Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

Organic kitty blamed in nuke waste debacle


The explosive release of plutonium from the underground tunnels of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project created to store nuclear waste from national laboratories long associated with UC Berkeley has raised a host of questions, many unanswered.

The Valentine’s Day “incident” at the underground facility near New Mexico’s famous Carlsbad Caverns has closed the country’s only nuclear waste storage facility for up to three years and raised fears among New Mexico resident.

The Department of Energy has downplayed concerns, saying the release poses no more danger than a chest X-ray, but statements that plutonium had been detected in the air at some distance from the facility cast doubts on that claim, given that even a microscopic particle of the man-made nuclear isotope can be fatal.

Now comes word that the trouble may have resulted from the switch from a mineral-based cat litter used as an absorbent filler in drums and other storage containers of waste to one made from wheat may have precipitated the “event.”

First up, a report from SimplyInfo:

WIPP Officials Unable To Answer Questions About Incident

Officials from WIPP and DOE were in attendance at a weekly town hall meeting on the series of incidents at the WIPP nuclear site. A rather long list of blunt questions came from the local audience, online audience and the press. The official from the WIPP contractor and DOE were unable to answer many of the questions asked. There was no one from Los Alamos (the source of the exploding barrels) or NMED (New Mexico Environmental Department) in attendance at the meeting.

What they were able to tell people was that the entry on May 15th did give them some new information. The barrels in question were in row 16, column 4 towards the top of the stack. The two drums that failed contained “organic material”. They further clarified it to be nitrate salts with organic absorbents. We were able to confirm through other channels that the organic material was a wheat based cat litter. They confirmed that 55 of the barrels in panel 7, room 7 were the same barrel type from Los Alamos that contain nitrate salts and organic absorbent. The nitrate salts were a byproduct of plutonium processing at Los Alamos and were described as a sludge from evaporators.

More from the Carlsbad Current-Argus:

Next WIPP entry will seek samples; new photos and video upcoming

Investigators are readying for the next step in the tedious process of finding the cause of the February radiation leak at WIPP.

Two entries were made by investigators underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, and the next entry planned for the near future will focus “less on photographic evidence and more on samples,” according to WIPP Recovery Manager Jim Blankenhorn.

Crews entered the salt mine twice this week, including once on Thursday and the new photographs and video are expected to be processed and ready to view by Friday. Previous entries on May 15 and May 19 showed photographic evidence that a hole was blown into the upper-lid of one waste drum that originated from Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as discoloration on the side of the panel according to Blankenhorn.

DOE investigators checked about four or five of the rows looking for further evidence of either heat damage or any breaches in the transuranic nuclear waste containers, and no additional drums showed signs of breaches according to Blankenhorn. He added that a lot of heat damage was apparent on the top of the room, while a little heat damage was visible on the middle slip sheets of the drums.

And still more from the Associated Press via the Minneapolis Star Tribune on that wheat-based kitty litter:

Has cat litter turned barrels of New Mexico nuclear waste into ticking time bombs?

The cat litter was used to absorb moisture in sealed barrels of nuclear waste at Los Alamos, home to the some of the world’s finest scientists. Officials have said cat litter has long been used to pack waste because of its absorption and neutralizing qualities. It’s commonly used, for example, by people to soak up oil spills in driveways. But Los Alamos switched from nonorganic to organic litter for packing waste in 2013, and the theory is that some kind of chemical reaction occurred between waste containing nitrate salts and the new litter. Officials said they are investigating who made the decision to make the switch and what process was followed.

Investigators have said the litter theory is just one possible cause being explored, but it is being studied seriously enough to prompt New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn this week to order Los Alamos and the underground nuclear dump to put together plans for immediately isolating all 500-plus barrels of waste known to contain nitrate salts and organic cat litter. Based on evidence from crews that have been down in the mine since the release, a barrel of waste from Los Alamos experienced some type of “heat event” that burned the exterior and popped the waste container’s lid.

Finally, this from the Verge:

There are no indications that anyone has been injured from the radiation leak. (All employees went through examinations for radiation exposure; a DOE press release says most workers were not affected, and those who were “received less exposure than a person receives from a chest X-ray.”) But for months, nothing has changed. The standstill remains. WIPP’s 850 or so employees are mainly sitting around, waiting (or “performing surface facilities maintenance or assisting with procedure reviews and revisions”) while investigators from the US Department of Energy (DOE), the New Mexico Environment Department and elsewhere attempt to figure out what happened.

Initially, there were two hypotheses. The first was that something had gone wrong with the supports inside the cavern where waste was being stored. If that were the case, it meant a piece of salt rock or a steel support had fallen into one of the sealed barrels, puncturing it and releasing radiation into the air.

“That was an unlikely possibility,” says Norbert T. Rempe, PhD, a retired geologist who spent decades as a principal engineer at WIPP. The cavern where the radiation monitor went off had been dug only recently, so the chances that supports had eroded or collapsed were probably slim.

The shutdown of the New Mexico facility will leave the bay Area’s nuclear weapons development facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory without a place to store all that hot stuff created as a by-product of crafting next generation nuclear weapons.

A kitty litter explosion spews bad stuff


An update on the plutonium release from the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the temporary nuclear waste repository holding all that radioactive waste from the national labs where UC Berkeley has kept Uncle Sam armed with all those nuclear weapons.

The site sustained an atmospheric leak from its underground vaults on Valentine’s Day, signaled by the release of detectable amounts of plutonium, one of the deadliest things on earth.

Now we can see just what happened, the apparent result of a reaction between the deadly waste and a new brand of kitty litter used as a mixer in storage drums, in this case one from Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of the world’s first nukes.

Here’s what a remote camera found:

BLOG WIPP

The story, via the Albuquerque Journal:

Photos show cracked LANL container at WIPP

A radiation leak at the government’s troubled nuclear waste dump has been linked to a waste container shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory, officials said Friday, raising questions about the safety of other barrels being stored on the lab’s northern New Mexico campus and at a temporary site in West Texas.

Lab Director Charlie McMillan, in a memo Friday to lab employees, said Los Alamos “is fully cooperating” with state and federal officials and has taken extra precautions to ensure that similar waste drums at the lab and those sent to Waste Control Specialists in Texas “are in a safe and controlled configuration.”

“Based on this,” he wrote, “we do not believe there is any imminent threat to the safety of our employees, the public, or the environment at this time.”

Watchdog Don Hancock, however, said that until more is known about the breach, “we can’t have assurances.”

From the waste site’s website:

Last week a photograph showed a waste container with a cracked lid and heat damage, providing further evidence of a significant heat event in WIPP’s Room 7 of Panel 7. The investigation into the exact cause of the release is ongoing.

Los Alamos and Savannah River National Laboratories are testing the waste stream’s chemical and radiological content and looking at possible scenarios for what might have caused a reaction in the drum.

India’s winners: Hindu fundies and neoliberals


The Indian vote is important in so many ways, given the simmering regional tensions we’ve dubbed the Game of Zones.

We begin today’s coverage with a another video report from The Real News Network featruing a Sharmini Peries interview of Nagesh Rao, a Colgate University lecturer of university studies, a post-colonial studies scholar, and an antiwar activist:

It’s a Decisive Victory for the BJP in India.

From the transcript:

RAO: Well, to start with, I think we have to see that this is a very difficult time for most Indians. Going into this election, the media and the corporate sector in India had already anointed Narendra Modi prime minister well before the voting had begun. And the candidate of corporate capital and of Hindu nationalist right wing movement is now poised to become prime minister.

As you probably know, Narendra Modi is, of course, most notorious for the fact that he at the very least didn’t do anything to stop the pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and he’s seen as a very divisive and authoritarian figure for many of these reasons.

PERIES: Nagesh, while Modi is–you know, his historical record has been made very public and attacked for his Hindu fundamentalism and inciting riots in terms of his history, he however in this particular election comes out not talking about any of that but talking about real issues that concern the people, like jobs. Yes?

RAO: Mhm, yes, except that the way he’s talked about these real issues has been in terms of so-called development, looking at the Gujarat model, as it’s been called. As chief minister of Gujarat, he claims to have developed Gujarat in a way that no other state has in India, and he hopes to implement that same model across the country.

The thing to recognize is that Modi’s sort of reinvention, his reinvention as a developmentalist, as someone who’s going to focus primarily on jobs, the economy, and so on and so forth, has been fairly recent in origin. Because of his success in Gujarat, sections of corporate capital anointed him precisely because they want to see all the barriers towards capital accumulation in India lifted. So further neoliberalism, further privatization, further deregulation, this is what lurks behind the model of development that’s known as the Gujarat model.

That said, that said, I think it’s important to recognize that the communalist, fundamentalist element of Modi’s being wasn’t entirely forgotten during this campaign, and he and his allies have done as much as they could to both emphasize this Gujarat model of development on the one hand, but also kind of Hindu nationalism and fundamentalism on the other.

And for more detail, we’ve extracted our Indian electoral headlines for of daily [usually] collection of political news headlines, revealing an array of significant consequences.

First, from the Times of India:

Modi to have free hand in both govt and party

Amid fierce lobbying for ministerial berths by BJP aspirants, RSS on Sunday claimed that it will not interfere with government formation, in a clear signal that Narendra Modi has a free hand in picking his team and that anxious seniors need to settle their claims with the PM-elect rather than bank on the Sangh to intercede on their behalf.

Articulating the RSS position, Sangh leader Ram Madhav said, “Sangh has not given any guidelines to BJP after its historic victory in Lok Sabha polls, nor to Modiji… RSS never keeps any remote control to perform any role in politics and government.”

However, Madhav said the Sangh may give suggestions, and expects the government to be sensitive to the Parivar’s ideological orientation. “People’s representatives who won in Lok Sabha polls are aware of the Sangh’s ideology and they know how to do work and take forward its ideology. There is no way that RSS would interfere in government’s functioning and politics. However, if required, Sangh may give suggestions,” he said.

CNNMoney covers the market reaction:

Modi win boosts Indian markets

India’s stock market surged Friday after early election results suggested a sweeping victory for Narendra Modi and the pro-business Bharatiya Janata Party.

Investors reacted to the news with enthusiasm, and Mumbai’s Sensex index advanced by more than 5% in early trading before paring gains to close 0.4% higher. The rupee strengthened by more than 1% and hit a new 10-month high against the dollar.

The prospect of a Modi-led government has helped boost India stocks by almost 13% since the start of the year. The rupee has responded too, clawing its way back from a dismal performance in 2013.

From the Economic Times, more evidence that the rich were the real winners, though by way of perspective, 10 million rupees amounts to a mere $170,740 — but in India, that’s not exactly chump change:

21 out of 26 candidates elected to Lok Sabha from Gujarat are crorepatis

Out of 73 crorepati candidates who had contested either on their respective party’s ticket or as independent in the Lok Sabha polls at the 26 seats of Gujarat, 21 BJP candidates have emerged victorious.

80.76 per cent candidates, who are elected as the Member of Parliament on 21 seats have the assets of more than one crore to around 80 crores.

The crorepati candidates who have registered victory in the 16th Lok Sabha polls include big names like country’s ‘to be prime minister’ Narendra Modi, deputy PM and veteran leader LK Advani and bollywood actor Paresh Rawal.

And USA TODAY foresees an invasion [or an exodus, seen from this side of the Pacific]:

India’s new party election could lure U.S. firms

The sweeping victory of India’s opposition party and its pro-business leader will likely create a more stable, tax-friendly investment climate for U.S. companies, analysts say.

On Friday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in Parliament, pushing the long-dominant Congress party from power and setting the stage for Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi to become the next prime minster of the world’s largest democracy.

“This is really historic,” says Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noting it’s the first time since 1984 that India will have a single-party majority government. “It’s going to create a certain sense of stability … U.S. companies are very excited,” he says, adding Modi will govern as a “pragmatist who wants to show India is ‘open to business’.”

Grinnin’ Bobby Birgeneau, spurned by Quakers


Former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. “Grinnin’ Bob” Birgeneau has pulled out as speaker at the Haverford College commencement after students demanded he apologize for allowing Cal campus cops to release their inner thug on student protesters.

The school was founded by Quakers, and while it’s no longer formally affiliated with the Society of Friends [in part because of a push for higher enrollments], the Quaker pacifist ethos is still a strong component of of the campus ethos.

From the New York Times:

Some students and faculty members at Haverford, a liberal arts college near Philadelphia, objected to the invitation to Mr. Birgeneau to speak and receive an honorary degree because, under him, the University of California police used batons to break up an Occupy protest in 2011. He first stated his support for the police, and then a few days later, saying that he was disturbed by videos of the confrontation, ordered an investigation.

Those at Haverford who objected to his being honored asked Mr. Birgeneau to apologize and to meet a list of demands, including leading an effort to train campus security forces in handling protests better; he refused.

Mr. Birgeneau bowed out a day after Smith College said that Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, had withdrawn from its commencement because of protests. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, said this month she would not deliver the address at Rutgers University after the invitation drew objections. Last month, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist, over her criticism of Islam.

We’re not surprised at Birgeneau’s refusal to apologize, given that under his tenure the university continued redefined itself as a bulwark of corporatism and the global elites, tearing down a building named after Earl Warren, a UC Berkeley law school graduate and the Supreme Court Chief Justice whose court extended the mandate of civil rights to minorities and extended civil liberties protection for the criminally accused.

The replacement building was named for Asia’s richest man, a Chinese billionaire real estate developer who had never set foot on campus until the building was dedicated. But, hey, the dude’s got cash, right, and Earl Warren’s long dead.

Grinnin' Bobby Birgeneau

Grinnin’ Bobby Birgeneau

It was also Birgeneau who presided over the largest corporate research program in American academic history, $500 million BP-funded Engergy Biosciences Institute,  premised on the used of genetically modified microbes to develop fuels from crops, a lot of them to be planted in Africa and India, and here in the U.S. on lands formerly kept out of farming to prevent massive erosion of the scale that ravaged the nation during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.

Under Birgeneau’s regime, campus cops brought in the notorious Israeli Border Police to teach them how to handle upset citizens, including the most effective ways to use those batons.

Here’s how they put their skills to use during a 9 November 2011 Occupy protest at Berkeley. The first person grabbed [by the hair] is a UC Berkeley professor, Celeste Langan, who had already offered to submit to arrest by holding out her arms for the wrist ties cops carried in abundance:

The police conduct was denounced by both an overwhelming majority of the university’s faculty association and faculty at the law school in a separate resolution.

Academic imperialism: Cal schools look East


The University of California at Berkeley, cash-strapped by a state government already overburdened by covering costs of local and county governments impoverished by Proposition 13, is looking abroad for cash.

It makes sense, of course. The increasingly wealthy elites of former Second World countries like China and Russia and the oil-enriched aristocratic an technocratic elites of the Mideast are eager to give their children appropriately elite educations.

So while Cal cuts enrolments of students from the state it was created to serve and replaces them with overseas students whose parents or states are able to pay the far higher enrolments charged non-Californians, it has taken the next step and established offshore campuses as well.

And why not? For the host country, there are the benefits of technology transfer coupled with the presitge of hosting academic names. And for cash-strapped American schools, there’s all that lovely money.

From the 3 April 2013 issue of the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal’s engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China’s biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

Two years earlier — when the center was in the planning stages — the New York Times reported, tellingly:

The public university, which is struggling under budget constraints imposed by the state of California, said the Shanghai center would cater to engineering graduate students and be financed over the next five years largely by the Shanghai government and companies operating here.

And the Shanghai campus isn’t the only link to Beijing, as China Daily reported two weeks ago:

West Point, Berkeley become must-stops for Chinese CEOs

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the US Military Academy at West Point have become popular must-stops for Chinese CEOs and business executives enrolled in an overseas education program organized by China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A group of 66 Chinese business executives in the program ended their 10-day tour of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 20. The tour that included meetings with key international financial institutions and government officials is part of a 12-month non-degree course at the university that also includes the UK.

On April 18, the Haas School of Business at the UC Berkeley campus hosted the Chinese executives.

“The Shanghai Jiaotong University Global CEO program provides our group of Chinese CEOs with advanced management training and face-to-face dialogue with key people in the US, which helps us understand and participate effectively in the globalized market,” said Jiang Zhaobai, chairman of Shanghai Pengxin Group, a leading Chinese conglomerate with interests in real estate, infrastructure construction.

Berkeley isn’t new at the foreign partnership game. Nor has the imperial expansion been entirely without complications, as in the case of the Graduate School of Management at Russia’s St. Petersburg University, a partnership between Cal’s Haas School of Business and the Russian school launched in 1993.

UC Berkeley plutocratic professor David J. Teece , who directs the Center for Global Strategy and Governance at Cal’s Haas School of Business, also chairs of the St. Petersburg business school’s International Academic Council. [He’s also vied with David Koch for pride of place among the top five contributors to a California Republican senatorial candidate.]

Let us quote from a WikiLeaks-ed 5 February 2001 CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN cable from Ambassador William J. Burns in Moscow to the Secretary of State’s office:

2. (C) During the November 2006 inauguration of the newly-opened premises of the St. Petersburg State University School of Management, an American academic long associated with the school told CG about Vice Governor Yuri Molchanov’s “sinister” presence in their dealings.

3. (C) The Haas School of Management at U.C. Berkeley has nurtured the development of a new St. Petersburg School of Management since 1993. In addition to academic exchanges and curriculum development, representatives of the Haas school led a unique fund-raising campaign which collected $6.5 million in private U.S. and Russian funds to entirely renovate a dilapidated building for classroom use. As steward of the funds, which included a whopping $1 million from U.S. citizen Arthur B. Schultz, the Haas School kept close tabs on all expenditures. At one point in the early 1990s, when lenders were sought to renovate the old building, Vice Governor Molchanov’s private construction firm placed a bid. As the only local bidder and as a close associate of the now Dean of the School of Management, Molchanov apparently expected to win the tender. He did not. This provoked an angry response in which he demanded compensation from the Haas School representatives for the costs of preparing his bid. While the Haas School did not comply with his demand, they did find a way to mollify the Vice Governor, who “was always present at all our discussions”, according to the American source. “He gave me the creeps.” Although the source did not describe any specific intimidation, it was clear that the Americans experienced some degree of fear – a not unreasonable reaction in 1990s Russia.

4. (C) Vice Governor Malchanov is widely rumored to be corrupt, enjoying a convenient intersection of interests between his construction company and his position in the city government. He played a very visible role in the School of Management inauguration alongside Governor Valentina Matviyenko and President Putin.

BURNS

Just what the school did to mollify Molchanov remains an open question. The only mention of him on the Russian university’s website is as one of seven judges in a 23 November 2000 student business plan competition. His name doesn’t appear in a search of UC Berkeley’s website.

What was most peculiar is that no mention of this fascinating story has appeared in the local news media after WikiLeaks put on line, with the notable help of Chelsea Manning. But then such is the plight of the impoverished, gutted, and pathetically understaffed American news media.

One has to wonder how many similar situations are confronted by other institutions, and by their staff members.

Perhaps these are just the moaning and musing of a stubborn old journalist who’s spent a great many years investigating corruption much closer to home. . .

The provocation for this rambling post follows, a pair of video reports from CCTV, like China Daily a Chinese state medium, reporting on similar deals by other American universities.

From CCTV:

USC President C.L. Max Nikias on Investment in China

Program notes:

China is also one of the biggest markets for U.S. universities. The number of Chinese students studying abroad is soaring, but the U.S. only attracts a fraction of them. Now American colleges are trying to change that: they already have the biggest number of satellite campuses and partnerships in China. The University of Southern California (USC) is one school investing time, money, and people towards this goal. CCTV’s Phillip Yin speaks to USC President C.L. Max Nikias about the university’s efforts in China.

Foreign Universities Setting up Shop in India

Program notes:

For years, India has been sending students away to learn the skills to build the economy back home. Now overseas universities are coming to India. CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj reports from New Delhi.

Radiation leak report reveals serious problems


Valentine’s Day was anything but happy for workers at the at the Department of Energy’s New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] near Carlsbad Caverns. At 11;14 p.m., alarms shrieked warning of a radiation release from an exhaust vent moving air out of the underground storage facility.

Part of the waste stored in the interim facility [no permanent repository has yet been approved as each site, in turn, proved vulnerable to leaks] hailed from the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where UC scientists work with others to build next generation nuclear weaponry.

From the 18 October 2004 [PDF] edition of TRU Teamworks, the WIPP newsletter for employees:

In a true California-style send-off, the first shipment of TRU [transuranic — esnl] waste from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL] left the Golden State October 19 I n a downpour. The shipment and its payload of forty-two 55-gallon drums began the 1,400-mile trip to WIPP with a forecast of favorable weather and road conditions ahead.

More shipments were to follow.

And today the DOE released a major investigative report on the St. Valentine’s Day leak.

Here’s the press release:

Today, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) released the initial accident investigation report related to the Feb. 14 radiological release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“The Accident Investigation Board reviewed procedures related to safety, maintenance, and emergency management to better understand the aboveground events surrounding the radiological incident,” said Matt Moury, EM Deputy Assistant Secretary, Safety, Security, and Quality Programs. “The Department believes this detailed report will lead WIPP recovery efforts as we work toward resuming disposal operations at the facility.”

The report is comprised of two phases. The document released today includes the initial investigation that focused on the release of radioactive material from the underground facility into the environment and related exposure to aboveground workers, as well as the actions taken by Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operations contractor at WIPP, and federal employees in response to the release. Once entry teams determine the source of the radiological event, the board will gather additional information and release a supplemental report that focuses on the direct cause of the release and worker protection measures in the underground.

“This report will serve as guidance for the recovery team moving forward,” said, Joe Franco, DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office Manager. “We understand the importance of these findings, and the community’s sense of urgency for WIPP to become operational in the future. We are fully committed to pursuing this objective.”

WIPP has already begun implementing corrective actions to address many of the issues raised in the report. These include enhanced work planning, nuclear safety controls, deploying experienced supplemental contractor and federal staff to assist, and implementing additional senior contractor and federal oversight. A formal corrective action process will also be implemented to ensure that all of the issues raised in the report are addressed.

The 302-page report is available online here [PDF].

In skimming the document we were struck by the following graphic, which offers a shocking look at the apparent negligence of site operators and the sad state of critical equipment. Click on the image to embiggen:

Microsoft Word - Final WIPP Rad Release Phase 1 04 22 2014 r2 (2

UC Berkeley climbs in bed with the devil


UC Berkeley, mistakenly seen across the world as a hotbed of radicalism, has a strange new bedfellow, and we’re curious just how the school will react to the latest move of their new partner.

First up, the announcement of the partnership, reported by the Brunei Times last 1 May:

UBD and USA varsity to collaborate in new Master’s programme

THE Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and the Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP) of the University of California, Berkeley in the USA will be collaborating in the new Master of Public Policy and Management (MPPM) programme to be introduced by UBD later this year.

The MoU was signed by UBD Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs Dr Hjh Anita Binurul Zahrina POKLWDSS Hj Abdul Aziz and Director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at UBD, Dr Joyce Teo Siew Yean with Professor George Breslauer, Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost and Professor Henry Brady, Dean of GSPP of the University of California, Berkeley.

With the latest signing, IPS has now formalised its partnership with four of the world’s leading schools of public policy, namely Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, a statement from UBD said yesterday.

Read the rest.

And just what sort of enlightened public policies have emerged since the announcement of the partnership.

Well, consider this, posted today by RT, a state organ of Russia, a country not known for tolerance of the victim’s of Brunei’s latest move:

Brunei’s plan to stone gays riles UN

The Sultan of Brunei has announced that those committing same sex relations could be stoned to death. The draconian law has brought condemnation from the UN, with the tiny Asian oil rich nation having a virtual moratorium on the death penalty since 1957.

Homosexuality has long been a criminal offence in Brunei, which is situated on the island of Borneo, with a penalty of 10 years in prison previously handed out for the offence. However, stoning is now set to be allowed for a range of sexual offences, such as rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations. The law is planned to come into force on April 22.

The United Nations has been very critical of the move, with Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights saying, “the application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law.” The death sentence could also be imposed for insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder. The new law will only apply to Muslims, who make up about two thirds of a total population of just over 400,000.

Read the rest.

At the minimum, the Berkeley administration should immediately call a halt to the new partnership, but we’ve seen no coverage of the university’s response to Brunei’s move.

Given that the chancellor himself was involved in sealing the pact with the sultanate, action is clearly called for at the highest level, but so far the silence is deafening.

Bruneian Breslaur

Brunei George Breslauer

And Breslauer, the university”s provost and Bruneian visitor, is retiring next spring. We wonder what he thinks now of his much-ballyhooed but thoroughly dubious accomplishment?

Maybe he feels like going out and getting stoned?

Random thoughts on our plutocratic senator


Dianne Feinstein’s everything Ike warned us about in his farewell address to the nation, the embodied fusion of the elements of that military/industrial/academic [MIA] complex that so alarmed the old general during the latter years of his presidency.

And, yes, Ike included academia in his warning, something we’ve sadly forgotten over the years as the problem itself has grown exponentially.

Feinstein and her partner in pilferage — spouse/University of California regent/real estate peddler and developer/defense contract/investment bankster Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum — are exemplars of the demise of the last semblance of a government created to serve the common good.

That the press invariably describes DiFi as a “liberal” also reveals the utter debasement of the mainstream media and the corruption of language itself.

DiFi and Tricky Dickie are the incarnations of something new, a class of beings we call, for lack of a better term, lootocrats. . .public servants devoted to turning the public into servants of their own insatiable lust for power and pelf.

That they are Democrats is merely a delicious irony.

[And isn't it ironic that DiFi, who serves on the key Senate committees of the MIA complex, only became upset with nation's spooks when she discovered they were also spying on her?]

What’s truly remarkable are the sheer nakedness of the dastardly duo’s greed, their willingness to cast off ever the slightest shred of camouflage as they go about gutting the commons and ensuring that there fellow lootocrats will scoop up every bit of spare change remaining in the pockets of an increasingly impoverished public.

We suspect one major reason that the pair has been able to get away with conduct that would have raised headlines and generated screaming headlines in years past is the finale decline of the American press. Here in California, the press corps has been gutted, with scores of newspaper closed, radio and television news staffs laid off in droves, and the remainder terrified for their jobs and spread so thin that the day-to-day coverage of the consequences of political actions has been diluted to near-homeopathic levels of enfeeblement.

In a sane world, Feinstein and Blum would be clapped in irons, stripped of their ill-gotten gains, and either administered a nice veneer of tar and feathers or locked away with far more honorable thieves, murderers, and arsonists to be subjected to their tender ministrations.

It’s really that bad.

Instead, their names adorn public institutions.

The last time the couple ran into any troubled was fourteen years ago, when she made an unsuccessful run against Pete Wilson for the California governorship. It was the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission which caught them.

From the FPPC website:

Dianne Feinstein, an unsuccessful candidate for Governor in 1990, her committee, and the committee treasurer failed to properly report campaign contributions and expenditures. The campaign statements did not disclose expenditures of $3.5 million, accrued expenses of $380,000, and subvendor payments of $3.4 million. The guarantor of loans totaling $2.9 million, Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, was not disclosed. Monetary and non-monetary contributions totaling $815,000 were not reported on campaign statements and late contributions of $90,000 were not reported. Notices were not sent to 166 major contributors who made contributions of $5,000 or more advising them of possible filing requirements.

Not a lot of money to folks like them, but it ain’t chump change either.

Meanwhile, their wealth keeps growing as Blum makes tidy profits selling off post offices to his pals and selling degrees to students at his private colleges financed by federal loans indenturing their lives for years to comes, all thanks to the public purse.

Meanwhile, Blum played a key role in completing the capture of the the University of California by his cronies from the dark side when the former Director of Homeland Security was hired to run what had been the world’s finest public education system.

There oughta be a law. . .

Dianne Feinstein buys a luxury hotel in Berkeley


California’s plutocratic senator and her spouse have found yet another way to profit off the University of California, where spouse Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum serves as a member of the powerful Board of Regents, including a recent term as president.

From the press release:

FRHI Hotels & Resorts (FRHI), the parent company of luxury and upper upscale hotel brands Raffles Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, together with California financier Richard C. Blum and his family, have purchased the historic Claremont Hotel Club & Spa in Berkeley, California, it was announced today. FRHI and the Blum family are equal partners and terms were not disclosed.

The purchase supports FRHI’s growth strategy of acquiring strategic assets in key leading markets.

The new owners will begin work on a multi-million dollar capital investment project to update the hotel’s facilities and enhance the Claremont’s stunning architecture, while at the same time preserving and protecting the character and local charm of the Bay Area landmark. Once the revitalization work is complete, the hotel will join the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts collection, an unrivalled portfolio of hotels that includes famed landmarks such as New York’s The Plaza and The Fairmont San Francisco.

“Growth continues to be one of our top priorities, so we are extremely excited to be adding an asset as attractive as the Claremont,” said Kevin Frid, President, Americas, FRHI Hotels & Resorts. “We see this as an opportunity to grow one of our leading brands with the right product, in the right market, and firmly believe the hotel is a perfect complement to many of the other celebrated hotels in the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts portfolio.”

“My family and I are pleased to participate in an investment in this iconic property. The Claremont is a true California treasure and its future can only be enhanced with the Fairmont imprimatur,” Mr. Blum said.

Blum and his corporate empire have made fortunes preying on taxpayers, and among the senatorial spouse’s holdings via his Blum Capital Partners has been one of the nation’s leading nuclear defense contractors, EG&G. Not so coincidentally, its the University of California which has run the nation’s nuclear labs, including Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, though mismanagement scandals have loosened UC’s grip.

Immediately after Blum’s EG7G buy from the warmongering Carlyle Group, the company won a $600 million defense contract, under the aegis of the Senate  Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by none other than. . .yep, good ol’ DiFi.

Despite Blum’s position on the UC board, the regents voted to award his own URS a contract to build a high tech gym immediately adjacent to California Memorial Stadium, a facility which sits directly atop the Hayward Fault, which federal geologists have named the most likely source of the Bay Area’s next major earthquake. URS withdrew after the press focused attention on the clear conflict of interest. From as story we wrote for the Berkeley Daily Planet:

At that time, the construction firm hired to manage the gym project was the URS Corporation, of which UC Board of Regents Chair (and spouse of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein) Richard Blum had been a major shareholder until the year before. URS has subsequently withdrawn from the project.

Through another of his holdings, Blum is also profiting over the privatization of America’s historic post offices, complete with their remarkable trove of Depression-era public art.

Here’s a report from Peter Byrne, the journalist who’s done more than anyone else to expose the nest of military/industrial/academic corruption that is the DiFi/Tricky Dicky:

Add to that Blum’s holdings in private for-profit colleges, combined with UC’s aggressive moves to raise tuition for popular majors offered in his own money-making institutions, and you have a picture of remarkable institution corruption.

The Blum/Feinstein acquisition of the Claremont, spa favored by Hollywood luminaries is a logical move, given that the facility is favored by elite UC visitors of the sort entertained by regents in search of bug bucks donations. . .a search we documented over the course of our years at the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Ain’t it wunnerful?

The dynamic duo is the perfect embodiment of what Dwight David Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein. . .the American nightmare.

Research from Cal: The sociopathology of wealth


From RT America, the latest research from right here in ensl’s own backyard:

Study proves: rich people are jerks

Program notes:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently conducted many studies to test their hypothesis that the more money a person has, the more likely they are to be a jerk. Over and over again, the studies led to the same conclusion: that as a person’s level of wealth increases, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases. The Resident (aka Lori Harfenist) discusses.

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoSinoFuku


Today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental begins in the U.S. with a weighty entry from Pacific Standard:

Grand Obese Party?

Researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between support for Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace.

Seems Republicans really are the party of fat cats.

Writing in the journal Preventative Medicine, a pair of University of California-Los Angeles researchers examined county-level obesity rates and voting patterns. After controlling for various factors known to influence weight, such as poverty and educational attainment, they found a small but statistically significant correlation between support for 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace. Specifically, a one percent increase in county-level support for Romney corresponds to a 0.02 percent increase in age-adjusted obesity rates.

The researchers argue this reflects poorly on the Republican party’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” for reducing obesity risk. Successful fat-fighting strategies “will necessarily involve government intervention,” they argue, “because they involve workplace, school, marketing and agricultural policies.”

Bigger government or bigger waistlines: The choice is yours.

From the Los Angeles Times blowback cosmetics:

Tech industry in San Francisco addresses backlash

Tech industry leaders launch a goodwill campaign in San Francisco, promising to create more jobs and affordable housing.

Their first stab at reconciliation: addressing complaints about the 18-foot-tall shuttles that clog narrow streets and block city bus stops. The shuttles frequently cause delays for city buses, making some residents fume that they have to cool their heels in old dingy vehicles while those who work for some of the world’s wealthiest companies get plush seats, tinted windows, air conditioning and Wi-Fi.

The standoff came to a head this week when San Franciscans turned out for a noisy public hearing to assail a pilot program to charge the shuttles a small fee for using city bus stops. They demanded that the city address the growing economic inequality.

The hearing came just hours after dozens of protesters blocked a bus bound for Google and another bound for Facebook for about 45 minutes, hanging a sign on one that read “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies.”

More from Salon:

When companies break the law and people pay: The scary lesson of the Google Bus

  • All over America, big corporations flout laws or even make their own, while ordinary people face harsh penalties

Ever since Rebecca Solnit took to the London Review of Books  to ruminate on the meaning of the private chartered buses that transport tech industry workers around the San Francisco Bay Area (she called them, among other things, “the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule us,”) the Google Bus has become the go-to symbol for discord in Silicon Valley.

From the Los Angeles Times, a new Bay Area bankster for the University of California:

UC’s new investment chief’s compensation could top $1 million

The hiring of Canadian investment fund exec Jagdeep S. Bachher and his pay package trigger little discussion, but two regents oppose paying new Berkeley provost $450,000 a year.

The UC regents on Thursday hired an executive of a Canadian investment fund to be the chief manager of the university system’s $82 billion in endowment and pension investments and will pay him more than $1 million a year if he achieves good returns.

Although that pay package triggered little public discussion, the salary for another new executive hire attracted more opposition at the regents meeting here. Some regents opposed the $450,000-a-year salary for Claude Steele, who is becoming UC Berkeley’s provost and second-in-command. They complained that the pay is higher than that of some chancellors.

For the new investments chief, Jagdeep S. Bachher, the regents approved a $615,000 base salary and set a maximum total payout of $1.01 million if UC investments perform well. That would be slightly less than the $1.2 million that Marie N. Berggren was paid in 2012, her last year before she retired in July. The compensation comes mainly from investment returns, not tuition or tax revenues, officials said.

But the real bucks go elsewhere, says BBC News:

JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon pay rises to $20m in 2013

The chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, will be paid $20m (£12.1m) for the past year’s work.

Mr Dimon’s pay was cut to $11.5m in 2012 following huge trading losses. This was half the $23m he received in 2011.

JP Morgan’s profits fell 16% last year, after costs resulting from legal issues dented the bank’s figures.

Mr Dimon was paid $1.5m as a basic salary, and an additional $18.5m in shares, the company said.

And more good news for banksters from Al Jazeera America:

Holder: US will adjust banking rules for marijuana

  • News comes as Texas Gov. Rick Perry announces he will support policies that favor marijuana decriminalization

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Obama administration plans to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.

During an appearance at the University of Virginia, Holder said it is important from a law enforcement perspective to give legal marijuana dispensaries access to the banking system so they don’t have large amounts of cash lying around.

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally-insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges. Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.

Mixed news for workers from CNBC:

US manufacturing growth slows in January: Markit

U.S. manufacturing growth slowed in January for the first time in three months, hobbled by new orders, though a recent trend of stronger growth appeared to be intact, an industry report showed on Thursday.

Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index dipped to 53.7 from December’s reading of 55.0. Economists polled by Reuters expected no change.

Slower rates of output and new order growth were the main factors behind the fall, the survey showed. Output slipped to 53.4 from 57.5 while new orders fell to 54.1 from 56.1.

And the company run by America’s richest family runs into rough waters, via Quartz:

Chinese state TV has accused Wal-Mart of skirting inspections to sell even cheaper goods in China

China Central Television claims to know the secret behind Wal-Mart’s low prices at its stores in China. The state-owned TV network, better known as CCTV, said on Jan. 23 that the US retailer has been allowing products from unlicensed suppliers on to its shelves, and thus bypassing quality and safety checks.

Wal-Mart’s response (paywall), the Wall Street Journal reports, is that the company only fast-tracks items from suppliers with which it has already been doing business, and then only in certain limited cases. (Wal-Mart hasn’t responded to questions from Quartz.)

The four-minute CCTV report, titled “Wal-Mart’s ‘special channels’ secret,” features shots of what CCTV says are company documents that show managers signed off on over 600 products that lacked licenses for distribution. The program says the store passes off sub-standard goods as belonging to well-known brands.

Reuters has more bad news for Wal-Mart workers:

Wal-Mart’s cuts 2,300 jobs at Sam’s Club

Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Friday it had cut 2,300 jobs, or roughly 2 percent of the total workforce at its Sam’s Club retail warehouse chain, its biggest round of layoffs since 2010.

The action follows a lackluster U.S. holiday season and layoffs announced earlier this month from U.S. retailers Macy’s Inc, J.C. Penney Co Inc and Target Corp.

Wal-Mart company spokesman Bill Durling said in a telephone interview that the cuts will include hourly workers and assistant manager positions.

Bumpy waters from Bloomberg:

S&P 500 Slides Most Since June on Emerging Market Turmoil

U.S. stocks sank the most since June, capping the worst week for benchmark indexes since 2012, as a selloff in developing-nation currencies spurred concern global markets will become more volatile.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) retreated 2.1 percent to 1,790.31 at 4 p.m. in New York to close at the lowest level since Dec. 17. The benchmark index declined 2.6 percent this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDU) slid 318.24 points, or 2 percent, to 15,879.11 today. The 30-stock gauge lost 3.5 percent this week. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 52 percent above the 30-day average at this time of day.

Background from Nikkei Asian Review:

Emerging-nation currencies fall in chain reaction

Behind this development are concerns that investors will pull their money out of emerging markets because the U.S. has started to taper its quantitative monetary easing this month.

Argentina’s peso plunged 12% on Thursday. Earlier that day, a senior Argentine government official told reporters that the nation’s central bank did not buy or sell dollars on Wednesday. A view that the bank is allowing the peso to slide spurred further selling of the currency.

The peso’s drop triggered a rush to exchange funds in emerging-nation currencies to dollars and yen. The Turkish lira weakened to around 2.3 to the dollar on Friday, a record low. The currency has declined about 7% so far this year. Local media reported that the Turkish central bank intervened Thursday but to no avail. Meanwhile, the yen strengthened to the 102 range against the greenback.

The South African rand dropped to the lowest level in five years against the dollar. A strike by workers at a key platinum mine led to concerns that a slowing of resource exports would hamper the country’s ability to acquire foreign exchange reserves, fueling sales of the rand.

From Reuters, a graphic look at the Argentine currency’s collapse:

BLOG Peso

The Financial Express frets:

World Economic Forum: Fear of China ‘hard landing’, Japan row, stalks Davos

The risk of a hard landing for the economy in China as well as the threat of military conflict with Japan stoked fears at the World Economic Forum in Davos today.

Days after the world’s second-largest economy registered its worst rate of growth for more than a decade, top politicians and economists at the annual gathering of the global elite said the near-term outlook was bleak.

Li Daokui, a leading Chinese economist and former central bank official, said: “This year and next year, there will be a struggle, a struggle to maintain a growth rate of 7-7.5 per cent, which is the minimum to create the 7.5 million jobs every year China needs.”

And The Guardian counts seats:

The 85 richest people in the world: men still in the driving seat

  • Women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck, on the £1tn double-decker bus revealed by Oxfam this week

The list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1tn – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico’s telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

At its snowy retreat in the Swiss Alps, the World Economic Forum is debating how much inequality is too much. The aid charity Oxfam pointed out that a glance through the richest 100 people in the world shows that the pendulum has already swung heavily in favour of an elite group: the top 85 in the Forbes rich list control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together.

A look down the list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1tn – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico’s telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck.

Another global story from New Europe:

IEA: Main Oil and Gas Flows To Move To Asian Region

A working visit to Astana, International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven presented the World Energy Outlook 2013, saying that in the nearest future the main trade flows of oil and gas will move to the Asian regions, which will change the geopolitics of oil.

“Northern America’s need for import of crude oil will practically disappear by 2035, and that region will become a key exporter of petroleum products. At the same time, Asia will become a center of the world’s crude oil market: large volumes of crude will be delivered to this region through a few strategically important transport routes” van der Hoeven said.

According to her, crude oil will be supplied to Asia not only from the Middle East, but also from Russia, the Caspian region, Kazakhstan, Africa, Latin America, and Canada.

The Global Times brings the focus to Europe:

Euro zone recovery fragile, fiscal consolidation should continue, says ECB president

The European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi said in Davos on Friday that the recovery of the euro zone economy is fragile and fiscal consolidation should continue.

Addressing the 44th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Draghi said, “the bottom line of this is that we have seen the beginning of a recovery which is still weak, which is still fragile and it’s still uneven.”

According to Draghi, improvements have been witnessed on the financial markets and the “very accommodative” monetary policy was being passed through to the real economy.

A bankster rules struggle from New Europe:

EU finance ministers, MEPs set for clash over bank resolution rules

European finance ministers will hold talks Tuesday on the resolution mechanism for failing Eurozone banks agreed in late December. Greek presidency sources confirmed that the new ECOFIN president, Ioannis Stournaras, will inform his counterparts on the positions of the European Parliament on the current agreement, as presented in a recent letter addressed to the presidency. In their letter, the MEPs make it clear that they will block SRF’s intergovernmental part.

Back in December the 28 EU finance ministers agreed to a general approach on the rules to close failing banks, which included the creation of an initial 55 billion-euro resolution fund over the next 10 years using bank levies. The formation and the functioning of the fund would be set up in a separate agreement among nations, excluding EU’s lawmakers.

The European Parliament also asks the simplification of the functioning of the single resolution board, so as the decision on the closure of a failing bank to be taken by the European Commission and not by the Member States.

More rule-wrangling from EUobserver:

EU audit reform reduced to ‘paper tiger’

The EU is close to overhauling rules for financial auditors, but critics say the reform will be a paper tiger unable to break up the dominant position of the world’s four biggest audit firms.

The legal affairs committee of the European Parliament on Tuesday (21 January) approved a draft agreement struck late last year with member states and the European Commission on the so-called audit reform package.

A jaundiced eye cast by the London Telegraph:

EU bank bonus rules will be ‘avoided’, says Fitch

  • The European Union bonus cap will prove ineffective in reducing banking industry pay, according to Fitch

Banking industry pay will not fall as a result of the incoming European Union cap on bonuses, according to Fitch.

The ratings agency warned that an “inconsistent” approach in the enforcement of the cap, as well as banks using loopholes in the new law to “avoid” paying lower bonuses, would mean overall compensation levels are unlikely to decrease.

In a report, Fitch pointed to a survey by the German financial regulator of the implementation of the cap among domestic banks that showed many lenders continuing with their old pay practices.

Corporate Europe Observatory looks at the bigger picture:

A union for big banks

Far from being a solution to avoid future public bailouts and austerity, Europe’s new banking union rules look like a victory for the financial sector to continue business as usual.

With the financial crisis, member states took over massive debts originated in the financial sector to save banks. Four and a half trillion euros had been risked for bailouts – and the final bill was 1,7 trillion euro. Not only did this send national economies spiralling downwards and set off a public debt crisis, it also led to a regime of harsh austerity policies, imposed by the EU institutions and the IMF as conditions for loans.

With that in mind, the banking union sounds heaven sent. It is claimed to make the banking sector safe, and should there be problems, a new system would ensure failed banks are wound down in an orderly manner with expenses paid by the banks themselves, with only a minimal cost to the public purse. An end not only to financial instability, but to austerity loan programmes as well.

If all this sounds unreal, it’s because it is. The banking union has been oversold as a fix to the banking sector. It may sound appealing that in the wake of the financial crisis, the potential power of EU institutions should be employed to address the dangers of financial markets. But in practise, the model adopted has deep flaws and carries so many risks, that one might ask if the point is to protect the public or serve the big banks.

On to Britain and hints of a failed divorce from EUbusiness:

Britain’s EU referendum suffers big setback

Britain’s planned 2017 referendum on whether to stay in the European Union was close to collapse Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron’s party suffered a major setback.

A vote in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, means that a bill proposing the in/out referendum looks likely to run out of time to become law. Members of the Lords voted to change the wording of the question that British voters would be asked on the subject of Britain’s membership of the 28-nation bloc.

The original wording of the question as included in the bill was: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?”

Following fierce debate, members of the Lords voted by a majority of 87 to amend it after determining that question was misleading. They did not introduce an alternative, though one peer proposed: “Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU?”

Sky News warns:

Nestlé Chair Warns Over UK Exit From Europe

  • Food giant boss Peter Brabeck-Letmathe tells Sky News that withdrawal from the trading bloc could put UK investment at risk.

The consumer goods giant Nestle would be forced to re-evaluate the extent of its presence in the UK if Britain decided to leave the European Union, its chairman has told Sky News.

In an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said the company was committed to its business in the UK but that he could not envisage a separation from its biggest trading partner being in the country’s interest.

Nestle, which makes Nespresso coffee capsules and Kit-Kat chocolate bars, employs approximately 8,000 people in the UK and accounts for exports worth roughly £400m. Its other brands include Nescafe, Smarties and Yorkie.

From The Independent, A UC-like salary in the U.K.:

Fury at £105,000 pay rise for Sheffield University boss Sir Keith Burnett after he refused to raise employees’ salaries to the living wage

The decision to award the increase to Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University – one of the elite Russell Group – has infuriated staff at the institution, who have been told their rises must be limited to just 1 per cent. They have joined national strike action over the award which included a two-hour walkout of lessons and lectures earlier this week.

The package awarded to Sir Keith includes £27,000 in lieu of pension payments after he withdrew from the pension scheme. However, according to accounts, that still leaves him with a 29 per cent rise, or £78,000, the largest in the sector in 2012/13.

The pay rise was awarded at a time when the institution rejected demands for all staff at the university to be paid according to the living wage of £7.65 an hour. Pablo Stern, of the University and College Union at Sheffield, told the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine that Sir Keith’s pay package was “astonishing”. He added: “This university used to pride itself on being a civic institution with a strong community feel. That has disappeared.”

Cooking the books with The Independent:

Treasury accused of resorting to ‘dodgy statistics’ to claim raise in living standards

Treasury ministers came under fire from economists today after they insisted that living standards were finally beginning to rise for the vast majority of workers.

The claim signalled the Conservatives’ determination to combat Labour’s repeated accusations that the country faces a “cost of living” crisis because wages are falling in value in real terms.

However, according to the Treasury analysis, increases in take-home pay were higher than inflation last year for all but the top ten per cent of earners. It coincided with an assertion by David Cameron that Britain was starting to see signs of a “recovery for all”.

The department’s statistics only took income tax cuts into account and excluded reductions to in-work tax credits and other benefit changes, prompting Labour accusations that ministers were resorting to “dodgy statistics” to claim people “have never had it so good”.

On to Ireland and a virtual regulatory plea from TheJournal.ie:

Virtual insanity? Call for Central Bank to regulate BitCoin

  • The Irish Bitcoin Association says that recognising the currency would make it safer for consumers.

Vincent O’Donoghue of the Irish Bitcoin Association today told RTÉ News that the currency should be recognised, so that it would be safer to use.

“We’re calling on the Central Bank to have a close look at it. It’s something for the future.

“IT developing the way it, it would be disingenuous to ignore it.”

Off to Norway with the New York Times:

Amid Debate on Migrants, Norway Party Comes to Fore

In a nation that has long prided itself on its liberal sensibilities, the intensifying debate about immigration and its effects on national identity and the country’s social welfare system has been jarring — and has been focused on the anti-immigration Progress Party, which is part of the new Conservative-led government.

The Progress Party came under intense scrutiny in 2011, when a former member, a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then killed 69 more people, mostly teenagers, in a mass shooting at a Labor Party summer camp on the island of Utoya. Mr. Breivik, who was convicted of mass murder and terrorism, had been a member of the Progress Party, attracted by its anti-Islamic slant, from 1999 until he was removed from the rolls in 2006 for not paying dues, having quit the party because it was not radical enough.

Still, the performance of the Progress Party in the first general elections since the Utoya massacre and its success in winning a place in government have raised some eyebrows; quite unfairly, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, minister of transportation and communication and a deputy leader of the party, said in an interview.

TheLocal.no feels aggrieved:

‘Obama must apologise for envoy gaffe’

Norway’s Progress Party has demanded a personal apology from US President Barack Obama after his nomination for Norway’s new ambassador described its members as “fringe elements” who “spew out their hatred” (PLUS VIDEO).

“I think this is unacceptable and a provocation,” Jan Arild Ellingsen, the party’s justice spokesman, told Norway’s TV2 television channel. “I expect the US president to apologize to both Norway and the Progress Party”.

George Tsunis, a Greek-American property millionaire who was one of Obama’s biggest individual campaign donors, displayed only the scantiest knowledge of Norway at a senate hearing this week ahead of his appointment, describing the Progress Party, which has seven ministers in the government, as if it were a fringe far-right group.

He then referred to the country’s “president”, apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy.

USA TODAY voices confidence:

Obama ‘confident’ with ambassador pick despite blunders

President Obama still has confidence in his pick to be the next ambassador to Norway, even after demonstrating that he might need to bone up on Norwegian politics before heading to Oslo.

George Tsunis, managing director of Chartwell Hotels and a major fundraiser for Obama’s 2012 campaign, has been pilloried by Norway’s press after he stumbled over a question about Norway’s Progress Party during his confirmation hearing last week.

Under questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tsunis seemed to be unaware that Norway’s Progress Party —which has taken a hard line on immigration policy — was part of the government coalition.

The Wire takes the Casablanca route:

Norway Is Shocked That Our Ambassador Nominee Is Clueless About Norway

And an immigrant story with a poignant twist from TheLocal.no:

Locals pay for loved beggar’s Romania burial

A beggar became so popular in the four years he spent on the streets of Tromsø, northern Norway, that when he died locals raised 100,000 kroner ($16,000) to ship his body back home to Romania for burial.

When Ioan Bandac died of lung cancer just before Christmas, he left a note outlining his one final wish – that he be buried in his home city of Bacau, Romania.

And on Thursday, his body was finally laid to rest in one the city’s churchyard,  after a Romanian orthodox service. “It’s fantastic to be here,” Bandac’s Norwegian girlfriend Helena told state broadcaster NRK. “I did not get that long with Ioan — just three and a half years.”

On to France with another hard times intolerance headline, via TheLocal.fr:

French MP avoids prison over Hitler Gypsies rant

A French lawmaker avoided being sent to jail this week over a rant about travellers in which he was caught on camera saying “Hitler did not kill enough”. The MP and town mayor has also managed to keep hold of both of his elected roles.

A French lawmaker was convicted of glorifying crimes against humanity for saying Hitler “did not kill enough” gypsies, but avoided prison at his sentencing on Thursday.

MP Gilles Bourdouleix uttered the remarks in July 2013 as he confronted members of a travelling community who had illegally set up camp in the western town of Cholet, where he is also mayor.

His remarks left anti-racism campaign groups outraged, as well as most of France and its politicians.

An economic booster shot from France 24:

Helmet Hollande wore for Gayet tryst flies off shelves

A French motorcycle helmet manufacturer has publicly thanked President François Hollande for being photographed wearing their helmet on his way to an alleged secret tryst with actress Julie Gayet.

Hollande, 59, was pictured by paparazzi working for Closer magazine arriving at a Paris address to allegedly meet the famous French actress, while riding pillion on a scooter and wearing a “Dexter” helmet made by French company Motoblouz.

Motoblouz CEO Thomas Thumerelle, who employs 45 people at his plant at Carvin in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, was so delighted he took out a quarter page ad in national daily Liberation (see below) on Wednesday, titled “Thank you Mr President – for having used our helmet for your personal protection”.

On to Spain and another downturn from El País:

Economy shed jobs for sixth year in a row in 2013

  • Unemployment as a percentage of the population rises as thousands exit the labor market

The Spanish economy shed jobs for the sixth year in a row in 2013, official statistics show.

While the job destruction was less intense than in previous years, the loss of 198,900 positions, added to other years’ job cuts, yields an accumulated figure of 3.75 million since the crisis began in 2008.

The figures were released on Thursday as the Bank of Spain confirmed government estimates that the economy grew 0.3 percent in the fourth quarte

More from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s unemployment: Seven shocking facts

  • Spain’s unemployment rate hit 26 percent again this week. Here The Local gives you seven stats that will help you understand just how serious the situation is.

New unemployment figures from Spain’s National Statistic Institute (INE) show that recent macroeconomic improvements in Spain are yet to create new jobs.

While Spain has now clocked up two consecutive quarters of fragile growth, the INE data — based on a quarterly survey of 65,000 homes nationwide known as the EPA — shows the country’s unemployment climbed back up to 26.03 percent at the end of 2013, up from 25.98 percent three months earlier.

Here The Local provides seven statistics that highlight the extent of Spain’s unemployment problem.

  1. Spain has now seen six straight years of job destruction. Some 198.900 jobs disappeared in Spain last year, and 3.5 million have vanished since the country’s crisis began in 2008.
  2. There are 1.832.300 households in Spain where nobody has a job. That is 1.36 percent more than a year earlier.
  3. Some 686.600 households in Spain have now income at all — not even social security. That is twice the figure seen in 2007, or before the crisis struck.

thinkSPAIN electrifies:

Spain’s electricity hikes between 2008 and 2012 were second-highest in the EU after Lithuania

ELECTRICITY bills in Spain went up between 2008 and the end of 2012 more than in any other European Union member State except Lithuania, figures show.

During this four-year period, the cost of power to households and businesses rose by 46 per cent in Spain, and 47 per cent in Lithuania says the European Commission.

Brussels puts this down to rising distribution costs, increases in IVA, or VAT, in EU countries, and ‘eco-taxes’ relating to renewable energy.

And a boost for the arts from El País:

Government announces plans to slash sales tax on works of art

  • Cut in VAT rate to 10 percent could be followed by similar measures to promote culture

Bowing to intense pressure, the Spanish government on Friday announced it was going to lower the value-added tax (VAT) rate charged on transactions involving works of art to 10 percent from 21 percent.

Speaking at a press conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said the move was to bring Spain in line with other countries in Europe, such as Italy and Germany, where the VAT rate on works of art is 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

The government controversially increased the VAT rate on all cultural items in 2012, from 8 percent to 21 percent. Asked if the VAT rate on other cultural items would also be cut, Sáenz de Santamaría said the reduction for works of art was a “first step.” “We have to introduce measures to promote Spanish culture and we have brought forward one of them,” she said. Culture Ministry sources said the government was also “studying new measures” for the film industry.

On to Lisbon and an uptick from the Portugal News:

Unemployment levels fall

The number of people registered as being unemployed in Portugal has dropped, while the government has announced plans to encourage business and entrepreneurs within the country in a bid to further boost employment levels.
Unemployment levels fall

The number of unemployed persons registered with the employment office in Portugal dropped by 2.8 percent year on year in December, making the total number of unemployed people 690 535 and marking a fall by 0.2 percent in the month of December.

Monthly data published by the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training ( IEFP ) highlighted that at the end of December there were 20,117 fewer unemployed persons registered with the employment office than a year earlier.

And a presidential boost from the Portugal News:

President upbeat about economic future

Portuguese president Cavaco Silva has said that he is hopeful about the economic future of the country despite a less than positive forecast given by the credit ratings agency Standard and Poor.

Portugal’s president has said that he is convinced that the country will success-fully conclude its bailout this May, adding that he appreciated the heavy sacrifices that continue to be asked of the Portuguese people.

Cavaco Silva said that while Portugal was still a few months away from its Economic and Financial Adjustment Programme object-ives, that he felt there was no reason why the country should not reach these targets successfully. In his speech he also gave a brief summary of 2013, noting that although it had not been “an easy year for Portugal”, the economy had registered some encouraging signs that allowed 2014 to look more “hopeful”.

Italy next with ANSAmed and more privatizations of the commons:

Chunks of Italy’s post office, air agency up for sale

  • Italian cabinet approvals sale of parts of companies

The Italian cabinet has approved decrees to sell large chunks of the post office and its air traffic agency, sources said Friday.

The government has said it wanted to sell off a 40% share of the national postal service, Poste Italiane Spa, for at least four billion euros by the end of the year as part of efforts to raise much-needed capital to offset Italy’s huge debt.

A similar-sized share will be offered in Enav, the Italian air traffic control company.

Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni has said that a larger share of the postal service might be sold later.

Bunga Bunga cutbacks from TheLocal.it:

Berlusconi budget cuts hit models and dancers

Silvio Berlusconi has cut off monthly payments of €2,500 to a host of young women who attended his parties as part of cost-cutting measures by the ageing playboy, Italian media reported on Friday.

The decision could also have something to do with his coming under investigation for witness tampering opened by prosecutors in connection with his conviction for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute.

“He helped us out, me and the other girls,” said Aris Espinosa, 24, one of the models and dancers known as “Olgettine” after the street in Milan, Via Olgettina, where they lived in apartments paid for by Berlusconi.

At one point, a total of 14 young women were living in the apartments and they were heard calling Berlusconi and his accountant in multiple police wiretaps to ask for more cash – referred to as “flowers” or “fuel”.

After the jump, the ongoing debacle in Greece, Ukrainian divisions and hints of compromise, munificence to Mexico, Venezuelan currency woes, Argentine inflation, Indo-Japanese nuke-enomics, Thai and Burmese troubles, Korean elder woes, Japanese promises, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Go Bears! Please, go


From Michael Meranze of Remaking the University:

The problems besetting Cal athletics keep multiplying.  In addition to the evidence that central campus resources have been used to subsidize Intercollegiate Athletics it has now become clear that the Athletics department has not been fulfilling its responsibilities to its student Athletes in major sports.  A recent NCAA report shows that the graduation rate for Cal Football and Basketball are among the lowest of any University participating in the major sports.  In football, Cal has the lowest graduation rate among the 72 schools listed, while in Basketball Cal has the 4th lowest amongst teams in the major conferences.  These results are occurring at a moment when graduation rates across the country’s athletic programs appear to be rising.

Although the Cal Athletics department argued that the figures did not represent present coaching staffs it is hard not to see this as a deep-rooted institutional problem.  Nor can Berkeley insist that its numbers are lower because of the difficulty of its academics.  Stanford on the other hand ranked 5th in graduation rates.

Berkeley has been diverting resources away from the general campus population in favor of their elite athletes. Now it seems, they are failing to meet their obligations to those athletes as well.

Ted Rall: ‘What happens in the Cal-bunker. . .’


From Los Angeles Times cartoonist Ted Rall, a jaundiced look at that military/industrial/academic complex Ike warned us about:

BLOG Rall

 

Headlines of the day II: Econ, cons, environs


Events continue to move at an accelerating pace, and Greece is heading rapidly to a boil, while Fukushima continues to unwind [though media attentions are being drawn elsewhere] and the Indian economy nears crisis. That and lots more after the jump.

We’ll open with a global story from Deutsche Welle, with the richer getting richer everywhere:

Global stocks rally boosts private wealth worldwide

Statistically, people around the world were richer than ever in 2012, says the German insurer Allianz. Its study of private wealth in 50 nations attributes the surge mainly to a a stocks rally since crises in 2008.

On to the U.S., with a new verse for “Onward Christian Soldiers” from Salon:

Family Research Council: “Nothing more Christian” than kicking 4 million people off food stamps

Letting millions go hungry is part of the “path to worthiness” and “self-sufficiency,” the FRC’s Ken Blackwell says

And a parallel saga from BuzzFeed:

Congresswoman Uses Steak, Vodka, And Caviar To Hammer Republicans On Food Stamp Cuts

“They received almost $200 for a single meal only for themselves. Yet, for them the idea of helping fellow Americans spend less than $5 a day makes their skin crawl.”

From BuzzFeed again, the latest bizarre tale of market-rigging:

Trader Lost Millions Apparently Trying To Manipulate Intrade Data To Favor Mitt Romney

A new study reveals that a single trader may have been responsible for making the race seem closer than it really was in the final stretch to Election Day.

Reuters covers the latest instance of Banksters Behaving Badly:

Regulator sues Morgan Stanley, eight others

A U.S. regulator filed lawsuits against Morgan Stanley and eight other banks over the sale of nearly $2.4 billion in mortgage-backed securities to two credit unions that later failed, according to a filing.

But another Lord of Money laments, via the Atlantic Wire:

AIG CEO Says Bonus Backlash Was ‘Just as Wrong’ as Lynchings

From The Contributor, something else to get your blood a-boilin’:

Congratulations, You’re Paying $6k a Year to Prop Up Big Businesses

American families are paying $6,000 a year to corporations that have doubled their profits and cut their taxes in half in ten years while cutting 2.9 million jobs in the U.S.

From Reuters, hints of Bubble II:

U.S. home prices up, but slip in confidence could be a concern

U.S. home prices gained in July even as a dip in consumer confidence this month underscored the potential for higher interest rates and a sluggish economy to dent a housing market recovery.

And the London Daily Mail captures the sheeple:

Rare gold iPhone 5s sells for $10,000: Americans scramble for rare edition of device that costs just $199 new

  • The new iPhone 5s and 5c went on sale Friday and flew off shelves in record time

  • Those who don’t want to wait until the next shipments in October are paying massive sums for gray market phones in online bidding wars

From the Los Angeles Times, class in the classroom:

Bill allowing higher fees for high-demand college classes advances

Backers say the two-tier fee system would help students transfer or graduate faster, but foes call it unfair to low-income students.

From Slashdot, turning California classrooms into corporate servants:

California Elementary Schools To Test Anti-Piracy Curriculum

And another plutocratic plaint, via Business Insider:

Billionaire Hedge Fund Managers Say It’s Sad Larry Summers Won’t Get The Fed Nomination

On to Europe, starting with a warning from the London Telegraph:

Eurozone still poses risk to global recovery, says OECD

The eurozone economy will not grow until 2014 and could still shatter the global recovery, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned.

EUbusiness covers yet another rush for corporate advantage:

EU pushes faster trade talks with Japan

The European Union and Japan will speed up talks towards achieving what could be one the world’s biggest free trade deals, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said on Tuesday.

From the Buenos Aires Herald, a European dilemma:

Bailed-out nations braced for more of the same

The continent’s nations in distress can expect four further years of austerity

On to the U.K., with a political promise via Sky News:

Miliband Promises To Freeze Energy Prices

The Labour leader, in his conference speech, pledges a 20-month freeze in gas and electricity bills if he wins power in 2015.

And from the London Telegraph, predators at work:

Banks accused over ‘rip-off’ rates on small loans

Britain’s biggest banks are short-changing millions by charging “sky high” interest rates of up to 24.9 per cent for small personal loans, experts claimed today.

Corporate cadaveric accounting, from EUobserver:

Private firms put price tag on migrant suicides

Private security companies operating UK-based immigrant removal centres (IRC) use formulas to calculate the profit loss incurred by detainees who commit suicide under their watch.

One to Ireland, with a report on the disabled victims of austerianism by way of the Irish Times:

State cuts by ‘stealth’ a major issue for Ombudsman

O’Reilly says well-resourced human rights commission essential

And from Independent.ie, banksters caught on tape behaving badly win a prosecutorial pass:

Anglo Tapes: No-one to be investigated despite revelations that shocked nation

Central Bank says it won’t make criminal complaint to gardai or ODCE

On to Spain, first with this bit of boosterism from El País, based on a booming tourist trade:

Rajoy says economy will grow between 0.1 and 0.2 percent in the third quarter

“Spain is out of recession but not out of the crisis,” prime minister tells ‘The Wall Street Journal’

Next to Italy, with a report from Reuters:

New Italian targets show lack of progress since Berlusconi’s fall

Italy’s latest economic forecasts reveal how little progress has been made to fix its finances and restore growth since Silvio Berlusconi was forced from office at the height of the euro zone debt crisis in November 2011.

And the German connection, via Xinhua:

News Analysis: Merkel’s strong showing in German elections raises stakes for Italy’s deficit battle: experts

Greek meltdown, India in crisis, Chinese expansionism, and Fukushimapocalypse Now! after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econ, corruption, Fuku


The pace of the dframa continues to accelerate, and after the jump you’ll find the latest dramatic and tragic events from Greece and the latest on the unfolding horror at the earthquake-ravaged nuclear plant at Fukushima, where the crisis continues to escalate.

We open with this from The Independent, raising a very important question:

Want to be healthier, save the planet and boost the economy – then work less: Cutting working week would improve well-being and boost economy, say experts

And from the South China Morning Post, an austerian body count:

2008 financial crisis led to surge in suicides, international study finds

The 2008 global financial crisis and mass lay-offs in its wake might have driven 5,000 more people than expected globally to commit suicide in the following year, according to a study.

And a pity the poor bankster headline from CNBC:

Former Lehman president Gregory puts antiques on auction block

And from The Consumerist, about damn time:

SEC: U.S. Corporations Have To Reveal How Execs’ Paychecks Compare To Rest Of Workers

From the East Bay Express, atop a must-read story revealing appalling depths of corruption:

Going Postal

The husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein has been selling post offices to his friends, cheap.

And the fed decides to keep the game going, from The Indepedent:

Federal Reserve surprises markets by delaying QE tapering

The US Federal Reserve is to keep its $85bn-a-month bond buying programme in place for some time yet, after it warned that America’s economic revocery is not as robust as hoped.

Meanwhile, meetings in secret discuss an agenda set by corporations and banksters that will cost jobs and pick pockets by the million, reported by Jiji Press:

TPP Top Negotiators Start 4-Day Meeting in U.S.

Top negotiators from 12 member states in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations started their four-day meeting in Washington on Wednesday to seek a breakthrough over thorny issues such as intellectual property rights.

On to Europe, starting with this from New Europe:

EU Tells Austerity Countries: Don’t Blame Us

And an appropriate companion headline from Europe Online:

Europeans losing confidence in EU economic policy, survey shows

From EurActiv, another vote of no confidence:

Dwindling EU aid spurs UN ‘global governance’ calls

SPECIAL REPORT: The imminent breach of a promise by EU states to spend 0.7% of their gross income on overseas aid by 2015 is sparking calls for the UN to be given ‘coercive’ powers to force rich nations to honour future aid pledges.

From Reuters, admonition:

EU’s Van Rompuy warns Britain over European exit

And from the London Telegraph, an uh-oh:

UK productivity gap with G7 largest since 1994

Britain’s productivity gap with the world’s most developed nations has reached its widest level since 1994, official data show.

Forebodings, via Sky News:

Retirement: One In Five Will ‘Never Stop Work’

A survey by HSBC finds 19% of people in Britain feel they will never be able to afford to properly retire from work.

And from The Independent, another body count:

Spike in suicide rate in Europe and US linked to financial crisis

UK registered 300 deaths above the expected rate in 2009, after start of crisis

And Irish warning via Independent.ie:

EU rivals will exploit any tax changes here, top academic warns

And a German reality reported by the Japan Times:

Economic disparities center stage in German poll

Ordinary citizens benefiting little from Europe’s ‘miracle economy’

More labor woes for Paris, from FRANCE 24:

Air France to offer buyouts as it cuts 2,800 jobs

Air France will offer employees buyout plans as it seeks to cut 5 percent of its work force – some 2,800 jobs – and return to profit following years of reduced demand and increasing competition from Europe’s low-cost carriers.

From Europe Online, our first headline from the Iberian Peninsula:

Concern in Portugal over rising bond yields

And from El País, shafted seniors:

Reform to cut value of annual pension by 1,500 euros in five years

  • Assumption of annual inflation rate of 1 percent will reduce spending power

  • Government’s reforms to cut pension spending by €33 billion

ANSAmed offers a grim assessment:

Spain: one quarter of population risk poverty

+2 mln suffer poverty since 2008; +25 mln poor in EU by 2025

And El País reports troubles for an American mogul’s dream, who won’t let his massive casino complex arise unless gamblers can smoke inside:

Eurovegas project at risk, says Madrid premier

  • PP official blames prime minister for dragging feet on tobacco law change

  • Financing also an issue for macro-casino project

Bloomberg Businessweek states it simply:

Could Sheldon Adelson’s EuroVegas Go up in Smoke?

From ANSAmed, a Troikarch warns:

Italy: Rehn says political instability holding back recovery

EC worried about rolling back of property tax IMU Rome

EUobserver conveys reassurances:

Mediterranean region is 2014 priority, Greece and Italy say

Greece and Italy will make the Mediterranean region and alternatives to austerity the main priorities of their EU presidencies in 2014.

EurActiv, reporting the latest slither from the Baron of Bunga Bunga:

Berlusconi’s ‘crazy idea’: Running for the EU elections in Estonia

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is considering running for election as a member of the European Parliament for Estonia, a country where Italian laws prohibiting him from running for office do not apply, according to press reports.

Greek disasters, China bubbles, Fukushimapocalypse Now! after the jump. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: The college student as cash cow


From a very important essay, “Academy Fight Song,” by Thomas Frank in The Baffler:

An educational publisher wrote to me a few months back; they wanted to reprint an essay of mine that they had seen on the Internet, where it is available for free. The textbook in which they wanted to include it, they said, would be “inexpensively priced,” and authors were therefore being asked to keep their reprint fees to a minimum. The low, low price that students were to pay for this textbook: $75.95. “Approximately.”

I was astounded, but it took just a few minutes of research to realize that $76 was, in fact, altruistic by the standards of this industry. Paying $250 for a textbook is more like it nowadays; according to one economist, textbook prices have increased 812 percent over the past thirty-five years, outstripping not only inflation (by a mile) but every other commodity—home prices, health care—that we usually consider to be spiraling out of control.

The explanation is simple. The textbook publishers use every trick known to the marketing mind to obsolete their products year after year, thus closing off the possibility of second-hand sales. What’s more, textbook publishing is a highly concentrated industry—an oligopoly—which means they can drive prices pretty much as high as they feel like driving them. Meanwhile, the professors who assign the textbooks and who might do something about the problem don’t have to pay for them.

Actually, that explanation isn’t simple enough. The truth is that rip-offs like this abound in academia—that virtually every aspect of the higher-ed dream has been colonized by monopolies, cartels, and other unrestrained predators—that the charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two.

Read the rest.

Minister of State Security, now UC Boss


From Ted Rall for the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Napolitano

It’s official: Minister of State Security heads UC


The official notice from the chair of the UC Board of Regents:

Dear UC Advocate,

As chairman of the UC Board of Regents, I am pleased to announce that today (July 18) U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was appointed as the 20th president of the University of California.

She will take office in late September, bringing extensive experience in tackling tough challenges and leading large, complex organizations. The Special Committee to Consider the Selection of a President unanimously chose Secretary Napolitano from a dynamic pool of more than 300 potential candidates. We were all impressed with her extraordinary character, intellectual curiosity and commitment to higher education.

As governor of Arizona, Napolitano was a strong advocate for public education, from K-12 to the university level. She appreciates the importance of public research universities, faculty scholarship and research and UC’s role in shaping California.

I am confident that she has the background and attributes needed to build upon the excellent work of her predecessor, Mark G. Yudof, and to lead the University forward to even greater achievements.

Already, she has expressed an eagerness to join the UC community and to get to know the stellar faculty, staff, students and alumni who make this University great. I am looking forward to working with her and benefitting from her vast stores of expertise.

Sincerely,

Bruce D. Varner
Chairman, UC Board of Regents

The official UC Napolitano bio is here.

New UC President and the reign of error


If you work for the Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency with the Orwellian name and intent headed by University of California President-to-be Janet Napolitano, you’re paid to be ignorant.

Consider the case of those Power Point slides released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

From Josh Hicks of the Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security has warned its employees that the government may penalize them for opening a Washington Post article containing a classified slide that shows how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications.

An internal memo from DHS headquarters told workers on Friday that viewing the document from an “unclassified government workstation” could lead to administrative or legal action. “You may be violating your non-disclosure agreement in which you sign that you will protect classified national security information,” the communication said.

The memo said workers who view the article through an unclassified workstation should report the incident as a “classified data spillage.”

Read the rest.

Napolitano makes her debut performance today before the UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco.

We’re curious if she’ll implement a policy banning UC profs from reading leaks of classified data. After all, the university helps to run the nation’s ultra-secret national weapons labs in Livermore and Los Alamos, places abounding in secrets. . .

But thes days a university president devoted to promulgation of ignorance isn’t quite the contradiction it once would’ve seemed.

Universities unwisely turn to pols to run them


The new president of the University California is the person most responsible for chilling free speech in America as Secretary of Homeland Security, and the president of Purdue University is a former governor who tried to purge Howard Zinn books from state schools.

But such is life in America these days, where academic freedom takes a back seat to political connections, ideological zealots, and corporate greed.

Here in California, the new pick to head the University of California is Janet Napolitano, who played a lead role in the militarization of American police forces and implemented a major crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

From the Sacramento Bee’s Laura Rosenhall:

As the head of the national Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano is the face of the nation’s immigration policy, a role that is making her unpopular with some UC activists. In her first two years as Homeland Security secretary, the United States deported more undocumented immigrants than ever before, the federal government announced in 2011. She also oversaw the so-called “Secure Communities” program that allows law enforcement and immigration officials to share fingerprints of arrestees.

She notes that Napolitano’s appointment has stirred concerns among UC faculty, including folk here in Berkeley:

“Napolitano is contrary to every other president that UC has ever had. It seems to be a sign that they want to make a change, but it’s not clear what that direction is,” said William Drummond, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

“This is a question that will be hotly debated as people drift back from vacation – what does this mean about who the university is? Are we still the crown jewel in the academic world? … Or now are we turning into more of a political entity, something that’s kicked around within the framework of partisan politics? That’s the uncertainty about what this means.”

Read the rest.

Drummond’s comments are somewhat ironic, at least to esnl’s callused ears, given the professor’s role during his tenure at the head of the academic senate session that voted its endorsement of a $500 million strings-attached BP grant to fund research on turning plants into fuel for corporate profit.

UC Berkeley’s campus cops have trained with the riot police of Bahrain and Jordan, and with members of Yamam, Israel’s elite anti-terrorism troops in the annual Urban Shield operations organized under the aegis of Homeland Security. Here’s a list of some of the key participating international sponsors from last year’s exercise [PDF] held here in Alameda County:

Slide 1

Campus police in Berkeley and Davis engaged in brutal takedowns of Occupy protests in 2011, with the Berkeley Operation Shield-trained campus cops weighing in with batons, while Davis gave us the infamous Pepper-Spraying Cop.

So Napolitano should feel right at home in Berkeley, where she’s already created a legacy.

Meanwhile, back at Purdue

Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco has written a devastating takedown of Purdue President Mitch Daniels militant campaign against academic freedom in public schools during his previous incarnation as Indiana governor.

While Daniels vowed to support academic freedom when he took the helm at Purdue in January, LoBianco has uncovered devastating emails from the Daniels’ second term as governor showing that:

Daniels took rare steps during his second term as governor to eliminate what he considered liberal breeding grounds at Indiana’s public universities, requesting that historian Howard Zinn’s writings be banned from classrooms and asking for a “cleanup” of college courses he called “propaganda.” In another exchange, Daniels talks about cutting funding to a program run by one of his sharpest critics, Charles Little, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association and an Indiana university professor.

The efforts to silence voices he disagreed with as governor have raised new questions about Daniels’ appointment as president of a major research university just months after critics questioned his lack of academic credentials and his hiring by a board of trustees he appointed.

Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said it’s not unusual for governors or mayors to denounce art, music or popular culture. He cited Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s against provocative art in New York City. But he said he couldn’t find any other examples of governors censoring political opponents.

“What sets this apart is what appears to be a back-channel effort by the governor to limit access to ideas,” said Paulson, who also is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. “Under the First Amendment, the government is prohibited from trying to suppress expression with which it disagrees.”

Read the rest.

Yep, Mitch Daniels is a university president for our times.