Category Archives: Organized crime

InSecurityWatch: Law, wars, hacks, cops, spies


We begin with a hopeful finding, via the Guardian:

High school students care more about free speech than adults, poll finds

  • For first time in poll’s history, American students are more in favour of the first amendment than adults

American high school students are more concerned about freedom of speech and the first amendment than adults, including their teachers, a new poll has found.

The national study of 10,463 high school students and 588 teachers was released Wednesday to coincide with the celebration of Constitution Day and was funded by the John S and James L Knight Foundation.

This was the first time in the poll’s history that students were more in favour of the first amendment than adults. Ten years ago when the poll began 35% of students said the amendment went too far compared with 30% of adults.

The poll also found that students who consumed the most news online were the most supportive of free expression. And those who had been taught about the first amendment were more supportive still.

Salon covers a half-measure:

Los Angeles schools will relinquish grenade launchers … but not rifles or armored vehicles

  • L.A. Unified says that M-16 automatic rifles are “essential life-saving items”

The Los Angeles Unified school police announced on Tuesday their intention to give up military-grade weaponry obtained through the 1033 federal program that gives civilian police departments surplus military equipment. The school police said it intended to relinquish three grenade launchers, but notably will keep 61 rifles and one Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicle.

The Yomiuri Shimbun investigates:

Attorney general: U.S. will launch study of policing bias

Broadening its push to improve police relations with minorities, the Justice Department has enlisted a team of criminal justice researchers to study racial bias in law enforcement in five American cities and recommend strategies to address the problem nationally, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

The police shooting last month of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri underscored the need for the long-planned initiative, Holder said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said the three-year project, which will involve training, data analysis and interviews with community residents, could be a “silver lining” if it helps ease racial tensions and “pockets of distrust that show up between law enforcement and the communities that they serve.”

And from Al Jazeera English, heading down a familiar road:

US lawmakers back plan to arm Syrian rebels

  • House of Representatives vote 273 to 156 to approve President Obama’s train-and-equip plan meant to defeat ISIL

US lawmakers have voted to authorise training and arming of vetted Syrian rebels to combat fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a crucial step in President Barack Obama’s bid to thwart the self-declared jihadist group surging across Iraq and Syria.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 273 to 156 to approve Obama’s train-and-equip plan despite misgivings by both Democrats and Republicans.

Some war-weary Democrats say the move could open the door to full-blown American military intervention in the Middle East.

The Los Angeles Times coveys reassurance:

Obama reiterates that U.S. forces have no ‘combat mission’ in Iraq

Emphasizing the American military’s unrivaled expertise, President Obama thanked service members Wednesday and repeated that U.S. forces taking on the Islamic State militant group would not serve in combat, a day after his top general repeatedly raised that prospect.

American forces “do not and will not have a combat mission,” Obama told troops at the U.S. Central Command headquarters here. “They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.”

He made that pledge a day after Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s top officer, described for a Senate panel the challenges of fighting the militants without combat troops on the ground.

But the New York Times conveys counterspin:

U.S. Army Chief Says Ground Troops Will Be Needed Against ISIS

The United States general who beat back Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2007 suggested on Wednesday that the battle against Islamic State jihadis would only succeed with the use of ground forces.

Speaking a day after his commander, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that American ground troops might be needed in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno was careful not to specify that those ground troops had to be American. But he made clear that success would be dependent on the presence of forces from all of Iraq’s sectarian groups.

Airstrikes have halted the advance of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, General Odierno, now the Army chief of staff, told journalists from four news organizations, including The New York Times, in what aides said were his first public comments on the current situation in Iraq. Ultimately, though, “you’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting them out,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremists.

And from the Washington Post, tramp, tramp, tramp:

U.S. boots are already on the ground against the Islamic State

Talking with U.S. and foreign military experts over the past week, I’ve heard two consistent themes: First, the campaign against the Islamic State will require close-in U.S. training and assistance for ground forces, in addition to U.S. air power; and, second, the best way to provide this assistance may be under the command of the Ground Branch of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, which traditionally oversees such paramilitary operations.

There are some obvious drawbacks with this approach: These “special activities” may be called covert, but their provenance will be obvious, especially to the enemy; they will build irregular forces in Iraq and Syria that may subvert those countries’ return to a stable, transparent system of governance and military operations; and history tells us (from Vietnam to Central America to the Middle East) that black operations, outside normal military channels, can get ugly — opening a back door to torture, rendition and assassination. That’s why clear guidelines and congressional oversight would be necessary.

Though these paramilitary operations are rarely discussed, the United States has extensive experience with them, especially in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East. The 2001 campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan was led by the CIA, using teams of Special Operations forces to mobilize fighters from the Northern Alliance. In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, Kurdish special forces were brought to a base in the Western United States and trained in insurgency tactics. They conducted fierce attacks as the war was beginning.

In other words, it’s the same old foreign policy so eloquently expressed by Nancy Sinatra way back in 1966:

From Defense One, points we often made back in the days of Vietnam:

The Constitution Is More Than Just an Obstacle To Fighting ISIL

Congress seems to be on track to authorize President Obama to address the situation in the Middle East. Strikingly enough, however, it is authorization for one small part of it—to provide arms to Syrian rebels. Currently, U.S. law prevents the president from transferring weapons to rebel groups, and Obama wants an exception for Syria.

What about the prolonged campaign he announced last week to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy?” Obama’s strategy—systematic airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they are”; material support to Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian forces fighting ISIS on the ground; intelligence and counterterrorism campaigns against ISIS; and humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the fighting—sounds like what I will call, for lack of a better term, “war.”

And war needs authorization from Congress. Not little dribs and drabs of authorization, and not small measures tucked onto spending bills, but a resolution, adopted after a serious debate, authorizing the whole thing, setting out our war aims, and indicating when or how the authority will expire.

The president says he has the authority to do what he wants but wouldn’t mind if Congress wants to tag along by voting him “more” authority. Members of Congress say, variously, Why is he asking us? Why isn’t he already doing more without it? Can’t we wait to see what happens? Can we go now?

From the Guardian, media mania:

Islamic State video threatens to target White House and US troops

  • Video purports to be trailer for film entitled Flames of War with strapline ‘fighting has just begun’

Islamic State militants have threatened to target the White House and kill US troops in a new slickly made video response to Barack Obama’s campaign to “degrade and destroy” the organisation.

The video, in the style of a blockbuster movie trailer for what is “coming soon”, purports to show a masked man apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head. Towards the end of the clip there is shaky footage of the White House filmed from a moving vehicle, suggesting the building is being scoped out for attack.

It was released on Tuesday after US defence chiefs suggested that American troops could join Iraqi forces fighting Isis, despite Obama’s assurance that US soldiers would not be engaged in fighting on the ground.

While the video has been yanked from YouTube, it was still available at LiveLeak when last we looked [and WordPress doesn’t enable embedding videos from that site].

More on that media thing from the Christian Science Monitor:

How Islamic State is wielding the Internet in new ways

Federal prosecutors announced the indictment of a New York man on charges he was trying to recruit for the Islamic State. US officials say they are increasingly concerned about the possibility of a home-grown terror threat.

[E]ven as a handful of Americans attempt to get more engaged with extremist groups, media observers say IS has become one of most sophisticated social media operations yet seen.

“I think that what’s new is the sophistication and focus of the groups like ISIS,” says Nicco Mele, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Boston, who focuses on the intersection of media, politics, and power in the digital age. “The frequency and quality and quantity of what’s happening here is significant – it’s sophisticated, clearly planned, and executed with a well-oiled team.”

Up to a hundred Americans have tried to travel abroad to fight alongside IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in recent weeks – including some killed by the US bombing campaign in Iraq. But officials say they are also worried about the solitary, would-be domestic terrorist, inspired by propaganda and instructions found online, who would then attempt to carry out an attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

Business Insider covers the furor Down Under:

Australian Authorities Say Terrorists Planned To Drape People In ISIS Flags And Behead Them In Public

Police have confirmed Australia’s largest ever counter-terrorism operation targeted a group planning “random acts of violence” against a member, or members of the public, on the streets of Sydney.

News agencies are reporting court documents, to be released later this morning, are expected to reveal the terror group planned to behead a member of the public in Sydney, or potentially engage in a random mass shooting.

Australian Federal Police and intelligence officials launched the “largest counter-terrorism operation” in Australia across a number of suburban areas in Sydney and Brisbane this morning.

From the Express Tribune, a Pakistani blackout continues:

Two years on, no light at the end of the tunnel for YouTube

Two years, a new government and the promise of change, and at least 20 court hearings later, internet users from Pakistan are still denied access to YouTube. This restriction of access has become the symbol of a state which has increasingly become obsessed with controlling the online space in a non-transparent manner.

The ban had been imposed on September 17, 2012 by then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf following national outrage over a sacrilegious video clip. The video had prompted outrage across the Muslim world and prompted temporary bans on the website in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan. Threat of bans in Saudi Arabia prompted YouTube to selectively curb access in that country and it took a court order to censor it in Brazil.

