Category Archives: Sex

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


Once again, we missed a day, leaving us with a lot of catching up on the latest development in the world of the dark arts, corporate snooping, and military posturing.

Most notable [and after the jump], rapid escalation of the Asian security crisis and the latest in corporate cyber-stalking.

We begin with a headline from Reuters:

Man arrested for suspected plot to blow up Kansas airport

Authorities have arrested a man suspected of plotting to blow up the Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, in a suicide attack with a carload of explosives, officials said Friday.

Terry Loewen, a 58-year-old aviation technician from Wichita, intended to die a martyr in the bombing, U.S. District Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said at a news conference.

Authorities said Loewen was believed to have been motivated, at least partly, by religious beliefs. Officials said Loewen had made statements prior to the attempted attack that he was resolved to commit an act of violent “jihad” on behalf of al Qaeda against the United States.

Now, on to the latest twist in the one story that has been capturing global headlines for months. From News Corp Australia:

US spy ‘open to cutting deal with Snowden’

A NATIONAL Security Agency official has said in an interview he would be open to cutting an amnesty deal with US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden if the fugitive agreed to stop divulging secret documents.

Rick Ledgett, who heads the NSA’s task force investigating the damage from the Snowden leaks, told CBS television’s 60 Minutes program that some but not all of his colleagues share his view.

And from The Guardian, vanishing hopes for reform:

NSA review to leave spying programs largely unchanged, reports say

  • Panel to propose bulk surveillance continue – with some curbs
  • Adviser calls apparent decision to leave core intact ‘shameful’

More from Wired:

White House Task Force Urges Curb on NSA’s Bulk Data Collection

A presidential task force charged with determining what reforms are needed for the NSA and its surveillance activities has recommended the agency be led by a civilian commander, instead of a military one, and that bulk phone records the NSA wants to collect be retained by phone companies or held by a third party, rather than being stored by the NSA.

The task force also recommended restrictions on when and how the NSA can search the data, according to the Wall Street Journal. And it recommended separating the code-making division of the NSA, which develops and promotes codes, from the NSA division that breaks electronic security codes. Documents recently leaked by Edward Snowden described a decade-long effort by the NSA to crack different types of encryption and other security mechanisms in order to provide access to protected data for surveillance, a task at odds with the NSA’s traditional role in helping to develop public algorithms.

Still more from Ars Technica:

Obama panel says NSA phone spying records should be held by third party

Intelligence officials likely to oppose restrictions on surveillance.

Reuters has the response from The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

White House says plans no split of NSA, Cyber Command

The Obama administration on Friday said it will keep one person in charge of both the National Security Agency spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command, despite growing calls for splitting the roles in the wake of revelations about the vast U.S. electronic surveillance operations.

The White House had considered splitting up the two agencies, possibly giving the NSA a civilian leader for the first time in its 61-year history to dampen controversy over its programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Dogs and ponies, via The Verge:

NSA officials go on tour to heal agency image amid surveillance scandal

The National Security Agency has endured six months of criticism from media outlets since Edward Snowden released documents disclosing the agency’s massive global surveillance apparatus. With its back against the wall, NSA head Keith Alexander and Snowden task force head Richard Ledgett are speaking directly to the press as a means of getting ahead of the story, with the hope of painting themselves — and Snowden himself — in a new light.

Another Snowden link, via Ars Technica:

Archaic but widely used crypto cipher allows NSA to decode most cell calls

Snowden docs make it official: The NSA can crack 30-year-old A5/1 crypto.

The National Security Agency can easily defeat the world’s most widely used cellphone encryption, a capability that means the agency can decode most of the billions of calls and texts that travel over public airwaves each day, according to published report citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Bloomberg Businessweek has the latest form of blowback:

IBM Shareholder Sues the Company Over NSA Cooperation

Spying is not good for business. That’s been the message from many U.S. tech companies and industry groups in recent months following revelations last summer that several companies were cooperating with the National Security Agency over its Prism surveillance program. The industry says it stands to lose tens of billions of dollars as customers in other countries turn to homegrown technology instead.

Now one such company, IBM (IBM), is facing a lawsuit over its cooperation with the NSA. IBM was sued yesterday by a shareholder claiming it violated federal securities laws in seeking to hide losses that stemmed from disclosures of its relationship with the NSA.

While Business Insider has yet another disappointment from the land of Hope™ and Change™:

AP Photojournalist Blasts Obama’s Press Restrictions As ‘Orwellian Image Control’

A photojournalist for the Associated Press is pulling no punches in a scathing opinion piece published today in The New York Times, referring to the restrictions on press photographers covering the president as “draconian” and calling official photo releases “propaganda.”

The article written by Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography for the Associated Press, is titled “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control.”

Lyon takes issue with the release of pictures from official White House photographers as an “idealized portrayal of events” that could not be considered journalism. He also doesn’t mince words in his conclusion, calling these photos “propaganda.”

And the latest embarrassment for the folks at Langley from The Guardian:

CIA veterans say Robert Levinson affair may damage intra-agency co-operation

  • AP: former FBI agent missing in Iran was working with CIA
  • Relations between analysts and operatives likely to be strained

An unauthorized CIA spy operation initiated by agency analysts didn’t just lead to an American being seized in Iran. It may have damaged ties between intelligence analysts and operations specialists, according to CIA veterans.

More media embarrassment from Gawker:

ABC, NYT Repeatedly Lied About CIA Operative Robert Levinson

ABC News and The New York Times have known since 2007 that Robert Levinson, the ex-FBI agent who was kidnapped in Iran, was not, as the U.S. government and his family claimed, an independent businessman: He was working for the CIA. The Times’ report today discloses this timeline; ABC News’ report does not—but a source at the network confirmed to Gawker that ABC reporters discovered the CIA connection in 2007 as well. At the request of the government and Levinson’s family, however, both outlets repeatedly stated, without any caveats, that Levinson was on a “business trip” when he was captured. A review of their coverage indicates that ABC News did so at least 7 times, and the Times at least 3 times.

The Christian Science Monitor has more lies:

Levinson, Iran, the CIA, and lies

The US government has been lying for years about Robert Levinson, a man kidnapped in Iran after being sent there as part of a rogue CIA operation. Some media have been playing along.

While the AP reports that Levinson’s handlers were CIA employees, they all appear to have been analysts, rather than employees expert in gathering intelligence themselves and running assets in the field. The AP says the employees running Levinson as their own private collection agent weren’t authorized to do so, and that three analysts were quietly sacked in 2007 for their involvement and a further seven admonished.

BBC News offers the latest White House spin control:

White House: Robert Levinson not a government employee

The AP agency says the White House is choosing its words carefully – that Bob Levinson was not an “employee” but a “contractor”

The White House has said the ex-FBI agent believed to have been held in Iran for the last seven years was not working for the US government at the time of his disappearance.

White House spokesman Jay Carney spoke the day after the Associated Press news agency reported Mr Levinson was on an unauthorised mission for the CIA.

And more embarrassment via the London Daily Mail:

CIA star and ‘quirky’ office analyst who introduced her friend to the agency before he was sent on ‘rogue’ mission that led to disappearance

  • Anne Jablonski was forced to quit the CIA following the investigation into Levinson’s kidnapping
  • She is now working in the private sector and teaches yoga
  • She also blogs about finding inner peace and making her own cat food for her pets

BBC News has another imbroglio-in-the-making, this time for spooks across the pond:

Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy

Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman.

The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, California’s plutocratic senator pronounces:

Feinstein: vote soon on releasing parts of secret CIA detention report

The Senate Intelligence Committee will soon vote on releasing parts of a report that alleges that the CIA misled lawmakers and U.S. officials about the value of the information produced by the agency’s post-9/11 secret detention and harsh interrogation program, the panel chairwoman said.

But that doesn’t mean the public will get to see the excerpts any time soon.

The 300-page executive summary, findings and conclusions will still have to go through a process to determine which parts can be made public and which will be blacked out. The review – which will involve the White House and CIA – could take weeks or months, said a congressional aide, who requested anonymity.

McClatchy Washington Bureau again, this time with word of another report on another, much older Langley cockup:

Lawsuit seeks to unlock CIA’s secret history of Bay of Pigs invasion

The Obama administration on Thursday fought to keep secret a CIA account of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle.

Half a century after the failed invasion of Cuba, and three decades after a CIA historian completed his draft study, an administration lawyer told a top appellate court that the time still isn’t right to make the document public.

And the Washington Times lends a covert hand:

Leon Panetta named as source of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ scriptwriter’s information

A Freedom of Information request filed by government watchdog Judicial Watch revealed that former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta was the source who gave up secret information to the scriptwriter of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Hollywood movie about the raid on Osama bin Laden.

