Category Archives: Science

Trophic cacades: How wolves can change rivers

A remarkable video from SustainableMan featuring journalist George Monbiot in a narrative about the major ecological changes wrought by the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park:

How Wolves Change Rivers

Program notes:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” — John Muir

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable “trophic cascade” occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.

H/T to Permaculture.

Crows: Amazingly adept at solving problems

What more to say, save that we’ve explored the subject before‘?

From BBC 2:

Are crows the ultimate problem solvers? – Inside the Animal Mind

Program note:

Dr Alex Taylor sets a difficult problem solving task, will the crow defeat the puzzle?

Humans and landscapes, a complex interaction

On his UC Berkeley faculty website, archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch lists his specialties as “Prehistory and ethnography of Oceania, ethnoarchaeology and settlement archaeology, prehistoric agricultural systems, cultural ecology and paleoenvironmentalism, ethnobotany and ethnoscience, development of complex societies in Oceania.”

In this presentation Dr. Kirch applies the ideas of the cultural landscape developed by an earlier Berkeley geographer, Carl O. Sauer, to human interaction with the landscapes of three Polynesian cultures, those of Mangareva, Mo’orea, and Hawaii.

What kept the Polynesian Islands so green? In part, the phosphorus blown in the winds in dust from China and Mongolia.

But some islands, like those of the Mangareva archipelago and Easter Island, lay in regions missed by the winds from Asia, leaving one other source of phosphorus and other key soil nutrients, populations of fish-eating, guano-pooping sea birds.

Todat the once-forested islets of Mangareva, the smallest, most barren, and most ancient of the three, today resemble a nearly barren desert islands, landscapes created in large part by the relatively late arrival of Polynesians who eliminated or decimated the once varied native bird populations.

Mo’orea is a much younger island, with the human population living in intimate relationship with an evolving and eroding landscape, shifting settlement as new soils are exposed and older soils become depleted.

And then there’s Hawaii, a still-growing landscape but nonetheless precarious landscapes populated by an emerging state society that had neared the carrying capacity of the delicate landscape when Europeans arrived, along with the diseases that laid waste to the Polynesians.

From University of California Television, an important reminder of just how delicate our world really is:

Island Landscapes or Sauer Among the Polynesians

Program notes:

Geographer Carl Ortwin Sauer demonstrated through his work and writings that landscapes are the long-term contingent product of interactions between natural processes and cultural forces. In this lecture, Patrick Kirch, Professor of Anthropology and Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, applies the concept of landscape to the islands of Polynesia. Drawing upon recent multi-disciplinary research, Kirch shows how certain natural properties of islands shaped the course of cultural and social evolution of island peoples, at the same time that cumulative effect of human actions irreversibly altered island environments. Series: “UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures” [2/2014]

Headlines of the day I: Spies lies. LOLZ, pols

Today’s tales form the world of the dark arts and militarism begins with a saga playing out in classic spy vs. spy fashion, with the tapper suddenly becoming the tapped. Our first headline comes from New Europe:

EU, US, Russia, Ukraine: spy games on your youtube

US officials say they suspect Russia is behind the leak of an apparently bugged phone conversation about Ukraine between two senior American diplomats in which they make disparaging comments about the European Union. Another conversation also leaked features two EU officials making comments about the US.

“I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

The US officials noted that an aide to Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, was among the first to tweet about a YouTube video that contains audio of the alleged call between the top US diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The video, which shows photos of Nuland and Pyatt, is subtitled in Russian.

In the audio, voices resembling those of Nuland and Pyatt discuss international efforts to resolve Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis. At one point, the Nuland voice colorfully suggests that the EU’s position should be ignored. “F— the EU,” the female voice said.

The video in question via Re Post:

Casting suspicions with EUobserver:

Ukraine leak designed to ‘split’ EU-US diplomacy

The publication on YouTube of what appear to be two sensitive US and EU diplomatic conversations on Ukraine is designed to spoil relations between the allies, EU diplomatic sources say.

The items were uploaded by an anonymous user called “Re Post” on Tuesday (4 February) and have several thousand clicks each already.

In the imputed US clip, which appears to date to Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s offer of top jobs to opposition MPs on 25 January, Viktoria Nuland, a senior US state department official, is allegedly speaking to Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine.

They bat around ideas on which of the MPs should be Prime Minister in an interim government. Nuland adds she wants a senior UN diplomat to come to Kiev to seal an accord on the US-model cabinet.

“So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and, you know, fuck the EU,” she says.

“Oh exactly, and I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

And the mea culpa, via EUbusiness:

Top US diplomat for Europe says sorry for cursing the EU

US officials, while not denying such a conversation took place, refused to go into details, and pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats’ phones.

“Let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course has apologized,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

While Psaki said she had no independent details of how the conversation was captured and uploaded onto the social networking site, she added: “Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft.”

More from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

White House implicates Russia in leaked call between US diplomats

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney referred most of the questions to the State Department, but noted that the conversation “was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government.

“I think it says something about Russia’s role,” Carney said of the appearance of the leaked remarks. “But the content of the conversation is not something I’m going to comment on.”

Carney said relations between the US and the EU are “stronger than ever” and said there was “no question” that Nuland and the ambassador are trying to “help de-escalate the crisis” in Ukraine.

“It’s certainly no secret that our ambassador and assistant secretary have been working with the government of Ukraine, with the opposition, with business and civil society leaders to support their efforts to find a peaceful solution through dialogue and political and economic reform,” Carney said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future.”

Here’s a piece about the crisis from a Russian state medium, RT:

‘This is what you cook for Ukraine?’ State Dept. Psaki grilled over leaked tape

Program notes:

Senior US State Department official Victoria Nuland has allegedly been caught giving a harsh message to the EU while discussing Ukrainian opposition leaders’ roles in the country’s future government. The phone call was taped and posted on YouTube. US officials refused to confirm or deny the tape’s authenticity, but State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki said that she “didn’t say it was inauthentic.” While being grilled about this and other tape-related statements, Psaki hinted that the tape could have been leaked by Moscow.

Another Russo-centric crisis in the headlines from Network World:

Experts warn of Russian spying, hackers at Sochi Olympics

Americans heading to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics are being warned that privacy is not a right in the host country and all their electronic communications will likely be monitored.

The United States Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, is recommending the use of electronic devices that are devoid of sensitive information and can be left behind, if Russian authorities decide to confiscate the equipment.

To avoid problems, personal smartphones, tablets and laptops should be left at home. Americans should only use devices bought or borrowed for the trip and can be wiped clean when leaving the country to avoid taking malware back home.

Sam venue, different focus from Homeland Security News Wire:

DHS alerts Russia-bound airlines of toothpaste tube bombs risk

The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes. DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. The new concern about explosive toothpaste tubes notwithstanding, the biggest worry is still Islamist groups based in southern Russia’s Caucasus region.

The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes.

Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday that DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. McCaul said the bulletin indicated that officials believed the explosives might be used during flights or smuggled into the city of Sochi, where competition at the Winter Olympics begins later today. The opening ceremony will be held Friday.

Bringing it all back home with PCWorld:

More than 4,000 groups sign up to protest NSA

More than 4,000 groups and websites have signed on to support a day of protest against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, scheduled for Tuesday.

In addition, tens of thousands of people have pledged to make calls and post messages on the Web in support of surveillance reform, said organizers of The Day We Fight Back.

Among the groups supporting the day of Web protest are the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, BoingBoing, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Mozilla, Reddit and Tumblr.

“Together we will push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action,” organizers wrote on “Together, we will make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.”

From Nextgov, Tweet this!:

Twitter Breaks Rank, Threatens to Fight NSA Gag Orders

Twitter threatened to launch a legal battle with the Obama administration on Thursday over gag orders that prevent it from disclosing information about surveillance of its users.

The statement puts Twitter at odds with other technology giants including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, who all struck a deal with the government last month to drop their lawsuits in exchange for looser secrecy rules.

“We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy, wrote in a blog post.

He said the company has pressed the Justice Department for greater transparency and is also “considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

North of the border and suspicions from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

RCMP, intelligence agency accused of spying on pipeline opponents

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has filed complaints against the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, saying the law enforcement agencies may have illegally spied on opponents of pipelines and then shared the intelligence information with the petroleum industry.

The group has asked the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to investigate the situation.

“What we’re hoping here is to find out more about what’s happened,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the BCCLA, said Thursday at a news conference in Vancouver.

RT covers yet another U.S. mea culpa:

US ambassador admits tapping Angela Merkel’s phone was ‘stupid’

The US ambassador to Germany has admitted it was a “stupid” idea to tap the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel while discussing business, friendship and mutual trust at a trade association meeting.

“We have done a number of stupid things, Chancellor Markel’s phone being one of them,” Ambassador John Emerson told the VBKI trade association at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Berlin.

He apologized for the stress and loss of trust the recent NSA wiretapping revelations might have caused the German government, according to reports by the Local.

Big Brother adds eyes via the Washington Post:

New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.

Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Juárez.

Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints.

From Al Jazeera America, a crackdown in Ankara:

Turkish parliament adopts Internet censorship bill

  • Measure also forces service providers to submit users’ activity records to officials on request, without notifying users

Turkey’s parliament has adopted a new Internet bill roundly criticized as an assault by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on freedom of expression, access to information and investigative journalism. The measure was approved as Erdogan’s government is in the midst of a sweeping corruption probe that has shaken his Cabinet.

After hours of debate, the measure was adopted late on Wednesday in parliament, where Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominates with 319 of the 550 seats.

The bill permits a government agency, the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB), to block access to websites without court authorization if they are deemed to violate privacy or to contain material seen as “insulting.”

Reaction from Deutsche Welle:

EU criticizes Turkey’s Internet law

The EU has criticized Turkey’s tightened Internet controls. Lawmakers adopted the new Internet legislation late on Wednesday following hours of debate involving fierce objections from the opposition.

The criticism came after Turkey’s parliament amended regulations allowing the government to block websites without a court order and mandate Internet service providers to store data up to two years. President Abdullah Gul still must sign the new law, which allows the blocking of websites believed to violate privacy or contain content considered insulting.

“The law needs to be revised in line with European standards,” said Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele. “The Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions.”

The legislation also forces providers to retain user data for two years and present it to authorities without notifying the user in question. The new measures build upon existing Internet restrictions introduced in 2007 that, according to a Google transparency report published in December, make Turkey equal to China as the world’s biggest web censor.

The 2007 law has allowed for temporary blocking of websites including WordPress, Dailymotion and Vimeo. YouTube was also blocked for two years until 2010.

After the jump, the latest developments in Asia’s sundry zonal, military posturing, and historical crises, Mission Impossible tech, a spooky blast from the past, hacks and embarrassments, cartels and vigilantes battle online, hackers seize control of cars, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, security

We begin today’s headlines from the worlds of cloaks, daggers, and militarism with a story close to home via the Oakland Tribune:

Nuclear law again threatens Oakland surveillance hub

Once again a Cold War era law prohibiting Oakland from contracting with firms that work on nuclear weapon projects is threatening to derail completion of an intelligence center whose surveillance capabilities have spurred opposition from privacy advocates.

The City Council will meet Tuesday to decide whether to contract with Schneider Electronic Inc. to complete the Domain Awareness Center. The joint city and Port of Oakland project would establish a data hub where feeds from street cameras, gunshot sensors and other surveillance tools would be broadcast on a bank of constantly monitored television screens.

Should the council determine that Schneider violates the Oakland’s Nuclear Free Ordinance, the city and port most likely would lose $1 million in federal grant funding that is tied to the project being completed by the end of May, officials said.

And on to the latest Edward Snowden revelation from The Guardian:

Snowden revelations of NSA spying on Copenhagen climate talks spark anger

  • Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show NSA kept US negotiators abreast of their rivals’ positions at 2009 summit

Developing countries have reacted angrily to revelations that the United States spied on other governments at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored communication between key countries before and during the conference to give their negotiators advance information about other positions at the high-profile meeting where world leaders including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel failed to agree to a strong deal on climate change.

Jairam Ramesh, the then Indian environment minister and a key player in the talks that involved 192 countries and 110 heads of state, said: “Why the hell did they do this and at the end of this, what did they get out of Copenhagen? They got some outcome but certainly not the outcome they wanted. It was completely silly of them. First of all, they didn’t get what they wanted. With all their hi-tech gizmos and all their snooping, ultimately the Basic countries [Brazil, South Africa, India and China] bailed Obama out. With all their snooping what did they get?”

Confrontation from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Senators grill spy chiefs, accuse them of lies

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee lambasted the nation’s top intelligence chiefs on Wednesday, complaining of lies about gathering the phone records of Americans and failing to cooperate with Congress in an investigation of the CIA’s controversial interrogation programs.

Committee members grilled Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan at the first intelligence committee hearing since President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the spy program.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told them an ongoing “culture of misinformation” has undermined the public’s trust in America’s intelligence leadership.

Whistyleblower hate from the Los Angeles Times:

Intelligence leakers pose ‘critical threat’ to U.S., say spy chiefs

Insiders such as Edward Snowden who leak secrets about sensitive U.S. intelligence programs pose a “critical threat” to the United States, America’s spy chiefs warned Congress in their annual report on global national security risks.

For the first time, the threat of unauthorized disclosures from “trusted insiders” was ranked as the second greatest potential threat to the country, after cyberattacks but ahead of international terrorism, in the document prepared by the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

Those individuals aren’t necessarily working with foreign intelligence agencies, the document says. Some members of Congress have all but accused Snowden of working for Russia’s spy service, but no clear evidence has emerged to support the contention.

“The capabilities and activities through which foreign entities — both state and nonstate actors — seek to obtain U.S. national security information are new, more diverse and more technically sophisticated,” the document says.

The Washington Post offers a plea:

U.S. intelligence director calls on Snowden to return NSA documents

The head of the U.S. intelligence community on Wednesday called on Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, to return the massive trove of documents in his possession.

Speaking before a Senate panel, James R. Clapper Jr., delivered blistering criticism of Snowden, describing him as a hypocrite who has severely harmed national security.

Clapper said the materials exposed by Snowden have bolstered adversaries, caused allies to cut off cooperation with the United States, triggered changes in communications by terrorist networks and put lives of intelligence operatives and assets at risk.

RT gets hyperbolic:

US officials say Snowden disclosures will lead to deaths, plead for an end to leaks

Revelations made possible through documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden could cause the deaths of United States diplomats, citizens and soldiers, government officials said Wednesday, and remaining files should be surrendered immediately.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper implored Mr. Snowden during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, DC early Wednesday to hand over what remains of a trove of top-secret documents allegedly still in his possession after fleeing the country last year with a cache of classified material. Officials have claimed the total number of stolen documents could exceed 1.7 million.

Speaking before the committee, DNI Clapper and his colleagues testified that the documents that have already been released to the media by Snowden during the last seven months have caused a significant blow to national security because they exposed an array of sensitive intelligence gathering tactics that have been jeopardized as a result.

Nomination from the London Daily Mail:

Edward Snowden is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘restoring balance between national security and individual freedom’

  • Norwegian members of parliament nominate Snowden for Peace Price
  • Socialist Left Party politicians say he has made world ‘a safer place’
  • Nobel Peace Prize committee accepts nominations until February 1st

Two Norwegian MPs have nominated NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014.

Bård Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen, both parliamentary representatives of Sosialistisk Venstreparti, the Socialist Left Party, argue that Snowden’s release of classified documents has made the world a safer place.

The Project On Government Oversight plotting a coup:

Six House Members Seek to Oust Intelligence Director

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be removed because of untruthful statements he made before Congress concerning the intelligence community’s use of bulk data collection programs, six members of Congress said this week in a letter sent to President Obama (pdf).

The letter—signed by  Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.)—refers  to testimony Clapper gave the  Senate Intelligence Committee in March, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s responded without hesitation: “No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”

Justification from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Attorney General Holder defends legality of surveillance program

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday aligned himself with the conclusions of judges who found the mass collection of telephone data to be constitutional.

But that legal conclusion, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not the end of the debate over the so-called Section 215 program.

“I believe (the judges) are correct that it is constitutional,” Holder said, under questioning by a skeptical committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “The question is, just because we can do something, should we do it?”

Tokenism from Network World:

NSA gets its first civil liberties and privacy officer

Former Homeland Security official Rebecca Richards is said to have new role

The National Security Agency has reportedly appointed Rebecca Richards, a former deputy privacy official at the Department of Homeland Security, as its first privacy officer.

Richards will start her new role next month, according to a blog post Tuesday by former deputy assistant secretary at the DHS Paul Rosenzweig.

An NSA spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny Rosenzweig’s report. Instead, she pointed to comments by President Obama last August about the NSA’s taking steps to install a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer following NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about the agency’s surveillance practices.

The NSA spokeswoman confirmed that the appointee would start in the new role next month. Additional details would become available today, she said.

Boing Boing gets ominous for the Fourth Estate:

US intel chief James Clapper: journalists reporting on leaked Snowden NSA docs “accomplices” to crime

In a Senate Judiciary Hearing on NSA surveillance today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insinuated dozens of journalists reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were “accomplices” to a crime. His spokesman further suggested Clapper was referring to journalists after the hearing had concluded.

If this is the official stance of the US government, it is downright chilling.

Clapper is engaged in the same treatment of journalists that the Justice Department allegedly repudiated just months ago.

Wired gets legal:

Terror Defendant Challenges Evidence Gathered by NSA Spying

A U.S. terrorism defendant who was formally notified that he was spied on by the NSA filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the surveillance today, in a case likely to be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jamshid Muhtorov, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to Colorado, is one of only two criminal defendants the government has conceded was charged on the basis of evidence scooped up by the NSA’s surveillance programs. The spying was authorized by the controversial FISA Amendments Act.

The Supreme Court last year rejected a suit challenging the law because the civil rights groups and others who brought the case could not prove their communications were intercepted, and hence didn’t have “standing” to sue. That issue won’t come up for Muhtorov, says the Americans Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Muhtorov.

“For five years the government insulated this statute from judicial review by concealing from criminal defendants how the evidence against them was obtained,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU’s Colorado chapter. “But the government will not be able to shield the statute from review in this case.”

From The Guardian, Trans-Atlantic ornamental blowback:

Angela Merkel warns US over surveillance in first speech of third term

  • ‘A programme in which the end justifies all means … violates trust,’ German chancellor says

Angela Merkel has used the first, agenda-setting speech of her third term in office to criticise America’s uncompromising defence of its surveillance activities.

In a speech otherwise typically short of strong emotion or rhetorical flourishes, the German chancellor found relatively strong words on NSA surveillance, two days before the US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due to visit Berlin.

“A programme in which the end justifies all means, in which everything that is technically possible is then acted out, violates trust and spreads mistrust,” she said. “In the end, it produces not more but less security.”

Network World offers the symbolic:

Hackers deface Angry Birds website following NSA spying claims

  • The hackers placed an image with the message ‘Spying Birds’ on the site’s home page

The official Angry Birds website was defaced by hackers following reports that U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have been collecting user information from the game and other popular mobile apps.

Some users trying to access the website late Tuesday were greeted by an image depicting the Angry Birds game characters accompanied by the text “Spying Birds.” The U.S. National Security Agency’s logo was also visible in the image.

The NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been working together to collect geolocation data, address books, buddy lists, telephone logs and other pieces of information from “leaky” mobile apps, The New York Times reported Monday based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

From the Washington Post, cause for real insecurity:

Officials: 92 Air Force officers involved in test cheating scandal

At least 92 Air Force officers assigned to the nation’s nuclear arsenal have been implicated in a proficiency test cheating scandal and temporarily relieved of their duties, officials said Thursday, announcing they had temporarily taken out of commission nearly one-fifth of the nuclear force.

The widening scandal, which came to light after a probe into alleged drug use by nuclear operators, has exposed systemic integrity lapses in one of the Pentagon’s most critical, albeit largely unseen, missions.

The 92 personnel who were decertified are based at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Officers at the base oversee 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, one-third of the nation’s Minuteman 3 arsenal. The base is one of three where America’s 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles are kept. Officials on Thursday did not say whether they are reviewing the possibility that cheating has been commonplace at the other facilities.

RT strikes a trans-English Channel drone deal:

Entente Lethal: Britain, France to sign military drone development deal

Britain and France are set to develop a new generation of armed drones which will free them of their dependence on US-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

President François Hollande will arrive in Britain on Friday for a summit with David Cameron at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The two leaders, flanked by their foreign, defense, and energy ministers, are set to ink multiple deals for developing combat drones, missile systems and submarines. There are also plans to establish a joint expeditionary force which will be applicable for a wide range of scenarios, including high intensity operations.

Friday’s summit stems from the Lancaster House Treaties of 2010, in which Cameron and then-French President Nickolas Sarkozy agreed on a raft of measures in defense and security cooperation.

And from, the old school method:

Israel jails Orthodox Jew who offered to spy for Iran

An Israeli citizen, who belongs to an Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish group that rejects the existence of the state of Israel, has been jailed for offering to spy for Iran. Yitzhak Bergel, 46, a father of eight, who resides in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood, is a member of the Neturei Karta —which translates in English as “Guardians of the City”.

The Jewish group opposes Zionism —the belief that a state-sanctioned Jewish homeland ought to be created in the territory described as “Land of Israel” in Jewish scriptural texts. The group, which was founded in the 1930s and has thousands of adherents in Israel, the United States and Europe, is one of several branches of conservative Judaism whose members believe that Jews are forbidden by the Torah to create their own state before the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

After the jump, the escalating Asian zonal and historic crises, a Chinese web crackdown, journalism under siege on four continents, some newpaper hackery in Old Blighty, and more. . . Continue reading

Ticking time bombs: DDT linked to Alzheimer’s

Back when esnl was a toddler, DDT was a ubiquitous presence in America’s towns and villages, with trucks deployed to blast the power over everyone and everything in an effort to keep down mosquitoes to combat various diseases, most notably polio.

DDT, we were told, was harmless to humans, and we children often followed the trucks, acquiring a ghostly white dusting in scenes like this:

And in this 1947 BBC clip from a news segment on fighting malaria in Kenya, a British entomologist actually eats the stuff to show villagers how safe it was:

Only with the publication of biologist Rachel Carson’s best-selling Silent Spring [previously] did folks begin to realize the chemical had a dark side, and played a direct role in the severe decline of bird populations, declines that ended only when use of the chemical was banned.

Well, now the other shoe has dropped, leaving us to wonder just how many other modern “miracles” will we discover only too late have been poisoning us and our children for generations to come..

From Rutgers University via Newswise:

Scientists have known for more than 40 years that the synthetic pesticide DDT is harmful to bird habitats and a threat to the environment.

Now researchers at Rutgers University say exposure to DDT – banned in the United States since 1972 but still used as a pesticide in other countries – may also increase the risk and severity of Alzheimer’s disease in some people, particularly those over the age of 60.

In a study published online today in JAMA Neurology, Rutgers scientists discuss their findings in which levels of DDE, the chemical compound left when DDT breaks down, were higher in the blood of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients compared to those without the disease.

DDT – used in the United States for insect control in crops and livestock and to combat insect-borne diseases like malaria – was introduced as a pesticide during WWII. Rutgers scientists – the first to link a specific chemical compound to Alzheimer’s disease – believe that research into how DDT and DDE may trigger neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, is crucial.

“I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility,” says Jason R. Richardson, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI). ”Our data may help identify those that are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and could potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and an improved outcome.”

Although the levels of DDT and DDE have decreased significantly in the United States over the last three decades, the toxic pesticide is still found in 75 to 80 percent of the blood samples collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This occurs, scientists Continue reading

Chart of the day: Documenting a social divide

From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Religilution

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, laws, flaws

A helluva a lot happening in the world of espionage and security saber-rattling.

Today’s walk on he dark side begins with this excellent depiction of out [resent plight from Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star:

BLOG Snooptoon
From BBC News, a reminder that it’s not just the omni-bugging NSA that’s helping stir up the tempest:

Two terror suspects sue Poland over ‘CIA torture’

The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case brought by two terror suspects who accuse Poland of conniving in US human rights abuses.

The two men are currently held at the US Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

From Threatpost, as expected:

UN: Mass Surveillance Violates Universal Human Rights

The United Nations has joined the growing chorus of people, organizations and activists denouncing government mass surveillance of citizens without cause and says that such programs are a violation of basic human rights.

The Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural – Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution affirming that arbitrary surveillance and collection of personal information violate the universal human right to privacy and expression.

The NSA occupied center stage in today’s British legislative extravaganza, as did the newspaper that’s done so much to expose it. From The Guardian, the paper in question:

Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells Mps

Editor tells parliamentary committee that stories revealing mass surveillance by UK and US have prompted global debate

The Guardian again, with the old Red-baiter classic:

MPs’ questions to Alan Rusbridger: do you love this country?

Key extracts from the Guardian editor’s appearance before the home affairs select committee over the impact of NSA leaks

And the response, via The Guardian:

Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs

Editor tells parliamentary committee that stories revealing mass surveillance by UK and US have prompted global debate

The Guardian again, with a critical question:

MPs ask MI5 boss to justify claim that NSA leaks endangered national security

Keith Vaz, chairman of home affairs select committee, says spy chief Andrew Parker has been summoned to give evidence

And from USA TODAY, the shape of things to come:

Guardian: We have published 1% of Snowden leak

The editor of the Guardian said Tuesday that his newspaper has published just 1% of the material it received from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and denied that the paper had placed lives or national security at risk.

And then there’s this very nasty little jab, via the London Telegraph:

Guardian journalists could face criminal charges over Edward Snowden leaks

Journalists at The Guardian newspaper are being investigated by anti-terror police over their roles in the Edward Snowden leaks, a senior policewoman confirms

Cressida Dick, an assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, confirmed for the first time that detectives were examining whether staff at the newspaper had committed an offence.

“When it absolutely, positively has to. . .” From Sky News:

Guardian Editor Sent Secret Files By FedEx

Alan Rusbridger defends claims he aided terrorists by publishing top-secret documents leaked by a former NSA contractor.

Meanwhile, and about time, from The Guardian:

Labor wants debate on legal oversight of intelligence gathering

‘What we need is a reasoned discussion,’ says shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus

Reuters covers some blowback:

Tighten EU data laws, say top MEPs

An influential group of MEPs have called for stricter data protection laws.

It came during another European Parliament hearing regarding the Edward Snowden snooping leaks.

German conservative MEP Axel Voss said: “The issue of data protection should these days almost always be on the agenda, because it is important, because we are already lagging behind the technological development and we therefore need to find answers. And the sooner the Council engage in this issue the better it is for all of us. “

The Guardian responds to blowback down under:

Guardian Australia fiercely defends its reporting on spy agencies

Attacks on the publication of stories based on NSA documents threaten to shut down debate on the issues that matter

And it’s just not Guardian stories that have the Aussies on edge. Now there’s a major spy flap developing in a nanotechnology lab at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the government’s premier research facility. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Espionage fears at CSIRO

Australian intelligence and security agencies are investigating a suspected industrial espionage case at the CSIRO, the nation’s top scientific organisation.

In revelations that will further test Australia’s relations with China, federal police and intelligence officials are investigating a Chinese national who until last week worked in the CSIRO’s highly sensitive nanotechnology laboratory in Melbourne.

But wait! There’s yet another scandal, revealed by a raid conducted by the  Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. From the Syndey Morning Herald:

ASIO raids office of lawyer Bernard Collaery over East Timor spy claim

ASIO officers have allegedly detained a man and raided the office of a lawyer who claims that Australian spies bugged the cabinet room of East Timor’s government during negotiations over oil and gas deposits.

Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed last night that he had issued a search warrant for a Canberra address and that ASIO had executed it, seizing a number of documents “on the grounds that [they] contained intelligence related to security matters”

More from The Guardian:

Timor-Leste spy case: ‘witness held, and lawyer’s office raided by ASIO’

Retired Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent and wife searched in Canberra while lawyer’s office is raided, say lawyers

From the Copenhagen Post, another spy scandal actually ends up with a significant head rolling:

Leader of intelligence agency quits

Jakob Scharf quits after intense media and political scrutiny over his ability to lead the domestic intelligence agency, PET

The Copenhagen Post headlined a story last month that played a key role in the spooky resignation, involving a COINTELPRO-style covert op against a Danish winger, the head of the nationalist Dansk Folkeparti:

PET in hot water for allegedly spying on Pia Kjærsgaard

The head of the domestic intelligence agency stands accused of using Kjærsgaard’s calendar to try to squash the former DF leader’s visit to Christiania

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam’s digital eyes want your fleshly ears, via iScienceTimes:

‘Soft’ Biometric Cameras Are Watching: Govt. Intelligence Hopes To Use Cameras To Recognize People By The Shape Of Their Ears

And in France, the panopticon is about the make a great leap forward, reports RT:

France mulls new internet spying powers

A proposed law in France could allow the authorities to access and gather internet user data without judicial approval. The legislation has been slammed by activists as going “against the principles of democracy” and eroding civil liberties.

Meanwhile, the ongoing security crisis in Asia between waged across the East China Sea grows hotter. From McClatchy Interactive:

Analysts: Tensions in Asia could snowball

The rising tension this week in the East China Sea could force the Obama administration to revive its plan for a “pivot to Asia,” a revamped engagement with China and its neighbors that’s been overshadowed by Middle East conflicts and other crises.

South China Morning Post covers some soothing efforts from Grinnin’ Joe:

Biden wants Japan, China to have communication channel over air defence zone

US No 2 says Beijing and Tokyo need system to avoid an incident over East China Sea escalating

More, and with less emphasis on the smooth schmoozin’, from the Japan Times:

U.S. backs Japan against ADIZ: Biden

Abe assured of support against China gambit, prodded on TPP

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received the assurance of visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday that Washington stands behind Japan as it responds to China’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that encompasses the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.

While Want China Times evokes a nightmare:

PLA dreams of turning moon into Death Star, says expert

Experts in China are discussing the possibility of the People’s Liberation Army to establish a missile base on the moon following the successful launch of the Long March-3B rocket carrying the Chang’e-3 lunar rover on Dec. 1, according to the Beijing Times.

Want China Times again, with another great leap forward:

First carrier-based fighter enters production in China

The Shenyang J-15, China’s first carrier-based fighter designed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, has entered mass production and has been received by various units of the PLA Navy Air Force, the Beijing-based Sina Military Network reported on Dec. 3.

Want China Times yet again, with one more leap:

Russia to develop weapons with China: Military Parade

Moscow is preparing to develop a joint weapons system with Beijing, according to Military Parade, a Russian-language military website, citing Russia’s deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov at a press conference on Nov. 29.

While Gizmodo covers a retreat:

Accused of Spying, Huawei CEO Says Company Is “Exiting the US Market”

It looks like China’s Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is sick and tired of the United States accusing it of cyberspying. In an interview with the French press, the company’s founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said they’re throwing in the towel stateside.

The South China Morning Post covers arousal:

Patriotic post calling for Chinese to be on guard against ‘Western anti-China powers’ goes viral

An emotive nationalist post titled You are nobody without the motherland has gone viral online as major Chinese state-owned media hailed the message as a spontaneous expression of patriotism.

From the Japan Times, the national security state strikes again:

China to try anti-corruption activists

Three Chinese anti-corruption activists who unfurled a banner calling for government officials to declare their assets were to be tried Tuesday for “illegal assembly,” their lawyers said, despite an official campaign against graft.

An anti-corruption drive launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping has been heavily publicized in state-run media, but the ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on political dissent.

And in Japan, the resistance grows against a key piece of legislation in the emerging national security state machine. From the Japan Times:

Public protests continue against state secrets bill

With the contentious state secrets bill slated to clear the Upper House this week, citizens have been holding daily protests in front of the Diet building, denouncing the law as emblematic of the “rise of fascism.”

More from Jiji Press:

Witnesses Express Concern about Secrecy Bill before Japan Upper House

All three witnesses who spoke before Japan’s House of Councillors on a state secrets protection bill on Tuesday expressed concerns about the legislation.


Global human rights groups protest secrecy bill

Five international human rights organizations protested a Japanese government bill to protect state secrets in a joint news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The chief of Human Rights Watch’s Tokyo office, Kanae Doi, referred to the Tshwane Principles, which are global guidelines to balance state secrets and the right to know.

And from JapanToday, a cinematic allusion:

Abe depicted as Charlie Chaplin character in protest over state secret bill

If you happened to have been around the west exit of Shinjuku Station last week, you might have seen this poster hanging around. In it we can clearly see a photo of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe done up to look like Charlie Chaplin in the film “The Great Dictator.” Around him are the words “Take back Japan” and “Prewar.”

The poster in question, via the Japan Times:

BLOG Abe Caplin

From NHK WORLD, resistance meets stone wall:

Suga seeks opposition support for bill

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has stressed there is no change in the government’s plan to have the secrecy protection bill made into law during the current Diet session scheduled to end on Friday.

Back in Europe, a Spanish security measure rammed through by the neoliberal reigning Popular Party draws more heat. From El País:

Council of Europe slams PP bill that hikes fines at public rallies

Citizens Security Law violates right to assembly, says rights commissioner

Meanwhile Sky News, covers deadly dirty tricks from the past:

IRA And Irish Police ‘Colluded Over Murders’

Two RUC officers murdered by the IRA were ambushed following a leak from an Irish police station, a damning report finds.

And Spiegel covers another security move, this one too aimed at a ghost from the past:

NPD Ban Bid: Germany’s Risky Push to Outlaw Far-Right Party

Germany launched a new push to outlaw the NPD party on Tuesday amid doubts whether the legal bid will succeed, and whether a ban would significantly curb the country’s violent far-right scene. But if the motion fails, right-wing extremism will flourish, analysts warn.

From PCWorld, something really, really scary:

Researchers create malware that communicates via silent sound, no network needed

When security researcher Dragos Ruiu claimed malware dubbed “badBIOS” allowed infected machines to communicate using sound waves alone—no network connection needed—people said he was crazy. New research from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics suggests he’s all too sane.

And from The Verge, the corporate drone rush continues:

UPS researching delivery drones that could compete with Amazon’s Prime Air

Flying parcel-carriers are the next logical frontier for delivery companies

The Hill covers legislative resistance:

Door-to-door drones spook lawmakers

Amazon’s planned door-to-door drone deliveries sparked lawmaker worries Monday about the need for new privacy rules to protect consumers from thousands of drones that might soon be buzzing overhead.

And for our final item, some security in swearing via

Blasphemy law will be scrapped

Blasphemy will be removed from the statute books following a majority vote in the upper house of parliament on Tuesday.

However, a second motion was voted through which allows for another law to be found which can be adjusted to protect people from serious insult to their religion, the Nos reports.

Astronomical gem in the sky near Orion’s belt


From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

NGC 1999: South of Orion
Image Data: Subaru Telescope (NAOJ), Hubble Space Telescope,
Additional Color Data and Processing: Robert Gendler

Explanation: South of the large star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula, lies bright blue reflection nebula NGC 1999. At the edge of the Orion molecular cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant, NGC 1999′s illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis. That nebula is marked with a dark sideways T-shape near center in this cosmic vista that spans about 10 light-years. The dark shape was once assumed to be an obscuring dust cloud seen in silhouette against the bright reflection nebula. But recent infrared images indicate the shape is likely a hole blown through the nebula itself by energetic young stars. In fact, this region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows with luminous shock waves. Cataloged as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects, named for astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, the shocks look like red gashes in this scene that includes HH1 and HH2 just below NGC 1999. The stellar jets push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second.

Headlines of the day I: Econo/Greco/Fukufails

We were editing this selection yesterday when the power went out, so we’ll offer it belatedly, because there’s so much of critical import — especially in the case of Greece [after the jump] along with the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypdr Now!

From the Los Angeles Times, an aciton close to home:

UC labor walkout affects medical centers, dining operations

Thousands of tutors, service workers and patient care employees stage a one-day job action as tense negotiations continue over a new contract.

Salon covers a Big Box threat:

Wal-Mart labor group promises 1,500 Black Friday protests next week

Amid scrutiny of Wal-Mart taking up employee-to-employee charity, strike wave continues against retail giant

From USA TODAY, rich getting richer:

Dow closes above 16,000 for the first time

In one of the most dramatic signs yet of the bull market’s strength, on Thursday the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 16,000 for the first time in the much-watched average’s 117-year history.

The Daily Dot offers relief:

TPP unlikely to be ‘fast tracked’ through Congress this year

A top House Democrat has announced that it was unlikely that Congress would take up a bill this year that would speed up the TPP process and make it more likely that all of its controversial elements would pass.

From The Guardian, numbers games?:

Officials to investigate claims Census Bureau manipulated jobs figures

New York Post alleges census employee Julius Buckmon was caught faking results to make unemployment rate appear lower

USA TODAY covers a relief of sorts:

Jobless claims fall more than expected

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits slipped 21,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, in a sign the labor market continues to improve as businesses see little need to cut jobs.

From Bloomberg Businessweek, Schadenfreude time:

Survey: The Job Market Gets Worse for MBAs

Future business leaders of America, brace yourselves. Some 43 percent of employers plan to cut the number of MBAs hired, according to Michigan State University’s new survey of 6,500 employers, a drop that will cause expected employment of MBAs to plummet nearly 25 percent from last year. Demand is down across almost all economic sectors, the report says, with financial services and government reporting the steepest drop.

From Reuters, something inevitable:

After gains, Vice Fund seeks ‘Budweiser of marijuana’

Gerry Sullivan has an eye out for the sins of tomorrow, but he’s no puritan.

Since taking the helm of USA Mutuals’ iconoclastic Vice Fund in 2011, Sullivan has scored big gains spotting trends in tobacco, guns, alcoholic beverages and gambling. Now he’s seeing new ways to make money on human transgression.

But cautions abound, even in the Centennial State, where voters opted to legalize the weed. From Westword:

Multiple marijuana businesses being raided by DEA, IRS, Denver cops

Westword has learned that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is conducting raids at this writing at multiple marijuana businesses in the Denver area.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver has issued a statement confirming the ongoing operation, which is being conducted by the DEA in collaboration with the Internal Revenue Service and the Denver Police Department. Our sources tell us it’s likely to continue throughout the day and involves a notable number of targets.

From Calbuzz, capitalizing on what they battled:

Big Ag’s Secretive $50-Million Obamacare Contract

Western Growers Association, one of California’s most powerful conservative business forces, is profiting handsomely from Obamacare — despite its fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Calbuzz has learned that a $50-million contract to oversee implementation of health insurance for small businesses in California was awarded to a private company wholly owned by the heavyweight ag group. The contract was granted by Covered California, the organization set up to manage Obamacare in the state.

From Bloomberg Businessweek, life, and less of it, in neoloberal America:

The U.S. Lags in Life Expectancy Gains

Life expectancy in the U.S. has been growing more slowly than in other developed countries and is now more than a year below the developed-country average, according to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

CNBC covers a multi-trillion-dollar disaster-in-the-making:

Crisis in America: a crumbling infrastructure

Announced during his State of the Union speech in February, Obama’s Fix-It-First program calls for $40 billion in spending on a backlog of urgent repairs and upgrades. That would follow $31 billion that went into infrastructure as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But those sums are dwarfed by the $3.6 trillion in investment the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says is needed by 2020.

And once in a while we run a headline, well, just because — as in this gem from CBC News:

Moose-eating shark rescued in Newfoundland harbour

Greenland shark either bit off more that it could chew or was just enjoying a big meal

To Reuters for a global picture:

U.S. factories rebound, but Europe, China falter

U.S. factory output rebounded this month but hiring remained sluggish, while business activity across the euro zone and at China’s manufacturers slowed, surveys showed on Thursday. The data underscored the fragile nature of the global recovery and the difficulties still facing the world’s biggest economies.

More global consequences from MercoPress:

US ‘budget-debt ceiling’ political clashes threaten slower world growth, warns OECD

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, cut its forecast for global economic growth through next year and warned that fiscal and monetary policy decisions looming in the U.S. could derail the recovery. OECD said world economic output would expand 2.7% this year and 3.6% in 2014, down from May’s forecast of 3.1% and 4%.

From Europe Online , cozying up:

China-EU summit to focus on investment, strategic ties

Leaders of China and the European Union gathered in Beijing on Thursday for an annual leaders’ summit that was expected to focus on a bilateral investment deal and long-term strategic cooperation.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso led the two sides for the talks, which EU officials said would cover trade and investment, market access, and “the need to secure green growth.”

A European alert from the London Telegraph:

Eurozone slows as ‘sick man’ France hits recovery

Disappointing eurozone PMI survey signals slowing growth for second month in November with activity in France shrinking and the bloc’s service sector weakening

Another from The Guardian:

Medicalisation of misery to blame for soaring use of antidepressants, say GPs

Doctors across Europe warn limited time and resources leads many to prescribe pills for less-urgent cases of depression

To Old Blighty, and another alert, this one from The Independent:

‘Disaster’ as UK house-building rate falls away

Less than half the amount of new houses needed to meet demand were built in the last year

The number of affordable houses and flats built in England fell sharply last year, highlighting the pressures facing first-time homebuyers, Government figures released today have disclosed.

Germany next, with a long-belated acceptance from BBC News:

Angela Merkel clears way for national minimum wage

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has signalled the likely introduction of a national minimum wage in Germany.

Mrs Merkel, speaking at a meeting of business leaders, said that it was clear that the opposition SPD “would not conclude coalition negotiations without a legal minimum wage”.

German anxieties growing, via Spiegel:

Near Zero: ECB Interest Rate Cuts Hit Savings Hard

As the European Central Bank pushes interest rates to a new low, Germans are growing increasingly concerned about their savings. The money in their accounts is losing value and life insurance policies are yielding lower returns. Investors and central bankers feel trapped.

From, more good news for Germany:

Tax coffers swell again on shopping and jobs

A booming job market and an increase in consumer spending saw Germany’s tax receipts grow again in October, putting €39 billion into government coffers., with another ranking:

Germany tops world ‘soft power’ rankings

Germany has been ranked the world’s leading “soft power” edging Britain and the USA off top spot for its cultural and sporting prowess, economic might and diplomacy takes us to France and a violent end:

French farmers told to end protest after death

A protest by French farmers unions provoked the ire of the government on Thursday after a motorist was killed and six others injured in two separate accidents at road blocks on the outsirts of Paris on Thursday morning. The blocks were lifted at around midday.

Holland next, with an unanticipated uptick from

Jobless total falls unexpectedly

The official Dutch unemployment figure fell unexpectedly by 11,000 in October, the national statistics office CBS said on Thursday.

At the same time, the number of people claiming unemployment benefits (ww) rose by 8,000 to 408,000, the CBS said.

To Spain next, with calls for action via thinkSPAIN:

Countrywide demonstrations against austerity this weekend

NUMEROUS protest marches have been planned across Spain this weekend, particularly in its major cities, over funding cuts and austerity measures. with a hopeful declaration:

Spanish PM calls time on austerity policies

The Spanish government will ease its austerity reforms over the coming two years as the economy appears to be emerging from recession, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Thursday.

thinkSPAIN covers draconian measures:

Judges call 600,000-euro fines for ‘personalised’ protests or photographing police ‘repressive’ and ‘autocratic’

NEW legislation attempting to limit public demonstrations and imposing fines ranging from 30,000 to 600,000 euros for ‘insulting a police officer’ or ‘protesting in public without authorities’ consent’ has been slammed by judges, pressure groups and even the police themselves.

El País on taxing travails:

Cemex probe creates storm at Tax Agency

The management of the Spanish Tax Agency last week fired a tax inspector working in its large contributors department on the spot after she rejected an appeal lodged by Mexican cement manufacturing giant Cemex’s Spanish subsidiary against a multi-million- euro fine for unpaid taxes.

EUbusiness casts doubt:

Moody’s says no ‘clean bill of health’ for Spain banks

International credit rating agency Moody’s warned Thursday that Spain’s banks still face significant challenges despite nearly completing a 41-billion-euro ($55 billion) eurozone-financed bailout.

And El País cites another neoliberal move:

Government is aiming to cut personal income tax, says Rajoy

PM rules out more major fiscal adjustments

To Lison and report card time from the Portugal News:

Troika returns on 4 December for 10th bailout review

The team of international officials overseeing Portugal’s euro-zone bailout are to return to Lisbon on 4 December to start the 10th regular review of its progress in implementing the agreement, the government announced.

ANSAmed offers qualified endorsement:

EU praises Portugal’s anti-crisis plan, but risks remain

From Bloomberg, a complication:

EU Says Portugal Court Rulings May Complicate Return to Market

The European Commission said new rulings by Portugal’s Constitutional Court blocking government measures may make it tougher for the country to regain full access to the bond market.

“Risks from further negative rulings by the Constitutional Court cannot be discarded and could make the government’s plans to fully access the debt market from mid-2014 on significantly more challenging,” the Brussels-based commission said today in a report on the eighth and ninth reviews of the aid program for Portugal.

And from the Portugal News, austerian reality:

Child benefits keep falling

The Portuguese family association confederation said it could not understand a 60,000 family reduction in the numbers receiving family subsidies in October, saying policy should aim at stimulating the birth rate.

The Portugal News again, this time with an action:

More Lisbon metro strikes Thursday as union contests budget

Lisbon Metro workers are staging another partial strike to protest against pay cuts and other measures contained in the right-of-centre’s government’s state budget for 2014 and labour reform legislation.

Italy next, with more selling of the commons via

Italy will sell stakes in eight firms including Eni

Italy will sell stakes in eight companies including energy giant Eni in a “first packet of privatisations”, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Thursday, in a drive to reduce debt

And from RT, Bunga Bunga gotcha:

‘Bunga Bunga’ director: Court details Berlusconi’s ‘underage sex’ case

A court in Milan said that former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi had sexual relations with underage dancer Ruby “in exchange for considerable sums of money and other items.” The court released a document explaining the 7-year sentence handed down in June.

More from

Berlusconi ‘paid off witnesses’ in sex trial

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, found guilty in June of paying for sex with an underage prostitute, falsified evidence and corrupted dozens of witnesses in a bid to escape jail, a court report said on Thursday

After the jump, the Greek crisis deepens, Ukrainian rejection, Venezuelan power shift, Indian woes, Chinese neoliberalization, Japanese economic notes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . . Continue reading

From Ze Frank: True Facts About The CuttleFish

From his vlog. Enjoy!

Methane releases soar along Siberian coast

From Arctic News blog, the latest dramatic evidence of massive Arctic Ocean releases of methane, that highly potent greenhouse gas in the form of an augmented Google Earth map from Harold Hensel focusing on “horrific amounts of methane” [indicated by the red] from the Laptev Sea on the Siberian coast:

BLOG Methane alert
From Arctic News, with the measurements in gigatons [units of one billion tons]:

Vast amounts of methane are held in sediments under the Arctic Ocean. The Laptev Sea is part of the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS, the rectangle on the image on the right). Shakhova et al. (2010) estimate the accumulated methane potential for the ESAS alone as follows:

  • organic carbon in permafrost of about 500 Gt
  • about 1000 Gt in hydrate deposits
  • about 700 Gt in free gas beneath the gas hydrate stability zone.

Shakhova et al. in 2008 considered release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time.

By comparison, the total amount of methane currently in the atmosphere is about 5 Gt.

Headlines of the day I: Of Spies, lies, & hackers

We begin our coverage of life on the dark side with an oldie but goodie that Obama wants kept under wraps. Yet anther example of The Most Transparent Administrastion in History™.

From The Independent:

Exclusive: US blocks publication of Chilcot’s report on how Britain went to war with Iraq

Although the Cabinet Office has been under fire for stalling the progress of the four-year Iraq Inquiry by Sir John Chilcot, senior diplomatic sources in the US and Whitehall indicated that it is officials in the White House and the US Department of State who have refused to sanction any declassification of critical pre- and post-war communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Next, Reuters gives us numbers:

NSA chief says Snowden leaked up to 200,000 secret documents

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked as many as 200,000 classified U.S. documents to the media, according to little-noticed public remarks by the eavesdropping agency’s chief late last month.

Deutsche Welle gives us suspended judgement:

Hero or traitor: ‘Only history will decide’

Howard Schmidt, former White House cyber security adviser, tells DW the US has gone too far in its surveillance operations. But he believes only time will tell whether whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor.

And Ars Technica offers ironic ignorance:

NSA has no idea when it spies on Americans, top lawyer says

Because doing so would “require a greater invasion of that person’s privacy.”

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, share and share alike:

Americans’ personal data shared with CIA, IRS, others in security probe

U.S. agencies collected and shared the personal information of thousands of Americans in an attempt to root out untrustworthy federal workers that ended up scrutinizing people who had no direct ties to the U.S. government and simply had purchased certain books.

From The Guardian, another leaker imprisoned by the constitutional lawyer [unless, perhaps, constitutional applies in the sense of the morning constitutional, as in I’ll walk all over your rights]:

Former FBI agent sentenced to three years in prison for Associated Press leak

Resulting story on Yemen led to a federal leaks investigation and the seizure of journalists’ phone records in search for the source

MIT Technology Review raises an ominous probability [the choice of that last assessment based on personal knowledge and experience]:

NSA Leaks Could Inspire a Global Boom in Intrusive Surveillance

Governments already dabbling with authoritarian control of the Internet could be spurred on by learning of NSA surveillance.

From Nextgov, the contrarian but complementary:

Cisco’s Bad Quarter Shows How NSA Spying Could Freeze American Companies Out of a Trillion-dollar Opportunity

Cisco announced two important things in today’s earnings report: The first is that the company is aggressively moving into the Internet of Things—the effort to connect just about every object on earth to the internet—by rolling out new technologies. The second is that Cisco has seen a huge drop-off in demand for its hardware in emerging markets, which the company blames on fears about the NSA using American hardware to spy on the rest of the world.

From International Business Times, enter search terms. . .

Google Transparency Report: Government Requests For User Data Doubled Since 2009

Google Inc. updated its transparency report for the eighth time on Thursday, revealing that requests for user data from governments have increased more than 100 percent since July 2009. The Google transparency report noted that Google received 25,879 requests for user data in the first six months of 2013 alone.

Index on Censorship has more:

Google wants to “go even further” with transparency

The web giant says US national security claims hold back its reporting of government user requests

And from security expert Bruce Schneier at Schneier on Security, hopeful signs?:

A Fraying of the Public/Private Surveillance Partnership

The public/private surveillance partnership between the NSA and corporate data collectors is starting to fray. The reason is sunlight. The publicity resulting from the Snowden documents has made companies think twice before allowing the NSA access to their users’ and customers’ data.

Ars Technica covers a systemic response:

Internet architects propose encrypting all the world’s Web traffic

Next-gen HTTP calls for default crypto to stop spying by spooks and criminals.

The Independent reports the latest in the country George Orwell called home:

Councils to be given powers to ban peaceful protests that might disturb local residents

Peaceful protests could be outlawed on the sole grounds that they might annoy nearby residents under contentious new powers being granted to councils, campaign groups warn.

From Bloomberg Businessweek, a major question about the institution launched at the secret Communist Party of China:

Who Will China’s New Security Agency Target?

An interesting question to consider of China’s soon-to-be-formed national security committee, announced at the end of the third plenum on Nov. 12: Will its primary focus be containing what the party perceives as threats from overseas? Or will it instead aim at combating threats seen as coming from within?

From SINA English, a googly clone and the IP regime:

Baidu sued for alleged online video piracy

Baidu, Inc., China’s largest search engine, is being sued for providing illegal links to and pirated broadcast of online videos, according to a joint campaign against video piracy launched on Wednesday.

More Chinese information control form ProPublica:

How to Get Censored on China’s Twitter

The word “tank.” Photos and names of Chinese dissidents. Images of rubber ducks. Any mention of Tibetan protests or Bo Xilai, the disgraced senior member of China’s Communist Party. Political cartoons.

From Threatpost, cyberspookery:

Multiple Chinese Espionage Campaigns Could be Linked to Central Operation

Security company FireEye thinks they’ve found connections between at least 11 different espionage campaigns linked to China that happened during the last two years that suggest to them that there is a centralized operations organization supplying attackers with malware, builder tools, stolen digital certificates and many more artifacts.

Some private sector [?] cyberspookery from

Centra, Clerys and Postbank latest companies embroiled in hacking scandal understands that the customer details of these firms were affected by the massive security breach that exposed over 87,000 Irish people and 1.1m Europeans to criminal hackers.

Japanese reporters reassured by the Mainichi:

News reporters’ ‘eavesdropping’ won’t be punished under state secrets bill

News reporters eavesdropping on government meetings would not be subject to penalties under the controversial special state secrets bill, which would impose tougher penalties on leakers of national secrets, State Minister Masako Mori who is in charge of the bill said on Nov. 13.

And from The Register, a sardonic take on that leaked treaty draft:

SECRET draft copyright treaty LEAKED: Meet the Trans-Pacific Partnership

DMCA robocops link arms with Monsanto triffids to take over the world in revealed docs

From the Crime Report, ears on ankles:

Caution: Your GPS Ankle Bracelet Is Listening

  • A Corrections Department agent, who works at the Puerto Rico Pretrial Services Office’s monitoring center for defendants free on bail, placed a GPS ankle bracelet on the court podium and made a call from the device to a technician of the SecureAlert company, which provides them at a facility in Sandy, Utah.

  • The technician, who was addressed through the GPS ankle bracelet—which has a phone feature—testified that, although the device is supposed to vibrate when activated from Utah, the feature could be turned on without warning.

From Vice, our last headline and another sense surveiled:

Denver Police Are Using a Nose Telescope to Sniff Out People’s Weed

It’s called a “nasal ranger”.

Fukushima crisis: The dangerous move’s today

From The Real News Network, a Jaisal Noor interview of nuclear and electrical engineer Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, about today’s effort to remove 1,300 spent nuclear fuel rods from the earthquake-ravaged nuclear complex at Fukushima:

In Unprecedented Move, Spent Fuel Rods To Be Removed from Fukushima Reactors

From the transcript:

NOOR: And is it correct that something like this has never been attempted before, it’s never been attempted to remove fuel rods from a severely damaged pool?

MAKHIJANI: No. So, you know, we’ve never had a situation where, for instance, the entire fuel-handling structure of the reactor has been destroyed in an accident. That’s what happened in March 2011. These pools are sitting high up in the building, and above them there are cranes that move above the spent fuel pools and reactors that transfer fresh fuel into the reactor and used fuel out of the reactor into a pool. So these are pretty heavy pieces of equipment. And those frames were destroyed, along, you know, with the building infrastructure on which they were constructed. So they’ve had to build a whole new basically impromptu infrastructure to handle this spent fuel that–one hopes that is as precise as the other one, but it’s doubtful whether it can replicate the precision of the old, original crane, which could go back and forth above the pool. But it is–you know, they have actually built some kind of a structure, protective structure, not like the original containment. And they also have built a new crane and remote handling for the fuel. So they have done a fair amount of work preparing to go up to tomorrow. So I don’t think that one can say that they have been, you know, completely not on the job, because in my opinion this is a job that absolutely must be done, along with the removal of the molten fuel at the bottom of the three reactors.

NOOR: And can you talk a little bit about the growing health concerns in Japan, in Fukushima, and especially among the workers that are trying to salvage the nuclear reactors?

MAKHIJANI: [inaud.] very concerned about the workers. I think among all people, including in Japan, and certainly here, the workers are by far the most affected. I think many of them have received considerable radiation doses. They’re working in very highly radioactive environments sometimes, when they’re close to these leaks, for example. The radiation doses near some of the leaks have been very, very high. They’re basically using up the workers, ‘cause they get their annual doses and, you know, in tens of minutes for a few hours, and so they have to be replaced with new workers. The morale of the workers, by all accounts, is not very good. And if you have to replace workers frequently, then their training isn’t going to be and experience isn’t going to be the same as the workers who were there for a long time and really know the reactor.

So I think the monitoring of the health of the workers should, in terms of health, be equal to the vigilance of monitoring of the health of the children downwind of Fukushima. I think those are the two most important populations to monitor: the Fukushima public, the children, and the workers. Of course it’s important to follow all of the others also who were downwind of Fukushima during the accident, but the workers are by far the most affected.

Charts of the day: Do we detect a trend here?

From the summary document of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report [PDF]:

Microsoft Word - WG1AR5-SPM_Approved_Compiled_Final_SubjectToCop

A massive star, lurking in a Scorpion

From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, stellar porn:


A Massive Star in NGC 6357
Image Credit: NASA, ESA and J. Maiz Apellániz (IAA, Spain) Explanation: For reasons unknown, NGC 6357 is forming some of the most massive stars ever discovered. One such massive star, near the center of NGC 6357, is framed above carving out its own interstellar castle with its energetic light from surrounding gas and dust. In the greater nebula, the intricate patterns are caused by complex interactions between interstellar winds, radiation pressures, magnetic fields, and gravity. The overall glow of the nebula results from the emission of light from ionized hydrogen gas. Near the more obvious Cat’s Paw nebula, NGC 6357 houses the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to many of these tremendously bright and blue stars. The central part of NGC 6357 shown spans about 10 light years and lies about 8,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Scorpion.

Corpocracy, Food, Cal, superweeds and profit

We beginb with this from Drake Bennett of Bloomberg Businessweek reports on two contrasting decisions by Latin American courts:

A week and a half ago, according to Mexican media reports, a federal district judge issued an injunction suspending field trials of genetically modified corn. It’s been illegal to grow GM corn for consumption in Mexico since 1998, so the decision effectively means no one can grow genetically modified varieties of Mexico’s national crop for any reason.

Contrast this with what’s happening in Brazil. There, Embrapa, the national agricultural research and development institute, is going full-tilt on a project to bring to market a bean genetically modified to fight off the golden mosaic virus, a plague that, according to the Financial Times, costs the country 8 percent of its average annual bean crop. (Beans are as ubiquitous on Brazilian dinner plates as corn tortillas are in Mexico.) Some 85 percent of Brazil’s soy crop is already GM, and the country’s Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC) is working on genetically engineered varieties of sugar cane, a major crop.

Read the rest.

In this video, Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network discusses the Mexican court action decision with Timothy A. Wise, Director of the Tufts University Global Development and Environment Institute’s Research and Policy Program and leader of its Globalization and Sustainable Development Program:

From The Real News Network:

New GMO Crops Temporarily Blocked in Mexico

In this excerpt of the transcript, Wise cites research we’re very familiar with:

GM corn came into the United States without much attention or fanfare, because that’s very much the way that the biotech companies wanted it back in the mid ‘90s. In Mexico, though–I mean, the United States, we mainly grow on large monoculture farms. There’s very few, if any, native varieties of corn that are still grown in the country.

In Mexico, it’s completely different. There are still 3 million farmers growing corn using all different kinds of technologies and all different kinds of native varieties of corn. Mexico is the center where corn was first domesticated. And so it’s a very important center of agricultural biodiversity. It makes Mexico a much more sensitive place for the introduction of GM crops.

And it has been–there was a moratorium on any such planting of GM corn in Mexico until about 2005. But despite that, there was a documented case of contamination or gene flow. And that happened in the early 2000′s. It was discovered by University of California Berkeley researchers. And what was alarming about it was that it showed that genetically modified traits could introgress or enter the genetic makeup of traditional varieties of corn. So that was one of the unknowns about transgenic technology. This showed that, yes, it could happen, and it prompted a huge study under NAFTA’s environmental commission into the implications of this in the early 2000s.

The research he cites, by UC Berkeley microbiologist [and friend of the blog] Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, established that genes inserted in crops by profit-hungry corporations could spread to the native cultivars, the fountain from which all modern varieties of maize have sprung.

But publication of those findings resulted in a campaign of ad hominem attacks on Chapela and Quist backed by covert Monsanto funding led to an unprecedented retraction by Nature of their published findings, followed by the rejection of tenure for Chapela, despite the overwhelming endorsement of his fellow faculty.

After protests that we covered while reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet and a subsequent lawsuit, Chapela gained tenure. And it is now widely accepted in plant biology that genes can jump from genetically engineered crops across species lines into other plants — a phenomenon resulting in rapid spread of so-called superweeds resistant to the same herbicides the GMO crops were designed to withstand.

UC Berkeley is hugely invested in genetic engineering and so-called synthetic biology, sucking on a half-billion-dollar BP tit, and heavily infused with cash from the Department of Energy, until recently headed by a Berkeley prof who served as head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [he left tbhe cabinet for Stanford, Cal’s arch-gridiron rival.

In Brazil, the GM agenda moves forward, and in Mexico its on hold.

Monsanto and their allies in the gene-tweaking scientific community are currently lobbying heavily on behalf of GM crops, though some opposition remains.

The goal of the neoliberal corporation is the New Ownership, with the corporation retaining ownership of everything, and the farmer and peasant reduced to reduced to licensees of corporate intellectual property rights, forbidden from planting or breeding the stuff of life itself.

Headlines of the day II: EconoEnviroFukuFubar

The game grinds on, the looting accelerates, those at the bottom suffer, and the agenda endures, with Greece the epitome of what’s in store for the rest of us — with the political murder count on the rise — unless. . .

CNBC invokes a specter:

For signs of bubble, look no further than LBOs

Leveraged buyouts for both big and midsize companies are approaching debt levels last experienced in 2007.

USA TODAY delivers the chop:

Financial firms cutting thousands of jobs

Financial firms are cutting tens of thousands of jobs because of a slowdown in the mortgage business, the sluggish economy, the growth of online banking and new regulations.

CNBC tests the water:

Fed sets tough tests in annual bank health war games

Banks in the United States will have to test whether they can survive a halving of the stock market during a severe U.S. recession, the Federal Reserve said on Friday, as it set the rules for next year’s model runs to gauge the health of the financial system.

And another kind of bank faces another kind of stress test, congressionally induced. Via USA TODAY:

Food stamp cuts create high demand for food bank supplies

  • The holiday season is approaching in November and December, the time of year when most food banks receive more than half of their donations for the year.

  • The flip side: More people turn to food banks for help during that time, too.

  • Food banks across the country, stretched thin in the aftermath of the recession, are bracing for more people coming through their doors in the wake of cuts to the federal food stamp program.

From Salon, unindicted co-conspirators:

How Democrats enable California’s pension slashing

New “bipartisan” initiative allows state and local governments to reduce retirement benefits for current employees

And AlterNet notes the bottom line:

America’s Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom

Why do we put up with such injustices?

North of the border with CBC News and an unpleasant senior moment:

Job hunt posing big challenges for people over 50

Federal program aims to get older unemployed people through the dark days

Britain next, with a question from The Independent:

Is social deprivation to blame for 450 avoidable deaths from breast cancer each year?

Study reveals women from lower income groups are much more likely to be diagnosed later

More from BBC News:

Benefit delays ‘hit hundreds of terminally ill patients’

Hundreds of terminally ill cancer patients face waiting weeks and months for their income support because of a new payments system, a leading charity has warned.

If where the heart is is home, it’s in a metal box. From RT:

My home rocks, but it’s only a box: Soaring rents force Londoners to live in shipping containers

A London charity has imported steel containers from China and converted them into bargain basement homes, as part of a novel solution to try and solve homelessness amid soaring rents in the British capital.

And The Guardian has the ultimate in neoliberal desiderata: Paying lawyers to sell out their clients, [ideally, no doubt, to send them off to corporate owned-and-staffed prisons, preferably turning out products and services for profit]:

Lawyers to earn higher legal aid fees for early guilty pleas

Legal critics brand government moves to shave £220m off legal aid bill as perverse, unethical and counter-productive

The first of three items from the Irish Independent, first with a hint of things to come:

IMF: Lenders should set aside post-bailout funds for Ireland

Ireland’s lenders should set some money aside for when the country exits its bailout, which it should do step by step, a senior International Monetary Fund official said today.

The Irish Independent again, this time with a promise:

James Reilly pledges free GP care for every citizen by 2016

MINISTER for Health James Reilly has said that the government is ‘committed’ to providing free universal primary care for the entire nation within the next three years.

And the Irish Independent covers the Prime Minister’s underboss getting blown back by angry public protests after stuffing coal in Christmas stockings:

Now Tanaiste calls for Revenue U-turn on home ‘tax grab’

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore has piled the pressure on the Revenue Commissioners to abandon their pre-Christmas tax grab on homeowners.

And from the Irish Times, legalizing Hollywood and the Top 40:

Blasphemy offence a ‘dead letter’, constitutional convention told

Law’s requirement on causing outrage makes it ‘very difficult’ to prosecute

Germany next, feeling the heat from New Europe:

IMF backs US criticism of German surplus

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday echoed US criticism of Germany’s trade surpluses which the US Treasury said have been having an adverse impact on European economies during the crisis.

To Spain with an upbeat from the Global Times:

Fitch revises Spain’s outlook to stable

Fitch Ratings, a London-based credit rating company, Friday revised Spain’s sovereign credit rating outlook to stable from negative and affirmed long-term rating at BBB.

From thinkSPAIN, going for the gold in the ivory tower [just like UC]:

Spanish universities have 6,000 Chinese students on their books and aim to double the number

SPAIN’S education ministry is hoping to encourage more undergraduates from China to study in the Mediterranean country – but they are mostly put off by the fact that it takes so long for Spanish colleges to process qualifications.

The Toronto Globe and Mail takes us to Italy with a somber declaration:

Italy’s economic woes pose existential threat to euro zone

Xinhua casts a similarly sinister pall:

News Analysis: Italian youth mired in unemployment, analysts warn of lost generations

In times of economic recession, with the number of unemployed people increasing sharply, young Italians not only are the first targets of job cuts but are faced with the choice of building an uncertain future in their home country or seeking their fulfillment abroad.

After the jump, Greek meltdown continues, mixed Latin and Asian numbers, a Chinese neoliberal acceleration and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Blaming the victims

From historian Lawrence Davidson, writing in Consortium News:

The neoliberal outlook is demonstrably wrong in a significant way. The notion that the poor can make “free and rational choices” and thus can be held responsible for their situation is incorrect. There is accumulating evidence that poverty literally “messes with your mind” in a way that obstructs responsible choices.

In fact, the “free market” contributes to an environment that makes the poor decidedly unfree: confused, preoccupied, and feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. In other words, being poor makes you cognitively dysfunctional.

The latest research to show this was published in August 2013 in the journal Science and is titled “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function.” The gist of the argument is, “Poverty captures attention, triggers intrusive thoughts, and reduces cognitive resources.” In other words, the more preoccupied one is with troubles, the less able one is to muster the “cognitive resources” necessary to rationally “guide choice and action.”

Most people find themselves overwhelmed with problems now and then, but not constantly. What living in poverty does is to hit a person with a toxic cocktail of overwhelming problems day in and day out: financial problems, health problems, parenting issues, victimization by criminals and others, and the problem of just finding and keeping a job.

The authors also point out that the IQ difference between those living in poverty and those living above the poverty line can be as high as 13 points. This difference is not a function of genetics or race. It is created by the environment of poverty itself.

Headlines of the day II: Austerio/Fuku/ecomania

The most sophisticated looting machine in history continues to deploy its financial WMDs, gutting the power of labor, forcing the sale of the commons, and, step by sinuous step, educing the mass of humanity to the status of indentured serfs.

And it forces us to pay all the costs, as in this sad story from Al Jazeera America:

McDonald’s advises own employee to apply for food stamps

Recording of phone call to McDonald’s employee helpline suggests workers are advised to seek federal benefits

For some, who play indispensable roles in the lives of the elite, the rewards can be attractive. From Want China Times:

Top Chinese nannies in US make up to US$150,000 a year

Some Chinese nannies working for wealthy families in the United States can earn US$100,000 a year or more if they are experienced and have good recommendations, the Shanghai-based First Financial Daily reports.

From CNBC, an interesting perspective:

The class divide: Marriage as a ‘luxury good’

In recent years, people with a college degree have become more likely to get—and stay—married than their less educated counterparts, and those who stay married also tend to be much wealthier than unmarried adults.

From Quartz, another sad blow for the “American” media:

America is looking to relax the rule that spurred Rupert Murdoch to become a US citizen

America, the land of the free, still has restrictions on who can own a broadcast TV or radio station. But the rules could soon be relaxed, and the implications could be far reaching.

But America remains the land of the second chance, reports the London Daily Mail:

‘Look what I came back with!’ Disgraced former Louisiana governor, 86, launches reality show with wife, 35, he met in PRISON

  • Four-time Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards was was imprisoned on conviction charges

  • Trina Scott Edwards started to write him letter and visit and they married in 2011 on his release

  • The Governor’s Wife will showcase their unusual family circumstances

  • Governors Wife: Show Open

Here’s the promo:

And from Salon, an attractive thesis:

Why shopping malls inspire violence

They promise to fulfill our desires, but they actually produce feelings of inequality, hopelessness and rage

The Los Angeles Times covers one way to cover the gap when public funds run dry, this time on Olvera Street, a tourist attraction in the heart of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument

Olvera Street reluctantly embraces Web for funding

The youngest member of the Olvera Street Merchants Assn. persuades others to use the website Kickstarter to raise funds for a Dia de los Muertos event, with better-than-expected results.

From Busines Insider, a sad, sordid tale:

Why The GOP Really Wants To Decimate Food Stamps

The way the program to provide the poor with the bare minimum of daily nutrition has been handled is a metaphor for how the far right in the House is systematically trying to take down the federal government.

From Buzzflash, the neoliberal agenda reduced to a treaty:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Legalizes Corporate Rights Prevailing Over Human Rights

And covers the crucial:

Racism against minorities ‘fuelled by recession’

THE economic downturn is fuelling racism against minority groups and the Roma community in particular, according to a report by the Council of Europe.

Britain next, with a modest proposal via Sky News:

Labour ‘Open To Renationalising Railways’

Labour hits out at the “ideological” privatisation of the East Coast Main Line, as ministers launch the search for a buyer.

From Sky News, a British-based global private security and imprisonment giant [previously] suffers a setback:

Serco Boss Quits Amid Contracts Scandal

The outsourcing firm acts to bolster transparency as a fraud investigation continues over Government prisoner escort contracts.

From Britain’s Channel 4, with the introduction rightfully noting that whenever cuts are on the agenda, welfare is target number one [aided, in our humble opinion, but a too-quiescent or outright hostile press corps]:

Benefit sanctions causing ‘great hardship’

Program notes:

Penalising benefit claimants who are not deemed to be doing enough to find work is leaving people without any money to live on, according to research from the Citizens Advice Bureau. Social Affairs Editor Jackie Long investigates.

Sweden next, for a quick headline from Europe Online:

Volvo Group to cut 2,000 jobs as third-quarter profits fall flat

Swedish heavy-vehicle maker Volvo said Friday it would cut 2,000 white-collar jobs amid flat third-quarter profits and declining sales.

Deutsche Welle takes us to Germany:

Fiscal revenue in Germany expected to climb

Fiscal revenue in Germany this year could be 7-8 billion euros higher than previously estimated, according to a media report. But the trend is not expected to continue next year.

And on to Spain, starting with this from El País:

Main Spanish lenders post big gains in earnings through to September

BBVA cuts cash dividend payment in line with central bank recommendation

USA TODAY covers an austerian consequence:

Spain experiencing brain drain as weak economy lingers

Spain is grappling with a brain drain in which hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have fled to find work outside of a country where one in four people are jobless and companies are not hiring

And El País follows up on a strike:

Cutbacks and PP government’s reform plans fuel students’ strike

  • Unions say vast majority of teachers stayed away

  • Education Ministry describes protest as a failure based on “simplistic” slogans

The Portugal News takes us across the peninsula:

Minister dispells concerns over banking system

There were no significant causes for concern over the Portuguese banking system with the sector already repaying its state bailout loans, Minister of Finance Maria Luís Albuquerque has told parliament.

And EUobserver offers yet another instance of hard times intolerance:

Neo-Nazis mobilise against minorities in Czech republic

Ultra-right parties and their neo-Nazi supporters have unleashed an unprecedented level of coordinated anti-Roma demonstrations throughout the Czech Republic this year, aiming to tip the balance at the polls and increase their access to power in the country’s upcoming elections.

After the jump, the latest Greek debaclery [yeah, we know it’s not a word], more changes in China, Latin America, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading