Category Archives: Law

Headlines II: Pols, crooks, corps, & polluters


And so much, much more, including the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! In today’s collection from the realms of political, law, economics, and the environment.

First up, a slowdown on the road to another skid-greasing for corporocrats and banksters from Kyodo News:

TPP ministers fail to set timeline for striking deal

Ministers in the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks fell short of setting a clear timeline for ending their long-running negotiations as they wrapped up their two-day meeting Tuesday in Singapore, although they stressed that progress has been made on tariff issues.

“We cemented our shared views on what is needed to bring negotiations to a close,” the ministers said in a joint statement issued following the meeting, but it was unclear what outcome was yielded during their gathering.

The ministers did decide that the chief negotiators from the member countries will meet in July to further accelerate talks but they did not clarify where the meeting will be held.

Money launderers get the ticket, via  Reuters:

Credit Suisse fined $2.5 billion after pleading guilty to U.S. tax charge

Credit Suisse has agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine to authorities in the United States for helping Americans evade taxes after becoming the largest bank in 20 years to plead guilty to a U.S. criminal charge.

The bank’s guilty plea resolves its long-running dispute with the United States over tax evasion, but could have implications for the clients and counterparties that do business with the group.

Credit Suisse said it had not seen a material impact in the past few weeks on its business, and that clients faced no legal obstacles from doing business with it despite the guilty plea.

Other banksters/other woes, from the Irish Times:

Drumm facing litany of fraud allegations at bankruptcy trial

  • Document detailing dozens of allegations against former Anglo boss submitted to US court

Former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drum will face a litany of fraud and perjury allegations when his bankruptcy trial begins in Boston tomorrow.

A list of “itemised allegations” against the 47-year-old Dubliner, which include accusations of fraud, concealment and lying under oath, has been submitted to the court where he filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

The document was submitted by the plaintiffs in the trial, bankruptcy trustee Kathleen Dwyer, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, his former employer.

From iMediaEthic, without comment:

Nat’l Journal dumps comments section after ‘worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable’

The National Journal is getting rid of most online comments because it has been filled with “the worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable.”

National Journal’s editor-in-chief Tim Grieve announced the decision in a May 16 post,  explaining that there was no civil discussion on topics and it was getting worse.

“The debate isn’t joined. It’s cheapened, it’s debased, and, as National Journal’s Brian Resnick has written, research suggests that the experience leaves readers feeling more polarized and less willing to listen to opposing views,” Grieve wrote.

From China Daily, a float from abroad:

More Chinese companies choose US as destination to go public

A senior vice president with NYSE Euronex says that more and more Chinese enterprises are attracted to do initial public offering (IPO) in the United States and predicts that around 15 to 20 of them could go public in the States this year.

“What I’ve seen is a nice building process from two years ago when we only had two IPOs. One of them, VIP (Vipshop Holdings Limited), was listed here and did extremely well,” said David A. Ethridge, senior vice president and head of the Capital Markets Group at NYSE Euronext, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Shares of Vipshop, an online discount retailer, were traded at around $165 per share Monday, compared to $6.50 per share since it announced its IPO in March 2012. China’s social gaming portal YY Inc, which was listed on Nasdaq in November 2012, also saw its shares surge to around $56 per share from its IPO price of $10.50 apiece.

From the Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY, maybe retirees will have to get a bridge loan:

Gov. Christie cuts N.J. pension payments

Gov. Chris Christie is slashing the contributions scheduled to be made to New Jersey public workers’ pension funds by nearly $2.5 billion over the next 14 months to deal with a revenue shortfall facing the state budget.

Christie announced today at the Statehouse that he will make a $696 million payment into the pension funds this year, rather than $1.58 billion. He said he will put in $681 million next June, instead of the $2.25 billion that would have been made if the terms of the pension reforms he signed into law in 2011 were followed.

Christie said the payments cover the costs accrued during his administration for active employees but exclude the unfunded liability accrued under past governors and legislatures. He said that means the unfunded liability for active workers will not increase.

From Network World, corporations benefits, public services lose. Call it a neoliberal wet dream:

Driverless cars could cripple law enforcement budgets

  • Local government have long looked to speeding tickets to increase revenue. What will they do when autonomous cars stick to the speed limit?

Shortly after the state of Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana late last year, opponents made a very interesting, if somewhat counterintuitive, argument against legalized pot – law enforcement would miss out on the huge revenue stream of seized assets, property, and cash from pot dealers in the state.

Justice Department data shows that seizures in marijuana-related cases nationwide totaled $1 billion from 2002 to 2012, out of the $6.5 billion total seized in all drug busts over that period. This money often goes directly into the budgets of the law enforcement agencies that seized it. One drug task force in Snohomish County, Washington, reduced its budget forecast by 15% after the state voted to legalize marijuana, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. In its most fruitful years, that lone task force had seen more than $1 million in additional funding through seizures from marijuana cases alone, according to the report.

Naturally, this dynamic is something law enforcement either is or should already be preparing for as driverless cars make their way onto the roads. Just as drug cops will lose the income they had seized from pot dealers, state and local governments will need to account for a drastic reduction in fines from traffic violations as autonomous cars stick to the speed limit.

From the Associated Press, gladiator-doping alleged:

Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs

A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.

The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.

Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, said the complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.

The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, both a story and a metaphor for our times:

Train hits, kills woman wearing earphones in San Leandro

An 18-year-old woman using earphones while talking on her cell phone was struck and killed Monday by an Amtrak train in San Leandro after a witness tried unsuccessfully to warn her of its approach, police said.

On a similar vein, from north of the border via CBC News:

Physical inactivity of Canadian kids blamed on ‘culture of convenience’

  • Parents encouraged to weave opportunities to move and play with their kids into daily life

Canada’s “culture of convenience” means children and youth sit too much and move too little, in gym class, on the playground, and while travelling to and from school, according to a new global comparison.

Tuesday’s report, “Is Canada in the running?”, from Active Healthy Kids Canada grades kids from 15 countries on their physical activity levels in various areas.

Europe next, and the usual suspects, doing the usual via BBC News:

JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole accused of euro rate-fixes

The European Commission has accuses JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole of colluding to fix a key euro benchmark borrowing rate – Euribor.

JP Morgan and HSBC will fight the charges. Credit Agricole will study the European Commission’s findings. Penalties for the guilty are up to 10% of annual revenue.

Euribor is a cousin to Libor, which is used to set trillions of dollars of financial contracts from complex financial transactions to car loans.

And the electoral divide, with more to come next weekend, via EUbusiness:

Conservatives narrowly lead Socialists in EU vote: poll

Conservatives across Europe hold a narrow lead over their Socialist rivals in the upcoming European Parliament elections but eurosceptics and more radical parties will make significant gains, a poll showed Tuesday.

The PollWatch2014 survey issued as EU citizens prepare for the May 22-25 ballot put the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) on 217 seats against 201 for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

While that would leave them still the two biggest parties in the new 751-seat assembly, the EPP would be down from 274 seats and the S&D up only marginally from the previous 196.

In third place, the centrist Liberals (ALDE) would fare especially badly, falling to 59 seats from the current 83, PollWatch2014 said.

A predictable alarm, via Greek Reporter:

Credit Agricole: SYRIZA’s Victory May Cause Shock to EU markets

According to Bloomberg news agency, Mark McCormick, a currency strategist at the French Credit Agricole, sent a to the bank’s clients, stating that a possible victory of SYRIZA in the euro elections might cause a shock to the European markets.

McCormick claimed that a possible victory by SYRIZA can cause a  shock to Europe’s assets (bonds, equities, interest bearing securities, etc.) at a time when Greece is trying to implement reforms.

McCormick, according to Bloomberg, stated that the European elections should not be underestimated given that their results will have an impact on the above-mentioned assets.The increasing popularity of anti-European parties constitutes a threat to the progress that has been achieved in financial reforms. The greatest danger lies in Greece, which could be led to early elections if the Greek main opposition party wins a majority in the European elections.

And the lobbying will commence, via EurActiv:

Google cannot be broken up without new legislation, says EU Competition Commissioner

Google cannot be broken up into smaller companies without new EU legislation, the European Commission said today (20 May), after detailing two potential new antitrust investigations into the internet giant.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia was responding to comments made earlier this week by German’s Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel,  who said Google may have such a dominant market position that a break-up had to be “seriously considered.” Existing competition law was not powerful enough to split up the business, Almunia said.

The California-based company may yet face a separate antitrust investigation to the one ongoing since November 2012. Open Internet Project, a group of 400 European digital market members, made a different complaint [PDF] on Friday.

Britain next, and the bubble continues with BBC News:

UK house prices up 8% in a year, says ONS

UK house prices rose by 8% in the year to the end of March, official figures show, as the prime minister says he will consider changes to Help to Buy.

The annual increase slowed compared with a 9.2% year-on-year price rise to the end of February.

However, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the annual property price increase in London stood at 17%. Excluding London and the South East of England, prices were up by 4.7%.

On a related front, via the London Telegraph:

Lloyds acts to curb ‘inflationary’ London housing

  • UK’s biggest mortgage provider, which also owns Halifax, will not lend any more than four times those of incomes on properties over £500,000

The UK’s biggest mortgage provider, Lloyds Banking Group, has taken radical action in the face of what it called “inflationary pressures” in London’s housing market, tightening up the requirements for high-value property purchases.

The state-backed lender said that on lending of over £500,000, it would not approve mortgages in which consumers are borrowing more than four times their incomes.

The announcement is the first major step taken by lenders to cool rapidly-rising house prices in the capital, where prices have risen by 17pc in the last year – more than double the national average. Lloyds said the policy would be applied nationally, but was deliberately targeted at London.

On to Germany and the predictable, via TheLocal.de:

‘Germany can deny foreigners benefits’

Germany can refuse to give unemployment benefit to EU citizens it believes are “welfare tourists”, according to a European ruling on Tuesday.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice said the state could reject applications for German unemployment benefit Hartz IV from foreigners from other EU countries to prevent abuse of the system and “welfare tourism”.

The Luxembourg court will make its ruling over the next few months, but normally follows the advocate general’s advice.

The decision was made in a high-profile case of a 24-year-old Romanian woman and her son who have lived in Germany since 2010. The woman’s local job centre in Leipzig refused to give her Hartz IV, prompting her to take legal action.

And from Deutsche Welle:

Migration to Germany skyrockets

The sovereign debt crisis is driving a surge in migration to Germany. New figures reveal hundreds of thousands of foreign workers flocked to Europe’s largest economy in 2012 – a nearly 40 percent jump in just a year.

The number of people migrating to Germany jumped nearly 40 percent in a year, according to data released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of mostly developed nations.

Driven mainly by economic uncertainty in the euro zone’s periphery, which includes weaker nations that are still recovering from the global financial crisis, some 400,000 people flocked to Germany in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available.

“We can clearly speak about a boom of migration to Germany without exaggeration,” Thomas Liebig, an OECD migration expert, said as the group released its latest migration outlook just days ahead of European elections in which immigration has been hotly debated.

More from Reuters:

Germany becomes world’s top migration spot after U.S.: OECD

Germany has become the world’s second most popular destination for immigrants after the United States, attracting many southern Europeans driven from the ravages of the euro zone financial crisis to overtake Canada and Australia.

Germany soared to second place in the 2012 in a survey of permanent migration published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday. It ranked eighth in 2009.

“This really is a boom – without any exaggeration … no other OECD country experienced such a rise,” said Thomas Liebig, an expert on international migration at the Paris-based OECD.

Vienna next, and just say Nein!?, From TheLocal.at:

Vienna mayor wants right wing group banned

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Häupl (SPÖ) has called for a ban on a right wing group calling themselves Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement).

Last Saturday a march by the group in central Vienna resulted in clashes between protesters and police after it was obstructed several times by a left-wing counter-demonstration.

“A group like this should have been banned a long time ago,” Häupl said at his weekly press conference. “This is a neo-fascist organization that quite clearly falls under the prohibition act,” he added.

The Verbotsgesetz (Prohibition Act) is an Austrian law which banned the Nazi Party and aimed to suppress any potential revival of Nazism.

While parts of Spain face unparalleled drought, at the other end of Europe with euronews:

Bosnia flood destruction ‘as bad as the war’

The government in Bosnia says more than 1 million people, or a quarter of the population, has been affected by flooding and landslides, comparing the destruction to that of the country’s war in the 1990s.

Some reports speak of around 50 deaths in Bosnia and in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia amid the worst rainfall to hit the Balkans in living memory.

Having survived the war and built a new life, many have lost everything.

Spain next, whipping up the religious for a neoliberal advantage with El País:

Abortion clinics report spike in vandalism

  • Anti-abortion activists step up pressure ahead of government changes to legislation

Anti-abortion groups are getting more radical in their rhetoric and in their actions.

In the face of government delays, these groups have been making increasingly vocal demands for legislative reform to curtail access to pregnancy terminations.

But now, abortion clinics are also reporting several instances of vandalism against their premises, according to formal complaints to which EL PAÍS has had access.

El País again, this time weith another outburst of that hard times intolerance:

Racist gestures at soccer game cost Barcelona employee her job

  • Llagostera fan also barred from her team’s stadium for performing monkey actions at black player

A woman has lost her job and been barred from a soccer stadium for life after she was caught on camera making racist gestures at a Spanish second division game between Llagostera and Racing Santander on Sunday.

Video footage of the match clearly shows the Llagostera fan making monkey actions at Mamadou Koné, a black player from the Ivory Coast who plays for Racing.

The images immediately spread around the social networks, and the consequences soon followed. Llagostera president Isabel Tarragó has barred the woman, who is not a club member, from ever returning to its stadium.

El País again, with more:

Jewish community to file complaint after anti-Semitic tweets posted from Spain

  • Offensive comments appeared on Twitter after basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid
  • The victory on Sunday saw the Israeli side win the Euroleague title

The Jewish community in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia has taken action over anti-Semitic messages posted on social networking sites after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid to win the Euroleague title on Sunday.

After the game in Tel Aviv was over, nearly 18,000 offensive messages appeared on Twitter, according to Jewish associations, which have announced they are planning to file a complaint with the state attorney on Tuesday. According to sources from the Jewish community, the complaint will include tweets from five users of the micro-blogging site – along with their full names – which, the complainants will argue, constitute incitement of hatred against Jews.

Portugal next, and a Troikarch release from ANSAmed:

Portugal officially out of Troika bailout plan

  • Without seeking precautionary credit line, premier says

Portugal officially exited on Monday the bailout programme drafted by the Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) under which it obtained in 2011 a loan worth 79 billion euros provided it implemented a number of austerity measures to cut expenditure.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced the country will ‘’not seek further security measures, although the road ahead is still long to get out of the crisis’‘.

The premier added that ‘’the government’s priorities are economic and employment recovery’‘.

Italy next, starting with Bunga Bunga bloviation from TheLocal.it:

‘Did you call Merkel an ‘unf**kable lard-arse’?’

Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s hard-nosed interviewer, asked Italy’s gaffe-prone former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi whether he called German Chancellor Angela Merkel an “unf**kable lard-arse” in an interview that will be aired on Tuesday night.

Berlusconi, who is currently undertaking community service at a home for Alzheimer’s patients for his tax fraud conviction, reportedly said Merkel was a “culona inchiavabile” (unf**kable lard-arse) during a wiretapped conversation with a man accused of supplying prostitutes to the former prime minister’s “bunga bunga” parties in July 2011.

More bloviatin’ from the Bunga Bunghole via ANSA:

Berlusconi calls Grillo a ‘killer’

Vitriol escalates with reference to manslaughter conviction

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday called Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), a “killer” as the political venom ahead of Sunday’s European elections reached a new high. Berlusconi was referring to Grillo’s 1980 manslaughter conviction for a car accident in which he was the driver and three people died.

Grillo has never stood personally in elections because he says people with criminal records should not be in parliament, although he is still the undisputed leader of the M5S from outside the buildings of power.

The comedian-turned-politician has been brutally critical of three-time premier Berlusconi, who was ejected from parliament last year and is currently doing community after a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year, over his many judicial problems.

After the jump, it’s on to Greece and more electoral mayhem, a Ukrainian pullback, Brazilian jitters and an Argentine memory hole, a case of Thai anxiety, Chinese real estate woes, environmental alarms, and Fukushuimapocalypse Now!. . .
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Headlines: Spies, pols, hacks, zones, drones


We’re reversing the normal sequence of headline posts and starting with today’s very newsy tales from the dark side, featuring major developments in Asia [after the jump], drones, the SinoAmerican EspioCyberwar, and a whole lot more.

But first, the toke’s on J. Edgar, with Fibbie pragmatism triumphant, via The Verge:

The FBI admits it might have to toke up to fight cybercrime

As the FBI looks to hire more cybersecurity agents, it’s running into a big problem: the siren song of marijuana. The FBI has a no-tolerance policy for employees using illegal drugs, but new statements by director James Comey suggest the agency is considering loosening that policy to attract employees from the cybersecurity community.

To hear Comey tell it, it’s a talent pool that’s notorious for rampant weed-smoking. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cybercriminals,” Comey told an audience at the New York City Bar Association, “and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

The bureau’s weed problem is particularly severe given the rise of legal marijuana use within the US, implicating many potential FBI hackers along the way. As a result, Comey said he was “grappling with the issue” of how the bureau’s policies might be amended.

From The Age, suspicions confirmed:

Assange targeted by FBI probe, US court documents reveal

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange remains the subject of an active criminal investigation by the United States Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, newly published court documents reveal.

Papers released in US legal proceedings have revealed that a “criminal/national security investigation” by the US Department of Justice and FBI probe of WikiLeaks is “a multi-subject investigation” that is still “active and ongoing” more than four years after the anti-secrecy website began publishing secret US diplomatic and military documents.

Confirmation that US prosecutors have not closed the book on WikiLeaks and Mr Assange comes as a consequence of litigation by the US Electronic Privacy Information Centre to enforce a freedom of information request for documents relating to the FBI’s WikiLeaks investigation.

Justice Department lawyers last month told the US District Court in Washington DC that there had been “developments in the investigation over the last year.”  In a document filed with the court on Monday, the US Government further affirmed that the “main, multi-subject, criminal investigation of the [Department of Justice] and FBI remains open and pending” making it necessary “to withhold law enforcement records related to this civilian investigation.”

There’s just no rest for the Wiki-ed, via South China Morning Post:

WikiLeaks vows to reveal second country where NSA is recording all mobile phone calls

  • WikiLeaks to name second country where the NSA is said to be recording the content of phone calls, despite warnings from Glenn Greenwald that this could “lead to deaths”

WikiLeaks has pledged to reveal the name of a second country that is having virtually all of its mobile phone calls recorded by the US National Security Agency, despite a warning that leaking the information could “lead to deaths”.

The pledge came after The Intercept revealed that the Bahamas and one other country were having most of their mobile calls recorded and stored by a powerful NSA program called SOMALGET. While the Bahamas was named, the identity of the mystery second country was kept hidden.

Greenwald, who first broke the Edward Snowden story to the world, had said on Twitter the decision not to reveal the name was made because “we were *very convinced this 1 would –> [lead to] deaths”.

Meanwhile, Truthdig raises a crucial question:

What’s the Point of a Source Protection Law That Wouldn’t Protect Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden?

Laws are bad when they don’t do what they are meant to and even worse when they cause harm instead. The journalist-source protection law being debated by Congress—the Free Flow of Information Act (FFIA or “federal shield law”) fails in both respects. Despite being pushed by media organizations after Associated Press reporters and other journalists were served court orders last summer, it is doubtful that the proposed law will meaningfully protect anyone. Instead, it sets the stage to punish whomever the government decides are “illegitimate” journalists.

Indeed, any outlet committed to giving voice to whistle-blowers—such as The Intercept or WikiLeaks—is not considered a “covered journalist” under the measure. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who drafted the bill, conceded that The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, whose coverage of whistle-blower Snowden’s releases won a Pulitzer for The Guardian, would probably not be covered. The FFIA would fail to protect Snowden, or Manning, who provided evidence of war crimes and military cover-ups to WikiLeaks. Both sparked unprecedented public debates on government accountability and suffered the full wrath of the federal government. In other words, they are precisely the sources we need a shield law to protect.

The FFIA does not include those “whose principal function, as demonstrated by the totality of such person or entity’s work, is to publish primary source documents that have been disclosed to such person or entity without authorization.” This is colloquially called the WikiLeaks clause. But The Intercept is also in trouble owing to what its new editor-in-chief, John Cook, described in mid-April as a “commitment to continue the work of reporting on, publishing, and explicating” Snowden’s releases.

Techdirt, as usual, spots the ironic:

Keith Alexander: We Need More Spying In The Future Because All Of Our Previous Spying Has Only Increased The Number Of Terrorist Attacks

  • from the No-Such-Agency:-no-such-thing-as-‘too-much-surveillance’ dept

The New Yorker has published excerpts of a lengthy interview with retired NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander. Along with the usual defenses of the surveillance apparatus he ran for eight years (with his fiery “collect it all” attitude), Alexander makes the case for continued pervasive surveillance while admitting the last decade-plus of spying hasn’t made the US — or the world — any safer.

Al Jazeera America acts symbolically:

California bill would require judge’s warrant for government spying

  • Measure passes state Senate with just one opposing vote; proponents argue surveillance is unconstitutional

A bill in California’s state legislature would require the federal government to have a warrant from a judge if it wants state officials to cooperate when federal agencies search residents’ cellphone and computer records.

The bill, which passed the state Senate with just one opposing vote this week, was introduced in the wake of information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, revealing massive internal surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA.

“The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is very clear. It says the government shall not engage in unreasonable search and seizure,” said the bill’s author, Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu, of Torrance. “The National Security Agency’s massive and indiscriminate collecting of phone data on all Americans, including more than 38 million Californians, is a threat to our liberty and freedom.”

The bill wouldn’t bar the NSA or any other federal government agency from continuing to spy. But it would prohibit the state from participating in that surveillance or providing material support to the agencies involved.

And on to that conveniently timed [for Washington] SinoCyberwar, first from Global Times:

China summons US ambassador over indictment against Chinese military officers

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned US Ambassador to China Max Baucus on Monday night, lodging a complaint with the US over its indictment against five Chinese military officers despite China’s protests, according to a press release by the Foreign Ministry Tuesday morning.

The United States seriously violated the norms of international relations, breached China-US cooperation in cyber security and badly hurt China-US ties by fabricating information and indicting Chinese military officers on allegations of cyber theft, Zheng said.

China expressed strong indignation and opposition to the move by the United States, he added.

More from South China Morning Post:

China warns Washington it could take ‘further action’ over US hacking charges

  • The US Justice Department on Monday indicted five members of the Chinese military on charges they stole US secrets through hacking to aid state-owned companies. Beijing quickly rejected the claims

The US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, met with Zheng Zeguang, assistant foreign minister, shortly after the United States charged the five Chinese, accusing them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets.

Zheng “protested” the actions by the United States, saying the indictment had seriously harmed relations between both countries, state news agency Xinhua said.

Zheng told Baucus that depending on the development of the situation, China “will take further action on the so-called charges by the United States”.

Sky News raises the obvious defense:

China Angry Over US Spy Charges ‘Hypocrisy’

  • The United States is accused of “double standards” on cyber security after five Chinese officers are charged over alleged hacking.

Geng Yansheng, a Chinese defence spokesman, said the steps taken by the United States had “severely damaged the mutual trust” between the two countries.

“From Wikileaks to the Snowden incident, America’s hypocrisy and double standards on issues of cyber security are abundantly clear,” he said. “The Chinese military is a severe victim of America’s behaviour.

“According to statistics, the servers used by the Chinese military have been widely attacked by foreigners and according to the IP addresses, a significant number of them come from America.”

And then, inevitably, came this, from Sina English:

China publishes evidence of US cyber attack

A spokesperson for China’s State Internet Information Office on Monday published the latest data of US cyber attack, saying that China is a solid defender of cyber security.

The US is the biggest attacker of China’s cyber space, the spokesperson said, adding that the US charges of hacking against five Chinese military officers on Monday are “groundless”.

Latest data from the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China (NCNERTTCC) showed that from March 19 to May 18, a total of 2,077 Trojan horse networks or botnet servers in the US directly controlled 1.18 million host computers in China.

intelNews.org backgrounds:

The mysterious Chinese unit behind the cyberespionage charges

On Monday, the United States government leveled for the first time charges against a group of identified Chinese military officers, allegedly for stealing American trade secrets through cyberespionage.

The individuals named in the indictment are all members of a mysterious unit within the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) command structure, known as Unit 61398. It is estimated that the unit has targeted at least 1,000 private or public companies and organizations in the past 12 years. Western cybersecurity experts often refer to the group as “APT1″, which stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat 1″, or “Byzantine Candor”. It is believed to operate under the Second Bureau of the PLA’s General Staff Department, which is responsible for collecting foreign military intelligence.

Many China military observers argue that Unit 61398 is staffed by several thousand operatives, who can be broadly categorized into two groups: one consisting of computer programmers and network operations experts, and the other consisting of English-language specialists, with the most talented members of the Unit combining both skills.

And Reuters strikes back:

China bans use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 on government computers

China has banned government use of Windows 8, Microsoft Corp’s latest operating system (OS), in a blow to the U.S. technology company which has long been plagued by sales woes in the country.

The Central Government Procurement Center issued the ban on installing Windows 8 on government computers as part of a notice on the use of energy-saving products, posted on its website last week.

The official Xinhua news agency said the ban was to ensure computer security after Microsoft ended support for its Windows XP operating system, which was widely used in China.

The same concept, another front, via the Associated Press:

Germany clamps down on exports of spy tech

Germany says it will restrict exports of surveillance technology to states that fail to respect their citizens’ human rights.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel says the move is designed to prevent spy software ‘Made in Germany’ from being used for internal repression by autocratic regimes.

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders welcomed the decision. Rights groups have in the past accused German companies of selling spy software to countries such as Bahrain and Uzbekistan, where the technology is allegedly used to monitor dissidents and journalists.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse covers old school business, run both profitably and hypocritically:

Peace-loving Sweden ‘arms dictators’ as defence exports soar

Alongside a global reputation for peacemaking and generous foreign aid, Sweden has become a major world supplier of weapons counting a number of regimes criticised for human rights abuses among its customers.

Ranked the third largest arms exporter per capita after Israel and Russia, Sweden’s booming industry has stirred up ethical concerns among Swedes about some countries it is doing business with.

[C]ritics charge that Sweden has become more inclined to arm regimes accused of human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan, as demand from Western nations has declined since the Cold War ended.

On to the Game of Drones, first with The Hill:

Reid: Drone-memo author is a go

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he has the votes to confirm David Barron, the author of memos justifying drone strikes against American citizens, to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

Reid said most of the members of the Senate Democratic caucus were satisfied with the defense of Barron provided by White House lawyers at a private briefing last week.

“We’ll vote on the Barron filibuster, stopping that tomorrow. I think we’ll be okay,” Reid said at a Tuesday press conference.

Anchors Aweigh with United Press International:

Navy taps Textron Systems Unmanned Systems for task order work

The U.S. Navy has issued a task order to Textron Systems Unmanned Systems to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data using its catapult-launched Aerosonde SUAS.

Textron Systems Unmanned Systems reports receipt of a new Navy task order to provide mission support services with its Aerosonde Small Unmanned Aircraft System.

The task order was issued under the Navy Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance contract, and indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity program under which Textron will supply the SUAS, together with system operators and field service representatives on a fee-for-service basis.

And from Aviation Week & Space Technology, strike up Le Marseillaise:

France Weighs Arming UAVs

  • France inches closer to a decision on arming UAVs

The French government is carefully avoiding raising ethical objections to the French air force’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), including General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers acquired from the U.S. and recently delivered to the 1/33 Sqdn. French authorities believe UAV reconnaissance capabilities -offer unprecedented advantages, while weapons continue to be carried only by manned combat aircraft such as Dassault -Mirage 2000Ds and Rafales.

Official comments on France’s employment of UAVs are rare and cautiously focus on their complementary role. “They are not expected to replace aircraft; they don’t cover the complete spectrum of operational needs,” says Col. Christophe Fontaine, head of the 1/33 Sqdn. “They complement other capabilities.”

The French forces, which long delayed expressing a clear policy on UAV use, have been operating limited numbers of EADS Harfangs and General Atomics MQ-1 Predators in the last few years and selected the Reaper in the absence of a satisfactory domestic candidate. The U.S. UAV entered service in France recently, and two have already accumulated 700 flight hours across several theaters of operation. The French air force plans to order a total of 12 Reapers, which are capable of carrying weapons—although only with Pentagon approval. To date, Washington has been reluctant to allow even allies such as France or Italy to arm the UAVs it sells them.

And for our final dronal item, sharing the wealth with TheLocal.it:

Finmeccanica launches European drone project

A subsidiary of Finmeccanica has joined forces with fellow aerospace companies in France and Germany to develop a European drone, months after the Italian company built the UN’s first such aircraft.

Alenia Aermacchi will work with France’s Dassault Aviation and Airbus Group in Germany to develop an unmanned aircraft by 2020, Finmeccanica said in a statement released on Monday.

Announcement of the project follows preliminary discussions at the Paris Air Show last year, Finmeccanica said. The three European companies have delivered the joint proposal to their respective governments and aim to develop the plans along with national defence ministries.

From the Christian Science Monitor, the first of three Libyan headlines, with the stinger at the end:

Rogue Libyan general attracts militia support as parliament flails

  • Libyans are waiting to see how the government responds to Khalifa Haftar’s recent attacks – but even decisive action is probably not enough to stem rising chaos.

A former Libyan general appears to be gaining allies among armed factions for his self-described campaign to restore stability in defiance of a weak government.

Two camps are taking shape: The Islamist politicians who dominate Libya’s interim parliament, and their rivals, who are gradually amassing behind Khalifa Haftar, the retired general. His forces have attacked Islamist militias in Benghazi and claimed credit for an attack on the General National Congress (GNC), as parliament is called.

In a bid yesterday to diffuse the crisis, acting prime minister Abdullah Al-Thinni called on the GNC to vote immediately on a 2014 budget and to confirm his successor, the prime minister-elect, before a recess and elections for a new interim legislature.

The Los Angeles Times gets clandestine:

Libyan lawmakers meet in secret after being targeted by ex-general

Libyan lawmakers met in hiding Tuesday, two days after forces loyal to a renegade ex-general stormed the parliament building and demanded that the Islamist-dominated body disband.

Onetime general Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against Islamists and their allied militias, launched last week in the eastern city of Benghazi, threatened to escalate into the worst fighting Libya has seen in the three years since an uprising ousted and killed dictator Moammar Kadafi.

It also posed a stark challenge to the weak central government, which has flailed in its attempts to establish order.

But it takes the World Socialist Web Site to get to the heart of the matter:

CIA-linked general launches Libya coup bid

The leader of the latest military revolt is a former Libyan army general, Khalifa Haftar. A supporter of the 1969 military revolt led by Colonel Gaddafi that overthrew the US and British-backed monarch, King Idris, Haftar was captured during the 1980s Libyan intervention in Chad and then released at Washington’s request, becoming an “asset” of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA moved him to Virginia, near the agency’s headquarters in Langley, and helped him set up training camps for a “Libyan National Army”—the same name he has given to the collection of military and militia units now fighting to overthrow the regime in Tripoli.

When the US and NATO launched their war for regime change in Libya three years ago, Haftar was airlifted back into Benghazi to assume military command of proxy forces on the ground as the US and NATO bombarded the country. He was supplanted in this role, however, by a former Gaddafi interior minister, Abdel Fatah Younis, who was himself subsequently assassinated. He was then eclipsed by the Islamist militias who came to dominate the NATO-backed ground forces.

Meanwhile, from BBC News, a story few will believe in the countries where vaccinating for polio can be lethal to doctors and nurses because the program was arrogantly and lethally used by the CIA to suss out Osama bin Laden and presumably other things as well [can anyone saw war crime, giving the growing numbers of victims?]:

White House: CIA has ended use of vaccine programmes

The CIA has ended the use of vaccine programmes in its spying operations amid concerns for the safety of health workers, the White House has said.

In a letter to US public health schools, a White House aide said the CIA stopped such practices in August. The CIA used a fake vaccine programme to try to find Osama Bin Laden before US special forces killed him in 2011.

The CIA’s move comes after a wave of deadly attacks by militants on polio vaccination workers in Pakistan.

After the jump, shots fired in Korean waters, China/Vietnam tensions remain high, new alliances form, the Japanese remilitarization push morphs, and, oh yeah, folks claim North Korea’s got nuclear-capable missiles. . .
Continue reading

Headlines II: Spies, Zones, Drones, & Pols


Much ground to cover in today’s Tales from the Dark Side, so we’ll start with imperial dreams from Nextgov:

Former NSA Director: Big Data Is the Future

According to Gen. Keith Alexander, who retired in March after eight years as the director of the NSA, the world will produce some 3.5 zettabytes of information in 2014 – enough to fill the hard drives of 3.5 billion high-end desktop computers.

“We’re living in the age of big data and we have to figure out how to harness it,” said Alexander, speaking at the American Council for Technology – Industry Advisory Council’s (ACTIAC’s) Management of Change conference on Monday.

“That’s what the future is going to be about,” Alexander said. “Think about 3.5 zettabyes of data. Big data is absolutely vital. The changes that will come to our nation in science, technology, biomedical and health care will be phenomenal.”

And from the Guardian, as tensions heat up in the Asian Game of Zones, Washington takes the moment to hoist Beijing on the same petard that Snowden hoisted Washington with:

US accusations of Chinese hacking point to eight-year spying campaign

  • Department of Justice indictment confirms existence of projects such as ‘Titan Rain’ and pattern of attacks against US firms

The US Department of Justice indictment against a number of alleged Chinese military hackers goes back a long way, to 2006, and raises the question: why did it take them so long to take action?

In February 2013, a US security company called Mandiant released a report which said the Chinese army had launched hundreds of cyber-attacks against western companies and defence groups. It said that the attacks emanated from a building that housed a group called Unit 61398 –the same number that appears in the DOJ indictment.

If the DOJ indictments are correct, then Mandiant’s report appears to have been accurate in its description of what was happening. But that’s worrying, too: it described a decade-long series of attacks on US infrastructure, gave precise details, and even the location of the building from which it reckoned the attacks were being made.

The response from the Los Angeles Times:

China blasts ‘absurd’ U.S. charges of cyber-espionage

Chinese government officials on Monday strongly rebuked the U.S. over its claims of cyber-spying by five Chinese military officers, saying the Justice Department indictment was based on  “fabricated facts” and would jeopardize U.S.-China relations.

“The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang said in a statement. “The U.S. accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd.”

The Chinese government demanded that the U.S. indictment, unsealed Monday, be withdrawn. Chinese officials also said they would suspend activities of the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group, created last year to address allegations of hacking.

Details from the Associated Press:

Cyberspying case: charges at a glance

THE CHARGES: The indictment’s 31 counts include economic espionage, theft of trade secrets and aggravated identity theft. The federal grand jury indictment was filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where most of the companies that are said to have been targeted are located. The indictment accuses the officials of hacking into the computers of companies and a union to gain access to trade secrets and private communications.

THE ACCUSED: The indictment charges five officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. They are Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui.

THE ALLEGED TARGETS: Westinghouse Electric Co., U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, United States Steel Corp., Allegheny Technologies Inc., Alcoa Inc. and the United Steelworkers labor union.

Sky News covers consequences:

US And China Spy Row: Diplomatic Fallout ‘Huge’

The US is for the first time accusing a nation of state-sponsored economic espionage or as they called it 21st century burglary.

The United States government is, for the first time ever, accusing another nation of state-sponsored economic espionage or as they called it “21st century burglary”.

The diplomatic fallout will be huge.

The officials from the Department of Justice not only singled out individuals from Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but they named the unit within the PLA which they say has been doing the hacking: Unit 61398.

It is not the first time the unit 61398 has been in the frame.

Still more from the New York Times:

U.S. Treads Fine Line in Fighting Chinese Espionage

By indicting members of the People’s Liberation Army’s most famous cyberwarfare operation, called Unit 61398 but known among hackers by the moniker “Comment Crew,” the Obama administration is now using the legal system to make a case it has previously confined to classified briefings: that the Chinese military leadership is behind an enormous organized campaign to steal American intellectual property and designs for its own profit.

For two years now, President Obama and his aides have declared that when the United States spies on China, its goals are sharply different from those of the Chinese who engage in espionage. In public speeches and private conversations with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, Mr. Obama has argued that it is far more pernicious to use the intelligence instruments of the state for commercial competitive advantage. The United States may do all it can to learn about China’s nuclear arsenal, or about Beijing’s intentions in its territorial disputes with Japan, but it does not, the administration says, steal from China Telecom to help A.T.&T.

The United States spies regularly for economic advantage when the goal is to support trade negotiations; it tapped the Japanese negotiator’s car in the 1990s, when the United States was trying to reach an accord on auto imports. It is also widely believed to be using intelligence in support of major trade negotiations now underway with European and Asian trading partners. But in the view of a succession of Democratic and Republican administrations, that is considered fair game.

Companies can also be targets. Documents revealed by Mr. Snowden have revealed that the American government pried deep into the servers of Huawei, one of China’s most successful Internet and communications companies. The documents made clear that the N.S.A. was seeking to learn whether the company was a front for the People’s Liberation Army and whether it was interested in spying on American firms. But there was a second purpose: to get inside Huawei’s systems, and to use them as a conduit to spy on countries that buy its equipment around the world.

Another consequence from China Daily:

China suspends cyber working group activities with US to protest cyber theft indictment

China on Monday decided to suspend activities of the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group as U.S. announced indictment against five Chinese military officers on allegation of cyber theft.

“Given the lack of sincerity on the part of the US to solve issues related to cyber security through dialogue and cooperation, China has decided to suspend activities of the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang regarding the US Justice Department’s announcement on Monday.

The US side announced on Monday indictment against five Chinese military officers on allegation of cyber theft. This U.S. move, which is based on intentionally-fabricated facts, grossly violates the basic norms governing international relations and jeopardizes China-U.S. cooperation and mutual trust, Qin said.

BBC News reminds of Washington’s status as a player in the same game:

Cisco calls for curb on NSA surveillance efforts

The NSA’s wide-ranging surveillance programme should be curtailed, says hardware-maker Cisco in a letter to President Obama.

Cisco boss John Chambers said faith in US technology companies was being eroded by the NSA’s activities.

The letter comes after whistleblowers revealed the NSA regularly intercepted Cisco hardware to help it gather information on potential targets.

Mr Chambers said the NSA should be held to higher “standards of conduct”.

Meanwhile whack at the branch from the Guardian:

NSA to test legal limits on surveillance if USA Freedom Act becomes law

  • Aides and lawyers contend over terms of surveillance bill
  • Authors of first realistic reform seek to avoid loopholes

Those behind the legislation, which is expected to head to the House floor as early as this week, have labored to craft the terms of the bill in a way that avoids loopholes for the NSA to exploit. But some wonder whether the agency will lawyer the bill’s restrictions on bulk data collection into oblivion, as recent statements by Obama administration officials have suggested it might.

The NSA, its credibility hurt by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures, is trying to reassure its overseers that it will abide by new congressional action, even as its advocates labor to shape the bill to its liking. But the agency’s post-9/11 history has left the architects and advocates of the bill concerned about the ways in which it might once again reinterpret a law intended to restrain it into one allowing it more surveillance leeway than congressional architects intend.

Meetings last week between Hill aides and administration and intelligence lawyers yielded a sense of the legal reasoning likely to result if the USA Freedom Act becomes law.

And the guy behind it all faces a dilemma, via Spiegel:

‘Risks’: Snowden’s Lawyer Expresses Concerns about Testimony

  • Speculation has been brewing for weeks over whether Edward Snowden will testify against the NSA from Moscow or Germany. In a letter to a parliamentary investigative committee, his lawyer has said he will advise his client against speaking in Russia.

With the German parliament currently investigating spying by the National Security Agency on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and the communications data of millions of German citizens, testimony by former NSA employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden was expected to take center stage in the proceedings. But a four-page letter from Snowden’s German attorney, Wolfgang Kaleck, obtained by SPIEGEL, casts doubt on whether he will be able to provide testimony from Moscow for the parliamentary investigative committee.

In the letter, Kaleck specifies the “risks” associated with Snowden providing testimony in Russia, where, he notes, his client has only been provided with temporary political asylum.

“Given the conditions of his right of residence,” Kaleck writes, “both I and his American lawyers will have to advise him against speaking in any manner from Moscow that might make his situation worse or possibly threaten his residency status.”

From the Los Angeles Times, major voyeurware busts:

Cybercrime: Creators, users of sinister Blackshades malware arrested

Federal prosecutors announced charges Monday against creators and users of a sinister software program called Blackshades, whose flagship feature, RAT, enabled hackers to watch victims in their own homes using their infected computers’ webcams.

At a news conference, FBI agents and the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said they had arrested one of Blackshades’ alleged creators, Alex Yucel, in Moldova. Yucel is awaiting extradition to the United States. Also arrested was Brendan Johnston of Thousand Oaks, who, according to court documents, sold Blackshades to others and provided technical support to customers between August 2011 and September 2012.

According to the FBI, Blackshades had sales of more than $350,000 between September 2010 and April 2014. Buyers came from more than 100 countries and infected more than a half-million computers.

