Category Archives: Science

Headlines II: Spies, lies, laws, zones, more


We open today’s tales from the dark side with a demand via The Intercept:

The Bahamas Wants to Know Why the NSA is Recording Its Phone Calls

Government officials in the Bahamas want their U.S. counterparts to explain why the National Security Agency has been intercepting and recording every cell phone call taking place on the island nation.

Responding to a report published by The Intercept on Monday, which revealed that the NSA has been targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network and storing the audio of every phone call traversing the network for up to 30 days, Bahamian officials told the Nassau Guardian that they had contacted the U.S. and vowed to release a statement regarding the revelations.

In a front-page story published Tuesday, Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told the Guardian that his government had reached out to the U.S. for an explanation. Mitchell said the cabinet was set to meet to discuss the matter and planned to issue a statement on the surveillance. The Bahamian minister of national security told the paper he intended to launch an inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance but did not provide a comment.

The New York Times parses spookery:

Fine Line Seen in U.S. Spying on Companies

The National Security Agency has never said what it was seeking when it invaded the computers of Petrobras, Brazil’s huge national oil company, but angry Brazilians have guesses: the company’s troves of data on Brazil’s offshore oil reserves, or perhaps its plans for allocating licenses for exploration to foreign companies.

Nor has the N.S.A. said what it intended when it got deep into the computer systems of China Telecom, one of the largest providers of mobile phone and Internet services in Chinese cities. But documents released by Edward J. Snowden, the former agency contractor now in exile in Russia, leave little doubt that the main goal was to learn about Chinese military units, whose members cannot resist texting on commercial networks.

The agency’s interest in Huawei, the giant Chinese maker of Internet switching equipment, and Pacnet, the Hong Kong-based operator of undersea fiber optic cables, is more obvious: Once inside those companies’ proprietary technology, the N.S.A. would have access to millions of daily conversations and emails that never touch American shores.

Then there is Joaquín Almunia, the antitrust commissioner of the European Commission. He runs no company, but has punished many, including Microsoft and Intel, and just reached a tentative accord with Google that will greatly change how it operates in Europe.

In each of these cases, American officials insist, when speaking off the record, that the United States was never acting on behalf of specific American companies. But the government does not deny it routinely spies to advance American economic advantage, which is part of its broad definition of how it protects American national security. In short, the officials say, while the N.S.A. cannot spy on Airbus and give the results to Boeing, it is free to spy on European or Asian trade negotiators and use the results to help American trade officials — and, by extension, the American industries and workers they are trying to bolster.

From Agence France Presse, taking it on the road:

Eric Holder To Discuss NSA Spying Scandal In Germany

US Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Germany to discuss privacy concerns after the NSA spying scandal damaged relations between the two allies, Germany said Wednesday.

German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told journalists in Washington that Holder has accepted an invitation from Berlin to explain how the US would curb spying on foreign nationals overseas.

“We will have this discussion together in Germany,” he said.

The Christian Science Monitor raises a reasonable question:

US hacking charges against China for economic cyber-spying: Why now?

The US indictment of five military officials in China’s secret ‘Unit 61398′ aims to put China on notice but also plays to US corporate concerns that Washington has done too little to curb cyber threats.

While many believe it is unlikely those Chinese military officers will ever be extradited for trial in the US, the public outing of China’s military for engineering the cyber theft of the crown jewels of US companies’ intellectual property is the punitive part of a multipart “carrot and stick” policy the Obama administration adopted to deal with a problem shortly after it took office, these experts say.

In the administration’s early days, cyber threats were already a priority. But by 2010, cyber espionage had vaulted to the top of the list. The next year, a nonpublic internal federal review determined that “China’s economic espionage activities were greater than all others combined, including Russia,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

By early 2013, the US and China had agreed to regular diplomatic talks – a cyber working group – that was one of the White House “carrots” designed to deal with sensitive cyber issues behind closed doors. In those talks, the US told Chinese representatives that using the powerful state-controlled military to conduct cyber-espionage operations against hundreds of US corporations was unacceptable.

From the Associated Press, stupid is as stupid does:

U.S. hacking victims fell prey to slapstick, mundane ruses

The hacking techniques the U.S. government says China used against American companies turned out to be disappointingly mundane, tricking employees into opening e-mail attachments or clicking on innocent-looking website links.

The scariest part might be how successfully the ruses worked. With a mouse click or two, employees at big-name American makers of nuclear and solar technology gave away the keys to their computer networks.

In a 31-count indictment announced on Monday, the Justice Department said five Chinese military officials operating under hacker aliases such as “Ugly Gorilla,” “KandyGoo” and “Jack Sun” stole confidential business information, sensitive trade secrets and internal communications for competitive advantage. The United States identified the alleged victims as Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse, Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel, United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld.

From the Verge, an embarrassment:

The US Navy was hacked from inside its own aircraft carrier

When the Navy Criminal Investigative Service started looking into a breach of one of their low-security networks, the team got an unpleasant surprise: at least one of the culprits was a Navy sailor, performing the attacks from an aircraft carrier at sea.

The hacking group called Team Digi7al breached at least 24 websites in 2012, including the Navy’s own SmartMove system, used to help sailors coordinate changes of address. The team was looking for social security numbers and other personal data, the raw material for identity theft, targeting sites like the Toronto Police Service and Stanford University. For the most part, the attacks were small enough to stay under the radar — but when a tweet posted to Team Digi7al’s Twitter account from an internal Navy network, NCIS realized the SmartMove attack had been an inside job, and sprang into action.

It took an elaborate sting operation to find Digi7al’s inside, including a fake database designed as an attractive target, but finally NCIS traced the breach back to Nicholas Paul Knight, the systems administrator for the nuclear reactor onboard the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier. On Tuesday, Knight plead guilty to charges of identity theft and obstruction of justice in federal court. He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A paradigm shifts from Homeland Security News Wire:

Snowden revelations spur a surge in encrypted e-mail services

The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency(N.S.A) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said the co-developer of a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday. The company notes that its servers are based in Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them.

The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said Jason Stockman, a co-developer of ProtonMail, a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday with collaboration from scientists from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the European research lab CERN.

Yahoo News reports that ProtonMail is marketed as user-friendly as major commercial e-mail services such as Google Gmail and Yahoo Mail, but it offers extra security. The company notes that its servers are based in  Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them. E-mail encryption has been a go-to-tool for dissident activists in China and Iran to avoid detection by the authorities, but the adoption of encryption services is now favored by many Americans who want to avoid surveillance from the NSA or other intelligence services.

From the Washington Post, a legacy for the University of California’s new president [former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano]:

Planned Homeland Security headquarters, long delayed and over budget, now in doubt

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the George W. Bush administration called for a new, centralized headquarters to strengthen the department’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism and respond to natural disasters. More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.

The entire complex was to be finished as early as this year, at a cost of less than $3 billion, according to the initial plan.

The Tribune Washington Bureau seeks release:

Obama administration to release drone memo on killing US citizens

President Barack Obama’s Justice Department will release a long-sought secret document laying out the legal basis for using drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorist activities abroad, administration officials confirmed Tuesday.

Rather than appeal a court order that the so-called “drone memo” be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. concurred with the decision of Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli not to pursue the appeal and agreed to release a redacted version of the document, the officials said.

Officials requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations, first disclosed Tuesday by The Associated Press. The documents will be released later, pending court approval.

From CNN, an announcement with suspicious timing:

Stream of al Qaeda threats has U.S. intelligence concerned

A series of al Qaeda-based threats to attack American and Western targets in Europe, as well as threats to launch attacks inside the United States, has caused significant concern inside the U.S. intelligence community, CNN has learned.

Officials are trying to determine the extent to which the threats may be linked and determine what it may mean about the strength of al Qaeda in several countries. While the “threat stream” has evolved during the past six months, according to a senior U.S. official, none of the threats has been corroborated.

The official said the threats appear to detail “a lot of activity where intelligence suggests there are operational cells,” but so far, “we do not see operational cells of al Qaeda inside the United States,” the official said, although he emphasized it could not be ruled out.

From the Arizona Republic, about damn time:

FBI reverses no-recording policy for interrogations

Since the FBI began under President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, agents have not only shunned the use of tape recorders, they’ve been prohibited by policy from making audio and video records of statements by criminal suspects without special approval.

Now, after more than a century, the U.S. Department of Justice has quietly reversed that directive by issuing orders May 12 that video recording is presumptively required for interrogations of suspects in custody, with some exceptions.

There was no news release or press conference to announce the radical shift. But a DOJ memorandum —obtained by The Arizona Republic — spells out the changes to begin July 11.

From the Dept. of Oh, Puhleeeze via The Wire:

GOP Senator Does Not Think the FBI Director’s Weed Joke Was Very Funny

FBI Director James Comey made a weed joke earlier this week; turns out the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t find it funny. Speaking at a conference on Monday, the FBI chief made headlines when he admitted that the agency is “grappling with the question” of whether it could be more open to hiring people who smoke pot, especially as the demand for cybercrime fighters increases.

What went mostly unreported was a little funny that Comey made when he added that some of the prospective hires “want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

Today we found out that Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was not so amused:

Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use and that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?”

From the Boston Globe, with maximum security:

Ohio Prison Shows Pirated Movies to Prisoners Convicted of Pirating Movies

Pirated movies are being shown to Ohio inmates convicted for selling pirated films, according to Cleveland.com. The Lorain County Correctional Institution confirmed that prison officials know about the practice and that it’s being investigated.

Richard Humphrey, who was released on May 6 for a parole violation, posted on torrentfreak.com that guards let the inmates watch “Ride Along” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” before the films’ DVD releases. Humphrey faced a 29-month sentence in 2010 for selling pirated copies of movies on a subscription-based website.

From CNN, keeping kids secure from security people:

Cop, rabbi, scoutmaster among arrests in child porn bust

They are people children are supposed to trust: A New York Police Department officer, a Fire Department of New York paramedic, a rabbi and a scoutmaster were among more than 70 people arrested in a major child porn bust, a U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday.

The police officer allegedly used the video chatting service Skype to have women pose their children naked for him, another law enforcement official said.

Another of those arrested — a supervisor with the Transportation Security Administration — allegedly traveled to the Dominican Republic to have sex with children, the official said. He allegedly made more than 50 trips there.

From Reuters, how much for a hack attack?:

EBay says client information stolen in hacking attack

E-commerce company eBay Inc said hackers stole email addresses, birthdays and other identity information between late February and early March in a data breach that may have affected a “large number” of accounts.

In the latest major cyber attack at a U.S. company, eBay said it had found no evidence of unauthorized access to financial or credit card information, which is stored separately in encrypted formats.

But the company urged all of its users, including the 145 million customers who bought or sold something on eBay in the last 12 months, to change their passwords.

Blowback blues from Global Times:

Microsoft ‘surprised’ at move to change systems

  • Windows 8 ban to aid security

In an e-mail to the Global Times, Microsoft said they are surprised by the news.

“Windows 8 has some unique back doors reserved by developers for later system upgrade and daily maintenance. The downside of the back doors is the potential risk of leaking sensitive personal information to developers or Internet hackers,” Zhang Yi, CEO of Shenzhen-based iiMedia Research, told the Global Times.

Zhang’s opinion was echoed by Ni Guangnan, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who reportedly appealed that the government should not purchase Windows 8 devices.

Ni was quoted by China Electronics News as saying the new generation of Windows system would leave information vulnerable to monitoring from the US government, as shown in the scandal of PRISM.

More blowback from South China Morning Post:

US cyberespionage charges may cool Westinghouse’s China nuclear deal

  • Business ties at risk after Washington accuses five PLA officers of hacking

China may consider postponing negotiations for buying eight nuclear reactors from an American nuclear company embroiled in a US indictment of five PLA military officers for alleged cyberespionage, Chinese experts say.

The deal, together with parts and services, would potentially be worth more than 24 billion yuan (HK$30 billion) and create thousands of jobs.

Five cybertechnology experts, allegedly from the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398 that has been accused of being a major source of cyberattacks abroad, are now wanted by the FBI for hacking into a number of US firms, including Westinghouse Electric, the company tendering to supply the Chinese nuclear power plants.

And north of the border, and sure to move south, from CBC News:

La Ronde under fire for scanning visitors’ fingerprints

  • Quebec privacy commissioner says La Ronde has not been cleared to have biometric database

La Ronde, the Montreal amusement park owned by Six Flags, is scanning biometric data from its users to admit them to the park. The only problem is, it hasn’t been cleared to do so.

This year, the park brought in measures to scan what it calls “fingerpoints.” The scans of season-pass holders’ index fingers are then used to admit them to the amusement park.

“So what happens is season-pass owners come to the park, they have two options. Either they can do a traditional way, so they can get a season pass with picture or they can go through our new system, which is quicker,” La Ronde’s communications officer Jules Hébert told CBC Daybreak on Wednesday.

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing and ever-escalating Asian Games of Zones, with an emphasis on the latest efforts of to send Japan down Abe’s Road of rash remilitarization. . . Continue reading

Maps of the day: Ten feet deep and rising


First up, this from Scientific American:

New research indicates that climate change has already triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The projected decay will lead to at least 4 feet of accelerating global sea level rise within the next two-plus centuries, and at least 10 feet of rise in the end.

What does the U.S. look like with an ocean that is 10 feet higher? The radically transformed map would lose 28,800 square miles of land, home today to 12.3 million people.

These figures come from Climate Central research published in 2012, analyzing and mapping every coastal city, county and state in the lower 48 states. (A next generation of research is currently under way.)

Using Climate Central’s Surging Seas maps, we decided to Look at just what a ten-foot rise in sea level would bring to San Francisco Bay’s East Bay region, home of Casa esnl and so much more.

Everything that’s not white is under water.

First up, an overview:

BLOG Seas

Next, a look at West Berkeley from University Avenue to Gilman Street, with all the non-white areas due for submergence:

BLOG Berkeley

Next, an overview of the City of Richmond, which would sustain major immersion:

BLOG Richmond

And for our next image, part of southern Richmond, including the major toxic waste dump at Campus Bay, UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station, most of which would wind up under water unless the university’s plans for a $1.5 billion academic/corporate/national laboratory development includes a massive sea wall. Also included is the housing complex at Marina Bay:

BLOG Marina Bay

Finally, a look at part of West Oakland, including Alameda Island:

BLOG Oakland

Better lay in some extra swimming trunks.

Science News: Of plates and platitudes


For your Sunday viewing pleasure, we bring you a pair of fascinating videos from University of California Television [UCTV]

First, best-selling author and student of human behavior parses the mysteries of those telling phrases and speech patterns that serve as social lubricants:

The Elephant in the Room: The Psychology of Innuendo and Euphemism

Program notes:

Why don’t people just say what they mean? In this lecture, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker explains the paradoxical appeal of euphemism, innuendo, politeness, and other forms of shilly-shallying.

And for our second video, a look at some of the fundamental forces shaping our world through a look at the great African Valley which may have given rise to the human species:

Rift! Geologic Clues to What’s Tearing Africa Apart

Program notes:

East Africa is one of the most geologically intriguing places on the planet—a place where the African continent is literally ripping apart. Deep rift valleys, active volcanoes, and hot springs are dramatic evidence for the powerful forces deep within the earth that are slowly reshaping the continent. Join geochemist David Hilton on an adventure to the East African Rift Valley and learn how he and his colleagues utilize geologic samples to understand this dynamic region of our planet.

Another map, this time of climate change


From NASA, noting the rise of temperatures across the U.S. over the past 119 years:

BLOG TempsBLOG Tempt

From NASA:

Since consistent record-keeping began in 1895, the average temperature in the United States has increased by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 to 1.1° Celsius), and most of that change has happened since 1970. The warmest year on record for the United States was 2012. The map above shows temperature changes between 1991 and 2012 compared to the average temperature between 1901 and 1960. Bold lines divide the country into regions, and the change is uneven across the regions. “Multiple lines of independent evidence confirm that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years,” says the report.

Confirmed: Shrooms zap depressive thoughts


We’ve covered the absurd contradiction that an ancient folk remedy may offer hope for the depressed in ways that Big Pharma can’t.

Now comes more confirmation, this time from one of the world’s leading research institutions, the University of Zurich:

Psilocybin inhibits the processing of negative emotions in the brain

When emotions are processed in a negatively biased manner in the brain, an individual is at risk to develop depression. Psilocybin, the bioactive component of the Mexican magic mushroom, seems to intervene positively in the emotion-processing mechanism. Even a small amount of the natural substance attenuates the processing of negative emotions and brightens mood as shown by UZH researchers using imaging methods.

Emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and joy enable people to adjust to their environment and react flexibly to stress and strain and are vital for cognitive processes, physiological reactions, and social behaviour. The processing of emotions is closely linked to structures in the brain, i.e. to what is known as the limbic system.

Within this system the amygdala plays a central role – above all it processes negative emotions like anxiety and fear. If the activity of the amygdala becomes unbalanced, depression and anxiety disorders may develop.

Researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich have now shown that psilocybin, the bioactive component in the Mexican magic mushroom, influences the amygdala, thereby weakening the processing of negative stimuli.

These findings could “point the way to novel approaches to treatment” comments the lead author Rainer Krähenmann on the results which have now been published in the renowned medical journal “Biological Psychiatry”.

Literature:

Rainer Kraehenmann, Katrin H. Preller, Milan Scheidegger, Thomas Pokorny, Oliver G. Bosch, Erich Seifritz, Franz X. Vollenweider,(in press). Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry.

For readers with journal paywall access, the article is here.

More headlines, politics, economics, & more


To be followed by another set from the world of zones, drones, spooks, and military posturing.

The New York Times gives us our first headline:

U.S. Economy Barely Grew in First Quarter

The American economy slammed on the brakes in the beginning of 2014, as weaker exports and lower spending by businesses essentially brought growth to a standstill.

At 0.1 percent, the pace of expansion in January, February and March was the slowest since late 2012, and revealed another one of the periodic pauses in the growth that has characterized the slow recovery of the last five years.

Many experts had predicted a slowing in the first quarter of 2014, especially in the wake of more robust growth in the second half of 2013 and very cold weather in January and February, but the figures released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday morning were still drastically below the 1.2 percent rate of expansion that Wall Street had been expecting.

So how did the markets respond? Well, they paid more attention to another report. From BBC News:

All three major US indexes closed higher on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones finishing at a record high

The Dow Jones rose 45.47 points to close at 16,580.84, four points above a previous high hit on 31 December 2013.

The S&P 500 index increased 5.62 points to 1,883.95, and the Nasdaq climbed 11.01 points to 4,114.56.

Traders cheered a US Federal Reserve statement which indicated the central bank thought the US economy was improving.

From the Los Angeles Times, another favor to the corporate bottom line:

GOP senators block minimum-wage hike but Democrats vow to try again

A top election-year proposal from Democrats — a bid to raise the federal minimum wage — was rejected by Republicans in the Senate, who blocked legislation Wednesday to boost the rate to $10.10 an hour.

President Obama has turned the plight of the nation’s low-wage workers into a battle cry for Democrats as they try to appeal to voters while the economy continues to sputter. Several states have advanced their own wage hikes amid congressional inaction.

“It’s time for Republicans in Congress to listen to the majority of Americans who say it’s time to give America a raise,” the president said before the midday vote.

However, the effort made little headway with Republicans, who argued that the rate hike would cost jobs. The measure was blocked by a GOP filibuster on a party-line vote, 54-42.

While BBC News has more bad news for the real losers in the game of greed:

American Dream breeds shame and blame for job seekers

  • Out-of-work Americans tend to blame themselves for their predicament

Decades ago, the American dream inspired employees, offering the promise of the good life. But now, with jobs disappearing, that dream has become a nightmare for the unemployed who see their joblessness as a personal – and shameful – failure.

Victor Tan Chen studies some of the unluckiest people in the US.

The sociology fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, researches car workers in cities like Detroit, hard-hit by the economic downturn and by long-term trends in the US industrial base.

“But they used to be the luckiest men in America,” Chen says.

From United Press International, a noble effort with questionable chances of success:

Senate Dems to attempt to reverse Citizens United

Democrats announced a plan to push for a constitutional amendment to undo changes to campaign finance rules wrought by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.

After complaining for four years about changes to campaign finance allowed by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Democrats are finally doing something about it.

Rules Committee Chair Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that Democrats would schedule a Senate vote for this year on an amendment, sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall. The amendment would overturn Citizens United and another recent decision that classified campaign spending as speech protected under the First Amendment and opened the door to corporation- and union-run SuperPACs that flooded the country with political advertisements.

“The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” Schumer said. “The First Amendment is sacred, but the First Amendment is not absolute. By making it absolute, you make it less sacred to most Americans. We have to bring some balance to our political system.”

ProPublica documents the sad plight of the concept of euqal justice under law:

The Rise of Corporate Impunity

Meet the only Wall St. executive prosecuted as a result of the financial crisis. Has justice been served?

American financial history has generally unfolded as a series of booms followed by busts followed by crackdowns. After the crash of 1929, the Pecora Hearings seized upon public outrage, and the head of the New York Stock Exchange landed in prison. After the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, 1,100 people were prosecuted, including top executives at many of the largest failed banks. In the ‘90s and early aughts, when the bursting of the Nasdaq bubble revealed widespread corporate accounting scandals, top executives from WorldCom, Enron, Qwest and Tyco, among others, went to prison.

The credit crisis of 2008 dwarfed those busts, and it was only to be expected that a similar round of crackdowns would ensue. In 2009, the Obama administration appointed Lanny Breuer to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer quickly focused on professionalizing the operation, introducing the rigor of a prestigious firm like Covington & Burling, where he had spent much of his career. He recruited elite lawyers from corporate firms and the Breu Crew, as they would later be known, were repeatedly urged by Breuer to “take it to the next level.”

But the crackdown never happened. Over the past year, I’ve interviewed Wall Street traders, bank executives, defense lawyers and dozens of current and former prosecutors to understand why the largest man-made economic catastrophe since the Depression resulted in the jailing of a single investment banker — one who happened to be several rungs from the corporate suite at a second-tier financial institution.

It brings a song to mind, one written the last time nation was dealing with the grim aftermath of a market collapse wrought by untrammeled greed.

From vlogger Evertnr11

Woody Guthrie: Pretty Boy Floyd

From the lyrics:

Well, you say that I’m an outlaw,
You say that I’m a thief.
Here’s a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

From NextGov, Warren weighs in on the new and noxious FFC rule proposals:

Elizabeth Warren: Internet ‘Fast Lanes’ Will Help ‘Rich and Powerful’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to enact strong net-neutrality rules to ensure that all websites receive equal service.

“Reports that the FCC may gut net neutrality are disturbing, and would be just one more way the playing field is tilted for the rich and powerful who have already made it,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in a Facebook post.

“Our regulators already have all the tools they need to protect a free and open Internet—where a handful of companies cannot block or filter or charge access fees for what we do online. They should stand up and use them.”

And from the China Post, the latest counter to Washington’s global neoliberal trade agenda:

China pressing for vast Asia-Pacific FTA as rival US-led deal runs into snags

China is pressing for a vast Asia-Pacific free trade agreement, a senior official said Wednesday, as a rival U.S.-led deal that excludes the Asian giant runs into snags.

Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, told reporters at a briefing that China has proposed setting up a working group to study the feasibility of an Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTAAP).

The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host.

The response from Washington was prompt, as China Daily reports:

US not edged out of Latin America: State

A US assistant secretary of state criticized the US media’s “Chicken Little” views on China’s growing engagement with Latin America, saying “it’s not a question of someone edging us (the US) out of a market”.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during a talk at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Calling the US’s Latin America relationships “the strongest they’ve ever been”, Jacobson said in response to an audience member’s question that she is “not particularly worried about (the US) becoming obsolete in the region” despite media reports that have suggested the country is “losing influence” in a part of the world considered its backyard. Jacobson attributed the negative portrayal to a US media obsession with the invading “country of the moment”.

“One day it’s China, one day Russia,” she said.

While the Economic Times covers another Washington worry:

China poised to overtake US economy: World Bank ranking

China is advancing rapidly to overtake the United States as the biggest economy in the world, new data shows, with the leader of the world economy since the 19th century possibly losing its top spot to the Asian giant from this year.

“The United States remained the world’s largest economy (in 2011), but it was closely followed by China” once data was adjusted for comparison on a standard basis, the World Bank said on Wednesday. “India was now the world’s third largest economy, moving ahead of Japan.”

In parallel, the OECD grouping 34 advanced economies and analysing the same data, said that “the three largest economies in the world were the United States with 17.1 percent (of global output), China 14.9 percent and India 6.4 percent.”

From AlterNet, more on that long, grievous Claifornia Dought we’ve been covering:

All of California Is Now Under Drought Conditions, and That’s Bad News for All of Us

  • Consumers will feel the effect soon as food prices are expected to skyrocket.

For the first time in 15 years, all of the Golden State suffers from a water shortage, and while that’s very bad for the region, it may also send food prices skyrocketing throughout the country.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map of drought conditions produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that the entire state suffers from conditions ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” The heavy-population centers all suffer from “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” The latter designation, also known a as a D4, being the most critical.

It has also been reported that all of the state’s reservoir levels are low, with one, the San Antonio Reservoir, which is in Alameda County and serves the Bay Area, being essentially dry since winter. Other reservoirs are reported to be near half capacity, and others are at less than half capacity.

The drought has also led to a really frightening potential for fires, with headlines like this one from CNN today occurring in April, rather than August and September:

Fast-moving wildfire in Southern California grows, driven by wind

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for nearly 1,700 homes in the path of a wildfire near Rancho Cucamonga, California, but fire officials urged some residents to keep on an eye on the wind-whipped blaze, authorities said.

The fire, fanned by strong wind gusts and high temperatures, began in the Etiwanda Preserve in San Bernardino National Forest at about 8 a.m. local time, according to Cal Fire. By late afternoon, it had grown to more than 1,000 acres, the agency said.

Next, a trip north of the north with the Canadian Press and yet another growing gap:

Western growth pulls away further from rest of Canada’s

A regional breakdown of economic performance suggests Canada’s two economies drifted even further apart in 2013.

Statistics Canada says in a new report issued Tuesday that improvement in economic output last year was heavily slanted toward resource-rich regions.
The gap between the West and the rest was even more pronounced, said Bank of Montreal economist Robert Kavcic, widening to almost two full percentage points.

Saskatchewan, which also benefited from a bump in the agriculture sector, posted a 4.8% surge in gross domestic product in 2013, while oil-rich Alberta realized a 3.9% growth rate.

On to Europe, starting with a headline from Reuters:

Euro zone inflation edges up, swift ECB action seen less likely

Euro zone inflation rose in April, reducing chances the European Central Bank will act soon to ward off deflation, but the pace of price rises was below forecast and still within the ECB’s “danger zone” of under 1 percent.

Annual consumer inflation in the 18 countries sharing the euro nudged higher to 0.7 percent in April from March’s 0.5 percent, which was the lowest since late 2009, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said on Wednesday.

The reading was lower than the 0.8 percent predicted in a Reuters poll despite higher spending over the Easter period, reflecting the poor state of the euro zone economy after a long recession and with unemployment at near-record levels.

And a major defeat for Britain in its battle against the Tobin Tax, via EUobserver:

EU top court throws out UK challenge to transactions tax

The European Court of Justice on Wednesday (30 April) rejected a UK legal challenge to plans by eleven countries to set up a financial transactions tax (FTT).

The main thrust of London’s opposition to the tax relates to the so-called “residence” and “issuance” principle in the proposed bill, which means that some traders operating outside the FTT-11 would still be liable to pay the levy. The UK, which has the largest financial services sector in the EU, says that it would be hit by the tax as a result.

But since the proposal has not been agreed, the UK case was restricted to challenging the right of the eleven countries, led by France and Germany, to proceed with the bill.

From the London Telegraph, winners in the Great Mail Robbery of 2014:

Abu Dhabi and Soros got ‘golden ticket’ in Royal Mail sale

Sovereign wealth funds and billionaire investors among 16 firms given preferential treatment over small investors in the Royal Mail privatisation

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, billionaire investor George Soros and activist hedge fund Third Point were among the 16 investors given preferential treament in the controversial Royal Mail privatisation.

The Government on Wednesday released details of these preferred investment firms, who saw the shares they had bought rise 38pc on the first day of trading, while thousands of small private investors missed out after the Government imposed a cap of £10,000 on them.

Other preferential investors included Lazard Asset Management, the investment arm of the government’s independent adviser on the privatisation, Capital Research, Fidelity Worldwide, GIC, Henderson, JP Morgan, Kuwait Investment Office, Lansdowne Partners, Och Ziff, Schroders, Standard Life, and Threadneedle.

More from The Independent:

Royal Mail float scandal: how hedge funds cleaned up

The Royal Mail flotation scandal has deepened after officials finally admitted that hedge funds were among the “priority investors” sold hundreds of millions of pounds of shares.

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has repeatedly insisted that the handful of key investors offered Royal Mail shares on preferential terms were long-term institutional investors. This was to ensure the new company started with “a core of high-quality investors” who “would be there in good times and bad”. He promised to marginalise “spivs and speculators”.

But sources in the Department for Business have confirmed to The Independent that around 20 per cent of the shares it had allocated to 16 preferred investors had gone to hedge funds and other short-term investors. This would equate to around £150m of Royal Mail shares – 13 per cent of the entire stock sold by the Government. The companies bought in at the float price of 330p a share. The shares shot up within seconds of trading, eventually peaking within weeks at more than 600p, allowing the hedge funds to bank vast profits at the taxpayers’ expense.

On to Amsterdam and a dirty little secret from euronews:

Dutch prime minister reacts to revelations he threatened to leave the eurozone

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte threatened to take his country out of the eurozone.

His stance was two years ago over planned reforms which were never implemented. It has been revealed in a Dutch newspaper.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy told the paper he was shocked at the strength of opposition to the reforms but stressed no other European leader had talked of leaving the euro. Eurosceptic politician Gert Wilders wants explanations.

“I was very pleasantly surprised. I remember Mr Rutte telling my party it’s a crazy idea only to think about leaving the eurozone. I have asked for an urgent debate in the Dutch parliament. I hope he will support me. Mr Rutte can explain what he really said,” the leader of the Party for Freedom said.

Germany next, and good news for Angela Merkel from Deutsche Welle:

German jobless rate down during spring economic upswing

The German labor market has seen a boost amid mild spring weather, seeing unemployment drop below a psychologically important threshold. Stable growth conditions have helped many people find a new job.

The number of people unemployed in Europe’s biggest economy fell below the three-million threshold for the first time this year in April, the Nuremberg-based Federal Employment Agency (BA) reported Wednesday.

It logged 2.943 million people out of work last month, the lowest figure recorded in any April in 22 years.

The agency said the overall jobless number dropped by 110,000 over March, and by 77,000 compared to last April.

On to France, where RFI reports that the Parisian species of austerianism still resists the usual tax cuts for elites and corporations. [But it’s still austerity, and those who bear the brunt are the least able to afford it. . .]:

Valls defends ‘modern’ economic policy after Socialist revolt

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended his “deeply modern” economic policy on Wednesday, the day after 41 MPs from his Socialist Party refused to back a cuts package that finances reductions in taxes for business.

Describing his policies as social-democratic and reformist, Valls told France Inter radio he was proud of a “this deeply modern left, which faces up to reality and at the same time wants to respond to expectations of social justice”.
Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

“I don’t think being left-wing means passing on debt to future generations,” he told a caller who had said that left-wing supporters felt betrayed by his policies. “I don’t think being left-wing means raising taxes and smothering the middle class.”

Meanwhile, reaction sets in via France 24:

No mosques or EU flags: France’s far-right mayors get down to business

The 11 far-right National Front mayors elected in France’s recent municipal elections have begun implementing controversial policies, including rejecting projects for new mosques and cancelling commemorations of the abolition of slavery.

A month after their victory in French municipal elections, the 11 far-right National Front mayors have implemented their first policies – and some of them have already caused quite a stir.

France 24 again, this time with legal umbrage:

Strauss-Kahn to sue Belgian pimp over ‘DSK’ brothel

Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is suing a Belgium-based pimp for opening a brothel that bears the initials ‘DSK’, his lawyers said Wednesday.

The pimp, Dominique Alderweireld or “Dodo la Saumure” (“saumure” means brine, or the salted oil in which mackerel – also the French slang for pimp – is often served), has been linked to sex parties the disgraced French politician attended in the past.

Strauss-Kahn, a potential presidential contender in the 2012 French election whose chances were dashed by a New York sex scandal involving a hotel maid, is well known by his initials DSK in France and French-speaking countries like Belgium and Switzerland.

From RFI, a powerful symbolic act:

PSA Peugeot Citroën workers give ‘pathetic’ bonuses to charity as boss’s salary announced

Angry employees of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën have donated their “pathetic” bonuses to charity. Workers received bonuses of between 40 cents and 18 euros, unions said, just as the company announced a 1.3-million-euro annual salary for new boss Carlos Tavares.

Judging their bonuses “pathetic and not acceptable”, workers at PSA’s factory in Valenciennes, northern France, decided they would give them to the Restos du Coeur, a charity launched by comedian Coluche in the 1980s to help the poor.

Spain next, starting with a promise from El País:

Government promises to create 600,000 jobs in two years

  • But Rajoy administration admits employment levels it inherited in 2011 will not return until 2018

Spanish labor market continued to shed jobs in first quarter of 2014

The government has promised to create 600,000 jobs between 2015 and 2016 despite admitting that employment would not return to the levels it inherited when it came into power in 2011 until 2018, three years after the current legislature ends.

According to the macroeconomic framework approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday, employment will grow 0.6% this year, 1.2% in 2015 and, in 2016, hopefully pick up steam with a rise of 1.5%, always in terms of the national accounts.

But the improvement will not be sufficient to compensate for the decline that the labor market has suffered since 2011, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party came to power.

Looking for an out with TheLocal.es:

Half of all Catalans want out of Spain: poll

Almost half of all Catalans would vote to become independent from Spain, a recent poll by a Catalan government research group shows.

Forty-seven percent said they would vote in favour of an independent Catalan state, while 19.3 percent would give the proposal the thumbs down.

Some 8.6 percent said they would want Catalonia to be a state, but not an independent one according to the Catalan research institute Centro de Estudios de Opinion (CEO).

With a possible referendum coming later this year, one in ten Catalans are still undecided on whether they would vote.

TheLocal.es again, this time with a highly publicized arrest for a nasty bit of racist theatrics:

Arrested: Man who threw banana at Dani Alves

The man who threw a banana at FC Barcelona Brazilian player Dani Alves, sparking a global anti-racism campaign, has been arrested by Spanish police.

Barcelona’s Alves made headlines when decided to eat the piece of fruit thrown at him during Sunday’s game against Villareal, a reaction he described as “instinct”.

That reaction has now become a worldwide anti-racism campaign with footballers celebrities, and even politicians posing in selfies eating bananas to support the cause.

Now the man who threw the banana has been arrested by Spanish police on a charge of inciting hatred.

And a fascinating story about a legal ruling politically painful to the ruling party, via the victor, El País:

Judge rules against ex-PM in EL PAÍS defamation case over illegal payments

Ruling states that PP, in breach of law, paid Aznar on at least three occasions while in office

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister José María Aznar against EL PAÍS over a story it published in May 2013 that alleged he had continued to receive sums of money from the Popular Party after he took office in 1996, in contravention of the Incompatibilities Law.

On April 25, Judge Enrique Presa Cuesta ruled that Aznar was paid bonuses on at least three occasions by his party while prime minister. The judge pointed out in his sentence that Aznar’s lawyer had argued that the money was given in return for activities he had carried out before taking office in May 1996, but had failed to back this up with any documentary evidence.

The ruling also requires Aznar to pay all legal costs, noting that in preparing the story, EL PAÍS used “official PP accounts,” and that it also “tried to contact the former prime minister and his party to ascertain their version of events.”

From the Guardian, another way to penalize the poor [who can’t buy those costly carts] via the Guardian:

Madrid’s smart parking meters to charge more for most polluting cars

  • Electronic cars will park free and hybrids will get 20% off under scheme to target emissions in Spanish capital

The city of Madrid is introducing smart parking meters that will slap a surcharge on cars that pollute more and reduce parking charges for efficient vehicles, a system that city officials are touting as the first of its kind in the world.

Starting on 1 July, the price a motorist pays to park in the city streets will be based on a complex table governed by the engine and the year of the car. Hybrids will pay 20% less to park, while a diesel car made in 2001 will see a 20% mark-up. Electronic cars will park for free.

Italy next, and some modestly good news from ANSAmed:

Italy’s youth jobless rate dips to 42.7% in March

  • Second straight 0.1% monthly drop but 3.1% higher over year

Youth unemployment in Italy dipped to an annual 42.7% in March, 3.1% higher than March 2013 but down 0.1% on February 2014, national statistics agency Istat said Wednesday. The rate has fallen 0.1% for the second straight month, from 42.9% in January, Istat said in provisional estimates. The number of 15-to-24 year-olds in work rose 1.4% from February to March, to 915,000, but was 6.0% down on March 2013. The youth employment rate of 15.3% was 0.2% up on February and 0.9% down over the year.

Premier Matteo Renzi has vowed to tackle youth unemployment by freeing up the labour market but has faced criticism that new flexibility moves raise already widespread job insecurity.

And a trip to Eastern Europe with EUbusiness:

Kosovo privatisation officials arrested in multi-million-euro fraud

Police on Wednesday arrested 10 officials of Kosovo’s privatisation agency suspected of embezzling millions of euros during the sale of a factory.

The officials are accused of triggering the bankruptcy of the factory in northern Kosovo which produced concrete reinforcements, a police statement said.

It said “several million euros” had been embezzled without giving a more precise figure.

After the jump, more grim news from Greece — including a political death, recession in Russia, good news for Venezuela workers, Indonesia labor force problems, Indian economic ascendancy, Thai troubles, nuclear industry consolidation, Japanese judicial rage, Microsoft move fills Japanese trash piles, Norse land losses, and more environmental news as well. . . Continue reading

CannabiNews: A Pot-pourri of headlines


For some reason or another, pot was much in the news today, so we pulled out some items for separate treatment [literally, as one item reveals].

First up, they callit Sin City, via The Verge:

High rollers: Las Vegas is poised to become the Disneyland of weed

  • Cannabis entrepreneurs fight to stake their pot leaf in the world’s biggest tourist destination

They won’t have neon signs, drive-thru windows, or 24-hour wedding chapels attached to them. But Las Vegas marijuana dispensaries will be massively profitable tourist attractions that could deepen the entire nation’s relationship with weed. At least that’s the hope of the 109 applicants who entered the heated competition for Vegas’ first medical marijuana dispensary and grow-room licenses in time for Tuesday’s deadline.

Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana way back in 2000, but the state only recently enacted regulations to allow people to open pot businesses legally. Unincorporated Clark County — not to be confused with Clark County, which contains the city of Las Vegas proper — includes the flashy 4.2-mile gambling corridor known as the Las Vegas Strip. It’s home to mega-casinos like the Bellagio and Caesars Palace and became the first jurisdiction to draft its licensing requirements. Those requirements look a lot like the ones that control its lucrative gambling industry: they favor high rollers and are geared towards reaping massive profits.

Although only medical marijuana is legal in Nevada now, a petition has been filed to legalize weed for recreational use, and it’s expected to pass by 2016. As it is, Vegas is known as a place where out-of-towners can come and get crazy for a weekend, because “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Throw legal marijuana into the mix, and you’ve got a potential stateside Amsterdam. As a result, Vegas has turned into a serious land grab for would-be marijuana entrepreneurs.

But here in the “liberal” San Francisco Bay Area, the official mood is less expansive, as the  East Bay Express reports:

Back In the Closet

  • California medical cannabis patients are increasingly being forced to hide behind closed doors as bans on dispensaries and home cultivation sweep through the East Bay.

Residents of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco might not think about it much, but hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients and their allies are in an unprecedented struggle across California. A battle is raging in the wake of a 2013 state Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the right of cities and counties to ban dispensaries. And local governments are now using that decision to also prohibit medical marijuana cultivation for personal use and to levy fines against growers of up to $1,000 per plant on growers.

Based on unfounded, outdated, and narrow-minded fears about crime, odor, and child safety, these bans strike at the very core of voter-approved Proposition 215, which reads:

“The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 are as follows: (A) To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.”

Yet despite that groundbreaking law, the vast majority of Californians now live in cities and counties that have enacted bans on medical pot dispensaries, including much of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In addition, more than a dozen cities and counties — including Concord and Martinez — have banned all outdoor growing, and a few cities are prohibiting all cultivation. Legal challenges to the more sweeping bans are pending, but the pain is immediate.

On the other hand, in the typically Red state of the Colorado, some traditionally conservative institutions are leaping on the the pot bandwagon, as in this tale from Boing Boing:

Pot encouraged at Colorado Symphony concert series

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra will perform a series of concerts where attendees are encouraged to smoke weed. The bring-your-own-cannabis concerts, called “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series,” are a collaboration with pro-pot producers Edible Events.

“We see ourselves as connecting classical music with all of Colorado,” Colorado Symphony Orchestra director Jerry Kern told the Denver Post. “Part of our goal is to bring in a younger audience and a more diverse audience, and I would suggest that the patrons of the cannabis industry are both younger and more diverse than the patrons of the symphony orchestra.”

And for our final item, one more proof of ganja’s healing properties from CBS News:

Medical marijuana effectively treats MS symptoms, review finds

On Monday, for the first time, the American Academy of Neurology said medical marijuana is an effective treatment for some symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It concluded spasm, muscle tightness and pain can all be helped.

But that’s when the drug is given as an oral spray or pill. There’s not enough evidence to determine if smoking marijuana was equally effective, says lead author Dr. Barbara Koppel.

“There is lots of literature about smoking, but it’s all anonymous questionnaires, and it’s patient testimonials,” Koppel says.

The study is available here, with the absrtact free.

SImply because it’s, well, the coolest thing ever


Via Scientific American, may we introduce you to. . .the cart-wheelin’ spider:

Tabacha and Tabbot

From Scientific American:

In the latest edition of ZooTaxa, Peter Jäger from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany describes a new species of spider native to the Erg Chebbi desert of southeastern Morocco. Named Cebrennus rechenbergi, its genus contains 13 known species, most of which are found in the arid region that stretches from Morocco to Turkmenistan. These desert spiders are nocturnal and elusive, spending most of their time hidden under rocks or buried in their long, silken burrows, which means there’s very little known about their biology or ecology. But what we do know, thanks to Jäger’s recent observations, is that one of them is an expert ‘flic-flacker’.

One of the strangest defense mechanisms ever observed in nature, flic-flacking, as it’s known in the scientific literature, is essentially cartwheeling to avoid danger. It’s been observed in a handful of animals around the world, including the larvae of the southeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis), the American mantis shrimp (Nannosquilla decemspinosa) and caterpillars of the moth species Pleurotya ruralis and Cacoecimorpha pronubana. And then there’s the golden wheel spider (Carparachne aureoflava), which you can read about in one of my earlier blog posts here.

Native to the steep sand dunes of the Namib Desert in Southern Africa, the golden wheel spider is a small, cream-coloured species of huntsman. It lives in constant fear of the parasitic Pompilid wasp – a particularly nasty predator that goes to great lengths to snare its prey

A wide-ranging talk with Noam Chomsky


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

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

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

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

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

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

Just released by University of California Television:

A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Program notes:

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

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

Another alarm, this time of death from above


First, the news stpry from BBC News:

Asteroid impact risks ‘underappreciated’

A visualisation showing where sizeable asteroids have hit the Earth in recent years has been released by the B612 Foundation.

The US-based group, which includes a number of former Nasa astronauts, campaigns on the issue of space protection.

It hopes the visualisation will press home the idea that impacts are more common than we think.

The presentation leans on data collected by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

More from the B612 Foundation:

Between 2000 and 2013, a network of sensors that monitors Earth around the clock listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations detected 26 explosions on Earth ranging in energy from 1 to 600 kilotons – all caused not by nuclear explosions, but rather by asteroid impacts. These findings were recently released from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates the network.

To put this data in perspective, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with an energy impact of 15 kilotons. While most of these asteroids exploded too high in the atmosphere to do serious damage on the ground, the evidence is important in estimating the frequency of a potential “city-killer-size” asteroid.

A list of the impacts shown in the video can be found here. For more information on this data, please check out our Impact Video FAQ. You can read or download the press release about [Tuesday]’s event here.

And finally, the video, via Vimeo:

B612 Impact Video 4-20-14 H264

Fukushima alarm: A former mayor lays it out


The earthquake-and-tsunami-created nuclear disaster at the TEPCO nuclear power station in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture continues long after the 11 March 2011.

In this video by Russia Today’s Sophie Shevardnadze interviews Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of Futuba in the hard-hit Fukushima Prefecture. It’s a sobering account, and a revelation of the depths of the continuing crisis.

From Russia Today:

Fukushima disaster: Tokyo hides truth as children die, become ill from radiation – ex-mayor

Program notes:

Nearly three years ago, Fukushima nuclear plant disaster forced thousands out of their homes. This also led to deaths of many more. Tokyo claims the effects are all but gone; however disturbing facts sometimes rise to the surface. To shed some light on the mystery of Fukushima Sophie Shevardnadze talks to former mayor Katsutaka Idogawa.

From the transcript:

http://rt.com/shows/sophieco/fukushima-disaster-radiation-children-740/

SS: You decided to evacuate people from Futaba as far as possible without consulting anybody – so you completely assumed responsibility?

KI: Our city always had an emergency plan in case of a fire or an accident at the plant. Every year, we had special drills in case there was a fire at the plant. I think it’s the central government and the Fukushima Prefecture authorities that bear the most responsibility for what happened. As mayor, it is my responsibility to take care of the people of Futaba. At that time, I had no time to get advice. I tried talking to the prefecture authorities but there was absolute chaos. It was impossible to get advice or hold a meeting. So I chose to act on my own, and I decided to start with evacuating the people as far from the radiation as possible.

SS: Your town is moving to a new location, to the neighboring city of Iwaki. Is it safe there? Do you see this as a new start for the people?

KI: I’d like to show you a table with radiation levels around Chernobyl. Radiation levels around Fukushima are four times higher than in Chernobyl, so I think it’s too early for people to come back to Fukushima Prefecture. Here you can see radiation levels in our region, Tohoku. This is ground zero, and the radiation radius is 50-100km, even 200km in fact. Fukushima Prefecture is at the very center. The city of Iwaki, where Futaba citizens moved, is also in Fukushima Prefecture. It is by no means safe, no matter what the government says. Exposing people to the current levels of radiation in Fukushima is a violation of human rights. It’s terrible.

SS: Evacuation advisories are being lifted for some cities in the Fukushima area, but you’re saying that the government is allowing this, despite the danger of radiation?

KI: Fukushima Prefecture has launched the Come Home campaign. In many cases, evacuees are forced to return. Here is a map of Fukushima Prefecture, with areas hit by radiation highlighted in yellow, and you can see that the color covers almost the entire map. Air contamination decreased a little, but soil contamination remains the same. And there are still about two million people living in the prefecture, who have all sorts of medical issues. The authorities claim this has nothing to do with the fallout. I demanded that the authorities substantiate their claim in writing but they ignored my request. There are some terrible things going on in Fukushima. I remember feeling so deeply for the victims of the Chernobyl tragedy that I could barely hold back the tears whenever I heard any reports on it. And now that a similar tragedy happened in Fukushima, the biggest problem is that there is no one to help us. They say it’s safe to go back. But we must not forget the lessons of Chernobyl. We must protect our children. I talked to local authorities in different places in Fukushima, but no one would listen to me. They believe what the government says, while in reality the radiation is still there. This is killing children. They die of heart conditions, asthma, leukemia, thyroiditis…Lots of kids are extremely exhausted after school; others are simply unable to attend PE classes. But the authorities still hide the truth from us, and I don’t know why. Don’t they have children of their own? It hurts so much to know they can’t protect our children.

SS: I understand that many children who have been evacuated are now living in the Fukushima district again; new schools have opened for these children, and you say they are facing radiation there…Is anything being done to help the children affected by the nuclear fallout?

KI: Officially, both the central government and the prefecture authorities say there is no radiation. They’re not doing anything, and they’re not going to do anything. They say Fukushima Prefecture is safe, and that’s why nobody’s working to evacuate children, move them elsewhere. We’re not even allowed to discuss this.

Chart of the day: So what do YOU believe?


From the Associated  Press [PDF], results of a new poll iffer a look at Americans’ beliefs on scientific subjects. Click on the image to enlarge:

THE AP-GfK POLL

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 TheDayWeFightBack.org. “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 http://www.angrybirds.com 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 intelNews.org, 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.

And NHK WORLD:

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 DutchNews.nl:

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.