Category Archives: Education

Tom Toles: In the Hole from Student Debt


From the Washington Post editorial cartoonist:

Toles

Video reports: As seen from overseas


First up, from China’s CCTV America, a report on America’s record rate of people needed helping putting food on the table:

U.S. is at [Greater] Risk of Hunger Than Ever Before

Next up, a report from RT America on weekend global protests targeting an American corporate giant:

Anti-Monsanto protests hit streets around the world

Program notes:

Protesters from 52 countries and 436 cities participated in Anti-Monsanto, Anti-Genetically Modified Foods rallies over the weekend. Activists rallied, marched and held speeches to demand for GM foods to be labeled or banned altogether. RT Correspondent Meghan Lopez was at the March Against Monsanto in Washington, D.C. over the weekend and brings us her report.

Finally, from Britain’s Channel 4 News, a move to exclude American authors from reading lists in the nation’s school system:

Michael Gove vs American literature

Program notes:

The Education Secretary Michael Gove had said he wanted to see more British authors studied. It’s meant Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill and Mockingbird’ and Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ are now excluded.

Headlines: Elections, ejections, pols, pollution


We charge straight into today’s collections of headlines about politics, economics, and the environment — plus the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now! — starting ewith a pathetic news from the Guardian

IMF chief says banks haven’t changed since financial crisis

  • Christine Lagarde tells London conference banking sector is still resisting reform and taking excessive risks

Christine Lagarde told an audience in London that six years on from the deep financial crisis that engulfed the global economy, banks were resisting reform and still too focused on excessive risk taking to secure their bonuses at the expense of public trust.

She said: “The behaviour of the financial sector has not changed fundamentally in a number of dimensions since the crisis. While some changes in behaviour are taking place, these are not deep or broad enough. The industry still prizes short-term profit over long-term prudence, today’s bonus over tomorrow’s relationship.

“Some prominent firms have even been mired in scandals that violate the most basic ethical norms – Libor and foreign exchange rigging, money laundering, illegal foreclosure.”

One indication of why things haven’t changed via Bloomberg News:

Ex-UBS Banker Lack Avoids Prison for 17-Year Tax Scheme

Martin Lack, the fourth ex-UBS AG (UBSN) banker to plead guilty to aiding wealthy Americans in evading taxes, avoided prison for a 17-year scheme in which he helped U.S. clients maintain secret overseas accounts.

Lack, a Swiss resident and citizen and an independent investment adviser, was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $7,500 today in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was indicted in 2011. He surrendered to U.S. authorities on Oct. 14 and pleaded guilty on Feb. 26, when the judge said he was cooperating with prosecutors.

“I apologize for my conduct,” Lack told U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas. “I was given an opportunity to make amends for what I’ve done, which I did to the best of my ability.”

Via the Contributor Network, reality catches up:

Without the Industry-Promised ‘Ocean of Black Gold,’ CA Senate Committee Approves Fracking Moratorium

In spite of the millions spent by Big Oil on lobbying in Sacramento every year, the California Senate Appropriations Committee voted 4 to 2 to approve a bill, SB 1132, to place a moratorium on fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in the state.

SB 1132, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, now moves to a vote on the Senate floor. Senators Gaines and Walters voted against the bill while Senators De León, Padilla, Hill and Steinberg voted to advance the bill to the floor.

The bill moved forward the same week that the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reduced its previous estimate of recoverable oil in California by 96 percent.

From the Associated Press, greed, baby, greed:

Top U.S. executives mark compensation milestone; median pay hits $10-million

Propelled by a soaring stock market, the median pay package for a CEO rose above eight figures for the first time last year. The head of a typical large public company earned a record $10.5-million, an increase of 8.8 per cent from $9.6-million in 2012, according to an Associated Press/Equilar pay study.

Last year was the fourth straight that CEO compensation rose following a decline during the Great Recession. The median CEO pay package climbed more than 50 per cent over that stretch. A chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009.

The best paid CEO last year led an oilfield-services company. The highest paid female CEO was Carol Meyrowitz of discount retail giant TJX, owner of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. And the head of Monster Beverage got a monster of a raise.

From the Los Angeles Times, no pot luck:

Health insurers just say no to marijuana coverage

Patients who use medical marijuana for pain and other chronic symptoms can take an unwanted hit: Insurers don’t cover the treatment, which costs as much as $1,000 a month.

Marijuana in recent years has gained increased mainstream acceptance for its ability to boost appetite, dull pain and reduce seizures in people with a wide range of disorders and diseases, including epilepsy and cancer.

Still, insurers are reluctant to cover it, in part because of conflicting laws. Although 21 U.S. states have approved it for medical use, the drug still is outlawed by the federal government and most states.

From BBC News, a bubble on the verge of deflation?:

US house price growth slows as demand weakens

US housing price growth slowed to just 0.2% in the first three months of 2014, latest figures show.

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller index, the slowdown in growth compared with the previous quarter was partly caused by tighter bank lending regulations. Further compounding the problem is rising student loan debt, which has discouraged first-time buyers.

Nationally, US home prices are still up 10.3%, compared with a year earlier.

And from the Associated Press, unquenchable thirst, no strings attached:

California’s flawed water system can’t track usage

Nearly 4,000 California companies, farms and others are allowed to use free water with little oversight when the state is so bone dry that deliveries to nearly everyone else have been severely slashed.

Their special status dates back to claims made more than a century ago when water was plentiful. But in the third year of a drought that has ravaged California, these “senior rights holders” dominated by corporations and agricultural concerns are not obliged to conserve water.

Nobody knows how much water they actually use, though it amounts to trillions of gallons each year, according to a review of their own reports by The Associated Press. Together, they hold more than half the rights to rivers and streams in California.

And from MintPress News, why are we not surprised?:

U.S. Investors, Government Policies Leading Global Land-Grabs

Massive land-grabs are driving commercial agriculture and investment around the world, often at the expense of the world’s small-scale farmers – who feed 80 percent of the developing world

The U.S. public and private sectors are among the leading drivers of a global drive to snap up usable – and often in-use – agricultural land, in what critics say remains a steadily increasing epidemic of “land-grabbing.”

Africa and Southeast Asia are together seeing some three-quarters of problematic large-scale land acquisitions, according to new research from the global development group ActionAid. Africa remains a particular focus of this investment drive, constituting six of the top 10 countries experiencing significant land-grabbing. The continent has seen at least 40 million hectares switch hands in recent years as part of large-scale sales or leases.

However, land speculation is currently affecting almost all continents. The report warns of particularly negative effects for the estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide that rely on small-scale agriculture to meet their families’ needs. And this impact is felt far more broadly, as those smallholders, a majority of whom are women, provide the food that feeds some four-fifths of the developing world, according to the United Nations.

North of the border with CBC News and those minimum wage blues:

Restaurant owners seek meeting with PM over foreign worker freeze

  • Restaurant industry asks for urgent meeting with PM over freeze on hiring temporary foreign workers

The group representing Canada’s restaurant owners wants an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the freeze on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant industry.

Restaurants Canada, which represents restaurants, pubs and caterers, says the program freeze ordered by federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney is already affecting the industry.

Restaurants Canada says it will make a call for urgent action on what it calls a labour crisis due to the moratorium on temporary foreign workers.

On to Europe, and those electoral post mortems, first with a French accent from BBC News:

EU election: France’s Hollande calls for reform of ‘remote’ EU

French President Francois Hollande has said the EU must reform and scale back its power, amid a surge in support for Eurosceptic and far-right parties.

Mr Hollande, whose party was beaten by the far right in last week’s European Parliament election, said the EU had become too complex and remote.

In response, he will tell EU leaders at a meeting in Brussels later that they must focus on boosting the economy.

The Associated Press confers

EU summit seeks way out of election quagmire

Despite their clashing visions for Europe, Britain and France agreed Tuesday that the massive increase in protest votes during the European Union election is a watershed moment that must lead to profound change in how Europe governs itself.

Coming into an EU summit meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the anti-EU vote had shown that Brussels had become “too big, too bossy, too interfering,” and needed to return many powers to its 28 member nations as soon as possible.

The EU leaders met to assess the rise of the far-right, Euroskeptic and anti-establishment parties that took almost 30 percent of the seats in the European Parliament in national elections that ended Sunday. The summit had the major challenge of figuring out how to deal with the grassroots revolt of people turning away from the parties that built the EU.

ANA-MPA agonizes:

Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem says a great deal ‘still needs to be done’

Trying to tell everyday people about economic achievements at state budget level is difficult, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a conference on Europe at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance on Tuesday.

“Try to tell a Greek who is struggling to survive that Greece now has a primary surplus, something that for us at the Eurogroup constitutes a significant indicator. What does this say, however, to a citizen in Greece?,” Dijsselbloem said, adding that after the latest Euroelections “Europe is no longer something that is beyond doubt.”

He went on to add, “Try to tell a Spaniard who has lost his job that there is a small drop in unemployment in his country, or to an Irish whose house lost a quarter of its value that real estate prices have registered a slight increase.”

And the Amsterdam angle from DutchNews.nl:

EU should focus on added value, and choose new president, says Rutte

‘The voter wants fewer regulations and more work,’ is the conclusion of prime minister Mark Rutte following the success of fringe parties across Europe in the EU elections last week.

Rutte was speaking after a parliamentary debate on the meeting of European heads of state on Tuesday evening in Brussels, the Telegraaf reports.

‘The message to politicians in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe is that the EU should be involved in fewer matters,’ he said. ‘It should focus on where it can add value, for instance in creating jobs.’

And from Spiegel, a prescription:

German Finance Minister Schäuble: ‘Europe Needs More Self-Confidence’

What does Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst have to do with the Ukraine conflict? More than you might think, explains German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in a SPIEGEL interview. It demonstrates the EU’s greatest strengths.

On to Britain with the London Telegraph and a regal prescription:

Prince Charles: reform capitalism to save the planet

  • A “fundamental transformation of global capitalism” is needed in order to tackle climate change, the Prince of Wales has said

Prince Charles has called for an end to capitalism as we know it in order to save the planet from global warming.

In a speech to business leaders in London, the Prince said that a “fundamental transformation of global capitalism” was necessary in order to halt “dangerously accelerating climate change” that would “bring us to our own destruction”.

He called for companies to focus on “approaches that achieve lasting and meaningful returns” by protecting the environment, improving their employment practices and helping the vulnerable to develop a new “inclusive capitalism”.

From the London Telegraph again, a Goldman Sachs alum covers for his pals:

Jailing bankers will not fix bad behaviour, says Mark Carney

  • Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, says fundamental flaws in the industry can only be resolved by changing how markets operate

Jailing bankers for market manipulation or clawing back pay and bonuses will not be enough to curb future misbehaviour or restore public trust in the financial system, the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Despite a new crackdown on reckless bankers, Mark Carney said fundamental flaws in the industry could only be resolved by changing how markets operate.

“Merely prosecuting the guilty to the full extent of the law will not be sufficient to address the issues raised,” Mr Carney said in a speech in London on Tuesday night.

And the not-so-surprising from the Guardian [although homophobia is down]:

Racism on the rise in Britain

The proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting community relations back 20 years.

New data from NatCen’s authoritative British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, obtained by the Guardian, shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001.

In an echo of the voting patterns of Ukip supporters in last week’s European elections, the figures paint a pattern of a nation geographically divided – with London reporting the lowest levels of racial prejudice. Older men in economically deprived areas are most likely to admit to racial prejudice.

Sweden next, and from TheLocal.se, the first hint of austerity to come:

Sweden’s labour costs ‘distressingly high’

Labour costs in Sweden are 22 percent higher than the eurozone average, a difference which threatens Swedish industries’ ability to compete, economists warned in a report on Tuesday.

Labour costs have been escalating in Sweden at a quicker pace than they have in the rest of western Europe and the eurozone, and the increasing strength of the krona has compounded the problem, a report by employer group Teknikföretagen stated on Tuesday.

“Swedish industries operate in a global market characterized by tough international competition,” Teknikföretagen economist Anders Rune wrote in the report.

Germany next, first with a power-up from the Japan Times:

Growing number of Germans opting for ‘homemade’ electricity

Of the about 600 terawatt hours Germany consumes each year, 50 twh are self-produced — about 8 percent of the total — in a trend that has seen solar panels installed on home roofs and gas plants set up in factories.

In industry, the share is around 20 percent, according to business and energy consumers’ groups. Their main goal: cost savings.

Homemade power in Germany is not taxed, unlike conventional electricity where one-third of the customer’s bill goes into the public coffers. Germany has among Europe’s highest electricity bills.

TheLocal.de gives a glimpse at life at the bottom:

One in five Germans can’t afford a holiday

More than 20 percent of Germans can’t afford a week’s holiday, and 30 percent said they were unable to cover “unexpected expenses” such as house repairs or big purchases, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The survey, from federal statistics office Destatis which gathered the data in 2012, asked participants whether they could afford to pay for a week away from home each year, and if they felt they could handle unexpected costs – essential purchases costing €940 or more.

It also found around eight percent of respondents felt they could not afford to eat a meal including meat, poultry or fish at least once every two days.

From TheLocal.de, outsider entrepreneurs:

Foreigners set up 40pc of new German firms

Germany is increasingly relying on foreigners to stir entrepreneurial spirit in the country, as the number of new companies being founded by Germans falls.

The number of foreign entrepreneurs setting up new companies in Germany has risen from 90,000 in 2005 to 145,000 last year, despite an overall fall in the number of people setting up on their own.

A study released on Monday by a think-tank for medium-sized business, Institute für Mittelstandsforschung (IfM), showed three-quarters of new foreign-founded companies were in the construction (45 percent), trade (18.2 percent) and hospitality (10.2 percent).

On to Amsterdam, and a real pisser from DutchNews.nl:

Waste water analysis reveals Dutch drug secrets in EU survey

People in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Eindhoven are major users of drugs when compared to other European cities, according to a new analysis of waste water by the EU’s drugs agency Emcdda.

The agency analysed waste water in 42 cities in 21 countries looking for drug residues. The three Dutch cities occupied first, second and third place in terms of the use of party drug ecstasy and ‘abnormal amounts’ were identified in Eindhoven’s waste water, news agency ANP said.

This may be explained by the fact the production of ecstasy is concentrated in the region and that chemicals are dumped into the drains, the organisation said. The quantity of amphetamine found in Eindhoven water was also extremely high.

In terms of cannabis use, Amsterdam comes in second place, behind Novia Sad in Serbia. Eindhoven is seventh and Utrecht 13th.

Brussels next, and a quandary from EUobserver:

Belgian king gives coalition-forming mandate to Flemish republican

  • Will the man who wants the end of Belgium be the next Belgian prime minister? In a land where absurdity is a form of art, it’s not impossible.

King Philippe on Tuesday (27 May) asked N-VA chairman Bart De Wever to “inform” him about possible coalition governments, a first step to forming such a government.

On Sunday Belgians not only voted for the EU Parliament, but also for the national and regional parliaments. Belgium is a highly decentralised country, with powerful regional governments. On the Flemish (northern) side, there’s a strong demand to make those regions even stronger.

The hardliners simply want to split Belgium, although nobody knows how to do that with the bilingual – and very rich and important – Brussels right in the middle of the country.

The winner of the elections is the devolution-minded N-VA. Until a few years ago, it was a small party of hardline Flemish separatists. Thanks to the immense popularity of party leader Bart De Wever, the party took about 32 percent of the votes in Flanders at the weekend. This makes it by far the biggest party in Belgium.

Austria next, with post-electoral blues from TheLocal.at:

SPÖ row after attack on chancellor

A row has broken out among Austria’s Social Democrats (SPÖ) after the party failed to emerge as the winner among Austrian parties in Sunday’s European Parliament elections.

A member of Burgenland’s regional government, Peter Rezar, has launched an attack on Chancellor Werner Faymann – and provoked a storm of protest from the SPÖ’s top politicians.

The conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) won Sunday’s vote with 27 percent, ahead of its ruling partners the SPÖ at 24 percent.

On to France, with aspirations from Spiegel:

A Real National Front: The French Far Right Aims High

  • After its triumph in European elections on Sunday, the French far-right Front National is hoping to increase its power back home, with Marine Le Pen aiming for the presidency in 2017. With François Hollande’s popularity plummeting, it is not out of the question.

After pulling in a triumphant 25 percent of the vote, the Front National will now have the largest number of seats of any French political party in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen has every intention of using the party’s presence at parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg and Brussels for political gain. Some within the far-right in France are already considering their political futures — all the way up to the presidential palace in Paris.

The first step in the “long march,” as Marine Le Pen has termed it, is the creation of a party group in the European Parliament comprised of skeptics of the euro common currency, EU opponents and the far-right or right-wing populists. Doing so would provide the parties with greater access to money and key posts and would also raise their profile. To create a group, at least 25 members of parliament from seven different EU member states must join together in a bloc. Given the divergent ideologies on Europe’s right wing, that won’t be an easy task.

The only true support Le Pen can count on is from the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party. Right-wing populist parties in Belgium and the Netherlands failed to deliver on Sunday, managing only disappointing results. Meanwhile, radical political forces in Denmark and Britain have said they will not join an alliance with the Front National.

Partnering up with the Guardian:

Marine Le Pen to meet other far-right leaders in move to create EU bloc

  • Front National leader rules out joining forces with extreme-right parties Golden Dawn, Jobbik and Ataka

France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen will meet other far-right and eurosceptic leaders on Wednesday in an attempt to create a powerful bloc in the European parliament.

However, Le Pen ruled out joining forces with the extreme-right Golden Dawn in Greece, the Hungarian party Jobbik or Ataka in Bulgaria.

Having spent years trying to shake off the FN’s reputation as a refuge for Nazi sympathisers – her father, the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, once dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail” – Le Pen said she did not envisage meeting newly elected German MEP Udo Voigt of the neo-Nazi NPD.

And a branding problem from EUbusiness:

Germany’s Schaeuble terms France’s far-right FN ‘fascist’

Germany’s finance minister on Tuesday described France’s far-right National Front (FN), which came out on top in France’s weekend vote for a new European Parliament, as a “fascist” party.

Wolfgang Schaeuble told a forum on Europe that the outcome in Europe’s second biggest economy was a vote “not for a right-wing party but for a fascist party”.

The result is a reality check “for everyone in Europe, not only for our friends in France”, Schaeuble, a veteran and strongly pro-EU member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, added.

And while the far right has smooth sailing, not so for the traditonal right, as the London Telegraph reports:

Crisis for France’s Right as Sarkozy party head quits over funding scandal

  • Jean-François Copé, leaders of UMP party, to step down over allegations a company run by friends signed off €10 million of “false invoices” to bankroll Nicolas Sarkozy’s failed 2012 election bid

The head of France’s main conservative opposition party is to step down after a scandal over funding for Nicolas Sarkozy’s failed attempt to win the presidency in 2012.

Jean-François Copé, leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), agreed to leave his post by June 15. Mr Cope’s position was already weakened after the UMP was beaten into second place in Sunday’s European Parliament elections by the Front National (FN).

The revelations cast a shadow over Mr Sarkozy’s chances of mounting a comeback in 2017. He is said to be “furious” and to feel “betrayed”, but none the less is likely to face questions over claims that more than €10 million (£8.1 million) of “false invoices” for his 2012 re-election campaign were billed as party expenses.

Of to Spain and a papal slapdown from TheLocal.es:

Pope slams ‘inhumane’ jobless rate in Spain

Pope Francis on Tuesday criticized an “inhumane” system which causes a youth unemployment rate of “50 percent” in Spain and “60 percent” in Andalusia in the wake of recent European elections.

Speaking during a press conference on his return from a trip to Middle East, the pope admitted he hadn’t had time to follow the European elections.

He also owned up to not being fully up to speed on issues like populism and the confidence, or lack of confidence in the Euro. But Pope Francis said he did understand words like “unemployment”.

“We are living under a world economic system that has money at its centre, and not human beings. This system, to maintain itself excludes (people),” the Pope was quoted as saying by Italy’s La Stampa.

But the IMF wants more Spanish misery, with higher taxes for the pooir and lower corporate taxes. From El País:

IMF calls on Spain to raise VAT and lower corporate taxes

  • Other measures recommended by local mission include tax pardons for struggling companies

Higher consumer taxes, lower corporate rates and few changes to income tax. Those were the proposals for the Spanish economy presented by the International Monetary Fund in Madrid on Tuesday, in the latest report issued by its mission in the country.

“There is room for increasing indirect revenues,” the report reads. “Raising excise duties and environmental levies, and gradually reducing preferential treatments in the VAT, would bring Spain’s collection effort more in to line with its European peers. This should be combined with clearly identified measures to protect the most vulnerable.

“There is scope for gradually cutting corporate income tax rates to promote growth (though not to 20 percent, which is below the EU average),” the report continues. “However, given the imperative to sustain revenues and preserve progressivity, there is less scope for significantly cutting top personal income tax rates.”

An electoral outside from the Spanish prede cessor of the Occupy movement wins election, via TheLocal.es:

‘Hippy’ politician stuns Spain’s political elite

Some see him as a ponytailed Fidel Castro, others think he’s the only honest politician Spain has had in decades. Either way, Pablo Iglesias is on everyone’s lips after he helped his poorly-funded, three-month-old party reach fourth place in the European Elections.

Rest assured, you’re not alone. Had Iglesias’ party Podemos (We Can) not won five seats in Brussels he may have remained a household name only in Spain. But their 1.2 million votes on Sunday have made the news across Europe and further afield, with Iglesias at the centre of all the intrigue.

How did they manage to do so well?

Perhaps the most crucial factor is the massive drop in support for Spain’s ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) and their socialist opponents PSOE. Both have been embroiled in corruption scandals and, when handed the reins of power by the country’s disillusioned population, they’ve seemed equally unable to solve the grave issue of unemployment and poor economic performance.

The other significant cause is Pablo Iglesias himself and how he has come to represent the educated but disgruntled youth who took part in Spain’s Real Democracy Now protest, popularly known as the 15-M, which gained worldwide coverage when thousands of young people camped out in Madrid’s iconic Puerta del Sol for months in 2011.

More from El País:

Podemos: A party under construction

  • The surprise success story at Sunday’s elections has its roots in the 15-M protest movement
  • With an undefined structure, the group must now get organized to hold its eurodeputies accountable

For now at least, the party has no leadership bodies and no membership cards. Yet it will have five seats in the European Parliament after receiving 1.2 million votes at Sunday’s poll.

As of Monday, Podemos is facing the new challenge of organizing itself and creating a leadership that will make day-to-day decisions and hold its five eurodeputies accountable. This is especially important because if Sunday’s results are repeated in Spanish general elections in 2015, Podemos could hold the key to local and regional governments. And it will have to make decisions.

“We were practically born on the campaign trail. To this day, we are a campaign team rather than a party proper. Now we need to begin a constitutional process,” says Íñigo Errejón, 30, who has a PhD in political science from Madrid’s Complutense University and acts as campaign director for Podemos.

And TheLocal.es evicts:

Protesters clash with police over squat eviction

Police clashed with protesters who burned bins and vehicles in Barcelona on Monday as anger boiled over at the eviction of activists from a well-known squat.

Officers made several arrests as hooded youths smashed windows and hurled stones at police and journalists in the streets of the north-eastern city.

Police had earlier evicted occupants who had chained themselves down inside the “Can Vies”, a building owned by the local transport authority but occupied since 1997 by activists who have used it as a community centre.

Italy next, and advice for a sourpuss from TheLocal.it:

Spin doctor tells ex-comedian Grillo to smile

A strategist for Italy’s Eurosceptic Five Star Movement (M5S) has told the party’s leader, Beppe Grillo, that he needs to smile more after the organization was outstripped in the European Elections.

Gianroberto Casaleggio, the founder of the Milan-based Casaleggio and Associates and a driving force behind the party’s successes, told the former comedian that he needs to “tone down” his aggression during a post-mortem of the party’s election performance on Monday.

“You have to force yourself to smile; we must smile more,” the advisor was quoted in Corriere della Sera as saying.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including stunning support for neo-Nazis by Greek police], more Ukrainian struggles, an election extension in an apathetic Egyptian contest, more Libyan turmoil, an Indian electoral reminder, the tightening Thai coup, mixed economic signals from China, toxins, fires, and other environmental agonies, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: Polls, trolls, laws, toxins, more


Long visit from a kidlet, so late in posting. But major elections in Europe hint at major changes to come, and much more. . .so on with the show!

First, takin’ to the streets with RT:

World protests Monsanto grip on food supply chain

Hundreds of thousands people have united across the world to voice concern over the spread of GMO foods and crops and to raise awareness over the biotech giant Monsanto’s growing grip on the global food supply chain.

It was not only the fear of genetically modified organisms in foods that knows no boundaries. Activists on five continents around the globe, comprising of 52 nations joined the fight under the March against Monsanto umbrella.

Organized worldwide, peaceful family protests spoke out for the need to protect food supply, health, local farms and environment. Activists also sought to promote organic solutions to food production, while “exposing cronyism between big business and the government.”

With anti-GMO rallies having taken place in around 400 cities across the globe it’s still hard to estimate how many people participated in the event. Last year over 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries worldwide marched against the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.

Next up, the back story to a tragedy from the Guardian:

Sheriff highlights mental-health shortcomings after California rampage

  • ‘There’s a general lack of resources in community treatment’
  • Bereaved parent blames ‘craven’ politicians and NRA

Police named Elliot Rodger, 22, the British-born son of a film director, as the suspect behind Friday’s murder spree in and around the Isla Vista campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, which left a trail of 10 separate crime scenes and 13 people injured.

On Sunday, Santa Barbara’s county sheriff, Bill Brown, blamed failures in mental-health treatment for the fact that Rodger’s behaviour had worried people around him and precipitated three contacts with police, most recently last month, but had not caused an intervention that might have averted the slaughter.

“I think the fact of the matter is, there’s a general lack of resources in community mental-health treatment generally,” he told CNN on Sunday. “There’s also probably a lack of notification by healthcare professionals in instances when people are expressing suicidal or in certain cases homicidal thoughts or tendencies.”

From the Republic Report, back story to another kind of tragedy:

Top Donor for House Education Chair is For-Profit College Facing Federal and State Fraud Probes

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has no serious opposition in her bid for reelection, yet has received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions. More than half of that money has come from outside North Carolina, much of it from corporate special interests.

The single biggest donor group to Foxx, by almost a factor of two, is Santa Ana, California-based, for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

Corinthian, which operates Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges, has a troubling record. The company faces a major lawsuit from California attorney general Kamala Harris, who has charged that Corinthian has engaged in “false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements.” Corinthian is also under investigation by a group of sixteen state attorneys general (Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and Pennsylvania) into its recruiting and business practices, and faces a separate probe by Massachusetts’ AG.

Federal investigators also are probing Corinthian. In June 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a subpoena to the company concerning student recruitment, degree completion, job placement, loan defaults and compliance with U.S. Education Department rules.

And the Los Angeles Times defines today’s Obama Democrats:

Past Republican donors rebuffing GOP candidates to back Jerry Brown

With Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown expected to romp to reelection this year against little-known rivals, many donors who gave Republican candidates more than $37 million in the last gubernatorial contest are now keeping their hands in their pockets.

But those who are writing checks are largely giving them to … Jerry Brown.

The governor has received nearly $2 million, a Times analysis of campaign reports found, from donors who fueled Meg Whitman’s and Steve Poizner’s Republican gubernatorial bids in 2010. That’s more than three times as much as his current GOP rivals have received from these donors.

From the Guardian, the results those big bucks produce:

Pensions are the spectre hanging over America, and your problem too

  • Most private-sector workers grew up with no promise of pensions, but the problem of our cities and states haunts us all

You may know that you’ll never collect a penny of either public or private pension income when you retire. That doesn’t mean those scary headlines about pensions – and pension reform – won’t cast a scary shadow across your own life. You may as well start thinking about how you’re going to cope with the fallout today.

Public pension plans themselves today calculate that they have about $1tn of unfunded liabilities – that’s the gap between how much they have on hand in assets today and how much they estimate they’ll need to pay out in benefits to members of the plans. In some cases, that sounds scarier than it is: what is just as important is its “funded ratio”, or the percentage of its liabilities covered by its assets.

The bad news? Morningstar calculates that safe pension plans are increasingly rare: more than half of all states have a funded ratio that falls below 70%, the threshold for being deemed fiscally sound. As recently as 2011, only 21 states failed that test (although that’s bad enough … ) and theoretically the rise in the stock market should have given the value of pension fund portfolios a big boost, making them look a lot healthier.

On to Europe, first with financial rumblings from the Associated Press:

ECB ready to act, but how much will it help?

Investors and analysts are nearly certain: The European Central Bank will take action at its next meeting to boost the tepid recovery.

What’s not at all certain is how much good that can do.

Any help is needed. The weak recovery in the 18 countries that use the euro is a source of risk and uncertainty for the rebounding U.S and global economy. The eurozone economy grew only 0.2% in the first quarter, gaining no speed from the quarter before. Worse, inflation is dangerously low at an annual 0.7%, well below the ECB’s goal of just under 2%.

And on with the day’s major European story, elections — first from Deutsche Welle:

EU vote sees boost for right wing in France, Austria and Greece

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party is leading in the European Parliament elections in France, according to early projections. Results from across the 28-member bloc are coming in throughout the the evening.

According to early projections in Austria, the far-right FPÖ saw strong gains at 20 percent, compared to the 7.3 percent they garnered in 2009.

Belgium’s Flemish nationalist N-VA party looked set to make strong gains, partial results indicated, with 30 to 32 percent of the vote. TV exit polls in Denmark say the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party is set to take the biggest share of the Danish vote.

Britain next, with BBC News:

UKIP heading for clear victory in UK European elections

UKIP is course for an emphatic victory in the European elections in the UK – with leader Nigel Farage promising to use it as a springboard for next year’s general election.

Labour’s vote is up significantly on 2009 but it is vying with the Tories for second place.

The Lib Dems have come fifth behind the Green Party in most areas and have lost all but one of their seats.

Only Scotland, London and Northern Ireland have yet to declare.

One outcome, via the Guardian:

Triumphant Ukip draws up hitlist of 20 key seats to storm Commons

  • Nigel Farage to head ‘ruthless’ drive on Westminster, as Nick Clegg faces Lib Dem revolt over poor poll showing

Nigel Farage’s Ukip is to target at least 20 parliamentary seats at the next general election, using his party’s success in Thursday’s council elections as the launch pad for an all-out assault on the House of Commons, party officials have revealed.

In a move that will further unnerve the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – all of which have suffered from the Ukip surge – senior party officials said the next move would be to identify specific, mainly marginal, seats, where it now has a strong base of councillors. It is imitating the tactics that established the Liberal Democrats as a strong parliamentary force in the 1990s.

The extent of Farage’s ambitions came to light as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg faced a serious backlash from party malcontents, including at least two parliamentary candidates and several prominent councillors, as activists gathered names on a petition demanding he be replaced immediately by a new leader.

On to Ireland, and more meaningful results from the Guardian:

Sinn Féin tastes electoral success north and south of the Irish border

  • Gerry Adams’s plan to govern on both sides of border by 100th anniversary of Easter Rising in 2016 moves a step closer

Sinn Féin has secured the single biggest number of first preference votes in Northern Ireland’s local government elections, while across the border in the Republic it won 25% of the vote and its highest number of councillors.

The electoral success brings a step closer Gerry Adams’ strategic plan to be in government on both sides of the Irish border by 2016 – the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It also suggests that his recent arrest in connection with the IRA’s kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville did not seriously damage Sinn Féin’s election campaign. But the overall unionist vote in Northern Ireland also held up, with the Democratic Unionist party winning 130 seats compared with Sinn Féin, which returns to the new council chambers with 105 seats.

Scandinavia next, first with Bloomberg:

Voters Punish Reinfeldt as Protest Groups Gain in Nordic EU Vote

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt emerged as Sweden’s biggest loser in European parliament elections as voters across the Nordic region punished those in power.

Reinfeldt’s Conservatives fell 5.2 percentage points to 13.6 percent, becoming only the third biggest party in Sweden, according to a preliminary count from the Election Authority. The Greens jumped to 15.3 percent, while the Social Democrats won 24.4 percent, grabbing the most seats.

“This strengthens the stamp of defeat that has surrounded the government for a while now,” said Ulf Bjereld, a political science professor at Gothenburg University. “At the same time, from the Social Democrats’ perspective, one can note that they didn’t even manage to reach their utterly modest target of 25 percent.”

On to Copenhagen with EUbusiness:

Anti-immigrant Danish party wins EU vote: exit poll

The anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party won the election in Denmark for the European Parliament with 23 percent of the votes, according to an exit poll Sunday.

The poll, which was carried out by the firm Epinion on behalf of national broadcaster DR, put the party ahead of the Social Democrats who scored 20.2 percent.

“My mother’s heart swells, because I’m simply so proud if that’s the result,” the party’s charismatic cofounder and former leader Pia Kjaersgaard told DR in reaction to the poll. If proved correct, this result would give the party three of Denmark’s 13 seats in the European Parliament.

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

Eurosceptics and SPD celebrate EU vote gains

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc will remain Germany’s biggest party in the EU Parliament, according to exit polls, but lost ground to their rivals. It was a particularly good night for the centre-left and eurosceptic parties.

Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were one of the main losers of the night, with their vote sinking by eight percent on the last EU elections in 2009.

It meant that Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc recorded their worst ever result in an EU election with 35.8 percent – down from 37.9 percent in 2009.

On to Belgium with the Associated Press:

Belgium faces tough coalition talks after vote

Initial results of Belgian national elections show big gains for the regionalist N-VA party in northern Flanders while the PS socialists were the biggest vote getters in southern Wallonia, raising the possibility of complicated coalition talks to form a government

With nearly half the votes counted, the Dutch-speaking N-VA party of Bart De Wever surged to 34 percent of Flemish votes in parliament, a rise of 6 percentage points.

The PS of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has 29 percent in Francophone Wallonia. That’s a drop of 7 percentage points but still enough to remain biggest vote getter in Di Rupo’s region.

France next, first with Reuters:

French far right poised for win as Europe votes on ‘Super Sunday’

The far right anti-EU National Front was forecast to win a European Parliament election in France on Sunday, topping a nationwide ballot for the first time in a stunning advance for opponents of European integration.

Critics of the European Union, riding a wave of anger over austerity and mass unemployment, gained ground elsewhere but in Germany, the EU’s biggest member state, the pro-European center ground held firm, according to exit polls.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s nationalist movement which blames Brussels for everything from immigration to job losses, was set to take about 25 percent of the vote, comfortably ahead of the conservative opposition UMP on about 21 percent.

President Francois Hollande’s Socialists suffered their second electoral humiliation in two months after losing dozens of town halls, trailing far behind in third place with about 14.5 percent, according to projections based on partial results.

More from Bloomberg:

French National Front Victory Needs EU Response, PM Valls Says

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the European Union needs to respond to the “earthquake’ of the National Front’s first-ever victory in nationwide voting in European parliamentary elections.

The anti-euro, anti-immigration party headed by Marine Le Pen won at least 25 percent of the vote, according to estimates by TNS Sofres, Ipsos, and Ifop. Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP Party placed second with about 20 percent, with the ruling Socialist Party coming in a distant third, with between 14 percent and 15 percent, the polls showed.

‘’Europe has disappointed,” Valls said in a televised address late yesterday from Paris. “Europe needs to give hope again. We need a Europe that is stronger, with more solidarity, more fairness.”

Next up, on to Geneva and a non-electoral story from Bloomberg:

Credit Suisse Offers Map to 13 Swiss Banks in U.S. Tax Probes

Thirteen Swiss banks face rising stakes in criminal tax-evasion probes after Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) set a new standard for punishment in the U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion.

Julius Baer Group Ltd., Zuercher Kantonalbank and the Swiss unit of HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) are among those seeking to avoid pleading guilty to helping Americans cheat the Internal Revenue Service — an unprecedented step taken by Credit Suisse on May 19. Their degree of wrongdoing and cooperation with investigators will help decide their fate, said the top U.S. tax prosecutor.

“We will look at the facts and circumstances of each investigation to determine an appropriate penalty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kathryn Keneally said in an interview. “It should be very clear from the Credit Suisse investigation that cooperation, or the lack thereof, is an important factor.”

Then on to Vilnius with BBC News:

Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite wins re-election after run-off

With nearly all votes counted she had won 58% with her Social Democrat rival Zigmantas Balcytis trailing on 42%.

The election was fought amid rising concerns in the region after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Ms Grybauskaite thanked her supporters for granting her a second term. “No president has been elected twice in a row in Lithuania. It will be a historic victory for all of you,” she said.

Budapest next with EUbusiness:

Hungary’s right-wing dominates EU polls

Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party swept to victory in European Parliament elections on Sunday, ahead of the far-right Jobbik party who overtook the Socialists to come second.

Just two months after a convincing victory in national elections, the Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbantook an even more commanding win in the EU poll with 51.5 percent of the vote.

But turnout was poor at 29 percent — the second-lowest ever for European polls in the country. Orban’s party will send 12 MEPs to the Strasbourg parliament, taking up over half of Hungary’s 21 seats.

And on to Slovakia with EUobserver:

Slovakia’s EP election turnout set for all-time low of 13%

Slovakia is set to rewrite the record books of EU elections again, with unofficial turnout figures suggesting that just some 13 percent of people cared to vote.

If confirmed, this would surpass both the pessimistic pre-election estimate of 16-21 percent turnout and past results – 19.6 percent in 2009 and 16.9 percent in 2004. The latter was the lowest ever score in the union’s history.

Slovakia’s EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, campaigning for the ruling social democrats (Smer-SD), said politicians need to seriously think about how to tackle the so-called Slovak paradox. People are generally supportive of EU membership and integration, but show an unprecedented lack of interest in the EP vote.

A non-slectoral headline from the Balkans via The Wire:

Historic Floods in the Balkans Give Way to Mudslides, Disease, and Landmines

Over the course of several days earlier this week, three-months-worth of rain hit the Balkan region. On Monday, the Bosnian government reported that one million residents — a quarter of the country’s population — were cut off from clean water, and 100,000 buildings destroyed.

Both Bosnia and Serbia have declared a state of emergency, as have a number of Croatian villages. Serbia’s prime minister said the damage would cost the country hundreds of millions of euros.

Thousands of landslides were triggered by the flooding and the tens of thousands who have been evacuated from the affected regions will likely be forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Next up Spain, and another shakeup from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s major parties lose out in Euro elections

  • Spain’s two main political parties, the ruling conservative Popular Party in power since 2011 and the Socialist Party, lost major ground in European Parliament elections on Sunday, official results showed.

The Popular Party elected 16 of Spain’s 54 lawmakers, down from 24 in the outgoing assembly while the Socialist Party took 14 seats, down from 23 with smaller parties, mainly on the left, making gains.

Polls had predicted a far more modest decline for the two main parties.

The result was seen as a sign of growing voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties in Spain as well as of fatigue with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s austerity measures and economic reforms.

A critical regional result via EUbusiness:

Separatist party wins EU vote in Spain’s Catalonia

A long-standing separatist party, the Republican Left, won the European Parliament elections in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia on Sunday, official results showed.

The party captured 23.67 percent of the vote, beating the conservative Convergence and Union party, the biggest formation in Catalonia’s local parliament, which came in second with 21.86 percent of the vote.

Both parties want to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9, flying in the face of fierce opposition from the central government in Madrid.

Italy next and a rare win for the incumbents from ANSA:

Renzi’s PD projected to land big win

Premier Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is set to be Italy’s top party in Sunday’s European elections by a big margin, according to early projections. A projection by SWG marketing for Sky gave the PD 36.8-38.8% of the vote, compared to 23.3-25.3% for comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment, Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) and 15.6-17.6% for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI).

Another projection by IPR marketing for State broadcaster Rai gave the PD a whopping 40.2% of the vote, compared to 23.1% for the M5S and 16% for FI. The PD said that, if the outcome is confirmed, it is an endorsement of the ambitious programme of institutional and economic reforms Renzi has embarked on since unseating his party colleague Enrico Letta in February to become Italy’s youngest premier at 39.

These include a drive to change the Constitution and transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with limited lawmaking powers as part of an overhaul of the country’s slow, costly political machinery.

And from TheLocal.it, more bad news for a former incumbent:

Lebanon agrees to extradite Berlusconi ally

Lebanon is to extradite to Italy an ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wanted by Rome over mafia links, an official and his lawyer told AFP on Saturday.

“Lebanon has agreed to an Italian request to extradite (former) senator Marcello Dell’Utri,” who was arrested in Beirut in mid-April on an Interpol warrant, said lawyer Nasser al-Khalil. Khalil said he will appeal the extradition order.

An official source confirmed the decision and said outgoing President Michel Sleiman signed the extradition agreement with Italy just hours before his mandate ends at midnight Saturday.

After the jump, a Greek upset and furious reaction, the expected Ukrainian result, electoral and economic news from Latin America, Indonesian poverty’s impact on education, the Thai coup continues to unfold, the ongoing Chinese slowdown, major Abenomics questions for Japan, the latest environmental woes, plus added Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines: Bubbles, bull, bile, pols, threatcetera


Today’s compilation of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with a bubble inflating, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

S.F. hot housing prices back, bidding wars fiercer than ever

Prices have climbed 33 percent since 2011, with many neighborhoods exceeding that.

And while bidding wars have long been part of buying a home in Noe Valley, Glen Park and Cole Valley, they are now just as fierce in less fashionable areas such as the Excelsior, Mission Terrace and Ingleside.

Citywide, properties are now commanding an average of 10.7 percent more than asking price, according to Paragon Real Estate Group, with Bernal Heights leading the pack at an average of 21 percent over asking. That’s up from April 2012, when homes were selling for an average of 3.5 percent over asking.

The Wall Street Journal covers the other side of the coin:

Poor Americans Direct 40% of Their Spending to Housing Expenses

Housing and food expenses absorb more than half of low-income Americans’ annual spending. Even the wealthiest Americans devote a sizable share of their spending to keeping a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerators.

That’s according to the Labor Department’s latest survey of Americans’ buying habits. The consumer expenditure survey report released Friday contained data on spending from July 2012 through June 2013.

On average, the report found, Americans upped their spending on food, transportation, health care, housing and “cash contributions” like child support payments and charitable donations. Overall, they spent 1.5% more compared with the previous 12 months, while average income ticked down 0.2%.

While The Hill finds cause for rejoicing:

Bankers breathe sigh of relief as Tea Party power fizzles

Banks are breathing a sigh of relief after established GOP incumbents bested a handful of Tea Party challengers at the polls recently.

Industry sources said the establishment wins improve Republican odds of retaking the Senate, which would in turn lead to a friendlier climate for the long-beleaguered sector. But some note that the Tea Party has left a mark on the Republican Party, presenting a challenging landscape for the industry.

The Tea Party movement can trace its roots back to fury about bailouts and banks, but the force that pulled the Republican Party right in recent years is finding less success at the polls recently.

And from the East Bay Express, a sign of rationality:

Californians Overwhelmingly Support a Ban on Fracking

A new poll shows that a super-majority of California residents — 68 percent — say they support a ban on fracking in the state. Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial oil- and natural gas-extraction method that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals into the earth. It’s been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to causing earthquakes. The new survey was published earlier this week by public policy opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, or FM3. Of the 807 California voters who were polled over the phone at random, 68 percent suppored a moratorium on fracking, with 45 percent of respondents stating that they “strongly” supported it.

Just a week after FM3 conducted its poll — and on the same day that the firm released its poll results — Californians learned that the estimate of extractable oil via fracking or acidization in the state was significantly lower than originally thought. The Monterey Shale, a 1,750 square-mile rock formation stretching from Sacramento to Los Angeles, was expected to provide 13.7 billion barrels of oil. A new estimate by the US Energy Information Administration lowered the number to 600 million barrels — about four percent of the original estimate.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, Proposition 13 strikes again [the measure limiting property taxes used to find the state’s schools]:

Governor’s teacher pension plan shocks school districts

When local school district officials pulled out their calculators and started crunching the numbers based on the governor’s new plan to shore up the state’s teacher pension fund, their jaws hit the floor.

The proposal, part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision, would more than double the 8.25 percent of payroll that districts now pay toward teacher retirement each year. Phased in over seven years, districts would end up paying 19.1 percent.

For San Francisco, that would mean spending $34 million each year above the current $25.8 million for teacher pensions, district officials said Friday.

From Bloomberg, a dire warning?:

U.S. Retailers Missing Estimates by Most in 13 Years

U.S. retailers’ first-quarter earnings are trailing analysts’ estimates by the widest margin in 13 years after bad weather and weak spending by lower-income consumers intensified competition.

Chains are missing projections by an average of 3.1 percent, with 87 retailers, or 70 percent of those tracked, having reported, researcher Retail Metrics Inc. said in a statement today. That’s the worst performance relative to estimates since the fourth quarter of 2000, when they missed by 3.3 percent. Over the long term, chains typically beat by 3 percent, the firm said.

Extreme winter weather through February and March forced store closings and stifled sales, Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics said. Lower- and moderate-income consumers had little discretionary spending power, and chains also faced price competition from e-commerce sites.

And from CNN, the first of two headlines in what we suspect will be a stream to come as the long, hot summer commences:

Arizona residents evacuate as fierce wildfire rages

The online Incident Information System reported Friday night that much of the fire burned with lower intensity throughout the day, allowing firefighters to make some progress.

However, despite that progress, the total area scorched climbed to 8,500 acres that night, and the containment level held steady at 5%.

The equivalent of a battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers, have been fighting the fire between Flagstaff and Sedona — a tourist and retirement destination famed for its red rock formations — since Tuesday afternoon.

CNN again:

Wildfire scorches nearly 80,000 acres in Alaska

A days-long wildfire had covered more than 78,000 acres of Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge by early Saturday, a state agency said.

The Funny River Fire began burning Monday evening and was 20% contained by early Saturday, Alaska’s Interagency Incident Management Team said.

No evacuations or injuries have been reported. There were more than 409 firefighters battling the blaze.

North of the border, and an all-too-familiar headline south of the border, via CBC News:

39% of unemployed have given up job search, poll suggests

In a poll carried out by Harris Poll and published Friday by employment agency Express Employment Professionals, the company surveyed 1,502 unemployed Canadians. None of them had a job, and not all of them were receiving EI benefits.

The results were eye-opening.

Some 39 per cent of those polled were in agreement with the statement that “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job” with five per cent saying they “agree a lot” 11 per cent saying they “agree somewhat” and 17 per cent saying they “agree a little.”

In the poll, which saw people respond to questions online over a week in April, more than a third responded they hadn’t had a job interview in over a month. A full 13 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t had a job interview since 2012 or before — well over a calendar year ago.

Britain next, and another slap on the wrist from BBC News:

Barclays Bank fined £26m for gold price failings

Barclays Bank has been fined £26m by UK regulators after one of its traders was discovered attempting to fix the price of gold. The trader, who has been sacked, exploited weaknesses in the system to profit at a customer’s expense, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

The incident occurred in June 2012, the day after the bank was fined a record £290m for attempting to rig Libor. Barclays said it “very much regrets the situation” that led to the fine.

The FCA found the bank failed to “adequately manage conflicts of interest between itself and its customers”, in relation to fixing the price of gold.

The Independent sets a precedent:

Slovak Roma parents fail in attempt to block same sex couple adopting their children

A Slovakian couple who have accused Kent County Council of social engineering have failed in their bid to block the adoption of their two sons by a same sex couple.

The Catholic couple, who are of Roma origin, took their case to the High Court earlier this month in an attempt to prevent their sons, aged two and four, from being adopted by a same sex couple in Kent.

In the judgement – released on Friday –Sir James Munby, the most senior judge in the Family Court, refused the pair’s request, saying that they had no grounds in law to appeal the decision.

And Sky News covers hard times populism resurgent:

Parties Reel From UKIP Election Success

  • The establishment faces up to the fallout from UKIP’s election “earthquake” as it wins more than double the seats many predicted.

UKIP’s haul of seats in the council elections is up to 184 with the main parties now mulling the prospect of four-party politics in next year’s general election.

Nigel Farage has said his anti-EU party is a “serious player” for 2015 after they added 167 councillors at the expense of the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

UKIP made gains in traditional Labour and Conservative heartlands, including strong showings in Rotherham – where it returned 10 out of 21 councillors.

One reaction from EUbusiness:

British deputy PM faces calls to quit

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg came under pressure Sunday to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats after the centrist party took a pounding in local elections.

Two would-be Lib Dem parliamentary candidates — staring at a much-reduced prospect of winning a seat at nexy tear’s general election — have put heir names to an online letter, signed by more than 200 party members, calling for Clegg to step aside.

He insisted Friday he would not quit despite being down 307 seats to 427 in the English local authority seats voted for on Thursday, with two of the 161 councils still to declare.

Sweden next, and a surge to the left form TheLocal.se:

Greens, feminists surge ahead of EU vote ‘thriller’

  • The Green Party climbed ahead of the Moderates into second spot in the polls ahead of Sunday’s EU elections with the upstart Feminist Initiative taking a further step forward in what promises to be a tough election to forecast.

The Green Party (MP) now has the support of 15.5 percent of the Swedish electorate ahead of Sunday’s vote, according to the latest opinion poll by Novus. The poll shows that the party has overtaken the Moderates who came in at 15 percent and now trails only the Social Democrats on 25.1 percent.

“We have not seen anything like it. I think that in Sweden, this is unique in itself,” said Torbjörn Sjöström at Novus to Sveriges Radio.

The Feminist Initiative (Fi) continued their dramatic success of recent months to claim a statistically significant rise to 5.4 percent and look set to claim their first seats in the parliament.

From BBC News, more of that hard times intolerance:

Brussels fatal gun attack at Jewish museum

  • Police have cordoned off the area but will not confirm if the gunman is still being pursued, as Duncan Crawford reports from the scene

A gunman has shot dead two men and a woman at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital Brussels.

A fourth person was seriously wounded, emergency services said.

The attacker arrived by car, got out, fired on people at the museum entrance, and returned to the vehicle which then sped away, Belgian media report.

Germany next, and political idiocy rebuked from EUbusiness:

Schulz mocked for ‘German’ appeal in EU election ad

The Socialists’ top candidate in European elections, Martin Schulz, drew online ridicule Sunday for telling Germans only a vote for his party would ensure one of their compatriots runs the European Commission.

“Only if you vote for Martin Schulz and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) can a German become president of the EU Commission” read an advertisement published in Germany’s top-selling Bild daily ahead of the election.

The appeal to national sentiment in the pan-European polls quickly sparked derisive commentary on Twitter under the hashtag #NureinDeutscher (Only a German).

“Youth unemployment in Europe is a huge problem, only a German can solve it,” quipped journalist and blogger Tilo Jung.

From Reuters, deals undone:

Germany stops numerous arms exports, risks compensation fees: report

Germany’s national security council declined two-thirds of applications for arms export licenses at its most recent sitting three weeks ago, German news weekly Spiegel said on Saturday.

The economy ministry had prevented a license application to export to Saudi Arabia 500 million euros worth of sight devices for armored personnel carrier guns from even being discussed in the council, it said.

Spiegel said the sights were made by a unit of Airbus. A spokesman for Airbus said: “We have no information about any government decision. We hope however for a swift and positive decision.”

And TheLocal.de protests:

Thousands protest at Erdogan German rally

Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Germany on Saturday, splitting the large Turkish community between passionate street protesters and conservative supporters flocking to what was widely seen as a campaign speech.

Erdogan is expected to run for the presidency in August, and Germany – with a Turkish community of three million, about half of them eligible voters – would be a strong constituency for the controversial leader.

Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have polarized Turks at home and abroad over what critics call his authoritarian style, a crackdown on civil liberties and corruption scandals under his rule.

On to Eastern Europe and epidemic apathy from New Europe:

Record abstention in Chech Republic reaches 80%, exit poll

  • Right wing TOP 09 leads with 18%

Right wing opposition party TOP 09 is taking the first place in the European Elections in the Czech Republic, according to exit polls. Czech news agency CTK calculates abstention to have reached record levels at around 80%

According to the exit poll done on behalf of the Dnes newspaper, TOP 09 gets 18% of the poll, while the ruling Social Democratic party (CSSD) follows with 17%.

Spain next, and significant symbolism from the Guardian:

Why Spain’s goal to leave racism behind could be decided by 56 villagers

  • A mayor’s quest to change his village’s name could help to alter attitudes in the country as a whole

At 4pm on Friday, it’s eerily quiet in this tiny village. The blinds on the stone houses are drawn and there’s not a person to be seen wandering the few streets that make up Castrillo Matajudíos.

It’s a sharp contrast to the noisy, relentless chatter about the place in the outside world. Ever since the mayor announced his intention to hold a referendum on changing its name, the spotlight has been on this Spanish village near the northern city of Burgos. Hundreds of media outlets around the world have shared its story. Thousands have taken to social media to opine on the name change. And come Sunday evening, when journalists are expected to outnumber residents at the announcement of the referendum result, millions around the world will hear about the outcome.

For 400 years, this place has borne the name of Castrillo Matajudíos, or Fort Kill the Jews in English. Starting at 9am on Sunday, the village’s 56 residents will have the chance to decide whether the time has come to change the name to Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or Hill of Jews. “We had no idea that this would be something that would gain worldwide attention,” said Lorenzo Rodríguez Pérez, mayor of Castrillo Matajudíos.

After the jump, mixed Latin American signals, That turmoil, serious Chinese economic uncertainty, Japanese Olympic fraudsters, the tragic loss of play, pre-cooked chickens, and fears of another Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, cons, econs, lies, and more


Today’s tales from the realms of politics, eocnomics, and the environment begins with one of the reasons a cynic might believe it’s game over. From United Press International:

House bans Pentagon from preparing for climate change

  • Representatives: Amendment “is science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines Thursday to approve an amendment to the $600 billion National Defense Authorization Act which prohibits the Pentagon from using any of its budget to address climate change and specifically instructs the Department of Defense to ignore the latest scientific reports on the threats posed by global warming.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, a Republican whose home state of West Virginia’s economy is heavily leveraged in coal mining, reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.

The data the amendment is forcing the Pentagon to ignore are the most recent and comprehensive reports on the dangers the United States faces as a consequence of climate change.

Another reason, from CNBC:

25% of Americans saving $0 for retirement

  • Retirement savings for about a quarter of Americans amounts to … $0.

One in every 4 Americans is not saving for retirement at all, either because they are not thinking about it, do not really know how or, worse, do not feel they can afford to, according to a report by Country Financial.

Americans ages 18-29, often called “millennials,” are among the worst when it comes to saving for retirement, the firm said. Nearly a third—32 percent—aren’t saving at all for their “golden years.”

Bloomberg News excludes:

No Recovery for Workers in the Middle

  • Whether it’s the back seat of a subcompact car or the U.S. labor market, the middle can be an uncomfortable spot.

Highly educated Americans have been enjoying the recovery for quite a while. And low-skilled Americans may finally be recovering some of their lost ground, Bloomberg News reports. The jobless rate for workers with a high school education or less is down about one percentage point since December, for example.

Left out are so-called “middle skill” workers, according to a new analysis [PDF] from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The worse-than-mediocre prospects for these average workers repeats a four-decade trend. Recessions destroy a disproportionate number of middle-income jobs, like those held by secretaries and machine operators, that can be easily outsourced or automated. When the economy recovers, there’s demand for jobs at the top, like doctors and tech workers, and at the bottom, like restaurant workers and home health aides. But most of the jobs in the middle are gone forever.

From Reuters, you gotta beef with that?:

USDA warns of sticker shock on U.S. beef as grilling season starts

The Department of Agriculture has warned of sticker shock facing home chefs on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the unofficial start of the U.S. summer grilling season.

The agency said conditions in California could have “large and lasting effects on U.S. fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices,” as the most populous U.S. state struggles through what officials are calling a catastrophic drought.

The consumer price index (CPI) for U.S. beef and veal is up almost 10 percent so far in 2014, reflecting the fastest increase in retail beef prices since the end of 2003. Prices, even after adjusting for inflation, are at record highs.

China Daily hustles:

US hedge fund raises money from wealthy Chinese to invest abroad

In a milestone for the global hedge fund industry, US-based Citadel LLC has become the first global fund to raise money from wealthy Chinese individuals for investment abroad.

Chicago-based Citadel was one of six foreign hedge funds approved in September by China’s foreign-exchange regulator to each raise $50 million in yuan under the trial Qualified Domestic Limited Partner (QDLP) Program that allows high net worth Chinese to invest abroad via foreign hedge funds.

The company founded by billionaire Ken Griffin won regulatory approval for currency exchange on March 26, meaning it can now convert the yuan to US dollars for investing, according to a statement Wednesday from the Shanghai government’s information office.

China Daily again, with a visitor en route:

2.1m Chinese to visit US this year

An estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the US in 2013, and that number is expected to grow by 21 percent in to 2.1 million this year.

And US President Barack Obama has signaled that he’s going do what he can to increase not only the number of Chinese visitors, but all foreign tourists.

On Thursday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum giving secretaries at the Homeland Security and Commerce departments four months to come up with a plan to streamline the entry process for foreign visitors to reduce wait times.

A central bankster warning from Reuters:

Central banks must be on guard against currency wars, says ECB’s Coeure

Central banks need to cooperate to avoid a currency war, European Central Bank policymaker Benoit Coeure said on Friday, and the ECB should take account of the euro’s exchange rate in its monetary policy deliberations.

Speaking in Paris, Coeure also said that cutting the ECB’s deposit rate into negative territory was a policy option for the bank but would not be an exchange rate policy.

In a speech on “Currency wars and the Future of the International Monetary System”, Coeure asked whether, from the ECB’s perspective, central banks should take account of exchange rates in monetary policy; whether there is a currency war now; and whether international cooperation is needed in this regard.

Trust us, they say. Via EUbusiness:

Atlantic trade talks: US, EU seek to calm food worries

US and EU officials tried Friday to calm fears that an ambitious transatlantic free trade pact would not erode food safety rules.

Closing out five days of talks to advance the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators stressed that any deal would not force Europeans to accept US foods already ruled unsafe in the European Union.

“We cannot envisage… changing our food safety law as a result of the trade negotiations,” EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said at a press conference in Washington.

“There’s no intention of forcing the Europeans to eat anything that Europeans don’t want to eat — that’s not what this agreement is about,” said his US counterpart, Dan Mullaney.

From EUbusiness, sure, right:

Germany’s Schaeuble denies austerity sparked populist backlash

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble denied in an interview Friday that the rise of eurosceptics expected in weekend elections was due to austerity policies championed by Berlin.

He was asked by The Wall Street Journal whether anticipated gains by populist and anti-EU parties in the European Parliament vote until Sunday would be the price to pay for years of belt-tightening.

“Some will interpret it that way,” Schaeuble replied. “I think that’s wrong. You can see that our policy to stabilise the eurozone was successful.”

On to Britain and the right rising from BBC News:

Nigel Farage: UKIP to be serious players at general election

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his party will be “serious players” at the 2015 general election after it made gains in council polls across England.

Mr Farage said the “UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house” after it gained more than 150 council seats.

The BBC’s projected national share of the vote suggests UKIP would have scored 17% in a Britain-wide election. Labour would have got 31% of the vote, ahead of Conservatives on 29% with the Liberal Democrats on 13%.

More from the Independent:

Local election results 2014: Nigel Farage hails Ukip’s ‘political earthquake’ and vows more to come

The three main political parties were last night assessing the damage from local elections in which they were all hit by the “political earthquake” that Nigel Farage’s Ukip promised and delivered.

Mr Farage predicted that his party’s sweeping gains outside London in Thursday’s council elections in England will be matched by coming first when the results of the European Parliament poll are declared on Sunday night.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all put their best gloss on yesterday’s town hall results. But behind the scenes, they were frantically calculating the impact that the new “four-party” political landscape would have on next year’s general election.

The Guardian recommends, righteously:

Jail fraudsters for longer, judges told

  • Guidelines from Sentencing Council instruct judiciary to make harm to victims a central factor in deciding on custody

Longer prison sentences for frauds that target the vulnerable and fresh sanctions against money-laundering are recommended in new judges’ guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.

The impact of fraud on victims should be a central feature when judges come to consider the level of punishment imposed on convicted fraudsters, the guidance explains. Previous guidelines for many fraud offences referred to the harm done to victims merely as an aggravating factor.

Some of the recommendations significantly raise the starting point in terms of sentence length. The previous range for offences involving more than £500,000, for example, was four to seven years’ custody with a starting point of five years. The range in the new guideline is five to eight years with a starting point of seven.

The London Telegraph scents a bubbly deflation:

London’s property boom is losing its fizz

  • Even the super-rich are baulking at rising prices in the capital and would-be buyers are wary of a rise in interest rates

The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, that most canny of residential property owners, recently took the opportunity to offload hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of property in Mayfair and Belgravia, so silly had prices become. And it is not just the playgrounds of hedge fund bosses and Russian oligarchs that are feeling the chill. Long-favoured spill-over districts for those no longer able to afford Chelsea and South Kensington are also experiencing something of a hiatus. Properties aren’t selling, and those that do are frequently failing to achieve asking prices. “The market has come right off,” says one insider with his nose to the ground.

Viewed in this light, the imminent stock market flotation of Zoopla, the online property website, for some ridiculous sum of money may be something of a last hurrah, like the sky-high price put on the estate agent Foxtons back in 2008.

From the Guardian, a fracking letdown:

No shale gas potential in Weald basin, concludes British Geological Survey

  • Ministers deny hyping UK potential after BGS says only a fraction of Weald oil reserves is recoverable

Government hopes that Britain can emulate the US by starting a shale-gas revolution have been knocked back after a long-awaited report unexpectedly concluded there was no potential in fracking for gas in the Weald region of southern England.

Michael Fallon, the energy minister, insisted he was neither “disappointed nor happy” at the findings from the British Geological Survey and denied the government had hyped the potential for extracting shale gas in Britain.

He preferred to focus on more positive BGS findings that there could be 4.4bn barrels of oil in the shale rocks of the area, which stretches from Salisbury to Tunbridge Wells – although in practice recoverable reserves are likely to be a fraction of this.

More from the Independent:

No gas found in the Weald basin: Does this spell the end of the Government’s dream of a fracking revolution?

The Government’s dream of kickstarting a fracking revolution has suffered a major setback after a survey of one of the UK’s great shale gas hopes found no evidence of gas in the area.

And while the same survey – of the Weald basin, stretching from Wiltshire to Kent – did find an estimated 4.4 billion barrels of oil, the scientist who oversaw the project admitted it would be so difficult to extract that the basin would be unlikely to yield even 0.5 per cent of the oil so far extracted from the North Sea.

Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the British Geological Survey, which produced the report, said: “It’s not a huge bonanza. But we have to see what happens.” He added: “It is going to be a challenge for the industry to get it out.”

By way of stunning contrast, the same basic story refracted through the lens of the stalwart conservative London Telegraph:

Fracking in Tory heartlands ‘in national interest’, says Michael Fallon as report reveals 4.4bn barrels of oil

  • Energy minister denies disappointment as experts say tiny fraction of oil can be recovered and will not lead to “huge bonanza”

Fracking should take place in Tory heartlands of south-east England “in the national interest”, energy minister Michael Fallon has said, despite expert warnings that there was not enough oil in the region to spark a “huge bonanza”.

A British Geological Survey study of the “Weald” basin revealed that 4.4bn barrels of shale oil was likely to lie in the area, primarily beneath Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

But the BGS said that only a small fraction of the oil – potentially 5pc, the equivalent of less than six months’ UK oil demand – was likely to be recoverable through fracking.

Mr Fallon insisted that fracking must go ahead in the area, despite it being largely covered by the South Downs National Park and by the Surrey Hills and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – areas in which some Tory MPs have already suggested the drilling should not take place.

On to Norway and a rejection from TheLocal.no:

Norway scuppers China tycoon’s Arctic plan

The Norwegian government has leapt in to buy a huge swathe of Arctic land on the Svalbard archipelago a week after one of China’s richest property tycoons announced he might buy it to build a resort.

The land, a 216 square-kilometre estate with its own mountain and large coal reserves, had been put up for sale by the industrialist and farmer Henning Horn, and his sisters Elin and Kari Horn.

“The government has decided to work for a solution involving a state takeover Austre Adventfjord,” trade minister Monica Maeland said in a statement released on Thursday. “Through public ownership and Norwegian law, we have the best starting point for managing Svalbard for the common good.

Germany next, and a rare exception at a time other countries are doing the opposite, via TheLocal.de:

Ageing Germany lowers retirement age

German lawmakers approved on Friday a major pensions overhaul, criticised by many, including within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, as making little economic sense in a rapidly ageing country.

The new rules will allow some workers to retire at the age of 63, while the norm of 67 is being progressively phased in for workers in Europe’s top economy after a 2007 change.

Together with an improvement in pensions for mothers whose children were born before 1992, the reforms are set to cost Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition” €60 billion up to 2020.

From Deutsche Welle, diplomatic phrasing:

German business confidence takes a breather

  • Confidence among German business leaders has dropped slightly. A closely watched monthly poll by a leading economic think tank revealed executives expected business prospects to worsen later in the year

The Munich-based Ifo economic research institute reported Friday that its benchmark index gauging business confidence among top executives across the nation fell to 110.4 points in May, down from 111.2 points in the previous month.

The latest poll among some 7,000 managers indicated that on average, compared with last month, the executives polled consider the current business environment to be less favorable, and are less optimistic about prospects for the next six months.

In contrast, analysts polled by Reuters penciled in a less pronounced drop in the confidence barometer.

Süddeutsche Zeitung gets behind the wheel:

What’s Driving Gulf Cash To European Holdings

Once upon a time, buying an expensive German car was enough to make a rich sheikh happy. Lately it seems a car doesn’t quite cut it, though a sizeable stake in an entire German car company may do nicely, thank you.

Four years ago, for example, at a Volkswagen general assembly, a man was sitting up on the stage who didn’t look like the others there from the VW family dynasty. The man’s name was Hussain Ali Al-Abdulla, and he was a board member of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) that owns 17% of VW after acquiring most of Porsche’s share options.

Seventeen percent of the common stock of one of the world’s largest automakers is a great deal. But since the Porsche and Piëch families (via Porsche Holding) own over half of VW stocks and the state of Lower Saxony holds a further 20%, this 17% gives the QIA a strategic right to make its voice heard quite clearly — if not direct power.

France next, and an austerian rebuff from TheLocal.fr:

French military top brass threaten to quit over cuts

  • The battle over further cuts to France’s military budget prompted dire warnings from the country’s defence minister and a threat from the heads of the armed forces to resign

France’s defence minister has warned that any further cuts in the military budget would badly hamper operations amid reports that the top brass would quit if there was further belt-tightening.

French President François Hollande will take decisions on the issue in the coming weeks, his entourage said on Friday, following Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s letter to him. The warning comes at a time when France has sent troops to two of its former colonies in Africa, Mali and the Central African Republic, where there has been widespread fighting following coups.

If there are more cuts, “the army will become under-equipped and will not be able to undertake new operations,” said Le Drian.

And from EurActiv, in your heart you know they’re right, far right:

Marine Le Pen and Golden Dawn ‘flirting’

A post EU-election alliance between the French far-right National Front and the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is not entirely ruled out. EurActiv Greece reports.

Officially, Marine Le Pen has sought to distance the National Front from Golden Dawn and other parties it sees as being too extremist.

But the political balances in the next European Parliament and the openly ambiguous stance of Golden Dawn make an alliance still look possible.

Austria next, and the usual accumulation from TheLocal.at:

Austrian millionaires richer than ever before

  • The assets of Austria’s millionaires grew in 2013 by seven percent, to €262 billion, making them richer than ever before

Austria’s millionaires could pay off the country’s entire debt in one shot, and still have another €20 billion left over, according to a report by the Liechtenstein investment company Valluga.

It noted that the gap between rich and poor is widening in Austria.

A total of 4,600 Austrians became millionaires last year. This means that 82,300 people now have financial assets of more than €1 million, not including owner-occupied real estate.

Switzerland next and sounds of another bubble popping from TheLocal.ch:

Property prices plunge in Geneva region: report

After rising steadily for five years, home prices tumbled by an average of more than six percent in the city of Geneva during the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

That’s the estimate from UBS and real estate consultants Wüest & Partner for average prices of condominiums and villas, according to a report from the Tribune de Genève published on Thursday.

The estimate shows weaker prices across the Lake Geneva region, where an average drop of 2.4 percent was seen, and a slowdown in certain other parts of Switzerland.

Average prices were down by four percent in Lausanne and lower by about 1.5 percent in Winterthur in the canton of Zurich.

On to Spain, and a bankster benediction from New Europe:

S&P raises Spain’s credit rating a notch, cites better economic prospects

Standard & Poor’s rating agency has upgraded Spain’s sovereign credit grade a notch, the third agency to do so in recent months and a further sign the country is turning the corner after five years of economic turmoil.

The agency raised the grade to BBB from BBB-, citing improved economic prospects and praising the conservative government’s structural and labor reforms since 2010.

Two other agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have also upgraded Spain this year.

El País delivers the grim working class reality:

One in five Spanish job seekers has not worked in three years

  • Long-term unemployment rose 22% last year, to 1.275 million
  • Experts warn problem will be lasting legacy of the economic crisis

Six years into a profound jobs crisis, and the full effects of long-term unemployment are beginning to emerge. Figures from the latest Active Population Survey show that 60% of Spain’s 6 million unemployed have not worked in a year. What’s worse is that among this group, the proportion of people who have been without work for three years or more is growing, and now stands at one out of every five job seekers, according to data published on Friday by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The Active Population Survey shows that last year there was an average of 1,275,700 job seekers who, having been active previously, had been unable to return to the job market in at least three years. This represents a rise in long-term unemployment of 234,200 people compared with 2012, an increase of 22%.

Admittedly, the pace of the increase has fallen off in the last two years, when long-term unemployment was rising at a rate of 40% a year. But it remains way above the general unemployment rate, which has begun to fall in the last two quarters, as a result of the marked decline in the active population. In 2007 the proportion of people who had gone three years without working was just 13% of all job seekers, while in 2013 that figure reached 21%.

From TheLocal.es, that good ol’ hard times intolerance:

Spanish mayor ‘sorry’ for ‘anti-immigrant’ outburst

A Spanish mayor has apologised after being accused of racism by Romanian immigrants for a foul-mouthed tirade against thieves.

Mayor Josu Bergara was recorded in a meeting last year boasting that he had made sure “the scum no longer come” to his northern town of Sestao.

Five Romanian families lodged a complaint against him in court, accusing him of illegally refusing to register them as residents in the Basque town. They submitted a video of his outburst as evidence of racism to support their case, said the campaign group SOS Racismo, which aided the families.

Italy next, and last minute political vituperation from Corriere della Sera:

Grillo and Renzi Clash as Berlusconi Speaks in Rome

  • M5S leader claims: “Berlinguer is on our side”. Premier replies: “Wash your mouth out”. Berlusconi appeals for moderate vote

Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi took to the hustings in Rome, the former in Piazza del Popolo and the latter at the Palazzo dei Congressi in the EUR district. Meanwhile Beppe Grillo was in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. The prime minister and the Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader swapped barbs over Enrico Berlinguer. “He’s on our side”, thundered former stand-up comic Grillo. “Wash your mouth out”, was the PM’s reply.

With the race to the polls entering the final straight, the three largest parties took to the streets at almost the same time on Thursday evening for their last rallies before the campaign officially closes. Earlier in the day, Mr Renzi said on Radio1′s Radio anch’io programme: “The risk is that someone might seek to block the reforms. I think that Italy can be a guide for Europe and has an amazing future. If they don’t let me make the reforms, then yes, my project will have failed and I’ll pack my bags”. Speaking in Piazza del Popolo, Mr Renzi recalled that “a united Europe started here” before launching his attack on the M5S leader: “Grillo mentioned Berlinguer in Florence. People who aren’t fit to speak names like that shouldn’t be mentioning them. You can’t say ‘I am beyond Hitler’ and ‘Berlinguer’ in the same breath. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out”.

“I solemnly pledge that all pensioners will get a €1,000 monthly pension, to be on the cabinet’s agenda for its first meetings”. Silvio Berlusconi made the promise at his EUR rally, where he added that a similar measure would be taken “in favour of housewives”. Mr Berlusconi said he was disappointed by Mr Renzi (“He’s meant more spending and more taxes”) and reaffirmed that Mr Grillo was taking advantage of “ordinary people’s desperation”.

From TheLocal.it, political realism?:

Red light district wins Rome mayor’s support

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino has said he is in favour of having a red light district in the Italian capital, following moves in Milan to see the sex trade regulated.

Marino said on Thursday he is “in favour of zones where prostitution is allowed and zones where it isn’t,” although added that as mayor he did not have the power to open a red light district in Rome.

“This overflow of prostitution doesn’t only damage the decorum of the city, but it is a great cause of public annoyance in some neighbourhoods,” he was quoted in Corriere della Sera as saying.

His rethink on regulation of the sex trade follows calls by Matteo Salvini, a Northern League (Lega Nord) politician in Milan, to open a red light district in Italy’s financial capital.

And fueling around with TheLocal.it:

ENI clinches Gazprom deal to cut gas prices

Italian energy major ENI on Friday said it had signed a deal with Russian gas giant Gazprom that will cut gas import prices as part of a revision of its contract.

“The agreement involves a reduction in supply prices and an important change in the price indexation to fully align it with the market,” ENI said in a statement.

It said the deal, which was signed in Russia by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller and ENI boss Claudio Descalzi, would apply retroactively from the start of 2014.

Aftter the jump, the latest from Greece [including accelerating political fireworks], the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan vexation, Venezuelan vituperation, Thai coup grip intensification, Aussie educational austerity, Chinese economic uncertain and corruption woes, Sony tries again, Japanese financial plans, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: CorporoEconoEcoPoliFarce


Having lost a host of entries through a browser crash, we’re feeling touched by absurdity, and so we begin with this from Taiwanese Animators:

AT&T buys DirecTV for $48.5 billion: Monopoly Media Mergers Edition

Program notes:

AT&T announced it plans to buy DirecTV, the top US satellite TV operator, for $48.5 billion in an attempt to grow beyond an increasingly hostile cellular market.

The deal was announced on Sunday. AT&T said it is offering $95 per DirecTV share in a combination of cash and stock, a 10 percent premium over Friday’s closing price of $86.18. The cash portion, $28.50 per share, will be financed by cash, asset sales, financing already lined up and other debt market transactions.

If the deal is approved by US regulators, AT&T would add 20 million DirecTV customers to its paltry 5.7 million U-verse customers, plus another 18 million DirecTV customers in Latin America.

The Wire adds more, less theatrically:

AT&T Promises to Uphold Net Neutrality for Three Years if DirecTV Deal Goes Through

In the event the $48 billion AT&T-DirecTV deal closes, the new joint company is promising to uphold the current net neutrality rules for at least three years. This promise would be valid regardless of how the FCC vote on the issue goes later this year.

In their proposal for the DirecTV purchase, AT&T issued a list of commitments, which they are calling “benefits of the transaction.”  One of these “benefits” is the following:

Net Neutrality Commitment. Continued commitment for three years after closing to the FCC’s Open Internet protections established in 2010, irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules.

In the event the FCC’s paid prioritization proposal passes, AT&T won’t actually participate in the potentially multi-million dollar scheme (if they keep their promise, that is.) This is also a major show of good faith to the FCC, which will have to approve the merger.

From the Guardian, a rare cause of a faint twinge of something approaching but not exactly qualifying as joy:

Credit Suisse pleads guilty to criminal charges in US tax evasion settlement

  • Bank is first in more than a decade to admit to a crime in US and will pay more than $2.5bn in penalties

Credit Suisse Group has pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it helped Americans evade taxes, becoming the first bank in more than a decade to admit to a crime in the US. It will now pay a long-expected fine of $2.5bn (£1.5bn).

“This case shows that no financial institution no matter its size or global reach is above the law,” said the attorney general, Eric Holder. He said the years-long investigation had uncovered evidence of an “extensive and wide-ranging” conspiracy to hide taxes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the bank’s involvement in it.

“The bank went to elaborate lengths to shield itself, its employees, and the tax cheats it served from accountability for their criminal actions. They subverted disclosure requirements, destroyed bank records, and concealed transactions involving undeclared accounts by limiting withdrawal amounts and using offshore credit and debit cards to repatriate funds. They failed to take even the most basic steps to ensure compliance with tax laws,” said Holder.

From Al Jazeera America, an unsurprising correlation:

Study: Student debt worst at universities with highest-paid presidents

  • Executives at 25 universities saw 14 percent higher salary increase than national average after 2008 recession

Student debt and the hiring of relatively low-paid adjunct faculty rather than full-time professors have grown fastest at public universities with the highest-paid presidents, a new report found.

University president pay has risen dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, according to the report, which focuses on 25 state universities that pay their presidents almost double the national average. Released Sunday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive Washington D.C.-based think tank, the study is called The One Percent at State U — referring to the financial gains made by executives after the 2008 recession.

Nationwide, between the fall of 2009 and the summer of 2012, average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent to $544,544, according to the study

Another unsurprising correlation, via KCBS:

Inner City Oakland Youth Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Centers for Disease Control said 30 percent of inner city kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The CDC said these children often live in virtual war zones. Doctors at Harvard said they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD.

Unlike soldiers, children in the inner city never leave the combat zone. They often experience trauma, repeatedly.

“You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar. Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home,” said Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University.

A cross-border legal beef from the Canadian Press, with that old “corporate person” free speech once again at issue:

Canada-U.S. meat labelling row hears free speech arguments

Canadian livestock producers were in an American courtroom Monday fighting against labelling requirements blamed for having devastated their exports to the United States.

The case revolves around the free-speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, one of the most sacrosanct provisions of the American Constitution.

Canadian and Mexican producers, and the U.S. partners they supply, argue that those speech rights are being violated by the requirement that they stamp country-of-origin labels on meat packaging.

On to Europe, with growth at the margin from TheLocal.st:

Europe’s far right expect election gains

Europe’s far-right is looking to overcome deep divisions and establish itself as a major player in Brussels after EU elections this week where it is expected to make significant gains.

With voters tired of a European Union handing down decisions from on high, parties like France’s National Front (FN), Britain’s UKIP and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPOe) are going strong in the polls ahead of the May 22-25 ballot.

But it might not be all plain sailing in the months to come.

Ireland next, and austerity once again victimizing its victims, via TheJournal.ie:

Two rape crisis centres are to close temporarily as cuts take hold

  • The services in Clare and Tipperary will be closed for at least a month because of a €120,000 shortfall.

TWO RAPE COUNSELLING services in the Midwest are to be temporaily closed because of a funding shortfall the service estimates at €120,000.

Rape Crisis Midwest has centres in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary but is to close the latter two services for a least one month to save costs.

The service provides confidential one to one counselling to survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse and says that it helps about 80 people a week.

Cash flowing from one end of Eurasia to another, via TheLocal.no:

Chinese tycoon agrees to buy Norway land

The Chinese property billionaire blocked from buying a huge chunk of Iceland is reportedly close to buying up a 100 hectares of the scenic Lyngen coastline.

Huang Nubo, a Communist party member who spent ten years working in the country’s propaganda ministry, on Thursday agreed to buy the site, which has already received planning permission for a series of villas, from Ola OK Giæver Jr, a local landowner, pilot and businessman.

“I can promise you a new era for Lyngen municipality. I trust that Huang Nubo will create huge and positive financial ripples throughout the north of Norway,” Giæver jr said. “There is not a better capitalist than Huang.”

Sweden next, and one way to make homelessness vanish, the neooliberal version, via TheLocal.se:

Stockholm says no to ‘freakshow’ soup kitchen

Stockholm municipality has ruled that a soup kitchen which had served hearty broth to the city’s homeless for the past two years must move on due to the risk of the city square being “turned into a zoo”.

“Nazis can march freely and water is thrown on people begging, but to create a meeting place to challenge politicians and other people to actually do something is obviously very dangerous and terrible,” Elin Jakobsson at Soup Kitchen Stockholm said in response to the decision via social media.

The organization has been active for the past two years and works both as a source of food and a monthly meeting place for the city’s homeless population. The soup kitchen requires a police permit and on Monday its application for renewal was rejected.

But it can be carried to far, of course, via TheLocal.se:

Shopkeeper charged over beggar dousing

A Gothenburg shopkeeper has been charged over the drenching of a beggar with water in front of his shop in March, an incident which sparked an outraged response on social media.

The man was charged on Monday with two counts of harassment.

The first was for an incident on March 10th when he threw a bucket of warm water at his own Hemköp window, effectively soaking a beggar sitting nearby. The second charge was for the day after, when the man did the same thing with a bucket of cold water.

On both occasions, the woman begging by the windows was drenched, and the prosecutor argued on Monday that both acts were carried out with intent.

From GlobalPost, going medieval:

In Germany, no means yes

  • A regressive definition of rape highlights the country’s stubbornly traditional attitudes toward women.

No means yes, at least in this country.

When a rape court in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia acquitted the alleged rapist of a 15-year-old girl in 2012, women’s rights advocates were outraged.

The ruling found that saying no, or even screaming it, wasn’t enough to merit rape charges. Now findings from a new study indicate that case was hardly unique, despite a European initiative to step up efforts to stop violence against women.

The number of German rape cases ending in convictions has plummeted from 22 percent to 8 percent over the past 20 years, according to a study released by the Hanover-based Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony

A suggestion for a foreign visitor from TheLocal.de:

Mayor urges Erdogan to cancel German trip

German politicians called on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to cancel an upcoming pre-election appearance to Cologne in the wake of a deadly mine disaster.

Amid mounting anger within Turkey over his response to last week’s coal mine blast in which 301 died, Erdogan faced condemnation and calls to cancel his visit next Saturday from across the political spectrum in Germany.

Erdogan is due to address supporters in Germany, where three million Turks or people of Turkish origin live, with a visit to the western city of Cologne. For the first time, some 2.6 million Turks living abroad, including 1.5 million in Germany alone, will be able to cast their votes in the August presidential vote in which Erdogan is expected to stand.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Germany urges restraint ahead of Erdogan’s planned speech in Cologne

The German government has urged Turkey’s prime minister to exercise restraint when he visits the country on the weekend. This followed calls from some German politicians for Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel his visit.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday that as the prime minister of a “really close and important partner” nation, Erdogan was welcome in Germany, where he plans to deliver a speech to local Turks on Saturday.

At the same time, though, Seibert said the German government expected Erdogan to choose his words carefully at what he described as a “difficult” time, given the political tensions in Turkey in light of the recent mining disaster and the fact that it comes one day before the European elections.

Seibert said in light of this, the government expected Erdogan to deliver a “sensitive, responsible” speech, when he addresses thousands of his fellow countrymen and women at an indoor stadium in the western city of Cologne.

Another bankster busted, from TheLocal.fr:

Rogue trader Kerviel imprisoned in France

The former trader Jérome Kerviel was finally behind bars in France on Monday after being picked up by French police at midnight. Kerviel is due to start a three year prison sentence over his role in losing former employers Société Général €5 billion through high-risk trading.

French police arrested rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel at midnight on Sunday, shortly after he had crossed the border from Italy into France on his walk home from Rome to Paris.

A local prosecutor then announced on Monday morning that Kerviel was behind bars in the Riviera city of Nice.

TheLocal.fr again, with some reassurance for the poorest:

French income tax cuts for poorest to last to 2017

A plan to exempt France’s poorest households from income tax will not just be a one-off for this year, the government finance minister said this week. The income tax breaks will actually apply until 2017, the minister Michel Sapin said.

There was more cheer for the more hard-up tax payers in France on Monday when the finance minister Michel Sapin announced a government plan to apply the recently revealed breaks until 2017.

Sapin’s pledge comes days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made the headlines by announcing that the government plans to exempt 1.8 million households from the income tax burden.

From El País, Spanish repos rising:

Home repossessions up 10% in 2013

  • Spanish lenders took back nearly 50,000 properties last year
  • Figures released by Bank of Spain suggest more borrowers are handing back keys in payment

Spanish lenders repossessed 49,694 homes from defaulting borrowers in 2013, a 10% rise from a year earlier, figures released on Monday by the Bank of Spain show.

Of these, 38,961 were first residences, according to statistics provided by the banks. The vast majority of properties were empty at the time of repossession.

Meanwhile, the proportion of cases involving dation in payment, in which borrowers in arrears hand over the keys of the property to the lender that approved the mortgage to cancel debt obligations, reached 32.5% of all repossessed homes.

Pimping the rich fails to enrich, via TheLocal.es:

Spain’s ‘golden visa’ scheme fails to shine

Just 72 people have signed on to a controversial Spanish ‘visa for cash’ scheme which grants automatic Spanish residency to people who buy a property worth at least €500,000 ($685,000).

The so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme has reaped only small rewards, according to Spain’s El País newspaper.

Introduced in September 2013, the law gives foreigners who invest large sums in Spanish property, public debt and projects of general interest the right to reside in Spain.

And from thinkSPAIN, another way California is like Spain:

Worst drought in 150 years hits southern and eastern Spain

A DROUGHT of the scale not seen in over a century and a half is threatening water resources in Spain’s south and east after the lowest rainfall on record over the autumn, winter and spring.

The worst-hit provinces are Valencia and Alicante where, following a sudden and unprecedented gota fría or Mediterranean ‘monsoon’ in late August, it has barely rained between September and June.

Murcia, Albacete, Cuenca, Teruel, Cádiz, Málaga, Jaén and Almería are also at high risk – the only provinces in Andalucía which are safe are Granada, Sevilla and Huelva.

From El País, and how [to employ a sexist term] broad-minded of them:

Spanish conservatives forgive sexist remarks by their European contender

  • Women at Popular Party rally play down Arias Cañete’s views about male “intellectual superiority”

It was just a minor “slip.” Popular Party (PP) voters are writing off as unimportant statements about the intellectual superiority of men made last week by the party’s top European candidate, Miguel Arias Cañete, despite leaders’ fears they might have jeopardized his chances of winning.

Several women who attended a Sunday rally by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal in Cuenca sought to play down the controversy over the sexist remarks.

During a televised debate with Elena Valenciano, his Socialist rival in next Sunday’s European elections, Arias Cañete claimed that he had held back from serious intellectual confrontation because “if you abuse your intellectual superiority, you end up looking like a sexist intimidating a defenseless woman.”

Italy next and a wiseguy lipoff lambasted via ANSA.it:

Renzi hits back after Grillo mafia jibe

  • Premier says PD marks real face of change

Premier Matteo Renzi hit back Monday after Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), used a Mafia jibe to suggest his political career was close to ending as the campaign for Sunday’s European elections grew increasingly venomous.

Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is top in most polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S, who are second in the surveys after capturing a stunning 25% of the vote in last year’s general election, can come first with a late surge.

“Renzie has been hired on a temporary project to win the European elections, but he’ll lose them,” Grillo wrote Monday on his popular blog, using a nickname that refers to the premier’s alleged attempt to come across as cool like TV’s Fonzie.

TheLocal.it notes another grime number:

Italy’s employment rate is one of Europe’s worst

  • The Italian employment rate fell to 59.8 percent last year, one of the worst in Europe, according to figures released on Monday by the European Commission.

Fewer than 60 percent of Italians aged 20 to 64 were employed in 2013, far below the EU average of 68.3 percent.

The new figure sees Italy slip to figures not seen for over a decade, with last year’s rate just higher than the 59.2 percent recorded in 2002. Between then and 2008 the situation steadily improved for workers in Italy, until the global financial crisis struck and led to a steady decline in employment.

According to the European Commission data, Italy now has one of the worst employment rates in Europe, just slightly higher than Spain’s 58.2 percent. Only Greece, with 53.2 percent, and Croatia (53.9 percent) fared worse in 2013.

ANSA.it demands:

Napolitano says EU must help on migrants

  • Italy is main entrance for flow that’s creating emergency

President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday that the European Union must provide Italy with greater help in coping with a massive wave of migrants arriving from North Africa. “Today we are faced with the absolute need to achieve a concrete, operative model of cooperation with the European Union,” Napolitano told Italian officials at the United Nations in Geneva, ANSA sources said. The Head of State added that while migrant arrivals had caused an emergency for all of southern Europe, Italy is “the main entrance”. There has been friction between Rome and Brussels after two migrant boat disasters south of Italy last week in which around 60 people are confirmed dead and many more may have lost their lives.

Rome says the EU is not doing enough to support it after it launched the humanitarian Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) search-and-rescue border operation in October, after roughly 400 migrants drowned in two wrecks off the coast of Sicily.

On Wednesday Premier Matteo Renzi accused the European Union of looking the other way as Italy struggles to cope with the crisis.

After the jump, fascinating electoral news from Greece, the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan turmoil, pre-World Cup jitters in Brazil, polio rising, a Thai takeover, Chinese real estate developments, Japanese Trans-Pacific intransigence, melting polar caps, other environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, polls, EconoGrecoFukuNews


Today’s collection of political, economic, and environmental news headlines — plus the latest from Fukushima — begins a a “mission accomplished” entry from the Associated Press:

Tea party losing races but tugging GOP rightward

Tuesday’s high-profile primary elections may extend a streak of sorts for tea party Republicans: losing individual races but winning the larger ideological war by tugging the GOP rightward.

Tea party-endorsed candidates are struggling in Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho.

In each state, “establishment” Republican candidates have emphasized their conservative credentials — thus narrowing the party’s philosophical differences.

Democrats say it’s happening elsewhere — and that the candidates trying to give Republicans control of the Senate will prove too far right for centrist voters in November.

From the London Daily Mail, via the Dept. Of Anything for a Buck:

‘To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant’: Families of workers killed on 9/11 vent fury at new museum’s tacky gift shop which stands above tomb storing 8,000 unidentified body parts of victims

  • The newly-opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum also features a gift shop
  • Many victims’ families feel the idea of a gift shop, so close to their loved-ones’ remains, offensive
  • Some 8,000 unidentified remains of victims were recently relocated to a tomb beneath the museum
  • The museum opened to victims’ families and survivors on Thursday and will open for the general public on May 21
  • Proceeds from the gift shop will go to ‘developing and sustaining’ the museum and memorial

From the Washington Post, consolidation of media continues:

AT&T, DirecTV announce $49 billion merger

AT&T announced Sunday that it was acquiring DirecTV in a $49 billion deal that would create a new telecom and television behemoth to rival cable firms — while raising fresh concerns about competition and options for consumers.

AT&T would gain DirecTV’s 20 million U.S. subscribers, a company with strong cash flows and an ability to fatten its bundle of offerings. The combined firm would be able to offer phone, high-speed Internet and pay-TV subscriptions to more customers — packages that cable firms such as Comcast have sold most successfully.

AT&T has agreed to acquire DirecTV for $95 a share, made up of $28.50 a share in cash and $66.50 a share in AT&T stock. AT&T says it expects to close the acquisition within 12 months.

More from the Department of Anything for a Buck from BuzzFeed:

New York To Keep Investments Linked To Russian Social Media Site Home to Neo-Nazi and Anti-Gay Groups

Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Burger King, keep advertising there, too.

LGBT activists have since February been pushing the city and state of New York to divest of holdings connected to the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) because it hosts the pages of hundreds of Neo-Nazi and anti-LGBT groups — but New York isn’t budging.

Duncan Obsorne, a member of LGBT rights protest group Queer Nation, told BuzzFeed the group met with both State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and City Comptroller Scott Stringer in April to discuss their holdings tied to VKontakte, which hosts hundreds of pages belonging to groups like Occupy Pedophilia, which entraps gay men to torture them on camera.

California’s state pension fund, CalPERS, responded to similar prodding from other LGBT activists and has sold $20 million shares in Mail.ru, which owns a 52 percent share of VKontakte and is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, the Financial Times reported Friday. Queer Nation helped CalPERS research and investigate material on VK that lead to the fund’s decision to divest.

More consolidatin’ from BBC News:

Pfizer in new offer for AstraZeneca takeover

US drugs giant Pfizer has made an improved offer for the UK’s AstraZeneca as it bids to tie up the largest takeover in British business history.

The new offer of £55 per share would value AstraZeneca at about £69bn.

Pfizer plans to create the world’s largest drug company, with its headquarters in New York, but based in the UK for tax purposes.

That plan has proved controversial with unions and politicians, with 6,700 UK jobs at stake.

Bankster alert from TheLocal.fr:

Goldman Sachs fears BNP Paribas guilty plea

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The two European banks, under probes for violating US sanctions and abetting tax evasion, are potentially facing very heavy fines that could reach billions of dollars.

From the Guardian, hot times in the Golden State:

California governor links wildfire increase to climate change

  • Jerry Brown predicts ‘worst’ wildfire season ever
  • Last evacuees home after San Diego County fires

Drought-stricken California is preparing for its worst wildfire season ever, the state’s governor said on Sunday.

Governor Jerry Brown told ABC’s This Week that the nearly dozen wildfires that this week caused more than $20m in damage mark only the beginning. The state has 5,000 firefighters and has appropriated $600m to battling blazes, but that may not be enough.

“We’re getting ready for the worst,” Brown said. “Now, we don’t want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full complement of firefighting capacity.”

From PRI’s The World, driving away to cheaper pastures:

Toyota built Torrance into the second-largest home of Japanese Americans. Now, it’s leaving

When Toyota announced plans last month to move its US headquarters from Southern California to Texas, the announcement caught a lot of people off guard — particularly in the city of Torrance, Toyota’s American home for the past 30 years.

Torrance is just 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and is quintessential suburbia — the kind of place people move to when they’re ready to raise their kids.

It’s long been overshadowed by its livelier neighbors, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.

From United Press International, scoldin’ students over Grinnin’ Bobby B:

Haverford College commencement speaker calls students ‘arrogant’ for protesting other speaker

Former Princeton President William G. Bowen called Haverford students “immature” and “arrogant” for protesting previously scheduled commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau.

Haverford College’s graduating class of 2014 got a slap on the wrist from their own commencement speaker on Sunday.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, called students “immature” for protesting the original speaker, Robert J. Birgeneau, who bowed out last week.

Birgeneau, former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, faced criticism for his handling of the Occupy movement in 2011, when he allegedly allowed campus police to use force against protesters.

On to Europe and a brouhaha in Brussels via EurActiv:

Hundreds of protesters arrested in Brussels as business leaders debate ‘maintaining citizen’s trust’

240 people were arrested on Thursday (15 May) around the European Business Summit venue in Brussels during non-violent protests organised by trade unions and citizens’ groups.

The protestors had gathered to denounce the budgetary austerity policies in Europe, and the ongoing talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA, which they say is being negotiated “in total opacity”.

“Today multinationals are inviting political decision makers like the European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and they are discussing putting more business in Europe,” said Felipe Van Keirsblick, the secretary general of the Belgian trade union for employees, the CNE-CNG.

From the Department of Mother Said Never Do It, via EurActiv:

EU secret revealed: Rome Treaty was signed on blank sheet

At the launch of a book on the history of the European Commission, officials revealed some of the best-kept secrets in EU history. Among them is the incredible story of the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, on 1 January 1958.

José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing President of the European Commission, presented the second volume of a book Wednesday (14 May) telling the history of the Commission between 1973 and 1986.

The ceremony, hosted on the 13th floor of the Commission’s flagship Berlaymont building, gave Barroso the occasion to disclose unknown anecdotes, the most extraordinary of which regards the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The event was attended by many figures of post-war European integration history, including old-time surviving officials from the Commission such as Jean Rabier, born in 1919, the chief of staff of Jean Monnet, one of the “founding fathers” of Europe.

Britain next and a departure alert from EUobserver:

Brexit would be ‘very costly gamble’, warns think tank

Increased trade and regulatory costs would cost the UK economy up to 9.5 percent of its output if the UK left the European Union, according to new research by the London School of Economics.

The findings are contained in the ‘Brexit or Fixit’? report by researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance, which forms part of the university.

“Our current assessment is that leaving the EU would be likely to impose substantial costs on the UK economy and would be a very risky gamble,” the paper states.

The London Telegraph strives to tame a bubble:

Mortgages could be capped to control house prices, says Bank Governor

  • The Bank of England could step in to curb mortgage lending amid fears Britain’s booming housing market risks threatening the economic recovery, says its Governor Mark Carney

People could be stopped taking out mortgages worth many times their salary to buy new homes, the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Mark Carney said in an interview that capping the size of mortgage ratios to salaries was one measure the Bank was considering to controlling the housing market.

The Bank was also watching to see if the Government’s Help to Buy scheme – in which the Government gives people taxpayers money to cover deposits on new homes worth up to £600,000 – was fuelling them.

The Independent totes up another austerian cost:

Cuts send rates of mental health disorders among young soaring

Rising rates of mental health disorders among children are linked to council budget cuts and health restructurings that have denied vulnerable young people early help, the Children’s Commissioner has told MPs.

Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said more children and young people with mental health problems were being admitted to adult psychiatric wards.

In written evidence to the Health Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), she said: “It cannot be coincidental that the increasing concerns about child and adolescent mental health coincides with the biggest reconfiguration of health and social care services, reductions in preventative and early intervention budgets and local CAMHS budgets and therefore spending, in a generation.”

And over to Ireland, where concerns about mental health patients under the austerian regime have led one Irish hospital director to resign, reports Independent.ie:

Hospital’s clinical director resigns due to his concerns for ‘patient safety’

The clinical director of Beaumont Hospital has resigned citing his concerns for patient safety. Professor Shane O’Neill emailed his resignation to management on Friday.

In his role as clinical director, he was the hospital’s most senior doctor.

The Sunday Business Post reported Mr O’Neill’s previous correspondence with management, saying assessment of psychiatric patients in their busy accident and emergency department was “entirely unsafe”.

From Independent.ie, another diagnostic criterion of austerity on the Emerald Isle:

‘Tsunami of homelessness’ beyond crisis point, warns campaigner

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has claimed the “tsunami of homelessness” is the worst he has ever seen.

He said that in his 40 years working with homeless people in Dublin, the housing shortage has never been as problematic as it is now and is being forced into turning people away due to a lack of capacity.

His charity – The Peter McVerry Trust – is struggling to cope with demand and says the problem is getting worse. “There are six new people becoming homeless every day and that’s the official figures. It may be more than that”.

German next, with a cash infusion from Reuters:

Deutsche Bank enlists Qatar in 8 billion-euro capital hike

Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) said on Sunday it would raise 8 billion euros in new capital, with the Qatari royal family lined up as a major new investor, in a bid by Germany’s largest bank to end questions about its capital position.

The bank had already raised 10.2 billion euros in equity in 2010 and a further 3 billion euros in 2013, but that had not been enough to assuage investor concerns about its capital position as if faces increased regulatory demands.

A stake worth 1.75 billion euros has already been placed with an investment vehicle owned and controlled by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al-Thani of Qatar, Deutsche Bank said in a statement. It plans to raise another 6.3 billion euros in a rights issue to existing shareholders.

Austerity in Germany, only at the bottom, via New Europe:

OECD: Germany needs more jobs, less poverty

A new report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on May 13 calls on Germany to implement more measures aimed at reducing poverty.

According to the OECD, recent labour market reforms have increased the rate of unemployment and widened the social inequality gap.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long-term,” the OECD reported.

On to Austria with New Europe and a boost for the right:

Austria: Populist Freedom Party strong in EU vote

Despite its Euroskeptic stance, the Freedom Party is only a few percentage points behind the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party in the May 25 race for EU Parliament seats. That’s in line with expectations of a generally strong showing of right-leaning populist parties in the EU parliamentary race.

But pollsters also say that if national elections were held now, the Freedom Party would actually win them, a stunning upset of the two establishment parties that have traditionally governed Austria.

The party’s popularity clearly reflects unhappiness with the status quo. And that’s hard to explain, when looking only at Austria’s metrics.

From Deutsche Welle, Swiss nix both guns and butter:

Swiss referendum turns down minimum wage and new fighter jets

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal that would have introduced the world’s highest minimum wage. They also turned down a plan to buy more than twenty new fighter jets.

The vote count by Swiss TV showed some 77 percent of voters and 24 of the Alpine nation’s 26 cantons (states) rejecting the idea mooted by trade unions to create a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (20.22 euros, $24.70) per hour. Votes from the capital Bern and business center of Zurich are still to be announced.

Trade unions had argued the wage would be a way to fight poverty in a country known for its very high cost of living.

Business leaders had argued the minimum wage rate would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland’s high costs even higher. The median hourly wage is about 33 francs (27 euros, $37) an hour.

From France, a chutzpah alert from TheLocal.fr:

French rogue trader demands to see Hollande

Rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, facing a Sunday deadline to return to France to begin a three year prison term, has demanded an audience with President Francois Hollande.

Issuing a statement from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, Kerviel said he wished to detail “all the serious failings” that led to his conviction after he brought one of Europe’s biggest banks to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008.

Aides to Hollande said Saturday they would consider a request from Kerviel for a presidential pardon over his role in the loss of nearly five billion euros through wildly risky trades.

From FRANCE 24, a belated act of resistance:

France extends veto power over foreign takeovers

The French government on Thursday changed its policy to increase the state’s influence in foreign buyouts and investment in key sectors, which will allow it to intervene in GE’s controversial bid for French giant Alstom.

The new rules will come into effect on Friday and cover the key sectors of energy, transport, water, health and telecoms.

“The choice we have made, along with the prime minister (Manuel Valls), is the choice of economic patriotism,” Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg told daily newspaper Le Monde.

Portugal next and an upgrade form New Europe:

Moody’s raises Portugal’s rating to Ba2

Portugal has received its first ratings upgrade since the sovereign-debt crisis pushed it into a €78 billion rescue programme in 2011.

Moody’s Investors Service said on 9 May it upgraded Portugal’s government bond rating to Ba2 from Ba3. In addition, the rating agency placed the Ba2 rating on review for possible further upgrade.

Moody’s said  Portugal’s fiscal situation has improved more rapidly than initially targeted and the public debt ratio will start declining this year, albeit from a very high level. The budget deficit was reduced a full percentage point of GDP more than envisaged last year, indicating the government’s strong commitment to fiscal consolidation.

Off to Italy and a Bunga Bunga rebuke from Europe Online:

Ex wife lashes out at Berlusconi over unflattering tabloid shots

The ex-wife of Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday charged that following her divorce, she was being subjected to “miserable” hounding from a gossip magazine published by the family of the former Italian premier.

Earlier this month, Chi magazine printed unflattering paparazzi pictures of Veronica Lario, under the headline “The new life of Veronica.” It noted that she had “put on a bit of weight,” and asked plastic surgeons how they would operate on her.

“It hurts me that the weekly responsible for this miserable ambush belongs to my ex-husband,” the 57-year-old Lario said in a rare interview to Il Messaggero newspaper.

Next up, off to Eastern Europe with Sky News:

Balkans: Worst Floods In A Century Kill Dozens

Tens of thousands have fled their homes after Serbia and Bosnia experienced three months of rainfall in just three days.

The worst floods to hit the Balkans in more than a century have killed dozens, and there are fears that number could rise as a major river is set to be hit by a new flood wave this evening.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia after three months of rain fell on the region in just three days. Thousands have also been evacuated in Croatia, where one person has died and two remain missing.

A video report form euronews:

Dozens dead, tens of thousands evacuated from Balkans flooding

Program note:

The death toll continues to rise from the flooding in the Balkans. In central and western Serbia, the rains did start to ease and waters receded in some of the worst-hit areas on Sunday, May 18.

But essential services, like power stations, have been submerged. Serbia’s EPS power utility said fresh flooding is threatening the Nikola Tesla and Kostolac power plants in Obrenovac, 30 kilometres southwest of the capital, Belgrade. Kostolac currently supplies 20 percent of Serbia’s electricity needs.

From the Washington Post, a headline that could’ve gone in our companion compendium of headlines:

Russian President Putin builds ties in Moldova, Kazakhstan and Baltics

Vowing to defend ethnic Russians wherever they live, President Vladimir Putin has embarked on an aggressive campaign to rebuild the pride and assertiveness of the Russian people, which he says was lost in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A week ahead of a presidential vote in Ukraine that will help determine that nation’s relationship with Russia, Putin has been devoting new power to redressing what he has called the historical tragedy that shattered the Soviet Union into 15 nations.

From annexing Crimea to collecting separatist petitions in Moldova to handing out passports to compatriots in the Baltics, Putin has spent recent weeks focused on neighboring countries, many of which have substantial ethnic Russian minorities.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Cypriot relief, Ukrainian questions, Russian political moves, Turkish troubles, Iranian woes, African measures and countermeasures, Latin American troubles and deals, Thai turmoil, China slowdown signs, Abenomics in question, environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: European dark times ahead?


From the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, evidence of a pervasive European pessimism about the road ahead:

Microsoft Word - Pew Global Attitudes European Union Report FINA

Headlines: Pols, lies, eCons, and polluters


Today’s tales from the worlds of economics, politics and the environment — plus added Fukusihmapocalypse Now! — opens with hope for modest relief for some via the Guardian:

Sallie Mae and Justice Department in $60m deal over military student loans

  • US government had claimed the student loan giant imposed interest rates on service members above the 6% allowed by law

Student lender Sallie Mae has reached a $60m settlement with the Justice Department to resolve allegations that it charged members of the military excessive interest rates on their student loans, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The deal settles a government lawsuit that asserted the student loan giant violated the rights of service members by imposing interest rates above the 6% permitted by federal law and by improperly seeking default judgments against them. Separately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced a settlement of $30m in restitution arising from allegations that the company maximized consumer late fee charges, as well as $6.6m in civil penalties.

The lawsuit was the Justice Department’s first against owners and servicers of student loans for violating rights of service members. The settlement has been filed in federal court in Delaware and is awaiting a judge’s approval.

From the New York Times, business as usual:

Citigroup Says It Has Fired 12 in Mexico Over Fraud

Citigroup disclosed on Wednesday that it had fired a total of 12 employees in Mexico, including some senior executives, in connection with a $400 million fraud involving a Mexican oil services company.

In an internal memorandum to Citigroup employees, the bank’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, disclosed the terminations of the employees, including several managing directors, two of whom were business heads at the bank’s Banamex unit.

“Additionally, before our investigation concludes, we expect that several other employees, both inside and outside of Mexico, may receive forms of disciplinary action as well,” Mr. Corbat said in the memo.

From the Guardian, more business as usual:

Banks return to risky business: lax standards and subprime loans

  • Big banks like JP Morgan have rewired troubling, familiar tactics as they scrounge for profit in a difficult market

With business lending sluggish and mortgage lending slumping, Wells Fargo has decided it can cut those credit standards. Last month, it raised eyebrows by cutting the minimum credit score required to qualify for an FHA mortgage. It’s also making a big push into another area of lending notorious for poor lending standards: auto loans. Forget subprime mortgages; by the end of 2013, Wells was the second-biggest subprime auto lender in the country.

At least we’re all alert to the risks tied to lending, thanks to the vivid memories of 2008. The other side of the banking business is how they manage their deposits, and the quest to replace missing profits from this part of the enterprise is much less obvious to the casual observer. Nonetheless, analyst Mike Mayo says it’s this that keeps him awake at night far more often than worrying about stupid lending practices. “We haven’t had enough loan growth yet to cause a big problem.”

Specifically, Mayo frets that bankers are too complacent about whether depositors will stick around in a rising interest rate environment – and how much they’ll have to pay out in interest rates to hang on to those deposits. Then, too, there’s the question of what the banks are doing with all those deposits in the meantime.

From the Guardian again, the elite indulges:

Christie’s racks up $745m in one night – and the bubble keeps inflating

This week’s mega-auctions are once again reaching obscenely high prices, with a Barnett Newman selling for $84.2m and a Bacon triptych close to that. Why is there no sign of a crash?

Christie’s evening sale racked up a wacky, near-incomprehensible $745m, the highest total in history for a single sale – smashing past the house’s own high estimate of $500m, and beating November’s $691.6m sale, whose own Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, set a record (in nominal terms) for the priciest painting ever. The sale established new record prices for 10 artists, including Newman, Alexander Calder, and Joan Mitchell – who became the most expensive woman at auction for a messy blue abstraction from 1960.

Boggling enough on its own, the $744m sale came just a day after the end of Frieze New York, where untold millions changed hands, and on the heels of Christie’s own warm-up auction highlighting the “gritty, underbelly-esque side of contemporary art,” a rather ludicrous phrase to describe $134.6m worth of safe, predictable painting and sculpture. And collectors are set to do it all again Wednesday, when Christie’s rival Sotheby’s mounts its own evening sale.

“We are not in a bubble,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy insisted after the sale on Monday. To which the correct response is the one Mandy Rice-Davies gave during the Profumo scandal: “He would, wouldn’t he?” All the same, here are four theories on why the bubble keeps inflating, and why it may be a while before it bursts.

From the Los Angeles Times, a light frost in Hades?:

Howard Jarvis group won’t oppose bill to close Prop. 13 loophole

The staunchest defender of California’s politically untouchable property-tax initiative, Proposition 13, has tacitly approved a bid to change the landmark law for the first time since voters passed it 36 years ago.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the anti-tax group named for the champion of the 1978 measure, dropped its opposition to a bill that would clamp down on companies avoiding higher property taxes when they buy commercial real estate by using a corporate ownership maneuver.

“I think that the withdrawal of our opposition, at least for now, suggests that we don’t see this as a direct threat to Prop. 13,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, whose crusade for the law sparked a nationwide tax revolt.

From BBC News, a story to shake you up:

Water extraction for human use boosts California quakes

Extracting water for human activities is increasing the number of small earthquakes being triggered in California.

A new study suggests that the heavy use of ground water for pumping and irrigation is causing mountains to lift and valleys to subside.

The scientists say this depletion of the water is increasing seismic activity along the San Andreas fault.

Another California water story, this time from the East Bay Express, reporting on Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan [BDCP]:

The Water Tunnel Boondoggle

  • Experts say the eye-popping costs of Governor Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels far outweigh the financial benefits. And taxpayers may be left holding the bag.

The project — along with the costs of mitigating the damage wrought by it — also promises to be hugely expensive. Two water agencies — the Westlands Water District, which services about seven hundred farms in a vast strip of desert in the western San Joaquin Valley, and the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 19 million Southern Californians with water — plan to cover the majority of the costs of the tunnels, an estimated $15 billion, along with any economic damage they cause to the Delta.

But even as the project’s public comment period draws to a close next month, the state has yet to develop a clear financial plan for the tunnels. Moreover, the relatively few financial facts that do exist are hotly contested. The Department of Water Resources, for example, often states that the entire plan will cost a total of $25 billion, yet many economists think that, when interest on the bonds is factored in, the true figure will run closer to $70 billion.

In terms of benefits, state officials say the tunnels will generate an overall net gain of roughly $5 billion for California’s economy. But other water experts contend the plan could actually result in an annual net loss of about $100 million a year for water contractors backing the project.

From the Los Angeles Times, more ominous signs of a deadly summer to come in the Golden State as a record drought continues:

San Diego County fires: ‘It’s like a scene from Armageddon’

Brush fires broke out in more than half a dozen spots in northern San Diego County and spread at a dangerous pace as hot, dry, erratic winds, backed by record temperatures, raked Southern California for a second day Wednesday.

The fires forced evacuations of schools, businesses, homes, a mobile-home park and Cal State San Marcos, along with causing massive traffic jams and stretching firefighting resources almost to the breaking point.

The most destructive of the blazes was the Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, which burned several hundred acres, hopscotching between pricey neighborhoods near brushy canyons.

And another faint hope for reform from within via the Guardian:

Google investors press for code of conduct on tax

Proposal by group of activist investors will be voted on at annual shareholder meeting and is opposed by Google board

A group of activist investors are calling on other Google shareholders to press the company to adopt a code of conduct on tax that would bring its corporate structures back in line with its “Don’t be evil” motto.

“A set of principles to address misalignments between Google’s tax strategies and its commitments to employees, communities, shareholders and the environment would help protect long-term value,” they argue in a proposal to be voted on at Google’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

The proposal has been made by Domini Social Equity Fund, which has close to $1bn of assets, and five other investors in the internet firm. It is opposed by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, and his board.

From the Register, surrendering to the corporate tracking imperative online:

Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

  • ‘We don’t like it, but we have to use it’

Mozilla has announced that it will add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for digital rights management into a future build of Firefox, even if the organization disagrees with the technology on principle.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is to add EME into the specifications for HTML5 at the behest of Microsoft, Google, and Netflix. Sir Tim Berners-Lee supports the move, but Mozilla had been objecting to the plans as technically unnecessary. However, it has decided to cave.

“We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM ,” said Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal.

Opening shots from an academic battle from USA TODAY:

For-profit colleges, student advocates lobby Obama

As the Obama administration prepares to establish new rules governing for-profit colleges later this year, student advocates and the career college industry are waging a fierce battle to shape the coming regulations.

Stakeholders on both sides of the debate are ramping up their push on the administration just as the public comment period on a proposed “gainful employment” regulation is set to close May 26.

Under the proposal that the administration unveiled in March, colleges would have to demonstrate that graduates’ debt load on average does not exceed 30% of their discretionary earnings or 12% of their total earnings.

And another national shame, reported by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the UC Berkeley Blog:

How the right wing is killing women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

And another national shame, via The Contributor Network:

REPORT: Children as Young as 7 Working in US Tobacco Fields

  • An international rights group is pushing the federal government and the tobacco industry to take further steps to protect children working on U.S. tobacco farms.

A report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch claims that children as young as 7 are sometimes working long hours in fields harvesting nicotine- and pesticide-laced tobacco leaves under sometimes hazardous conditions. Most of what the group documented is legal, but it wants cigarette makers to push for safety on farms from which they buy tobacco.

Human Rights Watch details findings from interviews with more than 140 children working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where a majority of the country’s tobacco is grown.

New enterprise struggles from the New York Times:

The Bud Light-ification of Bud

There’s a pressing economic reason for the pot industry to get better if it is to survive, aside from its formidable legal challenges. The plant is relatively cheap and easy to grow, and not complicated to process either. Left to the whims of the open market — meaning ignoring taxes and regulations — the price of a joint could plummet to the price of a tea bag or a packet of sugar. So how will investors help the market mature while still making money?

The market for marijuana is nothing like the market for corn or wine or tobacco — at least not yet — and the reasons start in the ground: Marijuana growing and processing is downright bush-league compared to modern American agribusiness. Much of the pot produced in the United States still comes from illegal or semi-legal grow sites, even given the surge of production and processing in states with recreational or medicinal laws. And strains remain understudied and underanalyzed, compared with the wheat in your cereal or even the marigolds in your garden.

The inefficiencies continue to pile up after the harvest. Marijuana has to be cured, then trimmed, before it is sold, and much of this work is still done by hand. Workers use scissors to cut away tough outer leaves and expose the smokable part of the plant. It’s a labor-intensive process, the kind that in other instances is completed by a machine, like a thresher or a cotton gin.

And from the Japan Daily Press, still time to resist:

U.S. sees no conclusion to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations anytime soon

The stalemate is still on as the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not expecting a conclusion to be met in the negotiations anytime soon. With a ministerial meeting happening in Singapore this month, members of what will be the world’s biggest free trade deal are yet to finalize the deal as both Japan and the United States, both key economies in the deal, failed to reach a conclusion on the negotiations last month.

While many expected progress to happen when US President Barack Obama himself went to Japan last month to discuss this, many were disappointed to learn that further talks are needed to come to a final agreement. The deadlock remains to be because of Japan’s refusal to give up tariffs on key products such as farming produce and automobiles, both the bread and butter of the Asian nation. This has affected widely the negotiations of the 12-nations included in the TPP as they wait for the final outcome of the talks between Japan and the U.S. The countries included in the TPP will meet in Singapore this week to give updates regarding other talks. They are expected to outline other details including regulations on labor, intellectual property and the environment as soon as the deal has been ironed out.

For our first European story, a plaintive pontifical plea from ANSA:

Pope condemns ‘massacre’ of migrants at sea as ‘shameful’

  • Francis asks for prayers for people fleeing homelands by boat

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the “massacre” of desperate migrants who are killed in boat disasters on the Mediterranean Sea as they flee their homelands for a new life in Europe. During his weekly general audience, the pope said it was “shameful” that thousands of migrants are killed on the seas between North African and the southern borders of Italy.

Shortly before he spoke, police in southern Italy said they had arrested two alleged human smugglers who authorities say deliberately caused a boat carrying as many as 400 migrants to sink off the coast of Libya Monday to induce an Italian sea rescue.

So far, 17 have been confirmed dead and more than 200 rescued but as many as 200 more are still missing.

Next, via EUbusiness, another hint of things to come:

Eurozone industrial output slips back in March: Eurostat

Eurozone industrial output fell in March, official data showed on Wednesday, consistent with recent data showing the economic recovery to be patchy so far.

Industrial output in the 18-nation eurozone dropped 0.3 percent in March compared with the figure for February when it gained 0.2 percent, the Eurostat statistics agency said.

Compared with March 2013, eurozone industrial output was down 0.1 percent, after posting a year-on-year gain of 1.7 percent in February.

From Europe Online, another form of resistance to the austerian imperative:

Brussels expects stronger resistance to austerity in next EU assembly

The European Commission believes that it will be harder to get the European Parliament to approve austerity legislation after this month’s elections, internal documents seen by dpa showed Wednesday.

The European Union’s executive arm acknowledged that based on polling trends, the staunchest backers of recent budget discipline reforms, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), will be “substantially weakened.”

“Some of the winning coalitions” that supported reforms in the outgoing Parliament, which had “the EPP and ALDE at their core,” are likely to “no longer be sufficient to reach a majority” in the next EU assembly, according to an analysis by the commission’s economic and financial department.

EurActiv raises an objection:

Norway accuses Apple of breaching EU consumer law

Apple’s iCloud service violates European law by giving itself the right to change its terms and conditions at any time, without notifying its customers, according to a complaint lodged 13 May by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The council, a government agency, earlier published a study accusing Apple iCloud’s terms of service of violating consumer rights and privacy before the complaint to Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman.

The unfair practice complaint is based on the EU’s directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts. Because people often store important information in the cloud, such as documents and photos, it is particularly important they understand the contract, the council said.

On to Britain and xenophobic fears fail to materialize, via Sky News:

East European Migrant Influx Fails To Emerge

The number of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria has fallen since border controls were lifted but rose over the long-term.

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has fallen by 4,000 since transitional controls on immigration were lifted on January 1.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show 140,000 people born in one of the two countries were employed between January and March this year.

That is down from 144,000 between October and December, suggesting concerns about mass immigration following the New Year have been unfounded.

And some positive numbers from BBC News:

UK unemployment rate falls to five-year low

The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 133,000 to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million in the three months to March, official figures show.

The jobless rate also fell to a five-year low of 6.8%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people in work rose to 30.43 million, the highest since records began in 1971, helped by a rise in self-employment. Average earnings in the three months to March were up 1.7% from a year earlier.

But other numbers hint of another reality, via the Independent:

Anger as Employment Minister Esther McVey denies food bank use is linked to welfare reforms

Charities and politicians have reacted with anger to a claim by the Employment Minister that the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks has nothing to do with the Government’s welfare reforms.

In a letter to the Scottish government, Esther McVey said “the rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this Government has put in place”, adding that there was “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, have shown that demand has increased by more than 300 per cent in the past year.

Sky News hints at a bankster victory:

Banks Warn Regulator On ‘Illegal’ Bonus Rules

Bank of England proposals to toughen bank bonus rules could be legally unenforceable, a document obtained by Sky News warns.

New rules that would force bankers to wait more than a decade to get their hands on bonuses would breach “the principle of natural justice” and leave lenders exposed to costly legal challenges, a trade body has warned.

In a document obtained by Sky News, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) argued that plans to apply clawback provisions retrospectively would be illegal in Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico, countries in which UK-based lenders such as HSBC have a substantial presence.

The BoE’s proposals would force banks to reclaim variable compensation from senior employees for up to six years after it has been handed over and spent.

On to Norway and trepidation from TheLocal.no:

Norway slashes growth forecast on oil slowdown

Norway’s government on Wednesday slashed its growth forecast for this year, citing a slowdown in spending by the key oil sector in the Nordic country.

In a revised budget the government said the Norwegian economy is now forecast to grow by 1.9 percent in 2014, compared to the 2.5-percent increase expected in the original budget submitted last November.

This forecast concerns the country’s “mainland” GDP, which leaves out fossil fuels and maritime transport and is preferred as an indicator in Norway
since it excludes the strong cyclical variations related to oil, one of the country’s main exports.

However the purchase by the oil sector of goods and services is included in the country’s “mainland” GDP calculation, and the finance ministry expects this to stabilise then decrease.

Hypocritical criticism of the day award goes to. . .Well, you get the idea. And imagine if the U.S. had the same priorities as one of the happiest nations on earth. From TheLocal.se:

‘Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security’

No one doubts the Swedes’ ability to fight, but they do doubt Nato-ambivalent Sweden’s commitment to helping its neighbours, argues former US defence attaché to Sweden Bruce Acker.

In the wake of Russian annexation of Crimea, the Swedish defense debate has intensified over the nature of its security structures and partnerships. The Swedish solidarity declaration of 2009 is frequently criticized for being unresourced and therefore weak:

On to Austria and a slowdown from TheLocal.at:

Verbund shuts five power plants

Verbund, Austria’s leading electricity company, is mothballing five power stations to cut costs.

The company said it would temporarily decommission several combined cycle gas-fired power plants in Austria and France, including the 848-megawatt Mellach power station that was commissioned only three years ago.

Additionally, a coal-fired power plant in Dürnrohr and an oil-fueled plant in Styria will be closed, the company added.

The reason for the closures is the “massive disruption in the European electricity market” and “sector-wide economic pressures”, Verbund said. It hopes the restructuring will lead to “lasting economic improvements”.

TheLocal.at again, with a shortfall:

Austrian army ‘going broke’

The Austrian army is in serious financial trouble – so much so that regiments can’t afford fuel and soldiers are forced to march on foot.

Defence Minister Gerald Klug (SPÖ) has said that with its current budget the army “is no longer financially viable”.

His staff have done an analysis of the army’s current saving plan and found that by autumn it won’t even be able to afford its fuel bill.

And a good use for a house linked to a murderous xenophobe extraordinaire from TheLocal.at:

Hitler’s house to become migrant centre?

A long-running debate over the future of the house where Hitler was born finally appears set to be resolved.

The Renaissance-era structure, located near the central square of the picturesque town of Braunau in Upper Austria, is considered prime real estate.

At a recent ‘Birthplace Summit’, held at the Interior Ministry in early May, the house’s current owner and representatives from Braunau met with Austria’s Interior Ministry to discuss the fate of the controversial building.

For decades however, the shadow of Adolf Hitler – its most infamous son – has hung over the former guest house, creating a constant headache for Braunau’s administration.

On to Spain with thinkSPAIN and political provocation:

Mock ‘abortion package tour’ travel agency launched in protest over Spanish law reform

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the proposed restrictions on abortion announced by Spain’s minister of justice have set up a spoof travel agency offering trips to Europe for women wishing to terminate a pregnancy.

Dubbed ‘Abortion Travel – the agency that shouldn’t exist’, the pretend online ‘company’ offers packages to London, Paris and Berlin ranging from 1,940 euros to 2,620 euros.

Its organisers even give women advice relating to where to travel to in Europe depending upon how far gone their pregnancy is and the national law relating to their stage of gestation.

TheLocal.es covers a dismal ratio:

Spain: One vacancy for every 110 jobseekers

Spain had only one job opening for every 110 unemployed people in the final three months of 2013, the second worst rate in the European Union, a new study released on Wednesday shows.

Before Spain’s economic crisis kicked off in 2007, this rate was one job opening for every 17.5 jobseekers, the latest labour market bulletin by job agency Asempleo and financial consultants Afi shows.

Only Cyprus had a worse ratio: there the ratio was one job per 154 people searching for work.

The lack of job openings in Spain — where the official unemployment rate is 25.93 percent — is also in stark contrast with the EU average for the final quarter of of 2013. That figure was 12.3 unemployed people for each job on offer.

Italy next and a Bunga Buna bloviation from ANSA:

Berlusconi says accord with Renzi ‘useless’

  • Forza Italia leader says party will vote as it sees fit

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that continuing an accord with Premier Matteo Renzi on government reforms would be “useless”. Instead of advance agreements, he said, his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party would decide for itself how to vote on each reform measure.

“It is useless to make arrangements before,” any vote, Berlusconi said in a television interview with Rai.

“We expect to see the reforms in Parliament (and) if we believe they are the best, we will vote for them,” and otherwise, FI will vote against the measure, he added.

TheLocal.it asks for a helping hand:

‘EU officials asked US for help to oust Berlusconi’

EU officials asked the US government for help to oust Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian premiership at the height of the economic crisis in 2011, a former advisor to US President Barack Obama has claimed.

Tim Geithner, former US treasury secretary, said that he refused to cooperate in a plot against the then Italian prime minister in the autumn of 2011. “European officials contacted us with a plot to find a way of forcing the Italian Premier Berlusconi to stand down,” Geithner was quoted in La Stampa as saying in his new book – Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.

The EU officials wanted their US counterparts to refuse to back an Italian rescue package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unless Berlusconi resigned, Geithner alleged. The former treasury secretary claimed that he refused to go along with the plot, telling the Europeans “we cannot have blood on our hands.”

Blissful high level ignorance from ANSA:

Napolitano didn’t participate in Berlusconi ‘plot’ meetings

  • Geithner book feeds speculation Berlusconi was felled in 2011

President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday that he did not participate in any of the international meetings in which European officials allegedly plotted to bring down Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2011.

Rumours that the third Berlusconi’s government was scuppered by a conspiracy were fueled this week by a new book by former US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. The former Treasury secretary wrote that in 2011, at a G-20 meeting, Europeans were pushing the White House to get involved in pressuring Berlusconi out of office, as Italy risked a Greek-style financial meltdown with the spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German counterpart ballooning to over 500 points and yields above 7%.

Napolitano was instrumental in engineering the emergency technocrat administration led by ex-premier Mario Monti that replaced Berlusconi’s administration in November 2011.

After the jump, the latest anxieties from Greece, More Ukrainian turmoil and Russian retaliation [including a lethal blow the U.S. space program], a Georgian courtship, Turkish outrage, agrofuel and presidential woes in Latin America, Australian austerity run amok, a blow for GMOs in Pakistan, Thai turmoil, Southern Korean economic woes, bubble-plugging measures, corruption and economic and corporate imperialism in China, economic winners and losers in China, Trans-Pacific Partnership wheeling and dealing, MERS warnings, historical tragedy, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . .
Continue reading

Chart of the day: That malignant student debt


From a new report from the Pew Research Center examining the pernicious burden of student debt on the rising [and hopefully eventually uprising] generation. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Student debt

Headlines: Pols, EconoEnvirofails, more


Today’s headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and the environment begins with business as usual from BuzzFeed:

Biden’s Son, Polish Ex-President Quietly Sign On To Ukrainian Gas Company

Revelations that Hunter Biden and Aleksander Kwasniewski serve on the board of a company controlled by a Yanukovych ally raise serious conflict of interest questions for Western countries’ Ukraine policy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son has joined the board of a gas company owned by an ally of Ukraine’s fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and a key European interlocutor with Kiev who was previously president of Poland.

The move raises questions about a potential conflict of interest for Joe Biden, who was the White House’s main interlocutor with Yanukovych while the latter was president and has since spearheaded Western efforts to wean Ukraine off Russian gas.

Company documents in Cyprus show that Joe Biden’s son, R. Hunter Biden, became a member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, which describes itself as Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer, on April 18. Burisma announced Hunter Biden’s appointment in a press release Monday on its website which was quickly picked up by Russian state media.

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

U.S. alone among Western countries on lack of paid maternity leave, UN finds

The United States is the only Western country — and one of only three in the world — that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from their jobs, a new U.N. study reports.

Two other countries share the U.S. position of providing “no cash benefits during maternity leave,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the International Labor Organization: Oman, an absolute monarchy in the Persian Gulf; and Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific nation where the U.S. State Department says violence against women is so common that 60 percent of men in a U.N. study acknowledged having committed a rape.

The other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

From the Associated Press, signs of a dangerous summer ahead in the Golden State:

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north.

No homes were reported damaged in either fire, but hundreds were considered threatened. The rugged terrain and unseasonably warm temperatures made firefighting even more difficult.

The flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego quickly grew to 700 acres, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds that whipped through areas dotted by hilltop estates and pricey new housing tracts.

From TheLocal.fr, with a reminder that the figures refer to the total populations, not per capita consumption:

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

For the first time, the United States has snatched from France the title of the world’s top wine consumer, according to a report released on Tuesday. France’s wine mastery already was threatened earlier this year.

Global wine consumption fell marginally in 2013 and the United States outstripped France as the top consumer, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV) said Tuesday.

Consumption dipped 1 percent last year to 238.7 hectolitres of wine in the global market worth 73 billion euros ($100 billion).

The United States was the top consumer for the first time at 29 million hectolitres, with domestic production accounting for four-fifths, said Jean-Marie Aurand, the head of the intergovernmental organisation that compiles global statistics for the industry.

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

U.S. retail sales rise a scant 0.1 percent in April

  • U.S. retail sales growth slowed in April, with consumers shopping less online and cutting back on purchases of furniture and electronics.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after surging 1.5 percent in March following a harsh winter that had curtailed shopping.

Several economists said the April figures might have been depressed because of seasonal adjustments connected to a later than usual Easter. Still, the modest sales suggest that consumers may remain cautious during the still-slow economic recovery. Higher sales would help drive faster growth because consumers account for about 70 percent of the economy.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, plutocrat behaving badly [and he’s Al Gore’s bosom buddy]:

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

The billionaire landowner who bought a popular beach in San Mateo County and then locked out the public was evasive and uncooperative when questioned Monday about his decision, stating repeatedly he “did not recollect” conversations, letters or legal documents.

Vinod Khosla testified during the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court that he did not remember why he set up two limited liability companies to buy Martins Beach, what amount he paid for the property, when he bought it or why the decision was made to keep the public out.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist remained calm but gave no ground during the intense questioning – sometimes tinged with disbelief and sarcasm – by the lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla for blocking the only access road to the beach. Khosla explained that he never had a conversation about the property without his lawyers present, a strategy that allowed him to invoke attorney-client privilege for virtually every question whose answer he could recollect.

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

World economy still faces various risks despite its recent improvements, and further efforts on growth and consolidation are needed, said heads of world’s leading economic organizations on Tuesday.

High unemployment, significant output gap, low investment, rising inequality and slowdown in emerging economies still have an impact on global growth prospects, said chiefs of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel released after their meeting in Berlin.

“The global economy has noticeably improved, but is still far from a robust, sustainable growth,” the statement said.

And form the Japan Times, the neoliberal agenda marches on:

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

The 12 countries involved in the haggling over a Pacific free trade agreement are narrowing their differences on intellectual property rights, one of the issues blocking the conclusion of the pact, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, said Tuesday.

“There has been confrontations between emerging and developed economies in the area of intellectual property, but things are moving forward considerably,” Amari said.

“But I am aware that we have yet to reach an agreement” on the issue, Amari told reporters.

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

Poll: Most Europeans believe ‘the worst is still to come’

With the European elections opening next week, a new survey shows that most Europeans believe the crisis is not over yet and that “the worst is still to come”, although the trend is slightly improving.

A Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission on Monday (12 May) shows Europeans are still depressed about their future.

44% Europeans believe “the impact of the crisis has already reached its peak” while 47% believe “the worst is still to come”.

Britain next, and a bubble only the rich can love from Sky News:

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

A combination of soaring house prices and falling real wages is making home ownership an ever more distant dream for some.

The proportion of English and Welsh homes selling for over £1m has more than doubled during the Great Recession, in the latest evidence of the property market boom.

In London a record 7% of all home sales listed by the Land Registry in the year to March were for £1m or more – a sharp increase from the 3% level when Britain slid into recession in 2008.

Ireland next, and a confidence game from Independent.ie:

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

CONSUMER confidence rose again last month to hit a seven-year high.

The increase is despite household finances being under continued pressure, especially with the advent of water charges.

KBC Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute said the index of consumer sentiment jumped to 87.3 in April, from 83.1 in the previous month.

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

A comprehensive survey of the 28 EU member states revealed that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes believe immigrants contribute significantly to society, and 97 percent are satisfied with their lives.

All but 3 percent of Swedes are happy with their lives. At least, that’s according to an EU report published on Tuesday.

“I’m astonished by the results,” Swedish anthropologist Gillis Herlitz told The Local. “Swedes nowadays complain about everything.” The report revealed that Swedes were the most positive nationality in the EU when it came to both life satisfaction and perceptions of immigrants.

Germany next, and a curious move from TheLocal.de:

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

A planned taxpayer-funded project in western Germany to get unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts cleaning streets has sparked controversy by offering those who take part beer as part of their compensation.

The “Pick-up” initiative, planned by charity Addict Support Essen to start in mid-June, offers addicts beer – along with food and medical treatment – in exchange for working three to six hours a day collecting litter off streets.

They will also get “pocket money” of €1.25 per hour, similar to the established “one-euro-jobs” which employ unemployed and homeless people in Germany for public projects at an hourly rate of €1.

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticized Germany for not doing enough to prevent a growing number of people from sliding into poverty. It called for a speedy action plan.

The organization of the world’s leading 34 industrialized nations pointed out in its latest biannual report on Tuesday that Germany’s recent economic upswing had failed to reach the weakest in society.

“The relative poverty risk and pronounced income inequality have remained unchanged over the past couple of years,” the reports said. The report also pointed out that it had become harder for low-paid workers to move up.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria called on the government to prepare reforms quickly to rectify the current situation. “Germany must act now,” he told reporters in Berlin.

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

Germany must do more to reduce poverty risks made worse by reforms to the labour market that have reduced joblessness but widened inequality, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long term,” the OECD wrote in a new report.

Presenting the report at a news conference, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria said that reforms were usually enacted in times of crisis when there was no other option.

Off to France and a disturbing sign of that ol’ hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

France may have taken the historic step of legalising gay marriage last year, but it appears the landmark social reform came at a cost. The number of reported homophobic acts increased in 2013 by a staggering 78 percent, according to a watchdog group.

In 2013 there was a homophobic physical attack every two days in France, which represented a rise of 54 percent on 2012.

That is just one of the worrying stats contained in a new report by French gay-rights organisation SOS Homophobie, which monitors the levels of homophobia in the country.

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

  • EPA says only 32.5% get them, labor ministry says 58.9%

The length of the economic crisis and recession in Spain has led to four million jobless not receiving any sort of unemployment benefits or social assistance, according to the Labour Force Survey (Encuesta de Población Activa, EPA) released on Tuesday.

The survey was on the first quarter of 2014. The EPA report shows that 32.5% of the unemployed receive benefits, while a labor ministry report released in March had instead put the figure at 58.9%.

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

They may have endured spending cuts and tax hikes overseen by Brussels, but Spaniards still seem surprisingly pro-EU and keen to vote in this month’s European elections.

Crawling out of a crisis in which European authorities helped bail out its banks but approved pay freezes for ordinary Spaniards, Spain is nevertheless a cheerleader for European integration — a once-marginal state that has done well in the union.

More than 58 percent of Spaniards are still in favour of the European Union against just under 30 percent who are against it, according to a study published last week by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS).

The economic crisis that erupted in 2008 did affect Spanish views of the EU. A European Commission study showed that the ratio of people who thought Spain had benefitted from the EU was much higher at 75 percent in 2007.

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

Support for the European Union is on the rise across some of the continent’s major economies apart from Italy, a study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed.

As voters head to the European elections, which get under way on May 22nd, the survey found that there has been a 12 percent decline in support for the EU among Italians since 2013.

The survey was conducted in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Favourable sentiment towards the economic bloc has been on the decline in Italy in since 2012, falling from 59 percent that year to 46 percent in the recent survey.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, belated Hungarian vengeance, Ukrainian turmoil, Russian retaliation, Turkish tragedy, Israeli corruption, a Latin American warning and troubles in Brazil, Pakistani busts, Indian electoral exuberance, a warning from Thailand, economic anxieties and death by testing in China, more financial woes in Japan, controlling your dreams, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .   Continue reading

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the ecology, are weighted heavily toward the U.S. and Asia, with relatively little form Europe, save Greece.

There’s also plenty on the environment, including lots in the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with a global issue, a reminder of what always lurks within the world around us. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

The World Health Organization said Friday it would hold an emergency meeting next week on the deadly MERS virus, amid concern over the rising number of cases in several countries.

The UN health agency will host the emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the worrying spread of the virus, which in less than two years has killed 126 people in Saudi Arabia alone, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss the mysterious corona virus, which surfaced in mid-2012.

More on an issue we’ve covered before via the Oakland Tribune:

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years.

Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier, a new analysis by this newspaper shows.

The shift feels like a betrayal to some families coping with — or fearing — rejection by the distinguished university system, which was built by and for Californians but now is turning them away in record numbers.

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

CNBC’s first-ever Millionaire Survey reveals that 51 percent of American millionaires believe inequality is a “major problem” for the U.S., and of those, nearly two-thirds support higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage as ways to narrow the wealth gap.

The findings show that—far from being a purely self-interested voting bloc—American millionaires have complicated views when it comes to the wealth gap and opportunity in America. They are unashamed of their own wealth and attribute their success to hard work, smart investing and savings. They also believe that anyone in America can get wealthy if they work hard.

Yet millionaires also believe that cultural and family issues prevent many Americans from climbing the wealth ladder. They advocate improved education, higher taxes on the wealthy and better savings incentives for the poor and middle class as important changes that would reduce inequality.

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

Split appears in GOP as more call for raising federal minimum wage

Several leading Republicans have called for raising the federal minimum wage and others are speaking more forcefully about the party’s failure to connect with low-income Americans — stances that are causing a growing rift within the party over how best to address the gulf between the rich and poor.

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

Brandon James Thompson, of New Castle, Ind., angered over the House’s failure to pass an emergency unemployment extension, admitted to sending threatening messages to House Speaker John Boehner and his wife.

The FBI arrested an Indiana man Thursday night for allegedly threatening to kill House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Brandon James Thompson, 32, of New Castle, Ind., was taken into custody at his home Thursday night and faces federal charges for making phone and email threats to an elected official.

According to an FBI affidavit, Thompson admitted to sending threatening messages to the Ohio Republican’s congressional website using his neighbor’s wifi, and leaving threatening voicemails on Boehner’s wife Debbie’s personal cellphone.

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

The retirement crisis in America is not contained to any one generation. Across the country, people of all ages are struggling with stagnant wages, rising living expenses, and an overall sluggish economy. Some are closer to their golden years than others, but one thing is clear: There are three unique generations with very different retirements ahead of them.

Many workers are simply trying to recover from the financial meltdown that took place more than five years ago. According to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement survey, one of the largest and longest-running national surveys of its kind, 35% of workers believe the Great Recession has not yet ended. That figure rises to 40% among Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, 65% of workers believe the recession has ended, but they have mixed views about the strength of the recovery. Only 14% say they have fully recovered financially from the historic downturn.

“Experts have long written about the changing retirement landscape over the past century,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Times are changing so rapidly that the retirements of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials will not only be a radical departure from their parents’ generations but from each other as well.”

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

401(k)s are retirement robbery: How the Koch brothers, Wall Street and politicians conspire to drain Social Security

The decades-long tale of how the Kochs, Reagan, Wall Street and even Democrats have tried to gut Social Security

Excerpted from “Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis”

On the eve of the Reagan presidency in 1980, Milton and Rose Friedman published “Free to Choose,” a proposal for gradually phasing out Social Security. The entitlements of retirees would be honored as would the accumulated credits of contributors who had not yet retired. But no new payroll taxes would be collected. The final elimination of Social Security would allow “individuals to provide for their own retirement as they wish.” Among the advantages would be that “it would add to personal saving and so lead to a higher rate of capital formation [and] stimulate the development and expansion of private pension plans.” While the Friedmans argued for such a plan, they acknowledged that immediate privatization of retirement was unrealistic in the current political climate, but they would accept incremental reforms with the hope that one day total privatization would become politically feasible.

That same year, the conservative Koch brothers-financed Cato Institute published “Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction,” by Peter Ferrara, which argued that instead of being required to participate in Social Security, people should “be allowed to choose from a variety of insurance and investment options offered in the private market. The previous year, two years after its founding in 1977, the institute had published an article by Carolyn Weaver in which she made the case for privatization, and in 1980 it also sponsored a conference on Social Security privatization that drew, among others, two hundred congressional staffers.

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

A battle against leisure is unfolding. In America, it’s a war that has been raging since the Puritan age.

Though recently American leisure time has appeared to rise, the averages are skewed by undereducated and lower-income men, who are likely “unemployed or underemployed,” as the Washington Post has noted. Work-life balances are abominable when compared to other developed countries. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “average American” is actually working “one month” more a year than he or she was in 1976.

But Sunday, the weekend day that even Puritans blocked off for worship and rest (a Puritan poet once pondered “over whether closing a stable door that was blowing in the wind constituted an act of work which would profane the Sabbath”), is also beginning to look more and more like just another day of the work week.

On the other hand, given the narcissism of some of our leisure time habits. . .From  United Press International:

Hundreds of ATV riders in Utah threaten sacred Navajo burial ground to protest federal government

  • Illegal route runs through protected Native American land, forced military veterans retreat to relocate.

Protesters who say the Bureau of Land Management has no right to criminalize use of ATVs in Utah’s Recapture Canyon plan to demonstrate today by illegally riding their vehicles through the protected land – a move that has drawn the ire of Native Americans and displaced a veterans retreat.

“It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor,” Jerry Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance said in a statement. “It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

Willie Grayeyes, chair of a nonprofit that lobbies to protect Navajo land, was offended at both the protesters’ dismissive attitude toward Native American culture and their disrespect for the American veterans who had to move their long-scheduled retreat to ensure it could be held in peace.

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads

What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

According to a recent report by the World Bank, that scenario is not so far-fetched. The bank is one of those high-minded organizations — Washington is full of them — that release hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.

The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record.

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

Swisspartners Ends U.S. Probe With Non-Prosecution Deal

Swisspartners Group, a Zurich-based money-manager, resolved a U.S. criminal tax probe by paying $4.4 million for helping American clients use secret accounts to evade taxes. In return, the government agreed not to prosecute the firm, citing its “extraordinary cooperation.”

The agreement resulted from Swisspartners’ voluntary production of the files for about 110 U.S. taxpayer clients, according to the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“The extraordinary cooperation of Swisspartners has enabled us to identify U.S. tax cheats who have hidden behind phony offshore trusts and foundations,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said today in a statement. “In this and other cases around the world we will continue to provide substantial credit for prompt and full cooperation.”

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.

You’ve read the headlines about nearly one in four of America’s bridges being either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, right? The $59 billion backlog for commuter railway maintenance? The $324 per year in mechanic visits that each U.S. motorist incurs by driving on deteriorated roads?

America has a transportation funding problem. And if Congress doesn’t fix it this summer, it could start doing some real damage.

First, a few basics. Most big transportation projects — bridge repairs, new highways, intercity rail — are paid for with a stack of local, state, and federal funds. The federal contribution ranges between 35 percent and 95 percent of a state’s total transportation budget, and is mostly supplied by the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is mostly supplied by the federal gas tax, which is a robust stream of money that can’t be used for anything other than transportation.

The problem for funding is that Americans are actually using less gas than they used to — both because they aren’t driving as much, and cars are getting more efficient. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994, which is now far behind what it was then when you take inflation into account.

From the  Los Angeles Times, the voice of reason from an unexpected quarter:

Jackie Lacey says L.A. County should stop locking up so many people

You wouldn’t expect the county’s top prosecutor to step up to a microphone and say it’s time to stop locking up so many people. But that’s exactly what L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey did last week. She told the county Board of Supervisors that, in her opinion, 1,000 or more people with mental illness who are currently incarcerated should probably be somewhere other than in jail.

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

From Business Insider, the Washington Post’s new owner’s other business demonstrates utter greed:

Amazon Is Claiming Exclusive Rights To A Basic Version Of An Extremely Common Practice

A photography site called DIY Photography wrote this week that the Amazon corporation applied for—and received—a patent for the process of taking a picture of an object against a white background.

Despite the technical detail in the patent documentation, the DIY site says, Amazon is ultimately claiming exclusive rights to a basic version of an extremely common practice:

The patent number is 8,676,045B1 and you can read the entire boring text on USPTO, or just about any basic studio photography book.

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

As you probably know, several of us at CT are big photography enthusiasts. While we seem to be more interested in taking photos of nature and architecture, next time we want to shoot a family portrait or an item, we’ll have to be careful with our approach. The US Patent Office recently granted Amazon a patent for taking photos against a white background. For real. So is their plan to start trolling portrait studios and Ebay/Etsy sellers to see whom they can sue?

I am no lawyer, but the language seems rather vague. For example, “a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white”. So what level of off-white should a photographer strive for to avoid litigation?

Having shot many a picture for publication we cam attest to the fact that Amazon has basically tried to patent the wheel.

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

Portugal received a vote of confidence from credit ratings agencies Friday for the first time since the country’s sovereign-debt crisis began.

Moody’s Investors Service raised the debt rating to Ba2, from Ba3, citing an improved financial position and Lisbon’s decision not to seek additional aid after its bailout programme expires at the end of this month.

“Portugal’s economic recovery is gaining momentum, with signs of broadening beyond exports, which continue to perform strongly,” Moody’s said. The move followed a revised outlook from negative to stable by Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services earlier in the day.

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

An Italian court has upheld the conviction of retired parliamentarian Marcello Dell’Utri for ties to the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri is a close associate of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Dell’Utri was not present when Italy’s highest appeals court upheld his seven-year prison sentence on Friday. He had fled to Lebanon last month in order to avoid arrest.

The close Berlusconi associate (pictured center) is currently in police custody at a hospital in Beirut while Italian authorities seek his extradition.

In 2010, a Palermo court convicted Dell’Utri of acting as a mediator between the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite from 1974-1992. The decision by the Court of Cassation on Friday means his conviction is now final and can no longer be appealed.

After the jump, the latest from grief from Greece, Ukrainian turmoil, a Turkish tantrum, economic alarms form Latin America, Indian anxieties in Washington, Indonesian bankster woes, Australian bankster extravagance, Thai turmoil, Chinese housing, food & economic uncertainties, environmental ills, and the latest chapter of Fumkshimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Discrimination in academia


Dramatic evidence that discrimination is at work in the Groves of Academe comes from a study [PDF] by three academics, Katherine L. Milkman of Whrton, Dolly Chugh of NYU’s Stern School of Business, and Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School on how academics at universities would respond to an email request for a meeting with a prospective student seeking advice.

The recipients were 6,500 professors at the nation’s top 250 schools.

The message was the same in all the emails, save for the ethnicity and gender of the supposed sender. Just who received answers was illuminating, and the results are graphed here with non-response rates [red] and response rates [black] in comparison with a supposed with mail.

Discrimination rates were lower at public compared to private institutions.

Click on the image to enlarge [and alarm]:

Microsoft Word - 30Mar2012_Manuscript_Final_QJE

Headlines: Pols, players, loans, lies, pollution


And, of course, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including wordf that the nuclear waste dump used by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory faces a closeure of two years or more.

From PBS NewsHour, our first item features the usual suspects:

Koch group plans to spend $125 million on midterms

Kochs plan to spend big: To the surprise of no one, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s repeated attacks against Charles and David Koch have failed to dissuade the conservative billionaires from investing heavily in the 2014 midterm elections. Politico’s Ken Vogel reports that Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the Koch brothers, plans to spend more than $125 million “on an aggressive ground, air and data operation” to help boost conservative candidates. That sum would “exceed the total 2012 fundraising hauls of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the National Republican Senatorial Committee,” Vogel writes. The $125 million projection comes after the Kochs’ political network raised more than $400 million trying to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.

Aiming for the red-state Democrats in the South: This time their aim will be vulnerable Senate Democrats in red states such as Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. By the end of March AFP had already spent $7 million targeting Hagan. AFP has so far dropped more money than any other outside group on the right, and Friday’s headline signals that spending is only going to continue — and likely escalate — as the calendar moves closer to November.

Even before the election, they’ve already won one significant victory. From ABC News:

Wyoming is 1st state to reject science standards

  • Coal-producing state Wyoming declines new science standards with global warming components

Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state, is the first to reject new K-12 science standards proposed by national education groups mainly because of global warming components.

The Wyoming Board of Education decided recently that the Next Generation Science Standards need more review after questions were raised about the treatment of man-made global warming.

Board President Ron Micheli said the review will look into whether “we can’t get some standards that are Wyoming standards and standards we all can be proud of.”

BBC News raises the heat:

Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

Pressure is mounting on the US Federal Communications Commission to delay or abandon plans to change the rules that govern how internet traffic is treated.

More than 50 venture capitalists have sent a letter expressing concerns about proposals to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge for prioritised network access. It comes a day after 100 technology companies signed a similar letter.

Two FCC commissioners are now calling for the 15 May vote to be delayed.

Whilst on the subject of neutrality, ponder this from Montclair SocioBlog:

Whose Speech, Whose Religion?

Does a justice’s view of the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” depend on which religion is being established?

The First Amendment doesn’t specify any religions as more or less establishable. It just says no establishment.

This week, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court voted to allow a town council in Greece, NY to open their meetings with Christian prayers. These referred to “our Christian faith,” Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection. The justices ruled that these Christian prayers were in perfect accord with the First Amendment.  Needless to say, the five justice majority was all Christian (Catholic in fact).  The two Jews and two other Catholics dissented. (The Court has no Protestants.)

The Washington Post politics:

Obama warns Democrats that midterms could imperil his agenda — and America

On the West Coast to raise millions of dollars for his party, President Obama spent the second half of this week preaching to rich supporters about why Democrats are better than Republicans. It sounded like a conventional stump speech in the windup to the midterm battle — including a rote apology to the first lady for running another campaign.

As he toured a series of mansions, Obama made the case that should Democrats fail to keep their hold on the Senate and win back the House, both his second-term priorities and the country’s future could be imperiled.

He described the public’s dissatisfaction with Washington as nearly at a tipping point, where working-class Americans see leaders as unresponsive to their most basic concerns. If that were to continue, he said, more middle-class Americans could dismiss the political process completely.

CNBC covers a political blunder featuring a company where Hillary Cklinton once served as a director:

Obama heads to Wal-Mart, triggers backlash

Calling it the right thing to do for America’s bottom line, President Barack Obama announced new steps Friday by companies, local governments and his own administration to deploy solar technology, showcasing steps to combat climate change that don’t require consent from a disinclined Congress.

Framed by rows of clothing and patio supplies at a Wal-Mart in California, Obama said more than 300 companies and state and local governments have pledged to use solar energy

>snip<

The White House said it chose Wal-Mart because the company has committed to doubling the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers.

But in choosing the giant retailer as the backdrop for his announcement, Obama triggered a backlash from labor unions and pay equity advocates who say low wages paid by Wal-Mart fly in the face of Obama’s vaunted push on pay equity.

“What numbskull in the White House arranged this?” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said on Facebook.

And from Reuters, more about the company in question:

Wal-Mart should face lawsuit over alleged Mexico bribery: U.S. judge

Wal-Mart Stores Inc should face a U.S. lawsuit accusing it of defrauding shareholders by concealing suspected corruption at its Mexico operations, after learning that a damaging media report detailing alleged bribery was being prepared, a federal judge said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Setser in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Thursday recommended denying Wal-Mart’s request to dismiss the lawsuit led by a Michigan pension fund against the world’s largest retailer and former Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company disagrees with Setser’s recommendation, which is subject to review by U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey. District judges are not bound by magistrate judges’ recommendations but often follow them.

BBC News covers more corporate conundra:

US politicians raise questions over Pfizer bid

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca is being questioned by US politicians.

The governors of the states of Maryland and Delaware have written to Pfizer’s boss saying they are “very concerned” about the deal and the possibilities of job losses in their states.

Meanwhile senators Carl Levin and Roy Wyden are looking to close the tax loophole that Pfizer plans to use. One of the attractions of the deal to Pfizer is that it could significantly lower the company’s tax bill.

While MintPress News catches one of the more loathesome outcomes of Proposition 13:

Calif. City Boosts Revenue By Detaining And Deporting Immigrants

Despite protests and calls from activists, an immigrant-dominant California city opts to continue its controversial relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Santa Ana, Calif., welcomed its first Latino police chief on Tuesday during a City Council meeting, then the city with an 80-percent Latino population opted to increase its revenue by deporting undocumented immigrants.

As MintPress News previously reported, since 2006, Santa Ana officials have allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain those suspected of being undocumented immigrants at the Santa Ana City Jail for a fee of about $82 per day. Despite protests in recent years, city officials have not only expressed an interest in continuing their financial relationship with ICE, but also hope to increase the immigrant detainee fee to $110.

The controversial detention practice has been criticized by immigrants rights activists for years, as individuals can be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant — even if they are American citizens. This 48-hour period does not include weekends or holidays, which means many are detained for much longer than two days. As Theresa Dang, a representative of the Orange County May Day Coalition shared, more than 70 percent of the detainees do not have any criminal record.

From United Press International, a better way for regional governments to make a little spare change:

Colorado generates over $25M in marijuana revenue since legalization

Colorado made over $3 million in licensing and application fees before recreational pot shops even opened their doors.

Marijuana has already generated Colorado nearly $25 million in revenue since legalization, between taxes, licenses, and fees.

Before it even became legal to sell recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 of this year, the state had already collected over $3 million in licensing fees.

And in the first three months of this year alone, Colorado’s raked in nearly $22 million — over $16 million of that was in taxes, the rest in license and application fees — according to a report from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The license and application fees may represent the boom of a new economy, and might eventually slow as that market stabilizes and fewer new shops open. Still, the tax revenue so far continues to climb month to month, as recreational sales jumped to $19 million in March — up nearly a third from $14 million in February.

Consider also a second UPI story:

Report: Global war on drugs a failure

The report emphasizes public health treatment instead of incarceration and prosecution

The global war on drugs is a failure, economists of the London School of Economics, including five Nobel Prize winners, said in a report.

The 84-page report, entitled “Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy,” calls for reform of drug laws and theorizes a “drug-free world” based on prohibition is wasteful and expensive. It calls for a “major rethink of international drug policies.”

The report suggests decriminalization would reduce incarceration and health care costs worldwide, and notes countries with the harshest drug penalties have higher incarceration and HIV infection rates.

And then there’s this, from the Guardian:

Arrests for low-level marijuana crime plummet in New York City

  • Commissioner says police are using ‘more discretion’ as arrests for minor crimes fall 34% in first quarter of new mayor’s term

Minor marijuana arrests in New York City have plunged in recent years amid questions about police tactics. But new statistics show the arrests dropped more modestly in the first three months of a new mayoral administration that has pledged to reduce them.

Arrests for the lowest-level marijuana crime fell 34% in the first quarter of – and 9% in the first quarter of this year, to roughly 7,000, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services data obtained by the Associated Press. Both comparisons are to the same period in the previous years.

Police commissioner William Bratton recently said the department is “attempting to use a lot more discretion” and decreasing the arrests, which Mayor Bill de Blasio decried during his campaign last year.

While Want China Times takes the fast track:

China mulls building high speed railway to the US

The first of the three cross-border high-speed railway plans being constructed or promoted is the high-speed railway line connecting Europe and Asia, which starts from London, will pass through Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev, Moscow and then branch out to Kazakhstan, or Khabarovsk and then enter China’s Manzhouli. The domestic section of this line has already started construction while the sections outside China are still being negotiated.

The second line is a Central Asia high speed railway that will start in Urumqi, pass through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey and conclude in Germany. The domestic section is being promoted, while the sections outside China are still being negotiated.

The third line will be the Pan-Asian high speed rail, which starts in China’s southwestern province of Kunming.

From the San Jose Mercury News, a local-to-esnl reminder that it ain’t over yet:

Underwater homes: Minorities still suffering from housing collapse

Despite the Bay Area’s robust housing recovery, the East Bay communities of Vallejo, Antioch and Richmond are among the nation’s 100 cities with the highest percentages of underwater mortgages, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, points out that these communities and others with large minority populations have substantial percentages of homes still underwater, or worth less than their mortgages. Initially targeted by subprime lenders and then hit with the steepest home price declines, the communities are still struggling from the housing crash.

The study called for more federal action to help the cities, and without that, endorsed Richmond’s plan to use eminent domain to take over underwater homes and modify their mortgages. That proposal has critics saying it would end up in the courts for years, and would hurt the city’s real estate market if it were implemented.

On to Canada, and one of the dumbest political moves ever from CBC News:

Tim Hudak would cut 100,000 public sector jobs if Tories win Ontario election

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader drew swift condemnation from his opponents Friday as he announced a plan to slash the number of public sector workers in the province by 100,000 if he wins next month’s election.

Tim Hudak said it would be a tough move, but one that would reap benefits in the future. “I take no joy in this, but it has to be done if we want job creators to put more people on the payroll in our province,” he said in Barrie, Ont.

Hudak’s vision — which forms part of his much-touted plan to create one million jobs over eight years — would trade jobs in the public service for the creation of new positions in the private sector.

Another reason why it’s a stupid move from BBC News:

Canada sees little employment growth in last year

The Canadian economy shed 29,000 jobs in April while the unemployment rate remained flat at 6.9%, according to Statistics Canada. However, the number of people working rose 0.8% from a year earlier, split between full- and part-time workers.

Employment fell in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick but rose in Saskatchewan.

Since August 2013, the Canadian economy has seen little overall employment growth, according to the report. And labour force participation fell to 66.1% from 66.5% in April 2013.

There’s much, much more after the jump, including Britain’s household debt timebomb and some Cameron intransigence, a Dutch call for restricting European labor movement and a boom in yachts, then on to Germany for a unique legal victory and a business decline, France next, with Chinese police on the streets and an administration in trouble, a Swiss bankster surrender, a harsh austerian prescription for Portugal, Italian legal woes, the latest from Greece [including electioneering, dirty tricks and all], Russia nostalgia for the Soviet era, turmoil and trucks in the Ukraine, Latin American inflation and political turmoil, a Chinese economic invasion of Africa, Indian bankster chutzpah, billionaires in fisticuffs Down Under, Indonesian graftm, Thai turmoil, mixed news from China, Japanese corporate shenanigans, a host of environmental woes, a cartoon, music, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Academic imperialism: Cal schools look East


The University of California at Berkeley, cash-strapped by a state government already overburdened by covering costs of local and county governments impoverished by Proposition 13, is looking abroad for cash.

It makes sense, of course. The increasingly wealthy elites of former Second World countries like China and Russia and the oil-enriched aristocratic an technocratic elites of the Mideast are eager to give their children appropriately elite educations.

So while Cal cuts enrolments of students from the state it was created to serve and replaces them with overseas students whose parents or states are able to pay the far higher enrolments charged non-Californians, it has taken the next step and established offshore campuses as well.

And why not? For the host country, there are the benefits of technology transfer coupled with the presitge of hosting academic names. And for cash-strapped American schools, there’s all that lovely money.

From the 3 April 2013 issue of the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal’s engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China’s biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

Two years earlier — when the center was in the planning stages — the New York Times reported, tellingly:

The public university, which is struggling under budget constraints imposed by the state of California, said the Shanghai center would cater to engineering graduate students and be financed over the next five years largely by the Shanghai government and companies operating here.

And the Shanghai campus isn’t the only link to Beijing, as China Daily reported two weeks ago:

West Point, Berkeley become must-stops for Chinese CEOs

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the US Military Academy at West Point have become popular must-stops for Chinese CEOs and business executives enrolled in an overseas education program organized by China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A group of 66 Chinese business executives in the program ended their 10-day tour of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 20. The tour that included meetings with key international financial institutions and government officials is part of a 12-month non-degree course at the university that also includes the UK.

On April 18, the Haas School of Business at the UC Berkeley campus hosted the Chinese executives.

“The Shanghai Jiaotong University Global CEO program provides our group of Chinese CEOs with advanced management training and face-to-face dialogue with key people in the US, which helps us understand and participate effectively in the globalized market,” said Jiang Zhaobai, chairman of Shanghai Pengxin Group, a leading Chinese conglomerate with interests in real estate, infrastructure construction.

Berkeley isn’t new at the foreign partnership game. Nor has the imperial expansion been entirely without complications, as in the case of the Graduate School of Management at Russia’s St. Petersburg University, a partnership between Cal’s Haas School of Business and the Russian school launched in 1993.

UC Berkeley plutocratic professor David J. Teece , who directs the Center for Global Strategy and Governance at Cal’s Haas School of Business, also chairs of the St. Petersburg business school’s International Academic Council. [He’s also vied with David Koch for pride of place among the top five contributors to a California Republican senatorial candidate.]

Let us quote from a WikiLeaks-ed 5 February 2001 CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN cable from Ambassador William J. Burns in Moscow to the Secretary of State’s office:

2. (C) During the November 2006 inauguration of the newly-opened premises of the St. Petersburg State University School of Management, an American academic long associated with the school told CG about Vice Governor Yuri Molchanov’s “sinister” presence in their dealings.

3. (C) The Haas School of Management at U.C. Berkeley has nurtured the development of a new St. Petersburg School of Management since 1993. In addition to academic exchanges and curriculum development, representatives of the Haas school led a unique fund-raising campaign which collected $6.5 million in private U.S. and Russian funds to entirely renovate a dilapidated building for classroom use. As steward of the funds, which included a whopping $1 million from U.S. citizen Arthur B. Schultz, the Haas School kept close tabs on all expenditures. At one point in the early 1990s, when lenders were sought to renovate the old building, Vice Governor Molchanov’s private construction firm placed a bid. As the only local bidder and as a close associate of the now Dean of the School of Management, Molchanov apparently expected to win the tender. He did not. This provoked an angry response in which he demanded compensation from the Haas School representatives for the costs of preparing his bid. While the Haas School did not comply with his demand, they did find a way to mollify the Vice Governor, who “was always present at all our discussions”, according to the American source. “He gave me the creeps.” Although the source did not describe any specific intimidation, it was clear that the Americans experienced some degree of fear – a not unreasonable reaction in 1990s Russia.

4. (C) Vice Governor Malchanov is widely rumored to be corrupt, enjoying a convenient intersection of interests between his construction company and his position in the city government. He played a very visible role in the School of Management inauguration alongside Governor Valentina Matviyenko and President Putin.

BURNS

Just what the school did to mollify Molchanov remains an open question. The only mention of him on the Russian university’s website is as one of seven judges in a 23 November 2000 student business plan competition. His name doesn’t appear in a search of UC Berkeley’s website.

What was most peculiar is that no mention of this fascinating story has appeared in the local news media after WikiLeaks put on line, with the notable help of Chelsea Manning. But then such is the plight of the impoverished, gutted, and pathetically understaffed American news media.

One has to wonder how many similar situations are confronted by other institutions, and by their staff members.

Perhaps these are just the moaning and musing of a stubborn old journalist who’s spent a great many years investigating corruption much closer to home. . .

The provocation for this rambling post follows, a pair of video reports from CCTV, like China Daily a Chinese state medium, reporting on similar deals by other American universities.

From CCTV:

USC President C.L. Max Nikias on Investment in China

Program notes:

China is also one of the biggest markets for U.S. universities. The number of Chinese students studying abroad is soaring, but the U.S. only attracts a fraction of them. Now American colleges are trying to change that: they already have the biggest number of satellite campuses and partnerships in China. The University of Southern California (USC) is one school investing time, money, and people towards this goal. CCTV’s Phillip Yin speaks to USC President C.L. Max Nikias about the university’s efforts in China.

Foreign Universities Setting up Shop in India

Program notes:

For years, India has been sending students away to learn the skills to build the economy back home. Now overseas universities are coming to India. CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj reports from New Delhi.

Chart of the day: How to entertain poverty


A very important graphic from today’s New York Times, revealing how the only things that are getting cheaper are the toys we use to amuse ourselves, perhaps to distract us from the rising costs of everything else, most especially the education our children will need to survive in the years ahead. While the ancient Roman elites ensured stability with free bread and circuses, we pay more for the bread and it’s only circuses that are getting cheaper today.

Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Costs

Headlines I: EconoPoliBankoEcoFukuFollies


A huge amount of fascinating stories about currents in play in our increasingly neoliberalized global physical and fiscal world. We’re following up with another headline set devoted to the dark arts of militarism, espionage. drones, and suchlike.

We open with an ominous report of a global phenomenon from the Times of India:

World’s coastal megacities sinking 10 times faster than rising water levels

Scientists have issued a new warning to the world’s coastal megacities that the threat from subsiding land is a more immediate problem than rising sea levels caused by global warming.

A new paper from the Deltares Research Institute in the Netherlands published earlier this month identified regions of the globe where the ground level is falling 10 times faster than water levels are rising — with human activity often to blame.

In Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, the population has grown from around half a million in the 1930s to just under 10 million today, with heavily populated areas dropping by as much as six and a half feet as groundwater is pumped up from the Earth to drink.

The same practice led to Tokyo’s ground level falling by two metres before new restrictions were introduced, and in Venice, this sort of extraction has only compounded the effects of natural subsidence caused by long-term geological processes.

It’s just not the oceans that are rising, at least for the moment. From Reuters, a story to read with tongue in cheek:

U.S. consumer confidence near six-year high, home prices rise

U.S. consumer confidence dipped in April but remained near a six-year high, while home prices rose in February, suggesting the economy continued to regain momentum after a winter lull.

The Conference Board said its index of consumer attitudes dipped to 82.3, the second-highest reading since January 2008, from an upwardly revised 83.9 in March.

An unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity early in the year.

From The Progressive, predictable results:

Scathing Report Finds Rocketship, School Privatization Hurt Poor Kids

Gordon Lafer, a political economist and University of Oregon professor who has advised Congress, state legislatures, and the New York City mayor’s office, landed at the airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late last night bringing with him a briefing paper on school privatization and how it hurts poor kids.

Lafer’s report, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” released today by the Economic Policy Institute, documents the effects of both for-profit and non-profit charter schools that are taking over struggling public schools in Milwaukee.

“I hope people connect the dots,” Lafer said by phone from the Milwaukee airport.

From The Verge, a program to suit the era of standardized tests and computerized grades:

This machine can write a grade-A paper in less than a second

  • Machines fooling machines

Les Perelman, a now retired former director of writing for MIT, has long been against the idea of using machines to grade essays. “I’m a skeptic,” he told the New York Times in 2012 — and now he’s built his own machine to prove his skepticism right.

Called the Babel Generator — short for Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator — the software is able produce complete essays in less than a second, and all you have to do is feed it up to three keywords. The essays are grammatically correct but nonsensical. The goal isn’t to produce great writing, though, it’s to fool other machines: Babel was designed specifically to prove that essay-grading software doesn’t effectively analyze things like meaning and isn’t able to check facts. Perelman’s gibberish essays have managed to get high scores on automated tests like MY Access!, with grades like 5.4 out of 6.

Various studies have shown that automated software often scores papers roughly the same as its human counterparts, and the software is gaining popularity at schools simply because it can grade papers so much faster than teachers. Previously, Perelman had managed to fool these algorithms with essays that employed a few simple tricks, using lengthy words and sentences, as well as connective words like “however.” Some developers — including a team at MIT, building software called EASE (Enhanced AI Scoring Engine) — are even trying to create automated systems that are more human by mimicking how actual professors grade.

From the Los Angeles Times, a reminder that the homeless aren’t homogeneous:

She’s homeless and likes it that way

Annie Moody has been arrested 59 times in six years, as L.A. officers try to get her off the streets of skid row. But to her, that’s home.

Moody has been arrested by Los Angeles police 59 times in roughly six years, according to LAPD arrest data — more than anyone else in the city. Since 2002, she has been tried 18 times, convicted 14 times and jailed for 15 months, costing taxpayers at least a quarter of a million dollars, according to court and law enforcement records.

Under a court settlement, homeless people can sleep on the sidewalk overnight but must be up by 6 a.m. or face charges of resting on the sidewalk or having an “illegal lodging.” Most of the 1,000 or so street dwellers on skid row fear arrest and move along, if only temporarily.

Authorities say she has turned down dozens of offers of shelter or services for the homeless. Friends believe police target her because she stands up for her rights. Police describe her as a homeless “anchor” whose defiance encourages others to remain in the streets, undermining efforts to clean up skid row.

From The Guardian, a story that should weigh on the minds of folks who probably don’t even care:

US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent

Deliberately conservative figure lays bare extent of possible miscarriages of justice suggesting that the innocence of more than 200 prisoners still in the system may never be recognised

At least 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death in the US in the modern era are innocent, according to the first major study to attempt to calculate how often states get it wrong in their wielding of the ultimate punishment.

A team of legal experts and statisticians from Michigan and Pennsylvania used the latest statistical techniques to produce a peer-reviewed estimate of the “dark figure” that lies behind the death penalty – how many of the more than 8,000 men and women who have been put on death row since the 1970s were falsely convicted.

Apathy by the numbers from United Press International:

Poll: Most millennials not planning to vote in November

  • Higher percentage of young conservatives plan to vote in November than young liberals.

23 percent of the millennial generation plan to vote in the U.S. midterm elections in November, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The Harvard Institute of Politics said there has been a marked drop in political enthusiasm among those aged 18 to 29 in the past few months. In November, 34 percent of that age group said they would probably vote.

The news is bad for the Democrats, since the current generation of 20-somethings tends to lean in their direction. Even worse, the poll found, that millennials with conservative views are more likely to say they will be voting than those who lean liberal.

SINA English covers imperial expansion:

Disney says to spend $800M on Shanghai theme park

Disney says it and its Chinese partner will spend $800 million more on their Shanghai theme park, bringing the total investment to nearly $5.5 billion.

The extra spending will go toward more attractions, entertainment and other offerings. Most of the additions are targeted to be completed by opening day, which is aimed for the end of 2015.

CEO Bob Iger said in a statement that Disney has been impressed with the growth of China’s economy, the expansion of the middle class and a significant increase in travel and tourism.

While Computerworld frets:

White House sees ‘real danger’ China will soon take R&D lead

  • Spending on research drops as Congress pursues austerity

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. continues to lead in spending on research and development (R&D). But the rate of spending by other nations — China, in particular — is increasing at a faster pace. This fact is creating angst in Congress.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today on U.S. R&D spending, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) the committee chairwoman, said that much of America’s “exceptionalism” comes from its investment in science. “We cannot afford to let other countries out-invest or out-innovate the U.S.,” she said.

But the committee’s ranking member, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), threw cold water on Mikulski’s rallying call for R&D support, by linking federal debt and mandatory spending to science spending.

From New Europe, The Lobby swings into action [unction?]:

Kerry backs off Israel ‘apartheid’ remark after withering criticism

Secretary of State John Kerry says he chose the wrong word in describing Israel’s potential future after coming under withering criticism for saying the Jewish state could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In a statement released by the State Department Monday, Kerry lashed out against “partisan political” attacks against him, but acknowledged his comments last week to a closed international forum could have been misinterpreted. While he pointedly did not apologize for the remarks, he stressed he was, and is, a strong supporter of Israel, which he called a “vibrant democracy.”

He said his remarks were only an expression of his firm belief that a two-state resolution is the only viable way to end the long-running conflict. And, he stressed, he does not believe Israel is, or is definitely track to become, an “apartheid state.”

TheLocal.ch gives it up for Rummy:

Donald Rumsfeld ‘gets Swiss social benefits’

Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial former US secretary of defence, is receiving around 5,000 francs ($5,680) a year in benefits from the Swiss social security system (AHV), according to a news report.

Rumsfeld, condemned for authorizing torture in the Iraq as head of the military under former president George W. Bush, receives 400 francs a month from the AHV, the Tages Anzeiger newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The 81-year-old and his wife have probably been receiving the pension since the summer of 1997, the Zurich-based daily said.

He was entitled to this pension benefit from his position on the board of directors of Swiss engineering and technology company ABB, Tages Anzeiger said.

And here at home, a less harmonious scene from Frontera NorteSur:

Life, Death and Struggle on New Mexico’s Mean Streets

Albuquerque’s Wyoming Boulevard bustles on the edge of what some people call the War Zone and others name the International District.  Both names really fit, but perhaps in ways not completely envisioned by the architects of popular lingo.

Here, the urban geography is imprinted with the social shrapnel of foreign and domestic wars, global migration and the cycles of capitalism. Gang conflicts, domestic violence, substance abuse, and prostitution have long rattled the zone, where many families nonetheless live, love, work and attempt to get ahead.

A rainbow of the human race inhabits this section of the city’s Southeast Heights-refugees from Southeast Asian wars, Native Americans from the reservations of Manifest Destiny, Mexicans from the collapsing campo and imploding cities of the NAFTA zone, struggling retirees from the USA of yesteryear.

And from the Associated Press, it oughta be a crime:

Oklahoma inmate dies after execution is botched

An Oklahoma inmate whose execution was halted Tuesday because the delivery of a new drug combination was botched died of a heart attack, the head of the state Department of Corrections said.

Director Robert Patton said inmate Clayton Lockett died Tuesday after all three drugs were administered.

Patton halted Lockett’s execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He said there had been vein failure.

On to Europe and waning homes from Reuters:

Euro zone sentiment, inflation expectations dip in April

Euro zone economic sentiment deteriorated slightly in April, defying forecasts of further improvement, while inflation expectations continued to fall, European Commission data showed on Tuesday.

The monthly Commission survey showed that economic sentiment in the 18 countries sharing the euro eased to 102.0 in April from 102.5 in March, mainly because of a dip in confidence in the construction sector and in services.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected an improvement to 103.0 in April.

EUbusiness concentrates power:

EU anti-fraud chief sees need for Europe-wide prosecutor

The head of Europe’s anti-fraud agency has backed calls to establish a public prosecutor’s office to probe and prosecute crimes committed against the European Union’s financial interests.

Giovanni Kessler, director general of the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, told AFP the mooted public prosecutor would be a “natural evolution” which would allow for “fully fledged criminal investigations.”

OLAF, which was established in 1999, has the power to investigate fraud and corruption in EU institutions. However, it must then hand over evidence gathered to national prosecutors in the EU’s 28 member states.

And from The Independent, a polarizing threat from 10 Downing Street:

David Cameron would quit as Prime Minister after general election if he could not deliver on in-out EU referendum pledge

David Cameron pledged tonight to step down as Prime Minister after next year’s general election if he could not deliver on his promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

His comments indicate that the pledge to stage the EU vote in 2017 would be a “red line” for the Conservatives in any post-election negotiations to form a Coalition government.

In a conference call with party stalwarts, Mr Cameron said he would not “barter or give away” his in-out referendum promise.

Last year the Prime Minister said he would wrest back powers from Brussels and put the deal he negotiates to the public in the first referendum on EU for more than 40 years.

Meanwhile, the HeraldScotland discovers another threat, Mother Nature:

Volcanic blast ‘as great a threat to UK security as nuclear terrorism’

AN ERUPTION of a supervolcano in Iceland should pose as great a threat to Britain as nuclear terrorism, according to a high level UK government report.

The warning was made by a group of academics and scientists from the British Geological Survey and the Met Office, which also involved geologists from Edinburgh University.

They argue that certain types of eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes, known as effusive gas-rich eruptions, should be considered an immediate risk to human health and the environment for much of northern Europe.

On to Ireland, where rich crooks get the usual wrist-slap, via TheJournal.ie:

No jail time for convicted Anglo pair, judge says prison sentences would be ‘incredibly unjust’

  • Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer will now be assessed for suitability for community service.

ANGLO EXECUTIVES PAT Whelan and Willie McAteer will be assessed for community service following their conviction for their roles in providing illegal loans totalling €450 million to 10 individuals.

Judge Martin Nolan said that it would be ‘unjust’ to impose prison sentences on the Anglo pair because a State agency “led them into error and illegality”.

The judge said that he could not be certain Whelan or McAteeer knew they were in breach of the law but were, nonetheless, in breach.

Next up, Germany, starting with bankster anxieties from Deutsche Welle:

Deutsche Bank still waiting for profit boost

Germany’s biggest lender is still struggling to enhance its profit. Although first-quarter business was ‘resilient’ and legal costs could be curbed, sluggish investment banking weighed on earnings.

Deutsche Bank announced Tuesday its net profit dropped by no less than 34 percent in the first three months of the year as slower trading of bonds and foreign exchange factors weighed on its business.

Deutsche said it earned 1.10 billion euros ($1.52 billion), compared with 1.66 billion euros in the same period last year.

The Frankfurt-based lender also took over half a million euros in losses from its non-core unit keeping assets intended to be sold or wound down. The write-downs came at a special commodities group that took a huge hit on US power trading due to a price spike amid severe winter weather.

From Associated Press, echoes of another, earlier economic crisis:

Germany sees spike in left-wing violence

German authorities are reporting a rise in politically-motivated crimes over the last year, driven by a spike in left-wing violence and other illegal activity.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday the far-right accounted for most such crimes with 17,042 acts in 2013, down 3.3 percent from 2012. More than two-thirds of those crimes were classified as propaganda, such as displaying the swastika or other banned symbols. Violent crimes dropped 0.6 percent to 837.

By contrast, leftist crimes rose 40.1 percent to 8,673 acts in 2013, nearly half of which were property damage. Violent crimes rose 28.4 percent to 1,659 — largely attacks on police and others during demonstrations.

Germany saw an 11.2 percent increase in anti-foreigner crimes to 3,248, but a 7.2 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents to 1,275.

On to Paris and a “socialist” [sic] government’s austerian agenda from France 24:

French lawmakers approve €50bn deficit-reduction plan

France’s lawmakers Tuesday voted narrowly in favour of a plan to slash €50 billion from the country’s budget deficit by 2017, but a high abstention rate underscored discord within the Socialist majority.

The plan, designed to allow the eurozone’s second-largest economy to meet deficit-reduction commitments, passed with 265 votes in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, with 232 voting against and 67 abstaining.

The programme can now be submitted for approval to the European Commission, which has already granted France two extra years to bring its deficit below EU-mandated limits.

And from TheLocal.fr, hard times beget the usual scapegoats:

Paris cops told to ‘purge’ Roma from posh area

Police in Paris’s posh 6th arrondissement have been ordered to count up Roma people and “systematically purge” them from the area, media reports said [15 April]. The public outrage prompted by the orders forced France’s top cop to wade into the row.

An internal memo revealing police in the upscale 6th arrondissement of the French capital have orders to purge Roma people, their children and animals from the neighborhood has prompted outrage among officials and activists.

The memo, which was leaked to French daily Le Parisien, notes the order come directly from “police headquarters” and commands: “Effective immediately and until further notice, day and night personnel of the 6th arrondissement are ordered to find Roma families living in the street and systematically purge (évincer in French) them.”

While The Guardian covers French toxic worries:

French children exposed to dangerous cocktail of pesticides, campaigners say

  • Analysis of hair samples from youngsters living or studying near farms or vineyards found total of 624 pesticide traces

Children in agricultural areas are being exposed to a dangerous cocktail of pesticides, some of which are banned substances, a French health and environment group has claimed.

Générations Futures did independent analysis of the hair of young people living or studying near farms and vineyards after parents expressed worries about their children being exposed to poisons that could disrupt their endocrine system.

The group, a non-profit organisation specialising in the use and effects of pesticides on humans and the environment, says its findings confirmed their fears.

Next, on to Lisbon and another austerian agenda adopted from the Portugal News:

Government approves budget strategy document with €1.4bn in 2015 cuts

Portugal’s government on Monday approved a Budget Strategy Document (DEO) for the year covering the period to 2018, at a cabinet meeting that lasted around five hours, a government official told Lusa News Agency.
Government approves budget strategy document with €1.4bn in 2015 cuts

The document is understood to contain details of the spending cuts for next year 2015 that, according to the finance minister, Maria Luís Albuquerque, are to total €1.4 billion.

The DEO is a document that the government presents each year in April, and which looks ahead to revenues and spending to the coming years.

Spain next, starting with worrisome numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain’s jobless rate hits 25.9% in Q1

  • Almost 2 million households lack breadwinner

Spain’s unemployment rate rose in the first quarter of 2014 to 25.9% from a previous 25.73%, said the national institute of statistics INE on Tuesday.

There are almost two million households in the country in which all the members are unemployed. In the first quarter this category rose by 2.7% (53,100) to 1,978,900, but dropped on an annual basis by 1.7%.

INE noted that in the first quarter some 184,600 jobs had been lost (-1.08% on an annual basis), the smallest first quarter decrease since 2008. (ANSAmed).

TheLocal.se turns the tables:

Scores of Swedes beg in Spain’s tourist hotspots

A Swedish magazine sold by homeless people has caught the attention of the national media after it covered the homeless Swedes who beg in Spain’s most popular tourist areas.

Talk of Sweden and begging conjures images of eastern European migrants begging for change on Stockholm street corners. But few Swedes realize that hundreds of their own people are out begging on the streets of southern Europe — Spain, to be precise.

Faktum magazine, which is sold by homeless people in Gothenburg, released an issue on Tuesday that took a closer look at the phenomenon.

“The response has been tremendous really, gives people an important perspective on the debate in Sweden about poor EU migrants. There’s been a lot of discussion about Romanians and Bulgarians, but virtually nothing about Swedes who are begging in Spain, hoping for a somewhat better life,” Faktum editor Aaron Israelson told The Local.

TheLocal.es covers a taxing white sale:

Spanish tax office sells bras for extra cash

Fancy getting your hands on an oil painting, several tennis club memberships, or even a box of 50 bras? All of these items and many more are being auctioned off by Spain’s cash-strapped tax office.

Spain’s economic crisis has been hard on the country’s tax office.

While Spanish tax rates have shot up and are now among the highest in Europe, an unemployment rate of 26 percent and inefficient tax collection means the country is struggling to fill its public coffers.

But Spain’s tax office has found a hugely popular way to raise some much needed cash: online auctions.

From Rome, the threat of another Italian government collapse fr0m ANSA:

Renzi ready to quit if Senate reform fails

  • Premier not ready to go forward at all costs

Matteo Renzi reiterated Tuesday that he was ready to quit if his planned institutional reforms do not come to fruition.

He also told a meeting of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) that he did “not accept” those who call his institutional reforms, including a revamp of the Senate, “authoritarian”. . The executive is trying to find a compromise over its bill to change the Constitution to overhaul the country’s slow, costly political apparatus, after recent friction about its intended transformation of the Senate.

The support of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party for the reforms has looked in doubt in recent weeks, with its leader Silvio Berlusconi alternating between criticism of the plan and pledges to uphold it. Renzi won the agreement of three-time premier Berlusconi for the reforms at a meeting in January, a month before he toppled Enrico Letta, his colleague in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), to become Italy’s youngest-ever premier at 39. The central part of the package is to turn the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with minimal law-making powers to make passing legislation easier.

And a trip to Eastern Europe from EUobserver:

Anti-Roma views rampant across all Romanian political parties

Snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures descended on Romania in February, gridlocking the roads, isolating villages, killing pensioners and causing panic across the country.

Social Democratic Party (PSD) MP for Bucharest Dan Tudorache, a member of the Parliament’s foreign relations commission, chose this moment to post a public message on Facebook.

“It is minus 14 in Bucharest! Very cold!!!” he wrote. “So cold that I actually saw a gypsy with his hands in his pockets.”

For those unfamiliar with racist humour against Romania’s Roma minority, Tudorache was referring to the myth that ‘gypsies’ always have their hands exposed in the street so they can steal wallets and phones from passers-by.

After the jump, the latest tortuous twists in the Greek crisis, calls for regime change and car production in Brazil, Mexican telephonic discontent, poop protests, rare earths, and more from China, GMO rebuke, pollution woes, haughty sales staff justified, and questions raised about medical research. . . Continue reading

A wide-ranging talk with Noam Chomsky


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

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

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

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

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

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

Just released by University of California Television:

A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Program notes:

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

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

Chart of the day: High school graduation rates


From the Associated Press:

BLOG Graduation rates