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- Headlines of the day I: EspioPoliCorporoZonal
- Business as usual: A little Dutch hypocrisy
- Americans give up on the Afghanistan war
- Bernie Sanders: The TPP is bad for U.S. workers
- Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFukunews
- Chart of the day: Public housing deprivation
- Lee Judge: Putting on a price on diplomacy
- Headlines of the day I: Spies, leaks, lies, zones
- Grandpa alert: Sadie Rose pays a visit
- Chart of the day: Joblessness gains attention
- David Horsey: Portrait of a job creator
- Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoPoliFukuFailure
- Chart of the day: Afghan civilian casualties rise
- Clark and Dawe: The Down Under media war
- Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, zones, bluster
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Category Archives: Governance
David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun police beat reporter who went on to author The Wire, a rare flash of brilliance on the American televisual landscape, talks to Bill Moyers about the fundamental flaws eating away at the remnants of American democracy.
From Moyers & Company:
David Simon on Our Rigged Political System
From the transcript:
BILL MOYERS: Simon talked about this last fall in a speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Australia. Here’s the conclusion of his message:
DAVID SIMON at The Festival of Dangerous Ideas: The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labor, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained […] And ultimately, right now, capital has effectively purchased the government.
BILL MOYERS: Your summation is grim, but true. Capital owns our politics. What do we do about it?
DAVID SIMON: I think if I could fix one thing, if I could concentrate and focus on one thing and hope that by breaking the cycle you might start to walk this nightmare back, it would be campaign finance reform. The logic of Citizens United and other decisions that are framed around that. Certainly our judicial branch has failed to value the idea of one man, one vote.
You don’t count more because you run a corporation and you can heave money in favor of your political philosophy onto the process. You don’t count more, you’re one guy.
BILL MOYERS: Free speech, this court has said–
DAVID SIMON: Of course, of course.
BILL MOYERS: –free speech, under the first amendment corporations have the right of–
DAVID SIMON: And you know what– right, and you know what? Everyone reacted the wrong way when they heard that decision. They all– the chant from the left became, “Corporations are people? Corporations are not people.” Well, no, actually under the law, that’s the reason for corporations if you know, they are indeed given the rights of individuals, and that’s why you form corporations and that’s how the law treats them.
They’re sociopaths as people, you know, they have to report their profit to the– I mean, that’s who they are. But you know, by definition, you know, if all you care about is your profits, to the shareholders, you know, and nothing else in human terms, you’re probably a sociopath.
But okay, they get to exist as– no, it was that speech is money, that was– when you start equating speech with money and you see them as being comparable, money is in a fundamental regard the opposite of speech in many ways. Speech, you know, or it’s a kind of speech so foul that it shouldn’t be– it shouldn’t have the weight it has in our democracy.
And that’s the, that to me was the nails in the coffin. If you can’t fix the elections so that they actually resemble the popular will, if the combination of the monetization of the elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy. And I think we have.
From the Polish Central Statistical Office [PDF], graphic evidence that government workers in one European country are doing very, very well. Click on the image to enlarge:
A verrryyyy long collection, with the latest global economic, political, and environmental news for your perusal.
First up, playing monopoly with Sky News:
Comcast To Buy Time Warner Cable For $45bn
The deal would create an entertainment superpower with 32 million TV subscribers, but there are calls for regulators to step in.
The two biggest US cable companies are joining forces in a $45bn (£27bn) deal, creating an entertainment giant with some 32 million TV subscribers.
Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable was confirmed at the start of trading on Thursday.
Its offer, which is subject to regulatory approval, is about 17% higher than the company’s closing share price on Wednesday.
The takeover bid trumps an earlier $38bn (£23bn) offer from Charter Communications, which appeared to concede defeat by announcing: “We’ve always maintained our greatest opportunity to create value for shareholders is by executing our current business plan.”
More from Business Insider:
What’s in it for Comcast Cable shareholders?
“This combination creates a company that delivers maximum value for our shareholders,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
How are they going to do that?
The company explains in one sentence that probably has every Comcast and Time Warner Cable employee nervous.
“The transaction will generate approximately $1.5 billion in operating efficiencies and will be accretive to Comcast’s free cash flow per share while preserving balance sheet strength.”
“Operating efficiencies” usually means the closing and combining offices, which also often comes with job cuts.
Still more from The Guardian:
Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable ‘will throttle choice on the web’
- Angry consumer groups say proposed $45.2bn mega-deal will drive up costs for millions – and call on FCC to block takeover
Consumer groups reacted angrily to the merger of cable giant Comcast and Time Warner Cable on Thursday, claiming the combination could “throttle” choice on the internet.
Comcast’s proposed $45.2bn takeover of TWC will create a media behemoth that will dominate broadband internet access across the US. Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, will also cement its position as the pre-eminent force in cable TV.
Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at consumer rights group Public Knowledge said: “This is a deal that needs to be blocked.” She said Comcast was likely to use the extra leverage to “drive up costs and reduce choices for consumers.”, and claimed the new company would be too powerful, becoming a “gatekeeper” capable of “throttling competition.”
And from In These Times, a symbolic action taken years too late:
It’s Official: Obama Signs Minimum Wage Hike for Some Federal Contract Workers
Today, President Barack Obama honored his promise from last month’s State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage for some workers indirectly employed by the federal government. In a new executive order, he raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. The White House estimates the order will affect hundreds of thousands of workers employed by private companies with government contracts.
“Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty,” Obama said during a signing ceremony at the White House. He used the ceremony to repeat his calls for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers and for state and local governments and private businesses to also act to boost the income of low-wage workers.
Labor groups and union supporters reported they were pleased with the final shape of the executive order.
From The Hill, reversing idiocy:
Senate reverses pension cut
The Senate on Wednesday sent legislation to President Obama’s desk that would repeal the controversial $6 billion cut to military pensions.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in a 95-3 vote, undoing the spending cut that Congress had approved two months prior in the December budget deal.
The only senators to vote against the bill were Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
The legislation passed in the House just a day earlier in a 326-90 vote.
From MintPress News, necessary action:
Justice Department Sued Over Secretive JPMorgan Settlement
The agreement settled both “actual and potential” civil claims against the company brought by five federal agencies and several state attorneys general, thus offering broad immunity for years.
A public interest group is suing the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder over the agency’s recent record-busting settlement with JPMorgan Chase for the bank’s fraudulent conduct leading up to the 2007-08 bursting of the housing bubble and subsequent meltdown of the financial industry.
Better Markets, a watchdog group based here, alleges that the Justice Department broke both federal law and constitutional mandate when it agreed to and finalized the $13 billion settlement in November. The agreement process, reportedly decided upon personally by Holder and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, included no judicial oversight, despite what critics say are multiple statutory obligations to do so.
“There are certain statutes regarding certain violations of law that expressly state that the Department of Justice must seek court approval, and then there are others where it’s silent,” Dennis Kelleher, the head of Better Markets, told MintPress while announcing the lawsuit on Monday.
Wealthy more worried about being seen as wealthy
- Is success being vilified in America? The successful seem to think so.
A new poll from American Express Publishing and Harrison Group finds that 1 percenters no longer like to be seen as such.
One-third of members of the group said they “like it when others recognize me as wealthy.” Though that number (taken in the fourth quarter of 2013) may sound high, it’s down from 40 percent a year earlier. And it’s far below the 53 percent who agreed with the statement in 2010.
Fully 28 percent say they worry about “being scorned for being in the top part of the economy,” versus 24 percent who were concerned about that in the first quarter of 2013.
From USA TODAY, that old hard times intolerance [the first of several in today’s compendium]:
Immigration debate is reignited in Fremont, Neb.
Voters in Fremont, Neb., are still trying to curb illegal immigration.
Residents voted 60%-40% on Tuesday to re-approve an ordinance that requires property owners not to rent houses or apartments to illegal immigrants and requires renters to declare their legal residency. Landlords who violate the ordinance face fines.
Fremont has a complicated history with the ordinance, which thrust this city of 26,000 people near Omaha into the national spotlight in 2010, when residents first approved the law after the City Council defeated the proposal. The law also requires employers to verify the legal status of employees; that part of the law is in effect.
After voters approved the measure, the City Council put the law on hold when the Nebraska ACLU and other groups sued. Lower courts upheld the law, and the council sent the housing portion back for another vote of the people.
Al Jazeera America protests:
Portland, Ore., residents tell mayor: ‘Stop arresting homeless people’
Residents of Portland, Ore., gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday to protest the government’s treatment of its homeless population. The group, a self-described “angry mob,” carried pitchforks and torches while demanding that Mayor Charlie Hales end policies that criminalize homelessness.
The city government has come under fire in recent months for enforcing an ordinance that prohibits camping on public property, which critics say unfairly targets the homeless.
A 2013 city count found nearly 1,900 individuals in the Portland metropolitan area to be homeless and unsheltered, a 10 percent increase from 2011.
From PandoDaily, paying the piper:
The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS’s news division
On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.
However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.
In recent years, Arnold has been using massive contributions to politicians, Super PACs, ballot initiative efforts, think tanks and local front groups to finance a nationwide political campaign aimed at slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. His foundation which backs his efforts employs top Republican political operatives, including the former chief of staff to GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX). According to its own promotional materials, the Arnold Foundation is pushing lawmakers in states across the country “to stop promising a (retirement) benefit” to public employees.
Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts. (note: the term “PBS officials” refers interchangeably to both PBS officials and officials from PBS flagship affiliate WNET who were acting on behalf of the entire PBS system).
Magazines sue Colorado over marijuana advertising restrictions
Two publications are challenging Colorado’s recreational marijuana rules about advertising, with a lawsuit filed in federal court, records said.
The national magazine High Times and the local weekly magazine Westword sued the state of Colorado Monday because of rules stating recreational marijuana stores can advertise only in publications aimed at a readership over the age of 21, the Denver Post reported Wednesday.
The lawsuit argues the rules, which also apply to outdoor and broadcast advertising, are restrictions of free speech, and notes there are no similar restrictions on medical marijuana businesses.
It marks the first time the state’s advertising rules have been challenged in court.
From MintPress News, a stunning development:
HIV/AIDS Cure May Be Found In Marijuana: Study
For years, many Americans with HIV/AIDS have used medical marijuana to relieve some common symptoms associated with the illness such as nausea, vomiting and appetite loss.
Now, a new study published last week in the journal AIDS Researcher and Human Retroviruses found that a daily dosage of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, may actually fight the HIV/AIDS virus itself.
In this most recent study, the team of researchers from Louisiana State University found that when HIV-infected monkeys were given THC daily during a 17-month time period, the monkeys had less damage in the immune tissue of their gut — an important site of HIV infection — than those given a placebo.
Researchers also reported that they found consuming THC had improved the monkeys immune tissue at a gene level as well, and was in a way, preventing the disease from killing healthy immune cells — a discovery other studies have found as well.
From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, blowing smoke:
Marijuana gets a show of support on Capitol Hill
- Eighteen House members ask Obama to reclassify the banned drug
In the biggest show of support yet for legalizing marijuana on Capitol Hill, 18 House members today asked President Barack Obama to reclassify the drug, removing it from a list of banned substances deemed to have no medical value.
The letter, distributed by Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, argued that including marijuana in the Schedule 1 list of banned drugs, along with heroin and LSD, disregards the laws of 20 states that allow pot to be used for medical purposes.
It comes after Obama last month said that he doesn’t believe that marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol.
MintPress News cashes out:
Banking Regulations For Marijuana Industry “Imminent”
“Without access to basic banking services, many legitimate cannabis businesses are forced to manage sales, payroll, and even tax bills entirely in cash.”
On Tuesday U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, Wash., said the federal government’s new guidance for banks and bank regulators will be released “imminently.”
What Heck is referring to is Attorney General Eric Holder’s pledge that the Justice Department and the Treasury Department would issue guidance “very soon” to banks on how they can work with marijuana businesses.
Though the guidance had not been issued by the time of this article’s publication, Heck, a member of House Committee on Financial Services, who along with Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Colorado has pressed for marijuana banking reform, said legal marijuana businesses will be provided with a “full range of banking service, including accepting credit cards, direct depositing payroll checks and more,” under the guidance.
In other words, marijuana-related businesses will no longer be forced to operate on a cash-only basis.
On to latest in the global neoliberal trade agreement games from Jiji Press:
Japan, U.S. to Hold Working-Level TPP Talks Next Week
Working-level officials of Japan and the United States will meet in Japan next week to discuss sticky issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks ahead of key four-day TPP ministerial talks in Singapore from Feb. 22, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.
Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will arrive in Japan on Monday and hold talks with Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief representative in the TPP negotiations, and other officials, according to the sources.
The two sides are expected to discuss the handling of tariffs on farm products and issues related to automobile trade, the sources said.
Another deal, with problems, via Deutsche Welle:
Tripping over TTIP: Obstacles overshadow EU-US trade pact
- With talks on the EU-US transatlantic free trade deal set to continue next month, this week’s outrage over a European Parliament vote on genetically modified corn will hardly be the last obstacle negotiators face.
This coming Monday (17.02.2014), EU trade chief Karel de Gucht and his US counterpart Michael Froman are scheduled to meet in Washington to discuss the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a transatlantic free trade area. They are expected to make a political assessment of the past three rounds of US-EU trade talks and to discuss the upcoming fourth round of negotiations in March.
The pact would unify standards and licensing procedures across a EU-US trade zone and would waive tariffs on goods traded between the EU and the US. According to the Munich-based IFO institute, the treaty will create up to 400,000 new jobs in Europe – 110,000 of them in Germany alone. A done deal, it would seem.
But the deal is far from done: the EU and the US differ over a wide variety of issues, one of which is genetically modified food. On Tuesday (11.02.2014), a new type of genetically modified corn from the US was approved by the European Parliament amid great controversy. The decision paves the way for compromise over one of the differences in EU-US consumer attitudes that has been a stumbling stone in TTIP negotiations.
But opponents of the trade pact are becoming more vocal, and more debates over standards, consumer protection, cultural protectionism threaten to erupt when EU-US negotiators get down to the deal’s fine print and put the agreement up for domestic scrutiny.
From Canada, riches spurned from South China Morning Post:
Canada scraps millionaire visa scheme, ‘dumps 46,000 Chinese applications’
Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires in the queue will have their applications scrapped and their application fees returned
Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires face an uncertain future after Canada’s government moved to scrap its controversial investor visa scheme, which has allowed waves of rich Hongkongers and mainland Chinese to immigrate since 1986.
The surprise announcement was made in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget, delivered to parliament in Ottawa on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires in the queue for visas will have their applications “eliminated” and their fees returned.
The announcement came less than a week after the South China Morning Post revealed how the scheme was overwhelmed by an influx of applications from mainland millionaires at Canada’s Hong Kong consulate. Applications to the scheme were frozen in 2012 as a result, as immigration staff struggled to clear the backlog.
ANSAmed covers a ploy:
EU and southern Europe in re-industrialization pact
- Italy, Spain, Portugal heads of State meet at COTEC in Lisbon
An EU Industrial Compact adopted in January has led to a ‘pact’ between the European Commission and southern European countries to speed up the re-industrialization of Europe by exploiting the first signs of economic recovery, European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani made known in a joint statement with ministers from Italy, Spain and Portugal on Wednesday in Lisbon.
The statement was issued on the sidelines of the annual COTEC conference, which was attended by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Spanish King Juan Carlos, and Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva.
The aim of the Industrial Compact is for the manufacturing sector to make up 20% of EU GDP, and this can be achieved by speeding up innovation and marketing, COTEC experts from Italy, Spain and Portugal said.
And from MintPress News, more of that old hard times intolerance:
The Rebirth Of European Racism
The mass influx of migrants has triggered a wave of nationalistic fervor goaded by public statements of right-wing leaders.
Bulgaria has recently seen a surge in xenophobic attacks since a wave of Syrian refugees escaping the horrors of the war started arriving. But it appears what these refugees have found in Bulgaria isn’t much better than what they left behind.
Last year, roughly 11,600 migrants and asylum seekers crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey, most of them Syrian. Human rights organizations expect tens of thousands to make the journey across the Turkish border in the coming months.
But the mass influx of migrants has triggered a wave of nationalistic fervor goaded by public statements of right-wing leaders. Last November, several neo-Nazi factions, including the local branch of the international Blood and Honor Skinhead network, formed the Nationalist Party of Bulgaria, which says it wants to “cleanse Bulgaria from the foreign and alien immigrant scum that have been flooding the towns of Bulgaria.”
The party has organized so-called “civil patrols,” which stop and check foreigners—and a portion of the general population thinks that this is a good idea.
And an admission from The Guardian:
Migration in the EU ‘has caused strains,’ admits José Manuel Barroso
- President of the European Commission says free movement is open to abuse but that he will not compromise on citizens’ rights
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, will on Friday acknowledge that the free movement of people across the EU has put “unintended strains” on public services and is open to abuse.
In a move to show that Brussels understands the concerns raised in Britain, Barroso will say in London that the commission has recently clarified anti-abuse rules to crack down on sham marriages which allow non-EU citizens to claim benefits as a family member.
But the commission president will make clear in a speech to the London School of Economics that he will not compromise on the right of all EU citizens to move across all 28 member states – one of the four founding pillars which guarantees the free movement of labour, capital, goods and services.
ECB still assessing if lower inflation temporary: Coene
The European Central Bank is awaiting further information, particularly signs on whether the current easing of euro zone inflation is temporary, before it acts, Governing Council member Luc Coene said.
Annual inflation in the 18-member euro zone slowed to 0.7 percent in January from 0.8 percent in December, confounding expectations of a rise and matching a four-year low hit last October.
The ECB left interest rates at record low last week, but put markets on alert for a possible move in March, when the Governing Council should have new forecasts from the bank’s staff extending into 2016.
On to Britain and an ongoing disaster from the London Telegraph:
Flood-hit areas are a ‘battlefield’ as thousands of soldiers are deployed
- Army chief says that commanding officers are applying ‘battle-group’ skills an ‘unparalleled natural crisis’
Britain is in the grip of an “unparalleled natural crisis”, the Army officer in charge of the flood recovery effort declared on Wednesday.
As hurricane-force winds gusting at more than 100mph lashed the country, forecasters warned that the weather will get worse this weekend as a month’s worth of rain falls in just 48 hours.
The chaos now threatens to derail Britain’s economic recovery, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England warned. His comments came as storms that have battered the South West and Wales for weeks spread to the north of England for the first time this winter, bringing parts of the country to a standstill.
A bankster alert from the London Telegraph:
RBS warned of credit rating ‘downgrade’
- Royal Bank of Scotland has been told its credit could be downgraded by ratings agency Moody’s
Royal Bank of Scotland has been warned by one of the world’s main ratings agencies that its credit is at risk of being downgraded following the surprise revelation last month of weaker than expected capital levels.
Moody’s said it had put RBS’s debt “on review for downgrade” pointing to the taxpayer-backed lender’s “weaker than previously anticipated regulatory capital position”.
The move comes after RBS’s unscheduled announcement on January 27 of £3.1bn of extra provisions for issues ranging from its sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and interest rate hedging products.
More immigration tension, this time from Iceland and the Reykjavík Grapevine:
Newspaper Editor Defends Leaked Memo
Davíð Oddsson – the current co-editor of Morgunblaðið – defended the leak of a memo on an asylum seeker that launched a police investigation as “allowing the public to get the whole picture”.
In an editorial for Morgunblaðið, Davíð – who is also, amongst other things, the former chairperson of the Independence Party, from which Ministry of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir hails – argued in favour of government offices publishing personal information about refugees as a means to take part in the public discussion about asylum seekers.
“Is it not right that the public get the whole picture?,” Davíð wrote. “That nothing is hidden about what’s at stake?”
As reported, the police are currently investigating the Ministry of the Interior over a leaked memo which impugned the reputations of Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos and the mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph. It later came to light that the accusations in the memo were false. Whilst the ministry denies the memo came from their offices, all evidence indicates the ministry as the only source.
On to Norway with EUbusiness and a hard times intolerance rebuke:
Norway rules out referendum on immigration
Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen on Wednesday ruled out holding a referendum on immigration, rejecting a request by a fellow member of his populist party to follow in the footsteps of Switzerland.
“For many years, the (populist) Progress Party has claimed that more influence should be granted to the citizens. This proposition shouldn’t shock anybody,” Anundsen, a Progress Party minister was quoted by Norwegian news agency NTB during parliamentary question time.
“But within the government coalition, the Progress Party is sticking to our cooperation agreement (with the other right and centre-right parties) and does not plan a referendum on this matter.”
A Finnish proclamation from New Europe:
Finland: OECD wants more structural reforms
Most people would not associate Finland with past high-tech successes like Nokia and Ericksson with structural reforms that have come to be associated with the EU’s troubled south. But the latest report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) urged Helsinki to make more efforts in the structural reform to stimulate the economy, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE reported on Wednesday.
OECD called for more measures in restructuring municipalities, raising retirement age and stricter mortgage rules, in order to promote the economic growth and deal with the aging population in Finland.
The report pointed out that the rising cost of pensions and healthcare for an aging population is one economic to Finland, suggesting higher retirement age and an end to part-time retirement.
On to the Netherlands and significant decision from DutchNews.nl:
The Netherlands to vote against approving the EU’s 2012 accounts
The Netherlands will join Britain and Sweden in voting against giving approval to the EU’s accounts for 2012 because of an increase in mis-spending, finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Thursday.
Dijsselbloem told MPs there are still too many uncertainties about the accounts and the error rate in the EU’s books has risen from 3.9% in 2011 to 4.8% in 2012. This is equivalent to €6.7bn being wrongly spent.
The problems centre on funds allocated to reducing the prosperity gap between different members states and money earmarked for rural development. In some cases, projects were not put out to tender properly or they were ineligible for grants under Brussels’ rules.
‘We cannot simply let this happen,’ Dijsselbloem, who also chairs the influential Euro Group, is quoted as saying by news agency ANP.
Germany next and higher hopes from Deutsche Welle:
German government revises growth forecast slightly upwards
The German government has confirmed the Economic Ministry’s 2014 growth outlook, saying that GDP will expand slightly more this year than previously predicted. It said the labor market would benefit as well.
German cabinet ministers on Wednesday adopted the 2014 Annual Economic Report, which included slightly higher expectations for growth in the course of this year.
The government said it expected the national economy to expand by 1.8 percent in 2014, marginally up from an earlier prediction of 1.7 percent. The report said the growth rate would increase to 2 percent next year.
Commenting on the report, conservative lawmakers in Berlin said everything should be done to avoid jeopardizing the growing economic momentum amid problems caused by the country’s energy transition and the aftermath of the protracted eurozone debt crisis.
And from Deutsche Welle, another chorus of that old. . .:
DW exclusive: Germans would vote just like the Swiss on curbing immigration
- A survey commissioned by Deutsche Welle has found the majority of German citizens would vote for limiting immigration. The survey follows a decision in Switzerland to limit its annual immigration from the EU.
If Germans were to vote in a referendum on limiting immigration to Germany nearly half would support the measure (48 percent ) while almost as many (46 percent) would oppose it, according to a DW commissioned survey.
On behalf of DW, opinion research institute infratest dimap surveyed 1,001 Germans over the age of 18 on February 11-12, 2014. Three percent of those surveyed were undecided.
The survey showed that a particularly high number of Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party members (84 percent) would support an immigration limit. Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and its sister party the Christian Social Union voted 51 percent for a limit.
Paris next, and plutocratic woes from France 24:
French billionaire senator Dassault loses immunity over graft claims
The French Senate stripped billionaire industrialist senator Serge Dassault of parliamentary immunity on Wednesday, clearing the way for him to face possible criminal charges for allegedly buying votes.
The decision by a Senate committee means that UMP senator Dassault, 88, can be taken into custody for interrogation by judges investigating allegations dating from his 14 years as mayor of Corbeil-Essonnes, a Paris suburb.
The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote-buying that influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter, the current mayor of Corbeil.
Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France’s 4th richest man and the 69th richest in the world, with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros. He heads Dassault Group, which owns France’s prestigious conservative newspaper “Le Figaro” and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation, which makes business and military aircraft including the Rafale fighter jet.
Europe Online rakes it in:
Societe Generale nearly triples profits in 2013
France’s second-biggest bank Societe Generale nearly tripled its profits in 2013, helped by higher earnings in both its retail and corporate and investment banking units, the group said Wednesday.
Net income shot up to 2.2 billion euros (3 billion dollars), from 774 million euros in 2012. Group revenues were up 4.3 per cent to 22.8 billion euros.
Societe Generale ended the year on a high note, with fourth-quarter profits of 322 million euros far exceeding analysts’ expectations.
TheLocal.fr parks it:
French taxi drivers call for ‘indefinite strike’
The announcement will not go down well with Parisians or tourists but angry taxi drivers in France are clearly not willing to lie down without a fight. On Tuesday they called for an “indefinite strike”, saying they will take action “anytime, anywhere”.
Paris taxi drivers continued to vent their anger on Tuesday when they brought traffic to a standstill in the centre of the French capital leading to the arrest of dozens of drivers. The trouble comes as unions called for ongoing industrial action.
On Tuesday evening as cabbies fronted up to police at Place de La Concorde union leaders called for an indefinite strike, which could see wildcat blockades and go slows continue for the foreseeable future.
In a joint statement drivers’ unions said they “reserved the right to take action at any place at any time.”
Switzerland, and that old familiar tune from TheLocal.ch:
Populists urge more immigration controls
The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the initiative narrowly accepted by Swiss voters to limit immigration from the European Union, is set on Friday to push for for more measures to tighten immigration as tensions mount in Switzerland over the issue.
The initiative against massive immigration, backed by 50.3 percent of the electorate, calls for an end to the freedom of movement agreement between Switzerland and the EU and the imposition of quotas.
But the deal is fuzzy on details. It does not, for example, stipulate how many foreigners would be accepted into the country and through what criteria the level of needed workers would be selected for different sectors of the economy.
The SVP is being prodded to clarify how it expects the quota system to work.
Spain next, and an affirmative declaration from thinkSPAIN:
Economy starts to grow as GDP predictions more optimistic
SPAIN’S Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase by 0.9 per cent this year and 1.9 per cent next year – signs that the economy is growing once again, according to figures released by the BBVA bank.
This will be enough for creation of ‘sustainable’ employment to begin, says the entity, but it warns that jobless figures are unlikely to drop below 25.6 per cent this year and 24.8 per cent in 2015.
Consumer spending in Spain is expected to rise in 2014 by 0.9 per cent and by 1.3 per cent next year, with lack of national demand gradually ceasing to pose barriers to micro-economic growth over the next two years and ongoing efforts in increasing exports will set the scene for the economy to begin its recovery, the BBVA reveals.
ANSAmed has a harsher take:
Spain: fewer jobs, lower wages two years after reform
- Trade unions and ILO slam reform, OECD praises it
Two years to the day from Spain’s last labor reform, there are fewer jobs, more long-term unemployed, and fewer people paying into social security.
A negative balance according to trade unions and a ‘’not very encouraging’‘ picture according to the Savings Banks Foundation (Funcas), but the government says the reform is beginning to have positive effects within the context of a recovering economy.
Jobless benefit claims totaled 4,599,829 people as of January 2012, one month before the labor reform was enacted. Two years later, that number is at 4,814,435, up by 241,606 people or +4.6% as of January 2014. In the same period, the number of workers paying into the social security fund dropped by 769,627 people, or -4.5%, to a total of 16,176,610 people. A quarterly report by national statistics bureau INE showed 5,273,600 were unemployed when the reform was enacted in the fourth quarter of 2011, a number that rose to 5,896,300 in the same period of 2013, equal to 622,700 more unemployed people (+11.8%) in two years.
ANSAmed again, and a comedown for high-flyers:
Spain: Iberia; agreement with pilots, salaries down 14%
- The deal provides for a salary freeze till 2015
Spanish carrier Iberia and pilots’ union Sepla have reached an agreement in principle ending years of conflict which provides for salary cuts by at least 14%.
The agreement also introduces ‘’permanent structural changes’‘ at the company to cut costs and allow the development of the airline and its low-cost company Iberia Express, Iberia’s Iag group said in a statement to the market authority committee on Thursday.
The deal provides for a salary freeze till 2015, previously rejected by pilots, and from that date onwards salary increases depending on the company’s results.
From El País, the bankster blues:
Failed lender CAM wants prison for two of its former executives
- Bank’s lawyer seeks six to 10 years for ex-director general and oversight committee chief
- Attorney accuses them of inflating expense accounts and favoring own interests
The lawyer of failed lender Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM), appointed by the government’s bank bailout fund, the FROB, wants prison terms for two of the bank’s former top executives.
Former director general Roberto López Abad and former chairman of the Valencian savings bank’s oversight committee, Juan Ramón Avilés, face the prospect of between six and 10 years in prison for misappropriation of funds and deliberate mismanagement.
The state prosecutor is seeking shorter jail terms for the two men.
And the social counterrevolution prevails, via TheLocal.es:
‘New abortion law to stay’: Spanish lawmakers
A controversial plan to ban women in Spain from freely opting for abortions overcame a key hurdle on Tuesday when lawmakers voted in secret against a motion to scrap the reform.
The plan has outraged pro-choice groups and brought thousands of people out onto the streets to protest, but has sparked division even within the conservative ruling party.
Lawmakers rejected a proposal submitted by the opposition Socialists to “immediately withdraw” the bill by 183 votes to 151. Six lawmakers abstained.
The ruling Popular Party (PP) holds a strong majority in parliament, but the abortion reform, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, has been delayed amid dissent by senior party figures.
And another sign of the times from El País:
House sales fall for third year in a row
- Property purchases hit record low in December
The Spanish housing market remained locked in a trough in 2013, six years after a massive property bubble burst.
According to figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INE), the number of homes sold last year, excluding public housing schemes, fell 1.2 percent from a year earlier to 276,600 after falling 11.3 percent in 2012 and 18.2 percent in 2011. During the height of the boom over 800,000 houses were exchanged in a year. In December alone sales fell 11.0 from a year earlier to a new monthly record low of 18,619.
The only respite the market has had since boom turned to bust was in 2010 when sales increased 4.8 percent, driven by the purchase of new homes before the introduction of a hike in value-added tax.
And from TheLocal.es, an unconscionable demand:
Cancer drug maker wants 4000% Spanish price hike
Drug manufacturer Aspen Pharmacare has reportedly threatened to stop selling its leukaemia and ovarian cancer treatments in Spain if Health Minister Ana Mato refuses to raise fixed purchase prices by up to 4,000 percent.
According to online daily El Confidencial Digital, the habitual bargaining between Aspen and the Ministry of Health has taken a turn for the worse.
The South African manufacturer of generic medicines is currently undergoing a rapid expansion in international markets.
The company is allegedly insisting on massive price increases for a number of drugs but the Ministry has flatly refused.
On to Lisbon with EUbusiness:
Portugal passes new IMF rescue program review
The International Monetary Fund approved Wednesday the disbursement of 910 million euros ($1.24 billion) to Portugal after the country passed the 10th review of its bailout program.
The disbursement took the country a step closer to the May 2014 end of the European Union-IMF rescue program, with the country’s finances stabilizing.
But the IMF urged the Portuguese government not to give in to pressure to increase public spending and to keep pushing ahead on structural reforms to its finances.
“The Portuguese authorities’ implementation of their Fund-supported program has been commendable,” said IMF Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik in a statement.
And on to Italy with the New York Times:
Italy’s Prime Minister Announces Resignation Amid Party Revolt
Prime Minister Enrico Letta of Italy, whose weak coalition government has come under increasing criticism, announced his resignation on Thursday night after his own Democratic Party staged a dramatic insurrection and voted to replace him with the party’s new leader, Matteo Renzi.
The Democratic Party is the largest member of Italy’s coalition government, and the party’s decision to dump Mr. Letta will likely have to be put to a confidence vote in Parliament. Mr. Letta will meet with his cabinet on Friday morning and then present his resignation letter to Italy’s president, making way for Mr. Renzi, 38, to become Italy’s youngest prime minister.
Mr. Renzi, the mayor of Florence who recently won a nationwide primary to become leader of the Democratic Party, has a reputation for boldness and has long been considered Italy’s most promising young politician. He has spoken repeatedly about the need for sweeping political and economic changes. But few analysts foresaw that he would lead a revolt against his party’s sitting prime minister.
AGI has a skeptical take from the populist right:
M5S co-founder doubtful government will last until 2018
M5S co-founder, Gianroberto Casaleggio says he is doubtful the government can last until 2018: “I see a high instability situation. A 2018 forecast is very risky”.
The statement was made at the Termini train station, while Casaleggio was waiting for a train to Milan. Asked by journalists about the likelihood of a government lead by Matteo Renzi to survive until 2018, Casaleggio added: “One can never tell, but the beginning of this year seems to be marked by a great political instability”.
From TheLocal.it, austerian rigor:
Italians drop holiday plans as crisis bites
The number of trips taken by Italians since the economic crisis began in 2008 has plummeted by 48.6 percent, new statistics show.
Last year Italy’s resident population took just over 63 million trips with overnight stays, whether for work or holiday, the country’s statistics agency Istat said this week.
With a population of nearly 60 million one trip per person may seem like a fair ratio, but a broader look shows that Italians have nearly halved travel in recent years.
They took 48.6 percent fewer holidays or work trips last year than five years’ previously, continuing a year-on-year decline.
Catalonia, Scotland, Venice? Italian party eyes autonomy
The head of Italy’s Northern League on Wednesday said he supported the autonomy bids of Catalonia from Spain and Scotland from Britain, and hoped that the Venice region “will be next on the list”.
Matteo Salvini said two other regions of northern Italy — Lombardy and Piedmont — could also follow suit, adding that it was time to reduce the powers of the European Union and return to “national and regional sovereignty”.
Salvini also said that plans for a coalition of far-right parties including his own at the European Parliament after elections in May were “well advanced”.
The coalition “will not be Eurosceptic but will be in favour of a different Europe,” he said, adding however that he continues to support an abandonment of the euro. “The euro has massacred our economy,” he said.
Italy relaxes cannabis penalties
Italy’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down an anti-drug law from 2006 that imposed tough sentencing for the sale and possession of cannabis, putting it on the same level as heroin and cocaine.
The court declared “illegitimate” the law, which imposed sentences of six to 20 years for trafficking in cannabis, whereas the previous law which is now back in force included sentences of between two and six years.
Leftist lawmakers and civil society representatives immediately hailed the court ruling, saying it would help ease overcrowding in Italian prisons.
The scrapping of the law could affect 10,000 detainees who are in pre-trial detention or serving time and could see a revision of their sentences and their release.
After the jump, deeper misery in Greece, Blackwater creator’s African dreams, Venezuelan violence, Argentine inflation, Indian populist payoffs, parliamentary riots, and bankster woes, Thai turmoil prolonged, Aussie bubble alarms, Chinese marketeering and GMOs, Japanese desperate measures, environmental woes, and a jam-packed Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading
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:
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.
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
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
From the worlds of politics, economics, and environmental news, today’s collection begins with a propitiatory sacrifice from Jiji Press:
Obama Urged Not to Sign TPP Unless Japan Bans Dolphin Hunting
A group of celebrities and activists in the United States are urging President Barack Obama to refuse to sign a proposed international trade deal unless Japan bans dolphin hunting.
In a letter dated Wednesday, hip-hop producer Russell Simmons asked U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy to urge Obama not to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact unless Japan bans the hunt.
Simmons’ effort draws support from about 40 celebrities and activists including film director Oliver Stone and actress Cameron Diaz.
Bloomberg limits the bubble:
Home Prices Rose in Fewer U.S. Markets in Fourth Quarter
Prices for single-family homes rose in 73 percent of U.S. cities in the fourth quarter, fewer than in the previous three months, as surging values in the past two years started to reduce affordability.
The median transaction price for an existing home climbed from a year earlier in 119 of 164 metropolitan areas measured, the National Association of Realtors said in a report today. In the third quarter, 88 percent of markets had increases.
While tight inventories and improving employment are bolstering the housing recovery, home-price gains are poised to decelerate as an increase in mortgage rates from record lows cuts into affordability. Values have been rising faster than incomes, particularly in the West, the Realtors group said.
Businessweek takes a flier:
Yes, There’s a Pilot Shortage: Salaries Start at $21,000
The regional side of the U.S. airline industry has long been a fiercely competitive arena in which the big airlines auction large sections of their flight schedules to the lowest bidder. That’s put pressure on wages: The starting salary for a first officer at a regional airline is a little more than $21,000 per year—about $40,000 lower than the same job at Delta (DAL) and United (UAL), according to the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest U.S. pilot union.
And the stingy pay, in turn, exacerbates the pilot shortage. Not only does it make pilot jobs less appealing, but the small salaries also combine with the more onerous federal training rules to put many new pilots deep in debt. Paying for the necessary hours of training flights before getting a first job can cost more than $100,000.
“There may be a shortage of qualified pilots who are willing to fly for U.S. airlines because of the industry’s recent history of instability, poor pay, and benefits,” ALPA President Lee Moak said last week in a statement that aimed to refute the “myth” of such a shortage. The union says that Emirates Airlines pays new first officers $82,000, “plus a housing allowance and other extraordinary benefits,” and that thousands of U.S. pilots on furlough and working abroad are “eager to return to U.S. airline cockpits—under the right conditions.”
From In These Times, Tea Party pols:
When the Boss Wants a Union, But the GOP Says ‘No’
Volkswagen is willing to let employees at its Tennessee plant unionize, but Republicans are stiff in their opposition.
Republicans are blasting VW (actually criticizing a corporation!) because VW is cooperating with an attempt by the United Auto Workers to organize the German automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant. The workers at VW’s German assembly plants are organized and paid twice the wage of the Chattanooga workers.
VW wants to establish works councils at its Chattanooga plant, just like those it has in Germany. In Europe, these groups of white- and blue-collar workers collaborate on issues such as plant rules, work hours and vacations. In VW’s experience, cooperating with employees through these councils increases productivity and profitability.
Because the councils discuss labor issues such as work hours, VW and the UAW have determined that to legally establish them in Chattanooga, the plant must be unionized.
This is intolerable to the GOP. Two of Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, insist they know how to run an auto company better than VW. Despite this successful international auto company’s actual business experience with work councils, these GOP politicians say that they know what’s best, that they just know unionization won’t be good for VW.
Al Jazeera America prolongs:
California gets two more years to ease prison overcrowding
- Judges’ ruling sets compliance officer who will release inmates early if state fails to ease problem
Federal judges on Monday gave California two more years to meet a court-ordered prison population cap, the latest step in a long-running lawsuit aimed at improving inmate medical care.
In doing so, the judges said they would appoint a compliance officer who will release inmates early if the state fails to meet interim benchmarks or the final goal.
The judges said the delays have cost taxpayers money while causing inmates to needlessly suffer. Judges had previously extended the deadline in December.
The order from the three-judge panel delayed an April deadline to reduce the prison population to about 112,000 inmates. California remains more than 5,000 inmates over a limit set by the courts, even though the state has built more prison space and used some private cells.
The Hill anchors the baby:
Chinese ‘birth tourism’ booming in US territory
A growing number of pregnant Chinese women are having their babies in the U.S. territory of Saipan, automatically giving the children American citizenship, according to the region’s congressman.
Del. Gregorio Sablan (D) represents Saipan and the rest of the Northern Mariana Islands in Congress. The U.S. territory is in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 3,700 miles west of Honolulu and a four-hour flight from China.
Sablan said in an ABC News report that he has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security to look into the “birth tourism” situation. “We want to fix this and we want to make sure that this small problem remains very small,” Sablan said.
Heading north of the border for another “free trade” travesty from EurActiv:
EU-Canada free trade deal ‘opens door to environmental lawsuits’
Multinationals will have wide-ranging powers to sue EU states that enact health or environmental laws breaching their “legitimate expectations” of profit, according to a leaked ‘investment chapter’ from the Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA), which was signed last November.
A separate ‘nature and scope’ document for EU-US free trade talks, which EurActiv has seen, makes clear that similar parameters are foreseen for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement.
The CETA investment chapter proposes a definition of ‘fair and equitable treatment’ (FET) for investors which has sparked multi-million dollar lawsuits, such as one by Lone Pine challenging a shale drilling ban by the Canadian state of Quebec.
EU officials have reportedly not challenged the authenticity of the leaked document, which was published online by the Trade Justice Network, although they were unavailable for comment on the issue.
Pronouncement from a high place via Xinhua:
OECD index shows growth recovery in major economies
The latest composite leading indicators (CLIs) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are pointing to an improving economic outlook in major advanced economies, said the Paris-based think tank on Monday.
The CLIs, designed to anticipate turning points in economic activity relative to trend, stood at 100.9 for the OECD area, up by 0.1 percentage compared to last month, while the oulook of seven major economies pointed to a firming growth.
In the euro area, the indicators projected the single-currency bloc to witness positive change in momentum and reached a ratio of 101.1 at the end of 2013 compared to November’s 100.9.
As for France and Germany, Europe’s main powerhouses, the OECD report expected economic activities to gain ground. Their ratios were above the long term average rate of 100, with respectively a ratio of 100.5 and 100.8 for December after 100.3 and 100.7 reported a month earlier.
But The Guardian adds a qualification:
OECD admits overstating growth forecasts amid eurozone crisis and global crash
Biggest forecasting errors were made when looking at the prospects for the next year, rather than the current year, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said
A failure to spot the severity of the eurozone crisis and the impact of the meltdown of the global banking system led to consistent forecasting errors in recent years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development admitted on Tuesday.
The Paris-based organisation said it repeatedly overestimated growth prospects for countries around the world between 2007 and 2012. The OECD revised down forecasts at the onset of the financial crisis, but by an insufficient degree, it said.
“Forecasts were revised down consistently and very rapidly when the financial crisis erupted, but growth out-turns nonetheless still proved substantially weaker than had been projected,” it said in a paper exploring its forecasting record in recent years.
The biggest forecasting errors were made when looking at the prospects for the next year, rather than the current year.
On to Europe with an alarm from the London Telegraph:
ECB paralysed by German court decision as deflation threatens
- The ‘thunderbolt’ ruling on eurozone rescue policies by Germany’s top court marks a serious escalation of Europe’s governance crisis
Last week’s ‘thunderbolt’ ruling on eurozone rescue policies by Germany’s top court marks a serious escalation of Europe’s governance crisis and may ultimately force Germany to withdraw from the euro, the country’s most influential magazine has warned.
A sweeping report by Der Spiegel said the court ruling amounts to a full-blown showdown between Germany and the European Central Bank over the methods to shore up southern Europe’s debt markets.
“It is nothing less than a final reckoning with the crisis-management strategy pursued by the ECB. The German justices insist that the German constitution sets limits on the ECB’s crisis strategy. In a worst-case scenario, the Court could forbid Berlin from contributing to efforts to save the euro or even force Germany to leave the currency zone entirely,” it said.
The warning came as market analysts began to see the darker implications of the ruling, which was initially seen as a green light for the ECB’s bond operations.
From the London Telegraph again, a contrarian take:
Schaeuble: German court decision no threat to eurozone
- The German finance minister plays down damage of ruling that powerful ECB tool could be unconstitutional
Curbing the European Central Bank’s (ECB) powers to do “whatever it takes” to save the eurozone will not harm the single currency, the German finance minister has claimed.
Wolfgang Schaeuble said that although the ECB’s most effective tool for calming the eurozone debt markets, unlimited bond buying, could be ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice, that financial markets are now confident that the eurozone will remain intact.
“I think the return of financial market confidence in the stability of the euro has been due not only, not even primarily, to the ECB’s (unlimited bond buying) announcement,” said Mr Schaeuble in an interview with Reuters.
New Europe debunks:
Mobile EU citizens are mainly young people looking for job opportunities
- Mobile EU citizens are often overqualified for the jobs they take up and may be paid less
A new study on the integration of mobile EU citizens was published today by the European Commission.
The study, which was carried out by Ernst and Young, focused on six European cities, chosen for the multinational composition of their population. The cities were Barcelona, Dublin, Hamburg, Lille, Prague and Turin. According to the study, most of the mobile EU citizens are young people looking for job opportunities.
The study showed that the the inflow of younger, working age EU citizens has had a positive economic impact in the cities under examination. For example in Turin, a local evaluation indicated that tax revenues from foreigners on the whole brought a net benefit of €1.5 billion to national public finances. Moreover, the newcomers have helped fill gaps in local labour markets, contributed to growth in new sectors and have helped balance out ageing populations. However, the study found that mobile EU citizens are often overqualified for the jobs they take up and may be paid less and at the same time do not always benefit from the same access to housing and education.
On to Britain and ongoing misery from Sky News:
UK Floods Could Last Months, Scientist Warns
Some 1.6 million properties across Britain are now at risk of groundwater flooding and there is no end in sight, an expert says.
Scientists have told Sky News that groundwater levels are now so high that parts of Britain face a serious risk of flooding for weeks or even months to come.
Andy McKenzie, a groundwater scientist at the British Geological Survey, told Sky News that even if the rain stopped today, so much water is soaking through the soil that levels are likely to keep rising for another two months.
The risk of flooding could remain high until May, he said.
Figures exclusively revealed to Sky News show that boreholes used to measure the height of the water table are overflowing in many areas, with the highest levels ever recorded.
The Guardian covers austerian pluvial accounting:
Government raised bar for funding of flood defence schemes
- Defra wanted to see an average of £8 of damage avoided for every £1 it would spend on schemes
Coalition ministers made it more difficult for flood defence schemes to get funding by introducing tougher targets demanding 60% more “benefits” for every pound spent on protection, it has emerged.
Under the new rules brought in three years ago, the Department for Environment Food And Rural Affairs (Defra) wanted to see an average of £8 of damage avoided for every £1 they would spend on schemes.
Previously, projects were simply expected to deliver more than £1 of damage avoided for every £1 spent, with an average across all schemes of £5 of damage avoided for every £1 spent.
On hand giveth whilst the other taketh away, via Reuters:
Barclays to cut 12,000 jobs, pays bigger bonuses
Barclays said it would axe up to 12,000 jobs this year even as it raised bonuses for investment bankers, prompting fury among politicians and unions who said it had not learned the lessons of the financial crisis.
Britain’s third-biggest bank said up to 9 percent of employees could go, including 7,000 in Britain, as it tries to lower costs. The cuts are not concentrated in any one business area.
It said it paid 2.4 billion pounds ($3.9 billion) in incentive awards last year, raising bonuses at the investment bank by 13 percent despite a slump in its profits. The average bonus for the investment bank’s 26,200 staff was 60,100 pounds.
Critics of the bonus hike said it showed Britain’s biggest banks were still failing to heed the lessons of a financial crisis caused by dangerous risk taking and excessive pay.
The Independent calls the shots:
Revealed: Big Pharma’s hidden links to NHS policy, with senior MPs saying medical industry uses ‘wealth to influence government’
NHS bosses allowed a lobbying company working for some of the world’s biggest drugs and medical equipment firms to write a draft report which could help shape future health policy. NHS England commissioned a group called the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA) to consult with patients’ groups, charities and health organisations and produce a report feeding into its future five-year strategy for commissioning £12bn of services.
But the SHCA has confirmed to The Independent that it is entirely funded by commercial “members”. Its director, John Murray, is also a lobbyist whose company lists some of the world’s biggest drug and medical device firms as clients.
Mr Murray put his name on a foreword to the NHS England document along with James Palmer, the clinical director of specialised services at NHS England, with whom he admits he has had “many meetings [on] a wide range of organisations and interests”.
The findings raise significant questions about links between the lobbying industry and NHS England – a quango set up to run the NHS under the Government’s health reforms.
Hints of Banksters Behaving Badly from The Guardian:
Bank of England launches inquiry into forex manipulation claims
- Senior currency trader says Bank officials condoned information sharing between traders under investigation
The Bank of England has launched an internal inquiry into allegations that its officials endorsed sharing of information between traders in the foreign exchange market, the central bank’s deputy governor told MPs.
The inquiry will examine claims that at a meeting between Bank officials and senior currency traders last April the officials said it was permissible for traders in different banks to share information about clients’ positions ahead of the setting of a benchmark rate in the foreign exchange market.
On to Iceland and a crisis resurrection from DutchNews.nl:
Icesave dispute reopened, Dutch and British demand €3.5bn
The Dutch and British authorities have reopened their dispute with Iceland over the bankruptcy of online bank Icesave by filing claims for up to €3.5bn from the Icelandic bank guarantee fund.
The Netherlands and Britain chose to compensate savers who lost billions when Iceland bank Landsbanki collapsed in 2008 from their own domestic guarantee schemes. At the time, this was seen as a sort of loan to Iceland.
However, last year a European court ruled Iceland itself was not responsible for repaying the cash.
Iceland again, and misbehavior in high places from the Reykjavík Grapevine:
Protest At Interior Ministry
Three organisations will be holding simultaneous protests at the Ministry of the Interior tomorrow at noon, demanding the minister’s resignation.
The Alda – Association for Sustainability and Democracy, activist organisation Attac and refugee and immigration rights group No Borders have all planned protests in front of the ministry at noon tomorrow. These protests call for the resignation of Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, whose ministry is being investigated by the police for allegedly leaking a memo which falsely impugned on Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos and the mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph. Lawyers for both Tony and Evelyn filed charges against the ministry, including breach of confidentiality, slander, and abuse of public office.
Alda has called the ministry’s handling of the case as being “characterised by silence, arrogance, and contradictory statements”. No Borders has taken matters further, saying that Tony Omos’ asylum case should be re-introduced for consideration in light of the unfair treatment he has received.
Norway next, with a familiar theme from EUbusiness:
Norway’s populists demand immigration referendum
Days after the Swiss narrowly voted to curb immigration from the EU, Norway’s populist right-wing party on Tuesday demanded a similar referendum in the prosperous Nordic country.
“I won’t take a stance on a quota system like the one the Swiss people have voted for,” said Mazyar Keshvari, immigration spokesman for the Progress Party, a member of the ruling coalition which wants a more restrictive immigration policy.
“But the idea of a referendum is interesting and Norway should also organise a referendum on immigration. I’m completely certain that a majority wants to tighten up” the policy.
Norway is not a member of the EU but is included in the European Economic Area and the Schengen Area which allows relatively unrestricted movement of citizens.
Spain next, and departures from El País:
Is the crisis fueling an exodus?
Studies are trying to pinpoint just how many people are leaving Spain due to rampant unemployment
What if the Spanish exodus caused by the crisis was not quite as massive as we have been led to believe? This is the question that drives a recent study by Carmen González Enríquez, of the Elcano Royal Institute think-tank. Based on information gathered from Spanish consulates, the researcher notes that only two percent of nationals living abroad are Spaniards who left because of the crisis. That is just 39,912 people.
But what if it was the other way around, and we were in fact underestimating the extent of the trend? This is what Amparo González Ferrer, a sociologist and demographics specialist at the CSIC National Research Council, claims. She says that the number of émigrés who left the country between 2008 and 2012 — rather than the number of Spaniards living abroad — is closer to 700,000 than the official figure of 225,000. That Spain is losing population to emigration is unquestionable in view of the data. The latest census report by the National Statistics Institute (INE), containing data up to January 2013, shows a drop of 135,538 people during 2012, taking the population down to 47,129,783.
But how many Spaniards are actually leaving due to the economic situation? There is a debate among the scientific community because of the absence of a statistical mechanism that can quickly and efficiently register the departure of nationals.
And a blow to Iberian Brits from TheLocal.es:
Spain’s UK expats to lose free NHS health care
Thousands of British expats who have taken early retirement in Spain will now have to get private health insurance following the UK government’s decision to scrap free access to their local Spanish health care system.
The change in legislation, set to be implemented on April 1st, will affect only those who haven’t already completed a Social Security residual form S1 before leaving the UK.
However, once their current form comes to an end, jobless UK expats in Spain are likely to also be obliged to buy private medical insurance.
Up to now, unemployed Brits in Spain and other EEA countries who were under the age of 65 were able to pass on their health care costs to the UK Treasury.
And a case of Royals Behaving Badly from El País:
Prosecutor seeks 19 years in prison for princess’s husband Urdangarin
- More than half of Nóos case suspects may not face charges
- Infanta Cristina could be required to pay 600,000 in civil liability
- Princess Cristina will have to return 600,000 euros if husband found guilty
After Princess Cristina’s unprecedented testimony before an investigating judge in Palma de Mallorca on Saturday, the anticorruption prosecutor in the Nóos investigation, Pedro Horrach, maintains that the infanta should not be implicated in the business dealings of her husband, former Olympic handball medalist Iñaki Urdangarin, and has also stated that over half of the 40 official suspects in the case should not face charges.
However, the prosecutor has now asked that Urdangarin, the Duke of Palma, should face a 19-year prison sentence and his former business partner Diego Torres 15 years, both on charges of embezzlement, falsifying documents, tax fraud and other financial crimes. Torres’ brother-in-law and financial advisor, Miguel Tejeiro, who designed the shell companies and tax fiddles though which Torres and Urdangarin allegedly funneled millions of euros of public money, also faces 19 years if found guilty.
On to Italy and a low rating from ANSAmed:
Italy bottom in EU for labour-cost competitiveness
- 100 euros of labout costs generated 126% of added value in 2010
Italy is the bottom of the European Union when it comes to the competitiveness of labour costs, national statistics agency Istat said in a report Tuesday. Istat said every 100 euros an Italian business spent on labour costs in 2010, the most recent year in which there is comparative data for the rest of the EU, generated added value of 126%.
This was lowest in the EU and way behind the figure of 211.7% for Romania. Istat said that labour-cost competitiveness improved in 2011, with every 100 euros of labour costs generating 128.5% of added value.(ANSAmed).
Bunga Bunga politics from Deutsche Welle:
Berlusconi back on trial for political corruption
Italy’s scandal-ridden former premier Silvio Berlusconi is back in court yet again. This time he is facing charges of having bribed an opposition politician to swap sides.
Silvio Berlusconi’s latest trial opened in the southern Italian city of Naples on Tuesday, with the former premier facing charges of having used bribery to persuade a senator to join his party in 2006.
Berlusconi was not at Tuesday’s hearing and was not obliged to attend under Italian law.
He is accused of giving a 3-million-euro ($4.1-million) bribe to senator Sergio De Gregorio to entice him into leaving the anti-corruption Italy of Values party to join Berlusconi’s own People of Freedom party. The prosecution sees the bribe as part of a plan to bring down the-then center-left coalition of Romano Prodi.
Prodi still won in 2006, but his coalition finally collapsed in 2008, paving the way for early elections and Berlusconi’s return to power. De Gregorio, who had formed part of Prodi’s coalition, defected to Berlusconi’s conservatives and was re-elected in that capacity in 2008.
And from Deutsche Welle, resurrection?:
Berlusconi comeback in European elections?
Silvio Berlusconi is planning his comeback in Europe. Thus far, Brussels isn’t taking the idea too seriously. But his appeal at the ECJ and a political rehabilitation in Italy might make it possible.
Those who know Silvio Berlusconi won’t be surprised that he is planning a comeback on an international platform. At a meeting with his re-established political party, Forza Italia, in January, the former Italian prime minister announced his plans to run for office during European elections in May 2014 – despite the fact that a law forbids him from doing exactly that.
The so-called “Legge Severino” is a law prohibiting convicts to run for a post for six years. And then there’s the Mediaset verdict imposing a two-year-ban from public office; both obstacles in the way of the former premier, who was convicted on tax fraud charges and is currently facing more recent charges of bribery.
For a while now, Berlusconi’s lawyers have been working on a plan to circumvent the “Severino” law, according to reports in the Italian media. That plan leads directly to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxemburg, where Berlusconi has already filed for appeal proceedings.
ANSAmed grimly enumerates:
Almost one in four Italians in dire straits
- 24.9% of households in situation of ‘deprivation’
Almost one in four Italian households, 24.9%, are in a situation of “deprivation”, Istat said Tuesday, as they are positive for at least three of the statistics agency’s nine factors of economic hardship. These include the inability to meet unexpected expenses, being behind in loan payments or being unable to afford a meal with a high protein content at least once every two days.
Istat said the percentage of people in a situation of deprivation was 22.3% in 2011, when Italy entered its longest postwar recession.
More from TheLocal.it:
Italians pay almost as much tax as the Swedes
Average tax levels in Italy grew from 41.3 percent in 2000 to 42.5 percent in 2011, the agency said.
Meanwhile, the average rate in Sweden, where taxpayers receive favourable social benefits in return for their high contributions, actually fell from 51.7 percent in 2000 to 44.7 percent in 2012.
Taxes in Italy might be almost as high as in Sweden, but the main gripe among Italians is that they don’t get the same high standard of services in return, whether that be in healthcare, education or public transport.
Istat’s report, called Noi Italia, also revealed that just 61 percent of Italians between the ages of 20 and 64 have jobs, well below the 75 percent employment level stipulated by the European Union, had jobs in 2012.
Women fared the worst, with just 50.5 percent – one of the worst rates in Europe – being in work in 2012, while 71.6 percent of working-age men were employed.
From Reuters, revelatory blowback:
Italian President Napolitano under fire over Monti appointment
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano faced fierce criticism on Monday over reports that he asked Mario Monti about replacing Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister months before his government fell at the height of the euro zone crisis in 2011.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party expressed “bitterness and shock” at the reports, based on interviews with Monti and others in a forthcoming book by journalist Alan Friedman, extract of which were published by the Financial Times and the Corriere della Sera newspapers.
Although the events recounted in the book occurred more than two years ago, they risk reopening wounds between the parties that could complicate the already difficult situation facing Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s fragile ruling coalition, which is struggling to adopt economic and political reforms.
“We are dismayed to learn that, as early as June 2011, the head of state was actively taking steps to bring down the Berlusconi government and replace him with Mario Monti,” the parliamentary floor leaders of Forza Italia, Renato Brunetta and Paolo Romani, said in a statement.
After the jump, the latest from Greece, a Cypriot uptick, Mexican vigilante motives, Myanmar miseries, troubles for Australian industry and ministerial corporateering, Chinese strategy, bad numbers for Japan, environmental woes, a Big Agra GMO win, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading
Here’s an important and ongoing story given far too little coverage in mainstream media.
First up, the Contributor Network poses a question:
This Past Saturday, 80K Plus Marched on Raleigh, NC. Why Didn’t We Hear About It?
A crowd declared by organizers to exceed 80,000 showed up to march to protest Republican policies in Raleigh, N.C. Saturday. But you wouldn’t know it if you live outside the area.
Saturday’s big march, organized by the North Carolina NAACP and more than 160 partner organizations, was called “the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Coalition.” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the NC NAACP and convener of HKonJ, said at the march:
“We are black, white, Latino, Native American. We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. We stand here – a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds.”
There were few reports in any national news outlets (though USA Today did carry a report, saying there was “a crowd of between 80,000 and 100,000 people”), but some local media picked up the story.
And for more depth, here’s a report on the rally and its origins from The Real News Network:
80,000+ Moral Monday Protesters Fight For Justice Regardless of Which Party Is In Power
From the transcript:
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
So, do you remember the Moral Monday protests? Well, they’re back, and last Saturday, tens of thousands marched in Raleigh, North Carolina, protesting policies enacted by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor Pat McCrory. Participants came from all over the country to join the Forward Together / Moral movement and the HKonJ, which is the Historic Thousands on Jones St. People’s Assembly, to reignite the Moral Monday protests.
Here’s just a quick look at the GOP’s record in North Carolina and what these protesters are fighting against. Since 2010, they’ve ended the earned income tax credit. They’ve also refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And they cut pre-K programs and passed voter ID laws requiring voter IDs, and eliminated same-day voter registration.
Now joining us to discuss all this is one of the leaders of the movement, Reverend Curtis Gatewood. Reverend Gatewood is the HKonJ Coalition coordinator for the North Carolina NAACP. From 2005 to 2011, Gatewood served as the second vice president of the state’s NAACP.
Thanks for joining us, Rev. Gatewood.
REV. CURTIS E. GATEWOOD, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, NORTH CAROLINA NAACP: Hello, Jessica. It’s a pleasure to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So, Rev. Gatewood, let’s get right into this. Can you just discuss why your group decided to participate in this march?
GATEWOOD: Well, first, I do feel that there’s a certain level of honor due as I bring greetings on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference, where we have the conspicuous and prophetic leadership of Rev. William J. Barber[incompr.]II, who in 2005 was elected to become the state NAACP president at the same time, as you mention, I was elected second vice president.
After that, Rev. Barber worked with leaders around the state to form what is now known as HKonJ, the HKonJ Coalition, which is the acronym for Historic Thousands on Jones St. As a part of the coalition, we were able to put together an agenda which was also related to the mission of the NAACP. And by putting together the agenda, we were able to identify experts within the community, for example education equality. Of course, then we would look for experts who speak to those issues–women’s rights, health care for all.
Or so–as we put together this, about a 14-point agenda, which basically now can be broken down to about five categories, we were able to identify issues at the state level. And since that formation of HKonJ and its coalition, we have gone across the state in building and focusing on legislative issues that were served the worst interests of our agenda.
So we first of all want to make clear that we did not just start challenging policies because we have now a majority Republican House. In fact, when we started, we had a majority Democratic House.
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
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.
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
From The Military Balance 2014, a new report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a sobering reminder of the truly unipolar nature of world military power in the 21st Century:
Plus a couple of historical bonuses. . .
From veteran journalist Greg Mitchell, writing at his blog:
“[M]y closest connection to her came as one of the featured celebs in my book The Campaign of the Century. The book explores the riotous and highly influential campaign for governor of California in 1934 waged by muckraking writer Upton Sinclair—leading one of the greatest populist movements ever, EPIC (for End Poverty in California).
He swept the Democratic primary and would have won the race if not for the groundbreaking union of big business leaders, conservative GOPers and Dems, religious leaders, and most of the Hollywood moguls. Irving Thalberg even went out and created the first attack ads for the screen, faking anti-Sinclair newsreels.
Anyway: the book also shows how Shirley Temple, then the country’s most popular film star, was wooed by the right-wing moguls to get her—at age 5—to come out against Sinclair and endorse Frank Merriam, the dull incumbent. It’s a pathetic, if funny, tale, and ultimately she, sort of, did go along with that. “It may hearten the cause of conservatism,” a wire service reported, “to know that Shirley Temple has decided, after grave deliberation, that she disapproves of the Sinclair EPIC philosophy and is backing her opposition with a day’s salary, even if she can not with a vote.” Unstated was that this day’s pay was not a request but a demand from the studio. Jean Harlow had recently caved in the same manner. Katharine Hepburn also went along with it.
They even made the tyke sit on Merriam’s lap and say she was going to “vote for the boss.”
And so a lifetime as a key Republican was set by, or for, Shirley Temple. When she ran for Congress in 1967, her campaign managers, the legendary team of Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, were the same pair who helped thwart Upton Sinclair in 1934.
Here’s the infamous ad, which played to the packed movie houses of Depression-era California and built the stage now occupied by Fox News, the Koch Brothers, and others of their duplicitous ilk:
The First “Attack Ads” On the Screen
Mitchell’s program notes:
The first e-book and a new print edition of my award-winning book “The Campaign of the Century” have just appeared in December 2011. You can find ithem easily at Amazon. Winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize, it tells the story of the incredible 1934 race for governor of California by muckraking Socialist author Upton Sinclair–and how it took the invention of modern media politics to defeat him and his mass movement after he swept the Democratic primary. The campaign also marked Hollywood’s first all-out entry into politics, including the first use of the screen to defeat a candidate–via faked newsreels (which I discovered 20 years ago) produced by MGM’s legendary producer Irving Thalberg. “Nothing is unfair in politics,” he explained later. Studio bosses, led by Louis B. Mayer, threatened to move to Florida if Sinclair was elected. Most of them also docked all of their actors and workers a day’s pay for contributions. Everyone from Katharine Hepburn and James Cagney to Will Rogers and Charlie Chaplin got swept up in it. The outrages of the right directly inspired the birth of the modern liberal-dominated Hollywood we know today. The book, winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize, also details the amazing EPIC (End Poverty in California) movement and the creation of all of the modern campaign aspects and dirty tricks–including hiring outside “spin doctors” to manage campaigns–that put the original “Mad Men” in charge.
You can order the e-book (for all phones, iPad, Kindle, more) or print edition at Amazon. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org Credit for this video: Lyn Goldfarb and Blackside.
To give a sense of the politics of the day and its openly racist character, consider an editorial cartoon of the times, with a horde of folks, two stereotypically depicted black males in the lead, surging across the California borders, summoned by Sinclair’s call:
Our collection of headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms opens on a progressive profession from BBC News:
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio targets income gap ‘threat’
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to raise the minimum wage and issue ID papers to undocumented immigrants.
Setting out the policies of his new administration in a State of the City address, Mr de Blasio took aim at the city’s yawning inequality gap.
The 52-year-old also wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund universal pre-kindergarten programmes.
Elected in November, he is New York’s first Democratic mayor in two decades.
From The Guardian, eyes on Oakland from across the pond:
The city that told Google to get lost
Highly paid employees are pushing up rents near the tech giant’s California headquarters, forcing locals out and destroying communities, say activists. Now Oakland’s residents are fighting back – hard. But are they too late?
If pushing your enemy into the sea signifies success, then Google’s decision to start ferrying workers to its campus by boat suggests the revolt against big technology companies is going well. Standing on the docks of Oakland, on the east side of San Francisco Bay, last week, you could watch the Googlers board the ferry, one by one, and swoosh through the chill, grey waters of the bay towards the company’s Mountain View headquarters, 30 or so miles to the south.
Not exactly Dunkirk, but from afar you might have detected a whiff of evacuation, if not retreat. The ferry from Oakland – a week-long pilot programme – joined a similar catamaran service for Google workers in San Francisco launched last month. The search engine giant is not doing it for the bracing sea air. It is a response to blockades and assaults against buses that shuttle employees to work.
From The Independent, that old time religion:
Utah’s Mormons celebrate as polygamy restrictions are struck down
- Part of law was ruled in violation of First Amendment
A US federal judge has struck down a key part of Utah’s law banning polygamy – providing welcome relief to one practising Mormon family. Joe Darger, who described himself as an “independent Mormon fundamentalist”, has 25 children with three wives.
US District Judge Clark Waddoups threw out part of a bill which allows the state to use cohabitation as a basis for prosecution, although Utah does still prohibit bigamy.
Reuters records a visit:
Obama, France’s Hollande make pilgrimage to Jefferson’s Monticello
President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande toured Thomas Jefferson’s plantation estate on Monday in a show of solidarity for Franco-American ties that have endured for more than two centuries despite the occasional tempest.
The visit to Monticello, home to America’s third president, served to showcase a relationship that stretches back to the founding of the United States in the late 18th century, an alliance still strong despite spats over U.S. eavesdropping and trade talks with the European Union.
Hollande, 59, who split from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, last month after an affair with an actress, arrived solo for the first state visit hosted by Obama since he won a second term in 2012.
Heading north of the border with an offer Rob Ford can’t refuse from The Independent:
Canada installs first ever crack-pipe vending machines
- Controversial vending machines dispense them for $0.25 in attempt to curb spread of HIV and hepatitis
A Canadian NGO has installed crack pipe vending machines in the city of Vancouver in a bid to curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis among users.
The polka-dot vending machines are operated by the Portland Hotel Society, a drug treatment centre, and dispense newly packaged crack pipes like snacks for $0.25 (13p).
The group says the pipes are less likely to chip and cut users’ mouths as a resulting of overheating and overuse, preventing the spread of disease among crack addicts.
“They don’t run the risk of then sharing pipes, or pipes that are chipped or broken,” Kailin See told CTV Vancouver.
On to Europe with bankster news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:
Eurozone banks will be allowed to fail, says regulator
The incoming head of Europe’s new single banking supervisory authority has warned that weak eurozone banks will be allowed to fail following upcoming stress tests, in an interview in Monday’s Financial Times.
Frenchwoman Daniele Nouy was giving her first interview since being appointed chief of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, set up as part of attempts to stabilise the EU’s banking system and shift the financial costs of failed banks away from sovereign governments
“We have to accept that some banks have no future,” she told the FT. “We have to let some disappear in an orderly fashion, and not necessarily try to merge them with other institutions”.
EurActiv regulates with dubious efficacy:
EU rules to light up derivatives markets set for shaky start
New rules coming into force in Europe this week to shine more light on the $700 trillion (€513 trillion) derivatives markets will take years to produce a clearer picture of these complex products which were at the heart of the financial crisis.
When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 markets were in the dark over a tangle of derivatives on the US investment bank’s books. Financial markets froze because of uncertainty about who was exposed to Lehman’s derivatives, such as credit default swaps or interest rate swaps. US insurer AIG also ran up big losses linked to derivatives.
In response, politicians and regulators around the world called for action to make risks easier to spot in this opaque part of global financial markets.
The new EU rules, coming in on Wednesday, aim to increase transparency by requiring reporting of transactions.
On to Britain and a warning from the London Telegraph:
Lord Turner: UK economy is like 90s Japan
- City regulator during the 2007/8 crisis says that the UK has not rebalanced its economy, and risks further shocks as a result
Lord Turner has warned that the UK has failed to rebalance its economy and is simply repeating the errors made in the run-up to the 2007/8 financial crisis.
The self-styled technocrat, who was chairman of the City regulator until last April, likened the domestic economy over the last five years to Japan in the 1990s.
The former Financial Services Authority chief – who made it on to the shortlist to replace Lord King as Governor of the Bank of England – said that although the economy was now showing obvious signs of growth, there was the potential that it will not be sustained due to the continued build up of credit in the system.
“The concerning thing about the UK economy is that from 2009 until early last year, a lot of the debate was around the need to rebalance, from being over focused on financial services and the housing market,” Lord Turner told The Telegraph.
The Independent doesn’t feel the love:
Where is the love? Majority of international students in the UK do not feel welcome
The majority of international students studying in the UK feel unwelcome in the country with a significant number saying they would not recommend to their friends that they come here to attend university, says a survey published on Monday.
A study of the attitudes of 3,100 international students by the National Union of Students revealed that more than 50 per cent believed the UK Government was either “not welcoming” or “not welcoming at all towards overseas students”.
Figures show PhD students are most likely to feel unwelcome (65.8 per cent) with those from Japan (64.5 per cent), Nigeria (62.8 per cent) and India (62 per cent) the next most likely to say they have received hostile treatment. Students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria are most likely to advise their friends not to study here.
The Guardian, with banksters doing what bankster do:
City bonus row reignites with Barclays to admit £2bn in payments
- Bonus payout contrasts with bank boss Antony Jenkins’ pledge for restraint and helps push total since 2008 crisis towards £80bn
Controversy over City bonuses will be reignited this week when Barclays admits it paid its staff more than last year, fuelling predictions that the amount of bonuses paid out across the Square Mile since the 2008 crisis could soon hit £80bn.
Barclays is expected to reveal on Tuesday that its bonus pot topped £2bn last year – more than it paid out in the previous 12 months – despite a pledge by its boss Antony Jenkins to show restraint on pay.
Starting the reporting season for the high-street banks, Barclays will be followed in the coming fortnight by bailed-out banks Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as HSBC, in disclosing how much each has paid in bonuses for 2013.
The Irish Times gives us the latest instance of Banksters Behaving Badly, this time involving the €12.3 million collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, the biggest bustout in Irish history:
Seán Quinn suspected Anglo was doing ‘a sweetheart deal’
- Businessman tells court the bank knew it was in serious trouble from November 2007
Former businessman Sean Quinn has told the Anglo Irish Bank trial that he suspected Anglo was “doing a sweetheart deal” when it forced him to sell his stake in the bank.
Mr Quinn, who admitted he used to be Ireland’s richest man, said he could not understand why the share price of Anglo fell so much in July 2008 as the deal was going through. He said that he approached a solicitor in London about the matter.
Mr Quinn told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that the bank knew from November 2007 that it was in serious trouble but that Sean FitzPatrick and David Drumm maintained it was “in rude health” as late as September 2008, shortly after the bank guarantee.
On to France and presidential woes from The Guardian:
Sluggish French growth figures pile more pressure on François Hollande
- Bank of France forecasts economy will grow 0.2% in January-March compared with the final quarter of 2013
France will eke out meagre economic growth in the first three months of 2014, a spokesman for the central bank said on Monday, as the eurozone’s second-biggest economy struggles to avoid falling further behind the pack.
Data on Monday indicated that French industrial production dropped 0.3% in December by comparison with November, falling short of expectations, although the figure for the fourth quarter as a whole was positive.
The weakness of France’s recovery is adding to pressure on President François Hollande to deliver faster growth. The deeply unpopular Socialist leader has embarked on a shift to more business-friendly policies to bring down near-record unemployment.
France 24 hits the picket lines:
Mass taxi strike strands Paris commuters, tourists
Hundreds of taxis gathered at Paris airports before dawn on Monday as part of a nationwide protest against what cab drivers say is unfair competition posed by a recent surge in popularity of chauffeured cars offered by private companies, or VTCs.
The striking taxis gathered at 6am local time at Charles de Gaulle airport amid a cacophony of blaring horns and under a banner reading “55,000 angry taxis”, with one airport source saying no taxis were servicing the airport, a major international hub.
At regional hub Orly, a hundred vehicles blocked taxi queues to prevent cars from picking up passengers.
Would-be taxi drivers face exorbitant fees ahead of receiving an operating license, often running into the hundreds of thousands.
Switzerland next, and post-electoral anxiety from TheLocal.ch:
Government in damage control mode after vote
Reeling from a vote to cap EU immigration, Switzerland’s government and business community moved on Monday to limit the damage to trade ties with the big European bloc.
Swiss President and Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter played down talk of a “Black Sunday” in ties with Brussels, after 50.3 percent of voters backed a referendum proposal to end a seven-year-old pact that gave equal footing to most EU citizens in the Swiss labour market.
“We need to avoid that kind of language,” he told reporters.
“Switzerland is not going to rip up its deal with the EU on freedom of movement,” he insisted.
EUbusiness covers another set of winners:
Swiss vote is boon for far-right ahead of EU parliament vote
Anti-EU parties already expected to do well in European Parliament elections in May claim the Swiss vote to curb immigration vindicates their stand.
“What the Swiss can do, we can do too,” said Geert Wilders, leader of Holland’s extreme-right PVV.
France’s extreme right National Front party too hailed “the Swiss people’s lucidity,” calling for Paris to stop “mass immigration” while Austria’s far-right FPO party said the country would vote the same way given the chance.
“With the (Swiss) referendum, it becomes more likely that the anti-Europeans will represent the biggest group in the European parliament, with a quarter of the MEPs,” German daily Tagesspiegel said.
Another potential blowback from New Europe:
After the Swiss referendum: the possible return of bank secrecy
The result of the Sunday referendum in Switzerland has stunned the EU. Many politicians reacted with dismay, sometimes even bordering on anger. Thus, Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean Asselborn said: “I respect the decision of the Swiss people… but the Swiss people must also respect the values of the EU.”
The same tone was heard from the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who said on Monday that Europe would review its relations with Switzerland after the “worrying” Swiss vote to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union. “In my opinion it’s bad news both for Europe and for the Swiss because Switzerland will be penalised if it withdraws,” Fabius said. “We’re going to review our relations with Switzerland,” he said.
The withdrawal in question would be Switzerland’s retreat from the Schengen agreement, of which Switzerland is one of the signatories, but which cannot be applied selectively.
The Commission was less vociferous, with the spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen stating on Monday only that “ The Commission regrets the initiative, since it infringes the principle of the free movement”. “Will examine politically and juridically our relations with Switzerland, but restrictions are unacceptable”, she said.”
Counting costs with EUobserver:
Swiss vote jeopardises involvement in multi-billion EU programmes
The EU’s multi-billion research programme Horizon 2020 and its Erasmus student exchange with Switzerland hang in the balance following a Swiss vote over the weekend in favour imposing quotas on EU migrants.
The two would automatically be suspended should Switzerland move to include limits on EU’s newest member state, Croatia. Both agreements are conditioned on free movement.
Croatia is scheduled to sign off on a reciprocal free movement agreement with Switzerland on 1 July. All other member states have a similar agreement.
Still more blowback from Deutsche Welle:
Swiss vote to stem immigration could cause ‘a lot of problems’
Switzerland’s neighbors and the EU say they regret the country’s narrow vote to limit annual migration inflows. Veteran German politician Wolfgang Schäuble warns of “a lot of problems” for the Swiss government in Bern.
On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Germany respected the result of Switzerland’s vote. However, he added, it “raises considerable problems,” and said that Merkel had repeatedly stated free movement was a “prized asset” for Germany.
The European Commission said in a statement released after the referendum that it regretted the decision, and would “analyze the consequences of this initiative to our relations in general.”
Despite voicing regret about the result, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned against ignoring the sentiment expressed.
“Of course this does show a little that people are increasingly uneasy about unlimited freedom of movement in this world of globalization. I believe we must take this seriously,” Schäuble said on ARD public television. “We regret this decision. It will cause a lot of problems for Switzerland.”
And a parallel story from TheLocal.ch:
Foreigner jobless rate rises again in January
The unemployment rate in Switzerland remained at 3.5 percent in January, unchanged from the previous month, but the percentage of expats out of work rose again, figures released by the government showed on Monday.
The number of people registered for jobless benefits edged higher to 153,260 people, up 3,823 from December 2013, the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said.
But the level of unemployed foreigners in the country jumped significantly to 7.1 percent in January from 6.9 percent the previous month, while the rate for Swiss nationals stayed unchanged at 2.4 percent.
The rate of expat jobless in Switzerland, accounting for almost half the unemployed in the country, has grown every month for the past several months.
On to Spain, and a change underway from TheLocal.es:
3.5 million ‘Spanish’ Jews to apply for citizenship
Jewish associations expect 3.5 million Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish citizenship after Spain’s Justice Ministry approved a draft law which will allow them to return to the country their ancestors were kicked out of more than 500 years ago.
The descendants of Sephardic Jews banished from Spain in 1492 will now be able to regain Spanish nationality under a new law approved by Madrid’s Cabinet of Ministers on Friday.
Those who can prove their Spanish origins will be able to apply for dual nationality at the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, El Mundo newspaper reported on Sunday.
According to Israel’s Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese Association (OLEI), the newly-approved legislation has already resulted in a flurry of applications from Sephardic Jews around the world.
TheLocal.es trods the boards:
Abortion takes centre stage at Spain’s Oscars
A controversial plan in Spain to scrap easy access to abortions took centre stage at the Goya Awards, the country’s equivalent of the Oscars, with several actresses slamming the reform as they accepted their prizes.
The ceremony was broadcast live on public television network TVE to an estimated audience of 3.6 million people.
The issue has prompted deep debate and big protests in Spain, with many opposed to the conservative government’s draft law unveiled in December that would allow abortion only in cases of rape or health risk to the mother.
Critics say the measure scrapping more liberal access to abortion would throw the Catholic country back decades, when Spanish women had to go abroad to seek pregnancy terminations.
If the law is adopted, Spain would be the first country in the 28-member European Union to reverse legalizing abortion.
On to Portugal and a pronouncement from El País:
“Portugal is not going to need a second bailout”
- Economy Minister António Pires de Lima says the program will be exited with a growing economy
May 17 is a key date for Portugal. It’s the day on which the 78-billion-euro bailout program it sought in April 2011 is due to end and Portugal will supposedly fully return to the sovereign debt market to fund itself. However, it remains to be seen how Spain’s Iberian neighbor will emerge from this financial assistance program; whether it will be a clean break without any further support, or the current bailout will be replaced by a softer rescue package that still involves some form of external help.
In an interview with EL PAÍS, Portuguese Economy Minister António Pires de Lima explains that the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho will unveil its plans when it believes the moment is right to do so. He is encouraged by the fact the Portuguese economy is already on the road to recovery, although this has yet to become a reality for the population at large.
Among other draconian measures, a brutal increase in taxes, the elimination of extra payments for civil servants and pensioners, wage cuts, and the increase in the standard value-added tax rate to 23 percent have all hit the middle classes hard. The 2014 state budget maintains the fiscal adjustment drive of the previous two years. On top of the withdrawal of extra payments and cuts in salaries introduced in 2012 and the rise in taxes in 2013, this year’s budget also includes a further cut in wages for civil servants earning more than 675 euros a month.
The Portugal News excludes:
Dictator can’t buy Portuguese bank- MEP
Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes told Lusa on Friday that the Bank of Portugal and the Portuguese Stock Market Regulator (CMVM) had to fulfill “their role” and stop Equatorial Guinea buying into troubled bank Banif and that she was going to ask the European Commission (EC) to step in.
“This is yet another case where I have to intervene and ask the EC to ensure that a bank that is being rescued with funds that are part of Portugal’s bailout loan, and which are going to have to be paid back by Portuguese taxpayers, is not bought up in part by a corrupt and criminal regime as part of a money laundering scheme”, the Socialist MEP told Lusa News Agency.
“I think it is unbelievable that something like this can happen and hope that the Bank of Portugal and the CMVM do their job properly and do not allow this to happen because it is extremely dangerous for BANIF and I would like to alert all account holders about how incredibly dangerous it is going to be to have financing from somewhere like Equatorial Guinea, a sinister regime that is flagged on all indexes of dictatorial, miserable regimes where the population gets poorer and poorer while the presidential family lines their pockets on a daily basis”, she said.
On to Italy and more bad news from TheLocal.it:
Recovery hopes dwindle as Italian industry lags
A 0.9-percent slump in Italy’s industrial production in December, following three months of consecutive increases, disappointed investors on Monday and cast a shadow over hopes for a recovery this year.
The official data from the Istat agency showed industrial production was also down 0.7 percent from December 2012 and down 3.0 percent over all of 2013.
Analysts had expected the monthly figure to remain unchanged, after the economy in the third quarter formally ended two painful years of recession with zero growth in Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“The result does not question the forecast of a return to growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 but it does confirm that the recovery will be very gradual,” said Paolo Mameli, an economist from Intesa Sanpaolo bank. The fourth quarter figure will be announced on Friday.
After the jump, the latest crises news from Greece, Bosnian outrage, Ukrainian regime change dreaming, Mexican vigilantes, Indian worries and wages, Thai troubles, neoliberalism moves in Myanmar, development bank devastation in Cambodia, Aussie auto woes, the latest Chinese angst, more down numbers in Japan, energy environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading
And a whole lot more. . .
We open today’s compendium of headlines from the worlds of spookery [state and corporate], militarism, geopolitical zone crises and such with some semantic antics from United Press International:
National Security Staff name returns to National Security Council
The name of the National Security Staff was changed back to the National Security Council staff Monday, President Obama said in an executive order.
“All references to the National Security Staff or Homeland Security Council Staff in any executive order or presidential directive shall be understood to refer to the staff of the National Security Council,” Obama said in the one-page order.
In a blog posted on WhiteHouse.gov, NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “[We] are once again the National Security Council staff.”
The name was changed to National Security Staff in 2009, when the Obama administration combined the National Security Council staff and the Homeland Security Council staff, Hayden said.
And from the Washington Post, a not-so-covert op:
Video shows U.S. abduction of accused al-Qaeda terrorist on trial for embassy bombings
After dawn prayers Oct. 5, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, a wanted al-Qaeda terrorism suspect, returned to his family’s home in Tripoli, Libya.
He stopped his car in front of the house, which was nestled in an affluent neighborhood in the coastal city. It was 6:38 a.m. and still dark.
A white van trailing Ruqai pulled alongside his car. Then at least three men, with guns drawn, jumped out of the van as another car blocked Ruqai’s escape while a third idled down the street.
The men yanked Ruqai, also known as Anas al-Libi, out of his car and threw him in the van, according to a video of the abduction obtained by The Washington Post. The video, from a closed-circuit camera in the neighborhood, provides a rare glimpse of a U.S. covert operation and also captures some of the bewildered reaction in Ruqai’s home once he had disappeared.
And the Snowden bombshell de jour from The Intercept:
The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program
The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.
According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.
The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
From CNN, another American in Obama’s dronesights:
Source: U.S. debating targeted killing of American terror suspect overseas
The Obama administration is in high-level discussions about staging an operation to kill an American citizen involved with al Qaeda and suspected of plotting attacks against the United States, a senior U.S. official tells CNN.
The official, who declined to disclose any specific information about the target or the country the suspect presides in, was confirming information first reported by The Associated Press.
The debate about whether to undertake a mission is being held with various commanders in the U.S. military, as well as the U.S. national security agencies. The discussion centers on the risk involved and the importance of the target.
Another country, another state murder op from The Hindu:
Inside the culture of covert killing
Early in the summer of 1988, as scorching winds of death blew across Punjab, a short, wiry man entered the Golden Temple, invisible among the great throngs of pilgrims gathering at the shrine from across India. Inside, he was greeted as an honoured guest by Surjit Singh Penta, the Khalistan terror commander who had made the temple his fortress. For the next several days, Mr. Penta worked with his visitor, an officer assigned by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, wiring up the temple with explosives. The threat, he was certain, would deter India from considering storming the temple, as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had done in 1984.
New Delhi ignored Mr. Penta’s threats: the bombs were duds, and the man Mr. Penta thought was an ISI officer would serve, decades later, as Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB). Nine days into an almost bloodless siege, the terrorists surrendered
Like many intelligence officials, Ajit Kumar Doval has never discussed what happened in the Golden Temple. Those who served during the period, though, speak of skilful deception operations that allowed the penetration of the networks linking Mr. Penta to the ISI; of the interception and disappearance of the Pakistani intelligence official as he made his way across the Punjab border to Amritsar.
The President of India later handed Mr. Doval a small silver disc, embossed with the great wheel of dharma and a lotus wreath, and the words Kirti Chakra.
Now, as former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director Rajinder Kumar faces trial for the extra-judicial execution of Mumbai college student Ishrat Jehan Raza and three others, Mr. Doval’s story tells us something important. The Ishrat case is just part of a culture of killing. That culture is, in turn, a symptom of a much larger dysfunction. For decades now, India’s government has dodged a serious debate what a viable legal framework for counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism might look like, how it is to be administered and who will make sure it isn’t abused. It has simply ignored hard questions of capacity-building and accountability.
RT has drone buddies:
UK ‘borrowed’ US drones to carry out unreported strikes in Afghanistan
The UK has used American drones over 250 times to carry out previously unreported attacks in Afghanistan, the MoD has admitted. The reports prompted a sharp reaction from British rights groups who slammed the lack of transparency in the UK military.
In response to a freedom of information request by British rights group Drone Wars UK, the Ministry of Defense said it had launched 39 missile strikes from unmanned US craft in Afghanistan. This the first time the Ministry of Defense has admitted to the use of American craft in conflict zones to carry out strikes.
“Of the 2,150 missions flown by UK personnel, there were 271 missions in Afghanistan when UK personnel utilized a US Reaper, as a UK Reaper was unavailable. During these missions, UK personnel released 39 weapons. I am withholding information about weapons released by UK personnel embedded with the United States Air Force on operations in Afghanistan and Libya under Section 27 [of the Freedom of Information Act],” said a statement from the MoD.
And from the Express Tribune, the price of activism opposing death from above:
Anti-drone campaigner goes missing from Rawalpindi
An anti-drone campaigner has gone missing missing after he was picked up from his residence in the outskirts of Islamabad, his family and lawyer said on Monday.
Karim Khan, originally a resident of North Waziristan, had been an active member of the anti-drone campaign and had organised several protests in Islamabad and Peshawar.
His family said that nearly 20 armed people, eight of them in police uniform, raided his residence at Dhok Mustaqeem on Peshawar Road, Rawalpindi late at night between February 4 and 5 and forcibly took him away.
“We do not have any information about his whereabouts since then,” a family member told The Express Tribune.
Nextgov seeks corporate help:
Officials Seek Industry Input on How to Comply With Obama’s NSA Reforms
The Obama administration is spitballing ideas for surveillance reform.
In a speech last month outlining changes to the controversial surveillance programs, Obama said he wants the National Security Agency to continue mining through phone records for possible terrorists, but he doesn’t want the government to hold the call data anymore.
No one is really sure how the government can achieve both goals, but Obama gave Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence officials until March 28 to figure it out.
Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a request for industry input on the problem. The agency said it wants to investigate whether “existing commercially available capabilities can provide a new approach” to the bulk collection of phone records.
Techdirt notes the hypocrisy:
Gov’t Officials Leak Classified Info To Journalists To Discredit Snowden For Leaking Classified Info To Journalists
- from the we’re-from-the-government,-we-don’t-do-irony dept
We already mentioned the bizarre NY Times article from over the weekend that described how Snowden apparently used some basic web crawler software to collect the documents he later leaked. As we noted, the basic story itself is unremarkable, other than for how the NY Times tried to turn “man uses basic tool” into a story. However, there is a really good quote from Snowden himself (via his lawyers) in response to the article. Since most of it involves senior government officials telling NYT reporters about security problems at some NSA facilities, Snowden was quick to point out the irony:
“It’s ironic that officials are giving classified information to journalists in an effort to discredit me for giving classified information to journalists. The difference is that I did so to inform the public about the government’s actions, and they’re doing so to misinform the public about mine.”
Pardon me? Fat chance! From The Guardian:
Snowden plea bargain speculation played down by ex-CIA and NSA chief
- Michael Hayden says he sees little appetite for deal with whistleblower, and portrays US surveillance reforms as limited
The former head of the CIA and the NSA, General Michael Hayden, dampened speculation on Monday that the US might offer a plea bargain to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower.
Hayden, speaking at an Oxford University lecture, said that while deals had been done with other leakers in the past, he detected little enthusiasm for such a deal for Snowden.
His comments come after the US attorney-general Eric Holder and others within the Obama administration hinted at a possible plea bargain.
From the Emerald Isle via the Irish Times, ears in the heart of the police:
Callinan has ‘grave concern’ over Garda ombudsman bugging statement
- Garda Commissioner seeks clarification over basis for suspicion of gardaí; GSOC ‘regrets’ not reporting
Martin Callinan has expressed “grave concern” that a statement by the Garda ombudsman implied that An Garda Síochana was “in some way suspected of complicity”.
The Garda Commissioner made the comment tonight, after a statement was released by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) this evening regarding suspected bugging of its offices.
In the statement GSOC said three technical and electronic “anomalies” were found during an investigation. GSOC said the anomalies could not be explained but the organisation is “satisfied that its databases were not compromised”.
The ombudsman said it “regrets” taking the decision not to report the matter. “There was no evidence of Garda misconduct,” it added.
United Press International covers old school spookery:
Former U.S. sailor sentenced to 30 years for trying to spy for Russia
Former U.S. Navy sailor Robert Hoffman of Virginia was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison for attempted espionage against the United States.
Hoffman, 40, of Virginia Beach, Va., was convicted last August of trying to spy for Russia. He served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years before retiring at the rank of Petty Officer First Class in 2011.
The former Navy cryptologic technician was arrested on Dec. 6, 2012, after an FBI sting operation to see if he was willing to spy against the United States, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said Monday in a release.
As part of this investigation, undercover FBI agents posing as Russian operatives contacted Hoffman seeking defense information. In a series of emails and other communications, Hoffman advised that he looked forward to “renewing [a] friendship” with his purported Russian contact, was “willing to develop a mutual trust,” and wanted to be compensated for his activities.
Homeland Security News Wire wants rules, man, rules!:
Israeli legal expert urges development of ethics code for cyberwarfare
Col. Sharon Afek, former deputy military advocate general, says that countries would benefit from developing an ethics code to govern cyber warfare operations. He notes that existing law already prohibits cyber operations which would directly lead to loss of life, injury, or property damage, such as causing a train to derail or undermining a dam. “Israel faces a complex and challenging period in which we can expect both a cyber arms race with the participation of state and non-state entities, and a massive battle between East and West over the character of the future legal regime,” he writes. He acknowledges, though, that only a catastrophic event like “Pearl Harbor or Twin Towers attack in cyberspace” would accelerate developments in this area.
Israel is already engaged in a cyber arms race with its adversaries, but some of the cyberattacks Israel has launched, and which have launched against it, may not be permissible in the legal regime which is slowly developing, according to a former IDF’s deputy military advocate general.
“Israel faces a complex and challenging period in which we can expect both a cyber arms race with the participation of state and non-state entities, and a massive battle between East and West over the character of the future legal regime,” writes Col. Sharon Afek in a study crafted as part of his research at the National Defense College.
From TheLocal.it, Big Brother online:
Italy plans crackdown on internet hate
Politicians from the Democratic Party (PD) will this week propose a new law to tackle internet hate speech, following high-profile attacks against leading politician Laura Boldrini.
The new proposal is due to be put forward this week by MPs Alessandra Moretti and Francesco Sanna, with backing from other PD members, La Stampa reported on Monday.
The aim of the bill is to strip the online sphere of content that is “detrimental to our own dignity”, Moretti was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
If successfully passed by Italy’s lower house and Senate, the law would impact newspaper websites, blogs and individuals’ social media accounts.
After the jump, the latest on the Asian zone, history, and militarism crises, Icelandic censorship threats, spooky automotive anxieties, drones in the Gulf, Greek leaks, and more. . . Continue reading
Trevor Paglen, who holds a doctorate in geography from UC Berkeley, has emerged as the preeminent documentor of the iconography of the national security.
He has revealed the bizarre military patches of black operators, the landscapes of surveillance, and now, in his latest effort for Creative Time Reports in partnership with The Intercept — the new website edited by Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Laura Poitras — he presents us with nocturnal aerial images of three agencies which play crucial roles in the emerging panopticon security state.
From Creative Time Reports:
What does a surveillance state look like?
Over the past eight months, classified documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have exposed scores of secret government surveillance programs. Yet there is little visual material among the blizzard of code names, PowerPoint slides, court rulings and spreadsheets that have emerged from the National Security Agency’s files.
The scarcity of images is not surprising. A surveillance apparatus doesn’t really “look” like anything. A satellite built by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) reveals nothing of its function except to the best-trained eyes. The NSA’s pervasive domestic effort to collect telephone metadata also lacks easy visual representation; in the Snowden archive, it appears as a four-page classified order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Since June 2013, article after article about the NSA has been illustrated with a single image supplied by the agency, a photograph of its Fort Meade headquarters that appears to date from the 1970s.
The photographs below [at the link, esnl], which are being published for the first time, show three of the largest agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. The scale of their operations were hidden from the public until August 2013, when their classified budget requests were revealed in documents provided by Snowden. Three months later, I rented a helicopter and shot nighttime images of the NSA’s headquarters. I did the same with the NRO, which designs, builds and operates America’s spy satellites, and with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which maps and analyzes imagery, connecting geographic information to other surveillance data. The Central Intelligence Agency—the largest member of the intelligence community—denied repeated requests for permission to take aerial photos of its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
And now for the video:
Trevor Paglen’s Visual Vocabulary of the U.S. Intelligence Community
Artist Trevor Paglen photographs the National Security Agency (NSA), National Reconnaissance Office, (NRO), and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)
From NHK via Fukushima Emergency what can we do?:
NHK Documentary; “Radioactive Water-Fukushima Daiichi’s Hidden Crisis”
*Please read the note below the video description*
Nearly 3 years have passed since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but leaking radioactive water is an ongoing problem. The plant’s operator believes the leaks are caused by damage to the containment vessel in Reactor 1. A special remote-controlled boat equipped with a camera captured images of tainted water flowing down a wall inside the vessel. On this program, we explore the causes and potential risks of this hidden crisis.
In order to avoid content ID copyright issues, I removed all background music which was inserted throughout the original broadcast. I have included captions in the portions where audio is eliminated. Nearly 50 percent of the video had background music and I didn’t want another copyright strike. Nonetheless, there is important information in this video.
Please excuse any typos. I spent many hours editing this today.
Today’s compilation of economic, political, and environmental developments opens with a somber statement from the Economic Times:
US economy may be stuck in slow lane for long run
Two straight weak job reports have raised doubts about economists’ predictions of breakout growth in 2014. The global economy is showing signs of slowing _ again. Manufacturing has slumped. Fewer people are signing contracts to buy homes. Global stock markets have sunk as anxiety has gripped developing nations.
Some long-term trends are equally dispiriting.
The Congressional Budget Office foresees growth picking up through 2016, only to weaken starting in 2017. By the CBO’s reckoning, the economy will soon slam into a demographic wall: The vast baby boom generation will retire. Their exodus will shrink the share of Americans who are working, which will hamper the economy’s ability to accelerate.
At the same time, the government may have to borrow more, raise taxes or cut spending to support Social Security and Medicare for those retirees.
From the Daily Dot, the latest from the party of family values:
Are fake candidate websites the new political attack ads?
Republican politicians finally figured out how to use the Internet as a campaign tool, and they’re really proud of themselves. Unfortunately, the GOP’s newfound Web savvy has taken the form of a campaign program that’s ethically questionable, intensely negative, and may or may not be against the law.
The National Republican Congressional Committee created a spate of fake websites for Democratic candidates that at first glance look like normal, legit sites, but then rip into the candidate in the text. The faux sites also have donation forms that send funds to the NRCC. There are several fake microsites up now, and the committee says it’s buying up URLs to create even more.
So is this shit even legal? It’s not an easy thing to answer. The spoof sites teeter on the fine line between parody and fraud, and the devil is in the details of the election law. According to Federal Election Commission regulations, political groups can’t use a candidate’s name in a “special project”—like a website—unless it “clearly and unambiguously shows opposition to the named candidate.”
Cementing class divisions with the San Jose Mercury News:
High prices sending Bay Area renters and homebuyers to outlying communities
Squeezed by astronomical home prices and rents that are almost as unaffordable, a growing number of Bay Area residents are pulling up stakes and trading long commutes for cheaper housing.
They’re heading to places like Tracy, Mountain House, Patterson, Hollister and Los Banos. Some are buying bigger homes and others are renting for much less, hoping to put money aside for a down payment of their own one day, in a replay of the eastward migration during the dot-com boom.
“Rentals in the Bay Area are just too high,” said Alma Gomez, an administrative assistant for Union City who’s heading east with her family.
The San Francisco Chronicle covers another kind of costly leak:
Bay Bridge’s new problem: leaks
The just-opened eastern span of the Bay Bridge, already beset by questions about flawed welds and cracked steel rods, has a new problem: It leaks.
Rainwater is dripping into the steel structure beneath the road deck on the suspension stretch of the span, which is supposed to be watertight, Caltrans said. Outside experts say that could pose a risk of corrosion on a bridge that cost $6.4 billion and is supposed to last well into the 22nd century.
“That’s a problem, a big problem,” said Lisa Thomas, a metallurgical engineer who studies material failure at a laboratory in Berkeley and analyzed bridge rods that snapped last year. “They want it to last 150 years, but with water coming in, something is going to corrode until it’s too thin and weak.”
From the Washington Post removing pedal appendage from orifice:
AOL chief reverses changes to 401(k) policy after a week of bad publicity
AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong told employees in an e-mail Saturday evening that he was reversing the company’s 401(k) policy and apologized for his controversial comments last week.
“The leadership team and I listened to your feedback over the last week,” Armstrong wrote in his e-mail to the company. “We heard you on this topic. And as we discussed the matter over several days, with management and employees, we have decided to change the policy back to a per-pay-period matching contribution.”
The policy change would have switched 401(k) matching contributions to an annual lump sum, rather than being distributed throughout the year with every paycheck. The switch would have punished employees who quit or were fired mid-year. It would also have cost employees who stayed, since they would not see the benefits of compounding in their retirement accounts.
The Financial Express covers funny money:
Bitcoin gang inches towards 100-member mark, hits $13-bn value
Enhanced regulatory oversight in India and other countries seems to be having little impact on spread of bitcoins and other virtual currencies, whose number is fast moving towards a century with a total valuation of close to USD 13 billion.
A number of new entrants, such as bitgem, catcoin, unobtanium and sexcoin, have arrived on the scene even as regulators across the world grapple with risks posed by such currencies and transactions conducted through them.
At least 93 virtual currencies are at present being used by people across the world over the internet, as also for some offline transactions, and their total valuation has reached USD 13 billion (over Rs 80,000 crore), out of which bitcoin alone accounts for over USD nine billion, according to market estimates.
At end of December last year, the number of virtual currencies stood at 67.
Of to Europe and a cautionary note from the London Telegraph:
Eurozone banks face £42bn ‘capital black hole’
Government adviser Davide Serra says this year’s stress tests by European authorities are likely to find fresh problems in the eurozone banks.
Eurozone banks are facing a new capital black hole of as much as €50bn (£42bn), according to one of the UK’s most respected financial analysts.
Davide Serra, the chief executive of Algebris, who advises the Government on banking, said that this year’s stress tests by the European Banking Authority and the European Central Bank were likely to find fresh problems in the eurozone banks.
He said that Germany had one of “the worst banking systems in the world” and that three or four regional Landesbanken were likely to be wound up. He also said banks in Portugal and Greece were likely to need more capital.
Britain next and life at the bottom of the pyramid from The Independent:
Working poor trapped in unbreakable cycle of poverty turn to food banks in their lunch breaks
Millions of low-paid workers are trapped in an unbreakable cycle of poverty, and are even turning up at food banks in their lunch breaks asking for help to feed their families, the Archbishop of York warns.
Dr John Sentamu, writing in The Independent, says low pay is a “scourge on our society” and challenges David Cameron to back up his “warm words” with action to boost the incomes of the working poor.
An independent commission chaired by the Archbishop says the economic recovery will make no difference to the lives of the five million lowest-paid workers unless they paid the so-called “living wage”.
They are being suffering a “double squeeze” on their incomes as their wages remain stagnant and their and living costs rise steadily.
Bankster insecurity from The Guardian:
Barclays blasted over ‘catastrophic’ theft of thousands of customer files
- Files containing names, addresses, medical details and NI numbers have allegedly been sold for use by scammers
Barclays is under scrutiny by regulators and could face a hefty fine after thousands of confidential customer files were stolen in a data breach described as catastrophic by an adviser to the business secretary, Vince Cable.
The files, containing details on 2,000 individuals including their names, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers, mortgages and levels of savings, were allegedly sold for use in boiler-room scams, in which vulnerable savers are snared into fraudulent investments.
“This is catastrophic, just awful,” the Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, who is parliamentary private secretary to Cable and has campaigned on mis-selling by banks, told the Guardian. “What protections have Barclays got in place? Are the police going to pursue this, are they going to prosecute, and is someone going to go to jail for this? They should do.”
From The Independent, playing to the base of the base:
David Cameron accused of ‘pandering’ to xenophobia with rhetoric on immigration
Laszlo Andor, the Employment Commissioner, who has previously attacked the Government for its “nasty” curbs on benefits for foreign nationals, will step up his attack during a visit to Britain.
He will accuse politicians of avoiding the “inconvenient truth” that most migrants move for work and are an “asset” to economies like Britain’s with an ageing population.
Mr Andor will warn the Prime Minister he cannot base policy on “perceptions, gut feelings or anecdotes”.
In a speech in Bristol, he will say: “Politicians should be responsible enough to talk about facts, rather than to pander to prejudice, or in the worst cases, xenophobia.”
The Observer crowns hypocrisy:
Royal estates ‘fail to meet targets to build affordable homes’
- Study finds Crown Estate and Duchy of Cornwall regularly get councils to cut ratios of affordable homes on cost grounds
Two of Britain’s largest landowning bodies, which between them generate millions of pounds a year for the Queen and Prince Charles, are regularly failing to meet affordable housing targets when building new homes on their land.
Amid an escalating housing crisis, planning documents unearthed by the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveal that both the Crown Estate and the Duchy of Cornwall are persuading councils to allow them to cut their affordable housing quotas on the grounds that meeting them would be too expensive.
An investigation by the bureau for the Observer has examined the two landowners’ plans to build 4,299 homes in 31 schemes. Of these, 14 developments, set to produce 2,470 units, fail to meet local targets, resulting in at least 213 fewer affordable homes being built. The bureau also found that 10 of the 19 largest Crown Estate developments have not or will not meet affordable housing targets.
And New Europe bubbles:
London housing market under price bubbles risk
Housing market in London is beginning to show signs of bubble-like conditions, said a research report issued by Ernst and Young Item Club (EY ITEM Club) on Monday, while asking the government to monitor the trend closely and be prepared to intervene.
The EY ITEM Club forecast showed the average house price in London is expected to reach nearly £600,000 by 2018, some 3.5 times the average price in Northern Ireland and more than 3.3 times the average in the North East.
It said the average house prices in Britain growing by 8.4% this year and 7.3% in 2015, before cooling to around 5.5% in 2016. House prices would show a regional divergence. Outside of London and the South East, the regions with the highest levels of house price growth are expected to be the South West and East of England, both set to grow by 6.2% from 2013-18.
Switzerland next and job-creating electoral results from TheLocal.ch:
Voters back national rail infrastructure plan
A project to boost financing for passenger rail infrastructure won widespread support from Swiss voters in a national referendum on Sunday.
More than 62 percent of the electorate voted for the improvements designed to improve train service through 6.4 billion francs’ worth of projects between now and 2025.
The plan will also add an extra billion francs a year to the four billion francs already allocated annually for rail infrastructure and maintenance.
It will allow for improvements to service on Lausanne-Geneva, Bern-Lucerne, Zurich-Chur, Lucerne-Giswil, Bellinzona-Tenero and Zurich-Fiesch routes, according to the federal government, which backed the proposal.
The expansion gives the green light for the financing of such projects as the expansion of Geneva’s main train station Cornavin (790 million francs) and a billion-franc modernization of the Lausanne station and its links with Renens, the nearby suburb.
While BBC News has another electoral result, and a possible Swiss miss:
Swiss immigration: 50.3% back quotas, final results show
Swiss voters have narrowly backed a referendum proposal to bring back strict quotas for immigration from European Union countries.
Final results showed 50.3% voted in favour. The vote invalidates the Swiss-EU agreement on freedom of movement.
Fiercely independent Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but has adopted large sections of EU policy. Brussels said it regretted the outcome of the vote and would examine its implications.
A Yes vote of more than 50% was needed for the referendum to pass.
On to Spain and life on the sombra side from TheLocal.es:
Spain’s shadow economy flourishes in downturn
Spain’s shadow economy — where cash is king, there are no contracts and the taxman is cut out of the equation — is flourishing amid an economic downturn that has pushed the jobless rate to 26 percent.
Economists estimate Spain’s underground economy equals 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The parallel economy “unfortunately is a longtime problem” in Spain, which “has worsened due to the economic crisis”, said Santos Nogales of the UGT, Spain’s second-largest labour union.
“Undeclared work does not distinguish between nationalities. It touches immigrants and many Spaniards,” he added.
thinkSPAIN delivers a shock:
New electricity bill structure ‘penalises energy saving’ and increases costs for low-use households, say consumer groups
CONSUMER protection groups have criticised the government’s new electricity billing structure as it ‘penalises’ those who use the least power and does not provide any incentive to save on energy consumption.
A year ago, the ‘fixed’ part of a household bill accounted for 35 per cent and the variable part, relating to consumption, was 65 per cent, but this was changed last July with a gradual move towards the standing charge taking up a higher percentage of what is paid by residential homes.
Now that this gradual migration has finished, from this week onwards, the fixed charge will be 60 per cent of the bill and the variable consumption-related part 40 per cent.
While New Europe lays off:
Jobless total spikes
Spanish government figures show that the number of people registered as unemployed has risen by 113,097 as temporary job contracts created over Christmas come to an end, AP reported.
On 4 February, the Labor Ministry said the reduction put the total number of those registered in unemployment offices at 4.81 million in January. Year-on-year, the figure was down 166,343.
Quarterly unemployment surveys – seen as more accurate by economists – show Spain’s unemployment rate was 26% in the fourth quarter of 2013, with six million people out of work. The rate is the second highest in the 28-country European Union after Greece.
Spain is battling to recover from a two-year recession. However, the government insists the economy is improving and will create jobs in 2014. Almost 100,000 people were laid off from the services sector, while employment also fell in agriculture, by 8,110 people and in industry, by 3,577.
And from TheLocal.es, not a crowning glory:
Spain princess ‘evasive’ in fraud hearing
Spain’s princess Cristina tried to distance herself from unprecedented fraud accusations Saturday, telling a judge she had simply trusted her husband, one of the lawyers in the courtroom said.
Spanish King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter was “evasive” as she testified as a criminal suspect in the Palma de Majorca court, said Manuel Delgado, a lawyer for a civil party in the case, left-wing association Frente Civico.
The first direct member of the Spanish royal family in history to face such a hearing, the 48-year-old blonde Cristina said she “had great trust in her husband”, the lawyer told reporters during a break in the proceedings.
Long thought untouchable as a royal, Cristina finds herself at the centre of the scandal, accused of being complicit in the allegedly fraudulent business dealings of her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, who is also under investigation.
While Al Jazeera America covers the culture wars:
Thousands protest proposed abortion restrictions in Spain
Thousands of women marched in the streets of Madrid Saturday to protest against the Spanish government’s plan to limit access to abortion, which could force many women to travel abroad to obtain the procedure.
Protesters chanted “Freedom of abortion!” and waved signs such as “MPs and rosaries, out of my ovaries”, targeting the Catholic Church as the supposed driver of the new restrictions.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government said in December it would eliminate a 2010 law that allows women to opt for an abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The new legislation would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.
After the jump, Greek protests and woes, outrage in Bosnia, crisis in the Ukraine, Mexico rising, hard times in South Korean heavy industry, Chinese austerity and an exodus, Japanese corporate games, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading
Jane D’Arista, researcher at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, former staff economist for House Banking and Commerce Committees and senior analyst for the Congressional Budget Office, talks with The Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor about the implications of central bank monetary policy.
From The Real News Network:
Tapering of Quantitative Easing Is Throwing Emerging Markets into Chaos — And Big Banks Are Getting Richer
From the transcript:
NOOR: And what’s your take on that? Do you believe the economy actually is growing?
D’ARISTA: Well, the economy is growing, but it’s growing in a very dysfunctional way. I mean, it is growing out of proportion. It is not growing in areas that affect Main Street, small businesses, wages, etc. And so it is a concern that that is going.
Now, part of the concern, I would like to say, is also where is this money that the Fed has created gone. And that’s where we get into the issue of emerging markets. We have had a pattern over the last two decades of which this is exactly a replica — not exactly, never exactly, but it’s pretty close. A core country, say, the hegemon, the United States, but others as well, will go into recession. The central bank will start pumping in liquidity. It brings down interest rates in that economy, in the core economy, the developed economy.
The investors turn around and start looking for better rates, more income, search for yield, as they called it. And they have started going, as of the 1990s, into emerging markets to find increased profits.
Now, the first major case, of course, was Mexico, and in that case the money flowed out of the United States. It was there in the international transactions accounts. It went to Mexico. It drove up the stock market in a couple of years by 400 percent. Over this time, of course, Mexicans were using their inflated stocks to borrow from their banks. The money that flowed in was, of course, gone into the peso, and therefore the exchange rate was rising. And so it looked like a wonderful thing for Mexico for a while.
But as in every other case, the Asian crisis, etc., and the one that we’re facing today, there’s a tipping point, the tipping point when the exchange rate becomes overvalued. And that means that while imports are cheaper, exports become more expensive, and you develop a current account deficit, meaning the difference between what the country imports and exports widens and it’s exporting less. And, therefore, to make up that difference it has to start using its foreign exchange reserves.
At this point, the investors look at the situation and they say, oh dear, this is not good and it’s time for us to go, and in the meantime, the core country, the developed countries, one or more of them, have begun to raise interest rates, and the investors flock home. And in that case–and today they’re flocking back into the euro, back into the dollar, etc., and this leaves the countries in crisis.
So we are at a point where we are at the tipping point now with many of these economies. And what we have seen over the last–well, since 2010, the figures are that there’s been about $1 trillion a year flowing into the emerging market economies. Well, it has not been doing a very good job of resuscitating the U.S. economy, because it’s gone away, and therefore it will come back, we’ll get growth, more growth in the U.S. as it begins to come back, but we will have crises elsewhere. And those crises will be severe. That pattern has been with us for 20 years, as I say.
So the question is: why? What are we doing? And why aren’t we stopping it? What’s wrong with this pattern? Who does it hurt? Well, it hurts everybody and it has delayed a recovery in the U.S. and in Europe, with particularly dire results for Southern Europe. And it is now about to do another whammy on the emerging market economies.
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.
From the economic research data of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, evidence of the decline in city government staff since the start of the Great Recession:
Opening our compendium of headlines fromn the economic, political, and environmental developments, a Trans-Pacific Panic from Techdirt:
USTR Finally Realizing Its All Encompassing Secrecy May Be A Problem, Calls Frantic Meeting For All ‘Cleared’ Lobbyists
- from the you’re-doing-it-wrong dept
It’s been funny for years watching the USTR continue to repeat the same laughable line about how they’ve had “unprecedented transparency” concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement — an agreement that is still completely secret, other than a couple chapters leaked to Wikileaks. Here’s a hint: if the text of the agreement is only available thanks to Wikileaks, you’re not being transparent, precedented or not. Even the NY Times slammed the USTR’s lack of transparency, and multiple members of Congress have been arguing that they’re not at all comfortable with the lack of transparency from the USTR. Because of this, it seems that the USTR’s desire for fast track authority, which would let it route around Congressional review, is on life support and close to dead.
Given that, it appears that the USTR is in panic mode, and has frantically called an all day meeting for all “cleared advisors” (i.e., the corporate representatives who actually do get to see the document) concerning the whole transparency issue.
From the New York Times, double trouble:
Payroll Data Shows a Lag in Wages, Not Just Hiring
For the more than 10 million Americans who are out of work, finding a job is hard. For the 145 million or so who are employed, getting a raise is even harder.
The government said on Friday that employers added 113,000 jobs in January, the second straight month of anemic growth, despite some signs of strength in the broader economy. The unemployment rate inched down in January to 6.6 percent, the lowest level since October 2008, from 6.7 percent in December.
But the report also made plain what many Americans feel in their bones: Wages are stuck, and barely rose at all in 2013. They were up 1.9 percent last year, or a mere 0.4 percent after accounting for inflation. Not only was that increase even smaller than the one recorded in 2012, it was half the normal rate of wage gains in the two decades before the last recession.
More from Deutsche Welle:
US employment figures fail to thrill analysts
- Fresh figures from the US Labor Department have shown employers have hired far fewer workers in January than expected. Analysts viewed this as a loss of momentum in the national economy after an already weak December.
Meager job gains towards the end of last year were barely improved upon in January, the US Labor Department reported Friday.
The latest monthly figures showed nonfarm payrolls rose only by 113,000, with 185,000 penciled in by analysts.
With strong job increases in construction, cold weather was not a major factor for the slow pick-up, nurturing fears of a general loss of momentum of the national economy.
Wealthy avoiding stocks, buying art
Art often imitates stocks—at least when it comes to prices.
But so far this year, stock markets are down and art is up.
Sotheby’s two days of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales racked up £215.8 million (more than $345 million), the highest ever for a sale series in London. All its lots sold. The top was Camille Pissarro’s 1897 painting “Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps,” which went for £19.7 million, or about $32 million—nearly double its top presale estimate.
Christie’s had a good week, too, selling Juan Gris’ 1915 still life “The Checked Tablecloth” for $56.7 million. The previous record for a Gris was $28 million. The Impressionist and Modern evening sale totaled $288 million.
Collectible cars are also on a tear. A 1957 Ferrari Testarossa sold in Britain this week for $40 million. And a series of auctions in Paris set a spate of new records for certain cars. RM Auctions gaveled down on a 1955 Jaguar D-Type for about $5 million.
The Project On Government Oversight notes the exceptional:
Head of SEC Given Waiver to Oversee Past Client
Mary Jo White, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), will be allowed to oversee her former client, Credit Suisse, according to a new ethics waiver the U.S. Office of Government Ethics posted to its website this week.
Before coming to the SEC, White, a former attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton, represented Wall Street giants such as UBS and JPMorgan. President Obama nominated her to head the SEC in January 2013.
Her waiver underscores the complications that can often arise when a former white-collar defense attorney becomes a top regulator overseeing an industry she used to represent.
According to the waiver, signed by the SEC’s ethics officer on Feb. 6, White had been prohibited from overseeing Credit Suisse since joining the agency because she provided legal services to the bank during her stint at Debevoise. In the two years prior to her SEC nomination, she “billed in total less than one hour (0.5 hours in January 2012 and 0.4 hours in February 2012) for work on Credit Suisse matters,” the waiver says.
Wrist-slappage from the Los Angeles Times:
Gov. Brown, Newsom to get warning letters from ethics agency
Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among 40 officials receiving warning letters from the state ethics agency after their campaigns received improper contributions from a lobbying firm, representatives said Friday.
A firm headed by Kevin Sloat has reached a tentative agreement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay more than $100,000 in fines involving violations of California’s campaign finance laws, according to sources familiar with the investigation who are not authorized to speak publicly.
The firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates provided prohibited contributions, including expensive wine and cigars, at fundraisers held for elected officials at his Sacramento mansion.
Top-heaviness from The Wire:
Universities Are Cutting Tenured Faculty While They Load Up on ‘Non-Academic’ Administrators
As the cost of college remains exorbitant, recent trends indicate schools in the United States are trading tenured professors for non-academic administrative staff. It’s pretty clear where American colleges have their priorities, and it’s not in academics. Students are paying more to attend schools that are spending less to teach them, and instead spending that tuition money on administration.
According to a new report from the New England Center for Investigating Reporting, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years.” Meanwhile, full-time tenured faculty positions are at the lowest rate in 25 years, while the prevalence of adjunct professors – part-time, non-tenured professors – is at its highest. In fact, according to the American Association of University Professors, “more than three of every four (76 percent) of instructional staff positions are filled on a contingent basis,” meaning without tenure.
The reason that non-tenured professors are so much more popular than tenured faculty is simple: they’re cheaper. Adjunct professors, especially, make very little. Most are paid on a per-course basis, making somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 for each course taught.
Bloomberg Businessweek bemoans:
Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Be Born at AOL
AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong ruffled more than a few of his employees’ feathers when he disclosed this week that two AOL workers’ “distressed” babies had whacked the company with $2 million in medical bills.
The costly children were cited—along with more than $7 million in costs from the Affordable Care Act—as the reason AOL (AOL) changed its 401(k) account match to an annual lump sum payment. Workers who aren’t on the payroll at year’s end will forfeit AOL’s 3 percent matching contribution to the accounts. IBM (IBM) made a similar change in 2012. If you plan to quit, management thinking goes, forget about collecting our share of your retirement savings.
Many employees didn’t react well to either bit of news, according to news reports. First, there’s the financial blow to workers, who will lose 401(k) funds if they leave AOL, as well as miss the opportunity to have the company’s match bolster their financial returns over a full year. There’s also the shock that accompanies hearing your boss tag a colleague’s difficult pregnancy and her newborn child as the reason your retirement plan was cut.
Stark realization from the Exchange:
Why Walmart is getting too expensive for the middle class
Walmart is struggling with weak sales and an underperforming stock price. The company recently cut its profit outlook, with analysts polled by S&P Capital IQ expecting just a 2.1% gain in sales when Walmart reports its quarterly earnings on February 20. That’s for a company that has consistently outcompeted nearly every other retailer except, perhaps, Amazon. Walmart’s stock has suffered, rising just 4% during the past year, while the S&P 500 index rose 17% during the same timeframe.
Walmart, though known as a discounter, may be too expensive for millions of shoppers finding themselves more pinched — not less — as the pace of the so-called recovery accelerates. “Their consumer is shifting downward,” says Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for financial-data firm Bloomberg LP. “The competition for Walmart is changing. It’s now dollar stores.”
Where some of their money went, via the Los Angeles Times:
Walton group funds more charter schools in L.A. than elsewhere
Los Angeles charter schools have been the largest recipients of funding from the foundation associated with the family that started Wal-Mart, according to figures released Wednesday.
Since 1997, the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation has distributed $35.9 million in start-up grants to 159 L.A.-area charters. By comparison, Walton has supported the creation of 125 charters in New York City.
Last year alone, the foundation made grants to 23 new L.A. schools, totaling more than $4.69 million, that were set to open in the near future. Both the annual and cumulative totals are higher than for any other region.
Charter schools are independently managed, free from some rules that govern traditional schools and outside the direct control of the local Board of Education. In California, local school boards are required by law to authorize and oversee all financially viable and academically sound charter school petitions. No school system has more charters than the L.A. Unified School District.
More from Slashdot:
25% of Charter Schools Owe Their Soul To the Walmart Store
Among the billionaires who helped Bill Gates pave the way for charter schools in WA was Walmart heiress Alice Walton. The Walton Family Foundation spent a whopping $158+ million in 2012 on what it calls ‘systemic K-12 education reform,’ which included $60,920,186 to ‘shape public policy’ and $652,209 on ‘research and evaluation.’
Confirming the LA Times’ speculation about its influence, the Walton Foundation issued a press release Wednesday boasting it’s the largest private funder of charter school ‘startups,’ adding that it has supported the opening of 1 in 4 charter schools in the U.S. since 1997 through its 1,500 ‘investments.’
In These Times fuels around:
Angering Environmentalists, AFL-CIO Pushes Fossil-Fuel Investment
Labor’s Richard Trumka has gone on record praising the Keystone pipeline and natural gas export terminals.
Trumka’s comments come at a sensitive time, as trade unions and leading environmental groups have sought to build political partnerships with each other in recent years.
The nation’s leading environmental groups are digging their heels in the sand by rejecting President Obama’s “all-of-the above” domestic energy strategy—which calls for pursuing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but simultaneously expanding oil and gas production.
But it appears the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, won’t be taking environmentalists’ side in this fight, despite moves toward labor-environmentalist cooperation in recent years. On a recent conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed two initiatives reviled by green groups: the Keystone XL pipeline and new natural gas export terminals.
“There’s no environmental reason that [the pipeline] can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs,” said Trumka.
In response to a question from In These Times, Trumka also spoke in favor of boosting exports of natural gas.
Bad news from the Associated Press:
Moody’s downgrades Puerto Rico credit rating
Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Puerto Rico’s credit rating to junk status.
The announcement Friday by the credit rating agency comes just days after Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. territory’s debt to junk as well.
Moody’s says its decision was based in part of not seeing sufficient economic growth to help reverse negative financial trends.
News from north of the border via South China Morning Post:
Exclusive: Vancouver facing an influx of 45,000 more rich Chinese
- Over 60pc seeking Canadian wealthy investor visa are from China and want to live in British Columbia’s main city, data shows
A South China Morning Post investigation into Canada’s immigration programme for millionaire investors has revealed the extraordinary extent to which it has become devoted to a single outcome: Helping rich mainland Chinese settle in Vancouver.
Immigration Department data obtained by the Post suggests there was a backlog of more than 45,000 rich Chinese waiting for approval of their applications to move to British Columbia as of January last year. They are estimated to have a minimum combined wealth of C$12.9 billion (HK$90 billion).
And a complication, also from South China Morning Post:
Canada floats new citizenship rules that could affect thousands of Chinese
- Longer abode requirement and demand for tax returns may affect thousands of Hongkongers and mainlanders granted permanent residency
Canada has unveiled sweeping reforms that would require immigrants spend more time as permanent residents, file tax returns and sign an undertaking to continue living in the country if they want to become citizens.
The proposed redrawing of the Citizenship Act, unveiled on Thursday, would lengthen the period of residency required from three years to four years.
Language proficiency requirements would be extended to children as young as 14 and adults as old as 64, and penalties for fraudulent applications toughened.
China is the biggest single source of applications for Canadian permanent residency and among those who may be affected by the changes are the 110,813 mainland Chinese and 3,305 Hongkongers granted permanent residency between 2010 and the middle of last year.
And a global alarm from Spiegel:
Troubled Times: Developing Economies Hit a BRICS Wall
- Until recently, investors viewed China, Brazil and India as a sure thing. Lately, though, their economies have shown signs of weakness and money has begun flowing back to the West. Worries are mounting the BRICS dream is fading.
It was 12 years ago that Jim O’Neill had his innovative idea. An investment banker with Goldman Sachs, he had become convinced following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that the United States and Europe were facing economic decline. He believed that developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia could profit immensely from globalization and become the new locomotives of the global economy. O’Neill wanted to advise his clients to invest their money in the promising new players. But he needed a catchy name.
It proved to be a simple task. He simply took the first letter of each country in the quartet and came up with BRIC, an acronym which sounded like the foundation for a solid investment.
O’Neill, celebrated by Businessweek as a “rock star” in the industry, looked for years like a vastly successful prophet. From 2001 to 2013, the economic output of the four BRIC countries rose from some $3 billion a year to $15 billion. The quartet’s growth, later made a quintet with the inclusion of South Africa (BRICS), was instrumental in protecting Western prosperity as well. Investors made a mint and O’Neill’s club even emerged as a real political power. Now, the countries’ leaders meet regularly and, despite their many differences, have often managed to function as a counterweight to the West.
On to Europe and uber-bankster empowerment from Reuters:
ECB to gain far-reaching powers as euro zone banks’ supervisor
The European Central Bank will attain significant powers over the euro zone’s commercial banks once it becomes their supervisor later this year, including withdrawing bank licences and assessing acquisitions, it said on Friday.
From November, the ECB will supervise directly around 130 of the bloc’s largest lenders as part of a broader push towards closer integration of Europe’s banks that aims to create a more level regional playing field for the sector.
The region’s other 5,900 or so banks will remain under the brief of national supervisors, though the ECB will have powers to intervene if it deems necessary.
“(The ECB) will be exclusively competent to grant and withdraw authorizations for credit institutions and to assess acquisitions of qualifying holdings in all credit institutions,” it said in a draft document that laid out how the ECB and national supervisors will cooperate under the new Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM).
Channel NewsAsia Singapore tosses in a monkey wrench:
Germany sends ECB’s crisis-killing action to EU court
Germany’s highest court expressed doubts on Friday about the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme, credited with stopping the eurozone crisis, and sent the case to the European Court of Justice.
Some analysts suggested that the decision might turn out to be helpful to the central bank.
Back in September 2012, the Constitutional Court had rejected legal challenges by a group of eurosceptics to the two key eurozone crisis tools — the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European fiscal pact.
As a result, German President Joachim Gauck was able to sign those two crisis tools into law.
But the eurosceptics also filed a last-minute challenge to the ECB’s OMT bond purchase programme, arguing that it amounted to monetisation of sovereign debt and overstepped the central bank’s mandate.
The London Telegraph-ic take:
German court parks tank on ECB lawn, kills OMT bond rescue
- Doubtful whether ECB’s back-stop scheme for bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again
Germany’s top court has issued a blistering attack on the European Central Bank, arguing that its rescue plan for the euro violates EU treaty law and exceeds the bank’s policy mandate.
The tough language leaves it doubtful whether the ECB’s back-stop scheme for Spanish and Italian bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again, and greatly complicates any future recourse to quantitative easing if needed to head off Japanese-style deflation.
And an affirmation from EUbusiness:
ECB insists bond buying programme ‘within mandate’
The European Central Bank insisted on Friday that its contested OMT bond buying programme did not breach its rules, after Germany’s constitutional court expressed some scepticism.
“The ECB takes note of the announcement made today by the German constitutional court. The ECB reiterates that the OMT programme falls within its mandate,” the central bank said in a short statement.
On to Britain and a disappointment from Bloomberg:
U.K. Manufacturing Rises Less Than Forecast as Growth Eases
U.K. factories increased production by less than forecast in December, suggesting manufacturing is set for steady rather than runaway growth this year.
Output rose 0.3 percent from November, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. That compares with the 0.6 percent median of 26 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Industrial production, which also includes utilities and mines, climbed 0.4 percent, also less than predicted.
While the U.K. economy expanded at the fastest rate since 2007 last year, industry surveys on services and manufacturing this week suggested the pace may have eased at the start of 2014. The Bank of England kept its key policy rate at a record-low 0.5 percent yesterday, while a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research today says consumer spending and a buoyant housing market will drive growth.
The Guardian has guilty knowledge:
Bank of England ‘knew about’ forex markets price fixing
- Notes from 2012 meeting reportedly show key Bank officials were told of rival currency dealers’ sharing of customer orders
The Bank of England has been dragged into the mounting controversy over allegations of price fixing in the £3tn-a-day foreign exchange markets after it emerged that a group of traders had told the Bank they were exchanging information about their clients’ position.
The latest twist in the unfolding saga – already the subject of investigations by regulators around the world – puts the focus on a meeting between key officials at the central bank and leading foreign exchange dealers in April 2012, when they discussed the way they handled trades ahead of the crucial setting of a benchmark in the prices of major currencies. This benchmark is used to price a wide variety of financial products and is the subject of regulators’ attention amid allegations that traders at rival banks were sharing information about their orders from clients to manipulate the price.
New Europe complicates frack-tiosly:
Shale Gas Fear Leaves UK Vulnerable
Cuadrilla Resources, one of the energy firms hoping to exploit the UK’s shale gas resources, has announced two new exploration sites in Lancashire. But drilling for shale gas in Britain is going to be extremely controversial.
“There is potential but the level of public reaction to it is extremely negative at the moment and anybody trying to carry even testing at the moment is finding a lot of demonstrations,” Justin Urquhart Stewart, Director of Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe on 7 February, adding that the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is going to find it very difficult to actually get it through. “The potential is there but realistically I think they’re going to run into a lot of public concern unless it can be proven not to be dangerous to local communities,” Urquhart Stewart said. Unlike America, Britain is a crowded island and has a much bigger impact on a smaller area, he said.
From The Guardian, a land rush:
Fresh wave of super-rich looking to buy up London properties, says estate agent
- Political and economic instability driving rise in inquiries from Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and elsewhere, reckons Frank Knight
Political and financial upheaval in some of the world’s largest emerging economies is driving a wave of rich migrants to London to park their wealth in the city’s property market, according to data from a leading estate agency.
Knight Frank, a specialist in upmarket properties, said on Friday that online inquiries from Argentina, Ukraine and Turkey have soared during the past year.
“There is potentially a further wave of investment headed for the prime central London property market,” said Tom Bill of the firm’s residential research team.
The Observer covers austerian reality:
Changes to state pensions will hit the poorest, warns think tank
- Inequalities set to grow as people in the most deprived parts of the country live healthy lives 20 years shorter than the average
Changes to the state pension age will only expand the already yawning gap between rich and poor in Britain, according to an academic study.
Inequalities are set to grow because of the failure to take into account differences in health and life expectancy across the country, says the report from independent think tank the International Longevity Centre – UK and backed by the charity Age UK.
While most people will live to state pension age and beyond, a large proportion are unlikely to get there in good health, especially in more disadvantaged parts of the UK – places like inner city Glasgow, where the healthy life expectancy is just 46.7 years – close to 20 years lower than the national average of 65.
BBC News embarrasses:
Immigration minister Mark Harper quits over cleaner’s visa
Immigration minister Mark Harper has resigned from the government after it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.
Mr Harper notified Prime Minister David Cameron, who accepted his resignation “with regret”, Number 10 said.
It added there was “no suggestion” the 43-year-old Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean had “knowingly employed an illegal immigrant”.
Fellow Tory James Brokenshire has been appointed the new immigration minister.
The Observer has frustrations:
Nick Clegg: Britain must join debate on new approach to war on drugs
- Deputy PM angry at Tory refusal to debate alternatives and says: ‘If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’
Nick Clegg has dragged the case for reforming the drugs laws to the centre ground of British politics, saying that blanket prohibition has seen cocaine use triple in less than 20 years, a trend that has helped perpetuate conflict and violence in South America.
Writing in today’s Observer, after a week in which he visited Colombia to learn first-hand the devastating effects that Europe’s enthusiasm for cocaine has had on the country, Clegg said the UK needed to be at the heart of the debate about potential alternatives to blanket prohibition and that he wanted to see an end to “the tradition where politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences”.
The deputy prime minister said such an approach “has stifled debate and inhibited a proper examination of our approach. Put simply, if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform”.
On to the Emerald Isle and a neoliberal endorsement from the Irish Times:
Taoiseach defends corporate tax policy at OECD
- Kenny shrugs off French anger at loss of internet companies and backs efforts to close tax loopholes
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and the four Cabinet Ministers who flew on the government jet to Paris yesterday did not see a single member of the French socialist government.
Instead, they spent the day at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that hotbed of liberal economics, at a sensitive time in Franco-Irish relations. The US internet giant Yahoo had just announced it is transferring financial operations from France to Ireland.
Asked about Yahoo’s defection, President François Hollande said “we must act” against “big companies who move to countries with low corporate tax”. He promised to raise the subject with President Barack Obama in Washington next week.
On to Germany and a case of bad heilth from Deutsche Welle:
German newspaper report highlights right-wing crime in Germany
- More than 11,000 right-wing criminal offenses were committed last year, according to a report by a German newspaper. Of those cases, more than 500 were violent.
German police registered 11,761 criminal offenses motivated by right-wing extremism between January and December of 2013, Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper reported on Friday. Of the reported cases, 574 were violent offenses that resulted in injuries to 561 people, according to Tagesspiegel.
Of the 5,631 suspects in the offenses, 126 people were arrested. In 11 cases, warrants were issued. Some 788 cases were reported as being of an anti-Semitic nature, including 32 cases of assault and other violent crimes.
According to the newspaper, the figures come from monthly inquiries by the Bundestag’s Vice President Petra Pau and her Left Party parliamentary faction. With the release of the December figures, a complete look at the last year is now available.
Tagesspiegel said, however, the actual number of right-wing criminal offenses for 2013 is expected to climb, as many incidents are registered after the fact. In 2012, the total number was initially listed as 11,660, but late registrations ended up driving the total up to 17,134.
TheLocal.de boosts the books:
German trade surplus hits record level
Germany’s trade surplus soared to a new record high in 2013, although export momentum tailed off at the end of the year, official data showed on Friday.
Europe’s biggest economy notched up a trade surplus of €198.9 billion in 2013, the highest since foreign trade data have been compiled.
In 2012, the surplus had stood at 1€89.8 billion.
Germany has come under fire for its booming trade surplus, with critics arguing that its economic prowess comes at the expense of the eurozone’s weaker members.
On to France and the rural right from France 24:
France’s National Front courts the rural vote
As municipal and European elections approach, France’s far-right party the National Front is poised for another strong showing. Rural areas are key to the party’s strategy: economic decline and feelings of neglect in the countryside have been fuelling the National Front’s renaissance.
Our assignment was to understand why the far-right is making strides in rural areas. So we headed out for the “Meuse”, a department in the east of France where the party traditionally does well.
To our initial surprise, villagers readily expressed their support for the National Front, even on camera. “We’re 100 percent for Marine Le Pen around here”, smiled one supporter as we approached. “I’m not afraid to say so, and I always will!”
Reuters turns the coat:
Special Report: Francois Hollande puts on a new political face
As Hollande heads without a First Lady to the United States on Monday, he is projecting a more business-friendly persona than the “regular guy” left-winger France chose in May 2012 to replace conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Several people who know Hollande say that, deep down, he has always been more of a centrist, who had calculated that he should present himself as a man of the left to win election.
“This is not so much a U-turn as a self-revelation. He has finally outed himself,” said Serge Raffy, author of the 2011 Hollande biography “Itineraire secret” (Secret Route).
Switzerland next and a defining vote from Deutsche Welle:
Referendum to keep foreigners out of Switzerland?
- On Sunday, the Swiss vote on whether to restrict immigration to their country. The ramifications of a yes vote, experts say, could be huge. To their shock, the referendum has a decent shot at passing.
When Germans hear Switzerland, they first think of the children’s book “Heidi”, snow-covered mountains and secure bank accounts. Their neighbor to the south is a popular vacation destination, but more and more Germans also come to Switzerland to work. They can do so because the small, neutral state entered a freedom of movement agreement with the European Union in 1999. Even though Switzerland isn’t a member of the union, EU citizens have been allowed to immigrate to Switzerland with hardly any restrictions since then.
That might change soon. In a nationwide referendum, the Swiss are voting on an “initiative against mass-immigration” this Sunday (09.02.2014). The initiative was put forward by the nationalist-populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP). The party wants to restrict the number of immigrants and allocate a limited number of slots to certain national or occupational groups.
Roughly 80,000 immigrants enter Switzerland every year – and this in a country of 8.1 Million. According to the German weekly “Die Zeit”, this is the largest population growth the country has experienced since the 1960s.
On to Iberia and austerian woes from thinkSPAIN:
More firms and individuals in Spain declared insolvent last year than ever before in history
A RECORD number of companies and sole traders went into receivership or were declared bankrupt last year – a total of 9,660, which is the highest ever seen since bankruptcy became legally-recognised 10 years ago.
This represents a rise of 6.5 per cent on the figure for 2012, and never before have this many insolvencies been declared in the space of a year in Spain, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).
In the first three years after the Insolvency Law was passed in 2004, up to and including 2007 there were between 968 and 1,147 firms going bankrupt or into receivership each year, but this shot up to 3,298 with the start of the financial crisis.
This again nearly doubled in 2009 when the recession and mass unemployment began to truly bite in Spain, reaching 6,197 that year, dropping slightly to 5,962 in 2010 but then soaring again in 2011 to 6,863. However, the last two calendar years have seen a sharp increase, with insolvencies shooting up by over 50 per cent.
The Associated Press takes a turnabout:
Spain to restore nationality to Sephardic Jews
Spain has announced new measures to speed up the naturalization of Jews of Sephardic descent whose ancestors fled the Iberian peninsula five centuries ago when they were told to convert to Catholicism or go into exile.
The Cabinet approved a bill amending previous legislation that granted nationality by naturalization to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it. The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their previous citizenships.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Friday the measure smooths the bureaucracy involved in obtaining Spanish nationality.
Italy next, and corruption with a flair from TheLocal.it:
Space boss quits over tango dancer scandal
The head of Italy’s space agency submitted his resignation on Friday after a scandal over dubious expenses including hiring as a consultant a former tango dancer with no apparent aerospace credentials.
Enrico Saggese in a statement denied the accusations and said that he wanted to step down “so as to better defend my integrity, honour and prestige”.
Prosecutors opened an investigation on Thursday into corruption, including Saggese’s use of a credit card provided by an agency subcontractor.
They are also looking into consultancy fees paid to the wife of an employee to provide “psychological assistance” and expense-paid trips to the United States for several managers of the space agency.
After the jump, the latest Greek disasters, Ukrainian turmoil, class war in Brazil, Argentine anger, a Latin American plague, Pakistani stalemate, the latest Thai violence, Vietnamese letdown, Chinese uncertainty, an Abenomics fail, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading