, this time with positive[?] news:

Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs

  • The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure

The Council today adopted a directive which will make it easier and cheaper to roll out high-speed electronic communications networks, among other things by promoting the joint use of infrastructure, such as electricity, gas and sewage pipes.

Today’s final adoption of the legislative act by the Council follows an agreement reached at first reading with the European Parliament. The Parliament held its vote at the plenary session on 15 April 2014.

Member states must adopt national provisions to comply with the new directive by 1 January 2016, and they must apply the new measures from 1 July 2016.

On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:

Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years

Barclays is to cut 19,000 jobs by 2016, with more than 9,000 to go in the UK, the bank has said.

As part of a new strategy, the investment part of the bank will lose about 7,000 jobs by the end of 2016.

Barclays’ investment bank has been hit by a slowdown in the demand for government and company debt.

Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:

No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women

Women who are unable to receive abortions in Northern Ireland are told they are not entitled to the procedure for free on the NHS.

The High Court has upheld a ruling which forbids women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions in England. Mr Justice King rejected a legal challenge to restrictions on women from Northern Ireland undergoing terminations on the NHS.

The case was brought  by a teenager, referred to as “A”, who was denied an abortion by medical authorities in Northern Ireland in October 2012. Laws on the procedure are extremely strict, with terminations only permitted when the life of the mother as at risk.

The girl, aged 15 at the time, then sought an abortion in England, where abortions are legal, but was denied NHS treatment. She was forced to pay £600 to have the operation done privately and a further £300 in travel costs.

A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:

EU ‘bullied’ Ireland into bailout, former Barroso aide says

The EU’s institutions ‘bullied’ Ireland into a bailout, a senior former adviser to the European Commission’s president said on Wednesday (7 May).

In an interview with Irish network RTE, Phillipe Legrain accused the Commission and the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) of having sided with France and Germany in insisting that Irish taxpayers were left solely responsible for the €64 billion debt burden held by its banks, a move he described as “unjust and unbearable”.

“It was a mistake by the previous government to guarantee all Irish bank debts but it was outrageous to effectively threaten to force Ireland out of the euro unless the government went through with that foolish pledge,” said Legrain.

Between 2011 and February 2014, Legrain was principal adviser at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, the in-house think tank which provides economic advice to Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:

Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’

Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice ruled on Wednesday that those listed in an illegal Swedish police register of Roma will be entitled to receive compensation of 5,000 kronor ($768), an award dismissed by a leading representative as “a disgrace”.

“This is a further violation. But it is at the same time positive that a state body… rules that what the police have done is wrong and illegal,” Soraya Post, EU parliamentary candidate for the Feminist Initiative and Roma human rights activist, told the Dagens Nyheter daily on Wednesday evening.

“We will just have to bring this before the European Court,” she added.

The Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern – JK) confirmed on Wednesday that the Skåne County police department register was illegal. The existence of the register was exposed by Dagens Nyheter’s reporter Niklas Orrenius in September 2013.

Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:

German living expenses rank high

In Germany, day-to-day goods are one-third more expensive than in the rest of the world. But German price levels rank near average in a European comparison, while living in Switzerland and Norway comes with the highest price-tag, a recent study says.

Life in Germany is comparatively expensive, according to a recent study. In 2011, the price level in the Federal Republic was around 36% over the global average, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reported on Wednesday (7 May).

Compared to German price levels, living costs were much lower in Asia. In South Korea, for example, people paid 28% less three years ago, while China and Russia were around half. In India, expenses were over 70% lower than in Germany.

Destatis based its findings on a study conducted by the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP) which focused on purchasing power parities and comparative price levels.

Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:

Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality

The equality commissioner at the German Family Ministry is suing her own employers over the appointment of three men to key positions in 2012.

Kristin Rose-Möhring took the ministry to Germany’s administrative court on Thursday because the appointments of press spokesman, state secretary, and an independent commissioner on child abuse – were made without consulting her. All three posts subsequently went to men.

The 59-year-old, who has been in the post since 2001, said that although the appointments were made under a different minister (Kristina Schröder was replaced by the incumbent Manuela Schwesig last year), the same structures are still in place at the ministry. “There is still room for improvement,” Rose-Möhring said.

Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:

Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research

The risk of deflation is growing in the euro area which threatens economic growth in Germany, the Institute of Macroeconomic Research (IMK) said on Thursday.

Based on its simulation calculations, IMK expected a stable German economy in 2014 and 2015 but warned of risks such as price stability.

The increase in German consumer prices of 0.9 percent in March was significantly below the inflation rate of the European Central Bank of 1.9 percent. In the euro area, prices rose by only 0.5 percent, while prices sank in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.

On to France and on the defensive with TheLocal.fr:

‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’

President Francois Hollande on Thursday hit back at the growing anti-EU rhetoric in France fostered by the far right in its campaign for the European parliamentary elections.

In a commentary published in Le Monde on the anniversary of the Allied victory against Nazi Germany in World War II, Hollande recalled the words of another Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, who defended European integration by saying “nationalism means war” while “Europe means peace”.

Hollande’s comments come as polls show the far-right National Front (FN) could come out on top in the May 25th European elections in France.

But the economy isn’t helping Hollande, as New Europe reports:

Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March

  • France’s March trade gap also widened on soaring imports bills

French statistics bureau Insee reported on Wednesday a 0.7-percent decline in industrial output in France in March compared to February’s data.

According to Insee, Europe’s second largest economy produced less over the period due to sluggish auto industry and weak performance of food processing activity which fell by 2.3 percent and 1.1 percent respectively.

After growing by 0.3 percent in February, manufacturing also lost momentum with a 0.7-percent decrease, Insee reported.

From TheLocal.fr, a wiseguy rubout in an unlikely place:

Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital

The Italian mafia is suspected of being behind the shooting of the 77-year-old head of one of Monaco’s richest families outside a hospital in Nice on Tuesday night.

Hélène Pastor, said to be close to Monaco’s Royal family, and her chauffeur, named by the French press as Mohammed D, were seriously injured after being shot outside the L’Archet Hospital in the southern French city.

A report in the French daily Le Figaro pointed to investigators suspecting that two of Italy’s most notorious organized crime groups, ‘Ndrangheta or the Camorra, could be behind the attack. Both clans are said to have gained a strong foothold on the French Riviera’s property sector.

Switzerland next, and taxing woes for migrant labor from TheLocal.ch:

Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers

Switzerland needs to change its agreement with Italy over the taxation of cross-border workers to make it less appealing for them to work in the canton of Ticino, Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf says.

Widmer-Schlumpf made the comment during a meeting with the cantonal government of Ticino on Wednesday, broadcaster RTS reported.

The federal cabinet minister said that cross-border workers, known as “frontaliers”, who live in Italy currently pay Swiss tax rates, deducted at source, which are lower than those paid in their home country.

On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:

Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit

There will be no turning back for Portugal when it makes a clean exit from its bailout this month without a credit safety net, the president of the Eurogroup warned Thursday.

“A precautionary credit line by definition is asked for in advance,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in an interview with Portuguese daily Expresso.

But if the request is made later “when conditions turn bad, it is no longer a precautionary credit line” and Portugal would then require a new rescue programme, he said.

Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:

Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening

  • More cuts likely to be counterproductive in a country that faces a winter of discontent on job front

Economic recovery is taking hold, the banking system has improved, unemployment is beginning a timid retreat, the European bank bailout has worked, and public finances are stabilizing. Spring is in the air in the reports coming out of Brussels and the statements coming out of government officials’ mouths.

But despite the good news, the European Commission wants Spain to have an extra spoonful of the same medicine. While its deficit targets for 2014 will be easily met, things are not so clear for the years 2015 and 2016, leading Brussels to request “considerable additional discretionary efforts.”

In other words, what the European executive wants to see is more cuts, according to the first report following Spain’s clean exit from the banking bailout.

El País again, this time with a culture war development:

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

  • Socialists suspect conservative government is delaying passage of bill until after European elections

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is planning to take his abortion reform to Congress in July, when parliamentary groups will analyze it and suggest amendments, government sources told EL PAÍS.

The executive of Mariano Rajoy is firmly set on getting this controversial piece of legislation approved, although it is making sure that its passage through parliament does not coincide with the campaign run for the European elections on May 25.

Ever since December 2013, when the cabinet approved the controversial draft bill changing existing abortion laws – which critics say will take Spain back 30 years – opposition has been growing on the streets, in parliament and even within the ruling Popular Party (PP) itself, some of whose members have spoken out against the reforms.

And it’s on to Italy and some Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links

A former minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s last government has been arrested for allegedly helping a businessman, convicted of collusion with the mafia, escape Italy.

Claudio Scajola has been arrested in Rome for allegedly helping Amedeo Matacena, a Calabrian businessman escape a five-year jail term after his conviction for mafia association was handed down last year, Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday.

Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.

Berlusconi said he was “pained” to hear about Scajola’s arrest but did not know what the reasons behind it where.

And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:

Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption

A manager for Milan Expo 2015 has been arrested while five others have been jailed as part of an investigation into a corruption scandal that also caught ex-politicians allegedly taking bribes, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Angelo Paris, head of contracts for the trade fair, which runs in Milan between May and October next year, is in custody, Milan Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati told the financial newswire in an e-mailed statement.

Police carried out searches at 80 public entities and firms in parts of northern Italy and Rome, with businessmen and politicians being snared on video allegedly taking bribes to secure Expo contracts.

After the jump, the latest disturbing developments from Greece, Russian economic stress, Ukrainian tension, Argentine woes and a Venezuelan crackdown, Indian pollution, Thai turmoil continues, a Chinese upturn, a mixed report card for Japan, environmental woes, anbd the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the Day: Crimeans opt for Russia


While most Ukrainians opposed Russian annexation of the Crimea, those most affected, the Crimeans, overwhelmingly support it, as revealed in their support of the pro-Russian annexation outcome of the 16 March referendum. From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

Microsoft Word - Pew Global Attitudes Ukraine-Russia Report FINA