Tag: Europe

They Will Collapse in a Major Accounting Scandal Scandal

A Kazakh “Fintech” company just debuted on the London Stock Exchange with a $6.5 billion valuation

The people hawking this company are touting it as the future of personal finance and E-Commerce of Kazakhstan.

It’s Wirecard all over again, or the third film in the Borat Sagdiyev movie trilogy, but this sets off my scam warning something fierce:

With most staff working from home, the headquarters of Kazakhstan’s fintech hero Kaspi.kz exudes a sleepiness ill-fitting for a company whose rapid rise has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Kaspi, Kazakhstan’s payment systems and e-commerce leader, became the Central Asian country’s most valuable firm after it was valued at $6.5 billion on the London stock exchange in October in what was the United Kingdom’s second largest float of this year.

The listing took commentators by surprise, coming after a failed attempt — falling short of a $4 billon market cap valuation — the year before.

But Kaspi’s Georgia-born CEO Mikheil Lomtadze, told AFP that the company and its investors, including Goldman Sachs and CIS-focused Baring Vostok — were not fazed by the false start.

“We believe that we have a lot of space for further growth, and we were not in any hurry to do our IPO,” said Lomtadze in the company’s head offices in Almaty.

Lomtadze, sporting an open-necked shirt and jeans, told AFP that beyond China, where online payment systems Alipay and WeChat have become ubiquitous, there are few markets that have seen user behaviour so utterly transformed by mobile payments as Kazakhstan.

“We are frontrunners in digitising the country,” Lomtadze said.

I don’t know about you, but I just filled up my bullsh%$ bingo card.

Yeah, I had to Write About this One

It turns out that many, if not most of the Soviet/Russian submarine incursions that occurred 1980s and 1990s were probably herring farts.

Anyone who knows me knows that I HAD to write about this, it juxtaposes my interest in thing military and things fart.

This story is me.

It’s perfectly feasible that in the 1980s a major diplomatic incident between nuclear superpowers could have been triggered by fish farts. In fact, Russia and Sweden nearly came to blows over this very thing. They just didn’t know it at the time. 

Before we move on to farts, first, some background. In 1981, a Soviet submarine ran aground on the south coast of Sweden, just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from a Swedish naval base. The Soviets claimed that they were forced into Swedish territory by severe distress, and later navigation errors, while Sweden saw it as proof that the then Soviet Union was infiltrating Swedish waters. It didn’t help that when Swedish officials secretly measured for radioactive materials using gamma-ray spectroscopy, they detected what they were 90 percent sure was uranium-23[sic, probably U-238] (used for cladding in nuclear weapons) inside the sub, indicating that it may be nuclear armed.

The submarine was returned to international waters, but the Swedish government remained alert, convinced that Russian subs could still be operating near their territory. Which is when they started to pick up elusive underwater signals and sounds. In 1982, several of Sweden’s subs, boats, and helicopters pursued one of these unidentified sources for a whole month, only to come up empty-handed.


But it was farts.

In 1996, Magnus Wahlberg, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark, became involved in the investigation of the strange signals.


He and a colleague began the task of figuring out what could be making bubbles on a scale that would make Sweden think it was dealing with a nuclear submarine.

“It turns out herring have a swim bladder… and this swim bladder is connected to the anal duct of the fish,” Wahlberg said. “It’s a very unique connection, only found in herring. So a herring can squeeze its swim bladder, and that way it can blurt out a small number of bubbles through the anal opening.”

In layman’s terms, they let one rip. Herrings swim in gigantic schools that can reach several square kilometers and up to 20 meters (65 feet) deep. When something near them frightens them – say, a hungry school of mackerel or a submarine on the lookout for Russian spies – they can generate a lot of gas.


The good news was that Sweden wasn’t under threat from Russia, the bad news was it had spent 10 years deploying its military in pursuit of fish farts. Since it figured out what was and wasn’t fish farts, there have been zero reports of hostile intruders in Swedish waters.

This story was literally made just for me.

Today in Prosecutorial Cluelessness

In response to stories noting irregularities at the now shuttered German credit card transaction firm Wirecard, regulators went to Prosecutors initiated an investigation ……… of the journalists.

Now that the firm has collapsed in an orgy of fraud, prosecutors are calling backsies:

The Munich prosecutor has dropped its investigation into two Financial Times journalists, who were accused by the German financial watchdog of potential market manipulation over their reports about accounting irregularities at payments processor Wirecard.

The criminal prosecution office in Munich said on Thursday it had “suspended the investigative proceedings” against the two FT journalists after they “did not reveal sufficient evidence to support the suspicious facts” raised by BaFin, the German watchdog.

BaFin said on Thursday that it had “no objection” to the prosecutor dropping its investigation into the FT journalists. It added that its parallel criminal complaint against short-sellers alleging market manipulation on Wirecard shares was still ongoing.

The move comes 10 weeks after Wirecard declared insolvency, having admitted that about €1.9bn in cash was missing from its accounts. Its collapse, which has turned into one of Germany’s biggest financial scandals, followed years of reports by the FT that Wirecard’s accounts were misleading.

The Munich prosecutor said its investigations found that the FT’s reports “are basically correct and at least from the point of view of the information available at the time, it was neither false nor misleading. There were no direct, concrete contacts with short-sellers.”

The criminal complaint against Dan McCrum and Stefania Palma was filed by BaFin in April 2019 after the FT published articles by the two earlier that year alleging that Wirecard had been inflating its revenues by using forged and backdated contracts that raised questions over the company’s accounting.

In case your are wondering, bank fraud, and regulatory capture are not exclusive to the “Anglo-Saxon” nations.

History Rhyming

Considering Germany’s current state of European hegemon, this is particularly concerning:

Güstrow, Germany — The plan sounded frighteningly concrete. The group would round up political enemies and those defending migrants and refugees, put them on trucks and drive them to a secret location.

Then they would kill them.

One member had already bought 30 body bags. More body bags were on an order list, investigators say, along with quicklime, used to decompose organic material.

On the surface, those discussing the plan seemed reputable. One was a lawyer and local politician, but with a special hatred of immigrants. Two were active army reservists. Two others were police officers, including Marko Gross, a police sniper and former parachutist who acted as their unofficial leader.

The group grew out of a nationwide chat network for soldiers and others with far-right sympathies set up by a member of Germany’s elite special forces, the KSK. Over time, under Mr. Gross’s supervision, they formed a parallel group of their own. Members included a doctor, an engineer, a decorator, a gym owner, even a local fisherman.

They called themselves Nordkreuz, or Northern Cross.


They denied they had plotted to kill anyone. But investigators and prosecutors, as well an account one member gave to the police — transcripts of which were seen by The New York Times — indicate their planning took a more sinister turn.

Germany has belatedly begun dealing with far-right networks that officials now say are far more extensive than they ever understood. The reach of far-right extremists into its armed forces is particularly alarming in a country that has worked to cleanse itself of its Nazi past and the horrors of the Holocaust. In July the government disbanded an entire company infiltrated by extremists in the nation’s special forces.


Far-right extremism penetrated multiple layers of German society in the years when the authorities underestimated the threat or were reluctant to countenance it fully, officials and lawmakers acknowledge. Now they are struggling to uproot it.


Neo-Nazi groups and other extremists call it Day X — a mythical moment when Germany’s social order collapses, requiring committed far-right extremists, in their telling, to save themselves and rescue the nation.


“I fear we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” said Dirk Friedriszik, a lawmaker in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where Nordkreuz was founded. “It isn’t just the KSK. The real worry is: These cells are everywhere. In the army, in the police, in reservist units.”

German imposition of sado-monetarism on the rest of the EU has led to a resurgence of right wing nationalism in both Europe and the EU, and now we know that Germany is not immune to the toxic reaction to its misguided ideology.

Franco’s Misbegotten Spawn

This is not a surprise.  Spain’s People’s Party (PP) is a direct successor to Franco’s fascists, and sacrificing civilians to political expediency is in their blood:

By the time Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, declared a state of alarm on March 14, the deadly coronavirus had already begun to infiltrate and rip through many of the nursing homes across the nation’s capital. Like sitting ducks, the highest risk members of society didn’t stand a chance.

Thousands died all alone; in Madrid, several were found lifeless in their beds by soldiers who had been drafted to disinfect the area. Many were carted off to the city’s ice rink, by that time converted into a makeshift morgue. Families were unable to say goodbye.

Those in nursing homes lucky enough to avoid the virus have been unable to step out into the world for over three months. The situation has been likened by many to incarceration. The mental and physical toll has been tremendous.

Yet Madrid’s right-wing regional government seems to have washed its hands of the problem, mudslinging in parliament in order to divert the discussion from this tragic situation. Spaniards are indignant at its failings. But now we must examine why elderly people can be so easily discarded, just because they’re no longer contributing to the economy.


In Spain, whose healthcare system is decentralized across its seventeen autonomous regions, the overall figure for care home deaths alone is said to be close to twenty thousand — more than double Germany’s entire death toll.


Madrid, a region that has been governed by the conservative People’s Party (PP) since 1995, accounts for around 32 percent of the country’s COVID-19 deaths, while representing only 14 percent of its population.

This was no natural disaster. Years of closures and cuts left the region ill-equipped to face the gravest humanitarian crisis to hit the country since the 1936 civil war.


The mounting death toll in nursing homes was initially lost in the widespread frenzy and panic that gripped Spain as the infection curve continued to soar. But now the dust has settled — 48 new cases were detected in Spain on Sunday, June 14; a month ago this figure was 849 — and the harrowing truth has emerged.

It has now come to light that the regional health ministry emailed nursing homes across the Madrid region instructing them to prevent patients of a certain condition, or indeed patients over a certain age, from being hospitalized.

Ayuso claims that the original communication was merely a draft that was released “by mistake.”

El País newspaper, however, reports that Carlos Mur de Víu, director general of social and health coordination, sent at least four emails, on March 18, 20, 24, and 25, to the Ministry of Social Policies. These provided the guidance that hospitals and residences followed, ruling out the hospitalization of disabled and elderly patients with COVID-19.

If one “draft” email may indeed have been released in error, Mur de Víu’s actions clearly show the type of strategy that was deployed. As hospitals edged ever closer to the breaking point, it became a matter of survival of the fittest. The voiceless elderly were an easy sacrifice.


Ayuso claims that the original communication was merely a draft that was released “by mistake.”

El País newspaper, however, reports that Carlos Mur de Víu, director general of social and health coordination, sent at least four emails, on March 18, 20, 24, and 25, to the Ministry of Social Policies. These provided the guidance that hospitals and residences followed, ruling out the hospitalization of disabled and elderly patients with COVID-19.


186 nursing homes in Spain are currently being invested by the public prosecutor’s office — almost half of them in the Madrid region.


In a cruel twist, showing once again that social inequality often lasts from the cradle to the grave, it has been reported that elderly people who were able to afford private health insurance were not denied hospital treatment. Íñigo Errejón, leader of Más País, tweeted: “This is the freedom of the neoliberals. You’re left to die if you have no money, you’re allowed to save yourself if you pay. Shameless.”

Franco’s bastards.

Slaughterhouses, AGAIN!

Not good

In Germany there has been a major Covid-19 outbreak at an abattoir, (I love the word, “Abattoir.” I need to use it more often) with over a thousand cases linked to the meat processing plant.

This has taken the R-Number,  the infection rate of an epidemic, from about .75 to 2.88, meaning that infections are growing again, not shrinking: (Any number over 1 indicates an increase in the number of cases)

The owners of Europe’s largest meat-processing plant must be held to account for a mass coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 1,500 of its workers, Germany’s labour minister has said.

Hubertus Heil said an entire region had been “taken hostage” by the factory’s failure to protect its employees, most of whom come from Romania and Bulgaria.

Germany’s coronavirus reproduction or R rate leapt to 2.88 over the weekend largely as a result of the outbreak at the plant at Gütersloh in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). About 7,000 people have been sent into quarantine as a result of the outbreak, and schools and kindergartens in the region that had been gradually reopened have been forced to close until at least after the summer holidays.

Health authorities have accused Tönnies, the family-run business that owns the plant, of breaking regulations around physical distancing that were introduced to dampen the spread of coronavirus. Authorities say Tönnies has also been reluctant to give them access to workers’ contact details, allegedly hampering the tracking and tracing of the workers and their contacts. Tönnies said delays in handing over personnel data had been due to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

Clemens Tönnies, the company’s billionaire CEO, held a press briefing at the weekend at which he apologised for his company’s management of the crisis, and said it would take “full responsibility” for what had to be done to combat it. Within his own family there have also reportedly been attempts to oust him from his role. He has ruled out resigning.

Of course he has ruled out resigning.

This is exactly the same sort of apology as was given by Volkswagen executives.

This is the Most 2020 Story of the Year (So Far)

A Spanish porn actor has been arrested in connection with the death of a photographer as the result of a bizarre ritual involving toad venom.

I don’t think that this will remain at the top of the pile, 2020 has a lot more sh%$ to toss our way, but right now, this story encapsulates the year almost perfectly:

Spanish police have arrested three people, including a well known pornographic actor, in connection with the death of a photographer who is thought to have died after inhaling toad venom during a shamanic ceremony.

The Guardia Civil did not name those detained, but the fatal ceremony, which took place in the Valencian town of Enguera in July 2019, allegedly involved the Spanish porn actor Nacho Vidal, and resulted in the death of a fashion photographer, José Luis Abad.


“Officers began the investigation after the death of a person during a mystical ritual involving the inhalation of vapours from the venom of the bufo alvarius toad,” the statement said.


It also warned that the alleged ritual was considerably more dangerous than people might think.

Yes, the dead photographer would indicate that there was an element of risk in snorting toad venom.

About F%$#ing Time

Green and progress members of the French National Assembly have left Emmanuel Macron’s party, meaning that his party no longer has a majority.

Considering the fact that Macron has spent his time crapping on the poor and the environment to further pursue the agenda of the wealthy and powerful, the only question is, “What took them so long?”

French president Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party lost its parliamentary majority on Tuesday when 17 left-leaning, environmentalist and feminist dissidents set up a new political group in the National Assembly.

Paula Forteza, co-chair of Ecologie Démocratie Solidarité (EDS), said the new group’s proposals included a temporary wealth tax to help the country through the coronavirus crisis and universal income payments to everybody over 18 years old.

“We are at a historic turning point,” she told a news conference by video. “We want this exit from the crisis to be marked by environmental and social justice, not by a purely economic or short-termist plan.”

The split leaves Mr Macron’s liberal La République en Marche (LREM) with 288 seats in the National Assembly, one short of an absolute majority. But it does not so far threaten the government’s ability to legislate, because the ruling party can still rely on the support of 46 members of parliament from François Bayrou’s centrist Modem party.


Since then, however, some environmentalists and former Socialists in LREM have become disenchanted with Mr Macron’s economic reforms. These include the abolition of the country’s wealth tax and a contentious plan to simplify the pension system that has since been put on hold, and with what they see as his failure to champion green causes with sufficient vigour. They fear they will be punished by voters in the next round of national elections in 2022.


A 15-point manifesto released by EDS lays out a range of green and leftwing demands, including a €5bn transfer of funds over three years to local authorities for ecological and social projects, the protection of animal rights, compulsory paternity leave and the “reshoring” of industries in France and Europe.

Macron used the rhetoric of unity to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful, which is par for the course for every “3rd Way”.

I’m surprised that it’s finally catching up with him.

Go Sweden!

Sweden’s handling of the Coronavirus is so bad that its neighbors are considering strengthening a cordon sanitaire around the Nordic nation:

Denmark, Finland and Norway are debating whether to maintain travel restrictions on Sweden but ease them for other countries as they nervously eye their Nordic neighbour’s higher coronavirus death toll.

Sweden has the highest mortality rate per capita at this stage of the epidemic, according to a Financial Times tracker that uses a seven-day rolling average of new deaths. It has overtaken the UK, Italy and Belgium in recent days.

Frode Forland, specialist director in infectious diseases at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told the Financial Times keeping borders closed had “a certain infectious-disease logic” while a big difference in infection rates remained between countries. “The situation is quite different now between Norway and Sweden,” he said.


“Norway, Denmark and Iceland have managed to stabilise their situation, but in Sweden the situation is more alarming,” she said last week.

The Swedes are now doing worse than the UK.

Your actions make Boris Johnson look smart by comparison.

What the f%$# is wrong with you?

What the People of Amsterdam Have Discovered

Amsterdam has been catering to tourists, for the weed, for the sex shops, the canals, and for the wonderful architecture, for years, and now its citizens have discovered that they like their city a lot better without the hoards of overbearing tourists:

Amsterdam’s historic Red Light District is rife with English-language city signs admonishing tourists: “Don’t pee in the street”; “No alcohol in public spaces”; “Put your trash in the bin”; “Fine: 140 euros.”

But the cartoonish black-and-red warnings on the 17th-century canals look strangely out of place these days. There are no visitors to heed them.

Beginning in mid-March, when the Netherlands went into semi-lockdown to combat the covid-19 pandemic, tourism vanished from Amsterdam almost overnight. A social and economic crisis has hit the country and its capital hard. But for residents of Amsterdam’s historic city center, there is a clear silver lining: temporary relief from the burden of overtourism.


Nowhere is the difference more clear than in the now-deserted alleys of the Wallen, as the red-light district is called. It is a major tourist draw, famous for the sight of sex workers soliciting from behind their windows and the many coffee shops where visitors can light up a joint. Here, noise is permanent, and nuisance a given. Tourists often leave trash and urinate in public.


“It’s just lovely. I’ve lived here five years, and I’m now getting to know neighbors I didn’t know I had. They used to blend into the crowd,” she says. “Now, when the sun is out, people take a chair and sit out front. It’s so gezellig,” she continues, using the common Dutch adverb that translates to “having a good time together.”


“It’s like the city is ours again,” she says, echoing a common sentiment among Amsterdammers who feel like their interests had become subordinate to those of visitors.


Seeing the pristine metropolis, many citizens feel like they are wandering through the Amsterdam of the past. Tim Verlaan, an assistant professor of urban history at the University of Amsterdam, draws a parallel to what it looked like in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“The lockdown, of course, is unprecedented. But many Amsterdammers are reminded of a time when the city first and foremost was a place to live, and not to consume or play tourist,” he says.


Through a combination of economic prosperity, a lowered crime rate and shrewd marketing, tourism to Amsterdam exploded. Global trends contributed further. Airfare became ever cheaper as the traveling middle classes of Europe and the United States were joined by those in Asia.

From the 21st century on, the balance in the inner city was definitively skewed toward visitors. Hotel rooms multiplied, streets felt permanently overcrowded. The canal cityscape became the domain of tours, ticket offices and souvenir shops. And perhaps the biggest offense to locals? The ever-multiplying sellers of ice cream and waffles sauced with Nutella chocolate, now the dreaded symbol of a monocultural tourism industry.

Last year, 9 million tourists, mostly foreigners, visited Amsterdam, a city of 820,000 people.


With tourism down and out, many are hoping things will be different after the current crisis.

“This is such an opportunity to reflect on where we go from here,” says Els Iping, spokeswoman for VVAB, an organization that protects cultural heritage in the inner city and has been a vocal advocate of restoring the balance in favor of residents. “We are proud of our city, and we like to see others enjoy it. But the superficial type of tourism that has people pay pocket change to fly out here has to stop.”


“You’ll likely see changes already in the making accelerated by this crisis,” Verlaan says.

To be on the safe side, Iping’s organization is already petitioning the city to stick to its guns. “Some in the tourism industry, of course, will now want to reverse these policies, citing the need for economic recovery,” she says.

“But almost everyone else agrees that Amsterdam should seize this moment to never return to the old situation again.”

I’ve wonder if the people who live in colonial Williamsburg feel the same way.

If you wonder why people live in tourist traps seem to hate tourists, this is it.

The Return of the Mafia State

With Italy in crisis over its Covid-19 epidemic and the EU offering little help, the state lacks the resources to help ordinary people.

Rather unsurprisingly, the Mafia is stepping in to help the people, which is a sound investment for them, because if they have the goodwill of the population, then they will be able to function without interference from the local and national law enforcement.

This is going to set back progress against organized crime in Italy by years, if not decades, and their activities will cross borders into the rest of the EU:

As Italy struggles to pull its economy through the coronavirus crisis, the Mafia is gaining local support by distributing free food to poor families in quarantine who have run out of cash, authorities have warned.


“For over a month, shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs have been closed,” Nicola Gratteri, antimafia investigator and head of the prosecutor’s office in Catanzaro, told the Guardian. “Millions of people work in the grey economy, which means that they haven’t received any income in more than a month and have no idea when they might return to work. The government is issuing so-called shopping vouchers to support people. If the state doesn’t step in soon to help these families, the mafia will provide its services, imposing their control over people’s lives.”

The ramifications of the lockdown in Italy are affecting the estimated 3.3 million people in Italy who work off the books. Of those, more than 1 million live in the south, according to the most recent figures from CGIA Mestre, a Venice-based small business association. There have been reports of small shop owners being pressured to give food for free, while police are patrolling supermarkets in some areas to stop thefts. Videos of people in Sicily protesting against the government’s stalled response, or people beating their fists outside banks in Bari for a €50 (£44) loan are going viral and throwing fuel on the crisis; a fire the mafia is more than willing to stoke.

From the first signals of mounting social unrest, the Italian minister of the interior, Luciana Lamorgese, said ‘‘the mafia could take advantage of the rising poverty, swooping in to recruit people to its organisation’’. Or simply stepping in to distribute free food parcels of pasta, water, flour and milk.


“Mafias are not just criminal organisations,’’ Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, said. “They are organisations that aspire to govern territories and markets. Commentators often focus on the financial aspect of mafias but they tend to forget that their strength comes from having a local base from which to operate.”

This is the bitter fruit of EU mandated austerity.

Today in Boneheaded Rent Seeking

The EU Court of Justice has ruled that rental car companies do not have to pay a license fee for the public performance of music when they rent a car, even though every car made today has a radio, and the drivers could theoretically play music on the radio.

These sort of outrageous claims are the rule, not the exception, because there are no penalties for attempting to promulgate this bullsh%$:

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), sometimes known as “Collection Societies,” have a long history of demanding licensing for just about every damn thing. That’s why there was just some confusion about whether or not those with musical talents would even be allowed to perform from their balconies while in COVID-19 lockdown. And if you thought that it was crazy that anyone would even worry about things like that, it’s because you haven’t spent years following the crazy demands made by PROs, including demanding a license for a woman in a grocery store singing while stocking the shelves, a public performance license for having the radio on in a horse stable (for the horses), or claiming that your ringtone needs a separate “public performance” license, or saying that hotels that have radios in their rooms should pay a public performance license.

Five years ago, we wrote about another such crazy demand — a PRO in Sweden demanding that rental car companies pay a performance license because their cars had radios, and since “the public” could rent their cards and listen to the radio, that constituted “a communication to the public” that required a separate license. The case has bounced around the courts, and finally up to the Court of Justice for the EU which has now, finally, ruled that merely renting cars does not constitute “communication to the public.”

A reevaluation, and a roll-back of implicit and explicit subsidies related to IP needs to happen sooner, rather than later.

Today in IP Insanity

In Italy, hospitals could not operate ventilators to treat severely ill coronvirus patients, because a crucial, and very expensive, valve was not available from the manufacturer.

A group of local tech types took a valve, and figured out how to 3D print the valve for a fraction of the cost.

They were promptly threatened with a lawsuit by the manufacturer.

We need to massively reduce the scope of IP:

Update: One of the people who helped 3D-print the valve in Brescia says that they didn’t receive a legal threat from the original manufacturer, Intersurgical, according to a new report in The Verge. Another person who helped make things happen, Massimo Temporelli, who earlier said they received legal threats for alleged patent infringement, is quoted as saying: “The group we asked for the files refused and said it was illegal”. Intersurgical also denies threatening to sue. It states that it could not supply details for the valve because of “medical manufacturing regulations”. Another news item says the official list price was not as high as the original Italian report suggested, but without giving a revised figure. Whatever the details, the episode underlines why the 3D files of these kind of devices should be made available routinely to hospitals. That would allow them print in cases of urgent need, regardless of any claimed patents, so that this kind of situation doesn’t arise at all, and lives are not put at risk. Original story follows:

Techdirt has just written about the extraordinary legal action taken against a company producing Covid-19 tests. Sadly, it’s not the only example of some individuals putting profits before people. Here’s a story from Italy, which is currently seeing more new coronavirus cases and deaths than anywhere else in the world. Last Thursday, a hospital in Brescia, in the north of Italy, needed supplies of special valves in order to use breathing equipment to help keep Covid-19 patients alive in intensive care (original in Italian). The manufacturer was unable to provide them because of the demand for this particular valve. The Metro site explains what happened next:

With the help of the editor of a local newspaper Giornale di Brescia and tech expert Massimo Temporelli, doctors launched a search for a 3D printer — a devise that produces three dimensional objects from computer designs.

Word soon reached Fracassi, a pharmaceutical company boss in possession of the coveted machine. He immediately brought his device to the hospital and, in just a few hours, redesigned and then produced the missing piece.

Actually, it wasn’t quite as simple as that suggests. Business Insider Italia explains that even though the original manufacturer was unable to supply the part, it refused to share the relevant 3D file with Fracassi to help him print the valve. It even went so far as to threaten him for patent infringement if he tried to do so on his own. Since lives were at stake, he went ahead anyway, creating the 3D file from scratch. According to the Metro article, he produced an initial batch of ten, and then 100 more, all for free. Fracassi admits that his 3D-printed versions might not be very durable or re-usable. But when it’s possible to make replacements so cheaply — each 3D-printed part costs just one euro, or roughly a dollar — that isn’t a problem. At least it wouldn’t be, except for that threat of legal action, which is also why Fracassi doesn’t dare share his 3D file with other hospitals, despite their desperate need for these valves.

This sort of IP related bullsh%$ does not, as the Constitution demands, “Promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

It is an anchor dragging down our society.

The Germans Have Learned Nothing and Forgotten Nothing*

In 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany because the mainstream parties were unwilling to make common cause with the left.

Now discover that the German Christian Democrats are cutting deals with the Fascist AfD because they are unwilling to make common cause with the left, specifically die Linke:

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have prided themselves on the strict cordon sanitaire they built around the far-right Alternative for Germany — ruling out any co-operation or contact. Many now wonder whether it is time for the barrier to come down.

Events of the past week, where a local row over dealings with the AfD culminated in national leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer deciding to quit, have shown just how consequential the CDU’s attitude to the far-right has become.


This month’s upheaval was sparked in Thuringia, where the CDU sided with the AfD in the eastern state’s parliament to elect a little-known politician as prime minister. He was the first regional leader in post-war German history brought to power with the support of the populist right.

 It was also a startling rebuff to Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had warned the Thuringian branch of the party not to vote alongside the AfD. Her authority in tatters, she announced on Monday that she would step down as CDU chairwoman and abandon her campaign to succeed Ms Merkel as chancellor.

Since then more CDU politicians have come forward to criticise the party’s anti-AfD fatwa. Raymond Walk, secretary-general of the CDU in Thuringia, described it as a “straitjacket” and demanded a rethink.


In Germany, the issue is even more emotional. Any discussion of a possible tie-up between CDU and AfD is overlaid with memories of the Nazi era and of how mainstream conservative parties facilitated Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.


The AfD itself, which is the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, with 89 seats, has strongly criticised the CDU’s cordon sanitaire. Alice Weidel, leader of the AfD group in the German parliament, has called such “rejectionism” “foolish and deeply undemocratic”.

But for most in the CDU, the AfD, with its stridently anti-Islam and anti-immigration tone and its revisionist views of Germany’s 20th century history, is beyond the pale. Its Thuringian branch, led by the right-wing radical Björn Höcke, presents a particular problem: a court in the state ruled last year that Mr Höcke could legally be termed a “fascist”, saying such a designation “rests on verifiable fact”.

The CDU’s problems are compounded by the equally strict firewall it has constructed around another radical party — the hard-left Die Linke, which has its roots in the East German communist party.


Ms Prien pointed to the CDU’s refusal to back Thuringia’s previous prime minister, Bodo Ramelow, a relatively moderate trade unionist from Die Linke. By boycotting him, the party had in effect equated him with Mr Höcke.

Ms Prien insisted she was a “committed anti-Communist”, but to put “a respectable prime minister like Bodo Ramelow on a par with someone like Mr Höcke is a political and historical distortion”.

Germany in general, and the CDU in particular, seem determined to recreate the conditions which led to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, whether it is its insistence on austerity, or its refusal to deal with the non-racist left.

This will not end well.

*Once again, though this quote is frequently attributed to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, but he almost certainly did not create the quote.

What’s the Problem with an Encryption Back Door?

After successfully creating a health care app for doctors to view medical records, Diego Fasano, an Italian entrepreneur, got some well-timed advice from a police officer friend: Go into the surveillance business because law enforcement desperately needs technological help.

In 2014, he founded a company that creates surveillance technology, including powerful spyware for police and intelligence agencies, at a time when easy-to-use encrypted chat apps such as WhatsApp and Signal were making it possible for criminal suspects to protect phone calls and data from government scrutiny.

The concept behind the company’s product was simple: With the help of Italy’s telecom companies, suspects would be duped into downloading a harmless-seeming app, ostensibly to fix network errors on their phone. The app would also allow Fasano’s company, eSurv, to give law enforcement access to a device’s microphone, camera, stored files and encrypted messages.


“I started to go to all the Italian prosecutors’ offices to sell it,” explained Fasano, a 46-year-old with short, dark-brown hair and graying stubble. “The software was good. And within three years, it was used across Italy. In Rome, Naples, Milan.”

Even the country’s foreign intelligence agency, L’Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna, came calling for Exodus’s services, Fasano said.

But Fasano’s success was short lived, done in by a technical glitch that alerted investigators that something could be amiss. They followed a digital trail between Italy and the U.S. before unearthing a stunning discovery.

Authorities found that eSurv employees allegedly used the company’s spyware to illegally hack the phones of hundreds of innocent Italians—playing back phone conversations of secretly recorded calls aloud in the office, according to legal documents. The company also struck a deal with a company with alleged links to the Mafia, authorities said.

The discovery prompted a criminal inquiry involving four Italian prosecutor’s offices. Fasano and another eSurv executive, Salvatore Ansani, were charged with fraud, unauthorized access to a computer system, illicit interception and illicit data processing.


The demand for such technology has been driven in part by the rise in popularity of encrypted mobile phone apps and the reality that it is getting harder for law enforcement to glean evidence without the assistance of Silicon Valley giants such as Apple Inc., which is currently at loggerheads with the FBI over access to an iPhone used by an accused terrorist.


What makes the allegations against eSurv so astounding is that, if true, the company became involved in the spying itself—and did so right in the heart of Europe.


“I think that no prosecutors in Western countries have ever worked on a case like this,” Melillo said in a recent interview at his Naples office. This story is based on interviews with Italian authorities and a review of 170 pages of documents outlining the evidence collected, much of it never before reported.

In the city of Benevento, about 40 miles northeast of Naples, technicians working for the prosecutor’s office in 2018 were using Exodus to hack the phones of suspects in an investigation. That October, one of the technicians noticed that the network connection to Exodus was frequently dropping out, according to Italian authorities.

The technician did some troubleshooting and found a glaring problem. The Exodus system was supposed to operate from a secure internal server accessible only to the Benevento prosecutor’s office. Instead, it was connecting to a server accessible to anyone on the internet, protected only by a username and password, the authorities said.

The implications were enormous: hackers could potentially gain access to the platform and view all of the data that Italian prosecutors were covertly harvesting from suspects’ phones in some of Italy’s most sensitive law enforcement investigations. (Authorities don’t know if the server was in fact ever hacked.)


The investigation was eventually handed off to the prosecutor’s office in nearby Naples, which is responsible for handling major computer crimes in the region. The Naples prosecutor began a more in-depth probe—and found that eSurv had been storing a vast amount of sensitive data, unencrypted, on an Amazon Web Services server in Oregon.

The data included thousands of photos, recordings of conversations, private messages and emails, videos, and other files gathered from hacked phones and computers. In total, there were about 80 terabytes of data on the server—the equivalent of roughly 40,000 hours of HD video.

“A large part of the data is secret data,” said Melillo. “It’s related to the investigation of Mafia cases, terrorist cases, corruption cases.”


When Fasano began thinking about creating a police surveillance tool, he recruited a small team to explore the possibilities. They eventually developed a spyware tool that would allow police to hack Android phones by luring suspects into downloading what looked like an ordinary app from the Google Play store.


The app didn’t contain spy software, allowing it to bypass Google’s automated virus scans. But once a person downloaded it, the app served as a gateway through which eSurv could place spyware onto a person’s phone. The spyware would then covertly take total control: recording audio, taking photos and giving police access to encrypted messages and files, Fasano said.


In all, the Black Team spied on more than 230 people who weren’t authorized surveillance targets, according to police documents. Some of the surveillance victims were listed in eSurv’s internal files as “The Volunteers,” suggesting they were unwitting guinea pigs.


After reviewing evidence about the Black Team in May, a judge concluded that Exodus appeared to have been “designed and intended from the outset to operate with functions that are very distant from the canons of legality.” The judge approved a warrant to place Ansani and Fasano under house arrest; the investigation is continuing and additional charges could be filed, according to Italian authorities.


“It’s like a gun,” said Vincenzo Ioppoli, Fasano’s lawyer. “Once you have sold it, you don’t know how it will be used.”

This is why you can never trust law enforcement, or their contractors, not to abuse the power that you give them.

Macron Caves

Emmanuel Macron was elected in France because he was seen as a change from a system that delivered nothing for the the ordinary Frenchman while serving the transnational banks and corporations.

To the horror of the voters, Macron is even more the minion of a bloated and corrupt financial sector than were his predecessors.

So he has proposed increases in taxes on ordinary people, more austerity, tax cuts for the wealthy, and, finally, a roll-back of pension rights.

Now, following massive protests,  Macron has abandoned his plans to change pensions:

With tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators once again coursing through the streets of Paris and other cities and clouds of tear gas and smashed store windows punctuating the urban landscape, the French government made a major concession on Saturday to unions protesting its pension reform plan.

It agreed to scrap, for now at least, a proposal to raise the full-benefits retirement age from 62 to 64. Unlike in the United States, the French government plays a huge role in the retirement plans of individuals in France, both as a source of funds and as overseer and guarantor of the pension system.

The raised age had infuriated moderate unions that the government of President Emmanuel Macron badly needs on its side. Mr. Macron has insisted the French need to work longer to strengthen a generous retirement system that is one of the world’s most generous but may be heading toward a $19 billion deficit.

On Saturday, with a crippling transport strike already in its sixth week, Mr. Macron’s government backed down, announcing that it would “withdraw” the new age limit, and put off decisions on financing the system until it gets a report on the money problem “between now and the end of April.”

Macron’s definition of meaningful reform is robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

The argument is that, in the long run, everyone benefits, but in the long term, as Keynes observed, “In the long run we are all dead.”

Europe does seem to dedicated to repeating the failures that led to the rise of Fascism and World War II.

Tweet of the Day

Not often a European soccer game is stopped due to fans being *too anti-Nazi*.

Rayo Vallecano's anti-fascist fans already chased Ukrainian Nazi Roman Zozulya out of town once. Then he came back with a new team.https://t.co/cCjIhp9VEp

— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) December 17, 2019

Anti-Nazi chants from rowdies at a soccer match in Europe.

There may be hope for the future of humanity yet.

No, This is Not the Onion

So there I am, looking at the headlines, and I come across Boris Johnson Replaced by Ice Sculpture after Dodging Election Debate on Climate Crisis.

It’s not a parody:

Boris Johnson was criticized by party leaders and represented by a dripping ice sculpture after refusing to appear in a televised election debate focusing on climate change, sparking a row between the UK broadcaster and the Prime Minister’s Conservative Party.

The Conservatives complained to the UK’s broadcasting watchdog Ofcom ahead of the Channel 4 event, which saw Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson and the heads of the UK’s other main parties quizzed on their plans to tackle the climate crisis ahead of next month’s poll.

The party said its offer of having minister Michael Gove stand in for Johnson was rejected by Channel 4, complaining the decision “effectively seeks to deprive the Conservative Party of any representation and attendance at the Channel 4 News debate.”

The network said the event was only for party leaders, and opposition leaders have lambasted Johnson for dodging scrutiny by refusing to appear.


Before the debate started, the program’s editor had earlier said Johnson “sent his two wing men” — Gove and Johnson’s father, Stanley — to attempt to “argue their way into” a program intended only for leaders. Stanley Johnson was there to conduct interviews in the so-called spin room after the debate, he later clarified.

Johnson and fellow no-show Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, were ultimately replaced at the debate with ice sculptures bearing their parties’ logos, which Channel 4 said was intended to “represent the emergency on planet earth.”

Johnson’s refusal to appear in the debate gave further fuel to charges that he is avoiding media appearances during the campaign. Several opposition figures have also criticized him for refusing to confirm he would take part in an interview with BBC presenter Andrew Neil, which all of the other major leaders have done.

They should have put a blond wig on top of the ice sculpture.

Honestly, if I were to replace BoJo with anything, it would be a Goatse* sculpture.

*If you do not know what Goatse is, Do Not Google It ……… EVER.

Kind of Like Your Mother-in-Law Driving off a Cliff in Your Brand New Car

It appears that in an attempt to forestall impeachment, the Trump administration is going to war against the US State Security Apparatus.

It appears that Trump is leaning on British intelligence agencies to dig up dirt on US intelligence agencies:

As the impeachment hearings get more and more alarming for Donald Trump, with damning new evidence emerging every day, there appears to be increasing urgency in the parallel counteroffensives under way by the president’s team in an attempt to defend him.

There are attacks against the witnesses giving testimony by Trump and his supporters, including attempts to smear Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Ukraine expert at the National Security Council who this week provided crucial testimony about Trump’s telephone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. And there have been the extraordinary scenes of congress Republicans breaking into the proceedings and disrupting them.

At the same time, overshadowed by the publicity around the impeachment, is the ever-broadening investigation by William Barr, the attorney general, which the White House sees as a game-changer. An investigation which is seeking nothing less than to overturn the conclusion of the US intelligence services and special counsel Robert Mueller that Russia interfered in the last US presidential election.


The attorney general is focusing on the theory, aired on far-right conspiracy sites, and raised by Trump and Giuliani, that Ukraine framed Vladimir Putin over the US election in a complex triple-cross operation by impersonating Russian hackers.

Trump and Barr have also been asking other foreign governments for help in investigating the FBI, CIA and Mueller investigators. The US president has called on the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison for assistance, while the attorney general has been on similar missions to the UK and Italy.

And the information being requested has left allies astonished. One British official with knowledge of Barr’s wish list presented to London commented that “it is like nothing we have come across before, they are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services”.

“Quite robust terms,” is official Brit speak for, “These motherf%$#ers are nuts, completely bonkers, mad as a hatter.”

I only hope that there is a way for both of them to lose.

This is Beyond Horrible

I first heard about this when my RABBI mentioned that there had been a shooting this afternoon:

A heavily armed gunman with a live-streaming head camera tried to storm a synagogue in eastern Germany on Wednesday as congregants observed the holiest day in Judaism. Foiled by a locked door, he killed two people outside and wounded two others in an anti-Semitic spree that smacked of far-right terrorism.

Hours later the police announced the arrest of a suspect in the assault in the city of Halle, one of the most brazen in a string of recent attacks aimed at Jews in Germany. Police officials declined to confirm if the suspect was the gunman or whether he had any accomplices.

The methodology of the assailant bore a striking resemblance to the rampage by a far-right extremist against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, more than six months ago, in which he broadcast his killings live on social media. Fifty-one people died in that attack.

Like the Christchurch killer, the Halle assailant recorded himself, in a 35-minute video of shooting, mayhem and hateful language. In accented English, he identified himself as Anon, denied the Holocaust, denounced feminists and immigrants, then declared: “The root of all these problems is the Jew.”


The assailant uploaded his video to Twitch, a live-streaming platform owned by Amazon that has struggled with moderating the real-time content that floods in from millions of active broadcasters. Alerted to the broadcast, Twitch scrambled to remove it and issue an apology, but not before right-wing sites had archived it. Some exalted the killer as a hero.

It could have been worse, but it appears that the gunman was a pretty crappy gunsmith, and his homemade weapons, an automatic weapon and a shotgun, both failed.

Of course he did it on Yom Kippur.

F%$# Nazis.