But even after a US court ordered YouTube to take down versions of the video following a suit filed by one of the actors appearing the clip, the site remains inaccessible in Pakistan. The refrain, that the clip hurts religious sentiments of the people, is obscene or hurts national security has acted as an effective screen for a process which is less than transparent and has gone on to impact services and content beyond just pornography and blasphemous videos.

From The Intercept, spooky high dudgeon:

Irate NSA Staffer Doesn’t Like Being Filmed in Public, for Some Reason

The NSA sent someone bearing the nametag “Neal Z.” to the University of New Mexico’s Engineering and Science Career Fair today, in the hopes of recruiting young computer geniuses to help manage the yottabytes of data it is collecting about you. But instead of eager young applicants, Mr. Z. encountered University of New Mexico alumnus Andy Beale and student Sean Potter, who took the rare opportunity of being in the room with a genuine NSA agent to ask him about his employer’s illegal collection of metadata on all Americans. Mr. Z. did not like that one bit.

In two videos posted on YouTube—each shot from a slightly different perspective—you can watch Beale politely question Mr. Z. about NSA programs, and watch Mr. Z. attempt to parry those queries with blatant falsehoods like, “NSA is not permitted to track or collect intelligence on U.S. persons.” As Beale continues to attempt to engage the recruiter on the legality of the NSA’s mass surveillance initiatives, Mr. Z. becomes increasingly angry, calling him a “heckler,” saying, “You do not know what you’re talking about,” and warning, “If you don’t leave soon, I’m going to call university security to get you out of my face.”

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Mr. Z announces, “You’re done,” and attempts to grab the phone that Potter had been using to film the encounter, literally at the very moment he says, “I’m not touching your phone.” Beale and Potter were later ejected from the facility by campus police for “causing a disturbance,” though their on-camera behavior is unfailingly quiet and civil.

Here’s one of the videos, posted by Andy Beale:

NSA Attacks Student at University of New Mexico

After the jump, a German demand on Google, spooky Danish blowback, a twisted Kiwi concession, public intelligence endangered, spying in the bovine interest, committing covert journalism on the farm, hacks at your bank account at home and abroad, Papuan police punished, allegations of Chinese defense contractor hacks, Chinese line-crossing, a spooky Japanese coup on China, Korean diplomatic shifts, a Japanese panopticon extension, an Asian test of the American fog of war, and a Thai sartorial security alert. . .
Continue reading

Blast from the past: Bugging Marilyn Monroe


Plus mafiosi, celebrity buggers, JFK, and so much more. . .

First up, a post from 18 July 2010:

Marilyn Monroe’s bugs and a .22-caliber killer

Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most emblematic Old Hollywood screen star, is in the news again, this time because the last house she owned — and the one where she died — is up for sale again. Asking price: $3.6 million.

The New York Daily News report included this in the concluding paragraphs offers this:

One of the more elaborate: when actress Veronica Hamel  reportedly bought the home in 1972, she discovered a telephone tapping and eavesdropping system while remodeling, according to Hamel’s IMDB.com  biography. This ignited the far-fetched rumors that the Mafia may have been responsible for Monroe’s death.

The home was built in 1929 and still has much of its original details, but has been remodeled several times.

First, some background. During esnl‘s years at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, he spent a fair amount of time looking into organized crime. Two sources had interesting stories to tell about the wiring found in the crawlspace at 12305 St. Helena Drive in Brentwood.

I had two sources: the late Marion Phillips [previously] and a corporate security officer who had once worked as as CIA officer. They told me the same story six years after the discovery of the wires.

The wiring was discovered during renovation work, and both law enforcement and corporate phone security officers examined the find. What they found was two different sets of wires.

Covert operators who install bugs and wiretaps have distinct “signatures” readily discernible to the cognoscenti, involving both the specific types of wires used and the way the wires are installed, ranging from the brand of connectors used to the types of knots, the manner of soldering, and the way the wires are secured.

One set of wires was instantly recognizable as an FBI installation because of the distinct coating of the wires, which was reserved for law enforcement use. The signature of the second set, installed after the FBI wires, was also instantly recognizable.

The second wire man was Bernard Bates Spindel, the tap and bug expert hired out by both law enforcement and organized crime. One of his major clients was mobbed-up Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had ample reason to fear illegal bugs.

Robert Kennedy, appointed Attorney General by his presidential brother John, had been waging a relentless “Get Hoffa” campaign as part of his overall attack on organized crime. It was a dangerous and thoroughly illegal war, since it was waged before federal law allowed the FBI to install bugs. FBI bugs exposed the inner workings of the Chicago Outfit, the old Capone gang.

The double-edged sword posed by the bugs was the harsh reality that John F. Kennedy had shared two mistresses with Outfit boss Sam Giancana. The first was Judith Campbell Exner, and the the second was the woman the tabloids dubbed the “Blonde Bombshell.”

Giancana had another tie to the Kennedy administration as well, and to the subsequent administration of Lyndon Johnson: The CIA was paying him, through front man Johnny Roselli, to carry out a “contract” on Fidel Castro.

Just what the feds and Spindel captured on their tapes at the Monroe house

remains a mystery. The actress allegedly killed herself there on 5 August 1962 after returning from the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe, a gambling resort jointly owned by Frank Sinatra and Giancana, and allegations have surfaced that Giancana beat her at his private cabin shortly before she fled back to Brentwood.

Sinatra’s ties to Giancana cost the crooner his gambling license, though a fawning Nevada Gaming Commission would later restore it two decades later, despite massive evidence that Old Blue Eyes always danced to the wise guy’s tune.

Gianana proved a high-profile and somewhat inept mob boss, and few shed tears when he was whacked in the basement of his Oak Park, Illinois, home on the night of 19 June 1975.

In a final twist of fate for esnl, Giancana was killed as as he whipping up a batch of his legendary sausage and peppers. The weapon was a silenced .22-caliber Colt Woodsman semiautomatic pistol modified and fitted out with a custom made silencer by a St. Louis armorer who provided an identical pistol to George Patrick McKinney, the killer whose trial first brought esnl into the Santa Monica courtroom of Judge Lawrence J. Rittenband, the jurist who would besmirch himself 10 months later with his handling of the Roman Polanski case.

Back to Marilyn’s curious bugs

An FBI report dated 2 September 1961 offers some insight into the bugs at Monroe’s house.

Fred Otash, a disgraced Los Angeles Police Detective turned private eye, spent his latter years publishing a trashy Hollywood tabloid, making more money from what he didn’t print that what actually appeared on paper. Otash, Lt. Phillips told me, specialized in digging up dirt on celebrities, then withholding it in return to hefty payoffs.

BLOG Otash

One of the reasons Freddie was able to thrive as a bottom-feeder was the classic con’s dodge, playing snitch in return for a blind eye from law enforcement.

On 16 August 1961, Otash reported in to his FBI handler to report that he’d been contacted in New York by Spindel, who “made known the fact that Hoffa was about to ‘bury the Kennedys’ and in doing so they were attempting to use every means possible which included the setting up of electronic listening devices on the Kennedys wherever possible.

Spindel’s approach was to determine whether informant would be interested in handling such work for Hoffa on the West Coast, such as developing information concerning the identity of any prostitutes knowqn to have any association whatsoever with either the Attorney General or the President and Spindel was of the belief thois [sic] information could be developed through [name redacted] or Peter Lawford

. . .Spindel indicated they were compiling all possible information for this so-called ‘hate campaign’ and contemplated inclusion of this material in the [Teamsters] Union magazine.

The report concludes: “There is no indication on the part of the informant of emotional instability, unreliability or the furnishing of false information.”

Otash would later play the role of supporting cast in the L.A. noir crime novels of James Elroy, and was featured in this interview by Mike Wallace in 1957.

And an subsequent post from 3 June 2012:

More confirmation: The bugs in Marilyn’s house

Three years ago we wrote about the two sets of covert microphone installations in Marilyn Monroe’s house — one installed by freelance wireman Bernard Bates Spindel on behalf of Jimmy Hoffa and the other by J. Edgar Hoover’s boys, and both eager to dig up the dirt on the Kennedys, Jack and Bobby.

Another player in the game was Freddie Otash, a corrupt ex-LAPD vice cop who made a tidy living digging up dirt for Hollywood gossip magazines and for the increasingly paranoid Howard Hughes.

Now comes a new twist, reported by the Irish Independent:

Otash, who inspired the character of private investigator Jake Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson) in the 1974 film Chinatown, was a notorious Hollywood gumshoe during the 1950s and 1960s, who snooped on – and on behalf of – a slew of the era’s stars, including Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra and Bette Davis. In his notes, Otash claims to know the location of Judy Garland’s secret supply of pills; to have caught James Dean shoplifting at a Hollywood store; and to have heard Marilyn Monroe having sex with John F Kennedy.

>snip<

Otash, known as “Mr O”, died aged 70 in 1992, having just completed a book called Marilyn, Kennedy and Me. The manuscript, never published, was also found among his files, which had been kept by his daughter. In it, he recalls bugging Monroe’s house, allegedly to snoop on Kennedy and other Democrats for the Republican tycoon Howard Hughes. Otash claims to have taped an argument between Monroe, Bobby Kennedy and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, on the day she died.

The detective later said Lawford had asked him to remove anything that incriminated the Kennedy brothers – both rumoured to have had romantic relations with Monroe – from the dead star’s home.

Read the rest.

So did Otash bug Monroe’s home? Neither of our two sources, Marion Phillips, the second in command and operations boss of LAPD’s mob squad, and a former phone company security expert who’d formerly worked for the CIA, said Otash had installed bugs. The two sets of wiring were clearly identifiable, one the FBI’s and the other Spindel’s.

There was no evidence of a third set of bugs, which leads us to suspect Otash may have serviced Spindel’s installation or otherwise shared in it’s fruits. But there was no sign he’d ever planted microphones of his own.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, alarms, hacks, zones


The first of today’s headlines from the realms of state and personal security, militarism, spies, and all the rest begins with an internal security problem in the U.S., the right of citizens of color to treated with dignity by the armed representatives of the state.

From Reuters:

U.N. urges U.S. to stop police brutality after Missouri shooting

The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.

“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Oddly, a Google search turned up only one video on the story, and that from Iran’s PressTV News:

UN watchdog calls on US police to end racism, brutal tactics

Program note:

A United Nations watchdog is calling on the US police to put an end to racism and brutal tactics in the force.

From the American Civil Liberties Union, one step in the right direction, with a caution:

Body-Worn Cameras Should Not Expand Beyond Law Enforcement

The Guardian reported last week that Miami Beach is planning on expanding the use of body cameras beyond the police to include “meter maids,” code enforcement officers, and building and fire inspectors. This use of the technology does not make sense.

We’ve always been concerned about the privacy-invading potential of body cameras. As we wrote in our white paper on the technology,

Body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than [other] deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations. . . . Perhaps most troubling is that some recordings will be made inside people’s homes, whenever police enter—including in instances of consensual entry… and such things as domestic violence calls.

Balanced against these privacy dangers, however, is the significant need to increase oversight in light of the long record of abusive and illegal behavior by police officers (and other law enforcement agents like Border Patrol officers). Police in specific circumstances are given the authority to shoot to kill, to use brutal force, and to arrest citizens—and all too often, officers abuse those powers.

Across the Atlantic with an alarm from the Los Angeles Times:

Britain raises security threat from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’

Responding to recent events in Syria in Iraq, Britain has upgraded its security threat level to “severe,” the government announced Friday, meaning a terrorist attack there is “highly likely.”

The nation’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent body, made the determination based on its latest intelligence, officials said.

This is the first time in three years that the U.K. has been at such a heightened security threat level.

From CBC News, enshrining the national security state:

David Cameron, British PM, plans new laws to tackle terrorism threat

  • U.K. raises terror threat level to severe over Syria, Iraq concerns

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he’ll introduce new laws to combat terror suspects, pledging to seize passports to fight what he described as an extremist threat more dangerous than any previously seen.

Cameron told reporters that while the Taliban facilitated al-Qaeda terrorism, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group is “effectively a state run by terrorists.”

“We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member,” he said.

From TechWeekEurope, protest:

Surveillance Protesters Picket GCHQ

  • Britain’s top secret eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, faces a weekend of protests by privacy campaigners

The security cameras surrounding the Government Communications Headquarters, more commonly known as GCHQ, had a busy Friday with a small group of online activists staging a low-key protest outside.

The small number of protesters on Friday were reportedly outnumbered by the police and members of the media, according to the BBC. There was minor disruption at the Cheltenham site on Friday morning, as GCHQ staff were driven by bus into the site itself, instead of the usual practice of being dropped off outside.

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireA much larger protest by the ‘We Are Anonymous’ group at the Cheltenham site is expected to take place over the weekend.

The protest is in support of a legal challenge by civil liberty groups, including Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. The groups are mounting a legal challenge against the alleged use of mass surveillance by intelligence services.

The New York Times covers blowback from the Bush era:

As Blackwater Trial Closes, Focus Turns to Moments Before Chaos

When jurors begin deliberating next week in the murder and manslaughter trial of four former Blackwater Worldwide contractors, so much will depend not on the frenzied minutes of heavy gunfire in the busy Nisour Square in Baghdad, but on the moments of relative calm just before the chaos.

Traffic had come to a halt on Sept. 16, 2007, as four American armored trucks blocked the entrance to the square. Traffic police waved their arms, and the cars piled up. Then, two vehicles back, on the main artery running north into the traffic circle, a white Kia abruptly lurched forward.

The machine-gun fire was about to begin. Seventeen Iraqis would soon be dead.

Twelve American jurors will have to decide whether it was a massacre, a firefight or a horrible accident of war. The verdict will close seven years of investigation into a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment and was a nadir in the Iraq war. Blackwater, once a major security contractor, came to symbolize American power run amok. The fallout from the shooting unraveled the company, which was sold and renamed Academi.

From TechWeekEurope, cyberwar:

Syrian Malware Team Thought To Be Behind BlackWorm RAT

  • A lesser-known group of pro-government hackers is pushing sophisticated malware

A group calling itself the Syrian Malware Team (SMT) has been spotted carrying out attacks using the sophisticated BlackWorm Remote Access Tool (RAT), with one of the members thought to be responsible for its creation.

According to security vendor FireEye, which identified 11 members of the group, SMT supports the government of Bashir Al-Assad, and even puts the president’s face on its banners.

The group is suspected to have links to the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which has been making headlines following a string of successful attacks against e-commerce sites, social networks and media organisations.

And from Bloomberg News, cyberextortion:

‘Your Money or Your Files’ as Threat of Online Stickups Grows

You’re an entrepreneur, managing the business from your PC. You’re a doting mother, with hundreds of photos of your children on your laptop. Now, if someone seized all those files, how much would you pay to get them back?

There’s nothing theoretical about the scenario. Hundreds of thousands of people have had to wrestle with that question as so-called ransomware infections have surged, encrypting billions of documents. Hackers demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to provide the key that unscrambles files so you can view and use them again. One particularly virulent strain, called CryptoWall, has infected about 625,000 systems and encrypted more than 5.25 billion files since mid-March, according to new research from Dell SecureWorks. One desperate U.S. victim paid the hackers $10,000.

Most malware is like a pickpocket, taking your valuables before you’re aware of it. CryptoWall and other ransomware is like a mugger: your money or your files. It’s smart, really, because in most cases, your files are most valuable to you. It’s also easy money for hackers, a lot less work than trying to sell 40 million purloined card numbers on the black market, a la the Target breach. Keith Jarvis, a SecureWorks researcher in Atlanta, found that 1,683 CryptoWall victims forked over a total of $1.1 million to the hackers.

Bloomberg again, this time toting up a tab:

The Cyber-Terror Bailout: They’re Already Talking About It, and You May Be on the Hook

Bankers and U.S. officials have warned that cyber-terrorists will try to wreck the financial system’s computer networks. What they aren’t saying publicly is that taxpayers will probably have to cover much of the damage.

Even if customers don’t lose money from a hacking assault on JPMorgan Chase & Co., the episode is a reminder that banks with the most sophisticated defenses are vulnerable. Treasury Department officials have quietly told bank insurers that in the event of a cataclysmic attack, they would activate a government backstop that doesn’t explicitly cover electronic intrusions, two people briefed on the talks said.

“I can’t foresee a situation where the president wouldn’t do something via executive order,” said Edward DeMarco, general counsel of the Risk Management Association, a professional group of the banking industry. “All we’re talking about is the difference between the destruction of tangible property and intangible property.”

The Register covers a chilling hack:

Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen

  • I scream, you scream, we all scream ‘DATA BREACH’!

Ice cream mogul Dairy Queen appears to have been breached with hackers likely stealing credit cards from some of its many US stores.

The chilling news comes from sources within the US banking sector who separately told cyber-crime prober Brian Krebs that fraudulent transactions on credit cards appeared to have stemmed from a breach at the company.

Dairy Queen admitted the US Secret Service had been in touch after initial waffle claiming it had no evidence of a breach.

From the Guardian, the corporation strikes again:

US cable giants call on FCC to block cities’ expansion of high-speed internet

  • USTelecom wants to block expansion of popular networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina

The US cable industry called on the Federal Communications Commission on Friday to block two cities’ plans to expand high-speed internet services to their residents.

USTelecom, which represents cable giants Comcast, Time Warner and others, wants the FCC to block expansion of two popular municipally owned high speed internet networks, one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the other in Wilson, North Carolina.

“The success of public broadband is a mixed record, with numerous examples of failures,” USTelecom said in a blog post. “With state taxpayers on the financial hook when a municipal broadband network goes under, it is entirely reasonable for state legislatures to be cautious in limiting or even prohibiting that activity.”

On to drones, starting with this from the Guardian:

California to introduce tough new measures to limit police drone use

  • Bill would require state’s police to seek a warrant for unmanned drone use in virtually all situations other than emergencies

California is poised to introduce tough new controls on police deployment of drones for surveillance, as the debate around the acceptable uses of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) gathers pace.

Bill AB1327 has passed all stages in the California legislature and now awaits the signature of governor Jerry Brown. Should Brown give it the green light, as expected, it would send a powerful message across America about the limits of drone surveillance from the technology capital of the country.

Under the bill, police departments throughout the state would be required to seek a warrant from a judge in virtually all situations other than in emergencies, such as an oil spillage, fire or hostage-taking. Where surveillance images have been recorded, they would have to be destroyed within one year.

And from United Press International, calling Ranger Rick!:

Yellowstone endures third drone violation in less than two months

“Even if we can locate it, is it feasible to remove it?” Yellowstone officials ponder of the second of three recently crashed drones.

Park and wildlife officials in Wyoming are experiencing déjà vu after a third individual was cited for flying an unmanned areal surveillance device in less than two months.

The latest offender was cited Aug. 19 for flying his personal drone in the area around the Midway Geyser Basin according to Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. Unlike past offenders, the latest drone operator managed to avoid harming the national park.

Since National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis banned the use of unmanned areal devices across the park system’s 84 million protected acres in June, three individuals have been cited for flying drones in Yellowstone alone, with a fourth citation in Grand Teton National Park.

From Reuters, summing up:

Ukraine seeks to join NATO; defiant Putin compares Kiev to Nazis

Ukraine called on Friday for full membership in NATO, its strongest plea yet for Western military help, after accusing Russia of sending in armored columns that have driven back its forces on behalf of pro-Moscow rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, defiant as ever, compared Kiev’s drive to regain control of its rebellious eastern cities to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in World War Two. He announced that rebels had succeeded in halting it, and proposed that they now permit surrounded Ukrainian troops to retreat.

Speaking to young people at a summer camp, Putin told his countrymen they must be “ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.” He described Ukrainians and Russians as “practically one people,” language that Ukrainians say dismisses the very existence of their thousand-year-old nation.

From the Independent, a curious tale:

Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast

An oil tanker loaded with $100 million of disputed Iraqi Kurdish crude has disappeared of the coast of Texas in the latest development in a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse between Baghdad and the Kurds.

The AIS ship tracking system used by the U.S. Coast Guard and Reuters on Thursday showed no known position for the United Kalavrvta, which was carrying 1 million barrels of crude and 95 percent full when it went dark.

Several other tankers carrying disputed crude from Iran or Iraqi Kurdistan have unloaded cargoes after switching off their transponders, which makes their movements hard to track.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including ongoing tensions in Pakistan, Abe’s Indian Modhi-vation, Sino-Russian military ties, more Chinese plane posturing and reasons therefor, Chinese courts open, Japan yens for a beefier military, and a curious North Korean defection. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Taps, torture, zones, crime


We’ve been under the weather these last few days, so today’s collection of tales from the dark side has beaucoup items, starting with the latest buggery headline from the Independent:

Israel-Gaza conflict: John Kerry’s phone calls ‘tapped by Israeli government’ while he mediated Middle East peace talks

Israeli intelligence agencies reportedly tapped John Kerry’s phone while the US Secretary of State was in the Middle East trying to negotiate an end to the Gaza conflict.

According to reports in Sunday’s Der Spiegel, Israeli spies listened in on Mr Kerry’s conversations with other high-profile negotiators during the peace talks last year.

Mr Kerry was said to have used both encrypted and standard telephones to discuss issues between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states – and some of those normal calls were reportedly picked up by the authorities in Jerusalem.

Details from the Spiegel report:

During the peak stage of peace talks last year, Kerry spoke regularly with high-ranking negotiating partners in the Middle East. At the time, some of these calls were not made on encrypted equipment, but instead on normal telephones, with the conversations transmitted by satellite. Intelligence agencies intercepted some of those calls. The government in Jerusalem then used the information obtained in international negotiations aiming to reach a diplomatic solution in the Middle East.

In the current Gaza conflict, the Israelis have massively criticized Kerry, with a few ministers indirectly calling on him to withdraw from peace talks. Both the US State Department and the Israeli authorities declined to comment.

Only one week ago, Kerry flew to Israel to mediate between the conflict parties, but the Israelis brusquely rejected a draft proposal for a cease-fire. The plan reportedly didn’t include any language demanding that Hamas abandon its rocket arsenal and destroy its tunnel system. Last year, Kerry undertook intensive diplomatic efforts to seek a solution in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they ultimately failed. Since those talks, relations between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been tense.

And on to the latest evidence of spooks spooking on Congress, via Techdirt:

CIA Spying On The Senate Went Much Further Than Originally Reported

  • from the because-of-course-it-did dept

We already covered how the CIA has admitted to and apologized for its spying on the Senate, but the CIA’s official “unclassified” statement on the matter shows that what the CIA did was even worse than the initial allegations. Here’s the basic summary, according to the CIA’s Inspector General:

  • Agency Access to Files on the SSCI RDINet: Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet.
  • Agency Crimes Report on Alleged Misconduct by SSCI Staff: The Agency filed a crimes report with the DOJ, as required by Executive Order 12333 and the 1995 Crimes Reporting Memorandum between the DOJ and the Intelligence Community, reporting that SSCI staff members may have improperly accessed Agency information on the RDINet. However, the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.
  • Office of Security Review of SSCI Staff Activity: Subsequent to directive by the D/CIA to halt the Agency review of SSCI staff access to the RDINet, and unaware of the D/CIA’s direction, the Office of Security conducted a limited investigation of SSCI activities on the RDINet. That effort included a keyword search of all and a review of some of the emails of SSCI Majority staff members on the RDINet system.
  • Lack of Candor: The three IT staff members demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews by the OIG.

From The Hill, that paragon of Hope™ and Change™ springs to the defense:

President gives vote of confidence to CIA chief

President Obama issued a strong defense of CIA Director John Brennan on Friday in the face of revelations that his agency spied on congressional staffers’ computers.

“I have full confidence in John Brennan,” Obama said in a White House press conference. “I think he has acknowledged — and directly apologized to [Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman] Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.] — that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation into how certain documents that were not authorized to be release to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff.

“It’s clear from the [inspector general] report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled,” Obama added. “Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.”

And from The Wire, gettin’ all folksy and whatever:

Obama Condenses History With These Four Words: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’

President Obama is known for being long-winded, but on Friday he uttered a phrase that may be as blunt as any modern president has ever made.

“We tortured some folks,” the president said toward the end of a White House news conference as he responded to the release of a Senate report on the C.I.A.’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the months after 9/11.

“We crossed a line,” Obama continued. “That needs to be understood and accepted, and we as a country need to take responsibility for that so we don’t do it again in the future.”

From C-SPAN, the money shot:

President Obama: “We tortured some folks.”

Program note:

President Obama answers questions on CIA Spying and Torture Tactics and says, “We tortured some folks.”

MintPress News covers the Big Spin:

State Dept. ‘Torture Talking Points’ Reveal White House PR Machine Ahead Of Senate Report

  • Obama administration to argue that revelation of CIA torture program is an example of “America’s democratic system”.

A State Department document obtained by the Associated Press reveals part of the Obama administration’s attempt to ready its public relations response to an upcoming Senate report on the CIA’s torture program.

Due to be declassified in the coming days, the report is said to criticize the agency for its post-9/11 illegal torture of detainees in secret prisons. The document details some of the administration’s prepared talking points to be used once a White House-approved version of the report is released.

Reportedly sent by accident via email to the AP, the State Department memo describes the report as a demonstration of American democracy, rather than as an indictment of the CIA’s torture practices. The document states that “no American is proud” of the CIA’s tactics, but that “the story” of illegal, indefinite torture and imprisonment is part of a larger message, one in which “America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.” That story, the document proclaims, is one in which Americans can take pride.

While the Observer covers a hoped-for coverup:

Britain ‘attempts to censor’ US report on torture sites

  • US Senate report may confirm that Diego Garcia was used for extraordinary rendition after 9/11

The government stands accused of seeking to conceal Britain’s role in extraordinary rendition, ahead of the release of a declassified intelligence report that exposes the use of torture at US secret prisons around the world.

The Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation programme, due to be released in days, will confirm that the US tortured terrorist suspects after 9/11. In advance of the release, Barack Obama admitted on Friday: “We tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

Now, in a letter to the human rights group Reprieve, former foreign secretary William Hague has confirmed that the UK government has held discussions with the US about what it intends to reveal in the report which, according to al-Jazeera, acknowledges that the British territory of Diego Garcia was used for extraordinary rendition.

And from the McClatchy Washington Bureau, California’s plutocratic senator and a mandated delay:

Citing redactions, Feinstein delays release of report on CIA interrogations

The Obama administration censored significant portions of the findings of an investigation into the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected terrorists, forcing the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to delay their release “until further notice.”

The postponement late Friday added to serious frictions over the investigation between the administration and lawmakers, who have been pressing for the swiftest, most extensive publication of the findings on one of darkest chapters in the CIA’s 65-year history.

Feinstein announced the delay only hours after the White House returned the document to her after it completed its declassification review. It also came after Obama acknowledged hours earlier that interrogators for the spy agency had tortured suspected terrorists.

While the Guardian covers the inevitable torture advocacy:

Senate Republicans to issue minority report on CIA ‘torture’ techniques

  • Saxby Chambliss: ‘information gleaned took down Bin Laden’
  • Majority to allege techniques were unnecessary and unhelpful

Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee will soon release a minority report asserting that the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques helped bring down Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, the panel’s top Republican said on Sunday.

“Information gleaned from these interrogations was in fact used to interrupt and disrupt terrorist plots, including some information that took down Bin Laden,” the Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

The Senate intelligence committee reports will come five years after it authorised an investigation into the use of possible torture by the CIA after the September 11 attacks.

Heading north of the border and a put-up-or-shut-up response via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

China challenges Canada to produce evidence of cyberattacks

China’s ambassador to Canada says if Ottawa has evidence that Beijing is responsible for a cyberattack on a top Canadian research body, it should turn it over to the Chinese government.

“If you have evidence, credible evidence, we will be happy to see that,” Ambassador Luo Zhaohui said in an interview. “Show me the evidence and then we can do something to investigate,” the Chinese envoy said.

This week, for the first time, the Canadian government publicly singled out China for hacking, announcing in a statement that computers at the National Research Council were breached, and pointing to “a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor.”

On to Germany and a decline from Deutsche Welle:

Journalist Greenwald refuses to speak to Germany’s NSA scandal inquiry

Journalist Glenn Greenwald has refused to speak to a German parliamentary inquiry on the NSA scandal. He said the Bundestag’s decision not to interview Edward Snowden is indicative of the committee’s “empty symbolism.”

Greenwald on Friday said he had turned down an invitation to testify before the German parliament later this summer about the NSA spying scandal. The US journalist said that while he was “very supportive of any attempt by the German Parliament to conduct a serious investigation into NSA spying on Germans,” the existing Bundestag inquiry was not that.

“Unfortunately, German politicians have demonstrated, with their refusal to interview the key witness in person – Edward Snowden – that they care far more about not upsetting the US than they do about conducting a serious investigation,” he said in a statement.

Greenwald had been expected to speak to the Bundestag on September 11 via video link from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he lives.

While Ars Technica covers the tech savvy:

Terrorists embracing new Android crypto in wake of Snowden revelations

  • Android is the “preferred platform” for terrorist groups, according to report.

Security researchers announced Friday that they have found new evidence to bolster claims from the National Security Agency that terrorists have altered their countermeasures in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

“Al-Fajr, one of Al-Qaeda’s media arms, released a new Android encryption application [in] early June 2014 on their website, referring to how it follows the “latest technological advancements” and provides ‘4096 bit public key’ encryption,” intelligence firm Recorded Future said in a Friday report.

The report added that Global Islamic Media Front, another arm of Al Qaeda, just released a “new version” of Android crypto software.

After the jump, drone dilemmas, Internet crackdowns and privacy lawsuits, the 411 on Facebook 911 calls, online amnesia laments, USB under seige, homeland insecurity, Scotland Yard corruption, the latest escalation in the Asian Game of Zones, a terrorist who wasn’t, an Israeli call for genocide, and more. . . Continue reading

A crisis in Italy: Mafia toxic waste dumping


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

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Inside Italy’s Secret Toxic Waste Crisis

Program notes:

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

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

Headline of the day II: EconoAggroGrecoCrises


Our collection of headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms opens on a progressive profession from BBC News:

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio targets income gap ‘threat’

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to raise the minimum wage and issue ID papers to undocumented immigrants.

Setting out the policies of his new administration in a State of the City address, Mr de Blasio took aim at the city’s yawning inequality gap.

The 52-year-old also wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund universal pre-kindergarten programmes.

Elected in November, he is New York’s first Democratic mayor in two decades.

From The Guardian, eyes on Oakland from across the pond:

The city that told Google to get lost

Highly paid employees are pushing up rents near the tech giant’s California headquarters, forcing locals out and destroying communities, say activists. Now Oakland’s residents are fighting back – hard. But are they too late?

If pushing your enemy into the sea signifies success, then Google’s decision to start ferrying workers to its campus by boat suggests the revolt against big technology companies is going well. Standing on the docks of Oakland, on the east side of San Francisco Bay, last week, you could watch the Googlers board the ferry, one by one, and swoosh through the chill, grey waters of the bay towards the company’s Mountain View headquarters, 30 or so miles to the south.

Not exactly Dunkirk, but from afar you might have detected a whiff of evacuation, if not retreat. The ferry from Oakland – a week-long pilot programme – joined a similar catamaran service for Google workers in San Francisco launched last month. The search engine giant is not doing it for the bracing sea air. It is a response to blockades and assaults against buses that shuttle employees to work.

From The Independent, that old time religion:

Utah’s Mormons celebrate as polygamy restrictions are struck down

  • Part of law was ruled in violation of First Amendment

A US federal judge has struck down a key part of Utah’s law banning polygamy – providing welcome relief to one practising Mormon family. Joe Darger, who described himself as an “independent Mormon fundamentalist”, has 25 children with three wives.

US District Judge Clark Waddoups threw out part of a bill which allows the state to use cohabitation as a basis for prosecution, although Utah does still prohibit bigamy.

Reuters records a visit:

Obama, France’s Hollande make pilgrimage to Jefferson’s Monticello

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande toured Thomas Jefferson’s plantation estate on Monday in a show of solidarity for Franco-American ties that have endured for more than two centuries despite the occasional tempest.

The visit to Monticello, home to America’s third president, served to showcase a relationship that stretches back to the founding of the United States in the late 18th century, an alliance still strong despite spats over U.S. eavesdropping and trade talks with the European Union.

Hollande, 59, who split from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, last month after an affair with an actress, arrived solo for the first state visit hosted by Obama since he won a second term in 2012.

Heading north of the border with an offer Rob Ford can’t refuse from The Independent:

Canada installs first ever crack-pipe vending machines

  • Controversial vending machines dispense them for $0.25 in attempt to curb spread of HIV and hepatitis

A Canadian NGO has installed crack pipe vending machines in the city of Vancouver in a bid to curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis among users.

The polka-dot vending machines are operated by the Portland Hotel Society, a drug treatment centre, and dispense newly packaged crack pipes like snacks for $0.25 (13p).

The group says the pipes are less likely to chip and cut users’ mouths as a resulting of overheating and overuse, preventing the spread of disease among crack addicts.

“They don’t run the risk of then sharing pipes, or pipes that are chipped or broken,” Kailin See told CTV Vancouver.

On to Europe with bankster news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Eurozone banks will be allowed to fail, says regulator

The incoming head of Europe’s new single banking supervisory authority has warned that weak eurozone banks will be allowed to fail following upcoming stress tests, in an interview in Monday’s Financial Times.

Frenchwoman Daniele Nouy was giving her first interview since being appointed chief of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, set up as part of attempts to stabilise the EU’s banking system and shift the financial costs of failed banks away from sovereign governments

“We have to accept that some banks have no future,” she told the FT. “We have to let some disappear in an orderly fashion, and not necessarily try to merge them with other institutions”.

EurActiv regulates with dubious efficacy:

EU rules to light up derivatives markets set for shaky start

New rules coming into force in Europe this week to shine more light on the $700 trillion (€513 trillion) derivatives markets will take years to produce a clearer picture of these complex products which were at the heart of the financial crisis.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 markets were in the dark over a tangle of derivatives on the US investment bank’s books. Financial markets froze because of uncertainty about who was exposed to Lehman’s derivatives, such as credit default swaps or interest rate swaps. US insurer AIG also ran up big losses linked to derivatives.

In response, politicians and regulators around the world called for action to make risks easier to spot in this opaque part of global financial markets.

The new EU rules, coming in on Wednesday, aim to increase transparency by requiring reporting of transactions.

On to Britain and a warning from the London Telegraph:

Lord Turner: UK economy is like 90s Japan

  • City regulator during the 2007/8 crisis says that the UK has not rebalanced its economy, and risks further shocks as a result

Lord Turner has warned that the UK has failed to rebalance its economy and is simply repeating the errors made in the run-up to the 2007/8 financial crisis.

The self-styled technocrat, who was chairman of the City regulator until last April, likened the domestic economy over the last five years to Japan in the 1990s.

The former Financial Services Authority chief – who made it on to the shortlist to replace Lord King as Governor of the Bank of England – said that although the economy was now showing obvious signs of growth, there was the potential that it will not be sustained due to the continued build up of credit in the system.

“The concerning thing about the UK economy is that from 2009 until early last year, a lot of the debate was around the need to rebalance, from being over focused on financial services and the housing market,” Lord Turner told The Telegraph.

The Independent doesn’t feel the love:

Where is the love? Majority of international students in the UK do not feel welcome

The majority of international students studying in the UK feel unwelcome in the country with a significant number saying they would not recommend to their friends that they come here to attend university, says a survey published on Monday.

A study of the attitudes of 3,100 international students by the National Union of Students revealed that more than 50 per cent believed the UK Government was either “not welcoming” or “not welcoming at all towards overseas students”.

Figures show PhD students are most likely to feel unwelcome (65.8 per cent) with those from Japan (64.5 per cent), Nigeria (62.8 per cent) and India (62 per cent) the next most likely to say they have received hostile treatment. Students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria are most likely to advise their friends not to study here.

The Guardian, with banksters doing what bankster do:

City bonus row reignites with Barclays to admit £2bn in payments

  • Bonus payout contrasts with bank boss Antony Jenkins’ pledge for restraint and helps push total since 2008 crisis towards £80bn

Controversy over City bonuses will be reignited this week when Barclays admits it paid its staff more than last year, fuelling predictions that the amount of bonuses paid out across the Square Mile since the 2008 crisis could soon hit £80bn.

Barclays is expected to reveal on Tuesday that its bonus pot topped £2bn last year – more than it paid out in the previous 12 months – despite a pledge by its boss Antony Jenkins to show restraint on pay.

Starting the reporting season for the high-street banks, Barclays will be followed in the coming fortnight by bailed-out banks Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as HSBC, in disclosing how much each has paid in bonuses for 2013.

The Irish Times gives us the latest instance of Banksters Behaving Badly, this time involving the €12.3 million collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, the biggest bustout in Irish history:

Seán Quinn suspected Anglo was doing ‘a sweetheart deal’

  • Businessman tells court the bank knew it was in serious trouble from November 2007

Former businessman Sean Quinn has told the Anglo Irish Bank trial that he suspected Anglo was “doing a sweetheart deal” when it forced him to sell his stake in the bank.

Mr Quinn, who admitted he used to be Ireland’s richest man, said he could not understand why the share price of Anglo fell so much in July 2008 as the deal was going through. He said that he approached a solicitor in London about the matter.

Mr Quinn told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that the bank knew from November 2007 that it was in serious trouble but that Sean FitzPatrick and David Drumm maintained it was “in rude health” as late as September 2008, shortly after the bank guarantee.

On to France and presidential woes from The Guardian:

Sluggish French growth figures pile more pressure on François Hollande

  • Bank of France forecasts economy will grow 0.2% in January-March compared with the final quarter of 2013

France will eke out meagre economic growth in the first three months of 2014, a spokesman for the central bank said on Monday, as the eurozone’s second-biggest economy struggles to avoid falling further behind the pack.

Data on Monday indicated that French industrial production dropped 0.3% in December by comparison with November, falling short of expectations, although the figure for the fourth quarter as a whole was positive.

The weakness of France’s recovery is adding to pressure on President François Hollande to deliver faster growth. The deeply unpopular Socialist leader has embarked on a shift to more business-friendly policies to bring down near-record unemployment.

France 24 hits the picket lines:

Mass taxi strike strands Paris commuters, tourists

Hundreds of taxis gathered at Paris airports before dawn on Monday as part of a nationwide protest against what cab drivers say is unfair competition posed by a recent surge in popularity of chauffeured cars offered by private companies, or VTCs.

The striking taxis gathered at 6am local time at Charles de Gaulle airport amid a cacophony of blaring horns and under a banner reading “55,000 angry taxis”, with one airport source saying no taxis were servicing the airport, a major international hub.

At regional hub Orly, a hundred vehicles blocked taxi queues to prevent cars from picking up passengers.

Would-be taxi drivers face exorbitant fees ahead of receiving an operating license, often running into the hundreds of thousands.

Switzerland next, and post-electoral anxiety from TheLocal.ch:

Government in damage control mode after vote

Reeling from a vote to cap EU immigration, Switzerland’s government and business community moved on Monday to limit the damage to trade ties with the big European bloc.

Swiss President and Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter played down talk of a “Black Sunday” in ties with Brussels, after 50.3 percent of voters backed a referendum proposal to end a seven-year-old pact that gave equal footing to most EU citizens in the Swiss labour market.

“We need to avoid that kind of language,” he told reporters.

“Switzerland is not going to rip up its deal with the EU on freedom of movement,” he insisted.

EUbusiness covers another set of winners:

Swiss vote is boon for far-right ahead of EU parliament vote

Anti-EU parties already expected to do well in European Parliament elections in May claim the Swiss vote to curb immigration vindicates their stand.

“What the Swiss can do, we can do too,” said Geert Wilders, leader of Holland’s extreme-right PVV.

France’s extreme right National Front party too hailed “the Swiss people’s lucidity,” calling for Paris to stop “mass immigration” while Austria’s far-right FPO party said the country would vote the same way given the chance.

“With the (Swiss) referendum, it becomes more likely that the anti-Europeans will represent the biggest group in the European parliament, with a quarter of the MEPs,” German daily Tagesspiegel said.

Another potential blowback from New Europe:

After the Swiss referendum: the possible return of bank secrecy

The result of the Sunday referendum in Switzerland has stunned the EU. Many politicians reacted with dismay, sometimes even bordering on anger. Thus, Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean Asselborn said: “I respect the decision of the Swiss people… but the Swiss people must also respect the values of the EU.”

The same tone was heard from the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who said on Monday that Europe would review its relations with Switzerland after the “worrying” Swiss vote to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union. “In my opinion it’s bad news both for Europe and for the Swiss because Switzerland will be penalised if it withdraws,” Fabius said. “We’re going to review our relations with Switzerland,” he said.

The withdrawal in question would be Switzerland’s retreat from the Schengen agreement, of which Switzerland is one of the signatories, but which cannot be applied selectively.

The Commission was less vociferous, with the spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen stating on Monday only that “ The Commission regrets the initiative, since it infringes the principle of the free movement”. “Will examine politically and juridically our relations with Switzerland, but restrictions are unacceptable”, she said.”

Counting costs with EUobserver:

Swiss vote jeopardises involvement in multi-billion EU programmes

The EU’s multi-billion research programme Horizon 2020 and its Erasmus student exchange with Switzerland hang in the balance following a Swiss vote over the weekend in favour imposing quotas on EU migrants.

The two would automatically be suspended should Switzerland move to include limits on EU’s newest member state, Croatia. Both agreements are conditioned on free movement.

Croatia is scheduled to sign off on a reciprocal free movement agreement with Switzerland on 1 July. All other member states have a similar agreement.

Still more blowback from Deutsche Welle:

Swiss vote to stem immigration could cause ‘a lot of problems’

Switzerland’s neighbors and the EU say they regret the country’s narrow vote to limit annual migration inflows. Veteran German politician Wolfgang Schäuble warns of “a lot of problems” for the Swiss government in Bern.

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Germany respected the result of Switzerland’s vote. However, he added, it “raises considerable problems,” and said that Merkel had repeatedly stated free movement was a “prized asset” for Germany.

The European Commission said in a statement released after the referendum that it regretted the decision, and would “analyze the consequences of this initiative to our relations in general.”

Despite voicing regret about the result, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned against ignoring the sentiment expressed.

“Of course this does show a little that people are increasingly uneasy about unlimited freedom of movement in this world of globalization. I believe we must take this seriously,” Schäuble said on ARD public television. “We regret this decision. It will cause a lot of problems for Switzerland.”

And a parallel story from TheLocal.ch:

Foreigner jobless rate rises again in January

The unemployment rate in Switzerland remained at 3.5 percent in January, unchanged from the previous month, but the percentage of expats out of work rose again, figures released by the government showed on Monday.

The number of people registered for jobless benefits edged higher to 153,260 people, up 3,823 from December 2013, the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said.

But the level of unemployed foreigners in the country jumped significantly to 7.1 percent in January from 6.9 percent the previous month, while the rate for Swiss nationals stayed unchanged at 2.4 percent.

The rate of expat jobless in Switzerland, accounting for almost half the unemployed in the country, has grown every month for the past several months.

On to Spain, and a change underway from TheLocal.es:

3.5 million ‘Spanish’ Jews to apply for citizenship

Jewish associations expect 3.5 million Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish citizenship after Spain’s Justice Ministry approved a draft law which will allow them to return to the country their ancestors were kicked out of more than 500 years ago.

The descendants of Sephardic Jews banished from Spain in 1492 will now be able to regain Spanish nationality under a new law approved by Madrid’s Cabinet of Ministers on Friday.

Those who can prove their Spanish origins will be able to apply for dual nationality at the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, El Mundo newspaper reported on Sunday.

According to Israel’s Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese Association (OLEI), the newly-approved legislation has already resulted in a flurry of applications from Sephardic Jews around the world.

TheLocal.es trods the boards:

Abortion takes centre stage at Spain’s Oscars

A controversial plan in Spain to scrap easy access to abortions took centre stage at the Goya Awards, the country’s equivalent of the Oscars, with several actresses slamming the reform as they accepted their prizes.

The ceremony was broadcast live on public television network TVE to an estimated audience of 3.6 million people.

The issue has prompted deep debate and big protests in Spain, with many opposed to the conservative government’s draft law unveiled in December that would allow abortion only in cases of rape or health risk to the mother.

Critics say the measure scrapping more liberal access to abortion would throw the Catholic country back decades, when Spanish women had to go abroad to seek pregnancy terminations.

If the law is adopted, Spain would be the first country in the 28-member European Union to reverse legalizing abortion.

On to Portugal and a pronouncement from El País:

“Portugal is not going to need a second bailout”

  • Economy Minister António Pires de Lima says the program will be exited with a growing economy

May 17 is a key date for Portugal. It’s the day on which the 78-billion-euro bailout program it sought in April 2011 is due to end and Portugal will supposedly fully return to the sovereign debt market to fund itself. However, it remains to be seen how Spain’s Iberian neighbor will emerge from this financial assistance program; whether it will be a clean break without any further support, or the current bailout will be replaced by a softer rescue package that still involves some form of external help.

In an interview with EL PAÍS, Portuguese Economy Minister António Pires de Lima explains that the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho will unveil its plans when it believes the moment is right to do so. He is encouraged by the fact the Portuguese economy is already on the road to recovery, although this has yet to become a reality for the population at large.

Among other draconian measures, a brutal increase in taxes, the elimination of extra payments for civil servants and pensioners, wage cuts, and the increase in the standard value-added tax rate to 23 percent have all hit the middle classes hard. The 2014 state budget maintains the fiscal adjustment drive of the previous two years. On top of the withdrawal of extra payments and cuts in salaries introduced in 2012 and the rise in taxes in 2013, this year’s budget also includes a further cut in wages for civil servants earning more than 675 euros a month.

The Portugal News excludes:

Dictator can’t buy Portuguese bank- MEP

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes told Lusa on Friday that the Bank of Portugal and the Portuguese Stock Market Regulator (CMVM) had to fulfill “their role” and stop Equatorial Guinea buying into troubled bank Banif and that she was going to ask the European Commission (EC) to step in.

“This is yet another case where I have to intervene and ask the EC to ensure that a bank that is being rescued with funds that are part of Portugal’s bailout loan, and which are going to have to be paid back by Portuguese taxpayers, is not bought up in part by a corrupt and criminal regime as part of a money laundering scheme”, the Socialist MEP told Lusa News Agency.

“I think it is unbelievable that something like this can happen and hope that the Bank of Portugal and the CMVM do their job properly and do not allow this to happen because it is extremely dangerous for BANIF and I would like to alert all account holders about how incredibly dangerous it is going to be to have financing from somewhere like Equatorial Guinea, a sinister regime that is flagged on all indexes of dictatorial, miserable regimes where the population gets poorer and poorer while the presidential family lines their pockets on a daily basis”, she said.

On to Italy and more bad news from TheLocal.it:

Recovery hopes dwindle as Italian industry lags

A 0.9-percent slump in Italy’s industrial production in December, following three months of consecutive increases, disappointed investors on Monday and cast a shadow over hopes for a recovery this year.

The official data from the Istat agency showed industrial production was also down 0.7 percent from December 2012 and down 3.0 percent over all of 2013.

Analysts had expected the monthly figure to remain unchanged, after the economy in the third quarter formally ended two painful years of recession with zero growth in Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“The result does not question the forecast of a return to growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 but it does confirm that the recovery will be very gradual,” said Paolo Mameli, an economist from Intesa Sanpaolo bank. The fourth quarter figure will be announced on Friday.

After the jump, the latest crises news from Greece, Bosnian outrage, Ukrainian regime change dreaming, Mexican vigilantes, Indian worries and wages, Thai troubles, neoliberalism moves in Myanmar, development bank devastation in Cambodia, Aussie auto woes, the latest Chinese angst, more down numbers in Japan, energy environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFukuish


We begin in the U.S., first with a corporate fail quickly amended from the Los Angeles Times:

McDonald’s kills employee-resource website critical of fast food

McDonald’s has taken down its resource website for its employees — the one that advised that fast food was unhealthy — after realizing, the company says, that the site linked to “irrelevant or outdated” information.

The fast-food giant was a subject of ridicule and other unwanted attention this week after photos surfaced of infographics on the website, McResource Line. Under a section of the site titled “fast food tips,” a picture of a meal of fries, a burger and a soft drink were labeled “unhealthy choice,” while a picture of a submarine sandwich, salad and water was labeled “healthier choice.”

The infographics and posts were created by a third-party provider for the McDonald’s site.

Reuters boosts:

U.S. jobless claims fall, holiday retail sales rise

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly a month, a hopeful sign for the labor market, while holiday retail sales rose in November and December.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Los Angeles Times covers a corporate giveaway:

Hollywood’s new financiers make deals with state tax credits

Brokers take the credits given to studios for location filming and sell them to wealthy people and companies looking to shave their state tax bills.

About $1.5 billion in film-related tax breaks, rebates and grants were paid out or approved by nearly 40 states last year, according to Times research. That’s up from $2 million a decade ago, when just five states offered incentives, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation.

Film tax credits have become so integral to the filmmaking process that they often determine not only where but if a movie gets made. Studios factor them into film budgets, and producers use the promise of credits to secure bank loans or private investment capital to hire crews and build sets.

CNBC entitles:

New mortgage rules may favor wealthiest borrowers

New mortgage rules that go into effect Jan. 10 are designed to protect borrowers and lenders from the ills of the last housing crash. If lenders apply the rules, they are protected from legal recourse by borrowers or investors should the loans go bad.

The rules, however, are not mandatory, and some lenders say they will make loans outside of them, especially in the jumbo and adjustable-rate spaces.

The Hill backs down:

Regulators agree to revisit ‘Volcker Rule’

Financial regulators are considering a fresh exemption to the “Volcker Rule” just weeks after they finalized the long-awaited crackdown on risky trading.

Facing a legal challenge from banks, the Federal Reserve and other Wall Street watchdogs on Friday said they were reviewing whether it would be appropriate to exempt a small subset of securities from the rule. A final decision will be announced by Jan. 15.

Industry groups have threatened to sue the government if the exemption is not granted.

The Independent has a Randian wet dream:

Super-yacht not big enough? ‘Seasteads’ offer libertarians the vision of floating cities for the future

For (very) wealthy libertarians, seasteads – floating cities – might be the way forward, with their ambition of ‘guaranteeing political freedom and enabling experimentation with alternative social systems’

Available soon, for sale or rent: brand new island with sea views from the terrace, fresh fish daily and swimming pool in the resort hotel. An ideal base for 225 pioneers with £100m-plus to spare and a yearning for a new political and social system.

And if you don’t like it, no problem. Hitch the house to the back of a tug boat and try somewhere else.

For the right-wing American libertarian with deep-seated problems with Big Government, the 19th century challenge to “Go West, young man” retains a powerful appeal. But for the current target audience – the free-wheeling capitalist dotcom millionaire in Silicon Valley – going west means getting wet.

The London Daily Mail calls up an austerian posse in Oregon:

Residents form ‘vigilante groups’ after cuts to sheriff department’s budget mean police only respond to life-threatening incidents

  • 12-strong ‘response team’ armed with guns will operate around the clock
  • Follows government cuts, and residents refusing tax hike, forcing state-funded departments to scale back operations
  • Josephine County police dept has had to release prisoners and cut hours

POLITICO exposes a farce:

‘Small typo’ casts big doubt on teacher evaluations

A single missing suffix among thousands of lines of programming code led a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., to be erroneously fired for incompetence, three teachers to miss out on $15,000 bonuses and 40 others to receive inaccurate job evaluations.

The miscalculation has raised alarms about the increasing reliance nationwide on complex “value-added” formulas that use student test scores to attempt to quantify precisely how much value teachers have added to their students’ academic performance. Those value-added metrics often carry high stakes: Teachers’ employment, pay and even their professional licenses can depend on them.

The Nation covers another Obama corporate surrender:

Ted Mitchell, Education Dept. Nominee, Has Strong Ties to Pearson, Privatization Movement

As head of the NewSchools Venture Fund, Mitchell oversees investments in education technology start-ups. In July, Zynga, the creators of FarmVille, provided $1 million to Mitchell’s group to boost education gaming companies. Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and textbook companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school, Connections Academy.

Jeff Bryant, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, says it seems likely that Mitichell will “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”

From the Atlantic Monthly, doctorates on aisle 4:

‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’

As colleges feel pressure to graduate more students for less money, professors worry that the value of an education may be diminished.

Universities in South Dakota, Nebraska, and other states have cut the number of credits students need to graduate. A proposal in Florida would let online courses forgo the usual higher-education accreditation process. A California legislator introduced a measure that would have substituted online courses for some of the brick-and-mortar kind at public universities.

Some campuses of the University of North Carolina system are mulling getting rid of history, political science, and various others of more than 20 “low productive” programs. The University of Southern Maine may drop physics. And governors in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have questioned whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing public universities for teaching the humanities.

Salon delivers a smackdown:

Paul Ryan lectures the pope

The Catholic conservative who insists he cares about the poor says Pope Francis doesn’t understand capitalism

“The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina,” Ryan said (referring to the pope as “the guy” is a nice folksy touch.) “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.”

Independent.ie unfriends:

Young users see Facebook as ‘dead and buried’

A study of how older teenagers in eight countries use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, one of the researchers working on the project, said in a blog post: “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it.

“This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks instead, while the worst people of all, their parents, continue to use the service.

Off to Britain with BBC News booming:

UK could be Europe’s ‘largest’ economy by 2030

The UK will be in a position to overtake Germany as Europe’s largest economy, according to the think tank the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR).

The CEBR predicts that Germany will lose its current top spot in Europe by 2030.

It cites the UK’s population growth as an aid to economic acceleration.

The Guardian admonishes:

Rising household debt is cause for alarm, warns thinktank IPPR

IPPR warns Help to Buy scheme risks pumping up housing market bubble and puts recent recovery at risk

George Osborne has been warned that his policies to boost the economy will lead to ballooning household debt.

The Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR), the left-of-centre thinktank, said the chancellor’s attempts to increase business lending had been a failure and that by resorting to policies such as Help to Buy in the housing market he risked undermining the recent recovery.

Intolerance from The Independent:

Islamophobia: Surge revealed in anti-Muslim hate crimes

Many forces reported a particular rise in anti-Islam hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby

Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed.

Hundreds of offences were perpetrated against the country’s Muslim population in 2013, with the Metropolitan police alone – Britain’s largest force – recording 500 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 336 incidents in 2012 and 318 in 2011.

From The Guardian, unsurprising:

Fury with MPs is main reason for not voting — poll

Poll reveals anger, not boredom, lies behind drop in political engagement

Nearly half of Britons say they are angry with politics and politicians, according to a Guardian/ICM poll analysing the disconnect between British people and their democracy.

The research, which explores the reasons behind the precipitous drop in voter turnout – particularly among under-30s – finds that it is anger with the political class and broken promises made by high-profile figures that most rile voters, rather than boredom with Westminster.

Sweden next with TheLocal.se and profits from poverty:

Financier fears ‘populist welfare profit debate’

A high-profile financier has withdrawn his support from the Social Democrats, stating that both the opposition and the government risk populist pandering with moves to curtail profits in the welfare sector.

Swedish businessman Carl Bennet, who owns shares in companies that employ over 17,000 people, said on Friday he would no longer voice his support for the socialist opposition due to its critique against venture capital firms making a profit in the tax-funded welfare sector.

“Populism is concealing something that fundamentally is good for the Swedish people,” Bennet told the business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

Germany next, with that good old money via The Local.de:

Germans still have €7 billion worth of D-Marks

Germany’s central bank believes nearly €7 billion-worth of the country’s old currency is still floating around, 12 years after the switch to the euro.

The Bundesbank’s last check in November revealed that there were around 170 million Deutsch Mark (D-Mark) notes unaccounted for, and 24 billion coins. This would make 13.05 billion D-Marks, or €6.67 billion.

But the Bundesbank said this was not a problem, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday. “A huge amount of D-Marks have been handed over anyway,” it said in a statement.

France next and a fail from The Independent:

François Hollande heading for crisis as he fails to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment

President François Hollande suffered a blow tonight to what remains of his credibility with news that he had failed to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of this year.

Anxiously awaited jobless figures for November showed that the number of people without employment in France had increased by 17,500, almost wiping out a modest a reduction in French dole queues in October.

More from the London Telegraph:

François Hollande ‘in denial’ over France’s unemployment

François Hollande accused of cooking unemployment statistics after he insists he is still on track for reversing the jobless trend by year’s end despite figures suggesting the reverse

François Hollande’s credibility is lying in tatters after figures indicated he had failed to deliver on a central government promise to “turn the tide” on unemployment by year’s end.

Riding lower in the polls than any of his postwar predecessors, the Socialist leader chose to defy predictions by the IMF, the European Commission and the vast majority of private economists to bank on a turnaround in French unemployment by the end of 2013.

The Guardian crashes, doesn’t burn:

Elysée palace protester against arts cuts used car as weapon, say French police

Director angered by his theatre’s subsidy loss tried to crash through presidential palace gates

The director of a Paris theatre was arrested on Thursday after trying to force his way into the Elysée presidential palace by crashing his car against its gates.

A security cordon was thrown around the building after police took 67-year-old Italian Attilio Maggiulli into custody on charges of damaging a public utility, endangering lives and violence against a public servant with an weapon, his car.

The suspect wanted to bring to President François Hollande’s attention the cuts in public subsidies to his theatre, the Comédie Italienne, police said. He was reported to have sprayed his car with white spirit and “lightly tapped” the gates “at a slow speed” at around 10am.

On to Spain with El País and a chill:

Cabinet to approve minimum wage freeze, say unions

CCOO and UGT argue that workers’ purchasing power has not stopped falling since 2007

The Cabinet is expected today to approve a freeze on the minimum wage for next year, unions said Thursday.

This would mean that salaries will remain at a minimum of 645.30 euros per month in 14 payments. In other words, workers who put in a full day’s work in Spain will earn at least 9,034.20 euros annually.

The CCOO and UGT unions made the government’s proposed freeze public in joint statements in which they rejected the government’s plan.

thinkSPAIN inflates:

Train fares and electricity rise at 10 times the level of inflation

TRAIN fares on regional lines will go up by 1.9 per cent on January 1, the same day that electricity will rise in price by 2.3 per cent, the PP government has announced.

Both are way above inflation – which is 0.2 per cent in the last year – but lower than the train fare increase of January 1, 2013 when these rose by three per cent.

Medium-distance and provincial lines, known as Cercanías, are considered ‘public services’, which means their prices are State-controlled.

El País dissents:

Dissenting voices against abortion reform grow within Popular Party

Central government delegate in Madrid and Basque assembly spokesman speak out against restrictive bill

Socialists vow to take opposition to the measure onto European stage

The central government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, has expressed her personal opposition to the government’s draft abortion reform. Although Popular Party (PP) official Cifuentes, who recently returned to the public eye after sustaining serious injuries in a motorcycle accident, recognized that the legislation was an electoral promise that had to be carried through, she said that she preferred the previous system of time periods to the government’s proposal to return to a system of scenarios.

Under 2010 legislation introduced by the previous Socialist government, a woman could freely terminate a pregnancy up to 14 weeks. The new draft law, passed by the Cabinet this month ahead of debate on the floor of Congress, allows for abortion in only two instances: rape, and the risk of serious psychological or physical harm to the mother.

Off to Lisbon with the Portugal News:

Portuguese among Europe’s most pessimistic

Portuguese citizens are among the most pessimistic in Europe when it comes to the economic outlook and only outstripped in their negativity by the Cypriots and Greeks according to a recent Eurobarometer study.

A total of 64 percent of Portuguese citizens declared they were pessimistic about the future of the European economy with only citizens in Cyprus and Greece, 66 percent and 69 percent respectively, returning more negative outlooks as against a European Union average in which 51 percent managed to express optimism.

Of the 1,047 Portuguese citizens who responded, 77 percent identified unemployment as a cause for concern, against a European Union average of 49 percent while the economic situation concerned 39 percent of respondents against an average 33 percent.

Xinhua warns:

Interview: IMF official warns next year not to be cakewalk for Portugal

Portugal seems to be ending 2013 on a good note. Earlier this month the Portuguese central bank improved its 2013 and 2014 economic outlook and on Friday the national institute of statistics (INE) unveiled that Portugal might have reached the target it agreed with its international creditors commission for this year.

However, Portugal’s implementation of the bailout program with the troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank next year “won’t be a cakewalk”, IMF Resident Representative in Lisbon Albert Jaeger told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“The economy is still at the early stages of recovery following a pretty long slump in activity,”he said,”so big challenges are still to be tackled.”

The Portugal News walks out:

Chaos looms as strikes are promised to continue into the New Year

This year’s New Year celebrations could be spoiled for many should a series of strikes announced for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day by airlines, airport ground-staff, public transport companies and even hotel workers go ahead as planned, causing widespread travel disruption and general frustration and disappointment from north to south of the country.

The Portugal News with another walkout:

Tax offices shut down

Tax and customs offices around Portugal were closed for much of the past week as workers protested against planned cuts to the service and worsening prospects for public employees’ pay and conditions.

Off to Italy and a necessary move from The Local.it:

Italy transfers migrants from scandal-hit centre

Italy on Tuesday transferred migrants from a centre on the tiny island of Lampedusa at the heart of a controversy over unsanitary conditions and mistreatment, as protests continued in other facilities.

Nine migrants at an expulsion centre near Rome’s airport have also sewn their mouths shut and a total of 37 are on hunger strike, said the director of the centre, Vincenzo Lutrelli, Italian media reported.

“I hope that this being Christmas Eve there will be an end to the protest,” said Lutrelli, who has supported the initiative to draw attention to the long months in which migrants are held in prison-like condition

TheLocal.it unstitches:

Migrants end sewn mouths protest in Italy

A dozen migrants who had sewn their mouths shut in an immigrant detention centre outside Rome ended their protest on Friday, officials at the facility and a visiting parliamentary delegation said.

The last of the migrants taking part allowed medical personnel to remove the thread he had used to stitch his lips and the migrants also ended a hunger strike.

ANSAmed loses:

South Italy has lost ‘600,000 jobs in 6 years’

South GDP eroded of 43.7 billion euros during crisis

Southern Italy has lost 600,000 jobs over the past six years and the economic crisis has wiped out some 43.7 billion euros of area’s gross domestic product, according to data released by industrial employers’ association Confindustria Friday.

And TheLocal.it ponies up:

Italy pledges €800m to fight poverty in 2014

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Friday that the coalition government will spend €800 million on fighting poverty next year as more Italians struggle to make ends meet.

A report by Eurostat in early December revealed that 29.9 percent of Italians were suffering, or risked suffering, poverty in 2012, a figure surpassed in the Eurozone only by Greece.

Letta said on Friday that the government had raised an extra €300 million in addition to the €500 million already allocated to fight poverty.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Russian woes, Indonesian anxiety, Chinese transformations continue, environmental threats, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading