Category Archives: Ethnicity

InSecurityWatch: Cops, hacks, spooks, busts, zones


Lots going on in the realms of spies, lies, media, and that constantly shifting and increasingly inflammatory Asian Game of Zones.

buzzfeed covers an intelligence failure:

White House “Did Not Know” National Guard Was Being Deployed In Ferguson

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called the National Guard to Ferguson late Sunday without letting the White House know first.

“Folks didn’t know,” an administration official told BuzzFeed Monday. “The White House did not know they were sending it in.”

Nixon gave “no heads-up,” the official said.

From The Wire, and we hope that headline’s not literal:

Pentagon Fires Back At Critics of ‘Police Militarization’ Program

The Pentagon on Tuesday mounted a vigorous defense of the surplus military equipment transfer program that has drawn criticism following the police crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Defense Department’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters during a briefing that the 1033 program was not “some program run amok,” despite images of heavily armored officers in Ferguson that have fed concerns about the “militarization” of local law enforcement.

Congress created the program in 1990 to allow police departments to apply for free transfers of excess military equipment as local authorities sought to beef up security to combat drug gangs. Transfers have increased as the Pentagon wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vocativ militarizes the neighborhood schools:

Back to School: Make Sure You Pack Your AR-15, Honey

  • If Compton schools were hoping to dispel stereotypes about their area, allowing school police to pack assault weapons is not the way

School’s back in session next week, and the campus police in Compton are packing more heat than ever. That’s not a reference to the hot drought California has faced in 2014—we’re talking guns. Specifically: controversial AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, approved for use on school campuses to prevent future gun rampages.

“This is our objective—save lives, bottom line,” Compton Unified Police Chief William Wu told the city’s school board. The board has been told that select campus police officers will be allowed buy the rifles and keep them in their cars, in case of a mass shooting incident or terrorist attack.

On to the spooky front with Deutsche Welle:

Binney: ‘The NSA’s main motives: power and money’

  • Whistleblower William Binney recently made headlines when he told the German parliament that the NSA, his former employer, had become “totalitarian.” DW spoke to him about NSA overrreach and the agency’s power.

DW: In your testimony, you described the NSA as “totalitarian,” and many commentators say that Germany’s Stasi history has made the country more sensitive to NSA revelations. But others have suggested this comparison is too easy. After all, the Stasi also targeted intellectuals and general writers opposed to the East German regime.

Binney: Sure, they haven’t gone that far yet, but they tried to shut down newspaper reporters like Jim Risen [who is fighting legal action by the Department of Justice to testify against an alleged source - the eds.]. Look at the NDAA Section 1021, that gave President Obama the ability to define someone as a terrorist threat and have the military incarcerate them indefinitely without due process. That’s the same as the special order 48 issued in 1933 by the Nazis, [the so-called Reichstag Fire Decree]. Read that – it says exactly the same thing.

These were totalitarian processes that were instituted. And it’s not just us – it’s happening around the world. Totalitarianism comes in the form first of knowledge of people and what they’re doing, and then it starts to transition into using that power against people. That’s what’s happening – in terms of newspaper reporters, in terms of crimes. That’s a direct violation of our constitution.

TechWeekEurope covers a digital Baedecker:

GCHQ Is Mapping Open TCP Ports Across Whole Countries

  • The reconnaissance operation codenamed ‘Hacienda’ supplies the agency with some of the information needed to compromise systems

German journalists and academics have criticised Britain’s intelligence service GCHQ for scanning servers round the world, and maintaining a database of open ports which could be used in attacks.

British intelligence agency GCHQ has been cataloguing open TCP ports across entire countries as part of a secret programme codenamed ‘Hacienda’, reports German publication Heise Online.

The database resulting from the scans is used in other GCHQ surveillance projects and shared with the rest of the Five Eyes – the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – using the secure MAILORDER transport protocol.

An open port can enable the attackers to identify services that are running on a server with the view to compromise it. According to Heise, Hacienda targeted 32 countries since 2009, and has completely mapped ports of at least 27.

From  Nextgox, and significant:

Exclusive: Nuke Regulator Hacked by Suspected Foreign Powers

Nuclear Regulatory Commission computers within the past three years were successfully hacked by foreigners twice and also by an unidentifiable individual, according to an internal investigation.

One incident involved emails sent to about 215 NRC employees in “a logon-credential harvesting attempt,” according to an inspector general report Nextgov obtained through an open-records request.

The phishing emails baited personnel by asking them to verify their user accounts by clicking a link and logging in. The link really took victims to “a cloud-based Google spreadsheet.”

From the Guardian, domestic espionage:

25 Turkish police officers arrested amid Erdogan wiretapping scandal

  • Swoop in cities including Istanbul and Izmir during investigation linked to government corruption claims

Twenty-five police officers have been arrested by Turkish authorities in the latest nationwide swoop to detain suspects alleged to have illegally wiretapped key government figures, including the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reports said.

Police carried out raids in 12 cities, including Istanbul and Izmir, as part of an investigation into allegations of espionage and illegal wiretapping, the private Dog(an news agency reported.

The swoop on Tuesday was the third such roundup since July in a probe that has resulted in dozens of arrests and raised tensions as Erdog(an prepares for his inauguration as president on 28 August.

From intelNews, evoking suspicions of Mossad?:

‘Sensitive files’ stolen as Saudi motorcade is ambushed in Paris

A 12-vehicle entourage transporting a Saudi royal to a Paris airport was ambushed on Monday in cinematic fashion by heavily armed men, who stole a suitcase full of cash and diplomatic files described as “sensitive”.

French police are trying to determine whether the ambush, which occurred on Monday evening just north of downtown Paris, was aimed at the money or the documents, which French newspaper Le Parisien described as “sensitive”. According to French police, the Saudi motorcade was heading from the renowned Four Seasons George V hotel on the Champs Elysées to Le Bourget airport, 15 miles north of Paris, which handles private jets. But as the convoy drove through Porte de la Chapelle, two BMWs without license tags suddenly made their way to the top of the motorcade and forced it to stop.

Within seconds, eight heavily armed men brandishing handguns and AK-47s stormed out of the two cars and hijacked a Mercedes minivan that was part of the motorcade. Several of them boarded the vehicle and drove away, taking with them its three occupants, a driver, a bodyguard and another official. Later on, the three hostages were abandoned by the side of the road. The minivan, as well as one of the two BMWs used by the armed assailants, were later found burnt out in the village of Saint-Mesmes, northeast of the French capital. But the thieves took with them a suitcase containing €250,000 ($330,000) in cash, as well as what the French press said were “important diplomatic documents”.

Deutsche Welle covers spooky journalistic blowback:

BND head to discuss Spiegel report with top Turkey spy

The German and Turkish intelligence heads will meet to discuss reports that Berlin routinely spied on its NATO partner. On Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador in Ankara, Eberhard Pohl.

Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu reported that the chiefs of the two countries’ spy agencies had agreed to meet after Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoglu spoke by phone with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his German counterpart, whose office confirmed that the two foreign ministers engaged in a “long talk.”

A spokeswoman for Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, would neither confirm nor deny the meeting to news agencies on Tuesday.

Turkish officials have demanded an explanation after news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Germany had repeatedly eavesdropped on officials from the country. Anakara called the spying “unacceptable.”

From MIT Technology Review, a red light alert:

Researchers Hack Into Michigan’s Traffic Lights

  • Security flaws in a system of networked stoplights point to looming problems with an increasingly connected infrastructure.

With permission from a local road agency, researchers in Michigan hacked into nearly 100 wirelessly networked traffic lights, highlighting security issues that they say are likely to pervade networked traffic infrastructure around the country. More than 40 states currently use such systems to keep traffic flowing as efficiently as possible, helping to reduce emissions and delays.

The team, led by University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman, found three major weaknesses in the traffic light system: unencrypted wireless connections, the use of default usernames and passwords that could be found online, and a debugging port that is easy to attack.

“The vulnerabilities we discover in the infrastructure are not a fault of any one device or design choice, but rather show a systemic lack of security consciousness,” the researchers report in a paper they’re presenting this week at a computer security conference. They did not disclose exactly where in Michigan they did the research.

Network World takes wing:

Senator questions airlines’ data privacy practices

A senior U.S. senator is asking airlines about their data privacy practices, saying he’s concerned about what information the companies are collecting and sharing with third parties.

Some consumer advocates have raised concerns that airline privacy policies “can contain substantial caveats and that it is difficult for consumers to learn what information airlines and others in the travel sector are collecting, keeping, and sharing about them,” Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, wrote in a letter to 10 U.S. airlines Monday.

The airlines receiving the letters included United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Airlines contacted about Rockefeller’s letter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.

From the Los Angeles Times, security for conspicuous consumers:

New Corvette will record every move a valet driver makes

  • Attention valet drivers: Don’t get frisky with the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette — big brother is watching.

General Motors is offering next year’s model of the famous sport coupe with a data recorder that captures video, audio and driving data from the vehicle when switched into a special “Valet Mode.”

Valet Mode is displayed on the touchscreen panel of the 2015 Corvette. Data and video can be viewed instantly by the owner on the screen when the car is parked, or it can be downloaded to a computer. (GM / Associated Press)

The Vette’s owner can come back from dinner and check out if the valet was testing the sports car’s 3.8 second zero to 60 mph time. The car will have recorded data such as speed, engine RPM, which gears have been used and the highest level of g-force incurred on that joy ride to the parking garage.

EUobserver covers critique:

EU justice chief criticises Google on ‘right to be forgotten’

The EU’s justice commissioner has accused internet giant Google of leading a campaign to shoot down data protection reforms.

Speaking in Lyon, France on Monday (18 August), the commissioner, Martine Reicherts, said: “Google and other affected companies who complain loudly” about a recent EU court verdict on personal data are “detractors … attempting to throw a new spanner in the works”.

The Luxembourg-based EU court in May ruled that Google must remove links to any content that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” or face a fine.

From Deutsche Welle, with a suggestion that they try American police departments:

Uncertain outlook for German arms industry

  • German tanks, submarines and weapons are in high demand. They’re exported to Israel despite the war in Gaza, and Kurdish fighters would also welcome a shipment. Yet the defense industry is worried about its future.

When trade unions look to politicians for help, they’re generally hoping for backing in the fight against managers planning job cuts. But when workers’ representatives from the German arms industry met at the Ministry for Economic Affairs on Tuesday, it was for a very different cause.

In this case, it’s the minister of economic affairs himself, Sigmar Gabriel, who is putting their jobs at risk by approving fewer and fewer German arms shipments to worldwide customers. In a letter sent to Gabriel in July, the unionists said that the minister’s decisions were threatening the very existence of a number of corporations in the security and defense industry.

Ernst-August Kiel, an employee representative with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, said after the meeting with Gabriel that they’d debated some “dicey deals,” involving thinner order books and fewer follow-up orders.

And from Sky News, semantics rebooting on the ground:

Exclusive: US Recruits Iraq Security ‘Advisers’

  • The US Army looks to beef up its ‘Office of Security Assistance’, despite Barack Obama ruling out sending troops back to Iraq.

Barack Obama may have ruled out sending “boots on the ground” back to Iraq but in the face of a growing threat from the Islamic State (IS), the Pentagon appears to have hit upon a way to get them back in by the back door.

The US Army’s Contracting Command has issued a tender notice for companies capable of deploying security assistance mentors and advisers in Iraq.

These individuals would be required for a 12-month contract, potentially extendable to a total of 36 months.

After the jump, that latest from the Asian Games of Zones — including Indo-Pakistani tensions rising, Pakistani protests, an Aussie/Malaysian rift abated and terrorism foiled in Malaysia, a high-level Taiwanese security sacking, Chinese border and terror strategems, Japanese armaments move, Shinzo Abe’s militarism redux, Japanese Korean fears, semantic riffs, and a Nazi pasta invasion. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: The real looters in Ferguson


From Guardian columnist Steven W Thrasher:

The symptoms of structural racism stain America everywhere, but its execution is particularly perverse in places like Ferguson. It’s not just that black drivers are stopped more often for alleged crimes than white drivers, despite the Missouri attorney general’s report that white people break the law more often. It’s not that Ferguson’s police force is 94% white in a town that’s two-thirds black. It’s not even, as Jeff Smith wrote in Monday’s New York Times, that black people – many unemployed – “do more to fund local government than relatively affluent whites” by way of those stops and the subsequent fines.

The real perversion of justice by way of modern American racism is that black people in Ferguson – like black people in the greater St Louis metropolitan area and nationally – are marginalized economically and physically from day one. That is the real looting of Ferguson.

We are consistently twice as likely to be unemployed – and in and near St Louis, “47 percent of the metro area’s African-American men between ages 16 and 24 are unemployed”. Our men are more likely to be convicted and our women are more likely to be evicted. We are more likely to be victims of predatory loans. Our children are twice as likely to have asthma (even before you teargas them). Our babies are twice as likely to die before the age of one – and their mothers are three or four times more likely to die as a result of bearing them.

In America, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic,“White flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.” But that engineering was perfected in St Louis, which Al Jazeera reported “has spent enormous sums of public money to spatially reinforce human segregation patterns”.

Read the rest.

John Oliver tackles militarized police & Ferguson


Cutting through the bullshit, when done in a non-plummy British accent, is somehow funnier than the same message conveyed in plain old American media English. But when the accent comes with rapier-sharp wit, the result is simply delicious.

Sure, you can find fault with John Oliver’s message, but he gets a lot more right than otherwise, and his take on the Orwellian machinery at the heart of paramilitary hardware and attitudes employed in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the police shooting of yet another unarmed black teenager merits kudos.

Pop it up to full screen and enjoy, via HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Ferguson, MO and Police Militarization

Program note:

In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, John Oliver explores the racial inequality in treatment by police as well as the increasing militarization of America’s local police forces.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, Assange, Taps, Zones


Straight to it, first with the unsurprising from Defense One:

Congress Is Not Canceling the Pentagon-to-Police Weapons Program Anytime Soon

Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, and two of his Democratic colleagues are asking committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte to convene hearings on the militarization of police forces. And Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia said Thursday he will introduce a bill that would limit the kinds of military equipment local police forces can acquire.

Libertarian-leaning Republicans are joining the chorus as well. Republican Sen. Rand Paul penned a piece for Time protesting the “cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve,” and Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan spoke out against police militarization via Twitter as well.

The response from congressional Republican leadership, however, has been measured or nonexistent, suggesting the issue is unlikely to make the agenda when Congress returns from recess in September. And even if it does, the program that connects police forces to military equipment has well-placed defenders in Congress.

TPM Livewire covers a First Amendment crackdown:

Three More Journalists Detained In Ferguson

Relations between police in Ferguson, Mo. and members of the media covering protests against law enforcement there broke down again Sunday night.

Echoing the arrests of the Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly and the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery earlier this week, three reporters said they were briefly handcuffed and detained by police. Other reporters said officers threatened them with mace, while one radio reporter caught an officer’s threat to shoot him on tape.

Three journalists — Neil Munshi of the Financial Times, Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated and Rob Crilly of the Telegraph — tweeted that they were briefly detained and handcuffed by Missouri highway police Capt. Ron Johnson. Munshi emphasized that the three of them were held by police but were not arrested.

From the Guardian, the harsh reality of Hope™ and Change™:

James Risen calls Obama ‘greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation’

  • Journalist refuses to reveal source of story about CIA operation
  • President’s support for press freedom called ‘hypocritical’

The New York Times reporter James Risen, who faces jail over his refusal to reveal a source and testify against a former CIA agent accused of leaking secrets, has called President Barack Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation”.

Speaking to his colleague Maureen Dowd, Risen accused the president of aggressively pursuing journalists, including himself, who report sensitive stories that reflect poorly on the US government.

Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.

From Techdirt, more of that good ol’ Hope™ and Change™:

Government’s Response To Snowden? Strip 100,000 Potential Whistleblowers Of Their Security Clearances

  • from the surface-issues-neutralized.-underlying-causes-unaddressed. dept

Snowden just re-upped for three years in picturesque Russia, a land best known for not being a US military prison. Not exactly ideal, but under the circumstances, not entirely terrible. The government knows where Snowden is (more or less) and many officials have a pretty good idea what they’d like to do to him if he returns, but the NSA is still largely operating on speculation when it comes to what documents Snowden took.

But they do have someone looking into this. The government has tried to assess the damage posed by Snowden’s leaks, but so far all it has come up with is vague proclamations that the released have caused grave and exceptional damage to US security and an even vaguer CIA report claiming that a bunch of documents Snowden theoretically has in his possession might severely harm the US if a) they are released and b) they exist.

The Associated Press complains of buggery:

Turkey calls German ambassador over spying claims

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry says the German ambassador has been summoned for talks over reports that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency had eavesdropped on conversations between officials in the U.S. and Turkey, both NATO allies.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that the agency, known by its German acronym BND, had listened to calls made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton. It also cited a confidential 2009 BND document listing Turkey as a target for German intelligence gathering.

A Foreign Ministry official said Monday the ambassador was summoned to “discuss” the report.

Peter J. Espina of China’s state-published Global Times offered his take on a certain irony of German “unintentional” eavesdropping on calls by John Kerr and Hillary Clinton:

BLOG Spooky

More from Der Spiegel:

Targeting Turkey: How Germany Spies on Its Friends

For years, the BND has intercepted satellite telephone conversations from its listening station in Bad Aibling in Bavaria in order to obtain knowledge of the Islamist terrorist scene. But intelligence sources now say that US office holders have also fallen into the BND’s crosshairs while making satellite telephone calls from airplanes. Sources described it as a kind of unintentional “by-catch”.

That’s how Clinton got caught in the BND’s net in 2012. The former secretary of state had telephoned with former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. At the time, he was serving as the joint UN-Arab League special envoy for the Syrian crisis. Annan had just left the latest negotiations in Syria and wanted to provide Clinton with an update.

Following protocol, staff at BND headquarters prepared a several-page-long transcript of the conversation and passed it along to senior agency officials. They in turn ordered that the transcript be destroyed. Sources say that the document was not forwarded to Merkel’s Chancellery.

But the person tasked with destroying the transcript was Markus R., an employee in the agency’s Areas of Operations/Foreign Relations department, who also turns out to be the same man recently accused of serving as an agent for the Americans.

And still more from Deutsche Welle:

German surveillance upsets Turkish trust

Germany’s surveillance of Turkey has damaged the trust between the two nations, Turkish experts say. An apology would be appropriate, they argue – but they don’t really expect one.

It took two days before the Turkish government reacted to the news that Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the country’s foreign intelligence agency, had allegedly been spying on Turkey for years.

On Monday, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara summoned Germany’s ambassador Eberhard Pohl, making it clear that the surveillance is unacceptable and must stop.

Foreign Minister Davutoglu called Germany’s behaviour “inexcusable.” There were principles of interaction that must always be considered, he said, adding the German government owed Turkey an explanation. Davutoglu, favored to take over the post of premier after new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes office, said he would discuss the issue with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the phone.

From Techdirt, why are we not surprised?:

From The Unsealed ‘Jewel v. NSA’ Transcript: The DOJ Has Nothing But Contempt For American Citizens

  • from the and-[local]-god-help-you-if-you’re-a-foreign-citizen dept

With some of the proceedings unsealed in the EFF’s long-running Jewel vs. NSA lawsuit, more details can finally be exposed. Not that what’s already been exposed hasn’t been damning enough. Over the past several months, the DOJ has run interference for the NSA, traveling from courtroom to courtroom, destroying and saving (or at least pretending to…) collected data amongst a flurry of contradictory orders.

Not that it ultimately mattered. The NSA just kept destroying relevant evidence, claiming the system was too complex to do anything with but allow to run its course. Evidence would be destroyed at the 5-year limit, no matter what preservation orders were issued. The NSA, of course, has a vested interest in destroying evidence that its 215 and 702 programs collect the data and communications of Americans. Thanks to Snowden’s leaks, it can no longer pretend it doesn’t. But despite this, the DOJ still claims Section 702 targets only foreigners and American suspects located outside of the US.

The mock concern about compliance with court orders was a hustle. The DOJ wants as much evidence that might be useful to plaintiffs gone as swiftly as possible. Thanks to the unsealing of Jewel court documents, the EFF can now relate that the DOJ’s efforts went much further than simply letting aged-off collections expire. It also actively tried to change the historical record of the Jewel case, as Mike covered here recently.

Al Jazeera English announces a move:

Julian Assange ‘to leave’ Ecuador embassy

  • WikiLeaks founder says he will leave Ecuador’s embassy in London “soon”, but gives no further details.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he plans to leave Ecuador’s embassy in London “soon”, having spent the last two years avoiding extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault.

Assange told reporters during a news conference on Monday that he would be “leaving the embassy soon” but not for reasons “reported by the Murdoch press”, without elaborating further.

“I am leaving the embassy soon… but perhaps not for the reasons that Murdoch press and Sky news are saying at the moment,” he said.

And a video report from RT:

‘Important changes coming’ – Assange’s friend

Program note:

After spending more than two years trapped in a tiny embassy room, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has made a sudden announcement that he will leave the embassy ‘soon’. For more perspective on what Assange had to say, and why he said it RT talks to someone who knows him personally – Gavin Macfadyen, Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

A video of Assange’s full statement is here.

But the London Telegraph promptly threw a bucket of cold water:

Home Office shoots down Julian Assange’s claim about extradition law change

  • Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, says he plans to leave the Ecuador embassy in London after spending two years there

Mr Assange and his legal advisers appeared to have made an embarrassing error by misunderstanding a basic aspect of the new legislation.

The Home Office quickly undermined his key claim by confirming the changes would not apply in the case of Mr Assange, who has been a wanted man in Sweden since 2010, because they are not retrospective.

Mr Assange, 43, is alleged to have raped a woman known as SW, then aged 26, and committed other sexual offences against AA, a 31-year-old woman.

From the Register, the Rupester crows:

Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA

  • Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has taken to Twitter and labelled Google worse than the NSA.

Here’s The Dirty Digger’s missive:

Rupert Murdoch     @rupertmurdoch

NSA privacy invasion bad, but nothing compared to Google.
10:15 AM – 17 Aug 2014

Murdoch and Google have history, with the former accusing the latter of stealing his newspapers’ content (yet never putting in place a robots.txt file that would prevent search engines crawling it). Uncle Rupert has also criticised Google as enabling the theft of films by indexing torrent sites.

Reuters covers a hack:

Community Health says data stolen in cyber attack from China

Community Health Systems Inc (CYH.N), one of the biggest U.S. hospital groups, said on Monday it was the victim of a cyber attack from China, resulting in the theft of Social Security numbers and other personal data belonging to 4.5 million patients.

Security experts said the hacking group, known as “APT 18,” may have links to the Chinese government.

