Category Archives: Law

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoPoliFukuFailure


Today’s collection of headlines form the realms of economics, politics, and the environment begins with a tale of sobering implications from RT:

Self-organizing robot armies produced – and all thanks to ingenious termite logic

Harvard ‘brainiacs’ are at it again. Inspired by termites, they have realized their dream of cheap, expendable, self-organizing robots – a construction crew building complex structures at a quick pace, and completely independent of leadership.

The possibilities are vast. The machines can be made to build any three-dimensional structure on their own and with minimal instruction. But what is truly staggering is their ability to adapt to their work environment and to each other; to calculate losses, reorganize efforts and make adjustments. It is already clear that the development will do wonders for humanity in space, hard-to-reach places and other difficult situations.

Looking at huge mounds of soil and the resilience of hordes of termites building them, working for a common cause, while their comrades die, the techies and engineers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have created an army of little bots that do just that. And they cooperate and learn with no oversight.

And the world into which these shiny new arnies are born? From The Independent:

One in four Americans ‘don’t know the Earth orbits the Sun’ and only half believe in evolution

With the possible exception of ‘is the earth flat?’ it is (according to Discover magazine at least) the most basic question in science: ‘does the earth orbit the sun?’

The good news is that 74 per cent of Americans know the answer.

The very bad news is that means 26 per cent really don’t.

These results, which appear in the National Science Foundation (NSF) survey of 2,200 Americans, will form part of a report set to be presented to Barack Obama and lawmakers in congress, and are likely to once again raise the issue of educational standards in the United States.

Other startling results from the survey included that only 39 per cent of Americans believe “the universe began with a huge explosion”. And fewer than half of the people surveyed (48 per cent) agreed that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals”.

As for those creationism believers, they’ve gotten so bad that even Pat Robertson thinks they’re bonkers [via Right Wing Watch]:

RWW News: Even Pat Robertson Attacks Creationism As A “Joke”

From JapanToday, an American initiative with legs:

U.S. drug policy fuels push for legal pot worldwide

From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the marijuana legalization movement is gaining unprecedented traction — a nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and the small South American nation of Uruguay, which in December became the first country to approve nationwide pot legalization.

Leaders long weary of the drug war’s violence and futility have been emboldened by changes in U.S. policy, even in the face of opposition from their own conservative populations. Some are eager to try an approach that focuses on public health instead of prohibition, and some see a potentially lucrative industry in cannabis regulation.

“A number of countries are saying, ‘We’ve been curious about this, but we didn’t think we could go this route,’” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who helped write Colorado’s marijuana regulations. “It’s harder for the U.S. to look at other countries and say, ‘You can’t legalize, you can’t decriminalize,’ because it’s going on here.”

That’s due largely to a White House that’s more open to drug war alternatives.

There’s also an argument to be made from the employment angle, as Britain’s ITN discovered:

Pot employees in demand in the US

Program note:

Hemp temps are being sought after due to the rise in the demand for pot. . Report by Jennifer Cordingley.

And from the Toronto Globe and Mail, yet another shift:

Relaxed marijuana rules make Sochi Olympics faster, stronger and way, way higher

Olympic officials take great pride in cracking down on doping and so far no athlete has tested positive at the Sochi Olympics. But officials acknowledge they have had a difficult time dealing with one drug in particular: marijuana.

Technically marijuana is on the World Anti-Doping list of banned drugs, which governs events like the Olympics, because officials consider it to be performance enhancing and a violation of the “spirit of sport”. But in a nod to the growing relaxed attitude toward the drug around the world, the cut off level for a positive test has been increased for the Sochi Games, allowing for some recreational use prior to the Olympics.

The new threshold for the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, has been increased from 15 nanograms per millilitre of urine to 150ng/mls. Officials say that means an athlete who smoked some weed before the Olympics, or inhaled second-hand smoke, wouldn’t likely test positive in Sochi. Someone who failed the new test would have to be “a pretty dedicated cannabis consumer,” WADA officials have said.

Meanwhile, CNBC spots a growth industry:

Helping the rich to become $100 trillion industry

With the global economy creating millionaires and billionaires at breakneck speed, the industry handling their money is about to explode.

Six years from now, the asset management industry, which currently controls about $60 trillion in wealth, will be responsible for more than $100 trillion by 2020, according to a recent study from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

PwC attributes the surge both to a general growth in emerging economies, particularly in Asia.

And the first of two headlines focusing on changes in the Golden State, first from Salon:

San Francisco’s rightward turn: Why it may no longer be America’s iconic liberal city

  • With an influx of rich people and exodus of poor and middle class, a less liberal San Francisco could soon emerge

And the second headline, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/williesworld/article/Are-public-employee-unions-toxic-to-their-5238874.php

Are public-employee unions toxic to their candidates?

The real news in the San Diego mayoral race isn’t that a Republican won, but that the candidate backed by public-employee unions lost.

That is a real shift in California politics. And it’s the second time it’s happened in a big-city mayoral race in less than a year.

And from News Corp Australia, an old ghost in a new sheet:

Experts concerned scientific advances are giving rise to ‘neoracism’

ADVANCES in genetic sequencing are giving rise to a new era of scientific racism, experts have said.

New forms of discrimination, known as “neoracism”, are taking hold in scientific research, spreading the belief that races exist and are different in terms of biology, behaviour and culture, according to anthropologists who spoke at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago.

This comes despite decades-long efforts to reverse attitudes that were used to justify the slave trade and the Nazi ideology.

From Al Jazeera America, a loss for labor:

Tennessee Volkswagen workers reject union

  • Factory workers voted 712 to 626 to prevent the United Auto Workers from representing them

Workers at Volkswagen’s three-year-old factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted Friday to reject union representation by the United Auto Workers (UAW), frustrating an effort to revive the waning influence of the labor movement in the South.

The vote tally concluded with 712 voting no, and 626 voting yes.

The UAW’s bid to represent VW’s 1,550 hourly workers faced fierce resistance from local politicians and national conservative groups.

The defeat could scuttle the 400,000-member union’s latest attempt to stem a decades-long decline in membership, revenue and influence. It could reinforce the widely held notion that the UAW is unable to overcome the South’s deep opposition toward organized labor.

And from Bloomberg yet another corporate takeaway:

Companies Squeeze 401K Plans From Facebook to JPMorgan

Employers are squeezing their workers’ retirement savings, holding back on both the amount and the timing of 401(k) matching funds and dragging out vesting schedules. Taken together, these measures are making it more difficult to save for old age.

Major companies that have engaged in such practices in recent years include Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM), Facebook Inc., Oracle Corp. (ORCL), Caesars Entertainment Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The most frugal have been scaling back company matches and setting lower limits for the maximum annual payment they’ll make to a 401(k) account, according to hundreds of government filings analyzed by Bloomberg. A difference of three percentage points on a match can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars lost for employees over the course of their careers.

But the takers aren’t giving, via Bloomberg Businessweek:

Billionaires’ Wealth Is Skyrocketing. Their Philanthropy Is Not

The Chronicle of Philanthropy released its annual “Philanthropy 50″ list this week, detailing the gifts of the most generous donors in America. These individuals are “ditching the caution that marked so much of their giving as the economy stalled and are roaring back” with $7.7 billion in contributions, 4 percent more than in 2012, the publication says.

Giving is up since the financial crisis. But while the stock market has made a complete recovery, top-50 philanthropy has clearly not. And this kind of giving has not nearly kept pace with the rise in American billionaires’ wealth over the past decade. The Forbes 400 list, which tracks the richest people in the U.S., had a total net worth of $955 billion in 2003. By 2013, it had more than doubled, to $2 trillion.

The Bloomberg Billionaires index, which launched in 2012 and tracks the 300 richest people worldwide, saw a $524 billion increase in wealth during 2013 alone. Tech billionaires gained 28 percent on the year, led by Tesla (TSLA) founder Elon Musk, whose wealth climbed 233 percent.

This puts the 4 percent increase the Chronicle of Philanthropy hails in context. At a time when the richest Americans’ wealth is skyrocketing, it’s appropriate to ask whether their giving is skyrocketing as well.

United Press International covers the boom:

Oil boom in Williams County, N.D., leads to high crime, housing costs

The boom in oil production in Williams County, N.D., has resulted in a population increase and an overbooking of the county jail, officials said.

In the 2010 U.S. census, about 14,700 residents lived in Williston, N.D., the seat of Williams County. Today, officials estimate more than 30,000 live in the city and another 50,000 are being served by its infrastructure, the Williston Herald reported Saturday.

The population boom and high-paying oil jobs have led to the highest housing costs in the country.

Apartment Guide said a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Williston costs on average $2,394, the highest in the entire country. That’s even higher than New York City, which is No. 7 on the list, and Los Angeles, which is No. 8.

And from the New York Times, the other drug problem:

Medicines Made in India Set Off Safety Worries

India, the second-largest exporter of over-the-counter and prescription drugs to the United States, is coming under increased scrutiny by American regulators for safety lapses, falsified drug test results and selling fake medicines.

Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, arrived in India this week to express her growing unease with the safety of Indian medicines because of “recent lapses in quality at a handful of pharmaceutical firms.”

India’s pharmaceutical industry supplies 40 percent of over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs consumed in the United States, so the increased scrutiny could have profound implications for American consumers.

F.D.A. investigators are blitzing Indian drug plants, financing the inspections with some of the roughly $300 million in annual fees from generic drug makers collected as part of a 2012 law requiring increased scrutiny of overseas plants. The agency inspected 160 Indian drug plants last year, three times as many as in 2009. The increased scrutiny has led to a flood of new penalties, including half of the warning letters the agency issued last year to drug makers.

Reuters covers a coming cash flow:

Foreign banks bracing for tough U.S. Fed capital rules

Overseas banks look set to win only minor concessions when the Federal Reserve signs off on new capital rules next week, as they become increasingly resigned to the fact that the cost of doing business in the United States will go up.

The Fed, whose board of governors meets on Tuesday, will require overseas banks to hold as much capital in the United States as their local rivals.

The reform is designed to address concerns that U.S. taxpayers will need to foot the bill if European and Asian regulators treat U.S. subsidiaries with low priority if they need to rescue one of their banks.

Foreign banks with sizeable operations on Wall Street such as Deutsche Bank and Barclays have pushed back hard against the plan because it means they will need to transfer costly capital from Europe.

On to Canada and a familiar neocon ploy from the National Post:

Fair Elections Act sure to deprive Canadians of voting rights, U.S. experts warn

A participant in the bruising American battle over voting rights warns that Canada is treading on dangerous ground with its proposed electoral reforms.

One of the lawyers who helped strike down the voter ID law in Pennsylvania last month says legislation tabled by the Harper government will inevitably wind up depriving some people of their voting rights.

That’s why any change to voting requirements should be made with the strictest care, in the spirit of achieving more accurate election results, said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Pennsylvania.

That warning comes from a country where voting rights are an especially emotional subject, for obvious historical reasons. Americans know the issue well. And the impact of ID rules has been studied extensively, re-emerging in recent years as a hotly debated partisan issue.

From Jiji Press, anxiety on the agenda:

G-20 to Focus on Uncertainty over Emerging Economies

Finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies are expected to mainly discuss uncertainty over the course of emerging economies at their two-day meeting in Sydney from Feb. 22.

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, also deputy prime minister and financial services minister, regards concerns over emerging economies and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s tapering of its quantitative easing as important issues that the world economy faces.

Since views differ between anxious emerging economies and calm advanced countries, whether the G-20 can hammer out a cooperation framework in a joint statement is a focal point.

Jiji Press again, with another set of talks:

Japan, U.S. to Explore Compromise for TPP Conclusion

At their forthcoming meeting, Akira Amari, Japanese minister in charge of Trans-Pacific Partnership affairs, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman are expected to sound each other out about the possibility of compromise for an agreement in TPP regional free trade talks.

Amari and Froman are set to hold talks in Washington later on Saturday, ahead of a ministerial meeting of 12 TPP countries in Singapore from Feb. 22.

Japan and the United States remain far apart over tariffs on farm products. In their talks in parallel with multilateral TPP negotiations, Japan is insisting on keeping its tariffs on five key product categories including rice.

And the post-meet update, also from Jiji Press:

Japan, U.S. Fail to Strike Tariff Deal

Japanese and U.S. trade ministers remained apart over tariff issues particularly in the agricultural sector in their talks Saturday linked with multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

Emerging from the talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Washington, which lasted two and a half hours, Akira Amari, Japanese minister in charge of TPP negotiations for regional trade liberalization, told reporters that the two “agreed on the importance of reducing differences in their stances” over the issues.

The Japanese and U.S. sides discussed ways to abolish import duties on individual trading items including agricultural products but “did not reach any numerical agreement,” Amari said.

Toward the upcoming TPP ministerial meeting in Singapore from Feb. 22, the Japanese and U.S. governments will hold working-level talks to narrow the gap, he added.

On to Britain and a disaster update from The Guardian:

UK floods: 5,000 more troops on standby as water continues to rise

  • Storms ease but severe flood warnings remain in place along Thames and in Somerset, where pumping work continues

An extra 5,000 troops are on standby to support communities hit by flooding, it was announced on Sunday, as the government faced calls for a halt to home building on flood plains.

Large swaths of the UK remain on high alert with severe flood warnings still in place along the Thames and in Somerset where water levels continue to rise despite a respite from the storms.

Defence secretary Philip Hammond said 3,000 troops were currently deployed, and another 5,000 were available. He admitted the armed forces could have been despatched earlier to help.

The London Telegraph tracks a decline:

Downward mobility: Lucy Mangan on the fall of the middle class

The middle classes are being squeezed and stripped – of jobs, income and security – like never before. Lucy Mangan reports on ‘a profound psychological shift in the nation’s heartland’

How to complain about house prices, mortgages and pensions without being accused of being a middle-class whinger? Well, I may be just that, but my worries – and those of millions like me – are very real and need to be heard: they represent a profound psychological shift in the nation’s heartland.

Today the middle classes are being squeezed and stripped – of jobs, income and security – like never before. The landscape ahead has been laid bare by the winds of social, political and technological change. I hardly needed Alan Milburn’s recent report on social mobility, which revealed that for the first time in history middle-class children are likely to end up poorer than their parents, to start worrying about how my son is going to survive out there.

A dis from The Observer:

It’ll take a miracle to restore Barclays’s wrecked reputation now

  • Antony Jenkins may have tried to do the right thing at Barclays by waiving his own payout, but even the bonus-hungry City is shocked by the bankers’ shameful behaviour

What a difference a year makes. Antony Jenkins was applauded by the City 12 months ago when he set out his strategy for turning Barclays into the “go to” bank by restricting costs and rooting out the bad apples in the investment banking arm.

Remember, it was barely six months after the Libor crisis had shaken Barclays to its core and forced out its top management, including Jenkins’s predecessor, Bob Diamond. Jenkins had said enough to push the bank’s share price up 9% by the end of the day.

Such was his status as the antithesis to Diamond – who was dubbed the “unacceptable face of banking” by Lord Mandelson – that Jenkins ended 2013 with the honour of guest editing the BBC’s flagship Today programme. His halo was given a rub when Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who also featured in the New Year’s Eve radio show, supported Jenkins’s attempt to clean up Barclays’s act.

Last week the applause stopped. Even though Jenkins had personally tried to do the right thing by waiving his own bonus for 2013 – potentially as much as £2.7m – he stunned even the City with his failure to explain why the bank was paying out 10% more in bonuses in a year when profits collapsed by 32%. The boost was even harder to stomach in the investment bank, once better known as BarCap, where the bonus pot was up 13%, despite the unit reporting losses in the final quarter of the year.

The Financial Express wields the job ax:

Indian-origin ‘chicken king’ may cut thousands of UK jobs

British Indian businessman Ranji Boparan, known as the “chicken king”, is set to axe around 1,800 jobs in the UK as part of a major restructuring of his food business empire.

The Birmingham-based tycoon, known as the “chicken king” for his mega poultry-focused business ‘2 Sisters’, is planning to shut two sites and cut jobs to rein in costs.

The company is one of the largest suppliers of poultry and meat to supermarkets and fast-food chains in the UK. The 47-year-old Boparan’s empire now includes ready meals, pizzas, frozen vegetables and biscuits, and he has 24,000 employees at 50 factories.

The Guardian hints of deflation in the making:

Inflation expected to fall below Bank of England’s 2% target

  • Anticipated drop to 1.9% will mark the first time inflation has fallen below the target since November 2009

Inflation is expected to have fallen below the Bank of England’s 2% target for the first time in more than four years in January thanks to retailers slashing prices and lower fuel costs.

Many economists believe official figures on Tuesday will reveal a fall in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) to 1.9% last month from 2% in December, which will mark the first time inflation has dropped below the target since November 2009.

It follows last month’s aggressive discounting by food and general merchandise retailers, with high streets seeing widespread deflation. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said shop prices fell at their fastest rate last month, falling by 1% against a 0.8% drop in December.

BBC News bubbles away:

Mark Carney says UK housing market in widespread recovery

Bank of England governor Mark Carney says the UK housing market is generally recovering.

Mr Carney told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that, looking at the UK as a whole, “we are now seeing house prices begin to recover, so it is a more generalised phenomenon”.

He said the only area where prices had not picked up was Northern Ireland. He also said there was little the bank could do to cool the London market, where prices were rising far faster.

Prices in London are rising by about 10% a year, but Mr Carney said a change in interest rate policy – not on the cards in any case until the recovery is well established – would not cool the market as a significant number of properties were bought without a mortgage.

Sky News casts doubt:

Independent Scotland EU Bid ‘Almost Impossible’

The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s comments have been labelled “preposterous” and “ridiculous” by the SNP.

An independent Scotland joining the European Union would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible”, according to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Barroso said if the country voted for independence in a referendum on September 18 it would have to apply for membership and get its bid approved by all current member states.

The Scottish government has said the country would try to gain membership within 18 months of a yes vote. But Mr Barroso suggested this could run into difficulties. “We have seen Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

On to Sweden with TheLocal.se and one xenophobia casualties:

Evicted migrants in serious bus crash

A bus carrying 43 Romanian migrants back to Bucharest crashed in the early hours of Sunday morning in southern Sweden, after they had been evicted from a shanty town in Stockholm.

The accident took place in Alvesta when the bus veered off the national highway 27 shortly after midnight. One person, understood to be the bus driver, was seriously injured and spent the night in a local hospital although his injuries are not considered life threatening.

“It is very, very slippery on the roads in this area. It is completely icy which may have been a cause of the accident,” local policeman Percy Nilsson told the Expressen newspaper.

The other passengers spent the night in a hotel where a spokesperson said they were in shock following the crash.

Finland next and a blotted escutcheon from New Europe:

Finland’s record of transparency blemished by increasing corruption cases

Finland, a Nordic country that has been a model in the world in combating corruption, has witnessed an increase of suspected business related crimes in the past few years.

According to a fresh police report quoted by the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle, alleged economic crimes have more than doubled over the past six years, from 91 cases in 2009 to 204 in 2013.

The increase was almost entirely due to a rise in cases involving the abuse of authority, which number has doubled since 2012.

Erkki Laukkanen, chief of Transparency International Finland, said the public-private partnerships are “far from transparency, and much more open to corruption.”

On to Amsterdam and expectations unfulfilled from DutchNews.nl:

Cuts and tax rises have an adverse effect on the treasury

Cuts to healthcare benefits in 2012 did not give the government the savings it expected, the national auditor says in a report published on Friday.

The benefits bill shrank by just €98m, while the government expected to save €600m. The €502m shortfall added 0.08% to GDP, says the national auditor, quoted by news agency ANP.

Although the number of households claiming healthcare benefits of up to around €70 a month per person did fall, the average cost per household was up €8. The government was expecting a drop of €50.

The national auditor says the cabinet gave ‘limited’ information to parliament about the shortfall and must keep parliament fully informed about the effects of all the cuts.

On to Switzerland with The Guardian:

Swiss vote on immigration boosts far-right parties through rest of Europe

  • In Austria, the Freedom party, once led by Jörg Haider, has seen a rise in working-class votes

When Christian Ragger heard that the Swiss had voted to cap immigration into their country in a referendum last weekend, he was “deeply impressed”, he says. “All over the world, immigration is protected [from being limited]. It required a special courage to vote in that way. This was a typically democratic Swiss action.”

Ragger heads the local branch of the Austrian Freedom party (FPÖ) in its mountainous stronghold of Carinthia, in the south of the country. Once led by the flamboyant Jörg Haider, the FPÖ has been called everything from populist to neo-Nazi, yet it would be hard to imagine anyone less like the stereotype of a bull-necked, red-faced Alpine far right-winger than the FPÖ’s trim and cosmopolitan young leader.

TheLocal.ch rejects:

Bern rejects Croat free labour access deal

Switzerland has declined to sign a deal opening labour market access to Croatians, a week after a vote to curb immigration from the EU, the justice department said Saturday.

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga called Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic to inform her that Bern would not be able to sign a bilateral accord extending the right of free access to Switzerland for EU citizens to the bloc’s newest member state “in its current form,” a ministry spokesman said.

Sommaruga had also informed Brussels that the deal would need to be re-examined, spokesman Philippe Schwander told AFP, adding that the minister had stressed she was seeking a “solution” to ensure Croatians were not discriminated against.

Spain next and a worried take from RT:

EU ‘very concerned’ by Spanish police use of rubber bullets to deter migrants

The European Commission wants Spain to account for the drowning of 13 migrants who recently failed to swim to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa. Spain earlier admitted that rubber bullets were fired at them, but claimed no one was injured.

“The commission will be requesting explanations from the Spanish authorities on these events,” EU Home Affairs spokesperson Michele Cercone said, adding that the commission has a right to act if there’s evidence that a member state has violated EU laws.

On Thursday, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz admitted that local border police, in an effort to turn back around 200 migrants who tried to cross the frontier between Morocco and Spain’s Ceuta on February 6, had indeed fired rubber bullets at them.

While some tried to cross on land, at least thirteen migrants drowned in the Mediterranean trying to swim around a man-made breakwater that separates Moroccan and Spanish waters. Spanish police say they are still searching for more victims.

More from TheLocal.es:

Calls for Spain to end migrant ‘violent’ abuse

A group of Moroccan NGOs has called on Spain and Morocco to end “widespread violence” against illegal immigrants, in a letter to Spain’s ambassador, after 12 people drowned trying to cross their common border.

“We are deeply concerned to see the close cooperation between Spain and Morocco on border control today resulting in… widespread violence against migrants and security practices outside of any legal framework,” the eight NGOs said in the open letter seen by AFP on Friday.

“We ask you to intervene urgently with your government to put an end to these practices,” said the group, with included the Moroccan branch of Caritas and migrant support group GADEM.

A deflation alert from El País:

Inflation at lowest level in over 50 years

  • Consumer price index up annual 0.2 percent in January

Inflation in Spain in the first month of the year was at its lowest level on record reflecting the ongoing weakness of domestic demand due to high unemployment and falling wages. The National Statistics Institute (INE) on Friday confirmed earlier flash estimates that the consumer price index fell 1.3 percent in January from December as the annual rate slowed from 0.3 percent to 0.2 percent, the lowest level since the INE began compiling the current series in 1961.

Spain pulled out of recession in the third quarter of last year but the contribution of domestic demand to GDP remaining negative.

Annual inflation has now remained under 0.5 percent for the past five months and is well below the euro-zone average in January of 0.7 percent. Analysts have expressed fears of deflation taking a hold on the euro-zone economy as it did in Japan for over a decade. The ECB’s medium-term target for inflation is close to but below 2 percent.

TheLocal.es protests:

Coke staff stage protest over plant closures

Thousands took to the streets in Madrid on Saturday in protest at the closure of four bottling plants of US soft-drink giant Coca-Cola that would affect 1,250 workers.

Demonstrators, some coming from other Spanish cities, carried banners condemning the layoffs and calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, the multinational’s only bottling company in Spain, said at the end of January the closures were needed to improve efficiency. But workers argue the layoffs are unjustified since the company is making a profit.

Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, which currently has 4,000 employees on its books, was founded last year by merging the seven bottling companies in Spain
owned by the US brand. Under the restructuring plan, four of the 11 plants in Spain — Fuenlabrada near Madrid, Palma, Oviedo and Alicante — will close.

Of the affected 1,250 jobs, 750 will be axed and 500 relocated to other plants.

El País dings a biggie:

Cabinet approves “Google tax” on use of copyrighted material

  • Measure included in reform of Intellectual Property Law

The Spanish Cabinet on Friday approved a draft reform of the Intellectual Property Law, which includes a so-called “Google tax” on the use of fragments of “information, opinion and entertainment” grouped together, for example, on search engines.

Presented by Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Education and Culture Minister José Ignacio Wert, the reform allows the reproduction of such “non-significant fragments” without prior authorization but requires the payment of “equitable compensation” for doing so, Wert explained. Prior authorization will still be required for the use of photographs. Such a tax already exists in Germany and France.

Wert did not say how “non-significant fragments” would be defined nor how much compensation would be involved.

thinkSPAIN cuts corners:

Judge accuses ADIF rail board of ‘putting profits before lives’ in light of Galicia crash

A JUDGE investigating the devastating train crash just outside Santiago de Compostela last July in which 79 passengers died has slammed the rail board for ‘putting profits before lives’.

According to a court report, the Administrator of Rail Infrastructures (ADIF) decided not to put in place the European-standard ERTMS braking system which automatically slows a train down when it is exceeding the speed limit, instead using the older ASFA system which does not warn the driver when the high-speed AVE line with a limit of 200 kilometres per hour switches to the regional line, where the speed limit is 80 kilometres per hour.

The report says this decision was purely financial and went against the duty of care the rail board has towards its passengers, and questions whether it could be considered ‘suspected criminal behaviour’.

Medical tourism fears from El País:

Government warned Euro-healthcare scheme will lead to longer waiting lists

  • Officials consider possibility that Spain could become a cheap option for other countries

Spanish patients, like all Europeans, will now be able now choose which EU country to seek treatment in. The Cabinet last week approved a decree that implements an EU directive on cross-border healthcare. Under the system, patients will advance the money for their treatment abroad, but can request a reimbursement from their own country.

The directive aims to go one step beyond the emergency treatment already covered by the European Health Card and let patients choose another member state for specific, non-emergency treatment.

But the initiative has raised questions, such as how many Spaniards will want to get surgery abroad. And how many foreigners will come to Spain for healthcare? Uppermost among people’s concerns is how reimbursement will take place. While some issues are already clear to the Health Ministry, others will have to be decided by the regions.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga reincarnation from The Independent:

Silvio Berlusconi’s back… to broker voting reform: Italy’s new PM Matteo Renzi to do a deal with his predecessor

Italy’s head of state President Giorgio Napolitano yesterday set in train his third prime ministerial appointment in less than three years. His most conspicuous meeting was not, however, with soon-to-be premier Matteo Renzi, but with the disgraced tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who appears to be enjoying yet another unlikely political revival.

Pundits are predicting that the centrist Mr Renzi, dubbed “Italy’s Tony Blair”, could be sworn in as soon as Tuesday. In addition to reviving Italy’s moribund economy the 39-year-old has promised to make a radical overhaul of its flawed electoral and political system his priority, to prevent hung parliaments of the type Italy currently labours under.

But to get a deal on electoral reform through parliament, Mr Renzi is, to the horror of many in his centre-left Democratic Party, doing a deal with convicted tax fraud Berlusconi. Berlusconi, as a convicted criminal, has been expelled from parliament, but still leads the biggest centre-right grouping, Forza Italia.

Reuters issues the call:

President summons center-left’s Renzi as Italy seeks new government

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano summoned Matteo Renzi to a meeting on Monday at which he is expected to ask the center-left leader to form a government that must overhaul one of the most troubled economies in the euro zone.

Napolitano is likely to ask the slick-talking mayor of Florence to form the country’s 65th government since World War Two in the meeting, which a statement from the president’s office said was scheduled for 10.30 a.m. (0930 GMT) in Rome.

Enrico Letta resigned as prime minister on Friday after his Democratic Party (PD) forced him to make way for Renzi, 39, who is promising radical reforms to the euro zone’s third-biggest economy and a government that can survive until 2018.

Renzi would become the youngest prime minister in Italian history.

Renzi would be Italy’s youngest ever prime minister if his bid succeeds and has promised a radical programme of reforms to combat rampant unemployment, boost growth and slash the costs of Italy’s weighty bureaucratic machine. Opinion polls show Renzi enjoys high popularity ratings, mainly because as someone with no experience in national government or parliament he is seen as a welcome breath of fresh air in Italy’s discredited political system.

An uptick from the Associated Press:

Moody’s upgrades outlook for Italy’s govt bonds

Moody’s Investors Service on Friday raised the outlook on Italy’s government bond rating to stable from negative, citing improved financial strength in the European country.

It reaffirmed Italy’s bond rating at Baa2, its second-lowest investment grade, and its Prime-2 debt ratings, which is considered a moderate credit risk.

The rating agency said that it expects the government’s debt-to-gross domestic product ratio to level off in 2014 as economic growth modestly resumes. It pointed to Italy’s strong government bond market, which is one of the largest in Europe, as an indicator of strength.

Moody’s also said that that the government’s balance sheet is looking less risky, citing lower risks tied to its banking sector as the capitalization in that sector has stabilized.

And next, Bosnia. Via New Europe:

Angry protesters want new government of experts

On 10 February, thousands protested in a dozen Bosnian cities to demand that politicians be replaced by non-partisan experts who can better address the nearly 40% unemployment and rampant corruption, AP reported.

It was the sixth day of the worst unrest the Balkan country has seen since the end of the 1991-95 Bosnian war, which killed 100,000.

The peace deal that ended the war created a complex political system in which more than 150 ministries govern Bosnia’s four million people. Corruption is widespread and high taxes eat away at paychecks. One in five Bosnian lives below the poverty line. Svjetlana Nedimovic, an unemployed political scientist, accused the European Union — whose 28 foreign ministers were discussing Bosnia on Monday — of turning its back on her country even as it supports protesters in Ukraine.

After the jump, the latest chaos in Greece, Ukrainian stalemate, Turkish judicial independence constrained, neoserfdom in the Gulf, a Cuban cutoff, drought and violence in Brazil, Venzuelan protests, Mexican vigilantes, Chinese lending [and bad loans] hit a peak, hot money flight in Manilla, Japanese tax cuts and investments, a radioactive leak in New Mexico, childhood toxins, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

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


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

Germany to Beef Up Spy Defenses Against Allies: Report

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

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

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

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

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

German Response on NSA Spying Scandal

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

NSA reform stalls in committee

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

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

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

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

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

And from The Guardian, the latest Snowden revelation:

Australia spied on Indonesia talks with US law firm in 2013

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

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

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

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

And the response from Down Under via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australia says spying “for the benefit of our friends”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia: Australia and US need to clean up their mess

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

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

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

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

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

And the result, again from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another American endorsement from Kyodo News:

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

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

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

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

Want China Times covers Chinese anxiety:

Beijing slams US Navy official for ‘aiding Philippines’ remarks

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

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

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

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

And a demand from the China Post:

Kerry presses China to ease Internet controls

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

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

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

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

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

Please, send us to a Norwegian prison. Now!


You’ll see why such a fate could be appealing to, say, an unemployed member of a dying vocation like, say, journalism, in this clip from RT:

Sing Sing: Norway jail with music studio, cooking classes

Program notes:

In Norway some criminals may loose their right to freedom but not jogging trails, salmon steaks and flat-screen televisions. 252 million dollars in the making of one jail resting in a tranquil forest place law-breakers in conditions many would consider a blessing rather than a punishment. RT’s Egor Piskunov reports.

Beautiful French images lead to drone bust


First, the story from TheLocal.fr:

A French teenager was flying high after an aerial video he shot of his hometown using a small drone went wild on social media. But he’s since been brought back down to earth. In a landmark case prosecutors charged him with “endangering people’s lives.”

“Nancy seen from the air” (Nancy vu du ciel) a stunning short film put together by 18-year-old Nans Thomas quickly racked up some 400,000 views in a matter of days after it was posted on the online video sharing site Vimeo.

The beautiful images of spires, churches and plazas of the historic north-eastern French town were captured in a unique way by attaching a go-pro camera to a drone.

At one point the video was reportedly even hosted on the social interactive site of the regional council of Lorraine.

But unfortunately for the teenager the success also caught the eye of French civil aviation authorities, who ordered an investigation, TF1 TV reported. It turns out the teenager violated two key provisions of the law according to Nancy’s top prosecutor Thomas Pison.

Read the rest.

His two violations? Lacking formal pilot-level training and failing to secure a permit for his flights.

And the video, from Blasky:

Nancy vu du ciel

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


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

We open with some numbers from PCWorld:

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

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

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

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

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

Threat Level covers the loathesome:

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

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

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

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

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

And from The Guardian, yet another challenge raised:

Rights groups begin UK court challenge over mass surveillance

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

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

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

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

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

And one more step contemplated from the European Parliament:

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

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

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

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

A bemused response from RT:

Former German chancellor surprised that NSA continued to spy on Merkel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And another German tale from TheLocal.de:

Child porn scandal: Minister quits over leak

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

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

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

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

The Daily Dot outsources:

NSA seeking private company to store its massive collection of metadata

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

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

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

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

And from Defense One, how Tweet it is:

Secret Military Contractors Will Soon Mine Your Tweets

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

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

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

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

And a case of security enhanced from MercoPress:

Colombian peace process makes headway before presidential elections

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

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

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

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

SuperCable: The latest from Taiwanese Animators


Yep, their latest says it all about the latest media consolidation and what it means for folks like thee and we.

From Taiwanese Animators:

Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger sucks for consumers

Program notes:

Comcast Corp. has made it public that is agreed to acquire Time Warner Cable Inc. for around $45.2 billion in stock, or $158.82 per share, in a deal that would join the countries top two cable TV companies.

The merger will make Comcast a huge force in the market in terms of both creating and delivering entertainment into American homes. The merger was approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

The deal comes after Time Warner Cable just turned down a $60bn bid from Charter Communications last month. The merger will most likely face scrutiny from US regulators, but probably not enough to stop the deal from going through.

Comcast already has 22 million subscribers, while Time Warner Cable has 11 million. The new company will have more than 30 million subscribers when the merger is finished. Comcast is arguing that because Time Warner Cable serve different markets, the merger will not reduce competition for consumers.

Comcast is centered mainly in the northeast. Its bigger markets are Philadelphia, Boston, Washington and Chicago. Time Warner Cable is centered around New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Milwaukee.

In many areas, the cable company will face competition from AT&T and Verizon.

The merger would give Comcast unprecedented gatekeeper power in several markets, turning it into the bully in the schoolyard and enabling it to put the squeeze on content companies.

The biggest winners will of course be the US consumer who will face higher prices, weak Wi-Fi signals and slow data speeds. Sounds like a win-win situation. No?

David Simon: The political game is bankrupt


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.

Headlines of the day II: MegaloEconoPoliFuku


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.

CNBC frets:

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).

United Press International sues:

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.

Reuters ponders:

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.

EUbusiness divides:

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.

TheLocal.it inhales:

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

Headlines of the day I : EspioLegoPoliManiacs


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

Our first headline comes from Al Jazeera America:

Report: Democratic countries curbing press freedoms in name of security

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

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

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

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

From the report:

BLOG Press freedom

More from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The risk of reporting US drone strikes

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

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

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

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

From EnetEnglish.gr, another journalist jailed:

Police detain journalist for divulging ‘military secrets’

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

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

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

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

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

More journalistic woes from Mashable:

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

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

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

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

From EurActiv, a friend of The Guardian:

Media freedom watchdog defends the Guardian against government pressure

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

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

Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.

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

And from euronews, when “liberals” meet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congressional trio criticise James Cole’s NSA testimony as misleading

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

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

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

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

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

From the New York Times, making excuses:

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily Dot makes an exit:

NSA employee resigns after admitting he gave Snowden access

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

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

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

From The Hill, the Aqua Buddha acolyte acts:

Paul sues Obama over NSA spying

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

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian, no taps for the NSA?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA headquarters could go dark if bill passes in Maryland

Program notes:

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

The Hill raises another legal issue:

NSA operating outside the law, panelist says

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

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

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

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

Backtracking, via The Guardian:

Edward Snowden asylum demand dropped by European parliament

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

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

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

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

And the result, via EUobserver:

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

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

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

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

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

The Guardian views Snowden from Down Under:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowden: Danes should question government about NSA surveillance

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

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

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

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

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

‘Interrogate Assange in London’: lawyers

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

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

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

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

Drone scandal costs another €200 million

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

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

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

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

And from RT, class war declared:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video report: Rallying for compassionate politics


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.

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


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

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

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

  • Alongside demonstrations in 15 countries, thousands contact congresspeople and take online action supporting privacy rights

Tens of thousands of people and organisations were participating in a protest against the NSA’s mass surveillance on Tuesday, bombarding members of Congress with phone calls and emails and holding demonstrations across the globe.

Dubbed “The day we fight back”, the action saw scores of websites, including Reddit, BoingBoing and Mozilla host a widget inviting users to pressure elected officials.

The online demonstration saw more than 18,000 calls placed and 50,000 emails sent to US congressmen and women by midday Tuesday. Physical protests were planned in 15 countries.

“The goal of the day we fight back is to stop mass surveillance by intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency,” said Rainey Reitman, activism director at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which helped organise the events.

And a report from RT America:

‘Day We Fight Back’ takes on NSA

Program notes:

It was declared ‘The Day We Fight Back’. Internet companies and activists around the world had an international day of protest on February 11th. Over 5,700 websites changed their homepages to demand the National Security Agency stop its massive surveillance efforts. On Capitol Hill, representatives from privacy groups, religious institutions NS Congressman Rush Holt came together to talk about the issue of NSA spying. RT correspondent Meghan Lopez was there and brings us more.

Meanwhile, from TheLocal.fr, Barry O has a new BFF:

France and US reconcile over NSA spying scandal

On the occasion of President François Hollande’s visit to the US, he and American President Barack Obama said on Tuesday they have settled differences over digital spying efforts revealed by leaker Edward Snowden.

French President Francois Hollande, speaking alongside his US counterpart Barack Obama, said Tuesday that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

Leaders from many US allies, including Germany’s Chancellor Angel Merkel, were angered by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s revelation that the United States monitors their telephone calls. But it is not known if Hollande’s own telephone was tapped, and France has been more cautious in its critique, emphasizing the importance of its intelligence cooperation with Washington.

“We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles. And we are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored,” Hollande said.

More from the Associated Press:

Obama: No country where we have no-spy agreement

President Barack Obama says there is no country with which the United States has “a no-spy agreement.” But he says the United States endeavors to protect privacy rights as it collects foreign intelligence.

Obama says the United States and its allies remain concerned about specific potential terrorist networks that could attack and kill innocent people. He says the U.S. will have to maintain a robust intelligence gathering effort, but says it will respect privacy.

Obama made his remarks during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande.

The Guardian carries a call for debate:

Ed Miliband calls for US-style debate over Britain’s intelligence agencies

  • Labour leader calls for examination of oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 in wake of Edward Snowden leaks

A major overhaul of the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, which could lead to an opposition politician chairing parliament’s intelligence and security committee and reform of the intelligence commissioners, needs to be introduced, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader praised Barack Obama for starting an “important debate” in the US – after the White House appointed a panel in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks – and called for a similar debate in Britain.

In some of his most extensive comments on the NSA leaks, Miliband told a Guardian audience that reforming the oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was “definitely” part of his campaign to challenge “unaccountable power”.

From the Greens/European Free Alliance office of the European Parliament, the latest on the instigator of Spookgate 2013-2014:

Snowden confirms wish to address MEPs; EP must take into account

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has confirmed in writing that he is prepared to answer questions from the European Parliament’s inquiry into the revelations of mass surveillance by intelligence services. He will at least respond in writing, possibly also via a recorded video message. The Greens welcomed the confirmation and insisted that the EP must immediately move to facilitate this, with Green justice and home affairs spokesperson Jan Philipp Albrecht stating:

“The confirmation that Edward Snowden is willing to answer questions in the context of the EP’s inquiry is a significant and positive development. To conclude the inquiry without testimony from its key witness would render the process clearly incomplete. We would urge those centre-right MEPs that have hitherto resisted giving Snowden a hearing to drop their resistance. We will request an additional, extraordinary meeting of the EP inquiry before a vote is taken on its final report, with a view to ensuring the testimony can be taken into account.

“It is clear that Edward Snowden will only be able to give us comprehensive information if he can be guaranteed a safe stay in Europe for a later in-depth testimony. Next week, the EP’s civil liberties committee will decide if the European Parliament will call on EU governments to grant such protection. The Greens have pushed for this and continue to urge all political groups to support the move.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau hits a roadblock:

Americans find swift stonewall on whether NSA vacuumed their data

Since last year’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s massive communications data dragnets, the spy agency has been inundated with requests from Americans and others wanting to know if it has files on them. All of them are being turned down .

The denials illustrate the bind in which the disclosures have trapped the Obama administration. While it has pledged to provide greater transparency about the NSA’s communications collections, the NSA says it cannot respond to individuals’ requests without tipping off terrorists and other targets.

As a result, Americans whose email and telephone data may have been improperly vacuumed up have no way of finding that out by filing open records requests with the agency. Six McClatchy reporters who filed requests seeking any information kept by the NSA on them all received the same response.

Reuters probes:

Democrats seek probe of U.S. contractor for security checks

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sought an investigation of the largest U.S. government contractor for security checks, saying it received huge bonuses during the time it is accused of bilking the government of millions of dollars.

Representative Elijah Cummings said a congressional report found United States Investigations Services “adopted aggressive new financial incentives to accelerate its work” in 2007 and took shortcuts in its review of background checks while charging the federal government for the full service.

The company, the largest private provider of security checks for the government, was accused in a Justice Department lawsuit last month of bilking the government of millions of dollars through improper background checks.

The contractor also received millions of dollars in bonuses from the Office of Personnel Management, including $2.4 million in 2008, $3.5 million in 2009 and $5.8 million in 2010, said Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform committee.

And a video report from RT:

Firm that conducted Snowden background check accused of fraud, Microsoft’s Sino-censoring search engine, literary censorship in India, and a security threat averted by some toy-grabbing zealots. . . Continue reading

Headline of the day II: EconoAggroGrecoCrises


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

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


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

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliAsianWoes


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

Headlines of the day: Spools, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compilation of headlines from the realms of espionage, militarism, and territorial ambitions with the latest Edward Snowden leal form the New York Times:

Snowden Used Low-Cost Tool to Best N.S.A.

Intelligence officials investigating how Edward J. Snowden gained access to a huge trove of the country’s most highly classified documents say they have determined that he used inexpensive and widely available software to “scrape” the National Security Agency’s networks, and kept at it even after he was briefly challenged by agency officials.

Using “web crawler” software designed to search, index and back up a website, Mr. Snowden “scraped data out of our systems” while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official. “We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” the official said. The process, he added, was “quite automated.”

The findings are striking because the N.S.A.’s mission includes protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence computer systems from cyberattacks, especially the sophisticated attacks that emanate from Russia and China. Mr. Snowden’s “insider attack,” by contrast, was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found.

Moreover, Mr. Snowden succeeded nearly three years after the WikiLeaks disclosures, in which military and State Department files, of far less sensitivity, were taken using similar techniques.

On to the Emerald Isle and an Irish Times claim of sensitive bugging beyond the ken of  Minister for Justice Alan Shatter [or so he says]:

Bugging found at offices of Garda complaints watchdog

  • Government not informed, Shatter yet to comment on controversy

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates complaints made against Garda members, has found evidence that its discussions, telephone calls and emails had been hacked by an unidentified source.

The discovery was made last year when the organisation carried out a sweep of its offices using a UK-based private contractor that specialises in counter surveillance. Since then, security has been improved in Gsoc including the establishment of a dedicated meeting room that cannot be bugged.

The sweep of Gsoc’s offices in Middle Abbey St in Dublin’s north inner city found a speaker phone in a conference room where cases were discussed was bugged. There was no physical bugging device in the phone, though a check on the line revealed it had been electronically monitored in a way that enabled a third party to listen in to conversations being conducted in the room and on the phone in question.

The UK security consultants that carried out the inspection on behalf of Gsoc also concluded that the office’s wi-fi system had been compromised from outside the building.

From BBC News, a security struggle south of the border:

Mexico vigilantes enter Knights Templar cartel stronghold

  • Vigilantes checkpoint in Apatzingan The vigilantes say they will only rest when the Knights Templar leaders are in jail

Vigilante groups in the troubled Mexican state of Michoacan have entered a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel, occupying the main square.

Hundreds of vigilantes, backed up by armoured vehicles and troops, arrived in Apatzingan on Saturday.

They have also set up roadblocks around the city, in western Mexico.

The cartel controls much of the drug trafficking in the area, carrying out killings and kidnappings and extorting money from local people.

Vigilante leaders, who have joined the official security forces, and the army have been searching house by house for leaders of the Knights Templar.

On to Asia for the latest round of zone, militarism, historical, and political crises, starting with a turndown from Kyodo News:

N. Korea cancels invitation for U.S. envoy over release of missionary

North Korea has backed off on its decision to allow a U.S. special envoy to visit in connection with a Korean-American missionary imprisoned in the North, sources familiar with relations between the two countries said Sunday.

The latest move came after North Korea on Wednesday made known its approval of the visit by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, through its mission to the United Nations known as the “New York channel.” The North’s about-face means hopes are receding that it will respond to calls by Washington to release the missionary, Kenneth Bae.

The U.S. side, which has repeatedly reached out to the North on dispatching King, had been making the final arrangements to send King to the North in the coming days after Pyongyang notified Washington of its initial approval, the sources said.

South China Morning Post tries to settle up:

Manila to offer ‘generous’ payout over bus tragedy

  • But latest effort to settle bus tragedy row fails to impress victims

Manila hopes to settle the diplomatic rift between Manila and Hong Kong over the 2010 hostage bloodbath with a “generous” compensation payout, Philippine media reported yesterday.

But the initial reaction from survivors was one of fury that they were being offered money instead of an apology.

It comes just days after the city imposed its first sanction against a foreign state – cancelling visa-free arrangements for Philippine officials and diplomatic passport holders.

The news also coincides with a report in the mainland Southern Metropolis Daily in which Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said it was “regrettable” he had not been able to come to Hong Kong to offer a formal apology as promised, blaming pressure from Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

People’s Daily prepares:

PLA Navy conducts confrontation training in Indian Ocean, the Pacific

  • The taskforce, composed of an amphibious dock landing ship and two guided missile destroyers, as well as three helicopters and an airboat, is scheduled to cross the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait, and the Makassar Strait during the training which started on Jan. 20, 2014.

South China Morning Post has a trial run:

Rescue of blazing boat by frigate seen as PLA statement in East China Sea

  • Swift action by PLA Navy – after Japanese had offered to assist burning Zhejiang fishing boat – seen as sign of its readiness in East China Sea

A naval frigate came to the rescue of a Zhejiang fishing boat on fire near disputed waters in the East China Sea, shedding light on the People’s Liberation Army’s readiness to deploy in the region amid the simmering territorial spat with Japan.

The missile frigate Zhoushan sailed at high speed for 3½ hours to reach the burning boat late on Friday, 280 kilometres west-northwest of Amami-Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture.

It arrived ahead of three Japanese coastguard patrol ships that responded to an earlier request by China for help, according to mainland media and Japan’s Kyodo news agency. Xinhua reported six of the 24 people aboard died in the blaze.

The Guardian condemns:

China accuses US of adding to regional tensions

  • Washington only making things worse by ‘playing up’ South China Sea disputes, says Beijing

An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with China over the South China Sea An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty

China has rejected US allegations it is using vague territorial claims to gradually assert control in the disputed South China Sea and in turn accused Washington of exaggerating tensions in the region.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the US should take a “rational and fair attitude”. Hong reiterated China’s position that its claims are based on history and international law, and said some US officials’ remarks were “playing up tensions”.

The United States said on Wednesday that actions by China had raised concerns it was trying to assert control over an area covering roughly 80% of the South China Sea despite the objections of its neighbours.

The resource-rich waters are dotted with reefs and islands subject to multiple disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

And the Asahi Shimbun has the latest developments in one of the most recent revisionism crises, a strong word from Uncle Sam:

U.S. State Department calls remarks by NHK governor ‘preposterous’

The U.S. State Department described as “preposterous” remarks by a governor for Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) who alleged the Tokyo war crimes trial was designed to cover up U.S. atrocities during World War II.

The writer Naoki Hyakuta made the comments Feb. 3 when he gave speeches on behalf of Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff running for Tokyo governor. The election will be held Feb. 9.

Hyakuta said the U.S. military committed “cruel massacres” by fire-bombing Tokyo and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He went on to say that the Nanking Massacre was brought up in the Tokyo tribunal because the U.S. military wanted to cancel out its own crimes.

He also claimed that the massacre never happened.

The Japan Times lends support:

NHK governors back Abe agenda, minutes reveal

Minutes of a recent NHK board of governors meeting seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan’s news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK’s website, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the Jan. 14 meeting.

One of the four new members favored by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan’s territorial claims on islands at the center of a dispute with China, its wartime history, as well as the problems with the post-World War II U.S.-led Allied tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

“I think there should be room for programs that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with,” said one governor, Naoki Hyakuta, author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another governor, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressedthe need to promote “correct education” for the public.

NHK WORLD promises:

NHK chief vows to uphold fairness, impartiality

NHK’s new President Katsuto Momii says he’s retracting all personal remarks made at his inaugural news conference, and will work to ensure that the public broadcaster fulfills its duty to be impartial, fair and just.

Momii spoke at a session of the Upper House committee on Friday. He was questioned by an opposition lawmaker about remarks he made in late January.

Momii replied that he is truly sorry for not making a distinction between his personal views and his position as NHK president.

He said he would like to retract all he has said on several issues. They include a recently enacted state secrecy law and the so-called comfort women who were recruited to serve in brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War Two.

And The Diplomat casts a skeptical eye:

NHK and Abe’s Agenda

  • Disturbing statements by the new head of Japan’s national broadcaster raise questions about its future role.

The Imperial Japanese army’s system of sexual slavery during World War Two was not wrong judged by the standards of the time. At least not according to the new chairman of NHK, Japan’s giant public broadcaster. Katsuto Momii, recently appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, set off a firestorm last week with remarks dismissing the forcible rape of twenty thousand Asian “comfort women” as morally no worse than the red light district in modern Amsterdam. He described demands to compensate surviving victims as “puzzling.” Momii then announced his belief that NHK’s foreign news coverage should support government policy on controversial issues such as the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute with China.

These comments prompted fierce criticism across East Asia (as did later remarks by NHK governor Naoki Hyakuta denying the Nanking Massacre). Momii’s statements also led to some harsh questioning in the Japanese Diet. Yet Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are standing by their appointee. The episode reveals a deep-seated misogyny within Japan’s ruling elites which casts serious doubt on Abe’s professed commitment to improve the status of women, a key part of the as-yet-undelivered structural reforms essential for the success of Abenomics. Equally troubling, Japan’s most prominent news organization is now headed by someone who, rather than fighting for editorial independence, is openly sympathetic to political influence. If Momii does let NHK’s foreign reporting be guided by the hawkish prime minister, the consequences could be terrible for peaceful relations across East Asia.

Moving on, another network, another history-based crisis from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Russians rally to support TV station

At least 20 people have been detained in Russia for protesting what they believe is overt political pressure on the country’s main independent TV station.

Around 40 people gathered in downtown Moscow on Saturday to protest the decision of leading Russian cable and satellite companies to drop the channel, Dozhd (TV Rain). Protesters gathered near Red Square and opened up umbrellas, playing on the name of the TV station. Except for women with children, most were immediately detained.

Dozhd, which broadcasts on the Internet, cable and satellite channels, stirred controversy in January with a poll about the blockade of Leningrad during World War II.

The Kremlin said the station crossed a moral “red line,” but many have ascribed the pressure to Dozhd’s independent and often critical coverage of the government.

The Mainichi has bugs and drones:

Gov’t to relax weight regulation on drones for pesticide spraying

The government has decided to relax restrictions on the maximum gross weight of unmanned helicopters used to spray pesticides on farms in the hope of increasing the amount of pesticides that can be loaded on one chopper and improving productivity.

The decision came after a panel on reviving primary industries such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded at the end of last year to ease the weight regulations on unmanned helicopters. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the government’s council for regulatory reform then agreed to relax the regulation from less than 100 kilograms to less than 150 kilograms.

The Cabinet is set to approve a revision to the enforcement order of the Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Act in March and aims to put the revised law into effect the following month.

From The Register, a drone apart:

UK claims ‘significant lead’ in drones after Taranis test flight

  • Supersonic Brit stealth drone did the business in 2013 tests

BAE Systems kindly let the world know of the test flight late last week, a mere six months after the fact.

They’re telling us everything went swimmingly and that a Taranis prototype piloted from the ground did so well “ that the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected.”

To be a little less paranoid, it can take rather a while to crunch data that enables an assertion like that above.

The Register again, accessorizing:

Renault unveils mini-SUV equipped with a QUADCOPTER DRONE

  • Target: Hip young Asian ‘trend setters’ – the marketers’ target, not the Flying Companion’s

Visitors to the Delhi Auto Expo motor show are getting the first look at a new concept car from Renault, the Kwid, which features a controllable quadrocopter drone that flies out of the roof.

“This is the first time we have chosen to reveal a concept car outside Europe and this is an eloquent sign of our commitment to India,” said Gilles Normand, chairman of Renault Asia-Pacific in a statement.

“Young customers in India are often trend setters, looking forward to pushing the envelope when it comes to technology and enjoyable drives. Kwid, with its Flying Companion, meets this forward-looking spirit with both its dynamic styling and hyper connectivity.”

From RT, an attempt to kill the messenger?:

Finnish police probe Wikipedia’s donation campaign

Finnish police have asked Wikipedia to reveal details of its donation campaign in the country to determine whether the free online encyclopedia is in breach of Finland’s fundraising laws.

Law enforcement wants to take a look at the encyclopedia’s donation program – which runs globally – as well as the Finnish version of the website, fi.wikipedia.org, according to a police letter posted by Wikimedia.

According to the country’s laws, organizations seeking donations must obtain permission from Finnish police. The measure was introduced to crack down on fraudulent donations drives in the country.

One of the central requirements in the fundraising legislation is that organizations seeking donations must be working in the public interest.

Police are investigating whether Wikipedia’s donation program breaches any of the country’s laws, as the company did not apply for the proper license.

From Deutsche Welle, Turkish censorship:

Saka: ‘Government will decide what violates privacy’

Turkish laws censoring the Internet extend existing policies clamping down on free speech, Istanbul communications instructor Erkan Saka tells DW. Any opposition to Prime Minister Erdogan will be blocked.

Turkey has already blocked more than 40,000 sites. They include child pornography and any kind of porn sites and any sites that are deemed “obscene.” Radical political sites are also banned. With the new law, instead of blocking a whole site – especially social media based sites – the government intends to block particular pages and accounts. It is easy to see that any opposition will be blocked. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proven many, many times that he is not open to even minor criticism.

And for our final item, an Indian lament from Firstpost:

The Whistleblowers act is a joke, but better than no act at all

The primary purpose of any Whistleblowers Bill is to prevent the victimization of individuals who make a disclosure against their organization in public interest. So, naturally the first question that a potential informant will ask is what actions is he/she protected against? What constitutes ‘victimization’? Does it include only suspension and transfer or also indirect forms of retribution like denial of promotion, dilution of powers, withholding increments and adverse remark in the service record?

Against all logic, the Bill provides no definition of ‘victimisation’ even though a comprehensive definition of this term was provided in the Law Commission’s version of the Whistleblowers Bill.

And suppose, in the middle of the most vulnerable and turbulent time of his life, a whistleblower does manage to establish this undefined crime of ‘victimization’, what is the punishment prescribed for the public official in the Bill? Nothing- zero, zilch, nada- despite the recommendation of Administrative Reforms Commission in 2007 that ‘victimization’ should be made a criminal offence with substantial penalty and sentence.

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliSinoFuku


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.

CNBC diversifies:

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

Chris Hedges on class war and crisis cults


The Pulitzer-winning journalist talks with Abby Martin for a two-part conversation on RT’s Breaking the Set.

It’s well worth a listen.

From Breaking The Set:

Chris Hedges Part I: Crisis Cults and the Collapse of Industrial Civilization

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an exclusive interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, concerning areas of extreme poverty that he refers to as ‘sacrifice zones’, as well as the reasons behind the collapse of complex societies.

Chris Hedges Part II: The Military Mind & the Antidote to Defeatism

Program notes:

Abby Martin features Part 2 of her interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Chris Hedges, discussing the unsustainable nature of the economic system, the military mind in solving world problems, and the antidote to defeatism.

And a bonus segment from CNN’s Anderson Cooper featuring a subject of te Martin/Hedges conversation.

From CNN:

Glenn Greenwald: I will definitely come back to the U.S.

Program note:

Snowden reporter Glenn Greenwald promises to return to the U.S. despite threats that he will be criminally charged.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, & judges


We begin today’s collection of posts from the world of espionage, national security, and militarism with a judicial decision from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Secret court approves phone surveillance changes

National intelligence chief James R. Clapper said Thursday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had approved two limits on how the government can use huge volumes of data it collects about Americans’ phone use. . .

Under the first change, Clapper said, the massive caches of phone records can be searched only after a court finds that there is “a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.”

That limitation will be in place “absent a true emergency,” Clapper said without elaboration.

The second change requires that the data query results “be limited within two hops of the selection term instead of three.”

Another country, another decision sure to provoke from El País:

High Court to follow through on arrest warrants against top Chinese officials

  • Former president Jiang Zemin and ex-PM Li Peng wanted for human rights abuses in Tibet

Despite global pressure and objections by prosecutors, the High Court on Thursday said it would go ahead with its international arrest warrants for former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, ex-Prime Minister Li Peng and a host of other officials from China, who are wanted for human rights abuses in Tibet.

The warrants, which were ordered by Judge Ismael Moreno on November 18, are the subject of a diplomatic row between Spain and China in which Beijing has been pressuring the conservative Popular Party (PP) government to step in and block the High Court’s investigation into allegedly genocidal policies applied in Tibet.

Last month, the (PP) filed a bill in Congress to restrict the Spanish judiciary from carrying out international prosecutions based on the universal justice doctrine. The proposed reform to the judicial code has come under fire by the opposition, legal experts and human rights organizations which fear that it will affect future cases involving drug traffickers, child abuse, gender violence and female mutilation.

And yet another judicial finding via Techdirt:

Court Says FBI Agent’s Wrong Checkmark Put Woman On No Fly List, Barred Her From The US For 10 Years

  • from the ouch dept

We’ve been covering the case of Rahinah Ibrahim for a little while now. She’s the Stanford PhD student who was wrongfully placed on the no fly list — something that pretty much everyone admitted early on — but because of that her student visa to the US was pulled, and every attempt she made to come back was rejected, leaving her unable to come back to this country for nearly 10 years. As we noted last month, it seemed clear that Judge William Alsup had ruled that the feds needed to remove her from the no fly list and any other terrorist watch lists, but it was a little unclear, since the full ruling remained under seal. That ruling has now been released in redacted form, and is well worth reading. Not only does it highlight massive bureaucratic bungling over a ten-year period, it also shows how disingenuous and dishonest the DOJ has been in handling the entire case — even to the point of promising not to argue “state secrets” to kill the case, and then (of course) claiming “state secrets” and trying to kill the case just a few weeks later. Judge Alsup appears somewhat limited in what he can do in response to all of this for procedural reasons, but he makes it clear that he’s not pleased about all of this and orders the government to confirm that Ibrahim has been fully removed from the various terrorist databases and lists, as the government has flatly admitted that they don’t believe she poses any threat to national security.

More blowback from that leaked telephonic ambassadorial diatribe from BBC News:

Victoria Nuland gaffe: Angela Merkel condemns EU insult

Germany’s Angela Merkel has said a US official’s apparent insult of the EU’s efforts to mediate in the Ukraine crisis is “totally unacceptable”.

Victoria Nuland has apologised after she referred disparagingly to the EU’s role during a conversation said to be with the US ambassador to Ukraine. A recording of the exchange was posted online, with the US hinting at Russia’s involvement in bugging and leaking it.

The EU and US are involved in talks to end months of unrest in Ukraine. The conversation between Ms Nuland and Mr Pyatt reveals deeper tensions between America and Europe.

Washington seems to prefer a deal brokered by the UN rather than Brussels. If true, that would bruise the feelings of EU officials. They believe this is their crisis to solve.

Today’s comments and accusations are a reminder that this crisis is far from over and that it has the potential to cause division and tension even between allies. In Kiev, Ms Nuland – an assistant secretary of state – said she would not make a public statement on the matter.

Assurances from EUbusiness:

US diplomatic chats safe, State Department says

  • Secret US diplomatic conversations are safe, a top official said Friday, despite the apparent bugging of an American envoy’s phone.

Asked if she was confident about the security of diplomatic communications, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki replied: “Certainly we are.”

“We do indicate and make clear when there are concerns about when information can be tapped. So we’re cognizant of this. We’re aware of this. And we are constantly taking precautions and updating our approach.”

She revealed that data encryption is given to all State Department employees for their government-issued BlackBerry mobile phones.

And a very relevant question from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Post-Snowden, why were U.S. diplomats talking on insecure line?

[H]ere you have two high-ranking American officials – Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt – discussing sensitive matters apparently on an unsecured line, just days after a similar call had been recorded and, embarrassingly, put online.

Nuland, who refused to comment on the specifics of a conversation meant to be private, did note during a news conference Friday in Kiev that the static-free recording “was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was pretty clear.”

But she didn’t address why she was exposing herself to the obvious threat of being recorded. In the wake of the NSA spying scandal, the U.S. administration has repeatedly defended its actions using the line of reasoning: “Everybody does it.”

But if everybody does it, why wasn’t Nuland more careful, especially since it’s pretty well-known that the Russians don’t like her very much?

China Daily has Swiss NSA blowback:

Swatch CEO ticked off about NSA spy scandal

The eccentric chief executive officer of Swatch Group, one of the world’s top watchmakers, was so incensed by recent allegations of mass U.S. spying that he chastised a top New York official over the matter in a letter late last year.

Nick Hayek’s comments seemed odd coming in response to a letter from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who administers the state’s $161 billion pension fund.

DiNapoli had asked Hayek and nine other Olympic sponsors to take a stance against Russia’s recent clampdown on gays ahead of the winter games in Sochi.

Most corporate executives balk at open political conflict. But not the cigar-chomping Hayek. He vigorously defended his Omega subsidiary’s role as a politically neutral timekeeper at the Olympics. And that’s not all. He also gave DiNapoli a dressing down over the spying scandal surrounding the U.S. National Security Agency.

From France, another online governmental mobilization from RFI:

France launches cyberdefence programme

France is to invest a million euros in cyberdefence to combat a mushrooming number of cyberattacks, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on Friday. The country was the target of nearly 800 significant cyberattacks in 2013, he said.

“I want speedy results,” Le Drian declared at the launch of his Cyberdefence Pact 2014-2016 in the Brittany town of Cesson-Sévigné.

There were more than 780 “significant attacks” in 2013, he revealed, up from 420 in 2012, and they are becoming “more and more varied, complex and diffuse”.

So cyberdefence has become one of the top priorities of the French military’s 2014-2019 programme and a budget of about a billion euros will be allocated to it.

And the latest Snowden revelations with an Old Blighty focus from NBC News:

Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’

British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers that include releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into “honey traps.”

Documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and exclusively obtained by NBC News describe techniques developed by a secret British spy unit called the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group (JTRIG) as part of a growing mission to go on offense and attack adversaries ranging from Iran to the hacktivists of Anonymous. According to the documents, which come from presentations prepped in 2010 and 2012 for NSA cyber spy conferences, the agency’s goal was to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

Both PowerPoint presentations describe “Effects” campaigns that are broadly divided into two categories: cyber attacks and propaganda operations. The propaganda campaigns use deception, mass messaging and “pushing stories” via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. JTRIG also uses “false flag” operations, in which British agents carry out online actions that are designed to look like they were performed by one of Britain’s adversaries.

The Wire recalculates:

The NSA’s Phone Metadata Connect-The-Dots Program Only Collects 30 Percent of Calls

Lost in the pre-Christmas blur was an NBC News interview with one of the members of the group President Obama tasked with reviewing the government’s surveillance toolkit. In that interview, Geoffrey Stone suggested that the agency’s metadata collection was deliberately incomplete. “Asked if the NSA was collecting the records of 75 percent of phone calls, an estimate that has been used in briefings to Congress,” NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported, “Stone said the real number was classified but ‘not anything close to that’ and far lower.”

Now The Washington Post puts a number on that: 30 percent.

In 2006, the officials said, the NSA was collecting nearly all records about Americans’ phone calls from a number of U.S. companies under a then-classified program, but as of last summer that share had plummeted to less than 30 percent.

There are a few reasons offered for the gap. One rationale offered from “industry officials” is that the increase in internet-based calling would mean that the NSA loses a significant portion of calls. Stone suggested another reason: culling records from smaller cell phone providers wasn’t “cost effective” for the agency, so it didn’t bother.

And The Guardian looks at another spook shop:

CIA confirms agency obliged to follow federal surveillance law

  • Law concerns financial information and government hacking
  • Motive for question at Senate committee not known

The CIA has confirmed that it is obliged to follow a federal law barring the collection of financial information and hacking into government data networks.

But neither the agency nor its Senate overseers will say what, if any, current, recent or desired activities the law prohibits the CIA from performing – particularly since a section of the law explicitly carves out an exception for “lawfully authorized” intelligence activities.

The murky episode, arising from a public Senate hearing on intelligence last week, illustrates what observers call the frustrations inherent in getting even basic information about secret agencies into public view, a difficulty recently to the fore over whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) and its surveillance partners.

Jeepers! Peepers. From the always hyperbolic London Daily Mail:

The spy who scrubbed me: Russian official lets slip that Sochi hotels have hidden surveillance cameras in the SHOWERS

  • Deputy prime minister: I have seen video from inside cubicles
  • Dmitry Kozak claimed the footage showed journalists sabotaging facilities
  • The chief of Olympic preparations had tried to down play criticism of venue
  • Officials quickly try to backtrack and issue hasty denial

Russia’s Dmitry Kozak, deputy prime minister responsible for Olympic preparation, revealed that authorities have video from hotels showing that people leave the water on.

The astonishing revelations came when Mr Kozak was confronted by journalists about the poor state of facilities around the Olympic Village.

Reuters escalates:

Exclusive: Pentagon to boost missile defense spending by over $4 billion: sources

The U.S. Defense Department plans to ask Congress for $4.5 billion in extra missile defense funding over the next five years as part of the fiscal 2015 budget request, say congressional sources and an expert.

Nearly $1 billion of that sum will pay for a new homeland defense radar to be placed in Alaska, with an additional $560 million to fund work on a new interceptor after several failed flight tests, said Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, and two of the congressional sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Pentagon’s request for added funding comes despite continued pressure on military spending and cuts in other arms programs, a sign of Washington’s growing concern about missile development efforts by North Korea and Iran, the sources said.

And Press Trust of India tenses up:

Iran sending warships close to US maritime borders

A senior Iranian naval commander says his country has sent several warships to the Atlantic Ocean, close to US maritime borders for the first time.

The commander of Iran’s Northern Navy Fleet, Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad, is quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying today that the vessels have already begun the journey to the Atlantic Ocean via waters near South Africa.

After the jump, the latest Asian crises [cybernetic, geographic, historic, and purely political], corporations snooping and snooped, sins confessed, warnings mandated, mysterious mail, and more. . . Continue reading

Jack Ohman: Show some poor initiative


From the editorial cartoonist of the Sacramento Bee:

BLOH Hypocrits

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroSinoFukuFuel


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

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

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

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

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

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

One response, via The Hill:

Senate rejects jobless benefits

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

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

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

Any excuse to gut environmental laws, via Salon:

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

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

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

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

CNBC shivers in anticipation:

Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand

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

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

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

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

From Al Jazeera America, Banksters Behaving Badly™:

Banks under investigation for alleged currency exchange rate-fixing

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

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

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

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

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

Profligacy from The Guardian:

National lab in California scolded over Lusitania project

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

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

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

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

NBC News greens the green:

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

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

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

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

Blowback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

India warns US of consequences on visa reform

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

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

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

Sensible advice from Salon:

Elizabeth Warren calls on Obama to nominate fewer corporate judges

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exclusive: How mainland millionaires overwhelmed Canada visa scheme

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

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

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

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

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

ECB rejects deflation fears as it holds rates at 0.25%

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

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

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

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

Another take from the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian hasn’t recovered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC News splits:

Divorce rate up ‘because of recession’, report says

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minister Dismisses Ministry Employee Requests For Independent Investigation

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

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

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

The uncuttest kind of all from TheLocal.no:

Norway politician wants jail for circumcisers

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

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

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

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

Danish austerity strikes again,, via the Copenhagen Post:

Parliament expected to end EU insurance coverage

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

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

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

Nexit news from DutchNews.nl:

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

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

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

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

EurActiv rebuts:

Dijsselbloem counters Wilders’ EU exit claim

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

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

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

Daimler enjoys record €9 billion profit

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

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

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

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

Europe Online declines:

German factory orders post surprise slump in December

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

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

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

TheLocal.de lights a fuse:

Court grants EU migrants German jobless benefits

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

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

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

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

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

French teachers to strike over August return

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration: ‘total chaos’ seen if curbs backed

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors shun life-saving abortion

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

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN charts the loss:

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es has poor possibilities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish bankruptcies hit the roof in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Surrogate births not recognised under Spanish law, rules Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

Rents in Italy soar as wages stagnate

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

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

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

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

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

The latest Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Italian senate to join civil case against Berlusconi

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

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

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

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

Bonino defends German role in euro crisis

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

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

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

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