Judicial Watch said in an email that Mr. Panetta revealed the classified information during an awards ceremony on June 24, 2011, to mark the administration’s assault on Osama bin Laden. Mr. Panetta was giving a speech at the ceremony, during which he concluded: “You have made me proud of the CIA family. And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.”

Next, a trip noth of the border with some unsurprising story about Canada’s NSA counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment Canada, via CBC News:

CSEC watchdog muzzled, defanged

The wish and ‘a prayer’ of keeping tabs on CSEC

The revelation that a little-known Canadian intelligence operation has been electronically spying on trading partners and other nations around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Security Agency, has critics wondering who’s keeping an eye on our spies.

The answer is a watchdog, mostly muzzled and defanged, whose reports to Parliament are first censored by the intelligence agency he is watching, then cleared by the minister politically responsible for any problems in the first place.

And from Reuters, some dronish blowback:

In Yemen, al Qaeda gains sympathy amid U.S. drone strikes

Despite the toll taken on militants, residents in various parts of Yemen told Reuters they worry that the drone program is counter-productive. In the capital Sanaa, Abdulrazzaq al-Jamal, a journalist who has interviewed several members of AQAP, acknowledged the group has taken some hits from the drones, but said the strikes have also brought it followers.

“The drones have limited their movements but it makes their ideology more attractive to people. When a Yemeni is killed, it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s al Qaeda,” said Jamal, who was wearing the dagger common among Yemeni men.

Off to Sweden for a helping hand via TheLocal.se:

US spies asked Sweden for translation help

Leaked documents from the US have shown that the NSA asked Sweden for translation help on their “high-priority” material that involved the Swedish language.

The request came in the form of an internal message at the US National Security Agency (NSA), which asked Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment (Svenska Försvarets Radioanstalt – FRA) for translation help in the fight against terrorism.

From The Guardian, gag us with a spoon:

Calling for abolition of monarchy is still illegal, UK justice ministry admits

Department wrongly announced that section of law threatening people with life imprisonment had been repealed

The Treason Felony Act 1848 has been the subject of repeated legal confusion this century. It was the subject of a high court challenge by the Guardian in 2003. This week, in a footnote to a list of new offences, the MoJ said the powers in section 3 of the Act had finally been swept away in a belated, legislative pruning of unwanted laws.

From EUobserver, legal blowback in the works?:

France’s new surveillance law under fire

A new law in France, which expands surveillance monitoring powers, without judicial review, to government agencies like tax and finance authorities, may be challenged in the Constitutional Court, reports Reuters. Pro-right groups, tech companies Google and Microsoft, want the constitutional watchdog to review the law adopted earlier this week.

Moscow next, with suppressive thoughts about another perceived security threat. From The Guardian:

Vladimir Putin defends anti-gay laws as bastion of global conservatism

President says Russia stands on international stage in defence of traditional values against ‘fruitless so-called tolerance’

After the jump, the Asian security crises continue, with heads rolling, internet purging, ships nearly colliding, secrecy law protests, alliance plays, drones a-buildin’, and legal bribes; corporate cyberstalking, civil servant muzzling, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Greekpocalypse Now


Greeks of a conspiratorial mindset might be forgiven for thinking the economic crisis masks a deeper agenda on the part of folks with money to lessen the numbers of those inconvenient poor.

Consider, for example, the following. . .

From Greek Reporter, 11 May:

Greek HIV Test Centers Shut Down

From Ekathemerini [Athens], 28 May:

Experts warn of ‘worrying’ increase in HIV infections in Greece

From Phantis:

Malaria and HIV Spike as Greece Cuts Healthcare Spending

From Greek Reporter:

Dramatic Rise in Suicides in Greece

From Deutsche Welle:

Little hope for Greece’s jobless youth

From Greek Reporter:

UNICEF: 600,000 Children Below Poverty Line in Greece

From Ekathemerini:

Crisis increases domestic violence, dampens sex drive among Greek men

Headline of the day: Spreading hate in the E.U.


Just what Europe needs when it’s already boiling with anti-immigrant fever. From EUobserver:

Anti-gay lobby in Brussels linked to US neocons

French politics and very strange bedfellows


Raphaëlle Bacqué and Ariane Chemi are two of France’s most respected reporters, and they’ve just published a book about that strangest of politicians, the ersatz socialist and genuine serial philander Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his strange relationship with his journalist-spouse.

Before his run-in with a maid in a $5,000-a-night New York hotel room, DSK [as he is popularly known] was on track to become his party’s nominee to run against Nicolas Sarkozy.

But his arrest in New York, subsequently dismissed, led to the death of his political ambitions, his resignation as director of the International Monetary Fund, and the revelation of frequent encounters with prostitutes both in Europe and the U.S.

More criminal charges followed, as well as the most interesting criminal defense we’ve seen yet.

Defending his client to the press after DSK’s arrest on organized crime charges for his alleged involvement in orgies, lawyer Henri Leclerc said his client had no way of knowing all those women were prostitutes because they were always unclad. “I defy you to tell the difference between a naked prostitute and any other naked woman,” said Leclerc.

DSK, Sarko, and a strange nocturnal encounter

France 24 runs a telling excerpt from the book, Les Strauss-Kahn, describing one of DSK’s riskier sexual encounters and Sarkozy’s strange response:

One night, a police officer came across several cars stopped in the middle of a road that ran through the park. From the fogged-up windows, it looked as though there were many people inside. The police officer tapped on one of the cars’ windows, and a door opened. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was among its occupants.

Was there a written account of the incident that was later destroyed in a paper shredder? Was the mere story enough? One thing is sure: When Alain Gardère [head of public safety in Paris], told the story to the minister and his cabinet director, Claude Guéant, Sarkozy laughed uncontrollably, unable to stop himself (…).

“In the summer of 2007, [Sarkozy, who was by then president] met with [Strauss-Kahn] just before his departure for the IMF, but did not allude to the secret ‘affair’ that made him burst out laughing months earlier. Even though DSK’s appointment appeared to be well underway, Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his orders that nothing be said (..): ‘He will undoubtedly get the IMF [position]. Let’s keep it between us, hunh?’

Far from trying to impede the Socialist politician, [Sarkozy] chose to protect [Strauss-Kahn’s] reputation.

Read the rest.

Sex, drugs, and the political beast

A plethora of politicians prefer prostitutes.

It’s a matter of simple logic.

Politicians, especially ones who are well known, are what an old cop we knew once called “pussy magnets,” and especially if [unlike DSK], they’re handsome.

Constantly faced with sexual possibilities, some politicians simply give in, and that, as former Democratic rising star John Edwards discovered, can lead to disaster.

It used to be a lot simpler, as was the case with John F. Kennedy, whose rambunctious sexcapades used to give the Secret Service headaches. In the memorable phrase of a former Secret Service agent, “JFK did more drilling than Texaco,” with conquests ranging from a suspected Nazi spy to a mistress shared with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, Hollywood luminaries [Marilyn Monroe, Rhonda Fleming, etc.], and even a White House intern.

But in those days, the press took political sexual peccadilloes as a given. They didn’t become scandal until Gary Hart came along with his infamous presidential-campaign-derailing Monkey Business.

That’s the problem with sex with amateurs, as Hart discovered: It’s liable to blow up on you.

But there are other reasons politicians have tended to favor professional sex, and that’s the lack of complications and romantic entanglements. Sex is reduced to pure biology, forgotten once the pol has made his exit.

And for that reason there have always been high end providers willing to provide service with discretion.

Back in the days when we covered courts in L.A., we got off-the-record looks at some “trick books” seized in police prostitution raids, and saw a few very prominent names — along with unlisted phone numbers. “They always throw them in to give us a warning,” said one prosecutor. And somehow those books never got entered at trial.

Later on, when we were working for the Sacramento Bee, a well-placed friend in law enforcement tipped us to a rather posh brothel in town that catered to members of the state legislature and other well-placed people.

After doing a little digging — enough to prove the accuracy of the report — we proposed a story to our editor, who simply shook his head.

The takeaway?

Politicians have been paying prostitutes from time immemorial.

DSK’s problems stem not from using hookers, but that old-fashion reputation-slayer hubris.

The other question is why didn’t Sarkozy act? Two answers suggest themselves: First, it gave him inside knowledge and a weapon to use against a political rival, and, probably more important, he knew full well that using sex against a rival party could well result in similar allegations about his own political fold.

Politics is, after all, only the second-oldest profession.

EuroRacism: A response, and bad news


We’ll begin with a video of an amazing performance in Oslo yesterday, where 40,000 Norwegians braved the rain and cold to sing the Pete Seeger song so deeply despised by mass murdered Anders Behring Breivik:

From the Norwegian Culture vlog:

Oslo, April 26 2012: What started out as an initiative to gather a few dozens of people to sing the song Anders Behring Breivik told in court that he disliked the most, turned out to become a gathering of 40 000 people.

The song is the Norwegian version of Pete Seeger’s “My Rainbow Race,” rewritten in Norwegian and released in the early 1970s by singer/songwriter Lillebjørn Nilsen who is the lead in this recording from the Norwegian Broadcasting corporation (NRK).

This extremely well known and popular song was sung by the crowd at the Youngstorget square before they all walked to the court building, still singing, laying down roses outside while court was still in session.

You can hear Seeger’s 1971 recording of the song here. The lyrics are here.

More on the event from Deutsche Presse-Agentur’s Lennart Simonsson:

The “rose rally” in central Oslo was a private initiative by two women who used social media to organize the event.

Lill Hjonnevag told NRK television it was necessary to “reclaim the song,” which is well-known among Norwegian children, and which Breivik had attacked in his testimony as an example of “Marxist indoctrination.”

The crowd then walked from Oslo’s central Youngstorget square to the court, where they placed roses around the building.

>snip<

Christine Bar, another organizer of the Oslo gathering, told NRK she had been left “speechless” by the turnout, which was far higher than the 5,000 that had been expected to attend.

Musician Lillebjorn Nilsen, who translated Seeger’s text into Norwegian, led the 40,000-strong crowd and conveyed a greeting from 93-year-old Seeger.

Labor Party youth wing leader Eskil Pedersen its members had often sang Seeger’s song at Utoya island. When survivors returned to the island in August, they sang “My Rainbow Race” once more as they walked from the quay.

Read the rest.

So much for the good news. Now for the latest from the dark side, including some xenophobic pandering by the French Socialist [sic] presidential candidate.

Rise of French right worries eurocrats:

The third place finish of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election has the European Union rightly worried.

From EurActiv:

European Union ministers meeting 23 April in Luxembourg said they were concerned over the rise of French nationalist party in Sunday’s presidential elections.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn blamed incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the success of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in France‘s elections.

“If I were the president of the [French] Republic, I would ask myself why one out of five people in France are now voting for the National Front,” Asselborn said before the start of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

Socialist candidate François Hollande pipped Sarkozy in Sunday’s 10-candidate first round by 28.6% to 27.2%, but National Front leader Le Pen stole the show, surging to 17.9%, the biggest tally a far-right candidate has ever managed.

Her performance mirrored advances across the continent by anti-establishment Eurosceptic populists from Amsterdam and Vienna to Helsinki as the eurozone’s grinding debt crisis deepens anger over government spending cuts and unemployment.

>snip<

The unpopular Sarkozy now faces a difficult balancing act to attract both the far-right and centrist voters he needs to stay in office.

Returning to the campaign trail yesterday (23 April), Sarkozy hammered home promises to toughen border controls, tighten security on the streets and keep industrial jobs in France – signature issues for Le Pen at a time of anger over immigration, violent crime and unemployment running at a 12-year high.

“National Front voters must be respected,” Sarkozy told reporters as he left his campaign headquarters in Paris. “They voiced their view. It was a vote of suffering, a crisis vote. Why insult them? I have heard Mr Hollande criticising them.”

Read the rest.

EU Council chief joins the warning chorus

The fight to keep Europe’s borders open is meeting strong resistance from both Germany and France, which are seeking changes to the Schengen Treaty to allow them to close their borders for 30-day periods.

And both Sarkozy and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi mounted ethnic cleansing operations against Roma [“gypsies”] and Sarko has expelled members of the Travelers community as well.

From Valentina Pop of EUobserver:

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has spoken out against the “winds of populism” threatening freedom of movement in the Union – a swipe at anti-immigrant discourse in French elections and on the Dutch political scene.

“It is the duty of each government to make sure that no-one – no member of any group or any minority – is treated as a second-class citizen. Regrettably, the winds of populism are affecting a key achievement of European integration: the free movement of persons within our borders,” he said in a speech in the Romanian parliament on Wednesday (25 April).

Keeping the EU’s inner borders open was a “sign of civilisation,” the EU official noted.

“In that space, there is no room for stigmatisation of foreigners, as happens in certain countries nowadays,” he added.

Read the rest.

Sarko licks Le Pen’s boots

The metaphor’s not ours, but comes from a blog of telecaster France 24:

Under pressure, and desperate to renew his lease for the Elysee Presidential palace, Sarkozy has chosen one clear, it must seem the only, way forward: Start licking the boots of National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen.

Yes, Le Pen and the glorious 18% support she won in the first round of the presidential race. Yes, the National Front, France’s far-right party, which despite its new blonde window dressing, remains a shop run by Nazi collaboration apologists, royalists and unabashed xenophobes.

In the widely viewed television program “Words and Actions” on French public television on Thursday, Sarkozy denied any marriage with Marine Le Pen. “I will forge no alliance with Mrs. Le Pen. No National Front minister [in a future cabinet]. It’s crystal clear.”

And he’s right! Why take on a National Front minister in your future government if you are already taking your campaign cues directly from FN headquarters?

Read the rest.

The “socialist” pays Le Pen tribute

Hollande, the Socialist-in-name-only who seems likely to beat Sarko in next week’s runoff, is paying Le Pen homage, as reported by Chinese news agency Xinhua:

French Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande vowed on Friday to cut flows of immigrants seeking for jobs in France.

Speaking to RTL radio, the presidential election frontrunner said limiting economic immigration was “indispensable” and indicated Continue reading

Court: Berlusconi did the wiseguy Bunga Bunga


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

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

From Xinhua:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.

Berlusconi’s prostitution trial continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.

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

Ways of Seeing: Oil paintings, images, and power


You’ll never see either art of advertising in the same way after watching this remarkable and more relevant than ever 1972 BBC documentary Ways of Seeing by the remarkable John Berger.

Ways of Seeing examines the world of European oil painting, revealing the deep social, political, and economic implications implicit in the opulent images that adorn the walls of our greatest museums and the home of the 0.001 percenters.

Berger, inspired by Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, offers both a new way of seeing long familiar “Old Master” works, but shows how they have influenced modern advertising [“publicity” in the terminology of the series], which has created images that are both seductive and profoundly alienating.

It’s exciting and provocative television, the medium at its best.

A book based on the series is available here.

We pieced together the series from YouTube, with all but Part II in segments. We recommend you expand the images to full screen.

Ways of Seeing, Part 1

1/4

2/4

3/4

4/4

Part II: The Female Nude

Part III: Material Possessions

1/3

Continue reading

EuroWatch: Crisis deepens, Germans protest, more


A long report today, in part because we’ve been so busy catching up with our reporting on more local news.

The latest economic numbers from Europe are grim, and people have been taking to the streets — this time in Germany.

There’s lots more bad news from the PIIGS as well, and word that half of all Ireland’s population has refused to pay a new austerity.

But the grimmest news is from Greece, and it even includes sex.

Grab onto your seatbelts. It’s a bumpy ride.

Europe’s jobless rate hits a new high

The latest proof that austerity isn’t working as the banksters promised it would comes from the latest unemployment numbers for the 17 member states of the European Monetary Union — with seven countries reporting rates above 10 percent.

They’re up, with 1.5 million more jobless in February than the month before, with the EU-wide 10.8 percent official rate higher than it’s ever been since the euro was introduced 13 years ago.

And they’re up enough that the R-word is back. R, as in recession.

From the Associated Press:

The eighth straight month of rising unemployment will likely reinforce concerns that the eurozone is in recession just as many countries pursue austerity measures to get a handle on their crippling debt loads.

Spain, whose government announced another raft of austerity measures last Friday, had the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone of 23.6 percent, with youth unemployment — those under 25 years of age — standing at 50.5 percent. The lowest rate among the euro countries was Austria’s 4.2 percent. Greece, Portugal and Ireland — the three countries that have already received a debt bailout — had unemployment rates of 21 percent, 15 percent and 14.7 percent respectively.

With unemployment rising at a time of austerity, consumers have been reluctant to spend and that’s been holding back the eurozone economy despite signs of life elsewhere, notably in the U.S. and in emerging markets.

“Soaring unemployment is clearly adding to the pressure on household incomes from aggressive fiscal tightening in the region’s periphery,” said Jennifer McKeown, senior European economist at Capital Economics.

She warned that the situation is likely to get worse and that even in Germany, where unemployment held at 5.7 percent, “survey measures of hiring point to a downturn to come.”

Read the rest.

European manufacturing takes a dive

The not surprising correlate to the unemployment rise is a drop in manufacturing numbers.

From EUbusiness:

Eurozone manufacturing activity dropped to a three-month low in March, with the “malaise” spreading to top economies Germany and France, a key survey showed on Monday.

The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), a survey of 3,000 eurozone manufacturers compiled by Markit research firm, fell to 47.7 points in March, down from 49 points in February. A score below the neutral 50 mark indicates contraction.

“Eurozone manufacturers suffered a miserable March, with a renewed downturn in production wiping out marginal gains seen in the first two months of the year,” said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.

“Manufacturing is therefore likely to have acted as a drag on economic growth in the eurozone in the first quarter, falling to a lesser extent than in the final quarter of last year but nevertheless failing to prevent the economy sliding back into recession,” he said.

The research firm said there were “further signs that the manufacturing malaise already exhibited at the periphery of the currency bloc was spreading to the core.”

Read the rest.

The picture’s somewhat different in Britain, report The Guardian’s Josephine Moulds and Phillip Inman:

That contrasted sharply with the UK, where factory output grew much faster than expected in March, boosting hopes that a double-dip recession could still be averted.

The British manufacturing sector expanded at its fastest pace in 10 months, as factories worked through a backlog of existing orders, and stockpiled goods in warehouses. The headline index jumped to 52.1 in March, beating forecasts of a reading of 50.7. The Markit/Cips poll also revised February’s reading from 51.2 up to 51.5.

The data raised some concerns about inflation, as the price manufacturers are paying for materials shot up. The balance of input prices rose from 55.3 to 60.4, its fastest rate in seven months.

Samuel Tombs at Capital Economics said cost pressures cast some doubt over the recovery. “Given that a pickup in price pressures appeared to contribute to the manufacturing slowdown in the second half of last year, it seems as if the industrial recovery is still built on shaky foundations.”

Employment in UK factories was largely unchanged.

Read the rest.

Anti-austerity marchers protest in Frankfurt

Angry protests against austerity, accompanied by a smaller contingent armed with fire bombs is no longer the exclusive property of the European South, as folks in a leading German industrial learned this weekend.

First, a video from vlogger EricHolst86:

Details from EurActiv:

At least 15 German police officers were injured, one seriously, during rioting that lasted into Sunday morning, following an anti-capitalist protest in Frankfurt, police said. The rioters broke off from a demonstration against the German and European politics of crisis regulation.

Demonstrators threw paint bombs at the European Central Bank and attacked emergency vehicles on Saturday (31 March) in violence which escalated after police tried to arrest several protesters in the heart of Germany’s financial capital.

Battles stretched through the night and one officer was taken to intensive care after being singled out by a handful of demonstrators. Officers who went to his aid were met with massive violence, police said.

Saturday’s clashes mark one of the first significant outbreaks of violence in Germany connected to recent anti-capitalist demonstrations inspired by the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement.

Police said they arrested 465 people during the “anti-capitalist day” march.

A spokesman for the organisers, anti-capitalist alliance M31, said a group of around 200 protesters broke off the 6,000 strong demonstration and headed to the city centre.

Read the rest.

Lest you think it was all tension and anger, clownarmy M31 also made appearances, which you can watch here and here. We especially like the second one.

European prepares to go hat in hand to the IMF

Another story that should come as no surprise.

From Valentina Pop of EUobserver:

EU ministers are hopeful their decision to raise the combined ceiling of two eurozone bail-out funds to €700 billion will be enough to secure an increase in contributions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A two-day meeting of EU finance ministers in Copenhagen ended on Saturday (31 March) with renewed appeals to foreign countries to step up their contributions to the IMF war chest.

“It’s important to ensure the IMF has sufficient resources to play its systemic role in the global economy,” Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager told a press conference after the meeting.

She said the decision by eurozone ministers “is very important in this respect. What we are hoping for is an agreement in Washington” later this month when the IMF board is to decide on an increase in its own lending capacity.

Read the rest:

German’s demand a financial hit squad

Meanwhile, Germany wants to impose a new elite financial force across the continent with power to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of European Union member states, reports Spiegel:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, were able to get their pet project of a European fiscal pact accepted by most of the European Union’s member states. Now Schäuble has come up with a new idea for improving the monitoring and coordination of fiscal policy within the EU in order to promote long-term budgetary discipline.

According to an internal Finance Ministry document obtained by SPIEGEL, Schäuble plans to propose creating independent panels of experts at both the national and EU level, who would monitor fiscal policies in the member states, the euro zone and the EU as a whole. They would be responsible for sounding a warning if they see governments’ budgetary policies straying off course.

The panels, which would be composed mainly of academics, would also be charged with checking “the compatibility of national fiscal policies with European and national requirements” as well as the “implementation of national and European regulations,” according to the Finance Ministry document. Those regulations would include the tougher EU stability pact, which was adopted at a summit in March 2011, as well as the new fiscal pact, which 25 EU countries have agreed to introduce.

In addition, Schäuble’s ministry is also proposing that the role of the EU’s economic and finance affairs commissioner, a position currently held by Finland’s Olli Rehn, be strengthened in the future. According to the ministry document, the commissioner should be able to implement EU regulations “without the other commissioners or Continue reading

Blast from the past: Carlin tackles Reagan, more


The late, great George Carlin dissects the legacy of the Great Communicator, finding therein a Great Criminal. Much more, and NSFW.

Race, Sex, and Xenophobia: The New GOP


Rick Santorum and Joespeh Goebbels, separated at birth? Just a thought. . .

Forget Grand Old Party. From look at the party’s current field of presidential candidates, today GOP stands for Gasbags, Oligarchs, and [racist] Patriarchs.

The party’s fateful turn came with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Southern Democrats switched partisan allegiance because of the embrace of the rights of black citizens by the Democrats, most significantly by a Southern Democrat, Lyndon Johnson.

Previously, it had been Republicans who had been the most stalwart advocates of civil rights, as tradition dating back to the party’s first successful presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln. But the rise of the GOP’s Southern Strategy, first successfully employed by Richard Nixon in 1968, signaled the reversal of a century-old alignment, fusing racism and traditional big business conservatism, and fundamentalist Christianity into a single party.

Barry Goldwater was the last old school Republican presidential candidate, and he deplored the rise of the religious right, exemplified in his 16 September 1981 remarks on the Senate floor:

“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’, and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’”

Old school conservatives were adamant on separation of church and state, a position consistent with the conservative impulse to restrain government regulation whenever and wherever possible.

The fusion of religion and the political process is leading the Republican candidates to adopt many positions very similar to those of another hybrid movement, the National Socialism of Hitler’s Germany.

Two powerful strains in the Nazi movement were racism and control of women’s bodies. Like the modern GOP, the Nazi Party was bitterly anti-immigrant. And like the 2012 GOP, the Nazis criminalized abortion, contraception, and the practice of homosexuality, while branding those who opposed their positions as socialists and communists [though unlike the U.S. today, Germany in the early 1930s actually had significant numbers of socialists and communists]. And, also like the Nazis, the GOP seeks to break the power of organized labor.

But the most chilling attacks of late have been on women.

The return of the patriarchy

The GOP has captured talk radio, most notably in the cases of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who are courted by Republican hopefuls to reach the huge radio audiences they condemn. And it’s been Limbaugh who, of late, has been leading the charge against women, most notably in the case of Susan Fluke.

From Andrew Belonsky of d+t:

Of all the heinous things Rush Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke, it is the word “slut” that stands out.

“Slut” is a powerful word — both phonetically and in meanings, of which there are many and much debate, a debate I will not address here. Suffice it to say, Limbaugh was using “slut” in the most negative of ways and that one word has received more attention than the other insults Limbaugh used to describe Fluke, who became politically famous last month after Rep. Darrell Issa barred the 30-year old Georgetown law student from a GOP-led House panel on contraceptive accessibility. Congressional Democrats later invited her back to explain the many physical, economic and psychological burdens women face when expensive contraceptive drugs are not covered by insurance.

Fluke’s bravery and honesty are anathema to conservatives who don’t believe in birth control, and Limbaugh saw in her a perfect vehicle for his sensational rabble-rousing, and wasted no time in calling her character and name into question. Just a taste of his revolting comments: “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”

Read the rest.

We’ll leave the last word to Alyona Mikovski of RT’s The Alyona Show and Alternet scribe Lynn Parramore:

UPDATE: With advertisers leaving his show in droves, Limbaugh has issued as half-assed apology, claiming it was all just hyperbole.

Here’s what journalists call the “the nut [para]graph”:

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

So calling a woman a “”slut” is humorous?