“APT 18″ typically targets companies in the aerospace and defense, construction and engineering, technology, financial services and healthcare industry, said Charles Carmakal, managing director with FireEye Inc’s (FEYE.O) Mandiant forensics unit, which led the investigation of the attack on Community Health in April and June.

From TechWeekEurope, cyberwarfare:

Syrian Malware Is On The Rise, Warns Kaspersky

  • As the civil war in Syria enters its fourth year, cyber warfare shows no sign of abating

The number of cyber attacks against Internet users in Syria is growing, with organised groups relying on increasingly sophisticated strains of malware to target media agencies, activists and dissidents, warns Russian security vendor Kaspersky Labs.

According to a report by Kaspersky’s Global Research & Analysis Team (GReAT), groups from both sides of the civil war are using advanced social engineering techniques, modifying legitimate apps and obfuscating their code in order to infect target machines with Remote Access Tools (RATs) such as the ‘Dark Comet’.

The company says people should be extra careful when they access online material that relates to the conflict.

From PetaPixel, delinquency of a [data] miner:

Tumblr Will Soon Scan Your Photos for Clues About What Brands You Use

Tumblr users post approximately 130 million photos every day. And starting this week, they will begin to sort through every single one of them for various brands and items, with the help of Ditto Labs.

The Yahoo-owned social media platform and Ditto are officially signing a deal this week that will help Tumblr take advantage of the unfathomable amount of images shared on its services every day. Specifically, the technology Ditto owns will allow Tumblr to analyze photos posted by users and draw out brand-related data.

This means, if someone shares an image with a pair of Beats headphones, Nike shoe, Starbucks drink or Canon camera, Ditto’s technology will be able to pinpoint the products, more effectively defining demographics for advertisers. However, accorfing to T.R. Newcomb, head of business development at Tumblr, “right now, we’re not planning to do anything ad-related.”

After the jump, a Chinese media crackdown and the latest on the Asian Game of Zones, including border crossings, peace feelers, a Japanese military woe and internal doubts, more allegations of Japanese ethnic intolerance, and more ghosts from World War II troubled the Asian present. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Taps, hacks, zones, bluster


Today’s headlines from the world of spies, deep politics, hackery, state violence, and the ongoing Asian Games of Zones is agenda’s so full we opted to switch the order of our compendia today, and we’ll get straight to it, first with a pair of stories about prominent conversations overheard.

We open with this from International Business Times:

Germany Recorded Hillary Clinton When She Was Secretary Of State, German Media Says

Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) recorded a conversation of Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state, three German media outlets reported on Friday. Clinton was recorded while flying in a U.S. government aircraft. Reports did not specify the exact date of the recording.

Germany’s largest daily newspaper and two public broadcasting services broke the story on the alleged incident and cited anonymous government sources that said the recording was by accident. One source said the recordings should have been destroyed immediately and it was “idiocy” that they weren’t. The report also mentions the BND recorded other “American politicians and other friendly countries,” but did not specify which politicians or what countries.

The disclosure came after last year’s revelation by Edward Snowden that the U.S. ran an espionage operation on Germany, one of America’s closest allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was bugged and recorded by the U.S., was highly critical of the surveillance, saying there must not be “spying among friends.” More recently, German officials revealed in July that the U.S had been working with a spy in Germany for more than two years.

And the other eavesdropping saga, via News Corp Australia:

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s phone was hacked at the height of the MH17 crisis

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Julie Bishop’s mobile phone was compromised while she was overseas leading tense negotiations to win access to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine.

Australian intelligence officials seized Ms Bishop’s phone on her return from a two-week trip to the United States, Ukraine and Holland, having secured a deal to get Australian police into the crash area.

Russian-backed rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight with a surface-to-air missile on July 17, killing 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.

It is thought that our intelligence agencies know which country those responsible for compromising Ms Bishop’s phone were operating from.

American accessory convicted, via Al Jazeera:

Court: Poland culpable for CIA secret prisons

  • The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to pay reparations to two Saudis being held in Guantanamo Bay

On July 24, seven judges on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Poland in a landmark case, making it the first European Union country to be held accountable for its involvement in the United States’ systematic, extrajudicial detention of suspects, known as the “extraordinary rendition” programme. Established by the George W Bush administration in the aftermath of September 11 attacks, the programme was run by the CIA, and designed to detain suspects deemed to be of “high value”.

In the unanimous ruling, the judges stated that “Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention, and interrogation operations on its territory” and that it had failed in its duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to “ensure that individuals within its jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The ECHR ordered Poland to pay $175,000 to Saudi-born Palestinian Abu Zubaydah and $135,000 to Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Both applicants are currently being held in US custody in Guantanamo Bay, isolated from the outside world.

From the Daily Californian, an alarm sounds in Berkeley:

UC to evacuate affiliates in Pakistan after bombing this week

The university is initiating evacuation of UC affiliates in Pakistan after a bombing in the city of Quetta on Tuesday.

Two UC Berkeley faculty members are currently in Pakistan on UC-related business, according to campus risk manager Andy Goldblatt. No students or staff have been reported to be in the country, although an email was sent Wednesday to campus deans, directors and chairs asking for help identifying other UC faculty, staff and students in Pakistan.

Campus professor Ron Gronsky, special faculty assistant to the chancellor for international relations, said in the email that not all UC affiliates take the recommendation that they register their international travel with the university.

The Los Angeles Times plays the overture for the next act:

Nouri Maliki’s departure sets stage for deeper U.S. role in Iraq

The resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki after a bitter final power struggle sets the stage for increasing U.S. arms shipments and military advisors, deepening America’s role in a conflict President Obama had sought to avoid.

White House officials, who had urged Maliki to step down, praised him for agreeing Thursday to back Haider Abadi, a less divisive successor who they hope can unite Iraq’s political and religious factions against the Islamic State militants who control or threaten much of the country.

“Iraqis took another major step forward in uniting their country,” national security advisor Susan Rice said in a statement. “These are encouraging developments that we hope can set Iraq on a new path.”

And from the Associated Press, hints of Perry-less times ahead for the Lone Star State:

Texas’ Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state’s first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit, which is run by Travis County District Rosemary Lehmberg’s office. Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry himself wasn’t called to testify.

He was indicted by an Austin grand jury on felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Maximum punishment on the first charge is five to 99 years in prison. The second is two to 10 years.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press challenges First Amendment insecurity:

Media coalition protests police treatment of reporters during Ferguson events

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press led a coalition of 48 national media organizations that sent a protest letter [PDF] objecting to the treatment of reporters during the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown.

The letter was sent to the heads of the city and county police, as well as the state highway patrol.

“Officers on the ground must understand that gathering news and recording police activities are not crimes,” the letter states. “The actions in Ferguson demonstrate a lack of training among local law enforcement in the protections required by the First Amendment as well as the absence of respect for the role of newsgatherers. We implore police leadership to rectify this failing to ensure that these incidents do not occur again.”

From the Washington Post, another source of insecurity:

Ex-cop who burned body again gets 17 years

For a second time, a former New Orleans police officer has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for burning the body of a man shot to death by another New Orleans police officer in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina.

Gregory McRae, 53, already is imprisoned for burning Henry Glover’s body. However, an appeals court had ordered a recalculation of his original 17-year sentence after one of his original convictions was thrown out.

In giving the same 17-year, 3-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said Friday that McRae was guilty of covering up an unlawful killing by fellow Officer David Warren. Africk’s assertion comes despite a jury’s earlier acquittal of Warren.

The Center for Investigative Reporting covers another insecurity on the borders:

Ousted chief accuses border agency of shooting cover-ups, corruption

More than two dozen people have died in violent clashes with U.S. Customs and Border Protection since 2010. Despite public outrage over some of the killings, no agent or officer has faced criminal charges – or public reprimand – to date.

Yet at least a quarter of the 28 deaths were “highly suspect,” said James F. Tomsheck, the agency’s recently removed head of internal affairs. In a sweeping and unauthorized interview with The Center for Investigative Reporting, he said the deaths raised serious questions about whether the use of lethal force was appropriate.

Instead, Tomsheck said, Border Patrol officials have consistently tried to change or distort facts to make fatal shootings by agents appear to be “a good shoot” and cover up any wrongdoing.

The Oakland Tribune covers questionable consistency:

Judge orders investigation into Oakland’s police arbitration losses

A federal judge with sweeping power over Oakland’s police department ordered an investigation Thursday into why the city consistently loses arbitration cases with officers who are appealing discipline.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson wrote that an arbitrator’s recent decision overturning the termination of an officer videotaped tossing a tear gas grenade into a crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters struck at the heart of a reform drive that he has overseen for more than a decade.

“Just like any failure to impose appropriate discipline by the (police) chief or city administrator, any reversal of appropriate discipline at arbitration undermines the very objectives of the (reform program),” Henderson wrote.

From the London Daily Mail, yet another way to bug you:

Are apps secretly listening to your calls? Security experts discover gyroscopes can identify voices from VIBRATIONS

  • Computer scientists from Stanford University and Israeli defence research group Rafael have turned a phone gyroscope into a crude microphone
  • Smartphones contain the sensors which are used for games and orientation
  • They found gyroscopes can pick up frequency of soundwaves around them
  • Vibrations are then decoded by software, making it possible for experts to eavesdrop on phone conversations – with 65 per cent accuracy
  • No permission is needed from third parties to access gyroscopes

Many people are careful to protect their pin numbers, and are vigilant about giving smartphone apps access to their microphone in case they could be listened in on.

But now there’s a new snooping threat, and it comes from a smartphone’s gyroscope.

From the Guardian, security questions:

Australian intelligence watchdog wants clarification on national security plan

  • Inspector General of Intelligence and Security also wants increased budget for effective oversight of expanded surveillance

Australia’s intelligence watchdog has called on the Abbott government to clarify various elements of its national security reforms – and also increase its budget so that it is in a position to carry out effective oversight in an environment where the surveillance footprint is being significantly expanded.

In a public hearing in parliament on Friday, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) said the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) should be required to report more extensively on the use of new powers proposed in the Coalition’s national security reforms.

IGIS said the government should consider adding a requirement to the first tranche of its security legislation requiring Asio to report on instances where it used force in operations, where it accessed third party property, or where it disrupted computers.

From the Guardian, those with info want others to have less info:

CIA security luminary: ‘Right to be forgotten is not enough’

  • Leading security expert Dan Geer says the EU ruling does not go far enough in protecting users’ privacy

The EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten” laws have not gone far enough to protect citizens’ privacy, according to Dan Geer, one of the world’s best-known security experts.

Geer, currently chief information security officer at the CIA’s venture capital arm, told delegates at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas that he was confused by the Guardian’s coverage of the issue. The so called “right to be forgotten” issue stemmed from a European court of justice ruling, forcing Google to remove a link relating to a 1998 newspaper article from its search results after a complaint from the person named in the article.

Geer described it as “notably ironic” that the Guardian had championed Edward Snowden’s revelations about intrusion by government agencies into civilians’ privacy, while also claiming in one editorial (though he did not specify which) that nobody has a right to be forgotten.

From the Washington Post, why are not surprised?:

U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas

CloudShield Technologies, a California defense contractor, dispatched a senior engineer to Munich in the early fall of 2009. His instructions were unusually opaque.

As he boarded the flight, the engineer told confidants later, he knew only that he should visit a German national who awaited him with an off-the-books assignment. There would be no written contract, and on no account was the engineer to send reports back to CloudShield headquarters.

His contact, Martin J. Muench, turned out to be a former developer of computer security tools who had long since turned to the darkest side of their profession. Gamma Group, the British conglomerate for which Muench was a managing director, built and sold systems to break into computers, seize control clandestinely, and then copy files, listen to Skype calls, record every keystroke and switch on Web cameras and microphones at will.

According to accounts the engineer gave later and contemporary records obtained by The Washington Post, he soon fell into a shadowy world of lucrative spyware tools for sale to foreign security services, some of them with records of human rights abuse.

More of the same from The Verge:

Hacking Team is spreading government malware through YouTube and Microsoft Live

You don’t have to click on a sketchy link to end up downloading malware. A new report from Citizen Lab’s Morgan Marquis-Boire shows how companies can spread targeted malware by intercepting web traffic en route, sending malicious traffic from an otherwise friendly link. A company called Hacking Team has been using the tactics on traffic from YouTube and Microsoft’s login.live.com servers, seeding innocent videos with surveillance software designed to track the target’s activities online.

The attacks are more targeted than traditional malware, usually targeting a single person at a time, and relying on access to government internet infrastructure to intercept the traffic. Hacking Team typically works with governments like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, but Marquis-Boire says similar capabilities have been used by intelligence agencies in the US, Britain, Russia, China and Israel. Snowden documents released in The Washington Post have identified NSA malware injection attacks that infected more than 80,000 different devices.

Since the attacks are injected into everyday web traffic, defending against them is difficult, but many companies have already adopted HTTPS encryption as a possible defense. HTTPS would encrypt the connection between the user and the server, preventing injection attacks. At the moment, only a small fraction of web traffic is encrypted, but Google is offering incentives to sites that switch over, including a small boost in search rankings. It’s unclear whether login.live or YouTube will switch to default HTTPS, but Marquis-Boire says both Microsoft and Google “have taken steps to close the vulnerability by encrypting all targeted traffic.”

intelNews lays blame:

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers.

Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe.

In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur.

Big Brother still seduces, via Nextgov:

The Snowden Effect

Revelations last year that the National Security Agency is collecting Americans’ telephone metadata soured some people’s opinions about the U.S. intelligence community, but they apparently haven’t affected the views of many computer security professionals.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that leaks by Edward Snowden, the former systems administrator and contractor with the National Security Agency, have not hindered efforts to recruit or retain cyber staff at the three-letter agencies. Instead, the disclosures actually might have helped intelligence agencies attract computer aficionados by spotlighting the agencies’ bleeding edge technology.

“We have had no indication that cyber pros have any reticence about working for the government,” says Mark Aiello, president of Massachusetts-based Cyber 360 Solutions, a staffing firm. “It is probably the opposite, and mostly for the opportunity to work with some advanced tools or techniques. The Big Brother aspect is appealing if you are the watcher, not the watched.”

From Motherboard, young accomplices:

DARPA Uses Preteen Gamers to Beta Test Tomorrow’s Military Software

Sieg Hall doesn’t look like much from the outside. Located at the University of Washington, the building was constructed in the 1960s, when it was  a focal point for Vietnam-era antiwar protests. Before renovations were carried out it had become so dilapidated that students had a tradition of taking home chunks of rock off its façade. If I didn’t know better, Sieg is just another nondescript computer science building, not a front line in military research and development.

But it’s here, tucked away on the third floor, that you’ll find precisely that: the Center for Game Science, a research lab that makes educational video games for children, and that received the bulk of its funding from the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the wing of the US Department of Defense that supports research into experimental military technology.

Why is DARPA the original primary funder of the CGS? According to written and recorded statements from current and former DARPA program managers, as well as other government documents, the DARPA-funded educational video games developed at the CGS have a purpose beyond the pretense of teaching elementary school children STEM skills.

Instead, the games developed at CGS have had the primary purpose of using grade-school children as test subjects to develop and improve “adaptive learning” training technology for the military.

From MercoPress, invoking the T-word in a curious context:

Cristina Fernandez will use anti-terrorism law against US company that closed its Argentine plant

Argentina’s government will use an anti-terrorism law for the first time to seek criminal charges against a U.S.-based international printing firm which closed its Argentine plant without warning, president Cristina Fernández said on Thursday. She linked the company to some of the hedge funds in litigation with Argentina over defaulted bonds.

Several hundred workers were left jobless when RR Donnelly abruptly filed for bankruptcy and shut down its printing presses on the outskirts of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

“We are facing a real case of fraudulent behavior and an attempt to intimidate the population,” said Cristina Fernandez in a speech at Government House.

“We will apply the anti-terrorist law. We filled a motion under charges of altering the economic and financial order and terrorizing of people,” the head of state expressed after blaming Donnelly with tax fraud and evasion.

On to other attempts to suppress information, first from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Sexism of Authorities Aggravates Violence Against Women Journalists in Mexico

The sexism of Mexican authorities generates impunity and has led to a 300 percent increase in violence against women journalists in just a decade, according to a report presented by an NGO.

In the last few years 86 cases of violence against women journalists were reported, of which 54 percent occurred in 2013, the study by the Communication and Information for Women organization (CIMAC) revealed.

It added that Mexico City reported 35 percent of the total number of cases, thus making the capital “the most dangerous place for women in this profession.”

GlobalPost sends up a rocket:

Hamas says it has deported foreign journalists for reporting on missile launches

  • The group that runs Gaza says foreign media coverage of this latest conflict with Israel was skewed against the Palestinians.

Did Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, intimidate, harass or even deport journalists trying their damnedest to cover a dangerous war with Israel?

If you take Hamas’ word for it, the answer appears to be yes.

In an interview with the Lebanese-based Al Mayadeen TV, Hamas spokeswoman Isra Almodallal said that foreign journalists have been deported from Gaza for filming Hamas rocket launches.

Why? According to Almodallal, they “were fixated on the notion of peace and on the Israeli narrative. So when they were conducting interviews or when they went on location to report they would focus on filming the places from where the missiles were launched. Thus, they were collaborating with the occupation.”

From the Associated Press, many questions remain:

Liberian police seal newspaper office

Dozens of riot police have sealed the offices of a newspaper critical of the Liberian government and officers attempted to detain its publisher. Police spokesman Sam Collins says the paper’s criticisms could “plunge the country into confusion” when the government is struggling to contain an Ebola outbreak.

Philibert Brown’s National Chronicle has often accused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government of corruption and on Wednesday it called for the government to step down.

Brown has been ordered to report for questioning Friday.

Sirleaf’s government has come under stiff criticism for its record on press freedoms. Sirleaf has signed the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the Africa-wide repeal of defamation and “insult” laws, but multiple libel convictions have been handed down since she came to power in 2006.

From International Business Times, more media under fire:

China’s Anti-Corruption Crackdown Increasingly Targets CCTV, Flagship Network

In the latest sign that China Central Television, the country’s state-run television giant, is in political trouble,  the government announced Friday that one of the network’s top officials is under detention.

China arrested Huang Haitao, deputy director of CCTV 8, a channel devoted to scripted dramas, according to 163.com, a popular news portal. His arrest is in connection with a wide-ranging government audit of CCTV, which claims an audience of more than 1 billion viewers.

Huang is only the latest prominent CCTV personality to run afoul of Chinese authorities since the December 2013 arrest of Li Dongsheng, a former vice president of the network. In late May, authorities arrested Guo Zhenxi, the head of CCTV’s financial news network, while high-profile anchor Rui Chenggang, whose “Economic News” program has an estimated 10 million viewers, was detained on July 11.

After the jump, more tensions in the Asian Games of Zones, including Pakistani protests and violence, a resounding chorus of moans from the ghosts of history, claims and counterclaims, U.S. marines of a Japanese island, and as story that really is too good to be true. . . Continue reading

Reports: Ferguson, Missouri, and militarized cops


Three video reports, two from Democracy Now! and one from RT America, look at the Washington-fund-and-armed militarization of American police and the ongoing war on photographers and journalists by police unhappy with their reports.

From Democracy Now!:

Program notes:

Protests are continuing in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager who was shot by police on Saturday. But the mood in Ferguson has changed drastically over the past 24 hours. On Wednesday night, the city looked like a warzone as police fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs. Police arrested at least 10 people, including a St. Louis alderman and two journalists. But last night the mood was less tense after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon put an African-American highway patrol captain, Ron Johnson, in charge of security in the town of Ferguson. Johnson marched with protesters and ordered the riot gear put away. We go to St. Louis to speak with the Rev. Renita Lamkin, who was hit with a rubber bullet by police on Wednesday while attending the protest, and Patricia Bynes, Democratic committee member of Ferguson Township.

[Editor's Note: Rev. Renita Lamkin was incorrectly identified during the interview. Democracy Now! regrets the error.]

From Democracy Now! again:

Cops or Soldiers? Pentagon, DHS Helped Arm Police in Ferguson with Equipment Used in War

Program notes:

The events in Ferguson over the past week have sparked a national debate over racial profiling and the militarization of local police forces. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.” What Holder did not mention was the federal government’s role in supplying local police forces with military-grade equipment. The New York Times reports Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was also paid for with federal money. We speak to Radley Balko, author of the book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” “When we take domestic police officers and we train them like soldiers and we give them military gear and we dress them up like soldiers and we tell them they’re fighting a war — a war on crime or a war on terror — they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers,” Balko says.

And from RT America:

Controlling the narrative: Ferguson police target journalists

Program notes:

Journalists reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, MO were in the crosshairs of police Wednesday night, with violence and intimidation directed at many prominent journalists. Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post made headlines after being confronted, assaulted and arrested without reason or justification given, while a crew from Al Jazeera America was targeted by SWAT forces who fired tear gas directly at the team while filming a protest. Christopher Chambers, a journalism professor at Georgetown University, explains to RT’s Ameera David why law enforcement seem to be targeting members of the media.

UPDATE: On a related note, consider this chart from Reuters:

BLOG Noteworthy

Chart of the day II: Different visions of equity


From the Pew Research Center, dramatically different perspectives remain on treatment of blacks by American institutions:

BLOG Pew

 

Corporate medicine and Ebola injustice


A much-needed perspective on the implications of corporate control of the medical sector from The Real Network in the form of a Jessica Desvarieux interview of Harriet A. Washington, medical ethicist and author of notable books on the intersection of race, class, and the corporate sector in medicine.

From The Real News Network:

Economic Justice and the Ebola Outbreak

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So, Harriet, the big news is that this serum that is ZMapp that I mentioned in the introduction was offered to the two American health care workers, and now they seem to be recovering. Why hasn’t it been made more widely available?

WASHINGTON: Well, what we’re told is that it’s not been made more widely available because there were initially only three doses. Of course, my first question was, why wasn’t it given to Sheik Umar Khan, the chief ebola health care worker in Sierra Leone who died just a week or so ago of Ebola?

DESVARIEUX: Then at the root of this would you say that the serum was—-essentially, whose interest is it for it not to be more widely available?

WASHINGTON: Well, it’s a very complex question. And I think–I’m not inclined to personalize it. Rather than asking whether a person has an inclination to deny it to Africans, my question is: what forces tend to separate drugs like this from Africans? There are networks, informal networks sometimes, of availability that are available to Westerners and not to Africans.

And there are also economic pressures. Decisions about the expense of producing large enough quantity of doses of this drug to give it to Africans is an expensive proposition, as it always is, and that is a factor as well. There’s a feeling among some that it would be too expensive to produce for African Americans. But my point is I always notice that they talk about the cost, but with they’re actually referring to is the price: it’s a manufacturer’s decision to impose a certain price, and that is what puts it out of the reach of people in the developing world.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And being out of reach for people in the developing world, I mean, there are going to be some real consequences. As I mentioned in the introduction, 1,700 people have been affected. More than 900 people have died from Ebola. So can we name some names here? Which kind of pharmaceutical companies are we talking about?

WASHINGTON: I’m not inclined to single them out by name, because what’s interesting about this is although most pharmaceutical companies are guilty of an economic mentality that tells them not to produce drugs for the needs of people in the developing world, an economist at Harvard, Michael Kremer, wrote some time ago about this tendency of pharmaceutical companies not to even test drugs for diseases of the tropical lands, because people there, quote-unquote, cannot afford them. In fact, if you look at the data, between 1975 and 1997, there were 1,233 drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies. Guess how many were intended for the use of people who lived in developing countries?

DESVARIEUX: How many?

WASHINGTON: Four.

DESVARIEUX: Wow. Only four.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, fishy foes, killers, FukuNews


We big Ebola coverage on an upbeat note from United Press International:

Ebola patient Kent Brantly: ‘I’m growing stronger every day’

  • “I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name,” recalls Kent Brantly

American doctor Kent Brantly, the first known Ebola patient treated in the United States, said his condition is steadily improving in his first public statement since being transported to U.S. shores.

“I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease,” Brantly said in a statement released by Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse.

Brantly was transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after contracting the Ebola virus while treating victims in Libera.

And having delivered a ration of cheer, we promptly bring you a downer, from Dr. Brantly’s own organization via RT America:

Ebola’s spread to US “inevitable”

Program notes:

The World Health Organization on Friday declared an “international public health emergency” over the spreading Ebola outbreak. The rash of infections has killed 961 since March, making it the largest outbreak in history for the virus, and officials warn that its spread to more corners of the world is “inevitable.” Ken Isaacs of aid group Samaritan’s Purse is one of the experts working to combat the spread of the disease, and he sat down with RT’s Manila Chan to explain the perils of the deadly virus.

Next, the alarm sounds, via BBC News:

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of Ebola in West Africa an international health emergency.

WHO officials said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus.

The announcement came after experts convened a two-day emergency meeting in Switzerland.

And from Al Jazeera America, another alarm:

Medical ethicists to meet on use of experimental Ebola drugs

  • WHO announcement comes after controversy over two Americans – but no Africans – being treated with Ebola drug

Medical ethicists will meet next week to discuss the use of experimental medicines in the West Africa Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the talks in the wake of a controversial decision to treat two infected American aid workers with an Ebola “serum,” never before tested on humans, called ZMapp. The move sparked debate over whether using experimental Ebola treatments is ethical — and why Africans have not been offered the same option.

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at the WHO, said in a Thursday statement announcing the meeting. “We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.” The statement did not give a location for the meeting. On Friday, the WHO declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. government is forming a group to consider the same issues.

CBC News analyzes:

Ebola outbreak: it’s not the virus but Africa that’s changed

  • Death toll in West Africa nearing 1,000

Why do health-care workers in West Africa find this current Ebola outbreak, the worst ever, so difficult to control? The strain of the virus, the Zaire, is the same one behind most of the previous outbreaks.

This is not a case where the virus is any different, says Dr. Richard Olds, a tropical disease specialist.

But at least part of the explanation for the current dilemma may be found in how Africa has changed since the first known outbreaks of Ebola in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan.

For one, this outbreak is taking place in parts of Africa that are “much more densely populated, much more urban in their nature and those populations are much more mobile,” says Olds. Also, “these were populations that had never seen Ebola before.”

Urbanization, travel and the personal connections that come with economic development appear to have helped the virus spread. At the same time, a more formidable health-care infrastructure that could go a long way to stopping Ebola before it reaches outbreak status has not kept pace, and without that, Olds says, Ebola is “a little like Russian roulette.”

Al Jazeera America again, with countermeasures:

Travel restricted within Ebola-affected West African countries

  • Restrictions follow reports that families are hiding sick relatives, abandoning bodies in streets

West African countries hard-hit by the Ebola virus have issued travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly disease after reports emerged of families hiding sick relatives and abandoning bodies in the streets.

Soldiers clamped down on people trying to travel to Liberia’s capital on Thursday from rural areas with high rates of Ebola infection, hours after the president declared a national state of emergency.

Similar efforts were underway in eastern areas of neighboring Sierra Leone after officials there launched “Operation Octopus” to try to keep those sick with Ebola in isolation.

On the ground with the New York Times:

‘Don’t Touch the Walls’: Ebola Fears Infect an African Hospital

KENEMA, Sierra Leone — So many patients, nurses and health workers have died in the government hospital that many people in this city, a center of the world’s worst Ebola epidemic, see it as a death trap.

Now, the wards are empty in the principal institution fighting the disease. Ebola stalks the city, claiming lives every day, but patients have fled the hospital’s long, narrow buildings, which sit silent and echoing in the fading light. Few people are taking any chances by coming here.

“Don’t touch the walls!” a Western medical technician yelled out. “Totally infected.”

Some Ebola patients still die at the hospital, perhaps four per day, in the tentlike temporary isolation ward at the back of the muddy grounds. But just as many, if not more, are dying in the city and neighboring villages, greatly increasing the risk of spreading the disease and undermining international efforts to halt the epidemic.

“People don’t die here now,” said the deputy chief of the hospital’s burying team, Albert J. Mattia, exasperated after a long day of Ebola burials. “They are dying in the community, five, six a day.” Mr. Mattia was particularly disturbed that many of the bodies his team were putting in the ground had come from outside the hospital, thwarting attempts to isolate patients and prevent them from passing the disease to others.

Off to Spain and another patient from El País:

Government will cover cost of ebola priest’s repatriation

  • US, England and France request information about the transfer of missionary Miguel Pajares

The Spanish government will cover the costs of transfering a Spanish priest with the ebola virus from Liberia, official sources have been cited as saying by news agency EFE. The San Juan de Dios religious order, to which both Miguel Pajares and his fellow missionary Juliana Bohana Bohé (also brought back from Liberia, but not suffering from ebola) belong, had this morning announced that they would cover the expenses of the operation.

“We assume the cost and the responsibilities that need to be assumed,” said José María Viadero, the director of the Juan Ciudad NGO, to which San Juan de Dios belongs. The religious order counts on 300 hospitals in 52 different countries.

Pajares and Bohé were flown across half of Africa to Madrid in the early hours of Thursday morning. The priest, who has been confirmed as having caught the virus, and the nun, who is not currently showing any symptoms, were then taken in a convoy of more than 12 vehicles to from the Torrejón de Ardoz airbase to the Carlos III hospital in the city center. The San Juan de Dios religious order requested the repatriation from Liberia.

Greek Reporter prepares:

Ebola Outbreak: Greece Takes Special Measures As World Health Organization Declares Emergency

Greece is the latest country to undertake special emergency measures after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus outbreak an international health emergency.

The Greek government alerted all related authorities to report immediately any possible incidents. Greece has also warned its citizens to avoid non-essential travels to Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A Greek man who was suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus has tested positive for malaria, health authorities said Friday.

The Times of India covers preparations on the subcontinent:

India sets up 24-hour Ebola emergency helpline

As the World Health Organisation on Friday issued a global health emergency due to Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak, the government opened a 24-hour emergency helpline and said it has put in place the “most advanced surveillance and tracking system”.

All infected patients in the national capital will be treated at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, a health ministry statement said.

Health minister Harsh Vardhan, however, said there was no reported case in India and one traveller, who landed in New Delhi on July 20 and was confirmed by the WHO as a case of EVD, was found to be healthy. He had been traced to Dwarka in south-west Delhi.

Nature newsblog offers a timely reminder:

Geneticists say popular book misrepresents research on human evolution

  • Posted by Ewen CallawayCategories: Anthropology, Evolution

More than 130 leading population geneticists have condemned a book arguing that genetic variation between human populations could underlie global economic, political and social differences.

“A Troublesome Inheritance”, by science journalist Nicholas Wade, was published in June by Penguin Press in New York. The 278-page work garnered widespread criticism, much of it from scientists, for suggesting that genetic differences (rather than culture) explain, for instance, why Western governments are more stable than those in African countries. Wade is former staff reporter and editor at the New York Times, Science and Nature.

But the letter — signed by a who’s who of population genetics and human evolution researchers, and to be published in the 10 August New York Times — represents a rare unified statement from scientists in the field and includes many whose work was cited by Wade. “It’s just a measure of how unified people are in their disdain for what was done with the field,” says Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-drafted the letter.

Next up, the first of three GMO stories, this one from the Guardian:

Sweet victory for Mexico beekeepers as Monsanto loses GM permit

  • Evidence convinced judge of threat posed to honey production in Yucatán – but firm will almost certainly appeal against ruling

A small group of beekeepers in Mexico has inflicted a blow on biotech giant Monsanto, which has halted the company’s ambitions to plant thousands of hectares of soybeans genetically modified to resist the company’s pesticide Roundup.

A district judge in the state of Yucatán last month overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Roundup-ready soybeans.

The permit authorised Monsanto to plant its seeds in seven states, over more than 253,000 hectares (625,000 acres), despite protests from thousands of Mayan farmers and beekeepers, Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the National Institute of Ecology.

EurActiv takes us across the Atlantic:

GMO cultivation in Europe: A decade of legal battles

The European Union has agreed on a new approach to the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) which allows member states to ban or restrict GMOs in their territory. The agreement should mark the end of a decade of legal problems, but in the context of ongoing EU-US free trade negotiations, vocal GMO opposition from member states and civil society is unlikely to subside.

After a decade of legal battles, the European Union reached an agreement in June 2014, allowing its member states to restrict or ban GMO crops in their territory.

The new president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has backed the new comprehensive legal framework which will give EU member states a legal basis they have been wanting for years.

The EU regulatory system is based on tight safety standards and freedom of choice for consumers and farmers. The tools used to ensure freedom of choice are effective labelling and traceability.

And GM Watch covers scandal:

GM golden rice paper to be retracted amid ethics scandal

AT LONG LAST, the serious breaches of medical and scientific ethics of the GM golden rice trials on Chinese children appear to have been recognised – in this case, by the journal that published the research paper reporting the experiments.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is reportedly retracting the paper. The main concerns appear to be lack of informed consent on the part of the human subjects – neither the children nor their parents were told the rice was GM, nor were they informed of the possible risks. Ethical breaches are among the valid reasons for retracting a study, according to COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics).

While the blame for the fiasco is being placed on the lead researcher, Guangwen Tang of Tufts University, a large part of the responsibility should lie with the Tufts University ethics board that was supposed to be supervising the trial.

After the jump, fishy pollution, lethal players in endangered wildlife smuggling, an old poison lingers, fracking bans, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Minority journo hiring plunges


Yet another proof of the decline and fall of American journalism, via the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Journos

Chart of the day: Black and white on silver screen


From a new report [PDF] from the University of South California’s Annenburg School of Communications. Click on the image to enlarge:

Racial Inequality in Film 2007-2013 Final

The other Holocaust: Hitler’s war on the Roma


We’ve explored at some length previously Hitler’s other Holocaust, the one targeting those peoples often grouped under the name “Gypsy,” a term assigned them because of their once-supposed Egyptian origin.

We are therefore pleased with a new to the University of California Television channel on YouTube, featuring Ian Hancock, European-born Roma professor from the University of Texas:

From University of California Television:

Porrajmos: The Romani and the Holocaust with Ian Hancock – Holocaust Living History 

Program notes:

The Holocaust claimed anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million Romani lives, a tragedy the Romani people and Sinti refer to as the Porrajmos, or “the Devouring.” Notwithstanding the scope of the catastrophe, the Romani genocide was often ignored or minimized until Ian Hancock and others exposed this misfortune. A Romani-born British citizen, activist, and scholar, Hancock has done more than anyone to raise awareness about the Romani people during World War II. Now a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Hancock is presented here as part of the Holocaust Living History Workshop, a partnership between Judaic Studies at UCSD and the UC San Diego Library.

Recorded on 05/07/2014. Series: “The Library Channel”

In light of Hancock’s insights on the common links the Nazis drew between the Romani people and Jews, another UCTV video recorded at an address for CARTA [the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny] makes an interesting point.

University of Southern California social anthropologist Christopher Boehm looks at patterns of aggression among hunter/gatherer peoples and friends that ethnic identity was the cause of most in intergroup violence. He notes that virtually every foraging group self-identifies as “the people” and other groups as something less.

From UCTV:

Violence in Human Evolution – Christopher Boehm: Warfare and Feuding in Pleistocene Society

Program notes:

In this talk, Christopher Boehm (USC) discusses how today’s hunter-gatherers are used to portray likely patterns of male aggression among culturally-modern foragers in the Late Pleistocene epoch. Patterns of aggressive behavior are considered at three levels: within groups, between groups of the same ethnicity, and between groups that consider one another strangers.

Recorded on 05/16/2014. Series: “CARTA – Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny”

Breaking the Set: The madness of watchlisting


Abby Martin of RT’s Breaking the Set hosts a discussion on the new revelations about Uncle Sam’s terrorism watchlists and the absurdly arbitrarily rules [or lack of them] for designation ordinarily folks as potentially extraordinary criminals.

Particularly chilling is the case of a man told by the FBI that they knew he wasn’t a terrorist, but they wouldn’t get him off the list unless he turned snitch and informed on fellow members of his community.

Can you say “Joe McCarthy,” kiddies?

From Breaking the Set:

The Absurd Criteria Needed to Put You on a Terror Watchlist Will Shock You

Program notes:

Abby Martin speaks with Susan Hu, Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights and Kevin Gosztola, journalist at Firedoglake, discussing a recent article on the intercept that exposes the National Counterterrorism Center’s criteria for adding individuals to the government’s terrorism watchlist, highlighting the arbitrary nature of the guidelines and how over the last 5 years nearly 1.5 million people have been added to the list.

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: Beaucoup elections, and lots more


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

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

Children from China enroll in US summer academic camps

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

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

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

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

Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Risk of deflation’ – ECB president

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

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

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

And our first electoral story, via EUbusiness:

Europe’s leaders urge EU reform after eurosceptic poll wins

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

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

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

More from United Press International:

European Parliament election results illustrate growing dismay with economic austerity measures

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

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

And ominous new additions from EUbusiness:

European Parliament set to usher in first neo-Nazis

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

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

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

EurActiv looks on the bright side:

Europe on course for ‘grand coalition’ after election

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

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

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

A different take from EUobserver:

New EP will struggle to find majorities

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

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

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

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

Nigel Farage: ‘My Dream Has Become Reality’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Independent, a loser struggles:

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

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

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

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

Ditto from Sky News:

EU Must Reform For Jobs And Growth – Cameron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinn Fein Surges in Ireland as Voters Punish Austerity

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

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

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

One response from Independent.ie:

Eamon Gilmore resigns as leader of Labour Party

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

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

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

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

Mayoral Candidates Speak Out On Mosque Issue

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

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

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

Sweden next, and harumphing from TheLocal.se:

‘Nationalists threaten EU openness’: Malmström

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

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

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

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

Rosneft to buy stake in Norway drill company

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

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

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

On to Copenhagen and more right wing triumphs via EurActiv:

Danish far right party wins in EU elections, doubles mandate

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

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

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

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

Merkel’s party tops vote but loses ground

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

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

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

Another winner from EUbusiness:

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

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

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

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

And a predictable reaction from EUbusiness:

German Jews shocked at far right’s EU success

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

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

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

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

More of the same from TheLocal.de:

Steinmeier ‘horrified’ at far-right seat win

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

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

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

From Deutsche Welle, a reminder:

Audi comes clean about its Nazi past

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

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

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

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

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

Belgian PM hands in resignation after defeat in elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictable panic from Europe Online:

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

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

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

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

And a pickle for a predecessor from TheLocal.fr:

Cops grill Sarkozy ally over €400m state payout

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

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

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

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

EU Election: ÖVP defends first place

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

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

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

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

Off to Poland with New Europe:

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

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

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

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

Hungary next, via EUobserver:

Hungarian PM breaks ranks on Juncker

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

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

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

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

Next, Romania, via EUbusiness:

Ruling Social Democrats win Romania EU vote: official results

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

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

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

Portugal next, with EurActiv:

Socialists win in Portugal, stay second in Spain

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

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

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

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

El País takes us to Spain:

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

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

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

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

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

El País again, with another resignation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian stocks surge after Renzi’s EU victory

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

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

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

Cheering up also-rans with ANSA:

Grillo tells M5S supporters not to lose heart

  • Leader tells supporters M5S opposition will do more

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

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

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

ANSA again, with more also-rans:

Berlusconi says FI remains ‘linchpin’ despite poor result

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

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

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

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

And some more Bunga Bunga woes from TheLocal.it:

Ex-MP ‘pilfered public money’ in Iraq deal

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

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

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

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

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


Long collection of headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, environmental nightmares, and the Fukushima disaster, so we go straight on, first with a headline from New America Media:

FACTS ON ETHNIC ELDERS: Recession Leaves Ethnic Families ‘Beyond Broke’

Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans face an economic “quadruple whammy,” leaving them with little or no financial cushion as they age, finds a new study released Monday.

Titled “Beyond Broke: Why Closing the Racial Wealth Gap is a Priority for National Economic Security,” the study used 2011 Census data to examine household worth for all ages. It found that the medium net worth of households of color from 2005-2011 dropped 58 percent for Latinos, 48% for Asians, 45% for African Americans — but only 21 percent for whites.

“You have the racial gap in pay, the gender gap in pay, the ageism gap in pay and predominantly single-income households,” says Maya Rockeymoore, president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) which commissioned the study. “You’re looking at the intersection of all of these disparities.”

Injustice for all, via NPR:

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.

A conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

But some are doing well, via The Wire:

Tiffany Sold Much More Bling Than Usual This Quarter

Tiffany & Co. had an incredible quarter, blowing away analysts predictions. Tiffany reported $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter, jumping 13 percent from this time last year. Worldwide, sales increased 15 percent. Their income was $125.6 million, a 50 percent jump from 2013. Earnings were up $0.97 a share.

The key to these spectacular earnings numbers was not their highest-end luxury items, but Tiffany’s lower-cost pieces, led by the Atlas Collection. The most expensive piece in that collection is the Atlas Cocktail Watch, which is 18k rose gold and complete with 197 diamonds (just under two carats.) It’s cost is $26,500. While that might be pricey, pieces in the popular Elsa Peretti collection go well above $30,000 and the Yellow Diamonds collection offers a variety of pieces in the $100,000 range.

For these lower priced pieces, the profit margin is actually higher. This helped drive profit margins for the company as a whole. Last year, the margin was 56.2 percent, and this quarter it was up to 58.2 percent.

The Berkeley Blog covers another divide:

The Digital Divide Redux: Broadband, Net Neutrality, and the Comcast-Time Warner Merger

A few months ago, Comcast announced a $45 billion deal to purchase Time Warner. Although much of the initial commentary focused on the potential effect this proposed merger would have in the cable television market (since Comcast and Time Warner are the first-and second- largest cable providers in the US), the effects in the broadband market are far more important.  Research at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society suggests that broadband is an increasingly critical element of social, economic and civic life.

In its 2010 “National Broadband Plan” report, the FCC describes Broadband as “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”  Just as the interstate highway system transformed residential life, facilitated the growth of the suburbs, and connected families to the broader economy of a region, broadband is a structural conduit for opportunity and upward mobility and in America today.  Unfortunately, like the interstate highway system and the residential patterns it engendered, broadband access and affordability may yet become a new form of segregation in America.  A research paper [PDF] co-authored by Haas Institute researcher Samir Gambhir notes the inequality of broadband access, affordability and quality experienced by low-income neighborhoods, rural households, and communities of color in particular.

The Comcast-Time Warner merger would give Comcast control over 40 percent of the country’s internet service in 19 of the country’s top 20 cable markets.  Imagine if one corporation privately controlled 40% of the most important roads, streets, highways and bridges in those same markets.  The issue isn’t just access; its affordability and quality (such as internet speed) for low-income families and many marginalized communities. If the Comcast-Time Warner merger reduces competition and increase the price of broadband access, the harms to upward mobility, economic opportunity and our nation would be far reaching.

And another merger warning sign from PC Advisor:

Comcast and Time Warner rank dead last in satisfaction as merger looms

  • A combined company would probably be even worse, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

In the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (via DSL Reports), the two companies landed at the bottom of the list for both TV and Internet services.

Comcast scored 60 points for television service, which is five points less than the industry average, and three points lower than last year’s score. Time Warner Cable scored 56 points, down 4 points from last year, and nine points lower than the industry average. DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse were on top of the list with 69 points. (Incidentally, AT&T is now hoping regulators will approve an acquisition of DirecTV.)

Internet service was even worse. Comcast scored 57 points, down from 62 points last year, while Time Warner’s score dropped to 54 points, from 63 points in 2013. Both companies are now far below the industry average of 63 points, and nowhere near Verizon’s 71 points for its FiOS service.

Via Reuters, serial killers unite:

Exclusive: Reynolds American, Lorillard in advanced merger talks

Reynolds American Inc (RAI.N) is in active discussions to buy Lorillard Inc (LO.N) in a complicated, three-way transaction that could see British American Tobacco PLC (BATS.L) take a major role to back a potential merger, according to people familiar with the matter.

The proposed deal, which is in late stage talks, would unite the second- and third-largest U.S. tobacco companies that have a combined market value of nearly $55 billion, putting brands such as Reynolds’ Camel and Lorillard’s Newport under one roof.

The companies are working to finalize an agreement in as soon as a matter of weeks but the talks will likely take longer given the complex structure, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, pushing the neoliberal agenda to the East:

Japan, U.S. play leading roles in acceleration of TPP talks

The progress made toward this summer’s broad agreement during ministerial-level negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday was largely due to accelerated discussions on tariffs, in response to the substantial agreement made between Japan and the United States.

Cooperation between the two nations to lead TPP talks also proved effective.

Speaking at a joint press conference after the two-day meeting, Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb praised the acceleration of the negotiations as a whole in the wake of the breakthrough between Japan and the United States. He added that the progress in the Japan-U.S. negotiations had set a precedent for future negotiations on the TPP pact.

And pushing it to the West with EUbusiness:

New round of Atlantic trade pact talks opens in Washington

US and European negotiators opened a new round of talks on creating a transatlantic free trade zone Monday amid rising political and public resistance to the deal on both sides.

The fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will cover the details of proposals from the US and EU sides, with no aim to resolve the most difficult divisions between the two sides, officials said.

“This is clearly not the stage in which the difficult political decisions need to be taken,” an EU official said ahead of the talks.

Xinhua predicts:

World economy poised to grow moderately, but lower than pre-crisis levels

The global economy is expected to strengthen over the next two years, despite a downgrade of growth prospects for some developing economies and economies in transition, showed a UN report released here Wednesday.

In the mid-year update of UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP), global growth rate was revised down from the forecasts presented in the WESP 2014.

Growth of world gross product (WGP) is now projected at 2.8 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent in 2015, up from 2.2 percent in 2013, the report said. However, this pace of expansion is still lower compared to the growth level before the 2008 global financial crisis.

And on to Europe, first with Al Jazeera:

EU far-right expects success in elections

  • Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties hope to make big gains in vote for a new EU parliament.

From May 22-25, hundreds of millions of people from the European Union’s 28 member countries will vote for members of the European Parliament, one of the EU’s two legislative bodies.

The last elections were held in 2009, before the depths of Europe’s economic and financial crises. Since then, five EU countries – Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus – have required bailouts, and unemployment across the continent, especially among youth, has remained persistently high.

This has led many Europeans to sour on the union – a disenchantment reflected in polling figures that show a significant portion of the electorate plans on voting for far-right parties for the European Parliament.

These parties are highly sceptical of European government and the euro, and staunchly oppose immigration and multiculturalism. Far-right groups look poised to make especially large gains in the Netherlands, Greece, France and Hungary.

Britain next, and austerity rampant with the Independent:

NHS in the red: Hospitals forced to beg Government for equipment loans and electricity bills

The intense financial pressure faced by NHS hospitals has been laid bare in a series of letters, which range from pleas for bailout loans to replace defunct equipment, attempts to fend off legal threats from suppliers and even requests to pay off electricity bills.

Details of requests for short-term financial aid sent to the Department of Health reveal that one NHS trust was threatened with having the electricity supply shut off at a building on their hospital site, while another said it faced an “untenable level of equipment breakdown and obsolescence”.

The 15 loan requests, made in February and March this year, which were released following Freedom of Information requests from the Health Service Journal, reveal the impact of the NHS financial crisis for England’s most hard-up hospitals.

65 NHS trusts in England are already in financial deficit. A recent survey of NHS finance directors revealed that two thirds are concerned their trust will go into the red in the year of the General Election.

On to Paris and anticipated tarnishing from France 24:

Far-right win in European elections ‘will tarnish French image’

Most opinion polls in France forecast an unprecedented victory for France’s far-right National Front party in Sunday’s European elections, an outcome that observers warn will strip France of its influence on the continent.

Surveys indicate that the anti-euro National Front (FN) is poised to claim between 23 and 24 percent of all votes cast in EU parliamentary elections, which are less than a week away.

Buoyant from its best-ever performance in French municipal elections in March, in which it conquered 11 city councils, the far-right FN has campaigned under the slogan “No to Brussels, yes to France.”

A partisan plague from TheLocal.fr:

Immigration in France: No need for ‘Mr Ebola’

As the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen courts trouble by suggesting the Ebola virus could solve the immigration problem in France, the author of a new OECD report on immigration in Europe says it’s no longer even a significant phenomenon in France.

As expected, given that he is vying for re-election as a member of the European parliament on Sunday, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the controversial honorary president of France’s anti-EU National Front party voiced his opinions on immigration this week.

Le Pen, who has been convicted of hate speech on numerous occasions, could be up in court again after suggesting the deadly Ebola virus could solve the global “population explosion” and thus Europe’s “immigration problem”.

Tracking down an error with AFP:

Red faces as new French trains ‘too wide’ for stations

Cash-strapped France will have to trim back some 1,300 rail platforms at a cost of 50 million euros after realising a brand new fleet of trains are too big to fit its stations, rail operators admitted Wednesday.

The problem affects 182 regional trains supplied by French manufacturer Alstom and 159 from Canada’s Bombardier, due to come into service by 2016.

Two state rail bodies, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) and the Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), acknowledged the embarrassing situation in a joint statement on Wednesday after it was revealed by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

Via TheLocal.fr, pimping for laundromats?:

Far-right mayor bans drying laundry in public

The newly elected far-right mayor of the French town of Beziers has once again laid down the law to residents. After imposing a curfew on teenagers and higher fines for dog waste, Robert Ménard has now banned them from drying their laundry on their balconies.

Robert Ménard the far-right mayor of the southern French town of Beziers is back in the headlines this week.

Ménard was only elected two months ago, with the support of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, but no one can accuse him of putting his feet up once in office.

Off to Austria with TheLocal.at and action contemplated:

Third of Austrians in favour of ‘tax strike’

Some Austrian companies have started a kind of tax strike – by refusing to make some tax payments they want to put pressure on the government to make more savings.

A poll carried out by the OGM market research group, on behalf of the daily Kurier newspaper showed that a third of people asked were in favour of a tax strike and believed that tax money is being wasted.

Fifty-two percent of people thought a tax strike was not justified, while 33 percent thought it was. “Most of the population is not self-employed and view entrepreneurs as rich, because people think they have big companies. Envy plays a role. Nevertheless it’s noteworthy that 33 percent approve of the tax boycott,” OGM pollster Karin Cvrtila said.

Deflating with TheLocal.at:

Real estate bubble: ‘The hype is over’

  • Austria has experienced something of a real estate bubble in recent years, but some experts believe the market is now calming down.

Specialists from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s advisory group on real estate have said that while property costs increased significantly in 2013, current signs suggest that this year growth should be relatively flat, according to the Wirtschafts Blatt.

“While there continues to be a general upwards trend – in many regions the price increases have stopped, the hype is over,” real estate chairman Thomas Malloth explained.

In January, the Austrian National Bank (ÖNB) warned of the possibility of a real estate bubble, with prices in Vienna for selected apartments rising by 21 percent over the previous 12 months. Tenants have been complaining about rising rents, which seem to have been driven by speculative investors.

Spain next, and a hard times intolerance intolerance from  El País:

Spanish government asks state attorney to crack down on Twitter hate speech

  • Prosecutor warns of difficulty of tackling all online insults in generalized way
  • “Incitement to hatred” provision cannot be applied to all cases, she says

The initiative began a month ago with an Interior Ministry order to “clean out the web” that resulted in 21 arrests for glorifying terrorism. Some of the suspects had been asking for Basque terrorist group ETA to kill again and mocking the victims of its decades-long campaign.

But the crackdown on hate speech has taken on new urgency following the recent assassination of Popular Party (PP) politician Isabel Carrasco, which spawned an outbreak of messages from people celebrating the murder and calling for further killings of PP members.

This week, Jewish associations reported more than 18,000 offensive messages on Twitter after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid on Sunday to win the Euroleague title.

Lisbon next and a diktat from Berlin via the Portugal News:

Germany tells Portuguese – Get out or get a job

The Portuguese secretary of state for the communities acknowledged on Wednesday that the government was applying political pressure to avoid the approval of a law by the German CSU party on the repatriation of unemployed immigrants.

“We are following the situation directly through our embassies and hope the decisions that are taken are not going to excessively penalise the Portuguese”, José Cesário told Lusa News Agency.

The ‘Diário de Notícias’ newspaper said on Wednesday that the CSU, one of the parties in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, had put forward a proposal that immigrants who had been unemployed for between three and six months should be repatriated. The paper said the measure could affect more than 5,600 Portuguese who are in Germany without a job.

Off to Italy and another Bunga Bunga scandal from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP probed over labour aide’s murder

Prosecutors in Bologna have opened an investigation involving the murder of Marco Biagi, a labour ministry adviser who was shot dead in 2002, after it was revealed that senior polticians, including Claudio Scajola, an-ex minister, may have been aware of the danger he was under.

Biagi was assassinated by the extreme-left Red Brigades as he made his way home in March 2012, shortly after Scajola, who was interior minister at the time, had taken away his police escort.

Scajola is currently in jail in Rome after being arrested earlier this month for allegedly helping Calabrian businessman Amedeo Matacena escape a five-year-jail term for mafia collusion conviction.

From ANSA, not in a humoring mood:

Don’t send ‘clowns’ to Europe – Renzi

  • Premier says PD represents ‘seriousness’

Premier Matteo Renzi appealed to the Italian people not to vote for “clowns” in Sunday’s European elections. The broadside by the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was aimed at comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo and his anti-estasblishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). The 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.

“We don’t need shows and clownery in the European parliament, we don’t need to climb on the roof,” Renzi said on Italian radio referring to a recent M5S protest on the roof of the Italian Lower House. “We need seriousness, people who are well prepared and further Italy’s interests”.

Renzi also blasted the language used in the campaign by Grillo, who, among other things, suggested that the premier will suffer a political “lupara bianca” – a term used to refer to a mafia hit that leaves no trace of evidence – after the European elections.

ANSA again, and he’s makin’ a list:

Grillo calls for ‘people’s trial’ of system after EU poll

Web-based trial to nail blame for Italy’s ‘collapse’

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), on Wednesday called for putting politicians, industrialists and journalists “on trial” using an online system and popular vote among M5S members after European Parliament elections this month.

The comedian turned politician wrote on his blog that the aim of the Web-based “trial” was to “inform citizens about the theft and embezzlement of a system that led to the collapse of Italy” “Just as you can’t build on rubble, you can’t build a new Italy without clearing the land of those who have plundered, transforming the fifth (sixth?) industrial power into a desert,” Grillo said.

The often foul-mouthed protest leader announced “lists” of suspects would be created.

Bunga Bunga bloviation from Corriere della Sera:

Berlusconi Attacks “Killer” Grillo

Former prime minister says M5S leader “killed three friends in an accident. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me”. Grillo replies: “He doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more”

“Grillo is a convicted criminal, a killer”. The Forza Italia (FI) leader went on: “Grillo knows all about staying out of jail. He is guilty of killing three of his friends by ignoring a no entry sign. He got 14 months for multiple manslaughter”. Mr Berlusconi, speaking on the La7 TV talk show L’aria che tira, raised the election campaign stakes. His most direct thrust was: “He ought to have gone to jail but he got away with it. He shouldn’t be talking about that sort of thing. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me. And he only used to do shows if he was paid cash. He was known for that”.

Mr Berlusconi went on: “He killed three friends, ignoring a warning that there was ice on the road. He managed to get out of the car but his three friends didn’t. They died. He was sentenced to 14 months in jail for multiple manslaughter”. Speaking to Enrico Mentana on La7’s Bersaglio Mobile programme, the FI leader added: “I realise there’s an election coming up but when Renzi compares me to Grillo and says we’re two sides of the same coin, he’s way off the mark”.

Beppe Grillo was quick to respond. The Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader said Mr Berlusconi was a “poor thing who doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more. He’s talk show-hopping for the sake of his businesses, not the electorate”.

And a Grillo spawn stigmatizes the poor, via TheLocal.it:

Mayor plans to scrap dessert for poor kids

Only wealthy children will be given dessert with their school lunches, while those from poor families will go without, under plans drawn up by a mayor in central Italy.

The mayor of Pomezia, Fabio Fucci, has proposed the two-tier menu system in response to requests from a number of low-income families, Corriere della Sera said on Tuesday.

Under the plan, parents will be able to pick from two menus of different prices. The more expensive one will come with dessert, while children from poorer families will go without the sweet.

The move by the Five Star Movement (M5S) mayor has been met with ire in some quarters.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including new bribery scandals], Russia strikes a massive deal, the Libyan coup intensifies, a Ukrainian election ultimatum, a bumper cr[h]ash crop in Libya, Brazilian World Cup blues, Argentine bankster woes and student discontent, a Venezuelan stalemate, the new Dirty Digger, a bankster blessing for India’s theocon winner, Thai uncertainty, Chinese labor loses and a Putin partnership, an Abenomics push in Japan, environmental woes, stolen baby brains [and not by zombies], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: eCons, pols, hate, polluters. . .


Today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of politics, economics, and the environment — plus the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Beguns with a frightener from The Observer:

Why global recovery could depend on China’s taste for luxury

  • Attitudes are changing in China, but western export hopes are pinned on a swelling middle class embracing its inner consumer

China’s looming coronation as the world’s largest economy, years ahead of schedule, is probably not particularly surprising in one sleepy corner of Oxfordshire. Around half of the international visitors who flock to Bicester retail village are Chinese nationals, making the one-hour train trip from London, or using the fleet of special coaches that head there each day – to stock up on luxury goods.

A World Bank-backed report has declared that the country’s national currency, the yuan, will go further than previously thought in the hands of the Chinese consumer and that this supercharged purchasing power will push the world’s second-largest economy ahead of the US this year.

This could be the century of the Chinese consumer, now a figure of central importance for luxury goods companies including some of the biggest retail names in Britain.

Closer to home with disorder in the courts from the Los Angeles Times:

Cutbacks in California court system produce long lines, short tempers

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye remembers the moment she learned that the Kings County Superior Court had resorted to holding a garage sale to raise money.

“That was a day of extreme humiliation and embarrassment to me,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

During her three years as chief justice, recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.

TechCrunch covers hypocrisy from Obama appointees:

FCC Said To Tweak Proposed Net Neutrality Rules, But Preserve Pay-For-Speed

Call it a non-fix: According to the Wall Street Journal, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tweaked the language of his proposed rules to allow content providers to pay for faster delivery of their content across an ISPs network.

He has not recanted that proposal. Instead, according to the Journal, “the new language by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to be circulated as early as Monday is an attempt to address criticism of his proposal unveiled last month that would ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites,” but would still let companies that are content-intensive “pay [ISPs] for faster delivery of Web content to customers.”

Doesn’t that feel precisely the same as the plan before? Yes, but, this time, the Journal continues, we’re going to have “language that would make clear that the FCC will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don’t unfairly put nonpaying companies’ content at a disadvantage.” So, the paid advantage would be “fair.” Defining that isn’t going to be easy.

Heading north of the border, Canada’s effort to sway American legislators via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada’s $207,000 oil sands ad: Putting a price on deception

The ad in The New Yorker is pretty, if not quite arresting. The full-page photo on the inside back cover – prime real estate in the United States’ leading upmarket magazine – features a pristine river meandering through a lush mountain valley, untouched by humanity. It is not a tourism ad. It is designed to convince influential Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline is environmentally safe, even desirable.

What is clever about the ad is not the photo; it is the headline and the succinct lines of copy beneath it. They are slick pieces of propaganda – misleading without being outright lies. Of course, advertising is all about propaganda. But this ad is unconscionable because you, the Canadian taxpayer, paid for it. The rate for a full-page ad in that location, according to Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, is $207,000 (U.S.).

The ad appeared in the April 14 issue and was sponsored by GoWithCanada.ca, the federal government site that is trying to convince the skeptical that the Alberta oil sands – known as the tar sands to non-Canadians – and the export pipelines that would allow the megaproject to thrive for decades are a “secure, responsible source of energy for the global market” (“Keystone” does not appear in the ad).

On to Europe and another hint of darker days to come from the Guardian:

Mario Draghi drops hint of imminent move to tackle risk of deflation

  • European Central Bank boss signals that a move could come once his economists produce forecasts for inflation in June

European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi has dropped his broadest hint yet of imminent moves to head off deflation when he said policy makers at the bank were “comfortable” about action in early June.

Upward pressure on the euro eased and yields on government bonds fell after the ECB president expressed concern that weak growth and the possible knock-on effects from the Ukraine could derail the eurozone’s fragile recovery.

Although Draghi announced no change in policy following the meeting of the ECB’s general council in Brussels, he signalled that a move could come once his in-house economists produce updated forecasts for inflation in the first few days of next month.

From Sky News, elite-a-palooza:

Billionaire Britain: New Nation Of Super-Rich

This year’s Sunday Times Rich List reveals Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country.

More than 100 billionaires are now living in Britain – the first time the milestone has been reached.

According to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 104 billionaires with a combined wealth of more than £300bn are now based in the UK – more than triple the number from a decade ago.

Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country, while London has more than any other city with 72.

News Corp Australia covers a British plutocrat behaving badly:

British millionaire Shoja Shojai ‘fathered seven children with harem of women he held against their will in Spain’

A BRITISH millionaire accused of fathering seven children with a harem of aspiring models he kept against their will has been arrested.

Shoja Shojai, 56, allegedly met many of the women in London and convinced them to move to his mansion in Spain, telling them he was an oil tycoon who was friends with Barack Obama.

Police were called to the luxurious Arabic-style mansion in the hills above Marbella when one of the women filed a domestic violence claim against him, T he Telegraph reports.

Nine of the women, mostly in their 20s, who live at the mansion claim Shojai lured them to Spain under false pretences, abusing them and forcing them to cover the 6500 pound ($11,6700) monthly rent.

From the Guardian more of London’s billionaire attracting power:

London property empire amassed by controversial German landlord

  • Henning Conle, who has reputation for shabby buildings and disgruntled tenants in Germany, has snapped up almost £2bn of prime London real estate

A German landlord with a reputation for shabby buildings and disgruntled tenants has emerged as one of the biggest investors in London property in recent years.

Henning Conle, 70, has snapped up almost £2bn of prime real estate, including a series of historic buildings in central London, raising inevitable questions about where he got his money from.

The portfolio includes buildings that house department stores such as Liberty and House of Fraser, the Kensington Roof Gardens complex, the London offices of Manchester United and the art deco Shell Mex House on the Strand.

While Sky News covers more austerian casualties:

‘Overworked’ Doctors Fear Missing Illnesses

  • More than eight out of 10 family doctors say they worry about failing to spot serious conditions because of their workloads.

More than eight out of 10 GPs have said they fear missing serious illnesses in patients because they are so overworked, according to a survey.

Nine out of 10 family doctors, meanwhile, feel their general practices do not have sufficient resources to provide high quality care.

The survey was carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the professional membership body for family doctors.

Off to Scandinavia with the Christian Science Monitor:

Nordic cuddly capitalism: Utopia, no. But a global model for equity

The cuddly capitalism of the Nordic nations provides an economic equity that makes a middle class lifestyle the norm, where the sharp edges of worry about the cost of health care, elder care, child care, and education simply don’t exist. But is it a sustainable model for anyone but the pragmatic North?

And these countries have pioneered public policies, the effects of which – if not the tax burden – are the envy of the common man worldwide: from universal preschool and paternity leave to vocational training schools and voucher programs for private schools.

Some of it is hype, which naysayers love to shoot down, as in the recent viral Guardian article that spelled out “the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle.’ “ Much of Nordic success has happened because the countries are small, nimble, and, until recently, homogenous. But problems do loom on the horizon, with growing inequality and anti-immigration sentiment, stubborn youth unemployment, and education scores dropping in Sweden and one of the world’s star education performers, Finland.

But by so many measures, the Nordic countries simply work well, sustaining the security of a welfare state while being unabashed capitalists and innovators, adapting to change, and doing so with a long tradition of pragmatic consensus. The region tops charts on equality, transparency, and innovation.

New Europe covers risks:

Norway’s economic risks predicted by OECD

Norway’s economy faces two risk factors that threaten its overall development, warned the OECD in its latest Economic Outlook which was released on May 6.

These two risk factors, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, are the price of oil and the real estate market.

“The ripple effects from a weak oil sector may be greater than expected,” the OECD concludes in its report, which also notes that the country is still volatile when it comes to changing oil prices.

On to France and another green movement from RT:

Hundreds march across France to legalize cannabis

Hundreds of protesters all over France have been rallying demonstrating in favor of legalizing cannabis. The event coincides with the so-called world march for the legalization of the drug.

In Paris, protesters gathered on Bastille Square on Saturday, after Cannabis Without Frontiers, an organization struggling to legalize marijuana in the country, called for the rally.

The crowd chanted “Marie-Jeanne!” in a reference to the nickname for marijuana in France. Many of the protesters held joints or leaves of marijuana, dancing to reggae music.

From TheLocal.fr, the Great Game continues:

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

French President Francois Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia’s southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

French President Francois Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia’s southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

Hollande was due to arrive in the Azerbaijani capital Baku around 6:00 pm Sunday, on the same day separatists in eastern Ukraine held referendums on breaking away from the country.

And the London Telegraph covers the bankster blues:

Cinema producer warned over ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn film’

  • French producer of film closely inspired by downfall of IMF boss warned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s wife will “destroy his life”

The producer of a film which appears to chart the spectacular downfall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said he was warned that the estranged wife of the former IMF chief would “destroy his life”.

The accusation will heighten controversy over the film Welcome to New York, which premieres next weekend at Cannes despite being shunned by festival organisers.

Producer Vincent Maraval also repeated his claims that the French political and media “elite” had done their best to prevent the film, which has Gérard Depardieu in the lead role, being made

On to Lisbon and moderately good news from the Portugal News:

Unemployment slightly down

Portugal’s unemployment rate closed the first quarter on 15.1%, down 2.4% on the same period in 2013 and down 0.2% on the previous quarter according to figures released by the National Institute of Statistics.

The institute reported some 788,100 persons were without employment and down by 138,700 and 19,900 people on annual and quarterly bases respectively with the former figure amounting to a 15% drop but also accounting for those who have left the workforce in the meanwhile.

The figures show that there was a total of 4.427 million people in employment, an annualised rise of 1.7% but down 0.9% on the final quarter of 2013.

Italy next, and a populist pander from EUbusiness:

Italy’s Grillo makes Nazi jibe against Schulz

Italian anti-establishment firebrand Beppe Grillo on Sunday likened European Commission presidency candidate Martin Schulz to a Nazi comic book character after Schulz compared him to Stalin and Hugo Chavez.

Grillo’s blog carried a photoshopped picture of Schulz as a Nazi whipping Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his post said that the European Parliament’s German president “has no shame in talking crap”.

Grillo said Silvio Berlusconi was “not completely wrong when he called him a kapo”, or concentration camp guard, recalling an infamous speech made by the then prime minister to the European Parliament in 2003.

Grillo called Schulz a “sturmtruppen” — a reference to a comic book series — and said he was a “krapo”, a combination of the word “kapo” and “crapun” — a dialect word meaning “big head” that was used to refer to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

From BBC Sport, more overt racism, soccer-style:

AC Milan: Bananas thrown at players by Atalanta fans

AC Milan players had bananas thrown at them during a 2-1 defeat at Atalanta.

Guinea international Kevin Constant and Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong picked up two bananas thrown onto the pitch, while Milan players appeared to sarcastically applaud the home support.

Fans were warned the game would be suspended if there was a repeat.

“Whoever threw the banana on the pitch deserves to have a coconut thrown back at them,” Atalanta boss Stefano Colantuono told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“They’ve ruined what was a great afternoon.”

After the jump, good news for Greek neoNazis, electoral violence in the Ukraine, Brazilian angst, waiting for Chinese promises in Africa, Indian elections and hankering for U.S. fracking, Indonesian Shariah second thoughts, Thai troubles continue, economic warning signs from China, Japanese casino dreams, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse 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