Category Archives: Mideast

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


Lotsa ground to cover, so straight ahead, first with the Washington Times:

Greenwald to publish list of U.S. citizens NSA spied on

Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters who chronicled the document dump by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden via the U.K. press, now said he’s set to publish his most dramatic piece yet: The names of those in the United States targeted by the NSA.

“One of the big questions when is comes to domestic spying is, ‘Who have been the NSA’s specific targets?’ Are they political critics and dissidents and activists? Are they genuinely people we’d regard as terrorists? What are the metrics and calculations that go into choosing those targets and what is done with the surveillance that is conducted? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to still answer,” Mr. Greenwald told The Sunday Times of London.

And a video report from RT America:

Greenwald to reveal Americans targeted by NSA

Program Notes:

Journalist Glenn Greenwald will end his National Security Agency series by revealing the names of American citizens targeted for surveillance by the agency. Documents provided to Greenwald by whistleblower Edward Snowden have been central to his series, revealing the massive extent of the government’s surveillance on international and domestic populations. The journalist promises his last reveal will be similar to a fireworks display; the best and most impressive portion of the show is the finale. RT’s Ameera David has more information on the tantalizing tease by Greenwald.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, there’s a deeper story here:

Spy whistleblower advocate stays put

Less than two months ago, a high-profile government whistleblower advocate found himself under scrutiny — ironically in an investigation of an alleged leak to Congress.

The Pentagon’s inspector general was trying to suspend and possibly revoke the top secret access of Dan Meyer, that office’s former director of whistleblowing. At the time, the news triggered concerns in Congress that he was being retaliated against for doing his job. But Meyer, who is now executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Although he won’t comment on the specifics, he did say his security badge “had been restored.” Asked if he had any concerns about his future, he was cryptic, but upbeat. “I have been treated very well by the intelligence community,” he said.

From NBC News, both spook and eavesdropper:

Edward Snowden Tells Brian Williams: ‘I Was Trained as a Spy’

Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, is fighting back against critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker — saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government.

Snowden defended his expertise in portions of the interview that aired at 6:30 p.m. ET on Nightly News. The extended, wide-ranging interview with Williams, his first with a U.S. television network, airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden said in the interview.

From New Europe, politically inconvenient:

Austria constant partner of NSA: journalist

American journalist Glenn Greenwald has said in an interview with newspaper Der Standard on Monday that Austria “constantly” works together with the American National Security Agency (NSA).

This came despite recent claims from Austrian Minister for Defence Gerald Klug that the two work together only “occasionally.”

The confidant for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said the cooperation is discreet and aimed at specific goals, though added the NSA sees countries such as Austria — which it puts in a “Tier B” category — primarily as a monitoring target, and as a partner “only secondarily.”

He said further documents on the cooperation between Austria and the NSA would “probably” be released as he understood the Austrian public is interested in the information, and added that “we” are currently deciding the best way to distribute the documents amongst journalists to speed up their reporting.

From intelNews.org, raising curious questions:

Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran.

The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations.

From the New York Times, street level spookery:

In Complaint, Activists Seek Audit of New York Police Surveillance

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

From Homeland Security News Wire, repudiating another form of domestic “security”:

U.S. recalibrating Secure Communities

As more and more municipalities across the country refuse to hold undocumented immigrants in jail on behalf of DHS’ Secure Communities program, President Barack Obama is adopting a strategy to limit deportations to undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes. The new strategy would help relieve political pressure on the White House as immigrant rights activists continue to label Obama as the “deporter in chief” for his administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

Secure Communities began under the George W. Bush administration to coordinate enforcement of federal immigration laws with local communities. The FBI collects the fingerprints of individuals arrested by local and state police, to identify fugitives or individuals wanted in other jurisdictions. With Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials review the fingerprints against immigration databases to see whther arrested individuals are deportable.

Secure Communities requires that local law enforcement agencies hold detainees until an ICE agent arrives, but police chiefs say that the law has made undocumented immigrants less likely to report crimes when they have been victims or witnesses. “The immigrant community are the prey; they are not the predators,” said Ron Teachman, chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. “We need them to be the eyes and ears. They are exploited in their workplace, in their neighborhoods and in their own homes with domestic violence.”

From the Guardian, revelations assessed:

Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the apparatus of repression has been covertly attached to the democratic state. However, our struggle to retain privacy is far from hopeless

The 20th-century question was how many targets could be simultaneously followed in a world where each of them required hack, tap, steal. But we then started to build a new form of human communication. From the moment we created the internet, two of the basic assumptions began to fail: the simplicity of “one target, one circuit” went away, and the difference between home and abroad vanished too.

That distinction vanished in the United States because so much of the network and associated services, for better and worse, resided there. The question “Do we listen inside our borders?” was seemingly reduced to “Are we going to listen at all?”

At this point, a vastly imprudent US administration intervened. Their defining characteristic was that they didn’t think long before acting. Presented with a national calamity that also constituted a political opportunity, nothing stood between them and all the mistakes that haste can make for their children’s children to repent at leisure. What they did – in secret, with the assistance of judges appointed by a single man operating in secrecy, and with the connivance of many decent people who believed themselves to be acting to save the society – was to unchain the listeners from law.

And from RT, a curious blacklisting:

Snowden, Greenwald, Appelbaum, WikiLeaks ‘blacklisted’ from Stockholm Internet Forum

Key digital rights activists – including Edward Snowden and hacker Jacob Appelbaum – have been blacklisted from the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet openness and freedom. The move has caused a stir at the gathering and outraged Twitter users.

The third annual European meeting of internet activists kicked off in Sweden on May 26, with its main theme being “Internet– privacy, transparency, surveillance and control.”

But strangely enough, those whose names immediately spring to mind when it comes to the issue of surveillance are not allowed to attend the event.

And a video report from RT, focusing on the waffling of program organizations when put to the question:

Where’s Ed? Stockholm web summit slammed as Snowden, Greenwald ‘blacklisted’

Program note:

Blacklisting Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and others by the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet freedom provoked strong criticism from participants and outrage on Twitter.

From the New York Times, rewards for switching sides:

Hacker Who Helped Disrupt Cyberattacks Is Allowed to Walk Free

The New York man who helped the authorities infiltrate the shadowy world of computer hacking and disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military, courts and private companies was given a greatly reduced sentence on Tuesday of time served, and was allowed to walk free.

Federal prosecutors had sought leniency for the hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, citing what they called his “extraordinary cooperation” in helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation take down an aggressive group of hackers who were part of the collective Anonymous, of which he was a member, and its splinter groups, which had taken credit for attacking government and corporate websites.

Mr. Monsegur’s information, the authorities said, led to the arrest of eight “major co-conspirators,” including Jeremy Hammond, whom the F.B.I. had called its top “cybercriminal target” and who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November.

The Washington Post covers an equally spooky form of everyday espionage:

Brokers use ‘billions’ of data points to profile Americans

Are you a financially strapped working mother who smokes? A Jewish retiree with a fondness for Caribbean cruises? Or a Spanish-speaking professional with allergies, a dog and a collection of Elvis memorabilia?

All this information and much, much more is being quietly collected, analyzed and distributed by the nation’s burgeoning data broker industry, which uses billions of individual data points to produce detailed portraits of virtually every American consumer, the Federal Trade Commission reported Tuesday.

The FTC report provided an unusually detailed account of the system of commercial surveillance that draws on government records, shopping habits and social media postings to help marketers hone their advertising pitches. Officials said the intimacy of these profiles would unnerve some consumers who have little ability to track what’s being collected or how it’s used — or even to correct false information. The FTC called for legislation to bring transparency to the multi-billion-dollar industry and give consumers some control over how their data is used.

From the New York Times, caught in the crossfire:

Technology Companies Are Pressing Congress to Bolster Privacy Protections

A law that allows the government to read email and cloud-stored data over six months old without a search warrant is under attack from technology companies, trade associations and lobbying groups, which are pressing Congress to tighten privacy protections. Federal investigators have used the law to view content hosted by third-party providers for civil and criminal lawsuits, in some cases without giving notice to the individual being investigated.

Nearly 30 years after Congress passed the law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which government officials have interpreted to cover newer technologies, cloud computing companies are scrambling to reassure their customers, and some clients are taking their business to other countries.

Ben Young, the general counsel for Peer 1, a web hosting company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said his customers were keeping their business out of the United States because the country “has a serious branding problem.”

Defense One asks for spare change:

Are Paychecks the Problem? Senate Considers Bonuses for Pentagon’s Cyber Workforce

Current and aspiring Defense Department personnel with cyber skills could see a boost in pay under a Senate 2015 defense policy bill that lawmakers detailed on Friday.

Defense is up against the private sector’s lucrative salaries as it endeavors to boost cyber mission forces. Pentagon Secretary Chuck Hagel recently said these forces, expected to include 1,800 personnel by year’s end, should number 6,000 professionals in 2016.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a measure that directs each military service to determine “whether recruiting, retention, and assignment of service members with cyber skills requires bonuses or special and incentive pays,” according to the new details. The services would have to report their decisions to Congress by Jan. 31, 2015.

BBC News hacks you pocket pal:

Apple devices ‘hijacked for ransom’ in Australia

Several users of Apple devices in Australia have reported that their gadgets have been “hijacked” – with a message demanding money.

