Category Archives: Health

EnviroWatch: Faith, Ebola, water, toxins, Fuku


Whilst we continue our focus on Ebola, we begin with an important dose of reality from Pacific Standard:

Faith in Scientific Progress Decreases Eco-Friendly Behavior

A new study finds affirming belief in scientific progress appears to reduce the likelihood of acting in environmentally responsible ways.

Advocates for environmental action also tend to be strong believers in science. Could this explain why they’ve had so little success in persuading people to change their behaviors?

That provocative question is raised by a newly published paper, which suggests faith in science takes some of the pressure off of us to behave responsibly.

“When media outlets paint a picture of omniscient science and unconditional and ongoing progress, one consequence may be that people become passive and less motivated to behave in environmentally friendly ways,” University of Amsterdam researchers Marijn Meijers and Bastiaan Rutjens write in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

And on to Ebola, first with an interesting headline from SINA English:

No Ebola cases spotted in China: official

The Chinese health authority has confirmed no Ebola cases have been reported in China so far.

Song Shuli, spokeswoman of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), made the remarks at a press conference held Thursday, adding a series of preventative measures have been taken to stop the virus from entering China.

Song said NHFPC has strengthened its communication with World Health Organization (WHO) to better monitor and predict the spread of the Ebola virus and has ordered border control authorities to intensify their checks of inbound travellers from related countries.

Next, concerns in the country next door via India Today:

EXCLUSIVE: Ebola virus could enter India through Delhi and Mumbai

Officials at the IGI International Airport and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport are a worried lot these days. Immigration and Custom officials are on their toes. There are strict instructions to keep a hawk eye on all the passengers coming from Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways and Emirates. The fear is passengers with Ebola virus could enter India through the Indira Gandhi International Airport or the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

Alert notification has been issued for airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi as well. Alert has also been sounded for various airports under Airport Authority of India. The government has also roped in Indian Medical Association to coordinate the efforts and be ready for any eventuality. This after the government learnt that 50 to 60 Indians in Liberia were in the process of returning to India.

Indian Medical Association spokesperson Dr. Rajinder Saini said, “We are coordinating with the government. The situation isn’t bad but then we have a huge population and resources could be limited.” Dr Saini added that people from African nations come to India not just for travel purpose but to get medical treatment as well and hence it was all the more important for the various airport authorities and hospitals in various metros to be careful of the situation and also be equipped to tackle the situation.

Homeland Security News Wire covers high anxiety:

Ebola outbreak could inspire African terrorist groups to weaponize the virus: Experts

Recent discussions about Ebola have mainly focused on the disease as a public health hazard, but counterterrorism officials are concerned that the new outbreak could inspire terror groups, specifically those based in West Africa, to weaponize the virus. The fear of weaponized Ebola dates back decades to when the Soviet Union’s VECTOR program, aimed at researching biotechnology and virology, was thought to have researched the creation of Ebola for warfare. In 1992 a Japanese cult group called Aum Shinrikyo tried, but failed, to collect samples of the Ebola virus in Zaire.

Recent discussions about Ebola have mainly focused on the disease as a public health hazard, but counterterrorism officials are concerned that the new outbreak could inspire terror groups, specifically those based in West Africa, to weaponize the virus. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has been working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. to develop a treatment for Ebola.

While GlobalPost sounds concerns:

How the Ebola outbreak turned into a racism and responsibility debate

  • Should the experimental drugs that have been given to two Americans be sent to Liberia?

Should untested, experimental drugs to combat Ebola be made widely available? This potentially life-and-death debate is raging as the disease continues to claim lives in West Africa, where the death toll has now reached 932, according to the World Health Organization.

Two American missionaries who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia have shown a marked improvement in the past week after being given an experimental drug called ZMapp that had up until then only been tested on monkeys.

This past weekend, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were flown to the United States where they are receiving medical care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity they were working with, said the two “had received a dose of experimental serum while still in Liberia.”

The news has sparked an ethical debate over equality of access to medical care and racism as two white Americans were given potentially life-saving treatment denied to hundreds of Africans.

More on that concern from Techdirt:

Ebola Cure Not Fully Developed Because Big Pharma Not Interested In Saving Lives Of Poor People In Africa

  • from the back-burner dept

As you may have heard, there’s been a somewhat scary Ebola outbreak in western Africa. You may have also heard about what some are calling a “secret miracle serum” that effectively stops the impact of the virus for those who catch it. It’s an experimental drug that hasn’t undergone human clinical trials yet, but it was apparently given to a couple of Americans and appears to be working. There’s some indication that it would take a couple months to produce a larger number of doses — though, again, the lack of testing here means that people really aren’t sure if it will work (or if there are serious side effects).

That said, as one article notes, a big reason that there hasn’t been much testing on this is because treating poor people in Africa just isn’t very profitable for the drug companies:

“These outbreaks affect the poorest communities on the planet. Although they do create incredible upheaval, they are relatively rare events,” said Daniel Bausch, a medical researcher in the US who works on Ebola and other infectious diseases.

“So if you look at the interest of pharmaceutical companies, there is not huge enthusiasm to take an Ebola drug through phase one, two, and three of a trial and make an Ebola vaccine that maybe a few tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people will use.”

And still more from International Business Times:

US Cuts Resources For Project Involved In Ebola Battle In Sierra Leone

The U.S. government will not renew funding for a major research project into Lassa fever, a decision that will, in turn, cut resources for a facility in Sierra Leone that is at the forefront of the current battle against the Ebola virus.

The National Institutes of Health rejected a proposal from New Orleans-based Tulane University to renew the five-year contract which expires in November, according to a July 30 letter from NIH reviewed by Reuters. The expiring contract is worth $15 million.

NIH declined to comment on the decision, citing “federal government procurement integrity rules.”

While Raw Story brings us the despicable:

Conservatives rip Ann Coulter for blaming Ebola doc’s illness on ‘Christian narcissism’

Conservative gadfly Ann Coulter drew widespread condemnation for attacking a Christian missionary who contracted the Ebola virus while serving in Africa.

Coulter suggested in her column Wednesday that Dr. Kent Brantly chose to help the poor in Liberia instead of the United States because “serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’”

“American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools [because] they’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists, and bigots,” Coulter wrote. “So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”

The Washington Post covers a poignant aspect of the crisis:

People are struggling to bury the Ebola dead.

Those treating Ebola victims are especially at risk of infection: When a Liberian-American government official named Patrick Sawyer managed to fly to Nigeria with the disease, which is spread only by direct contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic victim, several health workers in Lagos fell ill after treating him. Both Sawyer and one of his nurses have since died of the disease and the Nigerian government has declared a health emergency.

But there is a second group of people especially at risk for infection: those who treat and bury the bodies of the dead, which are even more contagious than living Ebola patients.

And a combination of inadequate infrastructure, logistical issues, conflicts with Western health care workers and burial traditions has contributed to widespread difficulties in containing the spread of the disease among mourners and those caring for the dead.

And on the the latest on the Gold State’s drought the latest and grim report from the United States Dought Monitor, which reveals no improvement despite the recent showers in parts of the state. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

One of the consequences [call it “Form pee to thee”], via the Guardian

Get used to toilet-to-tap water, Californians told

  • Drought-hit state plans $140m expansion at world’s biggest treatment facility to recycle more waste water

The golden state’s historic drought is forcing once-squeamish Californians to take a new look at “toilet-to-tap” water re-use. Or as they prefer to call it in Fountain Valley, “showers to flowers”.

The town in conservative Orange County is home to the largest water recycling plant in the world and an example during this epic drought of the life-altering changes California will have to make to avoid running out of water.

The first would be to get over the idea that water is an infinite resource, or that it pours out of the tap straight from a pristine, underground spring.

The San Francisco Chronicle keeps it dry:

Drought-busting El Niño looking less likely

Hope of an El Niño rescuing California from its devastating drought this year appears to be just about gone.

Not only have climate scientists downgraded the strength of a potential El Niño, but a report released Thursday by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center indicates that the odds of an El Niño happening at all have decreased.

El Niño is a warming of the Pacific Ocean that tends to influence worldwide weather. Strong El Niños have often been associated with wet winters in Northern California, something the state could use after three straight years of below-average rainfall.

Meanwhile, the Guardian covers another water problem:

Pollution triples mercury levels in ocean surface waters, study finds

  • Toxic metal threatens marine life as it accumulates faster in shallow layers than in deep sea due to human activity

The amount of mercury near the surface of many of the world’s oceans has tripled as the result of our polluting activities, a new study has found, with potentially damaging implications for marine life as the result of the accumulation of the toxic metal.

Mercury is accumulating in the surface layers of the seas faster than in the deep ocean, as we pour the element into the atmosphere and seas from a variety of sources, including mines, coal-fired power plants and sewage. Mercury is toxic to humans and marine life, and accumulates in our bodies over time as we are exposed to sources of it.

Since the industrial revolution, we have tripled the mercury content of shallow ocean layers, according to the letter published in the peer-review journal Nature on Thursday. Mercury can be widely dispersed across the globe when it is deposited in water and the air, the authors said, so even parts of the globe remote from industrial sources can quickly suffer elevated levels of the toxic material.

And Arctic News has a really, really alarming water problem:

Warm waters threaten to trigger huge methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor

The evidence of abrupt high methane releases in the Arctic Ocean is accumulating. The graph below shows in situ methane measurements taken at the Barrow Observatory, including recent levels as high as close to 2200 parts per billion (ppb).

Satellite data picture a similarly dire situation. Global mean methane levels as high as 1831 ppb were recorded on the morning of July 30, 2014, while peak methane levels as high as 2330 ppb were recorded that morning. More recently, peak methane levels as high as 2522 ppb were recorded (on August 2, 2014).

IPCC/NOAA figures suggest that methane levels were rising by some 5 to 6 ppb annually, reaching 1814 ppb in 2013. While methane levels at lower altitudes have indeed shown little rise, much larger rises have been recorded at higher altitudes, as illustrated by the image below.

And just how alarming? From Motherboard:

If We Release a Small Fraction of Arctic Carbon, ‘We’re Fucked’: Climatologist

This week, scientists made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor,” as the Stockholm University put it in a release disclosing the observations. The plume of methane—a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide, the chief driver of climate change—was unsettling to the scientists.

But it was even more unnerving to Dr. Jason Box, a widely published climatologist who had been following the expedition. As I was digging into the new development, I stumbled upon his tweet, which, coming from a scientist, was downright chilling:

Jason Box @climate_ice

If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.

8:43 AM – 29 Jul 2014 Copenhagen, Danmark

Box, who is currently a professor of glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, has been studying the Arctic for decades. His accolade-packed Wikipedia page notes that he’s made some 20 expeditions to the Arctic since 1994, and served as the lead author on the Greenland section of NOAA’s State of the Climate report from 2008-2012. He also runs the Dark Snow project and writes about the latest findings in the field at his blog, Meltfactor.

More water problems from MintPress News:

Lake Erie Isn’t The Only One In Trouble

Climate change and an unwillingness to regulate have led to a vicious algae bloom that could spread to other Great Lakes and threaten the nation’s major drinking water supply.

The Great Lakes hold 84 percent of the nation’s fresh water and one-fifth of the world’s drinking water supply. With inland lakes from Minnesota to California being polluted with toxic algae, and with an oxygen-free zone the size of New Jersey being discovered in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the issue of industrial phosphorous runoff has grown to be an issue that can no longer be ignored or left to voluntary actions.

“We’ve worked with farmers, and we know it works,” Jordan Lubetkin, a Great Lakes spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, told The New York Times regarding voluntary measures imposed to control oxygen-destroying runoffs. “Voluntary programs will take you so far. But at the end of the day, you need numeric standards. You’ve got to limit the amount of phosphorus coming into the lake. That’s why you see what we’re seeing in Toledo.”

From the New York Times, when opportunity knocks, run like hell:

A Texas County Sees Opportunity in Toxic Waste

Loving County is big, dry and stretches for miles, and is the perfect place, local officials say, to store high-level radioactive waste.

Officials here hope to entice the federal government — with $28 billion to spend on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste — into considering the possibility.

“With the money that this would generate for the county, we might even be able to pay the taxpayers back,” said the county judge, Skeet Jones. “We could build some roads. We could bring in some more water. We could have a town that’s incorporated, have a city council, maybe even start a school.” Loving County had a school, but it has been boarded up for years, and students are bused to neighboring Winkler County.

“Maybe even have a Walmart,” Mr. Jones mused.

And for our first Fukushimapocalypse Now! Item, this from the Japan Times:

Tepco to collect toxic groundwater at Fukushima, dump in ocean after treatment

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is planning to pump contaminated groundwater from drainage wells at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and dump it into the ocean after removing almost all radioactive materials, company officials said Thursday.

The plan is aimed at reducing the amount of toxic water building up at the complex, a problem that has been plaguing Tepco since it started trying to clean up the stricken power plant in 2011.

An estimated 400 tons of untainted groundwater is seeping into the shattered reactor buildings and mixing with toxic water generated in the process of cooling the reactors.

While the Mainichi looks ahead:

Accident at Tokai nuke plant could force 520,000 to evacuate outside Ibaraki Pref.

A serious nuclear accident at the Tokai No. 2 Power Station in Ibaraki Prefecture could result in about 520,000 people living within 30 kilometers of the plant taking shelter in other prefectures, according to a prefectural evacuation draft.

Some 960,000 people live within the urgent protective action planning zone (UPZ) within a 30 kilometer radius of the plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. Of these, some 520,000 would likely take shelter in five neighboring prefectures, while the remaining 440,000 would evacuate to other areas within Ibaraki Prefecture, according to the draft released on June 6 by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government.

Cities, towns and villages are expected to devise concrete evacuation plans to respond to a serious nuclear accident, but the large number of evacuees is expected to make it difficult to formulate plans securing places for them to stay while avoiding confusion.

Another fuel, another problem, via the Guardian:

Illegal coal mine encroaching on nature reserve in north-west China

  • Coalfield 14 times the size of the City of London turns alpine meadows into craters in Qinghai, Greenpeace investigation reveals

A Chinese coal company has been operating illegal open-pit mines in alpine meadows on the far-western Qinghai plateau, potentially endangering one of the country’s largest rivers, a new investigation has found.

Four opencast mines on the Muli coalfield, operated by the private corporation Kingho Group, could seriously endanger a fragile ecosystem high on China’s far north-western Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, according to an investigation by Greenpeace East Asia released on Thursday. The coalfield is 14 times larger than the City of London, Greenpeace said. Two of its mines overlap with a protected nature zone, making them illegal, and another two are preparing to expand into the zone.

“China’s natural reserve law says you shouldn’t be doing any large-scale operations within national parks,” said Li Shuo, the organisation’s climate and energy campaigner. “This is a clear violation.”

And from the Guardian, our final item, hardly a surprise:

The corporatisation of US green energy: a double-edged sword worth billions

  • As tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy increase, corporations are entering the green energy landscape

There’s a popular meme that surfaces on green energy blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. The gist is that large corporations love oil and gas because they can own and control it. They’re against renewable energy because no-one can own the sun or wind.

The problem for anti-corporate green-energy campaigners is, increasingly: the meme isn’t true.

As the materials for producing wind and solar energy become cheaper, tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy increase, and the prospect of finding more oil and gas becomes weaker, corporations are entering the green energy landscape to the tune of billions of dollars.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxins, Fuku, folly


Today’s compendium about the world and our troubled relationship with it opens with an Ebola digest, starting with this from the Guardian:

Barack Obama pushes for ‘global effort’ to combat spread of Ebola

  • President claims Ebola can be controlled and contained with the right resources, despite claiming 900 lives in west Africa

Barack Obama has said a global effort is required to combat the spread of Ebola which he blamed on weak and overwhelmed health systems in west Africa.

Speaking at the end of a summit of African leaders in Washington, the president said the disease – which has claimed the lives of more than 900 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – can be controlled and contained with the right resources. A single case has also been confirmed in Nigeria.

“The Ebola virus both currently and in the past is controlled if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place and countries that have been affected are first to admit that what’s happened here is their public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough,” he said. “You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and health workers. As a consequence it spread more rapidly.”

From the Washington Post, deadly scapegoating:

‘God is angry with Liberia,’ local religious leaders say, blaming Ebola on ‘homosexualism’

Amid the reports emerging out of Liberia, it’s difficult to discern what is true and what isn’t. But the fear they carry is undeniable: Fear of the disease, fear of dead bodies, fear that God himself has sent down a terrible plague to blight the people of Liberia for their transgressions.

There are local reports that “armed men” are allegedly trying to poison wells “to kill in the name of Ebola.” There are reports that the government is dumping bodies by the truckload at a mass grave on the west bank of a river and nearby residents fret over water contamination. And there are Reuters reports of bodies lying in the streets of Liberia’s capital Monrovia for days.

The Ebola pandemic — which has killed 887 in West Africa including 255 in Liberia — has terrified people so much that some local leaders discern divine meaning in it. According to Front Page Africa and the Daily Observer, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on Tuesday for all residents to fast for three days and pray for forgiveness.

The London Daily Mail treats the story with typical restraint:

Now Ebola victims are left to rot in the streets: Terrified relatives dump them outside for fear of catching deadly virus

  • Relatives of Ebola victims are dragging their bodies onto streets of Liberia
  • Disease-ridden bodies are left to rot in view of everyone, including children
  • In doing so, relatives hope they will avoid being quarantined by authorities
  • They view Ebola isolation wards in country as death traps, officials claim
  • Last week, Liberia announced raft of tough measures to contain the virus
  • Include imposing quarantines on victims’ homes and tracking their relatives
  • Ebola has claimed the lives of nearly 900 people across West Africa so far

From BBC News, the inevitable:

Liberia declares state of emergency over Ebola virus

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared a state of emergency as the country grapples with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Speaking on national television she said some civil liberties might have to be suspended.

Announcing a state of emergency for 90 days, President Sirleaf said in a statement that the government and people of Liberia required “extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people”.

El País brings it on home:

Spanish priest infected with ebola to be treated in Madrid’s Carlos III hospital

  • Miguel Pajares, 75, contracted the virus while treating another patient

A priest who has been confirmed as the first Spaniard to be infected by the current outbreak of the ebola virus is soon to be brought back to Spain for treatment. Miguel Pajares, aged 75, is one of the 1,600 cases to have been confirmed since March, when the most deadly wave of the condition began. As well as Liberia, where Pajares was based, the epidemic is also affecting Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with nearly 900 deaths reported so far.

The Spanish Health Ministry announced that the government has put into place a plan to repatriate Pajares, “in accordance with the highest security protocols from the World Health Organization.” These include a medical plane staffed by specialized personnel, and strict isolation measures.

According to the Defense Ministry, the aircraft that will collect the priest has been prepared at the Torrejón airbase in Madrid. It is expected to take off at around midday on Wednesday.

From the Los Angeles Times, a call for action:

Three leading Ebola experts call for release of experimental drug

Three leading experts on the Ebola virus said Wednesday that experimental drugs should be provided to Africa, and that if the deadly virus was rampant in Western countries it would be “highly likely” that authorities would give people access to the medications.

A decision to allow two American health workers infected in Liberia to have access to an experimental treatment — while dozens of African doctors and nurses have perished — has ignited a controversy over the ethics of the decision, which reportedly side-stepped Liberian health regulations.
Rise in reported African Ebola cases

The latest figures, through Aug. 4, show that 1,711 people in West Africa have been diagnosed with the disease and 932 have died, the World Health Organization announced.

Bloomberg evaluates:

Ebola Drug Panel Set by WHO to Weigh Unproven Drugs Use

The World Health Organization will convene a panel of medical ethicists next week to explore the use of experimental treatments for Ebola amid the worst outbreak of the disease on record.

An experimental antibody cocktail developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. was used to treat two infected American health workers whose conditions have improved. The WHO’s announcement came after Nigeria’s health ministry said it has written to the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to request access to the drug.

Use of the drug, called ZMapp, is raising questions about whether a medicine that hasn’t been shown as safe in humans should be distributed more widely during the outbreak and, given the limited amount of medicine available, who should get it, the WHO said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times gives the go-ahead:

FDA approves Ebola virus test; vaccine will probably take until 2015

The FDA has authorized use of an unapproved Ebola virus test under a special emergency-use provision, although efforts to develop a vaccine for the deadly illness are unlikely to bear fruit until 2015, officials say.

The test-tube diagnostic test was developed by the U.S. military and is used to detect the Zaire strain of Ebola, which has infected at least 1,711 and killed 932 in West Africa.

“The test is designed for use in individuals, including Department of Defense personnel and responders, who may be at risk of infection as a result of the outbreak,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said in a statement.

And Al Jazeera America adds more context:

Costs have delayed Ebola vaccine for years

  • Promising treatments have never been tested on humans because of expense, not lack of potential

Since March, the Ebola virus has killed at least 932 people in West Africa, the deadliest ever outbreak of the disease, and as the lethal hemorrhagic fever continues its spread, governments are taking drastic measures — from quarantining villages to closing schools — to stem the epidemic.

But perhaps there could have been another option to fight the virus. More than four years ago, a team of U.S. government scientists developed vaccine candidates that shielded monkeys from multiple strains of Ebola. Those vaccines, however, were never tested in human clinical trials — and not because the science wasn’t promising. One small trial on the monkeys, for example, had a 100 percent success rate of protecting the animals from the disease.

The factor preventing such trials in humans, though, has been cost, said Dr. Daniel Bausch, an associate professor of tropical medicine at the Tulane University School of Public Health who is currently stationed at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 6 in Lima, Peru.

MIT Technology Review takes a step back:

Challenges Remain for Technologies to Fight Ebola

  • Efforts to contain Ebola in West Africa suffer from a lack of effective tools to treat and prevent the disease, although several are in development.

Technologies that might prevent the spread of Ebola beyond West Africa are under development, and work could accelerate if the outbreak continues to worsen. But even if a vaccine were available today, deploying it could prove surprisingly difficult.

As of last week, the Ebola outbreak had claimed the lives of 88 percent of the more than 1,000 people who had contracted the virus. The virus causes fever, headache, sore throat, and other symptoms, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. It can lead to internal and external bleeding, and often death.

Ebola has affected relatively small populations in Africa since it was discovered in the 1970s. There has therefore been little incentive for companies to invest in developing treatments or vaccines, experts say. One treatment that has shown promise in animals but has not yet been tested in humans is called ZMapp—a combination of three monoclonal antibodies manufactured in tobacco plants by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals in San Diego. These antibodies are designed to mimic the antibodies the human body naturally produces as part of an immune response that’s typically disabled by the Ebola virus. The monoclonal antibodies attach to a part of the Ebola virus and trigger an immune response that neutralizes any virus particles floating around in the body to keep them from doing additional damage.

Urgent measures from the Associated Press:

Nigeria rushes to get isolation tents for Ebola

Nigerian authorities rushed to obtain isolation tents Wednesday in anticipation of more Ebola infections as they disclosed five more cases of the virus and a death in Africa’s most populous nation, where officials were racing to keep the gruesome disease confined to a small group of patients.

The five new Nigerian cases were all in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people in a country already beset with poor health care infrastructure and widespread corruption, and all five were reported to have had direct contact with one infected man.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization began a meeting to decide whether the crisis, the worst recorded outbreak of its kind, amounts to an international public health emergency. At least 932 deaths in four countries have been blamed on the illness, with 1,711 reported cases.

People’s Daily reassures, sort of:

Health staff at games on lookout for Ebola virus

Citing feasible plans and disease control precautions, the Jiangsu provincial epidemic prevention agency is urging the public not to worry about the Ebola virus during the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.

With 10 days before the Youth Olympics kick off in Nanjing, the number of international visitors has been surging, raising public concern that the crowds – particularly with people from Ebola-hit West Africa – could cause the virus to spread.

“The public doesn’t need to panic as we are sufficiently prepared against the virus, which now remains contained in limited areas of the world,” Tang Fenyang, director of the center’s acute-disease institute, told China Daily on Tuesday.

The New York Times has another Golden State drought story:

Dry California Fights Illegal Use of Water for Cannabis

Amid the state’s crippling drought, many communities are fighting not the mere cultivation of cannabis — which is legal in the state, though subject to myriad restrictions — but the growers’ use of water. Marijuana is a thirsty plant, and cultivating it at a time when California residents are subject to water restrictions has become a sticky issue.

When a statewide drought emergency was declared in January, “the first thing we wanted to address was water theft and marijuana,” said Carre Brown, a supervisor in Mendocino County, a major cannabis hub west of Lake County.

By mid-July, the sheriff there, Thomas D. Allman, had already caught growers siphoning water from springs because wells had run dry too early in the season. “I have told my marijuana team, ‘I want you to fly the rivers, fly the tributaries; let’s prioritize the water diversion,’ “ Sheriff Allman said.

Grist has another:

Don’t worry, Californians can paint their dead lawns green

When California regulators approved $500-a-day fines for overwatering lawns, suburbanites across the state gasped, “However will I keep my neighbors in check without a superior lawn to lord over them??”

Now, a solution: Slap on a fresh coat of green paint. The specially formulated (and supposedly nontoxic) grass dye lasts three to six months. It’s catching on. “Companies that promise to paint lawns are cropping up all over California,” National Journal reports. “The service lets homeowners cut back on water use without sacrificing curb appeal.”

The resulting “glittering shade of emerald green” might be even flashier than the real deal. “People think it sounds ridiculous when they first hear about it,” Jim Power, operations manager for LawnLift, told National Journal. “But then they try it, and they’re instantly hooked.”

From Truthout, about damn time:

Feds to Phase Out GMO Farms and Neonicotinoid Pesticides at Wildlife Refuges

After facing a series of legal challenges from environmental groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out the use of genetically modified (GMO) crops and controversial neonicotinoid pesticides at farming projects on national wildlife refuges.

National Wildlife Refuge System chief James Kurth has directed the agency to stop using GMO crops and neonicontinoids on refuge farms by January 2016, according to a July 17 memo obtained by activists last week. The Fish and Wildlife Service is the first federal agency to restrict the use of GMOs and neonicotinoids in farming practices.

Neonicitinoids are a class of insecticides related to nicotine that act as nerve agents and are typically sprayed on crop seeds to kill insects. Scientists suspect that some neonicitinoids are responsible for declining populations of pollinating insects, and researchers in the Netherlands recently linked neonicotinoids to deaths among farmland birds.

And an environmental setback Down Under, via the Guardian:

Repeal of Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act is a ‘tragedy’, Wilderness Society says

  • Queensland government argues repeal was necessary after federal court decision and new protections would be brought in

The Wilderness Society says the passage of Queensland government legislation to repeal the state’s Wild Rivers Act is a tragedy for some of the last free-flowing rivers on the planet.

But the Newman government says it reflects a federal court decision earlier this year, and a new framework will ensure river systems are protected.

The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, has told parliament that all former sites protected under the act would now be declared “strategic environmental areas”.

CBC News covers and environmental disaster closer to home:

Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach: Local state of emergency declared

  • Imperial Metals president says crews were working all night to stabilize debris and close the dam

A local state of emergency has been declared in an area where a B.C. tailings pond wall collapsed, sending millions of cubic metres of mine waste water and metals-laden sand into local waterways.

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) made the declaration roughly 48 hours after the Mount Polley mine’s tailings pond wall gave way.

The breach sent 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden sand out into local waterways, scouring away the banks of Hazeltine Creek and sending debris flowing into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, which rose 1.5 metres.

On to Japan and a Fukushimapocalypse Now! admission from the Japan Times:

Fukushima reactor 3 meltdown was worse than estimated: Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that its new estimate shows that all the fuel rods in reactor 3 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant apparently melted down and fell onto the bottom of the containment vessel.

In November 2011, the company had said it believed only about 63 percent of reactor 3’s fuel core had melted.

The utility updated its estimate as part of an effort to probe unclear points about the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant caused by a megaquake and monstrous tsunami in March 2011.

The revised estimate is based on the finding that an emergency cooling system, known as HPCI, of reactor 3 stopped working six hour earlier than previously thought, and that the meltdown had also started more than five hours earlier.

A major Oops! from NHK WORLD:

Tsunami projections for nuclear plant to be redone

The operator of a nuclear power plant in central Japan has been found to have miscalculated the simulated maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the complex.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority once approved tsunami projections submitted by Kansai Electric Power Company for the now-offline Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The estimates include tsunami heights and tremor intensity associated with earthquakes of the largest conceivable magnitude in the area.

From The Hill, another fuel, another problem:

Ethanol explosive for Cruz, Paul

Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) are trying to avoid an ethanol landmine in Iowa.

Both Republican senators have criticized federal subsidies for ethanol, which are popular in Iowa, the state hosting the first Republican contest in the 2016 race for the White House.

Iowa kingmakers in the party such as Sen. Chuck Grassley want the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 to champion ethanol. That’s a problem for Cruz and to a lesser extent for Paul, who are both crisscrossing the state this week in advance of possible campaigns for the presidency.

Cruz has introduced legislation that would repeal the renewable fuel standard over the next five years. The standard mandates that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol by volume.

And for our final item, from Grist, yet another fracktacular impact:

Frackers are strip-mining the Midwest for sand

There’s a new gold rush: sand. The golden-brown stuff has become the latest, hottest commodity on the market — actually, that’s inaccurate. It’s Northern White sand that’s all the rage now, according to The Wall Street Journal, because it can withstand intense heat and pressure underground. Why is that important? Because what’s driving the white sand demand is fracking.

The process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas involves blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the underground shale rock. It can take millions of gallons of water for a fracking operation (which can result in poisoned groundwater). But dig the numbers on sand: It can take 4 million pounds of sand to frack a single well, according to WSJ’s Alison Sider.

Which is why sand prices and stock values are going up and mining activities for sand are expanding, notably in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Chart of the day: The rapid rise of Ebola cases


From the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Ebola

EnviroWatch: Ebola, fracking, forests, Fuku’d


And a long collection of news environmental to accompany our spooky compendium, beginning with the latest Ebola stories, starting with this from the Associated Press:

2nd American aid worker with Ebola arrives in US

A second American aid worker infected with Ebola arrived Tuesday in Atlanta, where doctors will closely monitor the effect of an experimental drug she agreed to take even though its safety was never tested on humans.

Nancy Writebol arrived from Monrovia, Liberia, in a chartered plane at Dobbins Air Reserve Base and will join Dr. Kent Brantly in the isolation unit at Emory University Hospital, just downhill from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both were infected despite taking precautions as they treated Ebola patients in West Africa, where the virus has been spreading faster than governments can contain it, killing nearly 900 people so far.

From Vanity Fair, paranoia strikes:

Atlanta Public Health Officials Treating Ebola Victims Are Getting Hate Mail

Atlanta public health officials are begging people to calm down and stop sending them nasty messages about their decision to treat two American relief workers who are suffering from Ebola.

The deadly virus, for which there is no vaccine or treatment other than caring for symptoms such as high fever, has claimed the lives of at least 887 people in West Africa. Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.), revealed that the agency was on the receiving end of “nasty e-mails” and phone calls about the decision to bring home two American relief workers stricken with the virus.

“I hope our understandable fear of the unfamiliar does not trump our compassion when ill Americans return to the U.S. for care,” Frieden said.

>snip<

A number of high-profile pontificators, who seemingly exist solely to torment the unknowing, contributed to domestic Ebola panic. Donald Trump has repeatedly tweeted in opposition to the idea of treating any Ebola patients in the United States, arguing, “People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!” Appearing on Fox and Friends to discuss his tweet storm, Trump pushed for a ban on inbound flights from countries in West Africa, and compared Ebola to AIDS.

BBC News makes a pronouncement:

Ebola outbreak risk to US ‘very low’

  • Nancy Writebol arrived at Atlanta’s Emory Hospital on Tuesday

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice has said the risk of Ebola transmission in the US is “very low”, as a second ailing American arrives for treatment.

One US aid worker is being cared for in Atlanta while his colleague, also infected, is on her way from Liberia to the same specialist hospital.

Another man, in New York, is being tested after travelling to the region.

Since February, 887 people have died in four West African countries. The World Bank has given $200m (£120m) to help.

And the London Daily Mail offers a rare ray of sunshine:

Doctors say it is ‘very unlikely’ that a patient being tested for Ebola at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has the deadly disease

  • The man was admitted to hospital with high fever after recently returning from a West African country where the deadly virus has been reported
  • The patient arrived at the hospital’s emergency room early on Monday morning with ‘a high fever and gastrointestinal symptoms’
  • He has been isolated and is undergoing diagnostic testing – the full results are expected today or Wednesday
  • Nancy Writebol, the American aid worker with Ebola, is due to arrive at the Atlanta hospital where she will be treated around midday on Tuesday
  • The death toll of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone has climbed to 887, according to the World Health Organization
  • Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or urine

From Bloomberg News, a video report on the experimental drug being given the American patients:

Ebola Patients Receive ZMapp Experimental Drug

Program note:

Bloomberg’s Yang Yang reports on U.S. Ebola patients treated with Zmapp experimental drug from Mapp Pharmaceuticals in San Diego. She speaks with Betty Liu on “In The Loop.”

While the Guardian send in the troops:

Soldiers deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia to contain Ebola outbreak

  • Troops set up roadblocks to ensure that only health personnel can move in and out of the hardest-hit communities

Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia in an attempt to quarantine the remote villages at the centre of the Ebola outbreak, as three new cases were discovered in Nigeria and authorities in Saudi Arabia said a man was being tested for suspected infection.

The Saudi health ministry said a man in his 40s who had recently returned from Sierra Leone had shown symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fever and was being treated was at a specialist hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. The patient is in isolation and blood samples are being tested.

As the epidemic entered its seventh month, 700 troops in Sierra Leone began setting up roadblocks to ensure that only health personnel could move in and out of the hardest-hit communities. They include two eastern districts where health workers have sometimes been attacked by residents who fear that treatment centres are causing Ebola to spread.

Al Jazeera makes a pledge:

World Bank pledges $200m to contain Ebola

  • Emergency aid aims to improve medical supplies and staff wages as Liberian healthcare system shuts down out of fear.

The World Bank has pledged $200m to help contain the deadly Ebola virus, with the growing crisis forcing healthcare system in Liberia to shut down out of fear of staff contracting the virus.

The World Bank said on Monday that it would provide up to $200m in emergency assistance to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to help the West African nations contain the deadly outbreak which has killed 887 since the outbreak began in March this year.

Jim Yong Kim, World Bank president, himself an expert on infectious diseases, said he has been monitoring the spread of the virus and was “deeply saddened” at how it was contributing to the breakdown of “already weak health systems in the three countries”.

And the Associated Press is grounded:

BA suspends flights to Liberia amid Ebola outbreak

British Airways says it has temporarily suspended flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of August because of the worsening outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

The airline had been flying four times per week to the two countries, traveling first to Freetown before continuing on to Monrovia.

BA says customers with tickets on those routes are being offered refunds or the ability to rebook flights for a later date.

While the London Telegraph takes precautions:

Ebola: Several Britons across the UK quarantined at home after returning from West Africa

  • Doctors say the individuals are ‘voluntarily’ confined at home after returning from an Ebola infected country in West Africa

Several Britons are quarantined across the UK with suspected Ebola, public health officials admitted on Tuesday.

The revelation comes as a Welsh national who fears they may have contracted the deadly Ebola virus while abroad has returned home and placed themselves in voluntary quarantine.

The potential victim is understood to be living in Cardiff and is being “closely monitored,” health officials said.

In Italy, the right seizes an opportunity, via TheLocal.it:

Put all migrants in quarantine: far-right

A councillor from the far-right Northern League party has called for all immigrants in Milan to be screened for the deadly Ebola virus. Unnecessary, people who work with immigrants tell The Local.

The proposal was voiced by Fabio Rolfi, a Northern League (Lega Nord) councillor for the Lombardy region, La Repubblica said on Tuesday.

He suggested “a preventative quarantine in welcome centres for undocumented immigrants that arrive in Milan every day,” to minimize the risk of Ebola spreading within Italy.

On to another environmental woe, via the Associated Press:

Money allocated for suppressing fires to run out

The U.S. Forest Service will soon have to tap into programs designed to prevent wildfires so that it can meet the expenses of fighting this summer’s round of fires.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that about $400 million to $500 million in projects will have to be put on hold in what has become a routine exercise toward the end of the fiscal year. He predicted that the money set aside strictly for firefighting will run out by the end of August.

“When we begin to run out of money we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these fires over time,” Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Business Insider covers other trees, other threats:

Bye, Bye OJ? The World’s Citrus Is Being Destroyed — Here’s What Scientists Are Doing About It

Anyone who delights in freshly squeezed orange juice or eats grapefruit for breakfast should take a moment to stop and savor the taste of those citrus fruits. Many of them are at risk of being destroyed by a disease spread by an invasive pest that’s been sweeping across the citrus-producing regions of the world.

“It’s horrible — it’s a disaster,” says Fred Gmitter, a professor of horticulture science at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center.

It might be time to kiss your OJ goodbye, unless science steps in to save the day.

At least 70% of Florida’s citrus trees are already infected by the disease, known as citrus greening, huanglongbing, or occasionally just with an ominous “it,” as in “It’s here.”

Other arboreal woes from BBC News:

Climate ‘key driver’ in European forest disturbances

  • Europe’s forests have experienced increased disturbances throughout the 20th Century from wind, bark beetles and wildfires, a study has shown.

A team of European-based scientists identified climatic changes as a “key driver behind this increase”.

However, they added, how the expected continuation of climate change would affect Europe’s forests in the future remained unresolved.

The findings have been published online by the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers wrote: “Natural disturbances, that is, large pulses of tree mortality from agents such as wildfire, insect outbreaks or strong winds, are integral drivers of forest dynamics and contribute to the diversity and adaptive capacity of ecosystems.”

While EurActiv covers a European environmental crime [or so it would seem to us]:

How the Commission ‘blocked’ key environmental plans

Plans to crack down on endocrine disruptors and illegal timber being imported into the EU, were buried by the outgoing President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and his secretary-general Catherine Day, according to a senior EU source.

With only weeks remaining before the Commission President steps down, tongues are beginning to loosen at the EU executive.

Barroso and Day have often been singled out by environmentalists for a perceived tilt to business interests when it comes to green legislation, a charge their spokespeople strongly deny.

But it now appears that key legislative proposals put forward by the Commission’s own environment directorate were quashed by Barroso and his secretary-general after being deemed unimportant.

After the jump, seedy regulatory zeal, pimping for GMOs with Mo Rocca and Monsanto, fracking and offshore drilling opposition intensified, Fukushimapoclaypse Now!, and a must-read warning for parents about the potentially serious impacts of all those wireless devices and cell phones on their children, plus much more. . . Continue reading

New York Times: Pot or not; a tale of two towns


The New York Times, in a rare burst of sanity, has issued a call for repeal of the federal marijuana prohibition in a series of editorials and op eds over the course of a week.

Here’s how editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal described the paper’s ground-breaking rationale in a discussion with Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor [read semi-ombudsperson]:

“We decided we wanted to shout something out, to really crank up the volume,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor.

The topic deserved the big play “not because we want everybody to go out and smoke all the pot they can,” Mr. Rosenthal said, but because of the effect laws against marijuana have on society — particularly the harm they do to young black men. The decision to sign the editorials, he said, was an experiment, and he noted a distinction: “These are not columns. The authors are writing on behalf of the editorial board.” The use of the Review section front was another way to increase visibility and a signal that this was something unusual.

Mr. Rosenthal is aware that there is a possibility of going too far. But he said, the chance to make a societal difference provided adequate justification.

Read the rest.

Accompanying the editorials online were videos, including a fascinating brief documentary about the two opposing stances taken by a pair of small towns we’d come to know during frequent father/son road trips back in our junior high and high school.

Gunnison is the agricultural town and county seat, and Crested Butte is a ski resort, frequented by college students and jet-setters alike. You can already guess which town opted for legal weed earlier this year when voters opted to go green.

And to our mind one of the most notable consequences has been that it seems to have gotten harder for high schoolers to lay hands of the weed — what one might call a doobie-less distinction.

From the New York Times:

The Marijuana Divide | Op-Docs | The New York Times

Program notes:

In Colorado, two towns near each other have divergent reactions to their state’s legalization of marijuana.

Produced by: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

EnviroWatch: Ebola, drought, nukes, fracktiousness


Plus the latest from Fukushimapocalypse Now!

For our first item, via United Press International, Ebola arrives in the U.S.?:

New York City man tested for Ebola at Mount Sinai after returning from West Africa

The male patient checked into the emergency room Monday morning suffering from a high fever and gastrointestinal problems. He recently returned to America from a West African country affected by Ebola.

male patient at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital is being tested for the Ebola virus, hospital officials confirmed.

The patient checked into the emergency room Monday morning, suffering from a high fever and gastrointestinal problems. According to the hospital, the man recently returned to the United States from a West African country where Ebola has been reported.

“All necessary steps are being taken to ensure the safety of all patients, visitors and staff,” Mount Sinai officials said in a statement.

Vocativ covers the social media response:

Manhattan Ebola Rumor Causes New York Twitter Freakout

And from thinkSPAIN, one European nation prepares:

Spain gets ready for possible arrival of Ebola haemorrhagic virus

SPAIN is preparing itself as far as possible in case the deadly Ebola virus – currently sweeping three west African nations – reaches the country.

The Spanish-owned city-provinces of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast could be a point of entry for the disease, which so far has a survival rate of less than 10 per cent and his highly infectious, although not contagious.

Whilst no apparent risk or signs of the disease entering Spain have been detected as yet, these two enclaves of Spain are a known and regular entry point for sub-Saharan Africans attempting to enter Europe via the ‘back door’, either by jerry-built boat or by climbing the border fence after trekking across the continent for months, and not everyone who gets through is caught and sent back.

The Guardian covers another case with an American connection:

Ebola outbreak: doctor who treated Nigeria’s first victim contracts virus

  • Doctor was part of a team that attended to Liberian-American civil servant who collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport last month

A doctor who treated Nigeria’s first Ebola victim has himself contracted the deadly virus, raising fears that the seven-month-long epidemic in three west African nations could spread in the continent’s most populous nation.

The doctor was part of a team that attended to Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old Liberian-American civil servant who collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport last month. Sawyer had flown from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, with flight stopovers in nearby Ghana and Togo.

“As at today, one of the doctors that treated the late Mr Sawyer has tested positive to the Ebola virus,” the health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told reporters in the capital, Abuja. Officials said they had identified 70 people with whom Sawyer had been in contact, eight of whom had been transferred to isolation wards in Lagos.

And from China’s CCTV, a report on what’s needed to fight the increasingly dangerous outbreak:

Resources needed to tackle this Ebola epidemic

Program notes:

For more on what resources were lacking to tackle this Ebola epidemic, CCTV America spoke to Professor Kathryn Jacobsen from George Mason University.

The Independent takes us to a strategy to fight the impactgs of California’s potentially catastrophic drought:

#droughtshaming: How California’s snitches are slaking thirst for justice

As California staggers thirstily through its worst drought in decades, the state’s more conscientious residents are employing extreme measures to curb their neighbours’ wasteful water use.

In a phenomenon known as “drought shaming”, many are calling water utility hotlines to report excessive lawn-watering or car-washing, while others snitch via social media, posting images of waste accompanied by the hashtag #DroughtShaming.

The whole of California is now officially in “severe drought”. Reservoirs are at just 60 per cent of the historical average. A recent study suggested the drought is likely to cost California $2.2bn (£1.3bn) this year, and to put approximately 17,000 agricultural labourers out of work.

In January, California Governor Jerry Brown called for a 20 per cent voluntary reduction in water use from the state, but water use decreased by just five per cent in the subsequent five months For 270 days beginning on 1 August, the California Water Resources Board has introduced fines of up to $500 for residents or businesses using drinkable water to spray down pavements, in non-circulating fountains or to water lawns and wash cars.

On to Japan for today’s Fukushimapocalypse Now!, this item from Kyodo News:

TEPCO places ice blocks in bid to freeze toxic water in trenches

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Monday it has placed tons of ice blocks in underground trenches at the complex in an attempt to freeze highly toxic water pooled there, a step seen as necessary before constructing a 1.5-kilometer ice wall to prevent radioactive water from further increasing.

Stopping the buildup of radioactive water in the trenches — resulting from cooling water for reactors that suffered meltdowns in the 2011 nuclear crisis — is seen one of the urgent tasks Tokyo Electric Power Co. needs to address.

Amid concerns about the spread of ocean pollution by the toxic water, TEPCO is struggling with the unprecedented attempt to freeze 1.5-km of soil around basement areas of the Nos. 1 to 4 reactor buildings.

And more nuclear woes for another nuclear plant on the Pacific shore built near a fault line, via the Associated Press:

San Onofre nuclear power plant dismantling will cost $4.4 billion, take 20 years

Dismantling the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California will take two decades and cost $4.4 billion.

Southern California Edison on Friday released a road map that calls for decommissioning the twin-reactor plant and restoring the property over two decades, beginning in 2016.

U-T San Diego says it could be the most expensive decommissioning in the 70-year history of the nuclear power industry. But Edison CEO Ted Craver says there’s already enough money to pay for it.

Edison shut down the plant in 2012 after extensive damage was found to tubes carrying radioactive water. It was closed for good last year.

From the Guardian, a major setback for the America’s federal dam builders:

US Army Corps ordered to disclose more information about dam pollution

  • Corps will have to disclose the amount of pollutants its dams are sending into waterways in a groundbreaking legal settlement

For the first time in its history, the US Army Corps of Engineers will have to disclose the amount of pollutants its dams are sending into waterways in a groundbreaking legal settlement that could have broad implications for the Corps’ hundreds of dams nationwide.

The Corps announced in a settlement on Monday that it will immediately notify the conservation group that filed the lawsuit of any oil spills among its eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon and Washington.

The Corps will also apply to the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution permits, something the Corps has never done for the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

From the Independent, violence hits the Irish fracking industry:

British fracking industry suffers first terrorist-style bomb attack in Northern Ireland

Britain’s fracking industry has suffered its first terrorist-type attack, after the home of a shale gas worker in Northern Ireland was petrol-bombed from a passing car.

Police are looking for the driver of a dark-coloured Audi estate that was seen in the area at the time of the attack at 3.25am on Sunday, when two petrol bombs were hurled at a security guard’s house near the Belcoo shale site on the outskirts of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.

Nobody was hurt and the property is not thought to have been damaged in the attack, which was criticised by all parties.

And for our final item, more fracking fractiousness closer to home via the Los Angeles Times:

In Colorado, lines are drawn for an election battle over fracking

When Rep. Jared Polis found that a 100-foot tower and a drilling operation had been built last year across the road from his weekend home, he told his story on YouTube, predicting that by fighting for “sensible regulations” he would become the anti-fracking “poster boy.”

That could come true if two Polis-backed ballot measures to restrict fracking in Colorado qualify for the November ballot. If proponents have collected enough valid signatures by Monday, the state’s voters will decide on one initiative requiring all new oil and gas wells to be set back 2,000 feet from any home or school — a major expansion of the current buffer requirement of 500 feet — and a second that would give communities more control over drilling by adding an “environmental bill of rights” to the state’s constitution.

Polis’ proposed ballot measures have touched off a furious battle in this state, where the number of active wells has doubled in the last decade, creating thousands of jobs in what has become a $29.5-billion industry. Among those who do not share his views: two fellow Democrats in reelection races for governor and U.S. Senate. Those races would be far more unpredictable with the measures on the ballot.

Chart of the day: The 2014 Ebola epidemic


From Agence France Presse. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Ebola

EnviroWatch: Fires, plagues, nukes, meltdowns


Today’s tales from the place when humans meet the world that gave us life begins with the latest from a drought-stricken Golden State, via the Guardian:

State of emergency in California as wildfires spread from Oregon

  • Governor Jerry Brown declare state of emergency
  • Lightning, high temperatures and drought increase threat

More than a dozen wildfires in California, some of which destroyed homes, forced evacuations and damaged infrastructure and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency on Saturday.

The move came as fires in other West Coast states chewed through parched forests, brush and terrain, destroying some homes and threatening many others. In California, dry lightning, high temperatures and severe drought conditions exacerbated the fire danger.

Brown’s emergency proclamation said that the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat. To that end, he secured a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75% of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California.

Next up, for our first item on the plague that has the world worrying we turn to BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Virus spreading too fast, says WHO

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is spreading faster than efforts to control it, World Health Organization (WHO) head Margaret Chan has said.

She told a summit of regional leaders that failure to contain Ebola could be “catastrophic” in terms of lives lost.

But she said the virus, which has claimed 729 lives in four West African countries since February, could be stopped if well managed.

Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Ebola spiraling out of control: WHO

  • The deadly Ebola virus is moving faster than efforts to control it, the World Health Organization says. The warning came at the launch of a $100 million response plan to the epidemic.

The leaders of the three countries hardest hit by the recent Ebola epidemic – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – met on Friday in the Guinean capital, Conakry, along with the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Margaret Chan. Also at the meeting was the President of Ivory Coast.

The group came together to launch a $100 million (74.5 million euro) response plan to counter the rapidly spreading virus. The largest-ever recorded outbreak of Ebola has killed at least 729 people since the beginning of the year, including a number of doctors and other health workers.

The leaders discussed the deployment of hundreds of medical personnel to help overstretched workers and facilities, as well as better prevention methods – including better detection of cases and improved border surveillance.

The London Daily Mail raises hopes prematurely:

Experimental Ebola vaccine will be tested on people NEXT MONTH as U.S. pushes clinical trial of possible life-saving drug

  • First Ebola vaccine clinical trials involving humans scheduled for September
  • Current Ebola outbreak is worst since disease was discovered in 1976
  • So far there have been more than 1,200 cases and 672 people have died
  • There is no cure and no vaccine available to treat or prevent the disease
  • Around four drugs are in the development stage in the U.S.
  • But researchers say it is difficult to generate funding to progress vaccines
  • First drug to prevent the vicious virus is two to six years off, scientists say

The Wire adds a dash of cold water:

Why There May Never Be A Cure for Ebola

Many pharmaceutical companies and researchers have been testing possible cures for years.

So what’s stopping them? To begin with, antiviral therapy is an especially challenging field compared to bacterial diseases, because viruses have fewer targets for treatment (read: proteins, which drugs can work with), and they evolve quickly. If a vaccine is developed today that works, it might not make a dent in future outbreaks. And with five known species of Ebola virus, there’s plenty of room for further viral evolution.

More important, Ebola is—and this should be obvious by now—an incredibly dangerous virus to handle. It requires high-level safety equipment and special facilities, deemed “biosafety level 4″ or the highest level of protection, to keep labs in check. It’s costly, hard to control, and a major roadblock to progress.

More cold water via Defense One:

There’s Really No Way To Screen for Ebola at Airports

The bad news is that thermal screenings of the international flying population at airports are not likely to yield much by way of improved safety.

Here’s why: fever can be a sign of a lot of different illnesses, not just Ebola. And thermal scanning proved to be a poor method of catching bird flu carriers in 2009 as well. So presenting with an elevated temperature at an airport checkpoint does not indicate clearly enough that the fevered person is carrying the deadly virus. More importantly, the incubation period for Ebola is two days. As many as 20 days can pass before symptoms show up. That means that an individual could be carrying the virus for two weeks or longer and not even know it, much less have it show up via thermal scan. So what good are these scanners?

“I think that thermal screeners help people feel safe,” Dr. Noreen Hynes with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Defense One.

Deutsche Welle adds context:

Ebola virus a serious threat to urban areas

The Ebola virus continues to spread in West Africa. As national and international health organizations intensify their fight against the disease, people in big cities are starting to fear a worst case scenario.

Lagos: Africa’s largest city, a metropolis of more than 20 million people. West Africa’s economic hub. This megacity can not be thrown off balance by the recent Ebola outbreak. Or can it?

“One should be in a panic mood,” says Chris Obiake, a paralegal in Lagos. He is one of the innumerable pedestrians passing newspaper stands in Lagos every morning. The headlines scream: ‘Ebola is killing more and more people.’ Obiake is clearly worried, “given the wide spread of the disease in the West African region”, he told a Reuters reporter,”coupled with the fact that doctors are on strike”.

The fact that many doctors employed at public hospitals have been on strike since July 1 has not helped to put minds at rest in Lagos where the first Ebola case was reported last week. A Liberian man who had flown into the country died shortly afterwards. The disease is contagious, the incubation period can last up to three weeks and diagnosis is difficult: A recipe for disaster for the millions commuting in crammed mini-buses every day.

From the Guardian, a pullback:

US Peace Corps evacuates hundreds from west Africa over Ebola outbreak

  • State Department said hundreds evacuated as two volunteers under isolation after having contact with infected person

The largest recorded Ebola outbreak in history has led the US Peace Corps to evacuate hundreds of volunteers from three affected west African countries, and a State Department official says two volunteers are under isolation after having contact with a person who later died of the virus.

The Peace Corps said on Wednesday it was evacuating 340 volunteers from Liberia as well as neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The State Department official said the two volunteers were not symptomatic and were under observation. The official was not authorized to discuss the cases for attribution, and declined to say where the volunteers were serving or when they were exposed.

United Press International sounds an alarm:

CDC issues Level 3 travel warning, citing Ebola outbreak

The two Americans that have been infected with the Ebola virus are coming back to the United States for treatment under controlled environments. The first of the two Americans is expected to arrive in the U.S. on Saturday, CNN reports.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Level 3 travel warning for Americans traveling to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia due to the Ebola outbreak.

In addition to having specialists on the ground in the countries, the CDC is screening and educating travelers to prevent infected people from boarding planes. If they do board planes and leave the region, the CDC will enact protocols to investigate and possibly quarantine all ill travelers to prevent spread of the disease. Airlines have been notified of procedures in the case of sick passengers and all healthcare workers have been instructed on how to prevent the spread of the disease should it reach the United States.

The CDC and its foreign counterparts are not screening all travelers at the point of entry if they are travelling from one of the countries impacted. The U.S, along with the World Health Organization and other partners, are working to contain the outbreak in West Africa.

BBC News brings it home:

Ebola crisis: Infected doctor Kent Brantly lands in US

A US doctor infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia has arrived in the US for treatment at a specialised unit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr Kent Brantly arrived in a specially equipped private plane at a military base before being whisked away to Emory University Hospital.

Fellow infected US aid worker Nancy Writebol is expected to follow shortly.

Ebola has claimed 728 lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this year, killing up to 90% of sufferers.

From Al Jazeera America, in the eye of the storm:

Liberia’s Ebola nightmare

  • Country contends with attacks on aid workers, slow government response and a weak health system

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf unveiled new measures to stem the spread of the illness that many health experts are now calling a humanitarian crisis. The country’s security forces will oversee the closure of all of Liberia’s schools as well as provide surveillance at borders and airports and possible testing of passengers suspected of carrying the disease. All government employees except heads of ministries and agencies, deputies and other essential staff will be put on mandatory leave, and state buildings will be disinfected. Johnson Sirleaf’s administration is also advising people to stay away from public places and entertainment centers, and prohibiting large public gatherings and demonstrations. Three communities in Lofa, in northern Liberia, have been put under quarantine; only police and health workers are permitted to enter or leave. On Thursday, neighboring Sierra Leone declared a national emergency and instituted similar measures.

The new measures in Liberia were announced a day after a tense meeting of a task force of government and foreign donors. At the meeting, a top official for the aid group Doctors Without Borders told Liberian officials that the outbreak required immediate attention five weeks ago, according to one attendee who declined to be identified. At that same meeting, Samaritan’s Purse, a large international aid group, announced it would halt management of treatment centers in Monrovia and Foya, Liberia, because of an attack on the charity’s workers last weekend after they tried to collect the body of a person suspected to have died of Ebola. Policemen are currently deployed outside many health facilities to protect staff from attacks, which have grown increasingly common amid mounting fears that health employees are spreading the disease.

From the Guardian, another epidemic:

State of emergency declared as Toledo tells residents: don’t drink the water

  • Tests reveal toxin possibly from Lake Erie algae
  • Governor John Kasich declares state of emergency

Toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie fouled the water supply of Ohio’s fourth-largest city Saturday, forcing officials to issue warnings not to drink the water and the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Worried residents descended on stores, quickly clearing shelves of bottled water.

“It looked like Black Friday,” said Aundrea Simmons, who stood in a line of about 50 people at a pharmacy before buying four cases of water. “I have children and elderly parents. They take their medication with water.”

The Guardian again, this time with the cause:

Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution

  • Toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie caused by phosphorus runoff
  • 400,000 affected by unsafe water supply in Ohio city

The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres. Hotter and longer summers also promote the spread of the blue-green scum.

The US government banned phosphorus in laundry detergents in 1988. That stopped the algal blooms for some time. But they came back to the Great Lakes in force in 2011 – forming a green scum that covered 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 sq miles) of water at its biggest extent – in the worst algal bloom in recorded history.

Scientists attribute the comeback in large part to changes in farming practices, including larger farms and different fertiliser practices, which send heavier loads of phosphorus into the lakes.

From MintPress News, another environmental danger, entirely of our won [corporate] making:

San Bruno Pipeline Indictment Begs Safety Questions About The Nation’s Fuel Pipelines

Top California regulators communicated often and enthusiastically with executives at Pacific Gas & Electric Co., even offering unsolicited advice on handling the media while they presided over a case to decide how much the utility should pay for a deadly explosion in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb.

On Sept. 9, 2010, a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, just two miles west of the San Francisco International Airport, creating a wall of fire witnesses estimated was more than 1,000 feet high and registering a shockwave the U.S. Geological Survey recorded as a magnitude 1.1 earthquake. The blast killed eight people, excavated a 173,000 cubic feet crater on Glenview Drive and destroyed 38 homes.

On Tuesday, the U.S.Attorney for the Northern District of California accused PG&E of knowingly lying to the National Transportation Safety Board about the company’s pipeline testing policy during the initial investigation of the explosion. According to the indictment, PG&E provided the NTSB with a version of the policy that addresses how the company deals with manufacturing defects with its pipelines. The explosion was found to be caused by a seam blowout, which failed under a full pressure load. PG&E would later withdraw the policy from evidence, calling it “an unapproved draft,” while, in reality, PG&E was operating under the submitted policy from 2009 to 2011. The policy failed to prioritize the company’s older natural gas pipelines — which tend to run through urban or residential areas — for repair or replacement.

Additionally, the U.S. attorney has brought 27 related charges against PG&E, alleging repeated violations of the Pipeline Safety Act of 1968. Among these charges are allegations that PG&E failed to keep accurate or complete records for its major pipelines, failed to identify or remedy threats to the pipeline network’s integrity, and failed to assess the safety of the pipeline network after the system was overpressurized. In the days prior to the explosion, local residents complained about the strong smell of gas in the area — an issue that was not adequately addressed.

The Guardian covers yet another environmental crime of our own manufacture:

Businessmen bribed foreign officials to import poisonous chemical

  • Bribes were paid by Innospec executives to secure orders to sell tetraethyl lead in Indonesia and Iraq, sentencing hearing told

Four businessmen channelled multi-million-pound bribes to foreign officials to induce them to buy huge quantities of a toxic chemical outlawed in the west, a court heard on Friday.

A sentencing hearing of the men was told the bribes were used to sell a fuel additive which was known to damage children’s brains, reducing their IQs and increasing mental illness.

Andrew Mitchell, QC for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), told the court that the executives had “deliberately” organised the bribes to prolong the sales of the leaded petrol, which was used in cars and aircraft.

And another one, this time from New Europe:

Rosneft, Exxon, Duck US, EU Sanctions in Arctic

Russian oil major Rosneft can continue drilling in harsh offshore areas like the Arctic despite EU and US sanctions after signing a $4.25 billion deal for drilling rigs from North Atlantic Drilling Ltd on July 29.

The Norwegian drill rig owner is supplying Rosneft and Exxon Mobil Corp with the kind of high technology that will be barred under US and EU sanctions.

Specifically, the EU sanctions target certain technologies needed for deep-sea drilling. However, Rosneft signed the deal before the sanctions were finalised, so the leases are probably still valid. The sanctions were expected to be possibly valid from August 1 and apply to future contracts.

National Geographic covers yet another crisis up north:

16-foot Waves Measured in Arctic Ocean Where There Was Once Only Ice

  • Reduced sea ice allowed the buildup of huge waves in the Beaufort Sea.

Sixteen-foot waves are buffeting an area of the Arctic Ocean that until recently was permanently covered in sea ice—another sign of a warming climate, scientists say.

Because wave action breaks up sea ice, allowing more sunlight to warm the ocean, it can trigger a cycle that leads to even less ice, more wind, and higher waves.

Scientists had never measured waves in the Beaufort Sea, an area north of Alaska, until recently. Permanent sea ice cover prevented their formation. But much of the region is now ice-free by September, and researchers were able to anchor a sensor to measure wave heights in the central Beaufort Sea in 2012.

The Independent covers yet another:

Mystery of the Siberian holes at the end of the world ‘solved’: Scientists offer explanation

Three mysterious giant craters that appeared suddenly in northern Siberia could actually be a previously unseen type of sinkhole, experts have said.

Explanations for the three enormous cavities, one of which was up to 300ft (70 metres) deep, have included everything from meteorites to aliens with some conspiracy theorists suggesting they could be connected to fracking.

A more plausible explanation for their existence has now begun to emerge. According to the website LiveScience, some experts now believe the strange cavities may be a type of permafrost sinkhole.

From MIT Technology Review, another alarm sounds:

Chinese GMO Research Outpaces Approvals

  • The fact that China hasn’t approved any commercial GMO planting since 2009 reflects public fears.

Despite recent research advances, such as a new strain of wheat that resists destructive mildew, commercial planting of genetically modified food crops has stalled in China, the world’s most populous nation and one with a fast-tightening food supply.

In 2009, the nation’s Ministry of Agriculture issued a so-called safety certificate to two strains of insect-resistant rice, known as Bt rice, pioneered by Qifa Zhang, a scientist at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan. The ministry also approved a type of corn that helps livestock digest phosphates.

Before that, a few minor crop varieties were approved for commercial planting. But to date only an insect-resistant cotton and a virus-resistant papaya have been commercially planted on a large scale in China.

After the jump, the latest [extensive] edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! and research pointing toward a healthier alternative. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Water, weather, plagues, nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines from the intersection of people and planet begins with more of the most compelling story of the moment, via Sky News:

Liberia Closes Schools To Halt Ebola Spread

  • Security forces are ordered to enforce new anti-ebola rules as government workers are made to take compulsory leave.

Liberia has closed all schools and quarantined several communities as it attempts to stop the spread of the deadly ebola virus.

All non-essential government workers were also put on 30 days compulsory leave as the country announced its anti-ebola action plan.

Security forces across the country have been ordered to enforce the new rules.

Liberia had recorded 129 of the 672 deaths blamed on ebola as of July 23, according to the World Health Organisation.

Al Jazeera America covers the later on another subject of ongoing and considerable interest:

Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Wind, solar power increase needed to avoid global drought

The world will face “insurmountable” water crises in less than three decades, researchers said Tuesday, if it does not move away from water-intensive power production.

A clash of competing necessities — drinking water and energy demand — will cause widespread drought unless action is taken soon, researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and the U.S.-funded Center for Naval Analyses Corporation said in the reports.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” researcher Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University said in a press release on two new reports released Tuesday.

Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030.

Another water story, this time from MercoPress:

Sao Paulo faces water rationing; in 100 days the system could run dry

  • Federal prosecutors have asked the government of Sao Paulo to present water rationing plans for Brazil’s most populous state to prevent the collapse of its main reservoir. If such plans are not presented in 10 days, the prosecutor’s office said on its website it may ask courts to force rationing.
  • Sao Paulo is facing the worst drought in more than 80 years. The key Cantareira water system, which provides water to some 9 million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo city, is at less than 16% of its capacity of 1 trillion liters.

Citing a study prepared by the state university of Campinas, the prosecutor’s office said that the Cantareira system could run dry in 100 days unless rationing is implemented.

The Sao Paulo state government’s water utility said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the “imposition of water rationing, for it would penalize the population.”

From Public Radio International, a Brazilian environmental body count:

Activists in Brazil are fighting to protect the environment — and their lives

908. That’s the number of environmental and land-reform activists assassinated worldwide between 2003 and 2013, according to a study by the NGO Global Witness. The number might shock you, but perhaps even more shocking is that nearly half of those murders — 448 — took place in one country: Brazil.

What is it that makes Brazil the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist?

You’ll find clues in the story of Guarabana Bay. The bay, just minutes from downtown Rio’s world famous beaches, is a study in pollution and filth. Dark sludge cakes the shoreline. Garbage floats everywhere. It’s so bad that some sailors set to compete here in the 2016 Summer Olympics are warning colleagues not to let this water touch their ski

While an item in yesterday’s EnvrioWatch noted strong opposition to GMO rice in china, an MIT Technology Review indicates GMO receptivity for another staple:

Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing

  • Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

To stop the mildew, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences deleted genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew. The work promises to someday make wheat more resistant to the disease, which is typically controlled through the heavy use of fungicides. It also represents an important achievement in using genome editing tools to engineer food crops without inserting foreign genes—a flashpoint for opposition to genetically modified crops.

The gene-deletion trick is particularly tough to do in wheat because the plant has a hexaploid genome—that is, it has three similar copies of most of its genes. That means multiple genes must be disabled or the trait will not be changed. Using gene-editing tools known as TALENs and CRISPR, the researchers were able to do that without changing anything else or adding genes from other organisms.

On to the latest Fukushimaposcalypse Now!, starting with a chilly item from NHK WORLD:

Ice put into utility tunnels at Fukushima plant

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has begun putting ice into underground utility tunnels to help freeze radiation-contaminated wastewater.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company began work in April to create a wall of ice between the basement of the No. 2 reactor building and its utility tunnel.

TEPCO initially planned to freeze radioactive wastewater that’s been flowing into underground utility tunnels at the plant. It hoped the measure would prevent the wastewater from mixing with groundwater and flowing out to sea.

Followed by a hotter reception from NHK WORLD:

Emergency radiation exposure limit may be raised

Japan’s nuclear watchdog is considering raising the radiation exposure maximum limit for nuclear plant workers for serious accidents.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told at the body’s regular meeting on Wednesday that the possibility of a nuclear accident, where workers could be exposed to radiation beyond the current legal accumulative limit of 100 millisieverts, cannot be denied. His proposal to study raising the limit was approved at the meeting.

The authority will decide on the level by referring to overseas standards. It will also confer on how to get prior consent from workers and train them for such cases. If a legal amendment is necessary, it plans to send its findings to a relevant government panel for deliberations.

Jiji Press disposes, unhappiness ensues:

Shioya Picked as Candidate Site for Designated Waste Disposal

Japan’s Environment Ministry said Wednesday it has picked state-owned land in the town of Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture as a candidate site for building a final disposal facility for designated waste contaminated by radioactive substances from the March 2011 nuclear accident.

Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited Shioya Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to explain the ministry’s decision and to seek the eastern Japan town’s understanding for the conducting of a detailed field investigation.

“I can’t help but feel regret,” Mikata said, expressing the town’s opposition to construction of the facility.

From the Guardian, a fractious fracking flap:

EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

  • Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Truthout ponders a rising crisis alert:

Does NASA’s Data Show Doomsday for New York City?

If we don’t do something quick to stop global warming, some of the biggest cities in America could go the way of Atlantis in just a matter of decades.

Sam Carana over at Arctic News has taken the time to analyze the latest data from NASA, and what’s he’s projecting from that data is startling.

Sam suggests that global sea levels may rise rapidly over the next few decades; so rapidly, in fact, that we could see more than 2.5 meters of seal level rise by 2040, which is just 26 years from now.

And because, as Sam Carana points out, sea levels now look like they’re going rise exponentially – on a curve – as opposed to on a straight line, they will continue to rise even faster after 2040.

And for our final item, from CNBC, an alert from left field:

Paul Singer: This threat is ‘head-and-shoulders’ above all others

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has issued an unusual warning for investors, calling the threat of a widespread blackout from an electromagnetic surge the “most significant danger” in the world.

Called an “electromagnetic pulse” or EMP, the events can occur naturally from solar storms or artificially from a high-altitude explosion of nuclear weapons.

“While these pages are typically chock full of scary or depressing scenarios, there is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence,” Singer wrote to clients of his $24.8 billion Elliott Management on Monday in a standard investment update letter. “Even horrendous nuclear war, except in its most extreme form, can [be] a relatively localized issue, and the threat from asteroids can (possibly) be mitigated.”

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, nukes, GMOs, toxins


We’re really cheery in this edition. . .or not.

Consider first this from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: More than doctors needed to contain West Africa’s unprecedented crisis

  • Over 1,200 cases already in deadly epidemic, including prominent physicians

Doctors alone aren’t enough to contain West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak, which has already infected, and in some instances killed, key medical personnel, including prominent Western and local physicians.

Quebec doctor Marc Forget, who has been on the front lines of the epidemic in Guinea for seven weeks, told CBC News that past Ebola outbreaks were contained quite quickly with the intervention of international groups such as Doctors Without Borders working in conjunction with a country’s ministry of health.

This time, he says, “the magnitude of the disease is unprecedented,” and a stronger response is required, both in resources and personnel — including water, sanitation and logistics specialists, as well as medical staff.

Here’s a Reuters map of Ebola outbreaks via CBC News. Click on the image to enlarge:

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The Independent watches the borders:

Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow

  • One of world’s deadliest viruses – which makes people bleed from their eyes, nose and mouth – has now been flown out of main affected countries

Public health experts have issued urgent warnings to British doctors and border officials to watch for signs of the Ebola virus arriving in the UK.

It comes after an infected man in Liberia was allowed to fly from disease-affected West African country to the major international travel hub of Lagos, Nigeria.

Experts from Public Health England (PHE) are meeting with representatives from the UK Border Agency and individual airports to make sure they are aware of the signs to look for and what to do if “the worst happens”.

United Press International covers a notable casualty:

Top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone dies from infection

  • Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading medical expert on the Ebola virus, has died after becoming infected with the disease.

Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, a doctor in Sierra Leone who was actively working to control the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus, died Tuesday of the disease.

Khan became infected last week and had been in quarantine in an Ebola ward run by Medecins Sans Frontiere.

His death was confirmed by chief medical officer Dr. Brima Kargbo, who said his passing “is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers.”

Corporate contagion challenged, via Shanghai Daily:

China vows zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of GM rice

CHINESE authorities have vowed zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of genetically modified (GM) crops days after a media exposure of GM rice on sale at a supermarket in central China.

“The ministry will punish any companies or individuals that ignore regulations to grow or sell GM grains,” the Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday in a statement. “There will be no tolerance for those violating practices.”

China Central Television (CCTV) found GM rice, which is not allowed to be commercialized in China, on sale in the supermarket in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, the broadcaster reported on Saturday.

And from Common Dreams, a GMO-no:

Brazil Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Bugs

  • Farm lobby group calls on Monsanto and other biotech companies to reimburse for additional pesticide treatments

Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reported Monday.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” — which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests — is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.” (via Google Translate)

Another Brazilian story about another plague, from BBC News:

Amazon: Yanomami tribe’s Davi Kopenawa gets death threats

Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon rainforest said armed men had raided the offices of lawyers working with him. He said they were hired gunmen who had asked for him and wanted to kill him.

In February a major operation began to evict hundreds of gold miners from Yanomami land. Davi Kopenawa has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect Yanomami land for decades.

He told the BBC: “Illegal gold miners are still invading our land. They have leaders who organise the supplies and transport and support the invasion of our land. Ranchers have also invaded with their cattle.

Killing species to sate fashionable appetites, via the Independent:

African Pangolins at risk of extinction after becoming east Asian food favourites

  • More than a million pangolins are believed to have been snatched from the wild over the past decade

The pangolin, or scaly anteater, has become such a popular dish in affluent Asian circles that it is in danger of becoming extinct, according to a stark warning from a leading conservation organisation.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just added the four African pangolin species to its list of species threatened with extinction after an escalation of poaching driven by the rapid economic growth across much of the East. This means that all eight pangolin species – the other four from Asia – are now on the list, raising the prospect of the anteater being wiped out altogether.

Pangolins have long been caught and killed for their purported medicinal properties, which include being a treatment for psoriasis and poor circulation.

From the Guardian, another kind of extinction:

New Zealand’s ‘dramatic’ ice loss could lead to severe decline of glaciers

  • Study says Southern Alps mountain range has lost 34% of permanent snow and ice since 1977

New Zealand’s vast Southern Alps mountain range has lost a third of its permanent snow and ice over the past four decades, diminishing some of the country’s most spectacular glaciers, new research has found.

A study of aerial surveys conducted by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) discovered that the Southern Alps’ ice volume has shrunk by 34% since 1977.

Researchers from the University of Auckland and University of Otago said this “dramatic” decrease has accelerated in the past 15 years and could lead to the severe decline of some of New Zealand’s mightiest glaciers.

On to those pesky Japanese nuclear woes, first from NHK WORLD:

Poor quake resistance to keep Ikata plant offline

The restart of a nuclear power plant in western Japan has been put off until at least early next year after its emergency control room failed to pass a more rigorous quake resistance review.

Shikoku Electric Power Company made the announcement about its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture on Friday.

The room failed the review when the utility raised the estimated peak ground acceleration from a potential earthquake at the plant to 620 gals.

The review was part of the ongoing safety screening of the No. 3 reactor being undertaken by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

NHK WORLD again, disposing:

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

More fuelishness, this time from the Japan Times:

U.S. energy secretary defends possible German nuclear waste imports

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday defended his agency’s controversial move to consider processing spent nuclear fuel from Germany at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site nuclear facility, saying the proposal is consistent with U.S. efforts to secure highly enriched uranium across the globe.

The United States has for years accepted spent fuel from research reactors in various countries that was produced with uranium of U.S. origin as a part of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy and treaties.

Receiving the German spent fuel would be “very much in line with our mission of removing the global danger of nuclear weapons material,” Moniz told reporters before a visit to the South Carolina nuclear facility.

Displacing history for the yachting crowd, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Tahiti memorial commemorating those impacted by French nuclear tests in danger of removal

The French Polynesian government’s decision to remove a monument on Tahiti dedicated to those who suffered from repeated French nuclear testing in the South Pacific is facing growing opposition, including from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On June 11, the government, headed by French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, decided to rescind permission to use the current location in a park that sits along the ocean in the capital, Papeete.

“It is desirable to construct new facilities to accept yachts and boats and renovate (current) facilities for tourists,” Flosse said.

MintPress News covers other problems from other fuels:

Western Penn. Residents Request Fracking-Related Illness Probe

  • Scientists are asked to either prove or refute theories connecting a range of health problems with nearby fracking operations.

Across the nation, communities are challenging claims that fracking is safe. Residents living near the litany of well pods that are being built or are already in operation continue to report nosebleeds, headaches, skin rashes, dizziness and nausea. Research is increasingly supporting theories connecting such symptoms to fracking well proximity. According to a Jan. 28 Colorado School of Public Health report, for example, mothers living close to a cluster of fracking wells have as much as a 30 percent additional risk of their child being born with a birth defect. A second study, released by the Endocrine Society in December, found that exposure to fracking fluid could disrupt hormone functioning, leading to a greater chance of infertility, cancer and other health problems.

While some states, such as New York and Maryland, have taken these health concerns seriously, and have issued statewide moratoriums on fracking, other states, drawn to the revenue the expanded oil and natural gas drilling would bring to their coffers, have allowed fracking operations to set up with virtually no state regulation and no vetting of the safety of the process. The drive toward making America energy-independent has also led to the federal government taking a hands-off approach in regards to dealing with fracking, with several pieces of legislation in place to make it difficult for federal agencies to impose safety regulations on oil and gas companies.

In fracking-heavy Washington County, Pennsylvania, residents have reached out to a group of local scientists to prove definitively that their illnesses are being caused by the fracking well pods. The group, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, is offering free health evaluations to families local to the drilling sites. In Pennsylvania, there are no planned or ongoing health studies in place with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection — which oversees the state’s oil and gas industries — and none of the impact fees the state collects from drilling operations go toward health programs or initiatives.

And for our final item, there’s exxxcellent news for Montgomery Burns from the Independent:

Luxury cruise line accused of offering ‘environmental disaster tourism’ with high-carbon footprint Arctic voyage

A luxury cruise operator in the US has announced it will offer a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to experience the environmental devastation of the Arctic – using a mode of transport that emits three times more CO2 per passenger per mile than a jumbo jet.

It will be the first ever leisure cruise through the Northwest Passage, only accessible now because of the melting of polar ice, and is being marketed at those with an interest in witnessing the effects of climate change first-hand.

Tickets for the trip, scheduled for 16 August 2016 and organised by Crystal Cruises, will cost between $20,000 (£12,000) and $44,000.

Yet there is no mention on Crystal Cruises’ promotion or FAQ for the journey of the boat’s own carbon footprint.

EnviroWatch: Fires, toxins, nukes, crops


Our compendium of news environmental begins with Golden State burning, via the Christian Science Monitor:

California fire threatens 500 homes, more high temps forecast

California fire crews are battling the so-called Sand Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as well as a fire near Yosemite National Park. Intense heat is expected to continue in the state this week.

More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated from the Sierra Nevada foothills as wildfire threatens 500 homes.

The so-called Sand Fire doubled in size over the weekend, burning 13 homes and outbuildings and scorching six square miles of grassland and timber near Plymouth, Calif., some 30 miles east of Sacramento. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze with the help of a DC-10 air tanker, but high temperatures and gusting winds continue to fan the flames. The blaze, which began on Friday, is currently 50 percent contained.

The intense heat is expected to continue throughout the week, further complicating efforts to battle the fire and heightening the potential for other outbreaks, Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson told the Los Angeles Times.

From CBC News, corporate poisoning north of the border:

Mercury survivors neglected by government, Grassy Narrows First Nation claims

A northwestern Ontario First Nation has released a five-year-old report confirming the community suffers ongoing effects from mercury poisoning, but it says the government has never acted on the findings.

At a news conference in Toronto on Monday, members of Grassy Narrows First Nation presented the 2009 report that they say should have been made public long ago.

The report was commissioned by the Mercury Disability Board, an organization established in 1986 through an out-of-court settlement to assess and manage claims related to mercury contamination in the Wabigoon/English River system.

A Dryden-based paper company dumped mercury into the river between 1962 and 1970, contaminating the main source of fish for Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabesemoong Independent Nations.

And from EcoWatch, troubled waters on the northern border:

Plastic Pellets Pollute Lake Erie

Millions of industrial plastic pellets pollute the sands beneath our feet, but you can’t see them unless you look closely, and no beach cleanup will ever make it better.

“We picked up all the bags and bottles already,” said one young volunteer that collected trash on Whiskey Island at Wendy Park’s Sandy Beach, along the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland as part of the Burning River Fest. I was sitting next to her on the ground sifting through leaf litter picking up the little pieces. I yelled, “I’ll give a dollar to the first person to find a pellet!” Within a few minutes a dozen volunteers were on their hand and knees picking up thousands of them. The amount of pellets on this beach is equivalent to a least one plastic bottle every three feet.

Industries that make or use preproduction plastic pellets contribute to the problem of uncontrolled pellet loss. Preproduction plastic is the raw plastic resin materials that are molded into finished plastic products, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. Preproduction plastics are often produced in a resin pellet format, occasionally termed as “nurdles.” These small, 1- to 5- mm diameter pieces are produced in various shapes, colors and plastic types. Preproduction plastics can be produced in powder, granule and flake form.

From the Guardian, the best “science” money can buy:

Bee research tainted by corporate funding, MPs say

  • Report warns against letting pesticide companies fund key research for government plan to boost pollinators

Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.

UK environment ministers failed in their attempt in 2013 to block an EU-wide ban on some insecticides linked to serious harm in bees and the environmental audit select committee (EAC) report urges ministers to end their opposition, arguing there is now even more evidence of damage. Millions of member of the public have supported the ban.

“When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.

On to Latin America for two contrasting agricultural stories via Public Radio International:

Brazil is set to become the world’s biggest soy producer — and that might be bad news for its forests

In the soy bean world, all eyes are now on the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

It’s covered by millions of acres of industrial farms and deep green soy fields. If this year’s harvest — the best in Brazilian history — comes in as expected, Brazil is poised to surpass the US and become the world’s largest soy producer. Soy beans have boosted Brazil’s economy and even brought President Dilma Roussef to Mato Grosso to congratulate farmers in person.

But in a nearby indigenous village, no one is celebrating. The boom in soy production coincided with a spike in deforestation. And Hiparidi Toptiro, an activist from the indigenous Xavante people, says local soy farmers are willing to do anything for a chunk of the forest where the Xavante live.

“Throughout our lands, people show up wielding false deeds to the area,” Toptiro says.  “And they have begun to plant soybeans inside our lands. They pay off one of our villages with a little money, which complicates the relationship between all of us in the reserve. “ He calls it dividing and conquering with trinkets.

The Guardian looks at the alternative:

Can ‘agroecology’ bring food security to Latin America?

  • A home-grown, alternative approach to farming is bad news for pesticides, monoculture and food poverty in Brazil

In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.

Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.

María de Los Angeles is an Ecuadorian representative of the agroecological movement of Latin America and the Caribbean. She says conventional production is not sustainable because it degrades the soil and is based on fossil fuels.

“Agroecology recovers elements of each territory and knowledge developed by farmers for thousands of years. Instead of monoculture, we’re talking about preserving biodiversity and humankind itself.”

Off to Japan for the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an offering from Jiji Press:

No Clear Effect of Fukushima Groundwater Bypass: TEPCO

Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Monday that it still cannot confirm whether a so-called groundwater bypass operation at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is working.

In May, the utility began the operation to pump untainted groundwater into the sea so that the water will not flow into reactor buildings and increase the amount of radioactive water at the plant.

TEPCO official Teruaki Kobayashi told a news conference Monday that the company is still unable to see tangible results from the operation in reactor buildings.

From the Asahi Shimbun, justifiable skepticism:

ASAHI POLL: 59% oppose planned restart of Kyushu reactors

Nearly 60 percent of citizens are opposed to the planned restart of reactors at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the first such restart under tougher standards introduced after the Fukushima crisis, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 16 concluded that reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Co. plant meet the safety standards introduced after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It is the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began that a nuclear plant has passed the NRA’s stricter inspections.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with cause for even more skepticism:

Former Kansai Electric Power executive reveals 18 years of secret payments to prime ministers

A former top official at Kansai Electric Power Co. has come forward to reveal a nearly 20-year history of doling out “top secret” huge donations to Japanese prime ministers, funded on the backs of ratepayers.

Chimori Naito, 91, a former KEPCO vice president, said that for 18 years from 1972, seven prime ministers received 20 million yen (about $200,000 now) annually from Yoshishige Ashihara, who served as both KEPCO president and chairman.

At that time, political donations to individual lawmakers were not illegal. However, in 1974, electric power companies declared a ban on corporate donations to politicians because of strong public opposition to the use of electricity fees to pay for such contributions.

Naito had long taken pride in working closely with Ashihara in making the donations as part of efforts to promote nuclear energy and to further develop the electric power industry.

NHK WORLD covers a hot real estate deal:

Govt. won’t nationalize radioactive storage site

The government says it will allow landowners to keep their property rights for the land where it will build temporary storage facilities for radioactive debris in Fukushima Prefecture. It had originally planned to buy the land for the facilities.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto met Fukushima Prefecture Governor Yuhei Sato and the mayors of Futaba and Okuma in Tokyo on Monday. The two towns host the crippled nuclear power plant.

The government had planned to buy land from landowners in the towns to build the intermediate storage facilities for radioactive soil and waste from the nuclear power plant. But some landowners had refused to sell.

From the Guardian, fracking Britain’s heritage:

Fracking: oil exploration already occurs in national parks, says energy minister

  • Tory MP Matthew Hancock’s remark comes as firms are invited to bid for first onshore oil and gas licences in six years

Ministers are right to leave the door open to fracking in national parks because oil and gas have been exploited uncontroversially in such areas for decades, Matthew Hancock, the new energy minister, has said.

Unveiling the first new competition for onshore oil and gas licences for six years, the Conservative MP said there would need to be exceptional circumstances for shale drilling in protected countryside but people should remember that national parks cover 16% of the UK.

The government is on Monday to advertise around half of the UK to companies which want to exploit shale gas, in the first sale of new onshore licences since experts discovered the scale of the UK’s reserves.

And for our final item, a chiller from News Corp Australia:

The arrival of an Ebola-infected air passenger in Nigeria has airlines and airports scrambling to respond around the world

A MAN collapses at an international airport: It’s a hackneyed scene from almost every plague film ever made. But now it has happened — airports around the world are on high alert as fears mount that the deadly Ebola virus is on the move.

Nigerian health authorities are racing to stop the spread of the flesh-eating Ebola virus after a man sick with one of the world’s deadliest diseases carried it by plane to Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 21 million people.

Nigeria is so concerned it has ordered the establishment of “disease isolation centres” at international airports across the country to prevent any further entry of the untreatable disease.

But the horse may have already bolted.

EnviroWatch: Scofflaws, nuke woes, more


Our second headline collection focuses on the environment, and the costs of living a world where consumption — and the attendant damages to the earth, our fellow living creatures, and ourselves — has become the driving impetus of the systems of power and control.

First up, MintPress News covers stark reality:

Criminal Prosecution Rates For Corporate Environmental Crimes Near Zero

Grappling with a shrinking budget and limited manpower, the EPA pursues criminal charges in “fewer than one-half of one percent” of total legal violations.

While U.S. regulators are actively flagging and tracking corporate violations of federal environmental laws, the government is rarely pursuing criminal penalties for those infractions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the key department in safeguarding the country’s health from pollutants, pursues criminal charges in fewer than one-half of one percent of total violations, according to new research. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges, which require less evidence to prove and fewer resources to prosecute.

Yet critics worry that civil proceedings, which typically result in fines but no jail time or restitution, don’t offer the robust deterrent effect necessary to substantively impact corporate decision-making or offer compensation to affected communities.

“More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in agency databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations,” according to a newinvestigation from the Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

BBC News combines the deplorable and the devastating:

Global decline of wildlife linked to child slavery

New research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.

Ecologists say the shortage of wild animals means that in many countries more labour is now needed to find food.

Children are often used to fill this need for cheap workers, especially in the fishing industry.

The decline in species is also helping the proliferation of terrorism and the destabilisation of regions.

From Mother Jones, a subject of our ongoing concern:

California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under

In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

  • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
  • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, DC.
  • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
  • “We’re acting like the super-rich:” California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

The report is posted online here [PDF]:

From Project Syndicate, another ravaged continent:

Antarctica’s Point of No Return

Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

Via DutchNews.nl, Big Pharma strikes again:

Criminal investigation begun into banned antibiotic in animal feed

The public prosecution department has launched a criminal investigation into the use of a banned antibiotic in Dutch animal feed from a producer near Utrecht.

In a statement on Friday the department said business premises and a private house have been searched as part of the investigation.

Food safety inspectors have shut 102 Dutch pig and veal farms and 11 in Germany because they were delivered feed containing the antibiotic furazolidone, the Financieele Dagblad said earlier on Friday.

From the Economic Times, conditional reistance to the globalization regime in the name of food autonomy:

US sees ‘crisis’ in WTO over customs disaccord with India, others

The World Trade Organisation is facing a “crisis” because of disagreement, most notably with India, over improved customs procedures, the United States said Friday.

“We are deeply disappointed that backsliding on Trade Facilitation has brought the WTO to the brink of crisis,” the US ambassador to the world trade body, Michael Froman, said in a statement.

“The current state of play on Trade Facilitation threatens to deal a serious blow to the credibility of the multilateral trading system and to set back the development needs of many countries around the world,” he said.

Off to Japan and the latest installment of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from NHK WORLD:

TEPCO: Groundwater bypass showing limited effects

Work to pump up groundwater to keep it from flowing into the contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is apparently having limited effects.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, reported the results of the operation so far at a meeting of experts at the industry ministry on Friday.

TEPCO began the so-called groundwater bypass operation in May. It involves draining water from wells and releasing it into the sea to keep it from flowing into reactor buildings and becoming contaminated.

NHK WORLD reassures

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

And speak of the devil! From Nextgov:

Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press ties it up:

U.S. Fukushima report: Think about unthinkable disasters

A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.

That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to the National Academy of Sciences report released on July 24. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.

“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.

Echoes of an earlier disaster resonate anew. From the Guardian:

Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep

  • Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions

In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.

“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.

The beneficiaries of all this mayhem, via United Press International:

85 wealthiest are richer than poorest 3.5 billion

  • The report found 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.

The U.N.’s annual Human Development Report released Thursday shows that the world’s 85 richest people are wealthier than the poorest 3.5 billion.

The top five countries ranked in the Human Development Index (HDI) are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. The bottom five are all from Africa: Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The U.N. attributed slowing improvements in health, education and income to worsening income inequality, climate change and government corruption.

The authors found that nearly one-third of people are poor or vulnerable to poverty with 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. The report says that human development can be improved by “universal access to basic social services, especially health and education; stronger social protection, including unemployment insurance and pensions; and a commitment to full employment, recognizing that the value of employment extends far beyond the income it generates.”

And to close, one of those beneficiaries wages war on the commons, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial

The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast.

The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him.

“If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?” he asked. “The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don’t want to compromise on anything.”

Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open.

InSecurity Watch: Spooks, hacks, & tensions


Today’s collection of headlines about matters of spooks, soldiers, and privacy privateers begins with the unsurprising but notable, via the Washington Post:

Proliferation of new online communications services poses hurdles for law enforcement

Federal law enforcement and intelligence authorities say they are increasingly struggling to conduct court-ordered wiretaps on suspects because of a surge in chat services, instant-messaging and other online communications that lack the technical means to be intercepted.

A “large percentage” of wiretap orders to pick up the communications of suspected spies and foreign agents are not being fulfilled, FBI officials said. Law enforcement agents are citing the same challenge in criminal cases; agents, they say, often decline to even seek orders when they know firms lack the means to tap into a suspect’s communications in real time.

“It’s a significant problem, and it’s continuing to get worse,” Amy S. Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch, said in a recent interview.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Big Brother is watching:

After CIA gets secret whistleblower email, Congress worries about more spying

The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.

At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.

The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight.

Defense One charts spooky trepidation:

The CIA Fears the Internet of Things

The major themes defining geo-security for the coming decades were explored at a forum on “The Future of Warfare” at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, moderated by Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron.

Dawn Meyerriecks, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s directorate of science and technology, said today’s concerns about cyber war don’t address the looming geo-security threats posed by the Internet of Things, the embedding of computers, sensors, and Internet capabilities into more and more physical objects.

“Smart refrigerators have been used in distributed denial of service attacks,” she said. At least one smart fridge played a role in a massive spam attack last year, involving more than 100,000 internet-connected devices and more than 750,000 spam emails. She also mentioned “smart fluorescent LEDs [that are] are communicating that they need to be replaced but are also being hijacked for other things.

And from The Intercept, partners in crime:

The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013, the U.S. State Department reported that “Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to torture and other physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011 episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one human rights activist. The report also notes the MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at political and religious dissidents.

But as the State Department publicly catalogued those very abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased surveillance assistance to the ministry that perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama Administration’s increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the MOI, the memo describes “a period of rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.

IDG News Service covers another partnership:

Dutch spy agencies can receive NSA data, court rules

Dutch intelligence services can receive bulk data that might have been obtained by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) through mass data interception programs, even though collecting data that way is illegal for the Dutch services, the Hague District Court ruled Wednesday.

The possibility that data received by Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD could have been collected in a way that would not be legal for the Dutch services, doesn’t mean that receiving this data violates international and national treaties, the court said.

The Hague District Court ruled in a civil case file by a coalition of defense lawyers, privacy advocates and journalists who sued the Dutch government last November. They sought a court order to stop the AIVD and MIVD from obtaining data from foreign intelligence agencies that was not obtained in accordance with European and Dutch law.

A tale of dissension from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

In Kansas, candidates spar over NSA

As a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo had a front-row seat to the brouhaha that erupted in Washington last year over revelations that the government was secretly collecting Americans’ data.

Todd Tiahrt, Pompeo’s challenger in the upcoming Republican primary for Kansas’ 4th Congressional District, has seized on the incumbent’s proximity to the controversy _ and his voting record _ to attack him. Now Pompeo finds himself in the awkward position of defending the National Security Agency’s surveillance program while campaigning as a tea party stalwart who sympathizes with voters’ distrust of the federal government.

Tiahrt is vulnerable on the issue of privacy too. As a former congressman who also served on the intelligence committee, he voted in favor of warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s surveillance powers _ facts that the Pompeo campaign is quick to point out.

While the Washington Post covers the not-so-spooky:

CNN’s Diana Magnay is latest reminder that Twitter can be a journalist’s worst enemy

Since the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other instantaneous digital platforms, reporters have lost their jobs, been suspended or been reassigned after posting things deemed inappropriate by readers, viewers and — most important — their bosses. The objectionable posts have usually called into question the journalists’ ability to remain neutral and fair to both sides of any story.

The latest casualty: CNN correspondent Diana Magnay, who last week stirred criticism for a tweet about a group of Israelis who were cheering a missile attack on Gaza. Magnay said in her tweet that members of the group had threatened her. “Scum,” she concluded. Amid an outraged reaction, the network apologized, saying Magnay was referring only to the group’s alleged harassment of her, not to its support of the military action. She was quickly reassigned to Moscow.

The incident echoed CNN’s dismissal in 2010 of Octavia Nasr, a longtime foreign-affairs editor. The network cut Nasr loose after she tweeted her thoughts about the death of a leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization, calling him “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

From intelNews, Washington pulls the reins:

Aruba arrests ex-head of Venezuelan intelligence, after US request

The former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence, who was a close associate of the country’s late president Hugo Chavez, has been arrested in Aruba following a request by the United States. Authorities in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island announced on Thursday the arrest of Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of Venezuela’s Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM), which is Venezuela’s military intelligence agency. A close comrade of Venezuela’s late socialist leader, Carvajal was accused by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 of weapons and drugs smuggling. According to the US government, Carvajal was personally involved in illegally providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftwing guerrilla group involved in a decades-long insurgency war against the government of Colombia.

It also accused the Venezuelan official of helping the FARC smuggle cocaine out of the country, in a bid to help them raise funds to support their insurgency against Colombian authorities. But the government of Venezuela rejects all charges and has been sheltering Carvajal. In January of this year it appointed him consul-general to Aruba, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean located just 15 miles off Venezuela’s coast.

Bloomberg raises the terror alert:

Norway on High Alert Amid Warnings of Attack Next Week

Police in Norway are on high alert after receiving intelligence that nationals returning from Syria may be plotting a terrorist attack within days against the Scandinavian country.

Information obtained by Norway’s security service, PST, suggests an attack could be imminent, the unit’s chief, Benedicte Bjoernland, said July 24. Authorities have strengthened their presence at Norway’s borders, airports and train stations, and police in all districts are at a heightened state of preparedness.

Police officers in Norway’s capital, Oslo, have been stationed at focal points in the city including parliament and the royal palace as well as at shopping centers, spokesman Kaare Hansen said by phone yesterday. Authorities have followed up on a number of tips received since yesterday, the police said, without providing more details.

More from TheLocal.no:

Statoil tightens security amid terror threat

Statoil, Norway’s biggest energy company, has ‘increased’ security after this week’s terror warning announcement, said the firm’s CEO on Friday.

Helge Lund, Statoil’s CEO, said to NTB that: “The security level of Statoil has increased as a consequence of the terror threat.”
“We are following the situation very closely. We have close contact with Norwegian authorities and are taking the measures we think are necessary, based on their threat evaluations.”

One-and-a-half year ago the company was struck by the worst terror action that has ever been directed towards a Norwegian company, when terrorists attacked the gas facility Tigantourine in In Aménas in Algeria. Five Norwegian Statoil employees were killed during the four days the hostage drama lasted.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Globe and Mail covers consequences of aggression:

The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society

Earlier this month, one of Israel’s most famous writers announced in his weekly newspaper column that he was packing up his family and moving to the United States – permanently. Sayed Kashua, an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel who resides in Jerusalem, is the author of critically acclaimed novels and a popular television series, all written in Hebrew with wit and insight into the complex, conflicted society of Arabs and Jews living uneasily side-by-side. But after more than two decades of believing that ultimately Arabs and Jews would find a way to co-exist as equals, he wrote, something inside him “had broken.” He no longer believed in a better future.

Mr. Kashua’s decision to emigrate came in response to a series of events that were marked by violence and incitement against the Arab population, from the government to the street. One member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, called for a war against the Palestinian people on her Facebook page. Another called an Arab legislator a “terrorist” during a parliamentary committee session, while still another, the leader of an ostensibly centrist party, submitted a proposal to ban an established Arab nationalist party with sitting members of the Knesset. The editor of a right-wing newspaper suggested that now was the time to transfer the Arab population out of the occupied West Bank. In Jerusalem, mobs of hyper nationalist youth rampaged through the cafe-lined downtown streets chanting “death to Arabs,” assaulting random passersby because they looked or sounded Palestinian.

Most horrifically of all, a 17 year-old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem was abducted from the street by six young Jewish men, three of them minors. The police found Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s corpse in the nearby Jerusalem Forest shortly after CCTV cameras recorded some young men forcing him into a car. He had been doused with gasoline and burned alive. Three of the six boys confessed to the crime and re-enacted it for the police.

On to the latest developments in the trans-Pacific Game of Zones, via China Daily:

Confessions of Japanese war criminals online

The State Archives Administration started releasing a large number of files on major Japanese war criminals on its website on Thursday to offer a clearer picture of history.

“The confessions written by all the war criminals and the detailed trial records contained in the archived files are irrefutable evidence of the heinous crimes committed by the Japanese militarist aggressors against the Chinese people,” Li Minghua, deputy director of Central Archives of China, said on Thursday.

Since the Abe Cabinet came to power in Japan, it has openly confused right and wrong to mislead the public on history, he said at a news conference of the State Council Information Office.

With the upcoming 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident – an incident that marked the start of Japan’s full aggression against the nation – the release of such materials can prove their crimes during the Japanese War of Aggression against China, experts said.

Pressure from Foggy Bottom, via the Japan Daily Press:

U.S. Senators seek Obama’s help to resolve issue of ‘comfort women’

With Japan’s announcement last week that it has begun reviewing the accounts of former “comfort women,” a euphemistic term for those forced into sexual labor by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, former victims and their supporters have expressed outrage over the development. Three senators from the United States are urging President Barack Obama to keep its interest and exert more effort in addressing the matter.

The letter calling for Obama’s actions was signed and sent by Senators Martin Heinrich, Tim Johnson and Mark Begich. The trio called upon the US president’s passionate statement regarding the atrocities done to the women. In his recent trip to Asia, Obama called what was done to the comfort women as a “terrible and egregious violation of human rights.” The trio of senators echoed his statement, noting “We affirm your statement that the ‘women were violated in ways that even in the midst of war was shocking.” They further went on to describe the women’s plight as deserving “to be heard and respected.” The letter closed by expressing their request that he continue to help resolve this particular issue.

The senators believe that finding a resolution to the issue of comfort women will be vital in further improving trilateral ties of the United States with Japan and South Korea. While both Asian countries are known U.S. allies, the two remain at odds with each other because of their wartime history that has prevented them from fostering cordial ties in recent years.

The Asahi Shimbun raises the heat:

NHK governor’s remarks on prewar Koreans in news show may violate law

A conservative Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) governor complained about comments made on prewar Korean immigrants to Japan in a news program, possibly violating the Broadcast Law that forbids governors from interfering with shows, according to insiders.

Naoki Hyakuta questioned and disputed NHK newscaster Kensuke Okoshi’s remarks at a July 22 meeting of the NHK Board of Governors.

Hyakuta, handpicked for the 12-member board by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is a writer who has generated controversy over his conservative stance on historical issues, such as calling the Nanking Massacre a fabrication crafted to cancel out U.S. atrocities.

Haruo Sudo, a professor emeritus of Hosei University whose specialty is media theory, said Hyakuta’s latest outburst was an obvious violation of the Broadcast Law.

Nextgov covers insecurity closer to home:

Virtual Border Fence Project Halted After Raytheon Protest

A major border security project involving the deployment of 50 surveillance towers across southern Arizona is temporarily on hold, following a protest by Raytheon that the government improperly awarded the work to a rival.

In a protest decision released Thursday afternoon, the Government Accountability Office ruled the Department of Homeland Security should reevaluate the competitors’ proposals. Among other things, it is possible Raytheon was “prejudiced by the agency’s errors” during an evaluation of proposals, the ruling stated.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection — part of DHS — had planned to initially build seven towers during the first year of a potentially 8 and 1/2 year, $145 million deal with vendor EFW, of Fort Worth, Texas. The contract was awarded in February, after a two-year competition among 14 companies.

PandoDaily resets the WABAC  Machine:

Report: Google has removed around 50,000 links thanks to Europe’s “right to be forgotten”

Europeans have asked Google to remove more than 91,000 links from its search results, and the company has granted more than half of those requests, according to a Bloomberg report. Combined, the requests are said to apply to more than 328,000 Internet addresses. The majority of removal requests have come from people who are living in France and Germany.

Google is thought to have revealed these numbers to privacy watchdogs and the press to show that it’s taking the right to be forgotten, which it has criticized in the past for being too broad and difficult to implement, more seriously than it seems. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Google’s disclosure could also soothe tensions with privacy regulators, who called Thursday’s meeting and have been critical of how the search company has implemented the ruling. Some have been demanding that Google end its notifications to websites that have been the subject of right to be forgotten requests, which have in some cases made it possible to identify the person making the request.

From IDG News Service, a familiar plea, this time from Moscow:

Russian government offers money for identifying Tor users

The Russian Ministry of Interior is willing to pay 3.9 million roubles, or around US$111,000, for a method to identify users on the Tor network.

The Tor software anonymizes Internet traffic by encrypting it and passing it through several random relays in order to prevent potential network eavesdroppers from identifying the traffic’s source and destination. The software was originally developed as a project of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, but is now being maintained by a nonprofit organization called The Tor Project.

The Tor network is popular with journalists, political activists and privacy-conscious users in general, but has also been used by pedophiles and other criminals to hide their tracks from law enforcement.

Four our final items, we focus on another cause for insecurity, at least for half the population. First, this from Newswise:

Link Between Ritual Circumcision Procedure and Herpes Infection in Infants Examined by Penn Medicine Analysis

A rare procedure occasionally performed during Jewish circumcisions that involves direct oral suction is a likely source of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) transmissions documented in infants between 1988 and 2012, a literature review conducted by Penn Medicine researchers and published online in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society found. The reviewers, from Penn’s Center for Evidence-based Practice, identified 30 reported cases in New York, Canada and Israel.

The practice—known as metzitzah b’peh—and its link to HSV-1 infections have sparked international debate in recent years, yet no systematic review of the literature has been published in a peer-reviewed journal examining the association and potential risk. During metzitzah b’peh, the mohel, a Jewish person trained to perform circumcisions, orally extracts a small amount of blood from the circumcision wound and discards it.

Lead author Brian F. Leas, MS, MA, a research analyst in the Center for Evidence-based Practice at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, identified six relevant studies for the systematic review. All six studies were descriptive case reports or case series that documented neonatal HSV-1 infections after circumcision with direct oral suction.

And it’s not just babes in arm with cause for concern. Form the Independent:

US patient Johnny Lee Banks sues doctors over circumcision that ended up as amputation

Something was absent without leave when Johnny Lee Banks came out of the anaesthetic after what should have been a routine circumcision at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, last month. That, at least, is the claim in a medical malpractice suit filed this week that has men across the state, if not America, clenching their midriffs in horror.

“When the plaintiff … woke from his aforesaid surgical procedure, his penis was amputated,” the lawsuit states. It goes on to contend that no one at the Princeton Baptist Medical Centre in Birmingham has been able to explain why it had become necessary to remove the entire organ rather than just the foreskin as he had expected.

“My client is devastated,” said John Graves, a lawyer for Mr Banks. The lawsuit names two doctors as defendants in the suit as well as the facility attached to the hospital that was responsible for the procedure. It was filed jointly by Mr Banks, who is 56, and his wife, who is claiming the marvellously legalistic “loss of consortium”.

EconoEnviroWatch: Drought, fires, poisons


For today’s second headline collection, we offer news of the environment, as well as some relevant economic and political stories.

We begin with an alarm from Circle of Blue:

Colorado River’s Course Through A Drying Landscape Is Draining Lake Mead

  • Along the 1,800-mile river basin, locals wrestle with water demands.

The effects of lingering drought, and the unrelenting demand for water from farmers, cities, and energy producers converged today at Lake Mead, which drained to its lowest level since 1937 when the Hoover Dam closed off the Colorado River to begin filling the largest reservoir in the United States.

In dropping to a record-low water level the huge lake, which straddles the border between southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona, has emerged as an important measure of water insecurity in the American West. Just as gasoline prices serve as a national gauge of American economic stress — relieving psychic pressure as prices go down, causing strain as they rise — Lake Mead’s steadily declining water levels are a visible and widely reported gauge of intensifying water scarcity in the fastest growing region of the United States.

Lake Mead sits near the end of the Colorado River, which stretches 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) across seven U.S. states before entering Mexico. Its course is through one of the earth’s grandest landscapes. Lake Mead reflects the mammoth scale of the geography and its drying condition.

The California angle from Weather West:

An overview of California’s ongoing and extraordinary drought: a tale of exceptional dryness and record warmth

Droughts historically have a way of sneaking up on California, and the extraordinary 2012-2014 drought has been no exception.

Year-to-year and even season-to-season rainfall variability is quite high in this part of the world, which means that it’s nearly impossible to know whether a single dry year (or season) portends the beginning of a much more prolonged or intense dry period. Indeed–the 2012-2013 rainy season had an extremely wet start–so wet, in fact, that an additional large storm during December 2012 would likely have led to serious and widespread flooding throughout Northern California. But no additional significant storms did occur during December 2012–nor during January 2013…nor February, March, April, or May. In fact, January-June 2013 was the driest start to the calendar year  on record for the state of California in at least 118 years of record keeping. Some parts of the state saw virtually no precipitation at all during this period, which made for an especially stark contrast with the extremely wet conditions experienced just a few months earlier.

How did this drastic change occur so quickly? The second half of the 2012-2013 Water Year saw the development of the now infamous Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (or RRR)–an extraordinarily persistent region of high pressure over the northeastern Pacific Ocean in the middle atmosphere that forced the mid-latitude storm track well to the north of its typical position and prevented winter storms from reaching California.

And just how dry is the Golden State? Consider this from the United States Drought Monitor, showing that all of California is in a state of Severe Drought, and a phenomenal 36.49 percent is in the most extreme state of Exceptional Drought:

BLOG CalDrought

Next up, fracking the drought with Pacific Standard:

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

  • The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review of more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.

The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.

From South of the Border, the opposite course via Frontera NorteSur:

Mexican Fracking Foes Lose a Big Round

Mexican opponents of the controversial method of extracting natural gas known as fracking lost an important battle in the Mexican Senate late last week. As part of a 91-26 vote that approved secondary legislation implementing the Pena Nieto administration’s energy reform, most senators rejected a measure that would have prohibited fracking.

Prior to the July 18 vote, the Mexican Alliance against Fracking, a grouping of environmental organizations, presented senators with a petition signed by more than 10,000 people that supported a fracking ban.
Nonetheless, a majority of senators from President Pena Nieto’s PRI party joined with lawmakers from the PAN and PVEM (Mexican Green) parties to reject an outright prohibition of fracking. Voting in favor of a ban were members of the PRD and PT parties.

Senator Pablo Escudero, PVEM representative, maintained that environmental studies in the United States, as well as the history of fracking in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and other states, showed that fracking could be done in a safe manner. To back up his case, Escudero referred to studies by University of California physicist Dr. Richard Muller, whose pro-environment arguments in favor of fracking have engendered sharp polemics.

When drought meets austerity, via the Christian Science Monitor:

Western wildfires burn through firefighting budgets

The cost of fighting wildfires has eaten into agency budgets meant for forest management and fire preparedness. Proposed federal legislation would treat such fires as natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes.

As 26 major wildfires currently rage across the American West – 18 of them in Oregon and Washington – they’re rapidly burning through firefighting budgets as well.

As a result, experts warn, firefighting agencies such as the US Forest Service and the US Department of the Interior have to raid other fire-related programs – forest management and fire preparedness, for example – to battle the blazes.

The reasons for this are multiple and complicated: Years of fire suppression instead of letting fires burn naturally allowed fuel levels to grow dangerously; climate change has brought on changes in weather patterns; and housing and other development pushed into what’s known as the “wildland-urban interface” – some 60 percent of all new homes built since 1990, according to environmental economist Ray Rasker.

From EurActiv, the environment gets cowed:

Scientists find beef production harmful to the environment

Production of beef is nearly ten times more damaging to the environment than any other form of meat production, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

American scientists measured the environment inputs required for beef production and concluded that beef cattle need 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than pork, poultry, eggs or dairy.

The researchers developed a uniform methodology that they were able to apply to all five livestock categories and to four measures of environmental performance.

On to Japan for the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Daily Press:

Testimony of Fukushima plant manager reveals safety inspectors were first to flee during disaster

Masao Yoshida – the former plant manager of the Fukushima nuclear power plant during the time when it was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 – died of cancer last year, but his recorded testimony revealed a flaw in the disaster management process that probably caused the chaos around the way Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) dealt with the disaster at that time. According to Yoshida’s testimony, the safety inspectors were among the first to flee the site at the time of the disaster.

The safety inspectors were under the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the predecessor of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and they were supposed to remain on site to be able to give a factual and solid assessment of what needed to be done to deal with the accident and the multiple reactor meltdowns. As such, with the lack of safety inspectors onsite, the Japanese government was forced to rely on sometimes erroneous and mostly chaotic information from TEPCO.

Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan had gone to TEPCO’s Tokyo office, ultimately leading to the decision that a base of communications for the disaster was set up by TEPCO and the Japanese government in Tokyo, 230 kilometers away from where the disaster was taking place. That in itself was a hindrance to the proper flow of information and the correct assessment of the disaster.

NHK WORLD runs the numbers:

One trillion Bq released by nuclear debris removal

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says more than one trillion becquerels of radioactive substances were released as a result of debris removal work at one of the plant’s reactors.

Radioactive cesium was detected at levels exceeding the government limit in rice harvested last year in Minami Soma, some 20 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi.

There are fears that some rice paddies in the city have been tainted by airborne radioactive material released when debris was removed from the plant’s No.3 reactor in August last year.

On Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Company presented the Nuclear Regulation Authority with an estimate that the removal work discharged 280 billion becquerels per hour of radioactive substances, or a total of 1.1 trillion becquerels.

Poisoning primates, via the Guardian:

Japanese monkeys’ abnormal blood linked to Fukushima disaster – study

  • Primates in Fukushima region found to have low white and red blood cell levels and radioactive caesium

Wild monkeys in the Fukushima region of Japan have blood abnormalities linked to the radioactive fall-out from the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster, according to a new scientific study that may help increase the understanding of radiation on human health.

The Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) were found to have low white and red blood cell levels and low haemoglobin, which the researchers say could make them more prone to infectious diseases.

But critics of the study say the link between the abnormal blood tests and the radiation exposure of the monkeys remains unproven and that the radiation doses may have been too small to cause the effect.

The scientists compared 61 monkeys living 70km (44 miles) from the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with 31 monkeys from the Shimokita Penisula, over 400km (249 miles) from Fukushima. The Fukushima monkeys had low blood counts and radioactive caesium in their bodies, related to caesium levels in the soils where they lived. No caesium was detected in the Shimokita troop.

From the Japan Daily Press, pressing feet to the [nuclear] fire:

TEPCO shareholders seeking disclosure of nuclear accident interview records

It seems that three years after the nuclear disaster that crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, the operator’s problems are far from over. While the problem of decontamination is ongoing, albeit slowly, the next battle is set to come as shareholders in the firm are looking at filing lawsuits to determine the real cause of the incident.

The shareholders are planning to request from the Cabinet Secretariat copies of the interviews conducted, which many already assume would be denied. Such denial would force the shareholders to no other recourse but to file legal action against the government so it would release interview records of 772 people for their own analysis. Not only that, they also plan to file a separate legal action against TEPCO to see if executives and managers of the company played a hand in the disaster and the problems resulting from the meltdown.

Next up, more disastrous blowback at the disastrous intersection of Big Pharma, politics, and those who pay the real price. From Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Doctors Blame Factory Farming For Failing Antibiotics

Citing the failure of antibiotics to work effectively in their patients, a group of German doctors and other healthcare providers are laying blame on the factory farming industry — and calling for reform.

The doctors say that antibiotics no longer work because of multi-resistant germs that patients carry, at least some of which have their origins in the way animals are bred. Germs from agro-industrial facilities that are resistant to antibiotics are a massive threat to human health, the campaign founders say.

The first nationwide campaign of this type is so far being supported by 250 doctors, carers and pharmacists. They are demanding humane breeding of animals, sharper controls, and sanctions against those who put antibiotics in animal feed.

If action is not taken, antibiotics may soon be entirely ineffective as a weapon against bacterial infections in both humans and animals, warns professor of veterinary medicine Siegfried Ueberschär. Doctors now often try in vain to save the lives and health of patients with weak immune systems, and there are no new antibiotics in sight, says Bremen-based internist Imke Lührs.

And for our final item, a very import reminder of the profound consequences of cultural differences, not patentable by Big Pharma. From the London Daily Mail:

How schizophrenia is shaped by our culture: Americans hear voices as threatening while Indians and Africans claim they are helpful

  • Scientists came to the conclusion after speaking with 60 schizophrenics
  • 20 came from California, 20 from Accra, Ghana and 20 from Chennai, India
  • In America, voices were intrusion and a threat to patient’s private world
  • In India and Africa, the study subjects were not as troubled by the voices
  • The difference may be down to the fact that Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity
  • Whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self as interwoven with others and defined through relationships

Headlines: Elections, ejections, pols, pollution


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

IMF chief says banks haven’t changed since financial crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via the Contributor Network, reality catches up:

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press, greed, baby, greed:

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

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, no pot luck:

Health insurers just say no to marijuana coverage

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

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

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

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

US house price growth slows as demand weakens

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

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

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

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

California’s flawed water system can’t track usage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant owners seek meeting with PM over foreign worker freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associated Press confers

EU summit seeks way out of election quagmire

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

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

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

ANA-MPA agonizes:

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

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

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

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

And the Amsterdam angle from DutchNews.nl:

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

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

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

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

And from Spiegel, a prescription:

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

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

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

Prince Charles: reform capitalism to save the planet

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

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

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

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

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

Jailing bankers will not fix bad behaviour, says Mark Carney

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

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

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

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

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

Racism on the rise in Britain

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

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

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

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

Sweden’s labour costs ‘distressingly high’

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

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

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

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

Growing number of Germans opting for ‘homemade’ electricity

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

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

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

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

One in five Germans can’t afford a holiday

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

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

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

From TheLocal.de, outsider entrepreneurs:

Foreigners set up 40pc of new German firms

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

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

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

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

Waste water analysis reveals Dutch drug secrets in EU survey

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

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

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

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

Brussels next, and a quandary from EUobserver:

Belgian king gives coalition-forming mandate to Flemish republican

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPÖ row after attack on chancellor

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

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

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

On to France, with aspirations from Spiegel:

A Real National Front: The French Far Right Aims High

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

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

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

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

Partnering up with the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

And a branding problem from EUbusiness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope slams ‘inhumane’ jobless rate in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

IMF calls on Spain to raise VAT and lower corporate taxes

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hippy’ politician stuns Spain’s political elite

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

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

How did they manage to do so well?

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

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

More from El País:

Podemos: A party under construction

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

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

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

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

And TheLocal.es evicts:

Protesters clash with police over squat eviction

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

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

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

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

Spin doctor tells ex-comedian Grillo to smile

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

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

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

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


From a new study [PDF] by the OECD:

BLOG Immigrants

Headlines: Beaucoup elections, and lots more


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

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

Children from China enroll in US summer academic camps

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

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

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

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

Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Risk of deflation’ – ECB president

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

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

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

And our first electoral story, via EUbusiness:

Europe’s leaders urge EU reform after eurosceptic poll wins

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

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

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

More from United Press International:

European Parliament election results illustrate growing dismay with economic austerity measures

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

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

And ominous new additions from EUbusiness:

European Parliament set to usher in first neo-Nazis

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

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

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

EurActiv looks on the bright side:

Europe on course for ‘grand coalition’ after election

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

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

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

A different take from EUobserver:

New EP will struggle to find majorities

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

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

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

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

Nigel Farage: ‘My Dream Has Become Reality’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Independent, a loser struggles:

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

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

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

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

Ditto from Sky News:

EU Must Reform For Jobs And Growth – Cameron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinn Fein Surges in Ireland as Voters Punish Austerity

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

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

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

One response from Independent.ie:

Eamon Gilmore resigns as leader of Labour Party

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

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

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

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

Mayoral Candidates Speak Out On Mosque Issue

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

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

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

Sweden next, and harumphing from TheLocal.se:

‘Nationalists threaten EU openness’: Malmström

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

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

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

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

Rosneft to buy stake in Norway drill company

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

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

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

On to Copenhagen and more right wing triumphs via EurActiv:

Danish far right party wins in EU elections, doubles mandate

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

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

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

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

Merkel’s party tops vote but loses ground

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

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

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

Another winner from EUbusiness:

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

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

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

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

And a predictable reaction from EUbusiness:

German Jews shocked at far right’s EU success

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

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

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

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

More of the same from TheLocal.de:

Steinmeier ‘horrified’ at far-right seat win

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

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

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

From Deutsche Welle, a reminder:

Audi comes clean about its Nazi past

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

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

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

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

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

Belgian PM hands in resignation after defeat in elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictable panic from Europe Online:

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

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

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

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

And a pickle for a predecessor from TheLocal.fr:

Cops grill Sarkozy ally over €400m state payout

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

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

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

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

EU Election: ÖVP defends first place

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

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

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

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

Off to Poland with New Europe:

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

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

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

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

Hungary next, via EUobserver:

Hungarian PM breaks ranks on Juncker

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

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

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

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

Next, Romania, via EUbusiness:

Ruling Social Democrats win Romania EU vote: official results

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

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

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

Portugal next, with EurActiv:

Socialists win in Portugal, stay second in Spain

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

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

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

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

El País takes us to Spain:

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

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

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

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

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

El País again, with another resignation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian stocks surge after Renzi’s EU victory

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

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

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

Cheering up also-rans with ANSA:

Grillo tells M5S supporters not to lose heart

  • Leader tells supporters M5S opposition will do more

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

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

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

ANSA again, with more also-rans:

Berlusconi says FI remains ‘linchpin’ despite poor result

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

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

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

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

And some more Bunga Bunga woes from TheLocal.it:

Ex-MP ‘pilfered public money’ in Iraq deal

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

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

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

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

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


From Serge Halimi, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique:

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

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

Headlines: Polls, trolls, laws, toxins, more


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

First, takin’ to the streets with RT:

World protests Monsanto grip on food supply chain

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

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

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

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

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

Sheriff highlights mental-health shortcomings after California rampage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Republican donors rebuffing GOP candidates to back Jerry Brown

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

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

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

From the Guardian, the results those big bucks produce:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britain next, with BBC News:

UKIP heading for clear victory in UK European elections

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

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

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

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

One outcome, via the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scandinavia next, first with Bloomberg:

Voters Punish Reinfeldt as Protest Groups Gain in Nordic EU Vote

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

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

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

On to Copenhagen with EUbusiness:

Anti-immigrant Danish party wins EU vote: exit poll

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

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

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

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

Eurosceptics and SPD celebrate EU vote gains

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

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

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

On to Belgium with the Associated Press:

Belgium faces tough coalition talks after vote

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

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

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

France next, first with Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

More from Bloomberg:

French National Front Victory Needs EU Response, PM Valls Says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then on to Vilnius with BBC News:

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

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

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

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

Budapest next with EUbusiness:

Hungary’s right-wing dominates EU polls

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

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

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

And on to Slovakia with EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spain’s major parties lose out in Euro elections

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

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

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

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

A critical regional result via EUbusiness:

Separatist party wins EU vote in Spain’s Catalonia

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

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

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

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

Renzi’s PD projected to land big win

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

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

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

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

Lebanon agrees to extradite Berlusconi ally

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

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

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

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

Headlines: Pols, cons, econs, lies, and more


Today’s tales from the realms of politics, eocnomics, and the environment begins with one of the reasons a cynic might believe it’s game over. From United Press International:

House bans Pentagon from preparing for climate change

  • Representatives: Amendment “is science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines Thursday to approve an amendment to the $600 billion National Defense Authorization Act which prohibits the Pentagon from using any of its budget to address climate change and specifically instructs the Department of Defense to ignore the latest scientific reports on the threats posed by global warming.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, a Republican whose home state of West Virginia’s economy is heavily leveraged in coal mining, reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.

The data the amendment is forcing the Pentagon to ignore are the most recent and comprehensive reports on the dangers the United States faces as a consequence of climate change.

Another reason, from CNBC:

25% of Americans saving $0 for retirement

  • Retirement savings for about a quarter of Americans amounts to … $0.

One in every 4 Americans is not saving for retirement at all, either because they are not thinking about it, do not really know how or, worse, do not feel they can afford to, according to a report by Country Financial.

Americans ages 18-29, often called “millennials,” are among the worst when it comes to saving for retirement, the firm said. Nearly a third—32 percent—aren’t saving at all for their “golden years.”

Bloomberg News excludes:

No Recovery for Workers in the Middle

  • Whether it’s the back seat of a subcompact car or the U.S. labor market, the middle can be an uncomfortable spot.

Highly educated Americans have been enjoying the recovery for quite a while. And low-skilled Americans may finally be recovering some of their lost ground, Bloomberg News reports. The jobless rate for workers with a high school education or less is down about one percentage point since December, for example.

Left out are so-called “middle skill” workers, according to a new analysis [PDF] from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The worse-than-mediocre prospects for these average workers repeats a four-decade trend. Recessions destroy a disproportionate number of middle-income jobs, like those held by secretaries and machine operators, that can be easily outsourced or automated. When the economy recovers, there’s demand for jobs at the top, like doctors and tech workers, and at the bottom, like restaurant workers and home health aides. But most of the jobs in the middle are gone forever.

From Reuters, you gotta beef with that?:

USDA warns of sticker shock on U.S. beef as grilling season starts

The Department of Agriculture has warned of sticker shock facing home chefs on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the unofficial start of the U.S. summer grilling season.

The agency said conditions in California could have “large and lasting effects on U.S. fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices,” as the most populous U.S. state struggles through what officials are calling a catastrophic drought.

The consumer price index (CPI) for U.S. beef and veal is up almost 10 percent so far in 2014, reflecting the fastest increase in retail beef prices since the end of 2003. Prices, even after adjusting for inflation, are at record highs.

China Daily hustles:

US hedge fund raises money from wealthy Chinese to invest abroad

In a milestone for the global hedge fund industry, US-based Citadel LLC has become the first global fund to raise money from wealthy Chinese individuals for investment abroad.

Chicago-based Citadel was one of six foreign hedge funds approved in September by China’s foreign-exchange regulator to each raise $50 million in yuan under the trial Qualified Domestic Limited Partner (QDLP) Program that allows high net worth Chinese to invest abroad via foreign hedge funds.

The company founded by billionaire Ken Griffin won regulatory approval for currency exchange on March 26, meaning it can now convert the yuan to US dollars for investing, according to a statement Wednesday from the Shanghai government’s information office.

China Daily again, with a visitor en route:

2.1m Chinese to visit US this year

An estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the US in 2013, and that number is expected to grow by 21 percent in to 2.1 million this year.

And US President Barack Obama has signaled that he’s going do what he can to increase not only the number of Chinese visitors, but all foreign tourists.

On Thursday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum giving secretaries at the Homeland Security and Commerce departments four months to come up with a plan to streamline the entry process for foreign visitors to reduce wait times.

A central bankster warning from Reuters:

Central banks must be on guard against currency wars, says ECB’s Coeure

Central banks need to cooperate to avoid a currency war, European Central Bank policymaker Benoit Coeure said on Friday, and the ECB should take account of the euro’s exchange rate in its monetary policy deliberations.

Speaking in Paris, Coeure also said that cutting the ECB’s deposit rate into negative territory was a policy option for the bank but would not be an exchange rate policy.

In a speech on “Currency wars and the Future of the International Monetary System”, Coeure asked whether, from the ECB’s perspective, central banks should take account of exchange rates in monetary policy; whether there is a currency war now; and whether international cooperation is needed in this regard.

Trust us, they say. Via EUbusiness:

Atlantic trade talks: US, EU seek to calm food worries

US and EU officials tried Friday to calm fears that an ambitious transatlantic free trade pact would not erode food safety rules.

Closing out five days of talks to advance the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators stressed that any deal would not force Europeans to accept US foods already ruled unsafe in the European Union.

“We cannot envisage… changing our food safety law as a result of the trade negotiations,” EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said at a press conference in Washington.

“There’s no intention of forcing the Europeans to eat anything that Europeans don’t want to eat — that’s not what this agreement is about,” said his US counterpart, Dan Mullaney.

From EUbusiness, sure, right:

Germany’s Schaeuble denies austerity sparked populist backlash

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble denied in an interview Friday that the rise of eurosceptics expected in weekend elections was due to austerity policies championed by Berlin.

He was asked by The Wall Street Journal whether anticipated gains by populist and anti-EU parties in the European Parliament vote until Sunday would be the price to pay for years of belt-tightening.

“Some will interpret it that way,” Schaeuble replied. “I think that’s wrong. You can see that our policy to stabilise the eurozone was successful.”

On to Britain and the right rising from BBC News:

Nigel Farage: UKIP to be serious players at general election

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his party will be “serious players” at the 2015 general election after it made gains in council polls across England.

Mr Farage said the “UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house” after it gained more than 150 council seats.

The BBC’s projected national share of the vote suggests UKIP would have scored 17% in a Britain-wide election. Labour would have got 31% of the vote, ahead of Conservatives on 29% with the Liberal Democrats on 13%.

More from the Independent:

Local election results 2014: Nigel Farage hails Ukip’s ‘political earthquake’ and vows more to come

The three main political parties were last night assessing the damage from local elections in which they were all hit by the “political earthquake” that Nigel Farage’s Ukip promised and delivered.

Mr Farage predicted that his party’s sweeping gains outside London in Thursday’s council elections in England will be matched by coming first when the results of the European Parliament poll are declared on Sunday night.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all put their best gloss on yesterday’s town hall results. But behind the scenes, they were frantically calculating the impact that the new “four-party” political landscape would have on next year’s general election.

The Guardian recommends, righteously:

Jail fraudsters for longer, judges told

  • Guidelines from Sentencing Council instruct judiciary to make harm to victims a central factor in deciding on custody

Longer prison sentences for frauds that target the vulnerable and fresh sanctions against money-laundering are recommended in new judges’ guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.

The impact of fraud on victims should be a central feature when judges come to consider the level of punishment imposed on convicted fraudsters, the guidance explains. Previous guidelines for many fraud offences referred to the harm done to victims merely as an aggravating factor.

Some of the recommendations significantly raise the starting point in terms of sentence length. The previous range for offences involving more than £500,000, for example, was four to seven years’ custody with a starting point of five years. The range in the new guideline is five to eight years with a starting point of seven.

The London Telegraph scents a bubbly deflation:

London’s property boom is losing its fizz

  • Even the super-rich are baulking at rising prices in the capital and would-be buyers are wary of a rise in interest rates

The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, that most canny of residential property owners, recently took the opportunity to offload hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of property in Mayfair and Belgravia, so silly had prices become. And it is not just the playgrounds of hedge fund bosses and Russian oligarchs that are feeling the chill. Long-favoured spill-over districts for those no longer able to afford Chelsea and South Kensington are also experiencing something of a hiatus. Properties aren’t selling, and those that do are frequently failing to achieve asking prices. “The market has come right off,” says one insider with his nose to the ground.

Viewed in this light, the imminent stock market flotation of Zoopla, the online property website, for some ridiculous sum of money may be something of a last hurrah, like the sky-high price put on the estate agent Foxtons back in 2008.

From the Guardian, a fracking letdown:

No shale gas potential in Weald basin, concludes British Geological Survey

  • Ministers deny hyping UK potential after BGS says only a fraction of Weald oil reserves is recoverable

Government hopes that Britain can emulate the US by starting a shale-gas revolution have been knocked back after a long-awaited report unexpectedly concluded there was no potential in fracking for gas in the Weald region of southern England.

Michael Fallon, the energy minister, insisted he was neither “disappointed nor happy” at the findings from the British Geological Survey and denied the government had hyped the potential for extracting shale gas in Britain.

He preferred to focus on more positive BGS findings that there could be 4.4bn barrels of oil in the shale rocks of the area, which stretches from Salisbury to Tunbridge Wells – although in practice recoverable reserves are likely to be a fraction of this.

More from the Independent:

No gas found in the Weald basin: Does this spell the end of the Government’s dream of a fracking revolution?

The Government’s dream of kickstarting a fracking revolution has suffered a major setback after a survey of one of the UK’s great shale gas hopes found no evidence of gas in the area.

And while the same survey – of the Weald basin, stretching from Wiltshire to Kent – did find an estimated 4.4 billion barrels of oil, the scientist who oversaw the project admitted it would be so difficult to extract that the basin would be unlikely to yield even 0.5 per cent of the oil so far extracted from the North Sea.

Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the British Geological Survey, which produced the report, said: “It’s not a huge bonanza. But we have to see what happens.” He added: “It is going to be a challenge for the industry to get it out.”

By way of stunning contrast, the same basic story refracted through the lens of the stalwart conservative London Telegraph:

Fracking in Tory heartlands ‘in national interest’, says Michael Fallon as report reveals 4.4bn barrels of oil

  • Energy minister denies disappointment as experts say tiny fraction of oil can be recovered and will not lead to “huge bonanza”

Fracking should take place in Tory heartlands of south-east England “in the national interest”, energy minister Michael Fallon has said, despite expert warnings that there was not enough oil in the region to spark a “huge bonanza”.

A British Geological Survey study of the “Weald” basin revealed that 4.4bn barrels of shale oil was likely to lie in the area, primarily beneath Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

But the BGS said that only a small fraction of the oil – potentially 5pc, the equivalent of less than six months’ UK oil demand – was likely to be recoverable through fracking.

Mr Fallon insisted that fracking must go ahead in the area, despite it being largely covered by the South Downs National Park and by the Surrey Hills and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – areas in which some Tory MPs have already suggested the drilling should not take place.

On to Norway and a rejection from TheLocal.no:

Norway scuppers China tycoon’s Arctic plan

The Norwegian government has leapt in to buy a huge swathe of Arctic land on the Svalbard archipelago a week after one of China’s richest property tycoons announced he might buy it to build a resort.

The land, a 216 square-kilometre estate with its own mountain and large coal reserves, had been put up for sale by the industrialist and farmer Henning Horn, and his sisters Elin and Kari Horn.

“The government has decided to work for a solution involving a state takeover Austre Adventfjord,” trade minister Monica Maeland said in a statement released on Thursday. “Through public ownership and Norwegian law, we have the best starting point for managing Svalbard for the common good.

Germany next, and a rare exception at a time other countries are doing the opposite, via TheLocal.de:

Ageing Germany lowers retirement age

German lawmakers approved on Friday a major pensions overhaul, criticised by many, including within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, as making little economic sense in a rapidly ageing country.

The new rules will allow some workers to retire at the age of 63, while the norm of 67 is being progressively phased in for workers in Europe’s top economy after a 2007 change.

Together with an improvement in pensions for mothers whose children were born before 1992, the reforms are set to cost Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition” €60 billion up to 2020.

From Deutsche Welle, diplomatic phrasing:

German business confidence takes a breather

  • Confidence among German business leaders has dropped slightly. A closely watched monthly poll by a leading economic think tank revealed executives expected business prospects to worsen later in the year

The Munich-based Ifo economic research institute reported Friday that its benchmark index gauging business confidence among top executives across the nation fell to 110.4 points in May, down from 111.2 points in the previous month.

The latest poll among some 7,000 managers indicated that on average, compared with last month, the executives polled consider the current business environment to be less favorable, and are less optimistic about prospects for the next six months.

In contrast, analysts polled by Reuters penciled in a less pronounced drop in the confidence barometer.

Süddeutsche Zeitung gets behind the wheel:

What’s Driving Gulf Cash To European Holdings

Once upon a time, buying an expensive German car was enough to make a rich sheikh happy. Lately it seems a car doesn’t quite cut it, though a sizeable stake in an entire German car company may do nicely, thank you.

Four years ago, for example, at a Volkswagen general assembly, a man was sitting up on the stage who didn’t look like the others there from the VW family dynasty. The man’s name was Hussain Ali Al-Abdulla, and he was a board member of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) that owns 17% of VW after acquiring most of Porsche’s share options.

Seventeen percent of the common stock of one of the world’s largest automakers is a great deal. But since the Porsche and Piëch families (via Porsche Holding) own over half of VW stocks and the state of Lower Saxony holds a further 20%, this 17% gives the QIA a strategic right to make its voice heard quite clearly — if not direct power.

France next, and an austerian rebuff from TheLocal.fr:

French military top brass threaten to quit over cuts

  • The battle over further cuts to France’s military budget prompted dire warnings from the country’s defence minister and a threat from the heads of the armed forces to resign

France’s defence minister has warned that any further cuts in the military budget would badly hamper operations amid reports that the top brass would quit if there was further belt-tightening.

French President François Hollande will take decisions on the issue in the coming weeks, his entourage said on Friday, following Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s letter to him. The warning comes at a time when France has sent troops to two of its former colonies in Africa, Mali and the Central African Republic, where there has been widespread fighting following coups.

If there are more cuts, “the army will become under-equipped and will not be able to undertake new operations,” said Le Drian.

And from EurActiv, in your heart you know they’re right, far right:

Marine Le Pen and Golden Dawn ‘flirting’

A post EU-election alliance between the French far-right National Front and the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is not entirely ruled out. EurActiv Greece reports.

Officially, Marine Le Pen has sought to distance the National Front from Golden Dawn and other parties it sees as being too extremist.

But the political balances in the next European Parliament and the openly ambiguous stance of Golden Dawn make an alliance still look possible.

Austria next, and the usual accumulation from TheLocal.at:

Austrian millionaires richer than ever before

  • The assets of Austria’s millionaires grew in 2013 by seven percent, to €262 billion, making them richer than ever before

Austria’s millionaires could pay off the country’s entire debt in one shot, and still have another €20 billion left over, according to a report by the Liechtenstein investment company Valluga.

It noted that the gap between rich and poor is widening in Austria.

A total of 4,600 Austrians became millionaires last year. This means that 82,300 people now have financial assets of more than €1 million, not including owner-occupied real estate.

Switzerland next and sounds of another bubble popping from TheLocal.ch:

Property prices plunge in Geneva region: report

After rising steadily for five years, home prices tumbled by an average of more than six percent in the city of Geneva during the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

That’s the estimate from UBS and real estate consultants Wüest & Partner for average prices of condominiums and villas, according to a report from the Tribune de Genève published on Thursday.

The estimate shows weaker prices across the Lake Geneva region, where an average drop of 2.4 percent was seen, and a slowdown in certain other parts of Switzerland.

Average prices were down by four percent in Lausanne and lower by about 1.5 percent in Winterthur in the canton of Zurich.

On to Spain, and a bankster benediction from New Europe:

S&P raises Spain’s credit rating a notch, cites better economic prospects

Standard & Poor’s rating agency has upgraded Spain’s sovereign credit grade a notch, the third agency to do so in recent months and a further sign the country is turning the corner after five years of economic turmoil.

The agency raised the grade to BBB from BBB-, citing improved economic prospects and praising the conservative government’s structural and labor reforms since 2010.

Two other agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have also upgraded Spain this year.

El País delivers the grim working class reality:

One in five Spanish job seekers has not worked in three years

  • Long-term unemployment rose 22% last year, to 1.275 million
  • Experts warn problem will be lasting legacy of the economic crisis

Six years into a profound jobs crisis, and the full effects of long-term unemployment are beginning to emerge. Figures from the latest Active Population Survey show that 60% of Spain’s 6 million unemployed have not worked in a year. What’s worse is that among this group, the proportion of people who have been without work for three years or more is growing, and now stands at one out of every five job seekers, according to data published on Friday by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The Active Population Survey shows that last year there was an average of 1,275,700 job seekers who, having been active previously, had been unable to return to the job market in at least three years. This represents a rise in long-term unemployment of 234,200 people compared with 2012, an increase of 22%.

Admittedly, the pace of the increase has fallen off in the last two years, when long-term unemployment was rising at a rate of 40% a year. But it remains way above the general unemployment rate, which has begun to fall in the last two quarters, as a result of the marked decline in the active population. In 2007 the proportion of people who had gone three years without working was just 13% of all job seekers, while in 2013 that figure reached 21%.

From TheLocal.es, that good ol’ hard times intolerance:

Spanish mayor ‘sorry’ for ‘anti-immigrant’ outburst

A Spanish mayor has apologised after being accused of racism by Romanian immigrants for a foul-mouthed tirade against thieves.

Mayor Josu Bergara was recorded in a meeting last year boasting that he had made sure “the scum no longer come” to his northern town of Sestao.

Five Romanian families lodged a complaint against him in court, accusing him of illegally refusing to register them as residents in the Basque town. They submitted a video of his outburst as evidence of racism to support their case, said the campaign group SOS Racismo, which aided the families.

Italy next, and last minute political vituperation from Corriere della Sera:

Grillo and Renzi Clash as Berlusconi Speaks in Rome

  • M5S leader claims: “Berlinguer is on our side”. Premier replies: “Wash your mouth out”. Berlusconi appeals for moderate vote

Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi took to the hustings in Rome, the former in Piazza del Popolo and the latter at the Palazzo dei Congressi in the EUR district. Meanwhile Beppe Grillo was in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. The prime minister and the Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader swapped barbs over Enrico Berlinguer. “He’s on our side”, thundered former stand-up comic Grillo. “Wash your mouth out”, was the PM’s reply.

With the race to the polls entering the final straight, the three largest parties took to the streets at almost the same time on Thursday evening for their last rallies before the campaign officially closes. Earlier in the day, Mr Renzi said on Radio1’s Radio anch’io programme: “The risk is that someone might seek to block the reforms. I think that Italy can be a guide for Europe and has an amazing future. If they don’t let me make the reforms, then yes, my project will have failed and I’ll pack my bags”. Speaking in Piazza del Popolo, Mr Renzi recalled that “a united Europe started here” before launching his attack on the M5S leader: “Grillo mentioned Berlinguer in Florence. People who aren’t fit to speak names like that shouldn’t be mentioning them. You can’t say ‘I am beyond Hitler’ and ‘Berlinguer’ in the same breath. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out”.

“I solemnly pledge that all pensioners will get a €1,000 monthly pension, to be on the cabinet’s agenda for its first meetings”. Silvio Berlusconi made the promise at his EUR rally, where he added that a similar measure would be taken “in favour of housewives”. Mr Berlusconi said he was disappointed by Mr Renzi (“He’s meant more spending and more taxes”) and reaffirmed that Mr Grillo was taking advantage of “ordinary people’s desperation”.

From TheLocal.it, political realism?:

Red light district wins Rome mayor’s support

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino has said he is in favour of having a red light district in the Italian capital, following moves in Milan to see the sex trade regulated.

Marino said on Thursday he is “in favour of zones where prostitution is allowed and zones where it isn’t,” although added that as mayor he did not have the power to open a red light district in Rome.

“This overflow of prostitution doesn’t only damage the decorum of the city, but it is a great cause of public annoyance in some neighbourhoods,” he was quoted in Corriere della Sera as saying.

His rethink on regulation of the sex trade follows calls by Matteo Salvini, a Northern League (Lega Nord) politician in Milan, to open a red light district in Italy’s financial capital.

And fueling around with TheLocal.it:

ENI clinches Gazprom deal to cut gas prices

Italian energy major ENI on Friday said it had signed a deal with Russian gas giant Gazprom that will cut gas import prices as part of a revision of its contract.

“The agreement involves a reduction in supply prices and an important change in the price indexation to fully align it with the market,” ENI said in a statement.

It said the deal, which was signed in Russia by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller and ENI boss Claudio Descalzi, would apply retroactively from the start of 2014.

Aftter the jump, the latest from Greece [including accelerating political fireworks], the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan vexation, Venezuelan vituperation, Thai coup grip intensification, Aussie educational austerity, Chinese economic uncertain and corruption woes, Sony tries again, Japanese financial plans, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading