Headlines: Beaucoup elections, and lots more


Whole lotta ground to cover, with elections — and their aftermaths — on three continents, plus the latest economic and ecological headlines and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

On with the show, starting with a trans-Pacific partnership of another sort from China Daily:

Children from China enroll in US summer academic camps

Summer is near, and that means that many Chinese parents will be sending their children to summer camps in the US for an academic performance boost.

Michelle Raz, the director of the Longfeifei Youth Summer Academy in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, said that Chinese parents are keen on “rounding out their kids’ experiences”, so they are enrolling them in programs like Longfeifei’s, which has an academic portion but also gives children time to learn about the arts and to participate in athletic activities.

“What the children have told me is that schools in China been very limited in sports and arts, where they are coming from,” Raz told China Daily. “Few of them have some experiences but the vast majority haven’t, so we’re teaching them American games and things like soccer.”

And more standardized testing from Washington, this time with ivy coverings, via the New York Times:

Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System

The college presidents were appalled. Not only had President Obama called for a government rating system for their schools, but now one of his top education officials was actually suggesting it would be as easy as evaluating a kitchen appliance.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons. For years that task has been dominated by private companies like Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report.

Next up, more neoliberalism north of the border with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Ottawa approved thousands of foreign worker requests at minimum wage, data reveal

The federal government approved thousands of requests to bring in temporary foreign workers at minimum wage in recent years, a practice that undermines claims from government and employers that there are serious labour shortages and that all efforts have been taken to hire Canadians.

The revelations in newly released data come as the Conservative government is weighing major policy reforms – including a new “wage floor” – in response to criticism that employers are relying on the temporary foreign worker program as a way to avoid raising wages.

Using Access to Information legislation, the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained extensive statistics about the program and provided its findings to The Globe and Mail. The union sought and obtained information on the number of Labour Market Opinions approved by Employment and Social Development Canada that were for minimum wage jobs. An LMO is a screening process meant to ensure employers have exhausted efforts to hire Canadians before turning to the program.

On to Europe, first with a hint of things to come from the Portugal News:

‘Risk of deflation’ – ECB president

The president of the European Central Bank (ECB) said on Monday that inflation was going to stay low for a prolonged period of time and that “there is a risk” of deflation, adding there was “no question” the objective of the institution was to control price changes.

“At the moment, our expectation is that the low inflation is going to remain with us, but that it will gradually return to the 2% level. However, our responsibility is to be aware of any risks that might arise and be prepared to act is necessary”, Mario Draghi said.

The ECB president was giving a speech opening Monday’s works at the ‘ECB Forum on Central Banking’, organised by the ECB in Sintra and which began on Sunday and is to continue until Tuesday.

And our first electoral story, via EUbusiness:

Europe’s leaders urge EU reform after eurosceptic poll wins

France’s President Francois Hollande Monday called for reining in Brussels’ power after eurosceptic and far-right parties scored stunning success in EU polls, sending shock waves through the continent’s political landscape.

“Earthquake” in Europe, read the headlines after European parliamentary elections ended Sunday, summing up a day of trauma for establishment parties and the accepted consensus that the European Union offers the best future for all.

Hollande went on national television to call for the EU to reduce its role which he said had become for many citizens “remote and incomprehensible”.

More from United Press International:

European Parliament election results illustrate growing dismay with economic austerity measures

The European parliamentary election results are in. While pro-EU parties are expected to retain the majority of the 751 seats in the new legislature, so-called Euroskeptic parties who oppose the EU made significant gains.

According to European politics expert Simon Usherwood, who spoke to CNN about the election results, “They don’t have enough votes to stop legislation going through but what they will get particularly on the far right, is the time for speaking in debates, the chairmanship of certain committees, which means that they’re going to have much more of a platform on which they can sell their message to voters.”

And ominous new additions from EUbusiness:

European Parliament set to usher in first neo-Nazis

Though no stranger to controversy or diatribe, the European Parliament is set to usher in its first fully-fledged neo-Nazis members, from Germany and Greece.

With around 300,000 votes at Sunday’s European elections the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is expected to claim one of the country’s 96 seats in the new Parliament, in a historical ground-breaker.

A recent change in German electoral laws, scrapping all minimum thresholds, paved the way for the march into parliament of the NPD, which has 6,000 members. It describes itself as “national socialist,” just like Germany’s Nazis in the 1930s, and is openly xenophobic and anti-semitic so a group of German regional governments have tried to have it banned for propagating racism.

EurActiv looks on the bright side:

Europe on course for ‘grand coalition’ after election

Despite a rise in anti-European parties, political balances remained broadly unchanged in the European Parliament following the elections yesterday, with the centre-right and centre-left parties on track for a grand coalition.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won 212 seats in the European parliament, followed by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), with 186 seats (out of 751). In the last European election, the EPP won 265 seats and the S&D 184. The Parliament was slightly larger at the time, counting a total of 766 seats.

This is the fourth consecutive victory for the EPP since the 1999 election and another disappointment for the Socialists, who failed to reverse the balance of power in Parliament, despite the popular resentment over austerity.

A different take from EUobserver:

New EP will struggle to find majorities

It will take days if not weeks for the political dust to settle after the EU vote but it is already clear that the new European Parliament will need to work harder to find majorities with discussions on issues such as migration and free trade deals set to become more polarised.

While the centre-right EPP gained the most seats in the EU vote, it lost around sixty seats compared to 2009, while the centre-left S&D came second, but did less well than expected. Together the two parties hold a majority (403) in the 751-strong EP, under current group projections, but it is a slim majority (54%).

“That means that in areas where only the S&D and the EPP agree, that will not be enough, they will have to get votes from some other places,” said VoteWatch’s Doru Frantescu at a post-election analysis on Monday (26 May).

On to Britain, and exuberance from an EU foe from Sky News:

Nigel Farage: ‘My Dream Has Become Reality’

  • UKIP’s leader likens the main parties to goldfish out of water “desperately gasping for air”, after his Euro election victory.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his “dream” of “causing an earthquake in British politics” has come true.

Mr Farage was speaking at a press conference after UKIP’s first win in a national election – the first time in more than 100 years a party other than Labour or the Conservatives has finished top.

He described the “legacy parties” as “like goldfish that have just been tipped out of the bowl onto the floor, desperately gasping for air and clinging on to the comfort blanket that this is a protest vote”.

The Guardian hears from Boris the Bloviator, the neocon’s friend:

Boris Johnson: Eurosceptic success due to ‘peasants’ revolt’

  • London mayor says European election results are expression of revulsion and a signal for the EU to change or die

Boris Johnson has described Ukip voters as peasants in revolt after Eurosceptic parties swept to victory across the union.

The London mayor painted a scene of “pitchfork-wielding populists” converging on Brussels “drunk on local hooch and chanting nationalist slogans and preparing to give the federalist machinery a good old kicking with their authentically folkloric clogs”.

Writing in the Telegraph, he compared Eurosceptic parties, including Ukip, Dutch rightwing firebrands and Greek anti-capitalists, to people taking part in “a kind of peasants’ revolt” or a “jacquerie” – a bloody uprising against the French nobility in 1358.

From the Independent, a loser struggles:

European elections 2014: Nick Clegg faces fight for survival after Lib Dems’ Euro disaster

Local Liberal Democrat party activists begin calling emergency meetings to force leadership contest as triumphant Nigel Farage predicts Ukip will hold balance of power at next year’s general election

Nick Clegg failed to quell a grassroots revolt by Liberal Democrat activists on Monday night as they stepped up an attempt to oust him following the party’s disastrous performance in the European elections.

After the Deputy Prime Minister refused to fall on his sword, The Independent learnt that activists had begun to call emergency meetings of local parties across the country in order to force a leadership election. They require the backing of 75 parties to trigger a contest.

Ditto from Sky News:

EU Must Reform For Jobs And Growth – Cameron

  • The Prime Minister tells fellow EU leaders they must reform the 28-nation bloc in the wake of successes for eurosceptic parties.

David Cameron has called fellow European leaders and urged them to “seize the opportunity” for reform on jobs and growth following the European Elections.

In a series of phone calls the Prime Minister urged them to “heed the views expressed at the ballot box” over recent days.

His intervention came ahead of today’s Informal European Council dinner in Brussels, where leaders are expected to discuss the results of the European poll.

Meanwhile, the austerians can proclaim another kind of victory, via the Independent:

‘If the NHS were an airline planes would fall out of the sky all the time’ says Mid Staffs inquiry chairman

Standards across the NHS have become so poor that if the health service were an airline “planes would fall out of the sky all the time”, the chairman of the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal has warned.

Robert Francis QC said the public had been given a falsely positive impression about the quality of care being provided in many of the country’s hospitals.

Mr Francis told The Telegraph: “If we ran our airlines industry on the same basis, planes would be falling out of the sky all the time. We’ve got to change the attitude that because it’s provided by the state, it’s all right for a number of people to be treated badly; well it’s not. Airlines would go out of business very quickly if they worked that way.”

Ireland next, and a win for the left from Bloomberg:

Sinn Fein Surges in Ireland as Voters Punish Austerity

Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, became the biggest party in Dublin city as voters punished the ruling coalition for three years of austerity amid a rise in protest votes across Europe.

The party has more members of Dublin City Council than any other after municipal elections on Friday and topped the Irish capital’s poll for a European Parliament seat. Support for Sinn Fein and other anti-austerity groups swelled across Ireland as they grabbed seats from government parties.

“It’s a profound change in the political landscape,” Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said in an interview posted on the Irish Independent’s website, adding the party is at its strongest in almost a century. “The government will think it can dismiss this as a bit of a scolding by the electorate, but it’s bigger and deeper than that.”

One response from Independent.ie:

Eamon Gilmore resigns as leader of Labour Party

EAMON Gilmore has warned against the Labour pulling out of government following his dramatic decision to resign as party leader.

Mr Gilmore said he “agonised” over the decision to step down which was made just hours before eight members of the Labour Parliamentary party tabled a vote of no confidence.

A new Labour leader will be put in place on July 4 following a postal ballot of all party members.

On to Iceland, and an odd election issue from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Mayoral Candidates Speak Out On Mosque Issue

In the wake of recent remarks from a mayoral candidate that she would revoke a plot of land the city of Reykjavík granted for building a mosque, numerous mayoral candidates have expressed their disagreement with this sentiment.

Vísir spoke with other candidates running for mayor, to get their reactions to recent remarks made by Progressive Party mayoral candidate Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir, who said last week that if elected mayor, she would reverse a city council decision made in January 2013 to grant Iceland’s Muslim population a plot of land on which to build a mosque.

“This is a desperate way to get votes during the last days before elections,” said Social Democrat mayoral candidate Dagur B. Eggertsson. “You don’t run a city by discriminating against people based on their religious beliefs.”

Sweden next, and harumphing from TheLocal.se:

‘Nationalists threaten EU openness’: Malmström

Sweden has in total fewer seats in Strasbourg than the French National Front does, and the upswing of nationalist parties worries Sweden’s European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

“They’re scary,” Malmström said about the rise of nationalist, extreme-right, and xenophobic parties in the European parliament elections over the weekend.

“What worries me is that their rhetoric has infected other parties.That means it could be difficult henceforth to make decisions on everything from labour migration, taking more responsibility for refugees… it won’t be easier after this.”

On to Norway, and a deal nearly done from TheLocal.no:

Rosneft to buy stake in Norway drill company

Russian state oil giant Rosneft could buy a major stake North Atlantic Drilling, a subsidiary of Norway’s Seadrill, in a deal which would give the company access to the lucrative Russian drilling market.

Norwegian shipping tycoon John Fredriksen announced the deal, which will see Rosneft book “a significant portion” of the company’s idle rigs, at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on Saturday.

“We have sought to access the growth opportunity represented by the Russian market for several years,” NADL chief executive Alf Ragnar Lovdal, said in a statement.  “After the closing of this transaction, will have created a powerful force in the Russian market and for the Arctic region.”

On to Copenhagen and more right wing triumphs via EurActiv:

Danish far right party wins in EU elections, doubles mandate

The far-right Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party has won 26.7% of the votes and becoming by far the biggest Danish party in the Parliament with four seats. The party has doubled its mandates since 2009.

Meanwhile, the two biggest parties in the Danish parliament, the Social Democrats (at 19.1%) and the Liberals (16.7%) both had poor showings, each losing a seat, leaving them at three and two seats, respectively. The Greens lost one seat, while the Conservatives, the Social Liberals and a left-wing Eurosceptic party together make up Denmark’s 13 mandates.

The Danish People’s Party has looked to Britain’s UKIP for inspiration, calling for less EU influence over Danish matters, an end to ‘benefits tourism’ and tougher border controls. After Sunday, UKIP, the Danish People’s Party and France’s National Front are the three most successful eurosceptic parties in this Parliament election. But the three parties are unlikely to work together in the same group, as the Danish People’s Party has decided to seek influence via the European Conservatives and Reformists’ group of Tory MEPs.

Germany next, with a qualified win for the Iron Chancellor via TheLocal.de:

Merkel’s party tops vote but loses ground

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives came out ahead in European Parliament elections, official results showed on Monday, but a neo-Nazi party also won a seat in Brussels, echoing far-right gains elsewhere.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU – a team that last September celebrated a landslide win at the national level – between them secured 35.3 percent of votes cast.

The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), won 300,000 votes, one percent of the total, and so wins its first seat in the 751-member European parliament.

Another winner from EUbusiness:

German’s anti-euro professor Bernd Lucke scores in EU polls

Bernd Lucke, an economics professor with boyish looks, seems an unlikely revolutionary, but in little over a year he has led his German anti-euro party from the political wilderness straight into the European parliament.

Lucke’s small Alternative for Germany (AfD) party demands nothing less than Germany’s return to its once beloved Deutschmark, an end to EU bailouts and the orderly dissolution of the euro common currency.

Like populist leaders elsewhere in Europe, Lucke wants to repatriate many powers from Brussels to the national level, although he doesn’t want to scrap the EU itself — a stance summed up in the vague campaign motto “Have Courage to Be Germany”.

And a predictable reaction from EUbusiness:

German Jews shocked at far right’s EU success

The leader of Germany’s Jewish community Monday denounced gains made by far-right parties in EU-wide elections and urged democratic forces to block their path and defend European values.

Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the extremist parties performed “shockingly well”, as feared, in Sunday’s European parliamentary vote.

He pointed to France, Hungary and Greece, saying in a statement: “Right-wing MPs are now coming into the European Parliament from all over Europe in order to implement their anti-European and extremist course.”

“Democratic parties are now called on to curb this way of thinking and to defend and maintain European values,” Graumann said.

More of the same from TheLocal.de:

Steinmeier ‘horrified’ at far-right seat win

Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday he was horrified that the neo-Nazi party, the NPD, had won a seat in the European Parliament. Jewish leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced concern about the rise of the far right.

“There is no doubt that many populist, eurosceptic and even nationalistic parties are entering the European Parliament,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, speaking on NTV television.

“In some countries it won’t be as bad as had been feared, for example in the Netherlands, but France’s National Front is a severe signal, and it horrifies me that the NPD from Germany will be represented in the parliament,” he said, referring to the extremist anti-immigrant National Democratic Party of Germany.

From Deutsche Welle, a reminder:

Audi comes clean about its Nazi past

A historical probe commissioned by the German car maker Audi revealed Monday that the company’s predecessor exploited thousands of slave laborers under the Nazi dictatorship.

German car maker Audi unveiled a dark chapter in its history on Monday, saying its predecessor company had exploited slave labor under the Nazi regime on a massive scale.

A historical investigation commissioned by the company found that thousands of concentration camp inmates had been forced to work for Auto Union, an automobile manufacturer founded in 1932 and a forerunner company of today’s Audi AG .

Audi is the last major German car company, after Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, to come clean about its Nazi-era history, and the study marked a clear push to be more transparent about that past.

On to Brussels and a post-election quit from euronews:

Belgian PM hands in resignation after defeat in elections

Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has handed his government’s resignation to the King. It comes after this weekend’s general election which saw his Socialist party defeated.

The palace confirmed that King Philip had accepted the resignation and that the government would continue in its job until a new one was sworn in.

The Flemish separatist party N-VA won 32 percent of the vote, while the Socialists managed 30 percent. The NVA wants to dissolve Belgium and have it become a confederation of regional governments divided along linguistic lines.

On to France and explanation of sorts from TheLocal.fr:

‘We’re not racist, just angry’ say French voters

The historic victory for the far-right National Front party does not mean France is a country full of racists, voters told The Local on Monday. Rather people are simply seething with anger at the main political parties’ inability to fix the economy.

There were no anti-National Front demonstrations on Monday morning in the heart of Paris, the day after the anti-EU, anti-immigrant party took first place in the European Parliament elections in France.

In fact voters shrugged their shoulders in typical Gallic fashion and told The Local they were not surprised the party had won 25 percent of the vote, beating the centre-right UMP and the Socialists by wide margins.

Predictable panic from Europe Online:

Hollande holds crisis talks on far-right win in European elections

French President Francois Hollande convened a crisis meeting Monday with several cabinet ministers to discuss the victory of the far-right National Front (FN) – and trouncing of his Socialists – in the European elections.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Finance Minister Michel Sapin were among the ministers who huddled with Hollande to discuss how to proceed after the FN became France’s biggest party in Europe.

Provisional results showed Marine Le Pen’s anti-Europe FN winning 26 per cent of Sunday’s vote, a four-fold increase on its take in the last European election in 2009.

And a pickle for a predecessor from TheLocal.fr:

Cops grill Sarkozy ally over €400m state payout

A right-hand man to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning on Monday over his role in a highly controversial state payout to disgraced former tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Claude Gueant, a former interior minister who also served as Sarkozy’s chief of staff, was placed in custody after he arrived at the headquarters of France’s fraud squad to clarify his role in the €400 million($557-million) payout to Tapie in 2008.

The payment was connected to a dispute between the businessman and partly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over his 1993 sale of sportswear group Adidas.

Next, Austria, and more electoral results from TheLocal.at:

EU Election: ÖVP defends first place

Austria’s conservative ÖVP (People’s Party) has emerged the winner in Sunday’s European elections, in spite of slight losses compared to its result in the 2009 elections.

According to preliminary results the ÖVP won 27.3 percent of the vote.  The SPÖ received 23.8 percent, almost unchanged in second place.

Both the right wing, eurosceptic FPÖ (Freedom Party), and the Grüne (Greens) made strong gains, coming in at third and fourth place respectively, with 19.5 percent and 15.1 percent.

The FPÖ made gains of 6.8 percent and will double its seats in the European Parliament – with four instead of two representatives.

Off to Poland with New Europe:

Poland’s ruling party, opposition share seats in European Parliament

Poland’s ruling Civic Platform (PO) and opposition Law and Justice (PIS) parties each took 19 seats in the European parliament after the European elections Sunday, according to preliminary results.

PO secured 31.29 percent and PIS 32.35 percent in voting in Poland. Social Democrats, New Right and Polish Peasant’s Party won five seats, four seats and four seats respectively, according to results from 91 percent of the polling stations in the country.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Sunday a low turnout in European Parliament elections “is a problem not only in Poland, but I would like to see a time when everyone … sees voting as something positive.”

Hungary next, via EUobserver:

Hungarian PM breaks ranks on Juncker

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will not support Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid to become president of the European Commission even if the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) wins the European elections.

Orban is the first EPP leader to publicly break ranks on the issue.

“We don’t think he should lead the Commission,” Orban said in an interview with Hir TV on the eve of the election.

The EPP supported Orban’s ruling Fidesz party when the government was under criticism over questions of rule of law, media freedom and constitutional changes. Orban said “there is no way” he would vote for Juncker.

Next, Romania, via EUbusiness:

Ruling Social Democrats win Romania EU vote: official results

Romania’s ruling left-wing alliance led by the Social Democrats won 37.6 percent of the vote in European parliamentary elections, official results showed Monday.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s PSD won 16 seats according to official data issued after 99.99 percent of Sunday’s ballots had been counted.

The EU’s second-poorest country since joining the bloc in 2007, Romania will send 32 legislators to the European Parliament. The opposition National Liberal Party came second with around 15 percent of the vote, giving them six seats.

Portugal next, with EurActiv:

Socialists win in Portugal, stay second in Spain

Portugal’s main opposition Socialists won elections for the European Parliament yesterday in an austerity-weary country which earlier this month exited an international bailout. In Spain, the opposition Socialists came second, but both centre-left and centre-right lost support compared to 2009.

With more than 99% of the vote counted, the centre-left Socialists had won with 31.45% of the ballot that was marked by high abstention levels at over 66%.

The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s Social Democrats and their smaller rightist partner CDS-PP that implemented painful cuts over the three years of bailout, garnered 27.7%.

It was followed by the Communist-Greens alliance, with 12.7% and the agrarian-environmentalist Partido da Terra (Party of the Earth), which built its campaign on disillusionment with traditional political parties.

El País takes us to Spain:

Spain’s two-party system dealt major blow in EU elections

  • Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE) fail to attract even 50 percent of the vote
  • But xenophobe and anti-European parties fail to make any headway in Spanish polls

Spain’s two main parties, which have been taking turns in power since 1977, obtained their worst results in democratic history at the European elections on Sunday.

Together, the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) failed to attract even 50 percent of the vote, compared with the 80 percent they garnered at the 2009 EU elections.

This massive loss of support reflects the rapid rise of smaller parties that portray the two main players as being similarly corrupt, beholden to money and unable to effectively deal with the economic crisis.

El País again, with another resignation:

Socialist leader throws in the towel after poor showing at European elections

  • Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba calls extraordinary party meeting in July to choose new leadership

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and his team have decided to throw in the towel. In the wake of the Socialist Party’s (PSOE) poor showing at Sunday’s European elections, the leader of the main opposition group in Spain’s Congress has called an extraordinary party meeting for July 19 and 20. The order of the day will be choosing a new general secretary, given Rubalcaba’s decision to bow out.

“The meeting will serve for us to choose new leadership for the party,” he told the press on Monday. “I am assuming my responsibility for the results.”

Rubalcaba described Sunday’s election results – which saw the PSOE take just 14 seats, with 23.03 percent of the vote – as “bad, with no palliatives.” The Popular Party (PP), which is currently in power in Spain, took 16 seats (26.04 percent) at a poll that saw the two main parties secure their worst results in democratic history.

And El País one more time, with a symbolic result:

Town with controversial “Killjews” name votes in favor of change

  • Burgos municipality will become “Little Fort on Jew Hill” following local referendum

The end has come for Castrillo Matajudíos, the small village in Burgos province that gained global notoriety after announcing it would hold a referendum on May 25 to consider a name change from the current “Little Hill-Fort of Jew Killers.”

“Everyone is watching expectantly to see what we will do: in Italy, in New York…” said Mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez a few days before the vote, which was made to coincide with elections to the European Parliament.

The uncertainty came to an end at 8pm on Sunday, when the vote count showed a majority support for changing the village’s name to Castrillo de Mota de Judíos, or Little Hill-Fort on Jew Hill. “Mota” means hill or mound in Spanish, and the mayor has posited that this was probably the community’s original name before a spelling mistake on an official document changed it to Matajudíos in 1623.

Off to Italy and a market response from TheLocal.it:

Italian stocks surge after Renzi’s EU victory

Italian stocks rocketed up 3.61 percent on Monday after Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party swept to victory in the European Elections, claiming 40.8 percent against of the vote against 21.2 percent for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and 16.8 percent for disgraced former leader Silvio Berlusconi.

The victory will give Renzi’s centre-left party a leading voice in Europe and bolster his ambitious reform programme.

The landslide gives the party the highest number of MEPs among Europe’s leftists and was one of the best showings for any European leader – a far higher result than the 25.4 percent it scored in a 2013 general election.

Cheering up also-rans with ANSA:

Grillo tells M5S supporters not to lose heart

  • Leader tells supporters M5S opposition will do more

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), urged his followers Monday to not lose heart despite the political party’s failure to do as well as it expected in the European elections that ended Sunday.

“Do not be discouraged, (I am) confident that we can move forward,” said Grillo, whose party won 21.16% of votes, in second place behind the ruling Democratic Party (PD) with 40.81%.

The M5S will make its mark as a strong opposition force that will demand positive changes to Italy, added Grillo in comments posted on his blog, one of his favoured methods of communication.

ANSA again, with more also-rans:

Berlusconi says FI remains ‘linchpin’ despite poor result

  • Ex-premier says his ‘guiding star’ is uniting moderates

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that his Forza Italia (FI) is the linchpin of the centre right and a “decisive partner” of the Italian government despite placing third in European Parliament elections. Premier Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) took almost 41% of Sunday’s vote while FI captured less than 17%. Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment, Euroskeptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) took 21.16%.

Berlusconi was unable to stand or even vote in the election after being ejected from parliament following a binding tax-fraud conviction last year. The three-time premier and his supporters say that conviction is the result of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary who are trying to eliminate him from Italy’s public life. Berlusconi said that despite the poor showing, his party is still important to ensuring necessary government reforms announced by Renzi are passed.

“We are at the same time the decisive partners without which there are not the numbers in Parliament to make real reforms, definitive and lasting for the good of the country,” he said.

And some more Bunga Bunga woes from TheLocal.it:

Ex-MP ‘pilfered public money’ in Iraq deal

  • Italy’s former environment minister has been placed under house arrest for alleged embezzlement involving an Iraq water deal.

Corrado Clini, who served as environment minister with Mario Monti’s government, allegedly stole over €3 million from public money that was meant to fund a water purification project in Iraq, Corriere della Sera reported.

A businessman from Padua, whose company oversaw the deal in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates basin, was also placed under house arrest by Italy’s Finance Police on Monday morning, the newspaper added.

They face charges of embezzlement against the Italian ministry of environment, land and sea.

After the jump, its on to Greece and Syriza’s win and woes for the losers, the latest electoral and uprising news from the Ukraine, electioneering and ridicule in Egypt, intensified turmoil in Libya, Brazilian pre-World Cups woes and tensions, elections in Colombia and Venezuela, more austerity Down Under [targeting jobless youth], Macau unrest, Indian triumphalism, Thai troubles, more signs of a Chinese slowdown, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

For our first Greek story, a reminder of the reality from ANSAmed:

Economy: Elstat, Greek trade deficit up 14.7% in March

Greece’s trade deficit grew 14.7% year on year in March, reaching 1.82 billion euros, compared to 1.58 billion in the same month of 2013, daily Kathimerini online reports quoting data released from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (Elstat) on Monday.

The total value of imports (including oil products) in March 2014 amounted to 3.97 billion euros, which was an increase of 7.1% compared to a year earlier.

The total value of exports (including oil products) came to 2.15 billion euros, which was up 1.4% on the figure from March 2013.

From EnetEnglish.gr, the winner’s demand:

Tsipras demands snap elections

  • Syriza leader Alexis wants government to submit major policy moves and appointments for his approval
  • A victorious Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras pushes hard for early elections, depicting a government hostage to opposition approval

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras is rushing to capitalise on a major electoral victory, telling President Karolos Papoulias that he seeks general elections as soon as possible and demands a say in all top policy decisions and appointments that will have a lasting economic or political impact.

Tsipras minced no words in describing a political landscape where the government will be hostage to the opposition in implementing  major decisions. Touching on the core of governmental and prime ministerial authority, Tsipras declared that Samaras should “not even think about” appointing the next governor of the Bank of Greece or the country’s next European Commissioner without Syriza approval.

Asserting that the government has ready plans for a series of new austerity measures, Tsipras warned the government not to go ahead with their implementation. He also warned against the sale or lease of seaside and naturally protected lands owned by the state, as well as the against the privatisation of water companies.

Greek Reporter hears from the primary loser:

Samaras Says Election Loss Changes Nothing

Despite a loss of some 3.8 percent to the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in European Parliament elections, Greece’s Prime Minister and New Democracy conservative leader Antonis Samaras said his coalition with the PASOK socialists has endured and there won’t be early national balloting.

Samaras, though, was said to be licking his wounds enough to consider yet another Cabinet reshuffle as SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras touted an historic win by a far-leftist party and said the government’s defeat was a referendum against the ongoing austerity measures it imposed on orders of international lenders.

Samaras didn’t agree and said his administration would forge on as though nothing had changed. The vote coincided with that for local municipalities that showed SYRIZA doing well in Attica and the Athens area but New Democracy still dominant around the country despite being blamed for big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings.

One response from Neos Kosmos:

Cabinet reshuffle on the cards

The Greek PM and his coalition partner are said to be planning a bold reshuffle to refresh the government following the European Parliament elections on Sunday

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos are said to be planning a bold reshuffle to refresh the government and show that they have heeded the message sent in European Parliament elections on Sunday when leftist SYRIZA achieved a historic victory.

SYRIZA garnered 26.5 percent in the vote, leaving Samaras’s conservative New Democracy in second place with 22.7 percent while neofascist Golden Dawn got 9.4 percent. Elia (Olive Tree), the PASOK-backed center-left alliance, garnered 8 percent, with newcomer To Potami getting 6.6 percent, followed by the Communist Party (KKE) on 6 percent and Independent Greeks with 2.7 percent. Democratic Left, formerly the third party in the coalition, got a crushing 1.2 percent.

Kathimerini English finds neo-Nazi support:

Golden Dawn performs well at polling stations used by police

The extreme-right Golden Dawn appears to have gained on average double the support at polling stations used by police serving in the capital who cannot go home to vote.

At at least three voting stations for police officers as well as other citizens at an election center in Ambelokipi, central Athens, GD – which was third with 9.4 percent at Sunday’s European Parliament polls – obtained well above 20 percent. Conservative coalition leader New Democracy came first at all three stations, but with a tissue-thin margin ranging between 0.27 and 1.64 percent.

GD, which polled less than 0.5 percent in the 2009 European election, came third at the other four stations, which were also used by the general public in the same electoral center, garnering between 16.05 and 19.32 percent, well above its national average.

Kathimerini English again, with some geographical nuance:

ND clinches most regions but loses Attica

Local and regional elections conducted alongside European Parliament polls on Sunday produced a mixed picture, with conservative New Democracy prevailing in most of Greece’s 13 regions but leftist SYRIZA clinching the key governorship of Attica, which is home to about a third of Greeks.

The leftists’ candidate Rena Dourou edged out Attica Governor Yiannis Sgouros by winning 50.8 percent, over the latter’s 49.1 percent, in the closest result of the night.

Her victory was a significant blow for New Democracy, whose candidate for Attica was beaten in the first round of voting. But the re-election of Giorgos Kaminis as Athens mayor, the coalition-backed candidate who won a close race against SYRIZA challenger Gavriil Sakellaridis, offset the loss of Attica to the leftists.

ANA-MPA hears from another loser, now reduced to the margins:

PASOK’s Venizelos lashes out at main opposition leader

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos – whose party is the coalition government’s junior partner – on Monday lashed out at main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, in response to the latter’s statements after meeting with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias.

Venizelos accused Tsipras of following a “clearly unconstitutional and dead-end line of action,” adding that the SYRIZA leader “wants to create artificial euphoria and tension, after the failure of his policy of onslaught”.

Addressing the joint meeting of the party’s political council and electoral committee secretariat, Venizelos said that Tsipras called for general elections based on the European election results, clarifying that his request is not constitutionally based, as “the relevant constitutional regulation was amended in 1986″.

On to the Ukraine with euronews and some election nuance:

Ukraine: low election support for nationalist parties

Russian media is said to have blamed much of Ukraine’s unrest on nationalist and radical parties, even claiming that fascist ideas were popular amongst voters.

Ihor Miroshnichenko, a nationalist Svoboda party candidate who got just over
one percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, says that’s not the case. “I don’t know what Putin will dream up next, but I’m sure he will find something. He will find some way of intimidating Russians,” said Miroshnichenko.

Political expert Yevhen Mahda, said the president’s first round electoral win is a stab in the back of Russia’s propaganda.

More from EUobserver:

EU endorses Ukraine election, awaits Russian reaction

European election monitors and EU officials have endorsed Ukraine’s new, pro-Western leader, but doubts remain on Russia’s next move.

“According to our observers, in 98 percent of the polling stations we observed, the voting was assessed positively,” Tana de Zulueta, a former Italian MP who led the monitoring team, told press in Kiev on Monday (26 May).

“We received no reports of any misuse of administrative resources,” she added.

New Europe goes on the assault:

With new president, Kiev launches air strikes against separatists

Ukrainian military has launched an offensive backed by combat aircraft at the main airport in Donetsk following its seizure by armed separatists.

The main airport in Donetsk, the separatists’ “capital” in eastern Ukraine, shut down earlier on Monday 26 May, after armed pro-Russian irregulars demanded that soldiers guarding the perimeter of the airport be withdrawn. Heavy fighting was heard from the airport, with fighter jets and military helicopters flying overhead.

The development came as the leader of the separatist, self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” said he was imposing martial law in the region. Denis Pushilin said in a tweet that martial law went into effect at 0000 on May 26.

Next up, Africa, starting in Egypt and a post-coup election from Deutsche Welle:

Egyptian votes for president, ex-army chief el-Sissi expected to win

Egyptians have voted to elect a new president with ex-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi widely expected to win. It’s the first presidential election since the army deposed Islamist president Morsi last year

The two-day presidential polls opened on Monday for some 53 million registered voters in Egypt.

Ex-army chief el-Sissi, who led Morsi’s overthrow in July, is expected to crush his only rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi.

On Friday, el-Sissi called for a high turnout in the election, “You need to go down now more than any other time in (the country’s) history. Go down, show to the entire world that there are 40, 45 (million) or even more” voters casting their ballots, el-Sissi said at a campaign rally.

Egypt Independent hears from the ousted elected president:

Morsy watches election on TV, calls it a farce

Sources with access to deposed President Mohamed Morsy inside Borg al-Arab prison reported his reaction to the media coverage on the first day of the presidential elections on Monday.

“I swear this is a farce,” Morsy reportedly said repeatedly while watching the election from his solitary confinement cell.

Prison sources said Morsy did not leave his cell for a break and insisted on watching the queues of voters. “This is a full fledged coup,” he shouted to the guards, refusing his meal. “Since when does a legitimate president eat prison food? I am fasting today.”

Libya next, and sharpening divisions from CNN:

Libya’s parliament approves new government

Libya’s interim parliament Sunday approved a new government, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Mitig, in a controversial vote that threatens to deepen the country’s political and security crisis.

A total of 83 of 93 members present voted in favor of Mitig’s government.

Lawmakers in the Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC) defied a threat issued by militias allied with renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who promised to storm, raid and arrest members.

And more violence from BBC News:

Libyan journalist Meftah Buzeid shot dead in Benghazi

  • Meftah Buzeid Meftah Buzeid last appeared on television on Sunday, discussing the latest political impasse

Prominent Libyan journalist Meftah Buzeid, known for his fierce criticism of Islamist militias, has been shot dead in the city of Benghazi.

He was the editor of the Burniq newspaper and had regularly appeared on television challenging the rise of such groups since the 2011 revolution.

Earlier this month he supported the military campaign of a renegade general to crush Islamist militias.

Latin America next and a familiar problems from PRI’s The World:

Mexicans are dealing with the same drought as their northern neighbors, but with less water

Ensenada in the Mexican state of Baja California [is] a fast-growing place that’s popular with tourists and American retirees.

But since January, the entire city has been rationing water. Each neighborhood is supposed to get water two to three days a week. But some say it’s more like once a week, and maybe for just a few hours.

The reason is the same as what’s plaguing much of California: a serious drought. “Winter wasn’t winter,” says Arturo Alvarado, who runs the city’s water system. “It wasn’t cold. It didn’t rain.”

From BuzzFeed, recycling history:

Miami’s Venezuelans Are Starting To Drive U.S. Policy Like Their Cuban Neighbors

Congress is moving forward with a bill imposing sanctions on officials in the government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. A small but vocal group of expats build a base in Florida.

The emigres who gather at El Arepazo restaurant to gossip, drink, and conspire are a familiar local type: Combative and obsessed with changing the regime at home.

But while Miami Cubans have a long tradition of shaping U.S. foreign policy toward their island, these new emigres are Venezuelan. And their goal is to impose the sort of isolation on the leftist government in Caracas with which Washington has tried — and failed — for half a century to end Communism in Cuba.

They have, so far, been successful: The people who assemble here below a statue of Simon Bolivar are regulars in the local and national media, have helped push a bill imposing sanctions on associates of President Nicolas Maduro through the key committees in both the House and Senate. This week, it’ll arrive in the House of Representatives with the strong backing of a local congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

From BBC News, more election news:

Wives of jailed Venezuelan opposition mayors win in polls

  • People in San Diego and San Cristobal voted for new mayors after the previous office holders were jailed

The wives of two jailed opposition mayors in Venezuela have won elections to replace them. The two women, whose husbands were sentenced earlier this year over their failure to contain opposition protests, won by a landslide.

Venezuela has been disrupted by mass anti-government protests since early February. Talks between the government and the opposition to resolve the crisis are currently stalled.

On to Brazil, and more pre-World Cup turmoil from the Buenos Aires Herald:

Striking teachers attack coach carrying Brazil players

The bus carrying Brazil’s World Cup squad to their first day of training was kicked and punched by demonstrators angry at what they consider exorbitant spending on football and not enough on social programmes.

A small group of striking teachers attacked the bus as it left Rio de Janeiro for the mountain town of Teresopolis, where the squad will be based during the tournament.

The teachers covered the bus with stickers as Barcelona players Neymar and Dani Alves looked on from inside.

CNNMoney casts doubt on a rationale:

World Cup won’t lift Brazil’s economy

Some said they were upset with lavish spending on sports events at the expense of the social safety net in a country beset with gross inequality.

Brazilians are right to doubt the economic benefits of hosting the World Cup, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service. The credit rating agency argues that new infrastructure spending associated with the event is small for the $2 trillion economy, and benefits to businesses will be fleeting.

“We see little impact on Brazil considering the limited duration of the World Cup and the size of the country’s economy,” Moody’s said.

From MercoPress, yet another election:

Colombia: Zuluaga and Santos, plus allies, will decide on the peace dialogue on 15 June

Right-wing opposition candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won most votes in Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday but fell short of a first-round victory and will face President Juan Manuel Santos in a close runoff on 15 June.

Critics say Zuluaga is Uribe’s puppet and that the former president would rule from behind the scenes if his candidate wins the runoff. Critics say Zuluaga is Uribe’s puppet and that the former president would rule from behind the scenes if his candidate wins the runoff.

Zuluaga, who has fiercely opposed Santos’ peace talks with Marxist guerrilla leaders, took first place with 29.3% of the vote on Sunday, while Santos trailed with 25.7%. And as neither man won the 50% needed for first-round victory, they now go to a runoff.

The election was seen as a plebiscite on Santos’ strategy of negotiating with rebel leaders to end a 50-year-old war that has killed some 200,000 people and displaced six million mostly peasants. Despite the significance of the vote it is estimated that abstention was a record 60%.

Off to Australasia, starting Down Under with the Guardian:

Young unemployed could be denied welfare for longer than six months

  • Income support for unemployed people under 30 may be blocked beyond the six-month period the government announced

Unemployed young people could be denied income support for longer than the six months a year the government has flagged in the budget, with penalties applying if they miss job search interviews.

Guardian Australia understands the six-month period without any income support could be extended by a further two months if unemployed people under 30 miss appointments. If a certain number are missed then there is no way for the penalties to be waived, regardless of the person’s circumstances.

Under-30s will be denied Newstart or the Youth Allowance for six months of the year, in changes unveiled in the budget. Single parents and others will be exempt from the loss of income support, and people will be able to access income support if they take up a training or education course.

And on to New Delhi and a victor triumphant with India Today:

Team Modi sworn in: 24 in Cabinet, 20 get Ministers of State

Narendra Modi was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India a short while ago. In a grand ceremony at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday evening, President Pranab Mukherjee administered oath of office and secrecy to Modi and his Cabinet ministers.

The venue was packed with more than 3,500 dignitaries, including the heads of Saarc countries, including Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Nepal PM Sushil Koirala, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

From The Hill, Obama endorses another right wing ultranationalist:

Hopes run high for new Indian prime minister

President Obama offered his official congratulations to the new prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, on Monday.

As Modi was sworn in at the presidential palace in Delhi, White House press secretary Jay Carney passed along the White House’s sentiments and said that the two countries “share a deep bond and commitment to promoting economic opportunity, freedom, and security for our people and around the world.”

“We look forward to working closely together with the new government to continue to strengthen and expand the U.S.-India strategic partnership for years to come,” he added.

The Financial Express covers another source of support:

India Inc banks on PM Narendra Modi for turning around economy

Congratulating Narendra Modi on becoming the Prime Minister, India Inc today said it is looking forward to an era of renewed trust and expressed confidence that the nation will leapfrog into a higher orbit of growth creating more jobs, income and social stability.

“Indian industry would build on its association with the Prime Minister to forge an extensive partnership with the new Government and facilitate a conducive climate for growth and investment,” CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee said.

“We are delighted to see a lean team. A lean teamwork would definitely lead to effective governance,” he added.

Indonesia next, and yet another election via New Europe:

Negative campaigns rampant prior to presidential election in Indonesia

Negative campaigns that denounce and discredit the two hopeful pairings running in July 9 presidential election in Indonesia have been rampant in social media at the moment, irked the candidates and made the president issue warning on possible bad public perception on the president- elect.

Indonesians have been seeing and reading the negative campaign, popularly known as black campaign, which denounces past performance, personal life and even the religious obedience of the candidates that commonly found in social media like twitter and Facebook and internet blog websites since April.

Prabowo Subianto, the president candidate from Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party, has been bombarded with allegations that he committed human rights abuses during his service with the army. The former general was also accused of having double citizenships as he had long been staying in Jordan after his resignation from the army.

Off to Thailand and another way to change your government from Jiji Press:

Thai Coup Leader Meets with Japanese Businessmen

The head of the ruling military junta in Thailand has met with local representatives of Japanese businesses in Bangkok.

The meeting between Army Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who chairs the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, and senior officials of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in the Thai capital took place on Sunday evening for some one hour, according to officials of the Japanese business organization.

During the meeting, held at the request of Prayuth, the leader of Thursday’s coup said the junta has to focus on security measures for the time being. But he quickly added that sufficient consideration will be given to economic activities, including safety of foreign investors.

JapanToday admonishes:

Thai coup leader: Don’t protest, it’s no use

Bolstered by an endorsement from Thailand’s king, the nation’s new military ruler issued a stark warning Monday to anyone opposed to last week’s coup: don’t cause trouble, don’t criticize, don’t protest — or else the nation could revert to the “old days” of turmoil and street violence.

Speaking in his first press conference since seizing power, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha justified the army takeover saying he had restore order after seven months of increasingly violent confrontations between the now-ousted government and demonstrators who had long urged the army to intervene.

“I’m not here to argue with anyone. I want to bring everything out in the open and fix it,” said Prayuth, who spoke at the army headquarters in Bangkok dressed in a crisp white military uniform.

Next up, resentment boils over with the South China Morning Post:

Macau ministers’ retirement deals may face rethink after thousands protest

  • Macau chief executive pledges to table an amended version amid unprecedented outcry over payouts for leader and ministers

After an unprecedented protest in Macau on Sunday, a controversial bill to give generous retirement packages to the outgoing chief executive and ministers will be put on hold.

In what was described as the biggest march since the handover in the former Portuguese colony, thousands took to the streets to protest against the bill, which was due to be approved today.

But in a dramatic turn, Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on called on Legislative Assembly president Ho Iat-seng yesterday to drop the item. Chui said the government would table an amended bill in the near future.

China next, and more signs of slowdown from Global Times:

Slowdown expected in retail sales growth

China’s retail sales, a key indicator for consumer spending, will only rise by around 12.4 percent in the second quarter from a year ago due to downward pressure on the economy and increasing risks in the property market, a government think tank said in a report on Monday.

The forecast of 12.4 percent growth is higher than the first quarter’s actual growth of 12 percent in retail sales but still falls below the annual growth target of 14.5 percent.

The slowdown in upgrading of the country’s consumption structure and downward pressure on the economy has weakened consumers’ confidence, the State Information Center said in a report published by China Securities Journal on Monday.

More signs of trouble a-brewin’ from Bloomberg News:

PBOC Cuts Corporate Yield Spread Most Since Crisis: China Credit

China’s corporate borrowing costs are falling the most since the global financial crisis as the central bank eases monetary policy to revive bond issuance and spur a flagging economy.

The extra yield over sovereign notes that AAA rated companies pay to sell three-year bonds has dropped 60 basis points since March 31 to 126 basis points, the most for any quarter in Bloomberg-compiled data going back to 2007. Falling borrowing costs have encouraged 1.005 trillion yuan ($161 billion) of onshore yuan debt offerings in the period, poised to surpass 1.012 trillion yuan in the whole of the first quarter.

The expanding bond market is helping Premier Li Keqiang as he seeks to staunch off-balance sheet lending known as shadow banking while ensuring companies get enough cash to avoid default as manufacturing activity and the property market cool. The PBOC pumped 120 billion yuan into the economy last week, the most since January.

And another one from Nikkei Asian Review:

Cash-hungry Chinese developers cutting bargains on homes

Eager to pay down their debts, Chinese real estate companies are increasingly resorting to lower prices in an attempt to move unsold homes.

Developers are also starting to hold back new residential projects, threatening the biggest driver of China’s economic growth besides infrastructure spending.

Home prices in some of the nation’s biggest cities soared in the second half of 2013, jumping more than 20% on the year here and in Beijing. But the run-up is losing steam fast.

A midtier real estate company in Hangzhou has lowered prices of some homes near West Lake, a World Heritage site, by more than 40% to 15,000 yuan ($2,400) per square meter.

And SINA English covers a $32 billion bubble reinflation effort:

Central govt injects 200b yuan subsidy for housing projects

The Chinese central government appropriated 200.3 billion yuan in 2013 to help facilitate the building of government-subsidized housing, the rebuilding of dilapidated areas and related infrastructure, said a government report here Monday.

“The government-subsidized housing projects continue to make progress,” said a report on China’s human rights in 2013, issued by the State Council Information Office.

In 2013, construction of 6.6 million government-subsidized housing units and housing units in dilapidated areas started, and 5.4 million were basically finished, according to the report.

On to Japan and straight to Fukushimapocalypse Now!

From Kyodo News, chillin’ out:

Regulator OKs construction of underground ice wall at Fukushima plant

Japan’s nuclear regulator said Monday it will allow Tokyo Electric Power Co. to begin construction of an underground ice wall at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in June as planned, after dispelling a key safety concern.

The frozen wall, to be set up around the buildings housing the Nos. 1 to 4 reactors hit by the 2011 nuclear disaster, is seen as an important measure to address the buildup of radioactive water at the complex. The project is funded by the government.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has been wary of the impact of ground sinking that may occur in implementing the project, but it accepted TEPCO’s explanation the same day that tilting of the ground supporting the reactor and adjacent turbine buildings will not be significant enough to undermine safety.

NHK WORLD mandates:

Court tells TEPCO to pay evacuee’s living expense

A court has ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company to cover the living expenses for a man who evacuated after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Kyoto District Court issued the ruling last Tuesday and told the utility to pay 400-thousand yen, or about 4,000 dollars, a month for one year from May.

The man in his 40s is seeking compensation of 1.3 million dollars, arguing that he has been unable to work since the nuclear accident due to post-traumatic stress disorder. He evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture to Kyoto City on a voluntary basis.

And NHK WORLD makes a deal:

Namie evacuees accept arbitration on compensation

Officials from Namie Town, near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, say the residents who evacuated from the town after the 2011 nuclear accident have voted to accept a government arbitrator’s proposed increase in compensation.

Namie’s 15,000 residents all moved away from the town due to high levels of radiation.

Officials filed a petition last year to the Center for Settlement of Fukushima Nuclear Damage Claims, hoping to increase a monthly payment for mental suffering from 1,000 dollars to 3,500 dollars per person.

Jiji Press hopes to fire up:

Safety Check Application for Higashidori N-Plant Eyed in June

Tohoku Electric Power Co. plans to file for the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety checks for its idled Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan, next month, it was learned Monday.

The power company, which serves the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan, will shortly seek prior consent to the application from Aomori Prefecture and the village of Higashidori based on the firm’s nuclear safety agreements with the local governments, informed sources said.

Tohoku Electric is aiming to bring the plant back online in July 2015. The Higashidori plant has only one nuclear reactor that is capable of generating 1.1 million kilowatts of electricity.

While the Mainichi raises doubts:

Ruling against nuclear reactor restart favors national wealth

Opinions were split over the recent Fukui District Court ruling against the restart of reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture, but there is no doubt that this decision represents a chapter in the history of nuclear power lawsuits in Japan.

Why? Because normally in lawsuits over nuclear power plants, the plaintiffs lose and the defendants (namely, power companies and the government) win. People may have resigned themselves to thinking that, just like in the past, the latest ruling will be overturned by a high court. But in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear meltdowns those disasters triggered, the premise for such rulings has changed.

How so? Well, for one thing, skepticism has arisen among judges about the nation’s nuclear power policy. It’s unclear just how long the high court will spend hearing the appeal in the latest case, (the district court ruling took two years), but there is a possibility that even a high court will not side with the power company this time.

Meanwhile, via the Japan Times, more nukes on the way:

Bangladesh, Japan seal aid deal, agree to nuclear power talks

Visiting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed a joint statement with counterpart Shinzo Abe on Monday in Tokyo to seal Japan’s pledge to extend up to ¥600 billion in economic assistance to the country over the next four to five years.

The funds, mainly in the form of loans, will be used to build infrastructure and other projects in Bangladesh.

The two countries also agreed to launch a meeting of experts to discuss the lessons Japan has learned so far from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Abe told reporters after the meeting.

From the Chicago Tribune, other fuels, other problems:

Area poorly prepared for crude-oil train fires

  • Stocks of firefighting foam few and far between

Few Chicago-area fire departments have enough firefighting foam and equipment to respond effectively to the roaring infernos seen near Rockford and elsewhere in recent years when multiple railroad tank cars carrying flammable liquids derail and explode, the Tribune has found.

So-called unit trains, rolling pipelines with more than a hundred tank cars hauling millions of gallons of crude oil, have become game changers for emergency responders, posing new threats and requiring updated safety strategies, experts say.

Such trains have become a common sight in the Chicago area, the nation’s busiest rail hub. Each day, one-fourth of U.S. freight traffic — nearly 500 freight trains and 37,500 rail cars — passes through the city and suburbs, experts say, although it’s unknown exactly how much of this traffic is crude oil.

Yet, the majority of communities lack the thousands of gallons of foam and equipment — like airport “crash trucks” — to respond immediately and effectively to smother flames fueled by one or more railroad tank cars, officials say.

On to the environmental, starting close to home with Homeland Security News Wire:

Dramatic drop in Central Valley wintertime fog threatens California’s agricultural industry

California’s winter tule fog — hated by drivers, but needed by fruit and nut trees — has declined dramatically over the past three decades, raising a red flag for the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. Many crops go through a necessary winter dormant period brought on and maintained by colder temperatures. Tule fog, a thick ground fog that descends upon the state’s Central Valley between late fall and early spring, helps contribute to this winter chill. The findings have implications for the entire country since many of these California crops account for 95 percent of U.S. production.

California’s winter tule fog — hated by drivers, but needed by fruit and nut trees — has declined dramatically over the past three decades, raising a red flag for the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, according to researchers at UC Berkeley.

Crops such as almonds, pistachios, cherries, apricots, and peaches go through a necessary winter dormant period brought on and maintained by colder temperatures. Tule fog, a thick ground fog that descends upon the state’s Central Valley between late fall and early spring, helps contribute to this winter chill.

From United Press International, a hot time in the cold North:

Alaska wildfire spreads, evacuations ordered

“We’ve got crews out there beating these things to death as we pick them up,” Bernie Pineda, spokesperson for the interagency fire command team, told local news reporters.

The Funny River Fire — as it’s been dubbed — is no laughing matter. Days of spreading flames have left more than 193 square miles burned in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

With high winds making the flames extremely hard to predict, officials decided to evacuate more than 1,000 structures on Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. Firefighters continue to battle, but the fire is raging through wilderness that is difficult to access. The blaze is currently only 20 percent contained.

From Homeland Security News Wire, truly chilling:

Experiments with dangerous bird flu stains pose risk of accidental release

Experiments creating dangerous flu strain that are transmissible between mammals pose too great a risk to human life from potential release, according to researchers. Although experiments on these so-called novel potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs) are conducted at high levels of biosecurity, the researchers argue that they pose a substantial risk to human life. They are calling for greater scrutiny of experiments that make virulent influenza strains transmissible, and for future studies on flu transmission to use safer and more effective alternative approaches.

Experiments creating dangerous flu strains that are transmissible between mammals pose too great a risk to human life from potential release, according to an editorial by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Yale School of Public Health. The researchers are calling for greater scrutiny of experiments that make virulent influenza strains transmissible, and for future studies on flu transmission to use safer and more effective alternative approaches.

And from Deutsche Welle, another headline to cause a chill:

Sierra Leone confirms first Ebola death

At least one person has died after contracting Ebola, according to Sierra Leone’s health ministry. The deadly virus has killed over a hundred in West Africa in recent months.

After watching the Ebola virus spread across neighboring Guinea since January, officials confirmed on Monday that it had crossed into Sierra Leone, killing at least one person.

“I can categorically confirm that the Ebola sickness has materialized,” health ministry official Amara Jambai told news agency AFP. Authorities suspected several other deaths had also been caused by the virus, however that had not yet been officially determined.

BBC News gives us yet another chill:

Experts’ anger over ‘invisible’ rabies death toll

A shortage of funds for vaccinating dogs is costing the lives of tens of thousands of children every year.

The head of the world animal health organisation (OIE) told BBC News that the invisible killer could be eliminated for one tenth of the cost of treating patients.

The most recent figures suggest around 55,000 people die every year from rabies.

The Yomiuri Shimbun notes the arrival of an American invader, sometimes known as Smooth Cordgrass:

U.S. wetland grass species to be declared invasive

The Environment Ministry plans to designate as an invasive alien species Spartina alterniflora, a grass that can transform tidal wetlands—home to diverse plant and animal life—into grassland, according to ministry officials.

The designation, expected to take effect in June, comes amid increased concern that the plant will thrive further in coastal areas. Though the plan will help local governments strengthen their control measures, ministry officials say it is difficult to stop the invasion, let alone eradicate the species altogether. The grass is difficult to deal with, as simply removing it is a laborious process, they said.

“There are fears that the plant will spread further into the nation, endangering the ecosystem,” said an official at a ministry office in charge of alien plants and animals.

And for our final headline, devastating news from the GlobalPost:

Illegal logging is destroying ancient forests in the Balkans

  • An investigation shows that gangs are felling vast tracts that once gave the Balkans their name.

Last year, the ITRSV, the Environment and Climate Change Ministry’s watchdog, discovered some 21 million cubic feet of illegally cut wood in the area. That’s the equivalent of 15,000 fully loaded trucks, which would fetch $45 million.

Romania isn’t alone. In other countries across the Balkans, big business, corrupt officials, lack of investment and institutional indifference are combining to deprive the region of the resource that provided its name — the Turkish word “Balkan” means “chain of wooded mountains.”

The illegal logging is threatening national parks, putting endangered species further at risk and allowing natural disasters to become more common.

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