Experts believed the hack had targeted users by exploiting the Find my iPhone feature.

A message appeared on some targeted phones asking for “$100 USD/EUR” to be sent to a PayPal account.

Mobile networks have advised affected users to contact Apple, which has not yet commented on the problem.

And it’s not just Down Under, as the London Telegraph reports:

iPhones frozen by hackers demanding ransom

  • People around the world have found their iPads and iPhones frozen by hackers who are demanding cash ransoms to unlock their devices

Owners of iPhones and iPads have been targeted by a hacker who is freezing iOS devices and demanding a ransom of up to £55 to unlock them.

The majority of the attacks have taken place in Australia although there are also reports of Britons being affected.

It appears that the hacker, who goes by the name Oleg Pliss, has managed to exploit the Find My iPhone feature which can track and remotely lock stolen devices.

Reuters covers another hack attack:

Spotify to ask users to re-enter passwords after cyberattack

Music streaming service Spotify AB will ask some of its 40 million users to re-enter their passwords and upgrade their software in coming days after detecting unauthorized access to its internal systems and data.

Chief Technology Officer Oskar Stal said in a blogpost on Tuesday that it has found evidence of attackers accessing just one user’s data, which did not include payment or password information. But as a precaution, it intends to ask “certain Spotify users” to re-enter their log-in credentials, and upgrade their Google (GOOGL.O) Android app.

Spotify said it is not recommending any action yet for users of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) iPhones or devices based on Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Windows.

From CBC News, a spy in the bedroom, and for a good cause:

Spy cam nabs care worker stealing from 82-year-old Winnipegger

  • ‘What you did is despicable,’ Manitoba judge says in giving thief 2 years probation, community work

Viola Dufresne said she noticed money vanishing from her wallet starting last January, totalling nearly $1,100 over six months.

“My dad taught us morals, and all of a sudden I’m in my home and somebody rips me off. It made me mad,” she told CBC News on Monday.

Winnipeg police told Dufresne there wasn’t much they could do without evidence, so she went online and bought a spy camera. The camera, which resembles a clock radio, showed the home-care aide taking $25 from Dufresne’s wallet.

Techdirt laments:

Former CIA Director And Defense Secretary Says CIA Tried, But Failed, To Do Economic Espionage

  • from the this-doesn’t-make-the-us-look-any-better dept

US intelligence officials still seem to think that there’s some big distinction between the kind of intelligence work the US does versus the kind that other countries do. US officials time and time again claim that they don’t do “economic espionage” — even though it’s pretty clear that they do it, just through indirect means (i.e., while they don’t hand trade secrets over to companies, they’re certainly using economic information to impact policy and trade discussions).

Former Defense Secretary and CIA boss Robert Gates continued this sort of tone deaf line of thinking from US intelligence defenders by claiming that French intelligence downloads the contents of laptops from businessmen visiting Paris:

“There are probably a dozen or 15 countries that steal our technology in this way,” Gates said in an interview the Council on Foreign Relations posted online Thursday. “In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French — and they’ve been doing it a long time.”

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing, ever-transforming Asian Game of Zones, including the latest American plans for Afghanistan, Sino-American cyberwar gambits, allegations of ramming, corporate targeting, the relentless push for Japanese militarization, and Pyongyang blusters belicosely. . . Continue reading

Jose Mujica, a man who walks the walk


From Abby Martin, a moment or two of tribute for one of the most remarkable political figures in the Western Himisphere.

From Breaking the Set:

Why Uruguay’s President is the Most Bad-Ass Leader in the World

Program notes:

Abby Martin applauds Uruguay’s President, Jose Mujica, for his decision to give up his presidential mansion to 100 Syrian refugee children, accept Guantanamo Bay detainees into the country and reject the war on drugs.

Headlines II: Spooks, pols, laws, hacks, & zones


Today’s tales form the dark side covers a lot of ground, with a lot of domestic developments, new NSA questions, and much more — including the latest developments in the ongoing every-shifting Asian Game of Zones, including the Washington-pushed remilitarization of Japan.

We begin with an item sure to make you feel more secure. From the Associated Press:

AP Exclusive: Botched nuclear silo drill revealed

An Air Force security team’s botched response to a simulated assault on a nuclear missile silo has prompted a blistering review followed by expanded training to deal with the nightmare scenario of a real attack.

The Air Force recognized the possibility of such an intrusion as more worrisome after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But an internal review of the exercise held last summer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana said the security forces were unable to speedily regain control of the captured silo, and called this a “critical deficiency.”

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Next up, a looming conflict of interests from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

CIA secrecy over detention program threatens 9/11 prosecutions, senators warned Obama

Two powerful Senate committee chairs told President Barack Obama earlier this year that the CIA’s insistence on keeping secret how it treated prisoners under its enhanced interrogation program threatens the country’s ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., head of the Armed Services Committee, sought the president’s help in getting information declassified about the CIA’s so-called harsh interrogation techniques and stressed the need for transparency on a program that essentially had ended in 2006 and that Obama formally killed when he took office in 2009.

The two senators blamed the CIA’s obsession with hiding the details of the program for the logjammed military commission process that has yet to try any of the alleged 9/11 conspirators, some of whom have been in custody for nearly a dozen years.

And about those detentions. . . From the Guardian:

Guantánamo inmate vomited blood after force-feeding, documents show

  • Ahmed Rabbani held without charge for more than 10 years
  • New filing details force-feeding regime in hunger strike

New documents filed in a federal court in Washington have revealed that a Guantánamo Bay detainee contracted a chest infection as a result of force-feeding, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood.

The filing on Thursday came a day after a federal court forced the government to reveal that it has secretly recorded dozens of force-feedings of one hunger-striking Guantánamo detainee, raising the possibility that the US military may have similar films of other detainees.

The fresh documents, filed in the US district court for the District of Columbia, relate to a detainee named Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three who has been held without charge for more than a decade.

On to NSAgate, starting with an alarmist assessment, via the Guardian:

Pentagon report: scope of intelligence compromised by Snowden ‘staggering’

  • Classified assessment describes impact of leaks as ‘grave’
  • Report does not include specific detail to support conclusions
  • 12 of 39 heavily redacted pages released after Foia request

A top-secret Pentagon report to assess the damage to national security from the leak of classified National Security Agency documents by Edward Snowden concluded that “the scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering”.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s classified damage assessment in response to a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit filed against the Defense Department earlier this year. The heavily redacted 39-page report was prepared in December and is titled “DoD Information Review Task Force-2: Initial Assessment, Impacts Resulting from the Compromise of Classified Material by a Former NSA Contractor.”

But while the DIA report describes the damage to US intelligence capabilities as “grave”, the government still refuses to release any specific details to support this conclusion. The entire impact assessment was redacted from the material released to the Guardian under a presidential order that protects classified information and several other Foia exemptions.

From the Guardian, when “victory” proves largely ornamental:

NSA reform bill loses backing from privacy advocates after major revisions

  • Facebook, Google and others warn of ‘unacceptable loopholes’
  • Bill’s passage expected in House even after 11th-hour changes

A landmark surveillance bill, likely to pass the US House of Representatives on Thursday, is hemorrhaging support from the civil libertarians and privacy advocates who were its champions from the start.

Major revisions to the USA Freedom Act have stripped away privacy protections and transparency requirements while expanding the potential pool of data the National Security Agency can collect, all in a bill cast as banning bulk collection of domestic phone records. As the bill nears a vote on the House floor, expected Thursday, there has been a wave of denunciations.

“It does not deserve the name ‘USA Freedom Act’ any more than the ‘Patriot Act’ merits its moniker,” wrote four former NSA whistleblowers and their old ally on the House intelligence committee staff.

More from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Wyden opposes House USA Freedom Act, says it’s “watered down”

The USA Freedom Act may change the federal government’s bulk data collection system, but Sen. Ron Wyden, a leader critic of surveillance policy, sees the measure as “watered down.”

Wyden, D-Ore., issued a stinging statement Friday as the House passed the act, 303 to 121.

“I am gravely concerned that the changes that have been made to the House version of this bill have watered it down so far that it fails to protect Americans from suspicionless mass surveillance,” he said.

Wyden noted that the new text says the government has to use a “selection term” to collect Americans’ records, but the bill’s definition of such terms is too vague–and, Wyden said, “could be used to collect all of the phone records in a particular area code, or all of the credit card records from a particular state.”

Still more from Wired threat level:

NSA Reform Bill Passes the House—With a Gaping Loophole

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records. Unfortunately, it may not end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records.

The House voted 303 to 121 Thursday in favor of the USA Freedom Act, broad legislation aimed at reforming the NSA’s surveillance powers exposed by Edward Snowden. The central provision of the bill, which now moves on to debate in the Senate, is intended to limit what the intelligence community calls “bulk” collection–the indiscriminate vacuuming up of citizen’s phone and internet records. But privacy advocates and civil libertarians say last-minute changes to the legislation supported by the White House added ambiguous language that could essentially give the NSA a generous loophole through which it can continue its massive domestic data collection.

In the House’s final version of the bill, the NSA would be stripped of the power to collect all Americans’ phone records for metadata analysis, a practice revealed in the first Guardian story about Snowden’s leaks published last year. It instead would be required to limit its collection to specific terms. The problem is that those terms may not be nearly specific enough, and could still include massive lists of target phone numbers or entire ranges of IP addresses.

And the latest shot from Snowden’s cache via RT:

NSA spies on OSCE HQ in Vienna – report

Among the many targets for the UN National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance is the Vienna-based headquarters of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Austrian media reported.

The OSCE is mentioned among the targets for NSA in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a confidential document outlining intelligence gathering priorities, reported on Wednesday Austrian newspaper Die Presse. It cites German journalist Holger Stark with Der Spiegel magazine, who has access to NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The NIPF update from April 9, 2013, lists OSCE’s foreign policy as a Level 4 point of interest for the US and its involvement in arms trade control as a Level 3 point of interest, Stark told the newspaper. Level 3 information is considered important enough by the US intelligence community to make its way to the US secretaries of defense and state, he added.

More from TheLocal.at:

NSA ‘spying on OSCE and IAEA’ in Vienna

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has reportedly bugged the Vienna-based OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), according to Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

Spiegel reporter and NSA expert Holgar Stark said it was highly likely that the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, as well as the Russian, Iranian and North Korean embassies in the Austrian capital, were bugged as well.

The “foreign policy goals” of the OSCE are of particular interest to the NSA, the Austrian daily Presse said.

The current crisis in Ukraine has revived the prominence of the OSCE – previously it became important as a connection between the east and west during the Cold War.

A trip through the NSA hackery from TheLocal.de:

How the NSA may have tapped Merkel’s phone

German security services have come up with five different ways the US National Security Agency (NSA) may have succeeded in spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, a leaked report revealed on Thursday.

The seven-page secret report by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), seen by Bild newspaper, discusses five possible ways the NSA could have gained access to Merkel’s phone. The story caused outrage in Germany when it came to light in October last year.

Possibilities considered most likely were that US agents either used “passive receiving antenna” planted in central Berlin or else intercepted Merkel’s communications as they were transmitted through undersea cables.

The first “very likely” scenario would have involved placing receiving antennas near the capital’s Reichstag parliament building and using these to listen to the Chancellor’s phone calls and read her text messages. . .

And a retraction demanded, via the Associated Press:

German university rector faults Snowden doctorate

The rector of a German university where academics voted to award NSA leaker Edward Snowden an honorary doctorate is trying to have the decision reversed — arguing that his actions don’t fulfill the required criteria.

The University of Rostock’s philosophy faculty decided by a large majority last week to award Snowden the title.

But rector Wolfgang Schareck said in a statement Thursday that Snowden’s leaking to media of NSA documents doesn’t constitute the “special academic achievement” required by law in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for a doctorate to be granted.

Today’s lone drone headline, via The Hill:

Senate confirms drone memo author

The Senate narrowly voted Thursday to confirm the author of memos justfying drone strikes against U.S. citizens to a federal court.

In a 53-45 vote, the Senate confirmed David Barron to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The successful vote came after the administration said it would make public the memos Baron authored on the drone program.

From Ars Technica, a challenge declined:

FBI withdraws national security letter following Microsoft challenge

  • Rather than litigating gag order, FBI goes directly to the customer.

The FBI withdrew a national security letter targeting an Office 365 enterprise customer following Microsoft’s challenge to a provision of the letter gagging the company from informing the target, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

“In this case, the Letter included a nondisclosure provision and we moved forward to challenge it in court. We concluded that the nondisclosure provision was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression. It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel wrote in a blog post Thursday.

While it’s not everyday that a company’s policy benefits the customer, the flap highlights the unsettled state of gag orders associated with national security letters. The letters, which come directly from the FBI, require entities like Internet companies, banks, or others to cough up a wealth of information to the authorities. Recipients of them are generally forbidden from disclosing them.

From RT, a de facto beginning of recriminalized debt in Old Blighty:

Brits jailed as Interpol takes ‘debt collector’ role for Gulf States – rights group

UK residents go to jail and lose jobs over unpaid loans as Interpol has started issuing ‘red notices’ – their strongest criminal alert – over unfunded checks, which are a criminal offense in states with sharia law, a rights group has found.

The Fair Trials International has labeled the International Criminal Police Organization a ‘debt collector’ for countries like Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The UK-registered charity has stated that by this, Interpol’s services are being ‘misused’.

The rights group wrote a letter to Interpol’s Secretary General, Ronald K. Noble, urging safeguards to be put in place “so that its Red Notice system focuses on bringing serious international criminals to justice rather than wrecking the lives of normal people who have provided blank cheques as security, a common practice in a number of countries across the region,” said a statement published on the group’s website.

When photography is a crime [criminal trespass and invasion of privacy] via United Press International:

Top Mississipi Tea Party official charged in videotaping of Sen. Cochran’s wife in nursing home

  • Primary challenger says those involved in secretly videotaping Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in a Mississippi nursing home should be prosecuted.

The vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party was charged Thursday with being involved in the nursing home videotaping of Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Mark Mayfield. Mayfield, a lawyer, is also an official with the Central Mississippi Tea Party.

Two other men were also charged Thursday. Last week, Clayton Kelly, a right-wing blogger, was charged with entering a Madison nursing home surreptitiously and videotaping Rose Cochran.

Corporate hack generates blowback, via Sky News:

Hacked eBay Faces Multiple Investigations

  • Several inquiries have been launched in the US into the data breach, as UK authorities also consider a formal investigation.

Web retailer eBay is facing transatlantic scrutiny from the authorities over a massive cyber attack that compromised the personal data of its 145 million users.

Connecticut, Florida and Illinois have launched a joint inquiry over the hack, which came to light on Wednesday.

The investigation will focus on the scope of the data breach and eBay’s response, said Connecticut officials.

Another, even more ominous hack, via The Wire:

An American Utility’s Control System Was Hacked

This week in hacking: The control system for a U.S. public utility was compromised. The Department of Homeland Security did not specify which utility was affected in the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) report.

A DHS official told Reuters, “While unauthorized access was identified, ICS-CERT was able to work with the affected entity to put in place mitigation strategies and ensure the security of their control systems before there was any impact to operations.”

Details of these cyber attacks are rarely revealed to the public, and even more rarely do they provide details into the matter. What we do know: this particular attack was on a utility that was previously hacked and the hackers used the employee access portal to get in. The actual hack was relatively simple: they determined the password through a tactic known as “brute forcing.” In a brute force hack, the attackers auto generate a variety of password combinations and try them until something clicks.

And another security violation from TheLocal.de:

Officer puts neo-Nazi stickers in police van

Police in Bavaria have been forced onto the defensive after an officer stuck neo-Nazi stickers in a police van. State prosecutors are investigating a 25-year-old policeman.

An unnamed passer-by on their way to a football match on Sunday in Fürth was shocked to find several far-right stickers stuck on a box in the trunk of a USK police car – a special unit used for crowd control.

Zeit Online on its far-right watch blog, Störungsmelder, wrote on Thursday that the passer-by took a photo which then opened the police force up to a host of criticism.

The stickers, which were clearly visible through the rear window, were printed with well known far-right slogans advocating violence against anti-fascists. “Good Night Left Side” and “Organize against Antifa. Know your enemy. Name your enemy,” they read.

From the Verge, sanctions blowback hinders spy satellite programs?:

Russian rocket ban could delay US space missions for years, report says

The United States military’s space program could see more than 30 missions delayed for an average of three and a half years each if Russia follows through with its threat to ban exports of the RD-180 rocket engines used for launching satellites, according to a Pentagon report obtained by SpaceNews. The Pentagon reportedly also found that, in a worst-case scenario, the delays may cost the US as much as $5 billion. In a best-case scenario, the numbers drop to nine missions delayed by around two years each and a loss of $2.5 billion.

“The US ‘needs to develop a domestic engine’”Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said the ban would be going into place earlier this month, but SpaceNews reports that the government is yet to see signs that it’s been put in place. While that remains the case, the Pentagon suggests accelerating the pace at which RD-180s are purchased to increase the remaining US stock. Right now, there are reportedly only 15 of the engines left between the military’s rocket contractors, United Launch Alliance and RD Amross.

The Pentagon reportedly also found that speeding up production of a US-made engine that’s in the works from United Launch Alliance would not be able to avoid the delays.

After the jump, the latest developments in Asia’s increasingly dangerous Game of Zones, starting with a major Chinese hit for American corporations as “high tech” and “spy tech” become synonymous, a Korean artillery exchange, posturing in Vietnam, Japan ups the ante, and alliances form. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Cons, mergers, & Fukunightmares


Long collection of headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, environmental nightmares, and the Fukushima disaster, so we go straight on, first with a headline from New America Media:

FACTS ON ETHNIC ELDERS: Recession Leaves Ethnic Families ‘Beyond Broke’

Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans face an economic “quadruple whammy,” leaving them with little or no financial cushion as they age, finds a new study released Monday.

Titled “Beyond Broke: Why Closing the Racial Wealth Gap is a Priority for National Economic Security,” the study used 2011 Census data to examine household worth for all ages. It found that the medium net worth of households of color from 2005-2011 dropped 58 percent for Latinos, 48% for Asians, 45% for African Americans — but only 21 percent for whites.

“You have the racial gap in pay, the gender gap in pay, the ageism gap in pay and predominantly single-income households,” says Maya Rockeymoore, president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) which commissioned the study. “You’re looking at the intersection of all of these disparities.”

Injustice for all, via NPR:

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.

A conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

But some are doing well, via The Wire:

Tiffany Sold Much More Bling Than Usual This Quarter

Tiffany & Co. had an incredible quarter, blowing away analysts predictions. Tiffany reported $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter, jumping 13 percent from this time last year. Worldwide, sales increased 15 percent. Their income was $125.6 million, a 50 percent jump from 2013. Earnings were up $0.97 a share.

The key to these spectacular earnings numbers was not their highest-end luxury items, but Tiffany’s lower-cost pieces, led by the Atlas Collection. The most expensive piece in that collection is the Atlas Cocktail Watch, which is 18k rose gold and complete with 197 diamonds (just under two carats.) It’s cost is $26,500. While that might be pricey, pieces in the popular Elsa Peretti collection go well above $30,000 and the Yellow Diamonds collection offers a variety of pieces in the $100,000 range.

For these lower priced pieces, the profit margin is actually higher. This helped drive profit margins for the company as a whole. Last year, the margin was 56.2 percent, and this quarter it was up to 58.2 percent.

The Berkeley Blog covers another divide:

The Digital Divide Redux: Broadband, Net Neutrality, and the Comcast-Time Warner Merger

A few months ago, Comcast announced a $45 billion deal to purchase Time Warner. Although much of the initial commentary focused on the potential effect this proposed merger would have in the cable television market (since Comcast and Time Warner are the first-and second- largest cable providers in the US), the effects in the broadband market are far more important.  Research at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society suggests that broadband is an increasingly critical element of social, economic and civic life.

In its 2010 “National Broadband Plan” report, the FCC describes Broadband as “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”  Just as the interstate highway system transformed residential life, facilitated the growth of the suburbs, and connected families to the broader economy of a region, broadband is a structural conduit for opportunity and upward mobility and in America today.  Unfortunately, like the interstate highway system and the residential patterns it engendered, broadband access and affordability may yet become a new form of segregation in America.  A research paper [PDF] co-authored by Haas Institute researcher Samir Gambhir notes the inequality of broadband access, affordability and quality experienced by low-income neighborhoods, rural households, and communities of color in particular.

The Comcast-Time Warner merger would give Comcast control over 40 percent of the country’s internet service in 19 of the country’s top 20 cable markets.  Imagine if one corporation privately controlled 40% of the most important roads, streets, highways and bridges in those same markets.  The issue isn’t just access; its affordability and quality (such as internet speed) for low-income families and many marginalized communities. If the Comcast-Time Warner merger reduces competition and increase the price of broadband access, the harms to upward mobility, economic opportunity and our nation would be far reaching.

And another merger warning sign from PC Advisor:

Comcast and Time Warner rank dead last in satisfaction as merger looms

  • A combined company would probably be even worse, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

In the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (via DSL Reports), the two companies landed at the bottom of the list for both TV and Internet services.

Comcast scored 60 points for television service, which is five points less than the industry average, and three points lower than last year’s score. Time Warner Cable scored 56 points, down 4 points from last year, and nine points lower than the industry average. DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse were on top of the list with 69 points. (Incidentally, AT&T is now hoping regulators will approve an acquisition of DirecTV.)

Internet service was even worse. Comcast scored 57 points, down from 62 points last year, while Time Warner’s score dropped to 54 points, from 63 points in 2013. Both companies are now far below the industry average of 63 points, and nowhere near Verizon’s 71 points for its FiOS service.

Via Reuters, serial killers unite:

Exclusive: Reynolds American, Lorillard in advanced merger talks

Reynolds American Inc (RAI.N) is in active discussions to buy Lorillard Inc (LO.N) in a complicated, three-way transaction that could see British American Tobacco PLC (BATS.L) take a major role to back a potential merger, according to people familiar with the matter.

The proposed deal, which is in late stage talks, would unite the second- and third-largest U.S. tobacco companies that have a combined market value of nearly $55 billion, putting brands such as Reynolds’ Camel and Lorillard’s Newport under one roof.

The companies are working to finalize an agreement in as soon as a matter of weeks but the talks will likely take longer given the complex structure, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, pushing the neoliberal agenda to the East:

Japan, U.S. play leading roles in acceleration of TPP talks

The progress made toward this summer’s broad agreement during ministerial-level negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday was largely due to accelerated discussions on tariffs, in response to the substantial agreement made between Japan and the United States.

Cooperation between the two nations to lead TPP talks also proved effective.

Speaking at a joint press conference after the two-day meeting, Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb praised the acceleration of the negotiations as a whole in the wake of the breakthrough between Japan and the United States. He added that the progress in the Japan-U.S. negotiations had set a precedent for future negotiations on the TPP pact.

And pushing it to the West with EUbusiness:

New round of Atlantic trade pact talks opens in Washington

US and European negotiators opened a new round of talks on creating a transatlantic free trade zone Monday amid rising political and public resistance to the deal on both sides.

The fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will cover the details of proposals from the US and EU sides, with no aim to resolve the most difficult divisions between the two sides, officials said.

“This is clearly not the stage in which the difficult political decisions need to be taken,” an EU official said ahead of the talks.

Xinhua predicts:

World economy poised to grow moderately, but lower than pre-crisis levels

The global economy is expected to strengthen over the next two years, despite a downgrade of growth prospects for some developing economies and economies in transition, showed a UN report released here Wednesday.

In the mid-year update of UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP), global growth rate was revised down from the forecasts presented in the WESP 2014.

Growth of world gross product (WGP) is now projected at 2.8 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent in 2015, up from 2.2 percent in 2013, the report said. However, this pace of expansion is still lower compared to the growth level before the 2008 global financial crisis.

And on to Europe, first with Al Jazeera:

EU far-right expects success in elections

  • Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties hope to make big gains in vote for a new EU parliament.

From May 22-25, hundreds of millions of people from the European Union’s 28 member countries will vote for members of the European Parliament, one of the EU’s two legislative bodies.

The last elections were held in 2009, before the depths of Europe’s economic and financial crises. Since then, five EU countries – Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus – have required bailouts, and unemployment across the continent, especially among youth, has remained persistently high.

This has led many Europeans to sour on the union – a disenchantment reflected in polling figures that show a significant portion of the electorate plans on voting for far-right parties for the European Parliament.

These parties are highly sceptical of European government and the euro, and staunchly oppose immigration and multiculturalism. Far-right groups look poised to make especially large gains in the Netherlands, Greece, France and Hungary.

Britain next, and austerity rampant with the Independent:

NHS in the red: Hospitals forced to beg Government for equipment loans and electricity bills

The intense financial pressure faced by NHS hospitals has been laid bare in a series of letters, which range from pleas for bailout loans to replace defunct equipment, attempts to fend off legal threats from suppliers and even requests to pay off electricity bills.

Details of requests for short-term financial aid sent to the Department of Health reveal that one NHS trust was threatened with having the electricity supply shut off at a building on their hospital site, while another said it faced an “untenable level of equipment breakdown and obsolescence”.

The 15 loan requests, made in February and March this year, which were released following Freedom of Information requests from the Health Service Journal, reveal the impact of the NHS financial crisis for England’s most hard-up hospitals.

65 NHS trusts in England are already in financial deficit. A recent survey of NHS finance directors revealed that two thirds are concerned their trust will go into the red in the year of the General Election.

On to Paris and anticipated tarnishing from France 24:

Far-right win in European elections ‘will tarnish French image’

Most opinion polls in France forecast an unprecedented victory for France’s far-right National Front party in Sunday’s European elections, an outcome that observers warn will strip France of its influence on the continent.

Surveys indicate that the anti-euro National Front (FN) is poised to claim between 23 and 24 percent of all votes cast in EU parliamentary elections, which are less than a week away.

Buoyant from its best-ever performance in French municipal elections in March, in which it conquered 11 city councils, the far-right FN has campaigned under the slogan “No to Brussels, yes to France.”

A partisan plague from TheLocal.fr:

Immigration in France: No need for ‘Mr Ebola’

As the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen courts trouble by suggesting the Ebola virus could solve the immigration problem in France, the author of a new OECD report on immigration in Europe says it’s no longer even a significant phenomenon in France.

As expected, given that he is vying for re-election as a member of the European parliament on Sunday, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the controversial honorary president of France’s anti-EU National Front party voiced his opinions on immigration this week.

Le Pen, who has been convicted of hate speech on numerous occasions, could be up in court again after suggesting the deadly Ebola virus could solve the global “population explosion” and thus Europe’s “immigration problem”.

Tracking down an error with AFP:

Red faces as new French trains ‘too wide’ for stations

Cash-strapped France will have to trim back some 1,300 rail platforms at a cost of 50 million euros after realising a brand new fleet of trains are too big to fit its stations, rail operators admitted Wednesday.

The problem affects 182 regional trains supplied by French manufacturer Alstom and 159 from Canada’s Bombardier, due to come into service by 2016.

Two state rail bodies, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) and the Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), acknowledged the embarrassing situation in a joint statement on Wednesday after it was revealed by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

Via TheLocal.fr, pimping for laundromats?:

Far-right mayor bans drying laundry in public

The newly elected far-right mayor of the French town of Beziers has once again laid down the law to residents. After imposing a curfew on teenagers and higher fines for dog waste, Robert Ménard has now banned them from drying their laundry on their balconies.

Robert Ménard the far-right mayor of the southern French town of Beziers is back in the headlines this week.

Ménard was only elected two months ago, with the support of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, but no one can accuse him of putting his feet up once in office.

Off to Austria with TheLocal.at and action contemplated:

Third of Austrians in favour of ‘tax strike’

Some Austrian companies have started a kind of tax strike – by refusing to make some tax payments they want to put pressure on the government to make more savings.

A poll carried out by the OGM market research group, on behalf of the daily Kurier newspaper showed that a third of people asked were in favour of a tax strike and believed that tax money is being wasted.

Fifty-two percent of people thought a tax strike was not justified, while 33 percent thought it was. “Most of the population is not self-employed and view entrepreneurs as rich, because people think they have big companies. Envy plays a role. Nevertheless it’s noteworthy that 33 percent approve of the tax boycott,” OGM pollster Karin Cvrtila said.

Deflating with TheLocal.at:

Real estate bubble: ‘The hype is over’

  • Austria has experienced something of a real estate bubble in recent years, but some experts believe the market is now calming down.

Specialists from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s advisory group on real estate have said that while property costs increased significantly in 2013, current signs suggest that this year growth should be relatively flat, according to the Wirtschafts Blatt.

“While there continues to be a general upwards trend – in many regions the price increases have stopped, the hype is over,” real estate chairman Thomas Malloth explained.

In January, the Austrian National Bank (ÖNB) warned of the possibility of a real estate bubble, with prices in Vienna for selected apartments rising by 21 percent over the previous 12 months. Tenants have been complaining about rising rents, which seem to have been driven by speculative investors.

Spain next, and a hard times intolerance intolerance from  El País:

Spanish government asks state attorney to crack down on Twitter hate speech

  • Prosecutor warns of difficulty of tackling all online insults in generalized way
  • “Incitement to hatred” provision cannot be applied to all cases, she says

The initiative began a month ago with an Interior Ministry order to “clean out the web” that resulted in 21 arrests for glorifying terrorism. Some of the suspects had been asking for Basque terrorist group ETA to kill again and mocking the victims of its decades-long campaign.

But the crackdown on hate speech has taken on new urgency following the recent assassination of Popular Party (PP) politician Isabel Carrasco, which spawned an outbreak of messages from people celebrating the murder and calling for further killings of PP members.

This week, Jewish associations reported more than 18,000 offensive messages on Twitter after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid on Sunday to win the Euroleague title.

Lisbon next and a diktat from Berlin via the Portugal News:

Germany tells Portuguese – Get out or get a job

The Portuguese secretary of state for the communities acknowledged on Wednesday that the government was applying political pressure to avoid the approval of a law by the German CSU party on the repatriation of unemployed immigrants.

“We are following the situation directly through our embassies and hope the decisions that are taken are not going to excessively penalise the Portuguese”, José Cesário told Lusa News Agency.

The ‘Diário de Notícias’ newspaper said on Wednesday that the CSU, one of the parties in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, had put forward a proposal that immigrants who had been unemployed for between three and six months should be repatriated. The paper said the measure could affect more than 5,600 Portuguese who are in Germany without a job.

Off to Italy and another Bunga Bunga scandal from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP probed over labour aide’s murder

Prosecutors in Bologna have opened an investigation involving the murder of Marco Biagi, a labour ministry adviser who was shot dead in 2002, after it was revealed that senior polticians, including Claudio Scajola, an-ex minister, may have been aware of the danger he was under.

Biagi was assassinated by the extreme-left Red Brigades as he made his way home in March 2012, shortly after Scajola, who was interior minister at the time, had taken away his police escort.

Scajola is currently in jail in Rome after being arrested earlier this month for allegedly helping Calabrian businessman Amedeo Matacena escape a five-year-jail term for mafia collusion conviction.

From ANSA, not in a humoring mood:

Don’t send ‘clowns’ to Europe – Renzi

  • Premier says PD represents ‘seriousness’

Premier Matteo Renzi appealed to the Italian people not to vote for “clowns” in Sunday’s European elections. The broadside by the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was aimed at comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo and his anti-estasblishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). The 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.

“We don’t need shows and clownery in the European parliament, we don’t need to climb on the roof,” Renzi said on Italian radio referring to a recent M5S protest on the roof of the Italian Lower House. “We need seriousness, people who are well prepared and further Italy’s interests”.

Renzi also blasted the language used in the campaign by Grillo, who, among other things, suggested that the premier will suffer a political “lupara bianca” – a term used to refer to a mafia hit that leaves no trace of evidence – after the European elections.

ANSA again, and he’s makin’ a list:

Grillo calls for ‘people’s trial’ of system after EU poll

Web-based trial to nail blame for Italy’s ‘collapse’

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), on Wednesday called for putting politicians, industrialists and journalists “on trial” using an online system and popular vote among M5S members after European Parliament elections this month.

The comedian turned politician wrote on his blog that the aim of the Web-based “trial” was to “inform citizens about the theft and embezzlement of a system that led to the collapse of Italy” “Just as you can’t build on rubble, you can’t build a new Italy without clearing the land of those who have plundered, transforming the fifth (sixth?) industrial power into a desert,” Grillo said.

The often foul-mouthed protest leader announced “lists” of suspects would be created.

Bunga Bunga bloviation from Corriere della Sera:

Berlusconi Attacks “Killer” Grillo

Former prime minister says M5S leader “killed three friends in an accident. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me”. Grillo replies: “He doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more”

“Grillo is a convicted criminal, a killer”. The Forza Italia (FI) leader went on: “Grillo knows all about staying out of jail. He is guilty of killing three of his friends by ignoring a no entry sign. He got 14 months for multiple manslaughter”. Mr Berlusconi, speaking on the La7 TV talk show L’aria che tira, raised the election campaign stakes. His most direct thrust was: “He ought to have gone to jail but he got away with it. He shouldn’t be talking about that sort of thing. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me. And he only used to do shows if he was paid cash. He was known for that”.

Mr Berlusconi went on: “He killed three friends, ignoring a warning that there was ice on the road. He managed to get out of the car but his three friends didn’t. They died. He was sentenced to 14 months in jail for multiple manslaughter”. Speaking to Enrico Mentana on La7′s Bersaglio Mobile programme, the FI leader added: “I realise there’s an election coming up but when Renzi compares me to Grillo and says we’re two sides of the same coin, he’s way off the mark”.

Beppe Grillo was quick to respond. The Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader said Mr Berlusconi was a “poor thing who doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more. He’s talk show-hopping for the sake of his businesses, not the electorate”.

And a Grillo spawn stigmatizes the poor, via TheLocal.it:

Mayor plans to scrap dessert for poor kids

Only wealthy children will be given dessert with their school lunches, while those from poor families will go without, under plans drawn up by a mayor in central Italy.

The mayor of Pomezia, Fabio Fucci, has proposed the two-tier menu system in response to requests from a number of low-income families, Corriere della Sera said on Tuesday.

Under the plan, parents will be able to pick from two menus of different prices. The more expensive one will come with dessert, while children from poorer families will go without the sweet.

The move by the Five Star Movement (M5S) mayor has been met with ire in some quarters.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including new bribery scandals], Russia strikes a massive deal, the Libyan coup intensifies, a Ukrainian election ultimatum, a bumper cr[h]ash crop in Libya, Brazilian World Cup blues, Argentine bankster woes and student discontent, a Venezuelan stalemate, the new Dirty Digger, a bankster blessing for India’s theocon winner, Thai uncertainty, Chinese labor loses and a Putin partnership, an Abenomics push in Japan, environmental woes, stolen baby brains [and not by zombies], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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: 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

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

Headlines: Pols, EconoEnvirofails, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

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

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

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

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

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

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

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

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

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

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

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

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

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

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

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

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

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

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

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

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

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

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

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

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

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

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

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

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

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

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

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

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

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

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

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

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

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

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

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

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

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

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

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

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

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

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

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

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

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

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

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

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

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

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

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

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

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

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

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

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

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

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

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

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

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

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

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

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

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

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

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

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines II: Spooks, shockers, zones, drones


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

From the Guardian, an Old Blighty hack alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is default mode for the Freedom of Information Act.

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

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

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

Government to create database for monitoring all Spanish bank accounts

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

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

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

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

Another disturbing alert, this time from Medill News Service:

Medical devices could fall prey to computer malfunctions, hackers

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

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

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

Wired hedges a bet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Japan Times, eyes and ears turn East:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian again, with a Greenwald alert:

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

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

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

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

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

From CNBC, duh:

NSA chief: US spy agency saw changed behavior after Snowden

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

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

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

Salon hints at things to come:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guantanamo prison: A lawyer speaks out


From London Real, an interview with a retired U.S. Army major  and lawyer who served as defense counsel for detainees at America’s shameful prison located in Cuba because to escape scrutiny and the U.S. Constitution’s civil rights protections for prisoners.

Here’s his bio from The Globalist:

Todd E. Pierce retired as a major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in November 2012.

His most recent assignment was defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions. In the course of that assignment, he researched and reviewed the complete records of military commissions held during the Civil War and stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Pierce served on active and reserve duty as both a JAG Officer and a Non-Commissioned Officer, beginning as a Marine Corps Rifleman. He was commissioned as a Judge Advocate in 1996.

His previous military service included service with the 349th Psychological Operations Company and the 205th Infantry Brigade as a senior NCO. He served in the Gulf War in 1990-1991 with three campaign ribbons.

Mr. Pierce’s undergraduate degree is in history and social sciences, with an emphasis on the study of revolutionary movements, and their use of revolutionary violence in the form of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

He contributed research to the Army-Air Force Center for Low Intensity Conflict during the 1980′s, culminating in organizing a major conference on low intensity conflict and terrorism in 1989.

With that, on with the video from London Real:

Todd Pierce – Guantanamo Bay | London Real

Program notes:

Todd Pierce knows a lot about the Guantanamo Detention Camp. As a Major with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corp his job was to defend three of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and considers indefinite detention a form of torture.

Todd is also a military historian and believes that George W. Bush’s famous quote “You are either with us or against us” made the USA a de factor Authoritarian government. He claims that Bush & Cheney turned to Civil War precedents to create military tribunals for trying alleged “terrorists.”

Furthermore he believes that Edward Snowden’s revelations of the restricted access to information by those who govern us severely restricts the way a fair society can function. He has unique insights on the problems of the NSA, unmanned drone strike policy, and the arcane law know as the Espionage Act of 1917.

Join me in welcoming Todd Pierce for a critically important episode of London Real.

H/T to Antiwar.com.

Headlines: Pols, players, loans, lies, pollution


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

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

Koch group plans to spend $125 million on midterms

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

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

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

Wyoming is 1st state to reject science standards

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

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

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

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

BBC News raises the heat:

Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

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

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

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

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

Whose Speech, Whose Religion?

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

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

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

The Washington Post politics:

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

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

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

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

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

Obama heads to Wal-Mart, triggers backlash

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

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

>snip<

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

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

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

And from Reuters, more about the company in question:

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

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

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

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

BBC News covers more corporate conundra:

US politicians raise questions over Pfizer bid

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

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

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

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

Calif. City Boosts Revenue By Detaining And Deporting Immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado generates over $25M in marijuana revenue since legalization

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

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

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

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

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

Consider also a second UPI story:

Report: Global war on drugs a failure

The report emphasizes public health treatment instead of incarceration and prosecution

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

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

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

And then there’s this, from the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

While Want China Times takes the fast track:

China mulls building high speed railway to the US

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

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

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

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

Underwater homes: Minorities still suffering from housing collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada sees little employment growth in last year

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

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

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

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

Academic imperialism: Cal schools look East


The University of California at Berkeley, cash-strapped by a state government already overburdened by covering costs of local and county governments impoverished by Proposition 13, is looking abroad for cash.

It makes sense, of course. The increasingly wealthy elites of former Second World countries like China and Russia and the oil-enriched aristocratic an technocratic elites of the Mideast are eager to give their children appropriately elite educations.

So while Cal cuts enrolments of students from the state it was created to serve and replaces them with overseas students whose parents or states are able to pay the far higher enrolments charged non-Californians, it has taken the next step and established offshore campuses as well.

And why not? For the host country, there are the benefits of technology transfer coupled with the presitge of hosting academic names. And for cash-strapped American schools, there’s all that lovely money.

From the 3 April 2013 issue of the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal’s engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China’s biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

Two years earlier — when the center was in the planning stages — the New York Times reported, tellingly:

The public university, which is struggling under budget constraints imposed by the state of California, said the Shanghai center would cater to engineering graduate students and be financed over the next five years largely by the Shanghai government and companies operating here.

And the Shanghai campus isn’t the only link to Beijing, as China Daily reported two weeks ago:

West Point, Berkeley become must-stops for Chinese CEOs

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the US Military Academy at West Point have become popular must-stops for Chinese CEOs and business executives enrolled in an overseas education program organized by China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A group of 66 Chinese business executives in the program ended their 10-day tour of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 20. The tour that included meetings with key international financial institutions and government officials is part of a 12-month non-degree course at the university that also includes the UK.

On April 18, the Haas School of Business at the UC Berkeley campus hosted the Chinese executives.

“The Shanghai Jiaotong University Global CEO program provides our group of Chinese CEOs with advanced management training and face-to-face dialogue with key people in the US, which helps us understand and participate effectively in the globalized market,” said Jiang Zhaobai, chairman of Shanghai Pengxin Group, a leading Chinese conglomerate with interests in real estate, infrastructure construction.

Berkeley isn’t new at the foreign partnership game. Nor has the imperial expansion been entirely without complications, as in the case of the Graduate School of Management at Russia’s St. Petersburg University, a partnership between Cal’s Haas School of Business and the Russian school launched in 1993.

UC Berkeley plutocratic professor David J. Teece , who directs the Center for Global Strategy and Governance at Cal’s Haas School of Business, also chairs of the St. Petersburg business school’s International Academic Council. [He’s also vied with David Koch for pride of place among the top five contributors to a California Republican senatorial candidate.]

Let us quote from a WikiLeaks-ed 5 February 2001 CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN cable from Ambassador William J. Burns in Moscow to the Secretary of State’s office:

2. (C) During the November 2006 inauguration of the newly-opened premises of the St. Petersburg State University School of Management, an American academic long associated with the school told CG about Vice Governor Yuri Molchanov’s “sinister” presence in their dealings.

3. (C) The Haas School of Management at U.C. Berkeley has nurtured the development of a new St. Petersburg School of Management since 1993. In addition to academic exchanges and curriculum development, representatives of the Haas school led a unique fund-raising campaign which collected $6.5 million in private U.S. and Russian funds to entirely renovate a dilapidated building for classroom use. As steward of the funds, which included a whopping $1 million from U.S. citizen Arthur B. Schultz, the Haas School kept close tabs on all expenditures. At one point in the early 1990s, when lenders were sought to renovate the old building, Vice Governor Molchanov’s private construction firm placed a bid. As the only local bidder and as a close associate of the now Dean of the School of Management, Molchanov apparently expected to win the tender. He did not. This provoked an angry response in which he demanded compensation from the Haas School representatives for the costs of preparing his bid. While the Haas School did not comply with his demand, they did find a way to mollify the Vice Governor, who “was always present at all our discussions”, according to the American source. “He gave me the creeps.” Although the source did not describe any specific intimidation, it was clear that the Americans experienced some degree of fear – a not unreasonable reaction in 1990s Russia.

4. (C) Vice Governor Malchanov is widely rumored to be corrupt, enjoying a convenient intersection of interests between his construction company and his position in the city government. He played a very visible role in the School of Management inauguration alongside Governor Valentina Matviyenko and President Putin.

BURNS

Just what the school did to mollify Molchanov remains an open question. The only mention of him on the Russian university’s website is as one of seven judges in a 23 November 2000 student business plan competition. His name doesn’t appear in a search of UC Berkeley’s website.

What was most peculiar is that no mention of this fascinating story has appeared in the local news media after WikiLeaks put on line, with the notable help of Chelsea Manning. But then such is the plight of the impoverished, gutted, and pathetically understaffed American news media.

One has to wonder how many similar situations are confronted by other institutions, and by their staff members.

Perhaps these are just the moaning and musing of a stubborn old journalist who’s spent a great many years investigating corruption much closer to home. . .

The provocation for this rambling post follows, a pair of video reports from CCTV, like China Daily a Chinese state medium, reporting on similar deals by other American universities.

From CCTV:

USC President C.L. Max Nikias on Investment in China

Program notes:

China is also one of the biggest markets for U.S. universities. The number of Chinese students studying abroad is soaring, but the U.S. only attracts a fraction of them. Now American colleges are trying to change that: they already have the biggest number of satellite campuses and partnerships in China. The University of Southern California (USC) is one school investing time, money, and people towards this goal. CCTV’s Phillip Yin speaks to USC President C.L. Max Nikias about the university’s efforts in China.

Foreign Universities Setting up Shop in India

Program notes:

For years, India has been sending students away to learn the skills to build the economy back home. Now overseas universities are coming to India. CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj reports from New Delhi.

Headlines II: Spooks, zones, secrecy, & lies


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

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

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

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

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

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

Invoking another threat with EUbusiness:

Europe’s cybersecurity policy settings under attack

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

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

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

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

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

On behalf of the U.S. Government

CIA agents & FBI advise Kiev

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

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

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

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

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

Skyrocketing Prison Population Devastating US Society

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

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

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

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

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

From the Observer, the ubiquitous panopticon gets creepier:

Facial recognition: is the technology taking away your identity?

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

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

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

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

Ars Technica drones on, then off:

Drones banned at Yosemite National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Adams released over Jean McConville murder

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

From FRANCE 24, refuge for the persecuted:

French non-profit offers a home to exiled journalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines: EconoEcoKleptoMegaManiacs


Once again, a collection of things economic, political, ecological, and more, complete with Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, from TechWeekEurope, an ominous notice that Big Brother intends you to wear him, ushering in the dawn of a new era of Taylorism:

Research Proves Wearable Tech Increases Employee Productivity

  • Rakspace says the main challenge now is harvesting data generated by employees’ devices for analytics

Adoption of wearable technology in the workplace can increase staff productivity and job satisfaction, suggests research commissioned by Rackspace.

However, IT professionals have raised concerns about the security of newly-generated data and the sudden increase in IT workloads caused by the introduction of devices like the Fitbit, Pebble and Google Glass.

The findings are the result of the Human Cloud at Work project [PDF], which looks at the impact wearable devices could have on the corporate environment.

Next up, a delay for a key piece of the neoliberal, Ayn Randian agenda from Global Times:

US senators voice concerns over prospects of TPP trade talks

US senators expressed on Thursday concerns over the prospects of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal despite progress made last week between the United States and Japan.

Orrin Hatch, the top Republican at the Senate Finance Committee, said the administration’s trade agenda was at risk of failure without trade promotion authority (TPA).

“I do not believe you can conclude high-standard agreements that will meet Congress’ approval without TPA,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. “History tells us very clearly that without TPA, your trade agenda will almost certainly fail.”

TPA, known as “fast track” trade legislation, provides that Congress must vote up or down on a proposed trade agreement without the possibility of amendment. Without that guarantee, it’s more difficult for other negotiating countries to make significant concessions.

Another significant voice joins in, via Open Media:

Top U.S. Senator: TPP’s secrecy must end and the agreement must “reflect the need for a free and open Internet”

On April 30th, 2014, over 3.1 million citizens and over 50 organizations united in a historic campaign to Stop The Secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Our campaign culminated in our biggest and brightest projection in Washington D.C. last night – check out the images here.

Then, the next day, one of the most powerful members of the United States Congress, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) spoke out during a crucial Senate Hearing to call for an end to the extreme secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Senator Wyden explained, “Too often, there is trade secrecy instead of trade transparency. Bringing the American people into full and open debates on trade agreements that have the effect of law is not too much to ask.” In addition, Wyden also assured citizens that any agreements – including the TPP, “must reflect the need for a free and open internet, strong labor rights, environmental protections, and must be backed by stronger enforcement.”

From the Economic Times, a needed qualification:

Why the US unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%

The unemployment rate plunged for adult high school drop-outs to 8.9 percent from 9.6 percent. But April was a cruel period for them: The number of employed high school drop-outs fell to 9.9 million from 10.1 million. More than 200,000 of them lost jobs.

Their unemployment rate fell because even more of them _ 308,000 _ retired, gave up their search or never started looking for work. That’s a huge negative.

The overall unemployment rate fell primarily because fewer people started looking for work in April. More than 4 million Americans typically do so each month. But in April, only 3.7 million did.

That caused the number of people either working or looking for work to shrink, which, in turn, contributed to lower unemployment rates.

From the New York Times, notable numbers:

Why the Housing Market Is Still Stalling the Economy

Except in a few booming markets, housing is nowhere close to pulling its economic weight. Consider this:

Investment in residential property remains a smaller share of the overall economy than at any time since World War II, contributing less to growth than it did even in previous steep downturns in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit 20 percent, or the early 1990s, when hundreds of mortgage lenders failed.

If building activity returned merely to its postwar average proportion of the economy, growth would jump this year to a booming, 1990s-like level of 4 percent, from today’s mediocre 2-plus percent. The additional building, renovating and selling of homes would add about 1.5 million jobs and knock about a percentage point off the unemployment rate, now 6.7 percent. That activity would close nearly 40 percent of the gap between America’s current weak economic state and full economic health.

Resistance, via Al Jazeera America:

Postal workers resist privatization plans

Employees fear outsourcing of mail processing to Staples store counters and potential sale of post office branches

In a recent video message posted to the U.S. Postal Service’s YouTube channel, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe appeared incredulous and indignant about protests that have erupted across the nation over changes he’s instituted. “There’s no interest in privatizing,” he said. “Do not let people get you confused.”

If that message was aimed at soothing the increasing nervousness on the part of postal employee unions, the postmaster failed to deliver. As seen in the simultaneous demonstrations in 27 states last week, as well as the postal employees’ presence at International Workers’ Day rallies on Thursday, several decisions by Donahoe have only heightened fears among America’s postal workers.

The most visible sign of union angst is the movement to thwart Donahoe’s aim of putting full-service USPS counters in 1,500 Staples stores, to be staffed with the office supply chain’s own, lower-paid employees. Yet that’s just the latest in a string of changes that seem geared toward outsourcing various postal jobs, which include efforts to consolidate processing plants and contract out the trucking of mail from plants to post offices.

From the Los Angeles Times, another notable number:

Seattle mayor proposes $15 minimum wage

A day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate quashed an effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal Thursday for a $15 municipal minimum wage that he said would “improve the lives of workers who can barely afford to live” in this high-tech city on Puget Sound.

Declaring it a “historic” day for progressives seeking to address the issue of income inequality, Murray laid out his complex and controversial proposal, which would be phased in over several years at different rates for large and small businesses. At least initially, income from tips and employer-provided health insurance would be taken into account.

If the City Council agrees, Murray said, Seattle will prove itself to be “an incubator of democracy,” leading the national conversation to address “the growing problem of income inequality.

And for our final U.S. item, the arrival of a filler four times deadlier than SARS from The Wire:

MERS Reaches the U.S. for the First Time

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said on Friday that a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in the U.S. for the first time. The CDC said the MERS-infected patient is a healthcare worker who came to Indiana from Saudi Arabia, adding that it is collaborating with Indiana health officials to investigate the case. Per the CDC:

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.

MERS, a SARS-like virus that was first detected in 2012, has largely affected patients in Saudi Arabia, but has broken out throughout the Middle East and has made an appearance in Greece, Britain, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries. Since 2012, more than 300 Saudi Arabians were hit with the virus, and local officials have reported a recent surge in patients. Only about two-thirds of those diagnosed with the virus survived.

Off to Europe and qualified relief from Reuters:

Euro zone joblessness barely falls in March

The number of people out of work in the euro zone fell slightly in March but remained near a record high, a sign that European households are yet to feel the bloc’s economic recovery and are unlikely help generate growth in the short term.

Around 18.91 million people were jobless in the 18-nation bloc in March, 22,000 less than in February, or 11.8 percent of the working population, the EU statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

That is slightly down from the record 12-percent level a year ago, while the 11.8 percent reading was the same as in February. The February reading was revised down by Eurostat from 11.9 percent earlier.

So what do the numbers show for the European Union? A spectrum ranging of Austrian at the low of 4.9 percent to Greece, with a high of 26.7 percent. Via Eurostat [PDF], click on the image to enlarge:

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

Reuters again, and more qualified numbers:

Euro zone factory recovery broadens, except for France

The recovery in euro zone manufacturing accelerated at the start of the second quarter with solid growth across most of the bloc although French factories struggled to maintain momentum, a business survey showed on Friday.

Growth was again led by Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and previously-lagging companies in Spain and Italy reported better business last month.

It was the first time since November 2007 that all PMIs in the region indicated growth – coming in above the 50 break-even level.

On to austerian Britain and some truly grim numbers from The Independent:

UK has second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, study finds

  • Leading doctors and midwives accuse Government of ‘failing to protect’ British children

The UK has the second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, a major new study has revealed, as leading doctors and midwives accuse the Government of “failing to protect” British children during the financial crisis.

In findings which were described as “shocking” by children’s charities, and which caused surprise among the researchers themselves, the UK ranked behind much poorer countries such as Cyprus and Greece and for prevention of mortality in under-fives.

The under-five mortality rate for the UK was 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births. Only Malta, a country which ranks well behind the UK in terms of wealth, performed worse in the Western European region. The UK mortality rate was more than twice as high as the best-performing country, Iceland, and 25 per cent higher than the Western European average.

The Guardian covers more dubious numbers:

British aid money invested in gated communities and shopping centres

  • CDC development fund insists projects will create jobs in poor countries but NGOs accuse government of helping big business

Millions of pounds of British aid money to tackle poverty overseas has been invested in builders of gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries, the Guardian can reveal.

CDC, the little-known investment arm of the British aid programme, has invested more than $260m (£154m) in 44 property and construction companies in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

At least 20 of these are hotels, shopping centres or companies that build or manage gated communities and luxury property, according to Guardian research.

On to Sweden, and some non-metaphorical alarm bells from TheLocal.se:

Neo-Nazis spark first church alarm since WWII

The churches in Jönköping rang their bells in warning for two hours on May Day as neo-Nazis took to the streets. The alarm marked the first of its kind for the central Sweden town since World War II broke out.

“We chose to ring the bells because we think it’s a threat to our open society when our streets play host to messages that do not respect every person’s value and dignity,” Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) priest Fredrik Hollertz told The Local on Friday.

“We wanted to use what we used in the days of old.”

On to Germany and more interesting numbers from the London Telegraph:

Germany’s interest in Adolf Hitler at record levels

  • Germans more interested in Adolf Hitler than at any time since the Allied defeat of his Third Reich at the end of the Second World War, study finds

Germans are more interested in Adolf Hitler that at any time since the end of the Second World War, a new study has concluded.

The German Media Control research group, which monitors broadcasting, found that documentaries about Hitler are aired twice a day on German television channels and that books and films about the Nazi leader are being produced in record numbers.

It established that 242 programmes dealing specifically with Hitler had been shown on television during the first four months of 2013, while 500 other films and documentaries that had dealt with the Nazi era in general had also been aired.

Some 2,000 books on Hitler were published in Germany last year.

Next, France, and yet more interesting numbers from TheLocal.fr:

Is France really a nation of Eurosceptics?

A recent poll showed fewer than half of the French people believe the EU is a good thing for their country, which is a troubling trend for one of the union’s founders. The Local hit the streets to find out if the French really have become a nation of Eurosceptics.

With European parliament elections just weeks away the French may be having a British moment.

A poll commissioned by French daily Le Figaro recently found that only 44 percent of the French people think the European Union is good for their country, which appears at a first sight a dizzying plummet in one of the Union’s founders and an arch promoter of the project.

But the apparent turning of the tide against the EU has been growing for some time. A study last year showed the French public were rapidly falling out of love with Brussels. What was perhaps most alarming was that the widespread disaffection with the union was spreading quicker in France than in any other country on the continent.

TheLocal.fr again, and a decision sure to please the resurgent Right:

Landmark ruling bars lesbians from adopting

In a landmark decision a lesbian couple were barred from adopting a child, who was conceived through artificial insemination outside France. One gay-rights group slammed the decision saying “Children of LGBT families are the new bastards of the Republic”.

Judges in Versailles refused a request this week by a lesbian woman to adopt a 4-year-old child, who was conceived in Belgium by her partner, thanks to medically assisted procreation (MAP) or artificial insemination.

Currently in France methods of medically assisted procreation like IVF are reserved only for heterosexual couples, who have difficulty having children. However thousands of babies are thought to be born in France each year that were conceived abroad through articificial insemination.

On to the Alps, with TheLocal.ch:

Swiss have world’s highest prices: new study

Residents who find Switzerland to be a costly place to live now have more proof: the mountain country ranks as the most expensive nation on the planet, according to a new study from the World Bank.

The International Comparison Program report, released on Tuesday in the US, compares purchasing power and real expenditures of 177 countries using statistics from 2011.

Switzerland ranks ahead of Norway, Bermuda, Australia and Denmark in the table for highest “price level indexes,” the report says.

Portugal next, with an imprimatur from ANSAmed:

Portugal passes latest troika test

  • 2014 growth to be at 1% of GDP, says deputy PM

The Portuguese government announced on Friday that the so-called troika of international creditors (ECB,EU, and IMF) had approved the efforts undertaken by the country to comply with the aid program agreed three years ago in exchange for a 76-billion-euro loan.

‘’The twelfth assessment was positive,’‘ Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas said in a press conference, underscoring the ‘’climate of confidence coming from all European markets.’‘ Portas added that the international creditors had urged the government to push forward with reforms that the opposition, unions and most citizens – including military and police associations – are against.

The deputy prime minister underscored that at the June 2011 swearing in of Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservative government, interest rates on ten-year government bonds had stood at 10.6%, whereas they have now dropped to 3.6%.

The Portugal News charts a financial invasion:

Brits lead property sale surge

The sale of property in Portugal has recorded positive growth during the first quarter of 2014, the Chairman of National Real Estate Association (APEMIP) revealed this week, with the appetite of British buyers for Portuguese houses showing renewed signs of recovery.

Luís Lima explained that foreign investment played a considerable role in the improvement of the national real estate market, representing 14 percent of the total number of sales during the first three months of the year. However, estimates are that this percentage is substantially greater when solely taking into consideration the monetary value of property sales involving foreign buyers.

“A factor which helped boost figures this past quarter most was the increase in foreign investment and, for example, we started seeing more sales in the Algarve”, Luís Lima told the Lusa News Agency after the release of the association’s latest numbers.

The APEMIP chief put the latest “animated figures” for the first quarter down to mounting interest from foreign buyers, revealing that a total of 24,000 properties changed hands between January and March.

The Portugal News, with an anti-stricke strike:

Inmates launch hunger strike against strike

Fifteen inmates being held in the Monsanto maximum security prison have launched a hunger strike to protest against strike action being taken by prison guards.

According to a report by newspaper Diário de Notícias the inmates are taking action of their own in protest to the guards’ strikes which reduce their access to phone calls and visits.

On to Spain with El País, and that old hard times intolerance, taking the field:

Just another “isolated” racist incident?

  • The throwing of a banana at Barça’s Alves highlights the reluctance to tackle racial abuse in sport

The initial response of the authorities to the banana that was thrown at Barcelona’s Dani Alves during an away match at Villarreal on April 27 was that it was an isolated incident. The problem is that the history of sport, in Spain and around the world, is full of isolated incidents. And after a while, they all add up.

Which is not to say that in some countries action isn’t finally being taken against racism in sport. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, was recently banned for life from the game, and will likely be forced to sell up after he was recorded telling his girlfriend in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want her bringing black people to games.

“The attitude of the State Commission Against Violence and Racism is lazy and laissez-faire,” says Esteban Ibarra, a member of the two anti-racist organizations in Spain. “All that happens here is that we cover up racism and violence.” It is an attitude that many sports fans will recognize from the way the Spanish authorities have failed to deal with doping.

A provocative push with a purpose from TheLocal.es:

Spanish region to tax owners of empty homes

Spain’s Catalonia region is looking at taxing the owners of properties that have stood empty for more than two years in a bid to increase stocks of social housing.

Under the draft legislation, property owners would have to register properties that have been empty for more than two years as of January 1st 2015. They would then be taxed accordingly. The planned tax is targeted primarily at financial institutions and would be gradual, with annual taxes levied on each property of €500 ($690) to €16,500 depending on how many properties are owned.

The proposal will help breathe life into a market where 15,000 people lost their homes in 2013, Catalonia’s government said in a statement.

On to Italy and a truly gruesome crime from TheLocal.it:

‘Mafia is behind stolen anti-cancer drugs’

A highly organized crime ring is behind the distribution of stolen and fake anti-cancer drugs throughout Europe, an Italian official told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Domenico Di Giorgio, the director of the prevention of counterfeiting at the Italian Medicines Agency, the pharmaceutical watchdog, said that “organized crime is certainly involved” in the racket, which has raised concern among pharmaceutical professionals that the drugs may be inefficient or even deadly.

Di Giorgio’s agency is currently carrying out an investigation into the matter along with the Italian antifraud squad, the Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità Carabinieri.

“There’s a central structure apparently based in Italy that commissions thefts of medicines in hospitals,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [and lots of it], boycotts and bailouts in the Ukrainian/Russia conflict, a provocative Israeli move, Brazilian drought and a political preemption, a seismic economic shift in Asia, Chinese financial developments [including a bubble alert], Japanese bankster boosterism, TPP demands, environemtnal woes, visions of epidemics, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines, threats, pols, cons, and more


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

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

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

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

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

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

First, this:

Kissing congressman won’t run for re-election

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

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

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

And by way of contrast, this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese immigrants could save Detroit: governor

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

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

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

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

California drought drives exodus of cattle ranchers to eastern states

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spying Is Bad for Business

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

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

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

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

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

Demand for terrorism insurance remains strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RBS plan for 200% bonuses blocked by Treasury body

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

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

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

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

On to Germany and a warning from TheLocal.de:

Bundesbank warns of German slowdown

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

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

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

Lisbon next, and embarrassing hacks from the Portugal News:

Attorney general’s office hacked, passwords accessible online

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

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

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

On to Spain and a bare minimum protest from thinkSPAIN:

Naked police protest in council meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wide-ranging talk with Noam Chomsky


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

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

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

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

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

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

Just released by University of California Television:

A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Program notes:

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

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

Headlines, TPPeonage, threats, pols, deals


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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing For The Worst With Luxury Bunkers

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from RT America, a high tech powerhouse:

Google now a ‘master of Washington influence’

Program notes:

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

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

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

Bill Gates Criticised for Investment in G4S’ Israel Torture Prisons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama denies US bullying Malaysia in TPPA negotiations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eurosceptics will gain national influence, study says

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

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

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

And Reuters raises some other doubts:

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

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

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

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

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

Top doctor slams schools policy for fuelling epidemic of child obesity

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

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

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

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

Finance minister: Taxes could be cut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juice Rap News: Israel vs Palestine


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

From Juice Rap News:

Juice Rap News: Israel vs Palestine

Program notes:

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

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

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

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

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

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

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

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

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

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

Salon finds brown noses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

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

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

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

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

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

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

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

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

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

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

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

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

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

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

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

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

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

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

>snip<

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

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

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

BLOG Drought

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

On the Ukraine: Curiouser and curiouser indeed


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

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

From USA Today:

Leaflet tells Jews to register in East Ukraine

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

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

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

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

Ukraine Jews Told To ‘Register’ In Mystery Flyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again from USA Today:

White House: Brennan was in Kiev this weekend

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

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

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

More from Forbes, which adds some interesting detail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another critique of American coverage

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

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

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

An excerpt from the transcript:

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

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

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

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

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