First up, one of the world’s smallest nations takes on nine heavy hitters: The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Via the Japan Times:
Tiny Marshall Islands sues nine nuclear-armed powers
The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law.
The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II was filing suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also was filing a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade.
From CNN Investigations, a national shame, and another neoliberal triumph:
A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital’s secret list
At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.
The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.
For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting for appointments and care. But the new revelations about the Phoenix VA are perhaps the most disturbing and striking to come to light thus far.
Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.
Salon covers another national shame:
Massive new fraud coverup: How banks are pillaging homes — while the government watches
- When financial crimes go unpunished, the root problem of fraud never gets fixed — and these are the consequences
From Boing Boing, another imminent national shame from the administration of Hope™ and Change™:
FCC planning new Internet rules that will gut Net Neutrality. Get ready to pay more for the stuff you love online.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report that The Federal Communications Commission will propose new open Internet rules this Thursday that will allow content companies to pay Internet service providers “for special access to consumers.”
Under the new rules, service providers may not block or discriminate against specific websites, but they can charge certain sites or services for preferential traffic treatment if the ISPs’ discrimination is “commercially reasonable.”
Bye-bye, Net Neutrality, and the internet as we know it. Hello, greater connectivity gap between rich and poor in America.
The covers another neoliberal triumph:Associated Press:
Postal workers unions protest Staples program
Postal workers around the country protested in front of Staples stores on Thursday, objecting to the U.S. Postal Service’s pilot program to open counters in stores, staffed with retail employees.
Rallies were planned at 50 locations in 27 states. In New York, about 100 workers marched from the main office on 8th Avenue to a Staples store about five blocks away, carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Staples deal has got to go.”
In Washington, D.C., more than 200 people gathered at a Staples, drumming on buckets and holding signs that read: “Stop Staples. The US Mail is Not for Sale.”
Bloomberg casts doubt:
Is the U.S. Shale Boom Going Bust?
It’s not surprising that a survey of energy professionals attending the 2014 North American Prospect Expo overwhelmingly identified “U.S. energy independence” as the trend most likely to gain momentum this year. Like any number of politicians and pundits, these experts are riding high on the shale boom — that catch-all colloquialism for the rise of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have unleashed a torrent of hydrocarbons from previously inaccessible layers of rock.
But this optimism belies an increasingly important question: How long will it all last?
Among drilling critics and the press, contentious talk of a “shale bubble” and the threat of a sudden collapse of America’s oil and gas boom have been percolating for some time. While the most dire of these warnings are probably overstated, a host of geological and economic realities increasingly suggest that the party might not last as long as most Americans think.
And from Los Angeles Times, signs of a bubble deflating?:
Homes selling slower in Southern California. A sign of stability?
The share of houses that have been listed for sale for at least two months climbed in the Los Angeles, Orange County, Inland Empire and Ventura regions of Southern California compared with a year ago, according to an analysis by real estate website Trulia.
Thanks to perennially tight supply, Southern California housing markets are still pretty “fast” by historic standards, notes Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko. More than half of all homes in Los Angeles and Orange Counties sold in less than two months — among the 10 highest rates in the country.
But compared with last year, when prices were significantly lower and the supply of homes for sale was even tighter, the market has slowed a bit. The share of homes on the market for two months in Los Angeles climbed to 44% from 40 a year ago, to 45% from 38% in Orange County and to 53% from 49% in Riverside-San Bernardino. By comparison, that share fell in the Bay Area, Denver and Seattle.
The Guardian nags:
Big riders mean bigger horses on US’s western trails
- Ranches are turning to draft horses – the ‘diesels’ of the horse world – to accommodate flood of overweight tourists
Wranglers in the US west who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.
The ranches say they are using draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, in ever greater numbers to make sure they don’t lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the west of yesteryear.
“Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it’s kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family,” said wrangler T James “Doc” Humphrey.
And from the New York Times, a deal with the devil:
F.B.I. Informant Is Tied to Cyberattacks Abroad
An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.
Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data — from bank records to login information — from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.
The details of the 2012 episode have, until now, been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the F.B.I. directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to dismantle hacking groups like Anonymous and send computer activists away for lengthy prison terms.
The Los Angeles Times covers cops gone bad:
Ex-deputies charged in planted-guns case
Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are accused of cutting off electricity and security cameras in order to plant weapons and arrest two men at a medical marijuana dispensary.
Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been charged with planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary to arrest two men, one of whom prosecutors said was sentenced to a year in jail before the bad evidence was discovered.
Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, face two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday. Martinez was charged with two additional felony counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.
If convicted of the charges, the former deputies face more than seven years in prison.
While the London Daily Mail covers the Case of the Homicidal Snitch:
How KKK ‘Jewish center shooter’ entered the witness protection program after he was caught having sex with a black male prostitute dressed as a woman
- Frazier Glenn Cross was arrested on April 14 for shooting three at Kansas City Jewish centers
- Previously worked as a government informant after he was arrested under his original name, Frazier Glenn Miller
- Had a history of arrests- including one following a tryst with a black male prostitute posing as a woman- that led to his 1987 capture
- Was released and given a new identity as part of his 1990 informant deal
And from the Washington Post, a high-flier brought low:
Navy reassigns ex-Blue Angels commander after complaint he allowed sexual harassment
The Navy has reassigned a former commander of the Blue Angels, its acrobatic fighter squadron, and is investigating allegations that the elite team of pilots was a hotbed of hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, documents show.
The Navy announced Friday that it had relieved Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, of duty for alleged misconduct. At the time, the Navy did not describe the nature of the accusations or provide other details except to say that the case remained under investigation.
From Eyes on Trade, Barry O continues the sell-out:
As Obama Visits TPP Countries, New Obama Administration Report Targets Their Public Interest Policies as “Trade Barriers” to be Eliminated
As President Obama leaves on his Asia tour today to try to paper over the deep divisions that have bewitched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, he will likely refrain from reiterating the criticisms his administration recently levied against the sensitive domestic policies of the TPP governments he will be visiting.
The 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, published earlier this month by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), targets financial, privacy, health, and other public interest policies of each TPP nation as “trade barriers” that the U.S. government seeks to eliminate. The report offers unusual insight into why negotiations over the sweeping, 12-nation deal are contentious and have repeatedly missed deadlines for completion.
And a helpful reminder, via ExposeTheTPP:
Gawker covers a sensible but long-belated move:
Brooklyn DA to Stop Prosecuting for Low-Level Pot Arrests
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office will stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests, according to a confidential memo obtained by the New York Times.
The district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson sent the policy proposal to the New York Police Department earlier this month.
The memo states that charges against anyone arrested with a small amount of marijuana who lacks a prior conviction will be “immediately dismissed,” and “the police will be directed to destroy the defendant’s fingerprints.” Some 8,500 people were processed last year in Brooklyn on low-level drug charges.
From the National Post, a story that raises so many questions north of the border and raises the prospect of another drinking buddy for Toronto’s mayor::
‘Intoxicated’ 18-year-old girl reportedly rushed to hospital from Prime Minister Harper’s residence
- 24 Sussex medical call won’t be investigated by RCMP
The RCMP have confirmed that Ottawa EMS was called to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive last Saturday night as media reports said an 18-year-old girl needed to be taken to hospital for severe intoxication.
RCMP would not confirm who the call was for, only that it was not Stephen Harper or one of his family members.
On to Europe with some rare good news for workers from the Portugal News:
EU workers to enjoy fully portable pension rights when moving abroad
EU workers moving to a different EU country will be able to take their full pension rights with them following a draft law passed by the European Parliament last week. It still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers.
“The text represents a genuine improvement for many workers. It is a big step forwards for the free movement of workers and a boost for a social Europe”, said Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, adding that “a good pension is a necessity, now that Europeans can expect to live much longer.”
Current EU rules ensure that workers moving to another EU country do not lose their statutory pension rights, i.e. those provided by the state.
However, no such EU-wide rules exist for supplementary pension schemes, financed or co-financed by employers. So people who move between member states risk losing entitlements built up over a period that is not deemed long enough by the state to which they move.
From intelNews.org, the second oldest profession with familiar adversaries:
Russian espionage in Germany rising sharply, says Berlin
Russian espionage activity in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, according to senior counterintelligence officials in Berlin.
An article published in weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag on Sunday said Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the German capital center on infiltrating German political institutions and corporations. The Berlin-based publication said Russian spies typically seek to gain “intimate knowledge” of German energy policy as well as corporate practices.
Another area of interest for Russian intelligence concerns Germany’s activities in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Citing Hans-Georg Maassen, Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV —Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency), Die Welt said that no foreign intelligence service is more active on German soil than Russia’s SVR —one of the KGB’s successor agencies. Most Russian intelligence officers “pose as embassy workers”, said the paper, adding that the BfV believes up to a third of all Russian diplomats stationed at the German capital have a “background in intelligence gathering”.
On to France and more familiar adversaries from TheLocal.fr:
Neo-Nazi Hitler party shocks French village
The mayor of a small village in eastern France was forced to explain this week how he ended up giving the green light for a neo-Nazi party commemorating the 125th anniversiary of Hitler’s birth. The mayor said he presumed it was just going to be an ordinary birthday party.
When André Sherrer, the mayor of the tiny village of Oltingue, in the Alsace region of Eastern France, gave the go-ahead for a function in a municipal building he had no idea the outrage it would provoke.
Sherrer, who is in charge of the village of 700 residents thought he was renting the room out for an ordinary birthday party but little did he know that 150 to 200 neo-Nazis would be turning up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Hitler’s birth on April 20th 1889.
And from France 24, when all else fails, play up flesh:
Ségolène Royal denies banning cleavage at French ministry
Ségolène Royal, French President François Hollande’s former partner and the mother of his four children, has denied claims she ordered female staff at the Environment Ministry to “dress appropriately” and avoid revealing tops.
The report, published by French weekly Le Point on Thursday, claimed Royal, who joined Hollande’s Socialist government following a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, had also banned smoking in the ministry’s courtyard and gardens in her presence.
Denying the “ridiculous rumours” on her Twitter account, Royal said the only instruction she had given colleagues was to be sparing in their use of public funds.
From TheLocal.ch, a Swiss challenge to the financializers:
Vote set for ban on food trading ‘speculation’
The Swiss will vote on a proposal to ban speculation on agricultural commodities and food, the government said on Wednesday, announcing that organizers had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum.
The Swiss Socialist Party’s youth wing gathered nearly 116,000 valid signatures — well beyond the 100,000 needed to organize a popular vote in Switzerland, one of the world’s main trading hubs for commodities.
The initiative, entitled “No speculation in food commodities”, will likely come up for a vote within the next two or three years, giving voters the possibility to put a stop to all trading in financial instruments linked to agricultural products.
From thinkSPAIN, voices against austerity:
Doctors from Médicos del Mundo collect 43,000 signatures calling for ‘free healthcare for all’
DOCTORS working for a worldwide charity have raised a petition of 43,000 signatures in protest over the healthcare reform proposed by minister Ana Mato.
Médicos del Mundo (‘world doctors’) say the restrictions are ‘unjust and cruel’ and that ‘two years of reforms’ had ‘put more human lives at risk’ by ‘targeting those who are the most vulnerable’.
The charity says it has seen literally hundreds of immigrants without residence cards being denied medical care, and Spanish families with low incomes struggling to pay for treatment they need, ‘endangering their lives and health’.
Opprobrium for Madrid from The Guardian:
Spain restricting people’s right to protest, Amnesty report finds
- Report paints picture of heavy-handed government response to country’s growing social movements
The Spanish government is using fines, harassment and excessive police force to limit the right to protest, Amnesty International warned in a new report released on Thursday.
Against a backdrop of chronic unemployment and shrinking public funds for education, health and social services, a growing number of Spaniards have taken to the streets in recent years. But “instead of listening to their demands, instead of starting a dialogue, authorities are doing everything they can to impede people from protesting”, said the report’s author, Virginia Álvarez.
Amnesty International tracked several protests in Madrid and Barcelona during the past year, gathering first-person accounts, interviewing journalists and lawyers and analysing videos and photographs.
And from TheLocal.es, allegations of book-cooking:
Spain ‘fiddles numbers’ to shave jobless rate
Spain has managed to push down its unemployment rate to 25.77 percent — by adjusting the formulas used to establish the country’s jobless rate to include the latest census data.
Spain’s official unemployment rate fell from 26.03 percent to 25.77 percent in one fell swoop on Thursday.
The sudden drop came after the national statistics institute (INE) revised its formulas to include data from the 2011 national census.
Spain’s official unemployment rate is based on a survey of 65,000 households across the country, known as the EPA, or Active Population Survey.
On to Italy and more hard times intolerance from EUobserver:
Italian right calls for end to migrant rescue programme
Italian right-wing politicians have called for the country’s programme to rescue North African refugees from the Mediterranean sea to be scrapped after figures suggested that 1,100 immigrants had been rescued in the past two days.
The figures are the highest since Italy launched a naval operation known as “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) last October to rescue would-be migrants at sea in the wake of two shipwrecks off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa which killed more than 600 people.
Since its creation, Mare Nostrum has rescued more than 20,000 people from the Mediterranean at an estimated cost of €9 million a month, according to Italian media reports.
From EUobserver, currency losing currency:
Anti-euro talk spreads in Italy
Rome – In the 1990s, qualifying against the odds for eurozone membership was a matter of pride for most Italians. Now leaving the euro – once a political taboo – is routinely discussed by the media, as the campaign for next month’s European Parliament elections gets into full swing.
Polls suggest that eurosceptics may win as much as 50 percent of the votes, if support levels for Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia are totted up with those for smaller right-wing parties such as the Northern League and Brothers of Italy.
“There is more talk about Europe, but it is being talked about in bad terms,” Franco Frattini, a former EU commissioner and ex-Italian foreign minister, lamented at a public event in Rome on 16 April.
From TheLocal.it, feeling cross, or when symbolism turns lethal:
Italian man crushed to death by giant crucifix
An Italian man was crushed to death on Wednesday by a giant crucifix honouring John Paul II that collapsed during a ceremony ahead of the late pope’s canonization.
A piece of the 30-metre high wooden cross fell during the event near an Alpine village, killing the young man on the spot, Italian media reported.
The Jesus Christ statue on the cross is six metres high and weighs 600 kilogrammes and the crucifix was curved and fixed to the ground with cables, the reports said. The victim’s age was given at 20 or 21 years old.
And for our final Italian item, a symbolic step from ANSA:
Napolitano signs tax-cut decree
- Includes ban on hiring for late-paying local administrations
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday signed the government’s decree bringing in 10 billion euros of tax cuts for low earners, ANSA sources said. Napolitano met Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan earlier on Thursday for clarification about aspects of the legislation.
Opposition parties have expressed doubts about the financing of the cuts.
Premier Matteo Renzi, on the other hand, said Wednesday that the cuts were the start of a “revolution in the relationship between citizens and the State”.
After the jump, the latest from Greece [including bailout news and rising discontent], a Putinesque pronouncement, pot rules in Montevideo, the latest Asian zonal games, religious resurgence in China, and the curious case of the the not-so-green geothermal Icelandic woes. . . Continue reading