Category Archives: MSM

Media mayhem: Odd juxtaposition of the day


From the homepage of China Daily USA, a reminder of the dangers of those darn Blue Meanies:

BLOG OopsUPDATE: Same photo, different context.

From the London Daily Mail:

BLOG Harrass

Edward Snowden tackles critics, the panopticon


The world’s most famous leaker offers an illuminating discussion the the reasons why he leaked, and his take on the sate of surveillance in today’s world in tis fascinating interview for The Guardian.

Snowden denies that we live in a 1984 world, not because Orwell was wrong about the critical role omnipresent surveillance in a totalitarian state, but because Orwell’s portrayal of spooky methodology is both “unimaginative and quaint.”

And for the record, he neither Googles nor Skypes.

Note also that, despite his portrayal as a Vladimir Putin lackey and sycophant by both Obama administration officials and the Usual Suspects, Snowden is scathing in his critique of the Russian crackdown on media and dissent.

From The Guardian:

Program notes:

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s full interview 2014 with the Guardian.

The 31-year-old former intelligence analyst discusses whether he is a Russian spy, his likely fate if he returns to the US and the relevance of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in the age of Google.
Get the whole picture, the whole time.

Mr Snowden talked exclusively with Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, and reporter Ewen MacAskill in Moscow.

Chart of the day: Gender & NY Times bylines


Via Sociological Images, a curious pattern in bylines and subject matter in the New York Times “based on 21,440 articles published online from October 23, 2013 to February 25, 2014” conducted by the Women’s Media Center:BLOG Times

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

Headlines II: Spies, laws, pols, zones, drones


For today’s tales from the dark side, we begin with this from MintPress News:

Will The House’s Gutted USA Freedom Act Really Stop The NSA?

“While it represents a slight improvement from the status quo, it isn’t the reform bill that Americans deserve,” says a staff attorney with the ACLU.

In a Thursday op-ed for Hays Post, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp explained his reasoning for not voting for the USA Freedom Act, which cleared the House earlier in the day in a 303-121 vote.

“[The] bill presented on the House floor today does not address many of privacy and constitutional concerns expressed by Kansans over the warrantless bulk collection of Americans’ personal information,” wrote Huelskamp.

Huelskamp was an original sponsor to the bill. Originally meant to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata from Americans’ phone records, the bill was initially heralded as the first serious attempt to bring balance to the way the nation handles electronic surveillance.

From the Guardian, the obvious conclusion:

The year of living more dangerously: Obama’s drone speech was a sham

  • We were promised drone memos. And a case for legal targeted killing. And no more Gitmo. We’re still waiting

Twelve months ago today, Barack Obama gave a landmark national security speech in which he frankly acknowledged that the United States had at least in some cases compromised its values in the years since 9/11 – and offered his vision of a US national security policy more directly in line with “the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” It was widely praised as “a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America”.

Addressing an audience at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, the president pledged greater transparency about targeted killings, rededicated himself to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and urged Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been invoked to justify everything from military detention to drones strikes.

A year later, none of these promises have been met. Instead, drone strikes have continue (and likely killed and wounded civilians), 154 men remain detained at Guantanamo and the administration has taken no steps to roll back the AUMF. This is not the sort of change Obama promised.

Coming up with a drone report the old-fashioned way with RT:

Over 60% of US drone targets in Pakistan are homes – research

The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s domestic buildings more than any other targets over the past decade of the drone war launched by the US, says the latest research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Almost two thirds, or over 60 percent, of all US drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, says joint research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), a London-based non-profit news group, along with Forensic Architecture, a research unit based at Goldsmiths University, London, and Situ Research in New York.

The authors of the paper analyzed thousands of media reports, witness testimonies and field investigations to obtain the data on drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

According to the study, at least 132 houses have been destroyed in more than 380 strikes over the past decade with at least 222 civilians being among the 1,500 or more people killed.

Security checks and no security, from Quartz:

You should fear background checks even if you’ve done nothing wrong

  • 41% error rate

This issue matters not only because innocent people and employers who hire screening companies are getting ensnared by a digital dragnet; it also matters because 65 million Americans have criminal records, and those who want to turn their lives around are hurt by background check mistakes. Maybe you don’t care that employers end up screening out deserving applicants. Maybe you scoff at liberals like me who worry that background screening has a discriminatory impact on people of color.  At least you should care that the mistakes cut both ways: employers can end up hiring applicants whose full criminal records are not showing up on background screens.

You can find a litany of common screw-ups in this report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). It’s impossible to quantify the extent of the errors, partly because the industry has no registration requirements and any fly-by-night operation with web access can set up shop. But the NCLC says “tens of millions of workers may pay for these third-party errors with their jobs.” One screening company studied federal corrections databases and found a “41% error rate.”

If you got arrested 30 years ago for selling a little weed but were never charged, or if you went to trial but were never convicted, you still might be tagged with a criminal record. That’s because too many screeners don’t bother to check original court records to verify the status of cases, according to Welby. These screening companies often rely only on bulk databases that aren’t properly updated.

Techdirt covers another reason for insecurity:

Another Bogus Hit From A License Plate Reader Results In Another Citizen Surrounded By Cops With Guns Out

  • from the verification-to-be-performed-at-gunpoint dept

We recently covered a story about a lawyer who found himself approached by cops with guns drawn after an automatic license plate reader misread a single character on his plate as he drove by. The police did make an attempt to verify the plate but were stymied by heavy traffic. Unfortunately, it appears they decided to force the issue rather than let a potential car thief escape across the state line.

As I pointed out then, the increasing reliance on ALPRs, combined with the one-billion-plus records already in storage and the millions being collected every day, means the number of errors will only increase as time goes on — even as the technology continues to improve. This person was lucky to escape with nothing more than an elevated heart rate. Others won’t be so lucky… like Denise Green of San Francisco.

Green’s civil rights lawsuit has just been reinstated by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned an earlier decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the San Francisco Police Department. The lower court found that the officers had made a “good faith, reasonable mistake” when they performed a felony stop of Green, which included being ordered out of her vehicle and onto the ground at gunpoint and held in cuffs for nearly 20 minutes while officers verified the plates and filled out paperwork.

From the Christian Science Monitor, righting wrongs:

Dallas targets wrongful convictions, and revolution starts to spread

The Conviction Integrity Unit formed in Dallas to correct wrongful convictions has become a national model that is slowly changing prosecutors’ willingness to reopen the books nationwide.

Some of these units are window dressing created mostly for public relations, critics say. But the Dallas CI Unit has had a profound impact in the city and has come at a time when concerns about wrongful convictions are rippling through the American justice system.

Indeed, as exonerations nationwide force prosecutors to reconsider their role in public safety, Mr. Watkins has cast himself as a leading reformer, taking on the insular culture within district attorneys’ offices and challenging the credo that the most effective district attorney is the one who wins the most convictions.

“One overriding truth is that the prosecutor is by far the most important and powerful actor in the criminal justice system,” says Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

RT covers a curious possibility:

Snowden ‘considers’ returning to US – report

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is “considering” returning home to the USA under certain conditions, his lawyer told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“There are negotiations,” Snowden’s German lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck told Der Spiegel. “Those who know the case are aware that an amicable agreement with the US authorities will be most reasonable.”

All efforts are now focused on finding a solution acceptable for Edward Snowden, at least in the medium term, according to Kaleck, who is also secretary-general for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

From Medill News Service, snitchin’ in the kitchen?:

With ‘Internet of Things,’ your fridge will know when milk is low

Americans are adapting to a world in which virtually everything _ from cellphones and cars to washing machines and refrigerators _ is going to be connected to the Internet or networks. Many of these devices will _ and do _ “talk” to one another via tiny sensors that function almost like human senses, logging information such as temperature, light, motion and sound.

Theoretically, the sensors could allow a new refrigerator, for example, to send an alert to a homeowner’s smartphone whenever the fridge is running low on milk. This concept of device conversation is known as the Internet of Things. The technology will make life easier, but it also means more people are vulnerable to device malfunction or hacking.

Experts and government officials acknowledge the transformative power of the Internet of Things. But the authors of a White House report in May on the effects of big data _ including all the information that devices collect _ are also concerned about the potential for privacy abuses that comes with the technology.

Getting censorious with the New York Times:

Twitter Agrees to Block ‘Blasphemous’ Tweets in Pakistan

At least five times this month, a Pakistani bureaucrat who works from a colonial-era barracks in Karachi, just down the street from the former home of his country’s secularist founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, asked Twitter to shield his compatriots from exposure to accounts, tweets or searches of the social network that he described as “blasphemous” or “unethical.”

All five of those requests were honored by the company, meaning that Twitter users in Pakistan can no longer see the content that so disturbed the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority: crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star who now attends Duke University.

The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan — in line with the country-specific censorship policy Twitter unveiled in 2012 — is the first time the social network has agreed to withhold content there. A number of the accounts seemed to have been blocked in anticipation of the fourth annual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” on May 20.

Digital Alzheimer’s from the Associated Press:

Europe’s move to rein in Google would stall in US

Europe’s moves to rein in Google — including a court ruling this month ordering the search giant to give people a say in what pops up when someone searches their name — may be seen in Brussels as striking a blow for the little guy.

But across the Atlantic, the idea that users should be able to edit Google search results in the name of privacy is being slammed as weird and difficult to enforce at best and a crackdown on free speech at worst.

“Americans will find their searches bowdlerized by prissy European sensibilities,” said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “We’ll be the big losers. The big winners will be French ministers who want the right to have their last mistress forgotten.”

Mountain View, California -based Google says it’s still figuring out how to comply with the European Court of Justice’s May 13 ruling, which says the company must respond to complaints about private information that turns up in searches. Google must then decide whether the public’s right to be able to find the information outweighs an individual’s right to control it — with preference given to the individual.

After the jump, the latest developments from the Asian Game of Zones, including Chinese strategy, bonding afloat with Moscow and Beijing, playing chicken over the China Seas, nukes afloat, Chinese domestic insecurity, and Japan’s relentless remilitarization push. . . Continue reading

Net Neutrality: The word from Juice Rap News


Here’s the lowdown on the Internet topic of the day from our favorite Down Under news medium.

From Juice Rap News:

Net Neutrality

Program notes:

Having covered conflicts in distant lands, we now turn our attention to our own native homeland, the Internet; where the battle for the hypersphere has reached new heights, as netizens take up arms against Telcoms and the FCC, to preserve the fundamental ethos that made the Internet what it is today: Net Neutrality. What is Net Neutrality, and why is it so important to the future of the Internet? Find out by joining Robert Foster as he takes a whimsical trip into the World Wide Web, with its founder Tim Berners-Lee. Let’s just hope no shady mega-corporatist, elite oligarchic malefactors pop up to mess with us on the way…

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

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

PINAC and the ongoing war on photography


While the First Amendment guarantees free speech to everyone inside the United States, that right has been increasingly compromised in recent years, as we have witnessed firsthand in our journalistic endeavors.

Nowhere has this trend become more apparent than in the case of people attempting to document the actions of officialdom, particularly in those case of those empowered to use deadly force on behalf of the state.

We experienced firsthand that use of force when working here in Berkeley as a reporter for the local print newspaper, as we reported 18 June 2008:

This Berkeley Daily Planet reporter was threatened with arrest after he questioned an officer’s order to leave the rim of the stadium, the only place where activities of the officers could be monitored.

As the reporter was leaving, he was shoved in the back by a university officer and would have fallen down the concrete stairs had not he been grabbed by Doug Buckwald, one of the long-time supporters of the tree-sit.

Officer C. Chichester, badge 36, told this reporter, who was carrying valuable camera gear, that if he were arrested, “Who knows what would happen to your camera equipment when you’re in jail?”

The stadium rim was the only place from which a journalist could have a view of the events unfolding in the grove below. It was from the rim that the reporter saw one of the cranes brush a support line, from which a tree-sitter was suspended between two evergreens at least 50 feet apart.

Millipede, the treesitters suspended from the line, screamed in terror. She was the same tree-sitter arrested hours later. University spokesperson Dan Mogulof said she had bitten one of the workers.

Zachary Running Wolf, the first of the tree-sitters, said she and other protesters had been terrified when the arborists placed a saw next to the lines from which the tree-sitters were suspended between the trees.

Read the rest.

We’ve posted repeatedly about the ongoing law enforcement efforts to supress the power of the lens, indelibly demonstrated by the Rodney King beating video, so powerful that after officers involved were acquitted, Los Angeles erupted in flames.

We’ve followed Photography is Not a Crime for several years, a website devoted to covering confrontations between law enforcement and photographers, both amateur and professional. And so it was with considerable interest we discovered this video report from WeAreChange:

The Amazing Accidental Start of Photography Is Not A Crime!

Program notes:

In this video Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange sits down with the one and only epic story teller Carlos Miller from Photography Is Not A Crime (PINAC). Carlos recounts a story in which he was assaulted simply for taking pictures. WeAreChange learns more about what inspired Carlos to create PINAC and the subsequent evolution of the blog. Film power tripping Police officers & know your rights Learn more about PINAC @ http://photographyisnotacrime.com

Headlines: EcoWarnings, eCons, lies, more


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the environment is chock full of nuts, especially the sort whose greed imperils us all.

The Christian Science Monitor gives us the first of several headlines with warnings about the future of the Golden State, starting with an alarm about one the state’s most populous conservative county:

As California wildfire season looms, one county stands out as unprepared

San Diego stands out as “easily one of the least prepared [counties] in the entire country,” even though it is one of the most fire-prone regions of the state, says Richard Halsey, president of the California Chaparral Institute in Escondido.

Some blame county taxpayers for refusing to add fees that would boost local firefighting efforts. Others say political leaders have not provided taxpayers with a plan worth supporting.

With high temperatures and drought prevailing in California, the issue carries perhaps even more urgency than usual this summer. If new fires break out in San Diego, other areas of the state – and perhaps the country – might have to step in.

“San Diego County’s astonishing lack of professional firefighting units … means they are off-loading their responsibilities on other taxpayers across the state who pay to protect them and to protect them in landscapes that are fire-prone, fire-created,” says Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

From Business Insider, fracking dreams evaporate, casting dark shadows on the dreams of California’s born again neoliberal chief executive:

California Is In An Extremely Awkward Position Now That The Government Says Most Of Its Shale Oil Is Unrecoverable

There now appears to be just 600 million barrels of recoverable tight oil in the state’s vast Monterey shale play — a downward revision of 96% from the agency’s 2011 estimate.

The state had pinned its hopes on a March 2013 USC study that argued tapping the Monterey could create up to 2.8 million jobs by 2020 and add up to $25 billion to state and local tax revenue. “Californians drive 332 billion, that’s billion miles a year, fed almost entirely by oil products, so we have got to start hammering at the demand, as well as the sources of fossil fuel,” California Governor Jerry Brown told CNN Sunday.

In September 2013, Brown — often labeled as having a thumb as green as Shrek’s — signed into law a bill that allowed the small-scale fracking that already occurs in to continue, with a view toward one day tapping what was thought to be Monterey’s vast and accessible deposits.

Brown’s office had no comment Wednesday.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, more signs of tough times ahead:

As Central Valley fog disappears, fruit, nut crops decline

The soupy thick tule fog that regularly blanketed the Central Valley and terrorized unsuspecting motorists during the winter has been slowly disappearing over the past three decades, a UC Berkeley study has found.

The blinding mists may not be missed by those who remember white-knuckle drives in zero visibility and regular multiple-car pileups, but the fog dearth is bad news for farmers, according to a study published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“It is jeopardizing fruit growing in California,” said Dennis Baldocchi, a biometeorologist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study. “We’re getting much lower yields.”

From the Oakland Tribune, standing up to Obama’s anti-immigrant agenda:

East Bay sheriffs to release immigrants held for feds

Joining a national trend of resisting the Obama administration’s deportation dragnet, the sheriffs of Alameda and Contra Costa counties said they are immediately releasing all inmates whose sole reason for being held is their immigration status.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes about 1,000 requests to Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail each year to hand over immigrants arrested on other charges and suspected of being in the country illegally, but “now we won’t be honoring any of them,” Sheriff Greg Ahern said in an interview Wednesday. “We’re not going to be honoring the ICE holds unless they’re backed by the order of a judge.”

Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston said Wednesday he implemented an identical order last week. San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks is contemplating a similar policy but plans to allow for case-by-case exceptions for immigrants who “pose significant public safety risks.”

From the Los Angeles Times, a legal revolt:

Counties sue narcotics makers, alleging ‘campaign of deception’

Two California counties sued five of the world’s largest narcotics manufacturers on Wednesday, accusing the companies of causing the nation’s prescription drug epidemic by waging a “campaign of deception” aimed at boosting sales of potent painkillers such as OxyContin.

Officials from Orange and Santa Clara counties — both hit hard by overdose deaths, emergency room visits and escalating medical costs associated with prescription narcotics — contend the drug makers violated California laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance.

In sweeping language reminiscent of the legal attack against the tobacco industry, the lawsuit alleges the drug companies have reaped blockbuster profits by manipulating doctors into believing the benefits of narcotic painkillers outweighed the risks, despite “a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary.” The effort “opened the floodgates” for such drugs and “the result has been catastrophic,” the lawsuit contends.

BBC News hauls out the chopper:

Hewlett-Packard to cut up to 16,000 more jobs

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced an 18% rise in profits to $1.3bn for the second quarter in statement that was accidently released before US stock markets closed.

But the firm said that despite rising profits, it plans to lay off an additional 11,000 to 16,000 workers. HP had previously announced it would cut 34,000 jobs as part of a restructuring announced in 2012.

Shares in HP fell after the early release of the news.

Hypocrisy between the buns, via the Guardian:

McDonald’s CEO insists fast-food giant pays ‘fair wages’ as protesters rally

  • Demonstrators stage second day of protest as chief executive Don Thompson sees off shareholder vote on $9.5m pay package

McDonald’s offers “real careers” and “competitive wages”, CEO Don Thompson told shareholders on Thursday, as hundreds of protesters chanted for better pay outside the fast-food giant’s annual meeting.

As demonstrators staged a second day of protests against the company’s wage scale outside the company’s suburban Chicago headquarters, Thompson told shareholders: “We believe we pay fair and competitive wages.”

“I know we have people outside,” said Thompson. “I think that McDonald’s provides more opportunity than any other company … We continue to believe that we pay fair and competitive wages,” he said.

A thoroughly tamed electorate, via EUbusiness:

Muted US opposition to Atlantic trade treaty

Europeans have met US-EU negotiations for an ambitious transatlantic free trade zone with a wave of open hostility, but in the United States, the opposition has been muted.

Only a handful of opponents could be seen Wednesday as officials from both sides met this week for the fifth round of negotiations in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington.

“The more we learn about this agreement the more we understand why the US and the EU are holding its contents so close to the vest,” said Ilana Solomon of the environmental group Sierra Club.

Like in Europe, fears have mounted among US activists over the broad scope of liberalization under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will cover rules on investment, trade, agriculture, health and the environment.

The worries, though, have not carried far outside a small circle of civil society activists, even though the talks have been going on for nearly a year.

From Inside Criminal Justice, something we could’ve told ‘em, having done a major bookie investigation years ago:

Study: Organized Crime Launders Billions Through Bets

Organized crime operations use sports betting as a tool for laundering $140 billion worldwide each year, according to a new study by Paris’ Pantheon-Sorbonne University and the Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security.

The review of global sports gambling scandals during the last three years found that soccer is by far the most frequently corrupted sport.

As the Internet spread during the last two decades, the gambling industry has boomed, according to the report, and regulatory agencies have been unable to keep pace.

From ANSAmed, neoliberals greasing skids for the race to the bottom:

UAE: the World Free Zones Organization (WFZO) is born

  • New 14-member body to oversee free-trade zones around the globe

The brand-new World Free Zones Organization (WFZO), a multinational body with 14 founding member countries, was inaugurated in Dubai ceremony at the weekend.

Representing free-trade zones in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, the WFZO aims to standardize their business methods and analytical parameters, making them available to members, governments, businesses, and analysts.

‘’It is a platform for debating issues in common and for learning from mutual experience’‘, explained WFZO Chairman Mohammed al-Zarooni.

On to Europe, starting with election news from EUobserver:

EU elections under way in Netherlands and UK

The 2014 EU elections got under way in The Netherlands and in the UK on Thursday (22 May), with Dutch voters starting at 7.30am local time and British voters at 8am British time.

The results will not be available until Sunday night – to be published at the same moment as pan-EU numbers, so that the outcome in early member states does not influence voting in latecomers.

But Dutch exit polls are expected already at 9pm on Thursday evening.

From the London Telegraph, allegations of suicide by currency, via the European Monetary Union [EMU]:

Europe’s centre crumbles as Socialists immolate themselves on altar of EMU

  • Francois Hollande must be willing to rock the European Project to its foundations, and even to risk a rupture of the euro. This he cannot bring himself to do

By a horrible twist of fate, Europe’s political Left has become the enforcer of reactionary economic policies. The great socialist parties of the post-war era have been trapped by the corrosive dynamics of monetary union, apologists for mass unemployment and a 1930s deflationary regime that subtly favour the interests of elites.

One by one, they are paying the price. The Dutch Labour Party that fathered the “Polder Model” and ran Holland for half a century has lost its bastions of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, its support dwindling to 10pc as it meekly ratifies austerity policies that have led to debt deflation and left 25pc of mortgages in negative equity.

Contractionary policies are poisonous for countries leveraged to the hilt. Dutch household debt has risen from 230pc to 250pc of disposable income since 2008, while British debt has fallen from 151pc to 133pc over the same period. This calamitous development in the Netherlands is almost entirely result of the EMU policy structure, yet the Dutch Labour Party has no coherent critique because its pro-EU reflexes compel near-silence.

CNNMoney casts a different slant:

Europe’s own ‘tea party’ risk

Europe has enjoyed a period of calm after years of crisis, but a predicted big protest vote in regional elections this week could shake markets out of their complacency.

Polls open Thursday for voters to elect members of the European Parliament, representing 500 million citizens. They’re expected to back protest parties of right and left in greater numbers than ever before.

A backlash against austerity, unemployment, immigration and loss of national power to European institutions could push anti-EU parties to win about 25% of the 751 seats. In some of the 28 countries, they could even secure the biggest share of the vote.

While that won’t derail the region’s recovery in the near term, it could store up future trouble by destabilizing pro-EU governments in some countries and weakening the resolve of others to stick to painful economic reforms.

On to Britain and some fracktastic news from the London Telegraph:

Fracking planned for Tory heartlands as report reveals billions of barrels of shale oil in southern England

  • Report to show vast potential for shale oil in the South as ministers unveil planned law change to allow fracking under homes without owners’ permission

Vast areas of southern England will on Friday be identified by the Government as targets for fracking, with ministers also announcing that energy companies will be allowed to frack under homes without owners’ permission.

A British Geological Survey study of the South, spanning from Wiltshire to Kent and including the South Downs National Park, will be published, mapping out the likely location of billions of barrels of shale oil.

Ministers are also preparing to publish controversial plans to change the laws of trespass to give energy companies an automatic right to frack beneath homes and private land – even if owners object.

Norway next, and bad news for cetaceans from TheLocal.no:

Norway to ‘work harder’ to sell whale to Japan

Norway’s fishing minister has pledged to work harder to restart exports of whale meat to Japan, after one of the country’s leading chroniclers of the whaling industry warned that it could die out within ten years.

“We have Japan as a potential export country,” Elisabeth Aspaker told Norway’s NRK channel. “We must see if we can work harder to promote it.”

Frank A. Jenssen, a journalist and author who has written extensively on whaling, told NRK that the industry and the communities which depend on it were in crisis.

“At worst, if it does not become easier to sell whale meat, I fear that this tradition and industry will die out,” he told the television channel. “In about ten to 15 years, there may be no whalers left in Norway, and that would be a tragedy.”

Early Dutech electoral indications from euronews:

Wilders’ anti-EU party pushed to fourth place in Netherlands exit polls

Exit polls in the Netherlands indicate that the anti-EU Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders has come fourth in elections for the European Parliament.

Dutch public television reported that the party who had been leading opinion polls for months may have failed to secure second place, gaining around 12% of the vote trailing the Christian Democrats and the social-liberal D66 parties who were competing for the top spot.

Germany next, and creeping imperialism from New Europe:

German cabinet adopts new Africa strategy

  • In February, Germany’s parliament approved boosting the country’s troop presence in Mali

The German cabinet has adopted a new Africa strategy, showing willingness for a greater German involvement in Africa, German media N-TV reported on Wednesday.

In the new Africa policy, Germany’s ruling coalition government expressed willingness to help prevent armed conflicts on the continent at an early stage in the future.

In addition to training missions, which would help African countries solve crisis more independently, Germany said it was also ready to send more troops to Africa if necessary.

France next, and tough times for Franky the Fop from Al Jazeera English:

France’s left is through with Hollande

  • Angered by austerity and economic stagnation, fewer than one in five French approve of the Socialist president.

French civil servants’ salaries have not been reassessed since July 2010. The freeze, which began under the right-wing government of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is now part of the left-wing government’s plan to cut public spending and boost economic growth.

According to the national statistics agency INSEE, the French economy stagnated in the first quarter of 2014, with zero growth between January and March. “It doesn’t matter,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Thursday. “The [growth] forecast by the IMF for France is one percent, so we’re dealing with figures that are perfectly reasonable goals.”

Sapin added that he was confident that the overall growth in 2014 would be “clearly above zero”, although admitted it “will not be enough”. With growth so weak and the unemployment rate and budget deficit so high, the government has no plans to increase the wages of civil servants in the near future.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that without any clear sign of growth, the pay freeze will continue until 2017. “The efforts required must be fair and equitably distributed among all the French,” he said in a letter addressed to the unions on Tuesday.

Next, Deutsche Welle covers a comeback strategy from his predecessor:

France’s Sarkozy urges two-speed Europe and a different migration policy

  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for big changes to EU structures, calling the idea of Eurozone economies’ equal rights a “myth”. He also lashed out at the EU’s current migration policies.

On Thursday, Nicolas Sarkozy weighed into the European Parliament election campaign by pressing for changes to the 28-member bloc’s structure.

The conservative former French leader, who is widely expected to seek re-election in 2017, argued for a profound overhaul of EU institutions in an editorial for the weekly news magazine Le Point.

He called the idea of all eurozone nations being of equal weight a “myth”, and proposed the creation of a large Franco-German economic zone at the heart of the euro area to reflect what he called a “two-speed Europe.”

From TheLocal.fr, out of sight, out of mind?:

French cops to bulldoze Calais migrant camps

Police in northern France plan to dismantle a series of improvised migrant camps, including one dubbed the “Syrian Camp”, after an outbreak of scabies. It’s part of the ongoing tension in the city of Calais where thousands of immigrants have massed with hopes of reaching the UK.

Social workers were outraged on Thursday following an announcement from the top police authority in Calais, in northern France, several migrant camps would be cleared from the town’s port by “next week”.

Following a meeting with humanitarian groups on Wednesday local Prefect Denis Robin told reporters: “I’m going to close three camps on public property at the port next week. It is out of the question that we encourage the setting up of a jungle.”

From the Guardian, a new supergrass:

Camorra mafia ‘super boss’ Antonio Iovine turns state witness

  • One of four bosses of Casalesi clan within Camorra mafia is collaborating with investigators in Naples, Italian media says

A so-called super boss of a powerful clan within the Camorra mafia has turned state witness and is collaborating with investigators in Naples, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Antonio Iovine, one of the four bosses of the infamous Casalesi clan, started answering the questions of anti-mafia prosecutors earlier this month, La Repubblica wrote. The Naples daily Il Mattino declared it “a historic choice”.

Aged 49, but known to all as o’ninno (the baby) for his youthful face and his rapid ascent of the Casalesi power structure, Iovine is thought to have effectively led the business side of the clan’s activities before his arrest in 2010 and subsequent jailing for life.

Reactions from the Independent:

Mobster turned informant Antonio Iovine sends shockwaves through Naples’ crime families

The decision by one of the Camorra’s most senior figures to turn informant has sent shockwaves through the Naples crime syndicate.

The jailed mobster, Antonio Iovine, dubbed the Camorra’s “economy minister”, is now spilling the secrets of the brutal mafia group, it was reported today. And not only clan members are risk; now that “the first real boss” of the crime group has decided to cooperate with the authorities, “an entire generation” of mafia associates risks being “swept away”, according to La Repubblica newspaper.

The Camorra’s accomplices are thought to include crooked politicians, civil servants and businessmen, who collude with its moneyspinning activities including illegal dumping, extortion, drug running and prostitution. Iovine was captured in November 2010 after 14 years on the run. But the first real breakthrough in getting the mafia boss to talk occurred within the past two weeks. With prosecutors Antonello Ardituro and Caesar Sirignano having applied careful pressure over a period of three years, Iovine finally cracked and began giving page after page of verbal evidence.

TheLocal.it calls for lighting up:

Rome mayor backs decriminalizing cannabis

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino on Wednesday said he was in favour of decriminalizing cannabis, calling for a national and international reform on drug laws in order to fight organized crime.

The city mayor said he was “in favour of the possibility of the liberalization of cannabis for medical or personal use.”  He was speaking at the Eighth Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy in Rome.

Beyond the capital he also advocated broader reform of drug laws both in Italy and abroad.

“Decriminalization of marijuana must be considered a starting point, because years of prohibition have brought no results in the prevention of a dramatic increase in drug use,” Marino was quoted in Il Messaggero as saying.

From ANSA.it, real GDP:

Economic value of prostitution in 2014 GDP accounts

  • Statistical agency to measure illegal drugs, cigarettes

The economic value of prostitution, illegal drug sales, and trafficking in contraband cigarettes and alcohol will all be measured by Italy’s national statistical agency Istat as it calculates the country’s 2014 gross domestic production (GDP), it announced Thursday.

Istat said that starting in September, its 2014 economic measurements will include those three areas of illegal activities, in line with methodology being applied in measuring national accounts within the European Union.

The move updates the previous system of national account measures implemented in 1995, Istat said in a news release. Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, has provided guidelines that will include an estimate of accounts for illegal activities including prostitution, contraband cigarettes and alcohol, and illegal drug trafficking.

From TheLocal.it, woes for Bunga Bunga Junior:

Prosecutors seek jail term for Berlusconi’s son

Prosecutors in Milan have asked for Silvio Berlusconi’s elder son, Pier Silvio, to be sentenced to three years and two months in jail for alleged tax fraud at the family’s Mediaset empire.

Prosecutors Fabio De Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro are also seeking a three year and two month jail term for Fedele Confalonieri, Mediaset’s chairman, for his alleged involvement in the financial wrongdoing that relates to the trading of TV rights at the company’s subsidiary, Mediatrade, the Italian edition of Huffington Post reported.

The men are accused of tax fraud amounting to millions of euros in 2003 and 2004, when the telemarketing unit was based in Milan.

Striking news from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s newsstands set to empty as strike hits

A national strike of printing press workers on Thursday, prompted by a row over pensions, will see newsstands across the country emptied of newspapers on Friday.

Ink ran dry at Italy’s printing presses on Thursday, as labour unions united to force newspapers to temporarily run out of print. As a result none of Italy’s daily newspapers, such as La Repubblica and La Stampa, will be published on Friday, Italian media reported.

According to unions the government has failed to protect industry workers who were left without a pension following reforms in 2012, the newspaper said

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including campaign news], Russian sanctions beneficiaries, more Brazilian pre-World Cup blues, Thai coup consolidation, more Chinese bubble warnings, Sony fine tunes, environmental disasters, and the latest from Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Parents say too much TV


From the Active Healthy Kids Canada’s 2014 Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth: Is Canada in the Running?, percentages of parents across the world who say their progeny spend too much time watching the tube or playing video games. Click on the image to enlarge:

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


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

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

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

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

It’s not.

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

Another angle, covered by the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, a show of resistance from Berlin:

Germany Plans To Ban Tech Companies That Play Ball With NSA

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

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

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

Turning the panopticon into art, via the Guardian:

Conversnitch turns covert surveillance into an art form

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

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

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

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

RT covers the hackable:

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

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

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

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

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, to tell the truth:

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

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

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

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

The Guardian covers a Russian cutoff:

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

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

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

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

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

From RT, an added twist to the already controversial:

GMO producers should be punished as terrorists, Russian MPs say

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

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

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

IDG News Service covers corporate snoopage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sussex police under fire for ‘criminalising’ fracking protests

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

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

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

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

And an appealing possibility from the Guardian:

David Miranda allowed to appeal against ruling on Heathrow detention

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

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

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

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

From the Guardian, grounds for domestic insecurity:

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

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

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

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

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

intelNews.org turns a blind eye:

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

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

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

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

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, prodding the bear:

Ukraine crisis may lead to Western military bases closer to Russia

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

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

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

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

From CNBC, say hello to Skynet:

Military dream come true: One system, many drones

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

That’s changing.

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

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

Skynet takes over

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

Defense tech in 2039: The robots are coming

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

Less manpower. More robots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From BBC News, an underwater drone tanks:

Malaysia flight MH370: Defective drone delays search

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

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

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

Nextgov catches a virus:

Heartbleed Superbug Found in Utility Monitoring Systems

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

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

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

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, considerations of privacy:

Sector-specific guidelines to offer clarity on personal data matters

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

The guidelines will be open for public consultation on Friday.

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

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

A powerful duo: Chris Hedges and Mr. Fish


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

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

Chris Hedges and Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth: War and its Meaning

Program notes:

Chris Hedges and Dwayne Booth “Mr. Fish” spoke on April 24, 2014 at the University of Connecticut. This was part of a week long event sponsored by The Humanities Institute and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Title for today was War and its Meaning. The first 32 minutes of the video Chris Hedges gives an impassioned talk on his personal experiences and political thoughts on this topic. This is then followed by an amazing 25 minute Q&A period where both Chris hedges and Dwayne Booth respond to several questions asked by the audience and as always what is said is amazingly thought provoking. Both Dwayne Booth and Chris Hedges have been working collaborators and good friends for the last 6 years.
.
Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was an early and outspoken critic of the US plan to invade and occupy Iraq and called the press coverage at the time “shameful cheer leading.” In 2002, he was part of a team of reporters for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism.

That same year he won an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.He speaks Arabic, French, and Spanish, and studied Latin and Ancient Greek at Harvard. On November 3, 2011, Hedges was arrested with others in New York as part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, during which Hedges and others staged a “people’s hearing “on the investment bank Goldman Sachs and then blocked the entrance to their corporate headquarters.

And here’s a separate interview with Mr. Fish:

Dwayne “Mr Fish” Booth Private Interview

Program notes:

Dwayne Booth “Mr. Fish” spoke on April 24, 2014 at the University of Connecticut. This was part of a week long event sponsored by The Humanities Institute and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “War and its Meaning”.

After the event I was granted a private interview with Mr. Fish where he reveals his early inspirations for his art, his politics and cartooning. He also describes his 5 year working relationship with Chris Hedges who attended and spoke at that days events. At the end of the short interview appears several on MR. Fish’s Cartoons.

Dwayne Booth (Mr. Fish) has been a cartoonist and freelance writer for twenty years, publishing under both his own name and the pen name of Mr. Fish with many of the nation’s most reputable and prestigious magazines, journals and newspapers. In addition to Harper’s Magazine and Truthdig.com, his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones Magazine, the Advocate, Z Magazine, the Utne Reader, Slate.com, MSNBC.com and others.

Headlines II: Spies, drones, zones, and pols


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with a deal from the New York Times:

Sony Pictures Buys Film Rights to Book on Snowden

After a long, slow haul, the film rights to Glenn Greenwald’s book about Edward J. Snowden and his revelations about electronic surveillance by United States security officials have found a home, at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony said on Wednesday that it had acquired rights to Mr. Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U. S. Surveillance State,” for the producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Mr. Wilson and Ms. Broccoli are known for their work on James Bond films like “Skyfall” and “Quantum of Solace,” both of which were released by Sony and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Mr. Greenwald’s book, whose rights were represented by both the Paradigm agency and Writers House, had been in consideration around Hollywood since the fall, as potential buyers fretted about how to tell a real-life story that is still playing out. Mr. Snowden remains in Russia, and is wanted by the authorities in the United States, where he faces criminal charges. Last month, he retained a Washington lawyer in hopes of reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Another whistleblower may also catch a break, though not nearly so lucrative, via BBC News:

US ‘considers Manning transfer’ to civilian prison

The Pentagon is considering transferring Private Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison in order to treat her gender dysphoria, US media report.

Pte Manning, formerly known as Bradley, was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking a massive trove of classified US documents.

After the conviction, she announced the desire to live as a woman. However, the US military prohibits transgender people from serving openly in the military.

From Ars Technica, a major cyberfail:

Al-Qaeda’s new homebrew crypto apps may make US intel-gathering easier

NSA spying revelations led to development of three new encryption apps.

Terrorists loyal to al Qaeda and its offshoots are using new encryption software, most likely in response to revelations that the National Security Agency is able to bypass standard cryptographic protections as part of an expansive surveillance program, according to a recently released report from intelligence firm Recorded Future.

The three new major encryption tools were adopted within a three- to five-month period following leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to the report. The apps replace or bolster the original Mujahideen Secrets crypto program that al Qaeda members have mainly used for e-mail since 2007. One of the new releases, known as Tashfeer al-Jawwal, is a mobile program developed by the Global Islamic Media Front and released in September. A second, Asrar al-Ghurabaa, was released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham in November, around the same time the group broke away from the main al Qaeda group following a power struggle. The third program is known as Amn al-Mujahid and was released in December by that Al-Fajr Technical Committee.

The influx of new programs for al Qaeda members came amid revelations that the NSA was able to decode vast amounts of encrypted data traveling over the Internet. Among other things, according to documents Snowden provided, government-sponsored spies exploited backdoors or crippling weaknesses that had been surreptitiously and intentionally built in to widely used standards.

The Guardian covers hackery by corporate hacks for the Rupester:

News of the World royal editor: I hacked Kate Middleton 155 times

  • Clive Goodman tells phone-hacking trial he himself intercepted princes’ voicemails, but has never been asked about it by police

Kate Middleton was hacked 155 times by a reporter on the News of the World who said he snooped on her voicemails on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Old Bailey has heard.

Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal editor, also revealed for the first time he directly hacked the phone of Prince William, adding that police had failed to ask him a single question about it in the eight years since he was arrested on related charges.

He told jurors he hacked Prince William 35 times, Prince Harry nine times and the Duchess of Cambridge 155 times.

CBC News covers specious secrecy involving a widely publicized Ottawa visit by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron:

David Cameron’s ‘top-secret’ visit to Canada revealed

Access to Information request results in redaction of name of British PM on official visit to Canada The Privy Council Office, it seems, is working hard to protect the identity of those who visit the prime minister.

According to documents recently released under Access to Information, the name of an individual who paid an official visit to Canada in September 2011 must be withheld because it is considered “personal information.”

Owing to an apparent clerical error, however, CBC News has uncovered the identity of the mystery world leader in question. One page in the batch of documents was printed in duplicate: one time with names blanked out and the other with the names readable.

The documents show the deletion was meant to be “Prime Minister Cameron,” presumably referring to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

From PCWorld, about damn time:

Senators want to limit companies’ use of student data

Two U.S. senators want to prohibit companies from sharing students’ personal data when advertising their products or services and require that organizations holding student data put data security safeguards in place.

A proposal from Senators Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, would largely regulate the use of student data by private companies. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 generally requires public schools to get parental consent before sharing students’ personal data with third parties, but lawmakers and some privacy groups have raised concerns in recent months that those protections are weakened when schools outsource data processing and other functions.

Markey and Hatch on Wednesday released a discussion draft of legislation called the Protecting Student Privacy Act. In addition to data protection and data-sharing rules, the proposal would allow parents to access personal information about their children held by private companies and change incorrect information.

From the Guardian, another despicable neoliberal move:

Privacy groups demand rethink over HMRC plan to sell tax data

  • Three groups hand in petition of 300,000 signatures, and Lib Dem MP says proposed scheme would undermine confidentiality

HM Revenue and Customs must rethink its plans to share millions of people’s personal tax data with private companies and researchers, a prominent Lib Dem MP and privacy campaigners have said – as they handed in a petition of 300,000 signatures to the government.

Julian Huppert, a Lib Dem member of the Commons home affairs committee, said HMRC would “seriously undermine the confidentiality we expect” if it proceeded with the proposal to relax restrictions on sharing taxpayer data and potentially selling it to private firms.

Although the data would be anonymised, critics fear it could include details about income, tax arrangements and payment history and carry a risk that people could be identified. The campaign groups 38 Degrees, Open Rights Group and Sum of Us handed in a petition calling for an end to the plans.

From Aero-News Network, our first drone story and an apparent win for the private sector:

FAA To Expedite Limited Commercial Operations Of UAS

  • Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Welcomes Move To Advance UAS Integration

Perhaps realizing that the UAV train has already left the station … during a speech at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2014, FAA Manager of UAS Integration Jim Williams on Tuesday announced that the FAA is working with several industries to expedite some limited commercial operations of UAS before UAS rules are finalized.

“We applaud the FAA for working collaboratively with the industry and other stakeholders to help UAS technology begin to take off,” said AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano. “UAS have a host of societal and economic benefits, and many industries are clamoring to harness their capabilities. Limited commercial operations is a good first step, but we also need to begin the small UAS rulemaking immediately. We look forward to continue working with the FAA to advance UAS integration safely and responsibly.”

Specifically, Williams said the FAA is expected to allow limited commercial operations for filmmaking, powerline inspection, precision agriculture and flare stack inspection. Williams said these industries approached the FAA for expedited approvals.

CNN covers the latest dronal body count:

Drone strike kills at least 10 militants near Afghan-Pakistani border, official says

A U.S. drone strike Wednesday morning killed at least 10 militants and injured 14 near the Afghan-Pakistani border, a Pakistani military official said.

The attack targeted militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It wasn’t immediately clear which militant group or groups were targeted.

And from Ars Technica, a good PR move for the military’s drones:

US sends its giant spy drone to look for kidnapped Nigerian girls

  • It can look through trees, but can a Global Hawk find 276 girls in the forest?

The drone that the United States Air Force sees as the replacement for the venerable U-2 spy plane is now flying surveillance missions over Nigeria as part of the search for 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group. A Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a mission over Nigeria on Tuesday, according to an NBC News report.

The Global Hawk, which first flew in 1998, can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and has a range of 8,700 miles. It has a wingspan close to that of a Boeing 747, weighs more than 32,000 pounds, and carries the Hughes Integrated Surveillance and Reconnaissance (HISAR) sensor system, a down-market version of the infrared, optical, and synthetic aperture radar gear Hughes developed for the U-2.

At least some of the current RQ-4 aircraft carry a signals intelligence sensor as well, which can be used to intercept radio transmissions from the ground. The latest generation of RQ-4s (Block 40) will carry an improved radar system called the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP), which can both provide synthetic aperture radar imaging of the ground below and track multiple moving targets.

SecurityWeek covers snitches in unsuspected places, including those “smart” household thermostats, refrigerators, and suchlike:

The Massive Challenge of Securing the Internet of Things

If the buzz last year was all about software defined networking (SDN), this year’s buzz is about the Internet of Things – everyday devices that are IP-enabled, can communicate over the Internet and can transmit what may be very confidential and important data. In fact, according to data from Cisco, there are now more “things” connected to the Internet than there are people on Earth, and these “things” are not just smartphones and tablets. For example, a Dutch startup, Sparked, is using wireless sensors on cattle so that when one of them is sick or pregnant, it sends a message to the farmer.

While devices that are used in the Internet of Things (IoT) can address either consumer or enterprise needs, its use within enterprises and critical infrastructure such as manufacturing plants or transportation hubs may pose the biggest security risks, and the biggest targets for criminal organizations and nation states.

Spiegel covers a covert blast from the past starring some nasty Nazi volk:

Files Uncovered: Nazi Veterans Created Illegal Army

Newly discovered documents show that in the years after World War II, former members of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS formed a secret army to protect the country from the Soviets. The illegal project could have sparked a major scandal at the time.

For nearly six decades, the 321-page file lay unnoticed in the archives of the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency — but now its contents have revealed a new chapter of German postwar history that is as spectacular as it is mysterious.

The previously secret documents reveal the existence of a coalition of approximately 2,000 former officers — veterans of the Nazi-era Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS — who decided to put together an army in postwar Germany in 1949. They made their preparations without a mandate from the German government, without the knowledge of the parliament and, the documents show, by circumventing Allied occupation forces.

Independent.ie has Irish police behaving badly:

Doctor: ‘Special needs boy was stripped naked and whipped with belt in garda custody’

A RETIRED doctor has claimed a “special needs boy” was stripped naked and whipped with his own belt in Garda custody.

Dr Richard O’Flaherty told the Oireachtas Justice Committee the 17-year-old was arrested after he borrowed his father’s car.

He said the young man was arrested by gardai who took off his clothes and beat him while he was detained.

Dr O’Flaherty was speaking at an Oireachtas hearing on proposed changes to the Garda Siochana Act.

Relatively good news, at least for one state, from MintPress News:

Minn. Closer To Stopping “Policing For Profit”

Starting in August, police in Minnesota will no longer be able to seize property from people suspected of — but not charged with — criminal involvement.

Starting Aug. 1, new legislation goes into effect in Minnesota that will stop law enforcement from seizing a person’s property — including cash, stocks, real estate, vehicles, guns, cars and homes — if that person is only suspected of being involved with wrongdoing or crime.

Under the bipartisan supported legislation, Minnesota will soon require law enforcement to first convict an individual, or require the property owner to plead guilty to a crime or become an informant, in order for law enforcement to be able to seize that individual’s property under civil forfeiture rules.

The new law also shifts the burden of proof onto the government. Previously, those who had their property taken away under civil forfeiture practices had to prove that their property was not used in, or obtained through any illegal activity.

After the jump, a host of stories for the increasingly accelerating Game of Zones, including massive violence in Vietnam, a whole lot of serious saber-rattling, and a whole lot more. . . Continue reading

Oops! BBC Photoshop fail, or else a Hindu halo?


From the BBC home page, Indian election victor and Hindu fundamentalist Narendra Modi seems to have gained a certain aura, no?:

BBC News - Business 2014-05-13 07-38-49

NSA lands spot in a German campaign poster


From the Green Party, with Gegen unbegrenzte Abhörmöglichkeiten translating to Against unlimited interception. From TheLocal.de:

BLOG NSA

Headlines: eCons, banksters, crimes, more


Today’s collection of headlines on the unfolding events in economic, politics, and the environment covers lots of ground, but our sense that events are moving toward a climax as the drama continues to accelerate.

First up, another sign of hard times, Catholic fundamentalism, via the London Telegraph:

Decline of religious belief means we need more exorcists, say Catholics

  • Decline of religion in the West has created a rise in black magic, Satanism and the occult

The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism have said.

The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.

The conference, “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms.

And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:

Google, Facebook strike back against FCC plans to reshape the Internet

  • Some 150 tech companies sent a letter to the FCC, saying proposed rules would undermine ‘net neutrality,’ which has fueled the exponential growth of the Internet, they say.

After years of setbacks, the supporters of “net neutrality” have begun a full-throated counterattack this week. On Wednesday, 150 tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Netflix asked the Federal Communications Commission to preserve a core principle that has guided the Internet’s exponential growth since its advent decades ago.

At issue are new FCC rules announced last month that allow Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to treat some content on the Internet differently. For example, they can create “fast lanes” that will move content across the Internet more quickly, but companies like Google and Facebook will have to pay to use it. This, critics say, is a violation of net neutrality, in which all content – whether it’s a Netflix stream or an e-mail to grandma – is treated the same.

Internet providers such as Comcast say it’s common sense that companies that make more demands on their networks – like Netflix – should pay more for quicker service. Critics say this would turn the Internet – one of the greatest engines of innovation and freedom in the 21st century – into the playground of the highest bidders.

Another response from Al Jazeera America:

Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’

  • Protesters plan to stay in front of communications regulator until it supports Net neutrality

Internet libertarians calling for the equal treatment of all Internet data have camped out in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C., saying they won’t quit their Occupy-style protest until the regulator stands up for Net neutrality.

About 15 people stood outside the FCC’s headquarters on Wednesday afternoon in a protest organized by the two groups, Fight for the Future and Popular Resistance. Five of the demonstrators said they were determined to set up camp overnight and stick around until May 15, when the commission is set to unveil proposed new Net neutrality rules — or perhaps longer, if the new rules don’t meet their expectations.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance says members of the protest — officially called “Camp Out to Save Net Neutrality” or “People’s Firewall FCC Camp” and unofficially as “Occupy FCC” — are in it for the long haul, bringing sleeping bags and signs and engaging in chants, such as “Hey, hey, FCC, the Internet must be free” and “FCC, drop the barrier, make the Internet a common carrier.”

From CNBC, a case of too little, too late:

US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday proposed a rule to limit concentration in the financial sector, a requirement of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to make banks safer after the crisis.

The rule would prohibit a bank merger if the new company’s liabilities exceed 10 percent of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies, the central bank said in a press release.

Companies subject to the rule would be depository institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies, foreign banking organizations, companies that control insured depository institutions, and non-bank financial companies designated “as systemic’‘ by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a tag that carries greater regulation and Fed oversight.

And from the Department of Snowball’s Chance in Hell of Survivng a GOP House, this from BBC News:

Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole

US senator Carl Levin has said he plans to introduce legislation into Congress that would close a loophole allowing US companies to move overseas and avoid US taxes.

The loophole – known as an “inversion” – allows US firms to reincorporate abroad, generally in an effort to avoid the US corporate tax rate of 35%.

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca has put renewed focus on the practice.

From Al Jazeera America, a verdict of the Bush/Obama education agenda:

National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills

Handing out dismal grades on Wednesday, the Nation’s Report Card said America’s high school seniors lack math and reading skills critical in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Only about one-quarter are performing proficiently or better in math and just 4 in 10 in reading. And they’re not improving, the report says, reinforcing concerns that large numbers of today’s students are unprepared for either college or the workplace.

Scores on the 2013 exam in both subjects were little changed from 2009, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress was last given to 12th graders. The new results come from a representative sample of 92,000 public and private school students.

From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:

Exclusive: Barnes & Noble seeks big expansion of its college stores

The U.S. bookseller, which opened in 1965 as a university bookstore in New York, wants a much bigger presence on college campuses, where students last year spent an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to the College Board.

Barnes & Noble, now the second largest operator of college bookstores with 696 shops, plans to have about 1,000 locations within five years, Max Roberts, chief executive of the company’s college business, said in an exclusive interview at Rutgers University’s bookstore in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It intends to do that by getting more schools to outsource their bookstore operations with the lure of nicer, higher-grossing stores and by poaching accounts from larger rival Follett Corp, which runs 940 stores.

A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:

North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic

North Dakota’s male-dominated oil fields have created huge demand for sex workers. This demand has led to a human trafficking epidemic that the state can’t remedy on its own.

The men working on the oil fields don’t seem put off by the large rent checks they are writing, but the highly skewed male-to-female ratio is proving problematic, prompting many to seek out prostitutes.

Although prostitution is currently illegal in North Dakota and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, the demand for prostitutes has never been higher in the Roughrider State.

Windie Jo Lazenko is an advocate for human trafficking victims who founded 4Her North Dakota — a ministry that helps educate the public and advocate for victims in the hope of eradicating human trafficking for the purpose of sex in the United States. Though she was raised in Southern California, Lazenko has found herself in North Dakota in recent years investigating rumors of rampant human trafficking in the state.

From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:

US exports to China total $120b last year: USCBC

The US exports to China hit $120 billion last year, making China the third largest export market for American goods, said the US-China Business Council (USCBC) Wednesday.

In a newly released report, the USCBC, a private, non-profit organization, noted that US exports to China have grown at an average annual rate of 15.1 percent over the past 10 years, fastest among all major US trading partner.

The American exports to China rose by 10.4 percent last year, making it a major export market for US goods only behind Canada and Mexico, the two neighbors with which the United States has a free trade agreement.

CNBC delivers another verdict:

Yellen: Economy remains on track but keep an eye on housing

The economy is “on track for solid growth this quarter,” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday, but warned that a deterioration in housing or financial markets could alter that scenario.

After recent weakness that was mostly weather-related, Yellen said many recent indicators suggest a rebound in spending and production. However, the Fed chief told a joint Congressional committee that housing remains a risk to the recovery, even as the Fed expects that sector to pick up eventually.

The newly-appointed top central banker walked a fine line between preparing markets for normalizing monetary policy from its crisis era levels, and assuring the public that the Fed would continue to safeguard a still fragile recovery. A brutally cold winter triggered a run of weak activity that caused economic growth to flatline in the first three months of the year.

From CNBC again, another verdict:

Fed Chair Yellen: Minimum wage hike to have negative impact on jobs

In testimony before a Senate committee on Thursday, Fed Chair Yellen said a minimum wage increase would likely have some negative effects on jobs, though it’s not clear how large.

Still, boosting the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 per hour since mid-2009, would benefit some people, she added.

In recent months, the federal minimum wage has been a hot-button issue. In February, President Barack Obama boosted the minimum pay for federal contractors hired in the future to $10.10 per hour. He’s also voiced his support for the federal level for all workers to rise to $10.10 from the current $7.25. Separately, organized protests of fast food workers have lobbied for a jump to $15.

While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:

US household debt nearly twice as high as annual wages and salaries: Inflating the consumer debt bubble with student loans and auto debt.

The latest consumer credit report surprised to the upside. What was the surprise? Americans are back to borrowing money they don’t have. Are they borrowing for investing or possibly purchasing a modest home? No.

The latest data shows that Americans are once again going deep into student debt and auto debt. This is actually worse than borrowing for a home you can’t afford. A car will begin losing its value seconds after you drive it off the lot. Yet this is where Americans are pouring their money. So don’t be surprised if you see a pizza delivery person driving in a nicer car than you are.

Since the 1980s, households have been supplementing the decline in their standard of living by going into deep debt.

And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:

SEC Official Describes Widespread Lawbreaking and Material Weakness in Controls in Private Equity Industry

At a private equity conference this week, Drew Bowden, a senior SEC official, told private equity fund managers and their investors in considerable detail about how the agency had found widespread stealing and other serious infractions in its audits of private equity firms.

In the years that I’ve been reading speeches from regulators, I’ve never seen anything remotely like Bowden’s talk. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post and strongly encourage you to read it in full.

Despite the at times disconcertingly polite tone, the SEC has now announced that more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws. These abuses were detected thanks to to Dodd Frank. Private equity general partners had been unregulated until early 2012, when they were required to SEC regulation as investment advisers.

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash

  • Commentary: Fed-driven rally is about to end badly

Yes, “the bull market may come to an end any time,” warns Jeremy Grantham, founder of the $117 billion GMO investment giant. An unpredictable collapse. Risky valuations, 10 bubbles peaking, and black swan megatrends: The bull “could be derailed by disappointing global growth, profits sagging as deficits are cut, a Russian miscalculation, or, perhaps most dangerous and likely, an extreme Chinese slowdown.”

Yes, Grantham’s hedging his near-term: Betting the S&P 500 could rally past 2,250 before the 2016 presidential election, “depending on what new ammunition the Fed can dig up.” But then, a black swan will ignite “around the election or soon after, the market bubble will burst” and “revert to its trend value, around half of its peak or worse.”

Yes half. The S&P 500 will collapse to about 1,125. This Fed-driven rally “will end badly.” Repeating the dot-com losses of 2000-2003. Repeating Wall Street’s $10 trillion losses in 2007-2009.

Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:

A Win For Civil Society As Corporations Divest From Private Prison Industry

Corporate divestment from the U.S. private prison sector could major a big impact on the industry — even if it’s mostly symbolic.

Three corporations considered major investors in the U.S. private prison industry are moving to dump their holdings in the sector, apparently in response to newly stepped-up pressure from civil society.

The total divestments add up to about $60 million, and organizers say more divestment announcements are on the way. Two of the three companies — Amica Mutual Insurance and Dutch chemicals manufacturer DSM North America — have reportedly offloaded all of their shares in the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, the country’s two largest for-profit corrections companies.

“In accordance with [U.N.] principles … with respect to the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights, the [DSM Netherlands] pension fund has divested from the for-profit prison industry,” Hugh Walsh, president of DSM North America, said in a statement late last month.

On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:

ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has hinted the bank’s policymakers may act soon to reverse the eurozone’s prolonged low inflation.

The ECB chief said on Thursday that the monetary authority was “not resigned” to low inflation, which at 0.7% is well below the 2% target.

The comments followed that ECB’s decision to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.25%.

Attribution, via EUobserver:

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

Low inflation, weak demand and high unemployment are not the only reasons for a strong euro, which is a “matter of serious concern” for the governing board of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Russia’s actions in Ukraine are “certainly one of the reasons”, with credit flows from Russia and Ukraine “having the effect of keeping the euro strong,” ECB chief Mario Draghi said Thursday (8 May) in a press conference.

The euro is appreciating because it is seen as a safe haven by investors, compared to the shaky Ukrainian hryvnia and the Russian ruble.

And from New Europe, vast indifference:

Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans

  • Suppose they held an election and nobody came?

A poll has shown that six out of ten Europeans are uninterested in the elections to the European Parliament in three weeks time.

The survey of 9,000 people in 12 countries will cause great concern in Brussels where the parliament has faced declining turnout since elections were introduced in 1979.

‘This time it is different’ is the slogan used by the parliament in a 15 million Euro campaign to persuade voters to turn up on polling day, 22 to 25 May.

The political parties of Europe have also tried to boost the poll by picking lead candidates and campaigning across the continent.

New Europe again, this time with positive[?] news:

Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs

  • The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure

The Council today adopted a directive which will make it easier and cheaper to roll out high-speed electronic communications networks, among other things by promoting the joint use of infrastructure, such as electricity, gas and sewage pipes.

Today’s final adoption of the legislative act by the Council follows an agreement reached at first reading with the European Parliament. The Parliament held its vote at the plenary session on 15 April 2014.

Member states must adopt national provisions to comply with the new directive by 1 January 2016, and they must apply the new measures from 1 July 2016.

On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:

Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years

Barclays is to cut 19,000 jobs by 2016, with more than 9,000 to go in the UK, the bank has said.

As part of a new strategy, the investment part of the bank will lose about 7,000 jobs by the end of 2016.

Barclays’ investment bank has been hit by a slowdown in the demand for government and company debt.

Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:

No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women

Women who are unable to receive abortions in Northern Ireland are told they are not entitled to the procedure for free on the NHS.

The High Court has upheld a ruling which forbids women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions in England. Mr Justice King rejected a legal challenge to restrictions on women from Northern Ireland undergoing terminations on the NHS.

The case was brought  by a teenager, referred to as “A”, who was denied an abortion by medical authorities in Northern Ireland in October 2012. Laws on the procedure are extremely strict, with terminations only permitted when the life of the mother as at risk.

The girl, aged 15 at the time, then sought an abortion in England, where abortions are legal, but was denied NHS treatment. She was forced to pay £600 to have the operation done privately and a further £300 in travel costs.

A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:

EU ‘bullied’ Ireland into bailout, former Barroso aide says

The EU’s institutions ‘bullied’ Ireland into a bailout, a senior former adviser to the European Commission’s president said on Wednesday (7 May).

In an interview with Irish network RTE, Phillipe Legrain accused the Commission and the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) of having sided with France and Germany in insisting that Irish taxpayers were left solely responsible for the €64 billion debt burden held by its banks, a move he described as “unjust and unbearable”.

“It was a mistake by the previous government to guarantee all Irish bank debts but it was outrageous to effectively threaten to force Ireland out of the euro unless the government went through with that foolish pledge,” said Legrain.

Between 2011 and February 2014, Legrain was principal adviser at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, the in-house think tank which provides economic advice to Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:

Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’

Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice ruled on Wednesday that those listed in an illegal Swedish police register of Roma will be entitled to receive compensation of 5,000 kronor ($768), an award dismissed by a leading representative as “a disgrace”.

“This is a further violation. But it is at the same time positive that a state body… rules that what the police have done is wrong and illegal,” Soraya Post, EU parliamentary candidate for the Feminist Initiative and Roma human rights activist, told the Dagens Nyheter daily on Wednesday evening.

“We will just have to bring this before the European Court,” she added.

The Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern – JK) confirmed on Wednesday that the Skåne County police department register was illegal. The existence of the register was exposed by Dagens Nyheter’s reporter Niklas Orrenius in September 2013.

Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:

German living expenses rank high

In Germany, day-to-day goods are one-third more expensive than in the rest of the world. But German price levels rank near average in a European comparison, while living in Switzerland and Norway comes with the highest price-tag, a recent study says.

Life in Germany is comparatively expensive, according to a recent study. In 2011, the price level in the Federal Republic was around 36% over the global average, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reported on Wednesday (7 May).

Compared to German price levels, living costs were much lower in Asia. In South Korea, for example, people paid 28% less three years ago, while China and Russia were around half. In India, expenses were over 70% lower than in Germany.

Destatis based its findings on a study conducted by the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP) which focused on purchasing power parities and comparative price levels.

Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:

Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality

The equality commissioner at the German Family Ministry is suing her own employers over the appointment of three men to key positions in 2012.

Kristin Rose-Möhring took the ministry to Germany’s administrative court on Thursday because the appointments of press spokesman, state secretary, and an independent commissioner on child abuse – were made without consulting her. All three posts subsequently went to men.

The 59-year-old, who has been in the post since 2001, said that although the appointments were made under a different minister (Kristina Schröder was replaced by the incumbent Manuela Schwesig last year), the same structures are still in place at the ministry. “There is still room for improvement,” Rose-Möhring said.

Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:

Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research

The risk of deflation is growing in the euro area which threatens economic growth in Germany, the Institute of Macroeconomic Research (IMK) said on Thursday.

Based on its simulation calculations, IMK expected a stable German economy in 2014 and 2015 but warned of risks such as price stability.

The increase in German consumer prices of 0.9 percent in March was significantly below the inflation rate of the European Central Bank of 1.9 percent. In the euro area, prices rose by only 0.5 percent, while prices sank in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.

On to France and on the defensive with TheLocal.fr:

‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’

President Francois Hollande on Thursday hit back at the growing anti-EU rhetoric in France fostered by the far right in its campaign for the European parliamentary elections.

In a commentary published in Le Monde on the anniversary of the Allied victory against Nazi Germany in World War II, Hollande recalled the words of another Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, who defended European integration by saying “nationalism means war” while “Europe means peace”.

Hollande’s comments come as polls show the far-right National Front (FN) could come out on top in the May 25th European elections in France.

But the economy isn’t helping Hollande, as New Europe reports:

Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March

  • France’s March trade gap also widened on soaring imports bills

French statistics bureau Insee reported on Wednesday a 0.7-percent decline in industrial output in France in March compared to February’s data.

According to Insee, Europe’s second largest economy produced less over the period due to sluggish auto industry and weak performance of food processing activity which fell by 2.3 percent and 1.1 percent respectively.

After growing by 0.3 percent in February, manufacturing also lost momentum with a 0.7-percent decrease, Insee reported.

From TheLocal.fr, a wiseguy rubout in an unlikely place:

Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital

The Italian mafia is suspected of being behind the shooting of the 77-year-old head of one of Monaco’s richest families outside a hospital in Nice on Tuesday night.

Hélène Pastor, said to be close to Monaco’s Royal family, and her chauffeur, named by the French press as Mohammed D, were seriously injured after being shot outside the L’Archet Hospital in the southern French city.

A report in the French daily Le Figaro pointed to investigators suspecting that two of Italy’s most notorious organized crime groups, ‘Ndrangheta or the Camorra, could be behind the attack. Both clans are said to have gained a strong foothold on the French Riviera’s property sector.

Switzerland next, and taxing woes for migrant labor from TheLocal.ch:

Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers

Switzerland needs to change its agreement with Italy over the taxation of cross-border workers to make it less appealing for them to work in the canton of Ticino, Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf says.

Widmer-Schlumpf made the comment during a meeting with the cantonal government of Ticino on Wednesday, broadcaster RTS reported.

The federal cabinet minister said that cross-border workers, known as “frontaliers”, who live in Italy currently pay Swiss tax rates, deducted at source, which are lower than those paid in their home country.

On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:

Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit

There will be no turning back for Portugal when it makes a clean exit from its bailout this month without a credit safety net, the president of the Eurogroup warned Thursday.

“A precautionary credit line by definition is asked for in advance,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in an interview with Portuguese daily Expresso.

But if the request is made later “when conditions turn bad, it is no longer a precautionary credit line” and Portugal would then require a new rescue programme, he said.

Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:

Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening

  • More cuts likely to be counterproductive in a country that faces a winter of discontent on job front

Economic recovery is taking hold, the banking system has improved, unemployment is beginning a timid retreat, the European bank bailout has worked, and public finances are stabilizing. Spring is in the air in the reports coming out of Brussels and the statements coming out of government officials’ mouths.

But despite the good news, the European Commission wants Spain to have an extra spoonful of the same medicine. While its deficit targets for 2014 will be easily met, things are not so clear for the years 2015 and 2016, leading Brussels to request “considerable additional discretionary efforts.”

In other words, what the European executive wants to see is more cuts, according to the first report following Spain’s clean exit from the banking bailout.

El País again, this time with a culture war development:

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

  • Socialists suspect conservative government is delaying passage of bill until after European elections

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is planning to take his abortion reform to Congress in July, when parliamentary groups will analyze it and suggest amendments, government sources told EL PAÍS.

The executive of Mariano Rajoy is firmly set on getting this controversial piece of legislation approved, although it is making sure that its passage through parliament does not coincide with the campaign run for the European elections on May 25.

Ever since December 2013, when the cabinet approved the controversial draft bill changing existing abortion laws – which critics say will take Spain back 30 years – opposition has been growing on the streets, in parliament and even within the ruling Popular Party (PP) itself, some of whose members have spoken out against the reforms.

And it’s on to Italy and some Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links

A former minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s last government has been arrested for allegedly helping a businessman, convicted of collusion with the mafia, escape Italy.

Claudio Scajola has been arrested in Rome for allegedly helping Amedeo Matacena, a Calabrian businessman escape a five-year jail term after his conviction for mafia association was handed down last year, Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday.

Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.

Berlusconi said he was “pained” to hear about Scajola’s arrest but did not know what the reasons behind it where.

And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:

Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption

A manager for Milan Expo 2015 has been arrested while five others have been jailed as part of an investigation into a corruption scandal that also caught ex-politicians allegedly taking bribes, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Angelo Paris, head of contracts for the trade fair, which runs in Milan between May and October next year, is in custody, Milan Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati told the financial newswire in an e-mailed statement.

Police carried out searches at 80 public entities and firms in parts of northern Italy and Rome, with businessmen and politicians being snared on video allegedly taking bribes to secure Expo contracts.

After the jump, the latest disturbing developments from Greece, Russian economic stress, Ukrainian tension, Argentine woes and a Venezuelan crackdown, Indian pollution, Thai turmoil continues, a Chinese upturn, a mixed report card for Japan, environmental woes, anbd the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

And our final maps: Comcast’s imperial dreams


Two maps detail precisely why Comcast wants to buy major cable rival Time-Warner Cable.

First up, a map of population density in the U.S., via MapofUSA.net :

BLOG Population

And, from Comcast, a map detailing the turf of the two corporate giants. Compare with the map above and the reason for Comcast’s covetousness becomes clear:

BLOG Merger

 

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, security, zones, etc.


We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of government and corporate espionage, security anxieties, and militarism — including the increasingly tense Asian Game of Zones — with a case of overwrought anxieties from AlterNet:

Las Vegas Cops Host Event Linking Premarital Sex to Having Your Face Chewed Off by Meth Fiends

  • Scaring girls abstinent.

For some reason, the Las Vegas Police decided that it was their business to instruct young girls not to ever ever have sex until they are married. Otherwise, they will end up as prostitutes, drug addicts and dead people. So, the police (yes, the police!) hosted a ‘Choose Purity’ event over the weekend, in which Officer Regina Coward, president of the Nevada Black Police Association, told girls that promiscuity leads to sexual assault, gang activity, and drugs. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Officer Coward was asked by her church, Victory Outreach Church, to set up an event emphasizing abstinence. She really went all out, even including a demonstration with a body bag (to drive home that point about premarital sex leading to death.)

According to the Sun, about 125 people attended the event and “watched recorded interviews with a pimp and prostitutes, learned modern-day slavery exists in the form of the sex trade, and saw grisly images of people who’d suffered at the hands of hard drugs — such as a woman who’d lost limbs in a methamphetamine lab explosion and a man who’d had his face partially gnawed off by a meth user.”

From the Guardian, hopes of panopticon game limits [but don’t hole your breath]:

Chairman of key House committee agrees to proceed with NSA reform bill

  • Judiciary committee chair gives new life to USA Freedom Act
  • Bill to overhaul spy agency had been stalled by months of delay

The chairman of a key committee in the House of Representatives agreed to move on a major surveillance overhaul on Monday, after months of delay.

The decision, by the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, breathes new life back into the USA Freedom Act, a legislative fix favoured by privacy advocates to prevent the US government from collecting domestic data in bulk.

The judiciary committee is expected to take action on an amendment encapsulating the provisions of the USA Freedom Act on Wednesday at 1pm. Congressional aides expected it to pass the committee with bipartisan support, setting up a fight on the House floor.

And a new twist, via TechDirt:

Competing NSA Reform Bills Suddenly Lurch Forward In Congress

  • from the well-this-might-get-interesting dept

In a bit of a surprise move, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, caught people off guard this morning by announcing that there would be a markup of the USA FREEDOM Act on Wednesday, complete with a Manager’s Amendment from bill author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. If you don’t recall, the USA FREEDOM Act was the best bet for real NSA reforms. It was far from perfect, but did actually do a lot of good things without adding a bunch of bad things. The amended version scales that back a bit. It’s not as good, but it’s still pretty good. Harley Geiger, over at CDT has a good overview of the Manager’s Amendment, and how it actually improves the bill in certain areas, while Marcy Wheeler highlights both the good and bad of the amendment.

Of course, within just a few minutes of the Judiciary Committee announcing its plans to move forward with the USA FREEDOM Act, the House Intelligence Committee announced that it would hold its own damn markup on the competing “NSA reform” bill from Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, which is designed to look like a shot at NSA reform, but which really would make it easier for the NSA to collect info on people. That bill, called the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act (almost none of that is true), is basically the NSA’s prime choice for pretending to be reform.

Next, from the New York Times, another secret base, but much closer to home:

Arms Cache Most Likely Kept in Texas by the C.I.A.

In passing references scattered through once-classified documents and cryptic public comments by former intelligence officials, it is referred to as “Midwest Depot,” but the bland code name belies the role it has played in some of the C.I.A.’s most storied operations.

From the facility, located somewhere in the United States, the C.I.A. has stockpiled and distributed untraceable weapons linked to preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion and the arming of rebels and resistance fighters from Angola to Nicaragua to Afghanistan.

Yet despite hints that “Midwest” was not actually where it was located, the secrecy surrounding the C.I.A. armory has survived generations of investigations. In a 2007 essay on the 20th anniversary of the Iran-contra affair, for example, a congressional investigator noted that the facility where the C.I.A. had handled missiles bound for Iran remained classified even as other “incredible things were unveiled during the hearings.”

But three years ago, it became public that the C.I.A. had some kind of secret location at Camp Stanley, an Army weapons depot just north of San Antonio and the former Kelly Air Force Base, though its purpose was unclear. And now, a retired C.I.A. analyst, Allen Thomson, has assembled a mosaic of documentation suggesting that it is most likely the home of Midwest Depot.

You’ll find the report, posted by the Federation of American Scientists, here [PDF].

From Spiegel, Merkel toes Obama’s line:

  • Trans-Atlantic Supplicant: Merkel Chooses Unity over NSA Truth

There was a time when Angela Merkel was committed to investigating the extent of NSA spying in Germany. Now, though, the chancellor has made an about face. Trans-Atlantic unity is her new priority, and the investigation has been left to languish.

In the world of diplomacy, moments of candor are rare, obscured as they are behind a veil of amicability and friendly gestures. It was no different last Friday at the meeting between US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Obama welcomed Merkel by calling her “one of my closest partners” and a “friend” and took her on a tour of the White House vegetable garden as part of the four hours he made available. He praised her as a “strong partner” in the Ukraine crisis and thanked her many times for the close cooperation exhibited in recent years. The birds in the Rose Garden sang happily as the president spoke.

But then Obama made clear who had the upper hand in this wonderfully harmonious relationship. When a reporter asked why, in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, the no-spy deal between Germany and the US had collapsed, Obama avoided giving a clear answer. He also dodged a question as to whether Merkel’s staff is still monitored. Instead, he stayed vague: “As the world’s oldest continuous constitutional democracy, I think we know a little bit about trying to protect people’s privacy.” That was it.

Merkel, when asked if trust had been rebuilt following the NSA revelations, was much less sanguine. “There needs to be and will have to be more than just business as usual,” she said.

And one consequence, via RT:

Germany to thwart internal NSA probe – reports

The German government plans to limit their level of cooperation with a recently formed parliamentary panel investigating mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency, Der Spiegel reports.

The 8-member panel of inquiry, comprising six lawmakers from the ruling coalition and two from the opposition, will only be given limited access to a so-called bilateral no-spy agreement currently being negotiated with Washington. Access to relevant documents will be limited as it is considered to be “an ongoing process” regarding “a core area of government responsibility” which is constitutionally protected, a senior government official told the German daily.

It also remains unknown whether the committee will be given access to documents regarding cooperation between Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service and its US and British counterparts. According to the paper, such a step would require the consent of Germany’s foreign partners.

Quartz covers Snowden’s latest, using Danish corporate trickery to hoist the elites’ petard:

Edward Snowden’s latest target is a Danish gossip magazine

“Big things are happening in Denmark.” With this Hamletic line, Edward Snowden opens a letter in the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

The former NSA contractor and whistleblower weighed in on what the Scandinavian press has dubbed “Se og Hør-gate” (Danish.) It’s a News-of-the-World-like scandal involving the Danish gossip paper Se og Hør (See and Hear), which is accused of buying the confidential credit card records of the royal family, prime minister, and celebrities.

According to a book by a former Se og Hør reporter, Ken Rasmussen, an employee of the payment company Nets leaked information about the credit card purchases of prominent personalities to help the gossip magazine target their location. Nets was recently bought by Bain Capital and Advent International for $3.1 billion.

ProPublica covers a new trick to avoid the public’s right to know:

The Dangers of Public Officials Using Private Email for Government Business

Adopting a tactic that has been used by officials ranging from Sarah Palin to staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sending emails from private accounts to conduct official business.

I know because I got one myself. And three other people who interact with the governor’s office on policy or media matters told me they have too. None of the others wanted to be named.

The tactic appears to be another item in the toolbox of an administration that, despite Cuomo’s early vows of unprecedented transparency, has become known for an obsession with secrecy. Emailing from private accounts can help officials hide communications and discussions that are supposed to be available to the public.

From Al Jazeera America, more corporate consequences for a data breach:

Target chief resigns five months after data breach

  • CEO of nation’s third-largest retailer steps down after hackers stole card info from tens of millions of customers

Target announced Monday that its chairman, president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel is out nearly five months after the nation’s third-largest retailer disclosed a massive hacker attack and data breach, which has hurt its reputation among customers and has derailed its business.

The company said Steinhafel, a 35-year Target veteran and its CEO since 2008, has agreed to step down, effective immediately. He also resigned from the board of directors.

A company spokeswoman declined to say when the decision was reached.

MarketWatch covers the start of a drone bubble:

Profit from the coming drone revolution

The Drone Revolution is coming, and we’re gunning for it.

It’s gonna be huge. Are you even digging into the drone world yet? I’ve already found a couple relatively “undiscovered” stocks that are poised to benefit from the burgeoning huge drone market over the next five to 10 years, which will likely be one of the biggest new industries to hit the developed world since the App Revolution.

From Romenesko, the Fourth Estate moves to create a corporate version of a state secret:

Lara Logan’s ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi piece was deleted from LexisNexis

  • “Deleted at the request of CBS News”

And from GlobalPost, more corporate media trickery:

Fox News used footage of random sad Asians instead of actual Koreans mourning the ferry

  • Nope, not The Onion.

One sad Asian is as good as the next it seems. At least according to Fox News.

In the clip below about the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry in South Korea, from a few weeks ago, Fox appears to have swapped in footage of random sad Asian people in place of mourning Koreans.

At about minute 1:40, the narrator talks about how relatives of the missing passengers believe there would have been more survivors had people been ordered to evacuate the sinking ship.

The problem? The corresponding footage is not of the mourning relatives, or even Koreans, but rather “people presumably from another region of Asia,” according to KoreAm, a blog covering the Korean American experience. Another blogger suggests the footage is actually of Tibetans crying after the recent avalanche at Mt. Everest.

After the jump, the latest escalations, posturings, and allliances in the Asian Game of Zones. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Econotrix, politrix & envirotrix


We open today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of politics, economics, and the environment with this, a creation of Vangelis Papavasiliou of the Greek paper Eleftherotypia:

In today’s economy, recovery is a matter of perspective.

In today’s economy, recovery is a matter of perspective.

From USA TODAY, a reminder of just how flimsy are the underpinnings of the new, picoseconds-fast transactions on which our Brave New Financial Order is founded:

Four-year Flash Crash anniversary haunts markets

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the brutal flash crash that rocked markets on May 6, 2010, and is a stark reminder of how little has changed.

Even four years after the crash that wiped out $1 trillion in wealth in the blink of an eye, investors and academics still haven’t agreed on what caused one of the most vicious and inexplicable short circuiting of markets to occur.

On that day, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged roughly 1,000 points only to recover in minutes. High-frequency computerized trading, believed to at least be part of the cause of the breakdown, is still a major force in the markets. There have been tweaks made to “circuit breakers,” or thresholds of volatility that cause trading individual stocks or the market to be halted. But these measures are widely viewed as putting Band-Aids on an open wound — it might offer some comfort, but does little to fix the underlying problem.

“It can still happen now, and it does in certain (individual stocks),” says Joe Saluzzi, trader at Themis Trading.

Perhaps the reason why the problem isn’t being addressed is that we don’t really know — even four year later — what caused the Flash Crash. And as recently as 2013, there have been other widespread malfunctions in the market that remain largely mysteries. Regarding the Flash Crash of 2010, it took roughly five months before regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released a report documenting the events that shook the markets. The report largely blames the “fragmented” stock market where there are multiple marketplaces exchanging prices with each other.

From Business Insider, the proceeds of plunder:

A Hedge Fund Manager Just Made The Biggest Home Purchase In US History

A Hamptons property has just taken the title of “most expensive home ever sold in the U.S.”

The 18-acre expanse in East Hampton just sold for $147 million to hedge-fund manager Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners, according to Curbed Hamptons.

Rosenstein’s new neighbors on exclusive Further Lane include Jerry Seinfeld, hedge-fund manager Jim Chanos, and art dealer Larry Gagosian.

From Reuters, just a cost of doing business:

Credit Suisse In Talks To Pay $1.6 Billion To Resolve U.S. Tax Probe: Source

Credit Suisse Group AG is in talks with the U.S. Justice Department to pay as much as $1.6 billion to resolve an investigation into the bank’s role in helping Americans evade U.S. taxes, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The penalty could be roughly twice the amount paid by UBS AG, which settled similar charges in 2009 for $780 million and agreed to identify its customers.

Prosecutors have also been pushing for Credit Suisse to plead guilty in connection with the probe, two people with knowledge of the talks said.

From Aviation Week, how the elite travels, at least on one Abu Dhabi-based airline:

Etihad Unveils Three-Room ‘Residence’ On A380 Fleet

All of the three-class A380s will seat 498, with two seats in “residence,” nine “apartments” (first class), 70 in business and 417 economy seats.

Etihad will be the second airline to offer showers on board the A380, a concept that has been introduced by its rival Emirates. There will be one shower available for the nine first class passengers, but the real innovation is the “residence.” It is located to the left and aft of the front staircase and consists of three rooms: A living room certified for two passengers during take-off and landing, a bathroom with a shower,  and the bedroom in the very front of the upper deck. The bedroom does not have windows. Other A380 operators have used the room next to the staircase for showers (Emirates) or for small lounge areas (Air France, Qantas). By creating the “residence” (125 square feet), Etihad is not giving up revenue space.

According to Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner, “residence” is going to be about three times as expensive as regular first class. A flight from Abu Dhabi to London would be around $20,000 one-way, but it can be used for two passengers. Etihad is targeting high net worth individuals who would otherwise use a private jet for long haul travel.

USA TODAY covers reality for some of the rest of us:

Single women say their income doesn’t cover expenses

Across the country, single women feel worse than both men and any age group about their ability to make ends meet. In a survey of 1,200 adults given exclusively to USA TODAY by Consumers’ Research, the data show that about 60% of single women say they don’t earn enough to cover their expenses.

That’s compared with 45% of everyone surveyed, and 57% of those ages 50 to 59, the group with the highest percentage who said they don’t make enough to cover expenses.

Do Americans not make enough money, or are they living beyond their means?

“I would say that those two are the same thing,” says Joe Colangelo, executive director of Consumers’ Research. “If you aren’t making enough to support your lifestyle, you need to make some life and habit changes.”

And from PandoDaily, another form of profitable plunder:

LEAKED: Docs obtained by Pando show how a Wall Street giant is guaranteed huge fees from taxpayers on risky pension investments

Thanks to confidential documents exclusively obtained by Pando, we can now see some of the language and fee structures in the agreements between the “alternative investment” industry and major public pension funds. Taken together, the documents raise serious questions about whether the government employees, trustees and politicians overseeing major public pension funds are shirking their fiduciary responsibilities under the law when they are cementing “alternative” investment deals.

The documents, which were involved in a recent SEC inquiry into the $14.5 billion Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS), were handed to us by SEC whistleblower Chris Tobe, an investment consultant and former trustee of the KRS. Tobe has also written a book — “Kentucky Fried Pensions” — about the scandalous state of the Kentucky public pensions system.

The documents provided by Tobe (embedded below) specifically detail Kentucky’s dealings with Blackstone – a giant Wall Street investment firm which has deployed a platoon of registered lobbyists in Kentucky and whose employees are major financial backers of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

From Reuters, we won’t hold our breath:

U.S. attorney general says banks may face criminal cases soon

The U.S. Justice Department is pursuing criminal investigations of financial institutions that could result in action in the coming weeks and months, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video, adding that no company was “too big to jail.”

The comments, made in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website on Monday, came as federal prosecutors push two banks, BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA) and Credit Suisse AG (MLPN.P), to plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve investigations into sanctions and tax violations, respectively, according to people familiar with the probes.

While Holder did not name any banks, he said he is personally monitoring the ongoing investigations into financial institutions and is “resolved to seeing them through.”

The Los Angeles Times covers gentrification of another sort:

Return of ‘mansionization’ has some L.A. homeowners grumbling

Six years ago, Los Angeles politicians imposed new limits on the size of new and renovated houses, promising to rein in what they called “homes on steroids” dwarfing blocks of smaller buildings.

But as the housing market rebounds and construction picks up, many homeowners complain that “mansionization” has revved up — reigniting long-standing policy battles and sometimes bitter fence fights over the face and feel of L.A.’s neighborhoods.

Builders are snapping up smaller, older homes, razing them and replacing them with bigger dwellings. Increasingly, sleek, square structures are popping up along streets known for quaint bungalows.

Opening the tent flap for the camel’s nose, via the New York Times:

Supreme Court Allows Prayers at Town Meetings

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court’s more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.

“Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”

Off to Europe, starting with some boosterism from BBC News:

EU raises its growth forecast for 2014

The European Commission has raised its growth forecast for the EU, saying that “the recovery has taken hold”.

The 26 nations of the EU are forecast to grow by 1.6% for 2014, a touch higher than the forecast of 1.5% made in late February. The growth forecast for the 18-nation eurozone remains at 1.2% for 2014.

The Commission expects the jobs market to continue to improve, forecasting EU unemployment will fall to 10.1% this year. In March, the rate was 10.5%

And from New Europe, giving the banksters a freer hand:

The EU partially suspended talks to hold a three-month public consultation over worries about the investment rules

Germany’s vice chancellor is underlining doubts about the need for new investment rules in a proposed European Union-U.S. trade deal — a thorny issue in the talks.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Monday voiced strong support for the overall trade deal but said both sides already have a “sophisticated, legally safe position for investors” so he doesn’t see the need for a special agreement on that aspect. Germany has the EU’s biggest economy.

The EU partially suspended talks to hold a three-month public consultation over worries about the investment rules. Critics and some officials previously voiced unease over what they said were loopholes that might expose governments to lawsuits by multinational companies.

Off to Norway, and a ready customer from abroad via TheLocal.no:

Chinese tycoon keen to buy chunk of Norway

A Chinese property tycoon shut out by Iceland after he sought to buy a vast tract of the country is turning his attention to Norway, he told AFP on Monday.

Huang Nubo, founder of Chinese property firm Zhongkun Group, said in a telephone interview that he still wants to develop high-end resorts in northern Europe and plans to invest 80 million euros ($111 million) in Norway over the next five to 10 years.

His statement comes as a huge tract of the Arctic Svalbard Islands has been put up for sale by Henning Horn, a Norwegian industrialist and farmer, and his sisters Elin and Kari.

And some Norse doubts via New Europe:

70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU

Skepticism over joining EU remains strong in Norway

More Norwegians are against seeking European Union (EU) membership today than several decades ago, making the prospect of Norway joining the 28-member bloc look even dimmer.

A new opinion poll, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported Monday, shows that 70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU.

Only 20.2 percent of respondents in the poll, which was carried out by the agency Sentio for Norwegian-language newspapers “Klassekampen” and “Nationen,” were in favor of Norway joining the EU.

Next up France, and similar doubts from RFI:

Majority of French want smaller EU, poll

A new poll suggests a majority of French people would like the European Union to be smaller.

In a poll published on Monday, conducted by Viavoice for the French newspaper Libération, 64 per cent of those surveyed say they would prefer the European Union to centre around core countries, such as the euro countries, or the six founder-member states: France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Twenty per cent of those polled are happy with the current membership and a mere seven per cent favour further EU enlargement.

49 per cent associate the EU with something negative while only 45 say for them it represents something positive.

From Europe Online, skepticism:

France set to miss deficit goal despite spending cuts, EU predicts
Europe

France has not gone far enough to whittle its deficit down to within EU limits, a new forecast predicted Monday, despite unprecedented cuts introduced by Paris.

France has struggled to rev up its economy – the second largest in the European Union – with warnings rampant about its sluggish competitiveness. There are concerns that Paris’ economic woes could complicate the recovery underway in the crisis-battered eurozone.

Last year, the EU gave France a reprieve by granting it two extra years – until 2015 – to bring its deficit below 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

And from Agence France-Presse, a rare win:

France Definitively Bans Genetically Modified Corn

France definitively banned the growing of genetically modified corn on Monday after its highest court and Senate both confirmed an existing ban.

A grouping of leftist senators including members of the ruling Socialists, Greens and Communists approved a law banning MON810, a type of GM corn produced by US firm Monsanto, that had already been passed by the lower house of parliament, overcoming opposition from right-wing members.

At the same time, the Council of State rejected a request from corn producers to overturn the ban on MON810.

New up Switzerland, and the possible end of a centuries’ old stance from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss ‘likely to vote on EU ties in two years’

Swiss citizens will likely go the polls in two years to decide on Switzerland’s future ties with the European Union, the country’s president Didier Burkhalter says.

In an interview published on Sunday by the German-language weekly NZZ am Sonntag, Burkhalter said it was his personal view that a referendum will be held in 2016 on bilateral relations with the EU.

“The decision will be at the end of a long process that has only just begun,” Burkhalter, a member of the centre-right Liberal party from Neuchâtel, told the newspaper.

“Until then there is still a tough obstacle course ahead of us.”

Spain next, and dismal numbers from TheLocal.es:

Half of young Spaniards have no money coming in

Almost half of all Spaniards aged 16 to 29 receive neither a salary nor government benefits while only one in five can afford to fly the family coop, the startling results from a new study reveal.

A total of 47.5 percent of young Spaniards receive no formal income at all, the study by youth lobby group CJE shows.

Youth unemployment is currently 55 percent but the CJE study shows the situation is made even worse by the precarious nature of that employment.

With just 34 percent of people aged 16 to 29 in Spain actually working, more that half of people in this age group are on temporary contracts. Of those contracts, 46.4 percent are of less than 12 months duration.

From the Independent, a lesson only half-learned:

Spain is inviting back Jews expelled from the country in the 16th Century. But don’t mention the Muslims

  • Our cousins in Madrid and Lisbon simply don’t want Muslims to come to Europe

The year of darkness, of course, was 1492, when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Christian power was restored to the lands in which Muslims and Jews had lived together for hundreds of years and had rescued some of the great works of classical literature – by way of Baghdad – for us to study. Save for those who converted to Christianity or died at the stake – at least 1,000 Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000, among them – the entire Muslim and Jewish communities were thrown out of Spain and Portugal by the early 17th century. They scattered, to Morocco, Algeria, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey. Which is why the glories of Andalusian architecture can still be found in north Africa. The Sephardic (Spanish) Jews spoke Ladino, which was still understood in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. In just over 100 years, the Christian monarchy of Spain had expelled half a million Muslims and between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews. There are now around 3.5 million Sephardic Jews in the world. Their ancient homes also still exist in Spain.

But now Spain and Portugal want to make amends, so we are told. They will give citizenship – full passports – to the descendants of families expelled from their countries. The government regards the expulsions as “a tragedy”, or – in the words of Spain’s justice minister – a “historical error”. It was, of course, an ethnic cleansing, a massive crime against humanity, but don’t let’s expect too much from our Spanish and Portuguese friends, as there are, unfortunately, a few problems. For example: Muslims need not apply.

And from TheLocal.es, what a dose of bananas didn’t cure:

‘They called me a monkey so I danced like one’

A new racism scandal erupted in Spanish football after fans made monkey chants at Levante’s Senegalese midfielder Pape Diop, just a week after Barcelona defender Dani Alves denounced a banana-thrower.

The 28-year-old Diop accused Atletico Madrid fans of subjecting him to abuse as his side inflicted a shock 2-0 defeat on the Liga leaders on Sunday.

He reacted by dancing in front of the disconsolate travelling fans at the final whistle Sunday, and television images showed some furious Atletico supporters making monkey gestures.

“It affected me a lot,” Diop said. “I went to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans began to make monkey chants. To play it down, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone,” the player said.

Italy next, and a tongue-lashing from the top via ANSA:

Renzi says Italy must change or be EU laggards

  • Premier admits delay on institutional reforms is ‘costly’

Premier Matteo Renzi said Monday that the government’s reform programme was necessary to stop Italy becoming one of the European Union’s worst-performing States.

“Our ideas are not the result of improvisation,” Renzi told a seminar on the institutional reforms organised by his centre-left Democratic Party (PD). “We are anxious for change and we have to produce fast results or we won’t have credibility in the European Union.

“We are certain that if Italy changes, it’ll be at the helm. Otherwise it’ll become a laggard”. Renzi, who was sworn in as Italy’s youngest premier aged 39 in February, has presented a bill to change the Constitutional to overhaul the country’s costly, slow-moving political machinery.

From ANSA, the bleak numbers continue:

Italian unemployment worse than expected, says EU and Istat

  • Between 12.7%-12.8% in 2014, with ‘marginal improvement’ in 2015

Both the European Union and Italy’s national statistics agency on Monday revised upwards their forecasts of Italian unemployment for this year and the next. Italy’s unemployment rate will grow to 12.7% in 2014, up 0.5% on the year, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Light improvement is expected in the second half of the year, preceding a drop to 12.4% in 2015, added Istat.

Meanwhile the European Commission predicted Italy’s unemployment rate in 2014 to be 12.8%, “a new high”, as opposed to the 12.6% rate predicted in February.

From TheLocal.it, hard times intolerance, as when adults fear cooties:

‘We don’t want our kids to go on migrant bus’

A group of parents from Sicily refused to let their children go on a school trip because the bus they would have travelled on had previously transported migrants “suffering from diseases”.

The children, from Giacomo Albo di Modica school in Ragusa, had been due to go on the trip on Monday, but a group of about 60 parents rallied against it, saying “the risk of them catching a disease is too great, and we don’t want to take that risk,” according to a report in La Repubblica.

The children would have travelled on one of the buses, chartered by the local council, used to transport migrants from the port of Pozzallo to an emergency holding centre between Comiso and Ragusa in recent days, the newspaper said.

From New Europe, begging the question, as in is this real anti-semitism, or the sort redefined by Israeli media-spinners in which legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies has been redefined as racism:

The number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012

Annual report on Anti-Semitism in Czech Republic registers steep increase of Internet attacks

A new study by Prague’s Jewish community has registered a significant increase of attacks against Jews on the Internet for the second straight year.

The annual report on anti-Semitism released Monday said the number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012. The report said the pro-Israeli stance of the Czech government was among the reasons for the attacks.

Besides the Internet attacks, it said anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic remains at a relatively low level with one physical attack registered last year and three attacks on Jewish property.

After the jump the latest from Greece, new developments in Latin America, mixed signals for the Chinese economy, a host of environmental alarm bells, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . . Continue reading