Category Archives: Organized crime

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoCorpoFukuChaos


A phenomenal amount happening as the pact accelerates. Be sure to continue after the jump for Greek woes, confrontation in Kyiv, Thai turmoil on the brink, Russian blues, Chinese surge, Japanese woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

Because of limited time, we’ll just name the publications and let the headlines tell the tale, starting with the end of an era from PRI International’s The World:

Say a final farewell to the VW minibus — the vehicle that defined the 60s

In the US and Europe, the Kombi is synonymous with 1960s hippie culture. But in Brazil, the Kombi has been for decades a modern-day workhorse, serving as ambulance, school bus, hearse and street and hot dog stall. It’s been produced in Brazil — mostly by hand — since 1957, about seven years after it first rolled off the assembly lines in Germany.

From the Asahi Shimbun, our first trade tale:

TPP talks likely to go into 2014 as Japan, U.S. remain at odds over tariffs

Japan’s rejection of U.S. demands to end tariffs on politically sensitive farm produce means a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade arrangement is unlikely by the end of December.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, said Japan cannot agree on tariff cuts on Dec. 10, the final day of a four-day TPP ministerial meeting here, unless the United States makes substantial concessions.

More from Jiji Press:

Countries End TPP Ministerial Meeting without Deal

While noting “substantial progress toward completing” the TPP agreement, the 12 countries failed to resolve their differences in outstanding issues, including tariffs.

As a result, they agreed to hold a ministerial meeting again in January 2014, abandoning their goal of reaching a political agreement on important issues by the end of the year.

A video report on what’s at stake from RT:

Corporations may snatch Pacific rim’s $20trn market as US pushes deal

Published on Dec 10, 2013

The US is ramping up pressure to secure a Trans-Pacific Trade Deal with conditions that could undermine the national interests of nations involved. WikiLeaks documents say talks are “paralyzed,” with the US refusing to compromise on disputed issues.

A major economic segment from JapanToday:

New consoles, online games to keep global market soaring until 2017

The global video gaming market is set to grow 11.1% a year until 2017, boosted by a new generation of consoles and the increasing popularity of online games, according to IDATE digital research and consultancy firm.

The market, estimated at 53.9 billion euros ($73.8 billion) this year, is expected to soar to 82.1 billion euros in 2017, the France-based firm said in a report.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore with numbers:

Unemployment rate in rich countries steady: OECD

The unemployment rate across rich countries held steady for the second straight month at 7.9 per cent in October, the OECD said on Tuesday with 47.8 million people officially without work in the 34 countries.

From Spiegel, vampire squids:

Cartel Power: Megabanks Gain Ground Despite Fines

Authorities around the world are taking action against large banks for questionable practices including collusion and rate manipulation, but the power of these financial institutions continues to grow. Germany’s Deutsche Bank in particular finds itself under fire.

CNN posits the imponderable:

What if the economic recovery is doomed?

It’s getting late. And it’s getting dangerous. Since World War II, economic expansions have averaged 58 months between recessions. January 2014 will be month 54. Could another recession arrive before we’ve put back to work everyone who lost a job in the last recession? The answer seems almost certainly: yes.

And on to the U.S. and a sadly done deal,m screwing those who need help most, via Bloomberg:

U.S. Budget Agreement Eases Spending Cuts Over Two Years

U.S. budget negotiators unveiled an agreement to ease automatic spending cuts by about $60 billion over two years and reduce the deficit by $23 billion, breaking a three-year cycle of fiscal standoffs.

The budget proposal, which will be considered by the House later this week, would set U.S. spending at about $1.01 trillion for this year, higher than the $967 billion required in a 2011 budget accord. Spending for defense is $520.5 billion and for non-defense $491.8 billion.

Obama urged lawmakers to pass an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, which expire this month. The deal doesn’t include the jobless aid.

The Guardian notes inequity:

Let’s get this straight: AIG execs got bailout bonuses, but pensioners get cuts

No one has accused city workers in Chicago or Detroit of bringing down the economy, but they could face pension cuts

Salon has the despicable:

New York Post editorial board: NYC “too generous” to city’s homeless

Responding to a landmark New York Times profile of the city’s homeless, the Post says it’s all “hooey”

London Telegraph marks a passage:

Wall Street banks lose battle over Volcker Rule

The new rules will restrict compensation arrangements at banks to discourage employees from making “risky” trades

Wall Street banks are to be banned from gambling their own funds for profit, after US regulators voted in the the controversial Volcker Rule, designed to reduce risk-taking by major financial institutions.

From Oakland Tribune, smoke, no mirrors:

Legal pot supported by California majority for first time, Field Poll shows

For the first time in 44 years, a clear majority of California voters favors legalizing marijuana, a new Field Poll found.

And where there’s smoke, there might soon be fire: A specific legalization ballot initiative now seeking signatures to get on next November’s ballot also has majority support, the poll found.

“Debating about whether to legalize now is pointless, because we’re going to,” said Mark A.R. Kleiman, a UCLA professor and drug policy expert. “The smart debate is about how we’ll do it.”

Details from the Sacramento Bee:

Eight percent of voters backed allowing anyone to purchase cannabis and 47 percent said it should be available with the types of controls, like age verification, that govern alcohol sales.

Those two groups combined account for 55 percent of voters surveyed, marking a breakthrough for marijuana advocates: It is the first time a Field Poll has discovered clear majority support for legalization. A combined 50 percent backed the notion in 2010, when a legalization ballot initiative went down to defeat.

And Reuters goes one better:

Uruguay becomes first country to legalize marijuana trade

Uruguay became the first country to legalize the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana on Tuesday, a pioneering social experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization.

A government-sponsored bill approved by 16-13 votes in the Senate provides for regulation of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana and is aimed at wresting the business from criminals in the small South American nation.

A parenthetical note from The Independent:

People who drink alcohol outlive those who abstain, study shows

A contentious new study is suggesting people who drink regularly live longer than those who completely abstain from drinking.

Research published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found those who did not consume any alcohol appeared to have a higher mortality rate, regardless of whether they were former heavy drinkers or not, than those who drank heavily.

CNBC, an uptick:

Small business optimism edged up in November amid some hiring

U.S. small business optimism edged higher in November—reversing an October drop—as manufacturers and professional services, including architects, doctors and lawyers, led modest gains in newly created Main Street jobs.

The National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that its small business optimism Index nudged up 0.9 of a point to 92.5 last month, up from 91.6 for October.

From China Daily, hooking up:

California police department will sign up for Sina Weibo – Chinese ‘twitter’

In an unusual move to reach Chinese immigrants, a California city’s police department will be the first in the country to open an account on Sina Weibo, a China-based microblogging website similar to Twitter.

“We have a large population of Chinese people in Alhambra,” Police Chief Mark Yokoyama said. “We want to be progressive in reaching out to the community, and Weibo is a tool to increase community awareness and outreach to immigrants.”

From BBC News, so give Uncle some cars:

US government lost around $10bn on GM bailout

The US government has sold its remaining shares in General Motors, leaving it with a loss of around $10bn (£6bn) on the bailout of the car maker.

The US Treasury spent $49.5bn bailing out GM in 2008 and 2009, and took a 61% stake in the car maker.

On to Europe with The Guardian:

Youth unemployment could prolong eurozone crisis, Christine Lagarde says

IMF chief warns against prematurely declaring an end to the economic crisis, saying joblessness puts future growth at stake

“Can a crisis really be over when 12% of the labour force is without a job? When unemployment among the youth is in very high double digits, reaching more than 50% in Greece and Spain? And when there is no sign that it is becoming easier for people to pay down their debts?”

The Guardian warns:

Europe’s economic crisis could be mutating again

Deflation could be replacing debt as the main problem – and there’s nothing to suggest the ECB is up to the job

A blast from EUobserver:

Austria and Luxembourg accused of undermining EU credibility

Luxembourg and Austria came under attack on Tuesday (10 December) after the two countries stood firm and blocked plans to increase transparency in tax reporting.

At a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels, the final formal gathering of 2013, ministers from the two countries insisted that they will not agree to a reformed savings tax directive until the EU has reached agreements on banking secrecy with nearby tax havens such as Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

New Europe’s numbers:

OECD: Unemployment stable at 7.9% in October

The OECD unemployment rate stood at 7.9% in October 2013, unchanged from the two previous months. Across the OECD area, 47.8 million persons were unemployed in October 2013, 13.1 million more than in July 2008.

In the euro area, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage point to 12.1% in October, the first decline since February 2011.

Deutsche Welle blasts:

EADS job cuts under fire from Germany, France

European aerospace company EADS has been criticized by Berlin and Paris for slashing 5,800 jobs as it downsizes its military business. EADS warns even more jobs are at risk if governments keep cutting defense budgets.

From New Europe, cashing out:

Outflow of workers’ remittances at €38.8 billion in 2012

In 2012 in the EU27, flows of money sent by migrants to their country of origin, known as workers’ remittances, including both extra-EU27 and intra-EU27 flows, amounted to €38.8 billion.

According to Eurostat, almost three quarters of this total went outside the EU, with extra-EU27 flows of €28.4 billion and intra-EU27 flows of €10.3 billion. Over the last four years, workers’ remittances have been stable at around €28 billion for extra-EU27 flows and €10 billion for intra-EU27 flows.

Neos Kosmos has symbolism:

Eurobank officials take salary cuts

Senior Eurobank officials have heeded the CEO’s proposal to reduce salaries, aiming to send a strong message of resolve that they will continue in their cost-cutting efforts

Senior Eurobank officials have heeded Chief Executive Christos Megalou’s proposal to reduce their salaries, aiming to send a strong message of resolve that they are determined to continue in their cost-cutting efforts so as to see the lender return to profit as soon as possible. Officials from the bank will travel to the US today for meetings and presentations ahead of Eurobank’s share capital incease.

According to sources, Megalou’s salary, which constitutes a ceiling for the bank’s pay structure, will drop 17 percent on an annual basis. The salary cuts will affect general directors, members of the bank’s strategic planning and executive committees as well as other officials of the lender and its subsidiaries.

From Spiegel, hypocrisy:

Post-Lampedusa: Hopes Dashed for New EU Asylum Policy

Two months after the deadly shipwreck off Lampedusa, Europe has done nothing to change course on its asylum policy. A new agreement between the EU and Turkey only reinforces the practice of pushing the refugee problem to Europe’s periphery.

And that gives us the perfect bridge to our first British story, via Sky News:

Border Force Criticised By MPs Over Failings

Officials are not checking private boats and planes properly for illicit goods and illegal immigrants, a report by MPs warns.

More hypocrisy from The Independent:

Government delays EU immigration report because it is too positive

A review into the impact of EU migration on Britain has been delayed because the Government feared it was too positive.

The latest part of Whitehall’s Balance of Competences study, which looked specifically at freedom of movement, had been due to be released yesterday. But, according to reports, it has now been shelved until next year because Theresa May, the Home Secretary, takes issues with its findings.

From the London Telegraph, cowed:

Steak to become a luxury item as food prices tipped to soar by as much as 6% in 2014

New report forecasts that food prices will rise above inflation next year and for the rest of the decade as growing global demand and climate change hit the industry

The Guardian hustles:

Payday loan TV commercials rocket to almost 400,000 in three years – Ofcom

Regulator’s report reveals enormous growth in TV ads for companies such as Wonga, up from 11,000 per year in 2009

Ofcom has estimated that every UK adult viewed an average of 152 payday loan commercials in 2012. Children aged 4 to 15 who watched TV saw a total of 596m payday loan TV adverts last year – an average of 70 each – up from just 3m in 2008.

Hopes from the Economic Times:

India-UK trade volume can double by 2015: UK Minister Vince Cable

The bilateral trade between Indian and the United Kingdom can be doubled by 2015 from the business done in 2010, Vince Cable, UK Secretary of State (Cabinet Minister) for Business, Innovation and Skills, said today.

“The bilateral trade between India and UK stood at 12 billion pounds in 2012 and we are looking at 15 to 20 per cent annual growth,” Cable told reporters on the sidelines of an interaction with young entrepreneurs here.

From The Guardian, idiocy averted:

Coalition scraps plans to outsource defence procurement to private firms

Labour says Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, is responsible for ‘another embarrassing and costly U-turn’

The coalition has scrapped plans to hand private companies responsibility for buying £14bn a year of planes, weapons and other military equipment for the Ministry of Defence, in a U-turn condemned by Labour as costly and embarrassing.

What recovery is that? From The Guardian:

Most Britons have felt no benefits from economic recovery, opinion poll finds

Tories creep up on Labour by two points, despite 70% of voters polled by ICM/Guardian saying they have not seen any gains

From the London Telegraph, gone:

Home buying will be out of reach for an ‘entire generation’

Average prices in London will soar by more than 43pc to £650,000, research by the National Housing Federation and Oxford Economics warns

The Guardian has instruction:

Secretary who stole £4m will teach jail survival to white-collar criminals

Joyti Waswani, convicted of defrauding her Goldman Sachs bosses in 2004, will offer advice on serving time safely

The former Goldman Sachs secretary who was jailed in 2004 for stealing more than £4m from her banker bosses has landed a job coaching white-collar criminals in how to cope with a prison term.

Joyti Waswani, who served half of her seven-year sentence in three closed prisons under her then married name of Joyti De-Laurey, is said to be Britain’s biggest female fraudster after stealing vast sums from her bosses, Scott Mead, Jennifer Moses and Moses’s husband, Ron Beller, all of whom were directors of the investment bank.

Hypocrisy unmasked, via The Guardian:

Asylum seekers: former chief justice condemns politicians’ approach

Gerard Brennan prepares damning assessment of the ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to winning votes

The former high court chief justice Gerard Brennan has prepared a damning assessment of a “whatever it takes” approach to politics, questioning the asylum-seeker policies of both parties.

On to Ireland with  Independent.ie:

Ireland ‘unlikely’ to get ESM help to recover cost of bailing out our banks

The head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling, appeared to rule out use of the fund just hours after eurogroup chair Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the same bailout pot would not be available to ease the cost to the banks of their stock of loss-making tracker mortgages.

Independent.ie again, interest compounding:

Central Bank wary of capping rates

The Central Bank has said that any moves to cap the cost of loans from Irish moneylenders would need to be taken carefully.

Last month, the British government announced it would cap pay-day loans to stop companies charging huge amounts of interest.

TheLocal.no, looking for a joint:

Norway to Sweden: Can we rent out your prisons?

Norway has asked to lease out prison spaces from its neighbour Sweden in a bid to end a shortage of cells which police complain forces them to release criminals.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen announced on Monday evening that he had sent a proposal to his Swedish counterpart Beatrice Ask, and hoped that Norwegian inmates would start serving time in Sweden as early as next year.

Xenophobic, insulting messages on far-right websites and a slam aimed at teenage asylum-seekers on a hunger strike come to a conclusion, via TheLocal.se:

‘I hope they starve’ post fells Sweden Democrat

Marie Stensby represented the Sweden Democrats in Jämtland in northern Sweden and was voted in as an alternate member of executive board at the recent party conference; until Tuesday’s revelation in the Expressen daily she had furthermore intended to stand for election to Sweden’s Riksdag in 2014.

The local politician previously leapt to national media attention in November 2012 when she called for the establishment of a “a reservation for Sweden’s indigenous peoples” in her home county of Jämtland.

But wait. That was just the beginning. TheLocal.se follows up reports that at least 10 others let their Social Darwinism loose on the web:

Sweden Democrats: More heads may roll

Several more politicians risk being kicked out of the Sweden Democrat party following revelations that they posted xenophobic and insulting messages on various far-right websites.

“Their actions will not be without consequences,” party secretary Björn Söder told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

Holland next, with a raise from DutchNews.nl:

Dutch wages to rise 2.3% next year, well below European average

Dutch salaries will rise by an average of 2.3% next year, well below the global average, according to research by consultancy Hay Group.

The research showed that on average global salaries will rise 5.2% while in Europe the average increase will be 3.1%, the Hay research showed.

Big Pharma in Dutch from Europe Online:

EU fines Novartis, J&J for delaying generic painkiller

The European Union is fining pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Johnson & Johnson a total of 16 million euros (22 million dollars) for delaying the launch of a generic painkiller in the Netherlands, the bloc’s executive announced Tuesday.

The drug in question is a cheaper version of Fentanyl, a painkiller that is 100 times more potent than morphine and is notably used by cancer patients, according to the European Commission. “The two companies shockingly deprived patients in the Netherlands, including people suffering from cancer, from access to a cheaper version of this medicine,” said EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

Germany next, til debt do us part from TheLocal.de:

German cities pile up mountain of debt

The number of German cities threatened with bankruptcy has increased over recent years, with the gap between rich and poor areas growing, a study revealed on Tuesday.

Despite the economy performing well and tax receipts flooding into national coffers, many town and city treasuries are bare, according to a study released on Tuesday from accountants Ernst & Young.

TheLocal.de delivers the chop:

Airbus maker to cut 2,600 jobs in Germany

European aerospace giant EADS, the maker of Airbus aircraft, announced plans on Monday to cut 2,600 jobs in Germany as part of widespread cuts to its defence sector.

The job cuts, part of a major restructuring in the face of falling orders, will affect the group’s workforce in Germany, France, Spain and Britain over the next three years, the company said in a statement.

TheLocal.de one more time, with a plea for $644 a week:

Frankfurt buses stay parked in strike

Commuters in Frankfurt and nearby towns faced a difficult trip to work on Tuesday as almost every bus in the city stood stationary after drivers went on strike to push for €12 an hour pay and a 39-hour week.

Services union Verdi called the strike after negotiations over pay and conditions with the Hesse state association of bus companies failed to produce results.

Banksters behaving badly from EUobserver:

Fresh corruption scandal engulfs Deutsche Bank

Berlin – US authorities are investigating Deutsche Bank, along with other multi-national banking behemoths like JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Citi, on suspicion of using corrupt practices in China in order to acquire contracts from state-owned companies, the New York Times reports.

They are said to be hiring the offspring of top Chinese officials.

But we leave the most ominous banking story for last. From Reuters:

German shipping banks face $22 billion in losses: Moody’s

Germany’s leading shipping lenders face 16 billion euros ($22 billion) in credit losses in the coming year as a severe sector slump makes it increasingly difficult for shipowners to repay their loans, ratings agency Moody’s said.

Germany’s eight major ship financiers have lent a total of 105 billion euros to the sector, a fifth of which are categorized as non-performing, Moody’s said in a report.

On to France and an ail from TheLocal.fr:

Economists dub France the ‘sick man of Europe’

A new report by The Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based think tank, will not have gone down well in the corridors of power in Paris this week after it labelled France the real “sick man of Europe”.

Whereas the Euro Plus Monitor report was optimistic for the rest of Europe to pull out of the crisis it singled out France for a rollicking, saying its economic policies have changed little.

Spain next with El País and a splitting headache:

Leftists threaten to break CiU pact over referendum

  • Catalan premier’s ally wants simple “yes or no” question on independence
  • “Spain against Catalonia” forum riles regional PP

The Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) has made its clearest threat to date to regional premier Artur Mas of the governing CiU bloc: if the question that is posed to Catalans on any independence referendum does not refer explicitly to independence, ERC will withdraw from the pact between the groups. “ERC will not participate in a deal that results in a bad question,” ERC spokeswoman Anna Simó said Monday.

ANSAmed declines:

Spain drops 20% in Brand Finance rankings

Down 5 notches; Italy slides from 10th to 12th place

El País merges

Marriage of the canning giants

Crown, the leading manufacturer of metal containers in the world, was attracted to Spain’s Mivisa because of its production and marketing techniques

Portugal next with Europe Online:

Portugal’s export growth slows, jeopardizing recovery

Portugal’s economic recovery was dealt a blow in October, figures issued by the statistics body INE showed Tuesday, with year-on-year export growth slowing to 4.2 per cent.

The figure is a sharp drop from September, when exports had grown by 9.9 per cent. In October, Portugal exported less both to the European Union and to countries outside it. Imports meanwhile increased by 3.7 per cent year-on-year, up from 3.5 per cent in September.

El País has feeble numbers:

Bank of Portugal revises projections for local economy upward

The Bank of Portugal on Tuesday revised upward its growth forecasts for the domestic economy for next year, predicting a recovery in private consumption and an ongoing push from the exports sector.

In its winter economic bulletin, the central bank now sees GDP growing 0.8 percent in 2014, up from an estimated 0.3 percent in its fall forecasts. It also now expects output to contract by 1.5 percent this year, compared with a previous estimate for a decline of 1.6 percent. GDP growth is seen accelerating to 1.3 percent in 2015.

The Portugal News compares:

Portugal is more like Ireland, less like Greece – Moody’s

Rating agency Moody’s has said that the Portuguese debt structure was “very different” from the Greek and “much more comparable” to the Irish and also said they expected that Portugal would adopt a cautionary programme backed by the European Stability Mechanism.

Italy next with ANSAmed:

Italians flocking abroad soars 70% in two years

Lombardy leads exodus with more than 20% of total

The number of Italians leaving the country rose 70% in two years, from 40,000 in 2010 to 68,000 in 2012, an Italian foundation for multi-ethnic studies reported on Tuesday.

TheLocal.it searches:

Italy’s recovery remains elusive: economists

The Italian economy has emerged from two years of contraction, data showed on Tuesday, but economists warned that recovery will remain elusive as resistance grows to further tax hikes and reforms.

The third-biggest economy in the eurozone, Italy stagnated in the third quarter, revised data showed, in an update of an earlier estimate of a 0.1 percent contraction.

ANSAmed has austerian costs:

Italy’s kids stunted by recession, says Save the Children

More teenage moms, obese kids, school dropouts

Italy’s children are growing up physically, emotionally, and intellectually stunted by the recession, which has brought poverty, unemployment, and a lack of emotional, psychological, and environmental support in its wake, according to a new Save The Children report issued Tuesday. Titled ‘’Italy Upside Down’‘, the report documents a 7.4% drop in the country’s fertility rate along with a rise in childhood obesity, teenage motherhood, and the rate of high-school dropouts.

ANSAmed has modest hopes:

Italy’s industrial production grew 0.5% in October

Smallest year-on-year drop since start of recession

Italy’s industrial production data for October provided hope Tuesday that the country may be emerging from its longest recession in over two decades.

National statistics agency Istat said production was up 0.5% in October with respect to September.

And a rare Maltese item from The Guardian:

Want to buy citizenship? It helps if you’re one of the super-rich

Malta has announced it is selling passports to foreign investors for £546,000, but that’s cheap compared with other countries, such as Britain and the US

The move has ruffled feathers in the UK. In part, because of worries about unchecked immigration; the passport grants its holders full EU citizenship, including freedom of movement (Maltese citizenship also come with a visa waiver on entry to the US). Labour’s shadow immigration minister, David Hanson, told the Financial Times the move risked being “a backdoor route” to EU residence and was “not a tight or appropriate immigration policy”. The government faces calls from British and European politicians to intervene and put a stop to the plan.

After jump, Greek meltdown, Ukrainian woes, Russian riots, Israeli intolerance, Latin American turmoil, Aussie foibles, Thai turmoil, Chinese neoliberalism and smog, Japanese woes, environmental news, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econoenviro meltdown


The gutting of the social commons and expropriation of institutions created to buffer citizens against the ravages of nature of the rapacity of their fellow humans continue unabated.

USA TODAY highlights one of the more despicable twists of the Tea Party raptors, eager to bring about the Apocalypse. Nothing else matters, including the lives of those Jesus told his followers to nurture:

47M Americans hit by food stamp cuts starting today

Food stamp benefits will be cut to more than 47 million Americans starting Friday as a temporary boost to the federal program comes to an end without a new budget from a deadlocked Congress to replace it.

The Atlantic Wire has more:

Today’s Food Stamp Cuts Are Only the Beginning

Today 47 million Americans on food stamps will see their benefits slashed by 13 percent as the program takes a $5 billion budget hit. If Republicans have their way, this could just be the beginning.

And the Oakland Tribune examines the impacts on the four million Californians who receive food stamps:

Cuts to food stamps hitting millions of Californians to start Friday

The cuts mean a family of four will receive $632, or $36 less per month in federal food assistance, even as California food costs rise. That is the equivalent of losing roughly 21 individual meals per month based on calculations used by the Department of Agriculture.

From Reuters, cut-throat commerce:

Walmart kicks off online holiday deals early in intense season

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is kicking off its online deals on Friday, a month earlier than usual – underscoring worries that intense discounting aimed at luring budget-conscious shoppers could result in the most tepid holiday spending rise in four years.

And Al Jazeera America covers business as usual at Iron Mountain, the records management giant:

Workers allege union busting at government contractor in Georgia

Managers can be heard apparently confronting organizers on leaked recordings: ‘I know what you did. It’s all out.’

From the San Francisco Chronicle, blue collar academics:

Growing number of part-time professors join unions

Thousands of part-time college professors are joining labor unions, a growing trend in higher education that’s boosting the ranks of organized labor and giving voice to teachers who complain about low pay and a lack of job security at some of the nation’s top universities.

Another warning, via CNBC:

US factory activity tumbles to one-year trough: Markit

The pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector hit a one-year-low in October as factory output slowed sharply, an industry report showed on Friday.

Predatory cable from Slashdot:

Comcast Donates Heavily To Defeat Mayor Who Is Bringing Gigabit Fiber To Seattle

Reuters gives us a global story:

Property hot spots renew easy-money bubble fears

From China to Canada and London, fast-rising property markets are haunting the global economy again, five years after the U.S. subprime mortgage bubble burst and triggered the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

And Want China Times covers some responsible parties:

Seattle and London see influx of Chinese house buyers

It is becoming increasingly popular for Chinese nationals to buy houses in foreign countries due to the restrictions imposed on purchasing houses at home.

From ETF Daily News, a very important but little-known index sounds an alarm:

Baltic Dry Index Shows The Global Economy Headed For A Slowdown

Off to Europe with a regional story from Europe Online:

Eurozone inflation slumps to four-year low in October

  • Annual inflation in the eurozone fell to a four-year low in October, according to data released Thursday.

  • The annual cost of living in the currency bloc slumped to 0.7 per cent this month from 1.1 per cent in September, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said.

Keep Talking Greece covers a questioning of the gospel:

EP vice president to investigate Troikas’ work in four eurozone countries

This is going to be an evaluation, not a condemnation”, stresses Othmar Karas, Vice President of the European Parliament, who will lead the parliamentary inquiry into the work of the troika in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland.

More from To Vima:

Schulz: “Apologizing is not enough”

  • President of European Parliament initiates investigation on troika and demands justice be served for the damages caused by the exhaustive austerity programs

  • The President of European Parliament Martin Schulz gave an interview to Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, where he professed that “it is not enough to apologize” and that responsibilities must be assumed for the austerity programs implemented in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Cyprus.

On to Britain, with some bad news for the news business from the Financial Post:

Thomson Reuters to cut 3,000 jobs as part of speed up of cost cutting plan

Thomson Reuters Corp., a provider of news and information services, plans to cut 3,000 positions, or about 5% of the workforce, in a bid to focus on growth markets and boost profitability.

CNBC has a potential job for the NSA:

British plan to unmask shell companies puts pressure on US

Anti-corruption groups are praising a new initiative by British Prime Minister David Cameron to unmask the owners of hundreds of anonymous shell companies, and they are calling on other countries—particularly the United States—to follow suit.

And Banksters Behaving Badly from the London Telegraph:

Barclays suspends currency traders as forex probe widens

UK bank Barclays places staff on suspension, as US banks Citigroup and JP Morgan are dragged into a growing currency market rigging investigation

France next, with a rebuke to a racist resurgence, via RFI:

No explosion of asylum seekers figures in France, NGO

There is no “explosion” of asylum seekers in France, the head of an NGO that works with would-be immigrants has told RFI, and the country has taken in a limited number of refugees from the Syrian conflict, despite its vocal opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Spain next, first with another sell-off via El País:

Boosted investment data reflects renewed global interest in Spain

  • China’s Sinopec currently negotiating to buy Repsol’s 30-percent stake in Gas Natural

  • Two major corporate deals announced on Thursday alone

There’s another Spanish property up from grabs, or so this headline from Europe Online would indicate:

Spanish electrical appliance maker Fagor closer to bankruptcy

The large Spanish electrical appliance maker Fagor edged closer to bankruptcy on Thursday as its Polish subsidiary filed for protection from its creditors.

And from Europe Online again, a trans-border action:

Strikes disrupt rail traffic in Portugal and Spain

Strikes on Thursday disrupted rail traffic on the Iberian Peninsula, with the Lisbon underground coming to a standstill while less trains operated in Spain.

The Portugal News covers a victory for austerity:

Coalition forces through 2014 budget

Portugal’s ruling centre-right coalition government approved the country’s second amending budget of the year on Friday, against all the opposition parties.

To Italy next, with ANSAmed covering a plea from Enrico Letta:

Europe must turn from austerity to growth, says Italian PM

Letta calls for joint efforts and warns against anti-EU populism

After the jump, Greek deconstruction continues, mixed reports from Latin America, China’s neoliberal crusade continues, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, hypocrites, and cons


The National Security Agency has got to be numero uno on Barry O’s shit list of late, given that foreign political leaders are buzzing about little else these days.

But we begin on an ironic note with a headline from Business Insider:

The NSA Website Is Down

The National Security Agency’s website, nsa.gov, has been down the better part of the afternoon, and people are saying it’s the work of the collective of controversial hackers known only as “Anonymous.”

Next, a bit of legislative ornamental rage we suspect will lead to little. Via Techdirt:

Major New Anti-NSA Bill Dropping Next Week With Powerful Support

from the this-could-get-interesting dept

And from Los Angeles Times editorial cartoonist David Horsey. . .

 Europeans are shocked — shocked! — about U.S. spying

Europeans are shocked — shocked! — about U.S. spying

From Haaretz, an unexpected twist:

Report suggests Israel behind attempt to hack into French communication network

U.S. officials deny involvement in May 2012 cyber attack on Elysee Palace, hinting that Mossad was responsible for attempt, according to leaked document published by Le Monde.

More from Radio France Internationale:

It’s not us it’s Israel, US told France over 2012 presidential snooping

France suspected the US of hacking into the president’s communications network during the 2012 presidential election but American officials hinted that Israel may have been behind the cyberattack, according to the latest revelation on the National Security Agency (NSA) published in Le Monde newspaper.

And leave it to the London Daily Mail for the omnium gatherum:

Was ISRAEL behind the hacking of millions of French phones and NOT the U.S.? Extraordinary twist in spying saga revealed

  • Agents said to have intercepted 70 million calls and text messages a month

  • France had previously blamed the United States of America

  • U.S. was first suspected of hacking into Nicolas Sarkozy’s phone in 2012

  • Americans insisted they have never been behind hacking in France

  • Comes after it emerged German officials are planning trip to U.S. to discuss allegations Angela Merkel’s phone was hack by the NSA

  • The German Chancellor said President Obama’s reputation has been shattered on an international scale because of espionage scandal

Next up, more leaks and the response from The Guardian:

NSA surveillance: more revelations as EU leaders meet in Brussels

Italian magazine reports allegedly vast scale of US and British spying, and Le Monde publishes another NSA document

And the kinder, gentler blowback via the New York Times:

Germany and France Propose Talks With U.S. on Spying

The offer was an attempt to defuse a trans-Atlantic dispute over eavesdropping by the United States that has hurt its relations with Europe and prompted calls to suspend trade talks.

More from the Washington Post:

Merkel, Hollande want new rules for sharing intelligence

The German leader says trust must be rebuilt after allegations that the NSA monitored world leaders’ phone lines.

Still more from MercoPress:

Germany and France demand a “no spying” agreement from Washington

German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the United States strike a “no-spying” agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year, saying alleged espionage against two of Washington’s closest EU allies had to be stopped.

Sky News adds another voice, albeit one with some murky associations:

Cameron Backs Calls For US Spying Talks

The PM refuses to comment on any involvement by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency in the surveillance of EU countries.

The London Telegraph gives the story its own inimitable rightward spin:

US spying: Britain forced to sign EU statement expressing ‘deep concern’

Britain signs EU statement that is critical of US spying on European governments

More from EUbusiness:

Don’t tinker with anti-terror spy network: Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron says shared intelligence with the US has benefited EU states as an eavesdropping row pushes France and Germany to demand a new code of conduct on data-gathering.

And Spiegel notes a certain reluctance in Angela Merkel, too:

EU Summit: Merkel’s Delicate Dance over Spying Allegations

While at the EU summit in Brussels, German Chancellor Merkel has been forced to perform a diplomatic balancing act. She must express the appropriate amount of indignation over allegations she was spied on by the US, but she must also avoid alienating her important allies.

From BBC News, not unexpected:

Italy data ‘targeted in UK-US spy operation’

UK and US intelligence services have been spying on Italy’s phone and internet traffic on a huge scale, the Italian weekly L’Espresso reports.

But the London Telegraph adds a telling detail, the approval of Italy’s own spooks:

Britain and US ‘spied on Italy’

Britain’s GCHQ and the USA accused of spying on Italy, but with consent of secret services

Whilst BBC News invokes the T-word:

EU says distrust of US on spying may harm terror fight

EU leaders meeting in Brussels said distrust of the US over spying could harm the fight against terrorism.

As does Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Europe wants new spy deal with US following revelations

European leaders said on Friday they want a new deal with Washington to end a damaging spy row so as to keep an essential alliance and the fight against terrorism on track.

But umbrage does exist, reports the Associated Press:

German minister blasts alleged US surveillance

Germany’s defense minister says Europe can’t simply return to business as usual in its relations with Washington following allegations that U.S. intelligence may have targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

And Xinhua covers a response:

Germany to send senior security officials to U.S. for spying talks

High-ranking representatives of the German security services as well as the chancellery will travel to Washington next week to seek clarifications of widespread U.S. spying allegations, including those of mobile phone communications of Chancellor Merkel.

From El País, another target:

NSA revelations: Spain also a victim of US espionage

  • The agency tracked communications from government members

  • Officials hint that spying took place during Zapatero era

And the well-tempered blowback, via EUbusiness:

Spain summons US ambassador over spy reports

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday he would call in the US ambassador to Madrid to explain reports of American spying on the country, a close ally of Washington.

From The Guardian, a focus:

NSA bugging turns spotlight on world leaders’ ‘safe’ communications

Angela Merkel says she makes a point of conducting conversations about matters of state through a variety of channels

And from euroews, a report from Friday’s gathering of European Union leaders:

Merkel’s mobile dominates EU summit chatter

And the Obama administration tries to play conciliatory, as in this headline form a USA TODAY op-ed from Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism:

Obama administration: Surveillance policies under review

We want to ensure we are collecting information because we need it and not just because we can.

And from the editors at Bloomberg news, a clarion call:

Don’t Let the NSA Kill the Internet

Thirty, 20 or even 10 years from now, will historians write that the unbridled zeal of the National Security Agency fatally undermined U.S. leadership in the Information Age and the creation of a truly global Internet?

Concrete action coming? From the ACLU Blog of Rights:

International Rights Body to Press U.S. on Surveillance, Snowden

History has taught us that pervasive government surveillance has a profoundly adverse effect on the exercise of free speech – a universal right enshrined both in the Constitution and in international human rights law. This Monday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold its first-ever hearing on the NSA’s mass surveillance programs and their impact on the right to freedom of expression and other related rights in the Americas.

But there’s one country where Snowden’s revelations haven’t done the slightest harm, reports RIA Novosti, probably because its leader once headed an outfit that did many of the same things:

Russia Says Snowden Leaks Won’t Hurt US Ties

Russia Says Snowden Leaks Won’t Hurt US TiesLeaks by former US security contractor Edward Snowden regarding US intelligence-gathering on Russia will have no impact on relations between Moscow and Washington, Russia’s foreign minister said Friday.

From Paul Rosenzweig, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at Homeland Security, the ol’ “Don’t tell ‘em how tghe sausage is made” excuse, appropriately tweaked by Techdirt:

NSA Defender Argues That Too Much Transparency Defeats The Purpose Of Democracy

from the oh-really? dept

From Le Monde, background and context:

The NSA’s intern inquiry about the Elysée hacking revealed

The creation within ten years by the United States of an unprecedented electronic espionage system all over the world has generated tensions with countries nevertheless considered to be historical allies, such as France. The examination by Le Monde of unpublished documents from the NSA (National Security Agency) – the agency in charge of digital and other communications, shows the tensions and distrust between Paris and Washington.

Keith Alexander, goin’ bye-bye, reports Al Jazeera America:

NSA chief and top deputy expected to depart soon

Alexander has formalized plans to leave by next March or April, while his civilian deputy is due to retire by year’s end

From the Washington Post, belated acknowledgements:

U.S. alerting partner nations on Snowden files

Documents taken by Edward Snowden contain information on operations against adversaries such as Iran, Russia and China that involve countries not publicly allied with the U.S., officials say.

From The Guardian, can you hear him now?:

David Cameron still using mobile phone after US spying claims

British prime minister has not changed phones after allegations that NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders

FRANCE 24 looks for others to worry about:

Should Europe be worried by Russia’s spying resurgence?

The revelations of the NSA’s surveillance programme have dominated the headlines in recent months. But Europe could also be at risk from a resurgence in Russian spying activity, according to intelligence experts.

And Kyodo News covers Japanese countermeasures:

Japan’s Cabinet approves bill to toughen penalties for secret leakers

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday approved a bill to impose tougher penalties on civil servants, lawmakers and others who leak national secrets and harm national security, amid criticism that it will lead to tighter government control of information.

Jiji Press adds a key detail:

Japan Govt Adopts State Secret Protection Bill

The government will try to have the bill enacted during the current Diet session together with legislation to establish a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council.

As does Reuters:

Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

And a Pakistani warning of other out-of-control spooks from Peshawar High Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan via the Press Trust of India:

Government, parliament not prepared to rein in ISI: Top judge

A top Pakistani judge has said nobody, including the federal govt and parliament, is prepared to bring in legislation to control the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

From the Atlantic Wire, that old chilling effect:

Conservative Reporter Says Feds Took Her Files While Searching Her Home for Guns

Conservative investigative journalist Audrey Hudson says that her reporting notes were taken during a search of her home by the Department of Homeland Security and Maryland police.

From the London Daily Mail, a real chiller — with a shout-out to Di Fei:

‘No phone call, no Internet transaction, isn’t recorded by the NSA’: Edward Snowden fires back at U.S. government surveillance denials

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein claimed that the NSA’s phone-tracking is benign

  • Whistle-blower Snowden said in a statement that it is pervasive in nature

Dvice brings us another chiller:

Drones that can launch repeatedly from an unmanned skiff are here

And the Atlantic Wire covers another black op exposed:

Koch Brothers’ Groups Pay $1 Million for Not Disclosing Contributions

Two dark money groups linked to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have paid a record $1 million in fines to California to settle allegations that the combined $15 million they spent on two ballot proposals in the state was not properly disclosed.

More chill from Rolling Stone :

Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters

Promotional materials for private spy companies show that mass surveillance technology is being sold to police departments as a way to monitor dissent

And, to close, a spot of warmth from the Daily Dot:

Grassroots anti-NSA movement scores a victory in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania General Assembly—the equivalent of the state’s House of Representatives—passed a resolution calling out NSA spying Wednesday. And it started with a single concerned citizen.

Headlines of the day I: Econo/crazy/Fuku/chaos


Lots to cover, given our slow post of late, including political madness at home, more grim numbers, the Greek debacle, and a stunning rise in radiation leaked from Fukushima.

We begin with the suggestion of a homeopathic cure from The Atlantic Wire:

Big Business Wants to Defeat the Tea Party by Being More Like the Tea Party

Frustrated business groups think they may have a way to counteract the tea party’s influence: Act more like it.

Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, reports on a downgrade:

Dagong downgrades U.S. credit rating to A-

Dagong Global Credit Rating Co. Ltd., a Chinese credit rating agency, on Thursday downgraded the local and foreign currency credit ratings of the United States to A- from A, maintaining a negative outlook.

Xinhua also offers up another rater’s dim view of American governance:

Interview: Fitch move warns U.S. of “lousy governance,” fiscal challenge

Fitch Ratings’ decision to place the AAA credit rating of the United States on a negative watch list is a timely reminder for some Republicans and the world ‘s largest economy needs to improve its long-term fiscal sustainability, said Arvind Subramanian, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, Wednesday.

Quartz reports on another slice in the death by a thousand cuts of the American service worker:

An army of robot baristas could mean the end of Starbucks as we know it

Salon covers the unChristian side of the GOP’s Fundie backers:

Family Research Council: Christians should not want the government to care for the poor

“The government has a responsibility to care for the poor? That’s not what Scripture says”

From MarketWatch, revealing that Ted Cruz is a classical Republican, perhaps:

Ted Cruz reportedly failed to disclose ties to Caribbean private equity firm

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican and leader of the conservative effort to tie a curtailment of Obamacare to funding the government, is coming under scrutiny for failing to disclose ties to a Caribbean-based private equity fund.

So Cruz is a money-grubbin’ sleaze. Business as usual, right? Well, maybe there’s something a whole lot scarier goin’ on, reports Talk to Action, which has a video of the speech in question:

Cruz’ Father Suggests Ted Cruz “Anointed” to “Bring The Spoils Of War To The Priests”

In a sermon last year at an Irving, Texas, megachurch that helped elect Ted Cruz to the United States Senate, Cruz’ father Rafael Cruz indicated that his son was among the evangelical Christians who are anointed as “kings” to take control of all sectors of society, an agenda commonly referred to as the “Seven Mountains” mandate, and “bring the spoils of war to the priests”, thus helping to bring about a prophesied “great transfer of wealth”, from the “wicked” to righteous gentile believers.

The Atlantic Wire brings us a heart-warmer [or not]:

Dick Cheney Very Nearly Died in 2010

Dick Cheney very nearly succumbed to longtime heart disease in 2010, but it was okay, because he was “at peace” and enjoying sweet dreams of an Italian villa.

From Mother Jones, something to strike terror in the hearts and stomachs of the poor:

GOP Picks Anti-Food Stamp Crusader to Determine Future of Food Stamps

OpenSecrets Blog reports on true fandom:

Fundraising Down for GOP Dissidents, but Koch and Citizens United Stayed True

And the World Socialist Web Site covers the latest despicable move of Barry O’s BFF and former chief of staff:

Chicago mayor announces elimination of retiree health care subsidies

Chicago’s Democratic Party mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on October 9 that the city would go forward with a plan to entirely eliminate health insurance subsidies for retired city workers at the end of 2016. An estimated 21,100 workers, along with 9,100 of their spouses and dependents, will see their health costs rise dramatically.

From the Washington Post, grim reality:

Study: Poor children are now the majority in American public schools in South, West

A majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West are low-income for the first time in at least four decades, according to a new study that details a demographic shift with broad implications for the country.

More grim reality, this time from the London Daily Mail:

Racism still exists when cutting a deal: Black people have to offer MORE money to seal the same contract

  • People from other races, however, didn’t suffer the same discrimination

  • Research was inspired by the 2011 U.S. Government’s debt ceiling debates

  • Scientists observed how at this time, political parties were prepared to reject a deal even if it appeared to damage their own supporters

From International Business Times, a tearjerker:

Government Shutdown Over: Fox News Is Angry, Will Miss The Ratings

And for our first transcontinental item, a warning from European Union Financial Services Commissioner Michel Barnier via Reuters:

EU’s Barnier warns U.S. of tit-for-tat action over banks

The European Union’s financial services chief warned of tit-for-tat action if the United States pushes ahead with plans to impose extra capital requirements on foreign banks.

Quartz covers yet another instance of Banksters Behaving Badly:

How traders might have made money manipulating massive currency markets

Regulators in Europe, the US, and as of yesterday, Hong Kong are looking into whether the $4.7 trillion market for currency is being manipulated by a handful of traders in order to gouge their clients and pocket big profits.

And the CBC covers the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement [CETA]:

Canada-EU free trade deal signed

Canada and the European Union have signed a tentative deal to open up markets and drop nearly all import taxes on everything from food to cars.

And Independent.ie offers a key detail:

EU finally strikes trade deal with Canada

The European Union and Canada agreed a multi-billion-dollar trade pact today that will integrate two of the world’s largest economies and paves the way for Europe to do an even bigger deal with the United States.

EurActiv debunks euromyth:

‘Benefits tourism’ in the EU is a myth, report says

There is little evidence of “benefits tourism” in Europe, according to a new European Commission study, which contradicts claims by the UK, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands that EU social security systems are under strain from Romanian and Bulgarian migrants.

From EurActiv again, hints of changes, likely too little and too late:

Minimum wage issue resurfaces in Paris election debate

Proposals for a continental minimum wage and jobs-creation dominated the first of a series of European Parliament panel debates in Paris on Tuesday (15 October), as EU-wide elections approach. EurActiv.fr reports.

From Europe Online, a most interesting pre-crash tale:

Ex-EU chief says he was “brutally” sidelined by Germany and France

Former European Commission president Romano Prodi recalled on Friday how he was “brutally” sidelined by France and Germany when he objected to them breaching the bloc’s strict deficit rules a decade ago.

And Bloomberg Businessweek covers another grim reality:

As Utility Bills Go up, European Consumers Go Ballistic

With temperatures dropping across Europe, a new controversy is heating up fast as households across the region face soaring utility bills.

Next up, Old Blighty’s austerian darkside comes into focus, declares the head of the British government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, on the issuance of its first annual report via BBC News:

Alan Milburn says child poverty ‘no longer problem of the workless and work-shy’

Working parents in Britain “simply do not earn enough to escape poverty”, the government’s social mobility tsar Alan Milburn has warned.

And the London Telegraph covers austerian hypocrisy from Britain’s money minister:

Osborne: Britain must up its game to compete in global economy

Britain has lost its sense of ambition and optimism and has allowed “the bits that were great” to wither, George Osborne has said as he called on the country to “up our game”

But some folks got game, via the London Daily Mail:

The James Bond of prams! Aston Martin release £2,000 buggy in time for Christmas – modelled on their £1.2m coupe

  • Only 800 Silver Cross Surf Aston Martin Edition on sale in Harrods

  • Features an Alcantara ultra-soft Italian suede interior and winged logo

  • Leather push bar and alloy wheels based on £1.2m One-77 coupe

Ireland next, with another austerian hit via Independent.ie:

Families hit by €360 hikes for health insurance

FAMILIES will be hit with hikes of up to €360 in the annual cost of health insurance after a move in the Budget to change the tax treatment of premiums.

Next up, France, first with some blowback to racism from on high via BBC News:

French schoolchildren march in anger over expulsions

Thousands of schoolchildren in Paris and other parts of France have been demonstrating in anger over the expulsion of two foreign teenagers.

The students were especially angry over the deportation of a 15-year-old Roma girl, reports RFI:

Paris school students protest after Kosovo Roma girl’s deportation

Police fired teargas in Paris Thursday after clashes at a school students’ protest against the deportation of a 15-year-old Roma from Kosovo and a 19-year-old Armenian.

And France 24 brings us up to date with coverage of more demonstrations Friday:

Paris students intensify protests over deportations

Thousands of high school students in Paris took to the streets for a second consecutive day on Friday to protest against the deportation of foreign pupils following the controversial expulsion of 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani earlier this month.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on xenophobia translated into political action:

Xenophobes of the world, unite? French, Dutch far-right weigh alliance

France’s National Front and the Netherlands’ Freedom Party are set to meet next month to discuss a joint anti-EU platform. Can an international alliance of nationalists work?

Deutsche Welle adds another dimension:

French recession, insecurity ‘good for Marine Le Pen’

France’s far-right National Front (FN) won a victory in a local by-election. Nonna Mayer, Research Director at the National Research Centre in Paris, spoke to DW about the ramifications.

And RFI tracks the latest racist outrage, smearing an African-born French official:

Front National suspends candidate for comparing justice minister to ape

France’s far-right Front National (FN) has sacked one of its candidates in next year’s local council elections after she posted an image of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira as an ape on Facebook.

From EurActiv, another controversial French gambit:

French bid to boost aid by taxing finance stirs hornets nest

The French National Assembly’s finance committee has green-lighted an amendment to the country’s draft 2014 budget law, significantly increasing the amount of aid funds that can be generated from the upcoming financial transactions tax (FTT), EurActiv.fr reports.

Germany gets some sobering news, via Xinhua:

German economic institutes cut 2013 growth forecast

Germany’s leading economic thinktanks on Thursday cut their 2013 growth forecast by half to 0.4 percent, but said domestic demand and better global climate will help Europe’s biggest economy to rebound in 2014.

But Europe Online offers some Germanic reassurance:

Advisers to German government forecast robust growth in 2014

The German government’s panel of economic advisers on Thursday forecast robust growth for the country’s economy next year, after a lacklustre start this year, as well as surging tax revenues.

And the Christian Science Monitor notes that things could be looking up for those at the bottom of the German pyramid in a nation currently without any minimum wage laws or regulations:

Federal minimum wage a step closer to reality… in Germany

Germany’s SPD and CDU announced today they would begin talks to form a coalition government – talks that the SPD had predicated on a federal minimum wage law.

Switzerland next, where the banksters at Frey & Co have voted to close up operations and return 2 billion Swiss francs {$2.2 billion] to depositors, reports the Economic Times:

Second Swiss bank closes over US tax pressure

A second Swiss bank has decided to close its doors as the United States cranks up pressure on financial institutions for abetting tax evasion.

On to Spain, first with some bankster boomerism from El País:

Brussels sees Spain making a clean exit from bailout program

  • In political success story scenario, ECB also feels there will be no need to extend rescue loan’s maturity

  • EU will wait to rule on bailout extension for Spain

From thinkSPAIN, another pump-priming effort:

Plan PIVE relaunched: Great deals for car-buyers as Spanish motor industry flourishes

A FOURTH version of a ‘scrap-for-cash’ part-exchange scheme allowing drivers to get new cars at heavily-discounted prices is due to be launched in the next few days thanks to a government investment of 70 million euros.

While El País covers the latest move to head off foreclosures in a country where the mortgage-holder remains indebted even after the property has been seized:

Strasbourg intervenes to stop eviction of 16 families from Girona apartments

Protestors rejoice in Salt as squatters given reprieve at least until end of the month

thinkSPAIN covers an anti-austerian reaction:

Three regional governments take legal action over hospital drug payment rules

THE Basque Country’s regional government intends to take legal action over new pressure on patients to pay for drugs dispensed in hospital.

Europe Online spots a dark cloud looming:

Amount of bad loans hits record levels in Spain

The share of bad loans on the balance sheets of Spanish banks, cooperatives and credit establishments rose in August to the record level of more than 180 billion euros (245 billion dollars), the Bank of Spain said Friday.

And El País reports on the new austerian budget:

Government unveils four-billion-euro fiscal adjustment plan for 2015

Rajoy administration has not confirmed whether personal income tax hike will remain in place

Italy next, with a lone headline from the European Union Times:

Italians go on strike to protest austerity measures

Thousands of Italian civil servants and transport workers have gone on strike in the capital Rome and other cities to protest against austerity measures enforced by the government.

After the jump, the latest grim Greek tidings, developments in Latin America, conflicting signals from Moscow, Delhi, and Beijing, and the latest catastrophic news from Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Stunning, infuriating: ‘The Tax Free Tour’


From Dutch public television, another stunning VPRO Backlight documentary [previously featured shows], this one exploring the dirty little corporate tricks used to avoid  paying taxes:

The program notes:

“Where do multinationals pay taxes and how much?” Gaining insight from international tax experts, Backlight director Marije Meerman (‘Quants’ & ‘Money & Speed’), takes a look at tax havens, the people who live there and the routes along which tax is avoided globally.

Those routes go by resounding names like ‘Cayman Special’, ‘Double Irish’, and ‘Dutch Sandwich’. A financial world operates in the shadows surrounded by a high level of secrecy. A place where sizeable capital streams travel the world at the speed of light and avoid paying tax. The Tax Free Tour is an economic thriller mapping the systemic risk for governments and citizens alike. Is this the price we have to pay for globalised capitalism?

At the same time, the free online game “Taxodus” by Femke Herregraven is launched. In the game, the player can select the profile of a multinational and look for the global route to pay as little tax as possible.

research: William de Bruijn
camera: Jean Counet
montage: Bart van den Broek
geluid: Tim van Peppen, Benny Jansen, Joris van Ballegoijen
productie: Marie Schutgens
animaties: Bitcaves & Motoko

What becomes clear is that borders are only meaningful for the flesh-and-blood person, while they are utterly permeable for the disembodied corporate person so beloved of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Godfather Chronicles: A much-belated confession


One of the most infamous paragraphs in the history of modern investigative journalism was written by a member of the UC Berkeley journalism faculty, repudiating his own reporting about on of America’s most prominent gangsters.

Here’s what Lowell Bergman and his colleague wrote to ease themselves out of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by, among others, Morris Barney Dalitz, the syndicate thug who ran the mob’s skimming operation in Las Vegas back in the days esnl was working his first daily newspaper job in Sin City:

“We feel it right to acknowledge the positive information received about you [Dalitz] in recent years and, accordingly, to express any regret for negative implication or unwarranted harm that you believe may have befallen you as a result of the Penthouse article.”

The article, “La Costa: The Hundred-Million-Dollar Resort with Criminal Clientele,” appeared in the March 1975 issue of Penthouse, and focused on the mob’s involvement in a posh golfing resort in North San Diego County, a few miles from Oceanside, where we joined the staff of the late Blade-Tribune in 1967, shortly after leaving the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Our job had us covering Carlsbad, the adjacent town and closet to La Costa [the town’s city manager would soon take a posh job at the mob watering hole]. When a story took us to the resort, we found ourselves amazed when we looked at the membership board: Familiar names included Moe Dalitz [previously, and here], Frank Sinatra, Carl Cohen [the Sands casino manager who famously knocked out some of Sinatra’s teeth after the drunken crooner drove a golf cart through one of the hotel’s plate glass windows], and Don W. Reynolds, the publisher of the Review-Journal. For a fresh Vegas emigre, it felt like coming home.

We remember telling our managing editor the next day, “That La Costa looks like quite a place.”

We learned about the Penthouse story when a spotted an ad for it on the side of a bus in Los Angeles, where we had just started work for the Southern California Visitors Council — a gig we worked for a year before returning the ink-stained wretch trade at the late and much-lamented Santa Monica Evening Outlook.

We found the story of the resort’s financing by the mob-controlled Teamsters Central States Pension Fund fascinating, making sense of that membership board we’d seen seven years before.

But resort owners Merv Adelson, Irwin Molasky, Dalitz, and Allard Roen filed that $522 million lawsuit, and when push came to shove, the journalists folded, followed by Penthouse, with apologies accepted in exchange for each side bearing its own legal costs.

From the magazine’s 1985 skinback [a journalism term for what Kansas folks used to call “eating crow”], a declaration that Penthouse

did not mean to imply nor did it intend for its readers to believe that Messrs. Adelson and Molasky are or were members of organized crime or criminals. In addition, Penthouse acknowledges that all of the individual plaintiffs, including Messrs. Dalitz and Roen, have been extremely active in commendable civic and philanthropic activities which have earned them recognition from many estimable people. Furthermore Penthouse acknowledges that among plaintiffs’ successful business activities is the La Costa resort itself, one of the outstanding resort complexes of the world.

But now, 28 years after the settlement, comes conclusive proof that the journalists were right.

Here’s a telling quote from “Remembrance of Wings Past,” a remarkable profile of Merv Adelson by  Bryan Burrough in the March edition of Vanity Fair:

The Rancho La Costa resort opened its doors to the public in 1965. From the outset Adelson could tell his dreams of escaping the Mafia had been dashed. “The first guests, they were all Teamsters!” he exclaims. And then Detroit and Chicago Mob bosses, all the way up to Meyer Lansky himself. “There were hundreds of them!” Adelson adds. “I couldn’t get rid of them! The Teamsters treated it like their country club. It got a real reputation. I didn’t like it at all. But I couldn’t stop it. We owed them money! What could I do?” His children were soon being teased with the same taunts they had heard in Las Vegas. He was trapped. A very rich trap, but a trap nevertheless.

Lansky was the mob’s money wizard, portrayed as “Hyman Roth” by Lee Strassberg in The Godfather, Part II, a man who got his start partnering with Bugsy Siegel [“Moe Green”] and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano:

Adelson is rather disingenuous in his interviews, claiming he had no idea who he’d gotten in bed with — hard to believe of anyone circulating in his circles in the Sin City of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, he claims, only with the publication of The Green Felt Jungle, a 1963 bestseller by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris did he realize just who he’d partnered with in his Sin City business dealings.

The profile paints a picture of a down on his luck octogenarian, living in a Santa Monica apartment no larger than the walk-in closets of his salad days dwellings.

So Bergman’s skinback was a farce, and the Penthouse article he disavowed was right. It didn’t hurt Bergman’s career, since he went on to produce for 60 Minutes, then found himself a nice nest at UC Berkeley’s journalism school.

Somewhere in hell, Moe Dalitz must be laughing his boney ass off.

NAFTA & GATT: Demolition of peoples, nations


A brilliant and prescient dissection of GATT and NAFTA from 1994 by then-UT Austin Professor of Economics and Latin American Studies Michael Conroy, including impacts on U.S. labor, Mexican corn farmers, and so much more.

Note also that he compares the loss of sovereign state powers created by NAFTA to those implemented by the creation of the European Economic Community.

Note too that he predicts the rise of the Mexican drug cartels, enabled by NAFTA’s facilitation of fast movement of goods across borders.

We were warned.

Part 1:

Part 2:

From the late, lamented, and utterly wonderful Austin public access show, Alternative Views. Lots more on their website, including this previously featured and utterly fascinating conversation with a brilliant journalist on the role played by the Central Intelligence Agency in the Reagan-era collapse of the U.S. savings and loan industry.

EuroWatch: Fake reform, Merkel woes, Greece


And much, much more.

That much-heralded “banking reform” that’s a central plank in Angela Merkel’s More Europe campaign is much less than meets the eye, at least when it comes to real reform. But it does consolidate power.

More challenges are confronting Merkel on her own turf, in the form of political and legal challenges and a bad election showing — but that hasn’t stopped a leading German corporate alliance from taking a shot at the PIIGS.

From Spain, socialists want to tax the rich [as does the French president], Bankia is getting another Brussels bailout, a conservative leaders calls for legislators to give up their paychecks, and the strings on the Spailout are revealed.

Ireland’s the target of more austerity demands from the IMF and the number two at the central bank says high unemployment will last for years. In England, the Tory-led government is cutting health and safety inspections.

Italian news is mainly bleak, with more bad economic numbers, a demand any bailout comes with no strings attached, a story about corruption, a protest by downsized workers, and a promise from the prime minister not to run again.

From Greece, the austerity-forced closing of a special needs program for children, a worse-tan-expected economic contraction, a big rebuff for Golden Dawn, and a major wave of strikes and protests.

Euro bank reform fails to kill the beast

The beast being the same mixing of banking activities that triggered the global financial collapse.

From John O’Donnell of Reuters:

The European Union will insist on higher reserves from banks and impose stricter oversight to protect taxpayers and savers from further bailouts caused by risk-taking, but will not break them up to separate investment banking from retail activities.

While there may be public backing for such a move, EU officials and banking experts said the splitting up of banks to lessen risks to the general public across the European Union would be too complex to achieve in the short term.

European banks, such as Barclays, Germany’s Deutsche Bank or France’s BNP Paribas, combine high street banking alongside that of riskier trading of stocks, debt and other securities. Royal Bank of Scotland’s rush to extend its investment arm resulted in it seeking the largest state bail-out of the crisis in Europe.

>snip<

The European Union will use tighter capital rules and closer European Central Bank oversight to stop banks taking risks that imperil the financial system, the financial experts said.

Read the rest.

So basically the eurocrats are refusing to get to the root of the problem.

It was, after all, banks trading on all those derivatives [and other “black” investments [collateralized debt obligations and suchlike] that triggered the crisis.

But we can trust the central banksters, right?

Doubts linger over Merkel’s More Europe agenda

In addition to the latest stumbling blocks in Greece [covered here] there’s that German court challenge to the European Stability Mechanism and the accompanying fund.

While a ruling by Germany’s Constitutional Court had been expected this week on the legality of the measure, not it appears there’s going to be a delay.

From Louise Armitstead of the London Telegraph:

A delay to the highly anticipated German court decision on bail-out funding and a rebellion in the Greek government over austerity doused hopes that the European Central Bank will be able to stem the crisis after all.

Germany’s federal constitutional court said it might be forced to delay its ruling on the legality of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) because of an eleventh hour objection by an MP. Peter Gauweiler, a member of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, argued that the court ruling, due on Wednesday, should take time to assess the impact of the ECB’s “outright monetary transactions”, announced last week.

The German Chancellor’s spokesman insisted that the ECB’s plan to buy unlimited sovereign bonds from countries being supported by the bail-out funds – dubbed the Draghi Plan – should not impact the court ruling. However, the court said it would consider the request and announce its decision on Tuesday. A delay could push ratification of the fund back until next year, when countries including Spain are expected to require help imminently.

Read the rest.

More from Spiegel’s Philipp Wittrock:

The fact of the matter is that the Constitutional Court is taking the current pending complaints about the euro bailout very seriously. The main case being heard is backed by 37,000 German people, making it the biggest constitutional complaint in German history. Even though the current decision is being conducted in expedited proceedings, the court’s justices have still allowed themselves more time than they normally would. They also took other unusual steps for expedited proceedings, including hearing oral arguments.

The question for the court now is this: If it wants to stick to the position it has held until now, will the court not also have to take the appropriate amount of time to consider Gauweiler’s complaint? Does it not need a few more days or weeks? Or has the court already taken into account in its ruling that the ECB might move ahead with a bond-buying program that would include a role for the ESM?

Read the rest.

More on the legal issues from Daphne Grathwohl of Deutsche Welle, who notes that at least 37,000 citizens have filed complaints spearheaded by a Nürnberg attorney charging that stripping the nation of financial autonomy breaches the German constitution:

And he’s not the only one. Together with former Justice Minister Herta Däubler Gmelin from the opposition party SPD, Degenhart has filed a constitutional complaint against both euro rescue mechanisms. According to him, the mechanisms risk whittling away the democratic principles at work in Europe and Germany.

All in all, 37,000 citizens have filed constitutional complaints against the ESM and the fiscal compact. Twenty five thousand of those have done so by supporting the complaints filed by Degenhart and former Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin.

The plaintiffs also criticize that there is no cancelation clause and no limitation of liability in the rescue mechanisms. If the ESM goes through, the Governors’ Board – the eurozone finance ministers – could in theory top up the capital stock whenever deemed necessary.

That would mean the German Parliament would lose its budgetary sovereignty. In addition, the authors of the complaint claim that the ESM stands in stark contrast to the no-bail-out clause written down in the European treaties which stipulates that no state can be liable for other countries’ debts.

Read the rest.

For the latest filing, see this Deutsche Welle story.

Merkel loses support in regional election

While Merkel’s party wasn’t expected to win the regional vote in a West German state, the margin of loss was greater than political experts predicted.

One has to wonder what role Merkel’s push for More Europe played in the defeat.

From Jean-Baptiste Piggin of Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats plunged below 26 per cent in a regional German election Sunday in North Rhine Westphalia state, vote count projections for public television showed.

The state-assembly ballot has been dubbed a German mini general election, as one fifth of Germans live in the western state. Merkel, who is personally popular but heads a fractious cabinet, faces a federal election in 2013.

Merkel had been expecting a setback, but the loss was even bigger than forecast by pollsters, who had tipped a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) result of 30-31 per cent after a gaffe-prone campaign.

The chancellor insisted days ago the poll was a regional event, not a verdict on her federal government. “The election on Sunday is an important state assembly election for North Rhine Westphalia, no more and no less,” Merkel said in a newspaper interview Thursday. She is not expected to comment publicly on the poll setback until late Monday.

Merkel‘s main rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), won 38.8 per cent of votes, securing joint control, with the Green Party, of the state government, according to the normally reliable projections for ARD and ZDF public television. The data placed CDU support at 25.8 and 25.9 per cent, ZDF and ARD said respectively.

Read the rest.

Another German shot at the PIIGS

This time the austerian lash comes from the Bundesverband Großhandel, Außenhandel, Dienstleistungen [Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade, and Services], the largest organization of its kind and representing industries ranging from agriculture and chemicals to publishing and jewelry.

From The Economic Times [India]:

The euro zone could break up if people living in crisis-stricken southern European countries do not accept structural reforms in the coming years, the head of Germany’s BGA trade association said on Monday.

Anton Boerner also dismissed concerns that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, could sink into recession in 2012 and said he expected German exports to increase both this year and next.

“If people do not say yes (to structural reforms), then the euro will not be able to exist in its current form,” Boerner told Reuters in an interview.

“If the southern European states say yes, we accept the challenges … then the euro will be stronger than ever before,” he added.

Read the rest.

And on to Spain. . .

Tax the rich, say Spanish socialists

What a concept!

With the economy trashed, unemployment setting records, and banks failing yet again, the Spanish socialists are actually taxing the have-mores.

From Vera G. Calvo of El País:

The Socialist Party is proposing higher taxes for Spain’s wealthiest individuals and corporations as an alternative to more spending cuts that affect Spaniards as a whole. Opposition leaders are also talking about a “social sustainability law” that would preserve some public Continue reading

GreeceWatch: Cuts stall & a stunning development


Much to report, starting with news that the coalition government still can’t agree on all those misery-inflicting, Troika-demanded cuts.

But the real shocker is the Troika’s latest demand, new rules that abolish the five-day work week and gut the power of organized labor — measures certain to add fuel to the fires of dissent.

We’ve got new polling numbers for Greece’s political parties, with all of them down except for the big winner, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and by a far small amount, the Communists.

The head of a major German firm is calling for a Grexit, while the Austrian foreign minister is demanding no mercy, a sentiment favored by most Austrians.

Meanwhile, drastic price cuts have failed to draw Greeks to stores, while the government is putting the former royal palace up for sale and Turkish buyers covet those Greek islands their country once lost in a war.

Doctors and prosecutors are launching job actions while Greeks, seeking relief, turn to TV sitcoms from the 1950s. We close with a story about another austerity victim.

Cuts package held off another week

The coalition headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras didn’t approve those Troika-demanded cuts Friday, despite stories that a rubber stamp vote was expected.

Now they’re saying they need another week to determine just which of their constituents will suffer most under the latest round of the austerian regime.

From Athens News:

The new, 11.5bn euro austerity will be finalised “no later than early next week”, the government spokesman said on Monday.

In an interview with Radio Alpha 98.9, Simos Kedikoglou claimed that the government was trying to “find the fairest possible solution at a very difficult time for decisions that no one would like to take but which were necessary and the last” that the country will have to take.

Kedikoglou also said that the austerity package would be accompanied by development policies.

“11.5bn euros is the amount that must be saved for us to begin to regain our economic independence,” the minister told the station.

More from Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

Time was quickly running out Monday for Greece to finalise billions of euros worth of spending cuts ahead of a visit later this week by the country’s international creditors.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is struggling to get his coalition partners to back 11.5 billion euros (14.4 billion dollars) in austerity cuts for 2013-2014, must have the package ready by Friday under its commitments to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), collectively known as the troika.

The troika, which has been keeping the country solvent with rescue loans since 2010, will then decide whether to release the next bailout payment, totaling 31.5 billion euros. Without the money, Greece will be forced to default on its debt.

After weeks of negotiations, Samaras will once again meet with coalition partners – the socialist PASOK and Democratic Left – on Wednesday in an attempt to fine-tune the list of cutbacks.

Read the rest.

Some members of the socialist-in-name-only PASOK are up in arms over the scope of the disaster, as well as a few members of the Democratic Left, while opposition is unanimous on the part of the two major authentically left parties, Syriza and the Communists, as well as among memb ers of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.

More of the growing opposition within the Democratic Left ranks from Ekathemerini:

The new austerity package that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras aims to nail down next week is not only threatened by vehement objections from the main leftist opposition SYRIZA but could be jeopardized by serious concerns from the moderate Democratic Left, the smallest party in the shaky coalition government.

In an interview with Kathimerini, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said his party would only approve the 11.5-billion-euro package of measures if he is convinced that no more sacrifices will be demanded of austerity-weary Greeks.

“Whether we vote in favor of the measures or not will depend on what those measures are and on the growth-oriented initiatives that will accompany them,” Kouvelis said, adding that he supported the government but would not back it unconditionally. He said he did not intend to punish MPs who vote against the measures by ejecting them from the party — a tactic followed by socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy in February when several of their lawmakers voted against a raft of cuts then.

Kouvelis stressed that his priorities were to secure the country’s position in the euro and its “political stability” on the domestic level. He said former Socialist Premier George Papandreou, who sought Greece’s first bailout in April 2010, bore “massive responsibility” for the country’s “unprecedented tribulations” as one austerity package followed another.

Read the rest.

But that’s not the real shocker. . .

Troika demands Greeks work six days and longer hours

If the Troika wanted to impose any single measure designed to enrage the suffering people of Greece, it would be to make Greeks add a sixth day to their work week.

Bear in mind that such a move would reduce the already minimal demand for new workers in a country whose people already more hours than any other eurozone country, while reducing those who already work to a state of sheer exhaustion. But maybe that’s the goal?

From Greek Reporter’s Andy Dabilis:

A confidential email to the Greek Ministries of  Finance and Labor from international lenders putting up $325 billion in two bailouts to keep the economy from failing states that Greeks should work six days a week and longer hours.

The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB,) already pushing the uneasy coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to make another $14.16  billion in cuts, is insisting on even harsher measures for workers.

The financial newspaper Imerisia reported that the Troika’s email was sent on Aug. 31, ahead of meetings Samaras had with his coalition partners, the PASOK Socialists of  Evangelos Venizelos and the Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis, as the government prepared for the return of Troika envoys on Sept. 5.

The Troika wants greater flexibility in work hours, although Greeks already are near the top in Europe, and wants to let private companies set work rules for hiring and firing and other conditions, according to their needs.

Read the rest.

More details via From the Greek Streets:

According to daily “Imerisia”, the Troika demands:

“Reducing the high cost of entry and exit of workers from the labor market” (ie employees’ compensations due to lay-off or retirement) and “increasing the flexibility of work programs (ie disconnection of working hours of employees from the opening hours of businesses, arrangements between employers and employees on daily basis).

In simple language “greater flexibility in working hours of employees” translates into:

  • 5-Days Week to turn into a 6-Days Week. The minimum resting hours should be decreased into 11 per day. Which means, an employee could be called to work 13 hours per day. Also existing restrictions on switching between morning and afternoon shifts should be abolished.
  • Employers could hire, fire and have employees working according to the business needs.
  • Shortening of time to announce employees’ lay-off. The Troika considers the time of 4 up to 6 months as too long.
  • Further reduce the compensation for lay-off by 50%.
  • Reduction of contributions to social insurance.

Read the rest.

More from Athens News:

The troika suggested that employers should be able to fire employees more easily. Specifically, they proposed cutting by half the amount of notice that employees receive before being fired, from 4-6 months to 2-3 months. Similarly, they asked that the compensation workers receive upon retiring be reduced by at least 50 percent, if they receive another pension, and that compensation for workers who are fired be reduced by up to 50 percent.

In terms of worker flexibility, the troika called for looser regulations governing working hours, so that employees might work for six days a week, with a minimum rest between shifts of only 11 hours. They also proposed to lift restrictions on switching workers between morning and evening shifts.

The troika’s demands are expected to cause increased conflict in the already tense relations between the General Confederation of Greek Labour (GSEE) and the government.

Read the rest.

Are they effin’ nuts?

Nothing more clearly reveals the rotten core of neoliberalism at the heart of the Continue reading

Globe on the brink, banksters behaving badly


There’s no doubt that the current financial debacle originated in that housing bubble-fueled host of derivative speculation that consumed Wall Street before the crash.

Despite all the media hype, there’s been no recovery since, and things look worse by the day.

Banksters brought the crisis on, enabled by a spectacular collapse of the regulatory regime built up after the last great crash in 1929.

So how are banksters behaving today?

Read on, and you’ll find some of their latest shenanigans.

But first, a prognostication from a Nobel Laureate.

2013, the year of the American fiscal cliff

So says Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University economist and chair of the University of Manchester’s Brooks World Poverty Institute, among many other titles.

From Richard Blackden of the London Telegraph:

The US economy is likely to fall over a “fiscal cliff” at the start of next year because Washington will be too divided to stop it, Joseph Stiglitz, one of the world’s leading economists, has warned

America faces a combination of tax increases and spending cuts in January which risk plunging the world’s biggest economy back into recession if they are all allowed to happen, he said.

“There are so many political battles ahead that the likelihood we avoid all of these elements that will then avoid the fiscal cliff is very problematic,” Mr Stiglitz told The Sunday Telegraph. “It’s a real danger.”

The warning comes as concerns grow that the US will embark on a fiscal squeeze that economists estimate will be between 3.5pc and 4pc of the country’s gross domestic product. By contrast, the International Monetary Fund has said that Britain’s fiscal contraction amounted to 1.7pc of GDP last year and a further 1.6pc is due this year.

“It’s unambiguously the case that these measures will slow down growth,” said Mr Stiglitz. “If there is European turmoil, there is a significant probability of going into a recession.”

Read the rest.

We’ll cite another Stiglitz observation, relevant for what is to follow.

From Vanity Fair, May 2011:

Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

Read the rest.

And now for the banksters, that perfect fusion of wealth and power.

Banksters fulfilling the name

Bankster entered the lexicon in 1933, coined in the rhetoric of Senate Committee on Banking and Currency hearings looking into the role of bank conduct before and during the onset of the Great Depression. Out of their work emerged the Glass-Steagall regulations abolished by Bill Clinton — setting the stage for our current crisis.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt embraced the term, combining banker and gangster, as a rallying cry for the regulatory regime.

It wasn’t long after Clinton put his signature on the deregulatory act that the bankster reemerged, freed of the binding chains of law.

And with huge bonuses at stake, deregulated banksters weren’t averse to stepping over what few lines remained.

From “The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia; How America’s biggest banks took part in a nationwide bid-rigging conspiracy – until they were caught on tape,”a provocative piece by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone describing United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, a criminal case that lead to the convictions of three colleagues at GE Capital:

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being -cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What’s more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street’s secret machinations were revealed during the Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices. The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves’ cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about “getting a button man to clip the capo,” on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like “pull a nickel out” or “get to the right level” or “you’re hanging out there” – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds. The only thing that made this trial different from a typical mob trial was the scale of the crime.

USA v. Carollo involved classic cartel activity: not just one corrupt bank, but many, all acting in careful concert against the public interest.

Read the rest.

Here’s a video from Moyers & Company about bankster and regulatory foibles and felonies featuring Matt Taibbi and Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism [an esnl favorite]. Taibbi expands on the banks qua crime syndicates, and Smith offers an incisive perception of the power of the bankster oligopoly.

And catch that bit about those toxic, community destroying credit default swaps, since you’ll be hearing about another kind of swap as you read on.

The profitable JPMorgan Chase revolving door

Public service is supposed to be its own reward, that and a decent pension.

But that most powerful of Wall Street banksters offers other rewards, and its finding lot of former public servants eager to take them. All they’ve got to do is sell their former colleagues into acting at the bank’s behest.

They, and their similarly employed fellows at other Wall Street dens of inequity are the cognoscenti who have spectacularly succeeded in doing so much to bring about the disaster currently surrounding those of us not reaping eight-, nine-, and ten-figure rewards for spreading global devastation.

From Michael Smallberg of the Project On Government Oversight:

Amid a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulation, JPMorgan Chase, the banking powerhouse, has often deployed former government officials to represent it in Washington.

In a November discussion with Treasury officials, its team included a former assistant secretary of the Treasury, according to government Continue reading

‘Banking with Hitler,’ a highly disturbing reminder


A superb 1998 documentary by Paul Elston for BBC’s Timewatch narrated by Arthur Kent, Banking with Hitler offers a timely reminder of the essential amorality of banks.

More than 370 Swiss banks opened their vaults to the Nazis during World War II, and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau was outraged, and launched an investigation that revealed the cooperation of many Wall Street and London banks as well.

Even more shocking was the role of a Swiss-based institution, the Bank of International Settlements [BIS], created by London and Berlin and headed by an American, was the critical funding mechanism for Hitler’s regime — with the cooperation between the banksters’ financial Axis and the Nazi-dominated war-making Axis continued with the full knowledge of the British and American governments.

BIS president Thomas McKittrick, whose ostensible loyalties lay with Washington, was in fact a close friend of Nazi financial wizards, and regularly partied them at the height of the war. The BIS laundered the Nazis’ wealth, looted from conquered nations and the seized assets of European Jews.

Bank of England head Montague Norman fiercely resisted any efforts to rein in the BIS because the bank was making tidy profits off the Nazi’s looted riches

The Norwegian government in exile demanded that the BIS be shut down, but the move was fiercely and successfully resisted by Britain at the famous Bretton Woods conference, despite Morgenthau’s opposition. But British economist John Maynard Keynes led the resistance to a shutdown, saying the bank would be needed to rebuild Europe after the war.

Another center of resistance was Chase bank, the ancestor of JP Morgan Chase, drawing the attention of Morgenthau’s investigators, who discovered the bank had cooperated closely with the Nazi regime through its Paris branch, which remained open throughout the war. Chase also cooperated with the Nazis in seizing the assets of Jewish clients on behalf of the Nazi occupation regime.

British banks also remained open in occupied Paris, cooperating with the Nazis.

Morgenthau’s investigators found evidence of pro-Nazi sympathizers in many of America’s biggest banks, but his investigations were shut down after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he left office in bitter disappointment. McKittrick, the BIS boss, went on to work for Chase, as did one of the leading Nazi bankers.

As for Morgenthau’s staff, many were targeted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC], their lives, reputations, and careers destroyed.

The moral: Banks don’t have morals, and they’re quite willing to work with mass murderers as long as there’s a buck to be made.

NATO-Chicago, police state proving ground


When the two-day summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization gets underway in Chicago on the 20th, we’ll be treated to a showcase of newly strengthened police powers in the form of Operation Red Zone.

The chilling expansion of the Obama administration’s vastly expanded police powers will meld with draconian measures implemented in January by Chicago Mayor — and former Obama Chief of Staff — Rahm Emanuel.

In addition to the new laws, plans are already in place for a mass evacuation of the city and the resurrection of a closed prison to house the anticipated massive arrests.

The goal: Reducing dissent to an irrelevancy by first containing it, then swooping in for mass arrests.

And beneath the obvious measures, we’re sure the National Security Agency and other agencies are busy intercepting communications and preparing target lists for arrests by the FBI, Secret Service, and the Chicago Police Department.

The NATO summit is certainly a legitimate protest target, given NATO’s increasing belligerence in the Islamic world and in that missile defense system the Obama administration has pushed on Europe — much to Russia’s outrage.

The meeting will also focus on NATO strategy in Afghanistan and, presumably, contingency plans for assaults on Iran and Syria.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest NATO propaganda piece:

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stressed the importance of this month’s Chicago Summit to the future of the Alliance and its mission in Afghanistan, in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on 4 May 2012.

Mr. Fogh Rasmussen praised Germany’s steadfast support for the Alliance and its missions, notably in Afghanistan, Kosovo and off the coast of Somalia.

>snip<

The Secretary General discussed the 20-21 May Chicago Summit agenda in his meeting with the Chancellor. He said that the Chicago Summit will be a crucial one for the Alliance. The Summit will have three main goals: Afghanistan, capabilities and partnerships.

“This will be a vital moment, as we set out how to keep NATO of the future as strong and successful as the NATO of the past,” said Mr. Fogh Rasmussen.

Read the rest.

Add in the presence of a stellar cast of Western presidents, prime ministers, admirals, generals, and sundry other stars of the power elite, and you’ve got a very legitimate target of protest.

In a Thursday story, the Associated Press listed some of the movements expected at the protest. They include anti-war groups, organized labor, Occupy activists, civil rights advocates, environmentalists, immigrant and refugee advocates, and others we would loosely group together as social justice movements.

Go here for the full list.

And now it starts to get interesting.

Chicago evacuation planned for NATO summit?

First, a clip from CBS News 2 in Chicago:

From the CBS news story:

Are there plans in place for a mass evacuation of downtown in the event of riots on May 20-21? A Red Cross memo out of Milwaukee indicates that there is.

>snip<

As for the Red Cross plan, CBS 2 News has obtained a copy of an e-mail sent to volunteers in the Milwaukee area.

It said the NATO summit “may create unrest or another national security incident. The American Red Cross in southeastern Wisconsin has been asked to place a number of shelters on standby in the event of evacuation of Chicago.”

According to a chapter spokesperson, the evacuation plan is not theirs alone.

“Our direction has come from the City of Chicago and the Secret Service,” she said.

Officials at Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication said the directive did not come from them.

The U.S. Secret Service did not return calls for comment.

Read the rest.

Fox News in Chicago has posted a memo [PDF] sent to residents of the Liberty Tower Condominium Association on State Street urging them to find accommodations outside the city during the protest and warning that the Secret Service won’t announce train and bus service cancellations until right before the summit.

Black helicopters cruise the Chicago skies

Really, Black helicopters. Filled with guys with guns.

A video from Fox News aired last month shows a strange “routine military training exercise” over Chicago last month, featuring machine gun-armed troops flying in black Blackhawk helicopters below rooftop level through the city’s streets:

Throwing in the Fear Factor

The history of the 20th Century reveals countless examples of governments inciting fear of terrorism and alien invasion as justifications for massive repression.

The most notable example remains the Enabling Act, passed after the Reichstag Fire in Germany in 1933. By depicting the blaze as the act of a Soviet/Jewish conspiracy, Hitler got the folks who used to meet in the burned building to pass legislation granting him dictatorial powers. The next day, in an orgy of violence, Left parties and labor unions were smashed and their property confiscated, effectively destroying the two major bases of opposition. We all know the rest of the story.

By whipping up anti-Communist fears, starting in 1948 Republicans and their allies in the Southern Democrats were able to deny civil rights to American communists and cooperate with the media world in purging journalists, directors, actors, writers, and others from their jobs — including many whose sole crimes were refusing to turn snitch or invoking their constitutional rights. The law was used to purge labor unions and force even liberal Democrats to sign on to the purge.

What began in 1948 was vastly expanded in the wake of 9/11, following the same recipe Hitler followed. The only difference was in the choice of targets. The Jews, targets of those earlier purges in both countries, were now the good guys, while another Semitic people was selected for black hat role.

In that light, consider this from the New York Post, headlined “Chicago hospitals perform dirty bomb response drills ahead of NATO summit”:

Chicago’s suburban hospitals are preparing for a worst-case scenario during next month’s NATO summit.

At least 10 Chicago hospitals performed drills this week, including Evanston Hospital, simulating a radioactive dirty bomb explosion.

“We want to make sure that, as we’re getting close to the NATO Summit, that our staff are ready and trained and able to take care of our community,” NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Brigham Temple said.

The “victims” were volunteers from the US Navy’s Great Lakes training center.

>snip<

They were posing as victims of a so-called “dirty bomb” that had exploded, leaving them with deadly radioactive cesium on their skin. Doctors and nurses would risk their own lives if they began treating the wounded before they are cleansed of radiation.

Temple said Wednesday’s dirty bomb scenario had been worked out in conjunction with the Secret Service and the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Read the rest.

Operation Red Zone

That “Red Zone” phrase will be familiar to anyone who watched the documentary about police containment strategies for the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto that we posted on May Day.

Red Zone was the term used then by Canadian authorities to define areas where protests were excluded.

To enforce their police actions, the Canadian police relied on a dormant piece of legislation passed in 1939 as Canada entered World War II: The Public Works Protection Act, which hadn’t been enforced since the end of the war.

While Canadians already had a law enabling them to enforce draconian restrictions on citizens, the Obama administration lacked a comparable law.

Until this year, when Barack Obama signed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Continue reading

Court: Berlusconi did the wiseguy Bunga Bunga


Wiseguys, for folks who don’t follow such things, are members of the Honored Society, La Cosa Nosta, the Mob, the Bent Nose Boys, or, more commonly, the Mafia.

And evidence before an Italian court reveals that media mogul and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid hefty sums of protection money to the underworld.

From Xinhua:

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi paid large sums of money to the Sicilian mafia in order to protect him and his family in the 1970s through a close associate, the country’s highest court said on Tuesday.

The Court of Cassation said Senator Marcello Dell’Utri, a former aide of Berlusconi, was the “go-between” for Berlusconi who paid the Cosa Nostra “substantial sums” of money to guarantee his safety.

“Berlusconi handed over conspicuous sums of money to the mafia,” the court said in a 146-page document outlining the reasons for its decision last month to quash a trial against Dell’Utri, a Sicilian who worked for Berlusconi at that time.

In its judgement on Tuesday, the court noted there was an agreement to “guarantee the freedom of movement and activities” of Berlusconi while noting he was the “victim” of extortion.

Although the former prime minister is mentioned in the court ruling, he was not involved in the case.

Read the rest.

Berlusconi’s prostitution trial continues

Gangsters, of course, aren’t the only folk Berlusconi is accused of paying.

He’s currently on trial for feloniously paying an underage woman for sex at his infamous Bunga Bunga parties where, among other things, other young women dressed as nuns entertained the media baron’s buddies with a sacrilegious striptease.

The latest on the trial from Erik West of The Australian Eye:

Showgirls who allegedly performed stripteases for Silvio Berlusconi at his “bunga bunga” parties did so in exchange for apartments, cash and help with their Showbusiness careers, according to court documents revealed on Wednesday.

The aspiring actresses and models were apparently anxious to squeeze as much money and as many favours as possible out of the then prime minister, amid fears that sex scandals could topple him from power.

They were also angling for “raccomandazioni” – favourable references from the prime minister, who could make or break Showbusiness careers through the television channels run by Mediaset, his media empire.

Telephone conversations between Mr Berlusconi, 75, and the more than 30 women alleged to have attended the parties were intercepted and recorded by prosecutors in Milan.

They form the core evidence against the former premier in an ongoing trial in which he is accused of abuse of office and of paying for sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer whom prosecutors believe was working as an under-age prostitute. He denies the charges.

Read the rest.

And then there’s this from Rupert Murdoch’s beloved tabloid, The Sun:

Sleazy Silvio Berlusconi was dubbed the “boss of bosses” by a woman who allegedly recruited girls for his bunga bunga parties, it emerged yesterday.

Local councillor Nicole Minetti, 27, made the remark about the ex-Italian PM in a call to a pal.

She said there would be a party that night and added: “There are certain types there — the whore, the South American from the favelas, the one who is a bit more serious.”

In another call she said: “When I strip off I’ll be just in sexy underwear.”

Read the rest.

Gee, wonder if Dominique Strauss-Kahn was ever in attendance.

Artificial in-Siemens-ation: Bribes and hypocrisy


A drama worthy of Kafka has been playing out between Germany and Greece, and it involves all the classic stuff of political scandal: Huge bribes, government and corporate corruption, debt, corrupt defense and construction contracts, and those nasty national stereotypes.

The bottom line: Germany, which has been delivering high-toned morality lectures to Greece about profligate spending and reckless indebtedness, has been the source of big fat bribes directly responsible for much of that debt and spending, a lot of it bankrolled by loans from German banks.

One of the major players has been Siemens AG, a fine old German company based in Munich with a record for bribing foreign governments that goes back at least a century.

But the IMF’s boss says it’s just a question of lazy Southern Europeans resenting those thrifty Nordic types [really, read on to the end].

The latest casualty, a high-flying socialist

Today was a bad day for former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who was arrested at his Athenian mansion on charges of money laundering, allegedly stemming from dry-cleaning bribes from German corporateers.

The mordida was given in exchange for contracts for the Greek purchase of, among other things, submarines and Patriot missiles.

Some background from Greek Reporter:

Tsohatzopulos has been linked in numerous bribing, money laundering and tax evasion scandals. In early 2011, following an investigation by a specialized committee of the Hellenic Parliament, evidence emerged that Tsochatzopoulos was also involved in the Siemens scandal. Among others, the committee statement included: “Mr. Tsochatzopoulos is being checked in regards to his activities in the capacity of Minister for National Defence between 1996 and 2001. The Committee combines the orders for defence systems that occurred under his leadership with the confessions of the people managing the ‘black’ money given by Siemens as bribe for the MIM-104 Patriot systems”.

In April 2011 new evidence emerged that tied Tsochatzopoulos to yet another scandal in addition to the previous two, this time with the German company Ferrostaal in relation to the purchase of German submarines. According to the newspaper Real News, Tsochatzopoulos had received thanks from the German representatives for having been chosen for the purchase before a deal had been signed. Tsochatzopoulos threatened to go to courts over the newspaper’s front page, which he considered to be “insulting”. In mid April the parliamentary group of PASOK decided on the creation of committee to investigate the submarine scandal. Tsochatzopoulos accused the parliamentary group of acting in line with the opposition and of making wrong moves against him. A few days later he made a request to the Areios Pagos, Greece’s supreme court, to move faster with the procedure of investigating his assets. On 11 April 2011 the George Papandreou government decided to expel him from the party.

Read the rest.

More from Athens News:

Television showed images of plainclothes police officers leading the 72-year-old away from his luxurious neoclassical mansion on Dionysiou Aeropagitou St, opposite the Acropolis.

His purchase of the mansion prompted the investigation.

Tsochatzopoulos, who has held a total of seven portfolios including defence between 1981 and 2004, faces felony charges in relation to property deals and possible tax violations, a court official said on condition of anonymity.

Read the rest.

And then there’s the ex-Minister of Transportation

Tasos Mantelis, another capitalist in socialist party [PASOK] garb, admitted two years ago that he’d taken a hefty chunk of change from Siemens, as Chania reported [and, yeah, their translation is atrocious]:

Mantelis acknowledged in his testimony to the Selection Committee for Siemens, the German group that gave him 200 thousand euros for the election campaign. “All and all the light, as we said from the beginning, without any discrimination and exclusion,” commented cycles Maximos Mansion.

Preceding the filing of the entrepreneur and the best man, George rakes, who said the former minister said that the amount deposited to an account in Geneva from sponsorship of the German company.

George Tsougrani admitted that he Tasos Mantelis had asked him in 1998 to open an account in his name so that in him to be deposited donations of friends of the former minister for his own campaign. Indeed, on 2 November 1998 and February 8, 2000 filed by an unknown source 200. 000 250 000 marks respectively.

But according to witnesses, no money went to campaign Tassos Mantelis, but given the children, while a section of 163 800 was transferred a few months when they have broke the Siemens scandal on behalf of Alpha Bank in Greece.

Read the rest.

More from a Google translation of an article in Ta Nea Online:

As members of the examining Mr. T. Mantelis argued that the money was never used by Siemens for his campaign expenses and had already gathered the required amount for his campaign. And when asked how he approached the people of the German company, said that one of the stranger who called in English said he was from the German company and they want to deposit the amount for an election expense. And when he asked him about what money was, the stranger replied that what is customary in these cases … Speaking to parliamentarians and the Inquiry argued that there is nothing more than an office and a home and prompted them to open all accounts!

Read the rest.

Ta Nea also reports that the former minister has managed to accumulate, in addition to his home, at least 26 pieces of real estate totaling at least a million square meters, most of it in Megara.

That’s some kind of socialist!

Siemens gets off with a swat on the wrist

So what happened to Siemens, the drug dealer to the Greek “socialist” bribe junkies?

Here’s the latest from RT, posted Monday:

German electronics company Siemens has agreed to pay about 270 million euro to the Greek state in order to settle a legal action over bribing Greek officials.

Siemens promised to pay 80 million euros for debt repayments, 90 million will be spent on compensation of losses.  Siemens will also invest about 100 million euro in academic and research programs.

Siemens has officially apologized to Greek people for corrupt practices used by the firm in the past.

In response, the Greek Government promised not to file any further claims against the company and allow it to bid for new orders.

The investigation by the Greek authorities in 2007-2011 revealed Siemens bribed officials during 1997-2002 to get telecoms as well security contracts for the 2004 Athens Olympics. The former Transport Minister, Tassos Mantelis admitted receiving the equivalent of 100,000 euros from Siemens in 1998.

Read the rest.

But the company is already on the way to recouping some of their losses, as A. Papapostolo notes at Greek Reporter:

German engineering giant Siemens, which recently settled a bribery dispute with the Greek government, said Wednesday it has won a 41-million-euro contract for the Athens metro.

Siemens said in a statement it will supply signalling technology and Continue reading

Barack Obama, the first official Casino President


That Hope™ may result in less Change™ in our pockets, at least for those of us who are wont to feed the insatiable hunger of the one-armed bandit.

As regular readers know, our first daily newspaper job was in America’s gambling capital, Sin City itself, Las Vegas U.S.A.

We’re very skeptical about casinos. For one thing, as we all know by now, the house always wins.

But casinos are the perfect model for our Brave New Economy, where we’re all encouraged to see ourselves one throw of the dice away for realizing our Inner Millionaire, while all our cash winds up in the pockets of folks who’re already rich.

And while we skeptical of gambling in general, we’re even more dubious about Native American gambling casinos.

The tribal Trojan horse

Back when we started reporting, gambling — except for horse and greyhound tracks — was illegal everywhere except Nevada. Needless to say, folks still gambled, and the folks who made all the profits from illegal gambling were wiseguys, the same folks who made all that loot off Nevada’s casinos back where were reporting for the Las Vegas Review-Journal way back in 1966.

It took the FBI to bust the mob’s stranglehold on casinos, a massive effort that involved wiretaps, bugs, informants, and some brilliant legal strategies on the part of the Department of Justice.

Legal gambling spread from Nevada to Atlantic City, where a voter referendum enabled Las Vegas casinos to set up shop on the Atlantic Coast. While the mob initially made some inroads in New Jersey, a decent state regulatory system and the work of state police and the FBI forced out the goombahs.

And then the Supreme Court opened the door to the nation’s Native Americans in a case that legalized a California tribe’s bingo parlor.

Soon casinos started sprouting up around the country, and some states opened the doors to gambling, so long as it took place on “river boats,” most of which never turned a paddle and stayed firmly lashed to their docks or beached on Gulf Coast sand.

But unlike the river boats and landlocked casinos old and new, tribal casinos don’t have to sweat either state regulators and face only minimal oversight by the Federal Bureau of Investigation [which, after the Pine Ridge killings, is no doubt not entirely a bad thing].

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 paved the way for the tribal gambling bonanza, and the tribes now generate more annual gross — that is, the totals lost by gamblers over the tables in hotel suites, gift shops, and restaurants — than folks dropped on the tables and in the slots of Sin City and the Boardwalk City combined.

Casinos sprouted up even in the heart of the Bible Belt, in part because even a lot of Fundamentalist white America feels a much-deserved guilt about the way our ancestors broke treaty after treaty, guns blazing.

For a time, tribal casinos were confined to reservations

For a time. . .

Then town and cities, eager for funds as federal appropriations dropped, agreed to accept off-reservation casinos on land that would fall under tribal jurisdiction only after the project received federal approval and recognition. Gambling, as it’s always done, had metastasized.

Then George W. Bush tightened up the regs on off-reservation grind and carpet joints, one of the few actions he took that esnl can wholeheartedly endorse. Under the Bush doctrine, tribes could only locate casinos within commuting Continue reading

WikiCables: Operation ‘Just Cause’ indeed


Back in December, 1989, the first President George Bush decided to prove his bellicose bona fides and lack of wimpishness by invading Panama to depose Manuel Noriega, an otherwise reliable American ally and a willing participant in the Reagan administration’s illegal arms-for-hostages schemes.

The ostensible reason for Noriega’s ouster in Operation Just Cause was his involvement in deals with South American drug cartels that allowed them to use his country as a transit point.

Two SECRET/NOFORN cables from Obama administration Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson reveal that little has changed since the world’s greatest military power ignominiously triumphed over one of the world’s weakest powers.

WikiCable I: Drugs along the borders

A 17 August dispatch titled “The Gang Threat on Panama’s Costa Rican Border” offers a picture of deep official corruption, with little changed since Noriega’s day.

An excerpt:

Adding to the difficulties of controlling the Costa Rican border, Post has credible information that the Panamanian National Police (PNP) commander for the Chiriqui province, Sub-Commissioner Bartolome Aguero, is himself working with criminal networks in Panama. Aguero is reportedly a member of a network of corrupt officers at the sub-commissioner rank in the PNP. PNP Director Gustavo Perez told POLOFF and NAS July 23 that the PNP had a corruption problem at “very high levels” in Chiriqui, and that he was examining how to deal with it. Even if Aguero is relieved of his command, the PNP upper ranks in the province are probably also tainted, and cleaning up the police force in the region will take time, and probably lead to a period of lower operational efficiency.

The document is posted online here.

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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
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RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUCNFB/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
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S E C R E T PANAMA 000625
NOFORN
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/21/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL SNAR PM

SUBJECT: THE GANG THREAT ON PANAMA’S COSTA RICAN BORDER

REF: PANAMA 00470

Classified By: AMBASSADOR BARBARA J. STEPHENSON FOR REASONS 1.4 (b) AND (d)

——-
Summary
——-

1. (S//NF) The border between Panama and Costa Rica has been described as a “no mans’ land”, where drugs flow across into Costa Rica and guns and money flow back into Panama. With parallel roads along either side of the border, over 200 possible crossing points, a free trade zone town sitting on the border itself, and chaotic and corrupt security agencies on the Panamanian side, it is virtually impossible to control the border itself. This wide open border has led to the growth of an important gun market on the Costa Rican side of the border which supplies the FARC, DTOs and local gangs with weapons, while large amounts of drugs and cash flow across the border. It has also created an “undergoverned space” that Central American and Mexican gangs may be exploiting to lay low and build a new base of operations. Panama’s National Frontier Service (SENAFRONT) reports an increase in assassinations in the area, which has traditionally been largely free of violent crime. The National Aero-Naval Service (SENAN) believes that recent maritime interdiction efforts may be forcing traffickers to move loads to land and take them through Panama on the Pan-American Highway, and across the border into Costa Rica. Post is concerned that an increase in overland drug and arms trafficking may further destabilize Panama and the other Central American nations. This is the exact opposite result than was intended when the strategy to increase Continue reading

WikiCable: Pushing Berlusconi on Vladimir Putin


Today’s offering: A CONFIDENTIAL 10 February 2009 dispatch from Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge’ d’Affaires Elizabeth Dibble at the U.S. embassy in Rome to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before her visit to Italy, which commenced three days later.

It’s a fascinating document, both for its portrayal of Italian Prime Minister Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi as a zealous pro-American, and for its frank acknowledgment of the pressure placed on foreign governments to toe the Washington line.

The most interesting sections deal with organized crime and with Washington’s ire over Berlusconi’s refusal to stay in step on Russia.

An excerpt [PM = Prime Minister, FM = Foreign Minister, MFA = Ministry of Foreign Affairs]:

Our cooperation with Berlusconi does not extend to all issues. Energy dependence, close personal relations between Berlusconi and Putin, and a lack of institutional influence on Berlusconi’s crafting of Italy’s Russia policy (the MFA’s entire Russia Department consists of one person and there is no one devoted exclusively to Russia in the PM’s office) have made Italy one of Russia’s most reliable partners in the EU in pressing the Kremlin’s political agenda. Italy’s foreign policy with regard to Russia is now driven almost entirely by Berlusconi’s desire to appease Putin and guarantee stable supplies of energy. Contrary to the GOI’s general positive actions on the ground, Berlusconi personally has been unhelpful, making zinger pronouncements undermining our efforts to bring stability to the Balkans, build closer ties between NATO and Georgia and Ukraine, and hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Georgia last summer. He has publicly announced his intention to try to broker the relationship between President Obama and President Medvedev. You could usefully underline to PM Berlusconi, FM Frattini and Chamber President Fini that Italy’s high-profile efforts to champion Putin’s initiatives, especially when they appear to support archaic notions of a Russian “sphere-of-influence” over sovereign countries, will find no support in Washington, and indeed, may only damage Italy’s credibility.

The cable is posted online here.

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ROME 000159
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TAGS: PGOV PREL IT

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR SPEAKER PELOSI’S FEBRUARY 13-22 VISIT TO ITALY

ROME 00000159 001.2 OF 004

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires a.i. Elizabeth Dibble for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Madame Speaker, I would like to extend a warm welcome from Team Italy in anticipation of your upcoming visit. Your trip comes at a critical moment as the Berlusconi government seeks to understand how it fits into the new Administration’s reengagement with Europe. Berlusconi’s close personal ties to President Bush and his position on the right hand side of the political spectrum are leading some here to fear that U.S.-Italian relations have already become cooler. Your visit will serve to reassure the GOI that Italy still remains within the inner circle of Allies that we rely on in the most difficult of moments. But it is also an opportunity to challenge them to do more in Afghanistan, moderate their behavior as a proxy for Russian policies in Europe, be a reliable partner on Iran and work closely with us to address the global financial crisis which is rapidly undermining Italy’s already sclerotic economy.

Domestic Politics: Berlusconi in Control, but Challenges Emerging
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2. (C) After two years of a divided and ineffectual center-left government, Italy saw Silvio Berlusconi return to power last year. Berlusconi enjoys a broad base of power that has allowed us to make good progress in continuing to advance our agenda. He used his first months back in office to deliver results on election promises, though long-term solutions to most problems are still needed. The trash problem in Naples is not yet permanently solved, but the streets are cleared and troops are keeping dumps and incinerators open. Public worries about street crime have been addressed by a sweeping new security law. A public finance law has overhauled the annual budget process, which traditionally has eaten up months of Parliament’s time, but Italy’s faltering economy casts doubt on whether budget targets will be met. Berlusconi’s government drafted and passed these laws mostly without consulting the center-left opposition, which has grown more fragmented and less effective. Most foreign policy initiatives are directed by Berlusconi personally without the need of any legislation.

3. (C) Berlusconi’s honeymoon period now appears to be over as some key initiatives have stalled and intra-coalition squabbling has begun to erupt. Education reform was significantly scaled back after large protests in October, justice reform is stalled, and fiscal federalism is the subject of infighting between the Northern League (LN) and Berlusconi’s People of Liberty (PdL) party. In the run-up to the June 2009 European parliament elections, tensions between PdL and LN are sure to grow as LN seeks to differentiate itself from its larger partner. The center left remains deeply divided, and the European elections will be a critical moment for it to evaluate whether it needs new leadership.

Organized Crime:

Slowing Growth and Fraying the Social Fabric
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4. (C) Organized crime remains a serious and pervasive problem throughout the country, particularly in the South. By some estimates, organized crime accounts for nine percent of Italy’s GDP. Crime syndicates are engaged in trafficking in drugs, arms and persons; extortion; the production and distribution of pirated and counterfeit Continue reading