And a Blackshades video report from Canada, via The National:

Blackshades Takedown

Program note:

The FBI has arrested dozens of people suspected of distributing suspected a malicious software called BlackShades. It allows hackers to remotely control personal computers and webcams.

From Guardian, ringfencing the royals:

William and Kate ‘embarrassed’ by hacking revelations, says NoW reporter

  • Clive Goodman tells Old Bailey the police and CPS decided to ‘ringfence’ interception of royals to keep them out of a trial

The royal family has been “embarrassed” by revelations that the News of the World had frequently hacked the phones of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it has been claimed at the Old Bailey.

Clive Goodman, the former royal editor at the paper, said the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had known he had hacked their phones in 2006 when he was first arrested but they had decided to “ringfence” the royals so they wouldn’t have to be part of a public trial.

He was convicted of hacking three royal aides – Helen Asprey, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton and Paddy Harverson – in 2006 but his hacking of the princes and William’s then girlfriend only emerged last week in the phone-hacking trial.

The Yomiuri Shimbun covers another species of hackery:

Identity thieves target customer loyalty websites

Websites for customer loyalty programs have seen a growing number of thefts of member program points and illegal access to customer accounts.

These companies have found cases of illegal access to loyalty program sites of airlines, home electronics makers, credit card companies and other firms. In some cases, online thieves have exchanged stolen points for gift certificates without the genuine holders knowing.

Affected companies and Internet crime experts say that some of the hackers appear to have used lists of user IDs and passwords, because in some cases the success rate of log-in attempts was unusually high.

One of the experts reminded users that “The best defense measure is changing passwords regularly and not using the same passwords for different websites.”

And the accompanying graphic:

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun

From the Independent, a terror alert:

American student calls in bomb threat after dropping out so her ‘parents wouldn’t find out’

A Massachusetts dropout student was arrested after allegedly calling in two bomb threats to force her graduation ceremony to be cancelled on Sunday.

Danielle Shea, 22, reportedly told authorities she had dropped out of university, but kept receiving thousands of dollars in tuition fees money from her mother, who believed she was still attending classes.

Police say the former Quinnipiac University student panicked when her relatives did see not her name on the graduation roster and made two calls to the university’s public safety department in a bid to force the ceremony to be cancelled.

The Christian Science Monitor offers a modicum of security:

Supreme Court vacates police-immunity ruling in suit over multiple Tasering

The Supreme Court ordered the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit to reexamine a case involving a suit against a police officer for repeatedly Tasering a handcuffed arrestee who was lying on the ground.

The US Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court Monday to reexamine a case involving the alleged use of excessive force by a police officer in Louisiana who deployed an electronic “Taser” device eight times against a handcuffed arrestee who was lying on the ground.

The suspect, who later died, had reportedly refused to obey a police command to stand up and walk to the patrol car. The police officer was fired for using “unnecessary force,” but was found not guilty of manslaughter.

A panel of the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently ruled that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity and could not be sued for allegedly violating the rights of the handcuffed prisoner.

CNBC offers another reason for insecurity, at least in the halls of the Pentagon:

Retired military leaders fret kids will be ‘too fat to fight’

  • Obese recruits are newest threat to US military

“It’s not just a school problem. It’s not just a Department (of Education) problem. It’s a national security issue and it needs to be prioritized that way,” said retired Maj. Gen. D. Allen Youngman.

He’s one of hundreds of former military officers who have gotten involved in Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit organization whose “Too Fat to Fight” reports attack junk food in schools. Its members also lobby lawmakers for improved school lunches and more widely available pre-K education.

These military officials say such interventions are necessary for increasing the pool of people who want to serve in the military and would be able to do so.

From RT, heightening tensions:

US missile cruiser to enter Black Sea amid NATO drills in Eastern Europe – military source

The US missile cruiser Vella Gulf is expected to arrive in the Black Sea on May 23, a military source told a Russian news agency. Another NATO vessel is already in the area, while the French Navy’s stealth frigate will reportedly be there by late May.

This comes as part of a wider buildup of NATO forces close to Russian borders against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.

The American Aegis guided missile cruiser will be in the Black Sea in time for the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, a military-diplomatic source told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency on Monday.

And from The Hill, our first drone report:

Obama backs off drone strikes

President Obama is relying less on drones and more on foreign governments in the global fight against terrorists.

The shift, which also includes fewer unilateral special operations raids of the type that killed Osama bin Laden, is prompting criticism that Washington depends on unstable governments such as in Nigeria, where Boko Haram, an extremist group, has emerged as a new threat.

The Pentagon has hiked its budget for “Section 1206″ counterterrorism programs to train and equip foreign militaries from $218.6 million in 2012 to a requested $290.2 million in 2014, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

A second from Deutsche Welle:

European aviation firms Airbus, Dassault, Alenia poised to produce military drones

Europe’s leading aviation companies have teamed up to develop and produce drones for military purposes in a drive to become independent of US technology. But governments have to decide about the drone’s capabilities.

European aviation and defense companies Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi said Monday they had launched a new initiative for the production of military drones for medium-altitude and long endurance (MALE) missions.

They offered to hold talks with the governments of Germany, France and Italy to agree on the drones’ future capabilities. The companies said they had already signed a cooperation accord between them and decided on the division of labor at an industrial level.

European policy-makers have long debated the need to develop a military drone but have so far not been able to agree on a joint program.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including evacuations, promises, threats, assertions, and a trans-border germ invasion. . . Continue reading

Headlines: CorporoEconoEcoPoliFarce


Having lost a host of entries through a browser crash, we’re feeling touched by absurdity, and so we begin with this from Taiwanese Animators:

AT&T buys DirecTV for $48.5 billion: Monopoly Media Mergers Edition

Program notes:

AT&T announced it plans to buy DirecTV, the top US satellite TV operator, for $48.5 billion in an attempt to grow beyond an increasingly hostile cellular market.

The deal was announced on Sunday. AT&T said it is offering $95 per DirecTV share in a combination of cash and stock, a 10 percent premium over Friday’s closing price of $86.18. The cash portion, $28.50 per share, will be financed by cash, asset sales, financing already lined up and other debt market transactions.

If the deal is approved by US regulators, AT&T would add 20 million DirecTV customers to its paltry 5.7 million U-verse customers, plus another 18 million DirecTV customers in Latin America.

The Wire adds more, less theatrically:

AT&T Promises to Uphold Net Neutrality for Three Years if DirecTV Deal Goes Through

In the event the $48 billion AT&T-DirecTV deal closes, the new joint company is promising to uphold the current net neutrality rules for at least three years. This promise would be valid regardless of how the FCC vote on the issue goes later this year.

In their proposal for the DirecTV purchase, AT&T issued a list of commitments, which they are calling “benefits of the transaction.”  One of these “benefits” is the following:

Net Neutrality Commitment. Continued commitment for three years after closing to the FCC’s Open Internet protections established in 2010, irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules.

In the event the FCC’s paid prioritization proposal passes, AT&T won’t actually participate in the potentially multi-million dollar scheme (if they keep their promise, that is.) This is also a major show of good faith to the FCC, which will have to approve the merger.

From the Guardian, a rare cause of a faint twinge of something approaching but not exactly qualifying as joy:

Credit Suisse pleads guilty to criminal charges in US tax evasion settlement

  • Bank is first in more than a decade to admit to a crime in US and will pay more than $2.5bn in penalties

Credit Suisse Group has pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it helped Americans evade taxes, becoming the first bank in more than a decade to admit to a crime in the US. It will now pay a long-expected fine of $2.5bn (£1.5bn).

“This case shows that no financial institution no matter its size or global reach is above the law,” said the attorney general, Eric Holder. He said the years-long investigation had uncovered evidence of an “extensive and wide-ranging” conspiracy to hide taxes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the bank’s involvement in it.

“The bank went to elaborate lengths to shield itself, its employees, and the tax cheats it served from accountability for their criminal actions. They subverted disclosure requirements, destroyed bank records, and concealed transactions involving undeclared accounts by limiting withdrawal amounts and using offshore credit and debit cards to repatriate funds. They failed to take even the most basic steps to ensure compliance with tax laws,” said Holder.

From Al Jazeera America, an unsurprising correlation:

Study: Student debt worst at universities with highest-paid presidents

  • Executives at 25 universities saw 14 percent higher salary increase than national average after 2008 recession

Student debt and the hiring of relatively low-paid adjunct faculty rather than full-time professors have grown fastest at public universities with the highest-paid presidents, a new report found.

University president pay has risen dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, according to the report, which focuses on 25 state universities that pay their presidents almost double the national average. Released Sunday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive Washington D.C.-based think tank, the study is called The One Percent at State U — referring to the financial gains made by executives after the 2008 recession.

Nationwide, between the fall of 2009 and the summer of 2012, average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent to $544,544, according to the study

Another unsurprising correlation, via KCBS:

Inner City Oakland Youth Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Centers for Disease Control said 30 percent of inner city kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The CDC said these children often live in virtual war zones. Doctors at Harvard said they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD.

Unlike soldiers, children in the inner city never leave the combat zone. They often experience trauma, repeatedly.

“You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar. Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home,” said Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University.

A cross-border legal beef from the Canadian Press, with that old “corporate person” free speech once again at issue:

Canada-U.S. meat labelling row hears free speech arguments

Canadian livestock producers were in an American courtroom Monday fighting against labelling requirements blamed for having devastated their exports to the United States.

The case revolves around the free-speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, one of the most sacrosanct provisions of the American Constitution.

Canadian and Mexican producers, and the U.S. partners they supply, argue that those speech rights are being violated by the requirement that they stamp country-of-origin labels on meat packaging.

On to Europe, with growth at the margin from TheLocal.st:

Europe’s far right expect election gains

Europe’s far-right is looking to overcome deep divisions and establish itself as a major player in Brussels after EU elections this week where it is expected to make significant gains.

With voters tired of a European Union handing down decisions from on high, parties like France’s National Front (FN), Britain’s UKIP and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPOe) are going strong in the polls ahead of the May 22-25 ballot.

But it might not be all plain sailing in the months to come.

Ireland next, and austerity once again victimizing its victims, via TheJournal.ie:

Two rape crisis centres are to close temporarily as cuts take hold

  • The services in Clare and Tipperary will be closed for at least a month because of a €120,000 shortfall.

TWO RAPE COUNSELLING services in the Midwest are to be temporaily closed because of a funding shortfall the service estimates at €120,000.

Rape Crisis Midwest has centres in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary but is to close the latter two services for a least one month to save costs.

The service provides confidential one to one counselling to survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse and says that it helps about 80 people a week.

Cash flowing from one end of Eurasia to another, via TheLocal.no:

Chinese tycoon agrees to buy Norway land

The Chinese property billionaire blocked from buying a huge chunk of Iceland is reportedly close to buying up a 100 hectares of the scenic Lyngen coastline.

Huang Nubo, a Communist party member who spent ten years working in the country’s propaganda ministry, on Thursday agreed to buy the site, which has already received planning permission for a series of villas, from Ola OK Giæver Jr, a local landowner, pilot and businessman.

“I can promise you a new era for Lyngen municipality. I trust that Huang Nubo will create huge and positive financial ripples throughout the north of Norway,” Giæver jr said. “There is not a better capitalist than Huang.”

Sweden next, and one way to make homelessness vanish, the neooliberal version, via TheLocal.se:

Stockholm says no to ‘freakshow’ soup kitchen

Stockholm municipality has ruled that a soup kitchen which had served hearty broth to the city’s homeless for the past two years must move on due to the risk of the city square being “turned into a zoo”.

“Nazis can march freely and water is thrown on people begging, but to create a meeting place to challenge politicians and other people to actually do something is obviously very dangerous and terrible,” Elin Jakobsson at Soup Kitchen Stockholm said in response to the decision via social media.

The organization has been active for the past two years and works both as a source of food and a monthly meeting place for the city’s homeless population. The soup kitchen requires a police permit and on Monday its application for renewal was rejected.

But it can be carried to far, of course, via TheLocal.se:

Shopkeeper charged over beggar dousing

A Gothenburg shopkeeper has been charged over the drenching of a beggar with water in front of his shop in March, an incident which sparked an outraged response on social media.

The man was charged on Monday with two counts of harassment.

The first was for an incident on March 10th when he threw a bucket of warm water at his own Hemköp window, effectively soaking a beggar sitting nearby. The second charge was for the day after, when the man did the same thing with a bucket of cold water.

On both occasions, the woman begging by the windows was drenched, and the prosecutor argued on Monday that both acts were carried out with intent.

From GlobalPost, going medieval:

In Germany, no means yes

  • A regressive definition of rape highlights the country’s stubbornly traditional attitudes toward women.

No means yes, at least in this country.

When a rape court in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia acquitted the alleged rapist of a 15-year-old girl in 2012, women’s rights advocates were outraged.

The ruling found that saying no, or even screaming it, wasn’t enough to merit rape charges. Now findings from a new study indicate that case was hardly unique, despite a European initiative to step up efforts to stop violence against women.

The number of German rape cases ending in convictions has plummeted from 22 percent to 8 percent over the past 20 years, according to a study released by the Hanover-based Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony

A suggestion for a foreign visitor from TheLocal.de:

Mayor urges Erdogan to cancel German trip

German politicians called on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to cancel an upcoming pre-election appearance to Cologne in the wake of a deadly mine disaster.

Amid mounting anger within Turkey over his response to last week’s coal mine blast in which 301 died, Erdogan faced condemnation and calls to cancel his visit next Saturday from across the political spectrum in Germany.

Erdogan is due to address supporters in Germany, where three million Turks or people of Turkish origin live, with a visit to the western city of Cologne. For the first time, some 2.6 million Turks living abroad, including 1.5 million in Germany alone, will be able to cast their votes in the August presidential vote in which Erdogan is expected to stand.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Germany urges restraint ahead of Erdogan’s planned speech in Cologne

The German government has urged Turkey’s prime minister to exercise restraint when he visits the country on the weekend. This followed calls from some German politicians for Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel his visit.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday that as the prime minister of a “really close and important partner” nation, Erdogan was welcome in Germany, where he plans to deliver a speech to local Turks on Saturday.

At the same time, though, Seibert said the German government expected Erdogan to choose his words carefully at what he described as a “difficult” time, given the political tensions in Turkey in light of the recent mining disaster and the fact that it comes one day before the European elections.

Seibert said in light of this, the government expected Erdogan to deliver a “sensitive, responsible” speech, when he addresses thousands of his fellow countrymen and women at an indoor stadium in the western city of Cologne.

Another bankster busted, from TheLocal.fr:

Rogue trader Kerviel imprisoned in France

The former trader Jérome Kerviel was finally behind bars in France on Monday after being picked up by French police at midnight. Kerviel is due to start a three year prison sentence over his role in losing former employers Société Général €5 billion through high-risk trading.

French police arrested rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel at midnight on Sunday, shortly after he had crossed the border from Italy into France on his walk home from Rome to Paris.

A local prosecutor then announced on Monday morning that Kerviel was behind bars in the Riviera city of Nice.

TheLocal.fr again, with some reassurance for the poorest:

French income tax cuts for poorest to last to 2017

A plan to exempt France’s poorest households from income tax will not just be a one-off for this year, the government finance minister said this week. The income tax breaks will actually apply until 2017, the minister Michel Sapin said.

There was more cheer for the more hard-up tax payers in France on Monday when the finance minister Michel Sapin announced a government plan to apply the recently revealed breaks until 2017.

Sapin’s pledge comes days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made the headlines by announcing that the government plans to exempt 1.8 million households from the income tax burden.

From El País, Spanish repos rising:

Home repossessions up 10% in 2013

  • Spanish lenders took back nearly 50,000 properties last year
  • Figures released by Bank of Spain suggest more borrowers are handing back keys in payment

Spanish lenders repossessed 49,694 homes from defaulting borrowers in 2013, a 10% rise from a year earlier, figures released on Monday by the Bank of Spain show.

Of these, 38,961 were first residences, according to statistics provided by the banks. The vast majority of properties were empty at the time of repossession.

Meanwhile, the proportion of cases involving dation in payment, in which borrowers in arrears hand over the keys of the property to the lender that approved the mortgage to cancel debt obligations, reached 32.5% of all repossessed homes.

Pimping the rich fails to enrich, via TheLocal.es:

Spain’s ‘golden visa’ scheme fails to shine

Just 72 people have signed on to a controversial Spanish ‘visa for cash’ scheme which grants automatic Spanish residency to people who buy a property worth at least €500,000 ($685,000).

The so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme has reaped only small rewards, according to Spain’s El País newspaper.

Introduced in September 2013, the law gives foreigners who invest large sums in Spanish property, public debt and projects of general interest the right to reside in Spain.

And from thinkSPAIN, another way California is like Spain:

Worst drought in 150 years hits southern and eastern Spain

A DROUGHT of the scale not seen in over a century and a half is threatening water resources in Spain’s south and east after the lowest rainfall on record over the autumn, winter and spring.

The worst-hit provinces are Valencia and Alicante where, following a sudden and unprecedented gota fría or Mediterranean ‘monsoon’ in late August, it has barely rained between September and June.

Murcia, Albacete, Cuenca, Teruel, Cádiz, Málaga, Jaén and Almería are also at high risk – the only provinces in Andalucía which are safe are Granada, Sevilla and Huelva.

From El País, and how [to employ a sexist term] broad-minded of them:

Spanish conservatives forgive sexist remarks by their European contender

  • Women at Popular Party rally play down Arias Cañete’s views about male “intellectual superiority”

It was just a minor “slip.” Popular Party (PP) voters are writing off as unimportant statements about the intellectual superiority of men made last week by the party’s top European candidate, Miguel Arias Cañete, despite leaders’ fears they might have jeopardized his chances of winning.

Several women who attended a Sunday rally by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal in Cuenca sought to play down the controversy over the sexist remarks.

During a televised debate with Elena Valenciano, his Socialist rival in next Sunday’s European elections, Arias Cañete claimed that he had held back from serious intellectual confrontation because “if you abuse your intellectual superiority, you end up looking like a sexist intimidating a defenseless woman.”

Italy next and a wiseguy lipoff lambasted via ANSA.it:

Renzi hits back after Grillo mafia jibe

  • Premier says PD marks real face of change

Premier Matteo Renzi hit back Monday after Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), used a Mafia jibe to suggest his political career was close to ending as the campaign for Sunday’s European elections grew increasingly venomous.

Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is top in most polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S, who are second in the surveys after capturing a stunning 25% of the vote in last year’s general election, can come first with a late surge.

“Renzie has been hired on a temporary project to win the European elections, but he’ll lose them,” Grillo wrote Monday on his popular blog, using a nickname that refers to the premier’s alleged attempt to come across as cool like TV’s Fonzie.

TheLocal.it notes another grime number:

Italy’s employment rate is one of Europe’s worst

  • The Italian employment rate fell to 59.8 percent last year, one of the worst in Europe, according to figures released on Monday by the European Commission.

Fewer than 60 percent of Italians aged 20 to 64 were employed in 2013, far below the EU average of 68.3 percent.

The new figure sees Italy slip to figures not seen for over a decade, with last year’s rate just higher than the 59.2 percent recorded in 2002. Between then and 2008 the situation steadily improved for workers in Italy, until the global financial crisis struck and led to a steady decline in employment.

According to the European Commission data, Italy now has one of the worst employment rates in Europe, just slightly higher than Spain’s 58.2 percent. Only Greece, with 53.2 percent, and Croatia (53.9 percent) fared worse in 2013.

ANSA.it demands:

Napolitano says EU must help on migrants

  • Italy is main entrance for flow that’s creating emergency

President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday that the European Union must provide Italy with greater help in coping with a massive wave of migrants arriving from North Africa. “Today we are faced with the absolute need to achieve a concrete, operative model of cooperation with the European Union,” Napolitano told Italian officials at the United Nations in Geneva, ANSA sources said. The Head of State added that while migrant arrivals had caused an emergency for all of southern Europe, Italy is “the main entrance”. There has been friction between Rome and Brussels after two migrant boat disasters south of Italy last week in which around 60 people are confirmed dead and many more may have lost their lives.

Rome says the EU is not doing enough to support it after it launched the humanitarian Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) search-and-rescue border operation in October, after roughly 400 migrants drowned in two wrecks off the coast of Sicily.

On Wednesday Premier Matteo Renzi accused the European Union of looking the other way as Italy struggles to cope with the crisis.

After the jump, fascinating electoral news from Greece, the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan turmoil, pre-World Cup jitters in Brazil, polio rising, a Thai takeover, Chinese real estate developments, Japanese Trans-Pacific intransigence, melting polar caps, other environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

First Dog on the Moon: Surveillance, everywhere


From the Guardian’s First Dog on the Moon. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG NSA toon

A crisis in Italy: Mafia toxic waste dumping


From SBS Dateline, a documentary from the doomed [by a neoliberal Australian government] network on the massive scale of illegal toxic and nuclear waste dumping by the mafia with the collusion of successive governments:

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Inside Italy’s Secret Toxic Waste Crisis

Program notes:

On the foothills of Mount Vesuvius a new threat has emerged. Known as the “triangle of death”; 20 tonnes of toxic waste have been illegally dumped by the Mafia, causing child cancer rates to double.

“The ground is smouldering with unnatural fumes”, explains Enzo Tosti, a local activist. As the fumes rise, lethal contamination spreads into the local farms and the aquifers surrounding Naples. The effect of the Mafia waste disposal has been devastating as these toxins have now found their way into the food chain, causing “carcinogenic, mutagenic damage” and an upsurge in child cancer rates. Carmine Schiavone, the former Mafia boss in charge of disposing the toxic waste, has a price on his head. But he has now had a turn of conscience. Exposing that the waste near Naples was dumped under the “knowledge of senior officials”, Schiavone also indicates that Naples isn’t the only place in Italy facing this toxic time bomb.

Headlines II: Spies, pols, drones, & zones


Today’s tales from the dark side begins with this from the Independent:

White House lawyers ‘unable to find’ critical Iraq letter from Tony Blair telling George Bush: ‘I’m with you whatever’

A letter sent by Tony Blair to George Bush that is “critical” to the Iraq Inquiry has gone missing from official White House records, it has been reported.

The publication of secret correspondence between the UK and US administrations in the build-up to the Iraq War has become a major stumbling block for Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the 2003 invasion.

While the Cabinet Office has said privately that it wants to release as many of the Blair-Bush communications as possible, there is one letter which lawyers at the White House say they have “not been able to locate”.

From the San Jose Mercury News, the panopticon on those other courts:

Big Data meets big-time basketball

As of this year, every NBA team has access to sophisticated tracking data that can tell them the position of the ball and every player on the court for every second of every game of the season. The data, provided by a system of cameras developed by a company called SportVU and installed in every NBA arena, is starting to revolutionize professional basketball, influencing everything from game strategy and player conditioning to how fans interact with the sport.

“It’s a real game changer,” said Ben Alamar, a professor of sport management at Menlo College in Atherton who works as a consultant to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s allowing us to ask questions that we really couldn’t ask before.”

The NBA’s new camera system is only the latest example of the power and pervasiveness of big data — the collection of large sets of small tidbits of information to explore everything from the farthest stars to individual consumer desires.

And on the roads, via the Los Angeles Times:

Use of license plate photo databases is raising privacy concerns

A growing number of cameras — hundreds around Los Angeles, thousands nationwide — are engaged in a simple pursuit: Taking pictures of license plates.

The digital photos, automatically snapped by cameras mounted on cars and street poles and then tagged with time and location, are transmitted to massive databases running on remote computer servers. Cops can then search those databases to track the past whereabouts of drivers.

Law enforcement officials say the data collection is invaluable for tracking down stolen cars and catching fugitives.

But such databases are also being built by private firms, which can sell access to anyone willing to pay, such as lenders, repo workers and private investigators. That is raising worries among privacy advocates and lawmakers, who say the fast-growing industry is not only ripe for conflicts of interest but downright invasive.

From TechWeekEurope, a victory perhaps, but also an exploit for Those Who Shall Not Be Named:

Minnesota Passes Smartphone Kill-Switch Legislation

  • Minnesota becomes the first US state to require manufacturers to offer kill switch for all smartphones sold

Minnesota has become the first US state to introduce legislation that requires all smartphones sold to have a kill-switch feature in the event that the device is lost or stolen.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have been campaigning for such a measure and last month, manufacturers and operators agreed to include a “baseline anti-theft tool” in handsets sold in the US. However this is the first time such a requirement has been written into law.

“Any new smart phone manufactured on or after July 1, 2015, sold or purchased in Minnesota must be equipped with preloaded antitheft functionality or be capable of downloading that functionality,” reads the legislation. “The functionality must be available to purchasers at no cost.”

From the Miami Herald, more cause for domestic insecurity:

Behind bars, a brutal and unexplained death

The purported details of Darren Rainey’s last hour are difficult to read.

“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’‘ he screamed over and over, according to a grievance complaint from a fellow inmate, as Rainey was allegedly locked in a shower with the scalding water turned on full blast.

A 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution, Rainey was pulled into the locked shower by prison guards as punishment after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, said the fellow inmate, who worked as an orderly. He was left there unattended for more than an hour as the narrow chamber filled with steam and water.

When guards finally checked on prisoner 060954, he was on his back and dead. His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.

And via the Fort Collins Coloradoan, another whistleblower punished:

Whistleblower: VA punished me for not cooking books

The whistleblower behind the federal investigation of the Fort Collins Veterans Affairs clinic said she was put on two-week unpaid leave for not “cooking the books” when scheduling appointments.

Lisa Lee, a former Navy reservist now on active duty in Hawaii, told the Fort Collins Coloradoan she and another scheduler were transferred from Fort Collins, Colo., in March 2013 for refusing to hide wait times between desired appointment dates and actual dates. She said the suspension came after she filed an internal grievance about the transfer and scheduling practices.

The VA aims to see veterans within 14 days of desired appointment dates and uses it as a performance measure. It is a contributing factor to administrator bonuses, according to a VA spokesperson. Lee said a spreadsheet detailed which schedulers met the 14-day goal.

Bad news for would-be immigrants at home, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Records show Border Patrol agents typically not disciplined for abusing immigrants

Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Immigration Council(AIC) found that of 809 abuse complaints reported to the Border Patrol’s internal affairs unit between January 2009 and January 2012, only thirteen led to disciplinary action, and most of the agents cited for disciplinary action were only ordered to undergo counseling. One expert on unauthorized migration says that Border Patrol agents are not properly trained or disciplined by the agency.”People are not being held accountable for their actions,” he said. He conducted a survey in which he found that 10 percent of migrants reported abuse by Border Patrol agents when they were found illegally crossing the border.

And in Old Blighty, via the Observer:

MPs to investigate Serco over sex assault claim at Yarl’s Wood centre

  • Firm forced to disclose secret internal report as Keith Vaz says he is ‘shocked’ by events at immigration detention centre

Serco, the private outsourcing giant, is to be investigated by MPs after it was forced to disclose a secret internal report revealing evidence that it failed to properly investigate a claim of repeated sexual assaults by one of its staff against a female resident at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.

The document, which was marked confidential, was made public last week following a four-month legal battle between Serco and Guardian News and Media. Lawyers said the report demonstrates a culture of disbelief towards women inside the detention centre, which is run by Serco, and hailed the high court’s decision forcing Serco to disclose the document as a victory for greater transparency.

The revelation comes a day after it was disclosed that Serco could be among companies to take over the running of privatised children’s social services, including child protection, under proposals being considered by Michael Gove’s Department for Education.

While Want China Times warns of other insecurities:

PLA wary of data leaks and malware from USB drives

In the internet era, mobile storage capacity is essential, especially in the form of USB flash drives or other portable storage drives. However, the risk of information leaks has prompted many, including the military, to consider how to monitor usage of such devices, reports the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of China’s armed forces.

The USB flash drives now readily available on the market are cheaper, smaller, faster and have thousands of times more capacity than the storage units that were around just a few years ago. Flash memory drives are also more durable and reliable than hard drives as they have no moving parts.

The drives present a significant security challenge for companies and organizations as their small size and ease of use allows unsupervised visitors or employees to smuggle out confidential data with little chance of detection. Both corporate and public computers are vulnerable to attackers connecting a flash drive to a free USB port to download material or to upload malicious software such as keyboard loggers or packet sniffers.

And Deutsche Welle sounds the panic alarm:

Spiegel: NATO unprepared if Russia moved into Baltic members

According to the German magazine Spiegel, NATO is examining scenarios in the event of a Russian military move in Eastern Europe. Alarm bells are already ringing in eastern states, and NATO is keen to show it could cope.

The article, which appeared in Spiegel’s online edition in German on Sunday, cites an internal North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) draft document pertaining to discussions occurring within the military alliance and among individual members about possible scenarios if Russia were to launch a military campaign in Eastern Europe.

The draft document arrives at the conclusion that Russia’s ability to “execute a significant military action without much warning poses a wide-reaching threat for maintaining safety and stability in the Euro-Atlantic zone.”

NATO has observed a Russian troop buildup near its border with Ukraine, but Russia claims it has no current plans for a military move. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but the alliance is keen to show that it can effectively defend its Baltic members should the need arise.

On to the drone front, first with a video report from RT America:

“Drone Memos” author headed for Senate confirmation

Program notes:

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced President Barack Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, David Barron, will receive a confirmation vote in the Senate next week. The nomination has drawn calls from both sides of the aisle for the White House to release the drone memos, written by Barron, to the public. Those memos served as a legal basis for the drone strike that killed American citizen Anwar al Awlaki in 2011, but they remain classified. RT’s Sam Sacks reports.

From TheLocal.se, drones over Scandinavia:

Swedish police mull drone deployment

The Swedish National Police Board is to review how unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, could be of use while conducting routine police work.

The National Police Board (Rikspolisstyrelsen) has been awarded funds to investigate possible applications of the technology.

Examples of when the unmanned aerial vehicles could be of use include incidents such as oil spills and at crime scenes when forensic scientists could send in the drones to take pictures, reducing the risk of evidence being destroyed.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including emerging alliances, political posturing, and the nearly completed remilitarization authorization in Japan. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, polls, EconoGrecoFukuNews


Today’s collection of political, economic, and environmental news headlines — plus the latest from Fukushima — begins a a “mission accomplished” entry from the Associated Press:

Tea party losing races but tugging GOP rightward

Tuesday’s high-profile primary elections may extend a streak of sorts for tea party Republicans: losing individual races but winning the larger ideological war by tugging the GOP rightward.

Tea party-endorsed candidates are struggling in Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho.

In each state, “establishment” Republican candidates have emphasized their conservative credentials — thus narrowing the party’s philosophical differences.

Democrats say it’s happening elsewhere — and that the candidates trying to give Republicans control of the Senate will prove too far right for centrist voters in November.

From the London Daily Mail, via the Dept. Of Anything for a Buck:

‘To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant’: Families of workers killed on 9/11 vent fury at new museum’s tacky gift shop which stands above tomb storing 8,000 unidentified body parts of victims

  • The newly-opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum also features a gift shop
  • Many victims’ families feel the idea of a gift shop, so close to their loved-ones’ remains, offensive
  • Some 8,000 unidentified remains of victims were recently relocated to a tomb beneath the museum
  • The museum opened to victims’ families and survivors on Thursday and will open for the general public on May 21
  • Proceeds from the gift shop will go to ‘developing and sustaining’ the museum and memorial

From the Washington Post, consolidation of media continues:

AT&T, DirecTV announce $49 billion merger

AT&T announced Sunday that it was acquiring DirecTV in a $49 billion deal that would create a new telecom and television behemoth to rival cable firms — while raising fresh concerns about competition and options for consumers.

AT&T would gain DirecTV’s 20 million U.S. subscribers, a company with strong cash flows and an ability to fatten its bundle of offerings. The combined firm would be able to offer phone, high-speed Internet and pay-TV subscriptions to more customers — packages that cable firms such as Comcast have sold most successfully.

AT&T has agreed to acquire DirecTV for $95 a share, made up of $28.50 a share in cash and $66.50 a share in AT&T stock. AT&T says it expects to close the acquisition within 12 months.

More from the Department of Anything for a Buck from BuzzFeed:

New York To Keep Investments Linked To Russian Social Media Site Home to Neo-Nazi and Anti-Gay Groups

Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Burger King, keep advertising there, too.

LGBT activists have since February been pushing the city and state of New York to divest of holdings connected to the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) because it hosts the pages of hundreds of Neo-Nazi and anti-LGBT groups — but New York isn’t budging.

Duncan Obsorne, a member of LGBT rights protest group Queer Nation, told BuzzFeed the group met with both State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and City Comptroller Scott Stringer in April to discuss their holdings tied to VKontakte, which hosts hundreds of pages belonging to groups like Occupy Pedophilia, which entraps gay men to torture them on camera.

California’s state pension fund, CalPERS, responded to similar prodding from other LGBT activists and has sold $20 million shares in Mail.ru, which owns a 52 percent share of VKontakte and is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, the Financial Times reported Friday. Queer Nation helped CalPERS research and investigate material on VK that lead to the fund’s decision to divest.

More consolidatin’ from BBC News:

Pfizer in new offer for AstraZeneca takeover

US drugs giant Pfizer has made an improved offer for the UK’s AstraZeneca as it bids to tie up the largest takeover in British business history.

The new offer of £55 per share would value AstraZeneca at about £69bn.

Pfizer plans to create the world’s largest drug company, with its headquarters in New York, but based in the UK for tax purposes.

That plan has proved controversial with unions and politicians, with 6,700 UK jobs at stake.

Bankster alert from TheLocal.fr:

Goldman Sachs fears BNP Paribas guilty plea

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The two European banks, under probes for violating US sanctions and abetting tax evasion, are potentially facing very heavy fines that could reach billions of dollars.

From the Guardian, hot times in the Golden State:

California governor links wildfire increase to climate change

  • Jerry Brown predicts ‘worst’ wildfire season ever
  • Last evacuees home after San Diego County fires

Drought-stricken California is preparing for its worst wildfire season ever, the state’s governor said on Sunday.

Governor Jerry Brown told ABC’s This Week that the nearly dozen wildfires that this week caused more than $20m in damage mark only the beginning. The state has 5,000 firefighters and has appropriated $600m to battling blazes, but that may not be enough.

“We’re getting ready for the worst,” Brown said. “Now, we don’t want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full complement of firefighting capacity.”

From PRI’s The World, driving away to cheaper pastures:

Toyota built Torrance into the second-largest home of Japanese Americans. Now, it’s leaving

When Toyota announced plans last month to move its US headquarters from Southern California to Texas, the announcement caught a lot of people off guard — particularly in the city of Torrance, Toyota’s American home for the past 30 years.

Torrance is just 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and is quintessential suburbia — the kind of place people move to when they’re ready to raise their kids.

It’s long been overshadowed by its livelier neighbors, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.

From United Press International, scoldin’ students over Grinnin’ Bobby B:

Haverford College commencement speaker calls students ‘arrogant’ for protesting other speaker

Former Princeton President William G. Bowen called Haverford students “immature” and “arrogant” for protesting previously scheduled commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau.

Haverford College’s graduating class of 2014 got a slap on the wrist from their own commencement speaker on Sunday.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, called students “immature” for protesting the original speaker, Robert J. Birgeneau, who bowed out last week.

Birgeneau, former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, faced criticism for his handling of the Occupy movement in 2011, when he allegedly allowed campus police to use force against protesters.

On to Europe and a brouhaha in Brussels via EurActiv:

Hundreds of protesters arrested in Brussels as business leaders debate ‘maintaining citizen’s trust’

240 people were arrested on Thursday (15 May) around the European Business Summit venue in Brussels during non-violent protests organised by trade unions and citizens’ groups.

The protestors had gathered to denounce the budgetary austerity policies in Europe, and the ongoing talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA, which they say is being negotiated “in total opacity”.

“Today multinationals are inviting political decision makers like the European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and they are discussing putting more business in Europe,” said Felipe Van Keirsblick, the secretary general of the Belgian trade union for employees, the CNE-CNG.

From the Department of Mother Said Never Do It, via EurActiv:

EU secret revealed: Rome Treaty was signed on blank sheet

At the launch of a book on the history of the European Commission, officials revealed some of the best-kept secrets in EU history. Among them is the incredible story of the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, on 1 January 1958.

José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing President of the European Commission, presented the second volume of a book Wednesday (14 May) telling the history of the Commission between 1973 and 1986.

The ceremony, hosted on the 13th floor of the Commission’s flagship Berlaymont building, gave Barroso the occasion to disclose unknown anecdotes, the most extraordinary of which regards the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The event was attended by many figures of post-war European integration history, including old-time surviving officials from the Commission such as Jean Rabier, born in 1919, the chief of staff of Jean Monnet, one of the “founding fathers” of Europe.

Britain next and a departure alert from EUobserver:

Brexit would be ‘very costly gamble’, warns think tank

Increased trade and regulatory costs would cost the UK economy up to 9.5 percent of its output if the UK left the European Union, according to new research by the London School of Economics.

The findings are contained in the ‘Brexit or Fixit’? report by researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance, which forms part of the university.

“Our current assessment is that leaving the EU would be likely to impose substantial costs on the UK economy and would be a very risky gamble,” the paper states.

The London Telegraph strives to tame a bubble:

Mortgages could be capped to control house prices, says Bank Governor

  • The Bank of England could step in to curb mortgage lending amid fears Britain’s booming housing market risks threatening the economic recovery, says its Governor Mark Carney

People could be stopped taking out mortgages worth many times their salary to buy new homes, the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Mark Carney said in an interview that capping the size of mortgage ratios to salaries was one measure the Bank was considering to controlling the housing market.

The Bank was also watching to see if the Government’s Help to Buy scheme – in which the Government gives people taxpayers money to cover deposits on new homes worth up to £600,000 – was fuelling them.

The Independent totes up another austerian cost:

Cuts send rates of mental health disorders among young soaring

Rising rates of mental health disorders among children are linked to council budget cuts and health restructurings that have denied vulnerable young people early help, the Children’s Commissioner has told MPs.

Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said more children and young people with mental health problems were being admitted to adult psychiatric wards.

In written evidence to the Health Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), she said: “It cannot be coincidental that the increasing concerns about child and adolescent mental health coincides with the biggest reconfiguration of health and social care services, reductions in preventative and early intervention budgets and local CAMHS budgets and therefore spending, in a generation.”

And over to Ireland, where concerns about mental health patients under the austerian regime have led one Irish hospital director to resign, reports Independent.ie:

Hospital’s clinical director resigns due to his concerns for ‘patient safety’

The clinical director of Beaumont Hospital has resigned citing his concerns for patient safety. Professor Shane O’Neill emailed his resignation to management on Friday.

In his role as clinical director, he was the hospital’s most senior doctor.

The Sunday Business Post reported Mr O’Neill’s previous correspondence with management, saying assessment of psychiatric patients in their busy accident and emergency department was “entirely unsafe”.

From Independent.ie, another diagnostic criterion of austerity on the Emerald Isle:

‘Tsunami of homelessness’ beyond crisis point, warns campaigner

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has claimed the “tsunami of homelessness” is the worst he has ever seen.

He said that in his 40 years working with homeless people in Dublin, the housing shortage has never been as problematic as it is now and is being forced into turning people away due to a lack of capacity.

His charity – The Peter McVerry Trust – is struggling to cope with demand and says the problem is getting worse. “There are six new people becoming homeless every day and that’s the official figures. It may be more than that”.

German next, with a cash infusion from Reuters:

Deutsche Bank enlists Qatar in 8 billion-euro capital hike

Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) said on Sunday it would raise 8 billion euros in new capital, with the Qatari royal family lined up as a major new investor, in a bid by Germany’s largest bank to end questions about its capital position.

The bank had already raised 10.2 billion euros in equity in 2010 and a further 3 billion euros in 2013, but that had not been enough to assuage investor concerns about its capital position as if faces increased regulatory demands.

A stake worth 1.75 billion euros has already been placed with an investment vehicle owned and controlled by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al-Thani of Qatar, Deutsche Bank said in a statement. It plans to raise another 6.3 billion euros in a rights issue to existing shareholders.

Austerity in Germany, only at the bottom, via New Europe:

OECD: Germany needs more jobs, less poverty

A new report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on May 13 calls on Germany to implement more measures aimed at reducing poverty.

According to the OECD, recent labour market reforms have increased the rate of unemployment and widened the social inequality gap.

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

On to Austria with New Europe and a boost for the right:

Austria: Populist Freedom Party strong in EU vote

Despite its Euroskeptic stance, the Freedom Party is only a few percentage points behind the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party in the May 25 race for EU Parliament seats. That’s in line with expectations of a generally strong showing of right-leaning populist parties in the EU parliamentary race.

But pollsters also say that if national elections were held now, the Freedom Party would actually win them, a stunning upset of the two establishment parties that have traditionally governed Austria.

The party’s popularity clearly reflects unhappiness with the status quo. And that’s hard to explain, when looking only at Austria’s metrics.

From Deutsche Welle, Swiss nix both guns and butter:

Swiss referendum turns down minimum wage and new fighter jets

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal that would have introduced the world’s highest minimum wage. They also turned down a plan to buy more than twenty new fighter jets.

The vote count by Swiss TV showed some 77 percent of voters and 24 of the Alpine nation’s 26 cantons (states) rejecting the idea mooted by trade unions to create a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (20.22 euros, $24.70) per hour. Votes from the capital Bern and business center of Zurich are still to be announced.

Trade unions had argued the wage would be a way to fight poverty in a country known for its very high cost of living.

Business leaders had argued the minimum wage rate would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland’s high costs even higher. The median hourly wage is about 33 francs (27 euros, $37) an hour.

From France, a chutzpah alert from TheLocal.fr:

French rogue trader demands to see Hollande

Rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, facing a Sunday deadline to return to France to begin a three year prison term, has demanded an audience with President Francois Hollande.

Issuing a statement from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, Kerviel said he wished to detail “all the serious failings” that led to his conviction after he brought one of Europe’s biggest banks to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008.

Aides to Hollande said Saturday they would consider a request from Kerviel for a presidential pardon over his role in the loss of nearly five billion euros through wildly risky trades.

From FRANCE 24, a belated act of resistance:

France extends veto power over foreign takeovers

The French government on Thursday changed its policy to increase the state’s influence in foreign buyouts and investment in key sectors, which will allow it to intervene in GE’s controversial bid for French giant Alstom.

The new rules will come into effect on Friday and cover the key sectors of energy, transport, water, health and telecoms.

“The choice we have made, along with the prime minister (Manuel Valls), is the choice of economic patriotism,” Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg told daily newspaper Le Monde.

Portugal next and an upgrade form New Europe:

Moody’s raises Portugal’s rating to Ba2

Portugal has received its first ratings upgrade since the sovereign-debt crisis pushed it into a €78 billion rescue programme in 2011.

Moody’s Investors Service said on 9 May it upgraded Portugal’s government bond rating to Ba2 from Ba3. In addition, the rating agency placed the Ba2 rating on review for possible further upgrade.

Moody’s said  Portugal’s fiscal situation has improved more rapidly than initially targeted and the public debt ratio will start declining this year, albeit from a very high level. The budget deficit was reduced a full percentage point of GDP more than envisaged last year, indicating the government’s strong commitment to fiscal consolidation.

Off to Italy and a Bunga Bunga rebuke from Europe Online:

Ex wife lashes out at Berlusconi over unflattering tabloid shots

The ex-wife of Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday charged that following her divorce, she was being subjected to “miserable” hounding from a gossip magazine published by the family of the former Italian premier.

Earlier this month, Chi magazine printed unflattering paparazzi pictures of Veronica Lario, under the headline “The new life of Veronica.” It noted that she had “put on a bit of weight,” and asked plastic surgeons how they would operate on her.

“It hurts me that the weekly responsible for this miserable ambush belongs to my ex-husband,” the 57-year-old Lario said in a rare interview to Il Messaggero newspaper.

Next up, off to Eastern Europe with Sky News:

Balkans: Worst Floods In A Century Kill Dozens

Tens of thousands have fled their homes after Serbia and Bosnia experienced three months of rainfall in just three days.

The worst floods to hit the Balkans in more than a century have killed dozens, and there are fears that number could rise as a major river is set to be hit by a new flood wave this evening.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia after three months of rain fell on the region in just three days. Thousands have also been evacuated in Croatia, where one person has died and two remain missing.

A video report form euronews:

Dozens dead, tens of thousands evacuated from Balkans flooding

Program note:

The death toll continues to rise from the flooding in the Balkans. In central and western Serbia, the rains did start to ease and waters receded in some of the worst-hit areas on Sunday, May 18.

But essential services, like power stations, have been submerged. Serbia’s EPS power utility said fresh flooding is threatening the Nikola Tesla and Kostolac power plants in Obrenovac, 30 kilometres southwest of the capital, Belgrade. Kostolac currently supplies 20 percent of Serbia’s electricity needs.

From the Washington Post, a headline that could’ve gone in our companion compendium of headlines:

Russian President Putin builds ties in Moldova, Kazakhstan and Baltics

Vowing to defend ethnic Russians wherever they live, President Vladimir Putin has embarked on an aggressive campaign to rebuild the pride and assertiveness of the Russian people, which he says was lost in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A week ahead of a presidential vote in Ukraine that will help determine that nation’s relationship with Russia, Putin has been devoting new power to redressing what he has called the historical tragedy that shattered the Soviet Union into 15 nations.

From annexing Crimea to collecting separatist petitions in Moldova to handing out passports to compatriots in the Baltics, Putin has spent recent weeks focused on neighboring countries, many of which have substantial ethnic Russian minorities.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Cypriot relief, Ukrainian questions, Russian political moves, Turkish troubles, Iranian woes, African measures and countermeasures, Latin American troubles and deals, Thai turmoil, China slowdown signs, Abenomics in question, environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

India’s winners: Hindu fundies and neoliberals


The Indian vote is important in so many ways, given the simmering regional tensions we’ve dubbed the Game of Zones.

We begin today’s coverage with a another video report from The Real News Network featruing a Sharmini Peries interview of Nagesh Rao, a Colgate University lecturer of university studies, a post-colonial studies scholar, and an antiwar activist:

It’s a Decisive Victory for the BJP in India.

From the transcript:

RAO: Well, to start with, I think we have to see that this is a very difficult time for most Indians. Going into this election, the media and the corporate sector in India had already anointed Narendra Modi prime minister well before the voting had begun. And the candidate of corporate capital and of Hindu nationalist right wing movement is now poised to become prime minister.

As you probably know, Narendra Modi is, of course, most notorious for the fact that he at the very least didn’t do anything to stop the pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and he’s seen as a very divisive and authoritarian figure for many of these reasons.

PERIES: Nagesh, while Modi is–you know, his historical record has been made very public and attacked for his Hindu fundamentalism and inciting riots in terms of his history, he however in this particular election comes out not talking about any of that but talking about real issues that concern the people, like jobs. Yes?

RAO: Mhm, yes, except that the way he’s talked about these real issues has been in terms of so-called development, looking at the Gujarat model, as it’s been called. As chief minister of Gujarat, he claims to have developed Gujarat in a way that no other state has in India, and he hopes to implement that same model across the country.

The thing to recognize is that Modi’s sort of reinvention, his reinvention as a developmentalist, as someone who’s going to focus primarily on jobs, the economy, and so on and so forth, has been fairly recent in origin. Because of his success in Gujarat, sections of corporate capital anointed him precisely because they want to see all the barriers towards capital accumulation in India lifted. So further neoliberalism, further privatization, further deregulation, this is what lurks behind the model of development that’s known as the Gujarat model.

That said, that said, I think it’s important to recognize that the communalist, fundamentalist element of Modi’s being wasn’t entirely forgotten during this campaign, and he and his allies have done as much as they could to both emphasize this Gujarat model of development on the one hand, but also kind of Hindu nationalism and fundamentalism on the other.

And for more detail, we’ve extracted our Indian electoral headlines for of daily [usually] collection of political news headlines, revealing an array of significant consequences.

First, from the Times of India:

Modi to have free hand in both govt and party

Amid fierce lobbying for ministerial berths by BJP aspirants, RSS on Sunday claimed that it will not interfere with government formation, in a clear signal that Narendra Modi has a free hand in picking his team and that anxious seniors need to settle their claims with the PM-elect rather than bank on the Sangh to intercede on their behalf.

Articulating the RSS position, Sangh leader Ram Madhav said, “Sangh has not given any guidelines to BJP after its historic victory in Lok Sabha polls, nor to Modiji… RSS never keeps any remote control to perform any role in politics and government.”

However, Madhav said the Sangh may give suggestions, and expects the government to be sensitive to the Parivar’s ideological orientation. “People’s representatives who won in Lok Sabha polls are aware of the Sangh’s ideology and they know how to do work and take forward its ideology. There is no way that RSS would interfere in government’s functioning and politics. However, if required, Sangh may give suggestions,” he said.

CNNMoney covers the market reaction:

Modi win boosts Indian markets

India’s stock market surged Friday after early election results suggested a sweeping victory for Narendra Modi and the pro-business Bharatiya Janata Party.

Investors reacted to the news with enthusiasm, and Mumbai’s Sensex index advanced by more than 5% in early trading before paring gains to close 0.4% higher. The rupee strengthened by more than 1% and hit a new 10-month high against the dollar.

The prospect of a Modi-led government has helped boost India stocks by almost 13% since the start of the year. The rupee has responded too, clawing its way back from a dismal performance in 2013.

From the Economic Times, more evidence that the rich were the real winners, though by way of perspective, 10 million rupees amounts to a mere $170,740 — but in India, that’s not exactly chump change:

21 out of 26 candidates elected to Lok Sabha from Gujarat are crorepatis

Out of 73 crorepati candidates who had contested either on their respective party’s ticket or as independent in the Lok Sabha polls at the 26 seats of Gujarat, 21 BJP candidates have emerged victorious.

80.76 per cent candidates, who are elected as the Member of Parliament on 21 seats have the assets of more than one crore to around 80 crores.

The crorepati candidates who have registered victory in the 16th Lok Sabha polls include big names like country’s ‘to be prime minister’ Narendra Modi, deputy PM and veteran leader LK Advani and bollywood actor Paresh Rawal.

And USA TODAY foresees an invasion [or an exodus, seen from this side of the Pacific]:

India’s new party election could lure U.S. firms

The sweeping victory of India’s opposition party and its pro-business leader will likely create a more stable, tax-friendly investment climate for U.S. companies, analysts say.

On Friday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in Parliament, pushing the long-dominant Congress party from power and setting the stage for Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi to become the next prime minster of the world’s largest democracy.

“This is really historic,” says Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noting it’s the first time since 1984 that India will have a single-party majority government. “It’s going to create a certain sense of stability … U.S. companies are very excited,” he says, adding Modi will govern as a “pragmatist who wants to show India is ‘open to business’.”

Google becomes a European political issue


That and more is revealed in this Deutsche Welle interview with German candidate for European Commission President Martin Schulz as the continent heads for a vote for the transnational parliament.

Among those challenging Schultz for the top slot is Alexis Tsipras of Greece’s rising Syriza party, currently leading in polls in his own country. Curiously, no mention is made of the Greek candidate by either Schultz or the interviewer. Tsipras’s platform is here.

What becomes clear is that Social Democrats have entirely slipped their “social” past and have decided on so-called reforms rather than any radical change in the neoliberal paradigm that has become the international model.

The campaign has received little attention in American media, which is why we’re posting it.

From Deutsche Welle:

Europe Votes: What Do The Social Democrats Want? | Journal

Program note:

In the Interview: Candidate for European Commission President Martin Schulz

By way of comparison, here’s a euronews profile of Alexis Tsipras:

Europe’s Choice: Leftist candidate Alexis Tsipras takes quest for a New Deal to Brussels

Program notes:

For the first time in European parliamentary elections political groups have already chosen their candidates to head the EU Commission, which will be elected once the new parliament is in place.

In this edition of Reporter we take a look at the candidate of the European Left group, Alexis Tsipras, who leads the radical left Greek opposition party, Syriza.

Headlines II: Spooks, pols, zones, drones, more


Today’s tales of from the dark side covers everything from political deception to the latest heated developments in the Asian Game of Zones as Washington pushes Japan into remilitarization and anxieties and violence rise.

But we begin at home with that political decepetion, covered by the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Bill to curb NSA spying looks like change, but isn’t really

The bipartisan bill that aims to put serious curbs on the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ communications is being hailed by Republicans and Democrats as a big breakthrough.

It’s not.

“The bottom line: This is largely faux reform and a surveillance salve,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior official turned whistle-blower who’s critical of the agency’s collection programs. “To date, neither the House nor Senate attempts go far enough.”

Another angle, covered by the Guardian:

Everyone should know just how much the government lied to defend the NSA

  • A web of deception has finally been untangled: the Justice Department got the US supreme court to dismiss a case that could have curtailed the NSA’s dragnet. Why?

If you blinked this week, you might have missed the news: two Senators accused the Justice Department of lying about NSA warrantless surveillance to the US supreme court last year, and those falsehoods all but ensured that mass spying on Americans would continue. But hardly anyone seems to care – least of all those who lied and who should have already come forward with the truth.

Here’s what happened: just before Edward Snowden became a household name, the ACLU argued before the supreme court that the Fisa Amendments Act – one of the two main laws used by the NSA to conduct mass surveillance – was unconstitutional.

In a sharply divided opinion, the supreme court ruled, 5-4, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs didn’t have “standing” – in other words, that the ACLU couldn’t prove with near-certainty that their clients, which included journalists and human rights advocates, were targets of surveillance, so they couldn’t challenge the law. As the New York Times noted this week, the court relied on two claims by the Justice Department to support their ruling: 1) that the NSA would only get the content of Americans’ communications without a warrant when they are targeting a foreigner abroad for surveillance, and 2) that the Justice Department would notify criminal defendants who have been spied on under the Fisa Amendments Act, so there exists some way to challenge the law in court.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, a show of resistance from Berlin:

Germany Plans To Ban Tech Companies That Play Ball With NSA

It didn’t take an Edward Snowden to figure out that American espionage service providers had access to confidential information about German citizens. It’s been known for years that the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) works for American secret services.

It’s also known that a former CSC subsidiary was involved in the abduction of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was turned over to the CIA and subjected to abuse and degradation before the agency finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake.

Nevertheless, German CSC subsidiaries have in past years received more than 100 contracts from state and federal governments in Germany, as Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcaster NDR reported last fall. The operative rule at the time was that only companies that were found guilty of crimes could be excluded from public contracts. So far, no CSC employee has been prosecuted for the abduction of el-Masri. Per se, working for the U.S. intel agencies is not punishable. So Germany’s federal government tied its own hands over the issue.

Turning the panopticon into art, via the Guardian:

Conversnitch turns covert surveillance into an art form

Somewhere in Manhattan, a lightbulb, a Raspberry Pi and a Wi-Fi card are listening in on idle chat and tweeting what they hear

In the pre-Snowden era, believing that a household object was speaking to you was enough to have you committed to correctional facilities for state-sponsored reprogramming.

In his new book, Nowhere to Hide, the journalist Glenn Greenwald explains how he and the NSA contractor turned whistleblower put their phones in a freezer with the batteries disconnected to thwart spooks’ ability to operate phones remotely as microphones. But what would happen if the fridge itself was listening to your words?

Two American artists are now taking that concept to a logical conclusion. Using only a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer, a microphone and a Wi-Fi card hacked into a lightbulb fitting, and a piece of open source software hosted at Github, they have installed a listening device at an undisclosed spot in Manhattan, New York, and connected it to a Twitter feed.

RT covers the hackable:

Tor-provided web anonymity not PRISM-proof – Microsoft security guru

The Tor anonymity network cannot provide internet users shelter from government hackers and cyber criminals, a top Microsoft security expert has revealed.

“There is no such thing as really being anonymous on the internet. If [hackers and government agencies] want you, they will get you,” Andy Malone, of Microsoft Enterprise Security and founder of the Cyber Crime Security Forum, said at the Microsoft TechEd North America 2014.

While The Onion Router (Tor) remains more resilient than alternatives such as virtual private networks, cyber criminals are able to exploit weaknesses in the system.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, to tell the truth:

Spy satellite agency says it fixed its ‘broken’ polygraph program

The nation’s spy satellite agency has announced it overhauled its lie detector program after its inspector general found “significant shortcomings” that could put national security at risk.

The National Reconnaissance Office’s inspector general found the problems were so widespread that one senior official described the agency’s polygraph program as “terribly broken.”

“This official added that the current status of the NRO polygraph program is ‘bleak,’” the inspector general report said.

The Guardian covers a Russian cutoff:

Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes

  • Russia announces decision to halt export of crucial rocket engines in response to US sanctions over annexation of Crimea

Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.

The move marks a serious deterioration in US-Russian cooperation in space, which for two decades had remained largely above Earthly politics. It could prove a serious set back for the ailing US space programme.

The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.

From RT, an added twist to the already controversial:

GMO producers should be punished as terrorists, Russian MPs say

A draft law submitted to the Russian parliament seeks to impose punishment up to criminal prosecution to producers of genetically-modified organisms harmful to health or the environment.

The draft legislation submitted on Wednesday amends Russia’s law regulating GMOs and some other laws and provides for disciplinary action against individuals and firms, which produce or distribute harmful biotech products and government officials who fail to properly control them.

At worst, a criminal case may be launched against a company involved in introducing unsafe GMOs into Russia. Sponsors of the bill say that the punishment for such deeds should be comparable to the punishment allotted to terrorists, if the perpetrators act knowingly and hurt many people.

IDG News Service covers corporate snoopage:

Online advertising poses significant security, privacy risks to users, US Senate report says

  • The online ad industry should offer better protections against ‘malvertising,’ a US Senate investigation found

The current state of online advertising endangers the security and privacy of users and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission should force the industry to offer better protections through comprehensive regulation, the U.S. Senate said in a report.

The report includes findings and recommendations of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs following an investigation into the distribution of malware through online ads — also known as “malvertising.” It was followed by a hearing Thursday that included testimony from Yahoo and Google about their efforts to combat such threats.

“Consumers can incur malware attacks [through online ads] without having taken any action other than visiting a mainstream website,” the subcommittee said, referencing two attacks that involved malicious ads distributed through Yahoo and Google ad networks.

Criminalization in the corporate interest from the Guardian [and can the “terrorism” label be far behind?]:

Sussex police under fire for ‘criminalising’ fracking protests

  • Force accused of misusing section 14 orders last year with just 29 convictions resulting from 126 arrests at Cuadrilla site

Most of the people arrested during a summer of demonstrations against fracking in the village of Balcombe have been acquitted, leading to accusations that police tactics in a £4m operation criminalised peaceful protest.

The last of the criminal trials resulting from 126 arrests made by Sussex police during days of action outside the Cuadrilla site last summer finished this month. Of 114 charges, relating to 90 individuals, only 29 resulted in convictions, according to freedom of information responses from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police.

Sussex police are accused of using mass arrests, draconian bail conditions and section 14 notices under the Public Order Act 1986 to criminalise peaceful protest at the site in Balcombe, where the energy firm Cuadrilla conducted exploratory drilling.

And an appealing possibility from the Guardian:

David Miranda allowed to appeal against ruling on Heathrow detention

  • Partner of former Guardian reporter to challenge high court ruling on legality of his detention under counter-terrorism powers

David Miranda, partner of the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, has been granted permission to appeal against a ruling that he was lawfully detained under counter-terrorism powers at Heathrow airport.

The case – which also involves a challenge to the police seizure of computer material related to the US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden – will now go to the court of appeal.

In February, three high court judges – Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Openshaw – concluded that Miranda’s detention at Heathrow under schedule 7 to the Terrorism 2000 Act in last summer was legal, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.

From the Guardian, grounds for domestic insecurity:

Albuquerque police promote officer accused of burning off man’s ear

  • Timothy Gonterman promoted despite report that was severely critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force

Albuquerque police promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun, officials announced Thursday.

Albuquerque police department chief Gorden Eden said in a statement he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh US Justice Department report that was critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force and demanded the agency adopt a number of reforms.

Foothills area commander Timothy Gonterman and criminal investigations commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side field services divisions respectively, Eden said.

intelNews.org turns a blind eye:

US Secretary of Defense ‘not aware’ of Israel spying on America

The supreme official of the United States Department of Defense has said he is “unaware of the facts” behind recent media reports that Israel is aggressively spying on America.

Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator who assumed the leadership of the Pentagon in 2013, is on a three-day official visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli military and security officials.

He was responding to a question posed by an Israeli reporter about allegations, made by American newsmagazine Newsweek on Tuesday, that Israel’s spies “have gone too far” in targeting American interests. In

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, prodding the bear:

Ukraine crisis may lead to Western military bases closer to Russia

When Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and other NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels in early June, their summit will be dominated by questions that would have seemed surreal just a few months ago.

How should Western leaders respond to military aggression by Moscow in Ukraine?

With defense budgets flat or declining in most of NATO’s 28 member countries and U.S. forces in Europe at their lowest levels in decades, is the trans-Atlantic alliance adequately prepared to defend its vast territory?

In the most extreme scenario, are the United States and its European allies strong enough to go to war against Russia?

From CNBC, say hello to Skynet:

Military dream come true: One system, many drones

One of the strongest wishes of America’s increasingly digital defense industry is to find a way to monitor or control several pieces of equipment on a single operating system. This is especially true in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), where too often, each manufacturer creates a unique platform for its drone, and customers who buy several different kinds of drones cannot easily coordinate operation between them.

That’s changing.

Now, buyers of a version of one of the most prolific UAVs on the market will soon be able to buy an operating system that can work with other drones. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been given permission by the Defense Department to sell unarmed versions of its famed Predator, called the Predator XP, to international customers in places like the Middle East, or friendly allies bordering the Ukraine and Russia, like Poland.

As for Skynet, consider a clip from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines:

Skynet takes over

But it’s not just drones, as another CNBC story reports:

Defense tech in 2039: The robots are coming

In 25 years, the U.S. military will operate under the principle of “less is more.”

Less manpower. More robots.

Robots on the battlefield of the future will carry a heavier load, both literally and figuratively. They will operate with more freedom and begin to think for themselves. They will be armed and take on more tasks.

“I think you’ll see many of the high-risk missions done by autonomous platforms,” said Tim Trainer, vice president of product management for defense and security at iRobot.

IRobot is perhaps best known for its Roomba vacuum, but it has a growing arsenal of defense and security robots—everything from a five-pound robot that can be easily tossed and even dropped on its head, to a 500-pound robot that can lift close to its own weight. A trainer demonstrated some of the robots at the company headquarters in Bedford, Mass., and he sees a future where one person can control multiple machines operating on a single software system without having to constantly monitor them.

With so many American drones striking at with Pakistan’s borders, Defense One joins the club:

Pakistan Wants Drones and It Doesn’t Need America’s Permission to Get Them

one breath to the next, Pakistani officials make the case for and against drone strikes. Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s minister of planning and development, for instance, calls American drone operations “very counterproductive.” He says, “If they hit one target, they also bring collateral damage…. The whole tribe stands up, we get into more problems, and the U.S. gets bad publicity.”

But, Iqbal offers, Pakistan “should have the technology to do it.

Already, Pakistan has remote-piloted aircraft. Islamabad uses surveillance drones to provide the military with a real-time picture of its restive border areas or counterterrorism operations. Pakistan unveiled two new drones in November: Burraq, named after the winged horse from the heavens that transported Islamic prophets, and Shahpar. They were developed by Pakistan’s defense industry, the government said, and would not be armed.

From BBC News, an underwater drone tanks:

Malaysia flight MH370: Defective drone delays search

The search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been delayed after the discovery of a technical issue with the underwater drone used in the hunt.

The communications equipment on the Bluefin-21, on loan from the US, has a “defect”, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

It is now awaiting spare parts from the UK before it can continue its search in the southern Indian Ocean.

Nextgov catches a virus:

Heartbleed Superbug Found in Utility Monitoring Systems

Software that monitors utility plants and other operations at several military installations has been found to be affected by the recently discovered superbug Heartbleed, when configured a certain way, according to the Homeland Security Department and the software’s manufacturer.

“The latest release of Schneider Electric Wonderware Intelligence Version 1.5 SP1 is not susceptible to the OpenSSL vulnerability. However, users have been known to reinstall Tableau Server, the vulnerable third-party component that is affected. Therefore, Schneider Electric Wonderware has issued a patch and a security bulletin addressing this vulnerability in all versions,” states a bulletin from the DHS Cyber Emergency Response Team.

Exploits made by hackers “that target this vulnerability are known to be publicly available” on the Web, DHS said. Heartbleed is a defect in common Web encryption software that researchers discovered in early April.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, considerations of privacy:

Sector-specific guidelines to offer clarity on personal data matters

SINGAPORE: The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) will be releasing advisory guidelines for the education, social services and healthcare sectors to provide greater clarity on the sectors’ obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

The guidelines will be open for public consultation on Friday.

In his opening address at the Personal Data Protection Seminar 2014 on Friday morning, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the guidelines will address sector-specific matters.

After the jump, the Asian Game of Zones intensifies, with Chinese fleeing Vietnam as the body count and burned business costs become clearer inthe ake of violent portest over Chinese oil drilling on an Island claimed by Hanoi, Japan raises the pressure as remilitarization becomes a done deal, and a lot more. . . Continue reading

Headlines: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFollies redux


We begin today’s compendium of news from the worlds of economic, politics, and the enviornment — including the latest sobering news from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster with a march back in time to the days of the ancient Roman tax farmers with a headline from the Washington Post:

Congress moves to turn back taxes over to debt collectors

The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.

The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.

It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.

Some taxpayers would be spared the barrage of notices and phone calls, including innocent spouses, military members deployed to combat zones and people “identified as being deceased.”

And from United Press International, a three alarm hint of the consequences of resurrecting tax farms:

Foreclosures drive up suicide rates, study finds

“Losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being,” said Jason Houle.

Data analysis has previously shown economic downturn to provoke an increase in suicide rates, but a new study shows an even stronger correlation between suicides and foreclosure rates.

According to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, higher rates of suicide are uniquely linked to spikes in foreclosures.

By comparing state-by-state suicide rates with the numbers of issued foreclosures — while accounting for other disruptive factors — the researchers were able to conclude that the correlation was “independent of other economic factors associated with the recession.”

From the San Jose Mercury News, back to the bad old days:

Report: California among worst in the nation in school segregation

As racial separation in education steadily grows, California now leads the nation in children going to school with their own kind, a UCLA study released Wednesday contends.

On the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling intended to dismantle segregation, the report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project says that California students are more likely than ever to attend racially isolated schools.

In the Bay Area, most schools followed the same pattern, though were more integrated than schools in Southern California.

From Salon, one of the major reasons:

Fox News’ divisive race strategy: How O’Reilly, Hannity and Coulter intentionally tore America apart

  • False claims go unchallenged, racial fears are stoked — and political scientists discover it helps GOP at polls

Right-wing political figures have often defended the content of Fox News and other right-leaning media. A common ploy is the insinuation that the “mainstream” news establishment is in fact biased in favor of liberal ideological framings of issues or that it is actually antiwhite. For example, Sarah Palin famously blamed the “leftist lamestream media” for allegedly pressuring Newt Gingrich to soften his critique of Republican congressman Paul Ryan (while in fact the disapproval came from Fox News), and Palin again insinuated charges of political targeting when she decried the media as attacking right-wing figures with their brand of unfair “gotcha journalism.” Rush Limbaugh also compared the mainstream press to a “drive by shooter except the microphones are guns.” Limbaugh further asserted that the anti-right, mainstream media attempts to “destroy people’s careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the drive-by media.”

And from United Press International, com;eting the taming of the Times:

Glenn Greenwald: Dean Baquet is too ‘subservient’ for journalism

Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson was abruptly fired this week. The lack of explanation for her dismissal has caused the newspaper to receive biting criticism.

Glenn Greenwald slammed the New York Times for the decision to make Dean Baquet executive editor, saying he will lead the newspaper into “neutered” journalism.

He may have had harsh words for Baquet but had nothing but compliments for his predecessor Jill Abramson, who was unexpectedly fired from her position earlier this week. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Greenwald said in the last ten years Abramson has been the “best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media.”

Greenwald, most famously known as the journalist to first publish the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is a strong proponent for freedom of the press and transparency in government.

From the Christian Science Monitor, another hint of things to come:

California wildfires set relentless pace months before typical season

This week, San Diego is the hardest hit. But drought, blistering winds, and unseasonably hot temperatures have produced 1,244 wildfires across the state this season, and officials expect no letup.

San Diego residents are bracing for a second day of wildfires, with temperatures expected to hit a high of 106 degrees, after at least nine fires closed schools and roads forced more than 21,000 people from their homes on Wednesday.

Thousands remain perched in front of their television sets, watching local broadcast team coverage of wildfires and hoping the wind won’t bring the fire and smoke toward their own communities.

For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.

From the Guardian, resistance:

Fast-food strike: US workers join world protests over wages and union access

  • Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food workers staged protests on Thursday in 150 cities across the US and in 33 other countries

And from Al Jazeera America completing corporatization:

FCC votes to advance new Internet rules

  • In split decision, commission put forward rule change that could lead to firms being charged for fast track delivery

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to formally put forward new rules on net neutrality that may result in a two-tier delivery service to consumers.

The controversial changes being proposed could allow for providers to charge content sites like Netflix for faster service. But it would prevent them from blocking or slowing down certain websites. The proposals were widely anticipated and have been the subject of intense debate in recent months.

Opponents of the new rules staged protests outside the FCC’s headquarters.

But Deutsche Welle raises an obstacle:

German Economy Minister: ‘Google breakup may be required’

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that a breakup of the company could become an option to consider. Google was not amused.

While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from “systematically crowding out competitors.”

The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.

“It’s about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe,” Gabriel commented.

Via the Christian Science Monitor, more privatization:

Detroit bankruptcy: Bondholders balk at plan for city’s artworks

The collection is central to how the Detroit bankruptcy plan is carried out. Bondholders – one group in the bankruptcy – believe the art should be valued higher, but the judge in the case isn’t making a reappraisal easy.

Judge Steven Rhodes, who is presiding over Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy, agreed last week to a restructuring plan submitted by the city. The plan still requires a vote by pension groups, labor organizations, and bond insurers, and state lawmakers would have to approve a $350 million cash injection from the state. But it has appeared that most groups are onboard with the plan.

A potential snag, however, appeared Thursday. In a three-hour hearing, attorneys representing two bondholders – creditors for the city that do not fare as well in the plan as some other groups – took aim at the arrangement that has been struck for the city’s art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). That collection is central how the plan is carried out.

The plan values the collection at $816 million, but the bondholders argue it should be worth more. A higher value for the collection could enable the city to fulfill more obligations.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

Eurozone economic growth loses momentum

Eurozone economic growth lost momentum in the first three months of 2014, official figures show, with the growth rate unchanged from the previous quarter at 0.2%.

That was weaker than many economists had expected.

German growth picked up pace, with the economy expanding by 0.8%.

But France and Italy disappointed. The French economy failed to grow, while Italy’s contracted by 0.1%, having only just emerged from recession last year. Spain’s economy grew by 0.4% in the first quarter.

On to Old Blighty with BBC News and a truly terrible privatization:

Academics warn over child protection privatisation

A group of academics say they have serious concerns about proposals to let private contractors take over some child protection services in England.

Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University said child protection was too important to be handled by firms “driven by the profit motive”.

He said any such move could be destabilising and cause “chaos”.

BBC News again, running out of gas:

UK’s oil, coal and gas ‘gone in five years’

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

Class divisions with the London Telegraph:

One in five university graduates becomes a millionaire

  • More than two million degree-holders have a net worth of £1m or more as new statistics reveal the education gap between rich and poor

One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

Norway next and Obaman umbrage from TheLocal.no:

Top Obama aide raged at Norway over Nobel

  • Norway’s ambassador to the US received an angry “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s chief of staff after the US President won his controversial Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a senior Norwegian diplomat has claimed.

Morten Wetland, Norway’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told The Local that Rahm Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his explosive disposition, has taken US ambassador Wegger Strömmen to task after the award was announced.

“What I know for a fact is that he gave the ambassador some words, ‘a dressing down’, with respect to this,” Wetland said. “The word ‘fawning’ was used.”
Wetland, now a partner with the Oslo lobbying firm First House, speculated that Obama’s advisors must have seen the prize as an unwelcome embarrassment.

“My guess is that the president’s staff want to be in control and not to be forced into a position that they have not been seeking themselves,” he said. “It could have been perceived that someone was consciously or subconsciously thinking about the prospect of having Obama visit Norway. Obama wouldn’t have visited Norway if it hadn’t have been for the Peace Prize.”

On to Germany, sprinting ahead with EUbusiness:

Germany sprints ahead of flagging eurozone recovery

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, sprinted ahead in the first quarter of 2014, amid a big setback for the eurozone which highlighted the fragility of the recovery, data showed on Thursday.

Germany, the region’s economic locomotive, saw growth double to 0.8 percent in the period from January to March, the strongest quarterly growth for three years and ahead of analysts’ expectations.

But the French economy, described by some economists as the weak link in Europe, turned in zero growth in the same period, highlighting divergence between the eurozone’s two biggest economies which is of deep concern to policymakers.

Austria next, with intolerance rising from TheLocal.at:

Right-wing march in Vienna

Supporters of a German right-wing radical group Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement) are holding a march in Vienna on Saturday.

The movement, initiated by disaffected, tech-savy youth, began in France and now has groups in Germany and Austria.

The group spreads its anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural message via social media and has gained attention by posting clips of its protests on YouTube and Facebook.

France next, and the neoliberal imperative from TheLocal.fr:

Europe warns France about protectionism

The European Commission warned France on Thursday against resorting to protectionism after Paris unveiled new measures to head off hostile foreign bids for key companies.

“The objective of protecting essential strategic interests is clear when it involves security or public order and that is recognised in EU treaties,” EU Finance Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said.

“But we also must check if this is applied in a proportionate fashion, otherwise it could amount to protectionism,” said Barnier, a French politician.

From TheLocal.fr, another quarter heard from:

US business body scolds French ‘protectionism’

  • The leading US business group on Friday called France protectionist, after Paris asserted its right to veto any foreign takeover of key French companies.

The US Chamber of Commerce said the move by Paris, announced Thursday as US industrial giant General Electric presses to buy a division of France’s Alstom, would not help the country’s economy.

“From an open investment policy perspective there is nothing about the motivations behind the recent French decree… that isn’t explicitly a mix of industrial policy and protectionism,” said Sean Heather, executive director for international policy and antitrust policy at the chamber.

Such moves are “doing nothing to increase the country’s competitiveness,” he told AFP.

From TheLocal.fr, striking news:

Flights snarled as French civil servants strike

A country-wide civil servant strike on Thursday meant headaches for travellers on Thursday with dozens of flights cancelled. Strikers are angry about a four-year pay freeze that shows no signs of thawing.

Travellers were scrambling for alternatives on Thursday after a national civil servant strike meant dozens of flights were cancelled and dozens more delayed at France’s biggest airports.

Fliers coming into and out of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon were among those stuck on the ground with at least 20, 16 and seven cancellations respectively in the first half of the day, French daily Le Parisien reported.

From the Guardian, without comment:

Unemployed people in Czech Republic are ‘missing out on office sex’

  • Social Democratic party Euro election campaign video aims to highlight plight of young adult jobless in the country

The Czech Social Democratic party (C(SSD), which is hoping to add to its seven MEPs in Strasbourg, endorsed the video posted by its youth branch, the message of which can be summed up as “unemployment is depriving people of the joys of an office fling”.

The video shows a young woman in office clothes working at a computer. After glancing at the clock, she sneaks off to the next room and can be seen in passionate embrace with a colleague behind the adjoining door.

“Everybody who wants to should be able to enjoy something a bit different during breaks. It is a shame there are half a million people who don’t have jobs,” says a voice-over accompanying the video.

Spain next, and another American arrives via El País:

US wholesaler Costco opens first Spanish megastore in Seville

  • Warehouse club confident it can overcome reticence of local customers to pay membership fee

They have managed to get 15,000 people to pay for the privilege of shopping at their store, and they haven’t even opened their doors yet.

The US warehouse club chain Costco is disembarking in Spain with a first establishment due to open in Seville today.

Though modest, this incursion into Spanish territory has not gone unnoticed by the distribution sector, which will keep a close watch on the performance of its new rival.

El País covers costs:

Overrun costs or corruption? Why Spain’s public works are in crisis

  • In six years, the government has paid out €10bn to cover excess spending on construction projects
  • The amount is equivalent to the cuts it made on health and education when it came to office
  • Arrests of nine on embezzlement charges provide latest example of an overly abused process

Between 2008 and 2014, the Public Works Ministry has paid out €5.12 billion to modify already completed works. A further €4.1 billion has been paid to cover cost overruns, along with €900 million for expropriating land. In total, over the last six years, the Public Works Ministry has had to find more than €10 billion to cover cost overruns on roads, rail and ports, the same amount that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would be cutting from health and education spending in April 2012, shortly after he took office.

There are any number of examples: the new port complex at A Coruña was tendered in 2004 for €436 million, and then awarded later that year for €370 million, according to Spain’s Ports Authority. The job ended up costing €547 million. And more money will be required, with the final cost likely to be more than €700 million.

The Environment Ministry, the government’s other big public works spender, paid out €1.5 billion in cost overruns between 2004 and 2012 on desalination plants, dams and other projects.

From TheLocal.es, cash and a black hole:

Spain’s ‘black’ economy worth 25 percent of GDP

Spain’s illegal economy is worth a staggering 24.6 percent of its gross domestic product and the country needs to pump far more resources into its rickety tax collection regime, a top tax union said on Friday.

Spain is a world leader in fraud with around €253 billion ($347 billion) in illegal money floating around in the country’s economy in 2013, Spain’s tax office union Gestha said in a statement on Friday. This figure has also risen €50 billion since the country’s crisis kicked in in 2008.

Critically, Gestha also argues Spain that Spain is chronically short-staffed when it comes to fighting tax evasion. Spain has one tax worker for every 1,958 inhabitants, against 942 for France and 740 for Germany, the union said in its statement.

On to Italy and the latest bad numbers from ANSAmed:

Italy returned to negative growth in first quarter

  • GDP down 0.1% on last three months of 2013 – Istat estimate

Italy returned to negative growth in the first quarter of 2014, with gross domestic product (GDP) dropping 0.1% compared to the last three months of 2013, Istat said Thursday in its preliminary estimate for the period.

The national statistics agency said GDP was 0.5% down in the first quarter of this year with respect to the same period in 2013.

The figures are a big blow to Italy’s hopes of seeing a strong economic recovery after it emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of last year.

More austerity from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s state broadcaster braces for cuts

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has hinted at funding cuts to Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, saying the network “must also participate” in cuts as part of the government’s spending review.

The social media-savvy prime minister took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce “The future will also arrive at Rai,” following a heated debate on the broadcaster’s leading talk show.

“Rai must also participate in the spending review,” Renzi said on Rai 3′s Balarò programme on Tuesday evening.

The prime minister would not be drawn on a specific sum of cuts to the state broadcaster, although he said Rai’s numerous regional offices could be sites of “resounding waste”.

TheLocal.it again, with a neoliberal imperative:

Italy approves postal service privatisation

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government on Friday approved the sale of up to 40 percent of the postal service as part of a wide-ranging privatisation programme to raise some €12 billion.

The sale “can be carried out in several stages and through a public offering,” read the statement from a cabinet meeting authorising the sale of Poste Italiane, which is expected to raise around four billion euros.

The cabinet meeting also approved the sale of Enav, the state air traffic control agency, which could bring around 1.0 billion euros into state coffers.

The government is also planning to list up to 49 percent of state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri in the biggest privatisations in two decades as part of an effort to reduce Italy’s towering debt mountain.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga hubris:

Pope doing job as I would have says Berlusconi

  • ‘We’re same age but I look better’ says ex-premier

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said Pope Francis was doing his job exactly as he would have done if he had been elected head of the Catholic Church. “Yes, I like Pope Bergoglio. He is being pope exactly the way I would have done it,” Berlusconi said of former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The journalist the billionaire media mogul was speaking to noted that the pope and the centre-right leader are the same age, 77.

“The same age, but I look better for my years,” said Berlusconi.

TheLocal.it warns:

Magistrate sent bullets after Berlusconi ruling

A magistrate in Milan received bullets in the post after ordering former premier Silvio Berlusconi to do community service for tax fraud, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Public Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini received the bullets at her Milan office in April, remarking that they were the latest in a string of threats.

“I received the most recent bullets a few days ago when we decided Berlusconi should do community service,” she was quoted in La Stampa as telling Superior Council of Judiciary (CSM).

While ANSA covers the latest in growing evidence of Bunga Bunga mob ties:

Mafia arrests may be linked to Scajola

  • Two police officers among arrests, probe mole suspected

An anti-mafia round-up of 18 people on Friday – regarding alleged infiltration of the Neapolitan Camorra mafia into the northwestern Tuscan coastal area of Versilia – may be linked to last week’s arrest of former Italian interior minister Claudio Scajola, investigators said Friday.

Two police agents, working for the Italian premier’s office and the Lower House, were placed under house arrest in Friday’s anti-mafia sting, accused of breaching the confidentiality of investigations.

Information leaks indicate that investigators has focused on the hypothesis that a mole may have furnished Scajola with privileged information on criminal investigations.

And TheLocal.it, an all-too-common story:

Migrants revolt at Rome detention centre

Clashes erupted at an immigration detention centre in Rome on Thursday as around 250 people barricaded themselves inside the building, described as a place of “desperate detention” by one rights group. The protest comes in the same week a Tunisian man sewed his mouth shut in protest at a nearby facility.

Around a third of the 780 people detained at the facility in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, joined the protest on Thursday morning, La Repubblica said.

Police were brought in to break through the barricaded entrance and reportedly used a water hose to dispel some of the protesters, who threw stones at police officers, the newspaper said.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian anxieties, Turkish anger, Latin American troubles and a surprising alliance, the right surges to power in India, Thai coup hints, Chinese investor worries, a Japanese surge for the rich accompanied by bad news for the poor [sound familiar?], environmental woes [including the collapse of the American bee population], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Ted Rall: How to fix the California courts


Strapped for cash, California’s courts are struggling to function, with one county even holding bake sales to key the halls of justice open. But Tell Rall of the Los Angeles Times has the answer!:

BLOG Courts

Our candidates of the day for liquidation. . .


Yeah, why not?

When corporations do malicious things that reek of patent [in both senses] absurdity motivated solely by greed, let’s liquidate them. Or better yet, let’s give their ownership over to the community of folks who’ve been vicitmized by their depredations.

And in that light, we bring you a delightfully bile-arousing clip from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set:

Program notes:

Abby Martin goes over the top 5 most ridiculous patents in the US, citing everything from Amazon’s patent of white background photography to Apple’s patent of the shape of a rectangle all leading to the rise of patent trolling and a complete abuse of the system.

A powerful duo: Chris Hedges and Mr. Fish


For all you readers who are fond of Mr. Fish and inspired by the passionate words for former New York Times Mideast Bureau Chief Chris Hedges, here’s a chance to watch them together, during a joint speaking appearance last moth.

Without further ado [but not adieu], from videographer Leigha Cohen:

Chris Hedges and Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth: War and its Meaning

Program notes:

Chris Hedges and Dwayne Booth “Mr. Fish” spoke on April 24, 2014 at the University of Connecticut. This was part of a week long event sponsored by The Humanities Institute and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Title for today was War and its Meaning. The first 32 minutes of the video Chris Hedges gives an impassioned talk on his personal experiences and political thoughts on this topic. This is then followed by an amazing 25 minute Q&A period where both Chris hedges and Dwayne Booth respond to several questions asked by the audience and as always what is said is amazingly thought provoking. Both Dwayne Booth and Chris Hedges have been working collaborators and good friends for the last 6 years.
.
Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was an early and outspoken critic of the US plan to invade and occupy Iraq and called the press coverage at the time “shameful cheer leading.” In 2002, he was part of a team of reporters for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism.

That same year he won an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.He speaks Arabic, French, and Spanish, and studied Latin and Ancient Greek at Harvard. On November 3, 2011, Hedges was arrested with others in New York as part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, during which Hedges and others staged a “people’s hearing “on the investment bank Goldman Sachs and then blocked the entrance to their corporate headquarters.

And here’s a separate interview with Mr. Fish:

Dwayne “Mr Fish” Booth Private Interview

Program notes:

Dwayne Booth “Mr. Fish” spoke on April 24, 2014 at the University of Connecticut. This was part of a week long event sponsored by The Humanities Institute and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “War and its Meaning”.

After the event I was granted a private interview with Mr. Fish where he reveals his early inspirations for his art, his politics and cartooning. He also describes his 5 year working relationship with Chris Hedges who attended and spoke at that days events. At the end of the short interview appears several on MR. Fish’s Cartoons.

Dwayne Booth (Mr. Fish) has been a cartoonist and freelance writer for twenty years, publishing under both his own name and the pen name of Mr. Fish with many of the nation’s most reputable and prestigious magazines, journals and newspapers. In addition to Harper’s Magazine and Truthdig.com, his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones Magazine, the Advocate, Z Magazine, the Utne Reader, Slate.com, MSNBC.com and others.

How Roman Polanski got us kicked off a jury


UPDATE: We removed a couple of identifiers from the case from which we were excluded to preclude just the problem that lies at the heart of the story.

Not that we wanted to be kicked off, exactly.

In all of our nearly seven decades of life, we’ve never had the opportunity of serving on a jury, so when we received a summons and drove down to the local County Superior Court Tuesday morning for the first phase of jury selection, we found ourselves in a panel selected for voir dire in a criminal case.

Good, we thought. Having spent so many years reporting on the criminal justice, we were finally getting the opportunity to see its workings from the inside, in the very heart of the process, the secret deliberations with a group of fellow citizens which would decide both the fate of the defendant and, to some degree, the credibility of those who had brought him or her before the bar of justice.

Besides, we’ve been having a record heat wave for May, and welcomed the chance to spend a few days in an air-conditioned courtroom rather than our own non-air-conditioned little home.

We filed into the courtroom, filing every seat in the spectator’s section and the jury box as well and after the swearing in, the judge explained the basics of the case.

The defendant, it seems, was a man charged with raping by threat of force his own niece while she was 12 and 13 years old. There were other charges as well, including forcible oral copulation.

Before midday we went sent hope and told to return today for questioning to determine our suitability to sit in judgment.

It was last night when then sobering thought occurred that during the questioning process — something we were very familiar with, having observed it as a reporter on a dozen or so occasions — might provoke some answers that could prove inflammatory or prejudicial.

That’s because we had testified in a case involving a very famous suspect who had been facing some of the same charges before the victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution and testify, leaving the defendant to plead to lesser offense, so-called statutory rape of a 13-year-old.

People v Roman Raymonnd Polanski

The defendant was Roman Polanski, and during the course of the legal proceedings, we were summoned to the witness stand to refute a story by a German reporter claiming that Polanski had violated the terms of a pre-trial agreement that had allowed him to travel abroad to finish arrangements for a film he was scheduled to direct for Dino DiLaurentiis [who also testified, along with Bill Farr, a reporter for the Los Angles Times who had previously and famously done jail time rather than testify as to the source of a leak in another famous case, that of Charles Manson].

Our testimony at the time [1977] was widely reported, resulting in [among other things] a call from an ex-wife who had seen us on the evening news as we left the courtroom [cameras were allowed in California courts at the time].

Our role in the Polanski case resurfaced in 2008, with the release of the documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich, a film in which we are prominently featured, providing both background on the case as well as direct evidence of misconduct by Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, who had called us into his chambers, complained that wives of his friends from the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club [the center of his social life] were complaining about the terms of the plea bargain. And then he dropped the bombshell: “Dick – tell me. What the hell should I do with Polanski ?”

Judges are supposed to reached decision based on facts produced through the legal process, statutes, and case law. One thing judges are barred from doing by the canons of their own profession is to seek advice from reporters on sentencing and disposition.

We threw up our hands, and said “Whoa, judge, that’s your decision,” earning a scowl and a curt dismissal.

We was only able to tell the story because the judge had died a dozen years earlier, releasing me from an agreement never to reveal anything we discussed in his chambers as long as he lived.

After we had learned of Rittenband’s death a few years before we were interviewed for the film, we had contacted Polanski’s attorney to recount the story and sent along an affidavit of the account, declaring its veracity under penalty of perjury. We were told we might be called to testify, because the director hoped to return tot he U.S. at some point to lay the matter to rest.

Polanski had spent time in a state prison undergoing testing to determine in he was a mentally disordered sex offender, a legal label that would have haunted him for life. But the prison psychiatrist and the Los Angeles County Probation Officer assigned to the case agreed that Polanski should serve no more time. . .but there were those darn wives at the Hillcrest, leading to the judge’s gross violation of judicial ethics and, perhaps of more serious statutes.

[For more about the case itself and our role in it, as well as the judge’s mob ties, see our previous posts.]

Back to Judge Hashimoto’s courtroom

The release of the documentary resulted in newspaper and magazine articles as well as reports in online media, both in the U.S. and abroad, in which we were mentioned, sometimes prominently, and they’re appear if any jury happened to Google “Richard Brenneman” and “Polanski”.

And so it was last night as we were about to drift off into sleep that we suddenly realized that questioning in front of our fellow would-be jurors might evoked the notorious words “Roman Polanski,” a named which has been harshly treated in stories often poorly written and riotously inaccurate accounts both in print and online [just search for “Polanski” and “rapist” and see what sort of bilge washes up].

Just the mention of his name, much less a detailed account of our own role in the case, might inflame the jury, we decided and prejudice them against the defendant, who was already facing highly inflammatory charges.

And so this morning, we interrupted the court clerk, who then instructed us to fill out a sheet of paper outlining just why we felt we had information important for the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney to know.

After an initial round of questioning of some of our fellow jurors, everyone but esnl was instructed to leave the courtroom. After they’d departed, the judge summarized the contents of my note [which mentioned that the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, European newspapers, and other media had covered our role the case as revealed in the film just as they had reported on our testimony three decades earlier.

We acknowledged that, indeed, such were the facts.

The judge then announced that he and the lawyers all agreed that I shouldn’t sit on the jury.

The defense attorney smiled as we left.

And so here we are, sent home to enjoy the heat because of Roman Polanski.

Ain’t it a kick in the pants?

Headlines II: Spies, drones, zones, and pols


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with a deal from the New York Times:

Sony Pictures Buys Film Rights to Book on Snowden

After a long, slow haul, the film rights to Glenn Greenwald’s book about Edward J. Snowden and his revelations about electronic surveillance by United States security officials have found a home, at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony said on Wednesday that it had acquired rights to Mr. Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U. S. Surveillance State,” for the producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Mr. Wilson and Ms. Broccoli are known for their work on James Bond films like “Skyfall” and “Quantum of Solace,” both of which were released by Sony and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Mr. Greenwald’s book, whose rights were represented by both the Paradigm agency and Writers House, had been in consideration around Hollywood since the fall, as potential buyers fretted about how to tell a real-life story that is still playing out. Mr. Snowden remains in Russia, and is wanted by the authorities in the United States, where he faces criminal charges. Last month, he retained a Washington lawyer in hopes of reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Another whistleblower may also catch a break, though not nearly so lucrative, via BBC News:

US ‘considers Manning transfer’ to civilian prison

The Pentagon is considering transferring Private Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison in order to treat her gender dysphoria, US media report.

Pte Manning, formerly known as Bradley, was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking a massive trove of classified US documents.

After the conviction, she announced the desire to live as a woman. However, the US military prohibits transgender people from serving openly in the military.

From Ars Technica, a major cyberfail:

Al-Qaeda’s new homebrew crypto apps may make US intel-gathering easier

NSA spying revelations led to development of three new encryption apps.

Terrorists loyal to al Qaeda and its offshoots are using new encryption software, most likely in response to revelations that the National Security Agency is able to bypass standard cryptographic protections as part of an expansive surveillance program, according to a recently released report from intelligence firm Recorded Future.

The three new major encryption tools were adopted within a three- to five-month period following leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to the report. The apps replace or bolster the original Mujahideen Secrets crypto program that al Qaeda members have mainly used for e-mail since 2007. One of the new releases, known as Tashfeer al-Jawwal, is a mobile program developed by the Global Islamic Media Front and released in September. A second, Asrar al-Ghurabaa, was released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham in November, around the same time the group broke away from the main al Qaeda group following a power struggle. The third program is known as Amn al-Mujahid and was released in December by that Al-Fajr Technical Committee.

The influx of new programs for al Qaeda members came amid revelations that the NSA was able to decode vast amounts of encrypted data traveling over the Internet. Among other things, according to documents Snowden provided, government-sponsored spies exploited backdoors or crippling weaknesses that had been surreptitiously and intentionally built in to widely used standards.

The Guardian covers hackery by corporate hacks for the Rupester:

News of the World royal editor: I hacked Kate Middleton 155 times

  • Clive Goodman tells phone-hacking trial he himself intercepted princes’ voicemails, but has never been asked about it by police

Kate Middleton was hacked 155 times by a reporter on the News of the World who said he snooped on her voicemails on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Old Bailey has heard.

Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal editor, also revealed for the first time he directly hacked the phone of Prince William, adding that police had failed to ask him a single question about it in the eight years since he was arrested on related charges.

He told jurors he hacked Prince William 35 times, Prince Harry nine times and the Duchess of Cambridge 155 times.

CBC News covers specious secrecy involving a widely publicized Ottawa visit by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron:

David Cameron’s ‘top-secret’ visit to Canada revealed

Access to Information request results in redaction of name of British PM on official visit to Canada The Privy Council Office, it seems, is working hard to protect the identity of those who visit the prime minister.

According to documents recently released under Access to Information, the name of an individual who paid an official visit to Canada in September 2011 must be withheld because it is considered “personal information.”

Owing to an apparent clerical error, however, CBC News has uncovered the identity of the mystery world leader in question. One page in the batch of documents was printed in duplicate: one time with names blanked out and the other with the names readable.

The documents show the deletion was meant to be “Prime Minister Cameron,” presumably referring to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

From PCWorld, about damn time:

Senators want to limit companies’ use of student data

Two U.S. senators want to prohibit companies from sharing students’ personal data when advertising their products or services and require that organizations holding student data put data security safeguards in place.

A proposal from Senators Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, would largely regulate the use of student data by private companies. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 generally requires public schools to get parental consent before sharing students’ personal data with third parties, but lawmakers and some privacy groups have raised concerns in recent months that those protections are weakened when schools outsource data processing and other functions.

Markey and Hatch on Wednesday released a discussion draft of legislation called the Protecting Student Privacy Act. In addition to data protection and data-sharing rules, the proposal would allow parents to access personal information about their children held by private companies and change incorrect information.

From the Guardian, another despicable neoliberal move:

Privacy groups demand rethink over HMRC plan to sell tax data

  • Three groups hand in petition of 300,000 signatures, and Lib Dem MP says proposed scheme would undermine confidentiality

HM Revenue and Customs must rethink its plans to share millions of people’s personal tax data with private companies and researchers, a prominent Lib Dem MP and privacy campaigners have said – as they handed in a petition of 300,000 signatures to the government.

Julian Huppert, a Lib Dem member of the Commons home affairs committee, said HMRC would “seriously undermine the confidentiality we expect” if it proceeded with the proposal to relax restrictions on sharing taxpayer data and potentially selling it to private firms.

Although the data would be anonymised, critics fear it could include details about income, tax arrangements and payment history and carry a risk that people could be identified. The campaign groups 38 Degrees, Open Rights Group and Sum of Us handed in a petition calling for an end to the plans.

From Aero-News Network, our first drone story and an apparent win for the private sector:

FAA To Expedite Limited Commercial Operations Of UAS

  • Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Welcomes Move To Advance UAS Integration

Perhaps realizing that the UAV train has already left the station … during a speech at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2014, FAA Manager of UAS Integration Jim Williams on Tuesday announced that the FAA is working with several industries to expedite some limited commercial operations of UAS before UAS rules are finalized.

“We applaud the FAA for working collaboratively with the industry and other stakeholders to help UAS technology begin to take off,” said AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano. “UAS have a host of societal and economic benefits, and many industries are clamoring to harness their capabilities. Limited commercial operations is a good first step, but we also need to begin the small UAS rulemaking immediately. We look forward to continue working with the FAA to advance UAS integration safely and responsibly.”

Specifically, Williams said the FAA is expected to allow limited commercial operations for filmmaking, powerline inspection, precision agriculture and flare stack inspection. Williams said these industries approached the FAA for expedited approvals.

CNN covers the latest dronal body count:

Drone strike kills at least 10 militants near Afghan-Pakistani border, official says

A U.S. drone strike Wednesday morning killed at least 10 militants and injured 14 near the Afghan-Pakistani border, a Pakistani military official said.

The attack targeted militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It wasn’t immediately clear which militant group or groups were targeted.

And from Ars Technica, a good PR move for the military’s drones:

US sends its giant spy drone to look for kidnapped Nigerian girls

  • It can look through trees, but can a Global Hawk find 276 girls in the forest?

The drone that the United States Air Force sees as the replacement for the venerable U-2 spy plane is now flying surveillance missions over Nigeria as part of the search for 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group. A Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a mission over Nigeria on Tuesday, according to an NBC News report.

The Global Hawk, which first flew in 1998, can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and has a range of 8,700 miles. It has a wingspan close to that of a Boeing 747, weighs more than 32,000 pounds, and carries the Hughes Integrated Surveillance and Reconnaissance (HISAR) sensor system, a down-market version of the infrared, optical, and synthetic aperture radar gear Hughes developed for the U-2.

At least some of the current RQ-4 aircraft carry a signals intelligence sensor as well, which can be used to intercept radio transmissions from the ground. The latest generation of RQ-4s (Block 40) will carry an improved radar system called the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP), which can both provide synthetic aperture radar imaging of the ground below and track multiple moving targets.

SecurityWeek covers snitches in unsuspected places, including those “smart” household thermostats, refrigerators, and suchlike:

The Massive Challenge of Securing the Internet of Things

If the buzz last year was all about software defined networking (SDN), this year’s buzz is about the Internet of Things – everyday devices that are IP-enabled, can communicate over the Internet and can transmit what may be very confidential and important data. In fact, according to data from Cisco, there are now more “things” connected to the Internet than there are people on Earth, and these “things” are not just smartphones and tablets. For example, a Dutch startup, Sparked, is using wireless sensors on cattle so that when one of them is sick or pregnant, it sends a message to the farmer.

While devices that are used in the Internet of Things (IoT) can address either consumer or enterprise needs, its use within enterprises and critical infrastructure such as manufacturing plants or transportation hubs may pose the biggest security risks, and the biggest targets for criminal organizations and nation states.

Spiegel covers a covert blast from the past starring some nasty Nazi volk:

Files Uncovered: Nazi Veterans Created Illegal Army

Newly discovered documents show that in the years after World War II, former members of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS formed a secret army to protect the country from the Soviets. The illegal project could have sparked a major scandal at the time.

For nearly six decades, the 321-page file lay unnoticed in the archives of the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency — but now its contents have revealed a new chapter of German postwar history that is as spectacular as it is mysterious.

The previously secret documents reveal the existence of a coalition of approximately 2,000 former officers — veterans of the Nazi-era Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS — who decided to put together an army in postwar Germany in 1949. They made their preparations without a mandate from the German government, without the knowledge of the parliament and, the documents show, by circumventing Allied occupation forces.

Independent.ie has Irish police behaving badly:

Doctor: ‘Special needs boy was stripped naked and whipped with belt in garda custody’

A RETIRED doctor has claimed a “special needs boy” was stripped naked and whipped with his own belt in Garda custody.

Dr Richard O’Flaherty told the Oireachtas Justice Committee the 17-year-old was arrested after he borrowed his father’s car.

He said the young man was arrested by gardai who took off his clothes and beat him while he was detained.

Dr O’Flaherty was speaking at an Oireachtas hearing on proposed changes to the Garda Siochana Act.

Relatively good news, at least for one state, from MintPress News:

Minn. Closer To Stopping “Policing For Profit”

Starting in August, police in Minnesota will no longer be able to seize property from people suspected of — but not charged with — criminal involvement.

Starting Aug. 1, new legislation goes into effect in Minnesota that will stop law enforcement from seizing a person’s property — including cash, stocks, real estate, vehicles, guns, cars and homes — if that person is only suspected of being involved with wrongdoing or crime.

Under the bipartisan supported legislation, Minnesota will soon require law enforcement to first convict an individual, or require the property owner to plead guilty to a crime or become an informant, in order for law enforcement to be able to seize that individual’s property under civil forfeiture rules.

The new law also shifts the burden of proof onto the government. Previously, those who had their property taken away under civil forfeiture practices had to prove that their property was not used in, or obtained through any illegal activity.

After the jump, a host of stories for the increasingly accelerating Game of Zones, including massive violence in Vietnam, a whole lot of serious saber-rattling, and a whole lot more. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: China soars into the lead


From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

BLOG Patents

Headlines: Pols, lies, eCons, and polluters


Today’s tales from the worlds of economics, politics and the environment — plus added Fukusihmapocalypse Now! — opens with hope for modest relief for some via the Guardian:

Sallie Mae and Justice Department in $60m deal over military student loans

  • US government had claimed the student loan giant imposed interest rates on service members above the 6% allowed by law

Student lender Sallie Mae has reached a $60m settlement with the Justice Department to resolve allegations that it charged members of the military excessive interest rates on their student loans, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The deal settles a government lawsuit that asserted the student loan giant violated the rights of service members by imposing interest rates above the 6% permitted by federal law and by improperly seeking default judgments against them. Separately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced a settlement of $30m in restitution arising from allegations that the company maximized consumer late fee charges, as well as $6.6m in civil penalties.

The lawsuit was the Justice Department’s first against owners and servicers of student loans for violating rights of service members. The settlement has been filed in federal court in Delaware and is awaiting a judge’s approval.

From the New York Times, business as usual:

Citigroup Says It Has Fired 12 in Mexico Over Fraud

Citigroup disclosed on Wednesday that it had fired a total of 12 employees in Mexico, including some senior executives, in connection with a $400 million fraud involving a Mexican oil services company.

In an internal memorandum to Citigroup employees, the bank’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, disclosed the terminations of the employees, including several managing directors, two of whom were business heads at the bank’s Banamex unit.

“Additionally, before our investigation concludes, we expect that several other employees, both inside and outside of Mexico, may receive forms of disciplinary action as well,” Mr. Corbat said in the memo.

From the Guardian, more business as usual:

Banks return to risky business: lax standards and subprime loans

  • Big banks like JP Morgan have rewired troubling, familiar tactics as they scrounge for profit in a difficult market

With business lending sluggish and mortgage lending slumping, Wells Fargo has decided it can cut those credit standards. Last month, it raised eyebrows by cutting the minimum credit score required to qualify for an FHA mortgage. It’s also making a big push into another area of lending notorious for poor lending standards: auto loans. Forget subprime mortgages; by the end of 2013, Wells was the second-biggest subprime auto lender in the country.

At least we’re all alert to the risks tied to lending, thanks to the vivid memories of 2008. The other side of the banking business is how they manage their deposits, and the quest to replace missing profits from this part of the enterprise is much less obvious to the casual observer. Nonetheless, analyst Mike Mayo says it’s this that keeps him awake at night far more often than worrying about stupid lending practices. “We haven’t had enough loan growth yet to cause a big problem.”

Specifically, Mayo frets that bankers are too complacent about whether depositors will stick around in a rising interest rate environment – and how much they’ll have to pay out in interest rates to hang on to those deposits. Then, too, there’s the question of what the banks are doing with all those deposits in the meantime.

From the Guardian again, the elite indulges:

Christie’s racks up $745m in one night – and the bubble keeps inflating

This week’s mega-auctions are once again reaching obscenely high prices, with a Barnett Newman selling for $84.2m and a Bacon triptych close to that. Why is there no sign of a crash?

Christie’s evening sale racked up a wacky, near-incomprehensible $745m, the highest total in history for a single sale – smashing past the house’s own high estimate of $500m, and beating November’s $691.6m sale, whose own Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, set a record (in nominal terms) for the priciest painting ever. The sale established new record prices for 10 artists, including Newman, Alexander Calder, and Joan Mitchell – who became the most expensive woman at auction for a messy blue abstraction from 1960.

Boggling enough on its own, the $744m sale came just a day after the end of Frieze New York, where untold millions changed hands, and on the heels of Christie’s own warm-up auction highlighting the “gritty, underbelly-esque side of contemporary art,” a rather ludicrous phrase to describe $134.6m worth of safe, predictable painting and sculpture. And collectors are set to do it all again Wednesday, when Christie’s rival Sotheby’s mounts its own evening sale.

“We are not in a bubble,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy insisted after the sale on Monday. To which the correct response is the one Mandy Rice-Davies gave during the Profumo scandal: “He would, wouldn’t he?” All the same, here are four theories on why the bubble keeps inflating, and why it may be a while before it bursts.

From the Los Angeles Times, a light frost in Hades?:

Howard Jarvis group won’t oppose bill to close Prop. 13 loophole

The staunchest defender of California’s politically untouchable property-tax initiative, Proposition 13, has tacitly approved a bid to change the landmark law for the first time since voters passed it 36 years ago.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the anti-tax group named for the champion of the 1978 measure, dropped its opposition to a bill that would clamp down on companies avoiding higher property taxes when they buy commercial real estate by using a corporate ownership maneuver.

“I think that the withdrawal of our opposition, at least for now, suggests that we don’t see this as a direct threat to Prop. 13,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, whose crusade for the law sparked a nationwide tax revolt.

From BBC News, a story to shake you up:

Water extraction for human use boosts California quakes

Extracting water for human activities is increasing the number of small earthquakes being triggered in California.

A new study suggests that the heavy use of ground water for pumping and irrigation is causing mountains to lift and valleys to subside.

The scientists say this depletion of the water is increasing seismic activity along the San Andreas fault.

Another California water story, this time from the East Bay Express, reporting on Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan [BDCP]:

The Water Tunnel Boondoggle

  • Experts say the eye-popping costs of Governor Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels far outweigh the financial benefits. And taxpayers may be left holding the bag.

The project — along with the costs of mitigating the damage wrought by it — also promises to be hugely expensive. Two water agencies — the Westlands Water District, which services about seven hundred farms in a vast strip of desert in the western San Joaquin Valley, and the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 19 million Southern Californians with water — plan to cover the majority of the costs of the tunnels, an estimated $15 billion, along with any economic damage they cause to the Delta.

But even as the project’s public comment period draws to a close next month, the state has yet to develop a clear financial plan for the tunnels. Moreover, the relatively few financial facts that do exist are hotly contested. The Department of Water Resources, for example, often states that the entire plan will cost a total of $25 billion, yet many economists think that, when interest on the bonds is factored in, the true figure will run closer to $70 billion.

In terms of benefits, state officials say the tunnels will generate an overall net gain of roughly $5 billion for California’s economy. But other water experts contend the plan could actually result in an annual net loss of about $100 million a year for water contractors backing the project.

From the Los Angeles Times, more ominous signs of a deadly summer to come in the Golden State as a record drought continues:

San Diego County fires: ‘It’s like a scene from Armageddon’

Brush fires broke out in more than half a dozen spots in northern San Diego County and spread at a dangerous pace as hot, dry, erratic winds, backed by record temperatures, raked Southern California for a second day Wednesday.

The fires forced evacuations of schools, businesses, homes, a mobile-home park and Cal State San Marcos, along with causing massive traffic jams and stretching firefighting resources almost to the breaking point.

The most destructive of the blazes was the Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, which burned several hundred acres, hopscotching between pricey neighborhoods near brushy canyons.

And another faint hope for reform from within via the Guardian:

Google investors press for code of conduct on tax

Proposal by group of activist investors will be voted on at annual shareholder meeting and is opposed by Google board

A group of activist investors are calling on other Google shareholders to press the company to adopt a code of conduct on tax that would bring its corporate structures back in line with its “Don’t be evil” motto.

“A set of principles to address misalignments between Google’s tax strategies and its commitments to employees, communities, shareholders and the environment would help protect long-term value,” they argue in a proposal to be voted on at Google’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

The proposal has been made by Domini Social Equity Fund, which has close to $1bn of assets, and five other investors in the internet firm. It is opposed by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, and his board.

From the Register, surrendering to the corporate tracking imperative online:

Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

  • ‘We don’t like it, but we have to use it’

Mozilla has announced that it will add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for digital rights management into a future build of Firefox, even if the organization disagrees with the technology on principle.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is to add EME into the specifications for HTML5 at the behest of Microsoft, Google, and Netflix. Sir Tim Berners-Lee supports the move, but Mozilla had been objecting to the plans as technically unnecessary. However, it has decided to cave.

“We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM ,” said Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal.

Opening shots from an academic battle from USA TODAY:

For-profit colleges, student advocates lobby Obama

As the Obama administration prepares to establish new rules governing for-profit colleges later this year, student advocates and the career college industry are waging a fierce battle to shape the coming regulations.

Stakeholders on both sides of the debate are ramping up their push on the administration just as the public comment period on a proposed “gainful employment” regulation is set to close May 26.

Under the proposal that the administration unveiled in March, colleges would have to demonstrate that graduates’ debt load on average does not exceed 30% of their discretionary earnings or 12% of their total earnings.

And another national shame, reported by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the UC Berkeley Blog:

How the right wing is killing women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

And another national shame, via The Contributor Network:

REPORT: Children as Young as 7 Working in US Tobacco Fields

  • An international rights group is pushing the federal government and the tobacco industry to take further steps to protect children working on U.S. tobacco farms.

A report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch claims that children as young as 7 are sometimes working long hours in fields harvesting nicotine- and pesticide-laced tobacco leaves under sometimes hazardous conditions. Most of what the group documented is legal, but it wants cigarette makers to push for safety on farms from which they buy tobacco.

Human Rights Watch details findings from interviews with more than 140 children working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where a majority of the country’s tobacco is grown.

New enterprise struggles from the New York Times:

The Bud Light-ification of Bud

There’s a pressing economic reason for the pot industry to get better if it is to survive, aside from its formidable legal challenges. The plant is relatively cheap and easy to grow, and not complicated to process either. Left to the whims of the open market — meaning ignoring taxes and regulations — the price of a joint could plummet to the price of a tea bag or a packet of sugar. So how will investors help the market mature while still making money?

The market for marijuana is nothing like the market for corn or wine or tobacco — at least not yet — and the reasons start in the ground: Marijuana growing and processing is downright bush-league compared to modern American agribusiness. Much of the pot produced in the United States still comes from illegal or semi-legal grow sites, even given the surge of production and processing in states with recreational or medicinal laws. And strains remain understudied and underanalyzed, compared with the wheat in your cereal or even the marigolds in your garden.

The inefficiencies continue to pile up after the harvest. Marijuana has to be cured, then trimmed, before it is sold, and much of this work is still done by hand. Workers use scissors to cut away tough outer leaves and expose the smokable part of the plant. It’s a labor-intensive process, the kind that in other instances is completed by a machine, like a thresher or a cotton gin.

And from the Japan Daily Press, still time to resist:

U.S. sees no conclusion to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations anytime soon

The stalemate is still on as the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not expecting a conclusion to be met in the negotiations anytime soon. With a ministerial meeting happening in Singapore this month, members of what will be the world’s biggest free trade deal are yet to finalize the deal as both Japan and the United States, both key economies in the deal, failed to reach a conclusion on the negotiations last month.

While many expected progress to happen when US President Barack Obama himself went to Japan last month to discuss this, many were disappointed to learn that further talks are needed to come to a final agreement. The deadlock remains to be because of Japan’s refusal to give up tariffs on key products such as farming produce and automobiles, both the bread and butter of the Asian nation. This has affected widely the negotiations of the 12-nations included in the TPP as they wait for the final outcome of the talks between Japan and the U.S. The countries included in the TPP will meet in Singapore this week to give updates regarding other talks. They are expected to outline other details including regulations on labor, intellectual property and the environment as soon as the deal has been ironed out.

For our first European story, a plaintive pontifical plea from ANSA:

Pope condemns ‘massacre’ of migrants at sea as ‘shameful’

  • Francis asks for prayers for people fleeing homelands by boat

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the “massacre” of desperate migrants who are killed in boat disasters on the Mediterranean Sea as they flee their homelands for a new life in Europe. During his weekly general audience, the pope said it was “shameful” that thousands of migrants are killed on the seas between North African and the southern borders of Italy.

Shortly before he spoke, police in southern Italy said they had arrested two alleged human smugglers who authorities say deliberately caused a boat carrying as many as 400 migrants to sink off the coast of Libya Monday to induce an Italian sea rescue.

So far, 17 have been confirmed dead and more than 200 rescued but as many as 200 more are still missing.

Next, via EUbusiness, another hint of things to come:

Eurozone industrial output slips back in March: Eurostat

Eurozone industrial output fell in March, official data showed on Wednesday, consistent with recent data showing the economic recovery to be patchy so far.

Industrial output in the 18-nation eurozone dropped 0.3 percent in March compared with the figure for February when it gained 0.2 percent, the Eurostat statistics agency said.

Compared with March 2013, eurozone industrial output was down 0.1 percent, after posting a year-on-year gain of 1.7 percent in February.

From Europe Online, another form of resistance to the austerian imperative:

Brussels expects stronger resistance to austerity in next EU assembly

The European Commission believes that it will be harder to get the European Parliament to approve austerity legislation after this month’s elections, internal documents seen by dpa showed Wednesday.

The European Union’s executive arm acknowledged that based on polling trends, the staunchest backers of recent budget discipline reforms, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), will be “substantially weakened.”

“Some of the winning coalitions” that supported reforms in the outgoing Parliament, which had “the EPP and ALDE at their core,” are likely to “no longer be sufficient to reach a majority” in the next EU assembly, according to an analysis by the commission’s economic and financial department.

EurActiv raises an objection:

Norway accuses Apple of breaching EU consumer law

Apple’s iCloud service violates European law by giving itself the right to change its terms and conditions at any time, without notifying its customers, according to a complaint lodged 13 May by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The council, a government agency, earlier published a study accusing Apple iCloud’s terms of service of violating consumer rights and privacy before the complaint to Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman.

The unfair practice complaint is based on the EU’s directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts. Because people often store important information in the cloud, such as documents and photos, it is particularly important they understand the contract, the council said.

On to Britain and xenophobic fears fail to materialize, via Sky News:

East European Migrant Influx Fails To Emerge

The number of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria has fallen since border controls were lifted but rose over the long-term.

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has fallen by 4,000 since transitional controls on immigration were lifted on January 1.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show 140,000 people born in one of the two countries were employed between January and March this year.

That is down from 144,000 between October and December, suggesting concerns about mass immigration following the New Year have been unfounded.

And some positive numbers from BBC News:

UK unemployment rate falls to five-year low

The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 133,000 to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million in the three months to March, official figures show.

The jobless rate also fell to a five-year low of 6.8%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people in work rose to 30.43 million, the highest since records began in 1971, helped by a rise in self-employment. Average earnings in the three months to March were up 1.7% from a year earlier.

But other numbers hint of another reality, via the Independent:

Anger as Employment Minister Esther McVey denies food bank use is linked to welfare reforms

Charities and politicians have reacted with anger to a claim by the Employment Minister that the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks has nothing to do with the Government’s welfare reforms.

In a letter to the Scottish government, Esther McVey said “the rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this Government has put in place”, adding that there was “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, have shown that demand has increased by more than 300 per cent in the past year.

Sky News hints at a bankster victory:

Banks Warn Regulator On ‘Illegal’ Bonus Rules

Bank of England proposals to toughen bank bonus rules could be legally unenforceable, a document obtained by Sky News warns.

New rules that would force bankers to wait more than a decade to get their hands on bonuses would breach “the principle of natural justice” and leave lenders exposed to costly legal challenges, a trade body has warned.

In a document obtained by Sky News, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) argued that plans to apply clawback provisions retrospectively would be illegal in Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico, countries in which UK-based lenders such as HSBC have a substantial presence.

The BoE’s proposals would force banks to reclaim variable compensation from senior employees for up to six years after it has been handed over and spent.

On to Norway and trepidation from TheLocal.no:

Norway slashes growth forecast on oil slowdown

Norway’s government on Wednesday slashed its growth forecast for this year, citing a slowdown in spending by the key oil sector in the Nordic country.

In a revised budget the government said the Norwegian economy is now forecast to grow by 1.9 percent in 2014, compared to the 2.5-percent increase expected in the original budget submitted last November.

This forecast concerns the country’s “mainland” GDP, which leaves out fossil fuels and maritime transport and is preferred as an indicator in Norway
since it excludes the strong cyclical variations related to oil, one of the country’s main exports.

However the purchase by the oil sector of goods and services is included in the country’s “mainland” GDP calculation, and the finance ministry expects this to stabilise then decrease.

Hypocritical criticism of the day award goes to. . .Well, you get the idea. And imagine if the U.S. had the same priorities as one of the happiest nations on earth. From TheLocal.se:

‘Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security’

No one doubts the Swedes’ ability to fight, but they do doubt Nato-ambivalent Sweden’s commitment to helping its neighbours, argues former US defence attaché to Sweden Bruce Acker.

In the wake of Russian annexation of Crimea, the Swedish defense debate has intensified over the nature of its security structures and partnerships. The Swedish solidarity declaration of 2009 is frequently criticized for being unresourced and therefore weak:

On to Austria and a slowdown from TheLocal.at:

Verbund shuts five power plants

Verbund, Austria’s leading electricity company, is mothballing five power stations to cut costs.

The company said it would temporarily decommission several combined cycle gas-fired power plants in Austria and France, including the 848-megawatt Mellach power station that was commissioned only three years ago.

Additionally, a coal-fired power plant in Dürnrohr and an oil-fueled plant in Styria will be closed, the company added.

The reason for the closures is the “massive disruption in the European electricity market” and “sector-wide economic pressures”, Verbund said. It hopes the restructuring will lead to “lasting economic improvements”.

TheLocal.at again, with a shortfall:

Austrian army ‘going broke’

The Austrian army is in serious financial trouble – so much so that regiments can’t afford fuel and soldiers are forced to march on foot.

Defence Minister Gerald Klug (SPÖ) has said that with its current budget the army “is no longer financially viable”.

His staff have done an analysis of the army’s current saving plan and found that by autumn it won’t even be able to afford its fuel bill.

And a good use for a house linked to a murderous xenophobe extraordinaire from TheLocal.at:

Hitler’s house to become migrant centre?

A long-running debate over the future of the house where Hitler was born finally appears set to be resolved.

The Renaissance-era structure, located near the central square of the picturesque town of Braunau in Upper Austria, is considered prime real estate.

At a recent ‘Birthplace Summit’, held at the Interior Ministry in early May, the house’s current owner and representatives from Braunau met with Austria’s Interior Ministry to discuss the fate of the controversial building.

For decades however, the shadow of Adolf Hitler – its most infamous son – has hung over the former guest house, creating a constant headache for Braunau’s administration.

On to Spain with thinkSPAIN and political provocation:

Mock ‘abortion package tour’ travel agency launched in protest over Spanish law reform

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the proposed restrictions on abortion announced by Spain’s minister of justice have set up a spoof travel agency offering trips to Europe for women wishing to terminate a pregnancy.

Dubbed ‘Abortion Travel – the agency that shouldn’t exist’, the pretend online ‘company’ offers packages to London, Paris and Berlin ranging from 1,940 euros to 2,620 euros.

Its organisers even give women advice relating to where to travel to in Europe depending upon how far gone their pregnancy is and the national law relating to their stage of gestation.

TheLocal.es covers a dismal ratio:

Spain: One vacancy for every 110 jobseekers

Spain had only one job opening for every 110 unemployed people in the final three months of 2013, the second worst rate in the European Union, a new study released on Wednesday shows.

Before Spain’s economic crisis kicked off in 2007, this rate was one job opening for every 17.5 jobseekers, the latest labour market bulletin by job agency Asempleo and financial consultants Afi shows.

Only Cyprus had a worse ratio: there the ratio was one job per 154 people searching for work.

The lack of job openings in Spain — where the official unemployment rate is 25.93 percent — is also in stark contrast with the EU average for the final quarter of of 2013. That figure was 12.3 unemployed people for each job on offer.

Italy next and a Bunga Buna bloviation from ANSA:

Berlusconi says accord with Renzi ‘useless’

  • Forza Italia leader says party will vote as it sees fit

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that continuing an accord with Premier Matteo Renzi on government reforms would be “useless”. Instead of advance agreements, he said, his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party would decide for itself how to vote on each reform measure.

“It is useless to make arrangements before,” any vote, Berlusconi said in a television interview with Rai.

“We expect to see the reforms in Parliament (and) if we believe they are the best, we will vote for them,” and otherwise, FI will vote against the measure, he added.

TheLocal.it asks for a helping hand:

‘EU officials asked US for help to oust Berlusconi’

EU officials asked the US government for help to oust Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian premiership at the height of the economic crisis in 2011, a former advisor to US President Barack Obama has claimed.

Tim Geithner, former US treasury secretary, said that he refused to cooperate in a plot against the then Italian prime minister in the autumn of 2011. “European officials contacted us with a plot to find a way of forcing the Italian Premier Berlusconi to stand down,” Geithner was quoted in La Stampa as saying in his new book – Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.

The EU officials wanted their US counterparts to refuse to back an Italian rescue package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unless Berlusconi resigned, Geithner alleged. The former treasury secretary claimed that he refused to go along with the plot, telling the Europeans “we cannot have blood on our hands.”

Blissful high level ignorance from ANSA:

Napolitano didn’t participate in Berlusconi ‘plot’ meetings

  • Geithner book feeds speculation Berlusconi was felled in 2011

President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday that he did not participate in any of the international meetings in which European officials allegedly plotted to bring down Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2011.

Rumours that the third Berlusconi’s government was scuppered by a conspiracy were fueled this week by a new book by former US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. The former Treasury secretary wrote that in 2011, at a G-20 meeting, Europeans were pushing the White House to get involved in pressuring Berlusconi out of office, as Italy risked a Greek-style financial meltdown with the spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German counterpart ballooning to over 500 points and yields above 7%.

Napolitano was instrumental in engineering the emergency technocrat administration led by ex-premier Mario Monti that replaced Berlusconi’s administration in November 2011.

After the jump, the latest anxieties from Greece, More Ukrainian turmoil and Russian retaliation [including a lethal blow the U.S. space program], a Georgian courtship, Turkish outrage, agrofuel and presidential woes in Latin America, Australian austerity run amok, a blow for GMOs in Pakistan, Thai turmoil, Southern Korean economic woes, bubble-plugging measures, corruption and economic and corporate imperialism in China, economic winners and losers in China, Trans-Pacific Partnership wheeling and dealing, MERS warnings, historical tragedy, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . .
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The latest digital currency: Say hello to Potcoin


Forget Bitcoin, the next new virtual currency is Potcoin, created to get around the Obama administration’s hypocritical decision to crush state-legal cannabis clinics, whether full-scale legalized or limited to medical marijuana, but cutting off their ability to use the banking system.

From China’s CCTV:

Developers Introduce Potcoin

Program notes:

Hendrik Sybrandy reports from Denver, Colorado where entrepreneurs have come up with their own version of bitcoin tailored to the marijuana industry.

And a reminder why we used the adjective “hypocritical” to describe Barry O:

The Infamous Bogartin' Barry O

The Infamous Bogartin’ Barry O in his Occidental College daze

And what the hell, a song to go with it from Berkeley’s own Country Joe McDonald: