Category Archives: Health

Headlines: Pols, EconoEnvirofails, more


Today’s headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and the environment begins with business as usual from BuzzFeed:

Biden’s Son, Polish Ex-President Quietly Sign On To Ukrainian Gas Company

Revelations that Hunter Biden and Aleksander Kwasniewski serve on the board of a company controlled by a Yanukovych ally raise serious conflict of interest questions for Western countries’ Ukraine policy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son has joined the board of a gas company owned by an ally of Ukraine’s fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and a key European interlocutor with Kiev who was previously president of Poland.

The move raises questions about a potential conflict of interest for Joe Biden, who was the White House’s main interlocutor with Yanukovych while the latter was president and has since spearheaded Western efforts to wean Ukraine off Russian gas.

Company documents in Cyprus show that Joe Biden’s son, R. Hunter Biden, became a member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, which describes itself as Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer, on April 18. Burisma announced Hunter Biden’s appointment in a press release Monday on its website which was quickly picked up by Russian state media.

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

U.S. alone among Western countries on lack of paid maternity leave, UN finds

The United States is the only Western country — and one of only three in the world — that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from their jobs, a new U.N. study reports.

Two other countries share the U.S. position of providing “no cash benefits during maternity leave,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the International Labor Organization: Oman, an absolute monarchy in the Persian Gulf; and Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific nation where the U.S. State Department says violence against women is so common that 60 percent of men in a U.N. study acknowledged having committed a rape.

The other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

From the Associated Press, signs of a dangerous summer ahead in the Golden State:

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north.

No homes were reported damaged in either fire, but hundreds were considered threatened. The rugged terrain and unseasonably warm temperatures made firefighting even more difficult.

The flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego quickly grew to 700 acres, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds that whipped through areas dotted by hilltop estates and pricey new housing tracts.

From TheLocal.fr, with a reminder that the figures refer to the total populations, not per capita consumption:

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

For the first time, the United States has snatched from France the title of the world’s top wine consumer, according to a report released on Tuesday. France’s wine mastery already was threatened earlier this year.

Global wine consumption fell marginally in 2013 and the United States outstripped France as the top consumer, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV) said Tuesday.

Consumption dipped 1 percent last year to 238.7 hectolitres of wine in the global market worth 73 billion euros ($100 billion).

The United States was the top consumer for the first time at 29 million hectolitres, with domestic production accounting for four-fifths, said Jean-Marie Aurand, the head of the intergovernmental organisation that compiles global statistics for the industry.

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

U.S. retail sales rise a scant 0.1 percent in April

  • U.S. retail sales growth slowed in April, with consumers shopping less online and cutting back on purchases of furniture and electronics.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after surging 1.5 percent in March following a harsh winter that had curtailed shopping.

Several economists said the April figures might have been depressed because of seasonal adjustments connected to a later than usual Easter. Still, the modest sales suggest that consumers may remain cautious during the still-slow economic recovery. Higher sales would help drive faster growth because consumers account for about 70 percent of the economy.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, plutocrat behaving badly [and he’s Al Gore’s bosom buddy]:

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

The billionaire landowner who bought a popular beach in San Mateo County and then locked out the public was evasive and uncooperative when questioned Monday about his decision, stating repeatedly he “did not recollect” conversations, letters or legal documents.

Vinod Khosla testified during the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court that he did not remember why he set up two limited liability companies to buy Martins Beach, what amount he paid for the property, when he bought it or why the decision was made to keep the public out.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist remained calm but gave no ground during the intense questioning – sometimes tinged with disbelief and sarcasm – by the lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla for blocking the only access road to the beach. Khosla explained that he never had a conversation about the property without his lawyers present, a strategy that allowed him to invoke attorney-client privilege for virtually every question whose answer he could recollect.

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

World economy still faces various risks despite its recent improvements, and further efforts on growth and consolidation are needed, said heads of world’s leading economic organizations on Tuesday.

High unemployment, significant output gap, low investment, rising inequality and slowdown in emerging economies still have an impact on global growth prospects, said chiefs of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel released after their meeting in Berlin.

“The global economy has noticeably improved, but is still far from a robust, sustainable growth,” the statement said.

And form the Japan Times, the neoliberal agenda marches on:

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

The 12 countries involved in the haggling over a Pacific free trade agreement are narrowing their differences on intellectual property rights, one of the issues blocking the conclusion of the pact, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, said Tuesday.

“There has been confrontations between emerging and developed economies in the area of intellectual property, but things are moving forward considerably,” Amari said.

“But I am aware that we have yet to reach an agreement” on the issue, Amari told reporters.

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

Poll: Most Europeans believe ‘the worst is still to come’

With the European elections opening next week, a new survey shows that most Europeans believe the crisis is not over yet and that “the worst is still to come”, although the trend is slightly improving.

A Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission on Monday (12 May) shows Europeans are still depressed about their future.

44% Europeans believe “the impact of the crisis has already reached its peak” while 47% believe “the worst is still to come”.

Britain next, and a bubble only the rich can love from Sky News:

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

A combination of soaring house prices and falling real wages is making home ownership an ever more distant dream for some.

The proportion of English and Welsh homes selling for over £1m has more than doubled during the Great Recession, in the latest evidence of the property market boom.

In London a record 7% of all home sales listed by the Land Registry in the year to March were for £1m or more – a sharp increase from the 3% level when Britain slid into recession in 2008.

Ireland next, and a confidence game from Independent.ie:

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

CONSUMER confidence rose again last month to hit a seven-year high.

The increase is despite household finances being under continued pressure, especially with the advent of water charges.

KBC Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute said the index of consumer sentiment jumped to 87.3 in April, from 83.1 in the previous month.

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

A comprehensive survey of the 28 EU member states revealed that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes believe immigrants contribute significantly to society, and 97 percent are satisfied with their lives.

All but 3 percent of Swedes are happy with their lives. At least, that’s according to an EU report published on Tuesday.

“I’m astonished by the results,” Swedish anthropologist Gillis Herlitz told The Local. “Swedes nowadays complain about everything.” The report revealed that Swedes were the most positive nationality in the EU when it came to both life satisfaction and perceptions of immigrants.

Germany next, and a curious move from TheLocal.de:

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

A planned taxpayer-funded project in western Germany to get unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts cleaning streets has sparked controversy by offering those who take part beer as part of their compensation.

The “Pick-up” initiative, planned by charity Addict Support Essen to start in mid-June, offers addicts beer – along with food and medical treatment – in exchange for working three to six hours a day collecting litter off streets.

They will also get “pocket money” of €1.25 per hour, similar to the established “one-euro-jobs” which employ unemployed and homeless people in Germany for public projects at an hourly rate of €1.

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticized Germany for not doing enough to prevent a growing number of people from sliding into poverty. It called for a speedy action plan.

The organization of the world’s leading 34 industrialized nations pointed out in its latest biannual report on Tuesday that Germany’s recent economic upswing had failed to reach the weakest in society.

“The relative poverty risk and pronounced income inequality have remained unchanged over the past couple of years,” the reports said. The report also pointed out that it had become harder for low-paid workers to move up.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria called on the government to prepare reforms quickly to rectify the current situation. “Germany must act now,” he told reporters in Berlin.

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

Germany must do more to reduce poverty risks made worse by reforms to the labour market that have reduced joblessness but widened inequality, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long term,” the OECD wrote in a new report.

Presenting the report at a news conference, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria said that reforms were usually enacted in times of crisis when there was no other option.

Off to France and a disturbing sign of that ol’ hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

France may have taken the historic step of legalising gay marriage last year, but it appears the landmark social reform came at a cost. The number of reported homophobic acts increased in 2013 by a staggering 78 percent, according to a watchdog group.

In 2013 there was a homophobic physical attack every two days in France, which represented a rise of 54 percent on 2012.

That is just one of the worrying stats contained in a new report by French gay-rights organisation SOS Homophobie, which monitors the levels of homophobia in the country.

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

  • EPA says only 32.5% get them, labor ministry says 58.9%

The length of the economic crisis and recession in Spain has led to four million jobless not receiving any sort of unemployment benefits or social assistance, according to the Labour Force Survey (Encuesta de Población Activa, EPA) released on Tuesday.

The survey was on the first quarter of 2014. The EPA report shows that 32.5% of the unemployed receive benefits, while a labor ministry report released in March had instead put the figure at 58.9%.

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

They may have endured spending cuts and tax hikes overseen by Brussels, but Spaniards still seem surprisingly pro-EU and keen to vote in this month’s European elections.

Crawling out of a crisis in which European authorities helped bail out its banks but approved pay freezes for ordinary Spaniards, Spain is nevertheless a cheerleader for European integration — a once-marginal state that has done well in the union.

More than 58 percent of Spaniards are still in favour of the European Union against just under 30 percent who are against it, according to a study published last week by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS).

The economic crisis that erupted in 2008 did affect Spanish views of the EU. A European Commission study showed that the ratio of people who thought Spain had benefitted from the EU was much higher at 75 percent in 2007.

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

Support for the European Union is on the rise across some of the continent’s major economies apart from Italy, a study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed.

As voters head to the European elections, which get under way on May 22nd, the survey found that there has been a 12 percent decline in support for the EU among Italians since 2013.

The survey was conducted in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Favourable sentiment towards the economic bloc has been on the decline in Italy in since 2012, falling from 59 percent that year to 46 percent in the recent survey.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, belated Hungarian vengeance, Ukrainian turmoil, Russian retaliation, Turkish tragedy, Israeli corruption, a Latin American warning and troubles in Brazil, Pakistani busts, Indian electoral exuberance, a warning from Thailand, economic anxieties and death by testing in China, more financial woes in Japan, controlling your dreams, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .   Continue reading

Headlines: EcoEconoDystopic pols, ecofails


Straight into it, starting at home with an offering from Reuters:

Weaker U.S. personal earnings, home-price expectations: New York Fed survey

Americans expected weaker personal earnings growth and home prices, according to a survey done last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The survey, released on Monday, showed median earnings growth expectations dropped to 2 percent, the lowest so far this year, thanks in part to respondents with lower education levels.

Median home price-change expectations slipped for the fourth straight month to 3.8 percent, the lowest since the survey was launched in June 2013, when the result was 4.7 percent. The New York Fed said the most recent decline was driven by higher-income households.

From the New York Times, emphasis added:

Plaintiff in Silicon Valley Hiring Suit Maligns Deal

Apple has more than $150 billion in the bank, eclipsing the combined cash reserves of Israel and Britain. Google, Intel and Adobe have a total of about $80 billion stored up for a rainy day.

Against such tremendous cash hoards, $324 million is chump change. But that is what the four technology companies have agreed to pay to settle a class action brought by their own employees.

The suit, which was on track to go to trial in San Jose, Calif., at the end of May, promised weeks if not months of damaging revelations about how Silicon Valley executives conspired to suppress wages and limit competition. Details of the settlement are still under wraps.

Added misery from the Washington Post:

Jobless contend with weight gain as they search for work

A subject long ignored by policymakers, and one that unemployment counselors are too sheepish to raise with job seekers, the link between bulging waistlines and joblessness is now of intense interest to researchers studying the long-term effects of the country’s economic malaise.

Recent studies and surveys have shown a distinct relationship between unemployment and obesity, particularly for lower-skilled workers who struggle to find work — a search made more challenging by their weight.

In Hagerstown, where blue-collar jobs have gone overseas or to cheaper parts of the country, 8.4 percent are unemployed — well above Maryland’s 5.9 percent rate. Last month, Gallup identified the area as the third-heaviest place in the United States, with almost 37 percent of its residents obese. Local studies put the number even higher.

ThinkProgress offers a ray of sunshine:

Vermont Passes The Highest State Minimum Wage In The Country

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise from $8.73 to $10.50 over the next four years under a bill that won final passage just before the legislative session ended on Saturday. The measure puts Vermont on track to have the highest minimum wage of any state in 2018, higher than a handful of states whose pay floors will rise to $10.10 under laws approved this year.

“I will be proud to sign it,” Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) said of the bill. The final version will phase in the higher wage in order to win nearly unanimous support in both chambers. The state’s minimum wage was already indexed to inflation.

The Green Mountain state is the seventh to enact a minimum wage hike this year and the fourth to crack the $10 mark. Delaware and West Virginia lawmakers raised their wages above $8 an hour. Minnesota raised the minimum wage for most large companies to $9.50. And Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut each established $10.10 minimum wages.

But MintPress News notes another ominous sign:

The Minimum Wage Employees Of The Future, Today

A boom in self-service kiosks in restaurants have some people wondering if technology is replacing minimum wage workers.

“People don’t go into business to create jobs; they go into business to make money,” wrote Jonah Goldman for Omaha.com in opposition to the president’s push to raise the nation’s base pay. “Labor is a cost. The more expensive labor is, the more attractive nonhuman replacements for labor become. The minimum wage makes labor more expensive. Obama knows this, which is why he so often demonizes ATMs as job-killers.”

Those who buy into this line of thought point to Panera Bread’s recent announcement that it will be replacing some of its manned registers with self-help kiosks. Panera’s kiosks will enable customers to look at pictures of the prepared dishes, make their selections from mounted touchscreens and pay for their orders by credit or debit card without the help of a cashier. Customers would then take a pager — which would inform them when their food is ready — and be seated, with a server delivering orders as they are ready. Customers will also be able order tableside, using a smartphone or a tablet.

Panera CEO Ron Shaich, however, insists that this is not being done to reduce labor costs. “The dirty little secret in the food industry is one in seven orders is wrong. We’re one in ten, a little better than average,” said Shaich in an interview. “Half of those inaccuracies happen during order input.” Shaich insists that only one or two registers in each restaurant will be replaced by the kiosks and that the kiosks are meant to improve issues with checkout speed. They would also facilitate food customization to accommodate a growing population of picky eaters.

And form USA TODAY, austerity’s most hapless victims:

Psychiatric beds disappear despite growing demand

Across the country, it’s getting harder to find a psychiatric hospital bed for patients in crisis, doctors and advocates say.

States have been reducing hospital beds for decades, because of insurance pressures as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply, he says.

North of the border to more austerian castoffs from BBC News:

Canada faces ‘crisis’ on indigenous living conditions

Canada faces a “crisis” over the living conditions of its aboriginal residents, the UN special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples has said.

James Anaya said Canada had taken “positive steps” but that “daunting challenges” remained, including a lower level of “well-being”.

He said aboriginal women and girls remained vulnerable to abuse, and noted a lack of trust of the government.

On to Europe with the Guardian:

IMF chief Lagarde warns Europe’s crisis isn’t over

Europe’s financial crisis is not over, and that the Ukraine crisis could derail the global recovery, Christine Lagarde has warned today, urging against a “false sense of security” in the euro area.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund said that weak bank lending, and low inflation rates, posed serious threats to the European recovery.

In an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt, Lagarde cautions against undue optimism, just because countries (such as Ireland) have emerged from their bailout programmes.

And another alarm from EUbusiness:

Europeans still gloomy about economy, ahead of EU vote

Support for the EU is slowly rising ahead of European Parliament elections, but most Europeans remain gloomy about the economy and complain their voices are not heard in Brussels, a poll found.

Fears about immigration are also coloring public opinion in the run-up to polls later this month with most Europeans believing that newcomers are a burden on their already struggling economies, the Pew Research Center found.

The survey was conducted across seven key European Union members — Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain — from March 17 to April 9 among 7,022 people.

Britain next, and peculiarly convenient austerity, at least for banksters, from the Guardian:

City fraud cases on brink of collapse in growing row over legal aid cuts

  • Appeal court ruling could derail high-profile prosecutions designed to clean up London’s financial markets

The biggest City fraud cases since the crash of 2008 are close to collapsing because of the government’s cuts to legal aid. The refusal of barristers to work at the government’s new low rates has already led to Judge Anthony Leonard throwing out charges against five men accused of conning investors out of their savings by selling them land at grotesquely inflated prices.

If the court of appeal upholds the verdict on Tuesday, a string of prosecutions designed to clean up London’s financial markets may be dropped. Last week, solicitors for alleged insider dealers caught in the Financial Conduct’s Authority’s Operation Tabernula – the most ambitious and expensive investigation into the City – said they would seek to have the charges against their clients thrown out.

Colin Nott, who represents Richard Baldwin, one of six defendants who are due to stand trial in September, said he could not find a QC to represent his client. Unless the fight between the coalition government and the legal profession stopped, it would be impossible for Baldwin to have a fair trial. Detectives told the Observer that they feared an investigation into the manipulation of Libor rates, welcomed by chancellor George Osborne, could also come to nothing.

Plutocratic hubris on the Emerald Isle from the Irish Times:

Trump and environmentalists on collision course

  • Billionaire hints he hopes to extend Doonbeg golf links course across EU-protected sites at the property

Donald Trump looks set for a collision course with environmentalists after strongly hinting yesterday he hopes to extend his Doonbeg golf links course across EU-protected sites at the property.

The course – originally designed by Greg Norman – omitted EU-designed Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) from the 18-hole course design.

At his press conference in Shannon yesterday, Trump said: “Greg Norman couldn’t use the right land. A lot of people would say ‘that’s strange, why didn’t you use the right land?’ I don’t want people to say that anymore.”

Germany next, and politically acceptable targets from TheLocal.de:

Germans accept gays more, immigrants less

Tolerance of homosexuality has increased in nearly all German states since the fall of the Wall 25 years ago, but acceptance of immigrants who keep their traditions has declined, according to a study published on Monday.

Published on Monday by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the social cohesion study showed tolerance for social diversity had grown since reunification. The report stated that there was a “more relaxed approach” towards sexual minorities.

Even in Bavaria, ranked as the least tolerant of the western German states, acceptance of homosexuality had increased.

Immigrants on the other hand, were still being met with scepticism, with fewer Germans considering immigrants to be an “enrichment of cultural life in the country”.

France next, and controversial consolidation from New Europe:

France drawing ire with plans to redraw nation’s map, erasing borders to save money

France’s administrative regions — Normandy, Alsace, Burgundy, etc. — have long been part of the identity of citizens of this diverse country. Now, merging some of them is seen as a logical way to save money on bureaucracy, and the French support it — as long as it’s someone else’s turf.

The recent proposal of France’s new prime minister to cut the number of regions in half by 2017 is provoking sharp disputes — especially in areas with strong historical identity. It’s somewhat like erasing the state lines between Texas and Oklahoma.

A poll suggests that 68 percent of the French believe the measure to be a necessity — but 77 percent reject the disappearance of their own region. Polling agency LH2 questioned 5,111 people nationwide in February and March. The margin of error was 1.4 percentage points.

“This is where we will learn who the real reformers are and who are the conservatives,” French President Francois Hollande said this month on national TV. He’s trying to counter his image as a man afraid of unpopular cost-cutting reforms that many economists say his nation needs in order to thrive.

More Francoausterity from ANSAmed:

Crisis: France, cuts for ministry expenses by 15% in 3 years

In a framework letter concerning the 2015-17 budgets sent over the weekend to the government’s ministries, the premier asked for a 15% cut in ordinary expenses by 2017 and expenses in general including pensions.

”There is an across-the-board objective but is has to be adapted to different ministries”, a government source was quoted as saying by Les Echos over complaints from a number of ministries already targeted by significant cuts last year. The austerity measures don’t only concern ordinary expenses but also aid to State institutions (universities, weather services, chambers of commerce and research centres), which will have to shrink 2% a year in the next three years, and investment operations so there is no specific number indicated but a more general call to operate under a tight budget, especially in terms of expenses for real estate, computer technology and support services. As far as the number of employees is concerned, the framework letters asked for an overall stabilization which will translate in a 2% cut for some ministries, necessary to compensate new hires in schools, the judiciary and police.

On to Switzerland and another form of anxiety, with a price tag of $24.79 an hour from the Guardian:

Switzerland: referendum may herald world’s highest minimum wage

  • Business leaders uneasy at prospect of 18 May vote on proposal to increase minimum to 22 Swiss francs an hour

Swiss business leaders shocked by past popular votes on executive pay and immigration are wary of a referendum on 18 May that could see Switzerland adopt the world’s highest minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (£14.70) an hour.

A recent opinion poll by gfs.bern found that 64% of voters were against the proposal, made by the SGB union and supported by the Socialist and Green parties. But Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, with frequent popular votes on social, political or economic matters, has brought surprises before: the Swiss unexpectedly voted in February to curb EU immigration.

“I’m feeling uneasy about the upcoming vote,” said Ralph Mueller, division head at electronic components maker Schurter.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga wiseguy unmasking from the Independent:

Silvio and the Cosa Nostra: Berlusconi’s links with Italian organised crime confirmed

Silvio Berlusconi – Italy’s former Prime Minister and one of the world’s most recognisable politicians – did business with the mafia for nearly two decades.

That is the conclusion of the country’s Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome. The billionaire tycoon, nicknamed the Teflon Don, worked with Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, via his conduit and former senator Marcello Dell’Utri after judges sentenced Dell’Utri to seven years for mafia association.

Three-time premier Berlusconi, 77, has always denied rumours that mob links were behind the large and opaquely sourced investments used to kickstart his construction and media businesses in the 1970s and 1980s.

After the jump it’s on to Greece and the latest economic and political crises, the unfolding Ukrainian saga, Europe’s Bulgarian blues, a Turkish legal hit, In Afghan fields the poppies grow, a Uruguayan rebuke for Obama, Aussie austerity China’s burst real estate bubble and elite spending, Japanese economic woes, a full slate of major environmental developments, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

Continue reading

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutbacks in California court system produce long lines, short tempers

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

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

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

TechCrunch covers hypocrisy from Obama appointees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Sky News, elite-a-palooza:

Billionaire Britain: New Nation Of Super-Rich

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

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

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

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

News Corp Australia covers a British plutocrat behaving badly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

London property empire amassed by controversial German landlord

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

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

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

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

While Sky News covers more austerian casualties:

‘Overworked’ Doctors Fear Missing Illnesses

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

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

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

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

Off to Scandinavia with the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

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

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

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

New Europe covers risks:

Norway’s economic risks predicted by OECD

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

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

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

On to France and another green movement from RT:

Hundreds march across France to legalize cannabis

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

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

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

From TheLocal.fr, the Great Game continues:

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

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

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

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

And the London Telegraph covers the bankster blues:

Cinema producer warned over ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn film’

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment slightly down

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

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

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

Italy next, and a populist pander from EUbusiness:

Italy’s Grillo makes Nazi jibe against Schulz

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

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

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

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

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

AC Milan: Bananas thrown at players by Atalanta fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the ecology, are weighted heavily toward the U.S. and Asia, with relatively little form Europe, save Greece.

There’s also plenty on the environment, including lots in the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with a global issue, a reminder of what always lurks within the world around us. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

The World Health Organization said Friday it would hold an emergency meeting next week on the deadly MERS virus, amid concern over the rising number of cases in several countries.

The UN health agency will host the emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the worrying spread of the virus, which in less than two years has killed 126 people in Saudi Arabia alone, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss the mysterious corona virus, which surfaced in mid-2012.

More on an issue we’ve covered before via the Oakland Tribune:

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years.

Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier, a new analysis by this newspaper shows.

The shift feels like a betrayal to some families coping with — or fearing — rejection by the distinguished university system, which was built by and for Californians but now is turning them away in record numbers.

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

CNBC’s first-ever Millionaire Survey reveals that 51 percent of American millionaires believe inequality is a “major problem” for the U.S., and of those, nearly two-thirds support higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage as ways to narrow the wealth gap.

The findings show that—far from being a purely self-interested voting bloc—American millionaires have complicated views when it comes to the wealth gap and opportunity in America. They are unashamed of their own wealth and attribute their success to hard work, smart investing and savings. They also believe that anyone in America can get wealthy if they work hard.

Yet millionaires also believe that cultural and family issues prevent many Americans from climbing the wealth ladder. They advocate improved education, higher taxes on the wealthy and better savings incentives for the poor and middle class as important changes that would reduce inequality.

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

Split appears in GOP as more call for raising federal minimum wage

Several leading Republicans have called for raising the federal minimum wage and others are speaking more forcefully about the party’s failure to connect with low-income Americans — stances that are causing a growing rift within the party over how best to address the gulf between the rich and poor.

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

Brandon James Thompson, of New Castle, Ind., angered over the House’s failure to pass an emergency unemployment extension, admitted to sending threatening messages to House Speaker John Boehner and his wife.

The FBI arrested an Indiana man Thursday night for allegedly threatening to kill House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Brandon James Thompson, 32, of New Castle, Ind., was taken into custody at his home Thursday night and faces federal charges for making phone and email threats to an elected official.

According to an FBI affidavit, Thompson admitted to sending threatening messages to the Ohio Republican’s congressional website using his neighbor’s wifi, and leaving threatening voicemails on Boehner’s wife Debbie’s personal cellphone.

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

The retirement crisis in America is not contained to any one generation. Across the country, people of all ages are struggling with stagnant wages, rising living expenses, and an overall sluggish economy. Some are closer to their golden years than others, but one thing is clear: There are three unique generations with very different retirements ahead of them.

Many workers are simply trying to recover from the financial meltdown that took place more than five years ago. According to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement survey, one of the largest and longest-running national surveys of its kind, 35% of workers believe the Great Recession has not yet ended. That figure rises to 40% among Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, 65% of workers believe the recession has ended, but they have mixed views about the strength of the recovery. Only 14% say they have fully recovered financially from the historic downturn.

“Experts have long written about the changing retirement landscape over the past century,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Times are changing so rapidly that the retirements of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials will not only be a radical departure from their parents’ generations but from each other as well.”

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

401(k)s are retirement robbery: How the Koch brothers, Wall Street and politicians conspire to drain Social Security

The decades-long tale of how the Kochs, Reagan, Wall Street and even Democrats have tried to gut Social Security

Excerpted from “Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis”

On the eve of the Reagan presidency in 1980, Milton and Rose Friedman published “Free to Choose,” a proposal for gradually phasing out Social Security. The entitlements of retirees would be honored as would the accumulated credits of contributors who had not yet retired. But no new payroll taxes would be collected. The final elimination of Social Security would allow “individuals to provide for their own retirement as they wish.” Among the advantages would be that “it would add to personal saving and so lead to a higher rate of capital formation [and] stimulate the development and expansion of private pension plans.” While the Friedmans argued for such a plan, they acknowledged that immediate privatization of retirement was unrealistic in the current political climate, but they would accept incremental reforms with the hope that one day total privatization would become politically feasible.

That same year, the conservative Koch brothers-financed Cato Institute published “Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction,” by Peter Ferrara, which argued that instead of being required to participate in Social Security, people should “be allowed to choose from a variety of insurance and investment options offered in the private market. The previous year, two years after its founding in 1977, the institute had published an article by Carolyn Weaver in which she made the case for privatization, and in 1980 it also sponsored a conference on Social Security privatization that drew, among others, two hundred congressional staffers.

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

A battle against leisure is unfolding. In America, it’s a war that has been raging since the Puritan age.

Though recently American leisure time has appeared to rise, the averages are skewed by undereducated and lower-income men, who are likely “unemployed or underemployed,” as the Washington Post has noted. Work-life balances are abominable when compared to other developed countries. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “average American” is actually working “one month” more a year than he or she was in 1976.

But Sunday, the weekend day that even Puritans blocked off for worship and rest (a Puritan poet once pondered “over whether closing a stable door that was blowing in the wind constituted an act of work which would profane the Sabbath”), is also beginning to look more and more like just another day of the work week.

On the other hand, given the narcissism of some of our leisure time habits. . .From  United Press International:

Hundreds of ATV riders in Utah threaten sacred Navajo burial ground to protest federal government

  • Illegal route runs through protected Native American land, forced military veterans retreat to relocate.

Protesters who say the Bureau of Land Management has no right to criminalize use of ATVs in Utah’s Recapture Canyon plan to demonstrate today by illegally riding their vehicles through the protected land – a move that has drawn the ire of Native Americans and displaced a veterans retreat.

“It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor,” Jerry Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance said in a statement. “It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

Willie Grayeyes, chair of a nonprofit that lobbies to protect Navajo land, was offended at both the protesters’ dismissive attitude toward Native American culture and their disrespect for the American veterans who had to move their long-scheduled retreat to ensure it could be held in peace.

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads

What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

According to a recent report by the World Bank, that scenario is not so far-fetched. The bank is one of those high-minded organizations — Washington is full of them — that release hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.

The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record.

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

Swisspartners Ends U.S. Probe With Non-Prosecution Deal

Swisspartners Group, a Zurich-based money-manager, resolved a U.S. criminal tax probe by paying $4.4 million for helping American clients use secret accounts to evade taxes. In return, the government agreed not to prosecute the firm, citing its “extraordinary cooperation.”

The agreement resulted from Swisspartners’ voluntary production of the files for about 110 U.S. taxpayer clients, according to the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“The extraordinary cooperation of Swisspartners has enabled us to identify U.S. tax cheats who have hidden behind phony offshore trusts and foundations,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said today in a statement. “In this and other cases around the world we will continue to provide substantial credit for prompt and full cooperation.”

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.

You’ve read the headlines about nearly one in four of America’s bridges being either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, right? The $59 billion backlog for commuter railway maintenance? The $324 per year in mechanic visits that each U.S. motorist incurs by driving on deteriorated roads?

America has a transportation funding problem. And if Congress doesn’t fix it this summer, it could start doing some real damage.

First, a few basics. Most big transportation projects — bridge repairs, new highways, intercity rail — are paid for with a stack of local, state, and federal funds. The federal contribution ranges between 35 percent and 95 percent of a state’s total transportation budget, and is mostly supplied by the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is mostly supplied by the federal gas tax, which is a robust stream of money that can’t be used for anything other than transportation.

The problem for funding is that Americans are actually using less gas than they used to — both because they aren’t driving as much, and cars are getting more efficient. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994, which is now far behind what it was then when you take inflation into account.

From the  Los Angeles Times, the voice of reason from an unexpected quarter:

Jackie Lacey says L.A. County should stop locking up so many people

You wouldn’t expect the county’s top prosecutor to step up to a microphone and say it’s time to stop locking up so many people. But that’s exactly what L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey did last week. She told the county Board of Supervisors that, in her opinion, 1,000 or more people with mental illness who are currently incarcerated should probably be somewhere other than in jail.

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

From Business Insider, the Washington Post’s new owner’s other business demonstrates utter greed:

Amazon Is Claiming Exclusive Rights To A Basic Version Of An Extremely Common Practice

A photography site called DIY Photography wrote this week that the Amazon corporation applied for—and received—a patent for the process of taking a picture of an object against a white background.

Despite the technical detail in the patent documentation, the DIY site says, Amazon is ultimately claiming exclusive rights to a basic version of an extremely common practice:

The patent number is 8,676,045B1 and you can read the entire boring text on USPTO, or just about any basic studio photography book.

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

As you probably know, several of us at CT are big photography enthusiasts. While we seem to be more interested in taking photos of nature and architecture, next time we want to shoot a family portrait or an item, we’ll have to be careful with our approach. The US Patent Office recently granted Amazon a patent for taking photos against a white background. For real. So is their plan to start trolling portrait studios and Ebay/Etsy sellers to see whom they can sue?

I am no lawyer, but the language seems rather vague. For example, “a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white”. So what level of off-white should a photographer strive for to avoid litigation?

Having shot many a picture for publication we cam attest to the fact that Amazon has basically tried to patent the wheel.

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

Portugal received a vote of confidence from credit ratings agencies Friday for the first time since the country’s sovereign-debt crisis began.

Moody’s Investors Service raised the debt rating to Ba2, from Ba3, citing an improved financial position and Lisbon’s decision not to seek additional aid after its bailout programme expires at the end of this month.

“Portugal’s economic recovery is gaining momentum, with signs of broadening beyond exports, which continue to perform strongly,” Moody’s said. The move followed a revised outlook from negative to stable by Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services earlier in the day.

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

An Italian court has upheld the conviction of retired parliamentarian Marcello Dell’Utri for ties to the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri is a close associate of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Dell’Utri was not present when Italy’s highest appeals court upheld his seven-year prison sentence on Friday. He had fled to Lebanon last month in order to avoid arrest.

The close Berlusconi associate (pictured center) is currently in police custody at a hospital in Beirut while Italian authorities seek his extradition.

In 2010, a Palermo court convicted Dell’Utri of acting as a mediator between the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite from 1974-1992. The decision by the Court of Cassation on Friday means his conviction is now final and can no longer be appealed.

After the jump, the latest from grief from Greece, Ukrainian turmoil, a Turkish tantrum, economic alarms form Latin America, Indian anxieties in Washington, Indonesian bankster woes, Australian bankster extravagance, Thai turmoil, Chinese housing, food & economic uncertainties, environmental ills, and the latest chapter of Fumkshimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, players, loans, lies, pollution


And, of course, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including wordf that the nuclear waste dump used by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory faces a closeure of two years or more.

From PBS NewsHour, our first item features the usual suspects:

Koch group plans to spend $125 million on midterms

Kochs plan to spend big: To the surprise of no one, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s repeated attacks against Charles and David Koch have failed to dissuade the conservative billionaires from investing heavily in the 2014 midterm elections. Politico’s Ken Vogel reports that Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the Koch brothers, plans to spend more than $125 million “on an aggressive ground, air and data operation” to help boost conservative candidates. That sum would “exceed the total 2012 fundraising hauls of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the National Republican Senatorial Committee,” Vogel writes. The $125 million projection comes after the Kochs’ political network raised more than $400 million trying to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.

Aiming for the red-state Democrats in the South: This time their aim will be vulnerable Senate Democrats in red states such as Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. By the end of March AFP had already spent $7 million targeting Hagan. AFP has so far dropped more money than any other outside group on the right, and Friday’s headline signals that spending is only going to continue — and likely escalate — as the calendar moves closer to November.

Even before the election, they’ve already won one significant victory. From ABC News:

Wyoming is 1st state to reject science standards

  • Coal-producing state Wyoming declines new science standards with global warming components

Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state, is the first to reject new K-12 science standards proposed by national education groups mainly because of global warming components.

The Wyoming Board of Education decided recently that the Next Generation Science Standards need more review after questions were raised about the treatment of man-made global warming.

Board President Ron Micheli said the review will look into whether “we can’t get some standards that are Wyoming standards and standards we all can be proud of.”

BBC News raises the heat:

Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

Pressure is mounting on the US Federal Communications Commission to delay or abandon plans to change the rules that govern how internet traffic is treated.

More than 50 venture capitalists have sent a letter expressing concerns about proposals to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge for prioritised network access. It comes a day after 100 technology companies signed a similar letter.

Two FCC commissioners are now calling for the 15 May vote to be delayed.

Whilst on the subject of neutrality, ponder this from Montclair SocioBlog:

Whose Speech, Whose Religion?

Does a justice’s view of the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” depend on which religion is being established?

The First Amendment doesn’t specify any religions as more or less establishable. It just says no establishment.

This week, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court voted to allow a town council in Greece, NY to open their meetings with Christian prayers. These referred to “our Christian faith,” Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection. The justices ruled that these Christian prayers were in perfect accord with the First Amendment.  Needless to say, the five justice majority was all Christian (Catholic in fact).  The two Jews and two other Catholics dissented. (The Court has no Protestants.)

The Washington Post politics:

Obama warns Democrats that midterms could imperil his agenda — and America

On the West Coast to raise millions of dollars for his party, President Obama spent the second half of this week preaching to rich supporters about why Democrats are better than Republicans. It sounded like a conventional stump speech in the windup to the midterm battle — including a rote apology to the first lady for running another campaign.

As he toured a series of mansions, Obama made the case that should Democrats fail to keep their hold on the Senate and win back the House, both his second-term priorities and the country’s future could be imperiled.

He described the public’s dissatisfaction with Washington as nearly at a tipping point, where working-class Americans see leaders as unresponsive to their most basic concerns. If that were to continue, he said, more middle-class Americans could dismiss the political process completely.

CNBC covers a political blunder featuring a company where Hillary Cklinton once served as a director:

Obama heads to Wal-Mart, triggers backlash

Calling it the right thing to do for America’s bottom line, President Barack Obama announced new steps Friday by companies, local governments and his own administration to deploy solar technology, showcasing steps to combat climate change that don’t require consent from a disinclined Congress.

Framed by rows of clothing and patio supplies at a Wal-Mart in California, Obama said more than 300 companies and state and local governments have pledged to use solar energy

>snip<

The White House said it chose Wal-Mart because the company has committed to doubling the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers.

But in choosing the giant retailer as the backdrop for his announcement, Obama triggered a backlash from labor unions and pay equity advocates who say low wages paid by Wal-Mart fly in the face of Obama’s vaunted push on pay equity.

“What numbskull in the White House arranged this?” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said on Facebook.

And from Reuters, more about the company in question:

Wal-Mart should face lawsuit over alleged Mexico bribery: U.S. judge

Wal-Mart Stores Inc should face a U.S. lawsuit accusing it of defrauding shareholders by concealing suspected corruption at its Mexico operations, after learning that a damaging media report detailing alleged bribery was being prepared, a federal judge said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Setser in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Thursday recommended denying Wal-Mart’s request to dismiss the lawsuit led by a Michigan pension fund against the world’s largest retailer and former Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company disagrees with Setser’s recommendation, which is subject to review by U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey. District judges are not bound by magistrate judges’ recommendations but often follow them.

BBC News covers more corporate conundra:

US politicians raise questions over Pfizer bid

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca is being questioned by US politicians.

The governors of the states of Maryland and Delaware have written to Pfizer’s boss saying they are “very concerned” about the deal and the possibilities of job losses in their states.

Meanwhile senators Carl Levin and Roy Wyden are looking to close the tax loophole that Pfizer plans to use. One of the attractions of the deal to Pfizer is that it could significantly lower the company’s tax bill.

While MintPress News catches one of the more loathesome outcomes of Proposition 13:

Calif. City Boosts Revenue By Detaining And Deporting Immigrants

Despite protests and calls from activists, an immigrant-dominant California city opts to continue its controversial relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Santa Ana, Calif., welcomed its first Latino police chief on Tuesday during a City Council meeting, then the city with an 80-percent Latino population opted to increase its revenue by deporting undocumented immigrants.

As MintPress News previously reported, since 2006, Santa Ana officials have allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain those suspected of being undocumented immigrants at the Santa Ana City Jail for a fee of about $82 per day. Despite protests in recent years, city officials have not only expressed an interest in continuing their financial relationship with ICE, but also hope to increase the immigrant detainee fee to $110.

The controversial detention practice has been criticized by immigrants rights activists for years, as individuals can be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant — even if they are American citizens. This 48-hour period does not include weekends or holidays, which means many are detained for much longer than two days. As Theresa Dang, a representative of the Orange County May Day Coalition shared, more than 70 percent of the detainees do not have any criminal record.

From United Press International, a better way for regional governments to make a little spare change:

Colorado generates over $25M in marijuana revenue since legalization

Colorado made over $3 million in licensing and application fees before recreational pot shops even opened their doors.

Marijuana has already generated Colorado nearly $25 million in revenue since legalization, between taxes, licenses, and fees.

Before it even became legal to sell recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 of this year, the state had already collected over $3 million in licensing fees.

And in the first three months of this year alone, Colorado’s raked in nearly $22 million — over $16 million of that was in taxes, the rest in license and application fees — according to a report from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The license and application fees may represent the boom of a new economy, and might eventually slow as that market stabilizes and fewer new shops open. Still, the tax revenue so far continues to climb month to month, as recreational sales jumped to $19 million in March — up nearly a third from $14 million in February.

Consider also a second UPI story:

Report: Global war on drugs a failure

The report emphasizes public health treatment instead of incarceration and prosecution

The global war on drugs is a failure, economists of the London School of Economics, including five Nobel Prize winners, said in a report.

The 84-page report, entitled “Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy,” calls for reform of drug laws and theorizes a “drug-free world” based on prohibition is wasteful and expensive. It calls for a “major rethink of international drug policies.”

The report suggests decriminalization would reduce incarceration and health care costs worldwide, and notes countries with the harshest drug penalties have higher incarceration and HIV infection rates.

And then there’s this, from the Guardian:

Arrests for low-level marijuana crime plummet in New York City

  • Commissioner says police are using ‘more discretion’ as arrests for minor crimes fall 34% in first quarter of new mayor’s term

Minor marijuana arrests in New York City have plunged in recent years amid questions about police tactics. But new statistics show the arrests dropped more modestly in the first three months of a new mayoral administration that has pledged to reduce them.

Arrests for the lowest-level marijuana crime fell 34% in the first quarter of – and 9% in the first quarter of this year, to roughly 7,000, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services data obtained by the Associated Press. Both comparisons are to the same period in the previous years.

Police commissioner William Bratton recently said the department is “attempting to use a lot more discretion” and decreasing the arrests, which Mayor Bill de Blasio decried during his campaign last year.

While Want China Times takes the fast track:

China mulls building high speed railway to the US

The first of the three cross-border high-speed railway plans being constructed or promoted is the high-speed railway line connecting Europe and Asia, which starts from London, will pass through Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev, Moscow and then branch out to Kazakhstan, or Khabarovsk and then enter China’s Manzhouli. The domestic section of this line has already started construction while the sections outside China are still being negotiated.

The second line is a Central Asia high speed railway that will start in Urumqi, pass through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey and conclude in Germany. The domestic section is being promoted, while the sections outside China are still being negotiated.

The third line will be the Pan-Asian high speed rail, which starts in China’s southwestern province of Kunming.

From the San Jose Mercury News, a local-to-esnl reminder that it ain’t over yet:

Underwater homes: Minorities still suffering from housing collapse

Despite the Bay Area’s robust housing recovery, the East Bay communities of Vallejo, Antioch and Richmond are among the nation’s 100 cities with the highest percentages of underwater mortgages, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, points out that these communities and others with large minority populations have substantial percentages of homes still underwater, or worth less than their mortgages. Initially targeted by subprime lenders and then hit with the steepest home price declines, the communities are still struggling from the housing crash.

The study called for more federal action to help the cities, and without that, endorsed Richmond’s plan to use eminent domain to take over underwater homes and modify their mortgages. That proposal has critics saying it would end up in the courts for years, and would hurt the city’s real estate market if it were implemented.

On to Canada, and one of the dumbest political moves ever from CBC News:

Tim Hudak would cut 100,000 public sector jobs if Tories win Ontario election

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader drew swift condemnation from his opponents Friday as he announced a plan to slash the number of public sector workers in the province by 100,000 if he wins next month’s election.

Tim Hudak said it would be a tough move, but one that would reap benefits in the future. “I take no joy in this, but it has to be done if we want job creators to put more people on the payroll in our province,” he said in Barrie, Ont.

Hudak’s vision — which forms part of his much-touted plan to create one million jobs over eight years — would trade jobs in the public service for the creation of new positions in the private sector.

Another reason why it’s a stupid move from BBC News:

Canada sees little employment growth in last year

The Canadian economy shed 29,000 jobs in April while the unemployment rate remained flat at 6.9%, according to Statistics Canada. However, the number of people working rose 0.8% from a year earlier, split between full- and part-time workers.

Employment fell in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick but rose in Saskatchewan.

Since August 2013, the Canadian economy has seen little overall employment growth, according to the report. And labour force participation fell to 66.1% from 66.5% in April 2013.

There’s much, much more after the jump, including Britain’s household debt timebomb and some Cameron intransigence, a Dutch call for restricting European labor movement and a boom in yachts, then on to Germany for a unique legal victory and a business decline, France next, with Chinese police on the streets and an administration in trouble, a Swiss bankster surrender, a harsh austerian prescription for Portugal, Italian legal woes, the latest from Greece [including electioneering, dirty tricks and all], Russia nostalgia for the Soviet era, turmoil and trucks in the Ukraine, Latin American inflation and political turmoil, a Chinese economic invasion of Africa, Indian bankster chutzpah, billionaires in fisticuffs Down Under, Indonesian graftm, Thai turmoil, mixed news from China, Japanese corporate shenanigans, a host of environmental woes, a cartoon, music, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: eCons, banksters, crimes, more


Today’s collection of headlines on the unfolding events in economic, politics, and the environment covers lots of ground, but our sense that events are moving toward a climax as the drama continues to accelerate.

First up, another sign of hard times, Catholic fundamentalism, via the London Telegraph:

Decline of religious belief means we need more exorcists, say Catholics

  • Decline of religion in the West has created a rise in black magic, Satanism and the occult

The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism have said.

The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.

The conference, “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms.

And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:

Google, Facebook strike back against FCC plans to reshape the Internet

  • Some 150 tech companies sent a letter to the FCC, saying proposed rules would undermine ‘net neutrality,’ which has fueled the exponential growth of the Internet, they say.

After years of setbacks, the supporters of “net neutrality” have begun a full-throated counterattack this week. On Wednesday, 150 tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Netflix asked the Federal Communications Commission to preserve a core principle that has guided the Internet’s exponential growth since its advent decades ago.

At issue are new FCC rules announced last month that allow Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to treat some content on the Internet differently. For example, they can create “fast lanes” that will move content across the Internet more quickly, but companies like Google and Facebook will have to pay to use it. This, critics say, is a violation of net neutrality, in which all content – whether it’s a Netflix stream or an e-mail to grandma – is treated the same.

Internet providers such as Comcast say it’s common sense that companies that make more demands on their networks – like Netflix – should pay more for quicker service. Critics say this would turn the Internet – one of the greatest engines of innovation and freedom in the 21st century – into the playground of the highest bidders.

Another response from Al Jazeera America:

Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’

  • Protesters plan to stay in front of communications regulator until it supports Net neutrality

Internet libertarians calling for the equal treatment of all Internet data have camped out in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C., saying they won’t quit their Occupy-style protest until the regulator stands up for Net neutrality.

About 15 people stood outside the FCC’s headquarters on Wednesday afternoon in a protest organized by the two groups, Fight for the Future and Popular Resistance. Five of the demonstrators said they were determined to set up camp overnight and stick around until May 15, when the commission is set to unveil proposed new Net neutrality rules — or perhaps longer, if the new rules don’t meet their expectations.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance says members of the protest — officially called “Camp Out to Save Net Neutrality” or “People’s Firewall FCC Camp” and unofficially as “Occupy FCC” — are in it for the long haul, bringing sleeping bags and signs and engaging in chants, such as “Hey, hey, FCC, the Internet must be free” and “FCC, drop the barrier, make the Internet a common carrier.”

From CNBC, a case of too little, too late:

US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday proposed a rule to limit concentration in the financial sector, a requirement of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to make banks safer after the crisis.

The rule would prohibit a bank merger if the new company’s liabilities exceed 10 percent of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies, the central bank said in a press release.

Companies subject to the rule would be depository institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies, foreign banking organizations, companies that control insured depository institutions, and non-bank financial companies designated “as systemic’‘ by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a tag that carries greater regulation and Fed oversight.

And from the Department of Snowball’s Chance in Hell of Survivng a GOP House, this from BBC News:

Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole

US senator Carl Levin has said he plans to introduce legislation into Congress that would close a loophole allowing US companies to move overseas and avoid US taxes.

The loophole – known as an “inversion” – allows US firms to reincorporate abroad, generally in an effort to avoid the US corporate tax rate of 35%.

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca has put renewed focus on the practice.

From Al Jazeera America, a verdict of the Bush/Obama education agenda:

National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills

Handing out dismal grades on Wednesday, the Nation’s Report Card said America’s high school seniors lack math and reading skills critical in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Only about one-quarter are performing proficiently or better in math and just 4 in 10 in reading. And they’re not improving, the report says, reinforcing concerns that large numbers of today’s students are unprepared for either college or the workplace.

Scores on the 2013 exam in both subjects were little changed from 2009, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress was last given to 12th graders. The new results come from a representative sample of 92,000 public and private school students.

From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:

Exclusive: Barnes & Noble seeks big expansion of its college stores

The U.S. bookseller, which opened in 1965 as a university bookstore in New York, wants a much bigger presence on college campuses, where students last year spent an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to the College Board.

Barnes & Noble, now the second largest operator of college bookstores with 696 shops, plans to have about 1,000 locations within five years, Max Roberts, chief executive of the company’s college business, said in an exclusive interview at Rutgers University’s bookstore in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It intends to do that by getting more schools to outsource their bookstore operations with the lure of nicer, higher-grossing stores and by poaching accounts from larger rival Follett Corp, which runs 940 stores.

A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:

North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic

North Dakota’s male-dominated oil fields have created huge demand for sex workers. This demand has led to a human trafficking epidemic that the state can’t remedy on its own.

The men working on the oil fields don’t seem put off by the large rent checks they are writing, but the highly skewed male-to-female ratio is proving problematic, prompting many to seek out prostitutes.

Although prostitution is currently illegal in North Dakota and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, the demand for prostitutes has never been higher in the Roughrider State.

Windie Jo Lazenko is an advocate for human trafficking victims who founded 4Her North Dakota — a ministry that helps educate the public and advocate for victims in the hope of eradicating human trafficking for the purpose of sex in the United States. Though she was raised in Southern California, Lazenko has found herself in North Dakota in recent years investigating rumors of rampant human trafficking in the state.

From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:

US exports to China total $120b last year: USCBC

The US exports to China hit $120 billion last year, making China the third largest export market for American goods, said the US-China Business Council (USCBC) Wednesday.

In a newly released report, the USCBC, a private, non-profit organization, noted that US exports to China have grown at an average annual rate of 15.1 percent over the past 10 years, fastest among all major US trading partner.

The American exports to China rose by 10.4 percent last year, making it a major export market for US goods only behind Canada and Mexico, the two neighbors with which the United States has a free trade agreement.

CNBC delivers another verdict:

Yellen: Economy remains on track but keep an eye on housing

The economy is “on track for solid growth this quarter,” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday, but warned that a deterioration in housing or financial markets could alter that scenario.

After recent weakness that was mostly weather-related, Yellen said many recent indicators suggest a rebound in spending and production. However, the Fed chief told a joint Congressional committee that housing remains a risk to the recovery, even as the Fed expects that sector to pick up eventually.

The newly-appointed top central banker walked a fine line between preparing markets for normalizing monetary policy from its crisis era levels, and assuring the public that the Fed would continue to safeguard a still fragile recovery. A brutally cold winter triggered a run of weak activity that caused economic growth to flatline in the first three months of the year.

From CNBC again, another verdict:

Fed Chair Yellen: Minimum wage hike to have negative impact on jobs

In testimony before a Senate committee on Thursday, Fed Chair Yellen said a minimum wage increase would likely have some negative effects on jobs, though it’s not clear how large.

Still, boosting the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 per hour since mid-2009, would benefit some people, she added.

In recent months, the federal minimum wage has been a hot-button issue. In February, President Barack Obama boosted the minimum pay for federal contractors hired in the future to $10.10 per hour. He’s also voiced his support for the federal level for all workers to rise to $10.10 from the current $7.25. Separately, organized protests of fast food workers have lobbied for a jump to $15.

While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:

US household debt nearly twice as high as annual wages and salaries: Inflating the consumer debt bubble with student loans and auto debt.

The latest consumer credit report surprised to the upside. What was the surprise? Americans are back to borrowing money they don’t have. Are they borrowing for investing or possibly purchasing a modest home? No.

The latest data shows that Americans are once again going deep into student debt and auto debt. This is actually worse than borrowing for a home you can’t afford. A car will begin losing its value seconds after you drive it off the lot. Yet this is where Americans are pouring their money. So don’t be surprised if you see a pizza delivery person driving in a nicer car than you are.

Since the 1980s, households have been supplementing the decline in their standard of living by going into deep debt.

And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:

SEC Official Describes Widespread Lawbreaking and Material Weakness in Controls in Private Equity Industry

At a private equity conference this week, Drew Bowden, a senior SEC official, told private equity fund managers and their investors in considerable detail about how the agency had found widespread stealing and other serious infractions in its audits of private equity firms.

In the years that I’ve been reading speeches from regulators, I’ve never seen anything remotely like Bowden’s talk. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post and strongly encourage you to read it in full.

Despite the at times disconcertingly polite tone, the SEC has now announced that more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws. These abuses were detected thanks to to Dodd Frank. Private equity general partners had been unregulated until early 2012, when they were required to SEC regulation as investment advisers.

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash

  • Commentary: Fed-driven rally is about to end badly

Yes, “the bull market may come to an end any time,” warns Jeremy Grantham, founder of the $117 billion GMO investment giant. An unpredictable collapse. Risky valuations, 10 bubbles peaking, and black swan megatrends: The bull “could be derailed by disappointing global growth, profits sagging as deficits are cut, a Russian miscalculation, or, perhaps most dangerous and likely, an extreme Chinese slowdown.”

Yes, Grantham’s hedging his near-term: Betting the S&P 500 could rally past 2,250 before the 2016 presidential election, “depending on what new ammunition the Fed can dig up.” But then, a black swan will ignite “around the election or soon after, the market bubble will burst” and “revert to its trend value, around half of its peak or worse.”

Yes half. The S&P 500 will collapse to about 1,125. This Fed-driven rally “will end badly.” Repeating the dot-com losses of 2000-2003. Repeating Wall Street’s $10 trillion losses in 2007-2009.

Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:

A Win For Civil Society As Corporations Divest From Private Prison Industry

Corporate divestment from the U.S. private prison sector could major a big impact on the industry — even if it’s mostly symbolic.

Three corporations considered major investors in the U.S. private prison industry are moving to dump their holdings in the sector, apparently in response to newly stepped-up pressure from civil society.

The total divestments add up to about $60 million, and organizers say more divestment announcements are on the way. Two of the three companies — Amica Mutual Insurance and Dutch chemicals manufacturer DSM North America — have reportedly offloaded all of their shares in the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, the country’s two largest for-profit corrections companies.

“In accordance with [U.N.] principles … with respect to the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights, the [DSM Netherlands] pension fund has divested from the for-profit prison industry,” Hugh Walsh, president of DSM North America, said in a statement late last month.

On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:

ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has hinted the bank’s policymakers may act soon to reverse the eurozone’s prolonged low inflation.

The ECB chief said on Thursday that the monetary authority was “not resigned” to low inflation, which at 0.7% is well below the 2% target.

The comments followed that ECB’s decision to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.25%.

Attribution, via EUobserver:

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

Low inflation, weak demand and high unemployment are not the only reasons for a strong euro, which is a “matter of serious concern” for the governing board of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Russia’s actions in Ukraine are “certainly one of the reasons”, with credit flows from Russia and Ukraine “having the effect of keeping the euro strong,” ECB chief Mario Draghi said Thursday (8 May) in a press conference.

The euro is appreciating because it is seen as a safe haven by investors, compared to the shaky Ukrainian hryvnia and the Russian ruble.

And from New Europe, vast indifference:

Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans

  • Suppose they held an election and nobody came?

A poll has shown that six out of ten Europeans are uninterested in the elections to the European Parliament in three weeks time.

The survey of 9,000 people in 12 countries will cause great concern in Brussels where the parliament has faced declining turnout since elections were introduced in 1979.

‘This time it is different’ is the slogan used by the parliament in a 15 million Euro campaign to persuade voters to turn up on polling day, 22 to 25 May.

The political parties of Europe have also tried to boost the poll by picking lead candidates and campaigning across the continent.

New Europe again, this time with positive[?] news:

Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs

  • The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure

The Council today adopted a directive which will make it easier and cheaper to roll out high-speed electronic communications networks, among other things by promoting the joint use of infrastructure, such as electricity, gas and sewage pipes.

Today’s final adoption of the legislative act by the Council follows an agreement reached at first reading with the European Parliament. The Parliament held its vote at the plenary session on 15 April 2014.

Member states must adopt national provisions to comply with the new directive by 1 January 2016, and they must apply the new measures from 1 July 2016.

On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:

Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years

Barclays is to cut 19,000 jobs by 2016, with more than 9,000 to go in the UK, the bank has said.

As part of a new strategy, the investment part of the bank will lose about 7,000 jobs by the end of 2016.

Barclays’ investment bank has been hit by a slowdown in the demand for government and company debt.

Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:

No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women

Women who are unable to receive abortions in Northern Ireland are told they are not entitled to the procedure for free on the NHS.

The High Court has upheld a ruling which forbids women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions in England. Mr Justice King rejected a legal challenge to restrictions on women from Northern Ireland undergoing terminations on the NHS.

The case was brought  by a teenager, referred to as “A”, who was denied an abortion by medical authorities in Northern Ireland in October 2012. Laws on the procedure are extremely strict, with terminations only permitted when the life of the mother as at risk.

The girl, aged 15 at the time, then sought an abortion in England, where abortions are legal, but was denied NHS treatment. She was forced to pay £600 to have the operation done privately and a further £300 in travel costs.

A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:

EU ‘bullied’ Ireland into bailout, former Barroso aide says

The EU’s institutions ‘bullied’ Ireland into a bailout, a senior former adviser to the European Commission’s president said on Wednesday (7 May).

In an interview with Irish network RTE, Phillipe Legrain accused the Commission and the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) of having sided with France and Germany in insisting that Irish taxpayers were left solely responsible for the €64 billion debt burden held by its banks, a move he described as “unjust and unbearable”.

“It was a mistake by the previous government to guarantee all Irish bank debts but it was outrageous to effectively threaten to force Ireland out of the euro unless the government went through with that foolish pledge,” said Legrain.

Between 2011 and February 2014, Legrain was principal adviser at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, the in-house think tank which provides economic advice to Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:

Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’

Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice ruled on Wednesday that those listed in an illegal Swedish police register of Roma will be entitled to receive compensation of 5,000 kronor ($768), an award dismissed by a leading representative as “a disgrace”.

“This is a further violation. But it is at the same time positive that a state body… rules that what the police have done is wrong and illegal,” Soraya Post, EU parliamentary candidate for the Feminist Initiative and Roma human rights activist, told the Dagens Nyheter daily on Wednesday evening.

“We will just have to bring this before the European Court,” she added.

The Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern – JK) confirmed on Wednesday that the Skåne County police department register was illegal. The existence of the register was exposed by Dagens Nyheter’s reporter Niklas Orrenius in September 2013.

Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:

German living expenses rank high

In Germany, day-to-day goods are one-third more expensive than in the rest of the world. But German price levels rank near average in a European comparison, while living in Switzerland and Norway comes with the highest price-tag, a recent study says.

Life in Germany is comparatively expensive, according to a recent study. In 2011, the price level in the Federal Republic was around 36% over the global average, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reported on Wednesday (7 May).

Compared to German price levels, living costs were much lower in Asia. In South Korea, for example, people paid 28% less three years ago, while China and Russia were around half. In India, expenses were over 70% lower than in Germany.

Destatis based its findings on a study conducted by the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP) which focused on purchasing power parities and comparative price levels.

Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:

Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality

The equality commissioner at the German Family Ministry is suing her own employers over the appointment of three men to key positions in 2012.

Kristin Rose-Möhring took the ministry to Germany’s administrative court on Thursday because the appointments of press spokesman, state secretary, and an independent commissioner on child abuse – were made without consulting her. All three posts subsequently went to men.

The 59-year-old, who has been in the post since 2001, said that although the appointments were made under a different minister (Kristina Schröder was replaced by the incumbent Manuela Schwesig last year), the same structures are still in place at the ministry. “There is still room for improvement,” Rose-Möhring said.

Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:

Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research

The risk of deflation is growing in the euro area which threatens economic growth in Germany, the Institute of Macroeconomic Research (IMK) said on Thursday.

Based on its simulation calculations, IMK expected a stable German economy in 2014 and 2015 but warned of risks such as price stability.

The increase in German consumer prices of 0.9 percent in March was significantly below the inflation rate of the European Central Bank of 1.9 percent. In the euro area, prices rose by only 0.5 percent, while prices sank in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.

On to France and on the defensive with TheLocal.fr:

‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’

President Francois Hollande on Thursday hit back at the growing anti-EU rhetoric in France fostered by the far right in its campaign for the European parliamentary elections.

In a commentary published in Le Monde on the anniversary of the Allied victory against Nazi Germany in World War II, Hollande recalled the words of another Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, who defended European integration by saying “nationalism means war” while “Europe means peace”.

Hollande’s comments come as polls show the far-right National Front (FN) could come out on top in the May 25th European elections in France.

But the economy isn’t helping Hollande, as New Europe reports:

Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March

  • France’s March trade gap also widened on soaring imports bills

French statistics bureau Insee reported on Wednesday a 0.7-percent decline in industrial output in France in March compared to February’s data.

According to Insee, Europe’s second largest economy produced less over the period due to sluggish auto industry and weak performance of food processing activity which fell by 2.3 percent and 1.1 percent respectively.

After growing by 0.3 percent in February, manufacturing also lost momentum with a 0.7-percent decrease, Insee reported.

From TheLocal.fr, a wiseguy rubout in an unlikely place:

Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital

The Italian mafia is suspected of being behind the shooting of the 77-year-old head of one of Monaco’s richest families outside a hospital in Nice on Tuesday night.

Hélène Pastor, said to be close to Monaco’s Royal family, and her chauffeur, named by the French press as Mohammed D, were seriously injured after being shot outside the L’Archet Hospital in the southern French city.

A report in the French daily Le Figaro pointed to investigators suspecting that two of Italy’s most notorious organized crime groups, ‘Ndrangheta or the Camorra, could be behind the attack. Both clans are said to have gained a strong foothold on the French Riviera’s property sector.

Switzerland next, and taxing woes for migrant labor from TheLocal.ch:

Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers

Switzerland needs to change its agreement with Italy over the taxation of cross-border workers to make it less appealing for them to work in the canton of Ticino, Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf says.

Widmer-Schlumpf made the comment during a meeting with the cantonal government of Ticino on Wednesday, broadcaster RTS reported.

The federal cabinet minister said that cross-border workers, known as “frontaliers”, who live in Italy currently pay Swiss tax rates, deducted at source, which are lower than those paid in their home country.

On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:

Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit

There will be no turning back for Portugal when it makes a clean exit from its bailout this month without a credit safety net, the president of the Eurogroup warned Thursday.

“A precautionary credit line by definition is asked for in advance,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in an interview with Portuguese daily Expresso.

But if the request is made later “when conditions turn bad, it is no longer a precautionary credit line” and Portugal would then require a new rescue programme, he said.

Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:

Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening

  • More cuts likely to be counterproductive in a country that faces a winter of discontent on job front

Economic recovery is taking hold, the banking system has improved, unemployment is beginning a timid retreat, the European bank bailout has worked, and public finances are stabilizing. Spring is in the air in the reports coming out of Brussels and the statements coming out of government officials’ mouths.

But despite the good news, the European Commission wants Spain to have an extra spoonful of the same medicine. While its deficit targets for 2014 will be easily met, things are not so clear for the years 2015 and 2016, leading Brussels to request “considerable additional discretionary efforts.”

In other words, what the European executive wants to see is more cuts, according to the first report following Spain’s clean exit from the banking bailout.

El País again, this time with a culture war development:

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

  • Socialists suspect conservative government is delaying passage of bill until after European elections

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is planning to take his abortion reform to Congress in July, when parliamentary groups will analyze it and suggest amendments, government sources told EL PAÍS.

The executive of Mariano Rajoy is firmly set on getting this controversial piece of legislation approved, although it is making sure that its passage through parliament does not coincide with the campaign run for the European elections on May 25.

Ever since December 2013, when the cabinet approved the controversial draft bill changing existing abortion laws – which critics say will take Spain back 30 years – opposition has been growing on the streets, in parliament and even within the ruling Popular Party (PP) itself, some of whose members have spoken out against the reforms.

And it’s on to Italy and some Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links

A former minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s last government has been arrested for allegedly helping a businessman, convicted of collusion with the mafia, escape Italy.

Claudio Scajola has been arrested in Rome for allegedly helping Amedeo Matacena, a Calabrian businessman escape a five-year jail term after his conviction for mafia association was handed down last year, Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday.

Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.

Berlusconi said he was “pained” to hear about Scajola’s arrest but did not know what the reasons behind it where.

And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:

Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption

A manager for Milan Expo 2015 has been arrested while five others have been jailed as part of an investigation into a corruption scandal that also caught ex-politicians allegedly taking bribes, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Angelo Paris, head of contracts for the trade fair, which runs in Milan between May and October next year, is in custody, Milan Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati told the financial newswire in an e-mailed statement.

Police carried out searches at 80 public entities and firms in parts of northern Italy and Rome, with businessmen and politicians being snared on video allegedly taking bribes to secure Expo contracts.

After the jump, the latest disturbing developments from Greece, Russian economic stress, Ukrainian tension, Argentine woes and a Venezuelan crackdown, Indian pollution, Thai turmoil continues, a Chinese upturn, a mixed report card for Japan, environmental woes, anbd the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Classes, corps, cons, divisions


Today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and their impact on the environment begins with the discovery of a significant pattern, via the Associated Press:

Fear of economic blow as births drop around world

The financial crisis that followed the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 did more than wipe out billions in wealth and millions of jobs. It also sent birth rates tumbling around the world as couples found themselves too short of money or too fearful about their finances to have children. Six years later, birth rates haven’t bounced back.

For an overcrowded planet, this is good news. For the economy, not so good.

We tend to think economic growth comes from working harder and smarter. But economists attribute up to a third of it to more people joining the workforce each year than leaving it. The result is more producing, earning and spending.

Now this secret fuel of the economy, rarely missing and little noticed, is running out.

From Al Jazeera America, another form of global action:

Fast-food workers announce global protest, walkouts set for 33 countries

  • Employees plan to expand movement to demand better pay and working conditions across the world

Fast-food workers are planning a global strike for better pay and working conditions, with action set to take place in 33 countries in a bid to exert pressure on multinational firms.

The action was announced Monday in Manhattan, New York, at a meeting during which fast-food workers and union leaders were expected to detail how they intended to expand a movement that began with a walkout in November 2012. On that occasion, some 200 workers went on strike in New York City, N.Y., demanding a pay increase of $15 per hour and the right to unionize without retaliation.

Since then, thousands have followed, organizing protests in more than 100 cities across the country, where workers’ demand to earn a ‘living’ wage in an economy that increasingly relies on low-income jobs has become a national rallying cry.

From USA TODAY, the reward structure of the empowered neoiberal corporation:

CEOs slashing jobs get big raises

CEOs have found cutting jobs is a good way to get the stock price moving. But it looks like it’s another way to get a raise for themselves.

All five of the CEOs at companies that cut their workforces the most the past five years, that reduced the headcount each and every of the past five years, got big raises in their most recent fiscal years, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The biggest raise went to Sandeep Mathrani, CEO of General Growth Properties, a real-estate investment trust. The company paid Mathrani $22.1 million in fiscal 2013, up 424% from the previous year, says the company’s proxy filing. That’s despite cutting the company’s workforce by more than half from levels five years ago.

China Daily covers a globalizing corporation:

GM plans jump start of slowing China sales

The years of double-digit sales for automobiles in China may be vanishing in the rear view mirror, but General Motors Co is spending $12 billion to reclaim the title of the country’s largest foreign automaker from German rival Volkswagen AG.

Although sales by GM and its joint-venture partners climbed 6.3 percent in April to a record 278,263 vehicles, paced by the sturdy Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Wuling brands, the figures represented a 14-month low. The decline was 12.6 percent from the first quarter and 11.4 percent from April 2013.

The April industry average was forecast to be 10 percent, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation tracks the latest manifestation of the metatasizing corporation in the effort to implement a model we call the New Ownership:

Aspen to Students: Your Property Book is Not Your Property

EFF has been fighting for years for the principle that if you bought it, you own it. The first sale doctrine – the law that allows you to resell books and that protects libraries from claims of copyright infringement – is crucial to consumers. Unfortunately, first sale has been under threat in the digital realm, as copyright holders increasingly insist on saddling “sales” with onerous restrictions. You may think you are buying a product (like software, music and ebooks), but as far as they are concerned, you are just renting it, on their terms, whether you know it or not.

The latest attack on first sale comes from Aspen Publishers, and the target is the lucrative textbook market. Aspen is insisting that students who are assigned and purchase physical textbooks Aspen published cannot resell those books to recoup some of the expense.

Aspen’s announced its move in an email to professors. In the coming academic year, Aspen declares, its popular property law case book will only be available under a so-called ‘Connected Casebook’ program. Students will still pay full price (a cool $200) but will be required to return their casebooks at the end of the semester. Students will supposedly also receive “lifetime” access to a digital companion to the casebook. But, as Professor James Grimmelmann noted, “we know from sad experience that gerbils have better life expectancy than DRM platforms.”

And from MIT Technology Review, the soaring costs of privatizing the remainder the electronic commons:

Talk of an Internet Fast Lane Is Already Hurting Some Startups

  • Some VCs say the FCC’s latest net neutrality proposal will raise costs for startups that need fast connections or use a lot of bandwidth.

The cost of delivering content over the Internet may determine which Internet products and services succeed in coming years.

Some venture capitalists at the cutting edge of Internet innovation say they will shun startups requiring fast connections for video, audio, or other services, mindful that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission may let ISPs charge extra fees to major content providers.

Proposed rules being drafted by the FCC’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, would allow ISPs to charge content providers like Netflix to ensure speedy service, so long as those charges are “commercially reasonable.” The rules are scheduled to be released for public comment May 15.

In the absence of clear rules, some ISPs have already begun requesting—and receiving—access fees. Netflix recently agreed to pay big ISPs like Comcast interconnection fees to ensure a high quality of service, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings then wrote in a blog post that the United States needs a strict form of net neutrality, with no such tolls, because users who are already paying high prices for fast service should be able to get what content they want.

From The Hill, going covert:

Lobby cash goes underground in PR boom

Lobbying money has gone underground in Washington with the rise of public relations firms that play the “outside game” to influence policy.

While traditional lobbying revenue hit its lowest point in four years in the first months of 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, industry insiders say those statistics miss the hundreds of millions of dollars that are flowing to firms that aren’t registered to lobby.

“The money is still going somewhere,” said someone in the public affairs industry who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely. “That’s evident with the amount of advertising — both print and television — that you see running in Washington around big debates.”

Raising the hue and cry with the Los Angeles Times:

Beverly Hills council urges Brunei to divest itself of Beverly Hills Hotel

The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday night approved a resolution condemning new laws targeting gays and women in the Southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei and urged the government to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The move heightens the growing political backlash against the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, also owned by Brunei. Celebrities including Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres have already called for boycotts.

“The City of Beverly Hills strongly condemns the government of Brunei as well as other governments which engage in similar policies for adopting laws that impose extreme and inhumane penalties including execution by stoning, flogging and severing of limbs,” the resolution says. “The City of Beverly Hills urges the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.”

While Bloomberg covers another sort of revolt:

Cancer Doctors Join Insurers in U.S. Drug-Cost Revolt

The backlash over surging drug prices is starting to take hold.

With the average cost of branded cancer drugs doubling over the past decade to about $10,000 per month in the U.S., doctors, insurers and politicians are all moving in different ways to pressure drugmakers on pricing.

Cancer doctors are in the process of creating a way to measure the value of the drugs they prescribe, the first step in a drive to give patients affordable options. Insurers are increasingly paying only a percentage of the cost of high-priced drugs, forcing drugmakers to step into the breach for consumers who can’t afford their products. Politicians, meanwhile, have begun asking drugmakers to explain the cost of their products.

The Christian Science Monitor covers an academic plateau:

US ‘report card’: stagnation in 12th-grade math, reading scores

Commenting on the 2013 NAEP ‘report card’ for US 12th-graders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, ‘achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed.’

American high school seniors showed no improvement in their math and reading abilities in four years, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often known as the nation’s “report card.”

Adding to the discouraging news, achievement gaps between demographic groups have not lessened. And while the 12th-grade math scores are at least slightly higher than they were in 2005 (the earliest scores available for math, due to changes in the test), the reading scores are actually lower than they were in 1992, when the reading score trend line begins.

The news is not all that surprising: While scores have been (mostly) inching up for younger students over the past few decades, gains for high-schoolers – and even for eighth-graders – have been much more elusive.

Reuters evades the federal banking system barred for use of marijuana coops and businesses in states where the plant is legal:

Colorado Senate OKs co-op banking option for marijuana sellers

The Colorado state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to create the nation’s first state-run marijuana financial cooperative, with the ultimate aim of opening newly legalized cannabis retail outlets to key banking services through the Federal Reserve.

The 24-11 vote approving the so-called “cannabis credit co-ops” came days after the state House of Representatives cleared its own version of the bill, which seeks to address problems marijuana retailers face in having to operate on a cash-only basis.

House-Senate negotiators must now reconcile differences between the two versions in hopes of sending a compromise bill back for final floor votes in both chambers before the Democratic-controlled General Assembly session ends at midnight.

From USA TODAY, a jobs story with a global reach:

The new nursing shortage

On one hand, things are looking pretty dandy for nursing in the United States: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19 percent growth in employment for registered nurses from 2012–2022. Compare that to an 11 percent average growth rate for all occupations. That’s a reason to celebrate during National Nurses Week.

But here’s the twist: The recent recession made it more difficult for entry-level nurses to find work, as more experienced nurses put off retirement and stayed in the job force. So now there’s a nurse shortage – and it’s happening all over the world.

In 2010, a World Health Organization report revealed that India needed 2.4 million more nurses. In sub-Saharan Africa, shortages are having profound effects on health care. In Canada, a nursing shortage lingers on, with an expected 60,000 additional registered nurses needed by 2022.

Off to Britain and some bankster artful dodging sure to result in a big bonus way up high, via the Guardian:

Barclays to cut up to 8,000 investment banking jobs

  • Bank boss Antony Jenkins to announce losses as he outlines plan to overhaul investment arm following criticism over bonuses

Barclays will announce on Thursday that it is cutting up to 8,000 investment banking roles – almost a third of the division’s workforce – as it retreats from one of the most controversial parts of its business.

Antony Jenkins, the embattled Barclays chief executive, is to outline his plan to overhaul the investment bank on Thursday after facing fierce criticism for his decision to increase bonuses by 10% last year, when profits fell sharply.

In an announcement to the City, Jenkins is expected to explain how he intends to tackle the most troublesome parts of the investment bank – the traditional powerhouse of Barclays – to prove to investors that he can rein in costs and start to bolster the profitability of the organisation.

Germany next, and one of the downsides of being the reigning industrial power on the continent via TheLocal.de:

Germany is EU’s worst polluter

Germany is the European Union’s worst polluter, with its carbon dioxide emissions rising by two percent in 2013 to 760 million tonnes, official data showed on Wednesday.

The EU’s statistics agency Eurostat found that while emissions were cut across the 28-member bloc by an average of 2.5 percent in 2013, they actually went up in six countries, including Germany.

Denmark registered a 6.8 percent increase in CO2 emissions. In Estonia it was up by 4.4 percent, followed by Portugal (up by 3.6 percent), France (by 0.6 percent) and Poland (by 0.3 percent).

The greatest cuts in CO2, which accounts for 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming, came from Cyprus, where emissions went down by 14.7 percent, followed by Romania (down by 14.6 percent) and Spain (by 12.6 percent).

More industrial news from New Europe:

German industry orders fall in March

  • Orders for industrial goods decreased by 2.8 percent in March

Industry orders in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, fell unexpectedly in March, official data showed on Wednesday.

Adjusted for calendar and seasonal swings, orders for industrial goods decreased by 2.8 percent in March compared to February, when new orders increased by 0.9 percent, the German Federal Statistical Office said.

The drop surprised economists who forecast orders to slightly increase. Domestic orders declined by 0.6 percent, while contracts from foreign markets were down by 4.6 percent. In the eurozone, new orders decreased by 9.4 percent.

Lisbon next and a problen remaining after the bailout’s end from the Portugal News:

Central Bank profit slides 43.7%

The Bank of Portugal will be chipping in with €202 million to the state coffers courtesy of its 2013 dividends but that is down 43.7% from 2012 due to a slump in profits, according to the 2013 Management Report released yesterday.

Correspondingly, year-on-year profits at the bank regulatory entity fell from €449 million in 2012 to €253 million last year.

In terms of the dividend to the state, this has slumped from €359 million to the aforementioned €202 million in 2013 with the state thus seeing a €157 million fall in its taking.

The aforementioned report attributes this fall to the “reduction in the interest rate margin and the results attained in financial operations, the rise in non-accounted for losses from financial operations and the decrease in the net results of the shared monetary income.”

Spain next, and an intolerance wrist-slapping via TheLocal.es:

Spanish club fined €12K in racist ‘banana row’

Spanish football authorities fined league side Villareal €12,000($17,000) for racism by a fan who threw a banana at Barcelona’s Brazilian player Dani Alves, a club source said on Wednesday.

The Spanish Royal Football Federation’s disciplinary body imposed the fine but stopped short of ordering the club’s stadium to be closed, the source who asked not to be named told AFP.

International outrage erupted after the banana landed on the pitch near 30-year-old Alves during the league clash at Villareal’s Madrigal stadium on April 27.

When corporations grab your roof, via TheLocal.es:

New law lets phone firms ‘steal’ Spanish roof tops

Spain’s new telecommunications law will allow phone companies to expropriate private property to install mobile phone antennae and other infrastructure, a move which worries opposition groups.

Under the new law passed on April 29th, phone companies will be able to “forcibly” expropriate roof terraces and other private and public property to install telecommunications infrastructure.

This will only take place when it is “strictly necessary” and when no other options are “technically” possible or “economically viable”, according to article 29 of the legislation.

Italy next, and a Bunga Bunga bummer from ANSA:

Ex-Senator says he was offered a bribe to join Berlusconi

  • Ex-premier on trial for paying another Senator to topple rival

Ex-Senator Paolo Rossi testified Wednesday to being offered a bribe by another ex-Senator during Romano Prodi’s 2006-2008 government to change political sides and join Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right bloc. “Antonio Tomassini offered me a sum of money and said it wouldn’t change Berlusconi’s life but it would change mine”.

The ex-premier is on trial for allegedly paying a different former centre-left Senator, Sergio De Gregorio, three million euros to switch sides and undermine Prodi. Prodi’s government fell after losing the support of the Senate, leading to new elections that Berlusconi won.

De Gregorio has admitted not declaring to tax authorities two million euros he received and plea-bargained a 20-month sentence.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, African resource woes, Mixed news from Latin America, labor woes and federal cuts Down Under, a judicial Thai coup, Vietnamese corruption, Japanese economic warnings, the old trade pact gambit, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Confirmed: Shrooms zap depressive thoughts


We’ve covered the absurd contradiction that an ancient folk remedy may offer hope for the depressed in ways that Big Pharma can’t.

Now comes more confirmation, this time from one of the world’s leading research institutions, the University of Zurich:

Psilocybin inhibits the processing of negative emotions in the brain

When emotions are processed in a negatively biased manner in the brain, an individual is at risk to develop depression. Psilocybin, the bioactive component of the Mexican magic mushroom, seems to intervene positively in the emotion-processing mechanism. Even a small amount of the natural substance attenuates the processing of negative emotions and brightens mood as shown by UZH researchers using imaging methods.

Emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and joy enable people to adjust to their environment and react flexibly to stress and strain and are vital for cognitive processes, physiological reactions, and social behaviour. The processing of emotions is closely linked to structures in the brain, i.e. to what is known as the limbic system.

Within this system the amygdala plays a central role – above all it processes negative emotions like anxiety and fear. If the activity of the amygdala becomes unbalanced, depression and anxiety disorders may develop.

Researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich have now shown that psilocybin, the bioactive component in the Mexican magic mushroom, influences the amygdala, thereby weakening the processing of negative stimuli.

These findings could “point the way to novel approaches to treatment” comments the lead author Rainer Krähenmann on the results which have now been published in the renowned medical journal “Biological Psychiatry”.

Literature:

Rainer Kraehenmann, Katrin H. Preller, Milan Scheidegger, Thomas Pokorny, Oliver G. Bosch, Erich Seifritz, Franz X. Vollenweider,(in press). Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry.

For readers with journal paywall access, the article is here.

Headlines: Neoliberalism run rampant, more


Don’t have time to be terribly clever, given the extensive nature of today’s collection of news economic, political, and environmental [things military and secretuive follow in our second collection].

And the latest consequence of selling out the commons to the 0.001 percent and their lessers via the Washington Post:

White House opens door to tolls on interstate highways, removing long-standing prohibition

With pressure mounting to avert a transportation funding crisis this summer, the Obama administration Tuesday opened the door for states to collect tolls on interstate highways to raise revenue for roadway repairs.

The proposal, contained in a four-year, $302 billion White House transportation bill, would reverse a long-standing federal prohibition on most interstate tolling.

Though some older segments of the network — notably the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes and Interstate 95 in Maryland and Interstate 495 in Virginia — are toll roads, most of the 46,876-mile system has been toll-free.

And from the Washington Post again, not-so-creative destruction:

U.S. businesses are being destroyed faster than they’re being created

The American economy is less entrepreneurial now than at any point in the last three decades. That’s the conclusion of a new study out from the Brookings Institution, which looks at the rates of new business creation and destruction since 1978.

Not only that, but during the most recent three years of the study — 2009, 2010 and 2011 — businesses were collapsing faster than they were being formed, a first. Overall, new businesses creation (measured as the share of all businesses less than one year old) declined by about half from 1978 to 2011.

The authors don’t mince words about the stakes here: If the decline persists, “it implies a continuation of slow growth for the indefinite future.” This lack of economic dynamism, particularly the steep drop since 2006, may be one reason why our current recovery has felt like much less than a recovery. As Matt O’Brien noted on Wonkblog last week, annual job growth rates have stubbornly refused to budge above 2 percent for the duration of the recovery.

From Al Jazeera America, among those paying the price:

Cuts in public higher education hit minority schools hardest

  • The recession has seen some states cut their public higher education budget by more than 30 percent

A 2012 study from the Ford Foundation found that five Historically Black Colleges have closed their doors in the last two decades, and many Tribal Colleges and Universities are struggling to keep their faculty on staff because of budget cuts to state and federal aid programs that make up the majority of their budgets.

Things have been rough for public higher education across the board, but for HBCUs, Native American Tribal institutions, Hispanic and other minority serving institutions, the cuts are deeper.

Marybeth Gasman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, told Al Jazeera when states slash their budgets for higher education, minority-serving schools have a much harder time rebounding and absorbing the financial hit because they don’t have the large cash reserves like some of the more prominent public or big-name private universities.

From United Press International, trying to partially right and wrong:

Elizabeth Warren pushes student loan refinancing bill

  1. The Massachusetts Democrat says people holding student loans should be able to refinance them like car or home loans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is doing something about the $1.2 trillion in outstanding student federal loan debt she says is dragging down the middle class.

The Massachusetts Democrat is set to introduce a bill Tuesday that will allow people holding federal student loans to refinance them to the lower, current rate.

“When interest rates drop, people can refinance their home, they can refinance their business debt. It’s regarded as a smart move for any consumer or business. But student borrowers are prohibited from doing that under most programs,” Warren said. “This bill says we’re going to change that and let them refinance that down to current low rates.”

Warren, who has forged a reputation as an advocate for consumers, called the $66 billion in interest the government stands to collect from loans issued between 2007 and 2012 is “just plain wrong.”

From Agence France Presse, FYI:

Asians outperform white students because they try harder: study

Scientists at Queens College of New York, the University of Michigan and Peking University in Beijing looked at grades, test scores, teacher ratings, family income and education level, immigration status and other factors.

“Asian-Americans enter school with no discernible academic advantage over whites,” said the study, noting that “advantage grows over time.” By fifth grade, or age 10-11, Asian-Americans “significantly outperform whites,” and the peak difference is reached by grade 10, or age 15-16.

“Overall, these results suggest that the growing achievement gap can be attributed to a widening gap in academic effort rather than to differences in cognitive ability.”

Asian-Americans tend to be motivated by cultural teachings that instill the notion that effort is more important than inborn ability, researchers said. They also endure “greater parental pressures to succeed than in the case of comparable white peers.”

And from China Daily, a decline:

Chinese applicants for US grad schools drop

The number of Chinese applicants for graduate schools in the United States has dropped for the second year in a row, figures from an education group in the US show.

Applications from Chinese students for the 2014 fall enrollment dropped by 1 percent from a year earlier, said the report by the Council of Graduate Schools. Applications for the same period last year fell by 3 percent from those of 2012, the report said.

Overall foreign applications for US graduate schools rose by 7 percent, with the highest growth – 32 percent – coming from India, said the report released recently by the council, which advocates graduate education and research.

From Ars Technica, too much information:

On average, Americans get 189 cable TV channels and only watch 17

  • A new Nielsen report raises questions about the channel-bundling system.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Nielsen reported that on average, US homes receive 189.1 TV channels, but viewers only watch 17.5 of those channels.

The news will appear in Nielsen’s forthcoming “Advertising & Audiences Report,” and while the results seem somewhat intuitive, they articulate a very real problem in cable TV—the fact that consumers often feel forced into paying for a lot of TV they never watch.

Nielsen’s blog post today showed that the number of cable channels in an average US household has grown dramatically over the last five years, but the number of channels that viewers actually watch has hardly changed at all. In 2008, US households received an average of 129.3 channels but only actually viewed 17.3 channels. In 2013, the number of channels received increased 46 percent, but the number of channels viewed only increased 1 percent.

With all those channels, the country is still falling apart. From Salon:

United States plunges to 31st place in global maternal health ranking

“Today, an American woman faces the same lifetime risk of maternal death as a woman in Iran or Romania”

Less than a decade ago, the United States ranked 6th on Save the Children’s list of best places to be a mother. This year, it dropped to 31st place out of 178 countries. “In the U.S., the lifetime risk of maternal death has risen more than 50 percent since we launched our first report in 2000 — from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 2,400,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. “Today, an American woman faces the same lifetime risk of maternal death as a woman in Iran or Romania.”

In Texas alone, the maternal mortality rate quadrupled over the last 15 years to nearly 25 out of 100,000 births, according to data from the state’s Department of Health Services. The United States is one of the top 10 wealthiest countries in the world.

And it may get worse, as costs of drugs could soar under all those “free trade” agreements both Dubya and Barry O have so ruthelessly promoited, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Off the Charts blog:

Emerging Trade Agreement Would Make Drugs Less Affordable

Our concerns fall into three main areas.

First, the draft TPP would restrict Medicare’s ability to limit the prices it pays for drugs for Part B beneficiaries.  The recent release of Medicare physician payment data has vividly illustrated the large sums spent on Part B drugs, such as Lucentis, a macular degeneration treatment that costs $2,000 per monthly injection.  The TPP could allow drug companies to challenge existing Part B payment policies that hold down costs and foreclose some future cost-containment steps, such as discouraging the use of new drugs that are costlier but no more effective than existing alternatives.

Second, the draft TPP would raise health care costs further by expanding patent protections for drugs and medical devices.  Drug companies use various strategies — such as making small changes in their products — to extend their patents and fend off competition from generic drugs.  The TPP could limit efforts to combat these “evergreening” strategies.  It would also make it easier for companies to obtain patents for therapeutic and diagnostic techniques that now aren’t patentable.

Third, the draft TPP would give companies a new legal avenue to challenge U.S. pricing and patent policies for drugs and medical devices:  the ability to sue the U.S. government before an international arbitration panel that wouldn’t be subject to normal democratic checks and balances.  Under a similar provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, the drug company Eli Lilly is suing the Government of Canada for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated patents for two drugs that didn’t meet Canada’s legal standards.

A global story from Deutsche Welle:

OECD predicts moderate growth, unemployment to drop only slowly

  • The US and the eurozone will see economic output grow at a modest pace this year and next, but the number of people out of a job will remain higher than before the crisis, according to the OECD’s spring outlook.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts modest global growth for 2014 and 2015 in its biannual economic outlook, published on Tuesday. But the group lowered its 2014 global forecast to 3.4-percent growth, down from 3.6 percent predicted in its autumn outlook last year.

Unemployment across the world is to fall only slowly, with 11.25 million more people out of a job at the end of 2015 than at the onset of the global crisis, according to the global forum.

Global growth will increasingly be shaped by Asian countries, specifically by China and India. Their share of the OECD countries’ combined output is to rise to 73 percent in 2060, up from 33 percent in 2010.

More on the warning from the Economic Times:

Slowing Chinese economy likely to pinch US, too

After watching China narrow the US lead as the world’s largest economy, Americans might be tempted to cheer signs that the Chinese economy might be stumbling.

Any schadenfreude would be short-sighted. In an interconnected global economy, bad news for one economic superpower is typically bad news for another — even a fierce rival.

“It hurts,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “China is the second-largest economy on the planet. If growth slows there, it affects everybody.”

Getting too testy, via the Guardian:

Global school tests under attack as OECD accused of killing ‘joy of learning’

  • Leading academics from 12 countries including UK call for next round of OECD Pisa tests on 15-year-olds to be scrapped

Leading academics have accused the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of acting as an unaccountable super-ministry of education which kills the “joy of learning” and turns schooling into “drudgery”.

A letter signed by 120 leading academics and teachers from 12 countries – including Britain, the US and Germany – argues the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests on 15-year-olds distort the curriculum, reduce teachers’ autonomy and increase children’s stress levels.

The results of the Pisa tests, which the signatories say are “widely known to be imperfect” because they focus narrowly on the economic goals of education, are anxiously awaited in the 66 countries that take part.

From Deutsche Welle, geopolitical economics:

G7 drafts energy options to Russian gas

  • Group of Seven nations represented by their energy ministers have agreed to wean Europe off its dependency on Russian gas. Meeting in Rome, the G7 also said it would help Ukraine cope with Russian threats to cut supply.

The G7 industrialized powers agreed on Tuesday to help Ukraine to “strengthen its energy security” and warned Russia that “energy should not be used as a means of political coercion.”

Russia recently said that it could restrict gas supplies to Ukraine if Kyiv failed to make a pre-payment in May.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency, which took part in Tuesday’s consultations in Rome, was asked to submit an assessment within six months.

And our first purely European story, via Deutsche Welle:

European financial tax to be levied as of 2016

  • European Union finance ministers announced a planned tax on transactions will come into effect in 10 member countries in January 2016. But some nations remain opposed to the levy.

Meeting in Brussels, EU finance ministers said Tuesday a controversial tax on financial transactions would be levied in an initial group of 10 countries as of 2016. Some nations hope the project could help win over voters ahead of European elections in late May.

“We have agreed to put our money where our mouth is,” Austrian Finance Minister Michael Spindelegger told reporters. “On January 1, 2016, the first part of the tax initiative should come into effect.”

The minister said he expected the levy to generate “considerable revenues.” But the tax has been facing criticism from a number of non-participating EU nations, and from some business associations which fear the levy may have a negative impact on business investment.

On the edge with Reuters:

ECB seen on hold as inflation picks up, QE a way off

The European Central Bank will likely hold off policy action on Thursday, waiting for new forecasts from its staff in June before deciding whether to counter low inflation that ticked up last month.

The ECB Governing Council meets in Brussels against the backdrop of a Franco-German spat over ECB policy towards the euro’s exchange rate – one factor the bank’s president, Mario Draghi, has identified as a potential trigger for policy action.

Ahead of the meeting, markets pushed the euro above $1.39 and towards its high for this year after surveys showed euro zone firms enjoyed a brisk start to the second quarter.

On to Britain with the Guardian and a human rights disaster:

Manus Island block a ‘rape dungeon’, Salvation Army worker tells inquiry

  • Parliamentary inquiry also told of inadequate medical care, poor workplace safety and fears of violent attacks

Part of Manus Island detention centre was known as a “rape dungeon” to some guards, a former Salvation Army worker has alleged. In a submission to the Manus Island parliamentary inquiry, Nicole Judge said concerns she raised about possible sexual assaults in another part of the camp were ignored.

Other submissions make allegations of inadequate medical care, poor workplace safety and fears of violent attacks from local staff.

“I have heard P1 block in foxtrot being referred to by G4S guards as a ‘rape dungeon’,” Judge’s submission said. “I have been told never to enter this building due to heightened sexual activity in this particular building.”

From the Guardian, well-grounded opposition:

Fracking trespass law changes opposed by 74% of British public, poll finds

  • Move to allow shale gas companies to drill under homes without owner’s permission is widely-opposed, YouGov survey says

Signs at the anti-fracking protest camp set up at Barton Moss in Salford where energy company iGas has built a vertical test well to assess the suitability for shale gas tracking An anti-fracking protest camp set up at Barton Moss in Salford where energy company iGas has built a vertical test well to assess the suitability for shale gas tracking. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

The government faces widespread opposition to plans to change trespass laws to allow shale gas companies to drill under homes without the owner’s permission, a poll has revealed.

The YouGov survey of 1,898 people found that 74% opposed the controversial move, which ministers are thought to be considering as part of efforts to drive a “shale gas revolution” that could see fracking across swathes of the UK.

More than 45,000 people around the country have joined legal moves to block energy companies from fracking under their properties, but a change to the trespass laws could allow companies to explore for shale gas without needing their permission.

A bubble alarm from the London Telegraph:

Bank must burst housing bubble

  • Force buyers to find bigger deposits, says OECD think tank, to slow booming market that could put economic recovery at risk

The Bank of England should invoke new legal powers allowing it to rein in Britain’s booming housing market for the first time, an influential international think tank has said.

Would-be housebuyers should have to put down bigger deposits and George Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme should be cut back, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

The intervention from the OECD comes after senior figures at the Bank identified the housing market as the biggest threat to Britain’s financial stability.

On to Iceland and the growing scandal around a deceptive memo from a cabinet aimed at smearing Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos. From the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Interior Minister Digs Deeper

Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir has made false statements about certain facts of the Tony Omos memo scandal.

Kjarninn reports that while the minister has often said that she cannot comment on the Tony Omos case while police are still investigating ministry computers and questioning staff, this is actually not the case. In fact, there is nothing legally preventing her from commenting on the matter.

Hanna Birna has also told members of the press, and members of parliament, that the leaked memo on Tony Omos was “not comparable to any document in the ministry”. In fact, the police have concluded, that the memo in question was created in the ministry at the behest of the office manager, and then sent to at least eight people in the ministry, including Hanna Birna and her two assistants, Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir and Gísli Freyr Valdórsson. The next day, what would later prove to be false information contained in the memo appeared on news website mbl.is.

For background on a most peculiar case, see this post at Tony Nwajei Post.

Finland next and withdrawal symptoms from Deutsche Welle:

Euroskeptic Finns Party has ‘changed the political landscape’

  • Finland sees itself as Europe’s star pupil. But the upstart Finns Party, with its euroskeptic party line, is polling at about 20 percent and is influencing the views of the country’s more established parties.

Angry with the establishment, many voters – predominantly male, factory workers, the unemployed – turned away from established parties and gave their support to Perussuomalaiset, as the party is known in Finnish. The result: the party garnered more than 19 percent of the votes in the in 2011 parliamentary election.

In the last decades, the now disbanded Finnish Rural Party was only able to capture a few seats in parliament; today, Lindström heads a faction of 39 representatives. “We have permanently changed the political landscape,” he said. “Instead of three big parties, there are now four.”

The party has not only shaken up parliament’s configuration, it has also introduced new topics into the national conversation. “We have made euroskepticism part of the discussion in Finland,” said Lindström. “Without us, no one would be discussing the bailouts. And nobody would be discussing migration, or the conversation would be completely different.”

France next, and a bad review from the Independent:

François Hollande versus the French people: president flops in TV questioning

François Hollande, the most unpopular French president in living memory, demonstrated the perils of wanting to be known as the “normal” leader by subjecting himself to a surreal hour-long television and radio grilling to mark the second anniversary of his election.

He took questions from listeners, including a 61-year- old woman who asked him whether he could live on her €662 (£550) monthly pension. “No,” he replied.

Earlier, the BFM TV interviewer Jean-Jacques Bourdin took a leaf out of Jeremy Paxman’s book to accuse the President of “amateurism” and of conducting a “reckless” private life which had cheapened the presidency. “You talk about [economic] recovery,” said Bourdin, “where is it?”

France 24 gives its spin:

France was ‘on verge of bankruptcy’, Hollande says

Marking the two-year anniversary on Tuesday since being elected and facing the lowest opinion polls in modern French history, President François Hollande urged his countrymen to reserve judgement until the end of his mandate in 2017.

The 59-year-old French leader said he would feel “impatient, but not disappointed” if he had been one of the people who had voted for him.

“I prefer making my decisions, assuming my responsibilities and then being judged on my results… The results will come,” he said during an interview with media group RMC and BFM TV. “I’ve asked to be judged at the end of my mandate.”

From TheLocal.fr, blood on the newsroom floor:

Editors at Le Monde newspaper quit en masse

A majority of chief editors at French daily Le Monde resigned from their posts on Tuesday amid a conflict with management over editorial reforms. The mass resignation comes while staff at another French newspaper are in uproar over plans to turn into a “social network”.

“A lack of confidence in and communication with editorial management prevents us from fulfilling our roles as chief editors,” seven of the newspaper’s senior editors said in an internal letter to management.

They said they remained available to help out until a new team is appointed to replace them, to avoid damaging the daily running of the newspaper.

Switzerland next, with business as usual from TheLocal.ch:

Credit Suisse to set up US ‘bad bank': reports

Credit Suisse, facing potential criminal charges for helping Americans dodge taxes, has created a “bad bank” unit for US clients, Swiss media reported on Tuesday.

According to Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger, Switzerland’s second largest bank aims to drop all funds belonging to US citizens not residing in Switzerland, into a newly created bank called CS International Advisors AG, headquartered in Zurich and with its own separate banking licence.

The bank has reportedly been informing its off-shore US clients of the shift in recent days.

Off to Lisbon and bleak numbers from the Portugal News:

Budget cuts until 2030, debt to reach 131.8% GDP – OECD

Portugal is going to have to adopt budget consolidation measures of 1.9% a year until 2030, if it wants to reduce public debt to 60% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Tuesday.

In its ‘Economic Outlook’, released Tuesday, the OECD said that Portugal is in the group of countries that needed budget consolidation until 2030 to comply with the public debt objective but which had already done a lot of the work.

According to today’s forecasts, Portugal’s public debt is going to continue rising at least until 2015, when it will reach 131.8%.

This forecast runs contrary to government optimism, which expects the debt to start falling in 2015.

Spain next, with some qualified good news from ANSAmed:

Spain’s joblessness rate drops 2.3% in April

  • PM Rajoy calls figure ‘encouraging’

Some 111,565 fewer people were unemployed in Spain in April, equal to -2.3% on the previous month. The reduction was due to term contracts for the week of Easter, resulting in 133,000 more registered with the social security agency.

According to the figures released on Tuesday by the labor ministry, the decline in unemployment was the largest in the month of April since 1996. Despite the reduction, the overall number of those signed up with unemployment agencies was 4,684,301 people, a 6.1% (304,892 people) drop on the year.

In commenting on the figures in a radio interview with Cadena Ser, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that the figures were positive and encouraging and that he was hopeful about the future.

Culture wars, via TheLocal.es:

Spanish PM ‘open to debate’ on abortion law

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Tuesday stuck by his government’s plan to curb women’s abortion rights but said he was open to debate on the bill which has sparked angry protests.

The government has approved a draft law to end women’s right to have the procedure on demand up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, but the text has not yet gone to parliament for a vote amid dissent within Rajoy’s Popular Party.

“We are not going to withdraw the law,” Rajoy vowed on Tuesday in an interview on Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

Italy next, and a lingua no longer franca via TheLocal.it:

Milan university to teach most degrees in English

The rector of one of Italy’s top universities in Milan is pushing ahead with a plan for degree courses to be taught in English despite a Lombardy court ruling against the move.

Twenty-nine out of 36 degree courses will be taught in English at the Politecnico di Milano from the start of the next academic year, La Repubblica reported.

The plans were initially announced by the university’s rector, Giovanni Azzone, in 2012, with the aim of rolling out all degree courses in English from 2014.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga bounceback, dudes!:

Berlusconi not ruling out entering govt

Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday said he was not ruling out the possibility that his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party could join the alliance supporting Premier Matteo Renzi’s coalition government after this month’s European elections. “We’ll have to see what happens with the economy. I don’t exclude the possibility that we could be together to take the decisions for the good of the country,” Berlusconi told the Radio Anch’io radio station.

Berlusconi’s party was part of the weak left-right grand-coalition government that was led by Enrico Letta after last year’s inconclusive general election. But after causing a series of crises for the administration, Berlusconi finally pulled his support for it in November, just before being ejected from parliament after a definitive tax-fraud conviction.

And from Europe Online, Bunga Bunga declamation:

Berlusconi: Italy could leave euro if ECB doesn’t soften policy

Italy and several other countries will have no choice but to leave the euro unless the European Central Bank drops its hardline monetary policies, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday.

The ECB, whose governing council is due to hold a rate-setting monthly meeting Thursday, is under pressure to ease its stance to stave off the risk of deflation in Europe.

“Today it would be reckless, and nobody knows what would really be the consequences of our immediate exit from the euro,” Berlusconi said in a radio phone-in with state broadcaster RAI.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Cyprus-testing, BRICs to BRICAS?, Chinese bubble deflation, Academic woes in China and Japan, a bad report card for Tokyo accompanied by political counterblasts, environmental alarm bells, and the latest from Fukushiumapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Econotrix, politrix & envirotrix


We open today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of politics, economics, and the environment with this, a creation of Vangelis Papavasiliou of the Greek paper Eleftherotypia:

In today’s economy, recovery is a matter of perspective.

In today’s economy, recovery is a matter of perspective.

From USA TODAY, a reminder of just how flimsy are the underpinnings of the new, picoseconds-fast transactions on which our Brave New Financial Order is founded:

Four-year Flash Crash anniversary haunts markets

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the brutal flash crash that rocked markets on May 6, 2010, and is a stark reminder of how little has changed.

Even four years after the crash that wiped out $1 trillion in wealth in the blink of an eye, investors and academics still haven’t agreed on what caused one of the most vicious and inexplicable short circuiting of markets to occur.

On that day, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged roughly 1,000 points only to recover in minutes. High-frequency computerized trading, believed to at least be part of the cause of the breakdown, is still a major force in the markets. There have been tweaks made to “circuit breakers,” or thresholds of volatility that cause trading individual stocks or the market to be halted. But these measures are widely viewed as putting Band-Aids on an open wound — it might offer some comfort, but does little to fix the underlying problem.

“It can still happen now, and it does in certain (individual stocks),” says Joe Saluzzi, trader at Themis Trading.

Perhaps the reason why the problem isn’t being addressed is that we don’t really know — even four year later — what caused the Flash Crash. And as recently as 2013, there have been other widespread malfunctions in the market that remain largely mysteries. Regarding the Flash Crash of 2010, it took roughly five months before regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released a report documenting the events that shook the markets. The report largely blames the “fragmented” stock market where there are multiple marketplaces exchanging prices with each other.

From Business Insider, the proceeds of plunder:

A Hedge Fund Manager Just Made The Biggest Home Purchase In US History

A Hamptons property has just taken the title of “most expensive home ever sold in the U.S.”

The 18-acre expanse in East Hampton just sold for $147 million to hedge-fund manager Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners, according to Curbed Hamptons.

Rosenstein’s new neighbors on exclusive Further Lane include Jerry Seinfeld, hedge-fund manager Jim Chanos, and art dealer Larry Gagosian.

From Reuters, just a cost of doing business:

Credit Suisse In Talks To Pay $1.6 Billion To Resolve U.S. Tax Probe: Source

Credit Suisse Group AG is in talks with the U.S. Justice Department to pay as much as $1.6 billion to resolve an investigation into the bank’s role in helping Americans evade U.S. taxes, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The penalty could be roughly twice the amount paid by UBS AG, which settled similar charges in 2009 for $780 million and agreed to identify its customers.

Prosecutors have also been pushing for Credit Suisse to plead guilty in connection with the probe, two people with knowledge of the talks said.

From Aviation Week, how the elite travels, at least on one Abu Dhabi-based airline:

Etihad Unveils Three-Room ‘Residence’ On A380 Fleet

All of the three-class A380s will seat 498, with two seats in “residence,” nine “apartments” (first class), 70 in business and 417 economy seats.

Etihad will be the second airline to offer showers on board the A380, a concept that has been introduced by its rival Emirates. There will be one shower available for the nine first class passengers, but the real innovation is the “residence.” It is located to the left and aft of the front staircase and consists of three rooms: A living room certified for two passengers during take-off and landing, a bathroom with a shower,  and the bedroom in the very front of the upper deck. The bedroom does not have windows. Other A380 operators have used the room next to the staircase for showers (Emirates) or for small lounge areas (Air France, Qantas). By creating the “residence” (125 square feet), Etihad is not giving up revenue space.

According to Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner, “residence” is going to be about three times as expensive as regular first class. A flight from Abu Dhabi to London would be around $20,000 one-way, but it can be used for two passengers. Etihad is targeting high net worth individuals who would otherwise use a private jet for long haul travel.

USA TODAY covers reality for some of the rest of us:

Single women say their income doesn’t cover expenses

Across the country, single women feel worse than both men and any age group about their ability to make ends meet. In a survey of 1,200 adults given exclusively to USA TODAY by Consumers’ Research, the data show that about 60% of single women say they don’t earn enough to cover their expenses.

That’s compared with 45% of everyone surveyed, and 57% of those ages 50 to 59, the group with the highest percentage who said they don’t make enough to cover expenses.

Do Americans not make enough money, or are they living beyond their means?

“I would say that those two are the same thing,” says Joe Colangelo, executive director of Consumers’ Research. “If you aren’t making enough to support your lifestyle, you need to make some life and habit changes.”

And from PandoDaily, another form of profitable plunder:

LEAKED: Docs obtained by Pando show how a Wall Street giant is guaranteed huge fees from taxpayers on risky pension investments

Thanks to confidential documents exclusively obtained by Pando, we can now see some of the language and fee structures in the agreements between the “alternative investment” industry and major public pension funds. Taken together, the documents raise serious questions about whether the government employees, trustees and politicians overseeing major public pension funds are shirking their fiduciary responsibilities under the law when they are cementing “alternative” investment deals.

The documents, which were involved in a recent SEC inquiry into the $14.5 billion Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS), were handed to us by SEC whistleblower Chris Tobe, an investment consultant and former trustee of the KRS. Tobe has also written a book — “Kentucky Fried Pensions” — about the scandalous state of the Kentucky public pensions system.

The documents provided by Tobe (embedded below) specifically detail Kentucky’s dealings with Blackstone – a giant Wall Street investment firm which has deployed a platoon of registered lobbyists in Kentucky and whose employees are major financial backers of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

From Reuters, we won’t hold our breath:

U.S. attorney general says banks may face criminal cases soon

The U.S. Justice Department is pursuing criminal investigations of financial institutions that could result in action in the coming weeks and months, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video, adding that no company was “too big to jail.”

The comments, made in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website on Monday, came as federal prosecutors push two banks, BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA) and Credit Suisse AG (MLPN.P), to plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve investigations into sanctions and tax violations, respectively, according to people familiar with the probes.

While Holder did not name any banks, he said he is personally monitoring the ongoing investigations into financial institutions and is “resolved to seeing them through.”

The Los Angeles Times covers gentrification of another sort:

Return of ‘mansionization’ has some L.A. homeowners grumbling

Six years ago, Los Angeles politicians imposed new limits on the size of new and renovated houses, promising to rein in what they called “homes on steroids” dwarfing blocks of smaller buildings.

But as the housing market rebounds and construction picks up, many homeowners complain that “mansionization” has revved up — reigniting long-standing policy battles and sometimes bitter fence fights over the face and feel of L.A.’s neighborhoods.

Builders are snapping up smaller, older homes, razing them and replacing them with bigger dwellings. Increasingly, sleek, square structures are popping up along streets known for quaint bungalows.

Opening the tent flap for the camel’s nose, via the New York Times:

Supreme Court Allows Prayers at Town Meetings

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court’s more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.

“Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”

Off to Europe, starting with some boosterism from BBC News:

EU raises its growth forecast for 2014

The European Commission has raised its growth forecast for the EU, saying that “the recovery has taken hold”.

The 26 nations of the EU are forecast to grow by 1.6% for 2014, a touch higher than the forecast of 1.5% made in late February. The growth forecast for the 18-nation eurozone remains at 1.2% for 2014.

The Commission expects the jobs market to continue to improve, forecasting EU unemployment will fall to 10.1% this year. In March, the rate was 10.5%

And from New Europe, giving the banksters a freer hand:

The EU partially suspended talks to hold a three-month public consultation over worries about the investment rules

Germany’s vice chancellor is underlining doubts about the need for new investment rules in a proposed European Union-U.S. trade deal — a thorny issue in the talks.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Monday voiced strong support for the overall trade deal but said both sides already have a “sophisticated, legally safe position for investors” so he doesn’t see the need for a special agreement on that aspect. Germany has the EU’s biggest economy.

The EU partially suspended talks to hold a three-month public consultation over worries about the investment rules. Critics and some officials previously voiced unease over what they said were loopholes that might expose governments to lawsuits by multinational companies.

Off to Norway, and a ready customer from abroad via TheLocal.no:

Chinese tycoon keen to buy chunk of Norway

A Chinese property tycoon shut out by Iceland after he sought to buy a vast tract of the country is turning his attention to Norway, he told AFP on Monday.

Huang Nubo, founder of Chinese property firm Zhongkun Group, said in a telephone interview that he still wants to develop high-end resorts in northern Europe and plans to invest 80 million euros ($111 million) in Norway over the next five to 10 years.

His statement comes as a huge tract of the Arctic Svalbard Islands has been put up for sale by Henning Horn, a Norwegian industrialist and farmer, and his sisters Elin and Kari.

And some Norse doubts via New Europe:

70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU

Skepticism over joining EU remains strong in Norway

More Norwegians are against seeking European Union (EU) membership today than several decades ago, making the prospect of Norway joining the 28-member bloc look even dimmer.

A new opinion poll, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported Monday, shows that 70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU.

Only 20.2 percent of respondents in the poll, which was carried out by the agency Sentio for Norwegian-language newspapers “Klassekampen” and “Nationen,” were in favor of Norway joining the EU.

Next up France, and similar doubts from RFI:

Majority of French want smaller EU, poll

A new poll suggests a majority of French people would like the European Union to be smaller.

In a poll published on Monday, conducted by Viavoice for the French newspaper Libération, 64 per cent of those surveyed say they would prefer the European Union to centre around core countries, such as the euro countries, or the six founder-member states: France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Twenty per cent of those polled are happy with the current membership and a mere seven per cent favour further EU enlargement.

49 per cent associate the EU with something negative while only 45 say for them it represents something positive.

From Europe Online, skepticism:

France set to miss deficit goal despite spending cuts, EU predicts
Europe

France has not gone far enough to whittle its deficit down to within EU limits, a new forecast predicted Monday, despite unprecedented cuts introduced by Paris.

France has struggled to rev up its economy – the second largest in the European Union – with warnings rampant about its sluggish competitiveness. There are concerns that Paris’ economic woes could complicate the recovery underway in the crisis-battered eurozone.

Last year, the EU gave France a reprieve by granting it two extra years – until 2015 – to bring its deficit below 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

And from Agence France-Presse, a rare win:

France Definitively Bans Genetically Modified Corn

France definitively banned the growing of genetically modified corn on Monday after its highest court and Senate both confirmed an existing ban.

A grouping of leftist senators including members of the ruling Socialists, Greens and Communists approved a law banning MON810, a type of GM corn produced by US firm Monsanto, that had already been passed by the lower house of parliament, overcoming opposition from right-wing members.

At the same time, the Council of State rejected a request from corn producers to overturn the ban on MON810.

New up Switzerland, and the possible end of a centuries’ old stance from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss ‘likely to vote on EU ties in two years’

Swiss citizens will likely go the polls in two years to decide on Switzerland’s future ties with the European Union, the country’s president Didier Burkhalter says.

In an interview published on Sunday by the German-language weekly NZZ am Sonntag, Burkhalter said it was his personal view that a referendum will be held in 2016 on bilateral relations with the EU.

“The decision will be at the end of a long process that has only just begun,” Burkhalter, a member of the centre-right Liberal party from Neuchâtel, told the newspaper.

“Until then there is still a tough obstacle course ahead of us.”

Spain next, and dismal numbers from TheLocal.es:

Half of young Spaniards have no money coming in

Almost half of all Spaniards aged 16 to 29 receive neither a salary nor government benefits while only one in five can afford to fly the family coop, the startling results from a new study reveal.

A total of 47.5 percent of young Spaniards receive no formal income at all, the study by youth lobby group CJE shows.

Youth unemployment is currently 55 percent but the CJE study shows the situation is made even worse by the precarious nature of that employment.

With just 34 percent of people aged 16 to 29 in Spain actually working, more that half of people in this age group are on temporary contracts. Of those contracts, 46.4 percent are of less than 12 months duration.

From the Independent, a lesson only half-learned:

Spain is inviting back Jews expelled from the country in the 16th Century. But don’t mention the Muslims

  • Our cousins in Madrid and Lisbon simply don’t want Muslims to come to Europe

The year of darkness, of course, was 1492, when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Christian power was restored to the lands in which Muslims and Jews had lived together for hundreds of years and had rescued some of the great works of classical literature – by way of Baghdad – for us to study. Save for those who converted to Christianity or died at the stake – at least 1,000 Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000, among them – the entire Muslim and Jewish communities were thrown out of Spain and Portugal by the early 17th century. They scattered, to Morocco, Algeria, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey. Which is why the glories of Andalusian architecture can still be found in north Africa. The Sephardic (Spanish) Jews spoke Ladino, which was still understood in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. In just over 100 years, the Christian monarchy of Spain had expelled half a million Muslims and between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews. There are now around 3.5 million Sephardic Jews in the world. Their ancient homes also still exist in Spain.

But now Spain and Portugal want to make amends, so we are told. They will give citizenship – full passports – to the descendants of families expelled from their countries. The government regards the expulsions as “a tragedy”, or – in the words of Spain’s justice minister – a “historical error”. It was, of course, an ethnic cleansing, a massive crime against humanity, but don’t let’s expect too much from our Spanish and Portuguese friends, as there are, unfortunately, a few problems. For example: Muslims need not apply.

And from TheLocal.es, what a dose of bananas didn’t cure:

‘They called me a monkey so I danced like one’

A new racism scandal erupted in Spanish football after fans made monkey chants at Levante’s Senegalese midfielder Pape Diop, just a week after Barcelona defender Dani Alves denounced a banana-thrower.

The 28-year-old Diop accused Atletico Madrid fans of subjecting him to abuse as his side inflicted a shock 2-0 defeat on the Liga leaders on Sunday.

He reacted by dancing in front of the disconsolate travelling fans at the final whistle Sunday, and television images showed some furious Atletico supporters making monkey gestures.

“It affected me a lot,” Diop said. “I went to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans began to make monkey chants. To play it down, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone,” the player said.

Italy next, and a tongue-lashing from the top via ANSA:

Renzi says Italy must change or be EU laggards

  • Premier admits delay on institutional reforms is ‘costly’

Premier Matteo Renzi said Monday that the government’s reform programme was necessary to stop Italy becoming one of the European Union’s worst-performing States.

“Our ideas are not the result of improvisation,” Renzi told a seminar on the institutional reforms organised by his centre-left Democratic Party (PD). “We are anxious for change and we have to produce fast results or we won’t have credibility in the European Union.

“We are certain that if Italy changes, it’ll be at the helm. Otherwise it’ll become a laggard”. Renzi, who was sworn in as Italy’s youngest premier aged 39 in February, has presented a bill to change the Constitutional to overhaul the country’s costly, slow-moving political machinery.

From ANSA, the bleak numbers continue:

Italian unemployment worse than expected, says EU and Istat

  • Between 12.7%-12.8% in 2014, with ‘marginal improvement’ in 2015

Both the European Union and Italy’s national statistics agency on Monday revised upwards their forecasts of Italian unemployment for this year and the next. Italy’s unemployment rate will grow to 12.7% in 2014, up 0.5% on the year, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Light improvement is expected in the second half of the year, preceding a drop to 12.4% in 2015, added Istat.

Meanwhile the European Commission predicted Italy’s unemployment rate in 2014 to be 12.8%, “a new high”, as opposed to the 12.6% rate predicted in February.

From TheLocal.it, hard times intolerance, as when adults fear cooties:

‘We don’t want our kids to go on migrant bus’

A group of parents from Sicily refused to let their children go on a school trip because the bus they would have travelled on had previously transported migrants “suffering from diseases”.

The children, from Giacomo Albo di Modica school in Ragusa, had been due to go on the trip on Monday, but a group of about 60 parents rallied against it, saying “the risk of them catching a disease is too great, and we don’t want to take that risk,” according to a report in La Repubblica.

The children would have travelled on one of the buses, chartered by the local council, used to transport migrants from the port of Pozzallo to an emergency holding centre between Comiso and Ragusa in recent days, the newspaper said.

From New Europe, begging the question, as in is this real anti-semitism, or the sort redefined by Israeli media-spinners in which legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies has been redefined as racism:

The number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012

Annual report on Anti-Semitism in Czech Republic registers steep increase of Internet attacks

A new study by Prague’s Jewish community has registered a significant increase of attacks against Jews on the Internet for the second straight year.

The annual report on anti-Semitism released Monday said the number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012. The report said the pro-Israeli stance of the Czech government was among the reasons for the attacks.

Besides the Internet attacks, it said anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic remains at a relatively low level with one physical attack registered last year and three attacks on Jewish property.

After the jump the latest from Greece, new developments in Latin America, mixed signals for the Chinese economy, a host of environmental alarm bells, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Corps, classes, meds, mayhem, more


Today’s collection of headlines from the realms of politics, economics, human behavior, and the environment begins with a reminder that Big Pharma all too often rushes too soon to market. From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Convicted of murder, soldier blames anti-smoking drug

While his homicidal claim is rare — [Army Pfc. George D.B] MacDonald may be the first, and so far only, murder defendant to go all the way to trial with a Chantix defense — questions about the drug’s safety are not.

Others have blamed the prescription pill for suicides, suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric problems. More than 2,000 joined in lawsuits against Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer. Most have largely since been settled, at a cost to Pfizer of at least $299 million.

Chantix sales, meanwhile, totaled $486 million during the first nine months of 2013.

On May 13, MacDonald will get one more chance to plead his case when the nation’s top military appeals court will decide whether the trial judge erred when he quashed a wide-ranging subpoena for Pfizer documents. The documents, MacDonald’s lawyers say, might have helped prove the potential dangers of Chantix.

We’ll add an older headline to impart context. From Al Jazeera, 21 November 2013:

FDA: Anti-smoking drug Chantix linked to more than 500 suicides

Another military medical scandal from United Press International:

Phoenix VA officials on leave after ‘secret list’ scandal that let vets die waiting for care

Official: “These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”

The director and two other officials of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare System (PVAHS) have been placed on administrative leave in light of the recently revealed scandal that allowed over forty veterans to die while waiting for medical care and falsified records to hide the lengthy wait times from the federal government.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Investigative, Dr. Same Foote, a veteran doctor just retired after 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix, blew the whistle on PVAHS maintaining two separate records of waiting lists — one fake list to convince Washington they were providing timely appointments (14-30 days is the expected turnaround standard for timely care required by the VA) and another real but secret list where veterans’ wait for an appointment could last over a year.

On Monday, President Barack Obama called on U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to investigate. As well, several members of Congress have called for hearings on the matter, at least three representatives publicly calling for PVAHS Director Sharon Helman’s resignation.

More from International Business Times:

Phoenix VA Scandal: New Charges And A Second Whistleblower

It’s getting even hotter in Phoenix, where government officials are investigating a scandal at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. At least 40 U.S. veterans allegedly died at the Phoenix VA waiting for appointments, and many of them were placed on a secret waiting list to hide the long wait times, according to Dr. Sam Foote, a physician at the Phoenix VA for 24 years who retired in December.

A second whistleblower, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, also a longtime physician at the Phoenix VA, came forward this week with more incendiary charges of poor treatment of veterans in Phoenix and accusations that officials shredded documents related to the investigation.

The controversy remains focused on the secret list, which was part of an elaborate scheme designed by VA managers in Phoenix to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to Foote.

From MarketWatch, irrational exuberance:

Stocks are riding optimism, not earnings, to records

Pfizer, Disney, Tesla earnings on tap; Yellen scheduled for two-day testimony

Stocks are trading near record highs, and some say that’s more due to cautious optimism than solid fundamentals.

Stocks finished higher last week, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA -0.28%  set its first record close of the year. The S&P 500 index SPX -0.13%  passed into record close territory but couldn’t finish there. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP -0.09%  closed up 1.2% on the week, though it’s still down 1.3% for the year.

The workings of the Dow suggest hope is driving prices rather than the bottom line. Sales and profit trends aren’t looking so hot, nor are corporate outlooks.

The Miami Herald notes a phenomenon much covered previously in this blog:

A Lopsided comeback: How the housing recovery favors the rich

An analysis of 11 years of home sales in South Florida, parsed by ZIP code, shows the boom, bust and recovery left a wider gap between the rich and the poor.

South Florida’s housing rebound has been remarkable.

Lured by Miami’s cachet as an emerging international gateway and luxury getaway, foreign investors ranging from Russian oligarchs to Brazilian supermodels to anonymous Channel Islands companies have rushed in with mounds of cash.

Along Miami Beach’s North Bay Drive and Sunset Islands, Key Biscayne and Gables Estates, the elite are shelling out millions of dollars to buy teardowns to make room for new Gatsby-esque spreads.

Developers are hawking one new pre-construction condominium tower after another. They feature gilded amenities fit for Dubai or Hong Kong (one will be topped with a private helipad; another, equipped with private automobile elevators). Glass-walled penthouses tout 360-degree views of the city, the ocean and Biscayne Bay.

And from Salon, some of the reasons for that growing divide:

How the rich stole our money — and made us think they were doing us a favor

Pushing people toward stocks, real estate and credit cards have all come at a cost — and with one goal in mind

If you’ve paid attention to the economy over the last few years, you’ve doubtless seen the charts and figures showing the decline of the American middle class in concert with the explosion of wealth for the super-rich. Wages have stagnated over the last 40 years even as productivity has increased, which is another way of saying that Americans are working harder but getting paid less. Unemployment remains stubbornly high even though corporate profits and the stock market are at or near record highs. Passive assets in the form of stocks and real estate, in other words, are doing very well. Wages for working people are not. Unfortunately for the middle class, however, the top 1 percent of incomes own almost 50 percent of asset wealth, and the top 10 percent own over 85 percent of it. When assets do well but wages don’t, the middle class suffers.

This ominous trend is particularly prominent in the United States. That shouldn’t surprise us: study after study shows that American policymakers operate almost purely on behalf of wealthy interests. Recent polling also proves that the American rich want policies that encourage the growth of asset values while lowering their own tax rates, and are especially keen on outcomes that favor themselves at the expense of the poor and middle class.

So why isn’t the 99 percent in open revolt? The answer lies in part because the top 1 percent have done an excellent job disguising the upward transfer of wealth by making the rest of us feel better off than we actually are while enriching themselves in the process.

From My Budget 360, job numbers in deeper context:

The disappearing labor force: Over 800K Americans drop out of labor force.

Since end of recession, those not in the labor force has grown from 80 million to 92 million. Workers younger than 55 lost jobs in April.

It might have come as a surprise to many that the pumped up stock market had no rally from the big employment report last week. Why? The unemployment rate fell from 6.7 to 6.3 percent. One survey showed a big jump in jobs added. As is usually the case, the devil is in the details. The unemployment rate fell dramatically because more than 800K Americans dropped out of the labor force. That is right, nearly 1 million people dropped out of the labor force. So of course this will make the rate look better than expected. In fact, since the recession ended we have added 12 million Americans to the category of “not in the labor force” which trumps even demographic changes. We have discussed that many Americans have no economic means to even retire. What was also interesting in the report is that workers younger than 55 actually lost jobs in the April report. So it is no surprise that the stock market actually turned lower with the whopping jobs report after people dug into the data.

From the neoliberal London Telegraph, thinly veiled exultation:

Shocking US jobs data impugns recovery, Fed tapering

  • Friday’s figures are a warning that the US recovery may be losing momentum

The US economy has delivered two minor shocks in a week, prompting concerns that bond tapering by the Federal Reserve may be doing more damage than expected.

Non-Farm Payrolls data released on Friday shows that the workforce shed 806,000 jobs in April, a stunning drop that cannot plausibly be blamed on the weather. Wage growth and hours worked were both flat and the manufacturing hours per week fell.

This follows news earlier in the week that the economy to a halt in the first quarter. Growth plummeted to 0.1pc and is now well below the Fed’s “stall speed” indicator. Analysts blamed this on the freezing polar vortex over the winter.

Yet the jobs data confirm a disturbingly weak picture. The headline unemployment rate fell to 6.3pc but that was only because the labour “participation rate” plummeted back to a modern-era low of 62.8pc, last seen in 1978 when there were far fewer women in the workforce. The rate for males is the lowest ever recorded at 69.1pc.

ABC News adds to the sense of things amiss:

Aging Baby Boomers Becoming the Roommate Generation

Rachel Caraviello, vice president of Affordable Living for the Aging (ALA), says that nationally there are about 130,000 households where the cohabiters are aged 50 or older, and where they have no familial relationship or romantic connection.

Caraviello views these arrangements as one more manifestation of the “sharing economy”: Here, one party typically is house-rich but cash-poor; and the other has money or services to contribute.

Rodney Harrell, PhD, a specialist on housing with the AARP’s Public Policy Institute, tells ABC News the range of agreements struck can include one party’s helping the other with shopping, transportation, cooking or informal care-giving. He believes there will be more demand for roommate and other sharing programs as the Baby Boom ages.

By 2030, according to the Federal Administration on Aging, one out of every five Americans will be 65 or older. The sheer size of the Boomer cohort, says Harrell, plus its declared desire to age “in place,” rather than in a nursing home, means having a roommate will be what he calls a growing niche option. “Few do it now,” he tells ABC, “but more could, or would, if that option were made more easily available.”

From Associated Press, it’s nice to be a rich city:

California city looks to sea for water in drought

With California in a drought, the coastal city of Santa Barbara is thinking about firing up a desalination plant that has been in storage for more than two decades.

The city built the plant in the 1990s during the last drought but turned it on for only three months after heavy rains eliminated the need for extra water.

Desalination involves removing salt from ocean water or groundwater, but it’s not a quick drought-relief option. It takes years of planning and overcoming red tape to launch a project.

And from United Press International, another enhancement for California’s Sterling [snicker] reputation:

San Jose State expels three students charged with hate crimes

Students referred to their black roommate as “three-fifths,” put bike lock around his neck, wrote racial slurs on surfaces and flaunted the Confederate flag.

Three white San Jose State students have been expelled after being charged with misdemeanor battery and hate crimes for racist treatment of their only black housemate. A fourth has been put on probation for the remainder of his time at the university.

All four students pled not guilty to the charges, brought about after their roommate’s parents first noticed a Confederate flag in the living room and racial slurs scrawled on the walls. Campus officials were notified and an investigation was held.

Among the findings in the investigation were numerous racially charged incidents directed at the victim, Donald Williams Jr. Among the offenses were nicknaming the victim “three-fifths,” a reference to the nineteenth century legislation that only counted a black votes as three-fifths the value of whites, and an incident where Williams was wrested to the ground while a bike lock was forced around his neck.

For our final U.S. post, irony from Raw Story:

Anti-gay NC GOP candidate outed as former female impersonator ‘Miss Mona Sinclair’

A GOP candidate for North Carolina State Senate — who supports the state’s ban on same-sex marriage — has been revealed as a former female impersonator and drag show emcee by the co-owner of the club where he once worked.

Steve Wiles, 34, of Kernersville, NC, worked at Club Odyssey until 2010 under the name ‘Mona Sinclair,’ former club owner Randy Duggins told the Winston-Salem Journal.

According to Duggins, Wiles was a frequent patron in the late 1990s at his nightclub where gay, lesbian and straight clientele gathered for weekly shows featuring female impersonators. Around 2001 and 2002, Wiles began working for Duggins as the show director and performance booker, while emceeing the show as Miss Mona Sinclair.

EUobserver takes us to Europe and fuelish anxieties:

Russian gas supplies ‘not guaranteed’, EU commissioner warns

A first mediation attempt by the EU between Russia and Ukraine on their gas price dispute on Friday (2 May) in Warsaw ended with no results other than the willingness to meet again.

“It is with concern that we see the security of supply for end consumers in EU and non-EU states like Ukraine is not guaranteed,” EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger told press after the meeting.

The energy ministers of Ukraine and Russia, for the first time at a table since the annexation of Crimea and the Russia-backed separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, decided to hold separate press points rather than join Oettinger in a common press conference.

On to Britain with the Observer and more hints of tough times ahead for the marginalized:

Two thirds of self-employed are not paying into pensions, report finds

  • Resolution Foundation finds majority of Britain’s 4.5m self-employed people are not making any retirement provision

Two-thirds of the growing number of self-employed workers are failing to pay anything into a pension policy, leaving themselves at risk of financial insecurity later in life, a report will warn this week.

The study on the changing nature of employment by the Resolution Foundation thinktank will paint a picture of a growing army of self-employed people who are mostly at ease with being their own bosses.

One in three self-employed people describe themselves as “entrepreneurs”, while three-quarters say that, rather than being forced into this type of employment because there was no alternative, they chose it from a range of options. But while there is a level of contentment among the self-employed, polling for the report by Ipsos MORI found that only 34% of them were paying into a pension and laying proper plans for life after work.

From Reuters, another instance of wretched excess, Old Blighty style:

$237 million apartment sale sets record

London’s red-hot property market has struck a new record with the sale of a 140 million pound ($237 million) unfurnished apartment, but even the developer of the opulent building warned that some asking prices in Britain were unsustainable.

Buoyed by the wealth of Russian oligarchs, Chinese tycoons and Arab sheikhs, London has become one of the most expensive markets on earth, raising concerns ahead of parliamentary elections in 2015 that locals are being squeezed out of the market.

“We’re in boom-time prices, more expensive than we’ve ever been in the history of mankind,” Nick Candy, one of the developers of London’s One Hyde Park luxury apartments, at the pinnacle of the capital’s super-prime residential sector, told Reuters.

A London Telegraph cartoon gives a sense of the high end bubble in the city:

BLOG London RE

From Europe Online, speech no longer so free:

Belgian police disperse hundreds at “anti-Semitic” congress

Belgian police dispersed a crowd of around 400 people on Sunday who had gathered for a congress condemned by Jewish groups as being anti-Semitic, according to Belga news agency.

Mayor Eric Tomas of Anderlecht – the Brussels suburb where the rally took place – had banned the gathering earlier Sunday citing risks to security and public order. The event organizers challenged the ban and said they would stay put while awaiting a court decision.

Attendees at the “First European Congress of Dissidence” were expected to include controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has previously been fined for anti-Semitic remarks.

Event organiser, MP Laurent Louis, denied the accusations of anti-semitism surrounding the event.

On to Paris with TheLocal.fr and a French retreat:

France’s Carrefour to quit India: reports

Carrefour, the world’s second largest retailer, is working on a plan to exit India, media reports said Saturday, amid political uncertainty about the future of multi-brand retail in the South Asian giant.

The reports in the Times of India and Business Standard and other dailies come as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to win India’s marathon general election which winds up in mid-May, declared it opposes allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

Indian newspapers quoted unnamed sources in the France-based company as saying Carrefour had been working on an exit strategy for two weeks.

And from France 24, electioneering ahoy:

Will Anti-EU parties dominate upcoming European elections?

Last Thursday, [hard right National Front party leader Marine] Le Pen addressed thousands of supporters at a May Day rally in Paris, where she made a passionate appeal for a show of strength at the polls.

“On May 25, put an end to this system that despises you … turn your back on the dishonour and capitulation,” she told her supporters.

“No to Brussels, yes to France. Do not fall into the trap of abstention. Do not disappoint me, go and vote!”

According to a April 25 poll by CSA on behalf of the BFM-TV channel and French regional daily Nice-Matin, the FN will be battling it out with the centre-right UMP to come out on top among French voters, leaving the ruling Socialists in third place.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukraine turmoil, Thai troubles, Taiwanese protests, Chinese puritanism, Japanese demographic decline, environmental anxieties, a celestial near-miss, antibiotic overdoses, and a world from the WTO — the World Toilet Organization — and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Class, wealth, pols, and ploys


We begin today’s collection of stories of economic, politics, resources, and the environment with a stark contrast from Bloomberg:

Miami’s Poor Live on $11 a Day as Boom Widens Wealth Gap

“Miami isn’t the gateway to Latin America; Miami has the same economic demographics as Latin America,” said Pedro “Joe” Greer, a doctor whose 25 years of work treating the homeless and uninsured there earned him the nation’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — in 2009. “Seventy percent of the families we work with bring in less than $25,000 a year.”

Miami’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, is the third-highest among U.S. cities after Atlanta and New Orleans. It’s higher than in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro and mirrors Mexico City’s level. The city is also the toughest for low-wage workers to rise, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the upward mobility of fast-food employees. . .

Miami ranked No. 7 — above Dubai, Paris and Beijing — among “cities that matter” to high-net-worth investors, the 2014 Wealth Report by London-based consulting firm Knight Frank LLP shows. International buyers have purchased more than $10 billion of South Florida property since 2008, the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors says.

From Raw Story, a class clown:

PayPal exec drunkenly tweets late night insults at co-workers and resigns

A recently hired executive at the Internet banking company PayPal spent Friday night tweeting insults at his co-workers and announcing his resignation from the company. Business Insider reported that Rakesh “Rocky” Agrawal was attending Jazz Fest in New Orleans when he sent the now-deleted stream of poorly-spelled, vitriolic messages.

Agrawal posted a photo of himself with his middle finger raised with the caption, “Can’t wait to explain this.”

Around 1:00 a.m., Agrawal wrote, “Duck you Smedley you useless middle. manager,” which was followed by “Christina Smedley is a useless. Piece of shit.”

From Salon, a Silicon Volley:

The Internet’s inequality bomb: The crash is coming — but the 1 percent won’t feel a thing

  • Warnings of a tech bubble are growing more dire every day, but it’s regular people who stand to bear the brunt

Companies are frantically loading up on cash now, because they know– everybody knows — that the business cycle will inevitably turn down. With the vast majority of these start-ups a long, long way from turning a profit, it’s only prudent to stash away as much cash as you can while the getting is still good. Because, like it or not, sooner or later, the bubble will pop.

But if times are destined to get tough for even the current front-runners of the tech boom, then what does that mean for the rest of us? Because there’s a crucial difference between this boom and the last one that is not getting enough attention. Last time around, the average U.S. worker did pretty well: In the 1990s, the median wage rose steadily, while unemployment fell to its lowest point in generations. The economy as a whole added an incredible 21 million jobs. Point being: The prosperity was shared.

Compare that to the current tech boom. Wages have stagnated, and household income has fallen. Unemployment is still historically high and job growth has been tepid, at best. Even as all those billions of dollars of investor capital have poured into tech companies, workers — outside of a few regional hot spots like northern California — just aren’t reaping the kinds of benefits we would hope for in even a borderline healthy economy.

Europe next, starting with the Reykjavík Grapevine and the latest on a noxious memo from the office Icelandic Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir:

Leaked Memo Solely “To Impugn Reputation” Of Asylum Seeker

Reykjavík District Court has concluded, amongst other things, that the sole purpose for leaking the now-infamous memo on Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos was “to impugn his reputation” in the face of growing public protest over his treatment by the Ministry of the Interior.

RÚV reports that police authorities filed a motion with both the Reykjavík District Court and the Supreme Court, demanding that the news editor of mbl.is tell the police who wrote the original news story about Tony Omos, as well as whether and how they had access to the informal memo on Omos. Both courts denied the police’s request, saying that they had not significantly demonstrated that they had explored all investigative avenues before demanding journalists reveal their sources.

In the District Court’s opinion, however, they believe the memo was put together for the sole purpose of “impugning the reputation” of Omos, as public protest against his impending deportation was growing. The accusations made against Omos in the memo would later prove to be false and misleading.

ANSAmed takes us to Portugal and passing marks from the troikarchs:

Portugal passes latest troika test

  • 2014 growth to be at 1% of GDP, says deputy PM

he Portuguese government announced on Friday that the so-called troika of international creditors (ECB,EU, and IMF) had approved the efforts undertaken by the country to comply with the aid program agreed three years ago in exchange for a 76-billion-euro loan.

‘’The twelfth assessment was positive,’‘ Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas said in a press conference, underscoring the ‘’climate of confidence coming from all European markets.’‘ Portas added that the international creditors had urged the government to push forward with reforms that the opposition, unions and most citizens – including military and police associations – are against.

The deputy prime minister underscored that at the June 2011 swearing in of Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservative government, interest rates on ten-year government bonds had stood at 10.6%, whereas they have now dropped to 3.6%.

thinkSPAIN covers Labor Day outrage:

Protests in Barcelona and the Basque Country end in arson attacks and vandalism on high-street banks and wheelie-bins

DEMONSTRATIONS in Barcelona and the Basque Country turned violent after May Day with numerous arrests for setting fire to bins and vandalising branches of banks.

Financial entities in three provinces in the Basque Country suffered graffiti, broken windows due to stones thrown at them and in one case, flammable liquid thrown at it.

An 18-year-old man was arrested in San Sebastián yesterday (Friday) in the early hours of the morning throwing tins of paint at the shop fronts of four banks.

From the Guardian, another kind of battle centeerd around Franco family values:

Students at Spanish college fight ban on men using washing machines

  • Madrid residence threatens to expel male students who do their own laundry – they are told to find female friends to do it instead

Despite repeated calls for more than three years for a change in the rules, the code of conduct at the Duque de Ahumada de la Guardia Civil residence continues to specify that “use of the washing machines by male residents will result in expulsion, ranging from 15 days to three months, from the residence”.

Male students at the dorm, which caters for the children and grandchildren of Guardia Civil officers, are instead instructed to quietly pass their clothes to female friends to be washed.

The association that represents Guardia Civil officers is demanding that the rule be changed. “What is being asked of residents is obsolete, unjust, sexist and borderline ridiculous,” Francisco Cecilia, of the Unified Guardia Civil Association told El Mundo. “In today’s world, it makes no sense that male residents would have to secretly pass their clothes to a female or visit a laundromat to do their laundry.”

Kathimerini English takes us to Greek and pitch preparations:

Greece gears up for debt talks

Stournaras to put forward suggestions on how to reduce annual repayments at Monday’s Eurogroup

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is due to ask his eurozone counterparts Monday to begin considering further debt relief for Greece, with the government already having drafted a number of options to reduce the repayments the country faces in the years to come.

Having achieved a primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros in 2013, Greece will demand that the Eurogroup lives up to its November 2012 commitment to examine other ways of reducing the country’s giant debt burden of roughly 175 percent of gross domestic product. It is highly unlikely, though, that Stournaras will get an immediate answer. The matter will probably be referred to the Euro Working Group, with the technical team that advises eurozone finance ministers being asked to come up with proposals on how to reduce Greece’s debt.

“Discussions will begin but there are a number of preconditions to be met, not just the primary surplus,” a high-ranking European Union official told Kathimerini. “That is why the negotiations will take place when the next [troika] review [of the Greek adjustment program] has been completed.”

But MacroPolis casts doubt on any rosy scenarios:

Greek Parliament’s budget office questions primary surplus sustainability

In its latest quarterly report released on Friday, the Greek Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) argues that despite significant achievements in 2014, the Greek economy still has a long way to go to overcome the obstacles in its path.

The PBO notes the ratification of Greece’s primary surplus in 2013, the government’s agreement with the troika and the 5-year bond issue but expresses scepticism about whether the country can meet its targets in the next few years.

Commenting on the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFS) for 2015 – 2018, which was submitted to Parliament this week, the PBO stresses that the government’s primary surplus targets are overly optimistic for 2016-18. According to the MTFS, the government aims for a primary surplus at 2.3 – 2.5 percent of GDP in 2014-15 increasing to 3.5 – 5.3 percent of GDP in the succeeding three years.

From Kathimerini English, a crucial test for the number three party:

Supreme Court to decide on Golden Dawn ahead of May vote

The so-called secret charter of Golden Dawn, which came to the surface during the ongoing probe into Greece’s ultranationalist party, and the potential inclusion of candidates facing criminal charges on the party’s ticket are expected to determine whether GD will get the green light from the Supreme Court to run in the upcoming European Parliament elections, Kathimerini understands.

Authorities have used the charter, which lays out the Nazi-type structure and fascist ideology of the party, as the basis for charges against several Golden Dawn MPs who are accused of setting up and participating in a criminal organization.

Sources told Kathimerini, GD is unlikely to nominate any of the MPs under probe. The party has already set up a surrogate organization, National Dawn, to take its place should it be banned from running in the vote.

Cyprus next, and good news for bank account holders from EUbusiness:

Bailed out Cyprus lifts last main capital controls

Cyprus abolished restrictions on cashing cheques Friday as it lifted the last main domestic capital controls imposed more than a year ago to avoid a run on banks during bailout negotiations.

“With the new 29th decree issued today by the minister of finance, all restrictions on domestic transactions are lifted… except the opening of a new bank account,” the finance ministry said.

The controls lifted on Friday were a ban on the cashing of cheques and limits on transactions and payments of 50,000 euros ($69,000) for individuals and 200,000 euros for companies.

After the jump, Uruguay goes to pot, Venezuelan forebodings, mixed signals from the Chinese economy, stalled TPP talks, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: EconoEcoKleptoMegaManiacs


Once again, a collection of things economic, political, ecological, and more, complete with Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, from TechWeekEurope, an ominous notice that Big Brother intends you to wear him, ushering in the dawn of a new era of Taylorism:

Research Proves Wearable Tech Increases Employee Productivity

  • Rakspace says the main challenge now is harvesting data generated by employees’ devices for analytics

Adoption of wearable technology in the workplace can increase staff productivity and job satisfaction, suggests research commissioned by Rackspace.

However, IT professionals have raised concerns about the security of newly-generated data and the sudden increase in IT workloads caused by the introduction of devices like the Fitbit, Pebble and Google Glass.

The findings are the result of the Human Cloud at Work project [PDF], which looks at the impact wearable devices could have on the corporate environment.

Next up, a delay for a key piece of the neoliberal, Ayn Randian agenda from Global Times:

US senators voice concerns over prospects of TPP trade talks

US senators expressed on Thursday concerns over the prospects of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal despite progress made last week between the United States and Japan.

Orrin Hatch, the top Republican at the Senate Finance Committee, said the administration’s trade agenda was at risk of failure without trade promotion authority (TPA).

“I do not believe you can conclude high-standard agreements that will meet Congress’ approval without TPA,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. “History tells us very clearly that without TPA, your trade agenda will almost certainly fail.”

TPA, known as “fast track” trade legislation, provides that Congress must vote up or down on a proposed trade agreement without the possibility of amendment. Without that guarantee, it’s more difficult for other negotiating countries to make significant concessions.

Another significant voice joins in, via Open Media:

Top U.S. Senator: TPP’s secrecy must end and the agreement must “reflect the need for a free and open Internet”

On April 30th, 2014, over 3.1 million citizens and over 50 organizations united in a historic campaign to Stop The Secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Our campaign culminated in our biggest and brightest projection in Washington D.C. last night – check out the images here.

Then, the next day, one of the most powerful members of the United States Congress, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) spoke out during a crucial Senate Hearing to call for an end to the extreme secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Senator Wyden explained, “Too often, there is trade secrecy instead of trade transparency. Bringing the American people into full and open debates on trade agreements that have the effect of law is not too much to ask.” In addition, Wyden also assured citizens that any agreements – including the TPP, “must reflect the need for a free and open internet, strong labor rights, environmental protections, and must be backed by stronger enforcement.”

From the Economic Times, a needed qualification:

Why the US unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%

The unemployment rate plunged for adult high school drop-outs to 8.9 percent from 9.6 percent. But April was a cruel period for them: The number of employed high school drop-outs fell to 9.9 million from 10.1 million. More than 200,000 of them lost jobs.

Their unemployment rate fell because even more of them _ 308,000 _ retired, gave up their search or never started looking for work. That’s a huge negative.

The overall unemployment rate fell primarily because fewer people started looking for work in April. More than 4 million Americans typically do so each month. But in April, only 3.7 million did.

That caused the number of people either working or looking for work to shrink, which, in turn, contributed to lower unemployment rates.

From the New York Times, notable numbers:

Why the Housing Market Is Still Stalling the Economy

Except in a few booming markets, housing is nowhere close to pulling its economic weight. Consider this:

Investment in residential property remains a smaller share of the overall economy than at any time since World War II, contributing less to growth than it did even in previous steep downturns in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit 20 percent, or the early 1990s, when hundreds of mortgage lenders failed.

If building activity returned merely to its postwar average proportion of the economy, growth would jump this year to a booming, 1990s-like level of 4 percent, from today’s mediocre 2-plus percent. The additional building, renovating and selling of homes would add about 1.5 million jobs and knock about a percentage point off the unemployment rate, now 6.7 percent. That activity would close nearly 40 percent of the gap between America’s current weak economic state and full economic health.

Resistance, via Al Jazeera America:

Postal workers resist privatization plans

Employees fear outsourcing of mail processing to Staples store counters and potential sale of post office branches

In a recent video message posted to the U.S. Postal Service’s YouTube channel, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe appeared incredulous and indignant about protests that have erupted across the nation over changes he’s instituted. “There’s no interest in privatizing,” he said. “Do not let people get you confused.”

If that message was aimed at soothing the increasing nervousness on the part of postal employee unions, the postmaster failed to deliver. As seen in the simultaneous demonstrations in 27 states last week, as well as the postal employees’ presence at International Workers’ Day rallies on Thursday, several decisions by Donahoe have only heightened fears among America’s postal workers.

The most visible sign of union angst is the movement to thwart Donahoe’s aim of putting full-service USPS counters in 1,500 Staples stores, to be staffed with the office supply chain’s own, lower-paid employees. Yet that’s just the latest in a string of changes that seem geared toward outsourcing various postal jobs, which include efforts to consolidate processing plants and contract out the trucking of mail from plants to post offices.

From the Los Angeles Times, another notable number:

Seattle mayor proposes $15 minimum wage

A day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate quashed an effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal Thursday for a $15 municipal minimum wage that he said would “improve the lives of workers who can barely afford to live” in this high-tech city on Puget Sound.

Declaring it a “historic” day for progressives seeking to address the issue of income inequality, Murray laid out his complex and controversial proposal, which would be phased in over several years at different rates for large and small businesses. At least initially, income from tips and employer-provided health insurance would be taken into account.

If the City Council agrees, Murray said, Seattle will prove itself to be “an incubator of democracy,” leading the national conversation to address “the growing problem of income inequality.

And for our final U.S. item, the arrival of a filler four times deadlier than SARS from The Wire:

MERS Reaches the U.S. for the First Time

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said on Friday that a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in the U.S. for the first time. The CDC said the MERS-infected patient is a healthcare worker who came to Indiana from Saudi Arabia, adding that it is collaborating with Indiana health officials to investigate the case. Per the CDC:

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.

MERS, a SARS-like virus that was first detected in 2012, has largely affected patients in Saudi Arabia, but has broken out throughout the Middle East and has made an appearance in Greece, Britain, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries. Since 2012, more than 300 Saudi Arabians were hit with the virus, and local officials have reported a recent surge in patients. Only about two-thirds of those diagnosed with the virus survived.

Off to Europe and qualified relief from Reuters:

Euro zone joblessness barely falls in March

The number of people out of work in the euro zone fell slightly in March but remained near a record high, a sign that European households are yet to feel the bloc’s economic recovery and are unlikely help generate growth in the short term.

Around 18.91 million people were jobless in the 18-nation bloc in March, 22,000 less than in February, or 11.8 percent of the working population, the EU statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

That is slightly down from the record 12-percent level a year ago, while the 11.8 percent reading was the same as in February. The February reading was revised down by Eurostat from 11.9 percent earlier.

So what do the numbers show for the European Union? A spectrum ranging of Austrian at the low of 4.9 percent to Greece, with a high of 26.7 percent. Via Eurostat [PDF], click on the image to enlarge:

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

Reuters again, and more qualified numbers:

Euro zone factory recovery broadens, except for France

The recovery in euro zone manufacturing accelerated at the start of the second quarter with solid growth across most of the bloc although French factories struggled to maintain momentum, a business survey showed on Friday.

Growth was again led by Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and previously-lagging companies in Spain and Italy reported better business last month.

It was the first time since November 2007 that all PMIs in the region indicated growth – coming in above the 50 break-even level.

On to austerian Britain and some truly grim numbers from The Independent:

UK has second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, study finds

  • Leading doctors and midwives accuse Government of ‘failing to protect’ British children

The UK has the second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, a major new study has revealed, as leading doctors and midwives accuse the Government of “failing to protect” British children during the financial crisis.

In findings which were described as “shocking” by children’s charities, and which caused surprise among the researchers themselves, the UK ranked behind much poorer countries such as Cyprus and Greece and for prevention of mortality in under-fives.

The under-five mortality rate for the UK was 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births. Only Malta, a country which ranks well behind the UK in terms of wealth, performed worse in the Western European region. The UK mortality rate was more than twice as high as the best-performing country, Iceland, and 25 per cent higher than the Western European average.

The Guardian covers more dubious numbers:

British aid money invested in gated communities and shopping centres

  • CDC development fund insists projects will create jobs in poor countries but NGOs accuse government of helping big business

Millions of pounds of British aid money to tackle poverty overseas has been invested in builders of gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries, the Guardian can reveal.

CDC, the little-known investment arm of the British aid programme, has invested more than $260m (£154m) in 44 property and construction companies in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

At least 20 of these are hotels, shopping centres or companies that build or manage gated communities and luxury property, according to Guardian research.

On to Sweden, and some non-metaphorical alarm bells from TheLocal.se:

Neo-Nazis spark first church alarm since WWII

The churches in Jönköping rang their bells in warning for two hours on May Day as neo-Nazis took to the streets. The alarm marked the first of its kind for the central Sweden town since World War II broke out.

“We chose to ring the bells because we think it’s a threat to our open society when our streets play host to messages that do not respect every person’s value and dignity,” Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) priest Fredrik Hollertz told The Local on Friday.

“We wanted to use what we used in the days of old.”

On to Germany and more interesting numbers from the London Telegraph:

Germany’s interest in Adolf Hitler at record levels

  • Germans more interested in Adolf Hitler than at any time since the Allied defeat of his Third Reich at the end of the Second World War, study finds

Germans are more interested in Adolf Hitler that at any time since the end of the Second World War, a new study has concluded.

The German Media Control research group, which monitors broadcasting, found that documentaries about Hitler are aired twice a day on German television channels and that books and films about the Nazi leader are being produced in record numbers.

It established that 242 programmes dealing specifically with Hitler had been shown on television during the first four months of 2013, while 500 other films and documentaries that had dealt with the Nazi era in general had also been aired.

Some 2,000 books on Hitler were published in Germany last year.

Next, France, and yet more interesting numbers from TheLocal.fr:

Is France really a nation of Eurosceptics?

A recent poll showed fewer than half of the French people believe the EU is a good thing for their country, which is a troubling trend for one of the union’s founders. The Local hit the streets to find out if the French really have become a nation of Eurosceptics.

With European parliament elections just weeks away the French may be having a British moment.

A poll commissioned by French daily Le Figaro recently found that only 44 percent of the French people think the European Union is good for their country, which appears at a first sight a dizzying plummet in one of the Union’s founders and an arch promoter of the project.

But the apparent turning of the tide against the EU has been growing for some time. A study last year showed the French public were rapidly falling out of love with Brussels. What was perhaps most alarming was that the widespread disaffection with the union was spreading quicker in France than in any other country on the continent.

TheLocal.fr again, and a decision sure to please the resurgent Right:

Landmark ruling bars lesbians from adopting

In a landmark decision a lesbian couple were barred from adopting a child, who was conceived through artificial insemination outside France. One gay-rights group slammed the decision saying “Children of LGBT families are the new bastards of the Republic”.

Judges in Versailles refused a request this week by a lesbian woman to adopt a 4-year-old child, who was conceived in Belgium by her partner, thanks to medically assisted procreation (MAP) or artificial insemination.

Currently in France methods of medically assisted procreation like IVF are reserved only for heterosexual couples, who have difficulty having children. However thousands of babies are thought to be born in France each year that were conceived abroad through articificial insemination.

On to the Alps, with TheLocal.ch:

Swiss have world’s highest prices: new study

Residents who find Switzerland to be a costly place to live now have more proof: the mountain country ranks as the most expensive nation on the planet, according to a new study from the World Bank.

The International Comparison Program report, released on Tuesday in the US, compares purchasing power and real expenditures of 177 countries using statistics from 2011.

Switzerland ranks ahead of Norway, Bermuda, Australia and Denmark in the table for highest “price level indexes,” the report says.

Portugal next, with an imprimatur from ANSAmed:

Portugal passes latest troika test

  • 2014 growth to be at 1% of GDP, says deputy PM

The Portuguese government announced on Friday that the so-called troika of international creditors (ECB,EU, and IMF) had approved the efforts undertaken by the country to comply with the aid program agreed three years ago in exchange for a 76-billion-euro loan.

‘’The twelfth assessment was positive,’‘ Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas said in a press conference, underscoring the ‘’climate of confidence coming from all European markets.’‘ Portas added that the international creditors had urged the government to push forward with reforms that the opposition, unions and most citizens – including military and police associations – are against.

The deputy prime minister underscored that at the June 2011 swearing in of Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservative government, interest rates on ten-year government bonds had stood at 10.6%, whereas they have now dropped to 3.6%.

The Portugal News charts a financial invasion:

Brits lead property sale surge

The sale of property in Portugal has recorded positive growth during the first quarter of 2014, the Chairman of National Real Estate Association (APEMIP) revealed this week, with the appetite of British buyers for Portuguese houses showing renewed signs of recovery.

Luís Lima explained that foreign investment played a considerable role in the improvement of the national real estate market, representing 14 percent of the total number of sales during the first three months of the year. However, estimates are that this percentage is substantially greater when solely taking into consideration the monetary value of property sales involving foreign buyers.

“A factor which helped boost figures this past quarter most was the increase in foreign investment and, for example, we started seeing more sales in the Algarve”, Luís Lima told the Lusa News Agency after the release of the association’s latest numbers.

The APEMIP chief put the latest “animated figures” for the first quarter down to mounting interest from foreign buyers, revealing that a total of 24,000 properties changed hands between January and March.

The Portugal News, with an anti-stricke strike:

Inmates launch hunger strike against strike

Fifteen inmates being held in the Monsanto maximum security prison have launched a hunger strike to protest against strike action being taken by prison guards.

According to a report by newspaper Diário de Notícias the inmates are taking action of their own in protest to the guards’ strikes which reduce their access to phone calls and visits.

On to Spain with El País, and that old hard times intolerance, taking the field:

Just another “isolated” racist incident?

  • The throwing of a banana at Barça’s Alves highlights the reluctance to tackle racial abuse in sport

The initial response of the authorities to the banana that was thrown at Barcelona’s Dani Alves during an away match at Villarreal on April 27 was that it was an isolated incident. The problem is that the history of sport, in Spain and around the world, is full of isolated incidents. And after a while, they all add up.

Which is not to say that in some countries action isn’t finally being taken against racism in sport. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, was recently banned for life from the game, and will likely be forced to sell up after he was recorded telling his girlfriend in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want her bringing black people to games.

“The attitude of the State Commission Against Violence and Racism is lazy and laissez-faire,” says Esteban Ibarra, a member of the two anti-racist organizations in Spain. “All that happens here is that we cover up racism and violence.” It is an attitude that many sports fans will recognize from the way the Spanish authorities have failed to deal with doping.

A provocative push with a purpose from TheLocal.es:

Spanish region to tax owners of empty homes

Spain’s Catalonia region is looking at taxing the owners of properties that have stood empty for more than two years in a bid to increase stocks of social housing.

Under the draft legislation, property owners would have to register properties that have been empty for more than two years as of January 1st 2015. They would then be taxed accordingly. The planned tax is targeted primarily at financial institutions and would be gradual, with annual taxes levied on each property of €500 ($690) to €16,500 depending on how many properties are owned.

The proposal will help breathe life into a market where 15,000 people lost their homes in 2013, Catalonia’s government said in a statement.

On to Italy and a truly gruesome crime from TheLocal.it:

‘Mafia is behind stolen anti-cancer drugs’

A highly organized crime ring is behind the distribution of stolen and fake anti-cancer drugs throughout Europe, an Italian official told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Domenico Di Giorgio, the director of the prevention of counterfeiting at the Italian Medicines Agency, the pharmaceutical watchdog, said that “organized crime is certainly involved” in the racket, which has raised concern among pharmaceutical professionals that the drugs may be inefficient or even deadly.

Di Giorgio’s agency is currently carrying out an investigation into the matter along with the Italian antifraud squad, the Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità Carabinieri.

“There’s a central structure apparently based in Italy that commissions thefts of medicines in hospitals,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [and lots of it], boycotts and bailouts in the Ukrainian/Russia conflict, a provocative Israeli move, Brazilian drought and a political preemption, a seismic economic shift in Asia, Chinese financial developments [including a bubble alert], Japanese bankster boosterism, TPP demands, environemtnal woes, visions of epidemics, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

CannabiNews: A Pot-pourri of headlines


For some reason or another, pot was much in the news today, so we pulled out some items for separate treatment [literally, as one item reveals].

First up, they callit Sin City, via The Verge:

High rollers: Las Vegas is poised to become the Disneyland of weed

  • Cannabis entrepreneurs fight to stake their pot leaf in the world’s biggest tourist destination

They won’t have neon signs, drive-thru windows, or 24-hour wedding chapels attached to them. But Las Vegas marijuana dispensaries will be massively profitable tourist attractions that could deepen the entire nation’s relationship with weed. At least that’s the hope of the 109 applicants who entered the heated competition for Vegas’ first medical marijuana dispensary and grow-room licenses in time for Tuesday’s deadline.

Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana way back in 2000, but the state only recently enacted regulations to allow people to open pot businesses legally. Unincorporated Clark County — not to be confused with Clark County, which contains the city of Las Vegas proper — includes the flashy 4.2-mile gambling corridor known as the Las Vegas Strip. It’s home to mega-casinos like the Bellagio and Caesars Palace and became the first jurisdiction to draft its licensing requirements. Those requirements look a lot like the ones that control its lucrative gambling industry: they favor high rollers and are geared towards reaping massive profits.

Although only medical marijuana is legal in Nevada now, a petition has been filed to legalize weed for recreational use, and it’s expected to pass by 2016. As it is, Vegas is known as a place where out-of-towners can come and get crazy for a weekend, because “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Throw legal marijuana into the mix, and you’ve got a potential stateside Amsterdam. As a result, Vegas has turned into a serious land grab for would-be marijuana entrepreneurs.

But here in the “liberal” San Francisco Bay Area, the official mood is less expansive, as the  East Bay Express reports:

Back In the Closet

  • California medical cannabis patients are increasingly being forced to hide behind closed doors as bans on dispensaries and home cultivation sweep through the East Bay.

Residents of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco might not think about it much, but hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients and their allies are in an unprecedented struggle across California. A battle is raging in the wake of a 2013 state Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the right of cities and counties to ban dispensaries. And local governments are now using that decision to also prohibit medical marijuana cultivation for personal use and to levy fines against growers of up to $1,000 per plant on growers.

Based on unfounded, outdated, and narrow-minded fears about crime, odor, and child safety, these bans strike at the very core of voter-approved Proposition 215, which reads:

“The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 are as follows: (A) To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.”

Yet despite that groundbreaking law, the vast majority of Californians now live in cities and counties that have enacted bans on medical pot dispensaries, including much of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In addition, more than a dozen cities and counties — including Concord and Martinez — have banned all outdoor growing, and a few cities are prohibiting all cultivation. Legal challenges to the more sweeping bans are pending, but the pain is immediate.

On the other hand, in the typically Red state of the Colorado, some traditionally conservative institutions are leaping on the the pot bandwagon, as in this tale from Boing Boing:

Pot encouraged at Colorado Symphony concert series

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra will perform a series of concerts where attendees are encouraged to smoke weed. The bring-your-own-cannabis concerts, called “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series,” are a collaboration with pro-pot producers Edible Events.

“We see ourselves as connecting classical music with all of Colorado,” Colorado Symphony Orchestra director Jerry Kern told the Denver Post. “Part of our goal is to bring in a younger audience and a more diverse audience, and I would suggest that the patrons of the cannabis industry are both younger and more diverse than the patrons of the symphony orchestra.”

And for our final item, one more proof of ganja’s healing properties from CBS News:

Medical marijuana effectively treats MS symptoms, review finds

On Monday, for the first time, the American Academy of Neurology said medical marijuana is an effective treatment for some symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It concluded spasm, muscle tightness and pain can all be helped.

But that’s when the drug is given as an oral spray or pill. There’s not enough evidence to determine if smoking marijuana was equally effective, says lead author Dr. Barbara Koppel.

“There is lots of literature about smoking, but it’s all anonymous questionnaires, and it’s patient testimonials,” Koppel says.

The study is available here, with the absrtact free.

Headlines I: EconoPoliBankoEcoFukuFollies


A huge amount of fascinating stories about currents in play in our increasingly neoliberalized global physical and fiscal world. We’re following up with another headline set devoted to the dark arts of militarism, espionage. drones, and suchlike.

We open with an ominous report of a global phenomenon from the Times of India:

World’s coastal megacities sinking 10 times faster than rising water levels

Scientists have issued a new warning to the world’s coastal megacities that the threat from subsiding land is a more immediate problem than rising sea levels caused by global warming.

A new paper from the Deltares Research Institute in the Netherlands published earlier this month identified regions of the globe where the ground level is falling 10 times faster than water levels are rising — with human activity often to blame.

In Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, the population has grown from around half a million in the 1930s to just under 10 million today, with heavily populated areas dropping by as much as six and a half feet as groundwater is pumped up from the Earth to drink.

The same practice led to Tokyo’s ground level falling by two metres before new restrictions were introduced, and in Venice, this sort of extraction has only compounded the effects of natural subsidence caused by long-term geological processes.

It’s just not the oceans that are rising, at least for the moment. From Reuters, a story to read with tongue in cheek:

U.S. consumer confidence near six-year high, home prices rise

U.S. consumer confidence dipped in April but remained near a six-year high, while home prices rose in February, suggesting the economy continued to regain momentum after a winter lull.

The Conference Board said its index of consumer attitudes dipped to 82.3, the second-highest reading since January 2008, from an upwardly revised 83.9 in March.

An unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity early in the year.

From The Progressive, predictable results:

Scathing Report Finds Rocketship, School Privatization Hurt Poor Kids

Gordon Lafer, a political economist and University of Oregon professor who has advised Congress, state legislatures, and the New York City mayor’s office, landed at the airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late last night bringing with him a briefing paper on school privatization and how it hurts poor kids.

Lafer’s report, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” released today by the Economic Policy Institute, documents the effects of both for-profit and non-profit charter schools that are taking over struggling public schools in Milwaukee.

“I hope people connect the dots,” Lafer said by phone from the Milwaukee airport.

From The Verge, a program to suit the era of standardized tests and computerized grades:

This machine can write a grade-A paper in less than a second

  • Machines fooling machines

Les Perelman, a now retired former director of writing for MIT, has long been against the idea of using machines to grade essays. “I’m a skeptic,” he told the New York Times in 2012 — and now he’s built his own machine to prove his skepticism right.

Called the Babel Generator — short for Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator — the software is able produce complete essays in less than a second, and all you have to do is feed it up to three keywords. The essays are grammatically correct but nonsensical. The goal isn’t to produce great writing, though, it’s to fool other machines: Babel was designed specifically to prove that essay-grading software doesn’t effectively analyze things like meaning and isn’t able to check facts. Perelman’s gibberish essays have managed to get high scores on automated tests like MY Access!, with grades like 5.4 out of 6.

Various studies have shown that automated software often scores papers roughly the same as its human counterparts, and the software is gaining popularity at schools simply because it can grade papers so much faster than teachers. Previously, Perelman had managed to fool these algorithms with essays that employed a few simple tricks, using lengthy words and sentences, as well as connective words like “however.” Some developers — including a team at MIT, building software called EASE (Enhanced AI Scoring Engine) — are even trying to create automated systems that are more human by mimicking how actual professors grade.

From the Los Angeles Times, a reminder that the homeless aren’t homogeneous:

She’s homeless and likes it that way

Annie Moody has been arrested 59 times in six years, as L.A. officers try to get her off the streets of skid row. But to her, that’s home.

Moody has been arrested by Los Angeles police 59 times in roughly six years, according to LAPD arrest data — more than anyone else in the city. Since 2002, she has been tried 18 times, convicted 14 times and jailed for 15 months, costing taxpayers at least a quarter of a million dollars, according to court and law enforcement records.

Under a court settlement, homeless people can sleep on the sidewalk overnight but must be up by 6 a.m. or face charges of resting on the sidewalk or having an “illegal lodging.” Most of the 1,000 or so street dwellers on skid row fear arrest and move along, if only temporarily.

Authorities say she has turned down dozens of offers of shelter or services for the homeless. Friends believe police target her because she stands up for her rights. Police describe her as a homeless “anchor” whose defiance encourages others to remain in the streets, undermining efforts to clean up skid row.

From The Guardian, a story that should weigh on the minds of folks who probably don’t even care:

US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent

Deliberately conservative figure lays bare extent of possible miscarriages of justice suggesting that the innocence of more than 200 prisoners still in the system may never be recognised

At least 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death in the US in the modern era are innocent, according to the first major study to attempt to calculate how often states get it wrong in their wielding of the ultimate punishment.

A team of legal experts and statisticians from Michigan and Pennsylvania used the latest statistical techniques to produce a peer-reviewed estimate of the “dark figure” that lies behind the death penalty – how many of the more than 8,000 men and women who have been put on death row since the 1970s were falsely convicted.

Apathy by the numbers from United Press International:

Poll: Most millennials not planning to vote in November

  • Higher percentage of young conservatives plan to vote in November than young liberals.

23 percent of the millennial generation plan to vote in the U.S. midterm elections in November, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The Harvard Institute of Politics said there has been a marked drop in political enthusiasm among those aged 18 to 29 in the past few months. In November, 34 percent of that age group said they would probably vote.

The news is bad for the Democrats, since the current generation of 20-somethings tends to lean in their direction. Even worse, the poll found, that millennials with conservative views are more likely to say they will be voting than those who lean liberal.

SINA English covers imperial expansion:

Disney says to spend $800M on Shanghai theme park

Disney says it and its Chinese partner will spend $800 million more on their Shanghai theme park, bringing the total investment to nearly $5.5 billion.

The extra spending will go toward more attractions, entertainment and other offerings. Most of the additions are targeted to be completed by opening day, which is aimed for the end of 2015.

CEO Bob Iger said in a statement that Disney has been impressed with the growth of China’s economy, the expansion of the middle class and a significant increase in travel and tourism.

While Computerworld frets:

White House sees ‘real danger’ China will soon take R&D lead

  • Spending on research drops as Congress pursues austerity

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. continues to lead in spending on research and development (R&D). But the rate of spending by other nations — China, in particular — is increasing at a faster pace. This fact is creating angst in Congress.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today on U.S. R&D spending, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) the committee chairwoman, said that much of America’s “exceptionalism” comes from its investment in science. “We cannot afford to let other countries out-invest or out-innovate the U.S.,” she said.

But the committee’s ranking member, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), threw cold water on Mikulski’s rallying call for R&D support, by linking federal debt and mandatory spending to science spending.

From New Europe, The Lobby swings into action [unction?]:

Kerry backs off Israel ‘apartheid’ remark after withering criticism

Secretary of State John Kerry says he chose the wrong word in describing Israel’s potential future after coming under withering criticism for saying the Jewish state could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In a statement released by the State Department Monday, Kerry lashed out against “partisan political” attacks against him, but acknowledged his comments last week to a closed international forum could have been misinterpreted. While he pointedly did not apologize for the remarks, he stressed he was, and is, a strong supporter of Israel, which he called a “vibrant democracy.”

He said his remarks were only an expression of his firm belief that a two-state resolution is the only viable way to end the long-running conflict. And, he stressed, he does not believe Israel is, or is definitely track to become, an “apartheid state.”

TheLocal.ch gives it up for Rummy:

Donald Rumsfeld ‘gets Swiss social benefits’

Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial former US secretary of defence, is receiving around 5,000 francs ($5,680) a year in benefits from the Swiss social security system (AHV), according to a news report.

Rumsfeld, condemned for authorizing torture in the Iraq as head of the military under former president George W. Bush, receives 400 francs a month from the AHV, the Tages Anzeiger newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The 81-year-old and his wife have probably been receiving the pension since the summer of 1997, the Zurich-based daily said.

He was entitled to this pension benefit from his position on the board of directors of Swiss engineering and technology company ABB, Tages Anzeiger said.

And here at home, a less harmonious scene from Frontera NorteSur:

Life, Death and Struggle on New Mexico’s Mean Streets

Albuquerque’s Wyoming Boulevard bustles on the edge of what some people call the War Zone and others name the International District.  Both names really fit, but perhaps in ways not completely envisioned by the architects of popular lingo.

Here, the urban geography is imprinted with the social shrapnel of foreign and domestic wars, global migration and the cycles of capitalism. Gang conflicts, domestic violence, substance abuse, and prostitution have long rattled the zone, where many families nonetheless live, love, work and attempt to get ahead.

A rainbow of the human race inhabits this section of the city’s Southeast Heights-refugees from Southeast Asian wars, Native Americans from the reservations of Manifest Destiny, Mexicans from the collapsing campo and imploding cities of the NAFTA zone, struggling retirees from the USA of yesteryear.

And from the Associated Press, it oughta be a crime:

Oklahoma inmate dies after execution is botched

An Oklahoma inmate whose execution was halted Tuesday because the delivery of a new drug combination was botched died of a heart attack, the head of the state Department of Corrections said.

Director Robert Patton said inmate Clayton Lockett died Tuesday after all three drugs were administered.

Patton halted Lockett’s execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He said there had been vein failure.

On to Europe and waning homes from Reuters:

Euro zone sentiment, inflation expectations dip in April

Euro zone economic sentiment deteriorated slightly in April, defying forecasts of further improvement, while inflation expectations continued to fall, European Commission data showed on Tuesday.

The monthly Commission survey showed that economic sentiment in the 18 countries sharing the euro eased to 102.0 in April from 102.5 in March, mainly because of a dip in confidence in the construction sector and in services.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected an improvement to 103.0 in April.

EUbusiness concentrates power:

EU anti-fraud chief sees need for Europe-wide prosecutor

The head of Europe’s anti-fraud agency has backed calls to establish a public prosecutor’s office to probe and prosecute crimes committed against the European Union’s financial interests.

Giovanni Kessler, director general of the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, told AFP the mooted public prosecutor would be a “natural evolution” which would allow for “fully fledged criminal investigations.”

OLAF, which was established in 1999, has the power to investigate fraud and corruption in EU institutions. However, it must then hand over evidence gathered to national prosecutors in the EU’s 28 member states.

And from The Independent, a polarizing threat from 10 Downing Street:

David Cameron would quit as Prime Minister after general election if he could not deliver on in-out EU referendum pledge

David Cameron pledged tonight to step down as Prime Minister after next year’s general election if he could not deliver on his promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

His comments indicate that the pledge to stage the EU vote in 2017 would be a “red line” for the Conservatives in any post-election negotiations to form a Coalition government.

In a conference call with party stalwarts, Mr Cameron said he would not “barter or give away” his in-out referendum promise.

Last year the Prime Minister said he would wrest back powers from Brussels and put the deal he negotiates to the public in the first referendum on EU for more than 40 years.

Meanwhile, the HeraldScotland discovers another threat, Mother Nature:

Volcanic blast ‘as great a threat to UK security as nuclear terrorism’

AN ERUPTION of a supervolcano in Iceland should pose as great a threat to Britain as nuclear terrorism, according to a high level UK government report.

The warning was made by a group of academics and scientists from the British Geological Survey and the Met Office, which also involved geologists from Edinburgh University.

They argue that certain types of eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes, known as effusive gas-rich eruptions, should be considered an immediate risk to human health and the environment for much of northern Europe.

On to Ireland, where rich crooks get the usual wrist-slap, via TheJournal.ie:

No jail time for convicted Anglo pair, judge says prison sentences would be ‘incredibly unjust’

  • Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer will now be assessed for suitability for community service.

ANGLO EXECUTIVES PAT Whelan and Willie McAteer will be assessed for community service following their conviction for their roles in providing illegal loans totalling €450 million to 10 individuals.

Judge Martin Nolan said that it would be ‘unjust’ to impose prison sentences on the Anglo pair because a State agency “led them into error and illegality”.

The judge said that he could not be certain Whelan or McAteeer knew they were in breach of the law but were, nonetheless, in breach.

Next up, Germany, starting with bankster anxieties from Deutsche Welle:

Deutsche Bank still waiting for profit boost

Germany’s biggest lender is still struggling to enhance its profit. Although first-quarter business was ‘resilient’ and legal costs could be curbed, sluggish investment banking weighed on earnings.

Deutsche Bank announced Tuesday its net profit dropped by no less than 34 percent in the first three months of the year as slower trading of bonds and foreign exchange factors weighed on its business.

Deutsche said it earned 1.10 billion euros ($1.52 billion), compared with 1.66 billion euros in the same period last year.

The Frankfurt-based lender also took over half a million euros in losses from its non-core unit keeping assets intended to be sold or wound down. The write-downs came at a special commodities group that took a huge hit on US power trading due to a price spike amid severe winter weather.

From Associated Press, echoes of another, earlier economic crisis:

Germany sees spike in left-wing violence

German authorities are reporting a rise in politically-motivated crimes over the last year, driven by a spike in left-wing violence and other illegal activity.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday the far-right accounted for most such crimes with 17,042 acts in 2013, down 3.3 percent from 2012. More than two-thirds of those crimes were classified as propaganda, such as displaying the swastika or other banned symbols. Violent crimes dropped 0.6 percent to 837.

By contrast, leftist crimes rose 40.1 percent to 8,673 acts in 2013, nearly half of which were property damage. Violent crimes rose 28.4 percent to 1,659 — largely attacks on police and others during demonstrations.

Germany saw an 11.2 percent increase in anti-foreigner crimes to 3,248, but a 7.2 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents to 1,275.

On to Paris and a “socialist” [sic] government’s austerian agenda from France 24:

French lawmakers approve €50bn deficit-reduction plan

France’s lawmakers Tuesday voted narrowly in favour of a plan to slash €50 billion from the country’s budget deficit by 2017, but a high abstention rate underscored discord within the Socialist majority.

The plan, designed to allow the eurozone’s second-largest economy to meet deficit-reduction commitments, passed with 265 votes in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, with 232 voting against and 67 abstaining.

The programme can now be submitted for approval to the European Commission, which has already granted France two extra years to bring its deficit below EU-mandated limits.

And from TheLocal.fr, hard times beget the usual scapegoats:

Paris cops told to ‘purge’ Roma from posh area

Police in Paris’s posh 6th arrondissement have been ordered to count up Roma people and “systematically purge” them from the area, media reports said [15 April]. The public outrage prompted by the orders forced France’s top cop to wade into the row.

An internal memo revealing police in the upscale 6th arrondissement of the French capital have orders to purge Roma people, their children and animals from the neighborhood has prompted outrage among officials and activists.

The memo, which was leaked to French daily Le Parisien, notes the order come directly from “police headquarters” and commands: “Effective immediately and until further notice, day and night personnel of the 6th arrondissement are ordered to find Roma families living in the street and systematically purge (évincer in French) them.”

While The Guardian covers French toxic worries:

French children exposed to dangerous cocktail of pesticides, campaigners say

  • Analysis of hair samples from youngsters living or studying near farms or vineyards found total of 624 pesticide traces

Children in agricultural areas are being exposed to a dangerous cocktail of pesticides, some of which are banned substances, a French health and environment group has claimed.

Générations Futures did independent analysis of the hair of young people living or studying near farms and vineyards after parents expressed worries about their children being exposed to poisons that could disrupt their endocrine system.

The group, a non-profit organisation specialising in the use and effects of pesticides on humans and the environment, says its findings confirmed their fears.

Next, on to Lisbon and another austerian agenda adopted from the Portugal News:

Government approves budget strategy document with €1.4bn in 2015 cuts

Portugal’s government on Monday approved a Budget Strategy Document (DEO) for the year covering the period to 2018, at a cabinet meeting that lasted around five hours, a government official told Lusa News Agency.
Government approves budget strategy document with €1.4bn in 2015 cuts

The document is understood to contain details of the spending cuts for next year 2015 that, according to the finance minister, Maria Luís Albuquerque, are to total €1.4 billion.

The DEO is a document that the government presents each year in April, and which looks ahead to revenues and spending to the coming years.

Spain next, starting with worrisome numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain’s jobless rate hits 25.9% in Q1

  • Almost 2 million households lack breadwinner

Spain’s unemployment rate rose in the first quarter of 2014 to 25.9% from a previous 25.73%, said the national institute of statistics INE on Tuesday.

There are almost two million households in the country in which all the members are unemployed. In the first quarter this category rose by 2.7% (53,100) to 1,978,900, but dropped on an annual basis by 1.7%.

INE noted that in the first quarter some 184,600 jobs had been lost (-1.08% on an annual basis), the smallest first quarter decrease since 2008. (ANSAmed).

TheLocal.se turns the tables:

Scores of Swedes beg in Spain’s tourist hotspots

A Swedish magazine sold by homeless people has caught the attention of the national media after it covered the homeless Swedes who beg in Spain’s most popular tourist areas.

Talk of Sweden and begging conjures images of eastern European migrants begging for change on Stockholm street corners. But few Swedes realize that hundreds of their own people are out begging on the streets of southern Europe — Spain, to be precise.

Faktum magazine, which is sold by homeless people in Gothenburg, released an issue on Tuesday that took a closer look at the phenomenon.

“The response has been tremendous really, gives people an important perspective on the debate in Sweden about poor EU migrants. There’s been a lot of discussion about Romanians and Bulgarians, but virtually nothing about Swedes who are begging in Spain, hoping for a somewhat better life,” Faktum editor Aaron Israelson told The Local.

TheLocal.es covers a taxing white sale:

Spanish tax office sells bras for extra cash

Fancy getting your hands on an oil painting, several tennis club memberships, or even a box of 50 bras? All of these items and many more are being auctioned off by Spain’s cash-strapped tax office.

Spain’s economic crisis has been hard on the country’s tax office.

While Spanish tax rates have shot up and are now among the highest in Europe, an unemployment rate of 26 percent and inefficient tax collection means the country is struggling to fill its public coffers.

But Spain’s tax office has found a hugely popular way to raise some much needed cash: online auctions.

From Rome, the threat of another Italian government collapse fr0m ANSA:

Renzi ready to quit if Senate reform fails

  • Premier not ready to go forward at all costs

Matteo Renzi reiterated Tuesday that he was ready to quit if his planned institutional reforms do not come to fruition.

He also told a meeting of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) that he did “not accept” those who call his institutional reforms, including a revamp of the Senate, “authoritarian”. . The executive is trying to find a compromise over its bill to change the Constitution to overhaul the country’s slow, costly political apparatus, after recent friction about its intended transformation of the Senate.

The support of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party for the reforms has looked in doubt in recent weeks, with its leader Silvio Berlusconi alternating between criticism of the plan and pledges to uphold it. Renzi won the agreement of three-time premier Berlusconi for the reforms at a meeting in January, a month before he toppled Enrico Letta, his colleague in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), to become Italy’s youngest-ever premier at 39. The central part of the package is to turn the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with minimal law-making powers to make passing legislation easier.

And a trip to Eastern Europe from EUobserver:

Anti-Roma views rampant across all Romanian political parties

Snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures descended on Romania in February, gridlocking the roads, isolating villages, killing pensioners and causing panic across the country.

Social Democratic Party (PSD) MP for Bucharest Dan Tudorache, a member of the Parliament’s foreign relations commission, chose this moment to post a public message on Facebook.

“It is minus 14 in Bucharest! Very cold!!!” he wrote. “So cold that I actually saw a gypsy with his hands in his pockets.”

For those unfamiliar with racist humour against Romania’s Roma minority, Tudorache was referring to the myth that ‘gypsies’ always have their hands exposed in the street so they can steal wallets and phones from passers-by.

After the jump, the latest tortuous twists in the Greek crisis, calls for regime change and car production in Brazil, Mexican telephonic discontent, poop protests, rare earths, and more from China, GMO rebuke, pollution woes, haughty sales staff justified, and questions raised about medical research. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Monsanto in Argentina


From journalist Soledad Barruti, author of Malcomidos: Cómo la industria alimentaria argentina nos está matando, [roughly "Bad Food: How the Food Industry in Argentina is Killing Us"]  a 465-page look at the role of Big Ag in her country, quoted in the Argentina Independent:

The fight against Monsanto is highly emotional. Especially in our country, where those confronting the company are the victims of the undeniable rise in the number of illnesses that appeared in the communities which were sprayed. For them, Monsanto is, above all, a symbol. It is the 20th century poisoned by the abuse of chemistry, the weakness of the states against corporations, or their alliance. Monoculture which does not feed people but animals, and which is extending around the planet.

For the employees in charge of Monsanto’s image (who work there just as they could work for Adidas or Mac) it seems hard to understand that they are a symbol, but, especially, it seems harder to convince anyone else of the opposite.

***

My book talks about this: how our food production system is in crisis. It expels farmers and doesn’t produce healthy, good quality food within everybody’s reach. We have 57% of arable land occupied by GM soy, more than 90% of which is exported to feed animals in China and to generate biofuels. Our food is disappearing. It is enough to have a look around a greengrocers: there is less and less variety and the prices seems uncontrollable. But instead of thinking about redesigning the matrix to make access to food easier, soy is being planted right up to La Matanza, and many institutions – among them a number of universities – seem focused on encouraging this model.

An excerpt from her book, in English, is posted here.

Headlines, threats, pols, cons, and more


Today’s global news wrapup covers lots of ground, starting with a New York Times story on the skewed jobs picture resulting from the —ahem — Obama recovery:

Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery.

“Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author. “If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — the question is, how do we make them better?”

Next, two headlines defining the meaning of Republican Family Values™. Both from USA TODAY.

First, this:

Kissing congressman won’t run for re-election

Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., said Monday he will not seek re-election in November, after being caught on video kissing a female aide.

McAlllister, who was elected just five months ago in a special election, first informed The News Star in Monroe, La., of his decision. He will serve out this term, which ends in January 2015.

“I am committed to serving the 5th District to the best of my ability through this term, but I also have to take care of my family as we work together to repair and strengthen the relationship I damaged,” McAllister said. He and his wife, Kelly, are returning to Washington later Monday.

And by way of contrast, this:

Rep. Grimm charged with tax fraud, says he won’t quit

A 20-count indictment unsealed Monday charged Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.,with an alleged tax evasion scheme involving the concealment of more than $1 million in receipts from his New York restaurant where he employed an undisclosed number of undocumented immigrants.

Grimm surrendered to federal authorities Monday and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction, mail fraud and perjury related to the alleged scheme involving his fast-food restaurant Healthalicious. But he said he would not resign his seat in Congress.

“In total, Grimm concealed over $1 million in Healthalicious gross receipts alone, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars of employees’ wages, fraudulently depriving the federal and New York state governments of sales, income and payroll taxes,’‘ court documents state.

So there it is: Cheat on your wife, lose your position. Cheat Uncle Sam and you soldier on, just like another recent GOP icon.

And from the Toronto Globe and Mail, bad news for Bill Gates:

U.S. advises avoiding Microsoft’s Internet Explorer until bug fixed

  • Malicious Operation Clandestine Fox campaign targets U.S. defence, financial firms

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security advised computer users to consider using alternatives to Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer browser until the company fixes a security flaw that hackers have used to launch attacks.

The bug is the first high-profile security flaw to emerge since Microsoft stopped providing security updates for Windows XP earlier this month. That means PCs running the 13-year old operating system could remain unprotected against hackers seeking to exploit the newly uncovered flaw, even after Microsoft figures out how to defend against it.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a part of Homeland Security known as US-CERT, said in an advisory released on Monday morning that the vulnerability in versions 6 to 11 of Internet Explorer could lead to “the complete compromise” of an affected system.

From Want China Times, Motor City looks East for salvation:

Chinese immigrants could save Detroit: governor

Bankrupt Detroit announced its new immigration plan that aims to attract Chinese investors, and the combined investment from China has reached US$100 billion, the ninth highest among the 50 states in the United States.

Although is was seeking Chinese investment, the city’s chronic problems with public disorder, racial conflict, and chaos in urban planning may still put its future at risk, according to the Southern Weekly.

The city, which has a factory that produced the first Ford car, was a major hub for automobile manufacturing worldwide. Its collapse after suffering huge debt and dying industries symbolizes the world’s farewell to the era of traditional industry.

Closer to home, The Guardian covers ranching chaos in the Golden State:

California drought drives exodus of cattle ranchers to eastern states

Ranchers herd their stock away from dying grasslands as beef prices reach record highs and industry faces uncertain future

In the midst of the worst California drought in decades, the grass is stunted and some creeks are dry. Ranchers in the Golden State are loading tens of thousands of heifers and steers onto trucks and hauling them eastward to Nevada, Texas, Nebraska and beyond.

“If there’s no water and no feed, you move the cows,” said Gaylord Wright, 65, owner of California Fats and Feeders Inc. “You move them or they die.”

The exact headcount for livestock on this cattle drive is not known. But a Reuters review of state agriculture department records filed when livestock cross state borders indicates that up to 100,000 California cattle have left the state in the past four months alone.

While the McClatchy Washington Bureau covers another impact of water shortages combined with drug war rules:

With no federal water, pot growers could be high and dry

Newly licensed marijuana growers in Washington state may find themselves without a key source of water just as spring planting gets under way.

Federal officials say they’ll decide quickly whether the U.S. government can provide water for the growers or whether doing so would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which makes possession of the drug illegal.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the water supply for two-thirds of Washington state’s irrigated land, is expected to make a decision by early May, and perhaps as soon as this week, said Dan DuBray, the agency’s chief spokesman.

And on the subject of pot, United Press International covers dires predictions unfulfilled in the Centennial State:

Only 15 percent of Colorado residents say they have bought recreational marijuana

The Quinnipiac Poll finds most Colorado residents say legalizing pot has not eroded state’s “moral fiber” and more than half expect it to help state budget.

While almost half of Colorado residents say they have used marijuana, only 15 percent say they have done so since the state legalized it Jan. 1, a new poll finds.

Generally, residents still support legalization, with 67 percent saying it has “not eroded the moral fiber” of Coloradoans, a Quinnipiac poll reported Monday. Only 30 percent said it has.

Half of those polled said they expect legalization to aid the criminal justice system, and 54 percent said that it has not made driving in Colorado more dangerous. More than half, 53 percent, said legalization “increases personal freedoms in a positive way,” and the same percentage expect the change to save the state money.

And from MIT Technology Review, more consequences of the mare’s nest exposed by Edward Snowden:

Spying Is Bad for Business

Can we trust an Internet that’s become a weapon of governments?

The big question in this MIT Technology Review business report is how the Snowden revelations are affecting the technology business. Some of the consequences are already visible. Consumers are favoring anonymous apps. Large Internet companies, like Google, have raced to encrypt all their communications. In Germany, legislators are discussing an all-European communications grid.

There is a risk that the Internet could fracture into smaller national networks, protected by security barriers. In this view, Brazil’s new cable is akin to China’s Great Firewall (that country’s system for censoring Web results), or calls by nationalists in Russia to block Skype, or an unfolding German plan to keep most e-mail traffic within its borders. Nations are limiting access to their networks. The result, some believe, could be the collapse of the current Internet.

Analysts including Forrester Research predict billions in losses for U.S. Internet services such as Dropbox and Amazon because of suspicion from technology consumers, particularly in Europe, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. “The Snowden leaks have painted a U.S.-centric Internet infrastructure, and now people are looking for alternatives,” says James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

One business is really booming, as Homeland Security News Wire reports:

Demand for terrorism insurance remains strong

The fourth edition of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Report has found that demand for terrorism insurance remains strong and the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) plays a key role in making coverage available and affordable. A survey of roughly 2,600 organizations found that the demand and price for terrorism insurance has remained constant since 2009. Education organizations purchase property terrorism insurance at a higher rate, 81 percent, than companies in any other industry segment surveyed in 2013, followed by healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and media companies.

The fourth edition of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Report has found that demand for terrorism insurance remains strong and the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) plays a key role in making coverage available and affordable.

The 2014 Marsh & McLennan Companies survey of roughly 2,600 clients found that the demand and price for terrorism insurance has remained constant since 2009. Education organizations purchase property terrorism insurance at a higher rate, 81 percent, than companies in any other industry segment surveyed in 2013, followed by healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and media companies.

On to Europe and rising doubts, reported by The Guardian:

Anti-EU vote could rise above 30% in European elections, says thinktank

  • Hardline sceptics could get 29% of vote and critical reformers 5%, although Open Europe’s definitions of groups are disputed

Anti-EU parties could win more than 30% of the vote across the continent in the European elections, according to calculations by the Open Europe thinktank, up from 24.9% on the vote in 2009.

The calculation – challenged by other analysts – suggests hardline sceptics could take as many as 218 (29%) of the 751 available seats, up from 164 out of 766 (21.4%) in the current parliament. Open Europe says this bloc is diffuse, ranging from mainstream governing parties to neo-fascists.

It forecasts that the European parliament will continue to be dominated by parties that favour the status quo or further integration, although their vote share is set to fall slightly.

BBC News covers good news for us, bad news for the banksters:

RBS plan for 200% bonuses blocked by Treasury body

Royal Bank of Scotland has abandoned attempts to pay bonuses twice the size of salaries after being told the move would not be approved.

UKFI, the body that manages the Treasury’s 81% stake in the bank, told RBS it would veto plans for a 2:1 bonus ratio at the next shareholder meeting.

“There will be no rise” while RBS is “still in recovery”, the Treasury said.

New EU rules mean the bank has to ask its shareholders for approval of annual bonuses above 100% of base salaries.

On to Germany and a warning from TheLocal.de:

Bundesbank warns of German slowdown

German economic growth is heading for a significant slowdown in the second quarter of 2014 after a robust first three months, the German central bank said on Monday.

“After the extremely strong start to the year, economic growth in Germany is expected to see a noticeable slowdown in the second quarter,” the Bundesbank said in its latest monthly report.

Growth in industrial orders has not continued with the “same intensity” as in the first two months of the year, it said.

Lisbon next, and embarrassing hacks from the Portugal News:

Attorney general’s office hacked, passwords accessible online

The web page of the Lisbon attorney general’s office has been hit by a hacker attack by ‘Anonymous Portugal’.

Saturday’s edition of Portuguese paper ‘Dário de Notícias’ said that personal details of more than 2,000 public prosecutor magistrates had been accessible online including their mobile and land line number and their passwords to reserved areas on the site.

The paper said that the hack, code named ‘national Blackout’, had also affected companies, political parties and the criminal investigation police.

On to Spain and a bare minimum protest from thinkSPAIN:

Naked police protest in council meeting

LOCAL Police officers burst into a council meeting in Torrevieja (Alicante), stripped down to their underpants and protested over forced changes to their working hours.

The 30 or so policemen bore slogans on their naked backs which said ‘no more chaos’ and ‘we’ve had enough’, among others.

Torrevieja’s PP council ordered the police off the premises and said it had no intention of changing officers’ duty hours back again, because their new timetables were ‘more efficient’.

Next up, Italy, and more Bunga Bunga blowback from EUbusiness:

Scandal-hit Berlusconi insists ‘friend of Jews, Germans’

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi insisted he is a friend of Jewish people and Germany on Monday in a bid to quell international outrage sparked by his controversial remarks about the Holocaust.

The former premier said he was “a historic friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel” and it was “surreal to attribute to me anti-German sentiment or a presumed hostility towards the German people, to whom I am a friend.”

The 77-year-old’s statement, posted on the website of his centre-right Forza Italy party, came after an international outcry over his claim on Saturday that Germans denied the existence of Nazi concentration camps.

The media mogul, who is campaigning for the European elections on behalf of his party despite a tax-fraud conviction, made the comment while lashing out at European Parliament chief Martin Schultz, the centre-left candidate in the race to lead the EU Commission.

After the jump, the latest mixed messages from Greece, a Ukrainian bailout, mass death sentences in Egypt, Chinese Brazilian dreams, a tension-filled Indian elections, printing houses in China, ramping up the Asian Game of Zones, nuclear nightmares, and tales of birds and bees. . . Continue reading

Curious Alice: When propaganda goes bad


Or not, depending on your perspective. . .

A still from the Curious Alice, via the National Archives.

A still from the Curious Alice, via the National Archives.

Consider, for example, this 1971 piece of federally produced propaganda created to teach grade-schoolers about the evils of drugs by associating specific drugs with characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — a tale filled with hidden meanings familiar to its target audience in large part thanks to a version sanitized through the medium of a Walt Disney film.

Wonderfully restored by the U.S. National Archives, here is:

Curious Alice [1971]

Program notes:

This drug abuse educational film portrays an animated fantasy based upon the characters in “Alice in Wonderland.” The film shows Alice as she toured a strange land where everyone had chosen to use drugs, forcing Alice to ponder whether drugs were the right choice for her. The “Mad Hatter” character represents Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), the “Dormouse” represents sleeping pills, and the “King of Hearts” represents heroin. Ultimately, Alice concluded that drug abuse is senseless.

Audrey Amidon of the National Archives writes of the film:

When I first saw a beat-up, faded print of Curious Alice, it was clear that whatever anti-drug sentiment the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was trying to convey, it just wasn’t working.

In Curious Alice (1971), a film intended for eight to ten year olds, our young Alice falls asleep while reading a book. She encounters cigarettes, liquor, and medicines, and realizes that they are all types of drugs. When she sees the “Drink Me” bottle, she understands that it contains something like a drug, yet after a half-second’s consideration, she drinks the entire bottle and enters a fantasy world. In Drug Wonderland, Alice learns about the hard stuff from her new friends the Mad Hatter (LSD), the March Hare (amphetamines), the Dormouse (barbiturates), and the King of Hearts (heroin). The events of Curious Alice play out as an expression of Alice’s drug trip. Unfortunately, the trip is kind of fun and effectively cancels out the film’s anti-drug message.

The psychedelic Monty Python-style animation in Wonderland is one of the best things about Curious Alice. It’s also one of the biggest reasons that the film is an overall misfire. If one listens closely, Alice is saying plenty about why drugs are bad, but the imagery is so mesmerizing that it’s hard to pay attention to the film’s message. Further, the drug users are cartoon characters with no connection to real people or real drug problems. Why take the March Hare’s drug problem seriously when you know that Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff and is always back for the next gag?

Read the rest.

The film was directed by Dave Dixon for the U.S. Office of Education of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and stars Elizabeth Jones, a remarkably talented young woman in what appears to have been her only professional role, in what was apparently her first and only appearance on the silver screen.

As the Lewis Carroll Society of North America notes, “The animation and voice work are really quite good. . .almost too good! Looking back now at this clip, the girl’s bouffant hair, and (ahem) eye shadow, is pretty trippy, too.”

Indeed, esnl is reminded of a song. . .this song, in a remarkable version hinting at some of Carroll’s deeper currents from vlogger Pimvenus, who writes: “This is a music video I edited for my MEA 180 Intro to filmmaking class.”

White Rabbit Music Video – Jefferson Airplane

Headlines again, with anxieties and ironies


First up, one of the world’s smallest nations takes on nine heavy hitters: The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Via the Japan Times:

Tiny Marshall Islands sues nine nuclear-armed powers

The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law.

The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II was filing suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also was filing a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade.

From CNN Investigations, a national shame, and another neoliberal triumph:

A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital’s secret list

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting for appointments and care. But the new revelations about the Phoenix VA are perhaps the most disturbing and striking to come to light thus far.

Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Salon covers another national shame:

Massive new fraud coverup: How banks are pillaging homes — while the government watches

  • When financial crimes go unpunished, the root problem of fraud never gets fixed — and these are the consequences

From Boing Boing, another imminent national shame from the administration of Hope™ and Change™:

FCC planning new Internet rules that will gut Net Neutrality. Get ready to pay more for the stuff you love online.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report that The Federal Communications Commission will propose new open Internet rules this Thursday that will allow content companies to pay Internet service providers “for special access to consumers.”

Under the new rules, service providers may not block or discriminate against specific websites, but they can charge certain sites or services for preferential traffic treatment if the ISPs’ discrimination is “commercially reasonable.”

Bye-bye, Net Neutrality, and the internet as we know it. Hello, greater connectivity gap between rich and poor in America.

The covers another neoliberal triumph:Associated Press:

Postal workers unions protest Staples program

Postal workers around the country protested in front of Staples stores on Thursday, objecting to the U.S. Postal Service’s pilot program to open counters in stores, staffed with retail employees.

Rallies were planned at 50 locations in 27 states. In New York, about 100 workers marched from the main office on 8th Avenue to a Staples store about five blocks away, carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Staples deal has got to go.”

In Washington, D.C., more than 200 people gathered at a Staples, drumming on buckets and holding signs that read: “Stop Staples. The US Mail is Not for Sale.”

Bloomberg casts doubt:

Is the U.S. Shale Boom Going Bust?

It’s not surprising that a survey of energy professionals attending the 2014 North American Prospect Expo overwhelmingly identified “U.S. energy independence” as the trend most likely to gain momentum this year. Like any number of politicians and pundits, these experts are riding high on the shale boom — that catch-all colloquialism for the rise of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have unleashed a torrent of hydrocarbons from previously inaccessible layers of rock.

But this optimism belies an increasingly important question: How long will it all last?

Among drilling critics and the press, contentious talk of a “shale bubble” and the threat of a sudden collapse of America’s oil and gas boom have been percolating for some time. While the most dire of these warnings are probably overstated, a host of geological and economic realities increasingly suggest that the party might not last as long as most Americans think.

And from Los Angeles Times, signs of a bubble deflating?:

Homes selling slower in Southern California. A sign of stability?

The share of houses that have been listed for sale for at least two months climbed in the Los Angeles, Orange County, Inland Empire and Ventura regions of Southern California compared with a year ago, according to an analysis by real estate website Trulia.

Thanks to perennially tight supply, Southern California housing markets are still pretty “fast” by historic standards, notes Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko. More than half of all homes in Los Angeles and Orange Counties sold in less than two months — among the 10 highest rates in the country.

But compared with last year, when prices were significantly lower and the supply of homes for sale was even tighter, the market has slowed a bit. The share of homes on the market for two months in Los Angeles climbed to 44% from 40 a year ago, to 45% from 38% in Orange County and to 53% from 49% in Riverside-San Bernardino. By comparison, that share fell in the Bay Area, Denver and Seattle.

The Guardian nags:

Big riders mean bigger horses on US’s western trails

  • Ranches are turning to draft horses – the ‘diesels’ of the horse world – to accommodate flood of overweight tourists

Wranglers in the US west who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.

The ranches say they are using draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, in ever greater numbers to make sure they don’t lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the west of yesteryear.

“Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it’s kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family,” said wrangler T James “Doc” Humphrey.

And from the New York Times, a deal with the devil:

F.B.I. Informant Is Tied to Cyberattacks Abroad

An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.

Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data — from bank records to login information — from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.

The details of the 2012 episode have, until now, been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the F.B.I. directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to dismantle hacking groups like Anonymous and send computer activists away for lengthy prison terms.

The Los Angeles Times covers cops gone bad:

Ex-deputies charged in planted-guns case

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are accused of cutting off electricity and security cameras in order to plant weapons and arrest two men at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been charged with planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary to arrest two men, one of whom prosecutors said was sentenced to a year in jail before the bad evidence was discovered.

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, face two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday. Martinez was charged with two additional felony counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

If convicted of the charges, the former deputies face more than seven years in prison.

While the London Daily Mail covers the Case of the Homicidal Snitch:

How KKK ‘Jewish center shooter’ entered the witness protection program after he was caught having sex with a black male prostitute dressed as a woman

  • Frazier Glenn Cross was arrested on April 14 for shooting three at Kansas City Jewish centers
  • Previously worked as a government informant after he was arrested under his original name, Frazier Glenn Miller
  • Had a history of arrests- including one following a tryst with a black male prostitute posing as a woman- that led to his 1987 capture
  • Was released and given a new identity as part of his 1990 informant deal

And from the Washington Post, a high-flier brought low:

Navy reassigns ex-Blue Angels commander after complaint he allowed sexual harassment

The Navy has reassigned a former commander of the Blue Angels, its acrobatic fighter squadron, and is investigating allegations that the elite team of pilots was a hotbed of hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, documents show.

The Navy announced Friday that it had relieved Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, of duty for alleged misconduct. At the time, the Navy did not describe the nature of the accusations or provide other details except to say that the case remained under investigation.

From Eyes on Trade, Barry O continues the sell-out:

As Obama Visits TPP Countries, New Obama Administration Report Targets Their Public Interest Policies as “Trade Barriers” to be Eliminated

As President Obama leaves on his Asia tour today to try to paper over the deep divisions that have bewitched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, he will likely refrain from reiterating the criticisms his administration recently levied against the sensitive domestic policies of the TPP governments he will be visiting.

The 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, published earlier this month by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), targets financial, privacy, health, and other public interest policies of each TPP nation as “trade barriers” that the U.S. government seeks to eliminate. The report offers unusual insight into why negotiations over the sweeping, 12-nation deal are contentious and have repeatedly missed deadlines for completion.

And a helpful reminder, via ExposeTheTPP:

BLOG TPP

Gawker covers a sensible but long-belated move:

Brooklyn DA to Stop Prosecuting for Low-Level Pot Arrests

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office will stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests, according to a confidential memo obtained by the New York Times.

The district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson sent the policy proposal to the New York Police Department earlier this month.

The memo states that charges against anyone arrested with a small amount of marijuana who lacks a prior conviction will be “immediately dismissed,” and “the police will be directed to destroy the defendant’s fingerprints.” Some 8,500 people were processed last year in Brooklyn on low-level drug charges.

From the National Post, a story that raises so many questions north of the border and raises the prospect of another drinking buddy for Toronto’s mayor::

‘Intoxicated’ 18-year-old girl reportedly rushed to hospital from Prime Minister Harper’s residence

  • 24 Sussex medical call won’t be investigated by RCMP

The RCMP have confirmed that Ottawa EMS was called to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive last Saturday night as media reports said an 18-year-old girl needed to be taken to hospital for severe intoxication.

RCMP would not confirm who the call was for, only that it was not Stephen Harper or one of his family members.

On to Europe with some rare good news for workers from the Portugal News:

EU workers to enjoy fully portable pension rights when moving abroad

EU workers moving to a different EU country will be able to take their full pension rights with them following a draft law passed by the European Parliament last week. It still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers.

“The text represents a genuine improvement for many workers. It is a big step forwards for the free movement of workers and a boost for a social Europe”, said Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, adding that “a good pension is a necessity, now that Europeans can expect to live much longer.”

Current EU rules ensure that workers moving to another EU country do not lose their statutory pension rights, i.e. those provided by the state.

However, no such EU-wide rules exist for supplementary pension schemes, financed or co-financed by employers. So people who move between member states risk losing entitlements built up over a period that is not deemed long enough by the state to which they move.

From intelNews.org, the second oldest profession with familiar adversaries:

Russian espionage in Germany rising sharply, says Berlin

Russian espionage activity in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, according to senior counterintelligence officials in Berlin.

An article published in weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag on Sunday said Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the German capital center on infiltrating German political institutions and corporations. The Berlin-based publication said Russian spies typically seek to gain “intimate knowledge” of German energy policy as well as corporate practices.

Another area of interest for Russian intelligence concerns Germany’s activities in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Citing Hans-Georg Maassen, Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV —Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency), Die Welt said that no foreign intelligence service is more active on German soil than Russia’s SVR —one of the KGB’s successor agencies. Most Russian intelligence officers “pose as embassy workers”, said the paper, adding that the BfV believes up to a third of all Russian diplomats stationed at the German capital have a “background in intelligence gathering”.

On to France and more familiar adversaries from TheLocal.fr:

Neo-Nazi Hitler party shocks French village

The mayor of a small village in eastern France was forced to explain this week how he ended up giving the green light for a neo-Nazi party commemorating the 125th anniversiary of Hitler’s birth. The mayor said he presumed it was just going to be an ordinary birthday party.

When André Sherrer, the mayor of the tiny village of Oltingue, in the Alsace region of Eastern France, gave the go-ahead for a function in a municipal building he had no idea the outrage it would provoke.

Sherrer, who is in charge of the village of 700 residents thought he was renting the room out for an ordinary birthday party but little did he know that 150 to 200 neo-Nazis would be turning up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Hitler’s birth on April 20th 1889.

And from France 24, when all else fails, play up flesh:

Ségolène Royal denies banning cleavage at French ministry

Ségolène Royal, French President François Hollande’s former partner and the mother of his four children, has denied claims she ordered female staff at the Environment Ministry to “dress appropriately” and avoid revealing tops.

The report, published by French weekly Le Point on Thursday, claimed Royal, who joined Hollande’s Socialist government following a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, had also banned smoking in the ministry’s courtyard and gardens in her presence.

Denying the “ridiculous rumours” on her Twitter account, Royal said the only instruction she had given colleagues was to be sparing in their use of public funds.

From TheLocal.ch, a Swiss challenge to the financializers:

Vote set for ban on food trading ‘speculation’

The Swiss will vote on a proposal to ban speculation on agricultural commodities and food, the government said on Wednesday, announcing that organizers had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum.

The Swiss Socialist Party’s youth wing gathered nearly 116,000 valid signatures — well beyond the 100,000 needed to organize a popular vote in Switzerland, one of the world’s main trading hubs for commodities.

The initiative, entitled “No speculation in food commodities”, will likely come up for a vote within the next two or three years, giving voters the possibility to put a stop to all trading in financial instruments linked to agricultural products.

From thinkSPAIN, voices against austerity:

Doctors from Médicos del Mundo collect 43,000 signatures calling for ‘free healthcare for all’

DOCTORS working for a worldwide charity have raised a petition of 43,000 signatures in protest over the healthcare reform proposed by minister Ana Mato.

Médicos del Mundo (‘world doctors’) say the restrictions are ‘unjust and cruel’ and that ‘two years of reforms’ had ‘put more human lives at risk’ by ‘targeting those who are the most vulnerable’.

The charity says it has seen literally hundreds of immigrants without residence cards being denied medical care, and Spanish families with low incomes struggling to pay for treatment they need, ‘endangering their lives and health’.

Opprobrium for Madrid from The Guardian:

Spain restricting people’s right to protest, Amnesty report finds

  • Report paints picture of heavy-handed government response to country’s growing social movements

The Spanish government is using fines, harassment and excessive police force to limit the right to protest, Amnesty International warned in a new report released on Thursday.

Against a backdrop of chronic unemployment and shrinking public funds for education, health and social services, a growing number of Spaniards have taken to the streets in recent years. But “instead of listening to their demands, instead of starting a dialogue, authorities are doing everything they can to impede people from protesting”, said the report’s author, Virginia Álvarez.

Amnesty International tracked several protests in Madrid and Barcelona during the past year, gathering first-person accounts, interviewing journalists and lawyers and analysing videos and photographs.

And from TheLocal.es, allegations of book-cooking:

Spain ‘fiddles numbers’ to shave jobless rate

Spain has managed to push down its unemployment rate to 25.77 percent — by adjusting the formulas used to establish the country’s jobless rate to include the latest census data.

Spain’s official unemployment rate fell from 26.03 percent to 25.77 percent in one fell swoop on Thursday.

The sudden drop came after the national statistics institute (INE) revised its formulas to include data from the 2011 national census.

Spain’s official unemployment rate is based on a survey of 65,000 households across the country, known as the EPA, or Active Population Survey.

On to Italy and more hard times intolerance from EUobserver:

Italian right calls for end to migrant rescue programme

Italian right-wing politicians have called for the country’s programme to rescue North African refugees from the Mediterranean sea to be scrapped after figures suggested that 1,100 immigrants had been rescued in the past two days.

The figures are the highest since Italy launched a naval operation known as “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) last October to rescue would-be migrants at sea in the wake of two shipwrecks off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa which killed more than 600 people.

Since its creation, Mare Nostrum has rescued more than 20,000 people from the Mediterranean at an estimated cost of €9 million a month, according to Italian media reports.

From EUobserver, currency losing currency:

Anti-euro talk spreads in Italy

Rome – In the 1990s, qualifying against the odds for eurozone membership was a matter of pride for most Italians. Now leaving the euro – once a political taboo – is routinely discussed by the media, as the campaign for next month’s European Parliament elections gets into full swing.

Polls suggest that eurosceptics may win as much as 50 percent of the votes, if support levels for Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia are totted up with those for smaller right-wing parties such as the Northern League and Brothers of Italy.

“There is more talk about Europe, but it is being talked about in bad terms,” Franco Frattini, a former EU commissioner and ex-Italian foreign minister, lamented at a public event in Rome on 16 April.

From TheLocal.it, feeling cross, or when symbolism turns lethal:

Italian man crushed to death by giant crucifix

An Italian man was crushed to death on Wednesday by a giant crucifix honouring John Paul II that collapsed during a ceremony ahead of the late pope’s canonization.

A piece of the 30-metre high wooden cross fell during the event near an Alpine village, killing the young man on the spot, Italian media reported.

The Jesus Christ statue on the cross is six metres high and weighs 600 kilogrammes and the crucifix was curved and fixed to the ground with cables, the reports said. The victim’s age was given at 20 or 21 years old.

And for our final Italian item, a symbolic step from ANSA:

Napolitano signs tax-cut decree

  • Includes ban on hiring for late-paying local administrations

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday signed the government’s decree bringing in 10 billion euros of tax cuts for low earners, ANSA sources said. Napolitano met Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan earlier on Thursday for clarification about aspects of the legislation.

Opposition parties have expressed doubts about the financing of the cuts.

Premier Matteo Renzi, on the other hand, said Wednesday that the cuts were the start of a “revolution in the relationship between citizens and the State”.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including bailout news and rising discontent], a Putinesque pronouncement, pot rules in Montevideo, the latest Asian zonal games, religious resurgence in China, and the curious case of the the not-so-green geothermal Icelandic woes. . . Continue reading

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