Category Archives: Europe

Chart of the day: Call them the briCs?


With the big C because. well, this chart from Reuters says it all:

BLOG BRUCS

Headlines II: Spies, pols, threats, hacks, zones,


Lotsa ground to cover, so straight ahead, first with the Washington Times:

Greenwald to publish list of U.S. citizens NSA spied on

Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters who chronicled the document dump by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden via the U.K. press, now said he’s set to publish his most dramatic piece yet: The names of those in the United States targeted by the NSA.

“One of the big questions when is comes to domestic spying is, ‘Who have been the NSA’s specific targets?’ Are they political critics and dissidents and activists? Are they genuinely people we’d regard as terrorists? What are the metrics and calculations that go into choosing those targets and what is done with the surveillance that is conducted? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to still answer,” Mr. Greenwald told The Sunday Times of London.

And a video report from RT America:

Greenwald to reveal Americans targeted by NSA

Program Notes:

Journalist Glenn Greenwald will end his National Security Agency series by revealing the names of American citizens targeted for surveillance by the agency. Documents provided to Greenwald by whistleblower Edward Snowden have been central to his series, revealing the massive extent of the government’s surveillance on international and domestic populations. The journalist promises his last reveal will be similar to a fireworks display; the best and most impressive portion of the show is the finale. RT’s Ameera David has more information on the tantalizing tease by Greenwald.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, there’s a deeper story here:

Spy whistleblower advocate stays put

Less than two months ago, a high-profile government whistleblower advocate found himself under scrutiny — ironically in an investigation of an alleged leak to Congress.

The Pentagon’s inspector general was trying to suspend and possibly revoke the top secret access of Dan Meyer, that office’s former director of whistleblowing. At the time, the news triggered concerns in Congress that he was being retaliated against for doing his job. But Meyer, who is now executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Although he won’t comment on the specifics, he did say his security badge “had been restored.” Asked if he had any concerns about his future, he was cryptic, but upbeat. “I have been treated very well by the intelligence community,” he said.

From NBC News, both spook and eavesdropper:

Edward Snowden Tells Brian Williams: ‘I Was Trained as a Spy’

Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, is fighting back against critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker — saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government.

Snowden defended his expertise in portions of the interview that aired at 6:30 p.m. ET on Nightly News. The extended, wide-ranging interview with Williams, his first with a U.S. television network, airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden said in the interview.

From New Europe, politically inconvenient:

Austria constant partner of NSA: journalist

American journalist Glenn Greenwald has said in an interview with newspaper Der Standard on Monday that Austria “constantly” works together with the American National Security Agency (NSA).

This came despite recent claims from Austrian Minister for Defence Gerald Klug that the two work together only “occasionally.”

The confidant for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said the cooperation is discreet and aimed at specific goals, though added the NSA sees countries such as Austria — which it puts in a “Tier B” category — primarily as a monitoring target, and as a partner “only secondarily.”

He said further documents on the cooperation between Austria and the NSA would “probably” be released as he understood the Austrian public is interested in the information, and added that “we” are currently deciding the best way to distribute the documents amongst journalists to speed up their reporting.

From intelNews.org, raising curious questions:

Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran.

The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations.

From the New York Times, street level spookery:

In Complaint, Activists Seek Audit of New York Police Surveillance

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

From Homeland Security News Wire, repudiating another form of domestic “security”:

U.S. recalibrating Secure Communities

As more and more municipalities across the country refuse to hold undocumented immigrants in jail on behalf of DHS’ Secure Communities program, President Barack Obama is adopting a strategy to limit deportations to undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes. The new strategy would help relieve political pressure on the White House as immigrant rights activists continue to label Obama as the “deporter in chief” for his administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

Secure Communities began under the George W. Bush administration to coordinate enforcement of federal immigration laws with local communities. The FBI collects the fingerprints of individuals arrested by local and state police, to identify fugitives or individuals wanted in other jurisdictions. With Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials review the fingerprints against immigration databases to see whther arrested individuals are deportable.

Secure Communities requires that local law enforcement agencies hold detainees until an ICE agent arrives, but police chiefs say that the law has made undocumented immigrants less likely to report crimes when they have been victims or witnesses. “The immigrant community are the prey; they are not the predators,” said Ron Teachman, chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. “We need them to be the eyes and ears. They are exploited in their workplace, in their neighborhoods and in their own homes with domestic violence.”

From the Guardian, revelations assessed:

Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the apparatus of repression has been covertly attached to the democratic state. However, our struggle to retain privacy is far from hopeless

The 20th-century question was how many targets could be simultaneously followed in a world where each of them required hack, tap, steal. But we then started to build a new form of human communication. From the moment we created the internet, two of the basic assumptions began to fail: the simplicity of “one target, one circuit” went away, and the difference between home and abroad vanished too.

That distinction vanished in the United States because so much of the network and associated services, for better and worse, resided there. The question “Do we listen inside our borders?” was seemingly reduced to “Are we going to listen at all?”

At this point, a vastly imprudent US administration intervened. Their defining characteristic was that they didn’t think long before acting. Presented with a national calamity that also constituted a political opportunity, nothing stood between them and all the mistakes that haste can make for their children’s children to repent at leisure. What they did – in secret, with the assistance of judges appointed by a single man operating in secrecy, and with the connivance of many decent people who believed themselves to be acting to save the society – was to unchain the listeners from law.

And from RT, a curious blacklisting:

Snowden, Greenwald, Appelbaum, WikiLeaks ‘blacklisted’ from Stockholm Internet Forum

Key digital rights activists – including Edward Snowden and hacker Jacob Appelbaum – have been blacklisted from the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet openness and freedom. The move has caused a stir at the gathering and outraged Twitter users.

The third annual European meeting of internet activists kicked off in Sweden on May 26, with its main theme being “Internet– privacy, transparency, surveillance and control.”

But strangely enough, those whose names immediately spring to mind when it comes to the issue of surveillance are not allowed to attend the event.

And a video report from RT, focusing on the waffling of program organizations when put to the question:

Where’s Ed? Stockholm web summit slammed as Snowden, Greenwald ‘blacklisted’

Program note:

Blacklisting Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and others by the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet freedom provoked strong criticism from participants and outrage on Twitter.

From the New York Times, rewards for switching sides:

Hacker Who Helped Disrupt Cyberattacks Is Allowed to Walk Free

The New York man who helped the authorities infiltrate the shadowy world of computer hacking and disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military, courts and private companies was given a greatly reduced sentence on Tuesday of time served, and was allowed to walk free.

Federal prosecutors had sought leniency for the hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, citing what they called his “extraordinary cooperation” in helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation take down an aggressive group of hackers who were part of the collective Anonymous, of which he was a member, and its splinter groups, which had taken credit for attacking government and corporate websites.

Mr. Monsegur’s information, the authorities said, led to the arrest of eight “major co-conspirators,” including Jeremy Hammond, whom the F.B.I. had called its top “cybercriminal target” and who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November.

The Washington Post covers an equally spooky form of everyday espionage:

Brokers use ‘billions’ of data points to profile Americans

Are you a financially strapped working mother who smokes? A Jewish retiree with a fondness for Caribbean cruises? Or a Spanish-speaking professional with allergies, a dog and a collection of Elvis memorabilia?

All this information and much, much more is being quietly collected, analyzed and distributed by the nation’s burgeoning data broker industry, which uses billions of individual data points to produce detailed portraits of virtually every American consumer, the Federal Trade Commission reported Tuesday.

The FTC report provided an unusually detailed account of the system of commercial surveillance that draws on government records, shopping habits and social media postings to help marketers hone their advertising pitches. Officials said the intimacy of these profiles would unnerve some consumers who have little ability to track what’s being collected or how it’s used — or even to correct false information. The FTC called for legislation to bring transparency to the multi-billion-dollar industry and give consumers some control over how their data is used.

From the New York Times, caught in the crossfire:

Technology Companies Are Pressing Congress to Bolster Privacy Protections

A law that allows the government to read email and cloud-stored data over six months old without a search warrant is under attack from technology companies, trade associations and lobbying groups, which are pressing Congress to tighten privacy protections. Federal investigators have used the law to view content hosted by third-party providers for civil and criminal lawsuits, in some cases without giving notice to the individual being investigated.

Nearly 30 years after Congress passed the law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which government officials have interpreted to cover newer technologies, cloud computing companies are scrambling to reassure their customers, and some clients are taking their business to other countries.

Ben Young, the general counsel for Peer 1, a web hosting company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said his customers were keeping their business out of the United States because the country “has a serious branding problem.”

Defense One asks for spare change:

Are Paychecks the Problem? Senate Considers Bonuses for Pentagon’s Cyber Workforce

Current and aspiring Defense Department personnel with cyber skills could see a boost in pay under a Senate 2015 defense policy bill that lawmakers detailed on Friday.

Defense is up against the private sector’s lucrative salaries as it endeavors to boost cyber mission forces. Pentagon Secretary Chuck Hagel recently said these forces, expected to include 1,800 personnel by year’s end, should number 6,000 professionals in 2016.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a measure that directs each military service to determine “whether recruiting, retention, and assignment of service members with cyber skills requires bonuses or special and incentive pays,” according to the new details. The services would have to report their decisions to Congress by Jan. 31, 2015.

BBC News hacks you pocket pal:

Apple devices ‘hijacked for ransom’ in Australia

Several users of Apple devices in Australia have reported that their gadgets have been “hijacked” – with a message demanding money.

Experts believed the hack had targeted users by exploiting the Find my iPhone feature.

A message appeared on some targeted phones asking for “$100 USD/EUR” to be sent to a PayPal account.

Mobile networks have advised affected users to contact Apple, which has not yet commented on the problem.

And it’s not just Down Under, as the London Telegraph reports:

iPhones frozen by hackers demanding ransom

  • People around the world have found their iPads and iPhones frozen by hackers who are demanding cash ransoms to unlock their devices

Owners of iPhones and iPads have been targeted by a hacker who is freezing iOS devices and demanding a ransom of up to £55 to unlock them.

The majority of the attacks have taken place in Australia although there are also reports of Britons being affected.

It appears that the hacker, who goes by the name Oleg Pliss, has managed to exploit the Find My iPhone feature which can track and remotely lock stolen devices.

Reuters covers another hack attack:

Spotify to ask users to re-enter passwords after cyberattack

Music streaming service Spotify AB will ask some of its 40 million users to re-enter their passwords and upgrade their software in coming days after detecting unauthorized access to its internal systems and data.

Chief Technology Officer Oskar Stal said in a blogpost on Tuesday that it has found evidence of attackers accessing just one user’s data, which did not include payment or password information. But as a precaution, it intends to ask “certain Spotify users” to re-enter their log-in credentials, and upgrade their Google (GOOGL.O) Android app.

Spotify said it is not recommending any action yet for users of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) iPhones or devices based on Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Windows.

From CBC News, a spy in the bedroom, and for a good cause:

Spy cam nabs care worker stealing from 82-year-old Winnipegger

  • ‘What you did is despicable,’ Manitoba judge says in giving thief 2 years probation, community work

Viola Dufresne said she noticed money vanishing from her wallet starting last January, totalling nearly $1,100 over six months.

“My dad taught us morals, and all of a sudden I’m in my home and somebody rips me off. It made me mad,” she told CBC News on Monday.

Winnipeg police told Dufresne there wasn’t much they could do without evidence, so she went online and bought a spy camera. The camera, which resembles a clock radio, showed the home-care aide taking $25 from Dufresne’s wallet.

Techdirt laments:

Former CIA Director And Defense Secretary Says CIA Tried, But Failed, To Do Economic Espionage

  • from the this-doesn’t-make-the-us-look-any-better dept

US intelligence officials still seem to think that there’s some big distinction between the kind of intelligence work the US does versus the kind that other countries do. US officials time and time again claim that they don’t do “economic espionage” — even though it’s pretty clear that they do it, just through indirect means (i.e., while they don’t hand trade secrets over to companies, they’re certainly using economic information to impact policy and trade discussions).

Former Defense Secretary and CIA boss Robert Gates continued this sort of tone deaf line of thinking from US intelligence defenders by claiming that French intelligence downloads the contents of laptops from businessmen visiting Paris:

“There are probably a dozen or 15 countries that steal our technology in this way,” Gates said in an interview the Council on Foreign Relations posted online Thursday. “In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French — and they’ve been doing it a long time.”

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing, ever-transforming Asian Game of Zones, including the latest American plans for Afghanistan, Sino-American cyberwar gambits, allegations of ramming, corporate targeting, the relentless push for Japanese militarization, and Pyongyang blusters belicosely. . . Continue reading

Video reports: As seen from overseas


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

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

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

Anti-Monsanto protests hit streets around the world

Program notes:

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

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

Michael Gove vs American literature

Program notes:

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

Headlines: Elections, ejections, pols, pollution


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

IMF chief says banks haven’t changed since financial crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via the Contributor Network, reality catches up:

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press, greed, baby, greed:

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

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, no pot luck:

Health insurers just say no to marijuana coverage

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

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

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

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

US house price growth slows as demand weakens

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

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

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

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

California’s flawed water system can’t track usage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant owners seek meeting with PM over foreign worker freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associated Press confers

EU summit seeks way out of election quagmire

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

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

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

ANA-MPA agonizes:

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

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

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

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

And the Amsterdam angle from DutchNews.nl:

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

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

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

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

And from Spiegel, a prescription:

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

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

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

Prince Charles: reform capitalism to save the planet

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

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

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

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

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

Jailing bankers will not fix bad behaviour, says Mark Carney

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

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

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

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

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

Racism on the rise in Britain

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

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

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

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

Sweden’s labour costs ‘distressingly high’

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

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

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

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

Growing number of Germans opting for ‘homemade’ electricity

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

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

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

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

One in five Germans can’t afford a holiday

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

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

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

From TheLocal.de, outsider entrepreneurs:

Foreigners set up 40pc of new German firms

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

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

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

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

Waste water analysis reveals Dutch drug secrets in EU survey

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

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

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

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

Brussels next, and a quandary from EUobserver:

Belgian king gives coalition-forming mandate to Flemish republican

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPÖ row after attack on chancellor

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

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

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

On to France, with aspirations from Spiegel:

A Real National Front: The French Far Right Aims High

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

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

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

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

Partnering up with the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

And a branding problem from EUbusiness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope slams ‘inhumane’ jobless rate in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

IMF calls on Spain to raise VAT and lower corporate taxes

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hippy’ politician stuns Spain’s political elite

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

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

How did they manage to do so well?

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

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

More from El País:

Podemos: A party under construction

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

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

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

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

And TheLocal.es evicts:

Protesters clash with police over squat eviction

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

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

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

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

Spin doctor tells ex-comedian Grillo to smile

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

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

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

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

Michael Hudson dissects the European vote


And he gets right to the heart of it in this Anon Waronczuk interview for The Real News Network.

The most dramatic results of the European parliamentary elections consisted of the repudiation of the the austerian policies imposed by the neoliberalist of Brussels and national governments — including those dominated by socialist-in-name only parties.

Votes for outsiders and massive refusal to vote were the chief characteristics of the election, says University of Missouri-Kansas City economist Michael Hudson [previously], who notes that Europeans have abandoned “socialist parties” because they have swap their nominal socialism for the austerian imperatives pushed by corporateers and banksters.

We doubt you’ll find a better analysis of the elections anywhere else.

From The Real News Network:

Voters Reject Traditional Left Parties In EU Parliament Elections

Note: There’s no transcript posted yet, but when there is, we’ll update with the link.

Headlines II: Spies, laws, lies, zones & more


And lots of ground to cover in today’s tales from the dark side, including political shenanigans, spooky revelations, and all the latest from the ongoing and ever-escalating Asian Game of Zones.

For our first headline, the Buenos Aires Herald covers a major Obama security breach:

The White House blows top CIA official cover in Afghanistan

The White House inadvertently included the name of the top CIA official in Afghanistan on a list of participants in a military briefing with President Barack Obama that was distributed to reporters yesterday, the Washington Post reported.

The newspaper said the official, identified as “Chief of Station” in Kabul, was named as being among those at a briefing with Obama during the president’s trip to Bagram Air Base near the Afghan capital.

The list of names was sent by email to reporters traveling with Obama on his surprise Afghanistan visit and included in a “pool report” shared with correspondents and others not on the trip.

The Post said the White House issued a revised list deleting the CIA official’s name after it recognized the mistake.

From the Guardian, guess who helped in the cover-up?:

White House staff tried to ‘un-ring the bell’ after revealing CIA chief’s identity

  • White House press office unaware it had circulated name
  • Washington Post journalist sounded alert after filing report

The White House blew the cover of the top CIA agent in Afghanistan on Sunday, when the person’s name was included on a list given to reporters during a visit to the country by President Barack Obama.

The name was then emailed by the White House press office to a distribution list of more than 6,000 recipients, mostly members of the US media.

The agent in question, listed as chief of station, would be a top manager of CIA activity in Afghanistan, including intelligence collection and a drone-warfare programme under which unmanned aerial vehicles mount cross-border attacks into Pakistan.

From IDG News Service, a snitch in time saves nine [years?]:

US seeks leniency for ‘Sabu,’ Lulzsec leader-turned-snitch

  • Prosecutors contend the seven months time he has served is enough for Hector Xavier Monsegur

U.S. prosecutors say a hacking group’s mastermind should be spared a long prison sentence due to his quick and fruitful cooperation with law enforcement.

The man, Hector Xavier Monsegur of New York, is accused of leading a gang of international miscreants calling themselves “Lulzsec,” short for Lulz Security, on a noisy hacking spree in 2011, striking companies such as HBGary, Fox Entertainment and Sony Pictures.

Lulzsec, an offshoot of Anonymous, led a high-profile campaign that taunted law enforcement, released stolen data publicly and bragged of their exploits on Twitter. Their campaign touched off a worldwide law enforcement action that resulted in more than a dozen arrests.

From intelNews.org, they shall be released:

Spain shelves charges against French alleged ‘assassin’ spies

A court in Spain has quietly shelved charges against two French spies who were caught in Barcelona with a custom-designed sniper rifle. The two men were detained in the Catalonian town of Manresa in April of 2002. The Audi car in which they were riding was stopped at a checkpoint manned by members of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, who promptly searched it.

In the back of the car, police officers found a large PVC tube that contained a sniper rifle complete with a laser telescopic light and a silencer. The two men carried French travel documents identifying them as “Christian Piazzole” and “Rachid Chaouati”. Piazzole’s documents were found to be false, and there were suspicions that Chaouati’s may also have been forged.

Spanish authorities concluded that the two men, who admitted they were officers of France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), were in Spain to conduct an assassination. In a words of a state prosecutor in Barcelona, the DGSE spies had come to Spain “to kill”. Their arrest prompted an emergency visit to Madrid of a high-level French government delegation headed by General Philippe Rondot, a former senior intelligence officer at the DGSE. Rondot told Spanish officials that the two men were “on a training exercise”.

Feelin’ insecure theatrically Down Under, via RT:

Security stunt: Australian politician brings pipe bomb into parliament

An Australian senator stunned fellow politicians after bringing explosives into a session, saying he had “brought this through security: a pipe bomb,” which brought gasps from stunned onlookers.

Senator Bill Heffernan wanted to make a point about relaxed security in the building. The 71-year-old wheat farmer has been warning for months about a rising security risk facing the $1 billion building.

Under a 12-month trial, hundreds of MPs, senators, political and departmental staff no longer need to be scanned by metal detectors or have their bags checked.

And the stunt itself, via the Liberal [i.e., conservative] senator who serves on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. From the Australian Senate video feed via ABC News [Australia]:

Liberal Senator brings fake pipe bomb into Parliament

Program notes:

Senator Bill Heffernan presents a fake pipe bomb he has smuggled into Australian Parliament House to demonstrate the potential risks of reduced security arrangements.

From Ars Technica, woe to esnl:

Unsafe cookies leave WordPress accounts open to hijacking, 2-factor bypass

  • Accounts accessed from Wi-Fi hotspots and other unsecured networks are wide open.

Memo to anyone who logs in to a WordPress-hosted blog from a public Wi-Fi connection or other unsecured network: It’s trivial for the script kiddie a few tables down to hijack your site even if it’s protected by two-factor authentication.

Yan Zhu, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, came to that determination after noticing that WordPress servers send a key browser cookie in plain text, rather than encrypting it, as long mandated by widely accepted security practices. The cookie, which carries the tag “wordpress_logged_in,” is set once an end user has entered a valid WordPress user name and password. It’s the website equivalent of a plastic bracelets used by nightclubs. Once a browser presents the cookie, WordPress servers will usher the user behind a velvet rope to highly privileged sections that reveal private messages, update some user settings, publish blog posts, and more. The move by WordPress engineers to allow the cookie to be transmitted unencrypted makes them susceptible to interception in many cases.

Cause for insecurity in Africa, via Antiwar.com:

Sisi Is Torture and Suffering, Confirms Sisi

Orchestrating a military coup against a demcoratically elected government, leading a junta that killed thousands of protesters and has sentenced many more to death for organizing those protests, Egypt’s incoming president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is worried people think he’s “too soft,” and gave a harsh statement on his incoming regime in a television interview and leaked comments associated with it.

“I’m not leaving a chance for people to act on their own,” Sisi declared, going on to promise he would forcibly turn Egypt into a “first-class nation.”

“People think I’m a soft man. Sisi is torture and suffering,” declared Sisi, who among other things, vowed to send troops to people’s houses to install energy efficient lightbulbs as a way of solving the nation’s fuel shortage.

After the jump, the latest developments in the ever-accelerating, ever expanding Asian Game of Zones, including claims of a new top dog, hacks, exclusion threats, a ship sinking, threats, warnings, and the latest moves in the Washington-pushed Japanese remilitarization drive. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Salary sexism, Icelandic style


From Statistics Iceland, glass ceilings?:BLOG Iceland

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

Quote of the day: Europe’s neoliberal curse


From Serge Halimi, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique:

The European utopia is turning into a system for delivering punishment. As Europe’s regime gets tougher, there is a growing sense that interchangeable elites are taking advantage of each crisis to tighten their austerity policies and impose their federal fantasy. This twin objective has the support of boardrooms and newsrooms. But even if you boost their ranks with German rentiers, a few Luxembourgers specialising in tax evasion and most of France’s Socialist leaders, popular backing for the present “European project” isn’t much greater.

The European Union does not stop chiding states that fail to be concerned first with reducing their budget deficit, even when unemployment is rife. As they usually fall into line without further persuasion, the EU immediately imposes a programme of corrective measures, with objectives worked out to the last decimal point and a timetable for completion. But when a growing number of sick Europeans have to forgo treatment because they cannot afford it, when infant mortality shoots up and malaria returns, as it has done in Greece, national governments do not have to fear flak from the European Commission. For the convergence criteria, so strictly applied to deficits and debt, do not apply to employment, education and health. Yet everything is connected: cutting state spending almost always means reducing the number of hospital doctors and rationing healthcare.

The European elections: Some video reports


Elections over the past tow weekends have heralded a major shift in the European parliament, the planet’s largest regional transnational legislature.

The strongest shifts were in the election of a large number of delegates opposed to the very participation of their own countries in the European Union, and in the election of others strongly opposed to the harsh austerian polities demanded by the EU’s other governing body, the European Commission, and the central bank enforcing policies of the European Monetary Union.

First up, from Britain’s Channel 4 News:

Seismic shift to the right in European politics

Program notes:

France was at the centre of a shift in European politics to the right in the Euro elections. Europe Editor Matt Frei was in Paris, where Front National was celebrating.

Next up, a simple graphic presentation from Agence France Presse on the makeup of the new legislature:

The new European Parliament

Program notes:

France’s far-right National Front and Britain’s UKIP led a eurosceptic “earthquake” in EU parliamentary polls, sending shockwaves across Europe and beyond. The EU Parliament’s own projections early on Monday showed the extent of the anti-EU breakthrough, with eurosceptic parties set to win around 140 seats in the 751-seat assembly.

Finally, your basic talking heads panel analyzing the results and their political implications from euronews:

EU election special: full analysis of vote results

Program notes:

Europe has made its choice, time now to find out what the results mean – watch the special euronews coverage from Brussels.

Chart of the day: Europe’s ranks of the poor


From Eurostat, those at rick of poverty or social exclusion, rates for 20i1 [yellow] and 2012 [blue], with rates for the 28-member European Union and then 17-member common currency [euro]] area on the left:

BLOG Poverty

From Eurostat:

In 2012, 124.2 million people, or 24.8 % of the population, in the EU-28 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE), compared with 24.3 % in 2011. The AROPE indicator is defined as the share of the population in at least one of the following three conditions:

  1. at risk of poverty, meaning below the poverty threshold,
  2. in a situation of severe material deprivation,
  3. living in a household with very low work intensity.

The reduction of the number of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU is one of the key targets of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The AROPE figure for the EU-28 average, calculated as a weighted average of national results, masks considerable variation between Member States. At one extreme, the Member States with the highest AROPE rates in 2012 were Bulgaria (49.3 %), Romania (41.7 %), Latvia (36.2 %), Greece (34.6 %), Lithuania, Hungary and Croatia (all three around 32.0 %). At the other extreme, the share of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion was the lowest in the Netherlands (15.0 %), the Czech Republic (15.4 %) and Sweden (15.6 %). Overall AROPE rate has slightly increased at EU-28 level between 2011 and 2012 (0.5 percentage points (pp)). The risk of poverty or social exclusion rose by 3.6 pp in Greece and 2.5 pp in Cyprus, decreasing by more than 3 pp only in Latvia (-3.9 pp).

Headlines II: Spies, laws, pols, zones, drones


For today’s tales from the dark side, we begin with this from MintPress News:

Will The House’s Gutted USA Freedom Act Really Stop The NSA?

“While it represents a slight improvement from the status quo, it isn’t the reform bill that Americans deserve,” says a staff attorney with the ACLU.

In a Thursday op-ed for Hays Post, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp explained his reasoning for not voting for the USA Freedom Act, which cleared the House earlier in the day in a 303-121 vote.

“[The] bill presented on the House floor today does not address many of privacy and constitutional concerns expressed by Kansans over the warrantless bulk collection of Americans’ personal information,” wrote Huelskamp.

Huelskamp was an original sponsor to the bill. Originally meant to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata from Americans’ phone records, the bill was initially heralded as the first serious attempt to bring balance to the way the nation handles electronic surveillance.

From the Guardian, the obvious conclusion:

The year of living more dangerously: Obama’s drone speech was a sham

  • We were promised drone memos. And a case for legal targeted killing. And no more Gitmo. We’re still waiting

Twelve months ago today, Barack Obama gave a landmark national security speech in which he frankly acknowledged that the United States had at least in some cases compromised its values in the years since 9/11 – and offered his vision of a US national security policy more directly in line with “the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” It was widely praised as “a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America”.

Addressing an audience at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, the president pledged greater transparency about targeted killings, rededicated himself to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and urged Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been invoked to justify everything from military detention to drones strikes.

A year later, none of these promises have been met. Instead, drone strikes have continue (and likely killed and wounded civilians), 154 men remain detained at Guantanamo and the administration has taken no steps to roll back the AUMF. This is not the sort of change Obama promised.

Coming up with a drone report the old-fashioned way with RT:

Over 60% of US drone targets in Pakistan are homes – research

The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s domestic buildings more than any other targets over the past decade of the drone war launched by the US, says the latest research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Almost two thirds, or over 60 percent, of all US drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, says joint research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), a London-based non-profit news group, along with Forensic Architecture, a research unit based at Goldsmiths University, London, and Situ Research in New York.

The authors of the paper analyzed thousands of media reports, witness testimonies and field investigations to obtain the data on drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

According to the study, at least 132 houses have been destroyed in more than 380 strikes over the past decade with at least 222 civilians being among the 1,500 or more people killed.

Security checks and no security, from Quartz:

You should fear background checks even if you’ve done nothing wrong

  • 41% error rate

This issue matters not only because innocent people and employers who hire screening companies are getting ensnared by a digital dragnet; it also matters because 65 million Americans have criminal records, and those who want to turn their lives around are hurt by background check mistakes. Maybe you don’t care that employers end up screening out deserving applicants. Maybe you scoff at liberals like me who worry that background screening has a discriminatory impact on people of color.  At least you should care that the mistakes cut both ways: employers can end up hiring applicants whose full criminal records are not showing up on background screens.

You can find a litany of common screw-ups in this report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). It’s impossible to quantify the extent of the errors, partly because the industry has no registration requirements and any fly-by-night operation with web access can set up shop. But the NCLC says “tens of millions of workers may pay for these third-party errors with their jobs.” One screening company studied federal corrections databases and found a “41% error rate.”

If you got arrested 30 years ago for selling a little weed but were never charged, or if you went to trial but were never convicted, you still might be tagged with a criminal record. That’s because too many screeners don’t bother to check original court records to verify the status of cases, according to Welby. These screening companies often rely only on bulk databases that aren’t properly updated.

Techdirt covers another reason for insecurity:

Another Bogus Hit From A License Plate Reader Results In Another Citizen Surrounded By Cops With Guns Out

  • from the verification-to-be-performed-at-gunpoint dept

We recently covered a story about a lawyer who found himself approached by cops with guns drawn after an automatic license plate reader misread a single character on his plate as he drove by. The police did make an attempt to verify the plate but were stymied by heavy traffic. Unfortunately, it appears they decided to force the issue rather than let a potential car thief escape across the state line.

As I pointed out then, the increasing reliance on ALPRs, combined with the one-billion-plus records already in storage and the millions being collected every day, means the number of errors will only increase as time goes on — even as the technology continues to improve. This person was lucky to escape with nothing more than an elevated heart rate. Others won’t be so lucky… like Denise Green of San Francisco.

Green’s civil rights lawsuit has just been reinstated by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned an earlier decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the San Francisco Police Department. The lower court found that the officers had made a “good faith, reasonable mistake” when they performed a felony stop of Green, which included being ordered out of her vehicle and onto the ground at gunpoint and held in cuffs for nearly 20 minutes while officers verified the plates and filled out paperwork.

From the Christian Science Monitor, righting wrongs:

Dallas targets wrongful convictions, and revolution starts to spread

The Conviction Integrity Unit formed in Dallas to correct wrongful convictions has become a national model that is slowly changing prosecutors’ willingness to reopen the books nationwide.

Some of these units are window dressing created mostly for public relations, critics say. But the Dallas CI Unit has had a profound impact in the city and has come at a time when concerns about wrongful convictions are rippling through the American justice system.

Indeed, as exonerations nationwide force prosecutors to reconsider their role in public safety, Mr. Watkins has cast himself as a leading reformer, taking on the insular culture within district attorneys’ offices and challenging the credo that the most effective district attorney is the one who wins the most convictions.

“One overriding truth is that the prosecutor is by far the most important and powerful actor in the criminal justice system,” says Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

RT covers a curious possibility:

Snowden ‘considers’ returning to US – report

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is “considering” returning home to the USA under certain conditions, his lawyer told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“There are negotiations,” Snowden’s German lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck told Der Spiegel. “Those who know the case are aware that an amicable agreement with the US authorities will be most reasonable.”

All efforts are now focused on finding a solution acceptable for Edward Snowden, at least in the medium term, according to Kaleck, who is also secretary-general for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

From Medill News Service, snitchin’ in the kitchen?:

With ‘Internet of Things,’ your fridge will know when milk is low

Americans are adapting to a world in which virtually everything _ from cellphones and cars to washing machines and refrigerators _ is going to be connected to the Internet or networks. Many of these devices will _ and do _ “talk” to one another via tiny sensors that function almost like human senses, logging information such as temperature, light, motion and sound.

Theoretically, the sensors could allow a new refrigerator, for example, to send an alert to a homeowner’s smartphone whenever the fridge is running low on milk. This concept of device conversation is known as the Internet of Things. The technology will make life easier, but it also means more people are vulnerable to device malfunction or hacking.

Experts and government officials acknowledge the transformative power of the Internet of Things. But the authors of a White House report in May on the effects of big data _ including all the information that devices collect _ are also concerned about the potential for privacy abuses that comes with the technology.

Getting censorious with the New York Times:

Twitter Agrees to Block ‘Blasphemous’ Tweets in Pakistan

At least five times this month, a Pakistani bureaucrat who works from a colonial-era barracks in Karachi, just down the street from the former home of his country’s secularist founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, asked Twitter to shield his compatriots from exposure to accounts, tweets or searches of the social network that he described as “blasphemous” or “unethical.”

All five of those requests were honored by the company, meaning that Twitter users in Pakistan can no longer see the content that so disturbed the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority: crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star who now attends Duke University.

The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan — in line with the country-specific censorship policy Twitter unveiled in 2012 — is the first time the social network has agreed to withhold content there. A number of the accounts seemed to have been blocked in anticipation of the fourth annual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” on May 20.

Digital Alzheimer’s from the Associated Press:

Europe’s move to rein in Google would stall in US

Europe’s moves to rein in Google — including a court ruling this month ordering the search giant to give people a say in what pops up when someone searches their name — may be seen in Brussels as striking a blow for the little guy.

But across the Atlantic, the idea that users should be able to edit Google search results in the name of privacy is being slammed as weird and difficult to enforce at best and a crackdown on free speech at worst.

“Americans will find their searches bowdlerized by prissy European sensibilities,” said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “We’ll be the big losers. The big winners will be French ministers who want the right to have their last mistress forgotten.”

Mountain View, California -based Google says it’s still figuring out how to comply with the European Court of Justice’s May 13 ruling, which says the company must respond to complaints about private information that turns up in searches. Google must then decide whether the public’s right to be able to find the information outweighs an individual’s right to control it — with preference given to the individual.

After the jump, the latest developments from the Asian Game of Zones, including Chinese strategy, bonding afloat with Moscow and Beijing, playing chicken over the China Seas, nukes afloat, Chinese domestic insecurity, and Japan’s relentless remilitarization push. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Polls, trolls, laws, toxins, more


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

First, takin’ to the streets with RT:

World protests Monsanto grip on food supply chain

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

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

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

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

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

Sheriff highlights mental-health shortcomings after California rampage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Republican donors rebuffing GOP candidates to back Jerry Brown

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

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

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

From the Guardian, the results those big bucks produce:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britain next, with BBC News:

UKIP heading for clear victory in UK European elections

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

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

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

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

One outcome, via the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scandinavia next, first with Bloomberg:

Voters Punish Reinfeldt as Protest Groups Gain in Nordic EU Vote

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

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

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

On to Copenhagen with EUbusiness:

Anti-immigrant Danish party wins EU vote: exit poll

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

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

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

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

Eurosceptics and SPD celebrate EU vote gains

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

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

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

On to Belgium with the Associated Press:

Belgium faces tough coalition talks after vote

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

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

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

France next, first with Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

More from Bloomberg:

French National Front Victory Needs EU Response, PM Valls Says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then on to Vilnius with BBC News:

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

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

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

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

Budapest next with EUbusiness:

Hungary’s right-wing dominates EU polls

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

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

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

And on to Slovakia with EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spain’s major parties lose out in Euro elections

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

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

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

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

A critical regional result via EUbusiness:

Separatist party wins EU vote in Spain’s Catalonia

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

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

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

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

Renzi’s PD projected to land big win

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

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

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

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

Lebanon agrees to extradite Berlusconi ally

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

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

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

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

And the winner is. . .


Angelina Jordan Astar [previously], the eight-year-old barefoot vinyl-lovin’ Norwegian Blues singer whose rendition’s of Billie Holiday are simply breathtaking did the expected and won the Norway’s Got Talent competition, wowing judges and audience with her rendition of “Summertime”:

From Norway’s Got Talent:

For TheLocal.no:

8-year-old jazz diva wins Norway’s got talent

Angelina Jordan Astar, the 8-year-old with a voice like a heroin-addled 1940s jazz singer, has become the youngest person ever to win Norway’s Got Talent, with a rendition of Summertime eerily close to that of Billie Holiday.

Astar’s uncanny take on ‘Gloomy Sunday’, another standard by the legendary jazz diva, blew away the judges at the start of the show in March, before becoming a YouTube hit.  Her performance won 46 percent of the vote, leaving little competition for the 500,000 kroner ($80,000) prize.

Astar was brought to tears when the presenter Solveig Kloppen announced that she had won.

“Thank you to everyone who voted for me and thank you to Grandma,” she said with tears running down her cheeks.

Headlines II: Spies, pols, zones, blusterers


Today’s tales form the dark side begins with a blackout from Reuters:

Mired in controversy, U.S. rocket blasts off on secret mission

An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday with a classified satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Five minutes after the 9:09 a.m. EDT/13:09 GMT launch, rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance (ULA), a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, shut down its live webcast under a prearranged news blackout ordered by the U.S. military.

While the mission unfolds under a veil of secrecy, the future of the Atlas 5 launcher is getting wide public view. Potential rival Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) filed a lawsuit last month to attempt to end ULA’s exclusive right to sell launch services to the U.S. military.

From the New York Times, fear in high places, many high places:

Officials Cast Wide Net in Monitoring Occupy Protests

When the Occupy protests spread across the country three years ago, state and local law enforcement officials went on alert. In Milwaukee, officials reported that a group intended to sing holiday carols at “an undisclosed location of ‘high visibility.’ “ In Tennessee, an intelligence analyst sought information about whether groups concerned with animals, war, abortion or the Earth had been involved in protests.

And in Washington, as officials braced for a tent encampment on the National Mall, their counterparts elsewhere sent along warnings: a link to a video of Kansas City activists who talked of occupying congressional offices and a tip that 15 to 20 protesters from Boston were en route. “None of the people are known to be troublemakers,” one official wrote in an email.

The communications, distributed by people working with counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing offices known as fusion centers, were among about 4,000 pages of unclassified emails and reports obtained through freedom of information requests by lawyers who represented Occupy participants and provided the documents to The New York Times. They offer details of the scrutiny in 2011 and 2012 by law enforcement officers, federal officials, security contractors, military employees and even people at a retail trade association. The monitoring appears similar to that conducted by F.B.I. counterterrorism officials, which was previously reported.

And from the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the fearful gets drowned out:

Students protest UC President Napolitano’s Laney College talk

Laney College students marched in protest and some heckled University of California President Janet Napolitano as she gave a commencement address at the community college’s graduation ceremony Saturday.

Booing and at one point turning their backs on her, dozens of students, faculty and supporters in the audience objected to remarks by the former chief of Homeland Security, who has been faulted for her stance on immigration issues during her time with the Obama administration. Many pumped their fists as a gesture of defiance.

“No one could hear her as she was speaking, the whole time,” said Yvette Felarca, one of the organizers of the protest. “It was a very proud day for Oakland – we made it clear that she was not welcome at Laney College. It was an insult, it never should have happened.”

More fearfulness, with a helping hand from other fearful folks reaching hands across the border, via the Verge:

Did GoDaddy and Homeland Security shut down a Mexican protest site?

On December 1st of 2013, the Mexican protest site 1dmx.org celebrated its first anniversary with a banner headline: “One year of struggle… and counting!” It was a simple site documenting the mass demonstrations in the wake of President Nieto’s inauguration. Scroll through, and you’d find YouTube videos documenting activist arrests and police brutality, a collectively edited stream designed to organize the opposition.

But the next day, the group got an unpleasant surprise: the site was taken down, abruptly unplugged from its hosting service.

Ever since, 1dmx has been scrambling to figure out why. GoDaddy sent an enigmatic email saying the group had violated the terms of service, but didn’t say how. When the site’s owners pushed for more information, GoDaddy told them they were part a criminal investigation triggered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Mexico City branch. Somewhere, someone had tagged them as a threat to national security, and taken down 1dmx.org in the process.

From the Independent, fearful across the Atlantic:

Intelligence services tried to withhold reports from Tony Blair after WMD fiasco

Britain’s spies tried to block intelligence from reaching Tony Blair, following publication of the “dodgy dossier” in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a forthcoming book. A former senior intelligence officer, who worked with the then prime minister, said officials did not think “raw” intelligence was “good for him”, because Mr Blair was not interested in any information “unless it conformed with his world view”.

The revelation comes amid calls for the publication of a report by Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into UK involvement in the Iraq War, as politicians express concern at repeated delays.

The book, Spying on the World, is a history of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which advises the Government on the most secret state affairs. It is based on 20 case studies by three academics.

On to the Game of Zones, starting with two old adversaries and an olive branch form JapanToday:

Putin says Russia ready for talks with Japan over disputed islands

President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Russia is ready for talks with Japan over disputed Pacific Islands but that Japan may not be ready for negotiations.

Japan imposed visa bans on 23 Russians last month, as it followed the United States and the European Union in announcing expanded sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

“We are ready for talks,” Putin told a group of foreign journalists at the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. “Is Japan ready? I’m not yet sure myself.”

From South China Morning Post, hints of a deeper agenda:

Mainland China media coverage given to spy reports seen as a warning

  • Some say heightened scrutiny won’t stop them from visiting online military forums

The extensive coverage state media gave to a recent internet spying scandal was aimed at warning military enthusiasts against discussing sensitive information online, experts have said. But some have questioned whether the incident was as serious as the detailed reports suggested.

Spying cases are rarely discussed in state media, as they imply a security failure on the part of the authorities.

CTTV and the People’s Daily reported this month an unnamed foreign country had for years used Chinese social media and internet forums to recruit spies and gather military information. At least 40 mainland internet users in 20 provinces had been recruited by an unnamed overseas spy agent via social media to provide information on military research between 2007 and last year, the reports had said.

From NewsOnJapan, close encounters:

Chinese fighter flies close to Japan’s SDF planes

Japan’s Defense Ministry officials say a Chinese warplane has flown exceptionally close to Japanese self-defense force aircraft over the East China Sea.

Officials say a Chinese SU-27 fighter flew from behind and passed an OP-3C image data collecting plane of the Maritime Self-Defense Force at around 11 AM on Saturday near the median line between Japan and China.

Japan and China have declared overlapping air defense dentification zones in the airspace

The Asahi Shimbun lends a hand to Uncle Sam:

U.S. spy drones deployed to Misawa base in Aomori

The U.S. military is deploying two Global Hawk drones to the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, marking the first time that U.S. unmanned surveillance aircraft are stationed in Japan.

The first of the two spy drones, which was previously stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, arrived at Misawa at 6:05 a.m. on May 24. The second aircraft is scheduled to arrive May 28. They will be in service in Japan through October to help keep an eye on the regional security situation.

According to the Defense Ministry, the U.S. military plans to fly the aircraft about twice a week. Takeoffs and landings will be remotely controlled by pilots stationed at the Misawa base, while control will be taken over through satellite communication by pilots at the Beale Air Force Base, California, once the drones reach certain altitudes.

From Kyodo News, another eye in the sky:

Japan launches land observation satellite

A rocket carrying an all-weather land observation satellite was launched successfully Saturday from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

The 12:05 p.m. launch of the H-2A rocket with the advanced land observation satellite Daichi-2 was the joint operation of JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which developed the rocket under contract from JAXA.

The satellite was injected as scheduled into what appears to be a stable orbit.

From the Mainichi, defining militarism by the inch:

Ruling coalition meets over use of force by Japan Coast Guard

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito are in the final stages of discussions over loosening restrictions on the Japan Coast Guard (JCG)’s ability to use force.

The discussions are over how far the JCG can go in the event of an armed force taking over Japanese islands like the Senkakus. The coalition partners remain at odds, however, over whether to make legal changes that would expedite deployment of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) units in such a situation.

In closed meetings, the LDP and New Komeito have agreed that the current limited uses of force allowed to the Coast Guard — such as acting in self-defense or for emergency evacuations — are insufficient for dealing with an armed takeover of an island. They are considering allowing the JCG some of the same use of force that is permitted to SDF units dispatched to remove an invader or quell large groups committing violent acts or issuing threats.

From Jiji Press, the politics of playing chicken:

4 Cases Shown on U.S. Warship Protection in Collective Self-Defense

The government envisages four possible cases of Japan protecting U.S. warships in collective self-defense, informed sources said Saturday.

They are part of 15 cases that the government has unofficially presented to the ruling pair of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito for their discussions on the nation’s legal framework for national security, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal to lift its self-imposed ban on collective self-defense.

By showing cases that the Self-Defense Forces are unable to deal with under the current interpretation of the constitution, the government intends to gain an understanding from New Komeito, which is cautious about changing the government’s interpretation of the constitution to allow Japan to use the collective self-defense right.

And for our final item, the history lesson continues via the Mainichi:

‘Comfort women’ memorial to be unveiled in Washington suburb

A monument commemorating women who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels will be unveiled in a Washington suburb next week, local authorities involved in the project confirmed Friday.

The move comes after the establishments of similar memorials in California and New York led by Korean Americans with the aim of raising public awareness of the women, many of whom were Koreans.

Disputes between Tokyo and Seoul over the women, euphemistically called “comfort women” in Japan, have strained bilateral ties.

Headlines: Bubbles, bull, bile, pols, threatcetera


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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor Americans Direct 40% of Their Spending to Housing Expenses

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

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

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

While The Hill finds cause for rejoicing:

Bankers breathe sigh of relief as Tea Party power fizzles

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

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

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

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

Californians Overwhelmingly Support a Ban on Fracking

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

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

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

Governor’s teacher pension plan shocks school districts

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

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

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

From Bloomberg, a dire warning?:

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona residents evacuate as fierce wildfire rages

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

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

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

CNN again:

Wildfire scorches nearly 80,000 acres in Alaska

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results were eye-opening.

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

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

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

Barclays Bank fined £26m for gold price failings

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

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

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

The Independent sets a precedent:

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

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

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

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

And Sky News covers hard times populism resurgent:

Parties Reel From UKIP Election Success

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

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

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

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

One reaction from EUbusiness:

British deputy PM faces calls to quit

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

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

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

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

Greens, feminists surge ahead of EU vote ‘thriller’

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

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

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

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

From BBC News, more of that hard times intolerance:

Brussels fatal gun attack at Jewish museum

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

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

A fourth person was seriously wounded, emergency services said.

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

Germany next, and political idiocy rebuked from EUbusiness:

Schulz mocked for ‘German’ appeal in EU election ad

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

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

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

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

From Reuters, deals undone:

Germany stops numerous arms exports, risks compensation fees: report

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

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

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

And TheLocal.de protests:

Thousands protest at Erdogan German rally

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

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

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

On to Eastern Europe and epidemic apathy from New Europe:

Record abstention in Chech Republic reaches 80%, exit poll

  • Right wing TOP 09 leads with 18%

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

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

Spain next, and significant symbolism from the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines II: Spies, hacks, zones, militarism


The latest tales from the dark side covers everything from deceptive legislation in Washington to the Games of Zones in Asia, plus lots more sandwiched in between.

First up, from MintPress News, listing the veil at an American concentration camp:

Judge Orders Release Of Guantanamo Force-Feeding Videos

  • For Guantanamo detainees, their last bargaining chip is the U.S. government’s determination to keep them alive. But their hunger strikes come at a cruel, painful cost: force-feeding.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has lifted the temporary restraining order which blocked federal officials from force-feeding Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab.

“Thanks to the intransigence of the Department of Defense, Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions,” wrote Kessler. “However, the court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die.”

Dhiab has indicated that he would submit to being force-fed by tube if it was done at a hospital at Guantanamo Bay, adding that he wished to “be spared the agony of having the feeding tubes inserted and removed for each feeding, and…the pain and discomfort of the restraint chair.”

According to Kessler, the Department of Defense has declined this request.

Al Jazeera America lifts another veil ever so slightly:

The unexpected way Congress is making the drone program more transparent

  • The confirmation process for Obama nominees has turned up some of the only disclosures about the US drone program

The Senate confirmed David Jeremiah Barron to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, but only after Barack Obama’s administration agreed to make public a controversial secret memo about the U.S. targeted killing program it has long sought to keep secret.

The administration’s decision is a revealing look at how nomination hearings have become an effective new weapon in the fight for more transparency in the government’s covert counterterrorism policies.

Though the president nominated the Harvard Law professor in September, several influential senators from both sides of the aisle — including Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon — threatened to block the nomination unless key memos written by Barron while he was acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel in 2009 and 2010 were disclosed.

From The Hill, belated gumption:

Tech companies: FBI ‘gag orders’ violate Constitution

  • Four tech companies claim that the FBI is ignoring their First Amendment rights by barring them from revealing what types of information they turn over to the government

In court documents unsealed on Friday, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook claimed that the national security letter (NSL) orders are a “prohibition on speech [that] violates the First Amendment.”

“The government has sought to participate in public debate over its use of the NSL statute,” the companies wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief. “It should not be permitted to gag those best suited to offer an informed viewpoint in that debate; the parties that have received NSLs.”

The FBI uses the letters to get information from banks, Web companies and others about their customers. Under the terms of the letters, though, companies are prevented from disclosing details about having received the request and handed over information.

Al Jazeera America covers a half-measure:

Anti-spy phone firm gets major funding boost

  • Silent Circle’s Blackphone received $30 million this week and is slated to ship this summer

The smartphone encryption startup Silent Circle announced a boost in funding Wednesday, grabbing $30 million in investment capital ahead of the June shipping of its signature Blackphone, which the company says can deflect cybersnooping.

The announcement came a day before the House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would end mass spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). It also comes in the wake of charges against more than 100 people announced this week for unleashing a sophisticated malware that has infected half a million computers in more than 100 countries.

Silent Circle’s founder, however, warned that Blackphone still wouldn’t deter the most determined efforts of the National Security Agency to monitor mobile phones.

From China Daily, corporate blowback from NSA spooks:

Cisco weighs in on new Chinese cyber security policy

Cisco Systems Inc said it will take “active measures” to safeguard product safety and reliability after a Chinese government announcement to impose tighter cyber security checks on overseas information technology providers.

The California-based IT firm was the first overseas company to directly respond to a government decision that IT products, services and suppliers related to national security and key public interest should submit to a review program before being put into use.

Cisco is planning to work with the US government and industry contacts to learn more about the new regulation and any implications for IT companies in China, the company said in an e-mail reply to China Daily.

From the Guardian, muzzling the inconvenient press:

Scotusblog loss of Senate press credentials fuels media uproar

  • Website to mount appeal of press gallery decision on Friday
  • Legendary reporter Lyle Denniston may be affected

It is widely praised for doing what no other news organisation can. But now Scotusblog may lose what hundreds of other publications take for granted: access to the Senate.

Scotusblog, a website dedicated to coverage of the US supreme court, is preparing to mount an appeal Friday morning to a decision last month by the Senate press gallery not to renew its press credentials. The gallery granted Scotusblog credentials in 2013.

The blog’s reporters appear likely to retain access to the supreme court through temporary arrangements. The court has traditionally honored Senate credentials but is currently reviewing its press procedures.

The London Daily Mail, crusading Pee Tardies:

Three more Tea Party activists arrested over photo taken of Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s ailing wife in a nursing home

  • Mark Mayfield, a Tea Party board member, school teacher Richard Sager and John Mary were arrested Thursday
  • The activists were hoping to use the picture of Rose Cochran in an ad claiming Thad Cochran is having an affair
  • Mrs Cochran has been suffering from dementia for 13 years and is in hospice care
  • The men were hoping to support the campaign of Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel

International Business Times covers the latest vileness from a household name:

Facebook Microphone Update: Electronic Surveillance Experts React To Smartphone Mic Data Collection

  • Digital Privacy Experts React To Facebook’s Intentions To Collect Data Through Smartphone Mics

On Thursday, the International Business Times reported that Facebook will use a forthcoming mobile app update to save and collect data captured by your smartphone’s microphones–a development that privacy experts found worrisome.

Though Facebook guaranteed users that “no sound is stored” by the new feature, the social media giant confirmed to the IBTimes that “data is saved, but all data is anonymized and aggregated.”

The social networking company declined to comment on how it planned to use the data once they were gleaned.

A hack attack from TechWeekEurope:

Pro-Russian Hackers Attack Central Election Commission Of Ukraine

  • CyberBerkut steals a huge archive of emails three days before the elections, sends it to the media agencies

Ukrainian hacker outfit CyberBerkut, which was previously spotted defacing at least 40 local media websites and carrying out a DDoS attack against NATO infrastructure, has struck again.

This time, the group has managed to break into the systems of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Ukraine – an independent body of the Ukrainian government. The hackers have stolen large archive of emails, as well as the technical documentation of the CEC system administrators.

They refer to the current government of the country as a “junta” – a word which describes the ruling council of a military dictatorship.

After the jump, it’s on to Asia and the last chapter in the Games of Zones, including an Iranian stand-down, Sino-Russian exercises afloat, Japanese remilitarization, and more. . . 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 II: Spooks, pols, laws, hacks, & zones


Today’s tales form the dark side covers a lot of ground, with a lot of domestic developments, new NSA questions, and much more — including the latest developments in the ongoing every-shifting Asian Game of Zones, including the Washington-pushed remilitarization of Japan.

We begin with an item sure to make you feel more secure. From the Associated Press:

AP Exclusive: Botched nuclear silo drill revealed

An Air Force security team’s botched response to a simulated assault on a nuclear missile silo has prompted a blistering review followed by expanded training to deal with the nightmare scenario of a real attack.

The Air Force recognized the possibility of such an intrusion as more worrisome after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But an internal review of the exercise held last summer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana said the security forces were unable to speedily regain control of the captured silo, and called this a “critical deficiency.”

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Next up, a looming conflict of interests from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

CIA secrecy over detention program threatens 9/11 prosecutions, senators warned Obama

Two powerful Senate committee chairs told President Barack Obama earlier this year that the CIA’s insistence on keeping secret how it treated prisoners under its enhanced interrogation program threatens the country’s ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., head of the Armed Services Committee, sought the president’s help in getting information declassified about the CIA’s so-called harsh interrogation techniques and stressed the need for transparency on a program that essentially had ended in 2006 and that Obama formally killed when he took office in 2009.

The two senators blamed the CIA’s obsession with hiding the details of the program for the logjammed military commission process that has yet to try any of the alleged 9/11 conspirators, some of whom have been in custody for nearly a dozen years.

And about those detentions. . . From the Guardian:

Guantánamo inmate vomited blood after force-feeding, documents show

  • Ahmed Rabbani held without charge for more than 10 years
  • New filing details force-feeding regime in hunger strike

New documents filed in a federal court in Washington have revealed that a Guantánamo Bay detainee contracted a chest infection as a result of force-feeding, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood.

The filing on Thursday came a day after a federal court forced the government to reveal that it has secretly recorded dozens of force-feedings of one hunger-striking Guantánamo detainee, raising the possibility that the US military may have similar films of other detainees.

The fresh documents, filed in the US district court for the District of Columbia, relate to a detainee named Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three who has been held without charge for more than a decade.

On to NSAgate, starting with an alarmist assessment, via the Guardian:

Pentagon report: scope of intelligence compromised by Snowden ‘staggering’

  • Classified assessment describes impact of leaks as ‘grave’
  • Report does not include specific detail to support conclusions
  • 12 of 39 heavily redacted pages released after Foia request

A top-secret Pentagon report to assess the damage to national security from the leak of classified National Security Agency documents by Edward Snowden concluded that “the scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering”.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s classified damage assessment in response to a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit filed against the Defense Department earlier this year. The heavily redacted 39-page report was prepared in December and is titled “DoD Information Review Task Force-2: Initial Assessment, Impacts Resulting from the Compromise of Classified Material by a Former NSA Contractor.”

But while the DIA report describes the damage to US intelligence capabilities as “grave”, the government still refuses to release any specific details to support this conclusion. The entire impact assessment was redacted from the material released to the Guardian under a presidential order that protects classified information and several other Foia exemptions.

From the Guardian, when “victory” proves largely ornamental:

NSA reform bill loses backing from privacy advocates after major revisions

  • Facebook, Google and others warn of ‘unacceptable loopholes’
  • Bill’s passage expected in House even after 11th-hour changes

A landmark surveillance bill, likely to pass the US House of Representatives on Thursday, is hemorrhaging support from the civil libertarians and privacy advocates who were its champions from the start.

Major revisions to the USA Freedom Act have stripped away privacy protections and transparency requirements while expanding the potential pool of data the National Security Agency can collect, all in a bill cast as banning bulk collection of domestic phone records. As the bill nears a vote on the House floor, expected Thursday, there has been a wave of denunciations.

“It does not deserve the name ‘USA Freedom Act’ any more than the ‘Patriot Act’ merits its moniker,” wrote four former NSA whistleblowers and their old ally on the House intelligence committee staff.

More from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Wyden opposes House USA Freedom Act, says it’s “watered down”

The USA Freedom Act may change the federal government’s bulk data collection system, but Sen. Ron Wyden, a leader critic of surveillance policy, sees the measure as “watered down.”

Wyden, D-Ore., issued a stinging statement Friday as the House passed the act, 303 to 121.

“I am gravely concerned that the changes that have been made to the House version of this bill have watered it down so far that it fails to protect Americans from suspicionless mass surveillance,” he said.

Wyden noted that the new text says the government has to use a “selection term” to collect Americans’ records, but the bill’s definition of such terms is too vague–and, Wyden said, “could be used to collect all of the phone records in a particular area code, or all of the credit card records from a particular state.”

Still more from Wired threat level:

NSA Reform Bill Passes the House—With a Gaping Loophole

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records. Unfortunately, it may not end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records.

The House voted 303 to 121 Thursday in favor of the USA Freedom Act, broad legislation aimed at reforming the NSA’s surveillance powers exposed by Edward Snowden. The central provision of the bill, which now moves on to debate in the Senate, is intended to limit what the intelligence community calls “bulk” collection–the indiscriminate vacuuming up of citizen’s phone and internet records. But privacy advocates and civil libertarians say last-minute changes to the legislation supported by the White House added ambiguous language that could essentially give the NSA a generous loophole through which it can continue its massive domestic data collection.

In the House’s final version of the bill, the NSA would be stripped of the power to collect all Americans’ phone records for metadata analysis, a practice revealed in the first Guardian story about Snowden’s leaks published last year. It instead would be required to limit its collection to specific terms. The problem is that those terms may not be nearly specific enough, and could still include massive lists of target phone numbers or entire ranges of IP addresses.

And the latest shot from Snowden’s cache via RT:

NSA spies on OSCE HQ in Vienna – report

Among the many targets for the UN National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance is the Vienna-based headquarters of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Austrian media reported.

The OSCE is mentioned among the targets for NSA in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a confidential document outlining intelligence gathering priorities, reported on Wednesday Austrian newspaper Die Presse. It cites German journalist Holger Stark with Der Spiegel magazine, who has access to NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The NIPF update from April 9, 2013, lists OSCE’s foreign policy as a Level 4 point of interest for the US and its involvement in arms trade control as a Level 3 point of interest, Stark told the newspaper. Level 3 information is considered important enough by the US intelligence community to make its way to the US secretaries of defense and state, he added.

More from TheLocal.at:

NSA ‘spying on OSCE and IAEA’ in Vienna

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has reportedly bugged the Vienna-based OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), according to Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

Spiegel reporter and NSA expert Holgar Stark said it was highly likely that the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, as well as the Russian, Iranian and North Korean embassies in the Austrian capital, were bugged as well.

The “foreign policy goals” of the OSCE are of particular interest to the NSA, the Austrian daily Presse said.

The current crisis in Ukraine has revived the prominence of the OSCE – previously it became important as a connection between the east and west during the Cold War.

A trip through the NSA hackery from TheLocal.de:

How the NSA may have tapped Merkel’s phone

German security services have come up with five different ways the US National Security Agency (NSA) may have succeeded in spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, a leaked report revealed on Thursday.

The seven-page secret report by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), seen by Bild newspaper, discusses five possible ways the NSA could have gained access to Merkel’s phone. The story caused outrage in Germany when it came to light in October last year.

Possibilities considered most likely were that US agents either used “passive receiving antenna” planted in central Berlin or else intercepted Merkel’s communications as they were transmitted through undersea cables.

The first “very likely” scenario would have involved placing receiving antennas near the capital’s Reichstag parliament building and using these to listen to the Chancellor’s phone calls and read her text messages. . .

And a retraction demanded, via the Associated Press:

German university rector faults Snowden doctorate

The rector of a German university where academics voted to award NSA leaker Edward Snowden an honorary doctorate is trying to have the decision reversed — arguing that his actions don’t fulfill the required criteria.

The University of Rostock’s philosophy faculty decided by a large majority last week to award Snowden the title.

But rector Wolfgang Schareck said in a statement Thursday that Snowden’s leaking to media of NSA documents doesn’t constitute the “special academic achievement” required by law in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for a doctorate to be granted.

Today’s lone drone headline, via The Hill:

Senate confirms drone memo author

The Senate narrowly voted Thursday to confirm the author of memos justfying drone strikes against U.S. citizens to a federal court.

In a 53-45 vote, the Senate confirmed David Barron to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The successful vote came after the administration said it would make public the memos Baron authored on the drone program.

From Ars Technica, a challenge declined:

FBI withdraws national security letter following Microsoft challenge

  • Rather than litigating gag order, FBI goes directly to the customer.

The FBI withdrew a national security letter targeting an Office 365 enterprise customer following Microsoft’s challenge to a provision of the letter gagging the company from informing the target, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

“In this case, the Letter included a nondisclosure provision and we moved forward to challenge it in court. We concluded that the nondisclosure provision was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression. It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel wrote in a blog post Thursday.

While it’s not everyday that a company’s policy benefits the customer, the flap highlights the unsettled state of gag orders associated with national security letters. The letters, which come directly from the FBI, require entities like Internet companies, banks, or others to cough up a wealth of information to the authorities. Recipients of them are generally forbidden from disclosing them.

From RT, a de facto beginning of recriminalized debt in Old Blighty:

Brits jailed as Interpol takes ‘debt collector’ role for Gulf States – rights group

UK residents go to jail and lose jobs over unpaid loans as Interpol has started issuing ‘red notices’ – their strongest criminal alert – over unfunded checks, which are a criminal offense in states with sharia law, a rights group has found.

The Fair Trials International has labeled the International Criminal Police Organization a ‘debt collector’ for countries like Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The UK-registered charity has stated that by this, Interpol’s services are being ‘misused’.

The rights group wrote a letter to Interpol’s Secretary General, Ronald K. Noble, urging safeguards to be put in place “so that its Red Notice system focuses on bringing serious international criminals to justice rather than wrecking the lives of normal people who have provided blank cheques as security, a common practice in a number of countries across the region,” said a statement published on the group’s website.

When photography is a crime [criminal trespass and invasion of privacy] via United Press International:

Top Mississipi Tea Party official charged in videotaping of Sen. Cochran’s wife in nursing home

  • Primary challenger says those involved in secretly videotaping Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in a Mississippi nursing home should be prosecuted.

The vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party was charged Thursday with being involved in the nursing home videotaping of Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Mark Mayfield. Mayfield, a lawyer, is also an official with the Central Mississippi Tea Party.

Two other men were also charged Thursday. Last week, Clayton Kelly, a right-wing blogger, was charged with entering a Madison nursing home surreptitiously and videotaping Rose Cochran.

Corporate hack generates blowback, via Sky News:

Hacked eBay Faces Multiple Investigations

  • Several inquiries have been launched in the US into the data breach, as UK authorities also consider a formal investigation.

Web retailer eBay is facing transatlantic scrutiny from the authorities over a massive cyber attack that compromised the personal data of its 145 million users.

Connecticut, Florida and Illinois have launched a joint inquiry over the hack, which came to light on Wednesday.

The investigation will focus on the scope of the data breach and eBay’s response, said Connecticut officials.

Another, even more ominous hack, via The Wire:

An American Utility’s Control System Was Hacked

This week in hacking: The control system for a U.S. public utility was compromised. The Department of Homeland Security did not specify which utility was affected in the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) report.

A DHS official told Reuters, “While unauthorized access was identified, ICS-CERT was able to work with the affected entity to put in place mitigation strategies and ensure the security of their control systems before there was any impact to operations.”

Details of these cyber attacks are rarely revealed to the public, and even more rarely do they provide details into the matter. What we do know: this particular attack was on a utility that was previously hacked and the hackers used the employee access portal to get in. The actual hack was relatively simple: they determined the password through a tactic known as “brute forcing.” In a brute force hack, the attackers auto generate a variety of password combinations and try them until something clicks.

And another security violation from TheLocal.de:

Officer puts neo-Nazi stickers in police van

Police in Bavaria have been forced onto the defensive after an officer stuck neo-Nazi stickers in a police van. State prosecutors are investigating a 25-year-old policeman.

An unnamed passer-by on their way to a football match on Sunday in Fürth was shocked to find several far-right stickers stuck on a box in the trunk of a USK police car – a special unit used for crowd control.

Zeit Online on its far-right watch blog, Störungsmelder, wrote on Thursday that the passer-by took a photo which then opened the police force up to a host of criticism.

The stickers, which were clearly visible through the rear window, were printed with well known far-right slogans advocating violence against anti-fascists. “Good Night Left Side” and “Organize against Antifa. Know your enemy. Name your enemy,” they read.

From the Verge, sanctions blowback hinders spy satellite programs?:

Russian rocket ban could delay US space missions for years, report says

The United States military’s space program could see more than 30 missions delayed for an average of three and a half years each if Russia follows through with its threat to ban exports of the RD-180 rocket engines used for launching satellites, according to a Pentagon report obtained by SpaceNews. The Pentagon reportedly also found that, in a worst-case scenario, the delays may cost the US as much as $5 billion. In a best-case scenario, the numbers drop to nine missions delayed by around two years each and a loss of $2.5 billion.

“The US ‘needs to develop a domestic engine’”Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said the ban would be going into place earlier this month, but SpaceNews reports that the government is yet to see signs that it’s been put in place. While that remains the case, the Pentagon suggests accelerating the pace at which RD-180s are purchased to increase the remaining US stock. Right now, there are reportedly only 15 of the engines left between the military’s rocket contractors, United Launch Alliance and RD Amross.

The Pentagon reportedly also found that speeding up production of a US-made engine that’s in the works from United Launch Alliance would not be able to avoid the delays.

After the jump, the latest developments in Asia’s increasingly dangerous Game of Zones, starting with a major Chinese hit for American corporations as “high tech” and “spy tech” become synonymous, a Korean artillery exchange, posturing in Vietnam, Japan ups the ante, and alliances form. . . Continue reading

Headlines: EcoWarnings, eCons, lies, more


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the environment is chock full of nuts, especially the sort whose greed imperils us all.

The Christian Science Monitor gives us the first of several headlines with warnings about the future of the Golden State, starting with an alarm about one the state’s most populous conservative county:

As California wildfire season looms, one county stands out as unprepared

San Diego stands out as “easily one of the least prepared [counties] in the entire country,” even though it is one of the most fire-prone regions of the state, says Richard Halsey, president of the California Chaparral Institute in Escondido.

Some blame county taxpayers for refusing to add fees that would boost local firefighting efforts. Others say political leaders have not provided taxpayers with a plan worth supporting.

With high temperatures and drought prevailing in California, the issue carries perhaps even more urgency than usual this summer. If new fires break out in San Diego, other areas of the state – and perhaps the country – might have to step in.

“San Diego County’s astonishing lack of professional firefighting units … means they are off-loading their responsibilities on other taxpayers across the state who pay to protect them and to protect them in landscapes that are fire-prone, fire-created,” says Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

From Business Insider, fracking dreams evaporate, casting dark shadows on the dreams of California’s born again neoliberal chief executive:

California Is In An Extremely Awkward Position Now That The Government Says Most Of Its Shale Oil Is Unrecoverable

There now appears to be just 600 million barrels of recoverable tight oil in the state’s vast Monterey shale play — a downward revision of 96% from the agency’s 2011 estimate.

The state had pinned its hopes on a March 2013 USC study that argued tapping the Monterey could create up to 2.8 million jobs by 2020 and add up to $25 billion to state and local tax revenue. “Californians drive 332 billion, that’s billion miles a year, fed almost entirely by oil products, so we have got to start hammering at the demand, as well as the sources of fossil fuel,” California Governor Jerry Brown told CNN Sunday.

In September 2013, Brown — often labeled as having a thumb as green as Shrek’s — signed into law a bill that allowed the small-scale fracking that already occurs in to continue, with a view toward one day tapping what was thought to be Monterey’s vast and accessible deposits.

Brown’s office had no comment Wednesday.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, more signs of tough times ahead:

As Central Valley fog disappears, fruit, nut crops decline

The soupy thick tule fog that regularly blanketed the Central Valley and terrorized unsuspecting motorists during the winter has been slowly disappearing over the past three decades, a UC Berkeley study has found.

The blinding mists may not be missed by those who remember white-knuckle drives in zero visibility and regular multiple-car pileups, but the fog dearth is bad news for farmers, according to a study published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“It is jeopardizing fruit growing in California,” said Dennis Baldocchi, a biometeorologist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study. “We’re getting much lower yields.”

From the Oakland Tribune, standing up to Obama’s anti-immigrant agenda:

East Bay sheriffs to release immigrants held for feds

Joining a national trend of resisting the Obama administration’s deportation dragnet, the sheriffs of Alameda and Contra Costa counties said they are immediately releasing all inmates whose sole reason for being held is their immigration status.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes about 1,000 requests to Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail each year to hand over immigrants arrested on other charges and suspected of being in the country illegally, but “now we won’t be honoring any of them,” Sheriff Greg Ahern said in an interview Wednesday. “We’re not going to be honoring the ICE holds unless they’re backed by the order of a judge.”

Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston said Wednesday he implemented an identical order last week. San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks is contemplating a similar policy but plans to allow for case-by-case exceptions for immigrants who “pose significant public safety risks.”

From the Los Angeles Times, a legal revolt:

Counties sue narcotics makers, alleging ‘campaign of deception’

Two California counties sued five of the world’s largest narcotics manufacturers on Wednesday, accusing the companies of causing the nation’s prescription drug epidemic by waging a “campaign of deception” aimed at boosting sales of potent painkillers such as OxyContin.

Officials from Orange and Santa Clara counties — both hit hard by overdose deaths, emergency room visits and escalating medical costs associated with prescription narcotics — contend the drug makers violated California laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance.

In sweeping language reminiscent of the legal attack against the tobacco industry, the lawsuit alleges the drug companies have reaped blockbuster profits by manipulating doctors into believing the benefits of narcotic painkillers outweighed the risks, despite “a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary.” The effort “opened the floodgates” for such drugs and “the result has been catastrophic,” the lawsuit contends.

BBC News hauls out the chopper:

Hewlett-Packard to cut up to 16,000 more jobs

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced an 18% rise in profits to $1.3bn for the second quarter in statement that was accidently released before US stock markets closed.

But the firm said that despite rising profits, it plans to lay off an additional 11,000 to 16,000 workers. HP had previously announced it would cut 34,000 jobs as part of a restructuring announced in 2012.

Shares in HP fell after the early release of the news.

Hypocrisy between the buns, via the Guardian:

McDonald’s CEO insists fast-food giant pays ‘fair wages’ as protesters rally

  • Demonstrators stage second day of protest as chief executive Don Thompson sees off shareholder vote on $9.5m pay package

McDonald’s offers “real careers” and “competitive wages”, CEO Don Thompson told shareholders on Thursday, as hundreds of protesters chanted for better pay outside the fast-food giant’s annual meeting.

As demonstrators staged a second day of protests against the company’s wage scale outside the company’s suburban Chicago headquarters, Thompson told shareholders: “We believe we pay fair and competitive wages.”

“I know we have people outside,” said Thompson. “I think that McDonald’s provides more opportunity than any other company … We continue to believe that we pay fair and competitive wages,” he said.

A thoroughly tamed electorate, via EUbusiness:

Muted US opposition to Atlantic trade treaty

Europeans have met US-EU negotiations for an ambitious transatlantic free trade zone with a wave of open hostility, but in the United States, the opposition has been muted.

Only a handful of opponents could be seen Wednesday as officials from both sides met this week for the fifth round of negotiations in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington.

“The more we learn about this agreement the more we understand why the US and the EU are holding its contents so close to the vest,” said Ilana Solomon of the environmental group Sierra Club.

Like in Europe, fears have mounted among US activists over the broad scope of liberalization under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will cover rules on investment, trade, agriculture, health and the environment.

The worries, though, have not carried far outside a small circle of civil society activists, even though the talks have been going on for nearly a year.

From Inside Criminal Justice, something we could’ve told ‘em, having done a major bookie investigation years ago:

Study: Organized Crime Launders Billions Through Bets

Organized crime operations use sports betting as a tool for laundering $140 billion worldwide each year, according to a new study by Paris’ Pantheon-Sorbonne University and the Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security.

The review of global sports gambling scandals during the last three years found that soccer is by far the most frequently corrupted sport.

As the Internet spread during the last two decades, the gambling industry has boomed, according to the report, and regulatory agencies have been unable to keep pace.

From ANSAmed, neoliberals greasing skids for the race to the bottom:

UAE: the World Free Zones Organization (WFZO) is born

  • New 14-member body to oversee free-trade zones around the globe

The brand-new World Free Zones Organization (WFZO), a multinational body with 14 founding member countries, was inaugurated in Dubai ceremony at the weekend.

Representing free-trade zones in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, the WFZO aims to standardize their business methods and analytical parameters, making them available to members, governments, businesses, and analysts.

‘’It is a platform for debating issues in common and for learning from mutual experience’‘, explained WFZO Chairman Mohammed al-Zarooni.

On to Europe, starting with election news from EUobserver:

EU elections under way in Netherlands and UK

The 2014 EU elections got under way in The Netherlands and in the UK on Thursday (22 May), with Dutch voters starting at 7.30am local time and British voters at 8am British time.

The results will not be available until Sunday night – to be published at the same moment as pan-EU numbers, so that the outcome in early member states does not influence voting in latecomers.

But Dutch exit polls are expected already at 9pm on Thursday evening.

From the London Telegraph, allegations of suicide by currency, via the European Monetary Union [EMU]:

Europe’s centre crumbles as Socialists immolate themselves on altar of EMU

  • Francois Hollande must be willing to rock the European Project to its foundations, and even to risk a rupture of the euro. This he cannot bring himself to do

By a horrible twist of fate, Europe’s political Left has become the enforcer of reactionary economic policies. The great socialist parties of the post-war era have been trapped by the corrosive dynamics of monetary union, apologists for mass unemployment and a 1930s deflationary regime that subtly favour the interests of elites.

One by one, they are paying the price. The Dutch Labour Party that fathered the “Polder Model” and ran Holland for half a century has lost its bastions of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, its support dwindling to 10pc as it meekly ratifies austerity policies that have led to debt deflation and left 25pc of mortgages in negative equity.

Contractionary policies are poisonous for countries leveraged to the hilt. Dutch household debt has risen from 230pc to 250pc of disposable income since 2008, while British debt has fallen from 151pc to 133pc over the same period. This calamitous development in the Netherlands is almost entirely result of the EMU policy structure, yet the Dutch Labour Party has no coherent critique because its pro-EU reflexes compel near-silence.

CNNMoney casts a different slant:

Europe’s own ‘tea party’ risk

Europe has enjoyed a period of calm after years of crisis, but a predicted big protest vote in regional elections this week could shake markets out of their complacency.

Polls open Thursday for voters to elect members of the European Parliament, representing 500 million citizens. They’re expected to back protest parties of right and left in greater numbers than ever before.

A backlash against austerity, unemployment, immigration and loss of national power to European institutions could push anti-EU parties to win about 25% of the 751 seats. In some of the 28 countries, they could even secure the biggest share of the vote.

While that won’t derail the region’s recovery in the near term, it could store up future trouble by destabilizing pro-EU governments in some countries and weakening the resolve of others to stick to painful economic reforms.

On to Britain and some fracktastic news from the London Telegraph:

Fracking planned for Tory heartlands as report reveals billions of barrels of shale oil in southern England

  • Report to show vast potential for shale oil in the South as ministers unveil planned law change to allow fracking under homes without owners’ permission

Vast areas of southern England will on Friday be identified by the Government as targets for fracking, with ministers also announcing that energy companies will be allowed to frack under homes without owners’ permission.

A British Geological Survey study of the South, spanning from Wiltshire to Kent and including the South Downs National Park, will be published, mapping out the likely location of billions of barrels of shale oil.

Ministers are also preparing to publish controversial plans to change the laws of trespass to give energy companies an automatic right to frack beneath homes and private land – even if owners object.

Norway next, and bad news for cetaceans from TheLocal.no:

Norway to ‘work harder’ to sell whale to Japan

Norway’s fishing minister has pledged to work harder to restart exports of whale meat to Japan, after one of the country’s leading chroniclers of the whaling industry warned that it could die out within ten years.

“We have Japan as a potential export country,” Elisabeth Aspaker told Norway’s NRK channel. “We must see if we can work harder to promote it.”

Frank A. Jenssen, a journalist and author who has written extensively on whaling, told NRK that the industry and the communities which depend on it were in crisis.

“At worst, if it does not become easier to sell whale meat, I fear that this tradition and industry will die out,” he told the television channel. “In about ten to 15 years, there may be no whalers left in Norway, and that would be a tragedy.”

Early Dutech electoral indications from euronews:

Wilders’ anti-EU party pushed to fourth place in Netherlands exit polls

Exit polls in the Netherlands indicate that the anti-EU Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders has come fourth in elections for the European Parliament.

Dutch public television reported that the party who had been leading opinion polls for months may have failed to secure second place, gaining around 12% of the vote trailing the Christian Democrats and the social-liberal D66 parties who were competing for the top spot.

Germany next, and creeping imperialism from New Europe:

German cabinet adopts new Africa strategy

  • In February, Germany’s parliament approved boosting the country’s troop presence in Mali

The German cabinet has adopted a new Africa strategy, showing willingness for a greater German involvement in Africa, German media N-TV reported on Wednesday.

In the new Africa policy, Germany’s ruling coalition government expressed willingness to help prevent armed conflicts on the continent at an early stage in the future.

In addition to training missions, which would help African countries solve crisis more independently, Germany said it was also ready to send more troops to Africa if necessary.

France next, and tough times for Franky the Fop from Al Jazeera English:

France’s left is through with Hollande

  • Angered by austerity and economic stagnation, fewer than one in five French approve of the Socialist president.

French civil servants’ salaries have not been reassessed since July 2010. The freeze, which began under the right-wing government of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is now part of the left-wing government’s plan to cut public spending and boost economic growth.

According to the national statistics agency INSEE, the French economy stagnated in the first quarter of 2014, with zero growth between January and March. “It doesn’t matter,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Thursday. “The [growth] forecast by the IMF for France is one percent, so we’re dealing with figures that are perfectly reasonable goals.”

Sapin added that he was confident that the overall growth in 2014 would be “clearly above zero”, although admitted it “will not be enough”. With growth so weak and the unemployment rate and budget deficit so high, the government has no plans to increase the wages of civil servants in the near future.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that without any clear sign of growth, the pay freeze will continue until 2017. “The efforts required must be fair and equitably distributed among all the French,” he said in a letter addressed to the unions on Tuesday.

Next, Deutsche Welle covers a comeback strategy from his predecessor:

France’s Sarkozy urges two-speed Europe and a different migration policy

  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for big changes to EU structures, calling the idea of Eurozone economies’ equal rights a “myth”. He also lashed out at the EU’s current migration policies.

On Thursday, Nicolas Sarkozy weighed into the European Parliament election campaign by pressing for changes to the 28-member bloc’s structure.

The conservative former French leader, who is widely expected to seek re-election in 2017, argued for a profound overhaul of EU institutions in an editorial for the weekly news magazine Le Point.

He called the idea of all eurozone nations being of equal weight a “myth”, and proposed the creation of a large Franco-German economic zone at the heart of the euro area to reflect what he called a “two-speed Europe.”

From TheLocal.fr, out of sight, out of mind?:

French cops to bulldoze Calais migrant camps

Police in northern France plan to dismantle a series of improvised migrant camps, including one dubbed the “Syrian Camp”, after an outbreak of scabies. It’s part of the ongoing tension in the city of Calais where thousands of immigrants have massed with hopes of reaching the UK.

Social workers were outraged on Thursday following an announcement from the top police authority in Calais, in northern France, several migrant camps would be cleared from the town’s port by “next week”.

Following a meeting with humanitarian groups on Wednesday local Prefect Denis Robin told reporters: “I’m going to close three camps on public property at the port next week. It is out of the question that we encourage the setting up of a jungle.”

From the Guardian, a new supergrass:

Camorra mafia ‘super boss’ Antonio Iovine turns state witness

  • One of four bosses of Casalesi clan within Camorra mafia is collaborating with investigators in Naples, Italian media says

A so-called super boss of a powerful clan within the Camorra mafia has turned state witness and is collaborating with investigators in Naples, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Antonio Iovine, one of the four bosses of the infamous Casalesi clan, started answering the questions of anti-mafia prosecutors earlier this month, La Repubblica wrote. The Naples daily Il Mattino declared it “a historic choice”.

Aged 49, but known to all as o’ninno (the baby) for his youthful face and his rapid ascent of the Casalesi power structure, Iovine is thought to have effectively led the business side of the clan’s activities before his arrest in 2010 and subsequent jailing for life.

Reactions from the Independent:

Mobster turned informant Antonio Iovine sends shockwaves through Naples’ crime families

The decision by one of the Camorra’s most senior figures to turn informant has sent shockwaves through the Naples crime syndicate.

The jailed mobster, Antonio Iovine, dubbed the Camorra’s “economy minister”, is now spilling the secrets of the brutal mafia group, it was reported today. And not only clan members are risk; now that “the first real boss” of the crime group has decided to cooperate with the authorities, “an entire generation” of mafia associates risks being “swept away”, according to La Repubblica newspaper.

The Camorra’s accomplices are thought to include crooked politicians, civil servants and businessmen, who collude with its moneyspinning activities including illegal dumping, extortion, drug running and prostitution. Iovine was captured in November 2010 after 14 years on the run. But the first real breakthrough in getting the mafia boss to talk occurred within the past two weeks. With prosecutors Antonello Ardituro and Caesar Sirignano having applied careful pressure over a period of three years, Iovine finally cracked and began giving page after page of verbal evidence.

TheLocal.it calls for lighting up:

Rome mayor backs decriminalizing cannabis

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino on Wednesday said he was in favour of decriminalizing cannabis, calling for a national and international reform on drug laws in order to fight organized crime.

The city mayor said he was “in favour of the possibility of the liberalization of cannabis for medical or personal use.”  He was speaking at the Eighth Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy in Rome.

Beyond the capital he also advocated broader reform of drug laws both in Italy and abroad.

“Decriminalization of marijuana must be considered a starting point, because years of prohibition have brought no results in the prevention of a dramatic increase in drug use,” Marino was quoted in Il Messaggero as saying.

From ANSA.it, real GDP:

Economic value of prostitution in 2014 GDP accounts

  • Statistical agency to measure illegal drugs, cigarettes

The economic value of prostitution, illegal drug sales, and trafficking in contraband cigarettes and alcohol will all be measured by Italy’s national statistical agency Istat as it calculates the country’s 2014 gross domestic production (GDP), it announced Thursday.

Istat said that starting in September, its 2014 economic measurements will include those three areas of illegal activities, in line with methodology being applied in measuring national accounts within the European Union.

The move updates the previous system of national account measures implemented in 1995, Istat said in a news release. Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, has provided guidelines that will include an estimate of accounts for illegal activities including prostitution, contraband cigarettes and alcohol, and illegal drug trafficking.

From TheLocal.it, woes for Bunga Bunga Junior:

Prosecutors seek jail term for Berlusconi’s son

Prosecutors in Milan have asked for Silvio Berlusconi’s elder son, Pier Silvio, to be sentenced to three years and two months in jail for alleged tax fraud at the family’s Mediaset empire.

Prosecutors Fabio De Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro are also seeking a three year and two month jail term for Fedele Confalonieri, Mediaset’s chairman, for his alleged involvement in the financial wrongdoing that relates to the trading of TV rights at the company’s subsidiary, Mediatrade, the Italian edition of Huffington Post reported.

The men are accused of tax fraud amounting to millions of euros in 2003 and 2004, when the telemarketing unit was based in Milan.

Striking news from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s newsstands set to empty as strike hits

A national strike of printing press workers on Thursday, prompted by a row over pensions, will see newsstands across the country emptied of newspapers on Friday.

Ink ran dry at Italy’s printing presses on Thursday, as labour unions united to force newspapers to temporarily run out of print. As a result none of Italy’s daily newspapers, such as La Repubblica and La Stampa, will be published on Friday, Italian media reported.

According to unions the government has failed to protect industry workers who were left without a pension following reforms in 2012, the newspaper said

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including campaign news], Russian sanctions beneficiaries, more Brazilian pre-World Cup blues, Thai coup consolidation, more Chinese bubble warnings, Sony fine tunes, environmental disasters, and the latest from Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . . Continue reading