Category Archives: Geopolitics

Headlines II: Spooks, zones, secrecy, & lies


Today’s tales from the darkside — the world of spies, militarism, security, and privacy — begins with a story containing a phrase that sends chills down the spine. From the Guardian, invoking chilling wartime words in the climate change debate:

Climate change is clear and present danger, says landmark US report

  • National Climate Assessment, to be launched at White House on Tuesday, says effects of climate change are now being felt

Climate change has moved from distant threat to present-day danger and no American will be left unscathed, according to a landmark report due to be unveiled on Tuesday.

The National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report compiled by 300 leading scientists and experts, is meant to be the definitive account of the effects of climate change on the US. It will be formally released at a White House event and is expected to drive the remaining two years of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.

The findings are expected to guide Obama as he rolls out the next and most ambitious phase of his climate change plan in June – a proposal to cut emissions from the current generation of power plants, America’s largest single source of carbon pollution.

Invoking another threat with EUbusiness:

Europe’s cybersecurity policy settings under attack

Even as Europe powered up its most ambitious ever cybersecurity exercise this month, doubts were being raised over whether the continent’s patchwork of online police was right for the job.

The exercise, called Cyber Europe 2014, is the largest and most complex ever enacted, involving 200 organisations and 400 cybersecurity professionals from both the European Union and beyond.

Yet some critics argued that herding together normally secretive national security agencies and demanding that they spend the rest of 2014 sharing information amounted to wishful thinking.

Others questioned whether the law enforcement agencies taking part in the drill should be involved in safeguarding online security, in the wake of American whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of online spying by western governments.

And via a Google translation of a Bild am Sonntag story, what we have suspected proves out:

On behalf of the U.S. Government

CIA agents & FBI advise Kiev

The Ukrainian provisional Government in Kiev is advised by dozens of specialists of the US intelligence agency CIA and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. That learned on Sunday from German security circles.

The officials will help on behalf of the Federal Government Kiev, to end the rebellion in the East of the country and to build a functioning security structure.

The agents were involved in the Eastern Ukraine but not directly in the fighting with the pro-Russian militias. Their activity is limited to the capital Kiev.

The FBI agents help the Kievan transitional Government also to fight organized crime in the country: A group of investigators and analysts of the US federal police specializing in financial investigations to track down the assets of the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

And the costs of domestic “security” are proving extensive and dangerous, reports MintPress News:

Skyrocketing Prison Population Devastating US Society

  • National Research Council report documents devastating costs to communities, families and society.

After two years of data review, the NRC this week released a 464-page report that delivers a round indictment of four decades of skyrocketing incarceration that has quadrupled the prison population and torn apart families, communities, society, and the lives of the incarcerated people themselves.

“It is easy for those in power to dismiss communities and organizations how have been fighting this stuff for generations as out in left field or put them in racist stereotypes,” Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance told Common Dreams. “But now you have the center saying the same thing.”

Commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, the report finds that 2.23 million people are currently locked in U.S. prisons and jails, but that number multiplies when people who are on parole or probation are considered. This is the result of an “unprecedented and internationally unique rise in U.S. state and federal prison populations” since 1973, according to an NRC statement.

This climbing prison population does not correspond to increases in violence, but rather, is driven by policy changes, including: the imposition of “mandatory minimums” in the 1980s, longer sentences for repeat convictions, and increased criminalization of drug offenses due to the War on Drugs. As a result, incarceration rates for drug offenses to multiply ten times between 1980 and 2010.

From the Observer, the ubiquitous panopticon gets creepier:

Facial recognition: is the technology taking away your identity?

Facial recognition technology is being used by companies such as Tesco, Google and Facebook, and it has huge potential for security. Concerned? It may be too late to opt out…

This summer, Facebook will present a paper at a computer vision conference revealing how it has created a tool almost as accurate as the human brain when it comes to saying whether two photographs show the same person – regardless of changes in lighting and camera angles. A human being will get the answer correct 97.53% of the time; Facebook’s new technology scores an impressive 97.25%. “We closely approach human performance,” says Yaniv Taigman, a member of its AI team.

Since the ability to recognise faces has long been a benchmark for artificial intelligence, developments such as Facebook’s “DeepFace” technology (yes, that’s what it called it) raise big questions about the power of today’s facial recognition tools and what these mean for the future.

Facebook is not the only tech company interested in facial recognition. A patent published by Apple in March shows how the Cupertino company has investigated the possibility of using facial recognition as a security measure for unlocking its devices – identifying yourself to your iPhone could one day be as easy as snapping a quick selfie.

Ars Technica drones on, then off:

Drones banned at Yosemite National Park

  • Park Service says drones are noisy and “can impact the natural landscape.”

The National Park Service is warning visitors to Yosemite National Park that drones “are prohibited within park boundaries.”

The service announced the decision Friday and cited a federal law that says “delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit” is illegal.

The latest move against drones comes months after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded a nonprofit Texas volunteer search-and-rescue outfit that employs five-pound styrofoam drones.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Panopticon north of the border:

Now we know Ottawa can snoop on any Canadian. What are we going to do?

Since June, 2013, a steady stream of revelations from Edward Snowden has shed light on a vast U.S.-led surveillance system. While there have been several important Canadian-related revelations, none has raised clear issues of potential unlawfulness. That is, until now.

A “Top Secret” presentation obtained by the CBC from the Snowden cache, which I reviewed in detail, outlines the indiscriminate and bulk collection and analysis of Canadian communications data by the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC). Assuming the documents are legitimate, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that these activities constitute a clear violation of CSEC’s mandates and almost certainly of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CSEC presentation describes ubiquitous surveillance programs clearly directed at Canadians, involving data associated with Canadian airports, hotels, wi-fi cafes, enterprises and other domestic locations. The presentation outlines the challenges of discerning specific internet addresses and IDs associated with users within the universe of bulk data, paying special attention to challenges involving the movement of people through airports. It outlines results of experiments undertaken at a medium-sized city airport, which could possibly mean Calgary or Halifax, and which includes observations at “other domestic airports,” “hotels in many cities” and “mobile gateways in many cities.” Observations are made with detailed graphs of specific patterns of communications, noting differences as to how individuals communicate upon arrival and during departure, how long they spend in transit lounges, wi-fi cafes, hotel visits and even places of work. The objectives, the presentation says, are to separate the “needle from the haystack” – the haystack being, of course, all of us.

From Britain, the London Telegraph reports on a man once considered a major security threat to Old Blighty:

Gerry Adams released over Jean McConville murder

  • But Sinn Fein leader may still face charges as police file is to be sent to prosecutors

From FRANCE 24, refuge for the persecuted:

French non-profit offers a home to exiled journalists

In honour of World Press Freedom Day, the Maison des Journalistes (MDJ), a French non-profit organization that offers shelter and support to journalists forced to flee their home countries, opened its doors to FRANCE 24.

Based in Paris’s 15th arrondissement, the MDJ was founded in 2002, and has since housed more than 250 journalists from 54 different countries. . .

“When they first get here, we give them housing and we help them get political asylum,” Darline Cothière, MDJ’s director, explained. “Then we help them get the right paperwork, so they can get medical coverage and unemployment. It’s administrative help, but it’s stuff that needs to be done.”

Because so many of those who cross MDJ’s threshold have lived through trauma, the non-profit also provides psychological counseling.

And from the Associated Press, police malfeasance on troubled turf:

Ex-security head: Israel soft on anti-Arab crimes

The former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency says its current leader does not take seriously recent vandalism by ultranationalist Jews of Palestinian and Arab Israeli property.

Carmi Gillon says he believes Yoram Cohen does not invest enough resources to stop the vandalism.

“He belittles the danger of these activities. He apparently does not prioritize this matter,” Gillon told Army Radio Sunday.

A fringe of mostly radical settlers has carried out vandalism in recent years to protest Israeli policy and respond to actions by Palestinians, drawing condemnation by Israeli leaders but few arrests.

After the jump, the latest in the ongoing Asian Game of Zones, with new escalations, word games, and new North Korean craziness. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: Spies, laws, lies, and zones


Our second set of headlines, as always, brings notable developments in the realms of espionage [both governmental and corporate], security at home and above [both personal and national], miltarism, and the ongoing never-ending Asian Game of Zones.

We begin with Snowden blowback from the New York Times:

Merkel Says Gaps With U.S. Over Surveillance Remain

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said Friday that there were still significant differences between Germany and the United States over the issue of surveillance, and warned that it was too soon to return to “business as usual” between the two allies.

At a joint news conference at the White House, both Ms. Merkel and President Obama addressed the tensions between the two countries caused by the disclosure last October that the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on Ms. Merkel’s phone calls. At the time, Ms. Merkel said that “spying between friends is simply unacceptable,” and that there had been a breach of trust that would have to be repaired.

Speaking in the Rose Garden after a meeting with Mr. Obama, Ms. Merkel said that “we have a few difficulties still to overcome,” noting in particular a difference “on the issue of proportionality.”

And a related development from TheLocal.de:

German IT expert hacks NSA homepage

A computer expert from eastern Germany claims to have hacked the homepage of the US National Security Agency (NSA), leaving a message on the site for American security experts.

Matthias Ungethüm from Saxony said on Friday he had replaced the NSA slogan “Codebreakers and Codemakers” with the German phrase “Durchleuchten Sie Ihre Homepage” – “Examine your homepage” on the website of America’s security agency.

The NSA is deeply unpopular in Germany after revelations last year it carried out a mass surveillance programme and tapped the phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel. So Ungethüm decided to turn the tables.

From the Christian Science Monitor, mixed signals from the White House:

Online privacy: Obama report outlines the perils, and promise, of ‘big data’

The Obama administration report calls for an online bill of rights, but it also recognizes that insights from big data are being tapped to solve problems, not just push personalized online ads.

A new Obama administration report calls the collection of personal data by corporations increasingly “invasive,” but also sings the praises of so-called “big data.”

The report calls for new steps, such as an online bill of rights. Yet it also seeks to tread cautiously in a fast-evolving realm that spans from Facebook to online shopping and medical information.

That’s because the insights gleaned from big data – the act of compiling and analyzing digital information about consumers – are being tapped to solve problems, not just push personalized online ads.

The report envisions stakeholders such as corporations coming together “to develop voluntary, enforceable codes of conduct that specify how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies in specific business contexts.”

And for your amusement, this creation of Walt Handelsman for the New Orleans Advocate:

Fade to white

Fade to white

From CBC News, smilar concerns, north of the border:

State surveillance under microscope

Canada’s interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier has called for a revamp of federal privacy laws that would require telecom firms to tell Canadians how many requests for data on private citizens they handle from federal enforcement bodies.

Her request to a Senate committee followed revelations that  nine telecommunication companies field 1.2 million requests for private customer information every year and raises the issue of how extensively federal agencies are monitoring Canadian citizens.

The revelations come on the heels of Edward Snowden’s documents showing that the phone calls of American citizens were under widespread surveillance by the CIA and National Security Agency. The U.S. whistleblower also revealed a vast network of Canadian spying on behalf of the NSA.

From Ars Technica, Ars Propaganda:

US State Department adopting social media to counter Al-Qaeda propaganda

  • US says violent extremists increasingly taking to social media.

Buried in an intelligence report published Wednesday, the government said that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), established in 2011, last year produced more than 10,000 online postings globally, some of which included one of 138 government-produced videos.

“CSCC’s programs draw on a full range of intelligence information and analysis for context and feedback. CSCC counters terrorist propaganda in the social media environment on a daily basis, contesting space where AQ and its supporters formerly had free rein. CSCC communications have provoked defensive responses from violent extremists on many of the 249 most popular extremist websites and forums as well as on social media,” said the document, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 (PDF).

The State Department has a global social media presence from Afghanistan to Vietnam. The platform ranges from blogs to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, and others. But the government also trains others, including victims of terrorism, to adopt social media, according to the report.

From Homeland Security News Wire, mounting fears?:

Russia may launch crippling cyberattacks on U.S. in retaliation for Ukraine sanctions

U.S. officials and security experts are warning that Russian hackers may attack the computer networks of U.S. banks and critical infrastructure firms in retaliation for new sanctions by the Obama administration, imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Cybersecurity specialists consider Russian hackers among the best at infiltrating networks and some say that they have already inserted malicious software on computer systems in the United States.

U.S. officials and security experts are warning that Russian hackers may attack the computer networks of U.S. banks and critical infrastructure firms in retaliation for new sanctions by the Obama administration, imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Cybersecurity specialists consider Russian hackers among the best at infiltrating networks and some say that they have already inserted malicious software on computer systems in the United States.

Black sites and black actions from Al Jazeera America:

Senate report set to reveal Djibouti as CIA ‘black site’

  • Horn of Africa nation has denied hosting secret prison facilities for US, but classified document may undermine claim

The legal case of a former CIA detainee suing the government of Djibouti for hosting the facility where he says he was detained could be helped by the contents of a still-classified Senate report. Djibouti, a key U.S. ally, has denied for years that its territory has been used to keep suspected Al-Qaeda operatives in secret captivity. But the Senate investigation into the agency’s “detention and interrogation program” concluded that several people had been secretly detained in the tiny Horn of Africa state, two U.S. officials who read an early draft of the report told Al Jazeera.

Official confirmation of Djibouti’s role in hosting “black sites” used in the CIA’s rendition program would be welcomed by Mohammad al-Asad, a Yemeni arrested at his home in Tanzania on Dec. 27, 2003, blindfolded and flown to a location he insists was Djibouti. Two U.S. officials who read an early draft of the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation — and who requested anonymity because the report remains classified — were unaware of whether al-Asad’s case was specifically cited in the document. But they confirmed that the report found that several detainees had been held in Djibouti, and that at least two of them had been wrongfully detained.

DutchNews.nl stands up to Washington:

Court was right to stop terror suspect deportation to US

The appeal court in The Hague was right to call a halt to the deportation of terror suspect Sabir K to the US in 2013, the advocate general of the Dutch supreme court said on Friday, according to broadcaster Nos.

The Hague court said last July there was still too much uncertainty over the involvement of America in K’s torture following his arrest in Pakistan. The Dutch government, which backs K’s deportation, then took the issue to the Supreme Court.

The advocate general’s advice is usually acted upon by the supreme court when it makes its rulings.

From Sky News, police John-shaming:

Prostitution Sting To Be Live-Tweeted By Police

Names and photographs of suspects arrested for soliciting prostitutes will be published on a police force’s Twitter account.

A police force has been criticised after promising to live-tweet a prostitution sting next week.

Officers in Maryland say they will “take you along for the takedowns” as they target people who use sex workers in Prince George County.

The names and photographs of suspects will be tweeted as they are arrested.

Another nit-tweet from TheLocal.se:

Student suspended for insulting prof on Twitter

A Swedish college has suspended a 21-year-old female student who took to Twitter to insult her teacher’s appearance while he was giving a lecture.

The male teacher at Jönköping University told administrators that he noticed the student taking a picture of him, and that the incident not only disrupted the lecture but left him feeling upset and violated.

The notes from the disciplinary hearing did not specify what kind of comments the 21-year-old woman made. She has since said her actions were “immature”.

And another leak-seeking, this ine on Casa esnl’s home turf via Berkeleyside:

City of Berkeley seeks source of leaked confidential info

The city of Berkeley is on the hunt to determine who released private police personnel documents related to a confidential investigation — into an in-custody death involving local officers last year — to UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian newspaper.

Thursday evening, Berkeley city manager Christine Daniel notified the mayor and council members about the leak, which she described to them via email as “an unfortunate and concerning event that occurred regarding confidential police personnel information.”

Daniel wrote that the Daily Cal had told the city it had gotten “confidential personnel-specific findings” from the Police Review Commission’s inquest into the in-custody death of Kayla Moore last year. (Moore’s family has filed a lawsuit against the city over that fatality.)

From Ars Technica, and they’ll take it only from their cold, dead hands?:

Feds issue “draft guidance” to restrict high-powered laser pointers

  • If passed, nearly all such lasers would be capped at 5 milliwatts of power.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration published new draft guidance that could effectively put an end to high-powered lasers in the United States. It will not be formally approved until the 90-day comment period has passed.

The move is likely in response to the growing threat of laser strikes against aircraft. Since early 2014, the FBI has offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who reports a laser strike to federal authorities, leading to an arrest. Since the FBI began keeping track in 2004, there have been more than 12,000 reported incidents nationwide—and the incident rate continues to climb.

Earlier this year, a California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison in a lasering incident, believed to be the harshest such sentence in the United States, and possibly in the world. Pilots say that being struck with such lasers can be terrifying, causing temporary blindness and sometimes lingering headaches.

From TechWeekEurope, let your paranoia run rampant:

Apple Earpods To Include Health Sensors – Report

New Apple earpods will reportedly include sensors to monitor a user’s heart rate and blood pressure

Apple is following Samsung into the health market after a leak suggested that its next generation earbuds (or earpods in Apple speak) will include health sensors.

The report (if true) highlights an increasing problem for tech firms in Silicon Valley, as the leak came from a posting on the anonymous social network ‘Secret’, which is favoured by many high-tech workers. Secret yesterday revealed plans to launch in the UK and elsewhere.

“Apple’s new EarPods will have sensors in them, for heart rate & blood pressure. Also iBeacons so they don’t get lost. They will require the lightning port, it’s why the audio jack was moved to the bottom,” said the anonymous posting on Secret.

The posting also reportedly added that “[The phone] stores the data in a similar way to thumbprint point data, fully encrypted and nothing identifiable. But nice to send to your doctor to keep track of at which point your blood pressure started rising for example.”

From Corriere della Sera, cans of worms, about to be opened, including cases in which intelligence agencies and undercover operators were deeply ivolved, often causally:

Renzi Declassifies “Years of Lead” Files

  • “A duty to victims”, says PM. Order accelerates transfer of classified documents held by central government administrations

last week’s announcement, Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, yesterday signed an order declassifying files on the Ustica (1980), Peteano (1972), Italicus (1974), Piazza Fontana (1969), Piazza della Loggia (1974), Gioia Tauro (1970), Bologna railway station (1980) and Rapido 904 train (1984) murders. The signing took place at Palazzo Chigi in the presence of the junior minister for the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for the security services, Marco Minniti, and the director of the department of security information (DIS), ambassador Giampiero Massolo. Mr Renzi commented: “One of the key features of this government’s actions is transparency and openness. Today’s decision is a step in that direction. I consider it a duty towards Italians and towards the relatives of the victims of these events, which remain a dark stain on our collective memory”.

Later, Mr Renzi tweeted that the government had declassified documents on “some of the darkest pages in Italian history”, adding to the list the 1973 attack on the police headquarters in Milan. In line with last Friday’s ruling by the interministerial consultative and decision-making committee on intelligence service policy (CISR), the order enables early transfer of “classified files held by all central government administrations that represent an important contribution to the historic memory of the nation”.]

After the jump, that latest from Asia, including a memorable anniversary ahead, the latest and complex developments in that ongoing Games of Zones, salami tactics, a panopticon expansion, and the latest from the regional wild card. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Threats, drones, zones, spies, hacks


We begin today’s tales-from-the-dark-side collection with a reminder that the threats you suspect aren’t always the ones that get you. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Bacteria Are Adapting to Drugs Faster than We Can Develop New Ones

Some harmful bacteria are adapting to drugs faster than cures can be developed, according to a report published today by the World Health Organization. Infections resistant to antibiotics are “happening right now in every region of the world and [have] the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country,” the organization wrote.

The WHO report is the latest urgent alarm that our medical arsenal may be running out of ammunition against potentially deadly bugs. The last new class of antibiotic drugs was developed in the 1980s. The drought since then, the organization says, is “a discovery void.”

As microbes reproduce, they evolve to become more resilient to the therapies that doctors have used to treat bacteria since the first patients got penicillin in the 1940s. That process is accelerated when drugs are overused, or used improperly.

In the United States, 80 percent of antibiotics (measured by weight) are used for farm animals, as journalist Maryn McKenna documented last year, mostly to promote growth rather than to treat disease. The Food and Drug Administration in December attempted to reduce antibiotic use in farming, but the rules have been criticized as ineffective. Europe has largely banned the use of low-dose antibiotics to promote animal growth.

And from the Guardian, numbers that might lead one to question certain policies:

Global terrorism rose 43% in 2013 despite al-Qaida splintering, US reports

  • State Department says 16 Americans killed out of 17,891 total
  • Surge complicates sprawling counter-terrorism efforts led by US

Terrorist attacks rose 43% worldwide in 2013 despite a splintering of al-Qaida’s leadership and a sprawling global counter-terrorism campaign, according to new statistics released by the State Department on Wednesday.

The exposure of Americans to terrorism abroad remained minimal in 2013, with 16 US citizens killed out of 17,891 globally and seven Americans wounded out of 32,577. Almost 3,000 people were kidnapped or taken hostage by terrorists in 2013, and a mere 12 of them were Americans.

Despite the increase in attacks, the vast majority of terrorist incidents were local and regional, not international in focus, the State Department data indicates.

From Ars Technica, a defeat for corporate pedophilia:

Google ends “creepy” practice of scanning Gmail education apps

Tech giant was sued over alleged violations of wiretap and privacy laws.

Technology giant Google has ended its practice of scanning its users’ Apps for Education accounts for advertising purposes after being sued by students and other Gmail users last year, the company announced Wednesday.

The Google Apps for Education tool suite is a service the company provides for free to more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators globally. The service includes access to Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and cloud storage.

Users of the Apps for Education tools suite and other Gmail users have alleged that the company’s data scanning practices violated federal and state anti-wiretapping and privacy laws, according to the suit filed in a California federal court.

And whilst on the subject of corporate-enabled snooping, there’s this from Kyle Chayka for the Guardian:

The facial recognition databases are coming. Why aren’t the privacy laws?

  • Now that the US supreme court is finally considering cellphones, let’s get ahead of Moore’s Law and defend our new metadata

Online dating is kind of like going on a shopping trip. But instead of looking at pairs of shoes, we’re perusing people, glancing over their photos and profiles in an effort to gauge how interested we might be in them. So why shouldn’t we be warned, like a grocery-store expiration date, when one is rotten?

Such is the intention of CreepShield, a new web-browser extension that uses facial recognition technology to allow users to scan the faces they see on social networking websites – Facebook, eHarmony, OKCupid, even Grindr – and see if the faces match any public records in databases of sex offenders.

The app seems somewhat useful. Unless, of course, you’re mistakenly identified as a sex offender. When I uploaded my own photo after writing a recent Newsweek cover story on biometric surveillance, the CreepShield search engine showed results that were less than 50% sure I was a match – though there were some people in the database who looked eerily similar to me.

From MintPress News, Diane Feinstein strikes again:

Why US Intelligence Officials Pressured Senate To Block Public Release Of Drone Strikes

“A basic report of the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask,” one human rights advocate argues.

It appears Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee have largely forgiven the U.S. intelligence community for eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their email correspondence.

Acting on the request of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Feinstein and her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to remove a provision from a major intelligence bill that would have required the U.S. government to disclose information about when drone strikes occur — especially overseas — as well as information about the victims of the drone strikes.

Though previous drafts of the intelligence legislation didn’t require the White House to disclose the exact number of drone strikes carried out worldwide, human rights groups applauded the move to publish an annual report available to the public on the exact number of “combatants” and “non-combatant civilians” killed or injured by U.S. drone strikes each year.

The Oakland Tribune covers drone fears closer to Casa esnl:

Berkeley council takes cautious look at issue of drones

Speakers at Tuesday evening’s City Council workshop to develop domestic drone policy ranged from those who called for making the city a “drone free zone,” to supporters of limited drone use in police and fire emergencies.

The council made no policy recommendations at the workshop, but referred the issue for further study to the city’s Agenda Committee.

Jack Hamm, vice chair of the Disaster Fire Safety Commission read his commission’s resolution advocating drone use by Berkeley police and fire departments in “appropriate circumstances.”

From Spiegel, more Snowden revelations blowback:

NSA What? Spying Scandal Unlikely to Dominate Merkel’s US Visit

  • German Chancellor Merkel expects little progress in clarifying the NSA affair in Washington this week. She is still angered by US spying on her cell phone communications, but will instead address the Ukraine crisis and free trade with President Obama.

The Washington Post announces a purge:

Head of Pentagon intelligence agency forced out, officials say

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency is being pushed out of the job after a series of clashes over his leadership at an agency that is under pressure to shift focus following more than a decade of war, current and former U.S. officials said.

Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn is expected to announce Wednesday that he is leaving his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency more than a year before he was scheduled to depart, according to officials who said that Flynn faced mounting pressure from Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and others in recent months.

The Pentagon did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The move comes at a time when the DIA is in the midst of a series of major changes, including an effort by senior Pentagon officials to expand the agency’s network of spies overseas and work more closely with the CIA. Flynn, who served as a top intelligence adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan, arrived in July 2012 with an ambitious agenda to accelerate the agency’s transformation. But critics said his management style also sowed chaos, setting aggressive plans for changes without adequate follow-through.

Wired threat level raises an interesting question:

Has the NSA Been Using the Heartbleed Bug as an Internet Peephole?

When ex-government contractor Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s widespread efforts to eavesdrop on the internet, encryption was the one thing that gave us comfort. Even Snowden touted encryption as a saving grace in the face of the spy agency’s snooping. “Encryption works,” the whistleblower said last June. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”

But Snowden also warned that crypto systems aren’t always properly implemented. “Unfortunately,” he said, “endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”
Since the Heartbleed bug has existed for two years, it raises obvious questions about whether the NSA or other spy agencies were exploiting it before its discovery.

This week, that caveat hit home — in a big way — when researchers revealed Heartbleed, a two-year-old security hole involving the OpenSSL software many websites use to encrypt traffic. The vulnerability doesn’t lie in the encryption itself, but in how the encrypted connection between a website and your computer is handled. On a scale of one to ten, cryptographer Bruce Schneier ranks the flaw an eleven.

From The Intercept, covetousness from across the pond:

British Spy Chiefs Secretly Begged to Play in NSA’s Data Pools

Britain’s electronic surveillance agency, Government Communications Headquarters, has long presented its collaboration with the National Security Agency’s massive electronic spying efforts as proportionate, carefully monitored, and well within the bounds of privacy laws. But according to a top-secret document in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, GCHQ secretly coveted the NSA’s vast troves of private communications and sought “unsupervised access” to its data as recently as last year – essentially begging to feast at the NSA’s table while insisting that it only nibbles on the occasional crumb.

The document, dated April 2013, reveals that GCHQ requested broad new authority to tap into data collected under a law that authorizes a variety of controversial NSA surveillance initiatives, including the PRISM program.

PRISM is a system used by the NSA and the FBI to obtain the content of personal emails, chats, photos, videos, and other data processed by nine of the world’s largest internet companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Skype. The arrangement GCHQ proposed would also have provided the British agency with greater access to millions of international phone calls and emails that the NSA siphons directly from phone networks and the internet.

From Britain, where the security state meets the pavement, via Sky News:

Police Face Disciplinary Over Stop And Search

The Home Secretary says it is “absolutely disgusting” that six times more black and ethnic minority people are stopped.

Police officers will face disciplinary hearings if they do not stick to a new, tougher code of practice for stop and search.

Home Secretary Theresa May said an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found in 27% of stop and searches there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Figures also show those with black or ethnic minority backgrounds were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, which she said was “absolutely disgraceful”.

And a ghost from the bloody past leads to an arrest, via USA TODAY:

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams arrested in 1972 IRA killing

Northern Ireland police say they have arrested Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on suspicion of involvement in the Irish Republican Army’s 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of a Belfast widow.

Adams confirmed his own arrest Wednesday in a prepared statement and described it as a voluntary, prearranged interview.

Police had been expected to question the 65-year-old Adams about the 1972 killing of Jean McConville, whom the IRA executed as an alleged spy. The IRA did not admit the killing until 1998.

ANSA covers the curious case of cops who cheered collegeus for kicking, clubbing, and otherwise fatally beating  Federico Aldrovandi, an 18-year-old student from Ferrara after stopping him for public drunkeness:

Alfano scrubs police meeting after brutality-death applause

  • Calls standing ovation for Aldrovandi convicts ‘grave’

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Wednesday cancelled a meeting with the SAP police union after its members gave a standing five-minute ovation to three fellow officers who were convicted of killing an 18-year-old man during a routine stop in Ferrara in 2005.

“I revoke the appointment that I had given to the Union of Autonomous Police at the Interior Ministry in Rome on Tuesday,” Alfano said.

“It was an unacceptable and extremely serious gesture,” Alfano added.

The minister told public radio GR1 that the applause was “even more grave because it was done by men who represent the State and can not fail to acknowledge the meaning of a final judgement”. “That applause did great damage to the police,” Alfano added.

And in the business-as-usual department, this from the Guardian:

US intercepts Moscow’s calls to spies in Ukraine, report says

  • US secretary state reportedly tells private meeting recordings disprove Russian denials about involvement in separatist unrest

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, claims America has obtained intercepted phone calls that prove Moscow is deliberating trying to destabilise eastern Ukraine, according to reports of leaked remarks he made at a private meeting last week.

US news site the Daily Beast quoted Kerry saying: “Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow … We know exactly where they are coming from.”

On to Asia with the Guardian again, with grim news for the Fourth Estate:

Pakistan’s spy agency ISI accused of kidnapping and killing journalists

  • Amnesty International details journalists’ claims of harassment, intimidation and attacks at the hands of military intelligence

Amnesty International says it has “credible concerns” that Pakistan’s powerful military spy agency kidnaps, threatens and even kills journalists who cross it.

The allegations come amid an unprecedented public standoff between the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the country’s biggest media group over an attempt by unknown gunmen to kill Hamid Mir, a popular journalist on the Geo television network.

In a detailed report, the human rights group says journalists face extraordinary challenges in Pakistan, including deadly threats from banned militant groups and the armed wings of political parties. But Amnesty says it found that “no state actor is more feared by journalists than the ISI”.

And on Thailand, where the pot continues to boil in a dispute following town/country lines, via the Associated Press:

Thai government, poll body agree on July 20 vote

Thailand’s government and the state Election Commission have agreed to hold new general polls on July 20.

The commission announced the date after meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other officials.

Thailand held a general election on Feb. 2 after Yingluck dissolved Parliament’s lower house in response to protests calling on her to step down. The Constitutional Court nullified the election in late March because it failed to be held according to law after the protesters disrupted the registration process and voting.

More from the South China Morning Post:

Thai opposition refuses to commit to July election, threatens ‘final uprising’

Thailand’s prime minister and the country’s Election Commission agreed yesterday to hold an election in July despite the opposition’s reluctance to say whether it will take part.

Anti-government protesters have vowed to disrupt any election – as they did in boycotting a February poll that was later annulled – as part of a six-month campaign to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

“The prime minister and the Election Commission agree on a July 20 election,” Puchong Nutrawong, secretary general of the commission, said.

Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has shown no sign of giving in, even though the number of demonstrators has dwindled.

We are approaching D-day … This will be our final uprising, our ultimate gathering,” Suthep told supporters on Tuesday.

And after the jump, on to the latest chapters in the ongoing Game of Zones playing out in Asia as America and its allies play dangerous diplomilitary games with China, plus a nightmare scenario hits the road. . .. Continue reading

Headlines, threats, pols, cons, and more


Today’s global news wrapup covers lots of ground, starting with a New York Times story on the skewed jobs picture resulting from the —ahem — Obama recovery:

Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery.

“Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author. “If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — the question is, how do we make them better?”

Next, two headlines defining the meaning of Republican Family Values™. Both from USA TODAY.

First, this:

Kissing congressman won’t run for re-election

Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., said Monday he will not seek re-election in November, after being caught on video kissing a female aide.

McAlllister, who was elected just five months ago in a special election, first informed The News Star in Monroe, La., of his decision. He will serve out this term, which ends in January 2015.

“I am committed to serving the 5th District to the best of my ability through this term, but I also have to take care of my family as we work together to repair and strengthen the relationship I damaged,” McAllister said. He and his wife, Kelly, are returning to Washington later Monday.

And by way of contrast, this:

Rep. Grimm charged with tax fraud, says he won’t quit

A 20-count indictment unsealed Monday charged Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.,with an alleged tax evasion scheme involving the concealment of more than $1 million in receipts from his New York restaurant where he employed an undisclosed number of undocumented immigrants.

Grimm surrendered to federal authorities Monday and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction, mail fraud and perjury related to the alleged scheme involving his fast-food restaurant Healthalicious. But he said he would not resign his seat in Congress.

“In total, Grimm concealed over $1 million in Healthalicious gross receipts alone, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars of employees’ wages, fraudulently depriving the federal and New York state governments of sales, income and payroll taxes,’‘ court documents state.

So there it is: Cheat on your wife, lose your position. Cheat Uncle Sam and you soldier on, just like another recent GOP icon.

And from the Toronto Globe and Mail, bad news for Bill Gates:

U.S. advises avoiding Microsoft’s Internet Explorer until bug fixed

  • Malicious Operation Clandestine Fox campaign targets U.S. defence, financial firms

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security advised computer users to consider using alternatives to Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer browser until the company fixes a security flaw that hackers have used to launch attacks.

The bug is the first high-profile security flaw to emerge since Microsoft stopped providing security updates for Windows XP earlier this month. That means PCs running the 13-year old operating system could remain unprotected against hackers seeking to exploit the newly uncovered flaw, even after Microsoft figures out how to defend against it.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a part of Homeland Security known as US-CERT, said in an advisory released on Monday morning that the vulnerability in versions 6 to 11 of Internet Explorer could lead to “the complete compromise” of an affected system.

From Want China Times, Motor City looks East for salvation:

Chinese immigrants could save Detroit: governor

Bankrupt Detroit announced its new immigration plan that aims to attract Chinese investors, and the combined investment from China has reached US$100 billion, the ninth highest among the 50 states in the United States.

Although is was seeking Chinese investment, the city’s chronic problems with public disorder, racial conflict, and chaos in urban planning may still put its future at risk, according to the Southern Weekly.

The city, which has a factory that produced the first Ford car, was a major hub for automobile manufacturing worldwide. Its collapse after suffering huge debt and dying industries symbolizes the world’s farewell to the era of traditional industry.

Closer to home, The Guardian covers ranching chaos in the Golden State:

California drought drives exodus of cattle ranchers to eastern states

Ranchers herd their stock away from dying grasslands as beef prices reach record highs and industry faces uncertain future

In the midst of the worst California drought in decades, the grass is stunted and some creeks are dry. Ranchers in the Golden State are loading tens of thousands of heifers and steers onto trucks and hauling them eastward to Nevada, Texas, Nebraska and beyond.

“If there’s no water and no feed, you move the cows,” said Gaylord Wright, 65, owner of California Fats and Feeders Inc. “You move them or they die.”

The exact headcount for livestock on this cattle drive is not known. But a Reuters review of state agriculture department records filed when livestock cross state borders indicates that up to 100,000 California cattle have left the state in the past four months alone.

While the McClatchy Washington Bureau covers another impact of water shortages combined with drug war rules:

With no federal water, pot growers could be high and dry

Newly licensed marijuana growers in Washington state may find themselves without a key source of water just as spring planting gets under way.

Federal officials say they’ll decide quickly whether the U.S. government can provide water for the growers or whether doing so would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which makes possession of the drug illegal.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the water supply for two-thirds of Washington state’s irrigated land, is expected to make a decision by early May, and perhaps as soon as this week, said Dan DuBray, the agency’s chief spokesman.

And on the subject of pot, United Press International covers dires predictions unfulfilled in the Centennial State:

Only 15 percent of Colorado residents say they have bought recreational marijuana

The Quinnipiac Poll finds most Colorado residents say legalizing pot has not eroded state’s “moral fiber” and more than half expect it to help state budget.

While almost half of Colorado residents say they have used marijuana, only 15 percent say they have done so since the state legalized it Jan. 1, a new poll finds.

Generally, residents still support legalization, with 67 percent saying it has “not eroded the moral fiber” of Coloradoans, a Quinnipiac poll reported Monday. Only 30 percent said it has.

Half of those polled said they expect legalization to aid the criminal justice system, and 54 percent said that it has not made driving in Colorado more dangerous. More than half, 53 percent, said legalization “increases personal freedoms in a positive way,” and the same percentage expect the change to save the state money.

And from MIT Technology Review, more consequences of the mare’s nest exposed by Edward Snowden:

Spying Is Bad for Business

Can we trust an Internet that’s become a weapon of governments?

The big question in this MIT Technology Review business report is how the Snowden revelations are affecting the technology business. Some of the consequences are already visible. Consumers are favoring anonymous apps. Large Internet companies, like Google, have raced to encrypt all their communications. In Germany, legislators are discussing an all-European communications grid.

There is a risk that the Internet could fracture into smaller national networks, protected by security barriers. In this view, Brazil’s new cable is akin to China’s Great Firewall (that country’s system for censoring Web results), or calls by nationalists in Russia to block Skype, or an unfolding German plan to keep most e-mail traffic within its borders. Nations are limiting access to their networks. The result, some believe, could be the collapse of the current Internet.

Analysts including Forrester Research predict billions in losses for U.S. Internet services such as Dropbox and Amazon because of suspicion from technology consumers, particularly in Europe, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. “The Snowden leaks have painted a U.S.-centric Internet infrastructure, and now people are looking for alternatives,” says James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

One business is really booming, as Homeland Security News Wire reports:

Demand for terrorism insurance remains strong

The fourth edition of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Report has found that demand for terrorism insurance remains strong and the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) plays a key role in making coverage available and affordable. A survey of roughly 2,600 organizations found that the demand and price for terrorism insurance has remained constant since 2009. Education organizations purchase property terrorism insurance at a higher rate, 81 percent, than companies in any other industry segment surveyed in 2013, followed by healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and media companies.

The fourth edition of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Report has found that demand for terrorism insurance remains strong and the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) plays a key role in making coverage available and affordable.

The 2014 Marsh & McLennan Companies survey of roughly 2,600 clients found that the demand and price for terrorism insurance has remained constant since 2009. Education organizations purchase property terrorism insurance at a higher rate, 81 percent, than companies in any other industry segment surveyed in 2013, followed by healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and media companies.

On to Europe and rising doubts, reported by The Guardian:

Anti-EU vote could rise above 30% in European elections, says thinktank

  • Hardline sceptics could get 29% of vote and critical reformers 5%, although Open Europe’s definitions of groups are disputed

Anti-EU parties could win more than 30% of the vote across the continent in the European elections, according to calculations by the Open Europe thinktank, up from 24.9% on the vote in 2009.

The calculation – challenged by other analysts – suggests hardline sceptics could take as many as 218 (29%) of the 751 available seats, up from 164 out of 766 (21.4%) in the current parliament. Open Europe says this bloc is diffuse, ranging from mainstream governing parties to neo-fascists.

It forecasts that the European parliament will continue to be dominated by parties that favour the status quo or further integration, although their vote share is set to fall slightly.

BBC News covers good news for us, bad news for the banksters:

RBS plan for 200% bonuses blocked by Treasury body

Royal Bank of Scotland has abandoned attempts to pay bonuses twice the size of salaries after being told the move would not be approved.

UKFI, the body that manages the Treasury’s 81% stake in the bank, told RBS it would veto plans for a 2:1 bonus ratio at the next shareholder meeting.

“There will be no rise” while RBS is “still in recovery”, the Treasury said.

New EU rules mean the bank has to ask its shareholders for approval of annual bonuses above 100% of base salaries.

On to Germany and a warning from TheLocal.de:

Bundesbank warns of German slowdown

German economic growth is heading for a significant slowdown in the second quarter of 2014 after a robust first three months, the German central bank said on Monday.

“After the extremely strong start to the year, economic growth in Germany is expected to see a noticeable slowdown in the second quarter,” the Bundesbank said in its latest monthly report.

Growth in industrial orders has not continued with the “same intensity” as in the first two months of the year, it said.

Lisbon next, and embarrassing hacks from the Portugal News:

Attorney general’s office hacked, passwords accessible online

The web page of the Lisbon attorney general’s office has been hit by a hacker attack by ‘Anonymous Portugal’.

Saturday’s edition of Portuguese paper ‘Dário de Notícias’ said that personal details of more than 2,000 public prosecutor magistrates had been accessible online including their mobile and land line number and their passwords to reserved areas on the site.

The paper said that the hack, code named ‘national Blackout’, had also affected companies, political parties and the criminal investigation police.

On to Spain and a bare minimum protest from thinkSPAIN:

Naked police protest in council meeting

LOCAL Police officers burst into a council meeting in Torrevieja (Alicante), stripped down to their underpants and protested over forced changes to their working hours.

The 30 or so policemen bore slogans on their naked backs which said ‘no more chaos’ and ‘we’ve had enough’, among others.

Torrevieja’s PP council ordered the police off the premises and said it had no intention of changing officers’ duty hours back again, because their new timetables were ‘more efficient’.

Next up, Italy, and more Bunga Bunga blowback from EUbusiness:

Scandal-hit Berlusconi insists ‘friend of Jews, Germans’

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi insisted he is a friend of Jewish people and Germany on Monday in a bid to quell international outrage sparked by his controversial remarks about the Holocaust.

The former premier said he was “a historic friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel” and it was “surreal to attribute to me anti-German sentiment or a presumed hostility towards the German people, to whom I am a friend.”

The 77-year-old’s statement, posted on the website of his centre-right Forza Italy party, came after an international outcry over his claim on Saturday that Germans denied the existence of Nazi concentration camps.

The media mogul, who is campaigning for the European elections on behalf of his party despite a tax-fraud conviction, made the comment while lashing out at European Parliament chief Martin Schultz, the centre-left candidate in the race to lead the EU Commission.

After the jump, the latest mixed messages from Greece, a Ukrainian bailout, mass death sentences in Egypt, Chinese Brazilian dreams, a tension-filled Indian elections, printing houses in China, ramping up the Asian Game of Zones, nuclear nightmares, and tales of birds and bees. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Mixed opinions on Ukraine


The majority of Americans want sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine, according to new research [PDF] from the Pew Research Center, but most don’t want to promote arms for Kyiv. Also in the report: Support for sanctions is directly related to income level, with 66 percent of those who make over $75,000 favoring action, a policy favored by only 35 percent of those making less than $30,000:

BLOG Ukraine

 

A wide-ranging talk with Noam Chomsky


Chomsky [previously] talks with UC Santa Barbara sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse about the plutariat, labor insecurity and its desirability under modern capitalism [think the spread of “temp” jobs], class war, political deception, globalization and the accompanying global plutonomy, the limits of human comprehension, drug wars as race wars in drag, and so much more.

When Pieterse poses the question of neoliberalism, Chomsky siezes the opportunity.

“Neoliberalism is not new, and it’s not liberal,” Chomsky declares. It’s 19th Century imperialist governance in drag, accompanied by the ravages of the market. “The rich do not tolerate markets for themselves,” he said, because they recognize their depredations.

Chomsky describes Europe as “extremely undemocratic,” with governments styling themselves conservative, socialist — even communist — all following the same economic policies — dictated by Brussells and designed to undermine and eliminate the welfare state. They’re driven by policies of class war dictated by plutocrats at the top through their instruments in Brussels.

The new factor is South America, exercising a remarkable independence for the first time since their European colonization more than 500 years ago.

There’s more, and it’s well worth your time.

Just released by University of California Television:

A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Program notes:

Jan Nederveen Pieterse in conversation with Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher and political commentator. Chomsky is Emeritus professor of linguistics at MIT. Jan Nederveen Pieterse is professor of Global Studies and Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara.

An odd thought occurred whilst watching, sprung from our brief fling in Hollywood: Were I a casting director and looking for a couple of actors to play senior professors, Chomsky and Pieterse would top our list. Talk about cinemantic visages. . .

Headlines, TPPeonage, threats, pols, deals


Lots of ground to cover, especially the latest developments in Asia, so we head straight to it, first with this announcement from the Washington Post:

‘Happy Days’ no more: Middle-class families squeezed as expenses soar, wages stall

Wages for millions of American workers, particularly those without college degrees, have flat-lined. Census figures show the median household income in 2012 was no higher than it was 25 years ago. Men’s median wages were lower than in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, many of the expenses associated with a middle-class life have increased beyond inflation. This includes college tuition, whose skyrocketing cost has laid siege to a bedrock principle of the American Dream: that your children will do better than you did.

A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia found that 40 percent of those calling themselves middle class felt less financially secure than they were just a few years ago. Forty-five percent said they worry “a lot” about having enough money stashed away for retirement, and 57 percent said they worry about meeting their bills. Less than half said they expect their kids to do any better.

From CBS New York, sheltering the rich from class war:

Preparing For The Worst With Luxury Bunkers

  • Today’s Backyard Survival Cave Looks More Like An Extravagant 5-Star Resort

“The overall scope of the project was to create a wow experience for the homeowner. So that they could live here and enjoy the facility and not just survive,” said luxury bunker creator.

Survive whatever may come in comfort, whether it be a natural disaster or a future terror attack.

“It was part of the selling point. You want to make it as comfortable for the psychology,” said Ralph Henrich, who bought a bunker.

Henrich, of New Jersey, paid to reserve space in an underground luxury bunker for himself, his wife, and their three kids. The cost was $50,000 per adult and $35,000 for children under the age of 16. That’s nearly $200,000 for an average family of four.

“Leather sofas, high end kitchens, comfortable bedrooms, artwork, a gym,” Henrich said of the accommodations.

And from RT America, a high tech powerhouse:

Google now a ‘master of Washington influence’

Program notes:

The widely anticipated Google Glass is about to hit the market, but lawmakers in some states are concerned the internet-connected glasses will be a distraction for drivers. Legislators are considering restricting their use behind the wheel, so Google is responding by sending out lobbyists to convince lawmakers otherwise. As RT’s Ameera David reports, this political influence is only one small part of the company’s multi-million dollar lobbying apparatus.

And just for the fun of it, our proposal for the corporate theme song, performed in 1923 by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare:

Another high tech fortune, used to questionable ends, via International Business Times:

Bill Gates Criticised for Investment in G4S’ Israel Torture Prisons

Bill Gates’ philanthropic body, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been accused of complicity in the torture of Palestinian prisoners through its investment in British security company G4S.

G4S provides security services and equipment at Israeli prisons where allegations of child torture, forced confessions, overcrowding and medical neglect have been raised.

The foundation, the largest in the world, last year purchased £110m ($172m) worth of shares in G4S, something that human rights charities, such as Addameer Prisoner Support, claim contradicted the foundation’s belief that “every life has equal value”.

And from the Japan Times, more questions about a major and destructive trade deal being pushed ruthlessly by the Obama Regime of Hope™ and Change™:

Sealing TPP deal by May iffy despite Japan-U.S. ‘milestone’

Japan and the United States have found “common ground” to forge a two-way trade deal, but may not be able to resolve remaining sticking points in time for a mid-May meeting of top negotiators seeking a broader regional deal, a senior Japanese official said.

Marathon talks during U.S. President Barack Obama’s state visit to Tokyo last week yielded progress — hailed by the two sides as a “key milestone” — but the two stopped short of announcing a deal vital to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation bloc that will extend from Asia to Latin America.

The upbeat tone, however, was in contrast to the emphasis on “gaps” after previous rounds of talks on a bilateral deal that has been stalemated by differences over access to Japan’s agriculture market and both countries’ car markets.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another and very curious story on the same deal:

Obama denies US bullying Malaysia in TPPA negotiations

US President Barack Obama has denied that Washington is bullying Malaysia in the ongoing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Instead, he said, he himself was being bullied by his own (Democratic) party on the pact while protests against the agreement was more due to “people being fearful of the future or have invested in the status quo.”

“It is important for everybody to wait and see what is the (final) agreement before they jump into conclusions,” he said in response to a question on whether Washington was bullying Kuala Lumpur in negotiations on the TPPA at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday.

While Public Citizen casts some light on the darker side of the TPP:

TPP Investment Map: New Privileges for 30,000 Companies?

Under previous presidential administrations, the United States signed a number of free trade agreements (FTAs) that grant foreign corporations extraordinary rights and protections beyond the rights of domestic companies. A little-known FTA mechanism called “investor-state” enforcement allows foreign firms to skirt domestic court systems and directly sue governments for cash damages (our tax dollars) over alleged violations of their new rights before UN and World Bank tribunals staffed by private sector attorneys who rotate between serving as “judges” and bringing cases for corporations. Using this extreme system, corporations have sued the U.S. government in foreign trade tribunals for enacting laws or regulations that “interfered” with the corporations’ expected profits.  This “interference” has included essential environmental regulations, health laws, and domestic court decisions. These cases are not just threats to domestic U.S. policies. U.S. corporations have also used FTAs to attack public interest laws abroad.

If a corporation wins its private enforcement case, the taxpayers of the “losing” country must foot the bill. Over $380 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations in a series of investor-state cases under U.S. FTAs. Of the nearly $14 billion in the 18 pending claims under U.S. FTAs, all relate to environmental, energy, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.

The Obama administration is currently negotiating a sweeping new FTA called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — the first FTA negotiated by the Obama administration.  Despite Obama’s many campaign promises to scale down investor-state enforcement in trade agreements, the leaked investment chapter of the TPP reveals that the Obama administration intends to expand even further the extreme investor-state model of past FTAs. If passed, the TPP would grant thousands of corporations these extraordinary rights to sue governments over public interest policies for taxpayer compensation.

On to Europe, and a tale of dubeity from EurActiv:

Eurosceptics will gain national influence, study says

A new study claims that even if Eurosceptic parties do well in next month’s European elections, their impact in the European Parliament will be minimal. However, Eurosceptics will have more influence in their national parliaments, and on the sovereign debt crisis resolution. EurActiv France reports.

It is a month until the European elections, and the future looks bright for Eurosceptic parties across Europe. According to a survey published in the France’s Nice-Matin, the French far-right party, the National Front, is expected to take 24% of the vote, placing them ahead of the well-established Socialist Party (20%) and UMP (22%).

Deutsche Bank published a study titled Euroscepticism gaining currency? Implications of the EU elections for economic policy. It investigates the possible impact of Eurosceptic political parties after the European elections in May.

And Reuters raises some other doubts:

Deflation, emerging market fears set scene for tough EU bank tests

Fears of euro zone deflation, emerging markets turmoil and a determination not to repeat past mistakes mean European regulators are likely to come up with the toughest set of tests for the region’s banks that they have ever faced.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) will on Tuesday reveal the crisis scenarios that banks will have to prove they can withstand without resorting to the kind of taxpayer bailouts that all but bankrupted some countries in the 2008-2012 crisis.

Banks that fall short of capital under the imagined scenarios will have to produce a plan to boost their reserves by raising fresh funds from investors, selling assets or hanging on to profits instead of paying dividends.

On to Britain, and a weighty consequence of neoliberal school privatization from The Observer:

Top doctor slams schools policy for fuelling epidemic of child obesity

  • Academies and free schools could damage children’s health by opting out of healthy nutrition rules for school meals

One of Britain’s top doctors has warned that children’s health is being damaged because academies and free schools are allowed to opt out of serving healthy lunches to their pupils.

Two million children at such schools are now at risk of exposure to unhealthy foods as a result of the coalition government’s divisive and “irresponsible” policy, which is undermining the fight against childhood obesity, Professor Terence Stephenson told the Observer.

Germany next, with the usual neoliberal proposal from TheLocal.de:

Finance minister: Taxes could be cut

Germany’s powerful finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Sunday he was open to cutting income taxes, as international partners call on Europe’s top economy to spur consumer demand.

Schäuble told the upcoming issue of Der Spiegel magazine that if a compromise can be reached within Germany’s left-right “grand coalition” government while respecting fiscal discipline, he would be willing to look at tax relief.
The latest calls for reform target a quirk of the German system known as “tax bracket creep” under which employees who get pay rises slip into higher tax groups, making their net pay lower than before.

France next, and another threatened German invasion from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Siemens prepares to rival GE with bid for France’s Alstom

German industrial giant Siemens is planning a rival offer for French engineering group Alstom, which is being pursued by General Electric, a source close to the deal said Saturday.

“Siemens is preparing an offer,” said the source, the day before GE’s chief executive is due to arrive in Paris for talks with senior government officials about its potential bid.

Shares in Alstom were suspended from trading on Friday amid press reports that GE was preparing to make a $13 billion (9.4 billion euro) takeover bid for the French engineering group’s power plants, lines and renewable energy operations.

After jump, the latest from Greece, Big Oil’s Russia woes, Saudi Arabia’s killer drones, Egypt’s newest crop, the browning of Africa’s forest, the Asian wars of history and zones, more environmental woes, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and two tales of sexual shortcomings. . . Continue reading

Juice Rap News: Israel vs Palestine


Direct from Melbourne, Australia, we bring you the latest edition of Juice Rap News, created by Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant with the cooperation of Norman Finkelstein, Palestinian rap group DAM [Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Jreri], and others:

From Juice Rap News:

Juice Rap News: Israel vs Palestine

Program notes:

Decades of failed peace talks have led nowhere; but do not lose hope just yet. Join Robert Foster as he attempts to host the first ever Middle East Peace Raps, using rhyme and reason to bring together Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and a representative of Hamas. We investigate the key arguments, counter-arguments and ad-hominems from both sides. But the picture would not be complete without a thorough discussion of “America’s last taboo”, as Edward Said once referred to it: the USA’s role as Israel’s best (and only) buddy in the world (Ok, together with Australia). Featuring special cameos from prominent American Jewish scholar, Dr. Norman Finkelstein, and Palestinian rap legends, DAM, this is an episode for the ages. Join us as we bravely (or perhaps stupidly) take on one of the most bitter, divisive and controversial conflicts of our times: Israel & Palestine.

Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a suburban backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, on Wurundjeri Land.

Headlines redux, with classes, asses, & spooks


For today’s first entry, consider this instance of wretched excess from Al Jazeera America:

Parody Twitter account of Peoria, Ill., mayor leads to police raid

  • The mayor of Peoria apparently ordered the investigation into the account

Police officers trying to find out who was behind a fake Twitter account set up in the name of Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, in Illinois, have raided a home, seizing computers and phones and hauling several people in to be questioned.

Tuesday’s raid was carried out by four plainclothes officers even though Twitter had suspended the account several weeks ago.

The raid has raised questions about how free speech is defined and monitored by governments in the Internet age.

And then there’s the peculiar announcement from People’s Daily, offered without further explanation:

Solemn announcement on fake Twitter account

It has come to our attention that the account The Relevant Organs@relevantorgans made disparaging comments on Twitter in the name of english.cpc.people.com.cn, which has seriously damaged the reputation of our site. We hereby declare that this account is not related to our site.

And from Reuters, household names, behaving wretchedly:

Exclusive: Apple, Google to pay $324 million to settle conspiracy lawsuit

Four major tech companies including Apple and Google have agreed to pay a total of $324 million to settle a lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to hold down salaries in Silicon Valley, sources familiar with the deal said, just weeks before a high profile trial had been scheduled to begin.

Tech workers filed a class action lawsuit against Apple Inc, Google Inc, Intel Inc and Adobe Systems Inc in 2011, alleging they conspired to refrain from soliciting one another’s employees in order to avert a salary war. They planned to ask for $3 billion in damages at trial, according to court filings. That could have tripled to $9 billion under antitrust law.

The case has been closely watched due to the potentially high damages award and the opportunity to peek into the world of Silicon Valley’s elite. The case was based largely on emails in which Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and some of their Silicon Valley rivals hatched plans to avoid poaching each other’s prized engineers.

More wretched behavior, this time from Barry O’s minions, via the Los Angeles Times:

Neutral net may be a lost cause

The FCC’s latest plan could mean a major victory for broadband providers and a costly blow to consumers.

Consumers could end up the losers in a high-stakes battle among regulators, broadband providers and online entertainment giants over access to the Internet’s fastest speeds.

A new proposal from the head of the Federal Communications Commission would allow network owners such as AT&T Inc. to levy extra charges on Netflix Inc. and other online video purveyors for speedier delivery of content.

Those costs, consumer advocates said, ultimately would land on consumers’ monthly bills. The hotly debated changes also could push smaller video content providers out of business, driving up costs for those services as well, the advocates warned.

“It could create a tiered Internet where consumers either pay more for content and speed, or get left behind with fewer choices,” warned Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

More from Salon:

Say goodbye to TV’s golden age: Why Comcast’s rise and net neutrality’s downfall will change everything

  • The economic model that sustains quality TV is under assault. Does the future have room for any more Walter Whites?

From News Corp Australia, high-flyin’ opportunities for them that’s got:

Four Seasons has launched a $140K around the world flight for the super rich

IT’S ridiculously extravagant and you need to be super rich to do it.

This new luxury jet has been named the limo of the skies and it’s offering outrageously wealthy travellers the chance to take private around-the-world group trips.

For a whopping $140,000 a ticket, the flying limo comes with an on-board concierge, chef, leather flat-beds and staff to cater to your every need.

Seating only 52 passengers, the jet has been launched by the Four Seasons hotel chain and will take to the skies in February 2015.

And from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a rare win for the rest of us:

Vermont ups the ante on genetically modified foods

Vermont has raised the stakes in the debate over genetically modified foods by becoming the first state to pass a bill requiring that they be labeled as such in the grocery aisle, making the move despite the opposition of the powerful U.S. food industry.

Americans overwhelmingly favor such requirements for foods containing genetically modified organisms, but the industry fears a patchwork of state policies. The Vermont bill says genetically modified foods “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment” and includes $1.5 million for implementation and defense against lawsuits expected from the food and biotech industries.

The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, the food industry’s main trade group, said it’s evaluating how to respond. Options could include a legal challenge, labeling only foods that are sold in Vermont or making a wholesale change nationwide to avoid multiple labeling systems.

While Wired highlights the ominous:

Police Contract With Spy Tool Maker Prohibits Talking About Device’s Use

A non-disclosure agreement that police departments around the country have been signing for years with the maker of a cell-phone spy tool explicitly prohibits the law enforcement agencies from telling anyone, including other government bodies, about their use of the secretive equipment, according to one of the agreements obtained by an Arizona journalist.

The NDA includes an exception for “judicially mandated disclosures,” but no mechanisms for judges to learn that the equipment was used. In at least one case in Florida, a police department revealed that it had decided not to seek a warrant to use the technology explicitly to avoid telling a judge about the equipment. It subsequently kept the information hidden from the defendant as well.

A copy of the contract was obtained from a police department in Tucson, Arizona, which signed the agreement in 2010 with the Harris Corporation, a Florida-based maker of the equipment used by the department. The police department cited the agreement as one of the reasons it withheld information from a journalist who filed a public records request seeking information about the department’s use of the equipment.

From the Miami Herald, torture by any other name is still as hideous:

Expert testifies accused USS Cole bomber was tortured

The Saudi prisoner awaiting death-penalty trial for the USS Cole bombing was tortured physically, mentally and sexually, an expert in treating torture victims testified Thursday at the war court.

Dr. Sondra Crosby offered the diagnosis in open court during carefully choreographed testimony that never once mentioned that the accused al-Qaida terrorist, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 49, got to Guantánamo from four years of CIA captivity during which he was interrogated with waterboarding, a revving power drill and threats to his mother.

“I believe that Mr. al Nashiri has suffered torture — physical, psychological and sexual torture,” Crosby said.

On to Europe on an upbeat note from Reuters:

Rating agencies buy into euro zone recovery story

Ratings agencies gave a broadly upbeat assessment of the euro zone’s creditworthiness on Friday, contrasting sharply with reviews of recent years and reflecting growing confidence in the region’s fiscal and economic recovery.

On a day of credit updates scheduled for three of the bloc’s top four economies, Standard & Poor’s affirmed its ratings on France, while Fitch raised its outlook on Italy and was expected to boost its view of Spain after Europe’s markets close.

S&P also raised its rating on Cyprus, suggesting the recovery is spreading to the peripheral regions left most exposed to the euro zone’s financial crisis, in what was its second upgrade of the bailed-out country since it came close to financial collapse last year.

From EurActiv, frackmania in Old Blighty:

UK shale industry claims it could create over 60,000 jobs

Studies on the impact of shale gas extraction in Europe’s economy and energy security are mushrooming in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. The latest from the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG) claims that the development of shale gas in the UK could generate “€40.2 billion” and “create up to 64,000 jobs” in Britain.

The industry-funded study is based on the “high-case scenario” from a May 2013 report by the Institute of Directors (IoD) of “what a shale pad could look like”, estimating that 4,000 wells would be drilled between 2016 and 2032. Both highlight the benefits of shale gas development over job creation, tax revenues and potentially lower carbon emissions than imported gas.

The authors of the UKOOG study estimate that €40.2 billion would be spent in total by 2024 for activities related to shale gas exploitation – hydraulic fracturing, drilling, waste management as well as storage and transportation.

While The Independent covers calls outrage at the top:

Stop moaning about our bonuses: Barclays boss slaps down investors angry at bank’s pay practices

Barclays was accused of attempting to silence criticism of its bonus culture after one of the bank’s directors slapped down a major shareholder for speaking out against its pay practices.

Sir John Sunderland, chairman of the bank’s remuneration committee, was angrily heckled by shareholders after he told Standard Life’s Alison Kennedy that it “would be good in future if these points could be made during the consultation phase”.

His criticism of Standard Life for publicly voting against the Barclays remuneration report – which increased the bank’s bonus pool despite falling profits – will fuel public suspicion of “backroom” City pay deals.

On to Germany with The Guardian, droning on about herbivore help:

Germany deploys drones to protect young deer from combine harvesters

  • Trial in Bavaria shows great promise in spotting fawns hiding in tall grass and alerting farmers doing spring mowing

A German wildlife rescue project is deploying small aerial drones to find young deer hiding in tall grass and protect them from being shredded by combine harvesters cutting hay in spring.

According to project spokesman Rolf Stockum, the pilot scheme has shown great promise in spotting the young animals. About 100,000 of them fall victim in Germany every year to the large agricultural machines, he said on Friday.

Next up, a word from Paris via France 24:

French joblessness steadies but a record 3.3 million seek work

France’s unemployment rate stabilised in March with only 1,600 new job seekers, according to data released by the government on Friday, but the total number of people without work is still at a record 3.34 million.

The news is likely to be interpreted as encouraging by the government of socialist President François Hollande, who pledged during his 2012 election campaign to counter rising unemployment. The promise has proved difficult to keep, with joblessness continuing to grow throughout his first year in office.

The number of people under 25 seeking jobs shrank slightly in the month of March by 0.8 percent, or 4,300, bringing the youth unemployment rate to its lowest level since October 2012. In contrast, those over the age of 50 without jobs grew by 7,300 or 0.1 percent, continuing an uninterrupted trend since the global economic crisis hit France in 2008.

Bloomberg offers a more subdued take:

French April Industry Growth Cools as New Business Stagnates

French manufacturing and services growth cooled more than economists forecast this month as new business stagnated and employment fell.

A Purchasing Managers’ Index of factory activity dropped to 50.9 from 52.1 the previous month, Markit Economics said in London today. Economists had forecast a reading of 51.9, based on the median of 10 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. A reading above 50 indicates expansion and the index breached that level in March for the first time in two years. The euro erased a gain against the dollar after the report.

A services gauge fell to 50.3 in April from 51.5 in March, also lower than economists had forecast. A composite measure of both industries declined to 50.5 from 51.8, Markit said.

And from Belgium via TheLocal.fr, a dubious tribute to to a once-powerful bankster:

Sex club named ‘DSK’ after fallen Frenchman

One-time French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s name was the subject of attention once again this week after an infamous French pimp used the disgraced former IMF head’s initials as inspiration for the name of his new sex club.

The former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who saw his presidential hopes shattered after being arrested on charges of raping a New York City hotel maid in 2011, suffered more sex-related indignities this week.

Infamous French pimp Dominique Alderweireld, widely known as Dodo la Saumure, who has been charged with providing prostitutes to Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he is known in France, unveiled his new Belgian strip club/brothel this week, the Dodo Sex Klub, or just DSK, named in honor of his alleged former client.

On to Lisbon and a major comedown from the Portugal News:

Portugal’s drone flop goes viral

The failure of a new drone to launch correctly has made world headlines, with several British newspapers running pieces on the launch that went wrong. Footage of the failed event has also gone viral, with a field day being had on Youtube by online commentators.
Portugal’s drone flop goes viral

Portugal’s Defence Minister Aguiar-Branco last week visited a Navy Base in Alfeite, where he was invited to witness the testing of a new drone that was made in Portugal and which is hoped to soon carry out coastal surveillance.
But the event took a nosedive immediately after the drone was launched as it crashed straight into the sea.

Speaking to state-run channel RTP, a Navy source explained the drone fell into the sea because it was “launched wrong”.

And the grand fail, via vlogger Pedro Lima:

Failure to Launch

After the jump, mixed news from Greece [both economic and criminal], a downgrade for Russia, economic alarm bells in Latin America, the start of the great undersea mining rush, neoliberalism in Hanoi, politicall failure and harsh memories of World War II in Japan, Japan’s push for more reactors, radioactive oil well woes, and a case of California pollution fined. . . Continue reading

Headlines again, with anxieties and ironies


First up, one of the world’s smallest nations takes on nine heavy hitters: The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Via the Japan Times:

Tiny Marshall Islands sues nine nuclear-armed powers

The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law.

The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II was filing suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also was filing a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade.

From CNN Investigations, a national shame, and another neoliberal triumph:

A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital’s secret list

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting for appointments and care. But the new revelations about the Phoenix VA are perhaps the most disturbing and striking to come to light thus far.

Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Salon covers another national shame:

Massive new fraud coverup: How banks are pillaging homes — while the government watches

  • When financial crimes go unpunished, the root problem of fraud never gets fixed — and these are the consequences

From Boing Boing, another imminent national shame from the administration of Hope™ and Change™:

FCC planning new Internet rules that will gut Net Neutrality. Get ready to pay more for the stuff you love online.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report that The Federal Communications Commission will propose new open Internet rules this Thursday that will allow content companies to pay Internet service providers “for special access to consumers.”

Under the new rules, service providers may not block or discriminate against specific websites, but they can charge certain sites or services for preferential traffic treatment if the ISPs’ discrimination is “commercially reasonable.”

Bye-bye, Net Neutrality, and the internet as we know it. Hello, greater connectivity gap between rich and poor in America.

The covers another neoliberal triumph:Associated Press:

Postal workers unions protest Staples program

Postal workers around the country protested in front of Staples stores on Thursday, objecting to the U.S. Postal Service’s pilot program to open counters in stores, staffed with retail employees.

Rallies were planned at 50 locations in 27 states. In New York, about 100 workers marched from the main office on 8th Avenue to a Staples store about five blocks away, carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Staples deal has got to go.”

In Washington, D.C., more than 200 people gathered at a Staples, drumming on buckets and holding signs that read: “Stop Staples. The US Mail is Not for Sale.”

Bloomberg casts doubt:

Is the U.S. Shale Boom Going Bust?

It’s not surprising that a survey of energy professionals attending the 2014 North American Prospect Expo overwhelmingly identified “U.S. energy independence” as the trend most likely to gain momentum this year. Like any number of politicians and pundits, these experts are riding high on the shale boom — that catch-all colloquialism for the rise of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have unleashed a torrent of hydrocarbons from previously inaccessible layers of rock.

But this optimism belies an increasingly important question: How long will it all last?

Among drilling critics and the press, contentious talk of a “shale bubble” and the threat of a sudden collapse of America’s oil and gas boom have been percolating for some time. While the most dire of these warnings are probably overstated, a host of geological and economic realities increasingly suggest that the party might not last as long as most Americans think.

And from Los Angeles Times, signs of a bubble deflating?:

Homes selling slower in Southern California. A sign of stability?

The share of houses that have been listed for sale for at least two months climbed in the Los Angeles, Orange County, Inland Empire and Ventura regions of Southern California compared with a year ago, according to an analysis by real estate website Trulia.

Thanks to perennially tight supply, Southern California housing markets are still pretty “fast” by historic standards, notes Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko. More than half of all homes in Los Angeles and Orange Counties sold in less than two months — among the 10 highest rates in the country.

But compared with last year, when prices were significantly lower and the supply of homes for sale was even tighter, the market has slowed a bit. The share of homes on the market for two months in Los Angeles climbed to 44% from 40 a year ago, to 45% from 38% in Orange County and to 53% from 49% in Riverside-San Bernardino. By comparison, that share fell in the Bay Area, Denver and Seattle.

The Guardian nags:

Big riders mean bigger horses on US’s western trails

  • Ranches are turning to draft horses – the ‘diesels’ of the horse world – to accommodate flood of overweight tourists

Wranglers in the US west who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.

The ranches say they are using draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, in ever greater numbers to make sure they don’t lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the west of yesteryear.

“Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it’s kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family,” said wrangler T James “Doc” Humphrey.

And from the New York Times, a deal with the devil:

F.B.I. Informant Is Tied to Cyberattacks Abroad

An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.

Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data — from bank records to login information — from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.

The details of the 2012 episode have, until now, been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the F.B.I. directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to dismantle hacking groups like Anonymous and send computer activists away for lengthy prison terms.

The Los Angeles Times covers cops gone bad:

Ex-deputies charged in planted-guns case

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are accused of cutting off electricity and security cameras in order to plant weapons and arrest two men at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been charged with planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary to arrest two men, one of whom prosecutors said was sentenced to a year in jail before the bad evidence was discovered.

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, face two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday. Martinez was charged with two additional felony counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

If convicted of the charges, the former deputies face more than seven years in prison.

While the London Daily Mail covers the Case of the Homicidal Snitch:

How KKK ‘Jewish center shooter’ entered the witness protection program after he was caught having sex with a black male prostitute dressed as a woman

  • Frazier Glenn Cross was arrested on April 14 for shooting three at Kansas City Jewish centers
  • Previously worked as a government informant after he was arrested under his original name, Frazier Glenn Miller
  • Had a history of arrests- including one following a tryst with a black male prostitute posing as a woman- that led to his 1987 capture
  • Was released and given a new identity as part of his 1990 informant deal

And from the Washington Post, a high-flier brought low:

Navy reassigns ex-Blue Angels commander after complaint he allowed sexual harassment

The Navy has reassigned a former commander of the Blue Angels, its acrobatic fighter squadron, and is investigating allegations that the elite team of pilots was a hotbed of hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, documents show.

The Navy announced Friday that it had relieved Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, of duty for alleged misconduct. At the time, the Navy did not describe the nature of the accusations or provide other details except to say that the case remained under investigation.

From Eyes on Trade, Barry O continues the sell-out:

As Obama Visits TPP Countries, New Obama Administration Report Targets Their Public Interest Policies as “Trade Barriers” to be Eliminated

As President Obama leaves on his Asia tour today to try to paper over the deep divisions that have bewitched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, he will likely refrain from reiterating the criticisms his administration recently levied against the sensitive domestic policies of the TPP governments he will be visiting.

The 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, published earlier this month by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), targets financial, privacy, health, and other public interest policies of each TPP nation as “trade barriers” that the U.S. government seeks to eliminate. The report offers unusual insight into why negotiations over the sweeping, 12-nation deal are contentious and have repeatedly missed deadlines for completion.

And a helpful reminder, via ExposeTheTPP:

BLOG TPP

Gawker covers a sensible but long-belated move:

Brooklyn DA to Stop Prosecuting for Low-Level Pot Arrests

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office will stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests, according to a confidential memo obtained by the New York Times.

The district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson sent the policy proposal to the New York Police Department earlier this month.

The memo states that charges against anyone arrested with a small amount of marijuana who lacks a prior conviction will be “immediately dismissed,” and “the police will be directed to destroy the defendant’s fingerprints.” Some 8,500 people were processed last year in Brooklyn on low-level drug charges.

From the National Post, a story that raises so many questions north of the border and raises the prospect of another drinking buddy for Toronto’s mayor::

‘Intoxicated’ 18-year-old girl reportedly rushed to hospital from Prime Minister Harper’s residence

  • 24 Sussex medical call won’t be investigated by RCMP

The RCMP have confirmed that Ottawa EMS was called to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive last Saturday night as media reports said an 18-year-old girl needed to be taken to hospital for severe intoxication.

RCMP would not confirm who the call was for, only that it was not Stephen Harper or one of his family members.

On to Europe with some rare good news for workers from the Portugal News:

EU workers to enjoy fully portable pension rights when moving abroad

EU workers moving to a different EU country will be able to take their full pension rights with them following a draft law passed by the European Parliament last week. It still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers.

“The text represents a genuine improvement for many workers. It is a big step forwards for the free movement of workers and a boost for a social Europe”, said Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, adding that “a good pension is a necessity, now that Europeans can expect to live much longer.”

Current EU rules ensure that workers moving to another EU country do not lose their statutory pension rights, i.e. those provided by the state.

However, no such EU-wide rules exist for supplementary pension schemes, financed or co-financed by employers. So people who move between member states risk losing entitlements built up over a period that is not deemed long enough by the state to which they move.

From intelNews.org, the second oldest profession with familiar adversaries:

Russian espionage in Germany rising sharply, says Berlin

Russian espionage activity in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, according to senior counterintelligence officials in Berlin.

An article published in weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag on Sunday said Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the German capital center on infiltrating German political institutions and corporations. The Berlin-based publication said Russian spies typically seek to gain “intimate knowledge” of German energy policy as well as corporate practices.

Another area of interest for Russian intelligence concerns Germany’s activities in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Citing Hans-Georg Maassen, Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV —Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency), Die Welt said that no foreign intelligence service is more active on German soil than Russia’s SVR —one of the KGB’s successor agencies. Most Russian intelligence officers “pose as embassy workers”, said the paper, adding that the BfV believes up to a third of all Russian diplomats stationed at the German capital have a “background in intelligence gathering”.

On to France and more familiar adversaries from TheLocal.fr:

Neo-Nazi Hitler party shocks French village

The mayor of a small village in eastern France was forced to explain this week how he ended up giving the green light for a neo-Nazi party commemorating the 125th anniversiary of Hitler’s birth. The mayor said he presumed it was just going to be an ordinary birthday party.

When André Sherrer, the mayor of the tiny village of Oltingue, in the Alsace region of Eastern France, gave the go-ahead for a function in a municipal building he had no idea the outrage it would provoke.

Sherrer, who is in charge of the village of 700 residents thought he was renting the room out for an ordinary birthday party but little did he know that 150 to 200 neo-Nazis would be turning up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Hitler’s birth on April 20th 1889.

And from France 24, when all else fails, play up flesh:

Ségolène Royal denies banning cleavage at French ministry

Ségolène Royal, French President François Hollande’s former partner and the mother of his four children, has denied claims she ordered female staff at the Environment Ministry to “dress appropriately” and avoid revealing tops.

The report, published by French weekly Le Point on Thursday, claimed Royal, who joined Hollande’s Socialist government following a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, had also banned smoking in the ministry’s courtyard and gardens in her presence.

Denying the “ridiculous rumours” on her Twitter account, Royal said the only instruction she had given colleagues was to be sparing in their use of public funds.

From TheLocal.ch, a Swiss challenge to the financializers:

Vote set for ban on food trading ‘speculation’

The Swiss will vote on a proposal to ban speculation on agricultural commodities and food, the government said on Wednesday, announcing that organizers had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum.

The Swiss Socialist Party’s youth wing gathered nearly 116,000 valid signatures — well beyond the 100,000 needed to organize a popular vote in Switzerland, one of the world’s main trading hubs for commodities.

The initiative, entitled “No speculation in food commodities”, will likely come up for a vote within the next two or three years, giving voters the possibility to put a stop to all trading in financial instruments linked to agricultural products.

From thinkSPAIN, voices against austerity:

Doctors from Médicos del Mundo collect 43,000 signatures calling for ‘free healthcare for all’

DOCTORS working for a worldwide charity have raised a petition of 43,000 signatures in protest over the healthcare reform proposed by minister Ana Mato.

Médicos del Mundo (‘world doctors’) say the restrictions are ‘unjust and cruel’ and that ‘two years of reforms’ had ‘put more human lives at risk’ by ‘targeting those who are the most vulnerable’.

The charity says it has seen literally hundreds of immigrants without residence cards being denied medical care, and Spanish families with low incomes struggling to pay for treatment they need, ‘endangering their lives and health’.

Opprobrium for Madrid from The Guardian:

Spain restricting people’s right to protest, Amnesty report finds

  • Report paints picture of heavy-handed government response to country’s growing social movements

The Spanish government is using fines, harassment and excessive police force to limit the right to protest, Amnesty International warned in a new report released on Thursday.

Against a backdrop of chronic unemployment and shrinking public funds for education, health and social services, a growing number of Spaniards have taken to the streets in recent years. But “instead of listening to their demands, instead of starting a dialogue, authorities are doing everything they can to impede people from protesting”, said the report’s author, Virginia Álvarez.

Amnesty International tracked several protests in Madrid and Barcelona during the past year, gathering first-person accounts, interviewing journalists and lawyers and analysing videos and photographs.

And from TheLocal.es, allegations of book-cooking:

Spain ‘fiddles numbers’ to shave jobless rate

Spain has managed to push down its unemployment rate to 25.77 percent — by adjusting the formulas used to establish the country’s jobless rate to include the latest census data.

Spain’s official unemployment rate fell from 26.03 percent to 25.77 percent in one fell swoop on Thursday.

The sudden drop came after the national statistics institute (INE) revised its formulas to include data from the 2011 national census.

Spain’s official unemployment rate is based on a survey of 65,000 households across the country, known as the EPA, or Active Population Survey.

On to Italy and more hard times intolerance from EUobserver:

Italian right calls for end to migrant rescue programme

Italian right-wing politicians have called for the country’s programme to rescue North African refugees from the Mediterranean sea to be scrapped after figures suggested that 1,100 immigrants had been rescued in the past two days.

The figures are the highest since Italy launched a naval operation known as “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) last October to rescue would-be migrants at sea in the wake of two shipwrecks off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa which killed more than 600 people.

Since its creation, Mare Nostrum has rescued more than 20,000 people from the Mediterranean at an estimated cost of €9 million a month, according to Italian media reports.

From EUobserver, currency losing currency:

Anti-euro talk spreads in Italy

Rome – In the 1990s, qualifying against the odds for eurozone membership was a matter of pride for most Italians. Now leaving the euro – once a political taboo – is routinely discussed by the media, as the campaign for next month’s European Parliament elections gets into full swing.

Polls suggest that eurosceptics may win as much as 50 percent of the votes, if support levels for Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia are totted up with those for smaller right-wing parties such as the Northern League and Brothers of Italy.

“There is more talk about Europe, but it is being talked about in bad terms,” Franco Frattini, a former EU commissioner and ex-Italian foreign minister, lamented at a public event in Rome on 16 April.

From TheLocal.it, feeling cross, or when symbolism turns lethal:

Italian man crushed to death by giant crucifix

An Italian man was crushed to death on Wednesday by a giant crucifix honouring John Paul II that collapsed during a ceremony ahead of the late pope’s canonization.

A piece of the 30-metre high wooden cross fell during the event near an Alpine village, killing the young man on the spot, Italian media reported.

The Jesus Christ statue on the cross is six metres high and weighs 600 kilogrammes and the crucifix was curved and fixed to the ground with cables, the reports said. The victim’s age was given at 20 or 21 years old.

And for our final Italian item, a symbolic step from ANSA:

Napolitano signs tax-cut decree

  • Includes ban on hiring for late-paying local administrations

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday signed the government’s decree bringing in 10 billion euros of tax cuts for low earners, ANSA sources said. Napolitano met Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan earlier on Thursday for clarification about aspects of the legislation.

Opposition parties have expressed doubts about the financing of the cuts.

Premier Matteo Renzi, on the other hand, said Wednesday that the cuts were the start of a “revolution in the relationship between citizens and the State”.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including bailout news and rising discontent], a Putinesque pronouncement, pot rules in Montevideo, the latest Asian zonal games, religious resurgence in China, and the curious case of the the not-so-green geothermal Icelandic woes. . . Continue reading

Hard times separatism, Italian style in Venice


Regional separatism is one of the common denominators of hard economic times, whether in ensl‘s own California or in the European Union.

Italy’s always had strong regional divisions, typically pitting the industrial north against the agrarian south [shades of America's own pre-Civil War economic divides].

This report from Deutsche Welle‘s European Journal takes a look at the separatist movement based in Venice, where would-be guerrillas armored a bulldozer and plotted to tear down statues of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the general who played a key role in Italian unification during the years America was fighting its own civil war.

Intriguingly, Venetia was one of the last holdouts in that unification.

From Deutsche Welle:

European Journal | Italy: Venetian Separatists

Program notes:

They’re demanding the independence of the Veneto region from the rest of Italy, and increasingly using violence: the radical separatists from the group known as “The Alliance.”

The Veneto is one of Italy’s wealthiest regions. But since the economic crisis, many people there are angry that their money is being spent to help the poorer south of the country. That’s grist to the mill for the separatists, who are becoming increasingly radical. Recently the Italian police broke up a group which had acquired weapons from the Albanian mafia and planned to declare Venetian independence on St. Mark’s Square.

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

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

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

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

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

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

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

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

Salon finds brown noses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

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

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

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

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

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

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

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

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

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

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

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

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

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

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

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

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

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

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

>snip<

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

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

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

BLOG Drought

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

Keiser Report: Critical Ukrainian perspective


If you listen to the Obama administration and their allies on both sides of the political aisle, we’re obsessed with the Ukraine because some nasty Russians are imperializing and dreaming of Joe “The Boss” Stalin via his latter-day Putinesque incarnation.

But if the U.S. is really consumed by the need to get all aggressive over massive human rights abuses, then why aren’t we threatening Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and are subjected to arbitrary whims of a religious paramilitary police — the same zealots who forced a dozen girls to burn to death simply because they tried to flee their burning quarters quarters before they had a chance to don the clerically required garb?

And why not send warships off Brunei, where it’s going to be legal this coming Tuesday to order the stoning deaths of practicing gays? Or Uganda, where men are facing life in prison simply for the way they chose to ejaculate.

In the second half of this latest episode of the Keiser Report, an Oakland, California, journalist reveals some of their deeper motivations for American concern about control of the Ukraine.

And don’t be surprised if one of the players is a major multinational with a huge and controversial presence in the San Francisco Bay Area.

From the Keiser Report:

Keiser Report: Ukraine’s Big Oil & Big Angst (E590)

Program notes:

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert discuss American injustice in the age of the wealth gap and Weev’s hedge fund trolling. In the second half, Max interviews JP Sottile of Newsvandal.com about Big Oil and Big Ag in Ukraine. Sottile names the people and corporations hoping to exploit the Ukrainian agricultural sector.

Newsvandal’s an interesting alternative news site, and Oaklander JP Sottile raises the right questions, ones that aren’t raised prominently or at all in the dying lamestream media.

On the Ukraine: Curiouser and curiouser indeed


Watching the news from the Ukraine as filtered through the American mainstream media arouses a powerful sense of suspicion that we’re not being told the entire story.

One recent item caught our attention, an inflammatory developement that casts the pro-Russian Ukrainians in an extremely negative light.

From USA Today:

Leaflet tells Jews to register in East Ukraine

World leaders and Jewish groups condemned a leaflet handed out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in which Jews were told to “register” with the pro-Russian militants who have taken over a government office in an attempt to make Ukraine part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website, and Ukraine’s Donbass news agency.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the language of the leaflets “is beyond unacceptable” and condemned whomever is responsible.

Britain’s Sky News reported with a bit more more nuance:

Ukraine Jews Told To ‘Register’ In Mystery Flyer

Donetsk’s chief rabbi says the anti-Semitic leaflet campaign “smells of a provocation”, as its origins remain unclear.

The chief rabbi in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk has told Sky News of his distress at the distribution of a leaflet suggesting Jewish people must “register” with the government.

The leaflet, written in Russian, was apparently signed by Denis Pushilin, a leader of Donetsk People’s Republic, but he has denied his organisation is behind it.

Now if you want to united American politicians behind an issue, just raise the flag of antisemitism and folks all the way from from the Christian Zionist far right to the Democratic party will rouse themselves to condemnation of the alleged perpetrators. . .as well they should, if the allegations are legitimate.

Given that registration of Jewish communities was the first step on the road to the Holocaust, it’s almost as though the flyers are too good to be true, playing on some of the unsavory realities in today’s Russia [ranging from state-sanctioned homophobia to the resurgence of antisemitism] to rouse wrath on behalf of policies favored by Washington and its NATO allies.

The legitimacy of the charges remains to be proved, as Sky News acknowledged, and yet another recent headline raises some very interesting possibilities, especially given the timing on an event that happened several day’s before today’s stories.

Again from USA Today:

White House: Brennan was in Kiev this weekend

The White House confirmed Monday that CIA Director John Brennan traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, in recent days as part of a longer trip to Europe.

Russian media reported Brennan’s visit to Kiev this past weekend, raising suspicions about it.

Those suspicions are unwarranted, said White House spokesman Jay Carney, adding that Brennan was only meeting with intelligence counterparts in Ukraine.

More from Forbes, which adds some interesting detail:

Why CIA Director Brennan Visited Kiev: In Ukraine The Covert War Has Begun

Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, Vladimir Putin has said, and he should know because the country is already in the midst of a covert intelligence war. Over the weekend, CIA director John Brennan travelled to Kiev, nobody knows exactly why, but some speculate that he intends to open US intelligence resources to Ukrainian leaders about real-time Russian military maneuvers. The US has, thus far, refrained from sharing such knowledge because Moscow is believed to have penetrated much of Ukraine’s communications systems – and Washington isn’t about to hand over its surveillance secrets to the Russians.

If you have any doubts that the battle is raging on the ‘covert ops’ front just consider today’s events in Pcholkino where Ukrainian soldiers from the 25th Airborn Division handed over their weapons and APC’s to pro-Russian militiamen and pretty much surrendered. The Ukrainian commander was quoted as saying “they’ve captured us and are using dirty tricks”. This is the kind of morale-busting incident that can spread quickly. It doesn’t happen spontaneously and it often begins with mixed messages, literally – messages purporting to come from the chain of command but actually originate from the enemy’s dirty tricks department.

Given that even the highly conservative Forbes acknowledges the dirty tricks implicit in the disinformation game now underway, one has to wonder whether the passion-arousing flyers are in fact a classic bit of disinformation, akin to tactics used by the FBI in its notorious COUNTELPRO campaigns against American radicals back a half-century ago and more recently against Latin American countries governed by folks who won’t toe the Washington line.

After all, the CIA turned to dirty tricks to target an American citizen and academic who criticized both the George W. Bush administration’s war policies and it’s pro-Israeli politics.

Given Israel’s brilliant use of the Russian expat Nathan Sharansky’s devious Three-D gambit [previously] to sensitive media to condemn any criticism of Israel as antisemitic, the American press is quick to leap uncritically when the dog whistle of of antisemitism is blown.

Given American intelligence’s long history of practicing deception/disinformation and Washington’s powerful interests in destabilizing the Russian government — which oversees the supply of natural gas to Europe — we are highly suspicious of the very convenient timing of the flyers.

Another critique of American coverage

Michael Hudson [previously], one of the sharpest economists around these days, is also highly critical of American media coverage of events in the Ukraine.

Consider the following interview of Hudson, an economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City by Jessica Desverieux of The Real News Network:

Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors

An excerpt from the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So, Micheal, what are you tracking this week?

HUDSON: The big news is all about the Ukraine. And it’s about the events that happened in the shootings on February 20. Late last week, the German television program ARD Monitor, which is sort of their version of 60 Minutes here, had an investigative report of the shootings in Maidan, and what they found out is that contrary to what President Obama is saying, contrary to what the U.S. authorities are saying, that the shooting was done by the U.S.-backed Svoboda Party and the protesters themselves, the snipers and the bullets all came from the Hotel Ukrayina, which was the center of where the protests were going, and the snipers on the hotel were shooting not only at the demonstrators, but also were shooting at their own–at the police and the demonstrators to try to create chaos. They’ve spoken to the doctors, who said that all of the bullets and all of the wounded people came from the same set of guns. They’ve talked to reporters who were embedded with the demonstrators, the anti-Russian forces, and they all say yes. All the witnesses are in agreement: the shots came from the Hotel Ukrayina. The hotel was completely under the control of the protesters, and it was the government that did it.

So what happened was that after the coup d’état, what they call the new provisional government put a member of the Svoboda Party, the right-wing terrorist party, in charge of the investigation. And the relatives of the victims who were shot are saying that the government is refusing to show them the autopsies, they’re refusing to share the information with their doctors, they’re cold-shouldering them, and that what is happening is a coverup. It’s very much like the film Z about the Greek colonels trying to blame the murder of the leader on the protesters, rather than on themselves.

Now, the real question that the German data has is: why, if all of this is front-page news in Germany, front-page news in Russia–the Russian TV have been showing their footage, showing the sniping–why would President Obama directly lie to the American people? This is the equivalent of Bush’s weapons of mass destruction. Why would Obama say the Russians are doing the shooting in the Ukraine that’s justified all of this anti-Russian furor? And why wouldn’t he say the people that we have been backing with $5 billion for the last five or ten years, our own people, are doing the shooting, we are telling them to doing the shooting, we are behind them, and we’re the ones who are the separatists?

What has happened is that the Western Ukraine, the U.S. part, are the separatists trying to break up the Ukraine, in keeping, pretty much, with what Brzezinski advised in his book some years ago when he said breaking Ukraine off from Russia would be the equivalent of blocking any Russian potential military power.

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


We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of spooks and “security” with European Edward Snowden blowback by way of SecurityWeek:

Germany to Beef Up Spy Defenses Against Allies: Report

Germany plans to beef up its counterintelligence tactics against allied countries in response to revelations of widespread US spying, Der Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.

The weekly said the German government was considering deploying its own agents to keep tabs on Western secret services and embassies on German soil including those of the United States and also Britain.

It said the domestic intelligence service aimed to glean precise information about foreign spies using diplomatic cover and technical equipment at diplomatic missions used to snoop on German officials and the country’s citizens.

“This step would be an about-face from the decades-long practice of systematically monitoring the activities of countries such as China, Russia and North Korea but rarely the activities of Western partners,” Spiegel said.

Here’s more in the form of a video report from Deutsche Welle in which Germany’s top counterspy — Hans-Georg Maaßen, president of the German Domestic Intelligence Service — has curious things to say:

German Response on NSA Spying Scandal

On the side of the pond, obfuscation, via The Hill:

NSA reform stalls in committee

  • Legislation to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs has stalled in the House and Senate.

More than 130 House lawmakers in both parties have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation that would prevent the NSA from collecting bulk records about people’s phone calls. In the Senate, companion legislation has won 20 co-sponsors.

Both bills, however, have been stuck in their chambers’ respective Judiciary Committees since October, and committee aides say there are no plans to move them soon.

In the House, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) seems to be waiting for the Obama administration to take a formal position on the USA Freedom Act, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), before scheduling a markup.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to see what recommendations Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence leaders make by a March 28 deadline set by President Obama.

And from The Guardian, the latest Snowden revelation:

Australia spied on Indonesia talks with US law firm in 2013

  • New Edward Snowden documents show ASD listened to Indonesian government talks and shared what they learned with US
  • Australia and the US share access to bulk Indonesian telecommunications data, including those of Indonesian officials
  • Australian spies have obtained 1.8 million encrypted master keys from an Indonesian telecommunications company and decrypted almost all
  • US mentored Australia to break encryption codes of the PNG army

Australia spied on Indonesia and shared the information with the United States when the two countries were involved in a trade dispute in February 2013, a new document from whistleblower Edward Snowden shows.

Australia listened in on the communications of an unnamed American law firm which was representing Indonesia in the discussions and passed the information to the National Security Agency, according to a document obtained by the New York Times.

It is unclear what the discussions were about – but two trade disputes around that time were about the importation of clove cigarettes and shrimp, says the paper.

And the response from Down Under via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australia says spying “for the benefit of our friends”

  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday his government used intelligence material “for the benefit of our friends” and “to uphold our values” following fresh reports it spied on Indonesia.

Abbott refused to confirm the report, also based on Snowden-leaked material, that the Australian Signals Directorate listened in on trade talks between the Indonesians and their US lawyers and offered information gleaned to the US National Security Agency.

“We never comment on operational intelligence matters, that has been the long-standing practice of all Australian governments of both political persuasions,” Abbott told reporters.

However, Abbott observed that Australia did not “use anything that we gather as part of our ordinary security and intelligence operations to the detriment of other countries.”

“We use it for the benefit of our friends. We use it to uphold our values,” he said.

More reaction from one of the targets, also via The Guardian:

Indonesia: Australia and US need to clean up their mess

  • Presidential adviser responds to ‘perplexing revelation’ that ASD spied on a law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute

New documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute and offered the information to America, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Indonesian presidential adviser and spokesman on foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said the president had been advised of the revelations by foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

“Indeed, it is another perplexing revelation of spying toward Indonesia’s national interest,” he told Guardian Australia via text message.

“I wonder what more Snowden has in store? Therefore, it is the responsibility of countries (US & Australia) engaged in this complicity to clean up the mess, to salvage their bilateral relations with Indonesia.”

And the result, again from The Guardian:

Australia and Indonesia are now in ‘open conflict’, says Tanya Plibersek

  • Dressing down of ambassador over ‘unacceptable’ border protection policies a matter of enormous concern

Australia and Indonesia were now in “open conflict” and repairing the “worsening” relationship was imperative, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said on Saturday.

After Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta Greg Moriarty was reportedly called into the country’s foreign affairs ministry for a “dressing down” over the Abbott government’s border protection policies, Plibersek said it was crucial the government acted now to settle the rocky relationship.

“It’s absolutely vital that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop get on with repairing the relationship with Indonesia,” she said.

And to those other Asian border, militarism, and shifting alliance stories, first from South China Morning Post:

Top US envoy John Kerry fails to make headway over sea disputes in Beijing

  • Only result of Beijing visit was a commitment to seek greater co-operation on climate change

US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to China without any breakthroughs on two matters at the top of his agenda – sovereignty tensions in the East Sea and the South China Sea.

The only solid outcome of the trip came in a joint statement issued by the two governments yesterday that vowed closer co-operation on climate change.

Shi Yinhong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said: “Kerry’s China visit only provided an opportunity for both sides to make clear their differences on these issues.”

Jin Canrong, with the same university, said it was expected no consensus on regional issues would be reached during the trip. Instead, the visit was important for Beijing and Washington to prepare for an upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama at a nuclear security summit at The Hague late next month.

And another endorsement from the Pentagon for Japan’s newly aggressive militarism this time from Want China Times:

US-Japan amphibious joint exercises slated for 2014 Rim of Pacific

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, the de facto army of Japan, will participate in amphibious joint exercises with the United States Marine Corps at the 2014 Rim of the Pacific off Hawaii between June and August, reports Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

This year’s joint naval exercise, the 24th since the US Marines began holding them bi-annually since 1971, will involve 20,000 soldiers, 30 vessels and 100 jets from more than 10 countries including China, Australia and South Korea.

While Japan has participated numerous times in the past, Tokyo has usually sent the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to join in anti-pirate or disaster rescue exercises. Analysts believe the decision to send ground forces to participate in amphibious joint exercises with the US is aimed at developing combat techniques and gaining experience as Japan’s ground forces plan to develop a new amphibious force before 2018.

The amphibious force plans to be eventually eqipped with US-made Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, amphibious armored vehicles and large amphibious assault ships, but for now it will try and learn from US forces and gain valuable operational experience, Sankei Shimbuns said.

Yet another American endorsement from Kyodo News:

Japan eyes boosting ground troop communications with U.S. military

Japan plans to boost communications between its Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. military using smartphone-type terminals, a Japanese Defense Ministry source said Sunday.

The Japanese government will create prototype software from April with the aim of fully rolling it out in fiscal 2018, the source said.

The move is in line with efforts to more closely coordinate operations between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. troops, at a time Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to move forward discussions on allowing Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally such as the United States if it is attacked.

Want China Times covers Chinese anxiety:

Beijing slams US Navy official for ‘aiding Philippines’ remarks

China’s government on Friday slammed a US Navy official’s remarks concerning the South China Sea and asked the United States to keep its position neutral on territorial disputes between China and the Philippines.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, commander of the US Navy, said on Thursday that his country will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of any conflict with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the remarks at a regular press briefing. She said China has repeatedly expressed its firm position on the disputes and will address the issue through discussions and negotiations directly with concerned parties.

As a bilateral arrangement, the US-Philippines alliance should not undermine the interests of third parties, Hua said.

And a demand from the China Post:

Kerry presses China to ease Internet controls

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday he urged Chinese leaders to support Internet freedom and promised to look into whether American companies help Beijing curb access to online material.

“Obviously, we think that Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the internet,” Kerry said at a meeting with bloggers following talks with Chinese leaders.

Kerry met earlier with President Xi Jinping and other senior officials to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to refocusing U.S. foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific. He urged Beijing to convince neighboring North Korea to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

During the 40-minute meeting Saturday, the bloggers appealed to Kerry to support Chinese human rights activists and freer use of the Internet.

After the jump, more on the ever-shifting Asian security crises [including rebukes, recriminations, and a meeting of old enemies], plus an Israeli deal to sell arms to Iran [really] an Icelandic leak probe, George Washington, spookfather, and cyber-stalking in the cereal aisle. . . Continue reading

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


Welcome to the world of the dark side, where the walls have ears, the cloaks have daggers, and lots of things go bump in the night.

We open with some numbers from PCWorld:

NSA protest results in tens of thousands of phone calls, emails

Organizers of The Day We Fight Back, a protest Tuesday against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, called the effort a “tremendous success,” with nearly 100,000 phone calls made to U.S. lawmakers and 185,000 people signing up to send email blasts to their congressional representatives.

Participants in the protest made 96,000 calls to Congress, although 7,000 of those calls weren’t delivered because lawmakers turned voice mail services off, organizers said. Organizers will deliver 555,000 email messages protesting the NSA surveillance to lawmakers, with emails going to the two U.S. senators and one representative who represent each of the 185,000 people who signed up for the email blasts.

Another 245,000 people signed a petition calling for the end to mass surveillance, and participating websites showed a protest banner ad 37 million times during the day, with about two-thirds of those ads delivered in the U.S., organizers said.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, called the protest a big success. Organizers will continue to push for changes in NSA surveillance, he said.

Threat Level covers the loathesome:

How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

And from The Guardian, yet another challenge raised:

Rights groups begin UK court challenge over mass surveillance

  • Full hearing at investigatory powers tribunal scheduled for July into legality of programmes including Tempora and Prism

The extent of the intelligence services’ bulk interception of online communications came under scrutiny for the first time in a British courtroom on Friday.

Lawyers for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ faced challenges brought by nearly a dozen British and international civil liberties groups over the legality of US and UK digital surveillance programmes, including Tempora, Prism and Upstream.

Claims that the mass collection, storage and analysis of emails and electronic messages are illegal were made at the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which adjudicates on complaints against the intelligence services and surveillance by government bodies.

The government, adopting a “neither confirm nor deny” approach, is responding to allegations about the programmes on a hypothetical premise. The case follows a series of reports published in the Guardian last year based on revelations by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

And one more step contemplated from the European Parliament:

NSA snooping: MEPs table proposals to protect EU citizens’ privacy

The European Parliament should withhold its consent to an EU-US trade deal unless it fully respects EU citizens’ data privacy, says an inquiry report on US National Security Agency (NSA) and EU member states surveillance of EU citizens, approved by the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday. It adds that data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US.

The text, passed by 33 votes to 7 with 17 abstentions, condemns the “vast, systemic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information”, adding that “the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programmes”.

“We now have a comprehensive text that for the first time brings together in-depth recommendations on Edward Snowden’s allegations of NSA spying and an action plan for the future. The Civil Liberties Committee inquiry came at a crucial time, along with Snowden´s allegations and the EU data protection regulation. I hope that this document will be supported by the full Parliament and that it will last beyond the next European Parliament’s mandate”, said rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), after the vote.

A bemused response from RT:

Former German chancellor surprised that NSA continued to spy on Merkel

The former chancellor of Germany now says he was surprised to hear that the United States National Security Agency, or NSA, spied on his country’s current head of government after he left office almost a decade ago.

Earlier this month, NSA documents showed that the spy agency conducted surveillance operations starting in 2002 that targeted Gerhard Schröder during his term as chancellor.

Schröder told reporters at the time that he wasn’t surprised about the operation, which was made public due to documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During an event in Berlin on Thursday this week, however, the former chancellor said he didn’t expect the NSA to continue monitoring his office after he ended his tenure in 2005.

Also from Germany via Homeland Security News Wire, security lucre:

German IT industry hopes to benefit from NSA leaks-inspired distrust of U.S. tech companies

The German IT sector is hoping to benefit from trust lost in American technology firms in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The German government is looking to develop Internet security initiatives, with government departments vying with each other for a lead role. Both inside and outside the German government a proposal, known as “Schengen Routing,” is advanced which calls for data originated in Europe to be processed and stored within Europe. Critics warn that plans to create a European routing system could affect the openness of the Internet.

News that some American technology and communications firms gave the National Security Agency (NSA) access to consumer records has alarmed Americans, but also non-Americans who rely on these companies for data storage. According to market analysts James Staten of Forrester Research, American firms could lose up to $180 billion in turnover by 2016 due to distrust from customers.

And another German tale from TheLocal.de:

Child porn scandal: Minister quits over leak

The first minister of Germany’s new cabinet resigned on Friday. Hans-Peter Friedrich came under fire when it emerged he passed on information to a party chief about an MP suspected of possessing naked photos of children.

Agriculture Minister Friedrich (CSU) said earlier on Friday that he would only step down if the state prosecutor opened an investigation into him over his former role as interior minister.

He gave information to Social Democrat (SPD) leader, Sigmar Gabriel, that one of the SPD’s leading politicians, Sebastian Edathy, possessed inappropriate images of boys.

But on Friday afternoon news agency DPA quoted government sources who stated that Friedrich would step down anyway. He has been under pressure from the opposition, who claim he breached official secrecy by providing the SPD with information about the Edathy case.

The Daily Dot outsources:

NSA seeking private company to store its massive collection of metadata

Do you have a some data storage space lying around that you’re not using? Like a lot of space? Enough to, let’s say, handle all of the information gathered from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) telephone metadata collection program? If so, do we have a deal for you.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the body managing all of the United States’ spying activities, put out a request for information (RFI) looking to determine if there are any commercially available systems offered by private companies capable of holding all of its phone metadata.

Metadata collected from cell phone calls includes things like the phone number of each caller, the unique serial numbers of the physical devices involved, the time and duration of the call, the precise geographic location of the callers, and if any calling cards used to make the connection.

The government is looking for systems that can provide intelligence agencies instantaneous access to the data, ensure that the data is completely secure to outside penetration, and make it so no data is provided to the agencies in question ?unless in response to an authorized query.”

And from Defense One, how Tweet it is:

Secret Military Contractors Will Soon Mine Your Tweets

The Army wants a contractor to conduct detailed social media data mining to “identify violent extremist influences” around the world that could affect the European Command, responsible for operations in Europe as well as Iceland, Israel, Greenland and Russia.

Though the project is classified Secret, an Army contract shop in Europe posted a wealth of information on the FedBizOps contract website Tuesday.

The data mining contract, which has the very long title of “Social Media Data-mining, Localized Research, Market Audience Analysis, and Narrowcast Engagement Requirements,” will support both the European Command and Special Operations Command Europe.

In its request for information, the Army said it wants a contractor to “provide detailed social media research and analysis, on-the-ground native research and analysis, and customized social media website development and execution.”  This will include open source information, “detailed social media data-mining, social media monitoring and analysis, target audience analysis, media kit development and social media platform operations.”

And a case of security enhanced from MercoPress:

Colombian peace process makes headway before presidential elections

The Colombian government and FARC guerrilla negotiators said that they had made progress toward an agreement on combating illegal drug trafficking, a sign that peace talks were making headway before elections.

The joint statement by President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said there had been “advances” in the negotiations, the latest round of which concluded on Thursday. The talks are due to resume on Feb. 24.

“We have been working nonstop throughout this round of conversations and we have started building agreements on the point ‘solving the illicit drugs problem,’” the statement said.

After the jump, shifting patterns and alliances in Asian geopolitical and historical crises, a nuclear blast from the past, Bing’s peculiar censorship, Indian book banning, rampant censorship in Greece, hacking alert ignored, and sympathy for the devil. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I : EspioLegoPoliManiacs


We’ve been a bit under the weather, and consequently a very lonnngggg collection today of headlines for the world of spies, security, operators, militarists, hackers, and deep politics.

Our first headline comes from Al Jazeera America:

Report: Democratic countries curbing press freedoms in name of security

  • Countries like US, UK that pride themselves on media freedoms tumble in annual World Press Freedom Index

Pervasive national security and surveillance programs have scaled back press freedom in established democracies like the United States, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its World Press Freedom Index released Tuesday.

In an index that usually shifts incrementally from year to year, “for the first time, the trend is so clear,” Delphine Halgand, the group’s U.S. director, told Al Jazeera. She said the “chilling effect” on investigative journalists fearful of government prosecution is most palpable in the U.S.

“After 2013, we cannot deny any more that in the U.S., the whistle-blower is the enemy,” Halgand said. “The U.S. is going after confidential sources, compromising the only possibility to do a real journalist’s work.”

From the report:

BLOG Press freedom

More from The Guardian:

NSA actions pose ‘direct threat to journalism’ leading watchdog warns

  • Agency’s dragnet of communications data threatens to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, Committee to Protect Journalists said

The National Security Agency’s dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world’s leading journalism watchdogs has warned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based body that promotes press freedom around the world, has devoted the first two chapters of its annual report on global threats to an assessment of the impact of the NSA’s data sweep. Its internet advocacy co-ordinator, Geoffrey King, warns that the NSA’s dragnet threatens to put journalists under a cloud of suspicion and to expose them to routine spying by government agencies.

By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter’s research, retrace a source’s movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. “It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later.”

And then there’s the blunter approach. From Al Jazeera English:

The risk of reporting US drone strikes

  • Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yeen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

From EnetEnglish.gr, another journalist jailed:

Police detain journalist for divulging ‘military secrets’

  • Article based on information from law published in government gazette, journalist says

Police detained journalist Popi Christodoulidou on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, over a report claiming coastguard divers are involved in guarding sensitive sites along with the police, despite the fact that the law does not provide for that

A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove An Athens-based journalist was detained by police for a number of hours on Wednesday at Attica police headquarters on suspicion on disclosing military secrets in a blogpost, which she claims is based on information contained in a law published in the government gazette.

On the same day that Greece was ranked 99th in the World Press Freedom Index, Popi Christodoulidou was detained by police detectives shortly after 1pm, on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, who at the request of the Hellenic Coastguard’s state security directorate opened a preliminary investigation on the leaking of “military secrets” by a civilian “perpetrator”.

The journalist was released at around 6pm and has been ordered to remove the offending post on her Peiratiko Reportaz blog or face arrest.

More journalistic woes from Mashable:

Report: Ethiopian Government Hacks Journalists in U.S. and Europe

The Ethiopian government reportedly used surveillance technology created by an Italian company to hack into the computers of Ethiopian journalists in the United States and Europe.

Journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), a news organization comprised mostly of Ethiopian expatriates, were targeted with spying software made by the Italian company company Hacking Team, according to a new report by Citizen Lab, a nonprofit research lab that investigates surveillance technology across the world.

The investigation, released on Wednesday, is another example of how governments around the world are increasingly using hacking tools. These are often purchased from vendors that design and market them specifically for law enforcement agencies — but often governments end up using them against dissidents or journalists.

From EurActiv, a friend of The Guardian:

Media freedom watchdog defends the Guardian against government pressure

Europe’s main media freedom watchdog told Britain today (12 February) it believed that political pressure applied to the Guardian newspaper over its handling of leaked intelligence data could have a “chilling effect” on independent journalism.

Former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden’s disclosures about activities of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency and its cooperation with America’s National Security Agency (NSA) have embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron’s government which has said they damaged national security.

Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.

“The continual accusations and attacks on the Guardian, their editor-in-chief and journalists by leading politicians is nothing but harassment and intimidation,” Dunja Mijatovic, representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters.

And from euronews, when “liberals” meet:

Hollande and Obama stress common Syria-Iran stance as French state visit nears end

The French and American presidents have continued to stress their common ground as François Hollande’s state visit draws to a close.

Barack Obama said both had resolved to put more pressure on Russia and Iran over stopping the bloodshed in Syria.

The French leader tackled the thorny issue of data protection after the revelations of US spying exposed in the NSA scandal.

“We have worked towards cooperation which can enable the fight against terrorism and at the same time to respect principles. And we are making headway over this cooperation. And there is a mutual trust which has been restored and which should be based both on respect for each other’s country and also based on the protection of privacy,” François Hollande told a joint news conference in Washington.

And on to the world of that espio-Superstar, first from The Guardian:

Congressional trio criticise James Cole’s NSA testimony as misleading

  • Lawmakers write to deputy attorney general after Cole described limits on NSA’s power to surveil members of Congress

Deputy attorney general James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill. Deputy attorney general James Cole. Sensenbrenner, Issa and Nadler said Cole’s testimony was ‘not entirely accurate’. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Three powerful members of the House judiciary committee said James Cole, the US deputy attorney general, was “not entirely accurate” in testimony describing limits on the National Security Agency’s powers to surveil the US Congress.

The letter from former committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, oversight committee chair Darrell Issa – both Republicans – and New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, came as the Obama administration saw a new front open up in the battle over its surveillance powers: a class-action lawsuit filed by Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, who said he plans to contest the bulk collection of US phone records “all the way to the supreme court.”

Cole told the House judiciary committee on 4 February that while the NSA “probably” collects the phone records of members of Congress – a subset of the dragnet the NSA casts on practically all US phone data – the NSA only studied those records when it has “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of a number’s onnection to terrorism, a restriction imposed by the secret surveillance court overseeing the NSA.

From the New York Times, making excuses:

Spy Chief Says Snowden Took Advantage of ‘Perfect Storm’ of Security Lapses

The director of national intelligence acknowledged Tuesday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale.

The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Mr. Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Mr. Clapper said. “And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

But Mr. Clapper confirmed the outlines of a New York Times report that the former N.S.A. contractor had used a web crawler, a commonly available piece of software, to sweep up a huge trove of documents.

The Daily Dot makes an exit:

NSA employee resigns after admitting he gave Snowden access

A civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) has resigned his position after admitting he shared access to classified information with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A memo detailing the incident and signed by Ethan Bauman, NSA’s director of legislative affairs, was obtained by NBC News and published online.

According to the memo, which was labelled as sensitive but not classified, the unidentified NSA employee entered his password into Snowden’s computer terminal upon request. Allegedly, Snowden was then able to capture the password and use it to gain greater access to classified materials. The letter identifies the civilian as male, but does not refer to him by name.

“On 18 June 2013, the NSA civilian admitted to FBI Special Agents that he allowed Mr. Snowden to his (the NSA civilian’s) Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate to access classified information on NSANet; access that he knew had been denied to Mr. Snowden,” the memo reads.

From The Hill, the Aqua Buddha acolyte acts:

Paul sues Obama over NSA spying

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration for violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

Paul, a Tea Party star, called it the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.

He and FreedomWorks, the co-plaintiff in the case, have named President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander among the defendants.

“We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user all the time, without limits, without individualization,” Paul said at a press conference in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Paul, who has circulated a petition to build support for his case, said 386,026 people have expressed support.

From The Guardian, no taps for the NSA?:

Utah lawmaker floats bill to cut off NSA data centre’s water supply

  • Impending bill from Republican Marc Roberts highlights growing movement at state level against government surveillance powers

The National Security Agency, already under siege in Washington, faces a fresh attempt to curtail its activities from a Utah legislator who wants to cut off the surveillance agency’s water supply.

Marc Roberts, a first-term Republican lawmaker in the Beehive State, plans this week to begin a quixotic quest to check government surveillance starting at a local level. He will introduce a bill that would prevent anyone from supplying water to the $1bn-plus data center the NSA is constructing in his state at Bluffdale.

The bill is about telling the federal government “if you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you,” Roberts told the Guardian.

Here’s a video report about a similar measure on the other side of the country from RT America:

NSA headquarters could go dark if bill passes in Maryland

Program notes:

State legislators in Maryland have introduced a bill that would cut off water, electricity and other utilities to National Security Agency headquarters, which are located in the Old Line state. The bill is called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and supporters say the bill would block the NSA from spying on citizens in Maryland. Similar bills are being introduced in Washington, Utah and Missouri. RT’s Liz Wahl asks Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and who helped draft Maryland’s legislation, how the bill would impact NSA operations.

The Hill raises another legal issue:

NSA operating outside the law, panelist says

The collection of phone records by the National Security Agency has no basis in the law, a member of an independent federal advisory board said Wednesday.

“With all respect to both executive branch officials and judicial officials, nobody looked at the statute as carefully was we did,” James Dempsey, the vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I came to this conclusion slowly. I came to it a little bit to my own surprise. But if you read the statute, the words just don’t add up to this program.”

Members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) testified Tuesday for the first time since their 3-2 decision last month to condemn the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records as an illegal program that should be terminated.

Backtracking, via The Guardian:

Edward Snowden asylum demand dropped by European parliament

  • MEPs fail to reach consensus on amendment to inquiry calling on governments to assure NSA whistleblower of his safety

Edward Snowden Meets With German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele
The report will call for international protection for whistleblowers without mentioning Edward Snowden by name. Photograph: Sunshinepress/Getty Images

The European parliament is to ditch demands on Wednesday that EU governments give guarantees of asylum and security to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee is to vote on more than 500 amendments to the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ scandal, a 60-page report that is damning about the scale and the impact of mass surveillance.

And the result, via EUobserver:

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

A European Parliament committee on Wednesday (12 February) voted against calling for asylum protection for former US intelligence agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden leaked top secret documents last summer to the media exposing the scale of US and British global surveillance. He is in Russia to avoid prosecution from American authorities.

The vote was part of a larger, non-binding, resolution backed by the MEPs in the civil liberties committee. The resolution condemns the blanket collection of personal data on the scale he disclosed.

A short paragraph, buried among the hundreds of amendments in the committee’s National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry report, had requested that EU member states drop criminal charges against him, if any, and “offer him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition.” But it did not make the final cut.

The Guardian views Snowden from Down Under:

Scott Ludlam’s support of Snowden ‘celebrates treachery’, says Brandis

  • George Brandis says former NSA contractor’s disclosures about western intelligence gathering ‘put Australian lives at risk’

Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, has criticised a senator for celebrating “the American traitor Edward Snowden”, arguing the disclosures about western intelligence gathering has “put Australian lives at risk”.

Brandis asked in parliament how the Greens senator Scott Ludlam could hold his head up high while honouring the former US National Security Agency contractor’s “criminal conduct and treachery”.

The trigger for the criticism was a question from Ludlam about “indiscriminate government surveillance” and whether the government recognised the legitimate concerns of Australians and the need to follow the US in reforming intelligence practices.

And the target of that Aussie ire raises a question, via United Press International:

Snowden: Danes should question government about NSA surveillance

U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says Danes should not trust their government’s statement that there has been no illegal surveillance in Denmark.

Snowden, in an interview with the blog denfri.dk, said Danish citizens should not depend on the government or on journalists to reveal the truth, the Copenhagen Post reported Thursday.

“The Danes should start asking some serious questions when their government starts acting in the same way as the German one,” he said.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said publicly that the U.S. National Security Agency had assured him that on surveillance had been conducted in Germany in violation of its laws or against its interests. Documents leaked by Snowden revealed the NSA had done both.

And from TheLocal.se, a call to end another legal whistleblower nightmare:

‘Interrogate Assange in London’: lawyers

Lawyers representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden have demanded that he be questioned in London over rape and sexual molestation allegations made by two Swedish women.

“All Assange asks is that he be treated according to Swedish law,” lawyers Thomas Olsson and Per Samuelsson wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Assange broke bail and sought refuge at the Ecuador’s embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning under a European arrest warrant. He claimed that he would risk further extradition to the United States on espionage charges over his whistleblowing website if he went to Sweden.

From TheLocal.de, when a Hawk becomes a turkey:

Drone scandal costs another €200 million

Germany’s Euro Hawk drone scandal showed no sign of ending on Wednesday, with alternatives for the failed programme running €200 million over budget. It means the military may turn back to the discarded, original plan.

The Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, Volker Wieker, told a defence committee on Wednesday that the tests on four alternatives to Euro Hawk were not only taking longer than expected but were €200 million over budget. The budget had been set at €613 million.

It means that reactivating the discarded Euro Hawk programme could no longer be ruled out, he said.

The Euro Hawk scandal erupted in May last year when it emerged the drones were unlikely to get permission to fly in German airspace because of a lack of an anti-collision system to protect other aircraft. By that point more than €500 million had already been spent on the programme.

And from RT, class war declared:

Greece on high alert after extremists declare war on ‘German capitalist machine’

Greek authorities have stepped up security after a leftist extremist group declared war on the “German capitalist machine.” The group has claimed responsibility for attacks on a Mercedes-Benz branch and on the German ambassador’s residence in Athens.

An anarchist group calling itself the Popular Fighters has come forward, claiming to be behind a botched rocket attack on the offices of German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz in the Greek capital.

The attack itself was carried out on January 12. Investigators found evidence this week that showed the rocket was fired from the near vicinity of the factory, but veered off course and landed in a field.

On Tuesday the group sent a 20-page manifesto to Greek satirical magazine To Pontiki, explaining the attack was carried out in solidarity with the Greek people against the “German capitalist machine.”

After the jump, a lethora of Asia news, including Afghan anxieties, Sci Fi scenarios, cyberwar and hack attacks, a Spanish check, the Greek panopticon emerges, another Swedish info-expat, Twitter censorship, drones in your pocket, and Nazis on acid. . .and more: Continue reading

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


A whole lot going on in the realm of spooks, lack ops, rampant militarism and other dark corners of the realms of deep politics and distrus.

We open on an upbeat note with this from The Guardian:

Protesters rally for ‘the day we fight back’ against mass surveillance

  • Alongside demonstrations in 15 countries, thousands contact congresspeople and take online action supporting privacy rights

Tens of thousands of people and organisations were participating in a protest against the NSA’s mass surveillance on Tuesday, bombarding members of Congress with phone calls and emails and holding demonstrations across the globe.

Dubbed “The day we fight back”, the action saw scores of websites, including Reddit, BoingBoing and Mozilla host a widget inviting users to pressure elected officials.

The online demonstration saw more than 18,000 calls placed and 50,000 emails sent to US congressmen and women by midday Tuesday. Physical protests were planned in 15 countries.

“The goal of the day we fight back is to stop mass surveillance by intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency,” said Rainey Reitman, activism director at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which helped organise the events.

And a report from RT America:

‘Day We Fight Back’ takes on NSA

Program notes:

It was declared ‘The Day We Fight Back’. Internet companies and activists around the world had an international day of protest on February 11th. Over 5,700 websites changed their homepages to demand the National Security Agency stop its massive surveillance efforts. On Capitol Hill, representatives from privacy groups, religious institutions NS Congressman Rush Holt came together to talk about the issue of NSA spying. RT correspondent Meghan Lopez was there and brings us more.

Meanwhile, from TheLocal.fr, Barry O has a new BFF:

France and US reconcile over NSA spying scandal

On the occasion of President François Hollande’s visit to the US, he and American President Barack Obama said on Tuesday they have settled differences over digital spying efforts revealed by leaker Edward Snowden.

French President Francois Hollande, speaking alongside his US counterpart Barack Obama, said Tuesday that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

Leaders from many US allies, including Germany’s Chancellor Angel Merkel, were angered by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s revelation that the United States monitors their telephone calls. But it is not known if Hollande’s own telephone was tapped, and France has been more cautious in its critique, emphasizing the importance of its intelligence cooperation with Washington.

“We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles. And we are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored,” Hollande said.

More from the Associated Press:

Obama: No country where we have no-spy agreement

President Barack Obama says there is no country with which the United States has “a no-spy agreement.” But he says the United States endeavors to protect privacy rights as it collects foreign intelligence.

Obama says the United States and its allies remain concerned about specific potential terrorist networks that could attack and kill innocent people. He says the U.S. will have to maintain a robust intelligence gathering effort, but says it will respect privacy.

Obama made his remarks during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande.

The Guardian carries a call for debate:

Ed Miliband calls for US-style debate over Britain’s intelligence agencies

  • Labour leader calls for examination of oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 in wake of Edward Snowden leaks

A major overhaul of the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, which could lead to an opposition politician chairing parliament’s intelligence and security committee and reform of the intelligence commissioners, needs to be introduced, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader praised Barack Obama for starting an “important debate” in the US – after the White House appointed a panel in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks – and called for a similar debate in Britain.

In some of his most extensive comments on the NSA leaks, Miliband told a Guardian audience that reforming the oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was “definitely” part of his campaign to challenge “unaccountable power”.

From the Greens/European Free Alliance office of the European Parliament, the latest on the instigator of Spookgate 2013-2014:

Snowden confirms wish to address MEPs; EP must take into account

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has confirmed in writing that he is prepared to answer questions from the European Parliament’s inquiry into the revelations of mass surveillance by intelligence services. He will at least respond in writing, possibly also via a recorded video message. The Greens welcomed the confirmation and insisted that the EP must immediately move to facilitate this, with Green justice and home affairs spokesperson Jan Philipp Albrecht stating:

“The confirmation that Edward Snowden is willing to answer questions in the context of the EP’s inquiry is a significant and positive development. To conclude the inquiry without testimony from its key witness would render the process clearly incomplete. We would urge those centre-right MEPs that have hitherto resisted giving Snowden a hearing to drop their resistance. We will request an additional, extraordinary meeting of the EP inquiry before a vote is taken on its final report, with a view to ensuring the testimony can be taken into account.

“It is clear that Edward Snowden will only be able to give us comprehensive information if he can be guaranteed a safe stay in Europe for a later in-depth testimony. Next week, the EP’s civil liberties committee will decide if the European Parliament will call on EU governments to grant such protection. The Greens have pushed for this and continue to urge all political groups to support the move.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau hits a roadblock:

Americans find swift stonewall on whether NSA vacuumed their data

Since last year’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s massive communications data dragnets, the spy agency has been inundated with requests from Americans and others wanting to know if it has files on them. All of them are being turned down .

The denials illustrate the bind in which the disclosures have trapped the Obama administration. While it has pledged to provide greater transparency about the NSA’s communications collections, the NSA says it cannot respond to individuals’ requests without tipping off terrorists and other targets.

As a result, Americans whose email and telephone data may have been improperly vacuumed up have no way of finding that out by filing open records requests with the agency. Six McClatchy reporters who filed requests seeking any information kept by the NSA on them all received the same response.

Reuters probes:

Democrats seek probe of U.S. contractor for security checks

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sought an investigation of the largest U.S. government contractor for security checks, saying it received huge bonuses during the time it is accused of bilking the government of millions of dollars.

Representative Elijah Cummings said a congressional report found United States Investigations Services “adopted aggressive new financial incentives to accelerate its work” in 2007 and took shortcuts in its review of background checks while charging the federal government for the full service.

The company, the largest private provider of security checks for the government, was accused in a Justice Department lawsuit last month of bilking the government of millions of dollars through improper background checks.

The contractor also received millions of dollars in bonuses from the Office of Personnel Management, including $2.4 million in 2008, $3.5 million in 2009 and $5.8 million in 2010, said Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform committee.

And a video report from RT:

Firm that conducted Snowden background check accused of fraud, Microsoft’s Sino-censoring search engine, literary censorship in India, and a security threat averted by some toy-grabbing zealots. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Spools, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compilation of headlines from the realms of espionage, militarism, and territorial ambitions with the latest Edward Snowden leal form the New York Times:

Snowden Used Low-Cost Tool to Best N.S.A.

Intelligence officials investigating how Edward J. Snowden gained access to a huge trove of the country’s most highly classified documents say they have determined that he used inexpensive and widely available software to “scrape” the National Security Agency’s networks, and kept at it even after he was briefly challenged by agency officials.

Using “web crawler” software designed to search, index and back up a website, Mr. Snowden “scraped data out of our systems” while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official. “We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” the official said. The process, he added, was “quite automated.”

The findings are striking because the N.S.A.’s mission includes protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence computer systems from cyberattacks, especially the sophisticated attacks that emanate from Russia and China. Mr. Snowden’s “insider attack,” by contrast, was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found.

Moreover, Mr. Snowden succeeded nearly three years after the WikiLeaks disclosures, in which military and State Department files, of far less sensitivity, were taken using similar techniques.

On to the Emerald Isle and an Irish Times claim of sensitive bugging beyond the ken of  Minister for Justice Alan Shatter [or so he says]:

Bugging found at offices of Garda complaints watchdog

  • Government not informed, Shatter yet to comment on controversy

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates complaints made against Garda members, has found evidence that its discussions, telephone calls and emails had been hacked by an unidentified source.

The discovery was made last year when the organisation carried out a sweep of its offices using a UK-based private contractor that specialises in counter surveillance. Since then, security has been improved in Gsoc including the establishment of a dedicated meeting room that cannot be bugged.

The sweep of Gsoc’s offices in Middle Abbey St in Dublin’s north inner city found a speaker phone in a conference room where cases were discussed was bugged. There was no physical bugging device in the phone, though a check on the line revealed it had been electronically monitored in a way that enabled a third party to listen in to conversations being conducted in the room and on the phone in question.

The UK security consultants that carried out the inspection on behalf of Gsoc also concluded that the office’s wi-fi system had been compromised from outside the building.

From BBC News, a security struggle south of the border:

Mexico vigilantes enter Knights Templar cartel stronghold

  • Vigilantes checkpoint in Apatzingan The vigilantes say they will only rest when the Knights Templar leaders are in jail

Vigilante groups in the troubled Mexican state of Michoacan have entered a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel, occupying the main square.

Hundreds of vigilantes, backed up by armoured vehicles and troops, arrived in Apatzingan on Saturday.

They have also set up roadblocks around the city, in western Mexico.

The cartel controls much of the drug trafficking in the area, carrying out killings and kidnappings and extorting money from local people.

Vigilante leaders, who have joined the official security forces, and the army have been searching house by house for leaders of the Knights Templar.

On to Asia for the latest round of zone, militarism, historical, and political crises, starting with a turndown from Kyodo News:

N. Korea cancels invitation for U.S. envoy over release of missionary

North Korea has backed off on its decision to allow a U.S. special envoy to visit in connection with a Korean-American missionary imprisoned in the North, sources familiar with relations between the two countries said Sunday.

The latest move came after North Korea on Wednesday made known its approval of the visit by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, through its mission to the United Nations known as the “New York channel.” The North’s about-face means hopes are receding that it will respond to calls by Washington to release the missionary, Kenneth Bae.

The U.S. side, which has repeatedly reached out to the North on dispatching King, had been making the final arrangements to send King to the North in the coming days after Pyongyang notified Washington of its initial approval, the sources said.

South China Morning Post tries to settle up:

Manila to offer ‘generous’ payout over bus tragedy

  • But latest effort to settle bus tragedy row fails to impress victims

Manila hopes to settle the diplomatic rift between Manila and Hong Kong over the 2010 hostage bloodbath with a “generous” compensation payout, Philippine media reported yesterday.

But the initial reaction from survivors was one of fury that they were being offered money instead of an apology.

It comes just days after the city imposed its first sanction against a foreign state – cancelling visa-free arrangements for Philippine officials and diplomatic passport holders.

The news also coincides with a report in the mainland Southern Metropolis Daily in which Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said it was “regrettable” he had not been able to come to Hong Kong to offer a formal apology as promised, blaming pressure from Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

People’s Daily prepares:

PLA Navy conducts confrontation training in Indian Ocean, the Pacific

  • The taskforce, composed of an amphibious dock landing ship and two guided missile destroyers, as well as three helicopters and an airboat, is scheduled to cross the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait, and the Makassar Strait during the training which started on Jan. 20, 2014.

South China Morning Post has a trial run:

Rescue of blazing boat by frigate seen as PLA statement in East China Sea

  • Swift action by PLA Navy – after Japanese had offered to assist burning Zhejiang fishing boat – seen as sign of its readiness in East China Sea

A naval frigate came to the rescue of a Zhejiang fishing boat on fire near disputed waters in the East China Sea, shedding light on the People’s Liberation Army’s readiness to deploy in the region amid the simmering territorial spat with Japan.

The missile frigate Zhoushan sailed at high speed for 3½ hours to reach the burning boat late on Friday, 280 kilometres west-northwest of Amami-Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture.

It arrived ahead of three Japanese coastguard patrol ships that responded to an earlier request by China for help, according to mainland media and Japan’s Kyodo news agency. Xinhua reported six of the 24 people aboard died in the blaze.

The Guardian condemns:

China accuses US of adding to regional tensions

  • Washington only making things worse by ‘playing up’ South China Sea disputes, says Beijing

An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with China over the South China Sea An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty

China has rejected US allegations it is using vague territorial claims to gradually assert control in the disputed South China Sea and in turn accused Washington of exaggerating tensions in the region.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the US should take a “rational and fair attitude”. Hong reiterated China’s position that its claims are based on history and international law, and said some US officials’ remarks were “playing up tensions”.

The United States said on Wednesday that actions by China had raised concerns it was trying to assert control over an area covering roughly 80% of the South China Sea despite the objections of its neighbours.

The resource-rich waters are dotted with reefs and islands subject to multiple disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

And the Asahi Shimbun has the latest developments in one of the most recent revisionism crises, a strong word from Uncle Sam:

U.S. State Department calls remarks by NHK governor ‘preposterous’

The U.S. State Department described as “preposterous” remarks by a governor for Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) who alleged the Tokyo war crimes trial was designed to cover up U.S. atrocities during World War II.

The writer Naoki Hyakuta made the comments Feb. 3 when he gave speeches on behalf of Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff running for Tokyo governor. The election will be held Feb. 9.

Hyakuta said the U.S. military committed “cruel massacres” by fire-bombing Tokyo and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He went on to say that the Nanking Massacre was brought up in the Tokyo tribunal because the U.S. military wanted to cancel out its own crimes.

He also claimed that the massacre never happened.

The Japan Times lends support:

NHK governors back Abe agenda, minutes reveal

Minutes of a recent NHK board of governors meeting seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan’s news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK’s website, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the Jan. 14 meeting.

One of the four new members favored by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan’s territorial claims on islands at the center of a dispute with China, its wartime history, as well as the problems with the post-World War II U.S.-led Allied tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

“I think there should be room for programs that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with,” said one governor, Naoki Hyakuta, author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another governor, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressedthe need to promote “correct education” for the public.

NHK WORLD promises:

NHK chief vows to uphold fairness, impartiality

NHK’s new President Katsuto Momii says he’s retracting all personal remarks made at his inaugural news conference, and will work to ensure that the public broadcaster fulfills its duty to be impartial, fair and just.

Momii spoke at a session of the Upper House committee on Friday. He was questioned by an opposition lawmaker about remarks he made in late January.

Momii replied that he is truly sorry for not making a distinction between his personal views and his position as NHK president.

He said he would like to retract all he has said on several issues. They include a recently enacted state secrecy law and the so-called comfort women who were recruited to serve in brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War Two.

And The Diplomat casts a skeptical eye:

NHK and Abe’s Agenda

  • Disturbing statements by the new head of Japan’s national broadcaster raise questions about its future role.

The Imperial Japanese army’s system of sexual slavery during World War Two was not wrong judged by the standards of the time. At least not according to the new chairman of NHK, Japan’s giant public broadcaster. Katsuto Momii, recently appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, set off a firestorm last week with remarks dismissing the forcible rape of twenty thousand Asian “comfort women” as morally no worse than the red light district in modern Amsterdam. He described demands to compensate surviving victims as “puzzling.” Momii then announced his belief that NHK’s foreign news coverage should support government policy on controversial issues such as the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute with China.

These comments prompted fierce criticism across East Asia (as did later remarks by NHK governor Naoki Hyakuta denying the Nanking Massacre). Momii’s statements also led to some harsh questioning in the Japanese Diet. Yet Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are standing by their appointee. The episode reveals a deep-seated misogyny within Japan’s ruling elites which casts serious doubt on Abe’s professed commitment to improve the status of women, a key part of the as-yet-undelivered structural reforms essential for the success of Abenomics. Equally troubling, Japan’s most prominent news organization is now headed by someone who, rather than fighting for editorial independence, is openly sympathetic to political influence. If Momii does let NHK’s foreign reporting be guided by the hawkish prime minister, the consequences could be terrible for peaceful relations across East Asia.

Moving on, another network, another history-based crisis from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Russians rally to support TV station

At least 20 people have been detained in Russia for protesting what they believe is overt political pressure on the country’s main independent TV station.

Around 40 people gathered in downtown Moscow on Saturday to protest the decision of leading Russian cable and satellite companies to drop the channel, Dozhd (TV Rain). Protesters gathered near Red Square and opened up umbrellas, playing on the name of the TV station. Except for women with children, most were immediately detained.

Dozhd, which broadcasts on the Internet, cable and satellite channels, stirred controversy in January with a poll about the blockade of Leningrad during World War II.

The Kremlin said the station crossed a moral “red line,” but many have ascribed the pressure to Dozhd’s independent and often critical coverage of the government.

The Mainichi has bugs and drones:

Gov’t to relax weight regulation on drones for pesticide spraying

The government has decided to relax restrictions on the maximum gross weight of unmanned helicopters used to spray pesticides on farms in the hope of increasing the amount of pesticides that can be loaded on one chopper and improving productivity.

The decision came after a panel on reviving primary industries such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded at the end of last year to ease the weight regulations on unmanned helicopters. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the government’s council for regulatory reform then agreed to relax the regulation from less than 100 kilograms to less than 150 kilograms.

The Cabinet is set to approve a revision to the enforcement order of the Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Act in March and aims to put the revised law into effect the following month.

From The Register, a drone apart:

UK claims ‘significant lead’ in drones after Taranis test flight

  • Supersonic Brit stealth drone did the business in 2013 tests

BAE Systems kindly let the world know of the test flight late last week, a mere six months after the fact.

They’re telling us everything went swimmingly and that a Taranis prototype piloted from the ground did so well “ that the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected.”

To be a little less paranoid, it can take rather a while to crunch data that enables an assertion like that above.

The Register again, accessorizing:

Renault unveils mini-SUV equipped with a QUADCOPTER DRONE

  • Target: Hip young Asian ‘trend setters’ – the marketers’ target, not the Flying Companion’s

Visitors to the Delhi Auto Expo motor show are getting the first look at a new concept car from Renault, the Kwid, which features a controllable quadrocopter drone that flies out of the roof.

“This is the first time we have chosen to reveal a concept car outside Europe and this is an eloquent sign of our commitment to India,” said Gilles Normand, chairman of Renault Asia-Pacific in a statement.

“Young customers in India are often trend setters, looking forward to pushing the envelope when it comes to technology and enjoyable drives. Kwid, with its Flying Companion, meets this forward-looking spirit with both its dynamic styling and hyper connectivity.”

From RT, an attempt to kill the messenger?:

Finnish police probe Wikipedia’s donation campaign

Finnish police have asked Wikipedia to reveal details of its donation campaign in the country to determine whether the free online encyclopedia is in breach of Finland’s fundraising laws.

Law enforcement wants to take a look at the encyclopedia’s donation program – which runs globally – as well as the Finnish version of the website, fi.wikipedia.org, according to a police letter posted by Wikimedia.

According to the country’s laws, organizations seeking donations must obtain permission from Finnish police. The measure was introduced to crack down on fraudulent donations drives in the country.

One of the central requirements in the fundraising legislation is that organizations seeking donations must be working in the public interest.

Police are investigating whether Wikipedia’s donation program breaches any of the country’s laws, as the company did not apply for the proper license.

From Deutsche Welle, Turkish censorship:

Saka: ‘Government will decide what violates privacy’

Turkish laws censoring the Internet extend existing policies clamping down on free speech, Istanbul communications instructor Erkan Saka tells DW. Any opposition to Prime Minister Erdogan will be blocked.

Turkey has already blocked more than 40,000 sites. They include child pornography and any kind of porn sites and any sites that are deemed “obscene.” Radical political sites are also banned. With the new law, instead of blocking a whole site – especially social media based sites – the government intends to block particular pages and accounts. It is easy to see that any opposition will be blocked. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proven many, many times that he is not open to even minor criticism.

And for our final item, an Indian lament from Firstpost:

The Whistleblowers act is a joke, but better than no act at all

The primary purpose of any Whistleblowers Bill is to prevent the victimization of individuals who make a disclosure against their organization in public interest. So, naturally the first question that a potential informant will ask is what actions is he/she protected against? What constitutes ‘victimization’? Does it include only suspension and transfer or also indirect forms of retribution like denial of promotion, dilution of powers, withholding increments and adverse remark in the service record?

Against all logic, the Bill provides no definition of ‘victimisation’ even though a comprehensive definition of this term was provided in the Law Commission’s version of the Whistleblowers Bill.

And suppose, in the middle of the most vulnerable and turbulent time of his life, a whistleblower does manage to establish this undefined crime of ‘victimization’, what is the punishment prescribed for the public official in the Bill? Nothing- zero, zilch, nada- despite the recommendation of Administrative Reforms Commission in 2007 that ‘victimization’ should be made a criminal offence with substantial penalty and sentence.

Chris Hedges on class war and crisis cults


The Pulitzer-winning journalist talks with Abby Martin for a two-part conversation on RT’s Breaking the Set.

It’s well worth a listen.

From Breaking The Set:

Chris Hedges Part I: Crisis Cults and the Collapse of Industrial Civilization

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an exclusive interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, concerning areas of extreme poverty that he refers to as ‘sacrifice zones’, as well as the reasons behind the collapse of complex societies.

Chris Hedges Part II: The Military Mind & the Antidote to Defeatism

Program notes:

Abby Martin features Part 2 of her interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Chris Hedges, discussing the unsustainable nature of the economic system, the military mind in solving world problems, and the antidote to defeatism.

And a bonus segment from CNN’s Anderson Cooper featuring a subject of te Martin/Hedges conversation.

From CNN:

Glenn Greenwald: I will definitely come back to the U.S.

Program note:

Snowden reporter Glenn Greenwald promises to return to the U.S. despite threats that he will be criminally charged.