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